Almanac Poetry: Jack Bradshaw and ‘Lovely’ Riley

Jack Bradshaw. A photograph he supplied to the Truth newspaper (Sydney), appearing 22 October, 1933. (Source: TROVE NLA online newspapers.)


Jack Bradshaw and ‘Lovely’ Riley


First, Jack Bradshaw.
Early life:
born Dublin, 1846,
arrived Australia, 1860,
wandered outback New South Wales,
carnival showman,
farm labourer
professional footrunner,
petty thief,
confidence trickster,
complete failure
in early attempts at bank robbery.


‘Lovely’ Riley:
year of birth: unknown
place of birth: unknown
professional boxer
other early pursuits: unknown.


Bradshaw teamed with Riley
in the late 1870s
to bungle badly
more robberies.
They were more like a bad vaudeville act
than a duo to be feared.
Example: they captured a bank
in Coolah, New South Wales,
but were driven off empty handed
by a nurse attending the manager’s wife.
Seemingly, their run of outs
ended in May, 1880
when they got 2000 pounds
from the Quirindi bank.
As its manager stabled his horse for the night,
they burst in brandishing pistols
and forced him to open the safe.
But Riley couldn’t help bragging
about what the pair had done.
He asked a barber to shave his head
which, he proudly claimed,
would alter his appearance
as he was ‘one of the men
who robbed that bank last week’.
When arrested, Bradshaw couldn’t conceal
disgust at his muddle-headed mate.
‘Riley’, he bemoaned,
‘left a trail behind him like a black snake’.
The pair served eight years for their trouble.
The partnership was done.


Jack Bradshaw’s later career:
in and out of jail
for various minor crimes
until the new century’s early years,
tent show performer,
singer and dictator of books,
all based on largely imagined tales
about his bushranging life.
There was hardly a well-known bushranger
he hadn’t met, or ridden with,
or didn’t know the ‘true facts’ about.
Towards the end, he believed
his own vivid mythology.
He died in a Sydney nursing home
in the 1930s.


‘Lovely’ Riley:
later career: unknown
year of death: unknown
place of death: unknown.



(Acknowledgement: previously appeared in Kevin Densley’s third poetry collection, Orpheus in the Undershirt, Ginninderra Press, 2018.)



Read more from Kevin Densley HERE


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Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His work has appeared in print in Australia, the UK and the USA, as well as on many online venues. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (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. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose.


  1. DBalassone says

    I like how you retell these bushranger/outlaws stories. It seems that Bradshaw and Riley were the Laurel and Hardy of the Outback. I do wonder what happened to Riley.

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for the comments Damian

    I think “the Laurel and Hardy of the outback’ is an eccellent fit for these guys.

    Years after I wrote this poem, I found out that ‘Lovely’ Riley was still alive and getting onto trouble in the 1920s – his real surname was Mulholland, as I tecall

  3. Kevin Densley says

    Oops, a few typos above – my fingers combined with a mobile phone keyboard!

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