Bushrangers on the Goldfields

With the new popular TV program ‘Wild Boys’ gracing our screens it seems timely to discuss the presence of Bushrangers during the gold rushes.  While the TV show glosses over a few historical details, drawing on popular culture such as this can be used as a powerful hook to engage students in history.  They can even become historians who investigate the historical accuracy of such programs, from people and attitudes to building construction and details of daily life – an interesting and empowering activity no doubt.

Bushrangers certainly existed in colonial Australia and some thrived during the gold rush.  Unidentifiable gold was an alluring target, as were the many naive new chums arriving in the colony.   A large part of the British Redcoats‘ role in the colonies was to act as a gold escort between the diggings and Melbourne.   The situation was further affected by the presence of numerous ex-convicts harbouring resentment towards authority figures and the limited number of police; including some untrained and allegedly corrupt officers.  It was a potent mix and a complex social scenario.

'Death of Thunderbolt, the bushranger'. Image from the State Library of Victoria.

If you wish to delve into the study of bushrangers with your students we recommend reading a little background information on crime and law enforcement in the colonies:

Ergo – Law and Order

eGold – Law and Order

eGold – Crime

eGold – Bushrangers

There are also a number of well known bushrangers that your students may like to investigate, including: Frank Gardiner, Andrew Scott, Fred Ward, Ben Hall and John Fuller.  Some of these use delightfully arrogant aliases like ‘Captain Moonlite’ and ‘Captain Thunderbolt’.

Please leave a comment with your favourite resources for teaching about bushrangers.

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