An Overland Journey to the Ovens and Melbourne No. IX

6 February 1854 The Sydney Morning Herald

The place where we camped in the evening after leaving Bowning, was on the banks of a small creek, or rather a chain of ponds.

The water was tolerably good, though slightly impregnated with the taste of the gum leaf.

The spot which we chose for our bivouac was a considerable distance off the road, well shaded and secluded by the thick spreading foliage of a number of large box trees.

Our object in making this selection was partly to procure good pasturage for the horse, and partly to avoid observation from the road, as robberies about this time were of everyday occurrence, especially between Yass and Gundagai.

It was only the day before, that we were told by the Yass police of a party of gold diggers on horseback and well armed, having been robbed at Reedy Creek, about fifteen or sixteen miles ahead.

The party, about four or five in number, were returning from the Ovens, where they had managed to procure a good deal of gold dust, which they foolishly carried on their persons.

On the night previous to the robbery as we were told they paid a visit to a public house, and whilst under the influence of intoxication made a very free exhibition of their wealth. 

The locale of this public house, as well as of N.- B'-s. a notorious sly grog shop a few miles this side, was very generally regarded at the time as the snug and convenient haunt of a dangerous gang of bushrangers.

Whether justly or unjusty, a very strong suspicion was entertained at the time, that the robbery was designed and arranged at one of these places, and the circum-stances which followed seem to confirm this suspicion.

Reedy Creek has now the appearance of a dry water course or a gorge in a chain of mountains, and on the whole has rather a lonely and dreary appearance.

In point of secrecy it seems very well adapted to the commission of crime.

It is about three miles from the public home.

As is usually the case with diggers travelling, several of the party galloped ahead, leaving one, who preferred to ride slowly, to catch them at leisure.

Whilst crossing Reedy Creek the party who was behind was suddenly confronted by a gang of armed bushrangers on horseback, who presented their pistols and demanded his gold or his life.

The digger however, with a degree of courage which does more honour to his heart than his head, instantly drew his  revolver, and prepared to defend himself at all hazards.   

The bushrangers finding that the business was not to be managed so easily as they expected, immediately retreated behind tree, and began to fire upon the unfortunate digger, who defended himself courageously, though unsuccessfully.

After discharging the whole six chambers of his revolver without disabling any of his assailants, he was at length brought to the ground by a ball lodged in his thigh from a double barrelled gun. 

Of course further resistance was impossible, and the robbers immediately rushed upon and rifled him of all he possessed in the shape of silver and gold.   

Having procured a goodly booty, they lost no time in making a retreat, leaving the wounded man to die on the road.

In a short time after, the remainder of the party returned, and had him conveyed to the public house in order that he might receive such treatment as his wounds required, and the nature of the place could afford.

From thence he was taken to the Yass hospital, where for some time his life was despaired of, but according to the last accounts we heard of him, he was in a fair way of recovering.

Whether the robbers were ever taken, I have not since been able to learn; but I am rather inclined to think they were not, unless indeed the two men now in custody for the murder of Mr. Marcus are a part of the same gang. T

his murder was committed only a few weeks prior to the robbery I have alluded to and there is good reason for believing that both crimes, as well as most others of the kind which took place about the time I speak of, were perpetrated by one and the same gang.

Soon after camping in the evening one or two of our party set to work to make a fire, and heaped so much dry wool together, that, in a few minutes, the flames might be seen for many miles round, and consequently all effort to conceal ourselves was vain.

But as there was another party camped close by us, we did not feel so apprehensive as we might otherwise have been.

In the course of the evening, whilst we were seated comfortably round the fire partaking of our evening meal, two stout able-bodied men suddenly came up to us, and requested to be informed how far it was to Bowning.

They were dressed principally in diggers' costume - had on high boots, such as are worn by diggers who work in water, together with belts, and were armed with a revolver and a brace of pistols each.

The spurs which they wore on their boots evidently showed that they had been riding and that their horses were not far distant. 

Having been enlightened as to the distance to Bowning, they very deliberately took a survey, first of our- selves, and then of what we were eating, and at length one of them very coolly said, " Mates, we have had nothing to eat all day, and we shall therefore take a little of your supper before we proceed any farther on the journey."

I told the fellow quite as coolly that I thought he might have added the words "if you please," or, "if you have no objection," or some expression indicative of a slight sense of politeness, and with this I quietly gripped my pistol, in the full expectation that something serious was about to follow.

In fact the same feeling was shared by the whole four of us, and each prepared himself for a defence, if such should be necessary.

After having made a kind of indirect apology for "his rudeness, our guest proceeded to inform us - whether truly or not, we never could learn - that he and his mate had been robbed on the previous night at N - B -s', of all the money and gold which they possessed about them, so that they had not the wherewith to procure even a single meal.

He stated, however, that they had a deposit receipt at Yass for a large quantity of gold which they had forwarded to Sydney by the private Escort from the Ovens, and that so soon as they arrived at the former township, they would be enabled to raise the necessary funds to carry them to Sydney, whither they were bound.

As their story seemed probable enough, under the circumstances we did not feel justified in refusing them such relief as it was in our power to afford, and we accordingly invited them to partake of our humble fare, which they did right heartily.

After supper they drew their horses close   up to the camp, and the same gentleman who acted as spokesman in the outset, again addressed us in the following terms:-

"I say, mates, its rather dark to travel to night, and we have, therefore, come to the determination of taking a snooze at your fire."

Before we bad time to say anything in reply, he and his mate threw themselves down by the fire, and addressed themselves to sleep.

As the case stood we did not know how to act.

It was quite true that the night was exceedingly dark, and we knew, from experience, that the road was not such a one as could be easily traced after night fall.

It was therefore determined to let them remain, although we could not but feel that the whole affair was rather mysterious.

In the course of the evening one of our party recognised the person who spoke to us first, as a digger he had seen working on the Braidwood gold fields, and although he knew nothing of his general character, still this circumstance tended materially to allay our suspicions.

In the morning our friends, after having breakfasted, took a cordial leave of us, expressing themselves very grateful for the kindness they had received, and hoping the day would arrive when they would be enabled to return the compliment in like manner, an act of kindness which we hoped our circumstances would never require.

In about half an hour after we also set out on our journey, and reached Reedy Creek early in the afternoon, where we availed ourselves of a good supply of water, to stop and dine.

On resuming our journey, we saw Mr. Thompson, the landlord of the Sun, who confirmed nearly all the particulars we had heard of the late robbery, and also told us of other robberies having been committed near Gundagai.

In the afternoon we crossed Jugyong Creek, which at the time was perfectly dry, but its broad sandy channel clearly showed that in seasons of wet weather it convoys a large volume of water into the Murrumbidgee, which is distant about half a mile from the crossing place, in a direct line.

In the evening we camped on the banks of the Murrumbidgee, which was the first really noble river we bad seen along the whole line of road.