Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Friday 25 October 1867, page 6
BUSHRANGING AND OUR POLICE SYSTEM.
BY A NATIVE TROOPER
FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH TOM CLARKE.
Shortly after this we took Pat Connell up the gully for horse stealing, and another man for cattle duffing. B., and the senior man with us when we took Connell, were one day in Braidwood attending court, and as I always believed “the boys” camped very often about old Clarke’s place, I determined, the first chance I had, to scour the place well. So this day, being left in charge, I took the tracker out with me and started up the gully, some five miles, and showed myself to some of the bush “telegraphs”, and made enquiries about the nearest tracks across the ranges to where some more of Clarke’s friends lived. Then I doubled about and gave them the slip, and made back to the station quietly, got my dinner, and left my rifle at home on account of its being very wet. I then made round by old Clarke’s place — that is, two miles from the station, towards Braidwood — and began scouring a thick bushy scrub that is close to the place, and which runs about a mile along the river, in some places half a mile through.
After beating about some time I came to an old camp, and found where “the boys” had slept that night, and where they had fed their horses. The place was full of tracks, and it was a long time before I found the last track out. This led towards a high scrubby range, about a mile off, so we ran them about half way up the range, to a sort of basin, and very grubby. We were going very steadily, as it was getting dusk, and as I expected they would be making back towards the house for supper.
Just as we pulled up I saw a grey horse standing about eighty yards off. I was turning my horse round to get off when he trod on a stick and the sound started “the boys”, who were sitting down about twenty yards off their horses. I did not see them then, but heard them, so I rammed the spurs in and galloped to their horses. They both sprang up equally alert and made an effort to get on their horses. Tommy Clarke had hold of the reins of his, but my coming so quick upon him startled his horse which jumped round and threw Clarke to the other side of him. Tom Connell drew his revolver at me but I told him to stand! I could not see Tommy at this moment; but I stood over Tom Connell, covering him with my revolver, till the tracker came up. When he arrived I told him to stand over Tom Connell while I took Clarke. I thought I could depend on this tracker, for he said he would stick to me, happen what would. Just as the tracker came up I saw Clarke about forty yards off, running up the range. I pursued and called upon him to stand, but he replied that he would b— soon make me stand, and he stood as if he meant mischief. He had a Colt’s revolver in each hand. As soon as he went to raise them I let go mine at him. As soon as I fired my horse began plunging mad; but every time I got a chance I fired. At the fourth shot Clarke fell, and I thought he was shot; so I stood looking at the place for a few moments, thinking about it. I could not see him on account of a low scrub which grows about four or five feet high. At length I made up to the place and was in the act of getting off my horse when I heard a stick crack up the range where I saw Clarke running for his life. I made right this time, and as soon as he saw me closeing on him he made for a tree. I could have shot him then, but the other two chambers of my revolver missed. I think I must have knocked the caps off by holding it in my hand galloping about so much. Tom Clarke turned round at me then and was coming towards me, when I put that revolver in my boot and drew the other which, as the sequel will show, was a duffer which I got from sergeant T. in the clerk’s office, Braidwood, who told me to load it there, as it was quite clean, and I loaded it, without looking at the nipples. This nearly cost me my life, for on taking it out of my boot as Clarke was approaching I presented it at him, thinking I was quite safe. Tommy sprang behind the tree again, swearing vengeance at me, if I attempted to come and take him — he seemed like a savage. I had not time to look behind to see how the tracker was getting on. I thought he was still guarding Tom Connell until I heard him behind me call out to Clarke to stand. Tommy roared out to the tracker that he’d d— soon make him stand. The tracker fired his carbine at him, but though he had a good shot he missed him. In fact the bullet came very close to me. I called on Tommy then to surrender like a man, and kept talking to him, trying to coax him, but he told me he defied me and all the traps in the district to take him alive. I could see by his manner he would never surrender, but I was trying to gain time for the tracker to come up and help me; but instead of his coming up, to my astonishment I never saw him afterwards. Whether he ran back to Tom Connell, or whether he ran away, I cannot tell. All I know is he took my cape home with him which I had thrown off at the place where we first saw Connell and Clarke.
When I found the tracker was not coming, I attempted to dismount when Tommy advanced and presented both his revolvers at me. I tried to make a shot at him but my revolver missed. I tried five barrels one after the other, but they all missed. I called on him again to surrender, but he told me he would make me surrender before many minutes, and snapped his revolver at me pretty close, and I tried the other at him, but it missed. He then sprang at me like a tiger and was close upon me before I could wheel my horse away. As I turned round there was the limb of a tree and I threw myself down the horse’s neck just as Tommy tried another barrel. The horse jumped about four feet and from my position at that moment I was as much on as off. At any other time I should have fallen off headlong in doing the same thing, but death stared at me closely. And I suppose it made me exert my utmost agility.
When Clarke missed me he made a run to get on his horse. The horses were tied round the legs with a saddle strap notched so that if you sprang on them and rammed the spurs into them, the strap would slip. I rushed at the horses and started them, but they kept jumping for about thirty yards; and so desperate was Clarke that I expected he would shoot me from behind. I heard him, but had not time to look round, for if he once caught up to me it was a case. The horses broke lose at last, and I ran them about 200 yards. While I was running them I was trying to reach my revolver but I lost all the caps but one, and that I managed to put on. So I turned and galloped back to have another shot at him, but could not see him. I did not like riding about through the scrub for I now expected he would jump up out of every bush. I saw Tom Connell on the top of the hill making round to where the horses were, so I made a charge up towards him, but there were no signs of him when I reached the place. It was getting dark, and I could scarcely see for the heavy rain. My boots were running over the tops with water; so I made back to the place where I started the horses; they heard me coming and started at full speed for Clarke’s house, and it took all I knew to head them, and keep them out of sight.
A RENEWAL OF THE PURSUIT.
My object then, was, to make for the barracks, much disappointed, but not disheartened, and if Sergeant B. was not at home to get some stockmen. I could not keep the horses straight for home. When I turned them they made for the river and jumped in, off a bank four feet high, into very deep water before I could stop them. They went right under the water at first, and then commenced plunging; Tommy Clarke’s horse had on a new pair of saddle bags. These turned round, so that if there was anything valuable in them it is now in the Shoalhaven River. I expected both horses would have been drowned, but they swam down the river about 100 yards to an old crossing place.
As soon as I returned to the station I mounted Clarke’s horse, Mr. John Wallace mounted Tom Connell’s and one of the stockmen mine, B. on his own. There were seven or eight of us altogether. So back we went full speed, searched Clarke’s house, but as they were not there, we went to where the encounter took place. When in the heart of this scrub we heard some one whistle in a peculiar way, like some of the bush birds, tried to imitate it, but they did not answer.
We were all riding abreast, at some little distance from each other when suddenly some of my mates galloped towards me saying, “There they are!” as two horsemen started away close to our lowest man on the range, who happened to be a half-cast. Those below could have shot one of them instead of turning towards me. I heard the direction the horses were gallopping, so rammed in the spurs, but I did not do this a second time, for I went like a flash of lightning over trees, logs, limbs, and every thing that came in the way. I could not hold my horse and went on for about a mile; was close up to them once, but could not see to fire. It was as dark as pitch. I could not see the horse’s head at times. All at once I lost the sound of them and pulled up, but could hear no sound, either of my mates or any one else. I waited for ten minutes, and then signalled for my mates, but the beating of my own heart was the only sound I heard. After beating about for some time I came across my mates, and we then went home and reported this affair officially to head-quarters.
When we got home George, the tracker, was there. He said when I fired the first shot at Clarke, his horse began to buck, and Tom Connell got away. He then got off, tied his horse to a tree, and was coming to my assistance, but when he fired his carbine at Clarke his horse broke loose again and he ran to stop him. When he came back to the place I had gone. He was riding a colt and a buck-jumper. I found the horse next day, saddle and all.
This state of things began to nettle the other chaps who were out night and day but could never come across “the boys.”
TOM CLARKE AND TOM CONNELL.
Tommy Clarke and his mate then went up to Michalago and stuck-up the post-office and store, and took two racehorses, saddles and bridles. If a stranger had come across Tommy Clarke and Tom Connell at this period the first thing that would have struck him in their appearance would be, that they were two squatters, sitting down to have a smoke and a nobbler. Tommy was dressed in a suit of grey tweed, well made. He looked anything but a bushranger.
Tom Connell was also dressed well that day, but he always had the cut of a bushman about him. Clarke’s turn out was complete. He had a beautiful brown horse of the Barebone breed, and the prettiest saddle I ever saw. In fact his turnout was as graceful and complete as that of any gentleman in Sydney.
Connell’s was not so good. He had a horse the property of Mr. Smith of Jinden. After some time Smith came down in a great fuss and claimed this horse of Connell’s, and took out a warrant for him. Now it seems Pat Connell borrowed this horse and gave him to Clarke to ride; but as he did not return it, and as things were beginning to look queer, Smith took out the warrant to save himself. I met Smith coming from Braidwood and he told me he had taken out a warrant for Pat for horse-stealing, but to let no one know till he was taken, as the police could take him easily before he knew he was “wanted”. This was agreed upon. Smith passed the barracks on his way home, and on the way met Pat Connell, about six miles beyond. So they rode together to Mick Connell’s, fed their horses, and got their dinner — Smith telling him to look out as there was a warrant out for him. They then went together somewhere, but Smith afterwards went home, while Pat took the bush and joined his brother Tom and Tommy Clarke.
ROBBERIES AND POLICE BLUNDERS.
From this period onward robberies were committed almost daily, and the people were becoming exasperated. Our party were out every day, and every other night, but we could see nothing of them. We would start and ride away, sometimes on tracks close on them, but it was all useless, we could never see them. Instead of picking our ground so as to make no noise we would blunder over everything that came in our road, but the “boys” would not do business in that way. They would ride to some grassy flat where the horses would not make a noise, and in such a manner as to enable them to hear any one approaching before they came too close; and thus they managed to elude our vigilance. As the country up there is all mountains and sudden ranges, generally covered with short, thick, forest oak scrub, and narrow boggy creeks, more of the nature of swamps, the utmost caution in riding ought to have been observed. Now, men brought up in the bush, like the Jingera people, could tell the meaning of the least noise. They could tell without seeing what it was. Many times these three bushrangers have been near a party of police and stood to let the police pass unmolested. Then they would turn sometimes and follow the police all day, and watch their “little game.” They had thus an opportunity of seeing where the police went to, and how they worked, and so managed their own movements accordingly. If I had had with me another native trooper that had any bush experience, I could have taken them before any serious harm was done. But it was not to be so. I was merely a trooper, and it was my duty to obey. If I could do ever so much, or knew ever so much, my superior officer, though a new inexperienced hand, was paid to know more. I could never reason with him. Tell him what I know, he knew better, and so things went on, and so crime went on, getting worse and worse every day. The bushrangers were getting more daring, the police more impotent, the people disgusted.
A STRANGE MOVE AT MICK CONNELL’S.
Shortly after this Sergeant B. went into Braidwood for something, and I was at home getting ready to go* up the gully, when young Connell came galloping up to the station reporting that his father’s store at Stoney Creek was stuck up, and a lot of goods taken away. I and Mr. John Wallace and the tracker started, post haste, to Stoney Creek, and observed where the store had been broken into. It rather puzzled me to understand this move. To think it possible that Pat Connell should stick up his brother, or that Clarke would stick up his uncle, was a little bit too strong for me. Mick Connell was in Braidwood, and his wife could only describe but not swear to any of the stolen property. Of course she did describe it all. Well, the property was all found! Before I got there it bad been taken about a quarter of a mile down to the bend of the river the junction of Stoney Creek and the Shoalhaven. The goods were all there except some socks and a comforter. I took a description of this property, and gave it up, Mr. Wallace being witness. I had a suspicion these goods were not right, but I was laughed at when I expressed my suspicions at the police barracks. I said I believed the goods were part of the stolen property from the Foxlow station, taken to Mick Connell’s to be sold again. I was asked if I was mad to think that a man so highly respectable and well off as Mick Connell was going to throw a chance away? I believe then, as I do now, that I was right in my conjectures.
Well, we picked up the tracks and ran some of them for seven or eight miles up the range between the river and the gully; then the tracks turned and went down the range the other way, till within a mile of old John Connell’s where they scattered, one going towards the house, the others going up the range again. All at once I heard a low whistle from John Wallace who was motioning me to look towards the creek, where I saw John Connell cantering up a little gully, with a tin ”billy” on his arm, and a “swag” in front of him. He had been to the hut for grub. The tracker was on the colt still, and he was done up. I made a start to cross the creek, but could not go very fast as I ran foul of a number of rooks, and my horse went all roads at once, but once over the creek my efforts were made to overtake John Wallace who had met with a more favourable crossing place higher up. When I had got up to him two more men came out from behind a spur of the ridge and joined John Connell, and handed him a gun. They then raced for the scrub which was about 400 yards up the range.
STILL TOO CLEVER FOR US.
We rammed in the spurs and flew after them in pursuit. As Tommy Clarke was turning in his saddle to fire, I fired at him. He was just galloping under an oak tree; the bullet cut the bush and left it sticking on his hat. His friend told me afterwards that my bullet took the button off his hat; the button was half off previously, and sticking up. I threw the rifle strap across my shoulder and drew my revolver. I had my fire arms clean and in order this time, and made a dash in the scrub after them. You could hear the limbs and sticks cracking like pistol shots. Before proceeding far I heard a shout. My mate’s horse had stood with him, and he called, thinking I should be murdered by proceeding alone, which was very likely. The tracker, George, could not face his horse up the range at all; he was completely done up. I went on for about half a mile further but could not hear or see anything of them, and it occurred to me that I was doing wrong by leaving my mate alone, with only one revolver, for at this time they had sworn to shoot John Wallace. I therefore returned and we went to where Clarke and Tom Connell had come out. We there got two horses they had been riding, for the saddle marks were quite wet; in fact these horses were pretty well done up. If we had been half an hour sooner we should have caught them on these animals, which were racing ponies, belonging to Mr. Hyland near Araluen. I put the tracker on one of these horses and we started for the barracks, for it was no use then following “the boys” with the horses we had, or rather the horses they now had, for I had, myself, as good an old screw as could be desired; but one was of no use against three, and they were all well armed with guns and revolvers.
We had not left our horse behind for more than ten minutes when “the boys” came down, from the hill and cut his throat. They must have caught him first and blind-folded him then hit him on the head with a riverstone, then when he fell,they cut his throat. At any rate, I found him the next day dead, with his skull smashed in, and his throat cut.
(TO BE CONTINUED)