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Hunter Valley Bushrangers

 Young, Spencer, Rose, Allen & Mary Ann

Big River 1839

 


In 1839, Joseph Fleming, a stockholder in the Liverpool Plains district having heard that a party of bushrangers who had been committing many outrages were in a hut on the banks of the Big River, made up a party consisting of himself, Mr. Freer, Mr. Brown and three free men named Clark, Pearson, and Istead. The bushrangers were in a hut belonging to a Mr. Marshall; immediately opposite to it was a hut belonging to Mr. Scott, to which Mr Fleming and his party went.

The gang of bushrangers consisted of

1. Richard Young (alias Gentleman Dick) who arrived on the convict ship Forth.  Richard Young had been convicted of desertion in Co. Mayo. He was a native of Hertfordshire and a shoemaker by trade.  The indents reveal that he could read and write and was 5' 7½" in height, with dark brown hair and grey eyes. In 1837 he was assigned to Major A. C. Innes at Port Macquarie. He was 32 years of age at the time of the robberies. Young was later indicted for shooting at Joseph Fleming, with intent to murder him at the Big River on the 26th May.

2. William Allen arrived on the Waterloo, having been tried in Quebec. His gaol description states he was a native of New York, occupation labourer. He was 23 at the time of the robberies;

3. John Rose alias Henry Ellis arrived on the John Barry in 1836. He was a native of Liverpool and convicted at the age of 13. He 18 years of age at the time of the robberies;

4. Thomas Spencer, arrived on the Marquis of Huntley in 1830. He had been tried in Preston. He gave his occupation as sawyer in the gaol entrance records. He was 26 years of age at the time of the robberies;

5. .......and Richard Young's lover Mary Ann a native girl.

The gang had committed a number of robberies and other outrages in the New England district - They stole Benjamin Singleton's horses, robbed Peter McIntyre's station and several others. In June they also held up newly arrived brothers John and George Everett at Ollera station, stealing their belongings and horses before fleeing into the bush.

In pursuit of the bushrangers near Scott's hut, Joseph Fleming and the others of the party fell in with three servants belonging to a Mr. Smith one of whom Mr. Fleming sent to the nearest police station, and another to Mr. Fitzgerald's station for further assistance. When they arrived at the hut, Allen was walking up and down outside. Young came out of the hut with a gun in his hand and asked Joseph Fleming if they wanted them;  Fleming replied that they came for the purpose of taking them in. Young said that they would never be taken, every man of them would be shot before they would be taken, to which Fleming replied that they were determined to take them dead or alive. Young called them cowardly dogs for standing behind the hut, when Mr. Freer said that if they would come half way across to meet them they would see whether they were cowards. Young and Allen then went into the hut and Allen shortly afterwards came out with a great coat on, and a belt with a gun on each side of him, a sword and a gun in his hand. Allen kept parading up and down in front of the hut and Young kept going in and out of the hut sometimes with one gun and sometimes with two. The prisoner Rose and the black woman were out looking for horses. There followed a seven hour siege with Fleming and the other men holding them at bay while they awaited backup from the Mounted Police, until finally the gang surrendered.

The Colonist reported: William Allen, John Rose, Thomas Spencer and Richard Young, with Mary Ann, a black girl associated with the gang were committed to Her Majesty's Gaol in Sydney, on Tuesday last, under the warrant of John Allman Esq., Magistrate at Muswellbrook. Theses were a party of bushrangers and have been guilty of serious acts of plunder and atrocity. The girl used to accompany them in male attire, and stand guard over the prey, when once secured, with her firelock over her shoulder. (1)

The Attorney General in praying judgement, stated that the men had been in the bush a long time and committed many depredations, but he did not think that any of them were capital offences. There were several charges of robbery in a dwelling house and putting in fear but no case of extreme violence.

The Chief Justice said that there were no circumstances of mitigation in the prisoners' cases; fortunately for them the Imperial Parliament had taken off the capital punishment for this crime or else it would have been his duty to pass sentence of death upon them and strongly recommend the Executive to carry the sentence into effect. Had it not been for the meritorious conduct of the young gentleman who gave evidence against them and the spirited young men who assisted him, the prisoners might still have been at large committing their depredations. In the place to which they were going they would have plenty of time to repent and he hoped they would do so, and perhaps after a series of years of good conduct they might be allowed to return back to a civilised part of the world.

The sentence of the Court was that the prisoners be transported to a penal settlement for the term of their natural lives. (2)

They were transported to Norfolk Island, a notoriously harsh prison settlement at the time, however just a few months later prison reformer Alexander Maconachie was appointed Commandant at Norfolk Island, arriving there in March 1840. Other Hunter Valley bushrangers sent to Norfolk Island at this time included Atkinson and Holmes.

Conditions were probably less difficult for the prisoners under Maconachie's system, however these four bushrangers were under sentence for life with little or no chance of reprieve.

Henry Ellis made his escape from the island in August 1842.

 

Notes & Links:

1). Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell explored the Liverpool Plains in 1831

2). Crossing the Liverpool Ranges in 1850

3). Joseph Fleming (1811-1891), pastoralist, businessman and politician, was born on 6 January 1811 near Windsor, New South Wales, son of Henry Fleming, a native-born contractor, and his wife Elizabeth, née Hall. He was educated in Sydney and farmed with his father on the MacDonald River even after his marriage on 29 April 1831 to Phoebe McGinniss of Wilberforce. Although his brother John had been involved in the Myall Creek massacre, Joseph was appointed Chief Constable of Wollombi in 1842 and in 1844 inspector of distilleries, holding both positions until 1846. - Australian Dictionary of Biography

4). Soon after Young, Allen, Ellis and Spencer were sent to Norfolk Island, the convict ship Mangles arrived there with prisoners from England

 

 

References:

(1) Colonist 3 July 1839

(2) Sydney Herald 19 August 1839.

 

 

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