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Report of Bushrangers—Its effect in the Neighbourhood — The Discomfited
Settler-An Unwelcome Visit— Buchan Charley-His History-Confessions of a Bushranger– The Mounted Police-Sequel of the career of Charley and his Gang.
The reader has been told that, like other settlers, we had heard, on our way to our station, various alarming reports of bushrangers and their outrages. But after our arrival the subject was seldom mentioned, till at last one day, after many years of quiet had led us to look upon the existence of such things as merely “a tale that is told,” we received a most unwelcome piece of intelligence—there were actually bushrangers in our neigh. bourhood. They had made their first appearance at a station in our district a day or two previously, which they had pillaged, without, however, injuring any one in person, though report stated that they had threatened to shoot the stock-keeper, or, to use their own expression, to “put a ball into him,” for being backward in producing the saddle-horses.
It appeared that they were three in number, and that their ringleader was a man who had once been a hired servant in our district, on a station called “ Buchan.” At that time he was honest and industrious, but had left his situation, and since then his character had rapidly changed for the worse; he had “got into trouble,” or, in other words, had been committed for trial for an offence against the law, had been sentenced to hard labour, but had escaped with one or two others from his “iron gang,” and, taking to the last resource of desperation, had now reappeared among the scenes of his former and better life, to become a general bugbear, under the denomination of "Buchan Charley” the bushranger
“ Timor atque infamia sylvæ.” From this time forth all was anxiety : we lived in daily, expectation of a most unwelcome visit, and were never suffered to
forget our danger for an hour. If anything went wrong upon the station, the same excuse was always at hand; if a party of strange horsemen were seen to disturb the cattle on the plains before us, “ they were the bushrangers,” of course; if the saddlehorses strayed away farther than usual in the morning, the stockkeeper would prematurely give up the search and return home in despair—" Buchan Charley had taken them ;” and manifold as his depredations really were, many more, of which he was perfectly innocent, were laid to his charge.
But as a subject of conversation, the bushrangers were quite a boon to the whole population of the district: wool, colonial prospects, and the breeding of stock, were all laid aside for a time to make room for the discussion of the common enemy :how long they were likely to be “out;" were the mounted police in pursuit of them ; which of the neighbours, if attacked, would show fight, and so forth ; these, and many similar speculations, were in
one's mouth. Most people in the neighbourhood had, however, by their own account, received correct information of Charley's latest movements, and had devised some capital plan for defeating either a day or night attack. On every station the guns were discharged and reloaded every evening, and there was an accumulation of powder and ball sufficient for a tolerable garrison. It sometimes happens that matters are in this thoroughly defensive state, and the settler, chuckling over his precautions, is perhaps finishing his last cup of hyson, when he suddenly finds himself “ covered with the bore of a rifle, protruding through the window ; his arms are close to him in a corner of the room ; his ammunition is neatly arranged on an adjacent table, and to stir towards them is instant death. The mysterious stranger on the outside maintains his post until his companions have bound the victim fast to his chair, when he joins them in the work of pillage, and after taking what they please, and perhaps cutting many a rude jest on the unhappy colonist, they leave him to call the police at his leisure; to empty the barrels of his guns, now filled with water (in order to preclude the possibility of a shot in the rear as they are galloping away); to rearrange his house, and, if he thinks proper, to render it once more proof against “ a visit from the bushrangers.
Mighty preparations have frequently ended no better than this ; and so it eventually proved in our case. About that time we might have been taken for gunsmiths instead of settlers, and I well remember a most romantic night that we passed, with all the furniture of the house piled up against the doors and windows, while we lay in arms on the bare loor, in expectation of our enemies, who, by the bye, we subsequently discovered were not at that time within many miles of us, and were little dreaming of the excitement they were creating at a distance.
At length, one evening, long after we had grown tired of the rumours of
and had discontinued all our preparations for defence, “ Buchan Charley came in person, accompanied by only one of his party, whom he stationed on the outside, while he himself undertook the head department, and acted as spokesman. Finding that no resistance was likely to be offered, for we were all, as he intended, taken by surprise, he behaved, on the whole, with civility and moderation ; for though he took all he wanted, including two of our best saddle-horses, for which he kindly left his own jaded animals in exchange, he committed no wanton damage, and refrained, and also compelled his companion, who was a ruffianly-looking Irishman of the lowest grade, to refrain from committing any personal outrage upon any one on the station; and this forbearance has much merit in the case of a desperate man, who had already incurred the heaviest penalty of the law, and therefore cared little about further consequences.
He had lately been plundering a store, and was most bravely apparelled, better, in fact, than many of us whom he came to rob. His dress consisted of a new moleskin shooting-coat, a gaudy waistcoat, with a profusion of watch-chain, cord trowsers, and leather leggings; and he wore a “cabbage-tree” hat, the ribbons of which streamed fantastically over his shoulders. A powderflask was suspended at his side, two brace of pistols were stuck in his huge belt, and in his hand he carried a short and highly finished double-barrelled rifle, probably the favourite Manton or Nock of one of our neighbours. He was a tall, lathy-looking man, of about eight-and-twenty, and his countenance had an expression of calm determination, but of assumed recklessness rather than depravity.
Well,” said the bushranger, as he stalked into our little abode, “ I suppose you all know pretty well who I am, ‘Buchan Charley,' as they call me. Now I'm not going to hurt any body, if you 're civil; but we want the money, arms, and horses ; and those,” he added emphatically, “we'll have. A nice place you've got of it here,” said he, with a glance at our bookshelves ; “I could stay where I am all the rest of my life.” This seemed to remind him of the fearful uncertainty of its duration ; for he looked grave, and for a minute or two laid aside his effrontery. In fact, all this volubility only betrayed the nervous excitement it was intended to conceal, or perhaps under which he unconsciously acted; for nervous he undoubtedly was, in spite of his assumed coolness. My leather hat-case attracted his notice; he cut asunder the band which fastened the top, evidently not in the spirit of wanton mischief, but because, in his agitation, he did not see the key, which was standing in the lock. His talk was chiefly apologetical, and calculated to regain, as far as possible, our good opinion. He rambled incessantly from one subject to another. The disjointed fragments of his conversation, when put together in a more connected form, gave us in substance the following history.
Ill treatment, he said, had brought him to his present situation. Having worked hard and steadily for several years, he had been paid by an order," for which he could never get the cash, as the house in Sydney, on which it was drawn, had stopped payment, and he had no redress. So, finding that, in his opinion, “ honesty was a fool,” as Iago says, he tried its opposite, which soon brought him to a “road-party." There his punishment was extreme. Loaded with irons, working hard upon the sandy roads, beneath a burning summer's sun, with a diet of salt beef
hominy,” and not even a sufficiency of that, he could endure it no longer, and resolved to escape, or be shot in the attempt. He succeeded in communicating his intentions to a fellow-prisoner, who agreed to join him, and they resolved to “chance it" on the very next opportunity. It was some time before one presented itself, for between soldiers and overseers it was difficult to stir a finger without observation.
At length the moment arrived. They had been sent to work on a part of the road at somc distance from the stockade, and, as luck would have it for them, the overseer happened to keep the
gang at work rather longer than usual, and it was dusk ere they returned ; so, on passing a “patch of scrub." on the road-side, they managed to slip into it unseen. Here they lay concealed for several hours, during which they could hear the soldiers from "he stockade in pursuit of them ; but the night was so dark, and the "scrub”
so thick, that there was little chance of their being discovered.
At midnight they ventured to emerge from their hiding-place, and repairing to a blacksmith in the neighbourhood, prevailed on him, partly by threats and partly by entreaties (the man having been himself a convict), to knock off their irons. Thus they were once more fairly at large ; but to set them up in their new line both arms and horses must be obtained. From a party of stock-keepers, whom they dismounted, they soon procured the latter and then galloping up to their station, got possession of their fowling-pieces, and thenceforth were thoroughly equipped.
And what sort of a life were they then leading ? was it a change for the better, even after the horrors of the “iron gang ?” No; Charley confessed voluntarily that it was wretched beyond conception, and that, if he could have formed the least idea of what it was to be, he would rather have remained in his fetters. Lurking in caves and fastnesses of the bush, the very silence of which drove him to think—his greatest curse; hunted day and night by the mounted police ; prevented from sleeping, or even taking a meal in security, by the knowledge that they were always on his track, with “his hand against every man,
every man's hand against him,” he was now more like a wild beast than a human being, and the never-ceasing strain upon his mind was, he said, almost insupportable; but it was then too late to retract.
Yet there was courtesy even among bushrangers. About two years before Charley had become what he was, I had met him on his way to a station where he had been hired, and had put him upon the right road. This he remembered, and though he was now under what, in a state of civilization, would be called the “disagreeable necessity" of taking one of my saddle-horses, he promised not to injure him, but to leave him where he might be afterwards recovered, all which he duly performed. Had I, on the above-mentioned occasion, ridder by without noticing him, he would probably have remembered that also, and, instead of leaving