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New South Wales Corps

The New South Wales Corps (aka The Rum Corps) was formed in England in 1789 as permanent regiment to relieve the marines who had accompanied the First Fleet. The regiment, led by Major Francis Grose, consisted of three companies and due to the remoteness and unpopularity of the posting they were composed of officers on half pay, troublemakers, soldiers paroled from military prisons and those with few prospects gambling to make a life for themselves in the new colony. The regiment began arriving as guards on the Second Fleet in 1790. Major Grose arrived in Sydney in 1792 to take command and assume role of Lieutenant-Governor of the colony. A fourth company was raised from those marines wishing to remain in NSW under Captain George Johnston, who had been Governor Phillip’s aide-de-camp.

Administration of NSW

When Governor Phillip returned to England for respite in December 1792, Major Francis Grose was left in charge. Grose immediately abandoned Phillip’s plans for governing the colony. A staunch military man, he established military rule and set out to secure the authority of the Corps. He abolished the civilian courts and transferred the magistrates to the authority of Captain Foveaux. After the poor crops of 1793 he cut the rations of the convicts but not those of the Corps overturning Phillip’s policy of equal rations for all.

To improve agricultural production, and make the colony more self-sufficient, Grose turned away from collective farming and made generous land grants to officers of the Corps. They were also provided with government fed and clothed convicts as labour to farm produce, which they would sell to the government store.

Due to poor health Grose returned to England in December 1794 and Captain William Paterson assumed command until a replacement, Governor Hunter, finally arrived in September 1795. Paterson had obtained his commission with the backing of Sir Joseph Banks because he was interested in natural history and would explore and collect samples for Banks and the Royal Society. He was an honest man, but fairly weak and while he did try to introduce some reforms he was unable to stop the officers of the NSW Corps consolidating their wealth and power.

Rum Corps and Rum Trafficking in NSW

Grose had also relaxed Phillip's prohibition on trading of rum, usually from Bengal (sometimes a generic term for any form of spirit, usually made from wheat). The colony, like many British Territories at the time, was short of coin and rum soon became the medium of trade. The officers of the Corps were able to use their position and wealth to buy up all the imported rum and then exchange it for goods and labour at very favourable rates, thus earning the nickname The Rum Corps. By 1793 stills were being imported and distillation of rum was exacerbating the shortage of grain.

Governor Hunter attempted to use troops to guard imported rum and stop the officers from buying it up but this failed for the obvious reason. Attempts to stop the importation were also thwarted by the failure of other governments to co-operate and by the Corps's officers chartering of a Danish ship to bring in a large shipment of rum from India. Hunter also tried to start up a public store with goods from England to provide competition and stabilise the price of goods, but Hunter was not a good businessman and supplies were too erratic. Hunter requested greater control by authorities in England and an excise on rum. Hunter also issued an order restricting the amount of convict labour that officers could use, but again he had no means to enforce it. Hunter was opposed strongly by officers of Corps and pamphlets and letters against him were circulated. John Macarthur wrote a letter accusing Hunter of ineffectiveness and trading in rum. Hunter was forced to answer the charges by the Colonial Office, and soon after recalled for being ineffective. Back in England Hunter lobbied unsuccessfully for reform and the recall of the NSW Corps.

In 1799, now Lieutenant Colonel Paterson, returned from England with orders to stamp out the trading in rum by officers of the Corps. In 1800 he charged Major Johnston, who had also served as Hunter’s aide-de-camp, with giving a sergeant part payment in rum at an exorbitant rate. Johnston claimed he was being unfairly persecuted and demanded that he be sent to England for trial. The English courts decided that colonial affairs were not a matter for them and as all the evidence and witnesses were in Sydney that any trial should be held here. They also decided that as proper court martial could not be constituted in Sydney no further action should be taken against Johnston. Governor King realising that every officer, apart from Paterson, was similarly trading in rum allowed Johnston to resume his duties.

Governor King continued Hunter’s efforts to suppress the Corps trading in rum. He was backed by the ability to levy an excise on alcohol and the Transit Board now required all ships to lodge a bond, which was forfeit for disobeying the Governor’s orders, including the prohibition of the landing of more than 500 gallons of rum. King also encouraged private importers and traders; opened a public brewery in 1804; and introduced a schedule of values for Indian copper and Spanish pieces of eight which were used as currency. Though there was still a serious problem keeping the coin in the colony despite it being valued higher than its face value. King’s actions were not wholly effective but they still antagonised officers of the Corps, and like Hunter he was the subject of pamphlets and attacks. King tried to court marshal the officers responsible. King had since May 1803 been requesting a replacement and eventually William Bligh was appointed in 1805.

Even though the economy had developed and diversified somewhat by 1806, Governor Bligh arrived determined to bring the Corps and especially John Macarthur, to heel and stamp their trading in rum. This led to the Rum Rebellion and the eventual recall of the NSW Corps.

Lieutenant-Colonel Foveaux allowed the Corps's trading in rum during the interregnum, despite protests from settlers, believing that freer trade would reduce the problems.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie was able to better control the trade rum introducing and enforcing a licensing system. However, he was still forced to pay for public works projects in rum due to the lack of currency. The construction of Sydney Hospital was entirely funded by granting a monopoly on the import of rum to the contractors, and using troops to prohibit the landing of rum anywhere other that at the hospital dock. This was a Public-Private Partnership that increased the price of rum and was highly unpopular putting an end to such deals for some time.

In 1813 Macquarie finally managed to established a stable currency in coin that could be retained in the colony. He bought Spanish Dollars from America and punched the middle out to make the Holey Dollar, worth 5s, with the middle bit or dump being used as a 15p piece. In 1819 the British Government legalised the commercial distillation of spirit and trafficking in rum gradually ceased to be an issue.

The Battle of Vinegar Hill

The military behaviour of the body of NSW Corps was better than might have been expected. In 1802 King praised them stating, "the utmost order and regularity has uniformly prevailed amongst the non-commissioned officers and privates."

The Corps only saw action once in NSW at the Battle of Vinegar Hill (named after a revolt in Ireland). Late on the 4th of March 1804, 266 Irish rebels revolted on a government farm at Castle Hill, armed themselves with muskets and pikes, and planned to sack Parramatta. Major Johnston led 29 soldiers of the NSW Corps on a forced march overnight to Parramatta and then the following day, with 50 militia, they pursued the rebels who were now heading to Windsor. After catching the rebels, Johnston took the ringleaders hostage when they refused to surrender and the troops quickly put down the revolt. Major Johnston was highly commended for his actions by Governor King.

102nd Regiment

In 1809, after the Rum Rebellion, the NSW Corps was formed into the 102nd Regiment of Foot and recalled. A few of its officers and long servicing privates were used to bring Macquarie’s 73rd regiment up to near full strength; around 100 veterans and invalids were retained for garrison duty in NSW (though of little real use the unit survived till 1823); some officers were allowed to retire and farm their land; and the bulk of the troops were sent back to England. Colonel Paterson, formerly Captain Paterson, died in South Africa on the way.

In England, most personnel were transferred to Veteran or Garrison battalions with most officers ending up in the 8th Royal Veteran Battalion. The regiment was reconstituted with new recruits and then served in various posts throughout the United Kingdom: Horsham in 1811 and the Channel Islands of Guernsey in 1812. In 1812 the Regiment was posted to Bermuda and then Nova Scotia. In the British-American War (known in the USA as the War of 1812) they took part in seaborne raids along the US Atlantic coast and other actions against the Americans and were involved in the British capture of Maine. Detachments of the 102nd remained on both sides of the border between the British colony of New Brunswick and the US State of Maine after the war's end in December 1814.

After the wars against Napoleonic France and the United States, the British Army disbanded many units for the sake of economy and the 102nd Regiment was renumbered as the 100th Regiment of Foot in 1816. The 100th were the last British troops to occupy the United States with the last detachments returning to Chatham Barracks in England where the regiment was disbanded on March 24th, 1818.

At a loss with what to do with the disbanded veterans, some of whom remembered NSW fondly, they were offered the chance to reform the NSW Corps as a garrison unit. They arrived in Sydney in July 1826 and were placed under the command of Colonel Dumaresq. In 1829 the Royal New South Wales Veterans Companies, or Veterans Corps, had about 150 men serving at various posts in NSW, Norfolk Island and Tasmania. It was finally disbanded on 1st April 1833.

Throughout its life the regiment acquired a number of nicknames related to its service in New South Wales: Botany Bay Rangers, Rum Puncheon Corps, Condemned Regiment, Rum Corps

Commanding Officers

NSW Corps

102nd Regiment of Foot

See also


  • (1927). The Australian Encyclopedia. Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

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