The Clarke Bushrangers
– A Clash of Cultures
Innocent until proven guilty
Judy Lawson, a descendant of the Clarke bushrangers family, has spent 35 years researching the injustice of her ancestors who were wrongfully accused of murder more than 150 years ago. She is passionate about looking at the reality of events, rather than the sensationalism and challenges other histories written about her family. The Clarke Bushrangers were never proven guilty of the offence in a court of law despite what local folklore says.
Extract from the book
The purpose of this treatise is to question the accusations of murder against the Clarke gang in an effort to find the truth behind these accusations and give an understanding of the cultures that motivated the behaviours of the various players in the drama that unfolded.
The gang operated in the Jingeras, a largely unmapped area south of Braidwood, from mid-1864 to early 1867. The members of the gang were always fluid, but the enduring members were Pat and Tom O’Connell (Connell) and Tommy and Johnny Clarke. Others – William and Joseph Berriman, John O’Connell, William Bruce, Alick Bradley, William Fletcher, Jim Dornan and Bill Scott were also part of the gang at different times. The gang was supported by harbourers and sympathisers, some who also functioned as telegraphs. The term “the boys” is used to refer to the gang during times of fewer members.
It has been stated over the years that the gang was responsible for the deaths of Constable Miles O’Grady, Jim Dornan, Bill Scott and the four Special Constables. The only place where an accusation of murder can be verified is in a court room before a judge, or a judge and jury, after charges have been made. This never happened. It will be shown that there was neither motive nor sufficient evidence, in all instances, for these cases to go to court. The Law and Justice Foundation in Australia states, “One of the foundational concepts of our criminal justice system is that the Crown must prove that the accused is guilty ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.” 1
As the judge explained to Michael O’Connell when sentencing him for harbouring, (see p46) “if you had also been charged with supplying ammunition, you would have been sentenced to 15 years. You were guilty of that offence but have not been convicted of it.” If the boys had been charged for their suspected crimes, and shown to be guilty in court, then they could be convicted of their crimes. But without the charges and the court case where they are found guilty, we cannot say they are guilty. Various authors obviously take their own impressions, thoughts and ideas, possibly reflecting their own agendas, and have not clearly made the distinction between suspicion, innuendo and fact.
It is very important to understand the difference between the Irish and English cultures regarding their political and religious views. In the 1800’s Australia was governed by Englishmen and as a generalisation the Protestant English were largely right wing2; the Catholic Irish, were more often left wing.3 These different attitudes in both politics and in religion were bound to result in confrontation. An interesting recent study today shows that right and left wing, proponents have different brain structures. Right wing brains are more active in negative emotions like fear. Left wing brains are more active in terms of emotional awareness and empathy.4
According to Chief Justice Stephen’s summing up in the trial of Tommy and Johnny Clarke, they committed 45 acts of armed robbery. However, for 39 of these acts, these was no conviction in court. So again, they can only be suspected, not accused. The gang, was not innocent of crime, but we cannot say they were guilty of murder.
Readers need to understand the genesis of the reports that we have available to us as primary and secondary sources and the persuasions of their authors. The sources we have access to have limited information, not minute by minute accounts. We rely on newspapers, but differing versions of the same story indicate that all is not transparent here – as indeed it isn’t today; as well telegrams and parliamentary papers etc. from the local police and from government bodies in Sydney – reflecting their individual interests. The local police, and those specially conscripted, (the Special Constables), not wanting to attract blame or criticism or to incriminate themselves have left behind documentation sadly lacking in accuracy or content. Government Officials swayed by their upperclass English opinions – also hampered by the fact that they were not on the scene can therefore only reflect on what is reported to them. The court cases demonstrate different interpretations from the prosecution and the defence lawyers. Thus, piecing together what really may have happened is not easy, unless of course you want to accept what is written at face value and without analysis. And, everything that is written about the Clarke gang, is not in the one place, but scattered through different libraries, under different headings so there is a fair chance that not everything has been found by every researcher. To top it all, our opinions of events that are not clear cut are affected by our own persuasions.
We are unable to travel back in time, so all views of what occurred and how, which could not be proven back then, can also not be proven today. The past, is successfully able to keep its secrets and this has frustrated many writers who like to think that their ideas on things that could not be proven then, can be stated as fact today.
Judy’s contact details
Book Price: $25 plus postage.