1866: John Dunn, teenage bushranger

On this date in 1866, 19-year-old Australian bushranger John Dunn was hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol.

Young master Dunn, deft hand with a horse and a firearm, in 1864 joined a notorious outlaw gang then under the leadership of Ben Hall and John Gilbert.

This gang very quickly came to grief as both Hall and Gilbert were shot dead by police in May 1865. They’d been outlawed under new anti-bushranger legislation (pdf) enacted in 1865 by a parliament impatient with “the constant outrages on person and property of which the interior has for years been the scene.”

This new Felons Apprehension Act — despite its name — empowered people to kill alleged bushrangers without attempting to detain them. It did this by setting up a fast-track process to legally outlaw (pdf) individuals by name.

Dunn done did his own part to stir up this legal hornet’s nest by killing a constable named Samuel Nelson (father of eight children!) during a hotel stickup at the New South Wales hamlet of Collector.


(cc) image from AYArktos.

But the kid had better elusiveness than his bosses.

Dunn managed to escape the shootout that killed Gilbert and disappear for the best part of a year. Only in December of 1865 was he finally recognized and captured. (Then he escaped from detention, and had to be re-captured.)

Once they could keep him long enough to try him, Dunn was done for. It took a jury ten minutes to order him to hang.

Dunn’s godmother buried him at Sydney’s Devonshire Street Cemetery under a headstone reading, “He has gone to his grave but we must not deplore him though sorrow and darkness encompass his tomb — the Saviour has passed through its portals before him and the light of his love was the lamp through his doom.”