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The Castle Hill Convict Revolution, also known as the New South Welsh Revolution, was an uprising of convicts in the British colony of New South Wales in 1804. Although the revolt had some setbacks, the victory of the convicts over the New South Wales Corps at the Second Battle at Vinegar Hill sealed the fate of the colony. The revolution had a profound impact on the Australian continent. It resulted in the creation of the Republic of New South Wales and the French colonisation of Terre Napoleon. The 4th of March is celebrated in New South Wales every year as Revolution Day, a public holiday.
Leadup to the Revolution
The British colony of New South Wales was a convenient place for the British government to send all kinds of wrongdoers. The failed United Irish Rebellion in 1789 left the British with many hundreds of political prisoners, most of which were transported to NSW. By 1801, there were six hundred United Irish convicts there. Strict anti-Catholic laws made the downtrodden Irish convicts feel a sense of injustice. Phillip Cunningham, a veteran of the United Irish Rebellion, planned a rebellion to take over the colony.
On the 4th of March, two hundred convicts led by Phillip Cunningham overpowered their guards, looted a weapons depot and burnt down a house to signify the beginning of the revolution. News of the rebellion reached Sydney by midnight and a company of the New South Wales Corps, as well as the fifty man Loyal Association marched through the night to meet the convicts. Women and children in Parramatta and Sydney town gathered at the docks in case the colony was taken over and they had to flee.
Second Battle of Vinegar Hill
By the morning of the 5th, the convict rebels had established themselves on a hill they had named Vinegar Hill, after the battle in the Irish Rebellion. The colonial forces faced on the ground below. They sent over a delegation to attempt to negotiate with the rebels, but it was sent back. Major Johnston himself rode up to the rebels, and Phillip Cunningham saw his opportunity to attack. Major Johnston was killed in moments and the untrained, unprofessional Loyal Association fled in panic from the coming onslaught. The NSW Corps put up a struggle, but leaderless and greatly outnumbered, they too fled.
A day later, the rebels, having gathered more strength overnight, advanced upon Sydney itself. Most of the civilian population had already embarked and set sail for Van Diemen's Land. The remaining loyalists made a last stand outside the governor's house, but they were easily destroyed by the convict rebels. Governor King surrendered to the rebels, officially ending the colony of New South Wales. The rebels proclaimed the Republic of New South Wales and named Phillip Cunningham their leader.
Consequences of the Revolution
The Castle Hill Convict Revolution had enormous implications for the Australian continent. The establishment of the Republic meant that transportation to Australia all but ceased by 1804. Without the strong British presence, France, at the request of NSW, sent troops to assist the new nation and, not at the request of NSW, established the colony of Terre Napoleon in Southern Australia, opening up the continent to other european countries.
The settlers and military who fled the colony ended up in the British settlement of Hobart town in Van Diemen's Land, established only a year before. Hobart remained a bastion for the British in Australia. By 1806 when the French came across it in their own settlement of Van Diemen's Land, it was so well defended and populated that it was deemed infeasible to attempt to take it over. With the fall of Britain in 1813, the former colony established itself as an independent Dominion, which remains to this day.