Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Jackeroo . . . and Jackey Jackey

This neat word, jackeroo or jillaroo, today means a young man or woman who goes out to work on an isolated sheep station in Australia, not quite a hired hand, but not skilled, more like an apprentice.

Wikipedia said the word may have come from an aboriginal word, or may have been inspired by the folk hero, Jacky Raw (who is a contempory musician). But I was remembering an Australian folk tale I read about Jacky Jack, so I dug a little deeper to discover Jackey Jackey, an aboriginal tracker later honored for his skill and steadfastness in helping Edmund Kennedy's 1848 expedition into the backlands of Cape York on mainland Australia.

And, pay dirt for my story, Years of Stone, set in Tasmania 1842-1843, for there were two men named Jackey Jackey. William Westwood, later dubbed 'the gentlemen bushranger"  and known as Jackey Jackey in New South Wales, was originally transported to New South Wales for highway robbery in 1837. Westwood, a master of disguises and of escapes, once up a tree in chains, was finally sentenced to Van Diemen's Land , arriving there in March of 1842, where he was sent to Port Arthur, an isolated prison one could only access by boat. 

Yet Westwood escaped two times in 1842; his punishment 100 lashes each time. In November 1843, he escaped once again, this time, he and his mates swam across a channel. Westwood made shore, but according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, his companions were eaten by sharks. I'm not sure I believe this last; they may have drowned. The guards floated rumors about sharks to prevent escapees. Recaptured, Westwood faced three months in solitary confinement at Port Arthur.

There's more to the story. Westwood lived only to be 26 years old. He leaves few records behind for he was literate. Authorities must have considered him to be incorrigible, for he was sent to the dreaded Norfolk Island, where he was hanged in 1846 for leading an insurrection against Joseph Childs. I have more research to do, for Westwood's accounts were published in the Australasian in 1879. Maybe I can find these online.

Image of Port Arthur (source: Wikipedia)