Spotlight: Gipsy Smith the Victorian Bushranger (23 April 1904)

Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), Saturday 23 April 1904, page 8


(by G. Buckmaster, formerly Victoria mounted police.)

In your very interesting history of “The early days of South Brisbane,” a convict named Gipsy Smith is mentioned. From a description of his person and his leading and peculiar characteristics, I have no hesitation in saying that he is identical with the Gipsy Smith who in 1857 became a notorious bushranger in Victoria, and who was as famed for his daring and successful robberies as for his good humour and courtesy to his victims. Brisbane at that date was known in Victoria as Moreton Bay, and Gipsy Smith often regaled his victims with a recital of pranks he played while up here. Strange to say he presented none of the physical marks of the “old hand,” the “Vandemonian,” or the “t’other sider,” as these ex-convicts were called, on his person or in his manner. That was strange, for I have seen here in Australia those people, male and female, in every position of life, in Parliament, on the bench, and in the police, in the mansion and in the hovel, all displaying the indelible brand of the brutal system with which demons in human form treated them while convicts from the old country. Why are men and women who now do a long sentence in Australia not thus recognised? I would much sooner proclaim myself the son of one of those convicts instead of the son of one of those inhuman monsters whose brutality placed such a mark on the face of a Christian man or woman. But the authorities could not overlook Gipsy Smith’s bushranging pranks, and a reward was offered for his arrest. No doubt he had in his mind the adage “The nearer to the church the further from Heaven,” for he pitched his camp quite close to the Daisy Hill police camp. A traitor gave information to Senior-constable Patrick Finnigan and some constables stole out and captured Gipsy Smith without a struggle. So highly did Captain McMahon, the Chief Commissioner of Police, approve of that arrest that to Finnigan’s one chevron as a senior constable he added two more, thus giving him three stripes of a first-class sergeant. Gipsy Smith was committed for trial to the Castlemaine Circuit Court, and while under escort to the gaol there, so fascinated the mounted constable, that he induced him to remove the handcuffs. After a time, watching his opportunity, Smith seized the constable’s sword, and drawing it, tried to make off, pursued by the constable, who armed himself with the scabbard. With this he attacked Smith, and a furious fight followed. But the sword proved itself far superior to the scabbard, and the constable was laid low. Smith, when subsequently arrested, declared that he had never met a braver man than that constable, who in several bouts nearly overcame him. That constable, too, was armed with a pair of horse pistols. Why did he not use them? Why he could not use them I explained in a former issue of the “South Brisbane Herald,” in “A Narrow Escape.” Gipsy Smith was tried at the Castlemaine Circuit Court and found guilty. I forget his sentence. Some time after I met the great First-class Sergeant Finnigan, who thought himself no small potatoes. The Victorian foot police were only allowed to sport a small leg-of-mutton whisker at that time, and wore the Albert cap, which the graceless “London Punch” irreverently compared to an inverted flower pot. With the whiskers and the strap of his cap Pat made a good display, his blue cloth jumper was tied around his waist with a red silk ribbon which nearly fell to his feet. His tight blue pants and his £5 Napoleon boots were the admiration of all, and when he tried to speak with an English accent it was just as laughable as to hear an Irish man speak with a Yankee nasal drawl to hide his brogue. But no one is safe in this world until he has six feet of clay over his body. A sergeant named Daly reported him for riding barebacked the trooper’s horse while drunk. Gipsy Smith got him out of that. Then a prisoner escaped from him. For this he was reduced. Then he took to drink and was dismissed, and the last I heard of him he was a highly respected superintendent in the Tasmanian police force. So Pat Finnigan had more luck than Gipsy Smith. It may interest the friends of Sergeant Timmins in Beechworth to learn that after the sergeant was dismissed in 1869, with Superintendent T. E. Langley and Sub inspector Henry Downing, for “tampering with the enemy,” Timmins, too, became a superintendent in the police force of Tasmania. The year 1869 was an unlucky one for the police of the Ovens district. Captain Standish, the Chief Commissioner, was reduced in rank for attempting to boss the Secretary of the Victorian Law Department.