Thunderbolt’s Last Ride

Tuesday, 24 May, 1870, began as any usual day would for Fred Ward, alias Captain Thunderbolt. He arose early and left his camp at the big rock on horseback. The rock was a bizarre natural structure, like a huge marble defying physics to teeter on a cliff, split down the middle providing ample space to hide for a bushranger. On the way he met a man named Pearson who was en route from Salisbury Mountain. Ward asked Pearson if he would make it to Blanche’s Inn by going in that direction, to which he replied in the affirmative. Pearson was an old associate of Ward’s and asked if he remembered him from their days breaking in horses in Mudgee. Ward replied that he did but added that he could not stop to chat. After the brief interaction Ward rode off on his way. For months Ward had laid low, only emerging once in a while to resume his trade. Many had assumed that he had left New South Wales altogether. Now he was ready to get back to work and he thought he knew the perfect spot for highway robbery.

Blanche’s Inn was situated at Church Gully between Bendemeer and Uralla and it was here that Ward decided to work for the day. Before midday Ward had robbed three travellers, including the proprietor of the inn and his wife who were returning on a spring cart from an outing to Uralla. Ward deprived Mrs. Blanche of a purse then allowed them to continue on their way. Word reached the police in Uralla at 3:30pm when Giovanni Cappasoti, a hawker who had been one of the victims, made a complaint that a bushranger had stuck him up at Blanche’s Inn and stolen £3.13s.6d, a watch and chain, a gold nugget and jewellery. Cappasoti had been heading to the Uralla races from Tamworth when accosted. Following this he had gone into the inn for a drink, which Thunderbolt shouted him after following him inside. Cappasoti then drove his wagon to Donnington’s farm, took his horse out, and rode to the police station. In response to the news Senior Constable Mulhall and Constable Walker set out in pursuit of the infamous Captain Thunderbolt.

Ward was in the process of robbing a man when Senior Constable Mulhall came into view. The hapless victim had been taking a horse belonging to a Mr. Huxham into Armidale when Ward had bailed him up. The handsome grey horse Ward was on when Mulhall appeared was in fact Huxham’s and the man was attempting to get it back when they were interrupted. Spotting the trooper, Ward immediately turned and fired twice at the him, who returned fire twice. Ward took off towards Kentucky Creek, the stockman in pursuit. Mulhall turned back and met Walker who had been bringing up the rear.

“There is the wretch; I have exchanged shots with him. Shoot him,” Mulhall ordered Walker. Walker, dressed in plainclothes, immediately pursued Ward. The other man accidentally cut Walker off by blocking the path with his horse, which was evidently spooked by the commotion. As Walker drew his revolver he accidentally discharged it into the ground. Ward, believing he was being shot at, fired at Walker but missed. The bushranger took off as fast as the horse would take him, the trooper following suit.

For the prior seven years, Ward had been able to outride the police and escape capture at every opportunity, however this time he was missing the key ingredient for his success – his wife Mary Ann Bugg. In previous incidents, Mary Ann had often run interference for Ward, allowing herself to be captured in order to give her lover time to get away. Now that Ward was operating alone he was entirely reliant on his horsemanship and the speed and endurance of his horse.

Constable Walker galloped after Ward, brandishing his revolver and calling on the outlaw to halt in the name of the Queen. Ward replied by firing at the trooper with a pistol. The hooves of the animals churned up the dust, which coiled in large sandy coloured clouds behind them. The rhythmic pounding of the galloping passed through the bodies of the riders. Wind whipped at Ward’s thin curls and he jabbed his spurs into the horse’s flanks. Walker stuck to him like glue, matching every dodge and weave as they bounded over creeks and through bush for around an hour.

Finally Ward reached a junction of Chilcott’s Waterhole and Kentucky Creek. He dismounted and began to wade out into the waterhole. Walker rode to the bank, shooting Ward’s horse to make escape impossible should he double back. As Walker found a spot to cross, Ward climbed out of the waterhole and discarded his coat. He ran 120 yards up Kentucky Creek and crossed to the opposite bank. By now Walker had caught up and was by the creek with his pistol drawn. Ward returned the gesture. As they faced off Walker finally got a good look at the legendary Thunderbolt. Far from being a handsome, dashing highwayman in stolen finery, Ward was skinny, ill-kempt and balding. His sinewy hand flexed as he steadied his revolver towards the trooper.

Constable Walker, dressed in the same clothes and riding the same horse as on the fateful confrontation, recreates his capture of Thunderbolt at the exact spot where it occurred.

“Who are you?” Ward demanded, confused by the policeman’s attire.


“Are you a trooper?”

“Yes, and a married man,” Walker stated.

“In that case, think of your family and keep off,” Ward barked.

“Will you surrender?”

“No! I will die first.”

Walker tightened his grip on the reins of his horse. He could feel his heart in his throat.

“Well, then it is you or I for it,” Walker said. With that he directed his mount into the water and the beast crashed into the creek, becoming totally submerged.

[Source: National Museum of Australia]

Ward, unable or unwilling to follow through with his bluff, rushed into the water attempted to drag Walker out of the saddle. Water splashed around them as they struggled, the horse becoming increasingly hard to control. Walker fired a shot into Ward’s left breast just below the clavicle. The ball punctured both lungs as it made its way out under the right shoulder blade. Ward collapsed into the water but the rose and lunged at Walker again, the trooper clubbing the bushranger in the head with the pistol. Ward uttered no words as he sank into the water. Walker waited for a reply, but none came. He rode back onto the bank of the creek and dismounted before wading into the water to recover the body. He dragged the drenched bushranger onto dry land but by now dusk was settling in. Walker rode back to Blanche’s Inn and procured a horse and cart to recover the body but by the time he reached the location again it was too dark to find the exact spot.

The following day at 3:00am, Walker and Senior Constable Scott returned to the junction of Kentucky Creek. To Walker’s consternation, the body was gone. The immediate panic was allayed after a brief search of the area when they found Ward’s dead body in the scrub on the opposite side of the road. After Walker had left Ward had just enough life left in him to drag himself across the road. As he made it into the scrub he collapsed and there he died alone in the night. The body was loaded into the cart and taken back to Blanche’s Inn. When the corpse was inspected by the troopers they found a collection of jewellery taken from the Italian hawker, a silver stop watch, a small gold nugget, imitation gold jewellery and a well-used meerschaum pipe. They also found an iron horseshoeing hammer that they suspected was Ward’s own. Ward was dressed in strapped moleskin trousers, long boots, two Crimean shirts, and had been wearing an old cabbage tree hat. After a post mortem was completed the corpse was photographed so that it could be identified without the body having to be viewed as there was not adequate facilities for the body to be preserved.

J. Buchanan, esquire, the local police magistrate, helmed the magisterial inquiry into the remains at 2:00pm on the Thursday. For six hours evidence was taken from Walker, Mulhall, Senior Constable Scott, Cappasoti the hawker, a banker named Ward who had been robbed by Thunderbolt near Moredun the previous April, Senior Sergeant Balls, Pearson, Blanche the innkeeper and Dr. Spasshat. The body was compared to the official description put out by police in October 1863: 5’8 1/4″ tall; pale, fallow complexion; light brown, curly hair; hazel eyes; mole on right wrist and two warts on the back of the middle finger of the left hand. Senior Sergeant Balls, who had been one of the guards on Cockatoo Island when Ward had escaped with Fred Britten, positively identified the body as Ward, as did Ward the banker, Pearson and Dr. Spasshat.

In consequence of his meritorious conduct, Alexander Binning Walker was given a promotion to the rank of Senior Constable and placed in charge of a station. He also received £32 from a subscription collected at the conclusion of the inquest.

It was considered by a great many people that the death of Captain Thunderbolt would signify an end to bushranging in New South Wales. By this point Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert, John O’Meally, Dan Morgan, and Tommy Clarke were all dead, and Frank Gardiner was in prison along with scores of other bushrangers. Many were hopeful that now they could travel safely through the colony without fear of molestation, and they need not worry that their farms or stores would be raised. It was true that the peak of bushranging ended with Thunderbolt’s death, but it would be at least another fifty years before the scourge of bushranging had evaporated almost entirely.

Frederick Wordsworth Ward, post mortem [Source: State Library of New South Wales]

Escape from Ballarat Gaol

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

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.

Ballarat Gaol in 1861 [Source: State Library of Victoria]

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.

Door lock and key from Ballarat Gaol [Source: Gold Museum Ballarat]

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.

William Marshall [Source: PROV]

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.

James Plunkett [Source: PROV]

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.

John Harris, aka Dermoody [Source: PROV]

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.”

Andrew George Scott [Source: PROV]

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.

James Fitzpatrick, aka Stapleton [Source: PROV]

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.

An extract from William Taylor’s prison record [Source: PROV]

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.

Harry Power at Buckland Gap

While Victoria was home to plenty of bushrangers of various ilks, there was one highwayman that stood head and shoulders above the rest – Harry Power. The curmudgeonly crim was responsible for a huge number of robberies on the roads, though he never had much luck in bailing up wealthy people. Perhaps his most productive day of robbery was one he undertook in Buckland Gap towards the end of Winter in 1869.

The area Power camped out in at the Buckland Gap was right in the middle of the road that coaches and travellers would take when travelling between Bright, Beechworth, Bowman’s Forest, Buckland and Whorouly among other surrounding towns – perfect positioning for an enterprising highwayman. On Saturdays the farmers would frequently pass through the intersection en route to market, and the nearest homestead was a quarter of a mile away from Power’s camp, allowing him the freedom of relative isolation.

Harry Power [Source: SLV]

Edward Coady was an experienced coach driver, but even the most seasoned veteran might have gone their entire career without ever encountering a bushranger. In May he had been bailed up by Harry Power when he was taking a coach from Bright to Beechworth. Power had interrupted the journey near Porepunkah and demanded gold, but there was none to be had. The passengers were subjected to demands for payment, a Chinese man receiving particular scrutiny from Power who had an aversion to his people. In the end, Power stole a horse from a passing squatter and took his leave, allowing the coach to continue on.

On Saturday, 28 August, 1869, Edward Coady was given a new assignment. He was to drive the Buckland Mail to Myrtleford via Bowman’s Forest. The journey began routinely enough at around 6:00am. The coach trundled along its usual route with its cargo of passengers – a servant girl, Ellen Hart, employed by Mrs. Hay of Myrtleford; Mrs. Le Goo the wife of a Chinese storekeeper in Buckland; and William Hazelton, the Bright storekeeper who took position on the box seat. Part way through the journey the coach stopped at the Gap Hotel. Here the passengers were joined by the young son of Mr. Holloway, the proprietor of the Gap Hotel. The coach soon took off again, mailbags jostling and jumping with every curve and bump along the way. Riding close behind the coach was Mr. Holloway’s daughter, Mrs. Boyd, who had joined the group at her father’s pub. As the horses pulled the coach down the Buckland Gap towards the forest, about 4 miles from Beechworth, suddenly the path was impassable. The horses pulled up and Coady peered down where he saw three large logs laying across the road. He had scarcely any time to think before a voice boomed from the scrub with a slight Lancashire accent, heavily inflected with an Irish brogue.

“Bail up!”

Harry Power emerged, brandishing a double-barrelled shotgun, with two pistols tucked into his belt. He stood slightly less than average height at 5’6 1/4″ tall, and was covered in scars. Beneath his crumpled felt hat his hair flicked out in greasy silver shocks. His face was mostly beard, but when he spoke one could glimpse his mangled and missing teeth, stained yellow, and blackened gums from excessive pipe smoking. His bright blue eyes peered out from behind crow’s feet and a heavy brow as he levelled the shotgun at Coady. The occupants of the coach were ordered to disembark and stand by a fire the bushranger had set up. As they complied, Power demanded the captives take out their valuables and place them on the ground. He scored a gold watch and 4s 6d from Hazelton, £2 16s from Coady, and 13s from the storekeeper’s wife, though he did give her a shilling back so she could buy a coffee down the road. Power was not convinced that the woman had surrendered all her valuables and suggested that if she was not forthcoming he would strip her naked to find her hidden treasures. The terrified woman stood fast by her assertion and it was only the intervention of the other victims that caused Power to relent. Perhaps noticing that Miss Hart was a servant, Power did not bother to get her to turn out her pockets. Finally, he took a penknife and comforter from Holloway’s son but gave him 1s 6d in payment for them. As for Mrs. Boyd, she could not comply with Power’s demand for cash as she had none. Power was unconvinced, stating that a woman riding a horse with a sidesaddle and saddlebags worth upwards of £14 is unlikely to be strapped for cash, then elected to take her mount instead. Mrs. Boyd begged to be allowed to keep her horse and gear, even suggesting she could ride back to her father’s hotel and get him anything he liked if she could keep them. Power refused to bargain with the distressed woman and stated that she could borrow two pounds from one of the other women, whereupon it was brought to his attention that he had just robbed them. Mrs. Boyd’s brother, young Holloway, offered to give the money Power had given him back if the bushranger would allow his sister to keep the horse. Power was amused by the display of solidarity but refused the gesture. Hazelton had, by this point, had a gutful and informed Power that Mrs. Boyd was indeed a poor woman and the gear on the horse was won at a raffle, not purchased outright. The heated exchange was suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a rider, to which Hazelton snidely remarked, “Here’s a haul for you.”

Re-enactment of the Buckland coach robbery. [Source: The Bushranger Harry Power Tutor of Ned Kelly by Kevin Passey and Gary Dean]

The rider was promptly bailed up and made to turn out his pockets. When the man reached for his coat pocket Power cocked his gun, stating “It is not there where people are in the habit of keeping their money.”

At this juncture Coady asked Power if he could move the coach as the incline it was stopped on was putting undue strain on the brakes. Power consented to this and ordered Coady to deliver up the mail bags for him to take away and rifle through at his leisure. On second thoughts, Power decided he wasn’t inclined towards potentially stealing letters from the poor and told Coady not to worry about the mail, to which Coady responded that it would have done him no good anyway as letters carrying money were transported by escorts.

Soon more travellers came along the road and were halted by Power. As before, the victims were made to stand by the fire and place their valuables on the ground. With the cooperation of his victims, he was able to take £1 16s from a Whorouly dairyman named Hughes; 17s 6d from a Bowman’s Forest local named Rath; and a saddle and bridle from a man named McGoffin (or McGuffie), who was in a spring cart on their way to O’Brien’s Station from Buffalo. A local miner was bailed up but managed to retain the two ounces of gold he had concealed in a pocket in his coat.

For the next three hours, Power kept eleven prisoners under his command by the fire, occupying their attention by spinning yarns. He gave Coady an earful, claiming he had half a mind to shoot him as he had heard that Coady had been “blowing” in the bar of Fisher’s Commercial Hotel, Beechworth, about what he would like to do to Power. He also mentioned that he had been intending on bailing up James Emptage, a colleague of Coady’s, but as Emptage had been driving much too fast, he had not had a chance to stop him. Despite the number of people at his mercy, none attempted to overpower him. Power eventually grew tired of the work and had returned Mrs. Boyd’s horse, but needed a good mount. Power attempted to take the snip horse from the Buckland coach (the horse on the offhand side closest to the wheel). The horse bucked and refused to allow the bushranger to prepare him to ride, to which Power replied by striking the animal repeatedly with the butt of his shotgun. Power then took the lead horse (named “Little Johnny”) from the coach, equipped it with the stolen saddle and bridle, and disappeared into the bush. He would be spotted near Stanley at 4:00pm. Dazed and confused by the bizarre turn of events they had just experienced, the victims slowly began to return to their conveyances, counting their blessings that things had not escalated.

Views of Beechworth (Detail). [Source: The Leader, 05/05/1894: 31]

When news of the bail ups reached Beechworth, Sgt. Baber launched a search party to head to Bowman’s Forest to find Power’s trail. Alas, as was a common problem, there were not enough men to get a reasonable sweep of the area and thus Power got away without a care.

[Source: Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 19/10/1869: 2]It was not long before the government, frustrated by Power’s ability to avoid capture, offered a £200 reward for his capture. Power was now officially in the big league but his reign would not be long for this world.

The Execution of Scott and Rogan

“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.

Source: Truth (Sydney) 14 November 1897: 7.

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 certificate of execution

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.

The Death of Captain Melville

Many bushrangers met grisly ends over the course of history, and a considerable portion of them met their end within prison walls. Yet very few can lay claim to such a gruesome end as Francis MacNeish McCallum, alias Captain Melville.

Extract from Captain Melville’s prison record [Source: PROV]

Melville was incarcerated at Melbourne Gaol after receiving multiple sentences for highway robbery, totalling thirty-five years to be served; the first three of which were to be in irons. Questions had been raised about Melville’s sanity not long after his imprisonment due to his erratic behaviour. On 28 July, 1857, things came to a head when Melville refused to allow the night tub (the bucket used as a toilet) to be removed from his cell, threatening to kill anyone that tried to take it. His lack of cooperation soon saw the gaol governor, George Wintle, order James Rowley, the chief turnkey, to take two warders into the cell and forcibly remove the night tub. As the men entered, Melville brandished in one hand an iron spoon that he had made into a makeshift knife by sharpening the handle, and in the other he held the lid of the night tub as a shield. As he stared down the gaolers, he declared “I’ll make a corpse of any man that tries to take that tub!”

Rowley carried a stepladder into the cell in order to put some distance between himself and the former bushranger, keeping Melville distracted with it while a warder rushed in and tried to pin the offender down. A scuffle broke out with the gaolers attempting to disarm Melville who fought like a tiger. Seeing things getting out of hand, the governor intervened. 48 year-old Wintle had experience dealing with the worst the penal system had to offer, having worked in Sydney on the prison hulks before being appointed governor of Melbourne Gaol, so was unfazed by the prospect of dealing with this renegade inmate. At that moment, Melville broke free of his captors and lunged at Wintle, slashing him behind the right ear with the sharpened spoon. The wound was severe and bled freely. Rowley leapt upon Melville to wrench the spoon away, to which Melville replied by trying to drive the sharpened end through Rowley’s hand. The move was a failure though as it merely cut across the hand and glanced off Rowley’s ring. In the scuffle, the spoon was broken, disarming Melville. The night tub was then successfully removed and Melville handcuffed. Dr. McCrea, the prison medical officer, was sent for. He treated the injured men as well as recommending that Melville be kept in handcuffs and put in a straightjacket if he played up again. McCrea then directed the gaolers to keep Melville isolated in a solitary cell, where he was to be kept on a restricted diet and monitored.

Dr. McCrea, visited with Melville over the next few days to make an assessment of him. It had been supposed that Melville was feigning madness in an attempt to be relocated to the Yarra Bend Asylum, which was low security, and from thence effect his escape from incarceration. Initially, Melville presented as insolent and sulky, refusing to take food, but as time went on he began to accept his situation. On one occasion, Melville expressed to McCrea that he had been fighting a losing battle against the world all his life and the time had come to take his punishment quietly. McCrae determined that the apparent mental instability was an act intended to gain sympathy and render him unaccountable for the attack on Wintle and Rowley. It was expected, based on this assessment, that Melville would be tried for the attack on Wintle. During the assessment period, Wintle himself would visit Melville two or three times a day in order to check on the prisoner’s mental state, also concluding he was sane.

Melbourne Gaol, circa 1859 [Source: Libraries Tasmania, Launceston]

On August 11, 1857, Melville met with McCrae and was discharged from medical treatment. He passed the day away without incident. He ate his dinner at around 6:00pm and went quietly to bed. On the following day at 7:15am, James Rowley checked in on Melville and discovered his lifeless body on the bed. He was on his left side, the bedclothes were over him and his hands were clasped over his breast. The bushranger had rolled a large handkerchief that he usually wore as a neckerchief into a rope and created a slipknot that he tightened around his neck. The handkerchief was around two yards long and he coiled the end around his throat three more times to compound the effects of the noose, before inclining his head down to the left until the ligature slowly choked him to death. The makeshift noose was so tight that it was impossible to get a finger between it and the throat.

Dr. Maund performed the post mortem examination immediately after the body was found. He noted a bloody froth at Melville’s mouth and ears, as well as several scratches in his arm in the shape of a cross that were apparently made with a nail. There were various signs in the body that correlated with the strangulation, including the presence of blood in the lungs and the scalp being engorged with blood. There were no signs of struggle, the body and organs appeared perfectly healthy apart from the effects of the strangulation, and there were no visible signs of disease of the brain. It was estimated that he had committed suicide at around midnight.

At midday, the city coroner, Dr. Youl, performed an inquest before a jury. Dr. Maund, Governor Wintle, Dr. McCrea, and James Rowley testified at the inquest. Wintle explained that from 8:00pm to 6:00am the only key to Melville’s cell was in his possession, meaning that only Wintle had the ability to enter the cell during the night, ruling out foul play by others in the prison.

The jury came to the verdict that Melville met his end by felo de se, which was the legal term for a felonious suicide. He was deemed to have been perfectly sane when he undertook the action. Under British law, suicide was illegal and those who died by their own hand were to be buried in unconsecrated ground.

Curiously, in Melville’s cell, the deceased had seemingly scrawled a message onto the wall in lead pencil before his death, which read:

I am to suffer nothing. My name is not T. Smith but — Macullum. I intend to defeat their purpose and to die in my bed with a smile by my own hand ; and thus by my keenneys to defeat their most secret intentions and these steps are taken to give me an opportunity of doing so, as it is in my power to prove that I am not the man I am taken for.

Supreme Court & gaol, Melbourne, lithographed by Stringer, Mason & Co, 1859 [Source: NLA]

According to contemporary reports, a death mask was made by Professor Schier. There has been some confusion as to whether the death mask labelled “Melville” on display in Melbourne Gaol is that of Captain Melville or of George Melville, one of the McIvor Escort robbers who was executed in the gaol, though it is generally accepted to be the latter.

It has been insinuated that there was foul play involved in Melville’s death. None of the information provided during the inquest raises questions about whether Melville took his own life, and the message found on his cell wall not only corroborates this, but gives motive. It is very unlikely that Wintle would have used the downtime during the night, when he was the only one with keys to Melville’s cell, to go into the cell and choke Melville to death, even as revenge for the attack in July. Rather, it seems that Melville was determined to end his life rather than endure incarceration for decades or even face execution for his attack on Wintle, and waited until he was no longer on medical watch to do so. In the end, it seems that Melville got the last laugh by ending things on his own terms, but it seems unlikely that there were many tears shed at his passing.

Morgan and the Magistrate

After his release from prison, the man known as John Smith was compelled to head to the Ovens district in compliance with his parole conditions. He never arrived. Instead, he travelled through Victoria and New South Wales as a tramp, picking up odd jobs where he could, usually shifting or breaking in horses, for which he had a natural affinity. He assumed many names and in time his true identity was forgotten. It was years before he would re-emerge with a new trade and a new name: Dan Morgan; bushranger.
Morgan ventured into New South Wales, where he soon teamed up with a man known variously as “German Bill” and “Flash Clark”. The man who would become Morgan’s off-sider was as much a mystery as his confederate. Likely he was one of the many visitors to the colony that had headed to the goldfields in search of fortune but only found disappointment. Perhaps it was destiny that brought these two mystery men together, but the pair seemed to have a common desire to take to bushranging for excitement and easy money, rather than desperation, which was worryingly common in the 1860s. The success of the gold rush had made highway robbery surprisingly lucrative as a career and many young men saw it as a preferable alternative to backbreaking labour.

The first confirmed offence by the pair was the sticking up of two young men who were taking their horses to a race meeting. Subsequently, the pair were connected to a series of other robberies throughout the Riverina. Always on the move, the bushrangers utilised abandoned huts in the bush and natural structures such as caves, particularly around the Piney Ranges, or built themselves shelter out of bark and saplings. Armed with pistols and shotguns, and mounted on grey horses, Morgan and his mate quickly established themselves as a public menace.

On 20 August, 1863, police magistrate Henry Baylis was riding along the road from Bullenbong to Brookong Station in order to attend court in Urana when he encountered the two bushrangers. Due to his position as a magistrate, Baylis regularly ventured between Wagga Wagga, Urana and Narrandera to perform court duties. Upon seeing Baylis, Morgan and Clarke attempted to bail him up, armed with pistols and double-barrelled shotguns. They were on foot, their horses evidently hitched nearby. The bold magistrate was not one to be waylaid by bushrangers. He turned and took off back through the bush, one of the bandits, likely Clarke, firing at him, until he found a small camp a couple of miles away. A drayman, to whom the camp belonged, seemed rather surprised by the arrival and queried as to whether Baylis had been accosted by two armed and mounted men in the bush. Baylis replied in the affirmative. The traveller elaborated that the figures were none other than the notorious Morgan and his mate, who he had encountered the previous day. Morgan had procured an axe from the drayman to use in cutting down telegraph poles. As if on cue, Baylis heard the sound of hooves and spotted Morgan moving through the bush on a grey horse. Baylis dug his spurs in and took off through the scrub, the ground perilously soft after recent rains. Morgan and Clarke gave chase. Baylis was knocked out of the saddle multiple times by rogue saplings that brushed against his mount, but he managed to regain his seat, hurtling through the bush for a mile and a half. The magistrate’s reluctance to be bailed up seemed to signify to the bandits that he must be carrying a good haul of cash or valuables, and his haste in attempting to evade them only served to excite the bandits further, like hounds chasing a fox.

The superior mounts and riding abilities of the bushrangers saw them not only catching up to Baylis, but overtaking him and cutting him off with cries of “Pull up! Pull up! or I’ll fire!” They finally succeeded in bailing up the magistrate and held him at gunpoint, demanding he dismount and give up his money. Morgan appeared to have dropped his shotgun in the scrub during the chase but Clarke kept his trained on their target, one barrel had already been discharged but the other was cocked and ready. Baylis refused to comply with the demands. Morgan was impressed by Baylis’ pluck but chided him for his folly in trying to escape them and risk being shot. Baylis finally gave in and did as he was told. He handed over £4 and his watch with much chagrin. Morgan and Clarke were unconvinced when Baylis stated that he had nothing else of value. Morgan enquired as to his victim’s identity. When Baylis introduced himself as the magistrate of Wagga Wagga, Morgan was sceptical. Baylis went so far as to present a valise with official papers to prove the truth of his claim and Morgan was satisfied. He handed the money and watch back to Baylis and stated that as his goods had been returned he had not been robbed and therefore, he reasoned, one good turn deserved another. The request was that if ever the pair came before Baylis in court that he would be lenient. Baylis responded that he had to do his duty irrespective of the circumstances, which disappointed Morgan. Morgan respected the magistrate’s position, but asked that Baylis not make a report of their meeting. Baylis also refused to agree to this demand and was sent on his way without further molestation. As Baylis left, Morgan and Clarke cut down the telegraph poles with the stolen axe to stifle communications about the attempted robbery.

The parley had been in close enough quarters that Baylis was able to take in many details about the assailants. Morgan was about six feet tall with long black hair to the nape of his neck, and a long black beard. He had a sallow complexion and was incredibly lean of build. Baylis noted that Morgan was weak in the knees and looked as if he’d been gravely ill or injured from his stance. He was dressed in a drab overcoat with only the top button fastened and had on a cabbage tree hat. His mouth twitched and his hands were shaky and when he spoke he did so in a slow drawl, which Baylis took to be an attempt to hide his nervousness. Clarke he would describe as a stout man of thirty-five years dressed in a cabbage tree hat and black overcoat with a short beard of a light colour. Both men appeared to be quite nervous, but Morgan was better at hiding it, Clarke trembling violently as he kept Baylis covered. This was hardly the image of two bold outlaws, but rather a pair of nervous and timid men who seemed increasingly unsure of how to approach their situation. Certainly it shows no hint that Morgan was a maniac who would kill and torture for his own amusement as many would later claim from second and third hand accounts.

Baylis continued his ride to Brookong Station where he gained a fresh horse and rode of to find police. He made a report and formed a posse to capture the offenders. In the party were Constable Brown, Constable Charlton and Sub-Inspector Morrow. The following day they set out and searched the surrounding bushland for clues, focusing on the areas around Mittagong and Urangeline. It took several days of searching before they found the first signs of where the bushrangers had been. On 26 August, stumbling across the remains of a campfire with a billy can full of tea, the police discovered the mia-mia where the pair of bandits had been staying. Comprising two forked saplings as support beams for another sapling against which bark sheets rested, the empty lean-to allowed the police to lay in wait for the offenders to return in relative security. Here they found supplies and items belonging to the bushrangers such as Morgan’s black and red-striped poncho, a Bible, blankets and rugs, as well as items that were more than likely stolen, ranging from bottles of gin to a silver snuff box.

When Morgan and Clarke returned, they kept their distance, walking barefoot around the camp, and watched the police in case they were noticed. Constable Brown was the first to notice the sounds of movement in the scrub outside. Baylis scoffed and stated that it must have been a possum, though he would later turn the tables in his memoirs, claiming he was the first to notice the footsteps and it was the others that insisted it was a possum. Baylis went outside to investigate. Two shots were fired from the scrub without effect and Baylis called on the bushrangers to surrender. The offenders refused and a shoot-out began, Baylis opening fire on Fancy Clarke.

In the chaos Baylis was injured, a bullet from Clarke striking his right thumb and ricocheting back to hit him in the right breast, where it passed through his body obliquely to the left side, exiting by his left shoulder blade, and getting tangled in his shirt. A shot from Constable Brown struck Baylis’ sleeve and when Morgan suddenly appeared he fired close to Baylis’ face, singeing his eyebrows and blackening his face with gunpowder. Baylis succumbed to his injuries and collapsed. Morgan and his mate scampered into the darkness, chased by Brown and Morrow, but Clarke had been injured in the firing. It was unclear whether the wound was the result of police fire or friendly fire, though it would later be asserted that Morgan shot his mate as a distraction, despite him helping Clarke escape, which would have slowed him down considerably. Brown and Morrow lost them in the darkness and doubled back to assist the wounded magistrate. Baylis was evacuated and taken for medical treatment.

It wasn’t until the following morning that Constable Brown was able to reach Wagga Wagga to alert people of what had happened. That same day, the Gilbert-Hall Gang struck Hammond’s store in Junee, causing panic in the district. The era of the bushrangers was now in full swing in New South Wales, and what would follow would be nearly a decade of intense lawlessness never seen before or since in Australia, or perhaps indeed in the British Empire.

Henry Baylis wearing his bushranger medal and lucky chain fob containing the bullet that passed through him.

Fortunately, Baylis’ injuries were not ultimately life threatening, though severe, and could be operated on. When his coat was removed, the bullet that had put a hole through him tumbled out of the sleeve. Baylis would later have it turned into a chain fob and wore it as a lucky charm. He suffered intense pain from the wound for years after the battle, even suffering bone fragments working their way out of his body as late as June 1866. The wound would cause him trouble for the rest of his life and he was eventually paid compensation by the government for his injury. However, the initial payout in 1876 of £1500 was argued over for some time and the respective committee decided to reduce the payout by £300 in order to discourage other people that had been injured in the line of duty from seeking a payout. Beyond this, Baylis was presented with a bravery medal for his actions. Baylis continued to perform his duties as magistrate, but he would never have to worry about Morgan or his mate coming before him in court.

Things would not go so well for Morgan and Clarke. Mortally wounded, Clarke was not able to travel far. In a panic, he told Morgan that he wanted to turn himself in. Morgan slung his wounded friend onto his horse and rode to the Mahonga Run. There Morgan tried to make his friend comfortable as he died in the bush. A severely decomposed body was allegedly found on the run two years later, still wearing the same black coat as Fancy Clarke.

Morgan was beside himself and began looking for answers. He settled on a shepherd named Haley. He suspected Haley had supplied the police with the information that allowed them to find the camp. When he located Haley the day after the battle, he shot him in the back, perforating the shepherd’s lungs. Haley would never recover.

In response to the events, a reward of £200 was offered for Morgan’s capture on 31 August. Morgan’s crimes would quickly escalate over the following two years to include three murders and multiple counts of arson and robbery. Morgan’s mastery of the bush and horseriding meant that he was easily able to avoid capture. In the end his biggest vice, alcohol, would lead to his undoing at Peechelba station.

Morgan as he appeared in later life.

Wantabadgery: 140 years on

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

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. Bennett approached 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 Captain Moonlite’s intentions.


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.

Captain Moonlite

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 reels off a warning shot. The tangy smell of gun smoke fills his nostrils. The ball skims between Constables Rowe and Williamson. Moonlite watches the police scurry 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.

– Andrew George Scott

Captain Moonlite: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

After his release from Pentridge Prison, Andrew George Scott struggled to get back on his feet. While he may have been determined to right the wrongs of his past, the police were seemingly determined to stifle those efforts. Scott was kept under constant police surveillance in the hope that at some point he would slip up. This harassment came to a head in several well publicised incidents.

[Source: “NEWS OF THE DAY.” The Age (Melbourne) 16 July 1879: 2.]

On 9 July, 1879, it was claimed that three men attempted to instigate an escape from the Williamstown battery of 19 year-old William Johnson, alias Andrew Fogarty, who was doing a two year sentence for housebreaking. Scott, Nesbitt and Johnson had done time together in Pentridge, their sentences overlapping from 5 April to 11 April, 1878, whereupon Nesbitt was transferred to Williamstown where convicts were housed in the old military barracks at Fort Gellibrand and employed upgrading the batteries. After Nesbitt was transferred, Johnson and Scott remained in Pentridge together until Scott’s release on 18 March, 1879. It was alleged that one of the men broke open a window and tried to give Johnson two revolvers to help him escape. Ultimately, the men disappeared and no escape was ever undertaken, but police immediately assumed Scott’s guilt. The press, naturally, leaped upon the story as evidence that the notorious Captain Moonlite was preparing a gang.

The Williamstown Timeball Tower c.1870s [Source: State Library of Victoria]

At the time, Scott and Nesbitt were in town looking for a venue in which Scott could give a presentation of one of his lectures on the need for prison reform. The lecture series had been a source of both pride and humiliation for Scott as audiences had responded overwhelmingly positively, but as the performances grew in popularity the police began to crack down on them, causing several events to be cancelled. There remained a question over the motivation for such a heavy-handed response to the lectures – was it merely an effort to prevent slanderous lies from being given a platform or was it censorship to obscure the truth of the allegations?

“Life in Pentridge. The prisoners’ school”, The Australasian sketcher, November 1, 1873

Scott was keenly aware of something of a smear campaign being launched against him and he was being touted as the murderer of an actor named Francis Marion Bates, who was found dead and looted in Melbourne. A man supposedly fitting Scott’s description had been seen following Bates shortly before he disappeared. After an inquest was held, it would be established that Bates had not been murdered at all, but had died of congestive heart and lung failure. Unfortunately for Scott, the general public had already been led to believe it was an open and shut case with blood on Scott’s hands. All he could hope for was that the public’s notoriously short memory would see the claim forgotten once his name was cleared in the matter.

William Johnson [Source: PROV]

The Williamstown battery was not much of a gaol by any stretch, only holding 18 prisoners at the time (one of which acted as the cook) and was merely a wooden building with plastered interior walls. The barracks had never been intended to house convicts and its rather flimsy construction had not weathered the conditions on Hobson’s Bay well at all. At night there was no guard on duty, but there were three warders on staff: Henry Steele, the senior warden; Turner and Robert Durham. At 8pm Steele headed off to his home on Twyford Street, leaving Durham in charge. The gaol was separated into three parts: the warder’s room, where the staff slept; the prisoner’s dormitory; and the kitchen, where the cook resided. Durham did the final inspection at 10pm and saw nothing awry. When Turner returned on the last train from Melbourne, he arrived at the barracks at 12:30am and went straight to bed. Durham retired soon after. At 1:30am Durham and Turner heard a knocking at the warder’s room and prisoner’s dormitory. Durham got up to investigate and was informed by William Johnson that there was rain coming in through a window about three feet above ground level. Durham got onto Johnson’s bed and saw that the window appeared to have been jimmied open, but not enough to allow a person in or out, and the fastenings appeared to have been cut with a knife. It was at this point that Durham recalled that he had seen a group of four men or boys loitering around the railway station and battery reserve at 2pm the previous afternoon, which he later asserted had looked like they were up to no good. He would swear that he recognised Andrew Scott and James Nesbitt walking to the beach and out of view. The prisoners had, at that time, been working on the reserve and Durham would recall seeing Johnson leave his cart to go to where the two men had disappeared. Durham was on it like a fly on a fresh cowpat, but could not reach them before Johnson returned to work. Durham spoke to the two men and said they had no right to speak to the prisoners, to which the man he identified as Scott replied, “This is a public road, is it not?” Durham had reported the incident to Steele when he had returned at 6pm but until the apparent attempted break in he had put it out of his mind.

With things settling down at the barracks, Henry Steele learner of the incident and reported it to the Williamstown police. The suggestion that the notorious Captain Moonlite was involved prompted a speedy response and a warrant was quickly issued. At the time the offence was being reported, Scott and Nesbitt were on foot and travelling to Clunes via Buninyong. When they arrived in town on the 17th they turned themselves in. Two revolvers Scott had allegedly disposed of had been found and were kept by the police as evidence. At the same time police had been warned to make sure their weapons were in good working order and arrangements were being made to send Johnson back to Pentridge.

Scott and Nesbitt, safely in custody, were sent to Melbourne to await trial with a supposed associate named Frank Foster, alias Croker, and kept in the Swanston Street lock-up. Foster had been named during initial investigation and was arrested at Talbot the day after Scott and Nesbitt turned themselves in. Foster had been serving a six year sentence in Pentridge for housebreaking at the same time as the others, but had gained his freedom in 1878 after a petition from the people of Talbot had been lodged to the government. Foster, it appeared, had been wrongfully imprisoned for the preceding five years after being framed. Yet, as far as the police were concerned Foster was guilty, they just hadn’t found a crime to pin on him yet. Associating him with Scott meant they finally had an opportunity to put him away without any pesky interference from do-gooders setting him free.

When questioned after his arrest, Scott’s name was cleared in relation to the Bates case when the two key witnesses actually saw Scott in person and emphatically denied he was the man they had seen. Typically, this was a fact most of the press tried to gloss over, eager to foster the image of Scott as an arch-fiend. Scott requested that he be furnished with the evidence supposedly collated against him and his associates in the Williamstown incident, but Detective Mackay, who was in charge of the investigation, refused to do so. The trio were remanded to Williamstown on Wednesday, 23 July, and a hearing was set for the Friday. No doubt it was an anxious wait for the men.

Frank Foster [Source: PROV]

On 25 July, Scott, Nesbitt and Foster appeared at Williamstown Police Court, charged with unlawfully conveying a pistol into the gaol at Williamstown battery. They were represented by Mr. Read, with Sub-Inspector Larner appearing for the prosecution. Henry Steele, Robert Durham, Edwin Robinson (son of the battery-keeper), and a prisoner named William Baker appeared to give evidence for the prosecution. Baker stated in his evidence that Scott, accompanied by Nesbitt and another man, had knocked on a window asking for Fogarty (Johnson’s alias) and was directed to the correct spot, whereupon he opened the window and gave Johnson a revolver. Johnson then allegedly refused to take it out of fear and Nesbitt spoke threateningly about the guards before they left. An interesting element of Baker’s testimony was that while all other witnesses claimed that it was raining that night, Baker claimed the weather was clear and dry.

Johnson also provided evidence. He confirmed that on the afternoon of the 9th he absconded work to speak to Scott and Nesbitt, but couldn’t confirm that they had any involvement with breaking open the window. More compelling was Johnson’s confession that his previous evidence to Detective Mackay was a string of lies that he was under pressure from his charges to swear, being constantly threatened while the investigation was occurring. He claimed that the fear of reprisals from the warders at the gaol was what motivated him to perjure himself, and it was a gang of larrikins that had jimmied his window open, and no revolver was ever passed through. As important as the evidence was, the bench determined that Johnson was an unreliable witness and he was removed from the box.

Further thickening the plot was the testimony of a fellow inmate named McIntosh, whose bed was closer to Johnson’s than Baker’s, in which he stated he could not verify who the men outside were and that the object passed through was a chisel, not a revolver. A pawnbroker named Ellis also testified that he had sold two revolvers to Scott, but they were larger than the ones produced as evidence. A lad named Patrick McMullen testified that Scott had asked for a form to give him permission to see Johnson, which had been presented when the encounter at the Battery Reserve occurred. Rev. Lewis, a clergyman from Blackwood, testified that Scott had given him a pair of revolvers, and a Blackwood Senior Constable named Young also testified that he had seen the defendants in the area on 13 July, corroborating the reverend’s evidence.

James Nesbitt, alias Lyons [Source: PROV]

The hearing was over quickly with Mr. Read addressing the court by stating that as the object allegedly passed through the window could not be verified, and since the Williamstown Battery was not an official gaol in the legal sense, and there being no compelling evidence that an escape had actually been attempted, the complaint could not be sustained. The bench was inclined to agree and the defendants were acquitted. The result caused a response from onlookers that the men, and indeed the furious prosecution, could hardly have expected – applause. If ever there was a sign that the general public in Victoria were becoming disenfranchised with the police, surely this was it. Yet, however much the hoi polloi had their distrust of authority, it was incomparable to that of Scott, who had endured insult and injury at the hands of the police, and with two charges they had laid against him having fallen through he knew it was only going to get worse.

The economic depression in Victoria proved to be a sore point for the Berry government, with calls made for action to help those affected, and the press being forced to admit that unemployment was not merely the result of lazy people refusing to work. [Source: Mount Alexander Mail, 25/06/1879, page 2]

For months civil unrest had been brewing due to an economic depression that was hitting Victoria hard. Rallies in the cities were held and workers battled for their rights. Outside the cities, swagmen tramped the countryside looking for work, and now Andrew Scott – former engineer, soldier, and clergyman – found himself in that same sinking boat along with James Nesbitt, Thomas Williams and Gus Wernicke. No doubt it came as no big surprise that when a bank robbery was carried out in Lancefield, Scott and Nesbitt were blamed, despite being nowhere nearby.

“THE BANK ROBBERY AT LANCEFIELD”, Illustrated Australian news, August 30, 1879.

At 10:10am on 15 August, two men entered a branch of the Commercial Bank of Australia at Lancefield. One presented a revolver and ordered Arthur Morrison, the accountant, to stay quiet or he would be shot claiming that the two robbers were members of the Kelly Gang and had locked up the police. Morrison was then bound with ropes and gagged with a piece of wood. With one robber keeping watch, the other took as many coins and notes as he could carry. When a customer named Charles Musty accidentally interrupted the robbery, he too was bailed up. Ironically, had the robbers ordered Musty to hand over his cash they would have gained an additional £200. While all this was happening, Zalmonah Wallace Carlisle, the manager, was blissfully unaware as he enjoyed the fresh air in the garden in his way to the post office. Within a few moments the damage was done and the robbers had fled with £866 9s 4d. The initial report to the police stated that the two offenders matched the description of the outlaws Ned Kelly and Steve Hart. In response to this Superintendents Hare and Sadleir, who were in charge of the hunt for the Kelly Gang, were sent out to Lancefield accompanied by Sub-Inspector O’Connor and his Queensland native police. It soon emerged that the crime had not been committed by the Kellys at all and there were only two other men that police suspected of the crime.

Once again, Andrew Scott and James Nesbitt were hauled in by the police. They were questioned about their whereabouts during the robbery. Scott and Nesbitt had no hesitation in stating they had been in Melbourne the whole time. Upon further investigation the alibi was solid and, much to the chagrin of the police, the pair were released.

Andrew George Scott

This was the last straw for Scott. He decided that Victoria was only a place of misery for him and his companions and their fortunes lay north in New South Wales. He informed police that he intended to leave the colony in the hope that they would cease haranguing him. Taking all he could carry in a swag, Andrew George Scott, the man popularly known as Captain Moonlite, headed off in search of greener pastures accompanied by his partner James Nesbitt and their friends Frank Johns, alias Thomas Williams, and Augustus Wernicke. They would never return.

As for William Johnson, the young man at the centre of the Williamstown incident, immediately following the acquittal of Scott, Nesbitt and Foster he was transferred to Pentridge. He would remain in and out of prison until January of 1883.

Regarding the Lancefield bank robbery, it would later transpire that the robbery had been undertaken by two men named Cornelius Bray and Charles Lowe. Bray would claim he was desperately seeking work and fell in with Lowe who told him he could guarantee him employment. He then claimed he was forced to participate in the robbery on pain of death if he refused. Lowe responded that Bray was merely trying to paint him blacker than he was in order to gain sympathy. The pair were found guilty, Bray receiving five years hard labour and Lowe receiving eight years, the first to be carried out in irons.


“Numerous petty insults were given us by the police. I honestly felt I was unsafe in Victoria. I feared perjury and felt hunted down and maddened by injustice and slander. I left Melbourne with my friends, carrying my blankets, clothes and firearms. I felt rabid and would have resisted capture by the police. Though I knew I had committed no crime, bitter experience had taught me that innocence and safety from accusations were different things. My life and liberty had been endangered by perjury and … they would be endangered till I could secretly escape from those who seemed to hunger, if not for my blood, for my liberty and safety.”

– Andrew Scott

The Brady Gang take Sorell

“Gentleman bushranger” Matthew Brady had escaped from the notorious Sarah Island penal settlement in 1824, and a reward of fifty guineas had been offered for his capture. In November 1825, he and his gang decided to make an example of the forces of law and order in Van Diemen’s Land and set their sights on the small town of Sorell.

Map of Sorell from 1825 [Source: Libraries Tasmania]

At this time Brady was camped out in the mountains with fellow Josiah Bird, Patrick Dunne, James Murphy and at least four others, (likely Patrick Bryant, James McKenney, William Tilly and James Goodwin). It was believed they had even established a small farm there where they tended crops and reared horses, cattle and sheep. To what extent this claim was true remains unknown, as much of the facts of Brady’s story have been lost to time.

Such was Brady’s notoriety that he had copycats. Another bushranger had recently committed a robbery while claiming to be Brady and even expressed a desire to turn himself in – something that Brady took particular umbrage to as he had no intention of surrendering. Brady seemed to think that his next undertaking would shake up people’s perceptions of him and position him as more than just a thieving bushranger. Brady intended to make a laughing stock of the forces of law and order.


On Friday 26 November, the bushrangers emerged from hiding. The inclement weather saw Coal River become a raging torrent. Fortunately, the bushrangers were well organised and had a small boat at their disposal with six oars, allowing them to row across with relative ease. This enabled them to traverse the river without resorting to crossing the bridge at Richmond, which was the only other way across at that time. The gang descended upon the house of Robert Bathune in Pitt Water at dusk and demanded entry, masquerading as constables. Bathune sent his overseer Crittenden, to see what the men wanted. Armed as a precaution, Crittenden opened the door and the eight bushrangers burst in and overpowered him. Bathune, Crittenden, and the eight servants were made prisoners and guarded in the kitchen while the bushrangers settled in. The bushrangers had brought prisoners with them that included two men named Denne and Kidner as well as a young boy. The gang made themselves at home and Brady made sure each bandit was fed and provided shelter from the rain overnight, while also making sure that his prisoners were looked after as well. Once fed, the gang ransacked the house, liberating a brace of pistols and a fowling piece before locating a set of keys to grant access to the various valuables. Brady kept watch over Bethune and Crittenden in a back room where he spoke at length about individuals he had a set against. Brady was not alone in conversing freely with the captives. Dunne stated he had a grudge against Boyd, the chief clerk at the police office, who he had been stalking in an effort to find an ideal moment to murder him. Bird admitted to killing Mr. Bromley’s cattle in Newtown and Murphy confessed to robbing Dr. Hudspeth. They remained through the night and all the following day. The rain was extremely heavy and everyone who ventured out got a good drenching.


On Saturday morning Robert Bethune and Crittenden were sent to bed, having been kept awake all night. The gang decided to prepare breakfast, but could find no tea or sugar. They resolved to procure some from one of Bethune’s neighbours. It was decided to avoid Walker’s farm as the lady of the house had taken ill, so Glover’s place was targeted. Glover was not willing to become yet another victim to bushranging and armed himself and headed out to confront the gang. Despite his courage he was overpowered, his double-barrelled shotgun taken away from him and broken before he was added to the gang’s prisoners.

At 2pm that afternoon, Walter Bethune and a Captain Bunster arrived on horseback, drenched from the rain. Brady ordered the servants to take the horses upon their arrival. Both men were brought in, given dry clothes, warmed up and fed. Brady could not have been a more gracious host if the property had been his own. He was not a big man, standing at a little under 5’6″ tall (roughly 170cm), but he had incredible charisma and it seemed people couldn’t help liking him to some degree. At dusk Brady announced to his captives his intention to liberate the inmates of Sorell Gaol and imprison the soldiers based there.

The two Bethunes were tied together by the wrist and the 18 other prisoners bound together identically in pairs, then marched to Sorell with the bushrangers. Much of the journey undertaken was in water that was waist-deep and the rain continued to fall in torrents. They arrived in Sorell Town and proceeded to the gaol.

Unbeknownst to the arriving group, the party of soldiers of the Bourbon Regiment that had been out searching for the bushrangers in the rain had only just returned to the gaol, their leader Lieutenant William Gunn having departed for the residence of a Dr. Garrett. Due to the weather, the muskets the nine men had carried were waterlogged. As they dried off and warmed up, they were interrupted by the very men they had been looking for. Four bushrangers rushed in and the soldiers were disarmed and locked up in a gaol cell. The prisoners from Bathune’s property were also locked up, the eventual figure being roughly forty prisoners by contemporary accounts.

Brady and most of the gang remained at the gaol, while Bird and Murphy went to the home of the chief constable and gaoler Alfred Laing with the apparent intent of murder. Upon arriving, the occupants of the house went to the window. Inside were Laing, McArra the blacksmith and Charles Scott the messenger. The pair of outlaws recognised Laing through the window and called out “That is him, shoot!” They promptly opened fire but failed to hit their intended target. Rather, McArra was shot through the wrist during the assault. A woman at the property managed to escape to raise the alarm and bolted to Dr. Garrett’s house where Lieutenant Gunn was relaxing after a hard day’s slog looking for bushrangers.

Upon hearing the news that the gaol had been captured, Lieutenant Gunn took up a double-barrelled shotgun and went into action. When he arrived on the scene he attempted to shoot the banditti but he was out of luck. A volley of lead struck him from two of the bushrangers, striking his right arm above the elbow, shredding the flesh to pulp and shattering the bones. More shots were fired, a ball hitting Gunn in the chest and another grazing Dr. Garrett.

Gunn was evacuated immediately and survived his wounds thanks to expertly executed surgery by Dr. Garrett and his associate Dr. Scott, but the mangled arm was inoperable and subsequently amputated near the shoulder. An examination of the severed portion of the arm saw the extraction of two balls and four slugs, though it was estimated that twelve projectiles in total must have struck the arm to cause such awful damage.

When the bushrangers decided to quit the gaol, their message having been sent, they built a dummy to stand in the doorway. By making a frame out of sticks and dressing it in a greatcoat and hat, the idea was to give the impression that the gaol was still guarded as the bushrangers escaped to give them more time. Four captives were taken to carry the bushrangers’ loot. One of the captives, James Archibald, who had been carrying the firearms, was force fed alcohol to make him drowsy and he woke up much later, alone on the ground outside Orielton. The bushrangers had made a clean escape and would later set the other captives free at Grindstone Bay. The prisoners in the gaol were kept locked up for two hours until George Culliford was passing by and became suspicious. Upon entering the gaol he discovered what had happened and freed the gang’s victims.

There was much outcry after the incident as Lieutenant Gunn was considered a model citizen and had been dogged in his pursuit of the bushrangers, even working on half pay in the hope of bringing them to justice. A subscription was gathered for him immediately after his surgery and over £250 was raised to cover his expenses as he had been rendered unemployed by the maiming. Gunn was not one to let the loss of a limb hold him back in life and he became a highly lauded police magistrate in Launceston, dying in 1868.

William Gunn in later life [Source: The Illustrated Adelaide Post, 14 July, 1868]

Remarkably, had the gang arrived half an hour earlier or left half an hour later they would have been captured. Gunn’s party had left the gaol precinct a half hour before the bushrangers arrived. It would have also taken the captured soldiers half an hour to dry their weapons.

Sorell and Causeway by H. Grant Lloyd, 13/02/1874 [Source: State Library of New South Wales]

The Death of Happy Jack

Since 1861 Johnny Gilbert had made a name for himself as one of Australia’s most notorious and prolific bushrangers. Beginning his career as one of Frank Gardiner’s lackeys, Gilbert inherited the position of public enemy number one when the self-proclaimed “prince of tobeymen” fled New South Wales. In his time working with John O’Meally and Ben Hall he had built a reputation of being formidable and unpredictable. His predilection for fancy clothes earned him the moniker “Flash Johnny”, while others knew him as “Happy Jack” due to his well reported jubilant and outgoing nature. By May 1865, however, things had taken a nosedive.

Source: The Australian news for home readers, 24/12/1864. Artist: Samuel Calvert

Gilbert was wanted for the murder of Sergeant Edmund Parry, whereas his mate John Dunn was wanted for the murder of Constable Samuel Nelson. Ben Hall, the only other remaining gang member, had so far kept his hands clean of blood, but there were other charges to be laid against him on top of the robberies they had committed. A failed gold escort robbery had left the gang demoralised and for a period they split up. On 5 May, Ben Hall was ambushed and summarily executed by a party of police. Around thirty shots were pumped into him and his body was taken to Forbes and exhibited. He had not drawn a weapon or fired a shot.

In the meantime Gilbert and Dunn had been on the run, attempting to find shelter with sympathisers. They had remained active in their depredations, bailing up a grazier named Furlonge as he was herding sheep on Friday 12 May. The pair stole his horse in exchange for one they had stolen from a paddock in Murrumburrah the previous night. Word soon raced through the grapevine that the pair were in the area, camped at Rieley’s Hill, two miles out from Binalong.

That evening, news reached Senior Constable Hales in Binalong that Gilbert and Dunn had been seen in the area. A search party was formed and began scouting. Hales knew that a nearby farmer, John Kelly, was Dunn’s grandfather and his hut was the likely destination of the bushrangers. The police rode there at once, got into position and watched the hut through the night. By 1am there had been no sign of an arrival so the police headed back to town to get some rest.

Gilbert and Dunn arrived at Kelly’s on the morning of 13 May. Kelly had been a sympathiser of Gilbert for some years prior to Dunn joining he and Hall, and was considered trustworthy. It was likely that it was Kelly that had introduced Gilbert to John Dunn originally to act as a bush telegraph. Gilbert and Dunn’s trust in the patriarch, it would seem, would prove to be misplaced.

Information got out that the bushrangers were at Kelly’s, the news reaching Hales at 8am in the police station. It would never be publicly disclosed how the information reached the police or by whom. Hales immediately formed a party with Constables Bright, King and Hall. Not wishing to spook the fugitives, Hales directed the party to approach Kelly’s hut on foot. As the troopers fanned out to surround the dwelling the heavens opened and rain fell heavily. For an hour they sat in waiting.

While the bushrangers were in Kelly’s hut, the old man wandered outside where he paced for a time and then went back inside. His wife immediately did the same. It seemed as if they knew there were police coming and were anxiously awaiting their arrival. Kelly’s seven year old son Thomas ventured out to tend the stock where Hales accosted the child and interrogated him about Gilbert and Dunn. Thomas refused to answer in the affirmative to Hales’ questions and ran back to the house. The troopers got closer to the house and alarmed the dogs. Kelly emerged and made a point of yelling “Look out, the house is surrounded with bloody troopers!”

Immediately Gilbert and Dunn grabbed their weapons and ran for a bedroom, slamming the door just as Hales breached the building with King covering the door. Shots were exchanged and the building promptly surrounded. Hales rejoined the constables outside and bellowed at the bushrangers that if they did not surrender he would burn the house down. As this was happening the pair climbed out through a small window and ran towards their horses, which were hobbled on the other side of a creek. The movement was noticed by Constable Bright who began to chase them. Shots were fired in their direction as the other police joined the pursuit.

[Source: The Canberra Times, 17/05/1965]

They bolted through the bush, Gilbert reeling off several shots as he ducked from tree to tree, dodging bullets. Dunn fired wildly as he bolted across the paddock at the edge of the property. The bushrangers breached a fence and ran down an embankment towards the creek. Without hesitation, the lithe Dunn crossed but Gilbert paused to take aim at the police from behind a tree. He pulled the trigger three times but, much to his frustration and dread, the Tranter revolving rifle misfired every time. Seeing no other option, Gilbert broke cover and headed after Dunn, but as he did so a bullet from Constable Bright’s carbine tore through him, smashing through the ribs at the back of his left side, perforating his lung and heart as it passed through the body and out through his chest. Gilbert died instantaneously, landing awkwardly on the prized Tranter revolving rifle that had failed him when he needed it most, cracking the stock. The police continued after Dunn, preventing him from reaching his horse and shooting him in the arm for good measure. One of Dunn’s shots struck Constable King in the ankle. Despite his own injury, the fleet-of-foot Dunn escaped capture.

CAPTURE AND DEATH OF GILBERT, THE BUSHRANGER by Frederick Grosse and Oswald Rose Campbell, June 24, 1865.

Desperate to put distance between himself and the police, knowing his mate had bought the farm, Dunn continued to Julien’s station at Bogolong where he stole a horse and gear. Dunn went into hiding and was arrested nine months later.

Gilbert’s death was recreated in The Legend of Ben Hall (2016)

The body of the slain bushranger was taken to Binalong where an initial inquest was held in the courthouse. Apart from his revolving rifle, Gilbert was carrying two Colt Navy revolvers, both purloined from New South Wales police, as well as a myriad of bullets and other ammunition; twenty pounds in bank notes; two gold rings and a gold charm. True to character, despite being on the run in the bush, Gilbert was well-dressed in a pilot coat, bright Crimean shirt, cord trousers and tall boots.

[Source: The Illustrated Sydney News, 16/06/1865]

The body remained in Binalong while it was autopsied by Dr. Campbell and the inquest was concluded on 14 May, determining the death as a justifiable homicide. For two more days the body remained on display, several gawkers reportedly taking locks of hair. A cast was allegedly made of his face, according to reports, but as nothing has been seen publicly, this seems unlikely.

In the following days John Kelly was arrested for harbouring Gilbert and Dunn but was quickly released without any follow up. Rumours began to circulate through the community and newspapers. When the reward for Gilbert’s capture was doled out, not only did Hales, Bright, King and Hall receive portions, but so did John Kelly.

Quietly and unceremoniously the body was stripped and buried in an unmarked grave in the Binalong police paddock on 16 May. What equated to a funeral was not attended by mourners but rather representatives of the police force including Constable Bright. Thus ended the story of the Canuck highwayman who had thrilled and terrified in equal measure.

Gilbert’s original gravestone