Australia’s First Pirate – Black Jack Anderson

Black Jack Anderson

Black Jack is Australia’s only known resident pirate. There was nothing romantic about this murderous thug. Anderson was a violent African American who came to Australia in 1826. 

He and his crew of pirates were based on Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago just off the coast of Esperance, where they attacked and looted passing boats and ships. They also murdered local Aboriginal men and enslaved their women. The Perth Gazette of October 1835 reported that  Anderson and others shot and clubbed Aboriginal men to death and took the women in their boats. 

Statements made in Albany courthouse say that Middle Island was “in the possession of John Anderson, a master of a sealing boat”. The court was also told that Anderson forced seamen to give him their money or they were killed.  Like the English Highway man said, while pointing his pistol: “Stand &  deliver, Your money or your liver!” 

Black Jack was originally a whaler from Massachusetts, in 1826 Black Jack’s crippled vessel ‘The Vigilant’ limped into the trading post of King George Sound (now called Albany) in Western Australia.  That night while drinking at the store they got into a fight with another ship’s crew. There was no proof, but Black Jack was blamed for the death of one of these men. So he & several crewmen ran out, stole a small vessel & sailed to the Recherche Archipelago off Esperance, with its uncharted 105 small islands.

At first the Pirates drifted through the islands, living off seals, before making their base on the biggest island in the archipelago – Middle Island. The  soil was good, the vegetation healthy and it had fresh water. For the next ten years they ruled the islands, they hunted for seals with their valuable skins, which sold for six shillings each and they raided passing supply ships heading  either to Hobart or Sydney. 

The large limestone cave on Middle Island, has chambers and deep tunnels, which according to local legend was the perfect place, for Black Jack the pirate, to hide his treasure. 

Western Australian Museum  archaeologists have been to the remote area and surveyed what is believed to have been Anderson’s cave.

“Black Jack’s Bay” and his cave can only be accessed in rare good weather. People have searched for the pirate’s loot and obvious items in the cave would have been illegally removed by now. Perhaps Black Jack’s treasure was not buried on the island, but again, according to local legend his body was! 

It is said that Anderson was murdered by some of his crew & is buried on Middle Island. 

I hope they didn’t leave & take the treasure away with them!

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8 Responses

  1. Nick
    Nick at |

    Hi guys! I’m currently drafting a complete history of Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago, part of which includes the story of John Anderson. If you don’t mind, I’m wondering where the information regarding the arrival of The Vigilant (Anderson’s boat) in King George Sound in 1826 came from? Thanks for your time, it’s greatly appreciated!

  2. Jade Steiner
    Jade Steiner at |

    I’m a descendant of black jack Anderson, I’m not sure how but I am, I’m part Spanish and portages, I was born in audtralia, and I only found this out about a week ago.

  3. Helen
    Helen at |

    Dorothy Newell who lived for a while with Black Jack Anderson is my husbands 4th great Aunt. She was born in Surrey, England and died in Albany, Australia Jan 1886.
    Nick – I would be very interested to know if you have completed your research.

  4. Barry Tenney
    Barry Tenney at |

    Hi Helen and friends just found out that Dorothy Newell is my 4 th Great Aunt from tracing back family names and found out that James Thomas Newell he was Dorothy Newells Brother he’s my 4th Great grand Father they were stranded when there ship the Mountaineer sunk in 1835 my Great Grand Father was a ship deck hand for Black Jack Anderson and my Aunt Dorothy became Back Jacks Mistress please let me know if she had any children by Black Jack Anderson PS Nick + Jade Stiner + Simon please help me to find out about my my family history need to find out my 5 th great grand father’s name and date of birth thanks your freiend Barry Tenney @ [email protected] check out my tree and liaten and download for free my songs @

  5. Barry Tenney
    Barry Tenney at |

    does anyone know about James Thomas Newell he was born i think in 1792 trying to learn more about him and his family

  6. marco
    marco at |

    love this story and I’m always hungry for more information.

    I believe Dorothy did not have children and is part of the reason she died from neglect – however she did remarry twice I think.

    African Americans worked the south coast of Australia to New Zealand around this time and there is some images (photos…probably after this time) of that work being done. It is a part of Australian history not discussed much.

    Here is a song I made about Black Jack Anderson.

  7. Floydie
    Floydie at |

    I live in the Central Victorian country town of Kyneton and recently found this entry in the local newspaper from 1872. “Jack Anderson very troublesome in Kyneton district”. So far that’s all I’ve been able to find but will keep updating if I find further references. Cheers.

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