26. Joseph Bolitho “Moondyne Joe” Johns (c1827-1900), escapologist
Joseph Johns’ criminal career began in 1849 when he was arrested in Monmouth, Wales and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for stealing food. After four years in a British prison, he headed for Fremantle on the convict transport Pyrenees as a ticket of leave prisoner.
He eventually went to Moondyne Springs near Toodyay, where he rounded up straying horses and returned them for a fee. The number of straying horses seemed to increase with Johns’ arrival. Eventually he was charged with horsestealing but escaped from his cell and headed off on the horse he was accused of stealing, using the magistrate’s saddle and bridle.
Gradually Johns became known as “Moondyne Joe”. His life was a cycle of escapes and recaptures. Moondyne Joe made his most famous escape after he had been shackled to a specially strengthened cell. The prison doctor ordered some exercise for him on the prison rock pile, and Johns made his escape. It took police two years to apprehend him – while he sampled from a barrel at Houghton’s winery.
In his fifties Moondyne Joe married a young widow. He occasionally got into trouble but kept out of prison. He died at the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum on August 13, a confused old man making his final escape. The inscription on his tombstone “rhyddid” is Welsh, meaning “freedom”.