Spotlight: Brady, Jeffries and McCabe reports (07/01/1826)

Hobart Town Gazette (Tas. : 1825 – 1827; 1830), Saturday 7 January 1826, page 2

On Saturday evening Brady and his party, appeared at Mr. Haywood’s, and robbed him of a large quantity of tea, sugar, tobacco, rum, and flour, besides all the bedding and wearing apparel in the house. Brady alone was mounted on horseback. On coming up, he said, “Mr. Haywood, I am Brady.” He desired him to be under no apprehension of being hurt on account of the late execution of Broadhead, who, he said, was not a bushranger. He wanted provisions only and after remaining about 3 hours, they departed, taking with them 2 horses, besides the one Brady had mounted, to carry their plunder. They said Jeffries, the runaway from Launceston watch-house, had tendered them his services, and had been rejected. While they, were in the house the Messenger arrived with the letters, which they took from him, saying, they wanted only the Government despatches, but carried the whole away with them. They are believed to have crossed the Derwent within these last few days, and to be not many miles distant from Town. We pray and trust most fervently that their iniquitous career may be drawing to its conclusion.

McCabe, Brady and Bryant

The reward offered in another column, by the Government, for the apprehension of that monster in human shape, the murderer Jeffries and the others, though large, will, we are informed, be materially increased by a public subscription. A feeling of horror, and an ardent desire for justice, is roused throughout the Colony, and a public and private effort is making which will give a speedy and decided blow to robbery and bushranging for ever in Van Diemen’s Land. As far as pecuniary means can assist, and it can do much, the Government, we are sure, will be both prompt and liberal. Were these circum-stances known in London to-night, what thousands would be subscribed to-morrow!

Extract of a Letter, dated Launceston, January 1, 1826

“We have three or four fellows out on this side, and yesterday morning they went to the house of a Native Youth named Tibbs, about a mile from this Town and in sight of it. They robbed him, and it is supposed murdered and disposed of the body of his stock keeper. They shot Mr. Tibbs in the neck, and what is more than all they took his wife away with them, with an infant, her first child, sucking at her breast, and she has not been heard of since. Since writing the above, I have heard that Mrs. Tibbs has arrived in Town, but without her child, the villains having murdered it.”

EXECUTION.—Yesterday morning Jas. McCabe, William Priest, John Johnson, Samuel Longworth, Charles Wigley, Jas. Major, W. Pollock and George Harding, underwent the dreadful sentence of the law. All the eight unhappy men died truly penitent, praying most fervently; McCabe in particular offered up an earnest ejaculation, which we trust will be heard, that his associates who are now at large may see the error of their ways and give up their wretched and destructive course.

Richard Brown, James Brown, John Green, Thomas Bosworth, Richard Miller, and William Craven, will likewise undergo the awful sentence of the Law this morning.

James McCabe, post mortem.

Spotlight: Brady robs Haywood; Jeffries at large; Execution of McCabe (1826)

Hobart Town Gazette (Tas. : 1825 – 1833), Saturday 7 January 1826, page 2

On Saturday evening Brady and his party, appeared at Mr. Haywood’s, and robbed him of a large quantity of tea, sugar, tobacco, rum, and flour, besides all the bedding and wearing apparel in the house. Brady alone was mounted on horseback. On coming up, he said, “Mr. Haywood, I am Brady.” He desired him to be under no apprehension of being hurt on account of the late execution of Broadhead, who, he said, was not a bushranger. He wanted provisions only and after remaining about 3 hours, they departed, taking with them 2 horses, besides the one Brady had mounted, to carry their plunder. They said Jeffries, the runaway from Launceston watch-house, had tendered them his services, and had been rejected. While they were in the house the Messenger arrived with the letters, which they took from him, saying, they wanted only the Government despatches, but carried the whole away with them. They are believed to have crossed the Derwent within these last few days, and to be not many miles distant from Town. We pray and trust most fervently that their iniquitous career may be drawing to its conclusion.

The reward offered in another column, by the Government, for the apprehension of that monster in human shape, the murderer Jeffries and the others, though large, will, we are informed, be materially increased by a public subscription. A feeling of horror, and an ardent desire for justice, is roused throughout the Colony, and a public and private effort is making which will give a speedy and decided blow to robbery and bushranging for ever in Van Diemen’s Land. As far as pecuniary means can assist, and it can do much, the Government, we are sure, will be both prompt and liberal. Were these circumstances known in London to-night, what thousands would be subscribed to-morrow!

Extract of a Letter, dated Launceston, January 1, 1826

“We have three or four fellows out on this side, and yesterday morning they went to the house of a Native Youth named Tibbs, about a mile from this Town and in sight of it. They robbed him, and it is supposed murdered and disposed of the body of his stock keeper. They shot Mr. Tibbs in the neck, and what is more than all they took his wife away with them, with an infant, her first child, sucking at her breast, and she has not been heard of since. Since writing the above, I have heard that Mrs. Tibbs has arrived in Town, but without her child, the villains having murdered it.”

EXECUTION.— Yesterday morning Jas. McCabe, William Priest, John Johnson, Samuel Longworth, Charles Wigley, Jas. Major, W. Pollock and George Harding, underwent the dreadful sentence of the law. All the eight unhappy men died truly penitent, praying most fervently; McCabe in particular offered up an earnest ejaculation, which we trust will be heard, that his associates who are now at large may see the error of their ways and give up their wretched and destructive course.

Richard Brown, James Brown, John Green, Thomas Bosworth, Richard Miller, and William Craven, will likewise undergo the awful sentence of the law this morning.

Spotlight: List of Executions at Hobart Town (1827)

Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser (Hobart, Tas. : 1825 – 1827), Friday 5 January 1827, page 4


List of prisoners tried, found guilty and executed, at Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land, from the 1st of January 1823, to the 1st of January 1827 :—


April 13.— James Smith, sheep-stealing.

April 14.— George Richardson, Robert Oldham, William Davis and Ralph Churlton, sheep-stealing.


July 19.— Alexander Pearce, murder.

July 22.— Thomas Butler, sheep-stealing; Patrick Connolly, James Tierney, Isaac Walker, and John Thomson, bushranging and robberies.


January 28.— Thomas Hudson, William Allen and Francis Oates, murder.

February 25.— Henry McConnell, robbery; Jeremiah Ryan, Charles Ryder and James Bryant, murder and robbery; John Logan, attempting to shoot Mr. Shoobridge, Musquito and Jack Roberts (Aboriginal Natives), murder, and Peter Thackery, bushranging and robberies.

February 26.— Samuel T. Fielding and Jas. Chamberlaine, sheep-stealing; Stephen Lear and Henry Fry, burglary at the Surveyor General’s.

August 31.— John Reid Riddle and Thomas Peacock, murder; William Buckley, Joseph Broadhead and John Everiss, bushranging and robberies.

September 7.— John Godliman, murder.

December 12.— Jonas Dobson, murder of his overseer.


January 6.— John Johnson, burglary at Mr. F. Barnes’s; Samuel Longman and Charles Wigley, burglary; James Major, burglary and stealing an ox; William Pollock and George Harden, sheep-stealing; Wm. Preece, bushranging and robberies; and Jas. McCabe, bushranging, robberies, and murder.

January 7.— Richard Brown, James Brown, and John Green, sheep-stealing; Thomas Bosworth, Richard Miller and William Craven, burglary and stealing a boat.

May 4.— Matthew Brady, Patrick Bryant, Thomas Jeffries and John Perry, bushranging, murder, and robberies; John Thompson, murder of Mary Smith.

May 5.— James McKenney, John Gregory, William Brown, John Tilley, James Goodwin, and Samuel Hodgetts, bushranging, murder, and robberies.

September 13.— Thomas Dunnings, Edward Everitt, and William Smith, murder of Mr. Simpson, of Pittwater; John Taylor and George Watters, absconding from Macquarie Harbour and robbing soldiers of their arms; Jack and Dick (Aboriginal Natives), murder of Thomas Colley.

September 15.— James Edwards, John McFarlane, and Thomas Balfour, absconding into the woods, and robbing Mr. Holdship; John Clark and John Dadd, burglary; Patrick Brown, sheep-stealing; George Brace, bushranging and robberies.

September 18.— John Penson, burglary at Richard Worley’s; James Rowles, robbing Mr. John Dunn; Timothy Swinscow, and William Wickens, robbing Mrs. Till; Robert Cable, John Davis, John Cruit, Thomas Savell, and George Farquharson, sheep-stealing.

It will appear from the foregoing list, that from the 13th April, 1823, until the 19th of July, 1824, (a period of fifteen months) only five persons were executed — all of whom were for sheep stealing. Since which period (not three years) seventy-six! have suffered; most of whom for murder, and other very daring offences. This statement however does not include the number of unfortunate men who have forfeited their lives at Launceston; which we believe to be about thirty; therefore the total is upwards of One Hundred.

James McCabe, Murder and Rum

The bushranger, James McCabe, who had for a considerable stretch been Matthew Brady’s right-hand man, eventually left the gang after one of their most successful raids, that being on the property of George Meredith at Little Swan Port in October of 1825. Despite the popular story that Brady had shot him in the hand for “interfering” with a female then turfing him, the real reason McCabe left the gang was apparently far less poetic: Brady had destroyed all of his booze after a drunken brawl in which a man had been killed. Though it seems to have been somewhat glazed over in the contemporary press, the brawl had resulted in the death of the gang’s hostage, a staffer from Meredith’s property named Henry Hunt, which was the main reason Brady took the action he did.

No doubt this was all the culmination of a brewing resentment between Brady and McCabe, and it was hardly the first time McCabe had left Brady’s company. It seems McCabe was either to proud to ask forgiveness or too arrogant to realise he would not cope on his own. Naturally this would end in disaster for McCabe.

He didn’t last long on the run after this, but did his best to elude authorities, and made his way back to Bothwell on foot where he became increasingly desperate after he lost his supplies, and even some of his clothing, after an ambush. In the end a man he had taken prisoner escaped while McCabe was committing a robbery, and alerted the police in town as to the bushranger’s presence. McCabe was quickly subdued, arrested and taken to Hobart Town. On 6 January the following year he was finally executed for his various crimes.

What follows is a dramatic recreation of the event. Unfortunately there is little to nothing recorded about the details of the falling out between McCabe and his colleagues, so this interpretation may help paint the picture by putting what we do know into context.

The waters of Grindstone Bay lapped at the shore and receded gently as the stolen whaleboat glided down along the coastline. On board the vessel were the members of Matthew Brady’s gang, with the booty from their latest raid and a hostage named Henry Hunt. The craft was shallow and open, and allowed just enough room for the men to squeeze in and grab an oar to row. Brady sat at the stern, watching the men and keeping an eye on Hunt. Despite his diminutive stature, he was solidly built and his blue eyes were piercing in a way that could both intimidate and charm depending on his mood. He had a cloak wrapped around him to brace against the wind that was kicking up against his back. Peeking out from the cloak was his pistol, which was ready to go off at any moment if Hunt tried to do anything rash.

Hunt directed the landsmen in how to manoeuvre the whaleboat in the coastal waters as they came in close to the bay. The boat was steered towards the mouth of the 80 Acre River and allowed to lurch onto the banks. The bushrangers set about unloading their ill-gotten gains and established a camp close to the water. They knew they had to work quickly as it was growing steadily dark and the area was known to be the haunt of Aboriginals who were not at all pleased to have white men encroaching on their space. Brady knew only too well how the Aborigines of nearby Oyster Bay, led by the infamous Musquito, in particular had problems with the whites as their murderous raids had put the entire colony on edge over the previous two years.

In fact, George Meredith, whose Little Swan Port property Brady’s gang had just ransacked, was one of the men who had set out to capture Musquito and his “Tame Mob” following a deadly attack close to where the gang now assembled their camp. Meredith claimed that his posse had found the mob but they had all escaped unharmed under cover of darkness, but rumours persisted that in fact the men under Meredith’s instructions had found the mob asleep in their camp and had been ordered to put them all to death. Nobody cared enough about the lives of the Aborigines to try and find any bodies, doubly so seeing as they had ambushed and murdered men. Some saw it as just desserts if indeed the rumour was true.

As darkness blotted out the horizon, the rush of the waves was mingled with the sound of revelry. A hogshead of rum had been tapped and the men drank freely from it, but none more so than James McCabe. McCabe and Brady were the last of the Macquarie Harbour escapees still at large, and they had been through a great many misadventures together.  He was slightly built, with sharp features and pouty lips, his face was careworn and pockmarked. With a pewter tankard in one hand and conducting an invisible choir with the other, McCabe regaled the gang with a rendition of John Barleycorn before slumping down against a tree, giggling. Brady glared at his companion. The pair were polar opposites in just about every manner possible. McCabe was brash, impulsive and hot-headed while Brady was calm, measured and controlled. McCabe was a devil for the drink, while Brady avoided it as much as he could manage.

In all their time together, since escaping from Sarah Island, they had seen all of their other companions captured or killed, and in fact Brady himself had almost been nabbed himself on one occasion, no thanks to McCabe who bolted at the first sign of trouble. It was McCabe that had convinced him to go to Thomas Kenton’s hut, despite everything telling him it was a bad idea, then when Brady’s misgivings were vindicated and they were jumped by a pair of redcoats, McCabe has shot off like a rocket, leaving Brady to his fate. Fortunately, Brady was resolute enough to have affected his own escape (though not unscathed) and it took a considerable amount of begging for Brady to allow McCabe to share his company when they eventually reunited. It was a marriage of convenience, but the convenience had worn off.

McCabe staggered to his feet and made his way to the rum for a refill. He was halted by William McKenney blocking his path.

“Move, McKenney.”

“That’s enough, Jim. Go take a seat; you’re drunk,” McKenney replied firmly.

“To Hell with you, I know how I am,” McCabe replied.

He attempted to push past McKenney, but the more sober man simply shifted to deny him passage. McCabe’s face scrunched into a scowl.

“What’s your problem, McKenney?” McCabe slurred.

“Get out of it, McCabe; you’re three sheets to the wind.”

“I’ll show you a sheet…”

McCabe wobbled, then lunged at McKenney. They fell to the ground, wrestling. It didn’t take much effort for McKenney to get the upper hand, straddling McCabe and grabbing him by the throat. McCabe fished around and grabbed a pistol that had fallen from his trousers as he hit the ground. With the weight of the firearm enhancing his blow, McCabe struck McKenney in the head, causing him to roll off.

Seeing the commotion, the other gang members rushed over, with Josiah Bird and Patrick Dunne leaping in to join the fisticuffs. Bird and Dunne were, just like McCabe, drunk as newts, and swung punches at everyone and no-one in particular.

“Arrah!” Dunne shouted as he landed a blow on McCabe, hurting his hand. McCabe returned the gesture, jabbing the Irishman in the ribs.

McKenney spear-tackled McCabe to the ground and tried to disarm him but McCabe rose and swung his pistol around, levelling it at his opponent and cocking it. At that moment, Henry Hunt, who had been seated nearby patiently, ran to McKenney’s side and tried to prevent McCabe from shooting him. In so doing he made himself the target. McCabe, unable to stop himself, pulled the trigger and a ball of lead pushed through Hunt’s chest. He collapsed with a groan.

Brady stormed across and snatched the pistol out of McCabe’s hand. He cursed at his companion and struck him across the head with the pommel of the pistol’s stock, knocking him unconscious. He ordered other members of the gang to tie McCabe up as he attended to their fallen prisoner.

Brady knelt beside Hunt and put his fingers to his throat to feel for a pulse. Hunt was unresponsive and lying in a pool of his own blood. There was no pulse. Brady felt numb.

“He’s dead,” Brady stated coldly. McKenney gazed on the body in horror.

“What do we do, Matt?”

“We bury him. In the morning we’ll get moving.”

Brady stood slowly then crossed to a pile of tools and took up a hatchet. He proceeded to hack the rum cask apart, freeing the liquid, which melted the dust into mud. A rivulet of rum snaked between his feet and downhill. He did the same with the remaining ceramic bottles of porter and a bottle of wine. His gang looked on with disappointment but none intervened.

Brady took several of his men to an area close to the beach and dug a grave for McCabe’s victim with what implements they had at their disposal. The corpse was then carried down from the camp and placed in the hole, far too shallow to rightly be considered a grave, then filled it in. Throughout the process, all men wore a look of grim determination and did not speak. Once the hole had been filled, the men stood in silence for a moment of respect before returning to the camp.

William Young, or Tilly as he was better known to the gang, seemed particularly disturbed by the turn of events.

“It’s a bad business, Matthew,” Tilly said to Brady. Brady simply grunted.


The following morning the gang packed up their camp as James McCabe slowly came to. Realising he had been tied to a tree, he began straining at his bonds and screaming furiously with every profanity he could muster. He was soon freed and as he made his way to the cask of rum, he realised it had been destroyed.

“What did you do to the drink?”

“I did away with it, McCabe,” Brady replied.

“What in Hell for?”

“It’s no good. After your display last night, I cannot trust any of you to behave sensibly with the stuff. You put a man to death for no good reason. You’re lucky I don’t put a ball through you myself.”

McCabe, who had been so drunk his memory of the previous night was almost non-existent, immediately reeled with confusion. In his addled state of mind, he balled his hand into a fist and swung at his leader. Brady dodged the blow easily and grabbed McCabe.

“That bastard McKenney put you up to it, didn’t he?” McCabe hollered.

“I want you gone,” Brady said calmly. McCabe was red in the face and scowled as he pushed Brady away from him.

“Fine; I don’t need you lot at any rate. Good riddance.”

McCabe found his belongings and set off on foot, glaring at each man as he went. He hoped someone would stop him and beg him to stay but nobody did. As he reached the outskirts of the camp, he turned around to face his former colleagues.

“Damn the lot of you to Hell. You won’t last a month!”

With that last burst of defiance, James McCabe left Matthew Brady’s company for the last time.


Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Monday 18 August 1873, page 3




Written by J. E. Calder


As soon as the whereabouts of these fellows was known in Hobart Town a number of civilians united themselves with a military party and went in pursuit of them, and on the 1st of September came up with them on the hovel of a poor sawyer. The bushrangers’ dogs gave the alarm, and the tired outlaws started up just in time to see a military party, headed by a Captain Innes, marching rapidly on their place of refuge. But the dogs were as wearied as the men, and saw not the soldiers till they were surrounding the hut, and the fugitives had no choice but to run for it, and left their plunder and some of their arms behind. But the country hereabouts is favourable for retreat, so plunging into one of those intricate jungles found in many parts of this district, they escaped for the moment.

But Innes was an active officer, and as his party was pretty fresh he gave them no respite, and difficult as the place was for movement of any kind, he never remitted pursuit except at night, and being aided by a black tracker – a civilised boy of one of the native tribes, called by his white companions Tegg – he came up with them again on the 4th. This delay was caused by the excessive difficulties of the backwoods of this district, that is, the undulatoriness of the surface, the thick growth of underwood, and the vast quantities of fallen timber, which combined, are in the last degree impeding,

The principal civilians who aided the military were parties headed by Messieurs Bethune, Champion, and an active constable named Kerby. The advance of both soldiers and civilians though slow, never intermitted, and the robbers were forced to push on at such a rate that the least active fell behind and thus got separated from their leader. This caused the pursuing party to divide into small companies, Bethune, Champion, and Kerby, each taking charge of one. The latter made one prisoner soon after this separation took place, on hearing which, the others reunited and marched to the place of capture, thinking it likely that other runaways might not be far off, and they met at the small stream called the Styx, and following along its course the practised eye of the young black soon discovered the traces of another of the fugitives, and when once upon them he followed the scout like a bloodhound, by marks quite invisible to persons who have no experience of tracking, but which are perfectly plain to the savage. A leaf or stick displaced, a single blade of grass trampled upon, the faintest scratch on a stone or prostrate tree, which we should never see at all indicated the course of the pursued as distinctly to the trained savage as footprints on the snow would appear to us. Persons who have never seen tracking can have no idea of the acuteness of the trained vision of these people, nor understand how they can discern what none but themselves could see. But I have been told by an officer of the police, the chief of a bush party having several of these exports with him, that the art of following by marks that are invisible to ordinary persons, is not difficult to acquire, and that after a few months’ practice he himself could track almost as well as his guides.

The boy followed the trace of the fugitive to the edge of the jungle he had entered. Bethune and others plunged into it after the black; but coming to a large pool the scent was lost, but the game was not far off, for after emerging from the thicket into the open forest, “I saw,” says Bethune in his report, “a man about two hundred yards from me.” The poor wretch was quite exhausted from the combined effect of fatigue and long fasting, for he had tasted nothing but water for two days, and was also suffering from the recent loss of an eye in the fight at Valleyfield. Bethune challenged him to stand, and as the wearied man could hardly move, he complied, of course. He, however, still carried a loaded firelock, but was so bewildered, as men often are when thoroughly prostrated by suffering and exhaustion, that he seemed not to comprehend its use at the moment, and flung it from him, in place of defending himself with it. Bethune, however, was not aware of his bodily condition at the time, and, running at him, seized and made prisoner of him. After a poor effort, at equivocation he owned that he was one of Brady’s companions, and proved to be Jeremiah Ryan. Bethune than re-joined his captain, into whose hands he committed the prisoner.

This was another of Brady’s evil days. Eleven weeks had scarcely elapsed since the first day of their landing after their stormy boat voyage from Macquarie Harbour, and no less than eleven of the fourteen who first absconded, were already taken, and either hanged, or in a fair way of being so; and there now remained at large only Brady, McCabe and Bryant, and the last-named being caught during the next fortnight the number was reduced to two, within three months after their bush career began.

What became of Brady and the others after this day of disaster, or how they escaped from their pursuers, I know not; but they were all separated, and Brady must have been alone for several weeks. It was now universally believed so complete was the defeat of the fugitives that all of them who had escaped capture on this fatal day, had perished in the most miserable manner in which life can terminate, namely, by starvation in the woods; and there ensued a period of welcome repose of three months duration, during all which time the newspapers of the colony are quite silent on the subject of bushranging.

But in the midst of this happy calm, the colony was suddenly startled by the news of the return of the irrepressible Brady to active life, whom every one thought, and perhaps hoped, was dead. This was near the end of November, but he was now alone, having failed to rejoin his sole surviving companion, McCabe.

It was after nightfall of the 26th November that he attacked, single-handed, the residence of a settler at a place called then Macquarie Springs, in the fine district of Jericho. The occupants of this solitary dwelling were the owner and his wife, and two farm labourers. These latter were convicts, as farm servants mostly were then, and were not much to be depended on, as their sympathies were too often with the enemy.

With his gun slung over his shoulder, and with a horsepistol in his hand, he approached the place, and knocking, the door was opened, and rushing in impetuously he commanded their instant submission, and overpowered and bound all the men, before they recovered from their surprise. “I am Brady,” said he, “surrender without a word, or ‘we’,” feigning there were more outside, “will give you no quarter.” His dauntless bearing terrified them into compliance, and he plundered the place at his leisure.

But just as he was leaving, the clatter of horses’ hoofs was heard approaching, and several horsemen galloped up. It was a moment of seeming peril, but their arrival in no way disconcerted him, and he stood his ground. He made no offer to retreat, and they on their part made none to advance. One of them it is said offered to lead a pursuit, but as no one else seemed to relish a scuffle with him, the proposal was not seconded. Brady observing their irresolution, and wishing to get rid of them, now turned upon them, and advanced with levelled gun to where they stood, which movement sent all these heroes to the right-about at once, and off they went at a galloping pace, which they never slackened till they were far enough out of range of Brady’s firelock. He then retreated himself.

But he had too much judgment not to see that robbing by himself was too hazardous to be continued, so he retired into concealment, and was heard of no more, for another couple of months, being supported by secret colleagues, of whom he had several in the district.

It was about this time that he made the acquaintance of the only man to whom he was ever known to offer extraordinary violence, namely Thomas Kenton. This person was originally a sailor, and his ship a whaler touching at Norfolk Island, he there deserted her and found his way to Tasmania in 1810. He became a settler at Brown’s River, where he held a grant of 60 acres first surveyed by me, now the property of Mr. John Lucas, to whose father he sold it. We next hear of him as an officer of Police, and he received the respectable appointment of District Constable, “for the districts on the borders of the counties of Buckinghamshire and Cornwall,” in September of 1810, (these two counties then comprised all Tasmania), and was just about as fit for his office, as for the Primacy of England.

Of this man’s connection with Brady, very little has been preserved in any printed or written document that I can discover, and there is scarcely a trace of it in the newspapers of the period, which were the Gazette and Colonial Times. His death by Brady’s hand is indeed just mentioned by a Launceston correspondent of the last named paper as follows :–

“Yesterday,” (that is the 5th of March, 1826), “Brady deliberately shot Thomas Kenton, after giving him his reasons for doing so, viz. that he once asked him (Brady) to his hut, where some soldiers were then, who wounded him on the occasion.” (Colonial Times, March 10th, 1826.) We also learn in an after number, that this murder formed one of the charges for which Brady suffered, but nothing more I gather the following account of the cause that ultimately led to the murder of Kenton, from the gentleman who took the official depositions relating to the temporary capture of Brady at Kenton’s cabin.

Kenton occupied a remote hut, the position of which is unknown to me, and was often visited by Brady and McCabe, who had reunited some time in January, 1825. They were also associated at this time, with a very young man named Hyte. This youth was in the service of one of the most active and independent magistrates, who ever sat on the Tasmanian bench, Mr. T. G. Gregson. The youngster Hyte, was outwardly at least, so well conducted that his master had no suspicions of his fidelity, even when he was ever intriguing with Brady. In the end, he went off to the woods with the bushrangers; and it was this young fellow who first introduced them to Kenton, the inexperienced youth having no suspicion that he was none too trustworthy.

Kenton’s cabin stood near the edge of a handsome plain, and was now frequently visited both by military and police, who had got some inkling of his intimacy with these outlaws, and kept an eye on his movements, and, being none too scrupulous, was easily engaged to betray them.

Soon after this compact, two soldiers took post secretly at Kenton’s hut, he having reported that he expected a visit from Brady’s party very shortly. The hut being, as said above, on the margin of a plain, was easily seen from the woody heights that surrounded it, amongst which Brady and his mates lay in concealment. By pre-arrangement, a signal was always hung out if the coast were clear of hostile cruisers – a white sheet hung over an adjoining fence indicating safety, and its removal the reverse.

The three outlaws came down as expected, and, seeing the safety signal up, advanced towards the place, but still not exactly in confidence that all was right. Brady, though a bold fellow, was a very superstitious one, and as rank a believer in dreams and omens as a highland seer, and was now tortured by the recollection of his sleeping thoughts of the night before that evil hands were upon him, and his companions could not persuade him out of his fears, which were too deeply impressed on his ill-regulated mind to be easily dismissed as imaginary only, and which the sight of the signal did remove. He had no good opinion of Kenton, and was not to be talked out of the presentation that disturbed him. He advanced, it is true, but often stopped on the way, looking anxiously at the hut and at every object behind which treachery might be lurking, and it was long before his associates could persuade him to move forward. Little by little, and stop by stop only, was the space between him and the hut diminished, and the door nearly reached, when the soldiers rushed from their concealment, and before Brady could fire, both himself and Hyte were knocked over, and McCabe, stunned by the suddenness of the surprise fled to the woods. Brady was wounded in the fray.

“I thought it would be thus,” said he as he rose, “my dream of last night was not sent for nothing;” then turning to Kenton he added, “I always thought you would betray me, but you shall suffer for it yet,” Kenton smiled but said nothing, and all of them entered the hut.

The captors having no handcuffs, had to use such means of securing their prisoners as could be found in Kenton’s hut; and their hands were bound with cords only, Kenton helping to tie them. They next committed the grave mistake of deciding to remove them one at a time to a distant police station, marching Hyte off first, and to return for Brady as soon as they could, whom, they left for the present in charge of Kenton, arming him with the gun taken from the former, who in his present wounded state they thought incapable of mischief, but they did not know their man. Brady was really not much hurt, but as he bled freely, he feigned being severely hit.

When the soldiers were gone, Kenton entered into conversation with his prisoner and had the hardihood to attempt to console him under his mishap, saying he thought his capture was as good a thing as could have happened to him, adding with cruel irony, that in his opinion it were better to be hanged at once, than continue his present courses and most unhappy life. Brady listened with as much coolness as he could command, being more engaged with thoughts of escape, than of resignation or repentance.

With these in his mind, he complained of pain and want of sleep, and asked his keeper’s leave to lie on his bed, and to throw a coverlet over him, as he was cold from the loss of blood.

Kenton did so, and Brady seemed to compose himself, whilst the other sat by the hearth, without greatly noticing the wounded man, who was all the while trying to undo the bandages on his wrists, which his captors had not tied so closely together as to give unnecessary pain. But the knots were as tight as that of Gordius and not to be undone. Baffled in this, he now complained of thirst, and asked for water, of which he saw there was none in the room. With this reasonable request, Kenton also complied, and went down to the creek for some, a distance of about a hundred yards. Brady sprung from the couch directly it was safe to do so, and it is said by some, that he held his bandaged hands over the flame of the fire till the cord parted and that as his hands were not tied closely together, the rope separated without disabling him. I do not avouch the truth of the oft-told tale of the manner in which he freed himself, but that he did get rid of his bandages at this moment is certain, as the event proved.

Kenton had not taken the gun with him when he went out, and the liberated brigand seized it directly he was free, and then quietly awaited the return of his keeper, which took place a minute afterwards.

“Now,” said Brady, feigning coolness that he hardly felt, “it is my turn to be master, so prepare yourself for what is going to happen,” and with these words he put the gun on full cock.

The surprise of Kenton was complete. He was now no longer Brady’s master, but a humble suppliant for his own life. He guessed his meaning and begged for mercy, saying “for God’s sake Brady, don’t shoot me.”

“You old vagabond,” said the bushranger, looking him, so to speak, through and through, “have you not often told me there is no God (He was an avowed disbeliever) and now you ask for mercy in his name. Do you think you deserve it at the hands of a man whom you have so shamefully betrayed?”

Kenton was silent, for the words of the bushranger struck home; but after a second’s pause, during which Brady kept his eye on the trembling man, like a black snake mesmerising the victim it is about to seize, his better nature prevailed, and, with uncommon forbearance, told him to go about his business, as he cared not to take the life of so worthless a creature. “But,” said he, before quitting the place, “take warning by this day’s work, and see that you never play the traitor again. We shall meet again before long, and if it comes to my knowledge that you have done me, or those who may be with me, another bad turn, you shall die. I let you off this time, not that I fear the consequences of shooting you, but because I do not think you are worth dying for, even though something tells me that I shall be hanged for murdering you yet.” Then coolly putting his piece on half-cock, he quitted the hut, leaving the half stupefied traitor to stifle his reflections as he best could, and to invent excuses for permitting him to escape, whenever the men returned for their prisoner, which took place some hours afterwards.

In their anger at finding that the bird had got out of their trap, they seized Kenton, and bore him off to the station-house instead, He was dismissed the service of course, and then tried and sent to gaol for allowing the prisoner to escape, for in those days the magistracy never stuck at trifles. Kenton, barefaced as he was, feared to make any public declaration of his treachery, and actually pleaded guilty of connivance at the flight of the robber; and afterwards boasted of aiding him to evade justice, which more inflamed Brady against him than any other part of his conduct, and determined him to punish him for it, if ever they met again.

Brady hovered about the midland districts for some weeks after his last adventure at Kenton’s, committing several daring robberies in company with two men named Pollock and Godliman but re-joining McCabe again he dismissed these recruits, and quitted his present quarters for another scene, and moved to a place called Mike Howe’s Marsh, a fertile plain amongst the inferior slopes of the Table Mountain, a well known eminence of the great watershed of Tasmania.

Their journey hither was not without its adventures. They first fell in with a party of five mounted and well armed stock-riders, all of whom they made prisoners directly. They forced their mounted captives to follow them, taking their horses from them and making them all walk; and such as hesitated when ordered to dismount and lead their steeds, were shoved out of their saddles without more words. The Gazette of the 25th of February, 1825, gives an amusing account of the inglorious defeat of the larger force.

At Howe’s Marsh they were joined by a half starved convict named Plum, who they allowed to follow their fortunes. They now struck over to Wood’s Lake, where they attacked an outlying stock hut of a well known colonist named Kemp. Leaving their prisoners in charge of Plum, Brady and McCabe dashed into the hut, and overpowered all the occupants, five in number, and then plundered the place of arms and a large quantity of provisions, helping themselves to a horse a-piece, and loading some of the others with their pillage. The men they forced to follow them, to prevent their raising an alarm just yet. They now moved down to the lake margin, driving men and horses before them like sheep. Their prisoners were dismissed next day, but they stuck to the horses.

When their prisoners were gone they moved to a secluded nook of the lake where for once they lived in quiet for a fortnight, when they were disturbed by a small roving party, who were scouring the country in chase of them. It consisted of two constables and a soldier of the 3rd Regiment. These parties were mostly dressed in the same rough style as the bushrangers, for whom they were often mistaken, and many fatal accidents happened, from their wearing no distinctive dress. The meeting was sudden, and quite unexpected on both sides.

It was at noon of the 12th March, when Brady’s dogs gave the alarm that there were strangers about his camp, and the bushrangers stood to their arms. The travellers demanded their names and occupation, to which Brady, who was never at a loss, replied ”Constables, and who are you?” “Constables,” was the rejoinder. “No,” said Brady “you are not constables, you are Brady and his bushrangers, so down with your arms or we will shoot you,” and all three levelled their pieces at them. Matters were now getting serious, and both sides got under cover of trees, and they commenced blazing at each other whenever they got, or thought they got a chance, but so well was every man covered, that it was long before a shot took effect, when Plum exposing himself a little was instantly brought to the ground by Constable Dutton. But neither Brady or McCabe could be reached, and they held their posts till dark, and then drew off, leaving their companion and their camp also to their opponents.

They now retreated to the Lakes Arthur, that lie about eight miles from Wood’s Lake, where they made themselves masters of the encampment of one of the government surveyors, Mr. J. A. Wedge, who was absent at the moment with the most of his party surveying the shores of these lakes.

Wedge says he was returning to his tent at sunset, with three servants, and, on approaching it, “I saw two well-dressed men coming from the direction of my tents, whom I took to be newly arrived emigrants in search of land, coming to me for information as the Government surveyor. I observed that they carried guns, but had no suspicion of them. When they were within twelve or fourteen yards of me, they stopped, calling on me to stand. Not thinking they were bushrangers, I continued to advance towards them, when, presenting their guns, they peremptorily desired me to stand, “or we will fire on you – we are the bushrangers.” Being unarmed, I stopped accordingly. Brady then came up, McCabe standing ready with his gun. . . . Brady searched all my pockets, and took my watch from me.”

The robbers had watched the surveyor leave his tent in the morning, and took possession of it directly afterwards, making prisoners of the cook and bullock-driver. They next overhauled his boxes, and smashed his firearms to pieces. His clothes they appropriated, and were dressed in them when he first met them. Brady, as we have seen before, had no love for Government men, and therefore did not permit Wedge’s servants to idle away their time while he was absent, but set them both to work to have a good supper ready for all hands on their return.

On reaching his camp at evening, Brady politely invited Wedge to sup with him; but this he refused, unless he unbound his men first (all of whom he had “coupled up” by this time), which was assented to after a good deal of grumbling, and they fell to, but not in the most amicable mood with each other, and the meal was rather a dismal affair at best, the survey party being ill at ease with their rebel hosts, and the hosts so distrustful of their guests, that they sat at point-blank distance from them, with their guns between their legs, ready for instant action, in case of a rush being made by the more numerous party.

Wedge describes Brady as a robust man, “muscular and well made. He had an intelligent countenance, bright hazel eyes, and an expansive forehead.” McCabe, he says was a bad looking fellow, “with a narrow visage and sallow complexion.”

To detail all Brady’s wanderings at this time, and his ever-recurring fights for existence would be out of the question, for he hardly ever was two days in one place; and such was the rapidity of his movements, particularly after his men were mounted, that, to use the expressions of Wedge, he seemed ubiquitous, and kept the whole colony on the qui vive, no one knowing how soon he might be attacked by men who, so to speak, seemed in all places nearly at once. Being an excellent rider, in which art he soon perfected all his future followers, he made little of sixty miles a day, or more, changing his horses as they knocked up, to which he coolly helped himself as he went along, of which there are always some at every large establishment. The speed of his movements was marvellous; and by the time the many roving parties could concentrate on any point of recent outrage, he was fifty miles off, attacking all the best homesteads in some distant district, that was no longer adequately protected. His robberies may be numbered not by scores, but by hundreds; and I do not know a district in Tasmania, into which settlement had then penetrated, where he had not committed a score of most audacious robberies. Indeed, wherever there was anything to be had in the rural districts, there was he sure to appear; and yet for several months after his interview with Wedge, he had no companion but McCabe.

From the Lake Country they descended into the rich, low-lying lands of North Tasmania, where they continued their system of exactions for some weeks, mostly unresisted, but sometimes having to fight for it.

They were indirectly the cause of a very lamentable disaster, soon after their descent from the Lake districts. They had taken possession, in the early part of April, 1825, of the cottage of a person named Bassam; and while resting there, a party of soldiers who were in search after them, came down on the place, and demanded of Bassam’s shepherd, to know if the bushrangers were there; but the terrified man so equivocated, as to convince them that their prey was not far away and they poured a volley into the hut. This was what Brady could never stand, and both he and McCabe ran to the door and returned the fire, felling one of them, but not mortally. Bassam then came out, and entreated the soldiers not to confound him with the bushrangers, whose prisoner he was, and gave his name and occupation. But the shots of the robbers, and the fall of their comrade so exasperated them, that, they refused to hear him, and immediately despatched him with their bayonets. The death of this poor settler allayed their wrath for a moment; and in the midst of the confusion by which a violent death is always followed, the outlaws made off, taking, says the Gazette of the 8th April, “all their luggage except a pistol, and very quietly walking off.”

After this lamentable affair, the robbers recommenced their wanderings, and turned once more to the south, travelling afoot by the main line of road. They met many persons while on their march, and robbed every one they met, from one of whom they took no less than two hundred sovereigns, which this simpleton carried about him in such troublous times as these.

Several horsemen whom they met about this time, were also stopped, and were not only fleeced of a considerable sum of money, but were forced to surrender two of their horses, with which the fugitives galloped off.

But they were too fatigued to proceed very far, and rested for a few days at the hut of a confederate in the backwoods, and next re-appeared near the Cross Marsh, about thirty miles from Hobart Town, where they resumed their old practices with more than customary activity, adding a fearful number of robberies on the highway to their already voluminous catalogue of offences.

From this place they crossed into the settlements of Bothwell and Hamilton, where there are many first-class homesteads, as might be expected from the nature of the country hereabouts, which is a vast pasture field. Here, as everywhere else, devastation followed closely on their track, and they surprised and robbed many of the first men of the place.

It was at this time that they became acquainted with a person occupying a good position in colonial society. He was a gentleman by birth, the son of a clergyman, and of good family. He had emigrated in 1822, and settled in the Bothwell district as a sheep farmer. But not-withstanding the advantages of birth, education, and social standing, he was a man of bad disposition and practices, and evil tendencies. He now secretly allied himself with those degraded robbers, and became for the remainder of his own brief career the most trusted and useful of their confederates; and the unsuspected custodian of their plunder. But, as usual with all evil-doers, the Fates were just, and severed his connection with the world about four months after the final disruption of Brady’s gang, being convicted of sheep stealing, then a capital offence.

The continued successes of these two men appears now to have determined them on bolder courses; and, tiring of robbing by themselves, they beat up for recruits amongst the many outlaws whom Governmental oppression had driven into the woods; and as those two men had a reputation for success, far above any others, they had no difficulty in finding accomplices, to join with leaders whose enterprises were so well planned, and mostly so fortunate in their results, and four other men joined them, with whom they took post once more in the north.

Their first achievement with these new allies was unpropitious. Arriving after a most exhausting march at an outstation of Mr. Dry’s, that lay I believe near the base of the beautiful basaltic mountain that still bears his name, they composed themselves for a few days’ rest, as they hoped; but they were now so watched, that their place of refuge was soon discovered, and a party of soldiers, commanded by Lieutenant Williams, came on their retreat so guardedly, that neither their dogs nor the sentinel on watch observed them, and all their arms were secured before they saw their danger. In this helpless state, they fled to the hills directly, leaving a great deal of valuable property behind, the proceeds of their recent depredation in Bothwell.

A storm of bullets was sent after them as they fled to the cover of the woods, but ineffectively. The soldiers were even more exhausted than themselves, and hardly pursued them, and they once more escaped capture; but the former were well consoled under the misadventure of losing their prey, by the booty that was left in their hands, which consisted of a large quantity of plate, and four hundred pounds in gold, which latter they seem to have appropriated.

But they were quickly equipped for adventure again; for at all Tasmanian homesteads, especially in times of disturbance, plenty of firearms were kept ostensibly for defence purposes, but which from the suddenness of the attacks of such men as Brady, and the apathy of the farm servants then, who were mostly convicts, and seldom of much use when most wanted, the bushrangers were soon ready for the road again. But they were now so hunted after both in the North and South, that they resolved on an entire change of quarters, which they had not visited before, mainly Great Swanport, which lies on the East Coast.

The eastern shore districts are generally infertile, though there are some fine properties there; but taking them as a whole, these parts of Tasmania are inferior. Some of the best orchards in the island are to be found on this coast.

[To be continued].


Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Saturday 16 August 1873, page 3




Written by J. E. Calder.

To the reader of Tasmanian history, the most remarkable passages, after those relating to the capture and extinction of the Native tribes, are those that embody the details of the careers of the most remarkable of the bushrangers, who have at different times held the country, so to speak, in their hands. They stand before us it is true, without any of the artificial adornments with which writers customarily invest the robber heroes of Europe, and with a far less romantic and euphonious designation, than the brigands or banditti of the historical lands I speak of, and with plain vernacular names, that it may be grate too harshly on the ear of the sentimental reader of English narratives. The acts of the bushrangers of the remote and unclassical land of Tasmania, may be hardly readable, when achieved by men bearing such vulgar plebeian names as Michael Howe or Matthew Brady, even though the details of their marauding lives, are a hundred times less revolting than those of the ferocious bands who still infest many of the European states. With rare exceptions they shed no man’s blood, and the two men above named, never in wantonness; and though both of them destroyed life, it was when writhing under strong and not unnatural excitement, created more by the treachery of the victims themselves, than by their own malevolence. That there were amongst the fugitives of Tasmania, men as infamous as the brutal brigands of Europe, is true; such for example as Pearce, Jeffreys and Wheelan; but the majority of them were neither cruel nor very ferocious, nor quite devoid of the better feelings of our nature, of which they often gave proof in practising forbearance, even under circumstances when forbearance could hardly be expected of them, and where persons under less temptation have not always proved too forgiving. The remission of vengeance is always a pleasing act; but in the brigand, who stands himself beyond the line that mercy never crosses, forbearance, such as Brady more than once evinced, must be accounted to be a redeeming quality, particularly in his case, who lived in times when clemency was never shown to men of his kind. Of the disposition of the strangely compounded man there is a clever sketch in Montgomery Martin’s Colonial Magazine for 1840 (a London publication), written by a writer long resident in Tasmania. He thus speaks of Brady at page 412 :- “If he did much injury, he also evinced much forbearance. He never wantonly sacrificed human life, and on no occasion was female delicacy outraged or insulted. This was much from a proscribed outlaw, the possessor of unlimited temporary power, who well knew that no aggravation of crime would enhance his amount of punishment, whenever he fell into the hands of justice,” &c.

Bushranging in Tasmania extended over two protracted periods. The first one began soon after the establishment of the colony in 1804, and only ended with the death of Michael Howe on the 21st October, 1818, when there intervened a period of repose of rather more than five and a half years, during which it was that the occupation of the lands of the country commenced in earnest; for it was not until Howe’s gang was thoroughly rooted out and himself destroyed, that this took place, except in a very limited degree. The plague broke out again in June of 1824, when Matthew Brady and thirteen others escaped from Macquarie Harbour; and this second period never quite died out until the cessation of transportation in 1853, which put a complete end to it; Brady’s bush career lasted not quite two years.

Matthew Brady, but whose proper name was Bready, (so at least he is styled in both Gaol and Ship records), was born at Manchester, just about the close of last century. His occupation in England was that of a gentleman’s servant, probably a groom, as he was an excellent and even a graceful rider, and perfect in his horsemanship.

For some delinquency, he was tried at Lancaster, on the 17th of April, of 1820, and received a seven-year sentence of transportation, and arrived here in the convict ship Juliana, on the 29th of the following December.

As a young man his habits appear to have been more scampish than profligate, and the Reports of his conduct, whether in gaol or on board ship, enumerate a long list of offences committed after his conviction, and conclude with the general statement of his conduct, as bad in one instance, and very bad in the other. But his transgressions do not seem to have been grave ones, mere infractions of discipline in most cases, to which through life he was notoriously inattentive. In Tasmania, his worst misdeeds before taking the bush, were that he twice attempted to escape from the colony as a stowaway on board ship, for one of which it was, that he was sent to the penal settlement of Macquarie Harbour for the unexpired portion of his sentence, about five years, a doom from which, considering the severities customarily practised at those dreadful places of torment, it is not to be wondered at, that he determined to escape, should chance ever offer the means of getting away.

It will be known to most of your readers, that Macquarie Harbour is an extensive inlet of the bleak West coast of Tasmania, the climate of which part of the colony is at least twice as humid as that of the eastern hemisphere of the island. The prevailing winds are from North West round to South West, and after traversing the breadths of the vast Pacific, are mostly so loaded with vapour,that the rainfall all along the western shore-line is very much heavier than elsewhere. This is attributable to the peculiar configuration of the country, which is occupied by very elevated land through nearly all its central length, on either side of which the climates, in so far as moisture is concerned, are very different. This elevated region naturally acts as a screen to the districts of the east, intercepting, and thus warding off, most of the vast volume of vapour that rolls in from the west or stormy quarter. A chilly and humid atmosphere, and the general repulsive aspect of the place, have long conferred on Macquarie Harbour the character of being the most dreary spot within the four shores of Tasmania.

The area of this so-called harbour is about a hundred square miles. It abounds with mud-flats, having deep water passages between them. The outlet of the harbour, called formerly “the Gates,” is so narrow, that the place is not discernible from the sea, or hardly so; and Lieutenant Flinders, when surveying the coast of the island, passed on without discovering that there was any break in the coast line here, which was first ascertained by the late Captain James Kelly, on the 28th December, 1815. It is a bar-mouthed inlet, and the rush of water through the entrance, at every turn of tide, is very great. It is indeed so narrow, that, as I have stood here, I have thought that in my youthful cricketing days I could have thrown the ball across it. The depth on the bar does not exceed eight or ten feet; and to increase the difficulties of entrance, a low rock or two stand nearly within it. It is the estuary of two fine rivers called the King and Gordon, each of which drains a large extent of mountainous and marshy country.

Forests that are intricate beyond conception, and absolutely impervious to unpractised bush travellers, grow round most parts of it, and extend inland for many miles; thus cutting off all hope of successful escape from it in a landward direction; while the chances of getting away by sea (at least to the prisoners who were kept here) were nearly as hopeless, for the gates were not only guarded by military and police, but the pilot, Lucas (a man more dreaded by the convicts than any other) was also stationed as nearly as could be, at this point.

There are two small islands within this harbour, about eighteen miles from the gates, that were used for settlement purposes. The chief establishment was on one called Sarah Island, said to cover about twenty-five acres ; and the lesser one, named Grummet Island, was the receptacle of all the worst characters of the place, that is to say of such as Governmental severity had demoralised and brutified beyond hope of regeneration.

The excessive difficulties of escaping into the distant settled districts from hence, recommended it to our third Governor, Colonel Sorell, as a place of banishment ; and determined him at the close of 1821, to establish one here, and it was, formed accordingly.

Sorell was only the ruler of a dependent province; and his orders for the Government of the place were received from a higher quarter, and he was forced to adopt the disciplinary usages of the parent colony, as New South Wales was then called, and Macquarie Harbour, like Norfolk Island, soon became a place of unmitigated and unbearable torment, and not one of reform.

Reformation by the means in force here fifty years ago, whose tendency was only to deprave, was never affected by them, or very seldom indeed. The late Mr. Lempriere, who for several years filled the post of Chief Commissary at Macquarie Harbour, informs us in his history of this old settlement, that in all his experiences he knew of but one example of it, which may be read of in the second volume of the Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science, &c., at pages 207-8.

To escape from those abodes of misery and despair, was always the predominating idea in the minds of these sufferers: and to compass this the rashest enterprises were often undertaken; and it is recorded in one of the Parliamentary Blue Books of 1838 that of one hundred and sixteen men who absconded from this place in something less than four and a half years from the time of its first establishment, no less than one hundred and one of them came to untimely ends, either by ordinary executions, shooting down by the military and police, drowning, or perishing miserably in the woods. Of this last named class there were seventy-five instances. Of the small remainder nothing is known. They probably died by the spears of the natives.

To this place Matthew Brady was sent, as related above, in 1821. Here as elsewhere he was ever in some scrape or other, and for upwards of two years endured all that was miserable in a convict’s life at Macquarie Harbour.

As the settlement was always badly provisioned it was determined to establish what was called a farm on the mainland opposite to Sarah Island, that vegetables at least might be had, which were much wanted to counteract the evils of constant salt meat diet ; and Brady was one of the farm employés at the time of his escape, which event is thus described by the historian of the settlement, D. A. C. G. Lempriere, who resided there for several years :-

“From this spot, in June, 1824, a party of convicts, which afterwards formed one of the most formidable bands of bushrangers that ever infested Tasmania, made their escape. These men had planned to run away with one of the barges, when the commandant, accompanied by the surgeon, visited the place where they were working.

“It was soon perceived there was something wrong amongst the prisoners ; and the commandant succeeded in reaching the boat, and in pushing off, just before the fellows ran to seize her. The poor doctor was not so fortunate, he was taken prisoner by the gang, who after a kind of council of war, determined to give the doctor, in his own person, an example of the scenes he had so often witnessed-the application of the cat-o’-ninetails. The instrument of torture was in a few minutes prepared, and ready for action. It was in vain, the intended victim attempted to expostulate-it was in vain, that argument in arrest of judgment flowed from his trembling lips ; he was ordered to strip. There appeared no remedy, and he slowly managed to get off his coat, when a deliverer appeared in the shape of Brady, who had been a patient in the hospital, and kindly treated by the doctor , he would not allow him to be touched.

“The men made good their escape in the open boat, though closely pursued by the pilot, Mr. Lucas, a most active and determined man, who during the time he was stationed at Macquarie Harbour, became the terror of the runaways ; for they scarcely ever entertained hopes of escape, when they knew he was pursuing them.”

The runaways, fourteen in number, cleared the heads of Macquarie Harbour on the 9th of June, (two days after the attack on the commandant), and immediately bore away for the shores of the Derwent, under every inch of canvas that their boat could live under. The wind was at W.S.W. at the time, and the sail was close-hauled ; and though the sea ran very high, they dare not relieve her ; for with the fiery and resolute Lucas in sight, and only a few miles astern of them, their capture was certain, had they shortened sail in the least. Both were crack sea boats, and of that class called whaleboats, rigged mostly with a lug sail, and which though dangerous in a high degree under bad management, will live almost anywhere and in any weather if well handled. The runaways were unarmed, and therefore no match for Lucas if he came up with them, for he had soldiers with him, and as his own well-trained crew were also armed, they were forced to run for it at all hazards, or be taken.

Their course was southerly inclining a little to the east until they rounded the South West Cape, which is about a hundred and ten miles from the Gates of Macquarie Harbour, and then easterly and north-easterly for ninety or a hundred more, before they could reach Storm Bay, where they landed after a ten days’ voyage, somewhere on the east coast of that magnificent estuary of the Derwent river.

It is surmised that they escaped from Lucas by landing at night in some one of the nooks of the coast, and that he thus passed them by, still believing that they were ahead of him, and thus he lost their track. Baffled in this manner this excellent servant of the public, who was never known to evade his duty in any manner, and who in long after years sacrificed his life to it, never landed anywhere except at night, until he reached Hobart Town, and apprised the Government of the escape of these desperate fellows. His boat voyage, which began on the same day that the pirates passed through the Gates, 9th of June, terminated on the 18th. The bushrangers were not far behind him, for they entered the Derwent and landed the next day.

Amongst the fourteen runaways was a Scotchman named James Crawford, who it is said formerly held a commission as lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and he commanded the boat expedition, and he is also said to have directed the first shore movements of the party, but from the conduct of Brady at the outrage at the doctor, which he repressed in spite of the others, it is pretty clear that ashore he was one of the leading spirits of the party from the first, for which his daring character, disregard of self in all times of danger, circumspection in attack and retreat, and undoubted natural talents, fitted him.

In Tasmania, Brady’s name is not always mentioned reproachfully. There are many still living who remember his visits to their parents’ homesteads, and their reports of his bearing (leaving his robber practices out of the question), are not very unfavourable, and though it was his constant custom to bind all the inmates of the places he plundered, females and children excepted, he never permitted any more serious outrage to be inflicted on their persons, and it is reported that he had frequent bitter misunderstandings with his men on the subject, who were often inclined to be disorderly, and who he more than once forced to restore such of their plunder as their victims particularly desired to retain, such, for example, as family papers or souvenirs, that had a value in the estimation of their rightful owners, beyond their mere intrinsic worth, and though these forced restitutions gave rise to many quarrels, he was always inexorable. His deportment to females is always named to his credit, and his uniform respectful demeanour in their presence was so well known, that his appearance at any homestead was much less feared by the women than the men. The latter, especially the men servants, never escaped the indignity of being tied up in couples like hounds. If there were no military or police in the neighbourhood of any house that he took possession of, he often held it for a whole day or more, but strove to make his visit as little disagreeable as possible, in the presence of his grim freebooters, and being a man of good address, he seldom failed of partially allaying the fears of the occupants. It is, however, complained of him that he was too fond of fun and practical jesting to have been quite agreeable, and that he too often made all the menials of the household helplessly drunk when he left, which looked like carrying frolic too far. But this conduct, which was mistaken for mischievous fun, was in reality a piece of policy only; for he well knew that it was from the convict class of servants, and hardly any others, that treachery was to be feared, and that they were the men and not their masters, who were in league with the police, and by leaving them hopelessly drunk, he had nothing to fear from them till he was far enough away.

Many of the old bushrangers had the same bad opinion of those men ; and I think it was Dunne, a most notorious bush robber, who, as he was being led captive to Hobart Town, chanced to be marched through a chain-gang working on the roads, who he, in a seemingly subdued state of mind, asked his conductors to permit him to address; and they, thinking he meant only to give them a little seasonable admonition, allowed him to do so; whereupon he commenced his exhortation by charging such of them as had any thought of taking the bush “to shoot every _____ assigned servant where-ever they met them,” as they were the men, he said, who were the real betrayers of all “honest fellows,” meaning thereby persons of his own class.

One or two instances only are cited when Brady’s people were absolutely mischievous; but those were the acts of the most riotous of his followers, Bird, Murphy, and McCabe, whom he sometimes found it impossible to restrain. But acts like theirs were quite at variance with the usual tenor of his bush career. It is indeed said that Colonel Arthur was himself not insensible of this man’s merits, and that he would have saved him when taken at last in compliance with the general wish of the colonists, only that the blood of one man was on his hands. Of this, however, I have no proof, and relate it on hearsay only, hardly, indeed, believing it, as that Governor was not overflowing with clemency to men of Brady’s class, and not very likely to be merciful to any of his people, by one of whom he was once within an ace of being shot himself, as I shall presently relate.

On what point of the shores of the Derwent it was that the bushrangers landed after their voyage from Macquarie Harbour, I have no precise information; but believe it was at Clarence Plains. They were hardly ashore before they began operations on the highway. The first traveller whom they met was a Mr. Patrick Brodie, who they stopped and robbed of what he had about him, Almost directly afterwards, they possessed themselves of firearms and ammunition, which they took from a man in the service of Lieutenant Gunn, who from that moment became one of the most zealous and determined of the pursuers of this party. He chanced to be in Hobart Town at the moment; but directly he heard of this robbery, he started after them with a party, and very soon came on them; and attacking them on the instant, captured five of the four-teen in less than five minutes. This occurred on the 25th of June, or less than a week after their landing. This bad beginning was made still worse,by the voluntary surrender of a sixth. For the above named robberies, and one or two others, the men taken by Gunn, were tried almost directly, were sentenced to die, and died accordingly on the 22nd of July.

Very few acts of bushranging had been committed in the colony since the fall of Michael Howe, nearly six years before this time. The sudden appearance, therefore, of so numerous a horde of freebooters as were now in the field, created great excitement everywhere. But in the midst of all this ferment, the Governor preserved, or pretended to observe, an attitude of perfect tranquility, which the colonists regarded as most unseasonable. The inhabitants of Hobart Town, almost to a man, offered him their services, to be used in any way he might direct in the suppression of these men. But Colonel Arthur, with the characteristic disdain of civilians, too usual with soldiers, politely rejected the offer. He himself was satisfied with stationing a few detachments of military at those points of the interior which these during rovers were the most likely to visit, and to offer a small reward, £10, for the capture of any member of the band.

The spirit of the military in the colony, seems to have been more torpid at this period, than it was in Howe’s time, when nearly everything that was done to crush bushranging was achieved by them. But they now received more than one defeat from Brady; and what was done at this time, in repressing this and other gangs, was more generally the work of the police and civilians, than of the soldiers. Even Lieutenant Gunn, who took the first of them, and who continued the pursuit of them till they disabled him, was not now in the service, having quitted it some years before ; and though he retained his military designation, being on half-pay, he was at present a farmer of the Tea Tree Brush. This gentleman, of whom I shall have more to say presently, was formerly in the Bourbon Regiment, which he joined sometime about the close of the career of Napoleon I., and was placed on the half-pay list shortly after the end of the war, and so remained unattached till his death in 1868. He was a man of gigantic stature, being, he once told me, six feet seven inches high. He was cool and daring in a high degree, and was never known to fail in anything that he undertook, except the destruction of Brady’s band, which about seventeen months afterwards (under very extraordinary circumstances), took his party instead. But this resolute man never gave in himself, till nearly shot to pieces. This was the most dramatic incident of Brady’s career ; and tragical as it was, in so far as Gunn’s fate was concerned, was so full of comic adventure, that it, is strange it has never formed the subject of stage representation, as Howe’s exploits have.

It would unnecessarily extend this paper to relate all the lesser adventures of these depredators. I shall therefore pass over, either with slight notice or none at all, those that are of little interest, or of, which the particulars are imperfect. Brady’s career of outrage, which lasted scarcely two years, comprised, of house and highway robberies, something like three hundred instances, that would require a volume to describe, the most of which are not worth noticing. Of this latter class were several in which his party were engaged, between the dates of their repulsion by Gunn and their attack on the residence of Mr. Robert Taylor, of Valleyfield, where they were also defeated.

This gentleman’s farm house stood on gently rising ground near to the Macquarie River, formerly called the Relief, which is one of the many affluents of the South Esk. The country hereabouts is either open or is lightly-wooded grass land, and the districts that surround it may be be fairly ranked amongst the elite of Tasmanian pastures.

Mr. Taylor was a very elderly person, having passed through more than the allotted years of human life, being seventy-four years old at the time he was called on to resist the onslaught of seven armed bushrangers (to which the party was now reduced), headed by Crawford, who led the attack. There were in the house at the moment, Taylor and his aged wife, two sons, and two daughters, besides several free domestics whom Mr. Taylor had brought from Scotland when he left home.

In the fore part of the day of this assault, 15th July, the bushrangers had robbed the residence of a lady, who is spoken of in the annals of the time as the widow Smith, from which they had removed considerable booty, making prisoners of several of her servants, who they loaded like pack-horses with their plunder, and who they also took along with them to direct their march on Valleyfield, which they meant to assail that night. With this view they pushed forward as rapidly as their heavily laden prisoners could travel, and came in view of Taylor’s cottage just about dusk. In their way thither they fell in with one of Taylor’s sons, a mere youth, who, like one of Jacob’s children, was tending his father’s flock in the wilderness. It was now midwinter, and this young man was heavily clothed against the cutting gales, which are felt chillily enough at this season, particularly in the open country, and to this circumstance it was that he owed his life, from the misdirected fire of a friend, who, in the heat and excitement of the fight, and the duskiness of the long twilight of a Tasmanian evening, mistook him for one of the assailing host. Seeing the advantage of having one of Taylor’s family with them, he was seized and placed in front, with the view of distracting the fire of the garrison, in case the two parties came to blows. Crawford loaded him like the rest; and on his being asked if he thought his father would fight, replied that he was quite sure he would. “Oh, then,” said Crawford, “we will give you the post of honour, so go to the front and let him shoot you first,” and he was forced to march in the van.

Taylor’s family were quietly seated within for the night, all except the young shepherd, who they were, however, expecting home every moment. But the dogs, of which there are always several about a bush homestead, especially in troublous times, were very uneasy, and, though nothing could be seen, it was evident that there was something astir more than usual. Their restlessness excited old Taylor’s suspicions that all was not right, and he went round the premises, but could hear or see nothing. Still the dogs would not lie down, but continued watchful and unquiet, which convinced their master that it was unsafe to disregard the warning of those vigilant sentinels. I have said before that the country hereabouts is open, and Taylor or some one of his household, going out again to see if he could discover the cause of their disturbance, now saw the advancing party approaching, in number about a dozen ; and as several of them carried arms, there remained no doubt of their being on an evil errand. Old Taylor, who, notwithstanding his age, retained much of the energy and fire of youth, now marshalled his sons and servants, and told them that the bushrangers were coming down on Valleyfield, and that he meant to resist them, and asked which of them would stand by him. They all volunteered excepting one man who demurred, saying they would all be killed, and that he would not fight, and then went to the rear of the premises, and oddly enough was the only one who was killed in the fray that followed. Taylor then armed his friends, and put himself at their head to repel the advancing party, if it proved a hostile one, of which he was speedily made sensible by his shepherd son, who called out to him that the place was in danger, and not to fire on him. The father recognised the voice, and guessing that he was a prisoner, forbade his people to fire until they could distinguish friend from foe. A sharp sighted servant led off by letting fly at the bushrangers; on which young Taylor, who had all the pluck and spirit of his aged father, threw off his load, and rushed over to his friends, who received him with a joyous shout of welcome, and the firing became general. The bushrangers were as determined to carry Valleyfield, as the others were to prevent it, and plenty of shots were exchanged between the two parties; but as usual in such cases, when daylight is failing, many were ineffectual. Old Taylor was ably seconded by his people, and owed his own life to the gallantry of the youth, who had just before escaped from the bushrangers, who, seeing one of them levelling his piece at his father threw himself on him, and he succumbed to the stripling, who though no match for him, brought him to the ground by the suddenness of the assault, and the energetic exertion of whatever strength he possessed. This man who he had under him was Crawford. A servant instantly shot the fallen brigand, but not fatally, and his followers rushed to his assistance, but were unable to beat back their adversaries, or even to reach their leader. In the melée, a shot from one of the defenders hit the youth, who was struggling with Crawford. The official account that I am writing from says :- “A servant came to the aid of his young master, and in attempting to shoot his opponent, by some intervention of lamentable fate, he missed his aim, and mortally pierced the beloved object of his zeal.” But in the times I am writing of, newspaper correspondents were not always reliable; and there is one if not two misstatements in this short quotation. The shot, though a dangerous one, was not mortal, and he recovered from it, to die by the hands of a more merciless foe than the bushrangers, namely, the natives, who speared him to death in November of 1826. I believe there is also another grave mistake in this report, but which I am not quite able to correct.

The fight was now going against the attacking force; but notwithstanding this, one or two of them, amongst whom was the sanguinary McCabe, got to the back of the premises, where he found the unfortunate non-combatant John Lowe. Irritated at the desperate resistance that his party had met with, he sent his bayonet through his heart, and the thrust proved instantly mortal.

Crawford and another man named James Bains were made prisoners by the Taylor party, and another bushranger was badly shot, but escaped capture. Brady, who now took the command, drew off the rest of his people, now reduced to five, including the wounded man, who had lost an eye in the fight, but was carried off by the others.

Of Taylor’s party, none were killed but Lowe, and none hurt except the youth who was accidentally shot.

A writer in M. Martin’s Magazine, speaking of this skirmish, says that the ladies in the house “were not idle spectators of the scene in which their father, brothers, and friends were so hotly engaged,” but, like the heroines of Saragosa, “charged the supernumerary firearms of the father and brothers, and evinced the most praiseworthy fortitude.”

As soon as this act of resistance was publicly known, the whole colony rang with the praise of the heroic family who had taught the outlaws such a lesson, and the inhabitants presented the family with a piece of plate in acknowledgment and admiration of their spirited conduct.

The prisoners, Crawford and Bains, were tried at Launceston, and died some time in September following ; but owing to the loose state of the newspaper reports of the time, I cannot say when exactly. The notice, such as it is, of their trial and death will be found in the Gazette of the 24th September, 1824.

The five robbers who escaped now turned to the South, and travelled thitherward quite unobserved, and even passed through Hobart Town itself unnoticed, the head-quarters of the Government, where Colonel Arthur had his official residence. In less than six weeks after the attack on Valleyfield, Brady was plundering the settlers of the valley of Brown’s River, about ten miles south of Hobart Town. He even extended his visit a dozen miles further down, namely, to Oyster Cove, the future and last residence of the captive natives, where he robbed the establishment of Mr. David Wedge. He then returned to Hobart Town, which he actually entered a second time on the night of the 23rd of August, and slept there with all his people under the very noses of the military and police. Whatever the authorities could have been thinking about to suffer such a gang to pass between their legs twice in less than ten days unperceived, and even unsuspected, is unaccountable. Nor were these the only times that Brady and his riotous followers slept in Hobart Town, in contempt of the Government. The police report, published in the Gazette, of 27th August, 1824, speaking of their present movements says :- “The banditti were on a hill within three minutes’ walk of the police office at eight o’clock in the evening.” With singular audacity they entered and slept in the hut of a Government overseer named Chandler, not nearly a mile from the police station, and only quitted town next morning ; and having seized two men from the street to act as guides, they pushed on for the settlement called the Black Snake, about ten miles north-westerly of Hobart Town. Here they dismissed their guides, and went to their usual work directly, attacking the farm houses, and plundering their owners all round of their cash, ammunition, and provisions ; while the Hobart Town police were all astir to take them alive or dead, as they returned from Brown’s River, where it was thought they were still concealed.

Before the many robberies which they had committed amongst the terror-struck farmers of the Black Snake were known to the Government, the light-footed marauders were off again, and were next heard of in the neighbourhood of the river called the Plenty – a well known affluent of the Derwent, which, as we all know, has in recent years obtained attention as the scene of an experiment for the propagation of the English salmon. This stream is about thirty miles from Hobart Town; and here Brady and his wearied followers established themselves on the last day of August.

[To be continued].

The Treacherous Thomas Kenton

After months of hiding and the rapid decrease in the size of their gang, Matthew Brady and James McCabe were the only remaining members of the gang that had boldly escaped from Sarah Island on a stolen whaleboat in June 1824. Though they had numerous harbourers, there was always room for more. Enter District Constable Thomas Kenton.

Kenton was an opportunist who had absconded from a whaling ship at Norfolk Island, from which place he made his way to Van Diemens Land. He settled on 50 acres at Brown’s River and worked as a stock-keeper, but found that the agrarian lifestyle was not his métier. He was frequently in trouble with the law and his neighbours, often going to court as either defendant or prosecution. He sold the property to a man named John Lucas and relocated to the more unruly frontier at Jericho where he took up employment as a District Constable. While he was entrusted with maintaining law and order, crimes began to increase under his watch – particularly stock theft. There was never any evidence to pin on Kenton, but it was clear who the prime suspect was.

A copper on the take was just what the doctor ordered as far as Brady and McCabe were concerned and they struck up a friendship with Kenton. Arranging meetings through a bush telegraph, a young man named Hyte who was enamoured with Brady, the group would rendezvous in Kenton’s hut to talk business. It was Kenton that masterminded the pair’s depredations in the area, in return for a hefty cut of the proceeds. Whenever it was time for a meeting, Kenton would hang a white sheet outside his hut to signal to the bushrangers that the coast was clear, however, Kenton’s behaviour was being closely monitored by local busybodies who suspected he was up to something and they reported the news to Kenton’s superiors.

Kenton received a rude awakening in March of 1825 when he was told in no uncertain terms that it was his duty to apprehend the bushrangers, and failing that he could be up for a very harsh penalty as a harbourer. Kenton knew the odds and agreed to betray Brady and McCabe. He informed his superiors of the next arranged meeting, and two soldiers, Spicer and Thompson, were stationed in Kenton’s hut to strike when Brady and McCabe arrived.

James McCabe [Source]

On the day in question, Kenton hung up the white sheet as usual, yet Brady was hesitant to go, having had ominous dreams in which he put much stock. It was only after convincing from McCabe and Hyte that he went. The trio were watched from inside the hut, seen to be arguing. When they reached the domicile, Kenton and the soldiers burst out, knocking Brady and Hyte over. McCabe took off like a rocket as his companions were bound and taken inside, knowing the cost of allowing the troopers to get the better of you. Kenton and Brady verbally sparred as the soldiers prepared to escort young Hyte to the police station. They gave Kenton a gun then made their way into town.

In the scuffle Brady had received a nasty gash on his head and was beginning to feel woozy. He asked Kenton to take him to lie down on the bed, which he did. Brady then suggested a cup of tea might fortify him more so Kenton took a Billy can to the creek to fetch water. Meanwhile, Brady got off the bed and put his hands in the fire until his ropes burnt away. With bad burns on his hands, and his head and clothes covered in blood, he armed himself with Kenton’s gun. When Kenton returned, Brady presented a dreadful spectacle, and though he threatened to shoot him, he relented. Brady promised Kenton that one day he would exact revenge, before escaping into the bush. Kenton was subsequently arrested as a result of the escape and would later claim it was he that had removed the bonds to alleviate Brady’s suffering.

Source: The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter (Tas. : 1816 – 1821) 30 December 1820: 1.

Months passed and Brady’s gang endured many misadventures and changes in line-up. McCabe left the gang after a drunken fight with gang member James McKenney, which in turn had seen Brady destroy all of the gang’s rum supply. After setting off on his own, McCabe had soon after gotten himself arrested.

By 1826, Kenton had been booted out of the police and was working at the Cocked Hat Inn. Word had got around that Kenton had been cowardly in letting Brady go, and he had begun spinning lies to all and sundry to save face. Brady learned of this and decided to pay the traitor a visit. Brady was accompanied by two gang members, Patrick Bryant and Ryan Williams, and the trio travelled to the Cocked Hat Inn searching for Kenton. Brady was moving slower than usual, having been shot in the leg in a gunfight at Elphin, near Launceston. The bushrangers utilised their bush telegraphs well by encouraging them to ply the police with false leads to throw them off the gang’s trail while they set about their business.

Matthew Brady and Patrick Bryant [Source]

On Sunday, 5 March 1826, Brady, Bryant and Williams rode over Cocked Hat Hill on stolen horses. When they arrived at the inn it was still early and there was nobody awake. Brady bashed on the door until someone awoke and answered. The proprietor opened the door and received a barked interrogative.

“Have you got Tom Kenton in there?”

The proprietor confirmed at gunpoint and allowed the bushrangers inside. Lighting a candle, he guided them to a bedroom where Kenton and another man named Yates were in bed. Kenton sat bolt upright at the intrusion and Brady immediately reminded him of his promise of the previous year. A small crowd had formed behind Brady to see the commotion, but drew back when he announced his motivation.

“So you old villain, I have fallen in with you at last, and mean now to clear off old scores with you for all the mischief you have done me since we last parted, when I told you we should meet again, and what would come of it if you ever did me another bad turn. Now after letting you off as I did when you betrayed me and others to the military, you have told a hundred lies about me, and for which you shall suffer before I leave this room.”

Brady then proceeded to explain to those assembled exactly what lies Kenton had been telling and to declare the truth of what happened. Far worse Kenton’s lie that he allowed Brady to escape, was the attribution of murders to Brady’s name that he did not commit. A man with such a keen sense of his public image as Brady could not stand idly by as he was described as such a brute. Brady felt justified in administering punishment with lead and powder and levelled his pistol at Kenton’s head.

“I’ll give you five minutes to prepare yourself for your death.”

To drive home the seriousness of what he threatened, Brady began to count down the minutes on a watch. It was more than Kenton could take. He was remorseless and sneered at Brady, whose previous leniency and his reputation for avoiding bloodshed emboldened the former crooked cop to respond with mockery.

“Five minutes to prepare myself in? I don’t want one,” Kenton said, “I believe in neither God nor devil, and have no fear about dying. Fire away!”

Brady remained cool and continued the count down. This seemed to infuriate Kenton further.

“You know better than to do it. You are afraid to do it, you cursed cur dog.”

With that, Kenton got out of bed, brushed past Brady and had just reached the door when Brady shot him in the back of the head. Kenton was dead before he hit the ground. Not a single onlooker lifted a finger to intervene, they simply allowed the bushrangers to leave.

This would be the only murder carried out by Brady personally and it would be the crime that saw him at the end of a rope only two months later. Time was running out for the bushrangers, and Brady’s freedom was to be cut short when his wounded leg became infected, leaving him too weak to fight back when he was finally intersected by the notorious bounty hunter John Batman. By the time he was convicted for Kenton’s murder, Brady had already become a legend and Kenton’s story was already becoming obscured by myth.