The inhabitants of Glenorchy have been kept in a state of doubt and anxiety for the last few days and nights by the absconding of the notorious Sydney bushranger, known by the epithet of “Jackey Jackey” from the “station” situated between the 6th and 7th milestone from Hobart Town. This notorious ruffian had only been recently drafted, in a company of about 40 other prisoners, from Port Arthur, where for nearly three years he had contrived to conform himself to the rules of the place, with only three attempts to escape! and had upon one occasion distinguished himself it is said, by saving the lives of two officers from drowning. He took the bush with two other prisoners on Thursday last, from the Glenorchy “station.” On Friday evening he robbed a shepherd in the employ of Mr T. Y. Lowes, taking his gun from him, which, however he politely promised to return after he had robbed some party who could better afford to lose.
“Jackey” then proceeded with his comrades to another hut, occupied by a man named “Jones,” also in the employ of Mr. Lowes; here “Jackey” pointed the gun in at the door, while the other two, armed with long knives (which had doubtless been made at the station,) ransacked the cottage. They obtained a small quantity of powder and shot, a leg of mutton, and 10s. in money. The alarm spread like wildfire through the settlement — all were on the alert anticipating a visit, divested however, of the usual forms of introduction, and prepared to give their distinguished visitors a becoming reception. Meanwhile, it appears, that “Jackey Jackey,” with his comrades, was proceeding nearer to Hobart Town. They attacked the residence of Mr. White, near the Franklin Museum, on Sunday. Here they succeeded in carrying away a single and double-barrelled gun, a brace of duelling, and a brace of short pistols, a silver watch, gold guard and seal, a suit of wearing apparel, a bag of flour, meat, tobacco, a pair of blankets, shot-belts and shot. The police who are after them in strong numbers, have been once or twice close upon them, but they have hitherto escaped. The Government have offered the reward of a conditional pardon for their apprehension. — Courier, August 6.
The following sketch has been sent in to us by an old correspondent, who writes from personal experience : —
Reading in a late number of your journal a few days ago a narrative of some of the exploits of “Brady,” the bushranger, from the pen of a Mr. Calder, has induced a desire to recount a few incidents of my experience of colonial life, which, if you could find acceptable to your readers, may be continued to a considerable length.
I may premise this sketch by stating that I first put foot on Australian soil in the year 1825. Since then I have sojourned in other climes, but mostly in Australia, and have probably passed through a life as versatile and eventful as any old colonist of the present day. For nearly fifty years I was in the habit of keeping a record of what was passing around me; but my journal, with many, valuable private papers, were consumed in a fire which took place about 100 miles from Melbourne, in August, 1871; and although I am at a loss for dates and many other connecting particulars, yet my memory serves me well, and following in the wake of Mr. Calder, I will begin by relating some more of the doings of Brady. I remember him well as he stood in the dock of the Supreme Court at Hobart Town, arraigned for murder and other capital crimes, for at that period robbery with firearms was deaths without any hope of reprieve. Brady had not the appearance of a desperado; his countenance was pleasing, his features well-formed and regular, depicting firmness, and courage, but not cruelty, his eyes were rather small, dark and quick, a well-formed head, and his whole expression intelligent. He appeared about 5ft 8in in height, well-built, and muscular. When his trial was ended, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty, he was asked if he had anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed against him. He replied that by the laws of his country he had done enough to suffer death, and he would rather die than live without freedom. What a contrast there was between his appearance and the bloodthirsty monster, Jeffery, who was tried at the same assizes, and whom I may hereafter refer to!
I have seen and heard of many of the bushrangers of early times, who have become notorious for deeds of blood and daring in the Australian colonies, but none that I overheard, except Brady, is worthy of the name of brigand. Brady’s band usually consisted of fourteen chosen men, disciplined, well armed, and mounted, and under complete command of their leader. I never heard of an instance of rapine or outrage towards a female amongst his band, and it was said when he entered a house where there were ladies or females, he assured them they need not be alarmed, as he would suffer no rudeness to be offered by any of his men; He seldom made his appearance with his troop, except when in want of supplies. He had a retreat in some of the mountain fastnesses, which was not discovered till after his death, and where, it was said, he had built comfortable quarters for himself and men, and stabling for his horses, had a good library, and many of the luxuries of life. Perhaps, in a peculiar way, he was fond of notoriety, and was also a humorist, as the following story, told me by a friend who was present, will show, viz. : —
A bachelor, Captain B — , who was one of the leading merchants of Hobart Town, fond of good living, and had a fine cottage where he resided, a few miles from town — had invited a number of his friends to dine with him. The circumstance came known to Brady, who was in the vicinity at the time, and he resolved, to become an uninvited guest. It was in the winter season, and the gentlemen did not assemble till it was nearly dark. Brady, with his men, having preceded them, placed, all the servants and others in the house in a spare room, and put a sentinel over them. When he saw his horses properly put up, he walked with some of his men out of doors to receive the party as they arrived, saluted them courteously by name, asked them to walk in, and ordered the men to take their horses. Several of the gentlemen put the question, “Who the d— are you ?” The response was, “I’m Mr. Brady,” to the consternation, I have no doubt, of some and the disgust of all. When the guests had met, Brady ordered his men, with the assistance of one of the servants, to put down dinner and wait at table — he had himself been a waiter in an hotel at Hobart Town — he then, informed the gentlemen he would do the honors of the table, and appointed each to his particular place — strong remonstrances against which took place, and might have proved serious, had not Brady taken the precaution to have a guard of armed men always present. At last order was restored, and the ceremony of dining went on. Brady was in great good humor, told some, anecdotes, and when the cloth was removed, sang a song or two, and by his adroitness and tact drew the gentlemen out, and as the wine passed round they became chatty and jocular, forgetting they were under restraint. The evening went on, and about 10 o’clock Brady took out a handsome gold watch and said it was time to depart, and that he would only request the gentlemen to accompany him a short distance, to a township which, if I mistake not, was called “Ret Town,” where there was a gaol or lockup. Having ordered, his men to mount their horses, he arranged the order of march for those on foot, placing the servants in front and the gentlemen, next, whilst Brady and his men flanked them and brought up the rear. As they approached the township, a soldier on guard threatened to fire on them, but being cautioned not to do so at the peril of his life, and seeing such a number of armed men rushing towards him, he was soon secured, and all the garrison, which probably might consist of three or four soldiers, and as many constables. Brady soon possessed himself of the keys of the lookup, turned the prisoner out of it, and having ordered the soldiers, constables, gentlemen, and servants in to it, bade them good-night, looked the door, and galloped off with his troop.
Porcupine Village, Maldon, a former tourist attraction styled as a small town of the Australian gold rush, is undergoing major redevelopments, with a mind towards re-opening for tourists and school groups.
The village was used during filming for The Legend of Ben Hall, and accurately depicts the architecture and layout of a typical town in the gold rush that struck Victoria and New South Wales in the 1850s and 1860s. It opened in the 1990s and consists of a mixture of replica buildings and actual buildings that were relocated to the site.
Since 2007 it has been disused, but the current owners found many of the props and items still locked up inside the old buildings and saw an opportunity to rekindle the magic of the park.
We opened it up and almost everything is still there, which is pretty amazing. […] The education sector will be a big part of the village. We’ve already had inquiries from schools who are keen to do Australian history lessons out there. […] The whole place is pockmarked with original diggings, and we’re going to set up miners tents and camps to give people a real taste of what the region would have been like in the 1850s.
A new book about the police efforts to capture the Kelly Gang is on the way. Titled Nabbing Ned Kelly, the book by David Dufty, whose previous work has focused on military history, focuses on the police pursuit rather than the actions of the bushrangers, with a particular focus on Detective Michael Ward.
Ward was a key player in the pursuit of the outlaws, operating from Beechworth while the main hunt was run from the police headquarters in Benalla. Ward’s role involved communicating with informants, such as James Wallace and the Sherritts, in an effort to tighten the net around the gang.
Slated for a March 2022 release from Allen and Unwin, the new addition to the ever-growing library of books about the Kelly saga approaches the story from a perspective rarely explored in other texts, and demonstrates that there is still as much interest in the subject of Ned Kelly as there are fresh angles to view it from.
David Dufty goes back to the records to uncover the real story of the police officers who pursued the Kelly Gang. This pacey account of the capture of the Kelly Gang reads like a detective story.
In late December, filmmaker Matthew Holmes announced through social media that he was planning on publishing the screenplays to his “Legends Anthology” as a book.
Holmes pitched the idea of a collected screenplay book filled with storyboards and concept art from the unmade films (The Legend of Frank Gardiner and The Legend of John Vane) and photographs from his award-winning film The Legend of Ben Hall.
So….. in 2022, we are considering releasing the 3 screenplays for the ‘Legends Anthology’ films into a book! (Because sadly, they will never be made into movies). This book would contain the complete screenplays for ‘The Legend of Frank Gardiner’, ‘The Legend of John Vane’ and ‘The Legend of Ben Hall’ and would also feature storyboards of keys scenes, concept art and other such supporting artwork. These would be very Limited Editions. Who would be interested in purchasing one?
While the book is in early stages of development, fans of Holmes’ Ben Hall epic have expressed enthusiasm for the project. Earlier in 2021, news emerged that Holmes was shelving the two Ben Hall prequels due to the difficulties in procuring funding for the projects, despite interest from people in the industry. By releasing the screenplays as books it gives fans of The Legend of Ben Hall an opportunity to see what could have been.
Author of An Outlaw’s Journal, Georgina Stones, is on track to release her new book AhNam later this month. The book focuses on an incident early in the life of Joe Byrne, who would later become a member of the Kelly Gang, and weaves in the history of the Chinese and prostitutes of the Beechworth district on a backdrop of the late gold rush era.
Featuring artwork by Aidan Phelan, the book is split into two sections: a narrative that dramatises the story, and a breakdown of the history that the story was based on. The book will be released through Ingram Spark in print-on-demand or eBook format.
A Guide to Australian Bushranging’s Year in Review
Our most popular articles in 2021
2021 continued to be a very busy year for A Guide to Australian Bushranging, with 47,303 views in total from more than 25,000 individual visitors from around the world. As usual, the lion’s share of the views came from Australia, with the United States of America in second place and Norway in third place. Following close behind were the United Kingdom and Poland.
This year’s most read articles were a mix of the old and the new, with the top spot going to John Francis Peggotty: The Birdman of Coorong, an article from February 2018, racking up 2,509 views in 2021. The most read articles of 2021 indicate that there is a continued interest in the Kelly story with articles pertaining to the story taking second, third, and fifth spot on the list. Other heavy hitters were The Clarke Gang, Harry Power, and The Bathurst Rebellion.
Statistics demonstrate that May/June, then August through to November, were the busiest times of the year for A Guide to Australian Bushranging, with Wednesdays at 1:00pm being the most popular time of day for readers. In 2021 there were 119 articles in total published, including Spotlight articles and Gazettes. Social media continued to be the main avenue for people to discover the website, with 5,754 tweets on Twitter, and 5,315 shares on Facebook.
ABC Radio Hobart & Northern Tasmania
Earlier in 2021 A Guide to Australian Bushranging caught the attention of ABC Radio in Tasmania and Aidan Phelan had a guest spot on the Evenings program over several weeks, interviewed by Paul McIntyre and Mel Bush, some of which you can find below.
Streaming on Facebook, and videos on YouTube
During the earlier lockdown in Melbourne in June 2021, Aidan Phelan and Georgina Stones did a series of live streams on Facebook discussing aspects of bushranging. The streams were subsequently uploaded to the A Guide to Australian Bushranging YouTube channel.
Beyond the live streams, a number of videos made their way onto YouTube including The Battle of Goimbla and Lt. Col. William Balfour and Matthew Brady. As video production is quite a long process compared to creating articles for the website, there is far less content on that front being produced, but hopefully in 2022 time will allow for a lot more videos getting made.
2021 was a year of big changes for A Guide to Australian Bushranging. In February, due to a dispute between Facebook (now Meta) and the Australian government, the Facebook page for A Guide to Australian Bushranging was temporarily deleted. This led to a rethink in how the bushranger content is delivered to followers, with the decision being made to reduce posts on Facebook, and to limit external links as much as possible by collecting news articles on bushranger-related topics for a monthly newsletter (the Bushranging Gazette).
Along with the changes in the mode of delivery, the website got an aesthetic tweaking and a new logo. Where the original logo had Frank Gardiner on horseback leaping over the name of the site, the new logo has Dan Morgan on horseback enveloped by the name of the site.
Behind the scenes, moves were being made to prepare for a series of booklets. However what began as a small-scale project quickly ballooned into an upcoming non-fiction book titled Aaron Sherritt: Persona non Grata, and plans for a series of books that collect bushranger stories and biographies to be published under the Australian Bushranging banner. More on these books will be released as details are confirmed.
With such a busy year for A Guide to Australian Bushranging in 2021, it certainly sets the stage for an even bigger 2022. To keep track of developments, you can follow the website on WordPress, like and follow on Facebook and Instagram, and subscribe on YouTube.
William Valentine’s microscope – on the bones of bushrangers
Object maker: Andrew Ross Object date: 1831 Object size: 48 x 22 x 15 cm Object materials: Metal, Glass Object source: N/A Object collection: History History Object registration number: S1978.340 Origin: Campbelltown Gallery Location: Bond Store ground Gallery: Our living land: Encountering an upside down world
This early compound microscope was designed by Nottingham surgeon, William Valentine (1808–1876), and made by Andrew Ross in London in 1831. Ross went on to become one of London’s finest microscope makers, while Valentine emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land in 1840 – with his microscope – becoming assistant surgeon to the Campbell Town district.
On such a small island, word of Valentine’s scientific knowledge and his magnificent microscope (described as the finest in the colony) spread quickly, and his house – The Grange, in Campbell Town, which he commissioned in 1847 – became a hub for naturalists. Valentine was a botanical enthusiast, sometimes staying up until the early hours with friends, examining and debating the details of mosses. The fixed upright setting of his microscope’s eyepiece would have made all-night study sessions very uncomfortable!
On the bones of bushrangers
In 1845 Valentine, with his friend Ronald Gunn, used this microscope to identify a moss that Valentine had collected. The specimen – Splachnum sphaericum (today called Tayloria octoblepharum) – had been found in the Western Tiers, growing on the bones and decayed clothing of a bushranger, who had two double-barrelled guns and pistols by his side. We now know that this was the skeleton of escaped convict, John Fisher, who led a band of bushrangers for four years in the colony’s northern districts.
Valentine’s skill and generosity as a doctor made him a highly valued member of the community. It was this good character that he depended upon in 1843, when he was found guilty of manslaughter by medical negligence. On this occasion, the entire community – including the deceased’s father – rallied around Valentine to ensure the doctor was heavily fined, but not imprisoned. In his later years, Valentine developed a strong interest in astronomy, and it was his efforts that drew an American party of astronomers to observe the transit of Venus at The Grange in 1874.
People’s Advocate and New South Wales Vindicator (Sydney, NSW : 1848-1856), Saturday 3 November 1855, page 6
LATEST EXPLOIT OF “DIDO,” THE BUSHRANGER.
On Friday, as one of Mr. Gunn’s shepherds, best known by the name of “Old Swede,” was following his sheep in the vicinity of the bullocks’ hunting ground, seeing a smoke in a thick scrub, entered it, and found Dido and his mate cooking the hind quarters of a fine lamb. “Old Swede” is said to have nearly as much affection for the sheep and lambs he has charge of as if they were his children : so he began to blow the thieves up, and threatened them with his vengeance. They very coolly tied his hands behind him, and fastened him to a log while they dined. After dinner they loosed him, gave him something to eat, and told him to inform his master that they could recommend his lamb as an excellent article when roasted : flung the forequarters and the skin into the bush, saying they could soon shoot another when they wanted it. They then started with “Old Swede,” robbed his hut and went down to the hut of two of Mr. Gunn’s sawyers, near the St. Patrick’s River, where they arrived at about 9 o’clock. Newman, one of the sawyers, hearing his dog growl, was in the act of taking down his gun when Dido kicked, the door opened, and levelling his ordered him to stand, and put his hands down or he would blow his head off. He then directed him to tie his mate’s hands ; when that was done, he made his own companion tie Newman’s. They searched the place thoroughly ; taking every trifling article likely to he of use to them. Dido remaining most of the time on guard outside the door. About 4 o’clock on Saturday morning he collected all the articles he had picked up at both huts, and divided them into three lots. From the sawyers he took about seventy pounds of flour; four pounds of tobacco, a quantity of tea, sugar, &c. He ordered each of them to take one of the lots ; Newman the flour, as he was the ablest man ; Newman’s mate had accidentally cut this foot with an axe the day before, and pleaded hard to be exempted on that account; but Dido swore if he had only half a foot he must tramp it.
They started at last, Dido leading, the three sumpter men following in Indian file, and King, bringing up the rear. About half a mile from the hut, Dido inquired if any of them knew of a bridge thereabouts. They replied that they did not. “Well, I’ll show you a first rate one,” said he ; but it requires a light footed fellow to cross it.” A little further on, where the river is about sixty feet wide, he showed them a place where a fallen tree lies across. None of the men dare attempt to go over with the loads so Dido, rather swearing at them for being such lubbers, told King to tie their hands behind while he took the loads across. This he affected in a few minutes, showing himself as sure-footed as a cat. He then called out to King to “let the men loose to come over, one at a time.” The sawyers got over pretty safely, but poor “Old Swede” tumbled off the log, got a ducking, and was very near being swept away with the current. He, however, scrambled up again, and got over. After proceeding some distance further, Dido halted, and told them, they might light a fire, and he would let them have some tea, after which they must walk ahead until twelve o’clock, when, “if they were civil, he would allow them to turn back ; if they grumbled, and didn’t like the arrangement, he would make them go a —— sight further.”
As soon as they had tea, they all started again, up the tiers next Ben Lomond : at many places they could scarcely reach high enough to put the loads up on the ledges of rocks they met in their ascent. As they had walked quick considering their burdens, Dido gave them permission to return, when he got on what he termed “his own ground.” He sent a rather insulting message by Newman to the “traps” — and “defied the whole body of them ; to take Dido on his own ground. He said, with the aid of his telesoope, he could see them from the teirs walking in the streets of Launceston; and the parties sent out in search of him couldn’t make a cup of tea in the bush without letting him know their whereabouts by the smoke. He said nothing about his party being six in number. From the sawyers he took a gun, a watch, and many other articles — valuable to them, poor fellows. He has two very sagacious dogs with him, they never bark, but when a suspicious sound or scent disturbs them, they rub their cold noses against the hand or face of their masters, to arouse them to their danger.
As we said when lately alluding to the efforts to capture this bushranger, there is no likelihood of effecting it by sending a few constables with one or two day’s provisions, without shelter, into a barren country, to return halfstarved on the third or fourth day. To make one effective expedition of it, send out six active, well armed men. Give them a light tent, and a good stock of portable provisions : one or two of the men could act as messengers to and from Launceston, in case supplies ran short, or an accident happened to any of the party : let them remain on the tiers for a month, and by that time, if not captured, he will be driven to some other part of the country, where he cannot carry on his depredations with such impunity. It is supposed that Mr. R. C. Gunn loses at least a sheep daily, and sometimes two, to support Dido, King, and their dogs.
This man has now been at large for some months, committing depredations far and wide. A few parties of constables have been sent out after him : but not in at all an effective manner. After three or four days’ fruitless search they have returned halfstarved and knocked up. At present Dido’s robberies have been confined to shepherd’s huts and cottages, and we confidently predict that so long as he confines himself to such small game, no great effort will be made by the Government to stop his reckless career. Let him rifle two or three large settlers’ houses, and we shall have placards announcing tempting rewards for his capture, and properly equipped bodies of men will be sent put after him. But who cares for a shepherd’s hut being robbed ? The fact of this man’s having what he calls “his own ground” is a disgrace to the police authorities.
The members of Brady’s gang come and go as the law gradually catches up with them but Brady eludes capture. He falls in with a crooked cop named Thomas Kenton whose treachery almost puts an end to Brady’s career.
There is hysteria in Hobart Town at the suspected presence of the outlaws, whose bold movements across the Derwent River right under the noses of vigilantes demonstrate them as a force to be reckoned with.
Brady dabbles in piracy at Swanport; performs an audacious robbery of Francis Flexmore at Green Ponds; engages in a gunfight with the authorities near Bothwell, and a drunken raid in the Lake River district ends in disaster.
Indigenous readers are advised that the following discusses the history of first nations people and contains the names and likenesses of deceased persons.
Aboriginal bushrangers of the early colonial period tend to be somewhat difficult to define. Given that many were not from within the colonial society, and the few that were often did not behave like most bushrangers when that took to the bush, they tend to almost require a separate definition. In fact, there’s a definite overlap where the Aboriginal bushrangers and resistance fighters are concerned. None exemplify this conundrum better than the man known as Musquito.
Born in the early to mid 1780s in New South Wales, Musquito is believed to have grown up around Broken Bay (though some sources state he was from Port Jackson) as a Gai-mariagal man, probably by the name Y-erran-gou-la-ga. At some point he seems to have picked up at least a moderate amount of English, and he had a brother known to the whites as Phillip. The rest of his early life is a mystery.
In 1805, Musquito became a wanted man. His actions around the Hawkesbury River were a cause for concern — so much so that his own people turned on him. When Musquito murdered a woman (almost certainly an Aboriginal woman), the people he been raised amongst turned him in with another man named Toulgra (called “Bulldog” by the whites) in exchange for another of their nation who was wrongfully imprisoned. Musquito never stood trial for the murder, nor was he formally charged. Instead, he and Bulldog were sent to Norfolk Island after threatening to start a fire where they were lodged at Parramatta Gaol.
Musquito remained on Norfolk Island for eight years, where he was expected to perform labour in order to earn his rations and was employed as a lime-burner. When he was removed from the island in 1817, he was sent to Port Dalrymple, Van Diemen’s Land, on the Minstrel. He was eventually employed by Edward Lord, the wealthiest man in Van Diemen’s Land. Here he worked as a stockman, but when Lord left the colony for Mauritius in February 1818, Musquito remained.
In September 1818, Musquito was told by Governor Sorell that if he assisted in the tracking down and capture of Michael Howe he would be rewarded with free passage back to New South Wales. By this time his brother Phillip had written to Governor Macquarie to ask for Musquito’s return to his ancestral home. Sorell had even tried to get Macquarie on board, recommending that Musquito, “Big Jack” McGill, and “Black” Mary Cockerill be acquired by New South Wales for their superior tracking abilities, but nothing was ever followed up. For unknown reasons, Macquarie seemed to want Musquito kept away from his homeland.
When Musquito, accompanied by McGill, found Howe camped by the Shannon River, they pounced upon the bushranger and after a violent struggle Howe escaped without his kit bag and supplies. In the bag was Howe’s famous kangaroo skin journal, in which he described his dreams, memories, desires and fear of the Aboriginals, who had recently been engaged in attacks on white farmers (at least one of these attacks resulted in a death that Howe was accused of).
Musquito had been looking forward to returning to New South Wales as per the agreement struck with the government, but when he heard nothing from Macquarie or Sorell he decided he had copped all he was willing to from the white man. Musquito went bush and found his way to Oyster Bay. The government had treated Musquito like merely some troublesome Aboriginal they could afford to ignore, but they were about to be proven terribly wrong.
Musquito managed to find his way to a sort of commune of Aboriginal men and women that had, for various reasons, found themselves expelled from their own people; many had transgressed tribal laws making them outlaws from both colonial and indigenous societies. This community would come to be known as the “Tame Mob”. When Musquito joined them he remained somewhat on the outer, but his knowledge of English language, farming practices and firearms saw him quickly rise through the ranks to become their leader. In fact, he became so highly regarded amongst the mob that, by some accounts, he was given a wife (known as “Gooseberry”) who was said to have been the most beautiful woman in the tribe. He was later described as having three wives by Thomas Anstey, the magistrate at Oatlands, who also described Musquito prostituting some of the women, including his wives, to white men in exchange for goods. That Anstey was not speaking from experience, but rather repeating rumours, is telling.
Soon the Tame Mob grew to encompass dozens of men and women, and they were even alleged to have fallen in briefly with some white bushrangers in the Oyster Bay region. As time wound on, this seemingly harmless group of outcasts became motivated to push back against the colonists. Adding coal to the furnace was Musquito, whose first hand experience of the colonisation of New South Wales had instilled in him a fierce distrust and hatred of white men, and the irreversible damage their ways were inflicting on Van Diemen’s Land and its peoples, just as they had done to his homeland.
There were many rumours that circulated about Musquito, including that he had murdered Gooseberry in a rage on the government paddock in 1821. He was said to have had a taste for mutton, which the other Aboriginals refused to eat, and he was described as a great drunkard who would trade rations for rum.
The Tame Mob, now estimated to be 75 strong, began to engage in acts that are better described as acts of war, rather than bushranging. Thefts and brutal murders were coupled with arson in an effort to stamp out the influence of whites in their region, which essentially sprouted from Oyster Bay and encompassed Pittwater (Sorell), Orielton, Risdon and even reached as far as Jericho and Oatlands. A reward of £100 was offered for Musquito – dead or alive – and he was given the nickname “The Black Napoleon”.
From November 1823 to 1824 the Tame Mob, led by Musquito, performed a series of violent and deadly raids along the Tasmanian east coast, targeting white farms, gangs of bushrangers and rival mobs that stood in their way. Prominent in the mob alongside Musquito were “Black Jack” (Jack Roberts) and “Black Tom” (Kickerterpoller), the latter of which would go on to leave his own mark as a bushranger.
On 15 November, 1823, the Tame Mob attacked a hut at the property of George Gatehouse at Grindstone Bay. For several days before they had begged food from John Radford, the stock-keeper, engaged themselves in fishing and held a corroboree nearby. They returned to the hut on the fateful day armed with spears. In the ensuing assault two people were murdered – a Tahitian man named Mammoa, and a 19 year-old assigned servant named William Hollyoak. The lone survivor, John Radford, pinned the murders on Musquito and Black Jack. Hollyoak had been staying at Gatehouse’s on his way back to his employer, George Meredith, having just come out of hospital. The three men had been lured out by Musquito and speared as they retreated after sensing an ambush. Radford was speared through the side by Black Jack, and after stopping to pull a spear out of Hollyoak’s back, was speared in the thigh. The last Radford saw of Hollyoak was the boy being swarmed by Aboriginal men, with five or six spears sticking out of him. Radford managed to make it to Prosser’s Plains to raise the alarm. When they recovered the body of Mammoa, he has been speared almost 40 times.
A posse was formed by George Meredith to find the Tame Mob and seek retribution. By Meredith’s account, the Aboriginals all escaped unharmed when the posse found them in the bush, though other accounts claim they found them all asleep and slaughtered as many as they could, with very few escaping. In response to this turn of events, Musquito was severely beaten by members of the Tame Mob who were obviously angry about the messy encounter he had led them into.
The following raids mostly involved arson – burning houses and crops. These were clearly attacks designed to flush the colonists out of the area. Despite being assaulted by his own tribe, Musquito still enjoyed some seniority and helped the Tame Mob develop strategies for battle. He educated them on firearms, noting that the firearms could only fire once before needing to be reloaded; thus in battle the mob would wait until a shot had been fired then swarm on their attacker with spears while he reloaded. Often one of the English speakers, usually Musquito, would lure the occupants of a house to the door. From his use of English they would mistake him for a “tame black” (one raised by whites, or at least employed by them), and this would distract them while the rest of the party surrounded the house before attacking.
On 16 June 1824, Musquito joined the Tame Mob in four attacks. They struck the farm of a man named Oakes at Murderers Plains (Abyssinia), where two men were murdered; Triffitt’s at Big River (Ouse) where another man was murdered; and two of Captain Wood’s properties at the Clyde River (near Hamilton) and Lake Sorell where a hut was destroyed without fatalities.
In July, the mob killed a man named Patrick McCarthy at Sorell Plains near New Norfolk. On the 23rd of the same month, Robert Gay, a servant of George Meredith, was killed and mutilated. The murder was attributed to Musquito and his followers.
In August, Lieutenant William Gunn went in pursuit of Musquito after having been given the slip by Matthew Brady’s gang. He would have no satisfaction in this pursuit either. Meanwhile, the Aboriginal group that was attacking farms was now estimated to have 200 or more members, indicating that some form of merger had been struck between the Tame Mob, the Oyster Bay tribe and the Big River tribe. The little rebellion was now a full scale war.
In late August 1824 Musquito and Black Jack were finally brought to heel. For three days two men named Hanskey and Marshall trekked through the wilds with a seventeen year-old, half-Aboriginal boy named Teague (or Tegg) acting as their guide after a purported tip-off from some of Musquito’s female followers. Teague had been promised a boat as his reward for helping to capture Musquito. Their perseverance paid off and they intercepted Musquito near Oyster Bay with Black Jack and two Aboriginal women. Teague opened fire and shot Musquito twice in the thigh and once through the body. Though he attempted to shelter, Musquito’s injuries were severe and he was captured.
After recuperating in the Colonial Hospital in Hobart, Musquito and Black Jack were tried for murder. They were denied legal counsel and could not give evidence as they were not Christians, thus unable to swear on a Bible. Musquito was found guilty of the murder of Hollyoak, and Black Jack was found guilty of murdering Patrick McCarthy. Naturally, the two were sentenced to death.
On 24 February 1825, Musquito was hanged in the Murray Street Gaol, Hobart, along with Black Jack and six whites. Prior to his execution Musquito was said to have confided in his gaoler, John Bisdee:
Hanging no good for black fellow… Very good for white fellow, for he used to it.
Teague never received the boat he was promised, and therefore turned bushranger himself and swore to kill any white man he encountered. Two murders were attributed to him, but he avoided any punishment for them, if indeed he was guilty. He was found by his master Dr. Edward Luttrell, and spent the rest of his life in Luttrell’s employ. He died in 1831.
The amalgamated Aboriginal forces that had begun their reprisals on the whites under Musquito continued for six more years, with the conflict being referred to as the “Black Wars”. Musquito’s off-sider Black Tom became a prominent figure during this time, picking up where Musquito left off.
No doubt the life of Musquito is shrouded in misinformation and outright lies, just as many of his bushranging and Aboriginal contemporaries alike have endured, due to the concerted vilification by colonial historians and others who felt they had something to gain by portraying this Aboriginal man as a mindless, violent monster. Many of the crimes attributed to him were likely not committed by him, if they even happened at all. Certainly, the outcome of his trial had been determined before it began.
Many of the colonists described the first nations of Van Diemen’s Land as peaceful until Musquito came onto the scene. Many laid the blame for the Aboriginal retaliation attacks squarely at his feet, others admitting that his treatment by the authorities was to blame for his rebellion.
Musquito left an indelible mark on Tasmanian history and many of the beats of his story would be repeated in decades to come by other Aboriginal bushrangers, in one way or another. It seems the lessons that could have been learned from Musquito’s life were ignored or dismissed by the people who most needed to heed the warnings.
Recommended reading: Steps to the Scaffold by Robert Cox [Cornhill Publishing, 2004].
Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas. : 1828 – 1857), Wednesday 27 June 1855, page 2
THE EXECUTION. – CONFESSION OF “ROCKY” WHELAN.
DISCOVERY OF THE BODY OF MR. DUNN.
Yesterday morning the last sentence of the law was carried into effect upon the four unhappy men who were respited from Friday last, namely Peter Connelly, John Whelan, Edward Heylin, and John Parsons Knight, convicted at the late session of the Supreme Court, before His Honor Mr. Justice Horne and in whose behalf it will be remembered a petition numerously signed was presented to the Governor, but to which an unfavorable reply was received by the petitioners. A strong feeling prevailed in certain quarters that as mercy had been extended in one instance, and life had not been proved to have been taken, the Royal clemency might have been shown in the cases of these men. Upon that, it is not necessary here to express an opinion, we merely state the fact Connolly and Whelan were convicted of two robberies under arms, first the robbery of Mr William Kearney, at Grass Tree Hill in February last, when they conducted him into the bush, and presenting pistols at him, rifled his pockets, and took away £23 in notes, threatening to shoot him if he looked at them or said a word. The other robbery was that of Mr. Richard Carpenter in March, at North West Bay when they got £8 and used similar threats, leading him into the bush and driving away his horse. In both instances the bush-rangers were positively identified, and neither Connelly nor Whelan offered any defence, the latter maintaining an obstinate silence, because, (as he said) the judge would not order his money to be restored to enable him to employ counsel. The way in which the delinquents were captured was remarkable. Connolly had been sentenced, as a vagrant, and two pistols, a powder flask, watch, chain, and other articles found in his possession at the police station led to his being apprehended at the Prisoners’ Barracks by that energetic officer, D. C. Beresford, on a warrant charging him with the robbery at the North West Bay. Whelan, it will be remembered, was taken into custody by constable Mulrenan (formerly in the 99th regiment ) at the shop of Mr. Gorney, bootmaker, next the Royal Standard Inn, Elizabeth street, while fitting on a pair of boots, having at the time, a pistol in his pocket loaded up to the muzzle. The other two unfortunate men, Heylin and Knights, were convicted of the burglary, with violence, at the house of Mr. Nicholson, solicitor, Victoria-street, on the night of March 5. Some commiseration has been expressed for both these men, who are stated to have been repectably connected, and well educated. Heylin, who was transported for forgery, was a graduate of one of the universities. Knights was stated to be the son of pious parents his father having been a Wesleyan local preacher, and special interest had been made in their behalf, but as the result shows, unavailing. The whole of the condemned having avowed themselves Roman Catholics, received the ministrations of the clergymen of that church, and the Vicar-General and the Rev. Mr. Bond were unremitting in their attentions. Heylin and Knights were extremely penitent. As to Connolly, his behaviour on the scaffold did not warrant a similar presumption. Whelan made a confession, by which it would appear he was sensible of the justice of his fate.
According to custom a great crowd assembled to witness the execution. Among them were many females, some with children at their breasts, and many boys varying in age from seven or eight years upwards. It was quite shocking to observe the eager haste of the multitude to be present at the scene of death, and to see hundreds rushing to the spot towards the hour of eight. The preliminary remarks of the lookers-on showed any thing but respect for the dread ceremony of the law, many indulged in speculations as to the probability of a further respite, and to the last moment hopes were expressed that the execution would not take place. These hopes were heightened by the delay in the appearance of the executioner. The clock struck eight, and there was in awful stillness, two minutes passed and three, and five, but no one was seen on the fatal boards. The suspense was harrowing, the majority not being aware that in this dread interval the priests were performing their sacred avocations, and endeavouring to prepare for eternity those whose souls were being summoned thence. At about seven minutes after eight, the hangman presented himself, followed by the Very Rev. the Vicar-General, whose solemn recital of the litany was heard below. Knights came next, he seemed nearly over-powered, but bowed deferentially, being evidently engaged in fervent prayer. On Heylin making his appearance, several men in the crowd exclaimed, “Poor Ned, that’s him,” “Yes, there’s Ned”‘ and (what we never witnessed on a previous occasion) they burst into tears, some of them weeping like women. Heylin had gained the respect of his companions, as it appeared from these sympathetic demonstrations. But, when Connolly came, the scene was most extraordinary, the ill-fated man jumped from the step on to the scaffold, and vociferated something to this effect, “Arrah, and it’s the heart and blood of an Irishman they’re after taking: if I had to live again I’d shoot them right and left like ducks, so I would.” Father Bond, who came up with him, went over, and endeavored to pacify him, but it was with difficulty he was restrained. While the executioner was placing the cap, he repeated the exclamation and Whelan turned round and told him to be quiet. The effect of this scene on the spectators was anything but salutary. Murmurs were heard in several directions, and a few referred to the late case of pardon as compared with this proceeding, which they characterised as a murder. The hangman was a long while adjusting the sad preliminaries, when, at length, the bolt was drawn, and the four men were launched into eternity. The crowd then began to disperse, and no one can say that the influence of the public execution under such circumstances is likely to be beneficial. The idea that the men should have been reprieved appeared to have taken fast hold on many minds, and small knots of people freely renewed the discussions on the event. The policy of carrying out the sentence is matter of opinion, but the impropriety of public executions was never more decisively evinced, and it is to be hoped that the practice pursued in the adjacent colonies of executions within the walls of the gaol will be speedily introduced here.
During Monday night an intimation was conveyed to the Hon. the Colonial Secretary that Whelan wished to make a confession of his crimes, and Mr. Champ consequently went to the condemned cell, and received the statement, which was reduced to writing. We understand the unhappy man acknowledged himself to have perpetrated the dreadful murders that hare lately produced so much consternation throughout the colony. Among others he confessed to have murdered Mr. James Dunn of the firm of Merry and Dunn, of Franklin, Huon, who, it will be recollected, left Hobart Town to proceed to Franklin about the 30th April, but had been since missing. He mentioned that he did the deed near Stony Steps, on the Huon track, and that the remains would be found in a hole a short distance from the road, about four miles from town. It will be recollected that a Gazette announcement appeared on the 10th May, of Mr. Dunn not having been heard of since he left town, and offering the reward of a conditional pardon to any prisoner of the crown who should afford such information as would lead to Mr. Dunn’s discovery, and a further reward of £50 in the name of Mr. J. A. Learmouth, a relative. Whelan also confessed to the murder of Mr. William Grace, of Great Oyster Cove, in the Huon district, who left his home for Hobart Town about the 23rd April, and had not been since heard of. And he also stated that the remains would be found about two miles on the other side of Brown’s River. The next admission he made was that he was the man who murdered Mr. Axford, whose remains, it will be remembered, were found about a mile and a half from Mr. Palmer’s, the Swan Inn, Bagdad, on the 25th of May, at the foot of Constitution Hill, in a state of nudity, the head and face being dreadfully mutilated. Deceased had been last seen on the 8th May walking down Constitution Hill, on his way to Hobart Town, intending to take the coach. As to this affair there is still a mystery attached to it. It is quite possible that Whelan did the deed, as he was at large until the 19th of May, but it can easily be conceived that a man like Whelan would think it a praiseworthy not to confess to this murder in order to save others. We understand there are three persons in custody on suspicion, and the confession will require to be well tested, in order to guide further proceedings to the accused. Whelan next acknowledged to have robbed the hawker (Hopkins we think his name is) at St. Peter’s Pass, about the 12th May; and the description given by the hawker of his assailants tally with that of Whelan and Connelly. There were some other confessions by Whelan, but as they will be published tomorrow, we shall not at present give particulars.
FINDING OF THE REMAINS OF MR. DUNN.
Yesterday, in consequence of the confession made by Whelan, a communication was made by the Colonial Secretary to the Chief Police Magistrate, who gave the necessary directions to the chief constable to cause search to be made for the remains of Mr. Dunn and Mr. Grace. Accordingly, between 11 and 12 o’clock, Mr. Symons, accompanied by constables Bailey, Vickers, &c, started off to Stoney Steps with the Vicar-General, &c., on the melancholy errand. After wending their way through mud, and scrub, and clambering the rocks in the direction of the Huon track, they found themselves in the vicinity of the spot described by the murderer. A dog belonging to Mr. Vickers scented a place where some crows were disturbed, to which Vickers ran, followed by Bailey, and the rest of the party, and there, indeed, in a ravine forming a natural grave, was discovered the object of the search, the mutilated remains of the unfortunate Mr. Dunn, clothed in his flannel and linen shirts; on the latter of which was marked the murdered man’s name, one boot on, the other on the bank close by, his sword stick hear the side, and his glazed cap in a ditch just by. No blood was visible. Deceased’s skull was broken in, the forehead was pierced with a pistol shot, and the greater part of tho flesh torn away by the crows. One hand was perfect, and an ear, but the other remains were much decomposed. When found there was no covering, but from the position of the hole, although so near the road, discovery would have been very difficult. It is supposed that the ruffian made his victim strip near the fence at the road, and then having shot him dead, dragged the body to the ravine or dry creek where it was found. Singular to relate, the clothes which were found on Whelan, are found on inspection to be like Mr. Dunn’s clothes, and we understand that a relation saw them yesterday and identified them. Mr Dunn’s height correspond-ed very nearly with that of his murderer. On discovering the body, Vickers was despatched to town with the intelligence, and afterwards took with him eight or ten men from the Prisoners’ Barracks to fetch the remains in a shell. The news of Whelan’s confession, and the subsequent discovery of Mr. Dunn’s body, caused the utmost excitement in town.
I, John Whelan, alias Rocky Whelan, condemned to suffer to-morrow morning for robberies on William Kearney and Richard Carpenter, which I acknowledge to have committed, with deep sorrow, and in order to make what reparation I can, do solemnly declare that I did, and being then alone, commit the following murders:
1. An elderly man between Brown’s River and North-west Bay, about two months ago. I shot him in the head, and robbed him.
2. A young man (I learned afterwards his name was Dunn), on the Huon track, about six or seven weeks after Carpenter’s robbery. I shot him in the head, and struck him on the head, with the butt of the pistol, then robbed him.
3. An elderly man at Bagdad, six or seven weeks ago. I shot him in the head, and then robbed him.
4. A young man on the Westbury road, about a week after the the last murder. I shot him in the head, and took away a few shillings.
5. A hawker, near Cleveland, about three days before I was taken. I shot him in the head, and took away several things, most of which are now at the police office.
The full particulars of these murders I have given to the Very Rev. W. Hall, Vicar-General, and the Rev. W. Bond, hoping that the bodies yet undiscovered may be found. I most humbly and sincerely beg forgiveness of the friends of these victims of my cruelty, and hope that the Almighty will have mercy on my poor soul.
JOHN X WHELAN.
Taken before me in the gaol at Hobarton, this 25th June, 1855, at five minutes before seven o’clock in the evening, having been just read, over to Whelan, who declares that the same is true. W. T. CHAMP.
New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney, NSW : 1832 – 1900), Tuesday 1 June 1841 (No.43), page 762
Colonial Secretary’s Office,
Sydney, 31st May, 1841.
TWENTY POUNDS REWARD;
A CONDITIONAL PARDON.
WHEREAS it has been represented to the Government that William Westwood, by the Ship Mangles (7), a Prisoner of the Crown, commonly known by the name of Jacky Jacky, who was convicted at the late Circuit Court, at Berrima, and sentenced to Transportation for Life, has effected his escape from the Watch-house at Picton, and is now at large :— His Excellency the Governor directs it to be notified, that a reward of Twenty Pounds will be paid to any Free person or persons who shall apprehend the said Jacky Jacky, and lodge him in any of Her Majesty’s Gaols; and that if the said Jacky Jacky be apprehended and secured by a Prisoner of the Crown, application will be made to Her Majesty for the allowance of a Conditional Pardon to such Prisoner of the Crown.
By his Excellency’s Command,
E. DEAS THOMSON.
Name, William Westwood ; Ship, Mangles (7); Age, 19 years ; Native Place, Essex ; Trade or Calling, Errand-boy ; Height, 5 feet 6 inches and upwards; Complexion, ruddy; Hair, brown; Eyes, dark grey ; Remarks, scar right side of upper lip, mark of a blister betwixt the breasts, scar back of right hand, 1831 January 3, 1820 August 1, and blue illegible mark lower left arm, sun back of left hand.