Early Hunter Valley Bushrangers
He was never known, however, to commit any very serious offence, or personally to injure either those whom he plundered, or by whom he was afterwards apprehended. Of late years his obduracy had been only punished by confinement, when brought in from his vagrancy to the woods; and on all these occasions he was willing, tractable, and obedient, but seldom missed an opportunity to resume his wanderings, and commit some trifling depredation before he took his leave.
We select from among his numerous irregularities the following recent fact, as descriptive of his general character. Being about 18 months since brought in, and confined as usual to the prison, he attracted the commiseration of a Gentleman, who humanely attributing his irregularities rather to an imbecility of understanding than an inherent inclination to evil, imagined that an easy situation and plentiful diet would induce him to relinquish a course of life that had been a perpetual source of suffering; and determining on the experiment, obtained him as a servant to his farm a few miles from town, with instructions to work as he thought proper, or to walk about the workmen's huts to protect them while they were in the field, and directing at the same time that he should be amply furnished with provisions. In this charge he continued for a few days; when his evil genius appearing to him in the shape of the irresistible daemon, opportunity, which he had no natural inclination to resist, he called a summary muster of all the men's eatables and wearables, and leaving the huts secure from further depredation, once more betook himself to the inner recesses of the woods. He was some time after apprehended, and returned to his town habitation, the Gentleman not choosing further interference with a being, who by an act of needless and wanton ingratitude had confirmed his first opinion of the weakness of his intellect.
He was the companion of Collins at the time he was last apprehended and shortly after executed; but had not participated in the crimes of that atrocious offender. Actuated by the momentary impulse, his depredations were instantaneously conceived and executed, without consulting consequences; and whenever apprehended, the officers of the police had no occasion to interrogate him on the subject of his exploits, as he always became his own biographer, and voluntarily narrated the particulars of his iniquities. That his head was considered as faulty as his natural bent of disposition, was perhaps little to be doubted; and to this consideration alone, it is no less probable, he was so long permitted to escape an opposite destiny to that which has at length terminated his excesses, and brought his self-created difficulties to a period.
The following entries are from the Sydney Gazette: -
John Fitzgerald was first mentioned in the Sydney Gazette in December 1803 when he received corporal punishment for disobedience of orders.
On 5 January 1806 a Notice was placed to apprehend seven desperate and notorious characters who had escaped from the gaol in Sydney. - John Fitzgerald, Thomas Desmond, Matthew Lee, James Holden, William Russell, William Page, William Reid.
January 1806 - On Thursday last, John Fitzgerald, a prisoner in the gaol gang, escaped from custody; and the day following the farm residence of Mr. H. Kable at Long Cove was robbed of numerous articles, among which was a quantity of wearing apparel, some provisions belonging to the labouring servants, a handsaw with the initials H K cut in the handle, and a musket. A man in a brown jacket, and in other respects answering the description of Fitzgerald was seen near the place the same day; and on Friday the house of John Harris Esq. at the Black-wattle swamp was again plundered of various articles of use and value. Vaucluse Farm was also lately robbed, as is supposed by the prisoners absconded to the woods; and on Monday night Russell and one of his accomplices rushed into the farm house of Griffith Griffiths at Seven Hills, where they staid till day-light, and then decamped with a booty. A party was next day dispatched in quest of the delinquents but returned unsuccessful.
In May 1806 - John Fitzgerald, a bush ranger returned from Newcastle; and Bartholomew Foley, his accomplice, were sentenced to 300 lashes, and to work in the gaol gang till further orders.
August 1806 - It is also necessary to require that John Fitzgerald, who absconded from the County Goal, be secured and returned to custody, and to caution all persons against harbouring or employing him likewise, on pain of the penalties aforesaid. - From recent information he is supposed to be hovering about the Hawkesbury.
March 1809 - Tried for petty larceny. Pleaded guilty and sentence deferred.
April 1809 - Notice placed in the Sydney Gazette - John Fitzgerald absconded from Public Labour
August 1811 - John Fitzgerald was indicted for stealing divers articles of wearing apparel, the property of Michael Kenny, on the 21st of March last, at Vaucluse, of which offence being found guilty, he was sentenced to be confined four years to hard labour wheresoever it should be His Excellency the Governor's pleasure to direct.
September 1811 – Whereas the following Prisoners have absconded from His Majesty’s Settlement of Newcastle, and are supposed to be lurking about the lower part of the Hawkesbury; viz J. Fitzgerald, Garret Armstrong and J. McCabe – three notorious characters; John Moore absconded from the Lieutenant Governor’s; Francis Satchell from the Lumber yard and William Bradley from the Boats’ crew; and also Samuel Pullen lately employed in the Lumber Yard at Sydney, and by trade a turner. All Persons are hereby strictly cautioned against harbouring encouraging, or maintaining all or either of the said Fugitives on pain pf prosecution and all constables and other persons are hereby required and directed to exert their utmost diligence in apprehending and lodging them in safe custody.
July 1812 - two most notorious Characters, viz. John Fitzgerald and Bartholomew Foley, have effected their Escape from on board His Majesty's Ship Lady Nelson bound to Port Dalrymple, after plundering her of sundry Articles of Slop Cloathiug, &c; and also William Fitzgerald, a Sawyer, Henry Joyce, and Thomas Coin who has absconded from Newcastle ; likewise Samuel Morris, alias Worsal Sam, formerly Mr. Dight's Servant. All Settlers and others are hereby cautioned against harbouring or employing any of the above-named Runaways, on Pain of the most rigid Prosecution ; and all Constables and others are hereby returned to use the utmost endeavour in apprehending and lodging them in safe Custody.
1814 - He was eventually sent to Van Diemen's Land where he escaped once again, managing this time to roam free for nearly a year before being captured and sent to Sydney for trial. His companion Bartholomew Foley was executed in Sydney in 1814.