Saturday, 22 March 2014

Help Wanted.

It's been all quiet on the Day in History front for a couple of weeks and I apologise for that. In part it has been due to a family bereavement.

However, that's also given me an opportunity to rethink what I want to do with this whole concept. Looming on the horizon we have the centenary of the First World War.

I have the great fortune to own a complete set of The War Illustrated . One of the most moving elements of this magazine set was that each issue would include a page of photographs of the fallen and that got me to thinking.

In my journeys about the country I can often be found wandering around random churchyards. The architecture and history interests me a bit but I'm usually also keeping a weather eye out for individual Commonwealth War Graves. A good proportion of UK churchyards can boast a few. I always pause to read the names and the service branch or unit and reflect a little on who is buried there, and why. And that got me to thinking.

Most towns and villages have a war memorial tucked away somewhere. Again I tend to pause by these and take a look at the names. And again, that got me thinking.

And finally, many families like my own, do have some individuals who were actively involved in either of the world wars (and sometimes both). There are plenty of stories of one form or another. And that also got me thinking.

Going forward, each day, I'd like to take and an individual name, or unit or memorial and delve a little into the circumstances in which these forebears of ours died. And for that I am going to ask people to help. Send me photographs of graves or memorials or else details of individuals and units and I'll endeavour to do a little digging. I can't promise complete histories but I'd like to do something to commemorate the sacrifices that have gone before. And with your help I think we can do something quite special.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Death or Liberty; And a ship to take me home.

The Castle Hill Rebellion of 1804 was a rebellion by convicts against colonial authority in the Castle Hill area of the British colony of New South Wales. The rebellion culminated in a battle fought between convicts and the Colonial forces of Australia on 5 March 1804 at Rouse Hill, dubbed the Battle of Vinegar Hill after the Battle of Vinegar Hill of 1798 in Ireland. It was the first and only major convict uprising in Australian history.

On 4 March 1804, 233 convicts led by Phillip Cunningham (a veteran of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, as well as mutiny on the convict transport ship Anne) escaped from a farm intent on capturing ships to sail to Ireland. In response, martial law was quickly declared in New South Wales. The mostly Irish rebels, having gathered reinforcements, were hunted by the colonial forces until they were sequestered on 5 March 1804 on a hillock nicknamed Vinegar Hill. 

A Major Johnston with Trooper Anlezark came  to parley, calling down the leaders Cunningham and Johnston from the hill. Demanding their surrender, he received the response from Cunningham 'Death or Liberty' and by some report added 'and a ship to take us home'. With the NSW Corps and Active Defence now formed up behind him Major Johnston and the trooper produced pistols and shepherded the two leaders back to unfriendly lines. Quartermaster Sergeant Thomas Laycock, on being given the order to engage, directed fifteen minutes of musket fire, then charged. The now leaderless rebels first tried to fire back, but then broke and ran.


During the short battle fifteen rebels had fallen, Major Johnston preventing more killings by threatening his troops with his pistol. Several convicts were captured and others killed in the pursuit which went up to Windsor all day until 9pm, with new arrivals of soldiers from Sydney joining in the search for rebels. Large parties of 50 and 70 who lost their way in the night turned themselves in under the Amnesty.

 Nine of the rebel leaders were executed and hundreds were punished before martial law was finally revoked on 12 March 1804.