At the Police court, Young, on the 11th and 14th instant, the following examinations took place :—
Robert Cotterell, alias Blue Cap, was charged with robbery with firearms. William Marshall said. — I am an inn keeper, and reside at the Rock Station, on the Levels. I know the prisoner. I have seen him several times. My place was robbed in the middle of July last by three men. The prisoner is one of them. They took about £11 in money, a saddle and bridle, a gun, a revolver, Crimean shirts, a coat, grog, and several other articles. They were all armed. On the evening of the robbery, about half past six o’clock, and while sitting at tea, a knock came to the door. I sent the girl to see who it was. As soon as the door was opened the prisoner and another named Scott rushed in and told us all to bail up. Scott went through the passage, while the prisoner kept sentry over us with a gun. It being a cold night I told him to come to the fire. He said he did not want fire, but “tin.” I told him he had come to a wrong place for it. He searched my coat pockets, and when attempting to rifle my trousers pockets, I took out what money I had in the pockets and laid it on the table; there was about £2. There was a third person with the bushrangers, whose name, I believe, is Duce. Scott and Duce went to the store and helped themselves, while the prisoner kept sentry over us in the house. They had tea. The prisoner kept guard while his mates had their repast, and they relieved him until he had his. They stayed about an hour.
The same prisoner was further charged with a like offence. Jeremiah Lehane said. — I am a grazier, and reside at Reedy Creek. On the 24th July last my place was robbed. I was close by the house, at a well which some men I had employed were cleaning out. The prisoner came up to us and asked for Mr. Lehane. I told him I was Mr. Lehane. The prisoner then ordered all of us to go up to the house. I asked him if he belonged to the police force. He said, “No, I am a bushranger.” The prisoner was armed. He marched us up to the verandah of the house, where we saw an accomplice of the prisoner’s. He was also armed, and called himself the “White Chief,” I believe his name is Jerry Duce. The prisoner gave the men in charge of Duce, and then ordered me to accompany him to my private office. Prisoner then said he wanted a revolver I had. I gave it to him. He then ordered me to open a certain drawer in my desk, in which were several papers and a pocketbook, the latter containing six one-pound notes. He opened the book and abstracted the money. He searched about for more money, but found none. He took a double-barrelled gun, which he returned as he was leaving. He ordered me to proceed with him to the stable; he took a saddle, but, being told it belonged to one of the labourers, he put it back, and took another belonging to my stockman. The whole of the articles stolen, including the money, I value at about £20 10s. I identify the saddle (produced) as the one prisoner stole from out of my stable.
The same prisoner was charged with robbing Philip Saunders’s Sydney Hotel, in June last. Philip Saunders said. — I am a publican, and reside at the Halfway-house, Lachlan-road. Some time in June last my place was robbed. I was then residing at Spring Creek, Young. I cannot swear that prisoner was one of the two men who robbed me. Two men came to my place on the evening of the day, referred to about four o’clock- They asked for some drinks and departed. One was riding a chestnut mare, and the other a bay mare. They returned after dark about seven o’clock. Mrs. Saunders went to the bar and asked them what they wished to drink. They said, they did not want drink, but money. Mrs. Saunders said they would not get much money from her. She produced a box containing some silver. One of the men said, ” You’ve got more money than that.” Mrs. Saunders said, “Not much.” She brought another box, in which there were some half-sovereigns and other money. I don’t know how much it amounted to. There was also a revolver taken and a bottle of grog. I can swear that the man who demanded the money is not the prisoner. If the second man is the prisoner he is much altered. I cannot swear he is one of the men who robbed me. — The same prisoner was charged with having robbed Mr. Lehmann at Stony Creek, on the 28th June last.
H. Lehmann deposed. — I am a publican, and reside at Stony Creek. On the 28th June last, about ten o’clock at night, I was in my store. Two men came into the store ; one was a stout man, with a revolver, the other a sparer man with a gun. The first man said, “Hand me over the ‘tin.'” I thought he was joking. He said, “Be quick.” I gave him the cashbox saying, “Here, take it.” There were notes, half-sovereigns, and silver in the cashbox, amounting to about £8 or £9. He then asked for a revolver, which I gave him.He then wanted some clothing and took some Crimean shirts, socks, two ponchos, three silk handkerchiefs, and other articles. He then asked me to go into the bar to have a drink. On going to the bar his companion was there. The prisoner is the second man. They then locked the doors and remained inside until the police arrived. I heard a knock at the door, and called out, “Who’s there?” The reply was, “Police.” The prisoner, or his companion, then said “We’re too long here, it’s time to be off.” They went out, at the back, secured their horses, and escaped. It was very dark.
Forever consigned to popular culture as Ned Kelly’s little brother, Dan Kelly was a young man of only nineteen when he lost his life fighting the police. Like so many “boy bushrangers” his young life was snuffed out without him having ever fulfilled his potential, wasting his youth on a life of crime. But there was more to Dan Kelly than just having Ned Kelly as his big brother.
Daniel Kelly was born on 1 June, 1861 to John “Red” Kelly and Ellen Quinn. He was named after one of his father’s brothers and christened in the church in Beveridge, Victoria, where the family were living in a house John had built. Before Dan was born, there had been Mary Jane (died in infancy), Annie, Ned, Maggie and Jim. Dan would be followed by Kate and Grace. Dan’s infancy years were quiet for the family. John turned his hand to a number of occupations but was primarily employed doing odd jobs around the district and splitting timber. Financial strain, however, soon saw John attempting to distill his own whiskey. Unfortunately he took to drinking most of the produce himself. The difficulty saw the family relocate to Avenel, but here their problems would not only continue, they would worsen.
John spent six months in gaol in 1866 for stealing and butchering a calf. This meant that for half a year Ellen was reliant on her brothers for help around the place. The Quinn brothers were not model citizens by the furthest stretch, Jimmy Quinn being the worst of the lot. Jimmy was too fond of liquor, quick to violence and did not discriminate when choosing a target. No doubt Dan’s exposure to this would have negatively shaped his young mind. When John was released from gaol he was a broken man. Dan was barely five years old when his father died of dropsy, an old term for oedema (build-up of fluid in the soft tissues), likely linked to his alcoholism. He was buried in Avenel. The family soon found themselves frequently homeless, moving from Avenel to an abandoned pub in Greta. Here the Kellys co-habited with Ellen’s sisters, both of whose husbands were in prison at the time, and their children while they attempted to make ends meet.
The new home in Greta was short-lived. One night John Kelly’s brother James had arrived at the house drunk and his sexual advances were rebuffed by Ellen. He returned later that same night and burned the place to the ground. The children inside were asleep but the sisters remained awake, fearful of retribution. After another binge at the local pub, James threw incendiary devices at the house until a fire took hold, but thankfully there were no fatalities. The families were now homeless again and devoid of earthly possessions such as clothes and furniture. When James was tried he was sentenced to death by Sir Redmond Barry. This was later commuted to a long prison sentence by the executive council. The Greta community got together and helped the victims get back on their feet. Ellen soon gained a lease on a selection on the 11 Mile Creek. Things were starting to look up.
With his big brother Ned, only twelve himself when Red died, acting as man of the house, Dan and his brother Jim often ran wild. By 1870 things had changed dramatically for the family. Ellen had her selection but the land was not fit for crops. The family had to rely on the money they made from lodgers and travellers looking for a drink. Fifteen year-old Ned worked for a time as Harry Power‘s offsider, and then found himself in and out of gaol, eventually copping three years for receiving a stolen horse. Jim was now the man of the house in Ned’s absence. Jim was not a good candidate, however, and would coax Dan into mischief; their first arrest occurring when Dan was only ten years old.
In September 1871, Jim and Dan had borrowed horses without permission from a hawker named Mark Krafft. Krafft had been grazing his horses at the Kelly selection, as he had frequently done, and the boys had taken them for a joyride. Jim had previously been working as Krafft’s servant to get some extra money, the pudgy child being less physical than his big brother and thus less suited to splitting work. Constable Ernest Flood, newly stationed in Greta, nabbed them on a charge of illegally using a horse and took the children to Wangaratta to be kept in the logs until trial. When they went to court two days later the case was quickly dismissed on account of Jim’s and Dan’s ages (12 and 10 respectively) and the fact that Jim had been a servant of Krafft for a time. One can only imagine the impact that the experience of being taken away from their family and locked up in a cell with a bunch of strange, grown men waiting for trial for two days would have been on the children. It would eventuate that Flood was nothing but bad news for the family, allegedly stealing their horses and selling them to railway workers and sexually assaulting Dan’s big sister Annie and making her pregnant, though the truth of this is debatable owing to there being no solid evidence to back the claims.
Jim, only fourteen, ended up in gaol in 1873 with two sentences of 2 1/2 years to be served consecutively for helping shift stolen cattle. With Red gone and Ned and Jim in gaol, Ellen was on the lookout for a new man to help around the house and to protect her from her brothers or anyone else that might come sniffing around with bad intentions. She took the bold move of selling grog on the sly to travellers and seemed to think she had found her man in Bill Frost, an itinerant worker who had lodged with the family. Frost engaged in a sexual relationship with Ellen, from which she became pregnant with a daughter. Frost was apparently not keen to be a father and skipped town. Ellen, not one to be passive, tracked him down and took him to court for maintenance. After a long and bitter dispute she won but the infant died before the first maintenance payment came through. One can only imagine how this would have impacted young Dan, who had to assume the role of man of the house.
It wasn’t all gloomy for Dan though. According to some accounts, while his big brothers were doing time, Dan was lavished with affection from his sisters. Some considered this made him spoiled, but at any rate he managed to keep his nose clean during this period. It was at this time that Ellen took in George King, a 25 year-old American-born traveller, miner and stock thief. It was a remarkably short courtship as they were married in 1874, just after Ned came home from Pentridge. Within a month Ellen gave birth again. No doubt Dan, now thirteen, was relieved not to have the responsibility of being the male head of the household anymore. Between Ned and George the role was well taken care of.
Dan’s main hobbies at this time were much the same as the majority of young men in the country – riding and hunting. Dan would latch onto groups of boys who were out kangaroo hunting and took much pride in his marksmanship. He also took much joy in racing his peers on horseback. A brilliant description of Dan came from Joseph Ashmead, a friend of the Kelly family, in an unpublished memoir:
He was riding a smart black pony, and proudly told us it was a galloper and could clear any fence in the north east. The boy was alert and active with piercing black eyes that took in everything at a glance. He wore strapped trousers, a red shirt and straw hat tilted forward, secured by a strap under his nose. The back of his head was broad and covered with close cropped hair as black and shiny as a crow; his jaw was heavy, his lips thin, and when closed tightly, there seemed to be something cruel in them, but when they relaxed into a smile, he appeared to be a jovial, good-natured fellow. His name was Dan Kelly and he was a great lover of horses. I was the only one of the boys who had a horse. A bay pony. She had belonged to a clergyman and was an honest goer. Dan ran his eye over my over my horse and proposed that we should have a race, a challenge that I gladly accepted. When Dan found that he could not shake me off, he developed a great respect for me, and declared there was not a kangaroo in all the country who could get away from us, so we went kangaroo hunting, not once but many times. I left my cows to look after themselves, or bribed some of the boys to look after them for me, with the promises of some sinews out of the kangaroo’s tail to make whip crackers with.
No doubt Dan’s hunting provided much needed meat for the family, or at least was able to be sold to raise money for other goods. Seemingly Dan left home at the first opportunity to seek work. By some reports he travelled into New South Wales to work on sheep stations around the Monaro region as a shearer. He was also reported to have worked in Chesney Vale with Ned as a brick layer, but was not very good at it. It is likely that this is when Dan took up possession of an abandoned miner’s hut by Bullock Creek in the Wombat Ranges and began prospecting for gold. Sluices were later constructed along the creek and this would have provided a bit of pocket money. No doubt the seasonal nature of most of these jobs left Dan with a considerable amount of free time in between and he soon found himself adopting the larrikin culture of the day.
The fast riding, clownishly attired, skirt chasing lifestyle of the larrikin had become a widespread issue throughout the colonies. Gangs of youths in porkpie or billycock hats worn on jaunty angles, short Paget coats and jackets, bell-bottom trousers, colourful sashes and pointy high-heeled boots would loiter in public areas making a nuisance of themselves. Dan became a founding member of the “Greta Mob”, who populated the streets around Greta and Wangaratta. Apart from Dan, the mob consisted mostly of his cousins Tom and Jack Lloyd and a young Wangaratta jockey named Steve Hart, with the rotating roster of associates typical of these forms of social group. Their primary interests were fast horses, smoking, booze and chatting up girls. The boys were known to ride full gallop through the streets and challenge each other to various horse tricks. Steve Hart, for instance, could get his horse to vault over the railway gates, much to the chagrin of the gatekeeper. The Greta Mob adopted as their signature the larrikin badges of high-heeled boots, cocked billycock hats with the hatstring worn under the nose (to stop the hat flying off when riding at full gallop) and brightly coloured sashes worn around the waist. The style was clownish but that’s not unusual for teenage boys of any era. Unfortunately, Dan was still living in hand-me-downs and cut an odd figure in his threadbare, oversized, outdated outfits. The only verified photographic images we have of Dan illustrate this clearly. He wears a rumpled hat, a baggy sack coat with missing buttons and fraying cuffs as well as baggy trousers held up with a piece of rope. He was known to grow his hair long and seems to have cultivated a moustache at some point. But what Dan lacked in creole couture he made up for in his riding and his drinking. It has been written that Dan had many sweethearts but whenever they were unavailable for a night of frivolity he would employ the services of working girls, though it is incredibly unlikely that a fifteen year-old boy would have the presence of mind or the funds to engage in that lifestyle, regardless of the usual rampant libido they enjoyed.
One of the few times Dan graced the courts was in relation to a supposedly stolen saddle. In March 1877 he was charged with stealing the saddle in question in Benalla and was tried during the Beechworth general sessions before Judge Hackett. It had taken five months to lay charges against the teenager. The saddle in question was one that Dan had purchased from a man named Roberts in exchange for a different saddle and £1, and he produced a receipt to prove it, which was verified in court. Along with Jack Lloyd and his brother-in-law Bill Skillion, Ned Kelly was present during the hearing as a witness to back up his little brother. In the end the case was dismissed and Dan walked away with a sense of vindication. Judge Hackett stated that he “did not see why the prisoner was there at all” as his case was clear-cut. During this case Dan displayed a trait that distinguished him from his older brothers – he provided no resistance to arrest and complied happily with the police. This could be interpreted by some as overconfidence in his ability to dodge a conviction, but more likely Dan understood that resisting arrest was a fool’s game and further that he was innocent of the crime of which he was accused (which a trial would – and did – prove). This would not be the last time he displayed a conspicuous willingness to comply.
While he had been waiting to appear in court over the saddle charge, Dan met two boys from the Woolshed Valley named Joe Byrne and Aaron Sherritt. They were also waiting to appear in court that day over a charge of assault against a Chinaman named Ah On. It would eventuate that the pair would not get their day in court that same day, remanded to be tried in the next session. What exactly transpired between the young men in that cell can only be guessed at, but this would prove to be a fateful friendship.
Dan’s first and only conviction came from an incident at Goodman’s store, Winton, on September 28, 1877. Dan had travelled into town to exchange meat for goods. When he arrived the establishment wasn’t open and therefore no trade took place. Annoyed, Dan went drinking with his cousins Tom and Jack then returned with them to Goodman’s store, drunk. Dan smashed in the door and took the goods he sought. A man going by the name Moses Solomon was also there and claimed he was assaulted by the rowdy larrikins. Tom Lloyd lingered and flashed Mrs. Goodman, the other two pushing Tom into her with the lights out. Dan was found guilty of wilfully damaging the property and sentenced to three months in Beechworth Gaol. Tom Lloyd was additionally charged with intent to rape but was found not guilty, yet still got six months for his part. Dan did his time in Beechworth Gaol without incident. Almost miraculously for a Kelly boy he managed to get through his sentence without incurring any additional penalties. Three months crushing granite would have given Dan bigger muscles, but also greater resolve to walk the straight and narrow once he was out. Unfortunately fate had a different plan for him.
While Dan was still in prison a warrant was issued for his arrest. A witness saw two young men they believed to be Dan Kelly and Jack Lloyd leading a mob of stolen horses near Chiltern. They reported it to the police and the paperwork was duly issued. This was noted by Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick after reading the announcement in the Police Gazette. On April 15, 1878, Fitzpatrick was sent from Benalla to take over at Greta police station. Fitzpatrick informed his superior, Sergeant Whelan, that he knew of a warrant for Dan Kelly and intended on arresting him on his way to the station. Fitzpatrick went alone to the Kelly property and what occurred has been subject to much scrutiny and debate. The general thrust is that Fitzpatrick enquired after Dan but found he was away. The constable then asked a neighbour, Brickey Williamson, about Dan’s whereabouts before electing to return to the Kelly house and wait. He was greeted by Dan who offered to go quietly on the provision that he could finish his dinner first. After this, a scuffle broke out and Fitzpatrick was wounded in the wrist. The policeman claimed Ned Kelly had shot him, Ned Kelly claimed he wasn’t even there. Each witness account conflicted with the others in some way. Regardless, Dan and Ned immediately fled to the Wombat Ranges. Ellen Kelly, Brickey Williamson and Dan’s brother-in-law Bill Skillion were arrested and charged with aiding attempted murder.
For six months Dan and Ned hid in the ranges. A second, fortified, hut was built further up the creek from Dan’s place using thick logs, and both huts were equipped with whiskey stills. The intention was to raise money for Ellen Kelly’s defence by selling gold and bootleg whiskey. Unfortunately it was not enough and Ellen got three years, the men each received six years.
After the trial police parties were organised to bring the Kelly brothers to justice. Warrants had been issued for their arrest. There was £100 on each of their heads; Ned for attempted murder, Dan for aiding and abetting. A party was sent from Mansfield to find the Kellys in the Wombat Ranges. The party consisted of Sergeant Michael Kennedy and constables Michael Scanlan, Thomas McIntyre and Thomas Lonigan. When Ned found the police party’s tracks he sent Dan to find their camp, which he duly did. The next day the brothers, roused by McIntyre firing a shotgun while hunting parrots, went to the police camp with Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. They hid in the spear-grass and intended on ambushing the camp to take the police guns and horses. When the bushrangers emerged they held McIntyre at gunpoint. When Lonigan ran to cover and moved to fire at the arrivals, Ned shot him. There was a moment of disbelief as Lonigan struggled on the ground. Dan remarked “He was a plucky fellow. Did you see how he went for his gun?” He then seized the police shotgun and searched the tent. When Lonigan’s identity was revealed, Dan exclaimed that “He won’t be putting any of us poor buggers away again.”
McIntyre took a particular dislike to Dan, describing his nervous laughter and his “grotesque” appearance in his oversized hand-me-down clothes. McIntyre fully believed that Dan would be the one to put a bullet in him.
Dan insisted McIntyre be handcuffed but Ned refused, believing a fear of being shot was incentive enough for the trooper to obey his orders. This did not sit well with Dan who grumbled that the police would just as soon clap cuffs on them.
When Kennedy and Scanlan returned from scouting McIntyre tried to persuade them to surrender but a gunfight broke out. Scanlan was shot, McIntyre escaped on Kennedy’s horse and Kennedy fired at the Kellys with his pistol. A bullet from Kennedy hit Dan’s shoulder as the sergeant retreated into the bush after McIntyre. Kennedy was soon killed by Ned a considerable distance from the camp. The gang looted the bodies and Dan took Scanlan’s pocket watch. The salvageable items were collected and the tent burnt as the gang escaped.
As a result of the incident at Stringybark Creek, Ned and Dan were outlawed with a reward of £500 each. At this stage Joe and Steve were unidentified.
In December 1878 the gang re-emerged near Violet Town. They stuck up Younghusband’s Station on Faithfuls Creek in the afternoon and began herding the staff into a shed. They kept the staff as prisoners in the tool shed overnight and stole new outfits from a hawker’s wagon. That night the gang chatted with their captives, answering questions but with Ned doing most of the talking. Dan and Steve were overheard talking about how they’d like a lark with the female prisoners. In the morning the nearby telegraph poles were damaged by Ned, Joe and Steve. In the afternoon Ned, Dan and Steve headed into Euroa to rob the bank, leaving Joe on sentry at the station. The timing was meticulously arranged to coincide with a funeral that would keep the townsfolk occupied during the gang’s activities. Dan acted as a guard, standing at the rear of the bank, making sure that nobody escaped or interrupted while Ned and Steve robbed the place. Once the loot had been acquired the bushrangers headed back to the station with the bank staff and the manager’s family and servants. On the way Dan rode in the stolen hawker’s wagon and kept his gun trained on Mrs. Scott, the bank manager’s wife, who was driving a buggy alongside, in case she tried to escape or raise an alarm. The raid went off without a hitch and the gang escaped with thousands of pounds to distribute among their families and sympathisers. Before they left, Dan gave Constable Scanlan’s watch to Becroft, the hawker’s assistant, and money with which to repair it. It is unclear what the nature of the damage was.
In February 1879 the gang struck again at Jerilderie. They travelled over the border to answer a challenge that they wouldn’t last 24 hours in New South Wales. The gang roused the police in the middle of the night and locked them in their own cells. Mrs. Devine, the wife of the senior constable, recalled how as the gang occupied their home during their stay Dan would bounce her son on his knee but later spoke in quite a violent manner in order to make her work faster as she decorated the courthouse for mass. The gang then went through town disguised in police uniforms pretending to be reinforcements against the Kelly Gang. On the Monday Dan and Joe had their horses shod at the blacksmith and investigated the telegraph lines before the gang put their plan into full effect. Ned, Steve and Joe robbed the bank while Dan kept prisoners under control next door in the hotel. The gang had successfully managed to occupy the town for a whole weekend unmolested and rode away with thousands of pounds in unmarked notes that could not be traced. In response, the New South Wales government doubled the reward for the gang to £8000.
Upon leaving New South Wales, the gang split up to reconvene at the Byrne selection at a set date and time. Only Dan arrived on time. He stayed for dinner and questioned the Byrnes about whether the other gang members had been past. Dan seems to have had a good relationship with the Byrnes, frequently stopping by in much the same manner for a meal and a chat. Dan also seemed to be the most active gang member, being reported as having been spotted more than any other member of the Kelly Gang. It is also probable that he partook in Joe’s favourite past-time of visiting the Sebastopol opium dens for a smoke and card games.
Over the course of 1879 and early 1880, Dan and Joe Byrne tested the loyalty of the Sherritts and various other sympathisers that were suspected of turning on the gang. On 14 May, 1880, Dan paid a visit to his uncle Tom Lloyd. Lloyd’s neighbour, a police informant named Jacob Wilson, saw horses in Lloyd’s garden and began snooping. He was found behind the cow shed by the dogs and the barking roused everyone in the house. Uncle Tom sent the dog to chase the man down and he climbed up a cherry tree. Dan Kelly and cousin Tom Lloyd, who were unarmed, fetched the dog and yelled taunts to the police they assumed were nearby, before going back inside. Wilson was so terrified he stayed in the tree until morning. Incidents like this were increasingly common and the gang began to stop visiting certain people in case they were spotted.
More concerning to the gang however was the rumour that had been circulating that the Sherritts were in cahoots with the police, fuelled by the vicious game of “Chinese Whispers” that accounted for the gang’s bush telegraph. On one occasion Dan arrived at the Sherritt selection on Sheepstation Creek looking for Jack Sherritt, Aaron’s younger brother. When he was told Jack wasn’t home he pushed his way inside with a revolver drawn and searched for him. Dan said they wanted to speak with him. Unbeknownst to Dan, Jack was at that moment speeding away to speak to Assistant Commissioner Nicolson in a desperate attempt to seek protection. Nicolson told him to go to a local pub and use that as his alibi. It was clear to everyone that the gang was getting desperate and had cottoned on that something was up and Ned was determined to address it in his next big scheme.
In early 1880 a plan had been devised by Ned Kelly to escalate the gang’s activities. The banks were too heavily guarded to rob as they had done previously, so now they were struggling to find ways to keep their network of sympathisers on-side. The gang’s health was also deteriorating as the rigours of life on the run was wearing them down. Ned suffered sciatica and sandy blight, Joe struggled with withdrawals as his opium supply was cut off due to lack of funds, and Dan was described by one witness as looking gaunt and hollow-cheeked. Police parties were coming closer than before to catching the gang and even had the assistance of an elite team of black trackers from Queensland on top of a network of police spies and informants. Ned wanted to end the pursuit in dramatic fashion by luring a trainload of police and trackers to be derailed at Glenrowan. He sent Dan and Joe to create a commotion at Aaron Sherritt’s hut, where a team of constables had been allocated to protect him, as the bait. On Saturday 26 June, Dan and Joe kidnapped Aaron’s neighbour Anton Wick and used him to lure Aaron to his back door whereupon he was murdered by Joe with a shotgun. Dan guarded the front door in case the police that were hiding inside tried to escape. The two bushrangers then terrorised the party of constables as they cowered in the bedroom, Aaron’s mother-in-law and pregnant wife stuck between the two sides. Attempts to burn the place failed and the outlaws rode away two hours later. It would be midday the next day before any of the police were brave enough to see if they had gone. Initially Ellen Barry, the mother-in-law, stated that Dan had been quiet when entering the hut with a pistol. It was only later when attempts were being made to gain a payout from the police that she would describe him resting on the table as he looked at the murdered Sherritt with a grin.
Dan and Joe arrived at Glenrowan at around 5am on 27 June, 1880. Dan was immediately employed with tending the horses and carrying the gang’s armour into the Glenrowan Inn. Over the course of the day Dan guarded the prisoners in the inn and even initiated dancing to keep them entertained. He was seen to get intimate with Jane Jones, the publican’s daughter, she having been spotted sitting on his knee and kissing him, even being given one of his revolvers to use while she kept the prisoners at bay when Dan had to leave the room. As the weekend rolled on and the special train did not appear as expected, tensions began to rise. Multiple times during the gang’s stay at Glenrowan, Dan told Ned they should leave and argued the point only to be shouted down by his brother who was determined that they would stay and fight. The longer they waited the more difficult it became to keep the prisoners under control and the more they risked accidentally derailing a civilian train. Ned refused to heed his brother’s pleas. When Ned decided to release Thomas Curnow, the school teacher, Dan argued publicly with him as he knew Curnow could not be trusted. Curnow had spent the day trying to butter Ned up, a suspicious Dan watching like a hawk. Sure enough, when the train did appear in the early hours of 28 June, Curnow warned the police that the tracks were damaged and the gang was in Glenrowan. Just before the train arrived, Dan had told the prisoners to head home, however they were detained by Ann Jones who told them to wait for Ned to make a speech. If Dan’s instructions had not been countermanded a considerable amount of the tragedy that was to unfold could have been avoided.
When the train arrived the gang dressed in their homemade armour and engaged in a gun battle. Ned and Joe were wounded early on and they retreated inside. Ned soon disappeared into the bush behind the inn and Dan took control of the situation, doing his best to evacuate the women and children despite the relentless firing from police. Joe was shot dead by a police bullet early in the morning and Dan and Steve became very disheartened, believing Ned had also been killed or had abandoned them. When Ned re-emerged just before 7am the remaining gang provided covering fire from the inn, but within a half hour Ned was captured and the two bushrangers were stuck in the inn surrounded by police in broad daylight. Dan had received a bullet in the leg that shattered his knee and necessitated a retreat into the inn. At 10am the rest of the prisoners were released and Dan and Steve remained inside. As the prisoners left they shook Dan’s hand.
What happened in the inn next is unknown but it is possible that Dan was struck in the neck by a bullet while his helmet was off and killed or that he took his own life by taking poison. All that is known for certain is that at 3pm the inn was burned and while it was on fire his corpse was witnessed by multiple people, in the back room still in body armour and resting on a pillow made of sacks. The body was effectively cremated in the fire and the burnt remains released to his family. Later, Dr. Hutchison, a medic who had been called up to assist during the siege, retrieved what was believed to be Dan’s foot from the ruins and the scorched bones were handed down through the family.
Around 200 people attended the wake at Maggie Skillion‘s home, many of whom were drunk and armed. Police efforts to reclaim the bodies were scrapped in response, the risks being too high. Though there are a number of (probably deliberately) conflicting oral histories with respect to the location of the last resting place of the two outlaws, most accounts indicate Dan Kelly was buried in an unmarked double grave in Greta cemetery with Steve Hart. The location within the cemetery of the exact double grave they were interred in is a closely guarded secret in family traditions in an effort to avoid the graves being disturbed. Unfortunately, this has added fuel to the fire of conspiracy theories and in one infamous case a particularly motivated “truther” went through the cemetery plunging steel probes into grave sites hoping to prove that there were no coffins in them. When Ellen Kelly died the 1923, she was buried in an unmarked plot next to the official spot where Red Kelly’s youngest son is buried.
In the years after Glenrowan there were rumours that Dan and Steve had escaped to South Africa to fight in the Boer War. In 1911, novellist Ambrose Pratt, author behind the memoirs of Captain Thunderbolt’s apprentice William Monckton, published a book claiming to be the memoirs of Dan Kelly. In fact, many people claimed to be Dan Kelly over the years, most notably a tramp called James Ryan whose ridiculous attempt to cash in on the survival rumours were published in the press and convinced scores of people who lacked knowledge of basic facts of the story. Ryan’s story even inspired the utterly woeful film The Glenrowan Affair. Ryan was killed by a coal train in the 1933 and is buried in Ipswich, Queensland. In order to lure tourists, the cemetery even erected a memorial telling the story of the claimant. None of the alleged Dans ever had any solid case to back their claims up but the myths of a miraculous escape from the burning inn persist to this day.
Dan Kelly was, in most ways, at least as competent as his big brother. As a horseman, tracker and marksman, his abilities were perhaps even better. Certainly he was more ruthless than Ned, a pragmatism that some interpreted as callousness or even psychopathy. It must be remembered that the gang were wanted dead or alive (preferably dead) and mistakes could not be afforded. Dan was a much better judge of character than Ned and certainly better at performing under pressure. Even the Kelly matriarch was known to have held Dan in more regard than Ned in these measures.
Unlike his brothers, Dan was fairly successful at avoiding trouble. In fact, it is probably telling that the worst trouble in Dan’s life seemed to come from following Ned’s and Jim’s lead. Imagine how different the story would have turned out if Dan had been able to accompany Fitzpatrick as intended, before Ned and Ellen had attacked the policeman. A stint in the logs, a quick trial during which the mistaken identity could be proven and Dan could have gone home as a free man. Sadly, as in all things, life never pans out the way we think it should.
Yes, I’ve been a bad man, and I am sorry for my sins, but here in my dying bed I can swear that no woman was ever the worse for me – Harry Power
When we picture bushrangers we think of wild young men on horseback dodging police and sticking up coaches but Harry Power certainly did not fit that image. Power (alias Henry Power, Johnstone) is forever remembered as the tutor of Ned Kelly but there was a time when he could capture the imagination on his own terms.
Power was born in Waterford, Ireland, in 1819 before emigrating with his family to England during the great famine. Settling in the north of England, Harry worked in a spinning mill in Manchester. It was not long before his rebellious nature manifested.
Power received three months imprisonment for vagrancy and later did time for drunkenness. His first major offence, however, was stealing shoes which got him transported for seven years, arriving in Van Dieman’s Land on 21 May, 1842. It’s probable that Harry reunited with his mother upon gaining his freedom as she had been transported to Van Dieman’s Land for stealing chickens in 1841. Receiving his ticket of leave in November 1847, Harry soon travelled to the mainland. He worked as a stockman in New South Wales before going south and becoming a horse dealer in Geelong.
In 1855 Harry was accosted by two mounted troopers who questioned him on where he got his horse. They refused to believe that he had legitimate ownership of the animal and when he refused to go with them to the station one trooper drew his sabre and threatened him. In a panic, Power shot the trooper in the arm and fled for the border where he was arrested. He was tried for horse stealing as Henry Johnstone and on 26 September 1855 was sentenced to thirteen years despite having paperwork to prove the legitimacy of his ownership of the horse. He was sent to Williamstown where he was imprisoned on the prison ship Success.
While doing time on Success, Power was involved in a mutiny. The bushranger Captain Melville led a small group of inmates to steal the tow boat that took the launch boat from Success to shore on 22 October, 1856. During the ensuing scuffle a man named John Turner was drowned and a constable named Owen Owens was beaten to death with a rock breaking hammer. The convicts made it to shore but were soon recaptured. Harry, still as Henry Johnstone, was charged with the other seven men with two counts of murder. Only Melville was sentenced.
In the latter part of his sentence Power attempted to escape from imprisonment by trying to cut a hole in the floor of the prison hospital. Naturally he was foiled.
Power gained his ticket of leave in 1862 and headed back to Geelong where he immediately broke the conditions of his ticket and took to the diggings. He was soon back in court and in 1863 he was convicted of horse stealing in Beechworth. While in prison on that offence more charges were raised and Harry was dragged out of prison and tried again. He was found guilty of these charges, keeping him in prison for seven years. He was sent to Pentridge Prison but it would not hold him too long.
In Pentridge Harry befriended Jack Lloyd and his brother Tom. Harry would later call on them for sustenance when they were all out of gaol. He was prone to visits to the prison hospital due to a bowel stricture that could cause bouts of extreme discomfort and render him useless for labour for two to three weeks at a time.
On 16 February 1869 Power escaped from Pentridge. Having been assigned to a party clearing land by Merri Creek, Harry had made sure that he was on light duties due to his health. Entrusted with taking the refuse to the mullock heap, Power hid in a divot under the heap and when muster was called he slipped out through a gap in the wall. He acquired clothing from a nearby farm and armed himself with a crude handmade spear before stealing a horse and riding to freedom. He set up a camp on a mountain overlooking the King River Valley now known as Power’s Lookout. From here he sought support from the Lloyds and their relatives the Quinns, gradually expanding his network of sympathisers all the way out to Whitfield. Power knew that he would have to keep his sympathisers on his side and began a career of highway robbery in order to fund his supporters.
When Power robbed shanties and farms, unafraid to use violence on occasion, but this proved to be too much work for too little reward. Power now turned to highway robbery. Far from a charming highwayman, Power’s demeanour was coarse and belligerent and won him no sympathy from his victims. This sudden spate of robberies led to a big manhunt and much consternation around the colony. Power was believed to be cohabiting with a woman near Benalla at the time but nobody could find him.
In July he was spotted eyeing off horses at Mount Battery station and fired upon. With him was a young man who was probably fifteen year old Ned Kelly, a nephew of his sympathisers the Lloyds and Quinns. The owner of the station sneaked up behind the pair and fired at them causing young Kelly to momentarily freeze in terror before they mounted and escaped. Power seems to have discarded Kelly from his service after that for a time, courting others as assistants before opting to simply get on with bushranging solo.
One of Power’s most infamous robberies was near Porepunkah when he stopped a mail coach by placing logs in the road. He proceeded to take what little money he could from the travellers and attempted to deprive a young woman of her horse and saddle before sticking up a dairy cart and robbing that too. Power took one of the horses from the cart and used it to get away leaving the small group of his victims standing around a little bonfire he had made.
Power had quickly become the biggest thorn in the side of the Victoria Police and a £200 reward was offered for his capture. Power ventured into New South Wales at this time and committed a series of robberies around the Riverina. It seemed for all intents and purposes that Power was untouchable. By the end of 1869 Power had seemingly vanished with no reported sightings or leads, rendering police pursuits ineffective.
Unfortunately, Power was not invincible and his health made for a difficult time in the bush. His bowel stricture and bunions resulted in frequent clandestine visits to doctors. To alleviate the pain in his feet he would wear boots so oversized they curled at the toes. The fact that he was well into middle age wouldn’t have been much help either.
February 1870 saw Power re-emerge with a vengeance robbing everyone from stockmen to police officers. After the initial string of robberies Harry Power and Ned Kelly reunited briefly. Likely Ned, in a bid to get some money for his mother who was behind in her rent, had begged Power for another chance. Together they robbed Robert McBean, a well respected magistrate, of his watch, horse and riding gear. The duo travelled as far as Geelong where Power checked out his old haunts with Ned by his side.
When Ned was found trying to open the gates at the Moyhu pound to release impounded stock, the poundkeeper threw him out of the saddle and thrashed him. This resulted in Harry and Ned later bailing the poundkeeper up. Ned threatened to shoot the poundkeeper on the spot but Power gave him three months to get his affairs in order before he’d be shot. Shortly afterwards Ned was arrested for assisting Power. During interrogation, Kelly described Harry as irascible and with a violent temper. He also described a hollow tree Power used as a lookout point (his “watchbox”) and his habit of seeing a doctor about his stricture. Ned was bounced around the courts but the various charges never stuck and he was soon released.
At this time Jack Lloyd was detained on suspicion of highway robbery. It was believed that he had committed several of the crimes attributed to Power, which he denied. Robert McBean, still furious about his encounter with the bushranger, had remembered a statement Power had made that he could buy his watch back from Jack Lloyd for £15. McBean suggested this to the police and soon Lloyd negotiated a deal with superintendents Nicolson and Hare to turn Power in; the temptation of the reward – now £500 – proving irresistible. Lloyd took a police party, consisting of Nicolson, Hare, Sergeant Montford and a black tracker named Donald, most of the way but got spooked and left the police to find their own way up Power’s Lookout during torrential rain. Fortunately, after days without food or sleep, Donald was able to find the camp due to smoke from a campfire. They approached Power’s mia-mia as he slept and Nicolson pounced on him. Dragged out by his feet, Power was unable to resist and was promptly arrested, complaining about not having a fair chance of escape while the starving police ate his food rations.
Power was put on trial in Beechworth and promptly imprisoned in Pentridge for fifteen years. While in the gaol he became somewhat of a celebrity, being interviewed for a newspaper feature called the Vagabond Papers where he opened up about his life of roguery. He did not live quietly, frequently getting into trouble for smoking, being where he wasn’t meant to be and generally getting into mischief.
Once Power had completed his time he was released, in 1885, into a world that had left him behind. The Kelly Gang and the Moonliters had come and gone. The towns were becoming rapidly urbanised with trains and other modern conveniences. The prison ships at Williamstown were decommissioned and scrapped save for one – Success. Power now found himself in his twilight years acting as a tour guide on a craft that was once the source of much misery. Meanwhile, Power was living with his half-sister and her daughter in law. When Success went on tour in 1891 Power stayed behind to do a victory lap of the places he had known when his notoriety was fresh. Shortly after he departed, an unidentified (and unidentifiable) body was found drowned in the Murray River. Many historians have declared that this was Harry Power but without definitive proof his death remains a mystery.
“A MONTH IN PENTRIDGE NO. III” The Argus. 10 March 1877: 4.
“The Notorious Harry Power.” The Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts. 19 December 1893: 3.
“HARRY POWER, THE BUSHRANGER.” The Narracoorte Herald. 13 March 1877: 4.
“A MEMORY OF HARRY POWER” The Argus. 27 June 1936: 6.
“RELEASE OF A RENOWNED BUSHRANGER.” The Herald. 9 February 1885: 2.
“Ned Kelly’s Tutor.” The World’s News. 26 December 1925: 8.
Few names stand out in bushranging history quite like the self proclaimed “Prince of Tobeymen” himself – Frank Gardiner. Often considered the godfather of bushranging, he was responsible for the largest gold heist in colonial Australian history and introduced many of the big names to bushranging.
Gardiner was born in Rosshire, Scotland in 1830 as Francis Christie. He had a brother and two sisters who accompanied he and his parents on board the ship James to New South Wales in 1834. Settling at Boro Creek near Goulburn, the family kept a low profile until Frank hit adolescence.
Young Frank Christie first veered from the straight and narrow path when he began adopting false names to engage in stock theft. Teaming up with Jack Newton he stole two racehorses from Jugiong Station and took them across the border into Victoria. Adding William Troy to the cohort, they stole more horses and accrued a mob of thirty they planned to sell in Adelaide. The plans were scuppered, however, when police nabbed the offenders near Geelong. Christie was given five years for horse stealing. He was first accommodated in Melbourne Gaol before being transferred to the stockade at Pentridge. On 27 March 1851 Frank Christie escaped from Pentridge and went bush.
Christie assumed the name Clarke and teamed up with Ted Prior and spent a couple of years stealing stock in the Abercrombie Ranges. When he was finally nabbed, “Clarke” was sentenced to fourteen years on Cockatoo Island. In March 1854 he began his sentence and while inside he met John Peisley and the two gelled immediately. It is possible that he may also have encountered Frederick Wordsworth Ward (later known as Captain Thunderbolt) while he was there. On New Year’s Eve of 1859 Frank Christie gained a ticket of leave for the Carcoar district but as soon as he raised freedom he stole a horse and headed for the Kiandra Goldfields where he became a butcher and called himself Frank Gardiner.
Adding William Fogg to his business, Gardiner’s butcher shop was a source of high quality meat of dubious origin. It was widely believed that the animals he was slaughtering were stolen, but nobody could pin him for it until Sir Frederick Pottinger arrived in town. Gardiner and Fogg were arrested on suspicion of cattle theft but were released on bail. On 3 May 1861 Gardiner vanished into the bush. Gardiner became the self-proclaimed “Prince of Tobeymen” with John Peisley and a flash Canadian named Johnny Gilbert as his sidekicks. Gardiner was a well dressed and groomed gentleman of the road – a far cry from the balding and bloated Peisley and the impish Gilbert.
Things became serious when Gardiner took shelter at Fogg’s residence due to suffering from exposure in July 1861. It wasn’t long before police arrived and there was a scuffle. In the fracas Sergeant Middleton and Constable Hosie were shot and wounded, and Gardiner was savagely beaten and captured. What happened next is not known for certain. Some say Peisley helped rescue Gardiner, others say Gardiner bribed the police to free him. Whatever the means, Gardiner once more gained his liberty. From this time on bushranging would never be the same.
Gardiner wrote to the press to disclose his own narrative of the incident with Middleton and Hosie and talked himself up in the process. His reputation was beginning to become part of the popular culture of the day as he began recruiting more offsiders. He roamed the Lachlan with the “Three Jacks” – John Davis, John Connors and John McGuinness – in early 1862. When John Connors was shot and captured by the police at Lambing Flat in April the other two Jacks fled. Gardiner was outraged and turned them away. When John McGuinness was found dead days later it was believed that Gardiner had killed him in his rage.
It was at this time Gardiner took on Ben Hall as an accomplice. Gilbert also became Gardiner’s sidekick, accompanying him on various robberies presumably because of his competence when it came to criminal activities as much as his loyalty. Gardiner now had his eyes clapped on a far bigger prize. He was aware of the route the gold escort took from the Araluen diggings through to Orange and decided to rob it as it took the gold from the diggings to the town at a place called Eugowra Rocks. He recruited John Bow, Alex Fordyce, Henry Manns, Johnny Gilbert, Dan Charters, Ben Hall, John O’Meally and Charles Darcy to help him make the score. The gang hid in the rocks and on 15 June 1862 they blocked the road with a bullock train then as the escort came around the bend Gardiner launched his attack. The coach toppled as the horses bolted and the cabin was riddled with bullets. Some of the troopers were badly injured but no lives were lost on the day and the bushrangers got away with around £6000 worth of gold as well as almost £4000 cash and other goods. Unfortunately Gardiner lost his share of the gold when the gang was intercepted by the police and he was forced to abandon his packhorse.
Gardiner had been wooing Kitty Brown, younger sister of Ben Hall’s wife Biddy, and the two were conducting a secret affair. After the robbery Gardiner took Kitty with him to Victoria where they aimed to make a new start on the Goldfields but when this didn’t work they headed to Apis Creek in Queensland. Here they bought a pub and ran it very effectively until one of Kitty’s letters was intercepted and a detachment from the New South Wales police led by Detective Pye headed north to nab the most wanted man in the empire. Gardiner was dragged out of the pub into the street and forcefully apprehended. He was taken back to New South Wales despite the police having not received permission to go outside their jurisdiction.
Gardiner was put on trial for his crimes and after much anticipation was found guilty and sentenced to thirty four years imprisonment. He was sent to Darlinghurst Gaol but meanwhile Kitty and Gardiner’s sisters were fighting tooth and nail to get him out. All was for nil and Kitty Brown eventually moved to New Zealand with her brother-in-law and committed suicide after months of living in dire poverty.
In 1874 Gardiner was released from Gaol after a movement was passed allowing a number of criminals who had been given longer sentences than were the current norm at that time to be freed. However for Gardiner there was a catch and he was exiled, never to return to Australia. He spent time in Hong Kong before moving to San Francisco where he ran a saloon. When and how he died is a mystery. Some claimed that he was killed in a bar room brawl, others that he married a rich widow and had two sons before dying of old age. The most likely scenario is that he turned to alcoholism and died in a poor house in 1892. Hardly a romantic death for the great Frank Gardiner, Prince of Tobeymen and King of the Road.
For this week’s feature we invited Georgina Rose Stones to pen her thoughts on Joe Byrne, lieutenant of the Kelly Gang. Georgina is a journalism student who has studied the Kelly story in detail and has been active in the bushranging history community for some time. Her knowledge of Joe Byrne’s story is in depth and she provides a very interesting perspective on an often overlooked member of the bushranging fraternity. So now I turn over to Georgina for your reading pleasure. Enjoy! ~ AP
Try as I might, I am unable to recall exactly what it was that first enticed me into the depths of the Kelly story and outbreak. I can vividly recall reading Peter Carey’s True History of The Kelly Gang for silent reading as a mere twelve year old, but what made me pick up the novel to begin with escapes me. Whatever it was, however, I will forever remain truly grateful. For many individuals, it is Ned Kelly who incites the most sympathy and interest in regards to the gang as a whole. There is no harm in that, given especially, as it is Ned who has been given the most exposure through the years. For me, however, this place has always been reserved for Ned’s “lieutenant”, Joe Byrne.
When I was first asked the question “what compels you to Joe?” I had a handful of answers flash through my mind, but now, as I sit here at my desk, I’m finding it harder to pinpoint the exactness of why, when compared with Ned, Steve and Dan, I drift towards Joe. Two aspects, I believe which have drawn me to Joe, are in regards to his schooling and personality. It is these two characteristics which I find most compelling about Joe’s persona, as when one thinks of a ‘bushranger’ or ‘outlaw’, being “a bit of a poet” or “soberly dressed” are not words which often spring to mind. Furthermore, by all accounts Joe was well read, and, like Ned, frequented James Ingram’s bookshop in Beechworth with his lifelong friend, Aaron Sherritt. Coupled with Joe’s literary interests, he was “for a bushman rather clever with his pen.” This is another aspect I have always found engaging about Joe, as like me, he loved to write, specifically in the guise of ‘bush ballads’. These ballads dealt with the exploits and overall boldness of the gang, with my favourite verse being “long may they reign – the Kelly’s, Byrne and Hart.” Further to these ballads, it is noted that while at Jerilderie, “plotting for the following day’s robbery”, Joe wrote down a riddle to amuse himself, “Why are the Kellys the greatest matchmakers in the country? Because they brought loads of ladies Younghusbands, Euroa, Victoria.” Combined with this detail, I have always been fascinated by the letters Joe sent to both Aaron and Jack Sherritt, in conjunction with, the mock reward posters and caricatures of Detective Ward. Finally, the existence of Joe’s journal has always been of great interest to me, and is something, which I believe, further highlights Joe’s clever and complex mind. The pieces of Joe’s personality are area’s with which I am also drawn. Most individuals who came into his presence, found Joe to be “quiet” and “unassuming”. At Jerilderie, an unknown individual recounted that “his manner is quiet and he appears to the casual observer an inoffensive man.” Moreover, Constable McIntyre would recount that he found Joe to be “a nervous man, thoroughly under the control of Ned Kelly.” I have always found this assessment of Joe to be interesting, as there does seem to be some alteration in his disposition when he was out of Ned’s presence. This is a factor about Joe with which I have always been compelled by and one that I find quite moving, as it demonstrates, I believe, the two ideals Joe was constantly torn between. The first, concerning him as an outlaw, and secondly, as both lover and poet. The first source I have, which represents the way Joe’s manner could change, comes from a Mr Turner, from Mt Battery Station, who met the gang while they resided at Bullock Creek. While under Joe’s watchful guard, Mr Tuner recollects a detail about Joe I have always loved, “from a billy hanging over the fire, Byrne produced some hot water, and standing with his rifle near him shaved himself most carefully, after which he gave his hair a vigorous brushing, all the time carrying on a disjointed conversation with me.” He concluded by adding, “his tone was affable and quiet” and goes on to declare, “I could not understand the different conduct in the absence of his comrades.” Another lovely detail, which I feel shows the ‘other side of Joe’, comes from Mrs Fitzgerald at Faithfuls Creek. She described that Joe “chatted with her on general topics” and, in my favourite detail, “played for her entertainment on a concertina” and seemed much more outgoing with her than with the male prisoners. Finally, I do not think it feasible to discuss what compels me to Joe, without at least mentioning his fondness for barmaids. There are two barmaids in particular who are known to have turned Joe’s head, Mary the Larrikin from the Woolpack Inn, and his last earthly lover, Maggie, from the Vine Hotel. Regarding Mary the Larrikin, I have always loved the detail of Joe riding back to the Woolpack Inn to see Mary, after meeting her the previous night while the gang were on route to Jerilderie. On their first encounter, Joe was so charmed by her presence, Ned had to warn him to “ease off and quietly told Mary not to serve Joe anymore whiskey.” On the following evening, Joe rode back to the Woolpack Inn to spend some more time with Mary, and it was noted, “had to be helped on his horse when he left at midnight.” Nevertheless, it has been Joe’s connection to Maggie that has captivated me the most and it has always saddened me that we do not know more about her. However, it is known that Joe visited her frequently, the last time being the “Wednesday or Thursday night” before the Kelly Gang’s destruction.
As I type, my eyes drift upwards to my intricately framed photo of Joe, positioned on the wall above my desk. Standing before me I see a young man dressed soberly in ‘town clothes’, his slightly flared trouser hems revealing larrikin heels, highlighting his rebellious bush spirit, which I will forever admire. Joe was a man with many complexities to his character; he was outlaw and scholar, opium user and balladeer, lover of whiskey and barmaids. A young man who often frequented the Burke Museum and whom was also in good relations with many of the Beechworth Chinese community, who called him “Ah Joe.” He was a man who declared he would “die at Ned’s side”, yet at Glenrowan, when Ned expressed the hopefulness of the situation, Joe had heatedly proclaimed, “Well it’s your fault, I always said this bloody armour would bring us to grief.” Furthermore, I see a fearless young man who in just three short years would meet his end, shot by a policeman’s bullet which tore into his thigh, severing the femoral artery. Resulting in Joe bleeding to death, and who just moments before had defiantly toasted “many a long and happy day still in the bush, boys!” In conclusion, while I do not wish to dwell on the final photo taken of Joe, finding it equally heartbreaking and repulsive, I feel I should at least mention it. The gentle calmness of Joe’s countenance does not depict a young man, who only four days previous, had shot and killed his lifelong friend and who had declared, “you will not blow now what you do with us anymore.” And, it is this that has always struck me, how quickly the outlaw guise was discarded for the “mild mannered” Joe.
This is what compels me to Joe Byrne.
Ian Jones, A Short Life
Ian Jones, The Fatal Friendship
J.J. Kenneally, The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang
Keith McMenomy, Ned Kelly The Authentic Illustrated History
William Brookman was not a prolific bushranger, nor was he particularly noted in most history books. He was a member of the gang of Jerry Duce, real name Williams, former lieutenant of Robert Cottrell aka Bluecap. Duce had formed his own gang after Bluecap was captured and they were high end bushrangers worthy of being counted alongside the Ben Hall Gang – at least for a while.
Teenage Brookman was with the gang when they struck at Mossgiel and robbed locals at a racing meet. They then moved on to a store where they encountered Constable McNamara. The policeman wrestled with Brookman whose pistol went off, injuring the officer. In the scuffle Brookman and Duce were overpowered and arrested but their confederates Kelly and Payne bolted at the first sign of trouble.
Duce and Brookman were sentenced to death for wounding with intent to kill but the sentence was commuted to 15 years each. Brookman was released from prison on 8 March 1875 and what he did next was not recorded.
In 1864 “Mad Dan” Morgan was at the peak of his career, terrorising the homesteads in the New South Wales Riverina. Some believed that the terror he struck into the settlers meant that they were too afraid to turn away travellers asking for accommodation and gave Morgan the moniker “the traveller’s friend”. Perhaps the most important single incident in Morgan’s career of crime was his bailing up of Round Hill Station, a colossal blunder that resulted in grievous bodily harm to two men, the death of another, and Morgan being declared an outlaw wanted dead or alive.
About 40 miles from Albury was Round Hill Station, owned by a Mr. Henty. The superintendent was Mr. Sam Watson and the station was also attended by Mr. McNeil the overseer and John McLean the cattle overseer. On Sunday 19 June the station was visited by John Heriot, the son of a neighbouring squatter, Elliot Heriot-Watt. Heriot, Watson and McLean were relaxing in a room of the homestead when Mrs. Watson noticed someone looking in the front door about one o’clock in the afternoon. Mrs. Watson immediately suspected that the visitor was none other than the notorious Morgan. He cut a striking figure with his flowing black beard and hair in long, raven-black ringlets tumbling over his shoulders under a rumpled felt hat. He looked to Mrs. Watson and asked with his deep, drawling voice where her husband was and she gestured to the sitting room. Morgan introduced himself and presented a revolver before asking where the grog was. Within moments Mrs. Watson and her husband, Heriot and McLean were mustered up at gunpoint. The group marched to the apartment where the grog was kept.
“How many bottles is there?” Morgan asked. Mr. Watson replied “Six bottles of gin and one that’s been broached.” This appeared to be all Morgan needed to hear. Once inside, Watson poured a glass from the broached bottle for himself and Morgan. Before taking a drink Morgan gave a wry smile behind the voluminous beard and curly moustache, “you must drink that yourself, as you may have had it ready for me.” Watson obliged and the pair proceeded to dig into the supplies. Morgan called for one of the female servants to bring him dinner and asked that his horse be fed and stabled. He ate his dinner with a pistol ready at each hand, his prisoners seated in the corner of the room. When his plate was cleared away he sat and chatted amiably with his captives, a cocked revolver in each hand and four more pistols in his belt.
After dinner Morgan took the initial four and rounded up the station staff bringing the number of prisoners to eleven. Making the crowd wait at the stable door Morgan checked in on his horse. Satisfied that his horse had been well looked after the crowd moved to a cattle shed and Morgan sat everyone down on benches before sending Watson back to the stores for more gin. Morgan ordered the gin be passed amongst the staff and himself. In total, four bottles were consumed.
Now intoxicated and looking for amusement, Morgan went back to the stable and mounted his horse, stashing a gin bottle in his saddle bag. Watson allegedly shouted that Morgan’s horse was kitted out with stirrups stolen from a Mr. Johnston who had recently been robbed. It is unclear if Morgan heard the remark. Heavily intoxicated, he was less than elegant in mounting and one of the loaded, capped, and cocked revolvers went off unexpectedly. The bullet whizzed past the crowd and grazed the temple of one of the prisoners. Morgan was furious and began shouting “Who shot at me? Somebody shot at me!” evidently believing it was one of the prisoners firing and not his own gun. Morgan aimed deliberately at the prisoners and fired. The unfortunate Mr. Watson was directly in the line of fire and as he put his hand up reflexively the bullet passed through it cutting across his head (later accounts would state that Watson had been shot through the palm or had a finger blown off by the shot, the latter claim seems less likely given the weight of evidence indicating the former). Watson ran and hid behind a barn, cradling his injured hand. John McLean emerged and sternly addressed Morgan “No, Morgan, nobody shot. It was your own revolver that went off!”
Still mounted despite his intoxicated state, Morgan fired again into the crowd. This time the projectile struck Heriot in the leg fracturing his shin and cutting through the calf muscles before grazing the leg of another worker. Everyone scattered in a blind panic, Heriot dragging his shattered leg around for thirty yards before collapsing. Morgan leaped down from his mount and held a pistol to Heriot’s head. “Don’t kill me Morgan. You’ve broken my leg.” gasped Heriot, reeling from pain and exhaustion. Watson, seeing Morgan with a pistol to the young man’s head emerged from hiding shouting “For God’s sake Morgan, don’t kill anyone!”
Morgan at that instant became inconsolable and withdrew the firearm. Trembling, he searched furiously around hollering “where are all the damned wretches gone to?” pleading for help in the only way he knew how, screaming “I’ll blow the brains out of every man in this station if they don’t come and help!” but none came. Morgan took a knife he had concealed about his person and used it to cut the boot from Heriot’s foot to allow easier treatment for the wounded leg, then Morgan scooped the injured young man up and carried him to the homestead where he demanded McLean and James Williamson Rushton, a carpenter from Albury, take him inside. Once Heriot had been placed on a bed Morgan cut the other boot off and, apparently overwhelmed, left him there to be treated by Rushton and McLean. He tied a handkerchief around Watson’s wounded hand and apologised profusely. It was apparent that the intensity of the situation had cowed Morgan into repentance.
In the chaos two men, unknown to the staff and suspected to be confederates of Morgan appeared, one a half-Aboriginal man, and spoke at length with Morgan. During the conversation John McLean approached Morgan and suggested he could ride to fetch the doctor from a neighbouring station. Morgan, desperate to make amends for the injuries he had caused, allowed McLean to go. McLean told Heriot he was leaving to fetch Dr. Stitt and Heriot told him to take his horse for the task. McLean mounted Heriot’s horse and galloped off at top speed. However, Morgan’s paranoia got the better of him, perhaps spurred on by further conversation with his confederates, and he mounted his own steed and rode to overtake McLean, believing he was going to rouse the police instead of the doctor. Cutting him off, he called on McLean to stop but McLean apparently not hearing the command rode on. Morgan screamed “You bloody wretch! You’re going to give information!” and fired at McLean’s back. The bullet struck opposite the tenth rib and tore through his hip and out three inches above his navel. McLean tumbled from his mount but was still alive. Morgan rode up and after assessing the situation gave McLean grog then slung the fallen man over his own saddle and rode back to the station with him.
When Morgan arrived back at the station, just under two hours after McLean had left, he dismounted and cradled McLean in his arms as he proceeded to the homestead. Rushton emerged to see who the arrival was and upon seeing Morgan was told “Come here, young fellow, come and assist me,” McLean was taken indoors by Morgan’s half-Aboriginal mate and Rushton and laid on a bed. Morgan sat by Heriot’s bedside for two hours and intermittently checked on McLean. After a while the bushranger went off and raided the grog supply with his friends. The three men drank and caroused well into the night in spite of the chaos and carnage that Morgan had just incurred. Perhaps Morgan was drinking to forget the pain he had caused with the other men drinking just for the bragging rights of saying they had drunk with Morgan the bushranger, but the details of the carousing were not documented, the staff of the station rather more concerned with the injuries to Watson and Heriot and the precarious state of McLean. In the early hours of morning Morgan and his friends rode away from the station. Five minutes later a police party arrived at the station led by Superintendent McLerie.
A medical man, Hugh Scott, was summoned on the Monday and attended to McLean who was in severe pain and vomiting convulsively. Scott would come back to McLean several times, noting peritonitis had set in from the wound and made a request that McLean send for anyone he especially needed to see or speak to. While Scott was absent McLean was attended to by Dr. Stitt, the man McLean had been going to when he was shot, who had previously been a victim of Morgan himself. Heriot was taken to Albury where he was looked after by his father in Botterill’s Imperial Hotel. When Scott returned to Round Hill on the Wednesday he was informed that McLean had died. An autopsy was conducted by Joseph Knight Barnett who noted that as the bullet had entered the body it has smashed a rib and that the projectile, as well as splinters from the rib, had perforated McLean’s pancreas. The projectile had moved between the stomach and intestines and perforated the peritoneum and caused considerable inflammation, which was in the end the cause of death. The charge now leveled at Morgan would be murder.
The newspapers expressed community outrage and a sense of dread if the scourge of the Riverina were not to be brought to justice promptly and made an example of:
Can any man after this ride a mile from Albury without expecting a bullet through his head? No remarks of ours can fire the train, if this simple but hideous narrative does not. The whole country should be up in arms, and swear as one man, that they would never rest until this demon is brought to justice.
Already Albury has been moved to action, and volunteers, men who will not throw away a chance, are at work. Perhaps something may be done, and if the one life which has as yet been sacrificed will be the means of ridding the world of such a scoundrel, it is providential, but the country itself has this life to answer for.
(The Age, 27 June 1864)
If New South Wales was not afraid of Morgan already, they now had reason to be petrified; McLean’s was the first life taken by Morgan.
When bushranger Fred Lowry met his end after a heated confrontation with police it created a sensation across New South Wales. Here we have excerpts from an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald about some of the happenings as well as the outlaw himself.
“ON Sunday last, just as divine service was concluded, considerable excitement was caused by the arrival in town of a party of policemen in coloured clothes with a dray, in which was the dead body of Lowry, the noted bushranger, and the following prisoners :- Lawrence Cummins, charged with robbery under arms, and supposed to be the man who lately shot his brother, John Cummins, when on his way to Binda in custody on a charge of bushranging; Thomas Vardy, licensed victualler of the Limerick Races Inn, Cook’s Vale Creek ; Robert and Henry Hogan, Vardy’s stepsons ; and Thomas Brown, James Williams, a lad of sixteen, and John Watson, an aboriginal native, employed in Vardy’s service. The Last six named prisoners were all charged with harbouring bushrangers, and with being accessory to robberies after the fact.
The body of Lowry was removed to the hospital, where, in the course of the afternoon, it was seen by numbers of people. He appears to have been a very tall young man, measuring six feet two inches, and probably weighing thirteen stone, well made, with small hands and feet, white skin, small moustache, and a particularly well-developed chest. Taken altogether he was physically a very fine man. He is described as having been twenty-seven years of age; and although he must have led a life of mingled dissipation and hardship, he did not appear to be any older.
Some doubt was expressed as to the body being that of Lowry, the bushranger; Mr. Horsford, the gaoler, who had known Lowry at Cockatoo Island, where he was undergoing a sentence under the name of Frederick M’Gregor, considered that the hair was much darker than that of the man he had known, and that he was much stouter, and was of opinion that deceased was not Lowry, though he was not able to speak positively. Mr. Fogg, a settler at the Narrawa, and his wife came into town on Monday and saw the body, which they declared was not that of Lowry; but it seemed they have not seen Lowry for three years, and although called at the inquest they did not attend. On the other hand, the Rev. H. H. Gaud, who had seen Lowry some twelve months back, believed that deceased was he, as did also Mr. Moses Baird, who, however, had not seen Lowry for seven or eight years. The evidence taken at the inquest is all in favour of the view of deceased being identical with Lowry ; and it is quite certain that he was the man who robbed the Goulburn mail on the 2nd July last-Mr. Futter, Captain Morphy, and the coachman (Michael Curran) having positively identified him, and Captain Morphy’s watch having been found in his possession.
There is every reason to believe that he is the man who in conjunction with Foley robbed the Mudgee mail. Foley and Lowry, it may be remembered, escaped together from Bathurst gaol on the 13th February last.”
It is intriguing that despite there being far less consensus about the identity of the corpse there have been no noted conspiracy theories raised in intervening years about Lowry escaping death such as the one about Captain Thunderbolt, which was generated with far less supporting evidence.
The report goes on to give a run down of Lowry’s criminal history using excerpts from other publications to illustrate. The history of the deceased out of the way the article continues with the account of the coroner, Dr. Waugh who states in part (with a seeming addiction to semi-colons):
“I directed [Detective] Camphin to keep guard in front with the same instructions, while Saunderson and myself would search the house; at the same time I told all the men that I suspected Frederick Lowry, the bushranger, was in the house, and to be prepared; we then dashed up to the house; we saw a girl, who seemed to be frightened and who was half-crying; Saunderson and I dismounted, hung our horses up to the front of the house, and went on to the verandah; I asked the girl if there was anyone in her room; she said “no”; I looked in and saw only a little child; the girl was about half-dressed; I then went into the bar and called for Vardy the landlord; Vardy came out of his bedroom into the hall adjoining the bar; I asked if he had any strangers in the house; he said “yes”; I asked where they where; he nodded his head to the room they were in; I asked if he knew who they were; he said no, and to look out; I went to the parlour door adjoining the room he mentioned and leading to it; it was locked inside; I knocked and asked for admittance; I got no answer; I then said if the door wore not opened at once I would break it open; I then knocked my shoulder against the door for the purpose of breaking it open; I failed in the first attempt, and I no sooner took my shoulder away than a shot was fired from inside, and a voice exclaimed “I’ll fight you, b__s”; the shot came through the door and wounded the horse I had been riding in the back; I removed the horse from that place and gave him to Vardy, and told him I should hold him responsible for him ; I then went back to the bar-door, and then the parlour door was opened and a man came out with a revolver in each hand crying out “I’m Lowry; come on ye b__’s, and I’ll fight ye fair”; at the same time he presented one of the revolvers at me; I covered him directly; I think we both fired together; at that time we were four or five yards apart ; he then advanced upon me within three feet; I covered him again, and we both, fired in each other’s faces; the second shot I fired he dropped his revolvers and staggered; I jumped forward and seized him by the neck, struck him with my revolver on the head, and told him he was my prisoner; I brought him into the bar; he continued to struggle; Saunderson came to my assistance; we then shoved the deceased into the yard, threw him on his back, and putting my knee on his chest I handcuffed him ; he then said he was Lowry, and was done…”
To further support the assertion of the corpse’s identity various effects of the deceased’s are detailed in the article:
“Lowry’s vest [a black-cloth vest bound with blue, with buttons like silver] ; it is similar to that described as having been worn by the robber of the Mudgee mail; I produce a thin black cloth sac coat claimed by Lowry, a brown Inverness cape, another heavier one, a cabbagetree hat with broad black ribbon, and an elastic riding-belt: one of the capes
contained a flask of powder, a few percussion caps, two dice, a gold watch, chain, and key ; I believe, from the description, that the watch belongs to Captain Morphy, who was robbed on the Big Hill, Goulburn, on the 2nd July ; I also found two knives, one £50 note, and altogether £164 19s. 6d., in notes stolen from the Mudgee mail, all except £10 in notes, £2 in gold, and 19s. 6d. in silver ; the money, except the silver, was in a little bag in Lowry’s trousers pocket…”
The article closes with a note of what was to come next:
“The body will be kept till Thursday, when Mr. Kater is expected to arrive. In the meantime some photographic likenesses of deceased have been taken by Mr. Gregory.”
Interestingly, the in-depth article detailing the thrilling exploits and capture of one of the Lachlan’s greatest outlaws is followed by two curious stubs wherein we are informed of a morning tea to welcome a new pastor and that a farmer in Wollongong had killed a pig of “unusual size”, highlighting the old adage that life goes on.
One of the things that defines Australian bushranging is the diversity of those that become bushrangers. Surprisingly, the only Chinese bushranger that seems to be of note is Sam Poo, whose career as a highwayman was as short-lived as it was violent.
Not a lot is known about Sam Poo’s early life, except that he was probably born around 1835 and his real name was likely Li Hang Chiak. It is believed he arrived on the Australian Goldfields from Singapore in the 1860s looking for fortune and possibly escaping trouble back home. He quickly gained the nickname “Cranky Sam” from the others on the Talbragar Goldfields in New South Wales due to his short temper and antisocial behaviour.
The Goldfields were a place of high tensions between the white and Chinese diggers. Fights and riots were commonplace between the two races and it is believed that Sam Poo was right in the thick of it, emerging in the wake of the infamous Lambing Flat riots. Sam’s interest seemed to have been more from personal resentment rather than the more conscientious motive of trying to fight back against institutional racism. Sam Poo disliked his fellow Chinese miners as much as his white rivals and became increasingly antagonistic and socially isolated. As time went on he withdrew from the Talbragar diggings and would spend hours shooting at a tree stump then digging out the bullets, recasting and firing them again. Then one day in 1865 he disappeared without explanation.
In an unprecedented move for a Chinese miner, Sam Poo had taken to the bush to live the life of a highwayman. He reputedly robbed ten Chinese miners on the diggings as his warm-up before heading to the highway. Armed with a sawn-off rifle and a clunky old revolver he operated on the Golden Highway between Dubbo and Dunedoo. Aggressive and only able to communicate in broken English at best, he was very intimidating to white travellers who were already anxious about the Chinese. As January 1865 drew to a close, things began to escalate…
On January 30, 1865, Elizabeth Golding, who lived with her husband Robert Golding at the Plunkett’s Billabong Station near Dubbo, saw Sam Poo talking to her daughter in the late morning. The discussion appeared to be heated. He soon returned and spoke with Mrs. Golding stating “If I cannot have my will of the girl, I will of you.” Mrs. Golding noted he was carrying a sawn-off rifle with a piece of leather around the barrel. Mrs. Golding ran to seek help. By the time her husband arrived Sam Poo was gone.
Three days later while riding around the property, James Francis Plunkett saw Sam Poo in one of his shepherd’s huts. He later discovered a flour bag had been emptied and some leather leggings had been cut. The cut leather, it would be found, was that which Sam Poo had wrapped around his rifle, indicating he had been hiding on the property for some time.
Shoot-out with Senior Constable Ward
On February 3, John Cluff saw Sam Poo in the neighbourhood. Poo emerged from the scrub and threatened Cluff with his sawn-off rifle. He asked Cluff where he was going. Cluff informed him he was going to see his boss, Plunkett, to which Sam Poo replied “Go on or I will give you one too.” gesturing to his pistol on a log nearby.
Senior Constable John Ward was returning to Coonabarabran from taking a prisoner to Mudgee for trial. Two stockmen informed him just outside of Barney’s Reef (between Birrawa and Dunedoo) of where Sam Poo was camped and reported that he had been committing offences in the area. Ward investigated and found Poo camping in the scrub. When Sam Poo saw Ward he bolted. Ward gave chase on horseback and Poo drew his rifle and said “You policeman. Me fire.” Ward dismounted and took cover behind his horse as he drew his revolver. Poo, by chance rather than skill, shot Ward in the groin, a devastating hit that drives into his abdomen. Ward fired 3 shots at Poo as he escaped.
James Francis Plunkett found Ward and took him back to his homestead and sent for the doctor. While waiting for help Ward expressed distress about his family and dictated an account of the shoot-out with Sam Poo knowing that he was close to death, which Plunkett recorded. Plunkett prayed for Ward, who died at 4.00pm and was quickly buried.
The next day, Dr. William King arrived after travelling 50km to treat Ward only to discover the patient was already dead and buried.
The hunt for Sam Poo
Armed police and mounted posse-men joined a manhunt for Sam Poo over two weeks. Driven by the desire for justice to be served to the man who created a widow with four children, they scoured the bush around the Golden Highway.
On February 18, the posse found Sam Poo camped in the scrub not far from where he’d murdered Senior Constable Ward. Stockman Harry Hughes, a half-caste tracker, approached Sam Poo with mounted constables Burns, McMahon and Todd. Realising he’d been found, Sam Poo fired his rifle at Hughes, tearing the tracker’s hat near his right ear. The troopers returned fire without hesitation and Sam Poo was shot in the thigh. Collapsing to the ground, he pulled out his pistol and reeled off a few shots at the approaching lawmen. He was easily overpowered, disarmed and taken prisoner.
The Trialof Sam Poo
Sam Poo was taken to the Mudgee hospital and treated for his wounds and thereafter transferred to Bathurst to stand trial for the murder of Senior Constable Ward and the attempted murder of Harry Hughes.
On October 11, Sam Poo pleaded not guilty before Justice John Fletcher Hargrave with Sing Shigh translating. The trial was reported in newspapers across New South Wales and concluded quickly with Sam Poo found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
On December 19, 1865, Sam Poo, the Chinese bushranger once known as “Cranky Sam”, was hanged in Bathurst Gaol, aged 35. He as described as being completely unaware of what was happening, clapping his hands at the door to his cell before his arms were pinioned. Three other Chinese prisoners were brought in to witness the execution. He uttered no final words before the noose was placed around his neck, the hood drawn over his face and the trapdoor opened. He was left hanging for the required thirty minutes to ensure the execution was effective.
The charismatic and daring Matthew Brady is one of the most renowned characters in Australian history for his fearlessness and chivalrous nature as much as his criminality. Few outlaws in Australian history have been viewed so favourably, most being referred to in quite overblown and dramatic language. While it is indisputable that, as a general rule, Brady exercised much discretion and gentleness during his exploits, he was responsible for innumerable robberies and one murder by his own hand. Unfortunately, most of his story has been lost to time through both poor contemporary recording in both official documents and in the press, meaning that very little of his story is verifiable. Yet, what is recorded demonstrates a tale at least as worthy of recognition as those of Ben Hall or Ned Kelly – if not more so.
Born in Manchester, England, in 1799, Matthew Brady was employed as a gentleman’s servant before being taken on a charge of forgery in 1820. In his records, his name is recorded as “Mathew Bready”, though this is likely the result of a record taker trying to spell the name phonetically from it being delivered in a Mancunian accent. At Lancaster Quarter Sessions on 17 April, he was found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation.
On 3 September 1820, Brady was sent with 159 other convicts to Van Diemen’s Land on board the Juliana, arriving 29 December that same year. In his records, he was described as standing at 5’5½” tall, with dark brown hair and blue eyes. He was also tattooed with images of a man and woman on his left arm, a fish and the letters TB on his right arm.
He was assigned to work in the employ of William Brest, but soon found himself sent to Van Diemen’s Land’s harshest prison of the time, Macquarie Harbour, aka Sarah Island, for repeated infractions – mostly absconding or plotting to escape. Brady had a deep-seated resentment of the authorities, which was only cemented by his treatment by them. During 1821 through 1823 he was flogged repeatedly for infractions ranging from neglect of duty to absconding, enduring a cumulative total of 525 lashes.
Inducing a gang of convicts to escape from Sarah Island with him in June 1824, the men succeeded in stealing a whaleboat, taking the doctor from the penal settlement as a hostage, and traversing the stormy waters off the coast of Van Diemen’s Land. They were pursued at sea by the authorities but were able to trick them by pulling into a cove, out of sight, long enough for the pursuers to pass them. At one point during their flight, Brady’s confederates attempted to flog their prisoner as an act of vengeance, but Brady stayed their hands as the doctor had treated him well on the island. They arrived in the Derwent River after nine days, and upon going ashore became free-booters.
The gang stole firearms from a settler and took to the bush, raiding homesteads to take what they needed. Brady built a reputation of treating women with kindness and respect that endeared him to many. Brady impressed upon his associates a strict code of conduct, through which he was determined that they should never be guilty of injuring the defenceless. This meant a prohibition on stealing more than they needed, and under no circumstances molesting women in any way.
Over the next few months the numbers of the gang dwindled as members were either captured or killed. During one particularly nasty raid, the gang were met with resistance and a gunfight broke out. One of the gang lost and eye during the fight and was located days later wandering aimlessly in the bush on the verge of death from dehydration. Eventually the only men left from the initial band of escapees were Brady and James McCabe. McCabe was an impulsive young man with sharp features and a pockmarked face, but seemed to respect Brady enough to work with him and follow his lead.
The pair began making connections and developing a network of harbourers around the Tasmanian midlands. One of these harbourers was a former constable named Thomas Kenton. He would plan robberies with Brady and McCabe, though never actually took part in them himself, merely taking a cut of the takings in exchange for giving the bushrangers a safe haven. Kenton would put out a white sheet to signal the coast was clear to the men, who were soon joined by a boy named Hyte.
Unbeknownst to the bushrangers, Kenton had been conspiring with the authorities and in early 1825 he arranged a meeting with Brady, McCabe and Hyte as a cover for an ambush. Though Brady had a bad feeling about it, the others convinced him to follow through with the meeting. Brady’s instincts proved to be correct, as when they reached Kenton’s hut they were pounced on by soldiers. McCabe bolted, but the others weren’t so lucky. Hyte was taken easily, but Brady had to be severely bashed before he could be subdued. Their hands were bound and Hyte was taken to town to be lodged in the lockup, but Brady was kept in Kenton’s charge until the soldiers returned. Brady, badly concussed and bleeding from the head, asked to be laid on the bed, which was done, then requested a drink. While Kenton was out of the hut collecting water, Brady thrust his hands in the fire to burn away his bonds. He then took up his gun, and when Kenton returned Brady threatened to shoot him. He relented but informed Kenton that one day he’d get revenge, before escaping.
Brady and McCabe met up again and formed a new gang. They escalated their operations, and in one raid decided to utilise their victim’s boats to transport the booty. After the man’s servants had scuttled the first boat, the bushrangers transferred everything to a second one and took one of the servants to direct the boat to their hideaway at Grindstone Bay. However, during the night the gang got horrendously drunk and a brawl erupted, during which their captive was killed. As a result, Brady ordered the remaining alcohol be destroyed and swore his gang to temperance in order to prevent further incidents. The one dissenting voice was James McCabe who left the gang after another fight. He was captured two weeks later between Hamilton and Bothwell.
Lieutenant Governor Arthur was greatly vexed by the continued and escalating depredations and put out a declaration in April 1825 stating:
His Honour has directed that a reward of £25 shall be given for the apprehension of either [Brady and accomplice James McCabe]; and that any prisoner giving such information as may directly lead to their apprehension shall receive a ticket-of-leave, and that any prisoner apprehending and securing either of them, in addition to the above reward, shall receive a conditional pardon.
Fifty acres of land, free from restrictions, will be given to the chief constable in whose district either McCabe or Brady is taken, provided it shall be certified by the magistrate of the district that he has zealously exerted himself in the promulgation of this order, and to the adoption of measures for giving it effect.
In response to this perceived affront, Brady is said to have offered his own proclamation:
It has caused Matthew Brady much concern that such a person known as Sir George Arthur is at large. Twenty gallons of rum will be given to any person that will deliver his person unto me. I also caution John Priest that I will hang him for his ill-treatment of Mrs. Blackwell, at Newtown.
As Brady’s notoriety grew, so did his ambition. There seemed to be a desire to use the gang’s lawlessness to ridicule the forces of law and order, exemplified in their raid on the township of Sorell. The bushrangers stuck up a wealthy household and kept the occupants prisoner overnight due to intense storms. In the morning the gang trekked into Sorell with their prisoners and stuck up a party of redcoats who had been out looking for the gang in their own barracks. The soldiers had been caught in torrential rain and returned to base empty handed with waterlogged muskets, thus had no defence against the bushrangers. The gang then set their sights upon the town gaol. Upon breaching the stronghold they attempted to free the occupants of the cells, however the inmates were too afraid to leave. The soldiers and the gang’s other prisoners were promptly locked up. They were soon met with resistance from outside, as Lieutenant Gunn had heard of their presence and tracked them down. The two bushrangers on sentry opened fire on Lieutenant Gunn, who was hit in the right arm, injuring it badly enough to necessitate amputation. Before leaving, the gang built a scarecrow to act as a decoy to allow them escape. Surprisingly, it worked as the locals were convinced there was still at least one bushranger guarding the gaol.
Desperate to escape from Van Diemen’s Land, Brady and what remained of his gang managed to steal a brig called Glutton, and intended to use it to gain access to a larger craft called Blue Eyed Maid and make their way across Bass Strait. Unfortunately the gang got cold feet and they retreated back to land.
Following this, Brady learned of what Thomas Kenton had been up to since their last meeting. Kenton had been gaoled for letting Brady escape, and had since his release had been spreading lies about Brady, while attempting to paint himself in a better light. Brady tracked Kenton down to a hotel called the Cocked Hat, and rode there with gang members Bryant and Williams. Brady calmly informed Kenton that he would be killed for his betrayal and slandering. Kenton was unrepentant and proceeded to goad Brady, who responded by shooting him in the head. This was the only murder Brady himself would perform.
By now it was becoming harder for Brady to trust his gang members as people, tempted to seek the reward, infiltrated the gang in order to act as a spy. By now Lieutenant-Governor Arthur had raised the stakes to 300 guineas or 300 acres of land for settlers and a free pardon and free passage to England for convicts for bringing in Brady.
A matter of days after Kenton’s murder, a posse engaged Brady’s gang in a running gunfight, having been tipped off by a traitor named Cowen. Brady was badly injured by a bullet that passed through his calf. The gang split up, Brady seeking refuge in an island at the North Esk River with his accomplices Murphy and Williams. Cowen led a posse to the hideaway, and although Brady escaped, Murphy and Williams were shot dead in their sleep by their pursuers, leaving Brady alone in the bush without supplies and badly wounded. He was spotted soon after by bounty hunter John Batman, after Brady had spooked some of Batman’s cattle. Brady was hobbling nearby with a sapling he had cut down for a crutch. Batman challenged him with a musket and Brady surrendered.
After being busted when attempting to cut through a prison wall to facilitate escape, Brady and the remaining members of his gang were put on trial, with Brady pleading guilty to all charges. The bushrangers were found guilty and duly sentenced to death by hanging. Thereafter Brady’s cell was allegedly filled with gifts of fruit and sweets, letters and flowers from admiring women. His last act of defiance was complaining vocally about being forced to share a cell with Thomas Jeffries – a bushranger who was a cannibal and murderer. Brady ranted to his guards that if he was not relocated he would cut Jeffries’ head off. When guards searched Brady they found two large knives on his person and promptly relocated him to another cell. Brady subsequently expressed disgust at having to be hanged with Jeffries.
Matthew Brady was hanged in Hobart on 4 May, 1826. He was buried in an unmarked grave, though for a time a small cairn had been placed over his grave to mark it. By the 1870s the cairn had been removed.
Many of the stories associated with Brady have been exaggerated or embellished over the years, thanks mostly to poor research by posthumous authors and inadequate recording of the events at the time they were unfolding. Nevertheless, the little that was recorded demonstrates Brady to have been a man of strong morals, despite his lawlessness, and of remarkable constitution. His gentlemanly manner and audacious crimes have helped keep his memory alive for the almost 200 years since his execution.
Matthew Brady : Van Diemen’s Land bushranger by K.R. von Stieglitz.
Matthew Brady and Ned Kelly kindred spirits, kindred lives by Paul Williams
And wretches hang : the true and authentic story of the rise and fall of Matt Brady, bushranger by Richard Butler.
The Van Diemen’s Land warriors; with an essay on Matthew Brady by George Mackaness.
Brady : McCabe, Dunne, Bryan, Crawford, Murphy, Bird, McKenney, Goodwin, Pawley, Bryant, Cody, Hodgetts, Gregory, Tilley, Ryan, Williams, and their associates, bushrangers in Van Diemen’s Land, 1825-1827 from James Calder’s text of 1873 together with newly discovered manuscripts ; edited by Eustace Fitzsymonds.