Convict-era outlaw Moondyne Joe became a legend – and eventually earned his freedom – with his audacious prison escapes.

Story by Lisa Smith

Under the cover of darkness, Moondyne Joe frantically jiggled the bolts in his cell door hinges until they fell out and the door swung open. He drifted into the shadows and began destroying the evidence for the horse stealing charge against him. Although recaptured the next day, Moondyne Joe’s 1861 break-out was the beginning of his legendary ‘capture and escape’ cycle with the Western Australian colonial authorities that spanned 40 years.
Moondyne Joe (born Joseph Bolitho Johns) was a colourful character whose defiant antics, frequent escapes and constant declarations of innocence entertained the early settlers. Unlike other outlaws of the day, he wasn’t known for his blazing gunfights or daring robberies. His notoriety sprang from his stubborn refusal to serve the prison sentences imposed on him and his very successful jailbreaking episodes.

This story excerpt is from Issue #49

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2006