Friday, October 14, 2011

Highway Robbery on the Ipswich Road

Colonial Mail Coach

In 1867, The Brisbane Courier published a hostile letter from a correspondent who gave the sobriquet Polly, questioning the mettle of the local male residents.[1]

SIR,-When I heard of the robbery of her Majesty's mail this morning - how eight or ten brave fellows surrendered their liberty and cash, and the mail bag, to a solitary man upon a grey horse - my heart beat with indignation, and I wished I had been there to have taken care of them, and so have prevented the indignity. Really, Sir, I think gentlemen ought not to go alone on such journeys. They ought to have the protection of the ladies.

Masked Bushrangers Sticking Up a Coach

But Polly’s reading of the incident was not quite fair. It was true that there was only one bushranger involved – usually there would be a gang. When the mounted highwayman, brandishing a revolver, appeared on the road to Brisbane, the coachman, to his credit, initially tried to outrun him.[2]

The usual morning coach left Ipswich yesterday for Brisbane at 6 o’clock. When about a quarter of a mile on this side of the Half-way house, and about two miles on the other side of Oxley Creek, a man was seen to ride out of the bush with his face covered up with a piece of sacking, with openings for his sight. The robber rode up alongside the coach, with pistol in hand, and peremptorily called out to the coachman to stop. Mackenzie did not care to comply with this demand, and whipped his horses on to full speed, and proceeded for a quarter of a mile at this pace, the robber keeping up with the coach.

Brisbane Terrace, Goodna

The masked outlaw was not about to be put off, pointing his firearm at head of the lead horse.[3]

The bushranger then fired a shot at the leading horse, and rode to the other side of the coach and presented the pistol he carried with him at the driver, who naturally drew himself back in his seat, as far as he could, to avoid the shot. Tho robber rode round to the other side again and repeated the experiment; and the driver, believing that the horse had been wounded, pulled up.

The driver had not given up yet. He was still reluctant to surrender to the masked bandit.

One of the inside passengers, Mr. Robertson, of the Lands and Works Department, passed up a revolver, which he carried with him, to the coachman, who lost no time in covering his assailant with it, and attempting to fire it. Unfortunately, however, for justice, and fortunately for the robber, who would otherwise have undoubtedly been shot, the pistol, which was provided with a hair trigger - the mechanism of which the driver did not understand, - would not go off.

Bushman with Revolver

The desperado now emboldened by his good fortune, proceeded to relieve the passengers of their cash, following the standard procedure of a mail coach “stick-up".

The robber then ordered the passengers to get out of the coach, and, some of them manifesting reluctance to do so, he presented the pistol at them. All having got out, he ordered them to throw any money they had about them down on the grass, and to be quick about it, which the passengers proceeded to do forthwith. The money which was thus compulsorily contributed, and which was in silver, gold, and notes, amounted to about £10 or £15, or perhaps more.

While this was being done the robber ordered the coachman to turn his horses’ heads towards Ipswich, and to drive back from the road, which he did. After taking the money which had been thrown on the ground by the passengers, the robber took the mail bag in his hand, vaulted into the saddle, and rode off into the bush.

Colonial Police Inspector

The coach continued on its way to Brisbane Town and raised the alarm. A reward of £50 was soon offered and group of mounted police despatched to pick up the trail of the bandit. The description provided of the highwayman was scanty.

The robber was indifferently mounted, and had on long boots, and a flannel shirt.

The driver was exonerated of any complicity and the mail bag soon recovered - thoughtfully left by the robber hanging on a fence, along with his mask.  It was calculated that his haul from the letters was no more than £2.  The horse was found abandoned a few days later without saddle and bridle, indicating the bushranger had changed horses.  It emerged that the horse had been stolen from an Ipswich resident.[4]

A day or two after the robbery of the Brisbane mail, a horse belonging to Mr. Johnston of Little Ipswich and Nicholas-street was identified by several persons as the one ridden by the bushranger. It had been stolen from Mr. Johnston a few days before - was seen in Little Ipswich[5], with a man on it who is known, on the evening of the robbery – and was found next morning without saddle or bridle on the road.

Cosmopolitan Hotel, Warwick

Now identified by Ipswich locals, it emerged that the highwayman was one Bill Jenkins.  He was captured just one week after the robbery, but not before he enjoyed a spree at a hotel in Warwick.  The Queensland Times carried the following report.[6]

It is reported in town that Jenkins, the supposed mail robber, was in Warwick last week, drinking and spreeing about under the very eyes of the police, who did not seem to have the slightest idea that he was the individual whose presence is so much required in this locality. It is also stated that Jenkins has since been apprehended on the borders of New South Wales while making the best of his way towards that colony.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] The Brisbane Courier 8.1.1867
[2] The Brisbane Courier 8.1.1867
[3] The Brisbane Courier 8.1.1867
[4] The Brisbane Courier 21.1.1867
[5] Now called West Ipswich.
[6] Queensland Times 2.2.1867


  1. I like your post.Very impressive way of writing....appreciate the great information.thanks...
    fencing warwick qld

  2. This was murder on the cooked legs but I managed to finish with a silver medal which was far beyond my expectations. fence installation jacksonville fl