Billy Blue, oil on canvas by J.B. East, 1834 image: State Library N.S.W.

Governor Macquarie began his career as a hero of Quebec who fought in the naval Battle of Newcastle Jane. And so the convict, and the Governor became friends. An odd match in many ways, but war has a tendency to make brothers of men who would never speak to each other otherwise.

Billy Blue was the son of a runaway slave and an American Indian. He was an adventurous sort who fought in the American Revolutionary War on the side of the British. He was with General Wolf when he was killed in the defense of Quebec. In Virginia he was a scout and spy for Lord Cornwallis. For several years he held the rank of Sergeant in the Royal Pioneers

An original lithograph of Billy Blue drawn from life by Charles Rodius c1834
image: State Library N.S.W.

Billy became a much loved fixture in early colonial Sydney. He had been transported for stealing sugar. He was making chocolates commercially and needed lots of sugar and he thought he had found the perfect way to reduce costs of raw materials. the ultimate cost was arrest and being sentenced to seven years and transportation to Botany Bay. He arrived in Sydney, a convict, in 1801. After his release he went to work and bought a row boat. He started Sydney’s first ferry service, and was a water bailiff, but he was also famous for the wild parties at his cottage, his smuggling of rum, and as a protector of runaway convicts.

He was a remarkable man. A Sydney suburb is named after him. And in 1977 a magazine started that bore his name. The arty journal lead to a design company, a hospitality school, and to the famous Billy Blue College of Design.