Bushrangers were the spiritual descendants of the English highwaymen (also known as tobeymen) such as Dick Turpin, Plunkett and MacLeane, and “Gentleman Jack” Sheppard. Typically they would operate on the highways that connected towns and bail up lone travellers or coaches. Mail coaches were often the best targets because people would often send money to each other via the post and the coaches were usually poorly protected if at all. Later on gold escorts were targeted as they took the takings from the diggings into town to be deposited in the banks.

The typical call of the bushranger was “bail up!” as opposed to “stand and deliver!” or “stick ’em up!” popularised by novels and films of cowboys and other outlaws. And whereas the domino mask or bandana is typically the disguise of choice for cowboys on the big screen, bushrangers tended to choose the option of blackening their faces with ashes or boot polish, or wearing rough cloth masks.

In this image we see a gang of bushrangers bailing up a mail coach in the dark, which is a striking image but not tremendously accurate to what typically happened. Stopping a coach effectively in the dark would have been nigh on impossible and the bandits typically didn’t need the cover of darkness to avoid identification so the vast majority of hold-ups took place during the day.

Highway robbery as demonstrated here went out of fashion in the 1870s with the introduction of the telegraph and train lines that improved communication and the ability to safely transport valuables at speed, rendering the old coach method obsolete.

Picture Credits:
Sleap, F. A., engraver. Maloney, Frank P., artist. Wood engraving published in the Supplement to the Illustrated Australian news. Images form part of supplement titled: The history of Victoria illustrated. August 1, 1888.
SLV Source ID: 1773706

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