Spotlight: EARLY TROUBLES OF THE COLONISTS by J. E. Calder (Pt. 7)

Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Wednesday 26 November 1873, page 3


TASMANIAN HISTORY.

EARLY TROUBLES OF THE COLONISTS,

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

Written hy J. E. Calder.

[Continued]

The eventful history of the notorious man now draws to a close.

From York Plains, Howe, faithful to his old plans, removed to the Shannon tiers. But Sorell had good information of him now, and knew where to lay his hand on him within a fortnight or a month at furthest. But experience had proved that he was not to be taken, except in some manner where no demonstration was made. Parties of military, and parties of civilians, went after him in vain. He seems to have been ever on the watch, and always winded them and was off. Sorell more than once refers to his vigilance; and writing of his death, soon after it occurred, says, “his career terminated in the only way it could finish,” that is by surprise. He then speaks of him as follows: “his perseverance, his daring character, his knowledge of the country and all the stock-keepers, some of whom would not, and some could not venture upon an attempt to take him, made him a most dangerous being to the colony, and left an opening for mischief so long as he lived at large.” (Despatch, November 18th, 1818 )

With the exception of the brief interval when he was voluntarily in custody, the undivided energies of the Government were directed to the putting down of Howe, and also his old associates who were still in the bush. But after Howe’s separation from them, they fell rapidly into the hands of the military, the principal ones within a very few weeks after his surrender, and the whole, Howe excepted, before the end of 1817. He, however, still evaded all attempts to take him; and the Governor saw that if he were to be secured at all, it could only be done by resorting to stratagem and secret measures. Of Big McGill, he still entertained the highest opinion, notwithstanding his recent failure, and he resolved to use him in this service again, but to give him a suitable companion; and consulting with Major Bell, directed that officer to select from the military then in the colony, the best man for the service of confronting the seemingly unmasterable Howe, and a private soldier of the name of William Pugh of the 48th regiment, well known for his pluck, and the courage he had often shewn on foreign service, probably in the Peninsular war, was pitched upon, and no better man could have been chosen, for the desperate service of a life or death struggle with the terrific Howe.

Pugh and McGill took post secretly at a stock-hut on the Shannon, which Howe sometimes visited for supplies. This hut (I derive my information from Mr. Beamont, formerly Provost Marshal) was on land then occupied by the stock of Mr. Ingle; the same gentleman I presume, to whom Howe was first assigned. This land was afterwards granted to Mr. Miles Patterson, and is now I am informed in the occupation of one of the Allison family. The estate is called Hunterston; and the transactions, that ended Howe’s life of guilt, took place close to the present homestead, as I am informed by a gentleman, who has resided in the neighbourhood for half a century.

The man in charge of the stock-hut, was named Thomas Worrell, and was in the plan of taking Howe, no other except Pugh, McGill and a professional kangaroo hunter named Warburton, knowing what was about to take place next time that Howe came there.

It is often asserted by old hands that McGill assisted at the death of Howe. But Colonel Sorell says that he accidently “missed giving his assistance at it,” being temporarily absent on the day that Howe visited it, and that none but Pugh and Worrell were present when Howe fell. Moreover no portion of the hundred guinea reward was given to him.

The hunter Warburton, the betrayer of Howe, took good care of himself, and kept out of harm’s way during the savage encounter that ended the bushranger’s life. He acted throughout as a mere decoy, to entice him within reach of his destroyers. Howe was now in great want of supplies, particularly ammunition, his stock being nearly exhausted. In this state he met the hunter in the bush, and telling him of his distress, was advised to go to Worrell’s hut, where he said he would find plenty; but evaded Howe’s request to procure it for him. The latter who was suspicious of everybody, had his misgivings of this man’s sincerity, and several hours, it is said, passed before they were allayed, and before he was beguiled to approach the lion’s den, where Pugh and Worrell awaited to attack and destroy him. But his ammunition was at this time nearly exhausted, and unless he went to the hut, where Warburton assured him there was a good supply, to which he might help himself as he pleased, as there was, he said, no one there to prevent it, he must return to his hiding place, in no condition to show a front even to the natives, who, now that he was alone, dogged the steps of the solitary fugitive. He watched the hut, and took many a look around, and listened anxiously for any noise or sign of life for a very long time – it is said for three hours – but neither sound or movement were observed by him, for Pugh and Worrell lay within as still, and almost as breathless as he himself was before the sun went down. His fears of treacherous surprise were dispelled at last, and he approached for the coveted ammunition, and had nearly reached the door, when the two men within started up, and both let drive at him together. The shots were ineffectual, and had Howe ran for it then, he might have escaped them and got off. But he was a man of fiery temperament, and his blood was up in a second, and he remained on the spot two or three moments too long, to return the fire of his assailants, while they were narrowing the little space there was between him and them, by running in on him at top speed. “Is this your game” said Howe, quite undaunted by the suddenness of the attack (and these were the last words that he spoke), and then he drew the trigger of his piece, but happily missed them both.

Having lost his pistols in his recent fight with McGill, his means of defence were exhausted, and he fell back a few steps to fly, but it was now too late, for they were both upon him before he could get his speed; and then says the writer whom I have so often quoted from, Sorell, a hard struggle for life ensued. Howe fought with the determination either of beating off both, or of never being taken alive ; and though Pugh had hold of him with the grip of a mastiff, he still managed, says the old Provost Marshal Beamont, to deal Worrell such a blow as knocked him clean off his legs. Worrell sprang gamely to, his feet again (I am still quoting Beamont’s verbal description of the struggle), and thrust the muzzle of his piece deeply into Howe’s side. In intense pain, and fast weakening from loss of blood, his hold of Pugh gradually relaxed, and he fainted and fell of course. The instant he was down, they seized their pieces, which had fallen from them in the heat of the fight, and smashed in his skull with the butts of them; and then says Sorell of this desperate man “He spoke no more.” His death occurred on the 21st of October, 1818.

McGill came home afterwards, and sorrowful enough was he, that he had no part in the fight. The bushranger Drummond also found his way hither during the afternoon, and struck off Howe’s head with a hatchet.

His body was buried where he fell; but was disinterred in after years, and one or more of the bones removed, by some person, and the remains reburied.

The head was taken to Hobart Town, and the late Dr. Ross, who was en route for his farm (that is two days after Howe’s death) met the men who had it, which they carried in a sack. He pulled up and had a parley with them; and they thinking to gratify this mildest of men, rolled it out at his feet. He gives an account of his meeting with these obliging fellows, in his almanac for 1836. The head was buried, Mr. Beamont informs me, within the precincts of the old gaol, Murray-street.

As soon as the intelligence of Howe’s death reached the Governor, he published an address to the colonists, congratulating them on the termination of his fearful career of outrage, which comprehended many hundreds of robberies (the most of which I have omitted from their sameness) and some murders; which, as it doubtlessly expresses the general sentiment of satisfaction that pervaded the community, I shall offer no apology for introducing here. It is as follows:–

GOVT. AND GENERAL ORDERS.

Govt. House, Hobart Town

Saturday, Octobor 24th, 1818.

His Honor the Lieutenant Governor has the Satisfaction to make known that MICHAEL HOWE, the Murderer and Robber whose Crimes have so loudly called for Public Justice, whose Perseverance in his Career and Rejection of proffered Mercy for former Offences will long remain impressed on the Minds of the Inhabitants of this Colony, was overtaken in the Neighbourhood of the Shannon River on the 21st Instant, by William Pugh, a Private of the 48th Regiment, accompanied by Thomas Worrell, Crown Servant; and after a severe Struggle, was killed.

The Lieutenant Governor cannot too strongly commend the Activity, Intelligence, and Spirit of Private William Pugh; Qualities which he had reason to expect in that Soldier from the Recommendation which he had received from Major Bell, commanding the Detachment at this Station, to which he belongs, for Bravery and good Conduct upon Foreign Service: and the Lieutenant Governor, will not fail to Recommend him to His Excellency the Governor in Chief for the greatest Favor which he can receive.

The conduct of Thomas Worrell also, which was highly deserving of Praise, will be laid before His Excellency, with the Lieutenant Governor’s Request and Recommendation for his Free Pardon and Passage to England.

By Command of His Honor

The Lieutenant Governor

H. E. Robinson, Secretary.

I have somewhere read an account of Howe’s death, professedly dictated by the man Worrell, in which he represents himself as the chief, if indeed, not the sole instrument of the fall of the dreaded bushranger; but it will he seen from the above official notice, dated three days after his destruction, that the soldier was the leading spirit in the fatal fray, which terminated the career of “the last and worst of the bushrangers.”

Dr. Ross whom I have mentioned a little above, describes the hut, erected by Howe, which it is believed he occupied on the night preceding his death. Ross was making an exploratory excursion into the bush, in the direction of Lake Echo (of which by the way he was the discoverer) in March 1823, when he stumbled on the remains of the desolate wig-wam of the wretched outlaw. He was then between the Shannon and the Lake. He says, “Here we met another curiosity of the morning. It was the ruins of a hut belonging to the notorious bushman Michael Howe. The floor which had been neatly laid with bark, the fireplace and great part of the thatched roof, still remained. It stood in a secluded spot on a gentle slope, concealed from behind by a thick honey-suckle tree, with an open view in front, reaching down to a small stream of water. Near it lay prostrate the trunk of a huge tree, * * * In crossing the little stream we chanced to strike against his large iron pot hid in a tea tree bush, which I afterwards carried home, and still use for culinary purposes. This was doubtless the place from which he emerged when he met his death at the Shannon hut, now the fertile estate of Hunterston. It is said that when his companion Warburton used to visit Howe, so great was the distrust of that wretched man, that he obliged him to keep on the opposite side of the trunk of the tree just mentioned, on pain of being shot to death. It is scarcely possible to conceive a state of existence more truly miserable than this man must have led. With the remorse of the most horrible robberies and murders on his conscience, he was here left to himself to contrast the native innocence and serenity of God’s works, with his own wicked heart, added to the hourly dread of apprehension. The tumultuous laugh, the heated exhilaration of companions in sin to drown reflection, was wanting to him. The silent language of nature must have incessantly read him a lesson that would harrow up the soul, and his countenance, severed from the trunk, which was afterwards exhibited in Hobart Town, is said to have betrayed the lineaments of a murderer truly horrific. He will ever remain the most notorious votary of the wretched system of bushranging, which has now for some years, by the exertions of the local Government, been happily put an end to.” Ross’ Almanac, 1830, pages 93, 94.

[To be continued.]

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