Spotlight: Extracts from the Launceston Advertiser regarding Donohoe, 04/10/1830

Launceston Advertiser (Tas. : 1829 – 1846), Monday 4 October 1830, page 2



On Monday an Inquest was convened by Major SMEATHAM, Coroner, at the FOX AND HOUNDS, kept by Henry Ball, Castlereagh Street, on the body of John Donohoe.

HENRY GORMAN. — I am a constable at Bargo ; on the 1st of September I and several of the Mounted Police were encamped in the evening, about five o’clock, on Mr. Wentworth’s farm, Bringelly, when onen who was on the look-out, said “here comes two constables whom we expected?” they were then about a mile and a half distant ; one the Police said, “no they are bushrangers!” Three men were leading a pack-horse ; I and two of the Police-men took one side of a creek, and the serjeant and another man the other side ; we made towards, and came up with them on some forest land ; a man on the horse, who I thought was a bushranger named WALMSLEY, saw us first, and immediately jumped off; deceased took off his hat, and waving it over his head, threw it in the air, saying. “come on! I am ready for a dozen of you!” The other two took off their coats and hats and went behind trees; we held a parley with them about two minutes, before a shot was fired, all parties being behind trees, when one of the Police-men fired, and nearly took down one of the men, who I thought was WEBBER; after this they appeared shy. Two of them fired their pieces at me, and I fired at them, but witout effect on either side. One of the Police men named Mugglestone then fired and Donohoe fell. We chased the other two, but could not come up with them. On returning deceased was quite dead; the other two Police men did not fall in with us till the deceased fell ; Mugglestone shot the deceased.

John Mugglestone, a private of the 30th regt, now in the employ of the Mounted Police, stated to the same effect, with the addition, that this carbine was loaded with two balls; and that they found on the horse’s back some flour, sugar, and women’s wearing apparel, and that deceased had a watch in his pocket. Serjeant W. Hodson deposed to the same effect but with the addition, that he knew the other two bushrangers to be Walmsley and Webber, and that he thought deceased was Donohue as Dr. Gibson was robbed by him, and the Doctor knew him well, having been Juror when deceased was tried some time ago. Deceased was in the agonies of death when he came up to him ; he found on his person a small pistol and a watch, (watch produced) no money was in his person ; on the horse was found a great many papers. among the rest grants of land, transfers, and receipts. The deeds are made out in the name of “Denis Begly, Prospect” and the transfers in the name of Edward Wright (deed and papers produced); Gorman loaded his piece with a carbine ball and pistol ball, which it appeared by Mr. Jilks had been lost only a week. The pack-horse or rather mare was aged, and marked E. S.

The Jury returned a verdict of Justifiable Homicide, without reference to identity. But from a wound in the cheek, and another under the cheek arising from scrophula, there is little doubt but the deceased is the notorious outlaw Donohoe.

Donohoe’s life as no doubt been harassing. But at the same time, it must be allowed that in comparison of the lives of the wretches at Moreton Bay, it was a happy life, and his death much less painful than those of scores who have deceased at that horrid settlement. And so long as such settlements exist, we doubt not we shall never want in this Colony either Donohoe’s and Dalton’s. It is fit and proper, that cruelty should be visited on the nation which practices it with retribution. God is just.

On Monday, as Mr. Scott and the Rev. Mr. Erskine were proceeding to Parramatta in a chaise, they were stopped by two armed bushrangers, who were on the point of robbing them, when one of the marauders recognised Mr. Scott as his former master at Emu Plains, on which he shook hands with him in a friendly manner, declaring he would never hurt a hair of his head; they then took to the bush.

A cast of the head of the notorious Donahoe is to be taken.


The soldier named Morley, mentioned in our last as having taken to the bush, has been captured and now awaits his trial before a Court Martial.



A Short time ago, Donohoe, Walmsley, and Webber, met a messenger belonging to a road or iron gang, at the Lower Branch of the Hawkesbury, as he was proceeding from one gang to another, on duty, carrying a new blanket and a cake with him from place to place, for safety. Walmsley accosted him ‘Ah, Tom Taylor! is that you? We must have your cake at any rate, but as you are my shipmate, we wont take your blanket, as they might send you to a penal settlement for selling it.’ Tom Taylor is not only a ship-mate, but comes from the same part of England as John Walmsley. This took place beyond Wiseman’s, on the Great North Road to Maitland, about the twelve mile hollow. They have crossed twice recently at Singleton’s Mill, on the Hawkesbury, and there is good reason to suspect they are the men who robbed Mr. Chandler. They confess they have been very much harrassed lately; they do not remain long in one place. They have committed two robberies in the Seven Hills district; and it has been told to a certain publican on a turnpike road, that one of these men purchased some spirit at his house lately, and carried it to his companions lying in ambush, not very far away at the time. Six constables and two black natives proceeded in search of these men a few mornings since, and are expected to remain some days away. The black natives are rewarded out of the police contigencies, and it is said that the constables on this special duty are allowed one shilling per diem in addition to their pay. If they fall in with Donohoe’s party, they will be apt to earn the extra allowance in an intrepid encounter with people who would rather be shot than hanged.

Thomas Rogan’s death mask and other missing objects

Could this unassuming photograph of three plaster casts be the vital clue to a long-standing case of mistaken identity?
These death masks were photographed in 1975 in the police academy in Redfern. The one on the far right is Andrew George Scott (Captain Moonlite), while the one on the far left is the casting that has been attributed to his accomplice Thomas Rogan.

However, not only does the face on the attributed cast not resemble Rogan at all, the middle, unnamed, casting matches the mugshot taken of Rogan after his capture at McGlede’s farm quite closely. Furthermore, the middle death mask matches a description of Rogan’s death mask from a newspaper article published in 1913.

They have even secured plaster casts of the heads of that notorious couple Scott, alias Moonlight and Rogan, which were taken after their execution in Darlinghurst for the murder of Constable Bowen, at Wantabadgery. That of Rogan possesses all the characteristics of the criminal. The lips which are extraordinarily thick, are open, showing a set of vicious-looking teeth.

The Chamber of Horrors, Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 – 1925), Monday 28 July 1913, page 4

The article quoted here is a write-up on what was then called the Sydney Police Museum. Within the article it describes, and even includes some photographs of items in the collection including Ben Hall’s Tranter, a book of poetry belonging to Frank Johns (another of Moonlite’s accomplices), and part of a pistol taken from the ruins of the Glenrowan Inn.
The collection in the museum in 1913 was taken from the 1910 New South Wales police museum, which served to educate police officers on the history of law enforcement. That same collection forms the basis of the current iteration, now called the Justice and Police Museum, housed in the former Water Police building in Sydney.

A detail from Rogan’s prison record.

It is also worth noting that the middle cast in the photograph matches the style of Moonlite’s more closely, only extending as far as the neck, while the third mask includes part of the collarbone and shoulders, which would indicate a different manufacturer had accomplished it. But if it’s not Thomas Rogan on the end there, who is it?

“Some of the artefacts, Including death masks of Captain Moonlite and Thomas Rogan, Ned Kelly’s 44 Webley Scott revolver, Captain Moonlite’s 38 Pin Fire, and the noose used on many early bush rangers. Death masks, truncheons, court records and knuckle dusters.” [Source]

It may seem like trying to correctly label the plaster cast of an executed bushranger is far from a pressing matter, but it is a symptom of the bigger problem with lost and incorrectly labelled items in archives.

It wouldn’t be the first time an object in a collection was mislabelled. In fact, it is not uncommon for items to sometimes go completely missing, as was the case with a collection of death masks from the early 19th century. Among the masks were casts of Jack Donohoe, murderer John Knatchbull and other minor bushrangers. All that remains of the collection is a single photograph taken in the 1860s. It seems unlikely that such a huge collection could simply be misplaced, but apparently that is precisely what happened as it appears to have vanished without a trace after being given to the Museum of Anatomy at Sydney University in 1897.

A detail of the 1860s photograph, showing Donohoe’s death mask (top, centre) among scores of others, some of which are duplicates. [Source]

Alas, similar stories are all too common. Many items related to the Kelly Gang, for instance, have disappeared over time, either through theft, misplacement or plain neglect. A prime example is the modified carbine that Ned was believed to have used to kill Constable Lonigan. Photographs exist of it from when it was displayed with his armour at the Royal Exhibition building, but supposedly it was consumed in the fire that destroyed the aquarium housed there.

Even Ned Kelly’s boot, which is on display in the State Library of Victoria, was missing for decades following it being misplaced in a storeroom, which was the same fate as what has been identified as one of his armoured shoulder plates. The plate was in the possession of the organisation that is now known Museums Victoria, and was hung from the bottom of what was then thought of as the backplate (since identified as Steve Hart’s breastplate). When the armour was given to the State Library, the shoulder plate was not included as it had been lost in storage. It wasn’t until many years later that it was relocated, but it still remains in the collection of Museums Victoria, which has caused issues recently. The contract between the SLV and Museums Victoria that allowed the plate to be displayed with the rest of the intact armour expired during the 2020 lockdowns. This meant that legally the SLV could not display it until a new agreement was made, forcing the library to display the incomplete suit in the new dedicated gallery space. It was only after the agitation by Ned Kelly die-hards who wrote to politicians that the negotiations were settled and the plate once again restored.

Ned Kelly’s armour, missing a shoulder plate, on display in Melbourne.

There are also written accounts testifying to the existence of other death masks that have seemingly vanished, including casts of Ogden and Sutherland, Robert Burke and Johnny Gilbert. The fact that these items were often described but have never been photographed or identified in any collections has occasionally put doubt in their existence.

Even more macabre souvenirs that are known to have existed have gone absent, such as Dan Morgan’s flayed beard, which was to have been pegged out like a possum skin to dry, ostensibly to make it into a pouch. It was also rumoured that Morgan’s scrotum had been made into a tobacco pouch, which cannot be verified as no such object has ever been recorded.

Michael Howe’s journal of dreams, bound in kangaroo skin and rumoured to have been written in blood, was in private hands following its seizure after Big McGill and Musquito ambushed Howe, but it too has seemingly vanished. Howe’s earlier journal – a gardening book he had stolen, bound in kangaroo skin and annotated by the outlaw – was also in a private collection, where it was viewed by James Erskine Calder who wrote of Howe in the 1870s after in-depth research, wherein he consulted contemporary records and interviewed people linked to the story. This earlier relic has also long gone.

Researchers and historians often tear their hair out when going through archival material only to find what they were looking for has been misplaced, damaged, or stolen. In fact, where the Kelly story is concerned, documents, or parts thereof, purloined from archives is a big problem, and a major contributor to dead ends in research, allowing myths and falsehoods to occasionally run rampant.

Add onto this the sheer number of firearms, clothing items, letters, photographs, and so on, that have either gone missing, remain in private collections or have simply had their identity lost to the sands of time, and you have a lot of potential to find very important items in all sorts of places.

If indeed the newly identified death mask is Rogan, it begs the questions of where this mask is, why it was so easily mislabelled without correction, and who the death mask claimed to be Rogan is actually of? It seems possible that with a bit more probing and detective work we could see one of the few artefacts of the Moonlite saga brought back to light; and if we can do that for Thomas Rogan, the possibilities for other historical items seems endless.


Sydney Monitor (NSW : 1828 – 1838), Saturday 11 September 1830, page 4



On Monday an Inquest was convened by MAJOR SMEATHMAN, Coroner, at the Fox and Hounds, kept by Henry Ball, Castlereagh Street, on the body of John Donohoe.

Henry Gorman. — I am a constable at Bargo; on the 1st of September I and several of the Mounted Police were encamped in the evening, about five o’clock, on Mr. Wentworth’s farm, Bringelly, when one who was on the look-out, said “here come two constables whom we expected?” they were then about a mile and a half distance; one of the Police said, “no they are bushrangers!” Three men were leading a packhorse; I and two of the Police-men took one side of a creek, and the serjeant and another man the other side; we made towards, and came up with them on some forest land; a man on the horse, who I thought was a bushranger named Walmsley, saw us first, and immediately jumped off; deceased took off his hat, and waiving it over his head, threw it in the air, saying, “come on! I am ready for a dozen of you!” The other two took off their coats and hats and went behind trees; we held a parley with them about twenty minutes, before a shot was fired, all parties being behind trees, when one of the Police-men fired, and nearly took down one of the men, who I thought was Webber; after this they appeared shy. Two of them fired their pieces at me, and I fired at them, but without effect on either side. One of the Police men named Mugglestone then fired and Donohoe fell. We chased the other two, but could not come up with them. On returning deceased was quite dead; the other two Police-men did not fall in with us till the Deceased fell; Mugglestone shot the deceased.

John Mugglestone, a private of the 39th regt, now in the employ of the Mounted Police, stated to the same effect, with the addition, that his carbine was loaded with two balls, and that they found on the horse’s back some flour, sugar, and women’s wearing apparel, and that deceased had a watch in his pocket.

Serjeant W. Hodson deposed to the same effect, but with the addition, that he knew the other two bushrangers to be Walmsley and Webber, and that he thought deceased was Donohoe as Dr. Gibson was robbed by him, and the Doctor knew him well, having been Juror when deceased was tried some ago. Deceased was in the agonies of death when he came up to him; he found on his person a small pistol and a watch, (watch produced) no money was on his person; on the horse was found a great many papers among the rest grants of land, transfers, and receipts. The deeds are made out in the name of “Denis Begly, Prospect” and the transfers in the name of Edward Wright (deeds and papers produced); Gorman loaded his piece with a carbine ball and pistol ball, which it appeared by Mr. Jilks had been lost only a week. The pack-horse or rather mare was aged, and marked E.S.

The Jury returned a verdict of Justifiable Homicide, without reference to identity. But from a wound in the cheek, and another under the cheek arising from scrophula, there is little doubt but the deceased is the notorious outlaw Donohoe. Donohoe’s life has no doubt been harrassing. But at the same time, it must be allowed that in comparison of the lives of the wretches at Moreton Bay, it was a happy life, and his death much less painful than those of scores who have deceased in that horrid settlement. And so long as such settlements exist, we doubt not we shall never want in this Colony either Donohoe’s and Dalton’s. It is fit and proper, that cruelty should be visited on the nation which practises it with retribution. God is just.

‘On Monday, as Mr. Scott and the Rev. Mr. Erskine were proceeding to Parramatta in a chaise, they were stopped by two armed bushrangers, who were on the point of robbing them, when one of the marauders recognised Mr. Scott as his former master at Emu Plains, on which he shook hands with him in a friendly manner, declaring he would never hurt a hair of his head; they then took to the bush.

A cast of the head of the notorious Donohoe is to be taken.

On Monday a prisoner named Joseph Smith was sentenced to receive one hundred lashes for knocking down Mr. Medley, Superintendent to Mr. George Allan, and nearly choking him.

Spotlight: Death of Donohoe

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Saturday 4 September 1830, page 2


This daring marauder has at length been met by that untimely fate which he so long contrived to avoid. On Wednesday evening, at dusk, as a party of the Mounted Police were riding through the bush at Reiby, near Campbell Town, they came up with three bushrangers, one of whom was Donahoe; on being called upon to stand, they threw away their hats and shoes, and ran off, when the Police fired, and killed Donahoe on the spot, one ball entering his neck and another his forehead. Favoured by the dusk, the others made their escape, and in defiance of the dreadful fate of their comrade, that very night broke into a hut and carried off what they wanted. The body of Donahoe was removed to Liverpool, and will be brought to Sydney this morning.

Thus is the Colony rid of one of the most dangerous spirits that ever infested it, and happy would it be were those of a like disposition to take warning by his awful fate.

Bushranging Gazette #7

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

The Dashing Career Of Australia’s Forgotten ‘Gentleman Bushranger’

It seems appropriate that following the publication on A Guide to Australian Bushranging of James Erskine Calder’s account of the life and bushranging career of Matthew Brady that his story should catch the attention of more mainstream media.

Matthew Brady, James McCabe and Patrick Bryant

Synchronicity saw Nine News publish a condensed account of Brady’s life online mere days after the Calder articles had rolled out on this website. The introduction makes reference to outlaw folk heroes Captain Thunderbolt and Ned Kelly before delving into the story of Tasmania’s greatest outlaw folk hero.

But as large as Ned’s helmeted shadow looms over colonial folklore, even he was hard-pressed to match a character largely forgotten now, whose execution was accompanied by tears and pleas for leniency, and who spent his last days in a jail cell surrounded by gifts of food and wine.

9News Staff

The article gives a decent account of he story in very broad brushstrokes, which hopefully inspires more people to investigate the story further.

You can read the article here.

Ronnie Minder’s Legendary Score On YouTube

Swiss-born composer Ronnie Minder recently made the entire score to 2016’s The Legend of Ben Hall available on his YouTube channel. The acclaimed score was shortlisted for an Oscar nod in the 89th Academy Awards, up against some stiff competition from hundreds of other contenders from around the world.

You can listen to Ronnie Minder’s music here.

Matthew Holmes, director of The Legend of Ben Hall, was also interviewed by David Black for the Australian Short Film Network, which you can read here.

Papua New Guinean Bushranging

An intriguing article by Sinclair Dinnen and Grant Walton was released last month that discussed a man who is being referred to as “PNG’s Ned Kelly”. Tommy Baker is leader of a gang of bandits who have been on the run in Milne Bay since 2013 and have at least five murders to their names (two civilians and three police).

Baker and his confederates, of whom there seems to be enough to equate to a small army, seem to be living the life of some of history’s greatest outlaws, skillfully evading capture and enjoying enormous support from the ordinary people that harbour them. Born in 1986, as a teenager he began committing crimes with his friends, soon racking up charges of armed robbery, murder and piracy. Baker has also made an effort to shape himself as a champion of the native people against white missionaries, stating:

Our elders respect these white men, missionaries, families of missionaries, but we have grown and we do not like it. It’s time we Milne Bay (people) run our own province. This is our home, our land. We are Papua New Guineans.

Tommy Baker (attributed)
Tommy Baker [Source]

Baker has come to represent a struggle against a foreign power that denies the people self-governance, as well as overbearing and corrupted police who are known to treat people with excessive violence. Long-time enthusiasts of Australian bushranging history will be very familiar with these sentiments, as they very closely mirror the ideas that outlaws like Ned Kelly, Daniel Morgan, Jack Donohoe and Matthew Brady came to represent to large numbers of people of the lower and convict classes during the colonial era. This may even prove to be a real-time demonstration in exactly how these men gained their status and how it manifested in either outright sympathy or fearful compliance with the outlaws by the general public.

Like many popular outlaws, Baker has been described as being quite unlike the typical ruffian one would expect with such a reputation for violent crime. An anonymous pastor that knew Baker as a young man described him as:

A nice quiet man that could make friends easily, he does not chew, smoke or do drugs. He has a lot of friends and loves playing rugby.

Anonymous Pastor

The same source claims that Baker is aware that if he turns himself in he will be killed, which seems an accurate assessment when viewed in light of the fact that in late August of this year six members of his gang were killed in a gun battle with police near Rabaraba. One of the men killed was Baker’s right-hand man Mekere Yawi. Despite the enormous expense spent on the hunt for Baker and his gang, he continues to evade capture.

Learn more about this intriguing story by reading Sinclair Dinnen and Grant Walton’s article here and further articles from the Post Courier here, here and here.

“I’ll fight, but not surrender…”

September first marks the anniversary of the death of Jack Donohoe in a gunfight near Raby, New South Wales, in 1830. To commemorate, Julia Dąbrowska, long-time follower and contributor to A Guide to Australian Bushranging, has submitted an illustration depicting the outlaw’s final moments.

Artwork by Julia Dąbrowska

The gunfight at Bringelly brought an end to Donohoe’s wild and reckless career and was seen by some as a precursor to the infamous Bathurst Rebellion later that year. You can read about the battle here.

A Thunderbolt From The Past

In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, Julie Power discusses genealogy and its role in not only preserving records, but also shedding light on forgotten stories. In particular, she highlights new details about boy bushranger Thomas Mason, one-time sidekick of Captain Thunderbolt.

After Mason’s father died, he and his brothers were orphaned. Thomas at sixteen was taken under the wing of Frederick Ward and eventually ended up in gaol over his foray into bushranging. New details about his history were uncovered when orphanage documents were being digitised for researchers.

That interest in the past has spiked demand by the public for digitisation of records, said Martyn Killion, the director of collections, access and engagement with State Archives and Records Authority of NSW. It recently digitised and loaded the records of 1000 boys placed at the Protestant Orphan School in Parramatta from 1850. Mr Killion said when staff searched through these records, they had hoped to find a tale of someone who rose to greatness. A premier, perhaps. Instead, the newly digitised records online, revealed details of Thomas Mason, orphaned at six, who went on to ride with the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, born Frederick Wordsworth Ward.

Julie Power

Read the full article here.

Absolute Mad Lad

The Ned Kelly story continues to capture the imagination of people around the world, and has now been immortalised in the pantheon of Scottish YouTuber Count Dankula’s “Absolute Mad Lads”. Dankula, the nom de plume of Markus Meechan, uses the series of videos to showcase figures in history that display often entertainingly extreme behaviours, ranging from war heroes to career criminals (and even an orangutan named Ken Allen). Meechan’s style is conversational and very tongue-in-cheek, but not to everyone’s tastes, especially if you are hoping for impartial and scholarly accounts. Long-time fans of the series have been putting Ned Kelly’s name forward as a candidate for some time and Meechan himself had hinted at the inclusion of Australia’s most infamous bushranger in an earlier video. As with all such media, there are some factual errors, and amusing mispronunciations of Australian place names, but there is more correct than incorrect in the recounting of the story and it makes for an entertaining interpretation.


Moonlite’s Note

[Source: Public Records Office Victoria]

The infamous “Captain Moonlite” note that was written during the Mount Egerton bank robbery that eventually saw Andrew George Scott gaoled in Pentridge Prison, and immortalised his nickname:

I hereby certify that L W Bruun has done everything in his power to withstand our intrusion and the taking away of the money which was done with firearms. Captain Moonlite

Christie’s Record

[Source: Public Records Office Victoria]

The Victorian prison record of Francis Christie – better known as Frank Gardiner:

What we see from the record is that Christie was convicted in October 1850, sentenced to five years hard labour on the roads, and did time in Geelong and in Pentridge Stockade before absconding in March 1851.

He would later find himself on Cockatoo Island in New South Wales. A note in pencil states, “said to be Frank Gardiner the Sydney Bushranger”.

This Month on A Guide to Australian Bushranging

This month will see a range of Spotlights on various archival reports and items pertaining to Jack Donohoe, Martin Cash, William Westwood (and more).

This month’s feature will be on some of the lost relics of bushranging, particularly the death mask of Moonlite’s mate Thomas Rogan, which appears to have been mislabelled.

There will also be a review of the first three books in Jane Smith’s Tommy Bell series and R. B. R. Verhagen’s Alexander Pearce novel In the Company of Madness.

As always, there will continue to be more posts on Facebook and Instagram, as well as YouTube videos on the official channel for A Guide to Australian Bushranging.

Spotlight: Donohoe and Underwood Rob a Doctor

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Thursday 24 June 1830, page 2

On the afternoon of Saturday last, as Dr. Sherwin was riding on the Windsor road; in the neighbourhood of Parramatta, two men, whom he supposes to have been Donohoe and Underwood, rushed from the side of the road, commanded him to stop, and laying hold of the horse’s reins, led him and the rider for some distance into the bush. They then commenced a diligent search on the Doctor’s person, and took from him his gold watch, and a case of lancets. The robbers then observed that they could obtain twenty pounds for the watch, but as the Doctor, most probably, set a value on it above its intrinsic worth, they would let him have it back again for two pounds, if he could procure the money in any reasonable time, as he had none about him. The Doctor readily acceded to this proposal, and immediately rode off to the Darling Mills, where he borrowed all the money which the person to whom he applied had at the instant, namely, one pound ten shillings, and returned directly to the place where he was attacked, but did not find the men there. He called out, however, ” It is I — Sherwin,” and they then issued from the thicket, received the money, which the Doctor assured them was all he could obtain in so short a time, gave him back his watch and lancets, and departed, wishing the Doctor good day.

Spotlight: John Walmsley on trial

Sydney Monitor (NSW : 1828 – 1838), Wednesday 22 June 1831, page 2

Domestic Intelligence.


THURSDAY. – Before Mr. Justice Stephen and the usual Commission.

Michael O’Brien, Mary O’Brien, John O’Hara, James O’Hara, Mary O’Hara, Mary Ann O’Hara, and Michael Cantwell, were indicted for receiving stolen property belonging to various persons on the 18th January 1831, at the Seven Hills, New South Wales, knowing the same to have been stolen.

John Walmsley sworn — Mr. Williams objected to the evidence of Walmsley being taken, on the ground of his being an attainted felon under sentence of death, and that the Governor’s pardon produced was of no weight, he, the Governor, having no power to grant a pardon, that being vested only in the King, and must pass the Great Seal before it would he admitted as a legal instrument.

Mr. Therry took the same objections; they were over-ruled by the Court, and the Examination by the Attorney-General continued — My name is John Walmsley; I know all the prisoners at the bar; I have known them about 8 or 9 months, but I cannot swear exactly to time; I have seen them frequently within the last 8 or 9 months; they all lived at the Seven Hills, save John and James O’Hara, and they were backwards and forwards frequently; they had a farm at a place called little Doual; Mrs. O’Brien, Mary O’Hara, and Mary Ann O’Hara introduced me to the male prisoners; they told me to come again and bring them some prints, some calicoes, and other things which I had taken from Mr. McQuade’s cart; we had had conversation about that robbery, and John Donohoe and William Webber were present at the time; we promised to go back in a fortnight or three weeks and bring them some prints and calicoes; they addressed themselves as much to Webber and Donohoe as they did to me; when we parted from them going on our journey towards the Cow-pastures, Donohoe was shot by the Mounted Police; Webber and I made our escape; this happened on Mr. Wentworth’s farm called Greendale, within a few miles of the Cow-pastures; the mounted police halloed out to us, and asked us who we were? just before sun-down in the evening; we made them no answer, and they fired on us directly; Donohoe was shot dead; Webber and I made our escape, and got out on the Liverpool-road; we had no communication with the prisoners at the bar until about a fortnight afterwards, when Webber and I went again to the house of the prisoner O’Brien; we saw the two girls first, Mary and Mary Ann O’Hara, at the house, but we had left the prints and calicos in the bush on Michael O’Brien’s land; the girls asked us where we had the property? and we told them it was on their ground close by the water-hole; the girls then took the bucket and went down to the water-hole for a bucket of water; we had left them, and gone round to where the property was, and were there when they came down; the girls stopped so long in the bush talking to us that Mrs. O’Brien came down to see what was the matter; the girls gave the bucket of water to Mrs. O’Brien, and they took the prints and calicos up to the house; there were 17 or 18 pieces of print and 2 pieces of calico; when the girls took it to the house we went round another way, and came close up to the house, about 6 or 7 rod away from it in the bush; we did not go into the house at that time, as the girls told us we had better stop in the bush until their godfather, Michael O’Brien came home, as he would not be long; Michael O’Brien came home soon after, came into the bush to us, and we then went into the house; he enquired about our other comrade; he meant Donohoe; we talked some time in the bush before we entered the house with O’Brien, and Webber put his hand in his pocket and gave him a sterling note; Michael O’Brien then asked us in, and when we were in the house we sent him off to Parramatta for some rum and gunpowder; whiles we were drinking, James O’Hara and another man named John Hughes came from little Doual in a cart; as soon as James O’Hara came in, the girls told him that we were come, and were then in the bed-room drinking; he came into us, and we sat up drinking the greater part of the night, and then lay down to rest; the next morning James O’Hara and John Hughes went out to the farm again, and took some of the prints with them; they had heard of the robbery of Mr. McQuade’s cart, and asked us whether we had done it? we told them we had, and that the prints we then brought them formed part of the robbery; it was Michael O’Brien asked me about McQuade’s robbery, and Mary, Mary Ann, and James O’Hara were present when we mentioned having robbed the cart; we stopped at the house two days after James O’Hara and Hughes left to go to the farm; during the time we were at the house, I saw the female prisoners cut up some of the prints and make gowns and bed quilts of them; there was nothing else given to them on that visit; about the time of the Parramatta races we returned to O’Brien’s house, and we then saw John O’Hara, Mary O’Hara, and Mary Ann O’Hara, who came from the house with two buckets and a washing tub for water; we were in the bush and hailed them, when all three of them came to us; we took John O’Hara to be his brother James, and I said, “is that James” he replied, “no, it is John;” I had never seen him before; we sat down, and I gave John O’Hara eighteen shillings to go for half a gallon of rum; the girls and John asked us up to the house, and told us that Michael O’Brien and James O’Hara were at home; we went round the bush and went in to the house, when Michael O’Brien put the saddle on the horse and went away for the rum; I had a watch which I had robbed Mr Crawford of on the first clay of the races; I believe Mr Crawford’s christian name is Robert; it was a silver watch with gold chain and seals; John O’Hara asked me for the watch, and I gave it to him, telling him to be careful of it, as it belonged to Mr. Crawford; he answered, “never mind, I will take care he never gets it any more, I will take care of it;” Webber had another watch which belonged to Mr. Airds, the Superintendent of Public Works at Parramatta; Webber and I had robbed Mr. Aird of the watch, which was a silver one, on the same morning that we robbed Mr. Robert Crawford; Webber gave the watch to James O’Hara, and at the same time told him that he had robbed Mr. Aird of it; Webber had a hat which was also taken from Mr. Aird, and begave that; James O’Hara; it was a black beaver hat; there was also a black hat belonging to Mr. Crawford given by me to John O’Hara, and I gave James O’Hara a sovereign; on the second visit, both myself and Webber stopped in the house four or five days, during which time, we ate and drank in the house, and when we were going away, they gave us flour and provisions to carry with us; all the family was there then; we went there a third time, but I cannot pretend to mention the time as we were there so frequently I cannot distinguish the periods; On one of the times we visited them, we had stopped Mr. Mowatt on the Liverpool road and taken a large blue top coat, a black coat, a gold watch, two dollars in money, a Leghorn bonnet, and other things; of these, I gave the gold watch to Michael O’Brien, who said he was an emancipated man; that he would sell the gold watch, and that the money he got for it would take him out of the country; the black coat was also given to Michael O’Brien; the coat had been taken from Mr. Francis Mowatt; O’Brien had the newspaper in which the robbery of Mr. Mowatt was described, and upon reading the account we told Michael O’Brien, it was the same man to whom the things belonged; Webber gave the Leghorn bonnet to Mary O’Hara, and the lining of the coat to Mary Ann O’Hara; the girls were present when I said that I had robbed them; the lining of the coat was cut up and made a skirt of, while I was in the room; we slept there that night, and always stopped at the house two or three days each time that we went; I cannot recollect the day nor the month in which we robbed Mr. Mowatt, or Mr. McQuade; we took a great number of pieces of prints and calicoes from Mr. Macquade’s cart, part of which we took as I have stated to O’Brien’s, and the other remained in Dr. Harris’s bush; it was on the Windsor road we robbed Mr. McQuade’s cart and took 50 pieces of print, 5 pieces of calicoe, rum, tea, and sugar from it; we also robbed Mr. McLeay’s cart on the other side of Liverpool; it was early in the morning, on a Saturday as they were returning from the market; cannot remember the month; it was long before harvest; we took two rolls of canvas, which we carried to Michael O’Brien’s, I believe (but cannot swear so) that it was made into bags, as I saw some canvas of the same sort made into bags at the Police Office; we also robbed Mr. Henry Hart’s cart, and took a chest of tea and some other things.

Cross examined by Dr. Wardell — I have seen that pardon yesterday, but have never had it in my possession; I believe it was read to me in the cells by the Sheriff, but I have quite forgotten what he said at that time upon the subject; I won’t give an answer as to whether I thought little or much about it; I did care about it, for I thought my life was saved when he read it; as I believed it to be a respite; I have forgotten every word that was said with respect to the pardon in the cells; I understood when it was read to me, that I was free from all the robberies I had committed in the Colony ; I understood that I was released from all the burglaries, murders, and robberies that I might have committed in the Colony; I cannot tell the favourable circumstances mentioned in the pardon; but I think they are the informations I gave; I understood that it was in consequence of my promising to give information against the parties that I received my pardon. I had no promises made to me for giving information against the parties concerned with me; what information I have given, was to do the country good at large, and myself in particular; I do not know whether I should have received my pardon if I had refused to give evidence, but I do not think I should ; it was in expectation that I should give evidence against the parties that I received my pardon; I was encouraged by the pardon to give evidence; I did understand that all my crimes were covered by the pardon, but not my sins; there is a deal of difference between crimes and sins.

Dr Wardell — True, I stand corrected Sir.

Continued — I understood the pardon was given to induce me to give evidence against the parties; I was, I should think, to lose the benefit of the pardon, if I did not give my evidence; I had undertaken to give my evidence for the pardon, and expected that all prosecutions would drop for what I have done in the Colony; I have not been tried for robbing Mr Crawford, or Mr. McQuade, or Mr. Mowatt; I won’t answer to the question of who shot Mr. Clements; I am not afraid to answer you, but will not until ordered by His Honor; I do not know anything about blowing a constable’s arm off; I would have split if I had been told that I should be prosecuted for the robberies after I had given my evidence; our acquaintance with the prisoners commenced through Donahoe; it could not be a robbery at O’Brien’s house, as we took nothing, nor was it our intention to rob the house when we went; the only thing we went for the first time, was a little flour, which was given to us by Mrs. O’Brien, and the two girls; this was the first time they saw me there; if it had not been given to us, there is no doubt we should have taken it by some means; there were three of us at that time, and we had no fight; there are some houses thereabouts; a man named Brien lives about a hundred rod from their house, Brien’s house can be seen from O’Brien’s, the ground being clear between them ; I cannot say how far the bush is from Michael O’Brien’s; there are some other persons live about a mile from them, but I do not know their names; if we liked we could have robbed and murdered them before any assistance came; we never had any more with us but myself, Webber and Donahoe; we had a fowling piece and a brace of pistols each; I do not know where John Hughes is; he was at the Police Office, and was discharged; we were not strong enough to frighten the whole of the prisoners at the bar; we have often been in the kitchen and our arms lying in the bed-room; if they wished, they could have taken us treacherously any time; we have been in all parts of the house, and were not at all times armed; we never expected to be taken by them; we had a bad character in the neighbourhood as blood-thirsty men we should not have served them out if they attempted to betray us, and we had escaped; I have no revengeful feelings; I was first led away into the bush by some men who were in Plumley’s gang; I was in that gang; I should not have liked to served out Plumley for his treatment to me; he did not treat me kindly or otherwise; he treated me the same as other men; we were daily risking our lives to support them; we took the property to these houses because they could tell us where the constables and soldiers were, and they gave us tea and sugar, and flour; we gave them the property out of charity; if men have not friends when they are “in the bush”, they will not reign long; I do not know of the other people to whom I gave part of the property; they are poor people, and were objects of my charity; John Hughes lives out at Big Doural; they invited us to bring the plunder to their house, as soon as they were acquainted with us; I was tried and cast for death, and lay in the condemned cell expecting to be executed, but I did not expect to be saved when I gave the information; I never sent my compliments to Mr. McLeay, to say I would split if I was let off, nor did I ever hear that Webber did; I gave my evidence against the prisoners in expectation of receiving my pardon.

(Dr. Wardell here took objections to the evidence of the witness Walmsley, as to its admissibility, which were over-ruled by the Court, and the examination proceeded.)

Thomas Quigley- I am a Serjeant in the Mounted Police; I went to the premises of Michael O’Brien on or about 14th January last; I saw two of the female prisoners or all three; Captain Forbes was with me, He ordered me to search the dwelling and premises. He went with me; I took possession of two canvass bed-ticks, one old black coat, one gown, three bed covers, 1 pistol, 1 fowling piece, and 8 canvass sacks; (I delivered them to the Police Office in Sydney) I marked all the articles and should know them again; I did not see Michael O’Brien there ; (property produced) these are the articles I found at the prisoner O’Brien’s house; the female prisoners said they were O’Brien’s property.

Benjamin Hodghen — I am Chief Constable of Windsor. On the 17th January last, I proceeded to the house of Michael O’Brien, and saw Mary O’Hara, Mary Ann O’Hara, and Mary the wife of Michael O’Brien; also the old man Michael Cantwell. I picked up various patterns of prints, which were lying on the ground. I then commenced searching the house, and found a bonnet box under the bed in which was a Leghorn bonnet. I said to the constable that was with me, that it was Mrs. Mowatt’s bonnet? I enquired of the girls where they got the bonnet? they replied, that Mr. O’Brien had brought it from Sydney; I then went into the kitchen, and noticed a white serge petticoat on Mary O’Hara, and I then returned to the bed-room, and found some remnants of surge; that appeared to have been cut from a coat. I put them back into the basket, and I returned to Windsor for a warrant to apprehend the two girls for the petticoat and the bonnet. O’Brien was not at home at this time, and the females told me they thought he was in prison at Sydney. In consequence of Mary Ann O’Hara being very unwell, I did not remove her at that time, before leaving the house, I called Mary Ann (the one that was ill) into a room with myself and the constable, and put the door to. I said to her, “it is evident those bushrangers have been in the habit of coming here, and I request you to tell me the truth.” She said, she never saw them there but once, and that was when they took the flour away. I asked her, where she had seen them then? she answered, at a slip pannel just at the back of the house. I then asked her if she knew them, and she said yes. Who were they said I? she answered Walmsley and Webber. I asked her if they were armed, and she said yes, that they had each a brace of pistols and a gun. I then enquired what they said to her; and she replied, they always enquire first, whether the constables have been here, and the last time I saw them, Mary O’Hara was with them, and Michael O’Brien brought 7 pieces of print and one piece of calico from them; I then went to Windsor for a warrant and on my return next day, found that the two women had been conveyed away by the police, also the box. I then made further search, and found one Indian print quilt, 3 new calico sheets, 6 links of a steel watch chain, 1 white serge petticoat, a quantity of white thread, I roll of narrow white ribband, 1 new India table cloth, 1 new calico shirt, 1 pair of men’s white stockings marked W. Croft, 3 pair of woollen stockings, 1 pair of flannel drawers, 1 red Indian print gown, 7 pair of men’s gloves, 1 small fancy box with a watch paper in it, 4 gold brooches, 1 old paper box with a tooth pick and some other other instruments, I brought away these things, and gave them up the Police in Sydney. I got permission to see Walmsley, and in consequence of information from him I found 17 pieces of prints, on Dr. Harris’s estate, four pieces of calico, and few other things.

Cross-examined by Dr. Wardell, but nothing material elicited.

John Skinner — I am a constable in Sydney. Both the young women were given into my charge. Mr. Thorn and Mr. Jilks told me to take the Leghorn bonnet off the head of the young woman, who is now holding her head down with a straw bonnet on. Her name I believe is Mary O’Hara. I also have a hat which I took from the old Gentleman there with a white head. I believe his name is Michael O’Brien. The hat and bonnet produced are the same.

Michael McQuade — I am a general dealer, and reside at Windsor. In August last, I loaded two carts in Sydney to send to Windsor. In one cart there was a puncheon of rum, a crate of English Delph, 50 pieces of Bengal and India print, 5 pieces of calico, and a quantity of other articles. I did not go with the carts myself, but sent a man who is now here, named James Quinn. I saw some of the same description at the Police office at Sydney and Windsor. They were Bengal print and calico, but I cannot swear to them. They were the common run of Bengal prints and calicoes.

James Quinn — In August or September last I lived in Sydney; I know the last witness Michael McQuade, and went with a cart containing his things to Windsor; about three miles and a half from Windsor I was stopped by three men and taken off the road into the bush; Walmsley presented his fowling-piece to me; I know the other two; they were Donahoe and Webber; they took 50 pieces of Indian print, 5 pieces of calico, about 40lb. of sugar, and half a gallon of rum; I saw the things when I took them in charge from McQuade; the things now produced are of the same description as those I lost, but I cannot swear to them.

Francis Mowatt — I was stopped on the Liverpool-road in the month of August last by Walmsley and Webber; I lost a great variety of wearing apparel amongst which was a large blue cloak lined with white shaloon or serge; I also lost a bonnet belonging to Mrs. Mowatt; I should know the serge again, for when on board the ship my servant spilt a quantity of oil on it, and I think I can swear positively to it; there are also the marks of the loop holes which were on my cloak. There might certainly be similar serge, and it might be, similarly stained ; I am not so positive as to the bonnet as I am to the serge; I cannot swear positively to it, but I think it is it.

James Butler — I am a government man to Mr. McLeay; I was travelling home from market about 6 o’clock in the morning on the 23rd October, and was stopped by two men about 2 miles from Liverpool; the discription of the men answers that of Walmsley and Webber; three bolts of canvas were ta-ken from me; the canvas produced resembles that lost by me.

Mary Ann Evans — I altered a Leghorn hat into a bonnet for Mrs. Mowatt; I should know it again; I believe this to be the bonnet.

E. C. Atkinson — I was robbed on the Western road on the 18th of last November, about three miles from Parramatta, by Walmsley and Webber; they took from me a brown frock coat, black waistcoat, shirt, neckerchief, pocket handkerchief, and a watch with steel link chain, and silk watch-guard; I saw a shirt similar to the one I lost, at the Police Office, but the name was cut out; I also saw a chain at the Police Office.

John White — I was robbed by Walmsley and Webber of a variety of things, about two miles from Mr. Kelly’s, on the Windsor Road; I could not swear to any of the articles again; this is the good gentleman that took the things out of my cart, and the other good gentleman knocked a tooth down my throat; but if it had not been for this chap (Walmsley) I should not have been robbed; I have a handkerchief belonging to this good gentleman at home, which he left in my cart; it is long enough and strong enough to hang him; and to tell you the truth, I should have no objection to have the hanging of him – (much laughing).

Walmsley recalled — The prints produced are the ones I took from Mr.McQuade’s cart, and gave to the prisoners; I saw two butchers come to O’Brien’s house when I was there; I saw Wilkes through the key hole; they came to buy some cattle and an entire horse from Mr. O’Brien; Mr. Wilkes brought a small bottle of brandy from Parramatta with him; in the night Michael O’Brien and the butchers went out to a man named Donald Brien whom lives on the next farm to them; during the time they were away, Webber and I went into the orchard and stopped there until I was gone; there was a man named Muldoon there and his wife with him; Muldoon had a dog, and when the butchers came first to O’Brien’s, as soon as Wilkes got out of the gig, the dog seized him and tore his thigh; Mrs. Muldoon mended Wilkes’ trowsers; Muldoon is a farmer, living on Mr. Palmer’s farm; we were in the bed room, and the girl came to the window and whispered to us.

William Wilkes — I am a butcher by trade, and know the prisoners at the bar; I have repeatedly been at their place; I think I was there a little before Christmas with a butcher named Vowel; I went at that time to buy some cattle and a horse; I was attacked by a dog who tore my trowsers; they were mended by a female who was there, but I do not know her name.

Cross-examined — I saw no person there except the family; I was in three rooms; I went into one room to shift my trowsers, but I can not say whether it was the girls’ bed-room; I saw nothing more than at other times; if there had been any one there, I think, from the intimacy I have with the family, I should have observed it from their looks or behaviour; the accident happened out of doors, and might be more readily observed from the bush than from the house; I went into the bed-room, and when I came out, I sat beside the person who mended my trowsers; the room into which I went, was connected with the sitting room, but the door of the other room into which I did not go, did not look into the sitting room; I am positive that there was no person in the bed room, and do not think any person could have seen me through the key-hole; I went to a neighbour of O’Brien’s after I had been there about two hours, which might also have been seen from the bush; I did not see the girls go out, nor did any whispering occur; I know the whole of the family; the girls I think, are under the control of Mr. O’Brien; I can not swear that Mr. O’Brien knocks under to Mrs. O’Brien; I should think he wore the breeches; the young men also are under his control.

By Mr. Moore — There are five rooms I think in the house; there are five doors which look into the front room, counting the back and front doors.

By a Juror — I was not in all the rooms; there is the front door, back door, kitchen door, bed room door, and another door, all looking into the sitting room; I went to a neighbour’s house that night and O’Brien went with me.

By Dr, Wardell — The orchard was close to the hut, and two bushrangers would be likely to plant themselves there on the look-out for me when I left the house; bushrangers are generally FOND of butchers, as they know they generally carry a little money with them, they might have been looking out for us.

Sydney Monitor (NSW : 1828 – 1838), Wednesday 22 June 1831, page 3

This was the case for the Prosecution.


Mary Muldoon — I am a married woman, and my husband lives at Mr. Palmer’s estate of Hambledon Farm at Vinegar Hill; I know where Michael O’Brien lives, and remember mending a pair of trowsers that had been torn by a dog; I know that all the doors were open, but I do not know into what bed-room I went, but there could not have been any persons there without my knowing it.

James Muldoon — I recollect being at Michael O’ Briens on the day when Wilks was torn by a dog; I was there about 11 o’clock in the morning, and stopped there until I went home in the evening; I saw nothing extraordinary about the house, and I do not think it possible for any person to have been there without my knowing it; my wife mended the trowsers of Wilks.

(Mr. Williams here requested the indictment might be again read over, which was done.)

His Honor after reading over his notes of the evidence, left the case entirely with the Jury. At 7 o’clock, they returned, when His Honor, previously to their returning the verdict, acquainted them, that he had, during their retirement, found the law authority for which he had been looking, and that he would read over to them the law with respect to the evidence of approvers being received. His Honor then informed the Jury, that in cases where it was found necessary to receive the evidence of an accomplice, it was not necessary that all the parts of his testimony should be corroborated by unimpeachable testimony from other witnesses. It was held to be sufficient, that some part of his testimony should be corroborated, and the rest received upon the principle, that he had testified truth in some points; and it was not to be supposed he would deviate from it in others. It was however a matter of consideration for the Jury whether they would credit the approver’s testimony or not. The Jury again retired for about a quarter of an hour, and returned a verdict of Guilty against all the Prisoners, except Michael Cantwell; who was acquitted, and discharged by proclamation.

The Prisoners were remanded for sentence.

My Story: Julia Dąbrowska on Jack Donahoe

Julia Dąbrowska is a long time follower of A Guide to Australian Bushranging, and an enthusiast for all things related to Jack Donahoe (also variously spelt Donohoe, Donahue et al). After many discussions about the topics of bushranging and Donahoe, I invited Julia to write about her experience of being so invested in the topic from so far away. Julia lives in Poland, not a place where one expects bushrangers to be known about, let alone one that doesn’t usually make the top five list of most infamous bushrangers. Hearing her perspective highlights the universal appeal of these figures and their stories, and sometimes it takes an “outsider” to draw our attention to something that has been under our noses the whole time.

Julia’s boundless enthusiasm for the story of the “Wild Colonial Boy” truly demonstrates that at their core these bushranger stories are very human, and there’s something deeply relatable about the themes that emerge as we explore the history of these rebels and bandits. I’m sure that you will enjoy reading Julia’s own account of discovering this slice of Australian history in a place so far away, and I am very appreciative that she took the time to write for the website.


There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Duggan was his name. He was born and raised in Ireland, in a place called Castlemaine.

Fortunately, I can recall what exactly caused me to develop interest in bushrangers. My earliest memory involved with bushrangers is listening to the song “Wild Colonial Boy” and learning its lyrics back in 2015, when I was just 14 years old. I imagined main character of the song – Jack Duggan (or Jack Doolan) like this : 

Jack Duggan by Julia Dąbrowska

I learned the lyrics of the song, I sang it at a campfire, but I did not know who the real person who inspired the song was. Jack Donahue – the Irish name speaks itself, who the person was. A tough, brave young man, who would always fight for what he believes in and who would choose death over surrendering. After discovering the story behind the song, I immediately started to read every article about Jack Donahue I could  find. Although real-life Wild Colonial Boy was completely different to what I imagined in terms of appearance, his personality was exactly how I thought about him.

As O’Donahue made his escape to the woods he did repair
Where the tyrants dared not show their face by night and day
And every week in the newspapers there was published something new
Concerning that bold hero boy called brave Jack Donahue
Resign to you, you cowardly dogs its a thing I ne’er will do
For I’ll range these woods and valleys like a wolf or kangaroo
Before I’ll work for Government said bold Jack Donahue

When I’m thinking of Jack Donahue now, always the same image comes to my mind. A brave, determined young man, dressed in elegant clothes, shouting to policemen who ambushed him that he can defeat them all.  A man who would never surrender, despite the fact that not surrendering means death. 

I must say that I find Jack Donahue’s elegant style of clothing, typical for upper-class gentleman of the 1820s, as much astonishing as his daring and self-confidence. When one thinks about a bushranger – an escaped convict who hides in the bush, and therefore lives in very harsh conditions – the elegant clothes are the last thing that comes to mind. Jack Donahue was described as wearing a black top hat, blue coat lined with silk and white pleated shirt – a far cry from how I imagined a bushranger to have looked for the first time.

Donahoe by Aidan Phelan

When hearing the word “bushranger”, most people would recall Ned Kelly, Ben Hall, Dan Morgan and Captain Thunderbolt – definitely the best-known bushrangers. Their stories are really thrilling, but the story of Jack Donahue is equally interesting.  The story of Ned Kelly is more or less known even outside of Australia. That cannot be said about the story of Jack Donahue – it would be exceedingly difficult to find any non-Australian who knows his story.

Although story of Jack Donahue and his daring robberies is undoubtedly very thrilling, I must say that I feel somewhat sorry for him. For a young man, who was orphaned as a boy and spent all his childhood and teenage years living in poverty, without any perspectives for his future life, turning to a life of crime was the easiest way to survive.

Jack Donahue by Julia Dąbrowska

I want the memory of Jack Donahue never to fade away. I learned the lyrics of “Bold Jack Donahue” and “Wild Colonial Boy”. I sing them on every Saint Patrick’s Day (as a homage to Jack Donahue being Irish) and on every campfire I go to. I wonder whether I am the first person in my country who sang them.

Jack Donahue – definitely extraordinary and complex character. Brave, tough, determined, clever – no wonder that he managed to gain a status of a folk hero and his story still appeals to imagination of many people (to my imagination too).

This is what do I find interesting about Jack Donahue.

The Battle of Bringelly

“Surrender to such cowardly dogs is a thing I’ll ne’er do. This day I’ll fight with all my might,” cried Bold Jack Donahue.

Lyrics from Bold Jack Donahue. Traditional.

As with most bushrangers who transcend history to become enshrined in folklore, Jack Donahoe (aka Donohoe, Donahue) made the leap from brigand to legend in his final stoush with the forces of law and order. His recklessness in the face of death seemed to strike a chord with Australians of a certain class.

This year marks 190 years since Donahoe’s death, so it seems appropriate to recount the final battle that sealed his place in history.

The Gang

Donahoe and his partners William Webber and John Walmsley had been ruling the roads, sheltered by sympathisers who kept them fed and clothed in clean garments. These merry highwaymen approached their occupation with great pluck and a level head, one time even liberating a victim of his rum by pouring it into a chamber pot that they took away with them. Naturally such flagrant lawlessness was causing the settlers to wring their hands in dread, lest they be bailed up on the road or have their homes raided.

As is typical of the press throughout Australian history, the more the bushrangers eluded the police, the more the press put them on blast. Donahoe in particular had become something of a celebrity and everyone seemed to have a story about being bailed up by him.

One could feasibly have overheard conversation in the pub that sounded like, “I was robbed by Donahoe on the Cobbity Road, I was! There he were, bold as brass, astride a cob with a pair of barking irons in his hands. ‘Up with your copper,’ says he. Who am I to refuse a bushranger? So I gives it him and off he trots waving his hat about and whooping like a mad owl! So as you can imagine, I’m a bit light on cash so you’ll have to pay for the ale this time, my handsome.”

In July, Donahoe had been shot in the right shoulder during a shootout. The wound had mostly healed, but not well, and continued to give him trouble. Victims described him as having visible stiffness in the shoulder, though it didn’t hinder him terribly. In the afternoons he and his colleagues would perform robberies then escape to their hideouts in the Parramatta region just before dark when the police were unable to track them properly.

The Hunt

The authorities were growing tired of chasing the bushrangers through the wilderness and were hoping for a breakthrough. This came in the form of locating one of the gang’s treasure troves in an old cave hideout, but the bushrangers were nowhere to be found. The search party, under Lieutenant MacAlister, magistrate of Argyle, with the assistance of an Aboriginal tracker referred to as “Black Jemmy”, decided to change tactics. Rather than root around for the bandits like a bushpig in search of truffles, they elected to split up and keep watch on hotspots where the fugitives were known to haunt.

Sergeant Hodson of the 57th regiment led a party of troopers to the vicinity of Bringelly. The team consisted of Hodson, two men named Muckleston and Warburton, Chief Constable Farley, Constable Gorman and some others. They spent a fortnight combing through the bush with no success and at sunset retired to their camp in a hollow on the property of a man named Wentworth. It is easy to imagine the frustration the mounted police were feeling after months of fruitless bush-bashing.

After yet another day without result, on the 1st of September 1830, Farley headed off on his grey horse to procure provisions as the rest of the party unsaddled their horses. It was about five o’clock when fate decided to throw the beleaguered bluebottles a bone.

A Fortuitous Arrival

The thing about bushranging that often gets overlooked is that riding horses through the bush is far more romantic than it is practical. The reality was that much of the time was spent travelling on foot, simply because it was a far more efficient way to get through tangled scrub and between the gnarled, twisted trees with branches that jut out at just the right height to peg out an incautious rider like washing. Thus, on the afternoon of the first of September the trio of Donahoe, Webber and Walmsley headed back to their hideout on foot. Of course, riding a horse in the bush is not the same as guiding one through it, and the bushrangers were leading a black packhorse laden with their ill-gotten gains into the scrub. No doubt they would have seen the police campfire about a mile away.

“‘Ere, do you see that fire over yonder?”

“Ah, probably some hapless gloak got stuck out in the bush as the sun went down. Pay it no mind; keep walking.”

And so it was that the police clapped eyes for the first time upon the men that had been causing them such frustration. They too opted not to mount up, dashing into the bush on foot to cut the bushrangers off, leaving two of their number to watch the camp. Hodson was determined to bring the bushrangers in by any means necessary. As the bushrangers approached a creek, Hodson decided to split the group up to get the bandits in a pincer movement should they cross. Hodson took two constables to the left, the others went on the right.

The right-hand party kept up with the fugitives seemingly undetected, but when they got within a hundred yards, the bushrangers knew something was up. Donahoe signalled to the others by taking off his hat and waving it. They ditched the packhorse and took shelter behind the trees. Being resourceful, they were equipped for battle already. Donahoe was the first to take a snap at the authorities.

“Come on you cowardly rascals, we’re ready if there’s a dozen of you!”

The Battle of Bringelly

Donahoe had long made it known that he’d rather receive his death on the receiving end of a musket ball than at the end of a rope. He even carried a small pistol secreted in his trousers so that in the event that he was captured he could shoot himself. Two of his previous colleagues had been sent to the gallows, one of whom suffered the trauma of his rope snapping once he fell through the drop. The poor fellow then had to wait for the executive council to decide whether he could be freed. They decided it was better to have another crack at making the bushranger dance on air, so the drama on the scaffold was played out a second time, and this time it went to plan. No doubt Donahoe was aware of how easily executions were botched and the thought of such indignity was unpalatable to him. It is not unlikely that such a fate was on his mind when he tried to encourage Webber and Walmsley to engage the troopers in battle with him.

For half an hour there was an awkward lull as both sides debated about starting the attack. Eventually it was the troopers that felt the itch in their trigger finger first. Warburton raised his firing piece and launched a ball at a tree where he had seen Webber take cover. This shot, however, only succeeded in hitting the tree trunk and sending a small shower of splinters flying out. The shot was only off by about an inch.

Donahoe waits to strike.

The bushrangers opened fire, exchanging shots with the police through the gloom and the ashen puffs of gun smoke. Though the firing was intense at such close quarters and under such limited cover none of the blows landed. Donahoe continued to taunt his attackers.

“Come on, I could beat the whole bloody colony! Charge, my boys!”

Donahoe’s reckless shouting and gesticulating made him the obvious target for Muckleston, whose aptitude with the rifle was well known. He watched the bushranger’s shelter like a hawk eyeing off a rodent in the grass, waiting for the opportunity to strike. He held his breath as Donahoe stuck his head out from cover to take aim. The smooth face and flaxen hair catching the last hints of light as darkness set in provided an ample target. Mucklesworth’s finger squeezed the trigger and his rifle kicked like a mule as it squeezed two lead balls out of the muzzle in a puff of smoke. They found their mark in the left temple and the neck of the man referred to as “Bold Jack”.

Seeing their leader fall, the others elected to give up and retreat. They ran at top speed deeper into the bush, discarding their hats, coats and shoes in order to facilitate an easier, more stealthy passage through the wilderness.

Abandoned by Webber and Walmsley, Donahoe lay on the ground, bleeding and barely conscious. As he gurgled his last breaths he must have realised that he had died as he had hoped – in battle, not on the scaffold. He hadn’t had to use his secret weapon after all. The battle had been as abrupt as it was violent.

The troopers attempted to follow Webber and Walmsley but by now the darkness had set in. They returned to Donahoe and his body was searched. As well as the horse pistol and rifle, the troopers found his secret pistol tucked away in his trousers pocket. The packhorse was also retrieved and searched. In the cargo were a watch, stolen bank documents, flour, meat and women’s clothes – hardly the treasure trove one would expect from a renowned highwayman.

Skirmish between bush-rangers and constables, Illawarra [Source]

The Aftermath

The confrontation had been brief and violent. The constabulary had their prize lashed to the back of a packhorse and taken to Sydney. The body was then taken to the hospital where it was kept until the official procedures were carried out.

Sketches were made of the body laid out on the mortician’s slab, and a death mask was made by a tobacconist. Unlike later masks that were used for phrenological study, this mask would provide a reference for a collection of tobacco pipes shaped like the outlaw’s head, complete with bullet wounds. If contemporary accounts are to be believed, they were very popular.

After the inquest was conducted, Donahoe was buried in an unmarked grave in Raby. The lack of a marker or monument meant the bushranger’s admirers would have nowhere to go to spare a thought for the wild colonial boy.

With Donahoe buried, all that remained was to catch up with Webber and Walmsley. They would not remain at large long, and when the law finally caught up with them their true colours went on display.

Donahoe’s death mask.

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.