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The Extraordinary Life of the Convict, John Randall by
Jo Braithwaite

Black Randall



As the American colonies whisper of liberty and revolution a young slave boy, John Randall, listens. And when the country hurtles into war, he seizes his chance, escaping to fight for the English and his freedom.


John’s flight leads him across oceans: poverty and petty crime in the grey slums of Manchester; the rotting prison hulks on the Thames, and finally as a convict to a new penal colony on the other side of the world – a vast, unknown land later to be called Australia.


John yearns for freedom, but can a man so brutalised by war, grief, trauma and racism ever really be free?  


Jo Braithwaite, a direct descendant of John Randall, explores this question in what is an evocative and moving reimagining of an extraordinary life. 


Black Randall tells the previously untold story of one the few Black convicts brought to the penal colony of New South Wales on the First Fleet, putting lie to the notion that Australia was ‘settled’ by only white people.  


‘With sensitivity, imaginative flair and empathetic curiosity, Jo Braithwaite reimagines the extraordinary life of convict John Randall to create an evocative and engrossing tale that seamlessly blends fact with fiction.’


Award winning author

of 'Meet Me At Randalls'

Black Randall is a vivid reimagining of the life of John 'Black' Randall. John’s complex inner world, relationships, and motivations are fascinating, and the narrative moves along at a pace. Jo's beautiful sentences bring this historical world to life. 


Award winning author of

'A Superior Spectre'

Black Randall is a beautiful book - almost Dickensian in its tragic scope and careful, sensitive rendition of a character and his time deserving of our attention.



In The Press


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I grew up convinced I was Australian Royalty. After all, through my father, I was descended from John and Mary Small, convicts on the First Fleet.

It was not until I was well grown that I came upon my mother, crouched on the lounge room floor, a carpet of papers scattered around her.

‘I think we’re descended from John Randall’, she said.

It meant nothing to me.

After a lot more research and a DNA test, it was confirmed.


It means everything to me.

From the beginning, I wanted to know the facts. How did a slave boy, from Stonington, Connecticut in pre-revolutionary America come to be on the first fleet to a new British prison colony, a settlement on what would later be called Australia, some 17,000kms away? But more than that I wanted to know him. I can never do that of course.


But in writing his story I could immerse myself in his life, stick a toe in the muck of his experiences and explore the roots of his resilience, and the costs of his survival. John was, I believe, a flawed man. There were times when writing about him was painful. It felt like grasping hot coals. But in the end, I love him. And when I had finished writing, I mourned for him. And I hope that I have honoured him.

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