Francis Henry William Thomas Winifred Brownrigg Peter Welsh Thomson Margaret Jean Caldow /Hodsdon Frederick Edward Senior James Roger Francis Wyman Clark Richard Robertson Patricia Mae Mulligan Joachim Dido

Biographical Dictionary - Coorow, Carnamah, Three Springs


"Frank" Francis Henry William THOMAS

Born 4 July 1896 in Greenough, Western Australia [40]
Son of "Frank" Francis Henry Reeves THOMAS and Beulah Emily CRIPPIN [40]
His grandfather Joseph CRIPPIN had arrived in Western Australia as a convict under the alias of James OSBORNE in 1861 [20] [21] [107]
Initially resided with his parents and elder siblings on farmland on the Back Flats in Greenough [40]
Resided with his parents on Coorow Station in Coorow 1903-1910 and then on Jun Jun Farm in Coorow from 1910 [19] [31] [44] [50]
      He was fast runner and quick mover [P483] who came from a well-respected family of the Coorow district [P32]
      Farmed Jun Jun Farm in Coorow with his father and elder brother "Jack" John Fitzgerald THOMAS [P15]
      He was described by some as "an absolute gentleman" who hadn't been given the same opportunities as his brother [P482]
He was accused of stealing food from the railway station yard in Carnamah, pleaded innocent but was sentenced by police [P10]
     Following his conviction he said in future the government would have to support him [P10]
     Alternatively it was stated that his brother received a good education and to his anger he didn't, after which he "went bush" [P300]
     Yet another attribution was that he had been treated badly by his father [P17]
     He was "a local boy gone wrong" who had "got somehow on the wrong side of the police, and had taken to the bush" [P5]
Settlers, storekeepers, tradesmen and railway officials along the Midland Railway line complained to police about thefts [39: 14-Jan-1920]
     In time it became known he was responsible, and his crimes were reported to have begun around December 1918 [39: 14-Jan-1920]
     He regularly stole food, clothes, blankets and horses from Coorow, Carnamah and surrounding districts [P10] [P15]
     It was reported in the press that he "went about from district to district, living on the proceeds of his unlawful traffic" [39: 14-Jan-1920]
     He raided railway sidings and homes, and took horses which he let loose after riding them for as far as he wanted to go [39: 14-Jan-1920]
     Among the items he stole from a farmhouse on one occasion included meat, potatoes, onions and milk [39: 14-Jan-1920]
     It was said that he also stole sheep which he killed, cooked and ate [39: 14-Jan-1920]
     He is said to have operated as such along the Midland Railway Company's railway line but also the Wongan Hills railway line [P300]
     After a period of time it was known he was responsible but "he was cunning enough to elude all efforts to capture him" [39: 14-Jan-1920]
     Locally he became known as "Thomas the Bushranger" and "Frank Thomas the Bushranger" [P10]
     He was constantly sought after by police but rarely caught [P10] and was "the most talked about topic in the district" [P300]
     His ability to elude capture was attributed to him having grown up locally and that he knew every inch of the country [39: 14-Jan-1920]
     Despite his crimes he was often wrongly blamed for stolen or missing livestock in the Coorow and Carnamah districts [P15]
     "To the womenfolk he was behind every bush, they felt unable to cope" while "men just swore about what a pest he'd become" [P5]
     Details of his crimes in Winchester were given to local Justice of the Peace, Louis P. PARKER, who relayed them to police [P5]
One of his regular habits was to jump on goods trains and when in a quiet stretch to throw out cases of goods [39: 14-Jan-1920]
     He'd then later return to the side of the railway tracks, go through them, take what he wanted and leave the rest there [39: 14-Jan-1920]
     Items he didn't like including whiting, sauce, vinegar, boot polish, essence, pickles and glassware were found by the tacks [39]
     It was also stated he'd go through the contents on the train and throw canned food out, and then go back and collect it later [P15]
     On one occasion opened cases from a recent train were found at small clearing in the scrub at Winchester [P5]
     From the opened cases all the food had been taken but remaining were items such as corsets for Mrs Mathilve HÄUSSLER [P5]
He was aided in eluding police by some local people who believed he was being harshly targeted by police [P17]
     This included the WAITE family of Latham who'd tell him to sleep in their stables and they'd pretend they hadn't seen him [P482]
Stories of his exploits became imbedded in local folklore with a degree of hearsay as to which were fact and which fiction [P6]
     On one occasion police are said to have come upon his camp where he was cooking a chicken on a fire [7: page 49]
         He took off and they followed in hot pursuit but he got away from them so they decided to go back and eat the cooked chook [7]
         When they arrived back he had already doubled back and taken the chook [7]
     Constable "Charlie" Carl F. W. KROSCHEL of Three Springs is said to have captured him and handcuffed him to a tree [P6]
          Charlie left him there, on the west side of the Mulliah / Yarra Yarra Lakes, likely while he went to secure assistance [P6]
          When the constable returned he was nowhere to be seen - to the amazement of the constable and many others [P6]
          Apparently when he was later caught he still had the handcuffs on his arms, but no one could work out how he'd done it [P6]
     One moonlit night his father is said to have hung some mutton up in a shed and knew his son was in the area [P15]
          His father kept watch on the mutton expecting and waiting for his son to take it, however it seemed to no avail [P15]
          His father dozed off for a moment near dawn and when he woke there was no sign of the mutton [P15]
     While being chased on horseback by police one day his hat fell off, however he circled around a hill, and back to the hat [P32]
          He jumped off his horse, picked up his hat, got back on the horse and as usual managed to get away [P32]
     Constable KROSCHEL reputedly locked the railway station yard in Carnamah which was well fenced with large white gates [P6]
          He is said to have then stolen KROSCHEL's horse from within the yards and jumped over the gates [P6]
          It was a feat as apparently no one believed a horse would be able to jump over the gates, least of all KROSCHEL's horse [P6]
     Mrs Kate C. GARTH travelled into the Carnamah townsite by horse and buggy one day, and her horse shied at something [7: page 49]
          When she got to town and said what had happened a storekeeper said she should be thankful as "the bushranger" was about [7]
     On one occasion a racehorse had arrived in Carnamah and was at the stockyards of the railway station [7: page 49]
          The story goes that the police watched the horse as they knew he was about and that he'd probably try and steal it [7]
          He still managed to steal the horse, named Karara Boy, and after tracking him to Perenjori they found the horse [7]
     Mrs Ettie PARKER thought she heard whip cracks as a horse galloped behind her home at 5 Macpherson Street, Carnamah [P6]
          The noise, it was said, was in fact Constable KROSCHEL shooting at him [P6]
     Mrs E. Maude W. GREENWOOD of Waddy Forest carried a matchbox of pepper when out in case she encountered a bushranger [5]
          Her theory was that she "would be a missing quantity by the time the bushranger stopped sneezing" [5: 18-Apr-1947]
     There were stories that meetings were held at Winchester to discuss how best to capture him but he listened in from underneath [P6]
     It was also said that in one instance when he was being searched for that he was up a tree watching the search [P300]
     Apparently he often poked his finger through packaged food to see what it was and if he'd like it, as he couldn't read [P6]
He was successfully captured on 29 December 1919, after twelve months living the life of "an audacious thief" [39: 14-Jan-1920]
     He was captured by Constable "Charlie" Carl F. W. KROSCHEL of Three Springs and Constable PIKE of Moora [9: 16-Jan-1920]
     At the time of his capture and arrest he was in possession of a quantity of stolen goods and a stolen horse [9: 16-Jan-1920]
     He was interviewed by the Criminal Investigation Department on 6 January 1920, at which time he gave a voluntary statement [39]
     On 10 January 1920 in Geraldton pleaded guilty to 11 charges of stealing, two of unlawful possession and unlawfully using a horse [9]
     The Resident Magistrate in Geraldton sentenced him to two years imprisonment with hard labour [9: 16-Jan-1920] [39: 14-Jan-1920]
After being released from his two year jail sentence he returned to Coorow in 1922 and was soon wanted by the police [10: 12-May-1922]
     He was said to have stolen three lots of groceries at Marchagee on 6 March, and two lots in Winchester on 25 April [86: 21-Nov-1922]
He was accused of stealing a horse and two cases of stores from a railway truck in Three Springs [39: 12-May-1922] [120:18-May-1922]
     He was pursued by Constable Carl F. W. KROSCHEL of Three Springs and a Constable MATTHEWS [10: 12-May-1922]  [39: 12-May-1922]
     The two constables, through freezing weather, had searched and chased him for about two weeks before finally catching him [10]
     With an Aboriginal tracker the constables followed tracks from the railway siding in Winchester to nine miles north of Coorow [39]
     The tracks got obliterated by rain, but they later picked up more which led them to a camp of a fire and some of the stolen stores [39]
     Tracks from the camp were followed to another camp about 16 miles east of Coorow, from which they saw smoke from a fire [39]
     The constables charged the bush but the closest they got was to see him gallop away on a horse and follow him for six miles [39]
     He leapt off his horse, got the saddle and bridle, and got over a dog-proof fence and then escaped into the bush [39]
     After searching the constables found him sleeping under a quantity of bags in a stable on a farm, and he was arrested [39]
     He made no attempt at resisting arrest and was removed to the goal in Geraldton in early May 1922 [39: 10-May-1922]
     The Moora Herald And Midland Districts Advocate reported him as the "Coorow bread and butter bushranger" [10: 10-May-1922]
     The West Australian later reported he'd "earned notoriety... as the result of being chased across country by police" [39: 2-Jun-1922]
     At the time of his arrest, which was during the first few days of May 1922, he was "Wanted" on various charges [39: 4-May-1922]
     He was arrested on nineteen charges of stealing and seven charges of unlawfully using horses [81: 12-N ov-1922]
He was in the lock-up at Geraldton awaiting trial when after about two weeks he escaped on the afternoon of 23 May 1922 [39: 2-Jun-1922]
     When the lock-up keeper realised he was missing they found an exit from the exercise yard was open with its lock picked [39]
     Once clear of Geraldton he is said to have raided districts between the Midland and Wongan Hills railway lines [39: 15-Nov-1922]
     He was a brilliant horseman and for almost six months stole valuable horses and considerable quantities of stores [39: 15-Nov-1922]
     He stole a horse from a lady at a shop in Perenjori, after which she came out with a shotgun if she heard a noise at night [7: page 49]
He was fond of fine horses and would help himself to the best in the district [P32]
     Stole the well bred horse Brylass which had recently been purchased by William G. MORCOMBE of Waddy Forest [P32]
     Mounted police soon arrived on the scene and with the help of an Aboriginal tracker were able to follow his tracks [P32]
     After a couple of days they found Brylass exhausted at a neighbour's property where he had taken another horse [P32]
     He stole MORCOMBE's horse Brylass several time so Will made a separate little yard for the horse right against his house [P32]
     Will also kept a 22 firearm beside him to protect the horse, however he still managed to steal it without waking anyone [P32]
In Carnamah on 18 October 1922 he stole William A. LEDGARD's horse, saddle and bridle [86: 21-Nov-1922]
     He rode LEDGARD's horse to a standstill and then abandoned it, and left the saddle and bridle unfindable in the bush [86]
Agricultural Bank inspector John RHORS purchased a blood mare horse from Wagin and yarded it at Perenjori [86: 21-Nov-1922]
     He was said to have stolen the horse the first night and rode it to Field's Find and Wurarga in the Murchison goldfields [86]
     He abandoned the horse in an almost broken condition at Wurarga, with the horse expected to never be the same again [86]
     Constable WREFORD tracked him from Perenjori all the way to Field's Find but was unable to move as quickly [86]
     At Wurarga he was believed to have jumped on a train and got off it in Pindar where he broke into railway sheds [86]
     From the railway sheds in Pindar he took things from eleven cases of supplies and then left on a stolen bicycle [86]
     Police from Mullewa found the bicycle abandoned in the bush with a broken chain [86]
     He next raided huts of railway fettlers at Undatarra where he took money and other items including one man's only white shirt [86]
Police made many fruitless attempts to recapture him [39: 20-Nov-1922] while he "pursued the career of a bushranger" [39: 13-Nov1922]
     After 140 days on the run he was recaptured by Constable WREFORD in Perenjori on Friday 10 November 1922 [39: 13 & 15-Nov-1922]
     His recapture on 10 November 1922 was noted at the top of one of the pages of the diary of Coorow pioneer Ernest A. LONG [168]
     He was taken to Buntine and imprisoned at the lock-up there until he could be taken back to Geraldton [303: 21-Nov-1922]
     Constable WREFORD took a much needed rest after placing him in the lock-up as he'd had practically no sleep for three days [86]
Within very little time he escaped from the lock-up in Buntine and was once again on the run [39: 14, 15 & 21-Nov-1922] [303: 21-Nov-1922]
     He used his coat to pull down some of the wire in the yard of the lock-up in Buntine, and then pulled it down [86: 21-Nov-1922]
     The West Australian newspaper called him "A Bird of Freedom" on account of his multiple escapes from custody [39]
     His pursuits were reported in The Western Argus newspaper in Kalgoorlie under the catchcry of "A Slipper Prisoner" [303: 21-Nov-1922]
     The Geraldton Guardian newspaper reported "Thomas at Liberty Again - Breaks Free at Buntine" [86: 14-Nov-1922]
     It was speculated he'd lead a long chase as he was an accomplished bushman and was capable of enduring fatigue [86: 14-Nov-1922]
     Days later his tracks led to near Perenjori with police from Mingenew, Three Springs and Goomalling searching for him [39]
He was about to take a horse, saddle, bridle and stores from a camp in Latham on 13 November when the owner returned [86: 21-Nov-1922]
     Being surprised he took off on the horse leaving the saddle and bridle behind, and then stole a rifle and cartridges in Coorow [86]
     It wasn't believed he would use the rifle against anyone, and he hid them in the bush but later wouldn't reveal whereabouts [86]
Stole a horse from Donald MACPHERSON in Carnamah on 15 November 1922, credited as using an "ingenious method" [86: 21-Nov-1922]
     He went to where the horses took their evening drink and emptied their water trough so they'd hang around for water [86]
     He then put half a bucket of water in the trough and while the thirsty horse drank he caught it with rope taken off the bucket [86]
Police from other centres joined the search and on 16 November 1922 they heard that he was in the Carnamah district [39: 20-Nov-1922]
     Constables MILLS and Silvanus REYNOLDS proceeded from Mingenew by car and kept a watch on the Carnamah railway station [39]
     After the Perth express train passed through he entered a shed where one of them was watching and he was called to surrender [39]
     He bolted with the two constables in hot pursuit and after a chase of about 300 yards they caught up to him and he was arrested [39]
     It was said that when the constable yelled he dropped a box of groceries he was about to steal and fell over the points charger [P300]
     The fall was said to have injured him and he was caught behind Henry PARKIN's premises in Yarra Street, Carnamah [P300]
     He apparently had with him a saddle and bridle that he had stolen from Carnamah farmer "JK" James K. FORRESTER [P300]
The West Australian
newspaper labelled him a "Fugitive from Justice" [39: 15-Nov-1922]
     The paper remarked that his bushranging exploits were almost of "equally excellent material" as that of the historic Kelly gang [39]
     The Sunday Times headed their story "Thomas'... Sensational Capture at Carnamah - Surrendered at Revolver's Point" [81: 26-Nov-1922]
He was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment in Geraldton on Saturday 18 November 1922 [81: 26-Nov-1922]
    Two days later, on Monday 20 November 1922 he was given another 13 months imprisonment, making a total of 25 months [81]
     He pleaded guilty to charges of stealing in the Midland and Victoria districts, improperly using horses and of escaping custody [39]
     The charge for which he was awaiting trial in Geraldton when he'd escaped was withdrawn at the request of the police [86: 21-Nov-1922]
     The police only took out ten charges against him but had a further 45 for which they chose not to pursue [86: 21-Nov-1922]
     His defence claimed he needed special consideration as "he had never really had a chance in life"  and couldn't read or write [39]
     He'd never had an incentive to learn and had inclinations to take what he needed and get away from those who chased him [39]
     The magistrate declared he'd previously been imprisoned for 18 months which should have taught him not to do such things [39]
     If the suggestion were made to send him to an Aboriginal settlement in the North-West, the magistrate said he would support it [39]
     There were about a further 45 charges against him which police didn't proceed with [39: 21-Nov-1922]
After being caught for the last time he was imprisoned at the Claremont Asylum for the Insane and remained there until his death [P17]
Died 23 April 1960; buried at the Karrakatta Cemetery in Perth, Western Australia (Roman Catholic, ZE, 470) [2]
Visual artist Di Taylor created a series of artworks on his life in her role as artist-in-residence of the North Midlands Project in 2017 [P1]
     The artworks, combined with stories from his life, culminated in the exhibition 10863 Bushranger presented by Act-Belong-Commit [P1]
     10863 Bushranger was launched at The Bank Gallery Space at 8 Macpherson Street in Carnamah during September 2017 [P1]
     After Carnamah the exhibition toured to the Sunshine Festival in Geraldton and to the historic Fremantle Prison in Perth [P1]
     The exhibition was seen by over 23,000 people in 2017 and is now available online at [P1]
     Included in the online exhibition is the song Hold on to Your Horse, written about Frank by WA singer-songwriter Ashlea Reale [P1]

From The Midlands Advertiser newspaper, Friday 27 February 1920:
[The Editor does not necessarily identify himself with the opinions expressed by correspondents]
To the Editor.
     Sir.—I notice in your issue of 16th January, a report of the capture of I my son, F. H. Thomas, and the misdeeds he has been carrying on for the last 12 months or perhaps more, and I must say it is very true, but I regret that the report is just as one sided as it is true. Nothing more or less I would say than a police report. Its a pity we are always too ready to throw dirty water on each other. We often place scorn where pity should be fitted. Now, Mr. Editor, I must ask you to allow me a small space your esteemed columns to try and throw a little Christian light on this matter.
     Now sir, as I have remarked above, my son has been carrying on this thieving game for 12 months or more. In the first part of his little game he was only mild but as the police put some restraint on his behavior he got worse and worse in his extravagant pursuits, taking horses four or times a week, jumping trains, emptying goods out without any advantage or gain to himself any more than to get a bit of food. He even came at night and took a horse, saddle and bridle from me and very often came home at dead of night and took food from the safe of his own home whilst a fond mother lay within that would walk over an acre of hedgehogs in her bare feet to give him food had she known he was hungry.
     I went to I see my son just after the police got him. He was in a terrible state, and I asked him why he did not come home, he replied, "What's the good of going." I asked him would he not like to see his mother and he replied, "She is no good." Now sir, I think most of the people of this State will admit that the above is a true and real worded picture of a person out of his mind and this is the picture of my unfortunate son, F. H. Thomas, who was sentenced to two years hard labour, and without any Christian remark. He admitted all things that he did and perhaps things he did not do. In fact it was just like trying a child two years old, but I hope the people of this district do not think that I am of the opinion that my son should have been set free, not at all, he would certainly have gone on in the same old way. But I do think he should have received other treatment. Now that the authorities have possession of him its to be hoped they will give him such treatment as will make up for what was lacking at Three Springs, and I believe they will. It is said every mar is an asset to the State. He is a fine man and worth a little trouble. I must add my son has been very peculiar all his life. Maybe the complaint is coming to a head now and on the turn to recovery and I hope he will get such treatment as will help him along in that direction. Trusting you will publish the above and thanking you in anticipation.
     I am yours etc., F. H. THOMAS. Coorow, 20-1-1920."

From The West Australian newspaper, Wednesday 15 November 1922:
A Fugitive from Justice
     The career of the Kelly gang and their decline and fall, is a memorable episode in Australian history, but the chronicler of Australian bushranging may find almost equally excellent material in the exploits of Francis Henry Thomas. On May 23 this man effected a dramatic escape from the Geraldton Gaol, where he was awaiting trial on charges of theft. As soon as he was clear of Geraldton Thomas, who is a brilliant horseman, executed a number of raids on camps pitched at various points between the Wongan Hills and Midland railway lines, stealing valuable horses and considerable quantities of stores.
     On Friday last he was recaptured by the police at Perenjori, and was being escorted to Geraldton when he again escaped custody, near the township of Buntine. Chief Inspector McKenna has now received information that Constable Wreford has followed the man's tracks to a point eight miles from Perenjori, and that police parties from Three Springs, Goomalling, and Mingenew are searching the district in the hope of discovering the hiding-place of the fugitive."

Reference:  Carnamah Historical Society & Museum and North Midlands Project, 'Francis Henry William Thomas' in Biographical Dictionary of Coorow, Carnamah and Three Springs, retrieved 15 April 2024 from [reference list]

Use the below form or email

Comment, memory or story about this person
Suggested correction or additional information
Question or general feedback
Please enter this code into the box to confirm your request.