Monday 16 May 2011

Thomas the Bushranger

Frank Thomas, who had grown up in Coorow, turned to the life of a bushranger during young adulthood. Over a number of periods he stole impressive amounts of food, supplies and horses from farms, homes and off trains. To the farmers of the North Midlands he was a constant nuisance while the women were unable to cope thinking he was behind every bush. To police he would later become an embarrassing problem after they repeatedly failed to capture him.

Items began going missing in about December 1919 but he managed to keep his identity a secret and elude police for almost twelve months. He was finally captured and sentenced to two years imprisonment, but following his release he returned and resumed operating locally as a bushranger. After weeks of tracking him all over Winchester and Coorow, and through the cold of winter, police finally captured him again in May 1922.

From The West Australian newspaper, Wednesday 15 November 1922
[1922 'NEWS AND NOTES.', The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879-1954),
15 November, p. 8, viewed 16 May, 2011,]

The making of his local legend had at this time had only received its introduction. Following his second arrest he was imprisoned in Geraldton awaiting trial but after two weeks he picked the lock in an exercise yard and escaped to freedom. He once again returned to the North Midlands and recommenced his bushranging ways - taking whatever he needed from districts along the Midland and Wongan railway lines. Police heavily pursued him, as he now had escaping custody added to his charges, but he was cunning enough to stay out of their reach. He stole horses, often taking the same valuable ones multiple times, took saddles and food, and killed and ate livestock. He raided private homes and regularly jumped on trains, threw out crates of goods and then went back along the tracks to go through them and take what he wanted.

Police caught up with him many times but were mostly unsuccessful at catching him. While on horseback and being pursued by police his hat is said to have blown off, so he circled back, got off the horse, picked up his hat, back on and as usual got away. On another occasion it was said that police found his camp where he was cooking a chicken. He fled and the police followed but lost him so decided they may as well enjoy the cooked chook. When they got back to his camp he had already circled back and taken the chook. He was once caught and handcuffed to a tree but when police returned to get him there was no sign of him or the handcuffs. Police, farmers and even his own father kept watch on items they knew he'd try and take - and he generally did take them but would get away!

After five months on the run he was recaptured in Perenjori on 10 November 1922. A few days later he escaped from the police lock-up in Buntine. Police from a few centres were called in to try and find him and a few days later he was recaptured in Carnamah. In Geraldton he was sentenced on charges of stealing, improperly using horses and escaping custody. His offences were spread along the Midland Wongan railway lines and up into the Murchison goldfields. Police had about 45 further charges which were not pursued.

From the diary of Coorow farmer Ernest A. Long - in which he made a note at the top of a page about Thomas' capture. The section of the diary was otherwise devoted solely to the recording of agricultural work.

For more on our local bushranger, see the online exhibition 10863 Bushranger or his entry in our Biographical Dictionary.


patrick Cornish said...

Bushranger..... terrific story.... keep it up, carnamah...

Patrick Cornish
RWAHS newsletter, History West

Anonymous said...

"improperly using horses " ...!