John Patrick Duggan was born on Friday 13th April 1812 in a small village halfway between Killorglin and Tralee, County Kerry. Not far from where he was born now stands a pub named after him. He was the only son of his mother Mary and father Patrick John.
Many people think that The Great Famine of the 1840’s was a one-off affair. Far from it for there had been many smaller outbreaks of the Blight which destroyed the potato crop several times in the previous century. In 1826 one such severe blight hit the fields of Kerry causing death and destruction in many small rural areas.
His parents did all they could to provide food for their still growing 14 year-old son by collecting mushrooms, wild fruit and nuts and at times they were reduced to cooking the wild nettles from the hedgerows. There was no work for his father and times were getting bleaker by the day.
John was known by all the locals as Jack and whenever the salmon and sea-trout were running in the local river, Jack was sure to be seen trying to catch one or two before he was seen by the local bailiff. He was also very adept at catching the odd rabbit or wild goose but once again, the English landlord’s bailiff would shoot first and ask questions later if Jack was seen up to his old tricks.
Whenever Jack was successful in catching or snaring something, Mrs. Duggan was always the first to share her good fortune with her neighbours who were just as badly off as was her family.
It was mid March when Jack and his father were preparing their smallholding for the planting of a new crop of potatoes. There was a cold easterly wind blowing, which caused them fear as to when they would actually plant. Seed potatoes were like gold dust and they could not afford to get the date wrong.
From overhead there suddenly came the sound of a flight of geese heading towards the small lake about a mile away. Jack and his father were not the only ones to hear them, for so too did the Landlord’s Bailiff.
At about 9pm, Jack left the house. His parents saw him go but did not say a word to him. He had his small net and rope wrapped around his waist and he silently made his way down the inside of the hedgerow towards the lake. His eyes soon became accustomed to the dim light of twilight and he could hear the sound of the geese not far away. He took out the rope and net, lay down on the damp grass and crawled towards the water’s edge. There were two geese close to the shore and without making a sound, Jack threw the net over one of them. With that, all hell broke loose.
They say that geese make better ‘watchdogs’ than actual dogs by the noise they make and these wild ones were even noisier. As he pulled the net to shore he was aware of someone or something coming up behind him. There was a shot from a shotgun, which did not hit him, then the words he had feared of hearing for a long time. “Stand where you are Jack Duggan or the next barrel is yours” a rough voice spoke. Jack was tempted to make a run for it, or even to jump into the water, but the voice sounded only a few yards away. Within seconds, two men came up, one of whom Jack immediately recognised as the Bailiff Jones.
They tied his arms to his body and put a noose around his neck. One took the net and released the goose. They then pulled and pushed Jack towards the road. They continued about half-a-mile up the road where he was put into the back of a horse and cart and taken away.
About an hour later he was lodged at the local gaol. The next morning, he appeared before the local Magistrate, who was also the Landlord and owner of the lake and its surrounding land. The charge was read and with little ado, he was sentenced to be transported to Australia. Five other young men and one woman suffered the same fate as Jack for similar offences of stealing corn from the store, turnips and poaching.
He was detained in the local gaol for two months, until on 1st June 1826, the prison ship appeared in the bay. Again with little ado, he and the others were brought aboard and taken down below. His journey to the other side of the world would commence with the tide. Little did he know, but his broken-hearted mother and father spent the next six hours with other parents and relatives on the harbour wall until the ship sailed out to sea. None of them would ever meet again.
The journey to Australia took the best part of six weeks and it was not until they had been at sea for over a week that they were allowed up on deck to wash and have some fresh air.
On arrival at Botany Bay, they were taken ashore and ‘leased out’ to farmers and settlers. Jack went to a family called Johnston and began his journey to their homestead in the back of another horse and cart. His hands remained tied as he sat in the back of the cart. They had travelled about eight miles and were well away from the port when Mr. Johnston stopped the wagon. “Do you want a drink of water?” he asked of Jack. “If you please sir” he replied and with that Johnston untied his wrists. Jack took a large drink of water and his hands were retied. The ties were not as tight as those done by the sailors were and whilst Johnson walked towards some trees, Jack managed to untie his hands. He slid down the side of the wagon and ran as fast as his legs would carry him. He ran in the direction they were heading so as not to head back to the port.
He saw animals the like of which he had never seen before. He saw birds that were like nothing in the whole of Ireland. He even saw some natives who frightened him by their nakedness but offered him no harm. He continued running for at least two hours. When he came to a small, half-dry riverbed he rested and washed and drank. He decided to take stock of his situation. He had nothing. He did not know where he was. He did not know anything about the land he found himself in and basically he did not know what on earth he was going to do. He said three ‘Hail Mary’s’ and asked for help.
Despair was beginning to come into his thoughts when out of the brush close by, walked a white man with a pistol in his hand. “Hand it over” the voice said “Sure I have nothing to give you” Jack replied “with me just hours off the prison ship”. “Well I’ll be damned” the voice continued “sure that makes two of us. I’ve been on the run for over a year now. Jack Donohoe at your service, and you are?” Duggan heaved a sigh of relief and held out his hand “Jack Duggan” he replied, “from Castlemaine, County Kerry, in Ireland”. “Me?” Donohoe spoke softly “I’m from England myself and I’m here for doing nothing wrong”. They shook hands, then Donohoe indicated that Duggan follow him.
They worked their way through the brush to a clearing where Duggan was pleased to see a makeshift building. They entered and again he was pleased to see that there was food on a rough table. “Help yourself” Donohoe told him. Jack ate like he had not eaten for the entire sea voyage or in fact, for over a year at home.
Donohoe began to clean the pistol he had earlier. As Duggan looked on, Donohoe produced another from under a bedroll. “Know anything about guns?” he asked. “No but I am willing to learn if it helps me to get my own back on the bloody English” Duggan replied. Donohoe began to laugh. “What’s so funny?” asked Duggan. “I’m English you fool, and it’s me who has the loaded pistol”. He continued to laugh and was quickly joined by Duggan. “You know I mean the landlords and the squires” said Duggan “them and their airs and graces. I want to make them pay for what they did to my family and me”.
“Right” said Donohoe “I’m with you. Let’s make them pay with their money for fleecing the poor folk. Are you on?” he asked. “Every inch of the way” replied Duggan.
The Dooley /Donohoe partnership had begun……………..
“The first thing we have to do” Donohoe said “is to get ourselves some horses. That’s the first job. The next is to teach you how to use the gun”. For the next two days, Donohoe taught Duggan everything about the pistol but because they were short of ammunition and powder he was not allowed to fire it. “There will be plenty of time for that” he said when Duggan asked him.
On the third day, they heard and recognised the sound coming from the nearby track. On looking they saw Mr. Johnson on his horse and cart. Donohoe approached and pointed his pistol at Johnson. “Hand over your money to Bold Jack” he said. Johnson did as he was told and Duggan also took his watch. They tied him up and made off with the horse. On return to their hideout they packed their belongings and made their way further into the outback. On the way, they stole another horse from a paddock.
Over the course of the next three months they committed at least one hundred such robberies. If they found that their ‘victim’ was penniless, they always offered some small cash and some food. They would never rob anyone worse off than themselves.
They would take it in turns to do the actual robberies with one playing the part of the Highwayman whilst the other kept hidden in case of emergency. Because of this and the fact that they always used the same introduction about “Bold Jack”, people were never sure whether or not there were one or two such robbers.
They also became more daring. They realised that if they went to the outskirts of the town, there were many more potential victims. They would do the robbery then make their way to the outback and comparative safety. It was on one such outing that they came upon a wealthy looking man driving a fancy carriage with an equally fancy horse pulling it. It was Duggan’s turn to make the challenge. He approached the wagon, produced his pistol and shouted “Hand over your money to Bold Jack”. With that the man made a swift movement towards his coat pocket. Jack, fearing it was a weapon, meant to fire a shot above the man’s head but because of lack of practice, he shot him in the chest. Donohoe appeared and they took what valuables the man had and made their escape to the outback. Duggan released his own horse and took the one from the carriage.
The man, who was none other than Judge James MacEvoy from Botney Bay, was missed when he failed to turn up at Court as usual. A search party was organised, the robbery discovered and MacEvoy confirmed dead. His deputy contacted the local Military and a detachment was sent to search the area.
A couple of weeks later, the pair again decided to make their way to the outskirts of town. Duggan was well ahead on his new fancy horse. As he rounded a corner in a dried up riverbed he rode straight into a patrol of three officers. The remainder of the troop was spread around on either bank. One of the troopers recognised the description of the horse Duggan was riding. “Stand and surrender in the King’s high name” he called at Duggan. “Like hell” Jack replied and tried to turn his horse around in the narrow gorge. At the same time, he grabbed his pistol. He fired one shot at the trooper which knocked him off his horse. The other troopers had made ready and before Jack could reload his pistol, one shot at him. He missed. Jack fired at him without fully loading his weapon and sure enough, that trooper also fell to the ground. The third, knowing that Jack had little chance of reloading in time, calmly took aim and shot him through the chest. Jack Duggan died instantly.
Jack Donohoe, seeing the problem Duggan was in, did an about turn and rode away. There was little or nothing he could have done. He made his way out of the state and started a new life in a distant territory.
Of the two troopers who were shot, Kelly (a fellow Irishman) recovered. Davis died from his wound. They and the third, Fitzroy (another Irishman) were awarded high rewards for their ‘bravery’.
Jack Duggan was taken back to the township where he was buried in an unmarked grave. He was aged sixteen years and two months when he died……………