Spotlight: The Bushrangers, Windsor (1830)

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Tuesday 19 January 1830, page 3

The Bushrangers.

To the Editor of the Sydney Gazette.

Windsor, 26th December, 1829.


With reference to a paragraph which appeared in the Sydney Gazette of the 19th instant, relative to complaints “making of the depradations committed on the settlers in the interior, by those notorious characters, Underwood and Donohoe,” and expressing surprise “that the reward so promptly offered by Government, for the apprehension of these desperadoes, has not long since led to their capture.” In justice to the exertions of the Police, and reasoning why these desperadoes have not been informed against by prisoners of the crown, who are their principal associates, I beg leave to make the following observations:–

The Windsor Police have received the most accurate information of Donohoe and his accomplice. It has been stated, by one reputed to have been in their confidence for a considerable time, that Donohoe is not connected with the notorious Underwood, but that one John Walmsley, an absentee from an iron gang, was introduced to his notice by the government servants of a gentleman at Mulgoa, on whose farm are shipmates of both the desperadoes, and that their connexion so commenced. That Donohoe, knowing his own awful condition, that his former acccomplices had been executed, that the reward offered for his apprehension was sufficient to tempt even a bushranger, having no greater offence to answer, to seize and capture his comrade under such circumstances, was bound to suspect and dread his new companion, and to act with the strickest precaution; and so he did, until they accidentally were on the very spot where Chilcott came for water, on the road to Hunter’s River, when they first committed highway robbery in company. The bank notes so stolen, are stated to have been spent in the dwelling of “a few acres settler'” on the South Creek, and it was in confidence related to the govermnent servant alluded to, and others, that the said settler proceeded to Parramatta to procure cash for the notes, and that he defrauded his guests £20 of the money, pretending it was stolen from him in that town. Donohoe, by his highway robbery, gained somewhat more confidence. They proceeded again in pursuit of further spoil; and as they have confessed, fell in with Mr. Clements, whom they fired upon and mortally wounded, that Walmsley committed the deed, Mr. C. having known him when at Hunter’s River, an absentee working as a sawyer; which fact, it is supposed, alarmed Walmsley, and prompted him to murder, he being recognised by Mr C. By these combined acts, Donohoe embraced a companion so worthy of his character, and they have since that period been inseparable. They have entrusted gold and silver watches to the care of, and for sale by, the government servants of a gentleman at Mulgoa, these servants not only screen, and at times harbour them, but render them every intelligence, real or imaginary, as regards the intentions and movements of the Police. Where men in numbers are combined, and are connected most clearly with other government servants at Windsor and its environs, altho’ their information, at times, merely arises from suspicion, nevertheless it suffices to alarm the desperadoes, and give them opportunity to sally forth into some remote depository of flour, pork, &c. 50 or perhaps 70 miles from the common scenes of depredation The Police have frequently been from Windsor more than a week; their return is soon known, and as their visit to the bush was dreaded, their absence from it is hailed, and the remigration of the desperadoes is announce with tidings of new robberies. It is due to the Police of Windsor, Penrith, and the neighbouring constabulary to state, that very prompt and steady exertion has been made to apprehend the desperadoes.

I would now venture to offer a few reasons why it is probable these characters have not been betrayed long since. The Government Reward states the sums offered to be for the apprehension of DONOHOE and Underwood; ignorant wicked men, capable of treachery to their bosom friends, have always a latent dread of being deceived, and were this reward imprinted at the foot of the Lord’s prayer, they would yet be of opinion that on its being discovered that Donohoe’s companion was Walmsley, and not Underwood, “the reward would therby be brought to a bubble,” that they would eventually lose their good name, be still employed, at the danger of their lives, among the same servants; and be without the pale of either friendship or protection. Several government servants, towards whom shrewd suspicions attaches in this matter, have been reminded of the liberal reward offered by Government; their opinions differ with Government in this respect, they have bluntly asserted to the Police, that they would not thank any one for a ticket-of-leave under circumstances placing their lives in jeopardy. The answer thus candidly given, shews no indirect inclination, but expresses a reasonable terror. Then I would most respectfully suggest an alteration in the Government Notice, re-publishing the reward, to be made to the following effect viz.– “Whereas there is reason to believe that the companion of Donohoe, has not on all occasions been the felon Underwood as heretofore suspected, but that some other person has been connected with him in various murders, highway robberies, or other capital crimes:— Now therefore the Government is desirous to give due encouragement for the apprehension of these desperadoes, or each or either of them, and hereby offer a similar reward of —— pounds, for the apprehension of the man who has been an accomplice of Donohoe as afore said, whosoever the said man may be, on his conviction of any capital offence; or, of any crime unto which suspicion formerly attached to Donohoe and Underwood; or, if illegally defending himself, he should be slain when captured, so that he be recognised; and that the reward for Underwood yet remains in full force.” I would further respectfully suggest, that as it is unnecessary, and would be imprudent, that the informant should take an active part in the capture of these men, but that it be merely sufficient for him to give such statement to the Heads of Police as may lead to their apprehension; thus leaving it in the power of one person to effect so desirable an object; that to ensure his every protection, he should be rewarded with an emancipation, and, if required, a passage to Van Diemen’s Land. This, I am confident, would gain the desired event; and the Police would proudly avail themselves of the opportunity of becoming captors where so much credit will attach to their calling. To an emancipated man, either a free pardon, or a farm of —— acres should be granted, choice to be given to the person who gave the private information required. To one absolutely free, a share in the reward, or an adequate portion of land, as may most suit the views of the espial by whose means peace and comfort would be rendered to the honest settler and affrighted traveller now under dread of assassination. Hints, nearly amounting to overtures, have been thrown out by persons when questioned, nearly to the above effect; and I repeat that a ticket-of-leave has not only been disdained, but scoffed at.

Again, a constable’s salary (if free) at Windsor, is but 2s. 3d. per diem, how then can it be expected he can leave his wife and family for days together, and furnish his own rations in pursuit? It may be said, he frequently returns hungry to an empty table. If constables could be allowed some moderate supplies at the present on the capture of the men, the charges so made might be subducted from the reward, if the Government do not feel justified in renumerating their exertions from the Police fund. If approved or amended, or if in any way attended to, this inducement should not be merely published in the Gazette, but hand bills should be circulated by the police at every lonely cottage within the track of depredation; among the Government servants and stockmen in particular; the whole to be laid down in plain language clearly to shew the intent of Government. And further should be added, that the persons named are charged with Murder, Highway robberies and Burglaries, and that harbouring or succouring them with a guilty knowledge, will place such persons under the law, upon their trial as accessaries to crimes of the deepest dye.

It has been truly illustrated, that there is no peace in “the wicked,” Donoghoe always taking the pre-caution to place his comrade next a log; when they recline to rest, and then to close upon his person in such a manner as to prevent secret movements, and to expose the turbid state of their minds, they do not continue two nights in one spot. They have a dreadful aversion to the horse police, and are always urgent with the stockmen, whereabout the “slip rails are,” and whether they have seen the horse police. The information received is deemed indubitable, but the excitement for their apprehension is considered insufficient under serious calculation of possible or probable consequences, not within the conception of a Sydney courtier or merchant, who fears not the assassin behind the bush, or that he will be annoyed by a visit from such blood-thirsty guests as Donoghoe, Underwood or Walmsley are said to be.

It is supposed that the Englishman (Walmsley) will ”open his mouth” when apprehended, and make disclosures against settlers and servants rather of a tangible nature; and this is Donoghoe’s opinion says an informant.

As Editors can either publish or destroy, I need only leave it to “option’s choice,” and conclude by subscribing.


your very humble servant.


Spotlight: Extracts from the Launceston Advertiser regarding Donohoe, 04/10/1830

Launceston Advertiser (Tas. : 1829 – 1846), Monday 4 October 1830, page 2



On Monday an Inquest was convened by Major SMEATHAM, Coroner, at the FOX AND HOUNDS, kept by Henry Ball, Castlereagh Street, on the body of John Donohoe.

HENRY GORMAN. — I am a constable at Bargo ; on the 1st of September I and several of the Mounted Police were encamped in the evening, about five o’clock, on Mr. Wentworth’s farm, Bringelly, when onen who was on the look-out, said “here comes two constables whom we expected?” they were then about a mile and a half distant ; one the Police said, “no they are bushrangers!” Three men were leading a pack-horse ; I and two of the Police-men took one side of a creek, and the serjeant and another man the other side ; we made towards, and came up with them on some forest land ; a man on the horse, who I thought was a bushranger named WALMSLEY, saw us first, and immediately jumped off; deceased took off his hat, and waving it over his head, threw it in the air, saying. “come on! I am ready for a dozen of you!” The other two took off their coats and hats and went behind trees; we held a parley with them about two minutes, before a shot was fired, all parties being behind trees, when one of the Police-men fired, and nearly took down one of the men, who I thought was WEBBER; after this they appeared shy. Two of them fired their pieces at me, and I fired at them, but witout effect on either side. One of the Police men named Mugglestone then fired and Donohoe fell. We chased the other two, but could not come up with them. On returning deceased was quite dead; the other two Police men did not fall in with us till the deceased fell ; Mugglestone shot the deceased.

John Mugglestone, a private of the 30th regt, now in the employ of the Mounted Police, stated to the same effect, with the addition, that this carbine was loaded with two balls; and that they found on the horse’s back some flour, sugar, and women’s wearing apparel, and that deceased had a watch in his pocket. Serjeant W. Hodson deposed to the same effect but with the addition, that he knew the other two bushrangers to be Walmsley and Webber, and that he thought deceased was Donohue as Dr. Gibson was robbed by him, and the Doctor knew him well, having been Juror when deceased was tried some time ago. Deceased was in the agonies of death when he came up to him ; he found on his person a small pistol and a watch, (watch produced) no money was in his person ; on the horse was found a great many papers. among the rest grants of land, transfers, and receipts. The deeds are made out in the name of “Denis Begly, Prospect” and the transfers in the name of Edward Wright (deed and papers produced); Gorman loaded his piece with a carbine ball and pistol ball, which it appeared by Mr. Jilks had been lost only a week. The pack-horse or rather mare was aged, and marked E. S.

The Jury returned a verdict of Justifiable Homicide, without reference to identity. But from a wound in the cheek, and another under the cheek arising from scrophula, there is little doubt but the deceased is the notorious outlaw Donohoe.

Donohoe’s life as no doubt been harassing. But at the same time, it must be allowed that in comparison of the lives of the wretches at Moreton Bay, it was a happy life, and his death much less painful than those of scores who have deceased at that horrid settlement. And so long as such settlements exist, we doubt not we shall never want in this Colony either Donohoe’s and Dalton’s. It is fit and proper, that cruelty should be visited on the nation which practices it with retribution. God is just.

On Monday, as Mr. Scott and the Rev. Mr. Erskine were proceeding to Parramatta in a chaise, they were stopped by two armed bushrangers, who were on the point of robbing them, when one of the marauders recognised Mr. Scott as his former master at Emu Plains, on which he shook hands with him in a friendly manner, declaring he would never hurt a hair of his head; they then took to the bush.

A cast of the head of the notorious Donahoe is to be taken.


The soldier named Morley, mentioned in our last as having taken to the bush, has been captured and now awaits his trial before a Court Martial.



A Short time ago, Donohoe, Walmsley, and Webber, met a messenger belonging to a road or iron gang, at the Lower Branch of the Hawkesbury, as he was proceeding from one gang to another, on duty, carrying a new blanket and a cake with him from place to place, for safety. Walmsley accosted him ‘Ah, Tom Taylor! is that you? We must have your cake at any rate, but as you are my shipmate, we wont take your blanket, as they might send you to a penal settlement for selling it.’ Tom Taylor is not only a ship-mate, but comes from the same part of England as John Walmsley. This took place beyond Wiseman’s, on the Great North Road to Maitland, about the twelve mile hollow. They have crossed twice recently at Singleton’s Mill, on the Hawkesbury, and there is good reason to suspect they are the men who robbed Mr. Chandler. They confess they have been very much harrassed lately; they do not remain long in one place. They have committed two robberies in the Seven Hills district; and it has been told to a certain publican on a turnpike road, that one of these men purchased some spirit at his house lately, and carried it to his companions lying in ambush, not very far away at the time. Six constables and two black natives proceeded in search of these men a few mornings since, and are expected to remain some days away. The black natives are rewarded out of the police contigencies, and it is said that the constables on this special duty are allowed one shilling per diem in addition to their pay. If they fall in with Donohoe’s party, they will be apt to earn the extra allowance in an intrepid encounter with people who would rather be shot than hanged.


Sydney Monitor (NSW : 1828 – 1838), Saturday 11 September 1830, page 4



On Monday an Inquest was convened by MAJOR SMEATHMAN, Coroner, at the Fox and Hounds, kept by Henry Ball, Castlereagh Street, on the body of John Donohoe.

Henry Gorman. — I am a constable at Bargo; on the 1st of September I and several of the Mounted Police were encamped in the evening, about five o’clock, on Mr. Wentworth’s farm, Bringelly, when one who was on the look-out, said “here come two constables whom we expected?” they were then about a mile and a half distance; one of the Police said, “no they are bushrangers!” Three men were leading a packhorse; I and two of the Police-men took one side of a creek, and the serjeant and another man the other side; we made towards, and came up with them on some forest land; a man on the horse, who I thought was a bushranger named Walmsley, saw us first, and immediately jumped off; deceased took off his hat, and waiving it over his head, threw it in the air, saying, “come on! I am ready for a dozen of you!” The other two took off their coats and hats and went behind trees; we held a parley with them about twenty minutes, before a shot was fired, all parties being behind trees, when one of the Police-men fired, and nearly took down one of the men, who I thought was Webber; after this they appeared shy. Two of them fired their pieces at me, and I fired at them, but without effect on either side. One of the Police men named Mugglestone then fired and Donohoe fell. We chased the other two, but could not come up with them. On returning deceased was quite dead; the other two Police-men did not fall in with us till the Deceased fell; Mugglestone shot the deceased.

John Mugglestone, a private of the 39th regt, now in the employ of the Mounted Police, stated to the same effect, with the addition, that his carbine was loaded with two balls, and that they found on the horse’s back some flour, sugar, and women’s wearing apparel, and that deceased had a watch in his pocket.

Serjeant W. Hodson deposed to the same effect, but with the addition, that he knew the other two bushrangers to be Walmsley and Webber, and that he thought deceased was Donohoe as Dr. Gibson was robbed by him, and the Doctor knew him well, having been Juror when deceased was tried some ago. Deceased was in the agonies of death when he came up to him; he found on his person a small pistol and a watch, (watch produced) no money was on his person; on the horse was found a great many papers among the rest grants of land, transfers, and receipts. The deeds are made out in the name of “Denis Begly, Prospect” and the transfers in the name of Edward Wright (deeds and papers produced); Gorman loaded his piece with a carbine ball and pistol ball, which it appeared by Mr. Jilks had been lost only a week. The pack-horse or rather mare was aged, and marked E.S.

The Jury returned a verdict of Justifiable Homicide, without reference to identity. But from a wound in the cheek, and another under the cheek arising from scrophula, there is little doubt but the deceased is the notorious outlaw Donohoe. Donohoe’s life has no doubt been harrassing. But at the same time, it must be allowed that in comparison of the lives of the wretches at Moreton Bay, it was a happy life, and his death much less painful than those of scores who have deceased in that horrid settlement. And so long as such settlements exist, we doubt not we shall never want in this Colony either Donohoe’s and Dalton’s. It is fit and proper, that cruelty should be visited on the nation which practises it with retribution. God is just.

‘On Monday, as Mr. Scott and the Rev. Mr. Erskine were proceeding to Parramatta in a chaise, they were stopped by two armed bushrangers, who were on the point of robbing them, when one of the marauders recognised Mr. Scott as his former master at Emu Plains, on which he shook hands with him in a friendly manner, declaring he would never hurt a hair of his head; they then took to the bush.

A cast of the head of the notorious Donohoe is to be taken.

On Monday a prisoner named Joseph Smith was sentenced to receive one hundred lashes for knocking down Mr. Medley, Superintendent to Mr. George Allan, and nearly choking him.

Spotlight: John Walmsley on trial

Sydney Monitor (NSW : 1828 – 1838), Wednesday 22 June 1831, page 2

Domestic Intelligence.


THURSDAY. – Before Mr. Justice Stephen and the usual Commission.

Michael O’Brien, Mary O’Brien, John O’Hara, James O’Hara, Mary O’Hara, Mary Ann O’Hara, and Michael Cantwell, were indicted for receiving stolen property belonging to various persons on the 18th January 1831, at the Seven Hills, New South Wales, knowing the same to have been stolen.

John Walmsley sworn — Mr. Williams objected to the evidence of Walmsley being taken, on the ground of his being an attainted felon under sentence of death, and that the Governor’s pardon produced was of no weight, he, the Governor, having no power to grant a pardon, that being vested only in the King, and must pass the Great Seal before it would he admitted as a legal instrument.

Mr. Therry took the same objections; they were over-ruled by the Court, and the Examination by the Attorney-General continued — My name is John Walmsley; I know all the prisoners at the bar; I have known them about 8 or 9 months, but I cannot swear exactly to time; I have seen them frequently within the last 8 or 9 months; they all lived at the Seven Hills, save John and James O’Hara, and they were backwards and forwards frequently; they had a farm at a place called little Doual; Mrs. O’Brien, Mary O’Hara, and Mary Ann O’Hara introduced me to the male prisoners; they told me to come again and bring them some prints, some calicoes, and other things which I had taken from Mr. McQuade’s cart; we had had conversation about that robbery, and John Donohoe and William Webber were present at the time; we promised to go back in a fortnight or three weeks and bring them some prints and calicoes; they addressed themselves as much to Webber and Donohoe as they did to me; when we parted from them going on our journey towards the Cow-pastures, Donohoe was shot by the Mounted Police; Webber and I made our escape; this happened on Mr. Wentworth’s farm called Greendale, within a few miles of the Cow-pastures; the mounted police halloed out to us, and asked us who we were? just before sun-down in the evening; we made them no answer, and they fired on us directly; Donohoe was shot dead; Webber and I made our escape, and got out on the Liverpool-road; we had no communication with the prisoners at the bar until about a fortnight afterwards, when Webber and I went again to the house of the prisoner O’Brien; we saw the two girls first, Mary and Mary Ann O’Hara, at the house, but we had left the prints and calicos in the bush on Michael O’Brien’s land; the girls asked us where we had the property? and we told them it was on their ground close by the water-hole; the girls then took the bucket and went down to the water-hole for a bucket of water; we had left them, and gone round to where the property was, and were there when they came down; the girls stopped so long in the bush talking to us that Mrs. O’Brien came down to see what was the matter; the girls gave the bucket of water to Mrs. O’Brien, and they took the prints and calicos up to the house; there were 17 or 18 pieces of print and 2 pieces of calico; when the girls took it to the house we went round another way, and came close up to the house, about 6 or 7 rod away from it in the bush; we did not go into the house at that time, as the girls told us we had better stop in the bush until their godfather, Michael O’Brien came home, as he would not be long; Michael O’Brien came home soon after, came into the bush to us, and we then went into the house; he enquired about our other comrade; he meant Donohoe; we talked some time in the bush before we entered the house with O’Brien, and Webber put his hand in his pocket and gave him a sterling note; Michael O’Brien then asked us in, and when we were in the house we sent him off to Parramatta for some rum and gunpowder; whiles we were drinking, James O’Hara and another man named John Hughes came from little Doual in a cart; as soon as James O’Hara came in, the girls told him that we were come, and were then in the bed-room drinking; he came into us, and we sat up drinking the greater part of the night, and then lay down to rest; the next morning James O’Hara and John Hughes went out to the farm again, and took some of the prints with them; they had heard of the robbery of Mr. McQuade’s cart, and asked us whether we had done it? we told them we had, and that the prints we then brought them formed part of the robbery; it was Michael O’Brien asked me about McQuade’s robbery, and Mary, Mary Ann, and James O’Hara were present when we mentioned having robbed the cart; we stopped at the house two days after James O’Hara and Hughes left to go to the farm; during the time we were at the house, I saw the female prisoners cut up some of the prints and make gowns and bed quilts of them; there was nothing else given to them on that visit; about the time of the Parramatta races we returned to O’Brien’s house, and we then saw John O’Hara, Mary O’Hara, and Mary Ann O’Hara, who came from the house with two buckets and a washing tub for water; we were in the bush and hailed them, when all three of them came to us; we took John O’Hara to be his brother James, and I said, “is that James” he replied, “no, it is John;” I had never seen him before; we sat down, and I gave John O’Hara eighteen shillings to go for half a gallon of rum; the girls and John asked us up to the house, and told us that Michael O’Brien and James O’Hara were at home; we went round the bush and went in to the house, when Michael O’Brien put the saddle on the horse and went away for the rum; I had a watch which I had robbed Mr Crawford of on the first clay of the races; I believe Mr Crawford’s christian name is Robert; it was a silver watch with gold chain and seals; John O’Hara asked me for the watch, and I gave it to him, telling him to be careful of it, as it belonged to Mr. Crawford; he answered, “never mind, I will take care he never gets it any more, I will take care of it;” Webber had another watch which belonged to Mr. Airds, the Superintendent of Public Works at Parramatta; Webber and I had robbed Mr. Aird of the watch, which was a silver one, on the same morning that we robbed Mr. Robert Crawford; Webber gave the watch to James O’Hara, and at the same time told him that he had robbed Mr. Aird of it; Webber had a hat which was also taken from Mr. Aird, and begave that; James O’Hara; it was a black beaver hat; there was also a black hat belonging to Mr. Crawford given by me to John O’Hara, and I gave James O’Hara a sovereign; on the second visit, both myself and Webber stopped in the house four or five days, during which time, we ate and drank in the house, and when we were going away, they gave us flour and provisions to carry with us; all the family was there then; we went there a third time, but I cannot pretend to mention the time as we were there so frequently I cannot distinguish the periods; On one of the times we visited them, we had stopped Mr. Mowatt on the Liverpool road and taken a large blue top coat, a black coat, a gold watch, two dollars in money, a Leghorn bonnet, and other things; of these, I gave the gold watch to Michael O’Brien, who said he was an emancipated man; that he would sell the gold watch, and that the money he got for it would take him out of the country; the black coat was also given to Michael O’Brien; the coat had been taken from Mr. Francis Mowatt; O’Brien had the newspaper in which the robbery of Mr. Mowatt was described, and upon reading the account we told Michael O’Brien, it was the same man to whom the things belonged; Webber gave the Leghorn bonnet to Mary O’Hara, and the lining of the coat to Mary Ann O’Hara; the girls were present when I said that I had robbed them; the lining of the coat was cut up and made a skirt of, while I was in the room; we slept there that night, and always stopped at the house two or three days each time that we went; I cannot recollect the day nor the month in which we robbed Mr. Mowatt, or Mr. McQuade; we took a great number of pieces of prints and calicoes from Mr. Macquade’s cart, part of which we took as I have stated to O’Brien’s, and the other remained in Dr. Harris’s bush; it was on the Windsor road we robbed Mr. McQuade’s cart and took 50 pieces of print, 5 pieces of calicoe, rum, tea, and sugar from it; we also robbed Mr. McLeay’s cart on the other side of Liverpool; it was early in the morning, on a Saturday as they were returning from the market; cannot remember the month; it was long before harvest; we took two rolls of canvas, which we carried to Michael O’Brien’s, I believe (but cannot swear so) that it was made into bags, as I saw some canvas of the same sort made into bags at the Police Office; we also robbed Mr. Henry Hart’s cart, and took a chest of tea and some other things.

Cross examined by Dr. Wardell — I have seen that pardon yesterday, but have never had it in my possession; I believe it was read to me in the cells by the Sheriff, but I have quite forgotten what he said at that time upon the subject; I won’t give an answer as to whether I thought little or much about it; I did care about it, for I thought my life was saved when he read it; as I believed it to be a respite; I have forgotten every word that was said with respect to the pardon in the cells; I understood when it was read to me, that I was free from all the robberies I had committed in the Colony ; I understood that I was released from all the burglaries, murders, and robberies that I might have committed in the Colony; I cannot tell the favourable circumstances mentioned in the pardon; but I think they are the informations I gave; I understood that it was in consequence of my promising to give information against the parties that I received my pardon. I had no promises made to me for giving information against the parties concerned with me; what information I have given, was to do the country good at large, and myself in particular; I do not know whether I should have received my pardon if I had refused to give evidence, but I do not think I should ; it was in expectation that I should give evidence against the parties that I received my pardon; I was encouraged by the pardon to give evidence; I did understand that all my crimes were covered by the pardon, but not my sins; there is a deal of difference between crimes and sins.

Dr Wardell — True, I stand corrected Sir.

Continued — I understood the pardon was given to induce me to give evidence against the parties; I was, I should think, to lose the benefit of the pardon, if I did not give my evidence; I had undertaken to give my evidence for the pardon, and expected that all prosecutions would drop for what I have done in the Colony; I have not been tried for robbing Mr Crawford, or Mr. McQuade, or Mr. Mowatt; I won’t answer to the question of who shot Mr. Clements; I am not afraid to answer you, but will not until ordered by His Honor; I do not know anything about blowing a constable’s arm off; I would have split if I had been told that I should be prosecuted for the robberies after I had given my evidence; our acquaintance with the prisoners commenced through Donahoe; it could not be a robbery at O’Brien’s house, as we took nothing, nor was it our intention to rob the house when we went; the only thing we went for the first time, was a little flour, which was given to us by Mrs. O’Brien, and the two girls; this was the first time they saw me there; if it had not been given to us, there is no doubt we should have taken it by some means; there were three of us at that time, and we had no fight; there are some houses thereabouts; a man named Brien lives about a hundred rod from their house, Brien’s house can be seen from O’Brien’s, the ground being clear between them ; I cannot say how far the bush is from Michael O’Brien’s; there are some other persons live about a mile from them, but I do not know their names; if we liked we could have robbed and murdered them before any assistance came; we never had any more with us but myself, Webber and Donahoe; we had a fowling piece and a brace of pistols each; I do not know where John Hughes is; he was at the Police Office, and was discharged; we were not strong enough to frighten the whole of the prisoners at the bar; we have often been in the kitchen and our arms lying in the bed-room; if they wished, they could have taken us treacherously any time; we have been in all parts of the house, and were not at all times armed; we never expected to be taken by them; we had a bad character in the neighbourhood as blood-thirsty men we should not have served them out if they attempted to betray us, and we had escaped; I have no revengeful feelings; I was first led away into the bush by some men who were in Plumley’s gang; I was in that gang; I should not have liked to served out Plumley for his treatment to me; he did not treat me kindly or otherwise; he treated me the same as other men; we were daily risking our lives to support them; we took the property to these houses because they could tell us where the constables and soldiers were, and they gave us tea and sugar, and flour; we gave them the property out of charity; if men have not friends when they are “in the bush”, they will not reign long; I do not know of the other people to whom I gave part of the property; they are poor people, and were objects of my charity; John Hughes lives out at Big Doural; they invited us to bring the plunder to their house, as soon as they were acquainted with us; I was tried and cast for death, and lay in the condemned cell expecting to be executed, but I did not expect to be saved when I gave the information; I never sent my compliments to Mr. McLeay, to say I would split if I was let off, nor did I ever hear that Webber did; I gave my evidence against the prisoners in expectation of receiving my pardon.

(Dr. Wardell here took objections to the evidence of the witness Walmsley, as to its admissibility, which were over-ruled by the Court, and the examination proceeded.)

Thomas Quigley- I am a Serjeant in the Mounted Police; I went to the premises of Michael O’Brien on or about 14th January last; I saw two of the female prisoners or all three; Captain Forbes was with me, He ordered me to search the dwelling and premises. He went with me; I took possession of two canvass bed-ticks, one old black coat, one gown, three bed covers, 1 pistol, 1 fowling piece, and 8 canvass sacks; (I delivered them to the Police Office in Sydney) I marked all the articles and should know them again; I did not see Michael O’Brien there ; (property produced) these are the articles I found at the prisoner O’Brien’s house; the female prisoners said they were O’Brien’s property.

Benjamin Hodghen — I am Chief Constable of Windsor. On the 17th January last, I proceeded to the house of Michael O’Brien, and saw Mary O’Hara, Mary Ann O’Hara, and Mary the wife of Michael O’Brien; also the old man Michael Cantwell. I picked up various patterns of prints, which were lying on the ground. I then commenced searching the house, and found a bonnet box under the bed in which was a Leghorn bonnet. I said to the constable that was with me, that it was Mrs. Mowatt’s bonnet? I enquired of the girls where they got the bonnet? they replied, that Mr. O’Brien had brought it from Sydney; I then went into the kitchen, and noticed a white serge petticoat on Mary O’Hara, and I then returned to the bed-room, and found some remnants of surge; that appeared to have been cut from a coat. I put them back into the basket, and I returned to Windsor for a warrant to apprehend the two girls for the petticoat and the bonnet. O’Brien was not at home at this time, and the females told me they thought he was in prison at Sydney. In consequence of Mary Ann O’Hara being very unwell, I did not remove her at that time, before leaving the house, I called Mary Ann (the one that was ill) into a room with myself and the constable, and put the door to. I said to her, “it is evident those bushrangers have been in the habit of coming here, and I request you to tell me the truth.” She said, she never saw them there but once, and that was when they took the flour away. I asked her, where she had seen them then? she answered, at a slip pannel just at the back of the house. I then asked her if she knew them, and she said yes. Who were they said I? she answered Walmsley and Webber. I asked her if they were armed, and she said yes, that they had each a brace of pistols and a gun. I then enquired what they said to her; and she replied, they always enquire first, whether the constables have been here, and the last time I saw them, Mary O’Hara was with them, and Michael O’Brien brought 7 pieces of print and one piece of calico from them; I then went to Windsor for a warrant and on my return next day, found that the two women had been conveyed away by the police, also the box. I then made further search, and found one Indian print quilt, 3 new calico sheets, 6 links of a steel watch chain, 1 white serge petticoat, a quantity of white thread, I roll of narrow white ribband, 1 new India table cloth, 1 new calico shirt, 1 pair of men’s white stockings marked W. Croft, 3 pair of woollen stockings, 1 pair of flannel drawers, 1 red Indian print gown, 7 pair of men’s gloves, 1 small fancy box with a watch paper in it, 4 gold brooches, 1 old paper box with a tooth pick and some other other instruments, I brought away these things, and gave them up the Police in Sydney. I got permission to see Walmsley, and in consequence of information from him I found 17 pieces of prints, on Dr. Harris’s estate, four pieces of calico, and few other things.

Cross-examined by Dr. Wardell, but nothing material elicited.

John Skinner — I am a constable in Sydney. Both the young women were given into my charge. Mr. Thorn and Mr. Jilks told me to take the Leghorn bonnet off the head of the young woman, who is now holding her head down with a straw bonnet on. Her name I believe is Mary O’Hara. I also have a hat which I took from the old Gentleman there with a white head. I believe his name is Michael O’Brien. The hat and bonnet produced are the same.

Michael McQuade — I am a general dealer, and reside at Windsor. In August last, I loaded two carts in Sydney to send to Windsor. In one cart there was a puncheon of rum, a crate of English Delph, 50 pieces of Bengal and India print, 5 pieces of calico, and a quantity of other articles. I did not go with the carts myself, but sent a man who is now here, named James Quinn. I saw some of the same description at the Police office at Sydney and Windsor. They were Bengal print and calico, but I cannot swear to them. They were the common run of Bengal prints and calicoes.

James Quinn — In August or September last I lived in Sydney; I know the last witness Michael McQuade, and went with a cart containing his things to Windsor; about three miles and a half from Windsor I was stopped by three men and taken off the road into the bush; Walmsley presented his fowling-piece to me; I know the other two; they were Donahoe and Webber; they took 50 pieces of Indian print, 5 pieces of calico, about 40lb. of sugar, and half a gallon of rum; I saw the things when I took them in charge from McQuade; the things now produced are of the same description as those I lost, but I cannot swear to them.

Francis Mowatt — I was stopped on the Liverpool-road in the month of August last by Walmsley and Webber; I lost a great variety of wearing apparel amongst which was a large blue cloak lined with white shaloon or serge; I also lost a bonnet belonging to Mrs. Mowatt; I should know the serge again, for when on board the ship my servant spilt a quantity of oil on it, and I think I can swear positively to it; there are also the marks of the loop holes which were on my cloak. There might certainly be similar serge, and it might be, similarly stained ; I am not so positive as to the bonnet as I am to the serge; I cannot swear positively to it, but I think it is it.

James Butler — I am a government man to Mr. McLeay; I was travelling home from market about 6 o’clock in the morning on the 23rd October, and was stopped by two men about 2 miles from Liverpool; the discription of the men answers that of Walmsley and Webber; three bolts of canvas were ta-ken from me; the canvas produced resembles that lost by me.

Mary Ann Evans — I altered a Leghorn hat into a bonnet for Mrs. Mowatt; I should know it again; I believe this to be the bonnet.

E. C. Atkinson — I was robbed on the Western road on the 18th of last November, about three miles from Parramatta, by Walmsley and Webber; they took from me a brown frock coat, black waistcoat, shirt, neckerchief, pocket handkerchief, and a watch with steel link chain, and silk watch-guard; I saw a shirt similar to the one I lost, at the Police Office, but the name was cut out; I also saw a chain at the Police Office.

John White — I was robbed by Walmsley and Webber of a variety of things, about two miles from Mr. Kelly’s, on the Windsor Road; I could not swear to any of the articles again; this is the good gentleman that took the things out of my cart, and the other good gentleman knocked a tooth down my throat; but if it had not been for this chap (Walmsley) I should not have been robbed; I have a handkerchief belonging to this good gentleman at home, which he left in my cart; it is long enough and strong enough to hang him; and to tell you the truth, I should have no objection to have the hanging of him – (much laughing).

Walmsley recalled — The prints produced are the ones I took from Mr.McQuade’s cart, and gave to the prisoners; I saw two butchers come to O’Brien’s house when I was there; I saw Wilkes through the key hole; they came to buy some cattle and an entire horse from Mr. O’Brien; Mr. Wilkes brought a small bottle of brandy from Parramatta with him; in the night Michael O’Brien and the butchers went out to a man named Donald Brien whom lives on the next farm to them; during the time they were away, Webber and I went into the orchard and stopped there until I was gone; there was a man named Muldoon there and his wife with him; Muldoon had a dog, and when the butchers came first to O’Brien’s, as soon as Wilkes got out of the gig, the dog seized him and tore his thigh; Mrs. Muldoon mended Wilkes’ trowsers; Muldoon is a farmer, living on Mr. Palmer’s farm; we were in the bed room, and the girl came to the window and whispered to us.

William Wilkes — I am a butcher by trade, and know the prisoners at the bar; I have repeatedly been at their place; I think I was there a little before Christmas with a butcher named Vowel; I went at that time to buy some cattle and a horse; I was attacked by a dog who tore my trowsers; they were mended by a female who was there, but I do not know her name.

Cross-examined — I saw no person there except the family; I was in three rooms; I went into one room to shift my trowsers, but I can not say whether it was the girls’ bed-room; I saw nothing more than at other times; if there had been any one there, I think, from the intimacy I have with the family, I should have observed it from their looks or behaviour; the accident happened out of doors, and might be more readily observed from the bush than from the house; I went into the bed-room, and when I came out, I sat beside the person who mended my trowsers; the room into which I went, was connected with the sitting room, but the door of the other room into which I did not go, did not look into the sitting room; I am positive that there was no person in the bed room, and do not think any person could have seen me through the key-hole; I went to a neighbour of O’Brien’s after I had been there about two hours, which might also have been seen from the bush; I did not see the girls go out, nor did any whispering occur; I know the whole of the family; the girls I think, are under the control of Mr. O’Brien; I can not swear that Mr. O’Brien knocks under to Mrs. O’Brien; I should think he wore the breeches; the young men also are under his control.

By Mr. Moore — There are five rooms I think in the house; there are five doors which look into the front room, counting the back and front doors.

By a Juror — I was not in all the rooms; there is the front door, back door, kitchen door, bed room door, and another door, all looking into the sitting room; I went to a neighbour’s house that night and O’Brien went with me.

By Dr, Wardell — The orchard was close to the hut, and two bushrangers would be likely to plant themselves there on the look-out for me when I left the house; bushrangers are generally FOND of butchers, as they know they generally carry a little money with them, they might have been looking out for us.

Sydney Monitor (NSW : 1828 – 1838), Wednesday 22 June 1831, page 3

This was the case for the Prosecution.


Mary Muldoon — I am a married woman, and my husband lives at Mr. Palmer’s estate of Hambledon Farm at Vinegar Hill; I know where Michael O’Brien lives, and remember mending a pair of trowsers that had been torn by a dog; I know that all the doors were open, but I do not know into what bed-room I went, but there could not have been any persons there without my knowing it.

James Muldoon — I recollect being at Michael O’ Briens on the day when Wilks was torn by a dog; I was there about 11 o’clock in the morning, and stopped there until I went home in the evening; I saw nothing extraordinary about the house, and I do not think it possible for any person to have been there without my knowing it; my wife mended the trowsers of Wilks.

(Mr. Williams here requested the indictment might be again read over, which was done.)

His Honor after reading over his notes of the evidence, left the case entirely with the Jury. At 7 o’clock, they returned, when His Honor, previously to their returning the verdict, acquainted them, that he had, during their retirement, found the law authority for which he had been looking, and that he would read over to them the law with respect to the evidence of approvers being received. His Honor then informed the Jury, that in cases where it was found necessary to receive the evidence of an accomplice, it was not necessary that all the parts of his testimony should be corroborated by unimpeachable testimony from other witnesses. It was held to be sufficient, that some part of his testimony should be corroborated, and the rest received upon the principle, that he had testified truth in some points; and it was not to be supposed he would deviate from it in others. It was however a matter of consideration for the Jury whether they would credit the approver’s testimony or not. The Jury again retired for about a quarter of an hour, and returned a verdict of Guilty against all the Prisoners, except Michael Cantwell; who was acquitted, and discharged by proclamation.

The Prisoners were remanded for sentence.

Spotlight: Capture of McNamara & Co.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), Thursday 2 June 1842, page 3

Capture of Bushrangers.

About ten o’clock, on the night of the 30th ultimo, Sergt. Michael Doyle, and two troopers of the Mounted Police, fell in with a party of five armed bushrangers, at the foot of Razorback, and succeeded in apprehending them. The bushrangers are the same parties who escaped from the constables of the the 25th ultimo, on the road between Berrima and Campbelltown. The police found in their possession the carbines which they took from the constables at the time of escape. They are now safely lodged in the gaol at Campbelltown. Their names are—Francis McNamara convict, per Eliza; John Jones, per Lady Macnaughton; Edward Allen, per Asia; William Thomson, per do; William Eastwood, per Patriot. The bravery and indefatigable zeal which Sergeant Doyle has at all times evinced in his pursuit of, and encounters with, bushrangers, strongly entitle him, not only to pecuniary remuneration from Government, but, in our opinion, to the consideration of his Commanding Officer, Major Nunn. Doyle has, for a number of years, been the terror of the Southern bushrangers, and perhaps there is not another in the colony, who is better acquainted with the fastnesses to which, on being hotly pursued, these villains retire. He has scarcely ever been foiled in his pursuit of the bushrangers on his skirmishes with them, and his scent is said to be most unerring. We are astonished that the settlers of the southern counties do not confer some public mark of their approbation upon Doyle, whose perseverance and activity cannot but be well known to them.

A Concise Guide to the Bathurst Rebellion

Of all the major events in bushranging history, the Bathurst Rebellion is one of the most significant yet least talked about. Over the course of close to two months Ralph Entwistle’s “Ribbon Boys” (aka The Ribbon Gang aka The Bathurst Insurgents) grew to an incalculable size and was involved in ferocious battles with authorities. Such was the rebellion that it almost transcended bushranging to become a minor civil war. The following is a condensed account of the uprising that should provide a reasonable framework of understanding for those who are unfamiliar with the events.

View from the summit of Mount York, looking towards Bathurst Plains, convicts breaking stones, N.S. Wales [Source]


13 November

Ralph Entwistle and a fellow assigned convict are entrusted with taking a load of merino wool to Sydney. They are assigned to Liscombe’s Stowford station in Fitzgeralds Valley near Bathurst. During the journey they decide to cool off by skinny dipping in Campbell’s River. At the same time, Governor Darling was passing through with his family and a military guard. The two nude men were spotted in the water and arrested, charged with causing an affront to the governor and the wool was confiscated.

The following day they are tried before Police Superintendent Lieutenant Thomas Evernden. Both men were publicly flogged, receiving 50 lashes each, and the time they had already served that would contribute to a ticket of leave was nullified.


23 September

Entwistle and his mates abscond from Stowford. They proceed to raid multiple farms to equip themselves with firearms and ammunition as well as bolster their numbers. The initial gang consists of Entwistle, Michael Kearney, Patrick Sullivan, William Gahan, Paddy Burke, John Shepherd. At Woodstock Patrick Gleeson and Tom Dunne join the gang.

At Hare Castle servants are locked in the milking shed as farm buildings are ransacked. Isaac Clements, Thomas Hunter and John Ashley join the gang. At Blackett’s Farm, the homestead is looted, horses and wagon taken, and assigned servants pressed into joining the gang, bringing the number to 35.

At 9:00am the gang move on Thomas Evernden’s station Bartletts. The farm overseer, James Greenwood, intervenes. He taunts the bushrangers and is shot dead.

The gang go to Michael Grady’s camp at Five Islands Creek to redistribute weapons and plot their next move. They continue on to raid several more farms. By the time word reaches authorities, the gang is 80 strong and on the warpath. Lieutenant Brown and a party of troopers begin searching for the rebels.

At Robert Smith’s farm on King’s Plains, the gang lock up Thomas Marsden, the manager, and camp at the farm for the night. During the night Kearney, Kenny, Gleeson, Gahan and Dunne ride out. They come upon the horses belonging to Brown and his troopers tethered to trees at the foot of Mount Pleasant and steal them.

That night some of the pressed men arrange to return to their stations, afraid of the repercussions if they are found in company with the bushrangers. At around midnight, Paddy Burke flees from the camp on horseback. Patrick Sullivan also flees on horseback at the same time with their ammunition.

A government jail gang, Sydney, N.S. Wales [Source]

24 September

At Bartletts, four of Evernden’s servants return. They are joined by Paddy Burke who gives information to Lieutenant Evernden, who is there to retrieve Greenwood’s body, of the gang’s upcoming movements.

The Ribbon Boys continue their rampage, raiding farms including Thomas Icely’s Mandurama Station and Hare Castle. The gang decide to turn the pressed men loose. The core gang now consists of Ralph Entwistle, Michael Kearney, Patrick Gleeson, Tom Dunne, Dominic Daley, William Gahan, John Kenny, John Shepherd, James Drivers, and Robert Webster. The pressed men are allowed to return to their farms at sunrise.

At midnight, the Ribbon Gang splits up. They plan to meet up again at Charlton in two days.

26 September

The Ribbon Boys head to Dunn’s Plains. They have now added a few more convicts to their ranks. There are more raids. At Brownlea, Entwistle’s division ask for information. They then find Captain Brown and demand to see the overseers, but they have all been recalled to Bathurst. The gang attack the homestead, damaging property and stealing goods. They raid Captain Watson Steele’s farm taking weapons, a horse and gear then raid Three Brothers, owned by Magistrate McKenzie. They open the stores so the servants can help themselves and then stay there overnight.

A detachment of men from the 39th Regiment of Foot under Captain Horatio Walpole are sent from Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney to Bathurst to support the actions against the rebels. They march until they reach Emu Ferry, where they camp the night and gather supplies.

27 September

The split factions of rebels descend upon Thomas Arkell’s Charlton station and reunite. They leave with food and fresh horses. On their way they rob another of Arkell’s stations, Mulgunnia.

An emergency meeting is held in the Bathurst Court House, convened by the local magistrates in order to determine an appropriate course of action in response to the bushranger uprising. At the conclusion of the meeting a volunteer cavalry is created. William Henry Suttor, Charles Suttor, John Levingstone, George Cheshire, David Leighton and John Pollet all volunteer.
William Henry Suttor is appointed commander on recommendation of Major McPherson, the district Commandant. Accompanied by infantry, they pursue the bandits into the Abercrombie Ranges.
At 5:00pm the volunteer cavalry receives intelligence that the bushrangers have just robbed Charlton, and are in the vicinity of Campbell’s River. Suttor and his men immediately head out in pursuit.

The Ribbon Boys take up residence in the Abercrombie Caves where they remain sheltered overnight.

Abercrombie Cave near Bathurst, New South Wales [Source]

28 September

The volunteer cavalry reach Charlton just before dawn but the bushrangers have long gone. They partake of refreshments then head off again in pursuit.
Along the way the party encounters two Aboriginal men and Suttor persuades them to act as guides to the cavalry.

The Battle of the Abercrombie Caves

The volunteers follow Burrangylong Creek until they locate the bushrangers’ camp at dusk. They leave their horses with the Aboriginal men in the bush as they split up to surround the camp.

Charles Suttor takes a smaller detachment to circle around behind the camp while the rest are to engage the bushrangers from the front. As the group are climbing a steep embankment one of the men causes a stone to come loose and alerts the bushrangers to their presence. A gunfight breaks out which lasts around an hour. During the fight two bushrangers are injured.

The men attacking from the front run out of ammunition and feign a full frontal assault, charging at the bushrangers who fall back. The volunteers then retreat into the bush to their horses where one of the gang surrenders.

Ralph Entwistle sends his men after the retreating volunteers. He is under the mistaken impression that the group is being led by Evernden and tells the gang to direct their fire at him. There are no volunteer casualties.

Upon reaching Mulgunnia, William Suttor writes to Major McPherson to inform him of what has transpired. He intimates that the rebels are a more formidable force than previously reckoned. The letter will be sent at first light.

William Henry Suttor [Source]

29 September

During the night the volunteer party’s horses get loose. Suttor’s men spend most of the day looking for the horses. During this time they meet a detachment of mounted police from the Wellington depot led by Lieutenant Moore.

Upon receiving the previous day’s letter from Suttor at noon, Major McPherson arranges for a detachment of soldiers and volunteers to ride to Bathurst as reinforcements, led by Lieutenant DeLaney. The parties led by Suttor, Moore and DeLaney converge at Mulgunnia. Moore and DeLaney team up to scour the country around Copperhania and Carraway.

30 September

The Battle of the Bald Hill

The Ribbon Gang ambush a detachment of the 57th Regiment of Foot led by Lieutenant James Brown, sheltering among rocks on a bald hill near Rocky Bridge Creek for protection. In the attack several of Brown’s men are shot and five horses are killed. Brown takes two wounded soldiers on the back of his own horse as he orders a retreat.

Later that day Private James Stevens of Brown’s party is found, wounded, by members of DeLaney’s party.

When Brown and the remainder of his regiment reach Bathurst he sends word to Goulburn, requesting reinforcements. A party of mounted police led by Lieutenant Lachlan Macalister is dispatched from Goulburn to Bathurst in reply.

The two wounded soldiers rescued by Lieutenant Brown succumb to their injuries overnight and pass away.

Over the next couple of weeks the Ribbon Boys continue to travel to various farms, gathering horses and supplies. Meanwhile military and police continued to track the gang and attempt to gather information as to their whereabouts from informants.

While it is generally believed the gang got its name from their leader wearing ribbons on his hat, it likely has more to do with Irish rebels known as “Ribbonmen“.

13 October

The Battle of Bushrangers Hill

En Route to Bathurst, Lieutenant Macalister’s party are attacked by the Ribbon Gang on Bushrangers Hill. Constable David Geary is one of the first wounded when he is shot in the leg.

During the battle, Macalister is shot in the wrist and falls. Ralph Entwistle is heard shouting, “That’s number one, boys; take ’em steady!”
Macalister uses his wounded arm to steady his pistol and he shoots Entwistle, replying, “That makes number two!”

With casualties on both sides a ceasefire is declared until dawn, allowing the wounded to be retrieved safely. Kearney, Dunne and Shepherd are captured by Macalister’s men.

14 October

Mcalister’s forces are bolstered by the arrival of a party under Captain Walpole. Kearney, Dunne and Shepherd are sent to Bong Bong at first light. After a brief return to combat, the bushrangers are subdued and arrested. The Bathurst rebellion is at an end.

29-30 October

The remaining Ribbon Boys are tried before Chief Justice Francis Forbes in Bathurst. Ralph Entwistle, Tom Dunne, Patrick Gleeson, Michael Kearney, William Gahan and John Shepherd are charged with the murder of John Greenwood.

Dominic Daley, Jim Driver, John Kenny, and Robert Webster are charged with stealing from the house of John Brown of Dunns Plains. It is the first capital case tried in Bathurst, and one of the first held outside Sydney. All defendants are found guilty and sentenced to death.

2 November 1830

There is a public hanging of the bushrangers in Bathurst. A wooden gallows is specially erected in the town centre using wood from oak trees on a nearby hill.

Reverend Mr. Kean attends to the condemned Protestants, while Father Therry attends to the condemned Catholics.

Six of the offenders are hanged in the first batch. Four are hanged in the second batch. The bodies are gibbetted for public display and then after the allocated time are taken down and buried nearby.

The Battle of Bringelly

“Surrender to such cowardly dogs is a thing I’ll ne’er do. This day I’ll fight with all my might,” cried Bold Jack Donahue.

Lyrics from Bold Jack Donahue. Traditional.

As with most bushrangers who transcend history to become enshrined in folklore, Jack Donahoe (aka Donohoe, Donahue) made the leap from brigand to legend in his final stoush with the forces of law and order. His recklessness in the face of death seemed to strike a chord with Australians of a certain class.

This year marks 190 years since Donahoe’s death, so it seems appropriate to recount the final battle that sealed his place in history.

The Gang

Donahoe and his partners William Webber and John Walmsley had been ruling the roads, sheltered by sympathisers who kept them fed and clothed in clean garments. These merry highwaymen approached their occupation with great pluck and a level head, one time even liberating a victim of his rum by pouring it into a chamber pot that they took away with them. Naturally such flagrant lawlessness was causing the settlers to wring their hands in dread, lest they be bailed up on the road or have their homes raided.

As is typical of the press throughout Australian history, the more the bushrangers eluded the police, the more the press put them on blast. Donahoe in particular had become something of a celebrity and everyone seemed to have a story about being bailed up by him.

One could feasibly have overheard conversation in the pub that sounded like, “I was robbed by Donahoe on the Cobbity Road, I was! There he were, bold as brass, astride a cob with a pair of barking irons in his hands. ‘Up with your copper,’ says he. Who am I to refuse a bushranger? So I gives it him and off he trots waving his hat about and whooping like a mad owl! So as you can imagine, I’m a bit light on cash so you’ll have to pay for the ale this time, my handsome.”

In July, Donahoe had been shot in the right shoulder during a shootout. The wound had mostly healed, but not well, and continued to give him trouble. Victims described him as having visible stiffness in the shoulder, though it didn’t hinder him terribly. In the afternoons he and his colleagues would perform robberies then escape to their hideouts in the Parramatta region just before dark when the police were unable to track them properly.

The Hunt

The authorities were growing tired of chasing the bushrangers through the wilderness and were hoping for a breakthrough. This came in the form of locating one of the gang’s treasure troves in an old cave hideout, but the bushrangers were nowhere to be found. The search party, under Lieutenant MacAlister, magistrate of Argyle, with the assistance of an Aboriginal tracker referred to as “Black Jemmy”, decided to change tactics. Rather than root around for the bandits like a bushpig in search of truffles, they elected to split up and keep watch on hotspots where the fugitives were known to haunt.

Sergeant Hodson of the 57th regiment led a party of troopers to the vicinity of Bringelly. The team consisted of Hodson, two men named Muckleston and Warburton, Chief Constable Farley, Constable Gorman and some others. They spent a fortnight combing through the bush with no success and at sunset retired to their camp in a hollow on the property of a man named Wentworth. It is easy to imagine the frustration the mounted police were feeling after months of fruitless bush-bashing.

After yet another day without result, on the 1st of September 1830, Farley headed off on his grey horse to procure provisions as the rest of the party unsaddled their horses. It was about five o’clock when fate decided to throw the beleaguered bluebottles a bone.

A Fortuitous Arrival

The thing about bushranging that often gets overlooked is that riding horses through the bush is far more romantic than it is practical. The reality was that much of the time was spent travelling on foot, simply because it was a far more efficient way to get through tangled scrub and between the gnarled, twisted trees with branches that jut out at just the right height to peg out an incautious rider like washing. Thus, on the afternoon of the first of September the trio of Donahoe, Webber and Walmsley headed back to their hideout on foot. Of course, riding a horse in the bush is not the same as guiding one through it, and the bushrangers were leading a black packhorse laden with their ill-gotten gains into the scrub. No doubt they would have seen the police campfire about a mile away.

“‘Ere, do you see that fire over yonder?”

“Ah, probably some hapless gloak got stuck out in the bush as the sun went down. Pay it no mind; keep walking.”

And so it was that the police clapped eyes for the first time upon the men that had been causing them such frustration. They too opted not to mount up, dashing into the bush on foot to cut the bushrangers off, leaving two of their number to watch the camp. Hodson was determined to bring the bushrangers in by any means necessary. As the bushrangers approached a creek, Hodson decided to split the group up to get the bandits in a pincer movement should they cross. Hodson took two constables to the left, the others went on the right.

The right-hand party kept up with the fugitives seemingly undetected, but when they got within a hundred yards, the bushrangers knew something was up. Donahoe signalled to the others by taking off his hat and waving it. They ditched the packhorse and took shelter behind the trees. Being resourceful, they were equipped for battle already. Donahoe was the first to take a snap at the authorities.

“Come on you cowardly rascals, we’re ready if there’s a dozen of you!”

The Battle of Bringelly

Donahoe had long made it known that he’d rather receive his death on the receiving end of a musket ball than at the end of a rope. He even carried a small pistol secreted in his trousers so that in the event that he was captured he could shoot himself. Two of his previous colleagues had been sent to the gallows, one of whom suffered the trauma of his rope snapping once he fell through the drop. The poor fellow then had to wait for the executive council to decide whether he could be freed. They decided it was better to have another crack at making the bushranger dance on air, so the drama on the scaffold was played out a second time, and this time it went to plan. No doubt Donahoe was aware of how easily executions were botched and the thought of such indignity was unpalatable to him. It is not unlikely that such a fate was on his mind when he tried to encourage Webber and Walmsley to engage the troopers in battle with him.

For half an hour there was an awkward lull as both sides debated about starting the attack. Eventually it was the troopers that felt the itch in their trigger finger first. Warburton raised his firing piece and launched a ball at a tree where he had seen Webber take cover. This shot, however, only succeeded in hitting the tree trunk and sending a small shower of splinters flying out. The shot was only off by about an inch.

Donahoe waits to strike.

The bushrangers opened fire, exchanging shots with the police through the gloom and the ashen puffs of gun smoke. Though the firing was intense at such close quarters and under such limited cover none of the blows landed. Donahoe continued to taunt his attackers.

“Come on, I could beat the whole bloody colony! Charge, my boys!”

Donahoe’s reckless shouting and gesticulating made him the obvious target for Muckleston, whose aptitude with the rifle was well known. He watched the bushranger’s shelter like a hawk eyeing off a rodent in the grass, waiting for the opportunity to strike. He held his breath as Donahoe stuck his head out from cover to take aim. The smooth face and flaxen hair catching the last hints of light as darkness set in provided an ample target. Mucklesworth’s finger squeezed the trigger and his rifle kicked like a mule as it squeezed two lead balls out of the muzzle in a puff of smoke. They found their mark in the left temple and the neck of the man referred to as “Bold Jack”.

Seeing their leader fall, the others elected to give up and retreat. They ran at top speed deeper into the bush, discarding their hats, coats and shoes in order to facilitate an easier, more stealthy passage through the wilderness.

Abandoned by Webber and Walmsley, Donahoe lay on the ground, bleeding and barely conscious. As he gurgled his last breaths he must have realised that he had died as he had hoped – in battle, not on the scaffold. He hadn’t had to use his secret weapon after all. The battle had been as abrupt as it was violent.

The troopers attempted to follow Webber and Walmsley but by now the darkness had set in. They returned to Donahoe and his body was searched. As well as the horse pistol and rifle, the troopers found his secret pistol tucked away in his trousers pocket. The packhorse was also retrieved and searched. In the cargo were a watch, stolen bank documents, flour, meat and women’s clothes – hardly the treasure trove one would expect from a renowned highwayman.

Skirmish between bush-rangers and constables, Illawarra [Source]

The Aftermath

The confrontation had been brief and violent. The constabulary had their prize lashed to the back of a packhorse and taken to Sydney. The body was then taken to the hospital where it was kept until the official procedures were carried out.

Sketches were made of the body laid out on the mortician’s slab, and a death mask was made by a tobacconist. Unlike later masks that were used for phrenological study, this mask would provide a reference for a collection of tobacco pipes shaped like the outlaw’s head, complete with bullet wounds. If contemporary accounts are to be believed, they were very popular.

After the inquest was conducted, Donahoe was buried in an unmarked grave in Raby. The lack of a marker or monument meant the bushranger’s admirers would have nowhere to go to spare a thought for the wild colonial boy.

With Donahoe buried, all that remained was to catch up with Webber and Walmsley. They would not remain at large long, and when the law finally caught up with them their true colours went on display.

Donahoe’s death mask.

The Nightingale (Review)

Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to her breakout film The Babadook is a brutal tale of revenge set in the early days of Australian colonial history. Following a female convict who goes bush on a vendetta to bring justice to the men that defiled her and killed her family, The Nightingale captures a truly authentic sense of life in 1830s Van Diemens Land and the desperation shared by the convict class and indigenous peoples during the height of the frontier wars.

The protagonist of the piece is Clare (Aisling Franciosi), an Irish convict who lives with her husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) and infant, waiting for the day that Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) fulfills his promise to let her go free, now her sentence has ended. However, Hawkins is infatuated with Clare and refuses to let her go, using his position to dominate and rape her without suffering the consequences. When Clare’s husband stands up to Hawkins it spells doom for the family and as a last act of vengeance before having to head to an assignment in Launceston, Hawkins takes his underlings Ruse (Damon Herriman) and Jago (Harry Greenwood) to have their way with Clare. In the chaos the men murder the husband and infant and viciously assault Clare, leaving her for dead. When she comes to, Clare is determined to seek revenge and goes bush, using a tracker named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to find the soldiers in the vandiemonian wilderness.

The performances in this film are absolutely top notch. Aisling Franciosi is absolutely mesmerising as Clare; every emotion is raw and real and conveys the strain and pain of her struggles in every haunted expression and angry snarl. There are some scenes where it is unclear what is acting and what are genuine reactions, so immersed in the role is Franciosi. On top of this, the beautiful songs, which earn Clare her nickname “the little nightingale”, are performed by Franciosi who is a trained opera singer. Another absolutely stand-out performance is from Baykali Ganambarr as Billy/Mangana. Bringing life to Billy with humour and gravitas in equal measure, we see a young man who has experienced more than his fair share of tragedy and horror in his lifetime, desperate to find the last of his people. Sam Claflin is stomach-churningly devious as Hawkins, Damon Herriman as Sergeant Ruse is a nasty and pathetic bully, and Harry Greenwood’s Jago is weak and terrified, the trio conveying the disorderly nature of the infantry in the country at the time. With many of the cast having to be bilingual, either shifting into Gaelic or Indigenous languages, it ratchets up the authenticity all the more.

The film debuted with no small amount of controversy, with filmgoers allegedly storming out of the theatre in disgust at the violence and critics attacking Kent’s use of said violence as exploitative and gratuitous. Many of those who watched the film felt drained by the end due to the relentless grimness, but overall responses were that it was a very powerful and well made film.

For the average filmgoers that watch movies to switch off and have a good time, this film is decidedly incompatible. This is calculated to be uncomfortable and confronting; it is a film to be studied, not watched. While it does not portray historical events, it is drenched in such historical authenticity that it works better to describe history than many films that are at strains to portray themselves as true history. The life of the convict in Van Diemens Land was one of toil and suffering. Female convicts were often taken as concubines by authority figures such as guards, soldiers and employers. The female factories were equipped with facilities to deal with pregnancies and births that came as a result of the exploitation of the women imprisoned there. The horrendous treatment of the Aboriginals in Van Diemens Land/Tasmania is well known and has become a major point of historical discussion in recent decades as the tug of war between “white blindfold” and “black armband” perspectives vie for dominance in discussions of our past and Kent sought assistance from indigenous elders to ensure she was staying true to the experience of the Aboriginals in her story. Even the brutality of the violence is far from over the top when looking at events that happened in the Apple Isle in that period. The scene where Clare is raped, her husband shot and her baby killed by having its head smashed has echoes of the crimes of bushranger Thomas Jeffries, who gained the moniker “The Monster” due to his savage treatment of his victims in the 1820s in almost the exact same way. Moreover, the majority of the violence in the film is implied, rather than seen. This is not a gory movie, but the psychological effect of the implication of violence is hugely impactful, as it should be. This is not gratuitous violence, nor is it the kind of violence that one can revel in. It’s cold, it’s brutal and it’s unflinchingly real – it has consequences. No doubt such realistic horror was a frightening thing for the sort of people with a very sanitised and bourgeois view of history. There is no opulence here, no beautiful frocks or romance. This is the vandiemonian frontier in all its gloomy, savage and wild spectacle.

Where The Nightingale falls down somewhat is in the character of Clare. Her motivation is clear from the outset but as the film goes on it seems like she begins to lose focus as she bounces around between her hatred of the soldiers, her mourning for her family, her fear of Billy and her attempts to assert independence despite having no survival skills. As a result, she tends to sort of fluke her way from point to point more and more as the film progresses, which creates a meandering pace at the midpoint when the character seems to be wandering aimlessly along with those she is supposed to be pursuing. For a character that was so driven and capable at the outset of her journey, it seems bizarre that she should grow less sure of herself and less competent as her journey continues, but that is precisely what happens. The one saving grace of this unusual character development is that it helps allow Billy to step up and avenge his people, reclaiming his identity as Mangana the blackbird.

Another element that is puzzling is the decision to present the film in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The almost square framing is very odd given that the standard now is usually the much wider 16:9. To most people is just jargon, but the truncated view actually has a considerable impact on the viewing experience. While it often acts to forcibly grab the viewer’s attention and bring them uncomfortably close to the action, much of the gorgeous cinematography feels far more underwhelming than is deserved, especially when we are talking about the lovingly re-created period sets or the stunning Tasmanian wilderness. This is a minor gripe though and the stumpier screen shape is used effectively throughout, despite the shortcomings of the format (pun unintended).

The key theme of the film is the futility of revenge. We have our two protagonists, Clare and Billy, driven to seek revenge for all that has been stolen from them (Clare, her family; Billy, his entire nation). When Clare gets the chance to take her revenge she discovers that it does not alleviate the burden of her grief, merely adding to it. Where she falters, Billy steps in and follows through. There is a small degree of satisfaction in knowing that some form of justice has played out, but it is not a clean resolution. The uncertainty of the ending highlights this fact. The Nightingale highlights that debts paid in blood rarely set things to rights, they just perpetuate violence and suffering — an eye for an eye leaves the world blind.

Another core aspect of the film is class. The pecking order in colonial Van Diemens Land drives everything in the story. Hawkins is driven by his compulsion to climb the ranks, and when he fails he passes his anguish onto his underlings and the convicts by bullying them, violating them and denying them any freedom they’ve earned. Further below the convicts are the Aboriginals who are treated like vermin to be caught and put to death, with their heads taken as trophies by colonists. This is a land where laws are merely impotent words, where corruption has rotted the tooth of the law to the point that it has no bite. One need only scratch the surface of recorded Australian history from this time to see that it is no stretch of the truth to portray things in this manner.

The Nightingale is a film that some will be lucky to get through given its violent subject matter and relentlessness, but to those who enjoy the art of film and storytelling it is a piece that stands up to multiple viewings, as there is a lot to peel away and examine. It is not hard to see why it won over the judges at the AACTA awards who awarded it most of the big gongs including best director, best screenplay and best actress among others. It is safe to say this film has earned a place beside films like The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and The Tracker for daring to depict the uncomfortable truth of our past, even if it is through the filter of a fictional narrative.

The Nightingale is available to purchase in Australia on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as in digital format via iTunes, GooglePlay, Bigpond Movies, Fetch and Microsoft Network.

It is currently showing on screens in the UK and Ireland.