Bushranging Gazette #7

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

The Dashing Career Of Australia’s Forgotten ‘Gentleman Bushranger’

It seems appropriate that following the publication on A Guide to Australian Bushranging of James Erskine Calder’s account of the life and bushranging career of Matthew Brady that his story should catch the attention of more mainstream media.

Matthew Brady, James McCabe and Patrick Bryant

Synchronicity saw Nine News publish a condensed account of Brady’s life online mere days after the Calder articles had rolled out on this website. The introduction makes reference to outlaw folk heroes Captain Thunderbolt and Ned Kelly before delving into the story of Tasmania’s greatest outlaw folk hero.

But as large as Ned’s helmeted shadow looms over colonial folklore, even he was hard-pressed to match a character largely forgotten now, whose execution was accompanied by tears and pleas for leniency, and who spent his last days in a jail cell surrounded by gifts of food and wine.

9News Staff

The article gives a decent account of he story in very broad brushstrokes, which hopefully inspires more people to investigate the story further.

You can read the article here.

Ronnie Minder’s Legendary Score On YouTube

Swiss-born composer Ronnie Minder recently made the entire score to 2016’s The Legend of Ben Hall available on his YouTube channel. The acclaimed score was shortlisted for an Oscar nod in the 89th Academy Awards, up against some stiff competition from hundreds of other contenders from around the world.

You can listen to Ronnie Minder’s music here.

Matthew Holmes, director of The Legend of Ben Hall, was also interviewed by David Black for the Australian Short Film Network, which you can read here.

Papua New Guinean Bushranging

An intriguing article by Sinclair Dinnen and Grant Walton was released last month that discussed a man who is being referred to as “PNG’s Ned Kelly”. Tommy Baker is leader of a gang of bandits who have been on the run in Milne Bay since 2013 and have at least five murders to their names (two civilians and three police).

Baker and his confederates, of whom there seems to be enough to equate to a small army, seem to be living the life of some of history’s greatest outlaws, skillfully evading capture and enjoying enormous support from the ordinary people that harbour them. Born in 1986, as a teenager he began committing crimes with his friends, soon racking up charges of armed robbery, murder and piracy. Baker has also made an effort to shape himself as a champion of the native people against white missionaries, stating:

Our elders respect these white men, missionaries, families of missionaries, but we have grown and we do not like it. It’s time we Milne Bay (people) run our own province. This is our home, our land. We are Papua New Guineans.

Tommy Baker (attributed)
Tommy Baker [Source]

Baker has come to represent a struggle against a foreign power that denies the people self-governance, as well as overbearing and corrupted police who are known to treat people with excessive violence. Long-time enthusiasts of Australian bushranging history will be very familiar with these sentiments, as they very closely mirror the ideas that outlaws like Ned Kelly, Daniel Morgan, Jack Donohoe and Matthew Brady came to represent to large numbers of people of the lower and convict classes during the colonial era. This may even prove to be a real-time demonstration in exactly how these men gained their status and how it manifested in either outright sympathy or fearful compliance with the outlaws by the general public.

Like many popular outlaws, Baker has been described as being quite unlike the typical ruffian one would expect with such a reputation for violent crime. An anonymous pastor that knew Baker as a young man described him as:

A nice quiet man that could make friends easily, he does not chew, smoke or do drugs. He has a lot of friends and loves playing rugby.

Anonymous Pastor

The same source claims that Baker is aware that if he turns himself in he will be killed, which seems an accurate assessment when viewed in light of the fact that in late August of this year six members of his gang were killed in a gun battle with police near Rabaraba. One of the men killed was Baker’s right-hand man Mekere Yawi. Despite the enormous expense spent on the hunt for Baker and his gang, he continues to evade capture.

Learn more about this intriguing story by reading Sinclair Dinnen and Grant Walton’s article here and further articles from the Post Courier here, here and here.

“I’ll fight, but not surrender…”

September first marks the anniversary of the death of Jack Donohoe in a gunfight near Raby, New South Wales, in 1830. To commemorate, Julia Dąbrowska, long-time follower and contributor to A Guide to Australian Bushranging, has submitted an illustration depicting the outlaw’s final moments.

Artwork by Julia Dąbrowska

The gunfight at Bringelly brought an end to Donohoe’s wild and reckless career and was seen by some as a precursor to the infamous Bathurst Rebellion later that year. You can read about the battle here.

A Thunderbolt From The Past

In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, Julie Power discusses genealogy and its role in not only preserving records, but also shedding light on forgotten stories. In particular, she highlights new details about boy bushranger Thomas Mason, one-time sidekick of Captain Thunderbolt.

After Mason’s father died, he and his brothers were orphaned. Thomas at sixteen was taken under the wing of Frederick Ward and eventually ended up in gaol over his foray into bushranging. New details about his history were uncovered when orphanage documents were being digitised for researchers.

That interest in the past has spiked demand by the public for digitisation of records, said Martyn Killion, the director of collections, access and engagement with State Archives and Records Authority of NSW. It recently digitised and loaded the records of 1000 boys placed at the Protestant Orphan School in Parramatta from 1850. Mr Killion said when staff searched through these records, they had hoped to find a tale of someone who rose to greatness. A premier, perhaps. Instead, the newly digitised records online, revealed details of Thomas Mason, orphaned at six, who went on to ride with the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, born Frederick Wordsworth Ward.

Julie Power

Read the full article here.

Absolute Mad Lad

The Ned Kelly story continues to capture the imagination of people around the world, and has now been immortalised in the pantheon of Scottish YouTuber Count Dankula’s “Absolute Mad Lads”. Dankula, the nom de plume of Markus Meechan, uses the series of videos to showcase figures in history that display often entertainingly extreme behaviours, ranging from war heroes to career criminals (and even an orangutan named Ken Allen). Meechan’s style is conversational and very tongue-in-cheek, but not to everyone’s tastes, especially if you are hoping for impartial and scholarly accounts. Long-time fans of the series have been putting Ned Kelly’s name forward as a candidate for some time and Meechan himself had hinted at the inclusion of Australia’s most infamous bushranger in an earlier video. As with all such media, there are some factual errors, and amusing mispronunciations of Australian place names, but there is more correct than incorrect in the recounting of the story and it makes for an entertaining interpretation.

Mini-Spotlight

Moonlite’s Note

[Source: Public Records Office Victoria]

The infamous “Captain Moonlite” note that was written during the Mount Egerton bank robbery that eventually saw Andrew George Scott gaoled in Pentridge Prison, and immortalised his nickname:

I hereby certify that L W Bruun has done everything in his power to withstand our intrusion and the taking away of the money which was done with firearms. Captain Moonlite

Christie’s Record

[Source: Public Records Office Victoria]

The Victorian prison record of Francis Christie – better known as Frank Gardiner:

What we see from the record is that Christie was convicted in October 1850, sentenced to five years hard labour on the roads, and did time in Geelong and in Pentridge Stockade before absconding in March 1851.

He would later find himself on Cockatoo Island in New South Wales. A note in pencil states, “said to be Frank Gardiner the Sydney Bushranger”.

This Month on A Guide to Australian Bushranging

This month will see a range of Spotlights on various archival reports and items pertaining to Jack Donohoe, Martin Cash, William Westwood (and more).

This month’s feature will be on some of the lost relics of bushranging, particularly the death mask of Moonlite’s mate Thomas Rogan, which appears to have been mislabelled.

There will also be a review of the first three books in Jane Smith’s Tommy Bell series and R. B. R. Verhagen’s Alexander Pearce novel In the Company of Madness.

As always, there will continue to be more posts on Facebook and Instagram, as well as YouTube videos on the official channel for A Guide to Australian Bushranging.

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