People around the colony at the time were trading in rum, as there was no official Australian currency, and the NSW Corps monopolized this trade. The officers of the Corps sold the rum at huge prices, to the distinct disadvantage of the free settlers and freed convicts, who had little income.
Bligh wanted to end the trade in rum, and this idea was nothing new. Both Hunter and King had tried to end it in their governorships before Bligh, and their attempts were unsuccessful. One of Bligh’s first acts was to make the barter in rum illegal. He quickly made enemies, especially with Macarthur, who despite the fact that he was a free settler, he supported the NSW Corps heavily and was popular with them and involved in the rum trade with them. He also made enemies with Simeon Lord, the architect, trader and freed convict.
There are two views that have been taken about Bligh’s actions. One of these is from Bligh and his supporters, including the historiam H. V. Evatt. This was that Macarthur and those involved in the rum trade were the ‘bad guys’, and that Bligh was doing what he could to protect the more vulnerable free settlers of the colony. According to the historians Ross Fitzgerald and Mark Hearn, the officers that ran the monopoly were little better than modern day gangsters. The other view, given by Macarthur and his followers, includin the historian M H Ellis. In this view, Bligh is presented as a tyrant, and that he victimized the entrepreneurial Macarthur.
Historians are beginning to believe that the rum trade was not as major a factor in the rebellion as first thought, as there is increasing evidence that the NSW Corps officers were more interested in land than the spirit trade.
During a major flood in NSW, Bligh showed his support for the farmers, and vise versa. This demonstrated the class division – the wealthy and powerful hated Bligh, but the poor loved him.
In late 1807, Bligh tried to replace the NSW Corps, to ‘prevent a fixed Corps becoming a dangerous militia’. The Corps and the rising business class were able to protect their priveleges, however, and Macarthur was able to manipulate the Corps to his cause.
3 merchants were arrested and imprisoned for trading in rum.
In Ocober 1807, 2 stills were seized from Macarthur. Macarthur sued Campbell (the guy who seized the stills) for trespass, and through this he got and audience and support for his ideas on the governorship of Bligh being that of tyranny.
Bligh removed the chief surgeon, who was corrupt and a drunkard.
The trading ship “Parramatta” returned to Sydney Cove. It was using convicts as crew, which was against regulations. Bligh and Campbell sued the owners of the ship, one of whom was Macarthur. He abandoned the ship, and let the convicts go.
Bligh ordered Macarthur’s arrest, but Macarthur just ignored the warrant.
Macarthur was arrested on the 6th of December. He was granted bail, and he statements were very against Bligh.
It was the night before his trial, on the 24th of December, that Macarthur met with his fellow conspirators, and the rest of the story is in the first part of these articles!
The Rebellion occurred on the 26th of January, 1808.