*** Revised and Updated, 2021 ***
Few of the Tasmanian bushrangers have quite the esteem as Martin Cash. A hot-tempered Irishman with a knack for escapology, when he teamed up with Lawrence Kavanagh and George Jones he immediately walked into bushranging history. Though their reign was merely a matter of months, they flung Van Diemen’s Land into such a state of alarm that they immediately became outlaw celebrities.
Martin Cash was a native of Wexford in Ireland, and had been transported to Australia as a teenager in 1827 for (by his own account) shooting a love rival, though the official charge was house breaking. Once in Australia he was assigned as a servant to a farm in New South Wales, where he became a stockman. It was during this time that he met Bessie Clifford who left her husband to run away with Cash. Cash managed to keep a low profile until he unwittingly helped some young men brand stolen cattle. Knowing he was bound for gaol unless he kept two steps ahead of the law, he and Bessie moved to Van Diemen’s Land with the intention of starting fresh. This seemed to work fine until the law caught up with him and he found himself repeatedly being arrested, assaulted and locked up, as he had a tendency to escape custody to make his way back to Bessie in Campbell Town. Eventually, Cash was sent to Port Arthur, the so-called “Hell on Earth” on the Tasman Peninsula.
Lawrence Kavanagh was the eldest of the men who were to form Cash and company. He was a native of County Wicklow, and had two prior convictions before finally being sentenced to transportation for life in 1828 for burglary, aged 17. He was initially sent to New South Wales where he absconded from his assignment and engaged in a spot of highway robbery for which he was sent to Norfolk Island for nine years. He was sent back to Hyde Park Barracks following this, and escaped again, taking to the bush with accomplices. This time when he was caught he was sent to Port Arthur in the hope they could do something with him. During his convict days, Kavanagh proved to be a troublesome convict and was flogged repeatedly, receiving more than 200 lashes for various offences.
The third member of the gang would be George Jones, real name George Davis, a native of South London. Jones was sentenced to transportation for life in 1829 at age 15 for robbing a till. He arrived in Sydney exactly a year after his conviction and was assigned. He also absconded from his assignment to engage in highway robbery and was subsequently sent to Van Diemen’s Land for life in 1842, his sentence to be carried out at Port Arthur.
Not being a fan of his new lodgings, Cash managed to escape Port Arthur on his own. He got past the isthmus at Eaglehawk Neck, guarded as it was by the infamous dog line, an array of half-starved hounds chained to kennels along its width. Cash’s new-found freedom wasn’t long-lived however and after being lost for five days and starving, he was nabbed and sent back to Port Arthur and fettered.
It was during this second internment at Port Arthur that Cash befriended Lawrence Kavanagh and George Jones. The trio devised a plan to escape Port Arthur, Cash having clearly learned the value of having accomplices and recalculated the best method of escape. On Boxing Day of 1842, Cash, Kavanagh and Jones managed to peel away from their work party and once darkness had descended they made a break for freedom. When they were not counted at muster, soldiers were sent to find them. Cash had anticipated this and the gang waited in the bush for several days before heading to Eaglehawk Neck, where they intended to cross through the water. To avoid being slowed down and chilled to the bone by wet clothes they stripped nude and bundled their clothes and boots, carrying them above their heads as they waded through the waters to give the dog line a wide berth. In their efforts to cross, their bundles were washed away and they had to proceed without their clothes. Having successfully made it across they ventured into the bush naked and without supplies. They reached a guard’s hut where the three nude convicts procured clothing and food before setting out on one of the most legendary bushranging careers of all time.
They started out by robbing farmhouses around Pittwater and Jerusalem (Colebrook) to acquire clothing, food and weapons. A reward of fifty sovereigns was offered for their capture, but there was no stopping them. They continued with robberies at Bagdad and Broadmarsh before they reached Mount Dromedary, where they constructed a log fort to use as their hideout. The fort was well placed as it offered a wide view of the terrain to see who was coming and going, while also being very close to their sympathisers, Jack Bryan and his wife Nelly. Through Nelly Bryan, Cash got word to Bessie that he was alive and at large and organised to meet her. She then accompanied Martin back to the mountain hideaway where she lived with the boys and enjoyed the fruits of their nefarious labours.
The gang established themselves quickly as a menace to society, and the military presence throughout Van Diemen’s Land was reinforced in an effort to suppress them. On 31 January, 1843, the gang stuck up the Woolpack Inn at New Norfolk, but were unaware that they had been spotted and troopers were descending upon them. Cash opened fire at the troopers who promptly returned fire. In the shootout, Kavanagh and Jones peeled away into the darkness but Cash continued to fight. Two constables were injured in the battle before Cash also took his leave.
The dramatic Woolpack Inn shootout was followed by more daring raids and robberies. On 22 February, they raided the property of Thomas Shone. The bushrangers bailed up Shone, his wife, a friend, their seven farmhands, and their neighbour and three of his men, who were all guarded in Shone’s drawing room by Jones. Cash and Kavanagh then ransacked the house before Shone’s daughter arrived with guests. Despite the prisoners greatly outnumbering the bushrangers, none made any attempts to apprehend them.
Not long after this Bessie took her leave of the gang and moved to Hobart, where she began referring to herself as Eliza Cash. She took with her many of the goods stolen for her by Martin. Meanwhile, George Jones had begun a secret affair with Nelly Bryan. Both of these women would cause the downfall of their lovers.
On 11 March, Cash and company raided James Triffitt’s farm on the Ouse River. Triffitt had a history with Tasmania’s bushrangers having been robbed by Michael Howe’s gang as well as Musquito’s and Matthew Brady’s in previous decades. As at Shone’s homestead, the occupants were bailed up and the house ransacked.
As the gang continued business as usual the authorities had been monitoring Eliza Cash. She was charged on 13 March with possession of stolen goods and arrested. She remained in remand, appearing before the courts, until she was discharged on 28 April. Caught up in it all was James Pratt, her landlord, who was considered an accessory until he was found not guilty.
On 18 March, the gang robbed Dunrobin near Hamilton. During the robbery, Martin Cash decided to pen a letter to the governor of Van Diemen’s Land. While he dictated, George Jones transcribed, and Cash warned that if Bessie was not released promptly then the gang would be forced to enact revenge. He also had Jones pen a seperate letter to Thomas Shone threatening him not to prosecute Bessie.
The remainder of the month saw more robberies near Hamilton, as well as the gang finding a new hideout in Hollow Tree Bottom. As the military presence around Dromedary had increased, the bushrangers had deemed it unwise to remain at the fort. Unfortunately they were now low on supplies and the next robberies they committed were in an effort to procure basics like food.
After robbing Thompson’s farm at Green Ponds (Kempton), Cash went into town and at Ellis’ Tavern he purchased three cases of gin, passing the local constabulary on the way out without being recognised. He returned with his companions to their bush hideaway without confrontation.
The gang continued to commit robberies around Lake Echo, Dee River and Bridgewater, planting red herrings by telling their victims that they were going to the Western Tiers. This meant that the military’s attention was drawn away from Dromedary and the fort. The result was that the gang returned to their hideout and had a big party with the Bryans, complete with musicians.
By June, there were now 500 men pursuing Cash and company and the bushrangers were on the move again, heading through the Midlands. Robberies around Ross were followed by another shootout at Salt Pan Plains, then more robberies as they headed to Cressy, where they camped for several days.
On 3 July, the gang robbed the Launceston to Hobart mail coach as it passed through Epping Forest. The next day they robbed a shepherd’s hut at the Western Tiers. Unfortunately for the gang, when travelling through Bothwell, Kavanagh tripped on a boulder and accidentally shot himself in the arm. His wound was very serious and he turned himself in on 9 July 1843, fearing he would perish if not given medical treatment. However, when he told the police how he had been injured he lied, stating he was shot in a fight in which he killed Cash and Jones.
Cash and Jones, meanwhile, continued their depredations, but news soon reached Martin via Nelly Bryan that Bessie had found a new love in the form of James Pratt. It seemed Bessie had grown tired of the bush and waiting for the rare opportunities to see Martin and had settled for something more stable. Naturally, Cash responded with his typical Irish temper, resolving to murder both his unfaithful partner and her lover. Cash induced George Jones to join him in Hobart Town.
Things were moving fairly smoothly until they were recognised by a pair of constables and a running gunfight took place. Jones managed to escape but Cash was not so lucky. Cash’s famous fleetness of foot did him wonders until he took a wrong turn and ended up in a cul de sac, ironically formed by the boundary wall of the penitentiary. A constable named Winstanley was roused, and as he approached Cash he was shot through the torso. As he lay dying, others took up his cause. A shopkeeper grabbed Cash and attempted to disarm him. The pistol went off again, the bullet passing through the shopkeeper’s fingers and hitting another man in the face, shooting his nose off. Cash struggled as others piled on. One man kicked Cash in the head and another clubbed him with a revolver until he was unconscious and barely recognisable.
Cash and Kavanagh were put on trial in Hobart, Kavanagh charged with armed robbery and Cash with wilful murder. Both were found guilty and sentenced to death, though this was commuted to life imprisonment on Norfolk Island.
Meanwhile, George Jones had teamed up with some other bushrangers named Platt and Moore, possibly at the encouragement of Nelly Bryan. These bushrangers were far more rough and ill-mannered than Jones’ previous companions. In one house robbery at Black Brush, unconvinced at protestations that there was no money on the premises, Jones reputedly tied Harriet Devereaux to a table, hitched up her dress and pressed a hot shovel to her legs. It was believed that Nelly had convinced the bushrangers that Devereaux had a big cache of money hidden in the house. In the end, Nelly Bryan dobbed Jones in to the authorities, and during a raid near Richmond in March 1844 the gang were besieged. The troopers set fire to the building and as the bushrangers evacuated, Moore was shot and mortally wounded, and Jones was shot in the face with a shotgun. The shot didn’t kill him, though it did disfigure him and left him blind. With Moore dead, Jones and Platt were tried for assault, robbery, and shooting with intent to murder. They were found guilty and sentenced to death. On 30 April, 1844, Jones and Platt were hanged. Prior to his execution, Jones had been visited by Martin Cash to comfort him.
On 1 July, 1846, Lawrence Kavanagh was one of the convicts who took up arms with William Westwood in the “Cooking Pot Riot” on Norfolk Island, in response to the overly harsh and regressive measures brought in by the new Commandant, Major Childs. During the uprising, four men were murdered by Westwood, with Childs narrowly avoiding being killed himself. Kavanagh was among twelve men hanged for their part in the affair on 13 October, 1846. He too had been allowed a visit from Cash before his execution.
Through all of this, a heartbroken Cash kept a low profile and in the following years earned himself a reputation as a well-behaved inmate, becoming a constable within the Norfolk Island prison. When he was eventually released he became commandant of the Government Gardens in Hobart Town and even remarried. He briefly lived in New Zealand, where he worked as a constable and allegedly ran a brothel, before returning to Tasmania in disgrace. When his young son died of Rheumatic Fever, Cash turned to alcohol and slowly drank himself to death at the ripe old age of 69. Cash’s memoirs, dictated to James Lester Burke in the 1870s, have been reprinted many times over the 100+ years since Cash’s death and the many songs and tales about Cash remain as testament to his enduring folk hero status.