Story behind Linden's lonely convict gravestone

A solitary gravestone sits beside the road, near Linden station, erected to "the memory of John Donahue who departed this life June 25th AD 1837. Aged 58 years."

It stands near the head of a track to a cave, called both Bushranger's Cave and King's Cave.

This cave first sheltered the indigenous people crossing the mountains long before the Europeans arrived. They were protected from the elements and used the fresh spring water found in the cave. Their flints were found in the 1980s.

The initial Europeans over the Mountains ignored the cave as their mission was to open the west, past the almost-impenetrable rocks on this narrowest section of the ridge.

The Linden-Woodford stretch was the hardest William Cox would face roadmaking. On August 27, 1814, Cox noted: "we came to a high mountain, which will cost much labour to make a road over."

In fact, it took most of August and September to complete this section.

The Western Road, finished in January 1815, had only comparatively light traffic but needed constant repair. Governor Darling, in 1826, ordered convict overseers to supervise convict iron-gangs working on the road. Governor Bourke, in 1835, replaced these overseers with military officers. Recidivist convicts, including John Donahue, mainly comprised the gangs.

In 1835, James Backhouse, travelling the road, noted in his Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies, that there were two ironed-gangs, five and eight miles from Sun Valley: "The prisoners were lodged in huts, upon large open areas, by the roadside, without any stockade." A young military officer led a detachment of soldiers overseeing the convicts.

Backhouse does not describe any quarters for these soldiers. Where was their encampment? Some early 20th century historians, visiting Linden, felt that the cave was the hiding place of a bushranger, King, but later historians could not find any bushranger of that name in colonial records.

These historians believed the soldiers' encampment was near the convicts, in the neighbouring large over-hang cave with a natural water supply, unobserved from the road.

A constructed access path leads to the cave. There are remnants of early convict-built stonework in a retaining wall and a leveled floor also retained with stonework.

The graffiti, King, etched into the cave's wall, seen in the 1920s but now obliterated, refers not to a single man but to the 4th King's Own Regiment who supervised the road works around Linden in the 1830s.

The lonely convict gravestone points out the track to the cave where the overseers were quartered. Donahue died working the Western Road, his remains lying under the railway line, his gravestone moved during duplication of the track.

Robyne Ridge is publicity officer for Blue Mountains Historical Society.