William Cuffay's grandfather was a slave on the Caribbean island of St Kitts, William's father came to England as a cook on a Royal Navy vessel and settled in Chatham, Kent. His son was born in Kent and became a tailor. He became involved in trade union politics, becoming one of the most prominent leaders of the Chartist movement in London. He was savagely lampooned in Punch
and The Times
and as a direct result of these virulent attacks in the racist press, his wife at the time, Mary Ann, lost her job. In August 1848, Cuffay was arrested and tried for treason to which he pleaded 'not guilty', but was sentenced to transportation. He arrived in Tasmania in November 1849. Cuffay did not repent his radical politics and after his free pardon in 1856 he became involved in local politics, particularly the amendment of the colony's Masters and Servants Act. At one of his last public appearances he addressed the crowd as 'fellow slaves' and told them 'I'm old, I'm out of work, and I'm in debt, and therefore I have cause to complain.'