Australian South Sea Islanders

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Date: 23 Aug 2020 [unknown]
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Surnames/tags: Queensland Australia New South Wales
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Australian South Sea Islanders

In the Beginning

Whilst it cannot be denied that Slavery and Piracy has existed in many forms throughout history, either by kidnapping or coercion, and was carried out by certain unscrupulous characters, often for monetary gain. Recorded history has it beginning with the settling of America in the 16th century, and supposedly ending with the Slave Trade Act and the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.
With the British Colonisation and settlement of Australia and the arrival of convicts, modern day social advocates also use the term Slavery to describe the Convicts incarceration time.
As Australia's discovery and growth expanded, the imminent halt to the transportation of Convicts to New South Wales, the discovery of Gold, and the significant Gold rushes in Georgia and California, caused a subsequent shortage of willing labour in the Pastoral Industry, crucial to meeting the needs of the economy and feeding the population. In 1837, to solve this issue, it was suggested that the solution would be to import "Coolie" labourers from India and China. Their importation also caused issues with the local population, who were concerned about a shortage of employment.[1]

John Mackay Esq.

John Mackay Esq. Planter and Merchant. Owned his Indigo Plantation for 28 years until 1836, when he came to the Colony.[2]
( Extract from Wikipedia Slavery in Australia ) John Mackay owned an Indigo Plantation in Bengal and a distillery in Sydney.
(Extract from NSW Archives link,[3] India Migration Stories.)..The Legislative Council’s Report of the Committee on Immigration of Indian and British Labourers into NSW (25 August 1837)' recommended public support for the introduction of ‘Asiatic’ labourers. This proposal however, did not have Governor Bourke’s support and so it did not proceed.
John Mackay Esq. ( not to be mixed up with Captain John Munro MacKay, who wasn't born until 1839, and Captain John Ronald Mackay who worked out of Queensland, albeit the period after 1883, in command of the Para ) went ahead with private arrangements to recruit Indian labourers and in December 1837 brought 42 Indian labourers from Calcutta on the Peter Proctor. It appears that the labourers, who were ‘distributed’ to various employers, were dissatisfied with their working conditions and took their complaints to the Sydney Bench of Magistrates.[4]

Benjamin Boyd

In 1847, Benjamin Boyd imported the first Pacific Island People to Australia, to work on his "Stations" in the Colony of New South Wales, landing them at Boydtown. His three shipments of 65, 70 and 57 South Sea Islanders were a failure, as they wouldn't stay, and wanted to go home.
( Extract from Wikipedia Benjamin Boyd's bio ) They had all put their marks on contracts that bound them to work for five years and to be paid 26 shillings a year, plus rations of 10 lbs of meat a week, and two pairs of trousers, two shirts and a kilmarnock cap.'
Soon after, he was bankrupted, then tried his hand in the California Gold rush of 1850, then later, in the Wanderer traveled about the Pacific Islands with a reputed plan, which can probably be described as Piracy.( Wikipedia bio )

Robert Towns

Since 1843, when Robert Towns first became involved in the shipping trade, particularly whaling, sandalwood, sugar and tea, he had used Pacific Islanders as crews for his vessels.
In 1850's, with the Australian Gold Rushes in full swing, a further shortage of willing workers in Australia, encouraged Robert to eventually recruit workers from the same islands, as the crews of his shipping vessels. Townsville in North Queensland is named after him. ( Wikipedia bio )

John Munro MacKay

John Munro Mackay obtained his Master Mariner licence in 1865, transported indentured labour, later coffee and cedar. In 1883, he was offered the position of Harbourmaster in Cooktown for his help in opening up the Pioneer (Mackay) region. Mackay in Queensland is named after him. ( Wikipedia bio )


Queensland became a separate state in 1859, and a world wide Cotton shortage in 1861, due to the American Civil War, prompted the Queensland Government to encourage the cultivation of Cotton.
Robert Towns was the first to jump at this opportunity, and with the labour shortage being a problem, he hired notorious recruiter Henry Ross Lewin to procure labour for his new Townsvale cotton plantation at Logan, in southern Queensland in 1863.( Wikipedia, Robert Towns bio )

South Sea Islanders

More than 46,000 South Sea Islanders were recruited to Queensland, (and approximately 62,000 in total brought to Australia) after the mid 1860's with promise of work, food, accommodation and payment of £10 per year, which was equal, or higher than wages of the period. ( as can be referenced by the Wages comparison published in the South Australian Register in 1870 )[5]
It cannot be denied, that some slightly unscrupulous plantation owners withheld rightful housing, food and full wage payments. [6][7][8][9]
In 1901, with approximately 10,000 South Sea Islanders living and working in Australia at the time, the Pacifc Island Labourers Act and the Immigration Restriction Act formed the basis of the White Australia policy , which resulted in the deportation of about 7,500 Pacific Islanders, .
This Act also prohibited any Asians and South Sea Islanders from entering Australia after the 31st of March 1904. These policies were later dismantled from 1949 onward, and in 1975 the Racial Discrimintion Act was passed by the Whitlam Government.


While Blackbirding undoubtedly occurred in secret, in the Pacific Ocean and the Polynesian Islands it was closely monitored by the Australian Government, particularly after 1871. ( Wikipedia )[10] Current leading social advocate for the cause, Emelda Davis, still counters that Blackbirding happened throughout the period and lately, Aboriginal Black Lives Matter advocate, Lidia Thorpe has called for a change of name to Townsville, named after Robert Towns, Mackay, named after John Munro Mackay, Gladstone, named after William Ewart Gladstone, McIlwraith, (a locality near Bundaberg) named after Sir Thomas McIlwraith, Dickson,(Queensland Electoral Division) named after Sir James Robert Dickson, Russell Island, named after Lord John Russell and the states of Queensland and Victoria, named after Queen Victoria, because, Anything that's named after someone who's caused harm or murdered people, then I think we should take their name down.[11][12][13]

Indentured Servitude

( Extract from Wikipedia Indentured Servitude ) Over a period of 40 years, from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, labor for the sugar-cane fields of Queensland, Australia included an element of coercive recruitment and indentured servitude of the 62,000 South Sea Islanders. The workers came mainly from Melanesia – mainly from the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu – with a small number from Polynesian and Micronesian areas such as Samoa, the Gilbert Islands (subsequently known as Kiribati) and the Ellice Islands (subsequently known as Tuvalu). They became collectively known as "Kanakas".
It remains unknown how many Islanders the trade controversially kidnapped. Whether the system legally recruited Islanders, persuaded, deceived, coerced or forced them to leave their homes and travel by ship to Queensland remains difficult to determine. Official documents and accounts from the period often conflict with the oral tradition passed down to the descendants of workers. Stories of blatantly violent kidnapping tend to relate to the first 10–15 years of the trade.

Faith Bandler

Faith Bandler because of her social advocate campaigns, was one the most famous Australian South Sea Islanders of her time, however her novel, Wacvie (1977) about her father, caused a constant battle with Historians, and she was also ostracised due to her following of separatist Black Power ideology. (Wikipedia bio )[14] [15]

In Conclusion

Academics and Historians who have studied The Australian South Sea Islanders story, almost unanimously agree, that the period was filled with Government political backstabbing, newspaper sensationalism and social advocates. The White Australia policy created in 1901, did nothing to help relations. However, in depth research by Historians show much of the picture painted by social advocates of the period, to be mostly untrue. Social advocates today, follow civil rights advocates, Faith Bandler, Evelyn Scott and Bonita Mabo ideology, in their campaign to carry on the cause. This has resulted in much unrest. An extract from Keith Windschuttle's book The White Australia Policy is especially notable...here.[16]
While many South Sea Islanders now say that their ancestors were placed in lost, hidden or missing graves,[17] this can be be partly explained by the mass returning of the unwilling Islanders to their island homes, thus forgotten in time and memory, and also to rotting wooden crosses. Why they were interred on the Plantations can be explained by distance, the need for a fast burial without the convenience of refrigeration, and also the wishes of the Islanders for their loved ones to be buried close by.[18][19][20][21]


  1. The Planters
  2. Parlimentary Papers
  3. India Migration
  4. India Migration
  5. S.A. Wages
  6. Cultural
  7. Marx Trade
  8. The Islanders
  9. The Planters
  10. The Planters
  11. Qld Rename
  12. Blackbirding
  13. The Conversation
  14. The Planters
  15. The Islanders
  16. The Islanders
  17. National Unity
  18. Cultural Heritage
  19. Marx Trade
  20. The Islanders
  21. The Planters

Further Reading





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