A Guide to Tasmanian Bushranging (2021)

In late January through early February of 2021, followers of A Guide to Australian Bushranging on social media would have seen a series of posts about Tasmania as writer and historian Aidan Phelan travelled through many historic locations, accompanied by Georgina Stones of An Outlaw’s Journal. As well as highlighting some of Tasmania’s beautiful heritage sites, it also helped to keep track of some of the known and lesser known stories of bushranging from the island state. Most of the locations featured were from the Midlands, but even went as far south as Port Arthur. In this article we will explore some of these places together, but this is only a fraction of Tasmania’s bushranging history.


Brady’s Lookout

Located near Rosevears, and overlooking the Tamar River, Brady’s Lookout is a breathtaking view that is linked with the outlaw Brady Gang.It is believed that the bushrangers sheltered among the steep rocks and stayed close to the river so that in the event that they needed to escape they were able to steal a ship and set out to sea. It was a plan that had merit, as the Cyprus mutiny would demonstrate in 1829. However, most of Matthew Brady’s gang were not confident seamen, the majority of the group that had escaped with him from Sarah Island in a stolen whaleboat having gradually been captured or killed by the time Brady was likely to have brought his men here.

Overlooking the Tamar from Brady’s Lookout.

Notley Fern Gorge

This stunning forest is said to have been a hideout of the Brady Gang. Walking among the ferns and trees it becomes easy to see why a band of desperados would seek refuge there. A portion of the walking track leads to Brady’s Tree, an enormous hollow tree that shows signs of having been used as shelter. The interior is blackened, demonstrating that there was likely a fire inside at least once, and there appears to be a hole carved in the trunk at about head height that could be used as a window of sorts. Very probably the large opening was covered with bark or branches to conceal the occupants or simply block the wind. There is room for two adults to shelter inside, though it is unclear how many men (if any) accompanied Brady when he hid in the tree, assuming there’s substance to the claim.

Aidan Phelan stands inside Brady’s tree.

Launceston

Tasmania’s second largest city is linked to about as many bushrangers as Hobart, the state’s capital. It is worth noting that at an early point in the state’s colonisation the island was to be divided into a northern and southern colony. Though this was not followed through in favour of the whole island being one colony known as Van Diemens Land (officially renamed Tasmania in the 1850s), there is still a distinct rivalry between the northern half and the southern half of the state, the occupants being viewed by their opposite faction as rubes and snobs respectively.

The site of the Launceston Gaol, where bushrangers like Matthew Brady and Thomas Jeffries were held, was demolished and replaced with the local secondary school in the 20th century. There are no visible remnants accessible to the public. This continues Australia’s time-honoured tradition of turning colonial prisons into schools.

A short walk uphill from the site of the former gaol is Penny Royal. First opened in the 1970s, in recent years it has seen a remodelling into a sort of Matthew Brady theme park. Apart from the eateries (including a restaurant called Brady’s), there are a series of rides and activities that range from a motorised brig that “sails” through a lagoon to a mock-up of Sarah Island, to a bridge walk across the top of the park. The most impressive attraction is the Matthew Brady dark ride, that takes patrons through a series of tableaux that tell the story of Brady’s bushranging adventures. Sure, it’s not historically accurate, but it is a lot of fun. Highlights include a short film clip projected on a waterfall and animatronic figures of John Batman and Matthew Brady.

Animatronic Matthew Brady at Penny Royal.

Perth

Perth is another location that features in many bushranging tales, but there is very little left to connect the town to such history.

According to some sources, Matthew Brady and his gang briefly visited this area when it was still known as South Esk.

The story goes that they had a down on Thomas Massey, the first free settler in the area. Massey would later be recognised for his role in establishing Perth and his role in the Launceston police. At any rate, at the height of his notoriety Brady sent written warning to Massey that he and his gang were coming after him. Two days later they struck, setting fire to Massey’s property. Sources conflict about whether it was Massey’s haystacks or house that were burnt down.

The story is a strange one in that the few sources that refer to it give almost no detail and are referencing other secondary sources that don’t have supporting evidence, suggesting it is merely folklore. This is a recurring problem one encounters when looking at the life and career of many of the Tasmanian bushrangers.

There is, however, one bushranging story that is indisputably linked to Perth. On 1 April, 1837, John McKay robbed and murdered a local man, Joseph Edward Wilson, just outside town. Wilson was attacked on the road three quarters of a mile out of town; he was shot and thrown from his horse, whereupon he was clubbed and his pockets rifled through. The victim survived long enough to give an account of the assault to police. Very quickly a reward of 250 sovereigns was offered for the capture of the assailant.

Police worked tirelessly to find the culprit, and eventually narrowed their search to a ticket-of-leave man, McKay, and a man named John Lamb who had a conditional pardon. Police arrested Lamb, McKay and Mrs. Ward, who had left her husband for McKay. It was Mrs. Ward who cracked first and dobbed her lover in, Lamb following suit. McKay was tried for murder and found guilty. He was hanged in Hobart on 3 May, 1837, and his dead body was brought to Perth where it was “hung in chains” on the outskirts of town the following day, at a place called Gibbet Hill. The body remained on display until that September, whereupon it was taken down and decapitated so the head could be subjected to phrenological analysis.

Gibbet Hill no longer exists, having been levelled to make way for the highway and housing. The only indicator of where it once was is a street named Gibbet Hill Rise.

The Baptist Tabernacle (the building with the dome) in Perth dates back to 1888 and was loosely based on the Hobart Tabernacle.

Deloraine

In May 1833, the bushranger Samuel Britton and his gang attempted a couple of robberies in Deloraine, but they were unsuccessful. In one local incident, the gang (Britton, George Jeffkins and Edward Brown) stuck up Wesley Dale, the premises of Lieutenant Vaughan. Prior to heading to the lieutenant’s house, they passed through Deloraine, where they bailed up Thomas Johnstone, a stockman for David Gibson at Dairy Plains, and compelled him to join them as a guide to Vaughan’s hut. At 8:00pm, one of Vaughan’s staff, Dan Picket, heard the guard dogs barking, and when he opened the door to find out why he had the muzzle of a gun thrust in his face and was ordered to stay quiet. Picket’s hand were tied and the other occupants of the hut were given the same treatment. The bushrangers then compelled the four prisoners to lead them to the house.

Johnstone was ordered to knock on the door and invite Vaughan to open up. This failed as Vaughan simply told Johnstone to leave him alone and come back in the morning. Britton then defaulted to ‘Plan B’, and instructed the others to smash in the windows as they ordered the occupants to surrender. Surrender was forthcoming and the bushrangers gained entry and began ransacking the house. They took provisions, as well as £3 from Vaughan’s housekeeper, and a very valuable gun made by Cavanagh of Dublin, which Britton stated that Vaughan could have back once he was cold and dead. The gun would indeed be restored to its rightful owner after the deaths of the bushrangers. They left at midnight, releasing the captives, except for Picket, who they took to Deloraine with them carrying their booty. From here, Picket was allowed to return to Wesley Dale, and the gang managed to make it to the supply mills on the West Tamar by 8:00pm that night.

Britton, George Jeffkins and Edward Brown roamed this area in the mid 1830s, though they were most often seen around George Town. The gang’s modus operandi was to either force entry to farmhouses and steal anything that looked valuable, or to attempt a ruse to encourage the occupants to open the door before they raided the interior. They often, though not always, tied up any occupants that posed a potential threat to their continued liberty. In 1835 their career was cut short. After a shoot-out at Kelso Bay, Britton was shot in the leg and abandoned; he was never heard of again. Three weeks later, Brown and Jeffkins fought police in a shoot-out at Port Sorell, during which Jeffkins was killed and Constable Thomas Smith was also killed. Brown was captured, mortally wounded from bullet wounds and died shortly after.

There were, however, a pair of bushrangers who were more directly linked with the town, named Daniel Priest and John Smith. The pair were escapees from Port Arthur, but although desperadoes were known to only take what they needed and Priest in particular was known to have a gentlemanly manner when undertaking his depredations. In May 1845, when a constable named Baldwin was robbed just outside of town as he was on his way to deliver dispatches. He was stripped of everything except his trousers and hat (which contained the messages), then ordered to move on. As he did so he was fired at to make him move faster. The dispatches arrived safe and sound and Baldwin was able to raise the alarm. In September of the same year, the pair struck again in Deloraine, bailing up two men in a hut, stripping them naked and stealing their clothes. Around this time Smith separated from Priest with all the money they had accumulated, the directive from Priest having been for his companion to find a way out of the colony. For all intents and purposes the move seems to have been successful. It was not long before Priest, who had been shot in the foot accidentally by his own shotgun when climbing rocks, was captured near Longford when attempting to enter a farmhouse. Priest had not supposed that there were constables inside and quietly entered and submitted to the officers of the law, even going so far as to compliment the party on their performance in pursuing him.

News report detailing the robbery of Constable Baldwin.

Evandale

In its history, Evandale has gone by many names and is connected with many fascinating stories. It also has scores of bushranger tales associated with it. Not all are the most dramatic, but when visiting the town you certainly get a feeling that a lot of that history is seeped into the walls of the buildings and is at your fingertips.

In 1838 the body of Benjamin Ball was brought into Evandale (then called Morven) for an inquest. Ball had been part of a bushranging gang that were wanted for murdering Samuel Ely, but had evidently parted ways with the others (Fisher, Beard) and made his own way to Nile. His makeshift tent was spotted by an assigned convict named David Gow, and he fired upon the hapless man who immediately bolted to get backup. He returned at dusk with a ticket-of-leave man named Agnew, and they encountered Ball coming towards them. When they demanded Ball identify himself he instead fired a shot at the pair. Ball took cover, and as he stepped out again Agnew shot him dead.

Not far from the heart of town in Evandale, near the South Esk River, a party of bounty hunters consisting of John Batman, Anthony Cottrell, and William Ponsonby, finally managed to capture Thomas “The Monster” Jeffries. Jeffries was wanted for escaping prison with three other convicts and going bush. While on the run he and his gang committed a number of horrendous crimes including robbery and murder to rape, infanticide and cannibalism. When he was found only two of his accomplices remained as they had eaten the other one. The creek where “The Monster” was taken was later renamed Jeffries Creek and is now known as Logan Road.

The successful posse took Jeffries and company back to Evandale until a conveyance could be found. The bushrangers were soon transported from Evandale to Launceston Gaol. It was at this time that Matthew Brady wrote to the governor, declaring his intention to break into the gaol and murder Jeffries. Soon after, Brady was also captured. Jeffries was tried and found guilty of murder, then sentenced to hang. He was removed to Hobart Town where he was hanged on the old gallows on Campbell Street. He confessed to his crimes but blamed it all on alcohol.

Longford

After his capture near the Isis River, Daniel Priest, the “friendly bushranger”, was transferred to Longford Gaol. It was also at Longford that Priest had his committal hearing. In the dock, Priest was typically pleasant mannered and refused to defend himself in court simply stating, “No, Sir, thank ye! I’ll deny nothing that’s true, but if I catch them swearing false I’ll speak.” Priest was subsequently sent to Hobert to stand trial.

Longford was also on the beat of a bushranging gang consisting of Peter Haley, Daniel Stewart and William Ferns. The three bushrangers were better known by their nicknames: Black Peter, Wingy and Flowers, respectively. They were known to grace the establishment of George Walker of Ivoridge, near Longford.

In 1855, it was reported that a bushranger named James Padfield, alias Clarke, escaped from Longford Gaol where he was being remanded on robbery charges, and was suspected of having killed a man whose body was found in the Macquarie River just prior to his capture.
Padfield had managed to dig a hole through the wall of his cell and make a whole in an outer wall to give him access to the courtyard. He then took a “long form” and climbed the boundary wall, dropping down the other side to freedom.
He was later apprehended in the bedroom of a hut near the lakes in Bothwell, but his escape had emboldened other inmates who began to break their leg irons and fashion makeshift ropes from cloth with a brick on the end, in an effort to prepare their own bold escapes.

Cressy

One of the first things you notice about Cressy is their obsession with trout fishing. Between the trout-shaped street signs and the massive trout statue in the middle of town, you can tell they take their trout seriously.

Cressy was only established in the 1840s, but despite its relatively recent history it does have anecdotal links to bushranging. It is said that Martin Cash was assigned to work at a farm here before absconding to return to his mistress in Campbell Town. When, later, he was at large with George Jones and Lawrence Kavanagh, he once again came through this way ‘on business’.

A story associated with the former Bell Post Hill church is that one Sunday during the service whispers started to filter through the congregation that William Priest was coming down the road, having been captured at last. All the churchgoers went out into the street to see the infamous gentleman bushranger, leaving Reverend Brumby to preach to empty pews.

Epping Forest

This stretch of bush was a favourite hideout for bushrangers in the Tasmanian midlands. Among the many incidents that occurred here, two are worth relaying.

In 1843, Cash and Company bailed up the Launceston coach here. They ransacked the coach and took various items, mostly clothing, before heading back into the forest.

In 1883, the forest was home to baby-faced bushrangers James Sutherland and James Ogden. Sutherland was a cantankerous teen who had spent his whole life either being palmed off on begrudging foster mothers, in prison for trifling offences, or on the tramp. He gained employment as a dogsbody for a pub at age twelve but left because he was subjected to abuse from his employer. He did other similar low-paid jobs, but struggled with being demeaned by his colleagues. These experiences had left him with a chip on his shoulder, and a larger than life personality. Ogden had also been the product of a dysfunctional home, and was very much under Sutherland’s spell. The pair camped in the forest for an unknown amount of time, believed to have been several weeks, allegedly only emerging to visit a local brothel, before they committed their crimes. Late at night they roused the Wilson family who lived on the edge of the forest by pelting their windows with rocks. The man of the house, William Wilson, ventured outside to see what it was and was shot dead. Sutherland and Ogden then set fire to the house. None of the Wilsons’ neighbours were willing to offer assistance to the family. The bushrangers also attempted to kidnap one of the Wilson daughters, but she escaped.

The pair’s next crime took place a couple of days later. They ambushed a delivery driver named Alfred Holman in the bush and shot him. They then dragged the body away from the road and clubbed him to make sure he was dead. They looted from the body then stole the horse and cart. When the pair were caught they were nearby feeding and grooming the stolen horse. Sutherland openly admitted to the crimes and stated Ogden had only prepared his gun for him, and had not engaged in any other aspect of the offences. The pair were both condemned to death for murder and hanged in Hobart Gaol. Ogden was twenty years old, Sutherland only eighteen.

A glimpse at Epping Forest from the road.
James Sutherland and James Ogden pose together in their prison uniforms.

Cleveland

The tiny town of Cleveland is the on the edge of Epping Forest; its most recognisable landmark is the St. Andrews Inn. Local folklore claims it to be one of Martin Cash’s haunts, and it can be found on the midlands highway between Epping Forest and Campbelltown. The inn dates back to 1845, though ten years before that it was a coach house.

However, it was next door to the St. Andrews Inn that a gang of bushrangers committed a murder most foul. Cleveland House was formerly the Bald-Faced Stag Inn and in 1838 it was the scene of a brutal holdup. A gang of bushrangers, led by James Atterall, barged in at night, bailed up the staff and restrained them. Two of the men hand their hands fettered and hats pushed over their eyes. One of these men incessantly complained about being restrained until he was shot dead with a single bullet through the brain by one of the bushrangers. The bandits soon withdrew, leaving the corpse on a sofa. Some months later, after a spree of robberies and several shoot-outs, the surviving members were captured, tried and sentenced to death. They were hanged in Hobart.

Campbell Town

Though there are many, many bushranger stories associated with this historic town, one of the most dramatic was when the Crawford Gang stuck up George Taylor’s family farm, Valleyfield, in July 1824. The story goes that George’s son, Robert, was sitting in a tree watching the sheep and reading his Bible (what a good, pious lad), when James Crawford, Matthew Brady, James McCabe and five other bushrangers bailed him up. They took him back to the farmhouse at gunpoint but when they arrived the boy gave them the slip. He raised the alarm and the family and servants, who were prepared for the bushrangers, went to their battle stations. A fierce gun battle ensued, the men barricaded in the house with the women keeping the weapons loaded and primed. The bushrangers were quickly outgunned and outclassed and they made a speedy retreat, although Crawford had been captured. Only one civilian was injured; a man named Lowe, who ironically had tried to hide after declaring that they were all as good as dead. In consequence, Crawford was executed and the Taylors were rewarded with 90 acres of land near Cleveland.

No discussion of Campbell Town and bushrangers would be complete without mentioning Martin Cash and Bessie Clifford. The couple lived in Campbell Town around 1839, Bessie by then assuming the name Eliza Cash. Martin worked for a Mr. Kane and a Mr. McLeod, the latter was a bank clerk and also a Justice of the Peace who eventually issued a warrant for Cash’s arrest (though Cash would state in his memoirs that the ink had scarcely dried on the warrant before one was issued against McLeod himself for bank robbery). It is claimed that Cash helped construct the Foxhunter’s Return hotel, which was completed in 1840. In one incident in this place, the police tried to take Bessie away to the watch house. In response, Martin Cash bashed one of the offending constables in the head and effected an escape for him and his beloved. Later, Cash was accused by William Bedford of stealing a half-dozen eggs, for which Cash was sentenced to seven years in prison, including time on a road gang. As he could not tolerate this, Cash escaped custody and headed back to Campbell Town, but was again arrested and taken to Oatlands. The area was subsequently frequented by Cash and Company during the early 1840s.

One of Campbell Town’s unique attractions is a path formed by bricks that are laid into the pavement, each one inscribed with the name and details of convicts from the area. A trio of sculpted trees also depicts many notable figures in the town’s history, including Martin Cash.

Ross

While there is not really any bushranging directly connected with the township of Ross, the immediate surroundings were a hotspot for bushrangers.

One of the bushrangers that operated around Ross was William Higham. Though he was hardly a prolific, or indeed particularly notable, bushranger compared to his peers, Higham created enough of a name for himself after absconding from the Hobart prisoner barracks in May 1832. He operated around Ross, and a reward of £10 and a ticket of leave was offered for him in August 1832.

Higham’s most notable crime was his raid on Captain Davidson’s farm at Cashmere. Being 39 at the time, he was rather old by most bushranger standards. In January 1833 he was hanged in Hobart.

Another story of bushranging took place on the road from Ross to Tunbridge. On 16 March 1858, Richard Propsting was bailed up while travelling in a dog cart containing his wife and another lady, seven-year-old daughter and an infant. “Black Peter” Haley presented a gun and when Propsting refused to stop, Haley fired a shot that struck the wagon wheel. Also with Haley was “Sydney Jim” Thornton, William “Flowers” Ferns, and Daniel “Wingy” Stewart. Propsting flogged his horse to make it go faster, narrowly missing a shotgun blast from Flowers. A second shot from an unknown source struck the horse in the neck, but it continued on. Propsting only slowed when he realised his hat had blown off. He turned around just in time to see Flowers take the hat. Luckily none of the people in the cart were injured or deprived of anything other than the driver’s hat. Propsting promptly continued into Tunbridge where he inspected his wounded horse and raised the alarm.

Source: The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas. : 1835 – 1880) 28 November 1846: 920.

Oatlands

At the beginning of his career of crime, Martin Cash escaped from custody only to be apprehended by a party of soldiers and brought up to Oatlands. He was tried at the Oatlands courthouse and sentenced to an extra 9 months in chains on top of his original sentence of 7 years. Likely he would have been held in Oatlands Gaol until he was transferred back to Launceston.

These days, the Oatlands gaol sits in ruins. However, by the time construction on the gaol had finished it could house up to 270 prisoners, making it the largest regional prison in Van Diemens Land. The areas for male and female convicts, including the condemned cells and gallows yard, have since been knocked down and replaced with an outdoor swimming pool. Remnants of the perimeter wall remain, though they stand around a third the height they would have originally.

There were many minor bushrangers that would have been through Oatlands, including James Padfield, who was taken here after his arrest in 1855 and sentenced in the courthouse to ten years transportation.

In 1845, William Westwood, alias Jackey Jackey, made his way on foot to Oatlands after absconding from his assignment in Glenorchy. He had escaped with two others, but they had both parted ways with him along the way to Launceston, where they intended to steal a boat. Unfortunately for Westwood, on 21 August, 1845, he was captured in Oatlands by John Luttrell and Richard Pillinger, two settlers. Westwood was quickly escorted back to Hobart.

A couple of kilometres outside of Oatlands, on the Midlands Highway, the observant traveller will spot a sculpture on the roadside depicting the bushranger Michael Howe bailing up a horseman. Such sculptures, life sized silhouettes cut from steel, dot the highway to remind travellers of the heritage.

The remains of Oatlands Gaol.
Oatlands Courthouse.

Bothwell

Another of the big hotspots for bushrangers was the unassuming central highlands township of Bothwell. Here many different bushrangers, major and minor, took advantage of the area’s remoteness and small population to seek refuge. For example, William Ferns (nicknamed “Flowers”) who went to Bothwell after absconding from Launceston, working in the town for two years before he took to the bush after being spotted by someone that knew him.

One of the major gangs that utilised Bothwell area was that of Michael Howe. Throughout the region, then known as Fat Doe, the gang built huts and, after he had split from what remained of his gang, Howe returned to the area. In September 1818 he was found by a man named McGill, accompanied by an Aboriginal tracker named Musquito (who would later gain infant in his own right). There was a battle but Howe’s superior strength saw him escape from the would-be captors. Unfortunately for Howe, he left behind his belongings, which included his journal.

Bothwell was one of the various locations that Brady and his gang were reputed to have built a camp.
It was also where the gang had sympathisers in the Farquharson family. The Farquharsons were a respectable family of settlers and their involvement with the bushrangers was kept secret for a long time in order to protect their reputation.
Despite their sympathies, the Farquharson family were still stuck up in 1825 by James McCabe. Having feuded with Brady and the rest of the gang, McCabe had decided to go solo. After being busted sleeping under a tree, McCabe ran into the bush leaving his boots and supplies behind. He moved on to Bothwell and demanded entrance to the Farquharson property. He kept the old man covered with a pistol and ordered fresh clothes and boots. After much pleading, the Farquharsons complied and McCabe.

Bothwell also has links to Cash and Co, as Martin Cash and Bessie Clifford camped here for a time, before he was arrested in spectacular fashion. It was also at Bothwell that Lawrence Kavanagh surrendered to the police after badly injuring himself with a pistol, fearing he would otherwise bleed to death.

Of course, Bothwell has many accounts related to minor bushranger as well, including James Padfield. On 19 November, Padfield descended upon a shepherd’s hut near the lakes in Bothwell and ordered the hutkeeper to provide him with tea, damper and mutton, which he took into a back room and began eating. Meanwhile, two constables had set out from Bothwell, Constable Hastie and Constable Goddard, having been alerted to the bushranger’s possible appearance at the hut. The constables, upon reaching the destination, briefly exchanged words with the hutkeeper and were directed to the room where Padfield lay in wait, armed with a double-barrelled shotgun, and a revolver. He attempted to shoot the Goddard with the revolver as he entered the room, but the gun misfired and he was taken down in a struggle. He was taken before police magistrate Whiteford, who happened to be in Bothwell, then transferred to Oatlands.

In December 1840, Bothwell was the scene of a murder connected to the so-called “Bothwell Bushrangers”. Two shepherds who were in the employ of a Mr. Broadribb were found dead under a tree. It seemed that the men had been murdered and their bodies haphazardly concealed behind a log. Thanks to the ineptitude of the local police, by the time the bodies were retrieved they were so severely decomposed, owing to the summer heat, that an autopsy was unable to determine a cause of death. The crime was attributed to the bushrangers Beard, Birrell and Fisher, but there was no certainty as to the identities of the killers. The utter ineptitude of the Bothwell police was on show during the affair and the papers were scathing in their appraisal.

Source: The True Colonist Van Diemen’s Land Political Despatch, and Agricultural and Commercial… (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1834 – 1844) 7 December 1838: 6.

Kempton

Kempton is a small town that used to be a stop on the old coach road. Like most places in regional Tasmania it is full of heritage buildings and plenty of history. In its early days the area was known as Green Ponds.

In 1845, William Westwood travelled through here after escaping from his assignment at Glenorchy. He was accompanied by two other convicts, George Allum and Thomas Gillam, and they had intended to go to Launceston and steal a boat so they could sail to Sydney, but could not find one. As it turned out, none of the men knew enough about the Tasmanian wilderness to know where they were going. While camping at Green Ponds, Westwood was abandoned by the first of his dispirited comrades. The second left him at New Norfolk and he continued on his way alone.

Kempton’s connection to Matthew Brady is one of particular note. At the height of his bushranging career, Brady and his gang rode into Kempton, where they had sympathisers, and targeted the farm of one Francis Flexmore. Allegedly, this Flexmore was not exactly popular with his servants and they had reportedly informed the bushrangers of where their employer kept a secret stash of money under his mattress.

Brady bailed Flexmore up and robbed him of his money, his best horses and even his Panama hat, which he exchanged for his own. It took considerable coaxing for Flexmore to give up his hidden treasure, but when one is at the business end of a pistol, one is not in a position to argue. Afterwards, it is said, Flexmore would boast of his resistance to the demands of the notorious Brady.

Colebrook

Formerly known as Jerusalem, a name still acknowledged by the Jerusalem Creek, this area was part of the Howe Gang’s beat as well as being visited by other major gang’s in later years. The town was built mostly from convict labour, and currently is a small farming community. In its early days soldiers would go on expeditions around the town to hunt kangaroo and emu to supplement the town’s dwindling food supplies.

It was also here that Martin Cash was assigned to work before doing a runner to try and reunite with his girlfriend Bessie Clifford. Rumour has it he spent the night hiding in a pear tree near the police lock-up. It wasn’t the last time he would be in Jerusalem.

After their escape from Port Arthur, Cash, George Jones and Lawrence Kavanagh passed through Jerusalem and robbed a farm of a firearm and provisions.

The area around Colebrook is mostly vast, undulating plains and gullies. Most convict-era buildings are now long gone.

Hamilton

It was this area that James McCabe fled to after leaving Matthew Brady’s gang at Grindstone Bay in 1825. McCabe, operating solo, had several near-misses over a number of days as he robbed locals, before finally being captured at Clyde Vale (which was more than likely one of the various unofficial names given to Hamilton prior to its official naming the following year). McCabe was eventually hanged in Hobart.

Looking towards Hamilton from Glen Clyde House, aka Old Hamilton Inn.

Bagdad

Yet another site associated with a number of bushrangers, but most notably Michael Howe who was known to have operated here at various times.

In one such incident, Howe’s gang visited the farm of a Mr. Hayes, having walked 100 miles over eleven days from their previous outing. Lucky for them, but not so much for a hawker named W. T. Stocker, they arrived just when Stocker was staying at the farm for the night. The bushrangers plundered the hawker’s cart and escaped with a valuable haul of various goods. It’s believed they had been tipped off.

Bagdad also has a Martin Cash story to its name. When Cash, Jones and Kavanagh escaped from Port Arthur they had to cross Eaglehawk Neck. In so doing they lost all of their clothes. As they continued to move, they stuck up the Bagdad pub and acquired clothes for themselves to replace the ones lost to the sea.

Broadmarsh

Broadmarsh is a place that is off the beaten track. There are no real markers or signs to denote anything of historical significance, yet this was territory that fell in the beat of Michael Howe, Matthew Brady, and Martin Cash.

One of the more notable locations in Broadmarsh is Invercarron; an estate built on land that belonged to Lieutenant William “Wingy” Gunn. Gunn had gained the nickname”Wingy” in consequence of having lost his right arm due to injuries sustained during the Brady Gang’s infamous raid on Sorell. In 1842, a probation station was built at Invercarron, as it had previously housed convict road gangs throughout the 1830s. In 1847 it was shut down due to the deplorable conditions the convicts were kept in.

During the time the probation station was in operation, Cash & co paid a visit to Broadmarsh. Having recently escaped from Port Arthur, the gang had crossed Eaglehawk Neck and were making their way inland, collecting what they needed on the way. They came to a farm owned by a man named Kimberley and bailed the place up. They found the place locked up as everyone was in bed, and when they could not gain entrance Kavanagh shot off the lock. Upon entering the building they saw someone attempting to escape through the window. Cash tried to pull him in but only succeeded in apprehending the man’s belt, which was full of ammunition. The gang proceeded to round up the occupants of the house and then ransacked it, taking whatever they deemed necessary or desirable. After they left, they took supper in a convict’s hut where they were intercepted by law enforcement. Cash fired two warning shots from the doorway, then waited for a response but the soldiers and constables had fled in terror.

Broadmarsh is not a tourist trap by any means. Most of the land around here is farming or bush, not too different to what it was like in the days when bushrangers would haunt the area.

Richmond

The oldest surviving intact prison in Australia, the Richmond Gaol, was in operation from 1825 until the 1920s when it became abandoned.
It began as a place to accommodate convicts who were working in the area, but in later years, the gaol was mostly used as a sort of half-way house for prisoners en route to the city for trial or to bigger, purpose-built prisons such as the female factory in Cascades. Disorderly prisoners were often flogged or kept in solitary confinement in one of the many tiny wooden cells. Both male and female prisoners were kept here, though males greatly outnumbered the females.

It was here in 1838 that James Atterall’s gang were briefly imprisoned en route to Hobart to stand trial for murder. James Regan, Thomas Palmer and James Atterall since they had bailed up the Bald-Faced Stag Inn at Cleveland and shot one of the staff dead, they had gone on to continue raiding and robbing, adding Anthony Banks and George Davis to the gang, until they were finally apprehended by soldiers at their hideout on Brown Mountain. Regan, Atterall and Banks were subsequently hanged in Hobart.

Richmond was also the stomping ground of James “Rocky” Whelan, thus nicknamed for his craggy, pockmarked face. Whelan and an accomplice named Connolly were camped on the outskirts of Richmond and would rob people leaving the town. The pair soon had creative differences and split up. Whelan took up residence in a cave on Mount Wellington, near Hobart, where he would conduct his business. Whelan was not one for the “catch and release” style of robbery favoured by other bushrangers, and would later admit to five murders, and hinted at having committed even more. He even went so far as to say he would murder someone for fourpence. He was eventually captured and hanged in 1855.

New Norfolk

This is the heart of Michael Howe Country. It is no stretch of the imagination to imagine him and his gang roaming the hills and mountains around here picking off farms.

It was at New Norfolk that Howe’s gang raided the farm of a Mr. Carlisle. The terrified Carlisle immediately warned another local farmer, a shady fellow named Dennis McCarthy.

The bushrangers arrived at McCarthy’s farm but were surprised when McCarthy and his staff attacked them, including a servant who set upon the banditti with a broadsword. During the exchange, some of McCarthy’s men were wounded, but Howe prevented his men from taking life. They bolted into the bush, vowing to get even.

The gang returned a short time later when they knew McCarthy was absent, intending to burglarise his house. They did not realise that McCarthy had stationed redcoat soldiers inside the homestead, and as one of the gang members, Whitehead, was scouting for a way inside he was shot dead. A brief battle ensued with the gang retreating, but not before they severed the head of their fallen comrade to prevent the soldiers claiming the reward on it.

New Norfolk is also one of the places Cash and co. ventured through after escaping Port Arthur. They stuck up the Woolpack Inn and got fresh supplies.

Hobart

The Penitentiary Chapel and a portion of the perimeter wall are all that remains of Hobart Gaol. It was here that a great number of felons were held between 1817 and 1961, including some of Tasmania’s most infamous bushrangers. The chapel was created to allow the convicts to attend mass without having to walk to the cathedral with the civilians. Soon civilians that couldn’t be bothered walking to the other church demanded to attend mass at the penitentiary. Under the pews were a series of inhumane undersized solitary cells, that were considered cruel even for the standards of the convict era.

Until the late 1850s, hangings in Hobart were performed on a wooden gallows on Campbell Street. This gallows could hang six men at a time, though there was never really a need for such capability. It was here that bushrangers were put to death including, but not limited to, Matthew Brady, Thomas Jeffries, Musquito, Rocky Whelan, and Alexander Pearce. If the bodies were not gibbetted, they were generally buried in unmarked graves behind the gallows, or in the old Barracks Street cemetery. The site where the gallows once stood is now the site of Campbell Street Primary School, and the unmarked convict graves are located underneath the playground. By the 1860s, the old gallows had been decommissioned, replaced with a permanent gallows within the gaol, that still remains intact.

When Martin Cash heard that his lover, Bessie Clifford, had begun co-habiting with another man in Hobart, he ventured into the town intending to shoot the man for taking his girl, and also intended to shoot Bessie for her infidelity. Cash was immediately recognised and a chase ensued down various streets around the gaol, until Cash was cornered. In the chaos, Cash shot and killed off-duty Constable Winstanley, and disfigured another man by shooting off his nose. Cash was beaten into submission by the angry mob that had caught him, and he was taken into custody.

In earlier times, Hunter Island was once one of the most feared locations in Hobart Town. A small landmass just offshore, it was the perfect place to send a message to miscreants in the old English way – gibbetting. Convicts that were executed on the original wooden gallows that stood on the island would have their corpses “hung in chains” from a gibbet post on the shoreline. The bodies would remain in place until they were deemed to have had a suitable deterrent effect (usually when the body was so rotten it was no longer properly held in place), whereupon they were typically buried on the island. This is what happened to the headless body of bushranger John Whitehead.

During an attempted raid on Dennis McCarthy’s farm by Michael Howe’s gang, Whitehead was shot and killed by soldiers. His gang members then hacked off the head to prevent the soldiers or McCarthy from claiming the reward on it, (in those days to have a “price on your head” was a literal term; bounty hunters took the severed head in to verify the identity and claim their payout). Only a couple of years later, Michael Howe was ambushed and killed near the Shannon River, and his head was cut off. This time the reward was claimed and Howe’s head was displayed on a spike on Hunter Island. Much regret was displayed by the Governor that the rest of the body had not also been supplied for gibbetting.

The island was later joined to the rest of the waterfront by filling in the gap with dirt to create a causeway, whereupon it ceased it’s function as a place of execution and displaying corpses, and became an industrial area. It is believed that Michael Howe’s head was buried approximately where the Drunken Admiral restaurant now stands.

The clock tower of the “Tench”.
The former Hunter Island as it appears now. There are no traces of any of the grisly convict era uses for the island.

Cornelian Bay Cemetery

Hobart’s oldest, and most popular cemetery is home to the grave of Martin Cash, who died in 1878. Prior to this he had lived his final days in Glenorchy; his son’s untimely death having pushed him to alcoholism. Cash was 70 when he died, resulting in many crediting him as one of the only bushrangers to die of old age although it was complications from his drinking that did it.

There are many people buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery as well, mostly executed criminals, some of whom were bushrangers, and paupers, but one notable unmarked resident is Solomon Blay, the infamous hangman who rose from being a flagellator to executioner, and held the occupation for more than two decades. Many of the executed bushrangers were dangled at the end of a rope by Solomon Blay. Blay took pride in his work, but he had a reputation, and when drivers started refusing to take him where he was headed he simply walked everywhere.

Eaglehawk Neck

This isthmus was the only stretch of land that connected Port Arthur to the rest of Van Diemens Land. Across the narrowest portion there was a line of half-starved dogs, chained to kennels, acting as a deterrent to escaped convicts.Despite the dog line, numerous convicts did escape and became bushrangers. The outlaws Dalton and Kelly escaped with two others and attempted to swim around the dog line. Only Dalton and Kelly survived, the others presumably taken by sharks.Most famously, though, it was here that Martin Cash escaped Port Arthur, then after he was recaptured he escaped through here again with Lawrence Kavanagh and George Jones.

Port Arthur

A number of notable bushrangers (and minor ones) did time here. Among the alumni are Martin Cash, Lawrence Kavanagh, George Jones, Captain Melville and William Westwood. Port Arthur penal settlement was referred to as “Hell on Earth” by the convicts stationed here. The regime was brutal and dehumanising, and many tried to escape – few had any degree of success.

Although Port Arthur was promoted as inescapable, the reality was a far cry from the marketing. Escapes were frequent, though if the escapees made it past the dogline they usually got lost in the bush and were recaptured within a few days. William Westwood escaped from the prison several times, on one occasion only lasting three days before surrendering. He was nude and starving, his companions having been eaten by sharks as they attempted to swim across Eaglehawk Neck. For his escapology, Westwood was rewarded with several months of solitary confinement.

The Point Puer boys prison was the first facility for juvenile offenders in the entire British Empire, and its aim was to reform the youngest criminals away from the corrupting influence of the “old hands” in the main part of the prison system.
Here the boys would learn literacy and numeracy, as well as developing trade skills such as carpentry, shoemaking and stonemasonry.
This facility ran from 1834 to 1848, and in that time it improved the lot for a considerable number of boys, but a number continued to break the law into adulthood.
One of the inmates at Point Puer was a fifteen-year-old Francis McCallum. He refused to buckle under and repeatedly escaped from the peninsula. On at least one occasion it was claimed he lived with local Aborigines after escaping. This rebellious streak could not be quelled and as an adult McCallum journeyed to the mainland where he menaced Victoria as the bushranger Captain Melville.

2 thoughts on “A Guide to Tasmanian Bushranging (2021)

  1. I’m not easily shocked, but I can’t believe Tasmania employed gibbeting, even after the act allowing it was repealed in England. English law was bad enough, but to impose it on others was absolutely barbaric!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s