Wreck of the Gothenburg
Wreck of the Maria
Bushrangers I have met
Dark North Head
WRECK OF THE GOTHENBURG
TERRIBLY TRAGIC SCENE
THE WORLD’S NEWS
The worst wreck in Queensland history, the one with the most dreadful loss of life, was that of the steamer Gothenburg, which ran on part of the Barrier Reef, on February 24, 1875, at half past six in the evening, the locality being about 49 miles northeast of Port Denison, on which the town of Bowen is situated, in latitude 20.
We may say the Dunbar wreck in 1857, at Sydney Heads, was the most tragical of all Australian wrecks, by reason of the frightfully dramatic and pathetic circumstances, and the total annihilation of every soul on board, except Johnson, the one man who was saved.
My brother, on his way from Scotland to Australia, had taken his passage in the Dunbar with a first cousin, in after years well known as A. M. Fletcher, of Glen Innes, in New South Wales, but the two young fellows, then 20 years of age, missed the last tugboat, going off to the Dunbar, and so escaped the fate of those who went down on that awful midnight of storm and darkness among the merciless breakers and boiling surge which raged and roared at the foot of those savage cliffs.
On what slender Democlesian hairs does the judgment sword hang ever over this distracted earth! The Gothenburg was under sail and full steam when she ran on the reef, a strong fresh breeze blowing from the north.
Among the 88 passengers on board were Mr. Justice Wearing, of South Australia, and Mr. M. Durand, the French Consul. The vessel left Port Darwin on February 14, bound for Melbourne, via Newcastle, with a crew of 38 and the 88 passengers, out of the total of whom there were 105 drowned.
Two of the passengers, the Hon. T. Reynolds, and Mr. Shoebridge, were very nearly left behind at Darwin, but they got the vessel at the last moment, unfortunately for themselves. Two anchors were lost before leaving Somerset, but there was fairly fine weather until Cooktown was passed.
Had Captain Pearce wisely anchored on that Wednesday might in Cleveland Bay, when he passed that port, and so had daylight the next day for a dangerous part of the coast of which he knew nothing but the chart; the Gothenburg probably would have reached Melbourne, but it is my belief that all that has been was to be, and all that is to be most certainly will be, and the old Norse poet was right in his faith in the stern relentless Valkyrie, the “Choosers of the Slain”:
They champ the bit by Azgard Gate
Their foam shall strew the realms afar,
Guests today by summons are,
To the Halls of Odin.
And so the Fatal Sisters, on the black, invisible Steeds of fate, galloped up to the Gothenburg, and summoned her, and 105 of those on board to the Halls of Odin. And there was no appeal.
She ran on the reef at low water, and Captain Pearce told them she would come off when the tide rose. At daylight on Thursday, the captain ordered the two port boats to be lowered, with four sailors in each. One boat broke her painter, and the other was let go, neither able to reach the ship again, both being swept away by the gale. She turned broadside onto the reef, bumping heavily, the seas breaking over her, and washing off everything not fast on deck, including the dogs and sheep.
The starboard boats were prepared with food and water for the women and children, but they could not be lowered. Then a tremendous sea washed all the passengers off the deck, the first man to go being Judge Wearing, followed by the French Consul, who carried all his money in a bag under his arm.
What dreadful scenes on that Thursday morning, when survivors had to look at 105 men, women, and children, drowning before their eyes, and powerless to assist. One of those who were saved said, “The men and women met death fearlessly, and there was not a murmur from any person aboard. When they were struggling in the water, they were wishing each other goodbye, as if only parting for a few days.”
So it was not Byron’s “Shipwreck,” where “shrieked the timid and stood still the brave,” as they were apparently all brave on board the Gothenburg, women equally with men, as they usually are in shipwrecks.
About 14 of the men lashed themselves to the masts and stayed there all that day and night, in continuously heavy rain, and a gale blowing, until Sunday morning, when they bailed out one of the boats and started for the mainland, but had to make for Holborn Island, where they found four of the crew, who had been swept away in one of the first boast. The boat had been smashed to pieces on the rocks.
There were plenty of birds and hundreds of their eggs, and abundance of fish, so there was no fear of starvation. My first visit to Holborn Island and the Gothenburg Reef was in 1881, only six years after the wreck, and the next was in 1895. It is a beautiful and romantic island, set there like a great green emerald in that glorious blue tropical sea, and on both occasions of my visits, the fatal reef on which the 105 people perished in that stormy surge, on that 25th of February, 1875, was covered by a sea as smooth as glass, but the treacherous reef was plainly visible, and the sharks and tropical fishes of the Barrier Reef gliding about among the coral, the whole scene presenting a perfect marine picture of peace.
Had the sea been smooth at the time of the wreck, probably not a soul would have been lost. Had the vessel passed there in daylight, the lookout would have seen the break on the reef, and it would have been avoided. But Captain James Pearce told them they would be in Newcastle on Sunday evening, and that fatal “running to time,” regardless of commonsense precaution, has wrecked many a hundred ships besides the Gothenburg.
Once, when traveling north from Brisbane with the late Captain Mayburn in the Wyreema, he found it necessary to turn round and run back to pick up the Lady Elliott Island light, in very dirty weather. Then he knew exactly what was his position, and he again turned and ran for Keppel Bay. Some of the usual fools on board said it was a “scandalous waste of time,” but Mayburn quietly remarked to me, “I cannot afford to take risks with all this crew and passengers, and such a steamer.” He was one of the oldest and most cautious captains on the Australian coast, and he never lost anything.
There were some acts of splendid heroism at that wreck of the Gothenburg, and two of the survivors spoke with enthusiasm of the deeds of two passengers, J. Cleland and J. Fitzgerald, while another recorded that he saw Robert Brazil, a fireman, “save the lives of three men by means of a signal halyard, throwing it out and pulling them in.”
We accept as a truth that “brave men were living before Agamemnon,” and it is equally true that brave men have been living ever since, and will continue to live until the end of the human race.
The last war showed tens of thousands of men brave as any who fought at Marathon, Platea, or Thermopylae, probably braver, as they had far more terrible weapons to face. The plain sword and spear of the old Greek and Roman had not the terrors of the modern bombs and shells and machineguns which mow men down like a swathe of barley before scythe. What a tragical scene must have been that wreck of the Gothenburg, when they were trying to launch the boast before daylight! Night, and storm, and darkness, and wild rain squalls, and the incessant roar and rush and hollow moan of that turbulent, foam crested surge, the white froth flashing even in the darkness, the 14 men tied to the masts, the surf breaking over them, the black rocks beneath, and all around the merciless waves sporting with the dead bodies of those who had responded to the summons of the dread Valkyrie! The little steamer, Bunyip, which took Putwain, the diver, out to the wreck, passed a body as it was rising to the surface, quite naked, except for a calico belt full of bank notes reduced to a pulp, the dead man being beyond identification.
One of the boats passed a dead man upright in the water, quite naked, the light curly hair and a bald spot on top of the head indicating a sailor named Williams, but the boat had to pass on and leave the dead man to the sport of the remorseless sea-
As shaken on his restless pillow,
That head heaves with the heaving billow,
The hand, whose motion is not life,
Yet feebly seems to menace strife,
Flung by the tossing tide on high,
Then leveled with the wave.
There must have been a large amount of money in notes and gold went down with those who were lost, as many of the passengers were returned lucky diggers from Darwin, and there was also a box with 2500 ozs of gold on board.
An expert diver, anmed Putwain, was brought out to the wreck, and he had a party quite unused to diving operations, but he rigged a temporary stage in the main crosstrees, and went down into five and six fathoms of water, and got the gold, which was started for Bowen, in an overladen and leaky boat and on the eve of swamping, when the Diamond came just in time to rescue the gold, and cargo, cut the boat adrift, and let her sink. Had the gold gone down there, it would have sunk in 20 fathoms of water, and so been lost beyond recall.
The Bunyip went to the wreck on Tuesday, and on the diver’s crew’s nest in the crosstrees was the heroic fireman, Bob Brazil, who told them the gold had gone to Bowen.
He had been perched there for some time, a voluntary sentinel, and, as one witness said, “only the waste waters around him, and dead bodies beneath.” Had rough weather come, he would have been lost after all. He was the chief hero of that wreck.
Can any World’s News reader tell us of his after fate?
And is he now but “the brave man gone where we all must go?’ Surely Adam Lindsay Gordon was not implying that brave men and women are to be herded with cowards and wasters in a common heaven? We shall not insult the poet, or future Destiny, by such a dreadful supposition.
Captain Pearce, and all his officers and stewards, were drowned, and those saved were 10 of the crew and 12 of the passengers.
There were 105 lost so there must have been actually 127 on board.
In the long and mournful list of vessels that have ended their days on some part of the Barrier Reef, and many of which we have no records except their names, one of the most remarkable was that of the brig Maria, which sailed out of Sydney Harbor on January 25, 1872, bound for New Guinea, with a total of 75 men on board including the captain and crew, the passengers being organised as a party bound on a prospecting expedition. It was about the worst time of the year to start on a journey to New Guinea, as January, February, and March are the wet and stormy months on the sea coast of North Queensland and the tropical seas from Cape York to New Guinea.
Among the men was one named Tate, a botanist, who in after years became a public school teacher, and in June 1872, became a member of the Queensland Government Expedition, led by William Hann, who found and named the Palmer River, and discovered the first gold there, his surveyor Warner, finding specimens of scaly gold, of a rich golden colour, in what was afterwards known as Warner’s Gully, but the Palmer diggings did not start until Mulligan’s discovery in the following year, 1873.
Hann gave Tate’s name to a tributary of Leichhardt’s Lynd River, which runs into the Mitchell. The last time Tate was met by me was when he was master of the State school at Cardwell, in 1895. If he is still alive, he is probably the last survivor of the Maria tragedy in February 1872. Another passenger was Thomas Ingham, in after years a chemist at Rockhampton, and more recently in Brisbane, where he died a couple of years ago.
A third was Kendal Broadbent, who was for many years naturalist, collector, and taxidermist, for the Brisbane Museum. He came, in 1889, as zoologist, with the expedition led by me to the Bellenden Ker Range, the botanist being F. M. Bailey.
These, then, are the only three men publicly known in after years as survivors of the Maria expedition, and Broadbent and Ingham have gone hence into the Land of Shadows.
A full account of the wreck was written by Ingham and Tate, and copies of both are in my possession. Adverse conditions followed the vessel from the start, head winds, followed by gales, and on February 18, a heavy sea carried away the wheel and the tiller, followed by a leak being sprung on the following day, the condition of the ship becoming so serious that 20 of the passengers waited on the captain to ask him to put them ashore at the nearest port. They were then in latitude 20, evidently east of Bowen, and the captain steered for Cleveland Bay, but the southwest wind blew him back, and he turned north until on February 23, they saw a number of reefs, sighting land on the 25th, probably the range on the island of Hinchinbrook, or the Bellenden Ker or Bartle Frere.
On Monday the 26th they grounded on a reef, and floated off with the tide, only to run finally onto another, ever since known as the Maria Reef, tearing a hole in the stern timbers, and when her anchors were dropped, she swung out over 30 ft of water, the depth in which she foundered, giving them time to construct two rafts, on which 30 men floated away towards the coast, in about latitude 18. Just before daybreak, the captain took the best boat and six men, to go ashore, he said, and get assistance. Tate said the boat could have held 20 men. It seems certain that the captain had no idea where he was, at any part of the voyage, certainly not at the last, or he would have steered for Hinchinbrook, or Cardwell.
Instead he steered for a coast uninhabited by white men, where the blacks promptly killed and ate him and three of his men. Two other boats, carrying 28 men, met on the outer beach of Hinchinbrook, and lived there for five days, chiefly on shellfish, nobody knowing where they were, finally deciding to go south.
On reaching the south end of Hinchinbrook, they saw the entrance to the channel behind, and, knowing then where they were, they pulled up that channel for 25 miles, to Cardwell at the other end.
A few minutes before the Maria sank, Tate and 24 others took refuge in the rigging, but an hour after, he and 14 others were taken off by the two boats, before they started for the shore, leaving nine men still in the rigging, but none of them were ever seen again, evidently being washed off and drowned.
The P.M. of Cardwell, Mr. Sheridan, chartered the steamer Tinonee, to go to the wreck, and Tate went with her, but a two day search revealed nothing. Then Captain Moresby arrived with H.M.S. Basilisk, and he sent two armed boats with a party of his men, and a dozen native police in charge of Sub-Inspector Johnstone, who went to the place where the captain and his men were killed and eaten, and then searched the coast, north to the Franklyns, but found only the decomposed bodies of drowned men and others who were killed by the blacks. One fine big man was lying dead on the beach, with his coat folded under his head. He had been able to crawl ashore and die. He had red hair and beard, so the blacks had not touched him. A red haired man or woman was safe with the wildest blacks, for red is the color of the hair of “Batamee,” the aboriginal Creator. When Major Lockyer went up the Brisbane River, the next man after Oxley, he had a tall soldier with fiery red hair, and the blacks regarded him with awe and wonder, inclined to believe that he was God.
A boat from the Basilisk found the body of a man named Williams, murdered only on the previous day. In the meantime, an officer of the Basilisk, scanning the coast with a telescope, saw a number of white men on the land, somewhere between Point Cooper and the Graham Range, and sent a boat ashore to bring on board eight of the castaways from the large raft. The blacks had been friendly to these men, and fed them for two weeks, but that was probably because Ingham and another man had red hair.
That was always the explanation given by me to Ingham, and there was no other apparent, for the blacks were exactly the same brand as those who killed and ate the other survivors.
Those eight men were Ingham, Coyle, Smith, Forster, Haydon, Siddell, Barden and Phillips. They had drifted for three days and nights on the raft, which occasionally capsized, and four men were drowned, while one died from exhaustion.
They landed, weary, hungry, thirsty, and more or less delirious; in Ingham’s case, the delirium lasting most of the time; in fact they were all more or less crazed by their terrible experiences. Naturally they gave somewhat confused narratives, and Ingham admitted to me that none of them knew much of what actually happened. The twenty eight men who got to Cardwell in the boats were all saved. In the party who went with the captain there were four saved.
There were eight saved from the large raft, but not a soul survived from the larger one, though it came ashore in perfect order and the other was in pieces.
Tate said that they found, near the small raft, four bodies of men who were murdered, and two who were drowned. No trace of the other six were ever discovered. They also got three other bodies of murdered men, near where the wreck of the cabin was washed ashore.
Six men were drowned when the vessel sank, and the nine left in the rigging perished, so that Tate summed up the loss of life as ten murdered, thirteen drowned, and twelve unaccounted for, but Ingham said there were fifteen men lost on the vessel, twelve lost from the small raft, ten from the big raft, and four from the captain’s boat, a total of forty nine out of seventy seven.
That was also the number given to me by Broadbent, who was in one of the boast that went into Cardwell.
Broadbent sent their were ninety eight men on the Maria, Tate said there were seventy six, and Ingham said there were eighty six, so it is easy enough here to see the problems the historian has to solve in finally settling the facts of human history. If we are in doubt concerning the incidents of today and not quite certain of their correct solution, what confidence are we to have on deciding on the problems of a hundred or a thousand years ago?
That wreck of the Maria, on the reef off Cardwell, was but one of too many wrecks to the credit, or discredit, of the Barrier Reef. A history of the ships lost on that Reef, from Lady Elliott Island to Torres Strait, would be one of the most fascinating and amazing volumes ever written. But it never can be written, and all that we can ever record of those wild, romantic, incredible scenes are merely disjointed fragments, a few wonderful bones of a tremendous skeleton of an animal that in his live state, would astonish mankind.
But surely no vessel was ever wrecked in a more wonderful environment, or in sight of more romantic and magnificent scenery. Her bones were laid to rest on a section of that wonderful reef which extends from Lady Elliott Island to near the coast of New Guinea.
In sight of that reef were the majestic mountains of Hinchinbrook Island, over whose palms and crags and caverns sail swift clouds, shadows and sunbeams, and down the face of gigantic precipices leap long white cascades, sparkling in the sunlight, like a shower of diamonds, while the dark green of the tropical foliage, embosomed in deep and shadowy ravines, contrasts in wild beauty of light and shade with the white stemmed eucalyptus on the grey ridges silhouetted on the skyline overhead. During the tropic rains, the cliffs and ravines of Hinchinbrook are barred by foaming torrents, descending in narrow streams, or spread out over the black rocks, or as clouds of spray, waving in wind created undulations, beautiful gem spangled bridal veils at the marriage festival of some fair spirits of the Earth and Heaven.
And on the skyline dividing the valleys of the Johnstone, Russell and Mulgrave Rivers tower – the magnificent jungle clad peaks of Bellenden Ker and Bartle Frere, loftiest of all Australian mountains next to Kosciusko, the jungle clad Graham Range, whose spurs descend into the sea, the mighty Coast Range from the head of the Barron to the head of the Herbert, the glorious tropic islands from Hinchinbrook to Fitzroy and the Franklyns, the jungle clad summit of Dunk Island, rising to 860 feet with a circumference of nine miles, opposite Tam O’Shanter Point, where Kennedy, the explorer, landed under the guns of the Rattlesnake on May 24, 1848.
THE WORLD’S NEWS
The amount of fiction written concerning the bushranger thunderbolt probably exceeds that devoted to any other of Australia’s outlaws. White’s account is brief but authentic or as much so as White’s research could make it, but represents only a fraction of the history of Thunderbolt.
Another book on the same subject is remarkable chiefly for the fertile imagination of the author, or the editor, or both. The reader shall have in this article something hitherto unpublished concerning Thunderbolt, and may rely upon the authenticity of all that is recorded.
Frederick Ward was born at Windsor, on the Hawkesbury, in 1836, and was only 20 years of age when, in 1856, he got 10 years in Cockatoo Island Prison, the sentence being given at Maitland. After serving part of his time, he was liberated on a ticket-of-leave, but was convicted again at Mudgee, and returned for another seven years to Cockatoo, whence he escaped on September 11, 1863, accompanied by a fellow prisoner, named Britten, whom evidently Thunderbolt did not accept as a mate in his subsequent bushranging adventures. The “Police Gazette” of 1863, when Ward escaped, describes him as 27 years of age, with hazel grey eyes, dark brown hair, and 5ft 8¼in in height, exactly the same as Frank Gardiner.
Ward, as a bushranger, had at least three mates, or there were three who said they were mates. Of one we are certain – a youth named Mason, who surrendered after he left Ward, and got a sentence of only two years.
A man named Munckton, who claimed to be a partner, was captured at Wellingrove on January 7, 1869, and a bushranger called Rutherford, alias “Dr. Pearson,” was captured by Sergeant Cleary, while a second bushranger, who called himself Rutherford, was shot by a publican named Beauvais, at Canonbar.
Several amateur bushrangers claimed to be mates of notorious outlaws, who probably never even saw them.
Quite recently I have received some entirely new and hitherto unrecorded information concerning Thunderbolt from an old friend, who went to school with me on the Clarence. He is now resident in Sydney, and is the eldest son of John Small, who was one of the first squatters on that river. In his father’s service was a little, tough, wiry man, whom I remember distinctly, named Billy Tyler. It appears that Billy was coming from Glen Innes to Grafton, along the old Barney’s Hill and Hook’s River Road, in charge of a valuable entire horse.
A stranger and his wife joined him on the road, and they came to Grafton together. All three were in Fisher’s store, when the stranger bought a lot of goods, and tendered a cheque purporting to be signed by a well known New England squatter. Fisher showed the cheque to Billy, who was quire unaware it was forged, and Bill said he thought it was good for any amount. That perfectly innocent verbal endorsement landed Billy four years in Berrima Gaol as an accomplice of the man who was trying to pass the forged cheque. While in Berrima Gaol, one of Billy’s fellow prisoners was a life sentence man, who called himself the “Wild Scotchman,” and said he had been a mate of Thunderbolt.
There is some confusion somewhere, as Macpherson, the “Wild Scotchman” of Queensland, was never in Berrima Gaol, certainly not on a life sentence. There may have been some other bushranger who gave himself that name, and may have been for a time a mate of Thunderbolt.
This much, however, is certain, that strong representative of influential friends, satisfied that Billy was innocent, got him liberated after two years, or less, and the life sentence man earnestly asked him to go find Ward, and tell him that all the money- a large amount, proceeds of a mail robbery – had been buried in a cave where he and Thunderbolt had their last parting, and that Ward would know exactly where it was.
He gave Billy the names and addresses of three shepherds and other friends, and confederates who would soon find means to arrange a meeting with Billy.
On his return to the Clarence from Berrima, Billy told his story to John Small, who gave him a horse, saddle, and bridle, and Billy started out for New England to find Thunderbolt; but on reaching Newton Boyd, he learned that Ward had been shot by Walker, and so Billy’s mission came to an abrupt termination, and there is nothing to show if the “Wild Scotchman” ever came out of Berrima Gaol in time to go and get the gold for himself, or whether it was found by others, or if it still remains in or near the cave. In after years, a boy, looking for birds’ nests, went into a cave that was occupied for some time by Ward and the half caste woman who claimed to be his wife, and found a bottle filled with £5 notes of the Commercial Bank, much damaged and the numbers hardly decipherable.
One book, claiming to be a record of Ward’s life, says that he and a boy companion went to Grafton, and won races there with a racehorse he took from New England.
Now, it is certain that Ward was never nearer Grafton than Broadmeadows Station, on the head of the Little River, and he only went there to bail up David Houlson, a road surveyor, who had a very fine horse called Regulator, claimed by Houlson to be “one beautiful chestnut mare with four white feet”, she and the horse he was riding being flecked with foam, showing a long gallop at a fast pace. To me he appeared rather a short man, with strapped moleskin trousers, half Wellington boots, a woven cardigan jacket, a short brown coat, with one button, a silk handkerchief round his neck, the two ends run through a gold ring, a low crowned cabbage tree hat, with a silver watch chain as a chin strap, and two Colt’s revolvers, one on each side of his belt.
Such was my first view of Fred Ward, the renowned “Captain Thunderbolt,” the bushranger. The chestnut mare with four white feet, like “Kyrat, strong and fleet, the chestnut horse with four white feet,” that leaped the chasm with the Arab Kuraglou, in Longfellow’s poem, had won the Maiden Plate in Tenterfield on the previous day, and Ward got away with her on the night. Two days before he had bailed up the German Band in Goonoo-Goonoo Gap, and took all their spare cash, being much in need of it, but he told them he would return it if he had any luck in Tenterfield. And he kept his promise and sent them £20 to the post office at Warwick. Fletcher knew Ward, who had been for a while stockman on Wallumbilla Station, on the Condamine, owned by two of my cousins, Archie and Sandy Meston, the stock being mostly wild cattle that retired all day into the brigalow scrubs, and came out at night to feed on the open flats. The musterers went after them at night, a game called “moonlighting,” an exciting and dangerous occupation. Ward was also for a while on Barney Downs Station, on New England. He bade Fletcher goodbye, said, “So long, youngster,” to myself, and galloped away towards Glen Innes, but he would turn to the left long before reaching there, and make for the ranges on the head of the Mann River.
The next time I saw Ward he was sitting in a chair, nude to the waist, cold and dead, being examined by a doctor, and then photographed, a copy of that photograph still being in my possession, the dead man yet wearing the cabbage tree hat. That was the day he was shot by Walker, and was in a public house kept by a man named Blanche, about four miles outside Uralla. Walker said he shot him with his last cartridge. The bullet must have been fired from the left side, as it entered below the left collar bone, passed through both lungs, and came out on the right side.
The inquiry was held by a police magistrate named Buchanan. Walker told a remarkable story of the last scene, and, there being nobody else present, there could be only one narrative. But there were many theories, and that last tragedy in the lagoon is still more or less nebulous. Walker was unable to find the body in a search on the night of the same day, and it was only discovered next morning.
The romantic element in Ward’s life was his love for a half caste woman named Annie Long, usually known as “Yellow Long,” a pleasant good looking woman with some education and polite manners. She was very loyal and faithful to Ward, and he equally so to herself.
Several times he risked his life and liberty for her sake, and when she had her last illness in 1867, he had her placed in care of a settler’s wife, on the Goulburn River, not far from Musselbrook, and she died there, leaving two or three children, all of whom Ward had placed with friends. One of the Wyndhams, the one who spoke the aboriginal dialect of New England, told me her mother was a Kamilroi woman, who called the girl Moorinna, their name of the small star Merope, in the Pleiades.
THE WORLD’S NEWS
This heading conjures a vast subject, of which only a fraction can be compressed into one or two articles. Mark Twain, in proposing the toast of “Woman” at New York banquet, said “Out of the plain of history tower whole mountain ranges of sublime women!” So we may say that across the field of Australian history marches a whole procession of old time bushrangers, who were more or less distinguished or extinguished, or both, and either ended in gaol or on the gallows, or from the effect of lead fired by police or civilians. It may seem to be a remarkable fact that only a small fraction of them all could be regarded as recruits from either escaped transported men or ticket-of-leave men, or time-expired prisoners.
They were chiefly native born Australians, born and trained in the bush, first class horsemen, who knew a large area of country, with a violent dislike to hard work, the first initiation on the wrong track being usually horse stealing or branding any young cattle with clean skins.
The word “bushranger,” which today is applied only to an armed highwayman, had quite a different meaning in the early days of New South Wales. In copies of early Sydney newspapers, the “Gazette” and the “Monitor,” there are advertisements from employers who “Wanted a good workman who is also a good bushranger!” It meant no more than our “bushman” of today.
Up to 1840, and later, the word “squatter” was a term of reproach, applied only to settlers living on or near a run, and stealing and branding the cattle and horses of the lessee. The word came originally from Jamaica, where it denoted the liberated Negroes who “squatted” on vacant Crown lands and lived on what they grew for themselves.
Bushrangers were common in Tasmania long before they appeared in New South Wales and they were nearly all either escaped or time expired convicts, especially such scoundrels as Mick Howe, Martin Cash, Brady, Britton, Kavanagh, and Jones. The earliest New South Wales bushrangers were Donohoe, Underwood, and Webber, all ex-convicts.
Dignam and his gang of nine were all convicts, and he and one of his men, a young fellow named Comerford, conspired to murder the other seven in their sleep, and burn the bodies, and this diabolical crime was actually committed.
An escaped life-sentence convict named Russell stuck up Judge Therry and his servant on the way to Goulburn. He asked Therry if the servant was bond or free, and, being told he was free, promptly annexed the servant’s watch and chain. Had he been an ex-prisoner, he would have lost nothing, as the “old hands” were usually very loyal to each other.
Among the most conspicuous bushrangers were Gardiner, Ben Hall, Dunn, Vane, Jack Piesley, Dan Morgan, the Clarke brothers, Thunderbolt, O’Meally, Burke, Ned Kelly, and Dan Hart.
The real era of bushranging began with the gold diggings. Among crimes for the sake of gold was one known as the “Omeo murder,” in Victoria, when a gold buyer named Cornelius Green, who had 800oxs in his pack saddle, was most brutally killed by a butcher named Chamberlain and a mate named Armstrong, but the packhorse bolted while they were dealing with Green and they never got an ounce of the gold, which was all saved. Both were caught and hanged.
Among the most interesting of the bushrangers was Frank Gardiner, alias Clarke, alias Christie, who was born at Boro Creek, near Goulburn, in 1830. He was one of the “bushrangers I have met,” but the meeting was in the old Darlinghurst Gaol, but it only lasted about three minutes, my companions being the Governor of the gaol, and W. B. Dalley, and two other well known Sydney citizens. Only the Governor and Dalley spoke to Gardiner, who appeared to me to wear a somewhat sullen and defiant expression, which certainly did not give me a friendly impression. He was a man only 5ft 8¼in in height, with a dark, sallow complexion, brown eyes, and blackhair. He had then no hope of release, only the prospect of life long imprisonment, and that naturally made him more unamiable. He began his criminal career as a young man with horse stealing, for which he got seven years in Cockatoo, but was liberated on a ticket-of-leave when half the sentence was served.
Then he returned to his old haunts, and started bushranging, the first offer of a reward for his capture appearing in the “Police Gazette” of January, 1862.
One of his early mates was Jack Peisley, who had been in Cockatoo with Gardiner for cattle stealing. In after years he was hanged at Darlinghurst for the murder of a man named Benyon.
Gardiner at one time had a butcher’s shop at Spring Creek. His star bushranging performance was the Eugowra escort robbery and the capture of £14,000 in June, 1862.
The skill with which Gardiner laid all his plans, and the artful devices by which he evaded the police, up to the time when he and Mrs. Brown got clear away to Queensland, cause boundless astonishment at the infatuated stupidity which left him so suicidally open to capture at the close of his career. He and Mrs. Brown, who was faithful to the last, landed at Rockhampton, even taking his favourite horse, “Darkey,” and, after a brief stay there, started with a horse and cart for Peak Downs diggings, at Clermont, 230 miles west of Rockhampton. On the way he and another traveller named Craig, who had no suspicion whatever regarding “Mr. And Mrs. Frank Christie,” became friends and decided to go into partnership, and started a combined store and hotel at a place called Apis Creek. The business included a butcher’s shop, and prospered. Both men were favourites, and “Mrs. Christie” was a most genial barmaid.
On more than one occasion the escort stayed there all night, and gave the gold into Gardiner’s care for safety! But just picture the madness of Gardiner starting a public business on a main road to a goldfield, and hundreds of men passing to and for from New South Wales, among them certain to be some who would know Gardiner, and others who would recognise Mrs. Brown. It seems incredible.
There need be no doubt there were men who recognised both, and said nothing, but the inevitable day of the spy and the informer arrived, and the thousand pound reward was a big temptation. One traveller who knew Gardiner went straight to Sydney and informed the Police Department, and Detective McGlone and two policemen named Pye and Wells, started for Rockhampton, which they left for Apis Creek on February 11, 1864, the year before St. Mary’s Cathedral was burned at Sydney, on June 29, and the year in which the Fiery Star was burned at sea on Good Friday.
Detective McGlone was one of the smartest of the police force at that time, and made no mistake in any of his arrangements. He gave Pye and Wells no idea of the object of the trip until they arrived at Apis Creek and McGlone had identified Gardiner.
When being served with drinks, and Gardiner’s hands were on the counter, McGlone recognised all the scars and marks of his hands and face in a second. Then he went to the camp of Lieutenant Brown, a somewhat new chum officer of native police, and arranged for him to come over at a certain hour next day, with his eight black troopers, so that at the moment of arrest, Gardiner was under the muzzles of eight rifles and four revolvers, with eight aboriginals and four white men ready to grab him at a second’s notice! The artful aboriginals, who knew exactly what mission they were on, sauntered quietly up near Gardiner, singing a favourite corroboree song, and looking as innocent as if they were out after ‘possums. They were the coolest of all concerned. In after years, one of them told me that Lieutenant Brown was terribly excited, and nearly shot an innocent man who was chopping some chips off a stump in front of the pub. Here then was the final catastrophe, and Gardiner’s resolve to live a good life, in some beautiful and peaceful Utopia, and Mrs. Brown’s love’s young dream or middle-aged dream of bliss all fell together in one tremendous and glorious crash. It was a sad and tragic termination of all their hopes and aspirations.
McGlone arrested Craig, Gardiner’s partner, and Mrs. Brown, who were taken on to Rockhampton where the Court acquitted both, and Craig went back to Apis Creek to look after the business.
From Brisbane to Sydney Gardiner travelled on the old steamer Telegraph, and at Darlinghurst, he was brought before captain Scott and George Hill, magistrates, and committed on the charge of attempted murder of John Middleton and William Hosie, on the Fish River, on July 16, 1861, but he was acquitted of these charges at the Supreme Court before Judge Wise, and then, on the advice of his legal defenders, Dalley and Isaacs, he pleaded guilty to three charges of robbery under arms, and was sentenced to 15, 10, and 7 years, a total of 32 years.
After serving 10 years, and a great agitation and big petition in his favour, supported by Sir Henry Parkes and Sir Hercules Robinson, Gardiner was liberated, taken to Newcastle in the Dandenong, in charge of two detectives, and sent away in the Charlotte Andrews to San Francisco, where, as “the celebrated Australian bushranger,” he kept a liquor saloon, and ended his eventful career.
The history of Mrs. Brown, the only romantic character in Gardiner’s life, from Apis Creek to the fall of the curtain, is more or less nebulous and unreliable, but, like Byron’s Parisina-
“Whatsoe’er her end below,
Her life began and closed in woe.”
Queensland had only one famous bushranger, Macpherson, the “Wild Scotchman,” whom I knew fairly well after his final liberation.
He had a sister named Maggie, a braw Scotch lassie, who was housemaid for two years with my eldest sister, Mrs. Robert Muir, of Benowa sugar plantation, on Nerang Creek. Macpherson, in the old Scottish border days, would have been a moss trooper, or a cattle reiver, or been harrying the English neighbours, or spending his surplus energies in killing some of the wild Macgregors or red-haired Macintoshes, but there was no room for him as a Queensland bushranger.
All attempts at bushranging in Queensland came to an abrupt and untimely end, and that was the fate of Macpherson, though a man with that name should have been an ideal highwayman. He was finally captured by a couple of Burnett River squatters and the last I saw of Macpherson was a photograph sent to me from Burketown, showing him lying dead after being killed in an accident at a funeral, a most inglorious ending for a Macpherson and a bushranger.
SATURDAY DECEMBER 31, 1921
THE HAUNTED CREEK
TALE OF AN OLD ROAD
GHOSTS OF THE BUSH
MURDER VICTIMS WALK
The old road from Grafton to Glen Innes was via the Nymboy, the Stoney Pinch, and Barney’s Hill, until the Little River cuttings made the present road, via Dalmorton. Then the old road drifted back into the primeval wilderness, and Hook’s pub, at the crossing of the Nymboy, vanished, with all its remarkable history, into oblivion.
To all the old teamsters, the stream was known as “Hook’s River,” a wild, picturesque glen, with many rocks and sandbars, cascades and cataracts, and deep dark pools. That old road to Glen Innes was surely the worst in Australia, and there will never be anything like it again.
But for the evidence of the road itself, and the dray tracks, no stranger would have believed that loaded teams ever went up or down such places as the Stoney Pinch and Barney’s Hill, the latter consisting of four steep pinches, the top one being the worst, all on one long very narrow spur, which descended from the top of the range not far from Newton Boyd, then owned by John Small, of Ulmarra, with a partner named Sellers, who resided as manager.
Near Barney’s Hill, the old road joined the present route, and thence via Newton Boyd, to the Big Hill at the Mann River crossing, and on past the Bald Knob and Rusden’s Shannon Vale station to Glen Innes.
Near Stoney Pinch was a stream known as Dinner Creek, reached at midday by teams from Hook’s Crossing. It was a beautiful stream in another wild romantic ravine, the road crossing where it emerged from a gorge in the mountains.
It was reputed to be haunted, known as the “Haunted Creek,” a fact quite unknown to myself, so there is no room for Carpenter’s “unconscious cerebration” theory to explain what was seen.
My companion was A. M. Fletcher, then Government appraiser of runs, once a well known merchant in Glen Innes.
The ghost story was well known to him, but as we were to camp that night at the haunted creek, he deemed it well not to scare a boy of 16 by relating the episode. The night was one of remarkably bright moonlight, the moon nearly full, and we were camped on a beautiful spot on the bank of the stream about ten yards from the water, which was only a narrow rivulet on our side, the rest of the bed covered with dry shingle and about 30 yards in width.
Fletcher was seated by the fire, attending to the quart pot, and I was standing on the brink of the stream gazing at the glorious scène before me and listening to the musical ripple of the water. A possum and his lady – probably his wife – were having very high words on a tree overhead; a mopoke (Ninox lurida), the “mobok” of the aboriginals, was calling from the crest of an adjacent rock, while a spotted owl (Strix flammea) flitted silently across the creek in the moonlight at the moment when my astonished gaze was directed to a man walking along the dry bed of the creek towards where I was standing and not more than 20 yards away.
He was apparently a typical teamster, with cabbage tree hat, moleskin trousers, blucher boots, the blue twill shirt of that period, and a bullock whip in the right hand.
What astonished me most was the absolute silence of his movement with heavy boots on, whereas even a man with bare feet would walk noisily over that slippery, sounding shingle – a fact proved by me the next morning with my boots off.
When the uncannily silent stranger came within about 12 yards I tuned to Fletcher and said “Come and see who this is,” turning only to find the mysterious visitor was nowhere to be seen, and my eyes were not away long enough for him to have gone three yards.
After describing what I saw, Fletcher evaded questions by merely saying it was all a delusion, and so we both went to sleep.
Next morning I searched both banks carefully for tracks, but only saw one about two weeks old. Our special visitor had left no tracks! Next day we started up the Stoney Pinch, passing the bleached skulls and bones of many bullocks killed in that perilous ascent, and a row of dead trees on each side of the road at the foot, being trees from the summit trailed behind the wool drays with their wheels locked in the descent. The teamsters nearly always put two teams on to each dray going up.
On the top we saw where a loaded dray and the two pole bullocks had gone over the edge, and cut a track down the precipice for about 600 feet, the final wreckage landing in the bed of a stoney creek, the bushes all the way down tufted with shirts, trousers, towels, blankets, and other articles, all lost beyond redemption.
This was the dray of a man reported to have been the haunted creek visitor without his hat, said to be an evil omen!
That night we camped on the Little River in the hut of a squatter named Pat Sweeney, managing on behalf of Jim Sweeny, who once held the present Ulmarra, on the Clarence, as a cattle station. He was very surprised to learn from Fletcher that we had camped at the haunted spot at the Dinner Creek, and asked at once: “Did you see the ghost?” Then the whole tale was told.
The moonlight visitor was the ghost of a teamster murdered about 200 yards from where we were camped, and found dead with the bullock whip in his hand, wearing the hat and clothes in which he appeared to me. He had been seen by a number of teamsters and travellers until nobody who knew the story could be induced to camp there.
Whoever saw him without his hat met with some serious disaster, and some astounding tales were told of the effect of that omen.
On starting to descend Barney’s Hill, we saw where the linchpin of a wool laden dray snapped on the top pinch, and the dray went over the edge, falling about 800 feet, smashing it to smithereens, and scattering wool over the tree tops until they looked as if caught in a snowstorm, a most singular effect. That dray also belonged to a teamster who saw the ghost without his hat!
The wool had the “O.B.X.” brand of the Bloxsomes of Ranger’s Valley, so my memory has not forgotten very much. At Newton Boyd we heard some more remarkable stories of the Dinner Creek ghost, including those of teamsters whose bullocks would never remain there at night, and horses that would gallop away from there in hobbles.
The mailman, who ran the mail from Grafton to Glen Innes was named Jim Braham, and he had a grey pack horse subject to strange terror at that creek, even in the daytime, trembling violently, and sweating with fear.
Our next camp after Newton Boyd was on top of the Big Hill, the real ascent of the Main Range, and a terrible place before the New South Wales Government spent about £20,000 in making extensive cuttings and culverts back in the years 1866 and 1867, according to records.
Now the motor cars career along a good track, where the tough old teamsters of the sixties (1860s) locked their wheels and trailed whole trees behind the drays, and so steep that Jim Braham the veracious, calmly assured me he had seen whole flocks of cockatoos flying down backwards, and wallaroos lowering each other down by their tails, or sliding down on a sheet of stringy bark, the “Dandarrigo” of the old aboriginals, the name of the now famous Big Scrub, on the head of the Urara River, the black’s name of the spotted gum.
Our camp was on a small stream of perfect water, in a clump of forest oak, about 3000 feet above sea level.
Unknown to us a woman had been murdered there a year before, under diabolical circumstances, and her ghost had been seen several times, and a scream heard such as the listener never forgot, like that of Parasina-
In madlier accents rose despair,
And those that heard it as it passed
In mercy wished it were the last.”
Well, I plainly saw the figure of that woman, and heard that shriek, and never longed for a repetition since.
Fletcher had the same experience, and the horses, though close hobbled, went temporarily mad. I never in my life had a more earnest desire to be somewhere else.
THE GATEWAY OF AUSTRALIA
THAT DARK NORTH HEAD
Contemplation of that North Head of Sydney harbour unfolds a never ending panorama of Romance, stretching far back into the primeval solitudes. The North and South Heads stand sentinels over the “Gateway of Australia,” in the same sense that Gibraltar, the ancient “Pillars of Hercules” stood sentinels by the gateway of the Mediterranean.
Through that Gateway passed all ships to or from the countries bordering that tideless sea, and those lying behind. Through Sydney Heads have passed thousands of ships of all sizes, carrying from time to time at least four-fifths of the population of Australia, present and past.
Can any man or woman, with ore imagination than a native bear, contemplate that great stern cliff-faced sentinel, North Head, rock without emotion?
And in the early days, from 1788 to 1840, there passed through that Gateway some forth thousand male and female prisoners, who sailed in past that North Head with thoughts that are not recorded, thoughts of love and hate, of homesick pangs, of shame and remorse, of a bitter sense of cruel wrongs, of savage defiance, of pent-up desire for vengeance, of high hopes, and sullen despair.
How many were guilty of trifling offences, regarded leniently today; and how many were innocent of any crime at all? And the last ship that brought the last victims of a system, impossible in the humanity of today, was anmed the Eden, and she arrived in 1840. Picture a convict ship called the Eden!
As well call her the Dove of Mercy!
And through the Gateway, in 1792, bound for England, went Governor Phillip, accompanied by two Sydney aboriginals named Bennilong and Yemerrawannie, the first natives to leave their own country, and they must have cast last sad looks at that dark North Head, and felt as the Scottish immigrant, taking his last look at the far off blue hills of his native land, in heart broken accents, sobbed, “Lochaber no more!”
Yemerrawannie never returned. He lies in an English grave, with a headstone recording his name and race, and birthplace, far from his native woods.
Did these two wild men farewell that North Head after the manner of the Scot, with a parting “Arragong becal wandora” (Arragong no more)”
One of several names for that Head was “Arragong,” the hardwood shield; the bark shield being “eelaman,” usually spelled “hielaman.”
That rock was the shield which stopped all the tremendous waves, and the gales from the east and north-east. The east wind was “Dareelie,” the same as at Moreton Bay. At the Hawkesbury it was “Waneera.”
Think of some of the men who passed that Gateway. There was the amiable mariner, Bass, who gave his name to Bass Strait, and the marvelous Flinders, of the amazing voyages in impossible ships, whose name is borne by the Flinders River, Flinders Island, and Flinders Passage in the Barrier Reef.
After cruel adventures and imprisonment by the French scoundrel, Du Caen, the Mauritius Governor who stole his charts, Flinders finally died in London on the 14th of July, 1814. The final fate of Bass was never known.
There, too, passed Surveyor-General Oxley in the Mermaid, Captain Penson, with Lieutenant Stirling of the Buffs, and John Uniacke, and a Sydney black named Bowen.
Oxley passed the Gateway on October 2, 1823, on his way north to look for a site for a new convict settlement, finally entering the Brisbane River on the 2nd of December.
He finally died at Sydney, on March 25, 1828.
Here is an omission by me to mention that Flinders came out as a midshipman on the “reliance,” with Captain Hunter, in 1795, Bass being the surgeon.
These two on one occasion went round Botany Bay and George’s River in an eight foot dinghy, the “Tom Thumb,” but trying a voyage south from Sydney, they capsized, and Flinders amused a lot of wild blacks by cutting their hair and beards with scissors while their powder was drying! It was rather a precarious barber act, but they got through.
On the 20th of December, 1816, there passed the Gateway, the convict ship, “Surrey,” Captain Raine, having on board the afterwards immortal botanist, Alan Cunningham, who came out as collector to the Royal Gardens at Kew.
That was the man who discovered the now famous Darling Downs, which he found and named on the 5th of June, 1827, and added a great and valuable knowledge to the known flora of Australia.
He passed the Heads again in May, 1830, in the Lucy Ann, bound for Norfolk Island in Morisset’s days, and was robbed on Phillip Island by 11 runaway convicts.
He left Sydney again on April 15, 1838, in the French corvette, “L’Heroine,” Captain Cecille, on a trip to New Zealand, said by him to be the most agreeable days of his life, but he returned with his health gone, and on the 27th of June, 1839, he died, aged 48, in the arms of James Anderson, who had succeeded him as Colonial Botanist and Superintendent of the Botanic Gardens, to which Cunningham had been appointed on the 1st of March, 1837, but from which he resigned in disgust in the following December, regarding it as “the Government Cabbage Garden for the officers!”
Fancy today asking Mr. Maiden to grow vegetables for Parliament House! It could be done with safety by telephone from Queensland!
Cunningham’s favourite collecting ground was in the scrubs of Illawarra.
His brother Richard was said to be killed by the Bogan blacks in April, 1835, after rambling away from Sir Thomas Mitchell’s expedition.
In May, 1823, one of the men who first passed in through that Gateway was Dr. John Dunmore Lang, famous in early history, who, among other memorable deeds, was author of “Cooksland” and “Queensland,” two very interesting and remarkable books. He fought valiantly to have the 30th parallel made the boundary line between New South Wales and Queensland. He was a fine type of the gladiator citizen of the early days.
The first convicts from Sydney to Moreton Bay, in charge of Lieutenant Murray, of the 40th Regiment, passed through the Heads in September, 1824, and arrived in the brig, Amity, on the 24th, to start a settlement at the present Redcliffe Point in Moreton Bay, now a favourite watering place.
The same year started the first Australian Supreme Court, and the first Australian Legislative Council, and in the next year, 1825, there came the first Australian divorce case, Cox v Payne. Divorce cases are no longer a novelty.
Through the Heads, in March, 1828, came the ship Morley, bringing the first whooping cough, which wiped out a lot of young Australians, including a son of Governor Darling.
And in the next year, 1829, on January 11, Robert Howe, the first Australian editor, was drowned off the present Fort Denison, the “Pinchgut” or “Starvation Rock,” of the convict days.
The North head was Howe’s favourite lookout.
In August, 1828, Captain Rous, of H.M.S. Rainbow, the first warship that ever entered Moreton Bay, where her name is given to rainbow Beach and his to Rous Channel, came down along the coast, discovering and naming the Clarence and Richmond Rivers, and sailed in through Sydney Heads to receive a Royal Navy salute.
In that year, at the Parramatta races, the health of Captain Rous, afterwards Admiral Rous, was toasted in honor of the discovery of the two northern rivers.
And the year 1831 saw the launching of the first Australian steamboat, the Surprise, which doubtless would be a surprise if she started today to compete with the Manly ferryboats! On the 23rd of January, 1838, the immigrant ship Minerva, passed through the Heads, bringing the first typhus fever known to Australia, the year in which our Botanic Gardens was first thrown open to the public on Sundays. In 1839, when Brisbane was abandoned as a penal settlement, the last batch of convicts came in through Sydney Heads, the year before the last convicts arrived from England.