Bushrangers of the Beaches

Bushrangers Hill, Newport, NSW. Courtesy State Library of NSW.

A recent night tour of the Old Melbourne Gaol reaffirmed my suspicion that Australians have an unshakable fascination with the history of its crooks, in particular our infamous bushrangers. Of no surprise, Ned Kelly was the primary talking point on the tour. Such was life for Kelly, that he met his demise in November of 1880 at the hands of the hangman. 

Josh McKenzie

Josh McKenzie

Of course, Victoria can boast of the Kelly gang but New South Wales has its own rich history of bushrangers. Over the chronicles of time, reports have emerged of how our own bushy backyard has also been the home of many of these notorious felons.

One fascinating tale is derived from the bold acts of three convicts in the year 1837. So the story goes, Joseph Bennett, Thomas Wicks (Weeks), and William Smith, all escaped imprisonment on Goat Island in Sydney Harbour. Whilst under fire from the guards, the three stole the government launch and fled in the direction of the Northern Beaches with police in hot pursuit.

Over the coming weeks, the trio really did get into a lot of mischief. One of their more interesting crimes was attending a property near Narrabeen Lagoon. Here, they forced the male owner of the property inside, removed his clothing which was later stolen, and left him in a completely nude state. Surely the intention behind such an act was to cause the owner embarrassment so as to not seek help. 

The trio then stole a nearby boat and went on a wild crime spree in the Pittwater area, killing livestock as they travelled as well as stealing food and firearms from neighbouring properties.

Officers from Sydney continued in determined pursuit, tracing the now confident bushrangers to Dangar Island before losing sight of them. Finally, and whilst at Mooney Mooney Creek, escapee Weeks was spotted and fired upon by the brave constables. Soon after, he was found hiding under a rock with the gun lying at his feet. To their absolute delight, police were then approached by an Aboriginal man named Bowen, who informed them that the two other men were on an island nearby. 

Of course, this story has a good ending and the police did end up catching their men. At the time of arrest, both were in the process of leaving the area on a raft and a tense standoff ensued. They were arrested and conveyed back to Sydney where they ended up being convicted of absconding, perhaps to meet a similar fate as Ned Kelly.

So the next time a Victorian boasts about the infamous Kelly gang, make sure you tell them of the terrible trio of the Northern Beaches. Not only did they steal, kill and bring terror to the area but they also had a wacky way of making sure that if someone was going to dob, they’d better have a spare set of clothes. •

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