One of the most popular highwaymen of the earlier half of the 19th century, William Westwood arrived in Australia as a teenager and soon became one of the most renowned highwayman in Australian history using the pseudonym Jacky Jacky (also spelled Jackey Jackey) but met a grisly end on Norfolk Island.
William Westwood was born on 7 August, 1820 and was raised in Kent. As a youth he was employed as an errand boy but as a result of stealing clothing he soon found himself transported with 310 other convicts on the convict ship Mangles on 18 March, 1837. Westwood was a refined young man with a decent education for the time and a strong grasp of language, and he conversed freely with anyone he came across.
He was stationed near Goulburn for three years, during which time he was employed as an assigned servant to Phillip King at Gidleigh. Westwood, like so many other convicts, had itchy feet thanks to the treatment he received. Suffering at the hands of his master who saw fit to beat and whip the boy at even the slightest offence, in early 1839 Westwood absconded from his assignment. Teaming up with notorious bushranger Paddy Curran, Westwood planned to become a gallant highwayman. Unbeknownst to Westwood, Curran was extremely violent and his morals were diametrically opposed to Westwood’s in just about every way, but none so conspicuous as his attitude to women. During a house raid, Westwood walked in on Curran in the process of raping the lady of the house. Westwood was nigh on apoplexy when he stopped Curran from proceeding and threatened to shoot him, and stripped him of his horse, arms and ammunition before sending him on his way. Westwood decided he would work alone rather than associate with such a despicable person. Assuming the sobriquet “Jacky Jacky”, Westwood became a scourge of the highways.
News of Westwood’s daring deeds began to spread through the region. On one occasion it was claimed he bailed up a commissary and upon discovering the commissary’s wife was in the coach, opened the door, swept the ground with his cabbage tree hat in a gentlemanly manner and invited her to dance with him, a request that she obliged. This and many other anecdotes have no tangible evidence to back them however, likely owing more to the romantic idea of the highwayman folk hero than actual fact. Some accounts attested to his masterful horsemanship; in one story he reputedly bailed up a man in Goulburn and implored him to note the time, then a few hours later he bailed up another gentleman near Braidwood, almost 100 kilometers away, and implored him to do the same in order to set a personal record. His taste for race horses was nigh on insatiable, with him stealing such creatures from Terrence Murray, a Mr. Julian on the road from Bungendore, and several others in the region either on the roads or from farms. He robbed the Queanbeayan mail, and robbed Mr. Edinburgh among several others on the Sydney road.
On the afternoon of Monday 11 January, 1841, Jacky Jacky stole a black mare from Mr. McArthur before attempting to rob a mailman that night at Bungonie whereupon shots were fired. The next day he raided a store at Boro Creek where he procured fine garments and dressed himself in haute couture so that he may cut a fine figure while about his nefarious deeds, including a rather fetching top hat. Such was the extent of his outrages that the entirety of the mounted police in the region, black trackers included, were led by Lieutenant Christie and a Mr. Stewart in hot pursuit.
On 13 January, 1841, things came to a head when a man arrived in Bungendore shouting that he was being chased by a bushranger who meant to shoot him. Sure enough, Jacky Jacky soon arrived on a stolen horse, riding through Bungendore for fully an hour and a half, stopping only to have a chat with a man named Eccleston. Soon word reached the local magistrate Powell who went with his brother Frank and a local man named Richard Rutledge to capture the infamous bushranger despite a distinct lack of weapons with which to defend themselves against the armed bandit. Alas after the posse hesitated in approaching the rogue, Jacky Jacky caught wind of them and mounted his steed, riding off at full gallop. The men gave chase. A man named William Balcombe was riding ahead with Revered McGrath in a gig . Stopping the gig in the road, McGrath and Balcombe got out and Balcombe confronted the bandit, McGrath pulling a revolver on him. Westwood surrendered, complaining that he could have gotten away if his musket were not in such poor shape. The desperado was escorted back to the local inn where he was detained. However, Jacky Jacky was not ready to go down without a fight and during the night he overpowered one of his guards and stole his weapons. He bolted out of the inn and across the plains. This did not go unnoticed and Frank Powell saw the fugitive legging it through the open space. Powell fired a pistol at Westwood without effect and gathered more firearms from inside before heading off in hot pursuit with a postman, who had become embroiled in the affair by accident. Soon Jacky Jacky was once more apprehended. But the next day while being escorted to Bargo Brush, Westwood escaped custody on foot. He made it a mile away before being recaptured. Not in the mood for any nonsense, the police tied Westwood to his horse for the remainder of the trip. That night, Westwood broke out of the lock up and stole the guard’s weapon and ammunition before taking a horse and riding to freedom.
The beginning of the end came when he called into the Black Horse Inn on the Berrima Road. Westwood casually walked in and ordered refreshments. He then proceeded to bail the place up. Folklore tells that he was served by Miss Gray, the publican’s daughter, who recognised that this man with pistol braces and fine clothes must be the infamous Jacky Jacky. She screamed and pounced on the bushranger, who fought to throw the girl off as she called for her mother and father. All three tried to restrain Westwood who shook them off time and again until a man named Waters, a carpenter that had been repairing shingles on the inn’s roof, entered and knocked Westwood out cold by knocking him on the head with a shingling hammer. In truth it was Grey, the publican, and two assigned servants, Waters and McCrohan, who subdued the bushranger who took two fierce blows to the head with the shingling hammer to go down. With Westwood captured, the Grays earned themselves a cool £30 reward and Westwood was quickly locked up in Wooloomooloo Gaol.
Westwood was put on trial for robbing the store at Boro and was sentenced to penal servitude for life. He was sent to Darlinghurst Gaol but was shortly caught trying to escape. He was then imprisoned on Cockatoo Island where he organised a party of twenty five other convicts to join him in an escape attempt. Escape from Cockatoo Island was considered impossible, but the impossible was no deterrent for Jacky Jacky. The gang overcame a guard and tied him up. Breaching the boundaries they made it to the water and were about to risk sharks and drowning to swim to Balmain but were deftly captured by the water police. The New South Wales government had had enough of the troublesome Englishman and sent him to fulfill his sentence in Van Diemen’s Land with his co-conspirators. The men were put in the brig of the prison ship, naked and shackled in an attempt to prevent any attempts to escape. This of course failed and the men broke free from their cages and tried to reach the deck. Soldiers battened down the hatches and kept things thus until arrival at Port Arthur. When the hatches were opened the prisoners were unconscious in the brig having been denied food and oxygen due to the captain’s decision not to risk opening the hatches to take food to the men during the several day trip. Westwood managed to escape from Port Arthur and resume bushranging. A few days later he was nabbed again and sent to Glenorchy Probation Station where, as could be anticipated, he once more escaped and took to bushranging, making it all the way into Hobart Town. Now having exasperated the Van Diemen’s Land government too, he was sentenced to death. The penalty was altered to penal servitude for life at Norfolk Island and Westwood found himself once more sailing to exile.
In February of 1844, there was a change of administration at Norfolk Island. Alexander Maconochie, the previous man in charge, had firmly believed in the benefits of rehabilitating offenders rather than simply punishing them and to this end he reduced work hours, including a work-free Sunday, and created a “marks” system that meant that good behaviour would be rewarded. Flogging incidents were decreased but still strictly enforced in cases of sodomy, which were rampant throughout the prison. Perhaps the most significant measure Maconochie had brought in was vegetable patches. Inmates were given small gardens within which they could grow their own sweet potatoes and other vegetables, and were also given cooking pots and utensils so that they could cook their own meals, allowing them to eat in their cells in privacy. Only able to enact these reforms with the 600 newest inmates, the reforms were still considerably effective with morale high and major incidents in the prison reduced. Despite Governor Gipps’ recommendations to the government to continue Maconochie’s residency at Norfolk Island, the decision had already been made and Major Joseph Childs became the new Commandant. As a military man with wide campaign experience and a strict disciplinarian he decided to institute a few changes to bring the convicts under his thumb. To this end incidents of flogging were increased, hours of labour were also increased, rations were reduced and small gardens the prisoners were allowed and the produce they had been growing therein were banned. In a half-hearted attempt to respond to complaints the administration allowed convicts a cup of peas and a cup of flour every day. Unsurprisingly this was not met with the gratitude that was expected by the administration and Childs set in place a proclamation whereby food was to be served in bulk and individual cooking was prohibited. When the inmates were at work their utensils were confiscated on 1 July, 1846. This was the final straw and Westwood incited a work party to take up arms against the guards and administration of the island. Approximately 1,600 inmates joined in. Armed with a cudgel, Westwood claimed first blood when he clubbed a particularly despised guard to death. He then took up an axe and headed to the barracks, followed by a seething horde of convicts. Here he entered the kitchen and murdered the cook and upon spying two sleeping soldiers in an adjoining room, used the axe to stave in the skull of one soldier which aroused the other. The soldier, seeing Westwood before him with the bloodied axe, begged “Please, think of my wife and children!” to which the unrepentant bushranger replied “Wife and children be damned.” Westwood then killed the soldier as brutally as the others. Still not satiated, but needing a moment of respite from the mayhem he had caused, Westwood filled a pipe with a plug of tobacco and had a smoke while the convicts rampaged around him. Westwood, having had his respite, took up his axe and headed for the commandant’s building. Bursting into the building with an escort, Westwood sought out the commandant. The commandant had secreted himself in a small storeroom adjacent to his office. Westwood tracked him down and took a swing at him, narrowly missing the commandant’s head as he ducked to avoid the blow. Managing to escape, the commandant roused a force of troops that descended upon the marauders and subdued them.
Westwood and eleven other key figures in the riot, including bushranger Lawrence Kavanagh, were tried in September and charged with the murders. The evidence was irresistible and the men were all sentenced to execution by hanging. The morning of his execution, Westwood wrote a letter to the reverend of Port Arthur and also wrote a declaration that he was the only guilty party in the offence that all twelve sentenced men were convicted of. On 13 October, 1846, William Westwood was hanged for his crimes. He was twenty-six years old. A cast was made of his face and is the only visual record we have of the dashing young outlaw. Westwood was buried with the other hanged men in a mass grave called Murderer’s Mound on the boundaries of the prison. Such was the impact of the riots that the commandant was fired from his post and calls were made for the Norfolk Island penal colony to be shut down and the inmates transferred to Port Arthur.