Africans arrived on the First Fleet to Australia 1788


African Blood part of Australia’s settlement history.

By Patricia Attard Daniels

More than 20,000 Australians are descendants from African men transported to Sydney on the first fleet. John Randall and John Martin, They were part of a group of 11 plus 5 who were sent to the penal colony in 1788. Not many Australians have this knowledge, that Africans were part of the first invader society to land in Sydney Cove. Amongst the group was also two other men known as John Caesar and Black Jemmy.

A review of a book called, Black Founders by Professor Cassandra Pybus writes, – NEXT TIME YOU HEAR of Ned Kelly and his gang, spare a thought for a man called Caesar, whose much earlier career of banditry differs from the standard outlaw narrative in one intriguing aspect. As Cassandra Pybus bluntly explains: “Australia’s first bushranger was black as pitch.”

Black Founders provides very different views of the birth of a nation. As Pybus explains, “the settlement of Australia was a multiracial process that took place at a time when the notion of ‘race’ was a highly malleable construct, understood in ways very different from the modern sense of innate nature

How these African men found their way on board convict ships to Sydney is a story of struggle, war, slavery and crime. Scant records available have nether the less revealed accounts of the lives of some of these men. History records even some individuals who certainly stood out in early settlement days and in fact obtained rapid notoriety. Of noted mention is an man commonly known as Black Caesar, he was a 14 year old boy around 2 meters tall and extremely strong accounts record that Black Caesar could have been bought on board the ship Alexander in Mauritius after stealing 4lbs of bread. He was sentenced to 7 years and arrived in Sydney 1788. Caesar quickly took to stealing whenever possible to satisfy his ravenous appetite and escaped many times. On one occasion, when sentenced to Garden Island, he found a native canoe and made his escape. Reports had Caesar living and stealing in the bush and he was even involved in battles with Indigenous people including Pemulwuy. Some reports have Caesar befriended by Pemulwuy and yet it was also reported that Caesar was found once with several spears sticking out of his body.  Unfortunately, a reward was finally posted for his capture dead or alive, and Caesar was killed in 1796.

John Randal’s journey to Australia started with his crime for stealing a chain whilst living in Manchester. He arrived in Manchester as part of the British withdrawal from America during the civil war. Life in Britain was equally miserable and Randal soon turned to crime. On his arrival in Sydney, he was given the trustworthy position of hunting for food for the settlement. Records report of his trustworthiness and his ability to be a good shot. This ability could mean he had some weapons training during the Civil War. John Randal soon became a vital part of survival for the settlements and more so in the famine of 1790 when crops failed and starvation and disease prevailed.

John Randal was soon granted land at Rose Hill and farmed alongside another African man called John Martin. The men were of different natures, Randal being the more adventurous and Martin happy to stay and work his farm. Randal married a woman called Mary Butler who arrived on the second fleet and they were the first recorded marriage at St John’s Church Parramatta. ‘The ceremony was held under a gum tree as the church had not yet been built’

In early to mid 1900’s many of the black community had located to areas around Parramatta including Pennant Hills. For many years that area was referred to as ‘Dixie Land’. From all accounts, many were happy to work their land grants and married free convicts.

Billy Blue, transported in 1801 for stealing sugar, cemented a relationship with Governor Macquarie based upon their shared experiences in the Revolutionary War. (He ran a ferry service (and smuggling racket), lent his name to Blues Point and other landmarks, and became such a well-known (albeit disreputable) character of early Sydney that some 20th-century historians tried, rather preposterously, to claim him as white – or, at least, “not predominantly Negro”.)

Another arrival Thomas Alford (known as Orford) was sentenced to 7 years and arrived on the Alexander. He did his time and was granted land in Farm Cover and later petitioned the governor to have his family sent from England on the first available convict ship.

In essence all these stories reveal a part of Australian history that few know about. Perhaps questions have been raise d in the past in many families throughout Australia and it interesting that records show without doubt that African’s lived and raised very large families throughout early Australian history and contributed in many ways to it progress. Some reports put levels of African people from 2-4% of early settlement population.

We can only speculate as to the possibility that African men may have produced children with indigenous women.

As Australia establishes its position firmly in the world as a true Multi-cultural society, another layer is revealed to exhibit just how far back the mix began. Today hundreds of thousands Africans call Australia home,  many of these people do not know this part of Australia’s history, untold to mainstream Australia, this story is worthy of being told, of being presented as a integral part of the birth of a nation.

Footnote: Currently I am preparing a story line and screen play in preparation for a forthcoming film about the story of African men whose blood is mingled into the fabric of Australian history.


The AfroAustralians: Group picture at Wattle Flat (near Bathurst) in 1895. The black women is Elizabeth Fonceca, a Great-grandchild of John Randall, through John Aiken. The black man to the left is believed to also be a Randall/Martin descendant and possibly a son of Peter Coups and Hannah Martin.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s