Spotlight: A Bushranger’s Autobiography (part four)

Australasian (Melbourne), Saturday 22 February 1879, page 7


(Concluded.)

After this I again went up the country, and done several robberies on the other side of Goulburn, but the mounted police were soon in full chase of me, so I turned and went down until I got 100 miles, when I thought I would call and see Mr. Gray, who kept a large public house. I knew every room in this house, and where he kept his firearms.

One evening, just as it was getting dark, I tied my horse to a tree in the bush, and walked into the house. Mrs. Gray was behind the bar counter, and said, “Good evening, constable; have you heard any talk of Jacky Jacky, lately?”
“Yes, Mrs. Gray; I have heard of him up the country, and have been after him myself for the last month, but couldn’t meet with him. A glass of rum if you please, Mrs. Gray; if Mr. Gray is in I want to see him.”
“Go one of you,” said Mrs. Gray, “and tell Mr. Gray a constable wants him.”
When he came I wheeled round and gave the order “Bail up all; don’t move hand or foot or I’ll blow your brains out.”

When I had bailed them all up, I went straight to Mr. Gray’s bedroom and secured the arms, which made me master of the place. I also knew where the money was, and made Mrs. Gray pull out all the drawers in the chest. She pulled all out but one and it struck me she had her reasons for so doing, and I asked her why she didn’t open that drawer.

“There’s nothing in it, sir,” she said; but I requested her to open it, and about £70 in silver and £20 in notes explained why the drawer was left last.
“Now, Mrs. Gray, take that drawer down to the bar’, if you please, and empty what money there’s in the till into it.” This was done; and now I was master of all the cash as well as the arms in the house.

All the men I had bailed up stood in a passage a few yards in front of me. I now took up the drawer containing the money in my two hands, having first put the two guns I got in the bedroom under my arm; When I turned to go out of the front door, all the men rushed me, pinioned my arms behind my back. Then I saw what a mistake I had made in not making Mrs. Gray carry the drawer with the money outside; but it was too late. There were 12 or 14 men round me, as near as I can say, and although I had a tussle for it, I received a blow that knocked me down senseless, and when I came to myself, I found myself sectored in the taproom, with one end of a long chain round my neck, fastened with a padlock, and the other end made fast to a dray wheel laid in the middle of the room. There I remained all night like a monkey on a chain.

Next morning, I was placed in a cart with the chain made fast to the axletree, and in this conveyed to Berrima gaol. Shortly after I was removed, and conveyed to Sydney gaol in the year 1842. I was tried and convicted, and, with others, were transported for life to the penal settlement of Port Arthur, in Tasmania. Here I was associated with wretches of the foulest dye. It was their daily study to plunge one another into trouble.

I had not been long here when me and four others took the bush. After two days’ wandering our leader brought us back to the spot we started from. In three days more, we were all captured, tried before the commandant, and received 100 lashes apiece for absconding. I was also put in irons, and my daily work was to carry a log of wood l cwt. up and down the settlement road. This continued about nine weeks, when one day the commandant released me, and sent me to gang with the other men.

Shortly afterwards I absconded again, to obtain what I had long been deprived of — liberty. Along with three other men I took the bush, with the intention of making a canoe. After being out several days with nothing to eat, we became quite weak. One morning I smelt a great smell, like the smell of meat roasting. We were more like hounds put on a scent, and seeking the hare. At last, we got to the sea, and there on the beach we saw a huge whale, dead, I should say, several days. It had been harpooned at sea, and washed in by the tide. It was this dead whale we had smelled. We were now supplied with meat in plenty, and subsisted on the flesh of it for several days while making our canoe. When it was almost finished the constables came on us and called on us to submit; but this was out of the question, and we ran for it, hoping they would fire on us and we should be shot, as death was preferable to life at Port Arthur at that time. After a short pursuit my companions were taken, but managed to give the constables the slip for some days longer; but I was taken, and the whole party were tried before Captain Booth, and each received 100 lashes, with heavy irons, and to be chained to a ringbolt while we were stone-breaking, and in a small room by night.

I remained in this way for nearly 12 months, when Captain Booth released me, and once more sent me to ordinary hard labour with the other men. About four months afterwards I took the bush once more, with two men who knew it well.
We got to the place agreed on, and where I could see the main land at about two miles distance. We must get across to it, and had no boat. I was a very bad swimmer. and two miles was a long pull for a new beginner. But my two companions did not hesitate, but pulled off their trousers and plunged into the water, with me after them, with my trousers thrown over my neck, for I was determined to get over to the mainland or be drowned in the attempt. After swimming about a mile, one of my companions — and very soon after the other — was seized, and drawn down by the sharks. I was left alone to the mercy of the waves, expecting the same fate every minute. At last, after a desperate struggle, I got to the land, but had lost my trousers and shirt, and scrambled ashore quite naked. In this state I found myself alone in a bush that I did not know, and greatly grieved at the death of my two companions. I made a bed in the long grass and picked up some shellfish that kept me alive for three days. On the fourth day the constables saw me, and I was brought back to Port Arthur once more, where I was punished with 90 days’ solitary confinement and 12 months’ “E.H.L.C.” (extension with hard labour in chains).
After my 90 days’ solitary was done things took a change. Captain Booth left Port Arthur, and Mr. Champ came Commandant, who treated me with great kindness; he took off my leg irons and removed me from the chain gang and soon placed me as servant to Mr. Laidley, the commissariat officer at Port Arthur, and a better master I never had. I was with him three months when I was promoted into the commandant’s boat crew, and was going on well.

One day two gentlemen went out in their own boat to have a sail in the harbour, when they got capsized. The commandant’s crew launched his boat and rescued them. In reward for this I and others were removed from Port Arthur to Hobart Town, and sent to Glenorchy probation station, which was a great advance. I was here six months when I felt a longing desire to see Sydney again, and me and Thos. Grilling and Wm. Allom agreed to take the bush. Allom was to be leader, as he said he knew the country. We got away, and after a whole day and night, the next morning our leader brought us back close to the station. I then took the lead, and the first place we stuck up was Mr. T. Y. Lowe’s station to get arms. The next day was Sunday, and about dusk in the evening we stuck up Mr. White’s, in Kangaroo Bottom, where we got a double and single barrel gun and two brace of pistols, by which we could now stand fight with the constables. We also took three suits of clothes and other things we wanted.
The very next morning a party of constables came across us, and shots were exchanged, one of which tore the pouch off a constable’s belt, and it was a drawn battle. We now made for Brown’s River, hoping to seize a small craft there, but were disappointed. We then headed up for New Norfolk, and four miles above it we stuck up a farm-house, beginning with the huts and ending with the house, from which we took a supply of things needful. Allom now turned right round, and would soon have got us among the constables, when I took the lead, and made for the Dromedary, where Martin Cash once took up his refuge.
From the top of this hill, we could see for miles round the country. Among the rocks we made up a fire, and with melted snow made tea and had our supper, for we were hungry, and tired, and cold.

Next day Allom again took the lead. But I soon saw that he did not know the country, and I had some sharp words with him for deceiving us before we bolted by bragging of his acquaintance with it. We were very uncomfortable, a sign that misfortune was near. I took the lead through a thick scrub, but soon after I missed Gilling, for whom I had a sincere regard, and I called a halt for him to come up. After waiting a long time, I set to look for him, and cooeyed as loud as I dare; but I never saw him again. He sent me word afterwards, when he was lying under sentence in Launceston gaol, that he lost us by accident in taking a wrong turn, and was afraid to cooey.
Towards evening I and Allom made for the township or Green Ponds, and, after pitching on a place to camp in, Allom set out for the village to get some things we wanted. After waiting for him five or six hours I began to think he had fallen in with the constables, for he never came back. He was a resolute man, and had many good qualities; but he deceived me in saying he knew the bush of Tasmania. He told me afterwards, when I met him a prisoner in Norfolk Island, that he left me because he was afraid I would shoot him; but such a thing never entered my mind, and I always had a fear of shedding blood, though I often spoke rough to people I stuck up. When I found that Allom did not return, I was quite cast down. I was left to myself; ignorant of the country, hungry and tired, constables on the alert at all the townships, my comrades lost, and no hope of getting to the coast and escape.

I spent a very miserable night after Allom’s departure, and next day pushed on by myself to the Lovely Banks, where I was seen and challenged by a constable, who called on me to surrender. This roused me, and, levelling my gun at him, I ordered him to throw down his piece or I’d blow his head off. To my great astonishment he threw it down, at the first word. I bid him stand back, and then I took up his gun and fired it off, and rifled him of his ammunition. I was going to break his gun, but he begged hard of me to give it back to him, and did so and let him go. Yet this cowardly fellow afterwards swore in court that I fired five shots at him when I never fired at him at all.
I got some food at a house, and the second day after my encounter with the constable I reached Oatlands, but I was now too dejected to go any further. My lightness of heart, that never failed me before, now deserted me. At sundown I turned off the road some way and lighted a fire to have some refreshment, and then lay down to sleep very unhappy, and indifferent whether I ever woke again.
Next morning a stockman passing early through the bush saw me, and gave information to the constables at Oatlands police station, and I was soon surrounded by four of them well armed, captured, and sent down handcuffed to Hobart Town, where I was tried at the next assizes, and for the third time sentenced to transportation for life, and now with 10 years’ detention at Norfolk Island.

THE END


POSTSCRIPT.

The foregoing was, in fact, written by Westwood, on my suggestion. To a sanguine and nervous temperament like his, a Norfolk Island cell was as irksome as stable and halter to a zebra of the Zulu deserts. He could read pretty well ; but he soon wearied of it, and sought relief for his restlessness in an attempt to break out of “prison thrall.” But the strong stone walls and solid flooring of freestone blocks of the new octagon gaol might defy the industry of Trenck himself. There was, however, a vulnerable point. The ceiling of the cells was only wooden planks, two inches thick, and 13ft. from the ground. Westwood resolved that the ceiling should be cut through, though the gaol authorities supplied neither step ladder or saw. A step ladder was dispensed with by his standing on the shoulders of a fellow prisoner confined in the same cell; a saw was smuggled into his hands by a confederate employed about the gaol. This “saw” was an instrument once well renown at Tasmanian penal stations and at Norfolk Island. It was of steel, about three or four inches long, easily carried and concealed. With one of these, and elevated on his cell mate’s neck, he cut away cautiously and painfully for a fortnight at the wooden ceiling. The gaol was only one story high. If a hole were made in the ceiling the shingles of the roof could be removed by the hand, and egress secured. But to get clear off, he must creep along the roof to the boundary wall at the risk of being shot by the military sentry within the gaol; and if he jumped down he was almost sure to drop into the grasp of the patrol constable outside; and if he could evade these difficulties and get into the lemon groves, their densest thicket and deepest gully could afford him a hiding-place and freedom only for a day. Yet, for this one day’s exemption from convict “chains and slavery,” he would gladly saw his anxious road through the ceilings of all the cells in the gaol. A prisoner in a next cell overheard the sawing, and hinted to the gaoler that there was “something up” in Westwood’s cell. The result was that turnkeys came and surprised him when he had well nigh completed his opening in the ceiling, removed him to another, and placed him in heavier fetters. For some days he was in great perturbation at being detected, and to turn his thoughts into a calmer channel, I recommended him to ask for paper and write his life. The idea seemed to please him. I knew it would be slow and tedious employment for him. But he got the paper, commenced writing, and there was no more trouble with him. The end of his story is told in my introductory remarks. P.

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