Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Westwood (1820–1846)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

William Westwood (1820-1846), convict and bushranger, was born on 7 August 1820 and baptized on 27 August at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Manuden, Essex, England, one of several children of James Westwood, labourer, and his wife Ann. William learned to read and write and became an errand boy. He had previously served twelve months for highway robbery when he was tried on 3 January 1837 at the Essex Quarter Sessions, Colchester, for stealing a coat. Sentenced to transportation for fourteen years, he reached Sydney on 9 July 1837 in the Mangles. He had a ruddy complexion, brown hair, dark grey eyes and various scars.

Assigned to Phillip Parker King, Westwood was sent to his station, Gidley, near Bungendore, where the overseer ill-treated him and provided insufficient food and clothing. On 19 April 1838 Westwood was sentenced to six months imprisonment for stealing wheat. Sent back to his master, he escaped but was quickly recaptured and received fifty lashes on 4 February 1839. From September 1840 Westwood 'was out 7 Months in the bush under Arms'. Known as 'Jackey Jackey', he roamed the Southern District, eluding capture by retreating to mountain hideouts and riding long distances in a very short time. He stole horses, money, clothes, provisions and arms, but never hurt his victims and was courteous towards women. On one occasion he held up the mail, took £200 and spent a month in Sydney, staying at a hotel in George Street. Old hands remembered him as 'the gentleman bushranger'.

At Berrima on 15 April 1841, Westwood was tried for robbery with firearms and stealing a mare, and was sentenced to transportation for life. Although in chains, he escaped from the Stonequarry (Picton) lock-up on the way to Sydney and hid up a tree. The Australian commented that the 'cool intrepidity and daring of this man is astonishing . . . he is moreover well-dressed, assumes all disguises'. Recaptured in mid-July, he was held in the prison on Cockatoo Island, Port Jackson, until transported to Van Diemen's Land in the Marian Watson.

Reaching Hobart Town on 8 March 1842, Westwood was sent to Port Arthur. He twice absconded that year and twice received 100 lashes. On a third occasion he escaped from Port Arthur—this time by swimming across the channel; his companions were eaten by sharks. On 7 November 1843 he was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour, with three months in solitary confinement. Next year W. T. Champ, the new commandant, promoted Westwood to his boat crew. After the crew had rescued two men from drowning, the lieutenant-governor approved of the removal of Westwood from Port Arthur in May 1845 to serve six months probation at Glenorchy. Habit was too strong: on 4 September 1845 he was tried in the Hobart Supreme Court for robbery, 'being armed whilst illegally at large'. As he had not harmed anyone, the death sentence was commuted to transportation for life to Norfolk Island.

Instructed by the British government to impose strict discipline, Joseph Childs, commandant of Norfolk Island, ordered the secret removal of the prisoners' 'tins and knives, and other utensils for cooking their food'. The next morning, 1 July 1846, Westwood led a mutiny and killed an overseer and three constables before being overpowered by the military. In the condemned cell he was befriended by the religious instructor Thomas Rogers who encouraged him to write (or dictate) an account of his life—Rogers, as 'Peutetre', published it in the Australasian in 1879. Sentenced to death with twelve others, Westwood was hanged on 13 October 1846. Although he was in communion with the Church of England, he was buried in unhallowed ground. Westwood had written to his parents, sending them a lock of his hair, and also to a clergyman: 'Sir, out of the bitter cup of misery I have drank from my 16th year,—ten long years—and the sweetest draught is that which takes away the misery of a living death; . . . all will then be quiet--no tyrant will then disturb my repose, I hope'.

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Boxall, The Story of the Australian Bushrangers (Lond, 1899)
  • R. Nixon Dalton, Colonial Era Cemetery of Norfolk Island (Syd, 1974)
  • G. Dick, The Bushranger of Bungendore (Bungendore, NSW, 1979)
  • ‘Correspondence on the Subject of Convict Discipline and Transportation’, Parliamentary Papers (Great Britain), 1847, vol 48, p 174
  • Canberra Historical Journal, Sept 1975, p 92
  • Australasian, 20 Apr 1841, p 2, 27 May 1841, p 2
  • 1 Feb 1879, p 134, 8 Feb 1879, p 166, 15 Feb 1879, p 199, 22 Feb 1879, p 231
  • Hobart Town Courier, 2 Sept 1842, p 3, 6 Sept 1845, p 3
  • Hobart Town Advertiser, 7 Oct 1843, p 3, 6 Sept 1845, p 3
  • Britannia (Hobart), 5 Nov 1846, p 3, 4 Apr 1847, p 4, 29 Apr 1847, p 4
  • CSO 20/2/64, CSO 22/19/779, ff 1-5, and Con 55/1, p 597, no 3035 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Index to New South Wales Convicts, 1788-1843, fiche 727, p 95.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Westwood, William (1820–1846)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Jackey Jackey

7 August, 1820


13 October, 1846 (aged 26)
Norfolk Island, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: theft
Sentence: 14 years