Early bushrangers in the Hunter Valley were mostly men desperate to escape the horror of Newcastle Penal Settlement where they had been sent for colonial indiscretions. Often they suffered severe deprivation in the bush before the inevitable capture by soldiers and black trackers.
Later when the Penal Settlement closed and the Valley was opened for settlement the bushrangers were mostly convicts who escaped from estates and farms or from road gangs. They roamed far and wide throughout the valley, often on stolen horses but also on foot. Police, soldiers and often settlers were relentless in their pursuit and most bushrangers were either shot or captured; few surrendered. Those captured were sometimes sent to penal settlements at Cockatoo Island, Norfolk Island or Van Diemen's Land. The unfortunates died a bushranger's death on the gallows.
In 1830 when two elderly men on Sir John Jamison's estate were robbed, Jack Donohoe and his companion were supposed to have been the perpetrators. Later it was reported that one of them wore a blue jacket, light cord trousers, coloured waistcoat, half boots, white shirt, no neckerchief and a black hat. He was armed with a double barrelled pistol and three pairs of pistols fastened to a belt round his body under his jacket, and the other was dressed in a blue jacket, dark waistcoat and trousers, worn out half boots, white shirt, coloured neckerchief, and black hat In 1833 an incident took place at Castle Forbes, the estate of James Mudie. Several desperate assigned servants (convicts) revolted after years of being ill nourished, poorly treated and punished repeatedly. They threatened Mudie's son-in-law, robbed the homestead and then took to the bush to join one of their cronies who had already absconded. When they robbed the house, they took with them new sets of clothing for each, hoping it was said, to disguise themselves and make their escape. Their own clothing was poor. Worn out shoes and probably thin, ragged smocks and trousers. When a notice was placed in the newspaper soon afterwards, it was revealed what the five men had taken with them - John Poole wore white duck trousers; James Reilly wore a white shirt and duck trousers with a white jacket and straw hat; David Jones wore a white shirt, white trousers, duck frock and a straw hat; John Perry wore a white shirt, duck trousers, duck jacket and a straw hat, and another man, unidentified got away with a blue cloth jacket with yellow buttons and fustian trousers.
A writer to the Queenslander in 1866 explained it when he wrote of the bushrangers of thirty years previously:
'Bushranging and crime was the rule in New South Wales thirty years ago - the working hands prisoners and freedmen or ticket of leave holders. Your bushranger of the olden times was a much more dangerous character than his modern successor; working hard for his masters for bare food and scanty clothing, with no wages and 2oz or tea and 1lb of sugar per week given as an indulgence, he was frequently driven by hard usage and flogging to take to the bush; sometimes to work for low wages until again driven forth by being discovered, and always finding sympathy and shelter among the convict servants on stations. On the roads he was most desperate, for he had not the lenient laws we have now, and he knew well that if taken with arms in his hands he would be hanged; and they hanged them by scores in those days at the old gaol in George Street - three, four, seven at a time - Monday after Monday. Many a desperate encounter took place, many were shot sooner than yield; civilians were murdered, and the police often wounded and killed, for they were plucky fellows, and always stood their ground, emulating each other in tact and courage. The mounted police were chosen from the regiments serving in the colony with a major commandant in Sydney, and lieutenants of detachments in districts over small parties of three or four mounted men, and one not mounted, including a sergeant or corporal, stationed at remote towns. I was a constant habit of theirs to start singly disguised, and stick to the trail of two or even three bushrangers till they took them. Numerous anecdotes were told of the wonderful deeds of some of these men; and their names are familiar as household words among the old colonists to this day. The ordinary police were foot police and parties of them under a chief constable stationed wherever a Court of Petty Sessions was held, in a village or by the roadside as deemed necessary; and were under orders of the magistrates, and these men also often did good service. A favourite dodge of the police, I remember was to disguise themselves as horse drivers and take a team along the roads'......online>
Absentee....A runaway prisoner, usually one who had gone missing from assigned service Approver...A criminal who supplied evidence to prove the guilt of a fellow criminal in an effort to save their own life eg. Edward Doolan at the trial of bushrangers Steele, McGrath and Ryan. Bail up...Bushranging term meaning to hold up and confine under threat of weapons. See the robbery of Mr Farquar at Clarencetown in 1845 Black tracker...An Aboriginal native employed by the police for his skill in tracking men and animals over great distances. Often used to capture escapees from Newcastle penal settlement Bolter..An absconder, usually from a government gang To borrow...To 'borrow' was a euphemism for stealing. See SG 17 August 1832 Take to the bush..To Take to the bush was to abscond or run away to a life of crime in the bush Banditti..Another term for bushrangers. eg. Hunter River Banditti in 1832 Crusher...Slang name for police trooper Duffer...Stealer of stock eg horses, cattle or sheep Frying pan...A description of the brand on stolen cattle or hides after duffers have obscured the owner's brand Gully raker...A person who illegally acquired cattle that had strayed into gullies and isolated places See Sydney Gazette 17 October 1840 Knight of the Road...Another name for a bushranger Mob...An alternative name for a gang of bushrangers eg. Jacob's mob from the Hunter Valley Out.... To go 'out' was to be at large in the bush. See the Sydney Gazette 7th February 1835 Plant...A place selected by bushrangers as a good place to hide Spring the Plant...To spring the plant was to discover a bushranger's plant or recover articles from the plant Robbery under Arms...A terms used in court to describe charges against bushrangers Shake...To steal or rob a person Swag...Loot, plunder Trap...Prison slang for a law enforcement officer particularly Mounted Policemen