Jack was known as a tall, powerfully built man with a stern face but a kindly nature. He had a legendary appetite but his appearance and characteristics have been greatly exaggerated over time as his legend
grew. He has been described as being just about every height from 5'10' to 7' tall. He was said to have Herculean strength (able to break an inch and a half steel bar with his bare hands according to one report).
Most stories about him mention that he was well liked and had a good heart.
One problem with the stories told about Russian Jack is that there are known to have been several men who went by this nickname. One from the Perenjori area fell down a small open cut mine in the dark and
when found later merely commented that he had missed a shift at work. This story was of course attributed to the original character and so the legend grew a little bit more.
What was the truth? At this juncture it is hard to say with certainty but from our research we believe his real name was John or Ivan Fredericks and he was of Russian Finnish descent. He was undoubtedly strong
but was under 6' in height.
Peter Bridge, in his book, 'Russian Jack' (Hesperian Press) says the following:
'The barrow men had very hard work on the road, many of them being old verging on sixty years of age. A young Russian made light work of it, however. He is a great, strong bullock of a fellow, and went
ploughing through the heavy sand as though it were a macadamized road. His barrow, which was badly built, creaked and groaned, and laboured like an ancient craft at sea.
When within twenty miles of the fields he came up with another man lying utterly exhausted by the side of his barrow. The Russian picked up the exhausted man's load and placed it on top of his own,
exclaiming, 'Here mate, if you're too tired to walk, jump up on top'. Mate managed to walk but the Russian wheeled the double load right into the fields.'
Jack's death, like his life is shrouded in mystery. Reports say he died in 1904 and again in 1909. Official records show 1904 as the most likely date. In the end both memorials to Russian Jack, who I guess
could also be called Finnish Ivan, are incorrect in a number of important respects including when he was born, what he did, and when he died. But as the journalists say 'never let the facts get in the
way of a good story.'
The most recent information we have found indicates that the legend of Russian Jack has been blown out of all proportion over the years. The following information comes from Frederick William Ponsonby
Cammelleri, a prospector who was on the Halls Creek goldfields at the same time as Russian Jack. This is the earliest - and probably most accurate - account of what happened:
'A very big and powerful Russian who had a wheelbarrow made in Derby, with a special wide wheel, so as to make it easier in the soft sand, met two old men knocked out carrying their swag, with a 37 mile
stage without water to Soda Springs ahead of them. Russian Jack, as he was known afterwards on the fields, put all their traps on his barrow, and off they went. This shows the good feeling one man felt
From this account it can be clearly seen that there was no dying or sick man wheeled 300 miles to help, as the legend states but simply a good hearted man helping out strangers who were in trouble.
To this day there are still websites that persist in telling the story of legend rather than the truth about this man.
1864 - Born. * Some sources quote 1852.
1904 - Died.
Links to more information:
The True Story of Russian Jack