Spotlight: The Executed Wantabadgery Bushrangers (1880)

South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889), Friday 23 January 1880, page 6


Andrew George Scott, alias Captain Moonlite, who expiated his last crime in Darlinghurst Gaol on Tuesday, January 20, was born in the north of Ireland in or about the year 1843, and was consequently 37 years of age. He had the usual “highly respectable parentage,” his father being a clergyman of the Church of England, who now holds a tenure in the District of Coromandel, in the north of New Zealand. The family came to Auckland some years ago, when Andrew George was quite young. Though we are not, as we expected to be, in possession of an autobiography of the executed criminal, written for one of our contributors, and withheld from him by the prison authorities of New South Wales, we are able from information supplied us by that gentleman to give the salient points in Scott’s career. He early evinced a desire for a free and roaming life. He found his way to Sydney soon after the immigration of his family, and for some time knocked about the port, doing odd jobs and shipping for short voyages. Upon one of these, while in New Caledonia, something happened to the master of a vessel called the Sarah Pile — a difficulty occurred with the authorities we believe — and Scott induced the crew to lift the anchor and sail for Sydney. He had been brought up as a civil engineer, and displayed much ingenuity and ability. Upon this occasion, he navigated the vessel safely and expeditiously to Sydney, and was complimented and paid by her owners. He also served in the war with the Maoris in New Zealand, and distinguished himself. During an encounter with the enemy he received a wound from a bullet in the leg, which caused him to limp slightly ever afterwards. It is difficult, in the absence of the narrative to which we have alluded, to place these events in his life in proper sequence but it is probable that, after both the maritime and battle experiences, Scott found himself located at Bacchus Marsh — it was erroneously reported — a lay reader. He applied for the requisite credentials, but was refused by the then Metropolitan upon grounds not specified. It is evident, however, that Scott hung upon the skirts of the church, and was admitted into society on the strength of his piety. It was here that he formed the acquaintance of a young bank manager named Brunn, who, with the local schoolmaster was very intimate with the future felon, to their cost. The trio struck up a romantic friendship, such as young men form, and spent all their time in one another’s society. One of the darkest spots in the history of Scott in his allowing Brunn, the victim of the Egerton bank affair, to lie under the stigma of having outraged the trust reposed in him. The details of the Egerton bank affair are pretty well known.

One night the bank was stuck up by an armed man wearing a mask upon his face, the manager being first ordered to bail up, then secured, and finally gagged. The features of the robber were effectually hidden by the mask; but his voice the manager recognised as that of his friend Scott. This recognition, however, had no particular effect upon his friend, and Scott, having effectually gagged the manager, took him to the school, which was not far away, and caused him to write upon a piece of paper, and to pin the paper to a desk, “Captain Moonlite has stuck me up and robbed the bank.” Then he tied the manager to a tree, and returning to the bank he stole over £2,000 in notes, coin, and gold. His ingenuity in devising means to escape detection at once came into play, and having a horse ready, he got upon its back and galloped to a neighboring township, seven miles distant from Egerton, doing the journey in the remarkably short space of half an hour. This was done with the intention of afterwards showing that it could scarcely be possible for him to have robbed the bank at Egerton and to have been seven miles off within half an hour after the robbery. He did, in fact, afterwards establish an ‘alibi’ in this manner, and so successful was he in removing suspicion from himself, that the bank manager and the schoolmaster were accused of the robbery, and Scott was brought by the police as a witness against them. Both the accused were committed for trial, and at the trial the manager was discharged because the jury could not in his case agree, and the schoolmaster was admitted to bail and bound over to surrender when called upon.

Scott said he thought of the name Moonlite through having acquired it when running cargoes at Cuba and on the Spanish Main. If so, it is difficult to determine at what period of his history he was there. He said that he meant Moonlight but dictated the short spelling in the heat of the moment. Some time after the robbery he went to Sydney, assumed fine clothes, sported money, and got into some of the best circles in Balmain and the North Shore. He gave himself out as a gentleman in search of a maritime venture — a vessel fitted for a yacht, and yet capable of carrying any light remunerative cargo which he might pick up about the South Seas. He was in treaty for the Barque Celestia, and gave a series of dinners on board of her as she lay in Neutral or one of the bays on this side of Port Jackson Harbour. This was in the year 1872. Thinking the Celestia too large for his purpose, he forfeited his deposit upon the purchase, and bought a smaller craft. He then organised a crew, and judging from the selection he made and the mysterious hints he dropped — hints which find easy interpretation by the light of his subsequent career — his mission was not intended as that of a peaceful trader, and it is fortunate the cheque he gave in part payment was found to be valueless, which led to his arrest; for there is little doubt that such an unscrupulous, bold, determined man as Scott has shown himself, if in possession of a smart craft and a crew who would obey his orders, would have been, at least for a time, a scourge as a pirate. His proposals to the other desperadoes to seize the mail steamer — a scheme which only the lack of capital prevented him from attempting — prove that there were no lengths to which he would not have gone. While serving the 18 months’ imprisonment for the offence of obtaining goods — to wit, the vessel — under false pretences, something leaked out about the Egerton affair, and on making enquiries Scott was identified as being at any rate suspected of complicity in the robbery. The police ferreted out the fact, too, that the gold which Scott had sold to the bank in Sydney for means wherewith to keep up the state in which he lived was identical in quality and fineness with that stolen from Egerton, and he was remanded to Ballarat to answer the charge of robbery. It was while awaiting his trial that Scott made one of the most determined gaol breakings ever known in this colony. He got out of Ballarat gaol by first cutting a hole through the wall of his cell into another occupied by a prisoner named Dermoodie, and then with Dermoodie’s assistance, taking off the lock of the cell door and securing the warder outside. Relieving the warder of his keys, they liberated four other prisoners, and all six managed, by using a rope made from a blanket, to scale the gaol wall without being seen and to escape. A reward of £50 each was offered for the recapture of the men, and all but Scott and Dermoodie were speedily taken. These two remained together, and for a long time successfully eluded the vigilance of the police; but the two were not well mated, for while Scott was rash and determined, Dermoodie was weak and timid of doing anything that would make their case worse in the eyes of the law than it was already. During the time they were together an incident occurred which appears very similar to some that took place at Wantabadgery. Scott wanted to stick up a bank, but Dermoodie was afraid of doing anything that might lead them to take life, and Scott, turning upon him in a raging passion, denounced him as a mean coward, and gave him five minutes to live. Dermoodie fell on his knees and begged for mercy, and Scott relenting kicked him away contemptuously. Not long after this the police received information that Scott had been seen lurking about some diggings near Sandhurst, and efforts being at once made to arrest him he was caught by a clever stratagem.

At his trial, as at that of last month, Scott conducted his own defence, and made out a very plausible case, displaying remarkable ability in speech and cross-examination. His chief desire was to prove that the gold which he sold in Sydney was not identical with that stolen from Egerton. He knew that he had a portion of it in his belt once when wrecked on a reef, and calculated upon the sea-water altering the quality, which is assayed to very minute fineness. The “expert” however, was not to be swayed, for though Scott kept him in the box a whole day he maintained that the bars tallied in assay with that recorded of the missing Egerton gold. His cleverness, however, did not avail him, for he was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. Scott claims to have acted with all fairness to his quondam friend Brunn, and gets furious if accused of having behaved badly in the matter. He says that he was committed for contempt of court because he would not give evidence that would damage him. Scott proved himself one of the most troublesome prisoners ever seen within the walls of Pentridge. He was at first given the post of schoolmaster’s assistant, but repeated acts of insubordination lost him the billet. He formed a ring in the place, and led a band of malcontents. It is said that he inspired most of the outrages, for the last of which Weechurch forfeited his life. Nothing could quell or subdue him, neither kindness nor harshness. He was just as defiant in the animals’ cage of a cell, in which uncontrollable criminals are confined, as in the wards, and he was not only insubordinate himself, but the cause of insubordination in others. His sticking up of Chief Warder Kelly, whom he robbed under arms, ‘videlicet’ a blunt dinner-knife, and his subsequent defiance of the whole resources of the institution, are well known. His object was to be brought before the Supreme Court, and it is palpable that his love for theatrical display led him into the commission of a capital offence. So long as he lived he would talk and display that oratorical ability for which he deemed himself famous. The authorities seem glad to have been rid of him, for despite all his bad conduct, he was discharged after serving some seven years and four months of his ten years’ sentence. He would interview the governor of the gaol, petition the Government and authorities, appeal by letter to the chaplain, and bother everybody with his grievances. One of his greatest grievances he mentioned at the lectures he delivered after his release, to the great delight and astonishment of his audiences — “He had once asked to be supplied with a work on the differential calculus, and the brutal authorities actually had the audacity and fiendish cruelty to get him a common work on mathematics!” After leaving Pentridge, at the commencement of the present year, Scott commenced a lecturing tour, opening at Ballarat, where he was refused the use of the Academy of Music, by order of the owner, Mr. W. J. Clarke. He however got the Alfred Hall, and attracted good audiences. After doing some of the towns in the vicinity of Egerton he came to Melbourne, and induced a well-known theatrical agent to take up his cause, assuring him that his intention was to get an honest living. He lectured in the Temperance Hall to some 500 people, speaking with great fluency, and giving an interesting account of his life in Pentridge, where, to use his own hackneyed phrase, “Tyranny and injustice are practised at the country’s cost and to its shame.” His subsequent lectures at Williamstown, Emerald Hill and Collingwood were financially failures, and he announced his intention to go home to his father. The Lancefield bank robbery brought him into notoriety again, though he was acquitted of any share in the affair, and was loud in his complaints against the police, and especially the detectives, for endeavoring to connect him with it. He was also suspected — without reason, too, it is fair to assume — of being concerned in the robbery and murder of the late Mr. Frank Bates, the actor. It is known that he went to the Williamstown Stockade and endeavored to effect the release of an old gaol chum — one Johnstone or Johnson — and it is said that he then formed and promulgated the idea to some friends to attempt the sticking-up of the outward bound mail steamer. After the events above recorded Scott cleared out, and was not heard of until the news came that the Wantabadgery station had been stuck up, and that he was in command of the desperadoes. This was on the 5th of November. The party, consisting of Scott, Rogan, Nesbitt, Wernicke, Williams, and Bennett, stuck up the station, committed a series of outrages upon the owner and his servants, and Mr. Weir, the local post-master, and after carousing there until early on the morning of Monday, retired to a place called McGlede’s farm, a few miles away, where they were attacked by the police. Wernicke, a young lad, the son of a Melbourne publican, was shot, with Nesbitt, Scott’s particular friend, and the gallant Sergeant Bowen. Nesbitt’s death seemed to completely unman Scott, who surrendered, and was taken with the rest to Gundagai, where a preliminary investigation took place. Scott’s behavior and defence at that trial, and the one in Sydney, to which city he was remanded, have been the theme of numberless comments and reports, filling pages of the daily papers of the dates of their occurrence, and it is unnecessary to dilate upon them now. The wretched being, who has paid the penalty justly demanded by a country whose laws he outraged, would, under happier auspices, have been a useful member of any community. He possessed considerable ability, even with regard to matters concerning which he had not had any special or technical education. In spite of what has been said of his personal courage, it is indisputable that he continually showed a disregard for his own safety. When his party wished to surrender he turned on them, and threatened them with death at his own hands if they did; and he performed many deeds — some of them decidedly unlawful — demanding the exercise of nerve, decision, and courage — as witness his escape from Ballarat Gaol. A record in a Bible left at the house of a friend in Sydney showed that at one time he was a Cadet in the Britannia British man-of-war. His love of licence, which many persons of his kind confound with liberty, led him to the commission of deeds, the last of which has landed him in a dishonored grave, and must have caused his relatives incalculable misery. His life and fate should be a warning to those of our youth who are too prone to regard lightly, or with aversion, the necessary restraints which society is bound in its own defence to place upon the lawlessly disposed. A contempt for constituted authority leads by almost insensible gradation to the commission of offences, and consequent punishment.

Rogan, the other prisoner hanged on Tuesday for participation in the Wantabadgery outrage, appears to be in reality a member of a family in Victoria named Baker. There has been great secrecy observed with regard to his identity, and his namesake, the Melbourne detective, failed to recognise him as being known to the police. It is, however, now ascertained that he had been convicted of larceny at St. Kilda, of burglary at Beechworth, and had served one sentence of two years’ imprisonment, which fact weighed doubtless with the New South Wales Executive. He was about twenty or twenty-one years of age, of somewhat forbidding countenance, his features being of a negro cast. It was said that he was a brother of Nesbitt, the bushranger shot at McGlede’s, but this is denied, and though he somewhat resembled Nesbitt at first sight in appearance, there was in reality no similarity of features. When the encounter took place, Rogan sought shelter under the bed, and does not appear to have taken any part in the shooting, which makes the decision of the New South Wales Government inexplicable, unless, as we have surmised, his previous career influenced the members of the Cabinet. He not only was concealed during the fight, but when he might have committed murder, and had the weapons at hand, he refrained from doing so.

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