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.
Cash had been transported to Australia for shooting a love rival and had spent a considerable amount of time as an assigned servant. It was during this time that he met Bessie Clifford who left her husband to run away with Cash. Cash manged to keep a low profile until he unwittingly helped some young men brand stolen cattle. He and Bessie moved to Van Diemen’s Land with the intention of starting fresh. This seemed to work fine until yet another cattle theft charge was leveled at Cash and he found himself in Port Arthur, the so-called “Hell on Earth” on the Tasman Peninsula.
Cash managed to escape Port Arthur by hurling a guard over an embankment and bolting. He managed to get 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 the width of the isthmus. Cash’s new-found freedom resulted in his first foray into bushranging. It wasn’t long before he was nabbed and sent back to Port Arthur with an increased sentence.
It was during this second internment at Port Arthur that Cash befriended Irishman Lawrence Kavanagh and British tough-guy George Jones. The trio devised a plan to once more escape Port Arthur, Cash having clearly learned the value of having accomplices. Cash, Kavanagh and Jones managed to peel away from their work party and once darkness had descended they made a break for it. When they were not counted at muster soldiers were sent to find them. Cash had worked out a few tricks from his previous escape and took his fellow escapees to Eaglehawk Neck where they intended to cross the isthmus 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 headed to a hut that Cash recalled from his previous escape. The three naked, shivering convicts descended upon the hut where they procured clothing and food before setting out on one of the most legendary bushranging careers of all time.
Emerging form the bush to raid homesteads and travelers the gang established themselves quickly as a menace to society and military presence throughout southern Van Diemen’s Land was reinforced. On one occasion the gang had stuck up the Woolpack Inn but were unaware that they had been spotted and a troop was descending upon them. Cash opened fire and exchanged shots with the soldiers while Jones and Kavanagh ran and hid. Cash took off from the scene absolutely seething at the atrocious display from his confederates and almost opened fire on them when they slunk repentantly out of the gloom. The gang built themselves a fort of sorts from logs and dirt that would protect them admirably from bullets where they were joined by Bessie.
As the gang continued business as usual the authorities had cottoned on to the fact that they could find their stronghold by extracting the information from Mrs. Cash. On one of her trips to the stronghold she was arrested and held in Hobart. Jones transcribed a letter on behalf of Cash and company for the governor warning that if Bessie was not released promptly then the gang would be forced to enact revenge. Bessie was released but things soon fell apart.
Unfortunately Bessie had grown tired of traveling into the bush under cover of darkness to see her husband and soon found comfort in the arms of another man. When Cash discovered this infidelity he responded with his typical Irish temper. Resolving to murder both his unfaithful partner and her lover, Cash induced Kavanagh to join him in donning a sailor disguise and traveling to Hobart Town. Things were moving fairly smoothly until they were recognised by a pair of constables who shouted “There’s Cash, blow his bloody head off!” and a running gunfight took place. During the chase Kavanagh was shot in the left arm, the bullet tearing through the length of his forearm. Unable to cope with the injury he turned himself in. Jones decided he was done with Cash and set off, forming a small gang of his own. Cash was still seething about the betrayal of his beloved Bessie and headed into Hobart Town on his own. As he approached Bessie’s home, Cash was again recognised and he took off. Cash’s signature foot speed 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 special constable approached Cash who fired a shot that passed through the man’s torso and perforated a lung. 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 an elderly man in the face, blowing 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.
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. In 1843 Lawrence Kavanagh was one of the twelve convicts who took up arms with William Westwood in the “Cooking Pot Riot” that saw four men murdered. Kavanagh was hanged for his part in the affair.
Meanwhile, George Jones’ bushranging career was raging on and taking a decidedly violent turn. In one house robbery, unconvinced at the lady of the house’s protestations that there was no money on the premises, Jones tied the unfortunate woman to a table, hitched up her dress and pressed a red-hot shovel to her legs until she told him where the money was. Jones’ sadistic tendencies led him to his doom however and during a raid he was shot in the face with a blunderbuss. The shot didn’t kill him, though it did disfigure him and left him blind. He was tried for robbery and murder and found guilty, meeting his end on the scaffold just like his former colleague.
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. When his 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 have been reprinted many times over the 100+ years since Cash’s death and the many songs about Cash remain as testament to his enduring folk hero status.