No 4. A Chapter on Old Times - Part Two

The last paper, for which I am indebted to the graphic pen of "'Flying Fish," concluded with a description of the attempted murder by an ex-member of "Dido's" party of Mr S- , superintendent in charge of a road party, at St. Peter's Pass, near Oatlands, in 1855. The same writer has kindly consented to pursue the subject of "Dido" and his companions further, so this week the reader is presented with the continuation of his interesting -

CHAPTER ON OLD TIMES.
The bushrangers, being disappointed in their attack on Mr S- , joined each other on the road immediately after their intended victim escaped, and a wagon owned by Mr W. McEwen, of Oatlands, coming by at the time, bound for either Ross or Launceston, I forget now which. They bailed the driver up and asked him if he had heard any shots. He replied in the negative, and they then ordered him to hand out what money he had on him, which was only a few shillings. This they took from him, and after examining the contents of the wagon they allowed him to proceed on his journey. The bushrangers then made in the direction of Mr James Lord's estate at Saltpan Plains, and from there to Mr Wilson's sheeprun at the Blue Hills. There they fell in with Mr Wilson's shepherd towards evening, and he invited them to his hut. His wife prepared them something to eat, and the shepherd returned to his run, where he fortunately fell in with his master, who was on horseback. He informed him that he believed Dido and his mate were in his hut. Mr Wilson immediately started for Oatlands, cautioning his shepherd not to mention having seen him to the bushrangers. On reaching the township he proceeded to the residence of the Police Magistrate and told that gentleman that Dido and his mate were then at his shepherd's hut. Mr Whitefoord regretted there was not a constable on Oatlands, the force being all away after the men who shot Mr S. that morning. However, he said he would ask the sergeant in charge of the military if he could send a couple of his men out at once. I might state that at this time the detachment stationed at Oatlands consisted of one sergeant and 12 men of the 99th Regiment. Sergeant Donnahue was informed of the whereabouts of the bushrangers, and Corporal Andrews and two men volunteered to go for them at once. To facilitate their movements, Saunderson, one of the javelin men at the gaol, procured a conveyance, and drove them out to the Blue Hills. On reaching the shepherd's hut (which was built of stone), the soldiers jumped out of the cart. It being then nearly midnight the corporal posted his men in case the bushrangers attacked them from within, and knocked at the door. After some delay some one from within (I think the shepherd) demanded, "Who's there ?" The corporal replied, "Military, open the door." One of the bush rangers said - "Don't open it yet." The hut had only one door, in front of which the soldiers were posted. The windows and door faced the front, consequently there was no means of escape from the back. The bushrangers finding themselves entrapped, having only one mode of escape, and that through the fire of the military, resolved to submit, and ordered the door to be opened. This was done, and Corporal Andrews ordered them "to lay down their arms," which request was immediately complied with. The men were handcuffed together, marched into Oatlands, leg-ironed, and confined in the gaol.

Mr S. was lying in a very precarious state since his encounter with the bushrangers, having become delirious after the bullet was extracted, but thanks to the as siduous attention of Dr. Doughty and careful nursing he soon regained his faculties. However, his medical adviser ordered that on no account was he to be annoyed or disturbed. The Government in the mean time sent another officer to take charge of the station during his illness. The bushrangers Rushton and Mellor were brought before Mr Whitefoord, P.M. and on the statement of Dr. Doughty that it would probably be some weeks before Mr S. would be able to attend and give evidence, for he was still in a dangerous state, the Police magistrate remanded them for a week. Subsequently Mr Whitefoord deemed it advisable to have the prisoners conveyed to the house of Mr S., and have the injured man's evidence taken before them. Accordingly they were brought into S.'s bedroom, heavily ironed and escorted by Chief District Constable Quinlan and two policemen, while Mr Whitefoord took down the evidence. Rushton was identified by S. as the man who fired at him. When asked if he saw the other prisoner Mellor, he replied "No; the only one I saw was Rushton." After the evidence was given Rushton asked Mr S., "How far was I from you when you were shot ?" S. replied "I have stated, from 20 to 25 yards, not more." This shows what improper questions prisoners sometimes ask, questions which tend to criminate themselves. This was pointed out to him by the magistrate. After the examination of S. the prisoner was taken back to Oatlands. About a month afterwards S. was able to resume charge of the station, and continued to improve daily.

In December, the Supreme Court was opened at Oatland for the trial of all prisoners under committal, before his Honor Judge Horne. Rushton and Mellor on being arraigned, charged with shooting at S. with intent to kill and murder him, pleaded not guilty. Rushton asked his Honor to remand the case, stating that he had a witness residing in the Evandale district who would prove that he was in that locality at the time Mr S. stated he was shot. His Honor, on making enquiry if the prisoners had the opportunity of calling witnesses, was informed by the gaoler, Mr Payne, that he had personally asked each of them if there were any witnesses they wished to call, and they replied no. Judge Horne, after consulting with the Attorney General, informed Rushton that if he would make an affidavit on oath that this witness would be of material consequence for his defence he (his Honor) would remand the case to the court to be held in Hobart Town in the following month. This Rushton did, as subsequent events proved, to prolong the time for endeavouring to break out of the Oatlands gaol. There were a number of desperate characters confined therein at this time, and some outside friend of the prisoner's, convicted at the late session, managed to conceal inside a loaf of bread, a small piece of steel plate, well serated on the edge to form a saw, where with to cut the leg irons. When these were removed it was intended to overpower the gaol officials, and escape.

However their design was frustrated, and additional vigilance enforced by the authorities, the convicted prisoners being sent to Hobart Town en route to Port Arthur. Rushton and Mellor were also sent to Hobart Town, there to await their trial. They left Oatlands by Lord's coach under escort, but in going down Constitution Hill the coach was upset, and constables and prisoners were pitched on the road, but without any injury. After a short delay the coach was righted, and resumed its journey in safety. The Supreme Court in Hobart Town commenced about the middle of January ; Rushton and Mellor were again arraigned before Judge Horne, and after hearing the evidence of a number of witnesses for the prosecution the prisoners were called upon for their defence. However, the witness that Rushton stated at Oatlands would give material evidence for his defence, he refused to have subpoenaed. Both prisoners were found guilty, and sentence of death passed upon them. Some short time afterwards they were both executed within the precincts of the old gaol. They were the first men executed privately, for previously executions were carried out in public, large crowds assembling to hear the speeches made by the condemned before being launched into eternity. Shortly before this the bushrangers "Rocky" Whelan and Connolly were hanged for a number of murders committed by them whilst in the bush. Connolly, while standing on the gallows, kicked off his shoes, and addressing the crowd said:--" I only wish I had my time to go over again, I'd shoot them down like rats." This was looked upon by some of the spectators as a grand dying speech, and they considered that Connolly died "game."

In conclusion I may state that Rushton made a statement to the Roman Catholic clergyman who attended him, to be made public after his death. This was, to the effect that beside the crime for which he was about to suffer, and so that no one else might be punished for what he had done, he would enumerate the offences he was guilty of. Perhaps it will be as well to state that shortly after the arrest of Rushton and Mellor, Dido and Flaherty were captured near Swansea or Swanport, I believe the latter place. They stuck up a public house a short distance from the township, and bailed up every person that passed along the road, amongst them District Constable Jonathan Watson, who was on horseback at the time. The desperados made him dismount, and tied him to a tree. There were five or six persons thus bound to trees, and Dido and Flaherty were so elated with success that they went in for a glorious " bust," as they had possession of a public-house, and the chief district constable tied up to a tree to admire the "fascinations" of a bushranger's life. As might be expected by frequently helping themselves at the bar, the ruffians became helplessly drunk, and went to sleep on the road. Mr Watson by some means released himself and set the others free. They had no difficulty in securing the two bushrangers. The bushrangers had committed no violent assault on their victims but simply bailed them up and secured them to trees to prevent them running away and giving information. Dido and Flaherty were tried at Hobart Town, sentenced, to imprisonment for life, and removed to Port Arthur. 1

  • 1. THE SKETCHER - Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899) 7 January 1893: p10