An interesting thing to note about the bushrangers is that the vast majority of them identified as Christians in some form, but there is only one Jewish bushranger of note: Edward Davis, aka George Wilkinson, aka Teddy the Jewboy.
Born in Kent, England, in 1816, Davis was transported to Australia for stealing a till and five copper shillings contained therein. His father and elder brother had also been transported for obtaining goods under false pretences and fraud respectively. The sixteen-year-old Davis was transported on the Camden and arrived in Sydney in 1834 where he was stationed at Hyde Park Barracks and assigned to a road gang. Davis escaped from captivity four times before finally taking to the bush in November 1840.
As it eventuated, when Davis took to the bush he joined the company of two other bolters with whom he would rob homesteads and travelers. One of these bolters was John “Ruggy” Shea, a lifer who had absconded from his assignment on October 2, 1840. Presumably during this time Davis made it back to his family near Newcastle who were doing reasonably well, with his father employed as a journalist. Fortunately for Davis, his father not only welcomed the fugitives with open arms, he had also been doing the same for the gang of John Marshall and it is likely that it was through this connection that the “Jewboy” gang would team up with Marshall’s in November 1840. A family friend named Henry Denny was also a key sympathiser of Marshall’s and it is likely that word was sent through him that there were new additions to the gang waiting in Newcastle.
John Marshall had been transported for stealing a lamb and was by far the oldest in the gang at thirty five years old. Marshall was a complicated man and a hard taskmaster to the gang, not tolerating insubordination or misbehaviour. Marshall was bedecked in religious tattoos and seemed to believe very strongly in the redemptive power of Christianity. Marshall was also a convicted rapist yet would fly into a murderous fury whenever a gang member behaved inappropriately with women. In fact Davis himself was on the receiving end of Marshall’s wrath on at least one occasion for exactly that.
The other members of the gang at this time were John Everett, 22, a petty thief who had been transported for stealing chickens and rabbits and eggs who had spent time in Newcastle Gaol with Marshall for rape before escaping with him in April 1840; ; Robert Chitty, an ex-soldier who had been transported for desertion and had once run away with a female convict he was meant to be escorting; and Richard Glanville, another transported deserter from the British army.
Despite not being the most senior member of the gang, Davis clearly commanded a great deal of respect among the other men and had proclaimed that they should never shed blood, and that if they were to take a life they would not reign a day.
Davis, with his new found success as a bushranger, cut a dashing, if odd, figure. His impish stature, freckled face, tattoos and curly hair were augmented by fine clothes and boots, pink ribbons on his hat and anywhere else he could manage, and rings on every finger. His presumably light weight would have helped him become a swift horse rider, a feat noted across the gang members. The gang soon built up a reputation as champions of the underdog as they made a point of not only sharing their loot with members of the convict class, many incidents occurred wherein the gang would punish cruel convict masters for their mistreatment. During a visit to Twickenham Downs station managed by Captain John Pyke, the bushrangers discovered that Pyke, in conjunction with Captain John Bingle of Puen Buen, had been taking it upon himself to punish convicts suspected of infractions with merciless beatings and floggings. Davis, incensed at this injustice, set up a court of his own and sentenced the men to fifty lashes apiece. The captains were then flogged with impunity with the same instruments of torture they had used to cause such suffering to the convicts in their charge. From their cave in Pilcher’s Mountain they would ride out to rob travelers and stations. It also appears that Davis soon became leader of the gang, perhaps the other bushrangers in the gang choosing to get behind him because of his greater grasp of diplomacy than Marshall or simply because he was more charismatic. Regardless of the reason, by the end of 1840 Davis would be known as the captain of the gang.
In December 1840 the gang were at their peak and perhaps a little cocky. A detachment of the bushrangers led by Marshall bailed up a bullock team that was accompanying the infamous Isabella Mary Kelly back to her farm. Kelly was renowned for her cruel and pernicious treatment of her assigned convicts as much as for her short temper. Marshall ordered Kelly to be tied up and searched and subsequently the pistol she carried was confiscated. The bushrangers took what they desired and began to ride off. Indignant, Kelly demanded her subordinates to remove her bonds and promptly took a small pistol from one of them, which she loaded and capped. Pursuing Marshall in a huff she caught his attention and he wheeled around on his horse to confront her. Not in the mood for words Kelly fired the pistol and struck Marshall in the shoulder. Badly wounded, Marshall took off and didn’t stop until he reached the gang’s hideout. Isabella Kelly may not have gotten her things back, but she taught the Jewboy’s gang a lesson they wouldn’t soon forget. Marshall struggled with his injury so Davis took a party into Dungog to find a doctor. They bailed up Dr. Ellar McKellar McKinley, the first surgeon of Dungog, and took him back to Pilcher’s Mountain to treat Marshall’s injury. Once the bullet was removed and the wound was treated the gang released the doctor without further incident.
Things rapidly fell apart when a raid in Scone went terribly wrong. On the 21st, the gang descended upon the town of St Aubins on the outskirts of Scone and split up, one group comprising of Davis, Everett and Glanville, robbed the St Aubin Arms hotel while Marshall, Shea, Chitty and an unknown seventh man, supposedly named Bryant, proceeded to ransack a store owned by Thomas Dangar. As the bushrangers left the store and mounted their steeds with their loot, John Graham, Dangar’s assistant, ran out to raise the alarm. Graham fired a shot at the bandits that whizzed past their heads, but as Graham turned and made a desperate bid to reach the authorities John Shea got spooked and shot him in the back. As Graham lay in the dirt, neighbours filtered out to see the commotion and were growled at by Shea to “Keep back! I’ve shot one, you’ll be the next.”
When the other party learned of the killing Davis instructed them to head to their camp at Doughboy Hollow.
At 7.00am Edward Denny Day led a posse (comprised of Edward White, Constable Shinquin of Muswellbrook, Constable Nolan, an assigned servant named Donohue, and ticket-of-leave men named Walker, Dawe, Evans and Kelly) to pursue the bandits and caught up with them at Doughboy Hollow. While the posse fanned out to take on the bushrangers, Day focused on the flamboyantly dressed Davis who tried to take cover behind a tree. As the posse and the bushrangers peppered the hollow with lead, Edward Denny Day fired and Davis returned the shot, using the fork of a branch to help him steady his aim. A second shot from Day crashed into Davis’ shoulder and Davis tumbled back into the scrub. The posse closed in and apprehended Davis along with Shea, Marshall, Everett and Chitty. Glanville and “Bryant” had made a successful break and legged it out of the hollow. Glanville would be captured the next day by a search party sent out that morning but “Bryant” was never to be heard from again. Glanville’s desertion was a source of much resentment from the rest of the gang who were, for some reason, astonished that a man who had been transported to Australia for deserting his post in the army would abandon them when they needed him most.
In the new year the gang were put on trial in Sydney. Shea was charged with murder, the others with aiding and abetting the murder. All were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Despite public outcry at the punishment of the men not directly responsible for the killing, led most vocally by none other than Michael John Davis, Teddy’s father, the sentence was carried out. On 16 March, 1841, the bushrangers were executed publicly at Old Sydney Gaol. Davis was attended by a rabbi from the Sydney Synagogue. It was noted in the papers that Edward Davis was the only repentant member of the gang on the scaffold that day.
In the years after the gang were executed, a great deal of romance was created around the flamboyant Jewish bushranger. As with many of the outlaws of the time, myth and fact were intermingled and the facts not well enough documented to properly tell the true story. Of the various untruths espoused in these articles were such fanciful notions as Davis being a kind of “kingpin” figure to whom criminals would flock and audition for a role in his gang and that he grew up in Port Macquarie. Posthumous articles portrayed the “Jewboy” as a folk hero and while some of his actions in life seem worthy, the reality was far less glamorous.
“CRIMINAL SITTINGS.—WEDNESDAY, FEB. 24.” Australasian Chronicle (Sydney, NSW : 1839 – 1843) 25 February 1841: 2. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31730988>.
“BUSHRANGER AS JUDGE.” Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 – 1954) 11 November 1927: 6. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138210308>.
“”JEWBOY” DAVIS” Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954) 4 July 1935: 8. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162519879>.
“THE PIONEERS EDWARD DENNY DAY” The Voice of the North (NSW : 1918 – 1933) 10 December 1931: 7. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article112243664>.
“WHEN THE JEWBOY ROAMED” The Scone Advocate (NSW : 1887 – 1954) 6 September 1935: 3. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article158990851>.
“HUNTER’S R[?] BUSHRANGING.” The Sydney Herald (NSW : 1831 – 1842) 29 December 1840: 2. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12867263>.