Origins of the term "Blackbirding"

What does Blackbirding actually mean?


In the early 1800's, before the South Pacific labour trade, Australian colonialists, convicts and invaders referred to hunting and killing of Aborigines as going "Blackbird shooting", or in the more simpler way "hunting for blacks". Simplified to Blackbirding, it has been acknowledged that these early invaders hunted and killed Aboriginal people as a recreational activity, to get rid of them, whose land they had also stolen.

When plantation owners and ship owners were looking for labour for the emerging sugar industry in Australia in the 1860's, they commenced the targeted acquisition of South Sea Islanders from a number of Melanesian countries, all of which whom were Black. The recruitment started in extraordinary fashion with abduction, stealing, trickery, murder and in short, an outright slave trade.

Equivalent to slavery, opposition to recruiting led to the recruiters themselves being called Blackbirders. Again, they were hunting for "Blacks"!

Blackbirding (noun): 

History between the 1840’s and 1920’s of the practice of employers in Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Samoa and Peru of recruiting Pacific islander people (sometimes referred to as Kanakas) as labourers, often by kidnapping or by the use of force. The largest recruiter was Queensland with more than 62,000.

Pacific nations affected by recruiting practices include Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Niue, Rotuma, Easter Island and more… 

Included the most devastating and outright slave raids by Peruvian blackbirders.

Most worked in Queensland and Fiji on farms and sugar plantations, in New Caledonia, Tahiti and on German-owned plantations in Papua New Guinea and Samoa. South Sea Islanders were also recruited for the pearling and fishing industries in Northern Australia and the Torres Strait region.

Practice in Australia was ended by Commonwealth legislation in 1904 but continued on for many years in remaining countries.

Blackbirding (verb):

To take by theft, force or trickery, individuals for indentured work or other form of engagement, primarily into foreign countries.