Moondyne Joe - Joseph Bolitho Johns

Joseph Bolitho Johns was born between 1827 and 1831, the son of a Welsh blacksmith. However the twin surnames Bolitho and Johns mean that his ancestral roots almost certainly lie somewhere in Cornwall. He would become Western Australia's most famous bushranger.

In 1848 Joe and a friend, William Cross, were stopped by a police sergeant near Monmouth in Wales at 2:30am. It was the lateness of the hour that had aroused the policemans suspicions. The officer took the men to a nearby dwelling and searched their belongings. He discovered 3 loaves of bread, 2 pieces of bacon, a shoulder of mutton and some suet. The two men were arrested on suspicion of theft. Two days later it was found that these items had indeed been stolen from a nearby house. Joe and William were tried in 1849, with Joe deciding to conduct his own defence. Despite his best efforts, or maybe because of them, Joe and William were both convicted of theft, each of them being sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and deportation.

Deportation to the colony

The next four years of Joes' life were spent in prison until he was deported aboard the convict ship 'Pyrenees' as Imperial convict number 1790. The 'Pyrenees' set sail from Torbay, England on the 2nd of February 1849. She carried 94 passengers and 293 convicts , one of the convicts being Joe. After a voyage of 87 days the 'Pyrenees' arrived in Fremantle, Australia on the 30th of April. Three of the convicts on board had died during the passage. The next day Joe along with most of the other prisoners was issued with a 'ticket of leave', which enabled him to find work within the colony and he was then disembarked from the ship.

Up until 1855 Joe worked as a ticket of leave convict until being freed and conditionally pardoned, he then worked at various tasks near Moondyne Spring in Toodyay, keeping himself out of trouble.

The magistrates horse

1861 and Joe was back to his old ways, he was arrested on suspicion of stealing and branding an unbranded horse belonging to the local magistrate near Toodyay. Joe escaped from the lockup and rode off on the horse he was accused of stealing using the magistrates new saddle and bridle, which, not surprisingly, greatly annoyed the local authorities. On the run for 2 days before being re-captured and charged with various offences including horse stealing. He was convicted on the charge of prison breaking, sentenced to 3 years penal servitude, registered as Colonial convict number 5889 and sent to the Convict Establishment in Fremantle. His few personal possesions being sold off by the authorities for a mere 3 shillings and 2 pence. Joe was assigned to the North Fremantle work party and earned remission that saw him discharged to the Mount Eliza Convict Depot, Perth. Being released on a ticket of leave he found employment as a charcoal burner before moving to Newcastle, near Toodyay, in June where he received his certificate of freedom in August. He was once more a free man, but it didn't last long.

The Ox bright incident

In 1865 Joe was accused of shooting and killing an Ox, which lead to him being charged with 'killing an ox with felonious intent'. Despite his protestations of innocence he was convicted and handed a sentence of '10 years penal servitude'. Throughout his life Joe continued to claim that he was not guilty of this crime. Once more his handful of possesions were sold off, this time for just 1 shilling and 6 pence. Sent back to the Convict Establishment in Fremantle he now had a new Colonial convict number, 8189.

In early November he was transferred to the Canning Flats convict work party, from which he escaped after just one week. Caught towards the end of the month Joe had an extra 12 months added to his sentence. In July a failed escape attempt meant 6 months in irons was added on. Undaunted Joe escaped again in August.

Overland expedition supplies

Joe and two of his fellow escapees planned to travel overland to Adelaide, for this they would need quite a bit of equipment. So it was that on the 5th of September they broke into and ransacked 'Everett's store in Toodyay. Their haul included boots, clothing, guns, ammunition, knives and rations, in fact everthing a well equiped expedition would need. Strangely, they also stole 36 ladies hankerchiefs for what purpose isn't known. Everett, who was co-incidently transported on the same ship as Joe, closed his store just 2 weeks later.

Joe and his companions were captured on the 29th of September near Westonia. A report in 'The Enquirer' newspaper of 8th of October saw the name 'Moondyne Joe' appear in print for the first time. For this incident Joe received an additional 2 years hard labour for the escape and 3 years for the robbery, he was once again back inside the Convict Establishment at Fremantle, where he was chained by the neck to a post.

Specially reinforced cells had been built inside the prison in which to hold those known to try escaping, Joe was soon inside one of these cells.

In 1867 whilst confined within his cell Joe's health began to deteriorate and the prison doctor prescribed daily exercise, breaking rocks! This took place in the yard near the perimeter wall. The guards were supposed to see that the rocks were removed at the end of each day but either couldn't be bothered or simply forgot. Joe's pile of rock slowly grew bigger until he was obscured from sight while working. On the 7th of March at about 5pm the guards went to check on Joe's progress, he'd escaped by making a hole through the wall into Superintendant Lefroy's garden, then out through an unlocked gate and away into the bush. Despite intensive searches Joe was on the run for almost two years.

The long arm of the law at Houghtons vineyard

February 25th 1869 and Joe broke into Houghtons vineyard in the Swan Valley, unaware that police officers were nearby, recovering the body of a drowned man. He hid in the cellars and waited for his chance to escape with the goods he'd stolen. In the early hours of the morning at around 1am the vineyards owner entered the cellar with a view to giving the policemen a drink as reward for the recovery of the drowned man. In a bid to escape Joe rushed pasted the startled vineyard owner and straight into the arms of the police who were just entering the cellar. For escaping prison he was given an extra 12 months in irons, the first 6 months to be served in strict solitary confinement. For breaking into Houghtons premises he was given 3 years in irons. Joe's sentence was starting to mount up.

He petitioned the controller-general of convicts in January 1870 and was granted remission of 5 years gang labour. In September he was released from irons for the first time in 18 months.

February 21st 1870 and while working in the carpentry workshop Joe was suspected of filing a key for his cell door. He quickly managed to throw both the key and file over the prison wall. Without any evidence the magistrate had no option but to dismiss the attempted escape charge.

Governor Hampton's promise

In April while being interviewed by Henry Wakefield, the controller general of convicts, he told how Governor Hampton had promised him his freedom if he was able to escape the special cell built to hold escapers, Assistant Superintendant Henry Lefroy confirmed Joe's story. After further investigation Joe was given a ticket of leave and sent to the convict depot in Vasse, with the promise that if he could stay out of trouble for 4 years he would be given a conditional pardon. His sentence was reduced by another 12 months and he moved to Bunbury

During August 1872 he served a 1 month sentence for minor offences. In 1873 he found work with a carpenter and on June the 27th his certificate of freedom was granted.

Marriage and Gold prospecting

In his early fifties Joe married a young 26 year old widow, Loisa Hearns at the Johnston Memorial Church in Fremantle on January 16th 1879. Joe settled down to a life with only minor brushes with the law none of which warranted a custodial sentence. During this time Joe discovered a cave near Margaret river which still bears his name.

He returned to Toodyay in 1887 and despite now being in his sixties travelled from there to the gold fields where he spent several years prospecting. After the death of his wife Joe returned to the coast, living in Kelmscott. Here he was believed to be insane and became known locally as 'Old Mad Moondyne Joe'. Found wandering the streets of South Perth on January 26th 1900, Joe was ordered to be detained at the Mount Eliza Invalid Depot for medical treatment. Joe escaped 3 times, perhaps not realising that Mount Eliza was no longer the prison he'd been sent to many years ago. But, because of his absconding he served a final one month sentence, without hard labour, in Fremantle Prison.

Moondyne Joe died at Fremantle Lunatic Asylum on the 13th of August 1900 and was buried in a paupers grave two days later in the Fremantle Cemetery. His grave can still be seen there today.