Children’s Book Week, 2014

Dolly Petit’s House in the Historical Precinct, Albany

Officially, Children’s Book Week begins tomorrow but, happily as usual, I have already done some Country Book Week sessions in Albany where I was invited to talk specifically about Black Jack Anderson, because of his strong links with the town.

Of course an enormous amount has changed since Anderson deserted the whaling ship he arrived on, early in 1827. But to their credit the people of Albany have managed to preserve three significant sites that are closely connected to the story of Western Australia’s only pirate.  And since I would be talking to groups who may well recognise my photos of those sites, taken while I was doing my research in the town, I decided to develop a new workshop especially for the visit.

The site of the trial of Black Jack Anderson in 1835, in a room at the Military Barracks because there was no Court House, is now Lawley Park. But the original town plan is very revealing and shows where the Barracks were situated, overlooking the harbour.

The house of Patrick Taylor JP, however, has been preserved and lovingly restored by the Albany Historical Society. It was there that the tormented Nimble Gimble knocked nervously on the door in 1837, two years after the death of Anderson, and made a statutory declaration to the JP. The events leading up to the murder of Anderson had been playing on his mind so much that Gimble felt the only way to be free of the dreams that haunted him was to tell what he knew. Because Gimble described to Patrick Taylor, in detail, what life was like on Middle Island with Anderson and the band of pirates we have, to this day, a reliable eye-witness account of those people and events.

The other building that has survived in Albany, preserved by the Heritage Trust but sadly not open to the public, is the one where Dorothy Newell, Anderson’s mistress, lived and died. This is not her original family home, which was a very rough tumble-down cottage and was barely still standing in 1835, when she returned from Middle Island to try and salvage what was left of her family. Some years after Anderson’s death, Dorothy (who was also known as Dolly) married George Petit and moved in to what is now known as Dolly Petit’s house. Dolly survived her husband by more than twenty years, living alone in the house and, at one time, making and selling sweets from the premises. It is here that her ghost has been seen, huddled in a chair in front of the fireplace, on stormy winter nights. And sometimes, also on stormy winter nights, a large male figure is seen to come up from the sea and enter the house, which is very close to the harbour. This figure is said to go around the house, as if checking that all is well, before returning to the sea.

I don’t know about you, but I think there can be no doubt that this is the ghost of Black Jack Anderson.

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