Spotlight: Local Intelligence (Launceston, 09/08/1855)

People’s Advocate or True Friend of Tasmania (Launceston, Tas. : 1855 – 1856), Thursday 9 August 1855, page 2


DIDO, AND HIS MATE.— The following is a description of these two individuals from the Government Gazette :— William Driscoll, per Norfolk, tried at Middlesex, 17th June, 1833, 14 years; again at Hobart Supreme Court, 24th October 1843; life; and again at Launceston Supreme Court, 7th April 1847, life, sawyer, 5 feet 2, complexion florid, hair brown, eyes blue; native place St. Giles’s, London, two pigeons, compasses rose shamrock thistle McDonnor fish wreath of laurels bust of a woman on right arm; a full rigged ship on left arm, ring second finger on right hand. — George King, per Hindoston, tried at Leicester Boro’ Q. S., 27th February 1840, 10 years; again at Oatlands Supreme Court, 28th June 1818, life, sweep, about 5 feet, age 32, complexion rather dark, hair brown, eyes black, native place Leicester, small scar on forehead. Parties of constabulary both from Hobart Town and Launceston being out in search of these desperadoes, we expect soon to hear they are laid by the heels,

THE LATE ROCKY WHELAN. — The Governor has directed that fifty pounds be paid to Constable John Mulrennon for his meritorious conduct in capturing the notorious Whelan. Constable Mulrennon has Also received £15 from the Richmond reward of Fifty Poutids, and £40 from the friends. of the late Messrs. Axford and Dunn.

LONGFORD GAOL.— We noticed in our last issue, the escape of a notorious bushranger, named Padfield from Longford Gaol, and hinted that great negligence at least was exhibited in the supervision of the prisoners in confinement there. We are confirmed in this, opinion, now ; for since Padfield’s. escape, the irons of three prisoners, under sentence of transportation have been found cut through, and an examination of the cells has discovered the blankets cut up into strips with a brick attached to the end, showing a deliberate, and determined attempt to escape from the gaol. We trust the affair will be strictly investigated, as Padfield has been again secured.

Spotlight: The Man Whelan and Convict Discipline (28 May 1855)

Tasmanian Colonist (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1851 – 1855), Monday 28 May 1855, page 2


This celebrated man will be put upon his trial for not only absconding, but for robbery with force and violence. An offence for which in this colony, if convicted, his life is forfeited. We have seen Whelan before to-day, or before his apprehension, and we cannot accord with those who would represent him as a ferocious looking man, whose very appearance would strike terror into the mind of the way farer. If he were one of those blood-thirsty beings which some would represent him, he would not have been apprehended as easily as he was. We do not regard him as a man of ordinary courage. We would put the term courage out of the question when speaking of such a man. He is the mere creature of a system, which never ought to obtain in any country, where pretensions to civilisation have been made. He has been for years the play-thing and sport of officials, who scarcely deserve the name of men. Many years ago he was sentenced to transportation beyond the seas for a limited period. That sentence did not say one word about the petty tyranny which has been practised upon him and upon his fellows, under the name of prison discipline. Those who are conversant with the history of Botany Bay, at the time when Whelan was sent there, will be free to acknowledge, that it was not a convict paradise. We have conversed with many men who were transported to New South Wales, and although some of the convicts became wealthy, others had to endure great hardships, and the most downright tyranny which could be practised. When this tyranny was exercised by the master to whom the convict was assigned, there was no redress for the unfortunate. The magistracy always upheld the masters in their cruelty. If a prisoner happened to get into good employment and turned out successful, this fact was blazoned forth in England, and transportation was thus held out as a boon to the young thief at home, to induce him to become bolder and more expert in his profession. This operated differently in the colonies. Whelan like others, saw that some of his copartners in crime got on well, while he was enduring tyranny. His uncontrolled spirit rebelled against such a state of things. Some of his comrades escaped to the bush, and remained away from the townships until their periods of transportation had expired, and then returned to claim their freedom and to settle down quietly to the ordinary business of life. Whelan made his escape in Sydney, and was taken sentenced, and sent to Norfolk Island. He was there in the days of Captain Maconochy, and any person who knows anything about convictism must know that if that excellent man was allowed to exercise his own judgment in the management of the prisoners, he would have carried out a system reformatory in its nature; but he was not permitted to do it, so far as Sydney prisoners were concerned. Whelan was in Norfolk Island in the days of Major Child, who was no more fit for the situation in which he was placed, than a child of ten years old, if what we have learned respecting him was true. Whelan was in Norfolk Island in the days of John Price. In a word he was there in the days of the Spread Eagle, the period of diurnal flogging, and of repeated gagging. He was there when those scenes occurred, to which the Rev. Mr. Rogers referred, and for doing which, that poor man endured a fearful amount of persecution from all parties in this colony who were in the receipt of large government salaries. There was not, to the best of our belief, any description of punishment practised on Norfolk Island from which Whelan escaped. He must be a very bad fellow indeed! is the exclamation of those who know nothing about discipline at a penal settlement. We have ourselves seen men sentenced to two or three months’ imprisonment to hard labour in chains, for having in their possession a bit of tobacco, not one-fourth of a fig. We know that convict constables have been instructed to open the mouths of the men working in chains, to ascertain whether they had been chewing tobacco, and if they could scrape a bit off a man’s tooth, that was a good charge against him. When once we begin to think over this system, we feel indignant at the men who carry it out, and at the parties, whoever they are, who can in any way sanction such refined cruelty. When we see men like Whelan and Driscol take to the bush, we do not wonder at it. We only wonder the number of bushrangers is not larger. When we see a man like Whelan easily arrested, we do not wonder at it. Tyranny and slavery make men cowards; they do not reform them. The system of discipline adopted by the present convict authorities cannot be known in England; it is such, that if we were to return and lecture there on it, we are confident we should raise such a storm of indignation against the government which could tolerate it, as would be astounding, in any country where the English language is understood. By facts and figures we have proved that convict labour is the dearest that can be obtained, and we are prepared to prove that convict discipline is a tissue of cruelty from beginning to end; yea, that the most refined cruelties have heen practised in the name of the late Lieutenant-Governor, whether with or without his consent we will not pretend to say. We mention this to put Sir H. F. Young on his guard.

Spotlight: Apprehension and Robbery (21 May 1855)

Tasmanian Colonist (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1851 – 1855), Monday 21 May 1855, page 2

APPREHENSION OF ROCKY WHELAN. — The celebrated Norfolk Islander and bushranger John Whelan, was apprehended by constables Mulrenun and Gabriel, formerly non-commissioned officers in the 99th Regt. Whelan was in the act of purchasing a pair of boots from Mr. Gourney, of Liverpool-street on Saturday evening, when he was recognised by constable Mulrenan, to whom he was not unknown during his stay on Norfolk Island. He was not unarmed at the time of his capture, and was in no way short of cash.

HIGHWAY ROBBERY. — About 4 o’clock on Wednesday last, Mr. D. C. Brown, when riding within half a mile of Hadspen, saw a boy, son of Mr. Beams of that place, come out of the bush crying, who said he was driving a cart home when a tall well-dressed man made him go off the road, and robbed him of 17s. 6d. The man presented a pistol at him, and said if he turned his head round for the next twenty minutes he would shoot him. From the similarity of the description and the locality, this appears to be the same scoundrel who robbed Mrs. Dell about twelve o’clock on the same day. — Ibid.

Bushranging Gazette #6

Sunday, 1 August 2021

The Hobart Magazine

The July 2021 issue of The Hobart Magazine features an article by Sarah Aitkin about Rocky Whelan’s cave in Mount Wellington (Kunanyi). For the article, Aidan Phelan (A Guide to Australian Bushranging) was interviewed and provided contextual information about Whelan.

You can access the magazine digitally for free online.

Jingo Was Born in the Slum

Matthew J. J. Thorne, who was the photographer during production of Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang, has released a new book through Jane and Jeremy Publishing titled Jingo was born in the slum. The book is a collection of his photographs from the film with various writings and additional text from Peter Greenaway and George Mackay.

Ned Kelly in front of the Glenrowan Inn, photographed by Matthew J. J. Thorne.

Of the book, Thorne states:

The book is a collection of photos, essays and poems made during the filming of Justin Kurzel’s half-mythic, half-modern retelling of the iconic Australian Kelly myth.

Matthew J. J. Thorne, via Instagram

Though the first print run sold out in 24 hours, there are rumoured to be plans for future printings.

You can learn more about it on the Jane and Jeremy website.

Grantlee Kieza to Write Mrs. Kelly Sequel

Grantlee Kieza, author of the book Mrs. Kelly, which tells the story of the Kelly outbreak with particular emphasis on Ellen Kelly, has announced on social media that he is writing a follow-up book about the police hunt for the gang.

Kieza reached out to Kelly buffs on Facebook to announce his intention to write a book about the police hunt for the Kellys, and was looking for stories to include.

Though there are already books about the police pursuit, most of these are memoirs, so to compile a book about the police will provide a unique perspective. Leo Kennedy’s book Black Snake mainly concentrated on his ancestor Sergeant Michael Kennedy, who was murdered at Stringybark Creek. Dean Mayes is a descendant of one of the police involved in the pursuit, Joseph Ladd Mayes, and has been researching his life story and publishing it on a blog titled The Victorian Trooper. It remains to be seen what insights Kieza is to get about the pursuit from reaching out to the Kelly enthusiasts.

Ned Kelly Coming to Hobart

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery have announced that they have secured Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series for October 2021. The paintings are part of the National Gallery of Australia’s collection and travel around Australia to most major galleries.

The exhibition is scheduled to launch 29/10/2021 and remain until 20/02/2022.

Find out more here.

Henry Maple

On 12 July, the Herald Sun published a feature that covers the life and career of boy bushranger Henry Maple.

Henry Maple (left) and Robert Banks enjoyed fleeting careers as bushrangers.

As with all Herald Sun pieces, access to the article requires a subscription to the publication. Readers with an existing subscription will be fine, but new users will have to choose between buying a subscription or missing out.

Maple was a juvenile delinquent that was in and out of reformatory around the time of the first world war. He had a fascination with shooting guns and idolised Ned Kelly. In 1920, he and another boy named Robert Banks absconded from their reformatory and went on a brief bushranging career.

The career was short, Banks turning himself in after Maple wounded a man during one of their escapades, and Maple being tracked down to a patch of forest at Neerim where he engaged in a shootout with a posse. Maple was fatally shot, and the death initially ruled a suicide before a forensic examination proved the injury was not self-inflicted.

Ned Kelly in Jacobin Magazine

A feature about Ned Kelly and his Jerilderie letter by Daniel Lopez was published this month for Jacobin Magazine, an American publication that promotes socialist perspectives on political and social issues.

The article examines Kelly from a socialist angle, looking at his rumoured republicanism, the socio-economic context of Kelly’s life, how he is viewed by commentators with a decidedly conservative perspective such as Doug Morrissey, and the rise of Kelly mythology.

To this day, conservatives, police, and centrists affect righteous indignation over Ned Kelly’s challenge to their monopoly on violence. […] Their denunciation of his violence was always an entrée to celebrating the more violent reimposition of law and order.

Daniel Lopez

This month’s features on A Guide to Australian Bushranging

* The Bluestone College: Bushrangers at Pentridge — A look at some of the bushrangers who did time at Pentridge Prison and what led them there. Includes Ned Kelly, Captain Moonlite, Harry Power, Frank Gardiner, James Nesbitt and Owen Suffolk.

* Spotlight Series: Tasmanian History; Matthew Brady by J. E. Calder — This series of articles by colonial historian James Calder provides some of the most accurate and detailed information about Matthew Brady and his gang ever published.


Gilbert and O’Meally at Demondril

John Windeyer Edmonds, on oath, stated: I am superintendent to S. K. Salting, and reside at Demondril, about two and a half miles from the prisoner’s residence; on last Saturday evening about seven o’clock, as I was taking tea, two men walked in, presented pistols at my head, and said “Bail up;” I believe them to be Gilbert and O’Meally; Gilbert said “Bail up;” they ordered me to stand up, and hold up my arms; they took from the house two saddles and bridles, a halter, a revolver, and many other articles; I see the articles as produced; the macintosh is mine; the valise was in my care; the trousers I borrowed from Mr. Macanah; the coat is mine; the two newspapers I had, all these articles were taken by the bushrangers; the bullet mould produced is mine, and many of the other articles are similar to those stolen; the goods I identify are of the value of £5; I have impounded some of the prisoner’s stock; the bushrangers said I had a bad name for impounding cattle; I saw the greater portion of the property found at Toodles.

[Source: Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Thursday 10 September 1863, page 8]

John O’Meally by Aidan Phelan

Jerilderie by Norman Lindsay

An illustration of the Kelly Gang in disguise as police at Jerilderie by Norman Lindsay, which appeared in an early edition of Douglas Stewart’s play Ned Kelly.

Jerilderie by Norman Lindsay

Lindsay captures a sense of frivolity and farce with the outlaws, dressed as police, grinning while riding the police horses. The horses appear both distressed and humiliated to have been made to carry the outlaws, reflecting the humiliation the police force at large felt at the gang’s actions. Byrne’s mount strains at the bit, defiantly, while Ned’s and Dan’s are visibly distressed.

Norman Lindsay contributed illustrations for the book version of the play, as well as costume designs for the characters. In another iteration of the play, the costume designs were by Sidney Nolan, who based the costumes on his acclaimed series of paintings.


Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas. : 1828 – 1857), Wednesday 27 June 1855, page 2



Yesterday morning the last sentence of the law was carried into effect upon the four unhappy men who were respited from Friday last, namely Peter Connelly, John Whelan, Edward Heylin, and John Parsons Knight, convicted at the late session of the Supreme Court, before His Honor Mr. Justice Horne and in whose behalf it will be remembered a petition numerously signed was presented to the Governor, but to which an unfavorable reply was received by the petitioners. A strong feeling prevailed in certain quarters that as mercy had been extended in one instance, and life had not been proved to have been taken, the Royal clemency might have been shown in the cases of these men. Upon that, it is not necessary here to express an opinion, we merely state the fact Connolly and Whelan were convicted of two robberies under arms, first the robbery of Mr William Kearney, at Grass Tree Hill in February last, when they conducted him into the bush, and presenting pistols at him, rifled his pockets, and took away £23 in notes, threatening to shoot him if he looked at them or said a word. The other robbery was that of Mr. Richard Carpenter in March, at North West Bay when they got £8 and used similar threats, leading him into the bush and driving away his horse. In both instances the bush-rangers were positively identified, and neither Connelly nor Whelan offered any defence, the latter maintaining an obstinate silence, because, (as he said) the judge would not order his money to be restored to enable him to employ counsel. The way in which the delinquents were captured was remarkable. Connolly had been sentenced, as a vagrant, and two pistols, a powder flask, watch, chain, and other articles found in his possession at the police station led to his being apprehended at the Prisoners’ Barracks by that energetic officer, D. C. Beresford, on a warrant charging him with the robbery at the North West Bay. Whelan, it will be remembered, was taken into custody by constable Mulrenan (formerly in the 99th regiment ) at the shop of Mr. Gorney, bootmaker, next the Royal Standard Inn, Elizabeth street, while fitting on a pair of boots, having at the time, a pistol in his pocket loaded up to the muzzle. The other two unfortunate men, Heylin and Knights, were convicted of the burglary, with violence, at the house of Mr. Nicholson, solicitor, Victoria-street, on the night of March 5. Some commiseration has been expressed for both these men, who are stated to have been repectably connected, and well educated. Heylin, who was transported for forgery, was a graduate of one of the universities. Knights was stated to be the son of pious parents his father having been a Wesleyan local preacher, and special interest had been made in their behalf, but as the result shows, unavailing. The whole of the condemned having avowed themselves Roman Catholics, received the ministrations of the clergymen of that church, and the Vicar-General and the Rev. Mr. Bond were unremitting in their attentions. Heylin and Knights were extremely penitent. As to Connolly, his behaviour on the scaffold did not warrant a similar presumption. Whelan made a confession, by which it would appear he was sensible of the justice of his fate.

According to custom a great crowd assembled to witness the execution. Among them were many females, some with children at their breasts, and many boys varying in age from seven or eight years upwards. It was quite shocking to observe the eager haste of the multitude to be present at the scene of death, and to see hundreds rushing to the spot towards the hour of eight. The preliminary remarks of the lookers-on showed any thing but respect for the dread ceremony of the law, many indulged in speculations as to the probability of a further respite, and to the last moment hopes were expressed that the execution would not take place. These hopes were heightened by the delay in the appearance of the executioner. The clock struck eight, and there was in awful stillness, two minutes passed and three, and five, but no one was seen on the fatal boards. The suspense was harrowing, the majority not being aware that in this dread interval the priests were performing their sacred avocations, and endeavouring to prepare for eternity those whose souls were being summoned thence. At about seven minutes after eight, the hangman presented himself, followed by the Very Rev. the Vicar-General, whose solemn recital of the litany was heard below. Knights came next, he seemed nearly over-powered, but bowed deferentially, being evidently engaged in fervent prayer. On Heylin making his appearance, several men in the crowd exclaimed, “Poor Ned, that’s him,” “Yes, there’s Ned”‘ and (what we never witnessed on a previous occasion) they burst into tears, some of them weeping like women. Heylin had gained the respect of his companions, as it appeared from these sympathetic demonstrations. But, when Connolly came, the scene was most extraordinary, the ill-fated man jumped from the step on to the scaffold, and vociferated something to this effect, “Arrah, and it’s the heart and blood of an Irishman they’re after taking: if I had to live again I’d shoot them right and left like ducks, so I would.” Father Bond, who came up with him, went over, and endeavored to pacify him, but it was with difficulty he was restrained. While the executioner was placing the cap, he repeated the exclamation and Whelan turned round and told him to be quiet. The effect of this scene on the spectators was anything but salutary. Murmurs were heard in several directions, and a few referred to the late case of pardon as compared with this proceeding, which they characterised as a murder. The hangman was a long while adjusting the sad preliminaries, when, at length, the bolt was drawn, and the four men were launched into eternity. The crowd then began to disperse, and no one can say that the influence of the public execution under such circumstances is likely to be beneficial. The idea that the men should have been reprieved appeared to have taken fast hold on many minds, and small knots of people freely renewed the discussions on the event. The policy of carrying out the sentence is matter of opinion, but the impropriety of public executions was never more decisively evinced, and it is to be hoped that the practice pursued in the adjacent colonies of executions within the walls of the gaol will be speedily introduced here.


During Monday night an intimation was conveyed to the Hon. the Colonial Secretary that Whelan wished to make a confession of his crimes, and Mr. Champ consequently went to the condemned cell, and received the statement, which was reduced to writing. We understand the unhappy man acknowledged himself to have perpetrated the dreadful murders that hare lately produced so much consternation throughout the colony. Among others he confessed to have murdered Mr. James Dunn of the firm of Merry and Dunn, of Franklin, Huon, who, it will be recollected, left Hobart Town to proceed to Franklin about the 30th April, but had been since missing. He mentioned that he did the deed near Stony Steps, on the Huon track, and that the remains would be found in a hole a short distance from the road, about four miles from town. It will be recollected that a Gazette announcement appeared on the 10th May, of Mr. Dunn not having been heard of since he left town, and offering the reward of a conditional pardon to any prisoner of the crown who should afford such information as would lead to Mr. Dunn’s discovery, and a further reward of £50 in the name of Mr. J. A. Learmouth, a relative. Whelan also confessed to the murder of Mr. William Grace, of Great Oyster Cove, in the Huon district, who left his home for Hobart Town about the 23rd April, and had not been since heard of. And he also stated that the remains would be found about two miles on the other side of Brown’s River. The next admission     he made was that he was the man who murdered Mr. Axford, whose remains, it will be remembered, were found about a mile and a half from Mr. Palmer’s, the Swan Inn, Bagdad, on the 25th of May, at the foot of Constitution Hill, in a state of nudity, the head and face being dreadfully mutilated. Deceased had been last seen on the 8th May walking down Constitution Hill, on his way to Hobart Town, intending to take the coach. As to this affair there is still a mystery attached to it. It is quite possible that Whelan did the deed, as he was at large until the 19th of May, but it can easily be conceived that a man like Whelan would think it a praiseworthy not to confess to this murder in order to save others. We understand there are three persons in custody on suspicion, and the confession will require to be well tested, in order to guide further proceedings to the accused. Whelan next acknowledged to have robbed the hawker (Hopkins we think his name is) at St. Peter’s Pass, about the 12th May; and the description given by the hawker of his assailants tally with that of Whelan and Connelly. There were some other confessions by Whelan, but as they will be published tomorrow, we shall not at present give particulars.


Yesterday, in consequence of the confession made by Whelan, a communication was made by the Colonial Secretary to the Chief Police Magistrate, who gave the necessary directions to the chief constable to cause search to be made for the remains of Mr. Dunn and Mr. Grace. Accordingly, between 11 and 12 o’clock, Mr. Symons, accompanied by constables Bailey, Vickers, &c, started off to Stoney Steps with the Vicar-General, &c., on the melancholy errand. After wending their way through mud, and scrub, and clambering the rocks in the direction of the Huon track, they found themselves in the vicinity of the spot described by the murderer. A dog belonging to Mr. Vickers scented a place where some crows were disturbed, to which Vickers ran, followed by Bailey, and the rest of the party, and there, indeed, in a ravine forming a natural grave, was discovered the object of the search, the mutilated remains of the unfortunate Mr. Dunn, clothed in his flannel and linen shirts; on the latter of which was marked the murdered man’s name, one boot on, the other on the bank close by, his sword stick hear the side, and his glazed cap in a ditch just by. No blood was visible. Deceased’s skull was broken in, the forehead was pierced with a pistol shot, and the greater part of tho flesh torn away by the crows. One hand was perfect, and an ear, but the other remains were much decomposed. When found there was no covering, but from the position of the hole, although so near the road, discovery would have been very difficult. It is supposed that the ruffian made his victim strip near the fence at the road, and then having shot him dead, dragged the body to the ravine or dry creek where it was found. Singular to relate, the clothes which were found on Whelan, are found on inspection to be like Mr. Dunn’s clothes, and we understand that a relation saw them yesterday and identified them. Mr Dunn’s height correspond-ed very nearly with that of his murderer. On discovering the body, Vickers was despatched to town with the intelligence, and afterwards took with him eight or ten men from the Prisoners’ Barracks to fetch the remains in a shell. The news of Whelan’s confession, and the subsequent discovery of Mr. Dunn’s body, caused the utmost excitement in town.


Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), Tuesday 3 July 1855, page 3


Hobart Town Gaol,

25th June, 1855.

I, John Whelan, alias Rocky Whelan, condemned to suffer to-morrow morning for robberies on William Kearney and Richard Carpenter, which I acknowledge to have committed, with deep sorrow, and in order to make what reparation I can, do solemnly declare that I did, and being then alone, commit the following murders:

1. An elderly man between Brown’s River and North-west Bay, about two months ago. I shot him in the head, and robbed him.

2. A young man (I learned afterwards his name was Dunn), on the Huon track, about six or seven weeks after Carpenter’s robbery. I shot him in the head, and struck him on the head, with the butt of the pistol, then robbed him.

3. An elderly man at Bagdad, six or seven weeks ago. I shot him in the head, and then robbed him.

4. A young man on the Westbury road, about a week after the the last murder. I shot him in the head, and took away a few shillings.

5. A hawker, near Cleveland, about three days before I was taken. I shot him in the head, and took away several things, most of which are now at the police office.

The full particulars of these murders I have given to the Very Rev. W. Hall, Vicar-General, and the Rev. W. Bond, hoping that the bodies yet undiscovered may be found. I most humbly and sincerely beg forgiveness of the friends of these victims of my cruelty, and hope that the Almighty will have mercy on my poor soul.




Taken before me in the gaol at Hobarton, this 25th June, 1855, at five minutes before seven o’clock in the evening, having been just read, over to Whelan, who declares that the same is true. W. T. CHAMP.