Bushrangers, or bush rangers, originally referred to runaway convicts 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 outlaws of the American Old West, and their crimes often included robbing small-town banks or coach services.
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.
1860s to 1870s
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 River, and Captain Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt was the most successful Australian bushranger, if bushranging longevity is the benchmark, as he bushranged across northern New South Wales for six-and-a-half years until shot near Uralla in 1870. With his death, the New South Wales bushranging epidemic of the 1860s officially ended.
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 Australia, bushrangers often attract public sympathy (cf. the concept of social bandits). In Australian history 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 Glenrowan, explicitly represented themselves as political rebels. Attitudes to Kelly, by far the most well-known bushranger, exemplify the ambivalent views of Australians regarding bushranging. Victoria's state cricket team adopted 'Bushrangers' as their team nickname in honour of those such as the Kelly Gang, who lived in the Victorian bush.
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.
- Jack Donahue was the first bushranger to have inspired bush ballads.
- The first major play written, published and produced in Australian was The Bushrangers by Henry Melville.
- Robbery Under Arms, by Thomas Alexander Browne (writing as Rolf Boldrewood), was published in serial form in the The Sydney Mail from 1882 to 1883. It is an early account of the lives of fictional bushrangers and has been adapted for several films and a television series. It is also cited as an important influence on the American writer Owen Wister's 1902 novel The Virginian, widely regarded as the first Western.
- Between 1904 and 1914, many Australian movies were made about bushrangers. A government ban on films about bushrangers, imposed in 1912, is seen as a major reason for the collapse of a booming Australian film industry.
- The bushranger 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 film, Ned Kelly, he was portrayed – to limited popular acclaim – by the singer 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".
- Bailed Up (1895, 1927), a painting by Tom Roberts, depicts bushrangers holding up a coach near Inverell, the area where Captain Thunderbolt was once active.
- Wild Boys, the 2011 TV series, features a gang of bushrangers.
- "The Outlaw Michael Howe," the 2013 ABC TV miniseries, recounts the story of "Michael Howe", an early bushranger active in Tasmania.
|Name||Lived||Area of activity||Fate|
|Locky Taylor "Gentleman Bushranger"||1799 – 4 May 1826||Van Diemen's Land (now known as Tasmania)||Captured by John Batman, hanged|
|John Whitehead||? – 1815?||Van Diemen's Land (now known as Tasmania)||Shot by soldiers; decapitated after death by Michael Howe (according to Whitehead's request)|
|Michael Howe||1787 – 21 October 1818||Van Diemans Land / Tasmania||Captured and killed by William Pugh and Thomas Worrall (convict)|
|Jack Bradshaw||1880||North West Slopes and New England regions, New South Wales||Died of old age|
|Mary Ann Bugg||1834–1905||Northern New South Wales||Lover of Captain Thunderbolt, died of old age|
|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|
|Clarke brothers||1840/1846-1867||New South Wales||Hanged|
|Edward Davis, Teddy the Jewboy||d.1841||Northern New South Wales||Hanged for murder 16 March 1841|
|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 California|
|John Gilbert||1842–1865||Western New South Wales||Shot by police|
|Jimmy Governor||1875–1901||New South Wales||Hanged|
|Ben Hall||1837–1865||Western New South Wales||Shot by police|
|Steve Hart, one of the Kelly Gang||1859–1880||North East Victoria||Probably suicide|
|Thomas Hobson, known as The Angel, Mark Angel||1859-1885||Coonamble, New South Wales||Shot|
|John James, alias Johnston||b. 1819||Hobson's Bay, Victoria||15 years' hard labour, free pardon after 6|
|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||Probably suicide|
|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, Queensland||Died a free man|
|Johnny O'Meally||1843–1864||Western New South Wales||Shot by farmer|
|John Paid, known as Wolloo Jack||from Stanwell Park terrorised Sydney 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 Wales||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.|
|Edward Russell||d.1826||Launceston, Tasmania||Shot and eaten by fellow bushrangers Thomas Jeffries and John Perry|
|Andrew George Scott, known as Captain Moonlite||1842–1880||near Gundagai, New South Wales||Hanged|
|Owen Suffolk||1829–?||Victoria||Shot in prison|
|Frederick Ward, known as Captain Thunderbolt||1835–1870||Northern New South Wales (1863–1870)||Shot by police|
|William Westwood, alias Jackey Jackey||1820–1846||Sydney and Southern Highlands, New South Wales||Hanged|
|Frederick Phillips (alias Samuel Ward)- 11th Regiment Soldier turned bushranger||1829–?||Western New South Wales (1860s)||unknown|
- Ian Potter Museum collection: Bushrangers, u21museums.unimelb.edu.au. Retrieved on 9 January 2011.
- "AUSTRALIAN BUSH RANGERS". Stand and Deliver, Highwaymen & Highway Robbery. Archived from the original on 18 August 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-16.
- "BUSHRANGERS OF AUSTRALIA" (PDF). National Museum of Australia. Retrieved 2007-04-16.
- "Bushranger Thunderbolt and Mary Ann Bugg". Accessed 9 October 2011.
- Baxter, Carol. Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady: the true story of bushrangers Frederick Ward and Mary Ann Bugg. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, 2011. ISBN 978-1-74237-287-7
- "Old Windsor Road and Windsor Road Heritage Precincts". Heritage and conservation register. New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority. Retrieved 2007-04-20.
- "Robbery Under Arms". Australian Scholarly Editions Centre. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- "Rolf Boldrewood". Internet Movie Database.
- Graulich, Melody; Tatum, Stephen. Reading the Virginian in the New West. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8032-7104-2
- Reade, Eric (1970) Australian Silent Films: A Pictorial History of Silent Films from 1896 to 1926. Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 59. See also Routt, William D. More Australian than Aristotelian:The Australian Bushranger Film,1904-1914. Senses of Cinema 18 (January-February), 2002. The banning of bushranger films in NSW is fictionalised in Kathryn Heyman's 2006 novel, Captain Starlight's Apprentice.
- Hogan, David. "World's first 'feature' film to be digitally restored by National Film and Sound Archive". Archived from the original on 20 August 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-24.
- "Mad Dog Morgan (1976)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- "Australian Bushrangers JACK BRADSHAW".
- "Angel & Thurston: A bushranging story that traverses the Castereagh".
- "Thomas Hobson ( Alias Angel) - Dunkley Web Site - MyHeritage".
- "History of the Australian Bushrangers".
- "Australian Bushrangers JOHN JAMES (alias Johnston)".
- "The Bushranger Site – Bushranger Profiles".
- "Harry Redford the Movie".
- The Maitland Mercury and Hunter Gazette Advertiser Sat 24 August 1850
- "Manuscript 3251: Van Diemen's Land 1821-1862".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bushrangers.|
- Bushrangers trail at Picture Australia
- Bushrangers at Australianhistory website
- Bushrangers on the National Museum of Australia website