Spotlight: Prison Record of William Brookman


William Brookman was not a prolific bushranger, nor was he particularly noted in most history books. He was a member of the gang of Jerry Duce, real name Williams, former lieutenant of Robert Cottrell aka Bluecap. Duce had formed his own gang after Bluecap was captured and they were high end bushrangers worthy of being counted alongside the Ben Hall Gang – at least for a while.

Teenage Brookman was with the gang when they struck at Mossgiel and robbed locals at a racing meet. They then moved on to a store where they encountered Constable McNamara. The policeman wrestled with Brookman whose pistol went off, injuring the officer. In the scuffle Brookman and Duce were overpowered and arrested but their confederates Kelly and Payne bolted at the first sign of trouble.

Duce and Brookman were sentenced to death for wounding with intent to kill but the sentence was commuted to 15 years each. Brookman was released from prison on 8 March 1875 and what he did next was not recorded.

Bushranging: A Man’s World? 

Without doubt the world of bushrangers is dominated by men. However there are three notable female bushrangers who more than hold their own with their male counterparts. Here are the three lady bushrangers of note who stand toe to toe with the best of them.

“Black Mary” Cockerill

The first notable female bushranger is a companion of the infamous Michael Howe, an Aboriginal woman known as “Black Mary”. Previous little has actually been recorded about Mary, so much of what is available is often misreported, based entirely on unverified oral tradition or pure fiction.

Some accounts state that Mary was raised by a family of white settlers and was lured away to a life of adventure and banditry by Howe, while others state that Mary was one of several Aboriginal women kidnapped by the gang of bushrangers Howe was a leading member of during a violent raid that helped kick-start racial conflict in Van Diemens Land. Neither of these accounts are based in recorded evidence. Mary was first recorded as accompanying Howe’s gang in a raid on the property of Dennis McCarty in April 1815 and was frequently spotted with them thereafter as they raided the farms of prominent men in New Norfolk. Mary was not the only Aboriginal woman in the gang, but was the only one whose name was ever published.

As time went on and events escalated, Howe’s gang began to split up. There have been many inaccurate accounts of Mary’s relationship with Howe from this time, all of which seem to have taken a reference to her having once been his partner as an indication they were lovers. In fact, Mary’s role in the gang was more than likely to act as a scout and keep the gang away from Aboriginal tribes while they were moving through the bush. Claims that Mary became pregnant, again, are not based in fact but in fanciful, posthumous retellings.

Mary’s time with the gang came to an abrupt close when she and Michael were ambushed near the Shannon River. As they were attempting to outrun the soldiers, Howe fired back at them. Reports vary as to whether the shot actually hit Mary, let alone whether the hit was accidental or an act of desperation as she was slowing him down. Michael dumped his weapon and knapsack and took off into the bushes, leaving Mary behind. It is possible that Mary struggled to keep up because of a heart condition. Nevertheless she was captured by the soldiers and interrogated.

Though it is assumed that Mary was tortured, reports indicate that she was actually plied with new clothes and food in order to butter her up and encourage her assistance. This seemed to work and she agreed to help the military locate Howe and his bushranger colleagues. She led them to a spot where she knew the gang hid out, and the soldiers spotted Howe with two of his mates, who immediately gestured insultingly at them before vanishing into the bush. Mary continued to assist the government thereafter, working as a tracker.

Folklore suggests it was Mary who lured Howe to his doom in 1818, however this is yet another fabrication. Howe was lured into a trap, stabbed in the back then clubbed to death and decapitated for the reward on his head. Mary died in the Colonial Hospital in July 1819 of pulmonic affliction.

Mary as portrayed by Rarriwuy Hick in “The Outlaw Michael Howe”

Mary Ann Bugg

Mary Ann Bugg was a half-Aboriginal woman who was born in the 1834 in an outstation of the Australian Agricultural Company. Well educated for her class and time, Mary Ann married an ex-convict named Baker but remarried in 1851 to a man named John Burrows to whom she had two sons. By 1855 she was with a new fella, another ex-convict named James McNally. The couple had three children: Mary Jane, Patrick William and Ellen. She would soon achieve infamy as the female accomplice of Frederick Wordsworth Ward aka Captain Thunderbolt. In love with the romance of their lifestyle as much as Ward himself, Mary Ann referred to herself as The Captain’s Lady.

Fred Ward met Mary Ann while out of prison on a ticket of leave. Mary Ann was already married at the time but that could not stop the two from having a passionate affair. As a result Mary Ann became pregnant and Fred Ward decided to take her to her family home in Dungog for the birth. That was all well and good in theory but in doing so Ward left the district prescribed in his ticket of leave and returned three days late for the muster. The direct result of this was Ward being thrown back into Gaol on Cockatoo Island. Mary Ann was independent enough not to require assistance from Ward, but her love was too strong. Some have claimed that Mary Ann assisted Ward in his escape from Cockatoo Island, however she was already accounted for at that time and could not have been there. Ward made his way back to his beloved Mary Ann and it wasn’t long before the two started living like Bonnie and Clyde, travelling together and committing crime.

Mary Ann was nothing short of astounding in her resourcefulness and determination. Whether hiking over mountains with children on her back or catching cattle to feed the family, Mary Ann was irrepressible. Frequently dressed in men’s clothes, Mary Ann was a spectacular horsewoman. Her preferred method of catching cattle was using a tool of her own design which was effectively a butcher’s knife on a broom handle. She would ride up to the beast of choice and using her tool would cut its hamstring whereupon she could slaughter it. This practice brought her unwanted attention and she was often nabbed in an attempt to get at Thunderbolt. Twice she was arrested and tried for vagrancy but she never gave in. On one occasion Mary Ann managed to give the police the slip by feigning labour and was rescued by Thunderbolt and his gang.

Eventually, the pair separated during Mary Ann’s final pregnancy to Ward. No doubt Mary Ann had grown tired of enabling her husband to lead a lawless life and wanted to concentrate on raising her children, three of whom were to Ward – Marina Emily, Eliza and Frederick Wordsworth Ward jr. While the details of the split are unknown, the fact that Mary Ann named her third child to Ward after his father is telling of where her heart still resided. Mary Ann settled down once more with John Burrows and spent the rest of her days leading a quiet life. In total she had had fifteen children and in her later life working as a nurse before dying in 1905 of senile decay.

Mary Ann Bugg; The Captain’s lady

Jessie Hickman

Jessie Hickman was born Elizabeth Jessie Hunt at Burraga, New South Wales on September 9, 1890. She grew up learning bush craft, horse riding and survival skills. By the age of fifteen she had become a successful roughrider and entertainer, touring the country with Martin Breheney aka Martini. Her time with Martini was successful and she became an unofficial rough riding champion in 1906. She fell in love with a man called Benjamin Hickman and they had a son together who they gave away to another couple to raise. Jessie ended up in Long Bay Gaol in 1913 after taking to stealing stock and clothing. She was imprisoned using her mother’s maiden name, McIntyre, rather than her birth name. She married Ben Hickman in 1920 but it was a tumultuous relationship that ended when he found work in the city and Jessie refused to leave the bush.

After she was separated from her husband, Jessie headed to the Blue Mountains. Her brother lived in Rylstone and she stayed with him for a time but soon went bush. Setting up a camp in the Nullo Mountains, she furnished a cave with a bed and shelving to make it more habitable, an idea that never struck the male bushrangers in the 100+ years of bushranging prior. From here Jessie Hickman engaged in cattle duffing with her gang of men she called the “Young Bucks”, stealing the animals from local farmers that she would graze and water in the lowlands near her hideout then taking the stolen cattle to markets in Singleton and Muswellbrook. Eventually able to purchase land in Emu Creek, she was still wanted by police and on multiple occasions performed daring escapes when approached by lawmen.

In May 1928, Jessie was arrested at Emu Creek on cattle theft charges but was acquitted at Mudgee on a lack of evidence. Settling down on her Emu Creek property, she took ill with head pains. Eventually being moved from Muswellbrook to Newcastle Mental Hospital, Hickman died of a brain tumour on September 15, 1936 and buried in a pauper’s grave in Sandgate Cemetery. She was forty six years old.

Jessie Hickman’s prison record

Selected sources:

John Francis Peggotty: The Birdman of Coorong

The story of John Francis Peggotty is one of the most bizarre in bushranging only made more bizarre by the fact that it seems to be nothing more than an elaborate urban myth perpetuated by an enthusiastic tourism board. South Australia can’t lay claim to many bushrangers, and certainly none of the calibre of those found in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania so why did this story capture the imagination? The short answer is novelty.

According to the stories John Francis Peggotty was born three months premature in Limerick, Ireland in 1864. As an eighteen year old he travelled to South Africa where he learned to ride ostriches (ostrich racing being a popular sport there). Peggotty’s tiny, underdeveloped frame was ideal for the pursuit of riding large flightless birds and he became wildly proficient. For reasons undetermined, Peggotty left South Africa for England where he went on a crime spree, his tiny body effortlessly sliding down chimneys to give him access to homes where he could pilfer all he desired like some sort of strange reverse-Santa Claus. Getting nabbed and doing time in gaol did nothing to deter the tiny Irishman and he set his sights on Australia and joined his uncle’s farm in New South Wales. Farming proved to be unappealing to Peggotty and he took his leave and went to South Australia where he soon took up a life of lawlessness.

Peggotty resumed his crime career with his unique modus operandi but it wasn’t long before Peggotty in a Fagin-esque manner began recruiting urchins to join him in his exploits, teaching them his tricks for stealthy break and enter. Peggotty would not trade his ill-gotten gains for cash as many would presume, but rather took much pleasure in wearing the stolen jewellery and was frequently seen bedecked in gold chains of various sizes, glimmering rings and jangling bracelets. Adorned in jewellery and little else, Peggotty was a weird figure indeed.


Tiring of the break-and-enter business Peggotty decided to take inspiration from the likes of Captain Thunderbolt and Frank Gardiner and go bush and become a highwayman. Unable to mount a horse because of his size Peggotty took advantage of the birds brought to South Australia for the lucrative ostrich feather trade, liberating a bird and riding it like it was a gallant steed. Peggotty bailed up travellers throughout the Coorong on his ostrich, liberating them of anything that crinkled or tinkled before word began to spread that this impish outlaw had become a veritable menace. Choosing to haunt the region by the shores of Lake Albert with its towering walls of sand, Peggotty atop his fowl steed was irrepressible. The police soon set out in search of the so-called “Birdman of the Coorong”.

Gallant Steed: Peggotty preferred avian mounts to equine ones

In a short time Peggotty had numerous robberies and two murders to his name and a sizeable reward on his head. Things came to a head when the birdman attempted to rob a fisherman named Henry Carmichael on 17 September of 1899. Carmichael was not in the mood for such nonsense from who he thought was no more than a juvenile delinquent at first but soon realised from the bushranger’s quirky steed that this was the infamous Birdman. Grabbing his rifle and levelling it at Peggotty, Carmichael was determined to claim the reward. Peggotty knew not to mess around and took off, the ostrich leaving Carmichael in the dust. As bullets whizzed past him, Peggotty ducked and weaved but the fisherman was far too proficient and a bullet struck the ostrich and brought it down. Peggotty tumbled to the ground and another bullet penetrated the delicate frame of the bushranger who crawled into the undergrowth and seemingly vanished, never to be seen or heard from again. Some say that beneath the mountainous sand dunes is a tiny skeleton wearing a small fortune in gold and jewellery waiting to be found.

In all probability the lack of records and contemporary news articles indicates that this is in fact pure myth. That Peggotty is a name plucked straight from the works of Charles Dickens also gives it away. That hasn’t stopped the powers that be from using the tale of the Birdman to foster tourism in the Coorong in a bid to help the district recover after a particularly nasty period of drought that caused quite a lot of pain to the locals. The tale is a cracking yarn full of adventure and humour that aims to connect South Australia to the great bushranging tales of the Eastern states. It is also a fantastic way of creating a bit of legend around the wild ostriches of the Coorong, large flightless birds imported for their feathers but let loose when they were either released or escaped. it may not be the truth but it is a cracking good yarn.

Tourist Attraction: Have you got what it takes to be a Birdman?


Jack Bradshaw: An Overview

Jack Bradshaw is one of the most peculiar bushrangers. Renowned for his longevity, questionable reliability as a narrator and his books on the bushrangers, he was a small time bushranger at the right place in the right time to rub elbows with greatness. However, much of what Bradshaw told of his own life is dubious at best and many question the legitimacy of calling him a bushranger in the first place.

Born in 1846 in Dublin, Ireland, Bradshaw emigrated to Australia on May 9, 1860 but unfortunately the relatives that brought him to Australia died not long after his arrival and so as an orphaned teen he was left to find his own way in the world. He tried to make a living in Melbourne but soon exhausted his funds and decided to try his luck on the diggings in the Ovens River district. At this point Bradshaw managed to make a bit of money by shooting cockatoos to sell to the diggers for seven shillings a week but soon his gaze was cast on other horizons.

Taking up the life of the swagman was not something uncommon in these times. Working in one place for a lifetime was almost unheard of for the labouring class and itinerant workers would almost always find employment on the road from stations that needed shearers, harvesters or stockmen of varying capacities. Bradshaw became a shearer and station hand but he still couldn’t settle down – there was something calling him to a life of crime. It would appear, at least according to his own accounts, that at this time he befriended one Daniel Morgan. He stated that Morgan treated him with great kindness and dignity at a time when he was often mistreated by all others. When Morgan was killed at Peechelba Station near Wangaratta and his headless remains unceremoniously dumped in a wooden box in Wangaratta Cemetery, it was Bradshaw who placed a marker on the grave – a sign attached with wire to an old iron bedpost. Bradshaw soon began his career as a huckster and con man in order to swindle his way through Victoria and New South Wales, and he was reasonably proficient at it. Working with “Professor Bruce” Bradshaw would scope out towns and upon finding a suitable one Bradshaw would learn as much information as possible about various townsfolk. When Bradshaw had gathered enough information the alleged professor would roll into town and start giving out phrenological readings for a fee. Using the information provided by his accomplice, Professor Bruce would give eerily accurate readings of a person based on the shape of their head. This enterprise worked a charm but was still not enough to satiate Bradshaw’s criminal leanings.

Phrenology was all the rage in the colonial era and was a psuedo-science easily exploited by Bradshaw and Professor Bruce (Source)

Jack Bradshaw fell in with two bumbling rogues who operated under the intriguing pseudonyms “Red Lance” and “After Dark”. It was with these two that Bradshaw first entertained the idea of bank robbery. Deciding the bank at Merriwa was the perfect target, the three headed to the town and prepared to put their plans into action. On the night before the appointed strike Red Lance got kicked by his horse and ended up in hospital and After Dark lost his own steed. As Bradshaw and After Dark were readying themselves they foiled a thief who had robbed the till of a store. Pocketing the money themselves when they pretended to be constables, they sent the thief on his way believing he’d just narrowly missed getting nicked. Bradshaw and After Dark then stuck up a man they believed to be the bank manager. It turned out to be a neighbouring storekeeper. This error proved to be enough to spook the crooks and they took off into the bush without having achieved anything. This was the last time Bradshaw would be involved with the pair. Bradshaw seemingly decided to make his own way and did so for a considerable amount of time until he encountered “Lovely” Riley.

“Lovely” Riley was a stock thief and bushranger whose real name was John Mulholland and was frequently mistaken for “Riley the Bushranger” who had inherited Thunderbolt’s territory in New England. Riley had many nicknames over the course of his career but Bradshaw knew him as “lovely” for his unfortunate visage and generally unkempt and dirty appearance. Bradshaw’s taste for bank robbery was still unsatisfied and the pair decided to descend upon the bank at Quirindi in May 1880. In typical Bradshaw style it all went belly up almost as soon as it began. They bailed up the bank manager, Richard Allen, which was a great start, and were making headway until the revelation of what was happening out back. The commotion in the bank had roused the manager’s wife who was at that very moment in labour and naturally not in the mood to have her husband pulled away from her side by a pair of gormless bushrangers and emerged from the back room to give the pair the tongue lashing of a lifetime. Being at least wise enough to know when they were licked Bradshaw and Riley took off. They had been beaten this time but they would be back. On the eve of June the pair struck again and successfully liberated the bank of £488 in gold and cash. Having descended upon the bank, they bailed up Allen in the stables and took him at gunpoint into the back room where Mrs. Allen and her sister were. Riley and Bradshaw were disguised in a mask and blackface and proceeded to raid the whiskey supply. After they had sufficiently drank they became more insistent that Allen cooperate and the beleaguered bank manager finally opened the safe for the robbers. Jubilant, the bushrangers did what any rogue would do with such a haul – they went on a pub crawl. As the men became increasingly liquored up Riley began to get a bit more talkative and started letting slip about the bank raid. Bradshaw saw the risk in remaining with Riley at this time and took his cut of the money and ran.

Under the pseudonym George Davis, Bradshaw made his way to Armidale. Finding work on Mihi Creek, he began to woo the daughter of a wealthy landowner. His charms were working in overdrive but it paid off and he was soon married to the heiress. The union soon produced a daughter named Gertrude. Everything seemed to be going well for the bushanger who was now into his forties until the seeds of his past actions bore the fruits of his labours. Bradshaw was arrested in November for his involvement in the Quirindi robbery and was sentenced to twelve years in gaol thanks to evidence provided by Joseph Goodson, a professional tattletale who claimed to have been party to the robbery but due to drawing a short straw had been required to sit the robbery out. While Riley and Bradshaw went to gaol Goodson earned £200 and the life-long ire of Bradshaw.

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“Arrest of Bushranger Jack Bradshaw”, 1973 by Ric Elliot (Source)

Initially locked up in the infamous Berrima Gaol, Bradshaw was transferred after nine months to Parramatta where he kept his head down in prison and managed to get out after nine months in 1888 and return to his family. His wife continued to dote on him despite his criminality and this seemed to be enough for Bradshaw to keep his nose clean for a while. Unfortunately Bradshaw couldn’t suppress his urges indefinitely and was soon busted robbing mail bags and landed in gaol once more, this time in Armidale Gaol. It was during this interment that he began to make a note of the stories told in the gaol and committed them to memory.

When he finally got his liberty in 1901, Bradshaw decided to do something with his notorious past and the wealth of stories he learned in the clink. No doubt there was much for Bradshaw to adapt to in the newly federated Australia and he occupied his time traveling and collecting more stories, meeting relatives of the great bushrangers and writing a book detailing the stories as he knew them. The result was his magnum opus – The True History of the Australian Bushrangers. The book was published in 1930 and was sold in the Sydney Domain where he would travel to from his room in Woolloomooloo and set himself up every Sunday and imparted his tales to anyone that would listen. This was then followed by years of Bradshaw traveling door to door selling his self-published tomes for a sixpence each. He later produced more works detailing his own exploits as well as those of his more notable contemporaries.

Jack Bradshaw in later life

Bradshaw had very strong views about many of the big names in bushranging. While he held Ben Hall, Captain Thunderbolt and Dan Morgan in high esteem he considered Frank Gardiner to be nothing more than a scoundrel who was a major factor in ruining the lives of the young men who took to bushranging under his influence and considered the Clarke gang to be the most dangerous bushrangers in history. In 1931 he sued The Herald and Weekly Times for £1000 over comments published in their papers that he deemed injurious to his reputation.

In the end Bradshaw ended up as a pauper and fell back on his Catholic faith. He was described by those that knew him at the end as incredibly gentle and humble. Cared for initially by a Mrs. Connelly in Darlinghurst, when she fell ill he was sent to St Joseph’s Little Sisters of the Poor Home at Randwick. At the ripe old age of ninety Jack Bradshaw, self-proclaimed last of the bushrangers, passed away in January 1937 and was buried in the Catholic portion of Rookwood cemetery.

One of the last portraits of Bradshaw

Selected Sources:

“Bradshaw, Last Bushranger, Dies At 90” The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950) 14 January 1937: 2

“The Story Of Jack Bradshaw Last Bushranger” The Labor Daily (Sydney, NSW : 1924 – 1938) 15 January 1937: 12.

“BUSHRANGER REPUTATION” Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931) 19 March 1931: 6.

“Jack Bradshaw” The Henty Observer and Culcairn Shire Register (NSW : 1914 – 1950) 19 March 1937: 5.

“Jack Bradshaw.” The World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955) 29 December 1951: 25.

“BUSHRANGER REPROVES HORSE THIEF” Truth (Sydney, NSW : 1894 – 1954) 12 November 1933: 21.

“THE QUIRINDI BANK ROBBERY.” Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954) 5 June 1880: 9.

Morton, J, and S Lobez. Gangland Robberrs. Victory Books, 2016.

Looking for Ned: Life versus Legend


Many people have a very clear image in their head of Ned Kelly: tall, muscular, bushy beard and pompadour hairstyle. This image is Ned Kelly a day before his execution, almost six months after he was nearly shot to pieces at Glenrowan. So, if this is Ned at the end of his life how close is it to how he was in the prime of life? The truth is, even within his lifetime the idea of Ned and how he appeared was not always in line with the reality and the perception of a person can be very heavily influenced by the image we have of them. Ned’s legend has only grown since those days and the ideas of him have become so entrenched and polarising it’s time we began to try and figure out who Ned Kelly the person was. So how do we find the “real” Ned Kelly?

They say a picture says a thousand words so for this exploration we will be looking at the known images of Ned and analysing them. The earliest image of Ned is a portrait taken when he was on remand in Kyneton charged with aiding Harry Power. This image shows a gaunt looking fifteen year old in ill-fitting clothes (probably handed down from his deceased father) with a gentle wave in his hair, parted on the left demonstrating prie in his appearance. He is tight lipped and stares determinedly past the photographer almost like a challenge to some unnamed opponent. He may have been the most notorious fifteen year old of the day but nobody could have known the height of infamy this strong-bodied and hot-headed youth would reach. It was at this time that Ned was subject to an immense amount of ostracism on multiple fronts. The general public looked at him with suspicion and scorn for his criminality, many of his family and friends also looked at him with scorn because they believed he had turned Harry Power in (it was actually his Uncle Jack Lloyd who was instrumental in Harry’s capture but that’s a story for another day). So here was Ned, a teenager dealing with his own adolescence, needing to provide for his family and being treated like a black snake by all and sundry with the notable excetion of Sergeant Babington and Superintendent Nicolson who he would later write to asking for financial aide to help tide the family over. If ever there was a recipe for an angry and troubled youth this was it and Ned’s behaviour following his release from Kyneton would portray exactly this. The McCormick incident he details in his Jerilderie letter and the brawl with Senior Constable Hall demonstrate Ned to be short tempered and confrontational, traits that would land him in serious trouble.

Black snake: Ned Kelly at fifteen

The next image is Ned’s prison mugshot taken as he was finishing his sentence in Pentridge Prison.  By the time this image was taken Ned was a hardened eighteen year old and he sports a short layer of stubble that accentuates his strong jawline. Again with pursed lips and narrowed brows this is Ned Kelly finally reaching manhood among the worst of the worst the Victorian penal system had to offer. Gone is the determined gaze of the wild fifteen year old, replaced with a hardened complicity forced into him by hard labour and enforced isolation. Incidentally there is an incredibly strong probability that during his stint here Ned crossed paths with his old teacher Harry Power and the notorious Captain Moonlite himself, Andrew Scott, who was something of a go-to guy in Pentridge for contraband (which Ned did not partake in). Ned had spent the past two plus years learning various skills including bricklaying that were to soon do him well on the outside. His time at Point Gellibrand on the Sacramento would have been his first and only time seeing any body of water greater than a river. Ned kept his head down in prison and earned himself an early remission around the time this photograph was taken. Life in Pentridge was a horror show that many fully grown men struggled to survive, let alone a seventeen year old country boy, and Ned was determined never to go back. Legend states that Ned once remarked that the next time they got him into a prison they’d have to hang him.

Ned Kelly during his stint in Pentridge

When Ned Kelly was released from prison he went straight – for a while. There are multiple images claiming to be Ned during this time but the only one that has been authenticated is an image that was not known to authorities of the time depicting Ned in his underwear, boxing shorts and slippers in a boxing pose which, according to the handwritten annotations on the foot of the image, was taken to commemorate his boxing match with Wild Wright. Ned looks every inch the confident young man, his features much softer in expression than the previous two images but still strong. This is the Ned of legend – tough, skilled with his hands and handsome. If only his notorious temper and personal brand of justice hadn’t toppled this path to success we may have never seen the ensuing outbreak of lawlessness that thrilled, entertained and terrified the nation for three years and cemented his place in our history.

Ned Kelly as a nineteen year old boxing champion

That this image was apparently unknown to authorities in the time of Ned’s outlawry explains why it was never used to try and demonstrate his appearance. Instead, when the Kelly gang bailed up the police camp at Stringybark Creek and killed three of the troopers the police were still relying on his prison mugshot. Thereafter the police created a myriad of doctored images to try and convey Ned’s potential appearance to assist in his capture. The results range from passable to ludicrous.

This image puts Ned Kelly’s head on the shoulders of James Nesbitt, a fellow Pentridge inmate and partner of Captain Moonlite, with an added beard and longer hair to update his look creating a surprisingly accurate image of the outlaw
This rather uninspired mock up merely adds a hand drawn beard and moustache to Ned’s mugshot and darkens his eyes

Not all of the mock ups were photographic. Illustrated papers of the day took the route of rather unconvincingly adding facial hair to the known photographs of Ned in etchings to make him more closely resemble the descriptions of him, usually with the image of the bushranger as a fifteen year old as the primary source. The effect was rather akin to a child wearing a false beard to look older.

This bearded fifteen year old Ned looks perplexed at the clumsy attempt to depict his likeness
A drawing based on the above etching graced the cover of G. Wilson Hall’s account of the Kelly gang
Despite the assertion that this is Ned sketched as he was leaving Benalla, it is quite clearly another portrait based on the fifteen year old Ned mirrored and with added beard, messy hair and stink-eye that lends Ned a strange and intimidating appearance
This etching, based on Ned’s mugshot, was used in a feature about the police killings at Stringybark Creek and makes him look rather more portly than it should, which has the unique quality of lending him a more thuggish countenance

With these inaccurate depictions of Ned it’s hardly surprising that he went unrecognised for so long. In fact the lack of definitive likenesses fed into the popular media of the day with cartoonists having the flexibility to simply portray a stereotypical bearded bushranger to act as a proxy for Ned. These cartoons effectively set Ned up as the arch criminal and created a visual shorthand for unmitigated criminality that could be effectively employed against controversial political figures of the day.

This Thomas Carrington cartoon shows Ned Kelly dancing around the banner of Communism with Victorian premier Graham Berry and a little lady representing The Age newspaper (Source: Melbourne Punch (Vic. : 1855 – 1900) 13 February 1879: 5.)
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This Carrington cartoon gives Ned a far different appearance more in line with how most people commonly imagined the rugged bushranger to be in order to highlight the dodgy behaviour of the Victorian government. (Source: Melbourne Punch (Vic. : 1855 – 1900) 27 February 1879: 5.)

When we look at the known images of Ned it tells us an awful lot about how the events of his life shaped him as well as showing where many of the ideas about Ned came from. There is one very controversial image that is supposedly Ned that has recently seen the light of day and has been nicknamed “Lumberjack Ned”. This image is of great interest to Kelly historians as this may be the only image to depict Ned and Dan Kelly together and more importantly it was a photograph owned by Ellen Kelly herself if the provenance proves to be true.

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This low fidelity copy of the “Lumberjack Ned” photograph was published by The Australian (Source)

The image can be viewed at the Ned Kelly Vault in Beechworth inside a specially made box as the Kelly descendants that gave permission for the image to be exhibited had strict conditions for its display including that the image not be published in its full resolution. Many who have seen the image are split on the likelihood that the larger of these two men is in fact the most infamous outlaw in Australian history. More research needs to be undertaken and no doubt as time passes the opportunity to see this image in all its glory and make a more thorough and public analysis will eventuate. Until then we must be satisfied with the existing verified imagery. Should it prove to be legitimate it would be the most incredible image yet of Ned highlighting his imposing physique with rippling muscles in his arms, a neatly groomed beard and soft smile even showing teeth. This is a much more relatable Ned, a tradesman and pioneer who could have led a very different life under other circumstances.

Since Ned’s execution he has become a part of Australian folklore and his likeness, especially in his armour, has become an icon representing rebellion and toughness in a uniquely Australian way. This idea of Ned is closely associated with the idea of the Eureka rebels who were willing to lay down their lives in the pursuit of liberty and equality, thus Ned in his armour is often paired with the Eureka flag better known as the Southern Cross. In recent years Ned has been referred to as the “original hipster” for his unique beard and hairstyle. The idea of Ned as a rugged outdoorsman and “alpha male” accentuates the idea of Ned Kelly that appeals to the public consciousness and creates an almost aspirational figure for some who wish to possess such qualities. While this notion has taken root in Australian culture, it has very little to do with the historical Ned Kelly as we’ve seen.

A fabulous tattoo design by artist Paula Stirland using all-too-familiar iconography (Source)

Oral traditions and art helped to create a mythological Ned Kelly, which many will fight to protect while others fight to tear it down for, just as Captain Cook has become for many Australians a symbol of British colonialism and genocide while to others he represents ingenuity, determination and enlightenment, Ned Kelly is a symbol for people to focus their loves, hates, confidence and timidity on to. But what happens to the idea of this man so loved and reviled by so many when we look back on that image of the defiant, ill-kept and impoverished fifteen year old with only ten years ahead of him in his then-uncertain future? Or when we look at the photograph of the embittered eighteen year old whose rebelliousness, carelessness and anger has led him to the worst prison in Victoria? Does this entrench our ideas or elaborate on them? Will we ever reach a satisfactory and mutually acceptable understanding of the man Ned Kelly was or are we doomed to forever argue over preconceived ideas of Australia’s most notorious outlaw based on misremembered stories and popular culture? The real Ned Kelly is out there, you just need to look beyond the beard and helmet.

Despite what much imagery indicates, Ned Kelly never rode a motorcycle. Incidentally, this is a piece by John Harding who is actually a fantastic artist and you can see more of his work here

Spotlight: Portrait of Jack Bradshaw

Jack Bradshaw was a small time bushranger whose legacy exists in the book The True History of the Australian Bushrangers. Bradshaw was in and out of trouble and in his later years wrote a book about the great bushrangers and his supposed relation to them. The book was self-published and he travelled door to door selling it to anyone who would give him the time of day.


Bradshaw was motivated to write his version of the stories because he believed that popular media of the day had destroyed the characters of the bushrangers and bastardised the stories. Bradshaw aimed to set the record straight by stressing that Boldrewood’s Captain Starlight was a fictional character and by detailing the stories of the bushrangers as he knew them. Conspicuously, Bradshaw was very vocal in his support of Dan Morgan’s character and condemned the way he was portrayed in the media as a monster. Bradshaw staunchly believed, as most rogues tend to, that the police are the root cause of misfortunes for the poorer classes.

The portrait here was published in the book and presumably was meant to illustrate how even after all those years he was still a tough old rogue. Right to the end Bradshaw rode his infamy, dying when he was 90 years old in 1937.


Bradshaw, Jack The only true account of Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall & gang, also Lowery, Larry Cummins, the three Jacks, and others who made themselves known in the sixties as lawbreakers. s.n, [Sydney, 1912]

Picture Perfect: Bushrangers and Photography

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.

Could this be the only surviving image of Frederick Wordsworth Ward, aka Captain Thunderbolt, taken while he was alive?

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”.

Brickey Williamson?
“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. 

The Launceston “Kelly Gang” portrait

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.  

Not Thunderbolt: This photograph was misattributed as being a portrait of Fred Ward during his lifetime.

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. 

Spotlight: Captain Thunderbolt bails up two boys in Singleton


The following is an account of one of the many bizarre moments in the career of Fred Ward aka Captain Thunderbolt. Ward’s reputation as a successful, gallant and daring highwayman doesn’t hold up tremendously well when scrutinised and in fact the bulk of the time he was in the bush he kept his head down and avoided the spotlight, punctuated with small scale robberies on the roads. One such incident is that which was reported on 7 January 1864 in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser:

CAPTAIN THUNDERBOLT – This new addition to the gentry of the road, with his euphonious appellation, has played some of his freaks in this district lately. During the past week he stuck up two of Dr.Glennie’s boys, near Glendon Brook, on the road between Singleton and the Paterson. The boys happened to have nothing else in their possession but a few marbles, which he contemptuously returned to them. In letting the boys go, he enquired for the name of their father, and, on being told, he said that he knew Dr. Glennie well, and that the doctor was a clever fellow; he then rode, away. We learn that on Sunday morning last he demanded breakfast at Mr Brooker’s, at Mirannie Creek, which was given to him, but he did not molest anyone, as he was well known by Mr. Brooker as a man of the name of Ward, formerly an old hand in that neighbourhood, until, according to a colonial phrase, he “got into trouble” Ward has also been seen during the past week in various other places between here and the Paterson, and the police have not been idle in making enquiries after him.
*FYI: “euphonious appellation” is fancy talk for “pleasant sounding name”.
Source: “SINGLETON.” The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893) 7 January 1864: 3.

Morgan’s End (video)

There are many myths about the death of Dan Morgan, some of which aren’t entirely without reason. Here we examine the end of one of Australia’s bloodiest legends.



  • Despite being seen by many as monstrous and inhuman, Morgan had a great many sympathisers and friends who were so outraged by his death and mutilation that police had to quell potential riots around Wangaratta in the aftermath.
  • As he lay dying, Morgan was asked if his real name was Morgan or Moran – he refused to answer. This may lend a certain weight to the “McNally” origin. The origin story championed by Margaret Carnegie is that Morgan was born as William Moran junior in Campelltown in 1833, though his siblings had the surname McNally because that was the surname that the parents were using prior to their relocating to Campbelltown. Jack Bradshaw, whose autobiography is often riddled with false information, claimed to have been a good friend of Morgan’s and reported that he frequently visited his widowed mother in Wangaratta. If Morgan’s real name was Moran, could he have been trying to obscure attempts to single out his relatives?
  • Claims that Morgan’s scrotum was removed to make a coin pouch seem to be no more than rumour handed down as oral history, however the flaying of Morgan’s beard and the people cutting off pieces of hair (including one alleged instance where the knife wasn’t sharp enough so the souvenir hunters just yanked the hair until it came out with a piece of scalp) definitely happened and Superintendent Cobham was suspended over asking Dr. Dobbyn to perform such a gruesome act. This combined with the subsequent decapitation and postmortem contusions indicate more may have occurred that wasn’t deemed acceptable to print at the time. Thus with the postmortem autopsy having been carried out before the butchery occurred it is impossible to say what condition the remains were in when they were buried so this rumour may actually have some substance to it.
  • The man who shot Morgan, John Wendlan, was reported as being named “Quinlan” in earlier reports, likely because the reporter was attempting to record the name phonetically and rush the information to the editor as quickly as possible.
  • Reports in the wake of the death of both Morgan and Ben Hall shortly after state that copies of Morgan’s death mask were being sold around Wangaratta and were doing excellent trade. None of these copies are known to exist still, or if they do the owners are not willing to let on.
  • The bullet that killed Morgan shattered vertebrae in his upper spine and caused considerable damage to his throat. Morgan was paralysed from the neck down and died choking on his own blood. Though he was capable of speaking in small bursts he was largely inaudible.
  • When Morgan’s head was severed it was wrapped in cloths that were soaked in brine to preserve it for the trip to Melbourne. It was then placed in a wooden box and taken by coach to Professor Halford of Melbourne University. Initially the head was deemed incapable of molding by Professor Halford due to the severe damage inflicted upon it and the decay that was beginning to set in, but a cast was made nonetheless. The casting demonstrates a severe contusion (swelling) in Morgan’s left eye that was not present in any of the photographs, which could indicate that claims the head was kicked around like a soccer ball may have been true. Many of the people who examined the corpse expressed that they were impressed at how straight and handsome his teeth were. After the casting the flesh was stripped from the bones and the skull was kept in the university archives where it was later studied for a book comparing races based on bone structure.

Spotlight: Ben Hall, The Bushranger (etching) 

In the 1860s printing technology did not allow for photographs to be published in newspapers so photographs were copied by artists and turned into etchings – a kind of engraving that could be used as a stamp. The quality of images varied wildly due to the various competencies of the artists.

In this image we see Ben Hall as a successful squatter. He holds a cabbage-tree hat and what is either a riding crop or a cane. Hall is dressed fashionably in moleskin trousers and sack coat with his signature mutton chops and long colonial hairstyle. The photograph this was based on seems to have disappeared over time but was likely taken during one of his many cattle musters as a keepsake, a reminder of a time long before he was the most wanted man in the British Empire.

Source“BEN HALL, THE BUSHRANGER.” Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 – 1872) 16 May 1865: 3.