Hunter Valley Bushrangers
James Davidson and William Smith
Edward Denny Day
FROM MAITLAND GAOL
Bushrangers James Davidson and William Smith had nothing to lose when they made their escape from Maitland Gaol in September 1849. They had been sentenced to many years on the roads, the first three years to be in irons, for robbing the Singleton Mail at Harper's gate at William Harper's Oswald Estate near Lochinvar. William Tristram, the gaol keeper failed to secure the two men in irons after their sentencing and on the last day of the Court sittings the two took their chance when the turnkey was distracted by other prisoners while in the exercise yard.
The exercise yard was
situated between the gaol itself and the SE outer wall
and was divided off from the general yard by a high and
close slab paling fence. In the West paling fence was
the entrance to the yard through a locked stout wicket
door. The men made a ladder on the western wall by
placing prisoners' rolled up beds (which had been taken
out for airing) on top of each other. Davidson being
taller first lifted Smith on to the top of the paling
and Smith then drew Davidson to the top and they slipped
down into the general yard unobserved by the constables
or gatekeeper . The gate was placed about the centre of
the SW outer wall, and running along inside that wall
and extending from near the gateway to the Southern
corner of the wall were a series of low slab buildings
using as a cooking house. The two men climbed on top of
these buildings and although they were then observed by
the gaol constable, they managed to let themselves down
the outside by a rope and escape into the thick scrub of
gum trees and bushes on the southern side of the gaol.
By the time the alarm was raised and police magistrate
Edward Denny Day had
raised a posse of police and volunteers, no trace of the
men could be found. The pursuit continued throughout the
evening and for the next two days without sight of the
runaways and a notice of their descriptions was posted.
Davidson was described as a thick stout determined looking man of 45 - 50 years of age. 6' tall with a weather beaten countenance with deeply marked furrows and few whiskers he was said to be without any savage or ferocious expression. He had previously been attached to a survey party at Port Stephens. Smith was a slight man of 5'7" with a thin sharp nose, high cheek bones, sandy whiskers and light brown hair. His eyes were small and he wore an expression of indecision in his countenance. He had been employed as a groom by Mr. Blaxland at Wollombi.
Soon after this an investigation took place regarding the manner of escape of the two prisoners. William Tristram was dismissed from his position and replaced as Governor of the gaol by James Cox who was paid a salary of £100. Ann Cox his wife was matron at the gaol. Mr. Tristram was also required to repay money he had been drawing in government rations for his private servant.
Other changes also took place at the gaol. The turnkey Mr. Tierney was promoted to principal turnkey replacing Major Lackey who was dismissed. Patrick Toole was appointed turnkey in place of Tierney and K. Rigney was appointed gaol constable in lieu of Constable Galvin who was on duty in the yard where the prisoners escaped.
In September the Maitland Mercury reported the capture of Davidson -
Gallant Re-Capture of the felon James Davidson -
The public will be somewhat gratified to learn that this man, who with his accomplice made his escape from the Maitland gaol, has been re-taken at the Australian Agricultural Company’s station, Bundobah by Mr. Charles King, of Tahlee, assisted by his groom, Edward Stacey, and two stockmen after a most determined and obstinate resistance. On Monday evening, the 24th instant, he crossed the ferry at Sawyer's Point, and, passing through Carrington the following morning, reached Bundobah in the afternoon. At Sawyer's Point ferry he said his name was Young, at Tahlee garden he said his name was Cook, but at Bundobah, being recognised by some of his old acquaintances, he said his name was James Davidson. On Tuesday evening Mr. Charles King and his groom proceeded to Bundobah, and there, lying on a bed in the hut, discovered a stranger, who stoutly denied that he was the robber of the Singleton mail, although his name was Davidson. Mr. Charles King, how-ever, felt convinced that he was so, and presenting a pistol at him, demanded his surrender.
With many threats of determination to resist, he remained in the hut for some time, and at length forced his way out of it, saying he would light a fire and camp outside, this he partly did, but soon began to move off. Mr. C. King and his assistants immediately followed, and finding he was making for a creek, where he would probably get away from them, the groom let fly his pistol after him. Davidson's foot tripping at the same instant, he fell into the water-hole, while he was scrambling out on the other side, Mr. C. King's foot also tripped, and he found himself in the water with Davidson immediately above him, who flourished an enormous club with which he had armed himself.
At this juncture, Mr. King presented his pistol at him, but the cap missed fire. Observing from this determined act what he had to expect, Davidson retreated from the hole, and on the level ground soon found himself surrounded by the party. It might have been possible here to grapple him, but the quick eye of the blackfellow," Cobrabald," detected the moonbeams gleaming on a long and pointed knife which he had found in the hut, and which he now threatened to use with bloody violence against any one who dared to touch him. Mr. C. King now called out to the blackfellow to knock him down with a waddy, but not a sound stick could he find, though he left the mark of one of his missiles on his cheek bones. Finding now that Davidson was advancing towards him, Mr. C. King discharged his pistol at him, and lodged one of the swan drops with which it was loaded in his hand. Davidson then turned and ran, followed, as best they could, by his pursuers. The injury which he had received in his back, probably in jumping from the gaol wall, prevented his running more than about three hundred yards, when he again stood at bay with his knife and club. The fear of again receiving the contents of Mr. King's pistol, at length induced him to return with them to the hut, but he would not give up his knife and club until he began to feel faint and sick. He would not allow himself to be secured, but mounted a horse, which was led into Carrington. On the road, the escort was relieved by a small party from Stroud; he was finally lodged in the lock-up at Carrington.
He was then taken Maitland in custody of constable Evans and Edward Stacey, Mr. Charles King also accompanying the party. At Raymond Terrace they got on board the steamer to come to Morpeth, and as it happened that Mr. Day was on board, all doubt as to Davidson's identity was cleared up at once. Davidson states that when he dropped from the outer gaol wall the rope broke with him, and he fell nearly the full height, alighting on his nether end, and receiving a heavy shock throughout the back-bone; that he and Smith got as quickly as possible about two miles and a half from the gaol, where they lay quiet, and while lying concealed saw a constable hurrying past ; that on the following day they parted, nor had he seen or heard of Smith since ; that he (Davidson) was put across the Hunter below Raymond Terrace, by an old man in a boat, and from thence made his way to Port Stephens. Davidson states that ever since his fall he has experienced much pain and weakness in his back. He is now, we learn , too weak and ill, from this cause and the injuries he received in his re-capture, to be in a fit state to be removed from the gaol; and the injury to his back is said to be so serious that it will be many years before he fairly recovers from its effects, if he ever does so. Of Smith's movements nothing has yet been heard, beyond what Davidson has stated as above. - Maitland Mercury 22 September 1849
James Davidson died at Cockatoo Island within six months
Hunter Valley Bushrangers
James Davidson and William Smith