Johnny Campbell when he was captured.
Johnny Campbell when he was captured.

Part 3: The bad boys of the Burnett

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torrest Strait Islander readers are warned that the following story contains images and names of a deceased person.


This is part three of a three-part series.


THE South Burnett has a rich and wonderful pioneering history that is often celebrated across the region.

Virtually the only part of our illustrious history that is rarely celebrated is the dishonourable but nevertheless spectacular roles played by our bushrangers - the bad boys of the Burnett.

The last of the turbulent trio was an Aboriginal man known as Johnny Campbell.

He's not as well-known as another bushranger who was also hanged in 1880.

But his career was as interesting as the famous bushranger's and he has been called - then and since - an Aboriginal Ned Kelly.

Campbell's real name was Kagariu, possibly a Kabi word for kookaburra.

He lived in the days when squatters were taking up runs in the Wide Bay and Burnett districts, and there was a rumour that when he was a baby, his father was shot for stealing sheep.



Part 1: The bad boys of the Burnett
Part 2: The bad boys of the Burnett


As a young man he acquired a reputation as a courageous horseman who could ride securely on the wildest horse.

However, about 1864 or 1865, Campbell was accused of sexually assaulting the five-year-old daughter of a Manumbar shepherd known as Tom.

Campbell and an associate called Billy robbed the shepherd's hut and rode off.

After an absence of two years, Campbell returned to live with his family in the home paddock at Manumbar.

He was given the benefit of the doubt on account of his horse-breaking skills.

There are various reports that a few people at the time thought he started his life of crime "by being blamed for an assault he did not commit". If so, then the allegation involving Tom's daughter was probably it.

A somewhat better-attested story has Campbell starting his career of crime with an attack on a shepherd's wife at Manumbar - that shepherd being the earlier-named Tom.

If the shepherd had thought Campbell guilty of the earlier offence, it seems strange that he would get Campbell to mind the sheep while he left his wife behind and went to buy supplies.

The story goes that after Campbell took the sheep out, he reappeared at 10am and made "indecent advances" to Tom's wife and allegedly assaulted her, although the full extent of the assault was not divulged in public.

Serious assault or hysterical over-reaction we'll never know, but Campbell headed for Nanango, where he stole a horse, and then abducted an Aboriginal-Chinese girl from Gayndah.

On his way back in the direction of Manumbar, he stayed for a day or two at Bonara Station, where he was captured in 1872.

Campbell was tried at Maryborough and sentenced to 10 years for assault and attempted rape.

He was released for good behaviour after seven years in about June of 1879, and immediately headed for his old haunts.

There are interesting but unverified stories about his state of mind after his release from jail - it's suggested that Campbell swore revenge.

Between June 19, 1879 and March 15, 1880, when he was captured, Campbell terrified the people of Southeast Queensland.

His raids were centred on Kilkivan but ranged far and wide.

His modus operandi was generally to wait until a hut or homestead was deserted or the woman of the house was alone and he'd rob it.

He occasionally had help from, and several times was protected by Kabi people.

Campbell was armed with a rifle and was claimed to be a crack shot, but he only shot at someone once during his nine-month rampage.

He exploited his intimate knowledge of the topography and his great bushcraft to evade capture again and again.

One ploy involved walking along the tops of the post-and-rail fences in order not to leave tracks.

He often travelled at night and sent out a companion - usually a female - as a forward scout. Until almost the very end, police and trackers were unable to pin Campbell down.

Campbell began with a series of raids on houses in late June.

By mid-July, many robberies later, several police had been thrown into the chase.

In early August, he robbed an Aboriginal, and many of his kin were growing tired of his demands for hospitality and help.

Through the rest of August and September, more homestead raids and attempted raids occurred from Gympie to Kilcoy.

In February of 1880, fatefully, he was about 30 miles south of Kilcoy at Kipper Creek, where he came to the farmhouse of the Stewart family.

Flora McDougall Stewart was alone with her 14-year-old sister, Jane Macalister, and her two young children.

Campbell asked for matches, chatted to the women and Mrs Stewart gave him a bag for shelter as it started to rain.

At this point, the stories diverge.

Campbell said he had been solicited by young Jane Macalister, however the court said he raped her.

He was captured on March 15, 1880. Two days later, the captured bushranger was sent to Gympie by Cobb & Co and placed in the lockup.

Campbell's long-time pursuer, Constable King, visited Campbell in the lockup and the following dialogue is supposed to have occurred.

King: "Hello, you black bastard. We have got you at last".

Campbell: "Hello, you white bastard. You couldn't get me, I was too good for you".

King was determined to get the better of Campbell and tried to throw him to the ground.

Sergeant Pickering and other police had to rescue King from humiliation, as Campbell had thrown the constable to the ground and had a good grip on his throat.

From Gympie, Campbell was transferred to Maryborough for trial.

At the criminal sittings of the District Court in Maryborough on April 3, 1880, Campbell was convicted of assault and robbery and sentenced to 14 years in Brisbane Gaol.

In the meantime - it is impossible to know exactly when - news of the alleged Kipper Creek rape came to light.

Though the victim and her sister had told a neighbour, they did not immediately report the incident because, Mrs Stewart said, of the disgrace involved.

Over three days, from July 26 to 28, 1880, Campbell was tried for the rape of Jane Macalister. No chances were taken: the Chief Justice Charles Lilley presided and Virgil Power prosecuted.

Campbell was defended by Frederick Foulkes Swanwick, a maverick politician and barrister well-known as a campaigner against the death penalty.

In the second half of the last century, Queensland had a higher rate of execution than the rest of Australia, especially for rape.

The prosecution's case was based almost entirely on evidence from Mrs Stewart and Jane Macalister that Campbell pointed a pistol at Mrs Stewart, said "I want a scrape", indicating her sister, and chased her until she submitted.

The medical evidence had been inconclusive, the neighbour's evidence second-hand and some passages of the sisters' testimonies were identical.

There is also the long delay between the incident and formal complaint, which occurred after Campbell had been imprisoned in April.

After the usual review of sentence, Campbell was hanged at Brisbane Gaol on August 16. 1880, in the morning. It's said 300 Kabi people were brought down to witness it.

The Telegraph reported an "unusually large number of witnesses".

Campbell was reported to have "showed strong emotion when his hour arrived", attended by the conscientious Rev JK Black.

It's said Campbell was sullen and unafraid when he shook the executioner's hand at Boggo Road Jail before he was hanged.

In the presumed year of Campbell's birth, an interesting report appeared in the Moreton Bay Courier concerning an attack on Rosewood station in the Burnett.

Twenty or so Aboriginals approached the homestead and demanded money, tobacco and flour at spearpoint.

Their leader, who had quite good English, was among three who were shot dead.

His name was Campbell.

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