Novelist. AUSTRALIAN BUSH- RANGING. THE EARLY DAYS. PART II. (By Charles White.) (All Rights Reserved.) CHAPTER XX. "CAPTAIN MOONLITE – AN EXTRAORDINARY CAREER. The details of the robbery, although it comes within the category of burg- lary rather than of bushranging, were so extraordinary that I may be par- doned for giving them in extenso. Egerton is (or was in 1879) a small town in Victoria, on the line of road between Geelong and Ballarat, of which latter town it was a sort of min- ing tributary, and it was here that Scott a the time was located as a lay- reader, to a congregation in the town- ship during the clergyman's aabsence in another part of the parish. There was a branch of the London Chartered Bank in the township, under the charge of the manager referred to above, named Brunn, who was the sole occupant at night of the building, a wooden structure only. The inhabi- tants of the place were, for the most part, miners, and the publicans and storekeepers who furnished them with provisions. Scott, who was sometimes called "Captain" and sometimes "Par- son," kept a horse, and occasionally visited the negihboring towns of Gordon and Buninyong, now called Yendon, but his means were slender, and he was considerably in debt. He lodged with a Mr. Morgan, at Egerton, while Brunn boarded. with the local schoolmaster, one Simpson, whose house was near the bank, to which it was Brunn's habit to return between 9 and 10 o'clock nightly. For several weeks before April in the year named, considerable intimacy existed between Scott and Brunn, and Scot was a re- gular visitor at the bank, to every por- tion of which he had free access; but at the end of March that intimacy ceas- ed, and the two. en rarely met. This was the state of things at the time of the robbery, which took place on Satur- day night, May 8. The story told by Brunn of the rob- bery was to this effect : The night was very dark, with a drizzling rain, and as he was about to enter the bank, a man suddenly caught him by the shoul- der, and told him to keep quiet, or he would shoot him, at the same time cocking a pistol, and holding it to his head. The robber then told him to enter the bank and close the door, which he did, and the two proceeded to the corner where the safe stood, the man having told Brunn to deliver him a re- volver which was on the premises. In obedience to another order, the banker opened the safe, and gave the robber its contents, which amounted in the whole, in money and value (including a quantity of retorted gold, entered as 127 ounces, and five ounces of alluvial gold), to £1195. There were 318 bank notes, chiefly of the Chartered Bank, amounting to between £500 and £600 in all besides albout £98 in gold and sil- ver coin. After this the robber took Brunn to the bedroom and bandaged his eyes, and then went back to the safe, striking there a light. Afterwards, he ordered Brunn io accompany him
outside, saying that he would meet his mate there, and tie Brunn in the bush. In the bank the robber talked of not knowing the (sanguinary) place, and asked for brandy, and outside he in- quired where the road ran, where he could get a horse, and whether there was not a "parson chap" thereabouts, who rode a good one. During all this time Brunn declared that the robber, who had a black veil drawn tightly over his face, kept him covered with the pis- tol, and he was in constant dread of being shot if he resisted or called out, and, being at the time in a bad state of health, he was completely unnerved. The robber told Brunn that there were two other men with him, tone being close at hand in case of need, and the other in the neighboring town- ship (Gordon), where he had gone to rob the bank. By this time Brunn had come to the conclusion that the robber was no other than Scott, but he did not venture to give any intimation of his discovery to Scott, and the two pro- ceeded quietly down the street. As they passed along in the open two men passed by, one of whom had a dark lantern, and to evade observation Scott kept on the off side. They then went to a stable, where Scott said he had a horse, and thence, at Brunn's entreaty, to the village schoolroom – where Scott actuatlly offered to sign, and did sign, a certificate, written at his dictation by Brunn, that the money had been taken by force, and with firearms. Brunn said he wrote this by the light of a match or matches produced by Scott, who, on signing the paper, made him retire to another part of the room. The signature was "Captain Moonlite, sec- retary." He moreover asked Brunn while there if any of the money taken from the safe was his own, and on the latter saying yes, £10. 15s. (which was not true), Scott gave him £11 in half- sovereigns from the haul. After having given him the money, Scott tied Brunn's hands with the bell-rope, cut from where it was hanging, and de- parted. Ten minutes after he had left, the banker struggled to get free, and having succeeded, he made a rush to the hut of the nearest miner, who ac- companied him to Mr. Tanner's store, where he obtained a horse, and rode at once into Gordon, with one of Tanner's employees for company, the pair reaching that place at about midnight. Brunn soon told his story to the ac- countant at the Gordon branch, and then sought the services of two con- stables, who returned with him to Eger- ton ; but after having heard all that their informant had to tell them, and having examined the bank premises and the schoolroom, without finding any traces of burnt matches or other corroborative signs – they looked for marks on Brunn's wrists also, but could not find any evidence of their having been bound tightly with a rope – they- concluded that the manager was himself the culprit, and they accord- ingly arrested him, and took him into Gordon. On the following day (Sun- day), they also arrested the school- master – a man of proved irreproach- able character – as an accessory, and charged him with having written the certificate which Brunn alleged had been left by Scott in the schoolroom, and which they found there. But the constables could not well allow Brunn's assertions that Scott was the robber to pass without notice, and they accordingly paid a formal visit to the "Parson's lodgings" and made search for the firearms – the pistol used by the robber, and the revolver taken from the bank ; but although there were several pistols in his room, none of them corresponded with those de- cribed by Brunn, and the officers of justice apologised to Scott for having subjected his room to the indignity of a search. How could they do other- wise ? For was not Mr. Scott a most decorous gentleman, engaged in a semi-sacred calling, and appointed to offiiate that very day in the little church on the hill ? And was not one of the searchers a member of the church committee, who had employed
him to take duty with the fully-ordain- ed clergyman ? The constables natur- ally sympathised with the "Parson" in his humiliation, agreeing with him that the charge was a base concoction of Brunn's and tacitly nodding their heads when he declared that he would bring an action for slander against the banker for having thus dared to im- pugn his honesty. In due course B.unn was charged be- fore the court with the robbery, and Scott was a witness against him. Dur- ing his evidence he admitted, in cross- examination, that he was without pecu- niary resources, that he was absent from his lodgings the whole of the evening and night of the robbery up to past 1 o'clock. That he had ac- counted for that absence by giving a false statement, and he ended by dis- tinctly refusing to say where he was on that night. Brunn was, nevertheless, committed for trial, and on- July 23 was tried at the Ballarat Circuit Court, but acquitted, Scott appearing again as a witness against him. Mr. Simpson,who had also been committed, was not, how- ever, put upon his tral. Meanwhile the sanctimonious Scott had been quietly paying off his debts – all in Chartered Bank notes. He resigned his lay-readership, bought two horses, kept a groom, and altogether aped the gentleman. Between July and De- cember, he was absent and was sup- posed to have made a voyage to Fiji, but on December 28 he was in Sydney, selling at the Mint 120 ounces of re- torted gold, resembling in fineness and other qualities the metal taken from the bank at Egerton, although no thought of connecting one lot with the other was then entertained. The pro- ceeds of this sale – about £500 – he de- posited in the Union Bank, Sydney, oen December 31, and this deposit he sub- sequently supplemented. with another of £200, drawing thereupon by cheques in his own name up to Novemlber, 1870, when his account was finally closed. After this he went to Maitland district, and was there convicted on two charges of obtaining money by false pretences, for which he was sentenced to twelve and eighteen months' imprisonment. Of these concurrent terms, Scott serv- ed fifteen months, at the expiration of which time he returned to Sydney, and there, in. March, 1872, he was arrested on the charge of robbing the Egerton Bank, and forwarded to Ballarat for ex- amination and trial. But Scott was a man of many re- courses and he succeeeded in escaping gaol. By cutting a hole through the wall of his cell he gained, an entrance into the cell adjoining, which was oc- cupied by another prisoner, who was as desirous of escaping as himself. Together they seized the warder when he came his rounds, gagged him, and tied him up, and making use of his keys proceeded to other cells , and liberated four other prisoners ; and the six men succeeded in escaping over the wall, by means of blankets cut into strips, which they used as a rope. Scott was subsequently re-captured, and held safely until he could be tried. In July he was tried at the Ballarat Circuit Court, when, by a series of cross-examinations of unprecedented length, conducted by himself after re- jecting his counsel, he spread the case over no less than eight days, but was at last convicted, and sentenced to 10 years' hard labor. The evidence against him – besides that given by Brunn, the possession and sale in Sydney of the stolen gold, and his unexplained possession of con- siderable sums of money shortly after the robbery, contrasted with his im- pecuniosity before it – was as follows :- A letter to his father was found on him in which, after solemnly protest- ing his innocence of the two offences at Maitland, Scott gave a long account of large transactions in business and gigantic speculations in which he said he had engaged, and also described how he had been the victim of swindl- ing. With the handwriting of this letter, and of his signature to various receipts and cheques, thie signature "Captain Moonlite, secretary," at- tached to the document given to Brunn, was compared, and found to corre- spon, in a remarkalble manner. The revolver taken from the bank, and a horse-pistol, supposed to be the one then used by the robber, were found in an old mining shaft, about two hundred yards from Morgan's. It was proved that Scott was at a public house at Egerton for a few minutes about 8, o'clock on the night of the robbery. One. witness, Caldicot, said that about 11 p.m. on that night he heard a horse galloping very fast on the road leading from Egerton to Buninyong. Alice Roberts deposed to the. like – a horse going at a fear- ful pace down the hill a little after 11.
Mr. Webb, a publican at Bunin- yong, supplied some drink at about a half-past 11 to a horseman who rode up to his door, as from Egerton, and who went on towards Ballarat, without dismounting. A miner, named Willis, deposed that a few weeks after the robbery, in conversation respecting the committal of Brunn and Simpson, Scott maintained that Brunn's allega- tion that he could distinguish the rob- ber's features, although he wore a veil, was false, and he then went into his bedroom and brought out and put over his face a crape veil, and on his head an old felt hat – the very kind that Brunn had described. As com- pared with other portions of the case, this evidence was of no great value ; but, dove-tailing with the other por- tions, and as characteristic of the man, it was remarkably striking. Scott only served two-thirds of his sentence of 10 years, and after his release he made a few pounds by lec- turing on the enormities of Pentridge Gaol, and then he set about collect- ing a gang of young desperadoes, and with them commenced the last stage of his criminal career. The gang Scott formed consisted of' young men, whose: names were Wreneckie, Williams, Bennett, Nesbit, and Rogan. Two of these had served a term in gaol, where it is probable they first formed acquaintance with Scott. From this time Scott was generally known by the self-assumed title, "Captain Moonlite." The gang commenced operations as bushrangers near Mansfield, in Victoria, but after operating in the sister colbny for a short time, they made their way over the border into New South Wales, and it was in the southern district of that colony that they entered upon the full practice of their profession. In one act they made. themselves notorious, and caused a thrill of excitement to run through the whole colony. On Saturday evening, November 15, 1870 they entered the little settle- ment of Wantabadgery, about 28 miles from Gundagai, and proceeded tot "bail up" all the residents. First robbing the proprietor of the local inn, they proceeded to Wantabadgery Station, and indulged in what one of them afterwards called a "high old game." The owners of the station – Messrs. MacDonald – were absent at the time of their arrival, and were surprised on their return to find that the place had. been captured, and was being held by armed men, who held prisoners to the number of 19 in close confinement. It goes without saying that the MacDonalds went to swell the number of prisoners. They reached home about 8 o'clock on the Saturday evening, and were met as they drove up by two armed men, who ordered them into the house, declar- ing that if they did not obey the order at once they would be shot. Like- wise men they obeyed, and became prisoners in their own house, and they were compelled to entertain the bush- rangers during the night under cover of firearms. The prisoners were not harshly treated by the bushrangers, as they all submitted to the inevitable and kept quiet, making no effort to es- cape. "Moonlite" was their leader and guide all through the piece, the other five members of the gang obey- ing his orders implicitly. During the Sunday they each equipped them- selves in suits of slop-clothing from the station store, and relieved the prisoners of all their superfluous cash and valuables, but even when they had "gone through" all the visitors they did not care to leave the place. They watched their prisoners closely, locking up a number of them in a room to ensure their safety, but pro- viding them with sufficient meat and drink. Others of them, including the owners of' the station, they com- pelled to get upon the roof of the house, with instructions to watch and give timely notice of any attempted surprise from without. But a surprise came, nevertheless, although the bushrangers were not, as it happened, taken at a disadvantage. The woman at the inn that had been "stuck up" before the station, was al- lowed to remain on her own premises, and during the afternoon of Sunday she was standing outside, quietly weep- ing over her misfortunes when two travellers rode up. They naturally enquired ooncerning the cause of her trouble, and having learned that the station was then held by six bush- rangers, they put spurs to their horses, and rode to Gundagai with the infor- mation, causing a message also to be sent to the police at Wagga Wagga. The police at Wagga were the first to take saddle and start for Wantabadgery. The news reached them at 11 'clock
on Sunday night, but for some reason not stated they did not start for the scene of the outrage until the follow- ing morning. But once started, they did not lose any time on the road, and reaching the station at an early hour – there were four troopers in the batch – they proceeded to. discuss the situation, and how best to make a successful attack. (To be continued.)