14. Bennelong’s Capture


Under Phillip’s Command


Not long after the death of Arabanoo, Governor Phillip decided to take more captives. This was at a time when the colony was becoming desperate about the short supply of food. Solving this problem was one of Phillip’s main reasons for kidnapping Bennelong and Colby.

Tench wrote:

“Intercourse with the natives, for the purpose of knowing whether or not the country possessed any resources, by which life might be prolonged, as well on other accounts, becoming everyday more desirable, the governor resolved to make prisoners of two more of them.”

The capture was carried out by Lieutenant Bradley who described it as

“by far the most unpleasant service I ever was order’d to Execute.”

Bennelong and Colby were led away from their group by using 2 large fish.

An officer gave a signal and…

“the two poor devils were seiz’d… The noise of the men, crying and screaming of the women and children together with the situation of the two…in our possession was really a most distressing scene.”

On 12th December 1789, after two weeks in custody, Colby escaped by gnawing through the rope tied to his leg iron and was not seen again until the whale feast.

Bennelong was kept in the colony for about six months, where he became quite popular, especially because of his sense of humour. He dined with the Governor often and became the talk of the town.

Worried Officials


The British tried to hide from Bennelong the fact that they were in such a bad state of desperation. Tench wrote:

 “Had he penetrated our state, perhaps he might have given his countrymen such a description of our… diminished strength, as would have emboldened them to become more troublesome. Every expedient was used to keep him in ignorance.”

“Australian Aborigine”. Henry King, 1890s.  Courtesy Trustees, Museum of Applied Arts and Science (Powerhouse). 

Reference:  ‘Survival’ by Nigel Parbury, page 26.  Used with permission.

Bennelong surprised everybody when he escaped on 3rd May 1790, after pretending to be ill. He was not seen again until September.

Tench described Bennelong as being about 26 years old, and having…

“a bold intrepid countenance, which bespoke of defiance and revenge.”




All for the sake of finding a way to

get some food in a hostile land

We Kidnapped Bennelong and Colby

Now they’re under Phillip’s command

After some time all sad and lonely

When captivity first began

Colby chewed through the rope on his leg,

Got into the bush – now a free man

Bennelong stayed with Governor Phillip

Dined with him and became his friend

Everybody loved the way he acted

Bennelong was the latest trend

I’ve gotta go – See you later…

I’ll see you but you won’t see me!

I’ve gotta go – Catch you later…

Back to my own livin’ for me!

After six months in civilisation

At the height of popularity

Cleverly he faked being ill

He got away – now he’s free