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Chapter V.

THE NEPEAN RIVER—ESTATES IN THE VALLEY—EMU PLAINS—LAPSTONE HILL—CONVICT LABOUR—A PENINSULAR BONIFACE—BULLOCK DRAYS AND DRIVERS—FOREST TREES—BLUE MOUNTAIN INN—BUSH FIRES—BLACK-HEATH—CONVICT STOCKADE—RUNAWAYS—MURDERS—BUSH-RANGERS—ANECDOTES—MOUNTED POLICE—THEIR CONFLICTS WITH BANDITTI AND BLACKS—CAPTURES—JUVENILE BRIGANDAGE.

THE view from the Ferry inn, looking westward, is very striking. Right in front, across the Nepean, the long range of the Blue Mountains rises abruptly out of the dreary, sun-baked flat of Emu Plains—those Blue Mountains so long, (nearly a quarter of a century, indeed,) the western boundary of New South Wales; for it was not until the year 1815, when the great road was completed, that Governor Macquarie travelled by it to the champaign country beyond these Australian Pyrenees, and announced to the colonists the newly laid open land of promise. Thitherto the territory occupied by the English extended only eighty miles north and south of Port Jackson, by forty from that harbour to the base of the hills.

Many and desperate attempts had indeed been made by enterprising individuals to penetrate and explore


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this great natural barrier. As the flocks and herds increased, and wider pastures became a question of life and death to them and of ruin or prosperity to their owners, these attempts became more resolutely obstinate, and were ultimately crowned with success.

Through a deep gorge a few miles south of the ferry, the Nepean bursts upon the low country with a tribute of fresh water such as is nowhere equalled in the settled districts of this arid continent. Passing onwards in its fertilising course, and washing the townships of Richmond and Windsor, it, unreasonably enough, changes its name to the Hawkesbury, and finally loses itself in the estuary of Wide Bay on the eastern coast.

There are some really fine estates in this neighbourhood; that of the late Sir John Jamison is in sight of the inn. The name of Regentville, is, in the mind of old colonists, associated with the times and practice of unbounded hospitality and profuse expenditure, such as never again will be seen in New South Wales.

A whole clan of the family of Cox are settled along the river's banks within visiting distance of each other, and, on family epochs, meet together in formidable numbers. At a later date I passed some pleasant hours at two of the houses of this family.

Fernhill, the residence of Mr. Edward Cox, is only a few miles from Penrith. A handsome stone house overlooks by far the most lovely and extensive landscape—as a home view—I ever met with in Australia; and its beauty is much enhanced by the taste and success of the proprietor in weeding out the thinly leafed and unsightly kinds of the gum-tree, and


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preserving only that species of the Eucalyptus called the apple-tree, which, with its stout gnarled branches and crisp tufted foliage, is, when standing alone or in clumps on parkish looking ground, by no means a bad representative of the English oak. Were it not for the vineyards and wine-houses at Fernhill, a stranger might imagine himself at the country-house of some substantial English 'squire.

Mr. Cox's neighbours north and south in the beautiful vale of Mulgoa are two of his brothers. The three estates comprise about 11,000 acres, and, all being cleared in the same tasteful manner—not a stump left to deface the pastures—there is an unity of homelike landscape unlike anything else of the kind I have met with out of England. The vale of Mulgoa, along which these properties extend, looks, from the heights of Fernhill, as if it were intended to be the bed of the Hawkesbury. This great river, however, after meandering about for some distance among the sunny meads of the peaceful and fertile valley, turns abruptly into the mountains, and, losing itself for twelve or fourteen miles among wild crags and dismal forests, re-appears through a grand rocky portal, placid and smiling, upon the Emu Plains, and so takes leave of the Blue Mountains for ever, on its way towards the ocean.

In my wanderings along the valley of the Hawkesbury, I have seen the properties, with handsome dwelling-houses on them, of six of the Cox family, inherited from their father, who, like many of the oldest and wealthiest of the colonists, served formerly in the New South Wales corps. To persons like him a grant of


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land from Government was the foundation of a fortune; to many others only the commencement of ruin.

From Fernhill I rode one day to Regentville. There are sermons in its stones, in its gardens and vineries ruined and run to waste, its cattle-trampled pleasure grounds, its silent echoes. My foot sank through the floor where many a joyous measure had been trod. The rafters were rotting that had ofttimes rung to the merriment of host and guest; and, if rumour lies not, there were “sad doings” as well as merry ones at Regentville in the days of its prosperity!

Just below the park in the valley stands the huge shell of a steam-mill which cost 7,000l. and was intended for a mill of all trades; and not far from it a windmill equally remarkable for size and solidity. The steam-mill never got up its steam to any good purpose for its enterprising builder; and as for the windmill—putting aside its present want of sails—its position is so surrounded with high hills that it can never have raised the wind to a remunerative amount for him or any one else.

To return to Emu Ferry.

At mid-day we crossed the river by a punt running on a rope. The mode of traject is very inconvenient, and it is to be hoped the colony will soon be rich enough to afford a bridge.

The ardent and ignorant sportsman, who expects to find emus on Emu Plains, will no more succeed than he would in finding buffaloes in the streets of Buffalo on Lake Erie. As there are now no bisons within 1,000 miles of that go-a-head town, so there are no emus


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within 200 or 300 miles of the Plains named after that bird.

The river, now about 200 yards wide, appears to have formerly flowed over the whole expanse of the flat land, for on its thinly grassed surface are scattered quantities of large quartz boulders—pebbles such as Goliah might have slung at David, had their duel been conducted with slings “for two.”

I looked in vain for any traces of the Government agricultural establishment which had been formed and maintained at vast expense. The military, commissariat, and police stations have dwindled down to an invalid soldier or two in charge of sundry tumble-down buildings, and one or two fat constables full of beans and with nothing to do. If proofs of decadence such as this are chargeable on the withdrawal of the convict system, it requires some courage and self-denial to rejoice in the cause.

Having traversed the Plains for two miles as straight as a French causeway, the road runs plump against the Blue Mountains, or rather against that part of them called Lapstone Hill, and begins to wriggle up the ascent as best it can under the directing hand of the engineer.

The southern flank of a profound ravine abutting upon the Plains has been chosen for the eastern terminus of the Great Mountain Road; and I think there is no part of it finer or more creditable as a work.

The highway is absolutely carved out of the living rock. Huge slices of the hill side have been blown off by blasting, hurled by convict crowds into the gulph


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below, or pounded by them into the material now called Macadam. “Villanous saltpetre” and villanous humanity have been the great agents here, as in many other parts of New South Wales. Had England been always “virtuous,” there would have been no “cakes and ale” here. Had she reared no robbers and homicides, burglars and forgers, the Australian Colonies in general, and the Great Western Road in particular, would, in all human probability, never have existed.

On our right yawned a profound gully, at the bottom of which, struggling through water-worn crags and fallen logs,—proofs of foregone torrents,—was hardly to be discerned a wretched little streamlet, quite out of human reach. Beyond the gully rose a rough jagged precipice, with hardy and obstinate trees of large growth clinging to its face; enabling the traveller to form an estimate of the difficulties encountered in making the road on this side of the ravine. Right and left, above, below, the everlasting gum-tree filled the landscape;—the gum in all its varieties—and its varieties are scarcely various. But in the dark and damp spots near the water-course, the graceful casuarina, the delicate yellow-blossomed acacia, and a lofty kind of box, with small shining leaves, mingled branches refreshingly with the great staple of the bush.

At the top of Lapstone Hill the horses were allowed five minutes to recover their wind, and ourselves to admire a very pretty bridge thrown across the head of a dry gully. Among the scrub under the arch was a peach-tree in full blossom, evidently owing its birth to


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a stone thrown away by a fruit-eating traveller from the Plains.

At nine miles from the Nepean, having been one hour and fifty minutes in performing that distance, we reached the “Welcome Inn,” kept by a jolly old soldier named James, who rejoices in a Waterloo medal, a pretty daughter, and, what was more to our purpose than either, some excellent bottled ale. In these parts this delicacy costs 3s. a-bottle,—not a wonderful price when one considers the distance and difficulties between its native brewery on the banks of Trent and the top of the Australian Cordillera.

The old campaigner had fought through the Peninsula in the 40th regiment, as he informed me, and came out to this country in a company of veterans escorting prisoners. Three years later, when I paid him a second visit, his Waterloo medal had been joined by another, granted by her Majesty for Peninsular service, with two or three clasps for general actions; his pretty daughter had married and left him; and his ale had come down 6d. a-bottle.

Beyond this house we toiled through miles and miles of heavy sand, with dense forests on either hand, and without a human habitation to cheer the scene. The ascent, however, after the first thousand feet, is fortunately gradual. Here and there we met long caravans of drays, drawn by six or eight horses, or ten or twelve bullocks, and laden with wool-bales, hides, &c.: or we overtook similar vehicles charged with stores—tea, sugar, tobacco, &c.—chiefly for the


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great squatters of the interior; for in the distant districts, if the employers of labour failed to act as commissaries for the subsistence of their servants, the latter might starve, there being few and often no shops whence they could procure the commonest necessaries of life.

Wherever nature or the last thunder-storm had supplied a rill, a spring, a water-hole, or even a puddle, however muddy, we found encampments of these slow-moving wains, the horses and oxen hobbled and turned adrift to feed on the scanty herbage; some of the drivers cooking at the root of a huge half-burnt tree, that looked as if it had served as stove and oven time out of mind; others smoking in the shade, or sleeping on mattresses or fur rugs spread under their drays, where, at night, with the aid of a tarpaulin, they are secure from rain and dew. Strange, wild-looking, sun-burnt race, strong, rough, and taciturn, they appear as though they had never lived in crowds, and had lost the desire and even the power to converse. So deeply embrowned were the faces, naked breasts, and arms of these men, and so shaggy the crops of hair and beard, that a stranger had to look twice to be certain they were not Aborigines. I have seen many an oriental tribe much fairer in skin.

The halting-places seem to be well known and used by all. They are generally some small level plateau, whereon the grass grows greener from the manure of the frequent cattle. There were women with some of the bullock-drivers' camps, or perched on the moving drays, most of them meet helpmates for their rude partners; yet now and then, like a lily among the thistles,


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there peeped from under the awnings a pretty young face,—so fair and young, indeed, as to be hardly in its teens. Amongst the rugged and weather-worn males, old and middle-aged, I noticed some of the tallest and handsomest young men I ever saw.

Except in the gullies, the forest trees of these mountains are rather stunted than large. Among the leading trees are the Ironbark, with its tall, black, upright, and rugose trunk, looking the very picture of hardihood. The timber is extremely useful, making the strongest and most lasting fences. Under ground it resists rot as well as “Kyaned” oak at home. There is the Stringy Bark, a gum with the streamers of its epidermis twenty and thirty feet long, hanging like a beggar's garment from its ragged stem, or rolled up on the ground precisely like great sticks of cinnamon. There is the White Gum, with its smooth, polished, round, and naked boughs, looking so like human limbs as to be almost indecent in their nudity.

Among the smaller growth of the bush is the Bottle-brush, with its rigid cones and harsh leaf, contrasting sharply with two delicate and graceful neighbours,—the Exocarpus or native cherry, and the Wattle or Acacia, covered with golden bloom, and embalming the surrounding air. Beneath these, in some places, grew a showy underwood of Euphorbias, Epacris, Boronias, Correas, and I know not what besides. Gleaming through all was sand,—sand sufficient to supply Old Time's hour glass to all eternity.

Late in the afternoon—at 21 miles from Penrith and 40 from Paramatta, a hard day's journey—we reached


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“The Blue Mountain Inn” kept by the more civil brother of him of the Emu Ferry;—and a very creditable establishment.

This situation is 2,800 feet above the level of the sea, and the prospect very fine. Towards the north the eye ranges over the mountain tracts across the great ravine formed by the Grose River, until it lights upon Mount Thomar, rising like an island in the midst of the billowy forest. Whilst looking eastward through the clear air and over an immense expanse of hill and plain, the sandhills of Sydney are distinctly visible at a distance of 50 or 60 miles.

November 12th.—This day to Binning's Inn—34 miles. Starting at 6 A.M. we reached the Weather Board Hut, a police station, where there is also a tavern, in about an hour of heavy pulling. Here enthusiasts in scenery are expected to halt, in order to visit the Regent's Glen. Having however a long day's journey before us, and a scenic lion of the same character and calibre to visit at Blackheath—the half-way baiting place,—we pushed on, through sand and rock and gum forest, to Pulpit Hill—why so called I could neither guess nor discover; where we got a substantial and welcome breakfast on ham and eggs and a 'spatched cock—very literally—for we witnessed his pursuit and heard his death cries.

Thence onward, the scenery growing wilder, the climate cooler, we got some splendid glimpses of the sea of hills through which we were ploughing our way. On the right was pointed out the distant valley or rather gully of Cox's River, which cuts its channel through


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piled-up walls of red and white sandstone crowned with bush. On the left we skirted for miles a range of stag-headed forest, dying apparently from the roots of the huge trees having struck the rock—a most dismal scene, only perhaps equalled by a subsequent one of thousands of acres of thickly-timbered land all around us in progress of destruction by fire; fallen log and flourishing tree, fresh sapling, flower, and shrub and herb all blazing and blackened and smoking—vast result perhaps of a spark from a stockman's pipe, or the cast-away cigarend of a thoughtless mail-passenger; not a blade left on many a weary league of sand and rock—not a drop of water, for the doomed oxen that are counting upon both on their upward journey. Truly here was the sublimity of desolation!

The periodical occurrence of bush-fires is general throughout Australia. Every tolerable sized tree is more or less charred by them. Sir Thomas Mitchell, in one of his expeditions into the wild interior, found “in the most remote and desolate places the marks of fire on every dead trunk and tree of any magnitude.”

Suddenly the highway became smooth as a bowling-green, beautifully macadamized; and our carriages trundled on the nails of their new tire-irons into Blackheath; for here resides Captain Bull of the 99th Regiment—a Colossus of roads, in his way—as is testified by the great improvement he has wrought upon them to a considerable distance on either side of his station.

The settlement of Blackheath consists of a convict stockade under charge of that officer, and a pretty good


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inn—Gardner's, more lately Bloodsworth's. The commandant's house is backed against the bush, overlooking the cantonments of his detachment and the huts of the prisoners under his orders. The barracks and convict “boxes” form a little hamlet of some two dozen buildings of white-washed slabs with tall stone chimneys, laid out on a rocky plateau cleared of trees, and commanding a prospect of melancholy and desolate sterility—qualities certainly not reflected upon the joyous countenances of the captain and his wife, nor symbolical of his well-peopled nursery.

The prisoners here form what is called an iron-gang—or ironed gang. They are employed working, in chains, and for periods according to sentence, on the repairs of the high road. We passed several lots of these wretched creatures—England's galley-slaves—clanking along with straddling gait and hopeless hang-dog looks to their allotted labours, escorted by soldiers; or working with pick and spade, crowbar, maule and wedge on the stubborn rocks—working with mule-like slowness and sulkiness because forced to work by fear of the lash. 'Tis thus that convict labour is less valuable than at first would appear. Unpaid and compulsory work is always bad and slow work.

His Excellency had a parade of the prisoners, and we passed down the ranks as we might have done those of a regiment. The sciences of phrenology and physiognomy may be fallacies; but here was undoubtedly a line of countenances and craniums, laid bare for inspection by the close-cut hair, such as Lavater and Gall would have perused very much as if they were perusing the


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Newgate Calendar or the “Causes Célèbres.” Nor would they have read amiss; for many of the squad under review had been convicted of the blackest crimes that ever be-devilled humanity.

The convicts are marched to and watched at their work, marched to and watched at their meals, which they eat in a shed open at back and front,—marched to their wooden beds, and shut up under lock and bayonet until morning; yet, spite of all care and vigilance, many of them have escaped or tried to escape—braving the bullet of the sentries, the lash, Cockatoo Island, the gallows, and what is hardly less terrible, the chance of dying of hunger in the bush.

The scaffold is the more frequent destiny of the successful runaway from such a place as Blackheath. He has neither food nor money; he would be recognised as a prisoner by his grey dress and his close-cut hair, if, having contrived to rid himself of his chains, he were to beg a crust of bread at a road-side house. One resource only offers itself, not very repugnant probably to his case-hardened mind. He lies in wait, cudgel in hand, for some lonely traveller, rushes upon him unawares, strikes him senseless, takes his money, his clothes, and his arms, if he have any. Should he resist he murders him, and casts the body into some lonely gully.

“Murder will out,”—and strange have been the means of detection in such cases: a drayman in search of stray oxen, a passing dog, attracted by the scent of the mouldering corpse, the unerring sagacity of the black scouts of the Mounted Police—have been the instruments of discovery. Even when the assassin has resorted to


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the common stratagem of burning the remains of his victim under a pile of dead wood, a scrap of cloth, a button, even the peculiar size of a limb bone which has escaped combustion, have been sufficient to identify the murdered man, and to throw suspicion, perhaps conviction, on the murderer.

It will readily be believed that, during a journey like that we are now prosecuting, and in the wildest part of that country where bush-ranging may be said to have been first invented—especially when strangers in the colony were the listeners—bush-ranging became a frequent subject of conversation. It will be conceded too that Blackheath, from its old Home associations, is no inappropriate locale for some slight allusion to the subject. The numerical strength of our party and our escort of police rendered us perfectly secure from any attack, although several notorious runaways were known to be harbouring somewhere within reach of the road among the deep fastnesses of the mountain.

The ransom of a Governor might indeed have tempted a bandit of high pretensions. But, in truth, the days of bush-ranging on a large scale are long gone by. One hears no more of such heroes as Donohue or Walmsley, who had at their backs organized bands strong enough in men and arms, and horses when they wanted them, to sustain pitched battles with the military and police; carrying with them a regular commissariat of cattle and sheep, levied from the settlers too weak to resist the foray; washing down good beef and mutton with rum, wine, and tea, rifled at the pistol's point from travelling drays; smoking tobacco quite mild enough for


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the taste and character of the consumers, from the same gratis source; and gambling, like devils, among themselves for the shares of the plunder. It sounds like a jolly life. Without much more risk to the neck than is necessary to make fox-hunting charming, what wonder that it should have been popular?

“For the benefit of country gentlemen,” it may be well to give at this place a definition of the term Bush-ranger. This cannot be more concisely done than in the words of the Act of Council passed for the suppression of such criminals, intituled—“An Act to facilitate the apprehension of transported felons and offenders illegally at large, and of persons found with arms and suspected to be robbers.” He is, in short, a runaway convict, desperate, hopeless, fearless; rendered so, perhaps, by the tyranny of a gaoler, of an overseer, or of a master to whom he has been assigned. In colonial phrase, “he takes to the bush.”

I well remember the confused notions I had in early boyhood somehow imbibed regarding these people. Devouring with more appetite than discrimination all books of travel and adventure, real or fictitious, and making a geographical hash of the Cape of Good Hope and Botany Bay, bush-rangers, bushmen, and boschmen, were in my eyes one class—namely, armed savages, pillaging and preying upon the white settlers; and the bush in which they ranged was a fac-simile of the goose-berry and currant beds at home—only of wider extent. I wonder if children of the present day have any clearer view of a subject which interests them and their teachers so very remotely!




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When bush-ranging was at its zenith, twenty or thirty years ago, the gaol-bird who could make certain (almost to a given day) of flitting over the prison walls, and the chain-gang desperado who found means to break his bonds, were in possession of sufficient “office”note to enable them to go straight to the bush-rendezvous of some noted leader, where they commonly fell into the enjoyment of “a short life and a merry one,” greatly detrimental to the honester part of the community, and terminating naturally in the policeman's bullet or the hangman's hemp.

In the heart of Sydney, the ancient quarter called “The Rocks” is well known to have been, and still to be, the general intelligence department of that numerous class in New South Wales which might be styled the predatory. There the murderer and burglar found, and yet finds, customers for his “swag” in the professional “fence,” or receiver of stolen goods, and a safe asylum for a time from the efforts of an inefficient police.

The Rangers of Her Majesty's forests in New South Wales are, of course, well informed in all matters likely to put money within easy reach. Travellers about to start are placed under close but not obvious surveillance.

A good haul is sometimes got from the periodical payments of provincial publicans' licences through the post-office to the colonial treasury, the time and channel of remittance being well known to those chiefly concerned, namely, the bush-rangers.

A settler goes to a neighbouring town, or fair, sells a horse or two, some pigs, or produce; he goes home


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rejoicing, and delivers the money to his wife, at whose hands, the very next morning, when the good-man is gone to his work, a couple of crape-faced fellows demand the price of the property disposed of on their account. Simple farmers or labourers, with six months' wages in their pockets, incautiously “flash” their money at pot-houses, the very head-quarters of bush-ranging plots. The landlord cannot afford to be squeamish, however suspicious he may be of the quality of some of his guests. The half-drunken betrayer of the state of his purse is watched, waylaid, and quickly relieved of all trouble as to the investment of his gains.

The grand desideratum of the robbery is, of course, cash; but cheques and orders, which are constantly and necessarily passing between the interior and the capital, are readily negotiated. Paper, for the most trifling sums, is current in the provinces, like “shin-plasters” in America. A great many more of these flimsy representatives of bullion than are really requisite are issued. It is averred, and that without contradiction, that certain large proprietors make a practice of paying wages by orders written purposely on small and thin scraps of paper, and that they pocket many hundreds a-year by the loss or destruction of these fragile liabilities in the hands of rough, careless, and unsober characters.

The character of the Australian bush-ranger of former days was invested with something of the dignity accorded to the terrible Buccaneer of the American coasts, the gallant Caballero del Camino of Castile and Mexico; nay, even of that ballet-and-tableau-and-fancy-ball-darling, the silver-buttoned, ribboned, and gartered


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bandit of the Apennies. His business was so profitable that, like some of the more elevated highwaymen of the old country and olden times, (when, to ride over Hounslow Heath, or Finchley Common, after dusk, was to be robbed,) the bush-ranger of mark and likelihood could occasionally afford to be magnanimous. Not that magnanimity was his generic peculiarity. If generosity and humanity were not the leading attributes of the old English robber, who sometimes wore a bag-wig and steel buttons on his velvet coat, it becomes a logical consequence that the doubly-distilled desperado of Botany Bay was not the man to do much to raise the character of the trade. In the present days, at any rate, there is nothing of the romantic or chivalrous in the annals of Australian bush-ranging. The modern newspapers, on the contrary, teem with petty and cowardly robberies of the poor, and the old, and the defenceless; hard-working operatives cruelly beaten and robbed of every copper, and every rag of clothing; half-drunken pedlars with gutted packs and hamstrung horses; or some helpless, feckless old woman rifled, and rumpled, and left with her “petticoats cut all round about,” and without a glimmering in the world how or by whom, or when, where, or why, it all happened.

Even now, however, half a dozen times a year, some frightful, sweeping and barbarous outrage fills the columns of the public journals, and reminds one how deeply the old felon infusion has poisoned the corporate mass. So lately as September, 1850, when travelling with my family along this same mountain road, we found on the walls of every inn a Government notice,


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offering a reward of 50l. “to any free person, or a pardon to any prisoner of the Crown, who would give such information as might lead to the apprehension and conviction of one Henry Carroll,” on charges of robbery with violence, and of rape.note

Several other rather red-handed gentry were known to be “illegally at large” at the same period; yet the rich squatters and landowners, members of council, and others, travelled quite unconcernedly in their carriages, on horseback, or by the mail, most of them making a point never to carry any fire-arms nor money more than sufficient to buy off a broken head if stopped. All hotel bills are payed by cheques,—a prudent plan for more reasons than one. It is notorious, that when highway robbery was rife in Europe, inn-keepers often connived at the practice, and, indeed, played into the hands of the gentlemen of the road. I am far from asserting that such is the case in New South Wales at present; but many of the roadside lonely hostelries are kept by persons who have been prisoners; and in all of them there are servants, often in places of the highest trust, still serving their sentence on tickets-of-leave, in whom the chink of a fat bag of sovereigns, or a glimpse of a plethoric pocket-book, might re-awaken dormant propensities.

Experienced travellers, moving singly, are not in the habit, as I have said, of carrying weapons, because their


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display is apt to provoke maltreatment, and they can rarely be used with effect, seeing that the wearer is usually taken by surprise at some convenient spot, and has no time for preparation. As for carrying money, “Cantabit vacuus,” &c. is a good motto for the traveller. For myself, when not travelling in so much state as on the present Vice-regal progress, I took but little cash, but there lay within reach a double-barrelled pistol on which I could rely; and, in very ugly spots, motiving an ardent desire for ornithological specimens, I put together my gun, loaded with Eley's swan-shot cartridges, an excellent charge for execution, either in the foreground or middle distance of a “stand and deliver” scene. However, I never met with any obstruction of that nature, and am truly glad of it, for whether the rencounter ended in victory or defeat, in being taken aback or taking the life of a wretch ill prepared for his last account, subsequent reflections could not be otherwise than sore ones.

I find in my notes not a few anecdotes of bush-ranging, most of them orally delivered to me, and will here insert a small selection from my Collectanea. But first, and in strict connexion with the subject under notice, let me give a slight sketch of that excellent force, the Mounted Police; a force which has done much good service in the country, especially in the suppression of convict outrages, and which, long before this book can be published, will, through the mistaken parsimony of the Local Legislature, have ceased to exist.

The mounted police force is drawn from the infantry regiments serving in New South Wales. It was first


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established in 1825, under the government of Sir Thomas Brisbane, the infant corps consisting of two officers and thirteen troopers only. The numbers, gradually augmenting, reached in 1839 the maximum of 9 officers, I sergeant-major, 156 non-commissioned officers and men, and 136 horses, 20 of the troopers being dismounted.

Thus was formed an efficient body of mounted constables, controlled by military discipline, and subject to military law; for, although appointed to serve in the police, they remain as supernumeraries on the roll of their regiments; and on the removal of these regiments from the colony, the men are transferred to the relieving corps. The officers are magistrates. The dress is a neat and serviceable light dragoon uniform; the arms, the sabre, the carbine, and the pistol. The head quarter's division, consisting of the commandant, the adjutant, and about 25 men, is stationed at Sydney, and the officers of divisions are at different inland posts, with small parties on all the main roads.

Many a gallant service was performed by this useful corps. Many a desperate bush-ranger was taken or slain by them; many a formidable banditti broken up, or hunted down until they yielded in despair. Many were the flocks, and herds of cattle, and horses re-captured from the outlaws. Many the murders, and robberies, and outrages on men and women prevented by the terror of their name and neighbourhood. The privations endured by officers and men on these expeditions were very great; great the perseverance and intelligence with which they followed up the tracks of the brigands


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through forest, scrub, and swamp, rocky gully, and sandy plain. Sometimes the numerical odds were fearfully against them; but, although crime often fights with desperation, it is seldom successful against cool valour.

The mounted police were, moreover, called into action very frequently against the aboriginal tribes, who, on some occasions, attacked the distant grazing stations, pillaged the premises, speared or drove away the flocks, and even murdered the shepherds and stockmen. In one instance, at least, it is to be feared that forty or fifty of these ignorant but ferocious savages fell under the fire of the troopers. Irritated by one of their sergeants having been treacherously wounded with a spear, they charged into the thick bush, where, out of sight and control of their officers, they took a fearful vengeance on the barbarian foe. Generally, however, in their collisions with the blacks, they behaved with laudable moderation and forbearance. In the case just cited, the party had been sent 300 miles to repel the repeated aggressions of these people, and it had become absolutely necessary to drive them away from the spot where they had committed such outrages.

I could never discover any sustained record of the active services in which this force had been engaged; but I find many complimentary allusions thereto in old books of general orders; a few despatches detailing encounters with robbers; and, as before stated, a good many reached me by oral tradition, some of which I noted down as received.




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The following transcript of a report from one of the most dashing officers ever employed in the mounted police to the Governor of the time, Sir Ralph Darling, will bring vividly before the reader's eye the “scenery and machinery” of a conflict between the police corps and a band of bush-rangers. The stage whereon it was enacted is situated on the extreme western limits of the colony.

   “Lieut. Turner's Farm, Dividing Range, 16th October, 1830.

“SIR,—I have the honour to inform you that I arrived at Warwick on the 9th inst., at which place I was in the hopes of falling in with Lieut. Brown; and at all hazards it was my intention to place myself under the directions of that experienced officer—for whose situation, after the defeat of his five men, I could not help feeling the deepest concern. In this I was disappointed, having been informed that Captain Walpole and himself had crossed the Lachlan River, thirty miles to the west-ward, on the morning of the 6th.

“On the 10th I took a south-west direction from Warwick, and on the following evening (11th) fell in with that determined and ferocious banditti, near Barona Plains, where a hard contested skirmish took place between them and my party—which at that time consisted of myself, two non-commissioned officers, six privates, and one constable. The banditti were twelve or thirteen in number.

“We were engaged about twenty minutes, the bushrangers retreating gradually and returning a brisk fire,


  ― 171 ―
keeping themselves dexterously covered by the trees—the worst shots amongst them loading for the best ones.

“This continued until we had driven them back about half-a-mile from the ground they had taken up—when I found that all the ammunition of my party was expended but a few rounds, which I deemed it right to reserve to protect the disabled in the event of the worst consequences.

“I was, therefore, forced to allow the banditti to pursue their retreat, with three of the most desperate of them so severely wounded that they could only retire but a short distance, and with the loss of all their cavalcade of horses, provisions, and other plunder. The three wounded are now under escort to the Goulbourn Plains.

“In this skirmish (which would have terminated in the decisive fall of the banditti if my party had had more ammunition, or if they had exposed themselves as fearlessly as the soldiers) myself received a slight wound in the left thigh, two privates were slightly wounded, one horse killed and two wounded. I regret to say Constable Daniel Geary was dangerously wounded whilst making a gallant push to support the two right flank men, who were exposed to a sharp fire and in danger of being surrounded. I cannot too strongly recommend this brave man, who is a native of the colony (white), to the consideration of the Governor, should he survive his wound. Indeed, I can say of all my party that no one exceeded another in coolness and courage.

“Captain Walpole came up with me on the morning of the 12th, and not having been able to keep my seat


  ― 172 ―
on horseback, I placed the effective men of my party under his command. He was on the 13th on the tracks of the remainder of the banditti, seven in number, out of their knowledge,note and without a morsel of provisions, and I am hourly expecting to hear of their capture. In fact, they cannot escape.

“This affair will, I trust, put a stop to the unfortunate mania entertained by the convicts in the district of Bathurst; and it ought to convince those misguided people that a less number of soldiers, regularly opposed to them, are always sure to defeat them.

(Signed),

   “L. MACALISTER,    “Lieut. Mounted Police.”

It is only necessary to add, that the whole gang was taken by Capt. Walpole, seven of them having been severely wounded. Just a month before this brilliant bush-battle, Donohue, the most successful as well as the bloodiest malefactor that ever broke bonds, was killed in a determined fight with the police, which had a heavy score to reckon with him.

Not long before his end he had shot dead a young officer, whom he met on horseback and attempted to rob. The unhappy young man, unwilling to be plundered by a single footpad, struck spurs to his horse and attempted to ride over the villain. Donohue, stepping aside and letting him pass onwards, took deliberate aim and shot him through the brain at full speed.

The following incident was related to me by a gentleman well acquainted with the chief actor in this


  ― 173 ―
remarkable case of capture of a large band of armed convicts by an officer's party of the mounted police.

This gallant officer having, to the surprise of the people and garrison of the town of —, marched one day, as prisoners to the gaol, a body of bush-rangers three or four times the strength of his own force, was asked by his admiring comrades how he had contrived this sweeping capture with such long odds against him.

The readers of Joe Miller will recollect the Hibernian soldier, who boasted, according to that veracious annalist, that he had made prisoners of a whole section of the enemy, single handed, by surrounding them. Mr. —, not being an Irishman, did no such impossible thing. Stealing cautiously through the bush, with his little party of four or five men, he espied the banditti, in number about sixteen, busily cooking and eating in a hollow, some thirty yards below where he stood—their arms piled a few paces distant.

Leaving his men above with orders how to act, and creeping down the bank, he suddenly jumped into the midst of the robbers, shouting out, “Yield in the King's name, ye bog-trotting villains!” Then, looking up towards his party, “Send down,” cried he, “two file to secure the arms; stand fast the remainder, and shoot the first man that moves.” About twenty stand of arms were thus taken possession of, handcuffs were applied as far as they would go, and, incredible as it may appear, the disarmed banditti, with their teeth drawn, were safely conducted by their captor to the neighbouring township.




  ― 174 ―

A medical gentleman, long resident in the colony, related to me a lamentable case, which fell under his professional cognisance.

A young officer of the commissariat, on a visit to a friend near Liverpool, a town about twenty miles from Sydney, had just left the house on horseback, when three armed men rushed out of a thicket and ordered him to stand. Intuitively he lashed his horse and sprung forwards—when the leader of the robbers fired his piece, the ball entering behind the ear and coming out at the corner of the eye of the unfortunate young man. He fell, and after wandering about all night, blinded with agony and half dead with cold, was luckily discovered by his friends. Although his life was by skilful treatment saved, he entirely lost his sight: nor was fortune yet tired of persecuting the sufferer. So soon as he was well enough to move, he was provided with a passage in the ship Cumberland, for England. This vessel, it is supposed, was captured by pirates on the voyage. Nothing ever transpired regarding her fate, except that some articles of sea-gear, marked with her name, were seen in a buccaneering boat, the crew of which had boarded another vessel.

It is gratifying to know that in this case the villains had no long impunity. An active magistrate of the district, with only the chief constable to assist him, put himself instantly on their traces. Knowing the features of the country well, they looked out for the smoke of a fire in the bush, for the weather was unusually cold. The expected vapour was soon seen to rise above the trees on the border of a creek. In less than twenty-four


  ― 175 ―
hours after the shot was fired, the magistrate pounced upon the ruffians; and not very long afterwards they were hanged at Liverpool.

Whilst on a visit at ——, the Messrs. ——, who are natives of the colony, informed me that, in their numerous journeys through the bush, over a period of thirty or forty years, they had never but once fallen in with bush-rangers. It occurred as follows: the two brothers, with an old gentleman, a friend of theirs, were riding together unarmed, but accompanied by some dogs, when the elder brother saw two men, one carrying a musket the other a bundle, dive into the bush on the road side. He told his companions, but they thought he was mistaken. However, on reaching the spot, he threw the dogs into covert, and they soon “unkenneled the varmint.”

The old gentleman, who, it appears, was, like many old gentlemen, of choleric temper, called on them to yield, at the same time pouring upon them a torrent of abusive epithets and closing upon them with his horse. “Stand back, and keep a civil tongue in your head, or I'll blow out your brains!” exclaimed the man with the musket; “I don't want to hurt you, if you let me alone; but I'll have some of your lives if you meddle with me!” Mr. ——, then addressing them mildly but firmly, advised them to surrender, as the gentlemen were determined to capture them. He pointed to two stockkeepers who were near at hand to assist, if necessary, and reminded the musketeer that his shot could only kill one of their party, and that the murder would make his case worse.




  ― 176 ―

“Have you any fire-arms about you?” demanded the sturdy footpad; “if you have not, I can't and won't surrender. I'm an old soldier; fought through the Peninsula; and I'm d——d if I strike to an inferior force!”

Mr. —— replied that they had no fire-arms, but could get them in a few minutes.

“Produce them, and I will give in,” was the rejoinder; “that will be an honourable capitulation.”

Meanwhile the man with the bundle had been secured, and placed in charge of a shepherd who came up, and a mounted stockman rode off for the stipulated fire-arms, the old soldier-robber remaining doggedly at bay.

Unfortunately, during this interval the peppery old gentleman recommenced his vituperation, upon which the other, swearing a terrible oath, cocked his piece and pointed it at his head, when Mr. —— spurred his horse upon the robber, and threw him to the ground. He recovered himself actively, however, placed his back against a tree, and, coming down to the “Prepare for cavalry,” showed once more an impracticable front; then suddenly rising, he was in the act of falling back into the woods to escape, when, the accession of force necessary to dignify the act of laying down his arms arriving, this stickler for the honour of the army permitted himself to be made a prisoner of war without further resistance.

A clever and spirited capture of an armed highwayman was made by a retired military officer in 1849, on the mountains we are now traversing. This gentleman was travelling alone in his gig, when a policeman coming up informed him that he was searching for an armed


  ― 177 ―
bush-ranger who had robbed one or two persons near the spot. Upon this the major, having borrowed a large horse-pistol from the constable, placed it behind his gig-apron, and drove on his way.

A solvent looking gentleman, solus in a buggy, is the very thing for a highwayman; and accordingly he had not proceeded half a mile, before, sure enough, a horseman galloped up from the rear, passed ahead, then suddenly pulling up, commanded him to deliver his money. The gallant traveller instantly plucked out his pistol, and, without more ado, let fly at the robber's head, who fell heavily to the ground from his saddle.

The major thought him dead; but to make all safe, he jumped out, and tied his hands behind him. This job was hardly completed when the bush-ranger recovered his senses; and his captor, who at this time was neither so young nor so strong as when he learnt the goose-step forty years before, had the satisfaction to find that his prisoner was alive and well, a remarkably fine athletic young fellow, and likely to have proved a Tartar had not his horse thrown him by shying at the report of the pistol. The same report being heard by the policeman, he quickly reappeared upon the scene of action; and this clumsy practitioner in the profession of Dick Turpin was safely carried off to a place of confinement.

“Dans les malheurs de nos meilleurs amis il y a toujours quelque chose qui ne nous déplait pas,” writes the great French maxim-monger; nor could I help laughing in the face of a respected colonial friend of mine, when he confided to me how, as he was once upon a time gigging along this unblest mountain road, he was


  ― 178 ―
mulcted by bush-rangers, not only of his portmanteau, but of all his raiment then in wear, except his shirt and drawers; and, being of a philosophic turn of mind, he was congratulating himself that matters were no worse, when the robbers, who had left him, returned, and, begging his pardon, said that in their hurry they had forgotten his hat, which they accordingly took, and once more departed.

The reader may laugh, if he likes, at my next anecdote. A gentleman whom I met at Bathurst, and who is well known in the colony for his humorous qualities, was stopped on a bush-road by a rough fellow, who, rushing upon him, thrust the muzzle of a pistol into the pit of his stomach, roaring out at the same time, “Stand, you ——, or I'll blow out your brains!”—“My good fellow,” retorted Mr. P——, with perfect self-possession — “you won't find my brains down there!” The ruffian laughed heartily at the joke, and treated, as well as robbed, the joker with a degree of tenderness and civility very foreign to his usual habits of doing business.

I cannot omit the following characteristic incident in the bush-ranging line, which was related to me by the driver of one of the inland mails:—

During that period of the history of the colony when highway robbery was an everyday affair, he was driving from Windsor to Sydney with several passengers—one of whom on the box was well armed—when, at the foot of a hill, they came upon the body of a man lying upon its face in the middle of the road. “A case of robbery and murder!” remarked the passenger; and


  ― 179 ―
the coachman, impelled by Samaritan feelings, drew up his team, and was in the act of descending to see if life still remained in the plundered stranger, when “Bail up—or you're dead men!” resounded from behind a thick tree, through a fork of which a double-barreled gun covered the driver's head; whilst at the same moment the couchant bandit—for such he proved to be—sprung to his feet, turned the leaders across the pole of the carriage, and had his blunderbuss at the armed passenger's breast before he could get out his pistols.

The coachman was then compelled to take his horses off, the passengers were ordered severally to get out and to “bail up”—like cows prepared for milking—at the fence-side; their pockets were rifled, the mail-bags were slit open, and letters containing money extracted; and finally the carriage was permitted to proceed with its impoverished freight—minus, moreover, its leaders, which were required to carry the footpads to some chosen hiding-place distant from the scene of their exploit. The armed passenger, it appears, was roughly treated. Getting away with whole limbs, he got away with inexpressible discomfort to his nether ones; for the weather was inclement, and the bigger of the two brigands, complimenting him on his being “a tall fellow like himself,” borrowed his trowsers, putting them on over his own, and leaving him to pursue his journey not only “poor,” but bare “indeed.”

I close the subject of bush-ranging with the following inscription engraved on a mural tablet in St. James's church, Sydney. I have been too long from school to


  ― 180 ―
be able to judge of its Latinity—although there does appear to be an unlucky jumble of datives and ablatives; but the epitaph tells in a few words the touching tale of sisterly anguish over a brother's bloody death:—

  ROBERTO WARDELL, LL.D.

  A LATRONE VAGANTE OCCISO

  A. D. 1834—ÆTATE SUO 41. SORORES.

In the words “Latrone vagante,” the unlearned reader gets a tolerably literal translation of the term bush-ranger. I believe this unfortunate gentleman met his end in a rash attempt to apprehend single-handed a desperate and well-armed robber on his own estate.

During the five years of my residence in the neighbourhood of “Botany Bay” I was only once robbed—to my knowledge. But this instance was somewhat remarkable, for it occurred to me in the open day, with my sword by my side, and in the house of God. The sacrilegious rascal displayed some knowledge of human and male nature in the mode he acted. As I passed with the crowd down the aisle to leave the church, I became aware of a man trying to push his way between me and my wife. I jostled him in return—which was precisely what he wanted. Suffice it to say, that when I put my hand in my pocket to take out my mite for the church-door plate—my purse was absent without leave.

If a certain correspondent in 1850 of the “Sydney


  ― 181 ―
Herald” is to be believed—and my own experience bears out his statement,—there exists in the purlieus of Sydney a juvenile school for bush-rangers, which bids fair to keep the trade well supplied with professors.

The young idlers of the town form themselves into gangs, and take up positions on the roads leading to the city from the bush. Here they waylay and rob smaller boys, or weaker parties, of their “five corners,” a wild berry of the scrub, “according to the most skilful methods of highway robbery. A knife is held out, and under threats and oaths that would disgrace Norfolk Island, the juniors are compelled to dub up, or are seized and robbed by force.”

I myself witnessed, and enacted Quixotte in an act of puerile bush-ranging precisely of the above nature—a case of “robbery with violence.” “Hurrah for the Road!” is the motto of these promising youngsters.

It is too late, I fear, to apologise for digressions. Indeed the word “Rambles” in my title-page was adopted advisedly, and intended to apply equally to pen and person.

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