Spotlight: Suicide of this notorious Captain Melville (29/08/1857)

Note: The following article discusses suicide in a frank and forensic manner. Some readers may wish to avoid reading further if they are sensitive to such topics. – AP

Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861), Saturday 29 August 1857, page 4


This notorious criminal committed suicide on Wednesday morning last by strangling himself in his cell with a handkerchief. We quote from the Herald of the following day :—

“There can be very little doubt that Melville was Francis McCullum, though he always disputed the identity, who was transported to Van Dieman’s Land by the Minerva, in 1838, having been convicted at Perth on 3rd October, 1836, of house breaking, and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. He had been previously convicted. On the 3rd February, 1853, Melville was found guilty at Geelong before Mr. Justice Barry of highway robbery, and sentenced to twelve years’ hard labor upon the roads, the first three in irons. At the same time he was found guilty of a second and third offence of a similar character, and for the second was sentenced to 10 years’ hard labor on the roads, to take effect from the expiration of the former sentence; for the 3rd offence he was sentenced to 10 years’ hard labour on the roads, the first two in irons to date from the expiration of the previous sentence. Upon entering the cell in which Melville had been confined, we discovered some writing in pencil upon the white-washed wall, and there is every reason to believe this was written by the unhappy man shortly prior to committing suicide. It was as follows :—

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

Nothing extraordinary was observable in Melville’s manner on Tuesday night when he was locked up. Dr. Youl, coroner of the city, held an inquest upon the body. We abridge the evidence :—

Dr. Maund stated: I have made a post-mortem examination of the body of the man known as Captain Melville. There are externally some slight scratches in the shape of a cross upon the left arm, apparently made with some blunt instrument. Frothy blood was oozing from the mouth. There was a handkerchief about two yards in length twisted very tightly round his neck, the first turn being made as a slipknot. It was afterwards turned round very tightly, and the end tucked in under the folds. The cause of death was suffocation caused by the handkerchief round the neck. There is very little doubt that the handkerchief was applied by the deceased himself.

By a Juror: Strangulation would not cause greater distortion of the features than was perceptible. There is no indication of insanity, but it would be difficult to detect.

Mr. George Wintle, governor of the gaol, stated :— I held the deceased under a warrant, dated 5th May, 1857. His name was Captain Melville, alias Thomas Smith. He was convicted as Captain Melville. I should think he was about 35 years of age. He has not suffered any punishment since he has been in gaol. He was confined in a cell by himself after he made an attack upon me on the 28th of last month. About a quarter past seven this morning, I was called by a turnkey who said he wanted to speak to me. I found the deceased lying on his left side. I though he was asleep. The handkerchief was round his neck. I touched his forehead and found he was dead. I should think he had been dead 3 or 3½ hours. I desired that the body should be left as it was. The key of the deceased’s cell was in my possession last night, and remained so till about half-past six this morning.

By a Juror: He was put under medical observation to ascertain whether he was insane or not. There was no extra punishment for his attack upon me.

Dr. McCrae, the medical officer of the gaol, stated: I have had the deceased under my charge since 28th July. He was kept in a cell by himself by my directions. He was not ill, and nothing was the matter with him. I think he was feigning excitement peculiar to madness. On the occasion after he had refused to eat his food for three days, I had a long conversation with him. I pointed out to him forcibly that he had been all his life fighting against the world, with little success on his part, and that it was nearly time for him to bear his punishment quietly, as all his violent ebullitions had only increased the extent of it. At first he was very sulky and would not speak, but after a little, he conversed with me, and seemed impressed with the truth of what I stated. He said he would eat whatever food was given to him, and bear his punishment like a man. The next time I saw him, two or three days afterwards, I found he had been eating his food, and he said he had been guilty of every crime that could be named; that he had brought his punishment on himself, and would in future bear it quietly. He said he was convinced what I told him was true, and that it was for his good. On Tuesday last, 11th instant, I was entirely convinced of his entire sanity. I have no doubt the handkerchief round his neck was put on by himself. He was cold and had been dead some hours when I saw him.

By a juror: I have not seen the brain since death. I could not get the point of my finger between the handkerchief and his neck. I saw him about a quarter past eight this morning.

James Rowley, chief turnkey at the gaol, stated: I locked the deceased up last night, between eight and nine o’clock. He had his supper at five o’clock, and answered his name as usual at mustering. That was the last time I heard him speak. The turnkey on duty during the night did not report any noise in his cell. I was called this morning to his cell by one of the turnkeys. The deceased’s head was a little to the left side. He was lying calmly with his arms across his chest. There was no appearance of a struggle, and the clothes were over him.

One of the jurors asked if it was not singular that the hands of the deceased should have been placed across his breast after strangulation?

Dr. Youl said it was not singular, as the process of strangulation would be slow. It was, in fact, a portion of the vanity of his life. There was no doubt upon his mind that the deceased was perfectly sane. His whole life had been devoted to crime; he envied notoriety: whilst amongst prisoners he was regarded as their captain, but when confined to his cell his vanity was ungratified.

The jury, after a short consultation, expressed an opinion that the deceased strangled himself, being perfectly sane at the time; in other words, the verdict was felo de se.

Spotlight: The Convict Melville (31/07/1857)

Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 – 1864), Friday 31 July 1857, page 2


The notorious Melville, who since his trial for the murder of Owen Owens, has been confined in the Melbourne Central Gaol, has again distinguished himself by the commission of another cowardly and brutal outrage, his victims in this instance being Mr. Wintle, governor of the gaol, and James Rowley, senior turnkey. Since the execution of the seven murderers of Mr. Price, Captain Melville, as he is always styled in the gaol, has on several occasions feigned madness, apparently with the object of again exciting popular sympathy on his behalf. For this reason, the greatest care was taken by those prison officers who came in contact with him not to irritate him in any manner. On Tuesday morning, however, Melville refused to permit the removal of the nighttub from his cell, and threatened to take the life of any one who should attempt to do so. On hearing of the circumstance, Mr. Wintle proceeded to Melville’s cell, and after endeavoring, but in vain, to persuade him to allow the tub to be removed, he ordered James Rowley, senior turnkey, and two wardsmen to go into his cell and bring it out. No sooner was the order given, than Melville seized the lid of the tub, and holding it on his left arm as a shield, he brandished an iron spoon in his right hand, and swore to make a corpse of the first man who dared to enter. Seeing that the spoon which he held in his hand was sharpened at the end of the handle like a knife, Rowley, a stout, powerful man, took up a short stepladder, which was standing near, and, accompanied by the two wardsmen, he rushed into the cell. The wretch, on recovering from the shock, made a stab at Rowley’s belly, but the turnkey, in endeavoring to ward off the blow, received the thrust in his hand. Mr. Wintle then went in to the assistance of his men, and Melville was overpowered and secured with handcuffs, but not before Mr. Wintle had received a severe cut behind the right ear, blood flowing profusely from the wound. The Chief Medical Officer was immediately apprised of the occurrence, and on seeing Melville, he ordered the handcuffs to be kept on, the convict to be kept on low diet; and if he exhibited any further violence to be put in a straight jacket. The cut on Rowley’s hand is very slight; and we are glad to announce that Mr. Wintle will soon recover from the effects of the attack. That Melville’s intention was to murder the officers of the gaol there can be little doubt, and the authorities may deem it advisable to place the man again on trial. Melville is already under accumulative sentences amounting to 35 years. His ultimate object in feigning insanity is obvious — his removal to the Yarra Bend Asylum, where his stay would probably be extremely brief — Herald.

Spotlight: Melville’s Defence and Charges Against the Convict Superintendent (1857)

Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News (WA : 1848 – 1864), Friday 30 January 1857, page 4


The great interest which the trial of Melville has excited in Victoria, and the astounding character of his statements, induce us to give his defence at length —

Gentlemen of the Jury — It is now necessary that I should take you by the hand, and lead you step by step through all the circumstances (commencing a considerable time ago) which have at last placed me in the position in which I now stand before you. From the first I have been the victim of a system of irritation and espionage. I was put under the hands of a doubly and trebly convicted felon — a man named Graham — who tried everything in his power to abuse, ill-use, and exasperate me, and make me insubordinate, that he might reap the reward of appearing more vigilant and meritorious than others by reporting me to his superiors. On more than one occasion he even laid his hands on me, and on one occasion violently pushed me. I seized him, not with violence or with a blow, but to complain of him; and instantly I was clutched by 12 able-bodied men, who dragged me, stuck me, beat me with bludgeons, leaped on me, trampled on me, and, dragged me by the heels to a dungeon, five feet, six inches by two feet, and one foot six inches. They handcuffed me, hoisted me up to, and fixed me, so as, to leave me on but the tips of my toes, and in this position of torture they held me for five day and six nights. They brought my food to the door within my sight to tempt me; but nothing passed my lips, The prisoners, my companions in confinement, men hardened to ill-usage cried out for me. They petitioned for me, and when unsuccessful on my behalf, they groaned, yelled, and howled to show their abomination of the treatment to which I was submitted. They even threatened to release me. These horrible noises were maintained for half an hour. The prisoners said they would liberate me themselves, and the guards feared and retreated. The prisoners lifted their soil tube, weighing twenty or thirty pounds, and with them beat against the door for twenty minutes making marks half an inch deep. .The authorities thought it prudent to make a concession, and they let me down; but it was only that they might get the prisoners safely stowed, for as soon as that was done they hung me up again. They propped me with supports placed under me, and there I remained twenty days. I was sent to a cell. For two years I remained where I never saw the sun rise or set — a cell six feet six inches by three feet three inches, and 10 feet high, with but one aperture of six inches for ventilation and light. Here I was kept with my body almost naked, exposed to the cold beams, and heavily ironed. Within hearing of obscene conversation and horrible imprecations, I remained without moral or religious help. I asked for books to beguile my weary hours, they were most brutally refused. One of them who so refused me said malignantly that he did know that I should ever get a book. A Presbyterian minister came to me, and offered me consolations, and he pressed my petition for books; but they were still refused. I saw him but once in two months. His occupations at last required him elsewhere, and he at last left.

Graham gets my own companiod [sic], the man transported with me, into his plots. They plant their spies — they make other men their tools. Among them is a superfine villian [sic], William Pitt. This man concerts a plan — he lays a scheme — he has a stratagem to make a target of the bodies of 13 of his fellow men, that he may get his own liberty for merit. I was fortunate enough to pick up a note which hinted his plans to me. From that note I guessed they were concocting my ruin, slowly, stealthily, but surely. From that note it appeared they calculated “it would all fall on the captain’s shoulders.” They had watched the minister on board, and observed the kind interest he took in me, and I overheard one of them whisper to the other, “One flat and one flat makes two flats.” I pricked my ears, and was on my guard, and said to myself, ‘Two flats and one flat make three flats.’ They found means, in spite of the regulations, to communicate constantly, but I was aware of them. After a time they gained over 15 or 20 men, including, as they supposed, myself, and the word was passed that I was “quite well,” meaning that I was willing. This man so ingratiated himself into all their good graces that he obtained their confidence perfectly; in fact, they at last regarded him as their demigod. But I knew the character of the man, for he had robbed me his companion; and I knew he would betray for his own gain. One word was passed — “there’s a push coming off.” I said to the man who told me so, “If it takes place when I am in my cell, it’s no good to me.” One question, was pointedly put to me, “Will you be in it?” I answered, “I have looked at it, and see no good in it; such a thing may be, but I don’t know the men, and therefore cannot advise it; nevertheless, if it comes off, I dare say I shall be somewhere about;” and I go on to say, “You take to that old man and leave the man that’s armed to me to deal with him.” Well, the thing goes on; they think I’m like a barracouta that will bite every rock in pursuit of freedom, and they therefore feel sure that I’ll be “there.” The morning comes; this traitor is not in the post where he ought to be — he seems to be giving the opportunity required. But I look at his eye closely; I look again, and see that his sword is newly sharpened, and that he has two pistols in place of one. My suspicions are confirmed. He is pretendedly drawn away; I hear the word passed, “Tell Frank to collar the old bloke.” That was to be the beginning, but it was not done; and they wait for me to begin. Desmond pretends to search me; I pass on; I see treachery in features which nobody suspects but myself: I go to wash, and return to be searched. The watch steps back, and I say, ” Mr.——, will you be so good as to give me a rub down” [the action of searching]. He says, “I am poorly this morning.” I say, “If you are never worse, there will be little ailing you in ——” Instead of acting as they have plotted for me, I walk off, and the are taken aback. Presently, seeing themselves outwitted, a multitude of warders start from their places of concealment on board with arms in their hands, and the chief warder says, “Its a good job for you it didn’t come of, for you see we were ready for you.” I tell all the prisoners what is the real case, and thus the scoundrels is exposed to them, and defeated of his promotion; at least, gentlemen, he is defeated for that time. Some six months after this, Greenfield, a Van Diemen’s Land constable and detective, comes among us. He gets the confidence of the other prisoners. After a time he says it will be better to have another “shracking” a display of remonstrance by hisses, groans, &c.], to bring our state under the notice of the authorities, I dissuade. He presses again and again; and then I suspect. After a time I found it was about to come to pass, and again I am to be the victim. What am I to do in this dilemma? I saw twenty or thirty men who are about to do a thing that can only worsen their position, and will most likely increase the severities practised on them; if I oppose, there are those among them who will say that I wish to get favour with the authorities; if I join with them, I make their condition worse. E [sic] man is yut [sic] in heavy irons in “the box:” if he is not taken out of “the box” it is to take place. I warn the authorities, without going into particulars, that if that man is taken out of the box it will be better for the subordination of the prisoners; if not there will be trouble. On this I am myself put in heavy irons in a box two feet by one foot two inches, and that is done to me for endeavouring to do good and to prevent evil. Patrick Sullivan comes on board the hulk. He makes a complaint about his food, and gets into an altercation with Cameron, which ends in his being, struck two blows. He returns blows, and is instantly beset, knocked down and jumped upon. His prison dress is torn off in the scuffle, and he is dragged out naked, and thrown into a cell like a dog. He is sickly and diseased; this treatment confirms his illness, and he dies. The day before his death he petitions to be liberated; but the overseer who is set over him, tells him —”If you’re too ill to work tell the doctor that; but while under me you shall work. I’m no doctor, but a working overseer, and, by God, so long as you are under me I’ll make you work.” His disease is of a scrofulous nature, and he is discharging from more than one place. His fellow-prisoners pity him, and remonstrate on his behalf. He petitions again, and ten of the men remonstrate again, and the overseer at last lets him off. Next morning, at the breakfast table, he died. (Sensation) Another man, a soldier of the —th regiment, a man who has fought the battles of his country, and has afterwards in this colony yielded to the attractions of the gold fields and deserted, is refractory. They put him in “the box;” there they drench him with water. He is furious and frantic. They put him in “the bath,” where the sea rushes in upon him. The man then becomes cranky. He is changed to the Success hulk. There the officers do not know him, and it is all gone over again. In the Success, the sea always comes in in rough weather. He cries out against his cell, and says he has a right to be put in another one, as long as there is a dry one in the ship. He raises a great disturbance at his grievances. For this they beat him, and put him in another cell, less, and wetter, and more miserable. He continues his outcry. Mr. Gardiner comes and beats him. They cut his head in three places. They gag him. He moans, and makes a stifled sound. Mr. Gardiner gives him blows again. They pour water into his mouth above the gag, and over his nostrils. He is then tried and sentenced — months of heavier punishment. There sits, under the Judge, Dr. Wilkins, the humane doctor, who had to take that poor cranky being out of his cell before half his sentence was out to save his life by wine, and diet, and indulgences. But it is too late — he dies! (A thrill of horror testified by audible murmurs throughout the Court). Another man devised a new plan of escape, but fails in carrying it out. he digs himself a grave, and, his companions cover him up. But it is ill-done; he is missed; search is made, and his place is discovered. Some of the warders beat him so cruelly that a warder — a man of no kind feeling — has to interfere, and say that he’ll report them if they go on. He is brought in — Mr. Gardiner turns to him and says — “Why don’t you run, that I may have a shot at you?” Irons weighing 40lbs are placed upon him, and at last he becomes one of the prisoners you have now to try. Eockey [sic] had some irons weighing 28lbs for two years; he prayed for lighter irons, and had heavier ones put upon him. Duncan remonstrated against the continuance of irons upon him after the time which they ought to remain on him, and then he had his irons continued and increased. Duncan was a man of bad temper, and I certainly think of very little sense; perhaps it may be allowed that be was a troublesome man; he is pushed, irritated, till he breaks out; and for that he gets solitary confinement in heavy irons for twelve months. He is put to the pump; one of his superiors considers that he is shrinking his work there, and says to him he’ll see if he can’t get more work out of him, which leads to words between them. He is up for insolence; they resort to violence with him; he scuffles, and they drive him headlong down a ladder fifteen feet long, and set at an angle of about thirty degrees, and then down a second ladder. At the bottom of that they beat him and jump on him. Another man sees what is going on, and does something which they will not have. They call him out; he will not come out to be served as he had seen the other served. They drag him out, they beat him, throw him down, and jump on him. They then take him up and try him; and they give him two years’ extension of his punishment. What has all this to do with me here? Gentlemen, I have, read the regulations of Norfolk Island, under which the worst criminals are placed who come from England. Twelve months of ——, then six years of ——, and then a ticket-of-leave, under which those men who are deemed the worst have the means, by good conduct and merit under their sentences, of enjoying a certain degree of liberty. Gentlemen, that system is a paradise to our case. The prisoners who come out from England there are gentlemen compared with prisoners in Victoria, and are the consequences of the system, as you see them in me any my companions, who will follow in this place. Better than those of the system of Norfolk Island and Sydney! In Sydney the men are allowed to go free one hundred miles into the bush while, I get twelve months where I never see the sun rise or set. For good conduct I am put in a cell, where I am compelled to break a pot for a reflector to increase the light to read. To preserve my health and life in this weary system I have endeavored to take exercise by making for myself a system of gymnastics, which I have regularly gone through. In this cell there was so little room to move, that I was only able to take a massive bolt, and work as if I were in the act of sawing. I appeal against my position, and I am put down on the lower deck. After a time, for good conduct, I am let out to work. I am even allowed to go and break stones. There I am put into the go-cart, and am made to drag that through mud over the ankles. I ask if I may not cut stone for mason-work. A man in authority says I may do so, as he has the intention to place me under the water, to work there at foundations as a diver. I say that I will only go to reduce my sentence one half. I thought it no great favor, after never seeing the sun for two years, that for good conduct I should only be allowed, by working all the hours of the day under water, able to reduce my time from 28 years to 14. Again you will ask me what has all this got to do with the charge that is now before you? Why this shows you that the prisoners are by the treatment they meet with brought to that state of mind that they will, seize upon anything for freedom. And, gentlemen, you can easily see that having so many years of captivity before me, they all actually think that I will be willing and ready for any attempt. In me you see a man, however, who would scorn to tell a lie even to save his life; but I have on premier motives. I never was a murderer or a ruffian, though I have been a robber. I have been branded, as a robber. I have robbed; I allow that, and I suffer for it; but no living being can say that ever I did a cruel or cowardly action; and if I had twenty necks to lose for this cowardly crime with which I am charged, and if all of them were to be broken for this crime, they would not atone for it. It is not to save my life that I desire, for at the best it is most likely that I shall finish my existence in a gaol. What, then, is the true statement of my share in what happened at the murder of Owen Owens. I was down towards the wharf, and see a crowd of men at the light-house. A man points out two cutters, lying convenient, with sails spread; and he says, “There is a chance for liberty; there is a strong fair wind; we must take one of those cutters, and, if we can, escape in it.” I see instantly how the case stands. I see the constables in one direction; I see the ships with armed wardens on the other side. But I see that, with the wind then blowing, if we get those cutters, we are out of fire in three minutes. I know that if there is any attempt to escape I shall be the mark for every bullet fired. I see the chances are nine to one against me, but I instantly resolve I go on board the launch with the intention not to kill a man, but to hold up my own body as a special mark for the aim of hired murderers, in hopes of liberty. In the launch I see the men hesitate to haul up the tow-boat till we were advanced about 200 yards. I think Mr. Jackson is not wrong there; we were too far. At last we haul up the tow-boat. I think I was about the first into it; and I held her on while others entered. Mr. Jackson then says that I and another knocked him overboard; he tells a lie. I certainly should have done it if necessary for our object, but I did not, for he was not there to make it necessary. Nor did I “push,” or, as he afterwards says, ”hold” him under. It’s an arrant lie; I am incapable of it; but I pass that with contempt. I saw the deceased stowed away in a passive position. We got under way. I heard Hyland cry out to the warders to fire. I stood up, and said to him, ” Good-bye,” as much as to say, “do your worst.” The wind was blowing hard that day, and the management of our boat was bungled; she got foul of the towing warp, and could not cross it and head towards the cutters laying under sail; we abandoned that purpose, and went “about” in hopes of rowing off dawn wind and tide. I heard the fire, and said, “Now they are delivering their murderous volley!” Immediately after I saw one of my companions lying down. I said, ” Get up Dick; this is no time for cowardice or slinking.” He said, “I can’t, I’ve got two balls in me” I saw the blood coming out of him, and said, “Oh, if you are hit, I’ll do all I can for you;” and I look off my cap, and dipped it m the sea, and put it to his wound to stop the bleeding. While so engaged I heard the boy Macdonald (who was at the bow-oar, double-bank with another), cry out, “Oh, my God!” or some such words. I turned round and saw the second blow struck at Owen Owens by Stevens. Presently he said, “I’ve done it. I prefer this,” and he dived overboard. The police were then coming up with us fast, and sooner than be captured again that man gave up his life. I appeal to men who certainly would not be the most willing to speak in favour of one whom they may consider has done much towards sacrificing themselves. The whole of their evidence will point to the man who was the most likely to have done this deed. We are taken back and placed in dungeons. I was put in irons which are called 36-pound irons, but which I should certainly say weighed 40 pounds. We do not know how the case is to appear against us at the inquest. The inquest is held on the Deborah (hulk). The witnesses are examined in one room and we are in another. I am called in once. We are committed without being allowed to hear the evidence. I hear that I am the man who is to be charged with striking the blow. I send for the visiting magistrate and the clergyman. I told him I was not the man, and that it would be better for him to test the truth of that by examining all the prisoners successively. Barker, and some other witnesses at the inquest, have stated, in the presence of the Inspector and others, that I was not the man. I appeal to have the depositions of these witnesses, and to have subpoenas for these men, but get no redress. At last, when I come here I appeal to Mr. Farie, the Sheriff, and he immediately grants me everything I am entitled to have. I was allowed to subpoena witnesses. But how am I to do that? I am in a dungeon shut out from the world. No kind friend comes to me — no man who knows the truth says to himself, “It’s a lie, and I will come forward to testify to the truth;” so I am left without help. But I for some of the very men who were employed shortly before in shooting at me, and for the men on the launch, who did not join in the attempt at escape, but who may have suffered severely on account of these occurrences; for I say to myself some of these men will speak the truth, and the truth is all I want. I send also for Pavey, and for all other man, whose evidence I hear was in my favour, and one of them spoke in direct opposition to Jackson (the first witness for the Crown at this trial), and also for a warder that has been dismissed because he “would not stand to see men shot like dogs.” But some of these, as I have said, are dismissed, and gone where I cannot find them; others have leave of absence given to them, and those I cannot bring forward. Two of the warders are out of the way. With regard to my defence, I said that I knew none of the gentlemen at the bar, and I had been so long shut out from the world that I had neither friends nor finances to engage counsel for me. I know it was most likely I should fail in defending myself, but I must attempt it. I was told that many gentlemen of the bar would willingly take up my case to distinguish themselves, and at last — said he would write to Mr. Ireland. Things were dilatory; and at last I was told counsel are engaged. Still I am unable to bring forth the warders. I am informed in the hulks that three copies of the depositions at the inquest have been sent to me; but two only have come to us. I suspected that the other copy would be used to our disadvantage, in concocting and agreeing upon a case against us, and I pressed for the third copy; but I am answered that I am only cavilling, and we are all enjoined strictly that the two copies must be left out of our cells each night, I again make an appeal for the witnesses, but am told that one is dismissed. I ask Hyland what he is dismissed for and he barks in my face like a native wild dog, and asks me what business is that of mine. I say to that most respectable person that it is business of mine, for that the man who has not feared to incur the displeasure of his superiors by saying that he would “not stand by and see men shot like dogs,” will not fear to speak the truth now, and the truth is all I want. And so, gentlemen, I am left without witnesses and without counsel for my defence. And what, gentlemen, is there left for me to struggle for? A life such as I have lately lived is valueless to me, and my only motive now to struggle is to clear myself from the charge of this cowardly, this dastardly crime — for I say that to take the life of a man when there are ten to one against him, and he is in a passive position, would have been the crime of cowards. The men who are now charged with this crime were not guilty of it, and if they suffer for it they are judicially murdered. It is not the Judge nor the Jury who now try them that will be responsible; their duty is to fulfil their oaths according to the evidence before them; and if that evidence costs us our lives, it is those who make this evidence who are our murderers.

The prisoner then adverted to the paragraphs which lately appeared in a newspaper, describing a pretended attempt of Melville to escape, by changing his dress with a Roman Catholic priest. He read the paragraph with bitter emphasis, and with striking comments on each sentence. We have heard Mr. Farie, the Sheriff, state that the whole affair is a pure invention, not even founded upon one fact. Having finished the paragraph. Melville went on generally in reference to it thus — What does the insertion of such an article as this in the papers mean, when we come to recollect that officers of the Government, and of the departments write in the press? It appeals to a religious sentiment, and arouses a religious, prejudice; the most sensitive of all prejudices — the most easy to make and the most difficult to remove. And it was to work secretly; for where I was shut up from the world they judged it would never come to my ears in a dungeon, but would act as a slow, secret, and insidious poison in the minds of a large portion of the public, from which the Jurymen to try me would be chosen. Gentlemen, I never was a coward, and I feel nothing out the meanness of convicting myself in the judgment of the public by any such an act as that. When I die I will not die by my own hands, but will die as a man and as a Christian; and to have done such a thing as that would have been signing my own death-warrant. I see that as the case has been laid before you, the evidence is calculated to convict me. But can you not see the motive and spirit of that case? On the other hand, can you not see the motive of the case which I wish to prove to you by the evidence which I would lay before you in my favour, if I had the liberty to do it. If you can question the motive of a man who would call on the men hired to shoot him to death, on other men who saw all, and have no motive to speak in his favour but only the motive of speaking the truth, and on others who are also the men to stand their trial for the same crime I have done. I must submit to die, and I shall be happy to leave a life where no justice can be done to me. I call Heaven to witness that the others, like myself, mere spectators: and I say that if you take the evidence of men who saw me only now and then, and then only among a crowd of others, who on this occasion were at a great distance, and who differ from each other in their accounts, although they have had every opportunity of agreeing on their case, and if you do not receive the evidence of men who have known me intimately, and my every action, for years, and who were on the spot, then I complain of the law, but yet submit to my fate. But if I remove the impression from the minds of the public, I am content to he a martyr. I complain not of the Jury nor the Judge, but of the witnesses, who are my judicial murderers, and who sacrifice me to keep up appearances, and conceal the works which they have carried on for so long a time. I can forgive the Judge and Jury, and, like Steyhen [sic], ask pardon for them. Gentlemen, I forgive you; the fault is not yours, but theirs who bring me here * * *

You cannot see so clearly as I can that the evidence for the Crown shows combination and concoction. As I stand before God, I say to you that I can see that the evidence is made up to agree.

Spotlight: Notoriety (Geelong, 1853)

Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer (Vic. : 1851 – 1856), Wednesday 5 January 1853, page 2

NOTORIETY. — Dragged from the sinks of crime into public notice, Captain Melville and his associate Roberts stand prominently forward, challenging notoriety. Every examination adds to the sum of their crime, and rumour, busily at work, invests them with fictitious attributes, to satisfy a morbid craving after depravity, the more palatable because the more debased, and having but one saving quality — that of unmistakable courage unmixed with cruelty. The poor wretch who pilfers a pocket handkerchief, and slinks away to some den, is looked upon with contempt, and is immured without pity; but matriculating in crime, and taking a higher degree at an assize, by becoming familiarised with violence and wrong doing, attains to notoriety, and falling into the clutches of the officers of the law, the handcuffed highwayman walks as proudly between the police, as Caractacus among the Roman soldiery. Neither Captain Melville nor Roberts attempt to deny the crimes imputed, nor even to extenuate them, but on the contrary rest content if they can elicit from a witness a proof of extra daring, or an instance of highwayman-like politeness, or Botany Bay generosity; robbing a man, and then returning him a small portion of the spoil, or taking credit to themselves for opening a spirit store, because they did not alarm the delicacy of the ladies. There is something truly edifying in the urbanity of Captain Melville, tendering his thanks to a witness, and expressing himself obliged at the mode in which the witness has given his testimony; or again, warning another against giving way to animosity, and impressing him with the obligation of the oath taken. Then again, how gentlemanly is his behaviour to the Bench — “gentlemen, will you favor me with taking down the last observation of the witness,” or, “gentlemen, I must object to Mr. Carman whispering there, he seems to be Crown Solicitor to this small community.” Melville smiles triumphantly, and Carman looks, as only Carman can look, whilst Captain Fyans remains apparently as immoveable as the late Duke of Wellington in the House of Lords. Roberts stands bolt upright, faces the court unflinchingly, and speaks in monosyllable, declines to cross-examine, and contents himself with asseverating that “It’s no use.” And the Captain’s talent is not confined to bye-play, he can speak like a true melodramatic hero, sonorously and boldly, here is his last speech — “Gentleman, the remarks I have to make are simply these, I am now lying under remand, and not having received the verdict of a jury I do not consider myself a prisoner of the Crown. I claim, then, to be admitted to the same privileges as others, and made appeal by letter to the magistrate. Those privileges have been refused to me by the jailor, and by a deputy clerk from Melbourne, holding some menial situation. I made then an appeal for an interview with a clergyman — a privilege that is allowed to those guilty of the blackest of crimes, and sentenced to the last penalty of the law — but they still continued to deny me; they said that there was no justification in the Prison Regulations for such favors, but they would not submit the rules to me for my inspection, nor would they allow me pen and paper to communicate with those who could compel them. I want to know if I am to be allowed pens, ink, and paper, and it is to ascertain that, I make this appeal as a prisoner, although not a convicted prisoner, to the Bench. I have made application to the jailor, and to some one calling himself a deputy clerk, who can take advantage of my position to insult me — little to his credit — and this, too, whilst I am under guard of steel and bullet. Why should I be selected as a victim to be exposed to petty venom and spleen. I have an appeal for interview with a clergyman nine times, and was met in the harshest, most brutish, manner by those in power. There is another subject, gentlemen, that I wish to speak of, regarding reflections that may be thrown at a certain family. It is necessary that the public should know that previous to the occasion when I was taken I introduced myself to that family as a gentleman of independence, and in that family I always conducted myself as a gentleman, guarding the least clue to my character, and it would be a pity and an injustice that my misdeeds should fall upon them.” After Mr. Strachan had promised that the complaints made should be submitted to the sitting magistrate, Captain Melville complained that they were subjected to solitary confinement.

Captain Fyans: So you shall be — we have no other secure places down here to keep you.

Captain Melville: I can tell you, then, that you will have to do that with fixed bayonets, your Worship.

Chief-Constable: Make way there! Stand back.

CAPTAIN MELVILLE AND THE BENCH. — The Rev. Mr. Warde, in reply to Captain Fyans on the subject of the application made by the prisoner, Captain Melville, distinctly stated that he should decline entering the cell of the prisoner, except accompanied by another person. The Rev. gentleman observed subsequently that he did not think the prisoner in his present state of mind fitted to receive the visit of a clergyman.

Bushranging Gazette #10

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Vale David Dalaithngu

Acclaimed Australian Aboriginal actor, dancer and singer David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu has passed away aged 68. Best known for his prolific screen career as David Gulpilil, and his work in preserving the traditional culture, dances and music of his people (Mandjalpingu clan of the Yolgnu people of Arnhem Land), to bushranger buffs he will be known for his roles in movies such as Mad Dog Morgan, The Proposition and The Tracker. Dalaithngu was fluent in multiple Aboriginal languages and English, and first appeared in the 1971 film Walkabout. In 1987 he became a Member of the Order of Australia, and received many other accolades in his career (including AACTA/AFI awards, Best Actor at Cannes in 2014, and a portrait of him won the 2004 Archibald Prize), which continued into early 2021, when he was the subject of the acclaimed documentary My Name is Gulpilil.

Dalaithgnu was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017, but he continued to act until retiring in 2019. He had many public controversies, particularly around his substance use, which he opened up about in the 2021 documentary, but it is his tremendous work in preserving and continuing the ancient beliefs and practices of his people, as well as his charismatic acting work, that he is remembered for.

Dalaithgnu in one of his earliest roles, as Billy in Mad Dog Morgan.

David Dalaithgnu’s family gave permission for his voice and images to be used to celebrate his life, but stipulated he not be referred to by his professional name, but his true name. For more, visit this link:

Vale David Bradshaw

Veteran Australian film and television actor David Bradshaw has reportedly passed away, aged 74. In his illustrious career he appeared in some of Australia’s most popular films and television shows, such as The Man From Snowy River, Homicide, The Sullivans, and Neighbours. Bushranger enthusiasts will know him best as the brash and bellicose Wild Wright in The Last Outlaw, but may also have seen him in Cash and Company, Robbery Under Arms, Five Mile Creek and Eureka Stockade. Keen-eyed tourist may even have spotted him as one of the police in the animated theatre at Glenrowan.

David Bradshaw. The voice of a god. He played Wilde Write [sic] to my Ned Kelly in 1979. A fight scene took place. He dislocated my shoulder, I broke his ribs… friends for life. Unfortunately he just lost his. Every time he answered the phone he’d say in his deep voice “Darling boy”… Bye for now darling boy.

John Jarratt (via Facebook)
Bradshaw as Wild Wright in The Last Outlaw.

The Thunderbolt Mystery

Shayne and Joanna Cantly announced in early November on social media that their long-awaited documentary The Thunderbolt Mystery is on track for a 2022 release.

It’s official! The Thunderbolt Mystery Doco is to be released in 2022 at the Thunderbolt Festival in Uralla, along side a new book release from Peter Spencer. It’s been a long ride, but we’re finally going to cross the finishing line.

Via Captain Thunderbolt on Facebook

The film will explore the myths about Thunderbolt, including the persistent conspiracy theories around his death.

You can learn more about the project at the official website:

‘You just don’t know who’s going to come forward’: why do police offer rewards?

The Guardian has published an article discussing the rewards that police offer and why they do it. The article makes reference to historical instances such as Ned Kelly and Ivan Milat, and contemporary cases such as Cleo Smith.

The point of reward money is to elicit new information and move investigations forward. Most often, they are deployed at the end of an investigation, when leads are exhausted. The prime target, Dr Goldsworthy said, is usually a “recalcitrant witness” who has never come forward. They may be scared, or simply not want to be involved, and the thinking is the money could push them over the line.

From – ‘You just don’t know who’s going to come forward’: why do police offer rewards?

In relation to the Kelly case, the article refers to the division of the reward money after Ned Kelly’s capture, and particularly the fact that the Aboriginal police – the Queensland native police – were actively prevented from receiving their due portions.

Read the article here:

Grave business: The mission to find fallen police

John Silvester has written a piece for The Age discussing the ongoing research being conducted by retired Inspector Ralph Stavely into historical incidents of police dying in the line of duty. It emerges that due to poor record keeping it will be impossible to name how many police have actually died as a result of their job throughout Victoria’s history. Many of the issues raised in the article also pertain to the many difficulties to be encountered when researching other areas of history – bushrangers for instance.

Stavely’s research has proven important in uncovering some of the forgotten stories from Victoria’s police force, and highlights how different (and dangerous) police work was in the colonial era compared to the modern day.

Stavely says Miller realised the history of the force, including documenting those who had died while performing their duty, had not been recorded. “He had a real passion for the subject and said ‘let’s get the job done’. He committed the resources and opened doors that had been closed.”
After four years of research the project team came up with a list of 129 police killed in the performance of their duty. Now that number has grown to 174, with seven new cases about to be acknowledged.

From – Grave business: The mission to find fallen police by John Silvester

Read the article here:

Archaeology at Port Arthur

An archaeological dig at the site of workshops adjacent to the Port Arthur penitentiary has yielded some fascinating and tantalising insights into convict life at the prison.

A collection of coins from around the 1850s that would be approximately equal to a week’s salary was found secreted, possibly after having been stolen by a convict. Gambling tokens, tobacco pipes and other creations such as iron nails and an anvil were also found.

The dig site in February 2021 [Photographer: Aidan Phelan]

The dig was part of an ongoing exploration and preservation effort that has been rolling out for around a decade, and has provided invaluable insights into life at the settlement that will be reflected in updated displays for visitors.

Additionally, Port Arthur tour guide Tammy Reardon is attempting to identify all of the people buried on Port Arthur’s Isle of the Dead in an effort to preserve the history, in addition to other conservation projects on the island, such as the recently added walkways that will protect the unmarked graves where convicts were buried.

Read about the dig here:

Read about the Isle of the Dead conservation here:


Captain Melville’s Appearance

Frank McCallum, aka Captain Melville, was something of an enigma. Very little is recorded about his life before being transported to Van Diemen’s Land as a child, where he was sent to Point Puer boys’ prison. Even what took place in the time following his arrival in Australia is largely unknown, and this is largely due to McCallum allowing misinformation about his life and exploits to be spread by others (when he wasn’t doing it himself). Many stories of Captain Melville are little more than folklore, if there is any substance to them, such as the story of him bailing up a homestead and making the man of the house’s daughters perform music for him. It was noted by the press of the time that McCallum enjoyed the notoriety that came from accepting responsibility for crimes he did not commit, which further muddies the waters around what he did and did not actually do.

Strangely, even the records of McCallum’s appearance are not consistent, differing on basic points such as scars and hair colour; and the death mask often attributed to him in books is actually of George Melville, one of the McIvor Escort robbers. Thus any image we have of Captain Melville, or impression of his life we are presented with, is mostly a matter of interpretation except where incidents are well recorded (which is extraordinarily rare).

Frank McCallum as he may have looked when bushranging. [Illustration by Aidan Phelan]

Christmas Gift Ideas

It’s that time of year again, and there are plenty of gift options available for the bushranger buffs in your life.

There are many book options available in our own online store (here) including a bundle that combines the entire ETT Kelly Classics collection, including:

The Origin, Career and Destruction of the Kelly Gang by F. Hunter

Originally published in 1894 and one of the rarest of all Kellyana, this has been out of print in any form for over 100 years. Fully illustrated with contemporary engravings and photographs, for the 140th anniversary of the events at Stringybark Creek.

The Kelly Gang or The Outlaws of the Wombat Ranges by G. W. Hall

Produced by George Wilson Hall, the owner of the Mansfield Guardian in 1879. It is the first and rarest book on Ned Kelly, there being only four copies known to exist, with none in private hands. Hall was close to several informants and appears to have exceptional first-hand accounts of Stringybark Creek and other Kelly encounters. This new edition includes rare photographs of the participants from the period.

The True Story of the Kelly Gang of Bushrangers by C. H. Chomley

Published in 1900, this is a highly researched biography of the notorious 19th-century Victorian family of bushrangers. C. H. Chomley wrote the biography using court documents, police records and court evidence. It is recognised as being one of the most accurate depictions of the story of Ned Kelly, particularly regarding the police involvement.

The Girl Who Helped Ned Kelly by C. E. Taylor

Originally serialised in 1929, and out of print for 90 years, the book was written within the life spans of people who knew the Kellys – Taylor even interviewed Ned’s brother Jim prior to writing the book, while Ellen Kelly had died only a few years before it was published. With that in mind, The Girl Who Helped Ned Kelly represents one of, if not the earliest romanticised fiction of Ned Kelly. With original illustrations, introduced by Gabriel Bergmoser.

You can also find a range of original designs in our Redbubble store (such as those shown below), where you can get a whole swag of different bespoke items from t-shirts and hoodies to stickers, mousepads and wall art.

Outside of Australian Bushranging’s merchandise, below are some of the best gift ideas currently available.

DVD and Blu-Ray

Ned Kelly (1970) Blu-Ray

Based on the fascinating true-life story of the 19th-century Australian Armored Bandit, Ned Kelly is a powerful, action-packed adventure that thrillingly captures a bold and lawless era. When their mother is unfairly persecuted by police, Ned Kelly (Jagger) and his brother Dan earn money for her defense by selling homemade liquor. But what begins as a simple moonshine operation quickly escalates into a series of armed robberies, desperate pursuits and deadly confrontations. Soon, Ned finds himself revered throughout the country as a larger-than-life sagebrush hero even as the law closes in and prepares for an all-out war.

Rock superstar Mick Jagger gives a dynamic screen performance in this explosive tale from Academy Award-winning director Tony Richardson

Special Features and Technical Specs:

  • 1080p high-definition transfer by MGM 
  • Audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin (2021)
  • Shooting a Rolling Stone – featurette (2021)
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • LPCM 2.0 Mono 
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Limited Edition slipcase on the first 2000 copies with unique artwork

Available here:

The Last Outlaw DVD

An unmistakable Australian icon – a smoking revolver, two piercing eyes behind a makeshift mask of armour. But beyond the armour, behind the eyes was a man both ruthless and gentle, rugged and kind – the infamous last outlaw, Ned Kelly was his name. Both revered and reviled throughout the ages Ned Kelly (John Jarratt, Wolf Creek) was an Irish-Australian battler-cum-bushranger, fiercely independent and pushed into action by the repressive colonial authorities of the time. From the creative team behind Against The Wind, accurately presented and meticulouslyresearched to the finest detail, The Last Outlaw examines the life of Ned Kelly, and expounds the legend from early indiscretions and the formation of his gang through to the violent killings at Stringy Bark Creek, culminating in his explosive last stand and shoot out at Glenrowan. Also featuring Sigrid Thornton, Steve Bisley, Gerard Kennedy, Julia Blake, Lewis Fitz-Gerald and a throng of first-class Australian talent The Last Outlaw is a remarkable four-part miniseries presentation that deflects historical judgement and allows the legend to live on.

Available here:

Cash & Company and Tandarra DVD Box Set

A true classic of Australian television, Cash & Company captures the essence of the 1850s – a pioneering era where life was lived on the land and gold was ready for the taking. Wanted by the law, likeable bushrangers Sam Cash (Serge Lazareff) and cigar smoking accomplice Joe Brady (Gus Mercurio) are men with purpose and the know-how to stay one sneaky step ahead of the authorities. Aided by trusty cohort Jessica Johnson (Penne Hackforth-Jones), the cunning bushrangers set out to capitalise on the great prosperity surrounding the gold rush. However, challenged to uphold the law, Lieutenant Keogh (Bruce Kerr) is on the case and never far behind the bandits. Featuring all 13 episodes and a Logie Award winner for best new series in 1976, Cash & Company includes a dynamic line-up of guest stars, including Terry Gill, Judith Durham (of The Seekers, performing six songs), Gerard Kennedy, Judy Morris, Michael Pate, Noel Ferrier and Tony Bonner. Driven by a lively theme from the ‘Bushwhackers and Bullockies Bush Band’ and directed by award-winning filmmakers George Miller (The Man from Snowy River) and Simon Wincer (Lonesome Dove), Cash & Company is an action-packed trip back to an era of horses, hold-ups and wild colonial boys. TANDARRA Following the next exciting chapter in the lives of Aussie bushrangers, Tandarra is the lively spin-off of the classic 1850s era television series, Cash & Company. With Sam Cash out of the picture, Joe Brady (Gus Mercurio) is still wanted by the law for his past bushranging exploits. Remaining one sneaky step ahead of the authorities, in particular Lieutenant Keogh (Bruce Kerr), Joe continues to capitalise on the prosperity brought about by the gold rush – aided by his trusty cohort Jessica Johnson (Penne Hackforth-Jones)on her homestead named Tandarra. But this time around Joe has a new concern keeping him looking over his shoulder. He has a mysterious man on his trail named Ryler (Gerard Kennedy, Underbelly), a tough as leather bounty hunter, determined above all to get his man. Including all 13 episodes , Tandarra features an engaging line-up of guest stars, including George Mallaby, Norman Yemm, Terence Donovan, Max Gillies, Briony Behets, Maurie Fields, Val Lehman, Mike Preston, Peter Cummins and Anne Pendlebury. Filmed at the picturesque Emu Bottom homestead in Sunbury, directed by Russell Haig and Simon Wincer (Lonesome Dove), Tandarra continues the exploration of Australia’s rich colonial past with a pounding sense of heart and adventurous spirit.

Available here:

Mad Dog Morgan Blu-Ray

Set in gold rush-era Victoria, and based on a true story, this violent, rollicking portrayal of infamous Irish outlaw Dan Morgan, a bravura performance from an intense Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now) is a classic of Australia’s ’70s cinema renaissance. A prospector who turns to crime and opium after failing at gold mining, Dan Morgan spends six brutal years in prison before terrorising country Victoria with a young Aboriginal, David Gulpilil (Walkabout, The Tracker). Having escaped into NSW, the bush ranger and his accomplice easily dodge the police and mercilessly intimidate the wealthy land owners but wracked by madness and a lust to avenge an earlier attack from an irate squatter, the notorious Mad Dog makes a perilous journey back into Victoria. Combining an all-star Australian cast, including Jack Thompson, Bill Hunter and John Hargreaves, with a brilliant Dennis Hopper who called the role one of his great life experiences – director Philippe Mora (Communion) creates one of the great period action dramas.

Available here:

The Legend Of Ben Hall Blu-Ray

After two years on the road and with the law closing in around him, Ben Hall has gone in hiding and is considering surrender. However, he is drawn back into bushranging by the reappearance of his old friend and gang member, John Gilbert. Reforming the gang with a new recruit John Dunn, the trio soon become the most wanted men in Australian history after a series of robberies that result in the death of two policemen. Ben Hall also struggles to reconcile himself with his estranged son now living with his ex-wife and the man she eloped with many years earlier. When the Government moves to declare the gang outlaws, the gang make plans to flee the colony, but they are sold out by a trusted friend.

Available here:


Bone and Beauty: The Ribbon Boys’ Rebellion of 1830 By J. M. Thompson

October 1830

Rebelling from years of maltreatment and starvation, a band of Ribbon Boys liberate eighty convicts from Bathurst farms and lead them inland towards freedom. Governor Darling, fearing that others would also rise up, sends the 39th Regiment in pursuit. Three bloody battles follow, but to whom will justice be served?

Rich with detail, Bone and Beauty fuses archival evidence and narrative technique to tell the gripping story of the Ribbon Boys and their reputed leader Ralph Entwistle. For the first time, the influence of Irish secret societies, the scale of oppression and corruption, and the complex web of criminal and family relationships behind these events are revealed.

Available here:

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy Slipcase Books 1 – 4 by Jane Smith

Join Tommy Bell and friends on their time travelling escapades that take them face-to-face with some of Australia’s most notorious bushrangers. Pack includes the first four books: Shoot-out at the Rock (Shortlisted for the 2017 ABIA Children’s Book of the Year Award); The Horse Thief; The Gold Escort Gang and Outback Adventure.

Available here:

Bushranger Tracks II: Beyond the Legends by Gregory Powell

There is more to Australia’s bushranging history than Ned Kelly, Ben Hall and Captain Thunderbolt. Explore and discover the haunts of bushrangers from the Highlands of Tasmania, the Tall Forests and Wheatbelt of Western Australia and the vast Queensland Outback in Bushranger Tracks – Beyond the Legends. Read about Martin Cash, the Wild Scotchman, Moondyne Joe, the Kenniff brothers and many other lesser known bushrangers, as well as the troopers who pursued them, from the colonial past of three states – Tasmania, Western Australia and Queensland.

New South Wales and Victoria were not the only places to experience a wild colonial history. With a keen imagination, the historic locations can transport the modern explorer back to the wild days of the early settlements when chains rattled, gold glittered, guns blazed and men and women struggled their way into the pages of our fascinating heritage. Bushranger Tracks – Beyond the Legends, follows on from Greg’s first book Bushranger Tracks (New Holland 2016) and continues his passion for Australian history and in particular, the bushranging era.

Available here:

Moonlite: The Tragic Love Story of Captain Moonlite and the Bloody End of the Bushrangers by Garry Linnell

A gay bushranger with a love of poetry and guns. A grotesque hangman with a passion for flowers and gardening.

A broken young man desperate for love and respect. These men – two of them lovers – are about to bring the era of Australia’s outlaws to a torrid and bloody climax. Moonlite is the true and epic story of George Scott, an Irish-born preacher who becomes, along with Ned Kelly, one of the nation’s most notorious and celebrated criminals.

Charismatic, intelligent and handsome, George Scott was born into a privileged life in famine-wracked Ireland. His family lost its fortune and fled to New Zealand. There, Scott joins the local militia and after recovering from gunshot wounds, sails to Australia.

One night he dons a mask in a small country town, arms himself with a gun and, dubbing himself Captain Moonlite, brazenly robs a bank before staging one of the country’s most audacious jailbreaks. After falling in love with fellow prisoner James Nesbitt, a boyish petty criminal desperately searching for a father figure, Scott finds himself unable to shrug off his criminal past. Pursued and harassed by the police, he stages a dramatic siege and prepares for a final showdown with the law – and a macabre executioner without a nose.

Told at a cracking pace, and based on many of the extensive letters Scott wrote from his death cell, Moonlite is set amid the violent and sexually-repressed era of Australia in the second half of the 19th century.

Available here:

Ned Kelly’s Last Days: Setting the record straight on the death of an outlaw by Alex C. Castles

Australia’s leading legal historian examines the chain of events that occurred between Ned Kelly’s last stand at Glenrowan and the day he faced the public executioner revealing the truth behind the drama, intrigue, and pathos of the death of Australia’s most notorious outlaw.

Ned Kelly – Australia’s beloved national icon – was once just a bushranger who had to be punished for his crimes. In 1880, everyone wanted him dead.

There are many stories that form the Kelly myth. But the side of the story rarely told is what really happened in the 137 days between Ned’s last stand at Glenrowan and the day the hangman’s noose was placed around his neck. Who was with him in his last hours, and why did he have so many powerful enemies? Ned Kelly’s Last Days exposes the blatant cover-ups, the corruption and the rampant press baying for blood that were ultimately Ned Kelly’s death sentence.

Piecing together a vast jigsaw of obscure records and unpublished material, Alex Castles sets the record straight on the highly questionable judicial processes of the time and sheds a whole new light on the life and death of the most famous bushranger of them all.

Available here:

Captain Melville: an overview

Francis MacNeiss McNeil McCallum, better known as Captain Melville, is one of Australia’s most intriguing bushrangers. He at once bears the tropes of the traditional bushranger – a charming, adventurous highwayman and escapologist with a flair for drama – while also being something unique. His story is one punctuated by misadventure and violence and ends gruesomely.

McCallum was born in Inverness, Scotland, in 1822. On 3 October, 1836, he was tried in Perth for housebreaking. While he was on trial he admitted to having served 22 months in gaol for thievery prior, starting his criminal career at the age of 12. Found guilty, he was sentenced to 7 years transportation but was forced to serve almost two years in prison in England as Edward Mulvall before he could be sent out. On 25 May, 1838 he began his journey with 160 other convicts to Australia on the Minerva, and on 28 September 1838 he arrived in Van Diemens Land. The sixteen year-old McCallum”s sentence was to be served at Point Puer boys’ prison at Port Arthur. Point Puer was a landmark in British history as the first juvenile prison. Prior to this all convicts, regardless of age, were kept together and in the same conditions. Given that under British law a child as young as 8 years old was able to be tried as an adult, this resulted in many children being brutalised alongside hardened criminals and adult offenders. Point Puer provided an environment for wayward youths to learn skills and a trade, with emphasis on trades such as shoemaking, timber work, masonry, gardening and construction. McCallum served 18 months at Point Puer whereupon he was assigned to the timber yards in Hobart. It was here that McCallum first took to the bush, taking another boy named Staunton with him. They were quickly apprehended and sentenced to 5 years at Port Arthur where McCallum promptly received 36 lashes. This would not be the last time.

Port Arthur ca.1830 (Point Puer and the Isle of the Dead are visible across the middle of the image)

On 20 September, 1840, McCallum was absent from work and displayed insolence towards his guards, receiving 20 lashes. Later that year his insolence got him another 36 lashes and 7 days in solitary. On 22 February the following year his misbehaving saw him slapped with an additional 2 years into his sentence. During this time he was given 12 months probation during which time he performed a burglary that saw his sentence amended to transportation for life.

For the next few years McCallum continued to be a fly in the ointment of the authorities. He was frequently flogged and frequently absconded, apparently spending time in local Aboriginal camps, resulting in months and months added to his sentence and most of that in leg irons. By the end of 1850 McCallum had finally made good his escape, and now as a scarred and bitter 27 year-old, he made his way to the mainland and assumed the name Edward Melville.

Port Arthur ca.1840s

Since the discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851, the population had exploded and with this came increased struggles and conflict. The Australia McCallum found himself in was one where there was particularly huge conflict between Europeans and Chinese immigrants, usually over gold claims. The difficulty in mining enough gold to make a living was enormous and thus tensions were high. The goldfields were subject to riots, lynchings, murder and robbery. The villages on the goldfields were rudimentary but diggers were still able to satiate their vices. The police force was largely staffed with ex-convicts who were paid embarrassingly meagre wages with bonuses for arrests. This resulted in widespread police harrassment and lots of questionable arrests. Such a hotbed of tension and corruption was perfect breeding ground for bushrangers.

As with most prospectors, McCallum did not fare well on the diggings and sought alternative means of supporting himself. He set his sights on the highways and plunged into the dangerous career of highway robbery. In 1852 McCallum went bush, adopting the moniker, “Captain Melville”. Operating between Melbourne and Ballarat, particularly in the vicinity of the Black Forest and Mount Macedon, Captain Melville gained a reputation as a man not to be trifled with.

It was during this time that a story oft attributed to Melville was supposed to have taken place. As the story goes, Melville rode to the station of a squatter named McKinnon as the sun was setting and let himself in. He summoned the maid then asked to see the man of the house. When McKinnon responded, Melville stated that he had heard the man’s daughters were accomplished musicians and requested an impromptu performance. McKinnon protested that the girls were dressed up ready to go to a ball that evening and refused to summon the girls. Melville levelled his pistol at McKinnon who quickly reconsidered his answer. The girls were brought down and compelled to play piano with Melville singing along. However, word had reached the local constabulary and by dawn a party of troopers was on the doorstep. Melville, quick as a hare, made a hasty exit via a window.

“Gold taken via Bendigo or elsewhere, dangerously suspicious, contributions insisted on, voluntary principles despised” by S. T. Gill, 1852 [Source: NLA]

On 18 December, 1852, Melville, in company with a mate named William Roberts, stuck up Aitcheson’s sheep station near Wardy Yallock. After rounding up the sixteen staff and imprisoning them in the barn, Melville bailed up Wilson, the overseer, and Aitcheson then added them to the prisoners. After Melville cut a length of rope into pieces, they proceeded to call the men out one by one and tie them up to the fences outside. When Wilson asked what they wanted, Melville replied, “Gold and horses, and we are going to get them.” With the men secured, the bushrangers went to the homestead. Melville told the women not to fear them as they would not interfere with women more than necessary. He then ordered them into a room and instructed them to prepare food, which was taken with two bottles of brandy to the men. Melville and Roberts indulged in a meal themselves then ransacked the house, taking any valuables they could grab. After this, the pair stole two of Aitcheson’s finest horses and gear then, as they were leaving, they informed the prisoners that Mrs. Aitcheson would be down to untie them once the coast was clear.

Melville and Roberts took up residency on a spot on the Ballarat road where they could stop travellers on the way to and from Geelong. The day following their raid on Aitcheson’s farm, the pair struck again from their new spot. Two diggers, named Thomas Wearne and William Madden, were bailed up on the Ballarat road. Melville and Roberts took £33 from the pair before asking where they were headed. The victims stated that they had been heading to Geelong to spend Christmas with friends, but now they would have to go back home as they had no money. After a brief consultation, the bushrangers returned £10 to their victims and hoped it would enable them to enjoy the festive season.

Geelong, By Edward Gilks, 1853 [Source: SLV]

The takings were good on the Ballarat road in the lead up to Christmas as travellers went to and fro with the intention of visiting friends and family for the holiday. Soon a reward of £100 was issued for their capture. Their last victim on the road was bailed up at Fyans Ford, five miles from Geelong, on Christmas Eve. After completing the transaction, the bushrangers rode into Geelong and booked in at a hotel in Corio street where they had their horses attended to. Elated by the recently ill-gotten gains and seemingly feeling in the Christmas spirit, Melville and Roberts went to a house of ill-repute nearby to spend Christmas Eve indulging in wine, women and song.

Fyans Ford, Geelong, 1852 [Source: SLV]

The booze must have loosened his lips as much as his breeches for when he was engaged in the affections from one of the girls he let slip who he was. The women promptly kicked into action, keeping the bushrangers occupied while one of them snuck out to alert the police. Melville, despite being drunk, became suspicious of the women and ordered Roberts to fetch the horses. Roberts, however, was passed out drunk on a table. Unable to rouse Roberts, Melville decided to cut his losses and bolt. When he opened the front door he saw the working girl entering the front gate with police. Slamming the door shut, Melville raced to the back of the house, smashed open a window with a chair and jumped out of the window. He ran across the yard and hurled himself over the fence, knocking over one of the constables that was arriving to apprehend him. Barely breaking his stride, Melville continued to run through a vacant lot, but changed direction when he realised that the police lockup was between him and his horse. He continued to run, with police in pursuit, towards the old dam where he came across a young man named Guy who was returning from a ride on a horse he had borrowed from his lodgings at the Black Bull Inn. Melville saw his chance to gain a mount and yanked Guy out of the saddle. Guy was quick as a flash and returned the favour, copping a punch while restraining Melville. In moments the police arrived to properly arrest their target. They complimented the civilian on his having pinned the fugitive down. Guy simply replied that he wasn’t going to lose a horse like that.

Melville and Roberts were licked – their lucky streak officially at an end. They were imprisoned in the South Geelong gaol, then conveyed by dray to the courthouse, while heavily manacled. They were surrounded by police and had no hope of escape. The trial was speedy, and Melville and Roberts were convicted on three charges of highway robbery. Melville was sentenced to thirty two years hard labour: twelve years for one crime, ten apiece for the other two.

Hobson’s Bay 1853 [Source: SLV]

Melville was sent to do his time on the prison ships moored at Hobson’s Bay, Williamstown. These imposing maritime structures were referred to as hulks, but were actually converted cargo ships that had been abandoned by sailors who ditched their jobs to strike it rich on the goldfields. Now, rather than hauling goods they were places of incarceration as well as cruel and unusual punishment. McCallum was imprisoned on President, the place reserved for the worst of the worst, on 12 February, 1853. Here inmates were frequently denied all comforts, including the ability to read the Bible, and were often subjected to a myriad of inventive and inhumane punishments in response to misbehavior. This was not enough to quell Melville’s insatiable appetite for rebellion and on 26 January, 1854, he was given a month in solitary confinement in heavy irons for attempting to incite a mutiny.

The Black Hole was the solitary confinement cell aboard Success. Even this was tame compared to some of the punishments aboard President.

Melville was transferred to Success in February of 1856. Success was lower security, and in addition to now being taken to the shore to work in the stone quarry, Melville managed to pick up a job translating the Bible into Indigenous languages, which he claimed to speak fluently. It was honest work, even if the person doing it wasn’t equally as honest.

On 22 October, 1856, things took a startling turn. As the launch boat was towed from Success carrying fifty convicts to the stone quarry for the day’s labour, the convicts began to push forward, crowding the bow. Jackson, the overseer, ordered the men back, but the orders were disregarded and a group of the convicts grabbed the tow rope, pulling it until they brought the launch close enough to the tugboat to enable transfer. Ten of the convicts jumped across: Melville, John Adams, Matthew Campbell, Henry Johnstone, Patrick Ready, Terence Murphy, John Fielder, Matthew McDonald, Richard Hill, and William Stevens (alias Butler).

Jackson tried to force the prisoners back as they began leaping into the tugboat but he was struck and fell into the water. At that moment things spun out of control. The guards on Success began firing at the mutineers, one of the shots hitting Richard Hill in the neck. Corporal Owen Owens, a seaman attached to Lysander, was struck by Melville and thrown overboard by two other mutineers. The blows continued to rain down as he attempted to climb back in. Several prisoners, including Melville, attempted to hold him under the water until a blow from what was believed to be a mallet or a boat-hook penetrated his brain, killing him. The mutineers would state that it was Stevens who had struck the lethal blow using a mallet that had been smuggled on board to break their chains with. The instrument was thrown overboard. One of the rowers, John Turner, was also plunged into the bay as were James Hunter of Lysander, who jumped into the water out of fear, and Peter Jackson, the ship-keeper for Lysander, who was turfed out but had managed to rise to the surface of the water in time to see the tail end of the struggle. The rowers realised that it would be folly to resist and dishonorable to comply with the mutineers so they evacuated. The mutineers took control of the tug boat. Melville stood triumphantly on the tug, apparently brandishing the mallet. One of the mutineers, Stephens, at this point exclaimed “All is lost!” He then jumped off the boat into the water, leaving the others to their fate. The irons around his ankles caused him to immediately drown.

This waxwork statue was on display in the Success to demonstrate prison life on the ship when it was turned into a museum.

The mutineers attempted to steer the boat towards a cluster of cutters (fishing boats) near the shore but were unable to reach them. Melville playfully blew a kiss to Thomas Hyland, the chief warder of Success, as they began to make good their escape. Instead of heading for the cutters they changed course, hoping they would eventually be able to row downstream in the river. The escapees were soon intercepted and captured by a police boat. When the corpses of Owens and Turner were fished out of the water, Turner appeared to have drowned, but the coroner stated that Owens had a hole in the left side of his head that was big enough to fit three fingers into. In the recovered boat Tristram Squire, the shipkeeper of Success, found two makeshift knives made out of and old pair of sheep shears.

Melville was tried in November before Justice Molesworth. While the other mutineers were acquitted of murder by construction on the 26th, owing to Owens’ death not being clearly a result of the escape plot, Melville had the charge of murder lumped squarely upon his shoulders. As was usual by now, Melville defended himself, charged with murdering Owens. Melville argued that as the warrant for his detention referred to him as Thomas Smith, which was not his name, he was being detained unlawfully. The session concluded at midnight with the jury finding him guilty, but it was not unanimously agreed upon that it was he that struck the killing blow, bringing into question the extent to which he could be charged with murder. In his closing speech to the jury, Melville went to pains to disclose the injustices he felt had been perpetrated against him, claiming he had been bullied, beaten and oppressed by corrupt prison staff, leading him to such desperation that he would be prepared to kill in pursuit of freedom. Melville’s attempts to defend himself were in vain, however, and on 21 November, 1856, he was sentenced to death.

Melville was returned to Success to serve out his sentence. Such was his desperation that he began to act completely unruly either to be transferred off Success, presumably to a lunatic asylum, or to be given the sweet release of death. When he attacked a guard, almost biting the hapless man’s nose off, he was given solitary confinement. Needless to say this was less than adequate and Melville continued his depredations in captivity.

Melbourne Gaol was to be Melville’s home for the remainder of his life. The prospect of thirty-five years in prison was not a life that Melville was willing to endure. His behaviour became erratic and uncontrollable, frequently refusing food. On one occasion in July 1857, Melville attempted to stop the prison guards from removing his night tub from his cell in order to clean it. He armed himself with a sharpened spoon and the lid from the tub as a shield and threatened to kill anyone that attempted to removed the night tub. During a scuffle with three of the guards, Melville attacked the governor of the gaol, George Wintle, and cut his head open behind his ear using the sharpened spoon. After this Melville was restrained and kept in solitary confinement where he could be monitored and assessed for mental illness. It was assumed that Melville was feigning madness in the hope of getting relocated to Yarra Bend Asylum so he could escape.

Melbourne Gaol ca.1861 [Source: SLV]

Melville was clearly despondent and sought the ultimate escape. On 11 August that year, when Melville failed to respond to the turnkey, guards entered his cell to find him dead. There was blood and foam coming from his ears and mouth, his face was contorted and there was a coiled handkerchief tightened around his neck. It was later determined that Melville had crafted a makeshift rope put it around his neck as tight as possible then simply slumped his head to the left until he was strangled to death. Prior to this he had scrawled a message on his wall in pencil declaring that he would leave the world on his own terms. An inquest deemed the death a felonious suicide. Melville’s body was buried in the prison grounds in an unmarked grave. In the end, it seems, Melville finally got the defiant freedom he had craved since he was a boy convict.

The Death of Captain Melville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Bushrangers Who Deserve Their Own Movie

With multiple film productions about Ned Kelly underway, it’s clear that bushrangers are becoming a popular topic once more. However, there are many bushrangers who deserve their own films as well and here are some of the great stories waiting to be brought to life. Some have been brought to the screen before in silent films that have since vanished, some were slated to be filmed but the projects never got off the ground and some just had bad outings in the past.

10. William Westwood: Few stories in bushranging are equal parts adventurous and tragic. William Westwood fills this to a tee. Westwood arrived in Australia as a teenage convict and soon became a highwayman, many oral traditions painted him as a gallant bandit who was courteous to women and more prone to larking about than committing robberies, his horsemanship considered second to none. However, the brutality of the penal system saw him lead a riot on Norfolk Island during which he murdered three men in cold blood. A film exploring just what causes a man not known to be violent to snap and commit a triple homicide would be gripping viewing and a tale that to date has never graced the screen.
Potential Casting: Tom Hughes (Victoria)


9. Teddy the Jewboy: Edward Davis aka Teddy the Jewboy was Australia’s only known Jewish bushranger. Starting out as a street kid in London, he was transported for a failed shoplifting and absconded from Hyde Park Barracks to become a bushranger. Thanks to his father’s connections he soon joined a gang of bushrangers and rapidly climbed the ranks to become their leader. This diminutive, heavily tattooed Jew with a penchant for pink ribbons began a campaign to punish the cruel superintendents who brutalised the convicts assigned to them – but never on a Saturday, according to the legends, as that was the Sabbath. No doubt a colourful character such as this would make for exciting viewing as well as highlight the cultural diversity present in Australia in the 1800s, even if it is within the criminal fraternity.
Potential Casting: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter)


8. Dan Morgan: Morgan has been brought to life on screen twice already, the first time in a silent film that has since disappeared and the second in 1975’s Mad Dog Morgan starring Dennis Hopper. Why, then, does Morgan deserve his own film when so many bushrangers haven’t had even one film? In short the true story of Morgan is yet to be shown on screen. Mad Dog Morgan took frequent and somewhat bizarre liberties with the facts despite using Margaret Carnegie’s Morgan the Bold Bushranger as a source. Examples of the weird liberties taken in the ’75 film include: Dennis Hopper’s Irish accent; making John Wendlan and Sergeant Smyth recurring villains; turning Success from a prison hulk into a fortress prison; the inclusion of Billy, an Aboriginal bushranger; removing Morgan’s moustache to make him look more like Abraham Lincoln and references to the Tasmanian Tiger as an “extinct animal” despite the last Tasmanian Tiger dying in captivity in 71 years later. The true story of Morgan would make for an incredible Gothic Western or psychological drama with the gaps in the history making room for some artistic license to explain what made Morgan the man he was.
Potential Casting: Sam Parsonson (Gallipoli, Coffin Rock)

7. Jessie Hickman: Elizabeth McIntyre aka Jessie Hickman was commonly known as the “Lady Bushranger” in the Blue Mountains district. A former circus trick rider and champion rough rider, Hickman found herself in a life of crime, stealing cattle from the neighbouring farmers and hiding out with her gang of young men in her headquarters in the Nullo Mountain. Hickman was an amazing rider and master of disguise, she was a wild child who would rather give up her family than leave the bush. Hickman’s story is the subject of an in-development film entitled Lady Bushranger, so here’s hoping that production grows some legs so it can get up and running.
Potential Casting: Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge)


6. Matthew Brady: He may not be a household name now but at one time Matthew Brady was the bushranger’s bushranger. Transported to Van Diemans Land in the early days of the colony, he and nine other convicts stole a boat and rowed from Sarah Island to Hobart where they took to the bush and set the bar for all bushrangers that came after. They robbed travellers and farms but Brady also enjoyed grander gestures such as breaking into the prison at Sorell and releasing the inmates then locking up the redcoats who had been hunting him. His chivalry towards women was famous and in his condemned cell he received letters and gifts from dozens of female admirers. Brady’s life was full of adventure and drama – perfect for a big screen experience.
Potential Casting: Thomas Cocquerel (In Like Flynn, Red Dog: True Blue)

5. Martin Cash: Perhaps the best candidate for Tasmania’s patron bushranger is Martin Cash who is most famous for his memoirs, which were published in the 1870s. An Irish convict, he started fresh in New South Wales before a stock theft charge saw him flee to Van Diemans Land with his lover. After escaping from Port Arthur twice, he led the band of bushrangers known as Cash and Co. Cash is another character whose doomed romance forms a vital part of the narrative, his passion leading him to a long stint at Norfolk Island. Cash was handsome, cheeky, passionate and wild and with a good supporting cast to pad out the story it could very well be one for the ages.
Potential Casting: Paul Mescal (God’s Creatures, Carmen)

4. Harry Power: Harry Power was Victoria’s greatest highwayman, gaining a price on his head of £500 at the peak of his career. Best remembered as Ned Kelly’s tutor in crime, to date he has only been seen on screen as a bit part in The Last Outlaw played by Gerard Kennedy and will be seen again in the adaptation of True History of the Kelly Gang portrayed by Russell Crowe. Power, however, was an intriguing character in his own right with robberies, chases, romance and prison escapes all part and parcel of the highwayman’s tale. While his association with Ned Kelly is what most people know him for, that association only lasted a couple of months leaving so much more of the story untouched and ripe or the picking.
Potential Casting: Philip Quast (Hacksaw Ridge, The Brides of Christ, Picnic at Hanging Rock)

3. The Clarke Gang: Of all the bushranging gangs that held Australia in a state of tension and fear, few can truly compare to the Clarke Gang who roamed New South Wales in the mid 1860s. Stock theft, robbery, raids and murder are plentiful in the story of their brief and violent reign of terror that concluded on the gallows of Darlinghurst Gaol. To date this incredible story has never been brought to screen and perhaps is far too epic to contain in one standalone film, lending itself better to a mini-series given how numerous the depredations of the gang were. The Clarke story is one of family, lawlessness and the dark side of human nature.
Potential Casting: Hugh Sheridan (Packed to the Rafters, Boar)

2. Frank Gardiner: Few bushrangers earned their place in the pantheon of bushranging like Francis Christie aka Frank Gardiner. Gardiner introduced many of the greatest bushrangers to the game including Johnny Gilbert, John O’Meally and Ben Hall. Gardiner’s greatest claim to fame was the robbery of the gold escort at Eugowra Rocks which was one of the largest gold heists in history. Gardiner’s ill-fated romance with Kitty Brown (Ben Hall’s sister in law) makes for brilliant drama and no doubt the mix of romance, action and sexy outlaws on horses would be a great combination. A film version of Gardiner’s career titled The Legend of Frank Gardiner by Matthew Holmes, the man behind The Legend of Ben Hall, has been in development for a time and would be a fantastic opportunity to bring this fascinating story to life.
Potential Casting: Luke Arnold (Black Sails, INXS: Never Year Us Apart)


1. Captain Moonlite: Few bushranger stories have the potential to tug the heart-strings like that of Andrew George Scott aka Captain Moonlite. The tale of a well-educated pastor’s fall from grace into infamy is gripping, full of drama, humour and the highest profile LGBTI+ romance in bushranger history. From his romances in Bacchus Marsh and his alleged robbery of the bank in Mount Egerton with subsequent playboy lifestyle in Sydney to his grueling prison sentence in Pentridge full of misadventure and the desperation that led him to Wantabadgery Station, Scott’s story would captivate audiences. Throw in his love affair with fellow bushranger James Nesbitt and you have a scandalous and topical tale of forbidden love to boot. A Moonlite film by Rohan Spong went into production several years ago but was never publicly released, so as we reach the 140th anniversary of his hanging it would be nice to see him get some love.
Ideal cast: Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, Legion, Downton Abbey)


Honourable mentions:

There are far too many bushranger stories to bring to life as standalone films, which makes a list of ten extremely difficult to choose. Here are some of the bushrangers who almost made the cut.

* Captain Thunderbolt and Mary Ann Bugg: The story of Frederick Wordsworth Ward and his family is perfect for a film. A loveable rogue with his tough and resourceful wife who frequently sacrificed her own freedom for his. It’s a love story and a tragedy.

* Captain Melville: The gentleman bushranger Captain Melville is one of Victoria’s most Infamous. From being a convict to a notorious brigand to getting busted in a brothel and beyond Melville is a colourful character who will keep audiences entertained.

* The Kenniff brothers: The tragic tale of Queensland’s most infamous bushranging family would make for a brilliant and gripping film. A movie that portrays the intense legal drama that unfolded at the turn of the century to prove that Paddy and Jim Kenniff murdered Albert Dahlke and Constable Doyle then incinerated the remains while trying to recreate what really happened would be incredibly moving and memorable.

* The Ribbon Gang: The uprising known as the Bathurst Rebellion led by Ralph Entwistle is epic and dramatic. Kicked off after Entwistle was unfairly punished for skinny dipping, it became one of the most incredible outbreaks of bushranging in history with Entwistle’s gang rumoured to have exceeded 100 men all raiding, pillaging and murdering in the district before a series of battles with the military saw the bushrangers vanquished, ten bushrangers meeting their end on the scaffold.

* The Gilbert-Hall Gang: The last days of the Hall gang were portrayed in the award-winning The Legend of Ben Hall, but aside from a long forgotten TV series from 1975 and several missing silent films, the glory days of the gang have not been committed to film – and none ever portrayed accurately. Hall and Gilbert with John O’Meally, John Vane and Mickey Burke were once the most formidable bandits in Australia, bailing up Canowindra and Bathurst multiple times and committing countless highway robberies. Few bushranging tales can compete with this one for sheer adventure, drama and tragedy.

* Henry Maple: The story of Henry Maple, the boy bushranger, would make for a tragic and spellbinding story. A taut and suspenseful film could track the brief, wild period that Maple struck terror into rural Victoria in the 1920s with his sidekick Rob Banks, culminating his fatal standoff against an armed posse in the bush. Unlike other bushranger stories it would have the unique aspect of modern technology such as automobiles and the startling youth of the lead character to make for a bushranger film unlike any other.

Spotlight: The Trial of Captain Melville

[This report of the trial of one of the most infamous bushrangers of the 1850s, Francis McCallum aka Captain Melville, gives a brief run down of the charge and the trial. McCallum was a Scottish convict who used a myriad of aliases and preyed upon the goldfields of Victoria. After his conviction his behaviour was erratic and violent, at one point he tried to bite off a guard’s nose. He was eventually found in his cell having choked himself to death with a makeshift rope.]

Prison ship Success
THE case of Melville and his fellow-prisoners, charged with murder committed in an attempt to escape from the hulks – or rather from the boat that was conveying them back to the hulks from labour on shore – is exciting the deepest interest among all classes of the community. The disclosures, says the Herald, made by Melville-corroborated by the other prisoners, unshaken in cross-examination and uncontradicted by any evidence tendered by the crown-have excited perfect horror and consternation. People say that if only one tenth or one twentieth,—or, indeed, if any part of it be true, the balance of guilt is against those who have perpetrated or tolerated such enormities. The feelings of human nature are aroused to sympathy with fellow-men; and, whatever crimes they may have committed, it is felt that nothing can justify the cruelties which remind us of those ascribed to the dungeons of the Inquisition. It is monstrous indeed, that within sight of Melbourne such floating hells should have been suffered to exist, and that men who are of the same flesh and blood with ourselves, and who will have to stand with us before the same Almighty Judge, should be treated as if they were already consigned to final torment, and we the executioners of their doom.
The trial of Thomas Smith, better known as “Captain Melville,” commenced on the 20th, before Mr. Justice Molesworth, and terminated at midnight, when the jury found the prisoner guilty of murder, but were not unanimous that it was he who actually struck the blow. The “Captain” was indicted for the wilful murder of Owen Owens, in Hobson’s Bay, on the 22nd October last, the prisoner then being in custody, and serving a sentence for felony. He defended himself, Dr. Mackay watching the proceedings on his behalf. Melville during the day displayed much coolness, effrontery and intelligence, but in his cross-examination, as is frequently the case with those who act as their own lawyer, he occasionally overshot the mark. The evidence against him seemed conclusive, but a point of law, viz., that he was not in legal custody when the offence was committed, has been reserved in his favour. Every available nook and corner of the Court was densely crowded, and the police experienced some difficulty in keeping in order numbers whose admission was impossible.
“VICTORIA.” The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 – 1859) 27 November 1856: 2.

Hell on High Water: Victoria’s Floating Prisons

No examination of Victoria’s penal system is complete without mention of the prison ships that were on use at Point Gellibrand in Williamstown through the 1850s and 1860s. The most renowned of these craft was Success, which toured the world as a floating museum until fire destroyed it in the 1940s.


In the fledgling colony of Victoria crime was hardly worth a mention until the gold rush of the 1850s saw an influx of immigrants – honest and nefarious – in pursuit of the elusive metal. Naturally crime exploded and very quickly the prisons were full to capacity. The government was desperate for a solution and taking note of the increasing number of abandoned sea vessels in the ports around the colony an idea struck: by converting passenger craft into prisons the overpopulation problem would be immediately eased.

Deborah and Sacramento moored at Williamstown before they were scrapped

The Victorian government began acquisitions in 1852 and the first crafts purchased by the government were the Deborah, the Sacramento and the Success. Their middle decks were fitted out with cell partitions of a much smaller dimension than would be found in terrestrial prisons and a far cry from the communal spaces favoured by the prison hulks that had brought convicts to Australian shores. These ships had their masts removed and were anchored off Gellibrand Point and convicts were rowed to shore in work parties, each group allocated a different job. Work parties from the Deborah, for example, were tasked with clearing land for the roads while the Sacramento prisoners were rock breakers. Initially Success was the maximum security vessel but this soon changed. Each craft housed specific groups of prisoners – Deborah was for insubordinate seamen and deserters, Lysander for Aboriginal inmates, Sacramento for less troublesome inmates and Success for harder edged offenders.


The next acquisitions were the Lysander and the President. The Inspector-General Samuel Barrow had made the decision to make President the maximum security craft where the worst of the worst were sent to live out their sentences in cruel and vindictive conditions. Cells on President were even smaller than on the other vessels and the solitary cells were in the bottom of the ship below the water line. A small window in the cell was covered with mesh and on a calm day was fine but when the water was agitated by tides or storms the cells were flooded. All prisoners on President were made to serve the entire sentence in irons that were riveted to their ankles and on occasion would be chained in their cells such that they were incapable of laying down, sometimes only held up by their thumbs. Upon admission their clothes were destroyed and they were given prison uniforms, and their faces and heads were shaved. Floggings were frequent, in many cases all inmates in a cell block being flogged for the misdemeanour of one or a small few in their number. This was in addition to punishments like having a rod jammed into the prisoner’s mouth and secured with a gag or having their hands chained to the ringbolts on the upper deck. When concerns were raised about the beatings men received the then Inspector-General John Price failed to see the problem. Reading was prohibited and Barrow himself stated categorically that the purpose of a prisoner’s time on President was to suffer.

On the rest of the ships food was frequently inedible and hygiene was a huge problem. While punishment on Deborah, Sacramento, Lysander and Success was not as horrific as on President the prisoners were just as subject to abuse and being punished severely over trivial infractions. Prisoners in the solitary cells were kept in silence and complete darkness for days, even weeks at a time.

Some of Australia’s most infamous bushrangers did time on the prison ships. Captain Melville, Owen Suffolk, Dan Morgan and Harry Power did time on Success while Ned Kelly was imprisoned on Sacramento for a time building seawalls. Captain Melville spent nearly a month in solitary on Success for attempting to bite off a guard’s nose. He later ended up in Melbourne Gaol for murdering ship warden Owen Owens while being rowed to shore with his work party. Harry Power, then known as Henry Johnstone, was one of the suspected accomplices in the murder. Dan Morgan was imprisoned on Success in 1855 as “John Smith” and was present when a gang of 36 disgruntled prisoners murdered Inspector-General John Price with rocks, shovels and pickaxes in 1857. Morgan also lost the tip of a finger in an accident during his time on the ship though details have been lost to time.

price murder
An artist’s depiction of the attack on John Giles Price at Point Gellibrand.

By the 1860s the demand for the prison ships was dramatically decreased. With Pentridge Prison being completed the ships were adapted to be merely extensions of the prison with convicts being sent from Pentridge, Melbourne and other prisons to do time on Sacramento and Deborah as part of their sentence. Success was converted into a boys’ reformatory during this time but this was soon scuppered as sexual misconduct was rife on board, instead becoming a women’s prison. Deborah and President also housed boys and women before the prison ships were phased out entirely and the vessels once more repurposed as storehouses for the military.

In the 1890s Success was converted into a museum full of relics of the convict era (the vast majority of which were hoaxes such as the iron maiden) as well as very convincing waxworks of convicts to help illustrate the prisoner’s experience. Harry Power even went back to Success as a tour guide during this time but lack of profit resulted in a change of plans. Matters weren’t improved when Success partially sunk and was once more sold off. It toured the world as the world’s oldest ship still in operation (promoters claimed it was built around the time of the American revolution, it was actually built in Burma in 1840) and as a relic of convict transportation (it never transported convicts, though it was a passenger vessel originally). It ended up in America where fascination with the craft fizzled and a mysterious fire destroyed it in the 40s. Some of the relics and wax dummies were salvaged and can be found in museums.

The Success meets her fiery end at Lake Erie

The remaining prison ships were ordered to be scrapped in 1885, their usefulness to the government having passed. Yet, the evidence of the era is readily visible in the timeball tower, roads, pier and seawalls at Williamstown that were all the product of convict labour. Some may say that these inhumane places deserve to be forgotten, yet they are a big part of the history of Victoria and of crime and punishment. As unpleasant and unpalatable as many parts of history are now to our modern sensibilities, they are still invaluable in mapping out our story as a society and understanding our human nature.

The famous timeball tower was used to signal to the work parties at Point Gellibrand when to stop work and return to the ships.

Selected Sources:

The history of the convict hulk Success and Success prisoners: a vivid fragment of colonial history by Joseph C. Harvie