Spotlight: TASMANIAN HISTORY – A SKETCH OF OLD TIMES; EMBODYING THE BUSH CAREER OF MATTHEW BRADY by J. E. Calder (Pt. 7)

Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Saturday 23 August 1873, page 3


TASMANIAN HISTORY.

THE FIRST TROUBLES OF GOVERNOR AUTHUR

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

Written by J. E. CALDER

[Continued.]

The pursuit after Brady was now kept up so perseveringly, that he saw his career must soon finish unless he could escape the country aItogether; and he now reverted to his favourite idea of seizing some vessel, and fleeing to such cover as he might find in lands where he was unknown. Here his doom was certain and speedy, for further concealment amongst an outraged people was hopeless, and nothing but flight from their midst remained for him. Rapidity of motion or the connivance of secret acquaintances, availed him but little now that the rewards of the Government for his destruction were too large for cupidity to resist; while the atrocities of such hot-brained men as Bird and Murphy – which it was studiously circulated that he took part in – raised up an army of enemies to annihilate him. The half kindly feeling of the colonists for himself personally, for his gallant boating, undoubted talents and great forbearance, was changed to horror when it was believed that he had devised such deeds as the cold-blooded murder of Hunt at Grindstone Bay, the wanton burning of Lawrence’s property, and some other acts of incendiarism even worse than this, that were done at this time by men of his party who were separated from the main body; and in every face he saw nothing but hatred. By the artifices of enemies in his own camp, he found himself more frequently in situations of danger than ever; and as fast as he drew his men out of one difficulty, it was only to see them in another caused as though by mysterious agency that was not to be understood, and which he ascribed to every cause but the real one. The new allies, Cowan and others, having nothing to fear, even if taken, acted their prearranged parts, with such a well disguised semblance of fidelity to the others that they quite escaped suspicion. Seeming to yield to their opinions, and cordially to assist them in everything, they were regarded by the rest as amongst the most resolute and faithful of the party. They were always the first to obtain intelligence of the movements of their pursuers, which they certainly knew, at least partially, but used it only to increase their perplexities. At the same time they communicated Brady’s whereabouts, and intended operations and movements to the police, so that he was now never an hour out of danger, and nearly every day brought some indication of approaching disaster.

Overcome by the constantly increasing perils of his situation, he persuaded his men to follow him to the Tamar, where the brig Glory was lying somewhere in this long and rather narrow inlet of the sea. The Tamar, which is in reality only the estuary of the united rivers called the North and South Esks, and not a river itself in the proper sense of the word, is forty miles long. Having reached some point of its elevated shores, he quitted his men for awhile to reconnoitre it from a lofty hill, to discover where the Glory lay, and he succeeded in making her out. But night overtook him, and he failed to rejoin his men till morning, who were very uneasy at his unusual absence.

On their route to the Tamar, they met several travellers, who they carried along with them to prevent any immediate alarm, and while Brady was absent, as related above, one of them named either Guilders or Guelders, escaped from them during the watch of Goodwin, one of the gang, for which neglect, says the Colonial Times (10th March), “they formally tried their sentry, shot him dead, and threw him into the river.” But this is not quite correct. He indeed stood his trial, and was sentenced to die but they gave him a chance for his life. Having ere this secured a boat, from which to attack the Glory, they conveyed him a long distance from the shore, and then threw him overboard without shooting him, but proving to be a good swimmer, he reached land again. Guilders reached Launceston, and gave information to the Commandant, Colonel Balfour, of the movements of Brady, who started in pursuit with a well appointed party.

On Brady’s return, the bushrangers pulled off to the Glory. But some of the men were irresolute, and others undoubtedly treacherous, having no intention of quitting Tasmania, till their evil mission of betraying or destroying their companions was fulfilled, and he could not persuade them to board. Rowing round her several times, they debated the matter amongst themselves, and Brady soon saw that few of them liked the project. Dispirited by their objections, he went, says the Colonial Times, “into the stern of the boat and said, ‘decide it amongst yourselves, let not my voice avail anything.’ They said as the wind was foul, they would not take her, and sent Watson a prisoner into Launceston, to say they would that night rob Mr. Dry. … It was treated with derision.” But they meant it, and carried their project into fatal execution.

Abandoning their boat, they proceeded to Mr. Dry’s forthwith. The details of this adventure have been supplied me by the late Honourable Mr. Wedge, who was present, and whose account I shall quote from.

Mr. Wedge had dined that day with the Commandant of Launceston, when the news reached him of Brady’s intention, which he at least did not treat with derision. “The Colonel,” says Wedge “instantly ordered his horse, and started accompanied by myself armed with a double gun. On entering the field leading to Elphin,” (the name of the place where Dry then lived), “we heard the discharge of fire-arms at the time. Making all haste to get there, we found the whole establishment in the utmost confusion. Everything in the house tumbled together, and the inmates in the greatest state of excitement. Mr. Dry, without his coat, and his shirtsleeves covered with blood, occasioned by the scratch of a bayonet. The discharge of guns we had heard, was occasioned by Mr. Mulgrave, the Police Magistrate, who had received the first intimation of the attack, having proceeded there with a party of constables. Fancying the bushrangers were in the house, he courageously led the way to the front door. Brady, however, who acted as sentinel and commander-in-chief, walking in and out of the house, whilst the others of his party were putting such things together as they intended to take away, heard Mr. Mulgrave’s party coming. He immediately ordered his party to withdraw from the house, and stationed them behind some palings at the back, where they awaited the entrance of Mr. Mulgrave’s men at the front door, when they fired their volley. Fortunately the palings caused them to raise the muzzles of their guns, and their shots took effect on the shingles of the lean-to, instead of going into the passage leading through the house. Brady considerately told the ladies, that there was likely to be some hot work, and advised them to ‘lay down,’ saying ‘these soldiers,’ as he thought them, ‘are only rough fellows, and don’t care who they hit.’ The Colonel and myself arrived a few minutes after this occurred, and whilst a consultation was going on as to what was best to be done, one of my men came to me to ask me if I had been in my tent, pitched at the time within thirty yards of Elphin house. In answering in the negative, he replied, ‘well I think the bushrangers are at your boxes.’ I communicated this to Colonel Balfour, who at once formed a party to go and attack them. We were however at a great disadvantage, it being so dark that if a hand were held up it could not be seen unless held above the horizon,” (a Dr. Priest had now joined them.) “The bushrangers,” continues Wedge “heard us coming, and retreated over the fence, and on our arrival, received us with a volley, which was returned without effect, only having the flash of their guns to guide our aim. Their fire was more fatal. The white trousers worn by Dr. Priest, became a target for their aim, and the Doctor and his horse must have received the greater part of the volley, for no less than sixteen balls went through the flap of the saddle into the horse, two of them passing through the Doctor’s knee. He would not submit to have his leg amputated, and as predicted by his medical advisers, died a week or ten days afterwards. We could not go in pursuit of them, as from the extreme darkness of the night, we could not see which way they went. During the time the bushrangers were pillaging the house, Dr. Landale had a narrow escape from being murdered. One of the men, I think it was Murphy, was on the point of shooting him, thinking it was me.” (Wedge, was one of Brady’s most active pursuers) “but Brady, who knew the Doctor, was just in time to save him, saying ‘It’s not Wedge, but Dr. Landale,'” &c.

After the retreat of the bushrangers, Colonel Balfour returned to Launceston, leaving a strong party to protect Elphin. Wedge says “He then started for town, and in passing a large pile of wood, near the track through the paddock behind which the bushrangers had secreted themselves, they gave him evidence of their good intentions by giving him a salute from six or seven guns. … It caused his horse to swerve, by which the Colonel lost his cap, which was picked up and afterwards worn by Brady in triumph,” the latter, according to a writer who I have quoted from before, styling himself Commandant of Launceston.

I believe that no one who has followed me through the narration of the incidents of Brady’s bush career, can be imbued with any veneration for a man so lawless as he was. Still it is impossible to refuse him a certain measure of praise for never failing to restrain (at least as well as he could) the nearly ungovernable licentiousness of the desperate fellows who he was the leader of, thus preventing unnecessary criminality, when in his power to do so, in performing which it is well known he often risked his own safety; for there were some of his men, particularly Murphy and Bird, who often angrily resented his interference, and would have sacrificed him just as soon as any other person when under the control of their Satanic passions, had not his own resolution and unyielding nature acquired from him a degree of ascendancy even over those malevolent spirits, which they felt the full force of, which awed them into an involuntary submission to his will. After having given more than one of several examples of the better nature of this man, which showed itself in the voluntary preservation of life in some instances, in the prevention of unnecessary havoc in others, and the enforcement of respectful treatment of the females of any place he pillaged, it is not without regret that I have now to exhibit him as a murderer himself.

After the late fight at Elphin, he retired with his men to a secluded retreat in the woods, and set up his camp by the side of one of those dry watercourses that are sometimes found even in this land of overflowing rivers, which cease to run in the hot autumnal months, though they still retain water in the more depressed portions of their beds. These waterholes are often at some distance apart – that is, a hundred or two yards or more – the natural pathway of such streams being perfectly dry between them. In such places, forests and close-growing underwood often abound, affording most excellent shelter against easy discovery.

It was whilst here Brady heard that his old betrayer, Kenton, was in the neighbourhood, living, I believe, at a public-house called either the “Old Opossum” or “Cocked Hat,” from the district it was in, namely, the Cocked Hat Hill. Brady was now more than ever incensed at this man, and the very mention of his name, I have heard, had the effect of provoking him to frenzy. He was not usually a fiery man, any more than a vindictive one, nor subject to out bursts of passion. But he had now – according to his style of thinking – strong grounds for wishing to confront and punish him; and directly he knew where he was to be found, he started off with two others, Bryant and the youth Williams (the latter always a ready volunteer for any mischievous service), to take him to task, but not, it is generally believed, with the intention of killing him.

I have said before that after Brady’s flight from Kenton’s hut, the latter, though as free a man as the Governor, was sent to gaol for conniving at the bushranger’s escape (for in those days the authorities never stuck at trifles. ) Barefaced as this man was, he was ashamed to own how the bandaged brigand had mastered him and escaped from his care, and he preferred pleading guilty to the charge of winking at his flight, than allow the real narrative to get abroad. Whilst in gaol, he used to boast of having aided the outlaw in regaining his freedom; of his great intimacy with him, and perfect knowledge of all his robberies; for which he was thought none the worse of by his gaol associates, who held such actions more in honour than disesteem. These statements of the imprisoned hero soon gained general credence, of which he artfully took advantage to avenge himself on Brady, by imputing acts to him with which he had no concern, even causing it to be believed that two soldiers who were killed by men not of his party, were shot by Brady himself. Irritated at conduct like this, after his forgiveness of Kenton’s treachery to him, he resolved to expose and chastise him now that he had the opportunity.

He started for the Cocked Hat accordingly long before daylight of Sunday, the 6th of March, and reached it while yet dark, and while the inmates of the inn were still asleep, who were quickly aroused by such a thunder-clatter at the door as might have been heard a thousand yards off. After some hesitation about admitting the noisy and impatient strangers, the door was opened and in they went. Brady then enquired if Thomas Kenton had slept there that night, and being answered as he expected, demanded to be shown to his room without delay, as he wished to speak with him. The person addressed, seeing from his determined manner that he was not to be refused, took a candle and led the way to Kenton’s berth, and entered it along with the bushrangers, besides some others whom the disturbance had wakened up, and who were curious to know the meaning of this interview, and how it was going to end. A man named Yates had slept in the same apartment where Kenton was, and both started up, not knowing what this ill timed intrusion meant. Brady then placing himself in front of Kenton angrily enquired if he remembered him? which of course there was no denying. He next avowed himself to those present, and also the purpose of his visit, by saying sternly to his former betrayer: “Kenton, I have come to shoot you.” The name of the man and his object appalled them all into silence, and they shrunk at the unexpected disclosure of his dreadful intention of putting one of the company to death, and all fell back a little except the two principal actors, who remained together in the middle of the apartment.

Brady was not long in breaking silence by saying, “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.” Then, after a pause, during which Kenton was silent, he went on, “You say you helped me to make my escape after you and others had bound me, which you know is a lie, for I freed myself from the bandages you helped to put on me, and then mastered you. It was you who planned half the robberies I committed, and got most of the gain, that I risked my life for, while you were safe; and when it suited you to break with me, you laid the soldiers on me, who, with your assistance, took me, and had me prisoner for an hour. Still I let you off, and should have said no more about it had you kept quiet yourself, and not made things worse for me than they ought to be with your villainous lies. You have said that I committed murders that you know I had nothing to do with, and was no more present at than you were. You know I was not within miles of the place when the soldiers Spicer and Thompson were shot, whose deaths you have laid on me. Can you deny it that you have told hundreds that it was me who killed them, and did other things that I had no hand in?” Kenton’s guilt kept him silent. Then, after another pause of some seconds, he went on, “It’s more than flesh and blood can stand, and you shall die!” and drawing a pistol from his belt he held it at Kenton’s head. But here some of the bystanders begged hard for his life, urging that Kenton’s long imprisonment and sufferings were punishment enough. But they were cut short by Brady, who was in no mood for interruption, turning fiercely on them and telling they knew nothing about it; and it is said he then detailed all the circumstances of his betrayal by Kenton, his capture, and wonderful escape, and concluded by turning up his coat sleeves, and exposing to view the fire scars on his wrists and arms. They were now silent in their turn, and Brady was about raising his pistol again, when Kenton, so it is reported, said something about the company present trying him, which was met by Brady telling him: “No. There are none of them who were present at what took place, so I’ll settle the matter without their help. I give you five minutes to prepare for death in, beyond which time you shall not live one second.” (laying strong emphasis on the last two words) and then retiring a yard or two, he took out his watch, to time the short remainder of Kenton’s life.

Angry as Brady really was, Kenton did not believe that his words were anything but threats, meant to intimidate him; so fool-like he commenced acting the part of one who is callous to all such displays of violence, at a moment when it is thought that a single submissive word would have saved him. But that word was not forth-coming, and instead of uttering it, he commenced upbraiding his executioner, and tauntingly bade him do his worst. “Five minutes to prepare myself in,” said he contemptuously, “I don’t want one. I believe in neither God nor devil, and have no fear about dying. Fire away,” (and here he used words that cannot be written down.) “You know better than to do it, you are afraid to do it, you cursed cur dog.” Kenton had by this time moved a little, and leant with his head against the door frame. Irritated to something like frenzy, Brady’s usual prudence quite deserted him, and he pointed his pistol at him again. But here the hardened youth Williams stood forward, and offered to shoot him. “No,” said Brady; “you have done enough to hang you ten times over already; but you shall do nothing here; I can settle him without your assistance;” and then taking a steady aim at Kenton’s head, he fired, and his victim fell to the floor, his blasphemous tongue stilled for ever.

Brady kept his eyes fixed on the alarmed and nearly stupified company, during the few seconds it took him to reload; but seeing from, their dismay, that they meant not to obstruct his retreat, he moved off, telling them as he retired to go into Launceston, and report what they had witnessed to the Commandant. He then quitted the house and returned to his solitary bivouac.

I received the details of this dreadful transaction from many sources, but chiefly from Messieurs Gee and McKay; and I have moulded the information into what I believe to be a faithful narrative. It is strange that this passage of Brady’s eventful life has never found its way into print in a continuous form that I know of, and is now to be obtained from oral narration only. Indeed, from the faulty style of newspaper reporting in the olden times, very little information of the closing events of his ill spent life, are to be gathered from contemporaneously written history, or from any history that I know of. *

[To be continued ]

* One account that I have received of this affair, says Brady called Kenton outside, and them shot him.

One thought on “Spotlight: TASMANIAN HISTORY – A SKETCH OF OLD TIMES; EMBODYING THE BUSH CAREER OF MATTHEW BRADY by J. E. Calder (Pt. 7)

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