DEATH OR LIBERTY AND THE SECOND VINEGAR HILL UPRISING

On March 4th 1804, 233 convicts rebelled at the Castle Hill Government Farm in Castle Hill. This ultimately led to a bloody defeat at Rouse Hill, known as the Second Battle of Vinegar Hill and the death of the leader Philip Cunningham. He was hung in Thompson Square Windsor and his body lies in the little-known Green Hills Cemetery beside South Creek, located minutes by foot from Thompson Square.

Irish convicts who had been leaders of fierce rebellion against the British in Ireland in 1798 (the first battle of Vinegar Hill) were transported to the colony of New South Wales. They were desperate to break free of their British shackles and return to their beloved homeland. Philip Cunningham who became the leader of the Vinegar Hill uprising starting in Castle Hill (named after the 1798 uprising in Ireland) was no stranger to rebellion. Cunningham had been charged with sedition in 1799, his death sentence was commuted to transportation to New South Wales and he was placed aboard the convict ship Anne.

Governor King wrote on 10th March 1801 about the arrival of the Anne at Sydney Cove “the Ann, transport, from Cork, with 137 of the most desperate and diabolical characters that could be selected throughout that Kingdom, ……………… which makes the numbers of those who, avowing a determination never to lose sight of the oath by which they are bound as United Irishmen, The numbers amount to 600, are ready, and only waiting an opportunity to put Irishmen and their diabolical plans in execution.” Governor Kings writing shows the level of fear that existed in the colony over the possibility of an uprising of Irish prisoners.

Aboard Anne the Irish convicts had mutinied with the phrase ‘Death or Liberty’. The mutiny failed and the ring leaders were executed and flogged. However, ‘Death or Liberty’ was to be heard again in 1804 when the mostly Irish Convicts rebelled at the Castle Hill Government Farm. The colony was thrown into panic and a state of martial law was proclaimed. The Irish rebels failed because of poor communication with other groups and general disorganization. However, in the short time they were on the march they had gathered a significant number of arms and had they been able to join forces with other convicts the outcome may have been entirely different.

At Thompson Square, Windsor on Sunday 24th February between 4.30pm and 7.30pm there will be a presentation on the Battle of Vinegar Hill and Philip Cunningham and a guided tour to the little- known Green Hills cemetery. Bring a picnic blanket and enjoy a sausage sandwich in the twilight cool of Thompson Square