Donohue, the bushranger [22 August 1903]

[Editor: An article about Jack Donohue, the bushranger. Published in the Evening News, 22 August 1903.]

Donohue, the bushranger.

About seventy years ago, Donohue, an escaped convict, took to the bush, joined by Walmsley, Armstrong, and others, striking terror to all travellers and teamsters in the Penrith, Liverpool, Windsor, Richmond, and Kurrajong districts.

At the latter place was a wine, or, I should say, a sly grog shop, the rendezvous for all the worst known characters, runaway prisoners and assigned servants included, who met to give what information they could to each other as to the doings of their several masters. Many’s the robbery and murder has been planned in that same old house, whose one solitary post stands to this day on the right-hand side of the road as you go to the Kurrajong Heights.

It was called “The House of Blazes,” a very appropriate name, I think; but I must tell you why it was so called. They played cards and gambled week days and Sundays, making no difference. All Government men had to attend church once every Sunday, otherwise they would be punished, which meant a flogging. As there was no church nearer than Windsor, they had a tramp from there of about nine miles. Wet or dry, it had to be done. This particular Sunday they were playing cards as usual, when a stranger came and watched them through the window, passing different remarks about the game. At last they invited him to try his luck, which he did, and won all before him. A card happened to drop. When the man stooped to pick it up, he discovered his partner had a cloven foot. At the same time there came a gust of wind and smell of brimstone, and through the window he vanished out of their sight. They all vowed it was the devil they had played with, and ever after that gave the house a wide berth, and of a night would go a long way out of their road to avoid it. So eventually it was pulled down. It was wonderful how superstitious people were in those days.

Donohue shot a Mr. Harrington not far from the old house. He was told he had some money hidden about the place. I don’t know whether he got it, but think not. His wife got such a fright that she cleared off at once, and lived in Richmond. They always reckoned his ghost was to be seen of a night. As no one would live there afterwards, the house in time tumbled down.

Well, down the Blacktown-road the bushrangers camped under a bridge called “Pugshole,” where they waylaid every person passing, and either robbed or murdered them. Two lady friends of mine had to go to Sydney to buy supplies. They got down safely, and when they were coming home saw a man standing in the road some distance away. One of them said, “I believe that’s Donohue. What shall we do with the money we have?” The other suggested they had better use the notes and money-orders as curlpapers. No sooner said than done. Off went their bonnets, and it did not take them long to twist up their hair with them and replace the bonnets. As it was not unusual to see women with their hair in papers, it did not excite his suspicion. He called out for them to stop, and hand him their money. They said, “We have none now; but had you met us when going down we had a lot with us.” He said, “I know, and you may bless your stars I was ten minutes too late, otherwise your trip to Sydney would have been postponed, for you couldn’t go without money, and I would have had that. But better luck next time.” He told them they could go, and depend upon it they were not told twice, but made the old horse go. They were very frightened, but would not let him see it. He got his information, from one of their assigned servants, who told him they must have started earlier than they intended, or made the horse travel.

Another time, a lady and gentleman were going to Sydney in a gig — the fashionable conveyance then. They got as far as the chain of ponds about four miles from Richmond, when a man sprang out from behind a big tree, and ordered them to drive off the road into the bush, he following them. “Now, down you get. You have not long to live. Say the Lord’s Prayer, for I intend to shoot you.” The wife called her husband by name. “Is that your name?” said Donohue. “Yes,” he said. “A lucky job for you she mentioned it. I’d have made a very great mistake. It’s your brother I want. Tell me what time it is.” When he pulled out his watch to tell him, he said, “You can hand it to me. It’s a better one than mine, which you can have in its place.” Looking at a ring on the wife’s finger, he said, “You can give me that. I’m sure it would look better on mine.” She gave it him, but begged so hard for him to give it her back that after a time he did. Told them they could go on their way; that if it had been his brother he would not have spared him on any account for the way he treated his men; and he did not care who it was, if they did not treat them well, they would hear from him.

The settlers were very pleased when Donohue was shot, he having been betrayed by one of his mates, Walmsley. The rest of the band were either shot or hanged, after being at large for over two years. It was a regular thing to tell those they were about to shoot to say the Lord’s Prayer. I have heard of several instances.


Evening News (Sydney, NSW), 22 August 1903, p. 1 of the “Evening News Supplement”

[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]

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