Spotlight: TASMANIAN HISTORY – A SKETCH OF OLD TIMES; EMBODYING THE BUSH CAREER OF MATTHEW BRADY by J. E. Calder (Pt. 4)

Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Wednesday 20 August 1873, page 3


TASMANIAN HISTORY.

THE FIRST TROUBLES OF GOVERNOR ARTHUR

A SKETCH OF OLD TIMES; EMBODYING THE BUSH CAREER OF MATTHEW BRADY.

Written by J. E. Calder.

[Continued.]

To return to Brady; very shortly before the recent attack on Mr. Meredith, his party was reinforced by several men, and the names of those of whom it now consisted, were Bird, Brown, Bryan, Cody, Dunne, McKenny, Murphy, and the leader.

From Grindstone Bay they made their way once more to Hobart Town, which they entered despite the active but ill-managed pursuit that was maintained to destroy them. All the disposable troops, and the entire police force of the South, assisted by more than four hundred civilians, were after them. Yet in face of all this force, they got into Hobart Town unobserved, though it was guarded by a thousand armed men and more, who lay within a cannon shot of the town boundaries.

On their way they passed through what is still the most insignificant of Tasmanian villages, which in defiance of good taste and propriety has been invested with the historic name of Jerusalem. Here they robbed a farmer named Clitherow, a most plucky fellow, who fought them so bravely, and in his own person resisted them so manfully, that it was with the last difficulty Brady restrained his enraged followers from shooting him. But in place of sacrificing him, he accepted his pledge to raise no alarm before next day, which Clitherow, who was as honourable as brave, observed.

From here they struck over to the Derwent river, halting at Stanfield’s house so, which is on land called Green Point, and nearly close to the shore. It is hardly necessary to say that they robbed it of property and cash, valued at two hundred pounds. The wearied men lay at Green Point till near midnight, and then sallied forth to complete their journey to the capital.

It was either at Stanfields or a neighbouring farm, that they seized a boat and got across the river, which is here very wide. With audacity almost amounting to temerity, they landed at the south western terminus of what was then, and for many years afterwards, the principal ferry in Tasmania, namely Austin’s, and then marched straight for Hobart Town, which they entered unseen long before the night ended, as their march was only nine miles. They settled themselves in the house of an accomplice, who lived somewhere in Campbell-street, I believe.

Directly it was known that they had crossed the river, the whole of the male portion of the inhabitants of the town and suburbs, capable of bearing arms, turned out to oppose, and if possible to destroy them; military, police, and civilians, uniting heart and hand to rid the country of a banditti, which Hydra-like seemed always to revive, however freely it was cut to pieces.

The country all around the seat of Government was astir with armed men. Numerous patrols perambulated every road by which the town could be approached, and every point that the bushrangers were likely to pass, was thoroughly guarded. The force was moreover so disposed as to form a sort of cordon, within which it was hoped to entrap these fellows, but who, unknown to the authorities, were already in the citadel.

That they had got over the Derwent was indicated by several circumstances, one of which was curious enough. After landing at Austin’s they next tried to sink their boat, a whaleboat, by first scuttling, and then half filling her with stones, and shoving her off into deep water to sink. But in their hurry to get into town, and in the darkness of night, the work was done imperfectly. Thus the scuttle hole was cut too far aft, and the stones were put in too far forward; hence, from the peculiar build of a whaleboat, the hole was soon out of water altogether, and she did not sink at all. She was picked up at daylight as she drifted about, and then it was that some one well acquainted with the neighbourhood chanced to look at these stones, and at once pronounced them to be of a kind found only on the Hobart Town bank of the Derwent, an unmistakeable proof that they had crossed over (Gazette, 22nd October, 1825).

The fact of their having got within Hobart Town is given on the authority of the official Gazette of the 26th November.

What could have prompted them to make this visit it is now vain to enquire. But the frequent successes of Brady, notwithstanding a few mishaps, seem at this time to have kindled within him a little too much of that over-daring known as foolhardiness, to which he sacrificed himself in the end; and several of his adventures at this period were so daring and successful, as, I suppose, justified to his own mind the belief that himself and followers were equal to any enterprise, however hazardous.

As precedingly stated every precaution was used to prevent the escape of the robbers, now believed to be in the snares of the Government.

But to make quite sure of this, it was necessary to guard the Derwent, so that they should not retreat in this direction. All private boats that could be found were therefore removed from it, and several vessels and guard boats, under the command of Captains Welsh, Hobbs, Frank Pitt and others, watched the river day and night to intercept them, if, contrary to expectation, they made any attempt to get back.

While all those preparations were proceeding and the expectation of the surrender of the fugitives was growing stronger and stronger every hour, the robbers, confident in their means of escape, still lay in Hobart Town, doubtlessly laughing at all the fuss and bustle that was going on around them for their capture. But matters began to get serious, and it was time to think of retreating, and the night of Sunday, the 28th October, was fixed on for the enterprise. About an hour after dark they stole over to Providence Valley, near Shoobridge’s, within the present boundaries of the city, hiding in the bed of a small creek, in what was then called the Naval officer’s Paddock, that is where King and Queen-streets now are.

Wishing, however, that their escape should be known to the Governor, and that they had once more given him the slip, two of them suddenly appeared, says the Gazette of the 5th November, “as William Gormley, one of the night patrol on the New Town road was on the look out by the creek at the further end of the Naval officer’s paddock.” Being challenged by the watchman, they answered they were soldiers. The other six being close behind, the patrol was seized, and hurried off the road to be the eye witness of their escape from the presence of the very formidable force by which the town was begirt.

The nameless little rill, in the bed of which they lay concealed just before seizing Gormley, passes under the New Town road, about sixty paces above the inn called the Dallas Arms.

They hurried forward at their best speed with their prisoner to the Prince of Wales’ Bay on the Derwent, about four miles north-westerly of Hobart Town. “They divided themselves,” says the Gazette, “into two parties, four going before, and the others marching him along with them, * * * till they were nearly opposite to Mr. Salmon’s farm” (now Mr. W. J. T. Clarke’s, of Victoria), “and on arriving at a projecting point beyond the farm, four of them went down to the beach, and the others remained sitting with Gormley on a bank. After a few minutes, a loud whistle was heard, and they ran off to join the others, saying he might now return and report what had occurred as soon as he pleased. During the walk, they made no secret of who they were, and were very inquisitive to know what treatment McCabe had met with since his apprehension.” * * * (This was a week before he was tried.) “They fired off Gormley’s gun and returned it to him,” then jumping into a boat kept purposely concealed for them by its owner, they dashed across the river.

Colonel Arthur would not believe Gormley’s report of their flight, so sure was he that they were still within his lines, and, indeed, stopped as they seemed to be by a broad river on one side, and a line of fire, so to speak, on the other their fortunes looked desperate enough. But the bushrangers had an accomplice, and this accomplice had a boat in concealment, which he lent them on receiving three watches and as many sovereigns, (Gazette, 26th November, 1825.)

It was not till the 18th November, just three weeks after the flight of the robbers, that certain tidings reached the Governor, of the fish having got out of the net, and were now robbing away again as actively as over sixty miles off. Then it was that a traveller from the East Coast named Denne,* who had just escaped from Brady after a forcible detention of six days, reached Hobart Town with the news that the outlaws, so far from being within the lines, were following their old practices, and were just then at Grindstone Bay again.

The amazement of Colonel Arthur is not to be described, but his chagrin was so great at having been once more outwitted by Brady, that he seems to have been ashamed to declare the fact at first. At any rate the official organ of the Government, the Gazette, that came out the day after Denne’s arrival with the startling but rather ludicrous news, was not informed of it, for it still speaks with the most perfect certainty of the brigands being within the living enclosure. It says: “We are sorry to say the bushrangers are still in the woods, though so hemmed in by the loyal and unwearied exertions of all” (I copy the words exactly) “as to render them comparatively harmless, and their speedy apprehension inevitable. The cheerfulness with which every individual lends his aid for this purpose, and submits to personal inconvenience, must soon have this desired and certain reward.” But, notwithstanding this editorial flourish, the game was gone.

But in spite of the Governor’s silence the truth leaked out at last, and a day or two afterwards, the troops and volunteers were all ingloriously returned to their homes after their really wearisome watch. But it was observed of the retiring heroes, that there was not much similarity in the deportment of the several classes of which the retreating force consisted. The demeanour of the official portion of the host was sour enough, and they got off home as fast as they could, to escape the notice of the critical and curious, who on this occasion of general disappointment, were more disposed to be censorious than civil. Of the unofficial part, the older ones did indeed deport themselves with becoming gravity, which though a little suspicious in a few instances, was pretty well maintained by most of them; but as for the younger ones, who formed the great majority of the muster, I grieve to say it, that to a man they behaved with the most indecorous levity, evincing in fact, much more amusement than regret, at the clever manner in which they had all been done.

Brief as Denne’s captivity amongst them was, it was long enough for him to see them commit several robberies, and take many prisoners. At one time, he was himself locked up for a whole night, along with fifteen others, “in a hut so small, that they were nearly smothered,” the bushrangers pitching a tent outside for themselves. At length, Brady ordered them to be released, but only two or three at a time, and at long intervals, for fear of a rush. During his six days’ detention, he observed that they burned nothing but charcoal at their camp, of which there is every where plenty in the bush, that their concealment could not be traced by the smoke of their bivouacs, and many other curious precautions were used by them to prevent surprise.

It was just before Brady’s escape through the lines, that Colonel Arthur was within a hairs breadth of falling to the rifle of Josiah Bird, one of this gang, said to be as true a marksman as ever levelled a piece. This man had stolen out of Hobart Town in disguise, for the chance of a shot at him, and at one moment actually had him under cover of his rifle. But as it is said of the devil’s children, that they have the devil’s luck, he escaped by the merest accident from death, as certain as that which eventually overtook his intended assassin.

Bird was taken at last, and lodged in gaol, was visited by the Governor, who then learned for the first time, how narrowly death had missed him. Colonel Arthur was riding out, unattended by any one except an Orderly servant, who rode at a little distance behind him. Bird was so concealed as to be seen by neither of them. But the Orderly’s horse must have winded him, for it took fright at the instant, and galloped off, nor could its rider pull it in, till he came close up to the Colonel, thus interposing itself and the Orderly between the bushranger and his mark. The Governor; remembered the circumstance. “It was at that moment, Sir” said Bird “that my piece was levelled at your head; and from the certainty of my aim, I had no reason to doubt that your life was in my hand, when the unexpected intervention of the Orderly man between us, defeated my object, until you were out of my reach. I had for some days meditated your life, which now seemed awarded to me almost beyond the doubt of failure, when the unlooked for occurrence frustrated my design, and but for which I assure you, Sir, you would have been a dead man.” Such is the account of this transaction, as told by Colonel Arthur himself, to the late G. W. Walker, in whose published Life it will be found, pages 51, 52.

It is difficult to place all Brady’s adventures in their proper order, and I do not know to what period the incident of his meeting the Provost Marshal, Beamont, belongs; but I will introduce it here.

The Marshal was returning from a wearying journey through the Hamilton district; and halting for a minute for a drink, his horse broke from him, while he was still many miles from home; and as if infected with the spirit of these bushranging times, bolted and took the bush also, galloping off with the Marshal’s saddle-bags, pistols, and everything, leaving the rider to finish his journey home a-foot. Not being dressed for a long bush walk, he soon fell so lame and foot-sore, that his pace was quickly reduced to a very slow walk, and he moved forward with great difficulty.

As he was hobbling along through the then sparsely peopled bush, he suddenly came on the camping ground of some strangers, who had chosen a most secluded spot for their hiding place. From their little fire, which was of charcoal only, there issued no smoke, and nothing indicated that the place was occupied by anyone, until it was reached. The spot chosen was so retired, that Beamont was actually standing in front of the little tent before he discovered it. It was in charge of one man only, who was sleeping so heavily, that it seemed evident he was much in the condition of his visitor, that is to say pretty well knocked up. His gun, which Beamont did not observe at first, leant against a tree two or three yards off, and Beamont stood between it and his owner. Believing that he had got unexpectedly into bad company, he was just about stealing off, but was stopped by the man suddenly starting to his feet. His first exclamation, on seeing a stranger standing between him and his arms, showed him to belong to the bushranging class, of whom there were then so many in the woods :— “Grabbed at last, by God,” said he, with a look of something like resignation. “Not by me at any rate,” said Beamont, who could hardly move himself, and though a plucky fellow, was just now in no condition for a fight, nor in his present unarmed state, any match for the other. Suspecting that his new acquaintance was either the notorious Brady or someone of his people, he naturally thought that this unseasonable rencontre was not likely to end too pleasantly for him, charged as he was with the final disposal of all such follows as the one who stood before him, and that his life was not worth five minutes’ purchase. Brady had seen the Marshal before, and at once recognised him, and perhaps was the most surprised of the two at finding him at his camp ; and though he never doubted of some day making his acquaintance — that is in his official capacity — he did not dream of his ever visiting him in his own lair. Each looked steadily at the other for some seconds, when Brady, seeming to divine that the rencontre was an undesigned one, thus broke silence: “So it’s you Mr. Beamont is it? What is the Provost Marshal doing alone in the bush in bushranging times like these, when no man is safe for a minute? If you have come for me,” edging up to his gun and seizing it, “you may find you have come a little too soon.” Beamont looked at him like a cat when stuck up by a dog, with no chance of getting away, which Brady observed, and then continued, “Pray do you know whose company you are in?” “Not exactly,” said the traveller. “Well then I am Brady the bushranger; you know me now I suppose.” “Oh yes,” rejoined Beamont, trying to look pleasant, “I think I have heard that name before.” “Most likely you have,” was the dry reply.

Beamont’s situation was not a pleasant one by any means from the first, and was still less so, after the other had secured his piece, which he put on full cock directly, as if preparing for mischief. “Now,” said Brady, “let me know at once what brings you to my camp.” “I came on it accidentally,” said Beamont, “of which you may be sure, as I am unarmed and quite alone. I first lost my horse and then my way, and that’s how I came here. I am dead lame, and must stop with you come what will of it, for I can go no farther.” Brady smiled at his distresses, and at the joke of having his future executioner for his guest, and then went on :– “Well, if you are knocked up, and have lost your horse, I suppose I must lend you mine, as soon as you are ready to start, for you cannot remain here, as I will not answer for your life after my fellows come back, which will not be long first.” Beamont cheered up wonderfully at his altered prospects, and accepted the offer. “But how am I to return your horse to you?” “Oh,” said Brady, “I’ll go with you, as will be best; for if you should meet any of our people, they may be troublesome, and perhaps put a bullet into you.” Beamont mounted the stolen horse, the efficious Brady giving him “a leg up,” and off they went together; and in this way did those two men, who held such very antipodal positions in the country, jog on in company, chatting away as merrily as if they were old friends, Brady going several miles to accommodate his future executioner, and never quitting his side, until they hove in view of the New Norfolk watchhouse, the sight of which seemed to admonish Brady that he had gone far enough. He now requested Beamont to dismount, and return him his horse, as “it was not quite convenient,” so he mildly phrased it, “to accompany him any farther, at least in that direction,” (taking a comprehensive view of the lock-up as he spoke.) So wishing the Marshal good afternoon, he went off at his usual galloping pace to his solitary bivouac.

[To be continued].

*This gentleman resided until recently on Bruny, Island. He died not long ago.

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