CAPTURED BY THE BUSHRANGERS, MR TURNER’S NARATIVE
I had often pictured to myself the actions of a man in the position I now occupied, and wondered what he would do or say. There was now no time to wonder. The picture had become a reality, and I was the man. Turning quickly in the direction of his voice, I saw a man had me covered with a rifle. The butt was pressed to his shoulder, the forefinger of his right hand was on the trigger, the right eye was on a level with the barrel, and the sight focussed on my head. I sprang to my feet and threw up my hands as ordered. Standing with my face towards the enemy I saw three men. The one who had covered me was tall, and appeared to possess a muscular and well-knit frame. His face was covered with a thick beard and moustache of a dark brown colour; his features were regular, and indicated an appearance of keen anxiety; his age might have been anything between 20 and 30. The young fellow by his side could not have been more than 20 years of age, of medium height, a florid tan-marked complexion; hair that would be called carroty; a slight appearance of young hair on his face of a lighter hue than that of his head. He possessed what might have been termed a bullet head. The third man would be above the middle height, with dark curly hair, clean shaven except for a dark brown moustache, pale (almost sallow) complexion, and a pleasing and taking expression of countenance. Except for his rough bush attire, his get-up was neat and tidy, and if one had met him in a city he would convey the impression that he had recently had a shave and brush-up.
Each man was armed with a rifle, which was carried at the ready. The man who had hailed me appeared to be the leader, and addressing him of the head, with an inclination towards my horse, said: “Catch that horse.” He had already brought his rifle to the same position as the others, and making towards me said; “Keep your hands up”; and turning to the third man who had followed him said, pointing to me, “Go through him.” I did not know what this order meant, but whatever I felt I assumed a manner of cool indifference, and was soon enlightened as to what “go through him” meant by the third man turning out the contents of all my pockets, and feeling me all over. They relieved me of my silver lever, which fortunately I had worn instead of my gold chronometer. They also took my pipe and tobacco.
On being deprived of the latter I said to the leader, “You might leave me a smoke.”
The tall man appeared surprised at the request, and replied, “You won’t want to smoke anymore.”
This was not very reassuring to me, but I had concluded in my own mind that if they wished to take my life they would have potted me at sight. However, I kept silent, thinking I would endeavour to maintain a bold but respectful front. By this time all three men were close to me, my horse, old Bismarck, being secured to a sapling. “Put down your hands,” said the leader. “What’s your name?”
I gave my name, and said: “And may I inquire by whom I am honoured with this strange proceeding?” At this they seemed amused.
“Well,” said the leader, “my name is Ned Kelly, this, pointing to the younger man, is my brother Dan and that is Mr Byrne. What do you think of us?”
THE OUTLAWS’ STRONGHOLD, DAN AND HIS INEVITABLE RIFLE
The bushrangers’ stronghold occupied the space of fully half an acre, which was thoroughly cleared of scrub, logs, or stumps. At intervals were standing gigantic gums. The whole of the clearing was protected by an almost impenetrable fence, erected on the chock-and-block system-strong. The fence was constructed of saplings, of young trees, which had been felled and the trunk cut into the required length, and by their size and weight it was evident that they had been hauled into position by horses or bullocks. The hut or dwelling was built about the centre of the clearing, and stood cross ways-that is, the door or entry facing one side of the fence, and the back at the other. At each end, and at the back of the hut were look-outs, or sliding windows. The door was formed of one immense sheet of iron, and let into a groove, top and bottom; necessarily working on the sliding system. How this door was conveyed there was a mystery. Its weight and dimensions were too much for a pack-horse, and it was a matter of impossibility for a wheeled conveyance to get over the ranges. The hut, which was constructed of immense logs, was built on the same principle as the fence, all crevices being stopped with wattle and daub. The roof was of bark, fastened with wooden pegs, and further secured with green-hide ropes thrown over, and kept in position by logs made fast at each end. That its resistance to bullets had been well tested, and that the iron door was bullet-proof, was evident from the number of plashes on the outside. The door was not fastened, but it took the united strength of the two brothers to slide to open. When they had opened the door the horses were unsaddled and let loose.
They now led me into the hut, and I was not impressed with the amount of comfort I might anticipate from the furnishing of the interior. In the centre stood what was used as a table. It was composed of a sheet of bark supported by four staked driven into the ground. On it stood a billy and two dirty pannikins, also an empty jam tin, evidently converted into a drinking vessel. Near the billy was what appeared to be the remains of a piece of meat-roast beef-burnt almost to a cinder on the outside and nearly raw where it had been cut. There was also some kind of bread, which appeared like a cross between a damper and a Johnny Cake. A bottle about three-parts full of whisky stood with the viands, and completing what appeared to be the remains of a not-distant meal. In each corner of the hut was a bush stretcher of bark. Underneath one stood a flour bag, apparently recently opened, as traces of flour were visible from the bag to the table. Beneath another stretcher was an old gin case, in which were plainly visible the backs of several books of the blood and thunder type. There were blankets and clothing thrown indiscriminately on the stretcher. There were several short blocks of wood lying on the floor. These were evidently used for seating purposes. There was no fireplace in the hut, but just outside the hut there were three uprights standing triangle-wise. A chain with a hook attached hung from the centre one. Beneath was the remains of a charred log. The lookouts which one of the gang opened on entering slid in a groove frame, which were well greased, no doubt to facilitate their sliding easily. When closed, they were secured by a green-hide loop on a peg. Dan Kelly’s first action on entering was to take up the whisky and drink a good nip, raw, handing the bottle to Byrne, who did likewise, and enquired of me if I would have a nip, offering to hold the bottle to my mouth. I was still strong in the determination to take matters with assumed good-natured indifference, and replied that I would be happy to drink their health, but I could not take it neat. Byrne then took a pannikin, held the bottle over it, and looking at me said, “Say when.” He then poured some of the spirit into it, adding some water. Though I was not given to imbibing, I found the stimulant very acceptable. I noted with surprise the leader did not touch the liquor. It was evident from their next movement that the gang intended preparing the evening meal. I was allowed to sit outside with my back against the building, and Dan, with the ever-ready rifle, mounted guard over me.
Byrne, from his treatment of me would have conveyed to an outsider the impression that I was a guest rather than a captive, and I noted, with a mind to future contingencies that the leader did not repose too much confidence in him. After kindling a fire, he hung a billy on the chain, and busied himself in making preparations for the repast. Ned Kelly caught and hobbled the three horses belonging to the gang. He then went to a corner of the fence and removed there from a heap of brush which, when cleared away, exposed a most cunningly designed gate. Outside the gate was a good space of open alluvial flat, with abundance of natural grass. The three horses evidently knew their pasture ground, as they, of their own will, walked through the open gate and out onto the flat. After securing the gate, and throwing the brush carelessly over the division, the leader returned to his companions.
The evening meal being prepared, I was again taken into the hut, my hands being released. I seated myself at the bark table, with Byrne then bringing in a variety of food. I was not too fastidious, but the slovenly and untidy surroundings induced, to put it in the mildest form, a feeling of repugnance; but, all things considered, I had a fairly good meal. Dan Kelly with a tin plate between his knees, was seated in front of the hut door, with his face turned towards me, and his rifle by his side. The leader, who ever seemed to be haunted with an air of anxious expectancy, was seated on a log, with his face towards the creek. Byrne occupied the same seat, but with his back to the leader. As they partook of their repast, they conversed in a low voice, which reached no ears but theirs.
When he had finished his meal, Byrne hobbled old Bismarck and allowed him the run of the enclosure, where, though the feeding was not abundant, it would suffice for a few days. All the party having finished their meal, and darkness coming on, they entered the hut, and a slush lamp being lighted Dan, from an empty gin case, produced a greasy pack of cards, and the three bushrangers sat at the bark table and commenced a game of cut-throat Euchre. I being allowed to sit at the innermost end of the table and Dan facing me with the usual weapon between his knees.
A GAME OF EUCHRE
The leader rose from the table, and stooping beneath a bush stretcher, he after sore difficulty, brought forth an old sugar bag, and as he placed it on the table I heard the undoubted jingle of coin. He then produced a pocket book. After consulting a leaf that contained a number of figures, he took from the bag a handful of sovereigns. Of them he counted out ten to each of his confederates and the like amount to himself, and replaced the bag in its former hiding place. The play between the gang was for a sovereign a corner. The stakes were placed on the centre of the table, the first man out taking the pool. As play proceeded it was evident to me that Dan was a cheat. He continued wining the others gold until they were tired of the one-sided monotony of the play, and threw down their hands.
“Make it a four-handed game.” Said Byrne.
“Who’ll make the fourth?” Said the leader.
“His nibs, here.” Replied Byrne, pointing to me.
“Can you play Euchre?” Inquired Ned, after some hesitation.
“Well”, said I, “I have learnt the game since I have been on the station, but unfortunately I have no money.” This caused a general laugh.
“Look here,” said Byrne, “I’ll lend you five ‘quid’ if you’ll give me an order on the station manager for that amount, or if you’re in luck’s way you may win and pay me in gold.”
“I’ll give you an order on the manager for ten pounds if you’ll present it tomorrow, and that without troubling for a loan.” Replied I.
“Not me”, said Byrne, “I won’t present no order, but I’ll lend you a fiver all the same.”
Thinking it was best to conciliate my captors as much as possible, I accepted the loan of five ‘quid’ and on a leaf torn out of the leaders’ notebook, I wrote in pencil an order for that amount, and, handing it to Byrne, remarked with a smile, “I have made it payable to bearer; so you need to present it in person unless you wish.”
We then cut for partners, and I deemed it a bit of good fortune to be mated with Byrne. I entertained a secret dread of the youngest member of the gang, concluding that his passionate nature might lead him to extremes at any moment as the play proceeded.
The whiskey bottle was produced, and between them Byrne and Dan soon emptied it, and from some hiding place outside the hut another was soon produced. At the conclusion of the game, my partner and I had won a considerable amount of the others’ gold, and after redeeming my order and counting my money, I found that I had a balance in my favour. I tendered it to the leader of the gang, who declined to take it, telling me to keep it until they played again, at the time replying, “Life is short; enjoy it while you can.”
The leader drew from his vest pocket a beautiful gold repeater. It was near enough to observe that it was beautifully cased, and bore an inscription, which by the dim light, I could not decipher; but it was a valuable timepiece. I felt sure, and the thought occurred to me that it was not at present in possession of its rightful owner.
“It’s about time to turn in.” Said Ned, returning the watch to his pocket, and passing through the door he went out into bright moonlight of the night.
The other two members of the gang, who were by this time considerably under the influence of the liquor they were imbibing, made their preparations for retiring. Dan, who appeared to take upon himself the especial guardianship of me, threw a couple of blankets and some empty bags to me, and pointing to the end of hut, said, “You make your bed there.” There being nothing but the bare floor at the spot indicated, I prepared my resting place on the floor, merely divesting myself of my outer garments and boots. Before I lay down, Dan, from the old gin case, produced a pair of handcuffs, which he snapped on my wrists, at the same time remarking, “If you are a trap, you’ll understand the bracelets.” I felt this indignity very keenly, but deemed it wisest not to reply to the insulting remark of the drunken bushranger. The leader of gang returned, and, sliding the iron door into position, the whole party retired to their bark stretches. All through the night I lay with all my faculties keenly on the alert.
ALONE WITH BYRNE IN THE HUT
The early morning sun set its slanting rays through the open space between the wall plate and the bark covering of the bushrangers’ hut, when the outlaws began to bestir themselves. I lay feigning sleep, but still wide awake, wondering what the day would bring forth, inwardly praying that a way might be opened whereby I could escape.
One by one the bushrangers arose. The leader of the gang went forth, no doubt to satisfy his anxious mind that no enemy might lurk within the vicinity of his stronghold. The first movement of the other two was to the whisky bottle, as Byrne remarked, “To have an eye-opener.”
I rose from my bed of bags with aching brow and weary limbs. My manacled wrists were swollen and inflamed, and the pressure of the iron rings had left a scarlet circle above my hands, and I felt a sense of relief when Dan took the gyves from off my wrist. Byrne was standing at the entrance, and telling me to come out, pointed to a kerosene tin, and told me to have a wash. I was then informed that I could move about within a prescribed area, but my ever watchful guard was there with his constant companion, the rifle.
Byrne prepared the meal, and ere long the leader was seen driving the bushrangers’ horses through the gate at the corner of the fence. I took my breakfast in the same manner as the previous meal. When the repast was ended the two horses that the leader and his brother had ridden the previous day were saddled and led to the door. Then Dan, ordering me to go inside, followed me into the hut, and producing the handcuffs was about to replace them on my wrists, when I said, “These things hurt me terribly. Would you mind tearing my handkerchief, and allow me to put a piece round each wrist before you put them on?”
“You’ll get no – handkerchief. Many a time you’ve put them on some bloke without any rag, and it’s your turn now”, was the reply.
I was determined to leave no opening for my guard to find any excuse for personal violence, so kept silent while he was placing the irons on my wrist. In the meantime the leader had entered the hut, and, addressing me said, “Listen to me. We’re going for a ride. We might be away for an hour, perhaps an hour and a half. While we’re gone Byrne will look after you with a gun, and if you try to get away you’ll get an ounce of lead in your carcase.”
“And,” added his brother, “We’re pretty sure you’re a — trap, and traps don’t live long in these parts. But if you try any tricks you’ll die before we come back.”
Byrne, who was standing at the door with his rifle in his hand, heard the warning given to me, and as the brothers mounted and rode away I heard him say, as if in reply to some caution from his confederates, “All right, if he comes any new chum game with me I’ll wing him below the left shoulder blade, “You’ve heard what I said, and if you try to play it low down on me, by –, I’ll do it.”
“I understand,” I replied, and felt thankful that no promise was exacted from me. Soon after the brothers’ departure Byrne, from a billy hanging over the fire, produced some hot water, and standing with his rifle near him shaved himself most carefully, after which he gave his curly hair a vigorous brushing, all the time carrying on a disjointed conversation with me. His tone was affable and quiet. I could not understand the different conduct in the absence of his comrades, but I was eventually enlightened as to the cause of his altered manner. Byrne very soon produced the whisky bottle, and, taking a stiff nip himself, he placed the bottle on the table, and, while filling his pipe enquired if I would like a smoke.
“Under present circumstances I should like nothing better.” Was my reply.
“Very well,” said Byrne, pouring out some of the liquor, “Have a nip first.” And adding some water, desired me to drink it, but I merely tasted the contents and placed the pannikin on the table.
Byrne then produced the pipe that had previously been taken from me. This he filled and handed to me. Since the departure of the brothers, Byrne had assumed quite a different attitude in regard to my security. He even went the length of relieving himself of the burden of his rifle, by standing it in the corner of the hut. I noted with curiosity the restless, undecided actions of my guard, who was constantly leaving and re-entering the hut.
At last he sat down and taking up the bottle said to me, “Have another nip.”
“Thank you, no.” Said I.
“Well, here’s luck.” Said Byrne, and suiting action to the word, he put the bottle to his mouth and drank a good drought of the raw liquor.
“How long have you been in the force?” Asked Byrne.
“What force?” Was my reply.
“Why, the police force of course.”
“I have told you before, and I repeat it, that I have not now, nor have I at any time, had connection with the police.”
“We’ve only your word for that.” Said Byrne, “And Ned and Dan don’t believe you.”
“Well,” Said I, “Why don’t you satisfy yourselves by communicating with Mount Battery. You would get the truth of my statement confirmed.”
“No fear. That’s not good enough. It won’t do for us to go to the station.”
“What are you going to do about me? Surely you don’t intend keeping me here always?”
“Well,” Said Byrne, “Ned’s going to keep you a week. Some of us are bound to meet some of the station hands before the week’s out, and if you’re not a trap they will inquire about you.”
“Well, suppose they don’t inquire about me?”
“Why, then we’ll know you are a trap, and, as Dan told you, traps don’t live long in these parts.”
The time specified by the leader of the gang had passed, and I ventured the supposition to Byrne that their return might be expected any moment.
“They won’t be back before night,” was the reply. “What Ned told you about coming back soon was only bluff.”
I took a very favourable view of the circumstance. I had the best part of a long day before me, and other things being in my favour I determined to make a bid for liberty. It was evident, too, that as his consumption of drink increased, the more was Byrne inclined to be communicative. He produced the cards, saying to me, “What can you play besides Euchre – that’s only a blooming black fellow’s game?”
“I can play Whist or Cribbage.” I replied.
“Let’s have a game of Crib, then.” Said Byrne.
We had no scoring board, but I suggested scoring with a pencil, which plan was adopted.
“Let’s have another nip before we start.” Said Byrne, helping himself as before, and passing the bottle to me.
I said, “I won’t trouble you for water; we’ll both drink from the bottle.” And putting my mouth to the bottle, I pressed my tongue flat on the mouth of the bottle, and holding it there for some time, I led the other to believe I was taking a good drink.
“Well done,” said Byrne, as I put the bottle down, “You can take it neat alright.”
We played for half a sovereign a game, and the bushranger’s luck was in the ascendancy, and when I was ‘broke’ he insisted on lending me another fiver. Producing the bag from the treasury, he counted out the amount and threw the bag under the stretcher. I called his attention to the fact that he had not placed the money in its former hiding place.
“What matters?” Said Byrne, “We’ve got plenty of the — stuff. But what’s the good of it when a fellow hasn’t got his liberty?”
“But you have your liberty in the ranges.”
“Yes, but let them once catch me out of them and I’m a goner.”
We resumed our play, and it was evident that the quantity of liquor Byrne had consumed was affecting his brain. He had played well at the commencement of the bout, but he soon lost interest in the game, and evidently threw down the cards, and picked up the bottle, which was empty.
“Never mind,” said Byrne, “I’ll get another.” And leaving me alone went out and returned with another bottle of whiskey.
A SING SONG
I knew that there must be a plant of considerable value near the hut, but that fact did not trouble me. My first concern was to induce my custodian to release me of the handcuffs. True, I could have picked up the rifle and met the bushranger with its contents on his return with the liquor, but I did not wish to take life, although the law would have justified me in doing so.
Having drawn cork, Byrne again indulged in the spirit, passing the bottle to me, and, as before, I pretended to take a good portion. It was evident to me that my companion was bent on an ear full and the more liquor he took the merrier and more communicative he became, and I was convinced bushranger was drinking to drown dull cares.
“Give us a song?” said Byrne.
“I would rather listen to you first,” said I.
“Alright,” said Byrne, and he drawled out a song about the “Bold highwayman,” who robbed the rich to give to the poor; and sticking up a carriage on Hounslow Heath, the occupants in their fright said one to the other, “What shall we do?” Deliver up your money, and I won’t touch you.”
When the song was ended I said, “That’s very appropriate, indeed.” The bushranger, who could not see the touch of mild sarcasm in the song, called on me for a song. I was sorely troubled what to sing as appropriate to the occasion. In fact, I was not in any humour for jollification, but I wished Byrne to maintain his present merry mood. So remembering a portion of an old English song I had heard, I gave all I knew about poachers who were out on a moonlight excursion for game….
FREE FROM THE HANDCUFF’S
“These handcuffs hurt me terribly, and I know you are inclined to be lenient towards me.”
“I can’t trust you,” replied Byrne, “If I took those off you, first thing you would do would be to try and dodge me.”
“I won’t attempt to shoot you. Besides, there’s your rifle.” Said I, pointing to it.
“Alright.” Said Byrne, picking up the rifle.
He produced the key from the other handcuffs, and released my hands, instantly stepping back, as if prepared for sudden action on my part.
But I appeared not to notice this and said, “Thank you very much. I’ll never forget this kindness on your part.”
The words spoken had a reassuring effect on Byrne, who said, “You stop there, I’ll light the fire, and get some tucker.”
“I won’t leave the hut while you are absent.” Was my reply, and I intended to keep my promise.
The position of the fireplace was directly in front of the hut, and I could view the preparations for the midday meal. I did not entertain a thought of leaving the hut. Had I done so, the bushranger, who had his rifle by his side, would at once have detected the movement. During my keeper’s brief absence, I had time for quiet consideration of my present position as it affected my chance of escape. I had succeeded in obtaining the free use of my hands. This was the first essential towards my object. If I had to fight for my liberty I considered myself quite equal, if not superior, in physical strength to the bushranger. I knew if it came to a personal encounter I had no mean foe to meet. True, my opponent was muddled with drink, or he would not have been such a fool to allow his prisoner the free use of his hands, but the drink in no way weakened his fighting powers. I had given my word not to resort to the use of firearm, but the promise did not deter me from the use of nature’s weapons. In order to effect my escape, I would have to overpower my guard, and when it came to a personal combat, I would rather firearms were not used.
Byrne returned with a billy of tea, and from one of the many receptacles beneath the stretcher brought forth a tin of preserved sheep tongues. These, with a keen appetite and good constitution, I enjoyed very much. It was very evident from the bushranger’s manner that he proposed great confidence in me. As we partook of our food he became still more communicative, and from him I gathered the information that Steve Hart, the fourth member of the gang, was what Byrne termed “scouting”. Each man had to take his turn in the ranges, and from every prominent position where a clear view of the surrounding country was obtainable. The scout, who carried a pair of field glasses, would search for the approach of the enemy. The scout was mounted and carried sufficient food to last him forty-eight hours. Byrne volunteered the further information that it was Steve Hart that had re-echoed through the ranges on the approach of the gang with me to the camp, and the imitation of Mopoke signified “All’s well.”
When we had finished our meal, Byrne again resorted to the whiskey bottle, pressing me to do the same. I kept up the same mode of deception by pressing my tongue against the mouth and raising the bottle, as if taking a good drink. Byrne did not notice that the contents of the bottle did not decrease as I drank. His only remark was: “My word, you can take hard stuff as well as any man I ever met.”
Many things might have happened with Byrne in the state which he quickly got that afternoon. But fortunately for me the other members of the gang returned with good news for me. They had met someone from the station and learnt, beyond mistake, that I was alright. I had promise not to betray them or their hiding place, and then, after a whiskey round, they took me through rangers to where I could find my back and set me free.
The Sun (Sydney, NSW: 1910 -1954) The Kelly Gang From Within, Survivors of the Tragedy Interviewed. B.W Cookson.