Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Monday 24 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.


It was never the policy of Howe’s party, to remain long in one place; so getting rid of their booty amongst their confederates, they made off for the midland districts, and were at Scantlings or York Plains a day or two afterwards. The main road ran through these plains then, so they took up their quarters within view of it, in case of any thing in their particular line passing that way. But Mr. Stocker’s late surprise, seems to have been a caution to others, and they caught nothing except one poor penniless traveller, who chanced to be sauntering about there, and who fell into the net of course.

But notwithstanding the dulness of the road whilst they were at York Plains, they did not pass their time in inaction, and for want of something better to do, they drove in forty or fifty head of Styne’s and Troy’s cattle, and slaughtered them all for their tallow, rendering it down quite professionally, or rather making others do it for them, who they unceremoniously pressed into the service from a rather distant stock station, and worked them like horses for three days, disposing of the proceeds amongst certain friends of theirs, and facetiously naming the place “the Tallow Chandler’s shop,” in honour of this adventure.

Not being able to get anything out of the prisoner Yorke, who fell into their hands on the 27th November, they made the best use of him that they could, and as he happened to be going to Hobart Town, they made him the bearer of a letter to Colonel Davey, which ought to have a place in the “Complete Letter-writer” of half a century ago, as a masterpiece of impudence and contemptuous disrespect of the Governor. This is the letter spoken of by the old colonial historian W. C. Wentworth, in his history of New South Wales and Tasmania. The death of this old colonist is recorded in the papers received by the June mail, and a portrait and brief memoir of him are given the Illustrated London News of the 27th of April 1872. His work, though quite out of date now, is still well worth reading.

It was the misfortune of the eccentric Colonel Davey, that though he had many good qualities, he had not the knack of gaining the respect of anyone. I have been told that he was one of those jovial persons whom everyone likes, but no one esteems, and was familiarly styled by his drinking acquaintances “Mad Tom the Governor.” He tolerated a large amount of familiarity from his friends, or more properly companions, which proverbially begets contempt, and this was sometimes carried to such lengths, that even this too kind-hearted man could not endure. He might be found quite as often at the Union Hotel in Campbell-street, Hobart Town, (owned, and I believe then kept by Captain Ferguson) as at Government House. From this old sailor-landlord I have heard that some of his companions carried frolic so far with him as not to be always bearable, and at last when he saw them approaching the place, he was wont to escape their half-vulgar pleasantries by flying to the sofa and feigning sleep, till they were gone, when His Honor woke up again, greatly refreshed with his slumbers, and the exeunt of his friends. It is told of him that on the day of his landing here, he conducted himself in a very odd and ungovernor-like manner. Everyone knew that he was going to land publicly at a certain hour, and the bulk of the population poured forth to see the ceremony and give him the best welcome they could. The day was, as the good old fellow expressed it, “As hot as hell,” and when he lauded he answered the hurrahs of the crowd, not by taking off his hat to them, but by pulling off his coat, and made the best of his way up to Government House in his shirt-sleeves, at the head of the noisy tatterdemalions who followed him.

The bushrangers had no more respect for him than others had, and addressed him accordingly. They did indeed acknowledge that they were rather troubled by the military, but seemed to be quite indifferent about himself, and say a good deal that is not too complimentary, of the Governor. The concluding passage of their letter is very rich, as also a preceding one, in which they declare their belief that the Almighty will protect them from all designs against them, and that to destroy them is impossible — a prediction which was terribly falsified before very long.

This letter of Howe and his party is often mentioned by writers on the early history of Tasmania, and though once published, I believe there is but one copy of it extant, except a reprint of it in The Mercury of 22nd March last. For the benefit of those who may not have seen it, but who are curious in such matters, and who may like to know in what language they addressed the chief authority, I transcribe it from your paper exactly, preserving all its orthographical and other errors, and curious superfluity of capital letters:

“From the Bushrangers to the Honble. T. Davey, Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land.

“Sir— “We have thought proper to write these Lines to you — As We have Been Kept In the Dark so long — We find it is only to keep us Quiet untill By some Means of or other you think you Can Get us Betrayed But We will stand it No Longer We Are Determined to have it full And satisfactory Either for or Against us As we are determined to Be Kept no longer In Ignorance We think ourselves Greatly Injured By the Country At large In Laying To Hour Charge that Hored and Detestable Crime which We have fully satisfied the Eyes of the Publick In All our Actions To the Contrary During our Absence from the Settlement – I Have Not the least Doubt But you Are Glad that those New Hands goining us We Are Glad also though you think I Dare say they Will prove to our Disadvantage And We think to the contrary And He who preserved us from your plotts In Publick will Likewise Preserve Us from them In secret as we Are Not unacquainted with Your haveing A party In secret And Likewise where they are And where we As Much Inclined to take Life As you Are in Your Hearts We Could Destroy All the partyes you can send out And Without We Have A Little Quietness More than What We have Had you shall soon Be convinced of what I say Therefore if you Wish to prevent it send word out By the Bearer Richard Westlick* which we Expect To Return on the 9th of the ensuing Month With An Answer To Us Don ‘ot think to Defraud Us By sending out A party on this head for if you do Take Away the Mans Life if they Are Either with him Or Watching him for We Will Be watching Likewise You must Not think to Catch Hold Birds with Chaff Therefore To Affirm the Answer Either for or Against us that We will Receive Clap on it the Kings Seal And your Signature we have weighed well within our own Brests the Consequences that will Attend to these Siccumstances Therefore I would Have you Do the same for the Good of the Peaceable And Well Disposed Inhabitants of the Territorys of this Land So No More at Present

Michl Howe Richd Colier (i.e. Collier) Matthew Keggan (i.e. Keegan)

Jas Garry (i.e. Geary) John Chapman John Brown

Peter Septon Thomas Coyne Dennis Curry

George Jones James Parker

Nov 30 1816″

This letter was duly placed in the hands of the Governor by their messenger, who they detained for some time whilst it was being written, and whilst Geary swore them all, one by one, to fulfil the threats contained in it, if need should be. Not having their Bibles with them, they took the oath on some other book, which did just as well. Many commands were laid on Yorke, and he was entrusted with some messages from Howe himself, of a most menacing nature, particularly to the chief magistrate, Mr. Humphrey, and another. Tell them, said he “to take care of themselves, as we are resolved to take their lives, and to prevent them from keeping stock, or growing grain, unless there is something done for us. Tell Humphrey he may reap what grain he likes, but that we can thrash more in an hour, than he can reap in a year.” … “I was detained” says Yorke, “about three quarters of an hour, during which time he charged me to be strict, in making known, what he had said to me, and what I had seen,” &c. He was then allowed to depart.

Whether Mr. Westlick brought back a reply or not, is more than I can say; but if so, it does not seem to have been a favourable one, for they continued at their old practices, until they were all shot, hanged, or otherwise disposed of.

Some time after writing the above letter, two of the party acceded from the main body, and remained about York Plains after the others left. Here they were joined by a third man named Elliott, and were overtaken, 15th of March, 1817, at this place, by a party of the 46th commanded by Ensign Mahon, and a plucky fight took place, in which Chapman and Elliott were shot dead by the soldiers, and the other escaping a little longer, was finally taken by a once well-known settler named Kimberly.

During the last week of Colonel Davey’s Government, Howe and his party paid another visit to Pittwater, where they conducted themselves in a very extraordinary manner, but without violence or even rudeness. Their bravado deportment is thus described by a writer of this period. “In some houses they remained several hours, and appeared complete masters of the settlement, commanding with undaunted authority wherever they went; and were not in the least intimidated at the fate of their companions recently shot at Scantling’s Plains,” that is Chapman and Elliott. They left the settlement without plundering any one, except of a small quantity of provisions.

Immediately after this prank, the Government of Colonel Davey closed; and on the 9th of April 1817, Sorell reigned in his stead.

As the last named officer was coming up the river Derwent on the 8th, the ship was boarded by Captain Nairn, from whom he received an account of the state of the colony, and much information about the bushrangers then at large; and he at once commenced to concert measures to put them down, even before landing. He seems to have learned from Nairn, that the chief cause of the successes of these fugitives, and their very existence in the woods, was the connivance they received from secret confederates, who were far more numerous than themselves, and were the real cause of all the mischief, and that the bushrangers were, as it seemed to him, then a stranger, more nominally then really principals in the outrages of the times, and he therefore dealt his first blows at them. His Gazette proclamation against these inciters to violence, is dated the 14th of April, but it was really drawn up before he landed. But he does not seem at this early period of his rule, to have quite understood the extent of the criminality of the outlaws, so well as he did that of those who encouraged them, or he would certainly have modified one passage of it, which offers something very like amnesty to all who chose to lend a helping hand to root out these supporters of the bushranging classes. The passage in question may be understood differently by some, from the view I take of it, but to me it does not seem to exclude the bushrangers themselves from its advantages; and after events, confirm me in my translation of its meaning, for Howe himself (who at this time had quarrelled with, and separated himself from his. party) was the very first man to claim the benefit of the Proclamation, and Sorell actually accepted his proffer of service to put down bushranging. This act of the new Governor was amongst the very few errors committed by him whilst here.

In wishing to punish those instigators to disorder, Sorell seems to have been actuated by feelings similar to those, that used to regulate the conduct of Sir Godfrey Kneller on the Magisterial bench, who once dismissed a prisoner who was brought before him, on a charge of robbing his employer, and sent the prosecutor to goal instead, for purposely putting temptation in his way. The story is told by several old writers, and Pope speaks of it thus in one of his poems.

” Faith! In such case, if you should prosecute,

I think Sir Godfrey should decide the suit.

Who sent the thief that stole the cash away,

And punished him who put it in his way.”

The Proclamation above spoken of, appeared when Howe was at the Tea Tree Brush by himself, having as above stated, quarrelled, with Geary and the rest of his old bush confreres, He wrote at once to Sorell offering to surrender, whereupon the Governor accepted Captain Nairn’s offer to bell the cat, that is to negotiate personally with Howe in his lair to accept Governmental clemency; and after a good deal of parleying, the solitary outcast was safely lodged in the Hobart Town Gaol on the 29th of April, or just three weeks after the Governor’s arrival. This seemed to be one great step gained in the way of restoring quiet, but it did not prove so.

In one of Sorell’s early despatches to his official superior the Governor-in-Chief at Sydney, which relates to this transaction, he informs him that he actually gave Captain Nairn a conditional pardon for Howe “for all offences, murder excepted, * * * upon the condition of his detailing all transactions, pointing out all accomplices, and using his utmost efforts in aiding the troops to find his companions.” And he then goes on to say that he considers “the acquisition of this man of the first importance” and adds “Permit me to solicit your Excellency’s favourable consideration of the case of Howe, and to entreat in the strongest terms, that in the event of his doing his utmost for the detection of his accomplices and abettors, you will be pleased to add to my pressing recommendation, your Excellency’s powerful support in the transmission of his case to the Throne.” (Despatch 3rd May, 1817.) The above extracts are copied exactly from this extraordinary despatch.

Howe’s implication in the deaths of Carlisle and O’Birne, did not deter him from accepting the Governor’s terms, Perhaps he thought that his share in these deplorable transactions, could not be brought home to him, as none but his own mates could swear he was present, except his companion Black Mary, who though the cause of the conviction of another for this offence, namely Collier, was not likely to swear against Howe, and this view of the case probably presented itself to both Governors, for two or three months afterwards, the Governor in Chief, Macquarie, promised to exert himself in his favour.

But Howe was always a child of misfortune as well as crime, from the commencement of active life; and either through the mistake or treachery of a trusted accomplice, Edward Beagent, the intelligence of Macquarie’s real intentions to pardon him, never reached him till too late, when he seems to have got some inkling of it, but not before he had quite done for himself with Sorell.

On his arrival in Hobart Town, he was placed in gaol; but Sorell says he was more nominally than really a prisoner, and was allowed to walk about the town pretty much as he liked, but always in charge of a constable, three of whom were told off for this service, Dodding, Ambridge, and Parsons, who took it in turn and turn about to keep an eye on him, as he was a slippery customer at best. What leisure he had either when unable or not disposed to go out, he employed for his own profit, in knitting certain woollen articles, at which it seems he was an adept. He underwent at this time frequent examinations, before Sorell and his old acquaintance Humphrey, about his past career, and above all who were the secret accomplices of himself and party. Of these persons (all of whom he seems to have regarded with small affection, for any one of them would have betrayed him had they dared), he gave ample intelligence; but very little evidence of worth could be extracted from him, that was likely to damage his old mates. In this respect, he seems to have resembled the familiar Guido Faux, who even when under torture, to force him to impeach his companions in the famous Gunpowder Plot, remained faithful to the last, or at least refused to tell enough to implicate them.

Once after his surrender, he accompanied a party of military (Despatch 10th May, 1817) in search of Geary and the rest of his old mates; but even though he had had a bitter quarrel with, and had separated from them shortly before his surrender to the Government, he did as little as he could to promote the success of the search, Sorell himself assuring us that ” he did not perform any service with regard to the discovery of his associates.” (Despatch, September 13th, 1817.)

He was naturally very anxious to know his fate as soon as possible. There was at this time in the service of the Judge Advocate, either as butler or groom, an old Bushranging confrère of Howe’s of the name of Edward Beageant (whom I have named before,) with whom he contrived to have a little quiet chat in his rambles about the town. This man’s master seems to have had a better opinion of him then he deserved, and got him the coveted indulgence of a Ticket of Leave, a good deal against the Governor’s wish, who did not think much of him. Beagent undertook to let Howe know the determination of the Governor in Chief, as soon as possible after the despatch arrived; and they arranged between them what signal he was to give, if it were favorable, and what if it were not. I have explained before in what manner Howe employed his leisure, and he mostly worked at a fixed bench, that stood just outside of the old gaol gate in Murray street, which I dare say many will still remember. As soon as the despatch came down from Sydney, Beagent was to manage, either by eaves-dropping, or some other sly process, to learn how it fared with Howe; and if it were favourable, as it really was, he was to stroll past the place where Howe sat at work, and drop the words “all right,” as quietly as he could into Howe’s ear; but if it were not thus all right, he would then order him to make him a cap, thus symbolising the Executioner’s cap, that he was shortly to wear; and as Howe was a notoriously clever fellow at getting away from any one, he was then to take whatever measures seemed best at the moment for making his escape.

Months passed away, and Howe was still in gaol; and vessel after vessel came in from Port Jackson, without bringing any word concerning the doom of the prisoner; but it arrived at last, and in it (I quote from Sorell’s writings.) Macquarie “promised his intercession for pardon” for Howe. Beageant took measures to ascertain the contents of the despatch, or at least pretended to do so; but whether he was himself deceived, or wished to do Howe a disservice, I do not know, but he soon afterwards took the preconcerted quiet stroll down Murray-street, and addressing Howe, ordered him to make the cap, and then walked on his way. Howe’s countenance did not betray his inward emotions, but his heart must have sunk within him as his last hopes of life went out. It was now dusk, and watching his keeper for a minute of inattention, he was off like a deer for the woods again.

We are informed by Commissioner Bigge, it was just before this, that Howe with Beagent’s assistance, was very nearly successful in making his escape from the colony altogether, in an American vessel; but as usual with this unlucky man, he was disappointed through the captain acquainting the Government of the plot. According to Sorell’s belief—which is however rather hinted at than positively expressed—Howe at this time was not chargeable with the guilt of murder. By what train of reasoning, or by what evidence he acquitted him of participation in the deaths of Carlisle and O’Birne, I cannot undertake to explain. But it would have been well for Howe himself, and others also, had he been successful in escaping, and thus have avoided the further guilt of two dreadful deaths, that I shall shortly have to detail.

Some minutes elapsed after his flight from gaol, before his absence was observed, and the hue-and-cry raised for pursuit; so Howe had just time to call at the hut of an acquaintance that stood somewhere on Lester’s Hill, Murray street, about a third of a mile from St. David’s Cathedral, where it is supposed he obtained a small supply of provisions, and then fled directly, and had reached the woods, that were not then far off, before any pursuit began.

His flight was soon reported to the Governor, who could hardly believe it at first, as he held in his hand at the moment, the certainty of pardon for him for past offences, and to the last never knew exactly the particulars of the cause of his flight, though he seems to have guessed it pretty nearly; for writing soon afterwards to General Macquarie of this escape he says, “His object is yet a mystery; but I have reason to think that he was stimulated to go off, by its being represented to him, that his pardon was uncertain.” It was on the 28th of July that he absconded.

Where he passed, or how he spent this anxious night, is unknown, and how he managed to regain his old haunts, is equally uncertain; but he soon took to his old practices again, but now by himself, for he never rejoined his old associates, or took up with any one afterwards; but I think it must have been before recommencing his career of guilt, that he made one more effort to regain the favour of Sorell, probably after discovering the deception that had been practiced on him. But he was soon made to understand, that his case was now a hopeless one, by receiving no response to the letter that ho wrote to Sorell.

[To be continued.]

*This man, Rd. Westlick, must have been a confidential agent of Howe’s party, and not the bearer of this letter. In the Gazette of January, 11th 1817, there is a long extract from the sworn declaration of the real bearer, who is there styled John Yorke, touching the conduct of Howe and his men, whilst they had him in charge,


Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Friday 21 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.


The news of this disaster reached head-quarters with the sloth-like tardiness of the times I am writing of; and the inert Governor of the day, Colonel Davey, seems to have wakened up on receiving the intelligence of this new misfortune, and he did as he ought on the occasion, that is, he despatched several parties of military into the district that the bushrangers commanded for the moment.

There were some capital men amongst the military, as good as ever carried a musket; and it will not be out of place here to say a few words about them generally, more especially as they had in the end nearly the undivided honour of ridding the country of the banditti who formerly infested it, keeping it in a state of unceasing alarm for many years.

The soldiers were the only men in the country, at that time at least, who were a match for the bushrangers, as they proved over and over in many a light. They never flinched, with a solitary exception, where a few very young soldiers, fresh from the awkward squad, were employed against a party led by the cautious veteran Geary; and it was to parties furnished by the detachments stationed here at different times, of the 73rd, 48th, and 46th regiments, that the colony owed its comparatively long period of repose, more than five and a half years, that intervened between the death of Howe in October, 1818, and the escape of Brady and others from Macquarie Harbour in June, 1824. With the single exception above referred to, all did their duty. But there is one name amongst the soldiers of this period that is continually turning up in the annals of bush fighting, that I ought not to be forgotten. This man was a lance-serjeant of the 46th, of the name of McCarthy, the same who led the parties that shot Geary and other troublesome fellows, and at different times took several others. This man, unlike his namesake, the publican and merchant, spoken of a little above, was gifted with plenty of discretion as well as personal bravery, and his perseverance in pursuit seems to have been something wonderful. Wherever the bushrangers were — and he chased them from district to district like hunted wolves — he was sure to be at their heels; and as he never followed them without having some black trackers with him, there was no escape from him. I shall however have very little more to say about this meritorious soldier, as this narrative will soon relate chiefly to Howe, with whom he never came to blows. The majority of these fine fellows went unrewarded, except what they got of complimentary notices from the Government, and hard knocks from the bushrangers. The officers, who were no less active than the men, did indeed receive a more tangible reward, but when I relate what it was, I fear than even the most prosaic reader may laugh a little. They were specially commended to the Governor-in-Chief for some distinguishing mark of approbation, (I copy exactly from a Despatch of Governor Sorell’s,) who trusts “it may meet with Your Excellency’s approval on this occasion (that is when their bush campaigns were about over) “in issuing to each Officer an allowance of Spirits, free of duty, as a mark of General approbation and remuneration for their own privations,” Good service was certainly cheap then.

Several parties of the 73rd and 46th Regiments, now marched on New Norfolk, and quickly disturbed the bushrangers in their pleasant quarters; and soon afterwards some of the men of the 73rd, came on them so unexpectedly, that they had to run for their lives, saving nothing but their arms, and hardly those; but they were soon lost in the intricacies of the bush. A large party of civilians from Hobart Town, also armed themselves, and went in pursuit of the murderers of Carlisle and O’Birne, but I believe they wasted neither ammunition or energy in forwarding the cause in hand.

New Norfolk was now too hot for them to live in, at any rate until some of their old enemies the soldiers were removed; and they set out for Pittwater again, intending by this movement to cause the withdrawal of the military if possible, who they felt sure would follow them wherever they went, and then to return again as soon as the military, or at any rate the most of them were gone.

But quite apart from this little piece of strategy, they had another reason for paying a flying visit to Pittwater. The Chief of Police, Mr. Humphey, had always been, as they considered, officiously active against them, but had been doubly so over since Whitehead and Garland had burned him out some time before; and he had moreover in his official capacity, blamed the whole of them for what was really the work of two only. Their dislike of him, which was at all times strong enough, was much increased after this; and they now went thither, bent on destroying everything he possessed there, which would not only be a proper punishment, according to their ideas of propriety, for the injustice done them, but would be a sure way of attracting such attention to Pittwater, as would almost certainly cause the removal of the soldiers from their own proper district, as they considered New Norfolk to be, and to which they meant to return as soon as they could, to have a settlement with Mr. McCarthy for his recent officiousness, now that they know who it was who planned the late attack on them.

The inhabitants of Pittwater had by this time pretty well recovered from the alarm Whitehead’s late visit had caused them; and were fast relapsing into their old slow-going habits again, when an unpleasant rumour spread through the district, that the enemy was amongst them again, and which they were not long in learning was true.

Just as the sun was setting on the 10th May, 1815, as rough-looking a set of fellows as could be seen, suddenly presented themselves at the door of the men’s hut of Mr. Humphrey’s establishment. They were all armed, which made it clear to those within that they were no friends of theirs, and they closed the door against them at once. The strangers demanded instant admittance, but, receiving no response, soon performed this little service for themselves, and smashed in the door without more ceremony, and rushing up tumultuously, quickly over-powered and bound the inmates; and next, placing a couple of sentries over their chop-fallen prisoners, proceeded to Humphrey’s own residence, which they entered by the same process as the hut.

Here they found everything they wanted, and having first helped themselves to what they thought fit, they proceeded to demolish the rest, smashing up or destroying in some way or other, everything they could lay their hands on. As the work of destruction went on, they unhappily lighted on certain articles, which are a very abomination in the sight of bushrangers at all times, namely half-a-dozen pairs of fetters – curious things to find in a gentleman’s house – which gave a new whet to their hatred of the owner, and to their own determination to leave nothing undestroyed, which they fulfilled to their heart’s content.

At this time there was no such thing as regular mail service in the colony; and it was not until Sorell came here that postal communication of any kind was established; and even then, there were only weekly messengers between head quarters and the outlying districts; so unless news reached Hobart Town by a chance traveller nothing was known of what was going on outside of the town, for two or three days at least. But as the interests of the principal magistrate of the colony were damaged by this last outrage, it is possible that a special messenger was sent in with the unpleasant intelligence that, as far as chattel property was concerned, the bushrangers had not left him the worth of a sixpence in Pittwater.

Old Colonel Davey — who seems to have been much such another man as one of Irving’s Governors of New York, in its early days, William Testy, pranced about the place like a thing demented, and for a day or two had not a civil word for any one. But he cooled down at last of course, and then sent all the troops he could spare to Pittwater, to catch the bushrangers while they were still there. But this took time, which this excellent old officer, did not always think of, and day after day passed away, before the soldiers made their appearance there.

It is well known that by means of secret confederates, the bushrangers were mostly much better informed of what was going on, than any others were; and they heard without much surprise, that several of the parties were withdrawn from New Norfolk, and that they were moving on the disturbed district. When quite assured that they were on the march, they drew out of danger at once; and while the troops were coming down on Pittwater by one road, they retreated from it by another; and the next thing that the Governor heard of these ubiquitous fellows was, that they had not only eluded his grasp, but were once more back in New Norfolk.

The good old marine, as I was once told by the late Captain Ferguson, stamped and swore like a bargeman, when he heard that all his clever plans for the capture of those slippery fellows, were thus untimely frustrated; and he called them all the vile names he could think of, damming them all round in terms that are as well not repeated.

[To be continued.]


Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Thursday 20 November 1873, page 3



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

Written by J. E. Calder.


When Howe had grown well into boyhood, he was placed on board a merchant ship of Hull, to commence life on his own account; and he actually served two years of his apprenticeship without bolting; a thing so unusual in the life of this scapegrace and habitual runaway, that it must on no account be passed over without notice. He then deserted.

From this service he passed by an almost natural transition, into that of his King and country, that is to say he entered on board a man-of-war, but whether voluntarily or through the agency of the Press-gang, I have no information; nor do I know how long he remained in it, or whether he took any part in the stirring events of the time. But to a man so impatient of restraint as he, it is easy to understand, that the severe, and even cruel discipline of the Royal Navy in the beginning of this century, must have been quite unbearable, and not at all in accord with the free-and-easy notions of such a man as Howe; and the next thing we hear of him is, that he quitted it in the same way that he left the mercantile marine, that is he deserted again.

I have received from a private source, an incident of Howe’s early life, that I have not met with in any book; but of which there can be no doubt, namely that he was once a soldier. This was when he was eighteen years old. This information is derived from a very old hand, still in life, who knew Howe, and he received the account from himself. Howe occassionally came to the place he lived at, and used when in the humour, to recount the adventures of his past life; but of which my informant after a lapse of fifty-five years or more, remembered nothing but this. From this service he also deserted.

It is of course impossible to keep up a continuous narrative of the life of any one, where the thread of it is so often broken, as in Howe’s case, beyond the power of uniting it again; and after some one of his desertions there occurs a blank in it, that I am unable to fill up. Where he next betook himself to, or by what means he henceforward eked out a living, I cannot say; but as time passed on, he returned to Pontefract or its neighbourhood again, and commenced a new career, a desperate and dangerous one indeed, as a robber on the Highways, which in those days was one of the shortest of outs to the gallows. But I think it may be presumed that he never acquired such notoriety in England as he did in Tasmania, and that he had no great success in his new business, for he was soon convicted of robbing a traveller on the road, a Yorkshire miller. For this offence he was tried at York Assizes on the 31st July, 1811, and received a seven-years sentence of transportation. He was kept in the gaol or the hulks some months after this, when he was put on board the “Indefatigable” convict ship, which reached Hobart Town in November of 1812. At this time he was about twenty-five years of age.

Whether he made any attempt to escape from gaol or not, I cannot say; but as he was probably confined in the strong castle of York, he most likely never had a chance; but he was scarcely on the deck of the prison ship, before he tried his luck, and his attempt, which was within an ace of being successful, was as dangerous as well could be.

He had a good part of a mile to swim before he could land. But watching his opportunity, off went his clothes, and over he leaped into the sea. The splash was heard – the alarm given of a convict overboard and escaping, and a shot or two were fired after him by the sentries at the gangways, while the boats were lowered with the lightning-like quickness of English sailors in an emergency, and the chase began. Howe being a strong swimmer, struck out for land like a frog, whilst the men in the boats strained every muscle to come up with him before he could reach the shore. The race was a good one. Howe having a good start, kept his lead well, and struck out manfully for his liberty; but the others were equally determined that he should either lose it or his life. Poor wretch, it had been better for him, and far better for Tasmania, if he had gone to the bottom. But the ship’s boats overhauled and headed him at last; and though he dived and doubled like a hunted duck, they got hold of him and took him back to the ship, and kept a watchful eye on him until the ship put to sea, when all chance of a second venture of this kind, was impossible.

Arrived in Tasmania, Howe, with the rest of the ” Indefatigibles,” as his precious shipmates were called, was handed over to the care of one of the superintendents of convicts, Mr. Paterson, and before long was assigned to the service of Mr. John Ingle, a gentleman who I believe, had formerly been an assistant under Mr. Paterson; but who had some time before quitted the captivating service of the Crown, and opened a store in Hobart Town, and getting on well in the world, soon possessed himself of considerable property both in town and country which I hear his descendants continue to hold, he having died very recently in England, where, at one time at least, he accumulated vast wealth on change. He has been described to me as an irascible person, and therefore not likely to keep so restless a man as Howe, long in his service, one who could never take a wrong word, they soon fell out, and he took to the bush, joining himself with a party of twenty eight other vagabonds, which was only one of many gangs then in the woods, and thus he took to the highways again, that is, he became a bushranger. This was in the early part of 1813, and thus commenced his six year career of guilt in Tasmania, a period which he himself described as one of such painful anxiety and unutterable misery, as to have once extorted the statement that he “believed the life of the damned was nothing to it.” To comprehend such a state of being is impossible, but it must have been worse than that of a wild beast.

It is recorded by the Commissioner Bigge, that at no time in the history of this colony was bushranging carried on so methodically, successfully, or on so great a scale, as it was in the fist year of Colonel Davey’s Government in 1813, just after the rule, or rather misrule of the three commandants, Captain Murray, Colonel Geils, and Lieutenant Lord, who had administered the Government here, during the time that intervened between the death of Colonel Collins on the 24th March, 1810, and the arrival of Colonel Davey here, 4th of Februaiy, 1811.

The Commissioner, speaking of the state of the country dining this year (page 108 of his first report on New South Wales and this colony), says: “The excesses of the bushrangers in the neighbourhood of Port Dalrymple, and likewise near Hobart Town, had attained their utmost height, and most sanguinary character, it the latter end of the year, 1813” * * * and, he continues, “so great was the intimidation produced, that the inhabitants of several districts, abandoned then dwellings, and removed for safety to the towns.” Such was the insecure condition of the country when Howe’s six year career commenced.

Throughout this long period, Howe seems to have had a particular fondness for the district of New Norfolk, and in so far as the imperfect records of these old times enable us to judge, it was here that he began to disturb the peace of the community, though of this I am not quite sure He indeed committed many robberies in other quarters, but his chief place of resort was round the country of New Norfolk, and what Sherwood Forest was to Robin Hood, the woods of this place were to Michael Howe, that is a home and precarious refuge

At the time of his disappearance from Mr Ingle’s service, there were, as was said above, numerous bushrangers in the field and he joined with twenty eight others, who acted under the leadership of a man named John Whitehead. These fellows are all advertised in the very first numbers of the “Van Diemen’s Land Gazette, and General Advertiser,” June 1814. Whitehead is there called Edward, but this is a mistake. Howe’s name is amongst the number, and also that of a scamp named Edward Beagent, (of whom I shall hay o to say a little by-and-bye), which figures with Howe’s in this terrible list. This old bushranger Beagent, was afterwards the first, of one of the first land lords of one of the principal hotels in this city. Such are the vicissitudes of fortune.

The depredations of these men, were doubtlessly numerous enough, but as they have not attracted any very serious notice from the writers of the time, they were perhaps not very remarkable That they were not accompanied by murder, is certain; for when the Governor in Chief, Macquarie, published his ill advised Proclamation, offering pardon to the many outlaws then in the bush, not guilty of murder, the whole of this gang were able to avail themselves of the amnesty, and surrendered themselves before the 1st day of December of that year, to which time the amnesty extended

Several very grave mistakes were made by some of the Governors of these colonies, in the early years of the present century in their dealings with this class of men, whom they were often powerless to put down and this proclamation was one of them. Its intention was to recall these men from the bush, and a life of rapine; but its real effect was to authorise bushranging, during the whole of the time that it continued in force, namely six months and a half; and it was so viewed and acted on – and with legal impunity – by all the robbers then in the woods. The “Commissioner of Inquiry,” thus describes its results, (page 109) :-

“The effect of this proclamation was the reverse of that which was intended. It increased the crimes and audacity of the bushrangers, during the interval of six months that it allowed them for return; they profited by the pardon, by making a temporary surrender, and then resumed their habits of plunder,” &c. This was just the case with both Howe and Whitehead; they accepted pardon for past delinquencies, and took to the woods again soon afterwards.

How the members of this party were disposed of after their surrender, is not explained; but as I find Beagent afterwards in the service of the Judge Advocate, I presume they were sent into private service, or placed on the Government works. But whether or not, their condition seems to have satisfied neither Whitehead nor Howe, who soon threw the Governors pardon to the winds, and took to the bush and then old courses again. Whether any of their old companions followed their example or not, I do not know but if they did, none of them rejoined Whitehead or Howe.

The notoriety of these two men, soon attracted others to them, and shortly afterwards they were at the head of a party, less numerous indeed than they were used to, but far more daring than any known before. Their robberies were now nearly every day occurrences, and it is recorded of them, that scarcely a settler in the New Norfolk district escaped their visitations. It was their invariable custom so to clear out the settlers houses, that nothing was left behind that they could remove. Of these troublesome fellows, Whitehead was the leader.

Having made prize of nearly every thing they could lay hands on in New Norfolk, sheer necessity or restlessness drove them out of their favourite district at last, which they quitted about as reluctantly us the sloth does the tree he feeds on, when its last green leaf is devoured. Casting their eyes about them, like the wandering Israelites of old, thev decided on entering into the fertile and untouched lands of the Canaanites of Pittwater, where they made their undesired appearance about March 1815

This delightful district of the South East, was pretty well settled over even at this time. It was nevertheless about as dull and animated a place, as the Castle of Indolence or Sleepy Hollow ever were, the listless inhabitants dreaming away their lives in contented torpor and indifference about the things of this world or the next, till the intrusive Whitehead and his company put a little life into them They worked when they could not help it, and frittered away the rest of their time in happy idleness, and unconcern of the future. But this state of things was too pleasant to last for ever, and their now friends soon freshened them up a little, and before long, there was such bustle in the place, as was never known m Pittwater before.

No sooner had they taken possession of the promised land, than they set to work with customary activity, and speedily ransacked half the establishments in the place.

But there were two gentlemen who held property in this district, who in their official capacities, had continued to make themselves obnoxious to some of the gang, and on whom, they determined to take a full and deep revenge for past delinquencies, as they thought them. Their victims were the Police Magistrate of the territory, Mr Humphrey, and Mr. Reardon, the District Constable of Pittwater, both of whom had valuable estates there. Vengeance only, and not plunder, incited them to visit the homesteads of these settlers, which were pretty close together. The men who took part in the outrage that followed, where Whitehead and Garland only, the rest either refusing, or not caring to join them in their detestable adventure. So at least says Bent. But I believe that a man named Watts devised this mischief.

The night of the 10th March was fixed on for the execution of this malicious act. Proceeding as noiselessly as possible to the premises in the dark, they reached the rick-yards unperceived, where the harvest of the season was stacked. To strike a light and apply it to the ricks of both was the work of a minute only, and the long pent up vengeance of the incendiaries was appeased. They then decamped.

Howe and the rest of the party were long credited with having taken part in this malevolent enterprise, but they were guiltless of any thing more than knowing of it, and, perhaps, were not even guilty of that. By their absence from the scene, they may have discountenanced it, or rather, perhaps, thought it was no part of their business to address the injuries of others, whether fancied or real.

This transaction was probably the cause of their stay at Pittwater being brought to a close a little sooner than they intended; and as it now became necessary to sound the retreat, they fell back for a brief space on the already half-devastated district of New Norfolk, where their most unexpected re-appearance was about as unwelcome as snow in summer time. But there was no help for it, as after the recent outrage at Pittwater, the place was too dangerous for them, at any rate until the storm they had raised there had blown over, when they might renew their acquaintance with their new friends; and as there were still a few in New Norfolk who had suffered nothing at their hands yet, they decided on giving them a benefit before returning to Pittwater.

It was in April that the smoke of the bivouacs of these brigands, was once more seen in the glens of the New Norfolk ranges, and was viewed with general alarm, as the certain omen of the return of evil days.

The gang now consisted of eight, besides two camp followers, if they may be so styled, namely, two native girls, who were their constant attendants for a long time. One of these unfortunate creatures was known by the name of Black Mary, and lived for two or three years in a state of concubinage with Howe.

This companion remained with him till April of 1817, when they were separated in a sharp pursuit after them by soldiers, at Jericho, into whose hands she there fell. Henceforth she acted as bush guide to the military, and ultimately died in the hospital at Hobart Town, on the 29th June, 1819. Of this woman, I shall have a few words to say at the end of this paper.

The bushrangers now counted amongst themselves some of the most resolute men who ever took the bush. Their leader Whitehead, and James Geary, a deserter from a detachment of the 73rd regiment that was stationed here, were men whose audacity, Howe himself never surpassed; and if they were inferior to him in any thing, it was only in personal strength and activity, of which he had an uncommon share. To master him single handed in a struggle, or to run him down fairly, were things not to be done, or at least never were. But Geary was quite his equal in determination, and he has been described to me by the late Mr. Beamont (this gentleman was formerly Provost Marshal here), and several others, as a very fiend. The whole of this party and others also, who were drilled by Whitehead and Howe, possessed other qualities besides daring, that fitted them eminently for the dangerous calling they followed. Sorell writing of them says, “their perfect knowledge of the country, and habits of fatigue, temperance and caution, render them a difficult adversary,” and few knew them better than he, or wrote so much about them in official despatches. Such men as these, were not therefore to be easily beaten, unless when surprised or betrayed. Their habits of caution it is true, prompted them never to run unnecessary risks, or to fight for fighting’s sake only. But they were soon to give proof of what they could do in this line, when forced into it.

On the 25th of April, 1815, they robbed Mr. Carlisle, a settler of New Norfolk.

The free inhabitants of New Norfolk, many of whom were half ruined by the never ending pillagings of those bushrangers, and whom they hoped they had got rid of for ever when they quitted this district for Pittwater, were greatly excited when they learned that they had returned to it again, and had set up their tents amongst them once more; and as it was scarcely possible for things to be worse with them than they were, several of the most daring of them resolved to try the effects of hard blows on the hard heads of the robbers; in other words, to drive them out of the place by force. The task was a doubtful one, but something must be done to get rid of these obnoxious intruders, who kept the district in constant turmoil and disorder.

In a community like New Norfolk, where so many were already half ruined by the exactions of those fellows, some fightable men will always be found, ready to assail the common enemy; and this district was not at all deficient of the fighting element that was just now wanted to drive out, disperse, or destroy these freebooters. There was Mr. Dennis McCarthy, a most active and pugnacious poison. This gentleman was a merchant, a publican, and shipowner, and the brig Sophia and some smaller craft belonged to him, one of which latter was just now moored in the river at New Norfolk, too near to the bushrangers haunts to be either safe or pleasant, and as they had been known to say they would some day seize her, he, of course, had his misgivings about her safety. Mr. Jemott, too (the same I believe who was afterwards chief of police at Clarence), was luckily there at the moment, and he might be safely trusted to do his share in any fight, and was, of course, a ready volunteer. The master and mate of McCarthy’s schooner, the Geordie, Messieurs O’Birne and Hacking, to whom the loss of the vessel would have been as disastrous as to McCarthy, were also ready for a brush with the bushrangers; then there were five others, all of whom had a long account to settle with Whitehead’s people, whenever the day of reckoning came round. These were Messieurs Triffitt, Brown, Murphy, Toombs, and Carlisle. Mr. McCarthy took the command of the assailing party, and if he had only shown as much prudence as pluck, the encounter might not have ended as it did with him, that is in disaster only. But he was hot-headed, and had no other idea of fighting, but of coming to blows at once, not even using any accidental advantages of position, such as the cover of trees and the like.

But the tactics of the enemy whom he was now about to try his hand on, were just the reverse of all this. They threw no chances away when forced to stand up against any one. There were also old soldiers amongst them, who had seen a world of hard service against Napoleon’s soldiers in Spain, Calabria and elsewhere. Geary was one, and Septon too (who had been in the Rifles,) had carried a musket against the French. Howe was also a soldier and a man-of-warsman, and all these had gone through severe training in early life, which was most serviceable to them on an occasion like the present; so that any assailants who were led by so impulsive a person as McCarthy, stood only a sorry chance of coming out of such a fray as took place, with anything except hard blows and discomfiture for their pains.

Mayday morning of 1815, was one of unusual bustle and excitement in the districts near New Norfolk. The robbers, who had camped the night before on a small water-run, called a little too magniloquently the Back river, about three miles above Elizabeth Town, i.e. the present township of New Norfolk, were early at their mischievous work of plundering the various homesteads of the little settlement, long indeed before the sun had risen above the hills that enclose it; and there was some fighting between them and such of the settlers who did not choose to see their homes desolated without resistance, but I believe that nothing very damaging to either side took place. Tidings of those outrages reached McCarthy before nine o’clock of this morning, who at once put his own premises in a state of defence, for he was not one whom it was too safe to trifle with. But the march of the robbers was not in his direction, and on learning this, he at once beat up for volunteers to pursue the enemy, and the persons whom I have named above, joined him in the adventure, with whom he set off to drive them out of place. The pursuing party first called at the house of Mr. Robert Hays, which was amongst the first that had suffered this day, but the banditti had already quitted it, taking the direction of Mr. James Triffitt’s farm-house, which they also despoiled. From this place they struck off for the Macquarie Plains, and had proceeded about a mile on their way, when McCarthy’s party brought them to bay.

The bushrangers were generally very well informed of all that was passing around them, of which many instances are recorded. But of the expedition now coming against them, they had no intelligence. It was, as we have seen, a hurried affair, got up and executed so suddenly, as to be quite unexpected; and had the assailing party been cautiously led, the others might have been surprised. But on came McCarthy, without disguise, or even too much silence, and the cracking of dead sticks under the feet of the rapidly advancing force, warned the others of their approach, and they turned just in time to hear McCarthy challenge them to surrender themselves his prisoners. But Whitehead and his men did not understand this, and instead of heeding it, instantly placed themselves in cover of some hollow trees that stood near. A sharp firing now began on both sides, but the bullets of the assailants were of course only thrown away on men so well protected as the others, and as they stood themselves quite exposed like targets to the damaging fire of their opponents, (they having no experiences of bush fighting), five of their number were sent down in a very few minutes. The affair ended, in the complete discomfiture of the settlers, and the unwounded four were forced to retreat, but they gallantly carried four of the wounded well out of the fire, where for the present they left them. The bushrangers did not pursue the retreating party, or they might have shot them all. Poor Murphy remained in their hands, some one of whom it is said proposed to ill-treat the disabled man, but this their leaders would not hear of. The robbers then retired themselves; and as soon as possible after McCarthy reached his home, he sent out a conveyance and brought in all his disabled companions.

The wounds of Carlisle and O’Birne were mortal. The first named died very soon after the fight, in about an hour only it is reported. The other, who had received a charge of slugs in the face, lingered on to the 20th, when he also succumbed.

[To be continued.]


Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Thursday 21 August 1873, page 3




Written by J. E. CALDER.


To return to the scenes enacting at Grindstone Bay, &c.; Brady, after the liberation of Mr. Denne and his other prisoners, shifted his quarters, and moved into the fine district that Howe had so often desolated before, namely, Pittwater; and at Sorell it was that the most audacious and successful enterprise of his chequered career was enacted.

But here, as everywhere, his path was beset with dangers, and he could move nowhere without confronting some trap set for his destruction. At this time there were in Sorell a military party of sixteen rank and file, besides police, the former under the command of the active Lieutenant Gunn. This indefatigable young officer scoured the district, now under his military charge, as no one ever traversed it before, in search of Brady, whom it almost seemed destined he was never to meet. But this was now to take place; Brady having determined on surprising him in his own camp, with a third of his number, that is including the police, and to pay him off for his persevering pursuit of his party.

It was on the 25th of November that the gang reached the farm of Thornhill, that belonged to Mr. R. Bethune. It was a day of rain and tempest; the sky and earth seemed almost meeting, and the downpour from above was so heavy and incessant, that all the roads leading into the district were next to impassable.

But bad as the weather was, Brady’s people remained in the bush till darkness closed in. They had made several prisoners the day before, who they drove through the cheerless bush, thereby preventing an alarm. Amongst those unfortunates was their old captive Denne, who, after his recent visit to the Governor, was now jogging home again, when he was intercepted by the ever-wandering gang at a place called the White Marsh, on the Prosser’s Plains road. Reversely of what he expected, they applauded him for convincing the Governor of their escape from Hobart Town, saying that “he had only done his duty,” which, in this instance, happened to please them, and they now treated him with a little more consideration than on the first occasion of their becoming acquainted.

The tempest was still as violent as ever, and the trees of the forest rocked again under its force, even to the uprooting of many of them, which were heard falling at irregular intervals, as usual in a heavy gale, and plenty of rain. At nine o’clock of this dreadful night, the bushrangers made a move with their prisoners, to the residence of Bethune, who was sitting up with his superintendent after the farm servants were abed. The knock of the bushrangers was answered by the superintendent within, demanding, pistol in hand, to know who they were that sought admittance at such an hour of such a night as this? The challenge was answered by Brady himself, replying “Constables,” when the door instantly flew open, like that of the den of the Forty Thieves, at the mystic open sesame of Ali Baba, and in rushed the gang, who, first knocking the pistol out of his hand, then pushed him into the parlour, where they found Bethune half asleep; but he roused and started up at hearing Brady’s usual exclamation, “We are the bushrangers – sit down and be quiet.”

The brigands then flew to the men’s hut, where eight of them were napping it, who were turned out of bed by a very expeditious process, and marched off with such clothes as they could catch hold of, to finish their toilets by the kitchen fire, where Denne and his companions in distress, were steaming themselves into life again, guarded by their watchful sentinels all the while; Bethune and his superintendent remaining where we left them, under the eye of Brady in person. The conversation in the parlour being all about bushranging, was not very edifying to his two prisoners, but to which they listened, or at least seemed to listen, with great complacency, though doubtlessly not with much comfort. Brady spoke with great apparent warmth against several persons, who were obnoxious to his party, particularly one magistrate, who he vowed to be avenged on before long. One circumstance is recorded in relation to this interview, rather to the credit of Brady. He named a well-to-do settler, who he meant to rob in a day or two. But being told he was just then in great distress, his wife being dangerously ill, he changed his purpose directly, saying, “Oh, if that’s the case, I’ll let him off.” They regaled themselves right merrily, while at Thornhill, but their vigilance never relaxed, and the watch was so well kept that no one escaped; and their presence in Pittwater was therefore known to none but themselves and prisoners.

Mr. Bethune was expecting a visit from his brother the next day; the same who had aided to disperse Brady’s party at the Plenty about fourteen months before. But not caring to resent it now, he insisted on it that the preparations making for his reception, should be continued.

The next day brought no change of weather. The rain came down as hard as ever, and few stirred abroad on this wretched day of storm, but the active Gunn and his soldiers, who were abroad as usual, in the faint hope of coming on the retreat of the men, then resting quietly at Bethune’s, and almost in sight of their quarters.

In the afternoon, the expected visitor and a friend named Bunster, arrived, as wet and miserable as rain and a cutting southwester could make them. As they rode up, they were received by Brady in person with great decorum.

While some of his men led their horses to the stable, he himself marshalled his guests to the house, Bethune and his friend wondering who the mischief this very officious person was who received them with such superlative assiduities, and seemed completely master of the place. But there was not much time for reflection, for drenched as they were, their self-constituted host and some others, hurried them off to a bedroom, where they helped them off with their steaming clothes and supplied them with dry ones. The strangers looked and looked at them, but could not make them out at all, and it was only when someone gave them a hint not to be too curious, that they began to see how matters stood, namely that they had got into a mess, and that their obliging attendants were the men called par excellence “the bushrangers,” so like wise men they bowed to their fate with the best grace they could, virtually if not actually passing their parole to be on good behaviour.

Brady next led the way to the dining room, where an excellent repast awaited them, of which all partook with keen appetite, and things went on quite pleasantly. Bethune and Brady sat together, their good humour in no way damped by any disagreeable recollections of their previous meeting at the Plenty, but which rather improved it than otherwise, more particularly now that the positions of both in reference to temporary power and command were so completely and ludicrously reversed.

The Colonial Times of the 2nd December speaks thus of this meeting: “The gentlemen were treated with the utmost civility. Dinner was prepared and every attention paid them.” But after sitting at their wine for an hour or two, the weary visitors asked to be shown to their bedrooms, pleading fatigue as their reason for wishing to break up so early. But Brady shook his head at this proposal, and surprised them by telling them with a slightly altered look, that they must not think of retiring just yet, for though it was now ten o’clock and the day near closing, its real business was not yet begun, and, in time informed them that he meant to attack the gaol and guardhouse immediately, “and you gentlemen,” he continued with polite solemnity, “must all accompany me down to the township, as I mean to liberate all the prisoners now in gaol, and to put you in, in their places.” They thought he was not in earnest but they did not know their man; but they quickly discovered that he meant what he said, for the words were hardly spoken, when several of the gang stepped forward, armed to the teeth by this time, and then he gave the word arrest, or slay the Franks, telling them at the same time, that they were no longer to consider themselves guests but prisoners, and in less time than I can tell it in, his men – having previously tied up the servants and other prisoners – now served all the gentlemen in the same manner, the Gazette telling us that “they bound them all two and two by the wrists, and marched them to Sorell gaol” (3rd December 1825.) The brothers Bethune – Bunster and another, were siamesed in this manner, and all the rest being coupled up like hounds, the whole of them, eighteen, were ranked up, and ignominiously marched off to gaol, with the armed bushrangers four on each side, for their escort; and in this undignified manner, the whole of them reached the lock up, as fast as their grave looking guards could drive them along.

The Governor of the gaol, Laing, lived in a detached cottage about two hundred yards off; the military force then in Sorell, having quarters in another one, nearer the gaol; Gunn being lodged in the house of a friend, across the street.

The 16 soldiers had had a most fatiguing day of it, having been abroad in the storm ever since breakfast, along with their indefatigable commander; who notwithstanding the tempestuous state of the weather, kept them on the move through the flooded bush to take the men, who were to take himself and whole detachment – police and all – prisoners, before the day was over. But as this gentleman personally shared the discomforts of his men, no one complained. It was dusk when the tired soldiers returned to their barrack.

Having dried and refreshed themselves, the men looked next to their firelocks, which of course needed cleaning after such a day of rain; and they were drying by the guard-room fire, when the bushrangers came unexpectedly upon them. The gaol was however first rushed, and taken directly, and all Brady’s prisoners forced in, where he left them under a guard of four, while he himself with the remaining three, proceeded to attack the guard-house, where the soldiers were resting at the end of the room farthest from the fire, some at cards, others half asleep, and no one watching.

Brady, after reconnoitering the room through a window, and seeing from the posture of affairs within, that no time could be more favourable for an attack than the present moment, dashed in with three others, and took post between the men and their firelocks, and then presenting their own pieces at them, demanded their instant surrender. “I am Brady,” said he to the wonder-struck soldiers, “and if any of you move an inch, we will give you a volley for your pains.” Taken as much by surprise, as if the enemy had dropped on them from above, and completely cut off from their arms, they were mastered before they could unite for defence. A short but sharp struggle, in which only a few joined, is said to have taken place, though this is very unlikely, but whether or no they were every one taken, and driven by Brady into the cell, and locked up with his other prisoners.

It is a singular fact, but vouched for by the Gazette, that the criminals who were in the gaol when Brady took it, refused the liberation that he offered them.

While this unparalleled outrage was proceeding, the governor of the gaol ran to Gunn’s quarters. He was quite wearied with his long day’s march through the bush, and lying down, when the bearer of the evil tidings of the complete defeat of the soldiers presented himself. The lieutenant, a fiery Scotchman, greatly vexed at the news of the inglorious discomfiture of his whole detachment by a fourth of its number, snatched his piece, a double-barrel, and hastened to the scene of disaster, to see if anything could be done to re-take the place, but unhappily failed to reach it, being met on the way by Murphy and Bird, who were in pursuit of Laing to destroy him. Suspecting that they were from the enemy’s camp, he raised his piece for a shot at them. But they were ready first, and sent the contents of their fire-locks into him before he could draw the trigger. His right arm was shattered to pieces by their fire. He was also struck in the breast, but not severely. He fell, and they left him for dead. Just before this, these two, who were the most bloodthirsty of the party, had been to Laing’s house to shoot him, but his absence at Gunn’s saved him. But here they met with sterner resistance than they expected, and were successfully kept out for a time by two men named Scott and McArra. But a shot from the little scoundrel Murphy’s gun breaking McArra’s wrist, they got in, and, learning where Laing had gone to, they followed, when meeting Gunn, who in the dark they thought was Laing, served him in the manner described above. They then returned to the gaol, triumphantly announcing that they “had done for two of the rascals.”

Lieutenant Gunn once told me that it was Murphy who shot him, without naming Bird. But in the darkness of such a night of storm, the excitement of the moment, and his painful wounds, he may not have known there was a second man present. But the following extract from the Gazette of the 17th December shows that he was mistaken: “When Lieutenant Gunn was presenting his piece, and was fired at by Murphy, he hastily pointed at Bird, when he found he could not draw the trigger, his fingers being broken by the shot; and instantly but providentially” (I copy the expression exactly), “received the contents of Bird’s gun in the same arm.”

The quiet little hamlet of Sorell, was now in a ferment of excitement; for what had occurred at the gaol was soon known all over the place; and most of the villagers hastening down to the scene of disturbance, some to help the now helpless authorities, others to ascertain the extent of disaster, but most to see the fun only, had all of them their officiousness or curiosity satisfied by being locked up themselves, as fast as they arrived. A local magistrate, well known for bustle and parade of activity, was amongst the number thus treated. Rushing with all the speed he could get up, to the gaol gate, he demanded authoritatively to know “what the deuce-and-all was the matter?” The sentry at the gate made no reply, but jerking his fowling-piece out of his hand, smashed it before his face, and then catching him by the nape of the neck, sent him spinning into the gaol-yard, with such a thrust, that he seemed to fly rather than run into it, coming down heavily after a furious scamper to save himself of a dozen or fifteen yards. The gaol was never so full before, for about half the people of the place were now in it.

The outlaws, satisfied with the mischief they had done, began to think about retiring; so locking every door, they quitted Sorell long before day-break, quietly and quite unobserved, which they had no difficulty in doing; for after a dozen or two of the most curious of the villagers were locked up, for prying into matters that Brady thought they had nothing to do with, the rest were too wise or else too frightened to come near the place, and got home as fast as they could, justly regarding Brady’s cage, as the fox did the den of the sick lion, as a place none too safe to approach.

But to keep up the belief that they still held possession of the prison, the brigands, when they relieved the watch at the gate, and just before their departure, replaced him with the effigy of a sentinel, which proved on after examination to be only a bundle of sticks and straw, moulded into the figure of a man, which they dressed like one of themselves, with a stick over his shoulder for a gun. (See Martin’s Colonial Magazine.) “On the bushrangers departing,” says the Colonial Times newspaper of the 2nd December, “they put up a stick, with a great coat and hat upon it, to imitate a sentinel at the gaol door, in order to gain as much time as possible.”

The deceit was successful, and no one came near the menacing bundle of sticks and old clothes that guarded the fallen chivalry of Sorell; and the bushrangers were many a mile off on their route for Spring Bay before the trick was found out, and several hours passed before the prisoners were relieved, who had passed a horrible night, huddled together in cells where there was neither fresh air, light, nor room for half their number.

The demeanour of the prisoners was generally quite the reverse of what one would have hoped for from companions in misfortune, for, instead of mitigating each other’s discomforts, they increased them. They were all so much in one another’s way that of good humour there could be none; and in the multitudinous discussions that ensued about the misfortunes of that eventful night, each man very naturally thought that everyone was in fault but himself, and, as they all said so, there was no end of noise and furious disputation about it. They quarrelled and screamed all night like cats on a house top, either in pairs or parties, or all together, the civilians blaming and abusing the military for want of discipline and vigilance, and the military damning the civilians all round for want of pluck, and then all joined voices in a general chorus of oaths at their fellow-sufferers collectively, but at no one in particular.

But relief came at last, through an active inquisitive fellow named Culliford, who was up betimes in the morning, peeping every now and then round the corner at the gaol, and above all at the fierce but rather funny looking sentinel on duty at the gate, who seemed, at first sight as watchful as Cerberus himself. After peeping at him and drawing back about fifty times, he began to think it a little curious that the man kept so long in one posture. The cunning fellow watched and watched, but still could detect no movement, and at last came to the conclusion that the man had gone to sleep on his post standing. A bright thought then came into his head that with caution and a little management he might be secured. Some other determined fellows now joined him, and after a good deal of deliberation about the best method of belling the cat, they advanced in a body to the attack. Creeping on him quietly and inch by inch, so as not to waken him, they made a simultaneous dash at him, knocked him over and carried the gaol.

After the accomplishment of this dashing coup de main, the imposture was discovered, which of course made it clear that there was not a bushranger within miles of Sorell, whereon the doors were unlocked, and the captive host within liberated, who, says an informant, streamed out of the gate for several minutes, most of them bolting off home as fast as they decently could, amidst the jeers and laughter of the more fortunate portion of the population, who had been lucky enough to keep out of Brady’s way.

Lieutenant Gunn received the usual pension of an officer of his rank, for the loss of his arm, which was shattered to pieces by twelve balls – probably buck-shot – he also received a civil appointment, besides a money present from the colonists of about £300.

I have heard much said, and read a good deal in extenuation of the defeat of the military and police on this occasion; and the newspapers of the time try hard to gloss it over; but this much is certain, that there could have been no surprise had a proper watch been kept at the gaol.

Such readers as may have no opportunity of consulting the colonial newspapers of 1825, will find an account of this tragi-comic adventure, in M. Martin’s Colonial Magazine for 1840, vol. 2, page 419, and in several other works in which Tasmanian brigandage is touched on.

After leaving Sorell, the fugitives marched as quickly as they could move on Spring Bay, taking great precautions to prevent their route being known. Spring Bay is much about fifty-two miles from Hobart Town.

Despairing of securing Brady by open pursuit, as his resources and means of escape seemed inexhaustible, the Government now took such steps to entrap him, as nothing but the impossibility of getting him by other means can palliate. “Permission” says West in his History of Tasmania, vol. 2, page 205, “being given for prisoners to unite with the bushrangers to betray them; men in irons left town secretly, joined the gang, and gave intelligence to the police.” Several of the worst characters were chosen for this odious office, for which they were well qualified by their peculiar talents, excessive depravity, and bad practices. Pre-eminent amongst these men, was one named Cowen, who escaped by Governmental connivance from a punishment gang. Flying as if for his life from a pretended pursuit to the house of a smith, known to be in league with the bushrangers, his irons were struck off, and on saying that he wished to join Brady, he was furnished with a note to him. But the movements of the bushrangers were now so rapid and uncertain, that many weeks passed before he could unite with them. Two other men named Coil and Callaghan were also set free for the same purpose; and some of Brady’s agents were also tampered with by the police, to give information of his movements. His speedy downfall was therefore certain; for though he might again have burst though a circle of fire, there was no escape from the machinations of treachery. However the fates were not yet propitious, and he had still some months to run before the play was over.

[To be continued].