Especially for Stage 3 students
What is a bushranger?
The term bushranger is uniquely Australian and refers to someone who lived in the bush and who used firearms (guns) to steal from travellers and farmers. Bushrangers committed a variety of crimes including sheep, cattle and horse theft, highway robbery, and other more violent crimes such as murder.
The first bushrangers were escaped convicts who lived in the bush and stole food from Government stores and unwary travelers. With the discovery of Gold in NSW and Victoria many people left their farms to try their luck at the gold fields. Bushrangers became a problem, sometimes stealing from farms attended only by women and children where they were able to steal farm animals and food. Bushrangers also attacked travellers on the roads between towns and cities and stole their money, gold and belongings. Gold was also stolen from hard working miners or from the coaches transporting the gold to the city.
Some men such as Captain Moonlite and Ned Kelly turned to bushranging because they were rebellious and wild spirited and thought society had treated them badly, leaving them with a poor opinion of the law and of the police.
Bushrangers were generally expert horsemen and bushmen.
The Felons Apprehension Act was introduced in May 1865 as a result of ongoing problems with bushrangers. This new law allowed citizens to shoot and kill outlaws without penalty. It required the Government to designate the bushrangers as outlaws. Ben Hall and Jonny Gilbert were two bushrangers who were shot dead by police officers under the provisions of this law.
Why did people become bushrangers?
There are many reasons why men (and sometimes women) became bushrangers. By the 1840s bushranging had almost ceased to exist. The discovery of gold in the 1850s changed that. Many people left their farms to try their luck at the diggings, leaving people to steal cattle and horses from farms. Gold was also stolen from successful miners or from the coaches transporting the gold to the city.
Some men turned to bushranging because they were a bit rebellious; wild spirited men who thought society had treated them badly, leaving them with a poor opinion of the law. They were generally expert horsemen and bushmen.
Some famous NSW bushrangers
Ben Hall was born in 1837. His bushranging career lasted about 3 years. He began his working life as a stockman. In 1862, Ben Hall was arrested for armed robbery but was found not guilty. When he returned to his farm he found most of his stock dead and his home burnt. He was very angry and bitter and joined a gang of bushrangers.
Ben Hall took part in the famous Eugowra Gold Escort Robbery in 1862 where Frank Gardiner, Hall and 6 others Bailed Up and stole £14,000 worth of money and gold. This robbery is the most famous of all bushranging robberies in NSW.
Hall’s bushranging took place in and around the towns of Bathurst, Orange, Forbes and Young. His men were well armed and they stole only the best horses. They robbed mail coaches as well as travellers, farms, inns and shops.
A large reward of ₤1000 was offered for the capture of Hall. Finally, someone told the police where Hall was hiding and on 5th May 1865, near Forbes, Hall was shot dead by the Police.
A Tranter revolver, found on the body of Ben Hall when he was shot is on display in the Justice and Police Museum.
Captain Moonlite’s real name was Andrew George Scott.
In early December 1870, bushranger Captain Moonlite (Andrew George Scott) appeared in the Water Police Court charged with obtaining goods and money by means of false pretences from Nicholas McKenzie, William Foy, Charles Kelsey and others, as well as issuing valueless cheques to many other people.
He was born in Ireland in 1842 and his family came to Australia in 1867. He worked as a lay preacher and lived for a while in Egerton in Victoria. He made friends with James Simpson, the school teacher, and Ludwig Brunn who worked in the Bank. One night Scott, wearing a cloak and mask, attacked Brunn and forced him to hand over the contents of the safe at the bank. Before leaving he forced Brunn to write the following note:
I certify that L.W. Brunn has done everything in his favour to withstand our intrusion and the taking away of money which was done with firearms. Scott then signed the note Captain Moonlite.
Scott moved back to Sydney and lived off the money he had stolen. He began writing false cheques. With a cheque for £150 he had bought a yacht, the Why Not, in which he intended to sail to Fiji with a woman he had met. However, before he could leave the harbour he was arrested by the police at the Water Police Station, now part of the Justice and Police Museum.
Scott spent time in NSW and Victorian gaols and after his release in 1879 began calling himself Captain Moonlite again. He began bushranging with a gang of five young men. He was caught at Wantabadgery, near Gundagai, on 17 November 1879 after a fierce gun battle with police which took the lives of two of his gang and policeman Constable Edward Webb-Bowen. The name of the murdered policeman is recorded on the Honour Roll on display in the Museum. Scott and one of his gang, Thomas Rogan, were sentenced to death for the policeman's murder, and were hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol on 20 January 1880.
Captain Thunderbolt’s real name was Frederick Ward.
He was born in 1835 near Windsor, NSW. Ward was a skilled horseman and in 1856 while he was working as a drover and horse breaker he was arrested for horse stealing. He was sentenced to 10 years prison on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour. This island had a reputation as a harsh prison and Ward stayed there until 1860 when he received a ticket-of-leave. In 1861 he was again charged with stealing a horse and was returned to Cockatoo Island to complete his sentence. He then achieved what was thought to be impossible – he escaped from Cockatoo Island by swimming ashore to Balmain.
Thunderbolt was a bushranger for seven years, carrying out over 80 crimes including horse stealing, highway robbery and the robbery of stores, farms and mail carriages. He committed most of his crimes in the New England region around towns Gunnedah, Glen Innes and Uralla.
Captain Thunderbolt often worked alone supported by his female partner Mary Ann Bugg (Yellow Long), who was part Aboriginal. It is thought that she taught him much about survival in the bush and after she and their young baby died of pneumonia Thunderbolt was caught. He was shot dead on 25 May 1870, by Constable Alexander Walker, a policeman at Uralla, who chased him after he stole a thoroughbred horse from the town.
To show their gratitude the town raised money for him and the Sons of Temperance Movement awarded him a gold watch. This shows how relieved many country people in NSW were as they had for a long time been afraid and intimidated by bushrangers. Artefacts provenanced to Constable Alexander Walker are on display in the Justice Justice and Police Museum.
Walker was later promoted to Acting Inspector-General and died in 1929 aged 81.