A report that found Scotsman Ben Boyd’s name should be removed from a NSW national park due to links with slavery has been met with furious opposition.
An ugly war of words has unfolded following a controversial government decision to rename one of NSW’s most iconic national parks.
A report commissioned by Environment Minister Matt Kean found Ben Boyd National Park, in the state’s far south, should be renamed because of Boyd’s early labour trade practices.
The report, written by historian Dr Mark Dunn, concluded Boyd’s schemes, which involved sourcing labour from the South Sea islands, were widely considered slavery at the time.
Dr Dunn wrote Boyd’s sourcing of workers for his estates and whaling ships in 1847 from Vanuatu and New Caledonia was “considered to be coercive”.
“His schemes were controversial at the time and viewed as a form of slavery by many of his contemporary critics,” part of the report read.
“His methods used in securing the labourers were considered to be coercive and the second voyage descended into extreme violence when his ships bombarded the villages, killing numerous Islanders.”
Dr Dunn wrote that his practices were believed to mark the beginnings of blackbirding in the mid-1800s – the coercion of people through deception or kidnapping to work as slaves or poorly paid labourers.
Findings of the report however, commissioned following renewed calls for names of national parks to be reconsidered amid the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, received a frosty reception from historian Keith Windschuttle.
Mr Windschuttle has called into question the depth of Dr Dunn’s research and disputed his use of the term slavery, saying it was “shoddy historical research” the minister should hire someone else to re-do.
He argued blackbirding was one of the most government-regulated labour migration programs of all time, which would not have fallen into the category of slavery, given it “was illegal in Australia”.
“Arthur Phillip said there will be no slavery in a free land and that was a principle he laid down which all of the British naval officers, who dominated the governorship for the first 20 years, all agreed upon,” Mr Windschuttle said, according to The Australian.
“The problem with the report is it does not provide a complete literature review. It doesn’t quote or even cite some of the major scholars in the field like Clive Moore and Peter Corris, who wrote widely on these subjects.
Mr Windschuttle was not however opposed renaming the park, rather insistent that such a move was “based on thorough historical research”.
Mr Kean remained confident in the validity of the report’s findings.
“There are many people from NSW’s early history who are worth remembering and celebrating, but it is clear … Ben Boyd is not one of them,” he said.