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THE TWO MINUTE WAR

YOU DON’T KNOW IT – BUT RIGHT NOW YOUR FATE IS IN THE BALANCE.

If you’re a Triffitt – or descended from one – a centimeter, a split second and a gasp are all that separate you from oblivion. 

*

PART TWO

The bandits headed west, up and over the crest of the Black Hills behind them towards Macquarie Plains. They knew none of the settlers would follow, they were all unarmed and sufficiently cowed to stay in their homes – but the gang had no inkling of McCarty’s vigilantes; his whole endeavor took place in a different sphere. After a couple of miles the bandits stopped for a break feeling confident and secure. Mission well accomplished, they thought.

The garrulous George King had become surprisingly sedate. Since he left Robert Hay’s farm, sole prisoner and beast of burden, he’d felt very vulnerable indeed; Daniel in the lion’s den with no idea of what fate lay in store for him. Barefoot, his toes stinging with the cold, he trotted along gamely beside them with a mounting terror in his heart. The group filed into the clearing and dismounted wearily. What a great morning’s work.

About a mile back down the hill the vigilantes followed their every move – they even had their own black tracker. The sound of a musket shot in the distance was all they needed. Leaving the horses tethered the men set out on foot in the direction of the gunfire. This odd assortment of fellows began to act as a team, following hand signals from McCarty as the posse grew close. There they were.

James looked around and his eyes met McCarty’s. The Irishman was sweating, his little eyes piggily swinging from side to side. He was a bit drunk.

‘Get ready,’ he hissed and made a signal to the rest of them to cock their guns.

The black tracker slid silently away. Getting shot was not part of his job description.

*

I came up with them about two miles from Triffitt’s,’ McCarty brayed, ‘I was twenty yards away before I saw them; they were sitting just on the edge of a plain among the trees – and I in the open ground…

Now a wiser man might have stopped, thought for a minute, perhaps considered the possibility of finding cover before beginning an attack. Not so General McCarty. From his fine strategic position in the midst of open ground he began his battle charge – or rather John Brown did it for him. In an act equal parts bravado and staggering stupidity, John ran into the midst of the ten bandits, howling and threshing wildly at anything that moved with his cutlass. The bushrangers scattered, more out of fright than from any concern for their personal safety. Brown hurtled through the camp then turned, expecting to see his companions right behind. Whoops. Not a soul. Just him and McCarty out in the open, some startled bushrangers and a posse of less than enthusiastic vigilante thugs hovering in the distance.

George King: Brown ran in among the Bushrangers before anyone saw him with a Cutlash. Brown made a Cut with it, but I can’t say whether he cut one of them. McCarty called to me and told me to hold down my head. I did so and he (McCarty) then fired off his fowling piece at the party of Bush-rangers. I did not observe anyone fall; the Bush rangers then ran, but did not go far before they stopped, and again returned. McCarty fired a second time, wishing to gain the Trees, I with the Party rushed forward to gain the Shelter of the Trees also, and, when I had got within Fifteen yards of them, I saw two of them seize their Muskets and stand; the rest run.

Dennis McCarty: I immediately fired and a Man fell; they then perceiving that only one man rush’d on with me, they returned and took up the Arms they had left in their Hurry, and commenced firing on me. I was, therefore, under the necessity to retreat to the nearest Shelter; they had then got themselves placed behind a hollow Tree with holes in it…

George King: The Bush rangers then went to a large Hollow tree, some of them got into it in order to fire through holes in the Tree, while others stood behind it. I then saw Carlisle, Jemott, O’Burne, Thomas Murphy, James Triffitt, Thomas Triffitt, Christopher Hacking, Tooms and another Man, whose Name I do not know, along with McCarty; the party with McCarty had but five Muskets and two or three pistols.

As McCarty burrowed into the earth behind the only piece of shelter the others rushed up, eyes ablaze. George King was watching the whole catastrophe from behind a tree. It was all over in two minutes, bar the screaming.

Young John Brown hurled himself into a dip in the ground beside McCarty and grabbed his Master’s spent musket, thrusting his own cocked weapon back at the puffing Irishman. The others were not quite so fast. Whitehead eased himself up from his cover behind the hollow log, took aim and squeezed the trigger. Jemott went down clutching his thigh. Almost immediately Howe took his leader’s place, fired and hit Charlie Carlisle fair and square in the groin, the bullet neatly severing his femoral artery.

Charlie was fully alert and conscious while he lay there watching the earth grow red and sticky beneath him, a look of confusion on his face. The warmth of his blood felt strangely comforting, as if he’d wet the bed. He didn’t know it yet, but he was dying, losing his life by spurts in a distant field in a far country, unwatched, uncared for, alone.

I then went behind a Tree and distinctly saw Whitehead fire the first. One Man fell, I am not sure whether it was Jamott or Carlisle. I then saw Michael Howe fire from behind the Tree, one Man then fell, it was either Jamott or Carlisle; they were the two first that fell; there were only two Shots fired, first by Whitehead, second by Howe. I then heard a third Shot fire from behind the Tree, but can’t say who fired it, but I saw O’Burne fall.

James O’Burne’s face exploded. The bullet went in one cheek, through his tongue and lodged in his neck. The pain was immediate and excruciating. His head whipped from side to side, spraying blood as he sank to his knees, then Captain O’Burne slowly tumbled headfirst onto the dirt.

‘Run King! Run!’ shouted McCarty and George raced into the trees, away from the fighting. The rest of the bandits had re-loaded by now and a volley of shots rang out, some at the retreating form of Mr. King, some at the remaining members of McCarty’s party in the clearing. George saw three shots aimed in his direction, as he was dodging from trunk to tree, looking desperately over his shoulder. He was not being followed. The bushrangers had their work cut out for them back at the hollow log.

Thomas Triffitt watched the three men fall as he ran across the clearing, his father just behind. His heart beat wildly as he caught sight of the blood gushing from O’Burne’s shattered face. For a split second he hesitated and that’s when he felt the thud. He tumbled slowly sideways, was lying on the ground before he thought to look down. His trouser leg, from mid thigh to knee was covered in blood. There was a small tear in the fabric that didn’t look too bad but as he twisted around he saw the great gaping wound on the other side of his thigh. James was at his side in an instant.

‘Oooh, shit, shit, shit,’ Tom said as he slid to the ground.

Constable Thomas Murphy was just too slow. Too drunk as well. He was hit three times about the fleshy bits of his body which, luckily were many and various. His wounds looked messy but he hit the ground softly, in an alcoholic pirouette, gliding down to a melancholy thud, bloodied, befuddled and dazed.

I saw Thomas Triffitt fall; can’t say who fired the Shot at him, I was running from them at the time and the Bush-rangers were firing at me. I saw three Balls fall near me. Thomas Triffitt got up and ran from them; such of McCarty’s party, who had no Arms, retreated back leaving McCarty and the wounded Men at the Spot where the Men were Shot.

Jemott, Carlisle, O’Burne, Murphy and Triffitt – all down, all badly wounded in an instant. Carlisle wasn’t going anywhere, nor was O’Burne. Const. Murphy was all blood and guts, he found the hard earth preferable to movement, but the rest of them felt under no compunction to stay. Throwing down their weapons James and Thomas Triffitt, Jemott and Tommy Tombs got the hell out of there, limped, fell, were carried, stumbled out of harm’s way and licked their wounds from a distance leaving Brown and McCarty cowering alone behind their tree stump, the bodies of three of their party moaning out behind them and a bewildered Christopher Hacking hovering in a hollow not far away, hoping the earth would open up and swallow him.

Dennis McCarty: Finding Myself with only one Young Man by me, I prepared to retreat, when the Bush rangers called out to me to lay down my Gun and give myself up. I replied I would not, but would have another Shot, and then see who could run fastest.

George King: I heard the Bush rangers call out to McCarty to drop his Arms and give himself up to them. McCarty’s party that were retreating stopped and heard McCarty say, he would be damned if he would, for that he would have another shot at them. McCarty then fired and ran with his party towards the Settlement at New Norfolk. A bushranger was heard to call out ‘McCarthy, stop you scoundrel! It is you we want or we will blow your brains out!’ Three of the gang then ran after McCarthy but he quickly outdistanced him.

George King escaped as well. The eyes on the next act belong to young Chris Hacking, frozen to the earth a small distance away. He saw the retreating McCarty and his servant, Mr. Brown dodging away in the distance pursued by three of the men, but now he was the only able bodied man left on the battlefield, so he felt, and his body was a trembling mass on the ground. There was click from behind him and he felt the hairs rise up on the back of his neck.

‘Just you stay there, my little sweetheart, and that bum fluff on your cheeks’ll have time to grow into whiskers.’

Christopher did as he was told.

CHRISTOPHER HACKING, free man, on Oath states’: that he was out with McCarty’s Party, and was present during the whole of the Transpired, and was the only Person who remained with the People after they Were wounded; states that he was armed with one Pistol, and, after McCarty had retreated, the Bushrangers called out to rush, and ran up the Hill after’ McCarty, and the rest staid behind to look out, fearing there were more people to attack them. One of the Bushrangers, Peter Geary, formerly a fifer in the 73d Regt., ran up to Thomas Murphy, who was laying Wounded and bleeding ,through his Clothes, and, putting the Muzzle of his Musket to his breast, Swore he would shoot him. Deponent then was standing near Carlisle, and heard another Man call out to Geary not to Shoot him then Geary said, let us flog him. Murphy replied, for God’s sake don’t use me ill, for I am a dead Man ‘already; the Bushrangers then gathered up all the Arms, which belonged to the wounded, taking a pistol and Ammunition, he “this Deponent” had; they then asked how many there were of McCarty’s Party; he told them. After consulting among themselves, he asked, them if he might go for a Cart, they told him to go, and one of the Bush Rangers took off his handkerchief and gave it to Deponent to tie up Carlisle’s Wound; they spoke to Carlisle, and said they were very sorry for his fate; he replied that he forgave them, and begged they would not destroy his Stock which one of them promised they would not, and shook him by the hand. Geary then went up to O’Burn, who was laying on his face and with his foot pushed him over, saying, “what fellow is this.” Deponent told him he belonged to McCarty’s Schooner, and he then knew him., Deponent then went for a Cart, and ‘on the way met with some people coming out with a Wheelbarrow, saying they could not get a Cart, and had brought a barrow; he returned and they took the Wounded to James Triffit’s, where a Cart came from McCarty’s. When the Deponent returned to the wounded, the Bushrangers had left them, taking all the Arms there, were. Three of the Men,who Deponent knew, Viz. Geary, Hugh Burn, and Collyer; he further states that there was a Man among them, who had a large lump or Swelling over his right Eye.’    

The big burly bushrangers weren’t overly fussed about this little puppy. It was clear from the look in his eyes he was no threat to anybody save the local milkmaid. He was peeled up off the ground and brought over to the wounded in time to see Peter Geary run toward Thomas Murphy, bleeding heavily on the grass and, shoving his musket in his chest, threaten to kill him. Another member of his gang calmed him down, talked him out of it but Geary was frothing at the mouth. He was mighty pissed off at this bang bang biffo at the end of a successful day. He was mad. Instead of murder he would flog the bastard instead. Murphy’s exact words come spiraling down through history.

’For God’s sake don’t use me ill – I’m a dead man already.’

Geary looked at the old fellow, looked at the blood; he had to agree the prognosis didn’t look good. He turned his attention to Carlisle instead. Charlie was mumbling and rolling his eyes. It was clear immediately that Chas. Carlisle wasn’t long for this world. Geary’s eyes softened and he called for a ‘kerchief. Hacking was called over tie up Carlisle’s wound, try to staunch the flow of blood. Hacking took one look at the amount of blood, the look on Carlisle’s face and knew it was hopeless, but he did what he was told.

O’Burne was lying where he had fallen, face down in the dirt. Geary went over and, pushing him with his foot, turned him face upwards, asking aloud, ‘What fellow is this?’ He got his answer and a fine watch into the bargain then waved Chris Hacking away.  He was told to head for the settlement and get a cart to take the injured. The young sailor stumbled across the clearing feeling a target etched into his back, but there was no gunfire, no explosion, when he finally dared look back the gang were gone. This was the last time Christopher Hacking was ever going on land again, if he could avoid it. He was a seaman and that’s where he would stay.

Dennis McCarty: As soon as I got down to my house, I sent out my Cart to bring in the Wounded, and sent Newby down to Hobart Town with a Letter to the Lieutenant Governor to inform him of the circumstances.”

Patrick Flaherty: I heard that my Master was wounded. I then went out in search of him. I found him with four Men, who had got him on a Wheelbarrow bringing him to James Triffitt’s house; and, on coming up to My Master who was bleeding very much and who said it was a bad job, that he was not long for this world, which he repeated more than once, I went a little distance and met with two Men, who had O’Burne under their Care. I took O’Burne on my back and carried him to James Triffitt’s; to which House My Master was also carried, where he remained for 1/4 of an hour, during which time they Endeavoured to stop the bleeding [from the severed femoral artery], but could not with any thing they tied round his thigh. My Master was then put on a Wheelbarrow and conveyed home.

Robert Hay: I do not know the Man that went first to pick up the Wounded. I heard the deceased (Charles Carlisle) say more than once I am a dead Man.”

George King: In about three hours after, Crochan and others brought Carlisle in a wheelbarrow to his own house, and, as they brought him to his own door, he died. I afterwards saw Triffitt, Jamott, and O’Burne brought to McCarty’s wounded; O’Burne was wounded through the Jaw; he could not speak; Jamott was wounded in the upper part of his thigh; Triffitt was also wounded in the thigh. Murphy I did not see, I was informed he was wounded in three places.

Patrick Flaherty: I went with the Cart, which Mr. O’Burne was conveyed in to Mr. McCarty’s house. On arriving at McCarty’s house, I heard that my master was Dead.

Dennis McCarthy: After this I came from New Norfolk to Hobart Town, at which place I arrived about Three o’Clock (25th instant) in the Morning.”

Thomas Newby galloped down the track to Hobart, his chest bursting with conflicting emotions. So much had happened all around him he couldn’t process it all. Instead he concentrated on the way in front of him and held a long, intimate conversation with his dead wife. In the midst of all this death and destruction he felt her very near.

He was there when Carlyle carked it, saw the dead man’s look in his eye. Newby couldn’t get that look out of his mind. He was in shock, he supposed, felt faint and queerly in his brain but his spirits soared at the adventure he was having; this was precisely the kick up the arse that he needed after a long few months of despair. He grasped at his opportunity like the drowning man he knew himself to be and, for once, felt good to be alive.

He slowed down a little outside New Town and felt in his pocket for the letter McCarty had given him. Newby was on a mission. He must deliver this to the Lieutenant Governor before nightfall; lives were at stake. Tom’s stomach was rumbling and he realized he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. There would be no one at home to cook for him. He sighed.

By five he was in Government House telling his story, by six with Reverend Knopwood, wolfing a pie and some rather fine port. Newby was the man of the moment and recounted the tale with increasing enthusiasm. He was a star.

*

Phew. We survived. Think about it for a moment. In an instant the dynasty could end. Two Beta Triffitts huddling in a clearing being shot at by bushrangers. One stray bullet, an inch to the right and both boys would be cactus – and with them would go their unborn children and their unborn children’s unborn children. Quite soon it’s unborn you and unborn me. No more Triffitts.

I have known people who would think that was a very fine thing.

*

HERE’S JAMES TRIFFITT Jr’s ORIGINAL STATEMENT

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