Julia Dąbrowska is a long time follower of A Guide to Australian Bushranging, and an enthusiast for all things related to Jack Donahoe (also variously spelt Donohoe, Donahue et al). After many discussions about the topics of bushranging and Donahoe, I invited Julia to write about her experience of being so invested in the topic from so far away. Julia lives in Poland, not a place where one expects bushrangers to be known about, let alone one that doesn’t usually make the top five list of most infamous bushrangers. Hearing her perspective highlights the universal appeal of these figures and their stories, and sometimes it takes an “outsider” to draw our attention to something that has been under our noses the whole time.
Julia’s boundless enthusiasm for the story of the “Wild Colonial Boy” truly demonstrates that at their core these bushranger stories are very human, and there’s something deeply relatable about the themes that emerge as we explore the history of these rebels and bandits. I’m sure that you will enjoy reading Julia’s own account of discovering this slice of Australian history in a place so far away, and I am very appreciative that she took the time to write for the website.
There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Duggan was his name. He was born and raised in Ireland, in a place called Castlemaine.
Fortunately, I can recall what exactly caused me to develop interest in bushrangers. My earliest memory involved with bushrangers is listening to the song “Wild Colonial Boy” and learning its lyrics back in 2015, when I was just 14 years old. I imagined main character of the song – Jack Duggan (or Jack Doolan) like this :
I learned the lyrics of the song, I sang it at a campfire, but I did not know who the real person who inspired the song was. Jack Donahue – the Irish name speaks itself, who the person was. A tough, brave young man, who would always fight for what he believes in and who would choose death over surrendering. After discovering the story behind the song, I immediately started to read every article about Jack Donahue I could find. Although real-life Wild Colonial Boy was completely different to what I imagined in terms of appearance, his personality was exactly how I thought about him.
As O’Donahue made his escape to the woods he did repair
Where the tyrants dared not show their face by night and day
And every week in the newspapers there was published something new
Concerning that bold hero boy called brave Jack Donahue
Resign to you, you cowardly dogs its a thing I ne’er will do
For I’ll range these woods and valleys like a wolf or kangaroo
Before I’ll work for Government said bold Jack Donahue
When I’m thinking of Jack Donahue now, always the same image comes to my mind. A brave, determined young man, dressed in elegant clothes, shouting to policemen who ambushed him that he can defeat them all. A man who would never surrender, despite the fact that not surrendering means death.
I must say that I find Jack Donahue’s elegant style of clothing, typical for upper-class gentleman of the 1820s, as much astonishing as his daring and self-confidence. When one thinks about a bushranger – an escaped convict who hides in the bush, and therefore lives in very harsh conditions – the elegant clothes are the last thing that comes to mind. Jack Donahue was described as wearing a black top hat, blue coat lined with silk and white pleated shirt – a far cry from how I imagined a bushranger to have looked for the first time.
When hearing the word “bushranger”, most people would recall Ned Kelly, Ben Hall, Dan Morgan and Captain Thunderbolt – definitely the best-known bushrangers. Their stories are really thrilling, but the story of Jack Donahue is equally interesting. The story of Ned Kelly is more or less known even outside of Australia. That cannot be said about the story of Jack Donahue – it would be exceedingly difficult to find any non-Australian who knows his story.
Although story of Jack Donahue and his daring robberies is undoubtedly very thrilling, I must say that I feel somewhat sorry for him. For a young man, who was orphaned as a boy and spent all his childhood and teenage years living in poverty, without any perspectives for his future life, turning to a life of crime was the easiest way to survive.
I want the memory of Jack Donahue never to fade away. I learned the lyrics of “Bold Jack Donahue” and “Wild Colonial Boy”. I sing them on every Saint Patrick’s Day (as a homage to Jack Donahue being Irish) and on every campfire I go to. I wonder whether I am the first person in my country who sang them.
Jack Donahue – definitely extraordinary and complex character. Brave, tough, determined, clever – no wonder that he managed to gain a status of a folk hero and his story still appeals to imagination of many people (to my imagination too).
This is what do I find interesting about Jack Donahue.