Gundagai Jail.

While we were at the tourist information centre we grabbed the keys to the local jail. It is now a tourist destination. I did think it was funny when they handed me the keys to the local jail. It was a good thing they didn’t know me.

The jail started as a lockup in 1859 and converted to a jail in 1861. It was only used for short-term sentences generally less than 12 months. If you were really bad and received more than twelve months then you would have been shipped to other larger towns depending on your sentence and how bad you were.

The most common crimes were horse and cattle stealing and larceny. Although you could end up serving time for such things like obscene language in public, absconding from hired service (that was before sickies were invented.) You could also serve time for riding a horse furiously.

When we picked up the keys we also received an information headset. I love these. You don’t have to spend all your time standing in one spot reading. You can wander around or take a mini break while you get educated.

There wasn’t a lot to see so it didn’t take us long to walk through the empty rooms and cells but we did find it very interesting.

Probably the most famous person to be imprisoned would have be Andrew Scott or better known as “Captain Moonlight” and his gang, Frank Gardiner and John Peisley. John Molloy, better known as “Jack in the Boots” was also one of the inmates.

I was a little excited to learn Jack in the Boots real name. With that information I started reading up about John. John Molloy was born in England, where his father owned a shoe warehouse. That would make sense to the name. This John fought in the Napoleonic Wars, taking part in 8 battles and received the Waterloo Medal.   He immigrated to Australia in 1829. Great, the timeline fitted, only problem was this John arrived in Western Australia and spent the rest of his life there. Dam. Wrong Jack Molloy. It was sounding so good there for a moment. More research needed.

I didn’t really find much about the Bushranger Jack in the Boots. It seemed John had very sensitive feet and employed a blacksmith to make him a pair of boots to protect his toes. (Maybe he was the person to invent the first steel cap boot and didn’t know it.) Interesting side note: It is said that he used the same blacksmith that Ned Kelly used to make his suit of armour. Anyway Jack in the Boots was eventually captured at gunpoint near Hurley’s Station. He was charged with trespass and taken to Gundagai jail. There wasn’t much else that made much sense, as I could only find little snippets of information about him scattered through old newspapers. He was captured in 1862 at Bethungra (West of Gundagai). He was wounded at one stage and then I read he had accumulated a 15 year sentence and spent some time in Goulburn jail. In what order that was I am not sure, and of course he robbed the Australian Arms at Snake Gully.

But like I said, Jack in the Boots wasn’t the real bushranger the area of Gundagai was known for. It was Captain Moonlight although Ben Hall and Ned Kelly were in the area for a brief time.

Andrew Scott was born in Ireland in 1842. His father wanted him to join the priesthood but instead he trained to be an engineer in London. His family moved to New Zealand in 1961. The Maori Wars were happening at the time so Andrew signed up as an officer and fought at the battle of Orakau where he suffered wounds to both his legs. Andrew was court-martialled for malingering after a long convalescence period.

He arrived in Australia in 1868 and showed interest in entering the Anglican priesthood. As a Lay reader he was sent to the gold mining town of Mount Egerton. It was at here where he was accused of robbing the bank. No gold was found on Andrew and he in turned suggested the bank manager Ludwig Brunn and the local schoolteacher James Simpson had something to do with the missing gold. Interesting side note; Brunn claimed he was forced by the black-crepe masked figure who he claimed, sounded like Andrew, to sign a note absolving him of any wrongdoing in the crime. The note read, “I hereby certify that L W Brunn has done everything within his power to withstand this intrusion and the taking of money which was done with firearms, Captain Moonlight.”

A short time after the bank robbery Andrew left for Sydney. It was said Andrew lived the life of a gentleman for a time before disappearing off the radar. It was suggested he had gone to Fiji. In December of 1869 Andrew was back in Sydney selling 120 ounces of gold (which looked a lot like the gold that went missing from the Egerton bank) to the mint.

After that Andrew spent some time in the Maitland district where he was charged with obtaining money by false pretences and spent time in prison. On his release he made his way back to Sydney where in 1872 he was arrested and charged with robbing the Egerton Bank. He was sent to Ballarat for trial. He succeeded in breaking out of the jail setting free 5 other men as well. Unluckily for Andrew he was soon captured and was tried for the bank robbery and sentenced to 10 years hard labour. (Until his dyeing day Andrew claimed himself innocent of the crime.)

Andrew was released early in March 1879 where he started lecturing on the atrocities of Pentridge jail where he had spent his imprisonment. However, Andrew’s past was not forgotten by the authorities or the press. Both tried to link him with a number of crimes in the area. It was said that Andrew decided to live up to this legend and with several men formed a gang and started his career as a bushranger. The gang travelled near Mansfield in Victoria. They were often mistaken for the Kelly Gang and the story goes that they took advantage of this by forcing homesteaders to surrender food and as well as guns and ammunition to them. It has even been suggested that Andrew contacted Ned Kelly asking to join his gang where Ned said that if he saw Andrew he would “shoot him down.” Andrew left the area for New South Wales and he and his gang members started to look for work. There was a drought and work was hard to come by with food being in short supply. After he and his gang were refused food, shelter and work at Wantabadgery, things changed. Wantabadgery had been known for being kind to those who needed a hand, unfortunately the station had changed hands and the men were turned away. With the men on the verge of starvation after spending many nights in the bush cold and hungry, they robbed the station in frustration. It was after this Captain Moonlight robbed the Australian Arms Hotel at Snake Gully. With a large amount of alcohol and 25 prisoners they were in no hurry to leave. Eventually a small party of four mounted troopers arrived to save the day. It didn’t happen. Scott’s well armed gang captured the trooper horses and held them at bay for several hours. The troops decided they needed reinforcement and while this was being arranged the gang slipped out. It wasn’t much of a getaway as only Scott was an accomplished horseman, whilst 3 of the gang couldn’t ride at all. They ended up at Edmund McGlede’s farmhouse. The farmhouse was surrounded by reinforcements of five extra troopers. By this time the word had travelled the countryside and about 100 bystanders took up position on the surrounding hill to view what was to become of Captain Moonlite. It seemed like there would be no escape for any of the gang. James Nesbitt hatched a plan to lead the troopers away from the house so Scott could escape. Nesbitt was shot dead, when Scott saw what happened to his friend he was side tracked and McGlede took the opportunity to capture him. As this was happening the rest of the gang were either wounded or captured and the battle was at an end. Newspaper reported that Scott openly wept over the loss of his dearest and closest companion. As Nesbitt lay dying ‘his leader wept over him like a child, laid his head upon his breast and kissed him passionately’

At the end of the fighting Constable Edward Webb-Bowen lay dying and before the trial opened he had died. The courts claimed it was Captain Moonlight who had taken the fatal shot. Scott denied the charges and witnesses conformed Scott was armed with a snider rifle and the bullet that killed Webb-Brown came from a Colt pistol. The gun was never found and it is not know who fired the weapon, policeman, civilian or bushranger. Scott said at his trial “We had no intention of being bushrangers. We were all wet cold and hungry. Misery and hunger produced despair and in one wild hour we proved how much the wretched dare. It must be seen that Wantabadgery was the place where the voice of hunger drowned the voice of reason and we became criminals.” Scott was found guilty in the end.   He was hung in Sydney at Darlinghurst Gaol at 8’o’clock on 20 January 1880, his father’s birthday. Over 4,000 people came out to witness the hanging. When he was hanged Scott wore a ring, which had been woven from a lock of Nesbitt’s hair on his finger. His dying wish was to be buried beside Nesbitt. The request was not granted until 1995 when he was exhumed from Rookwood Cemetery and reinterred at Gundagai

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Side note: Bushranger used to describe anyone who roamed the bush of Australia. By 1850 the term was use for anyone participating in illegal activities.

 

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