Jack Donahue [Laws L22]
DESCRIPTION: Irish highwayman Jack Donahue, transported for life, soon escapes prison and returns to his trade. After a hair-raising career, he is confronted by a gang of police and shot after inflicting several casualties upon the constables
EARLIEST DATE: 1883 (Smith/Hatt)
KEYWORDS: transportation crime death prison
Sept 1, 1830 - Jack Donahue, formerly of Dublin (transported 1823), is killed by police near Sydney. He was 23. None of the police were injured in the battle
FOUND IN: US(MW,So,SW) Canada(Mar) Australia Ireland
REFERENCES (20 citations):
Laws L22, "Jack Donahue"
Hudson 103, pp. 241-242, "Jack Donahoo" (1 text)
Smith/Hatt, pp. 104-106, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text)
Mackenzie 123, "Jack Donahue" (1 text, 1 tune)
Meredith/Anderson, pp. 97-98, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text, 1 tune)
AndersonStory, pp. 119-121, "Bold Jack Donahoe"(1 text, 1 tune)
Zimmermann 76A, "Bold Jack O'Donohoe" (1 text)
Morton-Maguire 21, pp. 47-49,111,165, "Bold Jack Donohue" (1 text, 1 tune)
PBB 99, "Bold Jack Donohue" (1 text)
Lomax-FSNA 59, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fahey-Eureka, pp. 82-83, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text, 1 tune)
LPound-ABS, 71, pp. 158-159, "Jack Donahoo" (1 text)
Manifold-PASB, pp. 48-49, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text, 1 tune)
Paterson/Fahey/Seal, pp. 69-72, "Bold Jack Donahoo" (1 text)
Darling-NAS, pp. 111-113, "Jack Donahue" (1 text -- the Lomax "Cowboy Songs" version)
Silber-FSWB, p. 198, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text)
DT 428, DONAHUE DONAHU2*
ADDITIONAL: Bill Wannan, _The Australians: Yarns, ballads and legends of the Australian tradition_, 1954 (page references are to the 1988 Penguin edition), pp. 163-164, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text)
A. K. MacDougall, _An Anthology of Classic Australian Lore_ (earlier published as _The Big Treasury of Australian Foiklore_), The Five Mile Press, 1990, 2002, pp. 117-118, "The Wild Colonial Boy" (1 text, clearly mixing "The Wild Colonial Boy" [Laws L20] and "Jack Donahue" [Laws L22])
Bill Beatty, _A Treasury of Australian Folk Tales & Traditions_, 1960 (I use the 1969 Walkabout Paperbacks edition), p. 268, "Bold Jack Donahoe" (1 text)
John Greenway, "Bold Jack Donahue" (on JGreenway01)
A. L. Lloyd, "Bold Jack Donahue" (on Lloyd4, Lloyd8)
New Lost City Ramblers, "Bold Jack Donahue" (on NLCR05)
cf. "The Wild Colonial Boy" [Laws L20]
cf. "Bold Jack Donahoe" (subject)
NOTES [838 words]: John Greenway believes this ballad to be the ancestor of "The Wild Colonial Boy" (see the notes on that song). He is not alone; EncyAust, p. 158, declares, "The song 'A Wild Colonial Boy,' based on his exploits, was banned." Nunn, p. 76, says that it was "Bold Jack Donahue" which was banned and then, when underground, became "The Wild Colonial Boy." On the other hand, it looks to me as if Greenway's version is a mixture of "Bold Jack Donahoe" and "The Wild Colonial Boy."
This piece mixes frequently with the other Donahue ballad, "Bold Jack Donahoe." The key element to distinguishing them appears to be that the other song describes Donahue's desertion by his companions at the time of his fatal fight. This song does not mention the companions.
(Exception: The Lomax text in "Cowboy Songs" mentions the companions, but in very debased form. It might be another of the Lomaxes' deliberately muddied versions. But Laws files it here, so I do the same.)
Hughes, p. 126, notes that Jack Donahue was not the first bushranger -- in Van Diemen's Land, in fact, they existed from the start, because the only means the colony survived was by hunting kangaroos, which meant that the convicts were armed. But the Tasmanian bushrangers, even though they all but controlled the island, left little if any ballad record.
Bushranging came much later to Australia proper, and Jack Donahue was the first truly memorable example. Hughes, p. 237, declares that "'Bold Jack' was a short, freckled, blond-haired, blue-eyed Irishman named John Donohoe (1806-1830), sentenced to life transportation in Dublin in 1823." Arriving in Australia 1825, he was assigned to work for a settler named John Pagan, acted up, spent time on a road gang, was assigned again, and took to the bush (pp. 237-238).
Donahue's crime in Australia was robbing bullock teams; at this time (December 1827), he had companions Kilroy and Smith (Hughes, p. 128). All three were taken; they were sentenced to be hung in March 1828. "Kilroy and Smith duly swung" (Hughes, p. 238, though Nunn, p. 16, gives the date as 1832), but Donahue escaped. The price on his head eventually reached a hundred pounds (Hughes, p. 239).
When the police caught him near Bringelly, Donahue cursed them and tried to fight, but was shot in the head (not the heart!) by a trooper named Muggleston or some similar name (Hughes, p. 240). His confederate Walmsley would later turn informer, and led police to some thirty settlers who had traded with him.
According to Nunn, p. 76, Donohue was only 21 at the time of his death, which would mean he was barely in his teens at the time of his transportation (but recall that Hughes, p. 237, gives his birth year as 1806, making him 23 or 24 when he died and 16 or 17 when first convicted). Nunn adds that the Underwood Gang, to which Donohue belonged, operated in the vicinity of "Campbelltown, Liverpool, Penrith, and Liberty Plains for nearly twelve years" [i.e. 1820-1832]. On p. 16, Nunn reports that Webber was also killed in 1830, and Underwood in 1832.
Prior to his death, Donohue seems to have been less noteworthy than his companions. Boxall refers to him only once, on pp. 55-56, calling him "Johnny Donahue," listing him as a member of the Underwood gang, and briefly mentioning that he was killed by "Maggleton." Nunn, p. 16, also calls him a member of the Underwood gang, though conflating his time with Underwood, Webber, and Walmsley with his earlier exploits with Kilroy and Smith.
Nunn, p. 76, reports that Donohue was known as "The Stripper" but was "less violent than most bushrangers, gallant to women and had a sense of humour enough to make him a popular hero." He does not cite the source for this data. But Hughes, p. 240, seems to agree: "If Donohoe had been a sadist, a rapist or a baby-killed like Mark Jeffries in Van Diemen's Land, the outpouring of popular emotion that coalesced in the Donohoe ballads would not have occurred. But Australians admired flashness; most of them disliked Governor Darling and took great glee in seeing his authority ridiculed by this elusive bushranger." As a result, we are told that, in addition to songs, there were other memorabilia, including a series of clay pipes which allegedly showed Bold Jack's head, complete with bullet hole, released less than a month after his death (Hughes, p. 240).
Ironically, Donahue was the only famous bushranger of the transportation era. All the other "big names," such as Ben Hall and Ned Kelly, came later. This is somewhat surprising, given that Clark, p. 71, states that the bushrangers "were recruited in the main from absconding Irish convicts." Clark also thinks there was an element of Catholic/Protestant tension in their behavior, although I have seen little sign of this in the ballads.
Donohue did become the subject of standard outlaw legends; according to Davey/Seal, p. 90, he was (said to be) courteous to women, never robbed 'the poor' (in this case the convict and ex-convict population), was heroically daring, and 'died game'."- RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
- Boxall: George Boxall, The Story of the Australian Bushrangers, 1899 (I use the 1974 Penguin paperback facsimile edition)
- Clark: Manning Clark, A Short History of Australia, fourth revised edition with an addendum by Sebastian Clark, Penguin, 1995
- Davey/Seal: Gwenda Beed Davey and Graham Seal, A Guide to Australian Folklore, Kangaroo Press, 2003
- EncyAust: Andrew and Nancy Learmonth, Encyclopedia of Australia, second edition, Frederick Warne & Co., 1973
- Hughes: Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding, 1986 (I use the 1987 Knopf edition)
- Nunn: Harry Nunn, Bushrangers: A Pictorial History, Lansdowne, 1979 (I use the 1992 Ure Smith Press paperback edition)
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