The Dark Side of the Law

It is no surprise that things were very different in the colonial era. However, it can be a shock when we discover just how different things were – especially in relation to crime and punishment.

While flogging, leg irons and solitary confinement are well-known aspects of law enforcement in the colonial era, they merely graze the surface of how grim things could get in the name of upholding the law. Below are just some examples of the way law was enforced throughout the colonial era, giving some degree of context to why many convicts resorted to bushranging.

Relics of convict discipline, Beattie Studio, Hobart, c1914–41. [SLV]

The Bloody Code

Arising in the 17th century, the “bloody code” described the harsh stance on crime taken by the British authorities. Under this code, hundreds of offences became punishable by death ranging from severe crimes such as treason and murder, through to relatively minor ones such as property theft and creating a disturbance. The idea was to prevent crime against property by making the penalty so harsh for even minor charges that it became too big of a risk. It was later deemed that it was creating an awful waste of life, do many cases that would have been hanging offences were commuted to transportation sentences. Inevitably it was apparent that this approach was heavily slanted against the poor, but this was not acknowledged with any considerable sense of guilt or urgency to rectify the imbalance.

It wasn’t until 1823, when the New South Wales Act was passed in Britain, that Australia was able to craft its own laws. Up to this point it was British law without any regional variation to compensate for differences in circumstances between the British Isles and the Australian penal settlements. This meant that the harsh approach to law enforcement continued in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land in exactly the same way as it did in the motherland.

With such a dim view of crime that positioned even the most paltry of offences as worthy of death sentences, the act of pursuing fugitives in Australia was treated more like pest control than pursuing the course of justice. Bushrangers and bolters would face almost certain death if they came across soldiers, or constables (in the early days this was the title given to men specifically employed to recapture escaped convicts), or bounty hunters. If they were not shot, they would almost certainly hang. At that stage defendants were tried before a panel of judges, trial by jury wouldn’t come into place until the mid-1820s. It was rare for a defendant to get off with a term of imprisonment rather than death, with most prisoners resigning themselves to their fate.

With a mindset such as this, it is hardly surprising that the following punishments could evolve. It should be stressed that they are not for the squeamish.


One of the most infamous corporal punishments that were doled out to convicts was flogging. This was the most simple punishment, designed as a retribution for misdeeds and as a deterrent for other criminally minded individuals.

Typically, the victim would be bound to a tripod, known as “the triangle”, with their back exposed. They would be stripped to the waist and whipped repeatedly. The instrument of torture was a scourge that consisted of a handle and nine knotted strands of rope, hardened with tar. This was referred to as the “cat-o-nine-tails”, and the long lacerations that it left behind were described as a “cat’s scratch”. The minimum number of lashes was usually 50 (colloquially known as a “tickler”), though the maximum tended to fluctuate depending on the views on the safety of such a punishment at any particular time.

Cat-o-nine-tails [Hyde Park Barracks Collection.]

The wounds from flogging were typically quite considerable. It was not unheard of for a man to receive 150 lashes and have the flesh on his back left as bloodied pulp. A doctor was always to be in attendance to monitor the convict during proceedings, once the prevalence of convicts dying from the punishment became a cause for concern to authorities. If the offender passed out he would be splashed with water to revive him before resumption of the flogging. If he remained unconscious he was taken to his cell to rest before resuming the punishment. Following the flogging, the recipient would usually be taken to the infirmary where the wounds would be washed with salt water. After a few days, when the wounds began to heal, they would be sent back to work.

Women and children were not usually flogged, though there are anecdotes of women receiving lashes. Typically they would be struck with a cane (referred to

In some cases these whips and scourges were modified to make them even more damaging. For example, on Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour (also known as Hell’s Gates) the strands of the cat-o-nine-tails were laced with pieces of lead to ensure that each stroke broke the skin and inflicted as much pain as possible. This more brutal variation of the flaggellator’s tool became known as the “Macquarie Cat”.

In the case of many early bushrangers, flogging was a trigger to their taking the bush. Matthew Brady, for example, had received over 500 lashes by the time he escaped from Sarah Island. The dehumanising effect of such punishment was also a key factor in why William Westwood kicked off a murderous riot on Norfolk Island. Such was the traumatic effect of flogging on convict era bushrangers, that many, such as the Jewboy Gang, used the same to exact revenge on tyrannical masters or other authority figures.

Source: Police News, 03/06/1876 [SLV]

Hanging in Chains

One of the most infamous punishments utilised by the English was “hanging in chains”. This was the practice of displaying the corpse of a freshly executed criminal in a series of iron hoops and chains or a special cage made of bars and hoops called a gibbet, in a public area to act as a deterrent to other potential miscreants.

In New South Wales, this practice was carried out on Pinchgut Island (Fort Denison) in Sydney Harbour, where one body was known to have been gibbetted publicly for four years. It is said that this, above all else, terrified the local Aboriginal peoples who believe in treating the dead body as sacred. They believed that if a body was not laid to rest, the spirit was unable to rest.

In Bathurst, the bodies of the Ribbon Boys were gibbetted along the streets. The dozen men who were hanged for treason in their attempted rebellion lined the area now known as Ribbon Gang Lane.

Photograph of the skeleton and chains used to gibbet a man convicted of murder and hung at Goulburn around 1832-1833, taken between 1876 and 1877. [Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales]

In Perth, Tasmania, there was an area referred to as Gibbet Hill. Here a gibbet allowed a body to be displayed as people entered and exited the township. In 1837, bushranger John McKay was hung in chains here for many months. When the body was taken down the head was removed for phrenological study.

A key location for gibbetting was Hunter Island in Hobart. A small landmass just offshore near the docks, it was the perfect place to send a message to miscreants in the old English way.

On this tiny lump convicts were executed on wooden gallows and their corpses “hung in chains” from a gibbet post on the shoreline. The bodies would remain in place until they were deemed to have had a suitable deterrent effect, whereupon they were typically buried on the island. This is what happened to the headless body of bushranger James Whitehead.

During an attempted raid on Dennis McCarty’s farm by Michael Howe’s gang, Whitehead was shot and killed by soldiers. His gang members then removed the head to prevent the soldiers or McCarty from claiming the reward on it. The headless body was subsequently taken into Hobart Town, where it was hung in chains. It seems, from some accounts, that it remained in place long enough to be joined by the severed heads of Whitehead’s colleagues George “Bumpy” Jones and Michael Howe. Governor Macquarie would express dismay that he did not have the rest of Howe’s body to display as it had been buried in a shallow grave where it fell.

Hunter Island was later joined to the rest of the waterfront by filling in the gap with dirt to create a causeway, whereupon it ceased its function as a place of execution and displaying corpses, and became an industrial area.

A Price on Their Head

In the early days of colonial Australia, when a fugitive had “a price on their head” it was very literal. Whereas nowadays such terms as “headhunter” have more figurative meanings, they derive from days when a bounty hunter would take a severed head as a receipt to the relevant authorities in order to claim the reward for the capture of a fugitive. It was far easier to carry a head in a flour sack than lug a full corpse around. Due to the “Bloody Code”, there were no qualms about killing suspects as the presumption of guilt meant that they would likely be hanged anyway.

In some cases the severed heads would be put on public display; in Hobart the heads were put on spikes on Hunter Island, where the corpses of executed criminals were also displayed in gibbets. Other times the heads would be stripped of flesh and the skull used for “medical study”.

When Richard Lemon was shot dead, his head was removed and his arrested accomplice Brown was forced to carry it into Hobart Town. Perhaps the most infamous case of this happening was Michael Howe in 1818, who was decapitated after being shot, bayonetted and bludgeoned to death by soldiers. His head was displayed in Hobart and generated much interest from the locals. A similar fate had befallen other members of his gang, and in fact when Howe’s mate, James Whitehead, was shot by soldiers the head was removed by the gang so that the reward could not be claimed.

[From The Outlaw Michael Howe]

A Fate Worse than Death?

For most condemned men it was terrible enough to be sentenced to death, but to offenders of a Catholic faith there was something that brought even greater dread: dissection.

It was commonplace for universities and medical schools to get their cadavers from the prisons, where there was a steady supply of freshly executed bodies to cut up for examination. Students and veterans alike practiced their surgical trade on the bodies, often preserving pieces in jars.

This was particularly terrifying for Catholics who believed in the resurrection, and more precisely that the body needed to remain intact for that purpose. Therefore, for Catholics the sentence of dissection meant that not only would their earthly life be cut short, but they would also be denied eternal life. The sentence was a fate worse than death, for it meant perpetual punishment in eternity.

The Art of Hanging

In Australia, the only form of execution generally carried out was hanging. At the beginning of the colonial era, hanging utilised what was called the short drop method. In some locations a condemned person would be taken to a sturdy tree, upon which was affixed a rope with a noose on the end. In these cases the condemned usually stood on the back of a dray with the noise around their neck, and they would drop when the dray was moved away. In other places there would be a gallows scaffold made, so that multiple executions could take place at once. In these cases the condemned would fall through a trap door on a shortened rope. The short drop was quite ineffective as it strangled the condemned to death, which was a rather drawn out process.

Execution of Michael Magee. This illustrates in great detail the tools of destruction for a short-drop hanging. [Source]

In response to the inefficiency of the short drop, a long drop method was devised. This resulted in a much quicker death when down correctly. Essentially, as the body had to fall further, the weight abruptly stopping at the end of the rope would cause the neck to snap, causing a relatively painless and instant death. However, to do it properly required many calculations to be made to account for the height and weight of the condemned and how they impacted on the velocity of the fall and in turn that would define the length of the rope. Placement of the slipknot behind the ear was also important, as this would mean a sidewards snap, which would better break the neck.

The stages of a hanging, depicted on the front page of the Police News (14/04/1877).

As most hangmen were merely prisoners looking for time off their sentence, many of whom were illiterate or innumerate, needless to say it rarely went smoothly. Poor quality ropes would snap. A rope that was too short would cause strangulation, while a rope that was too long could result in decapitation.

There were many botched hangings of bushrangers. One of the most infamous was Henry Manns, who was hanged for his role in the Eugowra Rocks heist. His rope was too short and he was strangled to death slowly in front of a crowd, with the attending gaolers having to yank down on his legs to try and snap his neck. One of Jack Donohoe’s accomplices, William Smith, went through the drop with a cheap, dodgy rope, which snapped. When he came too he was under the dead bodies of the other men he was hanged with, resting against his own coffin – naturally he screamed hysterically. After much deliberation it was decided to hang him again with a better rope. The second hanging went as planned.

Moondyne Joe’s Cell

Moondyne Joe was so proficient at escaping from custody that a special cell was built for him in Fremantle. However, the cramped space, combined with poor ventilation and being chained in place led to Joe becoming gravely ill. On doctor’s orders he was permitted to engage in labour outside once a day, on his own, in the courtyard.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Moondyne Joe positioned himself behind the pile of stone that had been brought in for him to smash. Once he was certain he couldn’t be clearly seen by the guard, he proceeded to smash a hole in the perimeter wall with his hammer when he was supposed to be breaking rocks. Soon he had made a hole big enough to squeeze through and made his way to freedom. By the time the guard had realised what had happened it was too late, and Moondyne Joe was off to the bush again.

The escape-proof cell [Wikimedia Commons]

Cruel and Unusual Punishments

Perhaps no other figure in penal history in Australia is as infamous as John Giles Price. Price was the son of a baronet, and had moved to Van Diemen’s Land with his wife in 1836. Through his connections he gained the role of muster master of convicts and assistant police magistrate then in 1846 became the commandant of Norfolk Island. Price was to gain his infamy for his callous and dehumanising treatment of convicts. He believed in punishing the offenders through whatever means possible to deter further misbehaviour, with the punishments ranging from the moderate to the extreme.

A perfect illustration of this is presented in the punishment of Rocky Whelan, a convict who had spent much time on the island and would later go on to become one of Tasmania’s most deadly bushrangers.

The man was a native of County Wexford, and knew me at home when a boy. He informed me that he had been seventeen years on the island, and had not the slightest hope of ever leaving it; but his trials were only then about to commence, as the next time I saw him he was handcuffed to a lamp post, his hands tied behind his back, and a gag in his mouth, secured round his head by something resembling a head-stall, and there he remained exposed to the burning sun and the attack of flies and other insects for eight hours, merely for having a bit of tobacco in his possession. Besides this treatment Whelan had been repeatedly flogged, imprisoned in the dark cells with the black gag — a favorite instrument of torture at the time — in his mouth for eight consecutive hours at a stretch, it being the opinion of the doctor that the punishment could not be applied for a longer period without endangering the life of the prisoner. This gag, Cash tells us, was generally inflicted for some disrespect, whether real or imaginary, on the part of the prisoner towards the officials, when on their tour of inspection round the solitary cells. Whelan had been reduced to a skeleton, and the wounds on his back rarely had time to heal before being opened afresh by the cat, and all for some trivial offence such as men tioned. Under this treatment Whelan finally became so callous that he seemed to regard the lash, the dark cells, and all the rest of Price’s contrivances with the most: perfect indifference.

Source: Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW : 1900 – 1954), Wednesday 7 August 1912, page 3

Another punishment Price seemingly enjoyed applying was the “pepper mill”. This punishment usually followed a flogging and saw the flogged man sent to grind cayenne pepper into dust. The convict was required to wear a mask for his own safety. The dust filled their eyes and lungs, and even stuck to their still-fresh lacerations as they crushed the peppers with a wheel. This would be repeated until Price was convinced that the lesson had been learned.

John Giles Price [WIkimedia Commons]

Later, the Australian gold rush had seen the population explode, and along with it came an explosion in crime. Ironically, the prisons soon became full and the Australian authorities were in a bind about what to do with the overcrowding. The solution came in the form of the acquisition of a fleet of abandoned ships that were converted into prison hulks. In Williamstown, at Point Gellibrand, the two harshest hulks in the fleet were Success and President. Here, the worst offenders were sent to be straightened out. Their possessions were destroyed; they were stripped, shaved bald, washed and deloused; then, after being uniformed, transferred to their cell. Talking of any kind was prohibited, as was any form of reading (including the Holy Bible), and the tiny portholes kept the prisoners in almost absolute darkness.

However, things got worse if any rules were broken. Typical punishments could be reduction in rations, being chained to the boltholes on deck, being flogged, or solitary confinement in the dark cell (known as the “black hole”). Another punishment was putting offenders in a cell that was too small to stand upright in. They were then suspended by their hands from the roof just high enough off the floor that they couldn’t sit down. The porthole was just on the waterline, and water would seep in through the mesh over the hole.

Another popular punishment in the hulks was to put irons on the ankles of the offender, and to lock their hands in a device that was essentially an iron bar, tethered to a belt at the waist. This kept their hands too far apart to allow them to effectively manipulate objects, or even to feed themselves.

It should come as no surprise that many of these punishments became popular on the hulks when John Giles Price was employed as the inspector general of prisons. It would prove to be his downfall as during a routine visit to the quarry at Point Gellibrand to inspect the convicts, he incited an attack by informing a convict that under the new rules that had just been implemented, any infraction would give prisoners an extra six months onto their sentence. This convict had been reprimanded for a very minor offence and only had one month left on his sentence, but under the new ruling he would have to remain on Success for an extra half a year. The furious convicts set upon Price with their tools and beat him to death on the beach.

Wax statue of a convict in “slops” on Success. [Author’s collection]

Maddening Silence

In the 19th century prisons began to adopt a Quaker ideal that the ultimate punishment is to leave the offender to ruminate on their misdeeds and punish themselves. To this end, prisoners were individually lodged in cells, all of which were juxtaposed to prevent the inmate looking across to another prisoner, and they were to remain in complete silence and isolation. In Port Arthur, this was known as the “model” or “separate” prison, and was reserved for the worst of the worst. While most prisoners were kept in the penitentiary, which was essentially a large dormitory, the separate prison was arranged in the panopticon style – a central guard point with corridors extending outwards to allow maximum visibility.

Corridor at Model Prison, Port Arthur. [Tasmanian Archives]

The “dark cell” in the separate prison took this to the next level by keeping the inmate in complete darkness. Modern studies have demonstrated that a human can spend thirty days in solitary confinement before suffering mental illness, but in the days when Port Arthur was operating inmates could be locked up in solitary for months. The bushranger William Westwood declared that after one of his many escapes he was sent by Commandant Booth to spend three months in the dark cell. The insane prisoners became a big problem for the authorities at Port Arthur and a lunatic asylum was built to house the men that had been completely broken by the treatment.

The corridors were carpeted to nullify the sound of movement, and inmates and guards wore cloth slippers for the same purpose. All verbalising was prohibited and inmates communicated with their guards using sign language. When moving around outside the cells the inmates wore calico masks that hid their identities to prevent recognition by other inmates. The result of such profound isolation and silence was that many of the prisoners began to suffer insanity, with hallucinations being a common symptom.

Many of the features of this system were adopted by prisons more broadly in the coming decades, notably the use of masks, silence and social isolation. However, in many cases these were employed only at the outset of a prisoner’s sentence to break them in, or as a punishment for rowdier inmates. Prisoners would be shifted to new cells every time they came back from work and were only referred to by the number pinned to their shirt, or their cell number.


Leg Irons

One of the most common punishments for offenders was to be put in leg irons. This saw iron shackles being placed around the ankles, joined together with an iron chain or attached to a ball and chain. The shackles – or irons – were riveted together by a blacksmith to make it more difficult to remove them, thus making them permanent for the duration of the prisoner’s sentence (though convict-made irons tended to be far less durable than those made by professional blacksmiths). In rare instances prisoners were able to mangle the irons in order to get their feet out.

The ball and chain was more typical on convict ships, with the device being removed upon arrival in Australia. Naturally the deterrent effect came from the very real risk of the weighted iron ball dragging the offender down if they jumped overboard. However, most existing examples of the ball and chain were actually replicas made in the 1860s and later as souvenirs, when the closure of many of the penal colonies saw a thriving tourism industry develop. During this time many of the “facts” about life in the convict era were spread by tour guides looking to shock and titillate their audiences.

Ball and chain [Sydney Living Museums]

Typically, offenders would have heavier irons attached depending on the severity of their offence. This could be in the form of thicker irons or heavier chains; the worse the behaviour, the heavier the irons. It was reported that while he was doing time on Norfolk Island, Martin Cash was at one time made to wear shackles as thick as a man’s arm, making him barely mobile.

As the irons were permanently attached to the convict’s ankles until a blacksmith removed them, they were forced to undertake literally every action with them on, including sleeping. In order to be able to undress while wearing the irons, convict uniforms featured trousers that lacked a fly, but rather buttoned up on the outside of the leg.

It was not uncommon for some offenders to have spent so much time in leg irons that it permanently crippled their ankles and feet. The infamous Tasmanian convict Mark Jeffrey was so badly crippled by his time in irons that he required two walking sticks to be able to move or stand. Due to the way the irons would bruise and break the skin, convicts began using strips of cloth bound around the ankle and big toe to try and pad against the shackle. This was referred to as a “toe rag”, and eventually became used as a derogatory term for a former convict.

Typically, the chain would be kept from dragging along the ground by attaching a cord to the central ring and connecting it to a belt around the waist. There were variations on the theme, of course, with one being belts on the calf that kept the irons from dragging – as depicted in photos of the Clarke brothers following their capture.

Rules for Prisoners and items of discipline such as handcuffs and chains. [Tasmanian Archives]

Time Marches On

In time the use of capital and corporal punishment in Australia was phased out, though not until well into the 20th century in some cases. As late as 1958 men were sentenced to be flogged, the last two being William John O’Meally and John Henry Taylor. As for execution, the last person legally executed in Australia was Ronald Ryan in 1967, though the death penalty was still applicable up until 1985, when New South Wales were the last to abolish it.

Given the cruel and severe nature of many of the punishments that convicts faced, it is little wonder that so many “took the bush” and why so many bushrangers would rather have died in battle than be captured alive. There is no evidence to suggest the severity of the punishments acted as a deterrent any more than a good upbringing and fair treatment. Indeed, many commentators viewed the prisons as a breeding ground for criminals as the old hands gave tuition to the young offenders. The punishments also had a brutalising effect on many, as evidenced by the later deeds of William Westwood and Rocky Whelan following years of floggings, solitary confinement and other punishments. It seems that the socio-economic factors in crime were overlooked or misinterpreted, with crime broadly considered the province of the underclasses. Indeed, many of the crimes people were subject to these punishments for breaking were crimes against property, demonstrating that the punishments were not so much about morals as they were about preventing the poor from competing with the ruling class over wealth and resources. Not much has changed, as there are many people that continue to campaign for the reintroduction of these extreme measures for many of the same reasons.

Spotlight: Historic Old Gaol – Darlinghurst Closed – 1914

Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 – 1931), Saturday 8 August 1914, page 37

Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney, ca. 1918 [Source]



“‘Gallows Hill’. we called it.”
“There were many executions in those ‘good’ (?) old days.”
“Early in the morning there sounded the clanking of irons as as the chain gang wended its weary way from Hyde Park Barracks to work on Flagstaff Hill or Fort Phillip. In the evening the tired convicts clanked wearily back through Jamieson and Hunter streets to the park. But ‘Gallows’ Hill is no more. Hyde Park and Carter’s Barracks are but memories. Now Darlinghurst is gone. For the first time the City of Sydney has no gaol within its borders.”
So speak the few old citizens who, during four-score years, have watched the little settlement in Sydney Cove develop (says The Sydney Morning Herald). And while there may be several who remember the genesis of Darlinghurst, there be but few whose memories go back to Gallows Hill.

— George Street Gaol. —

In these enlightened days, when “humanity” is the watchword of the prison system, when public executions are unthinkable, when the lash is almost obsolete, and when every criminal has a comfortable cell to himself, it is hard to imagine the horrors of the early days. But the old gaol bounded by lower George street, Essex street, ‘Little” Essex street; and Cambridge street, was a hell upon earth. It was only 85 ft. long, and built to accommodate 200 prisoners, yet 345 men and women had at one time been packed into it. Eventually a Legislative Council committee decided that it was miserably inadequate, ridiculously insecure, and in a ruinous condition. In a room 32ft. by 22 no fewer than 112 prisoners were herded together, some sleeping between the legs of others, for there was not even floor space enough. Attempts to escape were numerous, and the brutal treatment debased the unfortunate criminals. Executions were frequent. No wonder the spot; was called Gallows Hill. For 42 years it had done duty, but in Governor Brisbane’s time it was recognised that a new gaol was imperatively necessary. So an area of 3½ acres was secured just outside the city. Solid walls 20 ft. high were erected round the area, and the currency lads called the: place “Woolloomooloo Stockade.” Two of those original walls still stand, on the southern and eastern boundaries. And the initials of some of the hapless prisoners still catch the eye of the passer-by. It was not all built by the convicts. One hundred free labourers added their quota. A chain gang quarried the stone, from the Woolloomooloo quarry in William street, where St. Peter’s Church now stands. But the work progressed too slowly. There was too much “Government stroke.” The Sydney Gazette opined that it would be far more expeditious to call tenders and have the work pushed ahead by contractors. However, in 1835 Parliament voted £35,000 for the completion of the gaol. It was planned after the Eastern Penitentiary of Philadelphia, and took five years to build. Then on June 2, 1841, Darlinghurst was proclaimed a Government prison.

— Old Darlinghurst. —

Seventy-three years ago the first inmates were incarcerated. Sydney citizens have at different times seen many processions, grave and gay. But never since has there been such a mournful procession as took place on tbe bleak winters morning of June 7, 1841. Convicts, shivering and miserable, in clanking chains, guarded by armed police and warders, shambled along from the old prison to the new. There were old and young; hardened criminals and petty thieves. They seemed to crawl along George street and Bridge street, creep through the Domain, then stagger up the hill to the “Woolloomooloo Stockade.” There were 407 men and boys, with the murderer Curran in the van, heavily ironed, and destined soon to end his days in Berrima. Then, later on, a slower, sadder spectacle, came the 39 women prisoners, and Darlinghurst was populated. The year 1841 is memorable in other respects. In a faded and dilapidated old volume, issued in 1847 by Francis Low, and printed by Kern and Mader, at 7 Hunter street, we find that gas was first used in Sydney in 1841, and the company gave a brilliant illumination on Church Hill; that the census was taken, showing the population of the colony to be 130,856; that the High Sheriff, in a temporary fit of insanity, shot himself at Darlinghurst; and that two new weekly papers saw the light. The Observer, under, the auspices of Dr. Lang, and The Omnibus, edited by Col. Wilson. Also it is noted that six of the bushrangers belonging to “The Jew Boys’ Mob,” who had for 12 months kept the Hunter River Valley in a state of terror by numerous acts of daring, outrage, and murder, were executed. A few months later came the first executions. George Stroud murdered his wife, and Robert Hudson killed a fellow prisoner. They were hanged together, and many people assembled. But three years later, when the villainous Knatchbull was executed, about 10,000 citizens congregated, kept back from the scaffold by mounted troopers. But the crowd was a silent crowd and not a holiday crowd like some of those that graced public executions in the old countries. Public execution was abolished in 1853, 15 years before England thought fit to follow suit.

— The Scaffold. —

But many well-known criminals paid the penalty of their crimes at Darlinghurist— 76 in all —bushrangers and murderers. Capt. Moonlight was hanged in 1880, the Mount Bennie criminals in 1887, Louisa Collins in 1887. George Archer in 1893, and Montgomery and Williams in 1894. Others of note were O’Farrell, who shot the Duke of Edinburgh; Butler, and Jimmy Governor. The last to be executed at Darlinghurst. was Baxter, in 1907. And, though the public sense of propriety no longer sanctions public executions, there is a morbid interest attached to the gallows; and when the gaol was thrown open to visitors this week hundreds of curious citizens flocked to the condemned cell, and stood on the gallows where many noted criminals had stood before them. At odd times daring Jack Sheppards have broken out of the gaols at Berrima, Goulburn, Bathurst, Parramatta, and Biloela; but Darlinghurst has proved a tougher proposition. In the last 35 years only two prisoners have escaped; but there have been many bold bids for freedom; “Thunderbolt” was in Cockatoo Island Gaol for cattle thieving. He escaped, swam with his irons on to the shore, and took to bushranging. Once a number of prisoners found a likely “header” in the wall, and right under the eye of the warder cut the mortar away. Removing the stone when the warder had turned away, no fewer than 17 men scrambled through. They were lean, wiry customers, for the hole was small. Then a fat prisoner essayed the task, and stuck. He kicked in vain. When the warder returned he found the fat man half-way through, and a prisoner on each side of the wall playing tug-of-war.

— Past and Future. —

Back in the sixties a lot of rebellious prisoners from Cockatoo Island, were sent to Darlinghurst, and they revolted, dashed to the painters’ shed, seized a ladder, and scaled the walls. But on the other side they found armed warders ready to receive them; so they retreated to the cells, and barricaded themselves in. The guard attacked, and when one of the prisoners was shot the rest surrendered. Sometimes the dreary monotony of prison life became unbearable, and prisoners, finding escape hopeless, committed suicide. One man tried 14 times to shuffle off this mortal coil, but always failed; others were most determined, and succeeded. The old hands at Darlinghurst tell many tales of the prisoners and prisons of the past. But nowadays the prisoner’s lot is not altogether an unhappy one. He works, and reads, and empires; mostly he reforms. So now Darlinghurst passes from the list of gaols, like Berrima and Biloela, and Trial Bay. The prisoners have gone out to Long Bay to the penitentiary. Even as Gallows Hill has been forgotten, so will the tragic record of Darlinghurst pass into the seldom-opened pages of history. It will become a centre of light and learning, rather than the abode of criminals, Instead of the monotonous march of sentries will sound the music of children’s voices. The drab prison walls and railings will be superseded by graceful columns of an educational edifice that shall be a thing of beauty and a joy for ever.

Fops and Cops

When it comes to law enforcement we usually think of colonial era police as stern, bearded, working class men with no time for the criminal ilk (or perhaps even some of them were little more than the criminal ilk in disguise) but some of the more notable figures in law enforcement of the colonies were far from that. Many of the police and magistrates were as colourful as the men they hunted ranging from foppish gamblers to trigger happy bounty hunters and pillars of the community. Here are a sample of the more notable examples.

Captain Standish

Charles Frederick Standish is one of the most controversial figures in police history. Standish was an upwardly mobile gentleman who came to Australia to avoid gambling debts and by rubbing the right elbows found himself in the Melbourne Club and in the top job within the police force despite having no experience as a policeman. Standish established the Melbourne Cup to facilitate his love of horse racing and gambling, unknowingly establishing an Australian institution. Standish’s soirees were legendary among Melbourne’s elite with one party allegedly featuring nude female waitresses. Standish was a masterful card player but his love of all things four-legged and fast was where he regularly burned a hole in his wallet.
Despite his actual rank being chief-commissioner of police, Standish encouraged people to refer to him as captain. In his time in the job he oversaw the police operations to end the careers of numerous bushrangers, most notably Harry Power and the Kelly Gang. His ego often interfered with his judgement and a number of questionable decisions in relation to the Kelly hunt resulted, notably his tendency to put his favourite officer Superintendent Hare in charge of the operation at the earliest opportunity despite Hare’s being ill-equipped for the work. Standish was severely reprimanded by the Royal Commission of 1881 but continued his role for some time afterwards. He died a few years later and was best remembered for his contribution to sports.


Sub-Inspector Pottinger

Pottinger was the figurehead for the New South Wales police force during the war on bushranging in the early 1860s. Born in April 1831, Pottinger was a baronet who had accrued massive gambling debts and sought protection in the colonies. Dropping out of the Grenadier Guards to travel to Australia, he joined the New South Wales police force and was assigned to protect the gold escorts. He was well liked in the role and successfully hid his nobility for some time. He moved to Dubbo where he became clerk of the petty sessions. Due to the introduction of the Police Act in New South Wales he was soon promoted to a Sub-Inspector, stationed at Forbes, to get him out of the ranks. Pottinger was a proud and sometimes childish man who was not altogether suited to a lot of the police work he was assigned to undertake. On one occasion Pottinger was involved in a bar fight over billiards, cementing his reputation as someone not to be trifled with but also resulting in him being charge and convicted of assault.
Pottinger’s time in pursuit of the Hall Gang was hampered by clumsy mistakes and and ineffectual troopers as well as his own pride. Numerous times Pottinger came within a whisker of nailing Ben Hall or one of his gang but never came through with the goods. In one event Pottinger missed an opportunity to shoot Hall and capture him because his gun was tangled in the poncho he was wearing. On another occasion he was assigned to an escort mission but refused to cooperate after being passed over for a promotion. To his dismay the escort was robbed by the Hall gang en route. Incidents such as these made Pottinger a target for the sarcasm and disdain of the papers, though on occasion a word of support would make it into print.
He was tenacious in his drive to bring Gardiner and his ilk to justice, especially after being denied satisfaction on so many occasions due to twists of fate. Pottinger died in April 1865 en route to give evidence against James Alpin McPherson, the Wild Scotchman. When climbing onto the coach at the Pilgrim Inn he accidentally shot himself in the abdomen with a concealed pistol, passing away a few days later aged thirty four.


Sergeant Steele

Arthur Loftus Maule Steele was a man with an ego the size of a house. He took immense pride in his reputation as the man who captured Ned Kelly. He was born in Tours, France, in 1839 while his parents were travelling but was raised in Donegal, Ireland. Here he followed in his father’s footsteps and attended a military academy and was enlisted in the army with which he was destined for the fight in the Crimea. However in between his deployment and arrival peace had been declared and Steele was denied the chance for glory on the battlefield. Steele’s family were very prominent in the nobility and relatives of Steele were high ranking military officers and even earls. Of his seventeen siblings, five of Steele’s brothers died in battle in various conflicts around the world. On the advice of the brother of Robert O’Hara Burke (of the doomed Burke and Wills expedition) he arrived in Victoria in 1853 with the intention of becoming a police cadet but ended up as a clerk. Before long he managed to join the Victoria Police and was stationed in various locations and usually acting as a gold escort. He was a family man, marrying Ruth Ingram Ballinger in 1864 and having ten children with his wife Ruth. Steele served with the Wangaratta police in the 1870s onwards. Steele had more than his fair share of bizarre, horrendous and hilarious moments during his lifetime. On one occasion he was called in to Wangaratta State School to investigate claims that a Chinese man named “Charcoal Bill” had been repeatedly pelted with apples by a student. When Steele arranged the students into a line-up, Bill found his attacker straight away – one of Steele’s own sons.
Of course, Steele’s biggest claim to fame was his role at Glenrowan where he led the Wangaratta party into battle. Steele had had lots of dealings with the Kellys and Harts over the years and had personally vowed to be at Ned Kelly’s death after his friend Sergeant Kennedy was killed by him at Stringybark Creek. Armed with his double-barrelled shotgun and a killer instinct he took potshots at anything and everything including women and children. Notably he shot at Mrs. Reardon, almost killing her infant, and shot her teenage son in the back as they tried to escape from the Glenrowan Inn. He immediately bragged that “I shot mother Jones in the tits!”
When Ned Kelly appeared in the early morning as a one man assault on the police, Steele saw his opportunity for a decent bit of bloodsport and ran into action. After much back and forth he managed to find Ned’s weak spot and blew out his knee with swan drops. He then attempted to shoot Kelly in the head once the bushranger was restrained by police but was stopped by Constable Bracken. Steele refused to leave Ned’s side for the remainder of the siege in case someone thought he hadn’t caught him. Afterwards Steele claimed that his colleagues had conspired against him to discredit his claim of being the only man to bring Kelly down. Because of his actions the Royal Commission recommended Steele be demoted but this never eventuated, retiring in 1896 after twenty two years of service. In his twilight years Steele became a horticulturalist and raised flowers on his stately property. He died of heart complications in February 1914 leaving an estate worth £7854.


Police Magistrate Baylis

Best known for his battle with Dan Morgan, Henry Baylis was a prominent police magistrate from Wagga Wagga. He was born in 1826 in Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, where his father, who was a military lieutenant, was stationed. He relocated the family to Australia in 1832. Baylis, then only six years old, became a student at The King’s School, Parramatta. Baylis trained in a legal office in Sydney before turning his hand to horses, moving stock overland to Adelaide, then prospecting for gold in Mudgee. By and by he became a clerk of Petty Sessions in Hartley working his way up over the next seven years to become police magistrate at Wagga Wagga. From 1862 he worked at the courts in Wagga Wagga, Urana and Narrandera travelling from town to town on horseback.  Baylis was a very important person in the growing township of Wagga Wagga, helping establish a number of amenities and institutions such as the National School, St John’s Church of England, the bridge over the Murrumbidgee and even in getting Wagga Wagga declared as a municipality. In coming years Baylis would be involved in all sorts of adventures including being forced to read the Riot Act at Brookong Station after unionists threatened to lash out at their employer hiring non-union shearers. One account tells of his being the only member of law enforcement present at the races in one instance and arresting a drunkard. The next day in court, rather than fine the man he gave him such a stern lecture the man burst into tears and swore off alcohol.
Baylis came upon Dan Morgan and his accomplice Clarke while en route to Wagga Wagga on 21 August, 1863. Stumbling upon the pair vandalising telegraph poles, the bushrangers proceeded to bail up the magistrate. Morgan demanded he turn out his pockets but found Baylis only carried a cheque. The bushrangers allowed Baylis to ride away telling him to forget the incident. The next day Baylis returned with an army of troopers to search for the pair and after a couple of days found their camp. A shoot out occurred during which Clarke was mortally wounded and Baylis was shot in the hand and chest. When the bullet was removed, Baylis had it turned into a chain fob and wore it as a lucky charm. He suffered greatly from the wounding for the rest of his life and was compensated by the government as well as being awarded a bravery medal.
In July 1905 Baylis was struck by a train at Homebush as he was attempting to cross the tracks and died of his injuries. He was fondly remembered as a prize cattle breeder and was by all accounts a kind and hospitable man, known for his bravery and benevolence as a magistrate of forty years, letting drunks off with a warning and always being cautious in issuing warrants. Few men could boast such seemingly universal admiration.

William Westwood: An Overview

*** Revised and updated (2021) ***

William Westwood’s tale is one of a misguided youth who finds himself whisked away from all he held dear to endure a lifetime of punishment and lawlessness in Australia. He took to the bush as a teenager and soon became one of the most renowned highwaymen in Australian history under the pseudonym Jacky Jacky (alternatively written in the press as Jackey Jackey), but met a grisly end on Norfolk Island ten years after first arriving in New South Wales. What follows is a concise, summarised account of his life and bushranging career.

William Westwood was born on 7 August, 1820 and was raised in Manuden, Essex; he was the eldest of five siblings. As a youth he fell in with bad company and began acting up. At fourteen he had his first conviction: twelve months hard labour for bailing up a woman on the road and stealing clothes from her. Westwood’s accomplice Ben Jackson got off lightly with a flogging.

When he got out of gaol, Westwood went straight for a time, but was soon in court again as a result of stealing a coat, which he then pawned off. As this was his second conviction he found himself, at the age of sixteen, being transported with 310 other convicts on the convict ship Mangles on 18 March, 1837, for a term of fourteen years. Westwood was a surprisingly refined young man, with a decent education for the time and a strong grasp of language; he conversed freely with anyone he came across. He was described as standing at 5’5″, ruddy complexion, brown hair and grey eyes; a scar on the right side of his upper lip, another on the back of his right hand, a blister mark between the breasts and several tattoos — left arm: illegible blue mark, 7 Aug 1820, 3 Jan 1837; back of left hand: figure of the sun. The tattoos were likely either made while serving time in gaol or while waiting to be transported. Indeed, one of the tattoos was the date he expected to end his sentence and return to England.

When he arrived in New South Wales he was sent to Hyde Park Barracks. He was kept here until given his assignment. He was eventually assigned as a servant to Phillip King at Gidleigh Station, Bungendore. Westwood, now seventeen, endured a harsh journey from Rooty Hill to the place he was to work off his sentence. Days were hard and nights were spent sleeping on bare ground, chained to the axle of the supply wagon. Eventually he arrived at the station to start work, and it was here that he would spent the next three years under overbearing and tyrannical masters. He was always testing the boundaries, and after being spotted in town one night, having sneaked out of his quarters, was dragged back to Gidleigh and given fifty lashes. This only strengthened his resolve to rebel.

After suffering at the hands of his master, who saw fit to have him beaten and whipped at even the slightest offence, as well as being short changed on his already inadequate supplies and rations by the overseer, in 1840 Westwood absconded again. When he was inevitably caught, he was given another fifty lashes and sent to work in an iron gang near Goulburn. Conditions here were even worse than at his first assignment, but he knew it would be fleeting and expected to be sent to a new assignment when he was done.

Gidleigh, the station in Bungendore that Westwood absconded from, depicted by Phillip King [Source]

After his stint in the iron gang was done he was sent back to Gidleigh, much to his dismay. The routine played out again: Westwood absconded, was caught and given fifty lashes. The next time, Westwood wanted to make sure he stayed at large. He and two other convicts gathered enough supplies to last them until they got clear away, then, on 14 December 1840, they bolted.

It wasn’t long before Westwood fell in with the notorious bushranger Paddy Curran. The pair were associated from their time as convicts, and Westwood was eager to have a crack at bushranging. Unbeknownst to Westwood, Curran was extremely violent and his morals were diametrically opposed to Westwood’s in just about every way, but none so conspicuous as his attitude to women. As the story goes, during a house raid, Westwood walked in on Curran in the process of raping the lady of the house. Westwood struck Curran, preventing him from proceeding, and threatened to shoot him. Westwood decided he would rather work alone than associate with such a despicable person.

As Westwood got the hang of highway robbery, news of his daring began to spread through the region, though much of it was pure fiction. On one occasion it was said that he bailed up a commissary and upon discovering the commissary’s wife was in the coach, opened the door, swept the ground with his cabbage tree hat in a gentlemanly manner and invited her to dance with him – a request that she obliged. This and many other anecdotes have no tangible evidence to back them up however. Some accounts attested to his masterful horsemanship, likely honed while he worked as a groom at Gidleigh as part of his assignment. In one story he reputedly bailed up a man in Goulburn and implored him to note the time, then a few hours later he bailed up another gentleman near Braidwood, almost 100 kilometers away, and implored him to do the same in order to set a personal record. Again, this is not likely to be anything other than a flight of fancy. His taste for race horses was nigh on insatiable, with him stealing such creatures from Terrence Murray and several others in the region, either on the roads or from farms. He attributed his success in evading capture to his choice of fine horse flesh over the run down nags the police rode. Among his crimes, he robbed the Queanbeayan mail, and robbed Mr. Edinburgh among several others on the Sydney road. In fact, he took a particular liking to robbing mailmen as the takings were often rather good.

By his own account, there were several close shaves with police, including one where a supposed friend had taken money from him to purchase a Christmas dinner, but had instead procured the constabulary. On another occasion he narrowly avoided capture by hiding in a tree. Westwood had become a fly in the ointment to law enforcement, but it would only escalate.

William Westwood (illustration by Aidan Phelan)

On the afternoon of Monday 11 January, 1841, Jacky Jacky stole a black mare from Mr. McArthur before attempting to rob a mailman that night at Bungonie, whereupon shots were fired. The next day he raided a store at Boro Creek where he procured fine garments and dressed himself in haute couture so that he may cut a fine figure while about his nefarious deeds, including a rather fetching top hat. Such was the extent of his outrages that the entirety of the mounted police in the region, trackers included, were led by Lieutenant Christie and a Mr. Stewart in hot pursuit.

On 13 January 1841, things came to a head when a man arrived in Bungendore, shouting that he was being chased by a bushranger who meant to shoot him. Sure enough, Jacky Jacky soon arrived on a stolen horse, riding through Bungendore for fully an hour and a half, stopping only to have a chat with a man named Eccleston. Soon word reached the local magistrate, Powell, who went with his brother Frank and a local man named Richard Rutledge to capture the infamous bushranger, despite a distinct lack of weapons with which to defend themselves against the armed bandit. Alas after the posse hesitated in approaching the rogue, he caught wind of them and mounted his steed, riding off at full gallop. The men gave chase. A man named William Balcombe was riding ahead with Revered McGrath in a gig. Stopping the gig in the road, McGrath and Balcombe got out and Balcombe confronted the bushranger, McGrath also pulling a revolver on him. Westwood surrendered, complaining that he could have gotten away if his musket were not in such poor shape.

The desperado was escorted back to the local inn where he was detained. However, Jacky Jacky was not ready to go down without a fight and during the night he overpowered one of his guards and stole his weapons. He bolted out of the inn and across the plains. This did not go unnoticed and Frank Powell saw the fugitive legging it through the open space. Powell fired a pistol at Westwood without effect and gathered more firearms from inside before heading off in hot pursuit with a postman, who had become embroiled in the affair by accident. Soon Jacky Jacky was once more apprehended. But the next day while being escorted to Bargo Brush, Westwood escaped custody on foot. He made it a mile away before being recaptured. Not in the mood for any nonsense, the police tied Westwood to his horse for the remainder of the trip. That night, Westwood broke out of the lock up and stole the guard’s weapon and ammunition before taking a horse and riding to freedom.

The beginning of the end came when he called into the Black Horse Inn on the Berrima Road. Westwood casually walked in and ordered refreshments. He then proceeded to bail the place up. Folklore tells that he was served by Miss Gray, the publican’s daughter, who recognised that this man with pistol braces and fine clothes must be the infamous Jacky Jacky. She screamed and pounced on the bushranger, who fought to throw the girl off as she called for her mother and father. All three tried to restrain Westwood who shook them off time and again until a man named Waters, a carpenter that had been repairing shingles on the inn’s roof, entered and knocked Westwood out cold by striking him on the head with a shingling hammer. In truth it was Grey, the publican, and two assigned servants, Waters and McCrohan, who subdued the bushranger, who took two fierce blows to the head with the shingling hammer to go down. With Westwood captured, the Grays earned themselves a cool £30 reward and Westwood was quickly locked up in Wooloomooloo Gaol.

Westwood was put on trial for robbing the store at Boro and was sentenced to penal servitude for life. He was sent to Darlinghurst Gaol but was shortly caught trying to escape. He was then imprisoned on Cockatoo Island where he organised a party of twenty five other convicts to join him in an escape attempt. Escape from Cockatoo Island was considered impossible, but the impossible was no deterrent for William Westwood. The gang subdued a guard and tied him up. Breaching the boundaries they made it to the water and were about to risk sharks and drowning to swim to Balmain but were deftly captured by the water police. The New South Wales government had had enough of the troublesome Englishman and sent him to fulfill his sentence in Van Diemen’s Land with his co-conspirators. Perhaps Port Arthur could take them down a peg or four.

As the story goes, while being sent to Tasmania, the convict men were put in the brig of the prison ship, naked and shackled in an attempt to prevent any attempts to escape. This of course failed and the men broke free from their cages and tried to reach the deck. Soldiers battened down the hatches and kept things thus until arrival at Port Arthur. When the hatches were opened the prisoners were unconscious in the brig, having been denied food and adequate oxygen due to the captain’s decision not to risk opening the hatches to take food to the men during the several day trip.

Despite Port Arthur’s reputation as an inescapable prison, William Westwood managed to escape from Port Arthur multiple times. Most occasions resulted in a few days of freedom at most. In one attempt at freedom with two other convicts, the trio waded naked into the waters at Eaglehawk Neck. Westwood’s companions were taken by sharks and, in his panic, Westwood managed to lose his clothes after his bundled gear was swept away in the waters as he crossed. He was found days later wandering naked and starving.

Such repeated misbehaving saw him put in solitary confinement for almost three months. When he emerged he was assigned to the commissariat. At this time he helped rescue a boatload of soldiers after their vessel had capsized. His reward was to be sent to Glenorchy Probation Station. Here, as could be anticipated, he once more escaped on 31 July, 1845. This time he successfully took to bushranging with two others. They travelled up through the Tasmanian Midlands in an attempt to reach Launceston, where they planned to steal a boat and sail to Sydney. They became hopelessly lost and were unable to find a boat, resulting in one of the men leaving their company after getting lost, while the other remained until they reached Green Ponds, whereupon he left for fear that Westwood would shoot him as he was the designated guide through the bush and had only succeeded in getting them stranded in unfamiliar territory. When Westwood found himself alone again, he continued on foot towards Launceston, hoping to find a way off the island, but was recaptured before reaching his destination. By this time he was suffering a bout of deep depression and posed no resistance.
Source: The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 – 1859) 6 August 1845: 2.

Now having exasperated the Van Diemen’s Land government too, he was sentenced to death. The penalty was altered to penal servitude for life on Norfolk Island and Westwood found himself once more sailing to exile, this time headed to what was referred to as the Isle of Despair.

In February of 1844, there was a change of administration at Norfolk Island. Alexander Maconochie, the previous man in charge, had firmly believed in the benefits of rehabilitating offenders rather than simply punishing them, and to this end he reduced work hours, including a work-free Sunday, and created a “marks” system that meant that good behaviour would be rewarded. Flogging incidents were decreased but still strictly enforced in cases of sodomy, which were rampant throughout the prison. Perhaps the most significant measure Maconochie had brought in was vegetable patches. Inmates were given small gardens within which they could grow their own sweet potatoes and other vegetables, and were also given cooking pots and utensils so that they could cook their own meals, allowing them to eat in their cells in privacy. Only able to enact these reforms with the 600 newest inmates, the reforms were still considerably effective, with morale high and major incidents in the prison reduced. Despite Governor Gipps’ recommendations to the government to continue Maconochie’s residency at Norfolk Island, the decision had already been made and Major Joseph Childs became the new Commandant. As a military man with wide campaign experience, and a strict disciplinarian, he decided to institute a few changes to bring the convicts under his thumb. To this end incidents of flogging were increased, hours of labour were also increased, rations were reduced and the small gardens the prisoners were allowed, and the produce they had been growing therein, were banned. In a half-hearted attempt to respond to complaints the administration allowed convicts a cup of peas and a cup of flour every day. Unsurprisingly this was not met with the gratitude that was expected by the administration and Childs set in place a proclamation whereby food was to be served in bulk and individual cooking was prohibited. When the inmates were at work their utensils were confiscated on 1 July, 1846.

Front View of Gaol – Norfolk Island [Source]

This was the final straw and Westwood incited a work party to take up arms against the guards and administration of the island. Approximately 1,600 inmates joined in. Armed with a cudgel, Westwood claimed first blood when he clubbed a particularly despised guard to death. He then took up an axe and headed to the barracks, followed by a seething horde of convicts. Here he entered the kitchen and murdered the cook and upon spying two sleeping soldiers in an adjoining room, used the axe to stave in the skull of one soldier, which alerted the other. The soldier, seeing Westwood before him with the bloodied axe, begged, “Please, think of my wife and children!” to which the unrepentant bushranger replied, “Wife and children be damned.” Westwood then killed the soldier as brutally as the others. Still not satiated, but needing a moment of respite from the mayhem he had caused, Westwood filled a pipe with tobacco and had a smoke while the convicts rampaged around him. Westwood, having had his respite, took up his axe and headed for the commandant’s building. Bursting into the building with an escort, Westwood sought out the commandant. The commandant had secreted himself in a small storeroom adjacent to his office. Westwood tracked him down and took a swing at him, narrowly missing the commandant’s head as he ducked to avoid the blow. Managing to escape, the commandant roused a force of troops that descended upon the marauders and subdued them.

Westwood and thirteen other key figures in the riot, including bushranger Lawrence Kavanagh, formerly of Cash and company, were tried in September and charged with the murders. The evidence was irresistible and twelve of the men were sentenced to execution by hanging.

The morning of his execution, Westwood wrote a letter to the reverend of Port Arthur and also wrote a declaration that he was the only party guilty of the offence that all twelve sentenced men were condemned for. On 13 October, 1846, William Westwood was hanged for his crimes. He was twenty-six years old.

This is claimed to be William Westwood’s death mask. Some doubt has been thrown on the identity of the face in recent times and some now consider it doubtful that it is him.

A cast was supposedly made of his face and is the only visual record we have of the dashing young outlaw, despite its contended authenticity. Westwood was buried with the other hanged men in a mass grave called Murderer’s Mound on the boundaries of the prison. Such was the impact of the riots that the commandant was fired from his post and calls were made for the Norfolk Island penal colony to be shut down and the inmates transferred to Port Arthur. In a sense, Westwood has succeeded in bringing about a change in how convicts were treated, though he would not live to see the closure of one of the most brutal and dehumanising prisons in the British Empire.

Murder’s Mound – Norfolk Island [Source]

Harry Power: An Overview

Yes, I’ve been a bad man, and I am sorry for my sins, but here in my dying bed I can swear that no woman was ever the worse for me – Harry Power

When we picture bushrangers we think of wild young men on horseback dodging police and sticking up coaches but Harry Power certainly did not fit that image. Power (alias Henry Power, Johnstone) is forever remembered as the tutor of Ned Kelly but there was a time when he could capture the imagination on his own terms.

Power was born in Waterford, Ireland, in 1819 before emigrating with his family to England during the great famine. Settling in the north of England, Harry worked in a spinning mill in Manchester. It was not long before his rebellious nature manifested.

Power received three months imprisonment for vagrancy and later did time for drunkenness. His first major offence, however, was stealing shoes which got him transported for seven years, arriving in Van Dieman’s Land on 21 May, 1842. It’s probable that Harry reunited with his mother upon gaining his freedom as she had been transported to Van Dieman’s Land for stealing chickens in 1841. Receiving his ticket of leave in November 1847, Harry soon travelled to the mainland. He worked as a stockman in New South Wales before going south and becoming a horse dealer in Geelong.

In 1855 Harry was accosted by two mounted troopers who questioned him on where he got his horse. They refused to believe that he had legitimate ownership of the animal and when he refused to go with them to the station one trooper drew his sabre and threatened him. In a panic, Power shot the trooper in the arm and fled for the border where he was arrested. He was tried for horse stealing as Henry Johnstone and on 26 September 1855 was sentenced to thirteen years despite having paperwork to prove the legitimacy of his ownership of the horse. He was sent to Williamstown where he was imprisoned on the prison ship Success.

Harry Power’s first prison photo

While doing time on Success, Power was involved in a mutiny. The bushranger Captain Melville led a small group of inmates to steal the tow boat that took the launch boat from Success to shore on 22 October, 1856. During the ensuing scuffle a man named John Turner was drowned and a constable named Owen Owens was beaten to death with a rock breaking hammer. The convicts made it to shore but were soon recaptured. Harry, still as Henry Johnstone, was charged with the other seven men with two counts of murder. Only Melville was sentenced.

In the latter part of his sentence Power attempted to escape from imprisonment by trying to cut a hole in the floor of the prison hospital. Naturally he was foiled.

Power gained his ticket of leave in 1862 and headed back to Geelong where he immediately broke the conditions of his ticket and took to the diggings. He was soon back in court and in 1863 he was convicted of horse stealing in Beechworth. While in prison on that offence more charges were raised and Harry was dragged out of prison and tried again. He was found guilty of these charges, keeping him in prison for seven years. He was sent to Pentridge Prison but it would not hold him too long.

In Pentridge Harry befriended Jack Lloyd and his brother Tom. Harry would later call on them for sustenance when they were all out of gaol. He was prone to visits to the prison hospital due to a bowel stricture that could cause bouts of extreme discomfort and render him useless for labour for two to three weeks at a time.

On 16 February 1869 Power escaped from Pentridge. Having been assigned to a party clearing land by Merri Creek, Harry had made sure that he was on light duties due to his health. Entrusted with taking the refuse to the mullock heap, Power hid in a divot under the heap and when muster was called he slipped out through a gap in the wall. He acquired clothing from a nearby farm and armed himself with a crude handmade spear before stealing a horse and riding to freedom. He set up a camp on a mountain overlooking the King River Valley now known as Power’s Lookout. From here he sought support from the Lloyds and their relatives the Quinns, gradually expanding his network of sympathisers all the way out to Whitfield. Power knew that he would have to keep his sympathisers on his side and began a career of highway robbery in order to fund his supporters.

When Power robbed shanties and farms, unafraid to use violence on occasion, but this proved to be too much work for too little reward. Power now turned to highway robbery. Far from a charming highwayman, Power’s demeanour was coarse and belligerent and won him no sympathy from his victims. This sudden spate of robberies led to a big manhunt and much consternation around the colony. Power was believed to be cohabiting with a woman near Benalla at the time but nobody could find him.

In July he was spotted eyeing off horses at Mount Battery station and fired upon. With him was a young man who was probably fifteen year old Ned Kelly, a nephew of his sympathisers the Lloyds and Quinns. The owner of the station sneaked up behind the pair and fired at them causing young Kelly to momentarily freeze in terror before they mounted and escaped. Power seems to have discarded Kelly from his service after that for a time, courting others as assistants before opting to simply get on with bushranging solo.

One of Power’s most infamous robberies was near Porepunkah when he stopped a mail coach by placing logs in the road. He proceeded to take what little money he could from the travellers and attempted to deprive a young woman of her horse and saddle before sticking up a dairy cart and robbing that too. Power took one of the horses from the cart and used it to get away leaving the small group of his victims standing around a little bonfire he had made.

Power’s Lookout (Source)

Power had quickly become the biggest thorn in the side of the Victoria Police and a £200 reward was offered for his capture. Power ventured into New South Wales at this time and committed a series of robberies around the Riverina. It seemed for all intents and purposes that Power was untouchable. By the end of 1869 Power had seemingly vanished with no reported sightings or leads, rendering police pursuits ineffective.

Unfortunately, Power was not invincible and his health made for a difficult time in the bush. His bowel stricture and bunions resulted in frequent clandestine visits to doctors. To alleviate the pain in his feet he would wear boots so oversized they curled at the toes. The fact that he was well into middle age wouldn’t have been much help either.

February 1870 saw Power re-emerge with a vengeance robbing everyone from stockmen to police officers. After the initial string of robberies Harry Power and Ned Kelly reunited briefly. Likely Ned, in a bid to get some money for his mother who was behind in her rent, had begged Power for another chance. Together they robbed Robert McBean, a well respected magistrate, of his watch, horse and riding gear. The duo travelled as far as Geelong where Power checked out his old haunts with Ned by his side.

When Ned was found trying to open the gates at the Moyhu pound to release impounded stock, the poundkeeper threw him out of the saddle and thrashed him. This resulted in Harry and Ned later bailing the poundkeeper up. Ned threatened to shoot the poundkeeper on the spot but Power gave him three months to get his affairs in order before he’d be shot. Shortly afterwards Ned was arrested for assisting Power. During interrogation, Kelly described Harry as irascible and with a violent temper. He also described a hollow tree Power used as a lookout point (his “watchbox”) and his habit of seeing a doctor about his stricture. Ned was bounced around the courts but the various charges never stuck and he was soon released.

At this time Jack Lloyd was detained on suspicion of highway robbery. It was believed that he had committed several of the crimes attributed to Power, which he denied. Robert McBean, still furious about his encounter with the bushranger, had remembered a statement Power had made that he could buy his watch back from Jack Lloyd for £15. McBean suggested this to the police and soon Lloyd negotiated a deal with superintendents Nicolson and Hare to turn Power in; the temptation of the reward – now £500 – proving irresistible. Lloyd took a police party, consisting of Nicolson, Hare, Sergeant Montford and a black tracker named Donald, most of the way but got spooked and left the police to find their own way up Power’s Lookout during torrential rain. Fortunately, after days without food or sleep, Donald was able to find the camp due to smoke from a campfire. They approached Power’s mia-mia as he slept and Nicolson pounced on him. Dragged out by his feet, Power was unable to resist and was promptly arrested, complaining about not having a fair chance of escape while the starving police ate his food rations.

Power in Pentridge, photographed by Charles Nettleton.

Power was put on trial in Beechworth and promptly imprisoned in Pentridge for fifteen years. While in the gaol he became somewhat of a celebrity, being interviewed for a newspaper feature called the Vagabond Papers where he opened up about his life of roguery. He did not live quietly, frequently getting into trouble for smoking, being where he wasn’t meant to be and generally getting into mischief.

Power’s final mugshot

Once Power had completed his time he was released, in 1885, into a world that had left him behind. The Kelly Gang and the Moonliters had come and gone. The towns were becoming rapidly urbanised with trains and other modern conveniences. The prison ships at Williamstown were decommissioned and scrapped save for one – Success. Power now found himself in his twilight years acting as a tour guide on a craft that was once the source of much misery. Meanwhile, Power was living with his half-sister and her daughter in law. When Success went on tour in 1891 Power stayed behind to do a victory lap of the places he had known when his notoriety was fresh. Shortly after he departed, an unidentified (and unidentifiable) body was found drowned in the Murray River. Many historians have declared that this was Harry Power but without definitive proof his death remains a mystery.

Selected Sources:
“A MONTH IN PENTRIDGE NO. III” The Argus. 10 March 1877: 4.

“The Notorious Harry Power.” The Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts. 19 December 1893: 3.

“HARRY POWER, THE BUSHRANGER.” The Narracoorte Herald. 13 March 1877: 4.

“A MEMORY OF HARRY POWER” The Argus. 27 June 1936: 6.

“RELEASE OF A RENOWNED BUSHRANGER.” The Herald. 9 February 1885: 2.

“Ned Kelly’s Tutor.” The World’s News. 26 December 1925: 8.

The Tracker (Review)

New from Umbrella Entertainment is the Blu-Ray release of Rolf de Heer’s The Tracker. Starring the legendary David Gulpilil in the first lead role of his career, it is the story of a posse in the Northern Territory searching for an Aboriginal man accused of murdering a white woman and the harrowing misadventures that occur along the way. First released in 2002, it was lauded by industry types and critics for its lyrical and powerful study of racism in post-colonial times.

In the history of Australian law enforcement through the colonial era and the early 20th century, Aboriginal trackers were vital for finding victims and offenders in the bush or the outback. The abilities of these trackers were the stuff of legend and many superstitious whites considered their ability to read signs in the natural environment as supernatural. For almost the entirety of bushranging history, trackers were employed to find bandits in the bush – a terrain the settlers found alien and treacherous. By the 1920s, when The Tracker is set, bushranging was seemingly in its death throes (bushranging is like a blackberry bush – it never stays dead for too long) but the trackers were still the bushrangers’ greatest nemesis. And thus it is with The Tracker, a simple hunt narrative based around the incomparable abilities of the Aboriginal trackers. Though to refer to this as a bushranger film is tenuous, many common tropes are apparent: the bush-faring fugitive protected by friends and relatives, the haplessness of the police in searching the bush and themes of crime and punishment and justice. By focusing not on the criminal, not on the police but on the humble tracker we get a whole new perspective on this element of law enforcement, which creates fertile soil to grow from.

Gulpilil is amusing, enigmatic and captivating as the titular Tracker. His weariness of the white men he has been drafted to serve is matched by his determination to complete his task and his sympathy for his fellows who suffer immeasurably at the hands of white men. Gary Sweet is on top form as the relentless, amoral policeman hell-bent on finding his quarry. While his role may seem cartoonishly evil at times there’s a truth to it that perhaps many modern day Australians can’t recognise. Damon Gameau, in his screen debut, shows what has made him a mainstay of the Australian cinema ever since with his performance as a young man who becomes disillusioned and broken by the evils he witnesses. Finally Grant Page represents the settlers, halfway between understanding the Aboriginals and stuck in the sense of superiority of the whites. He does not approve nor condemn the horrifying things that the police do to Aboriginals and becomes the first casualty, testing his colleagues’ moral fortitude.

The film’s visuals are lyrical and immersive. The landscape dominates proceedings, the camera frequently pulling back to contextualise these figures in the undulating wilderness or lingering on craggy outcrops and cracked earth. The dust from the earth permeates everything, sapping the colours into shades of yellow, brown and orange with lashings of blue and green. The Blu-Ray transfer renders this with brilliant clarity and colour so vibrant you can almost taste it. Umbrella have continued their trend of producing the highest quality restorations and HD transfers, with The Tracker enjoying the benefits of its first 4K restoration.

An intriguing device utilised throughout is employing paintings by artist Peter Coad to illustrate the violence rather than depicting gore and turning it into a grisly spectacle. The violence here is not about titillation, it’s about highlighting the horrendous things people do to each other. The effectiveness of this technique is not 100% but it does create a welcome respite from the viscera employed by most cinema.

Rather than a score, Rolf de Heer uses the musical talents of Archie Roach as the soundtrack, lending a strange anachronistic vibe that reminds the viewer that this was not so far into the past.


Extras on this disc are generous and showcase the process as well as the reception for the film. The featurette David Gulpilil: “I Remember…” is an emotional road trip through the locations from the movie with Gulpilil describing his reminiscences. We are also treated to interviews and outtakes as well as footage from various premieres and festivals and an Archie Roach music video to round it off – overall a wonderful collection of supplementary materials.

If you are a lover of Australian film, drama or even just a simple yet moving story beautifully told, The Tracker is essential viewing and with this Blu-Ray release you get the benefit of seeing it the best that you probably ever could have.

If you would like to grab your own copy of The Tracker on Blu-Ray, you can purchase it online here. It is also available in its standard definition on DVD here.

Spotlight: Bushranging at the Billabong

(Police news, January 6, 1877)

This etching from 1877 may be quite crude for its time but it relates to a forgotten piece of bushranging history. In January 1877, reports of a bushranger operating near Albury began to surface. The offender was most notable for his white calico mask seemingly made from a puggaree. One report is as follows:




A correspondent at Albury sends as the following particulars of the case of bushranging in that district. On Sunday last a report was received atthe Albury police station of a robbery under arms, which had taken place in the neighbourhood of Ten Mile Creek on the previous evening. The circumstances of the affair are substantially as follows: –


About 37 miles from Albury, on the main Sydney road, and about three miles from Germantown, is a small store kept by a man named Bounds. The house is a mere roadside store, doing business principally with teamsters, the place being a convenient and favourite camping-ground. About half past 10 on Saturday night, two men rode up to the store on horseback, and one of them dismounted and giving his horse into the charge of his companion entered the house. Producing two revolvers and presenting one, he ordered the inmates of the store – Mr. Bounds and his wife, and a girl about 15 years of age – in true bushranging style to “Bail up,” a command which it need hardly be said was at once obeyed. The robber then proceeded to tie up his three subjects, a work which he accomplished in a secure and workmanlike manner. Having made all fast he inquired what money there was in the place, and ascertaining the whereabouts of the till, helped himself to its contents, which fortunately amounted only to £115, 25s in silver and a half-sovereign. To make up for the insignificance of the money booty he then proceeded to help himself to some of the store goods, but the precise extent of his operations in this direction has not yet been determined, the inmates of the store being unable to see what was going on. When, however, he had selected what he wanted, he removed the bandage from Mr. Bounds’ eyes, and forced him to sign a cheque on the Commercial Bank, Albury, for £22, a document which by the way will hardly be of much use to Messieurs the bushrangers, as the bank of course got notice of the robbery early on Monday. After obtaining the cheque, the robber quietly rejoined his companion, mounted his horse, and rode away. The man who was outside, being out of the view of the inmates of the store during the whole affair, cannot of course be described, but the robber who entered the building and performed the actual robbery is said to be about 5ft. 8in. in height, having light whiskers and blue eyes. He was dressed in a flannel shirt, printed moleskin trousers, and light felt hat; and he wore over his face a kind of mask made of dirty white calico, with holes for the eyes. A number of the mounted police force have been scouring the country ever since the news reached Albury, but up to the present time (Monday afternoon), no intelligence of the arrest of the robbers has come to hand.”
The bushranger who stuck-up Mr. Bound’s store near Germantown, on the 6th inst, was captured on Monday by the New South Wales police. The Border Post states “that the man gave his name as Richard Lauaghan. He is supposed to be identical with the Billabong robber who recently stuck-up three men near King’s Hotel. Some of the stolen clothes were found in his possession. He was committed by the Germantown Bench to take his trial at the next Albury Court of Quarter Sessions.
Of course it must be stated that the consternation around these events must have been considerable given that it was around a year before Ned Kelly would become public enemy #1 and seven years after Captain Thunderbolt’s reign was cut short at Kentucky Creek. The offenders’ capture was reported in slightly more detail in The Weekly Times:


Thanks to praiseworthy activity of several members of the police force, the individual who has recently created no little consternation in the neighbourhood of the Billabong by his penchant for committing robbery under arms (states the Border Watch), has been arrested. On Sunday, the 7th inst., Mr. Superintendent Singleton received information of a most bare-faced robbery on the Sydney road. The report ran somewhat as follows : — John Bounds, a settler, complained that on the previous evening (Saturday), about half-past 10 o’clock, two men rode up to his house, situated about three miles from Germantown, one with his face covered with a piece of calico, in which there two holes cut for his eyes. They bailed him up and robbed him, and then stayed about two hours searching the place for money, but only succeeded in finding half a sovereign and 20s in silver. Not content with this, however, they compelled Mr. Bounds to draw a cheque on the Commercial Bank, Albury, for £22. The man with the mask tied up Mr. Bounds, his wife and child, and left. He was armed with two pistols. The police were immediately in pursuit of the desperado, and effected a smart arrest on the following day (Monday). The arresting constables state that the man they captured gave his name as Lanaghan, and that he is identical with the Billabong robber who stuck-up three men near King’s hotel. Some of the stolen clothes were found in his possession. We learn, also, that his accomplice is likely to soon be arrested. Accused was fully committed, at the Ten-Mile Creek Police Court, on Tuesday last, to take his trail at the next Court of Quarter Sessions to be holden at Albury, on a charge of robbery under arms. Prisoner was identified by bounds, and also by his wife and girl.
A pith helmet adorned with a puggaree with a neck curtain much like the one Lannighan used as a mask. (Source)
The tale didn’t end there. The Australian Town and Country Journal reported on the follow up in March of that year:
At the Albury Quarter Sessions on Monday week before District Court Judge Forbes, Richard Lannighan and Lorn Pentland, the former a young man of about 25, and the latter a mere youth of not more than 20, were jointly and severally charged with having, at Three-mile Creek, on the 6th January proximo, stuck up and robbed John Bownds, a storekeeper. Mr. O’Ryan, instructed instructed by Mr. Nagle, appeared for Pentland, Lannighan being undefended.
Constable Ridout deposed: I am a constable of police, stationed at Tarrara. On the 7th instant about 2 o’clock in the morning, I received some information from Mr. Bownds, in consequence of which I went to his (Bownds’) house, and joining constable Turnbull went in search of prisoner. We met the prisoner Lannighan, on the morning of the 8th. He was riding one horse and leading another. He said “I wanted to see some of you fellows.” He then told us that he had been stuck up and robbed on the Saturday afternoon. He said he was going home when a man stuck him up and robbed him of about, £22 in bank notes and £1 in silver. He said the robber was on foot, and he was on horseback and leading another horse. The robber then tied his hands behind him, took him into the bush, and after taking his watch and chain, got on his (Lannighan’s) horse and rode away. He was unable to get loose until 10 o’clock on Sunday morning, when he managed to break the cord which bound him, and walked home with his hands tied behind him. He further said the robber was armed with two double-barrelled pistols, and wore a dirty calico cover over his face, with holes cut for his eyes. He was too exhausted to leave his house in order to give information to the police. I then asked Lannighan to show me the tree where the robber had tied him up. He showed me a tree near the road, which he said was the one where the robber had stuck him up. He then went a little further into the bush, and showed me a tree where he said he had been tied. I remarked to him that there were no marks on the tree of a cord such as there would be if a person had been tied up to it for any length of time. He then seemed confused, and we walked away a little examining the other trees, but watching his movements
Presently we saw him working the bark off a sapling with his thumb, and trampling the earth at the base. We then went up to him, and he said that that was the tree, and pointed to the mark he had made on it. Constable Turnbull then told him we had seen him making the marks pointed out a few minutes before. We then arrested him on suspicion of having robbed Mr. Bownds, and took him to the Ten-mile Creek lock-up. I previously asked him if he wore a puggaree when he was robbed, and he replied that he never wore one. I showed him the puggaree produced after his arrest, which was given to me by Mr. Bownds, and he said he believed it was his, and that the robber must have taken it from him when he stuck him up, I was also present when the prisoner Pentland was arrested at Cookardinia on the 10th instant. I did not hear what answer he made to the charge of robbing Mr. Bownds. He said he had not seen Lannighan since Lunt’s Billabong races, a month ago. Pentland was then put in the lock-up with Lannighan at Ten-mile Creek, and I overheard part of their conversation while in the cell. Pentland said, ” Lannighan, this is a nice b—-y mess we’ve got ourselves into.” Lannighan said, ” Well, it cannot be helped.” One of the prisoners then said ” hush,” and Pentland said, ” I can get witnesses to prove I was at home on that night.” Lannighan said, “It’s no b—-y use, we’re in for it, and we’ll have to suffer it.” Some other conversation ensued, but it was rather indistinct. I fancied Pentland said, “That b—-y puggaree that you left behind sold us,” or words to that effect. I don’t know that I ever saw the two prisoners in company before. I produce a waistcoat and shirt which Lannighan was wearing when arrested, and which Bownds has identified as his property. Cross-examined : I saw Constable Covenay this morning, but said nothing to him about the case. The lock-up at Ten-Mile is built of slabs, and a slab partition runs between the room where I and Covenay were in and the lock-up. I heard all the conversation that took place, and can swear positively to the words used. I took the conversation down in my note-book afterwards.
Constable Covenay gave corroborative evidence. With regard to the robbery itself, John Bownds deposed : I keep a store at Three-mile Creek on the Sydney road. The night of the 6th January, between half-past ten and eleven o’clock, a man came to my house with two pistols in his hand. His face was covered with a piece of calico, with holes cut in it for his eyes and nose. He presented the pistols first at my wife and then at me, through the window, and said ” your money or your life.” I went to the door and he told me to go inside ; he followed me and again demanded money, and I gave him a purse containing 29s. He then said “you have more,” and I replied that I had not, as I had sent it all to the bank the day before. I believe prisoner Lannighan is the man. I judge from his general appearance and his hair and voice. I saw Lannighan on Tuesday before this, the 2nd January. He called at my store and purchased a cotton shirt and some other goods. I asked him to stop all night, as I have known him for some time. He stayed, and left in the morning. After I told Lannighan about sending the money to the bank, he said I must give him a cheque, I said I would, I but it would be no use to him, as I could stop it atthe bank. He told me to tie my wife’s hands, which I did, and also the little girls. After I had tied my wife’s hands he took a puggaree from his pocket, and tied them again with it. I then drew a cheque for £22 on the Commercial Bank, Albury, and gave it him. After that he said, “I must secure you,’ and tied my hands with a throat strap, and made me go into the room where my wife was. He then went into the bedroom, and brought out the box I generally keep the cash in ; there was no money in the box. He next blindfolded all three of us with towels. He then returned to the bedroom, stayed there about half an hour, and went into the store for about the same period. He went away shortly afterwards. When he went out I heard other footsteps walking away besides his ; and while he was in the house I heard noises outside as if other persons were there. I missed a shirt, trousers, and vest, and other goods from the store. Next day I saw the tracks of two persons outside in the sand. Subsequently I examined the foot marks of Pentland behind the police barracks at Germantown, and they resembled one of the tracks I found in my paddock. The clothes produced are the ones I lost out of my store.
Other evidence was given, and after retiring for about an hour, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against Richard Lannighan, who was sentenced to three years’ hard labour at Darlinghurst. Lorne Pentland was found not guilty and discharged.


Image – State Library of Victoria, Rare Books Collection; mp016674:3030866;

“Bushranging in the Albury District.” Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907) 3 March 1877: 26.

“THE BILLABONG BUSHRANGER CAPTURED.” Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954) 13 January 1877: 16.

“BUSHRANGING NEAR ALBURY.” The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946) 13 January 1877: 21.

Frank Gardiner: An Overview

Few names stand out in bushranging history quite like the self proclaimed “Prince of Tobeymen” himself – Frank Gardiner. Often considered the godfather of bushranging, he was responsible for the largest gold heist in colonial Australian history and introduced many of the big names to bushranging.

Gardiner was born in Rosshire, Scotland in 1830 as Francis Christie. He had a brother and two sisters who accompanied he and his parents on board the ship James to New South Wales in 1834. Settling at Boro Creek near Goulburn, the family kept a low profile until Frank hit adolescence.

Young Frank Christie first veered from the straight and narrow path when he began adopting false names to engage in stock theft. Teaming up with Jack Newton he stole two racehorses from Jugiong Station and took them across the border into Victoria. Adding William Troy to the cohort, they stole more horses and accrued a mob of thirty they planned to sell in Adelaide. The plans were scuppered, however, when police nabbed the offenders near Geelong. Christie was given five years for horse stealing. He was first accommodated in Melbourne Gaol before being transferred to the stockade at Pentridge. On 27 March 1851 Frank Christie escaped from Pentridge and went bush.

Christie assumed the name Clarke and teamed up with Ted Prior and spent a couple of years stealing stock in the Abercrombie Ranges. When he was finally nabbed, “Clarke” was sentenced to fourteen years on Cockatoo Island. In March 1854 he began his sentence and while inside he met John Peisley and the two gelled immediately. It is possible that he may also have encountered Frederick Wordsworth Ward (later known as Captain Thunderbolt) while he was there. On New Year’s Eve of 1859 Frank Christie gained a ticket of leave for the Carcoar district but as soon as he raised freedom he stole a horse and headed for the Kiandra Goldfields where he became a butcher and called himself Frank Gardiner.

Adding William Fogg to his business, Gardiner’s butcher shop was a source of high quality meat of dubious origin. It was widely believed that the animals he was slaughtering were stolen, but nobody could pin him for it until Sir Frederick Pottinger arrived in town. Gardiner and Fogg were arrested on suspicion of cattle theft but were released on bail. On 3 May 1861 Gardiner vanished into the bush. Gardiner became the self-proclaimed “Prince of Tobeymen” with John Peisley and a flash Canadian named Johnny Gilbert as his sidekicks. Gardiner was a well dressed and groomed gentleman of the road – a far cry from the balding and bloated Peisley and the impish Gilbert.

Things became serious when Gardiner took shelter at Fogg’s residence due to suffering from exposure in July 1861. It wasn’t long before police arrived and there was a scuffle. In the fracas Sergeant Middleton and Constable Hosie were shot and wounded, and Gardiner was savagely beaten and captured. What happened next is not known for certain. Some say Peisley helped rescue Gardiner, others say Gardiner bribed the police to free him. Whatever the means, Gardiner once more gained his liberty. From this time on bushranging would never be the same.

Gardiner wrote to the press to disclose his own narrative of the incident with Middleton and Hosie and talked himself up in the process. His reputation was beginning to become part of the popular culture of the day as he began recruiting more offsiders. He roamed the Lachlan with the “Three Jacks” – John Davis, John Connors and John McGuinness – in early 1862. When John Connors was shot and captured by the police at Lambing Flat in April the other two Jacks fled. Gardiner was outraged and turned them away. When John McGuinness was found dead days later it was believed that Gardiner had killed him in his rage.

It was at this time Gardiner took on Ben Hall as an accomplice. Gilbert also became Gardiner’s sidekick, accompanying him on various robberies presumably because of his competence when it came to criminal activities as much as his loyalty. Gardiner now had his eyes clapped on a far bigger prize. He was aware of the route the gold escort took from the Araluen diggings through to Orange and decided to rob it as it took the gold from the diggings to the town at a place called Eugowra Rocks. He recruited John Bow, Alex Fordyce, Henry Manns, Johnny Gilbert, Dan Charters, Ben Hall, John O’Meally and Charles Darcy to help him make the score. The gang hid in the rocks and on 15 June 1862 they blocked the road with a bullock train then as the escort came around the bend Gardiner launched his attack. The coach toppled as the horses bolted and the cabin was riddled with bullets. Some of the troopers were badly injured but no lives were lost on the day and the bushrangers got away with around £6000 worth of gold as well as almost £4000 cash and other goods. Unfortunately Gardiner lost his share of the gold when the gang was intercepted by the police and he was forced to abandon his packhorse.

Gardiner had been wooing Kitty Brown, younger sister of Ben Hall’s wife Biddy, and the two were conducting a secret affair. After the robbery Gardiner took Kitty with him to Victoria where they aimed to make a new start on the Goldfields but when this didn’t work they headed to Apis Creek in Queensland. Here they bought a pub and ran it very effectively until one of Kitty’s letters was intercepted and a detachment from the New South Wales police led by Detective Pye headed north to nab the most wanted man in the empire. Gardiner was dragged out of the pub into the street and forcefully apprehended. He was taken back to New South Wales despite the police having not received permission to go outside their jurisdiction.

Gardiner was put on trial for his crimes and after much anticipation was found guilty and sentenced to thirty four years imprisonment. He was sent to Darlinghurst Gaol but meanwhile Kitty and Gardiner’s sisters were fighting tooth and nail to get him out. All was for nil and Kitty Brown eventually moved to New Zealand with her brother-in-law and committed suicide after months of living in dire poverty.

In 1874 Gardiner was released from Gaol after a movement was passed allowing a number of criminals who had been given longer sentences than were the current norm at that time to be freed. However for Gardiner there was a catch and he was exiled, never to return to Australia. He spent time in Hong Kong before moving to San Francisco where he ran a saloon. When and how he died is a mystery. Some claimed that he was killed in a bar room brawl, others that he married a rich widow and had two sons before dying of old age. The most likely scenario is that he turned to alcoholism and died in a poor house in 1892. Hardly a romantic death for the great Frank Gardiner, Prince of Tobeymen and King of the Road.

Spotlight: For Frank Gardiner

Owen Suffolk was a bushranger who spent more than a decade in prison for a range of crimes, particularly Pentridge Prison. Suffolk gained the moniker “The Poet” for his deftness with poetry much of which refers to the experience of convicts and bushrangers. Perhaps his most well-known is For Frank Gardiner. It is a bold declaration of defiance and desire for freedom at any cost, the sort of liberty the outlaw archetype represents free from the constraints of the law and the mores of society; a liberty denied Frank Gardiner when he was finally apprehended at Apis Creek and dragged back to New South Wales.

Frank Gardiner in prison

For Frank Gardiner
By Owen Suffolk

It is not in a prison drear
Where all around is gloom,
That I would end life’s wild career,
And sink into the tomb,
For though my spirit’s ever bold
Each tyrant to defy;
Still, still, within a dungeon cold,
I could not calmly die.

It is not that my cheek would pale
Within a lonely cell;
It is not that my heart would quail
To bid this world farewell.
For if oppressed by tyrant foe
I’d freely be the first
To give my life, and strike the blow
To lay him in the dust.

But place me in a forest glen
Unfettered, wild and free,
With fifty tried and chosen men
A bandit chief to be.
‘Tis there, when fighting with my foes
Amid my trusty band,
I’d freely leave this world of woes,
And die with sword in hand.


Joe Byrne: An Opinion

For this week’s feature we invited Georgina Rose Stones to pen her thoughts on Joe Byrne, lieutenant of the Kelly Gang. Georgina is a journalism student who has studied the Kelly story in detail and has been active in the bushranging history community for some time. Her knowledge of Joe Byrne’s story is in depth and she provides a very interesting perspective on an often overlooked member of the bushranging fraternity. So now I turn over to Georgina for your reading pleasure. Enjoy! ~ AP

Try as I might, I am unable to recall exactly what it was that first enticed me into the depths of the Kelly story and outbreak. I can vividly recall reading Peter Carey’s True History of The Kelly Gang for silent reading as a mere twelve year old, but what made me pick up the novel to begin with escapes me. Whatever it was, however, I will forever remain truly grateful. For many individuals, it is Ned Kelly who incites the most sympathy and interest in regards to the gang as a whole. There is no harm in that, given especially, as it is Ned who has been given the most exposure through the years. For me, however, this place has always been reserved for Ned’s “lieutenant”, Joe Byrne.

When I was first asked the question “what compels you to Joe?” I had a handful of answers flash through my mind, but now, as I sit here at my desk, I’m finding it harder to pinpoint the exactness of why, when compared with Ned, Steve and Dan, I drift towards Joe. Two aspects, I believe which have drawn me to Joe, are in regards to his schooling and personality. It is these two characteristics which I find most compelling about Joe’s persona, as when one thinks of a ‘bushranger’ or ‘outlaw’, being “a bit of a poet” or “soberly dressed” are not words which often spring to mind. Furthermore, by all accounts Joe was well read, and, like Ned, frequented James Ingram’s bookshop in Beechworth with his lifelong friend, Aaron Sherritt. Coupled with Joe’s literary interests, he was “for a bushman rather clever with his pen.” This is another aspect I have always found engaging about Joe, as like me, he loved to write, specifically in the guise of ‘bush ballads’. These ballads dealt with the exploits and overall boldness of the gang, with my favourite verse being “long may they reign – the Kelly’s, Byrne and Hart.” Further to these ballads, it is noted that while at Jerilderie, “plotting for the following day’s robbery”, Joe wrote down a riddle to amuse himself, “Why are the Kellys the greatest matchmakers in the country? Because they brought loads of ladies Younghusbands, Euroa, Victoria.” Combined with this detail, I have always been fascinated by the letters Joe sent to both Aaron and Jack Sherritt, in conjunction with, the mock reward posters and caricatures of Detective Ward. Finally, the existence of Joe’s journal has always been of great interest to me, and is something, which I believe, further highlights Joe’s clever and complex mind. The pieces of Joe’s personality are area’s with which I am also drawn. Most individuals who came into his presence, found Joe to be “quiet” and “unassuming”. At Jerilderie, an unknown individual recounted that “his manner is quiet and he appears to the casual observer an inoffensive man.” Moreover, Constable McIntyre would recount that he found Joe to be “a nervous man, thoroughly under the control of Ned Kelly.” I have always found this assessment of Joe to be interesting, as there does seem to be some alteration in his disposition when he was out of Ned’s presence. This is a factor about Joe with which I have always been compelled by and one that I find quite moving, as it demonstrates, I believe, the two ideals Joe was constantly torn between. The first, concerning him as an outlaw, and secondly, as both lover and poet. The first source I have, which represents the way Joe’s manner could change, comes from a Mr Turner, from Mt Battery Station, who met the gang while they resided at Bullock Creek. While under Joe’s watchful guard, Mr Tuner recollects a detail about Joe I have always loved, “from a billy hanging over the fire, Byrne produced some hot water, and standing with his rifle near him shaved himself most carefully, after which he gave his hair a vigorous brushing, all the time carrying on a disjointed conversation with me.” He concluded by adding, “his tone was affable and quiet” and goes on to declare, “I could not understand the different conduct in the absence of his comrades.” Another lovely detail, which I feel shows the ‘other side of Joe’, comes from Mrs Fitzgerald at Faithfuls Creek. She described that Joe “chatted with her on general topics” and, in my favourite detail, “played for her entertainment on a concertina” and seemed much more outgoing with her than with the male prisoners. Finally, I do not think it feasible to discuss what compels me to Joe, without at least mentioning his fondness for barmaids. There are two barmaids in particular who are known to have turned Joe’s head, Mary the Larrikin from the Woolpack Inn, and his last earthly lover, Maggie, from the Vine Hotel. Regarding Mary the Larrikin, I have always loved the detail of Joe riding back to the Woolpack Inn to see Mary, after meeting her the previous night while the gang were on route to Jerilderie. On their first encounter, Joe was so charmed by her presence, Ned had to warn him to “ease off and quietly told Mary not to serve Joe anymore whiskey.” On the following evening, Joe rode back to the Woolpack Inn to spend some more time with Mary, and it was noted, “had to be helped on his horse when he left at midnight.” Nevertheless, it has been Joe’s connection to Maggie that has captivated me the most and it has always saddened me that we do not know more about her. However, it is known that Joe visited her frequently, the last time being the “Wednesday or Thursday night” before the Kelly Gang’s destruction.

As I type, my eyes drift upwards to my intricately framed photo of Joe, positioned on the wall above my desk. Standing before me I see a young man dressed soberly in ‘town clothes’, his slightly flared trouser hems revealing larrikin heels, highlighting his rebellious bush spirit, which I will forever admire. Joe was a man with many complexities to his character; he was outlaw and scholar, opium user and balladeer, lover of whiskey and barmaids. A young man who often frequented the Burke Museum and whom was also in good relations with many of the Beechworth Chinese community, who called him “Ah Joe.” He was a man who declared he would “die at Ned’s side”, yet at Glenrowan, when Ned expressed the hopefulness of the situation, Joe had heatedly proclaimed, “Well it’s your fault, I always said this bloody armour would bring us to grief.” Furthermore, I see a fearless young man who in just three short years would meet his end, shot by a policeman’s bullet which tore into his thigh, severing the femoral artery. Resulting in Joe bleeding to death, and who just moments before had defiantly toasted “many a long and happy day still in the bush, boys!” In conclusion, while I do not wish to dwell on the final photo taken of Joe, finding it equally heartbreaking and repulsive, I feel I should at least mention it. The gentle calmness of Joe’s countenance does not depict a young man, who only four days previous, had shot and killed his lifelong friend and who had declared, “you will not blow now what you do with us anymore.” And, it is this that has always struck me, how quickly the outlaw guise was discarded for the “mild mannered” Joe.

This is what compels me to Joe Byrne.


Ian Jones, A Short Life

Ian Jones, The Fatal Friendship

J.J. Kenneally, The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang

Keith McMenomy, Ned Kelly The Authentic Illustrated History