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John Caesar's story can be told using documents of the time, which tell us as much about the writers as the convict.

The following documentary evidence has been selected from Cobley, Sydney Cove, Volumes 1-5. The spelling and punctuation is as reported in Cobley.

The extracts illuminate both the advantages and disadvantages of using a database to study history, as well as telling us much about Captain Collins' attitudes, in terms of his explanation for Caesar's crimes, his attitude to bounty hunters, as well as his changing attitude towards Caesar.

30 April 1788

John Caesar was accused of stealing 4 lbs of bread, the property of Richard Partridge. Partridge said that he missed some bread from his tent on Tuesday evening, 29th of April. He suspected Caesar, who denied the theft. Partridge felt some bread in Caesar's bag but Caesar said that Mr. Shairp had given it to him. (Vol. 1, p. 131-2)

29 April 1789

Scott wrote:  two Black men (Convicts) one by the name of Ceasar and the other called Black Jemmy was tryd by the Criminal Court for theft. The former transported for Life and the latter to Receve 500 Lasshes. (Vol. 2, p. 32)

13 May 1789

Scott recorded in his diary:  Black Caesar the Convict that was tried the 29th of April 89 (and Sentinced to be Transported for Life) Elloped from Camp taking with him Arms and Ammunition belonging to Abraham Hand, Marine, with several other articules. (Vol. 2, p. 37)

26 May 1789

Scott wrote:  ... the Above Black Ceasar Robed the Brick makers of a Quantity of provision (pursued by a party from Quarters but to no Effect)." (Vol. 2, p. 39)

6 June 1789

Scott's diary:  Black Ceasar, the Convict that Eloped from Camp 13th May 89 was taken about twelve oclock At night by Saltmarsh, a Convict, close to Mr Zacharyah Clark's House.

There is no record of a trial of Caesar at this time however.

Collins wrote:  This man has always reputed the hardest working convict in the country; his frame was muscular and well calculated for hard labour; but in his intellects he did not very widely differ from a brute; his appetite was ravenous, for he could in any one day devour the full ration for two days. To gratify his appetite he was compelled to steal from others, and all his thefts were directed to that purpose. He was such a wretch, and so indifferent about meeting death, that he declared while in confinement, that if he should be hanged, he would create a laugh before he was turned off, by playing some trick upon the executioner. Holding up such a mere animal as an example was not expected to have the proper or intended effect; the governor therefore, with the humanity that was always conspicuous in his exercise of the authority vested in him, directed that he should be sent to Garden Island, there to work fetters; and in addition to his ration of provisions he was to be supplied with vegetables from the Garden. (Vol. 2, p. 49-50)

22 December 1789

Caesar absconded in a canoe from Garden Island, where according to Collins:  his situation ... had been some time back rendered more eligible by being permitted to work without irons. (Vol. 2, p. 124)

25 December 1789

Bradley wrote that Caesar "paid them a vist in the night and stole a musquet" (Vol. 2, p. 124)

30 January 1790

Collins described the surrender of Caesar, who "after his escape from and subsequent visit at Garden Island, found his way up to Rose Hill, whence he was brought ...very much wounded by some natives whom he had met with in the woods. Being fearful of severe punishment for some of his late offences, he reported, on being brought in, that he had fallen in with our cattle, which had been so long lost; that they had increased by two calves; that they seemed to be under the care of eight or ten natives, who attended them closely as they grazed; and that, on his attempting to drive the cattle before him, he was wounded by another party of natives. The circumstances of his being wounded was the only part of his story that met with any credit, and that could not well be contradicted, as he had several spear wounds about him in different parts of his body; but every thing else was looked upon as a fabrication (and that not well contrived) to avert the lash which he knew hung over him. He was well known to have as small as share of veracity as of honesty. His wounds however requiring care and rest, he was secured, and placed under the surgeon's care at the hospital. (Vol. 2, p 133-4)

31st January 1790

Bradley wrote:  Caesar a notorious Convict, a Native of Madagascar, delivered himself up to the Officer at Rose Hill. (Vol. 2, p. 134)

3 March 1790

Collins wrote Among the male convicts (being sent to Norfolk Island) the governor had sent the troublesome and incorrigible Caesar, on whom he had bestowed a pardon. (Vol. 2, p. 158)

July 1794

Collins reports Soon after these executions, Caesar, still incorrigible, took up again his former practise of subsisting in the woods by plundering the farms and huts at the outskirts of the towns. he was soon taken; but on his being punished, and that with some severity, he daclared with exultation and contempt, that 'all that would not make him better... (Vol. 4, p. 163)

December 1795

Collins reports A savage of a darker hue, and full as far removed from civilisation, black Caesar, once more fled from honest labour to the woods, there to subsist by robbing the settlers. (Vol. 5, p. 27)

January 1796

The Governor issued an order on the 29 January 1796, offering a reward for the capture of Black Caesar and warning settlers against providing miscreants with ammunition.

Collins wrote Notwithstanding the reward ... black Caesar ... remained at large, and scarcely a morning arrived without a complaint being made to the magistrates of a loss of property to have been occassioned by this man. In fact, every theft that was committed was ascibed to him. (Vol. 5, p. 36)

February 1796

Collins wrote "On Monday the 15th ... information was received that black Caesar had that morning been shot by one Wimbow. This man and another, allured by the reward, had been for some days in quest of him. Finding his haunt, they concealed themselves all day at the edge of the brush which they perceived him to enter at dusk. In the morning he came out, when, looking round him and seeing his danger, he presented his musquet; but before he could pull the trigger Wimbow fired and shot him. He was taken to the hut of Rose, .... where he died in a few hours." (Vol. 5, p. 43)

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