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Stepney, Andrew Stuart (Andy) (1851–1914)

by Chris Cunneen

Andrew (Andy) Stuart Stepney, also known as Andrew Stuart Stepley (1851-1914), Aboriginal paddle-steamer hand, shearer, strongman and trade unionist

Birth: 26 December 1851 in Adelaide, South Australia, son of Edward Stepley or Stepney, cook, and Elizabeth, née Stewart, who signed with a mark. Marriage: Single. Death: 16 July 1914 at Benevolent Asylum, Waratah, Newcastle, New South Wales. Cause of death: spastic paraplegia and heart failure. He was buried in the Sandgate Cemetery with Methodist forms.

  • As a boy Stepney worked on ships, then at a pastoral station of the Chirnside brothers in Victoria. After the alcohol-induced death of his mother he found himself destitute in Melbourne. A newspaper there described him in 1865 as an intelligent, fifteen-year-old vagrant when he applied for admission to the industrial school to learn the trade of tailor.
  • In 1874 he was working on the paddle steamer Wentworth, trading on the Murray, Darling and Murrumbidgee rivers.  A “well-known character on the Darling,” in 1881 he was described as “A Wilcannia [NSW] celebrity”. In December 1886 he was a digger at the Teetulpa goldfields, South Australia.
  • By 1887 he was back in Wilcannia, where he joined the shearers’ union. He was said to have participated in a shearers’ strike in Hay in 1890.
  • In August 1894 he led a group of striking unionists harassing strike-breaking shearers at Tindarey station, near Cobar. He was summonsed on a charge of wilful trespass to appear at Cobar Court.
  • Spent some time in Queensland after the 1894 strike, and regularly attended cricket matches at Mutti.
  • Unhappy about being described as “an American negro”.  He claimed that his father was a “Zulu chief, captured young and turned into the boatswain of a British man-o’-war” and that his maternal grandmother was Aboriginal.
  • Contributors to newspapers reported the feats of physical strength performed by “Black Andy”, described as the “strong man of the Barwon”. According to one account, he was “6 ft 4 ins [cm] high . . . 20 stone [ kilos] in weight and he measured 50 inches [cm] round the chest”. Another reporter wrote that as a lad he witnessed Stepney’s feats of strength and described him as “17 stone, all bone and muscle”.
  • About 1908 he “settled down in a little town across the Queensland border and set up a business selling fruit, fish, etc.”

Sources
Jordan Humphries, ‘Aboriginal unionists in the 1890s shearers’ strikes: a forgotten history’, Marxist Left Review, No. 22, Winter 2021: https://marxistleftreview.org/articles/aboriginal-unionists-in-the-1890s-shearers-strikes-a-forgotten-history/

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Stepney, Andrew Stuart (Andy) (1851–1914)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/stepney-andrew-stuart-andy-32470/text40273, accessed 29 May 2022.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Stepley, Andrew Stuart
Birth

26 December, 1851
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Death

16 July, 1914 (aged 62)
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

spastic paraplegia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
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