Thursday, 4 April 2013

Slippery Jack the bushranger

While these days the Capertee district is mostly a law abiding place things were often different in the past. One noteworthy criminal was Slippery Jack a bush-ranger who ran amok robbing local miners huts and sheep stations during the mid-1890s. While the main period of bush-ranging in Australia had passed a generation or two earlier, the hunt for Slippery Jack generated much press attention around the country.

1896 police photographs of the bushranger known as Slippery Jack

From about 1894 reports began to appear of a number of thefts of unattended homes in the local area. In August 1895 the Bathurst Free Press & Mining Journal reported on four robberies of unoccupied miners huts at Palmers Oakey and a bush-ranger daubed 'Slippery Jack' was the main suspect. The paper reported that he got away with some gold, silver, food and supplies.

In February 1896 Slippery Jack's bush camp was discovered by a settler named William Hutchinson at Eagle Hawk's Nest at a deserted high spot near the Sunny Corner to Wattle Flat road. Hutchinson called the police who later attempted to interview the suspected robber at his camp. Slippery Jack tried to shoot at the police but his gun was not loaded. After pelting the police with rocks he escaped into the bush. Not long after a local miner's hut was robbed of all his possessions.

Slippery Jack's bush hut was built of poles and brushwood and covered with bark cut from local trees. Searching his, now abandoned, hut the police found stolen goods including clothing, tents, watches and food. Surrounding his well disguised shelter was a small well cultivated garden consisting of tomatoes, pumpkins potatoes and other vegetables. By this time Slippery Jack was now suspected of being a convict from the French penal settlement of New Caledonia.

After evading capture Slippery Jack relocated up the Turon River, and while there he robbed miners huts. The police were now actively searching for him, and with the aid of Aboriginal trackers traced him to Blackmans Crown in March 1896, but, again, he evaded capture.

On 23 May 1896 Slippery Jack was finally arrested after being shot in the thigh by Constable Preston of Ilford along with several other officers and an Aboriginal tracker named Hughey. The capture took place on Genowlan Mountain, east of Capertee, and according to Bruce Jefferys, writing in The Story of Capertee, Slippery Jack was carried down the mountain to Airly homestead. He was then taken by rail from Capertee to Wallarawang for medical treatment, after which he was sent to Bathurst Police Station.

Despite hardly speaking any English, during formal questioning it became known that the prisoner was a Spaniard who was born in 1834, and he went under several names including Jean Lefung and Juan Larosa. He confessed that he was an escaped convict from the French penal settlement at New Caledonia. He, along with several other prisoners, had escaped from the French colonial prison by boat. To support this story it was noted that the prisoner had marks on his legs caused by leg irons. It seems that our fugitive was a wharf labourer who had been convicted of hard labour for life in France in 1883 for counter-fitting offences before being sent to New Caledonia.

Slippery Jack was found guilty at Bathurst Court for 'breaking and entering a dwelling and house stealing within' and was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. Considering his many, alleged, offences in the district the prisoner escaped with a relatively light sentence. Despite this, later that year he attacked another inmate and received an extra years imprisonment for malicious wounding. It is not known what happened to Slippery Jack after his time behind bars.

If you have information to add to this article we would love to here from you.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog site - have copied a few of your images (with reference to source) - would be pleased to talk if you could let me have your phone no.


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