Spotlight: The Bushrangers John and Thomas Clarke (22 June 1867)

Illustrated Adelaide Post (SA : 1867 – 1874), Saturday 22 June 1867, page 14


SOME particulars of the apprehension of the Clarkes were published in our last, but the following additional circumstances connected with their capture have since been contributed by a Sydney journal:— “After the surrender Tom Clarke was very communicative, and spoke of the many hair-breadth escapes he had had with particular gusto, and this man’s mind and feelings are so deadened that he looked upon the awful position he was then in as a piece of by-play. His brother, on the contrary, was extremely morose, and it was with some difficulty that he would allow Dr. Pattison to dress his wound, which was a very bad one, the shot having taken a piece of his shirt into the orifice. The doctor had to probe the wound, at which he called out lustily. The ball passed right through the top of the left arm. Sir Watkin, the black tracker, was shot by Tom Clarke from the window of the hut, the ball striking him above the wrist of the left arm, splintering the bone very much, taking a zig-zag direction, and lodged in the elbow. After Tom Clarke was handcuffed, Sir Watkin went up to him, and said — ‘Tommy, you shot me cowardly.’ ‘ No,’ said Clarke, ‘I merely shot you in defence; you wanted to take my life.’ ‘Well,’ said Sir Watkin, ‘I forgive you;— shake hands.’ Tommy raised his manacled hands, which Sir Watkin heartily clenched and shook cordially. Sir Watkin is now under the medical care of Dr. Pattison, in the Braidwood hospital. On the evening when the two Clarkes made for Guinea’s hut, in which resided Thomas Berry, junior, and his wife, they shortly after their arrival laid down to sleep. About day-light, on the following morning, Tommy awoke first, calling Johnny, saying, ‘Johnny, I’ve had a dream that Byrnes (a senior sergeant stationed at Ballalaba) had trapped us.’ Johnny exclaimed, ‘all nonsense.’ ‘Well,’ said Tommy, ‘this day will tell something.’ This was related by Tommy Clarke while Dr. Pattison was dressing the wound of Johnny. After Sir Watkin’s and Johnny’s wounds had been attended to, Tommy pulled up his trousers to show a wound he had received in the affray—a flesh wound in the back, caused by a slug from Sir Watkin’s gun. While he was stripping to show his wound, Tommy pointed out two bullet-wound marks he had received in his legs, one on his left shin and the other on his right. He said the one on his right leg bad been very bad, so much so that he could scarcely at one time raise it to get into his saddle. This fact tallies with what had been stated that he had been wounded and walked very lame. Guinea’s hut, as it is called, where this affray took piece, is about two miles distant from the spot where Carroll and his party were barbarously murdered — a circumstance which is now fresh in the recollection of every person. In the hut the police found a quantity of ammunition, and a breech-loading rifle, supposed to belong to Carroll. It seems from circumstances that the dream that Tommy had, being fresh in his mind, must have somewhat cowed him, for had he made a bolt out of the hut, by removing a slab or otherwise, there might have been a possibility of escape; for when the constable left for Ballalaba for reinforcements, there were only three police and the wounded tracker to guard.” The prisoners were tried on the 28th ult. for shooting at a police constable named Walsh, and found guilty. They were sentenced to death, and the 25th inst. was appointed for their execution. Both heard their condemnation unmoved.

Spotlight: Conviction of the Bushrangers, Thomas & John Clarke (1 June 1867)

Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle (NSW : 1860 – 1870), Saturday 1 June 1867, page 5

Conviction of the Bushrangers, Thomas & John Clarke.



(Before His Honor tho Chief Justice.)


Thomas Clarke and John Clarke were indicted for that they did, on the 27th Apr last, near Jinden, in the colony of New South Wales, wound one William Walsh, with intent to murder the said William Walsh.

The prisoners pleaded not guilty, and were defended by Messrs. Dalley and Blake, instructed by Mr Joseph Leary. Mr Isaacs, Solicitor-General, prosecuted on behalf of the Crown.

The history of the capture of the outlaw Thomas Clarke and his brother John, when the prisoners fired upon and wounded Walsh is familiar to our readers. We therefore deem it only necessary to give the opening of the case by the Solicitor-General, the summing up of the Judge, the verdict and the sentence.

The Solicitor-General, in opening the case said the jury had a duty of a most difficult nature to perform. They were called upon to try the prisoners at the bar on a capital charge and it devolved upon them to weigh the evidence carefully as it applied to one or both prisoners Thomas Clarke was outlawed by an Act of the Legislature for several felonies. It therefore became the duty of the police to pursue him and secure his apprehension. In the discharge of this duty, it is alleged by the Crown that a constable was shot at and wounded by Thomas Clarke. With regard to the prisoner John Clarke, it was alleged that he also, in company with his brother, fired upon the police sent to arrest them, and that by Thomas Clarke constable William Walsh was wounded. He was not anxious to anticipate any portion of the evidence; but he believed it would be such as to bring the charge, from the lips of three or four witnesses, conclusively home to the prisoners. The principal facts were these: On the evening of the 20th April last, a party of police, under the command of senior-constable Wright, consisting of constables Walsh, Lenehan, J. Wright, Egan, and an aboriginal tracker named Sir Watkin Wynne, arrived close to a hut neat Jinden. They saw, at about 1 o’clock in the morning of 27th April, in a paddock in front of the hut, two horses, which they led towards a haystack. At about 6 o’clock the same morning they saw the two prisoners, Thomas and John Clarke, coming out of the hut towards the horses. The party under sub-inspector Wright attacked the prisoners, who retreated to the hut, and fired upon their pursuers. Constable Walsh and the aboriginal tracker Sir Watkin had approached nearer to the hut than the others. Thomas Clarke, who knew constable Walsh, deliberately fired at him, and wounded him in the thigh. After both had seen Walsh, whom the prisoners knew, it would be proved that John Clarke fired, and wounded Sir Watkin. This shot was fired by John Clarke, through a square hole at the end of the hut. It would also be proved that when the prisoners surrendered to Walsh that there was no one in the hut when the firing took place but Thomas and John Clarke. The nature of the wound indicted upon constable Walsh, the subject under immediate inquiry, would be described to them, and other circumstances that would point to the guilt of the prisoners. The crime, in law, was one which would deprive the prisoners of life. It was, therefore, a case of life or death with which the jury had to deal. The jury had thus a solemn responsibility cast upon them. They had sworn to give a verdict according to the evidence. If any juror, from conscientious principles, had an objection to find a person guilty, when he knew that the effect of his verdict would deprive a fellow-creature of life, he was equally guilty of a serious crime if he continued to sit in the jury-box, and refused to give his verdict according to the evidence because the extreme penalty of the law was involved. He felt sure, however, that the jury would discharge their duty fearlessly and conscientiously, without any feeling as to the effect of their verdict. The evidence of the witnesses would be given in a straightforward manner; and if they detailed the circumstances to which he had alluded, they had only one duty to discharge, solemn as it was to return a verdict of guilty. It was fortunate for the prisoners that they were in a country where the laws allowed them a fair and open trial. They were fortunate also in having secured two gentlemen of great learning, of great ability, and great eloquence to defend them; and they were tried before a magistrate, impartial, of great wisdom and experience in criminal practice. No doubt the two learned counsel, Mr Dalley and Mr Blake, would separately address the jury. After which they would have the lucid summary of the evidence by the Chief Justice. It would then rest with them to pronounce their verdict. If that verdict should be guilty, then the further duty of disposing of the prisoners devolved upon another power with which the jury had nothing to do. If the evidence was clear, they must not flinch from pronouncing their verdict. If there was any fair and reasonable doubt, they would be bound to give the prisoners the benefit of it. He would now call the witnesses to establish the charge.

[The witnesses for the Crown were then called and examined, after which, Mr Blake addressed the jury for Thomas Clarke, and Mr Dalley for John Clarke.]

His HONOR then summed up. He said that considering the great importance of this trial, he must express his regret at the great length to which the trial had extended; because it was impossible but that the attention of the jury must have been fatigued. Many extraneous matters had been introduced, but the facts lay in an extremely narrow compass. The prisoners stood charged with wounding a constable, in discharge of his duty, with intent to kill him. The first question was, did the prisoner Thomas Clarke fire the shot, and wound Walsh? Secondly, what was his intention in firing the shot? Walsh’s evidence, supported by that of more than one other witness, proved that the shot proceeded from the revolver of Clarke. Whether the shot fired from that pistol reached the body of the constable directly, or whether it touched the ground first, was a matter, of no moment.

The simple questions were, first, was the wound inflicted by the prisoner at all? If not, it would be absurd to suppose that it was inflicted by persons standing behind Walsh. Whether the prisoners turned round and shot him or not, no one behind Walsh inflicted the wound; since the wound was inflicted in the man’s front.

He (the Chief Justice) would not follow the learned counsel into any question as to the propriety of the punishment of death. He would suppose that the jury would discharge their [maths?] and find simply a matter of fact and of inferences arising from fact according to their conscientious views, and not for one moment be induced to swerve from the truth by any consideration of what the result of their verdict would be. Neither did he think it necessary to make any remarks on the Felons’ Apprehension Act. He understood Mr Dalley to say that the necessity for that Act was a disgrace to our civilisation. ln that he (the Chief Justice) agreed with him. The existence of the outrages which gave birth to that law was discreditable to us. The law had been recommended from this bench years before it was passed, and was simply a re-enactment of laws as old as the time of Alfred the Great, and adopted by Sovereigns the most enlightened that England ever had known. It was adopted here in consequence of a series of outrages that unless checked would paralyse industry, and render all property and life insecure. It was a system of outrage not directed against large property or for the re-dress of grievances; but against all classes of the community, rich and poor, high and low. Where have those robbers been known to pass by the hoards of the poor man, or of the widow or the orphan when it suited their purposes to rob them? They had been the common robbers of all classes; and they had been murderers of the worst kind. The slightest resistance had been met by attempts to take life. The law was directed only against persons having arms in their hands and likely to use arms in taking life. And not until a criminal had committed a crime punishable with death was he outlawed. Notice was given in every quarter of the country, and then only could the outlaw be shot down. That is the law as it stands in our statute book. (But for the purpose of this trial it was of no importance whether this man was an outlaw or not. It would be quite sufficient if the jury found that the constables were acting with a common design to take Clarke, believing that he was outlawed, or that he had committed a felony. A constable has power to arrest any man whom he suspects to be guilty of felony; and if he cannot otherwise take him, he has power to shoot him down. The law has always been so. The constables are ministers of justice. And are they to expose their own lives to thieves and murderers without the protection of the law? Will any Judge uphold it as law that a constable is to wait until he is shot at, if he sees that revolvers are worn by the men he is seeking to arrest? Do they meet as soldiers in single combat, in honourable warfare? Although he made every allowance for gallant feeling in a man who having shot at another, and finding himself shot, asked and granted forgiveness, he (the Chief Justice) could not but feel it to be a humiliation that this constable (Walsh) on the impulse of the moment did not remember that these men were charged with felony and murder; that he descended, as a minister of justice to shake hands with a man whom he believed to be a robber and a murderer, was a degradation to his character. He (the Chief Justice) had no notion of such tampering with crime. To treat such men cruelly would be barbarous and un-English; but the constable might have said when the man held out his hand, “No, sir, you have shot me, and I have shot at you. I forgive the personal injury; but you are my prisoner. We are not on the same platform. My hand meets not that of a man whom I believe to be a felon.” He (the Chief Justico) sat there to see principles of honour and honesty carried out, and to teach men right notions, and how to act up to them, and not to let the land of his adoption, the land of his children be disgraced by such deeds as these. But these remarks had nothing to do with the trial. A man must be supposed innocent of all crimes laid to his charge until found guilty. It is nothing to a constable whether the man he seeks to arrest is guilty or not. If he is charged with felony, it is his duty to surrender, and it is the duty of the constable to arrest him. The question was did the prisoner Thomas Clarke shoot. If they had any reasonable doubt that he did so, they must acquit both prisoners. They were not nicely to weigh the probabilities of opposing evidence. The next question was this — Was Walsh, when he was shot, in the execution of his duty as a constable endeavouring to arrest the Clarkes for felony, and one of them because he believed him to be an outlaw? The evidence was that a party had been formed to arrest two persons, whom they believed to be guilty of several robberies, and of more than one murder. Then if so, were the Clarkes, or was Thomas Clarke conscious of that fact? On this subject his Honor read a short extract from Archbold to the effect that when an officer of justice is killed in the discharge of his duty, in quelling an affray or arresting a person charged with felony — if the slayer know: the officer’s business, the slaying is murder. The question was, did Thomas Clarke, when he fired at Walsh, know that he was a constable; According to the evidence Clarke, when within twenty yards of Walsh, turned round and fired at him. Walsh said he was known personally to both prisoners. It was said that when Walsh came back with his new party, Thomas Clarke said to him “If I had known you were here, I would have surrendered long ago.” But he also said “I called for you several times.” How could he call on the man unless he knew him? The next question was, did Walsh do more than was reasonably necessary to protect himself and to apprehend the prisoners? A constable is not bound to wait until he is shot at. He has a right to use his own firearms. (His Honor then read part of the evidence of Walsh, as to at Thomas Clarke, and that Thomas Clarke turned round, took aim at him (Walsh) and fired.) A person who aims at a vital part, whether the person shot at dies or not, is responsible for his intention. Something was said about discrepancies. The jury would judge how far they were material. If they met with two or three persons who saw an event, they would agree in their account of the event, but differ as to circumstances. The more witnesses, the more variations there would be. One man may have been so excited that he forgot the nature of the ground over which he passed. (His Honor then read the evidence of William Wright as to his calling on the prisoners to stand and surrender.) The question remained whether, from all circumstances, the prisoners were likely to have known that they were officers of justice. Then came this great question, did or did not the prisoner Thomas Clarke, at the moment he fired intend to take life, for nothing he did afterwards could make him guilty of this charge. Mistakes might be made as to a man’s intention. But looking at the matter as men of common sense, did they believe in their hearts that this man did intend to take life? As to his having no bad feeling, because he did not take life afterwards when he was safe in the house, it might be that he felt that it was better to abstain when there were at least two to one against him. He might have thought that to take life would be useless. When he shot he may have thought that to take the life of two or three would diminish the numbers of their enemies, whereas by merely wounding they would not accomplish this, for a wounded man might still fire on them. By law a man is presumed to intend what circumstances show to be the natural and inevitable consequence of this act. What was the probable consequence of the man’s turning round and firing a revolver at a pursuer within twenty yards of him? This was a maxim of law from the earliest times; and it was not merely a rule of reason and propriety. When a man does an act, is it not natural that that which that particular act is likely to effect the man intended to effect? A man fires a pistol at another’s head. Does it not seem that he intended to take his life? That was the whole of the case as respected the prisoner Thomas Clarke. Now came the question as to John Clarke. He did not fire the shot. The rule is if two or more persons are engaged in an unlawful act, every one is responsible for the act of the others. If men go out for a lawful purpose, and one does something quite apart from the common purpose, there is no reason to invite the others. But if men go out for a common purpose of robbing, and one commits a murder in so doing, all are responsible as murderers. That is a rule that pervades the whole of the criminal law. And it is founded on common sense. It tends to deter men from banding together for unlawful purposes. There is a difficulty in this case. What illegal design were John and Thomas Clarke concerned in at the time the shot was fired? If they had been inside the house, doing all they could to kill or wound the constables, they would both have been engaged in felony. Then whatever one did the other was responsible for. That is the general principle. It is founded on good sense. But at the time when Thomas Clarke fired, John was committing no crime. He was endeavouring to run away. There was no crime in that.

The constables were entitled to shoot him for it. But it was no crime to try to escape. If he turned round and endeavoured to shoot the constable then he was guilty of murder. The difficulty is this: At the time the shot was fired they were both running away. The common design did not seem at that time to be illegal.

John must have known that the constables were endeavouring to arrest his brother. Whether he thought the constables sought to arrest both, or only his brother, was he acting in concert with his brother in resisting Walsh? They were both running away. Thomas turned and fired; John fired a second afterwards. Was his meaning, at that time, to kill or wound the apprehending constable? or was it merely to prevent his own or his brother’s apprehension? If the jury found that John was endeavouring to prevent the arrest, and intended to help his brother to the uttermost, not intending to kill but to wound, so as to prevent the apprehension, he would be equally responsible with his brother, because then there was a common design to help each other against the constables at all hazards. If the common design of wounding any one of the constables were proved, then, though John might not have intended to have killed Walsh at the moment, he is responsible for the capital felony. This is a point of law entirely new, and matter of reasoning from general principles alone. With these remarks he left the case in the hands of the jury.

His Honor concluded his address at ten minutes past 10.

The jury returned into court at 11 o’clock with a verdict of guilty against both prisoners.

The prisoners, in reply to the Clerk of Arraigns, had nothing to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon them.

The CHIEF JUSTICE, amidst the breathless silence of a very crowded court, then proceeded to pass sentence in a most impressive manner, as follows :— Thomas Clarke and John Clarke, if, in the opinion of most of those who hear me, or if it should be thought by a large portion of the community, that you are now about to receive a just retribution for your crimes, it is proper for me to say that no such feelings influence this Court. Such a principle does not belong to our law. You are not to receive punishment as a retribution, but because the taking of your lives is believed to be necessary for the peace and good order, for the safety as well as the welfare of the community: because of the example and warning that a capital execution may hold out to others, by acting as a terror and a restraint from the committal of similar crimes of which you stand convicted. This is the principle, the true principle, of all human punishment. I told the jury they were to conclude that you were innocent of those various crimes in respect of which efforts were made to apprehend you, and by which you were apprehended, and the jury took for granted that you were innocent. But now that I have to pass sentence upon you, I am not restricted by any such feeling. It is proper, however, in what I may say, that I should not hurt your feelings, nor add anything to your degradation, but for the good of the community show what really is the extent of the crime either committed or reasonably supposed to have been committed by you, and upon which the Executive will be asked whether mercy can be extended to you. Thomas Clarke, I hold in my hand a list of offences of which you stand charged within the last two years, and the amount of the whole, exclusive of murders of which you are supposed to be guilty, there are nine robberies of mails and thirty-six robberies of individuals; and among the individuals whom you have robbed there are all classes — Chinamen, labourers, publicans, storekeepers, draymen, and settlers. With respect to you, John Clarke, I find that the offences charged against you within the last year, most of which were committed in company with your brother, amount to twenty-six robberies. Consider your position. This is the result of a long career of bushranging. You have had many abettors — you both must have had many abettors in the district from which you come; and I have no doubt there are others, blind as they are, who have sympathised with your crimes generally. I shall not waste words in respect of such crimes imputed to you. The community is disgraced by the committal of such crimes. I would ask others — and this I recommend you to reflect upon before you die — what is the result, what the value of this course of wickedness, violence, and outrage which you have been pursuing for so long? In all the cases which have come before me it has been a question — Where is the money they have gained? What is the benefit of it? You have not now a shilling in the world after all your robberies. You have not, therefore profited by your career of crime. I have not heard of anyone being a gainer by such a lawless course except one (Gardiner) who is now serving thirty-two years’ penal servitude. A criminal career must end sooner or later. How many lives are taken, how much misery inflicted — and all this for no earthly good accruing to one of you. All is to end ignominiously! You, young men, might have pursued a very different career. You might have been the fathers of respectable families, happy — for happiness is to be found in the circle of home, made home, by honest industry. Instead of that you are to die a dishonoured death, in your young days, on the gallows. There is another consideration. You must have expected that, after you had taken to firearms and robbery the result must have been death. It is shocking to think of — infamous that you, should continue such a career. Those who pursue this course must not only reflect that there is a public shame hanging over them, but that they gain nothing by their robberies. You must have been constantly in terror — always in a state of alarm lest the police tracked you out. And the hard life you must lead. I am not willing to embitter your feelings; but what I am now saying may not be heard by this crowded Court, but I have a hope that other ears may hear me and be prevented from entering on a career similar to yours. I say men like you must be in constant fear of the police entering your dwellings when you have one, and hence you wander about like wild beasts, and undergo an amount of fatigue and privation more severe than that imposed on any labourer, and which, if directed to its proper channel, would bring you peace of mind, would more than furnish you with the comforts of this life. Take this into consideration, and you will admit that the balance must be against you. Tell me, where is the man you have ever heard of, who, by a course of bushranging, has gained a shilling’s worth of property he can call his own. If liberated tomorrow where are their gains? I will read you a list of bushrangers who have appeared during the last four years and a half, all of whom have been either shot dead, or hanged, or imprisoned for life — a list almost of demons. There was Peisley, he was executed. Davis, sentenced to death, but commuted to fifteen years. Gardiner, sentenced to thirty two years. Gilbert, shot dead. Ben Hall, shot dead. Bow and Fordyce, sentenced to death, commuted to imprisonment for life. Manns, executed. Vane, ten years. O’Mealley, shot dead. Burke, shot dead. Gordon, Ben Hall’s mate, sentenced to fifteen years. Dunleavy, the same. Dunn, executed. Lowry, shot dead. Foley, sentenced to fifteen years. Morgan, shot dead. Yourself, Thomas Clarke, and you John Clarke, about to be sentenced to be hanged. Fletcher, shot dead, Pat Connell, a mate and relation of yours Thomas Clarke, shot dead. Tom Connell, another relation, sentenced to death, but commuted to penal servitude for life; and Bill Scott, a mate of yours, believed to have been murdered. How many widows, how many orphans, how much property is lost by the career of these men? I have a list here which shows that since June, 1864, seven persons, mostly police, were killed, and sixteen policemen wounded — all within three years. Much as I have had to do with criminals, I do not know that there is anything in the world so abhorrent as the sympathy which has been expressed for this class of highway robbers — the scum of the earth, the lowest of the low — they have been held up as heroes worthy of example. But better days are coming. It was the convict element that was still working, that caused the sympathy I am alluding to. Yes, a brighter day is coming. You will not live to see it, for your days are numbered. A better and a healthier feeling is rising and pervading all classes. There will be no longer this vile sympathy which has hitherto so much disgraced us. It is shocking when I think of it. It pains me. It humiliates me when I reflect upon it. But two or three years ago one, a young man, the head and front of bushranging amongst us, was in the dock where you now stand, and was acquitted wrongfully — I say wrongfully acquitted. And there was rejoicing in this court, such an exhibition as would disgrace the vilest country on earth; but I am happy to say such days are gone. If there are any in this court now who participated in that unseemly exhibition, they live now to see their shame. I am grieved that two young men like you are to receive the last sentence of the law — that you are to pass away from a country which, by honest industry, you might have assisted to raise in the estimation of the world, but from which you pass after disgracing it.

His HONOR then, with much solemnity, pronounced the awful sentence of death upon the prisoners, who were then received by the gaolers to the condemned cells.

The prisoners remained apparently unconcerned at their fate. An elderly woman, said to be Mrs Clarke, stood near the dock, and her feelings can be better imagined than described to see her two sons conducted to their last habitation in this world.

The Court which had been orderly throughout the day, adjourned at 11:30 p.m.

Spotlight: The Execution Of The Clarke Brothers As It Was Reported

Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 – 1917), Wednesday 26 June 1867, page 3




Sydney, June 25.

The convicted bushrangers, Thomas and John Clarke were executed at 9 o’clock this morning. The scaffold was erected in the yard of Darlinghurst Gaol. There were only about the usual number of officials and spectators present, and nothing special marked the ceremony.

The men bad been most assiduously attended by their spiritual advisers, and a subdued and quiet manner, with expressions of penitence for their crimes, marked their last moments. In both instances death was almost instantaneous on the fall of the drop. Their relatives and friends were in attendance, and (having previously obtained permission from the authorities) their bodies have since been removed for interment.

Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), Saturday 6 July 1867, page 9


THOMAS and JOHN CLARKE were executed together within the precincts of Darlinghurst Gaol, on Tuesday, June 25, a few minutes past 9 o’clock, in the presence of about one hundred and seventy spectators, and a large detachment of city police. The execution was conducted in a very prompt and brief manner. The procession was formed exactly at 9 o’clock. Thomas Clarke was accompanied by the Rev. Father John Dwyer, and John Clarke by the Rev. Father O’Farrell. The prayers said by the clergymen were in a low tone. Both prisoners walked with their heads bowed down, and with their eyes partially closed. They looked very careworn and much dejected. They paid no attention to the presence of so many spectators, upon whom they did not so much as cast one look. Their minds seemed to be fully absorbed in meditation and prayer. On arriving at the foot of the gallows they both knelt briefly in prayer. The Rev. Father Dwyer then proceeded up the ladder to the scaffold, followed by Thomas and John Clarke, and the Rev. Father O’Farrell. The prisoners, especially John, manifested slight trepidation. John was placed to the left of his brother. When the rope was adjusted on John’s neck he looked momentarily at his brother, whose eyes remained closed. The rope was then adjusted round Thomas’ neck. A few more prayers — very brief, were said, when the Rev. Father Dwyer took Thomas’ left and John’s right hand, bid them farewell, and left them. The Rev. Father O’Farrell held the cross to each of their lips, and both kissed it—their eyes being closed. Both clergymen having departed, the hangman placed a white cap over each of the culprits’ faces, and drew the bolt. Both fell suddenly to a depth of nine feet — their necks were dislocated — and they died instantly without a struggle, and without any perceptible muscular spasm.

Drs. Aaron and Evans, and a surgeon from one of Her Majesty’s vessels, after the bodies had been suspended for about twenty minutes, pronounced life to be extinct; they were taken down, placed in shells, and given over to their sisters for interment.

Since their conviction they had been attended upon unremittingly by the Sisters of Mercy, by the Rev. Father Dwyer and Father O’Farrell; very early yesterday morning by the Rev. Prior Sheridan; and their demeanor throughout was apparently most penitent.

On Monday afternoon they were visited for the last time by their two sisters. Tears on both sides flowed thick and fast. The parting scene was affectionate and distressing. The prisoners, however, soon regained their composure. The authorities also allowed them to be visited by their uncle, Michael Nowlan O’Con-nell, who is now awaiting trial for being accessory to the murder of Carroll and party at Jinden, and also for harboring tho outlaw Thomas Clarke — now no more. The parting scene was here also of a very sad description.

There are some facts in connection with these two executed criminals deserving of notice. It is well known that their solicitor, Mr. Joseph Leary, spared no personal effort in defending them, and in endeavoring to procure a mitigation of their sentence. He procured two very eminent counsel at their trial; and when sentence was passed, moved the full Court in arrest of judgment. Failing in this he went personally on Thursday and had an interview with the Governor, in the presence of His Excellency’s private secretary, and pleaded ably for mercy, especially for John Clarke. Feeling that it would be necessary to submit his case in writing he drew up an elaborate statement, which His Excellency placed specially before the Executive Council on Monday. There was a full meeting of the Council — the further report of the Chief Justice, and the opinion of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General being considered with Mr. Leary’s statement. The result of a most anxious deliberation, however, was that the two criminals should be left to their fate.

When this decision had been arrived at and communicated to the prisoners, on Monday evening, they were visited for the last time by Mr. Leary. After some conversation, Thomas Clarke said, ” We should like to make a statement to you.” Mr. Leary replied, “It is useless now for you to make any statement to me; I have done all I can; you have but a few hours to live ; direct your thoughts to One who is just, and before whom you have soon to appear ; that is now my advice.” Thomas Clarke said, ” We have given up all hope, and are prepared to die ; but, for myself, I wish to declare solemnly that I am innocent of murdering either Carroll or his party.” Mr. Leary said, “Don’t tell me anything more about it.” John Clarke said, ” I can solemnly assure you that I am also innocent of murdering either one or the other of those detectives.” Thomas Clarke said, “You know, sir, we have written to the Colonial Secretary, and told him we were innocent of murdering Carroll’s party, and we told him we could prove that at the time they were murdered we were forty miles away from the place; we told him that Mrs. St. Germains, her daughter, her son-in-law (who had been a member of the police force some time since), and another person whom we named, could prove that at the time the detectives were murdered we were at her place. Mrs. St. Germains said to me, a few days after the report of the murder, ‘Well, Tom, they accuse you of a great many crimes, but they cannot say you murdered the detectives.’ These four people are in a position to prove that they saw us during the day, and at the hour, forty miles from the scene of the murder.” They then, in bidding adieu to Mr. Leary, warmly thanked him for the pains he had taken, and requested that he would be so good as to convey certain words to their mother, and that he would strongly advise their sisters and other relatives in the Braidwood district to lead an honest and a good life.

It will be difficult for the public to disbelieve that the Clarkes murdered Carroll and his party; but as they both, almost at the last moment, when there was no chance of a reprieve, voluntarily and persistently protested their innocence of these foul murders, it is but right that it should be recorded. They made no public confession of other crimes. — Empire.

The Nerrigundah Raid

William Fletcher had a respectable trade before he joined Tommy Clarke and Pat O’Connell in bushranging, though he had recently been in trouble after getting drunk at the races and attempting to try out one of the horses. It was April 1865 and the bushrangers had long been operating in the Braidwood district, but had decided to branch out. They set their sights on the Gulph goldfields and Nerrigundah, a mining boom town, but they needed someone who knew the area to scout for them, which it appears Fletcher was willing and able to do.

On 9 April, the gang set to work. They picked a spot on the road out of Nerrigundah near Deep Creek to bail up passers-by and waited. The identities of the members of the gang that day are, as in most crimes attributed to the Clarkes, debatable. What is most likely, based on witness reports, is that Tommy and John Clarke, their uncles Pat and Tom O’Connell (referred to more commonly by the Anglicised ‘Connell’), William Fletcher. There was also a man named “Joe”, who was identified as a man named Joe Bishop, but he had not worked with the gang before and was not known to have done so later on. Some have speculated that Bill Berriman’s brother Joseph was the mystery man, partly because one of the witnesses claimed Bill Berriman was present, although he may have mistaken Pat O’Connell for Berriman. For the sake of this retelling, we will be working on the assumption that Pat was mistaken for Bill Berriman, and we will refer to the other man simply as Joe.

The bushrangers disguised themselves with cloth masks and cloaks as other bushrangers had taken to doing in recent crimes. Pat O’Connell wore a blue mask and cloak, some of the others wore red masks and grey cloaks. Tommy Clarke seemed to prefer a blue coat and a blackened face. While most of the bushrangers wore disguises, it does not appear from witness accounts that Fletcher was disguised. The cloak and mask combination helped stymie efforts to identify the offenders, as evidenced by the subsequent confusion as to the identities of the bushrangers that struck at Nerrigundah.

The first robbery of the day was of a small group of Chinese men who were then kept under guard in the bush as more victims were added. Marian Groves, the innkeeper at Deep Creek, was bailed up but not robbed as she was carrying no valuables. A mailboy named Griffith was robbed, the bushrangers taking £50 in half-notes from the mail. It was typical of the time for cash bills to be sent in halves at separate times due to highway robbery, as half a note was valueless without its pair.

Robert Jones of the Golden Fleece Hotel in Nerrigundah was also bailed up, as was a store owner named Donald Sutherland. Jones was obviously familiar with members of the gang as Tommy Clarke addressed him as “Bob”.

The biggest haul came when John Emmott was riding on horseback to his father’s store, the Bee Hive in Moruya, when he found his path blocked by Tommy Clarke. As he tried to turn back he was cut off by the other bushrangers. He plunged his hand into his coat to grab the gold nuggets he was carrying, intent on throwing them into the scrub. The gang opened fire, and Emmott’s horse was shot dead. A bullet went through the back of Emmott’s thigh, passing straight through. The unlucky traveller found himself pinned under the dead horse and bleeding freely from his wound. He was robbed and ordered to join the other prisoners. When he tried to explain he could not walk he was struck with the butt of a pistol. However, Tom O’Connell took pity on Emmott and reprimanded his rough accomplice, then helped Emmott rest before fetching him water.

The prisoners were then taken to the pub in Deep Creek where they were kept under guard. A group consisting of the two Clarkes, Pat O’Connell and William Fletcher headed to Nerrigundah, where they hoped to steal gold from Pollock’s store. Pollock was a gold buyer, and since gold escorts no longer took the gold from the diggings after Ben Hall’s gang had attempted to rob the Araluen escort in 1865, he kept it in a safe in his store for when he made his trips to Sydney every four weeks. Of particular interest to the gang was that Sgt. Nelson Hitch, the head of the local police, was absent to give evidence in a stock theft case in Moruya. The only other policeman they knew of was Constable Miles O’Grady, who was bedridden with ‘Colonial Fever’, which was likely a euphemism for Cholera. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to strike it rich.

The Town and Country Journal, 29/10/1902

Despite the confusion, it is very likely that the party that entered Nerrigundah around 6:00pm consisted of Tommy Clarke, Pat O’Connell, William Fletcher and John Clarke. It is possible that Tom O’Connell was acting as a scout on the outskirts of town, explaining his apparent absence from Deep Creek and his absence from the events that were unfolding in Nerrigundah.

The gang set about rounding up prisoners and lodging them in Willis’ London Tavern. It was estimated that forty people had already been imprisoned there without violence when two of the bushrangers, probably Tommy and Pat, decided to tackle Pollock’s store, which was across the road.

When they entered the store, Mrs. Pollock was tending to a handful of customers. Immediately they were bailed up and Clarke demanded the key to the safe. Reluctantly it was given over and the bushrangers plundered the store, taking silver-mounted meerschaum pipes, clothes and boots. As they escorted their new prisoners to the London Tavern, Mrs. Pollock snatched the key from Tommy’s hand and threw it into the street. As it was already dark, being almost 8:00pm, and there were no street lamps, it could not be found. In his fury, Clarke was said to have slapped Mrs. Pollock and told her that if she were a man he’d have killed her for such an act. The new prisoners were added to the collective and Tommy searched in the street with a candle for the key but without success.

The World’s News, 21/03/1934

As this was unfolding, a messenger had slipped away down a side street and notified Constable Smyth of what was taking place. Smyth was new to the town, having only been in Nerrigundah for four days prior, and only having graduated to a full constable on the first of the month. It seems that Fletcher had not been updated about the new copper, and thus had not been able to relay that information to the gang. Unsure how to proceed, Smyth suggested that the messenger find Constable O’Grady and notify him.

Upon hearing the news, O’Grady hauled himself out of his sick bed, dressed in his uniform and armed himself. Despite being in a terrible state from his fever, or woozy from the laudanum that would have been given to him to treat it, he headed out to meet Smyth. As he passed the Golden Fleece Hotel, Mrs. Jones begged O’Grady not to proceed as he was in no state to confront bushrangers. O’Grady replied, “I must do my duty.” As noble a statement as that was, the reality was that O’Grady could barely walk in a straight line but Smyth was not in a position to confront a gang of armed bushrangers alone.

The last of the prisoners were being rounded up at the London Tavern when Fletcher bailed up the local butcher, Robert Drew. When ordered to fork out his money, Drew scrunched up the £40 in notes he had in his pocket and threw it over the heads of the gang. There was a commotion as Drew was roughed up and forced inside while Tommy looked for what had been thrown.

It was just after 8:00pm when O’Grady and Smyth made their way down the main drag of Nerrigundah towards the London Tavern. O’Grady staggered and stumbled along, very unsteady on his feet. Upon seeing the lights on in the tavern, the police knew where they were headed.

William Fletcher was standing outside when O’Grady spotted him, Pat O’Connell next to him just inside the door. Without a word, O’Grady raised his rifle and fired at who he assumed was one of the bushrangers. The bullet struck Fletcher in the right arm, passing through the flesh and punching into his ribcage and lodging in his chest. He collapsed, fatally wounded. A second later, Smyth fired and the bullet lodged in the door jamb next to Pat’s head.

The Illustrated Sydney News, 16/05/1866

The bushrangers rushed into the street and fired at the troopers; one appeared to kneel for a better shot or to check on his fallen confederate. All were armed with pistols. Immediately the crowd inside the tavern spilled out into the street to see what was happening. Down the road, upon hearing the gunshots, Mrs. Jones doused the lights in the Golden Fleece. Not seeing a way they could fire effectively with such a big crowd of civilians in the firing line, the police hared down a side street. Several more shots were exchanged until a rifle bullet struck O’Grady in the back, piercing his kidney and pushing out of his navel. It was too dark to see who the rifleman was.

Smyth took O’Grady’s revolver and ran all the way back to the police barracks, while O’Grady struggled to the Golden Fleece. When Mrs. Jones opened the door, O’Grady explained that he was shot and collapsed into her arms. Meanwhile, the surviving bushrangers mounted up and fled, leaving Fletcher behind. An hour after Fletcher had been shot, he expired. O’Grady was carried by a group of miners back to the barracks where he died about three hours later.

Smyth attempted to form a posse, but only one man volunteered and he changed his mind when he saw that nobody else was willing. It wasn’t until Sgt. Hitch got back and found out what had happened that men were willing to volunteer to track the bushranger’s down.

The bushrangers had returned to Deep Creek, where they drank and gathered supplies. A Chinese man was roughed up, and another made an escape as the gang were loading up their packhorses. One of the gang made a move to raid the store across the creek when a cry rang out for the gang to mount up, “The Gulph people are upon us!” The gang took off along an old bridle track as an army of enraged Chinese miners descended upon the pub with their lanterns lighting the way.

By some accounts, Hitch’s posse managed to cut the gang off at a creek, laying in ambush until they arrived to water their horses. The posse opened fire and the gang retreated without their packhorse. With no ammunition left, and having not been able to capture the bushrangers, the posse returned home with what could be retrieved from the horse.

The inquests on Fletcher and O’Grady were held the following day, a verdict of justifiable homicide was lodged in the case of Fletcher. Tommy Clarke and Pat O’Connell were found culpable in O’Grady’s death. O’Grady was buried in the local cemetery then later transferred to the cemetery in Moruya. A monument was subsequently erected in Nerrigundah to his memory. As for Fletcher, he was buried without a coffin or a marker in the bush outside Nerrigundah.

Soon after this the recently legislated Felon’s Apprehension Act was implemented to declare Tommy Clarke and Pat O’Connell outlaws.

The Town and Country Journal, 29/10/1902

The Araluen Escort Robbery

By March 1865 the Hall Gang were struggling. The murders of Sergeant Parry and Constable Nelson had elevated these highwaymen to murderers and thus the hunt for them had ramped up. Because of the lowered success from highway robbery, the gang decided to take a crack at the big game: a gold escort.

In 1861 Frank Gardiner had successfully robbed the Orange gold escort at Eugowra Rocks. Among his gang were members of what would come to be popularly known as the Gilbert Gang, then later the Hall Gang. While Hall’s involvement in the heist is questionable, Gilbert’s was undeniable and thus it is possible that it was his idea to attempt another escort robbery in the bush at Araluen. Araluen, near Braidwood, was outside the gang’s usual beat, but its gold diggings were yielding much treasure even though most of the other goldfields had stopped rewarding diggers. The gang’s plan seemed to be as simple as ambushing the escort in the bush en route from the diggings. To achieve this they had to recruit at least one man more for the job.

Historians have debated over who the mysterious fourth gang member was, but there are two leading theories. The first is that it was up and coming bushranger Thomas Clarke, whose stomping ground encompassed the very spot where the heist was to happen. Clarke, despite being the popular suspect as far as the police were concerned, was not known to have worked with the gang on any other occasions, nor indeed with any of the other notable bushrangers in the region apart from those in his own gang. The second, most likely theory, is that it was Daniel Ryan, a friend of John Dunn with a criminal history of his own who went unaccounted for at the time of the robbery. While he wasn’t positively identified at the time, he was later arrested for his suspected involvement with the gang.

The gang descended upon Paul Burke’s Jinglemoney station on the Sunday night and swapped their horses for three of his. With fresh horses at the ready the gang headed for their point of attack at Major’s Creek. The hiding place the gang chose was a large, hollow tree at a bend where four paths converged. Two years previously a gold escort had been attacked in a similar fashion. The gang were equipped with a sledgehammer, an axe and a chisel to enable them to get the lockbox open once they had it in their possession.

Just after 8:00am on 13 March, 1865, the wagonette carrying the gold from the Araluen diggings left on it’s journey to Braidwood, rattling along the road. Riding ahead of the escort was a man named Payne who worked for a company called Rodd and bros. Unfortunately for Payne, he was bailed up by Gilbert who kept him covered with his Tranter revolving carbine. Payne was ordered to dismount and stay quiet as he was taken to the gang’s hiding place. With Payne’s being horse unrestrained, it naturally wandered off. Soon others were added to the collection of prisoners: a man named Nairn, another named Griffin, and a woman named Mrs. Jonas. The prisoners were restrained and kept on an embankment between the gang’s horses and the road. While held prisoner, the captives got a good look at their captors. Gilbert was in control, calling the shots to the other three and interrogating the captives regarding the escort. Hall remained, as always, quiet and subdued. Dunn concerned himself with preparing for the incoming escort while the mystery man kept well back from the group with his face hidden behind a red scarf or handkerchief. Gilbert declared to the captives that if the driver of the coach were to be unarmed he would not be targeted.

As the gang went about bailing up travellers, a local splitter noticed what they were up to and upon finding Payne’s horse, mounted up and went straight in to Major’s Creek to report the activity. This news quickly spread and within minutes a posse of thirty armed men had gathered and begun heading towards the scene of the crime. Unfortunately by the time they would reach the spot it would be too late, though they would gather more to their number as they passed through Araluen.

The wagonette bearing the gold was being driven by a man named John Blatchford, a gold buyer and owner of the vehicle, and was being escorted by constables MacEllicott, Byrne and Kelly, and Senior Constable Stapylton. Byrne rode abreast of the escort, acting as a kind of pilot. In the lockbox stored on the coach was 1,900oz, or £4000 worth, of gold.

Blatchford’s wagonette carrying the gold, as depicted in ‘The Legend of Ben Hall’.

At ten o’clock the escort descended into the bend. When the escort was within four yards of the gang, heading up to the ridge, Constable Byrne was allowed passage, however Gilbert ordered the others to open fire on Constable Kelly, who was shot in the chest above the heart. It was estimated that eight shots were fired, two striking the coach, two striking Stapylton’s horse in the rump. The firing spooked Kelly’s horse and it bucked the rider off before galloping away back the way the escort had come. Likewise, the coach horses became spooked and tore away from the escort. Blatchford lost his balance and tumbled from the vehicle, also receiving a bullet wound when one of the projectiles ricocheted off the wagonette. Constable Byrne managed to halt the coach as it climbed the rise. He then proceeded to set up a spot next to the wagonette from which to defend the gold.

Illustration of the attack by Braidwood artist George Lacy. [Source]

Kelly remained wounded on the road as Blatchford attempted to fetch the fallen constable’s horse. Kelly used the strength he could muster to call out, “for God’s sake, Mr. Blatchford, don’t leave me here to die!” Blatchford helped drag Kelly to the embankment and propped him up before grabbing the terrified horse and riding it full pelt back towards Araluen.

Daniel Ryan fires at the wagonette in ‘,The Legend of Ben Hall’.

With Constable Kelly down for the count, and Blatchford riding away, the remaining police dismounted and crept into the bush in an effort to flank their attackers. Gilbert ordered the gang to double back to their prisoners. Payne asked if anyone had been injured, which Gilbert responded to by stating that the gang were fine but the police were “bloody well licked”. The gang continued over the embankment and mounted their horses to pursue the runaway coach, one of Burke’s greys in exchange for Mr. Nairn’s horse. Gilbert barked at the gang to hurry but Hall’s stirrup leather had fallen out and he was attempting to fix it. As this was transpiring, Stapylton and MacEllicott had dismounted and come up behind the bushrangers. They opened fire and a shot from Stapylton nearly clipped Gilbert’s ear, to which he called out “That was a bloody fine shot, mark that man!”

The bushrangers locked on to Constable Byrne and rode furiously towards him but realised that the spot where the coach had come to rest was too open and would leave them vulnerable if they attempted to grab the lockbox. They cut their losses and bolted without the booty. They left behind their “safe-cracking” kit and a shotgun worth £30 with a broken stock.

Blatchford’s flight had not merely been a terrified escape. He stopped at Mr. Nelson’s and gave instructions on how to retrieve Constable Kelly, then continued into Redbank where he went straight to the telegraph office and reported the attack to the Braidwood police. It had only taken around twenty minutes for him to accomplish the task. As soon as the news reached Braidwood, the police geared up and took off with Superintendent Orridge leading the way.

Orridge and Dr. Pattison were the first to arrive in the scene and they retrieved Constable Kelly and rode him back to Norman’s. Pattison immediately went to work, noting that despite there being two bullet holes in Kelly’s waistcoat there was only one wound. The bullet that had struck Kelly passed through his body without hitting any organs before lodging at his back just below the skin. Dr. Pattison extracted the bullet straight away. The wound was, fortunately, not life-threatening but just in case Rev. O’Brien was sent for.

The community was up in arms over the affair and in particular over the shooting of Constable Kelly, who had been serving in the New South Wales police for three years. This was his first time on escort detail for the Araluen line and would have been his last action as a New South Wales trooper as he was due to head to Queensland to be with his parents.

As for the bushrangers, the failure seemed to do little to deter them from crime and very soon they would re-emerge to continue their nefarious trade. Little did they know that things were aligning to bring in new legislation that would be known as the “felons apprehension act”. This act would enable the government to declare certain individuals “outlaws” and deny them access to the protection of the law. Anyone could shoot them for the reward money and not suffer any negative consequences.

It was only a matter of time before their days on the run would come to an abrupt and violent end.

The Clarke Bushrangers: A Clash of Cultures, First Edition (Review)

It always astounds that so few books have been published about the Clarkes. Of course, this likely has to do with the fact that for the longest time it was a taboo and much of the story has been lost as subsequent generations disappeared, a phenomena not suffered by Ned Kelly or Ben Hall. So it is with much excitement that one approaches a tome that tries to shed new light in the dark corners of this complex and intriguing story.

Judy Lawson’s book, may appear slim and a quick and breezy read but it is quite deceptive in this regard. In reality it is a heavily immersive and detailed exploration of the Clarkes and the various murders attributed to them that warrants careful reading. Lawson has clearly done her homework and conveys in easy to follow language and structure her impressive research that combines the recorded history with the socio-political climate of 1860s Australia. The bookncontaons several useful diagrams and lists to allow readers to keep track of people and places but if you’re expecting a wealth of pretty pictures you will be disappointed – though the writing more than makes up for it. It is clear from the outset that Lawson’s angle is quite different than what has gone before, stating her mission statement clearly on the cover: “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”.

Without going into too much detail (that’s what the book is for) Lawson breaks down the Jinden murders as well as the deaths of Miles O’Grady, Billy Noonang, Pat O’Connell, Jim Dornan and Bill Scott – all deaths that were attributed to Thomas Clarke and his gang in some respect. Each incident is presented without judgement and with all available information from witness accounts and testimony from various trials and commissions pertaining to the events to allow the reader to draw their own conclusions that may indeed be counter to the accepted narrative. Previous works have been written with the author’s judgement firmly in place, usually declaring that the Clarkes were guilty as sin. What Lawson achieves is providing a potent counter to this assessment. Many questions still hang over the deaths of the special constables: was it the bushrangers or their harbourers that pulled the triggers? Were the local police involved? None of the questions have simple answers but this book brings us closer than perhaps ever before to seeing a miscarriage of justice in the case of the Clarke brothers being hanged. By presenting each potential scenario and breaking it down to discuss what is and isn’t feasible it allows readers, especially those unfamiliar with the stories, to really understand the complexities of each case.

Lawson also discusses the Irish culture, including the roles of men and women, and emphasises the way that tension between English Protestants and Irish Catholics formed a key aspect of the Clarke outbreak. By describing historical conflict and ideological differences that contributed to the treatment of families like the Clarkes we see a dimension of the story that is not often factored into most retellings. The way that these conflicts as well as the division between upper and lower class people manifested in laws and the prevailing culture in New South Wales during the 19th century are incredibly important in understanding what may have pushed the Clarkes and their ilk into a lawless lifestyle. By looking at the larger context of this infamous outbreak of bushranging we get a feel for how situations like this resulted in similar stories in other colonies such as the Kellys in Victoria and the Kenniffs in Queensland. Lawson also highlights the unfortunate reality that the charge that sent Tommy and Johnny Clarke to the gallows was not the one that they were tried for, that there was a bigger motivation behind it and that the execution was a foregone conclusion as in the cases of Ned Kelly and Paddy Kenniff. A big part of the taboo of the Clarke story seems to stem from the concerted effort local police made to demonise their enemies. Without a means of recourse to the various accusations the bushrangers were not able to explain their own situation (and there was certainly more to it than simple disregard for law and order as evidenced by their wide syndicate of supporters and harbourers).

Lawson herself possesses a Bachelor of Arts, having studied geography and history for three years before becoming a science teacher in various states, territories and abroad. Her passion for the Clarke story has led to her researching and documenting it for almost four decades in the pursuit of truth and removing the stigma of the story on descendents and the broader community. Lawson discovered that she is in fact a descendant of the O’Connells in her thirties due in large part to her father refusing to talk about it, such was the potency of the taboo. This motivation and passion is evident in every drop of ink in this book and is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the Clarke story, a tale with so many twists, turns and mysteries it easily rivals that of the Kellys. Her aim is not to hold the bushrangers up as heroes or deny any wrongdoing, but merely to ask the questions that need to be answered and find whatever information possible to answer them.

A second edition of Judy Lawson’s book is now available, and you can procure a copy at this link:

The Clarke Gang: An Overview 

*** Revised and Updated, 2021 ***

Known by some as the “bloodiest bushrangers”, the Clarke Gang operated in the Braidwood district of New South Wales between 1865 and 1867 led by Thomas Clarke and his uncle Patrick O’Connell. Members were always changing, but the mainstays tended to be Tommy Clarke, Pat O’Connell, John Clarke and Tom O’Connell.

The Clarkes were descendants of convicts, and worked as stockmen around Braidwood. Though they were frequently suspected of involvement in duffing the police struggled to find anything to pin on them, though this hasn’t stopped myriad authors posthumously declaring them to be guilty. This came to a head in May 1861 when Tommy Clarke was arrested and tried for stock theft. Clarke’s boss Hugh Wallace was convinced he was guilty. The lack of evidence saw him cleared, but the damage was done. Wallace sacked Tommy and his father, John Clarke snr, and the newly unemployed Tommy joined his uncle Pat in a career of crime.

Tommy Clarke on his racehorse Boomerang

Over the next five years Thomas was frequently in trouble, suspected of crimes ranging from stock theft to highway robbery with people like William Berriman. The Clarkes and associates were sometimes referred to as “The Jingera Mob”, but were mostly referred to as “the boys”. Because we can’t be certain that the gang were necessarily innocent or guilty of all of the crimes attributed to them, the following will discuss the crimes most commonly associated with them.

When Ben Hall’s gang encroached on the Jingera Mob’s territory in 1865 to rob the Araluen gold escort, Tommy Clarke was believed to be the mysterious new member of the gang. Typically, despite being assumed to be a suspect, Clarke was not involved but he would soon lead his own gang to fill the vacuum left by the deaths of bushrangers like Dan Morgan, Ben Hall and Johnny Gilbert.

The story of the gang really started when Tommy surrendered to police then made a daring escape from Braidwood Gaol on 3 October 1865. Allegedly, with the help of Jim Dornan, otherwise known as “The Long Tailor”, Tommy got over the perimeter palisade wall and escaped into the bush on a horse that had been planted for him. A reward of £200 was offered for his capture.

A series of robberies were conducted around the area that were attributed to “the boys”. In these cases, the offenders were cloaked and masked, making positive identification impossible. One of the earliest examples of such was the raid on Foxlow Station on 29 December 1865. Six armed and disguised bushrangers held up the station and robbed it of over £300 worth of supplies. One of the suspects was Tommy Clarke, but there was no way to prove it.

Clarke’s escape from Braidwood Gaol

The gang, supposed to have consisted of Tommy Clarke, Pat and Tom O’Connell and two Berriman brothers, raided the stores of Mr. Hoskins taking children’s boots, clothing, medicine, lollies, rum, wine, whiskey and chests of tea. Tommy Clarke was reportedly dressed in white moleskins, a monkey jacket and a handkerchief tied around his face. The others had blackened their faces to hide their identities or wore strips of crepe as a mask. Hugh Vallance, the superintenrident, thanked the gang for not mistreating the women and children. The gang would return here on a number of occasions in future to raid the stores and police were soon stationed here to guard it

In February 1866 the gang robbed the post office in Michelago, and on 23 February they robbed the hotel and store at Crowns Plains before moving to Mudmelong. A prisoner had escaped from the hotel and notified police who correctly anticipated the gang’s next move and headed straight to Mudmelong where two policemen were stationed in Morris’ hotel. They mingled with patrons while waiting for the bushrangers to show up and when Tom O’Connell entered the hotel for a drink he was promptly arrested and darbied. O’Connell, who was in his thirties, was a tall man for the time, standing at six feet, and had a crippled right hand. When the rest of the gang arrived looking for him the police opened fire. A fierce standoff ensued during which the bushrangers threatened to burn the hotel down if the police didn’t surrender. Soon Tom O’Connell was freed, four police were held prisoner in the hotel, and their weapons taken by the triumphant bushrangers. Police reinforcements were sent to the town to no avail, having just missed the gang.

On 21 March the gang performed the Rosebrook Station Raid. Sticking up the family of Mrs Mary Ann Hartnett in Cooma, the bushrangers herded the family into a room and robbed the stores, ransacked the house, ate their fill and played music. Following the humiliation the police suffered in Mudmelong, the bushrangers were cocky and had become complacent. Two prisoners escaped and alerted the police. Knowing that they could not afford to risk losing such an opportunity, the police set off straight away. Meanwhile the gang, having taken all they wanted from Rosebrook, headed for another nearby station. The police found the gang at Rose Valley Station where a shoot-out took place but the gang once more escaped.

Reaching newer heights of infamy but still enjoying the support of a syndicate of family and friends who protected them (and enjoyed the spoils from the gang’s activities), the Clarkes decided to step things up. Recruiting a sympathiser, named William Fletcher, the plan was to hit the boom town Nerrigundah, as there was believed to be no police presence there.

9 April 1866 the gang began work around the Gulph Goldfields. It is generally accepted that the gang in this day consisted of Tommy and John Clarke, Pat and Tom O’Connell, Bill and Joe Berriman, and William Fletcher. In the afternoon they began bailing up travellers at Deep Creek, including John Emmott, who was shot in the thigh as he attempted to throw the gold he was carrying into the scrub. The prisoners were held in a pub in Deep Creek while some of the gang rode to Nerrigundah at night. They rounded up the locals and imprisoned them in the London Tavern, then Tommy Clarke attempted to rob Pollock’s Store where a large amount of gold was being stored in a safe. However, Mrs. Pollock threw the key into the street where the bushrangers couldn’t find them. Unbeknownst to them, there were two police in town – Constable Smyth, a new recruit, and Constable O’Grady, who had been sick in bed with “colonial fever”. O’Grady and Smyth walked to the store and O’Grady opened fire. His shot hit Fletcher and a gunfight broke out. Fletcher and O’Grady were both killed. Despite being pursued, and even performing more robberies after they left Nerrigundah, the gang avoided capture.

On 5 June 1866 Thomas Clarke and Patrick O’Connell were officially declared outlaws under the Felon’s Apprehension Act of 1865. While Tommy was a stocky 5’6″ tall, with sandy hair and handsome features, Pat was 5’11”, dark haired, and had part of his thumb and left forefinger missing, which made holding firearms difficult. Both were incredible horsemen and preferred escape over a confrontation with police.

That month they returned to Michelago. In Kennedy’s Pub, locals were held in the parlour while gang members ransacked Levy’s Store. Later Tommy Clarke and Pat O’Connell got drunk and had a fight in the pub. This is widely seen as John Clarke’s first time officially with the gang though he was believed to have been involved with some of the previous incidents.

John Clarke

On 16 July John Clarke was charged with giving sustenance to an outlaw. The police had surmised he was operating as a member of the gang but no clear information to base charges on had come to hand so they had decided to find a way around such a complexity. The charge didn’t stick and John Clarke went free. In September, their associate William Berriman was captured and put in gaol.

On 17 July, Pat O’Connell was killed by Constable Kelly when the gang were intercepted and engaged at Krawarree. Shot while attempting to ride away from the troopers, O’Connell fell from his horse and was trampled by the police horses before the body was taken to the coroner.

In November, Tom O’Connell was captured and given a life sentence. The gang was rapidly crumbling but Tommy Clarke was still at large and the government was desperate to bring him in.

Late in 1866 Sir Henry Parkes selected men to become special constables in an effort to bolster the police effort. The four special constables headed by coach to Braidwood: John Carroll, Aeneas McDonnell, John Phegan and Patrick Kennagh. Camping outside the town the men pretended to be surveyors while making connections in town to gather information. Breaking into the syndicate was no easy task but Carroll and his men began to make headway and discovered an intricate network of friends, relatives and crooked police protecting the bushrangers. However the desire for results began to make Carroll impatient and the syndicate had already begun to clam up around the men as their conspicuous police-issue revolvers and intrusive questions betrayed the fact that they were policemen. When Carroll stepped the operation up a notch and began making arrests things took a deadly turn.

On 9 January 1867 the special constables were found murdered in the bush outside Jinden. A one pound note was pinned to Carroll’s chest. It was widely believed that the Clarke sisters had informed Tommy of the true nature of the new arrivals who had been making their presence known in town, and subsequently Tommy, arranged to lure the men into the bush then murdered them, assisted by his mate Bill Scott. McDonnell and Phegan’s bodies were found a few hundred metres away from Carroll and Kennagh’s near Jinden and immediately Tommy Clarke and Bill Scott became the prime suspects, despite a lack of evidence.

The discovery of the murdered Special Constables.

Bill Scott had been sighted with the gang in recent months and now became a fully fledged member. Later that month, Clarke’s uncle Mick O’Connell and another sympathiser, James Griffin, were arrested. Griffin turned traitor in an effort to secure his own release and informed police that the Special Constables were murdered by Thomas Clarke and Bill Scott, confirming their suspicions. The reward was set at £5000, the largest such reward yet offered in Australia until the Kelly Gang in 1878.

In the wake of the police murders the syndicate began to fall apart. For the gang’s sympathisers, they had no qualms about accepting the proceeds of crime from the various robberies but murder drew too much attention, and some began to withdraw their support. Tommy and John Clarke were now operating with Bill Scott and Jim Dornan. In all the time since he had helped Tommy Clarke climb over the wall of Braidwood Gaol the “Long Tailor” had not waned in his support and frequently supplied them with clothing. He had taken up with the gang at the first practical opportunity. Things were not all peachy however and in February 1867 Jim Dornan was found dead with skull fracture on Guys Range. Theories abounded about what had happened. Some suspected that he had been trying to get away from the gang following the murders but had accidentally fallen from his horse and died from the subsequent head wound.

The death of the “Long Tailor” could not stop the Clarkes and on 2 March they raided Gundaroo. Frazer’s Stores were robbed followed by robberies in Bungendore and Boro. In April Bill Scott seemingly vanished, and when a badly decomposed corpse was found near Manar, it was assumed to be Scott. Though the body wash identifiable, and no cause of death could be reasonably determined, it was hypothesised that Scott was killed by the Clarkes for trying to turn on them after the police murders. Officially, the unidentified corpse was put to rest as a victim of accidental death, but the police and the press had made their minds up.

Tommy Clarke

On 27 April a group of 15 police led by Senior Constable Wright surround a hut near Braidwood occupied by Tom and John Clarke. Having followed a tip off, they decided to put an end to the bushrangers once and for all. Wright untethered Tommy Clarke’s horse to create a lure and hid. When the brothers emerged to tend the horses Tommy clued in to the trap immediately and he and John rushed back inside and armed themselves. The police promptly engaged them in a shoot-out with reinforcements from Ballalaba arriving in the afternoon. In the end the bushrangers surrendered.


During the battle John had sustained a significant injury to his shoulder and tracker Sir Watkin Wynn had also received a major injury to his left arm that would result in amputation. Another policeman, Constable Walsh, had also been injured in the fight. Once the firing had ceased the bushrangers emerged and shook hands with their foes. The Clarke brothers were taken to Bateman’s Bay before being sent to Sydney for trial, charged with wounding Walsh with intent to kill.

Found guilty, the brothers were sentenced to death. On 25 June 1867 Thomas Clarke and his brother John were hanged in Darlinghurst Gaol. The bodies were given to their sisters for burial in Rookwood cemetery.

Further Reading:

The Bloodiest Bushrangers by John O’Sullivan

The Clarke Gang: outlawed, outcast and forgotten by Peter C. Smith

The Clarke Bushrangers: A Clash of Cultures by Judy Lawson

The Bloody Pound: The Wrath of the Clarke Syndicate 


As 1866 bled into 1867 the New South Wales government were increasingly desperate over the situation with the Clarke syndicate, that being the gang of bushrangers themselves and the network of sympathisers that worked together with them to ensure their ongoing career of banditry. The gang, led by the indefatigable Thomas Clarke, showed no signs of slowing down as they raided stores, robbed travellers and coaches and led the local police a merry dance – even with deaths and arrests of some of their number to contend with. In a bold move the New South Wales government began recruiting special constables to complement the overworked police force.

Specially selected by Sir Henry Parkes to form his own task force, John Carroll was a former warder at Darlinghurst Gaol with a military background. Eneas McDonnell, a former policeman, John Phegan, a former clerk and digger, and Patrick Kennagh, another former prison warder, were soon recruited and provided what should have been the perfect mix of skills and knowledge to nail down the Clarkes.

Arriving in Braidwood by coach, the special constables set about blending into the town while simultaneously gathering intelligence on the bushrangers and their sympathisers. Carroll found himself gobsmacked to see police officers fraternising with sympathisers, some seemingly even in romantic entanglements. This was obviously not an ideal set of circumstances for tracking down and capturing the outlaws.

In the mid-1860s attitudes towards bushrangers were very negative on the whole after the years of almost unmitigated roguery in New South Wales in particular at the hands of Gardiner, Hall, Morgan and their ilk. That the Clarke gang was being protected and supported by a syndicate of supporters was common knowledge in the region and recommendations had been made to have the leases of anyone harbouring or assisting the bushrangers revoked. This was cancelled before being implemented but highlighted the deep concerns the police and government had about the role of such a syndicate in the perpetuation of crime. Now with the belief that police officers were also in on the act, Carroll was about ready to blow the lid on the sordid state of affairs.

Word soon fed back to Thomas Clarke, the head of the gang, that there were plain-clothes officers in town and the sympathisers refused to cooperate with the special constables. Furthermore the special police had been fired upon at their camp, seemingly by the bushrangers, though the darkness had kept the true identities of the assailants secret. Frustrated, Carroll initiated a plan that would seal the fate of he and his men. In a blitz, the special constables arrested sympathisers and relatives and claimed horses and equipment that had been taken or used by the bushrangers. The aim was to starve the gang of their supporters and means of survival to bring them into the open. The plan was swift and effective despite local constabulary trying to stymie the effort out of jealousy and more than a little worry about this would impact their own interests and reputations. The local police had taken umbrage to the idea that the government would bring in outsiders to do their job as much as they had resented Carroll’s interference, and Carroll complained publicly that he and his team had endured greater obstruction in their undertaking from the police than from the Clarkes.

Information about the arrests and reclaimed property filtered through the remaining members of the syndicate back to Tommy Clarke who was incensed at this outrage. The Clarke syndicate was a wide-spread but delicate web of relatives and friends that covered Braidwood and outlying towns with Thomas Clarke at the centre like a spider receiving feedback from the sensitive strands, and such bold moves by the special constables could easily destroy the whole thing and make he and his gang very vulnerable. Something had to be done.

Details of the precise events that followed are shrouded in mystery even to this day, and while many have speculated on the players and the way it unfolded, and many more have stated categorically that they know what happened for a fact, any interpretation can only be an educated guess. What follows is a recounting of the most widely accepted version of events, though it must be stressed this is not the definitive account.

Carroll and his men were patrolling the district and responded to a summons to the outskirts of Braidwood. Word had reached Carroll that he could find Thomas Clarke a mere two miles from Jingera. The group travelled through Ballalaba towards Stony Creek where they stopped at Mick O’Connell’s for dinner. They then continued to Jinden station where they stayed the night, stopping along the way to make enquiries. The next morning they set off towards Braidwood with the intention of rendezvousing with a party at Watts’ Station. Carroll suggested they walk to gain the element of surprise should the information prove true. They had lunch and proceeded on foot to cover the five miles to Braidwood, keeping off the tracks to avoid being spotted or followed. As they left they were warned to be cautious. This would be the last time they were seen alive.

At 5.00pm shots rang out on the outskirts of Braidwood. Half an hour later more shots were heard. Nothing much was thought of it. As the evening took hold the waiting party at Smith’s station grew concerned at the continuing absence of Connell and his men. A scout was sent by Smith to investigate their whereabouts in case they were lost and found the bodies of McDonnell and Phegan on the road. He ran back and took others with him to investigate. Half a mile away from McDonnell and Phegan, Kennagh and Carroll were found. Word was sent to the nearest police station where it was received at 7.00pm. The police had evidently been lured into a trap, the place where the shooting took place conspicuous by a clearing surrounded by substantial bush, saplings and honeysuckle trees with two particularly large trees a mere twenty-three yards from where the first bodies were found, estimated to be capable of obscuring almost half a dozen men from view. The clearing ascended to a gentle slope overlooking the scene of the crime. There was no way the police could have defended themselves from the ambush.

The deaths were mysterious but the police determined that as the troopers were walking they were ambushed and shot, two on the road, two on the hilltop. Carroll’s body was discovered with a bloodied one pound note pinned to his chest, and seemingly executed. The bodies had not been robbed or otherwise interfered with indicating that this was a deliberate killing, not a case of things escalating out of control in a robbery gone wrong. The bloody pound was seemingly a threat to anyone who dared to interfere with anyone within the Clarke syndicate. Trackers found signs that horses had been tethered to trees about three hundred yards from Phegan and McDonnell. It didn’t take long for the finger to be pointed at Thomas Clarke, John Clarke and William Scott. The authorities all seemed to have a list of names of people they suspected of helping the gang to track the special constables.

Finding Bodies.png

The scene was examined in more detail in hope of finding clues or answers. News quickly seeped out and there was much distress with reports of the men allegedly being attacked by a mob and Carroll’s legs being horrifically broken among other indignities. A magisterial inquiry was carried out on 11 February with medical evidence presented by Dr. Pattison:

John Carroll: I am of opinion that death was caused by a gun-shot wound ; that the wounds were inflicted by the bullet removed, which entered the body through the fourth rib anteriorly, passing through part of left lung, upper part of pericardium, right auricle and right ventricle of heart, passing through lower lobe posteriorly of right lung, fracturing the seventh rib posteriorly, close to the spinal column, the bullet lodging in the muscles of the back. I am also of opinion that deceased must have been in a kneeling position when shot and only a few yards from the weapon which I believe to have been a rifle or gun from which bullet was discharged.
Patrick Kennagh : I am of opinion that death was caused by wounds inflicted by a rifle ball of large dimensions. I am also of opinion that deceased was in a kneeling position when shot. The bullet entered through the ponum adami of thyroid cartilage in neck and passed downward through trachea and upper part of gullet, passing through upper part of left lung, and wounding vessels already described, fracturing part of first dorsal vertebra and passing through the body posteriorly, fracturing rib about an inch from spinal column.
Ennis [sic] McDonnell : Wounded in left, thigh about middle third, wounding femoral artery and vein, and fracturing femur. Removed portion of bullet from inner and upper surface of thigh bone, am of opinion that deceased must have been in an erect position, probably walking, and in the act of turning round when bullet entered thigh. Death must have taken place in a minute or two after infliction of wound. I am of opinion wound must have been produced by rifle ball at some distance (say twenty yards) from party firing. Only part of the bullet entered the thigh.
John Phegan : I am of opinion that deceased was first shot through right side, bullet passing through base of right lung, diaphghram and posterior portion of liver as already described, lodging in the tissues external to the ninth rib posteriorly close to the spinal column: The bullet was a rifle bullet. A second bullet entered body probably when deceased was lying on the ground passing between fifth and sixth ribs on left side, through both lungs, wounding large blood vessels of heart, making its exit in the right side immediately above margin of lateral surface of third rib, entering right arm while deceased was lying on that arm, passing through the inner and upper part of right arm, fracturing the bone and embedding itself, in the tissues, where I removed it as I have elsewhere described.

The bodies were recovered and hastily buried in a pauper’s grave marked by sheets of bark but public outcry saw the men exhumed and given a proper funeral and burial at Braidwood Cemetery, paid for by the New South Wales government. The procession was long and the loss of the men cemented public hatred for the Clarkes. Soon the Clarke gang were declared to be outlaws and a reward of £5000 pounds offered for their capture yet the identities of the exact men who carried out the foul deed was never uncovered. The murder of the special constables had earned Thomas Clarke and his cohort the title of the “bloodiest bushrangers”.

Selected Sources:

“MURDER OF SPECIAL CONSTABLES CARROLL, PHEGAN, McDONNELL AND KENNAGH.” Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 – 1872) 16 February 1867: 4.

“THE MURDER. OF THE FOUR CONSTABLES. AT JINGERA.” Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875)15 January 1867: 4.

“THE BRAIDWOOD BUSHRANGING CASES.” The Goulburn Herald and Chronicle (NSW : 1864 – 1881) 19 December 1866: 2.

Special thanks:

Joshua Little for his expertise on the Clarkes.