Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Monday 25 August 1873, page 4




Written by J. E. CALDER.


Brady’s journey homewards, after the commission of his first murder, was not a pleasant one, and he spoke but little to his companions. But to deaden the feelings of remorse that rose within him, in spite of his efforts to shake them off, he walked at his best speed; and while pondering over the transactions of the morning, he got bewildered in the bush, and failed to reach his camp till night-fall, when he learned that a very curious circumstance had happened during his absence, as tragic as that in which he himself had been engaged in the morning.

Two convicts who had absconded from their employers, being captured about the day of Brady’s attack on Elphin, were temporarily secured in the Launceston gaol, from which one of them named Aiken managed to escape, and ran off to the woods for the mere purpose of temporary concealment. He was a poor irresolute fellow, having no intention of taking the bush for any worse purpose than what I have said. Wandering hither and thither, he knew not where, till he was pretty well knocked up, as ill-luck would have it he came on the bushrangers’ camp at a moment when only two of them were there. Telling them his tale of distress he was civilly treated by them, that is they refreshed him as well as they could, and allowed him to remain till rested. Having told him who they were, they asked him if he would join them? But this was the last thing in his thoughts, and he refused to do so. They then let him depart, and even directed him to where the road was, which he reached just as a constable was passing along it.

Quite forgetting the recent kindness of his hosts, he related his day’s adventures to this man, and pointed to where the outlaws lay. The constable noted the direction, and then wishing him good afternoon made off as hard as he could, partly to get out of so dangerous a neighbourhood, especially to one of his class, and partly to obtain military aid to attack them in their camp.

The fugitive from the watchhouse had hardly left the camp of the bushrangers before all the absent men of the gang – Brady, Bryant, and Williams excepted – returned; and, being told of the visit they had just had, sharply rebuked their companions for letting him go, as they thought it quite possible that their whereabouts would now be traced through this fellow’s blabbing, and they started after him at once to fetch him back again. They were not long in coming up with him, and took him in charge on suspicion, they said, of his being a runaway, informing him, as usual with them, that they were constables in pursuit of the bushrangers. “Oh,” said the follow, “if you are constables, I can tell you where they now at this moment, for I was at their camp a quarter of an hour ago.”

“Can you?” said one of them with well counterfeited surprise, “that’s just what we want to know, so take us there directly. How many of them are there?”

“Only two when I was there.”

“Is Brady with them?” said the querist.

“No; they said he had gone to the Cocked Hat, and could not say when he would be back.”

“Did you hear where the others were?”

“No; only that they were foraging about the neighbourhood.”

“Let’s see,” said the spokesman thoughtfully, “there are four of us altogether, and we can manage them very well if you will help us. Will you lend us a hand to take them? There’s fifteen hundred pounds for the gang, and you shall have your share for all we take. What do you say?”

“Oh yes,” was the ready reply.

“Then come along with us,” said the other, “and we will have them before Brady and the rest come back, and they can be managed afterwards,” and on they all went.

As they were jogging along, he told them of his adventure with the real constable just before, at which they pricked up their ears, but said nothing.

As they neared the camp, and were seen by the men there, the would-be traitor noticed with a good deal of concern, that the latter evinced no sort of dismay at the approach of the three armed constables, who he was conducting to take or destroy them; but his surprise was changed into absolute horror, when he saw his own party, as he thought them, fraternising with the enemy.

“You’ve got him then,” said one of the camp minders.

“Oh yes, we’ve brought him back to you again,” was the rejoinder.

The wretched Aiken then discovered into what a fearful trap he had fallen through his own abominable folly and treachery, and that the dreadful fate he had designed for his late entertainers would now most assuredly be his own.

“Don’t be cast down, old fellow,” said one of them to him with pretended commiseration; “but you must stand your trial, you know, for meaning to come it on us, and if we don’t find you guilty, we shall let you go again;” and a sort of trial, such as they had held on Goodwin and some others, took place.

The charge against the miserable man, was treachery to the party; and as all of them had had a good deal of experience in their own persons of the ceremonies practised in the Criminal Courts, the formalities they had seen there were gone through with well counterfeited solemnity. The wretched Aiken was nearly stupified with fear, natural to the horrors of his situation, but pleaded guilty to the charge of attempting to betray them, for of course he could not deny it, and not much good would have come of it if he had; whereupon one of them who officiated as Judge, sentenced him to die – the sentence to be carried into immediate execution.

The poor creature begged hard for his life, and cried most pituously as they pinioned him and bandaged his eyes to die; but he was now in the hands of men whose ideas of mercy were too obtuse to heed the supplications of a wretch, guilty according to their notions of criminality of the worst of offences, namely, treachery to them; and without more ado, one of them sent a ball into him, which passed into his neck; and he fell, bleeding profusely, but without a moan.

The camp of the outlaws, as said before, was near a dry watercourse, into which they threw the body of their victim, and covered it over with dead boughs.

After dusk, Brady and the others returned from their own evil adventure, and learning what had taken place, and that the Police had now a clue to his hiding-place, he commanded a move to be made. But he was himself so worn out with hard walking and the incidents of the day, that he was in no condition to travel without a little rest. But about an hour before day dawning they moved off, for he felt sure that the soldiers would be down on them as soon as they could see to travel, and they quitted the neighbourhood for some more secure retreat.

But their victim was not dead, as they thought he was; nor was his wound of a mortal nature, and he came to himself long before they left the place; but lay so still that they had no suspicion but that he went as cold as the stones he lay upon when they retired.

As soon as day broke he got up and crawled away, for he was cold and faint from loss of blood; and, more by good fortune than anything else, he reached the Launceston road, then a mere track, and took the way, as he thought, to that town.

But his faculties were so bewildered, and his intellects, never very strong, so disturbed, that he took the wrong way; and coming presently to a point where some other road crossed it obliquely, he followed it and lost himself altogether. He however travelled along it for a good distance, meeting no one till he came to a turn, where he was suddenly confronted by several armed travellers (for every one armed then), and who should they be but the bushrangers again, who were still on the move. His own surprise and dismay were hardly greater than theirs. “Good God!” was the exclamation of the foremost of them, “here’s the fellow we shot yesterday come to life again.” The amazement of all of them was intense, and not unlike Lord Nelson’s when he saw the corpse of Carraciolla, whom he had hung at the yard-arm and sunk in the Bay of Naples, with heavy weights to keep him down, risen again from the bottom of the sea, and now half out of water, coming straight back again towards his own ship. At first they knew not what to think of it. “However,” said one of them, when he had recovered his self-possession a little, “I’ll make sure of him this time”; and then sent another ball into him, and he fell, the little blood he had still left in him, spurting freely from the wound, and the party moved on again, satisfied that he was done for now. But the fellow seems to have had as many lives as a cat. The bullet had not gone fairly into him, having only furrowed the surface of his stomach; but he was so weak, and his nerves had sustained such a shock from his double execution, that it was a long time before he could rise, but he eventually reached Launceston; and the first time my informant saw him (about a couple of months afterwards) he was standing in the witness-box of the Supreme Court at Hobart Town, giving evidence against the men who had taken part in these outrages on him, and indirectly against Brady as being absent from the camp on the day of the death of Kenton.

I give the above details as related to me by Mr. Alexander McKay; and strange as they may appear to be, they may be implicitly relied on. He was present at Brady’s trial, and heard Aiken deliver them from the witness box.

The Colonial Times, of the 10th of March, 1826, records the assault on this man by the bushrangers, before the curious circumstance of his double return to life was publicly known; the account is given as follows:– “Two run-aways were last week sent into Launceston gaol from Presnell’s, where they were taken; one of them broke out of gaol, and was met by the bushrangers, who asked him to join them, and on his refusal, they shot him dead.”

The capture of Brady, and the destruction of his gang, took place very soon after the death of Kenton. It was thus related to me by the late Honourable Mr. Wedge, who took an active part in the scenes he describes:

“Several parties were organised to scour the country around Launceston. At Colonel Balfour’s request I remained with him as a sort of aide-de-camp. Whilst the search was going on, in which Messrs. Bartley, Sinclair, and Lieut. Williams were particularly active, three men, who had long been in communication with the bushrangers, tempted by the offer of high rewards, free pardons, and a passage to England, offered to betray them. Within a day or two after the affair at Dry’s, Lieut. Williams fell in with them, * * * somewhere in the neighbourhood of Patterson’s Plains,” (near Launceston) “The bushrangers took to their heels, and they were fired upon, and a ball took effect and entered the calf of Brady’s leg, and passing upwards, came out at the under part of his thigh. I don’t recollect whether Lieut. Williams came upon them by chance, or was conducted to them by one of the men engaged to betray them. Brady made his escape supported, as I understood, by two of his companions. The whole community was in a perfect state of excitement to effect the capture of Brady, who was known to be in a condition not able to travel, and numerous parties were out in search of him day and night. At length one of the betrayers, of the name of Coil, offered to conduct a party to where he was concealed. He said that he was either on an island on the left bank of the North Esk, or in a ravine on the opposite side of the river. A large party consisting of soldiers, constables, and volunteers was formed, amounting to at least fifty or sixty men, if not more, headed by Colonel Balfour (the man Coil disguised in a military cap and great coat). The island, covered with a dense scrub, was searched, as we thought, every inch of it, without discovering anyone; but it afterwards transpired that Murphy, one of the bushrangers, was behind a tree, and as one of the party passed close by it, Murphy escaped being seen by creeping round the tree,” (Murphy was a diminutive man.) “The whole party were then taken to the deep ravine on the north side of the river, * * * in which Brady was concealed. He, however, escaped being discovered, although the search was continued for an hour or more; Mr. Sinclair having, as Brady afterwards said, passed within a couple of yards of him. During the continuance of the search, Murphy removed from the island to some high precipitous rocks above the river, on the opposite side of the ravine, and within view, for the purpose of withdrawing the attention of the party from Brady, but without attaining his object. A shot or two was fired at him without effect. Brady then came to the conclusion that he was betrayed, from the circumstance of so large a party being employed, and the persistence of the lengthened examination of the ravine. He was concealed in a creek, and covered with a thick compact mass of scrub. After the departure of the party, wounded as he was, he managed to hobble with the aid of a staff as far as the “Bullocks Hunting Ground,” up the North Esk. where Mr. Batman shortly after fell in with him, and took him prisoner. His capture occurred as follows :– As Mr. Batman was preparing to encamp for the night, he observed a herd of cattle rushing down the hills, at no great distance from him. As an experienced bushman, he came to the conclusion that they must have been disturbed by someone, * * * he strolled about, to ascertain, if possible, what had disturbed the cattle, but without discovering anything. But so impressed was he with the belief that Brady was in the neighbourhood, that he could sleep but little, and rose at first dawn of light, and walked forth from the encampment. He had not gone far, when the same thing occurred again with the cattle being disturbed. This still further confirmed him in his opinion; and he shortly after observed Brady a short distance off, making his way, supporting himself with a staff. Batman then “cooeyed” for his men, then followed and captured this bushranger,”

On the approach of Batman, he made a sorry attempt to run, but fell before proceeding twenty yards. His wound though temporarily a distressing one, could not have been very severe, for within twenty-five days of its occurrence, he was discovered with some others, trying to make his escape from gaol by cutting through the wall, in which they were all but successful. A second attempt was also discovered just in time to prevent it.

Directly after his capture, he was conducted to Launceston, to be sent round to Hobart Town for trial. Being unable to travel afoot on account of his wound, he was accommodated with a horse, and reached Launceston on Sunday, 12th March. “As might be expected,” says the Colonial Times of the 17th, “the whole population of Launceston crowded to see him. He deported himself in a firm and determined manner, and rode well, although badly wounded in the leg. He had no hat, a handkerchief was bound round his head.” On the 10th he was placed on board the Government brig Prince Leopold, and reached Hobart Town on the 27th along with several others of his class, but some of whom were not of his party, such as the terrible and barbarous Jeffreys and Perry.

To return for a while to the scene of Brady’s concealment in the ravine near the North Esk, several of his party retreated southerly directly afterwards. But Murphy and the boy Williams refused to quit him. The very little good that there was in Murphy, shone out rather creditably at this crisis; and their fidelity cost both of them their lives, a little earlier than they would have lost them, had they been taken along with him, for neither lived to hear of his doom, both of them dying by the murderous hands of Cowen and Callaghan. Messieurs Wedge and Sinclair were so very near the scene of the tragedy, that they were only one second too late to prevent it. Mr. Wedge has given me the following account of it :– “Murphy and the boy Williams had lingered in the neighbourhood of the North Esk and the Cocked Hat Hill, under the idea of being able to succour Brady in his helpless condition. The rest of the party had made their escape to the south end of the island, and were harboured in the Sorell district by some of their confederates, whither the man Coil had followed them after the failure of the search for Brady on the banks of the North Esk. The other men, Cowen and Callaghan, concerned in the betrayal of the bushrangers, about the time of Brady’s capture, undertook to load a party upon Murphy and Williams, but refused to act with either constables or soldiers, and expressed a wish that Mr. Sinclair and myself should aid in searching for them. I believe they were influenced in this by the desire that no one but themselves should participate in the reward. We consequently met them in the evening just at dark, and were stationed by them under the Cocked Hat Hill, and desired to wait there till one or both came for us. We remained there an hour or two under the discomfort of a thunderstorm and rain. On the arrival of one of the men, he told us that Murphy and the boy were in a hut not far off, and took us to within a short distance of where they were, so near that we could hear them talking, but not so close as to distinguish what they said. We were to await his coming out and giving a signal; and then we were to rush the hut, and with the assistance of the two men, to try to secure them. The man had scarcely left us a minute, when a gun was fired off in the neighbourhood, at which Murphy took the alarm, and left the hut unperceived by us. About ten minutes afterwards, the same man came and told us what had occurred, and appointed to meet us in the morning at a small farm close at hand, in the occupation of two brothers. * * * On meeting them at the farm they told us they were concealed in the bed of a creek surrounded with a thick scrub, about three quarters of a mile from McLeod’s Sugar Loaf, but on the opposite side of the valley. They said they could take us within twenty or thirty yards of them without being seen. On our way it was arranged that Sinclair and myself were to remain close at hand, whilst they were to go and watch the opportunity to seize them. Waiting for a few minutes, to our surprise we heard two shots fired, and hastening to the spot we found Murphy shot dead and the boy Williams wounded.” (They were both sleeping at the moment.) One of the men snatched a pistol from Sinclair and shot the boy before any attempt could be made by us to save him. * * * The men who escaped to the Sorell district were I believe soon after shot by the three men Coil, Cowen, and Callaghan. Thus terminated the career of this gang of bushrangers, who had kept the whole colony in a state of dread and alarm during the time they were at large. In fact during their career neither life nor property were secure, so sudden and unexpected were their attacks upon the isolated and thinly scattered establishments of the settlers of the rural districts.”

For the capture of Brady and the men who were with him in 1826, the Government paid £1,525 13s, 3d. to different persons. But the official statement that I copy from does not disclose the names of the recipients, which would have revealed the secret that the Government had used the services of some of the most infamous men whom the chain gangs of the colony could furnish to put down these robbers. A writer in Martin’s Colonial Magazine, who I have quoted from before, (who was an old and well informed Tasmanian settler of the time, now comfortably settled in New Zealand) says that the chief part of the above sum went to these unworthy employees of the Government, and mostly to Cowen. He says that he “ultimately succeeded in bringing them into contact with Lieutenant Williams of the 40th Regiment,” (this should be the 57th), “by whom they were broken and dispersed, escaping only to fall into the hands of a stronger party. To place them in hazardous situations, was not the only plan adopted by this miscreant, who took advantage of Murphy and the boy Williams being asleep and removed from the band, to render their sleep eternal. This fact, communicated to Brady whilst in gaol, seemed so monstrous, that it was some time ere the captive brigand could be brought to give it credence. Cowen, with some hundreds of pounds in his pocket,* obtained his free pardon, and returned to England, a more blood-stained monster, than any that remained to expiate their offences with their lives.” (Pages 74, 75. Vol. 2, 1840.)

Such of the bushrangers who temporarily escaped pursuit after the capture of Brady, were all shot, or taken soon afterwards, the last survivor being an old and daring offender named Dunne. But very few particulars have been preserved of the last days of their career in any published reports. The only two newspapers that were then established, are silent or nearly so on these subjects, for it so happened that just after the fall of these men, all the energies of the Government were employed in the task of trying to crush one of them out of existence, for attacking its policy and exposing certain acts of maladministration, as it thought them, and as these two journals took quite opposite views of the subjects under review, every number of them is filled, or nearly so, with controversial matter, arising out of the so-called libels of the delinquent journal, that is even more intolerable to the reader of the present day, than the party squabbles of Messieurs Pott and Shirk; and the subject of those prosecutions, as well as I can make it out, just as immaterial as the egg-shell war between the rival States of Lilliput and Blefuscu. Amidst all this blazing, very little is to be gleaned about any topic except themselves; and even the trial of Brady is nearly lost in the noise and confusion of this editorial scuffle. A ray or two of light does however sometimes break through the gloom, and we hear of Brady’s attempted escapes from gaol, as named before; and one anecdote characteristic of this man is also vouchsafed us of the incidents of his gaol life.

Amongst his many companions in misfortune and confinement was the brute Jeffreys, formerly a flagellator and executioner, a man of horrid character and crimes, whom Brady had always vowed he would shoot if he ever met him in the bush; and now, finding him amongst his cell-companions, he sent for the turnkey Dodding, and authoritatively demanded the instant removal of this execrable creature to another cell, failing which, as he told him, he “should find him without his head” at his next visit. The determined bearing of Brady enforced immediate compliance, and they were separated accordingly. (Colonial Times, April 28th, 1826.)

On Tuesday, the 25th April, Brady and five of his old boat associates, and some others, were led into the Supreme Court to stand their trials for a multitude of offences. When called upon to plead Guilty or Not Guilty to the charges as they were read out to him by the clerk of the Court, Brady – who knew the general indifference of military juries, who in those days tried all criminal cases, to men of his class – avowed his intention of pleading guilty to every charge that might be brought against him, whether he were guilty of it or not (for which expression the Judge, whom Brady was eventually brought up for sentence, took care to admonish him none too kindly.) He himself was tried, firstly, for assaulting Private William Andrews, of the 40th regiment, “and stealing his musket,” secondly, for the robbery and burning of the premises of Mr. W. D. Lawrence; and lastly, for the murder of Thomas Kenton; to all of which charges he pleaded guilty, though he was not guilty, in his own person at least, of the burning of Lawrence’s house; but regarding his trial as he did, as a mere formal preliminary to a sentence of death, he treated the entire proceeding as a mockery, his doom, he believed, being in effect already registered, and his plea, therefore, of no moment. He was found guilty and remanded for sentence along with the others.†

Accordingly, on the following Saturday, they were all ranged in the dock again, and sentenced to die, twelve in all, including the barbarians Jeffreys and Perry. Of the remarks of the Chief Justice at this time nothing is reported, excepting that “it would have been a satisfaction if he could have considered that Brady and Bryant had pleaded guilty through contrition; but he feared it was done from bad feeling, and rather dictated from a motive to cast a sneer on the proceedings of justice.” This is all that is recorded. But I have been informed by Mr. McKay, who was present, that the address of the Judge was a very protracted one, and that he especially singled out Brady for animadversion, touching on the Kenton tragedy, and probably not knowing all the causes that led to that deplorable transaction (for Brady refused to give even one word of explanation) he addressed him with great severity. The bushranger listened to every syllable, but spoke not a word, nor did he betray, by any change of expression, the smallest concern at the bitter words of the Judge ; “but,” says the Colonial Times, “he behaved with the utmost fortitude and firmness.”

“On the return of these unfortunate men to gaol,” writes the Colonial Times, “Tilley offered to shake hands with Brady, who refused with much contempt. McKenny also refused to speak to him. This was on account of their supposing he had given information.” But at this time they did not know who their real betrayers were.

It was about this time that Governor Arthur called at the gaol. My old friend Wedge gives some account of his interview with Brady, at which he was present. It is as follows: “After Brady was taken, the Governor visited the Gaol, and saw him in the cell in which he was confined. I, with one or two others, was present. I forget who they were. The Governor, from something that was said, remarked approvingly upon the forbearance of Brady, in abstaining from acts of personal violence at the places he had robbed, but expressed surprise that he should have committed such a cold blooded murder as that he had perpetrated on a man of the name of Kenton. At the mention of this man’s name Brady became exceedingly excited, “Ah sir,” he replied “I determined to shoot him, wherever I met him. The villain was in league with me, he planned half the robberies I committed, then betrayed and caused me to be taken prisoner. I shot him, and do not regret having done so.” Mr. Wedge then gives the particulars of Brady’s capture at Kenton’s hut, which I need not repeat, as it does not vary much from my own account of it.

Of the twelve men who were allotted to die at this time, Brady and four others were placed on the scaffold on the morning of Thursday, the 4th of May, 1826, and all the rest suffered next day.

After death, his body was removed to the General Hospital. It was interred in the cemetery of the Catholics, whose religion he professed, and his grave was long marked by a cairn of stones that were removed, I am told, about six years ago. He was a robust but short man, and is described in what may be styled the hue-and-cry portion of the old Gazette, as five feet and a half inches high.

I will close this account with one more extract from Martin’s Magazine :– “The writer of this paper, naturally felt a great desire to see a man who had created such a prodigious sensation, not only by the number and daring character of his deeds, but who had evinced so considerable a degree of generosity, even in his worst offences. Accordingly he was admitted to the gaol, in company of the late Colonial Surgeon.

“Near the foot of the fatal scaffold they were so speedily to ascend, heavily ironed, were seated Brady, with Bryant and McKenny. They seemed to be in earnest conversation, but inclined their heads respectfully at our approach. Brady possessed a fine, open, manly, but not handsome countenance, a strong well knit frame, bespeaking great capability of endurance. His physiognomy was prepossesing, a gift further enhanced by an easy address; his wounded leg was still unhealed, and his comrade McKenny was still on crutches. Pity and regret were the predominant emotions as the surgeon thus broke silence, ‘Well Brady, how are you to-day? Is your leg any better.’

“The bushranger gazed at us for a moment; then with an ‘Oh,’ and a jerk of the head in the direction of the standing gallows, seemed by that significant gesture to reply, that in a few days all on earth would be well enough for him.

“On the 4th of May,” (the writer says the 11th, but this is a mistake) 1826, he ascended the scaffold, maintaining his constancy unshaken to the last. His demeanour, while it was perfectly firm, was devoid of all unseemly levity and bravado. Fully impressed with his dreadful position he evinced a resolution to surmount it. * * * * The drop fell, and after a few convulsive struggles, the dreaded freebooter who had struck Tasmania with terror and dismay, hung an inanimate and impotent mass of clay.”

“Here ends the story of a misspent life.”

14th August, 1873.

Of all wretched existences, that of a bushranger in Tasmania seems to have been the most unhappy. In the earliest years of settlement, when police and military were few, it may have been just endurable; but directly this state of things ceased, it became insupportable, and nothing but the certainty of death if taken kept any one of them that I have read of from surrendering. Even Howe’s gang, Governor Sorell tells us, wanted to give in, and would have done so but for the influence of their leaders, who were deserters, and therefore offenders both against the military and civil laws, one or the other of which would have certainly done for them sixty years ago. Howe himself, who was six years in the bush, described the life of those of his class as one of constant terror and disquietude, saying, on one occasion that “he believed the life of the damned was nothing to it.” Brady, says the late George Washington Walker, when interrogated by Colonel Arthur on the same subject, pretended at first that it was one of great enjoyment, saying “There is no place like the bush, Governor.” By and bye, however, he told a different story, and acknowledged it was one of complete wretchedness. For many weeks before his capture, he had not known an hour’s undisturbed repose. He made the same admissions to Mr. Wedge, when the latter was his prisoner at Lake Arthur. “He told me,” says Wedge, “that the life of a bushranger was very wretched and, miserable, that they were, in constant dread of being fallen in with – that the least noise in the forests startled them, and that they were obliged to be on the alert night and day for fear of parties coming suddenly on them, I asked why they did not surrender themselves? The reply was, ‘We know our fate when taken, and will live as long as we can;'” and Mr. Denne, who was in this man’s hands for six days, reported his experiences of their camp lives as follows :– “They lead a miserable and terror struck life. They are constantly on guard during the night, and not a creature can stir or a sound be heard, than they are instantly filled with alarm. They frequently debate and quarrel for hours together, about their future proceedings. The guard is relieved every two hours. They are constantly expressing disgust at their mode of life, and the certainty of being speedily apprehended.” (Gazette, 20th Nov., 1825.)

Such was bushranging, and such the lives of those who followed it; and though the alarm they created, which a few of us still remember, was great, it was like repose and quiet to what they suffered themselves; and we of the present day have much to be thankful for, that in the entirely altered, circumstances of the colony, we know nothing of the disturbances that the generation which preceded us in the occupation of the country were the daily witnesses of.

*Two of the men employed to betray Brady’s gang received each £400, and went home in the ship Medway, which sailed 26th April, 1826. (See Colonial Times, April 21st); of the other I can discover nothing.

† A writer in the Colonial Magazine, speaking of this trial, says that “he,” Brady, “as well as the other. Behaved with the most respectful firmness. Being asked his plea on the first indictment (he was arraigned on many) he replied with the utmost composure, ”Guilty, your honour; I shall plead guilty to all, and much more than you can bring against me. It would, therefore, be only wasting your honour’s time, and that of the gentlemen of the jury, to proceed.’ His name bring included with others, the trial did proceed, and upon the same question having been put on every fresh count, he always smilingly answered ‘Guilty.’

“He received his sentence with the same unshaken fortitude, and bowing easily and respectfully to the judge and jury, he and his confederates were reconducted to their cell,”


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].

The Brady Gang take Sorell

“Gentleman bushranger” Matthew Brady had escaped from the notorious Sarah Island penal settlement in 1824, and a reward of fifty guineas had been offered for his capture. In November 1825, he and his gang decided to make an example of the forces of law and order in Van Diemen’s Land and set their sights on the small town of Sorell.

Map of Sorell from 1825 [Source: Libraries Tasmania]

At this time Brady was camped out in the mountains with fellow Josiah Bird, Patrick Dunne, James Murphy and at least four others, (likely Patrick Bryant, James McKenney, William Tilly and James Goodwin). It was believed they had even established a small farm there where they tended crops and reared horses, cattle and sheep. To what extent this claim was true remains unknown, as much of the facts of Brady’s story have been lost to time.

Such was Brady’s notoriety that he had copycats. Another bushranger had recently committed a robbery while claiming to be Brady and even expressed a desire to turn himself in – something that Brady took particular umbrage to as he had no intention of surrendering. Brady seemed to think that his next undertaking would shake up people’s perceptions of him and position him as more than just a thieving bushranger. Brady intended to make a laughing stock of the forces of law and order.


On Friday 26 November, the bushrangers emerged from hiding. The inclement weather saw Coal River become a raging torrent. Fortunately, the bushrangers were well organised and had a small boat at their disposal with six oars, allowing them to row across with relative ease. This enabled them to traverse the river without resorting to crossing the bridge at Richmond, which was the only other way across at that time. The gang descended upon the house of Robert Bathune in Pitt Water at dusk and demanded entry, masquerading as constables. Bathune sent his overseer Crittenden, to see what the men wanted. Armed as a precaution, Crittenden opened the door and the eight bushrangers burst in and overpowered him. Bathune, Crittenden, and the eight servants were made prisoners and guarded in the kitchen while the bushrangers settled in. The bushrangers had brought prisoners with them that included two men named Denne and Kidner as well as a young boy. The gang made themselves at home and Brady made sure each bandit was fed and provided shelter from the rain overnight, while also making sure that his prisoners were looked after as well. Once fed, the gang ransacked the house, liberating a brace of pistols and a fowling piece before locating a set of keys to grant access to the various valuables. Brady kept watch over Bethune and Crittenden in a back room where he spoke at length about individuals he had a set against. Brady was not alone in conversing freely with the captives. Dunne stated he had a grudge against Boyd, the chief clerk at the police office, who he had been stalking in an effort to find an ideal moment to murder him. Bird admitted to killing Mr. Bromley’s cattle in Newtown and Murphy confessed to robbing Dr. Hudspeth. They remained through the night and all the following day. The rain was extremely heavy and everyone who ventured out got a good drenching.


On Saturday morning Robert Bethune and Crittenden were sent to bed, having been kept awake all night. The gang decided to prepare breakfast, but could find no tea or sugar. They resolved to procure some from one of Bethune’s neighbours. It was decided to avoid Walker’s farm as the lady of the house had taken ill, so Glover’s place was targeted. Glover was not willing to become yet another victim to bushranging and armed himself and headed out to confront the gang. Despite his courage he was overpowered, his double-barrelled shotgun taken away from him and broken before he was added to the gang’s prisoners.

At 2pm that afternoon, Walter Bethune and a Captain Bunster arrived on horseback, drenched from the rain. Brady ordered the servants to take the horses upon their arrival. Both men were brought in, given dry clothes, warmed up and fed. Brady could not have been a more gracious host if the property had been his own. He was not a big man, standing at a little under 5’6″ tall (roughly 170cm), but he had incredible charisma and it seemed people couldn’t help liking him to some degree. At dusk Brady announced to his captives his intention to liberate the inmates of Sorell Gaol and imprison the soldiers based there.

The two Bethunes were tied together by the wrist and the 18 other prisoners bound together identically in pairs, then marched to Sorell with the bushrangers. Much of the journey undertaken was in water that was waist-deep and the rain continued to fall in torrents. They arrived in Sorell Town and proceeded to the gaol.

Unbeknownst to the arriving group, the party of soldiers of the Bourbon Regiment that had been out searching for the bushrangers in the rain had only just returned to the gaol, their leader Lieutenant William Gunn having departed for the residence of a Dr. Garrett. Due to the weather, the muskets the nine men had carried were waterlogged. As they dried off and warmed up, they were interrupted by the very men they had been looking for. Four bushrangers rushed in and the soldiers were disarmed and locked up in a gaol cell. The prisoners from Bathune’s property were also locked up, the eventual figure being roughly forty prisoners by contemporary accounts.

Brady and most of the gang remained at the gaol, while Bird and Murphy went to the home of the chief constable and gaoler Alfred Laing with the apparent intent of murder. Upon arriving, the occupants of the house went to the window. Inside were Laing, McArra the blacksmith and Charles Scott the messenger. The pair of outlaws recognised Laing through the window and called out “That is him, shoot!” They promptly opened fire but failed to hit their intended target. Rather, McArra was shot through the wrist during the assault. A woman at the property managed to escape to raise the alarm and bolted to Dr. Garrett’s house where Lieutenant Gunn was relaxing after a hard day’s slog looking for bushrangers.

Upon hearing the news that the gaol had been captured, Lieutenant Gunn took up a double-barrelled shotgun and went into action. When he arrived on the scene he attempted to shoot the banditti but he was out of luck. A volley of lead struck him from two of the bushrangers, striking his right arm above the elbow, shredding the flesh to pulp and shattering the bones. More shots were fired, a ball hitting Gunn in the chest and another grazing Dr. Garrett.

Gunn was evacuated immediately and survived his wounds thanks to expertly executed surgery by Dr. Garrett and his associate Dr. Scott, but the mangled arm was inoperable and subsequently amputated near the shoulder. An examination of the severed portion of the arm saw the extraction of two balls and four slugs, though it was estimated that twelve projectiles in total must have struck the arm to cause such awful damage.

When the bushrangers decided to quit the gaol, their message having been sent, they built a dummy to stand in the doorway. By making a frame out of sticks and dressing it in a greatcoat and hat, the idea was to give the impression that the gaol was still guarded as the bushrangers escaped to give them more time. Four captives were taken to carry the bushrangers’ loot. One of the captives, James Archibald, who had been carrying the firearms, was force fed alcohol to make him drowsy and he woke up much later, alone on the ground outside Orielton. The bushrangers had made a clean escape and would later set the other captives free at Grindstone Bay. The prisoners in the gaol were kept locked up for two hours until George Culliford was passing by and became suspicious. Upon entering the gaol he discovered what had happened and freed the gang’s victims.

There was much outcry after the incident as Lieutenant Gunn was considered a model citizen and had been dogged in his pursuit of the bushrangers, even working on half pay in the hope of bringing them to justice. A subscription was gathered for him immediately after his surgery and over £250 was raised to cover his expenses as he had been rendered unemployed by the maiming. Gunn was not one to let the loss of a limb hold him back in life and he became a highly lauded police magistrate in Launceston, dying in 1868.

William Gunn in later life [Source: The Illustrated Adelaide Post, 14 July, 1868]

Remarkably, had the gang arrived half an hour earlier or left half an hour later they would have been captured. Gunn’s party had left the gaol precinct a half hour before the bushrangers arrived. It would have also taken the captured soldiers half an hour to dry their weapons.

Sorell and Causeway by H. Grant Lloyd, 13/02/1874 [Source: State Library of New South Wales]