The Sutton Case: The First Franco-Australian Foray into Blackbirding

Karin Speedy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


In 1858, a scandal rocked Sydney - the captain and the owner of the Sydney-based barque Sutton were accused of kidnapping 65 Pacific Islanders to sell to sugar planters on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion. While Dorothy Shineberg highlighted this incident in a 1984 publication, she based her story on official documents located in the French and British archives and, understandably, largely portrayed it as a diplomatic dispute between the colonial powers. This paper revisits this notorious yet little known episode, taking into account the press coverage the affair received in Australia as well as the archival correspondence. It repositions the narrative in the complex colonial space of Sydney, where culpability was very much tied to local politics, class and notions of nationality. Set against the backdrop of the British anti-slavery laws, it considers the implications of this affair on future recruiting ventures in the region, including the introduction of indentured labour to Australia in 1863.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-364
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Pacific History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2015


  • blackbirding
  • Pacific labour trade
  • indentured labour
  • slavery
  • Australian history
  • Pacific history
  • Indian Ocean history
  • Reunion Island


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