Tuesday, April 12, 2011


BLACKBIRDING: the 19th- and early 20th-century practice of enslaving (often by force and deception) South Pacific islanders on the cotton and sugar plantations of Queensland, Australia (as well as those of the Fiji and Samoan islands). The kidnapped islanders were known collectively as Kanakas (see Kanaka). Blackbirding was especially prevalent between 1847 and 1904.
[From theEncyclopædia Britannica]

I discovered the Reliance listed on the Australian National Shipwreck database with this comment:

General history: Crew rescued by beche-de-mer vessel 'Maid of Riverton' after 28 days in open boat;taken to Bowen;labour trade vessel; return labourers drowned.
Australian Historic Shipwreck database

Previous information listed the cargo as "10 tons of coconut oil, 1 ton of tortoiseshell ... & curiosities" no mention of indentured labourers! But then I discovered this in a small index called "Shipping losses and casualties concerning Australia and New Zealand" compiled by Ronald Parsons:

"RELIANCE W 2m brig, 118t, ON31832 84.9 x 21.4 x 11.0, B.1841 Bermuda. Owners: (1865) John Austen, mariner, reg. Auckland. With 70 native labourers or kanakas aboard struck Indispensable Reef, off Qld. Apl.2,1868 and was eventually abandoned as a total loss. When she struck the 'passengers' rushed the boats but the crew got away - with little provisions or water, and all the firearms, hoping to regain the ship when things quietened so the captain ordered the boats to standby but apart from a group leaving the ship in a raft there was little action. The raft drifted in a N.W. direction. The master decided to follow and head for Cape Deliverance, New Guinea, which was reached in 17 days, the raft, meanwhile, disappearing. An attempt to land was made but they were driven off by the locals, the steward being speared in the leg. Subsequent attempts to land at various small islands were equally unsuccessful and after 35 days, during which one boat was apparently captured by native war canoes, the captain and the men in his boat were picked up by the beche-de-mer fisher MAID OF RIVERTON, that landed them in Townsville 21 months after the stranding. No trace of the wreck or others aboard it was found. [Auck.reg. 43/1864: B Guard. Apl.2: B.C. Jul 3: SMH Jul.16, 1868]

Another sad footnote is this from the Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser 4th August 1868:
It will be in the remembrance of our readers that in our issue of a few weeks ago a telegram from Bowen appeared, stating that the captain and portion of the crew of the brig "Reliance", wrecked on Indispensable Reef on the 22nd April, had been picked up by the "Maid of Riverton", and brought into Cleveland Bay; and further, that the whale boat, with the mate Mr George Miles, was missing. A letter receieved per last mail by Mrs Miles, from the captain of the "Reliance", John Austin, states that, as her husband was in the best sailing boat, and they parted during bad weather, the whaleboat sailing away ahead of them, Mr Miles had to run further north, probably to Cape York. Mr. Miles was, for some time, connected with the Pilot Station in Keppel Bay, and that Captain Austin's supposition may prove a certainty is our wish, and that himself and crew have landed in safety.

The Brisbane Courier Tues 28 July 1868 summed it up this way "The brig belonged to the master, whose name is Austin. She is a total wreck and was uninsured, so that I fear her master must be pretty well ruined."