March 2013


Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Pemulwuy & Black Caesar

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

In the first desperate years of the settlement at Sydney, two men supplied much of the excitement. One was the powerful Aboriginal guerrilla leader Pemulwuy, who waged a campaign of resistance to the British interlopers. The other was a tall, well-built convict known as Black Caesar, one of the 12 prisoners of African origin who had arrived on the First Fleet, and a frequent and unrepentant absconder from captivity.

Pemulwuy first stepped into history in 1790 when he fatally speared Governor Arthur Phillip’s game-shooter, a trespasser on tribal land and ill-treater of Aboriginals. Phillip responded by ordering Pemulwuy’s capture and summary execution, along with those of six other men in his clan. The result was a fiasco. No Aboriginal would guide the reprisal expedition and the soldiers had no stomach for the job. Pemulwuy, meanwhile, mobilised other Eora clans to starve out the newcomers by burning their maize crops, killing their livestock and plundering their possessions.

Hunger was soon pressing hard on the new settlement. One of those who felt it most keenly was the convict Caesar.

Caesar’s exact origins are uncertain, although his roots clearly lay in the African slave trade. “Caesar” was a common slave name and it seems likely that he arrived in England in the aftermath of the American Revolution. He was possibly a runaway who had joined the British side during the war, rewarded with his freedom and passage to England. He may have belonged to a refugee Loyalist who took him to England as a household chattel. In March 1786, he was convicted in the Kent Assizes of stealing 4s 4d and sentenced to transportation for seven years.

“Muscular and well calculated to hard labour”, according to Lieutenant-Governor David Collins, Caesar was the hardest-working man in the colony, but also “incorrigibly stubborn”. Refusing to toil on starvation rations, he was soon notorious for escaping, stealing food and robbing Aboriginals at musket-point. The exploits of Black Caesar became the talk of the settlement. Only hunger and the wounds inflicted by irate Aboriginals forced him back into custody.

At Botany Bay in December 1795, Caesar’s work party was attacked by Pemulwuy and his warriors. With his commanding height and physical strength, Caesar managed to crack Pemulwuy’s skull. News of the savage’s death was well received but short-lived. Pemulwuy recovered and continued to fight.

Black Caesar bolted for a fifth time, formed a gang and became Australia’s first bushranger. In 1802, Pemulwuy was ambushed, shot and decapitated. His head was sent to Sir Joseph Banks in England in a barrel of spirits. Prince William and Christopher Pyne are keen that it be found.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

Cover: March 2013

March 2013

From the front page

Image of Dolly Parton

Audio tapestry

A tangle of red tape is robbing us of music podcasts in Australia

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison


On a practical day, the PM got practically none of what he wanted

In the red

Inside the modern debt-collection industry

Cover of ‘Little Eyes’

‘Little Eyes’ by Samanta Schweblin (trans. Megan McDowell)

Intimacy and privacy blur as people adopt cybernetic pets inhabited remotely by others, in this disturbing speculative fiction

In This Issue

‘Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott’ by David Marr, Black Inc, 256pp; $19.95

Political Animal

The Making of Tony Abbott

Quarterly Essay 49, ‘Not Dead Yet: Labor's Post-Left Future’ by Mark Latham, Black Inc, 101pp; $19.95

The Rise of the New Right

© Karen Kasmauski / National Geographic Stock

Fat City

What can stop obesity?

Anish Kapoor, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Until 1 April

Anish Kapoor

Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

More in Arts & Letters

Image of OneFour rapper J Emz

The trenches of Mount Druitt: OneFour

Australia’s most infamous hip-hop act is an all-Pasifika group born of Western Sydney’s violent postcode wars

Detail of cover of ‘Surviving Autocracy’

Attack on language: ‘Surviving Autocracy’ and ‘Twilight of Democracy’

Masha Gessen and Anne Applebaum sound alarms on how ‘post-truth’ public debate leaves us mute in the face of autocracy

Image from ‘ZeroZeroZero’

‘Cinematic’ television: ‘ZeroZeroZero’

Forget comparisons to cinema, TV is developing its own compelling aesthetic

Image of Dolly Parton

Audio tapestry

A tangle of red tape is robbing us of music podcasts in Australia

More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller

Read on

In the red

Inside the modern debt-collection industry

Image of Janet Jackson

Hello, Nasty: Janet Jackson’s sound of rebellion

A new analysis of ‘The Velvet Rope’ shows the controversial artist in transition

Image of Warragamba Dam

Tipping point

Juukan Gorge is gone, but will we act in time to save Warragamba Dam?

Image of David Graeber in 2016

Our debt to David Graeber

The anthropologist’s ideas about finance are just as relevant as ever