|Born||1763 or 1764
Madagascar or the West Indies
|Died||15 February 1796 (aged 31-33)
Strathfield, New South Wales
|Cause of death||Gunshot wound|
|Other names||Black Caesar|
|Criminal penalty||Transportation - 7 years
Transportation - life
It is believed that Caesar was born in Madagascar or the West Indies. On 17 March 1786, he was tried at Maidstone, Kent for stealing 240 shillings. His sentence was transportation to the penal colony of New South Wales for seven years. He was imprisoned on the Alexander, a convict transport ship in May 1787 and was part of the First Fleet, which arrived in Botany Bay in January 1788.
On 29 April 1789 he was tried for theft, to which he resorted presumably due to the scarcity of food in the newly established colony. He took to the bush a fortnight later, reportedly with some provisions, an iron pot, and a musket stolen from a marine named Abraham Hand. A dearth of game prevented him from sustaining himself however, and he began to steal food on the outskirts of the settlement. On 26 May he helped himself to a brickmaking gang's rations on Brickfield Hill and was nearly caught. On the night of June the 6th he tried to steal food from Zachariah Clark, the "house of the colony's assistant commissary for stores", and was caught by a convict named William Saltmarsh.
In July 1789, David Collins, the colony's Judge-Advocate, wrote:
This man was always reputed the hardest living convict in the colony; his frame was muscular and well calculated for hard labour; but in his intellects he did not very widely differ from a brute; his appetite was ravenous, for he would in any one day devour the full rations for two days. To gratify this appetite he was compelled to steal from others, and all his thefts were directed to that purpose.
Caesar was described by Collins after his first recapture as a "wretch" who was "so indifferent about meeting death, that he declared while in confinement, that if he should be hanged, he would create a laugh before he was turned off, by playing off some trick upon the executioner". Governor Arthur Phillip however, took advantage of Caesar's potential as a labourer and had him sent to Garden Island, where he would work in fetters and be provided with vegetables. There he showed good behavior and as a result was eventually allowed to work without iron belts.
Caesar gained some notoriety during his lifetime for his part in wounding the infamous Aboriginal warrior Pemulwuy by cracking his skull. However Caesar was not the first or last man to wound Pemulwuy. During his many skirmishes with British settlers, Pemulwuy is rumored to have been wounded up to seven times, with Caesar being one of the many men to almost end his leadership of the Aboriginal resistance to British Colonisation within the region.
Caesar escaped from custody in December 1795 and led a gang of absconders in the Port Jackson area. Settlers were warned against supplying him with ammunition. On 15 February 1796 Caesar died from his wounds after being shot by John Wimbow at Liberty Plains.
He was survived by his daughter, Mary Ann Fisher Power.
- Cunneen, Chris; Gillen, Mollie (2005). "Biography - John Black Caesar". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
- Sparrow, Jeff (17 June 2006). "Black Founders: The Unknown Story of Australia's First Black Settlers". The Age. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
- Vincent Smith, Keith (1 November 2012). "Australia's oldest murder mystery". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 6 July 2012.