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  • PeggyAeschlimann 1 Dec 2015 at 01:56
    The first of three articles based on Harry Power's interviews straight out of Pentridge.

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(By Frank Corlette.)

(All Rights Reserved.)

The career of Henry Power, the Victorian bushranger who served a life sentence imprisonment at Pentridge, is extraordin- ary in its cunning and daring, and made even more remarkable from the fact that the Kellys, the Harts, the Byrnes, the Quinns, the Lloyds, and other horsestealers and lawless young men in the Wangaratta and Strathbogie country, were all his con- fidants and pupils, and supplies the true and only key to the rise of the fiendish Kellys, Dan being at all times the most vicious, cowardly and cold-blooded thief   murderer of the lot. On May 2, 1870,

Ned Kelly was First Arrested

at Greta, and charged with assisting Power in his horsestealing and highway deeds; but the police failed to prove any actual complicity and Ned was discharged. A year prior to this incident Power escaped from the Pentridge prison, where he was then entering upon his term of life sentence for sticking-up travellers. This, however, was by no means his first gaol experience, for he had previously been in the Kilmore gaol and escaped from it. He never recounted any of his wild life and criminal conduct with greater pleasure to me than the fear- less way in which he attacked the warders, took the keys, let himself out, and locked the gaol door behind him. The resourceful move gave him time to get beyond easy reach before any alarm could be made. This particular phase of Power's life has never been touched upon before and not even hinted at in the straggling references to him in the different publications con- cerning Australian bushrangers. The omis- sion of such an episode in the many re- ferences to him is inexplicable.

Final Release from Pentridge.

Henry Power was liberated from gaol on February 9, 1885, and I met him by ap- pointment, made through the authorities at the old Criminal Investigation offices, in

Swanston-street. Detectives Potter and Ma-

hony, who brought him from Coburg, told

him I was in waiting to get from him a

full account of his life, and his anxiety to start his narrative and be photographed in

a typical bushranging outfit made him ir- ritable in the detective office, having no desired to be further questioned and "wor-   ried" by the police. His last words at the police office were spoken angrily, "Now you can't want me any more; I've done with bushranging and police, don't bother me again. I want to end my days in peace. I'm getting an old man, and done with this game, thank God." He joined me with much delight and we walked together to Sir William Clarke's office in Queen-street, close by Collins-street.

Henry Power's Sister.

Power's sister was a widow, then living at Oakleigh, and he went out the same evening to see her and the children, meet- ing me at Sir William Clarke's office the following morning. He frankly stated he had spoken with his sister about publishing a full and complete story of his life, and that she had made him promise not to tell me, or at any rate, not to publish any-     thing about his arrival in Victoria, or the circumstances surrounding it, for fear that her children might be stigmatised.

I pointed out that his transportation was a very necessary adjunct of the story. He had already confided that he was sent out for stealing a saddle and bridle and un- lawfully taking and using a hunter in Waterford, Ireland. He did not give his correct name when charged with the offence because it would have brought discredit upon the family, his father at the time and for many years before, being the game- keeper to the Marquis of Waterford.

Power's Father.

"My father was a respected, honourable   man, and the old Marquis thought a lot of him. Time and again as a boy I rode some of the best of the hunters in exercise work ; I was always in or about the stables helping the men and they'd trust me with any of the horses. That's where I got my riding lessons. I trained many of the hun- ters, and was thought a great rider by the huntsmen who used to gather regularly and hunt on the estates of the Marquis."'

These animals took up so much of his time that he neglected the school—such apology as it was in those days of unhappy Ireland—and received severe punishments from his father, much to the annoyance of his mother, who always tried to save him, as he was the youngest son, and over- petted by her. His mother's misplaced kind- ness proved his ruination.  

Wouldn't go to School.

The father often took him to school. Not inclined to learn anything but to give him- self up to stable life and horses, and be a ready convenience in holding huntsmen's mounts he grew to be incorrigible, and the receipt of money from them helped him   on his downward paths. When he was six- teen years of age his father had him ap- prenticed to the saddlery trade, thinking it would suit him best, and that he would become a tradesman and forget the stables and the hunting field. Giving solid atten- tion to it for a while and showing great aptitude there seemed hope for him; but within the first year he deserted the bench and returned to the stables. The master saddler overlooked the breach of the in-

denture, and, on the father's appeal, al- lowed the boy to return to work. It was clear soon after to both the saddler and the father that Harry had made up his mind not to work indoors at any trade, and a second desertion of this splendid trade in those days settled the contract.

An Incorrigible Son.

Mr. Power took no further interest in the son and left him wholly to the mother, who thought her kindness and affection would ultimately make him a good man. She had so far spoilt the lad, now growing up to manhood, that he refused to be ad- vised, and joined the peasants in their con- flicts with the British troops. It was dur- ing this time that he received the sabre wounds on his face, which are described in the Victorian police records as, "Scars over right eyebrow, scars on right cheek."

Harry had vivid recollection of these en- counters, and boasted that he inflicted more punishment on the soldiers

With Pikes and Pitchforks  

than, ever their swords did on him. He always managed to evade capture, and it

was not his fault that he didn't take any   soldiers' lives. Being an undersized boy, or   young man, probably accounts for his escapes. He was able, from his short- ness of stature and activity, to do much

damage and disappear from the ruck un- noticed.  

Going to the Bad.  

Now, every month of his life made him   the more recreant and oblivious to his

parents' good offices for his welfare. The horseman's life was ingrained and was growing up with him. Abandoning school and trade work, heedless of the mother's fondness, he went headlong into any mis- chief likely to be profitable, caring not for ultimate consequences. Into every riot and the worst of the fighting which the people waged against what they honestly believed to be a fully conceived and deliberate per- secution by the landlords to extract tenan- try dues at all hazards, be became a mark- ed youth, and this increased his despera- tion. No one knew his many violent acts and depredations.

But horses were always uppermost in his

mind, and he knew that if he could become   possessed of a saddle and bridle he would

have small difficulty in annexing a horse. At length

He Stole a Saddle

and bridle and was overtaken illegally using a blood horse, and with this act his career in Ireland came to an end. He was   convicted and sent out in 1838, under the name of Johnston, and adhered to that name until he became a ticket-of-leave man.

Dropping the surname, for obvious reasons, and under the impression that Power would carry him safely over any likely obstacle he began the life of a highwayman. Like scores of his class in the early days he rob- bed and plundered wherever he could, and no one has any idea of the numerous thefts he was mixed up in with the worst of

criminals. He even went the length of tell-   ing and detailing to me the boastful part   he took in the Williamstown riots, in which  

Captain Price lost his life. The authorities  

refused to believe this story.  

Deceit and Cunning.  

Power was born with more than the aver-  

age run of deceit and low, deep cunning,

and it was one of his noted characteristics   through his life and gaol experience in

Victoria. The sharp, shifty light-blue eye   was accustomed to flash significantly when

he imagined he had a swallow-all unsophis-   ticated listener on hand. His flow of words,     strung together anyhow, would captivate   you for a time, and, like political prattlers   of the water-spout "oratorical" type, he   never knew when to pull up, and, though interesting to a fervid degree, his loose tongue would yet tire the most patient bearer. It was in this way, too, that he so easily ingratiated himself with the Kellys and their relations and companions who were scattered throughout the now-termed

Kelly country. The boys who afterwards

lived to be iron-limbed terrors used to squat   with open mouths whenever they got the chance to hear him tell of the wrongs of Ireland and his pike battles against fire- arms and swords, and it will be better grasp- ed than written how he spread himself in

the company of such admirers and sympa-


Holding the Kellys Spellbound.

"Yes, indeed," he would suddenly break off from a narrative, in every sense thril- ling to interpolate, "the way I impressed old Mrs. Kelly and the privileged few who used to gather when they knew Harry Power was to be there, encouraged me to add a heap of romance made up out of my anguished recollection of those terrifying times at home. Mrs. Kelly was very soft-  

hearted, and she used to shed tears of blood when I spoke of the horrors and the cruelty  

practised on the poor of our native coun- try." Allowed to work himself up to the pitch of excitement. Harry invariably be- came inflammatory, and used to pause and curse the spawn of the landlords and all connected with Parliament and the paid military bloodhounds of his boyhood. A Characteristic Trait.  

How very singular it was when he escaped from the Pentridge stockade that his first  

impulse was to make and arm himself with an improvised pike. His every desire seem- ed to be fulfilled when he picked up a blade  

of an old sheep-shears in the bush within a few miles of the prison. He fastened this rusty blade on to a green sapling, deter- mined to do or die rather than be captured again and leg-ironed at Coburg. His blood was fired with vengeance that evening, and had any unarmed warder or police pursuer come on with him. Power would have taken life without any hesitation.

"I could handle the pike with the bravest and best in Ireland, and I knew I was safe as long as I didn't have to face those Pent- ridge big-ball rifles. Night closed in quick- ly. I got a change of clothes at a hut in  

the bush, planted the gaol toggery, and travelled as far as I was able to walk that night in the direction of Kilmore, a place   I knew so well and dotted with splendid   hiding retreats, and friends not likely to tell the police anything. Yes, I had no trouble to get food, and plenty of the very


Making for Old Haunts.

The wily Harry knew it was not safe to dwell any time around Kilmore, for the troopers were certain to scour that district first, since its ranges form the Melbourne side extension of the north-eastern rugged and mountainous country. Progress without a good horse was impossible, besides it was paramount that he must gallop far into the dense bush and ravines to avoid being sight- ed by any traveller. At daylight he made for a handy stable, and saddling up, rode away silently on the best horse therein.

"So far, I had no money other than a few shillings my Kilmore friends gave me along with a revolver and cartridges. Without the revolver I'd have been next to useless, and couldn't have bailed up a soul. Money   I needed, and money I must have! The  

first and everyone I meet," said I to my- self, "must run counter of this revolver, and

shell out."

It was not long before he overtook a   spring van in a lonely spot, and was grieved

and surprised to find its occupant and driver an elderly Scotch woman whose selector husband had just gone to Melbourne to buy cattle. He didn't frighten her with the cus- tomary desperado "Bail up!" but engaged

her in conversation before demanding her money and jewellery. Taken unawares and listening to some oleaginous yarn about land and stock, she unconsciously told him there were doing well, although the horse and spring van had seen much better days.

Sticking Up a Scotchwoman.

"Well," said Power, in an anxious and tremulous voice, "I'm a bushranger; I've a long way to go, and I want money."

"Then ye'll git ne'er a baubee oot o' me," she replied coolly.

Drawing the revolver, he threatened to shoot the horse instantly, and began to un- buckle the reins from the bridle and bit.

"You should have seen her come down from the cart. She was as nimble as a young thing. Grabbing the reins out of my hands, she abused me properly, and seemed to have no fear at all. But getting out was the worst thing she could have done, for I wouldn't have shot the horse in any cir- cumstances. I had no time to waste. I had my reins secured with tho revolver hand, and, catching hold of her right ear firmly, I ordered her to give me all the money she had or I would blow the ear off. I got her gold brooch easily, but she did all in her strength to stick to her rings. Her efforts to resist were useless, and I dragged them off her hands.

"Seeing I was determined, and meant to put up with no nonsense, she pulled out her purse and emptied it into my hands. It was only a couple of pounds and some silver, but it was

A Windfall to Me.

I took pity on her when she cried for her brooch and rings—her wedding ring parti- cularly—and, handing them back, I said :

'I don't want to deprive you of these pre-   sents; I can see you value them more than     money.'

"She was sobbing bitterly. Her tears touched my heart. My memory went back to my own good mother, whom I pictured

under similar conditions on a lonely road   in the hands, and at the mercy of a robber   desperate enough to take a good life if     thwarted in his purpose to get money.  

"Then she thanked me for the jewels,

and as she was stepping into the vehicle I  

jumped on the horse and galloped away out of her sight."  

A Good Mother's Influence.   That his mother's care and tenderness had not been all thrown away is very evident,     for many of the blood-thirsty class of bush- rangers would not have parleyed so long on the main road, and with the highly-strung nerves, the outcome of a knowledge that troopers were then out in every direction searching for him, the wonder is that he

was able to restrain himself in the least.

"Did she ever report that sticking up to the police?"

"Never, so far as I know."

"What is your impression; do you think   she was frightened?"    

"I do, and as I didn't get much money, and thank God I gave her jewels back, I suppose she considered it best to say nothing about it, and not have the worry and bother of a gang of police and troopers about their selection. I can tell you truthfully that a bushranger is

Far Less Annoyance

to the selectors and station owners than the police, who are a bad lot at any time. They want no end of attention, and they expect as much hospitality lavished on them as a   Governor. We bushrangers tell them what we require, and, getting it, clear out with- out giving people any trouble."  

"I daresay, Power, you have met a good many in your daring rides who would give you sympathy and help, and at whose houses you'd be met with cordiality rather

than firearms."

"My word, my boy; you've expressed it well. Wouldn't they just receive me with open arms when I visited some places. They all get to know I must have food, and no  

one ever denied it to me. I was known as the soft-hearted highwayman, who never  

took a life, and nobody was afraid in that

respect of meeting me. Time and again  

travellers through the country and men looking for land have put their hands in their pockets and given me all the money they could spare. Don't think that all bush- rangers are bloodthirsty brutes and cowards. I would, myself, shoot such robbers and murderers and women-insulters on sight. There's no reason for taking life, or even threatening it, unless you find yourself in a tight corner and have to fight like a rat."

(To be Continued.)