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Matthew Brady - The Gentleman Bushranger.

Posted on 16 October, 2017 at 4:40

Young Matthew Brady is probably Launceston’s most famous bushranger even though he didn’t spend that much time in these parts, but he was finally caught not fat from here by John Batman – but more about that a little later.

Born in 1799 as Matthew ‘Bready’, he was apparently a groom in the Manchester region. He developed excellent riding skills, to the point of being described as an elegant horseman. The crime which got him transported to the penal colony of Sydney Town for 7 years however was less than elegant – stealing a basket of food.

So in 1820, he arrived on board the convict ship Juliana and proceeded to become a pain in the colonial butt. He attempted to abscond, unsuccessfully a number of times, as he rebelled against the conditions convicts had to endure. It was a futile action which earned him a total of 350 lashes, the kind that ripped the flesh from a man’s back and laid his hide wide open – but he survived.

Brady, as he was now known, was finally sent down to Sarah Island.

Sarah Island was a short lived cure for troublesome or particularly nasty convicts. It was only open for about 11 years between 1822 and 1833. The conditions were abysmal, the discipline was hard, and it was supposedly escape proof. It was an island in the middle of Macquarie Harbour on the unexplored south west coast of Van Dieman’s Land. The only way in was by boat and that was never a sure thing as a number of boats foundered on the rocks of ‘Hells Gate’, the narrow passage into Macquarie Harbour. Many convicts drowned in those surly waters.

There was no overland access to Macquarie Harbour so it was considered the ultimate unfenced jail.

There were some escape attempts certainly, Alexander Pearce for example. He led a party of convicts which included 8 other men and himself to try for freedom by walking out of the wilderness. He was caught, alone, having kept himself alive by killing and eating the other convicts one at a time. He was searched and a half eaten man’s arm was found in his pocket. Just something to nibble on, apparently!

In 1824, Matthew Brady and a group of convicts also attempted, but succeeded in escaping Sarah Island by disabling their guard and stealing a whaleboat. They used it to sail around the south coast of Van Dieman’s Land to a spot just short of Hobart. From there, they began the life of a bushranger.

Bushrangers were very common in early Tasmania. Being an island where convicts outnumbered the free settlers, it wasn’t particularly hard for convicts to head bush away from the lash and sadistic guards. But they still had to eat and cloth themselves, and being on an island, their resources were very limited, so bushranging was common. The penalty for being a bushranger was invariably death by hanging, and for many, it was considered a better way to go than being lashed.

So Brady and Co became bushrangers. But Brady had a code he insisted his gang lived by. They did not kill, nor would he rob or assault any women. He insisted on good manners and above board treatment as he robbed good citizens. He was Matthew Brady, ‘The Gentleman Bushranger’, and he actually earned quite a following – all female.

The military establishment however considered him extremely dangerous, particularly after ‘The Sorell Incident’.

A number of Hobart Town’s up and coming had sat down for a fine dinner near Sorell, east of Hobart and were overcome and taken into Sorell township. They then released all the convicts. While there, several soldiers returning from searching for the bushranger were caught unprepared and so were disarmed and locked up in the local jail. The garrison’s commander, Lieutenant William Gunn, was unfortunately shot in the arm which had to be later amputated.

The Governor, George Arthur, himself an army Lieutenant Colonel, was getting very angry at Brady’s activities, and the general populations favourable opinion of him. Arthur posted a reward for information leading to the capture of Matthew Brady. He offered land to free settlers, or a pardon and land to any convict who aided in Brady’s capture.

Brady however returned the favour by posting a reward for the capture and turning over to him of Governor George Arthur, the reward – 20 gallons of rum! The following notice was pinned to the door of the Royal Oak Inn in Crossmarch;

"It has caused Matthew Brady much concern that such a person as Sir George Arthur is at large. Twenty gallons of rum will be given to any person that can deliver this person to me. I also caution John Priest that I will hang him for his ill-treatment of Mrs. Blackwell, at Newtown."

In the meantime, Brady tried to capture a boat on the Tamar River. He set up a lookout and when a potential boat came along, he signalled below and Brady and crew tried to catch the boat. The first time they tried, they missed, but next time they succeeded. The scenic lookout on West Tamar Highway above a bend in the river, where his lookout watched and waited, is named Brady’s Lookout after Mr. Brady himself.

So they stole a boat and headed out in to Bass Strait, intending to sail to the mainland. But bad weather forced them back to the shores of Van Dieman’s Land – their naval adventure ended there.

Governor Arthur was so incensed; he increased his efforts to capture Brady. He increased the presence of soldiers around the colony by cancelling all leave and guarding likely targets. He also ‘used a thief to catch a thief’. By using convicts instructed to join his gang and provide information of Brady’s intentions Gov Arthur hoped to catch The Gentleman Bushranger.

It was this strategy that eventually led to the capture of Matthew Brady near Launceston in 1826.

The betrayals forced Brady to kill for the only time he was a bushranger. A Thomas Kenton, a deserter flew a white flag which was supposedly an ‘All Clear’ signal, but was actually a trap. A group of soldiers caught and tied Brady up, then went looking for other gang members. Brady managed to untie himself and escape. He went looking for, and found Kenton and after telling him he was going to kill him, shot him in the head.

Not long after, near Launceston Brady was once more betrayed by an ex- convict called Cowan for a full pardon. Brady escaped again, but was badly injured. A few days later, John Batman came across Brady after hearing he was in the area, and injured. Batman got the land grant, and Brady got the noose.

He was just 27 years old when hanged in May of 1826 at Hobart Gaol, where he complained at having to share his hanging with Thomas Jefferies, another mass murderer escapee with cannibalistic tendencies.

Many tears were shed on Brady’s behalf, and the floor of his cell was covered in flowers from the ladies of Hobart.

If you find yourself in Launceston with a few hours to spare, check out Penny Royal, which is very close to Kings Bridge at the mouth of the Cataract Gorge. There you will find a very neat little theme park which celebrates the life and adventures of ‘The Gentleman Bushranger’, one Matthew Brady. There is an excellent ‘ride’ which takes about 15 minutes and takes you through a series of stations where the story of his capture unfolds. Then you can watch a staged action where a Royal Navy brig chases down ‘The Glutton’, a boat captured by Brady and Co. Or take time out for a coffee or book a meal in the excellent restaurant.

You will find more information about Penny Royal at www.pennyroyallaunceston.com.au/ .

In the meantime, enjoy Launceston, and if you are thinking about a Heritage Walking Tour with Launceston Up Close, our PM tour will take you to Penny Royal – it’s on the way!

Cheers...Tony

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