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State of Defence, &c.

These settlements are in a very bad state of defence, having but two companies of troops for the garrison and protection of them both. They have consequently been infested for many years past, by a banditti of run-away convicts, who have endangered the person and property of every one that has evinced himself hostile to their enormities. These wretches, who are known in the colony by the name of bush-rangers, even went so far as to write threatening letters to the lieutenant-governor and the magistracy. In this horrible state of anarchy a simultaneous feeling of insecurity and dread,


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naturally pervaded the whole of the inhabitants; and the most respectable part of the agricultural body with one accord betook themselves to the towns, as the only certain means of preserving their lives, gladly abandoning their property to prevent the much greater sacrifice with which the defence of it would have been attended. There is no species of outrage and atrocity, in which these marauders did not indulge: murders, incendiaries, and robberies were their ordinary amusements, and have been for many years past the leading events in the annals of these unfortunate settlements. Every measure that could be devised was taken for the capture and punishment of these wretches. They were repeatedly outlawed, and the most alluring rewards were set upon their heads; but the insufficiency of the military force, the extent of the island, their superior local knowledge, and the abundance of game, which enabled them to find an easy subsistence, and rendered them independent, except for an occasional supply of ammunition, with which some unknown persons were base enough to furnish them in exchange for their ill acquired booty; all these circumstances conspired to baffle for many years every attempt that was made for their apprehension. This long impunity served only to increase their cruelty and temerity; and it was at last deemed expedient by Lieutenant


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Governor Davy to declare the whole island under the operation of martial law. This vigorous exertion of authority was zealously seconded by the respectable inhabitants, many of whom joined the military in the pursuit of these miscreants, and fortunately succeeded by their joint exertions in apprehending the most daring of their ringleaders, who were instantly tried by a court martial and hanged in chains. This terrible, though necessary example, was followed by a proclamation offering a general amnesty to all the rest of these delinquents who should surrender themselves before a certain day; excepting, however, such of them as had been guilty of murder. The proclamation had the desired effect: all who were not excluded by their crimes availed themselves of the pardon thus offered them. But strange to say, they were allowed to remain in the island; and whether they were enamoured of the licentious life they had been so long leading, or whether they distrusted the sincerity of the oblivion promised them, and became apprehensive of eventual punishment, in a few months afterwards they again betook themselves to the woods, and rejoined those who had been excluded from the amnesty. After this, they rivalled their former atrocities, and a general feeling of consternation was again excited among the well disposed part of the community.


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And here, as it may not be uninteresting to many of my readers to be acquainted with some of the specific outrages of these monsters, I subjoin the following extracts from the Sydney Gazette of the 25th Jan. 1817.

The accounts of robberies by the banditti of bush-rangers on Van Diemen's Land, presents a melancholy picture of the distresses to which the more respectable classes of inhabitants are constantly exposed from the daring acts of those infamous marauders, who are divided into small parties, and are designated by the name of the principal ruffian at their head, of whom one Michael Howe appears to be the most alert in depredation. The accounts received by the Kangaroo, which commence from the beginning of November, state that on the 7th of that month, the house and premises of Mr. David Rose at Port Dalrymple, were attacked and plundered of a considerable property, by Peter Sefton and his gang. The delinquents were pursued by the commandant at the head of a strong detachment of the 46th regiment; but returned after a five days hunt through the woods, without being able to discover the villains, among whom is stated to have been a free man, named Denis M'Caig, who


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went from hence to Port Dalrymple in the Brothers.

On the night of the 17th of November, the premises of Mr. Thomas Hayes, at Bagdad, were attacked at a time when Mr. Stocker and wife, and Mr. Andrew Whitehead (the former on their route from Hobart Town to Port Dalrymple, with a cart containing a large and valuable property) had unfortunately put up at the house for the night. Michael Howe was the chief of this banditti, which consisted of eight others. The property of which they plundered Mr. and Mrs. Stocker on this occasion, was upwards of £300 value, among which were two kegs of spirits. One of these, a member of the gang wantonly wasted, by firing a pistol-ball through the head of the keg, which contained eleven gallons. They set their watches by Mr. Whitehead's, which they afterwards returned; but took Mr. Stocker's away with their other plunder. Mr. Wade, chief constable of Hobart Town, had stopped with the others at Mr. Hayes's; but hearing a noise, which he considered to denote the approach of bush-rangers, he prudently attended to the admonition, and escaped their fury, which it was concluded would have fallen heavily


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upon him, as they are at variance with all conditions in life that are inimical to their crimes. On the morning of the 2d instant, Mr. William Maum, of Hobart Town, sustained the loss of three stacks of wheat by fire at his farm at Clarence Plains, owing to the act of an incendiary.

On the 14th of November a large body, consisting of fourteen men and two women, were unwelcomely fallen in with by a single man on horseback, at Scantling's Plains. Howe and Geary were the most conspicuous: they compelled him to bear testimony to the swearing in of their whole party, to abide by some resolutions dictated in a written paper, which one of them finished writing in the traveller's presence. After a detention of about three quarters of an hour, he was suffered to proceed under strong injunctions to declare what he had been an eye-witness of; and to desire Mr. Humphrey, the magistrate, and Mr. Wade, the chief constable, to take care of themselves, as they were bent on taking their lives, as well as to prevent them from growing grain, or keeping goods of any kind. And by the information of a person upon oath, it appears that they had about the same period, forced away two government servants from their habitations, to


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a distant place, on which the crimes of these wretches have stamped the appellation of murderer's plains, (by themselves facetiously called the tallow-chandler's shop) where they kept them to work three days in rendering down beef-fat. How they could afterwards appropriate so great a quantity of rendered fat and suet, is truly a question worthy to be demanded; for it is far more likely it should be taken off their hands by persons in or near the settlements, who are leagued with them, in the way of bartering one commodity for another, than that the bush-rangers should either keep it for their own use, or bestow so much trouble on the preparation of an article that would soon spoil in their hands. The caftle that were in this instance so devoted, were the property of Stones and Tray, who declare that out of three hundred head, one hundred and forty have lately disappeared”.

All the outrages above enumerated, it will be seen, were perpetrated within the short period of ten days; and these settlements continued the scene of similar enormities until the July following, an interval of nearly eight months. On the serious injury which the industrious and deserving of all classes, must have experienced in that time, from the inability of the government to afford them protection, it would be


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useless here to dilate. It must be evident, that such extremes of anarchy could not be of any long duration; and that one or other of these two events became inevitable; either that the exertions and enterprizes of the colonists should be brought to a stand, or that these disturbers of the general tranquillity, should suffer condign punishment. Fortunately the cause of public justice triumphed, and the majority of these monsters either fell victims to common distrust, or to the violated laws of their country. And here, after detailing some few of their excesses, I cannot refrain from giving in turn the account of the measures that led to their discomfiture and apprehension, as extracted from the Sydney Gazette of the 4th October, 1817.

“A meeting of public officers and principal inhabitants and settlers, was convened at Hobart Town, by sanction of his honour, Lieutenant-Governor Sorrel, (the successor of Colonel Davy) on the 5th of July, for the purpose of considering the most effectual measures for suppressing the banditti; when the utmost alacrity manifested itself to support the views of government in promoting that desirable object, and a liberal subscription was immediately entered into for the purpose. The following proclamation was


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immediately afterwards issued by the Lieutenant-Governor.

Whereas, the armed banditti, who have for a considerable time infested the interior of this island, did on the 10th ultimo, make an attack upon the store at George Town, which being left unprotected, they plundered, taking away two boats, which they afterwards cast ashore at the entrance of Port Dalrymple; and whereas, the principal leader in the outrages which have been committed by this band of robbers, is Peter Geary, a deserter from his Majesty's 73d regiment, charged also with murder and various other offences; and whereas, the undermentioned offenders have been concerned with the said Peter Geary in most of these enormities; the following rewards will be paid to any person or persons, who shall apprehend these offenders, or any of them:”

             
“ Peter Geary,  One Hundred Guineas. 
“ Peter Septon, 
“ John Jones,  Eighty Guineas each. 
“ Richard Collyer, 
“ Thomas Coine, 
“ Brown, or Brune,  Fifty Guineas each. 
“ a Frenchman, 




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“ And whereas, George Watts, a prisoner, who absented himself from the Coal River, previous to the expiration of his sentence, and who stands charged with various robberies and crimes, is now at large: it is hereby declared, that a reward of eighty guineas will be paid to any person or persons, who shall apprehend the said George Watts”.

“ And all magistrates and commanders of military stations, and parties, and all constables and others of his majesty's subjects, are enjoined to use their utmost efforts to apprehend the criminals above named”.

“ On the 10th of July, a division of the banditti proceeded to George Town, and seizing upon the government boats, induced five of the working people to abscond with them; upon representation whereof to the Lieutenant-Governor, a proclamation was issued requiring the return of those persons, under the assurance of forgiveness, if so returning within twenty days, from the consideration that the settlement of George Town had been for some days without command or controul; the causes of which will be found in our supplement of this day; wherein Mr. Superintendent Leith, has, in his testimony upon the murder of the chief constable of the settlement,


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declared his necessary absence to Launceston at that express period.”

“ The gang of bush-rangers appeared in the vicinity of Black Brush on Saturday, and were tracked on the following morning by Serjeant M'Carthy, of the 46th, with his party. On Monday the bush-rangers were at a house at Tea-tree Brush, where they had dined, and about three o'clock Serjeant M'Carthy with his party came up. The bush-rangers ran out of the house into the woods, and being eleven in number, and well covered by timber and ground, the eight soldiers could not close with them. After a good deal of firing, Geary the leader was wounded, and fell; two others were also wounded. The knapsacks of the whole and their dogs were taken. Geary died the same night, and his corpse was brought into town on Tuesday, as were the two wounded men.

“The remaining eight bush-rangers were seen in the neighbourhood of the Coal River on Wednesday; but, as they must have been destitute of provisions and ammunition, sanguine hopes were entertained of their speedy fall.

Dennis Currie and Matthew Kiegan, two


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of the original bush-rangers, surrendered on the Monday following”.

On Wednesday, a coroner's inquest was held on the body of James Geary, who died of the wound received in the affair at Tea-tree Brush. Verdict, Homicide in furtherance of public justice”.

Jones, a principal of the banditti, was shot in the beginning of August, in the neighbourhood of Swanport, which is on the eastern shore. For some days they had not been heard of; but by the extraordinary exertions of Serjeant M'Carthy and his party of the 46th regiment, were tracked and overtaken at the above place; on which occasion Jones was killed on the spot by a ball through the head. A prisoner of the name of Holmes was by the bush-ranger's fire, wounded in two places, but we do not hear mortally”.

On the Sunday evening after the above affair, some of the villains effected a robbery at Clarence Plains; but became so excessively intemperate from intoxication as to quarrel among themselves; the consequence was, that another of the gang of the name of Rollards, having been most severely


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bruised and beaten by his associates fell into the hands of a settler, and was by him taken a prisoner into Hobart Town. White and Johnson, two others of the gang, were apprehended by Serjeant M'Carthy's party, on Thursday the 14th of August, being conducted to their haunts by a native woman, distinguished by the name of Black Mary, and another girl”.

After the above successes in reducing the number of these persons, some of them still continued out, on the 16th of August, as appears from a report published: of the old bush-rangers, Septon, Collyer, Coine, and Brune, also Watts, who kept separate from the rest, and Michael Howe, who had before delivered himself up, and after remaining some weeks in Hobart Town, took again to the woods, from a dread, as was imagined, of ultimately being called to answer for his former offences. At this period also, there were two absentees from George Town, Port Dalrymple; a number of the working hands having gone from that settlement shortly before, all of whom had returned to their duty but these two. White, Rollards, and Peck, were about this time under a reward of sixty guineas for their apprehension, for an attempt to commit a robbery at


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Clarence Plains: Peck was a freeman, the other two prisoners.”

By the 6th of September, nearly the whole of the absentees of whatever description had either surrendered or been apprehended; and upon this day a proclamation was issued offering the following rewards: for the apprehension of Michael Howe, one hundred guineas; for George Watts, eighty guineas; and for Brune, the Frenchman, fifty guineas; and in consequence of these prompt and efficacious arrangements, additional captures had been made, which placed it nearly beyond a doubt that Howe is almost, if not the only individual of the desperate gangs now at large.”

This latter assertion, however, does not appear to have been correct; for in a Sydney Gazette of the 25th of October, of the same year, we have the following account of the apprehension and surrender of some others of this banditti, and of an unsuccessful attempt to take Michael Howe, which will tend to elucidate the desperate character of this ruffian.

“Several persons have arrived as witnesses on the prosecution of offenders transmitted


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for trial by the Pilot; two of whom are charged with wilful murder, viz. Richard Collyer, as a principal in the atrocious murder of the late William Carlisle and James O'Berne, who were shot by a banditti of bush-rangers at the settlement of New Norfolk, on the 24th of April, 1815; the particulars whereof were published in the Sydney Gazette of the 20th of the following May. The other prisoner for murder is John Hilliard, who was also one of the banditti of bush-rangers; but being desirous of giving himself up, determined previously by force or guile, to achieve some exploit, that might place the sincerity of his contrition beyond doubt. Accident soon brought the above Collyer, together with Peter Septon, another of the banditti, within his power. He attacked and killed Septon, and wounded Collyer, who nevertheless got away, but was soon apprehended. It is for the killing of Septon, he is therefore to be tried. Four of the prisoners sent by this vessel are for sheep stealing. Another of the late banditti, George Watts, is come up also, but under no criminal charge, as we are informed, he having been desperately wounded by Michael Howe, in an attempt assisted by William Drew, to take him into Hobart Town a prisoner; but in


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which exertion Drew was shot dead by that desperate offender, and the survivor Watts nearly killed also.”

I have been thus copious in extracts from the Sydney Gazette, to shew the lamentable state of danger and anarchy in which the colonists on Van Diemen's Land have been kept by an inconsiderable banditti; who, from the imbecility of the local government, have been enabled to continue for many years in a triumphant career of violence and impunity. This iniquitous and formidable association may, indeed, be considered as crushed for the moment, although the most desperate member of it is still at large. But what pledge have the well disposed part of the inhabitants, that a band equally atrocious will not again spring up, and endanger the general peace and security? What guarantee, in fact, have they that this very ruffian, the soul and center of the late combination, will not serve as a rallying point to the profligate, and again collect around him a circle of robbers and murderers as desperate and bloody as the miscreants who have been annihilated? And can the pursuits of industry quietly proceed under the harassing dread which this constant liability to outrage and depredation must inspire? There is no principle less controvertible than that the subject has the same claims on the


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government for support and protection, as they have on him, for obedience and fidelity. The compact is as binding on the one party, as on the other; and it is really discreditable to the established character of this country, that any part of its dominions should have continued for so long a period, the scene of such flagrant enormities, merely from the want of a sufficient military force to ensure the due administration of the laws, and to maintain the public tranquillity.

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