Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Davis, Edward (1816–1841)

by G. F. J. Bergman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Edward Davis (1816-1841), Jewish convict and bushranger, is said to have been born at Gravesend, England, but this is not certain and it is doubtful that his name was Davis. In April 1832 at the Old Bailey, under the name George Wilkinson, he was sentenced to transportation for seven years for having attempted to steal a wooden till, valued at 2s. and copper coins to the value of 5s.

He arrived in Sydney in February 1833 in the Camden and was put to work at Hyde Park Barracks. He escaped on 23 December 1833, was caught and was sentenced to a further twelve months. Obsessed by the idea that he had been wronged when he was transported and governed by an indomitable desire for freedom, he accomplished an impressive series of escapes. On 1 December 1835 he absconded from Penrith and another twelve months was added to his term. He was assigned to a farmer at Hexham, but on 10 January 1837 he ran away for a third time, and two more years were added to his sentence. He was caught, but on 21 July 1838 he absconded for the fourth time and remained at liberty. In the summer of 1839 he formed a bushranger gang in northern New South Wales. For two years his gang maintained a reign of terror from Maitland to the New England highway, in the Hunter valley and down to Brisbane Water, near Gosford. Their main lair was in Pilcher's Mountain, south of Dungog, whence they made sudden raids on townships or settlements or ambushed travellers on the road. The 'Jewboy gang', as it was soon called, although the term is not to be found in the contemporary press, consisted mainly of runaway convicts and convict servants. Nearly all the outrages committed in the lower Hunter valley at this time were ascribed to Davis's gang. It has been said of Davis that he played the part of an Australian Robin Hood and, when he stripped the rich, he went out of his way to relieve the misery of the assigned servants, to whom he distributed part of his booty. During 1840 the gang committed numberless depredations in the Quirindi, Tamworth and Maitland districts. From descriptions of their attire and behaviour and their gallantry to the ladies, it seems that they were not hardened criminals but juvenile delinquents who considered themselves chevaliers of the road. Davis bore curious tattoos and members of the gang wore gaudy clothes and tied pink ribbons to their horses' bridles.

In December 1840 the gang had seven members; Davis, John Shea, John Marshall, James Everett, Robert Chitty, Richard Glanville and an unknown seventh man. Unlike other bushrangers the gang had so far avoided murder. Davis insisted that his companions should resort to violence only for the preservation of their own liberty. The inevitable happened, however, when one of the bushrangers lost his nerve. On 21 December 1840 they entered Scone and, while Davis, Everett and Glanville bailed up the inhabitants of the St Aubin Arms, Marshall, Shea, Chitty and the seventh man went to rob Thomas Dangar's store. When the store-keeper's clerk, a young Englishman named John Graham, fired a shot, Shea killed him. Davis, realizing that now murder had been committed the game was up, assembled his men and fled to one of their hiding places, Doughboy Hollow near Murrurundi. Pursued by Captain Edward Day, with a posse of settlers and ticket-of-leave men, the gang was surprised at its hideout. The bushrangers fought in a most determined manner, Davis's ball grazed Day's ear; Davis was wounded in the shoulder. The gang, except the seventh member, who escaped, was captured and taken to Sydney gaol. On 24 February 1841 the bushrangers were committed for trial at the Supreme Court. Shea was indicted for murder, while Davis and the others were accused of aiding and abetting Shea. Davis's counsel tried to save his life by contending that as he had not been present at the murder, there could be no question of aiding and abetting, but the jury found all prisoners guilty and Chief Justice Sir James Dowling sentenced them all to death. The public sympathy that Davis enjoyed was illustrated when his many friends appealed for a reprieve, pointing out that Davis had always been averse to shedding blood. However, the Executive Council confirmed the sentence. On 16 March 1841 Davis, who was assisted by the reader of Sydney Synagogue, was hanged at the rear of the old Sydney gaol, together with his companions. Witnesses reported that 'he had been the only repentant man of them'. Davis was buried in the Jewish portion of the Devonshire Street cemetery.

Davis seems to have been the only Jewish bushranger on record. A misguided and tormented youth, he had yet preserved a certain dignity, and a moral code which might have been inspired by the Jewish teachings of his early life.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. M. Abbott, Castle Vane (Syd, 1920)
  • J. H. M. Abbott, The Newcastle Packets and the Hunter Valley (Syd, 1943)
  • B. W. Champion, 'Captain Edward Denny Day', Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 22, part 4, 1936, pp 345-57
  • G. F. J. Bergman, ‘Edward Davis: Life and Death of an Australian Bushranger’, Australian Jewish Historical Society, vol 4, part 5, 1956, pp 205-40.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

G. F. J. Bergman, 'Davis, Edward (1816–1841)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/davis-edward-1964/text2369, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 19 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Teddy the Jewboy
  • Wilkinson, George
Birth

1816
Gravesend, Kent, England

Death

16 March 1841
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation