Forgotten Bushrangers: The Bendemeer Encounter

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One of the various forgotten bushrangers of the 1870s was Frederick Cranley. Little is known of the bushranger who would meet a grisly end in 1877. While Cranley was in Australia, it was believed that his parents were in the East Indies. Cranley was employed as a fencer on the farm of a Mr. Robson on the Cockburn River, twelve miles from Tamworth. From 27 April to 12 July, 1877, he had been gainfully employed by Robson before suddenly going bush.

Cranley and a mate, Stephen Ward Wonnocott, stayed at W. C. Avery’s Telegraph Hotel in Bendemeer, drinking heavily and making a nuisance of themselves. They sang loudly and made inquiries of the other patrons regarding the other houses and farms in the area and who the wealthier landowners were. At around 4.00pm on Saturday 14 July, the proprietor was absent for the afternoon and the bushrangers wasted no time in getting to work. They had spent the morning drinking and were greatly frustrated when their tab was cut off at a cost of £1 11s. They ordered Robert Avery, the proprietor’s son, to make his mother write out their bill. Upon receiving the account, Cranley stated that they would see Mrs. Avery presently. They retreated to their bedroom and Cranley equipped himself with his revolver. They returned to the bar and locked the door before Cranley moved to the bedroom. Cranley drew his revolver and declared that he was sticking the place up. Robert ran to his mother, who was in the kitchen, and told her what was happening. She promptly emerged with the servants to confront Cranley. By now, Cranley had worked himself up and began shouting,

Money I want, money I’ll have!

Cranley ordered everyone back inside. Three times he made the order and each time he was ignored. Tired of Mrs. Avery’s resistance, he fired a shot past her head. The terrified woman, naturally, complied.

Outside, a travelling salesman who had been staying at the hotel named Bancroft heard the shot and rushed to the verandah. He was met with Cranley aiming a revolver at him and demands for him to hand over his watch and money. Bancroft refused to comply.

In the chaos, word had gotten to the police station that the hotel was being robbed. The responsibility of sorting the mess out fell on a police constable named Edward Mostyn Webb Bowen. Bowen was well known for his headstrong demeanour and impulsiveness. Just two months earlier he had been scrutinised after shooting a horse thief named Plummer dead in a failed robbery in Tenterfield. The inquest had deemed his actions justified and commendable. Upon hearing the news he mounted and rode top speed to the unfolding crime.

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Constable Bowen

Cranley ransacked the drawers in Mrs. Avery’s bedroom before moving to the bar where he broke the neck off a brandy bottle and poured himself a drink. Presently the pounding of hooves could be heard in the courtyard. Cranley rushed outside. It was Constable Bowen who was now tying up his horse.
“Who the bloody hell are you?” Cranley barked, wheeling around and levelling his pistol at the policeman.
“Drop the pistol and surrender.” Bowen replied, drawing his own. With a growl Cranley fired, but the shot missed. Bowen responded with a shot that struck the bushranger in the right hip with little effect. Cranley tried moving back and pulled the trigger.

An impotent fizz.

Cranley’s gun misfired. He pulled the trigger again but it was jammed. Cranley cursed under his breath. Bowen took aim and fired, hitting Cranley in the right side of the chest near the nipple. Cranley staggered and fell. The fading bushranger was carried into the dining room and laid out on the table where he expired within a few minutes. He was thirty years old. Bowen assessed his handiwork and singled out Wonnocott, clapping the darbies on him and taking him back to the station at Bendemeer. Cranley was searched and was found to be carrying pistol ammunition, a letter and a photograph of a woman but no money.

On 16 July an inquest was held, running from 10.00am until 9.00pm. The conclusion of the twelve jurymen and the coroner was that not only was Bowen correct in his course of action but deserved a promotion for it. It had taken the jury all of five minutes to return their unanimous verdict. Subsequent to this event Bowen was made a senior-constable at Murrurundi station but left the force in 1878 and became a clerk for the inspector-general of police only to re-enlist as an officer in March 1879, likely in response to the Kelly Gang who had robbed the bank at nearby Jerilderie the month before. By the end of that year he would be involved in another clash with bushrangers, this time at McGlede’s Farm near Wantabadgery Station, and the battle would see him on the receiving end of a fatal bullet.

“THE BENDEMEER TRAGEDY.” Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier (NSW : 1872 – 1881) 18 August 1877: 1.

“A Bushranger Shot Dead at Bendemeer.” Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907) 21 July 1877: 22.

“ENCOUNTER WITH BUSHRANGERS AT BENDEMEER, N.S.W.” Illustrated Australian News (Melbourne, Vic. : 1876 – 1889) 3 September 1877: 138.

“SHOOTING A BUSHRANGER.” Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954) 21 July 1877: 14.

ENCOUNTER WITH BUSHRANGERS AT BENDEMEER, NEAR TAMWORTH, N.S.W. The illustrated Australian news. September 3, 1877. SLV Source ID: 1696721

“A STICKING-UP CASE.—ONE ROBBER FATALLY SHOT!” The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser. 20 July 1877: 6.

“THE WANTABADGERY OUTRAGE.” Wagga Wagga Advertiser. 26 November 1879: 3.

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