Joseph Bolitho Johns, also known as Moondyne Joe, was born around 1826 in Wales. He was the third child of blacksmith Thomas Johns and his wife Mary Bolitho. He spent his early years as a copper miner with his brothers after his father died.
On 15th of November 1848, he and his mate William Cross decided to break into the house of a Mr. Richard Price, Esquire, of Pentwyn Clydach. They managed to steal three loaves of bread, one piece of bacon, several pieces of cheese, and other goods from the house.
Eventually, they got caught and were charged with burglary and stealing. Johns conducted his own defense and stated that he wasn’t guilty. Unfortunately, for his trouble, they both received the sentence of ten years penal servitude. They were tried on the 23rd of March at the Lent Assizes before Sir William Erle and they were off to Australia as convicts.
He behaved well while he was on the boat so he was granted a ticket-of-leave for good behavior when he arrived in Fremantle on the 30th April 1853. He lived throughout the Avon Valley before he went in an area the Aboriginals called Moondyne. There he made a living fencing and rounding up wayward stock and horses. He was doing well until he was arrested on a charge of horse stealing in 1861. Somehow, he managed to escape the cell in the middle of the night, taking back his horse in the process. He was caught the next day, charged, and received a three-year sentence.
Since he behaved well in the prison he was released earlier, but Johns was again sentenced to 10 years prison in 1865 because he was accused of killing and eating a neighbor’s ox. Again, he managed to escape the prison with a fellow inmate. He and the other prisoner started committing small robberies in the area. This is when Joseph began using the nickname “Moondyne Joe.” He was eventually caught again and charged with possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 1-year in irons, but the irons didn’t prove to be a problem for him and he escaped yet again.
Free yet again, Moondyne Joe formed a gang which roamed the rugged bushland around Perth, committing a string of robberies. The police tracked down the gang at Bodallin Soak near the site of the present-day town of Westonia. Unfortunately for Joe, he was caught again.
The police were now determined to keep him in prison, so extraordinary measures were put in place to stop him escaping again. He was sentenced to five years hard labour. They even made a special “escape-proof” cell for him. The Governor of the Swan River Colony, John Hampton once said to Moondyne Joe “If you get out again I will forgive you”. He didn’t know what Moondyne Joe had on his mind. On the 7th of March 1867, Moondyne Joe disappeared through the hole he made in the wall and out to freedom via an unlocked side door. The police started a manhunt, but they didn’t manage to find him. Moondyne Joe was again a free man.
For the next two years, he enjoyed freedom, until he was caught stealing wine. Now he was sentenced to additional 4 years in irons. But now Governor Weld gave Moondyne Joe a ticket of leave in 1871. He probably made the decision after hearing of the previous Governor’s promise to Moondyne Joe. They told him that they would give him a conditional pardon if he could stay out of trouble for the next four years.
Moondyne Joe went to Karridale, where he worked as a carpenter. But even there he just couldn’t stay out of trouble and he was sent to prison for a month, following some minor offense. He was again a free man on the 27th June 1873. Later he got married, but the story about him does not end here.
In the early 1900’s he was found wandering the streets of South Perth. He was taken into custody and ordered to serve time at the Mount Eliza Invalid Depot. Despite now being 70-years old, he snuck out of the depot three times. He was again sentenced to serve a month in Fremantle prison for absconding.
Moondyne Joe, Australia’s most famed bushranger, passed away from senile dementia on the 13th of August 1900.