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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `Australia's first bushranger was as black as pitch. He was not Aboriginal, as some might suppose.', 21 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Black Founders: The Unknown History of Australia's First Black Settlers (Paperback)
In 1788, when the First Fleet arrived in Australia, eleven of the convicts were black. A twelfth man, William Blue, was transported a few years later. Who were these men? And how did they come to be transported to Australia from Britain when each of them was living in America during the American War of Independence?

It seems likely that these were all African-American men who fought for the British during the American War of Independence and then either left direct for England, or moved to England via Nova Scotia. In an attempt to derail the revolutionary movement, Lord Dunmore (the British Governor in Virginia), opportunistically offered freedom to `all indented servants, Negroes or others that are able and willing to bear arms'. The declaration was dated 7 November 1775. As a consequence, hundreds of black men joined Dunmore's newly created `Ethiopian Regiment' to fight against their masters. The fate of many of these men was bitter: small pox decimated the regiment, and Britain's defeat left thousands of slaves to the mercy of their former owners. As the British fleet prepared for evacuation, freed black people scrambled for a place on the last ships to leave New York. Those who obtained a berth, and thus were recorded in `The Book of Negroes', discovered a new world of problems in London. Unemployment was high, few of the men had marketable skills and many sank into destitution. Inevitably, some of them fell foul of the law, were convicted of various crimes and sentenced to transportation. Their destination was to be the new penal colony of New South Wales.

Cassandra Pybus undertook research in Australia, Canada the United Kingdom and the United States in order to write this book. She argues that `the tendency to read late nineteenth and twentieth century racial assumptions into early colonial Australia is almost universal among historians and social commentators, regardless of what side of the history wars they fight'. And what does this mean for our sense of identity in colonial times and beyond? There never was a `White Australia' either before Federation or after.

Only two of the twelve men are likely to familiar to some Australians: the ferryman William (Billy) Blue, whose likeness hangs in the Mitchell Library in Sydney, and the bushranger known as Black Caesar. Another of the men, John `Black Jack' Williams, became a Kangaroo Island sealer. Less is known about the other nine men.

Working from fragmentary sources, Cassandra Pybus has reconstructed at least parts of the lives of these twelve men, and provides a different view of Australia's early years.
I found this book fascinating. I understand - in general terms - the proximity of the American War of Independence to the establishment of a penal colony in New South Wales but not the specific series of events that resulted in these men being transported to Australia.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Initial post: 21 Sep 2011 11:42:29 BDT
Jenny, this sounds really fascinating. It will interest me no end.l liked the Book of Negroes and can see it also reminds me of the Grenville books. Thanks, Friederike
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