• synonyms


  1. (formerly) the act or practice of kidnapping persons, especially Kanakas, and selling them abroad as slaves.
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Origin of blackbirding

First recorded in 1870–75; blackbird + -ing1


  1. a common European thrush, Turdus merula, the male of which is black with a yellow bill.
  2. any of several American birds of the family Icteridae, having black plumage.Compare crow blackbird, red-winged blackbird, rusty blackbird.
  3. any of several other unrelated birds having black plumage in either or both sexes.
  4. (formerly) a person, especially a Kanaka, who was kidnapped and sold abroad, usually in Australia, as a slave.
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verb (used with object)
  1. to kidnap (a person), as in blackbirding.
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verb (used without object)
  1. to engage in blackbirding.
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Origin of blackbird

1480–90; earlier blacke bride. See black, bird
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for blackbirding

Historical Examples of blackbirding

  • I had had some experience in blackbirding before I went pearling in the Paumotus.

    South Sea Tales

    Jack London

  • A man might have been made by copra or by pearls—or by blackbirding.

  • I sailed in the teak-built ketch, the Minota, on a blackbirding cruise to Malaita, and I took my wife along.

  • What, and be sent down here hunting after the blackbirding blackguards?

    The Ocean Cat's Paw

    George Manville Fenn

  • The traders were only too glad to get new recruits without the expense of blackbirding them.

British Dictionary definitions for blackbirding


  1. a common European thrush, Turdus merula, in which the male has a black plumage and yellow bill and the female is brown
  2. any of various American orioles having a dark plumage, esp any of the genus Agelaius
  3. history a person, esp a South Sea Islander, who was kidnapped and sold as a slave, esp in Australia
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  1. (tr) (formerly) to kidnap and sell into slavery
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for blackbirding



late 15c. (late 13c. as a surname), from black (adj.) + bird (n.1). OED says so called for being the only "black" (really dark brown) bird among the songbirds, reflecting an older sense of bird that did not include rooks, crows, ravens.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper