The Man and The
Moondyne Joe, (real name, Joseph Johns), won notoriety for his gaol breaking exploits at Toodyay & Fremantle between 1861 and 1869. His nickname came about from time spent living, working & being on the run from the law in & around the Moondyne Hills near the Toodyay Township (then known as Newcastle).
Moondyne had arrived in Western Australia; on the convict ship Pyrenees, anchoring in Cockburn Sound in April 1953, having earned his passage as a guest of Her Majesty, after receiving a guilty verdict (& a 10 year sentence) on a charge of the theft of food items from a home in Breconshire, England.
It seems the sentence was hefty by normal standards & it has been said that the severity was in part due to Joe’s mischievous attitude & argumentative comments towards the magistrate while representing himself in court -an early & clear indication of his disdain for authority.
After his arrival in Western Australia, Johns (along with all other convicts on board) was granted a ticket of leave for good behavior and headed inland to the Toodyay area & quickly established a reputation as a very skilled bushman, making a living by rounding up stray livestock & returning it to the owners for a bounty (although perhaps not all made their way home).
Moondyne was a free-spirited soul who adapted quickly to the hard Australian landscape & while certainly a rogue, his crimes were -relatively- minor, among them horse theft, robbery (the theft of food & other necessities while on the run), & of course gaol breaking. So with no heinous crimes to his credit & recognizing the innate desire of all men to be free of shackles & limitations & to live life at liberty, we adopted him as our mascot & named our venue after him.
Records of 1861 in the Perth Public Library recount how, on a charge of horse theft, Moondyne Joe broke open his cell at Toodyay (then Newcastle) gaol, stole (or is that re-stole?) the horse as well as the saddle and bridle of the resident magistrate & on yet another occasion he filed through leg-irons to once again abscond.
Authorities decided to end his escapes by building a purpose-built cell for him at Fremantle gaol, but during the hammering of rocks as part of his ‘hard labour’ sentence he managed to alternate his swings sufficiently between a perimeter wall & a large pile of rocks to create a hole in a wall large enough to slip out through and once again make his way to freedom -during this sentence the then governor ‘Hampton’ had quipped that if Moondyne escaped again he would grant him freedom.
After two years on the run, Moondyne’s hey-day exploits ended in 1869, when he was captured wetting his whistle with wine in a cellar at Houghton Vineyard in Middle Swan, running directly in to the arms of troopers who were dinner guests of the tenant.
During that subsequent incarceration, the new governor ‘Weld’ heard of governor ‘Hampton’s’ earlier promise and granted Moondyne’s release with a ticket of leave, to be pardoned if he stayed out of trouble –which for all intents & purposes he did.
In January 1900, Johns was picked up wandering the streets of South Perth and taken into custody for being of unsound mind. He later died at the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum (now Fremantle Arts Centre) on the 13th August 1900 and is buried in marked grave 580a, at the Fremantle Cemetery.