Spotlight: The Melbourne Private Escort Robbery (03/09/1853)

Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer (NSW : 1845 – 1860), Saturday 3 September 1853, page 1


From our Melbourne exchanges we extract the following, having reference to the progress of the investigation pending before thc authorities:—

SUICIDE OF FRANCIS, THE APPROVER.— Intelligence reached Melbourne, yesterday of the self-destruction of John Francis, the approver in the Escort robbery. The affair occurred yesterday morning at the Rocky Water Holes, a few miles from Melbourne, and from what can be as yet ascertained, it appears that Francis and the other persons in custody on their way to Melbourne, stopped at the Water Holes on Monday night. About eleven o’clock yesterday morning, Francis, by some means not yet ascertained, picked up a razor at the lock-up, which he appears to have secreted on his person, and having occasion to visit the water-closet, got in behind it, and there cut his throat. Two constables were supposed to have charge of him at the time, and the first intimation they had of the occurrence (though they were within a few paces of him at the time), was suddenly hearing a gurgling in the throat, and on running to ascertain what was the matter, found Francis with his throat cut almost from ear to ear. He walked about 12 paces and then dropped dead. How his death will affect the prosecutions for the Crown, is more than we are at present in a position to say. — Melbourne Herald, August 25th.

EXAMINATION OF THE PRISONERS. — Yesterday at the District Police Court, the following prisoners charged with being concerned in the robbery of the Private Escort Company, were brought up handcuffed for examination:— George Elston, Robert Harding, Edward McEvoy, George Wilson, George Melville, and William Atkyns. Agnes Atkyns, his wife, was also accused of being an accessary after the fact. The female prisoner was greatly excited, and was accommodated with a seat under the Bench. She frequently interrupted the proceedings by her sobs, when the evidence was such as to affect her husband.

Mr. Read appeared for the prisoners, and applied to have their handcuffs removed, which was immediately done. He then stated that he had been refused all intercourse with his clients, and prayed for permission to put himself in communication with them, which was granted.

John Francis, brother to the suicide-approver, was admitted as evidence on the part of the Crown, and after a long examination, the Bench remanded the three prisoners Harding, McEvoy, and Elston, for one week, but would allow them bail, themselves in £200, and two sureties in £100 each. The rest of the prisoners the Bench did not feel the least hesitation in committing to take their trial in a higher Court.

When the prisoners were about to be removed, the wretched woman made an attempt to reach her husband, but was prevented by the constables. She pleaded hard to be allowed to speak to him for one moment, saying she would then go where they liked, but the indulgence was not allowed her.

THE PRIVATE ESCORT ROBBERY. — There is something extraordinary connected with this affair, as it now turns out that all the information given by the suicide approver (George Francis), proves to be pure fabrication, and the four men arrested by the detective police at the diggings are supposed to be quite innocent of the crime imputed to them. We may, however, state that Francis’s brother (John) has now, in his turn, become informer, and by means of his evidence it is supposed five men will be convicted. Four of them are now in custody in Melbourne, and the fifth, named Sam Grey, is reported to have been arrested in Portland where he was committed for another offence, but confessed his participation in the Escort robbery. It is now ascertained that the gang originally consisted of only six persons, and should such be the case, the five men above mentioned and the informer will be found to make the whole. — Melbourne Herald, August 26th.

THE PRIVATE ESCORT. — We regret to learn that this enterprising little company is about to be wound up, in consequence of a want of a sufficient support from the public. By the way, the £6,000 in hard cash found upon the men in custody for robbing the Escort, will, it is supposed, in the event of their conviction, (of which, we are glad to hear, there can be little or no doubt,) be handed over to the Company, who would rateably divide it among the parties who had sent their gold down on the occasion of this robbery. — Ibid.

Spotlight: The Private Escort Robbery. Examination of the Prisoners. (30/08/1853)

Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer (Vic. : 1851 – 1856), Tuesday 30 August 1853, page 1



The following prisoners (handcuffed) were placed at the bar, viz.:—George Elston, George Melville, George Wilson. William Atkins, Edward McEvoy, and Robert Harding. Agnes Atkins, charged as an accessory, was allowed a chair. Mr. Read complained to the court that his clients were placed at the bar in shackles, which was a breach of the constitutional laws of England. The bench declined to make any order with reference to Mr Read’s remarks.

Mr. James Ashley, sworn — From information I received, I proceeded on board the barque Collooney, and I made a search in one of the cabin’s, where I found a leather trunk which contained two parcels of sovereigns, viz.:— one containing £103 10s in gold; the other containing 720 sovereigns; amongst other things I found several papers and receipts, bearing the name of George Melville; on the 12th August, I went to the house of a man named John Atkins, where I saw the prisoner, William Atkins; I arrested him and told him the nature of the charge against him; searching him I found a draft on the Bank of Australia (Sydney) for £400; we went into an adjoining room, where we saw the female prisoner; I asked if she had any money, and she admitted having some, and I took from her pocket a parcel containing £81 10s. in gold and a dress lying over a barrel. I took hold of it, when she snatched it out of my hand; I snatched back the dress, and on searching I found, in the lining, a draft on the New South Wales Bank, (Sydney) for £700, payable to Agnes Mclaughlin; on searching Atkins, the male prisoner, I found on him a receipt for money paid for cabin passages of Mr. and Mrs. Atkins, in the Hellespont, steamer, to Sydney; about eight o’clock the same evening I went to the North Star Hotel, where I arrested George Melville.

Hindle Thompson sworn — I am a detective policeman; and on the 11th August, I was aboard the ship Madagascar where I arrested prisoner George Wilson; I found 302 sovereigns on his person.

Samuel Davis, sworn — I am a trooper in the Private Escort; yesterday, the 24th August, I went to the Melbourne gaol, I recognized two men whom I believe to have been amongst the parties who attacked us; the prisoner Melville, and the second approver.

Mr. McMahon, deposed as follows — On or about the 12th August, I sent for the younger Francis, in order to hold some private conversation with him; when he came to my office, I told him, as he might see by the notices posted on the gates, that one of the parties concerned in the outrage would receive a free pardon, a passage out of the colony, and £500, on turning approver; after considerable hesitation he admitted that he was one of the party who attacked the Private Escort, and also informed me of the names of the others who were his companions on that occasion, and he assisted in their apprehension; the names of the whole party, as he gave them, were:— George Francis (himself), John Francis. Joe Grey alias another named Billy, Bob Harding, George Elton, George Melville, George Wilson, two others, names unknown; I promised him that I would not use his evidence against his brother.

At this stage of the proceedings, the second approver was introduced into the court, and as may be expected, was an object of universal attention. Dark and bitter were the scowls of hate and vengeance darted at him by some of the prisoners; but he appeared comparatively unmoved, and gave the following evidence in a calm and firm, though low tone of voice.

My name is John Francis, and I arrived in Van Diemen’s Land under a sentence of ten years’ transportation. My sentence has not yet expired, but will in September. On the 20th July last, I left the McIvor in company with my brother, George Wilson, George Melville, William Atkins, and Joseph Grey. Of these I now recognise Melville, Wilson, and Atkins, as three of the party named. We went through the bush towards the Mia Mia Inn, and stopped on the side of the road a few miles from the inn. We soon after heard the Private Escort coming up, and it was now between ten and eleven in the morning. The Escort troop was coming up from McIvor, and (I believe) going towards Kyneton. Previous to this we arranged a few branches of trees, and placed two men behind, the rest of them (and I) being stationied behind trees about thirty yards higher up the road. I heard some person of the Escort cry halt; and on looking out, I saw some of the troopers firing at the two men behind the branches. We then, the rest of us, rushed down to their assistance. We all challenged the Escort men to stand, when they refused, and fired on us, when a general fight commenced. I fired at the Escort troop, and observed four of the troopers wounded; two of the latter escaped, and were followed by two of us. viz., myself and the prisoner Wilson, calling upon them to surrender. They replied by shooting at us, and galloping away. I and Wilson then went down the road, and gathering up all the fire-arms we could see, we followed Atkins, Melville, Grey, and George Francis, who preceded us in the bush, whither the boxes of gold had been carried, and we then took the gold out of the boxes. It was whilst I and Wilson were after the two men that the gold had been removed from the dray. Where the gold was taken out of the boxes was some 20 yards from off the road, in the bush; and after doing so, we travelled about seven miles through the country that day, and camped in the bush. We resumed our route on the following morning, having first divided the gold. We passed the second night by a river’s side, on Mollison’s run, and continued our route in the same direction, always keeping the bush and avoiding the road. The next night we passed in the bush, near Kilmore, and then, on the Sunday morning, we all left together for Melbourne, but separated on coming to the Rocky Water Holes, Grey and George Francis accompanying me into Melbourne. That night we reached town, and proceeded to my house, at Collingwood Flat, where I saw Wilson and Atkins, it being previously arranged that we were to meet there. They remained at my house all night, and on the Tuesday after Atkins left for the digging, Grey and Wilson remaining with me. On the day before I was apprehended, I saw the prisoner Melville in Melbourne, when he told me he was going to the Mauritius; about seven days after leaving town, Atkins returned from the diggings, and I saw him in town; he told me that he had been to the McIvor; the last time I saw Grey he said he was going to Adelaide; the prisoner, I, and my brother were to have started for England in the Madagascar, and we had accordingly engaged passages in that vessel; I was soon after apprehended on a charge of stealing a pistol, and was subsequently remanded for robbing the Escort; the last time I saw George Francis was in this court; since which time I have had no communication with him; I sent a message to Captain McMahon, from the gaol; and I subsequently told him all the proceedings; the confession was voluntary on my part, and there was no inducement held out to me: after the confession, Captain McMahon told me that he would send me a free man from the colony, with my wife; on arranging for this attack we had resolved, if possible, not to take human life; for we thought we could get the gold without firing; I did not see any of our party shoot at the men in advance; the first firing was commenced by the escort party.

Mr. Read submitted that there was no case whatever against Mrs. Atkins; then, as to the prisoners McEvoy, Elson, and Harding, that there was not a particle of proof against them.

Captain McMahon was informed that the man Grey had been arrested in Portland, and confessed the crime; as to Harding, Elson, and McEvoy, he thought there must be some mistake; they had been taken into custody on the statement of the former Francis, and he (Capt. M.) did not believe them to have been implicated in the robbery. The Bench decided upon remanding the prisoners, McEvoy, Elson, and Harding, for one week; and committed Melville, Wilson, and Atkins, to take their trial for shooting at and robbing the private escort, and Atkins’ wife as an accessory after the fact. The prisoners were then removed in custody. — Herald.

Spotlight: The Escort Robbery – Examination of the Prisoners (26/08/1853)

Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), Friday 26 August 1853, page 5



Yesterday, at the District Police Court, the following prisoners charged with being concerned in the robbery of the Private Escort Company, were brought up handcuffed for examination:— George Elston, Robert Harding, Edward McEvoy, George Wilson, George Melville, and William Atkyns. Agnes Atkyns, his wife, was also accused of being an accessary after the fact. The female prisoner was greatly excited, and was accommodated with a seat under the Bench. She frequently interrupted the proceedings by her sobs, when the evidence was such as to affect her husband.

Mr. Read appeared for the prisoners, and applied to have their handcuffs removed, which was immediately done. He then stated that he had been refused all intercourse with his clients, and prayed for permission to put himself in communication with them, which was granted.

The first witness called was Chief Detective Ashley, who, being sworn, deposed as follows:— From information received, I proceeded on the 11th instant with Sergeant Simcock and Detective Murray on board the barque Collooney, then lying in Hobson’s Bay, and having made search, found a leather trunk in one of the cabins, containing two parcels of sovereigns, one a small bag containing £403 10s., the other a reticule, containing £720; the trunk also contained several papers and receipts bearing the name of George Melville. I took possession of the whole. On the day following I went with the same officers and George Francis to the house of John Harris, hay and corn dealer in Little Bourke Street, where I saw the prisoner William Atkyns, who was immediately pointed out by Francis as one of the robbers of the escort. I arrested him, and on his person found £3 10s in gold, and a draft on the Sydney branch of the Bank of Australasia in favor of Atkyns for £100. He said nothing. In an adjoining room I found the female prisoner, who said she was the wife of Atkyns. On my telling her I should arrest her on suspicion, and asking if she had any money, she said she had, and took from her pocket a parcel containing £81 10s in gold. She said she had no more money, but having left her alone with Francis for a few minutes, Francis came out to me and told me to go in and search a plaid dress, which was hanging in the room. On my taking hold of it the female prisoner snatched it from me, saying, that there was nothing in it. On searching it I found in the lining a draft on the Sydney Branch of the Bank of New South Wales, in favor of Agnes McLachlan for £700. On Atkyns I found also two cabin passage receipts for £24 for Mr. and Mrs. Atkyns, per Hellespont, for Sydney. I conveyed both prisoners to the watchhouse. On the same evening, at about eight o’clock, I went with the same officers and George Francis to the North Star Hotel, and arrested George Melville, telling him he was suspected of being concerned in the escort robbery. I found on him £100 10s. in gold, silver, and notes; also a silver watch and guard, a six-barrel revolver, and an American gold dollar. I conveyed him to the watchhouse.

Mr. Read inquired of the witness whether it was from Francis he had received the information, but the question was disallowed.

Cross-examined by Mr. Read:— I arrested three men on the information of Francis, after taking Atkyns; two are now before the Court, and the other was discharged yesterday. Melville’s wife had property before she was married to Melville. They kept a fruit and oyster shop in Little Bourke-street opposite to my late residence. They have been married about twelve months.

The second witness was Hindle Thomson, who deposed as follows:— I am a constable in the detective force. On the 11th inst. I went on board the ship Madagascar, in Hobson’s Bay, where I arrested the prisoner, George Wilson, on suspicion of being one of the escort robbers. I took him into the captain’s cabin, and, on searching him, found £302 in gold on his person. I then took him into his own cabin, where he took hold of a pair of trousers in which I found 88 sovereigns. I brought him to Melbourne and confined him.

Samuel Beauchamp Davis was then called and gave evidence as follows:— I was a trooper in the Melbourne Private Escort Company’s service. On the 20th of July last, I left the McIvor diggings at about nine o’clock in the morning, in company with one superintendent, one sergeant, two troopers, and a driver, six in all. We were escorting gold and specie to Kyneton. When we had got within about four miles of the Mia Mia Inn, I saw Seargent Duins who was in advance motion with his hand towards the right side of the road, and immmediately we received a volley of shot and bullets from a mia-mia on the side of the road. I drew my pistol and fired at a man, who fired at me at the same time. The shot took effect in my neck, jaw, and nose. I fell from my horse. When lying on the ground, I saw two men, one at each wheel of our cart, from which they drew out the boxes containing the gold and specie. Other men came and carried away the boxes into the bush. On looking round I saw Fookes the driver and trooper Prosswetter lying on the ground. I asked them whether they were hurt. Fookes said he was a dead man. Prosswetter asked me to get a knife to cut his trousers off, as he was shot through the thigh. Not having one, I looked round and saw a blue coat lying on the ground, not belonging to our party, in the pocket of which I found the knife now produced. Before cutting the trousers, I saw Morton, the other trooper, lying on the ground, with his horse dead, lying upon him; he begged me to get the horse off him. I tried, but could not. Reflecting what was to be done, I walked a little way along the road and met a man going towards McIvor. I asked him to assist us, which he did by helping the wounded men into the cart. I mounted one horse myself, leading two others, and proceeded towards McIvor. After going about a quarter of a mile, I met the Superintendent, Mr. Warner, coming towards the scene of the attack, in company with others. He took my horse, and gave it to one of those who were with him. I then walked on as far as Patterson’s station, where a horse was given to me, and I went to the Government camp at McIvor. On the 24th instant I went to the Melbourne Gaol, where a number of men (about fifteen) were shown to me, and I recognised two, whom I believe to have been among the robbers. I see one now in court; that is the man (pointing to Melville). I do not see the other.

Cross examined by Mr. Read:— I can’t say exactly how many men there were in the party who attacked us. I should think about nine or ten.

Captain McMahon here enquired whether the Bench would wish to hear what had passed between himself and George Francis before his death, as it had been taken down in writing.

Mr. Read objected, but after some discussion it was decided to hear the statement of Captain McMahon, who deposed as follows:— I am Chief Inspector of Police. On or about the 12th of August I sent for the younger Francis, then a prisoner in the Swanston-Street watchhouse, in order to have some private conversation with him. I told him that, as he might see by the notice posted on the gates, any one of the party concerned in the outrage would receive a free pardon, a passage out of the colony, and [£500], if he would consent to become an approver. After considerable hesitation, he admitted —

Mr. Read here interrupted objecting that as the prisoners were not present during the conversation, the evidence could not be allowed: such testimony was only admissible in extremis.

The Bench again overruled the objection.

The witness continued:— Francis admitted that he was one of the party that attacked the private escort. He also gave me the names of his companions on that occasion, and assisted in their apprehension. The names were John Francis, George Francis —

Mr. Read again interposed, and said that whether the Bench agreed with him or not, he was bound to object to the reception of such evidence. The witness was, however, desired to go on, and proceeded as follows:—

Joe Gray, alias Nutty, to be found at Tommy Condon’s, in Little Bourke street; one named Billy, boarding at the house of the brother of the proprietor of the Bush Inn; Bob Harding, at McEvoy’s tent, opposite the commissioner’s, at McIvor ; Neil McEvoy, opposite the Private Escort Company, at McIvor; George Elston, a fighting man, with one tooth out, keeper of a grog shop at the McIvor; George Melville, Wilson, and two others, names unknown; one very much pock-marked, dark brown hair, 5 feet 7 or 8 inches, about 30 years of age; the other man light brown hair, 5 feet 6 inches, about 27 years of age, goes by the name of Little Billy, living with a woman called Kitty, down the road on the left hand side, near the Bald Hill, at McIvor. I then handed Francis over to the chief detective officer, and desired him to take him about with him to assist in the apprehension of the remainder. I also promised him that I would not use his evidence against his brother, but would exert myself to have them both included in the pardon.

At the close of Captain McMahon’s evidence there was a pause in the proceedings for the production of John Francis, the approver, and brother of George Francis, the first approver, who lately committed suicide after a vain attempt to escape. This witness looked exceedingly pale on coming into Court, but he gave his evidence in a clear manner, though not showing a disposition to say anything more than was necessary to the questions put to him by Captain McMahon who elicited the following evidence:—

I was sent as a prisoner of the Crown to Van Diemen’s land for ten years: the time will expire next December. On the 20th July last I left McIvor in company with George Francis, George Wilson, George Melville, William Atkyns, and Joseph Gray. The prisoners Melville, Atkyns, and Wilson, now in the dock, are three of the men. We went through the bush towards the Mia Mia Inn, and stopped on the side of the road at a few miles distance from the inn. We heard the escort coming up at about ten or eleven o’clock, from the direction of McIvor towards Kyneton. We arranged a few branches of trees to put two men behind: the rest of us went about thirty yards higher up the road, and hid behind some trees. I heard some person in charge of the escort cry Halt! and saw some of the troopers firing at the two men behind the branches. We rushed to their assistance, and challenged the troop to stand; they refused, and fired on us, when we fired and a general fight com-menced. I saw four of the troop wounded, and found that two had escaped. Two of us (myself and Wilson) followed them, and told them to surrender; they shot at us and galloped away. Wilson and I went down the road and picked up all the firearms we could see, and then followed Francis, Melville, Atkyns, and Gray into the bush. I did not see the gold taken out of the cart. We went about two hundred yards into the bush, and took the gold out of the boxes. We went about seven miles through the bush that day, and the day after continued in the same direction, keeping off the road, and stopped that night on a riverside, I believe on Mollison’s run. Next morning we divided the gold, and started again, going in the same direction, and arrived near Kilmore, stopping in the bush. On Sunday we started all together for Melbourne, and on coming near the Rocky Water Holes we separated, Francis and Gray accompanying me to Melbourne, which we reached that night. We went to my house in Collingwood Flat, where I found Wilson and Atkyns, having previously arranged to meet them there. They remained all night. On the Tuesday following, Atkyns left for the diggings, Gray and Wilson staying with me. I saw Melville in town two or three days before I was apprehended; he told me he was going to the Mauritius. I saw Atkyns in town again about a week after he had left for the diggings; he said he had been to McIvor, and was going back again. The last time I saw Gray, he said he was going to Adelaide. Wilson was going to England with me and George Francis: we took our passages in the Madagascar. My wife and the wife of George Francis were going with us: our things were all on board. I gave my share of the gold to George Francis, who put it in his box. While on board the ship I was apprehended for stealing a pistol, and was discharged. I was arrested again on a charge of robbing the escort. I last saw George Francis in this room; have had no communication with him since. I sent a message to Capt McMahon from the gaol. —

Mr. Read again interposed, and was again overruled. He requested the objection to be written on the margin of the deposition. The same thing occurred several times afterwards.

Examination continued: I sent to Capt. McMahon to say I would tell all I knew. I did do so. The prisoners were not present. My confession was voluntary. No inducement was held out by Capt. McMahon. After my confession he told me he would send me a free man out of the colony with my wife. Our party had determined before the attack not to take human life if it could be avoided. We expected to get the gold without firing. I did not see any of our party shoot at a fallen man. The firing commenced on the part of the escort.

Samuel Beauchamp Davis, recalled. —I now see the second man I recognised in the gaol. That is he (pointing to Francis). Our troop did not fire until we had received a volley from the attacking party. Three of our men were lying in the road when the first shot from us was fired, I believe by myself.

John Francis, recalled. — I believe the firing of the escort troop was caused by seeing two of our party behind the branches. Those two men were put there to let the troop pass, and then close in and prevent their retreat. They made no attempt to attack, nor did they raise their guns.

Alexander Eason, being sworn, deposed as follows:— I am a constable in the Detective force. On Wednesday, 10th August, I accompanied detective Thomson on board the ship Madagascar, lying in Hobson’s Bay, to apprehend two prisoners named Francis on warrant, charged with stealing a pistol. I arrested John Francis. George Francis was not there. Coming from the ship to the beach, John Francis requested me to allow him to steer the boat. I did so. He brought us alongside the barque Collooney, his wife being in the boat with us. When we were alongside, the prisoner Melville came from the vessel into the boat and sat down. He offered to come and bail Francis out, but Francis objected, and told him to stay on board, and take care of his (Francis’s) win. I brought Francis ashore, and confined him. He was tried and discharged. He was again apprehended on the charge of robbing the Private Escort.

William Symons was then called, and deposed. — I am a cadet in the mounted police, stationed at Heathcote, near McIvor. On or about the 19th instant, I arrested George Francis, on Mr. Jeffrey’s station, on the Campaspie. I saw him last at the Rocky Water Holes — dead.

This closed the case for the Crown, and Mr. Read, having declined to ask any questions, applied for the discharge of the four prisoners Harding, McEvoy, Elston, and Agnes, saying that there was no evidence against them. He suspected that the draft found in the plaid dress must have been put there by George Francis himself, and that its presence there could not possibly be accounted for on any other supposition; but the Bench were of a different opinion, and could not think of listening to the application, as far as the female prisoner was concerned. They seemed disposed to discharge the other three, when Capt. McMahon stated that he had just heard a report that the other man mentioned by John Francis, namely, Joseph Gray, had been taken near Portland, and had confirmed his crime. He said that he did not attach much weight to the rumor, but that it was just possible such an apprehension might be the means of implicating the three prisoners. He would not apply for a further remand, but merely threw out the suggestion. The Bench, under the circumstances, remanded the three prisoners Harding, McEvoy, and Elston, for one week, but would allow bail, themselves in £300, and two sureties in £100 each. The rest of the prisoners the Bench did not feel the least hesitation in committing to take their trial in a higher Court.

When the prisoners were about to be removed, the wretched woman made an attempt to reach her husband, but was prevented by the constables. She pleaded hard to be allowed to speak to him for one moment, saying she would then go where they liked, but the indulgence was not allowed her.

Forgotten Bushrangers: Thomas Menard

The American-born bushranger who roamed from Warrnambool to Beechworth.

Thomas Menard, also known as “Yankee Tom”, “Yorkey Tom” or James Barrett, was a native of Louisiana who travelled to Victoria in 1855 in search of gold. Born around 1837, he was a single man with no friends or relatives in the colony, and he soon found work as a labourer.

He was not a tall man, even by the standards of the time, only standing at around 5’6″ tall. He had brown hair and grey eyes, and was of medium build. There were few identifying marks, but those on record were a mole on the corner of the right eye, a small mole on each breast, scar on finger of right hand, and a deep scar on his left shin. This basic description would be elaborated on later as police ramped up their hunt.

Next to nothing is known about Menard’s early life or the time he spent in Australia between 1855 and 1865, though later speculation would suggest he spent at least part of the time engaged in crimes such as highway robbery and murder, but the claims are unsubstantiated. Nevertheless, a life of crime would explain why he had aliases.

Menard was employed by a Henry Evans to work a quarry in Warrnambool. It was hard work, but Menard seemingly took to it without complaint. One of his colleagues was an Irishman named James Sweeney. Sweeney was a mouthy, irritable fellow who was constantly spoiling for a fight. After a series of verbal stouches instigated by Sweeney, during which he made disparaging comments about the Americans and the civil war, Menard had had enough.

View of Warrnambool (Tower Hill) by Daniel Clarke, 1867 [NGV]

On 10 June, 1865, after the men had retired for the night, Menard appeared at the doorway to the hut shared by himself, Sweeney, John Hall (alternatively reported as Howe and Haw), while brandishing a pistol. A colleague named Wales was asleep in the skillion. Hall was roused by a gunshot and a candlelight from the slush tub. He spotted Menard with the firearm and begged, “Tom, don’t!” Menard replied, “I don’t want to hurt you; lie quiet.” At that moment Menard fired another shot at Sweeney. Both had hit, one in the abdomen, the other lodging in the left breast. Menard bolted and as Hall helped his wounded colleague to his feet, Menard fired again through the door, hitting Sweeney in the wrist. Hall tried to give chase, but Menard got away.

Sweeney was taken to the hospital where he was attended by Dr. R. Henry Harrington. The abdominal wound was fatal, having destroyed the liver, and in a couple of days Sweeney died in hospital. The charge levelled against Menard was now murder.

Knowing what would befall him if he lingered, Yankee Tom went bush. For the next month police scoured the region to find him with no luck. On occasion, Yankee Tom would re-emerge to get supplies or food, before once again disappearing into the bush. On one such instance, on 24 June, he made an appearance at a halfway house kept by a Mrs. McLean. He simply entered and had refreshments, paid for by another man, then crossed the road back into the bush. The following day he emerged from the bush and entered a surveyors’ camp. He was dirty and unkempt, described as looking like a “lunatic”. He soon disappeared back into the bush once more.

On 28 June, Yankee Tom made an appearance at Maud Post Office. He purchased paper, envelopes, and stamps from Mrs. Meyers, the postmistress, before borrowing a pen and ink. He went to the back of the shop, wrote a letter, then posted it. The letter was addressed to Miss Chapman at Mrs. Taylor’s, Fyansford. He left without further interaction.

Such sightings of the dirty, raggedy bushranger were quite common in the weeks after the shooting of Sweeney. A party consisting of Detective Bailey, Constable McKay, and a civilian volunteer named Steady, began searching for Yankee Tom around Lethbridge and Stieglitz at the beginning of July, gathering as much information as they could from locals.

An amended description of Yankee Tom was published on 1 July:

Thomas Menard, aged twenty-seven or thirty, five feet six and a half inches high, about ten stone weight, thin face and build, pale and dirty complexion, large staring grey eyes, dark brown hair, light reddish beard, whiskers, and moustache of about six week’s growth, thin legs, swaggering gait, doubles his feet over when walking, and splashes his legs almost up to the knees, knock-kneed, mole on cheek near nose, wore short light-colored drab monkey jacket with large white buttons, moleskin trousers, blucher boots and small brown billycock hat. Yorkey Tom is only a recent alias, and not one by which he is generally known.

Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918, 1935) 1 July 1865: 14.

Menard was able to make it all the way to Beechworth on foot, where he broke into a house in Yackandandah, allegedly accompanied by Henry Evans, and robbed it before continuing on to Barnawartha. It was believed that they were ultimately heading to Belvoir, but their journey would be cut short when the pair were stopped by Mounted-Constable Ryan of Wodonga police.

With descriptions of the offenders, and a tip-off of where they were heading, the constable was able to track them down. Evans was arrested, but Menard dumped his swag and bolted. Evans was taken back to the lock-up where he was interrogated. Constable Ryan then inspected the swags of the pair. In Evans’s swag were provisions and sundry items stolen from the house in Yackandandah. In Menard’s swag was a double-barrelled pistol, ammunition and more provisions.

Menard encountered two men on horseback at 6:00pm the following day; he was on foot. Unbeknownst to Menard, the two men were plainclothes police – Sergeant Bambrick, officer in charge at Wodonga, and Constable Ryan. The police had received a tip-off that a man matching Menard’s description was in the vicinity of Barnawartha. When they caught up with the fugitive, Bambrick asked him his name. “Barrett,” was the reply, delivered in a surly tone. Menard then drew a revolver and fired at Bambrick’s head, but missed. Bambrick tried to dismount, but his foot caught in the stirrup iron and he fell to the ground. Menard bolted, putting ten yards between himself and the police before Bambrick recovered. The shot had spooked Ryan’s horse, causing it to bolt into the bush. Bambrick pursued on foot, calling on the bushranger to surrender before firing at him. Menard returned fire and continued running. Five shots were exchanged then Bambrick almost caught up to his target. At that moment Menard turned and shouted, “You bastard, now I have you covered!” Unfortunately for him the gun misfired and Bambrick was able to crash tackle him as he sought cover behind a tree. Bambrick disarmed Menard and pistol-whipped him into submission. At this moment Constable Ryan had managed to catch up and handcuffed Menard. The American was indignant and hollered at his captors declaring, “I’m sorry I did not take your life. I would be quite willing to die alongside of you, for I don’t care for my life. If only I had two men with me as good as myself I would kick the flanges out of you —— Victorians, and I would think no more of sticking up a police-station than any other common place.”

Ironically, Menard was only arrested on the house-breaking charge and an additional charge of escaping custody as the officers were unaware that James Barrett was in fact the fugitive murderer Thomas Menard. He was committed for trial at the Beechworth Circuit Court. Henry Evans was found not guilty of house-breaking, doubt being cast upon his involvement as the only evidence appeared to be that he was in company with Barrett when Constable Ryan arrested him on the road.

Beechworth courthouse (Photography: Aidan Phelan)

However, with Barrett being positively identified as Yankee Tom, it meant a change of venue for the American’s trial. As the warrant for his arrest relating to Sweeney’s murder was from another region it was necessary to transport him there to stand trial. He was taken to Geelong Gaol on 9 August, 1865.

Menard’s committal hearing for the murder charge was held in Warrnambool Police Court. He pleaded ‘Guilty’, openly admitting that he had shot Sweeney. Only two witnesses gave evidence, John Hall and Dr. Harrington. In the press, the description of him was decidedly unflattering:

The prisoner was a rather insignificant looking fellow, appearing to be about thirty years of age. He was attired on a suit of gaol clothing, having a light drab overcoat, with large pearl buttons, over his shoulders. He is of a fair complexion, with sandy hair, beard, moustache, and whiskers to match. He has savage-looking wandering bluish-grey eyes, and though not stout in person, has a wiry appearance. When addressing the Court, he appeared to have a peculiar stutter, or hesitation in his speech.

“THE LATE MURDER IN THE WESTERN DISTRICT.” The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946) 12 August 1865: 7.

The trial concluded on 10 October swiftly. The witnesses gave their accounts, Menard pleaded his guilt, and he was sentenced to death. He was then taken back to Geelong Gaol to await the inevitable. The warrant for his execution was signed by Governor Darling on 24 October. All that was left to do was prepare Menard for the next world.

As is often the case with condemned men, Menard dedicated much of his time leading up to his hanging with reading the Bible and praying. He still maintained something of a callous indifference to his crime, however.

The night before his execution, Menard decided to give a statement about his crime, penning a short letter of confession wherein he openly admitted to slaughtering James Sweeney after being bullied. A second confession was written and forwarded to authorities via his attendant, but the details were kept secret. It was speculated in the press later, that the second confession was that Menard had committed six other murders previous to Sweeney, while he was living as a bushranger. He was also alleged to have admitted to robbing a coach near Castlemaine.

On 28 October, 1865, at 10:00am, Menard was hanged at Geelong Gaol. The night before he had spent quietly reading the Bible and praying. He refused breakfast, but ate an orange.

When he went to the gallows he was clutching a paper in his right hand, upon which was supposedly written his final statement, but he did not have the nerve to read it as intended. Some accounts state that it was actually a prayer written on the paper by the gaol governor. Menard was attended spiritually by reverends Strickland and Crisp. Forty civilians were assembled on the ground floor as witnesses. As Menard stood on the drop, Strickland read the burial service then the hangman shook Menard’s hand.

The gallows at Geelong Gaol: These permanent gallows had only just been installed when Menard was executed upon them. He was one of only four people executed at the gaol in its history.

When Menard was finally dropped, the hanging was botched. The fall did not break the neck at all and instead of a quick, clean death, Menard dangled, convulsing. His pulse was observable by the attending doctors, Reid and Syder, for fifteen minutes before he was finally strangled to death. Charles Travers Mackin M.D., coroner for Geelong Gaol, witnessed and oversaw the inquest. Dr. Shaw, assistant to the coroner, suggested that Menard’s strong neck muscles had simply prevented the rope from doing its job.

Extract from the coroner’s inquest: Deposition of Charles Travers Mackin. [PROV]

A death mask was made from plaster by Metcalfe and Heard of McKillop Street, and a copy was forwarded to the Melbourne museum. Menard was buried within the grounds of the gaol with a single red rose and a written prayer from Brodie, the gaol governor, interred with his remains.

Thomas Menard’s death mask [Source]

Spotlight: Victoria – The Escort Robbery (03/08/1853)

Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 – 1859), Wednesday 3 August 1853, page 2



From the Melbourne papers which have come to hand, we glean the following particulars:—

It will be some gratification (says the Herald of the 28th ultimo), to leam that the leader of the gang who attempted the wholesale and cold-blooded slaughter of the Private Escort yesterday week has been captured and recognised, and that he admits himself to have been one of the party. The wretch was taken in bed on the following Saturday at McIvor Diggings, where he was lying, booted and spurred, with a female as abandoned as himself. He is an ill looking fellow, named Christie, about twenty-six years of age, and whose life has been one scene of crime from first to last. He had not long escaped from Pentridge Stockade, and it was the look-out for him as a run-away convict which led to his detection as one of the would-be murderers. Christie is said to be a native of Sydney, but this is not certain. A great many other parties have been taken on suspicion, and discharged for want of identification, but it is to be hoped and expected that the large rewards offered by the Government and the Company for the apprehension of the gang will cause a “split” among the villains, and ultimately lead to the detection of all the culprits. As yet none of the gold or the money has been recovered.

Intelligence was received in town yesterday, 28th ultimo, of the death of Mr. Morton, a fine young man, one of the Escort guard, who was shot near the region of the lungs. It was also reported that Flooks, the driver, was no more; but this, we are informed, is premature, though he is in a very weak condition. The prisoner Henry Hazel, apprehended on suspicion at Kalkallo, will be brought up for examination at the District Court to-day, but it is supposed that a further remand will be the consequence, as the witnesses have not had time to come to town. Yesterday afternoon the detective police arrested a man named McQuinn on suspicion of being one of the murderers, and he is now in the watch-house. This person was charged at the police-office yesterday with vagrancy, but was discharged, and immediately after found himself in the hands of the police under more serious circumstances. At the present moment it would be improper to state more than the mere mention of the charge against him. The Escort troop started for Melbourne yesterday in a very respectable style. Their number has been increased, and their “turn out” was very creditable.

Spotlight: The Escort Robbery (25/07/1853)

Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer (Vic. : 1851 – 1856), Monday 25 July 1853, page 2


The Melbourne newspapers of Saturday contained statements that the Private Escort had been attacked and robbed, but no particulars had been ascertained. The Argus says, “The most diligent inquiry enables us to state nothing further for certain than that the attack has taken place,” and the Herald simply states that the rumour “seems” to be too true.

We are enabled to supply a more reliable account than has reached Melbourne, the following letter from Forest Creek, having been delivered at our office yesterday. It will be perceived that although several of the Escort were wounded, there is no reason to believe that any deaths have taken place:—


Thursday Morning, 21st July, 1853.

The Melbourne Gold Escort Company was robbed last night. I have just been speaking to the manager; he says that the Escort left McIvor yesterday evening, to proceed to Kyneton, meeting there the Forest Creek Escort, belonging to the same Company; that about half way between McIvor and Kyneton, the Escort was fired on from some rocks, close to the track, the leading horse shot, and one of the mounted men in charge of the Escort, and others were wounded; the Gold, amounting to over three thousand ounces, was then carried off; it does not appear that the Escort Guard returned the shots.

The public mind is greatly agitated. About 20 mounted men formed the robbing party. All are sorry here for the outrage, as the Company is very popular.

I have written this on the stump of a fallen gum tree.

Spotlight: The Execution of Smith and Brady (13 May 1873)

Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), Tuesday 13 May 1873, page 2


Yesterday was enacted in the Beechworth Gaol, one of those tragedies which are the necessity, as they are the curse, of civilised communities. Two men, James Smith and Thomas Brady were hanged till they were dead. They had been convicted of one of the most causeless and brutal murders which has ever occurred in this colony. John Watt, of Wooragee, a man who was never known to do an ill turn to another, was shot down in his own house, without provocation, and he died from the effects of his wounds. Three men, Smith, Brady and Happenstein were arrested on the charge of being participes criminis, but Happenstein turned Queen’s evidence, and seriously inculpated the others. Smith and Brady were tried with painful care by a jury, Judge Williams presiding, at the last Beechworth Circuit Court. They were found Guilty, and sentenced to death. Yesterday morning that sentence was carried out. There were about sixty spectators present, some compelled, by duty, but others, and these formed the larger part, simply avid of strong excitement. For these latter, we have no sympathy; they were present to gratify a morbid taste, and they gratified it; c’est tout! If they enjoyed it, no one will grudge them their enjoyment; if they did not enjoy it, it may perhaps be hoped that they learned a useful lesson. Seldom have men gone to the scaffold more self-possessed and self-contained than these showed themselves to be. One of them said a few words, to be mentioned elsewhere, but the other was scarcely standing on the drop before the death-dealing handle was pulled by Bamford. It should be stated that both prisoners had previously informed the sheriff that their dying statement was contained in a written paper, which had been handed to the governor of the gaol for the sheriff, and for publication, and that they would not, personally, address the public. That understanding was not fulfilled.

The sheriff received the paper in question, and refused to hand it to the representatives of this journal, or rather of the Press generally. That request was refused; on what ground Mr Brett probably knows. At a later hour, Mr Warren, proprietor of this journal, called at Mr Brett’s office, and saw that gentleman. He asked some questions with reference to the serious matter at issue, and received only indefinite replies. Stronger language might be used, but that Mr Brett, being an officer of the Government, and therefore unable to reply, we have no desire to characterise his conduct as it deserves. Failing to obtain a definite answer to his request, Mr Warren took further action immediately by telegraphing to two of the Government departments, viz., the Hon. the Chief Secretary and the Hon. the Solicitor-General, to ask that authority should be sent to Mr Brett to communicate the contents of the document in his possession. We append the substance of the telegrams, viz.:—

Beechworth, May 12th, 1873.

Applied personally to sheriff for Smith’s written document. He (Smith) expressed wish made public after execution. Mr Brett not only refuses to give the document, but declines to intimate his course of action or any way in which the public can get it. Please advise by telegram.


The following correspondence passed between Mr Warren and the sheriff, and we commend it carefully to all whom it may concern:—


The Ovens and Murray Advertiser Office, May 12th, 1873.

Sir,—I beg, as proprietor of The Ovens and Murray Advertiser, to request formally from you, permission for a member of my staff to take a copy of the paper handed to you, by or from, one of the convicts, Smith and Brady, this morning. According to your own statement, this paper was given to you to be made public by the special request of the men now dead. It is therefore the property of the public, and as an act of justice to Smith and Brady, as well as to the public, it should appear at the same time as the record of the death of these men. Should your official instructions compel you to refuse this request, I shall publish a copy of this letter to satisfy my readers that all that was possible has been done to provide them with the words of a paper, the publication of which they have certainly a right to expect.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient servant,


W. G. Brett, Esq.,

Sheriff of the Beechworth District.


I regret that I cannot comply with this request pending the decision of the Government, to whom the statement has been referred by me, and perhaps Mr Warren will be kind enough to address his request to the Hon. the Chief Secretary.

W. G. BRETT, Sheriff.

Mr Brett is afraid to do his duty to the public, and afraid, it seems, of doing anything! We must urge that the withholding from publication of the paper handed in by the deceased, even for a single day, is without justification, any law in that case made and provided notwithstanding. Mr Brett will have to regain wisdom, and to drop down to the level of his really very commonplace functions soon! Till then, we can afford to wait.

Spotlight: Young Kelly on remand (13 May 1870)

Benalla Ensign and Farmer’s and Squatter’s Journal (Vic. : 1869 – 1872), Friday 13 May 1870, page 2

The Benalla Police Court was crowded yesterday to see the young bushranger Kelly, and to hear the result of the charges laid against him. The prisoner has greatly improved under the better and regular diet he has had since his incarceration, and has become quite “flash.” We are told that his language is hideous, and if he recover his liberty at Kyneton, and again join Power—as no doubt he soon would—we are inclined to think he would be far more dangerous than heretofore. He has managed to get out of several ugly scrapes, and this success has not only emboldened but it has hardened him. Kelly was dismissed on the first two charges—that of robbing Mr. McBean in company with Power, and of the robbery near Seymour. Mr. McBean could not identify him, and the man robbed near Seymour could nowhere be found. It will be remembered that Mr. McBean did not see the face of the young man who was with Power when he was stuck-up, as he turned his back on Mr. McBean all through. But the Seymour case looks very like aiding and abetting. We shall see how the young criminal will fare at Kyneton, to which place he has been remanded, and where he will be brought up on Friday next, when it will be soon whether Murray can identify him. We regret to learn that there is no word of Power, who is believed to be in ambush in this vicinity.

Spotlight: Smith and Brady on Trial (22 October 1872)

Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), Tuesday 22 October 1872, page 3


Monday, 21st October.

(Before Messrs. G. R. Berry, J. Turner, G. Graham, and Dr. Fox, J.P.’s.)

Robbery under Arms and Attempted Murder. — James Smith, Thomas Brady and William Happenstein, three men in the garb of bushmen, were charged with robbery under arms, and attempted murder at Wooragee. Mr Superintendent Barclay said that the defendants had been to a certain extent identified by some of the persons who were present when the robberies took place; as, however, they had only been arrested on Saturday afternoon, he would ask for a remand, in order that proper enquiries might be made. Remanded till Monday next.

Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), Wednesday 27 November 1872, page 3


(Abridged from the Melbourne Age.)

At the Beechworth Police Court, on 31st October, James Smith, William Heppannstein, and Thomas Brady were charged with the murder of John Watt, of Wooragee. Thirteen witnesses were examined. The following is the evidence chiefly bearing on the case:—

Catherine Mitchell, wife of Peter Dominick Mitchell, living at Wooragee, deposed: I was at home on the 15th instant; was alone; about half-past 7 in the evening, heard a knock at the door; opened it and saw two men, one of them came into the house, the other remained outside; the one that came inside said, “Where is your money?” I said “I have none;” he said nothing further, but took a gun down; I only saw one of the men; I should take the man standing next the constable (Smith) to be the man who was in my house and took the gun; I saw the two men taking my husband away from the cowyard; about five minutes afterwards the men came back with my husband, and came into the house, one of them — the tall one — came into the front room, the other stayed out in the back room; they asked my husband for ammunition; he gave them some powder and shot; the men remained for about a quarter of an hour whilst we were looking for caps; did not find any caps; they then left; heard the report of a gun about 9 o’clock, about an hour after the men had left; had heard the report of my husband’s gun many times; it had a peculiar sound; when I heard the gun fired I did not recognise the report as being that of my husband’s gun; the gun was not loaded when they took it away.

Peter Dominick Mitchell, a gardener, residing at Wooragee, deposed: On Tuesday, 15th instant, about half past 7 o’clock in the evening, I was standing near a cow that was in the bail, when I saw two men come out of the house towards me; one of the men, whom I believe to be the prisoner Smith, said, “Come this way,” three times; they told me to go back and deliver the powder and shot I had; I walked in front of them back to the house; I gave the powder and shot to the tallest of the two; I took particular notice of the face of the tallest man; both men had something dark on their faces, with holes cut for their eyes; to the best of my belief I can recognise Smith, from his eyes, his build, full chest, and his voice; could not recognise the second man, who had a kind of dragging walk; when they left the house the tallest man said that if they catched me down the road they would shoot me; about an hour or an hour and a half afterwards I heard the report of firearms.

William Jarvis, a bullock-driver, residing at Wooragee, deposed: On Tuesday, 15th instant, I was in Gale’s store between 7 and 8 o’clock in the evening; Mrs. Gale was also in the store; there was no one else there; whilst there my attention was called by a knock at the door; when I opened the door there were two men with firearms, one at each side of the door; one had a single-barrelled gun, the other appeared to have a double-barrelled pistol; the man with the gun said, “Come outside here, you wretch, or I’ll blow your brains out;” I walked out on the verandah alongside of him; he asked me whether there was anybody else in the house; I told him there was only a woman there; he called out two or three times; he said that if he had to call her out again he would blow her brains out; I cried out, “Mrs. Gale, you had better come outside;” she came out, and stood alongside of me on the verandah; the man with the gun said to Mrs. Gale, “There’s £50 in that house; I want it, and I’ll have it; go in and get it, or I’ll shoot you;” she said there was no money in the house; after the man with the gun and Mrs. Gale had gone into the house, he called out to me to come in, and I went and stood inside the door, the man with the pistol taking up his place on the step of the door; I heard the man who carried the gun ask Mrs. Gale to go and get the fifty pounds; Mrs. Gale said she would give him anything she had in the shop, but that she had no money for him; he told her that if he had to ask for money again he would blow her brains out; I said to Mrs. Gale, “If you have got any money you had better give it to him;” she said she would, and took him to a little box behind the counter, she laid the box on a little bench behind the counter, and he took the money himself; the other man was outside the house all the time; the man with the gun then went towards the door, when he turned round and said to Mrs. Gale not to allow me to leave there that night, or he would blow her brains out; he said there were two more men down the road waiting; he told me not to go away from Gale’s that night, or also I might be shot; I told him that I would not go away; the men then went away; it would be from twenty minutes to half an hour from the time they came to the store until they went away; during most of the time I had a good opportunity of seeing the man who carried the gun; he had a kind of handkerchief over his face; it was very thin and very dirty; the color of the skin could be seen through it; there were two holes for the eyes, and a hole on the side of the cheek, through which skin appeared quite plain; Smith is the man; I am positive of it; the next time I saw him after that evening (15th instant) was in the police yard, Beechworth, on the following Monday; he was with a number of others; I picked him from amongst them, and had no hesitation in doing so; after I had picked him out I heard his voice; it was the same voice that I heard at Mr. Gale’s house; indentified the prisoner Smith in the yard by his whiskers and hair; I could see the whiskers and hair through the handkerchief when he was at Gale’s.

Margaret Gale corroborated the evidence of the previous witness, and further deposed: I recognise that man there; that is him standing in the corner (Smith); I am as positive about him as I am about my husband; I pointed him out as soon as I saw him from the expression of his face, his make, and his hand; also recognised his voice.

Henry Gale, storekeeper, Wooragee, deposed: On the evening of the 15th instant I was coming out of my bakehouse, about 250 yards from my store; on my way home I met two men, one of whom had a gun, and the other what I took to be a pistol or revolver; the men called out to me “Stop, hold on,” and presented their pieces at me, one in front and the other at the side; the place where I was stopped was about sixty yards from my store; I was about to pass on, when the man with the pistol said, “Stand or I’ll shoot you;” I stood and said, “Are you really in earnest; I thought you were only joking;” the man with the pistol said, “If I put a ball in your head that will not be a joke;” he then said, “Turn out that money;” I told him that I had no money; he insisted that I had, and I turned out my pockets to show that I had not; the man with the gun then stepped forward and searched me; having satisfied himself, he fell back again; The man with the pistol then said, “It’s no use, he has the money,” and then addressing himself to me, said, “Go in the bush; ” I said, “What is the use of taking me in the bush, are you not satisfied?” he said that they had been told I had £50; the man with the pistol then said, “Go to your store, and don’t come out to-night; there are men up the road and down the road; ” I do not think I could recognise the men again; I had an idea that I had heard the voice before; I have an idea that Thomas Brady was the man who stood in front of me with the pistol; Brady I have seen several times, and he has been at my store, and I firmly believe that the voice I heard when I was stuck up was that of Brady; not only the voice, but I think there is a resemblance in the stature of the man.

John Alexander Kennedy, poundkeeper, Albury, deposed: Was at the Wooragee Hotel on Tuesday, 15th instant, about 9 o’clock in the evening; I was in the kitchen; there were present Hugh Pierce, Thomas Fraser, and the late John Watt; Mrs. Watt was going in and out of the kitchen; when Mrs. Watt was outside heard her call out, “John, there’s a knock at the door, will you open it?” Mr. Watt got up and went to the door; between half a minute and a minute afterwards I heard the report of firearms; directly after the report I felt as if I had been burned on the arm, and a numb sensation followed; when Mr. Watt came into the kitchen he said, “I am shot”; there was blood running down the front and left side of his coat; he sat down on a form, and immediately afterwards got up, and fell over on the floor; I picked him up, and put him in a sitting position against the wall.

Ellen Watt, wife of the late John Watt, of the Wooragee Hotel, deposed: On the evening of Tuesday, 15th instant, saw two men passing the gate, along the main road; had them in sight from one to two minutes; about one minute after they had passed, I called out to my husband there was someone knocking; heard him leave the kitchen and go along the passage to the front; about a minute afterwards I heard the report of a gun; when I got into the kitchen I found that my husband had been wounded; my husband told me that he was mortally wounded; Dr. Walsh attended him shortly after; he lived till the 25th instant; my husband described the men to me whom he saw at the door; he told me that he was shot by two men; one was a fair tall man with high cheek bones; he said that he had very little hair round the chin, and that it was of a lightish color; the other he said was shorter, and had a sandy complexion; my husband said that one of them said to him, “Come out, you wretch, or I’ll blow your brains out;” I believe that Smith and Brady would answer the description of the men as described by my husband; Smith was about the same size as the man who passed the gate first, and Brady appeared like the second one.

Mr. Superintendent Barclay put in the declaration made by Mr. Watt, before Mr. J. Turner, J.P., believing himself to be dying, as follows:—

“Between 7 and 8 o’clock two men came to my place. They knocked at the front door. I went outside and opened the door. The man with the gun said, ‘Stand out here or I will blow out your brains.’ There was another man with him. I then ran through the passage to the kitchen, and received a shot in the left side. I got to the kitchen, when I dropped down. I don’t think they followed me. The one that fired was a medium sized man, ill-looking, and thin. He had a cap on. I don’t think he had very much whiskers, which were dark. I believe the smallest man fired. He spoke with a gruff voice. He was a youngish man, I think.”

The Rev. W. C. Howard, incumbent of Christ Church, Beechworth, deposed: On the 23rd ultimo saw the deceased, Mr. Watt, at the Wooragee Hotel; remember the prisoners Smith, Heppannstein, and Brady being taken to Wooragee; was in the room with Mr. Watt when they were brought in separately to see Mr. Watt; he was at that time in an extremely feeble condition, hardly able to speak; Brady was first placed before him; Mr. Watt said he thought that was not the man who fired the gun; Brady was then taken out; Heppannstein was placed before Mr. Watt, who said, “That is not the man at all; he is much taller than the man who fired the gun;” Heppannstein was then taken out; Smith was then brought in; Mr. Watt was then becoming more feeble, and I could not hear exactly at the time, whilst Smith was in the room, the exact words which he used; afterwards Mr. Watt kept speaking partially to himself; I stooped my head down to the pillow, and asked him what he was saying, when he replied in a sufficiently strong voice for me then to hear him, “That is very much like the man who fired the shot; ” when Smith was in the room Mr. Watt made a movement with his hand, which I could not interpret.

George Graham, merchant, residing at Wooragee, deposed: On the 23rd instant I was at the Wooragee Hotel; was standing alongside Mr. Watt’s bed when the prisoners Heppannstein and Smith were brought into the room; as soon as Heppannstein was brought in Mr. Watt, who was in a very low state, shook his head and said, “No.” When Smith was brought in I lifted up a portion of the curtain; Mr. Watt partially turned his head, looked at Smith, and pointed with his hand and said, “That’s the man;” there was a brief pause, and I heard something like “me” after. There might have been another word between, but did not hear it.

The prisoners were then charged with highway robbery under arms. Evidence at considerable length was taken, and the usual caution having been administered by the Bench, the prisoners, as in the former case, said they had nothing to say. All three — James Smith, William Heppannstein, and Thomas Brady — were then committed to take their trial at the next circuit court to be held in Beechworth for wilful murder; they were also committed to take their trial at the same court for robbery under arms.

Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), Friday 18 April 1873, page 3


The following is the list of cases remaining for trial :—

James Smith and Thomas Brady, murder, Wooragee.

James Smith and Thomas Brady, robbery under arms, Wooragee.

David Stewart, breaking into and stealing from a dwelling, Beechworth.

John Mulhall, unmentionable crime, Benalla. James Quin, on remand from last Circuit Court, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.


Thomas Gidley, sheepstealing, Beechworth.

Ah Hen, wounding cattle, Beechworth (2 cases).

Cornelius Foote, perjury, Wangaratta.

Kilmore Free Press (Kilmore, Vic. : 1870 – 1954), Thursday 24 April 1873, page 4


(From the Ovens and Murray Advertiser, April 19th.

A crime that for a time seemed to be enshrouded in mystery has been sheeted home to the criminals. After a fair and impartial trial, James Smith and Thomas Brady have been found guilty of the murder of Mr. Watt, at Wooragee, and have been sentenced to expiate their crime on the scaffold. So far as we can judge, after hearing the evidence brought forward, the verdict returned by the jury is a righteous one. The testimony of Happenstein, an associate of the prisoners, and who was to some extent connected with them in the crime, supplied the one link that was wanting in the chain. Without the evidence of the approver, the case against Smith and Brady left no moral doubt. His testimony, corroborated as it was by the statements of other witnesses, cleared away whatever legal doubt there was as to the guilt of the prisoners. Mrs. Gale’s identification of Smith as one of the men who stuck up and robbed the postoffice and store at Wooragee was complete, that of the witness Jarvis was not less so. Both witnesses swore positively to his having been the man, who, armed with a gun, compelled Mrs. Gale to deliver up the money she had in the store, and who made use of threats as to blowing her brains out and that of the witness Jarvis, in the most approved bushranging fashion. The evidence of Mr. Mitchell and his wife, from whose house the gun was taken, was scarcely less conclusive. Both were positive in their own minds that Smith was the man, but they had that shadow of a doubt which prevented them swearing directly to his identity. So far as the outrages at Mitchell’s and Gale’s were concerned, the testimony of the independent witnesses sufficiently established the complicity of Smith, whilst Mr. Gale’s testimony proved the identity of Brady as one of the robbers. Morally, there was not the slightest doubt that the same men who visited Mitchell’s and Gale’s were those who called at the Wooragee Hotel, and finished a night of crime by shooting Mr. Watt; legally there might have been some difficulty in connecting them with the firing of the shot, had not Happenstein come forward and told what he knew of the matter. As a rule, we have a strong dislike to the evidence of approvers, but in Happenstein’s case there are several circumstances that lift the testimony out of the usual category. In the first place it was known from the outset that his share in the crime was no more than that of an accessary before the fact, and it was doubtful whether, if he had not turned approver, the crown could proceed against him on the capital charge. None of the witnesses — neither the Mitchells, the Gales, nor Jarvis — deposed to having seen him in conpany with Smith and Brady; in fact, it was evident, as he himself stated, that he had acted as waiting man to the party, taking charge of the horses and keeping guard while the others went on their marauding expedition. Under these circumstances, and considering that no promise was held out to Happenstein to furnish any statement, we consider that his evidence — more especially as it was corroborated in almost every important particular — was entitled to the credence it received. Looking back, we cannot help agreeing with the Crown Prosecutor in his statement that the manner in which the case was got up reflects the highest credit on the police; there is no doubt that both the officers and men engaged showed great sagacity and skill by the way in which they added link to link until they made the chain of evidence complete. It must be remembered that the crime which formed the subject of the trial at the Circuit Court yesterday was of no ordinary nature. Two men visit a lonely wayside public house, after dark knock at the door, and when they are answered they order the landlord to stand outside threatening in case of refusal to blow out his brains. He turns round to regain the shelter he has quitted, is fired at and mortally wounded; the murderers speed away in the darkness, and excepting a passing glance at their forms caught by the murdered man’s wife, they are not seen by anyone in the house. Unless for the traces the murderers left by their visit to Gale’s, in all human probability the Wooragee murder would have been added to the list of undiscovered crimes, of which there have been not a few in Victoria. Fortunately for the peace of mind and security of lonely dwellers in the bush, and perhaps also for those who may be inclined to enter on a criminal career, justice has been vindicated by the charge having been brought home to the guilty parties. Some complaints were made when those men were arrested as to the delay that must take place before they could be placed on their trial. But all things considered, we are of opinion that it is as well that the delay did take place. The excitement that was occasioned in the district by the shooting of an inoffensive and much respected resident in his own house, has had time to die out during the six months, that have elapsed since the murder took place. Whatever the character of those accused of the crime, they were entitled to a fair and impartial trial, and they have received it. Mr. C. A. Smyth, in conducting the case for the Crown, strained no point to secure a conviction, but, as is his wont, while doing justice to the side on which he was engaged, he treated the accused with every fairness. It is necessary that the law should be vindicated; at the same time it is lamentable to see two healthy strong young men sentenced to have their career cut short by an ignominious death. A little sin, says a high authority, is like the letting in of water. Smith commenced criminal career with the too common and much too-lightly esteemed offence of cattle stealing, and ended it as a murderer’s doom. His fate and that of his fellow convict ought to be a warning to others lest they trangress against the law. Once a criminal career is commenced it is hard to tell where it will end. In a country like this, where honest labour is well rewarded, crimes of every description are as unprofitable as they are wicked.

Spotlight: Gipsy Smith the Victorian Bushranger (23 April 1904)

Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), Saturday 23 April 1904, page 8


(by G. Buckmaster, formerly Victoria mounted police.)

In your very interesting history of “The early days of South Brisbane,” a convict named Gipsy Smith is mentioned. From a description of his person and his leading and peculiar characteristics, I have no hesitation in saying that he is identical with the Gipsy Smith who in 1857 became a notorious bushranger in Victoria, and who was as famed for his daring and successful robberies as for his good humour and courtesy to his victims. Brisbane at that date was known in Victoria as Moreton Bay, and Gipsy Smith often regaled his victims with a recital of pranks he played while up here. Strange to say he presented none of the physical marks of the “old hand,” the “Vandemonian,” or the “t’other sider,” as these ex-convicts were called, on his person or in his manner. That was strange, for I have seen here in Australia those people, male and female, in every position of life, in Parliament, on the bench, and in the police, in the mansion and in the hovel, all displaying the indelible brand of the brutal system with which demons in human form treated them while convicts from the old country. Why are men and women who now do a long sentence in Australia not thus recognised? I would much sooner proclaim myself the son of one of those convicts instead of the son of one of those inhuman monsters whose brutality placed such a mark on the face of a Christian man or woman. But the authorities could not overlook Gipsy Smith’s bushranging pranks, and a reward was offered for his arrest. No doubt he had in his mind the adage “The nearer to the church the further from Heaven,” for he pitched his camp quite close to the Daisy Hill police camp. A traitor gave information to Senior-constable Patrick Finnigan and some constables stole out and captured Gipsy Smith without a struggle. So highly did Captain McMahon, the Chief Commissioner of Police, approve of that arrest that to Finnigan’s one chevron as a senior constable he added two more, thus giving him three stripes of a first-class sergeant. Gipsy Smith was committed for trial to the Castlemaine Circuit Court, and while under escort to the gaol there, so fascinated the mounted constable, that he induced him to remove the handcuffs. After a time, watching his opportunity, Smith seized the constable’s sword, and drawing it, tried to make off, pursued by the constable, who armed himself with the scabbard. With this he attacked Smith, and a furious fight followed. But the sword proved itself far superior to the scabbard, and the constable was laid low. Smith, when subsequently arrested, declared that he had never met a braver man than that constable, who in several bouts nearly overcame him. That constable, too, was armed with a pair of horse pistols. Why did he not use them? Why he could not use them I explained in a former issue of the “South Brisbane Herald,” in “A Narrow Escape.” Gipsy Smith was tried at the Castlemaine Circuit Court and found guilty. I forget his sentence. Some time after I met the great First-class Sergeant Finnigan, who thought himself no small potatoes. The Victorian foot police were only allowed to sport a small leg-of-mutton whisker at that time, and wore the Albert cap, which the graceless “London Punch” irreverently compared to an inverted flower pot. With the whiskers and the strap of his cap Pat made a good display, his blue cloth jumper was tied around his waist with a red silk ribbon which nearly fell to his feet. His tight blue pants and his £5 Napoleon boots were the admiration of all, and when he tried to speak with an English accent it was just as laughable as to hear an Irish man speak with a Yankee nasal drawl to hide his brogue. But no one is safe in this world until he has six feet of clay over his body. A sergeant named Daly reported him for riding barebacked the trooper’s horse while drunk. Gipsy Smith got him out of that. Then a prisoner escaped from him. For this he was reduced. Then he took to drink and was dismissed, and the last I heard of him he was a highly respected superintendent in the Tasmanian police force. So Pat Finnigan had more luck than Gipsy Smith. It may interest the friends of Sergeant Timmins in Beechworth to learn that after the sergeant was dismissed in 1869, with Superintendent T. E. Langley and Sub inspector Henry Downing, for “tampering with the enemy,” Timmins, too, became a superintendent in the police force of Tasmania. The year 1869 was an unlucky one for the police of the Ovens district. Captain Standish, the Chief Commissioner, was reduced in rank for attempting to boss the Secretary of the Victorian Law Department.