Despite it being an island, piracy in Australia was not defined in the same way as other nations. Defined as an ugly and shocking crime committed at sea, piracy was not a norm in the land down under. However, that is not to say that there were no exciting events that happened on the Australian coast. Australian pirates were simply a rare breed.
In the 17th century, Britain was a formidable empire that took over and ruled distant lands across the great seas. Since, America, their former colony had gained its independence, it discontinued Britain’s arrangement that allowed them to ship convicts over to their land. Australia was Britain’s bright idea for a penal colony with the first ship arriving in 1788 on Botany Bay. In a few years, more penal colonies came up in Queensland, Western Australia, and Van Diemen’s Land.
Were there pirates in Australia?
Except for Jack Anderson, pirates in Australia mostly consisted or runaway convicts trying to make a break for their freedom. These gangs would get together and seize a ship, hopefully with some supplies, aboard which they would sail away unnoticed.
Most of these foreign convicts on Australian seas coordinated very successful and history-worthy missions that still have the world talking. Some of them, however, made it so far only to be rearrested and sent back to Australia’s penal islands with a term extension or a life sentence. Others were lucky enough to make it through trial into successful emancipation.
Some of these makers of history on Australian Pirates are:
· William Swallow
He had at a point in his life served as a British cargo ship apprentice but was later convicted and sentenced for life for crimes f stealing sheep. Swallow has two records of piracy in his lifetime. Once, he made it to England as a stowaway an attempt to be with his wife. Unfortunately, he found that she had remarried and her new husband handed Swallow over to the authorities who took him back to Australia.
While at Tasmania, he and 18 others made the greatest history of Australian pirates ever. After managing to escape aboard a fully loaded ship called Cyprus they couldn’t agree on where to run to. This took them on a journey to Tonga, then to Japan, and finally to China where they got on their way to England. In a sad twist of events, they were found out and arrested and sent to trial in England. Most of the convicts were executed in England but William was deported back to Australia where he died of tuberculosis.
· Mary Broad
A convicted female highway robber was on the first vessels from Britain to Botany Bay where she was expecting to live out her sentence as a servant. She, among others, were the first European settlers on the Australian Islands.
After years on the land, Mary is said to have bundled her husband and children onto a governor’s ship and using it to flee the shores. After 66 days over the troubled waters on a not-so all-weather ship, the lives of her husband and children had been lost and she was recaptured somewhere along the East Dutch Indies.
After her trial in England, the public remained abuzz with her story and this attention was strong enough to prompt her release barely six weeks after her original prison sentence term.
Who was Australia’s Only Known Pirate
His name was Black Jack Anderson. He was an African American who came to the Australian coast in 1826 and chose to settle with his team of bandits in Recherche on Middle Island. Any passing ship was promptly halted and money was demanded from it, failure to which resulted in a quick death by a shotgun. This team of pirates also terrorized the local Aboriginals by killing the males and taking hostage of the females.
Jack, who was originally from Massachusetts, had docked in Western Australia at the trading port of King George Sound. It was while on an evening in the town that Jack’s crew got into a fight with another seafaring crew who blamed Anderson for the loss of their member’s life.
Jack and his crew chose to hop on another ship and sail away to the Recherche Archipelago that had 105 tiny islands. After drifting through these islands for days while surviving on seals, the crew came to the Middle Island which happened to be the biggest of all. Life on the Middle island was good as the land was prime for vegetation and the water was fresh.
There was a large cave on the island that seemed ideal for treasure hiding due to its deep tunnels and chambers. This was said to be Black Jack’s hideaway. On this land, the crew thrived on selling the expensive seal skins and raiding passing vessels.
It is not known what became of Anderson or his looted treasure but the story has it that his crew turned on him and killed him. it is believed that they buried him on the island and then possibly took the loot and made a quick exit from the troubled Australian seas.
Australian Pirates History
While Britain haggled with the ever-increasing desire for world domination, its people suffered and struggled to make a living under her iron fist. Theft and deceit were punishable by transportation while crimes such as rape or murder had you sent to the gallows.
Transportation was a form of punishment that included packing convicts upon a broken-down ship (hulk) and letting it set sail a distance off-shore only for it to remain floating indefinitely. Conditions were horrible and a lot of convicts died from communicable diseases.
With the overcrowding in these hulks and with America’s refusal to cooperate, Australia’s shores proved more than ideal to keep the rouge, petty convicts at bay, and to prevent any other nations from claiming the colony.
Conditions at these off-shore prisons were nonetheless tough for a convict as their main purpose there was to help the empire build a functioning colony. It is no wonder that there have been numerous records of convicts fleeing these shores upon their master’s ship.
These prisoners who successfully broke out of their prison and managed to sail away on a stolen ship were who most Australian’s referred to as pirates. Hijacking the empire’s ships became a big problem for the British government and measures were put in place to keep all ships on guard at all times. This was no deterrent as escaping convicts increasingly made away with British vessels from the late 16th to the early 17th century.
The height of all this piracy in Australia was between the years of 1820 and 1850 when the Van Damien’s Land, also known as Tasmania, became the high-level prison for big-time criminal masterminds.
A great tale has been told of one such ship by the name brig Cyprus, which was hijacked by convicts who were mid transport to Macquarie from Hobart. The crew took advantage of a storm that forced them to dock at Recherche Bay. Everyone who didn’t want to tag along was left abandoned on the treacherous island while the convicts made away with the fully stocked ship. They had split hopes of escaping to Tonga, Japan or China to secure their freedom.
Their captain was a previous cargo ship apprentice on British ships. He may not have been the best experienced but he was all the navigation the crew had. On disagreeing about where to go, the crew turned on each other and held the captain ransom at Niue. Those convicts who had favored to run to Tonga stayed back as the team to Japan and China sailed on.
On arrival at the Japanese harbor of Yokohama, they were met with indifference and hostility. Aboard their tattered ship and with no resources left, they made a slow escape towards China. On arrival, the men put a hole in the ship and paid for a trip to land. Captain Swallow and a few men stayed behind trying to revive the ship but when this failed, they surrendered themselves as victims of a shipwreck.
While onboard the ship set for London, the tale of the Captain and the tale of the rogue convicts who had kidnapped him clashed in the ears of the ship officials, and their lie came undone. The convicts were quickly arrested upon docking in London and led to a trial. Some of them were found guilty and executed while others were sent back to Australia to continue and extend their prison term.
Australia was a much different land as a British penal colony. Times were hard and freedom was expensive. Authorities meted out severe punishment on petty offenders and swiftly ended the lives of gangsters and violent criminals. Desperate times call for desperate measures and these ship-hijacking convicts saw no other way out of their miserable state. Floating out of sight aboard the government vessels was their only shot at freedom and this is the only reason why they were referred to as pirates.
However, Black Jack Anderson still stands as the one and only Australian Pirate known to exist.