Capture of the Clarke's - Sesquicentenary re-enactment 2017

We recently staged a re-enactment commemorating the  150th anniversary  of the capture of the Clarke Gang.  It was an historically accurate account of the events that led to the arrest of arguably Australia's most notorious bushrangers.   The next day local residents, in the town's courthouse,  read from the transcript of the trial which was held in Sydney  and led to the conviction and execution of the Clarkes. 

The capture of the Clarke brothers on 27th April 1867 brought an end to the series of daring bushranging gangs that had plagued New South Wales since the beginning of the decade. Although Thunderbolt continued at large in northern New South Wales for another three years, the murders of police and civilians and large scale plunder ceased as police gained the upper hand and society in general rejected any sympathy felt for bushrangers.

The Clarke gang were arguably the worst and most troublesome bushrangers of all time. They terrorised the southern district of New South Wales, from October 1865 to April 1867, in an area extending from present day Canberra to the coast and from Goulburn to Cooma. Robberies of mail coaches, stores, travellers and homesteads were almost a daily occurrence. But worst of all was the grim tally of murders- a policeman, four special police, at least one of their accomplices and a half caste Aboriginal mistaken for a black tracker.  

The Clarkes’ downfall came about as a result of loss of the support of their harbourers. Many were tempted by the huge rewards on offer and feared the likelihood of being convicted under the Felons Apprehension Act after Tommy Clarke and Patrick Connell had been declared Outlaws. This ultimately led to betrayal. Tom Berry informed the police that his cousins, Tommy and John Clarke would be at his house on the night of 26th April 1867. The hut was located on Jinden Creek about 60 kms south of Braidwood. That night Berry’s hut was surrounded by a party of five police and later re-enforced by eight more police.

The gun battle that took place before surrender involved 100s of shots being fired over several hours. John Clarke was wounded in the shoulder, Tom Clarke was wounded in the buttock, the black tracker was wounded in the arm and Constable Walsh was wounded in the hip.

Tom and John Clarke were taken from Braidwood Gaol to Sydney to stand trial. The charge eventually preferred against them occurred at the time of their capture- the wounding of Constable Walsh with intent to murder-  a capital offence. There were many other charges that could be laid at their feet, but it seemed the authorities had chosen a charge they considered the most convenient, possibly easiest to prove and the most economical, as the main witnesses had provided the prisoners’ escort to Sydney. The prosecution obviously only needed a conviction for one capital offence as a person could be executed only once.

The trial took place in Central Criminal Court, Darlinghurst Sydney on Tuesday 28 May 1867.  The presiding Judge was Sir Alfred Stephen, the Chief Justice of New South Wales. The prosecuting barrister was the Solicitor General Robert Isaacs. The trial lasted just one day and ended with the death sentence for the two brothers.

On delivering the supreme penalty the Chief Justice addressed the brothers in the most scathing all-embracing condemnation of bushranging by any Judge to this day. It seemed the Clarkes were taking responsibility for the whole of the bushranging outbreak that had plagued the colony for the past decade.

The Clarkes were suspected of more serious crimes including the murder of four special police. Just about everyone including the jury knew them by reputation.

The trial re-enactment was a condensed version of the trial using the actual transcript of the evidence given at the trial.