Frank Pearson

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Frank Pearson (1837–22 December 1899) was an Australian bushranger, operating under the pseudonym Captain Starlight.

Pearson understandably claimed he was also the inspiration for a fictional figure of the same name: the character Captain Starlight in Rolf Boldrewood's novel, of 1882–1883, Robbery Under Arms. Boldrewood, who presumably had some insight into the matter, denied the claim and stated that the character was a composite of several bushrangers of the era, including Henry Readford and Thomas Smith, alias Captain Midnight. The cattle thief Readford did not use a pseudonym himself and had no connection with Captain Starlight until the author indicated a possible influence.

Early life[edit]

Pearson claimed he was born in London and that he had arrived in Australia in 1866 however, he may have arrived in a different year under the surname Arnold.


In September 1868, as Doctor Frank Pearson, he teamed up with stockman Charles The Third and robbed the shop, the Yarrambah Post Office, and Angledool Station in New South Wales before heading to Enngonia also in New South Wales, some 100 km (62 mi) from Bourke, New South Wales. Two police constables, McCabe from New South Wales and McManus from Queensland,set out from Walgett, New South Wales to catch the bushrangers but became lost. The Police patrol stopped for supplies in Enngonia and were making a purchase at the Shearer's Inn when Pearson and Rutherford entered the inn yelling Bail Up. Both constables opened fire hitting Pearson in the arm and wrist while Pearson returned fire hitting McCabe in the chest. The two bushrangers then fled to Belalie where they stole fresh horses before continuing down the Darling River to near Pooncarie where they split up and went their separate ways. Pearson travelled north, robbing several stations along the way before heading toward Mount Gunderbooka, 70 km (43 mi) south of Bourke. A police party tracked Pearson to Mount Gunderbooka but he eluded them in the thick scrub of the mountain. Based at the foot of the mountain and stationing men at the waterholes to prevent Pearson from access to water, the party chased him for three days before capturing him on Christmas Day, in a small cave, weakened from lack of water and badly bitten by bull ants. Contable McCabe had died from his injury in November and Pearson was charged with murder. Committed for trial on 4 January 1869 Pearson was found guilty at trial on 3 May 1869 and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment and he was released in 1884 after fifteen years.[1][2]

In 1884 bushrangers stopped at the local police station in Barmera, South Australia, where they locked the police in their own cells. The leader of the gang then rode his horse into the bar of the Overland Corner Hotel and carved his name into the wall. No trace remains of the name and his identity is disputed with some claiming it was Captain Moonlite. However it is known that Pearson was active in the area at the time.[3]

Later life[edit]

Pearson returned to Queensland and in 1891 was arrested for fraud, forgery and horse stealing and sentenced to a year in prison in Brisbane. He was admitted to Boggo Road Gaol and possibly also spent some time on St. Helena Island . It was while in prison here that Pearson boasted that he was the inspiration for Boldrewood’s Captain Starlight. While in prison he met fellow prisoner Major Patrick Edward Pelly and, from his release, Pearson adopted that name. As Patrick "Frank" Pelly he lived in South Australia for around two years, working as a drover. He is not known to have committed any serious crimes during this time.[4] In 1896 he moved to Perth where, as Major Patrick Frances Pelly he was employed on the recommendation of the WA Premier, Sir John Forrest, as a clerk-accountant with the Western Australia Geological Survey. In Perth he often related elaborate and false stories of his past as a major in the British army and a member of the Russian Czar’s bodyguard.[5]


On 22 December 1899, Pearson died after accidentally swallowing cyanide. He was drunk and mistook it for his medicine. He is buried in Karrakatta Cemetery Western Australia.[6]


  1. ^ Police Deaths in NSW: McCABE, John The Thin Blue Line
  2. ^ "Frank Pearson". Retrieved 2012-03-19. 
  3. ^ Bushrangers at Overland Corner State Library of South Australia
  4. ^ Charlie Tredrea. "South Australia Police Historical Society". Retrieved 2012-03-19. 
  5. ^ Captain Starlight: Man of Mystery State of the Record Volume 1 Number 3 2002 (Newsletter of the State Records Office of Western Australia)
  6. ^ Historical tour guide to Karrakatta Cemetery[dead link]