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People who live lives that are out of the ordinary run the risk of being hailed by succeeding generations as legends, and of having the most intimate details of their lives scrutinized. All of us leave public records that may in the future be used to piece together our lives for better or for worse, though at the time we never consider that possibility. Big Brother and others have tabs on us even in death. Hannah Glennon, ‘Red Jack’ of horse breaking, droving and bush racing fame, would no doubt be totally perplexed by the interest shown in her today, as she never sought fame. She would also be horrified by the public airing of her dirty linen (she was a laundress at one stage) gleaned through official records; such, however, is the price of fame.

Michael Durack, father of Mary Durack (1913-1994), who wrote her family’s story in ‘Kings in Grass Castles’, came face to face briefly with Red Jack in 1898 on his journey from Camooweal to Hughenden in north-west Queensland. She had hailed the Cobb & Co Coach on which he was travelling between Richmond and Hughenden to collect her mail. Michael, sitting in the box seat, had earlier volunteered to take over the reins while the inebriated driver, who kept falling asleep, crawled into a large box for storing parcels and stayed there all day. Thus it was he who dealt with Red Jack.

We can picture the scene that met his eyes: a tall, slender woman wearing rough bush clothes, long red hair falling below a sweat-stained, battered hat. The face was that of a twenty-five year old, weather-beaten from years of toil beneath the harsh western sun and showing signs of world weariness, but attractive nevertheless. She might well have, by this stage, exemplified Thoreau’s maxim that most people live lives of quiet desperation. She said little, and was mounted on an impressive black horse.

When Michael’s and Hannah’s lives crossed for that brief moment in time, she had less than seven years to live. By then she had endured the suicide of an unstable husband, the death of a daughter, the birth of another, a son born out of wedlock, and a second failed marriage. Yet she and her horse made an indelible impression on Michael, so much so that he, an astute observer and diarist, inquired about her and left us a valuable literary snapshot. Michael could only wonder about her, but today we know. This is what Mary Durack wrote of the encounter in ‘Sons in the Saddle’:

In additional notes on this journey made at a later date, M.D. wrote of ‘one person worthy of special comment-a woman- tall, gaunt-looking and with bright red hair’, who helped him rummage for her mail  and with the customary salutations rode on her way. He learned that she went under the sobriquet of Red Jack and was known on many stations in those parts as an efficient stockwoman. She was also an expert with her stockwhip which she effectively used on any of her fellow workers who ventured to press upon her their unwelcome attentions. No one seemed to know anything about her private life or background, her horse Mephistopheles being apparently her only close friend and confidant.

Red Jack Cover

 Mary Durack , on reading her father’s diary, felt inspired to write the poem ‘Red Jack’ which was published in The Bulletin  in the 1950’s and  as an illustrated children’s book in 1988. It evokes a sense of the uniqueness and mystique of the woman, though clearly idealizing her, given what we know about her now, and is in itself sufficient to create a legend.

                                 She rises clear to memory’s eye

                                 From mists of long ago

                                 Though we met but once, in ’98-

                                 In the days of Cobb and Co.


                                ‘Twas driving into Hughenden

                                 With mail and gold for load

                                 That I saw Red Jack, the wanderer,

                                 Come riding down the road.


                                 Red Jack and Mephistopheles-

                                 They knew them far and wide,

                                 From Camooweal to Charters Towers

                                 The route they used to ride.


                                 They knew them round the Selwyns where

                                 The Leichhardt has its source,

                                 Along the winding cattle ways-

                                 A woman and a horse.


                                 And strange the tales they told of them

                                 Who ranged the dusty track:

                                 The great black Mephistopheles

                                 And the red-haired witch Red Jack.


                                 She claimed no name but that, they said,

                                 And owned no things but these:

                                 Her saddle, swag and riding-kit,

                                 And Mephistopheles.


                                 And often travellers such as I

                                 Had seen, and thought it strange,

                                 A woman working on the line

                                 That crossed McKinlay Range.


                                 Had seen her in the dreary wake

                                 Of stock upon the plains,

                                 Her brown hand quick upon the whip

                                 And light upon the reins.


                                 With milling cattle in the yard

                                 Amid the dust-fouled air,

                                 With rope and knife and branding iron

                                 A girl with glowing hair.


                               “Red Jack’s as good as any man!”

                                 The settlers used to own;

                                 And some bold spirits sought her hand,

                                 But Red Jack rode alone.


                                 She rode alone, and wise men learned

                                 To set her virtue high,

                                 To weigh what skill she plied her whip

                                 With the hardness of her eye.


                                 I saw Red Jack in ’98,

                                The first time and the last,

                                But her face, brown-gaunt, and her hair, red-bright,

                                Still haunt me from the past.


                                The coach drew in as she rode in sight;

                                We passed the time of day;

                                Then shuffled out the mail she sought

                                And watched her ride away.


                                And oh! her hair was living fire,

                                But her eyes were cold as stone:

                                Red Jack and Mephistopheles

                               Went all their ways alone.

I had known about this lady for many years, but my interest in her was revived after reading the half chapter devoted to her by Evan McHugh in his excellent book ‘The Drovers.’ I therefore went in pursuit of this fascinating and elusive woman to see if I could expand on the scant facts   known about her.

Hannah Glennon was born on 18 July 1872 at Toowoomba to John Glennon and Catherine Pickham, Irish immigrants, who had a small farm at Westbrook, today virtually a satellite town south-west of Toowoomba. John had previously worked as a bullock driver. She was the youngest of eight children, two of whom had died in infancy. Only the births of the youngest two children were registered, indicating that the rest had been born on the farm.

The children who survived beyond infancy were, in order, Mary Ann, William, Ellen, Catherine, Bridget and Hannah. Mary Ann married Charles Hackney Goulding in 1873; he died in 1885. She had a daughter, Mary Jane Glennon, to an unnamed partner in 1886. Her next partner was James Brown, although no marriage record has been found. They had two children, James and John, in 1890 and 1892. Mary Ann and James are found on Australian electoral rolls between 1903 and 1919 at Eulo and Cunnamulla, his occupation being given as labourer and hers as domestic duties. A James Richard Brown, carrier, is listed on the same rolls at both locations, so perhaps the two were related and one worked for the other. Mary Ann Brown died in 1919 at Cunnamulla.

William died probably in 1889. Ellen married Herman Muhling in 1882; she died in 1885 and Herman in 1937. Catherine had a son, John James Glennon, to an unnamed partner in 1883. She married John Carey in 1885, and had a son and daughter who died in infancy. She died probably in 1935. Bridget died in 1870 aged eight.

Hannah was taught her horse riding and breaking skills by her only brother, Bill, fifteen years her senior and her idol and role model, who had worked on various western stations. He taught her well and she attracted attention early, as evidenced by an article written in the North Queensland Register by William Beit in 1946:

One day in the home yard, I saw her ride in breeches, boots and spurs. The horse was a low-set, short-backed, strong-boned animal, said to have been sent from the Lockyer district just to try Hannah out. He had already thrown the best riders on the Lockyer, and Black Peter Rouse from the Logan. She saddled him in the ring yard. Getting the reins righted, Hannah took a lug hold on him and landed on his back like a fly and rammed the spurs into him. The outlaw held his wind, giving seven or eight vicious bucks, and pulling to get his wind, he made two more desperate attempts to unseat his rider. It was a picture to see Hannah sitting calmly and unconcerned, like a ‘Swell’ in his Rolls Royce.”

red jack

It has been claimed that Bill, who never married, was killed on a western Queensland station in 1888.  However, a search of official records reveals that no William Glennon was recorded as dying of any cause in Queensland in the 1800’s. The answer lies, I believe, in New South Wales records. On 21 October 1889, according to the death certificate, a William Glennon, shearer, was killed by a falling tree at Goonoo Goonoo near Tamworth. Nothing was known of him apart from his name, so he wasn’t a local. Tamworth is about four hundred miles from Toowoomba as the crow flies; not a great distance for, say, a man on a small selection to travel in the shearing season seeking to make ends meet.

The host of tragedies in Hannah’s life began early. Her father John died on 2 May 1874, so Hannah hardly knew him. Perhaps Catherine had a secret admirer, or perhaps she was simply determined to avoid the hardships that awaited the family without the main breadwinner, but on 24 May 1874 she married a Daniel Ryan.

Hannah’s stepfather Daniel was the mainstay of the family, but he died on 12 February 1885, and sister Ellen died in the same year. The property could not be managed by the surviving children, so it was sold, Hannah living for a time with her stepfather’s parents, and her mother moving south.

Early in 1889 Hannah struck out on her own, heading west along today’s Warrego Highway to find work on stations. She worked as a stockman at Wallumbilla station in the Maranoa district and as a horse tailer and probably cook on droving trips. She no doubt visited her sister Mary Ann at Cunnamulla. From records we basically know where her travels took her in terms of today’s road names. They include the Warrego Highway west from Toowoomba to Charleville; the Matilda Highway north from Cunnamulla to Cloncurry via Blackall, Barcaldine, Longreach and Winton; the Flinders or Overlander’s Highway east from Cloncurry through Hughenden and Charters Towers, then north to Chillagoe, probably via the Gregory highway.


Today female workers in the pastoral industry are an accepted fact, but were a rarity then. Somewhere along the way an admiring male bestowed the respectful sobriquet Red Jack upon Hannah, and the name stuck.

One can guess at the problems a girl of sixteen, alone and lacking the support of family and friends, would face in a world of hard-drinking, hard-living men starved of female company. Men would have been attracted to her like moths to a flame, and in time she erected defences (including the stockwhip!) that quickly informed them their advances were unwelcome. In those early days, however, she met a rough bush worker, a boundary rider and native of Victoria by the name of Thomas Doyle near Charleville at the end of the Warrego. He pledged undying love for her, and Hannah fell for him. They were married at Charleville on 7 October 1889, not long after she   turned seventeen. She would have required her mother’s consent.

Hannah’s marriage was made in hell, but was also mercifully brief. Pregnant, Hannah left Thomas about three weeks later due to marital discord, and went to her sister in Cunnamulla, but returned to him around February 1890. She gave birth to a daughter Daisy on 1 July 1890, who died four days later. Pregnant again, she left Doyle in January 1891 and went to board at the Blackwater Hotel in Adavale. Doyle followed her but she refused to return to him. On the evening of 26 January Doyle borrowed a single-barrel shotgun from the hotel licensee, one Alexander Shepherd, saying, “I will get you a turkey in the morning.”


Drone footage of Adavale.

About 1 pm the following day a gunshot was heard, and Doyle was found near the hotel stables with a stomach wound and his shirt on fire. He admitted he knew the gun was loaded, and when asked by saddler Val  Ganly why he shot himself, said, ”It’s all through her, Val.” He was carried into the hotel dining room and was attended by a doctor, but died at 3:45 am the following day.

The inquest into the death by suicide of Thomas Doyle on 28 January 1891 at Adavale, held on 29 January 1891 before D. Macneill J.P., paints a sorry picture of the relationship. Hannah’s evidence is the only occasion we hear from her personally, and is accompanied by her signature. I see no reason to doubt her word as to what transpired. Here is Hannah’s story in her own words.

“I am the widow of the deceased Thomas Doyle. I remember the 27th instant at about one o’clock pm. I was standing in front of the Blackwater hotel when I heard the report of a gun. A short time after I heard Mrs Shepherd cry out “Doyle has shot himself.” I then saw two men carry my husband into the dining room. As the deceased was being carried into the room he called out “Don’t go; please Hannah, come to me.” I went to him sometime after and he would not speak to me. Afterwards I said to him “Tom what made you shoot yourself?” He said, “It was all through you Hannah.” I was married to deceased at Charleville over twelve months ago, in the Church of England. It was sometime in October 1889. After being married we went to Wallal for a week and from there to Dillalah Station where my husband was employed as a boundary rider. I lived with my husband for a fortnight and then quarreled with him. He said another man was the father of the child I was carrying. I then left him. Previous to my leaving my husband at Dillalah he threatened to poison himself. I saw him with a bottle of strychinine. I saw him shake some of it on a piece of pudding and put it to his mouth saying he would poison himself. He did not eat it but put it in his pocket. About three days after this I left him and went to Cunnamulla. About three months after this I returned to my husband at Dillalah (around February 1890) and lived with him till the 3rd instant (January 1891) when I again left him as he made the same accusation as he did when I left him before. I came to the Blackwater Hotel in the third instant, and my husband followed me and asked me to go back to live with him and I refused. He then got on his horse and rode away. My husband came back again on the 21st instant and asked me to live with him again and I again refused. I heard my husband say that if I did not go back to live with him his life would not be long in this world. I often heard him say this. I was with my husband when he died at a quarter to four am on the 28th instant. Before I left him this last time he several times struck me on the head with a brush. I never struck my husband.”

Hannah gave birth to another daughter, Mary, on 10 July 1891.  On both occasions Thomas Doyle is listed as the father. Hannah was now calling herself Annie Glennon.

Now boundary riding is probably not the best occupation for a man who has doubts about his wife’s fidelity. 


Leaving Hannah behind for weeks on end while he mended fences must have weighed heavily on Thomas’ mind, and soon left him with other fences to mend. Thomas clearly thought he was being cuckolded on both occasions she fell pregnant, but a check of the birth dates will show that the first child was probably conceived just before their wedding, and the second when Hannah was nominally living with him. Was it simply jealousy and possessiveness on his part, or did he have some additional information to which we are not privy?

 On 22 September 1893 in the Blackall district north of Charleville  Hannah gave birth to a son, naming him George Henry Glennon. The mother is listed as Hannah Glennon, and the father is unnamed.

 Hannah then headed south to Cunnamulla where her sister Mary Ann  and her partner James Brown lived. On 22 November 1894 she there married a Robert Watson, and gave her name as Annie Doyle. Her age is listed on the certificate as 24, though she was in fact 22. Hannah was recorded as a widow born Toowoomba, her occupation as laundress, her place of residence Cunnamulla, and her father’s occupation bullock driver. The witnesses were Mary Wise and C. Macarthur.

Robert Watson was recorded as a bachelor aged 26, a labourer living in Cunnamulla, born Mitcham, South Australia. This too appears to have been a brief marriage, as nothing more is heard of Watson. The pair separated, but when this occurred we may never know. I have searched the death records and there is no record of the death of a Robert Watson whose parents were Reuben and Martha as listed on the marriage certificate. The problem is that parents were sometimes not known depending on where a man died. The only cases of this with a Robert Watson were in New South Wales in 1899 and 1914, both in the bush. In Queensland the only instance was in 1928, and in South Australia in 1944 and 1954. However, the couple had split before 1902, as evidenced by the birth record of Hannah’s final child.

 In the mid-1890’s Hannah headed north along today’s Matilda Highway via Winton for the North-West, to Cloncurry and the towns along today’s Flinders Highway, and it is no doubt from this period that we have two first-hand, priceless sketches which reveal her not as an aimless drifter, but as an intelligent, spirited woman, and a true bush character going by the name of Annie Doyle. The first is from The Townsville Daily Bulletin of 17 April 1926, under the heading On the Track:


Fred Leslie remembers an old identity, and writes as follows: In past ‘Track’ articles you have referred to ‘Annto Baggs’ and the ‘Eulo Queen,’ and I’ll admit both these women were famous in their day, but did you ever hear tell of Annie Doyle, perhaps known to many as ‘Red Jack’? Annie has long gone the way of her ancestors, but years back she was a fine old character of Western Queensland. The writer had many a good yarn with her, and her knowledge of the Colonial turf was surprising. She generally travelled out West with a smart horse, and made good money when she struck a soft snap at bush races. She was also a well-known shed cook, and a favourite with shearers and rouseabouts. On one occasion she took a job droving. Travelling with a good horse she once made a match with a chinaman in Cloncurry for ten pounds a side, owners to ride their own horses. The Chinkie reckoned he was in for a good thing, and backed himself with six months’ vegetable savings .The event came off on a Sunday morning and all the town were spectators. Soon after the start Annie’s long hair flopped down and the Chinaman’s pigtail followed suit. Then with swinging arms, legs and hair they rode a rattling race. Annie won by a neck. Perhaps some of your readers can relate other stories about this almost forgotten western character.


The second is from The Sydney Morning Herald of Saturday 26 August 1939 by E. S. Sorenson under the heading “Red Jack” Of The Far West- Scooping the Pool:


One of the more picturesque characters on the bush ‘race’ tracks was Annie Doyle, who was known all over West Queensland as Red Jack. In her life and ways she was more Jack than Annie. There was hardly a town or hamlet or big shearing shed in that back country that she hadn’t visited. And always with her was a Carbine in disguise, wandering in the humble capacity of a pack-horse.


 Sometimes the latter, after having made a name on the turf down south, had been passed out or disqualified. Running him under another name, Red Jack often scooped the pool from the average muster of grass fed hacks that were opposed to him. Annie never put much of a polish on her favourite; a rough appearance was an advantage; and at many a place he made history as the ‘Flying Pack Horse.’


 Annie was a rough stick, a slim, wiry woman with a crowning thatch of long red hair, usually bundled up and sometimes skewered with a stick. Never staying long at any one place, dossing at a campfire like the ordinary battler on the road, she was a restless, roving spirit who knew the wide spaces better than most men. She would tackle any kind of work at a pinch, but her favourite jobs were droving and cooking.


 Droving was a convenience; she got wages and her keep while travelling from one sporting place to another. She was as good with horses as any westerner, for she trained her own gallopers and rode them in races, and she could wheel a scrubber with the best stockman. Dressed like a man on the overland, she was addressed as Jack by her cobbers and talked of as Red Jack. While she kept her fiery locks under hatches she passed easily for a man.


 At the shearing sheds, if she could not get on as a cook, or secure a job of wool-rolling or dagpicking, she pitched her tent in the vicinity and did a bit of washing for the shearers. Any such attachment to the shed made her eligible to compete at the shearers’ races at the cutout, which was her main objective.


 She was cooking at a shed near Winton when a freckle- faced nugget with the brogue of Erin dropped his swag at the hut. His front name was Dan and he was a woman hater.  Looking for a handout, he asked if he could see the cook.

 “I’m the cook,” said Annie, who wasn’t looking her best with disheveled hair, flour on her nose, and smoke in her eyes.

 “Oh, are yer?” exclaimed Dan, taken aback. “Then I don’t want to see him!” And shouldering his swag again, he strode down to the road.

 Annie was new in that part then. An attractive sporting event at a shanty down the track, billed for the cutout, was the magnet. An unknown horse was entered for the double as A. Doyle’s ‘Cuddy’. Annie’s offsider put it about that Cuddy was a brumby that he had helped to run in from the  wilds, and that couldn’t head a donkey.

 “But I’ve been kiddin’ the old girl that there’s nothing around here that can beat him,” he added, “and she’s goin’ for a plunge on him, if there’s any bettin.”

 There was plenty of it, and there were Calcutta sweeps that provided a prize of 50 pounds in all for the winners of the two principal races.

 The alleged brumby-bred Cuddy jogged up before the starting time, carrying the cook, resplendent in riding pants and boots, a white silk shirt, and a green veil wound round her red mop to keep it together. Cuddy was an ugly moke, whose drowsy look heartened those who had wagered against him. His preliminary was a pint of beer, administered by the offsider from a bottle.


 “Her ladyship doesn’t drink,” he remarked, “but her horse does. See the sparkle it puts in his eye! He’d challenge anything on legs now. Puts the spirit ’o speed in him.”


 Annie Doyle rode him herself, and to the surprise of the crowd he donkey-licked the whole bunch in both races. As soon as the stakes were paid, she strapped her pack on Cuddy and rode away. When the shearers looked around for the offsider, he, too, had departed.


 Besides competing at such meetings and at township races, Annie was always eager to make a match. Opportunities came her way in towns and on droving trips, when fellows were boasting about their prads and what they could do or had done. Some of these events were run along bush tracks or cross a clear flat, during the drovers’ lunch hour.


 Her most memorable race at Cloncurry, a match for ten pounds with a Chinaman, who thought he owned the champion of the west. The race – a mile, with owners up – came off on a Sunday, and all Cloncurry turned out to see it.


 John was a fair rider; he had served an apprenticeship as a boundary rider on the Barcoo; but he lacked Annie’s experience. After a desperate neck - and – neck finish, Annie won by half a head.


 Her racing and her wanderings ended at Mareeba, North Queensland, where she died in 1902.

On 12 July 1898, as recorded in his diary, Michael Durack was briefly to cross paths with Hannah on the coach between Richmond and Hughenden well east of Cloncurry on today’s Flinders highway. She was thought to be working at Mt Devlin station at the time. As she was turning 26 on 18 July, she was possibly hoping for mail from her daughter Mary or others back in Cloncurry.


Hannah had put her daughter Mary in the care of a convent in the Cloncurry area where she was working, but the fate of her son George is unknown. On 3 May 1902 she gave birth to her final child at Fischerton, near Chillagoe, further north again and west of Cairns. She named her child Ada Doyle, listing herself as Annie Glennon, and the father simply as Doyle. Ada’s descendants today live at Herberton, south of Mareeba, near Cairns.

Late in 1904, as Will Ogilvie the bush poet would say, death caught Hannah scarce aware. In a mustering accident on Chillagoe Station, she was badly injured in a fall from her horse. She was transported by train to the hospital at Mareeba over a hundred miles away, but died there. There was no inquest.

Some researchers seeking to locate Hannah’s grave searched under the name Glennon, and not finding it, declared that it had been lost. However,  I figured (not rocket science) that she was probably buried under her ex-husband’s name of Watson, and hit it in one. It’s not surprising that her father’s name is incorrectly listed as Joseph Pollant, and her mother’s name unknown, as few in those parts would have been aware of her background, as also seems to have occurred with her brother Bill.

The incomplete death record only told me that she died in Queensland in 1904, but the cross- reference beside the record advised me to check the Cairns Family History Society link for this name, and up came the final proof: died 22 Dec 1904, buried 25 Dec 1904 at Costin St Cemetery, Mareeba, Prot B 36. I immediately contacted the research officer for the CFHS who informed me that they did not know that the person buried in this plot was Red Jack, and that no one under the name of Hannah Glennon is buried there.

The joys of supposed discovery can be short-lived. I subsequently talked by phone to a Mareeba researcher, Elwyn Troughton, who years ago located and erected a small monument over Hannah’s grave. Hannah was actually buried on 22 December 1904.

So ends the story of Hannah Glennon, a true Queensland and Australian legend, and possibly our first female drover; a young woman who succeeded in a man’s world, challenging the stereotypes and social conventions of the time, and who was widely respected for her abilities. She was a person who courageously stood up for her rights, but who was in the end, like all of us, ‘A traveler between life and death’ in Wordsworth’s words.  No photograph of her is known to exist. May this  feisty young woman’s story live on in The Stockman’s Hall of Fame at Longreach, The Drover’s Camp at Camooweal, and above all, in our hearts.

         By Tony Hammill


Sadly I could not find an image of a red headed woman riding a black horse. But I suspect that you get the message.


. Births, Deaths, Marriages, Electoral Rolls.

. Durack, Mary: Sons in the Saddle. London: Constable and Co, 1983.

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