Kanaka History

CQ Family History Association Inc.

Kanakas in Central Queensland

by Toni Philipoom

"Kanaka" was a derogatory term applied to the South Sea Island labourers shipped to Australia in the late 19th century, although some believe "Kanaka" is a Polynesian word for "man".  Some were willing slaves but the majority were either brought here under false pretenses or blatantly stolen from their families to work mainly in the cane fields of this nation.  Robert Towns was one of the first to introduce Kanaka trade to Queensland in 1863 and by the 1890's more than 57,000 had been brought in.  Other names associated with this abominable trade called "Blackbirding" were Eli Barker, George Shaw, Captain Peter Watson, Captain Joseph Fraser, Captain Paesch, Captain John Hugh Rogers, Captain Weiss, Mr Tancred, Mr Gosselt, George Fox, John Murray of Pandora Plantation, E.D.Melhuish, R.S.G. MacDonald, William Broome and Peter Graham, to mention just a few.  Some of the ships used were "Mary Smith" "Bobtail Nag" "Maid of Riverton" "Jason" "Sybil" "Roderick Dhu", "City of Melbourne", "S.S.Corea", "S.S.Pacific", "Lady Norman", and the "Sydney Belle".  Not all slave owners treated their slaves badly, in fact when William Broome sold some of his property to the Yeppoon Plantation, one of his boys refused to leave him, so he allowed him to stay on even though it caused quite a lot of friction with the Government.

Two carriers named Bowyer and Davis, transported some of these Kanakas to the west to be used as laborers on stations.  In fact the first Kanakas to come to Rockhampton were sent to work for Mr Dickson of Arcadian Downs Station in 1866.  Being Island people, they had no chance of surviving the harsh outback environments.

The majority of the slaves brought to Central Queensland, worked on the Yeppoon Sugar Plantation, in the most appalling conditions imaginable.  the ones who didn't die of homesickness and broken hearts, were literally worked to death, or died of pneumonia.  Some white citizens abused and brutally attacked these slaves, believing the Kanakas were a threat to their own pay and employment conditions (as if these Islanders wanted to be kidnapped and enslaved).  However the majority of white people were appalled by the whole illicit trade.  There were many humanitarian groups trying to change government thinking.  One such group in Rockhampton brought to trial a slave owner named Gosselt who claimed that a Mr Tancred had stolen his boy slave and that he could prove it as the boy was branded not once but twice.  Mr Tancred was fined £10 for stealing, (horse thieves were known to get ten years prison).  Gosselt walked free, it seems the barbaric act of slave branding was wide spread and the authorities didn't seem to care.  The Queensland and Commonwealth governments clashed badly over the Slave Labour issue, resulting in the trade being abandoned in 1903.  The main reason for the closure of the Farnborough Mill and many other establishments dependant on slaves, was the cessation of the transportation of coloured labour.  These South Sea Island labourers were highly intelligent and a gentle people, most of whom carved out a good life for themselves against a lot of opposition.  when the trade ceased in 1904, many were sent back to their home islands, which was wonderful for those who wished to go, but for those who were born on a Queensland cane plantation, this uprooting was a dreadful wrench as the only home they knew was here in Queensland.

The descendants of may of these Queensland pioneers are still living in the Central Queensland area.  The following is a list of some of the well known and well respected families who have descended from the original South Sea Islanders, or families who have married into the original families.


Ambertal Darr Miller Simpson
Andrews Edmund Mooney Sirrus
Bandler Fatnowna Mussing Swali
Backo Henaway Oba Tambo
Benna Lammon Parter Vea Vea
Bobangle Lampton Pelayo Viti
Bong Leo Quakawoot Warcon
Brown Mackan Quaytucker Willie
Cole Malamoo Reid Yasserie
Coora Mann Sabbo Yasso
Corowa Marlia Satini Youse

Because of the nonexistence or unavailability of records, these families are having and extremely difficult time trying to trace their family trees.  I believe the governments should make any records, that could help in this area, available to the relevant families.  As Australians we all have the right to know our ancestor's history and culture, whether it be Aboriginal, Islander, English, Irish, Scottish, German or etc.

For further reading on this subject please see "The Blackbirders" by E.W. Docker, published by Angus & Robertson.

The following is a death list from the Rockhampton district.  The majority of the names are South Sea Islanders, but this is by no means a complete list of those who died here, far away from their beloved homeland and their families.  Please note the ages from the Yeppoon  Plantation.  Old age was unheard of.

Albert Jack 35 10/9/1900 Coorooman Ck.
Brown Susan 74 04/12/1934 Sand Hills
Candy Peter 35 26/06/1914 Sand Hills
Coora Charlie 63 19/08/1919 Sand Hills
Cootenboy male 20 03/10/1884 Yeppoon Plantation
Davie Tarry 80 19/01/1930 Sand Hills
Haram Lily 10mths 13/03/1900 Nankin Creek
Juna Marlo Johnny 40 22/08/1901 Nankin Creek
Ke-Ah-To-Wah male 20 15/03/1896 Yeppoon Plantation
Kintore Jimmy 36 22/08/1895 Yeppoon Plantation
Larup Sam 30 31/03/1908 Coorooman
Lesbah John 80 01/03/1930 Sand Hills
Lissim female 4 19/09/1891 Yeppoon Plantation
Loone Jimmy 60 18/01/1916 Joskeleigh
Loum male 45 26/09/1884 Yeppoon Plantation
Manaya male 20 12/01/1887 Yeppoon Plantation
Manon Runcling 1 min 01/12/1895 Yeppoon Plantation
Massing Albert 24 15/08/1891 Yeppoon Plantation
Matartan male 22 28/07/1890 Yeppoon Plantation
Melancon male 25 15/09/1884 Yeppoon Plantation
Molberry John 60 07/05/1918 Joskeleigh,Sand Hill
Nabnie male 28 13/10/1884 Yeppoon Plantation
Newmat Tom 30 12/03/1894 Yeppoon Plantation
Ool female 20 05/07/1886 Yeppoon Plantation
Palmer Tom 80 07/08/1933 Sand Hills Cemetery
Parter David William 9 days 19/05/1909 Sand Hills
Parter Jessie 32 04/08/1919 Sand Hills
Parter Robert 36 27/11/1931 Sand Hills Cemetery
Ponnip Robert 70 31/05/1941 Keppel Sands Cem
Power Edna May 1 19/07/1914 Coorooman
Power Ida 41 28/04/1914 Macaree Paddock, Coorooman
Ropip Johnny 40 12/08/1901 Yeppoon Plantation
Roser Jack 75 22/04/1921 Sand Hills
Ruttune female 25 24/10/1895 Yeppoon Plantation
Sandor Joseph 70 02/08/1921 Sand Hills
Sarra male 20 18/01/1887 Yeppoon Plantation
Savary Sandy 6 week 20/12/1899 Yeppoon Plantation
Simpson Elsie May 17 01/10/1902 Sand Hills
Singho Sarah 37 23/11/1908 Yeppoon Plantation
Sissivon Hilda 2 28/08/1899 Yeppoon Plantation
Tabby John 67 13/05/1929 Sand Hills
Takabout George 50 17/11/1910 Sand Hills
Tambo unnamed male 1 day 20/07/1898 Nankin Creek
Tatow Bearnsey 3 mths 20/02/1906 Sand Hills
Tebahi male 20 02/05/1896 Yeppoon Plantation
Tenatah Ahtart 4 mths 27/03/1898 Yeppoon Plantation
Te-Marra female 1 mth 02/02/1897 Yeppoon Plantation
Tongoman William 1 19/07/1896 Yeppoon Plantation
Vea Vea Sam Sam Ambrym 75 03/04/1941 Sand Hills Cemetery
Wallace James 1 mth 05/05/1924 Coorooman
Warcon Ruth 8 days 28/09/1911 Sand Hills
Wedder Bessie 18 mths 25/12/1893 Yeppoon Plantation
Witon male 40 19/08/1886 Yeppoon Plantation
Wovera Polly 30 12/07/1911 Sand Hills


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