Fremantle Stuff > people > Joseph Bolitho ('Moondyne Joe') Johns
Joseph Johns’ criminal career began in 1849 when he was arrested in Monmouth, Wales and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for stealing food. After four years in a British prison, he headed for Fremantle on the convict transport Pyrenees as a ticket of leave prisoner.
He eventually went to Moondyne Springs near Toodyay, where he rounded up straying horses and returned them for a fee. The number of straying horses seemed to increase with Johns’ arrival. Eventually he was charged with horsestealing but escaped from his cell and headed off on the horse he was accused of stealing, using the magistrate’s saddle and bridle.
Gradually Johns became known as “Moondyne Joe”. His life was a cycle of escapes and recaptures. Moondyne Joe made his most famous escape after he had been shackled to a specially strengthened cell. The prison doctor ordered some exercise for him on the prison rock pile, and Johns made his escape. It took police two years to apprehend him – while he sampled from a barrel at Houghton’s winery.
In his fifties Moondyne Joe married a young widow. He occasionally got into trouble but kept out of prison. He died at the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum on August 13, a confused old man making his final escape. The inscription on his tombstone “rhyddid” is Welsh, meaning “freedom”. MCB.
This noted bushranger, whose real name was Joseph Johns, hardly comes in the same category as the notable characters previously mentioned. He was a very ordinary kind of criminal, and his fame lies chiefly in his record for successful prison-breaking, and his wonderful elusiveness in baffling the police. His escapades would make an interesting story, but he was anything but the hero depicted in J. B. O'Reilly's novel. He never did anything very heroic, or very desperate—never even shot a policeman—nor did he ever do anvone any greater harm than was involved in raiding a larder or stealing a horse. He, however, gave the police an immensity of trouble, and it was found impossible to keep him within the four walls of the prison and so difficult to catch him when he escaped, that at length they ceased to chase him. After his last escape from durance he remained out back for a year or two, then gradually edged his way back to civilisation, domiciled himself within a stone's throw of the police station, and became a decent law-abiding citizen. His tall, gaunt, sinewy figure betokened the typical bushman, but after his reformation the of the wild, and the lure of the Moondyne Hills, had no further charm for him.
Hitchcock, J.K. 1921d, 'Early Days of Fremantle: Some Notable Convicts', Fremantle Times Friday 18 February: 2.
Garry Gillard | New: 23 October, 2015 | Now: 23 October, 2020