previous
next

V

Through my friendship with a sub-inspector of police I had some rather exciting experiences at Port Augusta. There was in the neighbourhood a dangerous character named Leach, who had been originally in the British Navy and had also at one time been outlawed as a sort of bushranger in the Flinders Ranges. He was employed as a gardener in a remote part of the district at the foot of the Ranges. His


  ― 40 ―
employer went one day to the garden, and as he did not find Leach at work he went to his camp and asked him why he was idling. Some difference occurred between them. Leach, who had a repeating rifle and was a dead shot, said that if the other did not clear out he would put a bullet through his hat, and if he didn't go then, he would put a second one through his head. No notice was taken of the threat, so Leach promptly put a bullet through the hat.

His employer left the camp in a hurry.

The police were sent for, and a couple of constables arrived many hours later. Meanwhile the camp had been barricaded by Leach, and when they attempted to enter he sent a bullet through one of their helmets, declaring that if they persisted he would shoot them both dead. Since they knew he would carry out his threat, they, too, thought discretion the better part of valour.

They reported to Sub-Inspector Field that Leach could not be taken alive without loss of life. He decided to go to the place with half a dozen men with rifles and invited me to accompany him.

After a drive of some ten miles we arrived on the scene. Leach was in a tent surrounded by a high, thick, circular collection of brushwood—a sort of brush fence. The entrance in the fence was barricaded. A good quick shot such as Leach could easily have shot a dozen policemen dead before they could force their way through the brushwood. There were on the spot eight or nine policemen who were careful to keep out of sight of the man in the tent.

From behind the shelter of an iron tank the sub-inspector called on Leach to surrender to the law.




  ― 41 ―

“You'll never take me alive,” cried Leach in reply.

He followed this remark with a long string of oaths and threats against the police.

The sub-inspector withdrew. The situation was difficult to handle.

After consideration he arranged for four of the police with loaded rifles to crawl to where they had a clear view of the camp whilst his party remained concealed.

Returning to the tank, the sub-inspector called out and said that he had the tent covered by police rifles and that he would order them to fire several volleys through the tent if Leach did not come out and give himself up.

Leach laughed loudly, the laugh of a maniac. “I'll get some of you yet,” he cried.

The sub-inspector endeavoured to reason with him, but, having failed, he told the man that his blood would be on his own head.

The officer then gave the signal, the four police fired, sending four bullets whistling through the canvas of the tent.

Leach laughed loudly as firing ceased.

The sub-inspector warned him that another volley would be fired.

A scoffing laugh came from the tent. A second volley was fired.

The laughter of Leach was louder than before.

A third volley was sent through the tent.

“You're rotten bad shots,” yelled Leach. “Fire away,” he added, “you can't hit me.”

It was assumed that he had dug a pit inside his tent and so escaped.




  ― 42 ―

The sub-inspector and the police retired, and a conference was held.

Two or three were in favour of rushing the tent. Wiser heads pointed out that it would be foolish to risk valuable lives. The suggestion was made that firesticks should be thrown at the brushwood, but there was no use trying it as the weather was damp and the wood would not burn.

It was finally decided that a lengthy ship's rope should be got from Port Augusta, that one end of it should be tied round a tree during the night and that part of it should be left slack on the ground round the brushwood. A team of horses would then pull at the loose end so that when it tightened it would draw the brushwood and tent into a heap and force the occupant to come out.

A couple of nights later the rope was placed round the brushwood.

At daybreak there were more than a dozen police assembled with their rifles. Everything was in readiness. The signal was given for the horses, which were behind a rise, to haul at the rope. They did so, and simply walked away with a slack rope.

Leach from his tent gave a wild shriek of delight. He had gone out during the night and cut the rope.

The sub-inspector was much troubled by the problem he had to solve. His difficulties were increased by telegrams from Adelaide. The Premier, Mr. Kingston, impetuously wired to know if one man was defying all the police of the north. It was decided that the rope scheme should be repeated with a wire rope, which would be difficult to cut and which would be watched at night.




  ― 43 ―

After a delay of some days all the arrangements were completed.

A wire rope was placed around the brushwood.

By this time the chief of the police in the state and an inspector as well as Sub-Inspector Field were on the ground. Over twenty police were present. They had an old cart made bullet-proof by sand-bags, and from behind the shelter of this they could approach close to the brushwood in comparative safety.

In the grey of the early dawn all was in readiness.

The word was given, the horses began to move. Leach fired a shot.

A black fellow in charge of the horses cried out, “Me no want to be shot.” He could be seen running over a rise as fast as his legs would carry him.

The horses, startled by the rifle shot, rushed on, and everything happened as expected. The brushwood was drawn on the top of the tent.

Leach could do nothing. He had to come out into the open. He was white-faced, keen-eyed, in his bare feet, a small, alert-looking man, carrying his rifle with the air of one accustomed and ready to use it at a second's notice. He was covered by rifles and revolvers. The officer in charge, pointing a revolver at him, said:

“Drop your rifle or you are a dead man.”

“Give me a minute and I will,” was the reply.

Leach stooped as if to put the rifle on the ground. He suddenly raised his toe to the trigger and, pulling it, fired, blowing off half his head.

We rushed up. He was dead, the hot blood flowing copiously from his wound. It was a dramatic, tragic scene.




  ― 44 ―

The police received some adverse criticism for the delay occasioned. An outcry would have been raised had there been further loss of life over the affair, and in view of the difficulty of the problem involved I think they deserved praise rather than blame.

About this time there was much talk about the Western Australian gold discoveries which were just then causing considerable excitement. Coolgardie was between one thousand and one thousand one hundred miles to the direct westward of Port Augusta, but communication was by a roundabout sea, railway and road journey. One party with camels left Port Augusta and succeeded in reaching Coolgardie after what was virtually an exploring trip. I decided to try my luck on the then new goldfields.

The papers had reports of new and rich gold discoveries, but they also gave sensational accounts of the want of drinking water, of deaths from thirst and privation, and asserted that for every one man who was successful in making a rich find there were hundreds of disappointed prospectors. The death roll from typhoid was enormous, and men were warned against going.

My friends urged me to remain.

“For God's sake don't go there,” they said. “Where men are dying like flies, your looks are such you can't last long.”

I told them I would chance it. I resigned my post.

I was given a public municipal farewell at Port Augusta, and I left for Adelaide. From there I sailed for Albany, Western Australia.

previous
next