The Clarke brothers, bushrangers, photographed in Braidwood Gaol in May, 1867, soon after their capture.
Albumen print photograph, 72 x 54 mm (oval format), laid down on a section cut from a nineteenth century album page, contemporary inscription in ink above the image: ‘The brothers Clarkes [sic]. Bushrangers hung [sic] at Sydney 1867’, and a faint pencil caption below: ‘The Two Clarkes, Bushrangers’; at the foot of the sheet is a competent pencil drawing of an unidentified gentleman in a smoking cap, probably unrelated to the photograph and with a very faded inscription that includes the date 1865; the albumen print is in fine condition.
Exceedingly rare photograph of the bushranger brothers Thomas and John Clarke, two of the most notorious Australian bushrangers of the nineteenth century. Between 1865 and their capture in April 1867 they committed a large number of violent crimes – including multiple murders – in the southern goldfields area of New South Wales.
Under the influence of their father, Jack, a transported convict who had been assigned to a Braidwood pastoralist in the late 1820s, the brothers had begun their lives of crime as cattle duffers and horse thieves. With their gang, the Jerrabat Gully Rakers, they progressed to raiding and stealing from local publicans, storekeepers, farmers and travellers. They regularly held-up coaches carrying gold shipments from Nerrigundah and Araluen to Sydney, and those travelling in the opposite direction bringing supplies and new arrivals to the goldfields from Sydney and the Illawarra. During 1865 and 1866 they succeeded in marauding virtually unimpeded throughout a vast triangle of territory that covered the hilly and wild country from the Jingeras, south of Captain’s Flat, to Braidwood and across to Bega, and north through the coastal hinterland to Moruya and Nelligen. They were responsible for a staggering 71 reported armed robberies and hold-ups, and the murders of at least one policeman (and probably also four others), as well as those of numerous civilians, including one of their own gang members. In April 1867 they were captured during a shoot-out, and after a brief period of detention in the Braidwood Gaol, they were removed to Sydney where two months later they were hanged from twin gallows in the Darlinghurst Gaol. The violent exploits of the Clarke brothers led directly to the introduction of the Felons’ Apprehension Act (1866), a law which authorised citizens of the colony of New South Wales to kill bushrangers on sight.
This quite extraordinary image of the Clarke brothers appears to be unrecorded in any institutional collection. It was taken by an unknown photographer in Braidwood Gaol, shortly after their capture. John (on the left) had been wounded in the upper arm during the shoot-out, and his coat is draped over his left shoulder. The men’s leg irons can just be made out, and we can see the cabbage-tree hat Thomas is holding, although John’s hat has been cropped out of the image by the photographer. Both men appear relaxed and defiant, even smiling wrily for the camera, their supercilious expressions displaying the lack of remorse or guilt typical of a psychopath.
The image is known (from at least one surviving example in a private collection) to have been sold during 1867 as an anonymously published carte de visite, with the identical oval-format albumen print and the printed caption on the mount ‘Thomas & John Clarke / Taken while in Braidwood Gaol’. It is one of at least three known variants: for example, a full-length portrait is known which shows the brothers in reversed positions (SLNSW, call no. DL Pd 788 – a later copy made from an original 1867 albumen print). It shows them both holding their cabbage-tree hats and features the same travelling photographer’s distinctive painted backdrop; it must have been taken after the present photograph, however, since John’s hair has been either trimmed or slicked down.