|Newspaper Title||The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser (NSW : 1856 - 1861; 1863 - 1889; 1891 -1954)|
|Trove Title||A Fatal Shot. A Fact|
Sales anli Sketches.
A Fatal Shot.
By W. Watkins.
In the beginning of 1852, a mate of mine and I were camped at a place called Saw pit Gully, a few miles from the Mount Alexander diggings, as they were then called. There were several parties camped near us, as in those days it was hardly safe for single parties to camp by themselves unless very strong and well armed. JBushranging was rife, and stick ing up almost ranked as one of the fine arts. The extent of sympathy evoked by the robbed ones was expressed in the words of that celebrated verdict, "Served
The only police protection on the dig gings consisted of "pensioners," old superannuated policemen, and soldiers from Tasmania, who were supposed to protect the diggers, but who, instead, acted as beagles to harass them, most of their time being occupied in the popular Government pastime of license-hunting, every man in those days having, within three days after his arrival on the dig gings, to provide himself with -a license for the right to mine, at a coBt of thirty shillings a month. Looking back upon those times, it has always been a wonder to me how the sturdy miners stood it so long as they did.
I have seen eight pensioners march a hundred and twenty prisoners up to the camp in one batch, the diggers, nearly all of them armed, laughing and poking fun at their antiquated captors as if they enjoyed the sport. Five pounds fine or fourteen days' imprisonment, was the penalty for being without a license, and the victims stood it like lainbs ; and either paid their fines or took it out in the logs, as the iock-up was called ; and as it could only hold about forty, and then had to be packed, they were only kept in till a new batch made their appearance, when they were released. The Eureka Stockade in cident at Ballarat, however, put a stop to the license fees and that very lucrative
Well, we had camped, my mate and I, and were just rolling into our blankets under a large gum tree, when two fellows walked up with their swags.
1 'Good evening, mates," said the younger one, taking off his swag. " Any objection to our camping here ?"
"None," said I.
" All right," said the man. " We took
a short cut, and, by Jingo ! it was the I longest short cut ever walked—eh! Deering ?" addressing his mate.
Yes," grumbled the one called Deer ing with his pipe ; " your short cuts always turn out above five or six miles longer than the straight roadand, putting their billy on the fire, they commenced to j unroll their blankets.
I took stock of them while they were so busied, and asked them if they had come
" Ye3," said the one called Deering; " we only stayed there a week, though. Don't think much of it. I hear the dig gings are pretty good. Have you been there ? We come from California."
" I said I was as much a new chum as themselves and, the billy- being boiled, the two sat down to supper, and soon after turned in under a clump of wattle
The next day we took the road together and an idea got possession of me that if we could join forces their experience would be of great assistance to us. I proposed
it to my Tom, who said—
"As you like. We don't know any thing about them, but I suppose we can
take care of ourselves."
I sounded the other two, who willingly agreed to the proposition. So we bought a large new tent on arrival on the dig gings, and pitched it at Dead Horse Gully, marked out our first claim, and started in our first mining venture.
It took us about a week to bottom, and we were lucky enough to strike rich gold
in our first shaft.
It did not do my mate Tom much good, anyhow, for he used to gamble away nearly all his share. He could no more resist cards than a cat could milk. I had picked him up at a gambling den in Mel bourne. I happened to be a looker on at a game he was being swindled at; so, before he was cleaned out, I called him on one side and explained it to him. He didn't say much, but the way he wiped the two fellows out who were cheating him was a treat. We afterwards became friends, and eventually chums. He was very reticent about his private history, but I could see he was a gentleman, and, as he never volunteered anything about his antecedents, I never questioned him
on the subject.
Our two mates got on fairly well with ! us. They were not exactly our sort, but
they were good workers and steady, though both of them had vile tempers, and Deering, when provoked, became a a perfect savage. In two months we had realised about thirty pounds weight of gold, or about £340 per man. Each took his share every Saturday night, and all except Torn planted it in some secure
place, but he always carried the balance j of his share about him, which he, as I ! mentioned before, carefully got through ! in a very short time. i
Our two mates always slept with their ^ revolvers under their head, and I often ! used to shuckle to myself at the thought j of what a warm reception anybody would ! get should they attempt to stick us up. j Deering often used to boast that he'd think j nothing of shooting a man. In fact, he I had, so he said, shot two men in Cali- | fornia. One night, Tom, who had been j
down to the township, came home rather ; earlier than usual, and looking very ex- i cited. Sitting down on a log, which did duty as a chair, he pulled out a newspaper, and, turning to me, said : " Watty, I want you to buy me out. There's a fort night's good work in the claim, and I want to get away. In fact I must get back to England at once. My cousin is
dead, and I am next heir to a baronetcy, and twenty thousand a year."
A laugh came from our two mates, and Deering said sneeringly, " Why don't you make it fifty thousand or a hundred thou
" Because I am not in the habit of ly ing," replied Tom, quietly.
" I suppose you mean I am," said Deer ing, sullenly.
" My dear fellow," answered Tom, " it is not for me to explain my meaning. Tou can draw what inference you like."
"I don't know what you mean by in ference," said Deering, rising ; " but any man that called me a liar has to be a bet ter man than I am."
" He needn't be an admirable Crichton at that rate," replied Tom, chaffingly.
Deering was getting into a foaming pas sion at Tom's banter, and looking dan gerous; but Tom, who seemed to have been indulging pretty freely, and could, at any time, in the event of a fight, have beaten Deering easily, still kept on ban tering him, till the man looked perfectly
"I wonder a swell like you ever took up with the likes of us," sputtered out Deering. "I suppose you'll be wanting us to clean your boots and bring you your breakfast in bed, now you're come into your property."
" I shall want you to keep a civil tongue in your mouth," replied Tom, gravely.
" And suppose I don't," answered Deer ing, savagely.
" In that case," said Tom, rising, " I shall knock your far from handsome face into a still uglier shape, and that would be a pity, for it is ugly enough to frighten
a bandicoot as it is."
The next moment the candle was knocked over and Deering sprung upon Tom, and the two rolled outside the tent. It was a moonlight night, and, our tent being pitched some distance from any others, the noise did not bring any of the miners around, and the two men, in spite of our trying to make peace, battered away at one another for several minutes. At the end of that time Tom had him badly beaten, and Deering, muttering dreadful imprecations, washed his face and turned in shortly afterwards.
Tom and I took a short stroll, and, after a laugh at Deering's discomfiture, he
told me all about his sudden accession to
fortune, and also his previous history, which, having nothing to do with this
story, is not worth narratiug. On our • return to the tent, we found our two mates apparently asleep, so we turned in ourselves, and it wasn't long before I was in a sound sleep.
I was suddenly woke up by a report of firearms, and I found the tent was full of smoke. I heard Deering say—" I've dropped him," and he then shouted out for somebody to strike a light. I struck a match and lit a candle, and by this time both Deering and his mate had turned
" There he is," said Deering, pointing his revolver at the man lying in the chim ney with his face in the ashes. I gazed, horror-struck at the man, for I thought I recognised, through the smoke, my mate Tom, and, springing to thB chimney, I dragged him from the ashes, and turned him over on his back. It was poor Tom, dead 3 shot clean through the head !
" My God!" said I, whilst Deering trembled and turned as white as a sheet; " you have murdered him !"
" It's a lie!" said Deering, hoarsely. " I thought it was somebody robbing the tent. My gold is hid in the back of the chimney. See ?" and he pulled out one of the sods of which our chimney was built, and showed me an old mustard tin, which lie opened and emptied on the table. "I was just going off to sleep, after waking up, when I saw the tent-flap raised, and a man walk straight to the chimney, and commence raking the ashes over. I sung out to him once, and then
let liim have it. How was I to know it was Tom ?"
" I not only believe you never chal lenged liim," said I, " but I also believe you knew who it was, and shot him in re venge for the beating he gave you."
"Don't think that," said Shorter. Deering's mate. " Deering's a bad-tem tempered brute, I know; but I don't think he'd shoot a man in cold blood, for
I thought it as well to hold my tongue for the present, and we laid poor Tom on his bunk, and I went over to the camp. I called at two or three of the tents as I went along, and told them what had hap pened, asking them to fetch a doctor if they could get one, and go up to the tent, and I then went and roused up the head man of the police force. He was terribly vexed at being disturbed, and said—
" Why the devil couldn't you wait till the morning, if the man's dead. I can't bring him to life again. I can't attend to ! every accident that happens. It's not my
business. If fellows go stumbling round tents at two or three o'clock iu the morn I ing, they must expect to be shot. I can
| see it is only an accident."
" That is why I wish you to come with | me," said I. " I have grave suspicion,
and I wish an investigation."
After a lot of grumbling on the part of the officers, lie, in company with a private, j came over. But they absolutely refused
to arrest Deering, as they thought there was no case against him. The story told was a very feasible one, and, had I not witnessed the quarrel between the two men, it would have satisfied me. Tom's pipe was found in the ashss, and I re membered that the tent-flap was untied when I struck the light; and the theory
we had to content ourselves with was that
poor Tom, being excited, couldn't sleep, and had got up and gone outside ; that he
had afterwards re-entered the tent to
light his pipe at the ashes; and while raking for a live ember, Deering had shot him, whether in mistake or not I
shouldn't like to swear.
Deering was evidently very much cut up about it, or appeared to be so.
There was a shore formal enquiry the next day, and then we buried poor Tom,
and, after selling oat our claim, we sepa- j rated, and it was some years before I saw either of them again. One, however, is a well-to-do business man at the present time in Melbourne; and Deering was massacred some seven years ago amongst the islands whilst recruiting labour for the Queensland plantations. There are many still alive in Victoria who remember the tragedy. The spot where poor Tom was buried was close to the present Ajax Company's mine, near Castlemaine.