BUSHRANGING AND OUR POLICE SYSTEM (Part One)


Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Thursday 24 October 1867, page 2


BUSHRANGING AND OUR POLICE SYSTEM.

BY A NATIVE TROOPER.

The public have frequently had official glimpses of our costly police force, especially during the career of Tommy Clarke and his associates in the Braidwood district; and they have frequently complained that the police should be found to be so incompetent as to necessitate the passing of the Felons’ Apprehension Act, and the organising of secret police to suppress a crime which, from the impunity with which it was committed in the South, and now being perpetrated in the North, brings so much disgrace upon us in the eyes of the world. For months, we might almost say for years, correspondence has continuously reached us — sometimes from persons of influence, sometimes from policemen, themselves — and the press, which in scarcely any instance cast blame upon the men themselves, saw good reason why the present semi-military police system should be abolished, and a system organised adapted rather to the state of Australia than of Ireland. It will therefore have peculiar interest with the public to set before them, in a popular form, the Inner Life of our Police System, from the pen of one whose personal experience as a mounted trooper in pursuit of bushrangers, whose thorough knowledge of the country, and whose respectability will be a guarantee for generally substantial accuracy. This narrative, so interesting, and in places exciting in detail, will occupy, many columns, and, for this reason, will be published as space permits. The public will, at least for the first time, have a detailed account of all the circumstances preceding and succeeding the atrocious Jinden murders.

THE JINGERA MOB.

When I first went to Braidwood Tommy Clarke had just escaped from gaol. His chief stopping place then, was at his father’s, from which place he would go up the gully. What is termed the gully is the creek running down from Jinden into the Shoalhaven River, about six miles from the Ballalaba police-station, which is the property of the Hon. Hugh Wallace, who built a small barracks for the accommodation of the police, and gave them the use of his stables gratis. Jinden is a cattle-station, now the property of Mr. Mason, but was the property of Mr. E. Smith during the time the Clarkes were out; and a very jolly place it was for all the rowdy natives and cattle duffers who would call here, get a feed, and hear the news. Smith, of course, was a very respectable man, and kept a rifle to keep off all bushrangers. Jinden station is about fifty miles from the Ballalaba station. Ballalaba is sixteen miles from Braidwood; eight miles from Major’s Creek; eighteen miles from Araluen; about thirty five miles from Queanbeyan; and about thirty seven miles from Michelago, which lies towards Cooma. Queanbeyan lies towards Goulburn; and the Jinden run lies between Michelago and Araluen. The next police station lies between Ballalaba and Michelago, about sixteen miles from the centre station. As the reader will perceive, Ballalaba, lies in the heart of the run of the “Boys”, as the bushrangers were called. What is termed Jerrabat Gully is the creek I have previously spoken of. On each side of this creek there are free selectors, whose land runs about half a mile back on each side. Then there is a range of mountains, running right up to the head of the creek. On the left side of the gully, some eight miles across, runs the Shoalhaven river, which takes its head at the back of the Jinden station, springing out of Snowball mountain. On this river there is another lot of small settlers — one of whom was the renowned Mick Connell, who kept here a store, public house, post-office, and black-smith’s shop. This was the theatre where all sorts of hocussing and rowdyism were carried on. If anything was to be done, Mick Connell’s was the place to meet. At this time Pat Connell was getting his living from one station to another — horse-stealing and duffing cattle being his chief employment. Thomas Connell’s life was something after the same fashion; sometimes he would go sheep shearing, get a cheque, and that would be work enough for him for one year. John Connell was the best of the lot to work. He was married to Ellen Berriman, who got five years imprisonment for passing stolen notes. He lived in the gully, close to his mother’s place, in a poor delapidated old hut that a man would hardly keep pigs in. This hut had been thatched at one time with grass, but the wind had blown one half away, and the slabs were taken down and burnt. Lucy Hurley, Tom Connell’s mistress, lived here with them, and cooked the grub for the “Boys”, who were “wanted”, brought them grog, took messages, and did all the telegraphing. At this time Tom Connell was with Clarke, but he was not known, since everyone thought it was Berriman who, however, was over in Queensland at this time.

Tom Clarke had done nothing extraordinary until he stuck up the Foxlow station. This is Mr. Hoskin’s head station, and under the superintendence of Mr. Wallace. This place is eighteen miles from Ballalaba, and fourteen miles from Jingera police station — or what is called Wild Cattle Flat. This is about the middle of the Jingera mountains. All the mountains between Cooma, Araluen, Queanbeyan, Braidwood, and round to Araluen again are called the Jingeras. At this time, senior constable X. was stationed at J. He was a particular friend of the boys Pat Connell, Tyrie, an old bushranger, Bruce, and, in fact, all the mob. These chaps would never see X. want for anything, especially beef, which they would bring to him on a packhorse. Sometimes X. would pay them for it with one hand and take it back with the other so as to “cloak the mate”, for there was generally a second constable at the station. When X. wanted a spree he would tell his mate there was some cattle duffing going on, and away he would go, and leave the mate to mind the barracks. He would make off for B——’s about twelve miles off. This is another cattle station the property of Mr. Shanahan who himself lives at Michelago. B. was the stockkeeper, overseer, and master sometimes, as regards disposing of a beast quietly. This was another meeting place of the boys who would make off to Michelago for a keg of rum. The Senior constable would remain sometimes a week, and then, after his spree, would return from his pursuit of the cattle duffers, thrash his wife, and report his mate for something. This was done to make things look well to his superiors. Sometimes these sprees would take place at Mick Connell’s, but generally back in the ranges. X. never kept a man with him longer than he could help, as soon as he wanted to get shut of him; and as sure as X. reported a man it was a case with him. It was all one whether the man was guilty or not, for he would stick to his report, and the superintendent believed all he said. In fact, Mr. Q. thought he was the best man he had. Sergeant S. was the bush trooper at this time, and, to do him justice, he was the bitter enemy of Tom Clarke and Pat Connell. He was generally in the gully after some of them.

THE FOXLOW ROBBERY.

Such was the state of things when Clarke stuck up Foxlow the first time. They took a great deal of grog, and four or five pack-horse loads of property. It was like as if a war had broken out. It was reported that there were eight men, all masked, sticking-up, and none of them known. The Jingera police were the first out, and the Queanbeyan police joined them, and ran the tracks down to within two miles of old G.’s, where they divided the spoil, and drank fifty-six bottles of grog. But at this place the tracks parted, most going towards the gully, the rest, about three tracks, towards old G.’s. Old X. led them on the tracks going to the gully, till they were getting close on the boys, who were all drunk by this time. Old X. then managed to lose tracks, and after holding a council of war it was resolved to turn back and run the other lot — thus giving both parties of robbers a chance to get away with the spoil. They then followed the other tracks to old G.’s. There they scattered and searched the rocks all round, till they found some of the property among a lot of granite boulders. They took this and old G., and had him tried for it, but as the goods were not found in his possession they could do nothing.

While they were doing this we got information of a plant near the gully, about two miles at the back of old Mrs. Connell’s, so off we started from the station at about dusk. For myself, I did not know at the moment what we were going out for. We had the superintendent with us. The man who had the information was waiting to meet us about eight miles up the gully where we were to have met him at 8 o’clock, instead of which it was 10 o’clock. Tom Clarke, Pat Connell, and Tom Connell were seen near this camp that morning, and Tommy was to have been at night at his brother-in-law’s, about a mile from where we were to have met, to see his wife and have supper. Tommy Clarke was to see his wife at 8 o’clock. She stopped with her brother at this time. When we came to the river, six miles from the station, we resolved to cross it one at a time, so as not to attract the notice of the people living near the crossing. Senior-constable B. was the first to cross, the Super next, then myself. B. was to go on a short distance and wait, and the Super was to wait for me. B. went over but proceeded on the wrong road. As soon as I joined Mr. Q., he went on, of course it was beneath his dignity to speak much to a common trooper. In this way we went on for about two miles till we got to the bend of the river again. The Superintendent then halted and asked me if we were going right. I answered with becoming respect that I did not know. And indeed how could I, for I did not know then whether they were trying to make for New Zealand or Gipps’ Land. If they had told me when they were starting where they wished to go I could have taken them straight to the place. Well, the Superintendent reflected for a few minutes and then said very softly, “I want to go to Hart’s crossing”. This is the crossing place of Jerrabat Gully creek. “All right, sir”, said I, and wheeled short to the left and came on the track and followed it down to the creek where we met the men who were waiting for us. B., the leading man, pulled us up at this place, and some of the men who were behind us again. We then mustered about eight or nine strong, so on we went to catch Tommy Clarke at supper with his wife two hours after the time we were told he would be with her. We surrounded the house and searched it, but the bird had flown of course. We determined then to take the camp, so on we went through sticks and water-holes — you could not see your horses’ head. After about four hours march we had advanced about four miles, when we halted till, daylight. Our informant was to meet us at daylight, and show us the camp, and so he did. There was the log where some one had camped, but no one was there. The goods, however, were there, so we guarded them. On the first day I was sent back to the station for rations, and got back in the middle of the night with them. While I was away John Connell rode all round the camp, and at last approached and enquired for working bullocks. As soon as he saw what was up, he soon let the rest know, so it was useless then stopping any longer. The next day, therefore, we packed up and went home with the goods.

ABOUT THE POLICE.

I must here digress a little, for I cannot help it. If we had come in at the back of the range with our horses and two or three days rations, and left our horses a couple of miles off, instead of taking them right up to the place, we could have done some good. But you see the folly of placing men in charge of officers who know no more about the bush than a child. Yet this is really the case. A “new chum”, for instance, lands in the colony and is taken into the police force, taught to ride a little, up and down, a la cavalry, before the depot at Sydney, and is then sent up the country to capture bushrangers — experienced natives — and criminals long familiar with every hole and corner of the bush. This is most unfair to the man who is thus placed at a disadvantage, and it is frightfully expensive to the country. I will ask, what can a new arrival know about the Australian bush, or about the nags of the country, or the laws of the country, the connexions, the deceptions, and peculiar feelings of one portion of our population? The people of the country cry out about crime being committed, and the expense of the police force, but it is plain enough to see the evil. Why not put a man in charge who can himself lead a party through any part of the bush and direct them with skill and judgment? I am not disparaging the officers, far from it; nor do I wish to take greater credit for the native troopers than is due. If I point out an evil, it may be permitted me to suggest a remedy. Supposing that a native, were to be sent to the mountains of Wicklow in search of Fenians, or whiskey makers, and were in charge of a party, what success would I expect in the expedition, unless extraordinary good luck favoured me! So here how willing and plucky soever a man may be, what can he do when he is under an inexperienced leader? What can a man do when he is depending with confidence on his mate who, like X., a friend to the bushrangers, and as great a tool as ever scoured the bush or mounted a horse? Sergeant B. was a new hand, and at this time had never been in the bush in his life, except occasionally about the station. He was stationed at the gulf before he came to our station, so what could you expect him to know? If a native joins the force he is placed under the orders of some of these new hands, and as most of them are Irishmen they have, for some reason or other, jealously against native-born Australians. They cannot ride themselves, or trust themselves in the bush, and appear to hate those who can. The moment these people get in the force, and a little money in their pockets, they want to be promoted as sergeants, and from that up; so, anything they can make a case out of, they take it up at once, make a great noise in the worin, and, with a moderate amount of blarney, they succeed in getting promoted. And what are they promoted for? Can you answer that? I have tried to solve that mystery for a long time, but failed. Go to what part of the country you will, and in eight cases out of ten you will always find some man in charge that has scarcely been twelve months in the colony. No doubt very excellent men these in the Irish or London constabulary, but for years unfit to become leaders of expeditions in this country. What, in fact, can such a man do in pursuing bushrangers? Can he ride, can he travel the bush during the night as well as day, can he strike the bush so as to make any point he wishes? If his horse knocks-up can he ride a young one? If his horse takes sick can he cure him? I say no; and how could it be expected when most of them never mounted and perhaps never touched a horse till they came here. I don’t wish to ridicule any man because he cannot ride well, but am just showing the kind of men we have in the police. It is the country people who suffer for it, and the police authorities suffer too.

TOM CLARKE.

We were out on patrol one day up the gully. We had just passed old Mrs. Connell’s place, about half a mile, and were riding close under the range, which is all low spurs, breaking down to the flat. As we were in the bottom of one of these I saw the heads of two men. They both had new cabbage-tree hats on and could be easily seen. They did not see us at the time, so I pulled up and whistled to L. softly, who was riding some twenty-five yards below me, and the tracker below him again. I signalled to them several times but they took not the least notice, and kept going up the spur. The two “boys” were coming straight towards us till they saw L. just ahead, when they pulled up and looked till they saw me start out of the cree. Tom Clarke then wheeled round like a flash of lightning up the range. I sprang towards Tom Connell before he could get started as he was leading a beautiful black horse — a stolen one — packed with a lot of the Foxlow goods and some blankets. When he saw my revolver pointed close to him he turned the colour of death. I told him to stand quiet, and he replied, “All right.” I stood by him till L. and the tracker came up. They were before me when I started at the “boys”, but I had to wait, I suppose three minutes, before they were up.

Tom Clarke was, in the meantime going up the range, which was very steep at this place. As soon as they came up I told L. to look after him. I then went on after Tommy, but my horse would not race at first — going away from the rest — till I faced him straight up the range at Clarke. I was gaining on him fast, as my horse was stronger than his, Tommy was riding a race-horse but not up to his weight. He had got over the crown of the hill when I was 200 yards off. I had to wait for a while near the top, as coming straight up the hill my horse was blown. When I had ridden on the top of the range a short distance I saw Tommy three parts down the hill again, making down as fast as he could below old Mrs. Connell’s. I lost sight of him but followed. As I came out on the flat I came across the tracker, whom I had left with sergeant B. in charge of Tom Connell, half a mile above old Mr. Connell’s place, and we were then about that distance below Connell’s. I asked the tracker if he had seen Tom Clarke come down, and he said no. It was certainly very scrubby on that part of the hill, but he must have seen him if he come on the flat, and I was positive he did. So I asked him where he left B. and Tom Connell. He said Tom had got away. Well, this intelligence amazed me. He told me Tom had made down this way, but they did not know which part he had made for — the mountain, or the creek. I could then see what was up and knew he had made for the creek where Tommy Clarke would join him; but how to account for the tracker telling me that Tom Clarke did not come that way was a puzzler.

We made down to the crossing place of the creek and found fresh tracks, just crossed. Here B. joined us, and was positive they had not crossed there. So we went back a mile and a half to where Tom Connell got away, and ran his tracks right down to the crossing place we had just left. It seems that after I had gone up the hill after Clarke, B. and the tracker had been watching me, and Tom Connell seeing them so deeply engaged, skedaddled, and was 100 yards away before they could believe it. They made after him then, but Tom Connell was not to be caught in scrub, ridden after by a new chum; and it seems they lost sight of him. When near the creek they made up the flat, then towards the range. There they saw Clarke and gave him another spin for a couple of hundred yards, but they found they could do nothing. The tracker was coming to pick me up, with strict orders to say nothing to me about Clarke having joined Tom Connell again. Now as I was only a few minutes behind them at the crossing place the first time, if I had known the truth, I could have got up to Tom Connell again, and perhaps Clarke to, for his horse was too small to carry him long in a clear chase. But they denied they had crossed there, and so made matters worse; for after going back and running the tracks down, we crossed the creek ,and followed the tracks for about a mile when we came up to the pack horse, white with perspiring foam, and knocked up. He was either too fat to travel, or they must have had a heavy load on him. We searched about, looking for the property stolen from Foxlow, till near dark, but could see nothing of it, so we took the horse home with us to the station. If this had been known at the time we should all have been dismissed. Sometime after this the tracker got drunk and told me all about Tom Clarke’s coming down the range just ahead of me, and so-and-so telling him to say nothing about it. So you see what a pretty mess was made of it that day. If I had had a reliable mate with me that day we could have captured these two men before any crimes had been committed. If my signal had been attended to at first we could have turned under the bank where we were, into the creek, and waylaid the two boys, and taken or shot them. Instead of this we only made matters worse, and by showing them our weakness made them more daring. Nothing about this affair was ever known to the authorities. The horse was reported to have been picked up in the gully, as a “sweater”. He was claimed, and given up to the owner, so there was no more about him.

(TO BE CONTINUED.)

[Links to other chapters here]

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