After months of hiding, Matthew Brady and James McCabe decided to attempt broadening their syndicate. Though they had many harbourers, even sympathisers, there was always room for more helpers. Enter District Constable Thomas Kenton.
Kenton was an opportunist who had absconded from a whaling ship at Norfolk Island, from which place he made his way to Van Diemens Land. He settled on 50 acres at Brown’s River and worked as a stock-keeper, but found that the agrarian lifestyle was not his métier. He was frequently in trouble with the law and his neighbours, often going to court as either defendant or prosecution. He sold the property to a man named John Lucas and relocated to the more unruly frontier at Jericho where he took up employment as a District Constable. While he was entrusted with maintaining law and order, crimes began to increase under his watch – particularly stock theft. There was never any evidence to pin on Kenton, but it was clear who the prime suspect was.
A copper on the take was just what the doctor ordered as far as Brady and McCabe were concerned and they struck up a friendship with Kenton. Arranging meetings through a bush telegraph, a young man named Hyte who was enamoured with Brady, the group would rendezvous in Kenton’s hut to talk business. It was Kenton that masterminded the pair’s depredations in the area, in return for a hefty cut of the proceeds. Whenever it was time for a meeting, Kenton would hang a white cloth outside his hut to signal to the bushrangers that the coast was clear, however, Kenton’s behaviour was being closely monitored by local busybodies who suspected he was up to something and they reported the news to Kenton’s superiors.
Kenton received a rude awakening in March of 1825 when he was told in no uncertain terms that it was his duty to apprehend the bushrangers, and failing that he could be up for a very harsh penalty as a harbourer. Kenton knew the odds and agreed to betray Brady and McCabe. He informed his superiors of the next arranged meeting, and two soldiers, Spicer and Thompson, were stationed in Kenton’s hut to strike when Brady and McCabe arrived.
On the day in question, Kenton hung up the white cloth as usual, yet Brady was hesitant to go. It was only after convincing from McCabe and Hyte that he went. The trio were watched from inside the hut, seemingly arguing. When they reached the domicile, Kenton and the soldiers burst out, knocking Brady and Hyte over. McCabe took off like a rocket as his companions were bound and taken inside. Kenton and Brady verbally sparred as the soldiers prepared to escort young Hyte to the police station. They gave Kenton a gun then made their way into town.
In the scuffle Brady had received a nasty gash on his head and was beginning to feel woozy. He asked Kenton to take him to lie down in the bed, which Kenton did. Brady then suggested a cup of tea might fortify him more so Kenton took a Billy can to the creek to fetch water. Meanwhile Brady got off the bed and out his hands in the fire until his ropes burnt away. With bad burns on his hands he armed himself with Kenton’s gun. When Kenton returned, Brady threatened to shoot him but relented, however threatening that one day he would exact revenge before he escaped. Kenton was arrested as a result of the escape and would later claim he had removed the bonds to alleviate Brady’s suffering – it was a lie that sealed his fate.
Months passed and Brady and his associates went through many misadventures, McCabe being exiled from the gang after Brady had shot him in the hand for sexually assaulting a woman, until the time came for Brady to make good on his threat. By 1826, Kenton had been booted out of the police and was working at the Cocked Hat Inn. Word had got around that Kenton had been cowardly in letting Brady go, and had begun spinning lies to all and sundry to save face. Brady learned of this and decided to pay his former friend a visit. Brady was accompanied by two gang members, Bryant and Williams, and the trio travelled to the Cocked Hat Inn searching for Kenton. Brady was slower than usual, having been shot in the leg in a gunfight in Elphin, near Launceston. The bushrangers utilised their bush telegraph well by encouraging them to ply the police with false leads to throw them off the gang’s trail.
On Sunday, 5 March, 1826, Brady, Bryant and Williams moved over Cocked Hat Hill, riding stolen horses, and arrived at the inn but as it was still early there was nobody awake. Brady bashed on the door until someone awoke and answered. The proprietor opened the door and received a barked interrogative.
“Have you got Tom Kenton in there?”
The proprietor confirmed this and after being threatened with a shooting, allowed the bushrangers inside. Lighting a candle, the innkeeper guided them to a bedroom where Kenton and another man named Yates were in bed. Kenton sat bolt upright at the intrusion and Brady immediately reminded him of his threat. A small crowd had formed behind Brady to see the commotion, but drew back when he announced his motivation.
“So you old villain, I have fallen in with you at last, and mean now to clear off old scores with you for all the mischief you have done me since we last parted, when I told you we should meet again, and what would come of it if you ever did me another bad turn. Now after letting you off as I did when you betrayed me and others to the military, you have told a hundred lies about me, and for which you shall suffer before I leave this room.”
Brady then proceeded to explain to those assembled exactly what lies Kenton had been telling and to declare the truth of what happened. Far beyond Kenton’s assertion that he “let” Brady escape, was the attribution of murders to Brady’s name that he did not commit. A man with such a keen sense of his public image could not stand idly by as he was described as a brute. Brady felt justified in exacting punishment with lead and powder and levelled his pistol at Kenton’s head.
“I’ll give you five minutes to prepare yourself for your death.”
To drive home the seriousness of what he threatened, Brady began to count down the minutes on a watch. It was more than Kenton could take. He was remorseless and sneered at Brady. Brady’s previous leniency and his reputation for avoiding bloodshed emboldened the former crooked cop to respond to Brady’s threat with mockery.
“Five minutes to prepare myself in? I don’t want one,” Kenton said, “I believe in neither God nor devil, and have no fear about dying. Fire away!”
Brady remained cool and continued to count down on his watch. This seemed to infuriate Kenton further.
“You know better than to do it. You are afraid to do it, you cursed cur dog.”
With that, Kenton got out of bed, brushed past Brady and had just reached the door when Brady shot him in the back of the head. Kenton was dead by the time he hit the ground. Not a single onlooker lifted a finger to intervene, they simply allowed the bushrangers to leave.
This would be the only murder carried out by Brady and it would be the crime that saw him at the end of a rope only two months later. The die had been cast, and Brady’s freedom was to be cut short when his wounded leg became infected, leaving him too weak to fight back when he was finally intersected by the notorious bounty hunter John Batman. By the time he was convicted for Kenton’s murder, Brady had already become a legend and Kenton’s story was already becoming obscured by myth.