Benedict Vengeur (ca. 1804 – 1897), was born in Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, but was transported from Mauritius to Van Diemen’s Land in 1839. In early 1840, he was one of 15 Mauritian convicts sent from Hobart to Moreton Bay to work as shepherds. After earning his freedom, Vengeur remained in the district, eventually marrying Marian Cowley, an Indian ‘coolie’ (indentured labourer) who also arrived at Moreton Bay in the 1840s. The Vengeurs lived in the Brassal area of Ipswich working as farmers, market gardeners and operating a ferry service. Benedict Vengeur died on 2 October 1897 aged about 84.
‘Vengeur’, as his named appears in convict records, was an unmarried 35-year-old house servant when he was convicted of theft at the Port Louis Assizes in Mauritius on 3 July 1839. He had no prior convictions but was sentenced to transportation for ten years. Vengeur was transported to Hobart on the vessel Water Witch, arriving on 19 December 1839. The ship’s indent described him as 5 feet 7 and 3/4 inches tall with a ‘copper color’ complexion, black hair and dark brown eyes. His ears were pierced, his lips were ‘thick’ and his nose ‘broad’. Vengeur also had a scar under his right eye, several marks of boils on his lower right arm, and a tattoo of a cross. Like most of the other convicts transported from Mauritius, Vengeur was Catholic. Unusually, however, he gave his native place as the African country of Madagascar and stated that his relatives lived there, suggesting that he may have been sent to Mauritius as a slave.
After spending a short period in Hobart, 15 Mauritian convicts were sent north to Sydney on the vessel Layton, arriving on 27 January 1840, before being forwarded to Moreton Bay in April to work as shepherds. In 1844, Vengeur was granted a ticket of leave for Moreton Bay and by the early 1850s he had bought several parcels of land in the Ipswich district, including 32 perches near Waghorn Street.
In 1858, Vengeur appeared before the Police Magistrate complaining that his neighbour, John Bartlett, was harassing him by paying local boys to march up and down the street outside his house banging ‘tin kettles and bullock bells’. Bartlett, presumably hoping to drive the Vengeurs out of the neighbourhood, told the boys to ‘drum the black sweeps’ and promised them three shillings if they would ‘drum the black people well’.
When the Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser interviewed the elderly Vengeur and published a photograph of him and his Indian-born wife in August 1895, Vengeur would have been about 82 years old. The article includes many interesting details about the lives of the Mauritian convicts at Limestone in the early 1840s, as well as his interactions with local Aborigines. It was reported that Vengeur ‘succeeded in capturing and bringing into town the two black fellows, Peter and Jacky Jacky’, following the murder of a young girl. Vengeur described the Aborigines ‘as being terribly treacherous in those days’ and said that ‘he himself had, on three different occasions, very narrow escapes, as the aboriginals [sic] did not’, in his words, ‘take to his colour at all’.
Marian Vengeur died in January 1896 at Hungry Flat, Brassall and was buried at the Ipswich Cemetery. Her death certificate, on which Benedict was recorded as the informant, stated that she was born in ‘Calcutta, East India’ and had been in Queensland for 47 years. It was also stated that Marian had been married twice and that there were no children from her marriage to Vengeur.
Benedict Vengeur died in October 1897 aged 84 at the Ipswich Hospital. His death certificate described him as a gardener and named his parents as Basil and Juma Vanzeur [sic]. He was buried in October 1897 at the Ipswich Cemetery.
Jan Richardson, ‘Benedict Vengeur (ca. 1804 – 1897)’, Harry Gentle Resource Centre, Griffith University, 2022, https://harrygentle.griffith.edu.au/life-stories/benedict-vengeur/.
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