IN his continuing search for the more weird and wacky in this world, David Ellis wonders if colonial Western Australia bushranger, Joseph “Moondyne Joe” Johns is the only convict ever released from gaol as a reward for having escaped from the place?
After being sentenced to ten years for stealing and killing a steer in 1865, Joe absconded from a prison work party, and when recaptured was given additional time before escaping yet again.
On recapture once more, he was set to work in Fremantle’s prison yard breaking rocks for road building… a smirking Gaol Governor telling him “If you can get out of here, I’ll forgive you.”
Working in his corner of the yard under constantly-watching guards, Joe soon amassed a high pile of broken stone – behind which he could only be seen from the waist up, and slipping behind every now and again to wield an unseen sledgehammer blow at the prison’s limestone wall.
Eight months later, Moondyne Joe slipped behind his rock pile for the last time and through the hole he’d taken so long to create in that gaol wall. He remained on the run for two years… and when eventually recaptured, a new Prison Governor heard of his predecessor’s offer of forgiveness if Joe ever managed to escape again, and believing he’d done enough time, bizarrely set him free in May of 1871.
Joe married, and apart from a few minor misdemeanours settled down to a relatively crime-free life, dying of senile dementia in a lunatic asylum 30 years later.