The obvious starting point in town is Connors Mill, which is also known as the Moondyne Gallery & Toodyay Tourist Centre. Built in 1870 to grind the locally grown wheat the mill has been converted into a three level tourist centre and gallery. The most interesting part of the building is undoubtedly the top level where there is a very detailed presentation of the life of the local 'hero' Moondyne Joe.
Moondyne Joe's major claim to fame is that he was Western Australia's most famous bushranger. His real name was Joseph Bolitho Johns. He was the son of a Welsh blacksmith who was transported for ten years for stealing three loaves of bread, some cheese and a piece of mutton.
Joe arrived in Perth in 1853 and became a ticket of leave man working at the tiny settlement of Moondyne. It was here that he branded an unmarked horse and was gaoled in Toodyay for the 'felony'. He managed to escape but in the process (and this is where the romance of Moondyne Joe really starts) he stole the Resident Magistrate's horse and bridle. This was the beginning of a cat and mouse game which 'Joe' and the law played for the next forty years.
He was recaptured and charged with branding the original horse, escaping from gaol and stealing the second horse and bridle. His sentence was three years. He served the three years but soon after his release was convicted of shooting a steer (he protested his innocence) and sentenced to ten years. It was this conviction, which he regarded as unfair and which prompted his escape soon after. He was recaptured and placed in irons but managed to escape again.
Around this time that Joe, leading a number of other escaped convicts, began robbing stores in the Avon Valley with a view to building up supplies to make an attempt to cross from Western Australia to the eastern colonies. On 17 September 1866 he robbed Everett's Store in Toodyay while Governor Hampton was staying in town. The robbery was notable for the fact that Joe and his compatriots managed to escape with guns, supplies, clothing, ammunition, and, of all things, 'thirty-six fancy ladies handkerchief'. How they intended to use the handkerchiefs on their journey across Australia was never explained.
This daring and successful robbery helped create a legend that Joe had cut off the Governor¹s beard. He was captured on 29 September and sent back to Fremantle where he was chained by the neck to a post. A special cell be built for Joe in Fremantle Gaol and when it was completed the Governor proudly declared that if Joe escaped from such a strong cell he would be given him his freedom. Joe remained in the cell for only four months. Due to ill health he was allowed into the exercise yard where he was given stones to break. In one of the most extraordinary escapes ever to occur at Fremantle Gaol he built the stones up against the wall, dug through the wall, left his clothes hanging near the wall giving the impression that he was still inside the prison, and made his getaway in his underwear. This time his escape was successful and he remained free for nearly two years.
He was recaptured at Houghton's wine cellar where he had gone for a drink to celebrate his two years of freedom. At the time he had long flowing hair, was wearing a wheat sack and had a large stick as his only form of protection. He returned to Fremantle where he remained for the next four years until he was once again given a 'ticket of leave'.
Joe finally became a free man in 1873. He subsequently married a widow, Louisa Hearn, and became something of a celebrated dandy living in the southwest of the state where, amongst other achievements, he discovered the cave near Margaret River which bears his name.
In 1887 he returned to Toodyay and from there he travelled to the goldfields where, although he was now 60 years old, he prospected for some years. After the death of his wife he returned to the coast and lived in Kelmscott where he gained a reputation for insanity being known as 'Old Mad' Moondyne Joe. He died in the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum on 13 August 1900.
This is the story, as far as the facts can be ascertained, of the state's most famous bushranger. Time and legend have conspired to make him a far more adventurous and daredevil character than this portrayal suggests. There is an excellent detailed account of the legend and the history of the man by Ian Elliot titled Moondyne Joe: The Man and the Myth. The display in Connor¹s Mill provides information on this interesting and larger-than-life character.
Other Important Buildings
Other important buildings in this historic town include St Stephens Church of England built in 1862. The church still has pews which were sawn and built by convicts.
The Old Gaol (sometimes referred to as the Old Newcastle Gaol Museum) in Clinton Street is a superb stone building which was completed in 1862. It consists of a number of cells, a kitchen, constable's quarters, storeroom and exercise yard and is a fine example of a small provincial gaol. It was used originally as a prison, later it became a hiring depot for convicts and was eventually the local police station until it was rented as a private house. It remained as a private dwelling until 1940 after which it fell into disrepair. It was acquired by the local council in 1862 and today houses a very fine folk museum collection which gives an insight into the lifestyle of the district¹s early inhabitants.
Near the Old Gaol are the Police Stables which were built around 1890 to house the horses used by the town's mounted police.
The Old Victoria Hotel (1899) in the main street is typical of the charm of the town. The upstairs verandah looks more like a wave than a verandah. It seems to be twisting and collapsing in a myriad of different directions.
The Freemason's Hotel (1861) started life as a simple single storey building but with the riches from the goldfields flowing back to the west it upgraded and became an important watering hole for wealthy miners.
Further up the main street is the Municipal Hall and the Toodyay Public Library building (1874) which are notable for the charming old style lamp posts outside.
Toodyay Heritage Trails
There is an excellent and unusual Heritage Trail brochure, Toodyay Pioneer Heritage Trail: Early Settlement of Toodyay in the Avon Valley, Western Australia which does not cover the major tourist buildings in the town but rather concentrates on the original route to the town as well as the remnants of the original township which was abandoned after it had been seriously flooded in 1847, 1849 and 1859.
It is advisable to start any exploration of Toodyay by visiting Connors Mill where maps of the main features in town are available free of charge. The manager of the Mill is a mine of information and is eager to help people enjoy the interesting history of the town and the surrounding area.