Spotlight: Captain Moonlite, the condemned bushranger. By Silverpen.

Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1869 – 1883; 1914 – 1918), Tuesday 6 January 1880, page 4


CAPTAIN MOONLITE, THE CONDEMNED BUSHRANGER.

BY SILVERPEN.

As every item of news anent the Wantabagery bushranger is just now read with painful interest by newspaper readers, I think I can supply a few jottings, as yet unpublished, that may give, in some slight degree, an inkling as to the inner man of this foolhardy, conceited irritable fool. It will be remembered that A. G. Scott, before the bank robbery at Egerton, occasionally officiated as lay reader in the Church of England there. I am credibly informed, by one who was present in the church the Sunday after the robbery, that Scott offered up the following impromptu prayer during the service conducted by him:—”Oh Lord, we pray Thee, in Thy great goodness, and in accord with Thine unerring standard of dealing out even-handed justice to all men, so order and direct that the efforts made by the constituted authorities in seeking after the bank robbers may be entirely successful, and that they may be speedily brought to justice; and that the wicked and evil done by these lawless forgetters of Thee may result in good here-after.” Not a bad prayer, says my informant, to be reverently offered up by the sole perpetrator of the robbery.

Scott at one time went in a trading schooner to Fiji. The passengers rather liked the man; he was a favorite with all on board talkative and very agreeable. A spiritual seance was held one evening during the voyage. Scott was quite eloquent on the subject, and in explaining to the circle the mysteries of the phenomena, he requested the members to ask questions and the table would rap out the answers. One of the passengers enquired how many pistols Scott had about him, and the answer came “four.” Moonlite at once confessed the reply was correct, and forthwith pulled out of each pocket a miniature revolver. During the passage his great enjoyment was shooting at the sea birds. “A more pleasant and polite travelling companion,” says a fellow passenger, “could not be met with anywhere.”

I heard Scott lecture at Ballarat, and I must say I was inclined to give him credit for sincerity in the statements he made anent Pentridge. After leaving Ballarat, he lectured at Maryborough the day following. I was on my way to Sandhurst, and noticed him at the Maryborough station. I occupied a seat in the same carriage with Scott and Nesbitt, and found them both very chatty and agreeable. After this I heard Moonlite lecture at Sandhurst, and felt convinced from the remarks he there made, that a never-to-be-satisfied hankering after notoriety was the cankerworm of his life. His piercing eye noticed me at the lecture, and had I not been in company with the D——’s I doubt not I would have been honored (?) with a shake of the hand. Taking into consideration all I know of Scott, and what I have gleaned from outside sources, I am inclined to believe he (Scott) is not the hardened ruffian he is represented to be, but a foolishly-vain fellow, that would run any risk in order to be talked freely about. When Scott was leaving Pentridge, there was a letter lying awaiting him in the hands of the Inspector-General, from his father. The contents, I was assured, were of the most touching kind. The aged father implored his erring son to begin a new life on his release from prison, and acquainted him that he could be supplied with money for his immediate wants by applying to a gentleman in Melbourne, whose name was given. Scott read the letter in presence of Mr. Duncan; and, I suppose, out of a spirit of vain bravado, smiled at the contents and carelessly put it in his pocket. Captain Moonlite will soon be beyond the reach of mercy so far as this world is concerned; but those who know the man intimately are of opinion that there was not the interest taken in his case—as a released convict, when free from Pentridge—that there should have been, and that had some philanthropic kind-hearted man stepped to the front and offered a helping hand, Captain Moonlite would, instead of ending his life on the scaffold, have become a reformed man, and eventually made a good citizen. The fist has gone forth. Moonlite is to die, and so long as capital punishment is the law of the land I do not quibble with the decree; but the sooner this taking of life by the hands of the executioner is abolished, the sooner will the law-givers find out that a life-long imprisonment is a greater deterrent to crime than the hangman’s rope. I am not alone in the opinion that hanging men by the neck till dead does not act as a deterrent to crime; and from a recent leader in The Courier, I find the writer is against the death penalty.

The “British Friend” has, in connection with the Howard Association, an article on the subject, and from it I gather that the different nations of the world are gradually being educated up to the subject, and we who are abolitionists with regard to the death penalty may yet live to see it effaced from the criminal statutes of the British nation. The following from the “British Friend” will be read with interest by all those who thus believe:—”The abolition of capital punishment is both a process and a goal. In the latter aspect it is still distant, but in the former aspect it is making great progress and extension every year. For the upholders of the sacredness of human life are now sufficiently strong and numerous, in most countries, to reduce the number of executions to at least a small proportion of those sentenced to death. Even some of the victories claimed by the supporters of the gallows are of very dubious result. And it is a special objection to this extreme penalty that, beyond all others, it tends to impede or destroy its own operation. Not only does murder, by killing its victim, also remove, in general, the only witness of the act, but the peculiar difficulties connected with circumstantial evidence (where specially certain evidence is needful on account of the irrevocability of this penalty), still further impede the infliction of this, more than of any other punishment. For example, in Austria in 1876, out of 124 sentences of death, all for murder, only three were executed! Even in England, where it is claimed that capital punishment is most certain (and where it is rendered as certain as law and home secretaries can make it), it is yet the most uncertain of all penalties. For example, during the last November assizes of 1878, it was most striking to read in the Times, day after day, the results of the murder trials of that series. We find as follows:—1. Stafford Assizes, trial for wilful murder; verdict, not guilty, on ground of insanity. 2. Bristol, trial for wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. 3. Bristol, for wilful murder of two children; verdict, not guilty, on ground of insanity. 4. Leeds, wilful murder; verdict, not guilty. 5. Leeds, another wilful murder; verdict, not guilty. 6. Liverpool, wilful murder; verdict, not guilty. 7. Liverpool, wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. 8. Winchester, wilful murder; verdict, not guilty. 9. Cambridge, wilful murder; verdict, guilty—death. 10. Cambridge (again), wilful murder; verdict, guilty—death, but recommended to mercy. 11. Leeds, wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. 12. Warwick, wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. 13. Swansea, wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. 14. Taunton, wilful murder; verdict, not guilty. 15. Warwick, wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. 16. Nottingham, wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. Thus it is evident that the deterrent power of the capital penalty, as it actually is in practice, is very limited, by reason of its extremely uncertain infliction. The upholders of the gallows argue for the deterrence of the penalty, as they would wish it to be—that is, as if it were certain. But in practice, and in inevitable practice too, it never is, nor can be, what they assume it to be theoretically.” After describing in detail the recent action of Switzerland as to capital punishment, and the misconceptions in reference to it current in this country, the report continues:— “On 14th January, 1879, two men were hanged in Pennsylvania. The Governor at the last moment sent a reprieve; but it was delivered too late at the gaol—both men had just been executed, and had protested their innocence in dying. In January, also, another man was hanged in the same State. An eye-witness writes that he was brought drunk to the gallows, and ‘literally dumped down’ at its foot, the superintending sheriff ‘smoking a cigar and shaking hands and cracking jokes with his friends,’ whilst about 200 spectators were also smoking, laughing, joking, and at times cursing.’ “

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