Moondyne Joe is Western Australia’s most loved bush ranger and a part of Australian convict history. Whilst he might not have been as daring as old Ned Kelly, Moondyne made a name for himself through constantly flouting the inadequacies of colonial prisons, robbing and generally giving the middle finger to authority.
His legacy and myth can be seen throughout Perth and Western Australia today and he, by all means, is a true legend of Western Australia.
Here are eight reasons why Moondyne Joe was an absolute legend.
Stuck to his Guns
Before he was Moondyne Joe, WA’s beloved convict bushranger was Joseph Bolitho Johns. Joseph, being the son of a Welsh blacksmith was likely not a wealthy man and resorted to stealing to fill his belly. One night at 2.30 am, Joseph and his companion were innocently walking near Monmouth, Wales when they caught the eye of two policemen. Even in 1848 walking around at 2.30 am was a tad dodgy. Upon questioning and searching they were found in possession of several kinds of cheese a piece of hard animal fat, 2 bits of bacon and 3 loaves of bread.
Sounds like a nice picnic… The pair were arrested and sent to trial where Moondyne Joe was adamant they were innocent. Despite the fact that the exact same items were reported stolen earlier and the sentence for theft would have been reasonable light, Joseph denied any wrongdoing. Maintaining that it was pure coincidence that they were found in the vicinity with the exact same items a nearby home reported stolen.
For his stubbornness, the court sentenced him to transportation to the Swan River Colony for 10 years.
Maybe it really was just a coincidence…
Actually did his first stint
Moondyne Joe was an ideal prisoner to start his time in Australia. He had excellent behaviour on the convict transport over and was awarded a ticket of leave upon arrival into Fremantle, Western Australia, where he was free to seek out employment, own land and marry. Ticket of leave men were required to remain in the colony and needed permission to move about different districts, however.
After four years of good behaviour and living the life of an animal trapper, Moondyne Joe was a free man.
So, despite getting shafted with transportation, Moondyne was a stoic enough bloke and took it on the chin.
Left on the Horse he rode in on
While he had a great start to convict life in Australia, Moondyne Joe was to cross the law and start a spiral of escapes and escapades that made him the legend he is today. The first of which was when Moondyne Joe was accused of horse stealing and taken to a lock-up in Toodyay where he allegedly just took the door of its hinges to escape. Seeing the ‘evidence’, (the horse tied up outside) he decided to steal it again and bugger off to freedom.
Unfortunately, he was apprehended just two day’s later and sent to Fremantle Gaol where he was ordered to serve 3 years which he did without incident.
Had a special cell built for him
After his stint in Fremantle Prison, Moondyne Joe once again was accused of animal theft. This time he allegedly shot an ox which he veraciously denied until the end of his days.
Maybe he really didn’t do this one because old Moondyne Joe was not going to cop this on the chin, and he would escape three times in four months making a mockery of the magistrate and the gaol system.
The governor had had enough of this and had an escape-proof cell made for him, which you can still see at the Fremantle Prison today.
The cell was only 4×7, made with Jarrah planks, a tiny, iron bar window and held in had iron chains attached to the floor.
Escaped in his undies
After a while in his escape-proof cell with only a bucket for a toilet and spending months in irons, Moondyne’s health was not the best. Being let outside to break rocks for some fresh air he was placed under guard as he used a pickaxe to labour away.
Fortunately for Moondyne Joe, the guards were pretty lax and he was able to subtly pickaxe a hole right through the prison walls. Getting out of sight, he stood his pickaxe up and draped his clothes over it, creating a scarecrow type figure to fool the useless guards a little longer.
In his undies, Moondyne Joe would make his escape from Fremantle Gaol where he would not be caught for another 2 years!
Caught at a winery in the Swan Valley
Over the next 2 years, Moondyne Joe would make a name for himself robbing stores and raiding farms but his demise came while he was at a winery in the swan valley.
For an on the run colonial convict, a winery is probably a great place to pick up some ‘supplies’ and soak up the beauty of the Swan Valley. However, whilst running out past the owner he ran into the arms of two policemen who were invited over for a drink. Unlucky, Joe.
Thus came the end of Western Australia’s most beloved scoundrel, bushman ranger, escape artist and his run ins with the law.
Lived until 72
Moondyne Joe would eventually get pardoned after serving a few more years in prison and would go on to live a quiet life as a carpenter, married to a young bride.
Moondyne would live until the very ripe old age of 72! For a person in the 1800s that is a decent inning’s as the average life expectancy was around 35. Fair play.
Joe was buried on 15 August 1900 in a pauper’s grave in Fremantle Cemetery if you want to pay your reaspects to the famous bushranger.
Has a Moondyne Festival held each year in his honour.
I wonder how bemused Moondyne Joe would be after learning that there is a festival held each year in Toodyay which re-enacts his, dramatic escape and the more eventful parts of his life?
The Moondyne Festival is held each year and I highly recommend every West Aussie make the pilgrimage at least once in their life to pay homage to the infamous character from the convict period. Find out more here.