Bushranger 'Moonlight'

The Argus

This week 73 years ago, by Bob Nelson

18 November 1952

What a week! Galloping and shooting and terror on the Murrumbidgee roads, 35 men and women held prisoner in a station homestead, a man waiting for death with a rope around his neck under a gumtree bough, a little boy creeping out to gallop bareback 25 miles to fetch the troopers . . . and Captain Moonlight,   bearded and gaunt and vicious, waving an   ugly pistol and threatening murder. Not this week, thank God, but this week in Australia just 73 years ago.  

The years between and the somehow more appealing historical shadow of Ned Kelly have dimmed the legends of "Captain Moonlight," yet in this one swash-buckling week a long life-time ago, there's no doubt that he out-kellyed Ned.

"Captain Moonlight" was a chap from Fitzroy by the name of Scott, rather handsome in the hairy fashion of the time, but a bit wild in the eye.

In Melbourne before he went bushranging he got himself into trouble with the police and into Pentridge gaol when over-exuberance got him into brawls; got himself into court after an abortive attempt to break into the penal establishment at Williamstown and liberate certain prisoners.

Acquitted of that charge, he, to the vast pleasure of the police in these parts, got himself out of town.

For six months, not a word, and then, one balmy November night the fearsome, pompous manager of Wantabadgery Station, 300 miles from Melbourne, peaceful and safe in its soft bend of the Murrumbidgee, had his dinner interrupted.

"Gentleman to see you, sir," said McMiles, husband of the cook and acting as butler.

"Tell him to go away," champed Mr. Baynes, the manager, justifiably angry at being disturbed between claret and coffee.

But the man wouldn't go away. He was still waiting an hour later, and Mr. Baynes at last stumped outside to ask personally what the hell he wanted.

The man said he wanted work. Baynes said there wasn't any, and to get to blazes off the property.

The man went. But as he did he turned and snarled at Baynes: "You'll be sorry for this!" and Baynes had a   glimpse of bared teeth in a bearded face, wild, grey eyes. Had any Melbourne copper been on hand he would have told Baynes that his visitor was none other than Andrew George Scott.

However, the man was not the faintly irritating Scott, of old Fitzroy, but a new personality emergent from the cocoon of the former Scott, after six months in the toughening bush - "Captain Moonlight."

Down in the river under the branches at that very moment lurked the five men he had recruited as partners in his new enterprise of bushranging.

Next day, about 3, they strolled from the river across the few hundred yards or so of grassy plain and through the walnut and peach trees in Wantabadgery front garden to the door of the big stone English-style homestead.

The obsequious McMiles got quite a turn when he found himself propelled backwards into the house at the muzzle-points of six rifles.

Then the bushies rounded up Lindon, the groom, and Mrs. McMiles, the only people home at the time, and after a period of interrogation in which the visitors forced them to tell the whereabouts and probable movements of everyone connected with the station, the McMiles were forced to turn on for one and all a dinner equally as appetising and as liberally liquored as the one which Mr. Baynes himself had had the previous night.

About 5, into the station yard rode a neighboring station man, Mr. Weir, and an old school teacher cobber. Both were quickly unhorsed and ushered into the big dining-room as prisoners.

Then, about dusk, home rode Mr. Baynes.

He was furious that Lindon, the groom, wasn't there to let down the sliprail for him in the yard.

"Lindon!" he bawled, but there was no Lindon. Furious, he dismounted and led his horse in through a back gate, and then strode into the house - there to receive the boot of Captain Moonlight fair in the seat of his pants.

Dragged into the dining room by Moonlight, he was ordered down upon his knees and told he was going to die.

Moonlight, who patently didn't like him, told him he could choose either pistol or knife as the two methods open to him for shuffling off. When Mr. Baynes declined either, Moonlight stood over him gleefully, pricking him with the knife and telling him fearsomely that he "had it in for him."

"Mr. Baynes," The Argus chronicler of the incident reports, "acted throughout in a manner reflecting credit on himself."

Last to come home that night were the then owner of Wantabadgery, Mr. C. F. J. Macdonald, and his young brother, who had arrived that very day from England.

The younger Macdonald was afterwards to say that the manner of his welcome gave him a wrong impression of the colonies.

All through the next day the prisoners lay in a kind of open arrest, allowed to take turns to exercise in the yard, and given plenty of food to eat. Moonlight even went out into the scrub and shot two turkeys for them. He "invited" Mr. Macdonald, senior, to dine with him, and chatted amiably "on all manner of subjects, except bushranging."

A wandering stockman who rode up about noon was quickly impounded.

In the afternoon Moonlight ordered three of his prisoners, Weir, the young Macdonald, and Lindon into a buggy, went over to the house of the station overseer (Mr. Reid), and robbed it of all firearms, picking up Reid, his wife, and child. Then the whole buggy load drove another half-mile down the track towards Wagga to Patterson's Australian Arms Hotel.

Patterson was away at the time, so, picking up two children as guarantees that Patterson would follow him, and driving seven of Patterson's customers in front of him, the whole party, with their new prisoners, made their way back to the captured Wantabadgery homestead.

As a diversion in the cool of the evening, Moonlight picked again on the unhappy Baynes. He tied Baynes up, sat him in the buggy, drove to the nearest gumtree, and then, lassoing Baynes' neck, slung the other end of the rope over a bough of the tree. "Now you can drive off and leave the gentleman hanging here," he said to one of his men.

But the women, as women will, started shrieking and screaming, touching the captain's chivalrous heart, so he contented himself with another kick and sent Baynes back to the dining-room.  

 In the dark of that night a little boy named Alec MacDonald (who had been captured at the hotel) got out of the house. Unnoticed by the bushrangers, he crept away into a paddock, caught himself a station hack, and, with no saddle, galloped and galloped all the way to Wagga.

Some day a great Australian poet will make a Paul Revere out of that little boy, but the Wagga historians of his time unaccountably seem to have taken this magnificent feat of high courage as a matter of no moment.

As a result of the lad's ride the police - four troopers, well armed - were outside Wantabadgery at 4 o'clock in the morning.

But Moonlight and his men, who were no slouches when it came to courage, detected them, came out in a rush shooting, frightened blazes out of the constables, and caused them to retreat.

Hundreds of shots criss-crossed the bush in the battle that ensued, but the police in a couple of hours were at nearby Tenandra Station, reconsidering the position and awaiting reinforcements.

Strengthened by seven men from Gundagai and four armed volunteers from the railway department, they resumed the attack by late afternoon, but Moonlight and his men had flown.

Down the track towards Wagga galloped the hot pursuers, turning north into Clarendon road on the advice of people who had seen them pass, and towards evening trapped the Moonlight men in the little house of a settler named McGlede.

"When we were 250 yards away," reported Senior-sergeant Carroll, of Gundagai, "we saw that they had taken up positions outside the house behind fences. We sang out 'Surrender,' but they replied with 'No! Come on and fight, you --, come on and fight!' "

What a fight that was! People in the nearby hills watched it all. At the end, two bushrangers lay dead, one seriously wounded, two surrendered, one escaped. One policeman was near death from his wounds.

Moonlight could have escaped. Instead, he sat in the settler's hut nursing his dead lieutenant, Nesbit, weeping and saying over and over, "Will he really die? He is my only friend."