Captain Moonlite: An Overview

Captain Moonlite was the pseudonym of Andrew George Scott, a bushranger who led a gang of young men in the late 1870s. The events of Scott’s life are difficult to relay accurately because of the unreliable stories about his past that were circulated during his life.

Andrew_George_Scott,_alias_Captain_Moonlite
Andrew George Scott, aka: Captain Moonlite.

Scott was born in 1842 and raised in Rathfriland, Ireland. He was the son of a minister who encouraged him to take up a career in the church. Scott was more interested in more earthly pursuits and went to London as a young man where he studied to become a civil engineer. Scott showed early signs of promise but soon became rather distracted. One of the stories that circulated about this time in his life, however unlikely, was that while he was in London he was courted by the most esteemed clubs in high society and allegedly had an affair with the wife of a well known society figure. When the cuckolded husband found out, he threatened to thrash Scott. Regardless of the validity of the story, Scott knew that his time in England was at an end and sent word to his father that he was going to Rome to study the aqueducts. Another fanciful story was that he travelled to Italy where he fought as a Redshirt in Garibaldi’s army during the Second Italian War of Independence. What is known to be true, however, is that he went to New Zealand and fought in the Maori Wars where he was badly injured in his ankles, which left him permanently disabled with a limp. He then allegedly moved to California and joined the Union army in the American Civil War, another extremely unlikely scenario, before seeking gold in Australia.

DSC_0081
The “Iron Pot” church in Bacchus Marsh was Scott’s first preaching assignment.

While employed as a lay preacher in Bacchus Marsh in 1869, Scott was involved in controversy and received a transfer to the burgeoning goldfields of Mount Egerton. Unfortunately the church withheld Scott’s wages and he turned to crime, robbing the Mount Egerton bank. There has been much conjecture about exactly what happened, but what is incontestable is that the bank safe was cleared out and the bank clerk Ludwig Bruun was found tied up in the schoolhouse with a note exonerating him of cowardice or collusion signed by “Captain Moonlite”. Bruun accused Scott of the crime, Scott denied anything to do with it and suggested that the handwriting matched that of Simpson, the schoolmaster. Simpson in turn accused Bruun of forging his handwriting and both Simpson and Bruun ended up in trouble with the law and their reputations in tatters while Scott headed north to New South Wales.

street
Mount Egerton, a boom town where Scott’s unpaid wages from the church led to desperate measures.

He was soon in trouble, however, being arrested by the water police while preparing to sail to Fiji in a yacht bought using bad cheques. Scott did time in Maitland Gaol and he spent four months in a lunatic asylum after feigning madness in an attempt to escape from minimum security. After his release in 1872, he was extradited to Victoria and ended up in Ballarat Gaol over the Egerton robbery, thanks to new evidence that had come to light. He and five other prisoners escaped after subduing the guard and climbing the perimeter wall with a stolen rope. Scott managed to make it all the way to Bendigo before he was caught. He was tried by Sir Redmond Barry and sentenced to do time in Pentridge Prison where he was a very uncooperative prisoner. Here he met James Nesbitt, a young man with a history of petty crimes, who he reunited with on the outside once they were both released.

scott_a
A mugshot of Andrew Scott

Scott and Nesbitt lived together in Fitzroy before Scott decided the best way to utilise his experience and oratory skills would be to tour Victoria giving lectures on prison reform. As the pair travelled Scott began attracting followers. Soon he had a gang consisting of himself, Nesbitt, Thomas Rogan, Thomas Williams, and Gus Wernicke. However his colourful criminal persona as “Captain Moonlite” had resulted in police frequently arresting Scott for suspected involvement in crimes he had nothing to do with. Before long, the gang took to the bush near Mansfield, Victoria, heading North to New South Wales on foot.

gang
Members of Scott’s gang.

However, their lack of bush survival skills began to create trouble for the gang and they decided to seek work at a station to support themselves. Without supporters they became desperate for supplies and decided to take up bushranging, allegedly sticking up stores and stations as they went. According to some accounts, the Moonliters were frequently mistaken for the Kelly Gang, which Scott used to their advantage in gaining cooperation. While plausible, there were many amateur Bushrangers at the time doing the same thing.

Police converge on Wantabadgery Station to battle the Moonliters

They were joined by a swaggie named Graham Bennett, and asked for work at Wantabadgery Station but were turned away, causing Scott to fly into a rage. The gang stuck up the station and held people prisoner inside while the gang took turns eating and sleeping. That night there was a party and Scott went to the pub for more drinks, but instead came back having robbed the place and kidnapped the publican’s children. In the early hours of the morning the station was besieged by four police from Wagga Wagga and a shoot out took place. The police were defeated, retreating from battle on foot as the gang had stolen their horses. Moonlite was ecstatic and the gang rode to the nearby farm of the McGledes. On the way they held a mock trial of a party of volunteers who had set out to capture them and ordered one of the men to shoot his own horse as punishment. Soon the police from Wagga Wagga were back in greater numbers than before after joining a party from Gundagai and another shoot out erupted. In the fight Gus Wernicke was killed as was Constable Webb-Bowen and James Nesbitt. Scott was beside himself and held Nesbitt in his arms and kissing him passionately as he died. After the gang were captured, Scott provided his own defence in court and pleaded for mercy for Rogan, Williams and Bennett. Scott and Rogan were sentenced to death, the other boys given extended prison sentences. While awaiting the inevitable Scott wrote letters to many people, including Nesbitt’s mother to whom he apologised for what had happened to her son. The letters were suppressed by prison authorities.

mcgledes
The gang meet their end at McGlede’s Station.

Andrew George Scott was executed in Darlinghurst Gaol on January 20, 1880 with fellow gang member Thomas Rogan for the murder of Constable Webb-Bowen. His last request was to be buried with James Nesbitt – a request granted in 1995 when his remains were transferred from Rookwood Cemetery to Gundagai.

bowen
Constable Webb-Bowen, slain by the Moonliters at McGlede’s Station.

In recent years there has been much discussion of the nature of Scott and Nesbitt’s relationship being a homosexual one, and indeed it would appear to be the case. It is indisputable that Scott loved Nesbitt very deeply and it is claimed that he wore a ring made from a lock of Nesbitt’s hair. There are anecdotes that indicate Scott may have been bisexual also. Perhaps the best insight comes from this extract from one of the surviving letters to Mrs. Nesbitt:

Darlinghurst Gaol
19th January 1880

From Prisoner Andrew G. Scott
Alias Moonlight

My dearest Mrs Nesbitt,
To the mother of Jim no colder
address would be true, My heart to you
is the same as to my own dearest Mother
Jim’s sisters are my sisters, his friends
my friends, his hopes were my hopes his
grave will be my resting place and I
trust I may be worthy to be with him
when we shall all meet to part no
more, when an all-seeing God who
can read all hearts will be the judge

[…]

I send you some of his hair
and will try to send you any
thing else of his I can get
Give the love of a brother to dearest
Jim’s Sisters and to his father

Farewell my dearest Mrs Nesbit
I am ever to you a loving son
in spirit

A.G. Scott


Further reading:

Captain Moonlite: Bushranger by G. Calderwood

In Search of Captain Moonlite by Paul Terry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s