Tom Dillon, Bushranger

Thomas Dillon ( (1835 – 1887), was one of my wife’s second great-grandfathers. A late arriving convict from Ireland (Havering, 1849) he took to highway robbery around the Mudgee district of New South Wales in September 1862 in company with his wife’s half-brother John Price (aka John Snow), and possibly others.  This was about 3 months after the robbery of the gold escort coach at Eugowra by Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall and others.

Thomas Dillon 1

Thomas Dillon – Gaol Photograph

Tom’s story is well documented in a privately circulated biography by Mark Dillon, and in the contemporary newspapers, not to mention court and gaol records.

Tom does not feature in any of the standard histories of Australian bushranging. Perhaps this is because he wasn’t a very good bushranger – he made the mistake of working too close to home where he was easily identified, and his bushranging spree lasted only 2 weeks and some 5 robberies.

One man, however, had no doubt that Tom was “a daring highway robber.” In 1912, fifty years after the events, ex-Senior Sergeant Andrew Cleary recalled his recapture of Tom after one of his two escapes from Mudgee gaol.

Cleary’s testimony adds some new facts to the contemporary accounts – for example, that Tom was mounted on a racehorse called Butterfly. He also says that Tom’s revolver misfired because his cartridges had been wetted whilst fording the Castlereagh river. I think this was Tom’s lucky break – if he’d kept his powder dry the outcome may have been either death  at the hands of  Sergeant Cleary, or the hangman, if Tom had the better draw.

Here’s the full account, courtesy of the National Library of Australia’s Trove service:




In the attic room of a boarding-house in Pitt-street Redfern, lives ex-Senior Sergeant Andrew Cleary, one of the remaining few of the old police brigade who, back in the fifties, had exciting encounters with the bushrangers that infested the interior of the State….

Bushrangers Break Gaol

I remember them well. It was race day, and the gaoler went to the races, leaving the warders in charge. The bushrangers took advantage of his absence by rushing the warders, disarming them, and locking them in the cells. They then bolted taking the gaol revolvers with them. A notorious character, named Tom Dillon, was among them. He was a daring highway robber.

A little while later, I received word from Baradeen Creek that Dillon had been seen mounted on a fine racehorse named Butterfly, that had been stolen from a Mr. Lawson. The bushranger had coolly walked into Hall’s public house, (?) miles from Coonamble, and after a drink had made off in the direction of the Castlereagh River. I followed with a black man, and I found that he had swum across the river holding the revolver, which he had stolen from one of the warders, in his mouth. I gave my black man a stiff sip of whisky to give him extra pluck to swim the river.

We got across and that morning we ran him in a station where he had politely called on the pretence of buying sheep. When I rode up to the station I saw him leaning against the fence off guard. I covered him with my revolver, but he was powerless to shoot. His revolver and cartridges had got wet when he crossed the Castlereagh. I handcuffed him, and then he became wild. He smashed the handcuffs against the fence, but I said “Don’t be silly, my boy”.

For his behaviour I put another pair of iron bracelets round his wrists.  At Mudgee he got 14 years on the roads and public works of the colony.

The men we had to deal with in those days were wild enough for anything. ….

(Evening News, Thursday 22 February 1912, page 10 – question mark indicate unclear text in the Trove image)

A contemporary account of Tom’s capture  was published in The Courier (Brisbane), 11 July 1863, page 4. The article is available on the National Library of Australia’s Trove website.

Since this article was first posted, a second eyewitness account of Tom’s capture, by J. T. Blackman of “The Drip”, Cooyal, has come to light.

Tom Dillon’s story is still known around Cooyal where he lived in 1862. To find out more about how the story has travelled down the generations read the post “Bushranger Myth Making”.

(Herrmann Family History)

7 thoughts on “Tom Dillon, Bushranger

    • Thanks for reading my page. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with James so can’t help you. When searching just now I found the following, which I am sure you already know. You have very distinguished ancestors! Regards, Robert
      ” 1822
      Kitty Colebee is a student at the Parramatta Native Institution, of the Cannemegal (Warmuli) group. She marries Colebee in 1822. (Macquarie ‘s memorandanda list of natives at Native Institution 28/12/1819 ml a772 p 151) Kitty is admitted to Native Institution in 1814 at 5 yrs. After marrying Colebee the couple settle in Blacktown on a small farm of their own. They have a son Samuel, baptised RC at Richmond 1827. Both parents are said to be of the Prospect tribe. Kitty is named on the Blanket lists. Her other son is James Bowen Budsworth whose father is Englishman, Joseph Budsworth. James’ daughter is Cicely Lucy Budsworth marries Ephraim Joseph Rose, great grandson of Thomas and Jane Rose, first free settlers to arrive in Australia in 1793. Kitty and her children live around the Tamworth, Coonabarabran area. Cicely Lucy was born at Blackville near Quirindi.”


    • Hullo again Jo Anne

      I just wanted to add that Tom Dillon, the subject of my post, is no relation to the Thomas Dillon admitted to Parramatta Orphan school in 1823. Regards, Robert


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