My Story: Julia Dąbrowska on Jack Donahoe

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

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


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

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

Jack Duggan by Julia Dąbrowska

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

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

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

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

Donahoe by Aidan Phelan

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

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

Jack Donahue by Julia Dąbrowska

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

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

This is what do I find interesting about Jack Donahue.

Spotlight: The Dance At The Glenrowan Inn Before The Fight


Ned Kelly’s plan was starting to fray at the edges. Since Saturday morning he had been in charge of an ever-growing collection of locals; women and children were held in Stanistreet the station-master’s house under the watchful eye of Steve Hart and the rest were over at Ann Jones’ Glenrowan Inn. It was now Sunday and the locals were growing restless – how to entertain them? How else but a dance!

This etching, based on a sketch by Thomas Carrington, depicts the famous dance at the inn that acted as a prelude to the carnage that was the Glenrowan siege. We see the crowd gathered around to observe a line of men doing a clog dance to Dave Mortimer’s concertina playing. The central figure is clearly meant to be one of the outlaws dressed in crimean shirt, cord trousers, horse-riding boots and pistol tucked into a stylish sash. Perhaps Joe Byrne dancing away thoughts of the murder of his best friend Aaron Sherritt?
Watching the proceedings is Ned Kelly flanked by fifteen year old Jane Jones, the daughter of the publican. Ned’s white topcoat is draped over his shoulders like a cloak and he wears the quilted skullcap he would later wear under his iron helmet. His arms are folded and his brow stern as he observes the frivolity. In the back of his mind, now addled with hours of alcohol consumption and lack of sleep, he would be thinking about the special police train he was expecting to come up the line from Benalla at any moment. The train, however, would be many hours away from arriving due to a series of blunders that stemmed from Joe’s and Dan’s overzealous terrorising of the police in Aaron Sherritt’s hut and the subsequent interference from sympathisers such as Joe’s brother Paddy who delayed news reaching the police.

Throughout the evening festivities would continue, performances of popular tunes such as The Wild Colonial Boy filled the air and Jane Jones would spend the evening getting cosy with the outlaws, particularly Dan Kelly who she was spotted kissing much to the chagrin of Tom Cameron, one of her schoolmates who was possibly more than a bit jealous. Joe Byrne seemed far more interested in Ann Jones, at one point being seen playing with her hair as she tugged at a ring on his finger (Joe wore Lonigan’s and Scanlan’s rings, purloined from their bodies at Stringybark Creek). All the time Ned fretted over the non-arrival of the fated train.

Finally, as the party wound down, Ned came to a decision – the prisoners were all to be sent home. It was two in the morning on Monday 28 June and Ned had finally decided to cut his losses. Before making the announcement Ann Jones convinced him to make a speech and so, overtired and full of spirits, Ned addressed the crowd. Unfortunately he was cut short by the screech of a train whistle and his brother Dan bursting in shouting about the train arriving. The prisoners were ordered to lay on the floor and Joe locked the front door, leaving the key on the mantle before the gang went into the bedroom to dress in their armour. While the gang were occupied Constable Bracken slipped the front door key into the cuff of his trousers and sneaked through the inn to keep the gang in earshot.

Heading out the back door, Ned rushes to the paddock and mounts up. He rides down the line, bitter winter cold searing his nostrils, to see the pilot engine slowing down as it approaches the station, ghostly white plumes of steam undulating into the night sky. His heart filled with rage, he curses under his breath.

…Someone has warned the train.

Spotlight: Bold Jack Donohue


The first and possibly greatest bushranger Ballad is Bold Jack Donohue, a portrayal of the wild career of one of the most infamous bushrangers. Such was the perceived insidiousness of the song’s influence that singing it in public was banned for a time, along with several other bushranger songs. It provided the basic structure and content for the most famous bushranger ballad The Wild Colonial Boy. There have been a huge number of variants and each performance introduces something wildly unique in terms of lyrics or music as you will find clearly illustrated in the selection of videos below.

Bold Jack Donohue

In Dublin town I was brought up that city of great fame
My parents reared me tenderly there’s many did the same
Being a wild colonial boy I was forced to cross the main
And for seven long years in New South Wales to wear a convict’s chain

Oh I’d been no longer than six months upon Australian shores
When I turned out as a Tory boy as I’d often done before
There was Macnamara from yonder woods and Captain Mackie too
They were the chief associates of bold Jack Donahoe

As O’Donahue was taken for a notorious crime
And sentenced to be hanged all on the gallows high
But when he came to Sydney gaol he left them in a stew
For when they came to call the roll they missed Jack Donahue

As O’Donahue made his escape to the woods he did repair
Where the tyrants dared not show their face by night and day
And every week in the newspapers there was published something new
Concerning that bold hero boy called brave Jack Donahue

As O’Donahue was walking one summer’s afternoon
Little was his notion that his death should be so soon
When a sergeant of the horse police discharged his carabine
And loudly called to O’Donahue to fight or else resign

Resign to you, you cowardly dogs its a thing I ne’er will do
For I’ll range these woods and valleys like a wolf or kangaroo
Before I’ll work for Government said bold Jack Donahue

Nine rounds the horse policeman fired till at length a fatal ball
He lodged it in O’Donahue’s breast and it caused him to fall
As he closed his mournful eyes to this world he bid adieu
Good people all both great and small pray for Jack Donahue

Spotlight: Mugshot of Jack Doolan

(Credit: Public Records Office, Melbourne)

The folk song The Wild Colonial Boy is known around the world and has been sung by artists as wide ranging as the Clancy brothers and Mick Jagger. Despite the popularity, very few know of the inspiration for the song: seventeen year old John Doolan. 

This mugshot is the first prison portrait of Doolan, a teenage tearaway who went on a spree of highway robbery with another teen, Ned Donnelly, in the early 1870s. Operating in the north of Victoria with the occasional jaunt into southern New South Wales, Doolan and Donnelly stuck up travellers on the highways for fun. Coming from a poor background, some could perhaps see that the poverty was a contributing factor in Doolan’s lawlessness, though Doolan demonstrated poor respect for authority and very little in the way of impulse control. 

Doolan stabbed a fellow apprentice during an altercation in 1869 and was imprisoned for one year. Doolan met Ned Donnelly on the prison hulk Sir Harry Smith and the two became instant friends. When Doolan completed his sentence, Donnelly absconded three months later to join him. 

Taking to the bush, the boys became a nuisance on the roads and stations around Huntley, stealing clothes and supplies. Their lawless days ended outside the Robin Hood Inn after stealing a spring cart. Chased down by troopers, the boys surrendered. 

When the boys were put on trial, their judge, Sir Edward Eyre Williams, decided to impose what he considered to be “deterrent” sentences. John Doolan received fourteen years while Ned Donnelly got seventeen. According to reports at the time, Doolan’s mother became hysterical at the sentencing given to her son. The harsh sentences were publicly denounced but Doolan stayed in prison until 1882 before vanishing from history. 

While the song was ostensibly about Doolan, the narrative includes parts of the careers of Harry Power and Jack Donohoe including Donohoe’s death during a gun battle. Despite the artistic license, the song has meant that Doolan remains a familiar name in the Australian “rogues gallery”.