The Clarke Brothers

Task 5 Australian Goldfields Webquest


The bushrangers of the Australian gold rush era include the very popular Ned Kelly, Ben Hall, Captain Lightning, Frank Gardiner and Thunderbolt. The murderous Clarke brothers were considered to be worse than any other bushrangers of the times and became known as The Bloodiest Bushrangers.

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Family and Early Life

The Clarkes' father Jack, a shoemaker transported for seven years aboard the Royal Charlotte, arrived in the Braidwood district as one of the assigned convicts brought in by Major Elrington in 1827. He married Mary Connell and took up a leasehold in the Jingeras, which proved too small to support his family of five children. He started selling sly-grog to make money.He introduced his sons Tom and John into stealing cattle and horses, and raised them to believe in his view of the fair and equitable distribution of property. They constantly raided crops and livestock, aided by their uncles Pat and Tom Connell. Their gang, the Jerrabat Gully Rakers, were regarded as scientists in the art of cattle duffing and horse stealing. The Clarke gang of relatives and friends were well trained in bushcraft and heavily armed.


They plundered publicans, storekeepers, farmers and travelers. They ambushed gold shipments from Nerrigundah and Araluen and the coaches that traveled from Sydney and the Illawarra. Till November 1866 they moved virtually unchecked in a triangle through the Jingeras from Braidwood to Bega, and up the coast to Moruya and Nelligen. Their run of luck ended with the conviction at Darlinghurst on 15 February 1867 of Tom Connell (who was in the same gang as Thomas and John) for the robbery and assault of John Emmott, when they stole 25 ounces of gold dust, two one-pound notes, some silver coins and a gold watch . The many other exploits of the "Blacksmith", including the death of Constable Miles O'Grady were ignored, but his death sentence was on appeal remitted to life imprisonment.

Their Capturing

The brothers were arraigned in Braidwood and then taken by coach to the port of Nelligen, where they were shackled to the prison tree. From there they were conveyed to Sydney. On May 13 they appeared in court for their committal hearing, on wounding Wayne, prior to their capture by Wright, Walsh, Egan and Lenehan. The £1500 reward was distributed to the members of the gang as follows: Wright £300, Walsh £130, Wyne £120, constables Lenehan, Wright and Egan £110 each, sergeant Byrne £30, constables Ford, O'Loughlin, Armstrong, Brown and Woodlands £15 each, and £7 10s each to trackers Emmott and Thomas. £500 went to a civilian informer (the highest reward offered until the £2000 for Ned Kelly).

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Trial and Execution

The jury took 67 minutes to find both brothers guilty. Before passing sentence, Stephens pointed out that the Clarkes were to be hanged, not as retribution, but because their deaths were necessary for the peace, good order, safety and welfare of society. Their fate was to serve as a warning to others. He then pointed out the list of their offences over the previous two years. Thomas: exclusive of the seven murders of which he was suspected, including that of Constable O'Grady, 9 robberies of mails, 36 robberies of individuals including Chinamen, labourers, publicans, storekeepers, tradesmen and settlers, John's offences in one year numbered 26 and his possible implication in the unexplained murder of the four specials. On March 13, 1865, the Araluen Gold Escort was attacked by the gang on the Majors Creek Mountain Road, and four troopers were shot dead. Two of the remaining troopers held off the attack and the gold was delivered to the Bank of New South Wales at Braidwood.Tom Clarke, and his brother John, were hanged from twin gallows at Darlinghurst Jail on 25 June 1867, ending a reign of terror on the south coast of NSW which had cost the lives of at least 8 men.