Almanac Poetry: Bushranger Harry Power

Bushranger Harry Power
(Henry Johnson 1819-1891)


Harry Power was a blusterer
who robbed with threats
he’d never have carried out.
He would turn from intended victims
and pray out loud, theatrically,
“Please Lord,
let this fellow give me his goods,
for I do not wish to shoot him.”
Though Harry, it must be said,
was always polite to women,
showering them with elaborate,
old-fashioned compliments.
He would play upon his age.
“I hope you’ll excuse me madam,”
he’d say, while pocketing their jewellery.
“I’m just an old man,
trying to make a living.”
He was also a great bushman, horseman,
in spite of painful bunions
and irritable bowels,
and claimed credit for teaching
a young Ned Kelly
the art of bushranging life,
reportedly saying at one hold up,
nodding towards the nervous boy,
“Excuse the lad,
he’s only learning the game.”
But later Old Harry never lost a chance
to criticize his apprentice,
many said because the latter
became much better known.


Though comical in many ways,
Harry Power was a survivor.
Youthful convict in Van Diemen’s Land,
Victorian Goldfields raconteur,
hard time in the hulks and Pentridge,
then bushranging in the High Country,
followed by another stretch
attending the Bluestone College.
Finally, Harry got an honest job,
telling lies as the “oldest living bushranger”
aboard the prison hulk Success,
which had become a museum.
Tourist flocked to see him,
and he loved being centre-stage.
But on holidays, near Swan Hill,
he fell into the Murray and drowned,
hardly a fitting conclusion
for a colourful show-off like Harry,
“the man who taught Ned Kelly.”



Harry Power. Source: Wikicommons



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Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, was published in late 2020 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.


  1. Kevin, have you ever been to Power’s Lookout, with its majestic views across the valleys and outcrops below.

    It’s a bumpy, cross country, drive off the Mansfield-Whitfield Road.


  2. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Glen. I’ve been in the general area, but not specifically to the place itself – though I have seen various drawings and photographs of the lookout and its wonderful views. As I’m sure you’d agree, connected to this, the capture of Power by Superintendent Hare and Co, and the Quinn family’guardian peacock, is definitely one worth telling in verse.

  3. Fantastic Kevin. Some fabulous lines in here.

    I didn’t know that Harry met his end in the Murray. He would have been a very interesting character.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Dips.

    Harry Power was so interesting and amusing in many ways. His life is worth a full-length biography (as far as I know there isn’t one) and/or a bunch a major poems.

    In 1870, after being sentenced to his final prison term of fifteen years hard labour for robbery under arms, he is supposed to have left Beechworth Court with a smile on his face, considering himself lucky not to have been sentenced to death, saying something like “Obviously there is no profit in highway robbery.”

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