Busting Out with Moondyne Joe

Ned Kelly (Victoria's most famous outlaw) was known for his gun battles with the law, but WA's most illustrious bushranger, Moondyne Joe, is famous for escaping. Over and over again.

Joseph Bolitho Johns (1826–1900), sent to WA for pilfering cheese, arrived in Fremantle in 1853 and was granted an immediate ticket of leave for good behaviour. This good behaviour lasted until 1861, when he was arrested on a charge of illegally branding a horse; however, he escaped that night from Toodyay jail on the horse he rode in on, sitting snugly on the magistrate's new saddle. He was recaptured and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Between November 1865 and March 1867 he made four attempts to escape, three of them successful. When eventually captured he was placed in a special reinforced cell with triple-barred windows in Fremantle, but later that year he managed to escape from the prison yard while breaking rocks. He served more time in Fremantle Prison when recaptured and was conditionally pardoned in 1873. After release he worked in the Vasse district and kept his nose relatively clean, but he suffered from poor mental health later in life until his death in 1900. You can see his grave at Fremantle cemetery.

While Moondyne Joe's criminal career brought him few rewards, these days it pays to be in the 'Moondyne Joe' business. Three books have been written about him – the latest is prize-winning young-adult novel The Legend of Moondyne Joe, by Mark Greenwood; a Moondyne festival is held in Toodyay on the first Sunday of May; and a cave in Margaret River is named after him, as well as a pub, a caravan park and who knows what else. Let's hope he doesn't escape his final resting place and start asking for royalties…