Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Friday 21 November 1873, page 2



Illustrated by a Sketch of the Career of Michael Howe, “The last and worst of the Bushrangers.”

Written by J. E. Calder.


The news of this disaster reached head-quarters with the sloth-like tardiness of the times I am writing of; and the inert Governor of the day, Colonel Davey, seems to have wakened up on receiving the intelligence of this new misfortune, and he did as he ought on the occasion, that is, he despatched several parties of military into the district that the bushrangers commanded for the moment.

There were some capital men amongst the military, as good as ever carried a musket; and it will not be out of place here to say a few words about them generally, more especially as they had in the end nearly the undivided honour of ridding the country of the banditti who formerly infested it, keeping it in a state of unceasing alarm for many years.

The soldiers were the only men in the country, at that time at least, who were a match for the bushrangers, as they proved over and over in many a light. They never flinched, with a solitary exception, where a few very young soldiers, fresh from the awkward squad, were employed against a party led by the cautious veteran Geary; and it was to parties furnished by the detachments stationed here at different times, of the 73rd, 48th, and 46th regiments, that the colony owed its comparatively long period of repose, more than five and a half years, that intervened between the death of Howe in October, 1818, and the escape of Brady and others from Macquarie Harbour in June, 1824. With the single exception above referred to, all did their duty. But there is one name amongst the soldiers of this period that is continually turning up in the annals of bush fighting, that I ought not to be forgotten. This man was a lance-serjeant of the 46th, of the name of McCarthy, the same who led the parties that shot Geary and other troublesome fellows, and at different times took several others. This man, unlike his namesake, the publican and merchant, spoken of a little above, was gifted with plenty of discretion as well as personal bravery, and his perseverance in pursuit seems to have been something wonderful. Wherever the bushrangers were — and he chased them from district to district like hunted wolves — he was sure to be at their heels; and as he never followed them without having some black trackers with him, there was no escape from him. I shall however have very little more to say about this meritorious soldier, as this narrative will soon relate chiefly to Howe, with whom he never came to blows. The majority of these fine fellows went unrewarded, except what they got of complimentary notices from the Government, and hard knocks from the bushrangers. The officers, who were no less active than the men, did indeed receive a more tangible reward, but when I relate what it was, I fear than even the most prosaic reader may laugh a little. They were specially commended to the Governor-in-Chief for some distinguishing mark of approbation, (I copy exactly from a Despatch of Governor Sorell’s,) who trusts “it may meet with Your Excellency’s approval on this occasion (that is when their bush campaigns were about over) “in issuing to each Officer an allowance of Spirits, free of duty, as a mark of General approbation and remuneration for their own privations,” Good service was certainly cheap then.

Several parties of the 73rd and 46th Regiments, now marched on New Norfolk, and quickly disturbed the bushrangers in their pleasant quarters; and soon afterwards some of the men of the 73rd, came on them so unexpectedly, that they had to run for their lives, saving nothing but their arms, and hardly those; but they were soon lost in the intricacies of the bush. A large party of civilians from Hobart Town, also armed themselves, and went in pursuit of the murderers of Carlisle and O’Birne, but I believe they wasted neither ammunition or energy in forwarding the cause in hand.

New Norfolk was now too hot for them to live in, at any rate until some of their old enemies the soldiers were removed; and they set out for Pittwater again, intending by this movement to cause the withdrawal of the military if possible, who they felt sure would follow them wherever they went, and then to return again as soon as the military, or at any rate the most of them were gone.

But quite apart from this little piece of strategy, they had another reason for paying a flying visit to Pittwater. The Chief of Police, Mr. Humphey, had always been, as they considered, officiously active against them, but had been doubly so over since Whitehead and Garland had burned him out some time before; and he had moreover in his official capacity, blamed the whole of them for what was really the work of two only. Their dislike of him, which was at all times strong enough, was much increased after this; and they now went thither, bent on destroying everything he possessed there, which would not only be a proper punishment, according to their ideas of propriety, for the injustice done them, but would be a sure way of attracting such attention to Pittwater, as would almost certainly cause the removal of the soldiers from their own proper district, as they considered New Norfolk to be, and to which they meant to return as soon as they could, to have a settlement with Mr. McCarthy for his recent officiousness, now that they know who it was who planned the late attack on them.

The inhabitants of Pittwater had by this time pretty well recovered from the alarm Whitehead’s late visit had caused them; and were fast relapsing into their old slow-going habits again, when an unpleasant rumour spread through the district, that the enemy was amongst them again, and which they were not long in learning was true.

Just as the sun was setting on the 10th May, 1815, as rough-looking a set of fellows as could be seen, suddenly presented themselves at the door of the men’s hut of Mr. Humphrey’s establishment. They were all armed, which made it clear to those within that they were no friends of theirs, and they closed the door against them at once. The strangers demanded instant admittance, but, receiving no response, soon performed this little service for themselves, and smashed in the door without more ceremony, and rushing up tumultuously, quickly over-powered and bound the inmates; and next, placing a couple of sentries over their chop-fallen prisoners, proceeded to Humphrey’s own residence, which they entered by the same process as the hut.

Here they found everything they wanted, and having first helped themselves to what they thought fit, they proceeded to demolish the rest, smashing up or destroying in some way or other, everything they could lay their hands on. As the work of destruction went on, they unhappily lighted on certain articles, which are a very abomination in the sight of bushrangers at all times, namely half-a-dozen pairs of fetters – curious things to find in a gentleman’s house – which gave a new whet to their hatred of the owner, and to their own determination to leave nothing undestroyed, which they fulfilled to their heart’s content.

At this time there was no such thing as regular mail service in the colony; and it was not until Sorell came here that postal communication of any kind was established; and even then, there were only weekly messengers between head quarters and the outlying districts; so unless news reached Hobart Town by a chance traveller nothing was known of what was going on outside of the town, for two or three days at least. But as the interests of the principal magistrate of the colony were damaged by this last outrage, it is possible that a special messenger was sent in with the unpleasant intelligence that, as far as chattel property was concerned, the bushrangers had not left him the worth of a sixpence in Pittwater.

Old Colonel Davey — who seems to have been much such another man as one of Irving’s Governors of New York, in its early days, William Testy, pranced about the place like a thing demented, and for a day or two had not a civil word for any one. But he cooled down at last of course, and then sent all the troops he could spare to Pittwater, to catch the bushrangers while they were still there. But this took time, which this excellent old officer, did not always think of, and day after day passed away, before the soldiers made their appearance there.

It is well known that by means of secret confederates, the bushrangers were mostly much better informed of what was going on, than any others were; and they heard without much surprise, that several of the parties were withdrawn from New Norfolk, and that they were moving on the disturbed district. When quite assured that they were on the march, they drew out of danger at once; and while the troops were coming down on Pittwater by one road, they retreated from it by another; and the next thing that the Governor heard of these ubiquitous fellows was, that they had not only eluded his grasp, but were once more back in New Norfolk.

The good old marine, as I was once told by the late Captain Ferguson, stamped and swore like a bargeman, when he heard that all his clever plans for the capture of those slippery fellows, were thus untimely frustrated; and he called them all the vile names he could think of, damming them all round in terms that are as well not repeated.

[To be continued.]

Leave a Reply