Spotlight: Trial of Kavenagh.

Austral-Asiatic Review, Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1837 – 1844), Friday 15 September 1843, page 4


Contrary to general expectation, it being now after two o’clock, Laurence Kavenagh was ordered to be placed at the bar, to take his trial for the robbery of the Launceston coach at Epping Forest. After some little delay, he was accordingly ushered into the dock, and a fresh jury was called, the other jurors being discharged altogether.

Laurence Kavenagh was capitally charged, under the colonial Act of Council, with robbing James Hewitt on the 3d of July last, being at the time armed with a certain offensive weapon, to wit, a gun — with puting [sic] the said James Hewitt in bodily fear, and stealing from him a watch of the value of 50s., and seven one pound promissory notes.

To this information the prisoner pleaded Not Guilty; in a very cool manner, and addressed the Court, requesting to have counsel assigned for his defence. He had no ways and means, he said, of employing one.

His Honor said that he had no power to appoint a counsel for the prisoner. He had read the depositions, and he did not see anything in them to justify him in doing so. It must not go abroad that, in all capital cases, a counsel was to be appointed. At Port Arthur, his Honor knew that, in all cases of murder, it was supposed that the Court would assign counsel to the prisoner; this was a common notion there. His Honor did not see he could appoint a counsel in the prisoner’s case, unless upon petition. The Attorney-General observed, that at home the Judge asked the counsel to assist a prisoner in his defence, if the Judge thought it was a case which required the aid of counsel. The learned gentleman stated, that on looking over the depositions in the recent case of the two boys who were charged with the murder of their overseer at Port Arthur, he had felt it his duty, as Crown prosecutor, to suggest the appointment of counsel, as he saw that points of law were likely to arise; but there was nothing, in the present case, to warrant such an appointment.

His Honor told the prisoner, that he did not think he should be justified in putting the public to the expense of assigning counsel to him. It would do him no good, nor the public either. In cases where points of law were likely to arise, or in which there was any difficulty, his Honor would always appoint counsel; but here there was nothing complex or ambiguous in the evidence, and it would be of no service to the prisoner.

The prisoner — As you think proper, your Honor.

The Attorney-General, after a short address, in which he explained the law of the case, under the Colonial Act, proceeded to call his witnesses.

James Hewitt, coachman to Mrs. Cox — Had seen prisoner at the bar before, on the 3rd of July, in Epping Forest, witness was driving the coach; Mr. Darke was with him on the box; it was about a quarter-past ten in the morning; there were three men came up, and desired them to stop; they were armed with guns; the prisoner at the bar was one of the men; he had a gun of some description; they came up in front of the horses, and desired witness to stand, and said they did not want to molest any one, only to rob them; they told them not to be afraid; the three men had their guns pointed from their shoulders; witness could not tell which of the three men told him to stop; witness stopped his horses, because he expected they would have shot at the horses, or something of that sort; the arms were presented at witness; the passengers were Miss Hilton, Mr. Darke, and Mr. Jacobs, who with Mrs. Cox, was inside; witness was ordered off the box; he came down, because they presented their arms at him; they robbed him of his watch; they asked him for what he had got, and witness told them they had better take it themselves, and then they would be sure of it; witness let them take his watch, to save further bother; witness expected that if he had not let them take the watch quietly, they would have taken it by force; he was afraid to refuse; they took £7 in notes, and a watch; the watch from his fob, and the notes from his breeches pocket; witness had no doubt the prisoner at the bar was one of those persons.

By his Honor. — The prisoner stood guard at the side of the road, when witness first saw him; this was after he (witness) got off the box; they made no threat, but told witness to stand, which he instantly did.

Mr. John Charles Darke was passenger on the Launceston coach in Epping Forest, on the 3rd of July; Hewitt was driving it; a man made his appearance in front of the coach, armed with a double-barrelled gun; the prisoner was that man; when he got to the horses heads, he desired the coachman to stop, when two other men came out of the bush; one of the other men desired them to get down; the prisoner told them to stay where they were, until he had ascertained who were in the coach; Hewitt got down from the box; witness saw one of the men take something from Hewitt, which witness thought was money; the double-barrelled gun appeared to be presented at witness and Hewitt, on the box. The prisoner at the bar said, “I dare you to stir; don’t stir, or I will shoot you.” His gun was then pointed to witness and Hewitt; the gun was under his arm, not to his shoulder; witness had never seen the prisoner before, nor either of the other two persons; witness had not the slightest doubt that the prisoner was one of the men; he knew him the moment he saw him in the jail; he (witness) never looked through a hole in his cell, to identify Kavenagh.

By the prisoner. — You were carrying the gun with the butt-end to your arm pit; I never came to look through the cell; the gun was a double-barrelled gun; I am quite sure of that; when I heard that one of the bushrangers was wounded, I thought there were strong doubts whether they were the party that robbed the coach, and I went to the gaol to ask Mr. Capon about it, as I was about to leave the colony.

By His Honor. — Mr. Price addressed the prisoner as Kavenagh, but this was after I had recognized him; I recognized him going up the stairs, before he was brought into the room.

By the Attorney-General. — The moment I saw him I knew him, as one of the men who robbed the Coach, but did not know his name till Mr. Price addressed him.

Prisoner. — Pray Sir, did you come free to the Colony?

Witness. — I did come free into the Colony.

By His Honor. — I knew him by his face, his figure, and his voice.

By a Juror, (Mr. Carter). — He had not the same dress on when he robbed the Coach as he has on now; he had on a drab coat.

Mrs. Mary Ann Cox corroborated the testimony of the other witnesses, as to the stopping of the Coach in Epping Forest, by the three men, the prisoner at the bar as one of the persons who stopped it; she was quite positive he was one of the men. This being the case for the prosecution, his Honor intimated to the prisoner that this was the time for him to make his defence. The prisoner bowed, and spoke as follows:— I have seen a good many scenes of misery in my time; but what I saw at Port Arthur beat all. There is one circumstance that I feel bound to mention. I was driven to a place of worship by the lash of the law. My own prayer-book was taken out of my hand by the Superintendent, and I was forbidden to read it under pain of severe punishment. I do not blame the Superintendent; it was not his fault. But I put it to any conscientious Protestant in this Court, whether he would like to be driven to a Catholic place of worship, or punished for going there! All men are not of one mind at Port Arthur. There are some men who forget that they have been men. I have not forgot that. I flew from Port Arthur on this account, at the hazard of that life I am now about to forfeit. While I was in the bush, I would rather have been shot than have fallen into the hands of the Government. But I fell into a mistake; for since I have been in custody, I have been treated well (with emphasis), and I am very much obliged to the gentlemen for their kindness and attention.

Gentlemen, after I went into the bush, and when I was under arms, I committed no act of violence or cruelty, and did nothing but what became a man. I did no violence to anybody. Stains of blood we always avoided — both me and my companions; and if I have been unfortunate, and done wrong, thanks be to God I have no stain of blood upon my hands! If I abstained from violence, it was not because I expected any mercy while standing at a bar like this. I did not surrender through any exportation of mercy, but through a feeling that I had in my own breast, having met with an accident. I would have pleaded guilty to this charge, only I was accused of having used violence, and violence I never used to any one; but if I came against armed men, I would stand against them the best way I could; but as to using violence against an unarmed man, or an unarmed party, I would not be guilty of so cowardly an act. I have nothing more to say, your Honor. I have no witnesses.

His Honor addressed the Jury; he explained in his usual lucid manner, the nature of the charge against the “poor man” at the bar, and the fatal penalty attached to its commission. Upon the evidence little was said, as it was explicit, plain, and incontrovertible. The defence set up by the prisoner, his Honor observed, was being forcibly driven to a place of worship contrary to the tenets of his own religion, and this was the only defence; but it touched not the duty of the jury, neither had they any evidence of such a fact; yet if that was the case, it was most detestable and cruel tyranny, and an instance of bigotry against which his Honor, for one, would most resolutely set his face. Why the prisoner should have stated this circumstance, his Honor did not know, unless it was to excite the compassion of the jury; but their duty was plain and straightforward, and must be performed without favour or affection.

The jury retired for about twenty minutes, and then returned a verdict of Guilty.

The prisoner was then remanded, his Honor deferring his sentence, but affording him no hope that the capital part would be abandoned. The many outrages committed by the prisoner and his companions, and the anxiety and terror which they had caused in so many families, rendered an example necessary. His Honor was glad to see the prisoner in a state of mind so favourable to the reception of that religious instruction and consolation which would be abundantly afforded him. He earnestly hoped that such a state of mind was sincere; and although his Honor could not deny that the prisoner had used no violence, yet no mercy could be extended to him on that account.

The trial lasted but a very short time, and the prisoner throughout preserved a demeanour cool, firm, and collected; there was nothing of the bravo about him, and he appeared fully aware of his situation; he expected no mercy — and he asked for none; and he delivered his defence in a style of natural but simple eloquence which was extremely affecting. He related the cruel treatment which he had received at Port Arthur, with an expression of indignant feeling, which to our minds carried a conviction of its truth, while he avowed his abhorrence of bloodshed, with a fervor which evinced his sincerity. He was dressed in a long dark great coat, and had his left arm in a sling; he appeared, otherwise, in good health. He is rather a good looking man, with an expression of vivacity and intelligence on a fair countenance. We need scarcely add, that the Court was crowded throughout the whole day. — Colonial Times, September 12.

Spotlight: Captain Starlight’s Cattle Raid

T. A. Browne was the real name of colonial era author Rolf Boldrewood. Boldrewood wrote many popular tales of frontier life and bushrangers, drawing heavily on his own experiences and on popular news stories as inspiration. The central character of Boldrewood’s magnum opus, Robbery Under Arms, is Dick Marston; a young stockman who becomes wrapped up in the exploits of the dashing Captain Starlight.

The theft of a thousand cattle by Captain Starlight and his gang is one of the major set pieces in “Robbery Under Arms”, and like with most events and characters in Rolf Boldrewood’s writing, was based on an actual event.

Henry Redford was a Queensland cattle duffer and part-time bushranger who performed one of the most daring heists in Australian colonial history. In 1870 he stole 1000 cattle from Bowen Downs Station near Longreach and moved them overland through the Strzelecki Desert to South Australia for sale, netting £5000. It was a daring accomplishment unrivalled by even experienced stockmen. It wasn’t until 1872 that Readford was arrested and tried for the crime. A sympathetic (or impressed) jury found him not guilty. The tale is recounted in the news article below.

(Images from “Robbery Under Arms”, 1920)

Western Grazier (Wilcannia, NSW : 1896 – 1951), Friday 26 May 1944, page 4

The Greatest Cattle Stealing Case In Our History


The greatest cattle stealing swindle of all time in Australian history was way back in 1870— that of Henry Redford, stockman and his associates.

“Thank God, gentlemen, the verdict is yours, not mine,” said the Judge, and smiting the bench with his gavel, he left the courtroom. In the year 1860 explorers William Landsborough and Nat Buchanan, after tracing the Fitzroy and the Belyando Rivers west of Rockhampton, decided to go land-seeking still further west in the country traversed three years previously by A. C Gregory.

They travelled 150 miles beyond the Belyando, and came to good country near a mountain, which subsequently they named Mount Cornish. After the usual formalities, they obtained a lease of thousands of square miles of the wonderful rolling downs country in this neighborhood; and they formed two stations — one, Mount Cornish, a cattle station, and the other, Bowen Downs, a sheep station. In due course the proprietors of these two stations formed themselves into the Landsborough Company, and their brand, L.C.5, became known in all the saleyards of Australia. Two more part owners came into the company, namely, Morehead and Young, but in the slump In the middle ‘sixties, just prior to the discovery of Gympie gold, the three original pioneers, Buchanan, Landsborough and Cornish, were obliged to sell out their interests very cheaply, and Morehead and Young were left in possession. Thus, but the luck of the game, those who found the country were deprived of the rich harvest in later years.

In November, 1867, Bill Butler, over seer of Bowen Downs Station, made a 400-mile journey eastward to Gracemere Station, near Rockhampton, to buy from the Norwegian pioneer family, the Archers (formerly of Durundur) a stud bull. Bill selected a great white bull (named Whitey), an imported animal, who was pure white, and of remarkable appearance. This animal was branded A on the near and off rumps (Archer’s brand), so Bill branded him also with an S, for extra identification. He drove the bull home to Bowen Downs, and Whitey was liberated amongst the cows and heifers of Morehead and Young.

Just as Whitey was settling down to domestic felicity a villian [sic] appeared on the scene, and Whitey’s wanderings recommenced.

The villain was named Henry Redford, a stockman, with two mates and large ideas. Redford and Company lurked in a concealed gully on the Thompson River, near Mount Cornish, where they built stockyards and gradually accumulated a herd of over a thousand L.C.5. cattle, including many hundred cows and heifers who belonged to Whltey’s harem. No suspicion was attached to the comings and goings of Redford and his mates, Doudney and Brooke, who were employed by a teamster named Forrester, of Tambo. The stockyard builders had formed the tremendous plan of lifting a thousand cattle and droving them a thousand miles to South Australia, where they expected to sell them for £5,000.


They planned the biggest cattle steal in the world’s history. Never in the wilds of Texas were a thousand head rustled at one go. We do these things on a proper scale in Australia, even though Australia’s boys prefer to read stories of Zane Grey’s Wild West instead of our Wilder West. When the mob in the hidden stockyards were ready to start on their trans continental amble, Whitey refused to be separated from his sweethearts and wives.

To avoid raising too big a dust, the cattle were divided into three mobs, and were slowly droved down the Thompson River, day after day and week after week, leaving Bowen Downs further in the rear. The plan of the ‘lifters’ was to abandon the cattle and take to the bush, should they ever be pursued.

Anxiously they watched the horizon behind them for signs of pursuit, but, in that land of great distance, great mobs and great carelessness, their absence remained unnoticed. After three weeks the bellowing mob reached the junction where the Barcoo joins the Thompson country, completely uninhabitated and following the track blazed by E. B. Kennedy In 1847. They were 200 miles south of Bowen Downs, 200 miles west of Tambo Police barracks, and 200 miles north-west of Bulloo Barracks at Thargomindah which were in the charge of the intrepid Inspector J. M. Gilmour, who was even then searching the country west of Cooper’s Creek for bones presumed to be the remains of explorer Leichhardt, missing since 1847.


The three herds were now joined into one big bellowing mob, and the daring duffers, following a very careful itinerary, drove them slowly down Cooper’s Creek towards the South Australian border at Oontoo. No human being was there to question the thieves, who were as bold as the brass they hoped to make from the sale. These were the days of slow police communication and there was nothing to fear except pursuit by black trackers from Bowen Downs. Every time a mob of emus galloped behind the duffers to the north, Red ford and his co-pirates imagined that they saw Inspector Gilmour or his equally famous offsider, Trooper Ludovic, with the two Bulloo black-trackers, Tiger and Tommy. But no Tigers or Tommies appeared, and as the season was good, the lowing kine wound quickly down the lea — in other words down Cooper’s Creek —till they came to the stockade of Burke and Wills Camp 65, which had been the focus of the drama that had thrilled and horrified a continent ten years previously.

Now, who will deny that Redford and his mates were game? For despite the tragedy of Burke and Wills, there Aussie duffers formed a plan to drive their mob down Gregory’s old path along StrzeIecki Creek towards Mount Hopeless, where Burke had been baffled. Redford was a Hawkesbury River native — one of that tough breed, descendants of convicts, outlaws, free settlers, soldiers and aborigines, who had fed on bacon and corn and ridden their shaggy ponies up and down the gullies sinces [sic] the days of Governor Bligh.

These men are the original hillbillies of Australia, distillers of moonshine, rough as bags, broad in the shoulders, narrow in the waist, long in the head, and with small hands and feet.

Redford, who by now had changed his name to Collins, was of the same Hawkesbury river breed as Postman Peat, who carried Her Majesty’s Mails on horseback from Peat’s punt, along Peat’s Ridge, to Newcastle, twice a week for 50 years, wet or dry.

Redford had the same do-or-die spirit, as now he tailed his purloined mob over the border into South Australia at Oontoo, in the district of the Three Corners of Death .


Ahead, of them the Strzelecki Creek meandered southwards in a series of waterholes, some dry and some full, and some fresh and some salt, through a desert country inhabited by the notorious Tinga Tingana blacks. This was Sturt’s Stony Desert Country, and the cattle lowed and mooed as they sensed what was ahead of them.

Whitey bravely led on, but several small mobs broke away and headed back to the north, to become a prey for dingoes and Tinga Tinganas.

The route lay through Nappamerrie, Innamincka and Burley Burley water holes, after which the Strzelecki Creek did the disappearing trick and bobbed up again in a series of soaks a few miles apart until the duffers and their mob came to Murtie Murtie waterhole, 70 miles below Innamincka.

The trio were well equipped with shooting irons, and were able to vary their diet of everlasting beef with the black duck which were abundant in the lagoons and swamps of the disappearing Strzelecki. That experienced traveller, Whitey, who had now inspected the scenery from England to Rockhampton and thence most points westward to Bowen Downs, vowed that he had never seen anything like the parrakeelia and maneroo weed of the Strzelecki. Now the Tinga Tingana waterhole was reached, headquarters of the dreaded tribe of that euphonious name, but the natives made no attempt to bar Whitey’s progress.

On he went via Yerungarrowie and Goora Goora waterhole, until finally Whitey and Redford and their thousand beefy companions sighted the roof of a slab humpy!

They had come to Artacoona Well the furthest outpost of polite society in South Australia, inhabited by the Walke Brothers, who named their station Wallelderdine. Bowen Downs eight hundred miles to the north-east. The robbers felt safe from pursuit, but their problem was how to dispose of the booty without being pinched.

Walke’s Wallelderdine Station was the fringe of South Australian settlement, and word would soon spread about the passage of such a big mob down the Strzelecki. The simple-minded Walke Brothers could scarcely believe their eyes as they saw the cloud of dust on the northern horizon of their desert-bounded station, which betokened the arrival of Whitey and his attendants, come all the way from Queensland through the graveyard of Burke and Wills.

Redford, alias Collins, announced that he was a Queensland grazier, travelling a mob belonging to himself and his brother overland to the saleyards at Port Augusta.


They asked the Walkes for provisions and clothing from the station stores, offering in exchange two prime L.C.5 cows, but the Walke Brothers had cast covetous eyes on Whitey. that deep-thewed wanderer of the waste lands.

Little did the Walkes realise that Henry Redford, in the stillness of the night, by the Strzelecki’s brackish sand holes, had already decided to sell this pedigreed champion whose value was more than £500, anonymously to the first bidder in preference to shooting him before reaching the more settled districts.

In exchange for three pairs of moleskin trousers, 150 lbs. of flour, 7 lbs. of tea, cream-of-tartar and baking soda, and some plug tobacco, Whitey changed hands.

This transaction was Harry Redford’s only mistake. It also proved a bad deal for the Walkes.

Refreshed by a feed of damper, the three musketeers of Mount Cornish next drove their bull-less herd in the direction of Mount Hopeless, passing Mulligan Spring — so named because the blacks’ name for It was Mullachan.

Mount Hopeless and Mullachan were both out-stations of Blanchewater, which specialised in breeding Indian Army remounts (walers), of which there were 3,000 head on the station.

As the mob passed through the dried mud of Lake Crossing, between Lakes Blanche and Callabonna, their hooves padded over the spot where a few years later the skeleton of a diprotodon was found by scientists and amazed the whole world. At length they reached Mount Hopeless Station, which had been pioneered by John Baker in 1858, and went on to the homestead at Blanche water. John Baker was absent, but his manager, Mr. Mules, opened his eyes at such a huge mob appearing from the desert. Now Hawkesbury Henry had had enough of cattle duffing, flies and heat, and his only desire was to convert the herd into cash, split the divvy with his pals and leave the quart pots of the Strzelecki for the flesh pots of the Torrens. So he made a proposition.


Mr. Mules jumped at the chance of buying the mob, which it had never entered his head to believe were duffed, for, in all Australian history, cattle duffers had never lifted more than a few head at a time.

So the deed was done, and the duffers departed for Adelaide to cash their draft of £5,000.

The scene changes to the courtroom at Roma in Queensland, 300 miles west of Brisbane.

There, on the 11th day of February, 1873, before Judge Blakaney on circuit, the case of Regina v. Redford is called.

The prisoner, Henry Redford, Is indicted that he in March, 1870, at Bowen Downs Station, feloniously did steal 100 bullocks, 100 cows, 100 heifers, 100 steers and one bull, the property of Morehead and Young.

Sounds a bit paltry, considering that the mob was 1,000 in addition to Whitey.

Mr. Pring, Q.C., prosecuted for the Crown, and plain Mr. Paul defended the prisoner.


Forty-eight jurymen were empanelled, but after strenuous and prolonged objections by both sides, only seven good men and true remained in the box.

The prisoner produced no evidence.

Mr. Pring, Q.C., then addressed the jury. He said that the prisoner’s guilt was beyond all doubt, that the evidence could not be answered, and that it only remained for the jury to give a verdict which would put a stop to the abominable habit of cattle-duffing in Western Queensland for all times. (No applause from the public gallery, which was crowded with cattle-duffers. Seven red faces In the jury box, which was also crowded with cattle-duffers).

Mr. Paul, counsel for the prisoner, next addressed the jury, which listened to him with bated breath. He ridiculed the evidence given by the lunatic McPherson, and asked that the Court should direct the jury to put such evidence out of their minds.

“This informer” he said “is trying to escape the penalties of his own crimes by giving evidence against his quondam mate.” Continuing Mr. Paul pointed out eloquently that the prisoner had been held under arrest for 12 months without a trial and had suffered great hardships through being refused bail.

At the conclusion of Mr. Paul’s address, which had lasted for an hour, the jury looked sorrowful.

The Judge, in his summing up, instructed the jury not to be led away by the specious though clever address by counsel for the prisoner. He instructed them to dismiss from their minds the hardships said to have been endured during the 12 months Redford was conined [sic] awaiting trial. These remarks were uttered, no doubt, with a view to making the prisoner appear a martyr.

The Jury then retired at 9 p.m., the case having lasted since 10 a.m. that day.


The jury returned to court at 10 p.m., after an hour’s retirement.

“What is your verdict, gentlemen?” asked the Judge’s associate. “Not guilty!” said the foreman in a still, small voice.

(Sensation In the Court).

“What did you say?” thundered the Judge.

“Not guilty,” replied the foreman, guiltily.

After a pause His Honor said: “I will new discharge the prisoner, but before doing so, I wish to remark that I thank God, gentlemen of the jury, that the verdict is yours, not mine,” and smiting the bench with his gavel, His Honor retired in a huff and a hurry.

The sequel came a few months later after His Honor’s return to Brisbane.

The Government of Free and Easy Land uttered the following terrible malediction against Roma:


Wednesday, 5th April, 1873.

By the Most Honorable George Augustus Constantine, Marquis of Normanby, etc., Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Colony of Queensland.

“Whereas it is now deemed expedient to withdraw for the time hereafter mentioned from the District Court of Roma, the criminal jurisdiction of such Court, now before I, George Augustus Constantine, Marquis or Normanby, Earl of Mulgrave, all in the County of York, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom; the Baron Mulgrave of New Ross, in the County of Wexford, in the Peerage of Ireland; a member or Her Majesty’s most honorable Privy Council, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Colony of Queensland and its dependencies


that the criminal jurisdiction possessed by the Court at Roma shall be with drawn therefrom for the term of two years.”

Thus by bell, book and candle, on this Black Wednesday, the Honorable George Augustus Constantine (you know the rest) formally blacklisted, reprimanded stigmatised, chided, castigated, admonished. lectured, reproved, condemned, execrated and generally anathematised the Roma Jury Panel which had found Henry Redford not guilty!

So ends the true story of Henry Redford, alias Starlight, the hero of Rolfe Boldrewood’s fictitious, false and fantastic fable, “Robbery Under Arms.”

Redford was still alive when that book was published, and had been adjudged “not guilty,” so Boldrewood had to beware of the laws of libel.

I have now told the full and true story for the first time, as Redford died in 1903 in the Northern Territory, and all the actors of the drama, including the seven jurymen and the Great White Bull himself, have long since passed away.

It is said that the Walke Brothers went broke through neglecting their own business while engaged on Her Majesty’s business at Roma.

It is also undeniable that John Baker, of Mount Hopeless, was under no obligation to return the 1,000 head which his manager, Mules, had bought from ‘Henry Collins’; for, as Redford was adjudged ‘Not Guilty,’ the receipt given to Mules was valid.

What became of the £5,000 only the lawyers and Henry Redford know. — ‘Man’

[Source: State Library of Queensland]

The Kelly Gang: An Overview

Few figures in history reach the notoriety and cultural impact of the Kelly Gang. As so much is easily available on the subject already, here is an easily digestible summary of the so-called Kelly Outbreak. For more detailed information, there is a swathe of articles available on A Guide to Australian Bushranging that examine elements of the history in more depth.

A contemporary postcard said to depict members of the Kelly Gang while on the run

The story of the Kelly Gang begins on 15 April, 1878. Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick was sent by Sergeant Whelan at Benalla to take charge of the police station at Greta. Greta was well-known to police in the district as members of the Kelly, Quinn and Lloyd families (all related) had selections there. These families were under particularly strict scrutiny by the police due to their recidivism and suspected involvement in crimes such as stock theft. In fact, Constable Fitzpatrick had heard there was a warrant out for the arrest of Dan Kelly, the seventeen year-old son of the notorious Ellen Kelly, for his suspected involvement in horse stealing. He made it known to Whelan that he intended to arrest Dan en route to Greta police station. Despite popular understanding, Fitzpatrick was not required by law to carry a copy of a warrant with him.

Constable Fitzpatrick [Source: Victoria Police Museum]

When Fitzpatrick arrived at the Kelly selection, Dan was not at home so he spoke with Ellen Kelly (who was nursing a newborn), then rode to their neighbour, William “Brickey” Williamson, and questioned him about whether he had a permit for the logs he was splitting. He lingered until dusk and returned to the Kelly selection in case Dan had returned rather than riding to Greta to take charge of the station as ordered. Dan Kelly answered the door and Fitzpatrick made his intentions known. Dan agreed to go quietly with Fitzpatrick on condition that he could finish his dinner first as he had been riding all day. He denied having stolen any horses and it would later be revealed that he had been in gaol when the animals in question were stolen, corroborating his assertions. What happened next is not known for sure due to conflicting evidence. What seems to have been the case, according to popular understanding, is that Fitzpatrick possibly made an unwanted sexual advance on fifteen year-old Kate Kelly and a fight broke out. Fitzpatrick claimed that Ellen Kelly hit him in the head with a coal shovel and Ned Kelly entered the house and shot him in the wrist, accompanied by Brickey Williamson and Ellen Kelly’s son-in-law Bill Skillion who were both brandishing revolvers. Ned Kelly would claim he was never there and Ellen would indicate that Fitzpatrick was drunk and had fought with Ned and Dan. Another version of the story states that Fitzpatrick injured his arm on a door latch and claimed it was a bullet wound, cutting himself to make it look like he had removed a bullet. Regardless, Fitzpatrick returned to Benalla and lodged a report. The following day Ellen Kelly, Brickey Williamson and Bill Skillion were arrested and charged with aiding an attempted murder. Ned and Dan Kelly had gone into hiding at Dan Kelly’s hut in the bush, and a £100 reward was posted for the capture of Ned Kelly for attempted murder.

Ellen Kelly

While the brothers were hiding in the Wombat Ranges Ellen Kelly, Brickey Williamson and Bill Skillion were sentenced. Ellen Kelly received three years hard labour, the two men were given six years each. Days later a search party was sent from Mansfield to find the Kelly brothers. Word soon reached the bushrangers that they were being hunted and they tracked the police as they ventured into the bush from Mansfield on 25 October, 1878. Despite the fact they had constructed a fortified hut with huge logs for walls and an armoured door made of sheet metal to protect them in an ambush, they remained on edge. The Mansfield police party consisted of Sergeant Michael Kennedy and Constables Thomas McIntyre, Michael Scanlan (of Mooroopna) and Thomas Lonigan (of Violet Town). They set up camp on the banks of Stringybark Creek, less than a mile from Dan Kelly’s hut. The following day Kennedy and Scanlan headed off to scout for the brothers, leaving McIntyre and Lonigan to tend the camp. McIntyre shot some parrots with a shotgun Kennedy had left him for the task of hunting something for supper. He returned to camp and began cooking bread. Unknown to them, the sound of McIntyre shooting had been heard and Ned Kelly decided to bail up the police. He and Dan were joined by Joe Byrne, a young man from the Woolshed Valley who had recently been involved in stock theft with Ned, and Steve Hart, a jockey from Wangaratta. Ned claimed his intention was to rob the police of their food and weapons.

[Source: State Library of Victoria]

In the afternoon of 26 October, 1878, the Kelly Gang emerged from the bush and ordered McIntyre and Lonigan to bail up. McIntyre did as instructed but Lonigan ran and was shot by Ned with a quartered bullet. A piece of shrapnel pierced Lonigan’s eye and entered his brain, killing him. Ned insisted that Lonigan had gotten behind a log and was about to shoot him. McIntyre would refute this, stating that there was not enough time for Lonigan to have done so. The bushrangers raided the camp, gathering what they could. Dan Kelly insisted McIntyre be handcuffed but Ned refused. He ordered McIntyre to tell the other police to surrender when they returned or be shot. Joe Byrne drank tea and smoked with McIntyre as they waited. When Kennedy and Scanlan returned the gang hid and McIntyre attempted to get the police to surrender. Very suddenly shots were fired. Ned shot Scanlan in the back as his horse tried to run away. Kennedy jumped out of the saddle and began shooting with his pistol. McIntyre escaped on Kennedy’s horse and rode into the bush. Kennedy attempted to follow McIntyre and shot Dan Kelly in the shoulder. Ned pursued Kennedy and they fired at each other in a running gunfight. Kennedy was wounded and fell a considerable distance from the camp. Ned finished him off by shooting him in the chest at close range. He would claim it was a mercy killing. The bushrangers then looted from the corpses and took everything they needed from the camp before burning the tent. Constable McIntyre, meanwhile, had been badly injured as he escaped and hid in a wombat hole overnight. The following day he walked to a farm and raised the alarm.

[Source: State Library of Victoria]

Almost immediately parliament passed the Felons Apprehension Act, which gave them the power to declare people “outlaws”. This was based on the legislation of the same name passed in New South Wales in response to bushrangers such as Ben Hall and Dan Morgan. It meant that the outlaws were not protected by the law and could be murdered without provocation and the killer would not only be exempt from any repercussions, they would receive the reward money. Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly and their two accomplices (Joe Byrne and Steve Hart had not yet been identified) were officially declared outlaws in the colony of Victoria. £1000 was put on Ned’s capture, another £1000 was offered for the others. The assistant commissioner of police, Charles Hope Nicolson, was assigned to lead the hunt for the gang.


Assistant-Commissioner Nicolson. [Source: State Library of Victoria.]

On 9 December, 1878, the Kelly Gang re-emerged. They stuck up Younghusband’s Station at Faithfull’s Creek and imprisoned the staff in a storeroom. That evening a hawker arrived to camp at the station and he was bailed up as well. The outlaws took new outfits from the hawkers wagon and spruced themselves up with perfume. Later, Ned held a Q&A session in the shed where he answered all the questions his prisoners had about his life and crimes. The next morning, Dan guarded the prisoners while the other gang members destroyed the telegraph lines. A hunting party was also captured and added to the prisoners in the shed.

The storeroom where the Kelly Gang kept their prisoners, photographed in 1940 [Source: State Library of Victoria]

In the afternoon of 10 December, Ned, Dan and Steve rode to Euroa to rob the bank. Dan guarded the back door as Steve went into the manager’s homestead via the kitchen. Here he was recognised by one of the servants who had been a schoolmate of his. He locked her in the drawing room with the rest of the manager’s family before heading into the bank. Meanwhile, Ned had tried to get in the front door with a dodgy cheque he had made the superintendent of Younghusband’s Station write out. When the bank clerk tried to tell him they were closed, he burst in and bailed the staff up and ordered them to give him all the money. Once the till was emptied he ordered them to open the safe but they needed the manager’s key. Ned and Steve bailed up the manager, Robert Scott, and after much hassle, including sending Scott’s wife to get the key from the study, the safe was emptied too. The outlaws then took the staff and the Scotts with them back to the station where Joe had been guarding the prisoners, and had even captured the linesman sent to repair the broken telegraph wires. The gang stayed until night time and then left, ordering the prisoners to wait until they were gone before leaving themselves. The gang escaped with over £1500 on gold and money. In response the reward was raised to £4000 and Assistant Commissioner Nicolson was replaced by Superintendent Francis Augustus Hare.

Steve Hart and Ned Kelly bail up Robert Scott and his staff. [Source: State Library of Victoria]

With all four gang members now officially named, it was harder for them to move around, so they got Joe Byrne’s best friend Aaron Sherritt to keep the police distracted by giving them false information. In early 1879 he informed Superintendent Hare that the Kelly Gang would be going to Goulburn. The police immediately headed for Goulburn, but the outlaws were actually heading for Jerilderie, further west. They split up and Ned and Joe went to the Woolpack Inn to get information about Jerilderie. They soon rejoined Dan and Steve and headed into the town.
At midnight on 7 February, 1879, the Kelly Gang woke the Jerilderie police up and captured them. They locked the police in their own lock-up cell and planned their next heist. The next day Ned and Joe disguised themselves as police reinforcements and went through the town with one of the constables. They made note of where everything was. Later, Joe and Dan traced the telegraph lines and got their horses shod. The next day Dan guarded the wife of the town’s Sergeant as she decorated the town hall for mass. The gang then began to round the townsfolk up and imprisoned them in the Royal Hotel. Joe went into the bank via the back door and bailed up the staff. Ned and Steve soon appeared. They robbed the till, but again had to get the manager’s key for the safe. Steve was sent to find the manager and caught him having a bath. Eventually the safe was opened and emptied. Ned began destroying records of the bank’s debtors and the bank staff were added to the prisoners in the hotel. Ned and Joe had written a letter that was to be published in the local newspaper, but the local news editor had run out of town once he realised the Kelly Gang were robbing the bank. Ned gave the letter to one of the bankers to be passed onto the press. The gang soon headed off with £2000 pounds of stolen money and gold. This caused the New South Wales government to contribute another £4000 to the reward.

Bailing up the Jerilderie police [Source: State Library of Victoria]

For months the gang seemed to disappear. During this time Aaron Sherritt kept the police distracted by hosting watch parties at the Byrne selection every night. Sub-Inspector Stanhope O’Connor was sent from Queensland with a party of native police. The native police were feared for their incredible tracking abilities and their discipline. During the latter months of 1879, Superintendent Hare took ill and was replaced by Assistant Commissioner Nicolson. Nicolson stopped the watch parties and relied on a syndicate of police informants to keep track of the Kelly Gang. Unfortunately a lot of information the police received was either outdated, false or cases of mistaken identity. The media criticised the police for their apparent ineptitude.

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Aaron Sherritt and Superintendent Hare watch the Byrne selection.

At this time the outlaws had begun to collect steel plates, mostly plough mouldboards, in order to craft bulletproof armour. Ned Kelly would claim his original intention was to wear the armour during bank robberies as the banks were now all guarded by armed soldiers. Each gang member had their own suit, but mystery still surrounds who made the armour. Many believe it was made by blacksmiths or by the gang themselves.

The Kelly Gang armour: Ned; Joe; Dan; and Steve.

The gang had also been very reliant on their sympathisers for fresh horses, food, shelter and information. The proceeds from the bank robberies had all gone to their supporters. The most prominent sympathisers were Tom Lloyd, Wild Wright, Paddy Byrne, Ettie Hart and the Kelly sisters. Aaron Sherritt was a sympathiser too, but many of the gang’s other supporters thought he was working for the police and had told the gang to murder him. Sherritt’s family had actually been working as police informants, his brother Jack Sherritt in particular, but Aaron had remained a supporter of his closest friend. Nevertheless, the rumours were persistent and Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly frequently tested the Sherritts by giving them useless information to see if it reached the police. When Superintendent Hare returned as head of the pursuit, he re-employed Aaron to take watch parties to spy on Mrs. Byrne. When the threats against Aaron became worrisome, Detective Michael Ward, one of the heads of the hunt based in Beechworth, had arranged for Aaron to be guarded day and night by police.
Meanwhile, Ned Kelly had decided to escalate the conflict with the police and take out as many of them in a single go as possible. He planned to lure them out on a special train and derail it. A commotion at Aaron Sherritt’s hut would cause the police, who were based in Benalla, to go by train to Beechworth and resume the hunt with a fresh trail. In order to get to Beechworth they had to pass through Glenrowan, where the train line would be broken on a treacherous bend, causing the train to fly off the tracks. The intention seems to have been to murder the police on board in order to force the government to stop pursuing the gang out of fear.

[Source: State Library of Victoria]

On 26 June, 1880, Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne bailed up a German neighbour of Aaron Sherritt named Anton Wick. They took him to Sherritt’s hut and used Wick to lure Aaron to the back door. When Aaron opened the door Joe murdered him, shooting him twice with a shotgun. Aaron died instantly. The four police constables that had been assigned to protect Aaron cowered and hid in the bedroom. Joe and Dan tried to force the police out of the bedroom for two hours before giving up and riding off to join Ned and Steve at Glenrowan.

Some of Thomas Carrington’s images from the Glenrowan tragedy depicting Sherritt’s hut, Joe Byrne’s horse, Music, and a view of the battlefield. [Source: State Library of Victoria]

At Glenrowan, Ned and Steve bailed up a team of quarrymen and some plate-layers to pull up a section of the train track. Ned also captured Ann Jones, proprietor of The Glenrowan Inn, and her daughter Jane. The prisoners were taken to the gatehouse where Joe and Dan arrived at around five in the morning. At daybreak the prisoners were split into two groups: women and children were kept in the gatehouse to be guarded by Steve, everyone else was taken to The Glenrowan Inn. Throughout the day more prisoners were captured as Ned waited for the police. To keep the prisoners occupied there were sporting games held at the inn, card games were played inside, drinks flowed freely and there was even a dance in the bar room. Still, there was no sign of police. As it was a Sunday, no civilian trains would be running and Ned expected the police to arrive as soon as they heard the news of what had happened at Aaron’s hut. What Ned had not discovered was that the news of Aaron’s murder did not reach the police in Benalla until after lunchtime. The police took a long time to make any arrangements but as dusk approached, arrangements were made for a special police train to be sent to Beechworth.

[Source: State Library of Victoria]

That evening Ned decided to bail up the local policeman, Constable Bracken. Thomas Curnow, the schoolteacher, had been trying to convince Ned he was on his side all day and Ned finally agreed to let Curnow take his sick wife home when they went to capture Bracken. As soon as he got home, Curnow gathered materials to help him stop the train. He took a candle and a red scarf and rode off to the train line. Back at the inn there was more dancing and after midnight Dan Kelly told everyone to head home. However, Ann Jones stopped them from leaving so Ned could give a speech. As Ned was talking the police train finally arrived and stopped at the station. Curnow had used the lit candle behind the red scarf as a danger signal and warned the train about the damaged line. The Kelly Gang donned their armour and prepared for battle. Constable Bracken escaped and ran to the train station where he informed Superintendent Hare that the gang were in The Glenrowan Inn. The police headed to the inn and a battle commenced.

FL15669975 (2)

Police battle the Kelly Gang. [Source: State Library of Victoria]

In the initial exchange Superintendent Hare’s wrist was smashed by a shot, Joe Byrne was shot in the calf, and Ned Kelly was shot in the foot and his left elbow was smashed. As the battle continued, the prisoners tried to escape. Jane Jones led a group of women and children to safety after she had been hit in the head by a police bullet and her little brother had also been mortally wounded by police fire. Over the next few hours, Ned escaped into the bush, most of the women and children escaped even though the police continued to try and shoot them, and Joe Byrne was killed by a police bullet to the groin. Police reinforcements continued to arrive throughout the early hours of the morning and just before sunrise Ned Kelly reappeared behind the police lines.


Thomas Carrington’s depiction of Ned Kelly’s last stand. [Source: State Library of Victoria]

Ned fought the police for almost half an hour before Sergeant Steele blasted his unprotected knee. He was captured alive but badly wounded. Dan and Steve remained in the inn. At ten o’clock the rest of the prisoners were let out. By this time people from all around had descended upon Glenrowan to watch the siege. At three in the afternoon the police decided to burn the inn down to flush Dan and Steve out. They had previously ordered a cannon to be sent from Melbourne to blown the inn up but it had not yet arrived. As the inn was set on fire a Catholic priest, Matthew Gibney, ran inside to rescue anyone that was still in there. Joe Byrne’s corpse was dragged out and the dead bodies of Dan and Steve were found in the bedroom but could not be retrieved before the fire took hold. Another civilian shot by police, Martin Cherry, was rescued from the fire but only lived long enough to be given the last rites. After the fire had stopped, Dan’s and Steve’s bodies were retrieved. They were charred beyond recognition. The onlookers crowded around to get a good look at the dead bodies and to grab any souvenirs they could. Photographers captured images of many of the scenes.


Joe Byrne’s corpse strung up against a cell door in Benalla. [Source: State Library of Victoria]

Ned Kelly was taken to Benalla, where Joe Byrne’s corpse was strung up against a door of the police lock-up to be photographed. Ned was then sent to Melbourne Gaol to be treated for his wounds but was not expected to survive. Meanwhile, Dan and Steve were buried in unmarked graves to prevent the police taking the bodies away from the families. Months after Glenrowan there were still bullets and bits of shot being removed from Ned’s hands, feet and limbs. When he was deemed fit, he was sent to Beechworth for a committal hearing. Authorities were worried that having a trial in Beechworth would mean there was a strong likelihood of there being sympathisers in the jury so in order to have the best chance at convicting him, he was transferred back to Melbourne for his murder trial.


Ned Kelly being carried on a stretcher into Melbourne Gaol. [Source: State Library of Victoria]

The trial in the Supreme Court was quick and Ned Kelly was found guilty of murdering Constable Thomas Lonigan and sentenced to death by Sir Redmond Barry, the judge that had sentenced his mother to gaol in 1878. While he was held in Melbourne Gaol to await his execution, his sympathisers tried to get a reprieve. Petitions with tens of thousands of signatures were gathered and there were protests and riots in the streets of Melbourne. Kate Kelly met with prominent politicians to beg for mercy but the Executive Council were unmoved and the sentence was upheld. Ned dictated several letters from his cell in order to make his version of events heard. As he was unable to write due to his injuries another prisoner was made to write for him. On 11 November, 1880, Ned Kelly was hanged in Melbourne Gaol. Thousands of people gathered outside the prison and Ellen Kelly worked in the prison laundry within earshot of the gallows. After his execution, his body was taken to the dead house, his head was shaved and a cast made, then his body was removed to be dissected by university students. The remains were buried in the gaol.

The Kelly Gang was not prolific by a far stretch. They did fewer robberies than the Hall Gang; they murdered less people than Jimmy Governor; they were not at large as long as Captain Thunderbolt; and there were not as many members as The Ribbon Gang. But what distinguished the Kelly Gang was that there was a political element to their story that was unprecedented, and a sophistication to their operations that surpassed similar feats from the “golden era” of bushrangers. Most people believe bushranging ended with the Kelly Gang, but in fact bushranging continued well into the 1920s before it began to evaporate.
Certainly the armour is a powerful piece of iconography and it encapsulates a lot of what makes the Kelly story so unique. In almost 100 years of bushranging, starting with Black Caesar in 1788, nobody had thought to protect themselves from bullets. Ned Kelly mixed the best bits of old fashioned bushranging with a fresh, more methodical approach: to prevent being shot they made armour; because mail coaches were not lucrative targets they robbed banks; they destroyed telegraph lines to prevent information reaching the police quickly; to gain sympathy they gave speeches and wrote letters to the press and politicians; to prove they were not cold blooded murderers they performed intricate heists with no bloodshed. They were bushrangers that didn’t act like typical bushrangers and that made them a cut above the rest.

A policeman with some of the gang’s revolvers and pieces of Dan Kelly’s and Steve Hart’s armour in the 1960s [Source: National Archives]

Because the Kelly Gang came from the selector class and so many people identified with them, they became representatives of people in a way not seen since Jack Donohoe became the hero of the convict class. They came to represent everything one group of people tried to suppress, at the same time as being everything the other group wanted to be, which struck a chord and captured the imagination. Even now, they capture that same spirit because a lot of the class conflict in the modern day is merely a mutation of what it was then and stems from the same things. People will always be able to find something in the Kelly Gang they either love or hate because they have transcended history and become part of the cultural tapestry.

Spotlight: Bushranging at the Billabong

(Police news, January 6, 1877)

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




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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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. <;.

Bushrangers and Motion Pictures 

Since the advent of film, outlaws have been a mainstay, however no outlaws seem to have had such an interesting history on film as Australia’s bushrangers. Starting in the early 1900s, Bushranger films fast became audience favourites with the thrilling tales of the most notorious rogues brought to life in a way that was new and exciting as well as accessible to audiences. However, authorities at the time were extremely worried that they glorified the criminal exploits of these men and encouraged youths to become criminals and in 1911 a ban was placed on bushranger films that wasn’t lifted until around the time of the Second World War. The romance of the Australian bushrangers was so popular amongst American audiences that during the ban it was film makers in the USA that made bushranger films.

Sadly nearly all of these films are lost in part or in entirety due to poor conservation or outright destruction (it turns out that celluloid makes a great substitute for coals if you’re running low on fuel). Efforts continue to locate these films for their historical and artistic significance, but very few wins have been achieved. Nearly every bushranger film is conserved by the NFSA (National Sound and Film Archive) who are staffed by experts in all areas of restoration and preservation. The bulk of the surviving silent films were released by the NFSA as a video (on VHS no less) titled Bail Up!

Bushrangers on film

Bushranging in North Queensland (1904) – No details available. Produced by the Salvation Army.

The Kelly Gang (1906) – Confusingly, this short feature opened in Hobart on the same day as the Tait feature The Story of the Kelly Gang opened in Melbourne. The version was produced by Dan Barry and Robert Hollyford and only fragments exist now including a fanciful account of the murder of Aaron Sherritt.


The Kelly Gang force a woodcutter to dance before shooting him (Source: NFSA)

The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) – Ned Kelly/The Kelly Gang. Recognised as the world’s first full-length feature film. It ran at just over an hour at a time when films were typically ten to fifteen minutes long. Only around 20 minutes has been preserved and restored by the NFSA, though searches for other prints are ongoing.

Ned Kelly’s last stand from the Tait brothers film is iconic. (Source: NFSA)

Robbery Under Arms (1907) – Captain Starlight. Rolf Boldrewood adaptation by Charles McMahon, the first in a long line of adaptations to come. [Fiction]

Robbery Under Arms (1907) – Captain Starlight. Rolf Boldrewood adaptation by John and Nevin Tait [Fiction]

The Girl Who Joined the Bushrangers (1909) – British production by Lewin Fitzhamon starring Chrissie White as a girl who joins a gang of bushrangers to steal her father’s cattle so that her lover, a policeman, my heroically recapture them.

The Story of the Kelly Gang aka The Kelly Gang of Outlaws aka Bail Up! (1910) – Not a lot is known about this film other than it was exhibited in Sydney at the Bijou in March 1910, screening twice daily from 12 – 23 March. It was shown once in Melbourne at the Cyclorama in April 1910, then in Adelaide at the Arcadia and Port Adelaide Town Hall in September that same year. It capped off the year with another set of shows in Sydney. The following year it toured to Brisbane and New Zealand, billed as a new and up to date version of the story told in the Tait film.


Ned Kelly at Creegan’s Shanty (Source: NFSA)

Thunderbolt (1910) – Frederick Ward aka Captain Thunderbolt. Dir. John Gavin. Only a portion of this film remains. At around twenty minutes, it’s long enough to demonstrate a very slight grasp on history. This was Gavin’s directorial debut and he boasted that the film was four reels long.

Ward escapes from Cockatoo Island in Thunderbolt (source: NFSA)

Moonlite (1910) – Andrew Scott aka Captain Moonlite. Dir. John Gavin. Chasing the success of their film about Thunderbolt, the creative team tackled Captain Moonlite with the director taking the lead role on screen. This film has been lost in its entirety.

Behind the scenes production still from Moonlite. (Source: NFSA)

The Life and Times of John Vane, the Notorious Australian Bushranger (1910) – John Vane, Mickey Bourke, Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert.

A Tale of the Australian Bush aka Ben Hall, The Notorious Bushranger (1911) – Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert. Dir. John Gavin.

Captain Midnight, the Bush King aka The Bushranger’s Bride (1911) – Edgar Dalimore aka Captain Midnight [Fiction]

Attack on the Gold Escort aka Captain Midnight, King of the Bushrangers aka Attack of the Gold Escort aka Captain Starlight’s Attack on the Gold Escort (1911) – No details available. Probably a recut version of Captain Midnight the Bush King. [Fiction]

Captain Starlight, or Gentleman of the Road (1911) – Captain Starlight. Rolf Boldrewood adaptation. Taken from stage-play adapted from Boldrewood’s novel

The Lady Outlaw aka By His Excellency’s Command aka By His Excellency’s Command, a Tale of a Lady Outlaw (1911) – “Dorothy” [Fiction]

Dan Morgan (1911) – “Mad Dan” Morgan. This lost film is the only film about Morgan to be made apart from Mad Dog Morgan.

Ben Hall and his Gang (1911) – Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert, John Vane, John O’Meally, John Dunn

Bushranger’s Ransom, or A Ride For Life (1911) – Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert, John O’Meally, John Vane, Mickey Bourke

Frank Gardiner, the King of the Road (1911) – Frank Gardiner. Dir. John Gavin. This lost film by John Gavin continued his traditional approach to bushranger films. It didn’t concern itself with sticking to the facts and used the character of Gardiner to play out a series of dramatic set-pieces.

Bushranger Ban is instituted

Moondyne (1913) – Joseph Bolitho Jones aka Moondyne Joe. Starring George Bryant, Roy Redgrave and Godfrey Cass, this film is based on a novel about Moondyne Joe by John Boyle O’Reilly. It focuses on Moondyne Joe escaping prison and befriending Aboriginals.

Trooper Campbell (1914) – Dir. Raymond Longford. Starring film star Lottie Lyall and based on a poem by Henry Lawson, Trooper Campbell must try and save a friend’s son from a life of crime or the indignity of the gallows.


Trooper Campbell is bailed up at a cutting beyond Blackman’s Run. (Source: NFSA)

The Kelly Gang (1920) – Ned Kelly/The Kelly Gang. Dir. Harry Southwell. Starring Godfrey Cass as Ned Kelly, this film tries to take a strongly pro-police stance to get around the ban on bushranger films, setting a precedent for future films about outlaws. It was primarily filmed in Coburg, Victoria.

Ned and Dan Kelly take leave of their mother and sister. (Source: NFSA)

Robbery Under Arms (1920) – Captain Starlight. Dir. Kenneth Brampton. Another Rolf Boldrewood adaptation. The bulk of funding for this one was obtained from mining magnate Pearson Tewksbury. [Fiction]

Captain Starlight and Warrigal eye off cattle. (Source: NFSA)

The Shadow of Lightning Ridge (1920) – “The Shadow”. Dir. Wilfred Lucas. Starring Australian boxer Snowy Baker, this fictional tale is a romance about a young Australian who returns from university to seek revenge against a corrupt squatter named Sir Edward Marriot. [Fiction]

(Source: NFSA)

The Gentleman Bushranger (1921) – Richard Lavender. Dir. Beaumont Smith. As bushranger films were banned in this time Beaumont Smith made his story about a man “falsely accused” of being a bushranger to avoid the ban. It featured a comedic (ie. Racially insensitive) Chinese character – a cook named Ah Wom Bat – to lighten proceedings. [Fiction]

When the Kellys Were Out aka The True History of the Kelly Gang (1923) – Ned Kelly/The Kelly Gang. Dir. Harry Southwell. The final performance of Godfrey Cass as Ned Kelly. Due to the “Bushranger Ban” the film has a heavily “pro-police” stance, and tries to focus heavily on the deaths of police at Stringybark Creek. Filmed in the Burragong Valley, it was initially banned in New South Wales but was released in Melbourne in 1923. It was released in England as The True Story of the Kelly Gang and supposedly was described as the greatest Australian film ever made by performer Pat Hanna. This film is yet another that has mostly been lost to time though portions of it still exist.

The Kelly Gang: Steve, Dan, Ned and Joe. (Source: NFSA)

Trooper O’Brien (1922) – Dir. John Gavin. Starring the director as Trooper O’Brien, the film uses footage from The Kelly Gang (1920) and Robbery Under Arms (1920) to tell the tale of a police officer assigned to the goldfields as a sergeant who is killed by bushrangers. Also features a very unconvincing use of blackface on one of the child actors. [Fiction]

“Dad, tell me about Uncle Jim.” (Source: NFSA)

The Bushranger (1928) – No details available. American production. [Fiction]

When the Kellys Rode (1934) – Ned Kelly/The Kelly Gang. Another Harry Southwell production, this time starring Hay Simpson as Ned Kelly.


Stingaree (1934) – Stingaree. Dir. William A. Wellman. An E. W. Hornung adaptation starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. This American production was designed to satiate the taste for bushranger stories that the Americans were hungry for. This romantic tale focuses mostly on the love story between Stingaree and Hilda Bouverie. [Fiction]

(Source: IMDb)

Captain Fury (1939) – Captain Michael Fury. Dir. Hal Roach. American Production starring Brian Aherne as fictional bushranger Captain Fury. It follows the story of an escaped Irish convict who raises a gang of bandits to seek justice against a corrupt landlord. Directed by the renowned comedy producer Hal Roach, whose other credits include scores of silent shorts, The Little Rascals and One Million BC the film was Academy Award nominated for best art direction by Charles D. Hall. The full film is available to be watched on YouTube. [Fiction]


Bushranger Ban is lifted

A Message to Kelly (1947) – Ned Kelly/The Kelly Gang. Dir. Rupert Kathner. This short film was used as a means of procuring investment in a full-length feature. The footage was shown to community groups in Benalla who were trying to get the production shut down in order to get their support. The plan succeeded.

“The Kellys Ride Again” News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954) 12 January 1948

The Glenrowan Affair (1951) – Ned Kelly/The Kelly Gang. Dir. Rupert Kathner. Successfully procuring the means to make his Ned Kelly epic, Kathner directed and acted in the film, which starred Carlton footballer Bob Chitty as Ned. The film relies heavily on oral history and myths to form its depiction and uses the myth of Dan Kelly escaping from the burning inn at Glenrowan as a jumping off point. There was much consternation as it was one of the first Australian films in many years to be exhibited internationally.

Captain Thunderbolt (1953) – Frederick Ward aka Captain Thunderbolt. Dir. Cecil Holmes. All that remains of this film is a thrilling trailer showing a handsome, clean shaven Thunderbolt played by Grant Taylor on his daring escapes. Clearly very heavily influenced by Hollywood Westerns, this film appears to focus more on derring-do than any attempt at historical accuracy. It apparently was very very popular in the United States where it was released two years after its Australian release. It also features a young Bud Tingwell as Alan Blake.

Robbery Under Arms (1957) – Captain Starlight. Dir. Jack Lee. Yet another Rolf Boldrewood adaptation, this time starring Peter Finch and Maureen Swanson. [Fiction]

Man in Iron (1960) – Ned Kelly. Unproduced Tim Burstall feature. Burstall, whose film credits include Alvin Purple and The Last of the Knucklemen, tried for years to make his Ned Kelly film. A photograph of his assistant in Ned Kelly’s armour, superimposed on a nature shot from Stringybark Creek was gifted by Burstall to Eltham High School, his former school.

Ned Kelly: Australian Paintings by Sidney Nolan (1960) – Ned Kelly. Dir. Tim Burstall. A short art documentary. Not strictly about bushrangers but it does focus heavily on the story of the Kelly Gang. [Documentary]

Ned Kelly (1970) – Ned Kelly/The Kelly Gang. Dir. Tony Richardson. Starring Mick Jagger in the title role and based on a screenplay by Ian Jones, this film is a musical romp with a very foreign perspective on the tale that did not win a sympathetic audience locally.

Ben Hall (1975) – Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner, Johnny Gilbert, John Piesley. This TV series was a joint effort by the ABC, BBC and 20th Century Fox and starred English actor Jon Finch (best known as Roman Polanski’s Macbeth), Jack Charles and John Orcsik.

Cash and Company (1975) – Sam Cash and Joe Brady. This series, set during the Gold Rush, follows two desperadoes on their adventures as they try to evade the forces of law and order at the hands of Lieutenant Keogh. [Fiction]

Tandarra (1976) – Joe Brady and Ryler. A spin-off of Cash and Company, this series replaced Sam Cash and focused mainly on farm life rather than outlawry. [Fiction]

Mad Dog Morgan (1976) – “Mad Dan” Morgan. Dir. Philippe Mora. Starring Dennis Hopper with an Irish accent, this film tries to explore colonial Australia and the character of Dan Morgan. Very popular overseas as a “Tromasterpiece”, it is renowned for its violent imagery.

The Bushranger (1976) – Written by Margaret Pomeranz. No further details available. TV Movie [Fiction]

The Trial of Ned Kelly (1977) – Ned Kelly/The Kelly Gang. Dir. John Gauci. Featuring John Waters as Ned Kelly, this TV movie examines Ned Kelly through the narrative of his trial.

John Waters as Ned Kelly. (Source: The Canberra Times)

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) – Jimmie Blacksmith (inspired by Jimmy Governor) Dir. Fred Schepisi. Adapted from the novel of the same name that was based heavily on the story of Jimmy Governor, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith shows the oppression suffered by the title character pushing him to breaking point whereupon he commits a hideous murder and goes on the run. [Fiction]

The Last Outlaw (1980) – Dir. George Miller. This TV mini-series is well loved by many Ned Kelly buffs for its adherence to the actual story rather than inventing events or characters. Starring John Jarratt and Sigrid Thornton, and sporting a screenplay by Ian Jones and Bronwyn Binns (whose previous series Against the Wind was a huge success), it was released in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Glenrowan siege and Ned’s execution.

Reckless Kelly (1993) – Ned Kelly. Dir. Yahoo Serious. Serious followed up his hit Young Einstein with this whacky interpretation of Ned Kelly as a way of critiquing Hollywood’s obsession with guns and violence as well as advocating for gun control but is better known for its use of Yothu Yindi on the soundtrack and Ned Kelly teaching his dog to say “Cornflakes”. [Fiction]

Robbery Under Arms (1985) – Captain Starlight. Dir. Donald Crombie and Ken Hannam. Rolf Boldrewood adaptation by Donald Crombie and Ken Hannah. This adaptation of Boldrewood’s story stars Sam Neill and has the distinction of being both a feature film and a TV mini-series. After its theatrical run, the film was re-edited to become a multi-part TV special. [Fiction]

Ned Kelly (2003) – Ned Kelly/The Kelly Gang. Dir. Gregor Jordan. Riding on the coat-tails of the renewed hype around Ned Kelly because of the success of Peter Carey’s novel True History of the Kelly Gang, Jordan’s film stars Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Naomi Watts and Geoffrey Rush. Based on Robert Drew’s novel Our Sunshine, it takes significant liberties with historical fact.

Ned (2003) – Ned Kelly. Dir. Abe Forsythe. This film tries to pick apart the myth around Ned Kelly and lampoon the obsession with the outlaw by creating a Ned Kelly that is a hopeless loser who gains popularity because he wears a bucket on his head. Forsythe, who also stars in the film, first pitched this idea in his year ten English class. [Fiction]

Outlawed: The Real Ned Kelly (2003) – Dir. Mark Lewis. In the wake of such a resurgence in interest in Ned Kelly, it was only natural that production companies would take a crack at documentaries on the subject. Full of moody, dramatic re-enactments and interviews, Outlawed: The Real Ned Kelly tries to question whether Ned Kelly was really a hero or a villain. [Documentary]


One of the moody re-enactment scenes in Outlawed: The Real Ned Kelly. (Source: Windfall Films)

Besieged: The Ned Kelly Story (2004) – Dir. Barrie Dowdall & Gregory Miller. Trundling out a year after the majority of the hype had died down, this documentary had dramatic re-enactments starring Peter Fenton as Ned Kelly. Fenton also composed the music for the documentary. Not as slick as the previous year’s effort, it perhaps does a better job of airing both sides of the “hero or villain” debate. [Documentary]


(Source: Umbrella Entertainment)

The Proposition (2005) – Burns Brothers. Dir. John Hillcoat. This brutal, bloody tale tells the story of the Burns brothers, Western Australian outlaws, and how the police force Charlie Burns to turn in his brother. Written by Nick Cave, this film is completely fiction but plays with the tropes of Westerns and bushrangers. Renowned for its unflinching exploration of the dark side of human nature in colonial Australia, it highlights violence and racism as well as exploring the effects of isolation both geographically and socially. [Fiction]

Tom Budge as Samuel Stoat in The Proposition (Source: Firstlook Studios)

Hell’s Gates (2007) – Alexander Pearce. Dir. Jonathan auf der Heide. Short film created to help raise finances for Van Diemen’s Land feature. Focuses on Pearce and his companions’ escape from Sarah Island up until their first murder.

The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce (2008) – Alexander Pearce. Dir. Michael James Rowland. The first of two historical feature films based on cannibal Bolter Pearce. Examines the story of Pearce as he approaches his execution and seeks divine forgiveness.

Dying Breed (2008) – Dir. Jody Dwyer. Australian horror film using the reputation of Alexander Pearce as a gimmick. In this incarnation Pearce is an escaped convict cannibal nicknamed “The Pieman” whose descendants live in seclusion and are discovered by a group of young people trying to find evidence of Tasmanian Tigers. [Fiction]

Van Diemens Land (2009) – Alexander Pearce. Dir. Jonathan auf der Heide. After successfully procuring funds to expand Hell’s Gates into a feature, Van Diemen’s Land is a shocking, gritty account of the exploits of Alexander Pearce and his accomplices as they try to traverse the wilds of Tasmania.

Ned Kelly Uncovered (2009) – Dir. Alex West. Tony Robinson of Time Team and Blackadder fame hosts this documentary made during the archaeological dig at Glenrowan. [Documentary]


Moonlite (2011) – Andrew Scott aka Captain Moonlite. Dir. Rohan Spong – unreleased. This independent film featured Barry Crocker and Tasma Walton and a whole lot of green screens. Not much is known about it other than it would have had the actors superimposed into scenery rather than using actual sets. Unfortunately production ground to a halt due to a lack of funds.

Production still from Moonlite. (Source:

Wild Boys (2011) – Jack Keenan [Fiction] This was a fun, action-adventure series that, while not historically accurate, tried to legitimise the idea of bushrangers as “Australian cowboys”. It starred Daniel MacPherson.

The Outlaw Michael Howe (2013) – Michael Howe. Dir. Brendan Cowell. This interpretation of Howe’s story is mostly accurate but heavily rewrites key aspects including Howe’s death and features Damon Herriman as Howe and Rarriwuy Hick as Mary Cockerill.

The Legend of Ben Hall (2016) – Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert, John Dunn. Dir. Matthew Holmes. This independent film focused heavily on historical accuracy and was funded primarily through crowd funding. Starring a cast of previously unknown actors, it is intended to launch a “Legends Anthology” including films about Frank Gardiner, John Vane and Ned Kelly.

Stringybark (2019) – The Kelly Gang. Dir. Ben Head. This independent, crowdfunded feature depicts the police killings at Stringybark Creek from the perspective of the doomed officers. After a debut at the Lorne Film Festival it is slated for a 2020 official release.

True History of the Kelly Gang (2019) – The Kelly Gang; Harry Power. Dir. Justin Kurzel. This quasi-modern, fantasy interpretation of the Ned Kelly story is inspired by Peter Carey’s novel of the same name and depicts the gang as dress-wearing renegades. After its 2019 Toronto International Film Festival debut, it languished for months before a limited theatrical run in January 2020 followed by it’s premiere on the streaming service Stan on Australia Day 2020.

Further Reading:

The Picture that Will Live Forever: The Story of the Kelly Gang By Ina Bertrand, William D. Routt

The Australian screen : a pictorial history of Australian film making by Eric Reade.

A century of Australian cinema edited by James Sabine for the Australian Film Institute.

Australian film, 1900-1977 : a guide to feature film production by Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper.

The story of the Kelly Gang film 1906-1907 by Jack Cranston.
Further Viewing:

To Shoot a Mad Dog (1975) – Dir. David Elfick. The making of Mad Dog Morgan.

Stand and Deliver: Making The Legend of Ben Hall (2017) – Dir. Edward Tresize. The making of The Legend of Ben Hall.