John ‘Black Caesar’

Arrived on: Alexander
Sentence and crime: Seven years transportation for theft
Remained in New South Wales until his murder on 15 February 1796
Convict John ‘Black’ Caesar became Australia’s first bushranger when he fled the settlement in December 1795 and led a gang of fellow escapees in the bush surrounding Port Jackson.

Tried for theft and transported for seven years, Caesar had rapidly gained a reputation in the colony – Judge Advocate David Collins described him as having ‘given more trouble than any other convict in the settlement’. Despite Caesar’s behaviour, Collins wrote,

This man was always reputed the hardest working convict in the country … his frame was muscular and well calculated for hard labour …

He was well known for eating two days of rations in just one. 

Caesar escaped from the Sydney Cove settlement no less than four times during his sentence. Following his final escape, a reward of 5 gallons of spirits was offered for his successful capture, and he was shot dead on 15 February 1796.

‘Black Caesar’, originally from Africa, was one of many convicts of all ages, races and religions who sailed with the First Fleet to the new settlement at Sydney Cove. The vast majority of convicts were English; however, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, North Americans, Africans, West Indians and Jewish prisoners also found themselves voyaging to this unknown and remote corner of the world.

Source: David Collins, An account of the English colony in New South Wales, T Cadell Jun and W Davies, London, 1798.

Illustration of a bushranger caught at gunpoint.

Capture of Bushrangers. Samuel Calvert, wood engraving published in The Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers, 2 January 1871. State Library of Victoria