Many convicts in the Castle Hill area had been involved in the 1798 rebellion in Ireland and subsequently transported to the Colony of New South Wales from late 1799. Phillip Cunningham, a veteran of the 1798 rebellion, and William Johnston, another Irish convict at Castle Hill, planned the uprising in which 685 convicts at Castle Hill planned to meet with nearly 1,100 convicts from the Hawkesbury River area, rally at Constitution Hill, and march on Parramatta and then Sydney (Port Jackson) itself.
On the evening of 4 March 1804, a hut at Castle Hill was set afire as the signal for the rebellion to begin. With Cunningham leading, 200 rebels broke into the Government Farm's buildings, taking firearms, ammunition, and other weapons. The constables were overpowered and the rebels then went from farm to farm on their way to Constitution Hill at Parramatta, seizing more weapons and supplies including rum and spirits.
When news of the uprising spread there was great panic with particularly hated officials such as Samuel Marsden fleeing the area by boat, escorting Elizabeth Macarthur and her children, as an informer had advised that an attack would be made on the farm to draw troops away from Parramatta. In Sydney the Sydney Loyal Association militia took over guard duties and a New South Wales Corps contingent of twentynine soldiers marched at forced-march pace through the night, picking up Major George Johnston from his Annandale farm on the way, and arrived at Parramatta about four hours later just after Governor Phillip King, who declared martial law. Thirtysix armed members of the Parramatta Loyal Association militia were also called out and took over defence of the town. Over 50 enrolled Active Defence reserve militia combined with the NSW Corps to march out and confront the rebels.
Meanwhile, the rebels at Constitution Hill were having difficulties co-ordinating their force as several parties had lost their way in the night. They commenced drilling, while a party tried to enter Parramatta, but withdrew when they saw the arsenal, Commissariat and other buildings defended. The messenger sent to pass out the rising instructions had defected to the authorities and those in the town and environs did not receive the callout, nor did the convicts at the Hawkesbury.
Read more about this topic: Castle Hill Convict Rebellion
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