Memories of Moonlight

Scenes at His Preliminary Trial

The Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser

6 September 1929

How the notorious Captain Moonlight (or Moonlite, as the old press report has it) and his gang were captured by Wagga and Gundagai police after a stern fight, in which a man was killed on each side, at Wantabadgery Station, is told in a report of the trial at Gundagai Petty Sessions in the Young 'Chronicle' of 26th November, 1879 50 years ago.

Bushrangers had stuck-up Wantabadgery, and the police went out from Wagga. The men were not captured until police reinforcements arrived from Gundagai. Constable Bowen was shot and afterwards died; and a young bushranger, named Nesbit, was killed. At the trial the constable was not then dead, and the bushrangers were charged with wounding Constable Bowen with intent to murder, and robbery under arms. The bushrangers charged were:- Arthur George Scott, alias Captain Moonlite, aged 37; Graham Bennett, aged 19; Thos. Williams, aged 19; and Thomas Rogan, aged 23.

The magistrate, was Mr. Lowe, P.M., and the case for the Crown was conducted by Superintendent Singleton. The prisoners were undefended, and Moonlite frequently came into verbal conflict with the magistrate, whom Moonlite thought was biassed. Moonlite observed that his Worship was but not there as a priest to sacrifice them, but was on a British to administer justice. Moonlite's request that all witnesses should leave the court was refused, on the ground that most of the witnesses were policemen in charge of the prisoners. Sergeant Carroll, in reply to questions by Moonlite, said Moonlite was not firing at the moon. "You were bold, the boldest of the party; cautious, but determined." "I want no compliments," snapped Moonlite, and added, "Nesbit, who is dead, wan the bravest of the lot.' After describing how the bushrangers defended the station, Constable Headley said Moonlite came out of the kitchen, put a rifle to his shoulder, and fired at Bowen, who fell backwards, saying, 'My God, I'm shot.' This witness denied running away from the fight, in answer to Moonlite. 'I'll not allow you to insult a witness by calling him a coward;'' said the P.M. 'I did not call the witness a coward, nor your Worship a bully, but I can think what I like,'' said Moonlite. The P.M.: "I'll not allow your cross-examination to proceed." You should conduct yourself like a gentleman and a justice of the peace, not an inquisitor,' said Moonlite. Although you sit there on the bench, you haven't brains or anything else. I dare your Worship to interfere. If you do, I'll disgrace you all over the colony. The magistrate's reply was to stand the witness down.

Later Moonlite, on the advice of Superintendent Singleton, apologised to the Bench, and the examination was continued. This took place next day. "I apologise for the unseemly remarks I made yesterday," said Moonlite. "My temper was ruffled by the fact of my best friend Nesbit lying in a dishonored grave, and of my having lost my own liberty, all within the last few days." Moonlite risked Superintendent Singleton whether robbery under arms was a capital offence, and was told to ask the Bench. 'The Bench knows less law than either of us,' said Moonlite. In reply to the bushranger's questions, Constable Headley said he retreated because his rifle ammunition was expanded. He left his mates to better his position, and went to a dead tree for protection. The bushrangers were crawling from one tree to another. Several other constables gave evidence. Civilians gave evidence of being stuck up by Moonlite, but all stated that they had been treated civilly, but were threatened with death if they tried to escape. These witnesses included C. McDonald, owner of Wantabadgery Station, who was imprisoned with the station hands. Details of a proposed hanging were given on a further charge, that of stealing from Mr, Baynes, superintenddent at Wantabadgery Station, a silver watch. Moonlite, so Baynes, said, brought a rope to hang him - a strong fishing line - and saddlestraps to pinion him. 'I have never hanged a man in N.S.W., Baynes,' said Moonlite, but I am going to make an example of you. The buggy was brought out to be used as a drop; a branch of a tree was selected as a scaffold, and Baynes was directed to seek the consolations of religion, as he had only five minutes to live. Women on the station started screaming, and, one going into, hysterics, Moonlite relented and the superintenident's life was saved. According to another witness, Moonlite said this proposed hanging was because the superintendent had ordered the bushrangers away from the station on a rainy night, without giving them food or shelter.

Moonlite said he wished to open the defence, and asked for an adjournment for a few minutes that he might consult his notes. The request was refused. "I have allowed the prisoners more latitude than I would have allowed a solicitor,"' - said the P.M. 'If any lawyer had used the same language he would have been turned out of court." "Well, your Worship," said Moonlite, amid general laughter, 'I wish you would turn me out of it, too, and if I thought you would I would use stronger language."

In an address to the Bench, Moonlite took all the blame on himself. He told his story from his early days when he served in Pentridge for highway robbery; how he afterwards tried to earn   an honest living, but was persecuted; was not allowed to leave the colonies; went to the country looking for work, purchasing food as long as his money lasted, then selling his clothes, and his friends theirs, to buy food; and then starvation.

When they were refused work by Baynes, they had been 48 hours without food. They were hungry and wet. Then they stuck up Wantabadgery. He admitted they were foolish. The police came, and firing started. When he saw that there would be bloodshed, he courted death, hoping that a stray shot would end his life, and that his friends would surrender to the Crown. Moonlite went on: "If a victim has to suffer, let me suffer. Hold these lads innocent. I alone commanded, and these boys did as I told them. Though not guilty of anybody's blood, I am willing to suffer for their sake, and answer for breaking the laws of your country. When I fill a dishonored grave with my friend who sleeps in your cemetery, I wish that my friends' names will not be handed down with ignomity. I had kind friends and they are gone. I wish to follow them."