Spotlight: Historic Old Gaol – Darlinghurst Closed – 1914

Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 – 1931), Saturday 8 August 1914, page 37

Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney, ca. 1918 [Source]



“‘Gallows Hill’. we called it.”
“There were many executions in those ‘good’ (?) old days.”
“Early in the morning there sounded the clanking of irons as as the chain gang wended its weary way from Hyde Park Barracks to work on Flagstaff Hill or Fort Phillip. In the evening the tired convicts clanked wearily back through Jamieson and Hunter streets to the park. But ‘Gallows’ Hill is no more. Hyde Park and Carter’s Barracks are but memories. Now Darlinghurst is gone. For the first time the City of Sydney has no gaol within its borders.”
So speak the few old citizens who, during four-score years, have watched the little settlement in Sydney Cove develop (says The Sydney Morning Herald). And while there may be several who remember the genesis of Darlinghurst, there be but few whose memories go back to Gallows Hill.

— George Street Gaol. —

In these enlightened days, when “humanity” is the watchword of the prison system, when public executions are unthinkable, when the lash is almost obsolete, and when every criminal has a comfortable cell to himself, it is hard to imagine the horrors of the early days. But the old gaol bounded by lower George street, Essex street, ‘Little” Essex street; and Cambridge street, was a hell upon earth. It was only 85 ft. long, and built to accommodate 200 prisoners, yet 345 men and women had at one time been packed into it. Eventually a Legislative Council committee decided that it was miserably inadequate, ridiculously insecure, and in a ruinous condition. In a room 32ft. by 22 no fewer than 112 prisoners were herded together, some sleeping between the legs of others, for there was not even floor space enough. Attempts to escape were numerous, and the brutal treatment debased the unfortunate criminals. Executions were frequent. No wonder the spot; was called Gallows Hill. For 42 years it had done duty, but in Governor Brisbane’s time it was recognised that a new gaol was imperatively necessary. So an area of 3½ acres was secured just outside the city. Solid walls 20 ft. high were erected round the area, and the currency lads called the: place “Woolloomooloo Stockade.” Two of those original walls still stand, on the southern and eastern boundaries. And the initials of some of the hapless prisoners still catch the eye of the passer-by. It was not all built by the convicts. One hundred free labourers added their quota. A chain gang quarried the stone, from the Woolloomooloo quarry in William street, where St. Peter’s Church now stands. But the work progressed too slowly. There was too much “Government stroke.” The Sydney Gazette opined that it would be far more expeditious to call tenders and have the work pushed ahead by contractors. However, in 1835 Parliament voted £35,000 for the completion of the gaol. It was planned after the Eastern Penitentiary of Philadelphia, and took five years to build. Then on June 2, 1841, Darlinghurst was proclaimed a Government prison.

— Old Darlinghurst. —

Seventy-three years ago the first inmates were incarcerated. Sydney citizens have at different times seen many processions, grave and gay. But never since has there been such a mournful procession as took place on tbe bleak winters morning of June 7, 1841. Convicts, shivering and miserable, in clanking chains, guarded by armed police and warders, shambled along from the old prison to the new. There were old and young; hardened criminals and petty thieves. They seemed to crawl along George street and Bridge street, creep through the Domain, then stagger up the hill to the “Woolloomooloo Stockade.” There were 407 men and boys, with the murderer Curran in the van, heavily ironed, and destined soon to end his days in Berrima. Then, later on, a slower, sadder spectacle, came the 39 women prisoners, and Darlinghurst was populated. The year 1841 is memorable in other respects. In a faded and dilapidated old volume, issued in 1847 by Francis Low, and printed by Kern and Mader, at 7 Hunter street, we find that gas was first used in Sydney in 1841, and the company gave a brilliant illumination on Church Hill; that the census was taken, showing the population of the colony to be 130,856; that the High Sheriff, in a temporary fit of insanity, shot himself at Darlinghurst; and that two new weekly papers saw the light. The Observer, under, the auspices of Dr. Lang, and The Omnibus, edited by Col. Wilson. Also it is noted that six of the bushrangers belonging to “The Jew Boys’ Mob,” who had for 12 months kept the Hunter River Valley in a state of terror by numerous acts of daring, outrage, and murder, were executed. A few months later came the first executions. George Stroud murdered his wife, and Robert Hudson killed a fellow prisoner. They were hanged together, and many people assembled. But three years later, when the villainous Knatchbull was executed, about 10,000 citizens congregated, kept back from the scaffold by mounted troopers. But the crowd was a silent crowd and not a holiday crowd like some of those that graced public executions in the old countries. Public execution was abolished in 1853, 15 years before England thought fit to follow suit.

— The Scaffold. —

But many well-known criminals paid the penalty of their crimes at Darlinghurist— 76 in all —bushrangers and murderers. Capt. Moonlight was hanged in 1880, the Mount Bennie criminals in 1887, Louisa Collins in 1887. George Archer in 1893, and Montgomery and Williams in 1894. Others of note were O’Farrell, who shot the Duke of Edinburgh; Butler, and Jimmy Governor. The last to be executed at Darlinghurst. was Baxter, in 1907. And, though the public sense of propriety no longer sanctions public executions, there is a morbid interest attached to the gallows; and when the gaol was thrown open to visitors this week hundreds of curious citizens flocked to the condemned cell, and stood on the gallows where many noted criminals had stood before them. At odd times daring Jack Sheppards have broken out of the gaols at Berrima, Goulburn, Bathurst, Parramatta, and Biloela; but Darlinghurst has proved a tougher proposition. In the last 35 years only two prisoners have escaped; but there have been many bold bids for freedom; “Thunderbolt” was in Cockatoo Island Gaol for cattle thieving. He escaped, swam with his irons on to the shore, and took to bushranging. Once a number of prisoners found a likely “header” in the wall, and right under the eye of the warder cut the mortar away. Removing the stone when the warder had turned away, no fewer than 17 men scrambled through. They were lean, wiry customers, for the hole was small. Then a fat prisoner essayed the task, and stuck. He kicked in vain. When the warder returned he found the fat man half-way through, and a prisoner on each side of the wall playing tug-of-war.

— Past and Future. —

Back in the sixties a lot of rebellious prisoners from Cockatoo Island, were sent to Darlinghurst, and they revolted, dashed to the painters’ shed, seized a ladder, and scaled the walls. But on the other side they found armed warders ready to receive them; so they retreated to the cells, and barricaded themselves in. The guard attacked, and when one of the prisoners was shot the rest surrendered. Sometimes the dreary monotony of prison life became unbearable, and prisoners, finding escape hopeless, committed suicide. One man tried 14 times to shuffle off this mortal coil, but always failed; others were most determined, and succeeded. The old hands at Darlinghurst tell many tales of the prisoners and prisons of the past. But nowadays the prisoner’s lot is not altogether an unhappy one. He works, and reads, and empires; mostly he reforms. So now Darlinghurst passes from the list of gaols, like Berrima and Biloela, and Trial Bay. The prisoners have gone out to Long Bay to the penitentiary. Even as Gallows Hill has been forgotten, so will the tragic record of Darlinghurst pass into the seldom-opened pages of history. It will become a centre of light and learning, rather than the abode of criminals, Instead of the monotonous march of sentries will sound the music of children’s voices. The drab prison walls and railings will be superseded by graceful columns of an educational edifice that shall be a thing of beauty and a joy for ever.

Spotlight: Examination of “Blue Cap”, the Bushranger

Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), Saturday 30 November 1867, page 15





At the Police court, Young, on the 11th and 14th instant, the following examinations took place :—

Robert Cotterell, alias Blue Cap, was charged with robbery with firearms. William Marshall said. — I am an inn keeper, and reside at the Rock Station, on the Levels. I know the prisoner. I have seen him several times. My place was robbed in the middle of July last by three men. The prisoner is one of them. They took about £11 in money, a saddle and bridle, a gun, a revolver, Crimean shirts, a coat, grog, and several other articles. They were all armed. On the evening of the robbery, about half past six o’clock, and while sitting at tea, a knock came to the door. I sent the girl to see who it was. As soon as the door was opened the prisoner and another named Scott rushed in and told us all to bail up. Scott went through the passage, while the prisoner kept sentry over us with a gun. It being a cold night I told him to come to the fire. He said he did not want fire, but “tin.” I told him he had come to a wrong place for it. He searched my coat pockets, and when attempting to rifle my trousers pockets, I took out what money I had in the pockets and laid it on the table; there was about £2. There was a third person with the bushrangers, whose name, I believe, is Duce. Scott and Duce went to the store and helped themselves, while the prisoner kept sentry over us in the house. They had tea. The prisoner kept guard while his mates had their repast, and they relieved him until he had his. They stayed about an hour.

The same prisoner was further charged with a like offence. Jeremiah Lehane said. — I am a grazier, and reside at Reedy Creek. On the 24th July last my place was robbed. I was close by the house, at a well which some men I had employed were cleaning out. The prisoner came up to us and asked for Mr. Lehane. I told him I was Mr. Lehane. The prisoner then ordered all of us to go up to the house. I asked him if he belonged to the police force. He said, “No, I am a bushranger.” The prisoner was armed. He marched us up to the verandah of the house, where we saw an accomplice of the prisoner’s. He was also armed, and called himself the “White Chief,” I believe his name is Jerry Duce. The prisoner gave the men in charge of Duce, and then ordered me to accompany him to my private office. Prisoner then said he wanted a revolver I had. I gave it to him. He then ordered me to open a certain drawer in my desk, in which were several papers and a pocketbook, the latter containing six one-pound notes. He opened the book and abstracted the money. He searched about for more money, but found none. He took a double-barrelled gun, which he returned as he was leaving. He ordered me to proceed with him to the stable; he took a saddle, but, being told it belonged to one of the labourers, he put it back, and took another belonging to my stockman. The whole of the articles stolen, including the money, I value at about £20 10s. I identify the saddle (produced) as the one prisoner stole from out of my stable.

The same prisoner was charged with robbing Philip Saunders’s Sydney Hotel, in June last. Philip Saunders said. — I am a publican, and reside at the Halfway-house, Lachlan-road. Some time in June last my place was robbed. I was then residing at Spring Creek, Young. I cannot swear that prisoner was one of the two men who robbed me. Two men came to my place on the evening of the day, referred to about four o’clock- They asked for some drinks and departed. One was riding a chestnut mare, and the other a bay mare. They returned after dark about seven o’clock. Mrs. Saunders went to the bar and asked them what they wished to drink. They said, they did not want drink, but money. Mrs. Saunders said they would not get much money from her. She produced a box containing some silver. One of the men said, ” You’ve got more money than that.” Mrs. Saunders said, “Not much.” She brought another box, in which there were some half-sovereigns and other money. I don’t know how much it amounted to. There was also a revolver taken and a bottle of grog. I can swear that the man who demanded the money is not the prisoner. If the second man is the prisoner he is much altered. I cannot swear he is one of the men who robbed me. — The same prisoner was charged with having robbed Mr. Lehmann at Stony Creek, on the 28th June last.

H. Lehmann deposed. — I am a publican, and reside at Stony Creek. On the 28th June last, about ten o’clock at night, I was in my store. Two men came into the store ; one was a stout man, with a revolver, the other a sparer man with a gun. The first man said, “Hand me over the ‘tin.'” I thought he was joking. He said, “Be quick.” I gave him the cashbox saying, “Here, take it.” There were notes, half-sovereigns, and silver in the cashbox, amounting to about £8 or £9. He then asked for a revolver, which I gave him.He then wanted some clothing and took some Crimean shirts, socks, two ponchos, three silk handkerchiefs, and other articles. He then asked me to go into the bar to have a drink. On going to the bar his companion was there. The prisoner is the second man. They then locked the doors and remained inside until the police arrived. I heard a knock at the door, and called out, “Who’s there?” The reply was, “Police.” The prisoner, or his companion, then said “We’re too long here, it’s time to be off.” They went out, at the back, secured their horses, and escaped. It was very dark.

The most grisly bushranger stories

[Warning: The content in this article may be distressing for some readers. Discretion is advised.]

Justin Kurzel’s hyper-stylised and ultraviolent interpretation of True History of the Kelly Gang received positive reviews when it debuted in Toronto in September 2019 and seems to be landing blows in the UK where it opened this weekend. Many critics praised the gritty aesthetic and the subversion of history employed throughout. Fans of the historical Kelly story were not so embracing and questioned why the creative team felt the need to stray from history so radically to play up the violence and sex (and dresses). While Kurzel’s approach may be artistically valid, it certainly falls into his wheelhouse of telling grimy tales of psychopaths and nihilism. But is the Kelly story truly the one to use as a basis for this kind of story? Here is a list of five bushrangers stories more ripe for the Kurzel treatment than that of the Kelly Gang.

Kurzel’s Ned Kelly film exchanges historical accuracy for a grungy, gory aesthetic

1. Michael Howe: One of the earliest bushrangers to be labelled as such was Van Diemens Land’s most notorious outlaw. Already the subject of a film that took vast liberties with the history to create a twisted and gory tale of a madman (The Outlaw Michael Howe), the historical Howe has more than enough violence and weirdness in his story to sustain even the most subversion-inclined filmmaker. According to the generally accepted story, Howe was a former Navy man, and a violent ruffian who joined John Whitehead’s bushranging gang in 1815. This version of events also describes the banditti roaming through the Van Diemonian frontier raiding farms and torching them for good measure, and attacking Aboriginal camps where they would kill the men and take the women as sex slaves, which is how Howe supposedly paired up with “Black” Mary Cockerill, who was portrayed as his love interest in the 2010 film. During a violent gunfight, Whitehead was wounded and Howe hacked off his head to stop the attackers claiming the reward that was on it (in those days presenting an outlaw’s head was used as proof to receive the bounty).

Michael Howe

Howe frequently escaped the law, once being granted minimum security incarceration in exchange for giving evidence about his colleagues, from which he simply walked away. This has fuelled conspiracy theories that he was working for the government to dob in bushrangers in exchange for leniency, though the historical record shows it is not so clear cut. Howe was said to have murdered his confederates when his paranoia got the best of him and even escaped from capture on one occasion by murdering his captors with a hidden dagger. He shot Mary Cockerill with a blunderbuss to create a distraction during a chase allowing him to escape from soldiers, resulting in her helping the military track him down in spite when she had recuperated. He kept a diary bound in kangaroo skin, supposed to have been written in blood and detailing his lust for power. Eventually Howe became a hermit, his clothes disintegrated and he wore a cloak made of kangaroo skins he had stitched together. When a former associate tried to lure him into a trap, Howe fled to the Shannon River where he was cornered and bludgeoned to death. His mangled head was then hacked off and taken to Hobart for the reward. It was displayed proudly on a spike near where the Drunken Admiral restaurant now stands. Of course, as with a great many bushranging stories, even though this is the most widely accepted version of events it is also very wide of the mark in terms of accuracy, and the real Michael Howe was nowhere bear as bloodthirsty or savage as he has been made out to be.

The Outlaw Michael Howe was a gritty, “grimdark” retelling of the story of one of the earliest bushrangers.

2. Alexander Pearce: The historical Pearce has been the subject of two feature films that were released close to each other (Van Diemens Land, The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce) due to the harrowing narrative of his last years. Pearce was transported to Van Diemens Land and suffered the fate of all convict transportees. Malnourishment, hard labour and floggings were the daily grind. Pearce soon joined a gang that managed to escape from prison and went bush in an attempt to gain liberty.

Illustration of Pearce after death by Thomas Bock

The bushrangers soon realised the fatal flaw in their plan was their complete inability to navigate the wilderness and find food. When the rations ran out they turned to cannibalism, the victims being hacked to death in their sleep and turned into food for the survivors. Eventually the few that were left went seperate ways and Pearce was apprehended while raiding a sheep farm. He was returned to prison but escaped again with another convict who he immediately took into the bush and slaughtered. When he was recaptured Pearce declared that human flesh tasted “better than fish or pork” and had some of his companion’s flesh in a pouch that he was saving for later. Naturally, he was hanged for his crimes.

Post-mortem sketches of cannibal convict, Alexander Pearce.

3. Thomas Jefferies: Called “The Monster” by those who heard of his despicable crimes, Jefferies was another Van Diemonian bushranger of the 1820s. He was a transportee who quickly climbed the ranks to become flagellator (the man who performed the floggings), which was a job he relished. Jefferies was known for abducting female convicts and taking them into the bush to have his way with them. When this behaviour lost him his privileges he went bush with three other convicts. Jefferies travelled through Van Diemens Land raiding farms and committing arson, rape and murder.

Jefferies by Thomas Bock

In his most infamous crime, he and his gang raided a farm, murdered a neighbour and wounded the owner, abducted the owner’s wife and child, and when the woman slowed down to tend to her infant Jefferies plucked it out of her hands and smashed the baby’s head against a tree until it was dead, before dumping the body in the scrub to be eaten by wild animals. Jefferies went deeper into the bush with the traumatised woman and raped her before releasing her to walk home two days later. It was this crime that earned him his nickname. Jefferies also killed and ate one of his gang members when they got lost in the bush, later admitting that he had cut the remains into steaks that he would fry up with bits of mutton, adding to his horrendous reputation. Later he also murdered a constable by shooting him through the head. When he was finally captured by John Batman, he was sentenced to death. Lynch mobs formed to try and break him out of prison so they would have the joy of administering the punishment themselves. There was supposedly an elderly woman that was so enraged she tried to stab him with a butcher’s knife through the cage of the wagon he was being transported in. Even bushranger Matthew Brady, who had been a former associate of “The Monster” and was captured after Jefferies had given the authorities information about his whereabouts, refused to be kept in a cell with him, telling the guards that he would decapitate the villain if he was not relocated. When Jefferies was hanged many sighed with relief that justice had been served.

The notorious Thomas Jefferies was the most despised man in Van Diemens Land.

4. Dan Morgan: The story of Dan Morgan’s life is a complex one to retell due to so many decades of misreporting and folklore obscuring the truth. The film Mad Dog Morgan is a perfect illustration of how difficult it is to tell the story with adherence to the facts. Yet, if one was to create a narrative based on the folkloric Morgan, it would have be one of the most violent and perverse stories put to film. Morgan has no definitive backstory, the only reliable account of his life starts when he was imprisoned on the prison ship Success for highway robbery in the 1850s. Success and its sister ship President were reserved for the worst criminals in Victoria. On these ships prisoners were isolated, kept in undersized cells with poor ventilation, and subject to cruel and unusual punishment. During the day Morgan was ferried to the mainland to break rocks, which is where he lost the tip of a finger when his hand was crushed. Morgan was also a witness to the murder of prison inspector John Price by convicts, who bludgeoned him to death with their tools over the harsh conditions he enforced. When Morgan was released he became a swaggie and never used his real name. He worked for a time breaking horses on stations around Victoria and New South Wales but eventually went rogue. He was joined by a man called German Bill or Fancy Clarke and began a career of robbery. One of their victims was Henry Baylis, the magistrate of Wagga Wagga, who they bailed up but quickly released. Baylis, accompanied by a party of police, located the bushrangers and engaged them in a shootout. During the battle, Baylis was shot but survived, but depending on which version you believe German Bill was either mortally wounded by police or by Morgan attempting to create a diversion to facilitate his escape. The more damning accounts of Morgan’s exploits tend to be based on hearsay and exaggerate his bloodthirstiness. He was accused of tying people naked to trees and leaving them to die from exposure; threatening a woman by backing her so close to a fireplace that her dress caught alight and badly burned her legs and back; branding people; making an old man dance on a table for him under threat of death; shooting a shepherd in the groin over a perceived slight; and tying people to fences and flogging them. While some of these may be grounded in actual incidents, albeit loosely, most are not. Even popular understanding of his known crimes portrays him as an unhinged monster. Most accounts of his visit to Round Hill Station suggest he got drunk on rum, then started shooting at people. He was supposed to have threatened the station manager whose wife begged for mercy so he shot the man in the hand instead, either putting a hole through it or blowing off one of the fingers. He then shot one of the staff who had gone for help, believing he was fetching the police. During another robbery, Morgan shot a Chinese man in the leg and in another he forced a station manager to write cheques at gunpoint.

Dan Morgan’s death mask

Eventually Morgan’s reign of terror ended when he was shot in the back at Peechelba station. His body was displayed and photographed then mutilated. A police superintendent had the jaw skinned so he could souvenir the beard; locks of hair were cut off and so was the head. There were also descriptions of the ears being hacked at and the scrotum being sliced off to be turned into a tobacco pouch. A film depicting Morgan as folklore describes him could indeed be a very grisly and twisted experience for the kind of director who wants to make a film that will shock and mesmerise.

The infamous murder of Sgt. McGinnity by Dan Morgan.

5. Jimmy Governor: Governor’s life was the basis of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, which was first written as a novel by Thomas Kenneally then adapted by Fred Schepisi as a feature film. Both stick remarkably close to Governor’s real life. Governor was an Aboriginal man who worked briefly as a black tracker for the police. Undoubtedly he was used in acts of state sanctioned aggression against fellow Aboriginal people. Governor was part white on his grandmother’s side, which no doubt created some identity confusion. He then became a labourer for the Mawbey family, living in a hut on the edge of their property with his wife, a white woman, and their son, who was probably not Jimmy’s. Jimmy worked hard but was paid poorly and at the same time his wife complained about living in squalor away from her family, begging scraps from Mrs. Mawbey. She was also subjected to bullying from the Mawbeys and their associates for having married a black man. This reached breaking point when she threatened to leave Jimmy. He snapped and took his uncle with him to the Mawbey house where they slaughtered the women and most of the children with a nulla nulla (club) and a hatchet. Immediately afterwards they went on the run, but Jimmy decided to strike back at the white society that had bullied and demeaned him.

Jimmy Governor after his capture.

A murder spree began, where Jimmy targeted farms where he knew the families and murdered any women or children that were there, usually with his club. Jimmy had a list of around thirty names that he was systematically working through on his murderous vendetta. Jimmy and his brother Joe were made outlaws by act of parliament and stayed on the run for almost two years. Huge posses were formed to track them down as the murder count came to double digits. Governor was ambushed and shot in the jaw, but escaped. He survived by eating honey he took from a farmer’s beehive. He was soon caught and nursed to health so he could stand trial. He was found guilty of murdering the Mawbeys and hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol.
The murders committed by Jimmy Governor prompted one of the biggest manhunts in New South Wales history.

As can be seen, there are far more gory and gruesome stories in bushranging history than that of the Kelly Gang, though none are as easy a sell as a movie. Still, we have already seen some of these stories adapted to screen in some form: The Outlaw Michael Howe, The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce, Mad Dog Morgan and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Whether any of these horror stories would get the exposure of Kurzel’s punk-gothic homage to A Clockwork Orange with Ned Kelly helmets is unlikely, however.

Forgotten Bushrangers: Robert Burke

Robert Burke (aka Bourke) was a small time bushranger who had one major incident in his career that made him particularly noteworthy, as many bushrangers tended to. Hardly prolific, Bourke gained his spot in the pantheon by an unfortunate incident that ended in disaster at a station in Diamond Creek.

Burke, whose real name was Clusky, was born in Dublin in 1842. He, his brother James, and sister were sent to Australia in 1854 from Liverpool by their uncle and were taken in by a family in Melbourne. Clusky was trouble though and soon absconded from his job and foster family, taking to the bush. He was a member of the Church of England and likely had a decent education for the time as he could read and write. It would appear that for a time he worked as a sailor, possibly gaining a little taste of the wider world while travelling. Possessed of a taste for theatre and an immutable vanity, by most accounts he was rather a refined gentleman (as far as bushrangers were concerned), prone to reciting poems or Shakespeare. He was also fluent in French and had spent time in a French boarding house in Melbourne flying completely under the radar thanks to his grasp on the language. He was a fine specimen of the Victorian era man. Standing at five feet and eight inches tall, he had handsome features, light brown hair and blue-grey eyes under a dark, heavy brow. He bore scars on his forehead, right elbow, back of the head on his left side and his right knee.

In 1862 Clusky ended up getting three years on the roads on a charge of robbery under arms near Ararat. On 16 October, he had bailed up a man named Pope near Mount Mistake. Threatening the man with his pistol, he pulled the trigger but the gun was not loaded. Clusky stated “I have another one yet” and drew another pistol, which aided in his alleviating Pope of £5. When tried before Chairman Clarke, Clusky stated that he had only robbed out of desperation, unable to find employment though he was willing and needed money to send to his sister in Melbourne. Despite getting a three year sentence, he only served two years in Pentridge. As soon as he was out he headed back to Ballarat where he obtained employment and he then found work in Bullarook Forest before crossing the border into Yass Plains. While here he was treated poorly by his employer and took off on a borrowed horse and went back to robbing mail coaches, sticking up three coaches single-handedly. After his initial robberies he returned his steed with a letter being sent to his old master informing him of where to find the animal. He was known to be an admirer of Dan Morgan, his contemporary, though he was not a fan of his bloodthirsty reputation and preferred not to shed blood.

Robert Clusky’s prison record.

Burke was not an unsuccessful bushranger, having stuck up the Jugiong-Gundagai coach. He stole a mob of horses but set them loose near Picton and sent a letter to the local police telling them where to find them, the letter signed “Burke the Bushranger”. Having accrued a decent amount of cash Burke headed to Sydney where he lived a short while before heading to Melbourne on a ship called Rangatira. He stayed in lodgings near the Olympic Theatre in Lonsdale Street and visited the Bourke Street waxworks, which he found very displeasing. He soon took off on foot, next seen in Kew and then headed for Dandenong where he raided the home of a man named Horner. Upon Burke leaving, the matter was reported and Superintendent Smith of the Greensborough police was duly notified of Burke’s intentions of heading in that direction. The journey was gruelling, his clothes becoming raggedy and filthy lending him the appearance of a tramp. Burke would use this to his advantage in gaining sympathy from settlers on occasion but he still found that blue steel was the best incentive.

Burke attempted to gain entry to a house in Eltham but, when refused, fired several shots into the wall. The occupants then allowed him inside whereupon he ransacked the place but found nothing of value and left empty handed. A brief visit to a farm in Kangaroo Ground saw Burke taking tea before heading off at daybreak. He was then spotted in Diamond Creek, a large rural region North East of Melbourne bordering on the township of Greensborough. The irregular, frequently mountainous terrain was peppered with yellow box gums and farms taking advantage of the sparkling waters of the Diamond Creek, so named because of the quartz in the creek bed that shimmered like diamonds in the sun. In 1851 gold had been discovered nearby in Warrandyte and kicked off the Victorian Gold Rush but Diamond Creek had avoided being tainted by the madness. It was here on 4 October that Burke headed to the most prominent cattle run perched on a slope near a bridge. The property was known then as Diamond Creek Station, though now it is better known as Allwood.

It was 8:00am when Burke reached the property. He was careful about which building he approached and passed through a paddock, greeting Robert Hurst, the station’s manager, before heading to the homestead. Ellen Hurst answered and asked what he wanted. Burke was fidgety and avoided eye contact stating only that he wanted food and, thinking him to be a tramp, Ellen brought him into the kitchen and gave him breakfast. As Burke dug in Ellen noticed her brother Henry enter the house and beckon her. She excused herself and found her brother in the bedroom.

A sketch of the crime scene

Henry Facey Hurst was a well liked personality around Diamond Creek, the sort of person you could reliably referred to as a “top bloke”. Handsome, athletic and hard working, Henry was a fine example of the squatter class. Perhaps his most famous achievement was the construction of a bridge nearby from which that town would later gain its name – Hurstbridge. When Ellen entered the bedroom Henry inquired about the identity of the man in the kitchen. Ellen told him it was a tramp.
“I don’t like the look of him.” Henry whispered. He proceeded to load his fowling piece as a precaution. The pair entered the kitchen and stood behind the visitor.
The grubby, rumpled figure slurping tea from a pannikin at the dining table barely shifted at the arrival. Henry gently placed the fowling piece in the corner. As Burke reached for some bread his pistol, stolen from a Mr. Mathison during one of his robberies, was visible beneath his coat.

“Good morning, mate, where are you from?” Hurst asked.
“Cape Schanck.” came the brusque reply behind a forearm wiping liquid out of his moustache.
“And where are you going?” Hurst continued.
“To Kilmore.” came the reply.
“The deuce you are; You’re going a round-about way of it!” Hurst exclaimed. The game was up and Burke knew it. He swiveled to face his inquisitor.
“Are you the master of the house?” Burke rumbled.
“Yes.” Henry stood defiantly with his arms folded. Burke pounded his fist on the stool.
“I will never take an insult from any man; I came to get my breakfast!” Burke rose to his feet, flicking his coat back and drew his revolver. “Do you know who I am? I am a bushranger!”
“Please don’t shoot!” Ellen shrieked as Henry stooped for his gun. Henry threw his sister a look and gestured for her to get help, which she did immediately, running to find a friend of the Hursts named Joseph Abbott. Burke, suddenly spooked, aimed for the girl and quick as thought, Henry raised his fowling piece and fired a shot which whizzed past Ellen’s head and lodged in the wall as she ran out. Hurst jumped on Burke and tried to wrestle the pistol from his grip. In the scuffle the revolver went off, which could be heard outside the building. Ellen ran as fast as her legs would take her and saw Abbott in the stockyard and frantically gestured to him.
“You must go unto the house, a bushranger has shot my brother!”

Meanwhile, the pair continued to wrestle in the kitchen, limbs entangled awkwardly in a furious attempt to restrain each other. Burke reeled off two shots before he managed to get his arm over Hurst’s shoulder and fired. The bullet passed down through Hurst’s body and out, lodging in Burke’s left thigh.
“You’ve done for me you wretch!” Hurst groaned in agony as the pair continued to grapple.
“Let us quit for I’m wounded, myself.” Burke begged as Abbott burst in and continued the struggle as Hurst collapsed. Abbott grabbed Burke by the throat and tried to restrain him as the bushranger roared “I’ll shoot you if you don’t let me go!” In response Abbott struck the revolver from Burke’s hand, which was later found to be empty.


Meanwhile Ellen had informed the stockmen what was happening and some of them had ridden for Eltham to fetch the police. The others had rushed into the house and assisted in disarming Burke as he collapsed from blood loss and restrained his hands and feet. Hurst was lifted onto the bed where Ellen found him in precarious health. A messenger was sent immediately to find the local doctor to attend the dying man. Robert Hurst returned to the homestead whereupon he sent his daughter Emily to fetch the Queenstown police. He was directed to the spot where found Burke, now conscious, was bound in the yard to a wheel under a tree.
“You villain, why did you shoot my son?” the distraught father bellowed.
“He insulted me and I will not be insulted by any man.” Burke grumbled.

Soon the stockmen returned with Constable Hall who ensured that Burke was immediately taken into custody. Constables from Heidelberg notified Superintendent Smith at Greensborough but by the time they arrived on the scene police had already arrived from Eltham, Whittlesea and Queenstown and ascertained the bushranger’s identity and relieved him of his revolver, 50 revolver bullets, 90 firing caps, a map of Victoria, a list of squatters and their station names, a compass, a leather pocket book containing two cheques and a deposit receipt, a letter, a French grammar book and a photograph of an actor named G. V. Brooke.

Gustavus Vaughan Brooke: Burke the bushranger carried a photograph of this Irish actor on him at the time of his capture.

Though Hurst was attended by Dr. Ronald and Dr. Barker nothing could be done for him. Hurst died from his wounds eight hours after the encounter at 5:00 pm. He was later carried across to a spot by the creek and buried. Burke was removed to Greensborough police station where Dr. Barker tended his leg wound but considered it serious enough that he should stay put until stabilised. Once well enough to travel, Burke was escorted to Melbourne by Constables Gorman, Hall and Senior Constable Harty. Once in the city he was lodged in Melbourne Gaol under the care of Detective Nicolson, who had only ten years earlier helped capture the notorious Bradley and O’Connor. An inquest was undertaken in the wake of the killing by Superintendent Hare in the Diamond Creek Hotel. Burke was escorted from Melbourne in irons for the inquest. Due to his leg not being properly healed, the wound burst several times during the inquest and bled.


Burke was taken to Melbourne Gaol to await execution. A group of concerned citizens convened at the Mechanics’ Institute and created a petition begging the executive council to commute the sentence to life imprisonment as there wasn’t enough evidence of malice aforethought. Despite gathering 7000 signatures, the council declined to overturn the death sentence and Burke was subsequently hanged on 29 November 1866 by William Bamford. His last words were:

Just as I am—without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O, Lamb of God, I come.

As was customary, his body was buried under quicklime in the gaol grounds. Within weeks Burke was being used as a cash cow by showmen. And advertisement appeared in the Geelong Advertiser for a series of phrenology lectures at the Geelong Mechanics Institute by Thomas Carr wherein Burke’s phrenological analysis would be presented for a shilling (or two shillings for reserved seats).

Selected Sources:

“BURKE’S EARLY CAREER.” Leader. 20 October 1866: 7.

“No title” The Herald. 9 October 1866: 2.

“SHORT-LIVED BUSHRANGERS.” Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 – 1912) 1 January 1910: 2

“Advertising” Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929) 6 December 1866: 4.

“BURKE THE BUSHRANGER IN VICTORIA.” The Kyneton Observer. 9 October 1866: 2.

“THE DIAMOND CREEK OUTRAGE.” The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954) 16 October 1866: 3.


“THE MURDER AT DIAMOND CREEK.” The Herald. 9 October 1866: 3.

Spotlight: The Hold-Up at Eugowra Rocks


This traditional ditty tells of the robbery of the Gold escort at the Eugowra Rocks by the Gardiner gang and is one of the more popular songs about Gardiner and his colleagues. At the bottom are a collection of videos so you can listen to the song in its different variations.

The Hold-Up at Eugowra Rocks aka The Bail Up at Eugowra Rocks


It’s all about bold Frank Gardiner, with the devil in his eye,
He said, “We’ve work before us, lads, we’ve got to do or die.
So blacken up your faces before the dead of night,
And its over by Eugowra Rocks we’ll either fall or fight.”

Chorus (after each verse):
You can sing of Johnny Gilbert, Dan Morgan and Ben Hall,
But the bold and reckless Gardiner, he’s the boy to beat them all.

“We’ll stop the Orange escort with powder and with ball.
We’ll shoot the coach to pieces and we’ll down the peelers all.
We’ll lift the diggers’ money, we’ll collar all their gold,
So mind your guns are killers now, my comrades true and bold.”

So now off go the rifles, the battle has begun.
The escort started running, boys, all in the setting sun.
The robbers seized their plunder so saucy and so bold,
And they’re riding from Eugowra Rocks encumbered with their gold.

And as with savage laughter they left that fatal place.
They cried, “We’ve struck bonanza, boys, we’ve won the steeplechase!”
And Gardiner their leader, he shouted loud “Hooray!
I think we’ve made our fortunes at Eugowra Rocks today!”

Captain Moonlite and Society (Opinion) 


Captain Moonlite is a name well known by bushranger enthusiasts, but his story is often overlooked. Yet, Moonlite’s tale is perhaps one of the most tragic in the pantheon of bushranging. It is a tale of a ragtag bunch of men and boys from social disadvantage being pushed so far into desperation by capricious and vindictive agents of the law and a lack of support from society or their families that they become violent criminals and pay the ultimate price for their fall from grace. For those of us who take an interest in social justice it becomes an intriguing look at what contributes to delinquency.

Andrew George Scott was a bundle of contradictions: well educated, brave and likeable with a well defined sense of justice and righteousness, he was also a hedonist who turned to conning people to fund his playboy lifestyle. Within a year he had gone from being a sober, much revered preacher to partying hard and getting himself arrested for buying a yacht with dud cheques. He was all too fond of liquor and seems to have had as much of an eye for the lads as the ladies. But it was his time in Pentridge that changed his perspective and seemingly his personality. After meeting Jim Nesbitt he suddenly had a reason to walk the straight and narrow. The promise of seeing Jim once he was out of gaol seems to have had an extremely positive impact on him. Once on the outside he felt compelled to share the horror of his experiences in prison in a bid to instigate prison reform. As he toured young men gravitated to him because they saw the rogue in him, but they also found acceptance. For tearaways like Gus Wernicke coming from abusive and neglectful backgrounds it must have been life changing to meet this man who told the most wonderful stories of his adventures and was genuinely interested in them for who they were rather than what he could get from them.

Fitzroy ca. 1870-1880, during the time Andrew Scott and his friends lived there.

It seems that harassment and oppression were the keys to Scott’s mental breakdown. An inability to find gainful employment due to his convict past drove him to poverty and desperation. Surely the conduct of the Victoria police in 1879 must have been worthy of investigation if Scott’s claims that they not only followed him everywhere but actively turned potential employers against him are accurate. He and Nesbitt were ersatz fathers for Williams and Wernicke to some degree and so must have felt an intense pressure to provide for them if not for themselves. In this case, if Scott had been allowed to pursue honest employment without police making it impossible for him to find a willing employer it’s very likely that he would have lived rather a quiet life with Jim and the boys, at the very least for a time. Alas it was not to be.

Transient workers, usually referred to as tramps, were common in the Riverina at this time due to work shortages.

When the boys turned bushrangers in order to go to New South Wales and find employment the police continued their tricks, riding ahead of the troupe as they ventured through the North East of Victoria on foot and warning station superintendents and shop owners about the band of criminals on their way. The inability to find work or even buy food resulted in the gang reputedly living off of damper and black tea, only getting meat in their diet by shooting koalas. These were not bushmen – these were street urchins from the city led by a disgraced man of the cloth. Tension must have been high and Scott would have been feeling it acutely. He wanted a better life and in pursuit of it had been pushed further and further away from it. The last straw came at Wantabadgery Station where not only were they forced to wait for two hours to see someone about work or accomodation, when they finally saw Percy Baynes, the manager, they had the door effectively slammed in their face, forcing them to sleep in the open on a hill during a storm. Scott’s pride was badly wounded and his desperation at critical mass, tipped to breaking point by the careless and callous behaviour of one man at the wrong time. Scott’s decision to bail up the station was impulsive and the personality of “Captain Moonlite” was dramatically different from Scott himself. The unkindness seems to have awakened Mr. Hyde and disabled Dr. Jekyll lending the Irishman a callous and almost murderous disposition.


Scott’s actions at Wantabadgery show him to be a man who had become unhinged. When he shot horses, threatened to lynch Baynes and kidnapped the children from the Australian Arms, it didn’t come from any kind of logic, it came from a heart bubbling over with rage and pain caused by the indignity he was living through, which in turn was thrust upon his companions simply for associating with him. When the gang eventually went to McGlede’s farm and fought the police in one last climactic gunfight “Moonlite” died and Andrew Scott began to resurface. In that one afternoon Scott had lost everything that gave his life meaning. His true love died in his arms, then Wernicke, who for all intents and purposes was as close to a son as he was ever likely to have, followed suit. One can only imagine what was going through Wernicke’s head when he was shot and left bawling on the ground alone in the middle of the gunfight, even being clubbed by a policeman as he lay dying before being rescued by Scott moments before expiring. Dying in Andrew Scott’s arms was likely the most affection Wernicke had received in many years. It cannot be stressed enough how important it was for Scott to have befriended this pug-nosed fifteen year old, scruffy and infested with lice and fleas due to neglect, living in his father’s illegal brothel without friends or prospects. The day he met Scott and company he finally had people who cared about him and somewhere to belong. Thinking he’d been abandoned as he lay dying would have been terrifying. That Scott swooped in under fire and cradled him until he died in his arms would have been as much of a relief for Wernicke as it was a burden for Scott, knowing he was responsible. It would have been impossible to process such tragedy. The one thing that gave him strength thereafter was the hope that he could  protect the other three (Rogan and Bennett had joined the troupe on their travels). The tragedy is compounded with the fact that his efforts to make amends failed spectacularly. What does it say about Scott that he would even attempt to sway a judge and jury to sentence him to execution to protect the others? What does it say about justice in those days that he and Rogan should be hanged?
In the end the only member of the gang not put to death was Bennett, the only one who actually (supposedly) killed during the fight. With Wernicke and Nesbitt shot, Scott and Rogan hanged for Constable Bowen’s murder and Williams later hanged on unrelated offences while serving time for his involvement with the gang, it seems unfair on the boys, especially on Rogan who hid under a bed in terror and never fired a shot. These lives were brutally and prematurely snuffed out – a miserable end to miserable lives.

The story of Captain Moonlite is the tale of desperate people brought together by their disenfranchisement and eventually killed because they were pushed too far. As with many bushrangers we see basically people who are in their hearts good men and boys pushed to madness by a society that would not allow them to move on from their mistakes.


Fitzroy. Jenny, Rudolph. ca. 1870 – 1880. SLV Source ID: 2027999

LOST! – A SKETCH FROM RIVERINA. Ashton, Julian Rossi. David Syme and Co. 1880. SLV Source ID: 1760620

ANDREW GEORGE SCOTT, ALIAS CAPTAIN MOONLITE, LEADER OF THE CAPTURED BUSHRANGERS. David Syme & Co. Illustrated Australian news. November 28, 1879. SLV Source ID: 1768421

Spotlight: Bushranging at the Billabong

(Police news, January 6, 1877)

This etching from 1877 may be quite crude for its time but it relates to a forgotten piece of bushranging history. In January 1877, reports of a bushranger operating near Albury began to surface. The offender was most notable for his white calico mask seemingly made from a puggaree. One report is as follows:




A correspondent at Albury sends as the following particulars of the case of bushranging in that district. On Sunday last a report was received atthe Albury police station of a robbery under arms, which had taken place in the neighbourhood of Ten Mile Creek on the previous evening. The circumstances of the affair are substantially as follows: –


About 37 miles from Albury, on the main Sydney road, and about three miles from Germantown, is a small store kept by a man named Bounds. The house is a mere roadside store, doing business principally with teamsters, the place being a convenient and favourite camping-ground. About half past 10 on Saturday night, two men rode up to the store on horseback, and one of them dismounted and giving his horse into the charge of his companion entered the house. Producing two revolvers and presenting one, he ordered the inmates of the store – Mr. Bounds and his wife, and a girl about 15 years of age – in true bushranging style to “Bail up,” a command which it need hardly be said was at once obeyed. The robber then proceeded to tie up his three subjects, a work which he accomplished in a secure and workmanlike manner. Having made all fast he inquired what money there was in the place, and ascertaining the whereabouts of the till, helped himself to its contents, which fortunately amounted only to £115, 25s in silver and a half-sovereign. To make up for the insignificance of the money booty he then proceeded to help himself to some of the store goods, but the precise extent of his operations in this direction has not yet been determined, the inmates of the store being unable to see what was going on. When, however, he had selected what he wanted, he removed the bandage from Mr. Bounds’ eyes, and forced him to sign a cheque on the Commercial Bank, Albury, for £22, a document which by the way will hardly be of much use to Messieurs the bushrangers, as the bank of course got notice of the robbery early on Monday. After obtaining the cheque, the robber quietly rejoined his companion, mounted his horse, and rode away. The man who was outside, being out of the view of the inmates of the store during the whole affair, cannot of course be described, but the robber who entered the building and performed the actual robbery is said to be about 5ft. 8in. in height, having light whiskers and blue eyes. He was dressed in a flannel shirt, printed moleskin trousers, and light felt hat; and he wore over his face a kind of mask made of dirty white calico, with holes for the eyes. A number of the mounted police force have been scouring the country ever since the news reached Albury, but up to the present time (Monday afternoon), no intelligence of the arrest of the robbers has come to hand.”
The bushranger who stuck-up Mr. Bound’s store near Germantown, on the 6th inst, was captured on Monday by the New South Wales police. The Border Post states “that the man gave his name as Richard Lauaghan. He is supposed to be identical with the Billabong robber who recently stuck-up three men near King’s Hotel. Some of the stolen clothes were found in his possession. He was committed by the Germantown Bench to take his trial at the next Albury Court of Quarter Sessions.
Of course it must be stated that the consternation around these events must have been considerable given that it was around a year before Ned Kelly would become public enemy #1 and seven years after Captain Thunderbolt’s reign was cut short at Kentucky Creek. The offenders’ capture was reported in slightly more detail in The Weekly Times:


Thanks to praiseworthy activity of several members of the police force, the individual who has recently created no little consternation in the neighbourhood of the Billabong by his penchant for committing robbery under arms (states the Border Watch), has been arrested. On Sunday, the 7th inst., Mr. Superintendent Singleton received information of a most bare-faced robbery on the Sydney road. The report ran somewhat as follows : — John Bounds, a settler, complained that on the previous evening (Saturday), about half-past 10 o’clock, two men rode up to his house, situated about three miles from Germantown, one with his face covered with a piece of calico, in which there two holes cut for his eyes. They bailed him up and robbed him, and then stayed about two hours searching the place for money, but only succeeded in finding half a sovereign and 20s in silver. Not content with this, however, they compelled Mr. Bounds to draw a cheque on the Commercial Bank, Albury, for £22. The man with the mask tied up Mr. Bounds, his wife and child, and left. He was armed with two pistols. The police were immediately in pursuit of the desperado, and effected a smart arrest on the following day (Monday). The arresting constables state that the man they captured gave his name as Lanaghan, and that he is identical with the Billabong robber who stuck-up three men near King’s hotel. Some of the stolen clothes were found in his possession. We learn, also, that his accomplice is likely to soon be arrested. Accused was fully committed, at the Ten-Mile Creek Police Court, on Tuesday last, to take his trail at the next Court of Quarter Sessions to be holden at Albury, on a charge of robbery under arms. Prisoner was identified by bounds, and also by his wife and girl.
A pith helmet adorned with a puggaree with a neck curtain much like the one Lannighan used as a mask. (Source)
The tale didn’t end there. The Australian Town and Country Journal reported on the follow up in March of that year:
At the Albury Quarter Sessions on Monday week before District Court Judge Forbes, Richard Lannighan and Lorn Pentland, the former a young man of about 25, and the latter a mere youth of not more than 20, were jointly and severally charged with having, at Three-mile Creek, on the 6th January proximo, stuck up and robbed John Bownds, a storekeeper. Mr. O’Ryan, instructed instructed by Mr. Nagle, appeared for Pentland, Lannighan being undefended.
Constable Ridout deposed: I am a constable of police, stationed at Tarrara. On the 7th instant about 2 o’clock in the morning, I received some information from Mr. Bownds, in consequence of which I went to his (Bownds’) house, and joining constable Turnbull went in search of prisoner. We met the prisoner Lannighan, on the morning of the 8th. He was riding one horse and leading another. He said “I wanted to see some of you fellows.” He then told us that he had been stuck up and robbed on the Saturday afternoon. He said he was going home when a man stuck him up and robbed him of about, £22 in bank notes and £1 in silver. He said the robber was on foot, and he was on horseback and leading another horse. The robber then tied his hands behind him, took him into the bush, and after taking his watch and chain, got on his (Lannighan’s) horse and rode away. He was unable to get loose until 10 o’clock on Sunday morning, when he managed to break the cord which bound him, and walked home with his hands tied behind him. He further said the robber was armed with two double-barrelled pistols, and wore a dirty calico cover over his face, with holes cut for his eyes. He was too exhausted to leave his house in order to give information to the police. I then asked Lannighan to show me the tree where the robber had tied him up. He showed me a tree near the road, which he said was the one where the robber had stuck him up. He then went a little further into the bush, and showed me a tree where he said he had been tied. I remarked to him that there were no marks on the tree of a cord such as there would be if a person had been tied up to it for any length of time. He then seemed confused, and we walked away a little examining the other trees, but watching his movements
Presently we saw him working the bark off a sapling with his thumb, and trampling the earth at the base. We then went up to him, and he said that that was the tree, and pointed to the mark he had made on it. Constable Turnbull then told him we had seen him making the marks pointed out a few minutes before. We then arrested him on suspicion of having robbed Mr. Bownds, and took him to the Ten-mile Creek lock-up. I previously asked him if he wore a puggaree when he was robbed, and he replied that he never wore one. I showed him the puggaree produced after his arrest, which was given to me by Mr. Bownds, and he said he believed it was his, and that the robber must have taken it from him when he stuck him up, I was also present when the prisoner Pentland was arrested at Cookardinia on the 10th instant. I did not hear what answer he made to the charge of robbing Mr. Bownds. He said he had not seen Lannighan since Lunt’s Billabong races, a month ago. Pentland was then put in the lock-up with Lannighan at Ten-mile Creek, and I overheard part of their conversation while in the cell. Pentland said, ” Lannighan, this is a nice b—-y mess we’ve got ourselves into.” Lannighan said, ” Well, it cannot be helped.” One of the prisoners then said ” hush,” and Pentland said, ” I can get witnesses to prove I was at home on that night.” Lannighan said, “It’s no b—-y use, we’re in for it, and we’ll have to suffer it.” Some other conversation ensued, but it was rather indistinct. I fancied Pentland said, “That b—-y puggaree that you left behind sold us,” or words to that effect. I don’t know that I ever saw the two prisoners in company before. I produce a waistcoat and shirt which Lannighan was wearing when arrested, and which Bownds has identified as his property. Cross-examined : I saw Constable Covenay this morning, but said nothing to him about the case. The lock-up at Ten-Mile is built of slabs, and a slab partition runs between the room where I and Covenay were in and the lock-up. I heard all the conversation that took place, and can swear positively to the words used. I took the conversation down in my note-book afterwards.
Constable Covenay gave corroborative evidence. With regard to the robbery itself, John Bownds deposed : I keep a store at Three-mile Creek on the Sydney road. The night of the 6th January, between half-past ten and eleven o’clock, a man came to my house with two pistols in his hand. His face was covered with a piece of calico, with holes cut in it for his eyes and nose. He presented the pistols first at my wife and then at me, through the window, and said ” your money or your life.” I went to the door and he told me to go inside ; he followed me and again demanded money, and I gave him a purse containing 29s. He then said “you have more,” and I replied that I had not, as I had sent it all to the bank the day before. I believe prisoner Lannighan is the man. I judge from his general appearance and his hair and voice. I saw Lannighan on Tuesday before this, the 2nd January. He called at my store and purchased a cotton shirt and some other goods. I asked him to stop all night, as I have known him for some time. He stayed, and left in the morning. After I told Lannighan about sending the money to the bank, he said I must give him a cheque, I said I would, I but it would be no use to him, as I could stop it atthe bank. He told me to tie my wife’s hands, which I did, and also the little girls. After I had tied my wife’s hands he took a puggaree from his pocket, and tied them again with it. I then drew a cheque for £22 on the Commercial Bank, Albury, and gave it him. After that he said, “I must secure you,’ and tied my hands with a throat strap, and made me go into the room where my wife was. He then went into the bedroom, and brought out the box I generally keep the cash in ; there was no money in the box. He next blindfolded all three of us with towels. He then returned to the bedroom, stayed there about half an hour, and went into the store for about the same period. He went away shortly afterwards. When he went out I heard other footsteps walking away besides his ; and while he was in the house I heard noises outside as if other persons were there. I missed a shirt, trousers, and vest, and other goods from the store. Next day I saw the tracks of two persons outside in the sand. Subsequently I examined the foot marks of Pentland behind the police barracks at Germantown, and they resembled one of the tracks I found in my paddock. The clothes produced are the ones I lost out of my store.
Other evidence was given, and after retiring for about an hour, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against Richard Lannighan, who was sentenced to three years’ hard labour at Darlinghurst. Lorne Pentland was found not guilty and discharged.


Image – State Library of Victoria, Rare Books Collection; mp016674:3030866;

“Bushranging in the Albury District.” Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907) 3 March 1877: 26.

“THE BILLABONG BUSHRANGER CAPTURED.” Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954) 13 January 1877: 16.

“BUSHRANGING NEAR ALBURY.” The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946) 13 January 1877: 21.

Charles Hope Nicolson: Nemesis of the Bushrangers

History is filled with tales of remarkable lawmen and women who were formidable in the pursuit of law and order and, by extension, justice. In America the most famous lawmen of the Wild West were just as roguish as the criminals they pursued – Wyatt Earp and “Wild” Bill Hickok spring to mind. In England the creation of Scotland Yard produced some of the finest officers in the world including Inspector Abberline who spearheaded the investigation into the Whitechapel murders using pioneering forensic approaches . In Australia we had many great officers of the law but of course very few were conspicuous in the way the Earps and Abberlines of the world were. Where bushrangers were concerned most police only gained particular attention for either being on the giving or receiving end of a lethal bullet, or for their notable inefficiency in bringing outlaws to heel. In light of this, one Charles Hope Nicolson stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries as the nemesis of the bushrangers.

Nicolson was born in the Orkney Islands, Scotland on 7 October 1829 to Thomas Balfour Nicolson and Hughina Forbes, and was baptised in Dundee. He travelled to Australia in 1852 aboard The Chance as purser. The voyage was dangerous and many died en route then there was a break-out of smallpox as they arrived in Hobson’s Bay. They were quarantined off St. Kilda Beach before coming ashore, which didn’t sit well with many of the crew who undertook a plot to escape the quarantine. When the escape went belly up and a man was stuck in the bay floating on a table calling for help, Nicolson was the only one clued in enough to realise that any attempt to rescue the men floating around the ship would result in mutiny and the rescuers having their boats stolen. Nicolson ordered the men to climb back aboard at gunpoint and the man on the table was towed back. In 1852 he joined the Victoria police as a cadet. The police force was only in its infancy at the time and had been created as a response to the Gold Rush and the incredible spike in crime that came with it. Nicolson was a fit, wily recruit with a passion for upholding the law and maintaining order. His new found skills as an officer of the law were about to be tested in a big way.

Mounted police at the time Nicolson enlisted.

In 1853 the bushrangers Bradley and O’Connor absconded from their assigned areas as per their tickets of leave. They created chaos through the north of Tasmania before finally hijacking a schooner and forcing the crew at gunpoint to sail for Port Phillip. When they landed they proceeded to continue their mayhem and a party was sent to tackle these bandits and restore order. Among the party led by Sergeant Nolan were cadets Nicolson, Ostler and Thompson who were all bristling with anticipation. Setting out from Jackson’s Creek on 25 September, the police party searched the bush all day and all the morning of 26 September and decided to stop for dinner at Cain’s Station at dusk. When they arrived they found the occupants tied up and released them. It was ascertained that the bushrangers had only lately left the premises. Nicolson went outside upon hearing hooves and saw who he thought was a colleague named McCullough and asked for verification. Inside one of the residents recognised O’Connor’s voice as he replied to Nicolson’s interrogative. Thompson drew his pistol and joined Nicolson. O’Connor ordered Thompson to throw down his gun but was refused so O’Connor shot the trooper in the chest. Nicolson reeled off two shots at the escaping outlaw with no effect. The Bushrangers returned, Bradley on foot, and were again met with fire from Nicolson. The offenders turned and fled into the night but next morning Nicolson had reinforcements.

Upon spotting the bushrangers the troopers cheered. Bradley dismounted and hid, Ostler went in pursuit. Nicolson and Sergeant Nolan turned their sights on O’Connor. Armed only with single shot horse pistols and sabres there was not much gunplay between the police and the outlaw but a shot from O’Connor hit Nicolson’s horse in the neck and another ripped the flesh of Nicolson’s cheek (it would leave a prominent scar thereafter). Sergeant Nolan rode close to O’Connor and nearly sliced the bandit’s weapon in half with his sabre. Meanwhile, charging headlong towards O’Connor, Nicolson got within arm’s reach and landed a heavy blow, wrenching him out of the saddle. As the offender bit the dust Nicolson dismounted and they grappled. As much of a brute as the bushranger was he was powerless against the righteous fury of Nicolson who landed a powerful punch that knocked sense into the rogue who immediately surrendered. The two outlaws were soon shuttled off to Melbourne where they were given their just desserts on the end of a rope. Nicolson had cemented a reputation as a man not to be trifled with and was widely lauded for his conspicuous bravery.

Nicolson led a good life as an officer, swiftly climbing the ranks and working as a detective. In 1856 he became Superintendent of Detectives working alongside Captain Standish. In 1861 he married Helen Elizabeth Smith and together they had eight children: Rupert, John, Robert Balfour, Helen Fairlie, Charles Hope, L’Estrange Disney, Shirley and Gladys Fairlie.

As the 1860s rambled on with bushrangers running amok in New South Wales and making the police a laughing stock under Sir Frederick Pottinger and his ilk, Nicolson seemed to make a mental note about how to tackle the same problem in Victoria.

In 1869 the most troublesome bushranger in Victoria was Harry Power, a middle aged bandit who had a most remarkable capacity to cover vast distances in a very short time. Nicolson was picked to help spearhead the pursuit for Power who was reportedly working with a young man described as being twenty one and very aggressive towards the pair’s victims. Nicolson was joined by a recent arrival to the Victoria Police, a towering South African named Frank Hare. Both he and Hare were superintendents by this stage and were able to work together reasonably well. Within a short span Power’s mate had been arrested and identified as a fifteen year old named Edward Kelly, better known as Ned. Nicolson and Hare interrogated Kelly in an attempt to extract information about Power’s location. Kelly was tight lipped but did let a few nuggets loose. While Kelly was being remanded in Kyneton, Nicolson took a keen interest in him, believing that he still had a chance to get back on the straight and narrow path and even tried to find him work away from the perceived negative influences of his family.

Nicolson used his experience as a detective to great effect in the pursuit of Power, luring in an informant in the form of a former prison mate of Power named Jack Lloyd. Lloyd, it emerged, was responsible for some of the crimes attributed to Power but struck a deal with Nicolson and Hare that not only meant he would not be prosecuted but would be eligible for the £500 reward for Power. Lloyd helped guide a party of police consisting of Nicolson, Hare, Sergeant Mountford and a tracker to the approximate location of Power’s hideout. The tracker led them the rest of the way. When they reached the upper slopes of Power’s Lookout they saw wisps of smoke and ascertained they were in the right place. Nicolson led the assault, hanging up his coat and then leaping on Power as he slept in his mia-mia, dragging him out with much protest. Nicolson was quietly proud but Hare couldn’t resist taking advantage of the bragging rights at the first opportunity – something that made Nicolson sour towards Hare.

When Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick was wounded in a bungled arrest attempt in the Kelly home in Greta, two Kelly Brothers, Ned and Dan, became bushrangers. A party was sent into the Wombat Ranges to find them but were ambushed by the Kellys and their mates Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. Three of the police were killed in the event. Nicolson was promptly given orders to head to Benalla as Assistant Commissioner of Police where he would be in charge of the pursuit for the gang alongside Superintendent Sadleir who was in charge of the police in the region. Nicolson wasted no time in creating a network of spies and informants and trying to get any information on the bandits possible but his underestimation of the support the gang had in the country impeded the investigation. False leads and stale information hampered the hunt and when the Kelly Gang robbed the bank at Euroa it was too much. Nicholson’s increasingly poor health and perceived ineffectiveness saw him taken off the case by Captain Standish and replaced with none other than Frank Hare who proceeded to make a dog’s breakfast of the barely functioning system Nicolson has already established. Nicolson was not subtle in his disapproval.

Hare and his men were not equipped for such demanding bush work but Hare had also learned some tricks from his time with Nicolson and believed he could do a better job. Weeding out many of Nicolson’s spies and elevating many of his own, including Aaron Sherritt, led to months of endless stake outs and following more bad leads. These took their toll on Hare’s health and a rejuvenated Nicolson was put back in charge. Unfortunately many of the spies Hare had employed refused to cooperate with Nicolson as they had not been paid for their previous work. When reports of stolen ploughshares began to trickle in Nicolson effectively dismissed them but did send a party out to investigate possible camp sites where evidence of a bush forge was found. Alas, Nicolson could not make satisfactory headway with the disaster he’d inherited and was booted off the case just as he was beginning to get the investigation back on track. Nicolson was no doubt particularly displeased that he was once more replaced with Hare. Within a couple of weeks desperation had seen the Kelly Gang murder Aaron Sherritt and attempt to derail a train full of police who they had a gun fight with dressed in armour made from the stolen ploughshares. The gang was destroyed and the leader, Ned Kelly, captured. Naturally Hare received more than his fair share of praise for the result. Nicolson subsequently resigned from the police force.

Superintendent Hare, Captain Standish and Acting-Commissioner Nicolson during the 1881 Royal Commission (Australasian Sketcher, 23/04/1881)

After Kelly’s execution a Royal Commission was held into the conduct of police. Among the many recommendations was that Nicolson be redeployed and in 1882 he became a police magistrate and remained in this role for years. Nicolson was very well respected within his community and profession, earning a reputation as a fair, calm and just magistrate, until dying at home in South Yarra from a sudden illness in July 1898. He was buried in St Kilda cemetery.

Selected Sources:
“CHARLES HOPE NICOLSON.” The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954) 3 August 1898: 2.
“ABOARD “THE CHANCE.'” The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954) 30 September 1898: 5.
“THE LATE MR C.H. NICOLSON. P.M.” Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954) 6 August 1898: 14.
“PEERYBINGLE PAPERS” Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954) 6 August 1898: 21.
“BRADLEY AND O’CONNOR.” The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) 5 October 1910: 1
“MELBOURNE SUPREME COURT.” Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas. : 1828 – 1857) 27 October 1853: 2.



Last week we began looking at the report on the trial of the Kenniffs featured in the Brisbane edition of Truth. This week we continue the feature as the Kenniffs give their own evidence. Jim and Paddy maintain that they were travelling around Roma for the races while their old man and brothers Tom and John maintained that they were gathering horses around Skeleton Creek. Two additional witnesses, Thornton and Mulholland, do their best to back up Jim and Pat’s story.



On Wednesday his Honor had raised the point as to whether the two prisoners could be conjointly charged with the two murders. Mr. Lilley promised to deal with the matter at the close of the case for the Crown. This he now did by announcing that he elected to prosecute the two prisoners for the murder of Constable George Doyle. This closed the case for the Crown. Mr. McGrath then submitted that there was no case to go to the jury. He quoted a number of cases and raised these points : (l.) It is necessary for the Crown to fully establish the death of Constable Doyle. (2). To identity the supposed remains produced with Constable Doyle. (3). Proof of violence having taken place must be given. (4). The Crown must bring criminal agency home to the persons accused. Mr McGrath argued at some length in favor of his objection, but his Honor interposed that there was a case to go to the jury.
The prisoners’ advocate in his address to the jury briefly outlined what the defence would be. He would call both prisoners and two other witnesses to prove that on March 30 Pat and Jim Kenniff were at a spot 90 miles from Lethbridge’s Pocket.
After hearing this evidence the jury would have no doubt that the police had GOT THE WRONG MEN. He then called James Kenniff. His Honor, directed that the prisoner should be sworn in the dock, and from that place James Kenniff, in a clear, distinct voice, gave the following evidence:—


He said he was a horse-dealer, and was 28 years old on August 23 last. Patrick Kenniff was his brother. His father’s name was James, and he had two brothers named Thomas and John. On March 28 last he arrived at Carnarvon station with his brother about 7 pm. They rode there. He knocked at the kitchen door with his whip. Mrs. McClann answered. He asked, “Is Ryan at home?” Mrs. McClann said, “Yes, he’s having tea.” Ryan came to the door, aud witness asked him had he seen a chestnut horse of his. He said ” Yes, he’s running on Daloogarah Plains.” He asked Ryan what yarns he had been telling in Mitchell, and he replied, “I’ve been TELLING NO YARNS ; you are mistaken.” Witness then asked for Dahlke, and Ryan said he was not at home, and he did not know when he would be home. Witness said, “Very well, I’ll get you and Dahlke together, and then I’ll see what lies have been told about me and Dahlke fighting at Babiloora, and pulling me off Greytail, and giving me a hiding. You said that after Dahlke gave me a hiding you
yourself gave me one.” Witness then said, “If you were worth a punch I’d give you one, but you’ro not. You’re such an infernal liar, no one can believe you.” With that witness delivered a blow at Ryan, but missed him. That was about all that passed. He and Pat returned to their horses and rode away. Neither he nor Pat had revolvers. They were at the camp whero they left the rations, going to Carnarvon. Pat made no reference to the “pet policeman, Doyle” After they left the station they went up the creek about half-a-mile, lit a fire and had some tea. While there his brother Tom arrived, remained about half-an-hour, and then went on to Skeleton Creek, about 24 miles away.

WHEN THE MOON ROSE he (James) and Patrick started off to go to Roma Races. They arrived at the Maranoa River below the Warrong Station, which was about 30 miles away from Carnarvon, at about 3 on Saturday morning. They had a couple of hours sleep, got up and had their breakfast. They had a couple of horses with them. After getting in two horses which they had hobbled they pursued their way to Roma. They ended this stage at Merivale bullock paddock, another 35 miles away. There they picked up a racehorse named Darramundi, which belonged to James Kenniff. Then they started to Hatton Creek about 2 o’clock, and got there about 10 or 11 o’clock on Saturday night. The distance from the bullock paddock at Merivale to Hatton Creek was over 30 miles. Patrick rode Darramundi. They thought the horse had staked himself on the road as he went lame. They examined the horse, and found he had sustained a sprain. They turned Darramundi out and WENT INTO CAMP.
About 8 o’clock on Sunday morning they got up, and Patrick went out to get the horses in. While he was away two men named Mulholland and Thornton came riding down the creek. They dismounted, had a drink of tea, and remained for some time.
Patrick soon afterwards arrived with the horses Darramundi, Tommy Atkins, Faithful and White Foot. The two men remained for about two hours. (Mulholland at this stage was brought up from the cells below and identified). Mulholland and Thornton rode away together about 11 o’clock. After they had gone Jim and Pat left for Myall Downs, taking Darramundi with them. On the Monday following they put in the day looking for some horses that Patrick had lost there about three years before. They stayed in that vicinity for about two days. From there they went to Merivale Paddock, about 40 miles from Myall Downs. They spent two or three days at Merivale and then turned back to Myall Downs. That would bring them to about April 4 or 5.

About that day they met two brothers named Weir. James said they had no pack-horses with them on March 30. At the Merivale Paddock they MUSTERED SOME HORSES and started for Mitchell.
They went through Mitchell along the Maranoa road. They had five or six horses with them, and camped for 12 days some six or seven miles beyond Mitchell. They stayed to give the horses a spell and a bit of a feed. They then went to Bonus Downs Run, taking the horses with them, and camped there some 10 or 12 days. This was about 40 miles from Mitchell. They then went to Armadilla, 20 miles farther on, taking ‘the horses with them, and stayed there some seven or eight days. They then commenced to return to Mitchell when they saw a piece of paper on a tree between Morven and Mitchell. It was on a mulga tree, with the bark taken off. There was no photograph on it. They next picked up a newspaper dated May 23.
When did you first hear of the murder of Doyle and Dahlke? — That was the first I knew of it when I saw it on the tree.
Continuing James Kenniff said they then considered as to what they should do. They
went back to Armadilla Creek and stayed there for 10 days. After that they went on
to another creek. Then they went to Bonus Downs brigalow waterhole. They camped
there for some time and noticed some shod horse tracks. They then arrived at a decision to go into Mitchell. They started forMitchell, and got to within about six miles of that place and camped near THE BRIGALOW SCRUB which the police, described. On the morning of their arrest they got up about 6 o’clock. After getting up James Kenniff went away for two rifles.

On resuming after lunch, Robert James Thornton was called and identified by James Kenniff, who, continuing his evidence, said he got the two rifles which were 200 yards away from the camp. Both were loaded as he had left them against a tree early in April last, with a bit of dry bark covering the barrels and triggers. Besides the rifles he looked for a bandolier. While away from the camp his attention was directed by the report of rifle shots. He went to within 100 yards of the camp when he saw a man there. He was carrying the rifles at the time and he thought one constable FIRED AT HIM.

What did you do then ?— I ran away towards where some horses were tied up. I was looking at the horses when I was fired at again.

Continuing, he said he walked back to camp and then in the direction of Mitchell. He had walked about two miles when he saw some men in plain clothes — horsemen — coming along thr road. They wore a quarter of a mile off and were coming in his direction. Constable Tanker and Cramb with two trackers came to within 80 or 100 yards of him and he called out “Were is my brother Pat?” They said he was further down the road. He said “Fetch him up and let me have a look at him.” They said he was all right. He then walked out and asked them who they were. He laid his rifles down. They said they were constables. He never heard them call on him to surrender.

Did you point a rifle at Cramb? — No.
Or at anybody else? — No.

James Kenniff said he walked up to them and they handcuffed him. They had gone some distance on the road when Cramb said, “I forgot to charge you. I charge you with the murder of Doyle and James Dahlke.” Witness emphatically stated that he replied. “What, me?” Cramb said “Yes.” He was then conveyed to Mitchell in the manner described.
Here a programme of the Roma races held on March 31 was produced as evidence.
Mr. McGrath: It gives the names of those horses entered. What horse had you entered? — Darramundi.
Had he been nominated for any race? — “No. After the races there is usually an off-lay and matches. We didn’t go because THE HORSE WENT LAME.

Were you at Lethbridge’s Pocket on March 30? — James Kenniff (passionately) No, I was not.
Nor anywhere near it? — No.
Witness said that Pat was out of his sight for only an hour, when he went to bring in the horses at Hutton’s Creek. He had spoken to his brothers Tom and John and his father at Boggo Road Gaol in the presence of the officials. He identified the revolver (said to be Pat’s) as being his own property. The other revolver belonged to Patrick. He denied saying to Constable Cramb that he was tired of the life he was leading. He had seen Mulholland from a distance in Boggo Road Gaol, but he had not seen Thornton since Sunday March 30 last. He did not remember the conversation in the cells at Mitchell as narrated by-Sub-inspector Malone.

Mr. Lilley now began his cross-examination of the prisoner James Kenniff, in answer to Mr. Lilley said he knew Doyle but not well ; knew he was a police officer ; did not know the police horse George. He knew Dahlke’s mare Boadicea. He did not know Tracker Johnson and saw him for the first time in the police court.
Mr- Lilley: Weren’t you in Mitchell in February last, and didn’t you see the tracker there? — No, I did not.
Was Doyle in Mitchell? — No, I was only there in the night.
Now you sometimes wear a red tie? — I never wore A RED TIE in my life, I do not like the color.
You had a tie with red on it? — Yes.
Witness said he wore a brown felt hat, a gray coat and beaver moleskin trousers, but had not worn them together. He was at Carnarvon on the 28th of March. He had some from Warrong. He did not pass Marlong and Western Branch yard. They took a direct line from Sunday Creek. They left Warrong fairly early. It was about 33 miles from there to Carnarvon and they got there about 7 or 7.30 p.m. Pat was with him. They had only two horses. They were looking- for some horses, a chestnut horse particularly, which was a favorite of Pat’s. They went to the kitchen because they saw a fight there.
Where did you come from before you came from Warrong? — Merivale Downs.
When did you come from there ?— On the 28th, the day before.
You were told the chestnut was on the Deloogerah Plain?— Yes.
Were you going to got him ? — Yes.
When? — As we went across that night.

In the nighttime?— Yes.
What did you want to see Dahlke for? — To see if Ryan was telling lies and to fetch him before him.
What did you want to bring Ryan before Dahlke for?— Because he was his boss ; to prove that he didn’t give me a hiding — Ryan didn’t.
You went for a double purpose — to kill two birds with one stone ?— I thought I would ask when I saw Ryan.
How long has the chestnut horse been lost? — It was lost since about January.
Then you had your time cut out to get to Roma?— Yes.
How many miles is it from Carnarvon to Roma by the route you proposed to go? — I could not tell you the distance.
Tell me how many miles — you had your work cut out? — I KNEW I COULD DO IT. I don’t know the exact distance to tell the truth.
You’re too old a bushman for that you know?— I knew it was about three days by day and night to get there for the off-day races as we wanted to do.
Why did you not go straight from Warrong?—Because we went to Carnarvon to get that chestnut horse and any others we could pick up.
If you were going to Roma, why did you want horses?— To put them to grass. There is no grass about there.
And the houses were in bad trim?— Grass was failing ; it had been good about there.
You picked up Darramundi?— Yes, at Merivale on the morning of March 29.
You were going to travel him day and night and race him at Roma? — Yes.
You expect us to believe that?— I don’t know what I expect you to believe but I was going to do it.

Continuing James Kenniff said the camp where he boiled the billy was half or three quarters of a mile from Carnarvon. The reason he did not take Darramundi to the Roma races was because he went lame. They were going to have a try to get to Roma for the off day. Pat rode a mare called Faithful, and he rode Whitefoot, both very fair horses. It was a matter of chance whether they picked up horses on the way. He did not say that they had ridden 123 miles in 24 hours. He did not know whether they had ridden 95 miles.

You bet as a bookmaker? — No; I am A BIT OF AN AMATEUR.
Did you pass through Joyce’s selection? — No.

He said he did not know Boyce though he had heard of his selection; He passed it on the morning of April 4. It was some time in June when he saw the notice on the tree.
You saw a notice offering a reward of £1000 for you and your brother ? — Yes ; we were going across the line to Mitchell.
As soon as you saw the notice you turned back? — No, not exactly turned back ; we
turned to our right.
Were you surprised to hear of the reward for your arrest? — I was.
Why did you turn back? We were considering. We did not know what to do.
I dare say — I quite agree with you ?— We were thinking about that notice — of the position we were placed in.
Why did you not come into the police court and give yourselves up— you were not frightened? — We were a bit surprised.
Yon had nothing to fear? — That notice didn’t look too good.
Why didn’t you give yourselves up? — We came to that conclusion afterwards.
Witness said that they came in near Mitchell the day before they were arrested. He could not remember how many days they camped after seeing that notice. He mostly carried a revolver with him. He carried one to shoot birds and wallabies and for practice. He also liked shooting with a revolver. They carried Winchester rifles because they occasionally did a bit of scalping.
What was your reason for being out on June 23 armed to the teeth? — We mostly carried rifles. We hadn’t revolvers.
The rations they had belonged to his brother Pat. He had had his rifle since ’89. Pat had his from about the same time. Pat got his from a man named Hanran. He saw Mulholland about 9 o’clock on March 30.
He was further questioned regarding the conversation he had with Mulholland, and as to how Mulholland was dressed on that occasion. He was also questioned closely as to his knowledge of Lethbridge’s Pocket. While out for the two months they had flour and occasionally SHOT BIRDS AND WALLABIES, and stewed them. They had no beef or vegetables, nor did they go into Mitchell for a drink. Why they did not go into Mitchell was because they had no business there and their silver was short.
Were you not keeping out of the haunts of civilisation?— No, we were not.
What were you doing? — We were taking horses and looking for a piece of country — looking for grass for eight horses.
Looking for grass for eight horses for three months?
Mr. McGrath: It is not three months.
James Kenniff: We had nothing else to do.
Mr. Lilley: That is what you want us to believe?— I don’t know what you believe, Mr. Lilley, but that is what we did.
They arrived in the Mitchell district in April.
Mr. McGrath: You were asked about being armed to the teeth. Is that extraordinary in those parts? — No.
It is a common occurrence amongst blacks and whites? — Yes.
Robert James Thornton, a station-hand, deposed that he was at Boyce’s selection on the evening of March 29. Next morning he went down Hutton Creek with Mulholland looking for horses. About 9 o’clock they saw a man in a camp. Witness here pointed out James Kenniff as this man. Presently Patrick Kenniff came out of the scrub leading three horses. Mulholland was yarning to these two men for about an hour. He did not pay much attention to what was said. They were talking about racing chiefly. Getting on for 11 o’clock he and Mulholland left. Mulholland said, “Those are the two Kenniffs.” On the following Wednesday witness left Boyce’s for Westgrove Station, where he was scalping for some time. He had been about three days at Westgrove when he heard of the murders of Doyle and Dahlke.
In answer to Mr. Lilley the witness retailed his own movements both before and after March 30. He also described how the Kenniffs were dressed when he saw them and the general appearance of their camp.
He knew about a week after Easter Sunday that the police were after the Kenniffs. The police had never asked him about the men.
Mr. Lilley: Why didn’t you tell the police what you are telling us now?— Witness (after a pause): BECAUSE I DIDN’T.
He had never gone under the name of Harper, nor ridden as a jockey in races. It was not his business to tell the police anything. He had said to some people that he knew the Kenniffs were innocent. To Mr. McGrath he said that he had written to his sister in Brisbane.
His Honor: That is not evidence.
Mr. McGrath: I will call the sister.
His Honor (to witness): How do you fix the Sunday as Easter Sunday? I suppose you don’t celebrate Easter regularly in the West? — I thought of the date afterwards and fixed it in my mind.
John Edward Mulholland, a fencer, deposed that he was under remand on a charge of being accessory after the fact of murder. He then retailed his meeting with James and Patrick Kenniff at Hutton’s Creek on March 30 about 9 a.m. Hutton’s Creek was 94 miles from Lethbridge’s Pocket. This witness said that Jim Kenniff was the most brilliant horseman he had ever seen, while Pat was a first-class stockman.
To Mr. Lilley the witness said he knew it was Easter .Sunday when he saw the Kenniffs from an almanac. As A GOOD CHRISTIAN, he always observed Easter. Before his arrest, he did not tell the police, anything about the Kenniffs. Afterwards he said that he had not seen, either of them for many months. He was justified in telling that lie, he said, because he had to defend himself. Mr. Lilley heckled the witness on this point, but failed to obtain any satisfaction. Mulholland stuck to it that what he told the police after his arrest was said in self-defence, but now he was speaking the truth. Whoa his evidence was concluded the court rose for the-day.
On Friday morning James Kenniff, re-called by Mr. McGrath, stated that he saw his father in Lethbridge’s Pocket when a man named Brown was there. Pat was with him. It was after Patrick had been released from Mitchell in February last. It was a mistake when he said January.
In answer to Mr. Lilley James Kenniff said Brown, who was in charge of Meteor Downs, gave his father notice to leave. Why, he could not say. He did not know whether there were any horses, or cattle stolen. He was not in Mitchell the time Pat was fined £20 for travelling without a way-bill. He did not know nor had he heard that Cleary’s horse was stolen the night Pat was released. He had not heard that Sunnyvale had been burned down after Pat was released.
Patrick Kenniff then gave his evidence from the dock in a very low voice. His evidence was similar to that given by his brother James. He denied drawing a revolver in Ryan’s presence, or making any threats to him. He had only once seen Dahlke. He was not at Lethbridge’s Pocket on March 30 last.
In answer to Mr. Lilley Pat said he knew Doyle and Sam Johnson, but did not know Dahlke. He had ridden the mare Boadicea. He had seen Dahlke once at the station, and had spoken to him for half an hour. Before the night of March 28 he had not seen Tom since February. Tom struck their camp by accident, and he was watching to flee if his father came back from Babiloora. Tom told him he had come from Skeleton Creek, and was going back. Patrick said he went to the station to see if there were any of his horses running on Deloogerah, because they had been bred there. He wanted the chestnut horse in particular. Deeloogerah was, seven or eight miles from Carnarvon. They had to come through Deeloogerah to Carnarvon from Warrong. They were afterwards going to the ROMA RACES.
They made up their minds to go to Roma races on the way to Carnarvon Station.
Roma. was about 140 or 150 miles away. It might be 180 miles from Warrong to Carnarvon and back to Roma was not over 200 miles. James had never been through that country before. To Hutton Creek from Merivale run was 40 miles. From Hutton Creek to Roma was about 60 miles. They proposed to go 170 miles from the Friday morning till Monday morning to get to Roma. It was quite easy. He once rode from Mitchell to Merivale.
His Honor: How far is that? — 100 miles I suppose.
Mr. Lilley: On a grass-fed horse ? — Yes.
Continuing, Pat said he did not ride Darramundi hard. They camped on the Friday at Warrong and had breakfast there. They had dinner at the junction of Sunday Creek and Deloogerah. They had Johnny-cake and meat; no pumpkin. They had a rug but NO RIFLES OR REVOLVERS when they left Carnarvon. The revolvers were where he left his rations on Merivale 30 miles from Hutton Creek. They called nowhere between Carnarvon and Hutton Creek camp. They got their rifles and revolvers about Thursday the 2nd or 3rd of April. He went to gaol about three and half years ago.
What were you in gaol for? — For receiving a stolen cheque.
How long were you under arrest before your trial? — About six weeks.
Patrick said they did not find the horses he had lost. The eight horses they had with them were their own property. They did not wait till it was dark to go through Mitchell. He did not think that they had kept out of civilisation. He saw a notice on a tree, which Jim read out to him. They didn’t exactly turn back then, but considered what they would do. It gave them A BIT OF A SCARE when they saw the notice.
Why didn’t you go in and give yourselves up? — We decided afterwards to do that.
Why should you be frightened if you were innocent? — I wasn’t a bit frightened.
Mr. Lilley: But you said just a moment ago that you were.
Pat: So would you get scared if you saw that notice.
Mr. Lilley: Not if I was innocent.
Continuing, he said he did not know what to think of the horse-tracks about the waterhole. He did not think tho police were after them. He was not armed to the teeth when arrested he generally carried a rifle with him. His father had money with him
and kept the sons. Patrick further said he was looking for a place more than anything.
He was a stockman. He had no fixed place of abode. James bought, and broke in horses and he had no fixed place of abode. He understood that his father was going to Euraway. He was arrested for stealing Merivale horses. Mr. Snelling was the manager. He did not know Boyce. When released, the police handed over 28 horses and kept eight. Some wore knocked up and some died. He did not pass through Sunnyvale after his release, he was about 15 miles distant.
Did you hear after you were released from gaol that the station house was burned down? — I heard that in Mitchell. I had heard that it was unoccupied. It was near Merivale Station.
On their way to Hutton Creek from Carnarvon they took rations, FLOUR, TEA AND SUGAR. They carried it on the horse in a slip-bag.
To Mr. McGrath: He had not received those eight horses from the police. A man named Ferrier paid the fine and he gave him six horses as security. The horses were sold and Ferrier got paid.
One of the jury then handed up a question to his Honor that he would like to ask Patrick Kenniff, but the judge said the information required had better be obtained from another witness.
Thomas Kenniff, aged 19 brother of the two prisoners, was next called. He narrated his movements on March 28. After he left Patrick and James he went to Skeleton Creek, passing, within 25 miles of Lethbridge’s Pocket. On Easter Sunday he was not at or near the Pocket. From the time he left Euraway Springs he was in his father’s company.
To Mr. Stumm: He left Skeleton Creek in the afternoon to go to Carnarvon Station.
He expected his father and brother would be coming that way. He went to Carnarvon to see if anybody had seen his father. He intended to stay at Carnarvon TILL THE MOON ROSE. His horses at this time were 19 or 20miles from the junction of Meteor and Skeleton Creeks. He left at daybreak the next day. He was camped at the head of Skeleton Creek. He was going to take seven horses for feed. He was in no hurry at all. The other 14 horses were on the road. Pat and Jim said they were going straight away to Mitchell. He did not know the large flat rock is in the pocket. They had hidden some saddles in a cave. There was a racing saddle amongst them. It belonged to any of them and had been last used by Jim. Pat and Jim did not tell him where they had come from. He was not at the station kitchen with them. He remembered having a conversation with Senior-sergeant Rody Byrne. He did not say that , they got to the camp on Monday. He said to Senior-sergeant Byrne, “I saw my brothers Pat and Jim about a fortnight ago on the Thursday or Friday at Carnarvon Station before my father came from Babiloora”. He was last at the pocket on March 7 or 8 last. His father put the gear in the cave.
John Kenniff, another brother aged 17, gave evidence relative to he and his father going to Babiloora.
James Kenniff, senr., said he was a stock-keeper. He deposed that he was ordered from Lethbridge’s Pocket by a man named Brown in February last. Jim and Pat left that day. He and his two sons, John and Tom then went to Skeleton Creek and John and he went on to Babiloora for some horses leaving Tom behind. At Warrego Police Station he saw Doyle and Millard. They had a look at the horses. He went back to Skeleton Creek. Tom was not there, but he arrived later during the night of Friday, March 28. Witness had 18 horses with him, and he left 11 of them at the creek where there was PLENTY OF WATER.
He took the other seven down to Bull’s run, at the new yards, and from there he went to Euraway Springs. There he saw a man named Dempsey or Macintosh. Stopped there from Monday till the Saturday, when he and Tom and John were arrested. He was 65 years of age. He could not read or write. He had not seen Pat or Jim since February till he saw them in the police court.
To Mr. Lilley: He could not say what month it was he got to Lethbridge’s Pocket.
The court then adjourned for lunch.
After the luncheon adjournment James Kenniff sen., was further cross-examined by Mr. Lilley and said that he took the camp away from the pocket, though he hid some
things there. He camped at Skeleton Creek one night. Next day he went to Carnarvon and then to Babiloora, where he got two horses. It was a rough road from Skeleton Creek to Carnarvon, but it was easy going back. From Skeleton Creek to Carnarvon was about 25 miles. He saw George Smith (who was called in and identified) at Skeleton Creek. He did not ask him the way to the rails. At the pocket he left some flour and a JOCKEY’S S SADDLE AND BRIDLE. He took over a fortnight’s rations with him Brown hunted him out. He was not afraid of the police.
James Telford, a station hand of Mitchell, said he knew both the prisoners and Doyle. He also knew Dahlke’s mare Boadicea ; he was in Mitchell in February last, when Pat Kenniff was discharged, and helped to carry some saddles, etc., from the court to the hotel. He saw Pat’s revolver. It was different to the one in court. Darramundi and Faithful were faster than Boadicea. Both prisoners were first-class horsemen and bushmen. Dahlke riding Boadicea would have no chance of catching either Darramundi or Faithful, especially in the scrub. It was a common thing for bushmen to carry revolvers. Witness had carried one for four and a half years. There were PLENTY OF SCALPERS about the district both black and white, particularly black, who were armed. He would not believe Jos. Ryan on his oath. In answer to Mr. Lilley witness said he had not heard of Cleary’s horse being stolen. He had heard of Sunnyvale Station being burned down some time after Pat Kenniff’s release. He would be surprised to hear that James Kenniff had said that he was not in Mitchell.
Edward Brown a blacksmith, identified a short-barrelled revolver as being one he saw
in James KennifTs possession. He know Joseph Ryan, and had experience of him. He would hardly believe Ryan on his oath. It was a very common thing for men to go about armed in those districts.
Charles Wm. Maconochie, a drover, gave evidence of giving a revolver to Patrick Kenniff. He gave him the revolver in January last. This witness gave an instance of the docility of the police horse George, which he di not consider to be a touchy horse.
To Mr. Lilley: He knew Jim Kenniff well. He saw him at Springsure, but had no conversation with him about Doyle and Dahlke.
Mr. McGrath then announced the close of his case.
In rebuttal, Mr. Lilley called Charles P. Tom who said that the distance from Carnarvon to Lethbridge’s Pocket was 18 or 20 miles. The Springsure road runs down towards Skeleton Creek, from a turn-off it would be six miles to the pocket, and one would have to cross a range. From Lethbridge’s Pocket to Skeleton Creek as the crow flies is about 6 miles ; to ride it would be 9 miles. From Carnarvon House to Skeleton Creek is about 15 miles. That
would be to the head. The best way to Skeleton Creek would be along the Springsure road. From the pocket to the junction of the Meteor and Skeleton Creeks would be 18 miles. From there to the New Yards it would be 13 miles. He did not know how far the distance was to Euraway Spring, as he had never been to that country.
George Smith, a laborer, residing at Springsure said that on Easter Sunday night he was camped at Meteor Creok at what was called Brown’s Yard. He saw James Kenniff senr., and two boys that night. They arrived somewhere about 11 o’clock. He was asleep when they came and their talking awakened him.
To Mr. McGrath: He was served with a summons last Sunday week. He had no particular reason to keep these facts in his mind.
To his Honor: He kept the fire alight. He LIT A FIRE to guide them through he gate.
To Mr. Lilley: He gave a statement to the police some months ago at Rockhampton v Michael Dillon (recalled) gave evidence relating to certain statements made by Mulholland, who stated that he had known the boys and the old man but had seen very little of them for the last twelve months.
Senior-Sergeant Rody Byrne was next called and stated that he recollected arresting the three Kenniffs, the father and Tom and John at Euraway Springs. They said they arrived there on Sunday, March 30, at 12 o’clock. He had a conversation with Thos. Kenniff.
This closed the evidence called in rebuttal.
Mr. McGrath then made application to have the case adjourned till the following
morning but His Honor could not see fit to grant any adjournment.
Mr. McGrath then commenced his address to the jury, and had not finished when the
court rose for the day at 6 p.m.
returning to gaol.png
[To be concluded…]
“The Crown says Doyle Was “Butchered to Death by these Two Fiends.”” Truth (Brisbane, Qld. : 1900 – 1954) 9 November 1902: 5.

The Bloody Pound: The Wrath of the Clarke Syndicate 


As 1866 bled into 1867 the New South Wales government were increasingly desperate over the situation with the Clarke syndicate, that being the gang of bushrangers themselves and the network of sympathisers that worked together with them to ensure their ongoing career of banditry. The gang, led by the indefatigable Thomas Clarke, showed no signs of slowing down as they raided stores, robbed travellers and coaches and led the local police a merry dance – even with deaths and arrests of some of their number to contend with. In a bold move the New South Wales government began recruiting special constables to complement the overworked police force.

Specially selected by Sir Henry Parkes to form his own task force, John Carroll was a former warder at Darlinghurst Gaol with a military background. Eneas McDonnell, a former policeman, John Phegan, a former clerk and digger, and Patrick Kennagh, another former prison warder, were soon recruited and provided what should have been the perfect mix of skills and knowledge to nail down the Clarkes.

Arriving in Braidwood by coach, the special constables set about blending into the town while simultaneously gathering intelligence on the bushrangers and their sympathisers. Carroll found himself gobsmacked to see police officers fraternising with sympathisers, some seemingly even in romantic entanglements. This was obviously not an ideal set of circumstances for tracking down and capturing the outlaws.

In the mid-1860s attitudes towards bushrangers were very negative on the whole after the years of almost unmitigated roguery in New South Wales in particular at the hands of Gardiner, Hall, Morgan and their ilk. That the Clarke gang was being protected and supported by a syndicate of supporters was common knowledge in the region and recommendations had been made to have the leases of anyone harbouring or assisting the bushrangers revoked. This was cancelled before being implemented but highlighted the deep concerns the police and government had about the role of such a syndicate in the perpetuation of crime. Now with the belief that police officers were also in on the act, Carroll was about ready to blow the lid on the sordid state of affairs.

Word soon fed back to Thomas Clarke, the head of the gang, that there were plain-clothes officers in town and the sympathisers refused to cooperate with the special constables. Furthermore the special police had been fired upon at their camp, seemingly by the bushrangers, though the darkness had kept the true identities of the assailants secret. Frustrated, Carroll initiated a plan that would seal the fate of he and his men. In a blitz, the special constables arrested sympathisers and relatives and claimed horses and equipment that had been taken or used by the bushrangers. The aim was to starve the gang of their supporters and means of survival to bring them into the open. The plan was swift and effective despite local constabulary trying to stymie the effort out of jealousy and more than a little worry about this would impact their own interests and reputations. The local police had taken umbrage to the idea that the government would bring in outsiders to do their job as much as they had resented Carroll’s interference, and Carroll complained publicly that he and his team had endured greater obstruction in their undertaking from the police than from the Clarkes.

Information about the arrests and reclaimed property filtered through the remaining members of the syndicate back to Tommy Clarke who was incensed at this outrage. The Clarke syndicate was a wide-spread but delicate web of relatives and friends that covered Braidwood and outlying towns with Thomas Clarke at the centre like a spider receiving feedback from the sensitive strands, and such bold moves by the special constables could easily destroy the whole thing and make he and his gang very vulnerable. Something had to be done.

Details of the precise events that followed are shrouded in mystery even to this day, and while many have speculated on the players and the way it unfolded, and many more have stated categorically that they know what happened for a fact, any interpretation can only be an educated guess. What follows is a recounting of the most widely accepted version of events, though it must be stressed this is not the definitive account.

Carroll and his men were patrolling the district and responded to a summons to the outskirts of Braidwood. Word had reached Carroll that he could find Thomas Clarke a mere two miles from Jingera. The group travelled through Ballalaba towards Stony Creek where they stopped at Mick O’Connell’s for dinner. They then continued to Jinden station where they stayed the night, stopping along the way to make enquiries. The next morning they set off towards Braidwood with the intention of rendezvousing with a party at Watts’ Station. Carroll suggested they walk to gain the element of surprise should the information prove true. They had lunch and proceeded on foot to cover the five miles to Braidwood, keeping off the tracks to avoid being spotted or followed. As they left they were warned to be cautious. This would be the last time they were seen alive.

At 5.00pm shots rang out on the outskirts of Braidwood. Half an hour later more shots were heard. Nothing much was thought of it. As the evening took hold the waiting party at Smith’s station grew concerned at the continuing absence of Connell and his men. A scout was sent by Smith to investigate their whereabouts in case they were lost and found the bodies of McDonnell and Phegan on the road. He ran back and took others with him to investigate. Half a mile away from McDonnell and Phegan, Kennagh and Carroll were found. Word was sent to the nearest police station where it was received at 7.00pm. The police had evidently been lured into a trap, the place where the shooting took place conspicuous by a clearing surrounded by substantial bush, saplings and honeysuckle trees with two particularly large trees a mere twenty-three yards from where the first bodies were found, estimated to be capable of obscuring almost half a dozen men from view. The clearing ascended to a gentle slope overlooking the scene of the crime. There was no way the police could have defended themselves from the ambush.

The deaths were mysterious but the police determined that as the troopers were walking they were ambushed and shot, two on the road, two on the hilltop. Carroll’s body was discovered with a bloodied one pound note pinned to his chest, and seemingly executed. The bodies had not been robbed or otherwise interfered with indicating that this was a deliberate killing, not a case of things escalating out of control in a robbery gone wrong. The bloody pound was seemingly a threat to anyone who dared to interfere with anyone within the Clarke syndicate. Trackers found signs that horses had been tethered to trees about three hundred yards from Phegan and McDonnell. It didn’t take long for the finger to be pointed at Thomas Clarke, John Clarke and William Scott. The authorities all seemed to have a list of names of people they suspected of helping the gang to track the special constables.

Finding Bodies.png

The scene was examined in more detail in hope of finding clues or answers. News quickly seeped out and there was much distress with reports of the men allegedly being attacked by a mob and Carroll’s legs being horrifically broken among other indignities. A magisterial inquiry was carried out on 11 February with medical evidence presented by Dr. Pattison:

John Carroll: I am of opinion that death was caused by a gun-shot wound ; that the wounds were inflicted by the bullet removed, which entered the body through the fourth rib anteriorly, passing through part of left lung, upper part of pericardium, right auricle and right ventricle of heart, passing through lower lobe posteriorly of right lung, fracturing the seventh rib posteriorly, close to the spinal column, the bullet lodging in the muscles of the back. I am also of opinion that deceased must have been in a kneeling position when shot and only a few yards from the weapon which I believe to have been a rifle or gun from which bullet was discharged.
Patrick Kennagh : I am of opinion that death was caused by wounds inflicted by a rifle ball of large dimensions. I am also of opinion that deceased was in a kneeling position when shot. The bullet entered through the ponum adami of thyroid cartilage in neck and passed downward through trachea and upper part of gullet, passing through upper part of left lung, and wounding vessels already described, fracturing part of first dorsal vertebra and passing through the body posteriorly, fracturing rib about an inch from spinal column.
Ennis [sic] McDonnell : Wounded in left, thigh about middle third, wounding femoral artery and vein, and fracturing femur. Removed portion of bullet from inner and upper surface of thigh bone, am of opinion that deceased must have been in an erect position, probably walking, and in the act of turning round when bullet entered thigh. Death must have taken place in a minute or two after infliction of wound. I am of opinion wound must have been produced by rifle ball at some distance (say twenty yards) from party firing. Only part of the bullet entered the thigh.
John Phegan : I am of opinion that deceased was first shot through right side, bullet passing through base of right lung, diaphghram and posterior portion of liver as already described, lodging in the tissues external to the ninth rib posteriorly close to the spinal column: The bullet was a rifle bullet. A second bullet entered body probably when deceased was lying on the ground passing between fifth and sixth ribs on left side, through both lungs, wounding large blood vessels of heart, making its exit in the right side immediately above margin of lateral surface of third rib, entering right arm while deceased was lying on that arm, passing through the inner and upper part of right arm, fracturing the bone and embedding itself, in the tissues, where I removed it as I have elsewhere described.

The bodies were recovered and hastily buried in a pauper’s grave marked by sheets of bark but public outcry saw the men exhumed and given a proper funeral and burial at Braidwood Cemetery, paid for by the New South Wales government. The procession was long and the loss of the men cemented public hatred for the Clarkes. Soon the Clarke gang were declared to be outlaws and a reward of £5000 pounds offered for their capture yet the identities of the exact men who carried out the foul deed was never uncovered. The murder of the special constables had earned Thomas Clarke and his cohort the title of the “bloodiest bushrangers”.

Selected Sources:

“MURDER OF SPECIAL CONSTABLES CARROLL, PHEGAN, McDONNELL AND KENNAGH.” Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 – 1872) 16 February 1867: 4.

“THE MURDER. OF THE FOUR CONSTABLES. AT JINGERA.” Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875)15 January 1867: 4.

“THE BRAIDWOOD BUSHRANGING CASES.” The Goulburn Herald and Chronicle (NSW : 1864 – 1881) 19 December 1866: 2.

Special thanks:

Joshua Little for his expertise on the Clarkes.