The Australian bushrangers are a topic that is very close to my heart, as it is to many of Australians. Bushrangers (known as Highwaymen in other parts of the world), are considered by many of Australians to be brave men who led exciting, carefree, romantic, adventurous, and self-reliant lifestyles. There were hundreds of Australian bushrangers which can be divided into three waves of bushranging.
The first of these types were the convict bushrangers which were commonly known as "bolters". These convicts found themselves alone in a harsh environment and a rough country with no food or posessions so they bailed up travellers and robbed farms for money, clothing, food, guns, and horses. The bolters were greatly feared as they had no respect for authority and nothing to lose. Few of them lived long, many dying of exposure, starvation or sickness if they weren't killed by the authorities, police or landowners.
The second wave of bushrangers came with the discovery of gold. With increased wealth and much more traffic on the outback roads, many saw their chance and were tempted into bushranging. Many miners and diggers were robbed or killed by bushrangers at this time. One of my favourite novels, "Robbery Under Arms" by Rolf Boldrewood, examines the life of these gold rush bushrangers. They bailed up travellers on lonely roads near the gold fields and they also robbed wealthy settlers. The police at this time had a very poor image and found it hard to find recruits so it was nearly impossible to keep the bushrangers under control.
The last wave of bushrangers are affectionately referred to as "The Wild Colonial Boys". These were native born and bush bred young men, generally from poor settler families. Australian larakinism comes from these reckless and high spirited youths. These bushrangers were strong, healthy, good horsemen, and had a real contempt for authority. Some were just plain murderers like Mad Dan Morgan but many of these young rogues were admired in a way and got along well with the ladies. Australias most famous bushranger, Ned Kelly, was a wild colonial boy.
The first Australian bushranger was known as Black Caesar. He was a negro convict who arrived on the first fleet and turned to bushranging because of hunger. The reward for the capture of Black Caesar was five gallons of rum.
An example of the gold rush bushrangers is Captain Moonlite. Captain Moonlite, also known as Andrew George Scott, was the well educated son of a clergyman who travelled to Australia to find his fortune in the gold fields but instead turned to bushranging. He met his fate in 1880 when he was executed which was the common fate of bushrangers.
Jack Donohoe was the real Wild Colonial Boy that was sung about in the Australian folk songs. These songs were banned by the authorities. At the other end of the social scale was the very wealthy Frank Gardiner. Gardiner was a well educated and well dressed businessman who's bushranging days started with horse stealing. Gardiner was also one of few bushrangers who escaped the authorities and he eventually moved to America with his wife.
The last of Australia's bushrangers, and the most famous, was Ned Kelly. To this day, Ned and his gang are admired and loved. I am no exception I am afraid as Ned Kelly stands as one of my hero's. Ned came from a poor family, his Irish parents had been convicts in Tasmania. Family members of the Kelly family were constantly in trouble with police and the authorities for whom they held a deep contempt. The Kelly gang comprised Joe Byrne, Steve Hart, and Ned's young brother Dan. They were typical young Australian larakins with crimes centred around horse stealing and robbery until the fateful day that three police troopers were killed at Stringybark Creek. Their heroic last stand at Glenrowan Inn remains a legend. They had fashioned body armour from mouldboards and boiler plate (which weighed 97 lbs or 44 kg) but this did not save them in the end. Joe Byrne was shot inside the inn while Dan and Steve comitted suicide and were burned beyond recognition in the fire that burned down the inn. Ned escaped from the inn but when he tried to return and rescue the others, he was shot 42 times in exposed areas not covered by the armour.
Ned Kelly was hung in Melbourne gaol on 11 November, 1880. There are many well known quotes that have lived on in people's memories. On being given the death sentence in court, Ned said to the judge "I will see you where I go". A week later the judge passed away. Ned's most famous last words were "Such is life" and "Ah well, I suppose it had to come to this". Although he was hung in 1880, his memory lives on in the hearts and minds of many Australians.
I would also like to make a special mention in this section of the attempted assassination in 1868 of Prince Alfred. This took place in Contarf, Australia and was seen by Australians as an outrage. The events that unravelled after this attempt on the life of a member of the British Royal family while on tour in Australia, would not have eased the bushranging problems. The shot was fired by Irishman, Henry James O'Farrell and this fuelled an intense prejudice and racism of all Irish and all Catholics. Police harassment of Irish colonists such as the Kelly family was all too common and is seen to have contributed to the path that Ned took.