Chapter 112807915

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1899-12-16
Page Number1
Word Count2531
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser (NSW : 1876 - 1951)
Trove TitleDays of Danger. Thrilling Narratives of the Bushranging Times. True Till Death. Period 1845.
article text

Dnys of D Miner* — * —


Thrilling NarratiYes of the Bustonging Times. ?????? „ ? «. ? -True Till Death.

? «. ?

— ? ? ? - In .yeven Parts. - — Period, 1845. ? 4, ? : ?


The beautiful river Derwenr, of vvhich Tasmanians are so justly proud, practically takes its rise in the long sheet of water called Xake St. Clair. This lake is nearly ten miles long, by about four broad, and it is most romantically situated. At either end rise up two remarkable peaks in the most abrupt manner, while to the west of these the long St. Clair Range runs almost parallel with the Eldor Ranee.

and nearly joins the great Rugged Ranges to the north. The whole country is a land of mountains, rivers, ^--' and lakes, and even in the 'Ninetits' many parts of it have never been trodden by a white man. The source ol the Derwent is an elevated lake, though lying in a great basin between the mountains which tower around vegetation, like most parts towards the - west coast is dense, and in. the near . future doubtless the sylvan wealth contained in the fine forests will be turned to account. At no great distance from Lake St. Clair the rivers Nye, Dee, and Ouse also take their rise, and go to swell the volume of the Derwent ere the latter has gone fifty miles on its course to the ocean. ' Wild picturesqueness is the chief feature of the district, and the lover of Nature in her rougher moods can find much.. to- interest him around Lake St. Clair. T»-* (Via pnrlnrr r\( tQjH__ ..tVifi. /Info

XII 111^ out 'i-g VS- * w*r J ? ni^« umiv. being September 26th — three wretched felons who were employed in a gang building a bridge across the Upper Ouse appear to have been powerfully attracted to this region, and the history of the affair is one of the strangest in the free-booting annals of Van Dieman's Land. Two of these convicts had been well brought up — were in fact of gentle birth — whilst the third was one of Nature's rough diamonds, hardy, honest, and self sacrificing. To some people who are pharisees at heart it may sound paradoxical to assert that a trans ported felon should possess the virtues of a truly good man, but in the case of Alfred Mitchell it was abso lutely true. The names of the other two who worked next him in the gang were Charles Hellyer and Francis Shudland. The information as to names had been exchanged one day when the overseer was a little lax in his watch, for of course they were only known officially by numbers, a system adopted in the interests of the prisoners ; themselves, though there is very little sense in it — or rather, there was very little to recommend it in the early convict days.

Comrades in misfortune as they were — or crime, as the disciplinarian may put it — the fact was not surprising that the trio should gradually reveal to each other who and what they were in the old country.- They all hailed . from Lincolnshire, and not a dozen miles separated their birthplaces. Mitchell was the son of an old agricultural labourer, and as such had been very poorly reared. , His two comrades had been more fortunate in v the earlier period of their existence, as ; they were the sons of landed gentry. , This no doubt made their lot in the . Bridge Gang all the harder to bear, though they bore up under the degradation and misery with a forti tude equal to that of Mitchell. Perhaps it was the golden whisper ings of Hope which cheered them. - 'Their thoughts ever ran on escape, 'and when the sun descended in the west they could see from their position 'on the river the blue outlines of the peaks and ranges far away become ' tipped and halved with silvery radiance which seemed in its exceeding loveli . ness to entice them on. The western peaks were their Land of Promise where the exile- and sufferings of bondage would be forgotten. ' They were all young men, the eldest

(Hellyer; Demg twenty-nine, wnne Mitchell and Shudland were three years younger. None of them had the slightest wish to get back .to England, though in the ordinary case ?it would not be a very long time until they could return as free men. Mitchell's sentence was three years, and his two comrades had four years each to. serve, of which ' one had already. been done. There was nothing but poverty and mayhap the work-house in his old use for Mitchell if he returned, whilst the other two were practically dead to their aristocratic relations. There was no such place as Home to them on' earth, and : it therefore seemed quite fitting they should seek the peaceful solitudes of Western Van Dieman's Land. . , . ? . It must be said they knew very little. of the district which they so desired to escape' to. The one vital* point in their estimation was that no white men lived in the locality, and pursuing parties were generally baffled . among the rugged peaks and deep glens which abounded. The question of food scarcely occurred to them,- and had not the Fates been propitious; that omission in their programme might have had serious results.

They were sent to the Bridge Gang towards the latter end of July, and so well did they plot that on the 26th of the following September they resolved to try their fortune at escape. Though their conduct was uniformly good, it had little or no effect in obtaining mitigation of discipline. It was usually considered by the sub-authorities that a man who meekly submitted to the convict regulations was either playing a part for some infeiior purpose, or that he was a contemptible wretch altogether beneath the notice of the

high and mighty gaolers. Neither Mitchell, Hellyer, or Shud land were brutally inclined, and it was their natural manner to patiently submit to the harsh treatment of the system under which they served. The chief gaoler of the small station, one Coates, was a very bad specimen of the penal official. Being a consider able distance from headquarters, he assumed almost autocratic powers, and did/ things which the Lieutenant Governor would' have hesitated at. Those acts generally told against the convicts, but occasionally he over reached himself. There was a large, building on the edge of the river which was supposed to be for housing the prisoners at night, but Coatesj when he took charge of the Ouse Gang, soon made ah alteration. . 'Grumbling, in his characteristic manner- about the in dulgences shown to convicts whilst free men had to put up with various inconveniences, he ordered the felons

lay out in the river near the bridge. The accommodation in. these craits was not at all suitable, but the con victs knew better than to grumble. Though head gaoler, Coates ex pressed the belief that the prisoners would be safer on the barges at night than in the land building, but he soon received a ksson to the contrary. The first effect of the change was to make the guards comparatively care less, and Mitchell and his friends were not slow to notice this. When the lights were put out the two guards which were kept on each barge amused themselves as best they could, and rum was not any unknown luxury to them. .One of the convict- servants whose especial duty it was to attend on Gaoler Coates, was chiefly instru mental for the introduction of sur reptitious spirits to the warders. He had ''certain privileges arising

out of bis office, and. he bore a most terrible hatred to his ferocious master. No doubt the hate was well merited, as Coates often brutally struck the wretched man who had to wait on him. The convict servant, wise in his generation, knew that rum was a powerful enemy to discipline and an aid to insubordination. The way to injure his master worst was to foster outbreaks and escapes at the station. This would draw the wrath of the authorities on the head of Coates, who would speedily be superseded in his position. Of course, if any unsuc cessful attempt at escape were made on the instigation of convict servant Ward, his back — if not his. neck — would have to take the consequences, as invariably the would-be fugitives confessed on their accomplices. From this it will be understood that Ward

was vitally interested in seeing that proteges got away successfully. By that mysterious method of under ground communication or prison free masonry which exists in penal settle ments, Mitchell, Hellyer and Shudland soon became acquainted with the fact that in Ward they might expect a friend who would aid them in the design now fully formed. It was not a difficult matter' to speak a few words to the man, for at night he visited the barges on occasions with messages when his master was too lazy to attend. . It was not loner before Mitchell

managed to let Ward know about the plot which was on foot. Of course a risk was taken in doing so, but the convicts could not hope to attain freedom without, exposing themselves to the danger of discovery. The servant entered readily — even eagerly into the scheme, . and he proved, a most valuable auxiliary. Gradually he told Mitchell, when ever occasion offered, all he knew about the district to which the' men were desirous of going. Ward had once gone over a portion of it with an

exploring party. At that time he held a ticket-of-leave, which, of course, was lost when he again committed himself. ' You will not find a great deal of food there, though there is plenty of fish in the streams arid lakes, with kangaroo, wallaby, and such like animals on land, as well as some good eating birds. If you are' going to live there altogether though, you want vegetables. The soil will grow any thing,-an-i if you only had a few seeds such as potatoes, turnips, and cabbage, you would do well,' the convict ser vant said. Ward had been a gardener, in; his younger days, and well understood the necessity for a vegetable diet in addi tion to the animal food which was

obtainable in the bush; It was this want which made the lives of bush rangers and escapees so hard. As a rule the former though were enabled to get a change of diet in the raids which they made on the settlers. It would be different with Mitchell, Hellyer, and Shudland. They did not purpose raiding the settlers, but had formed the- rather quixotic idea of establishing a secret settlement of three self-sustaining and far away from white civilisation. ' What have you got to take with you?' asked Ward at last.

' Only the clothes we stand up in.. We have not been able to get anything, though we might be able to get a few articles from a shepherd or settler as we go back into the bush,' was the reply. Ward said nothing at the time, but he well knew it would be next to impossible to get away and remain from settlement in such a bare con dition. They must have at least some food and a few articles such as an axe, shovel, knife, and gun, and of course a means to light fires. For a couple of davs he reviewed

the matter over in his mind, and at last hit upon a plan. In the first place the three men should go by water in a boat. They could drop down the Ouse to its junction with the Derwent and ascend the latter to its head. It would not be difficult for him to secure a serviceable boat, as there were three at the station, and he could also manage to obtain a few of the most necessary articles with ordinary luck. Near the junction of the Ouse and Derwent lived a shep herd who cultivated a small garden, and if the fugitives called on him they would meet with assistance when they mentioned Ward's name. As the chief gaoler's servant, the convict had access to the store amongst other places, and he decided to take the articles one by one and hide them until wanted. This plan was almost immediately

large boat arrived from a lower station filled with stores. There was not time to unload it that night, which was the 26th September, so after taking some of the choicer articles for the officers' use, a constable named Ryan was placed in charge until morning. . \ ? Ward knew that a favourable; time had arrived to assist his three friends, and he lost no minutes in making his arrangements. His idea was to sur prise Ryan, stun him with a blow on the head, bind him, and then start operations. This would be. more merciful than plying him .with drink, for in the latter case when it was discovered what had happened he would be dismissed and punished, whilst in the former that would not be done. The store boat was moored along sidp the hank nr a small tpmnnrarv

wharf, and to it was attached the smaller boat which the daring convict meant to seize and carry off for the three felons or.- the barge. It was only nine o'clock when Ward slipped out of the small mess-room where Coates and a couple of boon com panions were holding high revel, and made his way through 'the darkness towards the river. He was bootless, and trod as softly as a cat. When he reached the store-boat he noticed that. Constable Ryan was sitting on the bank on a stone and apparently not taking a very watchful interest in his charge. His head and body were bent forward towards his knees, while his attitude -was constrained and peculiar. As action was important, the Convict servant did not pause, thoueh a fear

some feeling came over him as he quickly approached the silent, motion less man, and dealt him a severe blow on the back o( the head with a stout stick he carried. To his surprise Ryan did not fall or even turn his head. He gave no sign of life or motion, and instantly the truth flashed across Ward. The guard must be dead. Hastily ex amining him, he found that not only was the constable dead, but he was nearly rigid, so that death must have visited him at least half an hour previously. This peculiar and extra ordinary circumstance gave the man a shock, and he could not resolve whether it was a good or bad omen, though, if pointed in the former direction. If Death himself was going to assist Mitchell and his mates, they would have a powerful ally. To Be Continued.