Spotlight: Frank Johns’ Statement

One of the men involved in the story of Captain Moonlite is Thomas Williams, the alias of Frank Johns. Johns was the son of a pious Ballarat family who had been employed as a confectioner before engaging in a career of lawlessness. It was during this time that he severely injured himself, his left hand being crushed by a roller. The plunge into lawlessness was a massive shock to Johns’ family and the community as he had always been known as a quiet and well behaved young man. While living as a bushranger, Frank Johns assumed the pseudonym of Thomas Williams, which was the name of a childhood friend of his from Sunday school. Naturally the father of the real Thomas Williams was shocked to read of his son’s apparent involvement in bushranging, however a little relief came when the truth emerged.

After his capture at McGlede’s farm, Johns was severely clubbed with a revolver causing multiple injuries to his head. At the end of proceedings, all defendants were found guilty in the murder of Constable Webb-Bowen and sentenced to death. The statement that follows was written by Johns in an effort to set the record straight as he saw it. When the sentence was put before the executive council, as per the usual process, Johns and Graham Bennett had their death sentences commuted to long prison terms due to their youth and clean records. Andrew Scott and Thomas Rogan were not spared their appointment with the hangman however.

Sadly, Johns may have avoided execution over the death of Webb-Bowen, but he was later hanged after killing a fellow inmate in prison. ~AP

[Source: The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 29/11/1879]

Wantabadgery Outrage.

THE BENNETT CASE.

JOHNS’S STATEMENT.

The following letter was addressed on July 2 to Mr. A. Campbell, M.L.C, by the convict Johns when under sentence of death:

‘I write at a gallop, without any premeditation a plain unvarnished statement of the truth. We met Bennett about eight miles from Gundagai, at a traveller’s hut on a station. He was alone, and told us he was on the tramp looking for work. In the course of conversation the Kelly gang was mentioned. He said that rather than do as they had done, or act dishonestly for a living, he would starve. Scott asked him what he thought of Moonlight — that is, himself. He said he heard but very little of him, but that little was enough to convince him that Scott was a villain.

The next morning (we all camped at the hut that night), he decided to come with us, little knowing on what errand Scott was. In the course of the day Bennett happened to catch a sight of Scott’s revolver under his coat in a pouch. He asked him what it was for Scott told him a telescope. But Bennett seemed suspicious of us after this ; and I heard Scott remark to Nesbit that Bennett knew we were armed, and he thought it advisable to keep him with us. Shortly after this we came to the station (which we afterward stuck up), and being treated rather roughly by the superintendent, Scott determined, to be master for awhile. All this time Bennett knew nothing of us. We were five then, and Scott thought it advisable to get another man, so as to make six. No one then would then be alone, he said, but we could always be in twos when doing anything. Scott expressed his intention of asking Bennett to join us, and, if he refused, to compel him. He then turned to Bennett and showed him his revolvers, telling him that he was Moonlight, and intended to stick up the station. As near as I can remember he used these words then, ‘You must do one of two things, either join us of your own accord and we will all share alike, or you must join us by compulsion.’ What Bennett answered I cannot just recollect, but I know he seemed not to be capable of realising the situation.’ ****

When we went down to the Murrumbidgee River to wait for sight, or a favorable chance to attack the station he (Bennett) wandered once unnoticed for the moment — while we were engaged in getting rid of the superfluous contents of our swags — away from us a little down the river. Scott told me to go and bring him back at the point of the revolver, if he refused to come quietly. ****

He came back with me, evidently seeing it was useless attempting to escape from five persons with arms. He came to the station with us. Scott instructed each of us to keep an eye on him, in case of what he called treachery. ****

I am perfectly certain that he did not shoot Bowen, for the ball found in the wound was fired from a Colt’s revolver (so it was proved by an expert in court), and the only men who had such revolvers were Scott and Nesbit. I know it was reported that Bennett shot Bowen ; but I don’t believe it. There was a favorite Colt’s revolver of Scott’s which I noticed did not appear in any of the courts after the affair.

I thought at the time, and still think, that Scott probably shot the man and then then threw this revolver away into one of the paddocks about. ****

Had justice been given Bennett he would have been discharged. Let the poor fellow go now. ****

In haste,— Frank Johns, or Thomas Williams.’

Source: “Wantabadgery Outrage.” Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931) 24 September 1885: 5.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s