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"Early Bushrangers" Topic


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1,214 hits since 1 Jun 2011
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Henry Martini02 Jun 2011 7:14 p.m. PST

Yes, you haven't even had breakfast when the uninvited guests arrive…

But seriously folks, the bushrangers of the 'convict era' are in many ways more interesting than the 'wild colonial boys' of the 1860s and 70s. Gangs were often much larger, with rosters of 30 or so being not uncommon. One source puts one Tasmanian gang at a strength of 80, and another at 100!

The early gangs of NSW, and Tasmania in particular, were composed of desperate men indeed, all escaped convicts, many of them former sailors or soldiers, the latter element including a strong leavening of deserters.

Although South Australia was short on local bushrangers, Inspector Tolmer and his mounted police sometimes had to deal with imports from the east, most of whom were ex-military. At least one villain was a deserter from the Adelaide garrison company. Thanks to clever and daring police work, Tolmer managed to capture his quarry without having to engage them in gun battles, but things were different on their home turf.

This military component of the gangs probably goes a long way to explaining the boldness and confidence displayed by these men. They were fully prepared, in fact keen, to shoot it out with parties of constables, civilian volunteers, and soldiers, and often came out victorious. Their activities sometimes went beyond mere robbery under arms, and became a limited sort of war, when they targeted prominent civilians for retribution; many settlers had their crops and homes burned by vindictive raiders. The boldest of them impudently issued challenges to the authorities, such as one Gilkes, who upon arriving surreptitiously in South Australia in August 1844, completely unprompted sent a message to Governor Gawler 'and if he likes to send his police after me, the first shot will be over their heads. The rest will be through them.' As it turned out, Gilkes didn't get the chance to enact his threat.

Gentleman bushranger Matthew Brady in Tasmania famously responded to a reward notice from Governor Arthur by posting the following on the door of the Royal Oak Inn, Crossmarch, in April 1825:

'It has caused Matthew Brady much concern that such a person known as Sir George Arthur is at large. Twenty gallons of rum will be given to any person that will deliver his person unto me. I also caution John Priest that I will hang him for his ill-treatment of Mrs. Blackwell, at Newtown.'

Of course, in the long run the old adage 'there's no honour among thieves' inevitably brought the bushrangers undone, but in the meantime they kept the colonies in a state of terror for many a long year.

A couple of eyewitness descriptions of Tasmanian bushrangers 'in the field' have come down to us:

'pistols in his belt, … a fustian jacket, a kangaroo-skin cap and waistcoat, with leather gaiters, and dirty velveteen breeches.' (Gang leader and former soldier and sailor Michael Howe, 1818)

'Two savage-looking fellows emerged one from each side of the path. They were dressed in kangaroo-skins, with sandals of the same on their feet, and knapsacks on their backs; each carried a musket, and one had a brace of pistols stuck in his girdle.' (From a barrister, 1813)

Personal logo Cardinal Hawkwood Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member02 Jun 2011 10:09 p.m. PST

you back again?

McWong7302 Jun 2011 11:05 p.m. PST

Is this the history of Australia you've made up in your mind?

The Gray Ghost Inactive Member03 Jun 2011 10:52 a.m. PST

It sounds interesting but where are the figures?

Henry Martini05 Jun 2011 11:04 p.m. PST

Good question, Gray Ghost. Blaze Away Miniatures started an Australian Colonial range quite some time ago with a pack of assorted Aboriginal warriors and a few of the more prominent 'wild colonial boys', on foot only, but hasn't added anything since. Pending someone giving the subject the attention it deserves, you could get by using Texas War of Independence Texan volunteers for Tasmanian bushrangers, but fringes should be trimmed from buckskin jackets, and for obvious reasons, tails should be removed from coonskin caps.

I haven't been able to locate a description of the convict constables of the period yet, but any early 19th century British infantry in campaign dress would be acceptable. There are basic colour plates of soldiers, and line drawings of bushrangers in Peter Stanley's 'The Remote Garrison: the British army in Australia'.

Marllow Inactive Member07 Jun 2011 4:32 a.m. PST

How long can one flog the same dead horse before the RSPCA get called in?

Henry Martini07 Jun 2011 8:51 p.m. PST

Bushrangers were active in Tasmania from the 1810s to the 1840s, with the most intense periods of activity being from 1814 to 1820, and again in the late 1820s and the early 1840s. There was some crossover with the 'Black War', so that, for instance, we read in John O'Sullivan's 'Mounted Police of Victoria and Tasmania' concerning the creation of the new, convict manned mounted Field Police in 1829, that soon after being involved in a gun fight with, and the capture of, a party of seven bushrangers that included one 'Taylor of the 63rd Regiment', a policeman named John Danvers victoriously led 'a party of police in a fight with ninety Aborigines'.

And, just to clarify, in the above post I meant that British infantry figures would be acceptable as … British infantry, not convict constables. The new Empress figures would of course be ideal for soldiers of the 1840s. Possibly Alamo volunteers in coatee and top hat would be the best option for constables, if the sketchy information on their appearance I've managed to access can be trusted.

Tasmanian Lieutenant-Governor William Sorrell said of the bushrangers in May 1817;

'… their perfect knowledge of the Country and habits of fatigue, temperance and caution render them a difficult Adversary.'

Henry Martini19 Jun 2011 10:47 p.m. PST

Fighting in Tasmania often took the form of a three-way contest, involving settlers/soldiers/constables, Aborigines, and bushrangers. Bushrangers attacked Aborigines for their women, and no doubt were attacked like other intruders. George Boxall's 'An Illustrated History of Australia's Bushrangers' relates that following the capture of Matthew Brady and some of his gang, 'Remnants of the gang under the command of Dunne continued for a time to commit depredations. In one of their journeys they saw a tribe of aboriginals camped on the other side of the river. Dunne swam across and attacked them. He fought them for some time driving them back …'

Presumably, in this instance Dunne means Dunne and his gang. The result of the bushrangers' agression was a series of attacks by the Aborigines on local settlers, whereupon 'When the troops were sent out to drive the blacks back, they came across the bushrangers and shot Dunne. One or two were captured and hanged.'

Henry Martini03 May 2012 2:00 a.m. PST

I have on loan from the library 'American Citizens, British Slaves: Yankee Political Prisoners in an Australian Penal Colony 1839-1850', by Cassandra Pybus and Hamish Maxwell-Stewart. It tells the story of almost 100 Patriots (members of the Hunters Lodge and other anti-British secret societies) who were captured by the British after a series of cross-border armed incursions into Canadian territory in 1838, and transported to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). There's some attention given to the Americans attitude to and involvement with bushrangers, against whom some of the prisoners were compelled to participate in search and capture/kill operations. Two Patriots, Aaron Dresser and Stephen Wright were present at the capture of two bushrangers who only surrendered because 'not one of their pieces would go off, as they had been out the last two days in steady rain. One was armed with a double-barrel gun and four pistols; the other with a rifle, and the same number of small arms.'

In March 1844 Beamis Woodbury was a member of a patrol that became engaged with a gang of nine bushrangers, but Woodbury 'had so much of the American spirit that he peremptorily told them he should not lift his hand to fight for them, though they did compel him to go so much against his will.' He was charged with 'acting in a cowardly manner…', and as punishment deprived of his ticket-of-leave and assigned to a road gang for a year, although his free pardon came through after only eight months.

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