An Unlikely Leader: the life and times of Captain John Hunter was launched last night at the Royal Australian Historical Society. The author, Robert Barnes, gave a short talk on "The difficulties of governing New South Wales". John Hunter captained the HMS Sirius in the First Fleet, and later returned to England. After Governor Phillip's departure, there was a period of over 2 1/2 years before Hunter arrived as the second Governor. This allowed the NSW Corps to establish themselves as the powerbrokers of the colony. Barnes' argument was that very few people could have made progress against such entrenchment, Hunter's own qualities notwithstanding.
The talk caused some lively discussion afterwards, not least through comparisons with the governing of New South Wales today. But the real point was to try and dispel the notion that Hunter was just a wishy-washy well-meaning fellow who had risen above his level of competence. Events, including the lack of interest from Britain (who was fighting a war with France, and had other political issues threatening to boil over) and Hunter had little real support in trying to manage the colony.
Shirley Fitzgerald, the former City of Sydney Historian, gave the launch speech, noting that the time Hunter spent in New South Wales was actually a comparatively short part of his life, the majority of which was as a naval officer.
In this too, Hunter had his successes and failures. For his mercy dash to get supplies for the fledgling colony from Cape Town later in 1788, he used a new route under New Zealand and the Cape of Good Hope, utlising the Roaring Forties to speed his trip. This proved most successful and opened the way for general shipping along this route. His failures included the sinking of the Sirius in 1790 at Norfolk Island and the loss of the HMS Venerable in Torbay in 1804.
But to find out more about John Hunter, the man and his life, you'll have to read the book!
An Unlikely Leader: the life and times of Captain John Hunter by Robert Barnes