You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

January 26: The Rum Rebellion

January 26, 2015

Arrest_of_Govenor_BlighCaptain William Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty infamy), governor of New South Wales, was overthrown by armed rebellion and arrested (from under his bed) on this date in 1808, twenty years to the day after the start of British colonial settlement in Australia. The Rum Rebellion, as it was called, was led by Major George Johnston, whose common-law wife, Esther Abrahams, had been a convict shipped to Australia on his ship. The couple had seven children and became the first family of the colony for six months. As governor, Bligh had actually provided relief to colonial farmers by dividing up the military’s provisions, had reformed the handing out of large land tracts to wealthy families, and had tried to reform trade by prohibiting the use of alcohol, primarily rum, as payment for commodities. These and other changes that benefited the less powerful residents of the colony had earned him the enmity of the military and the monopolists and made him liable to overthrow, in the only armed coup in Australian history. Esther Abrahams, who died in 1846, was described by her grandson as “always a stirring industrious woman.” Her portrait hangs in the Sydney Jewish Museum.

Abrahams_Esther“From 1800, instead of Abrahams she called herself ‘Julian,’ after a renowned Judeo-Spanish family... Under this name bills were drawn by the Treasury to her for the sale of grain and meat and in 1809 she received a land grant of 570 acres... near Bankstown, which was confirmed in 1813. While Johnston stood trial in London for his part in the rebellion against Governor William Bligh, she proved an able administrator of his large estates. A year after his return to the colony, at Concord on 12 November 1814, he married Esther, the bride using the name Julian.” —Australian Dictionary of Biography