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GREAT RAID 2

George King arrived at Constable Hay’s house about twenty minutes after the owner left. Only Tom Francis was there to greet him. They swapped their news and sat down on the step to wait out the morning’s adventures, both a little concerned their policeman was missing. When another one rode up not long after their relief was audible.

GEORGE PORTER was a self contained man who combined a certain wisdom with the physical strength to back it up. He was a gardener and carried that agricultural patience and vision into his new life. He lived on Norfolk Island for sixteen years as a single man till he was forty then grabbed at opportunity in Van Diemen’s Land and married a girl twenty-two years his junior. He was clearly making up for lost time. By now he was forty-seven with three young children under the age of five and another on the way. He even managed to calm George King down sufficiently to make a plan.

Porter had ridden all the way from Elizabeth Town after hearing of Tom Guy’s little adventure. He was a little disappointed to find his fellow constable missing but, on hearing the story so far, resolved on a firm course of inaction. He had a feeling that the bushrangers would come to them. The three men waited quietly together in the house, simultaneously scanning the hills for bandits and ogling Maria’s breasts, a pile of loaded firearms and ammunition at their side. It wasn’t long before the dogs began barking.

George King: Porter, myself and Francis went out of Hay’s House, when I saw the Bushrangers coming. I had a brace of pistols, George Porter had a Musket, as also Francis’ one. I with Porter and Francis advanced, when one of the Bush rangers fired a Musket at Francis. I do not know the Man that fired.

The bullet whizzed past Tom Francis’ head and thudded into the wall of the hut behind him. There was a shriek and the sound of breaking glass from inside then a muffled oath from Maria. She was clearly still alive. The three men wouldn’t be if they kept up this pathetic pretence; they were desperately outnumbered and under armed. To everybody’s surprise the worried face of Constable Robert Hay appeared in the midst of the posse of bushrangers. Quite what he was doing there was anybody’s guess; the three men had no idea he’d already been captured. Bob Hay waved his hand at the hopeless heroes.

‘Give up,’ he seemed to be saying. ‘There’s no point!

The other two had no trouble obeying that message; they were staring too many guns in the face. There was a wail from the window and George just caught sight of Maria’s tear-stained cheek before he bolted.

Tom Francis slowly put his musket on the ground then stood, arms out to his sides. Porter followed suit, carefully placing his musket on the pile of logs that had not long before been their shelter. They were captured, fair and square, and with the certain wisdom that came with men of their years, accepted their fate without undue drama. Perhaps they realized that they were not the target. George King, now bounding down the valley, had no such illusions.

His whole world shrank to the sound of his footsteps and the steady heave of his breath as he crashed through the bushes, leapt over tussocks and swore. A steady string of oaths burst out with every breath; even in extremis, he still kept talking. A new sound obliterated all others. It was the sound of Collyer’s musket firing. Every nerve in Georgie’s back screamed open, ready to receive the lead, but death did not come. Howe and Geary, sensing their prey was tiring, slowed and aimed. Almost simultaneously the shots rang out, but still Georgie King dodged his fate and sprang, like a startled rabbit from one shelter to the next.

There was no time for the bushrangers to reload so they stayed on Georgie’s track, eventually running him to ground near the stream below Hay’s property. Through the panting George kept up a steady flow of oaths, punctuated by a rising whine as he pleaded for his life. Geary and Howe sat on him and tied his hands behind his back. Collyer stood back, guarding them with his musket.

‘I think you have some business with Hugh Burn…’

They made me walk ahead of them,’ he said in court, ‘Geary holding a pistol cocked at my back; Peter Septon had a musket with the muzzle close to my head and desired me to walk on; They took me back to Robert Hay’s house and there untied my hands, and four of them; Howe, Septon, Burn and Collyer stood sentry over me; the Black Girl, who is a Native of the Island, was placed to watch Hay’s front door.

Hay’s house must have been bursting at the seams. By now there were fourteen people in there; eight bushrangers, two Constables and two servants, all prisoners with Robert Hay’s young wife Maria Hopper and her five year-old girl, sobbing uselessly in a corner. Silently, Black Mary prowled.  .

*

Three of the Men then went to Triffitt’s, Whitehead was one; it is almost a Mile distant from Hay’s House…

James Triffitt Snr. was up at dawn and headed off to the far sheep run not long after. There was business to be done. Mary was left alone in the house. When she heard gunshots down in the valley about 10 a.m. something told her there would be trouble. She was never wrong. She sat on the verandah, eyes peeled, searching for the cause of the trouble but nothing came to view, just the occasional dull glint of sunlight reflecting from some distant glass, a flock of startled cockatoos circling overhead.

Something caught her eye. She looked over to her right, towards Kings Rocks and the crest of the hill that formed the edge of her world. There, silhouetted against the low morning sun were three armed riders standing still as sheep, all eyes trained on her.

‘Oh, shit,’ she said and slowly stood up, spreading her arms out to her side to show she was not armed. Long ago, in another time, she had learnt not to resist when resistance was useless. This was just such an occasion.

Whitehead, Septon and Howe took on Mary Higgins and lived to tell the tale. They emerged ten minutes later with a few items of James Triffitt’s clothing, a good pair of his shoes and a bollocking from Mary. Even the toughest of bushrangers was little match for that London tongue. Abuse poured out of her by the bucket. The diatribe continued till the men were safely out of hearing. It was the Mary of old, a street smart shrew in a tight corner, a hidden part of the old woman lying dormant, just waiting for the right situation to emerge. Mary felt energized by the pure force of the bile that poured out of her, the lavish fountain of abuse, she felt young again.

*

Charlie Carlisle and Constable Thomas Murphy were in the main room at McCarty’s place, nervously exchanging glances and guzzling his rum when they thought no one was looking.  Pat Flaherty had already disappeared on the pretext of looking for the bushrangers and, so he said later, had found them up at Hay’s farm. Lack of weapons and an abundance of good sense kept him from the fray; he hid in the bushes till it was all over.

Bill Jemott was picking quietly at the remains of his breakfast while he waited, fully armed, for the fight to begin. He’d been joined by the three men from the ‘Geordy’, James O’Burne, Master, Mr. Hacking, first mate and crewmember Thomas Tombs. All three were in the employ of McCarty and had little choice in the matter but to involve themselves. None of them looked too keen on the prospect, except for Tommy who loved a stoush.

With him in the kitchen was Keith Hacking, fellow shipmate. Keith had the sea in his blood. He was the youngest son of Henry Hacking, seaman and pilot who had been in and out of the colony since the beginning but now resided just this side of alcoholism, soon to cross the gap. Keith had signed on to the ‘Geordy’ as a sailor in Sydney, travelled down to the Derwent and spent his waking hours tied to the schooner.

Of the unfortunate Mr. O’Burne, master of the boat, little is known. He also arrived in Van Diemen’s Land courtesy McCarty and, in the few weeks he’d spent down South had managed to do nothing to draw attention to himself. He was saving the best till last.

*

George King; Three of the Men then went to Triffitt’s [Snr.], Whitehead was one; it is almost a Mile distant from Hay’s House; after they had been gone some time, they returned with property, which they had stole from Triffitt, viz. Shoes, Jackets, etc., etc. After this party had returned to Hay’s, the whole party went up to Triffitts, as they said to get some Sugar, taking me along with them; as soon as they entered to Triffitt’s house, Mrs. Triffitt entreated they would give her back some of the things. Whitehead took off his hat and gave her a Bed Gown not made up. Septon and Howe went into the Room and filled their Knapsacks with Sugar. They all left Triffitt’s and proceeded on towards the Stony Hut planes, taking me along with them.

Dennis McCarty: Newby returned and informed me they were at Hay’s house with a Sentry walking in front of it. I then took and Armed my Servant, [a crewman on the ‘Geordy’, Thomas Tombs] and went towards Hays’s; when we got near the house, we were informed they had left, and were gone to James Triffitt’s.

McCarty is circumspect with his evidence. He doesn’t mention the surly silence that greeted his arrival at Constable Robert Hay’s house, the sneer on the face of all those assembled when he tumbled into the room. Bob Hay raised an ironic toast to his appearance, laughed and turned away. Hay was circumspect and official, reduced the conversation to a curt minimum and sent him on his way. As McCarty closed the door he heard laughter and his name called in vain, heard muffled oaths and the clink of glasses as they wished him ill fortune and swore at his retreating form.

They were all in a state of hilarity and shock, confusion and elation. Despite their losses, they were alive, the threat had left and, for a few brief moments, they were without fear. Not so elated, however, that they were prepared to chance another encounter with the bandits. Gung ho McCarty could have that adventure on his own. Everyone in Hay’s house had had their own little encounter with the gang and not one of them had the slightest intention of going back for more.  They mopped their brow, calmed themselves with a great deal of liquor and thanked their lucky stars they were alive.

If McCarty had just stayed home and minded his own business everything would have been fine. The bandits would have made their point, escaped with only four shots fired, three of those at the hapless George King, a ton of arms and ammunition, assorted items of clothing and equipment, kitchen utensils, enough tea, flour and sugar to keep them going for a month and Charlie Carlisle’s silk stockings. They were never going to attack McCarty. Not on this day, anyway. They’d already done him over, just six months earlier, and a vast and juicy haul it had been. He was barely back in the Colony after his incarceration over a matter of stolen liquor; McCarty wasn’t worth robbing.

If they were going to do him over, it would be by complete surprise, not by sending out a warning, not by robbing every one of his neighbours and weighing themselves down with loot, not by announcing their presence in the district nearly three hours earlier. The Bushrangers were way too smart for that. They wanted to let McCarty stew in a juice of his own anticipation, then, when the foreplay was over, remove the main event. Frustration was worse than attack.

But McCarty was too thick to see their plan. He was having a severe attack of ‘Gung Ho’ and nothing was going to stop him. For Dennis all roads ran to McCarty Mansions and it was inconceivable he wouldn’t be the centre of attention. This morning’s little party wasn’t about McCarty at all. He pushed in, packed with self interest and crazed with revenge. This was the first time he’d had a chance to pay back those bastards that wrecked his home and stole everything they could find. McCarthy was on his own private war of payback and nothing human was going to stop him. When he was finished a lot of other people’s blood had been spilt. For Dennis McCarty this was perfectly normal.

Dennis McCarty: I then pursued, sending [Thomas Tombs] to Hay’s to collect all the Force he could and follow; on my Arrival at Triffitt’s, they were gone, and I was informed they had just left the House after stripping it of every necessary, and that they had taken George King along with them with the intent, as was supposed, to Murder him. I enquired the Route they had taken, and found they had gone toward Macquarie Plains.

*

McCarty’s brave posse was driven by self-interest, revenge and greed. His new schooner, his pride and joy, the ‘Geordy’ lay at anchor in the river at the foot of his property. It wasn’t just an object of beauty, a great ‘boy’s toy’, the ‘Geordy’ was to be one of McCarty’s main income earners. This was a capital asset to be protected, particularly as the year before another boat had been commandeered, loaded with plunder and sailed down the river, never to be seen again. McCarty’s focus was on self-interest that morning, his heroic mass uprising of the settlers would primarily achieve the protection of his property. Just why the very people he had manipulated, cheated, taken advantage of and threatened should rise up and protect his goods hadn’t crossed his mind. Like all great statesmen he was utterly convinced of the rights of his actions and of his place in the centre of the world.

McCarty’s vigilante force arrived at James Triffitt’s to find Mother Mary being consoled by her two sons. James Jnr. and Thomas had come over from their adjoining properties on hearing the frantic bleat of summons that issued from Mum after the bushrangers had gone. The two lads had been utterly unaware of both robberies. Now they were angry.

The bushrangers cleaned their parent’s place out, stripped it in a methodical, well-rehearsed fashion. Mary was in her late sixties by now and had learnt how to roll with the punches. She was enveloped in a warm glow of stoicism, embracing her role as principal victim with considerable flair.  The numbers grew around her as the rest of McCarty’s party arrived then, after a hurried conference and a flurry of activity, she was left alone to wander her house and catalogue what once had been hers.

I then consulted with the Party with me,  [consisting of himself, Mr. William Jemott, Mr. James O’Burne, master of the Geordy, Keith Hacking, mate, Messrs. Charles Carlisle, Thomas Murphy, James Triffitt, Thomas Triffitt, John Brown and crewman Thomas Tooms,] and, they promising to support me when I found the opportunity to rush on them, I pursued, tho’ I was fearful we were not strong enough, for I had been informed they were Nine in Number with Twelve Muskets, two double Barrell’d Guns, and a number of Pistols, and my party had only Five Fowling Pieces and three Pistols;

Tommy Tombs danced a silent jig of impatience as the others faffed around. He was a tiny man, but wiry, a little Scotch Terrier bouncing there on the balls of his feet, ready to leap up on his horse and at ‘em. Tommy loved an adventure. He hovered above the ground in excitement until a giant hand clamped on his shoulder and held him down. This was O’Burne, the master of the ‘Geordy’ and a rock of calm. O’Burne laid his heavy claw on the small man’s shoulder until Tombs stopped bouncing up and down, in a deep whisper told him to save his energy till he needed it, then released the squirming sailor while he checked on young Hacking, just behind.

Chris Hacking was the son of a great pilot and navigator, as well as an incorrigible rogue. The son took after the father. He was a natural born seaman and that is where he should have stayed. On land with a musket he looked seriously out of his depth. No amount of bravado could disguise that forlorn look – it was the face of the newborn puppy being shoved head-first into a hessian bag.

The three men from the ‘Geordy’ stood off to one side while their lord and master ran around huffing and puffing his revenge at anyone who would listen. Constable Thomas Murphy stood rooted to the spot, a glazed look in his eyes, listing very slightly from side to side. Beside him was Charles Carlisle, his new greatest friend. The two of them had bonded quite alarmingly over the course of the morning, had faced death and disaster a thousand times in their whispered conversations, declared undying support for each other and the very height of brotherly love – they were both so full of rum they would have kissed a kangaroo in their emotion, held tight to each other and swayed together, waiting for the word.

The hold up was the Triffitt boys, James and Tom. They were saddling their horses and laying in arms but Mother Mary was insistent they not go. She had a presentiment, she said, an omen of doom. She clung to each of them in turn, turning on the full panoply of her emotions but both lads shook her aside, embarrassed at having such a display in front of the men. When their father arrived, in the nick of time, he took control. He would go, instead of his eldest son. James Jnr. had no option but to obey.

Dennis McCarty gave the word and they all mounted their horses silently, following the black tracker in single file past the rear of the house. He was heading up to the top of the hill overlooking Triffitt’s combined acreage. Mary stood and watched as her sons slipped out of view through the white trunks of the gum trees.

She had that feeling.

*

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