Thursday, March 05, 2009

Australia's first white rebellion

1804 Castle Hill Rebellion, Castle Hill, NSW, Australia: Fifteen convicts were left dead after Australia’s ‘Battle of Vinegar Hill’, named after the great Irish battle at Enniscorthy (June 21, 1798), and most of the leaders were later executed.

The rebellion had begun on the previous night (March 4) in the Castle Hill penal station when 300 convicts rose up. Led by Irishmen transported to the colony for their roles in the failed 1798 rebellion in Ireland, the rebels were confronted the following day, March 5, by British soldiers and militia near present day Rouse Hill, today an outer suburb of Sydney.

"Liberty or death"
Their leader, Philip Cunningham, who inspired the others with the slogan “Liberty or death”, was captured and immediately hanged on this day as martial law was in effect for the area for five days from March 5. Later, eight other convicts were tried and hanged as well. The remaining ringleaders were either severely flogged or removed to the newly founded penal colony of Newcastle on the Hunter River, or Coal River as it was then known.

Vinegar Hill was the first armed conflict between Europeans in Australia and the first significant rebellion against the colonial tyranny. The memory of it seems to have been suppressed, probably originally at the instigation of the colonial government, and there is today some debate as to the exact location of the events.

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