THE AUSTRALIAN BUSHRANGER|
For the first fifty years of its existence as a "British" Colony, Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) was a penal settlement. In fact, very little was done for quite a few years to encourage free settlers to farm or remain on the land at all.
According to the British government, Australia's best and only use was for the imprisonment and eventual reform of convicts. The isolation and its geographic location meant (so they thought), it would be impossible for anyone to escape.
For many years, Tasmania remained a dumping ground for the most vicious convicts (such as Alexander PEARCE) many of whom fled to the bush to escape the attrocities of Hell's Gates (Macquarie Harbour) and Port Arthur.
The term 'Bushranging' was first used in the "Sydney Gazette in 1805 but was first applied to 'bolters' in Van Diemen's Land by Reverend Thomas KNOPWOOD in 1806.
As early as 1808, Lemon. and Brown, by systematic robbery, caused uneasiness and alarm before one of them was surprised asleep and decapitated at a place near Oatlands (Tas) which became known as Lemon Springs.
By 1810 the first proclamation relating to bushranging offered a reward for the apprehension of the Whitehead Gang.
In May of 1813, Lieut-Governor DAVEY demanded surrender of all bushrangers by December 1st of that year, after which date they were to be automatically classed as bushrangers and to be shot on sight. This caused an uproar with the mostly convict or ex-convict population and in 1814 Governor MACQUARIE offered pardon, except for murderers, to those who returned to their normal duty within 6 months.
Macquarie's document was welcomed by all of the bushrangers. It was seen as a license to bushrange. They carried on their ravages until the last day, and then almost universally surrendered. Their past deeds were now forgiven with all previous crimes anulled. Most of them absconded again and immediately took up their past life.
In Van Diemen's Land, a succession of notorious scoundrels terrorized the outlying farms and smaller settlements, and at times the country towns and even Hobart itself.
At nightfall every lonely house was strongly bolted and barricaded, and one or more of the men of the household mounted guard with a loaded flintlock.
Serious outbreaks of bushranging began in New South Wales about 1822 (34 were hanged in Sydney in that year alone).
Governor DARLING formed the Mounted Police (1825) and passed the bushrangers act (1830) which made it lawful for any citizen to arrest any person suspected of being an escaped felon or of carrying firearms.
Constables were empowered to search any house under general warrant; proclamations offering rewards were posted in police stations and at inns. Furthermore, it provided for immediate execution of guilty persons to anticipate petitions for reprieve.
At Campbell's river near Bathurst (1830), 50 bushrangers attacked the police and troops were sent from Sydney to quell the riot. The whole gang surrendered and 10 of them were executed.
Dr WARDELL'S murder (1834) created a public outburst but generally bushranging remained relatively quiet during the 1840s and 1850s. The discovery of gold in Victoria encouraged activities especially amongst old lags from Van Diemen's Land.
The 1860s gave birth to a new type, work-shy sons of poor settlers. They concentrated largely on gold and horses, holding up coaches (Eugowra Gold Escort) and not infrequently, whole towns, robbing stores and banks and isolated stations.
1860-80 remains Australia's sensational era of bushranging. An estimated 300 men took to the roads between the GARDINER outbreak (1861) and the KELLY gang (1880).
From New England to the Victorian border the country was terrorized by men like HALL, GILBERT, MORGAN, The CLARKE brothers, THUNDERBOLT and Captain MOONLIGHT.
Special government measures were taken to restrict lawlessness in the 1860s. Big rewards were offered and bushrangers were tried by special commissioners to prevent sympathetic jurors rejecting a case.
Police officers were frequently hindered in investigations because of public sympathy towards many of the highwaymen.
The trial of the Eugowra gold robbers indicates the difficulty in gaining a conviction. Following the Bank of New South Wales robbery at Jerilderie in 1879 by the Kelly gang, the Felons Apprehension Act (New South Wales) was strengthened by providing that outlaws from a neighbouring colony were automatically outlawed in New South Wales.
Bushranging in Australia generally remained confined to Van Diemen's Land, Victoria and New South Wales; isolated outbursts in other states caused only minor disturbances.
Within a few years of settlement, the fear of an impending famine caused Tasmania's Governor, Colonel COLLINS to send his convicts out to hunt fresh meat.
With a brief taste of freedom, many of them took their leave and ignored the summons to return, living by raiding isolated farms and travellers.
The term "Bolters" was applied to these convicts. If caught, bolters could be flogged, hanged or sent off to the chain gang.