Jack Bradshaw is one of the most peculiar bushrangers. Renowned for his longevity, questionable reliability as a narrator and his books on the bushrangers, he was a small time bushranger at the right place in the right time to rub elbows with greatness. However, much of what Bradshaw told of his own life is dubious at best and many question the legitimacy of calling him a bushranger in the first place.
Born in 1846 in Dublin, Ireland, Bradshaw emigrated to Australia on May 9, 1860 but unfortunately the relatives that brought him to Australia died not long after his arrival and so as an orphaned teen he was left to find his own way in the world. He tried to make a living in Melbourne but soon exhausted his funds and decided to try his luck on the diggings in the Ovens River district. At this point Bradshaw managed to make a bit of money by shooting cockatoos to sell to the diggers for seven shillings a week but soon his gaze was cast on other horizons.
Taking up the life of the swagman was not something uncommon in these times. Working in one place for a lifetime was almost unheard of for the labouring class and itinerant workers would almost always find employment on the road from stations that needed shearers, harvesters or stockmen of varying capacities. Bradshaw became a shearer and station hand but he still couldn’t settle down – there was something calling him to a life of crime. It would appear, at least according to his own accounts, that at this time he befriended one Daniel Morgan. He stated that Morgan treated him with great kindness and dignity at a time when he was often mistreated by all others. When Morgan was killed at Peechelba Station near Wangaratta and his headless remains unceremoniously dumped in a wooden box in Wangaratta Cemetery, it was Bradshaw who placed a marker on the grave – a sign attached with wire to an old iron bedpost. Bradshaw soon began his career as a huckster and con man in order to swindle his way through Victoria and New South Wales, and he was reasonably proficient at it. Working with “Professor Bruce” Bradshaw would scope out towns and upon finding a suitable one Bradshaw would learn as much information as possible about various townsfolk. When Bradshaw had gathered enough information the alleged professor would roll into town and start giving out phrenological readings for a fee. Using the information provided by his accomplice, Professor Bruce would give eerily accurate readings of a person based on the shape of their head. This enterprise worked a charm but was still not enough to satiate Bradshaw’s criminal leanings.
Jack Bradshaw fell in with two bumbling rogues who operated under the intriguing pseudonyms “Red Lance” and “After Dark”. It was with these two that Bradshaw first entertained the idea of bank robbery. Deciding the bank at Merriwa was the perfect target, the three headed to the town and prepared to put their plans into action. On the night before the appointed strike Red Lance got kicked by his horse and ended up in hospital and After Dark lost his own steed. As Bradshaw and After Dark were readying themselves they foiled a thief who had robbed the till of a store. Pocketing the money themselves when they pretended to be constables, they sent the thief on his way believing he’d just narrowly missed getting nicked. Bradshaw and After Dark then stuck up a man they believed to be the bank manager. It turned out to be a neighbouring storekeeper. This error proved to be enough to spook the crooks and they took off into the bush without having achieved anything. This was the last time Bradshaw would be involved with the pair. Bradshaw seemingly decided to make his own way and did so for a considerable amount of time until he encountered “Lovely” Riley.
“Lovely” Riley was a stock thief and bushranger whose real name was John Mulholland and was frequently mistaken for “Riley the Bushranger” who had inherited Thunderbolt’s territory in New England. Riley had many nicknames over the course of his career but Bradshaw knew him as “lovely” for his unfortunate visage and generally unkempt and dirty appearance. Bradshaw’s taste for bank robbery was still unsatisfied and the pair decided to descend upon the bank at Quirindi in May 1880. In typical Bradshaw style it all went belly up almost as soon as it began. They bailed up the bank manager, Richard Allen, which was a great start, and were making headway until the revelation of what was happening out back. The commotion in the bank had roused the manager’s wife who was at that very moment in labour and naturally not in the mood to have her husband pulled away from her side by a pair of gormless bushrangers and emerged from the back room to give the pair the tongue lashing of a lifetime. Being at least wise enough to know when they were licked Bradshaw and Riley took off. They had been beaten this time but they would be back. On the eve of June the pair struck again and successfully liberated the bank of £488 in gold and cash. Having descended upon the bank, they bailed up Allen in the stables and took him at gunpoint into the back room where Mrs. Allen and her sister were. Riley and Bradshaw were disguised in a mask and blackface and proceeded to raid the whiskey supply. After they had sufficiently drank they became more insistent that Allen cooperate and the beleaguered bank manager finally opened the safe for the robbers. Jubilant, the bushrangers did what any rogue would do with such a haul – they went on a pub crawl. As the men became increasingly liquored up Riley began to get a bit more talkative and started letting slip about the bank raid. Bradshaw saw the risk in remaining with Riley at this time and took his cut of the money and ran.
Under the pseudonym George Davis, Bradshaw made his way to Armidale. Finding work on Mihi Creek, he began to woo the daughter of a wealthy landowner. His charms were working in overdrive but it paid off and he was soon married to the heiress. The union soon produced a daughter named Gertrude. Everything seemed to be going well for the bushanger who was now into his forties until the seeds of his past actions bore the fruits of his labours. Bradshaw was arrested in November for his involvement in the Quirindi robbery and was sentenced to twelve years in gaol thanks to evidence provided by Joseph Goodson, a professional tattletale who claimed to have been party to the robbery but due to drawing a short straw had been required to sit the robbery out. While Riley and Bradshaw went to gaol Goodson earned £200 and the life-long ire of Bradshaw.
Initially locked up in the infamous Berrima Gaol, Bradshaw was transferred after nine months to Parramatta where he kept his head down in prison and managed to get out after nine months in 1888 and return to his family. His wife continued to dote on him despite his criminality and this seemed to be enough for Bradshaw to keep his nose clean for a while. Unfortunately Bradshaw couldn’t suppress his urges indefinitely and was soon busted robbing mail bags and landed in gaol once more, this time in Armidale Gaol. It was during this interment that he began to make a note of the stories told in the gaol and committed them to memory.
When he finally got his liberty in 1901, Bradshaw decided to do something with his notorious past and the wealth of stories he learned in the clink. No doubt there was much for Bradshaw to adapt to in the newly federated Australia and he occupied his time traveling and collecting more stories, meeting relatives of the great bushrangers and writing a book detailing the stories as he knew them. The result was his magnum opus – The True History of the Australian Bushrangers. The book was published in 1930 and was sold in the Sydney Domain where he would travel to from his room in Woolloomooloo and set himself up every Sunday and imparted his tales to anyone that would listen. This was then followed by years of Bradshaw traveling door to door selling his self-published tomes for a sixpence each. He later produced more works detailing his own exploits as well as those of his more notable contemporaries.
Bradshaw had very strong views about many of the big names in bushranging. While he held Ben Hall, Captain Thunderbolt and Dan Morgan in high esteem he considered Frank Gardiner to be nothing more than a scoundrel who was a major factor in ruining the lives of the young men who took to bushranging under his influence and considered the Clarke gang to be the most dangerous bushrangers in history. In 1931 he sued The Herald and Weekly Times for £1000 over comments published in their papers that he deemed injurious to his reputation.
In the end Bradshaw ended up as a pauper and fell back on his Catholic faith. He was described by those that knew him at the end as incredibly gentle and humble. Cared for initially by a Mrs. Connelly in Darlinghurst, when she fell ill he was sent to St Joseph’s Little Sisters of the Poor Home at Randwick. At the ripe old age of ninety Jack Bradshaw, self-proclaimed last of the bushrangers, passed away in January 1937 and was buried in the Catholic portion of Rookwood cemetery.
“Bradshaw, Last Bushranger, Dies At 90” The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950) 14 January 1937: 2
“The Story Of Jack Bradshaw Last Bushranger” The Labor Daily (Sydney, NSW : 1924 – 1938) 15 January 1937: 12.
“BUSHRANGER REPUTATION” Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931) 19 March 1931: 6.
“Jack Bradshaw” The Henty Observer and Culcairn Shire Register (NSW : 1914 – 1950) 19 March 1937: 5.
“Jack Bradshaw.” The World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955) 29 December 1951: 25.
“BUSHRANGER REPROVES HORSE THIEF” Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954) 12 November 1933: 21.
“THE QUIRINDI BANK ROBBERY.” Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954) 5 June 1880: 9.
Morton, J, and S Lobez. Gangland Robberrs. Victory Books, 2016.