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Hunter Valley Bushrangers

Benjamin Harris

Cassilis 1843

Cassilis - 'On Saturday morning, May 6th, Constable Rutledge was escorting three prisoners from Cassilis to Merton. He left Peberdy's Inn in the morning, and when he arrived at a station of  Captain Pike's, five miles from Peberdy's, he entered the hut with the three men, leaving his gun outside. Two of the prisoners were handcuffed, and one loose; the latter stepped out of the hut, and taking up the gun presented it at Rutledge, demanding his ammunition. The constable attempted to wrest the gun from the prisoner, and was shot dead by the bushranger, who immediately took the ammunition belt from the body of the deceased and decamped. The other two prisoners returned to Peberdy's, and reported the melancholy occurrence. It is said that many bushrangers are about the district. '

Soon after a twenty five pounds reward or a Free Pardon was offered for his capture: -

'Whereas it has been represented to the government, that constable Rutledge, of the Cassilis Police, was, on the 6th instant, shot dead at a station of Captain Pike's, about twelve miles from Merton, by Benjamin Harris, a prisoner of the Crown, per ship James Laing, on escort from Cassilis to Merton, who is now at large, having absconded with the Constable's arms and ammunition: - His Excellency the Governor directs it to be notified, that a reward of Twenty five pounds will be paid to an fre person or persons who may apprehend and lodge the said Benjamin Harris in any of her Majesty's gaols; and that if the said Benjamin Harris be apprehended and secured by a prisoner of the Crown, application will be made to her Majesty for the allowance to him of a free pardon.

DESCRIPTION: Benjamin Harris, per ship
James Laing, a runaway from the Newcastle Boat's Crew, 37 years of age, born in Staffordshire, a soldier, 5 feet 5 3/4 inches in height, sallow complexion, brown hair, hazel grey eyes, JHEHJ knot, wreath, BH inside lower right arm, sun inside lower left arm, heart and 7 dots back of left hand.'

It was coming into winter when Harris escaped and he spent seven long weeks on the run. With a free pardon or 25 reward offered and sympathy and subscriptions for his victim's wife and family raised, he wouldn't have found many friends. He was finally run to ground on the 28th June: -

'Harris, the bushranger who murdered constable Rutledge, of Cassilis, while under escort en route to Merton, was captured on the 28th ult., by Constable Doyle of the Cassilis establishment; and the prisoner is now on his route to Merton, in which district he stands charged with the murder of Rutledge. Doyle is a prisoner of the crown holding the governor's ticket, and it is to be hoped that his Excellency will for the praiseworthy conduct he has displayed on this occasion grant him a free pardon. He has been out for a month, fully determined to apprehend Harris, and he captured him without assistance.'

There was great sympathy for the family of Constable Rutledge and even as Harris was being escorted to Newcastle gaol, already plans were underway to assist the family. A subscription of 50 was raised in the Cassilis district to add to a similar amount given by the government for the use and support of his wife and three children.

Benjamin Harris was admitted to Newcastle gaol where it was recorded that he had been a groom in his native Staffordshire and arrived in the colony on the James Laing in 1834.

He was ordered for execution at Newcastle on the 17th October. Mr Keck came from Sydney by steamer to superintend the execution.  Benjamin Harris was hanged about 9am, probably near the site of the gaol (above Newcastle beach) and was attended 'on the awful occasion by several gentlemen of the Wesleyan Methodist connexion. He met his fate with great fortitude and died without a struggle.'




Maitland Mercury 13 May 1843

CO 13 May 1843

Maitland Mercury20 May 1843

Maitland Mercury 8 July 1843

Maitland Mercury 15 July 1843

SMH 1843 23 September

Maitland Mercury1843 14 October



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