There are scores of bushrangers whose names have faded from public consciousness over the decades, a phenomenon not entirely due to the nature of their activities. Henry Bradley and Patrick O’Connor are hardly household names now but their exploits in the 1850s are nothing short of astounding and even resulted in a geographical feature being named after them: Bushrangers Bay.
Henry Bradley was orphaned at age eleven and later transported to Australia after his chosen career as a London pickpocket went awry, winding up in the specially built boys prison at Point Puer. Point Puer was a grand experiment in crime and punishment for the British government as up to that point once you turned eight you were tried and punished as an adult. O’Connor on the other hand was a free settler who had been convicted in Adelaide and sent to Norfolk Island where he first met Bradley.
When they gained their ticket of leave they were shipped to Van Diemans Land where they were assigned work near Launceston at separate farms, Bradley for George McKay and O’Connor for James Gibson. Nothing could separate them for long and they soon absconded and met in the bush on 14 September 1853.
Striking farms as they worked Northwards to Circular Head, the pair stole double barrelled shotguns and provisions. They headed to the home of John Spinks where they tied up the whole family and stole another gun, then on to Mr. Staines’ home about five miles hence where they tied Staines to another man while they raided the place. When the pair stuck up Jonathan House all they got was five shillings and in the ensuing chaos the master of the house managed to escape from a window but all shots fired at him missed. O’Connor stated coldly “We will not be disappointed.” and discharged both barrels of his gun through the neck of one of their prisoners, House’s relative Alfred Phillips, killing him instantly in front of House’s daughters. They continued to head North to Black River where they raided the Atkins farm. Mrs. Atkins, alone at home, was forced to cook the bushrangers breakfast.
On the 15th they finally reached Circular Head, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Stealing a boat, they rowed out to a moored schooner called Sophia and muscled their way onto it, hijacking the craft and forcing the crew to sail to Port Phillip at gunpoint. Such was the fearsomeness of the pair that the nine crew and Captain Bawdy did as they were told without question. They arrived at Cape Schanck on 19 September taking two men prisoner. This stretch of beach would thereafter be known as Bushrangers Bay. The crew’s complicity would be heavily criticised. By the time they crossed Bass Strait a reward of £100 was posted for the capture of the ruffians.
Descriptions of the bushrangers were thus:
Henry Bradley – age 23 years; height, 5’5″; fair complexion; brown hair, long and curly; no whiskers; thin face with peculiarly large nostrils; wore a light Petersham coat, and was armed with a rifle and three pocket pistols. He would later be described as having a scar on his right cheek and a great many names, initials and drawings tattooed about his arms including a tomb with the inscription “In memory of my mother”.
Patrick O’Connor – age 30 years ; height, 5′ 7″; fair complexion; red hair, whiskers, and moustachios; full face; has one of front teeth gone; wore a dark pea coat over a blue shirt, and a “wide-awake” hat; has a scar down the nose; had a blanket rolled up before his saddle, and was armed with a double barrelled gun and revolver.
Making their way inland the pair raided a property called Barragunda and stuck up the King homestead at Brighton.They once more tied up the family, but sent King’s young son to procure horses for them from the ploughman, Robert Howe, who informed the bushrangers that he was about to knock off for dinner and then they could take whichever they liked. This answer seemed to be insufficient and he was promptly shot through the arm, the blast pushing the arm from the shoulder socket necessitating an amputation. Taking the plough horses, the pair used the backroads to reach Morindning station.
At Morindning, they asked if there was work available. This was merely a ruse to find the man in charge and the bushrangers promptly stuck everyone up and began tying people. The wife of the gardener, Smith, managed to free herself then proceeded to liberate the others. One of the staff was shot in the back by the bushrangers as he tried to escape. Seeing things going belly-up the bandits took off. Word soon got out about what was going on.
They descended upon the residence of a man named Kane and used his lead to make more ammunition. They then bailed up Thompson’s hotel and tied up the occupants before raiding the stores and hitting the road. Just after they left a police party arrived at the scene by coincidence and freed the prisoners. O’Connor rode back and ordered the police to throw down their arms. When one of the cadets refused O’Connor shot him in the chest. Cadet Nicolson wasted no time in reeling off two shots at O’Connor as he galloped into the night, neither shot finding their mark.
The next morning the police went off to search for the bushrangers. Upon sighting them the police let out a cheer and raced towards them. Bradley ran for the cover of the trees and O’Connor hoofed it in the opposite direction. Nolan and Nicolson were determined to bring O’Connor in for the previous night’s shooting and galloped after them full tilt. The outlaw fired at the police who were armed with single shot pistols and sabres. Nolan rode in close and brought his sabre down, O’Connor parrying with his gun. Nicolson doubled back and ran O’Connor down face on coming alongside him and clubbing him so hard the bushranger fell out of his saddle. Nicolson dismounted and restrained O’Connor. Meanwhile Bradley’s game of cat and mouse in the bush ended with him subdued and in darbies.
Victorian mounted police circa 1853
The bushrangers were tried in Melbourne and found guilty of murder. The bushrangers were very open about their crime spree, admitting to no less than six murders and robbing 28 people. O’Connor defended himself and attempted to take full responsibility for the crimes, but to no avail. When judge Williams passed sentence over the pair Bradley replied with laughter, “Thank you, my lord, I’m very glad for your sentence – very glad indeed.”
On 24 October 1853 Bradley and O’Connor met their end on the gallows in Melbourne Gaol. On the gallows, O’Connor suggested the hangman, John Walsh, remove his scarf to better apply the noose. Bradley’s last words were stoic:” I am willing to die.” When the trapdoor was opened the hanging did not go particularly smoothly, the bushrangers being strangled slowly on ropes that were too long rather than being snuffed out instantaneously with a merciful snap.
“ESCAPE OF BUSHRANGERS.” The Tasmanian Colonist (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1851 – 1855) 6 October 1853: 3.
“THE BUSHRANGERS” The Tasmanian Colonist (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1851 – 1855) 3 October 1853: 3.
“Colonial News.” The Goulburn Herald and County of Argyle Advertiser (NSW : 1848 – 1859) 29 October 1853: 2.
“THE CIRCULAR HEAD MURDERERS.” The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 – 1859) 4 October 1853: 2.