The View From Mount Clarence

A look back at settlement along Western Australia's South Coast

Black Anderson: A Story of the South Coast – Part 1

A 2022/23 revision of one of the South Coast’s most disreputable historical characters


Introduction, Contemporary Assessment and Historiography


Above: The identity of ‘John William ‘Black Jack’ Anderson and the story of his arrival along Western Australia’s South Coast is slowly being pieced together. Long a figure of intrigue and mystery, Anderson was perhaps the most hostile and cruel of Albany’s fringe-dwelling sealer community. Post military era, he and his contemporaries came to use Albany town as its commercial base once the economy took hold. This image, popularly used to depict Anderson over the years, has been modified and adapted to an emerging narrative he was not Negro, but of South Asian origin. Image: Colour-modified graphic depiction of an Indian origin ‘Black Jack’ Anderson commissioned specifically for Robertson’s Sealed Souls. Inspired by an alternative image created by Norman Aisbett of The West Australian Magazine, published in a 1974 article titled “The Once And Only Pirate” by Alex Harris.  Source: Sealed Souls – Self Published 2022 – Page 91.



The South Coast’s history conscious have always been aware of their relationship with the dissolute sealing gangs which ranged Australia’s southern littoral from around 1800 to around 1840. The practise of hunting fur seals spread from New Zealand and the Bass Strait all the way to King George Sound, indeed in isolation as far as the Swan River, years before the administrative wheels of the western-most colony were set in motion. In this post, in the wake of another important book launch, we examine how our interest in this subject has evolved over the last 180 years, what’s missing, and where we are now in terms of understanding who Black Jack Anderson was and how he fits in to the reality of actual events.

Stories of the sealers who exploited our section of coast are as awful as those belonging to other sections, most notably Northern Tasmania; Morninton Peninsula and Portland Bay in Victoria; Cape Jervis near Adelaide, and Port Lincoln, on the opposite side of South Australia’s Spencer Gulf. Which is to say, the prevelance and menace of these gangs and their alpha leaders impacted widely and continuously, providing good reason why the stories survived through generations as lore, why academics and artists alike continue to be seduced by them, and why I am once again setting my fingers to the keyboard with the same subject in mind.

There are three things we need to do in this post.

  • Assess the historiography. In light of there now being three novels written on the subject, we should extend our perspective. It has been very close to two hundred years since Lockyer’s “complete set of pirates” caused such havoc at the as yet unnamed Albany and our view now needs to include how the story of sealing became popularised.
  • Update our knowledge of Black Anderson by examining new ideas and new evidence as to who he might have been and how and when he might have got to the South Coast.
  • Look more closely at the women the sealers brought with them. The time has come to lay greater focus on the Tasmanian, Victorian and South Australian captives who ended up in our waters and in most cases, died there.

Albany lies at the western end of Australia’s southern littoral. It’s immediate colonial pre-history is entirely related to the sea, most notably through the activities of the sealing fraternity which built from the very late 1700s in Bass Strait and which, after effectively wiping out the primary seal populations there, progressed westward. The men who tended to lead this group were essentially renegade. Outlaw types who learned to master small boat transport upon an enormous and exceedingly difficult expanse. It was a cold, harsh life, as precarious a model for existence as any ever conceived. Albany has its own stories to tell, but its association with its sealers cannot be fully comprehended without knowing how the industry evolved and how, in Western Australia, we merely caught the tail end of it.

Kangaoo Island, off South Australia, was regarded as the western end of Bass Strait. Its scale facilitated the presence of sealers into the 1830s, well after the Bass Strait seal populations had been denuded. Its positioning put it within (albeit difficult) striking distance of Australia’s western third, something which aided its longevity as a sealer haunt. Much work has been done on the subject of early habitation in Bass Strait, particularly Kangaroo Island, and much of what we know can be drawn from three essential works.

These are extremely thorough pre-internet, pre-digital search-engine era works which underpin pre-millenium interest in Bass Strait sealing and the lives of the men and women involved.

In 2002, Unearthed; The Aboriginal Tasmanians of Kangaroo Island was published. This highly regarded work by Rebe Taylor combined historical story-telling with genealogical research. Unearthed, represents logical progression from the pre-millennial investigations as to who was brought to Kangaroo Island and what happened to them. It tells of families today who are descended from Tasmanian (Palawah) Aboriginal women who were abducted by the sealers in the early 1800s, who were traded between sealing men and who came to remain on the island. Along the way, over multiple generations, these women and their cildren eschewed their indigenous history in order to be seen as not-Aboriginal. Taylor’s book generated substantial discussion on the subjects of Tasmanian Aboriginal identity and of identity supression at large. A conversation these pages are lengthily engaged with.

Large parts of Australia may think it is White, but Australia is only as White as it is an amalgam of every race and breed it has engaged with along the way.

Rebe Taylor’s work speaks directly to the descendants of the abducted women who came to King George Sound. Those choiceless sacrificial souls, some of whom mothered children who came to grow up between the islands and the mainland. Children who created pathways into certain families today who aren’t yet, or are only just becoming, aware of their origins. Those original captured mothers who rarely or never left the South Coast islands ought to be revered, rather than remain vague, ghostly figures.

To add to the above ground-breaking studies, there is also a body of work aided by today’s digital technology which picks through their contents confirming, denying or adding to the information by drilling down into the stories of specific individuals and their own activities and influences. A resume of these works, relative to our discussion, includes;

Thus, there is much to get through.


Above: King George Sound lies at the far-western end of Australia’s southern coastline. Bass Strait, the area between northern Tasmania and the mainland as far west as Cape Jervis, South Australia, is at the other extreme. Middle Island, off Cape Arid, is the main feature of Western Australia’s Rechereche Archipelago. It is about 400 miles east of Albany. Kangaroo Island, off  Cape Jervis, is the single largest island of any settled upon and western-most of the Bass Strait group. Sealing in Bass Strait boomed from 1798, but Western Australia’s south coast, being so far away, was exploited to a far lesser extent. Seal colonies on the Recherche Archipelago and other islands westwards of there were hunted in relatively regular fashion from 1810 to around 1840. What we don’t know is whether our John Anderson first arrived into King George Sound from the east, or from an American Whaler coming via the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean from the west. Image: Highlighted points of known Aboriginal abductions targetted by the sealing fraternity, ranging from east coast Tasmania all the way to King George Sound.  Source: Self-doctored screenshot from Google Earth.


Colonial era newspaper articles relating to Kangaroo Island and its role as original den for sealers commenced in 1804, but the sealer’s presence there was not negatively perceived, publicly anyway, until 1817 when stories relating to the lawless nature of the society which had taken hold there began to circulate through the East Coast press. Because Western Australia was not settled until very late in 1826, most of what we know comes from ships logs, captain’s journals and associated newspaper reports. Newspapers being the most common source of information. Other than the relatively few sealing, whaling and trading vessels which visited the island there was very little traffic, but the authorities, especially leading Army and Navy personnel had come to learn of the islanders reputation.

Various references suggest sealing vessels visiting Kangaroo Island had been dropping gangs at the Recherche Archipelago from at least 1810, so it would appear there had been plenty of experienced mariners in our waters across that time, probably using Middle Island as their base. Indeed the wreck of the Belinda at Middle Island in 1824 saw two full crews stranded there for six months, a good amount of that time spent on the island itself. Those crews were ultimately rescued by another sealing vessel, Nereus, which had also activated crews in the Albany to Cape Arid area at that time. By late 1826, when Captain Thomas Hansen sailed Lockyer’s garrison and convict party into King George Sound aboard the Amity, the reputation of sealers as wide-ranging marauders was driven to yet another height and Breaksea Island at Albany, from point of the settlement’s official inception, came to lay smack in the thick of it.

Dr Sarah Drummond recently reminded me that the sealers brought dogs with them, that dogs formed part of their small-boat crews performing hunting roles, as well as those of companionship, warmth and protection. She recalls reading an excerpt from Captain Hansen’s log relating to a particular voyage he made to King George Sound some time in the early 1830s. While the ship is at calm on the outer reaches of the Sound, Hansen writes of a strange noise bearing in across the water. From uninhabited Breaksea Island came the hauntingly disoriented holla of barking dogs. Lockyer’s Pirates had long come-in by that time, given themselves up years earlier and found passage back to the east, but left their dogs to fend for themselves.

Perhaps the island remained in use by small boat men, it isn’t clear. It and neighbouring Michaelmas Island were later used as a point of off-shore storage for tools, equipment, salvage of whatever kind, and skins, so may have been at that time too. The dogs therefore potentially acting as some kind of deterrent to thieves. Nonetheless, Captain Hansen’s mention of that ghostly canine kenesis issuing across the water has the effect of echoing across time too. Whatever sticks in the memory does so for a reason.

Lockyer’s Pirates had dissipated by mid-1827 only to be replaced by others who remained more-or-less anonymous until reports of Anderson made the colonial papers in 1835, four years after the garrison had been disbanded. By then it had been eight full years since the Amity first sailed in. Had there been a determined sealing presence at Albany or in the Recherche Archipelago between times?  In a 2018 paper on sealing and the South Coast Ross Anderson, one of the maritime archeology curators at the West Australian Museum, says the Americans targetted the Recherche Archipelago specifically during this period (citing Gibbs), though there is little outright evidence to show it. Nonetheless, as John Roberston put it, ‘a new forward position for small colonial shipping had been founded at Middle Island’. Certainly, by 1833 there was again an established presence at King George Sound and in 1835 Middle Island emerged, once again, as a stronghold.

Ross Anderson’s paper makes for a very good overview of sealing activity along Australia’s southern littoral, and particulary along W.A.’s South Coast. It’s a compendious review of the source index given in an all-Australian and sometimes international context. Read in conjunction with Robertson’s Sealed Souls, which carries ample sentiment and empathy, rather than clinically informative, the narrative takes on a much more salty, in-the-boat-a-long-time-ago, tone. Pretty good stuff all round.

It could be argued the story of Lockyer’s Pirates was forgotten by the time Anderson’s reign commenced as by then the population at Albany had been almost entirely replaced. In 1826/7 Albany was a N.S.W.’s garrison named Frederickstown. By 1835 it was a free settlement under the convict free idyll of James Stirling’s Swan River Colony. Only traces of the garrison’s inhabitants remained. These were the few convicts whose terms expired while at Albany and were permitted by Captain Collet Barker to remain. Namely, Matthew Gill, Willliam Thacker and Thomas Noel/Newell.

Since that time we have indulged in and then forgotten again both Lockyer’s and Anderson’s gangs, several times. However, as we approach Albany’s bi-centennial anniversary, indeed as the release of Robertson’s tome demonstrates, the subject has been stirring at a local level pretty steadily since the Millenium and, it would seem, there is much more to be made of it yet.

What we want to do in this post is not only look at the facts but at how we arrived at today’s level of consciousness and how we view the story in 2022. Are we concerned with truth telling, or are we concerned with dramatisation and ommission, with the desire to tailor the story as we see fit in order to sell it to the widest audience we can find? Because history is story, right? It’s just a question of who’s telling it and why.

Above: There has been fair publicity surrounding the story of the so-called South Coast pirate Black Jack Anderson over the last 10 to 15 years in particular, to the point where the story’s popularity has extended beyond the commercial realm of the written word alone. Black Anderson is intrinsic to Abany’s early free-settlement period, but his sea base was Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago, part of Esperance’s marine terroir rather than our more westerly aspect. Indeed, Anderson is far better known as a figure of local lore at Esperance than he is at Albany. Image: Black Jack Charters logo, courtesy Karli Florrison, Esperance writer, historian and podcast host, also partner to Shayne at Black Jack Fishing Charters, Bandy Creek Boat Harbour, Esperance..


Assessing Our Contemporary View


Motivation for this perspective review stems from conversations I had recently with two significant contributors to the arena of Albany’s coastal history, Dr Sarah Drummond and the above mentioned John Robertson. Sarah’s two publications Salt Story and The Sound  followed her 2009 graduate thesis, Exiles and Island Wives, and directly reflect her own association with local coastal culture. While discussing the historiography of the Anderson story, she directed me toward Anna Clark‘s newly released Making Australian History  (Vintage Books, Feb 2022). Clark’s historiography of Australian history illumines the means by which we create the history that suits us best. Meaning, writers tend to be biast in their interpretations of history so that their work reflects their ideology and in that their own politics and prejudices. As Clark herself points out, ‘histories are very much a question of who wrote them and when’.

But the best histories are good art too. They say as much about the expressive nature of the author as the place and time they are discussing.

My conversations with John Roberston focussed on the behaviour of these and other men of early Albany as I realised how accutely he has comprehended the reality of life for them. John is a seasoned South Coast boatman, a lifetime associate of Albany’s contemporary small boat brigade. He knows the lie of the land around the South Coast and its people too, as much as he knows the patterns of the sea between King George Sound and Cape Arid. John knows the islands, has visited them, has landed on those occupied at various times by shipwreck survivors, sealers, salt harvesters and Aboriginal prisoners. He’s found stuff; hewn shelters complete with bedding and personal belongings, including seal skins. He has found gravesites, gardens, stone constructions, hearths and other relics of habitation. Since 1999, when he re-discovered the burial site of Charles Douglas, Boatswain aboard HMS Investigator (Matthew Flinders vessell which is so richly entwined with Australia’s southern littoral), John has thoroughly researched the sealing and whaling eras, in the process compiling Sealed Souls. The substantial accompanying glossaries of persons and boats in this book sit as compact base to the narrative, reflecting the depth of the work and the understanding John has gained of these men and those times.

The historiography of Black Anderson commenced in 1835 with publication of the survival story of James Manning and Jem Newell, and of charges of theft laid against Anderson by Manning being made public in a Perth newspaper. That was over 185 years ago. Since then we have slowly progressed toward the myth of today’s popular ‘Black Jack’. Robertson arrived in to the latter stages of Anderson’s historiography, in 1960, growing up with the passion, intellect and perseverence to push thru the veneer and gain deep insight into the way of things among that group at that time. Like the authors we are about to discuss, John has wrestled fragments of history, mere glimpses of harsh past lives, into compelling stories of real individuals and their behaviour under extreme circumstances. In the context of this post, Sealed Souls itself sits as fact-based foundation to the creative efforts of the three women intrigued enough by the lasting story of the sealers to write their novels.

I might venture to say, in fact, that right now there is no one so close to the subject of the Straitsmen and the westward exodus a vital contingent of them made between 1825 and 1835, than this author. Sealed Souls presents as a laudable enchiridion for the subject fronted by a n empathetic narrative which advances, or at least widens, comprehension of what occurred among them.

As I have said, awareness of this history has ebbed as much as flowed through the years. There have been long slow periods where the story has been forgotten. While contemporary coastal practises, such as shipping, fishing, surfing and sight-seeing (whale-watching) are fundamental to Albany’s daily activities now, much of Albany’s commercial enterprise is based upon untilisation of the surroundng land. Of course this has always been the case. Land based projects have provided extensive distraction from the sea over the course of our history and without a newspaper during the first sixty years a great deal of local knowledge was consciously set-aside and then lost.

King George’s Sound was recognised as a world-class harbour from at least Vancouver’s visit of 1791, and it’s fair to say the history of the colonial settlement’s first 60 years was fashioned by that reality. Visitors to Albany today speak of the draw of the water, the islands and headlands, the looping bays and stagger of hilltops and ranges proximate to it. It cannot be escaped, from the various highpoints surrounding it, King George Sound and its minor harbours and hinterland are a feast for the eyes. A literal riot of physiography. How much more so than other locations east and west is a matter of debate because we all know the South Coast is an aggregate of vast dramatic appeal. The point being, King George Sound is reputably the finest natural harbour along the entire south coast of Australia and it looks and feels exactly like it today.

This is the modern day settler view, of course. An image belonging to the displacer, descried through wadjela eyes. But this post is about colonial settlement, about what drew and kept the white men and their many bastard variations here. This contemporary assessment is about how an element of the town of Albany emerged from the 1800s as a product of the New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land convict eras, via the Swan River Colony and post-Federation Western Australia into the anticipation of our fast-approaching 200th anniversary. This is not a post specific to Indigenous dispossesion and all the wrong doings which these pages acknowledge and regularly address. Nonetheless, it is a post about dispossession, as we shall see.

To give some perspective. During the first sixty years while Albany was accessed almost exclusively by sea, the distractions of agriculture and overland transport allowed the early stories of our unsavoury small-boat-men to be buried. The folklore appears to have survived, but as folklore does, drifts with time ever more from fact. Confusion over the nomeclature of Jimmy Newhill’s/Newell’s Harbour bares this out. The folklore surrounding that story melds the facts associated with three different men, each of whom lived at different times around Albany. These were Thomas Noel/Newell, the Amity convict whose prison term expiration coincided with the abandonment of King George Sound by the NSW authority in 1831 and who decided to remain. We know nothing more about Thomas Noel/Newell than that. Then there was James Newell and his son Jem and daughter Dorothea (who became defacto spouse to Black Anderson), and the mystery of that family’s arrival into Albany. James Newell was a labourer and leasee associated with the Spencer family who later became a boat-going limeburner at Little Grove. The coastal story of Jem and Dorothea, their shipwreck and subsequent association with Black Anderson and his fellow sealers, also contributed to the Newells being linked with the harbour name. Then there was Edward Jimmy Newhill, the German/American jumpship of the 1880s who also lays claim and whom the Albany Adverstiser of the 1930s backed as the true candidate.

That Albany didn’t have a newspaper prior to 1883 means there was no record of local conversation about these and other subjects and it is only the related letters of the officials, court records and a few Perth newspaper accounts that can be drawn from. Not enough, as it turns out, to ascertain certainty over how and when Jimmy Newhill’s/Newell’s Harbour actuallly got its name. The same applies to the stories of both Lockyer’s Pirates and the Anderson/Gamble/Pavey era. Beyond local recognition, no one knew these people, or cared about them. They were just figures of a kind going about their business, guided by their own motives, most of which were of little interest to anyone else.

Because of this lack of hard memory over the years, could the story of Black Anderson have evolved to be an amalgam of personalities in the same way as Jimmy Newhill’s/Newell’s harbour did?

Considering the relationships of both sea and land to the town on a macro level gives insight as to how embedded a role coastal culture came to be. It allows us to understand how critical land-based developments drew focus from coastal routines and practises, thereby affecting social, economic and political outcomes, while retaining some sense of localised water practise. In a village the size of Albany over the course of the 1800s, when interest was polarised by one dominating factor there was small means by which the lesser stories could find recording. Moreover, the stories of the then past tended to be set aside, left to yellow in vaguely classified stacks of Manila folders in the backroom of the Colonial Secretary’s office.

  • During the military era ( Dec 1826 – March 1831) Albany was concerned with its overland proximity to the high points visible from it (Mnt Lindsey, Mnt Barker, Porongurups, the Stirlings and Mnt Manypeaks) and with the Swan River itself, which was under consideration for (and became) seat of a new colonial capital.
  • From 1831 a road connecting Albany and Perth was deemed an essential communications link.
  • Albany’s Indigenous families wrestled with the Colonial government in Perth for resources to help cope with the illness and destitution which became so prevalent from the mid-1830s, while the younger male generation, self-styled as proud King George Men, struggled with their own assimilation and the hidden evils contained there-in. The kalas of Albany’s indigenous were coastal but they were not a water-based or sea-going people. Their family and cultural associations led inland up the waterways as much as they lay east and west along the coast and it was these associations which the colonists wanted to exploit in order to find land and open it up to agriculture.
  • Localised pastoral exploration led to Albany’s colonist dwellings edging up the Hay River from 1834, expanding dramatically in the Mnt Barker area from 1840.
  • Availability of shipping and access to foreign markets provided demand for Sandalwood and kangaroo skins. Building substantially through the 1840s, these practises drew attention toward Kojonup, Katanning, Broomehill and the Gordon and Pallinup Rivers southwards from Borden to the coast.
  • Convictism drew our attention during the 1850s, focussing it on shepherding, farm labour and roads construction.
  • Led by the Dempster brothers the 1860s was about Eastern District expansion and the role of running sheep inland up the waterways between Cape Riche and Cape Arid, far eastward expansion to Eucla added.
  • The East-West Telegraph was the great land-based project of the 1870s, something which lessened reliance on the international mailships and all the news they carried.
  • 1883 witnesssed the Albany Mail and King George Sound Advertiser’s arrival, espousing the town’s neglected status and thereby providing agitation for the railway movement, completed in 1889.
  • The railway and Yilgarn/Coolgardie/Kalgoorlie goldrushes were all consuming 1890s endeavours. Perth, under John Forrest, gathered the strings of control and through the great C.Y. O’Connor projects pulled them to deprive Albany and Esperance of organically evolving port traffic and development.  Major work was commissioned at Fremantle at the same time as construction of the Mundaring/Goldfields water supply pipeline commenced from the Darling Scarp.

Necessarily, Albany always had at least one eye on the inland and often both eyes on matters that concerned the town, as its leaders and officials fought for resources managed by Perth. The colony couldn’t support competing entities. It was up to each town to find what it had and to exploit it, but there was never enough about Albany alone to allow it to flourish independently. The harbour was magnificent but the town built upon it was liege to the capital. While Fremantle remained a difficult anchorage and port, Albany was able to draw attention and funding. But only enough to develop a decent jetty, some buildings and a road to the city. Albany could  progress, but at a fraction of the rate at Perth. Ultimately, it was the potential for agriculture between Albany and Perth which presented as the developmental opportunity, something which the harbour at Albany could support, and which Albany business interests directed their attention towards.

Dependent on it, so the reckoning went, was a railway. And this became a very great persuit.

Prior to 1883, while matters relating to projects such as roads, jetties, bridges and public buildings, and while the search for high quality agricultural land went on alongside the recruitment process for high net-worth individuals prepared to invest, the ordinary affairs of small boatmen went largely unnoticed. Especially in the absence of a local newspaper whose job it was to inform, influence and entertain.

Petty thefts, quarrels  and fights among these men sometimes spilled over into the local court and were recorded by way of associated documents. They were also discussed by the judiciary and their peers at certain gatherings, and some formed the germ of a lasting story that way. However, the kind of stories recounted often enough to gain traction also tended to be dubious. Someone came into a lot of money, somehow. Someone else got away with something they oughtn’t have. Or, as in Anderson’s case, someone disappeared and it was just accepted. The circumstances were too vague and the locality too remote for a meaningful investigation to be mounted.

In any case, they were far from seismic events. In the eyes of the town’s leading citizens, the literate and time-conscious, they were no more than the doings of a corrupt and moraless minority who dwelt upon the fringe. Hardly worth writing about.

Anderson’s story was first set down in written form around six years after his death, but by way of protection rather than full disclosure. Suspicion was implied but names withheld. After-all, key associates were still very much alive and well. As the years rolled by and there was no monument, no lasting legacy, not even literacy on the part of the sons and daughters to carry forward the sealers craft, culture and history, natural attrition occurred and eventually whatever might have been known to be true became skewed anyway.  Exactly as in the case of Jimmy Newell’s/Newhill’s Harbour.


Above: Albany’s old Town Jetty zone housed government buildings, settler dwellings, refreshment and outright drinking establishments, merchant businesses and the railway station, terminus of the Great Southern Railway line. It was the nucleus of the town’s activity, focus of its relationship with the sea.  Image: Early 1900s post card. Photographer unknown. Source: this version courtesy Flickr Ausssie-Mobs repository


As far as the town’s relationship with the sea went, the colony’s international mail, along with Albany’s passenger transport and regional supply chain mechanisms, both in and out, were entirely sea-based up until 1889 when the railway was ready. Sixty years of dedicated ocean based transport brought infrastructure, expertise and waterside culture. The government buildings of the early town were constructed in full view of the working jetties, as were the drinking houses amd dwellings of most of the town’s residents. The early town was built facing the waterfront.  This is the fundemental reality of life at early Albany.

  • Pelagic as well as shore-based whaling featured from the late 1830s (shore-based sporadically) while sealing went into decline and was then banned.
  • Pastoralism spread eastwards along the coast from the 1840s leading wool and supplies transport to be catered for out of Albany using small boats. For example, from the 1860s land around Esperance was explored from Albany via coastal cutter prior to settlement by the Dempster brothers, while Campbell Taylor commuted between Albany and Cape Arid for fully thirty years (1870-1900), most often covering the distance in a small boat.
  • Coaling steamships got off to a shaky start at Albany in the 1860s but became a big deal when the P&O mailships finally found their pattern, something which sustained the town for more than thirty years.
  • During the 1870s the telegraph line all the way to Eucla was fed with materials and supplies delivered out of Albany, in the process two ships being wrecked (Twilight and Mary-Anne).
  • It was the late 1880s when the American pelagic whalers, and all they brought over their intense fifty year association, finally stopped coming. The number of sailors who jumped ship at Albany isn’t clear, but it was enough to influence the town and for the Americans to install a local consul so that the authorities could be chivvied into rounding them up.
  • Pre-Federation, fears of a strategic attack on King George Sound led each of the Australian colonies to make contributions toward the contruction of a coastal defence mechanism at Albany. Britain itself providing the big gun defence. The Forts opened in 1893, the first all-Australian defence project in the history of the country.
  • Then the new docks opened at Fremantle, and in 1897 Albany’s hat-hanging P&O era came to a close.


Those huge coal-fired transcontinental steam-ships stopped edging their towering smoke-stacks over the horizon and all the glamour of the sea, the flotsam and jetsam that came with it too, upon which the town had solidified its retail, wholesale, industrial, political and judicial entities, lay strewn at the feet of the Perth policy makers.

But, while the bigggest ships found somewhere else to go, a whole new world was in the process of opening up in the interior. From 1889, it was the railway or bust as far as Albany’s development was concerned. That railway is barely operational today, but of genuine importance come the grain harvest, while woodchips and silica sand are delivered by road to an indusrialised dockside zone whose scale looks to be no more than in keeping with the general population increase over the last 130 odd years. It is a bulk handling facility dealing with just three commodities.


Above: In the wake of disrepute caused by Albany’s early sealers, the practise of sealing along the South Coast appears to have been banned. The Bass Strait industry collapsed around 1820 when the value of furs was not sufficient to cope with the fall in numbers, but like our own continued for decades at a much reduced level. When the above stated ban was officially placed isn’t clear, but it wasn’t until the 1890s (for a period at least), when the practise was taken up again.. Source: The Australian Advertiser; 18 January, 1883.

Above: During the 1890s three Albany based boats, Agnes, Lucy and Perseverence, spent months at a time crawling about the Recherche Archipelago gathering over a thousand skins between them per year. Image: The ketch Perseverence, Captain Sales, was busy over the winter of 1893, returning to Albany with over 400 skins. Source: Trove;  Australian Advertiser, 11th August 1893


The Adelaide Steamship Company (ASC) came into operation from the 1880s, building their routes along a giant coastal curve stretching all the way from Derby in the North-West to Cairns in Northern Queensland. Albany had become one of the country’s secondary ports but was still well known, so held its place on most of those routes, processing people, mail and cargo the whole while. Albany went back to whaling a little while after the Amerians left around 1887 and went back to sealing for a spell too, while other boats traversed Princess Royal Harbour carting timber and lime. By the turn of the century waterside practise at Albany was so embedded it was perceived as no more than humdrum daily grind. It was what small-scale Albany did every day.

In the lead-up to Federation Albany’s sense of West Australian identity failed to strengthen in the same way the Indian Ocean or western coastal towns did. First, occupation by the eastern based sealers, then the military establishment being fed from the east, followed by the Edward John Eyre, George Grey and Henty family Bass Strait connections playing out (Adelaide eastwards), followed by the pastoral, telegraph and steamship ventures (all eastward led), along with Perth’s determination to build itself first, at virtually all costs, it’s no wonder our inter-colonial connectedness remained strong. Albany’s official jurisdiction ranged eastward far further than any other direction. During that time Albany, Esperance and Hopetoun recognised their political place as southern ports first and wanted to be part of Australia before being part of Western Australia.

All the same, by dint of the goldrush years and overall human influx Albany and Esperance experienced relative booms. Albany boasted multiple breweries for a time, the owners of which saw the entire South Coast plus Goldfields as their market and who sent their representatives out. Those wind-powered and then paddle and propellor driven steamers voyaged to-and-fro full and heavier than ever. Those creaking, groaning, rusted old sea-trucks, the Emma Sherrat, Agnes (1879-1892), Grace Darling, Rob Roy, Otway and half dozen or so more, moved people and product both ways along the length of Albany’s jurisdiction. King George Sound to Cape Riche to Bremer Bay to Hopetoun, Esperance, Cape Arid, Eucla and on to Adelaide. All manner of individual making their passage for as long as the coastal roads were no more than sandy tracks.

So where is the monument to coastal transport at Albany?


Above: The SS Rob Roy was a servant of the southern coastal run between Albany and Australia’s eastern ports for the last 15 years of the 1900s. En route from Adelaide in 1900 she rescued the stricken pioneer Campbell Taylor, east of Esperance, and brought him home to Albany where he died. When the old Town Jetty site was excavated in the 1990s they found fragments of broken crockery belonging to the Rob Roy. It wasn’t anything like the cruise ships of today but the dinner plates were glazed with an image of the original Rob Roy, reflecting the depth of relationships which existed between ships and ship-owners during that era. Image:  The Rob Roy


And it didn’t stop when the century turned. In 1908 arrived America’s Great White fleet and with WW1 came the 1914  ANZAC convoys. Proof once again of the commodious majesty of the Sound.

But then, in the halo of Albany’s looming 100th anniversary, monotony appears to have resumed its time honored role. The slow pace of change turned the past dramas and spectaculars into the dreary politics of mining enabled infrastructure investment, agricultural progress and Aboriginal management. Yes, Aboriginal management was a preoccupation of the new century government, resulting in the Stolen Generations, and Albany most certainly played its part. Albany still went about its coastal business, but the boom faded as the town slowly found itself at the wrong end of the line.

The irony of the perenially uneconomic railway helps describe Albany’s apparently unresolved relationship with itself. The railway terminates at the foot of the old Town Jetty. On the one hand this is testament to the role the harbour has played in the old town’s history, while on the other it represented a clear division, for a time virtually cutting the town off from the most essential site it has ever known. Neither the harbour nor the railway worked to the extent their proponents imagined, but the harbour was critical. The town was born out of the harbour and survived by it from inception (1826) until the railway sought to pick up the baton more 60 years later.

Go here for a glimpse of the soul of old Albany.

Rescaping the area and building an entertainment and hospitality centre goes some way toward retaining focus down on the old waterfront, but there is still little authenticity given to the role played by coastal transport during the early days. No reminder at all of the likes of  Anderson, Gamble, Pavey, et al.  The Ship Inn, that icon of 19th century waterside hospitality is now the 21st Century’s obligatory licenced diner, Due South. The railway station is barely distinguishable given the crammed proximity of modern condominiums and a bus booking office. The locality forms part of Albany’s greater historical precinct, and has been preserved, its just pock-marked with elements of capitalist persuit and straight-up amnesia.


Above: Albany’s old railway station building, now the Great Southern Marine Research Centre, forms part of the University of Western Australia’s campus located on the foreshore. Source: Ciaran Lynch private collection.


There was nothing of such collosal economic importance about Albany the world beat a path to its door (save the outer-harbour), indeed when poison bush was discovered in devestating density around Kojonup in 1840 it set pastoralism back to an unknowable extent. This meant things moved even more slowly and yes, there is a certain charm -and calm- which goes with that. Let’s not allow the ability to condense two centuries of history into a hundred or so thousand words muddy that reality. Back in the days when the town’s population numbered in the hundreds, a local jetty and drinking emporium at its foot were enough to furnish us with stories we still love to hear today.

What’s important is that Albany’s relationship with the sea remains in league with its origins. The imposition of the Swan River Colony’s headquarters being based at Perth spliced Albany’s purpose and thereby its personality too. Instead of being the point from which all else sprang, instead of radiating influence outwards, so that transport ran toward whatever viable destinations came into existence, Albany became the terminus. Once Fremantle became a functional deep water port and the railway workshops were retracted from Albany to Midland (Perth), the start once and for all became the end.

That is why we have no monument to early coastal transport at Albany. We forgot about the sea, invested everything in the railway, then walked away disappointed.

Above: Albany’s Horden Monument at the top of  York Street commemorates Anthony Horden, financier behind the dysfunctional, but lets not deny romanticly conceived and influential Great Southern Railway. Image: courtesy Monuments


Regardless of the sea shanties sung today and of the persistence of those old sealer and mariner stories among the coastal stalwarts and historicaly curious, what remains of our general sense of the sea is what we have now; a slowly growing population whose primary interest lies in its view of it. That is, the value of ocean-facing or ocean-proximate real estate. The harbours and all that dodgy history dont mean too much, so long as you get a decent view.

Albany has seen and been through an awful lot, most of it as a kind of quiet assistant. In the scheme of the State and country, most of  that awful lot was not terribly significant. But yet, like the story of Anderson, it constitutes our history.  Anderson, as we shall see, was more a pirate than a landlubber, but he was also a wash-up, an increasingly isolated figure of his origins and time. Yet another who came to find themselves nowhere much, but who came to leave a recognisible line of incidence, a trail of existence that coming on two hundred years later we keep turning around to look at over and again. Why? Because there has and will be forever, more of us with a sense of precariousness hanging over our existence than those who feel safe and comfortable.

Anderson was an outsider even amongst his own, and he knew it. His only means to some kind of status was his stance. That became a deadly stance that ultimately would have him kill or be killed. Did he care about Albany and where it was in its small history? Did he love King George Sound and Dorothea Newell?  Or did Dorothea Newell live in fear of her safety under him? Who knows? All we have are little more than two years of his life to go by. Yet within that lie the stories of so many others. The rebels, the outlaws, the renegades of colonial Australia who found themselves living out of a small boat along a rough sea, somewhere in the corridor of increasingly far-flung places, one of which didn’t even ask any questions when the last man to testify against another, the same man who tried to move-in with his foe’s defacto spouse while he was out, stepped in to the Resident Magistrate’s office three months after the fact to report his death. And to say that he buried him, but was not involved with the murder.

It is up to the writers and artists to preserve our stories, and does it matter really how what is said, is said? Isn’t it the conversation which is important? Vitality creates memory and writers and artists work to keep memory alive, so lets talk now about how others have spoken of our old sea folk. Let’s see how we came to where we are now in our perception of Anderson and his salty sea dog mates.

Above:  A little over three months after the death of Anderson the well-known Tasmanian and Albany sealer Robert (Bob) Gamble reappeared in Albany, where upon he made declaration to Patrick Taylor J.P. that he had buried John Anderson at Maundrian (Mondrain) Island on Christmas Day, December 25th, 1836.   Image: Surviving fragment of Robert Gamble’s ‘Oath of Death of Anderson’ made to stand-in Resident Magistrate at Albany, Patrick Taylor Esq, on March 29th, 1837. Source:  State Records Office (Item 003, Consignment No. 348),


Historiography of Black Anderson and the W.A. South Coast Sealers


Lockyer’s Pirates had been at their conniving worst late in 1826. During the weeks leading up to the Major’s arrival they made a raid on the local Menang, stealing two of their women (one of whom survived, the other was lost sight of), killing one man at Oyster Harbour and marooning four others on Michaelmas Island. Were it not for the Major’s insight regarding what was troubling the Albany Aborigines when they speared his blacksmith in relatiation, things may have been very different to the co-operative start which thankfully did unfold.

The historiography of that story is centred around two significant newspaper articles gleaned from Major Lockyer’s despatches to the N.S.W. Colonial Secretary, Alexander Macleay, which appear to have been leaked at Hobart when the Amity, under Captain Hansen and Lieutenant Festing, called there en on-route back to Sydney. Or else, either Festing or Hansen (most likely Festing) gave a detailed verbal account of what had happened which was taken up by the Hobart Town Gazette.

The Amity arrived into Sydney, via Hobart, on Thursday, February 15th, 1827, after leaving King George Sound on 24th January. Soon after, newspaper reports bagan to decipher what had occurred. This is because the Amity had carried back to Sydney the sealer Samuel Bailey, the main offender.  The full story broke 40 odd days later in the Hobart Town Gazzette (April 7th, 1827) under the banner The Settlement at King George’s Sound. The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser printing the same on April 20th.

Lockyer himself did not leave King George Sound (with James Stirling aboard HMS Success) until April 4th, arriving directly into Sydney Monday, April 16th. So at least he was back in his home town when The Gazette there went to press. Subsequent to completion of his tenure at the Sound, Lockyer made his obligatory submissions to the N.S.W.’s Colonial Secretary’s Office and they were filed accordingly, much later being assembled and published (1923) as part of  The Historical Records of Australia, Series III, edited by Frederick Watson. The pages relevent to this discussion being found here.

The story of what happened at King George’s Sound was not retold in the Perth newspapers, even in part, until 1842. Had the memory been preserved at Albany as folklore in the mean time? The answer is yes, and we will get to that in due course.


Above: Born into strife. By early April, 1827, little over three months after the Amity sailed in to King George Sound for the very first time, newspaper reports of what had happened regarding the sealers raid on the Menang had begun to circulate through the Tasmanian and N.S.W. press. The Hobart Town Gazette here refers to the actions of the Breaksea Island sealers as ‘. . . horrid barbarities committed by the unprincipled men infesting these shores. . . ‘ From the outset, the settlement at the Sound was embroiled in the nefarious deeds of roaming sealing gangs and news of it was spread eagerly by the hungry writers of the day. Image: Excerpt cut from a newspaper editorial discussing the arrival of Major Lockyer and the Amity ar King George Sound. Source: Hobart Town Gazette, 7th April, 1827


Detailed research of this specific time and of those involved spawned Sarah Drummond‘s beautifuly written novel The Sound, one of the three feature length fictions set at the height of the Albany sealing era. When I spoke to Sarah recently she said back in the noughties she felt the story of Anderson was well enough known, but that of whom she calls Lockyer’s Pirates, or ‘the Breaksea Island gangs’, wasn’t. Because of that, and because of her life-long interest in writing and the sea around Albany, she said she thought she might be on to something.

The story of Lockyer’s Pirates startled me when I first became properly conscious of it around 2010. I read of it then in D.A.P. West’s brief but concise history of Albany, The Settlement on the Sound, and was immediately plunged into the cross-cultural historical vortex. Albany’s history was so closely entwined with violence against its home Aborigines it could not be denied. There it was, in the very first pages of the settlement’s beginning. Since then the subject of racial integration has been the driving force behind these pages.

It seems curious the story of Lockyer’s Pirates should be less well known than that of Black Anderson when Lockyer’s Pirates forms the gist of every history that tackles first settlement at Albany. How the Breaksea Island gangs got there and what they did is intrinsic to Albany’s history. It can’t be separated, yet the South Coast’s Pirate Terrible, Anderson, has garnered far more attention. Does this mean Albany’s founding history isn’t as important, or as interesting?

The fact Sarah Drummond ‘thought she might be on to something’ prior to her 2009 undergraduate thesis is telling. This because the two other novels about South Coast sealing were published in 2001 and 2008, both about Anderson and his clutch circumstances. In the wake of those novels Drummond developed her PhD concept, eventually delivering it in 2016 as The Sound.

So Drummond’s motivation for deep-diving into the life and times of Lockyer’s Pirates, having decided the story of the sealers required greater emphasis, was opportunity. There was popular interest in the subject, but the subject had only been partially explored, partially exploited. Lockyer had left behind a literal trove of information and it was all there, collected in the Historical Records of Australia, published almost 100 years after the event. Researching around those characters using modern day search-engine technology was going to add both depth and range. This isn’t to say she wouldn’t have written of the sealers at all if that gap hadn’t been spotted, it just meant there was clear opportunity to engage with the other sealer’s story that belongs to Albany. The first one, in fact.

The fundemental difference between Drummond and the other two (female) novelists, Sarah Hay and Elaine Forrestal, is the extent of her research along with her determination to stay as true as possible to the record. Whether this will have effect on the popularity of the novel over time remains to be seen, but from a critical standpoint, that aspect, along with the quality of her prose, are standout features.

In any case, we continue.

After Lockyer, the Amity and the Breaksea Island gangs came a different band of men and it was the continuing renegade activities of these, especially one who once signed himself John William Anderson, which doubled the drama and drew from those with a penchant for story telling, the popular history we now have. Two other sealers of  equal import at the time cannot go without mention either; Bob Gamble and John Bailey Pavey – alias John Williams/Andrews.

Largely, the three novels are a fiction of romantic fascination, though empathy fairly bleeds through each of the works. These ‘pirates’ of whom we speak were men cast into roles of such challenge and hardship it is difficult to properly relate. Imagine being the lone Anderson (God knows how far from familarity, if ever he had any), living on his instincts like an alpha pack animal, only with a brace of pistols for teeth, falling ever deeper into a web of threat, counter-threat, treachery and violence; or one of the challengers living in his shadow, cold and hungry and bitter and hating all before them, acting mostly on impulse and desperate enough to do just about any thing at any time. Even worse, perhaps, what would it have been like to find yourself one of the abducted women? Some of them witnesed their husbands and children being murdered before being forced into an overcrowded whaleboat and sailed to unfamilar places far beyond their country, packed in with a people they shared no commonality with what so ever.

To be fair to these men and women, relationships did form and in some cases not only bore offspring but survived over extended years, as in the case of  George Meredith Jnr and his ‘wife’, Sal, and of Bob Gamble and Eliza Nowen.  Ususally, enduring partnerships did not involve the abductors. Many of these women were either traded or brought in when their existing partner/owner ceased to exist. Aboriginal women of that era were subject to arranged marriages and possibly even to conquest raids staged by men from neighbouring tribes, so the concept of existing within an unwelcome partnership wasn’t something unknown. Indeed, there are many stories of Aboriginal women rising to the challenge of their circumstances and mastering it. One way or another. Some turned warrior themselves and matched their captors for cruelty and revenge. Eliza Nowen, who was abducted at Port Philip Bay, probably by George Meredith Jnr, was around 24 years old when reported as being on Bald Island off Albany and living with Bob Gamble in what became a long association that yielded seven children. Eliza Nowen died at Albany in 1867, more than thirty years after her abduction from what is now Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula. She is buried at the Middleton Road Cemetary.

For all the talk of the pirate Black Anderson, what’s known of Robert Gamble (who was also a killer) shows far greater depth.

Australian sealers during the 1820s and 1830s comprised a mix of races. Mostly they were ex-convict English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh, but also (part) Maori sailors, among them other South Sea Islanders too. Some men were of Indian/South Asian origin. Some were African or Portuguese Cape Verde and Azorean islanders who arrived by circuitous means. Indigenous Australians, some of them willing men, joined too. And American, though these were British Colonial waters and on account of the number of American ships about the place American sealers were not liked. Nonetheless, among Lockyer’s Pirates, which numbered 24 in total, three were described as Black American. John Symonds (Canadian), Thomas Tasmein and  Robert Williams.

Sealers tended to be either former seamen or ex-cons who over-time picked up the requisite boating skills. Often, they were hired crew aboard poorly regulated sailing vessels, the motivation of whose captains was resolutely profit driven. This meant the sailors could earn a little extra by taking on an even bigger risk. They were cheap, hired labour often in the form of an organised gang, prepared to do harsh and dangerous work. As far as their employers were concerned they came and went, were unrealiable and not to be trusted. Mutiny aboard ship was a captain’s greatest fear and the established means of maintaining command, especially in remote waters on the edge of the known world, was through the wielding of an iron fist. Stories of piracy and mutiny and uprising and massacre between crew and command aboard ship as well as between crews of gammoning boats and between native islanders and crews were not unheard of. Witnessing violence and death was to be expected, the thought of experiencing it a constant anxiety. The requirement was to be strong, to be ruthless, to be harsh and unrelenting, as (beyond accident) these were the behaviours most conducive to survival.

There were differences too. Big differences. Oarsmen, your regular boatman/sealer who joined as crew, remained as crew and left the group without consequence when the time came were most common. There are around 500 names associated with occupation of the Bass Strait islands but only a handful are prominent. So what about the lead hands, what about the boat owners and steerers? How did they come to acquire their vessells?

Boats were expensive and building them took specialist equipment and expert skill. A man with nothing bar a few miserly quid and the clothes on his back had not only to use his nouse, but his power to persuade if he was to find himself in a position to negotiate. Foremost, he had to be a leader. He had to inspire confidence, so competency as a mariner, as a boatsman, was paramount. Moreover, he had also to be prepared to muscle and/or steal. Boats, skins, women and guns were the assets of the day, and coin the currency between them. You had to come to acquire your assets and then be able to hold them. The same with currency. When it came to coin you needed not only to hold a stash of it, but have it about you when the time came to use it.

For the everyday sealer (if ever there was such a thing) survival psychology was labour and skill based as much as it was group oriented. You had to contribute, had to be worth your salt, but you also needed to be able to defend yourself from being picked off either as weak or some kind of threat, and a big part of that was being able to handle the severity of the conditions. You had to be bloody tough. Dumont d’Urville, Commander of the French ship Astrolabe, was impressed when he came across a portion of Lockyer’s Pirates at King George Sound in October of 1826.

I proposed taking them on board as passengers as far as Port Jackson, but this offer was coldly received, whereupon I concluded that most of them must have been escaped convicts and hardly eager to put themselves once again within the reach of the law. However, after a few minutes reflection three of them decided to embark on Astrolabe. . . .What an extraordinary fate for eight Europeans to be abandoned like this with a frail skiff on these deserted beaches and left entirely to their own resources and industry!


Most European sealers active in Australian waters came from backgrounds of poverty and/or via the criminal transportation system and time spent in prisons, so they were already hardened that way. They took jobs at sea as a means of escaping the controls of organised society where they were likely despised and mistreated. There is a kind of unspoken heirarchy that goes with living and its evident all around us. People, whoever and wherever they are, require subsets of their own in order to be able to position themselves politically. Aspiration is derived from persons who have sought-after qualities, whether tangible or intangible. Real or perceived. Disdain and avoidance, on the other hand, are derivitives of poor or negative qualities. Tangible or intangible, perceived or real. Just as aspiration is a positive motivating force, made up of qualities people want to move toward, disdain represents the opposite end of the spectrum. People look to those who are less than them so they can push themselves away, so they can draw boundaries. So they can delineate. People identify those around them they despise just as readily as they recognise their heroes.

Just as the sealers were despised by the controlling voices of the day, the newspapers, among the sealers themselves the same rule applied. There were those who were admired, and those who were not.

Cons, ex-cons and the general lower classes were seldom able to find places of belonging, especially in the penal colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land where the class divisions were so stark. As we know, Ireland was starving for the first fifty years of the 1800s and not far off it for the remainder, and times for the poorer classes in the UK were darn tough too. Justice was rough and crimes for petty theft were often met with transporatation. People, for simple acts of defiance in the face of extreme hardship, were displaced by their own kind. They were exiled. Harshly.

As it turns out, being sent away to the colonies was just one step short of taking yourself away to a place where no-one could reach you at all. A place where you set the laws yourself and lived according to your own means of survival. Where aspiration was derived from memory and derision a fabrication of your own. There were few women enough to go with the men who recognised this option, either by number or capacity. When certain men found themselves on the few life sustaining islands of Bass Strait, freedom presented its appeal, but not enough without the labour, skills and warmth of at least one woman. Women were a necessity. Simple as that. Therefore, abduction of indigenous women, often accompanied by the murder of their men, came about. It was the means by which the hardest, or most desperate, attained their needs.  John Robertson in Sealed Souls makes the point; ‘the displaced wrought further displacement.’

This was the raw reality of that kind of survival and one of the primary reasons we remain attracted to it today. Place someone at the bottom of Maslow’s Heirarchy and watch them hunker down to what’s real. Removing comfort and security from people empowers them to do whatever is necessary in their attempts to regain it. The sealers proved to be a tenacious lot because of this. Their needs were largely physiological, they didn’t have the resources to live beyond a next to primitive lifestyle, so their decision making was pretty straight forward. Not much time given to the finer points of eat or starve, get warm or freeze, and sink or swim. This is why there are three novels of the South Coast featuring the life and times of the sealing gangs. Reading and writing about such an existence gives us vicarious exposure to the reality of acting out of stark necessity, of bowing to the psychological forces of physical and social survival in an environment that barely notices, let alone stops to try and help.


Above: There is a whole body of balladry surrounding the exile of European men (and women) to the penal colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. Often they are soaked in the strains of melancholy and lyrics of lost love and freedom, but such expressions of love and belonging were above the needs of raw survival. For the Straitsmen, before you could sing you had to be sheltered, you had to have food and you had to feel safe. At least temporarily. Clip: Opening scene from the U2 movie Rattle and Hum, featuring The Edge (Dave  Evans) who wrote the lyrics, borrowing the melody from an old Scottish ballad, The River is WideSource: YouTube


And so to the detailed historiography of  John William Anderson.

This man first entered the public consciousness in 1835 when newspaper reports began to circulate that he had held two young men, James Manning and James Newell, against their will on Middle Island and in the meantime robbed Manning of a significant sum of money. Manning and Newell were described in the newspaper as ‘Two English Lads‘. We know James Newell was just fifteen years old at the time, possibly sixteen. It’s harder to know about Manning, other than the paper also described him as a ‘lad’. John Robertson has James Manning listed in his glossary as George Manning, who was an English ticket-of-leave man from Sydney who would have been about 24 years-old at the time. He could be right. In any case, Anderson eventually put the young men ashore at Cape Arid without so much as a shot of powder so they might start a fire. They got some from another source but the picture is clear, Anderson was not concerned with their welfare.

From the environs of the Thomas River, the two became the first known non-indigenous people to walk that distance back to Albany. About 400 miles. It was an impressive story of survival as they barely made it and the news soon spread, along with it the story of how Manning had got from Sydney to Middle Island. The whole of which now forms part of the wider infamy of one George Meredith Jnr along with our main subject of inquiry here, ‘Black Jack’ Anderson.

The narrative of Sealed Souls is significantly concerned with Meredith’s story as it is fundemental to the history of sealing and female Aboriginal abductions in Bass Strait between 1830 and 1836.  See also, I Succeeded Once; The Aboriginal Protectorate on the Mornington Peninsula, 1839-1840 by Marie Fels. Bob Gamble’s wife., Eliza Nowen, was one of Meredith’s Mornington Peninsula abductees.

For comparative purposes we should look at the declaration James Manning made against Anderson at Albany when he was well enough to be able to communicate it, and the Perth Gazette article that came in its wake.











Above:  Handwritten copy of the declaration James Manning gave to Richard Spencer, Resident Magistrate at Albany, on 13th August, 1835. It came four days after Manning and Newell had been delivered safely to Point Henty at Oyster Harbour (mouth of the King River) by South Coast Aborigines. Spencer made the copy himself, either for his own files or for inclusion in the submission to the Colonial Secretary at Perth, Peter Broun. The declaration strays between the wordage delivered directly by Manning and Spencer’s own interpretation, (1st vrs 3rd person) forcing him to state from time to time who he (Spencer) is referring to, but it remains a fair transcription Images: Digital copies of the photographed Manning Declaration. Source: CSR:


Manning’s declaration is sensational in his claims;

  • Of sailing from Sydney in the schooner Defiance in August, 1833, laden with sealing supplies.
  • Of being shipwrecked on Cape Howe (probably Gabo Island) in September 1833,
  • Of a five month journey in an open dinghy from Cape Howe through Bass Strait to Kangaroo Island, arriving January, 1834
  • Of serving seven months in Manning’s company on Kangaroo Island, building him a house and garden.
  • Of gaining passage to Long (Thistle) Island with two ‘Black Men’, Anderson and Bathurst, and staying there two months with four others.
  • Of Meredith locating him, and the others, on Bird Island and accusing him of stealing four Pounds and ten shillings which, by way of brandishng pistols, Meredith and Anderson gained from him.
  • Of  having to work in Anderson’s whaleboat for five months in exchange for food (provisions).
  • Of sailing to Boston Island in November, close to the shore at Port Lincoln, with Anderson and the men of the other boat, to witness them kidnap five native women, murdering two men and allowing another to drown in the process, of relieving two of those women of the babies they had on the breast, and sending the babies and the older of the five women into the bush, and witnessing the escape of another of the women, and of seeing the three remaining women taken away by the men of the second boat.
  • Of a small cutter arriving in January 1835 and paying three Pounds for passage west to King George Sound but finding the captain always drunk and being left at Middle Island, 400 miles short of his destination.
  • Of John Anderson sailing his boat in tandem with the cutter and also landing on Middle Island, which was inhabited by other sealers and apparently the base of John Anderson.
  • Of the cutter then leaving for King George Sound without him.
  • Of then being robbed of Fifty Pounds cash by Anderson and kept on the island against his will.
  • Of witnessing Anderson counting his money and seeing him in possession of more.
  • Of the captain of the cutter then returning in April in a crowded whaleboat after wrecking the cutter at a mainland beach and making their way to Middle Island.
  • Of  being deposited on the mainland opposite Middle Island late in June with another man (youth) named James Newell, who came to the island in the crowded whaleboat.
  • Of making their way westwards along the coast eating limpets and grass roots until being rescued by natives within striking distance of King George Sound. A journey of seven weeks, arriving 9th August, 1835,  two years after setting out.


The newspaper report which followed looks to have been drawn directly from Manning’s declaration and Spencer’s covering letter to the Colonial Secretary. The Perth Gazette got hold of these documents and seem to have written their article in haste, as if scrambling to meet a deadline. Its inaccuraccies (spawned by the inaccuracy and vagaries of the declartaion) even today remain a source of confusion. But it is the language and tone of the article, the dramatic interpretation which is of primary interest here, because the histrionics contained within are as compelling now as they would have been then. Through the editorial licence journalists had during that era we can discern from the outset the revelations would cause a sensation.


Above:  On 3rd October, 1835, the Perth Gazette ran an article headed ‘Two English Lads’ in which it describes the ordeal of James Newell and James Manning, in the process introducing their readership to. . .  ‘a black man, named Anderson, (who) arrived at Kangaroo Island, in a boat. . .  Image: Screen shot cut from the Trove article titled ‘Two English Lads”  Source: The Perth Gazette and West Australian Journal, 3.10.1835.


Above: The Perth Gazette is compelled to tell as much of the Manning/Anderson/Meredith/Newell tale as it can,  and tell it in a fashion that excites the reader. This is not the dispassionate reporting of today’s litigation conscious media, but an assault on the character and reliability of a certain class of people, and the paper revelled in it. What opportunity to condem the unsavoury conduct of the desperate and deprived, what morsels of titilation for the morally secure. The paper even goes so far as to doubt the reliability of Manning’s tale, suggesting they were up to more than just making their way from the shipwreck to Kangaroo Island. Image: Doctored cut from  on-line Trove article. Source: The Perth Gazette and West Australian Journal, 3.10.1835.


Above:  The Perth Gazette and West Australian Journal in 1835, just six years into the Swan River Colony’s existence, was anxious not to appear naive as to the prevalence and behavior of sealers and whalemen on the islands between Albany and Bass Strait. Though Port Lincoln was a known locality and talks of a South Australian colony had been going on for three years, the mainland there was yet to be settled. Kangaroo Island, being the main haunt of the sealers, gained greater infamy again as a result of Manning’s declaration and the newspaper lost no time in condemning its inhabitants.  Source: The Perth Gazette and West Australian Journal, 3.10.1835.


This article, an attention grabbing, emotive account of a ‘perilous adventure’ consitutes the beginning of the Anderson historiography and remains highly influential among interested researchers today. It is interesting to read it alongside the actual declaration and in the knowledge Newell met Manning at Middle Island, not anytime before.

The result of Manning’s accusations led to a court case at Albany in which Anderson was forced to defend himself. Various persons testified, including Dorothea Newell who came out in favour of Anderson, but due to a morass of tit-for-tat recrimination the presiding judge appears to have given up and dismissed the case. Manning therefore lost his money and Anderson remained at large. This detail (and more) is well known today but doesnt form part of the wider historiography as the case was not reported in the Perth newspapers and was categorically forgotten right up to the early 2000s when Sarah Hay, researching what would become her novel, Skins, went in search of information at the State Archives.

Nor was Anderson’s death reported in the newspapers. Some months afterwards Bob Gamble, who was formerly a crew member, mysteriously and alone arrived back into Albany whereupon he presented himself to the stand-in Resident Magistrate of the day, Patrick Taylor Esq, and calmly explained that he himself had buried Anderson after Anderson was murdered by persons who had subsequenty fled the colony. Taylor recorded the declaration, sending a copy to the Colonial Secretary’s Office in Perth, probably accompanied by a covering letter, neither of which generated a response. Anderson, who was supposed to be living defacto with Dorothea Newell, was dead and that was all. No claims for his assets appear to have been lodged. It would seem what he had had already been distributed among the sealers who disposed of him and those back at Albany that knew what belonged to him there and where it lay. Anderson was said to have a house down near the waterfront where Dorothea Newell was living, but the terms of the tenancy and what became of it aren’t known. (possibly block 28, Stirling Terrace front, Peel Place rear,)

Anderson’s disposal little more than a year after the case Manning brought against him, in what must have been the apotheosis of his infamy, seemed to smooth the post-settlement era at Albany into one of less lawlessness and violence. The remaining sealers, though local reprobates, became a kind of semi-honorable small-boat brigade supplementary to the better regarded, and much larger (though still maligned), whaling industry. Post-Anderson, things settled down on the waters along the South Coast. That incorrigible brotherhood of  hard-working villains was free of its lead aggressor and there were hardly any seals left anyway. The business was now whaling, salvage, piloting and transportation.

The time for a new way of doing things had arrived.


Sealing along our coast almost vanished from the 1840s, certainly by way of notoreity, and appears to have been banned at some point soon after. The Australian Advertiser reported as such in 1883 when an Adelaide based boat was noted sealing at the Recherche Archipelago. By the 1890s, however, when the wholesale slaughter of sub-arctic fur seals was gaining a lot of attention in the International press (subsequently relayed thru local newspapers across Australia), Albany had at least three boats active in the same fur and hair seal persuit. So, neither the history, nor the practise was forgotten. Indeed the tone of the above referenced 1883 image complaining of the South Australian boat is laced with indignation. Sealing was a thing of the South Coast. How dare those interstate freeloaders break our laws and deprive us of our very own industry.

The role of the newspaper is telling. The weight of the written word carried a long way back then, the whole of a town’s self-worth was wrapped up in it. The lack of a newspaper at Albany until the beginning of 1883 thereby leaves a huge hole in our history. By way of competition for space, only the most essential items made it out of the country regions into the Perth based press. How much richer Albany’s understanding of itself would be if we could have sustained a paper from the 1840s, or had at least some kind of repository for the stories. There are many letters and journals and court records and the like in both official and private hands that give us what we have been able to make sense of to date, but how much more visible things would be if we had newspaper archives as well.

All the same, to keep the historiography moving, we are most fortunate to find in 1840 and 1842 a fiery Scottish immigrant with a flare for language came to town. Fremantle based journalist, lawyer and publicist William Nairne-Clark had developed an interest in the South Coast and in 1840, on account of there having been talk of a timber industry, came down to investigate. Nornalup, though only vaguely understood in environmental terms at the time, was touted as a potential base and Clark went there, from Albany, in a whaleboat guided by an old sealing crew. Since Nornalup had only twice before been visited by colonial officials (1831&1835), Clark took it upon himself to explore and record, visiting Nornalup inlet, Deep River and (what appears to be) Mount Frankland (which, it appears, he was the first to climb). Clark claimed the Nornalup area to be a territory ‘much spoken of by the sealers’.

During his time at Albany Clark also met the sealer John Pavey/Williams/Andrews. Jock Beer in his locally ground-breaking family research work – John Bailey Pavey (1797-1882) says the meeting occurred in March, 1840, and that Clark wrote about it in a letter to the Colonial Secretary which he noted down during his Battye Library research;

I have been told by Williams the sealer who is intimately acquainted with the coast to the eastward that there are numbers of wild cattle all around Doubtful Island Bay, and that the Americans (whalers) have hunted and shot several of them. He also states that a large freshwater river (presumably the Fitzgerald) disembogues itself into Doubtful Island Bay, on the banks of which the land is exceedingly good, and of great extent.

Further to the eastward of Doubtful Island Bay, he states, a harbour exists superior to King Georges Sound, completely land-locked from every wind, with fine land and pasturage all around and plenty of fresh water. I have no reason to doubt Williams’ assertions as he has offered to show me these places, if he could have the use of a small vessel and whale boat, or even to take the journey by land, with proper assistance from Government.

At some time in the earlier months of 1842 Clark made a second trip to the South Coast. This time in order to explore the coast east of Albany between Two People’s Bay and the Doubtful Islands. It isn’t clear exactly where Clark went, other than he speaks of Doubtful Island Bay again with specific intention.

Clark had his initial Nornalup observations published in the colonial papers but the content was restricted to his explorations only. However, 12 months later he wrote a series of letters to the editor of the Perth Gazette, one of which was titled “Remarks Respecting the Islands on the Coast of S.W. Australia“. Most of the text concerned the same territory between Augusta and Albany but did include, at the end, details relating to certain islands east of the Sound. Clark’s letter was serialised, but not in full, over seven weeks leading up to the end of the year, 1842. These writings form the second and most crucial portion of the Anderson historiography.

Typically, W. N. Clark wrote as if he was the bearer of information of such importance everyone in the world needed to hear it. An attitude which didn’t match him too closely with the colony’s controlling voices, those of the opposing press, through whom Clark sought to promote himself and his own short-lived paper, The Swan River Guardian. Clark was brash, highly opinionated and not averse to combat. He came to the colony in 1831 and is most remembered as being the first and only man to conduct a duel, at dawn with pistols, in the colony. Clark emerged unscathed, but his opponent was hit and subsequently died.

In any case, in The Perth Gazette issue dated 24th September, Clark is positioned south-west of Albany at Torbay where he describes the process of curing mutton birds, pointing out the business was carried out by the sealers while the act of catching the birds was generally given over to the (female) Aborigines they kept with them. Mutton-birding was a very old tradition at Albany, almost certainly brought in by the sealers who first learned of it at the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait.  The sealers themsealves learning it from the Palawah. While that tradition of harvestng and consuming continues in Tasmania, it has died out entirely in Western Australia.

Above: An interesting short documentary from 1956 about mutton-birding on the islands off Northern Tasmania, starting point for so many of the sealers who made it to the South Coast of Western Australia. Source:  CSIRO placement on Youtube


In the following week’s article, October 1st, 1842, Nairne Clark reached the Sound, “. . . this great depot for sealers. . .”  and pauses at what the paper made his final paragraph to announce something special was to follow;




William Nairne Clark, journalist and publicist, thought he had something special to tell us. And he did. The story of  the sealers reign wasn’t new at Albany but it was to him and an awful lot of other people elsewhere too, and the manner in which he delivered the story lent itself to legend.

Clark’s article is descriptive but yet pithy. He was a very good writer. He covers the following;

  •  A short history claiming the sealers who came to the South Coast (both before and after the foundation of the colony) emerged from Tasmania, pulling Aboriginal women out of the mainland along the way. This indicates the story of Lockyer’s Pirates was very much in circulation in the early 1840s.
  • Description of the local sealers as marauding families with no shortage of children which can be found on the islands with them and even in town at Albany.
  • Albany’s Menang considering the sealers with ‘symptoms of loathing and innate hatred.’
  • One gang which abducted women from Port Philip in 1831 coming all the way to King George Sound, making other forays at various places and encountering furious spear hurling men in response.
  • The Recherche Archipelago being ‘the great rendevous of the sealers’ from where they made occasional runs to Albany for supplies.
  • The sealing gang attached to the Mountaineer which was wrecked at Thistle Cove (the same Mountaineer making its return from Albany after leaving James Manning at Middle Island with Anderson et-al).
  • Anderson, ‘a man of colour’ being the most daring of the sealers of the Recherche Archipelago whom the others, being lawless themselves, nonetheless looked upon with ‘a sort of dread’.
  • Anderson being flush with money which he kept upon himself and protected with a brace of pistols also carried about him.
  • Anderson keeping one or two black women with him, ‘attending to his wants.’
  • One of Anderson’s crew being visible on one of the islands near Doubtful Island Bay under a fall of water with his throat cut.
  • Suspicion of the murder as Anderson’s deed being loudly expressed, except to the authorities.
  • The favourite resort of Anderson being Manduran Island (Middle Island), supported by the presence of pink salt on the island and a haul of it being carted eastwards by the Henty family.
  • The death of Anderson and one of his women being described first as a suicide and then as two straight up murders.
  • Anderson’s money probably distributed among the sealers as they would normally distribute the profits of a sealing expedition.
  • John Bailey Pavey (alias Williams/Andrews) being the wealthiest (he says ‘luckiest’) of the sealers based at or near Albany. His boat, the Van Diemen’s Land built Fanny, being described as fast and safe.
  • The sealers turning to Kangaroo hunting in the winter months as means of trading with French and American whalers residing in the bays during the same period.
  • The extent of the trade between the sealers and whalers ‘in truth’ being considereable.
  • Sealers acting as pilots to visiting whalers, guiding them into the best known bays frequented by calving whales. The seasonal fee being around Fifty Pounds depending on the success of the season.
  • Some of the sealers preferring to live on the islands (rather than in town) where they enjoyed a relaxed (idle) lifestyle with their women and children, only breaking to take advantage of the seasonal work.
  • Bald Island being a favourite place due to its abundance of wallabies and proximity to Albany.
  • Bob Gamble, ‘originally from Van Diemen’s Land’ living for a time with his ‘black gins and children’ on Bald Island.
  • Bob Gamble beng a loner whose wives and children served as crew.
  • Bob Gamble being a one time member of Anderson’s crew and being the man who first let out ‘the fatal secret’ of Anderson’s death, but doing so in such a way the authorities ‘took no notice of it’.
  • All the men being implicated in Anderson’s death having long since left the colony.


Above: Clark perceives Anderson’s wearing of pistols as a measure of his fear, suggesting he knew he was treading a fine line and that at any moment any of his associates could turn on him with the intention of ending his life. Image: Excerpt from Nairne Clarke’s description of Anderson, his colleagues and their domain of islands eastwards of King George Sound. Source: The Perth Gazette and West Australian Journal, 08 August, 1842.


William Nairne Clark didn’t actually go to Doubtful Island Bay, to Middle Island or any of the sealers haunts, except for Chatham Island at Nornalup and perhaps Coffin or Bald Island which are marginally to the east of Albany, but he did bring back with him stories of Anderson’s exploits and of his death. It seems Clark got his information, in the first instance, from Solomon Aspinall, from whom Clark procured use of a whaleboat and crew of three for his 1841 Deep River (Nornalup) excursion. In the second instance, the following year, Clark may have met Gamble and taken further information from him as Aspinall, though very likely in-the-know regarding what happened, wasn’t at Middle Island and wasn’t part of the crew which ended Anderson’s life over the Christmas period of 1836.

Aspinall was well known at Albany as a mariner, his name is to be found on page 3 (under A. Solomon, aged 35, mariner from England) in the Spencer census of Albany carried out in 1836, just months before Anderson’s demise.  According to Sealed Souls he came to Albany as a crewman aboard Thomas Lyell Symers ship, Caledonia, in 1835. Another name on the Spencer list (pg. 4) is Isaac Winterbourne, aged 40, mariner, also from England. In 1831, ten years before Clark, Lieutenant Preston of  HMS Sulphur made the trip to Nornalup Inlet and found  ‘a man named Isaac’ living on Saddle Island with an Aboriginal woman. (Log of HMS Sulphur, April, 1831). Aspinall wasn’t a known associate of Anderson’s but Isaac Winterbourne was. He was cited on various occasions as being in the company of Pavey/Williams/Andrews and Anderson.

Through the reading, the semi-itinerant fringe-dwelling lifestyle of the sealers, whose strengths were incredible boating skills, sheer physical endurance and intimate knowledge of the coast, becomes apparent, especially in the years following removal of the military garrison. By this time none of the names associated with Lockyer’s Pirates are to be found. Instead, there is a small brigade of what Spencer called ‘mariners’, a number of whom were at home (or perhaps down the pub) when he conducted his 1836 census.


Above: Listed from 140 to 145, the grouped names of six mariners recorded at Albany during 1836.  In order they read; Robert Brainston, James Thatcher, John Bootts, William Tunce/Jance?,  John Beedon and James Anderson.  These names are not familiar in the literature and therefore could constitute the men who made up Anderson’s crew when he was murdered and who then were said to have fled the colony. There were 160 names on Spencer’s list, of which 14 were given as mariners, seamen or boat owners. The last of the mariners named above is James Anderson, possibly our John  ‘Black Jack’ Anderson, aged 35, though said (along with all others) to be from England. The names of Robert (Bob) Gamble and John Pavey/Williams/Andrews also appear, as do Solomon Aspinall  (A. Solomon) and Isaac Winterbourne. Image: Cut from digital copy of Richard Spencer’s hand written 1836 census at Albany, undertaken by his son, Edward Spencer. Source: SRO – Correspondence with Colonial Secretary’s Office – ACC 36 v45/114 -116


John William Anderson wasn’t called Black Jack by Nairne Clarke, and Clark doesn’t tie-in the story of James Manning and James Newell, but Anderson was clearly identified, along with  Pavey/Williams/Andrews and Bob Gamble. In this article, less than five years after Anderson’s death, when Pavey and Gamble were still very much active, and Anderson’s common-law widow Dorothy Newell too, Clark’s colourful yet incisive language instigates the story’s passage from recent factual history toward the progressive realms of legend and myth.

For him to make so much of the story Clark must first have been impressed by ‘this great depot for sealers’, in that the depot was the place the sealers had come to. Clearly, small boat culture had evolved at Albany and Clark recognised it at the time. We know from court records of the antics of Anderson and Pavey/Williams/Andrews, but what is less clear is the number of other boats and persons occupied in operating them at that time. Clark appears to have seen Albany as an industrious boating hub and was primarily drawn by the relationship its mariners had with the coast and with the much larger ocean-going vessells which visited it. The number of men employed and the level of their expertise was enough not just to draw Clark’s attention but to extract from him sufficient motivation to write about it.


Above: W.N. Clark’s 1841 account of one of Anderson’s murder victims having his throat cut from ear to ear. Source: The Perth Gazette, Sat, 8th Oct, 1842


William Nairn Clark’s episodic remarks on Nornalup and the islands of South West Australia; (incomplete)


30th July, 1842

6th August 1842

20th August, 1842

10th September, 1842

24th September, 1842

1st October, 1842

 8th October, 1842   *The Anderson episode


Clark also wrote about poison bush on the Perth Road (from his walk back to Perth) as well as the plight of Albany’s Aborigines, in letters to the authorities at Perth as well as for his own paper, The Swan River Guardian, and The Inquirer. He was concerned with challenging the general attitude toward the Aborigines held by the elites as much as the means by which Aboriginal management was occurring. Clark condemned treatment of Albany’s Aborigines by the government and begged for increased rations for them as he witnessed them falling into the iniquitous trap of insobriety and prostitution around the old waterfront.

It would appear Clark held other groups of lower social standing, such as the sealers, in a regard different to most officials of the day as well.  You could say, therefore, that he had an eye for the fringe.

Nonetheless, for much of the following 90 years Clark’s story of  the South Coast sealers wallowed in obscurity. His Perth Gazette series on the islands of the South Coast came to a premature end (that issue) with precious space passing from sealing and exploration to whaling and wool. For decades afterwards nothing further was said of Anderson specifically, and only of the sealers in general, when some article or other in the Perth press commented on the early settlement at King George Sound. Just as sealing had collapsed as a viable industry, so too did virtually all mention of it.

The town and its mariners moved on from the heyday of American and French bay whaling as the local shore-based entities took over and the Americans were permitted only to ‘fish’ off-shore. The news out of Albany constituted ‘shipping’ in the Colonial Press, or else it was related to pastoralism, exploration, expansion and crime.  There were various obscene acts of violence, a good percentage of which undoutbably went unreported and remain to ths day incidents of disappearance or un/recovered injury, but they occurred on the land, usually somewhere remote, and invariably between alcohol-soaked settlers and persons of vulnerable status, both white and black. The story of  Little Jock’s disturbing murder and mutilation at The Sinkings campsite (adjacent to where Wignalls Winery is now) in 1882 comes to mind. The point being, newsworthy incidents of a maritime nature appear to have been confined to accidental drownings and the persuit of jumpship sailors. William Nairne Clark was the first and last writer to say anything about Anderson in the guts of a century. Stories relating to sealers and sealing literally dried up after his 1842 expose.

Fundamental to this was, of course, the lack of a local newspaper. Because the Albany Mail and King George Sound Advertiser didn’t come into existance until more than 40 years after Clark’s expose, there was no medium for local story telling, no public forum for discussion and debate. Nonetheless, along with the oral history which did appear to survive, Clark’s 1842 descriptions carried such weight that when the time eventually did come to go back through the archives in search of juicy morsels his writing was picked up.

Thus, via the Perth newspapers once again, in 1926/27 stories relating to Lockyer’s Pirates, first written over the summer 100 years previous, and of Anderson and his ilk not that long afterwards, came to splash swashbuckling infamy upon Albany’s suddenly maturing historical cloak. For Albany was a century in the making and no matter how little that impacted elsewhere in the colony the simple fact remained and the Perth press had no choice but to talk about it.

It started in 1925 when the journalist and Goldfields businessman and politician John Kirwan was published in the Albany Advertiser speaking out about the South Coast of old. Of course being a politician he would, Albany’s centenary was fast approaching and there was much to be made of it. Kirwan took a coastal tour from Albany to the South Australian border and back aboard the SS Eucla, skippered by Captain A. E. Douglas, an Albany maritime personality of the early 20th Century. In his remarks Kirwan said since the early days the South Coast Aborigines had practically disappeared and the bays and islands had been used by whaling and sealing gangs. People suddenly were interested, and low-and-behold the mariners of old began to surface. Captains Douglas and Sale wrote in with their recollections and anecdotes, and soon the conversation spread. Albany certainly did have a maritime history and the romance of it, to one aspiring young journalist in Perth anyway, presented itself as an altogether engaging muse.

Above: Esperance writer, historian and podcast host Karli Florrison has many accessible items on her impressively constructed website, including two very informative listening pieces, one dedicated to the mail ships whch serviced the South Coast during the years when road transport wasn’t sufficiently developed, the other also dedicated to the life and times of Black Jack Anderson. Go here to have a listen!



Paul Hasluc, a Fremantle born journalist with an intense literary bent, had recently joined The West Australian newspaper and was coming to prominence just as Perth was nearing its own 100th year anniversary. And history, boys, was the subject of the day.

Hasluc often wrote reviews and opinion pieces under the pseudonym ‘Polygon’, and it was in this guise he first dug up Lockyer’s account and fictionalised it. From August 1829, Hasluc began submitting pieces on the sealer lifestyle to both the Albany Advertiser and West Australian. coming up initially with an imaginatively nasty tale of coastal abduction. His second effort a week later was more conventional, making for a discussion around the business and history of sealing on Australia’s southern shore and in particular what had gone-on at Albany. Hasluc drew this narrative from both Lockyer’s and Clark’s accounts. (Locker’s compiled journal entries and letters having recently been published in Series III of the Historical Records of Australia.)

In the third piece Polygon returns to fictionalising, probably having won his editor over. In it he identifies ‘Black Anderson’ in the piece header. Inside he tells the story of Anderson, Anderson’s women, and his crew, including prominent mention of Bob Gamble. Hasluc pulls that narrative entirely from Clark’s account, though he uses names given to women which appear in Lockyer’s statements. Unlike Nairne Clarke, Hasluc incorporated knowledge of Lockyer’s Pirates into a rejuvenated narrative and the story was once again remembered. Hasluc’s hugely influential ‘Black Anderson’ piece was first published in the Albany Advertiser on 26th September and then in The West Australian on 31st August, 1929.

Above: Paul Hasluc’s opening paragraphs to his piece ‘Black Anderson’. Published in August 1929 and still influential today, it tells of the same waterfall Clark described, under which one of Anderson’s victims was to be seen with his throat cut.. Source: Trove, The West Australian, 31st August, 1929.



In all, the three Hasluc peices are a clever, if not outright affecting combination. It’s clear Hasluc uses Clark as his primary source, verified by Lockyer, but it is his own artistic interpretation which appears to have inspired almost everything which has been written about Anderson since, most notably the Forrestal and Hay novels which comprise two parts of the South Coast sealer trilogy. Hasluc wrote a final piece which appeared in the Albany Advertiser on 21st September that year. This article is centered on what he called Island Life and seems to be something of a rumination on the ways and means of Bob Gamble, rather than Anderson.

Sir Paul Hasluc’s 1929 trio of articles on Black Anderson and the South Coast Sealers.

South Coast Sealers – Wild days before settlement – Saturday, 17 August, 1929

South Coast Sealers – Life in the Islands – Saturday, 24th August, 1929

Black Anderson – A story of the South Coast – Saturday, 31st August, 1929


Sth. Coast Sealers – Early Stories of Adventure Retold. Island Life – Saturday, 21st September, 1929


From 1929, we have to wait in the region of 70 years until 2002 and the release of Sarah Hay’s novel Skins before the story gains genuine traction again. However, there were three publications since then which speak of Anderson and therefore warrant mention. These are;

Sarah  Hay grew up out at Cape Arid, off which Middle Island sits quite visibly from the coast. The story of Anderson came to her not through the books or newspapers but orally, through family and friends. The legend of Anderson had been distributed sparsely over the years (via the above) but also preserved by the presence of the islands themselves. Hay says that as a child her family used to visit the islands recreationally and even camped on Middle Island one year. That experience planting the seed which eventually became her debut novel.

Skins was published, I suspect, on the marketability of the manuscript. It was an original story with the key perspective being that of Dorothea Newel. So, a female perspective rather than a third person objective of Anderson and his motives. Hay’s manuscript won the 2001 Vogel award for young unpublished writers, which gave it some impetus, but the critical response wasn’t overwhelmingly in favour. (Note; It is very hard to write a first grade novel, especially on the first go.) So, in effect, its leading edge then is what it remains today. Via both the Forrestal and Drummond novels as well, it is fascination with a band of renegade mariners, led by a fearsome adversarial type, roaming a beautiful but secluded archipelago in a state of wild, or semi-wild existence, which attracts the readership. The very same elements which atttracted first Clark’s attention, and then Hasluc’s.

While certain critics found problems my own reading of Hay’s story found it pretty good. I recommend it as a work of historical fiction (it is as true to fact as the author could render it),  relating to a part of the world I know and love. It isn’t a world-class slice of literature, but that’s not the point. Coming to Skins as a local product of genuine art allows the author leeway in terms of setting up the narrative and characterisations, and thereby allowing the reader to take from it what we are all primarily interested in; persective on the life and times of Anderson and his fellow sealers. And for what it’s worth, like I said, I thought the writing and the story were both good. .


Author Sarah Hay, ‘Skins’ and ‘Texas’. Picture: Mary Meagher.









Above: Sarah Hay photographed by the Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper in 2017, and Right: the cover of her very worthy debut novel, Skins.




In Elaine Forrestal’s story, Black Jack Anderson, which emerged in 2008, we have a professional writer once again utilising the marketable qualities of Anderson’s escapades, only this time unashameably so. Even though she cites research visits to the Battye Library and Albany Courthouse records, Forrestal eschews fact when it suits and hones in more on the glamour. While basing her account around the true story of Anderson’s existence, she literally makes up the parts that help the story, or at least which add flesh to those parts which need greater explanation. So, in the end we have an engaging novel, but in the process a digression of the truth. What does that matter? To the protectors of true history a great deal, but overall not a jot.

Forrestal cites her inspiration as the Clark newspaper piece (though she gives the date as 1846) and a series of  ‘magazine’ articles published in the late 1950s, which might be the History of the Archipelago of the Recherche cited above. Perhaps reprints of Hasluc’s articles, I’m not sure, but as the sources are too vague to locate I can’t say where they are found. Forrestal is enthusiastic about her story, which she claims wholly as her own, failing to even recognise the existence of Hay’s Skins, even though she herself is West Australian, that Hay’s account was an award winner and well known within writer’s circles, and had been around six years before publication of her own effort. Curiously, Forrestal even draws on Hay’s own research into what became of Dorothea Newel, using her final living place (recently an iconic Albany restaurant) as a promotional tool.

Forrestal’s marketing work can be attributed to the number of articles and mentions of Black Jack Anderson since publication. She’s active and good at it, notwithstanding the marketability of a recently rejuvenated Australian pirate story in the era of Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Carribean movie franchise. Timing counts for an awful lot when it comes to the commercial world.

As discussed, the third novel in the trilogy is the most recent and my favourite of the genre, The Sound by Sarah Drummond. In The Sound we are not concerned with Anderson, we are concerned with the band of sealers which roamed a decade earlier and whose presence almost certainly gave rise to the presence of Anderson himself. This band, known as Lockyer’s ‘complete set of pirates‘, was described that way by the Major himself. Within that band there is also example of the Alpha male at his worst, probably best described by the actions of Samuel Bailey who was retrieved from Eclispe Island with young Fanny (about nine years old and stolen from the region of Cape Arid) and one of the Menang women abducted by the gang in the weeks leading up the arrival of the Amity. Lockyer had Bailey retrieved from Eclipse Island, not far west of Breaksea, where he was laid up with just the two women, and sent back to Sydney in the hopes he’d be tried and jailed. He wasn’t. There was no jurisdiction at the time of the murder and abductions and the law couldn’t find a way to try him.

In any case, to set The Sound against Skins and Black Jack Anderson isn’t the aim of the exercise,  suffice to say at times when reading The Sound you might think yourself in the grip of what might actually have been a slice of world-class literature, but it isn’t as structurally beautiful as it is poetic, and for this reason, while it made several well regarded long-lists, it didn’t get too close to winning.  All the same, it is a work of art and the intent behind it is evident in virtually every page. Drummond’s own experiences small-boating along the South Coast, along with her instincts as a woman, means we gain genuine close-up insight into what it was like living out of those boats back in the day, and also, of how the women in those boats fared, inside and out, during that most arduous of mis-adventures.

In Part 2, following, we will look closely at the various attempts to determine Anderson’s identity and origin and in Part 3 examine what we know about each of the women brought from across the Bight to live among the islands of Western Australia’s stunning South Coast during the ten years 1825 -1835.