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

Misleading parliament? A-OK

Peter Dutton’s was an open-and-shut case

In The Big House

The quintessential American cultural experience is still college football

Image of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Portrait of Joseph Roulin’

‘MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art’

An eye candy-laden, educational treasure hunt of an exhibition


The return of the Moree Boomerangs

The First on the Ladder arts project is turning things around for a rugby club and the local kids

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 Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein: show tunes and symphonies

Centenary celebrations highlight the composer’s broad ambitions and appeal

Still from Leave No Trace

The hermitic world of Debra Granik’s ‘Leave No Trace’

The ‘Winter’s Bone’ director takes her exploration of family ties off the grid

Image of Low

Low’s ‘Double Negative’: studies in slow transformation

Twelve albums in, the Minnesota three-piece can still surprise in their unique way

Covers of Motherhood and Mothers

To have or not to have: Sheila Heti’s ‘Motherhood’ and Jacqueline Rose’s ‘Mothers’

Heti’s novel asks if a woman should have a child; Rose’s nonfiction considers how society treats her if she does

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

Image of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Portrait of Joseph Roulin’

‘MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art’

An eye candy-laden, educational treasure hunt of an exhibition

Image of Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton

Turnbull fires back

Unlike Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull never promised ‘no wrecking’

Image from ‘In Fabric’

Toronto International Film Festival 2018 (part one)

A British outlier and a British newcomer are among the stand-outs in the first part of the festival

Image from ‘Patrick Melrose’

Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as the imperfect Patrick Melrose

The actor brings together his trademark raffishness and sardonic superiority in this searing miniseries