Spotlight: Howe & Co. rob Stocker’s cart (23/11/1816)

Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter (Tas. : 1816 – 1821), Saturday 23 November 1816, page 1

Hobart Town;



Sitting Magiftrate for the ensuing Week,




The depredations of the Bufh-rangers continue to be truly alarming. Scarcely had we mentioned in our laft of their audacious attack on the premises of DAVID ROSE, Efq. at Port Dalrymple, then we are again called upon to relate another daring depredation, committed on Monday laft, at the residence of MR. THOMAS HAYES, at Bagdad, on the road to Port Dalrymple, by one of thofe Banditties of ruffians, who have been too long a terror to the peaceable settler & traveller.— MR. WILLIAM THOMAS STOCKER, his wife, and a cart containing property to a confiderable amount belonging to them, accompanied by MR. ANDREW WHITEHEAD, and family (the former on their way to Port Dalrymple), halted for the night at the premifes of Mr. Hayes.—Soon after, the party were alarmed by the appearance of the Bufh-rangers, headed by Michael Howe & his gang of 8 runaways, who feemed well informed of the intent of their journey; and requefted to know the reason of Mr. S’s delay, obferving, he ought to have been there the day previous.—They carried off the following articles, which had been removed from the cart into the houfe: 2 cafks of rum, one containing 11 and the other 10 gallons; 2 gallons of gin; 30 pair of fhoes; fancy ribbons to the value of £50; 2 bags of fugar, containing about 125lbs each; 1 cheft of green tea; pepper to the amount of £30; 9 pair ftays, &c – The whole is eftimated at upwards of £300 —— What added to the defperate intentions of thefe wretches, they actually fired a pistol through the head of one of the cafks of rum, by which the whole of its contents were loft.

They alfo requefted Mr. Whitehead’s watch, and, from it they regulated other watches they had in their poffeffion (no doubt part of their former booties), they then returned Mr. W. his watch; but Mr. Stocker was not so fortunate, for they compelled him to deliver his watch, which they kept.— From their converfation during the time they continued on the premifes of Mr. Hayes, it evidently appeared they were well acquainted with every tranfaction in town, relative to themfelves; and also, of the bufinefs of travellers journeying between the two fettlements.—Previous to the attack at Mr. Hayes, MR. JOHN WADE, Chief Conftable (being on his way to infpect his flock at Stony-hut Valley), accidentally joined the party at Mr. H’s, but fufpecting the approach of the Bufh-rangers, from the noise he heard while in the houfe, he made all hafte off the premises; his efcape was very fortunate, as from the threats they made ufe of, ferious confequences might have followed his falling in their way.

The property thefe wretches have plundered from the public, fince their efcape into the woods is immenfe; and with reafon we may fuppofe, that it either muft be fold to their accomplices in the two fettlements, or concealed in the woods.—Upon the whole, we may conclude, it will be attended with great rifk to individuals to convey property between the fettlements whilft thefe defperados are at large.

Spotlight: Execution of Richard Collyer (1818)

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



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

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

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

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

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


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



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

Written by J. E. CALDER.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nothing in his life,

Became him like the leaving it.”

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

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

The evil that men do, lives after them,

The good is oft interred with their bones.

14th November, 1873.


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Wednesday 26 November 1873, page 3



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

Written hy J. E. Calder.


The eventful history of the notorious man now draws to a close.

From York Plains, Howe, faithful to his old plans, removed to the Shannon tiers. But Sorell had good information of him now, and knew where to lay his hand on him within a fortnight or a month at furthest. But experience had proved that he was not to be taken, except in some manner where no demonstration was made. Parties of military, and parties of civilians, went after him in vain. He seems to have been ever on the watch, and always winded them and was off. Sorell more than once refers to his vigilance; and writing of his death, soon after it occurred, says, “his career terminated in the only way it could finish,” that is by surprise. He then speaks of him as follows: “his perseverance, his daring character, his knowledge of the country and all the stock-keepers, some of whom would not, and some could not venture upon an attempt to take him, made him a most dangerous being to the colony, and left an opening for mischief so long as he lived at large.” (Despatch, November 18th, 1818 )

With the exception of the brief interval when he was voluntarily in custody, the undivided energies of the Government were directed to the putting down of Howe, and also his old associates who were still in the bush. But after Howe’s separation from them, they fell rapidly into the hands of the military, the principal ones within a very few weeks after his surrender, and the whole, Howe excepted, before the end of 1817. He, however, still evaded all attempts to take him; and the Governor saw that if he were to be secured at all, it could only be done by resorting to stratagem and secret measures. Of Big McGill, he still entertained the highest opinion, notwithstanding his recent failure, and he resolved to use him in this service again, but to give him a suitable companion; and consulting with Major Bell, directed that officer to select from the military then in the colony, the best man for the service of confronting the seemingly unmasterable Howe, and a private soldier of the name of William Pugh of the 48th regiment, well known for his pluck, and the courage he had often shewn on foreign service, probably in the Peninsular war, was pitched upon, and no better man could have been chosen, for the desperate service of a life or death struggle with the terrific Howe.

Pugh and McGill took post secretly at a stock-hut on the Shannon, which Howe sometimes visited for supplies. This hut (I derive my information from Mr. Beamont, formerly Provost Marshal) was on land then occupied by the stock of Mr. Ingle; the same gentleman I presume, to whom Howe was first assigned. This land was afterwards granted to Mr. Miles Patterson, and is now I am informed in the occupation of one of the Allison family. The estate is called Hunterston; and the transactions, that ended Howe’s life of guilt, took place close to the present homestead, as I am informed by a gentleman, who has resided in the neighbourhood for half a century.

The man in charge of the stock-hut, was named Thomas Worrell, and was in the plan of taking Howe, no other except Pugh, McGill and a professional kangaroo hunter named Warburton, knowing what was about to take place next time that Howe came there.

It is often asserted by old hands that McGill assisted at the death of Howe. But Colonel Sorell says that he accidently “missed giving his assistance at it,” being temporarily absent on the day that Howe visited it, and that none but Pugh and Worrell were present when Howe fell. Moreover no portion of the hundred guinea reward was given to him.

The hunter Warburton, the betrayer of Howe, took good care of himself, and kept out of harm’s way during the savage encounter that ended the bushranger’s life. He acted throughout as a mere decoy, to entice him within reach of his destroyers. Howe was now in great want of supplies, particularly ammunition, his stock being nearly exhausted. In this state he met the hunter in the bush, and telling him of his distress, was advised to go to Worrell’s hut, where he said he would find plenty; but evaded Howe’s request to procure it for him. The latter who was suspicious of everybody, had his misgivings of this man’s sincerity, and several hours, it is said, passed before they were allayed, and before he was beguiled to approach the lion’s den, where Pugh and Worrell awaited to attack and destroy him. But his ammunition was at this time nearly exhausted, and unless he went to the hut, where Warburton assured him there was a good supply, to which he might help himself as he pleased, as there was, he said, no one there to prevent it, he must return to his hiding place, in no condition to show a front even to the natives, who, now that he was alone, dogged the steps of the solitary fugitive. He watched the hut, and took many a look around, and listened anxiously for any noise or sign of life for a very long time – it is said for three hours – but neither sound or movement were observed by him, for Pugh and Worrell lay within as still, and almost as breathless as he himself was before the sun went down. His fears of treacherous surprise were dispelled at last, and he approached for the coveted ammunition, and had nearly reached the door, when the two men within started up, and both let drive at him together. The shots were ineffectual, and had Howe ran for it then, he might have escaped them and got off. But he was a man of fiery temperament, and his blood was up in a second, and he remained on the spot two or three moments too long, to return the fire of his assailants, while they were narrowing the little space there was between him and them, by running in on him at top speed. “Is this your game” said Howe, quite undaunted by the suddenness of the attack (and these were the last words that he spoke), and then he drew the trigger of his piece, but happily missed them both.

Having lost his pistols in his recent fight with McGill, his means of defence were exhausted, and he fell back a few steps to fly, but it was now too late, for they were both upon him before he could get his speed; and then says the writer whom I have so often quoted from, Sorell, a hard struggle for life ensued. Howe fought with the determination either of beating off both, or of never being taken alive ; and though Pugh had hold of him with the grip of a mastiff, he still managed, says the old Provost Marshal Beamont, to deal Worrell such a blow as knocked him clean off his legs. Worrell sprang gamely to, his feet again (I am still quoting Beamont’s verbal description of the struggle), and thrust the muzzle of his piece deeply into Howe’s side. In intense pain, and fast weakening from loss of blood, his hold of Pugh gradually relaxed, and he fainted and fell of course. The instant he was down, they seized their pieces, which had fallen from them in the heat of the fight, and smashed in his skull with the butts of them; and then says Sorell of this desperate man “He spoke no more.” His death occurred on the 21st of October, 1818.

McGill came home afterwards, and sorrowful enough was he, that he had no part in the fight. The bushranger Drummond also found his way hither during the afternoon, and struck off Howe’s head with a hatchet.

His body was buried where he fell; but was disinterred in after years, and one or more of the bones removed, by some person, and the remains reburied.

The head was taken to Hobart Town, and the late Dr. Ross, who was en route for his farm (that is two days after Howe’s death) met the men who had it, which they carried in a sack. He pulled up and had a parley with them; and they thinking to gratify this mildest of men, rolled it out at his feet. He gives an account of his meeting with these obliging fellows, in his almanac for 1836. The head was buried, Mr. Beamont informs me, within the precincts of the old gaol, Murray-street.

As soon as the intelligence of Howe’s death reached the Governor, he published an address to the colonists, congratulating them on the termination of his fearful career of outrage, which comprehended many hundreds of robberies (the most of which I have omitted from their sameness) and some murders; which, as it doubtlessly expresses the general sentiment of satisfaction that pervaded the community, I shall offer no apology for introducing here. It is as follows:–


Govt. House, Hobart Town

Saturday, Octobor 24th, 1818.

His Honor the Lieutenant Governor has the Satisfaction to make known that MICHAEL HOWE, the Murderer and Robber whose Crimes have so loudly called for Public Justice, whose Perseverance in his Career and Rejection of proffered Mercy for former Offences will long remain impressed on the Minds of the Inhabitants of this Colony, was overtaken in the Neighbourhood of the Shannon River on the 21st Instant, by William Pugh, a Private of the 48th Regiment, accompanied by Thomas Worrell, Crown Servant; and after a severe Struggle, was killed.

The Lieutenant Governor cannot too strongly commend the Activity, Intelligence, and Spirit of Private William Pugh; Qualities which he had reason to expect in that Soldier from the Recommendation which he had received from Major Bell, commanding the Detachment at this Station, to which he belongs, for Bravery and good Conduct upon Foreign Service: and the Lieutenant Governor, will not fail to Recommend him to His Excellency the Governor in Chief for the greatest Favor which he can receive.

The conduct of Thomas Worrell also, which was highly deserving of Praise, will be laid before His Excellency, with the Lieutenant Governor’s Request and Recommendation for his Free Pardon and Passage to England.

By Command of His Honor

The Lieutenant Governor

H. E. Robinson, Secretary.

I have somewhere read an account of Howe’s death, professedly dictated by the man Worrell, in which he represents himself as the chief, if indeed, not the sole instrument of the fall of the dreaded bushranger; but it will he seen from the above official notice, dated three days after his destruction, that the soldier was the leading spirit in the fatal fray, which terminated the career of “the last and worst of the bushrangers.”

Dr. Ross whom I have mentioned a little above, describes the hut, erected by Howe, which it is believed he occupied on the night preceding his death. Ross was making an exploratory excursion into the bush, in the direction of Lake Echo (of which by the way he was the discoverer) in March 1823, when he stumbled on the remains of the desolate wig-wam of the wretched outlaw. He was then between the Shannon and the Lake. He says, “Here we met another curiosity of the morning. It was the ruins of a hut belonging to the notorious bushman Michael Howe. The floor which had been neatly laid with bark, the fireplace and great part of the thatched roof, still remained. It stood in a secluded spot on a gentle slope, concealed from behind by a thick honey-suckle tree, with an open view in front, reaching down to a small stream of water. Near it lay prostrate the trunk of a huge tree, * * * In crossing the little stream we chanced to strike against his large iron pot hid in a tea tree bush, which I afterwards carried home, and still use for culinary purposes. This was doubtless the place from which he emerged when he met his death at the Shannon hut, now the fertile estate of Hunterston. It is said that when his companion Warburton used to visit Howe, so great was the distrust of that wretched man, that he obliged him to keep on the opposite side of the trunk of the tree just mentioned, on pain of being shot to death. It is scarcely possible to conceive a state of existence more truly miserable than this man must have led. With the remorse of the most horrible robberies and murders on his conscience, he was here left to himself to contrast the native innocence and serenity of God’s works, with his own wicked heart, added to the hourly dread of apprehension. The tumultuous laugh, the heated exhilaration of companions in sin to drown reflection, was wanting to him. The silent language of nature must have incessantly read him a lesson that would harrow up the soul, and his countenance, severed from the trunk, which was afterwards exhibited in Hobart Town, is said to have betrayed the lineaments of a murderer truly horrific. He will ever remain the most notorious votary of the wretched system of bushranging, which has now for some years, by the exertions of the local Government, been happily put an end to.” Ross’ Almanac, 1830, pages 93, 94.

[To be continued.]

Musquito: An Overview

Indigenous readers are advised that the following discusses the history of first nations people and contains the names and likenesses of deceased persons.

Aboriginal bushrangers of the early colonial period tend to be somewhat difficult to define. Given that many were not from within the colonial society, and the few that were often did not behave like most bushrangers when that took to the bush, they tend to almost require a separate definition. In fact, there’s a definite overlap where the Aboriginal bushrangers and resistance fighters are concerned. None exemplify this conundrum better than the man known as Musquito.

Born in the early to mid 1780s in New South Wales, Musquito is believed to have grown up around Broken Bay (though some sources state he was from Port Jackson) as a Gai-mariagal man, probably by the name Y-erran-gou-la-ga. At some point he seems to have picked up at least a moderate amount of English, and he had a brother known to the whites as Phillip. The rest of his early life is a mystery.

Nouvelle-Hollande, Y-erran-gou-la-ga by Barthelemy Roger (1807) [Source: NLA]

In 1805, Musquito became a wanted man. His actions around the Hawkesbury River were a cause for concern — so much so that his own people turned on him. When Musquito murdered a woman (almost certainly an Aboriginal woman), the people he been raised amongst turned him in with another man named Toulgra (called “Bulldog” by the whites) in exchange for another of their nation who was wrongfully imprisoned. Musquito never stood trial for the murder, nor was he formally charged. Instead, he and Bulldog were sent to Norfolk Island after threatening to start a fire where they were lodged at Parramatta Gaol.

Musquito remained on Norfolk Island for eight years, where he was expected to perform labour in order to earn his rations and was employed as a lime-burner. When he was removed from the island in 1817, he was sent to Port Dalrymple, Van Diemen’s Land, on the Minstrel. He was eventually employed by Edward Lord, the wealthiest man in Van Diemen’s Land. Here he worked as a stockman, but when Lord left the colony for Mauritius in February 1818, Musquito remained.

In September 1818, Musquito was told by Governor Sorell that if he assisted in the tracking down and capture of Michael Howe he would be rewarded with free passage back to New South Wales. By this time his brother Phillip had written to Governor Macquarie to ask for Musquito’s return to his ancestral home. Sorell had even tried to get Macquarie on board, recommending that Musquito, “Big Jack” McGill, and “Black” Mary Cockerill be acquired by New South Wales for their superior tracking abilities, but nothing was ever followed up. For unknown reasons, Macquarie seemed to want Musquito kept away from his homeland.

When Musquito, accompanied by McGill, found Howe camped by the Shannon River, they pounced upon the bushranger and after a violent struggle Howe escaped without his kit bag and supplies. In the bag was Howe’s famous kangaroo skin journal, in which he described his dreams, memories, desires and fear of the Aboriginals, who had recently been engaged in attacks on white farmers (at least one of these attacks resulted in a death that Howe was accused of).

Musquito had been looking forward to returning to New South Wales as per the agreement struck with the government, but when he heard nothing from Macquarie or Sorell he decided he had copped all he was willing to from the white man. Musquito went bush and found his way to Oyster Bay. The government had treated Musquito like merely some troublesome Aboriginal they could afford to ignore, but they were about to be proven terribly wrong.

Musquito managed to find his way to a sort of commune of Aboriginal men and women that had, for various reasons, found themselves expelled from their own people; many had transgressed tribal laws making them outlaws from both colonial and indigenous societies. This community would come to be known as the “Tame Mob”. When Musquito joined them he remained somewhat on the outer, but his knowledge of English language, farming practices and firearms saw him quickly rise through the ranks to become their leader. In fact, he became so highly regarded amongst the mob that, by some accounts, he was given a wife (known as “Gooseberry”) who was said to have been the most beautiful woman in the tribe. He was later described as having three wives by Thomas Anstey, the magistrate at Oatlands, who also described Musquito prostituting some of the women, including his wives, to white men in exchange for goods. That Anstey was not speaking from experience, but rather repeating rumours, is telling.

View over the Great Oyster Bay towards Freycinet peninsula, Tasmania, Australia by Joern Brauns [Wikimedia Commons]

Soon the Tame Mob grew to encompass dozens of men and women, and they were even alleged to have fallen in briefly with some white bushrangers in the Oyster Bay region. As time wound on, this seemingly harmless group of outcasts became motivated to push back against the colonists. Adding coal to the furnace was Musquito, whose first hand experience of the colonisation of New South Wales had instilled in him a fierce distrust and hatred of white men, and the irreversible damage their ways were inflicting on Van Diemen’s Land and its peoples, just as they had done to his homeland.

There were many rumours that circulated about Musquito, including that he had murdered Gooseberry in a rage on the government paddock in 1821. He was said to have had a taste for mutton, which the other Aboriginals refused to eat, and he was described as a great drunkard who would trade rations for rum.

The Tame Mob, now estimated to be 75 strong, began to engage in acts that are better described as acts of war, rather than bushranging. Thefts and brutal murders were coupled with arson in an effort to stamp out the influence of whites in their region, which essentially sprouted from Oyster Bay and encompassed Pittwater (Sorell), Orielton, Risdon and even reached as far as Jericho and Oatlands. A reward of £100 was offered for Musquito – dead or alive – and he was given the nickname “The Black Napoleon”.

From November 1823 to 1824 the Tame Mob, led by Musquito, performed a series of violent and deadly raids along the Tasmanian east coast, targeting white farms, gangs of bushrangers and rival mobs that stood in their way. Prominent in the mob alongside Musquito were “Black Jack” (Jack Roberts) and “Black Tom” (Kickerterpoller), the latter of which would go on to leave his own mark as a bushranger.

On 15 November, 1823, the Tame Mob attacked a hut at the property of George Gatehouse at Grindstone Bay. For several days before they had begged food from John Radford, the stock-keeper, engaged themselves in fishing and held a corroboree nearby. They returned to the hut on the fateful day armed with spears. In the ensuing assault two people were murdered – a Tahitian man named Mammoa, and a 19 year-old assigned servant named William Hollyoak. The lone survivor, John Radford, pinned the murders on Musquito and Black Jack. Hollyoak had been staying at Gatehouse’s on his way back to his employer, George Meredith, having just come out of hospital. The three men had been lured out by Musquito and speared as they retreated after sensing an ambush. Radford was speared through the side by Black Jack, and after stopping to pull a spear out of Hollyoak’s back, was speared in the thigh. The last Radford saw of Hollyoak was the boy being swarmed by Aboriginal men, with five or six spears sticking out of him. Radford managed to make it to Prosser’s Plains to raise the alarm. When they recovered the body of Mammoa, he has been speared almost 40 times.

A posse was formed by George Meredith to find the Tame Mob and seek retribution. By Meredith’s account, the Aboriginals all escaped unharmed when the posse found them in the bush, though other accounts claim they found them all asleep and slaughtered as many as they could, with very few escaping. In response to this turn of events, Musquito was severely beaten by members of the Tame Mob who were obviously angry about the messy encounter he had led them into.

Misquito [i.e. Musquito] and Devil’s Hole Tasmania, 1868 by “J.R.” [Courtesy: State Library of New South Wales]

The following raids mostly involved arson – burning houses and crops. These were clearly attacks designed to flush the colonists out of the area. Despite being assaulted by his own tribe, Musquito still enjoyed some seniority and helped the Tame Mob develop strategies for battle. He educated them on firearms, noting that the firearms could only fire once before needing to be reloaded; thus in battle the mob would wait until a shot had been fired then swarm on their attacker with spears while he reloaded. Often one of the English speakers, usually Musquito, would lure the occupants of a house to the door. From his use of English they would mistake him for a “tame black” (one raised by whites, or at least employed by them), and this would distract them while the rest of the party surrounded the house before attacking.

On 16 June 1824, Musquito joined the Tame Mob in four attacks. They struck the farm of a man named Oakes at Murderers Plains (Abyssinia), where two men were murdered; Triffitt’s at Big River (Ouse) where another man was murdered; and two of Captain Wood’s properties at the Clyde River (near Hamilton) and Lake Sorell where a hut was destroyed without fatalities.

In July, the mob killed a man named Patrick McCarthy at Sorell Plains near New Norfolk. On the 23rd of the same month, Robert Gay, a servant of George Meredith, was killed and mutilated. The murder was attributed to Musquito and his followers.

In August, Lieutenant William Gunn went in pursuit of Musquito after having been given the slip by Matthew Brady’s gang. He would have no satisfaction in this pursuit either. Meanwhile, the Aboriginal group that was attacking farms was now estimated to have 200 or more members, indicating that some form of merger had been struck between the Tame Mob, the Oyster Bay tribe and the Big River tribe. The little rebellion was now a full scale war.

In late August 1824 Musquito and Black Jack were finally brought to heel. For three days two men named Hanskey and Marshall trekked through the wilds with a seventeen year-old, half-Aboriginal boy named Teague (or Tegg) acting as their guide after a purported tip-off from some of Musquito’s female followers. Teague had been promised a boat as his reward for helping to capture Musquito. Their perseverance paid off and they intercepted Musquito near Oyster Bay with Black Jack and two Aboriginal women. Teague opened fire and shot Musquito twice in the thigh and once through the body. Though he attempted to shelter, Musquito’s injuries were severe and he was captured.

After recuperating in the Colonial Hospital in Hobart, Musquito and Black Jack were tried for murder. They were denied legal counsel and could not give evidence as they were not Christians, thus unable to swear on a Bible. Musquito was found guilty of the murder of Hollyoak, and Black Jack was found guilty of murdering Patrick McCarthy. Naturally, the two were sentenced to death.

On 24 February 1825, Musquito was hanged in the Murray Street Gaol, Hobart, along with Black Jack and six whites. Prior to his execution Musquito was said to have confided in his gaoler, John Bisdee:

Hanging no good for black fellow… Very good for white fellow, for he used to it.


Teague never received the boat he was promised, and therefore turned bushranger himself and swore to kill any white man he encountered. Two murders were attributed to him, but he avoided any punishment for them, if indeed he was guilty. He was found by his master Dr. Edward Luttrell, and spent the rest of his life in Luttrell’s employ. He died in 1831.

The amalgamated Aboriginal forces that had begun their reprisals on the whites under Musquito continued for six more years, with the conflict being referred to as the “Black Wars”. Musquito’s off-sider Black Tom became a prominent figure during this time, picking up where Musquito left off.

No doubt the life of Musquito is shrouded in misinformation and outright lies, just as many of his bushranging and Aboriginal contemporaries alike have endured, due to the concerted vilification by colonial historians and others who felt they had something to gain by portraying this Aboriginal man as a mindless, violent monster. Many of the crimes attributed to him were likely not committed by him, if they even happened at all. Certainly, the outcome of his trial had been determined before it began.

Many of the colonists described the first nations of Van Diemen’s Land as peaceful until Musquito came onto the scene. Many laid the blame for the Aboriginal retaliation attacks squarely at his feet, others admitting that his treatment by the authorities was to blame for his rebellion.

Musquito left an indelible mark on Tasmanian history and many of the beats of his story would be repeated in decades to come by other Aboriginal bushrangers, in one way or another. It seems the lessons that could have been learned from Musquito’s life were ignored or dismissed by the people who most needed to heed the warnings.

Recommended reading: Steps to the Scaffold by Robert Cox [Cornhill Publishing, 2004].

Spotlight: Death of “Black” Mary Cockerill

Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter (Tas. : 1816 – 1821), Saturday 3 July 1819, page 1

On Tuesday died in the Colonial Hospital, the native woman usually called Black Mary, particularly known as having been at one time the partner of Michael Howe, and subsequently a guide to the parties of troops which were   employed successfully in subduing the gang of bush-rangers; in which her knowledge of the country and of their haunts, and especially her instinctive quickness in tracking foot-steps, rendered her a main instrument of the success which attended their exertions. She had been victualled from His Majesty’s Store, and had received other indulgences in clothing, &c.; but a complication of disorders, which had been long gaining ground upon her, terminating at last in pulmonic affection, put an end to her life.

Mary Cockerill is a somewhat enigmatic figure. Most people know her as Michael Howe’s paramour, the Aboriginal girl he impregnated then shot to create a distraction and bring about his escape. The reality is far different. There is very little that we do know about her, and most of that demonstrates that what is generally accepted as the truth is little more than a fanciful romance.

What we can say about her, definitively, is that she was one of two Aboriginal girls that were members of Michael Howe’s gang, the other’s name having been long lost to the sands of time. She was with the gang when they were engaged in a gunfight by Dennis McCarty and his men, and was noted by witnesses on other occasions as well but only insofar as her presence was notable. Her capture came when she and Michael Howe were ambushed by a detachment of soldiers, during which it was perceived that Howe shot at her before ditching his gear and bolting. Mary then directed the soldiers to one of the camps the gang used, where Howe and two of his gang were spotted, though they easily evaded capture.

Mary was kept on by the government as a tracker, and she was employed in trying to capture the banditti that had once been her colleagues. Eventually she accompanied a group of officials on a ship bound for Port Jackson that was transporting some of Howe’s gang members for trial, (in those days capital offences were tried in New South Wales, even if the crimes were not from that colony). She was given clothes and food from the commissariat store in Hobart and generally treated well. Her death seems to have been from either a chronic heart ailment or something very sudden.

Claims that Mary was pregnant cannot be backed up by contemporary records, and the notion that she was Howe’s lover may be misconstrued from the description of her having “co-habited” with him, which could simply mean they lived together. Indeed, the only thing that suggests that there was anything more to their relationship than being colleagues is the fact they were alone together when ambushed, which is a fairly long bow to draw from such a limited amount of information.