Bushrangers were a type of outlaw specific to Australia. The word describes escaped criminals who now roam free in the tough Australian country. This was back when Australia was essentially a prison colony where convicts were kept in small areas, away from legitimate settlers. The bushrangers would break out and head into the outback in the hope of eluding the authorities. More often than not, they would be assumed dead due to the outback’s tough conditions. Over time, the term bushranger was also used to refer to all kinds of Australian outlaws. They were the wild-west cowboys of Australia, often robbing banks or holding up travelers for their money. Here are my top 10 deadly Australian outlaws and bushrangers.
Dan Morgan had a bounty of one thousand pounds put on his head in 1864. That was an insanely high amount of money for back then. It was well deserved though, he shot a state official dead that same year. The bounty was successful, as he was killed by police the next year. As a young man he gained notoriety stealing horses and holding people up for money. His most infamous was when he held up a whole camp of manual workers and shot a Chinese man for no reason. Dan Morgan is thought to have been the child of a woman known as “the gypsy”.
The Clarke brothers
The Clarke brothers were made famous for a string of robberies in the mid 1800s. They began stealing from small targets like lone travelers and farmers, before moving onto bigger targets like trains and coaches transporting gold and silver. The beginning of the end came when they were implicated in the murder of 5 police officers, who were tied to a tree and shot dead. Just weeks later, the rest of their gang perished in the outback, so that only the brothers remained. This lowered their chances of survival if the police caught up to them. The police soon did, and the Clarke brothers were forced to surrender after a shoot-out. They were hanged to death soon after.
Captain Thunderbolt is a great name for an outlaw. His real name was Frederick Ward and he was well known for escaping from a prison island. After escaping, he became the longest operating bushranger in Australian history. He robbed all the usual targets for bushrangers: pubs, post offices, lone travelers, etc. He mostly lived alone, hiding out in caves and emerging only to murder or rob. Captain Thunderbolt was shot dead by authorities in 1870, after he ignored peoples advice to flee the area. Like most bushrangers, he became something of a folk hero, and the legend was born that he survived the gunshot to continue his criminal activity in secret.
Owen Suffolk had the magical combination of being both a bushranger and a con artist. An Englishman, he was sent to an Australia after being convicted of fraud. In Australia, he went deep into outlaw life, robbing anyone he could manage. He was so notorious that the Australian government granted him a full pardon in return for him agreeing to leave Australia and never return! So he ended up back in England, where he just continued life where he left off – conning people out of money. He was arrested and imprisoned again for stealing a horse. After being released from prison in 1880, he settled down in London. We don’t know what happened next or when he died.
John Dunn was hanged to death when he was just 19. He had joined a gang of bushrangers just 2 years before, in 1864. In 1865, John Dunn shot dead a police officer. This unleashed a huge manhunt for him as that police officer was the only one of the town they were in. He was soon identified by the authorities and officially named a criminal. So he travelled towards his grandfathers house to hide there for a while. Before he made it there, the police learned of his location and he was captured. But he managed to escape from the police facility he was being held. He was too weak to get far, and was recaptured the next morning.
Moondyne Joe was the son of a blacksmith. This almost guaranteed a life of poverty for him, but he rebelled against that. Through small-time theft he made a name for himself in criminal circles. He was arrested in 1848 for stealing bread and bacon. He was sentenced to 10 years of community service, and sent to Western Australia to fulfil this. Through being well behaved, he received a pardon. He wasted the pardon though by falling right back into a life of crime. Over the next few decades he pulled off countless robberies and was arrested many times. He achieved fame by escaping from prison 5 times during his long life. Today, he is western Australia’s most notorious outlaw. He died in a lunatic asylum at age 75.
Joe Byrne was a member of the infamous Kelly gang, led by Ned Kelly. As a child, he learned his criminal ways from shady Chinese characters who introduced him to smoking opium. In 1880, he drew up plans to rob a bank but they decided against it as they believed the police were following them. So the gang headed to an inn, where police eventually killed them in a legendary shoot out, I’ll describe it in more detail later in the list. Joe Byrne was actually killed by a bullet to the groin, which is never a good way to go out.
Martin Cash escaped from Port Arthur twice. Port Arthur was probably the most notorious prison camp in Tasmania. To gain freedom, he had to swim through shark infested waters. He started a gang with other escaped convicts known as “Cash and company”. The group swiftly gained notoriety by surviving the harsh conditions and robbing locals. Martin Cash was, however, soon recaptured and sentenced to execution. Luckily, his sentence was changed to transportation to a new prison island. He was eventually granted his freedom through good behaviour and died a free man. In his later life, he ran several whore houses.
Ben Hall was well connected in Australia’s criminal underworld. A leader of various gangs, he would conduct his crimes often with the sole purpose of embarrassing the police. But he never actually killed anyone, he just stole. He was familiar with the Australian outback, and known to be quite intelligent. Even his former hostages spoke kindly of him, as he tended to treat them well. It’s uncertain how he entered the world of the Bushrangers, but he once stole 14 thousand pounds worth in gold on one single robbery. Ben Hall was ultimately betrayed by a member of his gang. The police were told of his location and they shot him dead. This caused great controversy at the time as the laws regarding the killing of outlaws was unclear.
Ned Kelly is a well known name is Australia. Through his barely-believable antics, he swiftly achieved infamy. His first scrape with police was when he stole a pig as a child. This was nothing compared to what he would eventually do. He would commit all kinds of murder and theft, which gained the attention of the police. In 1880, 2 trains full of police were sent towards his location. He, and the rest of the Kelly gang, were holding up an inn. With over 60 hostages, they knew the police were coming. Ned Kelly wore a huge suit of armor made of metal as he knew the police bullets wouldn’t be able to penetrate it. On arriving, the police couldn’t believe what they were seeing. A deadly outlaw wearing a suit of bulletproof armor charging towards them. But he eventually took a bullet to the only area not covered in armor – his legs. He was captured and executed.