“Jack Donahue”


Irish highwayman Jack Donahue, transported for life, soon escapes prison and returns to his trade. After a hair-raising career, he is confronted by a gang of police and shot after inflicting several casualties upon the constables


John Greenway believes this ballad to be the ancestor of "The Wild Colonial Boy" (see the notes on that song). On the other hand, it looks to me as if his version is a mixture of "Bold Jack Donahoe" and "The Wild Colonial Boy."

This piece mixes frequently with the other Donahue ballad, "Bold Jack Donahoe." The key element to distinguishing them appears to be that the other song describes Donahue's desertion by his companions at the time of his fatal fight. This song does not mention the companions.

(Exception: The Lomax text in "Cowboy Songs" mentions the companions, but in very debased form. It might be another of the Lomaxes' deliberately muddied versions. But Laws files it here, so I do the same.)

Robert Hughes, in _The Fatal Shore_, notes that Jack Donahue was not the first bushranger -- in Van Diemen's Land, in fact, they existed from the start, because the only means the colony survived was by hunting kangaroos, which meant that the convicts were armed. But the Tasmanian bushrangers, even though they all but controlled the island, left little if any ballad record.

Bushranging came much later to Australia proper, and Jack Donahue was the first truly memorable example. Again according to Hughes, Donahue was given a life term in 1823 (p. 237). Arriving in Australia 1825, he was assigned to work for a settler, acted up, spent time on a road gang, was assigned again, and took to the bush (p. 238).

Donahue's crime in Australia was robbing bullock teams; at this time (December 1827), he had companions Kilroy and Smith. All three were taken; they were sentenced to be hung in March 1828. "Kilroy and Smith duly swung" [though Harry Nunn, in _Bushrangers: A Pictorial History_, p. 16, gives the date as 1832], but Donahue escaped. The price on his head eventually reached a hundred pounds (Hughes, p. 239).

When the police caught him near Bringelly, Donahue cursed them and tried to fight, but was shot in the head by a trooper named Muggleston or some similar name. His confederate Walmsley would later turn informer, and led police to some thirty settlers who had traded with him.

According to Nunn, p. 76, Donohue was only 21 at the time of his death (though Hughes, p. 237, gives his birth year as 1806, making him 23 or 24), which would mean he was barely in his teens at the time of his transportation. The Underwood Gang, to which he belonged, operated in the vicinity of "Campbelltown, Liverpool, Penrith, and Liberty Plains for nearly twelve years" [i.e. 1820-1832]. On p. 16, Nunn reports that Webber was also killed in 1830, and Underwood in 1832.

Prior to his death, Donohue seems to have been less noteworthy than his companions. George Boxall, _The Story of the Australian Bushrangers_, refers to him only once, on pp. 55-56, calling him "Johnny Donahue," listing him as a member of the Underwood gang, and briefly mentioning that he was killed by "Maggleton." Nunn, p. 16, also calls him a member of the Underwood gang, though conflating his time with Underwood, Webber, and Walmsley with his earlier exploits with Kilroy and Smith.

Nunn, p. 76, reports that Donohue was known as "The Stripper" but was "less violent than most bushrangers, gallant to women and had a sense of humour enough to make him a popular hero." He does not cite the source for this data.

Ironically, Donahue was the only famous bushranger of the transportation era. All the other "big name" came later.- RBW

Historical references

  • Sept 1, 1830 - Jack Donahue, formerly of Dublin (transported 1823), is killed by police near Sydney. He was 23. None of the police were injured in the battle

Cross references


  • John Greenway, "Bold Jack Donahue" (on JGreenway01)
  • A. L. Lloyd, "Bold Jack Donahue" (on Lloyd4, Lloyd8)
  • New Lost City Ramblers, "Bold Jack Donahue" (on NLCR05)


  1. Laws L22, "Jack Donahue"
  2. Hudson 103, pp. 241-242, "Jack Donahoo" (1 text)
  3. Smith/Hatt, pp. 104-106, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text)
  4. Mackenzie 123, "Jack Donahue" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Meredith/Anderson, pp. 97-98, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Zimmermann 76A, "Bold Jack O'Donohoe" (1 text)
  7. Morton-Maguire 21, pp. 47-49,111,165, "Bold Jack Donohue" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. PBB 99, "Bold Jack Donohue" (1 text)
  9. Lomax-FSNA 59, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Fahey-Eureka, pp. 82-83, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. LPound-ABS, 71, pp. 158-159, "Jack Donahoo" (1 text)
  12. Manifold-PASB, pp. 48-49, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text, 1 tune)
  13. Paterson/Fahey/Seal, pp. 69-72, "Bold Jack Donahoo" (1 text)
  14. Darling-NAS, pp. 111-113, "Jack Donahue" (1 text -- the Lomax "Cowboy Songs" version)
  15. Silber-FSWB, p. 198, "Bold Jack Donahue" (1 text)
  16. DT 428, DONAHUE DONAHU2*
  17. Roud #611
  18. BI, LL22


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1883 (Smith/Hatt)
Found in: US(MW,So,SW) Canada(Mar) Australia Ireland