A new walking tour of Benalla has launched, capitalising on the infamous Ned Kelly. The guided tour, by Visit Benalla, takes visitors to key locations in Benalla that are connected to the Kelly saga such as the courthouse and bootmaker’s shop on Arundel Street, and includes morning or afternoon tea.
The tours will be conducted until 31st December 2022
Outlaw culture: Aboriginal women and the power of resistance
An article published by the University of New South Wales discusses the ways that Aboriginal women have empowered themselves through rebellion. Among the various examples, there are references to bushrangers such as Mary Ann Bugg and Mary Cockerill.
Other outlaw women secured a degree of autonomy by establishing relationships with male bushrangers. Among them was Mary Cockerill and Mary Ann Bugg. Cockerill – also born in Van Diemen’s land in the eighteenth century – “would go on to participate in raids on hapless settlers” after eloping with bushranger Michael Howe. Decades later, Worimi woman, Mary Ann Bugg formed a relationship with Frederick Wordsworth Ward – known as Captain Thunderbolt, the “gentleman bushranger”.
Eve Chappell has published a piece in the Glen Innes Examiner discussing the history of coaches, with an emphasis on highway robbery. The article gives a great glimpse into an Australian iteration of a type of crime popularised in England in the 1700s, and that would later find a niche in America’s Wild West era as well.
Early communication and spreading of news before the advent of mail coaches was often reliant on the remarkably active and accurate Bush Telegraph, passing horsemen and the slowly moving wagon entourages sometimes carrying mail. However, there were bushrangers lurking beside the mail coach routes, meaning many letters never arrived- as described in this report in the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser 20 June 1849 of the robbery of the Singleton to Maitland Mail Coach. Two miles from Lochinvar two men sprang from behind a fallen tree and ordered the driver to stop, each at the same time presenting a double-barrelled carbine cocked.The driver pulled up and the larger of the two men ordered him to throw out the  mail bags…The bushranger then cut open the mailbags, and selected therefrom a great quantity of letters, many apparently registered which he opened and took the contents from.Having finished a cool inspection of the bags, he ransacked all the letters that he desired, he gathered the letters into a heap, lit a match and set fire to them….and [two] passengers were also forced by the bushrangers to give up what silver they had about them, fortunately in each case only a few shillings.
The Melton Christ Church Anglican Parish is celebrating their 150th anniversary. The church has connections to the bushranger Andrew George Scott, alias Captain Moonlite, as he performed a sermon there during his brief time as an Anglican lay reader before the Mount Egerton bank robbery that made him infamous.
The article published in Star Weekly gives an interesting overview of some of the notable happenings in the church’s history.
The Araluen Valley Hotel, right in the heart of territory where bushrangers such as the Hall Gang and the Clarkes operated, is up for sale. While the pub itself was built long after those outlaws had drawn their last breath, it’s a perfect spot to sink a beer and contemplate those rough and tumble times when Araluen and surrounds was more like the Wild West.
Beechworth Courthouse revamp seeking new creative team
The new immersive experience at the Beechworth courthouse, sweet to use modern technology to help tell the stories of the trials that took place there related to the Kelly saga, is in need of a new team to bring it to life after creative differences saw Arterial Design pull out.
Indigo Shire Council and Arterial Design reviewed the project’s curatorial and creative direction and agreed there was a divergence of interpretative methodology and creative approach.
Arterial Design (press release)
Cutting through the jargon, it would seem that there was an impasse between the project’s historical consultants and the creative team, and rather than reach a compromise, Arterial Design have pulled out. It remains to be seen how this will impact the plans to unveil the new project later in 2022.
Author Eliza Reilly has been interviewed by The Curb about the “badass women” of Australian history. Reilly was one of the creators of the webseries Shielas, which featured an episode about Mary Ann Bugg. Reilly has a passion for this side of history, and this has resulted in a new book titled Shielas: Badass Women of Australian History.
The big point that I’m trying to make is that, like, I don’t want Ned Kelly to have less movies. He can have 11 movies, he can have 120 movies. I’m not about taking away from the boys. I’m just about showing more. We talk about that in the web series, and in the book, ‘well, if you love bushrangers, there’s Mary Ann Bugg, there’s Jessie Hickman’, who’s another female Australian bushranger, who will probably be in the next Sheila’s book. I can’t wait to write about her. It’s just about being like, ‘Australia, if you love bushrangers, there’s so much bushranger stuff that you haven’t heard, and you obviously have an appetite for it, you love Ned Kelly so much’. I don’t know why there’s so many Ned Kelly’s, he’s like our Spider-Man. There’s always gonna be another fucking Spider-Man.
Just as there is usually an article or podcast written about Ned Kelly somewhere in the world once a month, so to does Ben Hall enjoy frequent iterations of the most popular version of his story. Website SOFREP has published a brief overview of Hall’s story that will be an introduction for many people who perhaps are unfamiliar with the bushranger, but it will likely infuriate those who are well-versed with the history.
Once old enough, Ben found his way to leave by working as a stockman(cattleman) on the Boyd Station for Mr. Hamilton and then for Mr. John Walsh of Wheogo. In 1858, he married Mr. Walsh’s daughter named Bridie Walsh. They settled on a farm that they purchased in Sandy Creek. It was a great beginning of their married life, but it did not last long as Bridie had a love affair with another stockman named John Taylor and decided to live with him, taking their two-year-old son with her. All these happened when Ben was away.
New Sidney Nolan exhibition to take place at Heide
Many of acclaimed Australian artist Sidney Nolan’s famed Ned Kelly paintings will be on display at the Heide Museum of Modern Art as part of the biggest exhibition of his works in Australia in over a decade.
Nolan was a founding member of Heide (the Heidelberg School of Art) in the 1930s, developing and creating his legendary series of paintings on the life of Ned Kelly, inspired by J. J. Kenneally’s book Inner History of the Kelly Gang.
One of Australia’s leading artists of the twentieth century, Sidney Nolan is synonymous with Heide, which for him was a Garden of Eden that he later saw as a season in hell. Nolan’s creativity was fueled by a life-long fascination with the elusive notion of paradise and the consequences of its loss. From his nostalgia for St Kilda, his childhood heaven, to his explorations of the Australian landscape and restless travels abroad, Sidney Nolan: Search for Paradise examines one of the artist’s deepest impulses and the journey of self-discovery it engendered.
The exhibition, Sidney Nolan: Search for Paradise, uses Nolan’s paintings to help illustrate his life story, and will run from 19 February 2022 – 13 June 2022. Entry is included in the price of admission to the museum, or is free for members.
South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889), Friday 23 January 1880, page 6
THE EXECUTED WANTABADGERY BUSHRANGERS.
Andrew George Scott, alias Captain Moonlite, who expiated his last crime in Darlinghurst Gaol on Tuesday, January 20, was born in the north of Ireland in or about the year 1843, and was consequently 37 years of age. He had the usual “highly respectable parentage,” his father being a clergyman of the Church of England, who now holds a tenure in the District of Coromandel, in the north of New Zealand. The family came to Auckland some years ago, when Andrew George was quite young. Though we are not, as we expected to be, in possession of an autobiography of the executed criminal, written for one of our contributors, and withheld from him by the prison authorities of New South Wales, we are able from information supplied us by that gentleman to give the salient points in Scott’s career. He early evinced a desire for a free and roaming life. He found his way to Sydney soon after the immigration of his family, and for some time knocked about the port, doing odd jobs and shipping for short voyages. Upon one of these, while in New Caledonia, something happened to the master of a vessel called the Sarah Pile — a difficulty occurred with the authorities we believe — and Scott induced the crew to lift the anchor and sail for Sydney. He had been brought up as a civil engineer, and displayed much ingenuity and ability. Upon this occasion, he navigated the vessel safely and expeditiously to Sydney, and was complimented and paid by her owners. He also served in the war with the Maoris in New Zealand, and distinguished himself. During an encounter with the enemy he received a wound from a bullet in the leg, which caused him to limp slightly ever afterwards. It is difficult, in the absence of the narrative to which we have alluded, to place these events in his life in proper sequence but it is probable that, after both the maritime and battle experiences, Scott found himself located at Bacchus Marsh — it was erroneously reported — a lay reader. He applied for the requisite credentials, but was refused by the then Metropolitan upon grounds not specified. It is evident, however, that Scott hung upon the skirts of the church, and was admitted into society on the strength of his piety. It was here that he formed the acquaintance of a young bank manager named Brunn, who, with the local schoolmaster was very intimate with the future felon, to their cost. The trio struck up a romantic friendship, such as young men form, and spent all their time in one another’s society. One of the darkest spots in the history of Scott in his allowing Brunn, the victim of the Egerton bank affair, to lie under the stigma of having outraged the trust reposed in him. The details of the Egerton bank affair are pretty well known.
One night the bank was stuck up by an armed man wearing a mask upon his face, the manager being first ordered to bail up, then secured, and finally gagged. The features of the robber were effectually hidden by the mask; but his voice the manager recognised as that of his friend Scott. This recognition, however, had no particular effect upon his friend, and Scott, having effectually gagged the manager, took him to the school, which was not far away, and caused him to write upon a piece of paper, and to pin the paper to a desk, “Captain Moonlite has stuck me up and robbed the bank.” Then he tied the manager to a tree, and returning to the bank he stole over £2,000 in notes, coin, and gold. His ingenuity in devising means to escape detection at once came into play, and having a horse ready, he got upon its back and galloped to a neighboring township, seven miles distant from Egerton, doing the journey in the remarkably short space of half an hour. This was done with the intention of afterwards showing that it could scarcely be possible for him to have robbed the bank at Egerton and to have been seven miles off within half an hour after the robbery. He did, in fact, afterwards establish an ‘alibi’ in this manner, and so successful was he in removing suspicion from himself, that the bank manager and the schoolmaster were accused of the robbery, and Scott was brought by the police as a witness against them. Both the accused were committed for trial, and at the trial the manager was discharged because the jury could not in his case agree, and the schoolmaster was admitted to bail and bound over to surrender when called upon.
Scott said he thought of the name Moonlite through having acquired it when running cargoes at Cuba and on the Spanish Main. If so, it is difficult to determine at what period of his history he was there. He said that he meant Moonlight but dictated the short spelling in the heat of the moment. Some time after the robbery he went to Sydney, assumed fine clothes, sported money, and got into some of the best circles in Balmain and the North Shore. He gave himself out as a gentleman in search of a maritime venture — a vessel fitted for a yacht, and yet capable of carrying any light remunerative cargo which he might pick up about the South Seas. He was in treaty for the Barque Celestia, and gave a series of dinners on board of her as she lay in Neutral or one of the bays on this side of Port Jackson Harbour. This was in the year 1872. Thinking the Celestia too large for his purpose, he forfeited his deposit upon the purchase, and bought a smaller craft. He then organised a crew, and judging from the selection he made and the mysterious hints he dropped — hints which find easy interpretation by the light of his subsequent career — his mission was not intended as that of a peaceful trader, and it is fortunate the cheque he gave in part payment was found to be valueless, which led to his arrest; for there is little doubt that such an unscrupulous, bold, determined man as Scott has shown himself, if in possession of a smart craft and a crew who would obey his orders, would have been, at least for a time, a scourge as a pirate. His proposals to the other desperadoes to seize the mail steamer — a scheme which only the lack of capital prevented him from attempting — prove that there were no lengths to which he would not have gone. While serving the 18 months’ imprisonment for the offence of obtaining goods — to wit, the vessel — under false pretences, something leaked out about the Egerton affair, and on making enquiries Scott was identified as being at any rate suspected of complicity in the robbery. The police ferreted out the fact, too, that the gold which Scott had sold to the bank in Sydney for means wherewith to keep up the state in which he lived was identical in quality and fineness with that stolen from Egerton, and he was remanded to Ballarat to answer the charge of robbery. It was while awaiting his trial that Scott made one of the most determined gaol breakings ever known in this colony. He got out of Ballarat gaol by first cutting a hole through the wall of his cell into another occupied by a prisoner named Dermoodie, and then with Dermoodie’s assistance, taking off the lock of the cell door and securing the warder outside. Relieving the warder of his keys, they liberated four other prisoners, and all six managed, by using a rope made from a blanket, to scale the gaol wall without being seen and to escape. A reward of £50 each was offered for the recapture of the men, and all but Scott and Dermoodie were speedily taken. These two remained together, and for a long time successfully eluded the vigilance of the police; but the two were not well mated, for while Scott was rash and determined, Dermoodie was weak and timid of doing anything that would make their case worse in the eyes of the law than it was already. During the time they were together an incident occurred which appears very similar to some that took place at Wantabadgery. Scott wanted to stick up a bank, but Dermoodie was afraid of doing anything that might lead them to take life, and Scott, turning upon him in a raging passion, denounced him as a mean coward, and gave him five minutes to live. Dermoodie fell on his knees and begged for mercy, and Scott relenting kicked him away contemptuously. Not long after this the police received information that Scott had been seen lurking about some diggings near Sandhurst, and efforts being at once made to arrest him he was caught by a clever stratagem.
At his trial, as at that of last month, Scott conducted his own defence, and made out a very plausible case, displaying remarkable ability in speech and cross-examination. His chief desire was to prove that the gold which he sold in Sydney was not identical with that stolen from Egerton. He knew that he had a portion of it in his belt once when wrecked on a reef, and calculated upon the sea-water altering the quality, which is assayed to very minute fineness. The “expert” however, was not to be swayed, for though Scott kept him in the box a whole day he maintained that the bars tallied in assay with that recorded of the missing Egerton gold. His cleverness, however, did not avail him, for he was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. Scott claims to have acted with all fairness to his quondam friend Brunn, and gets furious if accused of having behaved badly in the matter. He says that he was committed for contempt of court because he would not give evidence that would damage him. Scott proved himself one of the most troublesome prisoners ever seen within the walls of Pentridge. He was at first given the post of schoolmaster’s assistant, but repeated acts of insubordination lost him the billet. He formed a ring in the place, and led a band of malcontents. It is said that he inspired most of the outrages, for the last of which Weechurch forfeited his life. Nothing could quell or subdue him, neither kindness nor harshness. He was just as defiant in the animals’ cage of a cell, in which uncontrollable criminals are confined, as in the wards, and he was not only insubordinate himself, but the cause of insubordination in others. His sticking up of Chief Warder Kelly, whom he robbed under arms, ‘videlicet’ a blunt dinner-knife, and his subsequent defiance of the whole resources of the institution, are well known. His object was to be brought before the Supreme Court, and it is palpable that his love for theatrical display led him into the commission of a capital offence. So long as he lived he would talk and display that oratorical ability for which he deemed himself famous. The authorities seem glad to have been rid of him, for despite all his bad conduct, he was discharged after serving some seven years and four months of his ten years’ sentence. He would interview the governor of the gaol, petition the Government and authorities, appeal by letter to the chaplain, and bother everybody with his grievances. One of his greatest grievances he mentioned at the lectures he delivered after his release, to the great delight and astonishment of his audiences — “He had once asked to be supplied with a work on the differential calculus, and the brutal authorities actually had the audacity and fiendish cruelty to get him a common work on mathematics!” After leaving Pentridge, at the commencement of the present year, Scott commenced a lecturing tour, opening at Ballarat, where he was refused the use of the Academy of Music, by order of the owner, Mr. W. J. Clarke. He however got the Alfred Hall, and attracted good audiences. After doing some of the towns in the vicinity of Egerton he came to Melbourne, and induced a well-known theatrical agent to take up his cause, assuring him that his intention was to get an honest living. He lectured in the Temperance Hall to some 500 people, speaking with great fluency, and giving an interesting account of his life in Pentridge, where, to use his own hackneyed phrase, “Tyranny and injustice are practised at the country’s cost and to its shame.” His subsequent lectures at Williamstown, Emerald Hill and Collingwood were financially failures, and he announced his intention to go home to his father. The Lancefield bank robbery brought him into notoriety again, though he was acquitted of any share in the affair, and was loud in his complaints against the police, and especially the detectives, for endeavoring to connect him with it. He was also suspected — without reason, too, it is fair to assume — of being concerned in the robbery and murder of the late Mr. Frank Bates, the actor. It is known that he went to the Williamstown Stockade and endeavored to effect the release of an old gaol chum — one Johnstone or Johnson — and it is said that he then formed and promulgated the idea to some friends to attempt the sticking-up of the outward bound mail steamer. After the events above recorded Scott cleared out, and was not heard of until the news came that the Wantabadgery station had been stuck up, and that he was in command of the desperadoes. This was on the 5th of November. The party, consisting of Scott, Rogan, Nesbitt, Wernicke, Williams, and Bennett, stuck up the station, committed a series of outrages upon the owner and his servants, and Mr. Weir, the local post-master, and after carousing there until early on the morning of Monday, retired to a place called McGlede’s farm, a few miles away, where they were attacked by the police. Wernicke, a young lad, the son of a Melbourne publican, was shot, with Nesbitt, Scott’s particular friend, and the gallant Sergeant Bowen. Nesbitt’s death seemed to completely unman Scott, who surrendered, and was taken with the rest to Gundagai, where a preliminary investigation took place. Scott’s behavior and defence at that trial, and the one in Sydney, to which city he was remanded, have been the theme of numberless comments and reports, filling pages of the daily papers of the dates of their occurrence, and it is unnecessary to dilate upon them now. The wretched being, who has paid the penalty justly demanded by a country whose laws he outraged, would, under happier auspices, have been a useful member of any community. He possessed considerable ability, even with regard to matters concerning which he had not had any special or technical education. In spite of what has been said of his personal courage, it is indisputable that he continually showed a disregard for his own safety. When his party wished to surrender he turned on them, and threatened them with death at his own hands if they did; and he performed many deeds — some of them decidedly unlawful — demanding the exercise of nerve, decision, and courage — as witness his escape from Ballarat Gaol. A record in a Bible left at the house of a friend in Sydney showed that at one time he was a Cadet in the Britannia British man-of-war. His love of licence, which many persons of his kind confound with liberty, led him to the commission of deeds, the last of which has landed him in a dishonored grave, and must have caused his relatives incalculable misery. His life and fate should be a warning to those of our youth who are too prone to regard lightly, or with aversion, the necessary restraints which society is bound in its own defence to place upon the lawlessly disposed. A contempt for constituted authority leads by almost insensible gradation to the commission of offences, and consequent punishment.
Rogan, the other prisoner hanged on Tuesday for participation in the Wantabadgery outrage, appears to be in reality a member of a family in Victoria named Baker. There has been great secrecy observed with regard to his identity, and his namesake, the Melbourne detective, failed to recognise him as being known to the police. It is, however, now ascertained that he had been convicted of larceny at St. Kilda, of burglary at Beechworth, and had served one sentence of two years’ imprisonment, which fact weighed doubtless with the New South Wales Executive. He was about twenty or twenty-one years of age, of somewhat forbidding countenance, his features being of a negro cast. It was said that he was a brother of Nesbitt, the bushranger shot at McGlede’s, but this is denied, and though he somewhat resembled Nesbitt at first sight in appearance, there was in reality no similarity of features. When the encounter took place, Rogan sought shelter under the bed, and does not appear to have taken any part in the shooting, which makes the decision of the New South Wales Government inexplicable, unless, as we have surmised, his previous career influenced the members of the Cabinet. He not only was concealed during the fight, but when he might have committed murder, and had the weapons at hand, he refrained from doing so.
Could this unassuming photograph of three plaster casts be the vital clue to a long-standing case of mistaken identity? These death masks were photographed in 1975 in the police academy in Redfern. The one on the far right is Andrew George Scott (Captain Moonlite), while the one on the far left is the casting that has been attributed to his accomplice Thomas Rogan.
However, not only does the face on the attributed cast not resemble Rogan at all, the middle, unnamed, casting matches the mugshot taken of Rogan after his capture at McGlede’s farm quite closely. Furthermore, the middle death mask matches a description of Rogan’s death mask from a newspaper article published in 1913.
They have even secured plaster casts of the heads of that notorious couple Scott, alias Moonlight and Rogan, which were taken after their execution in Darlinghurst for the murder of Constable Bowen, at Wantabadgery. That of Rogan possesses all the characteristics of the criminal. The lips which are extraordinarily thick, are open, showing a set of vicious-looking teeth.
The Chamber of Horrors, Bathurst Times (NSW : 1909 – 1925), Monday 28 July 1913, page 4
The article quoted here is a write-up on what was then called the Sydney Police Museum. Within the article it describes, and even includes some photographs of items in the collection including Ben Hall’s Tranter, a book of poetry belonging to Frank Johns (another of Moonlite’s accomplices), and part of a pistol taken from the ruins of the Glenrowan Inn. The collection in the museum in 1913 was taken from the 1910 New South Wales police museum, which served to educate police officers on the history of law enforcement. That same collection forms the basis of the current iteration, now called the Justice and Police Museum, housed in the former Water Police building in Sydney.
It is also worth noting that the middle cast in the photograph matches the style of Moonlite’s more closely, only extending as far as the neck, while the third mask includes part of the collarbone and shoulders, which would indicate a different manufacturer had accomplished it. But if it’s not Thomas Rogan on the end there, who is it?
It may seem like trying to correctly label the plaster cast of an executed bushranger is far from a pressing matter, but it is a symptom of the bigger problem with lost and incorrectly labelled items in archives.
It wouldn’t be the first time an object in a collection was mislabelled. In fact, it is not uncommon for items to sometimes go completely missing, as was the case with a collection of death masks from the early 19th century. Among the masks were casts of Jack Donohoe, murderer John Knatchbull and other minor bushrangers. All that remains of the collection is a single photograph taken in the 1860s. It seems unlikely that such a huge collection could simply be misplaced, but apparently that is precisely what happened as it appears to have vanished without a trace after being given to the Museum of Anatomy at Sydney University in 1897.
Alas, similar stories are all too common. Many items related to the Kelly Gang, for instance, have disappeared over time, either through theft, misplacement or plain neglect. A prime example is the modified carbine that Ned was believed to have used to kill Constable Lonigan. Photographs exist of it from when it was displayed with his armour at the Royal Exhibition building, but supposedly it was consumed in the fire that destroyed the aquarium housed there.
Even Ned Kelly’s boot, which is on display in the State Library of Victoria, was missing for decades following it being misplaced in a storeroom, which was the same fate as what has been identified as one of his armoured shoulder plates. The plate was in the possession of the organisation that is now known Museums Victoria, and was hung from the bottom of what was then thought of as the backplate (since identified as Steve Hart’s breastplate). When the armour was given to the State Library, the shoulder plate was not included as it had been lost in storage. It wasn’t until many years later that it was relocated, but it still remains in the collection of Museums Victoria, which has caused issues recently. The contract between the SLV and Museums Victoria that allowed the plate to be displayed with the rest of the intact armour expired during the 2020 lockdowns. This meant that legally the SLV could not display it until a new agreement was made, forcing the library to display the incomplete suit in the new dedicated gallery space. It was only after the agitation by Ned Kelly die-hards who wrote to politicians that the negotiations were settled and the plate once again restored.
There are also written accounts testifying to the existence of other death masks that have seemingly vanished, including casts of Ogden and Sutherland, Robert Burke and Johnny Gilbert. The fact that these items were often described but have never been photographed or identified in any collections has occasionally put doubt in their existence.
Even more macabre souvenirs that are known to have existed have gone absent, such as Dan Morgan’s flayed beard, which was to have been pegged out like a possum skin to dry, ostensibly to make it into a pouch. It was also rumoured that Morgan’s scrotum had been made into a tobacco pouch, which cannot be verified as no such object has ever been recorded.
Michael Howe’s journal of dreams, bound in kangaroo skin and rumoured to have been written in blood, was in private hands following its seizure after Big McGill and Musquito ambushed Howe, but it too has seemingly vanished. Howe’s earlier journal – a gardening book he had stolen, bound in kangaroo skin and annotated by the outlaw – was also in a private collection, where it was viewed by James Erskine Calder who wrote of Howe in the 1870s after in-depth research, wherein he consulted contemporary records and interviewed people linked to the story. This earlier relic has also long gone.
Researchers and historians often tear their hair out when going through archival material only to find what they were looking for has been misplaced, damaged, or stolen. In fact, where the Kelly story is concerned, documents, or parts thereof, purloined from archives is a big problem, and a major contributor to dead ends in research, allowing myths and falsehoods to occasionally run rampant.
Add onto this the sheer number of firearms, clothing items, letters, photographs, and so on, that have either gone missing, remain in private collections or have simply had their identity lost to the sands of time, and you have a lot of potential to find very important items in all sorts of places.
If indeed the newly identified death mask is Rogan, it begs the questions of where this mask is, why it was so easily mislabelled without correction, and who the death mask claimed to be Rogan is actually of? It seems possible that with a bit more probing and detective work we could see one of the few artefacts of the Moonlite saga brought back to light; and if we can do that for Thomas Rogan, the possibilities for other historical items seems endless.
The Dashing Career Of Australia’s Forgotten ‘Gentleman Bushranger’
It seems appropriate that following the publication on A Guide to Australian Bushranging of James Erskine Calder’s account of the life and bushranging career of Matthew Brady that his story should catch the attention of more mainstream media.
Synchronicity saw Nine News publish a condensed account of Brady’s life online mere days after the Calder articles had rolled out on this website. The introduction makes reference to outlaw folk heroes Captain Thunderbolt and Ned Kelly before delving into the story of Tasmania’s greatest outlaw folk hero.
But as large as Ned’s helmeted shadow looms over colonial folklore, even he was hard-pressed to match a character largely forgotten now, whose execution was accompanied by tears and pleas for leniency, and who spent his last days in a jail cell surrounded by gifts of food and wine.
The article gives a decent account of he story in very broad brushstrokes, which hopefully inspires more people to investigate the story further.
Swiss-born composer Ronnie Minder recently made the entire score to 2016’s The Legend of Ben Hall available on his YouTube channel. The acclaimed score was shortlisted for an Oscar nod in the 89th Academy Awards, up against some stiff competition from hundreds of other contenders from around the world.
Matthew Holmes, director of The Legend of Ben Hall, was also interviewed by David Black for the Australian Short Film Network, which you can read here.
Papua New Guinean Bushranging
An intriguing article by Sinclair Dinnen and Grant Walton was released last month that discussed a man who is being referred to as “PNG’s Ned Kelly”. Tommy Baker is leader of a gang of bandits who have been on the run in Milne Bay since 2013 and have at least five murders to their names (two civilians and three police).
Baker and his confederates, of whom there seems to be enough to equate to a small army, seem to be living the life of some of history’s greatest outlaws, skillfully evading capture and enjoying enormous support from the ordinary people that harbour them. Born in 1986, as a teenager he began committing crimes with his friends, soon racking up charges of armed robbery, murder and piracy. Baker has also made an effort to shape himself as a champion of the native people against white missionaries, stating:
Our elders respect these white men, missionaries, families of missionaries, but we have grown and we do not like it. It’s time we Milne Bay (people) run our own province. This is our home, our land. We are Papua New Guineans.
Tommy Baker (attributed)
Baker has come to represent a struggle against a foreign power that denies the people self-governance, as well as overbearing and corrupted police who are known to treat people with excessive violence. Long-time enthusiasts of Australian bushranging history will be very familiar with these sentiments, as they very closely mirror the ideas that outlaws like Ned Kelly, Daniel Morgan, Jack Donohoe and Matthew Brady came to represent to large numbers of people of the lower and convict classes during the colonial era. This may even prove to be a real-time demonstration in exactly how these men gained their status and how it manifested in either outright sympathy or fearful compliance with the outlaws by the general public.
Like many popular outlaws, Baker has been described as being quite unlike the typical ruffian one would expect with such a reputation for violent crime. An anonymous pastor that knew Baker as a young man described him as:
A nice quiet man that could make friends easily, he does not chew, smoke or do drugs. He has a lot of friends and loves playing rugby.
The same source claims that Baker is aware that if he turns himself in he will be killed, which seems an accurate assessment when viewed in light of the fact that in late August of this year six members of his gang were killed in a gun battle with police near Rabaraba. One of the men killed was Baker’s right-hand man Mekere Yawi. Despite the enormous expense spent on the hunt for Baker and his gang, he continues to evade capture.
Learn more about this intriguing story by reading Sinclair Dinnen and Grant Walton’s article here and further articles from the Post Courier here, here and here.
“I’ll fight, but not surrender…”
September first marks the anniversary of the death of Jack Donohoe in a gunfight near Raby, New South Wales, in 1830. To commemorate, Julia Dąbrowska, long-time follower and contributor to A Guide to Australian Bushranging, has submitted an illustration depicting the outlaw’s final moments.
The gunfight at Bringelly brought an end to Donohoe’s wild and reckless career and was seen by some as a precursor to the infamous Bathurst Rebellion later that year. You can read about the battle here.
A Thunderbolt From The Past
In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, Julie Power discusses genealogy and its role in not only preserving records, but also shedding light on forgotten stories. In particular, she highlights new details about boy bushranger Thomas Mason, one-time sidekick of Captain Thunderbolt.
After Mason’s father died, he and his brothers were orphaned. Thomas at sixteen was taken under the wing of Frederick Ward and eventually ended up in gaol over his foray into bushranging. New details about his history were uncovered when orphanage documents were being digitised for researchers.
That interest in the past has spiked demand by the public for digitisation of records, said Martyn Killion, the director of collections, access and engagement with State Archives and Records Authority of NSW. It recently digitised and loaded the records of 1000 boys placed at the Protestant Orphan School in Parramatta from 1850. Mr Killion said when staff searched through these records, they had hoped to find a tale of someone who rose to greatness. A premier, perhaps. Instead, the newly digitised records online, revealed details of Thomas Mason, orphaned at six, who went on to ride with the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, born Frederick Wordsworth Ward.
The Ned Kelly story continues to capture the imagination of people around the world, and has now been immortalised in the pantheon of Scottish YouTuber Count Dankula’s “Absolute Mad Lads”. Dankula, the nom de plume of Markus Meechan, uses the series of videos to showcase figures in history that display often entertainingly extreme behaviours, ranging from war heroes to career criminals (and even an orangutan named Ken Allen). Meechan’s style is conversational and very tongue-in-cheek, but not to everyone’s tastes, especially if you are hoping for impartial and scholarly accounts. Long-time fans of the series have been putting Ned Kelly’s name forward as a candidate for some time and Meechan himself had hinted at the inclusion of Australia’s most infamous bushranger in an earlier video. As with all such media, there are some factual errors, and amusing mispronunciations of Australian place names, but there is more correct than incorrect in the recounting of the story and it makes for an entertaining interpretation.
The infamous “Captain Moonlite” note that was written during the Mount Egerton bank robbery that eventually saw Andrew George Scott gaoled in Pentridge Prison, and immortalised his nickname:
I hereby certify that L W Bruun has done everything in his power to withstand our intrusion and the taking away of the money which was done with firearms. Captain Moonlite
The Victorian prison record of Francis Christie – better known as Frank Gardiner:
What we see from the record is that Christie was convicted in October 1850, sentenced to five years hard labour on the roads, and did time in Geelong and in Pentridge Stockade before absconding in March 1851.
He would later find himself on Cockatoo Island in New South Wales. A note in pencil states, “said to be Frank Gardiner the Sydney Bushranger”.
This Month on A Guide to Australian Bushranging
This month will see a range of Spotlights on various archival reports and items pertaining to Jack Donohoe, Martin Cash, William Westwood (and more).
This month’s feature will be on some of the lost relics of bushranging, particularly the death mask of Moonlite’s mate Thomas Rogan, which appears to have been mislabelled.
There will also be a review of the first three books in Jane Smith’s Tommy Bell series and R. B. R. Verhagen’s Alexander Pearce novel In the Company of Madness.
As always, there will continue to be more posts on Facebook and Instagram, as well as YouTube videos on the official channel for A Guide to Australian Bushranging.
Of the myriad of Australian prisons, few have as fearsome a reputation as Victoria’s H. M. Prison Pentridge.
First opened in 1851, Pentridge was envisioned as a state of the art prison where the worst of the worst would be sent to learn the errors of their ways. Unfortunately, Pentridge went from being an easily escapable stockade to a home of cruel and overly harsh punishment. Here many bushrangers did time for their transgressions and this list gives the accounts of several of the more notable cases.
1. Ned Kelly
By the time Ned Kelly had graced the bluestone walls of Pentridge Prison, he was already something of a minor celebrity in the criminal world. In May 1870 Kelly had made headlines for allegedly being Harry Power’s bushranging apprentice. The charges against Kelly were dropped, as was a charge of assault that came up soon thereafter against a Chinese man named Ah Fook. His first prison stint was in Beechworth for three months for assaulting a hawker named McCormack and sending his wife an obscene letter. Ned’s reputation as a young man to be wary of was cemented and shortly after his release he was spotted by Senior Constable Hall in Greta, riding a chestnut mare that had been missing from the Benalla postmaster’s residence. Hall pulled Ned aside and told him he had papers to sign from Beechworth Gaol and as the teen was dismounting, Hall grabbed him. A prolonged scuffle broke out, during which Ned managed to straddle Hall and dig his spurs into the portly policeman’s thighs. They fell and knocked over several lengths of a brush fence and Hall ordered some workmen to restrain Kelly. As Ned’s limbs were secured, Hall bashed him over the head repeatedly with the butt of his revolver until the sixteen year-old’s head was split open and bleeding freely. Once unconscious from the head trauma, Ned was dragged across the road to the lock-up, leaving a trail of blood in the dust. The attending doctor gave Kelly twelve stitches and complained about Hall’s seeming compulsion to crack open the head of an Irishman like a macadamia. Ned Kelly was charged with horse theft, but as his court case went on this was changed to feloniously receiving a stolen horse. Apparently, Wild Wright had borrowed the horse without permission and gotten her lost. He had subsequently loaned a horse from Ned so that he could ride home (he was a friend of Ned’s brother-in-law Alex Gunn). The agreement was that if Ned found her they would do a swap. This is what Ned was in the process of doing when he was bailed up by Hall. Ned was found guilty and received three years hard labour. For taking the horse, Wright was given 18 months.
The start of Ned’s sentence was in Beechworth Gaol, but after several months he was transferred to Pentridge, then on to Point Gellibrand as his ability as a labourer was considered useful for the work occuring at Williamstown. Prisoners from the prison hulks at time were generally employed building sea walls and repairing military structures. So, having spent several months becoming acclimatised to Pentridge, Ned was transferred to the hulk Sacramento. Ned was, by most accounts, a model prisoner. His record only shows one blemish: two days in solitary confinement for giving his tobacco ration to another inmate on Sacramento. Rather than simply smashing rocks, Ned’s time in Pentridge and Sacramento taught him trade skills, namely bricklaying, which he would use for a period once he was released in 1874. No doubt the time in gaol was gruelling, and being completely cut off from everyone he knew and loved for almost three years would have been a huge thing for a teenage boy to endure. Oral tradition recounts that Ned would often state, upon his release, that if he ever went back to gaol they’d have to hang him.
2. Andrew George Scott
The troublesome preacher and convicted bank robber, Andrew Scott, became something of a celebrity in Pentridge. The press took much delight in using his supposed alias, “Captain Moonlite”, when recounting his supposed misdeeds. There remains some doubt as to whether Scott truly did committ the daring robbery that sent him to gaol, despite many of the details proving compelling such as the motive (Scott was broke due to the church withholding his wages), Scott’s relationship to the men previously accused of the crime and Scott’s subsequent escape from Ballarat Gaol while on remand. Regardless, Scott was given seven years to think about his next move. Sent to Pentridge by Sir Redmond Barry, Scott would prove to be nothing short of a nuisance. His prison record demonstrates a series of infringements, which indicate that Scott had become something of a go-to guy in Pentridge for contraband. Whatever you wanted, Scott seemed able to get for you whether it’s newspapers or even new trousers. If you were able to make a deal then he would hook you up.
Scott became something of a nuisance to the prison authorities and any opportunity they could take to punish him was too good to miss. On one occassion Scott was found with a length of lead pipe that he claimed he found by the perimeter wall. The warders asserted that he intended to use the pipe to make a gun. During the subsequent hearing Scott, a qualified engineer, explained in painstaking detail exactly why the proposition was ludicrous. He maintained that basic physics dictated that the pipe was totally unsuited to a firearm because of the pressure build up caused by the act of firing a projectile in such a narrow tube. The authorities were unswayed and sent him to solitary confinement. This only put more fire in Scott’s belly.
When Scott learned of a fellow inmate, Weachurch, attempting to murder a warder while in solitary confinement, he took it upon himself to act as a witness in the trial and use the opportunity to make public what he claimed was a massive cover up of institutionalised brutality. The cries fell on deaf ears however and Weachurch was eventually hanged for the crime.
While in Pentridge Scott befriended a juvenile delinquent from Richmond named James Nesbitt, who would become his closest confidante and, by some accounts, his lover. On one occasion Nesbitt was even punished for smuggling tea to Scott. When Nesbitt was released, Scott still had a significant portion of his sentence left. The friendship was enough to motivate Scott to pull his head in for the remainder of his sentence so that he was able to join Nesbitt outside the prison, which he promptly did when he gained his liberty.
3. Harry Power
Harry Power was to become one of Pentridge Prison’s most well-known inmates. His first stint in the prison came in 1863 when he was imprisoned for stock theft. Having done time on the prison hulk Success, he found himself back on dry land in Pentridge. By now Power had begun to develop the health problems that would plague him ever after, most notably a bowel stricture. The stricture made hard labour difficult and thus he was put on light duties. The prisoners were tasked with clearing the scrub by the Merri Creek end of the compound in preparation for the bluestone boundary wall to be built. Power’s job was to man the handcart that took the green waste to the mullock heap, but Power had a plan. He had begun piling the waste over a depression in the ground and when tools were downed and muster was called, he hid in the depression and covered himself with branches. When the coast was clear he climbed out and left via the gap in the incomplete perimeter wall. Crossing the creek, Power managed to make good his escape by allegedly hiding in a crowded pub.
The next few months saw Power increase his reputation as one of Australia’s most indomitable highwaymen. Covering vast territory and committing a number of robberies comparable to legendary bushrangers such as Gilbert, Hall and Morgan, Power managed to attract a reward of £500. He briefly operated with a teenage sidekick (Ned Kelly, as mentioned earlier) but was not fond of the arrangement, reportedly abusing the boy frequently when in camp, prompting his exit.
The reward money proved too tempting and he was sold out by one of his harbourers, Jack Lloyd, who helped police to locate Power’s hideout. After a dramatic capture by police, Power was tried in Beechworth and soon found himself back in Pentridge to serve fifteen years.
This time, Power’s health had deteriorated rapidly and he was frequently in the prison hospital. On one occasion he had the cheek to try and escape by cutting through the hospital floor with the intent of tunnelling out. Unfortunately for him he was caught in the act. As his ability to engineer escapes diminished he became belligerent and was frequently punished for minor offences, which were usually related to smoking his pipe or starting fights with other inmates. During one of his many stints in the hospital he was interviewed by an undercover journalist who called himself The Vagabond. The account was colourful and portrayed Power as something of a vainglorious raconteur. Power would begin to settle somewhat in the later years of his sentence, eventually getting out in the mid 1880s.
4. Frank Gardiner
Frank Gardiner, the alias of Francis Christie, spent his first prison sentence for stock theft in Pentridge. On 10 June 1850 he and John Newton attempted to shift 21 head of stolen cattle from Salisbury Plains, South Australia, to sell them in Portland (at that point Victoria was still part of New South Wales). They were nabbed near the Fitzroy River a couple of days after setting out, then taken to Geelong to await trial. The pair were tried in Geelong at the Circuit Court before the Resident Judge William A’Beckett, and upon being found guilty on 22 October 1850, were given five years hard labour on the roads. Gardiner remained in Geelong Gaol until he was transferred to Pentridge stockade on 4 February 1851.
At the time Pentridge was little more than portable wooden cells and brush fencing. The inmates were the ones tasked with preparing the grounds and building the fortifications, but during these early days escape was frequent due to the lack of barriers and poor security, and the rate of recapture was laughable.
On the afternoon of 26 March 1851, a group of seven convicts broke out of Pentridge, one of whom was Gardiner, at that time still being referred to as Francis Christie. Gardiner managed to make good his escape and headed for the McIvor goldfields where he fell in with a gang of bushrangers who planned to rob a gold escort.
In 1853 the notorious heist was executed and the gang made off with almost 3000oz of gold and £700 cash. Within days the police had tracked down Gardiner, then still using his real name, and arrested him in the middle of having sex in his tent. He was assumed to be the mastermind and somehow evaded imprisonment, likely by ratting out his accomplices, and quickly made his way to New South Wales where he continued his criminal career.
Ten years after his stint in Pentridge he would cement his place in bushranging history as the mastermind of the Eugowra Rocks heist.
5. James Nesbitt
Nesbitt was not a master criminal by any stretch. He was raised in Richmond (at that time a massive slum) with an extremely abusive father, who was in and out of gaol for his violent behaviour, and few prospects to better his lot. Using his mother’s maiden name, Lyons, he fell in with a larrikin “push” that tailed a man who was flashing cash around from having struck it rich on the goldfields. They cornered him and beat him unconscious before liberating him of his cash. Nesbitt did not engage in the bashing, but rather acted as a lookout. The boys were arrested soon after and tried. Nesbitt was given five years.
His sentence began in Melbourne Gaol on 15 July 1875. He had previously done a stint of three months in Melbourne Gaol in 1873 for larceny. Only a few days later he was transferred to Pentridge, where he was obviously a troublesome convict. The infractions marked on his record include idleness, talking to a prisoner, claiming paper improperly and having trousers improperly, quarrelling and leaving his seat at divine service. This was all prior to his transfer in mid-April 1878 to Williamstown, where he was stationed in the barracks in order to work on improvements to the garrison. Here he was housed in the old military barracks at Fort Gellibrand and it is around this time that he befriended a teenager named William Johnson. Nesbitt seems to have mostly behaved himself at Fort Gellibrand, only getting in trouble for using improper language the day before his transfer back to Pentridge.
Upon his return to Pentridge, it seems, that Nesbitt befriended Andrew George Scott. Nesbitt now seemed to have settled down somewhat and the only remaining infractions on his record are two counts of him sneaking tea to Scott in the last two months of his sentence. On 17 September 1878 Nesbitt gained his freedom by remission and kept his nose clean on the outside until March the following year when he reunited with Andrew George Scott, who was fresh out of Pentridge himself.
Nesbitt and Scott tried desperately to find employment but their criminal history proved to be too much of an obstacle. Scott also had theatrical ambitions and roped Nesbitt into accompanying him on a tour of the colony to preach prison reform to the masses. The police caught wind of this and tried everything they could to silence Scott. Scott and Nesbitt then found themselves the target of false accusations by the police, who were desperate to pin something on them. One such case was when Scott and Nesbitt, with their pal Frank Johns, were seen in Williamstown and allegedly tried to help Nesbitt’s old prison mate William Johnson escape from the barracks at Fort Gellibrand. They were accused of forcing open a window to pass Johnson revolvers, but there was no evidence and the case was dropped.
This persecution was inevitably what led to Nesbitt joining Scott in his bushranging expedition into New South Wales, which resulted in his violent death by police at McGlede’s farm in Wantabadgery.
6. Owen Suffolk
Owen Suffolk led a very eventful life, like something out of a Dickens novel. Prior to coming to Australia, the Englishman had been a student at a boarding school, worked as a cabin boy, fallen into vagrancy, and become a conman. He was convicted for forgery in 1846, and the following June departed for Australia on the ship Joseph Soames. He arrived in Port Phillip on 24 September and was received at Geelong. He was one of the privileged prisoners who, upon arrival in the colonies, was allowed to roam freely under surveillance rather than be imprisoned or assigned. This would prove to be a terrible decision on the part of the authorities.
On 19 December 1848 Suffolk was given a sentence of five years on the road for horse stealing, the first three to be served in irons. Prior to this conviction he had been brought up on a different horse stealing charge but was acquitted due to inconsistencies regarding the ownership of the stolen horse in the paperwork. Knowing he had other warrants out against him, Suffolk attempted to bolt before the authorities could nab him. He was chased on foot by three police for only about thirty yards before he was re-arrested and charged with stealing a horse worth £10 from a man named Thomas Seal, on which charge he was found guilty. He was sent to Cockatoo Island where he was received in March 1849.
Suffolk was infrequently in trouble during his time on Cockatoo Island, receiving additional punishments for having letters and fighting in the square. He was granted a ticket of leave on 2 March 1851, but promptly absconded and took to the bush.
Suffolk was sent to Pentridge in 1851 for ten years for robbing the mail coach at Portland, the first three to be done in irons. The sentence was served at Pentridge as well as the prison hulk President at Port Gellibrand, the most notorious at the time for the cruelty inflicted upon prisoners there at the time.
During his time in Pentridge, Suffolk was able to gain the trust of prison authorities and was given a bookmaking job. However, Suffolk used the position to secretly alter documents and shorten the sentences of his mates. It seems his forgeries were so well executed that he was kept in this role long-term, and on 28 March 1853 the prison authorities received a letter from the sheriff notifying them that his sentence had been commuted to five years.
Suffolk was referred to as “The Poet” because, despite his criminal leanings, he was an accomplished writer of poetry and even managed to write a popular autobiography during his stint in Pentridge, which was later released as Days of Crime and Years of Suffering. Many of his works actually pertain to his time in Pentridge and offer a unique insight into the experience of the inmates.
On 10 September 1853 Suffolk received his ticket of leave and was discharged. He would not enjoy his liberty for long as his tampering with the books was discovered in his absence and on 28 February 1854 his ticket of leave was revoked and he was sent back to President.
For this he was sent to the hulks at Williamstown, doing time on President where the worst offenders were sent to be broken. A little over a year later his poor health saw him transferred to Success and Sacramento.
When he eventually gained his ticket of leave just before Christmas in 1857, he was permitted to find employment in Ballarat but he was unable to, turning to crime yet again. It seems that his convict background had proven to be the biggest hurdle to his walking the straight and narrow and crime was the only way he could think of to survive. However, Suffolk was no ordinary crim. In 1858 he faced court of charges of theft where it was revealed he had taken a horse and tack in one instance, and £2 in another, by pretending to be an undercover detective.
In the 1866 Suffolk gained his liberty after his brother back in England had gotten him a pardon from the colonial governor. He almost immediately became involved in a forgery racket but skipped town before the headquarters was raided by police. Suffolk made his way to England where he pretended to be a wealthy squatter and journalist in order to gain the confidence of the wealthy English he mixed with. Through this he conned a wealthy widow named Mary Elizabeth Phelps into marrying him to gain access to her fortune. He then faked his death by drowning and ran away to America with his newfound fortune with his teenage niece, with whom he claimed to be married, where they lived the high life in New York. In 1868 his autobiography was serialised in the press, which coincided with his return to Australia. Following he was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment for theft and bigamy. By September 1880 he was out of prison and back in England where he married Eliza Shreves. It seems that after this Suffolk, now in his fifties, managed to settle down as he fades out of the pages of history thereafter.
By Owen Suffolk
‘Twas a calm summer ere when a mother led forth
Her fair child to gaze at the beauties of earth;
She bade him look up too the bright stars on high.
Tiny islets of light in an ocean of sky;
Then she pointed him down were the silver moon threw
Her beams on the flowers beshangled with dew:
And the boy as he gazed with a heart undefiled;
Seemed an angel of love in the form of a child.
Then the boy turned and said with a voice sweet and soft,
Like the lay of a lark carolled out from aloft,
“How pure and how good must that wise Being be
Who created such beautiful wonders for me;
Oh, teach me to love and commune with in prayer
The maker of all things so holy and fair.”
And the fond mother wept with emotion of joy
As she clasped to her bosom her God-loving boy.
Years passed; and the boy had grown up to a man
When I saw him with visage so woe-gone and wan.
No longer he worshipped at purity’s shrine,
For his soul was enslaved by the demon of crime.
An alien to love and an exile from home
He lay shackled with chains in a dungeon of stone:
Whilst those phantons of evil – remorse and despair –
In terrible form ever haunted him there.
“Oh man,” groaned the captive with voice harsh and wild,
As he rattled his fetters and savagely smiled,
“How relentless in feeling, how ruthless in wrath,
Art thou to the wretched and guilty of earth;
On the fallen one wreak all thy vengeance; and though
He may crouch to the storm, or be crushed by its blow,
Yet thy chains and thy cruelties teach him to be
A fiend in his nature, and a terror to thee!
I saw him once more in a forest of flowers,
Where Nature smiled forth from her leaf-shaded bowers,
And the Spirit of Beauty that reigned o’er the scene
Poured a soul-soothing song from her wild haunts of green.
There his stern heart, o’ercome by the influence sweet
Of the music and calm of that sylvan retreat,
Expanded with love and a prayer rose above
To the God of all Nature – all Beauty and Love!
Oh! ’tis sad that the good may be soon clothed with shame
By the vices of earth which enchant and enchain;
But ’tis sweet to reflect that the worthless and vile
Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), Sunday 13 July 1913, page 22
‘THE CHAMBER OF HORRORS’
Some of the Grim Mementoes of Australia’s Criminal History Contained in the Sydney Police Museum.
FAMOUS CASES RECALLED.
The first impression one gains of the interior of the musuem, attached to the New South Wales Police Department, in Hunterstreet, Sydney, is that of a second-hand shop. It contains everything to convey this idea— but there is a difference — goods are not for sale. No amount of money could purchase even the smallest article in that closely-guarded room. It is safe to say, that there is no other room in the whole of the Commonwealth that is calculated to rouse the feelings of the visitor than the Police Museum. For gruesome associations it stands unrivalled. Almost everything appertaining to the darker side of life is represented among the grim relics. The museum is essentially an institution where one has no need to fall back on the imagination in order to make it interesting. Its very atmosphere abounds in reminiscences, and as one gazes at the neatly-arranged ‘exhibits,’ to which are attached tabs, giving particulars for identification purposes, memories of the most diabolical crimes that have in their day shocked people in all parts of the Continent, float before the mind. Blood-stained, as is the history of each of the relics, this is not all. They are even more than ghastly mementos of a country’s record of crime. They are, so to speak, representitive of all that is brutish, ferocious, avaricious, callous, and cold-blooded in man. They are the last reminders of misspent lives— of conflicting emotions — inasmuch as love, tragedy, pathos, and despair are centred around them.
THE OLD CONVICT DAYS.
The first sound that comes to the ears of the visitor after the key has been turned in the lock is that of a clanking of chains. Almost immediately the guide brings forth from one of the corners a number of convict mementoes. The most interesting of those is a pair of legirons found at Parramatta many years ago. Their exact age is not known, but it is believed that fully a century has gone by since they were manufactured. Of course, they are covered with rust, but, nevertheless, their weight serves to remind one of the awful agony they must have caused the wearer, as he toiled laboriously on the roads through many weary months until the termination of his sentence brought a thankful release from these cruel shackles. Their weight alone would seem to preclude the slightest possibility of escape, and yet what a number succeeded in getting rid of them and taking to the bush — probably to meet a worse fate at the hands of the blacks! Close by nestled a pair of handcuffs. There is not a great deal of difference between them and those in present use, excepting, perhaps, in weight. Who knows what history lies behind these convict relics? No one ; nor does there seem any possibility of such being given publicity.
The stock of information at hand concerning of the ‘kings of the road’ in a museum extremely valuable ; and in this connection the authorities have been singularly fortunate in coming into possession of the most comprehensive collection in the Commonwealth. They have even secured plaster casts of the heads of that notorious couple Scott, alias Moonlight, and Rogan, which were taken after their execution in Darlinghurst for the murder of Constable Bowen, at Wantabadgery. That of Rogan possesses all the characteristics of the criminal. The lips which are extraordinarily thick, are open, showing a set of vicious looking teeth.
MOONLIGHT’S WELL SHAPED HEAD.
Quite in contrast is the head of ‘Moonlight.’ It seems incomprehensible that a man with such fine, bold features should have degenerated into an outlaw, for, apart from the hideous circumstances under which the cast was obtained, one can easily distinguish the faintest trace of a smile. Benevolence, too, is written all over it. That the notorious outlaw must have had some respect for his Creator before he gave up his position as a Sunday-school teacher, and followed the more sensational and profitable life of terrorising his fellow-humans, is shown by the fact that Inspector Childs, chief of the Finger Print Department, has in his possession, a small Bible, which was presented to Scott by ‘his affectionate brother.’ Round the necks of each of the pair is a deep indentation — the mark of the hangman’s rope.
RELICS OF THE KELLY GANG.
Of similar importance are the relics of Ned Kelly. They are but two, but one can well imagine the use to which they were put. The first is the butt-end of the bushranger’s revolver, which was found in the ruins at Glenrowan, Victoria. The other, about which there is some doubt, is the more murderous, and is in the form of a dagger. Though it is only about a foot in length; it is remarkably heavy, and is made of solid steel. The handle is of the same material, and about it are wrapped several layers of cloth of various hues. The blade is curved — a desperate weapon, indeed. Compared with the remains of Ned Kelly’s firearm, Ben Hall’s revolver is far superior. It has five chambers, and has to be pulled by two fingers before an explosion results. Although it is almost half a century since it was used, it still retains the same highly finished appearance as when it left the hands of the makers. The inscription reads: ‘Tranter revolver, found on Ben Hall, who was shot at Billabong Creek; Forbes, May 5, 1865, by Sub-Inspector Davidson and Sergeant Condell and party. Revolver was subsequently given to the Inspector-General of Police by Sub-Inspector Davidson, and has been in the possession of the Inspector-General for over 45 years.’
BOMBS AND INFERNAL MACHINES.
Mention of infernal machines suggests the presence of anarchists and bombs of suffragettes, by whom these miniature engines of destruction have been used successfully, and in the case of the former with a horrible toll of life. Sydney is the last place one would expect their diabolical contents to be brought to light. Yet there are three such dangerous machines in the Police Museum. The bomb is rather a crude affair, and was placed under the residence of Mr. Ernest George Alfred Rich, in Mosman, about six years ago. It is cylindrical in shape, standing about a foot high with a loose lid, through which fuses were threaded. The interior of the bomb was filled with gunpowder, but, fortunately for the inmates, it missed fire. The two infernal machines are ingeniously constructed. In 1909 Mr. A. Challinor, of the fruit markets, received through the post a neat packet, about the size of a cigar case. It was intended that as soon as the recipient raised the lid he would be blown to pieces, but as in the case of the bomb something went wrong. The box is divided into two compartments. The larger contains the mechanism operating the machine, while through a hole in the dividing wall was inserted a cap. In order to cause an explosion, however, a piece of ironwork was fitted to the inside of the lid. As soon as the latter was raised the ‘hammer’ was released, and, striking the cap, was intended to hurry the victim into Eternity. Fate intervened.
A LIGHT THAT FAILED.
Mr. H. C. Russell, Government Astronomer, was the intended victim of the remaining infernal machine. Thirty-six years ago, when quartered at the Sydney Observatory, he received a long oblong box, filled with a deadly explosive. The manner in which it was opened probably saved the life of thc recipient. At cne end of thc box a large number of wax and wooden matches were arranged vertically, and almost touching the lid. Securely attached to the covering was a strip of sandpaper. Immediately the lid was drawn out the matches, scraping along the sandpaper, would ignite, the sparks would fall on the explosive, and the victim’s existence would be cut short. Fortunately it didn’t ; but its grim intent was there all the same.
As in other countries, there is a crimson vein running throughout the criminal history of New South Wales. Time and again acts have occurred which rival those which Scotland Yard has been called upon to sheet home. In this respect almost every weapon one could think of has been used, and they form a striking collection. The famous murders of Butler, the Blue Mountains criminal, and those of Nicholls and Lester, perpetrated in the Parramatta district, stand out above all the others in ferocity. In addition to being of murderous instinct, Butler possessed devilish cunning, which forced the police to send two officers — Detectives (now Superintendent) Roche and Conroy to America before he was laid by the heels, and executed at Darlinghurst on July 16, 1897. Butler relied to a large extent on the Press to assist him in carrying his crimes into effect. His plan was to advertise for a partner with capital to develop some golden territory known only to himself. In three cases he decoyed his unsuspecting victims into lonely bush places, where they were quickly dispatched. It is even on record that the victims practically dug their own graves, as the bodies of Lee Weller, Preston, and Burgess were found in excavations supposed to have been their own handiwork. The law’s arm, though long, was certain, however, and grave suspicions grew rife as to the mysterious disappearance of certain individuals. In the end Butler boarded the barque Swanhilda at Newcastle as an able seaman, bound for San Francisco. He succeeded in reaching that port, only to be arrested, brought back to Sydney, and hanged. A rifle and revolver are the solo relics of an infamous career. The Oriental knife with which the victims of Nicholls and Lester met their doom over 40 years ago are in a good state of preservation. As shown by the accompanying photograph, it is a deadly instrument. It is quite ornate, too, the blade and handle being covered with scroll-work. There was a great similarity in the methods of Butler and Nicholls and Lester. The latter also resorted to advertising, offering lucrative employment for a small sum; or a business for sale cheap. Applicants were not wanting, and as soon as the would-be purchasers got into communication with the pair, they were taken for a day’s outing on the Parramatta River. While in the boat they were murdered and robbed. The bodies were then weighted and thrown into the river. As the width of the blade is fully three inches, one stroke would be sufficient to execute the fell design.
On account of its handy size, the common tomahawk has on more than one occasion been an instrument of destruction. In the museum are to be seen several, all of which have histories. The oldest of the collection was found in the Sydney Domain in 1862, close to the spot where the body of a woman named Margaret McGee was found. The murderer was never traced. The tomahawk today bears evidence of rough handling. Its edge, besides being blunt, is decidedly jagged, and its surface is brown with rust and in the light, with something that once more precious. Then there is the tomahawk which accomplished such deadly work in the hands of Charles John Tye, a demented Chinese at Thornleigh in 1906. Tye, it will be remembered, seized the instrument and ran amok. Horace Henry Aiker and Albert Gordon Pettit were the first to be attacked by the insane Celestial, who hacked them to death. The weapon tells the story.
It is only a few years ago since Mrs. Mercy Gregory was found stabbed to death in a leading Sydney hotel, in connection with which a youth named Quinlan, the lift-boy, was condemned to death, a sentence which was subsequently commuted to imprisonment for life on account of the prisoner’s age. The weapon with which the deed was committed is an ordinary butcher’s knife, but very keen. After the outrage a penny dreadful was found in Quinlan’s possession, on the cover of which was an illustration which, it is believed, suggested the crime, as there was a distinct similarity between the two.
The cold-blooded murder of Daniel and Margaret O’Keefe and Patrick Gillion at Germain Creek, near Ballina, in 1906, is recalled by the instrument used by John Raymond Brown. It is a brush-hook, such as is used by settlers for clearing purposes, and ranks among the most formidable weapons in the museum.
Lying on another shelf is a wicked-looking revolver, which has a toll of three lives to its credit. It was used by Mory Mase, a Japanese, at Lismore, some years ago, when he shot Lilian Frohm and Jack Day, a Chinese, and turned the weapon on himself.
A large cardboard placard and an iron shield occupy a prominent position on another shelf. Both were worn by a man at Leichhardt before he shot one of the members of a firm whom he believed had defrauded him. The shield is of iron, and was held in position by several pieces of stout string.
SAVED A POLICEMAN’S LIFE.
There is a sensational story attached to an ordinary police baton in the collection. At first sight one wonders what it is there for. On closer inspection, however, the marks of a bullet are visible on its side. The baton was the property of Constable Bell, of Newtown, who was shot at by a notorious burglar in that suburb twenty years ago. Had it not been for the baton the nickel messenger of death would have pierced the constable’s heart, as the baton was immediately over that organ at the time of the outrage. It’s force, however, was spent as soon as it reached the steel wire. The crumpled bullet occupies a position next to the gaping hole in the baton.
It is not such a long time since SeniorConstable Gates, a North Sydney member of the force, was frightfully battered about the bead by a burglar named Crooks. The latter also shot and seriously wounded Mr. Sinclair, a resident of the same suburb, and then attacked the senior-constable with the revolver. Gates, however, succeeded in effecting his arrest, and for his plucky action was presented with a purse of sovereigns by. the residents. He was also the first man in Australia to receive the King’s police medal, which Lord Chelmsford pinned on his breast at a special police parade.
There are a couple of complete coining plants in this strange collection. Everything is there from the raw material — silver teapots, spoons and other household articles — to the finished products. The latter are mostly half-sovereigns, of which there are many remarkable. imitations. The ‘faces’ are there, though the weight of the coins is deceptive. For all that, the makers succeeded in circulating quite a large number, which would deceive any but those well acquainted with the coin of the realm.
The thieving fraternity is largely represented. On almost every shelf are to be seen skeleton keys and pliers of all conceivable shapes. The bunch which we reproduce was found on one man, and the variety is so great as to render almost any lock a plaything in the hands of their owner. There are others which completely upset the plans of the most ingenious locksmith who claims his make to be absolutely immune from the gentlemen of the night. One, in particular, has been constructed in such a manner as to obviate the necessity of using key after key, thus trying the patience or the burglar and wasting his valuable time. By means of a screw at the end the key can be adjusted to fit any lock. If this should fail, other skeletons can be inserted in the ‘stock’ of the key which has been specially mortised for that purpose. The long pincers shown in the illustration are used by thieves when the key remains in the lock. They are so fine that they can be pushed through the keyhole on the outside, and the lock turned.
No collection will be complete without a few so-called life-preservers. The museum possesses a great number, some of which are as crude as they could possibly be, while others have been carefully, ever, elaborately, prepared. One — an iron instrument about nine inches long — served the dual purpose, of a sledge hammer and a jemmy. It is shown in the photograph. It fractured a constable’s skull, and broke another man’s arm. It is so heavy that one blow was sufficient to put its victim down and out for good.
Perhaps the most deadly of all, as far as appearance is concerned, is one which consists of a lump of lead stuck on to a wooden handle. Others have been more mercifully designed, being covered with leather or plaited cord; but all are on the same principle; with a weight at the end.
The knuckle-duster is a weapon that fortunately the modern burglar appears to have omitted from his tool chest. Nevertheless, one occasionally comes in and helps to augment the already comprehensive collection. The one which we show in the photograph easily stands by itself for cruelty. It is made of solid iron, and is so heavy that one punch in the face, besides facilitating its owner’s task, would leave marks on the victim that he would carry to the grave.
THE CAMERA AND CRIME.
Ever since the camera appeared upon the market it has worked wonders in the detection of crime. Enclosed in a glass case in the centre of the museum are a number of photographs of the scenes of crimes that have in their day tried the mettle of the Police Department. Prominent among these is a photo of Joe Governor, the aboriginal murderer, taken after death. The record of this fiendish outlaw and his brother are too well known to need further comment. A few inches away rests a portrait of Trevaskus, who was done to death in Glebe a couple of years ago. Other Trevaskus relics include the blood-stained deck chair in which his body was found.
In the same case as the photographs is a copy of Pope’s poetical works. The book was the property of Frank Johns, who was executed at Darlinghurst in July, 1885. On the flyleaf arc the words, “Frank Johns, from F. G. White.” On the morning of his execution Johns wrote the following message on one of the leaves of the volume: “Jack Thompson or Jamerson. I made a mistake in writing a few words to Bill, poor Bill, in one of Moore’s poems. But you can fix it up between you. Be good, Jack, be good. Nothing else is worth, living for. F. Johns. In haste, 8 o’clock.” An hour later Johns paid the penalty, for his misdeeds.
As many of the silent era bushranger films are lost to the sands of time, either through being misplaced or destroyed, there are no opportunities to view them ourselves. Because of this we rely on reports from the time that describe the films and discuss the audience responses. This was in the days before people wrung their hands over “spoilers” and were more worried about which film would break opening weekend records.
In the following we have several articles that discuss what is, to date, the only film about Captain Moonlite that has ever successfully been made.
Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate (NSW : 1894 – 1954), Saturday 11 February 1911, page 4
Measrs. Toose and Orbell had a crowded house at the Dubbo Skating’ Rink on Wednesday evening, when they presented that fine bushranging Picture “Moonlite.” The film was 4000 feet in length, and occupied the whole of the second half of the programme. It commences in New Zealand, where Captain Scott alias “Moonlite” is caught cheating at cards. He is disrated and turned out of the army, and crosses over to Victoria. Here, he joins the Presbyterian Church, as minister, to achieve his purpose of robbing the bank. The picture then proceeds with various interesting stages until “Moonlite” is captured and lodged in Dubbo gaol. He strangles the warder and escapes. It is after this event that the gang is formed. His reign on the road was a short one. After sticking up several gold escorts and robbing several homesteads he had some sharp encounters with the pollce, the chief of which was Inspector Carroll, and was eventually captured alter a desperate struggle, and hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol. The film concludes with a picture of “Moonlite’s” grave, and Miss Clark, his fiance, is shown weeping over it. The first part of the programme was taken up with interesting subjects, including an A.B. drama and several good comics. The company showed again on Thursday, when “Moonlite” was again screened, together with an entirely new programme of other subjects.
To-night will be a specially attractive time at the New Picture Palace, Centennial Hall, for the great bushranging picture, “Captain Moonlite ” will be screened for the first time in Brisbane. The film has been made at great expense, and though it is very long, taking 1 hour 20 minutes in the showing, its story and incidents are such that interest can never wane. In fact, some of the bushranger’s exploits are complete in themselves as absorbing and thrilling stories, and when added together, and invested with the love interest, which runs throughout its length, the film is a novel. The story will be told by Mr. R. F. Stephens, and the first part of the programme will include many excellent pictures, including “The Drunkard’s Reformation.” A matinee will be given at 3.30 p.m.
Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), Saturday 18 March 1911, page 4
On Monday night next the above named well-known Australian bush drama will be screened at the Lyceum Theatre. It was shown for the first time in Brisbane on Saturday last, and the “Daily Mail” of Monday, last speaks of it as follows :– For the past week the management of the Centennial Hall have been booming the great bushranging dramatic picture, “Capt. Moonlite.” They were convinced they had a good picture and after witnessing the first performance on Saturday evening the public are equally convinced of the satisfactory nature of the film. There is no doubt whatever that “Moonlite” is the best motion picture of the fascinating life of the notorious bushrangers ever seen in Brisbane. There is no appearance of artcificiality or staginess in the drama; every character and super plays his part with life-like realism. The life of the famous “Moonlite” offers a wide field of study for the student of character. He is first introduced as Capt. Scott, the scene being military quarters in New Zealand. There Scott held a commission, and while playing cards with his brother officers, he is caught cheating, and taking advantage of his superior strength, brutally assaults his accusers. Exposure and disgrace follow. Drummed out of the army Scott joins the clergy with ulterior motives. He makes the acquaintance of the manager of the Egerton Bank – gains his confidence and becomes conversant with the affairs of the bank – using his knowledge afterwards in robbing the bank of a large sum of money. It is difficult to say his motive for the robbery – whether it was desire of gain or for sentimental reasons. For, about this time he had gained the affections of a beautiful young girl, named Ruth Clarke, and she appeals to Scott to save her brother from ruin by lending him money to restitute a large sum he had embezzled. The bank robbery follows this appeal, and serves to show both sides of Scott’s character – cruelty and kindness. Scott endeavours to leave by boat for England, but he overdoes his disguise and the police get on his track. A daring attempt to escape is made by jumping from the boat Lady Isabel, but in swimming Scott is wounded, and subsequently arrested. Imprisonment follows, but by strangling a warder he effects his escape. Once again free, Scott decides to form a bushranging gang, and not content with ruining the life of Ruth Clarke, makes up his mind to induce her brother to come a bushranger. More out of gratitude than from a spirit of lawlessness young Clarke joins Scott, now known as “Moonlite,” although his sister tries to prevent him doing so. The famous gang is formed, and the great robbery of the gold escort takes place. The dual nature of “Moonlite’s” character induces him to befriend poor people with the proceeds of the robbery. By effectual disguise “Moonlite” brings the raid on the station to a successful issue, and to the benefit of his lawless gang. Another raid is made on McCreedy’s farm, where “Moonlite” defies a large and well-organised police squad, and is captured by them after one of the most exciting fights in Australian history. He fights determinedly until he is overpowered. After capture he is overcome with remorse and grief at the untimely death of young Clarke, who was shot in the fight, and by permission of his captors, approaches the body and reverently lays it out. His last journey to gaol and his sweetheart’s grief at his grave concludes this most heart-stirring picture drama. The story given above includes the main points of ‘”Moonlite’s” career, but there are very many subsidiary scenes and adventures which are vividly pourtrayed [sic] by the picture. Almost an hour was occupied in displaying the film, and every minute of that time was enjoyed by the large audience.
Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1892 – 1917), Wednesday 3 May 1911, page 2
Last night the popular Jubilee picture Gardens resort presented to their numberless patrons something new and startling and a large audience gathered to witness the latest bush drama entitled Captain Moonlite. This film is over 3,000 feet long and not for one instant during its portrayal is there a dull foot in the whole length of the film. To-night this wonderful picture will be screened for the last time, and judging from the large attendance last night, the enthusiasm shown, and the magnificence of this picture and the excellent programme of other pictures we predict another crowded house.
Welcome to the second issue of the Bushranging Gazette. There are plenty of interesting topics of conversation to delve into this month including Captain Moonlite’s inclusion in a LGBTQI+ event in Ballarat and the controversy over the new Kate Kelly book.
As today is April Fool’s Day, one of these articles is a fake – can you spot which one it is?
Kate Kelly Controversy
Early in March, with the release and publicity tour for Rebecca Wilson’s book Kate Kelly, came a spot of controversy due to claims published in the book.
Wilson has included in her text an unsubstantiated rumour that Ellen Kelly’s youngest daughter, Alice King, was in fact the illegitimate child of Kate Kelly and Constable Fitzpatrick, with Ellen acting as a wet nurse for her grandchild. This, naturally, raised eyebrows among those who are enthusiasts of the story and descendants.
The keen amateur historians were quick to lay out exactly why the rumour was nothing but a lie. Further, Ellen Hollow, a direct descendant of Kate, made clear her distaste for the blatant disregard for accuracy in a message to Brad Webb’s ironoutlaw website. She stated in part:
Look at the facts. The King children at that time were five, three, and a new born. Not impossible but highly improbable that Ellen Kelly/King became a wet nurse for Alice. Remember Ellen was taken to goal with Alice as she was nursing (breast feeding) the infant. Rebecca said she had done intensive research into Kate’s life, then how could she believe Kate would abandon her child for all the years until her death? That is not justice to Kate’s memory, which Rebecca says she has tried to achieve.
Unfortunately, as in most cases of such reckless reiteration of untruths, the horse has now bolted and many people who have bought the book, read it watched interviews with the author, or attended her class on writing and researching history, have already accepted her account as true and factual.
New Custody Centre Honours Bushranging Victim
On 13 March, Victoria Police unveiled a new custody centre at Glen Waverley Police Station named after Constable Thomas Lonigan, a police officer killed by Ned Kelly over 140 years ago.
In a gesture lauded by the slain trooper’s descendants, the Victoria Police are paying tribute to one of their own who was taken in a violent attack in 1878. This is not the only memorial to Lonigan; the memorial site at Stringybark Creek, where he died, was given an upgrade in 2018 in order to put emphasis on the sacrifice of the police officers, and take attention away from the outlaws. These new holding cells will keep the Lonigan name actively involved in law enforcement well into the future.
Captain Moonlite Rides Again in Ballarat
From 05/03 – 25/03, Child & Family Services Ballarat Inc. held the LGBTIQ+ event Captain Moonlite Rides Again, which featured art exhibitions, and projection installations. While the event could be visited in person, it was also partially delivered online via Facebook and on local broadcaster Channel 31 as a way of maximising participation in a Covid-safe format.
In recent years the suggestion that Andrew George Scott, aka Captain Moonlite, was homosexual has provided a very important cultural touchstone for the Pride movement in Australia. Regardless of whether or not he in fact was gay is by-the-by, the very notion of a gay bushranger offers LGBTIQ+ people a feeling of inclusion in the nation’s history. This highlights the very important role that historical figures play in fostering ideas of identity and unity, even if the ideas may potentially stem from a myth or pure speculation. The Captain Moonlite Rides Again event is not the first time that Scott’s image and alter-ego have been employed in the name of the Pride movement. One recent example is the musical Moonlite by Gabriel Bergmoser that was included in the Midsumma festival in 2018.
For more information on Moonlite’s inclusion in a study into LGBTIQ+ history in Victoria, check out this article written by Gabrielle Hodson.
Long Lost Letter Located in Library
Librarians cleaning out a store room in Eltham have accidentally discovered a letter written by infamous bushranger Robert Burke that had been donated many years ago by an anonymous individual. The letter was in a shoebox along with a collection of antique photographs of various locations in the region. A note pinned to the letter explains that the letter was found in a coat pocket when Burke was captured after shooting Henry Hurst in 1866. The letter had been claimed as a souvenir and handed down through the family of the light-fingered individual.
Sharon Stone, head librarian, claimed that the letter was written by Burke and addressed to his sister.
Burke writes that he is walking to Sydney where he will meet his sister so they can both travel to Queensland and establish a farm. He says he included a photograph of an actor he saw in Melbourne but the photograph seems to have gone missing. It really is an interesting insight into the famous bushranger and what he was doing up this way.
There are plans to display the letter in the library foyer so that locals can come and view this intriguing piece of local history.
Ben Hall Epic Comes to Apple TV
The Legend of Ben Hall is now available to view on Apple TV, in Australia. The 2016 film, which depicts the final months of Hall’s life, has been previously available on YouTube and Ozflix for VOD (Video On Demand) while the television rights were held by Channel Nine.
Nine only aired the film once, but now that it is finally coming to streaming it greatly increases the opportunity for the film to reach new audiences.
Additionally, fans of the film will be interested to check out Rogue Radio’s podcast Folk Lore with Richard Glover, which includes an interview with director Matthew Holmes.
The film is also included in an article on Australian Westerns for True West magazine, which you can read here.
Tales From Rat City: Captain Moonlite, episode 3 – Moonlight at Dawn
After many months of hard work, the team at Tales From Rat City have released the third, and final, installment of their special mini-series on Captain Moonlite. The Tales From Rat City podcast is well-researched and demonstrates a respect for Australia’s history and culture that is often lacking in many such podcasts. The journey to research and capture the dramatic story of Andrew George Scott has clearly been very rewarding for the team and you can tell that by listening to the discussions of the story. The story is brought to life by passages that are dramatised like a radio play, helping to create a great sense of immersion.
If you would like to hear the podcast, you can access the three installments via the below links:
Ian ‘Bluey’ Shelton has passed away after a long illness at the age of 81. Shelton, a former star player for the Essendon Football Club, was a descendant of Richard Shelton, the boy that Ned Kelly famously rescued from drowning in Hughes Creek, Avenel. For this act of bravery, Ned was given his green sash, which he later wore under his armour at Glenrowan.
After months of whittling down the proposed designs to two, then getting community feedback, a design for the new tower in Glenrowan has been chosen.
The tower, originally planned as a “VR tower”, is intended to enhance the tourist experience in Glenrowan by offering views overlooking the battle site, from which you can use a mixture of media including augmented reality software to recreate the buildings and the battlefield. The project currently has $4 million funding and is hoped to become a major tourist attraction for the area.
In 2013 Paul Terry published what was rightly considered the most definitive account of the life of Andrew George Scott up to that point. Drawing on many sources, some of which had only recently been discovered, Terry’s In Search of Captain Moonlite was detailed but easy to read. Yet it left the reader wanting more. Now we have Garry Linnell’s Moonlite taking on the challenge and not merely rising to the occasion but usurping the throne.
Very few authors have really sunk their teeth into the Moonlite saga but for one reason or another, possibly due to the questions around Scott’s sexuality in light of the increasing visibility of the LGBT+ community, interest in the story of Captain Moonlite has really been booming in recent years. A number of projects in various stages of fruition since Paul Terry’s book was released have raised the prestige of Captain Moonlite to equate him more with Morgan, Hall and Thunderbolt in the bushranging pantheon, and have even come close to giving him his own little niche in Australian culture on his own terms. Thus Linnell’s grasping of the challenge of tackling this story with both hands is welcome and timely.
Anyone familiar with Captain Moonlite, as regular readers of A Guide to Australian Bushranging will be, have no doubt heard of the tragic love story between Andrew Scott and James Nesbitt, the infamous Mount Egerton bank robbery, the daring escape from Ballarat Gaol, the Wantabadgery siege and Andrew Scott’s spectacular fall from grace. All of that is covered in this book and much more besides. Like many history and non-fiction books, this is written in a style more commonly seen in a novel. People who have read Peter Fitzsimons’ books will know exactly what that looks like. However, unlike Fitzsimons’ books, this is not a bloated and absolutely comprehensive account. Though it is the most comprehensive to date, the focus is more on a narrative that is easy to follow and enjoyable to read while getting the information as accurate as possible. This will appeal to people that normally would steer away from non-fiction in favour of more breezy novels or memoirs. To put it another way, this is a text with broad appeal.
It is heartening to see the shift in the way Scott’s story has been told move away from the days of George Calderwood’s dry, sensationalist and frequently inaccurate 1971 biography to this more human depiction of Scott that relies very heavily on getting to the root of the myths to understand the man. Furthermore, rather than being a blow-by-blow account of Scott’s life, a musing on his sexuality or an exploration of the conflict between fact and fiction in his story, this is a more holistic view of Scott and what makes him such a compelling figure in history. There are brief tangents into the lives of “Nosey Bob” Howard, Sir Alfred Stephen, Sir Redmond Barry, Frank Gardiner, Ned Kelly, Marcus Clarke, Boulton and Park, and more all in the service of explaining the society that Andrew Scott was railing against and what shaped his life. By doing this we get a very enriched story of the mid to late 1800s on top of the most complete and accurate version of Scott’s biography to date. It is in seeing the world of Captain Moonlite that we fully comprehend what made him so remarkable.
People who have read Paul Terry’s In Search of Captain Moonlite will probably feel like some passages tread familiar terrain, which is natural given that both books tackle the same subject in a similar way. But there is so much more in this version of the story that whether you have read the previous books on the subject or not this will be a refreshing and enlightening take on it and show you things that you likely haven’t come across before. However, it feels at times like some parts of the story could have been explored a bit more. This is not to the detriment of the text by any means and possibly some readers would feel that any more detail than what is given would be too much. Any person that has done research on Captain Moonlite will likely tell you that it is very hard to cover everything in a complete and comprehensive way where this story is concerned, especially if you’re one person doing the research on your own. On that front Linnell has done an absolutely brilliant job. Reading through the acknowledgements it is clear that he had some really great people helping guide him where he needed to go, but the legwork was definitely done by Linnell himself.
Though it probably seems like a small thing, one of the best parts of this book is the inclusion of several pages of illustrations. The mix of photographs, etchings, records, and so on, really helps to visualise things that are described in the text, which is something most previous books on the subject have mostly avoided for one reason or another. As wonderful as the descriptions of the main players are, nothing has the same effect as being able to see the faces or places you’re reading about.
Moonlite is without doubt one of the most important bushranger books published to date and one of the best Australian history books that has hit the market in the past few years. Such a complete history of Andrew Scott and those who were drawn into his sphere of influence will provide an extremely useful resource for future researchers and that really is something that comes once in a blue moon. For anyone interested in the story of Captain Moonlite this is an absolute must have book. It is not only incredibly detailed, but it is a very enjoyable read. Linnell’s use of language really does breathe life into the story in a way many of the dry old history books just don’t seem capable of. It will captivate and most importantly is very re-readable.
Moonlite will be available on multiple formats from September 29, 2020. Find out more here.
A special thank you to Penguin Random House for providing an advance copy of the book for the purposes of this review.
In April 1872, Andrew George Scott was released from Parramatta Gaol. He had just finished a sentence for buying a yacht he called Why-Not with valueless cheques. Unfortunately for Scott, his liberty would be comically short lived. As soon as he was released he was re-arrested and extradited to Victoria to stand trial, accused of robbing the Second London Bank in Mount Egerton back in 1869.
Scott had long before declared his innocence of the crime, and in fact had been a witness in the original court case for the prosecution of the two leading suspects: Julius Bruun and John Simpson. After a committal hearing at Gordon police court, Scott was remanded in Ballarat, where he was due to be tried before Sir Redmond Barry. Barry was one of the most senior and respected judges in Victoria, known for his philanthropy as much as his lack of patience for criminals. He was a perfect foil for the verbose Scott, who was accruing quite a reputation as a man with the gift of the gab.
Ballarat Gaol was a sadly ill-prepared, brick and mortar structure when Andrew Scott was brought within its walls. The brick and mortar construction had been completed quickly and cheaply in an effort to deal with the ballooning lawlessness in the area due in large part to the gold rush. This flimsiness would be a crucial point in what followed. Scott was a trained civil engineer and deviously clever. He was always analysing his surrounds in order to find any weaknesses that could be exploited. While in prison in New South Wales he had convinced prison authorities that he was insane in a bid to be transferred to the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum; a low security facility he thought he could easily escape. His plan fell apart when he was caught recruiting inmates to help him escape as well as attempting to craft a weighted rope he could toss over the perimeter wall.
Remanded in Ballarat for weeks to await his trial, Scott had plenty of time to scheme. He formed an alliance with four other prisoners: James Plunkett, alias Roach, up on three charges of burglary and larceny; John Harris, alias Dermoody, alias Williams, an American butcher doing three months for stealing a coat and about to stand trial on a charge of stealing a watch; James Stapleton, alias Fitzpatrick, an illiterate Irishman up on four charges of burglary and larceny; and William Taylor, a carpenter who was doing 12 months for stealing two silver cups. His plan was almost identical to the one he had attempted in Parramatta. Scott had very quickly discovered major weaknesses in his cell; notably the extremely weak mortar around the bricks and the thin, soft, sheet tin covering the inside of the soft wooden door and the lock mechanism. Herein lay the crucial first steps of his plan.
On Monday 10 June, 1872, Scott put his plan into motion. The previous day the gang had ironed out the details of the plan before being returned to their cells at 1pm. After the final inspection at 10pm, using a piece of iron he had procured outside of the prison, Scott dug out the mortar around a set of bricks, two lengths wide and five rows tall, allowing a hole big enough for Plunkett to squeeze through. The work was harder than he had expected and he had worn a shallow hole into his palm from the digging. The noise in the cell had alerted the warder, a man named Irwin. When asked what the noise was about, Scott said that he had been experiencing severe discomfort from his bowels and was only using the facility in his cell to relieve himself. With the two men sharing Scott’s cell, they peeled back the tin on the door, which was barely thicker than paper, and using a knife Plunkett had stolen they chipped away at the wood to reveal the lock. Scott managed to unlock the door from inside, then tied a string to the bolt to allow them to yank it open at the right moment. Scott rang a bell to alert the unarmed warder that he required assistance as warders were forbidden from going into cells after dark except in an emergency. As the warder reached the cell Scott and Plunkett forced open the door and the pair flew out like startled pigeons and tackled Irwin. Scott attempted to restrain Irwin while Plunkett roughed him up. The warder managed to bite Plunkett’s thumb hard enough to draw blood and leave his teeth marks behind. Irwin screamed “murder” in order to gain attention, but was gagged by Scott shoving a blanket into his mouth and restrained. Irwin was secured to a dining table in the kitchen and the escapees took an iron bar to break their mates out as the keys were being kept by the Governor in an office at the front of the building.
Scott and Plunkett then proceeded to locate the others and release them, using the bar to break the locks. Scott asked the men if there was anyone else they wanted freed, which led to William Marshall, a London tailor doing time for stealing a cash box, being the last to be released upon Dermoody’s request as the pair were mates. Scott went up to Marshall’s cell and told him to get ready, but Marshall refused as he only had one month of his sentence left. Scott replied “O, Dermoody says you’re to come, so come on.” and freed Marshall. Scott also tried to free another inmate named Jones who also refused, but this time he was allowed to stay. There was an argument between the men who wanted to steal Irwin’s watch and Scott who refused. In the end Scott prevailed.
They ran to the south yard where the cell block met the west wall. They had with them knives and benches stolen from the kitchen, a large rope used for raising the prisoners’ dinners to the upper levels of the cell block, and a lock from the north-eastern yard. Scott stood against the bricks, the benches helping his height, while the other men climbed on his shoulders. Once Dermoody reached the top he hitched a rope to the bars on the window of a cell. By holding onto the rope and getting a purchase on the water spout, the others were able to scale the wall after him, Scott being the last to climb. Once they were on top of the wall, then came the riddle of how to get down, which Scott solved by reclaiming the rope and hitching it through a window on the guard tower. The men then absailed down the wall. They ran along Skipton Street, then went down Sebastopol Road to the intersection of Smythesdale Road. It was here that the gang decided to split up. Plunkett was furious with Scott for having broken out so many when his understanding was that there would only be two or three accompanying them. This clash of personalities saw Scott, Dermoody and Marshall take Smythesdale Road while Plunkett led Taylor and Stapleton in the opposite direction. The escape was not discovered until 6am, by which time the enormous search that followed was fruitless.
Scott would later claim that the cause of the split was due to members of the gang refusing to fall in with his plan, which was to bail up the Soldiers’ Hill police station and procure firearms and ammunition. Thence they were to cut the telegraph wires, head for the coast at Geelong or Williamstown, steal a boat and seize a larger craft for the purpose of heading for Fiji. The back-up plan was to sail down the Murray in a canoe and make for South Australia or head north into New South Wales.
When Scott’s gang reached Haddon the following day, they bailed up a boy named Alfred King and robbed him of 5 shillings and a box of matches after hitting him across the head. After trekking a bit further, Marshall was sent to buy supplies where he was spotted by none other than the gang’s victim. The boy alerted some men that this was one of the bushrangers that had robbed him and Marshall was quickly captured and secured. Scott and Dermoody managed to escape unseen. Marshall was locked up in Smythesdale overnight before being sent back to Ballarat.
According to Marshall, Scott had decided to rob a bank at Linton, but Scott would claim his intention was simply to get out of the colony, even the country. Scott and Dermoody remained at large, doubling back to Ballarat and making their way into the rugged Dead Horse Ranges. The pair hid in the bush and gathering necessary items as they went, which included a shotgun and a Bowie knife. The police in the district were on high alert, with troopers from Ballarat, Smythesdale, Rokewood and Piggoreet looking for the escapees.
On 12 June, Plunkett was arrested near Sydney Gully, 8 miles from Rokewood. Senior Constables Harding and Hayes of Rokewood met up with a party of police from Ballarat at Kangaroo Jack’s near Grassy Gully, then split up to scour the area, the two Senior Constables each taking a division. Meanwhile, Stapleton and Taylor had instructed Plunkett to head to a nearby shepherd’s hut to procure firearms and food. It was the division led by Hayes that located Plunkett cowering behind a tree shortly thereafter. The bushranger tried to make a break but realised he was trapped. Plunkett was visibly trembling and bemoaned that he’d have had no problem escaping if he had a firearm. The following day he was returned to Ballarat Gaol via train under the watchful eye of Senior Constable Harding. After he was arrested, Plunkett was very forthcoming with telling his version of events. He described Taylor as the worst kind of coward and thief and went on to describe the plans they had. He claimed their intention was to bail up a taxidermist called Bungaree Jack, take firearms and two stores and the Rokewood bank. Funnily enough, while searching for Taylor and Stapleton, the police accidentally found a man named Collins who had a warrant out on him for stealing harnesses.
On 14 June, a reward of £50 each was offered for the remaining escapees. Descriptions of the men at large were supplied in the press to aid recapture:
“l. Andrew George Scott, native of Cos. Tyrone, Ireland, with a strong north of Ireland accent, aged 27 years, 5 feet 8 3/4 inches high, medium and well built, round face, long sharp pointed nose, dark eyes, with a keen and determined expression, dark whiskers and moustache, shaven chin, drags the left leg and foot slightly in walking; wore light tweed coat, black cloth cap with peak; and appearance of a sailor. Was under committal for trial to the next sittings of the Ballarat Circuit Court for the Egerton bank robbery.
2. William Taylor, a Londoner, a carpenter, aged 50 years, 5 feet 4 3/4 inches high, stout build, sallow complexion, brown hair and eyes.
3. James Stapleton alias Fitzpatrick. Irish, aged 61 years, 5 feet 4 inches high, sallow complexion, grey hair and beard, brown eyes, arms freckled, scar corner left eyebrow, and has lost upper front teeth.
4. John Dermoody alias Harris, an American, aged 21 years, 5 feet 8 1/4 inches high, stout build, fresh complexion, light brown hair, blue eyes, nose inclined to the left, three warts on knuckles of left hand, and anchor tatooed on left wrist.”
Dermoody had reached the end of his tether and decided to go alone. Scott was glad to be rid of him, considering him a “cur”, and was undeterred. Using the sun and stars to guide him in a northeast direction, always travelling along the upper ridges of the ranges, he passed Creswick and went through Smeaton, coming close to Castlemaine. The journey was incredibly tough and his supplies ran out. Having been without food for two days he resorted to chewing gum leaves in an effort to procure some form of sustenance. During a wet night he lit a fire in a hollow log but the heat attracted a snake that he quickly dispatched with his Bowie knife. Scott’s desperation was temporarily relieved when he emerged from the ranges near Lockwood and was given food and shelter by a woman there.
He continued on his way with renewed energy, swapping clothes with a traveller along the way. Scott would later indicate that the swap was mutually agreeable, but the likelihood of someone wanting to willingly swap their clothes for the dirty, beaten outfit of a bushranger is slim at best. Using the tools to hand, Scott reshaped his facial hair. Thus with new clothes and a new beard he found it far easier to go unrecognised as he headed towards New South Wales.
It was a Tuesday evening, 18 June, when Scott appeared in the vicinity of Marong Road where he found a miner’s hut tucked away in dense scrub in New Zealand Gully. The hut was occupied by a boy and as Scott made his way inside he requested a bed. The boy permitted this but, feeling uncomfortable about the desperate looking stranger, quickly informed two nearby miners who came to the house to check out the new arrival. The miners were suspicious of this shabby, long-bearded gentleman armed with a shotgun and a revolver and promptly went to the police.
Detectives Alexander and Brown, Sergeant Drought and Constable Bradley responded straight away, riding out in the dead of night with a horse and cart. The police arrived at Specimen Hill where they left the cart before heading for the hut. Crawling through the scrub, they found it locked from the inside. They retreated to a machine workshop nearby where they found the boy working the night shift. They convinced him to lure the bushranger out and he returned to the hut and knocked on the door. Inside, Scott grumbled. The police waited by the door – Brown and Bradley on one side, Drought and Alexander on the other – and found a chink in the wall that allowed them to see the sleeping bandit. By his side were his shotgun and Bowie knife, the revolver was capped but unloaded. The boy knocked again. “What is it?” Scott snapped. “Mate, give me my Billy.” came the reply. Scott was unimpressed to have his slumber interrupted over such a triviality. “What Billy?” Scott asked. “The black Billy in the chimney,” answered the boy. “Why do you need it?” “It’s our tea time.” By now Scott was out of bed and would have noticed the pitch blackness. “What time is it?” “Twelve o’clock,” the boy answered. Scott was displeased but seeing no alternative to allow him a decent rest he got up and located the Billy can. When he opened the door and passed out the can, Sergeant Drought grabbed his wrist. Scott yanked himself free and tried to make for his gun but the troopers pinned him to the ground. They had finally nabbed the notorious Captain Moonlite. Scott was still willing and able to shoot his mouth off and proceeded to say, “I am Scott. It is all up a tree with me. I am glad there were no lives lost; my intention was not to be taken alive. No one man in the country could arrest me; numbers might have done so. If it were not that you took me so suddenly I would have shot the first man that entered, and if I saw a chance of escape every other would be done the same to. I have suffered much misery since I escaped. If it was in daylight when you came to arrest me, I would have cautioned you to come only a certain distance, and if you ventured to approach then I would have shot you and then destroyed myself.”
Once securely in custody and en route back to prison, Scott was happy to talk about his exploits. He explained that it was actually Plunkett, Stapleton and Taylor that had intended on robbing a bank and they had split off for Rokewood for that purpose. Crowds flooded the train stations in the hope of catching a glimpse of Scott, which irked him greatly. The leering crowds prompted him to state, “It is enough to make one believe in the Darwinian theory to see such a lot of grinning monkeys.”
On 19 July, Stapleton was captured while sleeping in a mia-mia on the summit of Mount Bolton. Constable Kennedy of Coghill’s Creek had been searching the area on foot after a tip-off from two local boys who had spotted a fire there as well as some sportsmen whose dog had found a sheep Stapleton had duffed, and scaled the summit backed up by a man named William Morrison. There he found Stapleton’s resting place nestled between two rocks. Stapleton was rudely awakened by the arrest and armed himself with a tomahawk. There was a struggle wherein Kennedy’s revolver was wrenched out of his hand but the cumulative effect of starvation, exposure and rheumatism made resistance impossible for Stapleton. When Kennedy inspected Stapleton’s stronghold, he noted a bed comprising of an empty mattress, along with a myriad of supplies: half a bag of flour, potatoes, a straight knife and one with a jagged edge for sawing, three linen shirts with “James Fry” written inside, gimlets, stubby candles, matches and a black crepe face mask. Before being sent to the Ballarat Gaol, Stapleton was given tea to warm him up and closely monitored due to his seemingly frail condition. The bushranger seemed almost grateful to be back in custody and was forthcoming with details of his adventures. He stated that within the first three days after the escape he had nothing to eat and took his leave of the others. He headed to Little Hard Hills, then on to Egerton and Bullarook. All of his food and supplies were stolen as he could find nobody that would help him. On one occasion he managed to pass by a policeman without being recognised, but soon after decided not to risk being so close to civilisation and took refuge on Mount Bolton.
Scott was returned to Ballarat and was tried, as planned, defending himself in court. In the end, despite performing admirably as a lawyer, Scott was found guilty of the Egerton bank robbery and given ten years to be served at Pentridge Prison. This would be a major turning point for Scott as he wrestled with what he saw as the injustices and corruption of the prison system. This sense of moral outrage would define the remainder of his life, eventually resulting in the infamous trip to Wantabadgery that cemented his name in history.
The final escapee to be captured was Dermoody, the American butcher. After parting with Scott, he had stayed briefly at Sandhurst before crossing the New South Wales border and heading to Wagga Wagga. Here he found work as a butcher and lived quietly until, by chance, done former associates of his arrived in town. When they found him they asked for money, but fearing they would dob him in Dermoody bolted and hid in an abandoned hut on the outskirts of town where he was found by police and arrested in March 1873, over a year after the escape. He was extradited and returned to Ballarat where he was tried for larceny and sentenced to 2 years and given an additional year for absconding. Like Scott, he was transferred to Pentridge Prison where he racked up an impressive list of infractions ranging from quarrelling and attacking a warder to having a hat band and throwing hominy at another prisoner. After his release he would wind up in and out of gaol for essentially the rest of his life. In his later years he would try to use his connection to the infamous Captain Moonlite to gain recognition while living as a tramp.
Perhaps the only real mystery left to solve was what became of William Taylor. While reports on the capture of the others are easy to find, there appears to be nothing to verify that Taylor was ever recaptured. Certainly, if he had been there would have been something in his prison record to indicate as much, but the last entry is in relation to the charge that had him in Ballarat Gaol to begin with: a conviction on 6 May, 1872, for larceny with a sentence of 12 months hard labour. Most texts neglect to account for the fates of all of the Ballarat bolters so it may just be that Taylor was the luckiest man in the bunch and he managed to make good his escape. However, a bit of digging suggests that Taylor may not have been able to keep quiet for long, with reports of a William Taylor in and out of gaol in New South Wales then Queensland in the late 1870s. Old habits, it seems, are hard to break.