Spotlight: Capture of Power the Bushranger

capture of power

By May 1870 bushranging was almost completely wiped out. Captain Thunderbolt met his inglorious end and all that was left were the odd copycat and the last of the highwaymen: Harry Power. Harry Power was a legend in his own lunchtime whose limited notoriety was on a scale comparable to the most infamous of his contemporaries so of course news of his capture was very well received. This is how it went down according to the news of the day… 

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By the mail which arrived yesterday morning from Beechworth, came to the chief commissioner of police an official account of the gallant capture of Power, the bushranger, by Superintendents Nicolson and Hare and First class Sergeant Montford. Much of the information supplied is, in the opinion of Captain Standish, matter which it would be wrong to publish ; but being naturally desirous to make public the leading features of the affair, he has communicated the following, which is substantially the same as the account telegraphed to us by our correspondent at Wangaratta. The account of the actual capture is a little indistinct, and we supplement it by a passage from a private letter from Mr. Hare to a gentleman of this city, which throws a little more light upon the way in which the encounter took place. It may be surmised that the attack was, in fact, made pell-mell. There was no previous observation — no reconnoitring. As soon as signs of smoke were visible, the party started at full speed to the spot, and we may suppose that Mr. Nicolson, being first, fell upon his man, who awoke suddenly to find Mr. Hare and Sergeant Montford also arrived, so that he was covered with three revolvers. The handcuffing followed, as a matter of course.

The following is the statement :—

Superintendents Nicolson and Hare and first class Sergeant Montford arrived at Benalla on the 29th May, having been sent on special duty in connexion with the search for the bushranger Power. They proceeded to a station in the neighbourhood, and were engaged several days in prosecuting inquiries. On the 1st inst., they proceeded, accompanied by a black tracker and a guide, whose services they had secured, to the head of the King River. The same day they reached Table Top Range, and camped there, turning out their horses. They carefully avoided all roads and tracks while travelling through the bush. At daybreak on Thursday last the party proceeded through the mountains till they reached a spot within 14 miles of the Glenmore Range. Here they camped in a secluded gully, and remained prosecuting their inquiries till the afternoon of the 4th inst. During the whole of this time they were compelled to watch their horses, so as to guard against being discovered by any persons in the neighbourhood. At half past 5 p.m. on Saturday last they started on horseback, and proceeded for a mile or two, when the darkness become so dense that the guide declined to go any further, stating that he had lost his way, and that the ranges were so steep that he feared an accident. He suggested that the party should wait till daybreak, having evidently miscalculated his knowledge of the natural features of the country. He was, however, prevailed upon to proceed, and with the assistance of Sergeant Montford, whose previous knowledge of the country was here found to be invaluable, a track was discovered which led to the part of the King River which they desired to reach. They remained here for about an hour, as it was undesirable for many reasons that they should reach the point for which they were making before midnight. In that neighbourhood was the house of a settler named Quinn, which is so situated as to prevent access to the Glenmore Range without passing within a few yards of the door ; the King River being on one side and several deep and dangerous lagoons on the other. These lagoons terminate in a creek, the only bridge over which is exactly opposite Quinn’s premises. There was reason to believe that Power’s usual camping place was not far distant from Quinn’s house, and as the latter kept numerous watchdogs, the greatest possible caution was necessary to pass the place without giving any alarm. At midnight the party made a start, and after going for half a mile, and crossing numerous watercourses, which they were compelled to wade into to ascertain their depth, the guide was once more at a loss, and the party found themselves in a labyrinth of lagoons from which it appeared almost impossible to extricate themselves. However, by the assistance of the black tracker, they succeeded in retracing their steps to the place from which they had started four hours before. The darkness at this time was so great that it was with the utmost difficulty the party was kept together, and the horses at last refused to face the creeks. The night drawing to an end, they proceeded in all haste in the direction of Quinn’s house, but keeping on this this occasion along the banks of the river, encountering by the way many obstacles such as log fences, dead timber, rivulets, &c., till they reached a paddock a quarter of a mile from the house. The party here dismounted, and leaving the horses in the care of the black tracker, crept cautiously along the lagoon at the back of Quinn’s house, which they fortunately succeeded in passing without alarming any of the numerous dogs. For the third time the guide stated he was quite incapable of leading the party to the point they wished to reach, and  appeared to be suffering from extreme fatigue and cold.

After a short consultation the party decided on risking the loss of their horses and sent Sergeant Montford for the black tracker who had been left in charge of them. The sergeant returned with him after a delay of about 20 minutes. By this time it was broad daylight, and their anxiety was much increased lest their presence should become known. They then made a fresh start, spreading out in a line, and systematically  searching spurs and gullies. About half-past 7 a.m., when about half a mile up Glenmore Range, they came upon a hollow tree, which had evidently been used as a sleeping place, and which led them to conjecture that they were on the right track. At that instant the black tracker saw smoke about 300 yards further up the mountain. They proceeded silently and speedily in that direction, and when within about 30 yards of the smoke they perceived a fire in front of a quantity of gum bushes which screened a gunyah. This the party immediately rushed, and discovered inside of it the bushranger Power, lying with his clothes on, with a revolver by his side, and a gun close to his head. The party covered him with their revolvers, and calling on him to surrender, dragged him outside and handcuffed him without his making any further resistance. To the remark made that he had given the police a great deal of trouble, he replied, ” I am sorry I did not hear you coming—I would have dropped one of you,” and added that he would have preferred being shot dead to being taken alive. Sergeant Montford was then despatched for the horses. On searching the gunyah the party discovered a large supply of bread, meat, tea, sugar, and vegetables. The revolver and the double-barrelled gun were both heavily loaded. In the gunyah they also found a purse containing £15. The whole party having been without any food for 24 hours, and on short allowance for the previous two days, gladly availed themselves of Power’s hospitality. The black tracker, who was extremely exhausted by hunger, fatigue, and cold, exclaimed on seeing the store of provisions, “My God, what a feed we shall have.” After this welcome repast, and having taken possession of all the property found in the gunyah, they placed Power on the black tracker’s horse, and rode off to a hut nine miles distant, where they obtained a cart, and ultimately reached Wangaratta, distant 40 miles, at 7 o’clock on Sunday night, after being 25 consecutive hours in the saddle. The prisoner was most communicative as to his exploits. He complained of the many persons who reported having been robbed by him, for which statements he said there was not the  slightest foundation. He admitted having committed numerous robberies, and stated his intention to plead guilty to those brought against him. During the whole time the hardships the party underwent were considerable. With the exception of Thursday it rained incessantly, and their difficulties were considerably enhanced by the caution they had to observe, which necessitated the adoption of the most difficult and secluded routes. They had only taken provisions sufficient for two meals per man, and were unable to obtain further supplies, and were moreover without any kind of shelter for the whole period, while the idea of lighting a fire was of course out of the question. Their success was in a great measure owing to the thorough knowledge of the country which Sergeant Montford possessed, he having formerly been stationed at Wangaratta for some time.

ANOTHER DESCRIPTION OF THE ENCOUNTER.

Mr. Superintendent Hare, writing to a gentleman of this city, thus describes the affair. His narrative commences shortly after daybreak on Sunday morning :—

“However, on we went, hoping almost against hope, when suddenly we came across a tree which bore indications of having been inhabited. At this moment the blackfellow at once made signs of ‘smoke ahead.’ Off the three of us started in the direction, Nicolson first, myself next, Montford behind, and the blackfellow bringing up the rear, with a Snider rifle at full cock, ready to shoot the first man who showed himself. We had to go a couple of hundred yards, which, I can assure you, did not take many minutes — Nicolson all the time taking off his coat as if going to have a stand up fight with someone—when we beheld a kind of habitation before us, not a stir about the place. Our joy was beyond description, when the first thing we saw was two feet sticking out, and in a few seconds Power, the man of whom we had heard so much, and who had been in our minds for months and months, stood before us handcuffed. Oh that we could have telegraphed to town at that moment! Our happiness was complete ; we sat down to a billy of tea, and I ate the best breakfast I ever had in my life. You will see that the poor blackfellow, who had really had more grub than any one of us, was almost dead with cold and hunger. He called out at the top of his voice directly he saw what was in the gunyah, ‘My God,won’t we have a feed !’ Nothing but his belly was in his thoughts.”

We have not been indulged with a view of the rest of this vivid description of the proceedings.

“CAPTURE OF POWER, THE BUSHRANGER.” The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) 9 June 1870: 7. Web. 29 Nov 2017 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5822539&gt;.

One thought on “Spotlight: Capture of Power the Bushranger

  1. The Kelly mythology has it that police were lazy corrupt and incompetent but here they worked really hard and captured a notorious criminal under very difficult and trying conditions. They tracked him down over several days through pouring rain, advancing through the bush and rough terrain to stay off the roads, working through the nights and having very little to eat or drink.

    Interesting how these reports don’t name the person who was leading them to Harry – it was an Uncle of Ned Kelly, Jack Lloyd , who along with Jimmy Quinn received a huge reward for betraying Harry. Ned Kelly himself also assisted in this capture because he had described to the police Harrys “watch-box” a disguised hollow tree trunk, and when thy found it they knew they weren’t far off.

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