Moondyne Joe (born Joseph Bolitho Johns) was Western Australia’s most well-known bushranger. He was a colourful character whose defiant antics, frequent escapes and constant declarations of innocence entertained the early settlers. Originally transported from England in 1855 for stealing food, his notoriety sprang from his stubborn refusal to serve the prison sentences imposed on him and his very successful and numerous jail breaking episodes.
After one of his numerous breakouts he was recaptured by members of C.C. Hunt’s Eastern Interior Expedition and Police Troopers in September 1866.
Joe and his companions Thomas Bugg and John James, having absconded from police custody, were intending to head to South Australia by initially following Hunt’s line of conveniently placed wells. Food, clothing, firearms, ammunition and horses were stolen from farms and properties around Toodyay and the escapees were well ahead of any pursuing parties.
Knowing that Hunt and his party were eastwards working on tracks and wells, Joe intended to catch up with them, surprise them at night and steal fresh horses and rations at gunpoint. They had planned to destroy any horses they did not need, forcing Hunt’s party to walk back to civilisation, by which time Joe’s party expected to be well over the border.
The plan failed when the fugitives were sighted by sandalwood cutters near Youndegin and a search party was organised. Around midday on 29 September the police party caught up with Joe and his friends at Boodalin and they were captured with little resistance. Hunt had been forewarned and he and his party assisted police troopers in the capture.
From Boodalin the party returned to Fremantle, one fugitive on horseback having been wounded by a gun shot during capture, with Joe and the other convict completing the journey on foot.
A number of books have been written about Moondyne Joe:
Moondyne Joe: The Man and the Myth by Ian Elliot
The Legend of Moondyne Joe by Mark Greenwood (Winner West Australia Premier’s Book Award 2002)
The Ballad of Moondyne Joe by Niall Lucy & John Kinsella