Australia in the 1830s

The wild colonial boys

The bushrangers of the 1830s were often former convicts rebelling against their harsh treatment. Many had escaped and became known as 'bolters'. Most did not live for very long in the bush as it was very different from anything they knew and they lacked the skills and knowledge necessary to survive. They robbed travellers, coaches and houses. Some sympathisers within the local community would help them with supplies and avoiding the police. To be a successful bushranger you needed to know bushcraft, be a good horseman and be able to work with others in a gang.

John (Jack) Donohue (1806?–1830), also known as 'The Stripper' because he left his victims with nothing, was one of the most notorious bushrangers operating in New South Wales. He was 18 years old when he arrived in Sydney from Dublin and was serving a life sentence for intent to commit a felony. He was assigned to work on a settler's property in Parramatta but absconded with two other convicts. They had no horses; however, they could rob slow-moving drays. Donohue was sentenced to death but escaped and joined a gang. He was admired by many for his bold stance and defiant attitude to the authorities and became the subject of many ballads, one of which may have been the popular The Wild Colonial Boy. The song was so popular that the authorities banned it. In September 1830, Donahue was shot dead.

Tasmania had many bushrangers, including 'the boy bandit' Rares (1823–1839), who was an escaped 16-year-old convict from Port Puer, the boys' prison near Port Arthur. After his escape in 1839 he joined two other bolters robbing settlers around Launceston, but within a year Rares was caught and hanged.

Another bushranger, Martin Cash (1808–1877), was born in Ireland and at the age of 18 was transported to Sydney for housebreaking. In 1837, his freedom was earned through good behaviour and he settled in Van Diemen's Land. He served another two sentences for petty crimes and for being the leader of a successful gang known as Cash & Co. In 1870, he published Martin Cash, the Bushranger of Van Diemen's Land and became one of Australia's best known romantic robbers.


A snapshot of 1838

  • January
    • John Pascoe Fawkner (1792–1869) founded the Melbourne Advertiser, the first weekly newspaper published in Melbourne. It was originally handwritten on four pages until a press and type arrived from Tasmania.
    • The 50th anniversary of the colony of New South Wales was held.

  • June
    • The Myall Creek massacre of 28 Aboriginal men, women and children occurred.

  • November
    • Pastor Kavel brought about 200 German dissenters escaping religious persecution in their own country to South Australia.
    • The Melbourne Cricket Club was founded.

  • December
    • Melbourne's first school opened at Batman's Hill.
    • The Jenolan Caves were discovered.


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