While Victoria was home to plenty of bushrangers of various ilks, there was one highwayman that stood head and shoulders above the rest – Harry Power. The curmudgeonly crim was responsible for a huge number of robberies on the roads, though he never had much luck in bailing up wealthy people. Perhaps his most productive day of robbery was one he undertook in Buckland Gap towards the end of Winter in 1869.
The area Power camped out in at the Buckland Gap was right in the middle of the road that coaches and travellers would take when travelling between Bright, Beechworth, Bowman’s Forest, Buckland and Whorouly among other surrounding towns – perfect positioning for an enterprising highwayman. On Saturdays the farmers would frequent the intersection en route to market and the nearest homestead was a quarter of a mile away from Power’s camp, allowing him the freedom of relative isolation.
Edward Coady was an experienced coach driver, but even the most seasoned veteran might have gone their entire career without ever encountering a bushranger. In May he had been bailed up by Harry Power when he was taking a coach from Bright to Beechworth. Power had interrupted the journey near Porepunkah and demanded gold, but there was none to be had. The passengers were subjected to demands for payment, a Chinese man receiving particular scrutiny from Power who had an aversion to the his kind. In the end, Power stole a horse from a passing squatter and took his leave, allowing the coach to continue on.
On Saturday, 28 August, 1869, Edward Coady was given a new assignment. He was to drive the Buckland Mail to Myrtleford via Bowman’s Forest. The journey began routinely enough at around 6:00am. The coach trundled along its usual route with its cargo of passengers – a servant girl, Ellen Hart, employed by Mrs. Hay of Myrtleford; Mrs. Le Goo the wife of a Chinese storekeeper in Buckland; William Hazelton, the Bright storekeeper who took position on the box seat. Part way through the journey the coach stopped at the Gap Hotel. Here the passengers were joined by the young son of Mr. Holloway, the proprietor of the Gap Hotel. The coach soon took off again, mailbags jostling and jumping with every curve and bump along the way. Riding close behind the coach was Mr. Holloway’s daughter, Mrs. Boyd, who had joined the group at her father’s pub. As the horses pulled the coach down the Buckland Gap towards the forest, about 4 miles from Beechworth, suddenly the path was impassable. The horses pulled up and Coady peered down where he saw three large logs laying across the road. He had scarcely any time to think before a voice boomed from the scrub with a slight Lancashire accent, heavily inflected with an Irish brogue.
Harry Power emerged, brandishing a double-barrelled shotgun, with two pistols tucked into his belt. He stood slightly less than average height at 5’6 1/4″ tall, and was covered in scars. Beneath his crumpled felt hat his hair flicked out in greasy silver shocks. His face was mostly beard, but when he spoke one could glimpse his mangled and missing teeth, stained yellow and blackened around the gums from excessive pipe smoking. His bright blue eyes peered out from behind crow’s feet and a heavy brow as he levelled the shotgun at Coady. The occupants of the coach were ordered to disembark and stand by a fire the bushranger had set up. As they complied, Power demanded the captives take out their valuables and place them on the ground. He scored a gold watch and 4s 6d from Hazelton, £2 16s from Coady, and 13s from the storekeeper’s wife, though he did give her a shilling back do she could buy a coffee down the toad. Power was not convinced that the woman had surrendered all her valuables and suggested that if she was not forthcoming he would strip her naked to find her hidden treasures. The terrified woman stood fast by her assertion and it was only the intervention of the other victims that caused Power to relent. Perhaps noting that Miss Hart was a servant, Power did not bother to get her to turn out her pockets. Finally, he took a penknife and comforter from Holloway’s son but gave him 1s 6d in payment for them. As for Mrs. Boyd, she could not comply with Power’s demand for cash as she had none. Power was unconvinced, stating that a woman riding a horse with a sidesaddle and saddlebags worth upwards of £14 is unlikely to be strapped for cash, then elected to take the mount instead. Mrs. Boyd begged to be allowed to keep her horse and gear, even suggesting she could ride back to her father’s hotel and get him anything he liked if she could keep it. Power refused to bargain with the distressed woman and stated that she could borrow two pounds from one of the other women, whereupon it was brought to his attention that he had just robbed them. Mrs. Boyd’s brother, young Holloway, offered to give the money Power had given him back is the bushranger would allow his sister to keep the horse. Power was amused by the display of solidarity but refused the gesture. Hazelton had, by this point, had a gutful and informed Power that Mrs. Boyd was indeed a poor woman and the gear on the horse was won at a raffle, not purchased outright. The heated exchange was suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a rider, to which Hazelton snidely remarked, “Here’s a haul for you.”
The rider was promptly bailed up and made to turn out his pockets. When the man reached for his coat pocket Power cocked his gun, stating “It is not there where people are in the habit of keeping their money.”
At this juncture Coady asked Power if he could move the coach as the incline it was stopped on was putting undue strain on the brakes. Power consented to this and ordered Coady to deliver up the mail bags for him to take away and rifle through at his leisure. On second thoughts, Power decided he wasn’t inclined towards potentially stealing letters from the poor and told Coady not to worry about the mail, to which Coady responded that it would have done him no good anyway as letters carrying money were transported by escorts.
Soon more travellers came along the road and were halted by Power. As before, the victims were made to stand by the fire and place their valuables on the ground. With the cooperation of his victims, he was able to take £1 16s from a Whorouly dairyman named Hughes; 17s 6d from a Bowman’s Forest local named Rath; and a saddle and bridle from a man named McGoffin (or McGuffie), who was in a spring cart on their way to O’Brien’s Station from Buffalo. A local miner was bailed up but managed to retain the two ounces of gold he had concealed in a pocket in his coat.
For the next three hours, Power kept eleven prisoners under his command by the fire, occupying their attention by spinning yarns. He gave Coady an earful, claiming he had half a mind to shoot him as he had heard that Coady had been “blowing” in the bar of Fisher’s Commercial Hotel, Beechworth, about what he would like to do to Power. He also mentioned that he had been intending on bailing up James Emptage, a colleague of Coady’s, but as Emptage had been driving much too fast, he had not had a chance to stop him. Despite the number of people at his mercy, none attempted to overpower him. Power eventually grew tired of the work and had returned Mrs. Boyd’s horse, but needed a good mount. Power attempted to take the snip horse from the Buckland coach (the horse on the offhand side closest to the wheel). The horse bucked and refused to allow the bushranger to prepare him to ride, to which Power replied by striking the animal repeatedly with the butt of his shotgun. Power then took the lead horse (named “Little Johnny”) from the coach, equipped it with the stolen saddle and bridle, and disappeared into the bush. He would be spotted near Stanley at 4:00pm. Dazed and confused by the bizarre turn of events they had just experienced, the victims slowly began to return to their conveyances, counting their blessings that things had not escalated.
When news of the bail ups reached Beechworth, Sgt. Baber launched a search party to head to Bowman’s Forest to find Power’s trail. Alas, as was a common problem, there were not enough men to get a reasonable sweep of the area and thus Power got away without a care.
[Source: Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 19/10/1869: 2]It was not long before the government, frustrated by Power’s ability to avoid capture, offered a £200 reward for his capture. Power was now officially in the big league but his reign would not be long for this world.