Monday, 9 March 2015

Family stories - Living in the times of Bushrangers

Crossing the Clyde River on Punt at Nelligen - circa 1962
As a small child I loved to hear the stories that were passed down through the generations and one that fascinated me most was the "Capture of the Clarke Brothers".  When we caught the punt across the Clyde River at Nelligen, we would all jump out of the car as we crossed the river and peer over the edge of the punt at the conglomeration of jelly fish as they blobbed past and under the punt.

My dad would lean over with us, and reminisce on time's past when as a small child he lived a little further up the Clyde river with his Grandmother on "The Farm". As we crossed the river, he would point out an old tree on the opposite side of the river and tell us " Back in the olden days, that is where the bushrangers  - the Clarke Brothers, were tied before they were taken by boat to Sydney for their trial". 

He would then relate the stories from his childhood, told to him by his grandparent. They were young children in the times of the gold-rush and lived with the ever present threat of bushrangers.  My great great grandparents Thomas and Emma Lee (nee Weston) lived and ran the local store in Nelligen, at the time of the Clarke Brothers capture and shipment to Sydney. They would have experienced first hand, the sigh of relief from the community, knowing they would be a little safer when travelling between the colony settlements. 

Clarke Brothers - Thomas and John 
The Clarke Brother's were among the most notorious of the bushrangers that held the goldmining communities to ransom during the late 1850's through to the 1870's.  They became known as the "most bloodiest" of all the bushrangers, even considering, Ben Hall, Frank Gardner and Ned Kelly. They were part of a gang that included their uncles and other relatives and friends and were well practised in the art of cattle duffing and horse stealing.  As the areas of Araluen, Braidwood and Majors Creek boomed with the discovery of gold the Clarke gang moved into holding up stage coaches, inns, banks, storekeepers, local farmers and travelers.  It was reported that they were responsible for over 36 hold ups and the murder of five policemen.

Following their capture Thomas and John Clarke were shipped from Nelligen to Sydney where they faced trial and were hanged on the 25 June 1967.  Their deaths marked the end of Bushranging in Australia. 

Anyone who follows my blogs Family Stories, Photographs and Memories, would know that my fathers side of the family were settlers in the gold mining district of Araluen and Braidwood, as farmers, gold miners and overland transporters. All branches of this family would have lived through the time when the Clarke brothers and other bushrangers ran rife in the district.  Another branch of my family who worked the goldmines in the district were the McGregor's. Last year when I was looking through some research notes made by another family researcher, I was fascinated by a letter by one of my great great Aunt Jessie McGregor that talked about her father James McGregor having a run in with the Clarke Gang! Fascinating!

Then after little searching on Trove.  I found what I was looking for!  A small article in The Tumut and Adelong Times, which gives details of the Araluen coach being held up by the Clarke Brothers, "One of the passengers, McGregor, had about 40 pounds; (quite a bit of money for then, I would think), he gave Tommy (Clarke) one coat containing 14 pound, and stated that was all he had, whereupon the knight of the road very liberally returned him 7 pounds". 

So my great great grandfather James McGregor seemed to have escaped this incident with out losing a large sum.  I did however, find the journalist's comment at the end of the article quite amusing, "It serves people right if they will carry money about them, where for the sake of a few shillings they could easily secure the safety of it by procuring a draft".

I often wonder if any other of my relatives who lived in this district during this era knew or meet up with the bushrangers?  Would it be great to hear their stories! No wonder my dad loved to relate the tales that were passed down to him as a young child.  Did any of your ancestors brush shoulders with the other side of the law?

Bushrangers holding up Coach 
1. The Clarke Gang, Our Town Our People,, viewed 9.3.2015. 
2. The Bushragers of Araluen,, viewed on 9.3.2015.
3. O'Sullivan, J. (1973), The Bloodiest Bushrangers, Rigby, Adelaide.
4. Colonial Summary." The Tumut and Adelong Times (NSW : 1864 - 1867; 1899 - 1950) 4 Feb 1867: 3. Web. 9 Mar 2015 <>.


  1. I enjoyed reading your account, especially when I came across the Weston connection, as that was my maiden name. My father's family came from the English Midlands.

    1. Hi Sue my Weston connection came from Marylebone Middlesex. At least I know that is where Emma's parents came from I am not sure of the next generation back.

  2. Some of my ancestors didn't just brush shoulders - they were well and truly on the other side of the law

    1. I would love to hear their stories. It is interesting that we often know more about our ancestors who pushed the barriers.

  3. What a great family story. Thanks for writing about it.

  4. How great that would be to find a news story that mentioned your ancestors meeting the highway robbers.


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