The Handsome Convict Artillery Commander: Lieutenant George Bridges Bellasis (1767–1825)
Lieutenant George Bridges Bellasis, formerly of the British East India Company, arrived in Sydney in January 1802 as a convict with a 14-year sentence. By that October he had become the commandant of the Governor's cavalry bodyguard, and had been given command of the artillery at Dawes Point.
Being transported turned out to be a good career move for Bellasis. Born in England and described as “the most handsome man in India”, he was the epitome of an officer and a gentleman of the British Empire. The Bellasis family was well represented amongst the British forces serving in India; George’s brother General Joseph Harvey Bellasis was killed while storming a fort in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War in 1799, and in the same year George was awarded a gold medal for gallantry at the battle of Seringapatam.
Arthur Forbes Mitchell, paymaster of the British East India Company, became engaged to Bellasis’s sister-in-law Ann. When Mitchell reneged on the engagement, Bellasis did what any well-bred gentleman might do when the honour of a woman under his protection is besmirched: he threw down the gauntlet and challenged Mitchell to a duel, with pistols. Bellasis killed Mitchell, for which he was sentenced to 14 years transportation.
As soon as Bellasis arrived in Sydney with his wife Esther, Governor Philip Gidley King appointed him to act as Colonial Artillery Officer, in charge of the guns at Dawes Point Battery.
Bellasis was granted a Royal Pardon in June 1803, at a ceremony held at Dawes Point Battery to mark the birthday of King George III. He left the colony soon afterwards, returning to England. After Esther died in England in 1806 George sailed to India, where he was reinstated at his old rank, continued his career, and married another of Esther’s sisters, Elizabeth, the widow of a fellow British East India Company Officer. Eventually promoted to the rank of General, George Bellasis died in India in 1825.