While there exist some early reports of “highway robbery” in colonial Queensland prior to 1864, such as during the “arranged stick-up” at Bundamba Creek in January 1851, the first clearly documented case of bushranging in Queensland appears to have been in May 1864 when the mail was held up on the Darling Downs’ Bodumba – Leyburn Road. The Brisbane Courier of the day recorded this as the “first case of bushranging in Queensland” (Boxall, 1899, p336).
This 1864 robbery of the mailman (now known only as “Harry”) became the first of a series of such raids in the new colony. The “old man” and “boy” who stopped the mailman caused an outrage . few today appreciate just how important the mailman was in nineteeth century Queensland. The mailmen were the connecting links between ‘civilisation’, often centred around railway junctions, and the settlers in the remote parts of Queensland – and most of Queensland at the time could be considered remote! The mailmen were, and had to be, “tough, hardy horsemen who rode hardy horses” (O’Sullivan, 1947, p265).
For some reason or other those men were not armed, which perhaps was their greatest protection, as the knowledge that they were unarmed no doubt restrained the bushranger from firing on them at sight (O’Sullivan, 1947, p265) .
In a hold up, the Queensland mailman was typically bound and his mail “plundered” for items of value. His horse was often taken by the bushranger as a matter of course. This was the “indignity” inflicted upon Harry in 1864 (O’Sullivan, 1947, p265). Rumours circulated that the Bodumba – Leyburn Road hold-up was carried out by John Gilbert, one of Ben Hall’s gang, but the descriptions of the perpetrators given showed that such a conclusion was “absurd” (Boxall, 1899, 336). Regardless of who the perpetrators were, bushranging had come to Queensland with this act.
Despite the boasts of authorities in the early 1860s that “it was not possible for bushranging to thrive” in Queensland, within a relatively short time reports of bushranging were made across the colony. A hotbed of these early reports were from the Rockhampton district.
A good many miscreants have taken to the roads at one time or another, but their careers were mostly cut short ending in long terms of imprisonment… Occasionally there were reports of depredations on the southern border of the colony from those who had crossed over from New South Wales but with few exceptions these robbers did not penetrate far into this state.
Queensland’s own bushrangers were a motley crew at times and were not limited to acts of highway robbery. In addition to cattle-duffing and horse theft, forgery and uttering were common crimes at their hands.
- Boxall, G. (1899), The Story of the Australian Bushrangers, Swan Sonnenschein and Co, Paternoster Square.
- O’Sullivan, M. (1947), Cameos of Crime, Jackson and O’Sullivan, Brisbane.