The story of the Black Napoleon came back to me while we were walking one morning to The National Archives in Paris as part of the French Connection project with the Australian Print Workshop.
After many days researching records from the early French Voyages to what we now call Australia, I began to wonder where to start with the body of work to create for this project.
As a Quandamooka woman I’m mindful of the impact of both French and British Empires process of collecting and documenting First Peoples, flora and fauna on their expeditions prior to the colonisation of the many Nations that followed these first Voyages.
It was important to me that I worked with this experience in Paris in a way that didn’t repeat the research material and knowledge collected in a way that reinstated the cultural paradigms akin to world views of our people at the time.
For me the story of the Black Napoleon is just one of the many stories of powerful and clever people defying Empire at the turn of the 19th and 20th century throughout Australia. There are many recorded stories about the man that the British forces referred to as the Black Napoleon, also recorded as Eulope, the reason for his name Napoleon is interesting to me and changes over time throughout the echoes in the colonial press, some say he bore his name from his striking resemblance to Bonaparte but it most likely came about from his leadership in the resistance battles against British forces during invasion of Quandamooka country.
“Flinders, in 1799, was the first white man who landed there. It was then covered by dense luxuriant jungle, worthy of the tropical north. The island is composed of volcanic soil, the north end of a basaltic wave which is traced by Redland Bay south, via Tambourine Mountain, to the sea coast at Cudgen Creek, south of the Tweed Heads.
The name St. Helena was given by Captain Logan in 1827. A Stradbroke Island black had stolen an axe, or was accused of stealing it, from the Dunwich penal settlement, and was taken over and left on St. Helena, so named because the native was said to strongly resemble Napoleon. The exile simply stripped a sheet of bark, sewed both ends, and paddled back to Stradbroke on the third day!”
MORTON BAY AND ISLANDS. II. – Archibald Meston
The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld.: 1866 – 1939) Saturday 17 October, 1903 p8
Australian Print Workshop, Melbourne: 10 Aug – 7 Sep 2019
Mosman Art Gallery 28 March – 17 May 2020