James Alpin McPherson is the patron bushranger of Queensland. His lawlessness and reckless nature earned him the moniker “wild”. Active during the mid-1860s, he was a character typical of the Australian frontier who saw nothing more appealing than heading south to fall in with Ben Hall.
McPherson was born in Inverness in 1842, emigrating to Moreton Bay in 1855. He was schooled in Ipswich and became fluent in French and German. Upon finishing his schooling he had many jobs including as a stonemason in Brisbane, allegedly making headstones and monuments. He soon left the city and became a stockman tailing cattle. In his downtime he would practice with a revolver he had purchased until he became quite proficient with it. The sound of gunshots echoing through the valley made the locals nervous and McPherson soon went bush. It seems strange that a well educated, gainfully employed young man would turn to bushranging, but that is precisely what he did.
McPherson was one of a trio of banditti who stuck up a station one night in 1864, stealing clothes, whisky and flour. He soon decided to become a bushranger in Ben Hall’s gang and headed south, sticking up travellers en route.
When McPherson reached the Lachlan, he very quickly attracted the attention of Sir Frederick Pottinger who engaged him in a shoot out, wherein both were injured by bullets. McPherson escaped on foot but before long he was apprehended and brought to trial for shooting Pottinger. Fortunately for McPherson, Pottinger accidentally killed himself before the case was heard and the charge was withdrawn.
While being taken to face trial over the initial robbery on a steamer called “Leichhardt”, McPherson escaped while the craft was anchored in the middle of the Fitzroy river. Apparently he had so impressed his escort and the other passengers with his ability to get out of his restraints that they left his handcuffs off and allowed him to roam the deck with leg irons on. Legend has it that when he was found missing the whole area was searched and his leg irons were found hanging on a tree with a polite note attached:
“Presented to the Queensland Government with the ‘Wild Scotchman’s’ best thanks, that gentleman having no further use for them, the articles being found to be rather cumbersome to transit in this age of enlightenment and progress — the 19th century. — Many thanks; adieu.”
In March 1866, McPherson found himself captured in Gin Gin, Queensland. This time, however, the capturers were civilians and not police. For his highway robberies he ended up with two twenty five year sentences on the island of St Helena, Moreton Bay. As the prison hadn’t actually been built at that time he was stationed on a moored former prison hulk called Prosperpine and rowed out to the island each day to construct the prison in a chain gang. This seemed like the end of the story but McPherson, in colleague with a group of convicts, breached the walls of the stockade in April 1866. When the escapees were found McPherson copped a shot to his hand. In 1874 a petition was raised for McPherson to be released. On 22nd December he finally got out.
McPherson spent the remainder of his days as a stockman and overseer. In 1878 he married Elizabeth Annie Hausfedlt and they had 4 daughters and 2 sons. McPherson’s adventures came to an end in 1895 when, riding home from a funeral, he was knocked off his horse and killed.
A natural rock formation on Cattle Creek was known as “Scotchman’s Knob” in the Upper Burnett district is a natural sort of fortress made from huge granite boulders, this is the main site associated with McPherson’s bushranging activities.
“TERROR rides the north..” Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954) 14 October 1954: 10.
“PRISON HULK” Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1926 – 1954) 4 August 1940: 2 (Supplement to The Sunday Mail).
“The WILD SCOTCHMAN: ONLY QUEENSLAND BUSHRANGER” The World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955) 12 December 1928: 6.
“”SCOTCHMAN’S KNOB.”” The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933) 13 April 1933: 15.
The life and adventures of the wild Scotchman: the Queensland bushranger by P.W. McNally