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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Graham, John (1800–1837)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

John Graham (b.1800?), convict and 'wild white man', was convicted at the Dundalk Assizes, Ireland, on 4 March 1824 of having stolen six pounds and a quarter of hemp and sentenced to transportation for seven years. He arrived in Sydney in the Hoogly in April 1825 and was assigned to John Raine, mill-owner of Parramatta, where he made friends with the Aboriginals and learned their ways of fishing and food-gathering. In October 1826 he was sentenced to seven years at Moreton Bay for petty theft and he was landed there in January 1827. In July he escaped into the bush, hoping to find a boat and go to China. For months he lived on game and fish and managed to avoid the Aboriginals but at length walked into one their camps. There he had the good fortune to be recognized by a widow as the ghost of her dead husband. She died within a year but Graham was accepted by the tribe, lived with them for six years and learned their language and ritual. In November 1833, however, he returned to Moreton Bay and gave himself up.

On 21 May 1836 the Stirling Castle, Captain James Fraser, bound from Sydney to Singapore was wrecked on Swain Reefs off the Queensland coast. In August news reached Moreton Bay that the captain's wife, Eliza Ann, and others of the ship's company were being held captive by Aboriginals. Graham volunteered to join a search party under Lieutenant Otter of the 4th Regiment. North of Wide Bay Graham went forward unarmed among the Aboriginals and on 13-15 August brought in three members of the crew and finally, on 17 August, Mrs Fraser, who had been stripped and enslaved by her captors. Otter praised the 'indefatigable exertions' of Graham who 'shunned neither danger nor fatigue'. It seems unlikely that the captives would have been recovered alive had it not been for Graham's knowledge of the Aboriginals and his coolness and guile.

In 1837 he was given a ticket-of-leave and £10. Nothing is known of his later life.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Gibbings, John Graham, Convict (Lond, 1956).

Citation details

'Graham, John (1800–1837)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

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