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Bushrangers, or bush rangers, originally referred to outlaws in the early years of the British settlement of Australia who had the survival skills necessary to use the Australian bush as a refuge to hide from the authorities.

The term "bushranger" then evolved to refer to those who abandoned social rights and privileges to take up "robbery under arms" as a way of life, using the bush as their base.

These bushrangers were roughly analogous to British "highwaymen" and American "Old West outlaw," and their crimes often included robbing small-town banks or coach services.

The term "bushranger"

The use of the word "bushranger" evolved in Australia in the early 19th Century. The first recorded use of the term was in February 1805, when the Sydney Gazette mentioned that a cart had been stopped by three men "whose appearance sanctioned the suspicion of their being bushrangers". From this time onwards, the term was used to denote criminals who attacked people on the roads or in the bush. John Bigge described bushranging in 1821 as "absconding in the woods and living upon plunder and the robbery of orchards." Charles Darwin likewise recorded in 1835 that a bushranger was "an open villain who subsists by highway robbery, and will sooner be killed than taken alive". In Tasmaniamarker, escaped convicts who became bushrangers were known as "bolters".


More than 2000 bushrangers are believed to have roamed the Australian countryside, beginning with the convict bolters and drawing to a close after Ned Kelly's last stand at Glenrowanmarker.

1788 to 1840s: convict escapees

Bushranger was originally used to describe predatory escaped convicts fleeing from the early Australian penal colonies. Most turned to stealing supplies from remote settlements and travellers and fencing the stolen goods to other free settlers.

John "Black" Caesar is generally regarded as the first bushranger. He bolted from Sydney Cove several times before being shot dead in 1796.

Bold Jack Donahue is recorded as the last convict bushranger. He was reported in newspapers around 1827 as being responsible for an outbreak of bushranging on the road between Sydneymarker and Windsormarker. Throughout the 1830s he was regarded as the most notorious bushranger in the colony. Leading a band of escaped convicts, Donahue became central to Australian folklore as the Wild Colonial Boy.

Bushranging was common on the mainland, but Van Diemen's Landmarker (Tasmania) produced the most violent and serious outbreaks of convict bushrangers. Hundreds of convicts were at large in the bush, farms were abandoned and martial law was proclaimed. Indigenous outlaw Musquito defied colonial law and led attacks on settlers.

1850s: gold rush era

The bushrangers' heyday was the Gold Rush years of the 1850s and 1860s as the discovery of gold gave bushrangers access to great wealth that was portable and easily converted to cash. Their task was assisted by the isolated location of the goldfields and a police force decimated by troopers abandoning their duties to join the gold rush.

George Melville was hanged in front of a large crowd for robbing the McIvor gold escort near Castlemainemarker in 1853.

1860s to 1870s

Bushranging numbers flourished in New South Walesmarker with the rise of the colonial-born sons of poor, often ex-convict squatters who were drawn to a more glamorous life than mining or farming.

Much of the activity in this era was in the Lachlan Valleymarker, around Forbesmarker, Yassmarker and Cowramarker.

Frank Gardiner, John Gilbert and Ben Hall led the most notorious gangs of the period. Other active bushrangers included Dan Morgan, based in the Murray Rivermarker, and Captain Thunderbolt, killed outside Urallamarker.

1880s to 1900s

The increasing push of settlement, increased police efficiency, improvements in rail transport and communications technology, such as telegraphy, made it increasingly difficult for bushrangers to evade capture.

Among the last bushrangers was the Kelly Gang led by Ned Kelly, who were captured at Glenrowan in 1880, two years after they were outlawed.

In 1900 the indigenous Governor Brothers terrorised much of northern New South Wales.

Public perception

In Australia, bushrangers often attract public sympathy (cf. the concept of social bandits). In Australian historymarker and iconography bushrangers are held in some esteem in some quarters due to the harshness and anti-Catholicism of the colonial authorities whom they embarrassed, and the romanticism of the lawlessness they represented. Some bushrangers, most notably Ned Kelly in his Jerilderie letter, and in his final raid on Glenrowanmarker, explicitly represented themselves as political rebels. Attitudes to Kelly, by far the most well-known bushranger, exemplify the ambivalent views of Australians regarding bushranging.

In popular culture

  • In the same way that outlaws feature in many films of the American western genre, bushrangers regularly feature in Australian literature, film, music and television.
  • Bold Jack Donohue was the first bushranger to have inspired bush ballads.
  • Robbery Under Arms, by Thomas Alexander Browne (writing as Rolf Boldrewood) was published in serial form in the Sydney Mail from 1882 to 1883. It is an early description of the life and acts of fictional bushrangers. It has been the basis of several films and a television series.
  • Ned Kelly was the subject of the world's first feature length film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, released in 1906. In the 1970 release Ned Kelly, he was portrayed – to limited popular acclaim – by Mick Jagger. Kelly has been the subject of many more movies, television series, written fiction and music.
  • Dan "Mad Dog" Morgan was the subject of a feature film, Mad Dog Morgan (1976), starring Dennis Hopper.
  • Ben Hall and his gang were the subject of several Australian folk songs, including "Streets of Forbes".

Notable bushrangers

Name Lived Area of activity Fate
Matthew Brady, "Gentleman Bushranger" 1799 – 4 May 1826 Van Diemen's Land (now known as Tasmania) Captured by John Batman, hanged
Mary Ann Bugg 1834–1867 Hunter Valleymarker-Tamworth-New England Pneumonia
Joe Byrne, one of the Kelly Gang 1857 - 1880 North East Victoria Shot by police
John Caesar 1764–1796 Sydney area Shot
Martin Cash c. 1808–1877 Tasmania Prison sentence, released after 13 years
John Donahue, known as Bold Jack Donahue c. 1806–1830 Sydney area Shot by police
John Dunn 1846–1866 Western New South Wales Hanged
John Francis c. 1825–? Victoria Gold Fields (1853) Released after giving Queen's Evidence
John Fuller, known as Dan Mad Dog Morgan c. 1830–1865 New South Wales Shot
Frank Gardiner c. 1829–c. 1904 Western New South Wales Prison sentence, then moved to Californiamarker
John Gilbert 1842–1865 Western New South Wales Shot by police
Jimmy Governor 1875–1901 New South Walesmarker Hanged
Ben Hall 1837–1865 Western New South Wales Shot by police
Steve Hart, one of the Kelly Gang North East Victoria Burnt
Joseph Bolitho Johns, known as Moondyne Joe c. 1828–1900 Western Australia Numerous prison sentences, died a free man
Henry Johnson, known as Harry Power 1819–1891 North East Victoria Prison sentence, released
Dan Kelly, brother of Ned Kelly c. 1861-1880 North East Victoria Burnt
Ned Kelly c. 1854–1880 North East Victoria Hanged
Frank McCallum, known as Captain Melville (many aliases) 1822-1857 Victorian Goldfields Murder/Suicide by hanging in gaol
James Alpin McPherson, known as The Wild Scotchman 1842-1895 Gin Gin, Queenslandmarker Died a free man
George Melville 1822–1853 Hanged
Musquito c. 1780–1825 Tasmania Hanged
Johnny O'Meally 1843–1864 Western New South Wales Shot by farmer
John Paid, known as Wolloo Jack from Stanwell Parkmarker terrorised Sydneymarker area in the 1820s
Frank Pearson, known as Captain Starlight 1837–1899 Northern and Western New South Wales Prison sentence, released, accidentally poisoned himself while drunk
Sam Poo ?–1865 Coonabarabran, New South Walesmarker Hanged
Harry Redford, known as

"Captain Starlight - The gentleman bushranger"
c. 1842 - 1901 Longreach, Queensland Found not guilty at trial
Codrington Revingstone South-West Victoria (1850)
Billy Roberts (probably), known as Jack the Rammer B?-1834 South Eastern New South Wales (1834) Shot by a convict overseer.
Andrew George Scott, known as Captain Moonlite 1842-1880 near Gundagai, New South Walesmarker Hanged
Owen Suffolk 1829 - ? Victoria Died in prison?
Frederick Ward, known as Captain Thunderbolt 1833–1870 Hunter Valleymarker-Tamworth-New England (1864–1870) Shot by police
William Westwood, known as Jackey Jackey 1820–1846 Manuden, Essex, England Hanged


  1. "Australian History: Convict Bolters", 2006. Accessed 16 April 2007.

External links

by eriko

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