Some insight in to the
Castle Hill district, an uprising of Irish rebels at Toongabbie
known as the Vinegar Hill uprising.
- Following the 1798 rebellion in Ireland, nine
convict ships left Ireland and England in 1800 arriving
- same year in Sydney Cove. Of the 1070 convicts on
board, 780 were political Irish exiles. Elizabeth
Paterson whose husband, was at the time Governor,
expressed in a letter to home her fears. She wrote the
I fear they will be a troublesome lot, I cannot say I
like the colony near so well as I did before they arrived
- By 1803 more than 25% of convicts were Irish, this
vastly out numbered the military. The colony
- became a very uneasy place. The Irish convicts
became uneasy with their English guards and eventually
- Problems began in February of 1804. The Irish
convicts began to talk of rebellion. This was confessed by
- dying leader William Johnson to Reverend Samuel
Marsden. Their intention was to take control of the badly
guarded settlement of Castle Hill, take as many weapons
as they could gather and meet with convicts at
Parramatta, following which they would all march on
Sydney, steal a ship and sail out of Australian waters.
Their communication was poor,they set a pass word for the
uprising " Saint Peter " which was to be used
as the signal to begin the rebellion. However no evidence
has been found confirming the password was ever used.
- One convict. " Keogh " had caught wind
of the impending rebellion and promptly reported this to
- the Parramatta Barracks
- At 7pm on the 4th of March 1804 the rebellion
began in a convicts house at Castle Hill . To announce
- the beginning they set fire to this house ,then
ran from house to house seizing what they could before
burning it to the ground. Phillip Cunningham called to
his fellows "Now my Boys Liberty or Death"
.With this cry they marched on Parramatta. They came
across the Government flogger " Duggin" they
attacked and beat him to within an inch of life. Finding
kegs of rum, the rebels began to drink. The rebels became
known as " The croppies "
- The rebels reached the Parramatta Government Farm
and over powered the Military Guards, seized the
- guards weapons and armed themselves against the
military. The rebels left the prison farm and headed
towards the Hawksbury area in the hope of seizing a ship
and returning to Ireland. As they marched the rebels
gathered more recruits and weapons on the way and
confiscated any Rum Barrels they could find. The Rum was
consumed as soon as it was seized.
- Governor King learned of the rebellion at
midnight and issued orders for the immediate mobilisation
- New South Wales Corps. With the mobilisation of
the corps, Sydney was left virtually unprotected. The
alarm was raised on board the ship "HMS
Calcutta". in turn 140 seaman and marines were
placed on alert. The New South Wales Corps were to be
sent to the area and quell the uprising. King declared
marshal law throughout the colony. Two officers and only
52 privates were despatched to the area. Under the
command of Major
Johnston the detachment arrived at
Parramatta at 1:30am on March the 5th 1804, where one
further officer and 14 privates added to their strength.
One detatchment marched to Castle Hill while the other
marched to Toongabbie. The rebels were in neither spot.
- The soldiers pursued the rebels for another 10
miles before catching them at a small knoll. This knoll
- to be known as Vinegar Hill ,so named after the
rebel battle of Wexford six years prior.
- It is interesting to
"note" Phillip Cunningham and William Johnston
under the flag of truce, met with Major
- George Johnston
at Vinegar Hill.
It would have been the intention to discuss options open
to both sides, keeping in mind that the flag of truce is
intended to afford safe passage and safe discussion until
such time both parties separate and return to their
ranks. Once the return is carried out the truce is broken
and battle or surrender begins.
- Phillip Cunningham uttered
the words to Major Johnston " Death or
- It was with this statement
that Major Johnston captured William Johnston and Trooper
Anlezark captured Phillip Cunningham. Both men were
forced to the Military Ranks. Major Johnston ordered his
men to charge and open fire.
- As the battle began William
Johnston and Phillip Cunningham were lead to the rear .
According to an
- eyewitness named John
Byrne, Quartermaster Laycock
drew his sword and stuck Phillip Cunningham on the left
side of the head. Reasons for his act of aggression
against a prisoner have never been made clear as they
have never been recorded in any official reports.(
Laycock was known to have had a violent temper & had
been in trouble for a similar act of aggression against a
settler) Cunningham was left for dead and was not
recovered until the next morning in such a state that he
was only just still alive.
- Major Johnston declared
that the just alive Cunningham should hang from the stair
case of the Public
- stores at Greenhill's.
Phillip Cunningham was subsequently hung without any
trail from this place.
- Another item omitted from
the official reports is that Major Johnston had to
threaten his own men with
- death by holding his loaded
pistol and aiming it at his troops. This threat was to
prevent the murder of captured rebels. The soldiers and
military had in a sense been out of control.
- The following is a factual
report written to Lieutenant Colonel Patterson by Major
Johnston to Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson
- I beg leave to aquatint you that about half-past 1
o'clock on Monday morning last I took the command of my
detachment marched from headquarters accompanied by
Lieutenant Davis consisting of two officers, two
sergeant, and 52 rank and file of the New South Wales
Corps and by his Excellency Governor King's orders, I
proceeded immediately to Parramatta, where we arrived at
the dawn of day. I halted at the barracks about 20 miles
to refresh my party, and then marched to the Government
House, and agreeable to his Excellency's orders, divided
my detachment , giving Lieutenant Davis the command of
half and taking Quartermaster
Laycock and the other half,
with one trooper, myself, having the Governor's
instruction to march in pursuit of the rebels, who, in
number about 400, were on the summit of the hill. I
immediately detached a corporal, with four privates and
about six inhabitants, armed with muskets, to take them
in the flank whilst I proceeded with the rest up the
hill, when I found the rebels had marched on for the
Hawksbury, and after a pursuit of about ten miles I got
sight of them. I immediately rode forward, attended by
the trooper Mr Dixon, the Roman Catholic Priest, calling
them to halt, That I wished to speak to them. They
desired I would come in the middle of them, as their
Captains were there, which I refused, observing to them
that I was in pistol shot, and it was in their power to
kill me, upon which two persons advance towards me as
their leaders, to whom I represented the impropriety of
their conduct, and advised them to surrender, and I would
mention them in as favourable terms as possible to the
Governor. Phillip Cunningham replied they would have
death or liberty. Quartermaster Laycock
with the detachment just then appeared in sight, I
clapped my pistol to William Johnson's head, whilst the
trooper did the same to Phillip Cunningham and drove them
with there swords in hand to the Quartermasters and the
detachment, whom I ordered to advance and charge the main
body of the rebels then formed in line. The detachment
immediately commenced a well-directed fire, which was
weakly returned, for, the rebel line was soon broken,
they ran in all directions. We pursued them a
considerable way, and have no doubt but many of them
fell. We have found 12 killed, and 6 wounded, and have
taken 26 prisoners.
encomiums I could pass on Quartermaster Laycock
and the detachment I have the honour to command would
fall far short of what their merit entitles them to, and
I trust their steady perseverance, after a fatiguing
march of up to 45 miles, to restore order and
tranquillity will make their service acceptable. Return
of arms taken from the rebels; 26 muskets, 4 bayonets on
poles, 8 reaping hooks, 2 swords, a fowling piece, and a
- The consequences of the rebellion were severe,
Phillip Cunningham and 9 others were hung .
- Many were severely flogged. The rest sent to
various places to stop another uprising from ever
re-occurring. This ended the only convict uprising on the
research we believe we may have identified those soldiers who were
in Johnsons detatchment. It is more than likely some were the
soldiers who pursued the rebels. Following is a list of these
- Marched from Sydney
- Major, Goerge JOHNSTON
, . Lt John BRABYN
Sergeant, Thomas LAYCOCK
, James MCMULLIN
, Samuel PORTER , . Charles WHELAN (WHALAN) , . John
WIXSTEAD , .
, . Samuel Richards , .
, Robert ANDERSON, ,
. Joseph AXTELL , . Samuel BAXTER , . Felix BEARCROFT , .
Gregory BELLOW , . George BENSON , . James BRACKENRIG ,
, . John BRADBURY , . James BRADOCK , . James BULL , .
Thomas BURNE , . John BUTTLER , . Charles CARTEY , .
Henry COLE , . Michael COLLINS , . Samuel COOLLEY , .
William CORNICK , . Frederick COYLE , . CUPIT George
, . Peter
DARGIN, (also Dargan) , . James
DAVIDSON , . John DAVIS , . Michaehl DINAN , . George
GORDON , . George GORE , . John HADOCKS , . Richard
HARDING , . William,
KING , , . John LAWRENCE , . eorge LAWSON,
. Jeremiah LEARY , . Edward LOVEDAY , . James MANNING , .
George MELLIN , . Charles MELLON , . William MITCHEL , .
Joseph MOORE , . George MORRISON , . Michael MURRY , .
John NEVAN , . William PARKER , . James PLOWMAN , . John
PRICE , . Luke RALPH , . Richard LAWRENCE , . James
RICHARDSON , . Patrick SEXTON , . William WATKINS , . Thomas WHITTLE
, . William WILKINS, . James WILKINS , .
the soldiers below have been confirmed as taking part in the
- Major, Goerge JOHNSTON
Sergeant, Thomas LAYCOCK
, . Charles WHELAN (WHALAN)
, Robert ANDERSON, ,
George , .William,
KING , George LAWSON. Thomas WHITTLE ,
- Family Members, Military records ,Pay rolls, Pay Musters,
Cemetery Records, Church Records & General Muster Records, Mitchell Library
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- © Copyright B & M Chapman (QLD) Australia
- Last revised: April 29, 2008.