A case where real-life is better than fiction

Black Jack Anderson by Elaine Forrestal

This is the story of a real character in the early days of European settlement. Afro-American man called Black Jack (John William) Anderson, who lived as a pirate off the coast of W.A. in the 1830’s.  Black Jack came to Australia on a whaling ship but after killing a man escaped to live on an island in the Recherche archipelago. After stealing a small whaling boat called ‘Beetle’, he ran raids on the fledgling settlements and ships along this stretch of coastline.  He built up a community of other desperate people, escaped convicts, ruthless sailors, those stranded after shipwrecks and 2 aboriginal wives. They lived as sealers, and using the seals for their skins as well as robbing boats. These people lived by their wits.

A number of characters are introduced but it is the shipwrecked woman, Dorothy, with whom he fall in love and who became his mistress is the most “fleshed out”. He is finally betrayed by his right-hand man, Robert Gimble, aka Nimble Gimble.

Forrestal has undertaken a lot of research for this novel, including visits to Albany and the islands where Black Jack and his band lived. She also states that this is a fictional story because facts are so sketchy.

This was a fascinating chapter in Australia’s early settlement history and an engrossing read.



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