True or False, History or Legend

Dorothea eventually married George Petit. They lived in this house (known as Dolly Petit’s House) which has been preserved as part of the Historical Precinct in Albany, Western Australia

During the week I was invited to speak on ABC radio about the many stories that have circulated, over the years, about Black Jack Anderson’s ‘kidnapping’ of women.

While there are stories about his kidnapping of Aboriginal women from the south coast of South Australia which are very difficult to prove or disprove, there is one story about the kidnapping of a white woman that we can categorically say is false.

Dorothea Newell came out from England with her parents and six siblings in the early 1830s. After their hopes of a new life in the Swan River Colony were dashed they settled in King George Sound in 1833. The tiny settlement was struggling to survive. After two years of subsistence living Dorothea (know as Dorothy or Dolly) set off with her sister Mary and brother James (Jimmy) In the Mountaineer to find work in Hobart. They had heard that there were jobs there and intended to send money back to the rest of the family in King George Sound. But the Mountaineer was wrecked in Thistle Cove, not far from Cape Arid. All the Newells survived the wreck, along with the Captain, Evenson Jansen, and four other men. After waiting on the beach for ten days, with very little food and water, for a passing ship to rescue them the Captain persuaded the others that they must try to reach Middle Island in the Mountaineer’s lifeboat. He had heard that Black Jack Anderson was based there and thought he could find the pirate’s secret hideout.

Three days later the eight occupants of the lifeboat arrived, more dead than alive, on the beach at Middle Island. Black Jack was not pleased to see them! But he was obliged, by the unwritten law of the sea, to give them food and water. At first Dorothy and her sister were afraid of all the rough, lawless pirates, but by the time two weeks had passed Dorothy had overcome her fear of the pirate leader and become Anderson’s mistress.

When Anderson was arrested and tried during a visit to King George sound in September 1835, Dorothy spoke to the court in his defense. As well as her own statement that she went with him willingly we have other pieces of evidence that she was not kidnapped. In January 1837 a receipt for the purchase of a Bible was issued to Mrs Dorothea Anderson in King George Sound. In March 1837 the death of Black Jack Anderson was finally reported by Robert Gimble, one of Anderson’s loyal crewmen, to Patrick Taylor JP. Gimble’s statement, recorded by Patrick Taylor, makes mention of the arrival of the survivors on Middle Island and the relationship that developed between Anderson and Miss Newell The trial record, the receipt found among Dorothea’s papers after her death and the statement of Robert Gimble, recorded by the Justice of the Peace in King George Sound, all corroborate the fact that Dorothea was not kidnapped but in fact still regarded herself as Black Jack Anderson’s common law wife until after his death.

These and other stories are contained in the biographical fiction Black Jack Anderson published in paperback and eBook format by Penguin Books Australia.

Leave a Reply