Daily Bulletin


Daily Bulletin

News

  • Written by Paige Gleeson, PhD Candidate, University of Tasmania

Scott Morrison says “we shouldn’t be importing” the Black Lives Matter movement. But in the 1800s, Australia imported plantation owners from the American South.

Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, the American south produced almost all of the world’s cotton. As war threatened, plantation owners returned to England and English cotton mills ground to a halt.

From Louisiana to Queensland: how American slave owners started again in Australia Emigration to Queensland, ‘the new cotton field of England’ was actively encouraged. Trove

A new source of cotton was required, and Queensland would be widely promoted as a cotton growing colony and the “future cotton field of England”. The colony government invited mill and plantation owners and workers to re-migrate and re-establish their industry in Queensland.

Under 1861’s “Cotton Regulations”, individuals and companies could lease land and receive the freehold title within two years if one-tenth of the land was used for growing cotton.

As early as June of that year – barely two months after the civil war officially began – the Muir brothers, Robert, Matthew and David, established the Queensland Manchester Cotton Company and initiated plans to send an agent to Queensland to begin the process of establishing plantations.

From Louisiana to Queensland: how American slave owners started again in Australia Believed to be Robert Muir, photographed at Benowa Sugar Plantation at Pimpama, ca. 1875. State Library Queensland

The brothers owned cotton plantations in Louisiana before returning to Manchester and then on to Queensland. The manager of the company, Thomas William Morton, also migrated from Louisiana to Queensland via England. His son Alexander went on to become the prominent curator of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

After an agreement was made between the government and shipping companies in 1863, thousands of “cotton immigrants” travelled to Queensland, and profits of American slavery were reinvested in Queensland’s new tropical plantation economy.

A colony for cotton

Disruption of the American slave trade didn’t only lead to the search for new fertile soil. Plantation owners also wanted cheap labour for the burgeoning Australian cotton industry.

The free labour of enslaved African Americans had generated immense profits, and Australian plantation owners were unable to induce sufficient numbers of white men to labour in the tropics on low wages.

(Popular medical theories also posited the physical unsuitably of white men for work in the tropics, conveniently maintaining racial hierarchy.)

Plantation owners turned to the Pacific Islands to ensure a steady supply of indentured labour.

Read more: Was there slavery in Australia? Yes. It shouldn't even be up for debate

Under the indenture system, workers were bound to an employer for a specified length of time. These contracts were governed by Masters and Servants Acts with conditions set steeply in favour of plantation owners.

From Louisiana to Queensland: how American slave owners started again in Australia Australian South Sea Islanders at Otmoor sugar plantation in Upper Coomera, Queensland, ca. 1889. State Library of Queensland

The work was physically demanding, and rates of death and injury were high. During a Pacific Islander’s first year of indenture, the death rate was 81 per 1,000 – especially startling given labourers were in their physical prime, usually between 16 and 35 years of age.

Most cotton plantations failed by 1866 due to flooding and crop disease. Owners reinvested in sugar and the labour trade grew to meet demand.

Between 1863-1902, 62,000 Islanders migrated to Australia.

An ongoing legacy

The Queensland colonial government established a tropical plantation economy which benefited from capital, workers and working conditions imported from the American south to the sugar fields of Queensland.

Labourers’ obligations to their employers were almost unlimited, and their rights were limited to the payment of wages.

The legal conditions of indenture made a worker’s refusal to comply with duties demanded by his or her master a prosecutable offence, no matter how small (or unreasonable) the task. Planters could bring charges in local courts against workers for absconding, “malingering”, or “shirking” (deliberately working slowly) – actions sometimes employed by Islanders as forms of resistance.

The Islander workers fought for increased rights, resisting Australian colonial society at times, while at other times adapting to it. The workers would be granted increased protections from “blackbirding” (recruiting labour via kidnapping, coercion or exploitation) under the Polynesian Labourers Act 1968, and later fought for their rights against deportation under the White Australia Policy.

From Louisiana to Queensland: how American slave owners started again in Australia South Sea Islander woman planting sugar cane in a field, 1897. State Library of Queensland

Despite the harsh conditions, many South Sea Islanders returned to Queensland on multiple contracts, entering a pattern of “circular migration” from the islands of the Pacific to Queensland and back again. Others stayed on after their contracts had expired, became knowledgeable about the labour market and the value of their skills, and engaged in short term contracts on their own terms.

Many Islanders laid down permanent roots in Queensland, marrying Aboriginal and white Queenslanders, starting families and establishing homes.

These people are the ancestors of the contemporary Australia South Sea Islander community, who went on to have important roles in Australian society and advocate for recognition of their communities.

Australia doesn’t need to “import” protests against racism now: this importation happened centuries ago.

Authors: Paige Gleeson, PhD Candidate, University of Tasmania

Read more https://theconversation.com/from-louisiana-to-queensland-how-american-slave-owners-started-again-in-australia-140725

Writers Wanted

Angus Taylor's tech roadmap is fundamentally flawed — renewables are doable almost everywhere

arrow_forward

Climate explained: humans have dealt with plenty of climate variability

arrow_forward

Why do bankers behave so badly? They make too much money to ask questions

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Prime Minister National Cabinet Statement

The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, the Victoria outbreak, easing restrictions, helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment an...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Ten tips for landing a freelance transcription job

Transcription jobs are known to be popular in the field of freelancing. They offer fantastic job opportunities to a lot of people, but there are some scammers who wait to cheat the freelancers. ...

News Company - avatar News Company

How To Remove Rubbish More Effectively

It can be a big task to remove household rubbish. The hardest part is finding the best way to get rid of your junk. It can be very overwhelming to know exactly where to start with so many option...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Tips To Pass Skills Certifications Tests

Developing the right set of skills is valuable not only to your career, but for life in general. You can get certified in these skills through obtaining a license. Without a certified license, y...

News Company - avatar News Company



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion