JOSEPH BOLITHO JOHNS (ca 1826 - 13 August, 1900) better known as MOONDYNE JOE, was Western Australia's best known bushranger. He is one of the persons who escaped multiple times from prison.
On 15 November, 1848, Johns and an associate John Williams were arrested near Chepstow for "...... stealing from the house of Richard Price, three loaves of bread, one piece of bacon, several cheeses, and other goods". Arraigned at the Brecon Assizes on charges of burglary and stealing, the pair pleaded not guilty. On 23 March they were tried at the Lent Assizes before Sir William Erle. Newspaper reports of the trial suggest that the pair gave an unexpectedly spirited defence, but Johns was abrasive and 'contravened the conventions of court procedure'. The men were convicted and sentenced to ten years' penal servitude. Edgar (1990) observes that in several cases brought before the same judge that day, guilty pleas to very similar charges resulted in sentences ranging from three weeks to three months.
Johns and Wiliams would have spent the next seven months working in a government work party in the local area, before being transferred to Millbank Prison. On 1 January, 1850 they were transferred to Pentonville Prison to serve their mandatory six months of solitary confinement. The pair were transferred to Dartmoor Prison on 12 October, 1851 but shortly afterwards Johns was transferred to the Woolwich prison hulk "Justitia", probably for disciplinary reasons. When the "Justitia" was destroyed by fire, he was transferred to the "Defence". About a year later, he boarded the "Pyrenees" for transportation to what was then the British penal colony of Western Australia.
The "Pyrenees" sailed for Western Australia on 2 February, 1853, and arrived in Fremantle on 30 April. In reward for good behaviour, Johns was issued with a ticket of leave on arrival, and on 10 March, 1855 he received a conditional pardon. He then settled in the Avon Valley, one of the most rugged and inaccessible places in the Darling Range. The Aboriginal name for the area was Moondyne. Johns made a living by partly fencing the spring sin the area, and trapping escaped stock and horses. Ofter a reward was offered for the return of such animals.
In August, 1861, Johns caught an unbranded stallion, and branded it with his own mark. This was effectively horse stealing, and when the police heard of this they arrested him at their first opportunity. The horse was taken as evidence, and Johns was placed in the Toodyay lockup. Sometime during the night, Johns broke out of his cell, and stole the horse once more, taking also the local magistrate's brand new saddle and bridle. He was caught the next day, but while on the run he had killed the horse and cut his brand out of the hide, thus destroying the evidence. Consequently, he received only a three year sentence for jail breaking, whereas a typical sentence for horse stealing was more than ten years.........