Western Australia’s Greatest Escape Artist
An interesting incident relating to Hunt’s 1866 Eastern Interior Expedition was the capture of Moondyne Joe, Western Australia’s best known bushranger, in September of that year. Moondyne Joe (born Joseph Bolitho Johns) 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.
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 gun point. 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 Western Australia Premier’s Book Award 2002)
The Ballad of Moondyne Joe by Niall Lucy and John Kinsella.