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Black Jack Anderson: terror in Middle Island

Middle Island is known for its pink lake that attracts tourists from all over the world to see its distinctive hues. Its remote beauty and rugged landscapes are also steeped in fascinating history, having once been the home of Black Jack Anderson.

John ‘Black Jack’ William Anderson was an infamous whaler and Australia’s only recorded male pirate. Despite his infamy, his life remains an enigma with little recorded information. It’s unclear how Black Jack ended up in the colony, but it seems that he was sealing in Australia by the late 1820s. There are stories about his arrival from the US on a whaler and his turn to piracy after being accused of murder, but these are unsubstantiated.

What is known is that he and his crew set up base in Middle Island, the largest island in the archipelago. Not only did the island provide shelter, but also soil, vegetation and fresh water. The archipelago was full of Australian sea lions and New Zealand fur seals, which ended up being a source of income for Black Jack and his crew. They hunted them, selling and trading their furs with other settlements. Sealing was not an easy job – the waters were treacherous, the landscapes rugged and rocky, and accidents and injuries weren’t uncommon.

Black Jack is also reported to have supplemented his income by pillaging passing boats and ships. Fear of them spread, newspapers at the time warning of a band of pirates in the Recherche Archipelago. There are also reports of their cruel and callous treatment of the local Kaurna people.

The circumstances of his death are unclear too – some accounts say he was murdered in his sleep by his crew, an act of mutiny. The exact location of his body is unknown, but he is thought to be buried somewhere on Middle Island. Traces of Blackjack remain such as a remote cave in the bay named after him, ‘Black Jack’s Bay’. It can only be accessed in good weather, which is a rare occurrence in the Southern Ocean According to local legend, it’s where he hid his treasure. Nothing has been uncovered yet but with strong archaeological interest in the area, who knows?

Image courtesy of iStock: 1177642387

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