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Dogs and Bushrangers


© Warren Fahey 2008

One of the best-known bushranging stories is of Tasmania’s Martin Cash, who became a legend for twice thwarting the dreaded ‘Dog Line’ at Eaglehawk Neck. A detachment of military guards with a line of ferocious dogs was used to guard the narrow isthmus of the Port Arthur convict goal to prevent escapes. By all accounts Port Arthur was a place of continuing horror and well worth the escape attempt.

There is no list of the type of dogs used however they would have most probably of the bulldog and mastiff family.

One suspects that dogs in general were seen as odd members of the penal settlement community. In Sydney, like Port Arthur they were used as a means of controlling convicts, however they were also used for gambling and organized dogfights were common. There would also have been dogs retained as ‘pets’, especially for children and women. Dogs of particular breeds would have reminded many of England.

Dogs were considered a valuable warning system for many early Australians and, for some, they still serve this ‘watch dog’ purpose. There’s a good first hand report about the dogs on John Kelly’s property warning the Kelly family about the approaching troopers. Senior Constable Charles Hales Police Report Dated 15th May 1865, Yass Courier dated 17th May 1865, reported:

“Senior Constable Hale immediately gathered Constables John Bright and Michael King and headed out to watch Kelly’s house. They watched most of the night and saw no one enter Kelly’s place and returned to the police station about half a mile away.

The next morning at 8 a.m., John Kelly (who was under the influence of grog) informed Senior Constable Hales that Gilbert and Dunn were at his hut. Hales immediately gathered Constables John Bright, Michael King and Henry Hall and headed to Kelly’s place. Two parties were formed, Bright and Hall went to the back of the hut and were stationed in the creek. Hales and King were stationed at the front of the hut.

The troopers watched for about an hour in the rain. At some stage Kelly’s son Thomas approached the stockyard, Hales called him over to ask if there were any stranger’s in the house to which he said “No”. Hales and King approached the house, the dogs started barking, John Kelly and his wife came to the door of the hut, upon seeing Trooper Hales, Kelly called out “Look Out, the hut is surrounded by bloody troopers”. As Hales entered the hut two shots were fired, Hales looked through the slabs of the bedroom wall to see the shadows of two men. Hales immediately fired and retired to the front room of the hut. He then called out “Men surround the hut, the bushrangers are inside”. Hales warned Kelly if he did not immediately turn out, they would burn the hut.”

The following reference to Bushranger Harry Power also points to dogs as trusty guards:

“From this point Harry (Henry Johnstone) became a full time bushranger, who was responsible for numerous hold-ups and robberies, for stealing horses, and bailing up mail coaches. He was not only an excellent bushman and horseman, but also a great showman who boasted about his exploits, and liked to sing a popular Bushranger ballad:

“We might sing of young Gilbert, Dan Morgan, Ben Hall,
But the bold, reckless robber surpasses them all.
The pluck that’s in Power is past all belief.

Daring highwayman! Professional thief!”

“Although he never committed a murder, and he very seldom took money from the poor, he possessed an extremely violent temper. Ned Kelly (who was barely fifteen when Power introduced him to the life of crime) described how much he had been frightened of him. Ellen Kelly, who despised Power, called him a “brown-paper bushranger”, but he was indeed the most notorious bushranger in Victoria’s colonial history, and he taught Ned Kelly how to survive and elude the police!

Harry Power eventually dropped Ned (so he said), calling him a coward, and pursued his “career” alone. Ned said that he left Power after he lost his temper, because he was frightened of him. Ned’s was probably the more accurate account but his actions did not save him from being arrested in May 1870 for assisting Power, and despite his feelings he didn’t betray his “teacher” – someone else did….

Harry felt safe in his hideout above Quinn’s homestead, because they had several dogs and a noisy peacock, who would notify them of any strangers in the area. Finally, the Quinns had had enough of Power and with a £500 reward on offer, it didn’t take much persuasion of “Jack” Lloyd to lead the police to Power’s hideout…..”

Then, of course, there is the reference to Dan Morgan, the most frightening-looking, bloodthirslty and manic bushrangers, who carried two braces of pistols plus various blunderbusses. He was known as ‘Mad Dog’ Morgan who killed two civilians and a police officer in cold blood?

John Fuller was the illegitimate son of George Fuller and Mary Owen (called “the Gipsy Woman”), born in Campbelltown (NSW.) in 1830. He was shot dead by troopers in 1865.