Bushranging in Van Dieman’s Land


BUSHRANGING IN VAN DIEMEN’S LAND

 

The welfare of Van Diemen’s Land was greatly retarded in its earlier days by the number of daring and prolonged depredations committed by bushrangers. In some districts the inhabitants succoured and helped to conceal them, whilst in others the settlers assisted the authorities in trying to suppress them. Colonel Davey, in 1813, declared the whole colony under martial law, and punished with flogging persons, whether free or bound, who quitted their homes by night, and several bushrangers who were captured were speedily executed.   The constables were prisoners of the Crown, and it was to their interest to detect or pretend to detect crime, this giving them a claim for quicker liberation, and consequently most atrocious perjuries were at times committed by them, implicating innocent persons, whilst it was subsequently asserted that in many cases they received from the real culprits a share of the booty. The names of the most noted scoundrels were Cash, Cavenagh, Brady, Mosquito, and Howe.

THOMAS WILLIAMS

was a convict sent to Tasmania; when his sentence expired he went to Victoria and became a bushranger; was caught and convicted on three charges of highway robbery, for which he received sentences amounting to 30 years’ imprisonment. Audacious perjuries were at times committed by them, implicating innocent persons, whilst it was subsequently ascertained, that in many cases they received from the real culprits a share of their booty.

MOSQUITO

This bushranger was a Sydney aboriginal, transported to Van Diemen’s Land for the murder of a woman. At first he was employed by the authorities as a tracker for hunting up the haunts of the bushrangers, but he afterwards effected his escape to the bush, and headed the Oyster Bay tribe of natives, over whom he appeared to exercise unbounded sway; they numbered some 200 blacks, and under the command of Mosquito committee many foul and treacherous murders upon isolated settlers and their families. He became a pest to society and a terror to the colony, and a large reward was offered for his capture; at last he was tracked to his lair at Oyster Bay by a native and two constables, and after a desperate resistance was wounded and eventually captured and conveyed to Hobart Town, where he and another native named Black Tom, and six Europeans, were executed together, February, 1825. The love of a wild, and in a measure free life in the bush, and the wish to avoid the severity of the lash, caused many of the prisoners of the Crown to effect their escape into the bush where, collecting in gangs, they vied with one another in deeds of the most daring and sanguinary nature, -till at last in 1814 Governor Macquarie, despairing of reducing their numbers by force, offered a free pardon to all who, not having been guilty of murder, would within six months of the date of his proclamation return to their duty, and this proclamation had, partly, the desired effect.

MICHAEL HOWE

who had been a seaman in the RoyalNavy, and who was afterwards the owner of a small coasting craft in which he had acquired some notion of command, arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1812, and was sent as an assigned servant to Mr. Ingle; he, however, declared he would be no man’s slave, and, escaping to the bush, joined a gang commanded by a man named Whitehead. In this gang, which consisted of about twenty outlaws, were a deserter from the 73rd regiment, and two native women. Soon after Howe’s joining them they attacked the settlement of New Norfolk, and there procured a good supply of arms and ammunition; thence they marched on Pittwater, committing many depredations, and sacking and burning the houses and stacks of those who had made themselves obnoxious to them; again they attacked New Norfolk, and had a fight with the settlers, in which the latter were worsted; but in the engagement Whitehead was seriously wounded. Finding that he could not recover, he appealed to Howe to finish him and to cut his head off, to prevent the reward that was offered for his capture being obtained by any of the settlers; this Howe did, and then assumed the command of the gang.

It was subsequently asserted by them that there is good reason to believe his statements) that some of the police presumably most active in the pursuit of him and his gang at this time were actually in communication with them, and received a share in the profits of the men’s crimes. Howe at tills time was accustomed to leave his gang for short periods, and retire to some mountain fastness with a native girl, to whom it was stated he was much attached; subsequently she was captured and became useful to the soldiers in discovering his favourite haunts to them. At last Howe sent, through the medium of a Yankee sailor, a proposal to the Governor to surrender. The Governor (Sorell) sent Captain Nairne to the rendezvous to meet with him and to give him an assurance of present safety and a promise of his intercession for his pardon if he would come in, which offer Howe accepted. When on the plea of ill health he was allowed to take exercise under the charge of a constable, he managed to give his guard the slip and again took to the bush. He found his gang nearly broken up, only two men remaining, Watts and Browne. 

Soon after his return Watts conspired with a stock-keeper named Drewe against Howe, and taking him unawares, they threw him down, disarmed him, and tied his hand behind his back. Leaving him thus lying on the ground, they ate their breakfast, and then started with him to Hobart Town, with the hope of obtaining the reward. Watts walked in front of their prisoner, and Drewe behind him. On the road Howe managed to get his hand loose unperceived by his guard, when, springing suddenly upon Watts, lie seized his knife and fatally stabbed him, and then, taking his gun, shot Drewe dead on the spot. Watts managed to reach Hobart Town, but subsequently died of his wounds. A large reward was now offered for the capture or death of Howe, together with freedom and a passage home, should his captor be a convict; but for a long time lie escaped all snares. But the temptation of the large reward and tho free pardon, together with the passage home, was a bait that could not be long withstood, and so a transported sailor named Jack Worral conspired with one of Howe’s mates, named Warburton, to effect his capture. Major Bell gave them the assistance of a soldier of the 48th regiment, named Pugh, these two secreting themselves in Warburton’s hut, who was to inveigle Howe into it. This Warburton did, but Howe discovered his danger and managed to break away, the shots fired at him not taking effect.  In running, however, he received a severe fall which partially stunned him, and he then tamed to fight: whilst engaged with one the other crept up, and knocked him down with the butt end of his musket and with the same weapon dashed his brains out, October 21, 1818 In a kangaroo skin pouch or knapsack which he carried, was found a record of his crimes and the names of many of his accomplices, with those of the receivers of stolen property, hitherto unsuspected.