Maggie: The Woman who loved Joe Byrne

For a long time now, I have been wanting to find out more about Maggie, this woman who had first captured Joe’s heart at an unknown time, on an unknown day. We know Joe was charmed by barmaids, or rather, women in general, but there was something special about Maggie from the Vine. In An Outlaw’s Journal, her name is Julia and she is Cornish, having travelled from Cornwall as a stowaway in a desperate bid to escape the drunken abuse of her husband, Jim Clarke. But who was she? We know from one of the Vandenberg daughters that ‘Maggie’ wasn’t her real name, which got me wondering as to what it could have been? And why the need to use a name that wasn’t her own? In my writing, the reason for the alias is so she can escape her past, but why did I decide on the name Julia? It occurred to me one day while reading the Jerilderie letter, that the line ‘Tailing turkey’s in the Tallarook Ranges for a smile from Julia’, could have been Joe’s nod to the woman who had captured his heart. Of course, this is all supposition, and I won’t go into too much detail regarding the time I was thinking about Maggie and reached into the drawer for a tea towel, only to see that the cloth I had chosen was embroidered with the word ‘Cornwall’…

Illustration of Maggie by Aidan Phelan, showing how she would have dressed as general servant.

Firstly, we know that Maggie worked for the Vandenbergs as general servant, and, going from the advertisement I have located on Trove, may have started working there in 1876. The Vine was a splendid hotel, surrounded by ‘one of the finest fruit gardens in the district’, where apples, pears, plums, gooseberries, grapes and mulberries were all grown in ‘immense qualities’. Built of brick and boarded by a veranda with the hotel’s name painted beneath the guttering, the Vine (not to be confused with the one in Wangaratta) was located on Sydney Road in Beechworth, before the descent into the Woolshed. The hotel included detached private rooms for guests, twenty-four loose boxes and fenced paddocks for horses and cattle that were to be sold at Grays sale yards in Camp Street. At the back of the building, in a slab hut, stood the servant quarters, where Maggie would have lived and where, as an outlaw, Joe paid his weekly visits. Maggie’s role at the Vine included washing, ironing, sweeping, changing the linen in the private rooms, keeping the fires stoked and helping out in the bar during the busier nights. The days would have been long and the chores monotonous, but on the times when Joe was expected to pay his late-night visit, she had reason to see beyond the work before her.

The Vine Hotel. From the collection of the Burke Museum, Beechworth.

Maggie played a key role in Joe’s life, not only in allowing him to forget the reality of life as an outlaw, but also as his spy, at least around Beechworth. She collected the hotel’s discarded newspapers for him and on the days she had errands to do in Beechworth, either for herself or the Vandenbergs, she would have certainly kept her ears trained for any talk about Joe and may have been the one asked to make sure Jack had ‘posted up’ Joe’s caricatures outside the post office. Furthermore, working in a hotel she was in the perfect position to overhear the drunk chatter of men, who were inclined to say things they wouldn’t while sober, as was the unfortunate case with Aaron. Anything the general servant heard about Joe, would have been relayed to him as soon as the pair were reunited, whether it be an off-duty policeman, miner, councilor or farmer. Nothing would have escaped her notice.

Joe and Maggie as depicted in ‘Ned Kelly’, the only film to refer to her by her real name.

During his late-night visits to her, Joe would mimic the riding style of his brother Paddy, crouching forward in the saddle, with the brim of his hat pulled low over his eyes. In this guise, any passers-by, or Sydney Road locals, wouldn’t have had need to question the identity of the rider, and, as it happened, they didn’t. I am inclined to believe also, that before Paddy purchased his grey from Tarrawingee, Joe would ride his brother’s horse on his visits, hence why when Paddy brought the grey and Joe began riding Music to visit Maggie, locals still believed it to be Paddy. However, the true identity of Maggie’s lover was questioned in April 1880, when a boy of Isabella Burke, the mistress, overheard the couple, with Maggie addressing the man as ‘Joe’. Whether making love or conversing, the name the boy had heard was enough and it wasn’t long before word spread throughout Beechworth. The police were duly informed, but ‘paid no attention to the rumour’, obviously unable to reconcile how Joe could possibly be that bold, especially under their watch. This incident would have come as a shock to both Joe and Maggie, with the thought of losing her job and Joe’s capture at the forefront of her mind. After this, it was noted he stayed away from the Vine for a considerable time, with his next visit, at least one that was noticed, not being until the 24th of June.

Joe and Maggie as depicted in ‘The Last Outlaw’.

A week before this last visit, Aaron and Constable Alexander entered the bar after an evening pub crawl through the town, initiated by the Constable as a way of getting Aaron to drop his guard. On this night, Maggie was working behind the bar and was in the middle of serving a miner, having to lean in close to hear what the man was saying, when the two entered. Aaron, in his drunk state, nodded towards the general servant and told the Constable, ‘That girl often sees Joe Byrne.’ Maggie served the two and Alexander said nothing to her in Aaron’s presence, but after he had left, the Constable returned to question her about seeing Joe. ‘The devil a man could tell you that but Sherritt’, was her reply, ‘And somebody else will soon know, too.’ True to her word, on the 24th of June, Maggie informed Joe of the questions that had been directed at her by the policeman, knowing that Aaron had been the one to tell of their relationship. It isn’t difficult to imagine the anger that Joe would have felt on hearing the news. The police hadn’t attached any significance to the rumoured love between the outlaw and the general servant, but how could they ignore it now? It is impossible to know how Joe and Maggie spent their last night together, before everything would change at Glenrowan. No doubt Joe may have expressed his reservations regarding Ned’s plan, but so much of the future, their future, depended on this event. There may have been talk of a new life and a fresh start for the pair, but of course, it is impossible to know.

A beautiful illustration of Joe and Maggie by Aidan, capturing their love.  

Whatever their plans had entailed, nothing could have prepared her for the devastating reality that followed. While it is not clear whether Maggie was the woman who rushed toward Joe’s body with the cry, ‘End the circus!’ As surmised by Max Brown. She certainly would have been there at Benalla. How else could she have believed that the man she loved so deeply was gone? He who would risk the price placed on him to be with her during those fleeting hours. Whistling the tune only she knew, the tune that told of the late-night arrival of her ‘sweet birdie.’


I have no way of knowing what happened to Maggie, but her harbouring of an outlaw certainly would have gotten her fired from the Vine, as an advertisement for a general servant in late 1880 may attest. She was more than just another barmaid to Joe and when I am able, I would like to research her story more, as I fully believe it is one worth sharing.


The Ovens and Murray Advertiser, February 15th, 1874.

The Ovens and Murray Advertiser, July 1st, 1880.

The Weekly Times, July 1st, 1880.

The Fatal Friendship, Ian Jones.

Australian Son, Max Brown.

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