Colouring in the Colonies: overview

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This is an ongoing project. Individual posts (once I make them) will be under the Colouring in the Colonies category.

I made a list of the “coloured convicts”, that is those people of colour who were charged & tried, stuck on a ship and sent off to the other side of the world, except for many it wasn’t actually the other side of the world. I want to look at what they did, where the lives, what happened to them, but to start with: where did they come from and in what numbers?

So I made list with ~190 names. There’s a copy of the list here, while I work out a better format to display it in. They’re sorted by date of arrival. To search for a particular name, use Ctrl F. It’s very much a work in progress. New names will be added if I find any & there are some uncertains who might disappear.

Coverage:  men & women sent to VDL/Tasmania (i.e. Hobart & Launceston) who were born outside of the British Isle and who, from their description or other terms, can be considered to be people of colour. This includes those were tried in Britain but born overseas (I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of these because of how I searched). It does NOT include British-born POC because there was no quick way to find them. I might start another list for them. Also, it does NOT include anyone convicted locally (i.e. in the Australian colonies).

The post below is a summary of numbers, how many arrived when and and from where.

The first ship on the list, the Lady Castlereagh arriving 1818, has all prisoner tried in English courts but amongst them are three American Men of Colour and one from Jamaica. They were tried in Surrey, London & Bristol, at different times so I have no idea why they all ended up on a ship together. (That’s part of the indent for two of them in the image at the top.)

Chronologically, the next arrival is in 1824, a African-born labourer tried at Berbice (that’s Guyana now, on the northern coast of South America).

Darby from Berbice.

In 1831, the William Glen Anderson arrives, having stopped at the Cape of Good Hope for some more passengers including Wildschut “An Old Bushman whose language cannot be understood”. Now, this ship-load highlights one of my problems. This is a extract from my list. The last three columns are Religion, Complexion/Hair & Native Place

Spreadsheet extract

How do you identify those who are people of colour? Most of those on the list are described as having black/black curly/black woolly hair, and black complexion or copper colour. But what about dark complexion? Or brown. In this extract from my list above, should John Williams be included? Based on his religion, probably. But what Joseph North?

West Indies
Anyway, let’s move onward, to the West Indies, which is presumably the British West Indies. I don’t know much about the area other than slavery was abolished in 1834 and that caused various problems in the law and order department. The first ship I have with prisoners from the West Indies is the Layton, arriving in 1835, although almost all of them were tried in or before March 1834.

Now, these men are all on transport ships that come out from British ports. I am not sure if they were to England to await another ship or picked up on the way. The names are mixed through (unlike the Cape of Good Hope additions that are at the end), so I’m thinking the former.

John Pierre
John Pierre, Grenada

So, some numbers.

From 1835-1837, 8 ships arrived carrying ~65 prisoners from the West Indies. Short version, mostly from Barbados & Antigua, with a couple of African-born men.  Long version:

Place of trial
Barbados 24
Antigua 12
St Christopher 10
Trinidad 7
Grenada 7
Jamaica 1
Montserrat 1
Nevis 1
Dominica 1
Tobago 1

Native Place
Barbados 21
Antigua 13
Grenada 5
Nevis 5
St Kits 2
Bermuda 2
Dominica 1
Montserrat 1
St Vincent 1
Trinidad 1
Africa 3

I didn’t work through the ships in chronological order so I’d been been ignoring the soldiers as they invariably turned out to be Irish-born,  but then I got to the Layton and  found John Warrow, tried for desertion, who was African-born (black complexion, black woolly hair). The other two African-born men were his ship mates (on the same ship). Also with them was Louis Rodriguez, complexion Creole & from Carruta (wherever that is).

Lowhill Higbee
Lowhill Higbee aka William Rigsby also on the Layton

Amongst all them, there were also three men tried at Demerara (now Guyana), one from  Demerara and one from “West Indies”.

Simon - Asia 4
Simon Donkin, Demerara

There are also two tried at Chester Assizes (England): John, a seaman from Bombay (black complexion, black curly hair), “Not successful at school being a foreigner” and his partner in crime, Antonio from the Isle of France (dark complexion, very dark brown hair), “Harmless & amiable, an unsuccessful Scholar being a Foreigner”.

The first ship I’ve found from Mauritius arrived in 1838. Now, of my 192 names, 93 were tried in Port Louis, Mauritius. Almost as much as every other place put together. Mauritius was a major trading partner. Much wool and wheat was sent to the Isle of France, as it was then, and even in 1875, it ranked third in imports to VDL in £ terms, after the UK and Victoria. That’s a lot of sugar.

So, presumably a lot of traffic between the two islands.

Lazinatte, from Poonah

Amongst that traffic, between 1838 to 1845 there were at least fourteen ships carrying prisoners, and they came direct, except for one that stopped in South Australia and transferred its cargo. At least one came straight to Launceston. (The British transport ships dropped their cargo in Hobart Town.)

Slavery was abolished in Mauritius in the 1830s, and after that, land owners had to get their cheap workers from India. And that’s all I know about the place. This seems to be coming through in the Native Places though.

So, numbers. All were tried in Port Louis

Native place
36 from Mauritius
14 Calcutta
8 Madras
1 Hindostan
2 Pondicherre (husband & wife)
8 Other India
3 China
1 Macao
4 Madagascar
7 Mozambique
1 Singapore
3 Bourbon**

34 Roman Catholic
7 Pagan (not Christian)
6 Musselman/Mahometan
2 Chinese
2 Heathen
2 Hindoo
1 Malay

Carim alias Calow, from Calcutta

During that same period, a few more came in from the Cape. One tried in Graham Town is on the “Not Sure” list (Lutheran, dark complexion, black curly hair, from Gaffray) and then two more from Grahams Town (complexion: copper colour).

Piet Lynx, from the Cape

Hong Kong
1845 saw the arrival of the Osprey with eight prisoners from Hong Kong (6 Chinese, 1 Bombay?, 1 Lascar), mostly in trouble for breaking into Captain Peddar’s house and stealing his clothes.

New Zealand
1846 say the arrival of 5 Maori political prisoners. I haven’t detailed them as they stayed separate the from community and, those that survived, returned home. If you’re interested you can read about Hohepa Te Umuroa et al on the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.  There are many other web sources, including some images (the “Representation of Māori” link will give you the others).

1851 brought two more from New Zealand. Heki, a native of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), tried in NZ for murder (“Read & Write in his native language”) and Te Ahuru (“Cannot speak a word of English”) tired in Wellington for Larceny.

This is my timeline/graph summarising the above data. (Click on for a bigger version.) The blue outline is those predominantly West Indies in origin & the red outline is predominantly Mauritius in origin.


If you’re interested in non-British migrants in general, have a look at Beyond the Pale – world immigrants to Van Diemen’s Land before 1900