Soapbox Speakers

Jack Bradshaw. (1840 – 1930)

Jack Bradshaw, self-styled “last of the bushrangers”, pamphleteer and regular speaker on Sundays in the Domain, was born in Dublin on May 9, 1840. He emigrated alone to Australia at the age of 14. Landing in Melbourne, Jack found jobs scarce. In desperation he left for the bush. By the time he reached the age of 20 he had travelled over most of Victoria, NSW and Queensland – working at odd jobs as best he could. During his wandering the young Bradshaw became fascinated by stories told over the campfire: stories of easy money and adventures of a life of crime. Romantic images inspired him to seek the company of bushrangers and petty criminals.

His romantic view of bushranging got the better of him. He believed that he and his new partner in crime, “Beautiful Davies”, a Sydney larrikin, could plan and carry out a bank hold up. Their first hold-up was a debacle. It turned out that the Bank manager’s wife was in labour. The irate midwife gave them such a tongue lashing that they left in a hurry! Next time, they successfully held up the bank at Quirindi in NSW on May 1880. Both men made a clean getaway, and divided the loot of  2,000 pounds. ( $100,000 ) Their plan was to split up for good and lie low. Bradshaw settled down as a respectable citizen and even married a squatter’s daughter in Armidale. However, Beautiful Davies rushed off to Sydney on a spending spree. It was not long before police arrested Davies and Bradshaw. They both received 12 years gaol sentences. Bradshaw was released in 1892. However, he was arrested for stealing registered mail and gaoled for a further 8 years.

Released in 1900, he found himself, age 50, unable to work because of his criminal past and too well known by police to lead a life of crime. He began to write down his misadventures, in a series of cheap editions. He then lectured and sold his books all over Sydney. Naturally he loved the Domain, where he would mount his ladder and lecture to the crowd. The people loved to hear his imaginative stories of bushrangers and reminiscences of a romantic past.

Bradshaw reminded the people that they had a past worth remembering. He always depicted himself as a bungler, which he wasn’t, to make his stories more acceptable to the public. The people wanted to hear and read about their past. At the time, hardly any Australian History was taught in school, and few books dealing with Australians were published. Jack Bradshaw was a reformed man and never committed another crime again.

He had found a way to make an honest living. He died, age 90, in St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst, just across the road from the gaol where he had served his twenty years’ sentence.

Steve Maxwell. 2019.

 

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