Spotlight: Inquest on William Drew and other news (18/10/1817)

Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter (Tas. : 1816 – 1821), Saturday 18 October 1817, page 1


HOBART TOWN, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 18, 1817.


Sitting Magistrate – Reverend R. KNOPWOOD, A. M.


SHIP NEWS – On Tuesday arrived the ship Frederick, Capt. WILLIAMS, from Calcutta, via Bencoolen and Batavia, with a valuable cargo of merchandize, – Passengers, Mr. WINDER and Lieut. STEWART, who removed to the Pilot, and sailed the following day for Sydney. In this vessel arrives 7 male and 3 female prisoners, destined for Port Jackson.

On Wednesday sailed the ship Pilot, Captain PEXTON, for Port Jackson, having on board Colonel DAVEY, late Lieutenant Governor of the Colony, Mr. O’CONNOR, Lieut. STEWART, and Mr. WINDER. The following prisoners, lately committed to take their trial before the Criminal Court at Sydney, were sent up in this Vessel:- Collier, Hillier and Watts, the bushrangers; Clarke, Scott and two Crahans, for sheep stealing. A number of evidences on behalf of the Crown also went up in this vessel, amongst whom is Black Mary, a native of this Colony, who some time back was an active guide to the military parties in quest of the bush-rangers.

Remain in the harbour the ship Frederick, and the brigs Spring, Jupiter and Sophia.

On Tuesday Colonel DAVEY, our late Lieutenant Governor, embarked on board the ship Pilot, under a Salute of 13 guns from the Battery. He was accompanied to the Government Wharf by His Honor the Liuetenant Governor, and most of the Principal Officers and inhabitants of the Colony; and on leaving the shore, was greeted by the cheers of a numerous assemblage of spectators.


CORONER’S INQUEST.—An inquest was taken on Monday last at the County Gaol in this town, before A. W. H. HUMPHREY, Esq. Coroner, upon the body of William Drew, whose death we mentioned in our last.

The first evidence was Mr. Assistant Surgeon Hood, of the 46th regt., who deposed that the death of the deceased, William Drew, seemed to have been occasioned by a musket ball passing through the thorax, by entering the back a little below the right shoulder, and shattering the breast bone in its passage; he did not perceive any other injury about the body.

The next witness was Mr. W. Williams, who stated that the deceased was his servant, and employed in looking after his sheep in the vicinity of New Norfolk. It appeared by the testimony of this witness, that he left Hobart Town on the Wednesday prior to the death of the deceased on a visit to his flock; and that when he got to the First River, he found Drew in the hut there. The next morning, Mr. W. went to his grazing ground for some sheep, which he brought back and sheared himself; and on the following morning, soon after daylight, he sent Drew for some more to the same place. Drew being absent for upwards of 4 hours, witness became alarmed, and went to look for Drew; and when he arrived at the place where he had sent him, he walked about for nearly an hour before he found him, who was then running towards witness with a gun, and a dog; upon his coming up, Mr. W. asked him what was the matter, to which he replied, “George Watts was stopping with Howe, whilst he came to acquaint him of it,” and delivered his musket to Mr. W. saying “he did not want it as they had got Mich. Howe’s gun, and that Watts had one of his own.” During their conversation Drew shewed Mr. W. two knives, which he said he had taken from Howe; and upon Mr. W. asking him if he could be of any assistance, he replied “no, as Howe was secured;” he then ran away; Witness and the deceased had previously agreed to take Howe the first opportunity.

George Watts deposed, that after Mich. Howe had been to Drew, at William’s hut, with a letter for the Lieutenant Governor, about six weeks ago, he (Watts) went to Drew, and enquired of him whether he had seen Howe; he replied he had a or 3 times successively, and was again to see him on the Friday following at sunrise; he said should he come on Thursday or Friday, they could take him.

On the Thursday night Watts went to New Norfolk, took Triffit’s boat and proceeded across the river, and concealed himself along-side of a path, near the place Drew appointed to meet him, till daylight. About sunrise Drew came, and told him he was to meet Howe at a place called the Long Bottom, where William’s sheep were. Watts told Drew to leave his gun, as he thought Howe would not come up to them if he perceived it; Drew left it hidden; they then both proceeded to the place where they expected to meet Howe; upon arriving there, Drew called two or three times, which Howe answered, from the opposite side of the creek. When Watts came within ninety yards of Howe, he told him to knock the priming out of his gun, and he would do the same, which both parties did; they then went about 50 or 40 yards and began to light a fire. The first opportunity, Watts caught Howe by the collar and threw him down; Drew tied his hands, and took two knives from his pocket; Watts and Drew got breakfast, but Howe refused to eat; they then were about proceeding to town, when Drew proposed to take his master’s musket and dog back, which Watts agreed to, desiring him not to inform his master of any thing, which he promised. Upon Drew’s return, they all proceeded towards Hobart Town, Watts with his gun loaded walked before Howe and Drewe behind. When about about 8 miles on the road, Watts heard Drew scream and on turning round received a wound in his stomach from Howe; but how he got loose, he did not know, excepting by cutting the cord. Howe said, that “he would settle Drew’s business,” as he had by this time got possession of Watt’s musket; he immediately fired at Drew; Watts being amongst some wattles did not hear him speak or see him fall; he enquired if Drew was dead? Howe replied “yes,” and “he would shoot him as soon as he could load his piece.” Drew carried Howe’s musket previous to being shot, but it was not primed. Watts dreading being shot, ran about 200 yards, and lay down a few minutes from cold and loss of blood. Upon being able to walk, he made all haste to a hut belonging to James Burne, and on being put to bed he told Mrs. Burne that he was stabbed by Howe, and requested her husband to get Waddle the constable to take him to town; by the time Waddle arrived he was hardly able to speak; he only informed him of his name, and, when able to talk next morning, he told him Drew was shot. The testimony of the other witnesses merely relates to searching after, and finding the body of Drew, and conveying it to town.

The Jury, after a short deliberation, returned a verdict that the deceased, William Drew, was murdered by Michael Howe.

Spotlight: Execution of Richard Collyer (1818)

Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter (Tas. : 1816 – 1821), Saturday 31 January 1818, page 2


HOBART TOWN; SATURDAY, JANUARY 31, 1818.

SITTING MAGISTRATE—JAMES GORDON, Esq.

SHIP NEWS.—On Saturday last sailed, once more, the ship Pilot, Capt. PEXTON, with live stock, for Batavia; and on Wednesday the brig Governor Macquarie, Capt. Reibey, for Port Dalrymple.

On Monday morning last, at 11 o’clock, the execution of Richard Collyer took place on the rise of the hill at the beginning of the New-town road. The crime for which he suffered was the murder, perpetrated by himself and others, of Carlisle and O’Byrne, in 1815, at New Norfolk, but the many offences which had been committed by the hand of bushrangers, during the years in which they infested the colony, rendered his life doubly and trebly forfeited to the law.

Of the six criminals implicated in the murder of Carlisle and O’Byrne, three (Whitehead, Jones and Geary) have been shot by the King’s troops, when in arms against them; one (Septon) was destroyed by his comrades; the fifth is the unhappy man whose atonement has now been made in the regular course of Law; The sixth in number but the greatest in crime (Michael Howe), is not yet come to his account; but we cannot doubt that the day of justice and retribution will arrive.

The offence for which Collyer suffered, and the general outrage committed by the bush-rangers are too well known to need any retrospection or remark. That banditti is exinct, and will in future exist only in the recollection of the settlers whose peace and property they invaded.

It is satisfactory to announce, that the criminal, Collyer, died truly penitent and resigned, admitting fully, that his life was justly forfeited to the Law. The attention of the Rev. Mr. Knopwood to the unhappy man was constant; and appears to have wrought the happiest effects. Collyer prayed fervently, and addressed the crown servants, who witnessed the execution, in becoming terms; exhorting them to take warning by his fate, and to avoid the course of life which led to it. May this example have its due effect!

EARLY TROUBLES OF THE COLONISTS by J. E. Calder (Pt. 8)

Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Thursday 27 November 1873, page 3


TASMANIAN HISTORY.

EARLY TROUBLES OF THE COLONISTS,

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

Written by J. E. CALDER.

[Concluded.]

Mr. Bent, having sketched Howe’s career with as much fidelity as such an unscrupulous writer was capable of, supplements it with several idle stories of murders that have no foundation in fact, which he lays at the door of the bushranger. One of these outrages, whoever done by, was committed on an island in the Straits, which Howe certainly never was at; another is made ridiculous by the excessive improbability of the circumstances which he says attended it; and the other he supposes Howe must have done, because he once told some one else, that it was committed by the natives. I believe they are all inventions of his own, or else rest on unsupported rumour only.

The Governor, though glad enough when he heard of the death of the last of the bushrangers, was, I have been told by several persons, greatly displeased at the mutilation of his corpse, for he thought it a barbarous and unnecessary act, though he says nothing about it in his despatches, nor does the name of Drummond occur in them anywhere; and this fellow might have saved himself the trouble of doing this savage act, for he got nothing by it. Sorell extols Howe’s destroyers to the skies. He paid fifty pounds of the hundred guinea reward to Pugh, forty to Worrell, and fifteen to Warburton. McGill also received a small gratuity. In a despatch of his that I have seen, he pleads hard for a pardon for McGill, for former bush services, which both he and Worrell received, and also asks to be allowed to purchase private Pugh’s discharge, promising to raise the necessary funds in the colony, “as a mark of grateful acknowledgment for the service rendered by Pugh.”

He might well be grateful for it, for we may suppose the six-year chase after Howe cost the Imperial and local Governments such a sum, as one is afraid to guess at, while the colony was ridded of by far the most dreaded robber who ever took the bush.

Howe was a powerfully made man, about five feet seven or eight inches high, neither bad nor good-looking, having deeply seated eyes, and a profusion of coarse hair. Mr. Frank Pitt describes him as being “a rough sailor-looking fellow,” and Mr. Patterson, who saw him when in gaol, says he was slightly pock-marked. The accounts that I have received of his ordinary bearing are more favourable than I should have expected.

The number of men who were at different times associated with Howe, since his second escape into the woods in 1815, was twenty; of whom twelve, including himself, came to a bad end, in consequence of that connection. Six others who surrendered themselves to the Government, but who were not guilty of murder, received very severe sentences for their evil deeds, to which one would have thought that death itself were preferable. Of the remaining two, I can discover nothing; but as both were old offenders, we may be sure they fined as hardly as the others.

It is not necessary to say more of Howe’s companions than what I have already done, excepting three of them, namely, Geary, Septon, and Collier, whose fate may be worth recording.

I have said before that James Geary was a deserter from a detachment of the 73rd Regiment, of which he was one of the bandsmen, and after joining Howe, he became one of the most active participators in the many crimes of that misguided man.

The history of brigandage furnishes no end of examples of men taking to that dreadful calling from disappointed love; and this was the case with this soldier. For, in so far as I can discover, the early bush career of this great offender, began in a passion that seems to have bordered on infatuation, for a female, who I believe was the daughter of a publican, living somewhere in the delightful neighbourhood of Cat and Fiddle Alley of this city of ours – this very fashionable quarter, deriving its name from the once notorious Inn kept by the father. The faithless syren persuaded the love-smitten soldier to desert from his regiment and follow her, but where to, I am uncertain; for all that I know of this ruinous alliance is, that it was quickly dissolved by her deserting him, and taking herself off to Launceston, where she made a more suitable, if not a happier match. In this state of wreck, the unhappy fellow drifted rapidly on to the shoals of ruin, a doomed and broken man. Having now neither friends nor means, and dreading the fearful consequences of surrendering himself to his officers, he took another fatal step in his headlong descent, by uniting his already desperate fortunes with those of the outlaw Howe.

After the surrender of the latter to Captain Nairn in 1817, Geary led the gang, as the most resolute and daring of them all. There was a time, Sorell says, when he wished to give up his dangerous way of life, but despairing of pardon (being an offender both against the civil and military law,) he abandoned the idea; and such was his influence over the rest of the gang, that he prevented them from laying down their arms, and giving in, as they all wished to do, being quite broken down by a life of privation and danger, and the unceasing pursuit of a host of enemies.

Lance Serjeant McCarthy and seven soldiers assisted by three volunteers, with Black Mary for their guide, tracked the gang to their retreat at old Joe Johnson’s hut at the Tea-tree Brush, on the 7th of July of 1817. Both sides tree’d themselves directly; but such was the downfall of rain then descending, that the guns of both sides, either hung fire, or else would not go off at all. A soldier named Sullivan was opposed to Geary, but some minutes passed before either made a hit. Geary got first chance, through the other slightly exposing his head, and he fired. His aim was good but not quite true, the ball striking the tree quite close to it, and sending a shower of bark fragments into his face. “That’s not a bad shot,” said Geary cooly, when he saw that he had missed his man, “but the next shall be better,” and he proceeded to reload; but by this time the rain had so damped and fouled the touch-hole of his piece, that it was necessary to clear it out, and he raised his leg for a rest whilst he dried it, projecting it a little beyond the tree and thus giving away a chance. Sullivan then fired, the ball taking fatal effect, by passing completely through his thigh. His companion Jones was shot dead by another soldier nearly at the same moment. McCarthy’s people then ran in, and took either one or two others. The rest, seven or eight, then made off. Geary’s wound was mortal, and he died in about twenty minutes, bravadoing till all was over.

He bled very freely; still an effort, Mr. Beamont tells me, was, made to stop the hemorrhage, which he submitted to, cooly taking out his fife (he was a fifer of the band) and playing it during all the operation; but directly it was finished, he tore off the bandages himself, and bled to death almost directly.

Peter Septon, another old soldier then led, but some quarrel occurring amongst them, a separation took place, and he and Collier removed to the Launceston side of the island, where they were joined by several recruits, one of whom was named Hillier.

They were stationed at a place called in those days Gordon’s Plains, which were on the South Esk, somewhere between Evandale and the princely domain of Clarendon. Here another quarrel and split-up took place, and Septon, Collier and Hillier remained alone together.

On the 28th of July, they slept at a hut close to Gordon’s Plains. Hillier had no love for either of them, nor for any one else, and resolved to destroy both, for the substantial reward of eighty guineas, the price that was put on the head of either of them.

When his victims were sleeping, he rose up stealthily, and having first secured their pieces, he proceeded to assault them, and Septon spoke no more.

Collier waking at the instant, at the struggles of the dying man, sprang from his wretched couch, and made for the door, the murderer pursuing and wounding him as he escaped, but not badly, and he then ran for it. Hillier seeing that he was eluding him, snatched up a gun, and firing, shattered one of his hands, nearly to pieces; but he ran still, and finally got away. The fugitive then made his way to Launceston, and surrendered to the Commandant.

Collier was sent up to Sydney for trial, and was convicted on the evidence of Howe’s paramour, Black Mary, of participation in the deaths of Carlisle and O’Birne, and was sentenced to die. He was then returned to Hobart Town, according to the practice of the times for execution. It is reported that he acknowledged his sentence to be a just one, and died as best became him–a repentant man.

“Nothing in his life,

Became him like the leaving it.”

Soon after the surrender of Collier, Hillier also fell into Sorell’s hands, but who gave him a very different reward from the one he expected, namely, a passage to Sydney, a fair trial for he crimes and a well-deserved death.

With the close of the events just described, the cloud that had so long darkened the social atmosphere of Tasmania drifted away, and which nothing but the operation of laws, too rashly and often too cruelly carried out afterwards more, as I believe, to produce a salutary effect elsewhere than here–sent back upon us again. But let none refuse honour to the man by whose energy the evil was first subdued. Like the rest of us, he was not faultless, that is, if judged by the hypermetrical standard of over-exact moralists, which so few of us would care to be tested by. But we may well forget the few errors of his life in the recollection of the good he performed whilst amongst us. But in this world of ours we are never too forgiving, and as Shakespeare has it,

The evil that men do, lives after them,

The good is oft interred with their bones.

14th November, 1873.

ADDENDA.

BLACK MARY. – There is an incident connected with Howe’s life that requires some notice. His biographer, Bent, accuses him of having once tried to destroy his paramour, for no other reason but her inability to keep pace with him when flying from the military. He says that in April of 1817, “Howe and the native girl were pursued in the neighbourhood of Jericho, by a small party of the 40th regiment. His wantonly cruel disposition was strongly manifested on this occasion, for, being hard pressed, in order to facilitate his own escape, he fired at this poor female companion, who from fatigue was unable to keep pace with him. She, however, received little injury, and, together with his blunderbuss, knapsack, and dogs, fell into the hands of the pursuers.” She was taken by a soldier named Sullivan.

But “the father of the Tasmanian press,” as Bent was wont to style himself, was neither a scrupulous nor a very reflecting writer; and it does not seem to have occurred to him, that the shot was most probably directed at the soldier as he was laying hands on his companion; and that his intention in firing may have been to save, and not to destroy her.

MAJOR STEWART, COMMANDANT OF LAUNCESTON.

I have said before, that the conduct of this officer when Commandant of Launceston, was most unruly; and he exhibited such turbulence, disobedience of nearly every order, and insubordination, is almost to deserve the name of mutiny. It was the practice of the time to give to officers in his station, but by courtesy only, almost exactly the same title, as that by which the chief local authority was addressed, namely, his Honor, the Lieutenant-Governor of Launceston. They were indeed entitled to this designation at one time, that is, when Tasmania was divided into two separate Governments, but not after this partition of territory ceased in 1812; and this seems to have been translated by Major Stewart (and I fear by at least one of his successors) as entitling him to independent command; and he yielded either a most unwilling obedience to Sorell, or more often none at all; sometimes even acting in open defiance of him, and embarrassing him to the uttermost at all times. Several of Colonel Sorell’s Despatches to his superior at Sydney, describe his demeanour as highly disorderly; and nothing but the very peculiar circumstances of the colony, prevented both Governors sending him to a Court Martial. He defied the magistracy as well as the Governor; and at one time prevented them from taking any proceedings against the lawbreaking classes of the country, by actually carrying off, says Sorell, “the Record Books of the Bench of Magistrates, declaring his resolution to retain them by force;” and he “ruined the public buildings, gardens and barracks at Launceston.” The barracks and fences, he pulled down unauthorisedly, and burnt them all.

The discipline, or rather the indiscipline, that he maintained amongst his men, was something outrageous (often punishing them without any trial whatever), till they became so disorganised as to be a public nuisance, and they committed many outrages, and more than one murder.

Of the many instances that are recorded of this officer’s refractoriness, there is one very flagrant one detailed in a Despatch dated 8th August, 1818. I have before introduced the name of Ensign Mahon, as the destroyer of two of Howe’s gang, one of whom, Elliott, he brought down himself. This young officer, seems to have been a most active and determined man, and always a ready volunteer to go after either bushrangers or natives, and generally with success. Some boats had been taken from Hobart Town by runaways, and were followed by Mr. Mahon to the Tamar, Major Stewart being forewarned by a letter from the Lieutenant Governor of Mahon’s enterprise. The latter on reaching George Town, met the Major there, to whom he exhibited his instructions, whereupon Stewart at once took steps to frustrate Mahon’s mission, by seizing and placing him in confinement, or as Sorell says, “he arrested Ensign Mahon, and prevented him by military force from proceeding.” He concludes his report of this outrage in these words: “A more glaring instance of contempt for the good of the service, for the advantage of the settlement, and the maintenance of Law and order, by the supression of enduring Banditti, perhaps was never exhibited; and when to that may be added the direct defiance of authority of his immediate superior, I cannot doubt that this charge would have been of most serious import to Major Stewart, had it been before a General Court Martial,” &c

If it be true as Addison says that every tale has its moral, then assuredly the sketches I have given of the bush careers of Howe and Brady, will not have been written in vain. The examples furnished by the lives of these men, and their many companions in crime and misfortune, may teach us the folly of attempting to coerce the criminal classes into the ways of virtue by any such severity of punishment, as was much too often inflicted here, in times happily past, that were generally quite incommensurate with the nature of the offences that first led the most of them into the more vicious courses, that conducted them progressively to the chain-gang or scaffold. Not only the examples, with which we were once too familiar here, but the experience, of all past time, assure us that men tire neither to be deterred from evil practices, or driven, so to speak, to virtue by barbarous retaliatory inflictions, whose tendency is to deprave in ten cases, where they amend or even intimidate in one; and should be a lesson to us for ever to avoid an evil, which has so small an admixture of good. Moral improvement by legal penalties, is only to be achieved by such inflictions as leave the offender no reason to believe that he has been too hardly dealt with; and whenever this limit is exceeded, the almost certain effect is the reproduction of offence. Even military critics, who are not always trained in schools where much moderation is practised, have not been wanting to declaim against the operation of military laws, as practised in our own armies, even in very recent times, the inevitable result of which was to deaden self respect by degrading the sufferer; and the soldier who had once undergone the indignity of corporal punishment, was ever after a worthless fellow. Even brigandage itself has seldom been wholly repressed by military violence, of which the history of the first Napoleon furnishes more than one instance. He with all his power, failed to eradicate it from either Spain or Calabria, even by the persistent exercise of such vigour as his merciless agents, General Manhes* and others opposed to it in the last named country, who left their despairing victims no hope of life but in resistance. The experience of the present age seems to be, that when milder systems of punishment are used than prevailed formerly, that crime keeping pace with mercy, has much diminished, or so at least I have read; though even now, as it seems to me, some offences such as horse and sheep stealing, by which few men are very often seriously injured, are still dealt with too mercilessly, that is by such long periods of imprisonment, that the criminal grows old before his sentence expires, when a recommencement of life by any other means than renewing old practices, is no longer possible. Hence he returns to liberty, neither amended, nor even intimidated by his punishment.

That there are in the category of crime, some offences for which death is none too severe, may be believed. But we are now beginning to understand, that all lesser ones, are more certain of abatement by moderation in our penal practice, than by pushing chastisement too nearly to the limit of endurance, by which latter the ends for which Justice is instituted, are more commonly defeated than reached.


*MacFarlane, in his account of the suppression of brigandage in Calabria thus describes some of the cruelties of this old soldier when serving under Murat. “In the French General Manhes, Joachim Murat found the very man to superintend or direct these massacres en masse, and the Calabrians the most ruthless enemy that had ever been let loose on them . . . . . . it remains undisputed and has even been admitted by those who served under him or with him, that Manhes, was a cruel, pitiless man to the Calabrians, the people of the Abruzzi, &c. and acted up to a system of blood, without once relenting. No mercy was ever extended to the outlaws who fell into his hands. Villages, whole towns, through which the inhabitants had allowed the brigands a passage, felt his tremendous vengeance. Any peasant, without distinction of sex or age, who was found, going out to labour in the country, with more than a small flask of wine and a morsel of bread calculated to be just sufficient to support life for one day, was taken and shot; for Manhes, having made pretty sure of the towns and villages, whence the brigands could no longer supply themselves, thought if he could prevent the peasantry from smuggling out provisions to them, that they must either surrender themselves, or die of want in the mountain fastnesses, such to which he had driven them. ….”By unusual novelity like this, Manhes boasted he had put down brigandage in Calabria. The boast was partly made out by fact,” &c.

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.]

EARLY TROUBLES OF THE COLONISTS by J. E. Calder (Pt. 6)

Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Tuesday 25 November 1873, page 2


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 by J. E. Calder.

[Continued.]

Without noticing in this place the destinies of his old companions in crime, who fell one by one into the hands of the military or others, I shall hasten on with Howe’s own history. It is a bloody one; but we could expect no other of such a man, now made doubly desperate by bitter disappointment.

That he still went on committing robberies (Sorell says chiefly of stockmen’s huts) is certain, for he soon contrived to possess himself of a musket, pistols, ammunition, and dogs again, which, now that he had broken with all his confederates, and quarrelled with his old mates, he could scarcely have got except by robbery.

Being now unaccompanied by any one, his solitary life in the woods must have been wearisome and wretched beyond expression; and to add to the miseries of his situation, he was now often chased for his life by the black natives, as was proved by a kind of journal he kept, that was found in his knapsack afterwards, which was taken from him in one of his hard conflicts with his white pursuers. His nights were even worse than his days, for it is recorded by himself that he never closed his eyes, but he dreamed he was pursued, one moment by the blacks and the next by the whites; and if it were possible that a man so degraded and lost to human sensations as this unhappy wretch could have felt as others feel, he might have exclaimed with Manfred,

“My slumbers – if I slumber – are not sleep,

But a continuance of enduring thought.”

and the reflection that all this unhappiness was self-inflicted, must have been, even to such a mind as his, in the last degree embittering.

About ten weeks after his flight from Hobart Town, his career of guilt and suffering was all but ended (10th of October, 1817), and but for his dog-like resolution, and determination never to be taken alive, nothing could have prevented him wearing the executioner’s cap in reality; but his time was not yet come.

Howe’s escape from Hobart Town was notified in the newspaper portion of the Gazette, just after it took place; but forty days elapsed before it was officially announced. There is no accounting for this delay now. But on the 6th of September, there appeared a Proclamation, offering a reward of one hundred guineas for his capture. The same proclamation included the names of two other great offenders, of whom one was George Watts, for whom eighty guineas each were offered.

This man Watts had been in the bush, but more as a robber of flocks than a bushranger, ever since 1807, but followed both callings indifferently. He must have been quite an extraordinary person, and an unusually shrewd one also. Having none of the coarse manners of an ordinary robber, his usual deportment, when not engaged in bushranging practices, was that of a man of the world, that is polished, affable, and quite the reverse of a low offensive fellow. Sorell describes him as having connections nearly everywhere, even in circles from which it might have been thought he would have been excluded – having the command of plenty of money, at a time when there was not much of that commodity in the colony, and possessed of such ascendency over his accomplices, as to have lived quite without fear of molestation from them. This influence, however, never reached the military portion of the community, who more than once gave the wealthy robber such a run for his life as he never had from any others; and the only time that this really sharp fellow was ever known to make a simpleton of himself, was in trying to make his old leader, Howe, a prisoner.

Watts began to think that it was time to give up his dangerous mode of life; and the Governor’s proclamation, though it included himself, seemed to present a fine opportunity for escaping military surveillance, and of removing from his own person the tempting reward offered for his own capture; and in an evil moment (under the persuasion of others more timid than himself) he resolved to “do the State some service,” by engaging in the dangerous adventure of bringing to justice a man who it was most unsafe to encounter at any time; and he set out for Howe’s retreat at New Norfolk, in good hope of bringing him to his last account.

Hunting about the place, and knowing many, he was soon on Howe’s track, and learned that he was in the habit of visiting the stock-hut of a settler named Williams, better known as “Coachy Williams,” which was on the Sorell Creek, about half-a-mile from its junction with the Derwent. The hut was in charge of a convict named William Drew, with the soubriquet of Slambo, by which he is best known in the early annals of the colony. Watts seems to have had no difficulty in involving this man in his plans for the capture of Howe.

I am informed by a young friend at New Norfolk, to whom I am indebted for some of the details of this narrative, that this Coachy Williams was one of those who planned the attack on Howe, though he took no part in it personally, and I derive some of the following account of an assault on Howe from him, who got it from a very old resident of that district, who saw the bushranger attacked, and his temporary capture by Watts and Slambo; and who also saw him marched off between them, after they had mustered and secured the solitary, but most determined robber, who ever disturbed the peace of Tasmania.

Slambo at parting from Watts, on the 9th of October, indicated the place where they should meet next day at early dawn, to proceed to Howe’s hiding place, namely, a point on some obscure path, that was well known to both, and they parted for the night, Watts going into Elizabeth Town, as New Norfolk was then called, with all the coolness of one who has nothing to fear.

But during the night he returned to the bush, and took up his sleeping quarters at the appointed spot, and lay there till daybreak. His friend Slambo was true to his time, and joined him very early, and led the way to a place called Long Bottom, where he expected Howe.

By the advice of Watts, Slambo left his gun behind him, so as not to awaken Howe’s suspicions, but the former took his own. Upon arriving at Long Bottom, Slambo called out two or three times, which Howe replied to from his concealment in or near to a creek. He then presented himself; but being a watchful man and suspicious from habit, and seeing also that Slambo had a companion with him, he would not approach, until Watts reassured him, by proposing that both should knock the priming out of their guns, which was agreed to and done, and the two outlaws met again. They then walked on a few yards together, when all stopped to light a fire and have breakfast. But this was only a ruse of Watts, and their apparent friendliness seems for once to have thrown the suspicious Howe off his guard; and he proceeded, but with some difficulty, to disengage himself of the knapsack he carried, the arm-slings of which were too tight for his great breadth of shoulder, whereupon his officiously obliging companions, most good-naturedly offered any assistance they could give to relieve him of his load, and when once behind for this purpose, both arms were secured, and he was thrown on the ground, before he knew what they were about with him. His hands were next tied in front by Slambo, and thus Howe for once was taken.

Having secured their prisoner, they next searched him for any weapons that he might have about him, but found only some ammunition and two knives, which they took from him. Slambo then returned to his master’s premises, which were some way off, carrying Howe’s gun along with him, and leaving the prisoner in charge of Watts. Whether any conversation passed between these latter has not been recorded; but doubtless the time that these two men, formerly associates, but now foes, passed by themselves, was not of a pleasurable nature to either.

When Slambo reached the homestead, he found his master much alarmed at his protracted absence, four hours. The former told Williams of the adventure of the morning, and of their intention of taking Howe to Hobart Town. Williams then offered his services to aid in removing the bushranger to gaol, but, luckily for him perhaps, they were declined, and he passed the rest of the day in the not very lively occupation of shearing sheep by himself.

Slambo then ran off, and in due course reached the scene of the capture of the vanquished bushranger, and they now went to breakfast in earnest, of which they invited the prisoner to partake, but he, being in no humour to accept any of their civilities, indignantly refused to eat with them.

They next took the road for Hobart Town, then a mere bush track, Watts being armed with his own gun, and his companion with the musket (as it is described) that they took from Howe, and which must have remained unprimed; and they jogged onwards for Hobart Town as fast as Howe chose to walk, Watts marching a little in advance of the prisoner, and the other guarding him behind, both of them doubtlessly speculating on the hero-like reception they would have on reaching town with their too well-known captive. But the adventures of the day were not half over yet; for Howe never gave up a game as lost, until it was lost beyond hope; and as he walked on sullenly between his captors, he was revolving in his mind his possible chances of escape, and of mastering both of them, which he had no doubt of being able to do, armed as they both were with guns and himself without, if his hands were only once more free.

The road from New Norfolk to Hobart Town was not the same at the time I am writing of as the present one. It was much shorter and more hilly, being directed over the inferior slopes of the Black Snake and Mount Fawkner ranges, instead of near the Derwent River, as it is now.

When they had got over about eight miles of their journey, and were pretty nearly abreast of, but not near to, Austin’s, and at a place then called Miller’s Brush, Slambo, who was still marching behind, saw with horror that the un-capturable Howe had somehow managed to disengage his hands from the cord that bound them, and stood between them ready for instant action. On seeing this, Slambo screamed out so loudly, that he might have been heard half a mile off. Watts started at the cry, and turned round to learn what was the matter just in time to see Howe dashing savagely at him at his best speed, and before he had time to level his piece for defence, Howe was upon him, and with the rapidity of thought, sent the broken blade of a pair of sheep sheers*, that he carried concealed in his coat-sleeve unknown to his captors, far into his stomach, and he fell with a piercing cry to die a lingering death. The gun he carried dropped from his hands of course, which Howe picked up in a moment, and said “he would settle Slambo’s business for him,” and turning on him with unerring aim, shot him dead on the spot, for he never spoke or moved a muscle afterwards; “The ball” says the surgeon, Dr. Hood, of the 46th Regt.,) who examined him after death “passing through the thorax by entering the back, a little below the right shoulder, and shattering the breast-bone in its passage,” so that Slambo must have turned round, probably to fly, when Howe shot him through-and-through.

Watts then enquired of Howe, if Slambo were dead? “Yes” shouted Howe, scowling on him with the look of a tiger, “and I’ll shoot you too as soon as I can load this piece.” But it took time to reload, as he had to get ammunition, which he probably did from the dead body of Slambo, and while this was going on, Watts knowing that Howe would keep his word, rose up with great difficulty and staggered on for about two hundred yards, and then lay down or fell into a thicket, exhausted through cold, pain, and loss of blood, and the furious freebooter failed to find him. But he knew he was done for; and time being just now more precious than abridging the brief remainder of Watts’ days, he sped from the spot – Heaven only knows where.

Watts rose again presently, and by great efforts succeeded in crawling to the cottage of a person named Burne, who, assisted by his wife, tended him till a cart could be obtained to convey him to town, which was not however till next day.

The body of Slambo was found soon afterwards, and was also brought to town, where an inquest was held on it on the 13th, and a verdict given that “William Drew was murdered by Michael Howe.” (Gazette, 17th October, 1817.)

Watts was soon afterwards sent up to Sydney, from which place he was an absconder, but not to be rewarded for his action against Howe, but to stand his trial for his own offences. Strangely enough it was reported to Sorell, that the mortal thrust of Howe had only wounded him slightly. But it was far otherwise, and he died three days after landing; and in this way ended for the present, the most terrible event in Howe’s life of guilt.

Colonel Sorell went nearly as mad as Davey, when the news of these desperate murders reached him. He wrote by the earliest opportunity to his chief in Sydney, reporting the deplorable calamity. He had before this entreated him to rescind the promise he had made in Howe’s favour, i.e., soon after his escape from gaol, saying he had “forfeited all claim to consideration; and will, if taken, afford a most proper example to this colony of Capital Punishment.” (Despatch, 13th Sept., 1817.) So he could do no more now than use his best efforts to bring him to justice as soon as possible, but notwithstanding this, the wary Howe eluded successful pursuit for another twelvemonth.

It is not quite easy to understand the reason of this sudden change of sentiment which took place several weeks before these murders were effected toward even such an offender as Howe was. If he were at all worthy of pardon for the past, as Sorell believed him to be, assuredly the circumstance of his absconding was not a sufficient reason for now considering him unfit for anything but capital punishment. But errors like other matters, seem to repeat themselves, or at least to multiply. It was certainly one to negotiate with Howe as he did for his surrender; it was undoubtedly another to promise such an offender pardon for the past; and this denunciation of him, before he had done any thing more to deserve death than running away, seems very like a third instance of hastiness, which is quite inconsistent with the general tenor of Sorell’s useful life.

With the view of securing Howe, Sorell fulminated a Proclamation, adding to the money reward for his capture, an offer of a free pardon and passage home, to any convict who should bring this great criminal to justice.

After the commission of these tragedies, Howe was more often heard of than seen, except at remote stock huts, and reports of his attacks on these exposed places, reached the authorities from many quarters of the Hamilton and New Norfolk districts, which he still continued to haunt, but he managed to keep out of danger, though the pursuit after him now by the military, and also by the wild native tribes, was hotter than ever.

Amongst others whose stockmen suffered by him at this time, were those of the late G. W. Evans, then Deputy Surveyor General of the colony, at whose establishment at Blinkworth’s Hunting Ground he suddenly presented himself, some time in June of 1818, from which he not only helped himself to as much provisions as he chose to carry off, but also made prize of two noble kangaroo dogs. It seems to have been believed at this time, that he was destitute of all means of defence, and the Gazette of the time speaking of this affair says, “What is astonishing, he had plenty of ammunition, and was well armed. His beard is of great length; and his appearance, connected with the idea of his horrid crimes, is altogether terrific” But this seems something like painting the devil blacker than he really was; for I am told that Howe was a passable looking man.

The rewards now offered for Howe, of money, freedom, and a passage to the dear old country of Englishmen, stimulated others besides the military, to “try a fall” with Howe. But like Balfour of Burley, he was “a desperate fighting fellow,” full of expedients, and never to be rashly handled; and one who as Sorell says, few would care to try a hand-to-hand encounter with. But the love of liberty is one of the strongest sentiments of the human heart, and the formidable character of the man, did not deter others from volunteering to do their best to pursue, take or kill this arch-offender.

There was at this time in the service of the Government, as guide to the military, a man named James McGill, who from his stature and strength, passed by the enviable nom de guerre of “Big McGill.” He had once been a bushranger himself, but now followed the more captivating occupation of pursuing them instead.

He was a rough fighting fellow, fearing neither man or devil, and was always ready for a stand-up with anybody or everybody, whenever they liked to come on; and however hungry “a customer” might be at setting-to, he always went home with a belly-full, when Mr. McGill had done with him.

This pleasant follow, was either selected or volunteered to bring Howe in; and he started off jollily on the exciting service. He wanted no assistant, being quite confident in his own powers to bring Howe to reason any day single-handed. Still it was thought best to give him a companion, in case of matters not going on quite so smoothly as he expected; and an active man of one of the native tribes of New South Wales, called Mosquito, an old enemy of the bushrangers, accompanied him as tracker, and to give such assistance as he could, which was not exactly nothing, for Mosquito was not deficient in daring, as he often proved in after times when leading the East Coast tribes of natives against our own people. The black soon got on Howe’s tracks, and the two followed him, and came up with him somewhere on the Clyde, then called the Fat Doe River, and there was warm work between them when this took place.

Howe had been often heard to say he never would be taken alive; and in the struggle that took place, this determination appears to have work with its full force. He was overmatched it is true, but this did not shake his resolution in any degree. He was now in the very best years of his life, about thirty-one, when the powers of endurance are greatest, and he used them to the uttermost. He fought like a fiend for life, hitting out right and left as hard as he could, till his opponents closed in upon him for the death struggle, but even then he shewed them he was not half done for, and they could not throw him down, do as they would, for he continued to kick and fight as vigorously as ever, and in a manner that astonished even the resolute McGill, who was himself almost a match for a wild beast. At length, making an effort of his strength more violent than any he had yet put forth, he tore himself from the vice-like grasp of his gigantic opponent, and dashed away with such speed that it was useless to pursue him.

I had most of these particulars from an old companion of Howe’s, at whose hut I stayed for several weeks whilst surveying the shores of the Great Lake in 1847. The Gazette notice of Howe’s escape from his powerful antagonists merely mentions the affray in a slight and incidental manner, too usual with newspaper reports fifty or sixty years ago, saying only that Howe was pursued, after robbing a hut, and that he lost “his dogs, knapsack, and all that he had,” it then says, “from a paper found in his knapsack, it appears that he has been much harrassed by the natives, and has been very nearly cut off by them several times.” (Gazette, September 19th, 1818.)

From this place Howe must have gone to the neighbourhood of York Plains, where he committed what was probably his last robbery, as I gather from a letter of Colonel Sorell’s, addressed to the Commandant of Launceston, dated 17th of October, 1818, in which he says, “It is stated that a soldier from York Plains, was at Captain Blyth’s at the Rope Walk, about seven miles from there, a few days ago, when Michael Howe, the bushranger, came down and robbed the house… It appears that Howe succeeded in robbing the house and getting off, though three men besides the soldier were there.”

[To be continued.]

*Watts, in his evidence touching this event, said Howe’s weapon was a knife.

EARLY TROUBLES OF THE COLONISTS by J. E. Calder (Pt. 5)

Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Monday 24 November 1873, page 2


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 by J. E. Calder.

[Continued.]

It was never the policy of Howe’s party, to remain long in one place; so getting rid of their booty amongst their confederates, they made off for the midland districts, and were at Scantlings or York Plains a day or two afterwards. The main road ran through these plains then, so they took up their quarters within view of it, in case of any thing in their particular line passing that way. But Mr. Stocker’s late surprise, seems to have been a caution to others, and they caught nothing except one poor penniless traveller, who chanced to be sauntering about there, and who fell into the net of course.

But notwithstanding the dulness of the road whilst they were at York Plains, they did not pass their time in inaction, and for want of something better to do, they drove in forty or fifty head of Styne’s and Troy’s cattle, and slaughtered them all for their tallow, rendering it down quite professionally, or rather making others do it for them, who they unceremoniously pressed into the service from a rather distant stock station, and worked them like horses for three days, disposing of the proceeds amongst certain friends of theirs, and facetiously naming the place “the Tallow Chandler’s shop,” in honour of this adventure.

Not being able to get anything out of the prisoner Yorke, who fell into their hands on the 27th November, they made the best use of him that they could, and as he happened to be going to Hobart Town, they made him the bearer of a letter to Colonel Davey, which ought to have a place in the “Complete Letter-writer” of half a century ago, as a masterpiece of impudence and contemptuous disrespect of the Governor. This is the letter spoken of by the old colonial historian W. C. Wentworth, in his history of New South Wales and Tasmania. The death of this old colonist is recorded in the papers received by the June mail, and a portrait and brief memoir of him are given the Illustrated London News of the 27th of April 1872. His work, though quite out of date now, is still well worth reading.

It was the misfortune of the eccentric Colonel Davey, that though he had many good qualities, he had not the knack of gaining the respect of anyone. I have been told that he was one of those jovial persons whom everyone likes, but no one esteems, and was familiarly styled by his drinking acquaintances “Mad Tom the Governor.” He tolerated a large amount of familiarity from his friends, or more properly companions, which proverbially begets contempt, and this was sometimes carried to such lengths, that even this too kind-hearted man could not endure. He might be found quite as often at the Union Hotel in Campbell-street, Hobart Town, (owned, and I believe then kept by Captain Ferguson) as at Government House. From this old sailor-landlord I have heard that some of his companions carried frolic so far with him as not to be always bearable, and at last when he saw them approaching the place, he was wont to escape their half-vulgar pleasantries by flying to the sofa and feigning sleep, till they were gone, when His Honor woke up again, greatly refreshed with his slumbers, and the exeunt of his friends. It is told of him that on the day of his landing here, he conducted himself in a very odd and ungovernor-like manner. Everyone knew that he was going to land publicly at a certain hour, and the bulk of the population poured forth to see the ceremony and give him the best welcome they could. The day was, as the good old fellow expressed it, “As hot as hell,” and when he lauded he answered the hurrahs of the crowd, not by taking off his hat to them, but by pulling off his coat, and made the best of his way up to Government House in his shirt-sleeves, at the head of the noisy tatterdemalions who followed him.

The bushrangers had no more respect for him than others had, and addressed him accordingly. They did indeed acknowledge that they were rather troubled by the military, but seemed to be quite indifferent about himself, and say a good deal that is not too complimentary, of the Governor. The concluding passage of their letter is very rich, as also a preceding one, in which they declare their belief that the Almighty will protect them from all designs against them, and that to destroy them is impossible — a prediction which was terribly falsified before very long.

This letter of Howe and his party is often mentioned by writers on the early history of Tasmania, and though once published, I believe there is but one copy of it extant, except a reprint of it in The Mercury of 22nd March last. For the benefit of those who may not have seen it, but who are curious in such matters, and who may like to know in what language they addressed the chief authority, I transcribe it from your paper exactly, preserving all its orthographical and other errors, and curious superfluity of capital letters:

“From the Bushrangers to the Honble. T. Davey, Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land.

“Sir— “We have thought proper to write these Lines to you — As We have Been Kept In the Dark so long — We find it is only to keep us Quiet untill By some Means of or other you think you Can Get us Betrayed But We will stand it No Longer We Are Determined to have it full And satisfactory Either for or Against us As we are determined to Be Kept no longer In Ignorance We think ourselves Greatly Injured By the Country At large In Laying To Hour Charge that Hored and Detestable Crime which We have fully satisfied the Eyes of the Publick In All our Actions To the Contrary During our Absence from the Settlement – I Have Not the least Doubt But you Are Glad that those New Hands goining us We Are Glad also though you think I Dare say they Will prove to our Disadvantage And We think to the contrary And He who preserved us from your plotts In Publick will Likewise Preserve Us from them In secret as we Are Not unacquainted with Your haveing A party In secret And Likewise where they are And where we As Much Inclined to take Life As you Are in Your Hearts We Could Destroy All the partyes you can send out And Without We Have A Little Quietness More than What We have Had you shall soon Be convinced of what I say Therefore if you Wish to prevent it send word out By the Bearer Richard Westlick* which we Expect To Return on the 9th of the ensuing Month With An Answer To Us Don ‘ot think to Defraud Us By sending out A party on this head for if you do Take Away the Mans Life if they Are Either with him Or Watching him for We Will Be watching Likewise You must Not think to Catch Hold Birds with Chaff Therefore To Affirm the Answer Either for or Against us that We will Receive Clap on it the Kings Seal And your Signature we have weighed well within our own Brests the Consequences that will Attend to these Siccumstances Therefore I would Have you Do the same for the Good of the Peaceable And Well Disposed Inhabitants of the Territorys of this Land So No More at Present

Michl Howe Richd Colier (i.e. Collier) Matthew Keggan (i.e. Keegan)

Jas Garry (i.e. Geary) John Chapman John Brown

Peter Septon Thomas Coyne Dennis Curry

George Jones James Parker

Nov 30 1816″

This letter was duly placed in the hands of the Governor by their messenger, who they detained for some time whilst it was being written, and whilst Geary swore them all, one by one, to fulfil the threats contained in it, if need should be. Not having their Bibles with them, they took the oath on some other book, which did just as well. Many commands were laid on Yorke, and he was entrusted with some messages from Howe himself, of a most menacing nature, particularly to the chief magistrate, Mr. Humphrey, and another. Tell them, said he “to take care of themselves, as we are resolved to take their lives, and to prevent them from keeping stock, or growing grain, unless there is something done for us. Tell Humphrey he may reap what grain he likes, but that we can thrash more in an hour, than he can reap in a year.” … “I was detained” says Yorke, “about three quarters of an hour, during which time he charged me to be strict, in making known, what he had said to me, and what I had seen,” &c. He was then allowed to depart.

Whether Mr. Westlick brought back a reply or not, is more than I can say; but if so, it does not seem to have been a favourable one, for they continued at their old practices, until they were all shot, hanged, or otherwise disposed of.

Some time after writing the above letter, two of the party acceded from the main body, and remained about York Plains after the others left. Here they were joined by a third man named Elliott, and were overtaken, 15th of March, 1817, at this place, by a party of the 46th commanded by Ensign Mahon, and a plucky fight took place, in which Chapman and Elliott were shot dead by the soldiers, and the other escaping a little longer, was finally taken by a once well-known settler named Kimberly.

During the last week of Colonel Davey’s Government, Howe and his party paid another visit to Pittwater, where they conducted themselves in a very extraordinary manner, but without violence or even rudeness. Their bravado deportment is thus described by a writer of this period. “In some houses they remained several hours, and appeared complete masters of the settlement, commanding with undaunted authority wherever they went; and were not in the least intimidated at the fate of their companions recently shot at Scantling’s Plains,” that is Chapman and Elliott. They left the settlement without plundering any one, except of a small quantity of provisions.

Immediately after this prank, the Government of Colonel Davey closed; and on the 9th of April 1817, Sorell reigned in his stead.

As the last named officer was coming up the river Derwent on the 8th, the ship was boarded by Captain Nairn, from whom he received an account of the state of the colony, and much information about the bushrangers then at large; and he at once commenced to concert measures to put them down, even before landing. He seems to have learned from Nairn, that the chief cause of the successes of these fugitives, and their very existence in the woods, was the connivance they received from secret confederates, who were far more numerous than themselves, and were the real cause of all the mischief, and that the bushrangers were, as it seemed to him, then a stranger, more nominally then really principals in the outrages of the times, and he therefore dealt his first blows at them. His Gazette proclamation against these inciters to violence, is dated the 14th of April, but it was really drawn up before he landed. But he does not seem at this early period of his rule, to have quite understood the extent of the criminality of the outlaws, so well as he did that of those who encouraged them, or he would certainly have modified one passage of it, which offers something very like amnesty to all who chose to lend a helping hand to root out these supporters of the bushranging classes. The passage in question may be understood differently by some, from the view I take of it, but to me it does not seem to exclude the bushrangers themselves from its advantages; and after events, confirm me in my translation of its meaning, for Howe himself (who at this time had quarrelled with, and separated himself from his. party) was the very first man to claim the benefit of the Proclamation, and Sorell actually accepted his proffer of service to put down bushranging. This act of the new Governor was amongst the very few errors committed by him whilst here.

In wishing to punish those instigators to disorder, Sorell seems to have been actuated by feelings similar to those, that used to regulate the conduct of Sir Godfrey Kneller on the Magisterial bench, who once dismissed a prisoner who was brought before him, on a charge of robbing his employer, and sent the prosecutor to goal instead, for purposely putting temptation in his way. The story is told by several old writers, and Pope speaks of it thus in one of his poems.

” Faith! In such case, if you should prosecute,

I think Sir Godfrey should decide the suit.

Who sent the thief that stole the cash away,

And punished him who put it in his way.”

The Proclamation above spoken of, appeared when Howe was at the Tea Tree Brush by himself, having as above stated, quarrelled, with Geary and the rest of his old bush confreres, He wrote at once to Sorell offering to surrender, whereupon the Governor accepted Captain Nairn’s offer to bell the cat, that is to negotiate personally with Howe in his lair to accept Governmental clemency; and after a good deal of parleying, the solitary outcast was safely lodged in the Hobart Town Gaol on the 29th of April, or just three weeks after the Governor’s arrival. This seemed to be one great step gained in the way of restoring quiet, but it did not prove so.

In one of Sorell’s early despatches to his official superior the Governor-in-Chief at Sydney, which relates to this transaction, he informs him that he actually gave Captain Nairn a conditional pardon for Howe “for all offences, murder excepted, * * * upon the condition of his detailing all transactions, pointing out all accomplices, and using his utmost efforts in aiding the troops to find his companions.” And he then goes on to say that he considers “the acquisition of this man of the first importance” and adds “Permit me to solicit your Excellency’s favourable consideration of the case of Howe, and to entreat in the strongest terms, that in the event of his doing his utmost for the detection of his accomplices and abettors, you will be pleased to add to my pressing recommendation, your Excellency’s powerful support in the transmission of his case to the Throne.” (Despatch 3rd May, 1817.) The above extracts are copied exactly from this extraordinary despatch.

Howe’s implication in the deaths of Carlisle and O’Birne, did not deter him from accepting the Governor’s terms, Perhaps he thought that his share in these deplorable transactions, could not be brought home to him, as none but his own mates could swear he was present, except his companion Black Mary, who though the cause of the conviction of another for this offence, namely Collier, was not likely to swear against Howe, and this view of the case probably presented itself to both Governors, for two or three months afterwards, the Governor in Chief, Macquarie, promised to exert himself in his favour.

But Howe was always a child of misfortune as well as crime, from the commencement of active life; and either through the mistake or treachery of a trusted accomplice, Edward Beagent, the intelligence of Macquarie’s real intentions to pardon him, never reached him till too late, when he seems to have got some inkling of it, but not before he had quite done for himself with Sorell.

On his arrival in Hobart Town, he was placed in gaol; but Sorell says he was more nominally than really a prisoner, and was allowed to walk about the town pretty much as he liked, but always in charge of a constable, three of whom were told off for this service, Dodding, Ambridge, and Parsons, who took it in turn and turn about to keep an eye on him, as he was a slippery customer at best. What leisure he had either when unable or not disposed to go out, he employed for his own profit, in knitting certain woollen articles, at which it seems he was an adept. He underwent at this time frequent examinations, before Sorell and his old acquaintance Humphrey, about his past career, and above all who were the secret accomplices of himself and party. Of these persons (all of whom he seems to have regarded with small affection, for any one of them would have betrayed him had they dared), he gave ample intelligence; but very little evidence of worth could be extracted from him, that was likely to damage his old mates. In this respect, he seems to have resembled the familiar Guido Faux, who even when under torture, to force him to impeach his companions in the famous Gunpowder Plot, remained faithful to the last, or at least refused to tell enough to implicate them.

Once after his surrender, he accompanied a party of military (Despatch 10th May, 1817) in search of Geary and the rest of his old mates; but even though he had had a bitter quarrel with, and had separated from them shortly before his surrender to the Government, he did as little as he could to promote the success of the search, Sorell himself assuring us that ” he did not perform any service with regard to the discovery of his associates.” (Despatch, September 13th, 1817.)

He was naturally very anxious to know his fate as soon as possible. There was at this time in the service of the Judge Advocate, either as butler or groom, an old Bushranging confrère of Howe’s of the name of Edward Beageant (whom I have named before,) with whom he contrived to have a little quiet chat in his rambles about the town. This man’s master seems to have had a better opinion of him then he deserved, and got him the coveted indulgence of a Ticket of Leave, a good deal against the Governor’s wish, who did not think much of him. Beagent undertook to let Howe know the determination of the Governor in Chief, as soon as possible after the despatch arrived; and they arranged between them what signal he was to give, if it were favorable, and what if it were not. I have explained before in what manner Howe employed his leisure, and he mostly worked at a fixed bench, that stood just outside of the old gaol gate in Murray street, which I dare say many will still remember. As soon as the despatch came down from Sydney, Beagent was to manage, either by eaves-dropping, or some other sly process, to learn how it fared with Howe; and if it were favourable, as it really was, he was to stroll past the place where Howe sat at work, and drop the words “all right,” as quietly as he could into Howe’s ear; but if it were not thus all right, he would then order him to make him a cap, thus symbolising the Executioner’s cap, that he was shortly to wear; and as Howe was a notoriously clever fellow at getting away from any one, he was then to take whatever measures seemed best at the moment for making his escape.

Months passed away, and Howe was still in gaol; and vessel after vessel came in from Port Jackson, without bringing any word concerning the doom of the prisoner; but it arrived at last, and in it (I quote from Sorell’s writings.) Macquarie “promised his intercession for pardon” for Howe. Beageant took measures to ascertain the contents of the despatch, or at least pretended to do so; but whether he was himself deceived, or wished to do Howe a disservice, I do not know, but he soon afterwards took the preconcerted quiet stroll down Murray-street, and addressing Howe, ordered him to make the cap, and then walked on his way. Howe’s countenance did not betray his inward emotions, but his heart must have sunk within him as his last hopes of life went out. It was now dusk, and watching his keeper for a minute of inattention, he was off like a deer for the woods again.

We are informed by Commissioner Bigge, it was just before this, that Howe with Beagent’s assistance, was very nearly successful in making his escape from the colony altogether, in an American vessel; but as usual with this unlucky man, he was disappointed through the captain acquainting the Government of the plot. According to Sorell’s belief—which is however rather hinted at than positively expressed—Howe at this time was not chargeable with the guilt of murder. By what train of reasoning, or by what evidence he acquitted him of participation in the deaths of Carlisle and O’Birne, I cannot undertake to explain. But it would have been well for Howe himself, and others also, had he been successful in escaping, and thus have avoided the further guilt of two dreadful deaths, that I shall shortly have to detail.

Some minutes elapsed after his flight from gaol, before his absence was observed, and the hue-and-cry raised for pursuit; so Howe had just time to call at the hut of an acquaintance that stood somewhere on Lester’s Hill, Murray street, about a third of a mile from St. David’s Cathedral, where it is supposed he obtained a small supply of provisions, and then fled directly, and had reached the woods, that were not then far off, before any pursuit began.

His flight was soon reported to the Governor, who could hardly believe it at first, as he held in his hand at the moment, the certainty of pardon for him for past offences, and to the last never knew exactly the particulars of the cause of his flight, though he seems to have guessed it pretty nearly; for writing soon afterwards to General Macquarie of this escape he says, “His object is yet a mystery; but I have reason to think that he was stimulated to go off, by its being represented to him, that his pardon was uncertain.” It was on the 28th of July that he absconded.

Where he passed, or how he spent this anxious night, is unknown, and how he managed to regain his old haunts, is equally uncertain; but he soon took to his old practices again, but now by himself, for he never rejoined his old associates, or took up with any one afterwards; but I think it must have been before recommencing his career of guilt, that he made one more effort to regain the favour of Sorell, probably after discovering the deception that had been practiced on him. But he was soon made to understand, that his case was now a hopeless one, by receiving no response to the letter that ho wrote to Sorell.

[To be continued.]

*This man, Rd. Westlick, must have been a confidential agent of Howe’s party, and not the bearer of this letter. In the Gazette of January, 11th 1817, there is a long extract from the sworn declaration of the real bearer, who is there styled John Yorke, touching the conduct of Howe and his men, whilst they had him in charge,

EARLY TROUBLES OF THE COLONISTS by J. E. Calder (Pt. 4)

Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Saturday 22 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 by J. E. Calder.

[Continued.]

They had hardly settled themselves in the woods of New Norfolk, before they took steps to settle their little misunderstanding with Mr. Dennis McCarthy, for the part he had taken in the late attack on them, which they were in no mood to let him off for, particularly as he had caused them in their own defence to commit an act which they would have much sooner avoided, and that was sure to bring them to the gallows in the end, for they did not look on death as certain for ordinary bushranging, and even though it were a capital offence, it was by no means always thus punished either in Davey’s or Sorell’s times, unless accompanied by murder or extreme violence, of which there were many examples. They therefore proceeded to this gentleman’s house as quickly as possible after their return to New Norfolk.

But the many confederates (or as Howe used to term them facetiously his “correspondents”) whom they had in this place, were now too much alarmed on their own account, by a recent Proclamation, which offered large rewards, not only for the apprehension of the bushrangers, but for their own also, to care about renewing acquaintance with them just now, and the robbers seemed to have lacked intelligence of how matters stood in the district, when they most wanted it, and they were egregiously deceived in consequence.

The night was cloudy and very dark, when they went forward from their camp, on their mission of evil, to punish Mr. McCarthy. That they had no intention of murdering him is certain, for he was absent from the district at the moment, and they knew it; but they probably meant to pay him off in the same fashion that they had just before served Mr. Humphrey.

The district of New Norfolk was then much more scantly settled over than now, and as the King’s highways were not pleasant places to be on after dark, no one was out at this hour. Whitehead and his party therefore reached McCarthy’s residence quite unobserved by any one, and more in mischief perhaps than earnest, announced their arrival by sending a shower of bullets through one of the windows, (for in McCarthy’s absence there was no one there whom they cared about hurting.) However, one of the balls that was shot a little too low, slightly grazed one of the inmates. But very little idea had Whitehead who those inmates were, who were none else than their old enemies the soldiers, a small party of whom were put up there in McCarthy’s absence, and who were just then engaged at cards. Unexpected as this challenge was, the men within did not lose their presence of mind, but seizing their muskets, rushed out and were amongst them in less time than I can tell it in, and before the others could reload. Coming out of a light room into utter darkness, they hardly knew where their opponents stood, but ventured a volly at random at them, and the leader Whitehead was shot down, mortally wounded, but whether by the military or one of his own people, who in the dark, mistook him for a soldier, as he was reconnoitring the premises, is uncertain.

Stunned and confounded by the unexpected appearance of the soldiers, and with their pieces uncharged, the bushrangers made off in a body, all except Howe, who had now a horrid task to perform, which in virtue of an old understanding that existed between these two worthies, Whitehead and himself, he remained behind to perform.

However little reverence such men as these may be thought to have had for truth, and the observance of obligations, they were sometimes found to attach importance to oaths made amongst themselves. The fear of the derision of their comrades, in case of failing through faint-heartedness, probably kept them up to the mark. These two men had sworn to each other, that whichever fell first, the survivor should perform the dreadful office of cutting off and removing the other’s head, so that the body not being recognisable, the captor might be defrauded of his reward, and there were now fifty guineas on each of this party. Whitehead lived just long enough to pass the preconcerted signal that all was up with him, (“Take my watch,” meaning his own head) and then in the language of scripture, he gave up the ghost.

Favoured by the intense darkness of the night, Howe fulfilled his pledge; and the headless body of the impenitent man, remained where it fell, for the military to dispose of as they chose; and it was conveyed to Hobart Town, where it actually underwent the ceremony, so vain in this instance, of a public execution, by being gibbetted on Hunter’s Island, where it hung for more than a twelvemonth.

Many other criminals were thus exposed on this little rock, then a conspicuous object in Sullivan’s Cove (on which Hobart Town fronts), until it was swallowed up, so to speak, in the “Old Wharf;” till public disgust was so aroused by the barbarous and never absent spectacle, that in June of 1816, they were all removed to another part of the coast, a little further south, where they were stuck up again like scare-crows, and with about the same admonitory effect.

Howe bore off Whitehead’s head, but seems to have dropped it in the dark, for I read in the Gazette of the 13th of December, 1817, that it had just been found, and circumstances were such as to leave no doubt about its identity.

Howe rejoined his companions, and henceforward acted as their leader, their number being now reduced to [seven] by the death of Whitehead.

They now found it necessary to evacuate New Norfolk again, and betook themselves to the Tea-tree Brush, a few miles off, which, as its name implies, was then a place of thickets, where they hoped to rest unobserved for a little. But those everlasting tormentors of theirs, the soldiers, soon winded them again, and pounced quite unexpectedly on the hut they occupied, but when there were only two of them at home, the rest being away on some evil business no doubt. The soldiers were in it at once; but thoughtlessly leaving no guard at the door, the others flew out, directly the last of the soldiers was within, and running into the scrub, were out of sight directly. The disappointed assailants fired after them, but ineffectually, and both escaped their pursuers, but only to fall into the hands of another party of soldiers a few days afterwards at Kangaroo Point, whither they had wandered. They proved to be Richard McGuire and Hugh Burne.

Howe and the rest soon afterwards returned homewards, but finding that soldiers were in possession of their wig-wam, of course, came not near it again.

A Court Martial, never tardy in its movements or decisions, was soon assembled to try McGuire and Burne, and made short work with them, and sentenced both to die, for aiding in the deaths of Messieurs Carlisle and O’Birne, and their bodies were added to the other horrors of Hunter’s Island.

What became of Howe and his party after the misadventures of the last few days, that cost them three lives, I am at a loss to say; and a gap occurs in their history, which neither the Gazettes at my command, or other authorities enable me to fill up. But that they remained quiet for a few months seems certain, for no trace of them can be discovered in the publications alluded to.

It cannot now be ascertained in what way Howe and his companions supported themselves at this time, nor where they lay in concealment; but Colonel Sorell says, they had secret connexions nearly everywhere, whose connivance they had abundant means of securing; so it must have gone hard with them, if they could not have lived a few months, and well too, amongst these friends, without resorting to house-breaking, or robbery on the highways.

But in whatever way they occupied themselves whilst in hiding, they tired of it at last, and took again to their old practices with such ardour, as shewed that they had not passed their seclusion in a penitential manner; and they turned up again in the beginning of the antipodal summer of 1816, largely reinforced in numbers, from five, when they went into retirement, to thirteen, when they emerged from it. This coalition took place between June and August.

The Gazette of the 3rd August, 1810, thus announces the alarming fact, with its usual disregard of the proprieties of orthography and grammar:

“We have this afternoon received information that the banditti (consisting of Michael Howe, Peter Septon, James Geary, George Jones and Richard Collyer) which have been so long in the Woods of this Island, committing Murders and Robberies, has joined with those Desperadoes that are Advertised in the front of this Paper which now consists to the number of thirteen.”

These new allies were Matthew Keegan, Peter Franks, Thomas Garland, John Chapman, William Johnson, John Parker, Emanuel Levy, and George Watts. But in three or four weeks the party dwindled down to ten, by the jibbing of Johnson, Watts, and Levy.

Howe commenced this campaign with his usual vigour, and committed several robberies, Messieurs Stanfield, Pitt, Stynes, and Troy being amongst his first victims. The establishments of several others also fared the same. These feats followed each other with such rapidity as to baffle all pursuit. Acting with customary rapacity, he cleared out their premises of everything he could carry off; often taking property which, as it could be of no use personally to any of the party, must have been seized for trafficking only with his “correspondents.”

None of these pillagings were attended with personal violence of any kind. Howe even let Mr. Pitt off lighter than one would have thought, considering that he stood well up in the police force of the colony, every member of which he hated as the devil hates holy water. But Howe disliked unnecessary violence, and though he sometimes threatened it, using hard words and black looks, he never would permit it except in self-defence, or when, according to his style of thinking, he believed his victims deserved it, as in the cases of McCarthy and Humphrey; and though he often made the ladies of the places he visited, surrender everything they had, except what they stood in, they were otherwise treated most respectfully. His followers were quite habituated to this, and I will here quote an example of it from the Gazette of the 22nd February, 1817.

Three of the party were at this time separated from the main body, and like Abraham not caring to live in the country of his kinsman Lot, went into the North, and were soon briskly at work in the districts about Launceston. A gentleman escorting two ladies, was travelling westerly from that town, and had reached a place then known as the Black Snake, twenty miles from L’ton, when “they descryed,” says the Gazette, “three men, which they supposed to be part of the guard which Major Stewart had kindly directed to accompany the carts; but on their nearer approach, they perceived them to be three bushrangers, named Septon, Jones, and Brown. These unhappy creatures, fearful of any information reaching the Settlement, or the parties which now guard it, conducted the ladies and their Guide to a farm-house, where they detained them during the night. It is gratifying for us to remark, that these outlaws behaved in the most becoming manner, having refused to take any refreshment till the ladies had done; and even led their horses the next day over the difficult part of the New River, known by the name of Macquarie’s Crossing place,” where they left them, when out of danger, having more important business on hand than to act as “Squires of Dames” any longer, namely, to make a domiciliary visit to Messieurs T. Archer and R. Dry, both of whose houses they fleeced without loss of time.

To return to Howe; after the robberies of Stanfield and others, the gang having roused the Government into activity again, found it expedient to get out of the way once more: and whilst in concealment they must have been rejoined by their polite companions from the North, from whom they probably received such accounts of the fatness of the land, as determined them to visit it, and judge for themselves.

The settlers of the north, had suffered pretty considerably from bushrangers, having several gangs of their own rearing amongst them. But these were composed of petty fellows only, who had none of the notoriety of Howe’s people; and all were on the alert directly they knew they had crossed the country, and were settled amongst them. The commandant, Major Stewart, thus forewarned, prepare to meet them. The mention of Howe was enough for him; and the Launceston portion of the 40th, though somewhat disorganised and unruly, snuffed the battle from afar, like the war horse of scripture, and were ready for the enemy whenever and wherever he appeared, so Howe could not remain long on this now scene, as the pursuit was soon too hot for him; but he remained long enough to make wreck of one establishment.

On the 7th of November, 1816, Howe and his party presented themselves at the residence of Mr. D. Rose, which they assaulted in their usual menacing manner just after dark, and were masters of the place in a moment. Mr. Rose had some friends staying with him at the time, who had just before this arrived from Ceylon, to settle in Tasmania, and they too had to submit to the hard fate of their host, and all were plundered most impartially, for Howe used to boast that in all his exactions, he had nothing to reproach himself for, on the score of making fish of one and flesh of another, so fleeced them all round of whatever they had, making no invidious distinctions. The ladies too, suffered just like the rest, and when he went away there was not the value of one shilling amongst the whole of them, except the clothes they had on them. Money, jewels, trinkets, watches, clothes, and goodness knows what else, all went into their capacious knapsacks, which they loaded till they could scarcely lift them, and then decamped to the joy of all, who were glad to see them disappear, without taking their lives as well as chattels.

The commandant of Launceston, though remiss enough at times, and seemingly pretty nearly as unruly as his men (see note at the end) behaved on this occasion like an active magistrate. Heading a strong party of the 46th he went after Howe’s party himself. But as that worthy had so good a start before a message could be delivered at Launceston and the soldiers roach Rose’s house, and managed his retreat so quietly, his men were far enough away, before the real pursuit began; and no tidings could be had of them any where. Therefore after a most fatiguing and exhausting search, that extended over several days, the commandant returned to his quarters again.

But Howe soon came to the surface again, a hundred miles from the scene of his last adventure, having after more than a week’s travel, reached the long and narrow valley of Bagdad safely, but I fancy by some unusual route, otherwise he must have fallen into the net of the fowler, which Captain Nairn, who managed military matters for Colonel Davey in the south, had set for him everywhere, that is, as far as the military force at command permitted; for Howe’s party was now hunted after high and low, like noxious animals, that are to be got rid of at any cost. Soldiers in fatigue dress, in uniform, and in disguise, were on the look-out for him where-ever it was thought there was a chance of trapping him; but he was to well informed, to fall into their snares just yet.

Having learned that there was a valuable lot of merchandise in transit between the “two settlements,” namely, Hobart Town and Launceston, and that it would pass through Bagdad on a particular day, he took post amongst the woods near to Haye’s residence, resolved to intercept it. He listened anxiously for the sound of wheels all day of the 17th of November when he expected its arrival, but that day closed without it arriving; for through some mishap, the proprietor of the goods, Mr. W. T. Stocker, was delayed on the road for twenty-four hours; for which Howe, when they met, like other offended dignitaries, demanded explanations, which not quite satisfying him, he gave him such a rating, as the mercantile man never heard in his life before: for Howe could not stop long anywhere just now, and the loss of a day might be fatal to him. But towards night of the 18th, the rumbling of carts on the unformed road was heard; when Howe, something after the manner of one of the heroes of the Beggar’s Opera, summoned his men to

” Haste to the road;

Hark! I hear the sound of coaches.”

or more properly, Mr. Stocker’s carts, which drove up with their precious freight to Mr. Hayes’ house, where they were to remain for the night. They carried not only several passengers, but what Howe’s party cared much more about, that is, just such wares as they wanted, of which in the end they took by far the best share, and valued, according to Mr. Stocker’s published declaration of his losses, at just £255 1s. 6d., “at prime cost;” the articles taken, of which there is a lengthy enumeration in the Gazette, being of the most varied description.

The bushrangers had plenty of conversation with the travellers, and surprised them by the accuracy of their information of the movements of the Government, particularly in matters relating to themselves, and generally also of what was going on in Hobart Town; and then finished this pleasant parley, by taking old Stocker’s watch from him.

They are charged on this occasion, with adding wanton destruction of property to robbery, in one of them sending a bullet into a keg of rum, which was all lost. But it is more probable that Howe thought it best to remove it out of his companions way; for though Sorell says they were very temperate men, still most who were harrassed as they were, and ever on the march, might possibly have liked to solace themselves for once in a way, with a nip or two of it, which it was on all accounts most prudent to prevent.

Oddly enough the chief constable of the territory, was that very night enjoying the hospitality of Hayes; and was in the house at the moment when the bushrangers, eleven in number, rushed into it. This praiseworthy conservator of the public peace, having a pretty good notion who the intruders were, took to his heels and ran off as hard as he could, till he was quite out of danger and wind also, leaving his host and the travellers, to make any terms they liked best with the enemy.

[To be continued.]

EARLY TROUBLES OF THE COLONISTS by J. E. Calder (Pt. 3)

Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Friday 21 November 1873, page 2


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 by J. E. Calder.

[Continued.]

The news of this disaster reached head-quarters with the sloth-like tardiness of the times I am writing of; and the inert Governor of the day, Colonel Davey, seems to have wakened up on receiving the intelligence of this new misfortune, and he did as he ought on the occasion, that is, he despatched several parties of military into the district that the bushrangers commanded for the moment.

There were some capital men amongst the military, as good as ever carried a musket; and it will not be out of place here to say a few words about them generally, more especially as they had in the end nearly the undivided honour of ridding the country of the banditti who formerly infested it, keeping it in a state of unceasing alarm for many years.

The soldiers were the only men in the country, at that time at least, who were a match for the bushrangers, as they proved over and over in many a light. They never flinched, with a solitary exception, where a few very young soldiers, fresh from the awkward squad, were employed against a party led by the cautious veteran Geary; and it was to parties furnished by the detachments stationed here at different times, of the 73rd, 48th, and 46th regiments, that the colony owed its comparatively long period of repose, more than five and a half years, that intervened between the death of Howe in October, 1818, and the escape of Brady and others from Macquarie Harbour in June, 1824. With the single exception above referred to, all did their duty. But there is one name amongst the soldiers of this period that is continually turning up in the annals of bush fighting, that I ought not to be forgotten. This man was a lance-serjeant of the 46th, of the name of McCarthy, the same who led the parties that shot Geary and other troublesome fellows, and at different times took several others. This man, unlike his namesake, the publican and merchant, spoken of a little above, was gifted with plenty of discretion as well as personal bravery, and his perseverance in pursuit seems to have been something wonderful. Wherever the bushrangers were — and he chased them from district to district like hunted wolves — he was sure to be at their heels; and as he never followed them without having some black trackers with him, there was no escape from him. I shall however have very little more to say about this meritorious soldier, as this narrative will soon relate chiefly to Howe, with whom he never came to blows. The majority of these fine fellows went unrewarded, except what they got of complimentary notices from the Government, and hard knocks from the bushrangers. The officers, who were no less active than the men, did indeed receive a more tangible reward, but when I relate what it was, I fear than even the most prosaic reader may laugh a little. They were specially commended to the Governor-in-Chief for some distinguishing mark of approbation, (I copy exactly from a Despatch of Governor Sorell’s,) who trusts “it may meet with Your Excellency’s approval on this occasion (that is when their bush campaigns were about over) “in issuing to each Officer an allowance of Spirits, free of duty, as a mark of General approbation and remuneration for their own privations,” Good service was certainly cheap then.

Several parties of the 73rd and 46th Regiments, now marched on New Norfolk, and quickly disturbed the bushrangers in their pleasant quarters; and soon afterwards some of the men of the 73rd, came on them so unexpectedly, that they had to run for their lives, saving nothing but their arms, and hardly those; but they were soon lost in the intricacies of the bush. A large party of civilians from Hobart Town, also armed themselves, and went in pursuit of the murderers of Carlisle and O’Birne, but I believe they wasted neither ammunition or energy in forwarding the cause in hand.

New Norfolk was now too hot for them to live in, at any rate until some of their old enemies the soldiers were removed; and they set out for Pittwater again, intending by this movement to cause the withdrawal of the military if possible, who they felt sure would follow them wherever they went, and then to return again as soon as the military, or at any rate the most of them were gone.

But quite apart from this little piece of strategy, they had another reason for paying a flying visit to Pittwater. The Chief of Police, Mr. Humphey, had always been, as they considered, officiously active against them, but had been doubly so over since Whitehead and Garland had burned him out some time before; and he had moreover in his official capacity, blamed the whole of them for what was really the work of two only. Their dislike of him, which was at all times strong enough, was much increased after this; and they now went thither, bent on destroying everything he possessed there, which would not only be a proper punishment, according to their ideas of propriety, for the injustice done them, but would be a sure way of attracting such attention to Pittwater, as would almost certainly cause the removal of the soldiers from their own proper district, as they considered New Norfolk to be, and to which they meant to return as soon as they could, to have a settlement with Mr. McCarthy for his recent officiousness, now that they know who it was who planned the late attack on them.

The inhabitants of Pittwater had by this time pretty well recovered from the alarm Whitehead’s late visit had caused them; and were fast relapsing into their old slow-going habits again, when an unpleasant rumour spread through the district, that the enemy was amongst them again, and which they were not long in learning was true.

Just as the sun was setting on the 10th May, 1815, as rough-looking a set of fellows as could be seen, suddenly presented themselves at the door of the men’s hut of Mr. Humphrey’s establishment. They were all armed, which made it clear to those within that they were no friends of theirs, and they closed the door against them at once. The strangers demanded instant admittance, but, receiving no response, soon performed this little service for themselves, and smashed in the door without more ceremony, and rushing up tumultuously, quickly over-powered and bound the inmates; and next, placing a couple of sentries over their chop-fallen prisoners, proceeded to Humphrey’s own residence, which they entered by the same process as the hut.

Here they found everything they wanted, and having first helped themselves to what they thought fit, they proceeded to demolish the rest, smashing up or destroying in some way or other, everything they could lay their hands on. As the work of destruction went on, they unhappily lighted on certain articles, which are a very abomination in the sight of bushrangers at all times, namely half-a-dozen pairs of fetters – curious things to find in a gentleman’s house – which gave a new whet to their hatred of the owner, and to their own determination to leave nothing undestroyed, which they fulfilled to their heart’s content.

At this time there was no such thing as regular mail service in the colony; and it was not until Sorell came here that postal communication of any kind was established; and even then, there were only weekly messengers between head quarters and the outlying districts; so unless news reached Hobart Town by a chance traveller nothing was known of what was going on outside of the town, for two or three days at least. But as the interests of the principal magistrate of the colony were damaged by this last outrage, it is possible that a special messenger was sent in with the unpleasant intelligence that, as far as chattel property was concerned, the bushrangers had not left him the worth of a sixpence in Pittwater.

Old Colonel Davey — who seems to have been much such another man as one of Irving’s Governors of New York, in its early days, William Testy, pranced about the place like a thing demented, and for a day or two had not a civil word for any one. But he cooled down at last of course, and then sent all the troops he could spare to Pittwater, to catch the bushrangers while they were still there. But this took time, which this excellent old officer, did not always think of, and day after day passed away, before the soldiers made their appearance there.

It is well known that by means of secret confederates, the bushrangers were mostly much better informed of what was going on, than any others were; and they heard without much surprise, that several of the parties were withdrawn from New Norfolk, and that they were moving on the disturbed district. When quite assured that they were on the march, they drew out of danger at once; and while the troops were coming down on Pittwater by one road, they retreated from it by another; and the next thing that the Governor heard of these ubiquitous fellows was, that they had not only eluded his grasp, but were once more back in New Norfolk.

The good old marine, as I was once told by the late Captain Ferguson, stamped and swore like a bargeman, when he heard that all his clever plans for the capture of those slippery fellows, were thus untimely frustrated; and he called them all the vile names he could think of, damming them all round in terms that are as well not repeated.

[To be continued.]

EARLY TROUBLES OF THE COLONISTS by J. E. Calder (Pt. 2)

Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Thursday 20 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 by J. E. Calder.

[Continued.]

When Howe had grown well into boyhood, he was placed on board a merchant ship of Hull, to commence life on his own account; and he actually served two years of his apprenticeship without bolting; a thing so unusual in the life of this scapegrace and habitual runaway, that it must on no account be passed over without notice. He then deserted.

From this service he passed by an almost natural transition, into that of his King and country, that is to say he entered on board a man-of-war, but whether voluntarily or through the agency of the Press-gang, I have no information; nor do I know how long he remained in it, or whether he took any part in the stirring events of the time. But to a man so impatient of restraint as he, it is easy to understand, that the severe, and even cruel discipline of the Royal Navy in the beginning of this century, must have been quite unbearable, and not at all in accord with the free-and-easy notions of such a man as Howe; and the next thing we hear of him is, that he quitted it in the same way that he left the mercantile marine, that is he deserted again.

I have received from a private source, an incident of Howe’s early life, that I have not met with in any book; but of which there can be no doubt, namely that he was once a soldier. This was when he was eighteen years old. This information is derived from a very old hand, still in life, who knew Howe, and he received the account from himself. Howe occassionally came to the place he lived at, and used when in the humour, to recount the adventures of his past life; but of which my informant after a lapse of fifty-five years or more, remembered nothing but this. From this service he also deserted.

It is of course impossible to keep up a continuous narrative of the life of any one, where the thread of it is so often broken, as in Howe’s case, beyond the power of uniting it again; and after some one of his desertions there occurs a blank in it, that I am unable to fill up. Where he next betook himself to, or by what means he henceforward eked out a living, I cannot say; but as time passed on, he returned to Pontefract or its neighbourhood again, and commenced a new career, a desperate and dangerous one indeed, as a robber on the Highways, which in those days was one of the shortest of outs to the gallows. But I think it may be presumed that he never acquired such notoriety in England as he did in Tasmania, and that he had no great success in his new business, for he was soon convicted of robbing a traveller on the road, a Yorkshire miller. For this offence he was tried at York Assizes on the 31st July, 1811, and received a seven-years sentence of transportation. He was kept in the gaol or the hulks some months after this, when he was put on board the “Indefatigable” convict ship, which reached Hobart Town in November of 1812. At this time he was about twenty-five years of age.

Whether he made any attempt to escape from gaol or not, I cannot say; but as he was probably confined in the strong castle of York, he most likely never had a chance; but he was scarcely on the deck of the prison ship, before he tried his luck, and his attempt, which was within an ace of being successful, was as dangerous as well could be.

He had a good part of a mile to swim before he could land. But watching his opportunity, off went his clothes, and over he leaped into the sea. The splash was heard – the alarm given of a convict overboard and escaping, and a shot or two were fired after him by the sentries at the gangways, while the boats were lowered with the lightning-like quickness of English sailors in an emergency, and the chase began. Howe being a strong swimmer, struck out for land like a frog, whilst the men in the boats strained every muscle to come up with him before he could reach the shore. The race was a good one. Howe having a good start, kept his lead well, and struck out manfully for his liberty; but the others were equally determined that he should either lose it or his life. Poor wretch, it had been better for him, and far better for Tasmania, if he had gone to the bottom. But the ship’s boats overhauled and headed him at last; and though he dived and doubled like a hunted duck, they got hold of him and took him back to the ship, and kept a watchful eye on him until the ship put to sea, when all chance of a second venture of this kind, was impossible.

Arrived in Tasmania, Howe, with the rest of the ” Indefatigibles,” as his precious shipmates were called, was handed over to the care of one of the superintendents of convicts, Mr. Paterson, and before long was assigned to the service of Mr. John Ingle, a gentleman who I believe, had formerly been an assistant under Mr. Paterson; but who had some time before quitted the captivating service of the Crown, and opened a store in Hobart Town, and getting on well in the world, soon possessed himself of considerable property both in town and country which I hear his descendants continue to hold, he having died very recently in England, where, at one time at least, he accumulated vast wealth on change. He has been described to me as an irascible person, and therefore not likely to keep so restless a man as Howe, long in his service, one who could never take a wrong word, they soon fell out, and he took to the bush, joining himself with a party of twenty eight other vagabonds, which was only one of many gangs then in the woods, and thus he took to the highways again, that is, he became a bushranger. This was in the early part of 1813, and thus commenced his six year career of guilt in Tasmania, a period which he himself described as one of such painful anxiety and unutterable misery, as to have once extorted the statement that he “believed the life of the damned was nothing to it.” To comprehend such a state of being is impossible, but it must have been worse than that of a wild beast.

It is recorded by the Commissioner Bigge, that at no time in the history of this colony was bushranging carried on so methodically, successfully, or on so great a scale, as it was in the fist year of Colonel Davey’s Government in 1813, just after the rule, or rather misrule of the three commandants, Captain Murray, Colonel Geils, and Lieutenant Lord, who had administered the Government here, during the time that intervened between the death of Colonel Collins on the 24th March, 1810, and the arrival of Colonel Davey here, 4th of Februaiy, 1811.

The Commissioner, speaking of the state of the country dining this year (page 108 of his first report on New South Wales and this colony), says: “The excesses of the bushrangers in the neighbourhood of Port Dalrymple, and likewise near Hobart Town, had attained their utmost height, and most sanguinary character, it the latter end of the year, 1813” * * * and, he continues, “so great was the intimidation produced, that the inhabitants of several districts, abandoned then dwellings, and removed for safety to the towns.” Such was the insecure condition of the country when Howe’s six year career commenced.

Throughout this long period, Howe seems to have had a particular fondness for the district of New Norfolk, and in so far as the imperfect records of these old times enable us to judge, it was here that he began to disturb the peace of the community, though of this I am not quite sure He indeed committed many robberies in other quarters, but his chief place of resort was round the country of New Norfolk, and what Sherwood Forest was to Robin Hood, the woods of this place were to Michael Howe, that is a home and precarious refuge

At the time of his disappearance from Mr Ingle’s service, there were, as was said above, numerous bushrangers in the field and he joined with twenty eight others, who acted under the leadership of a man named John Whitehead. These fellows are all advertised in the very first numbers of the “Van Diemen’s Land Gazette, and General Advertiser,” June 1814. Whitehead is there called Edward, but this is a mistake. Howe’s name is amongst the number, and also that of a scamp named Edward Beagent, (of whom I shall hay o to say a little by-and-bye), which figures with Howe’s in this terrible list. This old bushranger Beagent, was afterwards the first, of one of the first land lords of one of the principal hotels in this city. Such are the vicissitudes of fortune.

The depredations of these men, were doubtlessly numerous enough, but as they have not attracted any very serious notice from the writers of the time, they were perhaps not very remarkable That they were not accompanied by murder, is certain; for when the Governor in Chief, Macquarie, published his ill advised Proclamation, offering pardon to the many outlaws then in the bush, not guilty of murder, the whole of this gang were able to avail themselves of the amnesty, and surrendered themselves before the 1st day of December of that year, to which time the amnesty extended

Several very grave mistakes were made by some of the Governors of these colonies, in the early years of the present century in their dealings with this class of men, whom they were often powerless to put down and this proclamation was one of them. Its intention was to recall these men from the bush, and a life of rapine; but its real effect was to authorise bushranging, during the whole of the time that it continued in force, namely six months and a half; and it was so viewed and acted on – and with legal impunity – by all the robbers then in the woods. The “Commissioner of Inquiry,” thus describes its results, (page 109) :-

“The effect of this proclamation was the reverse of that which was intended. It increased the crimes and audacity of the bushrangers, during the interval of six months that it allowed them for return; they profited by the pardon, by making a temporary surrender, and then resumed their habits of plunder,” &c. This was just the case with both Howe and Whitehead; they accepted pardon for past delinquencies, and took to the woods again soon afterwards.

How the members of this party were disposed of after their surrender, is not explained; but as I find Beagent afterwards in the service of the Judge Advocate, I presume they were sent into private service, or placed on the Government works. But whether or not, their condition seems to have satisfied neither Whitehead nor Howe, who soon threw the Governors pardon to the winds, and took to the bush and then old courses again. Whether any of their old companions followed their example or not, I do not know but if they did, none of them rejoined Whitehead or Howe.

The notoriety of these two men, soon attracted others to them, and shortly afterwards they were at the head of a party, less numerous indeed than they were used to, but far more daring than any known before. Their robberies were now nearly every day occurrences, and it is recorded of them, that scarcely a settler in the New Norfolk district escaped their visitations. It was their invariable custom so to clear out the settlers houses, that nothing was left behind that they could remove. Of these troublesome fellows, Whitehead was the leader.

Having made prize of nearly every thing they could lay hands on in New Norfolk, sheer necessity or restlessness drove them out of their favourite district at last, which they quitted about as reluctantly us the sloth does the tree he feeds on, when its last green leaf is devoured. Casting their eyes about them, like the wandering Israelites of old, thev decided on entering into the fertile and untouched lands of the Canaanites of Pittwater, where they made their undesired appearance about March 1815

This delightful district of the South East, was pretty well settled over even at this time. It was nevertheless about as dull and animated a place, as the Castle of Indolence or Sleepy Hollow ever were, the listless inhabitants dreaming away their lives in contented torpor and indifference about the things of this world or the next, till the intrusive Whitehead and his company put a little life into them They worked when they could not help it, and frittered away the rest of their time in happy idleness, and unconcern of the future. But this state of things was too pleasant to last for ever, and their now friends soon freshened them up a little, and before long, there was such bustle in the place, as was never known m Pittwater before.

No sooner had they taken possession of the promised land, than they set to work with customary activity, and speedily ransacked half the establishments in the place.

But there were two gentlemen who held property in this district, who in their official capacities, had continued to make themselves obnoxious to some of the gang, and on whom, they determined to take a full and deep revenge for past delinquencies, as they thought them. Their victims were the Police Magistrate of the territory, Mr Humphrey, and Mr. Reardon, the District Constable of Pittwater, both of whom had valuable estates there. Vengeance only, and not plunder, incited them to visit the homesteads of these settlers, which were pretty close together. The men who took part in the outrage that followed, where Whitehead and Garland only, the rest either refusing, or not caring to join them in their detestable adventure. So at least says Bent. But I believe that a man named Watts devised this mischief.

The night of the 10th March was fixed on for the execution of this malicious act. Proceeding as noiselessly as possible to the premises in the dark, they reached the rick-yards unperceived, where the harvest of the season was stacked. To strike a light and apply it to the ricks of both was the work of a minute only, and the long pent up vengeance of the incendiaries was appeased. They then decamped.

Howe and the rest of the party were long credited with having taken part in this malevolent enterprise, but they were guiltless of any thing more than knowing of it, and, perhaps, were not even guilty of that. By their absence from the scene, they may have discountenanced it, or rather, perhaps, thought it was no part of their business to address the injuries of others, whether fancied or real.

This transaction was probably the cause of their stay at Pittwater being brought to a close a little sooner than they intended; and as it now became necessary to sound the retreat, they fell back for a brief space on the already half-devastated district of New Norfolk, where their most unexpected re-appearance was about as unwelcome as snow in summer time. But there was no help for it, as after the recent outrage at Pittwater, the place was too dangerous for them, at any rate until the storm they had raised there had blown over, when they might renew their acquaintance with their new friends; and as there were still a few in New Norfolk who had suffered nothing at their hands yet, they decided on giving them a benefit before returning to Pittwater.

It was in April that the smoke of the bivouacs of these brigands, was once more seen in the glens of the New Norfolk ranges, and was viewed with general alarm, as the certain omen of the return of evil days.

The gang now consisted of eight, besides two camp followers, if they may be so styled, namely, two native girls, who were their constant attendants for a long time. One of these unfortunate creatures was known by the name of Black Mary, and lived for two or three years in a state of concubinage with Howe.

This companion remained with him till April of 1817, when they were separated in a sharp pursuit after them by soldiers, at Jericho, into whose hands she there fell. Henceforth she acted as bush guide to the military, and ultimately died in the hospital at Hobart Town, on the 29th June, 1819. Of this woman, I shall have a few words to say at the end of this paper.

The bushrangers now counted amongst themselves some of the most resolute men who ever took the bush. Their leader Whitehead, and James Geary, a deserter from a detachment of the 73rd regiment that was stationed here, were men whose audacity, Howe himself never surpassed; and if they were inferior to him in any thing, it was only in personal strength and activity, of which he had an uncommon share. To master him single handed in a struggle, or to run him down fairly, were things not to be done, or at least never were. But Geary was quite his equal in determination, and he has been described to me by the late Mr. Beamont (this gentleman was formerly Provost Marshal here), and several others, as a very fiend. The whole of this party and others also, who were drilled by Whitehead and Howe, possessed other qualities besides daring, that fitted them eminently for the dangerous calling they followed. Sorell writing of them says, “their perfect knowledge of the country, and habits of fatigue, temperance and caution, render them a difficult adversary,” and few knew them better than he, or wrote so much about them in official despatches. Such men as these, were not therefore to be easily beaten, unless when surprised or betrayed. Their habits of caution it is true, prompted them never to run unnecessary risks, or to fight for fighting’s sake only. But they were soon to give proof of what they could do in this line, when forced into it.

On the 25th of April, 1815, they robbed Mr. Carlisle, a settler of New Norfolk.

The free inhabitants of New Norfolk, many of whom were half ruined by the never ending pillagings of those bushrangers, and whom they hoped they had got rid of for ever when they quitted this district for Pittwater, were greatly excited when they learned that they had returned to it again, and had set up their tents amongst them once more; and as it was scarcely possible for things to be worse with them than they were, several of the most daring of them resolved to try the effects of hard blows on the hard heads of the robbers; in other words, to drive them out of the place by force. The task was a doubtful one, but something must be done to get rid of these obnoxious intruders, who kept the district in constant turmoil and disorder.

In a community like New Norfolk, where so many were already half ruined by the exactions of those fellows, some fightable men will always be found, ready to assail the common enemy; and this district was not at all deficient of the fighting element that was just now wanted to drive out, disperse, or destroy these freebooters. There was Mr. Dennis McCarthy, a most active and pugnacious poison. This gentleman was a merchant, a publican, and shipowner, and the brig Sophia and some smaller craft belonged to him, one of which latter was just now moored in the river at New Norfolk, too near to the bushrangers haunts to be either safe or pleasant, and as they had been known to say they would some day seize her, he, of course, had his misgivings about her safety. Mr. Jemott, too (the same I believe who was afterwards chief of police at Clarence), was luckily there at the moment, and he might be safely trusted to do his share in any fight, and was, of course, a ready volunteer. The master and mate of McCarthy’s schooner, the Geordie, Messieurs O’Birne and Hacking, to whom the loss of the vessel would have been as disastrous as to McCarthy, were also ready for a brush with the bushrangers; then there were five others, all of whom had a long account to settle with Whitehead’s people, whenever the day of reckoning came round. These were Messieurs Triffitt, Brown, Murphy, Toombs, and Carlisle. Mr. McCarthy took the command of the assailing party, and if he had only shown as much prudence as pluck, the encounter might not have ended as it did with him, that is in disaster only. But he was hot-headed, and had no other idea of fighting, but of coming to blows at once, not even using any accidental advantages of position, such as the cover of trees and the like.

But the tactics of the enemy whom he was now about to try his hand on, were just the reverse of all this. They threw no chances away when forced to stand up against any one. There were also old soldiers amongst them, who had seen a world of hard service against Napoleon’s soldiers in Spain, Calabria and elsewhere. Geary was one, and Septon too (who had been in the Rifles,) had carried a musket against the French. Howe was also a soldier and a man-of-warsman, and all these had gone through severe training in early life, which was most serviceable to them on an occasion like the present; so that any assailants who were led by so impulsive a person as McCarthy, stood only a sorry chance of coming out of such a fray as took place, with anything except hard blows and discomfiture for their pains.

Mayday morning of 1815, was one of unusual bustle and excitement in the districts near New Norfolk. The robbers, who had camped the night before on a small water-run, called a little too magniloquently the Back river, about three miles above Elizabeth Town, i.e. the present township of New Norfolk, were early at their mischievous work of plundering the various homesteads of the little settlement, long indeed before the sun had risen above the hills that enclose it; and there was some fighting between them and such of the settlers who did not choose to see their homes desolated without resistance, but I believe that nothing very damaging to either side took place. Tidings of those outrages reached McCarthy before nine o’clock of this morning, who at once put his own premises in a state of defence, for he was not one whom it was too safe to trifle with. But the march of the robbers was not in his direction, and on learning this, he at once beat up for volunteers to pursue the enemy, and the persons whom I have named above, joined him in the adventure, with whom he set off to drive them out of place. The pursuing party first called at the house of Mr. Robert Hays, which was amongst the first that had suffered this day, but the banditti had already quitted it, taking the direction of Mr. James Triffitt’s farm-house, which they also despoiled. From this place they struck off for the Macquarie Plains, and had proceeded about a mile on their way, when McCarthy’s party brought them to bay.

The bushrangers were generally very well informed of all that was passing around them, of which many instances are recorded. But of the expedition now coming against them, they had no intelligence. It was, as we have seen, a hurried affair, got up and executed so suddenly, as to be quite unexpected; and had the assailing party been cautiously led, the others might have been surprised. But on came McCarthy, without disguise, or even too much silence, and the cracking of dead sticks under the feet of the rapidly advancing force, warned the others of their approach, and they turned just in time to hear McCarthy challenge them to surrender themselves his prisoners. But Whitehead and his men did not understand this, and instead of heeding it, instantly placed themselves in cover of some hollow trees that stood near. A sharp firing now began on both sides, but the bullets of the assailants were of course only thrown away on men so well protected as the others, and as they stood themselves quite exposed like targets to the damaging fire of their opponents, (they having no experiences of bush fighting), five of their number were sent down in a very few minutes. The affair ended, in the complete discomfiture of the settlers, and the unwounded four were forced to retreat, but they gallantly carried four of the wounded well out of the fire, where for the present they left them. The bushrangers did not pursue the retreating party, or they might have shot them all. Poor Murphy remained in their hands, some one of whom it is said proposed to ill-treat the disabled man, but this their leaders would not hear of. The robbers then retired themselves; and as soon as possible after McCarthy reached his home, he sent out a conveyance and brought in all his disabled companions.

The wounds of Carlisle and O’Birne were mortal. The first named died very soon after the fight, in about an hour only it is reported. The other, who had received a charge of slugs in the face, lingered on to the 20th, when he also succumbed.

[To be continued.]

EARLY TROUBLES OF THE COLONISTS by J. E. Calder (Pt. 1)

Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Monday 17 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 by J. E. Calder.

Introductory View of the State of the Country between 1813 and ’18. — I think that there are but few in the present age, who believe too implicitly in the apothegm that there was more happiness in the condition of those who lived before us, than in our own; and as well as we can understand from the study of history, there is but little to regret in not having lived in those days, that we too fondly call the “Good old times.”

But whether the early times of other countries were good or not, it is not my purpose to enquire into here; but turning back to those of our own, its early times were none too pleasant; for what with the murderous onslaughts of our native tribes; the predaceous acts of bushrangers; the everlasting pursuits of military parties, and their hard bush fights with the marauders they were after, Tasmania, half a century ago, must have been one of the liveliest places to have dwelt in, but certainly not the most agreeable.

I purpose in this paper, giving some sketches of the insecurity of life and property in Tasmania, during the times of the Governors Davey and Sorell, thoroughly disorganized as society then was by the marauding classes, whose existence in the woods, produced such a condition of things here, as it seems to me, that the present occupants of the country, have almost no conception was ever known in Tasmania, which I will illustrate by a sketch of the bush career of the most remarkable of the disturbers of its peace, known in the annals of the time, as “the last and worst of the bushrangers” of Tasmania.

But before proceeding further, I will take a general glance at the causes which led to the curse of bushranging, which I own I am far from being convinced are solely ascribable to the innate depravity of the prisoner classes, who were the chief but not the only men who followed it. There were other causes at work to produce it, such as the very peculiar circumstances of the Colony for several years after its first establishment, which sometimes drove, and at others invited men into the bush; and to the arbitrariness at one moment, and laxness the next, of the rule of some of our first governors and commandants, whose systems of what was called penal discipline, were sometimes most tyrannical and brutalizing.

For several years after the colony was first established, there was something very like famine at head quarters; the weekly dole of ration just sufficing to keep life from going out altogether, whilst comparative plenty reigned outside the settlement in the bush; which enticed the most licentious of the convicts, to many of whom ordinary labour was quite now, into the woods, to subsist, partly by hunting like the native tribes, and partly by plunder, whilst the police of the colony, which was chiefly the military stationed at the two settlements of Hobart Town and Launceston, was for along time lunch too weak to put down the disorders that frequent desertions from headquarters produced.

These, however, were not the sole causes of the troubles of the times. There was a great deal of unnecessary severity in practice, and the lash was almost ever at work, frequently for the most trumpery offences; and the gaol-gangs, as the chain-gangs were originally styled, comprised a large proportion of the population, who the after experiences of half a century proved were not to be coerced into good behaviour by debasing and brutalizing punishment. Besides this, the domestic lives of some of our very early governors and commandants were none too exemplary.

Until the end of the year 1825 Tasmania was a mere outlying province of New South Wales, and the methods of subordination in force in the “parent colony” as the latter was called, necessarily governed ours; and even when this country was declared to be an independent colony, this brought no relief to the class from which the ranks of the bushrangers were recruited; for the severe discipline in force before, rather increased with the change than otherwise; for the statements from which I am writing, namely many old reports which were laid before a committee of the House of Commons in 1838, and that of witnesses then personally examined (printed in the Parliamentary Blue Books) proved that our disciplinary systems were formerly most cruel, and that the gravest severities were, even to a comparatively late period, practised not only on men in private service, but that at the penal establishments of the colony corporal and other punishments were pushed to the furthest limits compatible with human endurance, of which the most appalling examples are given, either in the form of penal statistics or direct oral testimony, that are published in the volumes referred to, but some of which it would only shock any reader to repeat.

I may, however, without offending the sensitiveness of anyone, state on the authority of one of these old volumes, that publishes the penal returns of a couple of years, that in a single twelve month, there were inflicted on one class of convicts only – namely, those in private service – the frightful number of 51,370 lashes on 1,456 individuals, besides 3,224 other punishments, such as banishment to penal settlements, consignment to chain-gangs, for various periods, &c, &c. ; but from which are excluded, and probably by design, the torments endured by men on the various public works of the colony, and at such places as Port Arthur, Maria and Norfolk Islands; and those whose recollections extend back to any portion of the period between 1820 and ’40, will not have forgotten the ever present spectacles in the streets of Launceston, Hobart Town and elsewhere, that were created by the then prevailing system of over-punishment (often for the most frivolous infractions of order and other slight offences), exhibitions happily succeeded by a more healthful condition of things, which it has been the lot of so many of us still living to see effected, under the exalting influences of modern sentiment, and beneficent systems of Government in which it is our privilege to live.

Such were the chief causes, and not the depravity of the convict classes, as a few still amongst us pretend, that led to the curse of bushranging in Tasmania, and for which, beyond all doubt, the home and local authorities of the time, must be held to have been chiefly accountable, and not entirely the inferior agents by whom their instructions were executed.

It is, however, due to one of the old commandants of Port Arthur to mention that he never would countenance undue severity being practised there. This gentleman was Mr. Champ, on whom the mild and most benevolent Bishop Wilson passes the highest eulogium (Printed in the House of Commons’ Journals), as a most discriminating magistrate and merciful man; and had all others been as wise as he, in not carrying out too exactly the ill-considered orders of the times, the history of the early years of settlement, would have had nothing to disclose of scenes which drove men mad, or sent them by hundreds into the bush, to die by the bullet or on the scaffold.

But that there were some who took to the highway from other causes than magisterial tyranny, such as disappointment or hatred of subjugation, is, however, pretty certain. Of those who were amongst the followers of Howe, two were never convicts, and must be believed to have taken to evil courses from some such motives as those named just above. These were James Geary, who was a deserter from the detachment of military stationed here, the 73rd, and Dennis Currie, a deserting sailor. And Howe himself seems to have had no better excuse for absconding, than an inextinguishable abhorrence of subordination, which manifested itself very strongly throughout his whole life; and without anticipating what I shall have to say about this man, I may state that he was almost a born runaway. He was originally a sailor, and in very early life, entered the merchant Navy, and was afterwards a man-of-wars-man, from both of which services he deserted. (See Wentworth.) He was once in the Army, and deserted from that too. Again when on ship-board as a convict to this country, he made a most desperate effort to escape while still in harbour, and had well nigh reached land by swimming, before he could be re-taken. Arrived here, he was off to the woods directly he got a chance and though taken twice or thrice afterwards, he invariably got clear away again, before his captors reached the gaol with him. From hope of pardon, he twice surrendered himself, and was actually within-side the four walls of the prison, but repenting his surrender, he both times made good his escape; and even when betrayed by a confederate, as he was in the end, and overpowered, he still fought with such bull-dog courage and determination, that his assailants were forced to kill him, by beating him to death with their muskets, as he would not give in while life remained. Hatred of subjection, must have been unconquerably strong in this man, that throughout his whole career he sacrificed everything in resisting it, and finally his life.

To revert for a minute or two to the condition of the free inhabitants at this period, and the practices of the authorities in reference to them, it has to be said, that insecurity of life and property, were not the sole troubles that our settlers had to bear with; whose liberty of action was not only grievously interrupted by these licentious fellows, but through them was further abridged by the Government of the day in many ways, that we can hardly believe at present. Even in the early part of Sorell’s time things were none too pleasant here; but then he found the place in such a topsy-turvy condition, that he was forced for a time to continue the old established methods of dealing with the people, that he found were in vogue here, until he saw his way clearly to removing obnoxious usages. Thus, it had long been the practice to prevent persons of all ranks, stations, and conditions whatever, from travelling on the road or track, that led from Hobart Town to Launceston, (or the two settlements as they were then called), without taking out a printed passport signed by the Governor himself. But as the free portion of the people would not always stand this, they sometimes took French leave to do so. He therefore issued a formal Proclamation forbidding this procedure of crossing the island without his leave in future, unless possessed of the talismanic pass, which he commanded them to produce to the “Officer or Non-Commissioned Officer commanding the detachment stationed at Wright’s, York Plains, in order to its being countersigned by him,” and failing which, “any person” (says the order) “arriving at either settlement without having a pass so counter-signed at York Plains, will in future be refused permission to Cross the Country.” This was in August, 1817.

Some of his other proclamations and public notices, read strangely enough by the light of our own times. Bushranging wits not yet extinguished, and was raging fiercely almost close to the boundaries of Hobart Town; and military parties were out after the robbers in all directions; and such was the dangerous state of the neighbourhood (how different from its present quiet condition), that it became necessary to caution all persons not wishing to be knocked on the head, not to venture out after night-fall; and they are told, if they do so go abroad “on their lawful business, they are desired to keep the Roads or Beaten Paths; and when they meet any soldiers, and are challenged, to go forward immediately, and shew who they are, and give their Names, and on no account to run away,” &c. (25th September, 1817.)

This was not the Arcadian age of Tasmania, when none dare to cross the country without a Pass; or stir abroad in daylight without being pretty certainly stuck up by armed bushrangers, or speared by wild natives; or after dark, without running a good chance of being shot down by soldiers, all of whom seem to have been about equally dangerous to meet with, and as carefully to be avoided as the plague itself.

But the state of disquietude that reigned here so long, was brought to a close by Sorell in about eighteen months. He was not slow in bringing order out of disorder, and when he left the colony, and long before, the country was in such a state of tranquillity, as was not the case at any previous period, and the greater portion of his government appears like a bright light, in tho times of darkness that preceded and followed it. His recall in 1824 elicited from the people such proofs of their regret, as I do not at this instant recollect any other Governor receiving. I do not refer solely to their money presentation, large as it was, considering its scarcity then, nor to mere complimentary valedictions, but to a general united effort to retain him amongst them. But his rule, which had been very mild after he had restored quiet to the country, was probably not in harmony with the temper of the times in Downing-street, and the prayer of the people went unheeded.

But let us be thankful that all such times (except those spoken of in the last paragraph) are past; and that we live in days when license and disorder are unknown, and that if we have not much to call our own, we can do as we like with the little we have, never being called on to stand and deliver, by anyone more ferocious than the taxgatherer; and when we go to rest at night, we can do so without fear of our repose being invaded before morning.

CAREER OF MICHAEL HOWE.— If any reader who sees this paper, happens to have a scarce old work that was published by Mr. Andrew Bent in 1818, entitled “Michael Howe, the last and worst of the bushrangers of Van Diemen’s Land,” or Wentworth on the same subject, I would take leave to counsel him to read them with caution. Like most of those who lived at the time, and one of them in the midst of the scenes he writes about, their narratives, though pretty true in the main, are so overcolored, that it requires some discrimination to reduce their descriptions to their proper dimensions, and to avoid swallowing a good deal of fiction along with the truth. Other works contain a good deal of information about Howe, namely the old Government Gazettes from 1814 to 1818, Colonel Sorell’s despatches, and a memoir by a Mr. Symes. This latter I have not met with, but have used all the rest; and the information that I have derived from them, I have interspersed with anecdotes obtained from private sources.

About twenty-five miles from the city of York, and in the West Riding of that county, there is a very ancient borough town, of no particular note in present times, but formerly of much historical importance, called Pontefract. Like many another pleasant old place of merry England, its antiquity is so great, that its first settlement belongs to the pre-historic times of our country. But it was once a very famous place; and it is recorded that the first church in which Christianity was preached to our half-savage ancestors, was in Pontefract, the ruins of which, though in the last stage of decay that precedes obliteration, still attract many pilgrims of the class who think with the greatest British poet of this century, that

. . . . Even the faintest relics of a shrine

Of any worship, wake some thoughts divine.

In more recent, but scarcely less savage times, it was also a place of great note, and its celebrated castle, built by one of the most zealous followers of the Conqueror, became the scene of important events, and of many a deed of blood; and it continued to be for six hundred years, as one of its historians says, “the ornament and terror of the surrounding country.” Here it was that Richard II was murdered; and here also were enacted many of the worst butcheries of the sanguinary Richard III.

Within sight of the ruins of this famous castle, and of the spot on which the most sacred of British edifices formerly stood, it was that the ill-spent life of Michael Howe began, about eighty-six years ago, that is some time in 1787.

Of his parentage nothing is known, and of his early years almost as little; but it seems he had a sister, of whom he entertained a fond recollection even to the last days of his career, as appeared from a curious record that was found in his knapsack, which he lost in one of his many hard fights, a little before his death, in which he related that he had recently dreamed of her. This little incident stands out in bright comparison against the many dark events that make up the history of this self-willed and ungovernable man, giving us another example of the force of the early recollections of childhood, when evil is not often a predominating feature of the character. But Howe, like other men had his vulnerable points, that were easily reached by reminiscences of this kind: thus, when in the Hobart Town Gaol in 1817, after his surrender to Captain Nairn, he was visited by the Chief Superintendent of Convicts, Mr. Paterson, to whose charge he had been consigned when he first landed here, and who had shewn him kindness. This gentleman once more uttered a few fatherly words to him. Howe had been so long a stranger to civil words, that he warmly expressed his thanks for the slight attention now shown to him, saying he had often thought of the old superintendent with kindly feelings, &c.

His journal before spoken of, showed in other ways, that his thought were not always vicious; and that there were moments when he was not plotting so much against the safety of others, as in maturing expedients for securing his own. He was fond of gardening, and his love of it never forsook him; and he looked forward hopefully for the coming of the day, when he might escape altogether beyond the settled districts, where he would pass the rest of his life, free from the everlasting pursuit of the military, and take again to his favourite occupation. But his mode of life was unfavourable for keeping up his knowledge of it, which must have well nigh departed from him; but he resolved to reteach himself the art.

In one of his maraudings, he attacked the house of a gentleman named Pitt, the father of the still living Frank and Philip Pitt, and finding a volume on the subject there, he made a prize of it, and appears to have studied it with intenseness. This book was in his lost knapsack, and was restored to its proper owner, in whose family it is still preserved, as a curious relic of the past eventful life of a settler in Tasmania. It was long in my own possession on loan. Howe had so studied it, as to have thumbed its covers off at last, but he secured them with kangaroo skin, that is still on it, very neatly sewed with sinews, and is on the whole a good rough job in its way.

On a fly-leaf of it, now lost, the wretched out-cast had inscribed another notice of the sister spoken of above, of whom he seems often to have thought in the solitary hours of his vagabond existence. Miss Pitt remembered it, all but a word. It ran thus :— “This is my sister’s birthday; it is now __ years since we parted.” The date was also forgotten.

His journal contained a long list of the vegetables, and even the flowers, that he hoped to cultivate, whenever the day of escape from robber-life arrived. How forcibly this brings back to mind, a trait in the character of one of Byron’s ruffian heroes — of a verity a man of Howe’s own mould — whom he tells us had the same tastes, and that

” A love of flowers,

Bedewed his spirit in his calmer hours.”

[To be continued.]