Spotlight: Reward Notice for Thomas Jeffries

Thomas Jeffries may have referred to himself as “The Captain”, but he earned himself a more notorious nickname: The Monster. In his brief bushranging career, the former flagellator committed acts of robbery, murder, rape and cannibalism. Such was his reputation that after he was captured, Matthew Brady planned to break him out of Launceston Gaol just so he could have the satisfaction of lynching Jeffries himself.

Thomas Jeffries and John Perry, sketched while on trial.

The reward for Jeffries and his companions (Hopkins and Perry) would have been adequate inducement for people to turn them in, but bushrangers always proved much harder to catch than what the authorities seemed to be able to comprehend. Considering how high the reward for Jeffries got, it seems strange in hindsight that upon his initial absconding the reward for his capture was a measly £2, as he was just another runaway convict in the eyes of those offering the reward. It goes to show how sometimes when the greatest dangers are underestimated, tragedy ensues.

Source: Hobart Town Gazette (Tas. : 1825 – 1827; 1830), Saturday 7 January 1826, page 2

It may seem odd that the reward is measured in dollars so long before Australia adopted decimal currency, but there is a very good historical reason for this.

In the early days of colonial Australia, the government procured Spanish dollars to supplement the existing currency, of which there was not enough to go around due to a lack of exports. The scarcity of money had resulted in things like rum being used as currency, which was considered a big problem. In those days Spanish dollars were so common due to their use by the East India Company they were considered an almost universal currency. In order to prevent the coins being used outside of the Australian colonies, however, the coins had the centre punched out – these ring-shaped coins were called “holey dollars”. The punched out bits were also used as currency and were called “dumps”. It was not officially withdrawn as a currency until 1829, but there were still holey dollars and dumps in circulation until the 1840s.

A NSW holey dollar [Wikimedia Commons]

No doubt, the money would have made things very comfortable for an individual (for a while, at least), but without knowing where the monster and his band were, no amount of money would bring results. Fortunately, Jeffries was captured near Evandale by a small band, amongst whom was infamous bounty hunter John Batman.

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