Moondyne Joe

Joseph Bolitho Johns better known as Moondyne Joe
Joseph Bolitho Johns (1826 or 1830 - 1900) aka Moondyne Joe.
This is the only known photo of him.
Born in Cornwall, England around 1826 
Died Western Australia 13th August 1900

Joseph Bolitho Johns was the third child of blacksmith Thomas Johns and his wife Mary Bolitho. He was one of six children in a poor family and had to work as a copper miner with his brothers after his father died.

On 15 November 1848, Johns and William Cross, were arrested near Chepstow for "... stealing from the house of Richard Price, three loaves of bread, one piece of bacon, several cheeses, and other goods".[1] He was charged with burglary and stealing, the pair pleaded not guilty. On 23 March they were tried at the Lent Assizes before Sir William Erle. Newspaper reports of the trial suggest that the pair gave an unexpectedly spirited defence, but Johns was abrasive and "contravened the conventions of court procedure". The men were convicted and sentenced to ten years' penal servitude.

He came to be better known as Moondyne Joe.  He goes down in history as Western Australia's best known bushranger known, not for his offences and crimes but, for being the person who had escaped multiple times from prison. Here is his brief history:
  • Johns and Williams were transferred to Millbank Prison 
  • transferred to Pentonville Prison to serve their mandatory six months of solitary confinement
  • transferred to Dartmoor Prison on 21 October 1851
  • Johns transferred to the Woolwich prison hulk Justitia, probably for disciplinary reasons
  • transferred to the Defence when the Justitia was destroyed by fire 
  • transported to the British penal colony of Western Australia prison ship Pyrenees to serve out the remainder of his sentence
  • arrived at Fremantle on 1 May 1853
  • Granted an immediate ticket-of-leave on arrival in reward for good behaviour
  • 1855 granted a conditional pardon
  • worked at various tasks near Toodyay, in the Avon Valley, one of the most rugged and inaccessible places in the Darling Range. The Aboriginal name for the area was Moondyne
  • arrested on a charge of stealing the local magistrate's horse in 1861
  • While awaiting trial he escaped from Toodyay gaol but was recaptured to serve three years' imprisonment
  • Released
  • sentenced in 1865 to ten years for killing an ox with the intent of stealing the carcass
  • Determined not to serve this long sentence and protesting his innocence, he made four attempts to escape from November 1865 to March 1867, three of which were successful. With two companions, he was once at large for two months in the unsettled Darling Range. 
  • Recaptured he was placed in irons in solitary confinement in a specially reinforced cell with triple-barred windows at Fremantle gaol. He was only allowed out for exercise on medical advice.
  • He escaped again in 1867 through a clever trick and for two years roamed the hill country east of Perth.
  • Recaptured while raiding a wine cellar and sentenced to a further term in Fremantle prison. He was released in 1871 and gained his conditional pardon in 1873.

The remainder of John's life consisted of periods of good behaviour punctuated by occasional minor misdemeanors and brief jail terms. In January 1879, he married a widow named Louisa Frances Hearn, nÊe Braddick, and they spent some time prospecting for gold near Southern Cross, in Western Australia. In 1881, while exploring the countryside around Karridale, in the south-west of Western Australia he discovered Moondyne Cave.
In his later years he became known locally, in Kelmscott where he lived after his wife's death, as 'Old Mad Moondyne Joe'. He was declared to be mentally ill and died of senile dementia in the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum on 13 August 1900. He was buried, in a paupers grave, in Fremantle Cemetery , his tombstone bearing the Welsh word for freedom - "rhyddid".
 Fremantle prison and Moondyne Joe
Illustration of Fremantle prison with image of Moondyne Joe on left by Ian Coates

It was because the authorities found it impossible to keep Moondyne behind prison walls that a cell in Fremantle Gaol was specially prepared for him, and it remains today as it was when he occupied it many years ago.
The walls of the confined space are heavily timbered and appear to have been laboriously carved and patterned, but is the triple-barred window which is of special interest. Moondyne laughed at ordinary locks and bars and prison walls, but when he first saw the cell prepared for him after many escapes, he must have realised that he would never be able to break through the bars which covered the small window space.
He became a romantic figure in the eyes of the public, at the time, and after for his many escapes. 
His determined bids for freedom inspired John Boyle O'Reilly, a convict who escaped from Western Australia to the United States, to write in 1887 a novel on convict life in Western Australia featuring a fictitious and highly romantic Moondyne as central character.

[1]"Breconshire Lent Assizes". The Welshman. pp. 1849–03–30.
  Bolitho Family History
  Fremantle prison records, convict register 1853 (State Library of Western Australia)
  Australian Dictionary of Biography

A book by Mark Greenwood
These books are available to purchase at Amazon through my affiliate account*.
The Legend of Moondyne Joe by Mark Greenwood.
The Ballad of Moondyne Joe by John Kinsella and Niall Lucy.

* I am an Amazon Affiliate which means a very small percentage of the sales of these books go to me, at no extra cost to you.


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