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Bushrangers, or bush rangers, originally referred to runaway convicts in the early years of the British settlement of Australia who had the survival skills necessary to use the Australian bush as a refuge to hide from the authorities. The term "bushranger" then evolved to refer to those who abandoned social rights and privileges to take up "robbery under arms" as a way of life, using the bush as their base.[1] These bushrangers were roughly analogous to British "highwaymen" and American "Old West outlaws," and their crimes often included robbing small-town banks or coach services.


Etymology and definition

The use of the word "bushranger" evolved in Australia in the early 19th Century. The first recorded use of the term was in February 1805, when the Sydney Gazette mentioned that a cart had been stopped by three men "whose appearance sanctioned the suspicion of there being bushrangers". From this time onwards, the term was used to denote criminals who attacked people on the roads or in the bush. John Bigge described bushranging in 1821 as "absconding in the woods and living upon plunder and the robbery of orchards." Charles Darwin likewise recorded in 1835 that a bushranger was "an open villain who subsists by highway robbery, and will sooner be killed than taken alive".[2] In Tasmania, escaped convicts who became bushrangers were known as "bolters".[3]


More than 2000 bushrangers are believed to have roamed the Australian countryside, beginning with the convict bolters and drawing to a close after Ned Kelly's last stand at Glenrowan.[4]

1788 to 1840s: convict escapees

Bushranger was originally used to describe predatory escaped convicts fleeing from the early Australian penal colonies. Most turned to stealing supplies from remote settlements and travellers and fencing the stolen goods to other free settlers.

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