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Image 'Attacking the mail, bushranging, NSW 1864'

TLF ID R3383

This is a coloured print, measuring 19.8 cm x 25 cm, painted by the famous colonial artist Samuel Thomas Gill (1818-80) and published in 'The Australian Sketchbook'. It shows three masked bushrangers holding up the Royal Mail coach with shotguns and muskets. Their horses are hidden in nearby shrubs. The Mail is shown crowded with alarmed passengers and pulled by startled and rearing horses. The painting has the initials 'STG' in the bottom left-hand corner, with the title, 'Attacking the mail, bushranging, NSW 1864', underneath.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset is a depiction of an attack by bushrangers during the gold rush era of the 1850s to the 1870s - roads from the gold fields were often plagued by bushrangers in both New South Wales and Victoria; the discovery of gold created the breeding ground for frequent activity by young Australian-born 'wild colonial Boys'; between 1862 and 1867, bushrangers killed 20 men and 20 police were wounded; during the same period, 23 bushrangers were killed or hanged.
  • It suggests that bushrangers, who regularly roamed in gangs, were often well equipped with horses and weapons - these were frequently stolen from the police or wealthy landowners; bushrangers were familiar with the country and were sometimes supported by local people.
  • It shows the Royal Mail, probably a Cobb and Co coach, painted in the red and straw of the New South Wales fleet and displaying the Royal monogram - before the banking industry gave customers the security of cheques, cash was often posted in letters and passengers often carried valuables, making the Royal Mail a favourite target for bushrangers; governments and private business interests organised ‘gold escorts’ of mounted police or hired guards.
  • It reveals that the open wagon was heavily loaded with mail and passengers, both on top and in the 'hind boot' - Cobb and Co was a mail contractor for the Postmaster-General's Departments in both NSW and Victoria (the colonial forerunners of Australia Post) and was renowned for its speed and reliability in getting the mail through on time.
  • It gives an indication of the firearms used by the bushrangers - the weapons depicted are probably pistols, Colt revolvers and shotguns; the pistol was the unreliable flintlock muzzle-loaded type and the shotgun was possibly the percussion Constabulary carbine used by police; Colt revolvers fired five shots and the Carbine was a four-shot revolving rifle; bushrangers usually carried several weapons, including knives.
  • It shows examples of colonial clothing - clothing worn by the bushrangers includes the Crimean shirt (a garment without buttons and with a wide V-neck and collar, long sleeves and slits at each side), long boots and cabbage tree hat; the passengers are in more formal attire, indicating relative affluence, with top hats, bowler hats and dress coats depicted; one passenger, seen trying to escape, is wearing a monkey jacket or type of waistcoat that was also common apparel of the times.
  • It shows that the coach was unprotected - the police forces were understaffed and poorly trained, and policemen had deserted the force in droves in the rush for gold; even protected coaches were in danger from the well-organised gangs of bushrangers: Frank Gardiner's gang robbed the Eugowra gold escort in 1862 of £14,000, at a time when a policeman's annual wage was £60.
  • It is an example of the work of S T Gill that depicts colonial life in the mid-19th century - after becoming bankrupt in South Australia, Gill tried prospecting in Victoria but found he could make a better living working at his art; for 15 years he recorded the lives and occupations of people on the gold fields before spending eight years in Sydney; his many artworks provide an insight into the lives of the pioneers.
Year level

5; 6; 7; 8; 9

Learning area
  • History

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Hamel and Ferguson
  • Organization: Hamel and Ferguson
  • Description: Author
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Samuel Thomas Gill
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements