Sydney Monitor (NSW : 1828 – 1838), Saturday 11 September 1830, page 4
CORONER’S INQUEST ON HIS BODY.
On Monday an Inquest was convened by MAJOR SMEATHMAN, Coroner, at the Fox and Hounds, kept by Henry Ball, Castlereagh Street, on the body of John Donohoe.
Henry Gorman. — I am a constable at Bargo; on the 1st of September I and several of the Mounted Police were encamped in the evening, about five o’clock, on Mr. Wentworth’s farm, Bringelly, when one who was on the look-out, said “here come two constables whom we expected?” they were then about a mile and a half distance; one of the Police said, “no they are bushrangers!” Three men were leading a packhorse; I and two of the Police-men took one side of a creek, and the serjeant and another man the other side; we made towards, and came up with them on some forest land; a man on the horse, who I thought was a bushranger named Walmsley, saw us first, and immediately jumped off; deceased took off his hat, and waiving it over his head, threw it in the air, saying, “come on! I am ready for a dozen of you!” The other two took off their coats and hats and went behind trees; we held a parley with them about twenty minutes, before a shot was fired, all parties being behind trees, when one of the Police-men fired, and nearly took down one of the men, who I thought was Webber; after this they appeared shy. Two of them fired their pieces at me, and I fired at them, but without effect on either side. One of the Police men named Mugglestone then fired and Donohoe fell. We chased the other two, but could not come up with them. On returning deceased was quite dead; the other two Police-men did not fall in with us till the Deceased fell; Mugglestone shot the deceased.
John Mugglestone, a private of the 39th regt, now in the employ of the Mounted Police, stated to the same effect, with the addition, that his carbine was loaded with two balls, and that they found on the horse’s back some flour, sugar, and women’s wearing apparel, and that deceased had a watch in his pocket.
Serjeant W. Hodson deposed to the same effect, but with the addition, that he knew the other two bushrangers to be Walmsley and Webber, and that he thought deceased was Donohoe as Dr. Gibson was robbed by him, and the Doctor knew him well, having been Juror when deceased was tried some ago. Deceased was in the agonies of death when he came up to him; he found on his person a small pistol and a watch, (watch produced) no money was on his person; on the horse was found a great many papers among the rest grants of land, transfers, and receipts. The deeds are made out in the name of “Denis Begly, Prospect” and the transfers in the name of Edward Wright (deeds and papers produced); Gorman loaded his piece with a carbine ball and pistol ball, which it appeared by Mr. Jilks had been lost only a week. The pack-horse or rather mare was aged, and marked E.S.
The Jury returned a verdict of Justifiable Homicide, without reference to identity. But from a wound in the cheek, and another under the cheek arising from scrophula, there is little doubt but the deceased is the notorious outlaw Donohoe. Donohoe’s life has no doubt been harrassing. But at the same time, it must be allowed that in comparison of the lives of the wretches at Moreton Bay, it was a happy life, and his death much less painful than those of scores who have deceased in that horrid settlement. And so long as such settlements exist, we doubt not we shall never want in this Colony either Donohoe’s and Dalton’s. It is fit and proper, that cruelty should be visited on the nation which practises it with retribution. God is just.
‘On Monday, as Mr. Scott and the Rev. Mr. Erskine were proceeding to Parramatta in a chaise, they were stopped by two armed bushrangers, who were on the point of robbing them, when one of the marauders recognised Mr. Scott as his former master at Emu Plains, on which he shook hands with him in a friendly manner, declaring he would never hurt a hair of his head; they then took to the bush.
A cast of the head of the notorious Donohoe is to be taken.
On Monday a prisoner named Joseph Smith was sentenced to receive one hundred lashes for knocking down Mr. Medley, Superintendent to Mr. George Allan, and nearly choking him.
WHEREAS JOHN DONOHOE, who was convicted of Highway Robbery, and received sentence of Death on the 1st March last, effected his escape while on his return from the Court House to the Gaol :– Notice is hereby given, that a reward of twenty pounds will be paid to any Person or Persons who may apprehend and lodge the said John Donohoe in one of His Majesty’s Gaols. Donohoe is a Native of Dublin 22 years of age, 5 feet 4 inches in height, brown freckled complexion, flaxen hair, blue eyes, and has a scar under the left nostril. He arrived in the Colony a prisoner, per Ann and Amelia, in 1825, and, was at the time of his committal for the above offence, in the service of Mr. Major West.
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.
“Surrender to such cowardly dogs is a thing I’ll ne’er do. This day I’ll fight with all my might,” cried Bold Jack Donahue.
Lyrics from Bold Jack Donahue. Traditional.
As with most bushrangers who transcend history to become enshrined in folklore, Jack Donahoe (aka Donohoe, Donahue) made the leap from brigand to legend in his final stoush with the forces of law and order. His recklessness in the face of death seemed to strike a chord with Australians of a certain class.
This year marks 190 years since Donahoe’s death, so it seems appropriate to recount the final battle that sealed his place in history.
Donahoe and his partners William Webber and John Walmsley had been ruling the roads, sheltered by sympathisers who kept them fed and clothed in clean garments. These merry highwaymen approached their occupation with great pluck and a level head, one time even liberating a victim of his rum by pouring it into a chamber pot that they took away with them. Naturally such flagrant lawlessness was causing the settlers to wring their hands in dread, lest they be bailed up on the road or have their homes raided.
As is typical of the press throughout Australian history, the more the bushrangers eluded the police, the more the press put them on blast. Donahoe in particular had become something of a celebrity and everyone seemed to have a story about being bailed up by him.
One could feasibly have overheard conversation in the pub that sounded like, “I was robbed by Donahoe on the Cobbity Road, I was! There he were, bold as brass, astride a cob with a pair of barking irons in his hands. ‘Up with your copper,’ says he. Who am I to refuse a bushranger? So I gives it him and off he trots waving his hat about and whooping like a mad owl! So as you can imagine, I’m a bit light on cash so you’ll have to pay for the ale this time, my handsome.”
In July, Donahoe had been shot in the right shoulder during a shootout. The wound had mostly healed, but not well, and continued to give him trouble. Victims described him as having visible stiffness in the shoulder, though it didn’t hinder him terribly. In the afternoons he and his colleagues would perform robberies then escape to their hideouts in the Parramatta region just before dark when the police were unable to track them properly.
The authorities were growing tired of chasing the bushrangers through the wilderness and were hoping for a breakthrough. This came in the form of locating one of the gang’s treasure troves in an old cave hideout, but the bushrangers were nowhere to be found. The search party, under Lieutenant MacAlister, magistrate of Argyle, with the assistance of an Aboriginal tracker referred to as “Black Jemmy”, decided to change tactics. Rather than root around for the bandits like a bushpig in search of truffles, they elected to split up and keep watch on hotspots where the fugitives were known to haunt.
Sergeant Hodson of the 57th regiment led a party of troopers to the vicinity of Bringelly. The team consisted of Hodson, two men named Muckleston and Warburton, Chief Constable Farley, Constable Gorman and some others. They spent a fortnight combing through the bush with no success and at sunset retired to their camp in a hollow on the property of a man named Wentworth. It is easy to imagine the frustration the mounted police were feeling after months of fruitless bush-bashing.
After yet another day without result, on the 1st of September 1830, Farley headed off on his grey horse to procure provisions as the rest of the party unsaddled their horses. It was about five o’clock when fate decided to throw the beleaguered bluebottles a bone.
A Fortuitous Arrival
The thing about bushranging that often gets overlooked is that riding horses through the bush is far more romantic than it is practical. The reality was that much of the time was spent travelling on foot, simply because it was a far more efficient way to get through tangled scrub and between the gnarled, twisted trees with branches that jut out at just the right height to peg out an incautious rider like washing. Thus, on the afternoon of the first of September the trio of Donahoe, Webber and Walmsley headed back to their hideout on foot. Of course, riding a horse in the bush is not the same as guiding one through it, and the bushrangers were leading a black packhorse laden with their ill-gotten gains into the scrub. No doubt they would have seen the police campfire about a mile away.
“‘Ere, do you see that fire over yonder?”
“Ah, probably some hapless gloak got stuck out in the bush as the sun went down. Pay it no mind; keep walking.”
And so it was that the police clapped eyes for the first time upon the men that had been causing them such frustration. They too opted not to mount up, dashing into the bush on foot to cut the bushrangers off, leaving two of their number to watch the camp. Hodson was determined to bring the bushrangers in by any means necessary. As the bushrangers approached a creek, Hodson decided to split the group up to get the bandits in a pincer movement should they cross. Hodson took two constables to the left, the others went on the right.
The right-hand party kept up with the fugitives seemingly undetected, but when they got within a hundred yards, the bushrangers knew something was up. Donahoe signalled to the others by taking off his hat and waving it. They ditched the packhorse and took shelter behind the trees. Being resourceful, they were equipped for battle already. Donahoe was the first to take a snap at the authorities.
“Come on you cowardly rascals, we’re ready if there’s a dozen of you!”
The Battle of Bringelly
Donahoe had long made it known that he’d rather receive his death on the receiving end of a musket ball than at the end of a rope. He even carried a small pistol secreted in his trousers so that in the event that he was captured he could shoot himself. Two of his previous colleagues had been sent to the gallows, one of whom suffered the trauma of his rope snapping once he fell through the drop. The poor fellow then had to wait for the executive council to decide whether he could be freed. They decided it was better to have another crack at making the bushranger dance on air, so the drama on the scaffold was played out a second time, and this time it went to plan. No doubt Donahoe was aware of how easily executions were botched and the thought of such indignity was unpalatable to him. It is not unlikely that such a fate was on his mind when he tried to encourage Webber and Walmsley to engage the troopers in battle with him.
For half an hour there was an awkward lull as both sides debated about starting the attack. Eventually it was the troopers that felt the itch in their trigger finger first. Warburton raised his firing piece and launched a ball at a tree where he had seen Webber take cover. This shot, however, only succeeded in hitting the tree trunk and sending a small shower of splinters flying out. The shot was only off by about an inch.
The bushrangers opened fire, exchanging shots with the police through the gloom and the ashen puffs of gun smoke. Though the firing was intense at such close quarters and under such limited cover none of the blows landed. Donahoe continued to taunt his attackers.
“Come on, I could beat the whole bloody colony! Charge, my boys!”
Donahoe’s reckless shouting and gesticulating made him the obvious target for Muckleston, whose aptitude with the rifle was well known. He watched the bushranger’s shelter like a hawk eyeing off a rodent in the grass, waiting for the opportunity to strike. He held his breath as Donahoe stuck his head out from cover to take aim. The smooth face and flaxen hair catching the last hints of light as darkness set in provided an ample target. Mucklesworth’s finger squeezed the trigger and his rifle kicked like a mule as it squeezed two lead balls out of the muzzle in a puff of smoke. They found their mark in the left temple and the neck of the man referred to as “Bold Jack”.
Seeing their leader fall, the others elected to give up and retreat. They ran at top speed deeper into the bush, discarding their hats, coats and shoes in order to facilitate an easier, more stealthy passage through the wilderness.
Abandoned by Webber and Walmsley, Donahoe lay on the ground, bleeding and barely conscious. As he gurgled his last breaths he must have realised that he had died as he had hoped – in battle, not on the scaffold. He hadn’t had to use his secret weapon after all. The battle had been as abrupt as it was violent.
The troopers attempted to follow Webber and Walmsley but by now the darkness had set in. They returned to Donahoe and his body was searched. As well as the horse pistol and rifle, the troopers found his secret pistol tucked away in his trousers pocket. The packhorse was also retrieved and searched. In the cargo were a watch, stolen bank documents, flour, meat and women’s clothes – hardly the treasure trove one would expect from a renowned highwayman.
The confrontation had been brief and violent. The constabulary had their prize lashed to the back of a packhorse and taken to Sydney. The body was then taken to the hospital where it was kept until the official procedures were carried out.
Sketches were made of the body laid out on the mortician’s slab, and a death mask was made by a tobacconist. Unlike later masks that were used for phrenological study, this mask would provide a reference for a collection of tobacco pipes shaped like the outlaw’s head, complete with bullet wounds. If contemporary accounts are to be believed, they were very popular.
After the inquest was conducted, Donahoe was buried in an unmarked grave in Raby. The lack of a marker or monument meant the bushranger’s admirers would have nowhere to go to spare a thought for the wild colonial boy.
With Donahoe buried, all that remained was to catch up with Webber and Walmsley. They would not remain at large long, and when the law finally caught up with them their true colours went on display.
Humans in the 21st century are obsessed with photography. For the vast majority of us we carry a camera in our pocket wherever we go thanks to smart phone technology. It’s incomprehensible to many of us that there was a time when photography didn’t exist or that even though it did, it was extremely rare. Perhaps the strangest thing of all is that over time many photographs have vanished due to poor preservation, unforeseen disaster, or the images being discarded by relatives with no knowledge of the people in the images. Bushranging history is a perfect example of how much history has either been lost or not even recorded in the first place.
There are a great many mysteries in the pictorial history of bushranging. Sometimes it seems that an image merely needs to be of a man with a beard for people to start claiming that it’s Ned Kelly. We’ve had notable cases of photographs claiming to depict Ned Kelly or members of his gang that have been debunked or dismissed, but none so infamous as “Gentleman Ned”.
When this portrait hit auction in 2001 people went nuts. A version of it was known to exist, having been published in newspapers and subsequently in Keith McMenomy’s Authentic Illustrated History of Ned Kelly, albeit in a poorer quality format with darkened hair and beard. Experts were brought in who placed the date to the mid-1870s when Ned was a free man making an honest living, Ian Jones even made the suggestion that the belt matched the converted saddle bag strap that was buckled around his body armour at Glenrowan (which is on display in the Ned Kelly Vault in Beechworth). Everyone was so convinced it sold for $19,000. Then further tests were done comparing a 3D digital model of Ned’s death mask with all known portraits of Ned and surprise, surprise, this was the odd one out. Many speculated about the identity of the man and no clear answers came up. To date nobody has solved the mystery of “Gentleman Ned”.
Then in 2016 another photo found its way to an auction house with a bizarre backstory to go with it. This image allegedly depicts three of the gang looking tough because the image was meant to be sent to the police to intimidate them. Already it’s sounding a lot like that joke about Chuck Norris sending the IRS a photo of himself crouched and ready to attack instead of his tax return. Furthermore, this photo was taken just after the Euroa bank robbery and Joe Byrne had to sign all the names because he was the only literate one. Oh, and the image is stamped with details of a photographic studio in Launceston because it was sent there for copies to be made. Nothing suss.
This photograph looks less like an intimidating gang of bushrangers and more like an album cover for a seventies Country and Western band. The detail of the faces is almost non-existent, making confirmation pretty much impossible. But, let’s imagine for a moment that the provenance checks out. Do these men look like the Kelly gang? Certainly there’s a passing resemblance to Dan, Ned and Joe Byrne (though the figure that resembles Joe is labelled as Steve Hart in different hand writing). Dan may have had a big moustache, which would explain all the etchings that portray him with one. Moreover the man in this image could very well be in his late teens, there’s no way to tell. The clothes are a sticking point. It was made a point in descriptions that the gang were well dressed and in the other portraits we have of Joe he’s definitely well dressed, the same not being the case for the Kelly brothers. In the only verified Dan Kelly portraits he’s wearing oversized hand-me-downs with a rope for a belt. In the only verified portrait of Ned outside prison he’s dressed in his undies and boxing shorts.
A prime example of how a misattribution can run rampant is in a photograph purported to have been of Captain Thunderbolt’s wife Mary Ann Bugg. It is important to note that Mary Ann was frequently referred to as a “gin”, meaning Aboriginal woman, owing to her half-indigenous heritage.
This image has been published and republished without attribution claiming to be Mary Ann Bugg. The cowboy hat was always conspicuous and the clearly Anglo-European features.
Then Google image search threw up this image.
It’s almost identical. Evidently it was taken in the same sitting as the first image. So what’s so remarkable about this other than the higher quality of the image? This one has a very specific attribution that conclusively disproves that the former image is Mary Ann Bugg. As it turns out, this is a photograph from around 1903, taken in New York of sharp-shooter and Wild West legend Annie Oakley, sourced for Wiki Commons from Heritage Auction Gallery.It is definitely going to be a disappointment to the many people who have been picturing this beautiful, flamboyantly dressed woman as a romantic female outlaw. There have even been artworks based on this image depicting The Captain’s Lady.
For further clarification here is another image of Annie Oakley:
And here is a photograph known to depict Mary Ann Bugg:
It doesn’t take Benedict Cumberbatch in a great coat to figure this one out, yet the romantic idea of Mary Ann Bugg means people will be drawn to an image incorrectly attributed to her as long as it fits the ideal, just like the alleged Kelly gang photo.
When we look back over the history of bushranging we can see that the vast majority of bushrangers have not been recorded visually. Jack Donohoe wasn’t depicted visually until his corpse was taken to Sydney. We have photos of relatives of Teddy the Jewboy but nothing at all of him personally. Even when photography took off in the 1860s and we got multiple portraits of people like Ben Hall in addition to etchings in the newspapers most of the Gardiner-Gilbert-Hall gang’s appearances can only be guessed at with no specific images of Peisley, O’Meally or Burke among others and the one photo depicting Johnny Gilbert may not even be him. A portrait of John Vane from around that time was replicated as an etching but the actual photograph appears to be missing. Without a visual record of these people it’s no wonder that they are often thought of so romantically. Donohoe seems far more gallant if you ignore the fact that he was a short, scrawny, straw-haired Irishman with freckles and a snub nose.
So in the end, just remember that the ability to capture images the way we do now is a privilege that previous generations could only dream of, and it might be worth looking into some old photo albums – you never know who might show up.
The first and possibly greatest bushranger Ballad is Bold Jack Donohue, a portrayal of the wild career of one of the most infamous bushrangers. Such was the perceived insidiousness of the song’s influence that singing it in public was banned for a time, along with several other bushranger songs. It provided the basic structure and content for the most famous bushranger ballad The Wild Colonial Boy. There have been a huge number of variants and each performance introduces something wildly unique in terms of lyrics or music as you will find clearly illustrated in the selection of videos below.
Bold Jack Donohue
In Dublin town I was brought up that city of great fame
My parents reared me tenderly there’s many did the same
Being a wild colonial boy I was forced to cross the main
And for seven long years in New South Wales to wear a convict’s chain
Oh I’d been no longer than six months upon Australian shores
When I turned out as a Tory boy as I’d often done before
There was Macnamara from yonder woods and Captain Mackie too
They were the chief associates of bold Jack Donahoe
As O’Donahue was taken for a notorious crime
And sentenced to be hanged all on the gallows high
But when he came to Sydney gaol he left them in a stew
For when they came to call the roll they missed Jack Donahue
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
As O’Donahue was walking one summer’s afternoon
Little was his notion that his death should be so soon
When a sergeant of the horse police discharged his carabine
And loudly called to O’Donahue to fight or else resign
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
Nine rounds the horse policeman fired till at length a fatal ball
He lodged it in O’Donahue’s breast and it caused him to fall
As he closed his mournful eyes to this world he bid adieu
Good people all both great and small pray for Jack Donahue
As one delves into the history and folklore of bushranging, the name Jack Donohoe comes up regularly, but there’s usually not a lot of clearly defined information to accompany the name. Donohoe has suffered the fate of Thunderbolt, Hall and Kelly – the myths have become ingrained in the story as much as the facts. Was Jack Donohoe really worthy of folk hero status?
Donohoe was born in Dublin, Ireland in around 1806 and was transported to Australia in 1825 for “intent to commit a felony” as a teenager. Donohoe was not fond of the prison life and as soon as the opportunity presented itself he absconded, taking to the bush. Teaming up with two fellow convicts, Kilroy and Smith, Donohoe engaged in a spot of highway robbery, bailing up three carts just outside Bathurst. The gang got away with a little cash and a keg of rum but were found soon after and tried. Found guilty of highway robbery, the trio were sentenced to hang but the legend of “Bold Jack” Donohoe was just about to begin. Somewhere along the line between Bathurst Gaol and court Donohoe managed to escape custody without being noticed until muster was called. The frantic search turned up zilch and Donohoe went bush in pursuit of pastures new. Kilroy and Smith on the other hand met their fate on the gallows in a disturbing display of the incompetence of colonial executions.
Donohoe never worked alone, understanding the importance of division of labour and, perhaps, safety in numbers. Ganging up with eight other bushrangers led by native-born William Underwood, Donohoe quickly made his mark on colonial New South Wales. The robberies were many and the spoils great. Donohoe himself dressed as an upwardly mobile gentleman in his navy blue coat and top hat. It was at this time that the bushrangers understood the value of a sympathiser network, making an effort to reconnect with former convict colleagues that had done their time and acquired properties and businesses for themselves. The gang would provide goods to their friends from their crimes and in turn the sympathisers would provide shelter and protection.
A noted distinction of this gang of Bathurst bushrangers was their ruthlessness. Whereas bushrangers like Matthew Brady, who operated around the same time, had a code of honour in a vainglorious effort to affect an air of decency, Donohoe’s gang believed the end justified the means which is why a disastrous raid on the farm of James Hassall saw the bushrangers use the station staff as human shields during a gunfight. By luck or by providence there were no fatalities. The outrages had caused quite a stir in the community and police forces were mobilised in a search for the notorious bushrangers. One such party stumbled upon the bushrangers’ camp, still kitted out with their tools and supplies, and waited for the men to return. When the gang arrived at camp they were escorting some freshly pinched cattle but seeing the police sitting around their fire they decided to engage them in a gunfight – a bad decision. For the next two hours the bushrangers and police battled each other, at one point the police stopping to eat the bushrangers’ dinner rations and inviting them to join. In the end nearly the entire gang was dead or captured with Donohoe one of the lucky ones to escape. A couple of days later the party encountered the remaining bushrangers and opened fire killing Donohoe’s mate and badly wounding Donohoe’s left arm.
In late 1830 Donohoe and Underwood were accompanied by William Webber and William Walmsley on their various depradations. Once more Donohoe was in top form but the success was short lived and the men soon resorted to raiding the farms of poor and well-to-do alike. A common modus operandi was for the gang to denude their victims and make them stand on the side of the road stark naked (save for their shirt if they were lucky) while their clothes were rifled through in search of hidden treasures. At this time Underwood mysteriously disappeared and it is supposed he was murdered by other members of the gang when they discovered that he had been keeping a journal of their exploits. However the more likely scenario is that he simply took his leave of the gang as he was allegedly shot by police in 1832. Regardless of the veracity of these claims the remaining trio continued business as usual. The robbery of Mr. Eaton proved to be one of the more horrifying of the gang’s acts. During the robbery Eaton was shot and as he lay mortally wounded on the road the gang stripped him and took all they desired, leaving Eaton on the road where locals found him and took him home where he could be seen by a doctor. With the gang becoming ever more desperate the road for Donohoe was soon to reach a short end at Bringelly.
A police party had once again found the gang’s camp and when they were returning from visiting sympathisers nearby they were set upon. Donohoe took cover behind a tree and taunted the police. Little did he realise he was facing some of the best marksmen New South Wales had to offer and as he poked his head around he was shot in the throat and temple. As Donohoe lay dying his confederates ran away. When Donohoe’s body was searched a small pistol was found in his coat which was supposedly reserved in the event that he should need to take his own life to avoid being taken alive.
After Donohoe died a mold was made of his head for a death mask by a tobacconist. There were two castings made from the mold, prominently showing the bullet wound in his forehead, both have vanished over time. Clay pipes were made of Donohoe’s likeness, the bowl of the pipe sculpted based on the death mask. These morbid curios were quickly snapped up. Songs were written about him, his exploits and his death; nearly all of them were tremendously inaccurate, but the most prominent was a ballad titled Bold Jack Donohoe which later provided a basis for the more famous Wild Colonial Boy that lifted its lyrical content heavily from the former.
As for Webber and Walmsley, Webber was soon shot down by police and Walmsley turned informer in an attempt to overturn his own execution. Walmsley dobbed in all of their sympathisers resulting in dozens of men and women losing their farms and livelihoods and returning to convict status. Despite this Judas act Walmsley met his end on the gallows all the same, the slipknot was the one thing he couldn’t weasel out of.
“BUSHRANGERS—NOTED AND NOTORIOUS” Truth (Brisbane, Qld. : 1900 – 1954) 20 January 1935: 36.
“TERRIBLE HOLLOW.” Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954) 24 March 1932: 4
White, C. History of Australian Bushranging Volume I. Angus and Robertson, 1900.
In 1827 Jack Donohoe teamed up with two fellow convicts named George Kilroy and William Smith. Taking to the bush they robbed a man named Plomer. Found guilty of highway robbery, the trio were sentenced to death but Donohoe escaped from Bathurst Gaol and avoided his appointment with the hangman. What happened to his mates?
William Johnson, for murder, and two other criminals, named Kilroy and Smith, for highway robbery, underwent the awful sentence of the law on Monday last. The unhappy men abstained from addressing themselves to the multitude assembled for the purpose of witnessing the dreadful spectacle. Though silent, they appeared extremely devout. The Reverend Messrs. Cowper and Horton attended Johnson and Smith, whilst their hapless associate, Kilroy, received consolation through the Reverend Mr. Power, the Roman Minister. At about 20 minutes to ten o’clock, the fatal signal was given the pin that supported the drop was withdrawn, the drop fell! Horrible to behold, however, the rope that was to have suspended the centre culprit, Smith, snapped about half way, and the unhappy creature fell senseless against the foot of the gallows, whilst the other two were apparently dead in an instant. After a few moments the wretched man recovered, to be again susceptible of all the horrors of his situation. He did not appear to suffer much in his body from the dreadful fall but dismay, and anguish the most bitter, were portrayed in his looks. He was relieved from the broken cord, and supported on one of the coffins, when the Reverend Mr. Horton resumed the task of attempting to impart spiritual instruction to the unhappy man’s mind, by directing him to look to ” another and a better world.”
As it was impossible to fulfil the sentence on the culprit, until the other bodies were suspended the usual time, the Sheriff, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Cowper, proceeded to Government-house, and acquainted the Governor with the heart-rending occurrence, for the purpose of ascertaining whether it were possible that clemency could be extended. HIS EXCELLENCY, however, who was aware of the painful consideration which the case of the unhappy criminal, Smith, had received by the Executive Council, and as he had committed no less than three highway robberies (one of which was attended with extreme violence, and that in one day, though he had only arrived in the Colony in August last-we say, HIS EXCELLENCY was reluctantly constrained to declare that he could not interfere with the operation of the law; and everyone must feel satisfied, if mercy could have been exercised with propriety, the life of this hapless wretch would have been spared. When the Sheriff returned to the press-yard, and announced to the unhappy man that the law must take its course, he seemed no way horror-stricken at the result of the application which he understood had been made in his behalf. Whilst the bodies of Johnson and Kilroy were lowered from the gallows Smith was removed; and, upon the bodies being placed within the coffins and the drop re-adjusted, Smith was assisted to the platform, when his earthly sufferings speedily terminated.
‘Ere this painful subject is dismissed, we cannot help remarking that this constitutes the second or third accident of the kind that has occurred within the last two or three years, and as it is a circumstance of that description wherein casualty should be always carefully prevented, we feel it our duty to condemn the practice of hazarding the possibility of increasing the sufferings of hapless criminals, who have justly forfeited their lives, by not, having recourse to those kind of instrument — that species of cord or rope — which would ensure the speedy destruction of life. Bale rope, we are informed, and indeed it has been proved in several instances, is not adapted to the executioner’s purpose; and we have no doubt, in future, that the sufferings of a poor wretch will not be prolonged, nor public feeling harrowed up, by a repetition of that which, we hope and trust, will never again occur in this Country.
“Execution.” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842) 26 March 1828: 2.