Saturday, July 29, 2006

Yankee Jack Jepps

One of the advantages of having a mother who is into family history is you get all sorts of ruffians and rogues turning up. Take for instance the sorry tale of "Yankee Jack Jepps" described in 19th Century Australian papers as an American sailor stranded in Australia.

This is a picture of Ned Kelly without the bucket on his headYankee Jack had fallen on hard times and got mixed up with a bad crowd - after a while kicking his heels in Oz Yankee Jack had a gang of bravos and empty pockets - the solution seemed obvious.

An armed robbery spree. Taking it upon themselves to liberate the cash and other goods from not one but a whole series of pony stations one after the other. The first few robberies went well and their pursuers were too disorganised to get within spitting distance of the gang.

Then they made the usual bushranger error - they stopped for breakfast at the very building they had robbed, allowing the posse time to catch up with them. A classic shoot out ensued in which both outlaws and deputies were hit.

It soon became apparent that the gang were surrounded and had no way of escape so they called a ceasefire. As the gang negotiated with the law one newspaper reports that "Yankee Jack Jepps was seen lighting his pipe with bank notes."

I can't tell you how much pride I feel at the fact that it was Yankee Jack who was seen nonchalantly sparking up rather than one of the others. I imagine him in a iconic James Dean pose leaning against the wall of the station puffing away and glancing with contempt at his pursuers.

Alas the bravado was not to last long and they could see no choice but to give themselves up. The courts were harsh with the gang and showed no mercy sentencing them all to death. The court reports contain the grisly phrase that after sentencing "They were taken from the court house seated on their coffins and returned in them".

I must reread "The true history of the Kelly Gang" by the brilliant Peter Carey to remind myself of the kind of life Yankee Jack may have led and how he came to be a small footnote in Australian bushranger history.


badmatthew said...

I always wondered where you got it from

AN said...

Jim you have to grow a beard like that. it would be soooo cool.