Moondyne Joe (1826 – 1900), real name Joseph Bolitho Johns, is the most famous bushranger from Western Australia. He became famous, not for his crimes, but for his many escapes from gaol (jail).
Johns who escaped Australian prison so many times, they built a special cell just for him. He escaped that as well.
He was transported to Western Australia and arrived at Fremantle on 1 May 1853.
Granted an immediate ticket-of-leave and in 1855 a conditional pardon, Johns by 1860 was living in the Toodyay district. Suspected of rounding up and branding cleanskin horses, working from an isolated gorge on the Avon River known as Moondyne Springs, he was arrested on a charge of horse stealing in 1861. While awaiting trial he escaped from Toodyay gaol but was recaptured to serve three years' imprisonment. Released, he was again sentenced in 1865 to ten years for killing an ox with the intent of stealing the carcass. Determined not to serve this long sentence and protesting his innocence, Johns from November 1865 to March 1867 made four attempts to escape, three of them successful. With two companions, he was once at large for two months in the unsettled Darling Range. Recaptured he was placed in irons in solitary confinement in a specially reinforced cell with triple-barred windows at Fremantle gaol. Allowed out for exercise on medical advice, he escaped again in 1867 through a clever trick and for two years roamed the hill country east of Perth. He was recaptured while raiding a wine cellar and sentenced to a further term in Fremantle prison. He was released in 1871 and gained his conditional pardon in 1873.
After his release Johns became respectable and worked in the Vasse district as stockman and timber-feller and at Fremantle as carpenter and shipwright. He is reputed to be the discoverer of one of the Margaret River caves named after him. In 1879 he married a widow Louisa Frances Hearn, née Braddick, who died in 1893. In 1900 Johns was finally ordered to the Mount Eliza depot for the destitute and because of increasing senility was transferred to the Fremantle asylum where he died on 13 August.
Moondyne Joe is popularly described as Western Australia's only bushranger of note. No Ned Kelly, he neither held up mail coaches nor attacked banks; he raided poultry runs, visited half-way houses and perhaps stole horses. Yet through his determined bids for freedom against the harsh prison discipline of the convict period he became a romantic figure in the eyes of the public. His small triumphs over authority inspired John Boyle O'Reilly, a Fenian convict who escaped from Western Australia to the United States, to write in 1887 a novel on convict life in Western Australia featuring a fictitious and highly romantic Moondyne as central character. The twentieth century has seen further romantic legends grow around his name.