Black Jack Anderson – the trial scene

The cast after performing The Trial Scene from Black Jack Anderson

Our intrepid pirate, Black Jack Anderson, came to life again at Hale School this week when the boys performed the trial scene from the book, as Reader’s Theatre. In the Middle School they had been investigating point of view, researching how characters are created and discussing the moral and ethical constraints on authors who write about real people from the past. The trial scene addresses all these issues and Reader’s Theatre is a simple but engaging way to stimulate thought and discussion.

The makeshift trial of Anderson was conducted in a room in the Military Barracks at King George Sound in 1835. Just two years in to his term as Magistrate in the struggling settlement, Sir Richard Spencer was keen to dispel the widely held view that lawlessness reigned. In order to attract more settlers to the town he needed to show that it was a safe and prosperous community. James Manning had a grievance about some money he claimed Anderson had stolen from him and the Magistrate encouraged the young adventurer to lay charges against the elusive Anderson. When the pirate and his men sailed in to town on one of their rare visits to sell skins and pick up stores, the Magistrate saw his chance to show that British law would be upheld.

However, things did not turn out exactly as the worthy Sir Richard had expected. With a JP and a respected Captain acting as scribes, Sir Richard proceeded to hear evidence from the complainant, James Manning, and the local youth, Jimmy Newell, who had spent six months on Middle Island with Anderson and his crew. The town’s people turned out in force for this rare piece of entertainment. Dorothy Newell, who had become Anderson’s mistress while she and her brother were marooned on Middle Island, was in the audience. Seeing her brother struggling to gather his thoughts and make himself understood, she leapt to her feet and delivered an unexpectedly eloquent and convincing defence of Anderson. At the end of the day Sir Richard Spencer dismissed the case for lack of evidence. Anderson was free to go and the Magistrate had satisfied himself that a fair trial had been conducted. But tragedy was to follow.

Black Jack Anderson is available from Penguin in paperback or eBook format.

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