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William Henry (Bully) Hayes (c. 1829–1877)

by John Earnshaw

This article was published:

William Henry (Bully) Hayes (1829?-1877), adventurer, swindler and blackbirder, best known as 'BULLY', is said to have been born in Cleveland, Ohio, United States of America, son of Henry Hayes, innkeeper, to have gained some knowledge of seafaring on the Great Lakes and to have roamed the Pacific engaging in the many trades that ocean offered in ways often not short of piracy. Although he is stated to have made a voyage to Melbourne and Sydney in the American barque Canton in 1853 his first recorded arrival in Australia was at Fremantle in January 1857 as master of the C. W. Bradley which he had acquired at Singapore by devious means. For three years he engaged in several audacious maritime frauds ranging from Fremantle to San Francisco. On 25 August 1857 at Penwortham, South Australia, he married, probably bigamously, Amelia Littleton.

In January 1860 Hayes reappeared in Sydney after his stolen Ellentia foundered, and was charged with indecent assault on a young girl in that ship. The case was dismissed but the Empire printed a scathing account of his character and past activities which was rebutted by forged letters to the Sydney Morning Herald. For debt he was imprisoned in Darlinghurst gaol but released when declared insolvent. After some time in the Hunter Valley with the Glogski and Buckingham minstrel troupe he sailed for New Zealand as a passenger in the Cincinnati with his theatrical companions. There he reputedly 'married' Rosa Buckingham who, with her child, brother and a young nursemaid, were drowned near Nelson in August 1864; Hayes alone escaped. For some years he sailed New Zealand waters in various craft which he obtained by fraud and deception until in May 1866 he bought the Rona and with a wife and children on board became a South Sea trader and blackbirder. The Rona was lost off Manihiki, Cook Islands, and in Samoa he joined the American blackbirder, Ben Pease, in the Pioneer which later returned to Samoa as the Leonora with Hayes in command. In January 1874 Louis Becke, later famous for his South Sea tales, joined the Leonora at Milli in the Marshall Islands and for several months cruised with Hayes.

On 15 March 1874, while lying at Kusaie in the Caroline Islands, the Leonora was totally lost on a reef but her company escaped. Supported by a few of his scallawag crew and comforted by five native wives, Hayes set up a trading station and terrorized the natives. When H.M.S. Rosario arrived in September complaints against Hayes's violent behaviour were made by missionaries, some of his crew and the native king. To avoid arrest Hayes made off in a small boat with one companion, was picked up at sea by the American whaler Arctic and landed at Guam in February 1875. After various episodes in the Philippines he reappeared at San Francisco, where he sailed on his last voyage in the yacht Lotus in October 1876 accompanied by a woman, said to be the wife of the owner, and a crew of two. The many versions of Hayes's death all agree on the main facts. In April 1877 the Lotus was cruising near Jaluit in the Marshall Islands. After repeated quarrels between Hayes and a sailor, Hayes was killed by a blow from an iron fitting and his body cast overboard. The death was reported when the yacht reached Jaluit but his murderer was never brought to justice.

Notorious in every Pacific port, Hayes became a legendary figure, first in Rolf Boldrewood's A Modern Buccaneer (1894), based on a Louis Becke manuscript, and later as a principal character in many of Becke's own tales of the South Seas. Although uneducated Hayes had infinite resource, great plausibility and was undoubtedly a rogue in the grand manner. He was survived by a wife and twin daughters in Samoa.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Lovett, James Chalmers: His Autobiography and Letters (Lond, 1902)
  • T. Trood, Island Reminiscences (Syd, 1912)
  • B. Lubbock, Bully Hayes, South Sea Pirate (Lond, 1931)
  • A. T. Saunders, Bully Hayes (Perth, 1932)
  • A. G. Day, Louis Becke (New York, 1966)
  • F. Clune, Captain Bully Hayes (Syd, 1970)
  • Government Gazette (Queensland), 28 Aug 1875
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7, 12 Jan 1860, Empire (Sydney), 9 Jan 1860
  • ‘Cleveland born pirate’, Cleveland Midweek Review Pictorial, 30 Nov 1932
  • bankruptcy papers (State Records New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Earnshaw, 'Hayes, William Henry (Bully) (c. 1829–1877)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


c. 1829
Cleveland, Ohio, United States of America


April, 1877 (aged ~ 48)
at sea

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