John Caesar

John Caesar (1764 – February 15, 1796), nicknamed "Black Caesar", was the first Australian bushranger and one of the first black people to arrive during British colonisation of the continent as a penal colony.

Caesar was a slave on a sugar plantation in his early life, most likely born in the West Indies around 1764. At some point he was able to run away and reach London.

On March 17, 1786, he was tried at Deptford, Kent for stealing 240 shillings. His sentence was transportation to Australia for seven years. He left on the Alexander, a convict transport ship in the First Fleet, in May 1787 and arrived in Botany Bay in January 1788.

On April 29, 1789 he was tried for theft, to which he resorted presumably due to the scarcity of food in the newly established colony. He took to the bush a fortnight later, reportedly with some provisions, an iron pot, and a musket stolen from a marine named Abraham Hand. A dearth of game prevented him from sustaining himself however, and he began to steal food on the outskirts of the settlement. On 26 May he helped himself to a brickmaking gang's rations on Brickfield Hill and was nearly caught. On the night of June the 6th he tried to steal food from Zachariah Clark, the "house of the colony's assistant commissary for stores", and was caught by a convict named Wm. Saltmarsh. In July 1789, David Collins, the colony's Judge-Advocate, wrote:

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.

Caesar was described by Collins after his first recapture as a "wretch" who was "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". Governor Arthur Phillip however, took advantage of Casear's potential as a labourer and had him sent to Garden Island, where he would work in fetters and be provided with vegetables. There he showed good behavior and as a result was eventually allowed to work without iron shackles.

Nevertheless, it didn't take long for Caesar to abscond again; on December 22 he ran away from the island with a week's worth of food by canoe. On the night of the 25th he was able to procure a musket, and survived for a few days by robbing gardens and taking the food of Aboriginals after frightening them away with his gun. At one point he lost his gun in a garden at Rose Hill, and was subsequently attacked by natives, leaving him wounded in several places. He turned himself in on the 31st to an Officer on Rose Hill.

On March 6, 1790, Caesar was transported to Norfolk Island after receiving another pardon from Phillip. There he had one daughter, later baptized as Mary Ann Fisher Power, to Ann (e) Power. He returned to Sydney in 1793, and began stealing from the farms and huts on the outskirts of the towns again. He was apprehended and then flogged to little effect, declaring "all that would not make him better."

Caesar later became a hero for capturing Pemulwuy, an Aboriginal who had launched a guerilla war against the British colonists.

In 1795 he ran away for the last time, forming a gang of runaways in the process. On January 29, 1796, a reward of five gallons of rum was offered by Governor John Hunter for his capture. Despite almost daily reports of missing property, he was able to evade capture until February 15, when a man named Wimbow, who had been pursuing him with a partner for days, found him in an area of thick brush called Liberty Plains (near what is now the Concord/Strathfield area of Sydney) and shot him. Caesar was taken to the house of Rose and died a few hours later.

References

* [http://www.convictcreations.com/history/caesare.htm Negro Convicts in Australia]
* http://fmpro.uow.edu.au/FirstFleet/FMPro?-db=ff.fp3&-format=detail.htm&-recid=113&-find
* [http://cedir.uow.edu.au/programs/FirstFleet/s_caesar.html First Fleet stories - John Caesar]
* http://www.nedkellysworld.com.au/bushrangers/caesar_j.htm


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