One Tuesday morning early in August 1894, Tasmanian Jack Badger decided to sail his cutter May Queen from Stanley to Hummock Island in Bass Strait. The reason for his trip was never reported, but it almost cost him his life. Three weeks later he told his dramatic story to a journalist from The Tasmanian newspaper.
He described how on the following day he had anchored south of Hummock Island just off Walker and Robbins Islands, waiting for fairer winds. The arrow indicates the larger, Robbins Island.
On Sunday, after a couple of false starts, Badger was still moored. He was pulling up the anchor ready to leave when a large wave caused the May Queen to surge astern. The anchor chain had been lying across his knee and the sudden pressure as it tightened threw him to the deck, shattering his ankle. Through a gaping hole torn in the flesh he could see the end of a bone and numerous bone splinters. As a solo sailor he did what he simply had to, although it sounds horrendous;
…I pulled the foot back into place, suffering acute agony. After a rest I climbed up and fastened my coat to the rigging as a signal of distress. While up the rigging the vessel gave a lurch, causing me to lose my hold and fall about 12 feet to the deck. I suffered great pain and found my ankle was again put out. I pulled the ankle right and then fell back exhausted.’
Good grief, that poor fellow. He let out some more anchor chain, and feeling that everything was OK (well, relatively speaking! 😨) he managed to crawl down to his cabin. At about 6pm the wind came up and the vessel broke free. Somehow he struggled back on deck and ran it ashore. Later that night he felt the boat move again, but when he tried to leave the cabin to check things he banged his broken ankle into the cabin firepot and the shock of it threw him backwards. There he remained until the next day. It was now Tuesday, a week after he had left port. He ate a couple of mouthfuls of biscuit, drank some cold, stale coffee and rested as best he could.
‘On Wednesday I managed to get on deck, and making a fire, boiled some tea, and ate some bread. Until Sunday I was unable to lie down owing to the pain I suffered. I lived on potatoes and some fat I had for greasing the mast. My water and wood were getting short, and I was extremely anxious. ‘
Jack was now in such a state that he decided he would leave the May Queen, crawl through the shallow water and die on the shore. He was barely alive when by sheer chance he was found by Robbins Island residents James Reid and Mr A. Williams. It was now nine days since his horrific accident. His rescuers lit a fire and did their best to make Jack comfortable while they returned to the Reid homestead for food and bandages. Despite their ongoing care he remained very weak and it was impossible for him to walk. In the end Reid had a path cut through the bush to allow access by horse and dray.
‘I was placed on the dray on some straw and taken to Mr Reid’s on Robbins Island, a distance of twelve miles. where I was most kindly treated…..I am a poor man and can never repay the kindness I received at Reid’s, but I will remember them all my life. I was in an awful fix.’
With the assistance of James Reid, Jack was taken across to Stanley.
This amazing story was retold more than forty years later by Captain James Smith in the Circular Head Chronicle. It is hardly surprising that Jack Badger’s smashed ankle required more treatment than was available in the small town of Stanley. Captain Smith said that Jack ended up in the Launceston hospital, where unfortunately his leg had to be amputated. Naturally it was the end of his sailing days. The May Queen was brought around to Robbins Island Creek and sold some months later to Mr A. Kane, lessee of another tiny Bass Strait Island called Trefoil. The following year Mr Kane’s family would suffer a far worse maritime disaster, but that is another story.
These days people are warned in no uncertain terms against visiting Robbins or Walker Island without authorization;
FOR MORE ON ROBBINS ISLAND AND ITS HISTORY, CLICK HERE.