Friends or foes?
Regrets and floggings
Very odd laws
Myall Creek Massacre
How to use history?
Dying for liberty
Rasputin meets Ned Kelly
Mary Anne Bugg
Our Ned Kelly
A story heard and considered
Not a good fence builder
Negro Convicts in Australia
Out of convenience, or to pursue a political agenda, the British colonisation of Australia is often termed a "white settlement" or a "white invasion." Such terms are inaccurate considering that Convicts of African extraction walked among those of British extraction. Although their numbers were small, they had a level of influence that vastly exceeded their small numerical status, and so ensured that the colonial experience had a definitive shade of colour. These black Convicts included Billy Blue; the operator of a ferry service between Nth Sydney and Circular Quay. Aside from providing a valued service to the colony, Billy's eccentric nature helped him attain the status of what could be defined as Australia’s first celebrity. Another black included John Casare who, as Australia's first bushranger, forged a pathway that later made icons out of Ned Kelly and Ben Hall. Another Convict included Daniel Gordon whose acting prowess won him the applause of his fellow Convicts, and helped him escape the gallows.
Billy Blue – The first celebrity
Billy Blue was believed to have been born in the West Indies and may have been part Nth American Indian. In 1796, he was convicted of stealing sugar and subsequently transported to Australia. After gaining his ticket of leave, he became a boatman that ferried passengers across Sydney Harbour. He was also made a water bailiff and watched boat traffic on Port Jackson from a special tower. Despite being a bailiff, it seems Billy didn't do everything by the book. It was said that his law infringements were frequent, but due to his colourful personality, they were looked upon with a "benevolent air" by the authorities.
In 1818, tolerance of his practices temporarily waned. Billy was found to be carrying liquor on his boat, and was accused of smuggling. Billy protested that he had found the liquor floating in the harbour and was simply bringing it to shore. It seems his story was vaguely believable because he was stripped of his right to be a bailiff, but was still allowed to operate his ferry service.
Billy was a very popular member of the community. Governor Macquarie once remarked jokingly: "I shall have to make you the Commodore". For the rest of his life, he was referred to as “the Commodore." In tribute to his legacy, many streets, landmarks, hotels and businesses in Nth Sydney have been named in his honour. These include Blues Point, William Street, Blues Point Road, The Commodore Hotel, and the Billy Blue Design School.
John Casare – The first bushranger
A hungry man
Born in the West Indies, John Caesar fled to England to escape plantation slavery. Ironically, he soon found himself transported to Australia on the first fleet where he once more faced a life of slavery.
A huge man, the small rations of the colony compelled him to steal in order to sustain himself. David Collins, the colony's Judge-Advocate, wrote in July 1789:
" This man was always reputed the hardest working convict in the colony; his frame was muscular and well calculated for hard labour; but in his intellects he did not very widely differ from a brute; his appetite was ravenous, for he would in any one day devour the full rations for two days. To gratify this appetite he was compelled to steal from others, and all his thefts were directed to that purpose." (Collins)
Caesar escapes for the first time
On 29 April 1789, Caesar were tried for theft. A fortnight later Caesar, described as "an incorrigibly stubborn black," bolted with some provisions, an iron pot, and a soldier's musket. Garden robberies became frequent.
"Caesar stole a musket ... from Abraham Hand, a marine, and took to the bush. However, any intention he had of living off the land was soon abandoned because of the scarcity of game. Instead, he began prowling around the outskirts of the settlement with a loaded musket, stealing what food he could find. On May 26 he narrowly escaped capture after he had helped himself to the rations of a gang who were making bricks at Brickfield Hill, and on the night of June 6 he was caught by a convict named Wm. Saltmarsh while attempting to steal some food from the house of the colony's assistant commissary for stores, Zachariah Clark."
Caesar's capture presented Governor Phillip with something of a dilemma. The Governor had to protect the colony's scarce food supply; but he saw value in Caesar's as a labourer.
"He was such a wretch, and so indifferent about meeting death, that he declared while in confinement, that if he should be hanged, he would create a laugh before he was turned off, by playing off some trick upon the executioner. Holding up such a mere animal as an example was not expected to have the proper or intended effect; the governor therefore, with the humanity that was always conspicuous in his exercise of authority vested in him, directed that he should be sent to Garden Island, there to work in fetters; and in addition to his ration of provisions he was to be supplied with vegetables from the garden. "(Collins)
Caesar escapes a second time
In December 1789, Caesar escaped for a second time.
" Caesar the black, whose situation on Garden Island had been some time back rendered more eligible, by being permitted to work without irons, found means to make his escape, with a mind insensible alike to kindness and to punishment, taking with him a canoe which lay there for the convenience of the other people employed on the island, together with a week's provisions belonging to them; and in a visit which he made them a few nights after in his canoe, he took off an iron pot, a musket and some ammunition." (Collins)
In this second escape, Caesar was absent only a week and a half:
Sunday, 31st (December 1789): Caesar a notorious Convict a Native of Madagascar delivered himself up to the Officer at Rose Hill, He had been absent since the 22nd of December when he ran off with a canoe from Garden Island & on the 25th paid them a visit in the night & stole a Musquet, which he dropt in a Garden at Rose Hill a few nights since being closely pursued: The account he gives of his subsisting himself so long a time was, that when he saw a party of Natives with anything on, or about their Fire, that he frightened them away by coming suddenly on them & swaggering with his Musquet, then helped himself to whatever they had left; in this manner he made out very well without Ammunition, sometimes robbing Gardens: When he lost the Musquet he found it impossible to subsist himself, he was then attacked by the Natives & wounded in several places & escaped from a party of them through a very thick brush when he surrendered himself. [Bradley]
Caesar is pardoned and transported again
On 6 March the Sirius and Supply sailed for Norfolk Island, taking with them nearly a third of the population - including Caesar.
"One hundred and sixteen male and sixty eight female convicts, with twenty seven children, were put on board; among the male convicts the governor had sent the troublesome and incorrigible Caesar, on whom he had bestowed a pardon."[Collins)
Caesar returns and is flogged
Caesar returned to Sydney in 1793, and still incorrigible, took up his former practice of subsisting in the woods by plundering the farms and huts at the outskirts of the towns. He was soon taken; severely flogged but merely declared with exultation and contempt, that "all that would not make him better."
Caesar becomes a hero
Caesar was not the only troublemaker maker in the colony. Of even more concern was the Pemulwy, an aborigine who was leading a guerrilla warfare of resistance. Caesar seriously wounded Pemulwy, and was proclaimed a hero throughout the colony.
"It was however reported, that he had done meritorious action, killing Pe-mul-wy, who had just before wounded Collins (the native) so dangerously, that his recovery was a matter of very great doubt with the surgeons at our hospital, whose assistance Collins had requested." (Collins)
Caesar escapes, forms a gang and is outlawed
In 1795, Caesar escaped once more and formed a gang of fellow runaways. Hunter proclaimed a reward of five gallons of rum on 29th January 1796.
"The many robberies which have lately been committed render it necessary that some steps should be taken to put a stop to a practice so destructive of the happiness and comfort of the industrious. And as it is well known that a fellow known as Black Caesar has absented himself for some time past from his work, and has carried with him a musquet, notice is hereby given that whoever shall secure this man Black Caesar and bring him in with his arms shall receive as a reward five gallons of spirits."
Caesar evades capture
"Notwithstanding the reward that had been offered for apprehending Black Caesar, he remained at large, and scarcely a morning arrived without a complaint being made to the magistrates of a loss of property supposed to have been occasioned by this man. In fact, every theft that was committed was ascribed to him; a cask of pork was stolen from the millhouse, the upper part of which was accessible, and, the sentinels who had the charge of that building being tried and acquitted, the theft as fixed upon Caesar, or some of the vagabonds who were in the woods, the number of whom at this time amounted to six or eight." (Collins)
Caesar is murdered
"... information was received that Black Caesar had that morning been shot by one Wimbow. This man and another, allured by the reward, had been for some days in quest of him. Finding his haunt, they concealed themselves that night at the edge of a brush which they perceived him enter at dusk. In the morning he came out, when, looking around him and seeing his danger, he presented his musket; but before he could pull the trigger Wimbow fired and shot him. He was taken to the hut of Rose, a settler at Liberty Plains, where he died in a few hours. Thus ended a man, who certainly, during his life, could never have been estimated at more than one remove above the brute, and who had given more trouble than any other convict in the settlement. " (Collins)
Daniel Gordon – A wiley actor
In 1789, Daniel Gordon was caught stealing and was subsequently committed for trial where a death sentence was expected. However on his day in court he appeared 'wild and incoherent' in a performance that smacked of a praise the lord pastor crossed with a black and white minstrel. In response to the unusual behaviour, the judge deemed him unfit for trial. Appreciating Daniel's acting qualities, Governor Collins wrote: "His fellow convicts gave him credit for the ability he had acted his part, and perhaps he deserved their applause"He died 29 years later, Aged 81.
Why did Negroes gain a popularity in Australia that they never gained in America?
There was a unique social dynamic in Australia that may explain why Negroes gained a popularity in Australia that they never gained in America. In America's founding era, whites constituted the majority of the population, and were the first class citizens. Blacks were the disliked minority. On the other hand, nearly two generations into Australia'ss urban era, nearly 80 per cent of the population was a Convict, Emancipist, or of Convict descent. As a consequence, the majority of the population were second class-citizens, and the exclusive free settlers were the disliked minority. Race was insignificant compared to the stigma of Convict ancestry.
Aside from being of the same criminal class, it is also likely that the Convicts may have had a sympathetic attitude to the slave history of Negroes. By denouncing slavery as inhumane, the Convicts may have been able to find illegitimacy in their own situation, and empathise with the situation of slaves. Such a view is supported by freed Convicts referring to themselves as “Emancipists.” The word had a sense that they had attained liberty, and aspired for the liberty of others.
Australia's fondness for blacks of African descent has never really waned. In what had become known as the Calypso Summer, Frank Worrels 1961 touring West Indian cricket breathed colour into the all white game. Although losing the series, 90,000 Australians lined the streets of Melbourne in a ticker tape parade biding the Windies farewell. In the 80s and early 90s, the Windies' popularity continued to grow to the extent that a large percentage of Australians chose to support the West Indian team over that of their home country. At the height of their powers, the touring West Indian cricketers were sponsoring vibrant products aimed at the youth market such as KFC and rum. Contrasted to the Windies, the rare advertising appearances of Australian players were limited to flogging products such as dandruff cures or hair replacement therapy. Although popularity for the Windies has now waned as their performances fell away, the fondness for black players can still be seen with Australia’s Andrew Symmonds. In Rugby Union, another sport that is often portrayed as the bastion of white establishment, the Australian captain since 2001 has been a blackman, George Gregan. As well as being popular with selectors, Gregan has also been popular with the Australia public; as evidenced by his frequent appearances in endorsements, and communication campaigns. In music and stage, Marcia Hines has become one of Australia's best loved performers. In the 70s, she had a string of top-ten hits, was dubbed "The First Australian Lady of Song" and became the first black woman to play Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar. In recent years, she became a judge on Australian Idol, and released more successful albums. Marcia Hines has remained the most successful female performer and recording artist based in Australia, in the history of Australian music for almost 30 years.
Bulletin, 21 Jan 1888 ' Australia began her political history as a crouching serf kept in subjection by the whip of a ruffian gaoler, and her progress, so far, consists merely in a change of masters. Instead of a foreign slave-driver, she has a foreign admiral; the loud-mouthed tyrant has given place to the suave hireling in uniform; but when the day comes to claim their independence the new ruler will probably prove more dangerous and more formidable that the old.' Rather than 'the day we were lagged', said the Bulletin, Australia's national day should be December 3, the anniversary of the Eureka rebellion, 'the day that Australia set her teeth in the face of the British Lion'.
COBLEY, J. Sydney Cove, 1788-1795. 4 vols. (Vol.1: 1788;Vol.2: 1789-1790; Vol. 3: 1791-1792; Vol.4: 1793-1795 The Spreadof Settlement.). (Lond. 1980-1983).
White Australia Policy
From Convicts to Chinese
What to celebrate?
Science and survival
The father of the blitzkrieg
He died so others may live
Desert Rats defy Hitler
The White Mouse
Never giving up
Which side would Convicts choose?
A history of "no"
Skeletons in the closet
Australia's engagement with Asia