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.


Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Tuesday 25 November 1873, page 2



Illustrated by a Sketch of the Career of Michael Howe, “The last and worst of the Bushrangers.”

Written by J. E. Calder.


Without noticing in this place the destinies of his old companions in crime, who fell one by one into the hands of the military or others, I shall hasten on with Howe’s own history. It is a bloody one; but we could expect no other of such a man, now made doubly desperate by bitter disappointment.

That he still went on committing robberies (Sorell says chiefly of stockmen’s huts) is certain, for he soon contrived to possess himself of a musket, pistols, ammunition, and dogs again, which, now that he had broken with all his confederates, and quarrelled with his old mates, he could scarcely have got except by robbery.

Being now unaccompanied by any one, his solitary life in the woods must have been wearisome and wretched beyond expression; and to add to the miseries of his situation, he was now often chased for his life by the black natives, as was proved by a kind of journal he kept, that was found in his knapsack afterwards, which was taken from him in one of his hard conflicts with his white pursuers. His nights were even worse than his days, for it is recorded by himself that he never closed his eyes, but he dreamed he was pursued, one moment by the blacks and the next by the whites; and if it were possible that a man so degraded and lost to human sensations as this unhappy wretch could have felt as others feel, he might have exclaimed with Manfred,

“My slumbers – if I slumber – are not sleep,

But a continuance of enduring thought.”

and the reflection that all this unhappiness was self-inflicted, must have been, even to such a mind as his, in the last degree embittering.

About ten weeks after his flight from Hobart Town, his career of guilt and suffering was all but ended (10th of October, 1817), and but for his dog-like resolution, and determination never to be taken alive, nothing could have prevented him wearing the executioner’s cap in reality; but his time was not yet come.

Howe’s escape from Hobart Town was notified in the newspaper portion of the Gazette, just after it took place; but forty days elapsed before it was officially announced. There is no accounting for this delay now. But on the 6th of September, there appeared a Proclamation, offering a reward of one hundred guineas for his capture. The same proclamation included the names of two other great offenders, of whom one was George Watts, for whom eighty guineas each were offered.

This man Watts had been in the bush, but more as a robber of flocks than a bushranger, ever since 1807, but followed both callings indifferently. He must have been quite an extraordinary person, and an unusually shrewd one also. Having none of the coarse manners of an ordinary robber, his usual deportment, when not engaged in bushranging practices, was that of a man of the world, that is polished, affable, and quite the reverse of a low offensive fellow. Sorell describes him as having connections nearly everywhere, even in circles from which it might have been thought he would have been excluded – having the command of plenty of money, at a time when there was not much of that commodity in the colony, and possessed of such ascendency over his accomplices, as to have lived quite without fear of molestation from them. This influence, however, never reached the military portion of the community, who more than once gave the wealthy robber such a run for his life as he never had from any others; and the only time that this really sharp fellow was ever known to make a simpleton of himself, was in trying to make his old leader, Howe, a prisoner.

Watts began to think that it was time to give up his dangerous mode of life; and the Governor’s proclamation, though it included himself, seemed to present a fine opportunity for escaping military surveillance, and of removing from his own person the tempting reward offered for his own capture; and in an evil moment (under the persuasion of others more timid than himself) he resolved to “do the State some service,” by engaging in the dangerous adventure of bringing to justice a man who it was most unsafe to encounter at any time; and he set out for Howe’s retreat at New Norfolk, in good hope of bringing him to his last account.

Hunting about the place, and knowing many, he was soon on Howe’s track, and learned that he was in the habit of visiting the stock-hut of a settler named Williams, better known as “Coachy Williams,” which was on the Sorell Creek, about half-a-mile from its junction with the Derwent. The hut was in charge of a convict named William Drew, with the soubriquet of Slambo, by which he is best known in the early annals of the colony. Watts seems to have had no difficulty in involving this man in his plans for the capture of Howe.

I am informed by a young friend at New Norfolk, to whom I am indebted for some of the details of this narrative, that this Coachy Williams was one of those who planned the attack on Howe, though he took no part in it personally, and I derive some of the following account of an assault on Howe from him, who got it from a very old resident of that district, who saw the bushranger attacked, and his temporary capture by Watts and Slambo; and who also saw him marched off between them, after they had mustered and secured the solitary, but most determined robber, who ever disturbed the peace of Tasmania.

Slambo at parting from Watts, on the 9th of October, indicated the place where they should meet next day at early dawn, to proceed to Howe’s hiding place, namely, a point on some obscure path, that was well known to both, and they parted for the night, Watts going into Elizabeth Town, as New Norfolk was then called, with all the coolness of one who has nothing to fear.

But during the night he returned to the bush, and took up his sleeping quarters at the appointed spot, and lay there till daybreak. His friend Slambo was true to his time, and joined him very early, and led the way to a place called Long Bottom, where he expected Howe.

By the advice of Watts, Slambo left his gun behind him, so as not to awaken Howe’s suspicions, but the former took his own. Upon arriving at Long Bottom, Slambo called out two or three times, which Howe replied to from his concealment in or near to a creek. He then presented himself; but being a watchful man and suspicious from habit, and seeing also that Slambo had a companion with him, he would not approach, until Watts reassured him, by proposing that both should knock the priming out of their guns, which was agreed to and done, and the two outlaws met again. They then walked on a few yards together, when all stopped to light a fire and have breakfast. But this was only a ruse of Watts, and their apparent friendliness seems for once to have thrown the suspicious Howe off his guard; and he proceeded, but with some difficulty, to disengage himself of the knapsack he carried, the arm-slings of which were too tight for his great breadth of shoulder, whereupon his officiously obliging companions, most good-naturedly offered any assistance they could give to relieve him of his load, and when once behind for this purpose, both arms were secured, and he was thrown on the ground, before he knew what they were about with him. His hands were next tied in front by Slambo, and thus Howe for once was taken.

Having secured their prisoner, they next searched him for any weapons that he might have about him, but found only some ammunition and two knives, which they took from him. Slambo then returned to his master’s premises, which were some way off, carrying Howe’s gun along with him, and leaving the prisoner in charge of Watts. Whether any conversation passed between these latter has not been recorded; but doubtless the time that these two men, formerly associates, but now foes, passed by themselves, was not of a pleasurable nature to either.

When Slambo reached the homestead, he found his master much alarmed at his protracted absence, four hours. The former told Williams of the adventure of the morning, and of their intention of taking Howe to Hobart Town. Williams then offered his services to aid in removing the bushranger to gaol, but, luckily for him perhaps, they were declined, and he passed the rest of the day in the not very lively occupation of shearing sheep by himself.

Slambo then ran off, and in due course reached the scene of the capture of the vanquished bushranger, and they now went to breakfast in earnest, of which they invited the prisoner to partake, but he, being in no humour to accept any of their civilities, indignantly refused to eat with them.

They next took the road for Hobart Town, then a mere bush track, Watts being armed with his own gun, and his companion with the musket (as it is described) that they took from Howe, and which must have remained unprimed; and they jogged onwards for Hobart Town as fast as Howe chose to walk, Watts marching a little in advance of the prisoner, and the other guarding him behind, both of them doubtlessly speculating on the hero-like reception they would have on reaching town with their too well-known captive. But the adventures of the day were not half over yet; for Howe never gave up a game as lost, until it was lost beyond hope; and as he walked on sullenly between his captors, he was revolving in his mind his possible chances of escape, and of mastering both of them, which he had no doubt of being able to do, armed as they both were with guns and himself without, if his hands were only once more free.

The road from New Norfolk to Hobart Town was not the same at the time I am writing of as the present one. It was much shorter and more hilly, being directed over the inferior slopes of the Black Snake and Mount Fawkner ranges, instead of near the Derwent River, as it is now.

When they had got over about eight miles of their journey, and were pretty nearly abreast of, but not near to, Austin’s, and at a place then called Miller’s Brush, Slambo, who was still marching behind, saw with horror that the un-capturable Howe had somehow managed to disengage his hands from the cord that bound them, and stood between them ready for instant action. On seeing this, Slambo screamed out so loudly, that he might have been heard half a mile off. Watts started at the cry, and turned round to learn what was the matter just in time to see Howe dashing savagely at him at his best speed, and before he had time to level his piece for defence, Howe was upon him, and with the rapidity of thought, sent the broken blade of a pair of sheep sheers*, that he carried concealed in his coat-sleeve unknown to his captors, far into his stomach, and he fell with a piercing cry to die a lingering death. The gun he carried dropped from his hands of course, which Howe picked up in a moment, and said “he would settle Slambo’s business for him,” and turning on him with unerring aim, shot him dead on the spot, for he never spoke or moved a muscle afterwards; “The ball” says the surgeon, Dr. Hood, of the 46th Regt.,) who examined him after death “passing through the thorax by entering the back, a little below the right shoulder, and shattering the breast-bone in its passage,” so that Slambo must have turned round, probably to fly, when Howe shot him through-and-through.

Watts then enquired of Howe, if Slambo were dead? “Yes” shouted Howe, scowling on him with the look of a tiger, “and I’ll shoot you too as soon as I can load this piece.” But it took time to reload, as he had to get ammunition, which he probably did from the dead body of Slambo, and while this was going on, Watts knowing that Howe would keep his word, rose up with great difficulty and staggered on for about two hundred yards, and then lay down or fell into a thicket, exhausted through cold, pain, and loss of blood, and the furious freebooter failed to find him. But he knew he was done for; and time being just now more precious than abridging the brief remainder of Watts’ days, he sped from the spot – Heaven only knows where.

Watts rose again presently, and by great efforts succeeded in crawling to the cottage of a person named Burne, who, assisted by his wife, tended him till a cart could be obtained to convey him to town, which was not however till next day.

The body of Slambo was found soon afterwards, and was also brought to town, where an inquest was held on it on the 13th, and a verdict given that “William Drew was murdered by Michael Howe.” (Gazette, 17th October, 1817.)

Watts was soon afterwards sent up to Sydney, from which place he was an absconder, but not to be rewarded for his action against Howe, but to stand his trial for his own offences. Strangely enough it was reported to Sorell, that the mortal thrust of Howe had only wounded him slightly. But it was far otherwise, and he died three days after landing; and in this way ended for the present, the most terrible event in Howe’s life of guilt.

Colonel Sorell went nearly as mad as Davey, when the news of these desperate murders reached him. He wrote by the earliest opportunity to his chief in Sydney, reporting the deplorable calamity. He had before this entreated him to rescind the promise he had made in Howe’s favour, i.e., soon after his escape from gaol, saying he had “forfeited all claim to consideration; and will, if taken, afford a most proper example to this colony of Capital Punishment.” (Despatch, 13th Sept., 1817.) So he could do no more now than use his best efforts to bring him to justice as soon as possible, but notwithstanding this, the wary Howe eluded successful pursuit for another twelvemonth.

It is not quite easy to understand the reason of this sudden change of sentiment which took place several weeks before these murders were effected toward even such an offender as Howe was. If he were at all worthy of pardon for the past, as Sorell believed him to be, assuredly the circumstance of his absconding was not a sufficient reason for now considering him unfit for anything but capital punishment. But errors like other matters, seem to repeat themselves, or at least to multiply. It was certainly one to negotiate with Howe as he did for his surrender; it was undoubtedly another to promise such an offender pardon for the past; and this denunciation of him, before he had done any thing more to deserve death than running away, seems very like a third instance of hastiness, which is quite inconsistent with the general tenor of Sorell’s useful life.

With the view of securing Howe, Sorell fulminated a Proclamation, adding to the money reward for his capture, an offer of a free pardon and passage home, to any convict who should bring this great criminal to justice.

After the commission of these tragedies, Howe was more often heard of than seen, except at remote stock huts, and reports of his attacks on these exposed places, reached the authorities from many quarters of the Hamilton and New Norfolk districts, which he still continued to haunt, but he managed to keep out of danger, though the pursuit after him now by the military, and also by the wild native tribes, was hotter than ever.

Amongst others whose stockmen suffered by him at this time, were those of the late G. W. Evans, then Deputy Surveyor General of the colony, at whose establishment at Blinkworth’s Hunting Ground he suddenly presented himself, some time in June of 1818, from which he not only helped himself to as much provisions as he chose to carry off, but also made prize of two noble kangaroo dogs. It seems to have been believed at this time, that he was destitute of all means of defence, and the Gazette of the time speaking of this affair says, “What is astonishing, he had plenty of ammunition, and was well armed. His beard is of great length; and his appearance, connected with the idea of his horrid crimes, is altogether terrific” But this seems something like painting the devil blacker than he really was; for I am told that Howe was a passable looking man.

The rewards now offered for Howe, of money, freedom, and a passage to the dear old country of Englishmen, stimulated others besides the military, to “try a fall” with Howe. But like Balfour of Burley, he was “a desperate fighting fellow,” full of expedients, and never to be rashly handled; and one who as Sorell says, few would care to try a hand-to-hand encounter with. But the love of liberty is one of the strongest sentiments of the human heart, and the formidable character of the man, did not deter others from volunteering to do their best to pursue, take or kill this arch-offender.

There was at this time in the service of the Government, as guide to the military, a man named James McGill, who from his stature and strength, passed by the enviable nom de guerre of “Big McGill.” He had once been a bushranger himself, but now followed the more captivating occupation of pursuing them instead.

He was a rough fighting fellow, fearing neither man or devil, and was always ready for a stand-up with anybody or everybody, whenever they liked to come on; and however hungry “a customer” might be at setting-to, he always went home with a belly-full, when Mr. McGill had done with him.

This pleasant follow, was either selected or volunteered to bring Howe in; and he started off jollily on the exciting service. He wanted no assistant, being quite confident in his own powers to bring Howe to reason any day single-handed. Still it was thought best to give him a companion, in case of matters not going on quite so smoothly as he expected; and an active man of one of the native tribes of New South Wales, called Mosquito, an old enemy of the bushrangers, accompanied him as tracker, and to give such assistance as he could, which was not exactly nothing, for Mosquito was not deficient in daring, as he often proved in after times when leading the East Coast tribes of natives against our own people. The black soon got on Howe’s tracks, and the two followed him, and came up with him somewhere on the Clyde, then called the Fat Doe River, and there was warm work between them when this took place.

Howe had been often heard to say he never would be taken alive; and in the struggle that took place, this determination appears to have work with its full force. He was overmatched it is true, but this did not shake his resolution in any degree. He was now in the very best years of his life, about thirty-one, when the powers of endurance are greatest, and he used them to the uttermost. He fought like a fiend for life, hitting out right and left as hard as he could, till his opponents closed in upon him for the death struggle, but even then he shewed them he was not half done for, and they could not throw him down, do as they would, for he continued to kick and fight as vigorously as ever, and in a manner that astonished even the resolute McGill, who was himself almost a match for a wild beast. At length, making an effort of his strength more violent than any he had yet put forth, he tore himself from the vice-like grasp of his gigantic opponent, and dashed away with such speed that it was useless to pursue him.

I had most of these particulars from an old companion of Howe’s, at whose hut I stayed for several weeks whilst surveying the shores of the Great Lake in 1847. The Gazette notice of Howe’s escape from his powerful antagonists merely mentions the affray in a slight and incidental manner, too usual with newspaper reports fifty or sixty years ago, saying only that Howe was pursued, after robbing a hut, and that he lost “his dogs, knapsack, and all that he had,” it then says, “from a paper found in his knapsack, it appears that he has been much harrassed by the natives, and has been very nearly cut off by them several times.” (Gazette, September 19th, 1818.)

From this place Howe must have gone to the neighbourhood of York Plains, where he committed what was probably his last robbery, as I gather from a letter of Colonel Sorell’s, addressed to the Commandant of Launceston, dated 17th of October, 1818, in which he says, “It is stated that a soldier from York Plains, was at Captain Blyth’s at the Rope Walk, about seven miles from there, a few days ago, when Michael Howe, the bushranger, came down and robbed the house… It appears that Howe succeeded in robbing the house and getting off, though three men besides the soldier were there.”

[To be continued.]

*Watts, in his evidence touching this event, said Howe’s weapon was a knife.

Musquito: An Overview

Indigenous readers are advised that the following discusses the history of first nations people and contains the names and likenesses of deceased persons.

Aboriginal bushrangers of the early colonial period tend to be somewhat difficult to define. Given that many were not from within the colonial society, and the few that were often did not behave like most bushrangers when that took to the bush, they tend to almost require a separate definition. In fact, there’s a definite overlap where the Aboriginal bushrangers and resistance fighters are concerned. None exemplify this conundrum better than the man known as Musquito.

Born in the early to mid 1780s in New South Wales, Musquito is believed to have grown up around Broken Bay (though some sources state he was from Port Jackson) as a Gai-mariagal man, probably by the name Y-erran-gou-la-ga. At some point he seems to have picked up at least a moderate amount of English, and he had a brother known to the whites as Phillip. The rest of his early life is a mystery.

Nouvelle-Hollande, Y-erran-gou-la-ga by Barthelemy Roger (1807) [Source: NLA]

In 1805, Musquito became a wanted man. His actions around the Hawkesbury River were a cause for concern — so much so that his own people turned on him. When Musquito murdered a woman (almost certainly an Aboriginal woman), the people he been raised amongst turned him in with another man named Toulgra (called “Bulldog” by the whites) in exchange for another of their nation who was wrongfully imprisoned. Musquito never stood trial for the murder, nor was he formally charged. Instead, he and Bulldog were sent to Norfolk Island after threatening to start a fire where they were lodged at Parramatta Gaol.

Musquito remained on Norfolk Island for eight years, where he was expected to perform labour in order to earn his rations and was employed as a lime-burner. When he was removed from the island in 1817, he was sent to Port Dalrymple, Van Diemen’s Land, on the Minstrel. He was eventually employed by Edward Lord, the wealthiest man in Van Diemen’s Land. Here he worked as a stockman, but when Lord left the colony for Mauritius in February 1818, Musquito remained.

In September 1818, Musquito was told by Governor Sorell that if he assisted in the tracking down and capture of Michael Howe he would be rewarded with free passage back to New South Wales. By this time his brother Phillip had written to Governor Macquarie to ask for Musquito’s return to his ancestral home. Sorell had even tried to get Macquarie on board, recommending that Musquito, “Big Jack” McGill, and “Black” Mary Cockerill be acquired by New South Wales for their superior tracking abilities, but nothing was ever followed up. For unknown reasons, Macquarie seemed to want Musquito kept away from his homeland.

When Musquito, accompanied by McGill, found Howe camped by the Shannon River, they pounced upon the bushranger and after a violent struggle Howe escaped without his kit bag and supplies. In the bag was Howe’s famous kangaroo skin journal, in which he described his dreams, memories, desires and fear of the Aboriginals, who had recently been engaged in attacks on white farmers (at least one of these attacks resulted in a death that Howe was accused of).

Musquito had been looking forward to returning to New South Wales as per the agreement struck with the government, but when he heard nothing from Macquarie or Sorell he decided he had copped all he was willing to from the white man. Musquito went bush and found his way to Oyster Bay. The government had treated Musquito like merely some troublesome Aboriginal they could afford to ignore, but they were about to be proven terribly wrong.

Musquito managed to find his way to a sort of commune of Aboriginal men and women that had, for various reasons, found themselves expelled from their own people; many had transgressed tribal laws making them outlaws from both colonial and indigenous societies. This community would come to be known as the “Tame Mob”. When Musquito joined them he remained somewhat on the outer, but his knowledge of English language, farming practices and firearms saw him quickly rise through the ranks to become their leader. In fact, he became so highly regarded amongst the mob that, by some accounts, he was given a wife (known as “Gooseberry”) who was said to have been the most beautiful woman in the tribe. He was later described as having three wives by Thomas Anstey, the magistrate at Oatlands, who also described Musquito prostituting some of the women, including his wives, to white men in exchange for goods. That Anstey was not speaking from experience, but rather repeating rumours, is telling.

View over the Great Oyster Bay towards Freycinet peninsula, Tasmania, Australia by Joern Brauns [Wikimedia Commons]

Soon the Tame Mob grew to encompass dozens of men and women, and they were even alleged to have fallen in briefly with some white bushrangers in the Oyster Bay region. As time wound on, this seemingly harmless group of outcasts became motivated to push back against the colonists. Adding coal to the furnace was Musquito, whose first hand experience of the colonisation of New South Wales had instilled in him a fierce distrust and hatred of white men, and the irreversible damage their ways were inflicting on Van Diemen’s Land and its peoples, just as they had done to his homeland.

There were many rumours that circulated about Musquito, including that he had murdered Gooseberry in a rage on the government paddock in 1821. He was said to have had a taste for mutton, which the other Aboriginals refused to eat, and he was described as a great drunkard who would trade rations for rum.

The Tame Mob, now estimated to be 75 strong, began to engage in acts that are better described as acts of war, rather than bushranging. Thefts and brutal murders were coupled with arson in an effort to stamp out the influence of whites in their region, which essentially sprouted from Oyster Bay and encompassed Pittwater (Sorell), Orielton, Risdon and even reached as far as Jericho and Oatlands. A reward of £100 was offered for Musquito – dead or alive – and he was given the nickname “The Black Napoleon”.

From November 1823 to 1824 the Tame Mob, led by Musquito, performed a series of violent and deadly raids along the Tasmanian east coast, targeting white farms, gangs of bushrangers and rival mobs that stood in their way. Prominent in the mob alongside Musquito were “Black Jack” (Jack Roberts) and “Black Tom” (Kickerterpoller), the latter of which would go on to leave his own mark as a bushranger.

On 15 November, 1823, the Tame Mob attacked a hut at the property of George Gatehouse at Grindstone Bay. For several days before they had begged food from John Radford, the stock-keeper, engaged themselves in fishing and held a corroboree nearby. They returned to the hut on the fateful day armed with spears. In the ensuing assault two people were murdered – a Tahitian man named Mammoa, and a 19 year-old assigned servant named William Hollyoak. The lone survivor, John Radford, pinned the murders on Musquito and Black Jack. Hollyoak had been staying at Gatehouse’s on his way back to his employer, George Meredith, having just come out of hospital. The three men had been lured out by Musquito and speared as they retreated after sensing an ambush. Radford was speared through the side by Black Jack, and after stopping to pull a spear out of Hollyoak’s back, was speared in the thigh. The last Radford saw of Hollyoak was the boy being swarmed by Aboriginal men, with five or six spears sticking out of him. Radford managed to make it to Prosser’s Plains to raise the alarm. When they recovered the body of Mammoa, he has been speared almost 40 times.

A posse was formed by George Meredith to find the Tame Mob and seek retribution. By Meredith’s account, the Aboriginals all escaped unharmed when the posse found them in the bush, though other accounts claim they found them all asleep and slaughtered as many as they could, with very few escaping. In response to this turn of events, Musquito was severely beaten by members of the Tame Mob who were obviously angry about the messy encounter he had led them into.

Misquito [i.e. Musquito] and Devil’s Hole Tasmania, 1868 by “J.R.” [Courtesy: State Library of New South Wales]

The following raids mostly involved arson – burning houses and crops. These were clearly attacks designed to flush the colonists out of the area. Despite being assaulted by his own tribe, Musquito still enjoyed some seniority and helped the Tame Mob develop strategies for battle. He educated them on firearms, noting that the firearms could only fire once before needing to be reloaded; thus in battle the mob would wait until a shot had been fired then swarm on their attacker with spears while he reloaded. Often one of the English speakers, usually Musquito, would lure the occupants of a house to the door. From his use of English they would mistake him for a “tame black” (one raised by whites, or at least employed by them), and this would distract them while the rest of the party surrounded the house before attacking.

On 16 June 1824, Musquito joined the Tame Mob in four attacks. They struck the farm of a man named Oakes at Murderers Plains (Abyssinia), where two men were murdered; Triffitt’s at Big River (Ouse) where another man was murdered; and two of Captain Wood’s properties at the Clyde River (near Hamilton) and Lake Sorell where a hut was destroyed without fatalities.

In July, the mob killed a man named Patrick McCarthy at Sorell Plains near New Norfolk. On the 23rd of the same month, Robert Gay, a servant of George Meredith, was killed and mutilated. The murder was attributed to Musquito and his followers.

In August, Lieutenant William Gunn went in pursuit of Musquito after having been given the slip by Matthew Brady’s gang. He would have no satisfaction in this pursuit either. Meanwhile, the Aboriginal group that was attacking farms was now estimated to have 200 or more members, indicating that some form of merger had been struck between the Tame Mob, the Oyster Bay tribe and the Big River tribe. The little rebellion was now a full scale war.

In late August 1824 Musquito and Black Jack were finally brought to heel. For three days two men named Hanskey and Marshall trekked through the wilds with a seventeen year-old, half-Aboriginal boy named Teague (or Tegg) acting as their guide after a purported tip-off from some of Musquito’s female followers. Teague had been promised a boat as his reward for helping to capture Musquito. Their perseverance paid off and they intercepted Musquito near Oyster Bay with Black Jack and two Aboriginal women. Teague opened fire and shot Musquito twice in the thigh and once through the body. Though he attempted to shelter, Musquito’s injuries were severe and he was captured.

After recuperating in the Colonial Hospital in Hobart, Musquito and Black Jack were tried for murder. They were denied legal counsel and could not give evidence as they were not Christians, thus unable to swear on a Bible. Musquito was found guilty of the murder of Hollyoak, and Black Jack was found guilty of murdering Patrick McCarthy. Naturally, the two were sentenced to death.

On 24 February 1825, Musquito was hanged in the Murray Street Gaol, Hobart, along with Black Jack and six whites. Prior to his execution Musquito was said to have confided in his gaoler, John Bisdee:

Hanging no good for black fellow… Very good for white fellow, for he used to it.


Teague never received the boat he was promised, and therefore turned bushranger himself and swore to kill any white man he encountered. Two murders were attributed to him, but he avoided any punishment for them, if indeed he was guilty. He was found by his master Dr. Edward Luttrell, and spent the rest of his life in Luttrell’s employ. He died in 1831.

The amalgamated Aboriginal forces that had begun their reprisals on the whites under Musquito continued for six more years, with the conflict being referred to as the “Black Wars”. Musquito’s off-sider Black Tom became a prominent figure during this time, picking up where Musquito left off.

No doubt the life of Musquito is shrouded in misinformation and outright lies, just as many of his bushranging and Aboriginal contemporaries alike have endured, due to the concerted vilification by colonial historians and others who felt they had something to gain by portraying this Aboriginal man as a mindless, violent monster. Many of the crimes attributed to him were likely not committed by him, if they even happened at all. Certainly, the outcome of his trial had been determined before it began.

Many of the colonists described the first nations of Van Diemen’s Land as peaceful until Musquito came onto the scene. Many laid the blame for the Aboriginal retaliation attacks squarely at his feet, others admitting that his treatment by the authorities was to blame for his rebellion.

Musquito left an indelible mark on Tasmanian history and many of the beats of his story would be repeated in decades to come by other Aboriginal bushrangers, in one way or another. It seems the lessons that could have been learned from Musquito’s life were ignored or dismissed by the people who most needed to heed the warnings.

Recommended reading: Steps to the Scaffold by Robert Cox [Cornhill Publishing, 2004].

Bushranging Gazette #5

Thursday, 1 July 2021

Though there’s not as much news to report this month, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been things happening worth talking about.

This past month saw regular spots for A Guide to Australian Bushranging on Evenings on ABC Radio Hobart and Northern Tasmania where listeners were able to learn about local bushrangers such as Michael Howe, Matthew Brady, Musquito and Martin Cash (among other lesser known figures).

It was also a month of anniversaries, as June sees the anniversary of the hangings of the Clarke brothers and Rocky Whelan, and the Glenrowan siege, all of which received coverage across the many outlets for A Guide to Australian Bushranging.

Negative of famous armour photo goes under the hammer

A glass negative of a photograph taken of Kelly Gang armour in 1880 has been auctioned, with a digital version auctioned as a NFT (non-fungible token). NFTs are a way of owning the original version of a non-physical object, a chance as a digital photograph or video.

In 2021, NFTs have become very profitable as original files for viral videos and memes have sold for tens of thousands of dollars. This is the first time a digital image relating to the Kelly story has been auctioned in such a way.

The 100,000 photographs up for grab are from the Rose Stereograph Company, and featured on a series of extremely popular postcards in the late-colonial and early-Federation era.

The valuable collection of historic images was found in a spare room of a house belonging to descendants of one of the men behind the company, Herbert Cutts.

We understand that for these historically important pieces to rest with one family is to deny others the pleasure of their custodianship.

Stephen and Jeffrey Cutts, via a statement

Find out more:

Michael Howe in Traces

In the new issue of Traces (issue 15) is a feature article about Michael Howe, written by Georgina Stones and featuring illustrations by Aidan Phelan. The article examines some of the long held misconceptions about the bushranger and his gang, as well as the importance of challenging assumptions.

Also featured is an article discussing the Aboriginal bushranger and rebel Musquito who is often credited as stimulating the “black war” of the early colonial era in Van Diemen’s Land.

Holmes’ Legends trilogy cancelled

On the eve of the anniversary of the Eugowra Rocks heist, Australian filmmaker Matthew Holmes announced that he is shelving the other two films in his planned “Legends Trilogy”. The first film, The Legend of Ben Hall, has received a number of international awards and has been seen around the world despite being a low-budget indie film.

Matthew Holmes has pulled the plug on his ambitious bushranger trilogy.

The Legend of Frank Gardiner would have focused on the escort heist and the bushranger’s whirlwind romance with Kitty Brown, while The Legend of John Vane was to tell the story of the only member of the core group of Johnny Gilbert and Ben Hall’s gang to survive long enough to record his memoirs.

“It’s especiallyheart-breaking for me because of the amount of passion that was behind this project. The amount of time poured into the screenplays was immense. The historical research alone and the careful weaving the three films together was a monumental task.” Holmes said.

Holmes has spent half a decade refining the screenplays and attempting to get investors and talent to sign up for these films. In 2020 a major American production company was set to invest, but a chain of events stymied efforts. The development Hell the Legends trilogy has been stuck in is symptomatic of bigger issues in the Australian film industry, which is largely government funded whereas the majority of American films, by contrast, are funded internally by studios. This is not the first time lack of funding for a bushranger film has seen it shelved or released without being properly completed. Films about Captain Moonlite, Jessie Hickman, Sam Poo and Ned Kelly, among others, have all had the plug pulled due to being unable to gather production budgets.

“For the marketplace to even take us seriously, we needed a couple high-profile Australian actors to sign on in the lead roles. We approached many, but getting the script into their hands proved impossible since we weren’t financed yet. Conversely, we couldn’t finance the films until we had secured some high-profile talent; so we were stuck in this endless Catch 22,” said Holmes. “Our trilogy was not about superheroes, vampires, zombies or invading aliens – which are the safe bets that the marketplace wants. Bushranger films are unique, but that’s also makes them riskier. We needed private investors who not only saw the financial potential of the trilogy, but also the cultural significance. But we were always met with closed doors. Making films in Australia is much harder than people realise.”

Holmes is moving onto new film projects, including a modern-day revenge drama The Cost, which is currently filming. Though he isn’t ruling out attempting to make these stories in future, Holmes admits his envisioned trilogy is unlikely. “There was always a time limit on this series. We couldn’t pick it up in twenty years time, not with over a dozen of The Legend of Ben Hall cast that wouldreprise their roles. The best I can hope for now is that someone with a genuine passion for Australian history and the means to finance these next two film approaches us. It’s tragic that these scripts will remain forever unproduced, because these are true stories equal to that of Jesse James, Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp. This was our chance to share some wildly entertaining Australian tales on the world stage and it was almost within our grasp… almost.”

This month’s features on A Guide to Australian Bushranging

* Musquito: an overview — A concise account of the life and career of one of the most infamous Aboriginal bushrangers, who became known as one of the most notorious rebels pushing back against colonisation.

* The Dark Side of the Law —A dip into the grim and grisly side of colonial law enforcement, examining the systematic use of torture and execution to suppress lawlessness by the colonial authorities.


Ned Kelly’s Colt

This Colt revolver is on display in the Benalla Costume and Kelly Museum. It appears to be a modified Colt Walker, a firearm from 1847. The barrel has been shortened, which would also likely account for the missing loading lever. These were infamous for being heavy and unwieldy, and prone to defects and malfunctions, especially with the barrel and loading lever.

Aboriginal Peoples and Bushranging: An Overview 

NOTE: The following will be discussing people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent and will also include images of persons now deceased.

Telling the history of bushranging in Australia would not be complete without making note of the importance of Aboriginal peoples on both sides of the law. Whether we are referring to bushrangers like Musquito or Jimmy Governor, or the “black trackers” that so many police forces relied on to help them track down fugitives, it would be utterly ignorant to not highlight their contribution to this unique history.


Picture Credit: “The Black Tracker”. George Rossi Ashton. Australasian Sketcher, June 18, 1881. Courtesy State Library of Victoria

Aboriginal Bushrangers

The defining trait of bushrangers is an ability to survive in the wilderness and utilise it as a tool in the outlaw’s armoury. For people whose ancestors occupied the land tens of thousands of years before European occupation, such a trait was second nature.


Musquito was one of the earliest Aboriginal bushrangers, an Eora man from Port Jackson. Operating around 1805, Musquito began committing raids on farms around the Hawkesbury and was soon a wanted man. After being turned in by other Eora men, he was sentenced to eight years on Norfolk Island. In 1813, Musquito was taken by ship to Launceston where he remained. For a time he acted as a tracker and received commendation from Lieutenant Governor Sorell who gave permission for Musquito to be returned home. This never eventuated. After Sorell’s apparent betrayal, Musquito turned rogue. Forming a gang of Aboriginal men from surrounding areas that became known as the Tame Gang, Musquito was considered to be almost supernatural in his ability to blend into his environment and was notably tougher and stronger than his companions. Operating in the 1820s, the Tame Gang stole from farms to survive. He soon joined the Oyster Bay tribe and was implicated in the murder of several settlers with another Aboriginal bushranger known as Black Jack, before finally being captured by an Aboriginal boy named Teague in 1824. Musquito and Black Jack were tried and sentenced to death on dubious evidence. They were hanged on February 25, 1825. Musquito’s life demonstrates the impact of white settlement on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the early nineteenth century. His once proud people, who lived on the land and were in tune with the natural way of things, found themselves overtaken and forced away from their way of life and off their traditional homes, denied the right to observe the language and customs of their people dating back millennia. In their desperation to survive they broke white man’s laws and suffered fierce reprisals. Musquito’s use of guerilla warfare tactics made him a fearsome opponent for British soldiers.

Jimmy Governor

Another significant example of the persecution of Aboriginal people leading to lawlessness can be seen in the horrific story of Jimmy Governor and his gang. Raised in Talbragar at a time where it was impossible for a non-white man to be given equal footing in Australian society, regardless of aptitude, Governor felt oppressed and bullied his whole life. He was literate, was a renowned horsebreaker and even worked as a tracker for the police. Despite his obvious positive qualities, he was still looked down upon in white society. The scorn he felt only increased when at twenty three he married a white girl – sixteen-year-old Ethel Mary Jane Page. Mixed marriage in Australia was a big taboo and frowned upon, especially by the women. Jimmy managed to find work, gaining a position on the Mawbey farm in West Breelong. One day Governor snapped after his wife had gone to the main homestead for their ration of flour whereupon she was turned away with an earful of abuse for the nature of her marriage. When Ethel told Jimmy about what had happened, he was apoplectic. He stormed over to the manager, John Mawbey, and asked for his rations and Mawbey told him that he’d sort it out. Jimmy returned to the shack he and Ethel shared and stewed in his rage for hours before inducing his mate Jacky Underwood, also Aboriginal, to go to the homestead with him. They were armed with a rifle and an axe. In the dark of night, Jimmy roused Mrs. Sarah Mawbey and demanded an apology. Not only did Sarah Mawbey not apologise but she responded with another tirade, her friend the local school teacher Helen Kurz adding “You black rubbish! You should be shot for marrying a white woman!” That was enough for Jimmy. The years of abuse, scorn and ill-treatment bubbling to the surface. He and Underwood went on a killing spree, slaughtering Sarah Mawbey, Helen Kurz and the Mawbey children Grace, Hilda, and Percy. Bert Mawbey, age eight, escaped and raised the alarm. When the men reached the house they found Cecil and Garnet Mawbey still alive with their cousin George. It was claimed that Jimmy took his brother Joe, Ethel and Jacky Underwood with him into the bush saying “Now we’ll be just like Ned Kelly.” For months afterwards the Governor gang raged through the community adding more murders (usually women and children) and robbery to the tally of crimes and were hounded like foxes. On October 13, 1900, Jimmy and Joe Governor were found and set upon by Bert Byers and Bob Woods, Jimmy being shot in the mouth and separated from his brother. Jimmy was captured on October 27, 1900, severely malnourished as his mouth wound prevented him from eating properly. Joe Governor was shot dead on October 31, 1900, while attempting to seek refuge in an Aboriginal settlement at St. Clair. His corpse was put on display on a billiard table in Singleton. Jacky Underwood was hanged in Dubbo Gaol on January 14, 1901. Jimmy Governor was hanged in Darlinghurst Gaol on January 18, 1901.

Jimmy Governor, from his prison record
Frequently, what separated Aboriginal bushrangers from all others was that it was usually the introduced laws and culture that pushed them into criminality and their natural affinity for the land that made them formidable to the forces of the law.

Aboriginal Trackers

Since Australia had been occupied by Great Britain, the British forces had relied on the abilities of Aboriginal peoples to find water and food and later on people. The institution gradually became what would be referred to in law enforcement as Native Police or Black Trackers. Capable of reading the environment considerably better than any white man, some bushrangers considered them to be their only real opponents. First utilised in the 1830s in Western Australia, trackers became a vital part of law enforcement all across Australia by the 1870s, the first “Native Police” created in Victoria in 1837. New South Wales also formed a similar division of the police force in 1848 that operated until 1859 when the newly formed colony of Queensland took control until 1900. During the latter period trackers were hired in New South Wales unofficially. Unfortunately the trackers were frequently misused by colonial forces and the Aboriginal troopers often found themselves being forced to exterminate or round up their fellows to be shipped off to camps. One of the most infamous of these massacres was the Cape Bedford Massacre wherein Sub-Inspector Stanhope O’Connor and his troop of Queensland trackers slaughtered around thirty indigenous people on a beach. A week later O’Connor was heading South with his troops to help the Victoria police find the Kelly gang.

Copy of PM0130

Sub-Inspector O’Connor (seated) poses with his Queensland Native Police and members of the Victoria police during the hunt for the Kelly gang
In many bushranger stories the trackers are just as important as the outlaws. No telling of the story of Ben Hall would be complete without the inclusion of Billy Dargin; the Clarke brothers found themselves facing off against a formidable police party that featured the famous tracker Sir Watkin Wynne who lost an arm to injuries sustained in battle with the Clarkes; Ned Kelly famously referred to the indomitable Queensland trackers as “six little devils” as they were the only people capable of closing in on the Kelly gang. Colonial police were typically out of their depth with bush work and this played into the hands of bush-going fugitives. Naturally, the disruption to this game of cat and mouse by introducing trackers kept outlaws on their toes and bred a deep resentment within them.

Without the talents of Aboriginal trackers, the forces of the law would not have been capable of succeeding against bushrangers at anywhere near the rate they did. Some police understood this and treated the trackers with respect, while others allowed their racist tendencies to taint their view and looked down on their contributions. In the case of O’Connor’s trackers, he campaigned after the dissolution of the Kelly gang for his troops to receive their cut of the reward as promised, and although the governments agreed to pay the money never reached the men and they ended up in internment camps as destitutes.

It is evident that Aboriginal peoples have shaped the history of law and order in this nation considerably and are an indispensable part of the history of bushranging. Whether on the forces of the law or against them, Aboriginal peoples have many fascinating stories to contribute to an already rich history of crime and punishment in Australia.


McIntyre, P. (2016). Musquito: How an Eora man from NSW sparked rebellion in Van Diemen’s Land. [online] ABC News. Available at: [Accessed 4 Jul. 2017].

Naomi Parry, ‘Musquito (1780–1825)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 7 July 2017.

Aboriginal trackers. Big Black Dog Communications Pty Ltd, 24 Mar. 2016. Web. 06 July 2017. <;.
Kerwin, D. (2010). Aboriginal heroes: episodes in the colonial landscape. [online] Queensland Historical Atlas. Available at: [Accessed 6 Jul. 2017].

Hunjan, Raveen. “Aboriginal trackers in NSW given ‘long overdue’ recognition for law enforcement work.” ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 18 Nov. 2016. Web. 06 July 2017. <;.

Arthur Wilberforce Jose and Herbert James Carter (editors), The Illustrated Australian Encyclopaedia, vol. 1, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1925, page 170
Powell, G. (2016). Bushranger Tracks. 1st ed. Sydney: New Holland Publishers Pty Ltd.
Nixon, A. (1995). Stand and Deliver: 100 Australian Bushrangers 1789 ~ 1901. 2nd ed. Port Melbourne: Lothian Pty Ltd.