THE UNKNOWN BUSHRANGER
There were many famous bushrangers in Australia in the 1800’s. Most of them have found their way into Australian folklore and many of them have become associated with a certain town or area. If I list just a few I am sure that you will recognise their names.
Glenrowan in Victoria has, of course, become linked to the most famous of all; Ned Kelly. Culcairn in NSW was part of the area terrorised by Mad Dan Morgan. Ben Hall carried out many robberies around Forbes. Wagga Wagga was the stamping ground for the famous bushranger Captain Moonlight. Northern NSW and, especially the New England Tablelands, were a rich hunting area for another bushranger with an exotic name; Thunderbolt.
There were many more that were not as famous and some even that very few people have heard of. One of the least known, and certainly not famous, was William (Bill) Claud of the small town of Boiling Billy. I can hear you say, “Boiling Billy, never heard of it.” Well it was a thriving small town out beyond the black stump in the 1860’s. Sadly today it is totally deserted; no road goes there and it does not appear on any map.
William Claud, or as he was to become known as, Bumbling Bill of Boiling Billy, started his life as a criminal early. At just six years of age he stole four eggs from a neighbour’s hen house. However, whilst running home, he fell and later had to explain to his mother why he had two omelets in his trouser pockets. Many attempts at petty larceny followed, all of which either ended in tears or disaster. Just one example will suffice. While attempting to raid another neighbour’s apple tree he was bailed up by their dog, spent a terrified four hours stuck up the tree and then trying to escape tore his pants entirely off on a branch; on the way home, unfortunately, he ran into the vicar’ wife.
In his later teens he made three attempts to hold up the Cobb and Co. Coach on the main road. The first attempt failed because just as the coach approached his mother’s prune juice created an urgent need to dash into the bush. On the second attempt he managed to stop the coach but as he pulled his father’s old pistol out of his belt it caught on his shirt, discharged, and the ball took the top of his right big toe cleanly off. The third attempt was nearly successful until he attempted to fire a warning shot into the air from his newly acquired six shot colt pistol. He had forgotten to load it.
In his twenties he tried to rob the hotel in the nearby town. As a disguise he dressed as a woman in his mother’s clothes. He walked into the bar brandishing his now loaded pistol, but had to retreat in embarrassment when all the patrons fell about laughing. He had not shaved off his bushy black beard.
Later that same year he decided to hold up the local bank. He knew that this would be a dangerous enterprise and so spent months planning his strategy and building up his courage for the attempt. On the fateful day he galloped into town, dismounted with a flourish in front of the bank, only to find it locked up and the steel shutters closed. It was Saturday afternoon!
I could regale you with many tales of the daring deeds of Bumbling Bill of Boiling Billy but suffice to say that in a life spent bushranging his total gains from a life of attempted crime amounted to just one shilling and six pence halfpenny. Killed on his twenty ninth birthday, accidently shot whilst cleaning his pistol, he is buried in the local cemetery and if you can find his grave amongst the long grass and wattle bushes you will note that the only inscription is by his mother which reads, “A typical clumsy Claud just like his father!”