South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889), Friday 23 January 1880, page 6
THE EXECUTED WANTABADGERY BUSHRANGERS.
Andrew George Scott, alias Captain Moonlite, who expiated his last crime in Darlinghurst Gaol on Tuesday, January 20, was born in the north of Ireland in or about the year 1843, and was consequently 37 years of age. He had the usual “highly respectable parentage,” his father being a clergyman of the Church of England, who now holds a tenure in the District of Coromandel, in the north of New Zealand. The family came to Auckland some years ago, when Andrew George was quite young. Though we are not, as we expected to be, in possession of an autobiography of the executed criminal, written for one of our contributors, and withheld from him by the prison authorities of New South Wales, we are able from information supplied us by that gentleman to give the salient points in Scott’s career. He early evinced a desire for a free and roaming life. He found his way to Sydney soon after the immigration of his family, and for some time knocked about the port, doing odd jobs and shipping for short voyages. Upon one of these, while in New Caledonia, something happened to the master of a vessel called the Sarah Pile — a difficulty occurred with the authorities we believe — and Scott induced the crew to lift the anchor and sail for Sydney. He had been brought up as a civil engineer, and displayed much ingenuity and ability. Upon this occasion, he navigated the vessel safely and expeditiously to Sydney, and was complimented and paid by her owners. He also served in the war with the Maoris in New Zealand, and distinguished himself. During an encounter with the enemy he received a wound from a bullet in the leg, which caused him to limp slightly ever afterwards. It is difficult, in the absence of the narrative to which we have alluded, to place these events in his life in proper sequence but it is probable that, after both the maritime and battle experiences, Scott found himself located at Bacchus Marsh — it was erroneously reported — a lay reader. He applied for the requisite credentials, but was refused by the then Metropolitan upon grounds not specified. It is evident, however, that Scott hung upon the skirts of the church, and was admitted into society on the strength of his piety. It was here that he formed the acquaintance of a young bank manager named Brunn, who, with the local schoolmaster was very intimate with the future felon, to their cost. The trio struck up a romantic friendship, such as young men form, and spent all their time in one another’s society. One of the darkest spots in the history of Scott in his allowing Brunn, the victim of the Egerton bank affair, to lie under the stigma of having outraged the trust reposed in him. The details of the Egerton bank affair are pretty well known.
One night the bank was stuck up by an armed man wearing a mask upon his face, the manager being first ordered to bail up, then secured, and finally gagged. The features of the robber were effectually hidden by the mask; but his voice the manager recognised as that of his friend Scott. This recognition, however, had no particular effect upon his friend, and Scott, having effectually gagged the manager, took him to the school, which was not far away, and caused him to write upon a piece of paper, and to pin the paper to a desk, “Captain Moonlite has stuck me up and robbed the bank.” Then he tied the manager to a tree, and returning to the bank he stole over £2,000 in notes, coin, and gold. His ingenuity in devising means to escape detection at once came into play, and having a horse ready, he got upon its back and galloped to a neighboring township, seven miles distant from Egerton, doing the journey in the remarkably short space of half an hour. This was done with the intention of afterwards showing that it could scarcely be possible for him to have robbed the bank at Egerton and to have been seven miles off within half an hour after the robbery. He did, in fact, afterwards establish an ‘alibi’ in this manner, and so successful was he in removing suspicion from himself, that the bank manager and the schoolmaster were accused of the robbery, and Scott was brought by the police as a witness against them. Both the accused were committed for trial, and at the trial the manager was discharged because the jury could not in his case agree, and the schoolmaster was admitted to bail and bound over to surrender when called upon.
Scott said he thought of the name Moonlite through having acquired it when running cargoes at Cuba and on the Spanish Main. If so, it is difficult to determine at what period of his history he was there. He said that he meant Moonlight but dictated the short spelling in the heat of the moment. Some time after the robbery he went to Sydney, assumed fine clothes, sported money, and got into some of the best circles in Balmain and the North Shore. He gave himself out as a gentleman in search of a maritime venture — a vessel fitted for a yacht, and yet capable of carrying any light remunerative cargo which he might pick up about the South Seas. He was in treaty for the Barque Celestia, and gave a series of dinners on board of her as she lay in Neutral or one of the bays on this side of Port Jackson Harbour. This was in the year 1872. Thinking the Celestia too large for his purpose, he forfeited his deposit upon the purchase, and bought a smaller craft. He then organised a crew, and judging from the selection he made and the mysterious hints he dropped — hints which find easy interpretation by the light of his subsequent career — his mission was not intended as that of a peaceful trader, and it is fortunate the cheque he gave in part payment was found to be valueless, which led to his arrest; for there is little doubt that such an unscrupulous, bold, determined man as Scott has shown himself, if in possession of a smart craft and a crew who would obey his orders, would have been, at least for a time, a scourge as a pirate. His proposals to the other desperadoes to seize the mail steamer — a scheme which only the lack of capital prevented him from attempting — prove that there were no lengths to which he would not have gone. While serving the 18 months’ imprisonment for the offence of obtaining goods — to wit, the vessel — under false pretences, something leaked out about the Egerton affair, and on making enquiries Scott was identified as being at any rate suspected of complicity in the robbery. The police ferreted out the fact, too, that the gold which Scott had sold to the bank in Sydney for means wherewith to keep up the state in which he lived was identical in quality and fineness with that stolen from Egerton, and he was remanded to Ballarat to answer the charge of robbery. It was while awaiting his trial that Scott made one of the most determined gaol breakings ever known in this colony. He got out of Ballarat gaol by first cutting a hole through the wall of his cell into another occupied by a prisoner named Dermoodie, and then with Dermoodie’s assistance, taking off the lock of the cell door and securing the warder outside. Relieving the warder of his keys, they liberated four other prisoners, and all six managed, by using a rope made from a blanket, to scale the gaol wall without being seen and to escape. A reward of £50 each was offered for the recapture of the men, and all but Scott and Dermoodie were speedily taken. These two remained together, and for a long time successfully eluded the vigilance of the police; but the two were not well mated, for while Scott was rash and determined, Dermoodie was weak and timid of doing anything that would make their case worse in the eyes of the law than it was already. During the time they were together an incident occurred which appears very similar to some that took place at Wantabadgery. Scott wanted to stick up a bank, but Dermoodie was afraid of doing anything that might lead them to take life, and Scott, turning upon him in a raging passion, denounced him as a mean coward, and gave him five minutes to live. Dermoodie fell on his knees and begged for mercy, and Scott relenting kicked him away contemptuously. Not long after this the police received information that Scott had been seen lurking about some diggings near Sandhurst, and efforts being at once made to arrest him he was caught by a clever stratagem.
At his trial, as at that of last month, Scott conducted his own defence, and made out a very plausible case, displaying remarkable ability in speech and cross-examination. His chief desire was to prove that the gold which he sold in Sydney was not identical with that stolen from Egerton. He knew that he had a portion of it in his belt once when wrecked on a reef, and calculated upon the sea-water altering the quality, which is assayed to very minute fineness. The “expert” however, was not to be swayed, for though Scott kept him in the box a whole day he maintained that the bars tallied in assay with that recorded of the missing Egerton gold. His cleverness, however, did not avail him, for he was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. Scott claims to have acted with all fairness to his quondam friend Brunn, and gets furious if accused of having behaved badly in the matter. He says that he was committed for contempt of court because he would not give evidence that would damage him. Scott proved himself one of the most troublesome prisoners ever seen within the walls of Pentridge. He was at first given the post of schoolmaster’s assistant, but repeated acts of insubordination lost him the billet. He formed a ring in the place, and led a band of malcontents. It is said that he inspired most of the outrages, for the last of which Weechurch forfeited his life. Nothing could quell or subdue him, neither kindness nor harshness. He was just as defiant in the animals’ cage of a cell, in which uncontrollable criminals are confined, as in the wards, and he was not only insubordinate himself, but the cause of insubordination in others. His sticking up of Chief Warder Kelly, whom he robbed under arms, ‘videlicet’ a blunt dinner-knife, and his subsequent defiance of the whole resources of the institution, are well known. His object was to be brought before the Supreme Court, and it is palpable that his love for theatrical display led him into the commission of a capital offence. So long as he lived he would talk and display that oratorical ability for which he deemed himself famous. The authorities seem glad to have been rid of him, for despite all his bad conduct, he was discharged after serving some seven years and four months of his ten years’ sentence. He would interview the governor of the gaol, petition the Government and authorities, appeal by letter to the chaplain, and bother everybody with his grievances. One of his greatest grievances he mentioned at the lectures he delivered after his release, to the great delight and astonishment of his audiences — “He had once asked to be supplied with a work on the differential calculus, and the brutal authorities actually had the audacity and fiendish cruelty to get him a common work on mathematics!” After leaving Pentridge, at the commencement of the present year, Scott commenced a lecturing tour, opening at Ballarat, where he was refused the use of the Academy of Music, by order of the owner, Mr. W. J. Clarke. He however got the Alfred Hall, and attracted good audiences. After doing some of the towns in the vicinity of Egerton he came to Melbourne, and induced a well-known theatrical agent to take up his cause, assuring him that his intention was to get an honest living. He lectured in the Temperance Hall to some 500 people, speaking with great fluency, and giving an interesting account of his life in Pentridge, where, to use his own hackneyed phrase, “Tyranny and injustice are practised at the country’s cost and to its shame.” His subsequent lectures at Williamstown, Emerald Hill and Collingwood were financially failures, and he announced his intention to go home to his father. The Lancefield bank robbery brought him into notoriety again, though he was acquitted of any share in the affair, and was loud in his complaints against the police, and especially the detectives, for endeavoring to connect him with it. He was also suspected — without reason, too, it is fair to assume — of being concerned in the robbery and murder of the late Mr. Frank Bates, the actor. It is known that he went to the Williamstown Stockade and endeavored to effect the release of an old gaol chum — one Johnstone or Johnson — and it is said that he then formed and promulgated the idea to some friends to attempt the sticking-up of the outward bound mail steamer. After the events above recorded Scott cleared out, and was not heard of until the news came that the Wantabadgery station had been stuck up, and that he was in command of the desperadoes. This was on the 5th of November. The party, consisting of Scott, Rogan, Nesbitt, Wernicke, Williams, and Bennett, stuck up the station, committed a series of outrages upon the owner and his servants, and Mr. Weir, the local post-master, and after carousing there until early on the morning of Monday, retired to a place called McGlede’s farm, a few miles away, where they were attacked by the police. Wernicke, a young lad, the son of a Melbourne publican, was shot, with Nesbitt, Scott’s particular friend, and the gallant Sergeant Bowen. Nesbitt’s death seemed to completely unman Scott, who surrendered, and was taken with the rest to Gundagai, where a preliminary investigation took place. Scott’s behavior and defence at that trial, and the one in Sydney, to which city he was remanded, have been the theme of numberless comments and reports, filling pages of the daily papers of the dates of their occurrence, and it is unnecessary to dilate upon them now. The wretched being, who has paid the penalty justly demanded by a country whose laws he outraged, would, under happier auspices, have been a useful member of any community. He possessed considerable ability, even with regard to matters concerning which he had not had any special or technical education. In spite of what has been said of his personal courage, it is indisputable that he continually showed a disregard for his own safety. When his party wished to surrender he turned on them, and threatened them with death at his own hands if they did; and he performed many deeds — some of them decidedly unlawful — demanding the exercise of nerve, decision, and courage — as witness his escape from Ballarat Gaol. A record in a Bible left at the house of a friend in Sydney showed that at one time he was a Cadet in the Britannia British man-of-war. His love of licence, which many persons of his kind confound with liberty, led him to the commission of deeds, the last of which has landed him in a dishonored grave, and must have caused his relatives incalculable misery. His life and fate should be a warning to those of our youth who are too prone to regard lightly, or with aversion, the necessary restraints which society is bound in its own defence to place upon the lawlessly disposed. A contempt for constituted authority leads by almost insensible gradation to the commission of offences, and consequent punishment.
Rogan, the other prisoner hanged on Tuesday for participation in the Wantabadgery outrage, appears to be in reality a member of a family in Victoria named Baker. There has been great secrecy observed with regard to his identity, and his namesake, the Melbourne detective, failed to recognise him as being known to the police. It is, however, now ascertained that he had been convicted of larceny at St. Kilda, of burglary at Beechworth, and had served one sentence of two years’ imprisonment, which fact weighed doubtless with the New South Wales Executive. He was about twenty or twenty-one years of age, of somewhat forbidding countenance, his features being of a negro cast. It was said that he was a brother of Nesbitt, the bushranger shot at McGlede’s, but this is denied, and though he somewhat resembled Nesbitt at first sight in appearance, there was in reality no similarity of features. When the encounter took place, Rogan sought shelter under the bed, and does not appear to have taken any part in the shooting, which makes the decision of the New South Wales Government inexplicable, unless, as we have surmised, his previous career influenced the members of the Cabinet. He not only was concealed during the fight, but when he might have committed murder, and had the weapons at hand, he refrained from doing so.
In 2013 Paul Terry published what was rightly considered the most definitive account of the life of Andrew George Scott up to that point. Drawing on many sources, some of which had only recently been discovered, Terry’s In Search of Captain Moonlite was detailed but easy to read. Yet it left the reader wanting more. Now we have Garry Linnell’s Moonlite taking on the challenge and not merely rising to the occasion but usurping the throne.
Very few authors have really sunk their teeth into the Moonlite saga but for one reason or another, possibly due to the questions around Scott’s sexuality in light of the increasing visibility of the LGBT+ community, interest in the story of Captain Moonlite has really been booming in recent years. A number of projects in various stages of fruition since Paul Terry’s book was released have raised the prestige of Captain Moonlite to equate him more with Morgan, Hall and Thunderbolt in the bushranging pantheon, and have even come close to giving him his own little niche in Australian culture on his own terms. Thus Linnell’s grasping of the challenge of tackling this story with both hands is welcome and timely.
Anyone familiar with Captain Moonlite, as regular readers of A Guide to Australian Bushranging will be, have no doubt heard of the tragic love story between Andrew Scott and James Nesbitt, the infamous Mount Egerton bank robbery, the daring escape from Ballarat Gaol, the Wantabadgery siege and Andrew Scott’s spectacular fall from grace. All of that is covered in this book and much more besides. Like many history and non-fiction books, this is written in a style more commonly seen in a novel. People who have read Peter Fitzsimons’ books will know exactly what that looks like. However, unlike Fitzsimons’ books, this is not a bloated and absolutely comprehensive account. Though it is the most comprehensive to date, the focus is more on a narrative that is easy to follow and enjoyable to read while getting the information as accurate as possible. This will appeal to people that normally would steer away from non-fiction in favour of more breezy novels or memoirs. To put it another way, this is a text with broad appeal.
It is heartening to see the shift in the way Scott’s story has been told move away from the days of George Calderwood’s dry, sensationalist and frequently inaccurate 1971 biography to this more human depiction of Scott that relies very heavily on getting to the root of the myths to understand the man. Furthermore, rather than being a blow-by-blow account of Scott’s life, a musing on his sexuality or an exploration of the conflict between fact and fiction in his story, this is a more holistic view of Scott and what makes him such a compelling figure in history. There are brief tangents into the lives of “Nosey Bob” Howard, Sir Alfred Stephen, Sir Redmond Barry, Frank Gardiner, Ned Kelly, Marcus Clarke, Boulton and Park, and more all in the service of explaining the society that Andrew Scott was railing against and what shaped his life. By doing this we get a very enriched story of the mid to late 1800s on top of the most complete and accurate version of Scott’s biography to date. It is in seeing the world of Captain Moonlite that we fully comprehend what made him so remarkable.
People who have read Paul Terry’s In Search of Captain Moonlite will probably feel like some passages tread familiar terrain, which is natural given that both books tackle the same subject in a similar way. But there is so much more in this version of the story that whether you have read the previous books on the subject or not this will be a refreshing and enlightening take on it and show you things that you likely haven’t come across before. However, it feels at times like some parts of the story could have been explored a bit more. This is not to the detriment of the text by any means and possibly some readers would feel that any more detail than what is given would be too much. Any person that has done research on Captain Moonlite will likely tell you that it is very hard to cover everything in a complete and comprehensive way where this story is concerned, especially if you’re one person doing the research on your own. On that front Linnell has done an absolutely brilliant job. Reading through the acknowledgements it is clear that he had some really great people helping guide him where he needed to go, but the legwork was definitely done by Linnell himself.
Though it probably seems like a small thing, one of the best parts of this book is the inclusion of several pages of illustrations. The mix of photographs, etchings, records, and so on, really helps to visualise things that are described in the text, which is something most previous books on the subject have mostly avoided for one reason or another. As wonderful as the descriptions of the main players are, nothing has the same effect as being able to see the faces or places you’re reading about.
Moonlite is without doubt one of the most important bushranger books published to date and one of the best Australian history books that has hit the market in the past few years. Such a complete history of Andrew Scott and those who were drawn into his sphere of influence will provide an extremely useful resource for future researchers and that really is something that comes once in a blue moon. For anyone interested in the story of Captain Moonlite this is an absolute must have book. It is not only incredibly detailed, but it is a very enjoyable read. Linnell’s use of language really does breathe life into the story in a way many of the dry old history books just don’t seem capable of. It will captivate and most importantly is very re-readable.
Moonlite will be available on multiple formats from September 29, 2020. Find out more here.
A special thank you to Penguin Random House for providing an advance copy of the book for the purposes of this review.
In April 1872, Andrew George Scott was released from Parramatta Gaol. He had just finished a sentence for buying a yacht he called Why-Not with valueless cheques. Unfortunately for Scott, his liberty would be comically short lived. As soon as he was released he was re-arrested and extradited to Victoria to stand trial, accused of robbing the Second London Bank in Mount Egerton back in 1869.
Scott had long before declared his innocence of the crime, and in fact had been a witness in the original court case for the prosecution of the two leading suspects: Julius Bruun and John Simpson. After a committal hearing at Gordon police court, Scott was remanded in Ballarat, where he was due to be tried before Sir Redmond Barry. Barry was one of the most senior and respected judges in Victoria, known for his philanthropy as much as his lack of patience for criminals. He was a perfect foil for the verbose Scott, who was accruing quite a reputation as a man with the gift of the gab.
Ballarat Gaol was a sadly ill-prepared, brick and mortar structure when Andrew Scott was brought within its walls. The brick and mortar construction had been completed quickly and cheaply in an effort to deal with the ballooning lawlessness in the area due in large part to the gold rush. This flimsiness would be a crucial point in what followed. Scott was a trained civil engineer and deviously clever. He was always analysing his surrounds in order to find any weaknesses that could be exploited. While in prison in New South Wales he had convinced prison authorities that he was insane in a bid to be transferred to the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum; a low security facility he thought he could easily escape. His plan fell apart when he was caught recruiting inmates to help him escape as well as attempting to craft a weighted rope he could toss over the perimeter wall.
Remanded in Ballarat for weeks to await his trial, Scott had plenty of time to scheme. He formed an alliance with four other prisoners: James Plunkett, alias Roach, up on three charges of burglary and larceny; John Harris, alias Dermoody, alias Williams, an American butcher doing three months for stealing a coat and about to stand trial on a charge of stealing a watch; James Stapleton, alias Fitzpatrick, an illiterate Irishman up on four charges of burglary and larceny; and William Taylor, a carpenter who was doing 12 months for stealing two silver cups. His plan was almost identical to the one he had attempted in Parramatta. Scott had very quickly discovered major weaknesses in his cell; notably the extremely weak mortar around the bricks and the thin, soft, sheet tin covering the inside of the soft wooden door and the lock mechanism. Herein lay the crucial first steps of his plan.
On Monday 10 June, 1872, Scott put his plan into motion. The previous day the gang had ironed out the details of the plan before being returned to their cells at 1pm. After the final inspection at 10pm, using a piece of iron he had procured outside of the prison, Scott dug out the mortar around a set of bricks, two lengths wide and five rows tall, allowing a hole big enough for Plunkett to squeeze through. The work was harder than he had expected and he had worn a shallow hole into his palm from the digging. The noise in the cell had alerted the warder, a man named Irwin. When asked what the noise was about, Scott said that he had been experiencing severe discomfort from his bowels and was only using the facility in his cell to relieve himself. With the two men sharing Scott’s cell, they peeled back the tin on the door, which was barely thicker than paper, and using a knife Plunkett had stolen they chipped away at the wood to reveal the lock. Scott managed to unlock the door from inside, then tied a string to the bolt to allow them to yank it open at the right moment. Scott rang a bell to alert the unarmed warder that he required assistance as warders were forbidden from going into cells after dark except in an emergency. As the warder reached the cell Scott and Plunkett forced open the door and the pair flew out like startled pigeons and tackled Irwin. Scott attempted to restrain Irwin while Plunkett roughed him up. The warder managed to bite Plunkett’s thumb hard enough to draw blood and leave his teeth marks behind. Irwin screamed “murder” in order to gain attention, but was gagged by Scott shoving a blanket into his mouth and restrained. Irwin was secured to a dining table in the kitchen and the escapees took an iron bar to break their mates out as the keys were being kept by the Governor in an office at the front of the building.
Scott and Plunkett then proceeded to locate the others and release them, using the bar to break the locks. Scott asked the men if there was anyone else they wanted freed, which led to William Marshall, a London tailor doing time for stealing a cash box, being the last to be released upon Dermoody’s request as the pair were mates. Scott went up to Marshall’s cell and told him to get ready, but Marshall refused as he only had one month of his sentence left. Scott replied “O, Dermoody says you’re to come, so come on.” and freed Marshall. Scott also tried to free another inmate named Jones who also refused, but this time he was allowed to stay. There was an argument between the men who wanted to steal Irwin’s watch and Scott who refused. In the end Scott prevailed.
They ran to the south yard where the cell block met the west wall. They had with them knives and benches stolen from the kitchen, a large rope used for raising the prisoners’ dinners to the upper levels of the cell block, and a lock from the north-eastern yard. Scott stood against the bricks, the benches helping his height, while the other men climbed on his shoulders. Once Dermoody reached the top he hitched a rope to the bars on the window of a cell. By holding onto the rope and getting a purchase on the water spout, the others were able to scale the wall after him, Scott being the last to climb. Once they were on top of the wall, then came the riddle of how to get down, which Scott solved by reclaiming the rope and hitching it through a window on the guard tower. The men then absailed down the wall. They ran along Skipton Street, then went down Sebastopol Road to the intersection of Smythesdale Road. It was here that the gang decided to split up. Plunkett was furious with Scott for having broken out so many when his understanding was that there would only be two or three accompanying them. This clash of personalities saw Scott, Dermoody and Marshall take Smythesdale Road while Plunkett led Taylor and Stapleton in the opposite direction. The escape was not discovered until 6am, by which time the enormous search that followed was fruitless.
Scott would later claim that the cause of the split was due to members of the gang refusing to fall in with his plan, which was to bail up the Soldiers’ Hill police station and procure firearms and ammunition. Thence they were to cut the telegraph wires, head for the coast at Geelong or Williamstown, steal a boat and seize a larger craft for the purpose of heading for Fiji. The back-up plan was to sail down the Murray in a canoe and make for South Australia or head north into New South Wales.
When Scott’s gang reached Haddon the following day, they bailed up a boy named Alfred King and robbed him of 5 shillings and a box of matches after hitting him across the head. After trekking a bit further, Marshall was sent to buy supplies where he was spotted by none other than the gang’s victim. The boy alerted some men that this was one of the bushrangers that had robbed him and Marshall was quickly captured and secured. Scott and Dermoody managed to escape unseen. Marshall was locked up in Smythesdale overnight before being sent back to Ballarat.
According to Marshall, Scott had decided to rob a bank at Linton, but Scott would claim his intention was simply to get out of the colony, even the country. Scott and Dermoody remained at large, doubling back to Ballarat and making their way into the rugged Dead Horse Ranges. The pair hid in the bush and gathering necessary items as they went, which included a shotgun and a Bowie knife. The police in the district were on high alert, with troopers from Ballarat, Smythesdale, Rokewood and Piggoreet looking for the escapees.
On 12 June, Plunkett was arrested near Sydney Gully, 8 miles from Rokewood. Senior Constables Harding and Hayes of Rokewood met up with a party of police from Ballarat at Kangaroo Jack’s near Grassy Gully, then split up to scour the area, the two Senior Constables each taking a division. Meanwhile, Stapleton and Taylor had instructed Plunkett to head to a nearby shepherd’s hut to procure firearms and food. It was the division led by Hayes that located Plunkett cowering behind a tree shortly thereafter. The bushranger tried to make a break but realised he was trapped. Plunkett was visibly trembling and bemoaned that he’d have had no problem escaping if he had a firearm. The following day he was returned to Ballarat Gaol via train under the watchful eye of Senior Constable Harding. After he was arrested, Plunkett was very forthcoming with telling his version of events. He described Taylor as the worst kind of coward and thief and went on to describe the plans they had. He claimed their intention was to bail up a taxidermist called Bungaree Jack, take firearms and two stores and the Rokewood bank. Funnily enough, while searching for Taylor and Stapleton, the police accidentally found a man named Collins who had a warrant out on him for stealing harnesses.
On 14 June, a reward of £50 each was offered for the remaining escapees. Descriptions of the men at large were supplied in the press to aid recapture:
“l. Andrew George Scott, native of Cos. Tyrone, Ireland, with a strong north of Ireland accent, aged 27 years, 5 feet 8 3/4 inches high, medium and well built, round face, long sharp pointed nose, dark eyes, with a keen and determined expression, dark whiskers and moustache, shaven chin, drags the left leg and foot slightly in walking; wore light tweed coat, black cloth cap with peak; and appearance of a sailor. Was under committal for trial to the next sittings of the Ballarat Circuit Court for the Egerton bank robbery.
2. William Taylor, a Londoner, a carpenter, aged 50 years, 5 feet 4 3/4 inches high, stout build, sallow complexion, brown hair and eyes.
3. James Stapleton alias Fitzpatrick. Irish, aged 61 years, 5 feet 4 inches high, sallow complexion, grey hair and beard, brown eyes, arms freckled, scar corner left eyebrow, and has lost upper front teeth.
4. John Dermoody alias Harris, an American, aged 21 years, 5 feet 8 1/4 inches high, stout build, fresh complexion, light brown hair, blue eyes, nose inclined to the left, three warts on knuckles of left hand, and anchor tatooed on left wrist.”
Dermoody had reached the end of his tether and decided to go alone. Scott was glad to be rid of him, considering him a “cur”, and was undeterred. Using the sun and stars to guide him in a northeast direction, always travelling along the upper ridges of the ranges, he passed Creswick and went through Smeaton, coming close to Castlemaine. The journey was incredibly tough and his supplies ran out. Having been without food for two days he resorted to chewing gum leaves in an effort to procure some form of sustenance. During a wet night he lit a fire in a hollow log but the heat attracted a snake that he quickly dispatched with his Bowie knife. Scott’s desperation was temporarily relieved when he emerged from the ranges near Lockwood and was given food and shelter by a woman there.
He continued on his way with renewed energy, swapping clothes with a traveller along the way. Scott would later indicate that the swap was mutually agreeable, but the likelihood of someone wanting to willingly swap their clothes for the dirty, beaten outfit of a bushranger is slim at best. Using the tools to hand, Scott reshaped his facial hair. Thus with new clothes and a new beard he found it far easier to go unrecognised as he headed towards New South Wales.
It was a Tuesday evening, 18 June, when Scott appeared in the vicinity of Marong Road where he found a miner’s hut tucked away in dense scrub in New Zealand Gully. The hut was occupied by a boy and as Scott made his way inside he requested a bed. The boy permitted this but, feeling uncomfortable about the desperate looking stranger, quickly informed two nearby miners who came to the house to check out the new arrival. The miners were suspicious of this shabby, long-bearded gentleman armed with a shotgun and a revolver and promptly went to the police.
Detectives Alexander and Brown, Sergeant Drought and Constable Bradley responded straight away, riding out in the dead of night with a horse and cart. The police arrived at Specimen Hill where they left the cart before heading for the hut. Crawling through the scrub, they found it locked from the inside. They retreated to a machine workshop nearby where they found the boy working the night shift. They convinced him to lure the bushranger out and he returned to the hut and knocked on the door. Inside, Scott grumbled. The police waited by the door – Brown and Bradley on one side, Drought and Alexander on the other – and found a chink in the wall that allowed them to see the sleeping bandit. By his side were his shotgun and Bowie knife, the revolver was capped but unloaded. The boy knocked again. “What is it?” Scott snapped. “Mate, give me my Billy.” came the reply. Scott was unimpressed to have his slumber interrupted over such a triviality. “What Billy?” Scott asked. “The black Billy in the chimney,” answered the boy. “Why do you need it?” “It’s our tea time.” By now Scott was out of bed and would have noticed the pitch blackness. “What time is it?” “Twelve o’clock,” the boy answered. Scott was displeased but seeing no alternative to allow him a decent rest he got up and located the Billy can. When he opened the door and passed out the can, Sergeant Drought grabbed his wrist. Scott yanked himself free and tried to make for his gun but the troopers pinned him to the ground. They had finally nabbed the notorious Captain Moonlite. Scott was still willing and able to shoot his mouth off and proceeded to say, “I am Scott. It is all up a tree with me. I am glad there were no lives lost; my intention was not to be taken alive. No one man in the country could arrest me; numbers might have done so. If it were not that you took me so suddenly I would have shot the first man that entered, and if I saw a chance of escape every other would be done the same to. I have suffered much misery since I escaped. If it was in daylight when you came to arrest me, I would have cautioned you to come only a certain distance, and if you ventured to approach then I would have shot you and then destroyed myself.”
Once securely in custody and en route back to prison, Scott was happy to talk about his exploits. He explained that it was actually Plunkett, Stapleton and Taylor that had intended on robbing a bank and they had split off for Rokewood for that purpose. Crowds flooded the train stations in the hope of catching a glimpse of Scott, which irked him greatly. The leering crowds prompted him to state, “It is enough to make one believe in the Darwinian theory to see such a lot of grinning monkeys.”
On 19 July, Stapleton was captured while sleeping in a mia-mia on the summit of Mount Bolton. Constable Kennedy of Coghill’s Creek had been searching the area on foot after a tip-off from two local boys who had spotted a fire there as well as some sportsmen whose dog had found a sheep Stapleton had duffed, and scaled the summit backed up by a man named William Morrison. There he found Stapleton’s resting place nestled between two rocks. Stapleton was rudely awakened by the arrest and armed himself with a tomahawk. There was a struggle wherein Kennedy’s revolver was wrenched out of his hand but the cumulative effect of starvation, exposure and rheumatism made resistance impossible for Stapleton. When Kennedy inspected Stapleton’s stronghold, he noted a bed comprising of an empty mattress, along with a myriad of supplies: half a bag of flour, potatoes, a straight knife and one with a jagged edge for sawing, three linen shirts with “James Fry” written inside, gimlets, stubby candles, matches and a black crepe face mask. Before being sent to the Ballarat Gaol, Stapleton was given tea to warm him up and closely monitored due to his seemingly frail condition. The bushranger seemed almost grateful to be back in custody and was forthcoming with details of his adventures. He stated that within the first three days after the escape he had nothing to eat and took his leave of the others. He headed to Little Hard Hills, then on to Egerton and Bullarook. All of his food and supplies were stolen as he could find nobody that would help him. On one occasion he managed to pass by a policeman without being recognised, but soon after decided not to risk being so close to civilisation and took refuge on Mount Bolton.
Scott was returned to Ballarat and was tried, as planned, defending himself in court. In the end, despite performing admirably as a lawyer, Scott was found guilty of the Egerton bank robbery and given ten years to be served at Pentridge Prison. This would be a major turning point for Scott as he wrestled with what he saw as the injustices and corruption of the prison system. This sense of moral outrage would define the remainder of his life, eventually resulting in the infamous trip to Wantabadgery that cemented his name in history.
The final escapee to be captured was Dermoody, the American butcher. After parting with Scott, he had stayed briefly at Sandhurst before crossing the New South Wales border and heading to Wagga Wagga. Here he found work as a butcher and lived quietly until, by chance, done former associates of his arrived in town. When they found him they asked for money, but fearing they would dob him in Dermoody bolted and hid in an abandoned hut on the outskirts of town where he was found by police and arrested in March 1873, over a year after the escape. He was extradited and returned to Ballarat where he was tried for larceny and sentenced to 2 years and given an additional year for absconding. Like Scott, he was transferred to Pentridge Prison where he racked up an impressive list of infractions ranging from quarrelling and attacking a warder to having a hat band and throwing hominy at another prisoner. After his release he would wind up in and out of gaol for essentially the rest of his life. In his later years he would try to use his connection to the infamous Captain Moonlite to gain recognition while living as a tramp.
Perhaps the only real mystery left to solve was what became of William Taylor. While reports on the capture of the others are easy to find, there appears to be nothing to verify that Taylor was ever recaptured. Certainly, if he had been there would have been something in his prison record to indicate as much, but the last entry is in relation to the charge that had him in Ballarat Gaol to begin with: a conviction on 6 May, 1872, for larceny with a sentence of 12 months hard labour. Most texts neglect to account for the fates of all of the Ballarat bolters so it may just be that Taylor was the luckiest man in the bunch and he managed to make good his escape. However, a bit of digging suggests that Taylor may not have been able to keep quiet for long, with reports of a William Taylor in and out of gaol in New South Wales then Queensland in the late 1870s. Old habits, it seems, are hard to break.
Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 11 July 1915, page 11
LINK WITH BUSHRANGING DAYS HAD DROP ON THUNDERBOLT
The sixties were stirring times in New South Wales and Victoria. The voice of the old fossicker, now an almost extinct species, was heard in the land, and bewhiskered, rrd-shirted bushrangers laid in wait for him in lonely gullies, past which the coach track wound on its way to the nearest town. In those days a policeman often had a life that was by no means all beer and cold pie. He was at times called upon to take a ride through the bush on the box seat of a coach, which, besides two or three shivering passengers, also carried a few boxes of gold. His chance of getting a couple of ounces of lead from an old-fashioned, long-barrelled revolver was a trifle better than the present-day constable’s likelihood of drawing a prize in Tattersall’s sweep.
“I thought we were in for a little potting practice the day I saw Thunderbolt riding along the mountain-side, about 160 yards from the coach,” declared ex-Gaol Governor John Cotter when recalling the other day some incidents of bygone times. Mr. Cotter was a constable at the time he referred to, and was acting as mail guard on the Glen Innes coach. “We had two passengers,” he said, “and one of them was a magistrate. Just as we were going up the Devil’s Pinch I saw a horseman riding along the side of the ranges, and it didn’t need a second glance to assure me it was the notorious Thunderbolt. We had such excellent descriptions of him that there could be no mistake. He had his eye on the coach, too, and seemed to be debating with himself whether to gallop over to us or not. I settled the question for him by drawing my revolver. He saw the action, realised that I had the drop on him, and rode away. The magistrate was greatly perturbed when he saw my revolver come out. He was still more upset when he learned how close he had been to Thunderbolt without the railing of a dock to separate them. The horseman I saw was Thunderbolt all right, because he was present at the Uralla races on the following day, and was on his way there when he passed our coach. Forty-eight hours afterwards he was shot by Senior-Constable Walker.”
While on the subject of bushrangers, Mr. Cotter called to mind the capture of Captain Moonlight, whose real name was Scott, and his subsequent execution. It Is a generally-accepted belief that Moonlight was a well-educated man, and claimed descent from a good old English family. Mr. Cotter, who, in the capacity of gaol official, spent a lot of time In the bushranger’s society, regards Scott as having been a man who had received an ordinary education, but had missed no opportunity of improving himself. Owing to Moonlight’s excitable temperament and daring nature great difficulty was experienced by the gaol authorities in getting warders to guard him while he was awaiting execution. Mr. Cotter was brought down from Maltland for the job, and he, with another warder, afterwards took it in turns to watch the desperado while he was in the condemned cell.
“One morning,” said Mr. Cotter, “Moonlight became outrageous. He was shouting and bawling at the top of his voice, and he had the wits scared out of the warders. Seven of them had to be relieved on the first evening. At last the deputy-governor came along, and he said, ‘What the hell’s the matter with that fellow Moonlight? This is the seventh man I have sent to him. Do you think you can manage him,’
“I said I’d have a try. ‘What’s up, Scott?’ I asked, as I looked through the grating of the cell door. ‘Do you call those men warders?’ he said, angrily. ‘I call them Johnny Warders. They don’t know how to manage a man. All I did was to call out to my mate Rogan, and they started to make a fuss about it.’ He promised me he would be quiet, and he was. For a week before he was executed, I and another man stood guard over him. He asked me as a favor to remain with him on the night before his execution, as he said strangers irritated him. The governor asked me If I would take it on, and I told him I was not afraid. ‘There’s only one thing,’ I said. ‘That woman Black going to see him so often. She might drop some poison in the matting.’ The governor replied that he could not interfere with the visits of this woman. ‘You must just keep your weather eye on her,’ he said.”
A TERRIBLE NIGHT.
Moonlight got no poison, and he gave no trouble. He spent his last night on earth dictating to a clerk a long account, covering 21 pages in foolscap, of the Egerton bank robbery in Victoria, for which he had been sentenced to five years, and of which he said he was innocent.
“It was a terrible night,” proceeded the ex-governor, “but I carried him through. About 2 o’clock in the morning he had a sleep, and covered his head with the bed-clothes. I was In a regular fidget, for I didn’t know whether he was dead or alive. Rogan, who was in the other condemned cell, asked to be called at 3 am. to say some prayers. He was fast asleep at that hour, so we didn’t waken him. As a matter of fact, he was always praying.
“Moonlight and Rogan were executed together at 9 o’clock. Addressing Rogan, Moonlight remarked, ‘Well, Rogan, we made one great mistake. Good-bye, old man.’ Moonlight wanted to make a speech, but Rogan stopped him.
During his long career as a police constable, warder, and gaol governor, Mr. Cotter had many exciting experiences with refractory prisoners. On one occasion he frustrated a well-planned attempt to escape by the two desperadoes, Horn and Baxter, who were undergoing sentences of 16 years and 10 years respectively. That was during the late Sir John Cecil Read’s term as governor of Darlinghurst Gaol. On another occasion he was nearly knifed by a vicious prisoner named McDonald. It seemed a fateful coincidence that the warder who pacified this man and took him away was afterwards killed by another prisoner. Quinlan, a rare desperado, was searched when handed over to the gaol authorities, but a concealed weapon was overlooked. With this he murdered Warder Elliott, and was sentenced to death. He was reprieved, and after doing the best part of 14 years, he went to Bega, and murdered a farmer. For this second murder he was executed at Goulburn.
Mr. Cotter was born at Kingston, County Clare, Ireland, and last month celebrated the 73rd anniversary of his birthday. He joined the New South Wales police in 1868. and in 1876 changed over into the Prisons Department, in which branch he served for over 30 years at Bathurst, Berrima, Maitland, Darlinghurst, Biloela. Mudgee, and Tamworth gaols. He is now living at Bondi in the enjoyment of a pension.
“I, Maurice J. O’Connor, being the medical officer of the gaol at Darlinghurst, do hereby declare and certify that I have this day witnessed the execution of Andrew George Scott, alias Moonlight, lately convicted and duly sentenced to death at the Supreme Criminal Court, Sydney; and I further certify that the said Andrew George Scott, alias Moonlight, was, in pursuance of his sentence, ‘hanged by the neck until his body was dead,’ Given under my hand this 20th day of January, in the year 1880.
(Signed) Maurice J. O’Connor, visiting surgeon.
1880 was set to be a big year as bushranging was concerned. With the Kelly Gang still at large after the humiliation of the Jerilderie raid, the New South Wales authorities had been desperate to make an example of lawbreakers and found the perfect targets in Captain Moonlite and his gang.
The previous few months had been incredibly turbulent in the lives of Andrew George Scott and Thomas Baker, known popularly as Captain Moonlite and Rogan respectively. The bailing up of Wantabadgery Station in November of the previous year had attracted much attention, but it was the subsequent siege at McGlede’s farm that sealed the fate of the bushrangers. The death of Constable Webb-Bowen from a wound he received in battle had seen the pair sentenced to death with fellow surviving gang members Frank Johns, alias Thomas Williams, and Graham Bennett. The latter two had clean records and youth on their side and after much agitation had their sentences commuted to long prison terms to be served in Berrima. There were still motions by the public, and even some parliamentarians, to have Rogan’s sentence commuted because he had hidden under a bed throughout the pitched battle that took place. Cowardly or not, the action was enough to suggest that he should not have been considered to have the same level of involvement in the crime as the others, but he had a history of crime going against him, having previously done time for larceny and horse theft in Victoria. His sentence was upheld. When Scott learned that the executive council had upheld the death penalty for himself and Rogan, he expressed dismay at the injustice of hanging his young companion, though he did not express any disagreement with his own punishment.
Of the gang, Rogan had struggled the most with his conviction. He had become irritable and morose as time went on. Rogan’s mother and sister had travelled from Melbourne to Sydney with a petition for reprieve that they hoped would gather enough signatures to cause the executive council to change their position on the case. When they visited their condemned kin in Darlinghurst Gaol the meeting descended into a screaming match and the women left in tears. The press made much of this behaviour and took it to be a sign of weak moral character on Rogan’s part. It was not typical behaviour for him, as he had always been seen as quiet and otherwise subdued. It is likely that he was merely struggling with the injustice of his imminent death. In light of this, Rev. Father Ryan doubled his efforts in bringing spiritual comfort to the young man. On 17 January, Rogan’s mother and sister left Sydney for Melbourne. Rogan was in a strange place with no kin nearby to grieve his passing. Strangely, their absence seemed to allow Rogan some peace of mind.
Meanwhile, Andrew Scott had spent much time with Canon Rich – a minister of the Church of England. They spoke at length about the scriptures and Scott described his relationship with Bishop Selwyn and Bishop Patterson; a portrait of the latter he would present to Canon Rich as a gift mere moments before his execution. Scott occupied himself mostly with writing during the remainder of his time on earth. He knew his time was short and was desperate to set the record straight regarding the latter events of his life. He also took the opportunity to record many of his thoughts and feelings. In one letter he stated:
In the silent hours of the night, when I believe myself unobserved by the gaoler, I go down on my knees and try to pray, but all my efforts have failed. I have tried several times, but find that I cannot pray with that earnestness and fervour with which I used to pray when I was a boy.
The notion of a former preacher confessing a loss of faith was certainly juicy gossip for the press who had been harassing the gaol for any morsels of information regarding the condemned men. The countdown to the execution seemed to be a very exciting event to cover for the press. One of the things that was gobbled up by the media was the frequent appearance of a mysterious woman in black. This austere woman was spotted visiting Scott several times in the gaol and the journalists wasted no time speculating on her identity. She had been instrumental in pushing for a commuting of the sentences for Scott’s accomplices and had been running around procuring Bibles and prayer books that Scott signed and dedicated to his family and friends as gifts.
Scott never seemed to indicate a fear of death, however he did express indignation at the shame of execution. In one of his letters he invoked the torturous botching of the execution of the Eugowra escort robber, Henry Manns, in expressing his misgivings in such a method of execution.
I could now go into that yard and command a company of soldiers to fire at me, but I cannot bear having to die an ignominious death on the gallows. Besides, the hangman, might not do his work well, as in the case of Mann. Why should they pinion me, and why place over my head that abominable garment, the whitecap? I should like to see how I am dying, for I am not afraid of death.
The night before their execution, Scott was visited by Canon Rich for spiritual consultation. He also received a telegram from a man named William Powell from Mannum Station in Victoria stating, “May God have mercy on your soul! Would like a reply.” As Scott had no idea who this person was he declined the request. No doubt it was some morbid souvenir hunter looking for something to add to his collection. Later he was visited by the “woman in black”, whose real name proved to be Mrs. Amess, who was permitted to stay with Scott far longer than was usual for visitors. The assumption was made that she had been affianced to Scott, an engagement publicly stated by Canon Rich, and there remained the distinct possibility that this was indeed the woman Scott claimed to be seeing when the bank at Mount Egerton was robbed – a crime he continued to deny any part in. All that could be confirmed about the woman was that she had a nine year old son and was a school teacher by profession. After his guest departed, Scott furiously scribbled out his last few letters, desperate to record his thoughts, feelings, and autobiography until 4.00am. Most of these missives would be locked up rather than reaching their intended targets. Amongst the various letters was one addressed to the mother of James Nesbitt, Scott’s partner, attempting to apologise for what happened in Wantabadgery. He also wrote to Nesbitt’s brother, requesting to be buried with his beloved Jim after his execution. Scott expressed a sense of relief at the notion that he might spend eternity with Nesbitt upon his passing. He also wrote a final goodbye to his parents in New Zealand. Canon Rich consulted with Scott and passed on a request from Rogan that Scott not make any grand speeches on the gallows the following day, which Scott agreed to do. When Scott went to his hammock he was unable to sleep and fidgeted throughout the night. Rogan had spent the evening writing and praying and slept peacefully, which must have been a welcome change from his see-sawing between anxiety and fury that had defined the previous few days.
On the morning of 20 January, there was a surprising calm that had settled over the prisoners. They ate their breakfast heartily and at 8.30am they were informed that they had only a half hour left to go until their appointment. Scott would have taken a moment to spare a thought for his parents in New Zealand; the events that were unfolding were not a great gift for his father who should have been spending the day celebrating his birthday instead of mourning the loss of a son. The six pound leg irons that had been applied to Scott’s already crippled ankles were removed. Scott merely exclaimed “Ah, that’s a relief,” then proceeded to neaten himself up. Rogan said nothing as his irons were removed, merely keeping his eyes fixed on the ground. The men were attended by their spiritual advisers – Canon Rich for Scott, and Father Ryan for Rogan. Their hangman was to be Robert Rice Howard, better known as “Nosey Bob”, an infamous executioner whose most defining physical trait was that his nose had been completely demolished from being kicked by a horse during his time running a cab business. Such a traumatic event would have killed most people at the time but not Howard; but while he survived, his cab business was dead so he was left unemployed and turned to booze. He saw a way out of his struggle when he learned that the New South Wales government was looking for a new hangman and signed up. It was a thankless job and he attempted to keep it quiet but gossip is gossip and before long the identity of the new executioner was common knowledge and Howard was ostracised for his choice of employment.
The gallows of Darlinghurst Gaol [Source: The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) 27 April 1913: 11.]
The gallows of Darlinghurst Gaol were situated in an external corner of E Wing. Inside the cell block, on the middle tier, were the six condemned cells. From condemned cell number one it was only around a half dozen paces to the scaffold. In previous years the gallows had been a removable structure that would be set up when needed. On this model, John Dunn and the Clarke brothers, among others, had expiated their crimes. Had Scott and Rogan been condemned in the time of public executions, they would have been forced to climb a long ladder to the gallows that would be set up by the prison gate on Forbes Street. Such an inelegant design owed much to the style of hanging in the previous century, wherein condemned prisoners were forced to climb a ladder then jump from the top, rather than be dropped through a trapdoor. To the baying crowds it was more entertaining that way, but to the authorities the new method was more efficient. Since then, hanging had become a precise science — performed mostly by illiterate and uneducated convicts. Scott and Rogan had the nervous wait to see if their hangman had done the calculations properly. An extra inch or more longer or shorter than required in the length of the rope could be the difference between strangling to death for fifteen minutes or having your head ripped off. Neither prospect was pretty but both had precedent.
Source: Truth (Sydney) 14 November 1897: 7.
Outside the gaol, crowds began to gather, comprising men, women and children of a mostly lower class background. It is unsure what they expected to see, but some of the local larrikins climbed trees that neighboured the gates in a vain attempt to see into the gaol, hoping to snatch even a fleeting glimpse of proceedings. People up to a quarter of a mile away climbed onto the highest roofs in an effort to see into the prison, but were also disappointed. Police had their work cut out trying to keep people at ground level. The gaol governor had stipulated that members of the press were not to be admitted to the execution and security was on high alert after rumours of a potential attempt to break in to the gaol to rescue Rogan had begun circulating.
“Nosey Bob” Howard [Source: Truth (Brisbane) 26 April 1903: 3.]
At 9.00am, Charles Cowper, the sheriff, officially requested the bodies of the condemned men, as per regulation. “Nosey Bob” entered the condemned cells and pinioned the arms of the men. They were walked the short distance to the scaffold at 9.05am where they looked out over the railing to see the rising sun over a manicured lawn. Below was the collective of officials who were there to act as witnesses. Among those attending the execution were Maurice O’Connor, the Darlinghurst Gaol medical officer; Charles Cowper, Sheriff; J.G. Thurlow, Under Sheriff; J.C. Read, principal gaoler; W. Chatfield, visiting magistrate; Miehl Burke, Chief Warder; Edmund Fosberry, Inspector General of Police; Constable John Maguire; Constable John Simmons; Constable Edward Keatinge; Senior Constable Henry Shiel; Louis C. Nickel, Coroner; Edward Smart, J.P.; Peter Miller, J.P.; Ernest Carter, J.P.; Dr. Halkett; John Stewart; Daniel O’Connor; Angus Cameron; Alexander Pinn; Alexander Tate; Rev. Macready; and T. Kingsmill Abbott.
Andrew Scott was already haggard from a night without sleep but now felt indignant that such a personal moment as one’s departure from the mortal realm was to be viewed by a horde of strangers. He glared at them, his crystal blue eyes flashing with passion one final time as he turned to his attendants.
“What does this mean? What do all these people want? I think I ought to speak.”
Scott was about to make one final farewell address, a suitably grandiose statement to tell the world of the injustices that had led to that moment, but one look across at Rogan reminded him of his promise to stay quiet. The fire in his belly smouldered and he allowed himself to feel empathy for the young man whose life had been wasted, due in no small measure from Scott’s own actions. Father Ryan administered the last rights to the Roman Catholic Rogan, while Canon Rich and Rev. Macready attended Scott in the fashion of the Anglican and Presbyterian churches respectively. The nooses were placed around their necks by “Nosey Bob” and his assistant. The hemp rope was heavy on their shoulders and draped in such a way that the sudden stop when the rope ran out would jerk the slipknot up behind the left ear and snap the neck. Scott suddenly felt his own resolve washing away like sand on a beach at high tide.
“Goodbye, Tom. We have made a sad mistake.”
Rogan did not speak. He was using his last moments to concentrate on maintaining his composure. Scott put out his hand and grasped Rogan’s fingers in one last gesture of solidarity in an effort to comfort his friend as much as himself. The customary white hoods were pulled over their heads and the hangman stood clear of the trapdoor and pushed the lever, releasing the pin that kept the trapdoor shut. There was an incredible crash as the door swung open and locked into place via the appropriate mechanisms. Scott and Rogan plummeted in freefall only a few feet. When the crash of the trapdoor stopped reverberating around the courtyard, all that could be heard was the creak of hemp. Scott’s death had been instant and all life signs were snuffed out cleanly. Rogan was not afforded the same. The rope was too slack and had not cleanly broken his neck, resulting in the young man squirming like a worm on a hook as he was strangled to death by his own body weight. After ten minutes the thrashing and convulsing stopped. Dr. O’Connor tried to alleviate the ill-feeling in the crowd by telling them that the convulsions were merely involuntary postmortem muscle spasms.
The corpses were allowed to dangle until 9.25am to ensure death had set in. After this, the ropes were cut and the bodies loaded onto hand carts. They were taken to the dead house and prepared for burial and the ropes were burned. No inquest was held as the 49 witnesses all signed a document attesting to the pair’s death by hanging. The heads and faces were shaved completely and molded by a sculptor named McGee for death masks. The casts taken from the moulds would be used for phrenological study, but also remained as trophies – mementos of the triumph of the law over the lawless.
The bodies were put in coffins by J. and G. Shying and co., undertakers. Rogan’s coffin was government issued, but Mrs. Amess had paid for a handsome black coffin to be used for the preacher-cum-outlaw. In the afternoon the coffins were loaded into a hearse and a procession headed to Redfern mortuary, which included Mrs. Gregory, the gaol missionary; Rev. Dowie; Mrs. Amess; and two warders. Both men were buried in Rookwood cemetery, Haslam’s Creek, in unmarked graves.
The authorities hoped that in time people would forget the names Scott and Rogan, but would remember the message that their execution was to convey – break the law and suffer the consequences. Despite Scott’s initial request to be buried with James Nesbitt being denied, in 1995 his remains were exhumed and reinterned at Gundagai cemetery near the unmarked graves of Nesbitt and Gus Wernicke. Thomas Rogan remains in his unmarked grave in the Roman Catholic section of the Rookwood cemetery.
As to a monument stone, a rough unhewn rock would be most fit, one that skilled hands could have made into something better. It will be like those it marks as kindness and charity could have shaped us to better ends.
As every item of news anent the Wantabagery bushranger is just now read with painful interest by newspaper readers, I think I can supply a few jottings, as yet unpublished, that may give, in some slight degree, an inkling as to the inner man of this foolhardy, conceited irritable fool. It will be remembered that A. G. Scott, before the bank robbery at Egerton, occasionally officiated as lay reader in the Church of England there. I am credibly informed, by one who was present in the church the Sunday after the robbery, that Scott offered up the following impromptu prayer during the service conducted by him:—”Oh Lord, we pray Thee, in Thy great goodness, and in accord with Thine unerring standard of dealing out even-handed justice to all men, so order and direct that the efforts made by the constituted authorities in seeking after the bank robbers may be entirely successful, and that they may be speedily brought to justice; and that the wicked and evil done by these lawless forgetters of Thee may result in good here-after.” Not a bad prayer, says my informant, to be reverently offered up by the sole perpetrator of the robbery.
Scott at one time went in a trading schooner to Fiji. The passengers rather liked the man; he was a favorite with all on board talkative and very agreeable. A spiritual seance was held one evening during the voyage. Scott was quite eloquent on the subject, and in explaining to the circle the mysteries of the phenomena, he requested the members to ask questions and the table would rap out the answers. One of the passengers enquired how many pistols Scott had about him, and the answer came “four.” Moonlite at once confessed the reply was correct, and forthwith pulled out of each pocket a miniature revolver. During the passage his great enjoyment was shooting at the sea birds. “A more pleasant and polite travelling companion,” says a fellow passenger, “could not be met with anywhere.”
I heard Scott lecture at Ballarat, and I must say I was inclined to give him credit for sincerity in the statements he made anent Pentridge. After leaving Ballarat, he lectured at Maryborough the day following. I was on my way to Sandhurst, and noticed him at the Maryborough station. I occupied a seat in the same carriage with Scott and Nesbitt, and found them both very chatty and agreeable. After this I heard Moonlite lecture at Sandhurst, and felt convinced from the remarks he there made, that a never-to-be-satisfied hankering after notoriety was the cankerworm of his life. His piercing eye noticed me at the lecture, and had I not been in company with the D——’s I doubt not I would have been honored (?) with a shake of the hand. Taking into consideration all I know of Scott, and what I have gleaned from outside sources, I am inclined to believe he (Scott) is not the hardened ruffian he is represented to be, but a foolishly-vain fellow, that would run any risk in order to be talked freely about. When Scott was leaving Pentridge, there was a letter lying awaiting him in the hands of the Inspector-General, from his father. The contents, I was assured, were of the most touching kind. The aged father implored his erring son to begin a new life on his release from prison, and acquainted him that he could be supplied with money for his immediate wants by applying to a gentleman in Melbourne, whose name was given. Scott read the letter in presence of Mr. Duncan; and, I suppose, out of a spirit of vain bravado, smiled at the contents and carelessly put it in his pocket. Captain Moonlite will soon be beyond the reach of mercy so far as this world is concerned; but those who know the man intimately are of opinion that there was not the interest taken in his case—as a released convict, when free from Pentridge—that there should have been, and that had some philanthropic kind-hearted man stepped to the front and offered a helping hand, Captain Moonlite would, instead of ending his life on the scaffold, have become a reformed man, and eventually made a good citizen. The fist has gone forth. Moonlite is to die, and so long as capital punishment is the law of the land I do not quibble with the decree; but the sooner this taking of life by the hands of the executioner is abolished, the sooner will the law-givers find out that a life-long imprisonment is a greater deterrent to crime than the hangman’s rope. I am not alone in the opinion that hanging men by the neck till dead does not act as a deterrent to crime; and from a recent leader in The Courier, I find the writer is against the death penalty.
The “British Friend” has, in connection with the Howard Association, an article on the subject, and from it I gather that the different nations of the world are gradually being educated up to the subject, and we who are abolitionists with regard to the death penalty may yet live to see it effaced from the criminal statutes of the British nation. The following from the “British Friend” will be read with interest by all those who thus believe:—”The abolition of capital punishment is both a process and a goal. In the latter aspect it is still distant, but in the former aspect it is making great progress and extension every year. For the upholders of the sacredness of human life are now sufficiently strong and numerous, in most countries, to reduce the number of executions to at least a small proportion of those sentenced to death. Even some of the victories claimed by the supporters of the gallows are of very dubious result. And it is a special objection to this extreme penalty that, beyond all others, it tends to impede or destroy its own operation. Not only does murder, by killing its victim, also remove, in general, the only witness of the act, but the peculiar difficulties connected with circumstantial evidence (where specially certain evidence is needful on account of the irrevocability of this penalty), still further impede the infliction of this, more than of any other punishment. For example, in Austria in 1876, out of 124 sentences of death, all for murder, only three were executed! Even in England, where it is claimed that capital punishment is most certain (and where it is rendered as certain as law and home secretaries can make it), it is yet the most uncertain of all penalties. For example, during the last November assizes of 1878, it was most striking to read in the Times, day after day, the results of the murder trials of that series. We find as follows:—1. Stafford Assizes, trial for wilful murder; verdict, not guilty, on ground of insanity. 2. Bristol, trial for wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. 3. Bristol, for wilful murder of two children; verdict, not guilty, on ground of insanity. 4. Leeds, wilful murder; verdict, not guilty. 5. Leeds, another wilful murder; verdict, not guilty. 6. Liverpool, wilful murder; verdict, not guilty. 7. Liverpool, wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. 8. Winchester, wilful murder; verdict, not guilty. 9. Cambridge, wilful murder; verdict, guilty—death. 10. Cambridge (again), wilful murder; verdict, guilty—death, but recommended to mercy. 11. Leeds, wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. 12. Warwick, wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. 13. Swansea, wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. 14. Taunton, wilful murder; verdict, not guilty. 15. Warwick, wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. 16. Nottingham, wilful murder; verdict, manslaughter. Thus it is evident that the deterrent power of the capital penalty, as it actually is in practice, is very limited, by reason of its extremely uncertain infliction. The upholders of the gallows argue for the deterrence of the penalty, as they would wish it to be—that is, as if it were certain. But in practice, and in inevitable practice too, it never is, nor can be, what they assume it to be theoretically.” After describing in detail the recent action of Switzerland as to capital punishment, and the misconceptions in reference to it current in this country, the report continues:— “On 14th January, 1879, two men were hanged in Pennsylvania. The Governor at the last moment sent a reprieve; but it was delivered too late at the gaol—both men had just been executed, and had protested their innocence in dying. In January, also, another man was hanged in the same State. An eye-witness writes that he was brought drunk to the gallows, and ‘literally dumped down’ at its foot, the superintending sheriff ‘smoking a cigar and shaking hands and cracking jokes with his friends,’ whilst about 200 spectators were also smoking, laughing, joking, and at times cursing.’ “
With November 2019 seeing the 140th anniversary of the Wantabadgery Siege, the decision was made to make a pilgrimage to Wantabadgery. As no formal acknowledgement of the anniversary or notification of any organised commemoration thereof had been announced, I decided that somebody ought to fill the void — and who better than the chap that does all the bushranger stuff online? It should be pointed out before we continue that this recap is not all about bushrangers, but rather a recounting of the things that happened during the trip. Hopefully it will give you some travel ideas. That said, let us continue…
With Georgina Stones from An Outlaw’s Journal in tow, I headed up northeast of Melbourne. On the way we passed through Benalla, where Georgina added some fake flowers to Joe Byrne’s grave. Previously she had left real flowers, but this time wanted to leave something a little more enduring. Every time we go up I see if I can spot the little bust I placed on the grave. The tiny polymer clay portrait has been there through searing heat, bucketing rain and everything in between but is still looking pretty good despite being put through the ringer.
Our first night was spent in The Empire in Beechworth. This heritage hotel was around in the days of the Kelly Gang and has an interesting anecdote connecting it to the Kelly story. Following the murder of Aaron Sherritt, his widow Belle and her mother Ellen were lodging in The Empire. Aaron’s inquest had been held in The Vine (no longer in existence, and definitely not the one in Wangaratta) and the pair had stayed on in Beechworth long enough to see Ned Kelly arrive for his committal. Having been convalescing in the hospital in Melbourne Gaol, he had been deemed fit enough for transportation to Beechworth via train. When being taken from the station to the gaol by buggy, he was taken past The Empire where he saw two women watching him from the balcony. He tipped his hat to them in a conspicuous show of gentlemanly behaviour, perhaps unaware that it was his machinations that had led to the brutal slaying of the husband and son-in-law of the two women he was saluting.
Dining at The Empire was exquisite. Food and drink were top notch, and the service equally as commendable. That night we were the only ones in the building, which should have meant a nice, quiet stay. However, there were other occupants that were not keen on staying quiet — occupants who were not of the physical world. Disembodied footsteps and the sound of objects being shifted or dropped was pervasive throughout the night, though we did get some shut-eye. It should be added that the rooms at The Empire are nice and cosy with very comfortable beds, so if you’re looking for a place to stay, give them a look-in (the ghosts don’t cost extra).
The next morning after an obligatory visit to the Beechworth Bakery, we headed to the Beechworth Cemetery so that Georgina could pay her respects to Aaron Sherritt. While there I tracked down the grave of John Watt. Watt was the proprietor of the Wooragee Hotel on the outskirts of Beechworth. One night he answered the door of the pub to reveal three bushrangers who ordered him to bail up. Rather than comply, Watt turned to head back inside. One of the bandits shot him in the back, then they fled. It took Watt over a week to die from his wound. Subsequently, two of the bushrangers, James Smith and Thomas Brady, were hanged in Beechworth Gaol for the murder.
Upon leaving the cemetery, we began the journey into New South Wales. Our prior search for accommodation had led us to a motel in Gumly Gumly, just outside the city of Wagga Wagga. The accommodation was nice enough for the price, however our neighbours weren’t exactly the quiet type. One couldn’t help find some amusement in their loud interrogation as to whether their companions were “giving wristies” while blaring Spotify over a Bluetooth speaker right in front of our door. In fairness, they did apologise when they realised that it was actually people they had seen park and enter the room they were in front of and not a very potent hallucination.
For the next few days we were right in the heart of the territory connected to Dan Morgan and Captain Moonlite. After so many visits to Kelly Country, it was great to finally be immersing myself in other bushranger stories. The only major drawback was the threat of fire. Following prolonged drought, much of New South Wales was suffering from their worst bushfires in living memory. Though the region we were exploring was safe, one couldn’t help but think about the beleaguered fireys battling the blazes further north on the other side of the Blue Mountains. Driving through the lower portion of the state and seeing how bone dry it was and how wispy the vegetation looked, it did not take much imagination to picture it going up like a celluloid girdle on bonfire night. With the anniversary of the Wantabadgery Siege, there are no prizes for guessing where was first on the list of locations.
Wantabadgery is a small town between Wagga Wagga and Gundagai that is mostly farmland and built on a mix of steep hills and flat pasture. It was here in November 1879 that Andrew George Scott would seal his name in infamy. Having been the target of police harassment since his release from prison earlier in the year, Scott had decided to seek his fortune in New South Wales. Venturing out on foot from the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy with his companion James Nesbitt, Scott soon added Frank Johns, August Wernicke and Thomas Rogan to the mix. A few miles outside of Wantabadgery they convinced a swaggie named Graham Bennett to join them and from there they continued on to Wantabadgery station, which Scott had been told would provide them food, shelter and possibly work. When they got there they were made to wait outside for two hours to see the superintendent, who simply told them to go away. On that day 140 years ago it was cloudy and raining, but when we were there the heat was unrelenting, as were the flies. Despite the difference in climate, the immersion was easy. The terrain doesn’t appear to have altered much all these decades after the fact. It is very easy to picture the bushrangers huddled among the boulders on the outskirts of Wantabadgery station, trying to get some sleep after being turned away.
The first stop for us was the Webb-Bowen memorial (“The hero of Wantabadgery”), which is the only real public acknowledgement of the bushranging event in Wantabadgery. The result of a wonderful community effort to honour the fallen officer, it features a metal sculpture by Max Burmeister and artworks by locals that portray Webb-Bowen as something of a pop culture figure (I personally really love the Warhol inspired piece on display there and would like to see that become a poster of some description). A simplified map is on display to indicate the significant spots in the area related to the events, which gives a decent indication of where to go and came in handy. It would have been nice to see some signage at the relevant sites akin to those placed at locations pertaining to the Ned Kelly story, but it is understandable that more of an effort hadn’t been made to draw attention to these places in that manner, especially as these are still working farms. Regardless of where you go that is connected to the Moonlite story, there is almost no acknowledgment of it or only a vague understanding of it. Captain Moonlite does not bring tourists into towns like Ned Kelly does, unfortunately.
Wantabadgery Station is currently a working cattle farm, concerned with raising black Angus, and by all accounts they do a very good job of it. No doubt they occasionally get visitors asking to see the homestead the Moonliters bailed up in 1879, but on this occasion I decided it was better to be more respectful than simply rocking up and asking to have a sticky beak. It must be remembered that a great many of the sites associated with bushranger stories are on private property, especially in the Riverina where bushrangers preferred to raid farms rather than rob mail coaches. One day, perhaps, I’ll pluck up the courage to get a look at the farm, but until then I must be satisfied with having stood at the gate, much as Moonlite and his boys did while waiting to see Percy Baynes.
McGlede’s farm was the location of the final shootout between the gang and police. While a gunfight had occurred at Wantabadgery station, there were no casualties. When a combined troop of police from Wagga Wagga and Gundagai intercepted the gang at the McGlede selection, however, a deadly battle ensued. It was here that James Nesbitt and Gus Wernicke were killed, and Constable Webb-Bowen was mortally wounded. There is nothing left of the selection now apart from the land. There are no signs pointing to it or seemingly anything at all to indicate the site. I stopped to ask some locals if they knew where to find it and they merely stared at me with the vaguely confused look cows usually give humans (Georgina did not find my bovine interrogation a-moo-sing). Having to be satisfied with having gone to the approximate location, the decision was made to head for Gundagai, where hopefully at least one of us might get enough phone reception to plot our return trip. I annoyed Georgina greatly by cranking up Slim Dusty’s version of “The Road to Gundagai” as we approached the town. It was a place that I had wanted to visit ever since I was a little boy. Some of my family members had visited back in the ’90s and brought us back souvenirs related to the statue of Dad and Dave, Mum and Mabel. It became something of an ambition of mine to see the real deal myself. It wasn’t hard to find exactly what I had sought for so long. The statue is right next to the visitor centre. The familiar shapes of the popular Steele Rudd characters immediately caught my eye. We parked and walked down to the statue. It was incredible to see these strange, almost malformed figures looming over me with hollow eyes. The statue was far bigger than I had imagined, and far more detailed. It’s original location when unveiled in the 1970s was opposite the statue of The Dog on the Tuckerbox (more on that later), but in 2005 it was relocated to the reserve next to the info centre. The connection to Gundagai comes from the old radio series of Dad and Dave of Snake Gully that used the song “The Road to Gundagai” at the beginning of each episode. To get a sense of Australian culture from the turn of the century, I recommend getting your hands on some form of media pertaining to Dad and Dave. I think Dad and Dave: On Our Selection, starring Leo McKern and Geoffrey Rush in the title roles, is a great way to get an introduction to the quirky world of the Rudd family.
One of the best and newest attractions in Gundagai is the statue of Yarri and Jacky Jacky. These two courageous men are hugely important in the history of the town and more than deserving of such a beautiful sculpture to commemorate them. In the 1850s Gundagai was first founded on the flood plains of the Murrumbidgee river. Of course, the local Wiradjuri people had warned the whites about the risk of flooding; after all, the name of the place came from a word in the local dialect meaning “big water”. In 1852 the area was subjected to a catastrophic flood, destroying homes and leaving many people stranded amongst the gurgling floodwaters. Seeing that the people needed assistance, Jacky Jacky and Yarri led a rescue mission, riding out in bark canoes with other Wiradjuri men into the torrent to rescue survivors, saving 69 people. 89 of the 250 settlers perished in the flood, which left only three buildings intact when things settled. It is hard to say anything to adequately emphasise or exaggerate what is already an incredible turn of events. Happily, the statue stands in front of a series of information panels that describe Gundagai’s history. More effort needs to be made to highlight these stories of unity from our history, but this is a good start.
Antique shops have always been attractive to me, most likely because of my Dad’s hobby of looking for a bargain in any obscure place he came across. A collector of items ranging from ceramic horses to Inuit soapstone carvings, he played a big part in my fascination with collecting. Naturally, the moment I saw what appeared to be a decent collection of vintage knick-knacks I had to poke my head in. Beyond the rows of vintage clothing and antiques in Junque and Disorderly, a creaky staircase led up to the Gabriel Gallery, a collection of photography from the turn of the century by Dr. Charles Gabriel. The images were a fascinating look at the history of Gundagai and portrayed a vibrant community at the dawn of Federation. Of course, as is the way with basically every museum, big or small, there was one very unique part of the collection. In this case it was a walking stick and letters belonging to Henry Lawson, the great bush poet. If you have an interest in photography or early federal Australian history, the Gabriel Gallery is a great attraction to visit in Gundagai.
After a brief rest to have a cool drink, we decided it was time we headed for the gaol. Gundagai Gaol is located on a steep incline behind the courthouse and is only accessible on a tour, which you can book in the information centre. The blistering heat proved not to be very conducive to getting up the hill without becoming out of breath, but it was good to tick off the list, even though we didn’t go in. The gaol consists of two small buildings around the size of camp dormitories, and was the location where the Moonliters were held after their capture. The courthouse being so close to the gaol meant that it was no effort to have a quick walk around the outside on the way back down the hill from the gaol. The courthouse is a handsomely designed and built structure that operates very rarely, but is still a functional courthouse. It was the place where the Moonliters were committed for trial, which would take place in the Supreme Court in Sydney.
We geared ourselves up for a visit to the local museum but a makeshift sign informed us that the opening hours had changed and we would not be getting in this particular day. Unfortunate, but not unexpected. The itinerary was subsequently shifted around and we made way for the cemetery. By this stage I was glad to be taking advantage of the air conditioning in the car. Throughout the trip the temperature rarely dipped below 30°C.
The Gundagai Cemetery was a little way out of town but worth the visit. It is the one location that makes an effort to signpost anything connected to Captain Moonlite. The cemetery is surprisingly vast and open and the ground rock hard from the rigorous drought that has plagued the region. The monument marking the resting place of Senior Constable Webb-Bowen is hardly inconspicuous and juts out of the smattering of squat and crumbling grave markers, gleaming white. Next to it is the far more humble headstone belonging to Sergeant Edmund Parry who was killed by Johnny Gilbert in 1864. To see two officers of high esteem next to each other in such a way is just brilliant for the die-hard bushranger buffs.
To find Moonlite’s grave one must trek further uphill to the back of the cemetery. Here you will find a large rock with a plaque on it marking the resting place of the notorious preacher. Were it not for the seating heat and the incessant flies, the moment would have been quite profound – after all, this was my first time visiting the resting place of one of my favourite historical figures. I left a copy of my article about Wantabadgery on the grave, both as a sign of respect to Scott and his mates as well as the police, but also so that people that visited after us could learn something about the reason why the grave was significant enough to earn signage. I should point out that Scott would be fairly chuffed at being in such a prime location in the cemetery, looking down on the rest of the graves from beneath the shade. It was very rewarding to have finally connected with these historical figures.
The Dog on the Tuckerbox statue is a must-see if you are in Gundagai. This humble canine has become an icon ever since its unveiling in 1939. Inspired by a poem about a bullocky who is having a bad day, the statue depicts a cattle dog perched on a tuckerbox and is mounted on a plinth in a little pool. Recently the statue was vandalised but was quickly repaired and put back on his pride of place. There are some ruins adjoining the courtyard that used to be hotels for travellers going through the region, and there is a cafe where you can get a bite to eat and a Dog on the Tuckerbox souvenir. One of the more unexpected sights in this location is a cubist statue of folk musician Lazy Harry. Long time Kelly buffs will be well acquainted with Lazy Harry from his album about Ned Kelly, which has been on loop in Glenrowan for several decades.
After our jaunt through Moonlite country, we headed into Junee for a day without the focus being on bushrangers. Though Junee was on Ben Hall’s beat and was the location of a store his gang robbed multiple times, we had something else in mind.
Junee itself is quiet and pleasant, with easy to navigate streets. It wasn’t difficult to find the Licorice and Chocolate Factory, a huge brick building surrounded by gardens and gravel car parks. We were greeted by the sound of live music wafting as we walked into the premises. There were statues of sheep and dogs, the meaning of which were somewhat lost on us, and we made our way inside. Crossing through the cafe, we reached the factory where many warm and tasty smells lingered in the air – the rich aroma of chocolate mingling with the tang of licorice. There was not much to see through the big windows that kept the onlookers separated from the equipment on this day, but it would be interesting enough if we were on a guided tour, which the television display was obviously a part of. We went upstairs and looked at the homewares and knick-knacks, noting the beautiful writing sets and kitchenware. There was a lot of cast iron pieces as well, which were quite nice. We went back to the cafe and had hot chocolates, which were delicious and creamy. Georgina bought Orange Whiskey Marmalade, and although we didn’t buy any chocolate for fear it would simply melt in the heat, there was a lot of items we would have snapped up (though the chocolate boobs – yes, that’s a thing – were not on that list).
Monte Cristo is one of the most spooky and well-known attractions in New South Wales and probably the best known thing in Junee. Billed as Australia’s most haunted homestead, it dates back to the mid-1870s and has many spooky stories attached to it. Restored from essentially ruins by Reg and Olive Ryan, the homestead is an impressive example of late-Victorian/early-Edwardian architecture. Though the buildings are starting to look a little shabbier than in the glory days after the restoration, one can appreciate the degree of work that went into essentially rebuilding the place. While I had believed that the property must have been remote, it turns out that Monte Cristo is right in the heart of Junee, making it super easy to find.
Though the place dates from later than the height of bushranging in the area, one can still imagine how the Crawleys who owned the property might have responded to news that the Kelly Gang and the Moonliters were close by in the late 1870s. Of course, the one thing everyone wants to experience at Monte Cristo is the paranormal, and if you’re open to it you won’t be disappointed. I personally witnessed a man’s shadow moving in “the boy’s room” when nobody was in there, and there were plenty of weird vibes in certain rooms. The Dairy Room is the most disturbing part of the property. Both Georgina and I entered thinking it looked nice and cozy, but that quickly changed. For me it struck when I realised the chain looped through a hole in the wall was not for locking the door. See, it was in this room that an intellectually disabled boy was restrained by a chain in that same spot, resulting in the extreme wear and tear on the bricks. In fact he had been in there, restrained, when his mother died of heart failure right in front of him and left there for days before someone went to investigate. It was in this building also that a caretaker was murdered by a local youth who allegedly was inspired to kill after watching the movie Psycho.
One must be careful not to let the spooky reputation get the better of you, as we almost gave a visitor a heart attack when he came past the original homestead and saw Georgina and I taking the weight off our feet on a bench. Certainly the place could have done without all the Halloween decorations everywhere, most of which appeared to have been left partly taken down. In the courtyard between the servants’ quarters and the ballroom were two old hearses filled with plastic skeletons. It cheapened the vibe of the place considerably. A recent addition to the site is the Doll Museum, which I knew we had to do as soon as I saw it. Though only a small building, the collection is huge and very impressive. The horror section should appeal to many visitors with replicas of Annabelle and Chucky in glass cabinets. There’s even a Ned Kelly doll in the mix. Seriously, Ned is everywhere!
When our time in Wagga Wagga was at an end, it was time to head back towards the border. Of course, the Riverina was the home to many notorious bushrangers – Dan Morgan, Blue Cap, Harry Power – but our next stop put us in a key location in the Kelly story. Jerilderieis not far from the border, but it isn’t exactly the kind of place you would go to unless you had a specific reason to, and you would be able to see the attractions in an afternoon. While trucks rumble through it at all hours, there is hardly any other traffic, and the place is so small that it really isn’t hard to understand how easy it was for the Kelly Gang to keep essentially the whole town prisoner in the pub. Alas, such is life where many of these old country towns are concerned, as infrastructure has frequently bypassed many of them, leading to isolation and a reduction in the strength of the local economy. A town like Jerilderie could definitely use the cash injection that tourism would bring, but the lack of tourism has led to many of the tourist attractions becoming little more than dots on a map. It’s a “catch 22”.
By the time we arrived, the heat was fairly intolerable. We stayed in Ned’s Studio Apartment, which was a really lovely spot. With its close proximity to everything the town offers as well as its own amenities enabling us to cook and clean our clothes, it was a perfect base during our stay. There was only one downside. At first we didn’t make much of the fact that the water tasted strange but when we washed our clothes and they smelled like they had been washed in a swimming pool we knew something was up. Sure enough, a bit of Googling revealed that Jerilderie has an issue with chlorine in the water supply. While easy to get around, it’s the kind of thing that is helpful to be aware of in advance and the sort of thing you don’t find out about unless you specifically look for information about it.
After our arrival in town, we stopped in at the Royal Mail Hotel, where the Kelly Gang had kept their prisoners while they robbed the bank. In 1879, this building was attached to the bank, which is now the location of a motor mechanic shop, and this feature proved useful to the Kellys. While Dan Kelly kept the prisoners guarded in what is now a dining room, Joe Byrne walked next door to the bank via a rear passage and began the work of robbing it. Where once Ned Kelly gave a speech about the circumstances of his life that led him to become an outlaw, now stand inactive arcade machines and dining tables. The walls are decorated with a mix of historical photos and framed photocopies of images from Ned Kelly: A Short Life. As Georgina had a whiskey and I unwound from driving through kilometres of parched New South Welsh farmland, the other patrons comprised entirely of a man of around his late thirties and his friend who was a “little person”. The pair added a bit of life to the bar. Perhaps we just went in at the wrong time, seeing as that night when we went there for dinner the bar room was full of men knocking back beers after a hard day’s work.
After settling in at the accommodation, we decided to take a quick look around town. It soon became apparent that when reports described Ned Kelly and Constable Richards going through the streets so Ned could make a mental map of the town, it wasn’t quite as much effort as one might imagine. Where the gang’s plot unfolded was in a small section in the heart of the town.
The old printing shop that was run by Gill, the newspaper editor, was only a short distance away from the hotel. Gill was the man Ned Kelly wanted to publish his letter. At some stage the place had been turned into a museum but there was no way in as the place was locked up and left alone, though a peek in the windows showed there were displays set up inside still. No doubt there would have been interesting things to see in the museum had it ever opened, but alas it was another closed door to add to the list.
The Traveller’s Rest is situated in the street behind the council building, right by a giant windmill. This was the location of the infamous incident wherein Steve Hart took a watch from Reverend Gribble. Gribble complained to Ned Kelly, who in turn made Steve return the watch. It was also here that Ned had his last drinks before heading home after the bank robbery. It is said that he placed his pistol on the bar and said in his typical braggadocio fashion, “There is my gun. Anyone can take it and shoot me; but if you do, Jerilderie will drown in its own blood.”
The telegraph office is probably the most iconic building in Jerilderie, owing to its very conspicuous signage stating its connection to the Kelly story. In the past it was open for visitors but now remains closed. A peek through the windows reveals not only the huge cracks in the walls, but also the few exhibits that have been left out to gather dust, the plaque on the wall in the main room and a bunch of boxes and crates that were evidently used for packing up items in the building. There is also a plastic box out front that presumably used to contain maps or pamphlets of some kind, but is now empty. I left a printout of my article on Jerilderie in the box for a visitor to collect with the intention that it could help set the scene as they explored the town.
The old blacksmith shop was where Joe Byrne took the gang’s horses to be shod. No longer publicly accessible, in previous years it was able to be explored for $2, and a radio interview with Andrew Nixon, one of the smithies that worked there when the gang visited, would play in the background to set the scene. Now, apart from the Kelly trail signage there is nothing to indicate the historical significance of the building.
Jerilderie’s information centre doubles as a lolly shop, appropriately dubbed Sticky Fingers. In a back room you can get information about the town and surrounding areas, while in the main entrance you can buy souvenirs and lollies. As well as getting maps and useful tips, I procured some sweet treats to enjoy. The souvenirs are the usual Kelly fare with Jerilderie slapped on where otherwise it would say “Glenrowan” or “Beechworth” or whatever town the things were to represent. It would be great to have something to purchase that reflected Jerilderie specifically, but sometimes you have to be satisfied with what you have on offer.
A little further out is the site of the old police complex, where once stood the barracks, stables and lock-up. All that remains is the stables, and what I took to be the adjoining lock-up cell, but the printed sheet that explained the building was long rotted by the elements so it wasn’t exactly easy to find the info. Road works were being undertaken at the site so we had to dodge earth moving vehicles as we headed up to the stables. There is something strangely poetic about the dilapidated state of the building, excepting the recently installed guttering. It was here that the Kelly Gang had their base of operations in the town after locking the police up in the cell. The original police station is long gone, now a big empty patch of dirt marks where the police station used to be.
As was becoming a recurring theme in our travels, we started our days in town at the bakery. The food is good, the prices reasonable and the service friendly. The mural of notable figures from the town’s history was certainly… unique. Now, at the risk of sounding perhaps a smidge insensitive, I am used to seeing wall murals that adhere to artistic conventions like balance in the layout and verisimilitude in the portraits. Evidently some degree of effort went into the portraits, but there’s something odd about seeing a depiction of Joe Byrne with what looks like an advanced case of Proteus syndrome. Fortunately around the corner is a nice little exhibit of items found on the site, including a shortened Martini Henry rifle that may have been dropped by one of the trooopers that went to the town from Victoria in search of the gang. Out the back there is also a big statue of Ned Kelly made from bread tins, which I quite liked. It gave me a few little flashbacks to my short-lived baker apprenticeship seeing all those tins.
After a short stay in Jerilderie, it was time to hit the road again. I made the executive decision to pass through Culcairn so that I could get a chance to see some key sites related to Dan Morgan. We stopped for brunch at the Culcairn Bakery and had some of the best, freshest food we had had the entire trip. Honestly, it was tempting to linger in town a bit longer, but we had places to be and things to see.
Just outside of town is the grave of John McLean, the stockman who has the dubious honour of being the first man murdered by Dan Morgan. After Morgan had drunkenly fired his pistol into a crowd of captives at Round Hill Station, a local squatter named John Heriot had been badly wounded when a bullet struck his leg. McLean had gotten Morgan’s permission to fetch a doctor, but Morgan’s accomplices convinced him that McLean was going for the police instead. When Morgan ordered McLean to stop and the man continued riding, Morgan shot him. He took McLean back to the station and stayed with him all night. McLean died soon after and even though the grave by the side of the road has a big sign next to it to tell the story, it is in fact a fake grave. The real grave is actually several hundred metres away by Round Hill Station.
Round Hill Station is another example of a bushranger site that has continued to thrive beyond its infamous past. Now billed as Round Hill Homestead, it is both a farm and a perfect place for functions such as weddings. As with Wantabadgery Station, I elected not to go wandering in uninvited, satisfied with knowing I had been to the spot, more or less, where Morgan went from just another highwayman to Morgan the Murderer.
The brief spell outside the car saw me swarmed with flies and seriously wishing I had one of those hats with the corks hanging off the brim. I happily shooed the last of them out of the car before we headed off towards Walla Walla.
Morgan’s Lookout was one of the few things on the list that I had positioned as a must. Located on the outskirts of Culcairn, northwest of Walla Walla, the lookout is essentially a collection of huge boulders where Dan Morgan is believed to have made a camp so he could monitor the movements of police and potential victims from afar. There is no admission fee and it opens from sunrise to sunset. By the time we arrived the heat was blistering and the moment we stood outside it hit like opening a preheated oven. It appeared that some effort had been made to create a set of signs detailing the history and ecology of the location. Walking through the huge boulders was incredible. You could easily imagine Morgan sleeping inside the overhangs or lurking between the rocks, ready to pounce. A steel staircase allowed access to the top of the largest boulder. On the way around we met another visitor that was taking photographs – the only other living soul at the spot at the time. The hike up the stairs was almost as breathtaking as the view from the top of the lookout; once up on the platform you realise just how far Morgan would have been able to see. For what seemed thousands of miles around, everything was dry, mostly flat and yellow. It was easy to see how an enterprising bushranger would find the viewpoint useful. Unfortunately the weather proved intolerable and we headed back to the car quicker than originally intended. Once inside our conveyance we spent five or more minutes trying to get the flies out before resuming the trip.
We returned over the border much earlier than originally planned due to a decision to power through to Beechworth. This decision may have proved to have been wise given that only an hour or so after passing back through Wodonga we heard news of fires breaking out in Albury. Once we were back in Victoria we were relieved to once again see hills and the colour green. The trip was slowed considerably by road works, but hopefully soon there will be nice new road surfaces for drivers in the area. When we finally made it to Beechworth we checked in at the George Kerferd Hotel. This lavish accommodation, especially in comparison to our previous lodgings, is situated within the grounds of the former lunatic asylum (somewhat appropriate, some may say, for someone such as I). That night we indulged in Chinese food from the Chinese Village Restaurant. Georgina probably wouldn’t have felt the trip was complete without having done so at least once.
One of the best things to do in Beechworth is to explore the darker side by going on a ghost tour of the old lunatic asylum. As an enthusiast of all things paranormal, this came highly recommended and did not disappoint. Our original plan to walk from the accommodation was vetoed by our disinclination to walk after our dinner. This proved a wise decision as the asylum grounds are deceptively huge. The winding road to where the tours operate was suitably eerie as night closed in and a light drizzle began. The Asylum Ghost Tours signs, with their ominous bloody handprints, led us to the Bijou Theatre from where the tour would begin. The theatre is decked out with a mix of historical medical paraphernalia and ghostly themed decorations of questionable taste, but you can buy merchandise from there either before or after the tour. I bought a copy of the book Palace of Broken Dreams, which is an interesting read and details the history of the site. Our guide Bronwen was excellent, leading us through the buildings and recounting the history, both earthly and otherworldly, clearly and without any forced theatricality. It should be noted that this is not one of those tacky tours where you’re led into darkened rooms where some git in a Halloween costume will jump out and scare people. No, this tour lets the history and the location do all the work. As for paranormal experiences, both Georgina and I experienced things on the tour. For myself, I saw what appeared to be a young boy with a shaved head trying to hide behind some cars parked outside of what was at one stage an arts room, as well as hearing the voice of an older male in an empty room as we entered the complex where the nursery was housed. Throughout the tour, our guide was gracious in answering questions. My inclination during such tours is always to dig deeper where possible and Bronwen demonstrated that she was intimately acquainted with the place and the entities therein, as much as the history side of things, which was very impressive. Ultimately I would rate this tour extremely highly and recommend it for anyone with an interest in the paranormal or even just in the history of medicine in Australia.
One of the important things we had to do while in the region was visit the El Dorado Museum for a meeting. Georgina’s work on An Outlaw’s Journal has led to a very close relationship with the museum as they are in the process of updating their collections and displays. As small local museums go, El Dorado is a beauty. Their collection ranges through all sorts of history from the colonial era to militaria and even geology. Our work with the museum at present is super secret, but Georgina took the opportunity to give the museum a beta copy of the book she has been working on about the El Dorado cow that Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt stole. As usual, it was a fruitful meeting and an absolute pleasure to meet the committee with whom we look forward to working with in future.
As in previous visits, we went to the Beechworth Courthouse, where many infamous faces had their day in court. Recently restoration works were performed in parts of the building and the historical books in the library were treated to prevent any creepy crawlies from making a meal out of them. The courtroom is basically unchanged from the era that saw members of the Kelly gang and their families on trial there and there are some very interesting exhibits. The staff are friendly and happy to have a chat about the building and its history, and even though I’ve heard the spiel a half dozen times it never gets dull.
We also made a trip to theBurke Museum, where they are doing refurbishment to a portion of the interior where the Chinese collection is housed. The Chinese artifacts are one of the most important collections in the museum, owing to the cultural significance both to the Beechworth community and the Chinese in equal measure, many of whom travel to Beechworth specifically to connect with their heritage. In light of this, I purchased a set of postcards with illustrations depicting frontier life for the Chinese featuring artwork by Andrew Swift. We were privileged enough to get a look through some of the historical photographs in their archives in search of sites connected to Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go back and get copies as intended. The team at the museum are friendly, enthusiastic and very helpful if you are looking for assistance in your research.
We also went to the Ned Kelly Vault, one of Beechworth’s best attractions. The small building houses the best singular collection of Kelly related relics in the world, spanning the whole story and it’s cultural influences. As a big enthusiast of film, it is always a hoot to see armour worn by Mick Jagger, John Jarratt and Heath Ledger on display, among the various other exciting items such as Ann Jones’ table, helmets and weapons used by Victoria Police, and a range of photos of people involved in the story, including an image purporting to show Ned and Dan Kelly prior to their outlawry (which can only be viewed in a specially constructed box). The volunteer-run museum has thousands of people going through its doors every year and hopefully things will continue to grow.
Another spot we visited in Beechworth was the remnants of the old hospital. Essentially, all that remains of the busy frontier hospital is the stonework from the front wall. As impressive as it is, there is something rather melancholy in the absence of the rest of the building, but that’s progress for you. Once upon a time, this would have been bustling with nurses and doctors going about their duties, attending to patients from the town and the goldfields. Now, it’s just a bunch of carved stone leading onto an empty lot.
The following day we started with a trip to the El Dorado Pottery, a favourite of mine. After making a few purchases, we headed through the Woolshed Valley. Although the speed limit along the trail is 100km p/h, the road is covered in fine dust and gravel – not exactly prime conditions in case of a need to stop suddenly at top speed. We briefly stopped at Reedy Creek so Georgina could dip her toes in the water. As we were leaving there were already locals coming down in their swimmers to cool off. It’s a beautiful spot to have a swim and no doubt Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt did as much back in the day. As we continued, we stopped at the site of the Sebastopol Flats, where Joe Byrne used to work and socialise with the Chinese. Georgina made a series of videos for her Facebook page covering aspects of the story related to the locations we were visiting, the last of which was The Devil’s Elbow, where Aaron Sherritt lived at the time of his murder. The trail is conveniently signposted throughout and you can read up on the history as you go. Unfortunately there is not a lot of structures left to see, so the signs do a fantastic job of explaining what things were there and their significance.
We then made our way back to Beechworth where we managed to get in on a tour through the Beechworth Gaol. Despite some factual inaccuracies on this occasion that only big nerds like myself would pick up on, the tour was lively and engaging. The gaol itself is in excellent condition, owing to the fact that it was only fifteen years ago that it was decommissioned. If you are in Beechworth, try and get on the tour, which operates twice daily. There are many links to not only the Kelly Gang (all of whom had served time there), but also more recent high-profile criminals such as Squizzy Taylor and Carl Williams. To drive home the Kelly connection, a set of dummies dressed in replica armour stands between the corridors of cells. For some reason Joe Byrne’s helmet had been swapped with a second Dan Kelly helmet, but not everyone is as pedantic enough to notice as I am. Hopefully there will be more attractions at the gaol soon to encourage visitors beyond the tour, but as in all things it requires money and time, which is often in short supply these days.
That night we returned to the Beechworth Gaol for an evening hunting for ghosts. The Beechworth Gaol is the location of the four hour long paranormal investigations hosted by Danni from Paranormal Prospectors. Entering the gaol with the lights off, after dark, was a confronting experience itself, but this was heightened by the fact that the electronic temperature gauge that had been set up in the aisle of the male cell block appeared to be floating when we entered, though it may have been an optical illusion caused by the dramatic change in lighting. Regardless of whether or not it was, this has to be hands down the single most paranormally active place I’ve ever been. We got EVPs, Georgina was poked in the back by a disembodied finger (with an EVP capturing a voice describing exactly that), the laser grid was manipulated to go brighter and duller, there were intelligent responses where whistling patterns were being repeated by a disembodied voice in various points in the prison, there were disembodied footsteps, and intelligent responses on the spirit box. One of the most incredible things was the table tipping, where the group lightly rested their fingertips on the edge of a small table and it began to tilt and spin. It spun so fast we were all running in a circle and it tipped so intensely it fell over several times, and yet nobody was gripping the table at all – I have no conventional explanation for it. Overall, it was absolutely exhilarating to experience and as a ghost buff I feel like I definitely got my money’s worth.
On the return trip we popped into the Beechworth Galleries, where we examined the bric-a-brac and marvelled at the welded sculptures. The statues, of which a considerable number depicted Ned Kelly in armour, are made by a South African artist and range from the whimsical to the absolutely astounding. Any garden or deck would be immediately improved by having one of these amazing artworks on display there – just don’t ask me how you’ll get a life-size elk made of steel home. A keen observer might recognise the artist’s work on display outside of the Billy Tea Rooms in Glenrowan.
We also made sure to visit Glenrowan. For me, this is where it all began in 1998 during a stop on the way to Beechworth for my grade six school camp. Of course, in some ways it was a very different place back then. For one, back then Bob Hempel was still fit enough to charge out of the animated theatre ringing a bell to attract visitors whenever a session was due to begin. Nowadays, he’s far more subdued but you still hear the crack of the “gunfire” echoing through the main strip to remind you of the attraction’s presence. Kate’s Cottage hasn’t really changed, though the pet birds are dead now and the re-created Kelly house is starting to sag like an under-baked cake, but they still play Lazy Harry on loop, and you can still get your Ned Kelly tea towels and ciggie lighters from there. The site of the siege has recently had the stolen wooden replica of the inn sign replaced with a metal one that is hopefully harder to pinch, though the metal sculpture approximating Ned’s armour at the capture site has already had the helmet stolen, having been there for only around a month.
We had our brunch at the Vintage Hall Cafe, which is both a cafe and a shop that sells a mix of souvenirs and second hand items. It was here in 1970 that the Mick Jagger film had it’s Victorian premiere, and some local brainboxes decided to set off explosives around the building in protest (surprisingly this act did not somehow stop the film from existing). I managed to pick up a copy of the Monty Wedd Ned Kelly comic strip in a hardcover book, which was something I had been wanting for a long time. Then Georgina and I did our usual trip to Kate’s Cottage to browse the books. If you’ve got a decent wad of cash on you, you can pick up some really great titles from the range of second-hand books. I was very tempted by a number of the titles but decided to save up. Then it was a quick sojourn at the Billy Tea Rooms, which provide a lovely spot to have a bite to eat. We walked to the site of the siege where we had a moment of contemplating. It probably would have been longer than a moment if it wasn’t so hot that we could feel our skin baking.
After this we made our way to Greta to visit the cemetery, but ended up going to Moyhu and buying a fake plant centrepiece because we couldn’t find anywhere nearby that we could get flowers from. The volunteers that have been working to maintain and upgrade the facilities in the cemetery have done exemplary work and it is a pity that more of the smaller country cemeteries don’t get as much TLC. The Kelly graves are not marked, though with some research you can find out where the plots are. While many people complain that the graves are unmarked, it is very unlikely that it would make much of a difference. The marker at the gate is a tasteful memorial to the whole family, unified in the afterlife. Of course, having visited three quarters of the gang, we had to visit Joe Byrne one more time as we returned via Benalla (I doubt Georgina would have forgiven me if we hadn’t). From that point it was just a straight ride into the sunset on our way home where I hoped the cat hadn’t baked to death in my heat-trap of a house. Fortunately my mum had been an angel, as always, and made sure that the cat was looked after in my absence. By the time we got home we were both exhausted and decided that it was time to order a pizza now that we were somewhere that it would actually get delivered to.
It was indeed a very eventful trip. To experience the places where these incredible stories unfolded is always wonderful and exciting. It was good to see so much of the history preserved, but at the same time the amount of attractions that were poorly maintained or not maintained at all was disappointing. Australia’s heritage may not be full of Roman hippodromes or Greek amphitheatres, but what we do have is valuable and it is disheartening to see so much being lost because people either can’t afford to restore and maintain, or just can’t be bothered. Ideally, a town like Jerilderie could be thriving with frequent visitors coming through to visit the Kelly sites, if it wasn’t for the fact that they are so small and off the beaten track. Towns like Beechworth, in comparison, embrace their history and perhaps it could even be said that they take it for granted along with their accessibility due to proximity to the highway. It’s sad to see, but the reality is that it’s getting harder and harder to keep these things up and running in Australia, and these attractions will exist only as long as the people owning them are physically able to be there. Some young entrepreneur with a bit of cash behind them could revolutionise the tourism industry in bushranger country, but it would require real passion for the history as much as a fat bank account. These sites are our history and our culture and deserve to be maintained and cared for. Perhaps in the not too distant future, they will get the attention they need. Only time will tell.
One of the men involved in the story of Captain Moonlite is Thomas Williams, the alias of Frank Johns. Johns was the son of a pious Ballarat family who had been employed as a confectioner before engaging in a career of lawlessness. It was during this time that he severely injured himself, his left hand being crushed by a roller. The plunge into lawlessness was a massive shock to Johns’ family and the community as he had always been known as a quiet and well behaved young man. While living as a bushranger, Frank Johns assumed the pseudonym of Thomas Williams, which was the name of a childhood friend of his from Sunday school. Naturally the father of the real Thomas Williams was shocked to read of his son’s apparent involvement in bushranging, however a little relief came when the truth emerged.
After his capture at McGlede’s farm, Johns was severely clubbed with a revolver causing multiple injuries to his head. At the end of proceedings, all defendants were found guilty in the murder of Constable Webb-Bowen and sentenced to death. The statement that follows was written by Johns in an effort to set the record straight as he saw it. When the sentence was put before the executive council, as per the usual process, Johns and Graham Bennett had their death sentences commuted to long prison terms due to their youth and clean records. Andrew Scott and Thomas Rogan were not spared their appointment with the hangman however.
Sadly, Johns may have avoided execution over the death of Webb-Bowen, but he was later hanged after killing a fellow inmate in prison. ~AP
THE BENNETT CASE.
The following letter was addressed on July 2 to Mr. A. Campbell, M.L.C, by the convict Johns when under sentence of death:
‘I write at a gallop, without any premeditation a plain unvarnished statement of the truth. We met Bennett about eight miles from Gundagai, at a traveller’s hut on a station. He was alone, and told us he was on the tramp looking for work. In the course of conversation the Kelly gang was mentioned. He said that rather than do as they had done, or act dishonestly for a living, he would starve. Scott asked him what he thought of Moonlight — that is, himself. He said he heard but very little of him, but that little was enough to convince him that Scott was a villain.
The next morning (we all camped at the hut that night), he decided to come with us, little knowing on what errand Scott was. In the course of the day Bennett happened to catch a sight of Scott’s revolver under his coat in a pouch. He asked him what it was for Scott told him a telescope. But Bennett seemed suspicious of us after this ; and I heard Scott remark to Nesbit that Bennett knew we were armed, and he thought it advisable to keep him with us. Shortly after this we came to the station (which we afterward stuck up), and being treated rather roughly by the superintendent, Scott determined, to be master for awhile. All this time Bennett knew nothing of us. We were five then, and Scott thought it advisable to get another man, so as to make six. No one then would then be alone, he said, but we could always be in twos when doing anything. Scott expressed his intention of asking Bennett to join us, and, if he refused, to compel him. He then turned to Bennett and showed him his revolvers, telling him that he was Moonlight, and intended to stick up the station. As near as I can remember he used these words then, ‘You must do one of two things, either join us of your own accord and we will all share alike, or you must join us by compulsion.’ What Bennett answered I cannot just recollect, but I know he seemed not to be capable of realising the situation.’ ****
When we went down to the Murrumbidgee River to wait for sight, or a favorable chance to attack the station he (Bennett) wandered once unnoticed for the moment — while we were engaged in getting rid of the superfluous contents of our swags — away from us a little down the river. Scott told me to go and bring him back at the point of the revolver, if he refused to come quietly. ****
He came back with me, evidently seeing it was useless attempting to escape from five persons with arms. He came to the station with us. Scott instructed each of us to keep an eye on him, in case of what he called treachery. ****
I am perfectly certain that he did not shoot Bowen, for the ball found in the wound was fired from a Colt’s revolver (so it was proved by an expert in court), and the only men who had such revolvers were Scott and Nesbit. I know it was reported that Bennett shot Bowen ; but I don’t believe it. There was a favorite Colt’s revolver of Scott’s which I noticed did not appear in any of the courts after the affair.
I thought at the time, and still think, that Scott probably shot the man and then then threw this revolver away into one of the paddocks about. ****
Had justice been given Bennett he would have been discharged. Let the poor fellow go now. ****
On a stormy November night, six rumpled figures try to shelter inside swags. The grey woollen blankets that trap the rapidly depleting warmth from the quivering bodies are hardly protected by the oilskin sheets that form a waterproof crust and are heavy with rain water. One figure alone remains upright as rain pelts down in sheets. The darkness obscures his features beneath the curled brim of a drab coloured felt hat. As clouds shift and briefly allow light in from the moon, the man’s pale blue eyes seem to blaze. There’s a wild look about them, as if something animalistic were emerging. His normally sensual lips are tightened into a lupine snarl. He feels an ache in his limbs, old war wounds excited by the cold night air. Through the darkness, he stares with simmering rage at a handsome whitewashed homestead below him. The last plumes of smoke drift from the chimneys as the lamps are extinguished and the occupants retire to their beds to sleep in warmth and comfort. The amber glow fading in the windows mocks the men on the hill. It taunts them by leaving domestic comforts in plain view but frustratingly out of reach. The man with the lupine snarl fingers something in the folds of his threadbare coat, something hard and cold. His spidery fingers curl around the grip of a revolver. The walnut grip is unusually warm and inviting. It wants him to hold it, to feel its heft in his palm. He turns his gaze to the heavens. There is no moonlight visible in the night sky but on the ground is a different matter…
The story of the Wantabadgery siege is one of the most remarkable in bushranging history. There are equal measures of farce and horror, pathos and bathos. We see the figure of Andrew Scott/Captain Moonlite flip-flop between violent desperado and whimsical larrikin. There is a vibe that is reminiscent of the capers of bushrangers like Ben Hall and Bluecap and it reaches a peak with a gun battle wherein, miraculously, there was no bloodshed. Sadly, the same could not be said for what happened at McGlede’s farm afterwards, but here we will examine what happened at Wantabadgery Station on 15 November through to 17 November, 1879.
It is easy to dismiss the story of Andrew George Scott as not really being that of a “bushranger” at all. After all, he and his band of followers robbed no mail coaches, they didn’t gallop through the mountains on thoroughbred stallions waving pistols, and there were certainly no killings attributed to them prior to the clash at McGlede’s. The popular perception of what constitutes a “bushranger” is only really applicable to a small portion of people who fall under the banner. As one looks back through the stories of bushranging, even going back to the very beginning with Black Caesar in 1788, the common themes through them all are the rejection of society and a retreat to the wilderness. The romance of the bushranger comes from the idea that rejecting the confines of civilisation brings freedom, but the reality is naturally a far cry from that ideal. In the case of the Moonliters, as they will be referred to for the sake of brevity, they rejected society because they had all become outcasts in some aspect. In essence, they rejected the society that had rejected them. They were not bushmen seeking to return to their roots in the wilderness, they were the disenfranchised and discarded who has been beaten down by what referred to itself as civilised. In essence, what happened at Wantabadgery is a lesson about what happens when you push people too far and they go over the edge.
That night as exhaustion trumped his rage, Andrew Scott fell into a fitful slumber. His mind became a swirling Hibernian fog, with the spectres of his past lurching out at him. The echoes of his father’s sermons that he sat through as a boy in Rathfriland rolled around him as he recognised the smell of gunsmoke and a shadowy mound before him coagulated and morphed into the brassy-skinned body of a Maori warrior, a pool of crimson seeping out from under his outstretched arm. He saw the monolithic form of a poppet head looming from a mine at Mount Egerton and felt the chill of a winter in his former cell in Pentridge. All the while there was presence behind him pushing him deeper and deeper into the mist. He turned and came face to face with himself!
Andrew Scott had the most incredible fall from grace, going from a well educated high society man to a penniless tramp hawking the clothes off his back for enough money to buy bread. It all fell apart after he provided a suspicious alibi for the son of a Bacchus Marsh squatter who was up on stock theft charges. The following scandal resulted in the church sending him to fulfil his duties as lay reader in Mount Egerton. It was then that he became embroiled in the robbery of a bank. The evidence that supposedly linked him to the crime was flimsy and Scott would always protest his innocence. However, it was after moving to Sydney when an unpredictable chain of events saw him going to Fiji and agreeing to establish an agricultural company on an island there, before returning to Sydney and living the life of a debauched libertine off the money he was meant to be using on tools and supplies. His penchant for alcohol and pleasures of the flesh was out of control and he soon found himself in gaol over valueless cheques. He would spend the next decade of his life bouncing around prisons where he met James Nesbitt, which would be the trigger for him to sort his life out. When he was released in 1879 he decided to use his oratory prowess and his experience being at the mercy of the police and prisons to benefit others in the same predicament. His lecture tour on prison reform ground to a halt as police interfered and caused multiple performances to be shut down, which caused quite a stir among the press and public alike. Police would haul Scott and Nesbitt in on any crimes they could and this harassment saw Scott elect to leave the colony in the hope that he could find honest work north of the border, seeing as all he found in Victoria were closed doors. It seems to be indicative of the commonality of the disenfranchisement that he managed to gather a group of four to accompany him over the border.
James Nesbitt had met Scott in Pentridge while doing time for his involvement in a mugging and would soon become his partner in all things. It was left ambiguous as to whether their relationship had a romantic element, but there were enough hints in witness accounts and Scott’s own words and actions to indicate that there was indeed more to the pair than simply a platonic connection. Nesbitt was vital to keeping Scott going. Whether it was emotional support or taking care of Scott’s medical needs, Nesbitt was an attentive and devoted partner and Scott reciprocated in his own fashion.
Accompanying Scott and Nesbitt were Frank Johns alias Thomas Williams, a former confectioner with a crippled left hand who had joined Scott on his lecture tour as an assistant; and Gus Wernicke, a fifteen year old grocer’s assistant whose father had recently remarried to his aunt, with whom he had such an awful relationship that he ran away from home. As they travelled, they added Geelong native Thomas Rogan (alias Baker, alias Brown) to the mix. Rogan was a cobbler who had done two sentences for horse stealing and larceny served in Beechworth, Pentridge, Williamstown and Sandridge, but seemed keen to chuck his lot in with the gang and joined them near Sandhurst. It wasn’t until nearing the end of the journey that they adopted the impish Graham Bennett, who had been tramping the Riverina looking for work. The quintet had crossed paths with Bennett while he was residing in an abandoned hut on the edge of a farm. It didn’t take much pressuring to convince him to join them. However, by that time the group were starving, unkempt, broke and horrendously low on provisions. Their smart city clothes had been sold to get money for supplies and the men resembled animated scarecrows. Bennett began to grow edgy when he saw a pistol tucked under Scott’s coat in a pouch. Scott tried to convince him it was a telescope. The journey was gruelling and morale was at a low ebb when they reached the fabled Wantabadgery Station, desperate for a helping hand. Scott had been informed that here they could get work or at least food and shelter for the night.
Sunshine tickled the leaves around the boys as they arose from what slumber they had managed to snatch out of sheer exhaustion. Scott was already awake and standing to attention, the rage of the previous night still charging through his veins. Bennettapproached Scott with a miserable expression.
“I hope you won’t be offended, sir, but after last night I think I’ll be better off on the tramp alone as before.” Scott responded by brushing open his coat and showing the boy his revolver.
“I’m Captain Moonlite,” Bennett’s eyes widened and he stumbled slightly as Scott brandished the weapon. “You must do one of two things, either join us of your own accord and we will all share alike, or you must join us by compulsion.“
In the early 1860s, Dan Morgan had gained the nickname “the traveller’s friend”. His notoriety had struck fear into the hearts of the owners and superintendents of farms throughout the Riverina, which meant that they were all too afraid to refuse to help any scruffy looking swaggie that asked for assistance or work. If they refused, they risked raising the ire of Morgan, who was known to burn buildings on the farms of those he felt needed a comeuppance. However, Morgan had been killed in 1865 so his reputation no longer held any sway. Swaggies were frequently turned away or employed for little more reward than table scraps for dinner and the least mouldy hay in the barn as a bed. Sadly, desperation led many men, forced into itinerary habits by economic depression, to settle for whatever they could get. Unfortunately for the Moonliters, they had the additional headache of police dogging their movements and riding ahead of them into towns and farms to tell people not to employ them. In 1879, it didn’t matter if you had done your time in prison and paid your debt to society; the convict stain would determine the rest of your life and follow you everywhere, and it spread to all those who associated with you. For Scott, not only was he struggling, but he was responsible for the five young men who had followed him on foot from Fitzroy to Wantabadgery. It was his silver tongue, after all, that had lured them there. Hopes were high on Saturday, 15 November, but when they had been made to wait outside the homestead at Wantabadgery Station for two hours only to have the door slammed in their faces by Baynes, the superintendent, something inside Scott snapped. No work, no food, not even permission to sleep in the cowshed to stay out of the rain had been offered – the things he was promised were no more than words. For a former preacher, it must have been soul destroying to experience the milk of human kindness as little more than a fairytale. This made Scott a very dangerous man indeed. If there’s one thing history teaches us, it’s never make an enemy of a man with a gun and nothing to lose. That night as the boys slept on the hill overlooking the station, drenched by the rains, Scott plotted his revenge.
And therefore,–since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,–
I am determined to prove a villain,
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
– Richard III, Act 1, Scene 1
The young men spread out, each one armed with whatever firearm they could muster from the collection they had brought with them. Scott, now embracing the persona of Captain Moonlite, was armed with his Colt revolver and a Bowie knife. He tugged his beaten felt hat so that the brim shrouded his face in shadow. He stood up onto the verandah of Wantabadgery station, his crippled left foot making a scuffing, bumping sound as it dragged behind him along the boards. He balled his fist and thumped on the door. There was the sound of movement inside and the door opened slowly to reveal the station owner’s wife peering back from behind the door. The presentation of an octagonal bluesteel muzzle to her face immediately telegraphed CaptainMoonlite’sintentions.
When the gang descended upon Wantabadgery Station at 9:30am on 16 November, all had code names and weapons. Scott, obviously, used Captain Moonlite to distinguish himself but Nesbitt, Williams, Wernicke, Rogan and Bennett were identified through the numbers 2-6 respectively. It is interesting to see how Scott embraced the persona of Captain Moonlite when he bailed up Wantabadgery Station. He was cooly methodical in how he directed his boys, and gave them numbers instead of referring to them by name in an effort to shield them from recognition. Accepting that he was now officially the villain, he stopped inhibiting himself and allowed his rage and whims to dictate his actions. The others seemed to feed off the energy and became quite animated and almost unruly from time to time; Wernicke in particular, which was marked difference from only a few days earlier when he had attempted to leave the gang to find his own way back to Melbourne out of frustration. The exception was Nesbitt who was almost timid and appeared to be the only person that could keep Moonlite grounded. This would be vital to ensuring that things did not escalate too wildly during the gang’s occupation of the homestead.
Over the course of the day more captives were added to the collection. An infamous and unpleasant incident was when Moonlite took a shine to a mare belonging to the McDonalds. As he attempted to mount the skittish horse it became wild with fright and Moonlite shot it dead, claiming it was too dangerous. It was a massive overreaction and an indication of how far Scott would allow the Moonlite persona to take over if unchecked. Among the workers captured by the gang was a Chinese man named Ah Goon, whose watch Scott stole. Scott was vehemently opposed to the Chinese workers being brought in on farms and taking jobs away from white men simply because they were willing to work for obscenely low wages. The practice was not only exploitative on the part of the farm managers, but in Scott’s opinion it was calculated by the Chinese to disempower the white labour market.
When Percy Baynes finally made an appearance it triggered Moonlite’s rage and almost made him lose control. The way Baynes had mistreated the group the day before was singularly responsible for the wrath being brought down upon the station and Moonlite threatened to murder and disembowel Baynes, but relented when Mrs. McDonald intervened. Baynes was unrepentant and continued to antagonise Moonlite throughout the day and even attempted to turn the gang against him. Such behaviour was ill-advised in the least and horrendously culpable at worst when dealing with armed bushrangers, and had it not been for the gang keeping Moonlite from carrying out his threats it is likely there would have been bloodshed and more than likely a grisly end for the curmudgeonly Baynes.
The gang took advantage of their unique position of power and helped themselves to new clothes to replace the rags they were in, as well as taking any weapons and ammunition they could find. They ate heartily, with Moonlite killing two fowl to cook and feed both his gang and their captives, except for Baynes. The relative success of their operation left them in good spirits. Throughout the day they took it in turns to sleep and guard. It seems remarkable that apart from Baynes there was no real attempts to attack the gang or escape to raise help.
The prisoners sat around the parlour, weary and subdued. The children fidgeted and grumbled as Bennett thumped tunes out on the piano and Moonlite sang with gusto. For the bushrangers it was a celebration of conquest, but for the captives it was demeaning. When all had settled, Moonlite finally acknowledged the strain the young ones were under and permitted them to be put to bed. He may be a vicious cutthroat but there was no need to make things uncomfortable for the children, he reasoned.
The way that the stick up of Wantabadgery station played out was a farce in the tradition of Johnny Gilbert and Ben Hall. Scott always had a flair for drama yet had been able to wrangle his compulsions effectively, but Captain Moonlite was his id let loose. At no point was this more apparent than his spur of the moment decision to go to The Australian Arms hotel. It was here that his thought process seems to have been quite difficult to follow. When confronted with the unattended pub, he helped himself to booze and the rifle behind the counter, but then went looking around the building where he found the children of the proprietors asleep and decided to take them with him. A modern mentality immediately assumes that he had very nefarious intentions in taking the children, yet Moonlite left a note for the parents and seemed simply to want to take the children to where there would be adults to look after them. It was a bizarre thing for him to do. Moonlite lacked the conscience of superego to define his choices, and somehow also appeared to be lacking in the judgement and mitigation of his ego. He was operating based on pure impulse and it seemed like he was enjoying it far too much.
At 8pm word finally reached the police in Wagga Wagga that something was amiss in Wantabadgery. Despite the urgency of the situation, it wasn’t until 4am that a party consisting of Constables Rowe, Hedley, Johns and Williamson went to investigate. According to Rowe, they had been informed that 20-30 people were being held hostage by a gang of seven armed criminals. Given that the police murders in the Wombat Ranges was a fresh memory – only 13 months previous – it is little wonder that such a small police party should delay in getting involved.
The rumble of hooves tumbles through the darkness – tuttle-tut, tuttle-tut, tuttle-tut, tuttle-tut. As the riders come closer, the outlines of their uniforms become apparent; white belts and breeches catch the glow of the waning moon. The arrivals outside alert the dog, who bolts to the garden and begins to bark furiously. Now is the time for action and the bushrangers all gear up like mechanical toys, ready for battle. Nesbitt takes up a shotgun, the others arm themselves with pistols. Moonlite’s heart races as he prepares his Snider Enfield rifle. He flips open the receiver and feeds a cartridge inside. He takes a deep breath as he shoulders the rifle, memories come flooding back of preparing for battle against the Maori; the ache of the wait, the infernal calmness of the world around. The police arrive and hitch their horses to a fence. Constable Hedley sees a figure lurking in the shadows and calls on him to stand in the name of the queen, but he may as well be shouting at the wind. Scott’s finger tightens on the trigger. There’s a crack and a kick as he reelsoff a warning shot. The tangy smell of gun smoke fills his nostrils. The ball skims between Constables Rowe and Williamson. Moonlite watches the policescurry for cover. A smirk tickles the corner of his mouth. He tugs his pocket Colt out of its holster and steps into the light. The police return fire, hands trembling with anxiety and adrenaline. The barking of the dog is drowned by the barking of rifles as the rest of Moonlite’s men join the conflict. Moonlite strides out into the crossfire, caring naught for his own safety.
The account of what unfolds after the arrival of the police varies in many aspects depending on who tells the story. However, it is reasonable to suggest the following as an accurate summary. After Scott’s initial shot, the police sought cover and returned fire. A volley from the rest of the bushrangers served to let them know they were outnumbered. There was further exchange of gunfire and the police became overwhelmed. During the chaos a fire was lit in the barn then quickly snuffed out. The police hid in a forest of thistles then their horses were stolen by the gang. Very likely, at least one gang member rode a horse towards the police from a flanking position, prompting the constables to evacuate through swampland nearby on foot, pushing through water four feet deep. The bushrangers continued to fire after them, the shots hitting the trees. There were no deaths and no injuries, excepting the constables’ pride.
The police were demoralised but determined to regroup and make another attempt on the bushrangers once they had back-up. They headed to James Beveridge’s farm at Tenandra Park where they would acquire horses and before teaming up with police from Gundagai at 11am.
Though the battle that unfolded at Wantabadgery station is a deadly serious event, the lack of bloodshed allows us to appreciate the absurdity of the situation. Four police rode from Wagga Wagga expecting to be met with a few of rowdy swagmen or shearers, and ended up in a heated exchange of gunfire with half a dozen desperadoes and were hopelessly outclassed. Despite all their training, the police were no match for the untrained bandits.
While the police licked their wounds at Beveridge’s farm, the bushrangers were elated at their first victory. It was a victory that would be very short lived. As the sun rose over the Riverina, the Moonliters only had several hours of liberty left. By the end of the day two would be dead, the rest captured alive.
“I tried to leave the colonies but could not, and was persecuted with the surveillance of the police. The bread being taken from my mouth, and every prospect of honest livelihood gone, I came up the country and tried again to seek for work. As long as our money lasted we bought bread, and when our money was gone we sold our clothes and bought bread with what we obtained for them. We tried to get work but could not, and we fasted day after day. We have been without food for forty-eight hours. We went to Wantabadgery and walked up to the station. We were told the overseers and owners were out, but a servant came, and said that if we came in the morning we could see about work. The night was dark and rain was commencing, and we were told we could not see the superintendent then, but he afterwards came out and told us to go about our business, and we were insulted. We were refused admittance into a hut, and that night we slept on the hills, with nothing to eat and nothing to drink but the water that was falling around us. All our clothes were wet, and we hungry. Next day there was no work to be had, and we had nothing to do. Afterwards — and I admit it was foolish — we went and stuck up Wantabadgery. The police came down, and they fired on us and we fired on them. I will not say who fired first, but during the time I saw that the act that had been done would produce bloodshed and I courted death, hoping that a stray shot might end my life and that the prisoners, my friends, might give themselves up to the Crown. After the fight we left Wantabadgery station and took the police horses with us. Some of the police of this colony have behaved as brave men, but one or two have not.“
What follows is a report on theinquest conducted into the deaths of the bushrangers James Nesbitt and Gus Wernicke along with a brief account of the condition of Constable Webb-Bowen following his wounding at McGlede’s farm. While some details, especially in the latter report, are incorrect, it must be remembered that many of the articles of the time were published as the news was still unfolding, resulting in errors due to the sluggish rate of verification compared to what is possible now.
Both bushrangers were shot during the gunfight the day after the Moonlite Gang had successfully fought off the police from Wagga Wagga at Wantabadgery Station. The particulars of the gunfights are addressed in the evidence presented by witnesses. The deaths of the pair affected Andrew Scott (Captain Moonlite) deeply, especially as Nesbitt, who he had befriended in Pentridge prison, was most likelyhis lover. In fact, in the 1990s Scott’s body was disinterred to be relocated to Gundagai in keeping with his last request to be buried with Nesbitt.
Constable Edwin Mostyn Webb-Bowen died from his wound shortly after this article was first published. For his conspicuous bravery in the line of duty he was posthumously promoted to Senior Constable. He is buried in Gundagai next to Sergeant Edmund Parry, who was murdered by Johnny Gilbert. ~ AP
INQUEST ON THE BODIES.
The inquest on the remains of the bushrangers shot in the late encounter was commenced this morning before C. W. Weekes and a jury of tvelve. The jury having viewed the bodies an adjournment was made until two o’clock, when the following evidence was adduced :—
Constable Rowe, stationed at Wagga, recognised the bodies as those of two men shot at McGlede’s farm on Monday last, near Wantabadgery ; he did not know who fired the shot. which killed them ; on Sunday last the Wagga police received information that the Wantabadgry station was stuck-up by seven armed men ; witness and three other constables started for the place and arrived at the station at five o’clock on Monday morning just at daybreak ; went to the back of the house, as the front was dangerous, and explored for an attack; left the horses tied to a fence about four hundred yards from the place and walked up; when about twenty yards from the house a dog barked ; at the same time a man came from the door into the garden with a double-barelled gun ; Constable Headley called on him to stand in the Queen’s name ; the man fired in the direction of Constable Williamson and witness and started to run back to the house ; Williamson, Headley, and John fired after him ; the man went inside and called to the others to fire ; witness and the other constables went back a little distance and waited some time ; they could see several armed men moving about the garden and outhouses ; there were six or seven men and they went to the stable and made a fire there ; they then crawled or walked off in different directions through the thistles ; as it was evidently their intention to surround them, the constables drew back to open ground, and the men opened fire which the police returned ; no shots however took effect on either side ; some of the men then got on horseback and tried to surround the police who retreated through water up to their middles, the bushrangers firing all the time ; the bushrangers then got the police horses which they took to the station ; witness and another constable went to a Mr. Beveridge’s, four miles from the station, to get fresh horses and wait for reinforcements which had been sent for by the man who gave the Wagga police information ; Constable Headley had gone up a hill and disappeared ; about eleven on Monday morning Sergeant Carroll and the Gundagai police arrived at Beveridge’s ; the eight police then started under the charge of Sergeant Carroll at six a.m., and at Wantabadgery were joined by Constable Headley, when they went to McGlede’s ; on the way they heard that the Wantabadgery Hotel was stuck-up ; at McGlede’s they saw a large number of men, who were bushrangers and people bailed up by them ; Sergeant Carroll and the others called on the desperadoes to surrender ; one of them said, “surrender be —, come on and fight ; the bushrangers opened fire, and the police took up positions and returned it ; there was sharp firing for twenty minutes ; the two men on whose bodies the inquest was being held were seen by witness after firing ceased ; they were dying, one in the kitchen and one inside the house ; another bushranger was shot through the arm and two were taken unhurt ; the sixth was missing, but was arrested on Tuesday morning under a bed in the house ; after the fight witness saw Constable Bowen lying in a paddock twenty-five yards from the house, shot in the neck ; the four prisoners arrested were brought to Gundagai on Tuesday morning, and two dead bodies at nine o’clock last night ; witness did not see the men fall, but whilst the firing was going on he saw the younger of the two lying on his back near Constable Bowen; I had previously seen both the men who died firing on the police, the older at Wantabadgery, the younger at McGlede’s ; one of the prisoners ran out of the house and surrendered to Constable Wiles and witness at the back of McGlede’s kitchen ; did not see the other surrender ; no shots were fired after the surrender.
Sergeant Cassin, stationed at Adelong, deposed that on Monday morning, being off duty at the Gundagai quarter-sessions, he heard of the Wantabadgery station being stuck up by seven bushrangers ; witness, accompanied by Sergeant Carroll and the Gundagai police, left town at half-past nine and arrived at Beveridge’s about twelve and met the Wagga police and proceeded as described by the previous witness; under Sergeant Carroll’s instructions the police advanced on McGlede’s on horseback, about twenty paces apart, all in uniform; the bushrangers opened fire on the police; witness and another constable moved towards the bushrangers, firing on the house and shouting until they startled the horses; when the horses were startled, witness dismounted and joined in the general attack ; the police, at witness’s suggestion, charged on the house, jumping over the fence witness called to the police, “come on, we’ll pepper them,” when witness was within a few yards of the house he saw one bushranger running away ; witness followed him; he fell on his back, as witness thought on purpose to get a good shot at him, so he struck him with his rifle on the arm to disable him, and left him lying on the ground; witness then turned to the house and saw another bushranger, who fired three shots at him ; that was the man who afterwards gave the name of Moonlight; witness snapped his rifle, but it would not go off, having injured it when he struck the man lying on the ground ; Moonlight then ran into the kitchen, followed by witness; two shots were fired from the kitchen through the window, and Sergeant Carroll, who was near the witness, was returning fire; witness pushed the kitchen door open and fired a shot, when Moonlight cried, “I surrender,” and ran out of the back door, followed by witness, who handcuffed him, and then turning round found that the firing had ceased and Constable Bowen was wounded ; recognised the bodies of the dead bushrangers as two of those fighting at McGlede’s; one of them was he whom witness had hit; the elder died about five in the afternoon, the younger about three ; witness saw no one absolutely fire except Scott alias Moonlight ; one bushranger was missing at the close of the fight; Sergeant Carroll went after him, placing witness in charge of the prisoner and arms.
Constable Gorman, stationed at Gundagai, corroborated the previous evidence as to the bushrangers opening fire on the police while in uniform. Witness had fired at the older of the two dead bushrangers (whom he identified as Nesbitt alias Lyons) through the kitchen-window, and shot him through the right temple. The rest of the bushrangers then called out, “surrender—we surrender.”
Joseph Brown, detective in the Victorian police force, identified the body of the eldest dead bushranger as that of James Lyons alias Nesbitt; though he believed Nesbitt to be his proper name, he had served a sentence of four and a half years in Pentridge as James Lyons, for assault and robbery, and was discharged about March this year; he was a mate of Scott alias Moonlight since his discharge, and had been under close surveillance; about two months ago, at the time of the Lancefield bank robbery, witness had a conversation with Lyons, who said he and Scott were about to leave the colony; witness believed the younger of the two men to be Augustus Wrenckie, son of a hotelkeeper in Swanston street, Melbourne.
Hannah McGlede recognized the dead bodies as those of two men who with four others called at her house on Monday morning and got some bread and milk ; they got on their horses when the police came in sight, and when the police came up the bushrangers got off their horses and went into the house ; witness wanted to run out of the kitchen, but Nesbitt prevented her, pointing his revolver at her; a bullet came through the window, passing so close to witness that she fancied she was shot, and fell into the fireplace ; the bullets then came flying into the kitchen, and Nesbitt begged of Scott to surrender; Scott said no, he would not, that he was not frightened of twenty of the b— traps ; Scott used to load in the kitchen, go out and fire, and return to load; on returning one time he said one of the traps was shot ; Nesbitt had been very frightened before this, running about and dodging at the bullets, but now he took courage and began to fire ; witness got an opportunity then and escaped from the house ; two of the bushrangers had called at her house five days before and asked for milk, and on getting it wanted to pay for it, but witness’s husband refused, and gave them good advice.
Robert McKillop, a duly qualified medical man, deposed as to the cause of death in each case, from numerous gunshot wounds ; Nesbitt had two bullets at the back of the brain, yet lived till five in the afternoon. The jury returned a verdict of justifiable homicide.
LATER PARTICULARS.— Dr. Roberts, of Sydney, visited the wounded man, Constable Bowen — who, by the way, is said to be a relative of the late Governor of Victoria — to-day. His opinion was given in evidence at the magisterial inquiry. He does not think it safe to look for, or operate for the extraction of the ball for some days, when he will return to do so. The bushrangers, when committed for trial, will be removed to Darlinghurst gaol. The Gundagai people are enthusiastic over the conduct of the local police. A public meeting will be held on the subject. The police court proceedings will probably last until Saturday. Moonlight was heavily ironed last night, but the irons were taken off him before the sitting of the court to-day, and had not been replaced when I saw him ; but as efforts at escape were expected a constant watch was kept outside his cell.
The following is by the special reporter of the Cootamundra Herald :—
Having spent Tuesday and a good part of Wednesday night in gathering information concerning the whole affair from the police, the McGledes, and others, I am able to give a very full account of the great fight at Wantabadgery. Can also write from a personal meeting and conversation with the members of the gang who survived the fight. Following are the details I gathered :— When the gang made their first surprise at Wantabadgery, twenty seven miles from Gundagai, they came on foot, carrying swags; and are said to have thus previously passed through the township evidently for the purpose of taking stock ; for they have not concealed the fact that it was their intention to attract the police out, capture them, and make a raid upon the banks. They however had formed rash estimates of our brave troopers. They remained at the station; and having gathered all the hands and made sure of them, went and stuck up Shaw’s public-house, a mile and a half distant; gathered all from there (except the hostess), taking them also to the station. Whilst away on this fatal errand, a shearer who happened to be passing the public-house, where he was intending to take up his quarters for the night, saw the woman crying, and got from her his first knowledge of the state of affairs. Having £40 in his own pockets, he made tracks at anything but a trot to Gundagai. He rode furiously into town, reaching there at 10.30 o’clock p.m. At once reported. By a happy coincidence, a fleet messenger carried the news to Wagga. From Wagga the police immediately started for the scene ; but those from Gundagai didn’t leave till ten a.m. Monday. Consequently, the former reached Wantabadgery before daylight on Monday. The gang were evidently expecting them, as on their dismounting and approaching the house, which was a substantial fortress, the whole gang, six in number, rushed out and opened fire upon the police. The gang succeeded in cutting them off from their horses and in driving them into a lagoon where they were up to their waists in water.
At this juncture one of the troopers showed the white feather, a luxuriant patch of thistles (despite the pricks) affording him an ignominious hiding-place. He was subsequently discovered at the station. The gang having secured the horses left the police, who found their way to Tenaudra Park, four miles off. Returning to the station the former took two station horses, four police horses, and a pack-horse, and started for Eurongilly, intimating that they expected four more police from Gundagai whom they would tie up, and cut the man to mincemeat who dared to betray them. On the way to Eurongilly they met Mr. John A. Beveridge with two men, armed, coming to assist the police. These were bailed up, Mr. Beveridge’s horse shot under him, and he was ordered to collect and burn the arms. These orders being carried out, they all started for a settler’s named McGlede. On the way they met with Trooper Wiles of Bethugra alone on the way to join the Gundagai force at the station. The leader thus coolly accosted him, “O, we’ve been looking for you. Bail up!” They disarmed him. Wiles undoubtedly acted properly under the circum stances in surrendering against such formidable odds ; for besides the gang themselves, they were flanked by about a dozen civilians previously pressed into service. They took Wiles, Beveridge, and party to McGlede’s. Here Moonlight (the leader) and his men held a court-martial on Beveridge as to whether they would shoot him, and they decided to carry out the sentence of death, Moonlight levelling his rifle at him said, “I give you three minutes to live.” But here poor old McGlede, whose hoary head seemed to command respect, went on his knees to Moonlight and prayed for Beveridge’s life. Moonlight lowered his rifle and drawing a large bowie-knife flourished it across his face, sayling, “I’ve a b—y good mind to cut off the tip of your nose and ears and make you chew them, you b—r.” Mr. Beveridge, in describing this little bit of playfulness, says he first felt very frightened, but afterwards felt as if he could let the determined wretch do as he chose, whose glaring countenance seemed to paralyse him.
Moonlight’s attention was here fortunately attracted by an alarm of the approach of troopers; and true enough the house was being approached by the Gundagai police, those from Wagga (who had received fresh supplies of horses from Mr. James Beveridge), and Sergeant Cassin of Adelong—nine in all. The gang turned out to meet them, one of them covering Constable Wiles and threatning to shoot him if he dared to move away. He was on horse back. Senior-sergeant Carroll (Gundagai), who had command of the whole force by seniority of rank, ordered his men to defile so as to present as scattered a front to the enemy as possible, and form a half-circle. In this style they advanced upon the house to a distance of two hundred and fifty yards. The gang secured their horses in a small paddock, except one which they hitched to the corner of the house. The officer commanding called out “surrender” when all the force took it up; but Moonlight savagely replied, “surrender be d—d come on and fight it out!” and fired the first shot at Constable Gorman, who was on the extreme left, then one at Carroll, and a third at Cassin in quick succession. The troopers then opened fire. At the very commencement of the conflict the prisoner Constable Wiles made a daring and successful attempt to join his comrades, risking his life. The man who, as stated above, had him covered, was obliged to turn and fire at the police, when Wiles made a clean bolt of it. “One, two, three,” went the shot-guns, and the bullets whizzed past his ears. Several shots were fired at him; but he fortunately escaped. He managed afterwards to get possession of a musket and revolver, and took up his position in the ranks.
The police were kept at bay for about half-an-hour during a continuous shower of bullets—four of the gang leading inside the house for Moonlight and one of the youngest of them, who appeared to be a capital marksman. The troopers made the best use of fences, stumps, and trees to protect themselves. Sergeant Carroll, becoming impatient, advanced to within one hundred yards under cover of a brush fence. They were attacking the front of the house at this time; and Moonlight and his comrades retreated into a detached kitchen. The sergeant made a rush for the house and managed to put a bullet under the front window into the building. The civilians now finding it becoming rather sultry in the house made their escape across the paddocks in the direction opposite to the police. The gang remained in the kitchen, keeping McGlede’s wife with them, flattering themselves that she would be the means of protection for them from the troopers’ bullets. They thought the police knew she was in the kitchen with them and that they would not fire in for fear of hitting her. The sergeant took up a position at the right corner of the house ; and here he had a marvellous escape.
Moonlight, observing Gorman approaching on the left in a wheat-paddock, boldly stepped outside to fire at him. Gorman was only fifty yards off. “Here’s a b—y trap,” said Moonlight, “coming through the wheat-paddock,” and, sighting him, fired. Gorman allowed him a second or two for aim and suddenly ducked, the ball passing over his head; and then replied by firing three shots, but missing his target. He made for a small stump, about a foot thick, very low, and put himself in a lying position behind it. Here he was fired at by Moonlight three times, each bullet going into the stump. Gorman fired again, ripping up the ground in front of Moonlight’s feet, which caused the latter to retreat to the back of the kitchen. It was during this interchange of courtesies that Carroll had his narrow escape. He was not observed by Moonlight, though only ten yards from him, hidden by the corner of the building ; he took aim at the daring captain, whose fall appeared certain. But the sergeant’s rifle snapped. He coolly tried the same cartridge a second time—but with the same result, when he drew his revolver. Too late however. The doomed bird had flown! Gorman made a rush for the house and fired a shot through the kitchen window.
Constable Williamson here took up the position vacated by Gorman, and the latter went inside the house. Constable Bowen, just as Williamson was leaving him, was at this time making for the kitchen when to the horror of his comrades he was shot by Moonlight. The ball entered the left side of his neck, making a decline towards the spinal cord; and exclaiming “my God, I’m shot!” the brave young hero fell. He had, in the heat of the contest, exposed himself too much to the fire of the enemy. He treated cover with contempt, but paid the penalty of his courage. The struggle now waxed so fierce that no one had time to look after the fallen man. But the fight was nearly at an end. Bowen and Constable Barry had been together at the former’s fall and Moonlight and another of the gang, a youngster, were outside the kitchen at the back, so that they were not seen by Carroll, Gorman, or Williamson. Moonlight’s mate here wanted him to cave in ; but he refused, and was about to fight again when the young man threw his arms round him to prevent him shooting. Whilst in this act Constable Barry fired and shot the young man in the side, and he dropped from his daring captain and afterwards died from the wound.
The captain was here driven back to the kitchen, where the whole party had a warm time of it from the front. Gorman, who was in the house, here got into one of the skillion rooms, and pulled the curtain off the window to enable him to see into the kitchen. One of the gang (whose name is given as Rogan) fired at him, the bullet whizzing past his elbow. Gorman placed his revolver in the broken pane, and, taking deadly aim, shot Rogan in the temple. He never spoke after being hit. Senior-sergeant Carroll then ran to the back of the kitchen on the right side ; Gorman and Williamson on the left; Cassin, Wiles, and Barry on the right. The gang, from the inside, then called out “we’ll surrender!” Carroll told them to come outside and throw up their arms. One ran out and rolled over. Cassin, thinking he was wanting to have a shot in a lying position, the better for his aim and self-protection, rushed forward and struck him with the rifle across the arms to disable him. Gorman rushed into the kitchen, revolver in hand, and secured a second man, knocking him down with his revolver. Moonlight made a rush as if to escape, when Cassin struck him on the shoulder with the butt of the rifle, knocked him down, and secured him. The fight—a most desperate one, that proved the gallantry of our brave troopers—was now virtually over, having lasted nearly an hour. It was then found that the sixth man was missing, and it was concluded that he got away with the civilians at the time they escaped from the house. After these men were secured, to the surprise of the police they found Mrs. McGlede crouched in the fireplace, her husband and children being concealed in a cellar. They also discovered that Mrs. McGlede had had a very narrow escape, a ball having passed close by her and perforated a funnel. Here also took place a most affecting scene. Moonlight was deeply moved at the sight of one of his comrades lying dead upon the floor. He tenderly raised the dead man’s head upon his knee, saying he had been the best friend he ever had. He caressed him, and bathed his own hands in his comrade’s blood. It was also found that one of the young members of the gang had received a ball through the muscle of his left arm; but it was only a flesh wound.
Directly the struggle was over attention was directed to Constable Bowen, the wounded police man. Dr. McKillop, who was in the vicinity, having been requested to be near by senior-sergeant Carroll, was sent for. When he came he found Bowen in a very critical state. After consultation over his state, a messenger was dispatched to Wagga for a second medical man, and he arrived during the night. At the request of poor Bowen himself, the Rev. Mr. Holt was brought from Gundagai. But though the ball was not extracted he seemed to keep himself up in good spirits and was able to go to sleep, everything possible being done to give him relief.
The prisoners were guarded in McGlede’s all that night, and brought to Gundagai on Tuesday afternoon. But before starting into town with their precious dead and living charges, the police made a happy discovery—one which had led to some comical surmises. From a hint dropped casually by Mrs. McGlede to the police that they should make a further search of the house and kitchen, “for fear that any of the marauders might be left behind,” they did make the search. They were handsomely rewarded. In one of the skillion rooms of the house they found the man who had escaped, whose flight had caused the senior-sergeant, with several other troopers and two volunteers (the latter having rendered assistance to the police during the battle) to set out on a wild-goose chase towards Junee. The escaper was found snugly sandwiched, to coin an appropriate word, between two mattresses on the bed, having two loaded revolvers with him. Some egg shells found also in this ludicrous nest have led to the jocular suspicions before referred to. Old people, you know, are very often superstitious ; and the only way in which the heads of the McGlede house hold could account for the remarkable circumstance about the shells was that Providence had directed the hen to go and lay there especially for the poor hungry and affrighted man—a repetition of the scriptural incident of Elijah and the ravens. But most people don’t believe in miracles in these modern times, and try to account for it differently. Your reporter doesn’t profess to be able to unravel the mystery.
The wife of Constable Bowen was away on a holiday trip to Sydney; and on receipt of the sad news of the fall of her husband received a fearful shock. She came up by the mail train on Wednesday morning, reaching Gundagai by coach from Cootamundra at noon. I met her on the way and was the bearer of a kindly message to her from her husband, whom I had seen that morning at daybreak. She was in a frightful state of anxiety. “He’s dead!” she screamed; but I hastened to assure her that he was alive and showing signs of recovering, and she burst into tears of joy. It was a most affecting scene and tried the nerves of your poor scribe. It was with difficulty she was held in the coach by Sergeant Parker, who did all he could with others to soothe her. Seeing she had a suspicion that I was not telling the sacred truth I briefly related my interview with him. He had requested me to tell her that he was anxious to see her ; that he felt he was safe, and was being kindly nursed. She warmly shook me by the hand on parting, and seemed relieved. Her husband is a tall and very handsome young man, of whom she might well feel proud. He appears to be about twenty-seven, is well educated, and of very gentlemanly address. When I saw him on Wednesday morning he had just awoke from a serene sleep—somewhat refreshed, but sobbing with pain. His arms were paralysed, and he said his pains were of a sharp shooting nature.
Towards morning a messenger had brought him the news that the gang were the Kellies, and he almost rose from his bed with delight. He said he had been longing for an encounter with this notorious band. He will, however, by this time have learned that this joy is yet to come if ever. If it ever does happen that the police have a conflict with the Kellies, if the brave young Bowen should be against them he will either fight a manly and glorious victory or die in the struggle.
Mr. Edward Horder writes in very complimentary terms of the courage and determination of the New South Wales police, as lately displayed in the speedy capture of the Wantabadgery bushrangers. His object in writing to us (Echo) is to suggest that some thing should be done to assist the family of Constable Bowen, and he concludes his letter, as follows:— “We all know that in times of ordinary sickness it is expensive to provide the necessary comforts, ,&c. I therefore enclose herewith my cheque for £5 towards that object. I trust a good sum will be collected and forwarded to Mrs. Bowen without delay. I do not for one moment doubt that all our men engaged in this encounter deserve the fullest and most liberal recognition it is in the power of the government to bestow.”
[Source: “INQUEST ON THE BODIES.” The Goulburn Herald and Chronicle (NSW : 1864 – 1881) 22 November 1879: 4.]