Australians love criminals. Which is to say, we hate criminals – if they’re actually near us. But as long as we’re separated by distance, class boundaries or the fog of history, we bloody love felons and wrongdoers of all varieties. From Ned Kelly to Chopper Read, we simply cannot get enough of crims whom we know we’re never going to meet personally. This is only natural, as our country was, in a very real sense, founded by criminals.
Oh, I don’t mean the convicts. They weren’t the founders of the country: they were just the raw materials the founders used. No, the criminals who founded this country were the Rum Corps: as nasty a bunch of amoral gangsters to have ever used alcohol as currency.
Officially, the Rum Corps were known as the NSW Corps: the soldiers given the job of maintaining law and order in the colony of New South Wales. They discovered early on that being in a position of authority over a little settlement thousands of miles away from the government that theoretically oversaw them provided prime opportunity for making hay while the sun shone. And so, the fine men of the NSW Corps got busy: handing out enormous grants of free land to each other, illegally trafficking in rum and abusing their power to ruin the lives of anyone who crossed them.
The brashest of the Rum Corps was John Macarthur, who arrived in Sydney as a lieutenant and made himself a millionaire through a combination of canny sheep husbandry and the systematic bitchslapping of successive colonial governors.
By 1806 Macarthur was the most powerful man in NSW and the government was kind of sick of it. Deciding to fight fire with fire – or in this case, fight douchebag with douchebag – they appointed William Bligh as governor.
Bligh was already famous due to the mutiny on the Bounty, wherein the crew of his ship set him adrift in a lifeboat, which he successfully piloted nearly 7000km to safety. This incident proved two things about Captain Bligh: he was too obnoxious for anyone in close proximity to stand; and when he set his mind to something, the devil himself stood little chance of stopping him. But the devil was one thing: John Macarthur was something else. Bligh, given dominion over the colony, immediately set about putting Macarthur’s back up. He cracked down on the rum trade, blocked Macarthur’s dodgy land deals, and generally went around acting like the governor was in charge of things rather than wealthy land-owning organised crime figures. Macarthur’s only possible course of action was to settle down, accept that things had changed and live out his life enjoying his already-vast wealth in lawabiding peace.
"NO, THE CRIMINALS WHO FOUNDED THIS COUNTRY WERE THE RUM CORPS: AS NASTY A BUNCH OF AMORAL GANGSTERS TO HAVE EVER USED ALCOHOL AS A CURRENCY."
Sorry, no, what I meant was: Macarthur’s only possible course of action was to get his soldier friends to grab their guns and get rid of Bligh. And so was born the Rum Rebellion – the first and, to date, only armed overthrow of the government in Australian history. It was a relatively speedy affair: the men of the Rum Corps marched on the governor’s mansion and demanded Bligh.
Passing by the governor’s daughter, who assaulted them bravely with her umbrella, they entered the house and dragged Bligh out. Legend has it that they found him hiding under his bed – this probably isn’t true, but it made for an awesome picture. The Rum Corps booted Bligh out of the colony and put him on a ship home.
Amazingly, Bligh was so stubborn that he didn’t go home: he sailed to Hobart to get support for his reinstatement, failed, and remained on board the ship for two years, waiting for someone to recognise that he was still the governor, goddammit. Eventually a trial back in England ruled in Bligh’s favour, but he never did resume his governorship, being replaced by the famous statesman and genocide enthusiast, Lachlan Macquarie. John Macarthur lived out his days rich and happy until he went insane, and who could blame him really. He’d earned it.
That was the Rum Rebellion, the earthshattering event that proved that, in Australia, no “legitimate” government could ever stand against the interests of rich men with guns. To this day, the Australian people have loved criminals, and the Australian government has known better than to cross the wealthy.
Grab a copy of the latest issue of Penthouse here.