Dan Kelly: An Overview

Forever consigned to popular culture as Ned Kelly’s little brother, Dan Kelly was a young man of only nineteen when he lost his life fighting the police. Like so many “boy bushrangers” his young life was snuffed out without him having ever fulfilled his potential, wasting his youth on a life of crime. But there was more to Dan Kelly than just having Ned Kelly as his big brother.

Studio portrait of Dan Kelly

Daniel Kelly was born on 1 June, 1861 to John “Red” Kelly and Ellen Quinn. He was named after one of his father’s brothers and christened in the church in Beveridge, Victoria, where the family were living in a house John had built. Before Dan was born, there had been Mary Jane (died in infancy), Annie, Ned, Maggie and Jim. Dan would be followed by Kate and Grace. Dan’s infancy years were quiet for the family. John turned his hand to a number of occupations but was primarily employed doing odd jobs around the district and splitting timber. Financial strain, however, soon saw John attempting to distill his own whiskey. Unfortunately he took to drinking most of the produce himself. The difficulty saw the family relocate to Avenel, but here their problems would not only continue, they would worsen.

[Source: The Illustrated Australian News, 17/07/1880]

John spent six months in gaol in 1866 for stealing and butchering a calf. This meant that for half a year Ellen was reliant on her brothers for help around the place. The Quinn brothers were not model citizens by the furthest stretch, Jimmy Quinn being the worst of the lot. Jimmy was too fond of liquor, quick to violence and did not discriminate when choosing a target. No doubt Dan’s exposure to this would have negatively shaped his young mind. When John was released from gaol he was a broken man. Dan was barely five years old when his father died of dropsy, an old term for oedema (build-up of fluid in the soft tissues), likely linked to his alcoholism. He was buried in Avenel. The family soon found themselves frequently homeless, moving from Avenel to an abandoned pub in Greta. Here the Kellys co-habited with Ellen’s sisters, both of whose husbands were in prison at the time, and their children while they attempted to make ends meet.

The new home in Greta was short-lived. One night John Kelly’s brother James had arrived at the house drunk and his sexual advances were rebuffed by Ellen. He returned later that same night and burned the place to the ground. The children inside were asleep but the sisters remained awake, fearful of retribution. After another binge at the local pub, James threw incendiary devices at the house until a fire took hold, but thankfully there were no fatalities. The families were now homeless again and devoid of earthly possessions such as clothes and furniture. When James was tried he was sentenced to death by Sir Redmond Barry. This was later commuted to a long prison sentence by the executive council. The Greta community got together and helped the victims get back on their feet. Ellen soon gained a lease on a selection on the 11 Mile Creek. Things were starting to look up.

This portable lock-up was formerly used in Greta and likely was the one that held young Jim and Dan Kelly before they were transferred to Wangaratta.

With his big brother Ned, only twelve himself when Red died, acting as man of the house, Dan and his brother Jim often ran wild. By 1870 things had changed dramatically for the family. Ellen had her selection but the land was not fit for crops. The family had to rely on the money they made from lodgers and travellers looking for a drink. Fifteen year-old Ned worked for a time as Harry Power‘s offsider, and then found himself in and out of gaol, eventually copping three years for receiving a stolen horse. Jim was now the man of the house in Ned’s absence. Jim was not a good candidate, however, and would coax Dan into mischief; their first arrest occurring when Dan was only ten years old.

In September 1871, Jim and Dan had borrowed horses without permission from a hawker named Mark Krafft. Krafft had been grazing his horses at the Kelly selection, as he had frequently done, and the boys had taken them for a joyride. Jim had previously been working as Krafft’s servant to get some extra money, the pudgy child being less physical than his big brother and thus less suited to splitting work. Constable Ernest Flood, newly stationed in Greta, nabbed them on a charge of illegally using a horse and took the children to Wangaratta to be kept in the logs until trial. When they went to court two days later the case was quickly dismissed on account of Jim’s and Dan’s ages (12 and 10 respectively) and the fact that Jim had been a servant of Krafft for a time. One can only imagine the impact that the experience of being taken away from their family and locked up in a cell with a bunch of strange, grown men waiting for trial for two days would have been on the children. It would eventuate that Flood was nothing but bad news for the family, allegedly stealing their horses and selling them to railway workers and sexually assaulting Dan’s big sister Annie and making her pregnant, though the truth of this is debatable owing to there being no solid evidence to back the claims.

Jim, only fourteen, ended up in gaol in 1873 with two sentences of 2 1/2 years to be served consecutively for helping shift stolen cattle. With Red gone and Ned and Jim in gaol, Ellen was on the lookout for a new man to help around the house and to protect her from her brothers or anyone else that might come sniffing around with bad intentions. She took the bold move of selling grog on the sly to travellers and seemed to think she had found her man in Bill Frost, an itinerant worker who had lodged with the family. Frost engaged in a sexual relationship with Ellen, from which she became pregnant with a daughter. Frost was apparently not keen to be a father and skipped town. Ellen, not one to be passive, tracked him down and took him to court for maintenance. After a long and bitter dispute she won but the infant died before the first maintenance payment came through. One can only imagine how this would have impacted young Dan, who had to assume the role of man of the house.

It wasn’t all gloomy for Dan though. According to some accounts, while his big brothers were doing time, Dan was lavished with affection from his sisters. Some considered this made him spoiled, but at any rate he managed to keep his nose clean during this period. It was at this time that Ellen took in George King, a 25 year-old American-born traveller, miner and stock thief. It was a remarkably short courtship as they were married in 1874, just after Ned came home from Pentridge. Within a month Ellen gave birth again. No doubt Dan, now thirteen, was relieved not to have the responsibility of being the male head of the household anymore. Between Ned and George the role was well taken care of.

Dan’s main hobbies at this time were much the same as the majority of young men in the country – riding and hunting. Dan would latch onto groups of boys who were out kangaroo hunting and took much pride in his marksmanship. He also took much joy in racing his peers on horseback. A brilliant description of Dan came from Joseph Ashmead, a friend of the Kelly family, in an unpublished memoir:

He was riding a smart black pony, and proudly told us it was a galloper and could clear any fence in the north east. The boy was alert and active with piercing black eyes that took in everything at a glance. He wore strapped trousers, a red shirt and straw hat tilted forward, secured by a strap under his nose. The back of his head was broad and covered with close cropped hair as black and shiny as a crow; his jaw was heavy, his lips thin, and when closed tightly, there seemed to be something cruel in them, but when they relaxed into a smile, he appeared to be a jovial, good-natured fellow. His name was Dan Kelly and he was a great lover of horses. I was the only one of the boys who had a horse. A bay pony. She had belonged to a clergyman and was an honest goer. Dan ran his eye over my over my horse and proposed that we should have a race, a challenge that I gladly accepted. When Dan found that he could not shake me off, he developed a great respect for me, and declared there was not a kangaroo in all the country who could get away from us, so we went kangaroo hunting, not once but many times. I left my cows to look after themselves, or bribed some of the boys to look after them for me, with the promises of some sinews out of the kangaroo’s tail to make whip crackers with.

No doubt Dan’s hunting provided much needed meat for the family, or at least was able to be sold to raise money for other goods. Seemingly Dan left home at the first opportunity to seek work. By some reports he travelled into New South Wales to work on sheep stations around the Monaro region as a shearer. He was also reported to have worked in Chesney Vale with Ned as a brick layer, but was not very good at it. It is likely that this is when Dan took up possession of an abandoned miner’s hut by Bullock Creek in the Wombat Ranges and began prospecting for gold. Sluices were later constructed along the creek and this would have provided a bit of pocket money. No doubt the seasonal nature of most of these jobs left Dan with a considerable amount of free time in between and he soon found himself adopting the larrikin culture of the day.

[Source: Melbourne Punch, 30/10/1873]

The fast riding, clownishly attired, skirt chasing lifestyle of the larrikin had become a widespread issue throughout the colonies. Gangs of youths in porkpie or billycock hats worn on jaunty angles, short Paget coats and jackets, bell-bottom trousers, colourful sashes and pointy high-heeled boots would loiter in public areas making a nuisance of themselves. Dan became a founding member of the “Greta Mob”, who populated the streets around Greta and Wangaratta. Apart from Dan, the mob consisted mostly of his cousins Tom and Jack Lloyd and a young Wangaratta jockey named Steve Hart, with the rotating roster of associates typical of these forms of social group. Their primary interests were fast horses, smoking, booze and chatting up girls. The boys were known to ride full gallop through the streets and challenge each other to various horse tricks. Steve Hart, for instance, could get his horse to vault over the railway gates, much to the chagrin of the gatekeeper. The Greta Mob adopted as their signature the larrikin badges of high-heeled boots, cocked billycock hats with the hatstring worn under the nose (to stop the hat flying off when riding at full gallop) and brightly coloured sashes worn around the waist. The style was clownish but that’s not unusual for teenage boys of any era. Unfortunately, Dan was still living in hand-me-downs and cut an odd figure in his threadbare, oversized, outdated outfits. The only verified photographic images we have of Dan illustrate this clearly. He wears a rumpled hat, a baggy sack coat with missing buttons and fraying cuffs as well as baggy trousers held up with a piece of rope. He was known to grow his hair long and seems to have cultivated a moustache at some point. But what Dan lacked in creole couture he made up for in his riding and his drinking. It has been written that Dan had many sweethearts but whenever they were unavailable for a night of frivolity he would employ the services of working girls, though it is incredibly unlikely that a fifteen year-old boy would have the presence of mind or the funds to engage in that lifestyle, regardless of the usual rampant libido they enjoyed.

1 Dan_Kelly_Colourised_2.png

One of the few times Dan graced the courts was in relation to a supposedly stolen saddle. In March 1877 he was charged with stealing the saddle in question in Benalla and was tried during the Beechworth general sessions before Judge Hackett. It had taken five months to lay charges against the teenager. The saddle in question was one that Dan had purchased from a man named Roberts in exchange for a different saddle and £1, and he produced a receipt to prove it, which was verified in court. Along with Jack Lloyd and his brother-in-law Bill Skillion, Ned Kelly was present during the hearing as a witness to back up his little brother. In the end the case was dismissed and Dan walked away with a sense of vindication. Judge Hackett stated that he “did not see why the prisoner was there at all” as his case was clear-cut. During this case Dan displayed a trait that distinguished him from his older brothers – he provided no resistance to arrest and complied happily with the police. This could be interpreted by some as overconfidence in his ability to dodge a conviction, but more likely Dan understood that resisting arrest was a fool’s game and further that he was innocent of the crime of which he was accused (which a trial would – and did – prove). This would not be the last time he displayed a conspicuous willingness to comply.

While he had been waiting to appear in court over the saddle charge, Dan met two boys from the Woolshed Valley named Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt. They were also waiting to appear in court that day over a charge of assault against a Chinaman named Ah On. It would eventuate that the pair would not get their day in court that same day, remanded to be tried in the next session. What exactly transpired between the young men in that cell can only be guessed at, but this would prove to be a fateful friendship.

Dan’s first and only conviction came from an incident at Goodman’s store, Winton, on September 28, 1877. Dan had travelled into town to exchange meat for goods. When he arrived the establishment wasn’t open and therefore no trade took place. Annoyed, Dan went drinking with his cousins Tom and Jack then returned with them to Goodman’s store, drunk. Dan smashed in the door and took the goods he sought. A man going by the name Moses Solomon was also there and claimed he was assaulted by the rowdy larrikins. Tom Lloyd lingered and flashed Mrs. Goodman, the other two pushing Tom into her with the lights out. Dan was found guilty of wilfully damaging the property and sentenced to three months in Beechworth Gaol. Tom Lloyd was additionally charged with intent to rape but was found not guilty, yet still got six months for his part. Dan did his time in Beechworth Gaol without incident. Almost miraculously for a Kelly boy he managed to get through his sentence without incurring any additional penalties. Three months crushing granite would have given Dan bigger muscles, but also greater resolve to walk the straight and narrow once he was out. Unfortunately fate had a different plan for him.

Tom Lloyd, Dan’s cousin [Source: Victoria Police Museum, VPM3061]

While Dan was still in prison a warrant was issued for his arrest. A witness saw two young men they believed to be Dan Kelly and Jack Lloyd leading a mob of stolen horses near Chiltern. They reported it to the police and the paperwork was duly issued. This was noted by Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick after reading the announcement in the Police Gazette. On April 15, 1878, Fitzpatrick was sent from Benalla to take over at Greta police station. Fitzpatrick informed his superior, Sergeant Whelan, that he knew of a warrant for Dan Kelly and intended on arresting him on his way to the station. Fitzpatrick went alone to the Kelly property and what occurred has been subject to much scrutiny and debate. The general thrust is that Fitzpatrick enquired after Dan but found he was away. The constable then asked a neighbour, Brickey Williamson, about Dan’s whereabouts before electing to return to the Kelly house and wait. He was greeted by Dan who offered to go quietly on the provision that he could finish his dinner first. After this, a scuffle broke out and Fitzpatrick was wounded in the wrist. The policeman claimed Ned Kelly had shot him, Ned Kelly claimed he wasn’t even there. Each witness account conflicted with the others in some way. Regardless, Dan and Ned immediately fled to the Wombat Ranges. Ellen Kelly, Brickey Williamson and Dan’s brother-in-law Bill Skillion were arrested and charged with aiding attempted murder.

Constable Fitzpatrick [Source: Victoria Police Museum, VPM2580]

For six months Dan and Ned hid in the ranges. A second, fortified, hut was built further up the creek from Dan’s place using thick logs, and both huts were equipped with whiskey stills. The intention was to raise money for Ellen Kelly’s defence by selling gold and bootleg whiskey. Unfortunately it was not enough and Ellen got three years, the men each received six years.

After the trial police parties were organised to bring the Kelly brothers to justice. Warrants had been issued for their arrest. There was £100 on each of their heads; Ned for attempted murder, Dan for aiding and abetting. A party was sent from Mansfield to find the Kellys in the Wombat Ranges. The party consisted of Sergeant Michael Kennedy and constables Michael Scanlan, Thomas McIntyre and Thomas Lonigan. When Ned found the police party’s tracks he sent Dan to find their camp, which he duly did. The next day the brothers, roused by McIntyre firing a shotgun while hunting parrots, went to the police camp with Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. They hid in the spear-grass and intended on ambushing the camp to take the police guns and horses. When the bushrangers emerged they held McIntyre at gunpoint. When Lonigan ran to cover and moved to fire at the arrivals, Ned shot him. There was a moment of disbelief as Lonigan struggled on the ground. Dan remarked “He was a plucky fellow. Did you see how he went for his gun?” He then seized the police shotgun and searched the tent. When Lonigan’s identity was revealed, Dan exclaimed that “He won’t be putting any of us poor buggers away again.”

[Source: State Library of Victoria]

McIntyre took a particular dislike to Dan, describing his nervous laughter and his “grotesque” appearance in his oversized hand-me-down clothes. McIntyre fully believed that Dan would be the one to put a bullet in him.

Dan insisted McIntyre be handcuffed but Ned refused, believing a fear of being shot was incentive enough for the trooper to obey his orders. This did not sit well with Dan who grumbled that the police would just as soon clap cuffs on them.

When Kennedy and Scanlan returned from scouting McIntyre tried to persuade them to surrender but a gunfight broke out. Scanlan was shot, McIntyre escaped on Kennedy’s horse and Kennedy fired at the Kellys with his pistol. A bullet from Kennedy hit Dan’s shoulder as the sergeant retreated into the bush after McIntyre. Kennedy was soon killed by Ned a considerable distance from the camp. The gang looted the bodies and Dan took Scanlan’s pocket watch. The salvageable items were collected and the tent burnt as the gang escaped.

Source: Weekly Times. 16 November 1878: 17

As a result of the incident at Stringybark Creek, Ned and Dan were outlawed with a reward of £500 each. At this stage Joe and Steve were unidentified.

In December 1878 the gang re-emerged near Violet Town. They stuck up Younghusband’s Station on Faithfuls Creek in the afternoon and began herding the staff into a shed. They kept the staff as prisoners in the tool shed overnight and stole new outfits from a hawker’s wagon. That night the gang chatted with their captives, answering questions but with Ned doing most of the talking. Dan and Steve were overheard talking about how they’d like a lark with the female prisoners. In the morning the nearby telegraph poles were damaged by Ned, Joe and Steve. In the afternoon Ned, Dan and Steve headed into Euroa to rob the bank, leaving Joe on sentry at the station. The timing was meticulously arranged to coincide with a funeral that would keep the townsfolk occupied during the gang’s activities. Dan acted as a guard, standing at the rear of the bank, making sure that nobody escaped or interrupted while Ned and Steve robbed the place. Once the loot had been acquired the bushrangers headed back to the station with the bank staff and the manager’s family and servants. On the way Dan rode in the stolen hawker’s wagon and kept his gun trained on Mrs. Scott, the bank manager’s wife, who was driving a buggy alongside, in case she tried to escape or raise an alarm. The raid went off without a hitch and the gang escaped with thousands of pounds to distribute among their families and sympathisers. Before they left, Dan gave Constable Scanlan’s watch to Becroft, the hawker’s assistant, and money with which to repair it. It is unclear what the nature of the damage was.

[Source: Melbourne Punch, 19/12/1878]

In February 1879 the gang struck again at Jerilderie. They travelled over the border to answer a challenge that they wouldn’t last 24 hours in New South Wales. The gang roused the police in the middle of the night and locked them in their own cells. Mrs. Devine, the wife of the senior constable, recalled how as the gang occupied their home during their stay Dan would bounce her son on his knee but later spoke in quite a violent manner in order to make her work faster as she decorated the courthouse for mass. The gang then went through town disguised in police uniforms pretending to be reinforcements against the Kelly Gang. On the Monday Dan and Joe had their horses shod at the blacksmith and investigated the telegraph lines before the gang put their plan into full effect. Ned, Steve and Joe robbed the bank while Dan kept prisoners under control next door in the hotel. The gang had successfully managed to occupy the town for a whole weekend unmolested and rode away with thousands of pounds in unmarked notes that could not be traced. In response, the New South Wales government doubled the reward for the gang to £8000.

Dan Kelly (John Ley) helps Mrs. Devine (Anne Pendlebury) prepare the courthouse for mass in ‘The Last Outlaw’ (1980)

Upon leaving New South Wales, the gang split up to reconvene at the Byrne selection at a set date and time. Only Dan arrived on time. He stayed for dinner and questioned the Byrnes about whether the other gang members had been past. Dan seems to have had a good relationship with the Byrnes, frequently stopping by in much the same manner for a meal and a chat. Dan also seemed to be the most active gang member, being reported as having been spotted more than any other member of the Kelly Gang. It is also probable that he partook in Joe’s favourite past-time of visiting the Sebastopol opium dens for a smoke and card games.

Over the course of 1879 and early 1880, Dan and Joe Byrne tested the loyalty of the Sherritts and various other sympathisers that were suspected of turning on the gang. On 14 May, 1880, Dan paid a visit to his uncle Tom Lloyd. Lloyd’s neighbour, a police informant named Jacob Wilson, saw horses in Lloyd’s garden and began snooping. He was found behind the cow shed by the dogs and the barking roused everyone in the house. Uncle Tom sent the dog to chase the man down and he climbed up a cherry tree. Dan Kelly and cousin Tom Lloyd, who were unarmed, fetched the dog and yelled taunts to the police they assumed were nearby, before going back inside. Wilson was so terrified he stayed in the tree until morning. Incidents like this were increasingly common and the gang began to stop visiting certain people in case they were spotted.


More concerning to the gang however was the rumour that had been circulating that the Sherritts were in cahoots with the police, fuelled by the vicious game of “Chinese Whispers” that accounted for the gang’s bush telegraph. On one occasion Dan arrived at the Sherritt selection on Sheepstation Creek looking for Jack Sherritt, Aaron’s younger brother. When he was told Jack wasn’t home he pushed his way inside with a revolver drawn and searched for him. Dan said they wanted to speak with him. Unbeknownst to Dan, Jack was at that moment speeding away to speak to Assistant Commissioner Nicolson in a desperate attempt to seek protection. Nicolson told him to go to a local pub and use that as his alibi. It was clear to everyone that the gang was getting desperate and had cottoned on that something was up and Ned was determined to address it in his next big scheme.

In early 1880 a plan had been devised by Ned Kelly to escalate the gang’s activities. The banks were too heavily guarded to rob as they had done previously, so now they were struggling to find ways to keep their network of sympathisers on-side. The gang’s health was also deteriorating as the rigours of life on the run was wearing them down. Ned suffered sciatica and sandy blight, Joe struggled with withdrawals as his opium supply was cut off due to lack of funds, and Dan was described by one witness as looking gaunt and hollow-cheeked. Police parties were coming closer than before to catching the gang and even had the assistance of an elite team of black trackers from Queensland on top of a network of police spies and informants. Ned wanted to end the pursuit in dramatic fashion by luring a trainload of police and trackers to be derailed at Glenrowan. He sent Dan and Joe to create a commotion at Aaron Sherritt’s hut, where a team of constables had been allocated to protect him, as the bait. On Saturday 26 June, Dan and Joe kidnapped Aaron’s neighbour Anton Wick and used him to lure Aaron to his back door whereupon he was murdered by Joe with a shotgun. Dan guarded the front door in case the police that were hiding inside tried to escape. The two bushrangers then terrorised the party of constables as they cowered in the bedroom, Aaron’s mother-in-law and pregnant wife stuck between the two sides. Attempts to burn the place failed and the outlaws rode away two hours later. It would be midday the next day before any of the police were brave enough to see if they had gone. Initially Ellen Barry, the mother-in-law, stated that Dan had been quiet when entering the hut with a pistol. It was only later when attempts were being made to gain a payout from the police that she would describe him resting on the table as he looked at the murdered Sherritt with a grin.

sherritt hut.jpg
Aaron Sherritt’s Hut

Dan and Joe arrived at Glenrowan at around 5am on 27 June, 1880. Dan was immediately employed with tending the horses and carrying the gang’s armour into the Glenrowan Inn. Over the course of the day Dan guarded the prisoners in the inn and even initiated dancing to keep them entertained. He was seen to get intimate with Jane Jones, the publican’s daughter, she having been spotted sitting on his knee and kissing him, even being given one of his revolvers to use while she kept the prisoners at bay when Dan had to leave the room. As the weekend rolled on and the special train did not appear as expected, tensions began to rise. Multiple times during the gang’s stay at Glenrowan, Dan told Ned they should leave and argued the point only to be shouted down by his brother who was determined that they would stay and fight. The longer they waited the more difficult it became to keep the prisoners under control and the more they risked accidentally derailing a civilian train. Ned refused to heed his brother’s pleas. When Ned decided to release Thomas Curnow, the school teacher, Dan argued publicly with him as he knew Curnow could not be trusted. Curnow had spent the day trying to butter Ned up, a suspicious Dan watching like a hawk. Sure enough, when the train did appear in the early hours of 28 June, Curnow warned the police that the tracks were damaged and the gang was in Glenrowan. Just before the train arrived, Dan had told the prisoners to head home, however they were detained by Ann Jones who told them to wait for Ned to make a speech. If Dan’s instructions had not been countermanded a considerable amount of the tragedy that was to unfold could have been avoided.

Dan Kelly’s armour [Source: Victoria Police Museum, VPM1799]

When the train arrived the gang dressed in their homemade armour and engaged in a gun battle. Ned and Joe were wounded early on and they retreated inside. Ned soon disappeared into the bush behind the inn and Dan took control of the situation, doing his best to evacuate the women and children despite the relentless firing from police. Joe was shot dead by a police bullet early in the morning and Dan and Steve became very disheartened, believing Ned had also been killed or had abandoned them. When Ned re-emerged just before 7am the remaining gang provided covering fire from the inn, but within a half hour Ned was captured and the two bushrangers were stuck in the inn surrounded by police in broad daylight. Dan had received a bullet in the leg that shattered his knee and necessitated a retreat into the inn. At 10am the rest of the prisoners were released and Dan and Steve remained inside. As the prisoners left they shook Dan’s hand.

What happened in the inn next is unknown but it is possible that Dan was struck in the neck by a bullet while his helmet was off and killed or that he took his own life by taking poison. All that is known for certain is that at 3pm the inn was burned and while it was on fire his corpse was witnessed by multiple people, in the back room still in body armour and resting on a pillow made of sacks. The body was effectively cremated in the fire and the burnt remains released to his family. Later, Dr. Hutchison, a medic who had been called up to assist during the siege, retrieved what was believed to be Dan’s foot from the ruins and the scorched bones were handed down through the family.

The bodies of Dan Kelly and Steve Hart in the Glenrowan inferno, sketched by Thomas Carrington.

Around 200 people attended the wake at Maggie Skillion‘s home, many of whom were drunk and armed. Police efforts to reclaim the bodies were scrapped in response, the risks being too high. Though there are a number of (probably deliberately) conflicting oral histories with respect to the location of the last resting place of the two outlaws, most accounts indicate Dan Kelly was buried in an unmarked double grave in Greta cemetery with Steve Hart. The location within the cemetery of the exact double grave they were interred in is a closely guarded secret in family traditions in an effort to avoid the graves being disturbed. Unfortunately, this has added fuel to the fire of conspiracy theories and in one infamous case a particularly motivated “truther” went through the cemetery plunging steel probes into grave sites hoping to prove that there were no coffins in them. When Ellen Kelly died the 1923, she was buried in an unmarked plot next to the official spot where Red Kelly’s youngest son is buried.

Somewhat grotesque depiction of the wake for Dan and Steve. Maggie Skillion stands at the door with a shotgun while an oath of vengeance is sworn over the charred corpses. Kate Kelly rests on her knees in the foreground. It was not reported who had sworn the oath in most accounts. [Source: Australasian Sketcher, 17/07/1880]

In the years after Glenrowan there were rumours that Dan and Steve had escaped to South Africa to fight in the Boer War. In 1911, novellist Ambrose Pratt, author behind the memoirs of Captain Thunderbolt’s apprentice William Monckton, published a book claiming to be the memoirs of Dan Kelly. In fact, many people claimed to be Dan Kelly over the years, most notably a tramp called James Ryan whose ridiculous attempt to cash in on the survival rumours were published in the press and convinced scores of people who lacked knowledge of basic facts of the story. Ryan’s story even inspired the utterly woeful film The Glenrowan Affair. Ryan was killed by a coal train in the 1933 and is buried in Ipswich, Queensland. In order to lure tourists, the cemetery even erected a memorial telling the story of the claimant. None of the alleged Dans ever had any solid case to back their claims up but the myths of a miraculous escape from the burning inn persist to this day.

Dan Kelly was, in most ways, at least as competent as his big brother. As a horseman, tracker and marksman, his abilities were perhaps even better. Certainly he was more ruthless than Ned, a pragmatism that some interpreted as callousness or even psychopathy. It must be remembered that the gang were wanted dead or alive (preferably dead) and mistakes could not be afforded. Dan was a much better judge of character than Ned and certainly better at performing under pressure. Even the Kelly matriarch was known to have held Dan in more regard than Ned in these measures.
Unlike his brothers, Dan was fairly successful at avoiding trouble. In fact, it is probably telling that the worst trouble in Dan’s life seemed to come from following Ned’s and Jim’s lead. Imagine how different the story would have turned out if Dan had been able to accompany Fitzpatrick as intended, before Ned and Ellen had attacked the policeman. A stint in the logs, a quick trial during which the mistaken identity could be proven and Dan could have gone home as a free man. Sadly, as in all things, life never pans out the way we think it should.

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: Prison Record of William Brookman


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

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

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

Jack Bradshaw: An Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

arrest of bradshaw.Jpeg
“Arrest of Bushranger Jack Bradshaw”, 1973 by Ric Elliot (Source)

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

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

Jack Bradshaw in later life

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

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

One of the last portraits of Bradshaw

Selected Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tragedy at Collector: John Dunn and Constable Nelson

At the beginning of 1865 the Ben Hall Gang were the most wanted men in Australia. Their success on the roads was problematic and they were nigh on untouchable. However, after a failed coach robbery in Black Springs resulting in Johnny Gilbert killing Sergeant Edmund Parry, the gang now had to tread carefully. The new recruit John Dunn was working out splendidly, taking to his role with a natural gift that saw him very quickly gain equal notoriety to his colleagues. Things were about to become far more serious as the gang descended upon Thomas Kimberly’s Inn in Collector on the outskirts of their usual beat on January 26, 1865.

Hall and company had held up some drays earlier that day and had been helping themselves to the grog when John Dunn spotted young Harry Nelson on his way back home from Taradale. Dunn stuck up the hapless boy and took him to join the other victims once he had been searched. The gang were informed that Harry was the son of Constable Nelson and then proceeded towards Collector gathering more prisoners as they went. In the early afternoon, Hall, Gilbert and Dunn arrived at Kimberly’s Inn on horseback and forced Harry Nelson to hold their horses. Harry was told in no uncertain terms that he was to hold the horses or have his brains blown out, likely by Gilbert whose taste for the dramatic was well known by this point. When Thomas Kimberly was roused he went to the door and was greeted by the not-so-cheery sight of a pepperbox revolver aimed at his chest. The gang proceeded to round up the occupants of the building and add them to the existing number of victims. Hall and Gilbert went inside to ransack the rooms while Dunn emptied the pockets and purses of the captives outside and kept watch. Inside the inn Hall searched the rooms upstairs with a servant named Eliza Mensey who was equipped with the keys while Gilbert raided the stores. The bushranger and the servant girl conversed for a time and Hall procured Kimberly’s gun stash and between himself and Gilbert took £26 worth of items consisting mostly of men’s and boy’s clothes and boots.

John Dunn

Unfortunately for the bushrangers word slipped out about what was happening at the hotel and worked its way into town where it reached thirty eight year old Constable Samuel Nelson, the lock-up keeper and solitary officer in town formerly of Moreton Bay. Nelson had been repeatedly frustrated in his duties by the refusal of the police force to provide him with reinforcements in an attempt to nail the Hall gang, thus had avowed to do his best to fulfill the duty of capturing the bandits alone. Nelson had served in the New South Wales police force for just over seven years after arriving from England in 1855. His dedication to his civic duty was never more conspicuous as it was on this day. With his colleagues out of town searching for the bandits, Nelson took it upon himself to sort out the happenings at the inn. Fetching up his carbine with bayonet attached, he marched to the inn telling his wife Elizabeth “Now, I’m just going to do my best”.

Kimberly’s Inn still exists now as the Bushranger Hotel and has changed little since that fateful day in 1865 (Source)

Meanwhile at Kimberly’s Inn, John Dunn was acting as a sentry. He had already scared off Mr. Edwards the clerk of Petty Sessions with a few parting shots and was feeling on edge. He hollered for his companions to come downstairs as police were coming but when Ben Hall appeared, armed with two revolvers, he dismissed Dunn’s worries and said “You can manage it, Jack” before returning to his business upstairs. Much younger than his colleagues in crime, Dunn was slight and spry, qualities that had served him well as a jockey and bush telegraph for Gilbert previously. Unfortunately on this day he was also unusually agitated and his nervousness showed in his erratic behaviour. He mounted his horse and roamed the perimeter before returning to Harry Nelson and ordering him to hold the horses. Dismounting, Dunn crouched behind the fence with a shotgun and revolver.

Constable Nelson

On the way to the inn Constable Nelson crossed paths with his eighteen year old son Frederick who followed a short distance behind. Just before dusk Nelson arrived at the inn and upon sighting Dunn presented his rifle. Dunn ordered Nelson to stand or be shot. Nelson was not about to be cowed by bushrangers on this day and continued on, cocking the rifle. As he aimed at Dunn, the bushranger fired at him with a shotgun, twenty odd pieces of hot lead hitting Nelson in the chest lacerating the heart and perforating the liver and causing a hideous wound down to his stomach, which was visible through the hole. The constable staggered onto the road dropping his carbine with an exclamation of “Oh!” whereupon Dunn fired again with his pistol and the bullet hit Nelson in the left side of the face killing him instantly. Spotting Frederick Nelson near the fence Dunn hollered for him to stand but the boy, still in shock, bolted. Dunn reeled off a shot at the retreating lad but missed.

Constable Nelson (Gerrard Woodward) with his son Frederick (Caleb McClure) as portrayed in The Legend of Ben Hall

Roused by the gunfire, Hall and Gilbert emerged from the inn and saw Nelson’s body on the path in a pool of blood and gore. Dunn darted back to the inn, greatly agitated and told Hall and Gilbert “I’ve shot one of the bloody traps, the other has bolted.” Hall and Gilbert went over to investigate the fallen officer. The bushrangers searched Nelson, Gilbert stripping him of his belt stating “It’s just what I wanted, I’ve burst mine”. Dunn took up Nelson’s carbine leaving the body on the road. Once the bandits had left the body was taken inside the inn where an inquest was held. While on the run the bushrangers discarded two of the shotguns stolen from the inn under a tree where they were soon retrieved.

A monument to the tragedy at Collector (Source)

It wasn’t long before John Dunn too had a price on his head. This dreadful turn of events would lead Dunn to the scaffold the following year thus closing the epic saga of the Lachlan bushrangers.

When Dunn was finally brought to justice, his judge Sir Alfred Stephen, stated:

Was it nothing to you to shoot brutally, and murder a poor man like that? Talk of bravery- I know no greater bravery than was displayed on this occasion by Constable Nelson. The town was deserted by the police, who had been put upon a wrong scent, and he was left alone. A little girl tells him the bushrangers are at Kimberley’s and what does he do? ‘I will go down and see what I can do alone’, such a sentiment can only be equaled by his namesake, who expected ‘every man to do his duty.’ Nelson went to do his duty, and met his death; it was a most brutal murder, and it is impossible for anyone to sympathize with you. The unhappy man is not only shot dead, but you at once return to your companions, and the others who were at your peril and made use of the most filthy expressions, you talk in this beastly and insulting way to men whom you had covered by revolvers, and firearms pointed at their heads, spoke to them insultingly when they were helpless- That was your courage and here is your bravery.

Selected Sources:

“INQUEST ON CONSTABLE NELSON.” Sydney Mail (NSW : 1860 – 1871) 4 February 1865: 6.

“BUSHRANGING DAYS” The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal (NSW : 1888 – 1954) 29 January 1932: 1.

“COMMITTAL OF DUNN THE OUTLAW FOR THE MURDER OF CONSTABLE NELSON.” Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875) 13 February 1866: 3.

Picture Perfect: Bushrangers and Photography

Humans in the 21st century are obsessed with photography. For the vast majority of us we carry a camera in our pocket wherever we go thanks to smart phone technology. It’s incomprehensible to many of us that there was a time when photography didn’t exist or that even though it did, it was extremely rare. Perhaps the strangest thing of all is that over time many photographs have vanished due to poor preservation, unforeseen disaster, or the images being discarded by relatives with no knowledge of the people in the images. Bushranging history is a perfect example of how much history has either been lost or not even recorded in the first place.

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

There are a great many mysteries in the pictorial history of bushranging. Sometimes it seems that an image merely needs to be of a man with a beard for people to start claiming that it’s Ned Kelly. We’ve had notable cases of photographs claiming to depict Ned Kelly or members of his gang that have been debunked or dismissed, but none so infamous as “Gentleman Ned”.

Brickey Williamson?
“Gentleman Ned”

When this portrait hit auction in 2001 people went nuts. A version of it was known to exist, having been published in newspapers and subsequently in Keith McMenomy’s Authentic Illustrated History of Ned Kelly, albeit in a poorer quality format with darkened hair and beard. Experts were brought in who placed the date to the mid-1870s when Ned was a free man making an honest living, Ian Jones even made the suggestion that the belt matched the converted saddle bag strap that was buckled around his body armour at Glenrowan (which is on display in the Ned Kelly Vault in Beechworth). Everyone was so convinced it sold for $19,000. Then further tests were done comparing a 3D digital model of Ned’s death mask with all known portraits of Ned and surprise, surprise, this was the odd one out. Many speculated about the identity of the man and no clear answers came up. To date nobody has solved the mystery of “Gentleman Ned”. 

 Then in 2016 another photo found its way to an auction house with a bizarre backstory to go with it. This image allegedly depicts three of the gang looking tough because the image was meant to be sent to the police to intimidate them. Already it’s sounding a lot like that joke about Chuck Norris sending the IRS a photo of himself crouched and ready to attack instead of his tax return. Furthermore, this photo was taken just after the Euroa bank robbery and Joe Byrne had to sign all the names because he was the only literate one. Oh, and the image is stamped with details of a photographic studio in Launceston because it was sent there for copies to be made. Nothing suss. 

The Launceston “Kelly Gang” portrait

This photograph looks less like an intimidating gang of bushrangers and more like an album cover for a seventies Country and Western band. The detail of the faces is almost non-existent, making confirmation pretty much impossible. But, let’s imagine for a moment that the provenance checks out. Do these men look like the Kelly gang? Certainly there’s a passing resemblance to Dan, Ned and Joe Byrne (though the figure that resembles Joe is labelled as Steve Hart in different hand writing). Dan may have had a big moustache, which would explain all the etchings that portray him with one. Moreover the man in this image could very well be in his late teens, there’s no way to tell. The clothes are a sticking point. It was made a point in descriptions  that the gang were well dressed and in the other portraits we have of Joe he’s definitely well dressed, the same not being the case for the Kelly brothers. In the only verified Dan Kelly portraits he’s wearing oversized hand-me-downs with a rope for a belt. In the only verified portrait of Ned outside prison he’s dressed in his undies and boxing shorts.  

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

A prime example of how a misattribution can run rampant is in a photograph purported to have been of Captain Thunderbolt’s wife Mary Ann Bugg. It is important to note that Mary Ann was frequently referred to as a “gin”, meaning Aboriginal woman, owing to her half-indigenous heritage. 

This image has been published and republished without attribution claiming to be Mary Ann Bugg. The cowboy hat was always conspicuous and the clearly Anglo-European features.

Then Google image search threw up this image. 

It’s almost identical. Evidently it was taken in the same sitting as the first image. So what’s so remarkable about this other than the higher quality of the image? This one has a very specific attribution that conclusively disproves that the former image is Mary Ann Bugg. As it turns out, this is a photograph from around 1903, taken in New York of sharp-shooter and Wild West legend Annie Oakley, sourced for Wiki Commons from Heritage Auction Gallery. It is definitely going to be a disappointment to the many people who have been picturing this beautiful, flamboyantly dressed woman as a romantic female outlaw. There have even been artworks based on this image depicting The Captain’s Lady. 

For further clarification here is another image of Annie Oakley:

And here is a photograph known to depict Mary Ann Bugg:

It doesn’t take Benedict Cumberbatch in a great coat to figure this one out, yet the romantic idea of Mary Ann Bugg means people will be drawn to an image incorrectly attributed to her as long as it fits the ideal, just like the alleged Kelly gang photo. 

When we look back over the history of bushranging we can see that the vast majority of bushrangers have not been recorded visually. Jack Donohoe wasn’t depicted visually until his corpse was taken to Sydney. We have photos of relatives of Teddy the Jewboy but nothing at all of him personally. Even when photography took off in the 1860s and we got multiple portraits of people like Ben Hall in addition to etchings in the newspapers most of the Gardiner-Gilbert-Hall gang’s appearances can only be guessed at with no specific images of Peisley, O’Meally or Burke among others and the one photo depicting Johnny Gilbert may not even be him. A portrait of John Vane from around that time was replicated as an etching but the actual photograph appears to be missing. Without a visual record of these people it’s no wonder that they are often thought of so romantically. Donohoe seems far more gallant if you ignore the fact that he was a short, scrawny, straw-haired Irishman with freckles and a snub nose. 

So in the end, just remember that the ability to capture images the way we do now is a privilege that previous generations could only dream of, and it might be worth looking into some old photo albums – you never know who might show up. 

Blood and Gin: Morgan at Round Hill Station 

In 1864 “Mad Dan” Morgan was at the peak of his career, terrorising the homesteads in the New South Wales Riverina. Some believed that the terror he struck into the settlers meant that they were too afraid to turn away travellers asking for accommodation and gave Morgan the moniker “the traveller’s friend”. Perhaps the most important single incident in Morgan’s career of crime was his bailing up of Round Hill Station, a colossal blunder that resulted in grievous bodily harm to two men, the death of another, and Morgan being declared an outlaw wanted dead or alive.

About 40 miles from Albury was Round Hill Station, owned by a Mr. Henty. The superintendent was Mr. Sam Watson and the station was also attended by Mr. McNeil the overseer and John McLean the cattle overseer. On Sunday 19 June the station was visited by John Heriot, the son of a neighbouring squatter, Elliot Heriot-Watt.  Heriot, Watson and McLean were relaxing in a room of the homestead when Mrs. Watson noticed someone looking in the front door about one o’clock in the afternoon. Mrs. Watson immediately suspected that the visitor was none other than the notorious Morgan. He cut a striking figure with his flowing black beard and hair in long, raven-black ringlets tumbling over his shoulders under a rumpled felt hat. He looked to Mrs. Watson and asked with his deep, drawling voice where her husband was and she gestured to the sitting room. Morgan introduced himself and presented a revolver before asking where the grog was. Within moments Mrs. Watson and her husband, Heriot and McLean were mustered up at gunpoint. The group marched to the apartment where the grog was kept.

“How many bottles is there?” Morgan asked. Mr. Watson replied “Six bottles of gin and one that’s been broached.” This appeared to be all Morgan needed to hear. Once inside, Watson poured a glass from the broached bottle for himself and Morgan. Before taking a drink Morgan gave a wry smile behind the voluminous beard and curly moustache, “you must drink that yourself, as you may have had it ready for me.” Watson obliged and the pair proceeded to dig into the supplies. Morgan called for one of the female servants to bring him dinner and asked that his horse be fed and stabled. He ate his dinner with a pistol ready at each hand, his prisoners seated in the corner of the room. When his plate was cleared away he sat and chatted amiably with his captives, a cocked revolver in each hand and four more pistols in his belt.

After dinner Morgan took the initial four and rounded up the station staff bringing the number of prisoners to eleven. Making the crowd wait at the stable door Morgan checked in on his horse. Satisfied that his horse had been well looked after the crowd moved to a cattle shed and Morgan sat everyone down on benches before sending Watson back to the stores for more gin. Morgan ordered the gin be passed amongst the staff and himself. In total, four bottles were consumed.

Now intoxicated and looking for amusement, Morgan went back to the stable and mounted his horse, stashing a gin bottle in his saddle bag. Watson allegedly shouted that Morgan’s horse was kitted out with stirrups stolen from a Mr. Johnston who had recently been robbed. It is unclear if Morgan heard the remark. Heavily intoxicated, he was less than elegant in mounting and one of the loaded, capped, and cocked revolvers went off unexpectedly. The bullet whizzed past the crowd and grazed the temple of one of the prisoners. Morgan was furious and began shouting “Who shot at me? Somebody shot at me!” evidently believing it was one of the prisoners firing and not his own gun. Morgan aimed deliberately at the prisoners and fired. The unfortunate Mr. Watson was directly in the line of fire and as he put his hand up reflexively the bullet passed through it cutting across his head (later accounts would state that Watson had been shot through the palm or had a finger blown off by the shot, the latter claim seems less likely given the weight of evidence indicating the former). Watson ran and hid behind a barn, cradling his injured hand. John McLean emerged and sternly addressed Morgan “No, Morgan, nobody shot.  It was your own revolver that went off!”

Still mounted despite his intoxicated state, Morgan fired again into the crowd. This time the projectile struck Heriot in the leg fracturing his shin and cutting through the calf muscles before grazing the leg of another worker. Everyone scattered in a blind panic, Heriot dragging his shattered leg around for thirty yards before collapsing. Morgan leaped down from his mount and held a pistol to Heriot’s head. “Don’t kill me Morgan. You’ve broken my leg.” gasped Heriot, reeling from pain and exhaustion. Watson, seeing Morgan with a pistol to the young man’s head emerged from hiding shouting “For God’s sake Morgan, don’t kill anyone!”

(Source: The Australian News for Home Readers, 25 July, 1864)

Morgan at that instant became inconsolable and withdrew the firearm. Trembling, he searched furiously around hollering “where are all the damned wretches gone to?” pleading for help in the only way he knew how, screaming “I’ll blow the brains out of every man in this station if they don’t come and help!” but none came. Morgan took a knife he had concealed about his person and used it to cut the boot from Heriot’s foot to allow easier treatment for the wounded leg, then Morgan scooped the injured young man up and carried him to the homestead where he demanded McLean and James Williamson Rushton, a carpenter from Albury, take him inside. Once Heriot had been placed on a bed Morgan cut the other boot off and, apparently overwhelmed, left him there to be treated by Rushton and McLean. He tied a handkerchief around Watson’s wounded hand and apologised profusely. It was apparent that the intensity of the situation had cowed Morgan into repentance.

In the chaos two men, unknown to the staff and suspected to be confederates of Morgan appeared, one a half-Aboriginal man, and spoke at length with Morgan. During the conversation John McLean approached Morgan and suggested he could ride to fetch the doctor from a neighbouring station. Morgan, desperate to make amends for the injuries he had caused, allowed McLean to go. McLean told Heriot he was leaving to fetch Dr. Stitt and Heriot told him to take his horse for the task. McLean mounted Heriot’s horse and galloped off at top speed. However, Morgan’s paranoia got the better of him, perhaps spurred on by further conversation with his confederates, and he mounted his own steed and rode to overtake McLean, believing he was going to rouse the police instead of the doctor. Cutting him off, he called on McLean to stop but McLean apparently not hearing the command rode on. Morgan screamed “You bloody wretch! You’re going to give information!” and fired at McLean’s back. The bullet struck opposite the tenth rib and tore through his hip and out three inches above his navel. McLean tumbled from his mount but was still alive. Morgan rode up and after assessing the situation gave McLean grog then slung the fallen man over his own saddle and rode back to the station with him.

When Morgan arrived back at the station, just under two hours after McLean had left, he dismounted and cradled McLean in his arms as he proceeded to the homestead. Rushton emerged to see who the arrival was and upon seeing Morgan was told “Come here, young fellow, come and assist me,” McLean was taken indoors by Morgan’s half-Aboriginal mate and Rushton and laid on a bed. Morgan sat by Heriot’s bedside for two hours and intermittently checked on McLean. After a while the bushranger went off and raided the grog supply with his friends. The three men drank and caroused well into the night in spite of the chaos and carnage that Morgan had just incurred. Perhaps Morgan was drinking to forget the pain he had caused with the other men drinking just for the bragging rights of saying they had drunk with Morgan the bushranger, but the details of the carousing were not documented, the staff of the station rather more concerned with the injuries to Watson and Heriot and the precarious state of McLean. In the early hours of morning Morgan and his friends rode away from the station. Five minutes later a police party arrived at the station led by Superintendent McLerie.

A medical man, Hugh Scott, was summoned on the Monday and attended to McLean who was in severe pain and vomiting convulsively. Scott would come back to McLean several times, noting peritonitis had set in from the wound and made a request that McLean send for anyone he especially needed to see or speak to. While Scott was absent McLean was attended to by Dr. Stitt, the man McLean had been going to when he was shot, who had previously been a victim of Morgan himself. Heriot was taken to Albury where he was looked after by his father in Botterill’s Imperial Hotel. When Scott returned to Round Hill on the Wednesday he was informed that McLean had died. An autopsy was conducted by Joseph Knight Barnett who noted that as the bullet had entered the body it has smashed a rib and that the projectile, as well as splinters from the rib, had perforated McLean’s pancreas. The projectile had moved between the stomach and intestines and perforated the peritoneum and caused considerable inflammation, which was in the end the cause of death. The charge now leveled at Morgan would be murder.

The newspapers expressed community outrage and a sense of dread if the scourge of the Riverina were not to be brought to justice promptly and made an example of:

Can any man after this ride a mile from Albury without expecting a bullet through his head? No remarks of ours can fire the train, if this simple but hideous narrative does not. The whole country should be up in arms, and swear as one man, that they would never rest until this demon is brought to justice.
Already Albury has been moved to action, and volunteers, men who will not throw away a chance, are at work. Perhaps something may be done, and if the one life which has as yet been sacrificed will be the means of ridding the world of such a scoundrel, it is providential, but the country itself has this life to answer for.

 (The Age, 27 June 1864)

If New South Wales was not afraid of Morgan already, they now had reason to be petrified; McLean’s was the first life taken by Morgan.

It would not be the last.


Carnegie, Margaret. Morgan: The Bold Bushranger. 2nd ed., Melbourne, Vic, Angus & Robertson, 1975.

“MORGAN AT THE ROUND HILL STATION.” The Australian News for Home Readers (Vic. : 1864 – 1867) 25 July 1864: 12. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63170868&gt;.

“MORGAN AT ROUND-HILL STATION.” The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) 25 June 1864: 5. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5749983&gt;.

“MORGAN’S OUTRAGE AT THE ROUND HILL” Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929) 29 June 1864: 3. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article150463342&gt;.

“THE MURDEROUS OUTRAGE AT THE ROUND HILL STATION.” The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954) 27 June 1864: 6. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155013204&gt;.

“THE LATE OUTRAGE AT THE ROUND HILL STATION.” The Farmer’s Journal and Gardener’s Chronicle (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1864) 15 July 1864: 4. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article179480350&gt;.

“RANGER MORGAN” The Burrowa News (NSW : 1874 – 1951) 8 August 1930: 3. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article102375059&gt;.

“MORGAN’S CRIMES.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 14 April 1865: 5. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13103179&gt;.

“THE BUSHRANGERS” The Farmer and Settler (Sydney, NSW : 1906 – 1955) 31 August 1915: 9. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article116661827&gt;.

“MORGAN, THE BUSHRANGER.” The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929) 18 July 1916: 4. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60611921&gt;.

“MORGAN’S CAREER.” Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918) 15 April 1865: 9. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197037101&gt;.

“MORGAN, THE BUSHRANGER.” The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929) 18 July 1916: 4. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60611921&gt;.

“MORGAN, THE BUSHRANGER.” Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931) 11 April 1903: 1 (EVENING NEWS SUPPLEMENT). <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article113417329&gt;.

“BUSHRANGING IN THE 60’s AND 70’s” The Gundagai Independent (NSW : 1928 – 1939) 24 March 1932: 1. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224981074&gt;.

Captain Thunderbolt: An Overview


*** Revised and Updated, 2022 ***

Frederick Wordsworth Ward has gone down in Australian history as the quintessential bushranger. Gentlemanly, daring, and a skilled horseman and bushman, he operated under the alias of Captain Thunderbolt until his death in 1870.

Frederick Wordsworth Ward was born near Wilberforce in New South Wales in around 1834. Fred Ward was the youngest of the eleven children of ex-convict Michael Ward and free settler Sophia. When Fred was still young the family moved from Wilberforce to Maitland, and at age eleven he worked as a station hand at Aberbaldie Station in New England. From these early days, Fred had a passion for all things equine, and he had already developed bush skills that would serve him well in years to come. He spent the bulk of his adolescence working at various stations including the renowned horse stud Tocal Station.

Through early 1856 a huge theft of horses and cattle was made from Tocal and surrounding stations. Fred Ward was spotted helping his nephew John Garbutt, who had been using aliases to employ auctioneers to sell stolen horses and cattle. It was widely believed at the time that many of the Ward and Garbutt siblings were in on the crimes, engaged in wholesale horse and cattle theft. In fact, James’ brother John Garbutt, who was considered the ringleader, was sentenced to ten years hard labour in June of that year over his involvement. Ward was nabbed and held in Maitland Gaol until his trial. When he finally went to court with James Garbutt on 13 August 1856, it was on a charge of having stolen sixty horses from William Zuill, fifteen horses from Charles Reynolds, and a second charge of knowingly receiving stolen goods. This got him his first and only conviction: ten years hard labour to be served on Cockatoo Island.

After four years in prison, in 1860 Ward earned himself a Ticket-of-Leave that allowed him to work within the Mudgee district. However he was required to attend a parole muster every three months as part of the conditions of his ticket. This was when he met the charming Mary Ann Bugg, a well-educated half-Aboriginal woman who was married to a squatter. The marriage didn’t seem to bother the pair much as evidenced by the fact that soon Mary Ann was pregnant to Ward. He decided to take her back to her father near Dungog for the birth, which was an unfortunate decision as not only did this require him to leave his district, it resulted in him arriving late to his muster and thus violating the ticket of leave. Moreover, in his rush to get to the muster, Ward had pinched a horse to get him there. Needless to say this combination resulted in Ward back on Cockatoo Island, with an extra three years for the stolen horse to boot.
During his re-internment he was informed that he had to remain imprisoned for the entire duration of the sentence — a total of seven years — with no option to obtain a Ticket-of-Leave due to new regulations. Ward was subsequently involved in a prison riot. Unwilling to ride out his sentence in penal servitude, Ward conspired with a fellow inmate, highwayman Frederick Britten, to escape.

Absconding on 11 September 1863, Ward and Britten managed to breach the prison walls and swim to Woolwich. Some claimed that Mary Ann was there to help but she was accounted for elsewhere at the time. Ward would never again see the inside of a prison.
Taking to the bush, Ward and Britten began committing highway robberies around New England. With word of the crimes reaching authorities came a reward of £25 offered for their capture, and with it was an increase in search parties. Inevitably the bushrangers were spotted by a search party near the Big Rock — nowadays known as Thunderbolt’s Rock — outside of Uralla and a conflict arose. Ward was shot in the back of the left knee as they escaped, but even with this injury the police could not keep up. They followed him into the rock but only managed to collect some of his supplies.

Fred Ward, aka Captain Thunderbolt

Soon the pair went their own ways and Ward began calling himself Captain Thunderbolt, possibly as a homage to a British highwayman who used the same moniker. One story goes that late one night Ward robbed a toll-keeper at Rutherford who responded that the bushranger’s bashing on his door sounded like thunder. It is said Ward presented a pistol and introduced himself, “I am the thunder and this is my bolt.”
He reunited with Mary Ann and, leaving her children with family, they kept a low profile throughout much of 1864 in the Bourke district of New South Wales. By the end of the year, however, Ward teamed up with three other desperadoes: Thomas “The Bull” Hogan, McIntosh (AKA “The Scotsman”) and John Thompson. The gang committed robberies around Bourke, Walgett, Barraba and Narrabri but in April 1865 things fell apart. During a robbery at the Boggy Creek Inn in Millie, the gang, carousing and already slightly intoxicated from a previous raid, were interrupted by a party of police in bush clothes. A gunfight ensued during which Constable Dalton was shot and wounded through the body, and Thompson was shot through the jaw and captured. Both survived their injuries. As for the others, they fled to Queensland to avoid the increased police presence with McIntosh seemingly vanishing and Hogan getting himself arrested after a drunken spree.

In a corner on the Macintyre (aka Thunderbolt at Paradise Creek), by Tom Roberts (1895) [Source]

Thunderbolt was on his own again and now more robberies were committed around Collarendabry and Liverpool Plains before a daring raid on the township of Quirindi on 8 December 1865. Thunderbolt was now accompanied by two men and they committed various robberies in town before rounding up the locals in the pub for singing and dancing. They evacuated just before a party of police arrived to chase them. The bushrangers returned the following day and did it all again.

Realising that he again faced operating alone, Ward had recruited Jemmy “the Whisperer” and Patrick Kelly. While undertaking a raid at the Carroll Inn a few days after the Quirindi caper, Jemmy shot and wounded Senior Constable Lang in yet another gunfight. This iteration of the gang did not last long and was disbanded in early 1866, whereupon Ward took Mary Ann to the Gloucester district where she was soon arrested for vagrancy and imprisoned, but was later liberated by the Governor after protests from the public.
With the new Felons Apprehension Act in place, and pressure from the public on the police force to put an end to bushranging, more search parties were sent out after Thunderbolt. Despite police and bounty hunters being hot on his tail, Ward continued his depredations.

Portrait of Frederick Ward alias Thunderbolt, by Shallard Gibbs (The Illustrated Sydney News, Vol. V, No. 75, 8 June 1870, p. 405) [Source]

On 25 May 1867 a Proclamation was made announcing a reward of £200 for the capture of Thunderbolt. At around the same time Ward recruited teenager Thomas Mason and they robbed coaches, inns and stations until Mason was nabbed after a horseback chase in September of that year. He was subsequently convicted at Tamworth and given three years hard labour. Around this time Mary Ann was also nabbed for possession of stolen goods and imprisoned.

Desperate for company, Ward took up with a married, part-Aboriginal woman named Louisa Mason, also known as “Yellow Long”, who accompanied him on his robberies but died of pneumonia at Denman on 24 November 1867.
After this turn of events Ward went back to Mary Ann who was now at liberty again. Soon Mary Ann was pregnant to Ward with their third child, and they both knew that a life on the road was not suited to her condition, so they separated for the last time. In August 1868 Mary Ann bore Ward a son whom she named Frederick Wordsworth Ward junior.

Ward continued his epic tally of crimes during 1868, this time with a young lad named William Monckton, who had joined Ward after running away from home. One of their most renowned adventures during this period was when they bailed up Wirth’s band at Tenterfield on 19 March 1868. As the story goes, Thunderbolt and his sidekick stuck up the travelling German band and were displeased with the mere £16 takings from the robbery, so Thunderbolt ordered them to perform for him for several hours. When the musicians complained about how poor they were, Thunderbolt took down a postal address and promised to send them the money back when he had more, which he supposedly did some months later.
The reward for Ward’s capture was raised to £400 just in time for Christmas 1868. While it was a fraction of what had been offered for his peers Dan Morgan, Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert, John Dunn, and the Clarkes and Connells, it was still an enormous amount to the average settler of the 1860s.

Ward and Monckton split in December 1868 and Monckton found work at Wellingrove Station. He got himself into trouble over some minor offences after leaving Ward, and was eventually recognised as Ward’s accomplice and tried in 1869. He was sentenced to serve six years hard labour, the first year in Darlinghurst Gaol, the rest in a reformatory.
After the split, Ward went quiet and would not make any notable appearances until he began to undertake intermittent mail robberies in New England. When he did appear he was alone. He would never take on any other accomplices ever again.

Death of Thunderbolt, The Bushranger by Samuel Calvert, (Illustrated Australian News, June 18, 1870)

On 25 May 1870, Ward was spotted near Blanch’s Inn near Uralla by two constables responding to a complaint about an Italian hawker having been robbed. Fleeing on horseback, Ward was pursued by Constable Alex Walker and engaged in a riding gunfight for almost an hour. Ward’s horse was shot dead and he attempted to cross Kentucky Creek on foot. Walker rode into the stream, shot Ward in the chest and clubbed him with his revolver until he was unresponsive. Walker dragged Ward onto land and rode back to the inn. The next day he and his partner rode back to retrieve the body.
The corpse was taken to the courthouse, identified and autopsied. Photographs were taken post mortem to help establish the identity in the event that decomposition began to take hold before a positive identification could be recorded. One of the people that positively identified Ward was his former sidekick Monckton who had been released after serving the first year of his sentence. Ward was buried in the local cemetery.

Cadaver of Frederick Ward, the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, by A. Cunningham, Armidale (1870) [Source]

Despite Ward’s body being positively identified, rumours were started posthumously that it was not actually him, and moreover that there was a government conspiracy to cover up the fact that he had actually escaped. The stories of Ward’s survival have been frequently debunked, but to the minority that choose to believe the folklore over the history the facts are not enough to prove them wrong.
While other bushrangers have been somewhat lionised for having never taken life, Thunderbolt conducted himself in such a way that his largely non-violent career is far more laudable. This is perhaps reflected in the way that despite his innumerable robberies, the reward for his capture was so comparably low when measured against other bushrangers. He seemed to be viewed more as a nuisance than a threat. This has helped considerably in fostering the image of Thunderbolt as a “gentleman bushranger”.

New England Highway and Thunderbolts Way, Uralla, NSW, By C. Goodwin (2008) [Source]

Further Reading:

The Captain and his Lady by Carol Baxter

Three years with Thunderbolt: being the narrative of William Monckton, who for three years attended the famous outlaw, Frederick Ward, better known as Captain Thunderbolt, as servant, companion and intimate friend: during which period he shared the bushranger’s crimes and perils and was twice severely wounded in encounters with the police edited by Ambrose Pratt

Captain Thunderbolt by Annie Louise Rixon

Riding with Thunderbolt : the diary of Ben Cross, Northern New South Wales, 1865​ by Allan Baillie

Captain Thunderbolt and Mary Ann Bugg : history, myth, legend and the ethical responsibility of the story teller​ by Warwick Hastie.

Captain Thunderbolt : horsebreaker to bushranger​ by David Brouwer

Captain Thunderbolt, bushranger by Robin Walker

Spotlight: The capture and death of Fred Lowry as it was reported 

When bushranger Fred Lowry met his end after a heated confrontation with police it created a sensation across New South Wales. Here we have excerpts from an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald about some of the happenings as well as the outlaw himself.

Photograph of the deceased Fred Lowry (Source: National Portrait Gallery)

“ON Sunday last, just as divine service was concluded, considerable excitement was caused by the arrival in town of a party of policemen in coloured clothes with a dray, in which was the dead body of Lowry, the noted bushranger, and the following prisoners :- Lawrence Cummins, charged with robbery under arms, and supposed to be the man who lately shot his brother, John Cummins, when on his way to Binda in custody on a charge of bushranging; Thomas Vardy, licensed victualler of the Limerick Races Inn, Cook’s Vale Creek ; Robert and Henry Hogan, Vardy’s stepsons ; and Thomas Brown, James Williams, a lad of sixteen, and John Watson, an aboriginal native, employed in Vardy’s service. The Last six named prisoners were all charged with harbouring bushrangers, and with being accessory to robberies after the fact.

The body of Lowry was removed to the hospital, where, in the course of the afternoon, it was seen by numbers of people. He appears to have been a very tall young man, measuring six feet two inches, and probably weighing thirteen stone, well made, with small hands and feet, white skin, small moustache, and a particularly well-developed chest. Taken altogether he was physically a very fine man. He is described as having been twenty-seven years of age; and although he must have led a life of mingled dissipation and hardship, he did not appear to be any older. 

Some doubt was expressed as to the body being that of Lowry, the bushranger; Mr. Horsford, the gaoler, who had known Lowry at Cockatoo Island, where he was undergoing a sentence under the name of Frederick M’Gregor, considered that the hair was much darker than that of the man he had known, and that he was much stouter, and was of opinion that deceased was not Lowry, though he was not able to speak positively. Mr. Fogg, a settler at the Narrawa, and his wife came into town on Monday and saw the body, which they declared was not that of Lowry; but it seemed they have not seen Lowry for three years, and although called at the inquest they did not attend. On the other hand, the Rev. H. H. Gaud, who had seen Lowry some twelve months back, believed that deceased was he, as did also Mr. Moses Baird, who, however, had not seen Lowry for seven or eight years. The evidence taken at the inquest is all in favour of the view of deceased being identical with Lowry ; and it is quite certain that he was the man who robbed the Goulburn mail on the 2nd July last-Mr. Futter, Captain Morphy, and the coachman (Michael Curran) having positively identified him, and Captain Morphy’s watch having been found in his possession.

There is every reason to believe that he is the man who in conjunction with Foley robbed the Mudgee mail. Foley and Lowry, it may be remembered, escaped together from Bathurst gaol on the 13th February last.”

It is intriguing that despite there being far less consensus about the identity of the corpse there have been no noted conspiracy theories raised in intervening years about Lowry escaping death such as the one about Captain Thunderbolt, which was generated with far less supporting evidence.

The report goes on to give a run down of Lowry’s criminal history using excerpts from other publications to illustrate. The history of the deceased out of the way the article continues with the account of the coroner, Dr. Waugh who states in part (with a seeming addiction to semi-colons):

“I directed [Detective] Camphin to keep guard in front with the same instructions, while Saunderson and myself would search the house; at the same time I told all the men that I suspected Frederick Lowry, the bushranger, was in the house, and to be prepared; we then dashed up to the house; we saw a girl, who seemed to be frightened and who was half-crying; Saunderson and I dismounted, hung our horses up to the front of the house, and went on to the verandah; I asked the girl if there was anyone in her room; she said “no”; I looked in and saw only a little child; the girl was about half-dressed; I then went into the bar and called for Vardy the landlord; Vardy came out of his bedroom into the hall adjoining the bar; I asked if he had any strangers in the house; he said “yes”; I asked where they where; he nodded his head to the room they were in; I asked if he knew who they were; he said no, and to look out; I went to the parlour door adjoining the room he mentioned and leading to it; it was locked inside; I knocked and asked for admittance; I got no answer; I then said if the door wore not opened at once I would break it open; I then knocked my shoulder against the door for the purpose of breaking it open; I failed in the first attempt, and I no sooner took my shoulder away than a shot was fired from inside, and a voice exclaimed “I’ll fight you, b__s”; the shot came through the door and wounded the horse I had been riding in the back; I removed the horse from that place and gave him to Vardy, and told him I should hold him responsible for him ; I then went back to the bar-door, and then the parlour door was opened and a man came out with a revolver in each hand crying out “I’m Lowry; come on ye b__’s, and I’ll fight ye fair”; at the same time he presented one of the revolvers at me; I covered him directly; I think we both fired together; at that time we were four or five yards apart ; he then advanced upon me within three feet; I covered him again, and we both, fired in each other’s faces; the second shot I fired he dropped his revolvers and staggered; I jumped forward and seized him by the neck, struck him with my revolver on the head, and told him he was my prisoner; I brought him into the bar; he continued to struggle; Saunderson came to my assistance; we then shoved the deceased into the yard, threw him on his back, and putting my knee on his chest I handcuffed him ; he then said he was Lowry, and was done…”
To further support the assertion of the corpse’s identity various effects of the deceased’s are detailed in the article:
“Lowry’s vest [a black-cloth vest bound with blue, with buttons like silver] ; it is similar to that described as having been worn by the robber of the Mudgee mail; I produce a thin black cloth sac coat claimed by Lowry, a brown Inverness cape, another heavier one, a cabbagetree hat with broad black ribbon, and an elastic riding-belt: one of the capes
contained a flask of powder, a few percussion caps, two dice, a gold watch, chain, and key ; I believe, from the description, that the watch belongs to Captain Morphy, who was robbed on the Big Hill, Goulburn, on the 2nd July ; I also found two knives, one £50 note, and altogether £164 19s. 6d., in notes stolen from the Mudgee mail, all except £10 in notes, £2 in gold, and 19s. 6d. in silver ; the money, except the silver, was in a little bag in Lowry’s trousers pocket…”

The article closes with a note of what was to come next:

“The body will be kept till Thursday, when Mr. Kater is expected to arrive. In the meantime some photographic likenesses of deceased have been taken by Mr. Gregory.”
Interestingly, the in-depth article detailing the thrilling exploits and capture of one of the Lachlan’s greatest outlaws is followed by two curious stubs wherein we are informed of a morning tea to welcome a new pastor and that a farmer in Wollongong had killed a pig of “unusual size”, highlighting the old adage that life goes on.


Source: ​“THE CAPTURE AND DEATH OF LOWRY, THE BUSHRANGER.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 4 September 1863: 2. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13083854&gt;.

Spotlight: Portrait of James Nesbitt

James Nesbitt, Bushranger (Picture Credit: National Portrait Gallery)

Carlton boy, James Nesbitt, was not a master criminal by any far stretch of the imagination. Spending time in prison for taking part in a mugging, his behaviour seems to have been driven by a generally poor capacity for judgement rather than maliciousness and largely informed by a rough childhood thanks to his mentally unstable and extremely abusive father. Likely, this tendency to follow and to seek paternalistic figures was what drew him to befriend Andrew George Scott in Pentridge Prison (at one point landing him in trouble for giving Scott tea as a gift). Nevertheless, once both men were at liberty they met up and stayed together until Nesbitt’s death separated them in 1879.

While Scott toured Victoria lecturing on prison reform, Nesbitt was his constant companion, the pair even living together for a time in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. When Scott suggested that the newly formed gang comprised of himself, Nesbitt and tearaways Gus Wernicke, Tom Rogan, Graham Bennett and Thomas Williams, head North for Sydney to find work, Nesbitt was all for it. It soon eventuated that the gang became desperate for supplies and turned to bushranging, Nesbitt acting as an important element in maintaining morale.

When the gang stuck up McGlede’s Station and were besieged by police, Nesbitt fought valiantly to defend his comrades and made the poor decision to attempt to create a diversion and enable Scott and the boys to escape. Firing like mad and running away from the homestead he caught the attention of the attacking police and was promptly shot dead. When Scott saw Nesbitt’s body after the gang were captured he broke down, weeping uncontrollably and kissing Nesbitt. While awaiting execution, Scott wrote a series of letters to Nesbitt’s mother and wore a ring woven from a lock of Nesbitt’s hair. The letters were never delivered.

Nesbitt was buried in Gundagai cemetery with Gus Wernicke and in 1995 Andrew Scott’s remains were removed from Rookwood cemetery and re-interred in Gundagai so that his final wish to share a grave with Nesbitt could be granted.