The Bushrangers

The Sydney Monitor

2 January 1836 

Before Colonel Arthur became Governor, Van Diemen's Land was often a prey to bush-rangers, and since his arrival we have heard of their depredations. But experience enabled that Governor to place the police of that Colony on such a footing, as completely to put down this class of marauders. One of the measures adopted by Colonel Arthur was, to make it imperative on all ticket-of-leave men, on the call of any Police Magistrate, to act as constables; so that in case of any robbery of unusual violence and terror being perpetrated, this class of prisoners were enrolled and were under orders to go in pursuit, or to protect as watchmen, the houses of those who were attacked.

For as many days as these men were employed, they received remuneration out of the police fund: some two-shillings a day we suppose, or thereabouts. The expense of this remuneration annually was very moderate.

We think a similar policy might be adopted in New South Wales. Bush-ranging in this Colony is encouraged by small settlers and ticket-of-leave-men, harbouring the banditti. It is almost vain for our mounted police to gallop through our forests, for the gangs who at present infest the road from Liverpool to Bungonia, are all safely housed a few hours after they have plundered a house or a dray.

Riding through the bush, therefore is a vain display of police activity, and the expense of mounted police men is no longer repaid to the Colony by their efficiency. General Darling was the first Governor who directed ticket-men to be confined to the districts where they resided at the time they applied for their tickets.

This, at the time, was felt by the Settlers, to be an advantage, as these men, in Darling's time, did not think of squatting (settling) on Crown Lands, and making a living by stealing cattle, and selling it without a license, and receiving stolen property. The Colony was then very little populated beyond the Cowpastures and Maitland, and ticket-men could only gain a livelihood by fencing paddocks and other honest labours.

The ticket-men, however, even at the present time, form but a small portion of the squatters. Freed men of the labouring class, have learned the art of stealing cattle without detection, and they are much more active, bold, and determined in this sort of craft, than the ticket-men. Nevertheless, the latter make cautious but efficient coadjutors.

Another advantage resulting from General Darling's policy, of confining ticket men to the country, was, it purged Sydney of a-class-of men who were not under the control of assignees, nor wanted as servants, or labourers, because prisoners were assigned in great numbers to householders in Sydney. And as the Settlers then felt no inconvenience, but rather the contrary from the presence of these ticket-men, the plan met with general approbation.

But New South Wales changes its aspect every two or three years, so what is good law to-day, may be a bad one two or three years hence. And this remark we think holds at the present time as to the ticket men-being-allowed to live in the country.

We think their sly-grog selling and receiving propensities, would now do less harm in Sydney, where the police is, or at least can be made more efficient, than in the country. An Act of Parliament was passed six years ago, to prevent ticket-men from accumulating property. This Act the Government of New South Wales pays little attention to. No one can prosecuted for a breach of it, and the present colonial Government would frown on any one who attempted to put it in execution.

We would here ask; if one Act of Parliament can be set aside, virtually, by the Sydney Executive, why should not any other? And if it have power to do this, we would then ask, what security the Colonists have to be governed by the laws of England? If an Act of Parliament be passed which inflicts injustice on any class, and be evidently the result of gross ignorance, it would be better to deter it by an Act of our Council.

The Act in question is certainly unjust, if it be interpreted to have a retrospective effect; if it were made to apply to ticket-men who had received their tickets previously to the passing of the Act and had during the interim accumulated property. To render such men liable to be despoiled of their property, and to prevent them from recovering their just credits contracted up to the promulgation of the Act by applying the Act so their case, would have been an act of clear oppression.

But the Act interpreted prospectively, was a very wholesome law. The intention of a ticket-of-leave, and its only useful end, so far as the public is concerned (and we think we might add in nine cases out of ten, so far as the real and permanent welfare of ticket-men, is concerned) is, the giving him the privilege to choose a master, whose sort of employ and rate of wages, and whose temper and habits are such, as make the chain of servitude to the preserver pleasanter; and by a certain qualified feeling of independence, suited to his peculiar circumstances, to fit and prepare him for unconditional freedom.

But the Act was virtually set aside by General Darling. When it was passed, the late Governor was in the zenith of his unpopularity; and he did not like to put the Act in force retrospectively as well as prospectively. In this he acted right. But why he did not put in force against all prisoners who thereafter should receive tickets-of-leave we cannot account for? Thus the Act became a dead letter. And it should seem from this, as above stated, the Governors of these colonies take the liberty of setting aside any Act of Parliament when it does not suit their views.

Thus the late Governor set aside the Act which commanded him to lay the estimates annually before the Council. Into this gross breach of his duty, we trust the Committee lately ordered by the House of Commons, will a make rigid inquisition. To resume our observations on bush ranging: 'The mounted police is inefficient as at present conducted, from two onuses: first, there are not commissioned officers as commanders. Secondly, they have ceased to use the native blacks to track banditti, after outrages like those committed on, Capt. Dumaresq and the Rev. Mr. Vincent.

After the attack on the latter, neither a magistrate nor a constable came near him. They entirely kept away. Two mounted police called the next day, but with neither corporal nor serjeant; and they had no blacks with them; consequently, their route was without the least rule or guide. One quarter of the compass was as good to gallop towards as another. The men feel this, and therefore after a given number of miles per day, performed without energy, they listlessly return to their quarters.

The men feel as they ride through our forests, that the game is not in the forest, but sheltered in houses of brick or timber. What can be expected from such a system? It is a complete farce. Though a bad magistrate, the settlers of Argyle and Bathurst were always loud in their praises of Mr. M'Alister as a commander of Police. But the secret of that officer's success, next to his own indefatigable exertions and courage was his employment of native blacks on the instant of any outrage. And he dispensed with their services only, when he had unearthed his game, and found their services an incumbrance to his speed.

But there are not commanders now. Soldiers will not exert themselves more than sailors,unless they are under the eye of their officers, and share with the latter the perils of a chase after our banditti. Ridicule is heaped on Capt. Williams for walking the streets of Sydney bedaubed with gold lace, while the houses of our country settlers and clergy, the drays of our farmers and graziers are being plundered weekly, and their wives and children exposed to the danger of violation. Gold lace is one of the soldier's honours; and as to residing in Sydney, perhaps it is good policy for the Commander-in-chief of the mounted police to reside in our little metropolis, first, that he may receive by the post the earliest intelligence of robberies from all parts of the Colony; and secondly, that he may be in instant communication with our Home Secretary, to wit, Mr. M'Leay or the Governor.

But assuredly, there ought to be at all the mounted police stations, not only a sergeant, but a commissioned officer. The salary of the latter need not be more than a hundred a year. It is a good addition to his pay. And lastly, at all the stations, there should be three or four active intelligent blacks stationed, fed and clothed at the expense of Government; a mere bagatelle as to the cost attending the employment of these useful auxiliaries. Such blacks too, would handle a light rifle with effect.