THE GOLD ROBBERY ON BOARD THE 'NELSON.'
(From the Melbourne Morning Herald of April 5th.)
No new facts 0f any importance have come to light with regard to the gold robbery on board the Nelson. The circumstances of the case indeed were so brief and plain, that all there was to tell was told at once,
and not even a 'penny-a- liner', under the stimulus that his name implies, could extract out of the affair a single column of further particulars. The robbery was altogether one of the simplest, as it was one of the most remarkable transactions recorded in the annals of scoundrelism. The thieves rowed on board, took what they wanted, and rowed away again, without let or hindrance. Even the bye-play of lash ing the crew to the rigging they seem rather to have performed, from habitual respect to the technicalities and minutiae of their profession, than from any abso lute necessity for the precaution. No operation, in deed, in the whole art and mystery of thieving, seems to be beset with so little impediment as that of plundering a gold ship was in this instance. To break into a chandler's shop and empty the till, would be far more hazardous, for there would in that case be at least locks to pick, or a door to get through, with all the risks of watchdogs, revolvers, and police men besides. There was neither bolt, nor bar, nor dog, nor policeman, to hinder the entrance of the marauders on board the Nelson. Twenty-two armed men constituted a most extravagant force to effect so simple a purpose. Half-a-dozen fellows, with thick sticks, and hearts stout enough not to be appalled by the unanimous snoring of a crew about equally numerous, would have been amply sufficient to have secured their booty, which was all ready packed to their hands — the only care, by the way, that seems to have been taken of it. There seems to be but little chance of recovering the stolen property. Considering the enormous quantities of gold daily bought and sold in Melbourne, there would be no difficulty in converting 8,000 ounces into cash in the course of a few days, nor is the phenomenon of a man of unprepossessing and dirty exterior offering many hundreds of pounds worth of bullion for sale at a time one which at present ex cites either surprise or suspicion. Even if not con verted into money in Melbourne the stolen property is of a kind impossible to identify and easy to conceal. These facts, of course, render the capture and con viction of the culprits so much the more improbable while they leave scarcely any hope of recovering the property. We think the Government has done rightly in offering a reward for the detection of the thieves, though we are inclined to think that the reward should have been larger, and that the terms of the proclamation ought to have been more explicit. It requires a very close examination of antecedents and the relative position of nouns and pronouns to determine what offer it is that Government in fact makes. Whether a free pardon is to be considered an equivalent in full in the event of a prisoner furnishing the required information, or whether he is to have the pecuniary reward into the bargain, and whether these terms are open to any person, even one actually engaged in the robbery, are ques tions respecting which some doubt prevails. If, as we apprehended, the last case is meant to be included in the proclamation we hope it will be stated so as to leave no doubt whatever on the subject. It is highly probable that one of the gang would turn ' Queen's evidence, ' as the phrase is, for a pardon and a pecuniary reward, although he might be dis inclined to do so as long as a verbal ambiguity in the proclamation left it in doubt whether he might not find his reward consist in being hanged. We know there is a very strong feeling against the system of ' Queen's evidence, ' founded in a laudable aver sion to treachery of all kinds and a lurking respect for honour among thieves. To offer a scoundrel a reward for betraying his comrades seems to be en couraging a villain to acts of still further villainy, but this feeling appears to us more applicable after all to the days of Robin Hood or Rob Roy than our own. Our degenerate theives are not to be regarded as heroes, that it would be sinful to currupt, but for the most part as thoroughly degraded ruf fians, all bonds of unity amongst whom it is desirable to weaken, and nothing can do this more effectually than a knowledge that any one amongst a gang of robbers can ensure safety to himself by betraying his companions. We doubt indeed whether 'honour among thieves ' to be found at all in sufficient quantity to permit the organisation of a numerous gang in the face of so formidable a danger, and although it would be rarely safe to convict on 'Queen's evidence' alone, it ought, we think, in the present instance to be admitted as affording almost the only chance of detecting the offenders. The question who is liable for the loss on board the Nelson ? seems to be still a matter of discussion. We should say at all events that the insurers are responsible to the shippers, whatever question may arise between the former and the ship-owners, on the plea of culpable carelessness on the part of their agent the Captain. This plea we apprehend is the
only one that could be raised, as the vessel was already on her voyage, having cleared out and taken on board almost all her gold at Geelong, and though the Captain was probably no more incautions than many other Captain's of gold ships at Hobson's Bay, inasmuch as apathetic disregard to the very palpable danger they incurred, seems to have been common to most of them, yet as he has been the first to suffer, so he will have to bear the brunt of the blame. We hope that the disaster of the Nelson will stop the shipment of gold on board any vessel not pro perly manned and armed. Though we run the gauntlet of a great many ugly names in saying so (as we did before in foreboding what has since actually taken place,) we feel convinced that the present act of ' Piracy in the Bay ' (as a grandilo quent contemporary has it) will merely be the prelude to more daring acts on the open sea, unless gold vessels are prepared to resist piratical attacks. However, we suppose on this subject we preach in vain, and it may yet cost many thousand more ounces of gold, and some lives and ships to boot, before the stiff-necked generation of sea-captains will open their eyes to the truth, that if they wish to carry their gold home in peace, they must be pre pared for war. Under the same date we find the following addi tional particulars : — Our readers are already fully aware of the perpe tration of the gold robbery on board the Nelson: we have since to add that the police have done all in their power to obtain some clue to the robbers, but as yet without success. Day and night they have been on the hunt, and nothing could surpass the indefati gability displayed by the Superintendent of Police, the City Chief Constable, and the Detectives. Mr Stuart received a communication informing him that the gold was concealed in a chest upon a dray at tached to one of the tents at the South side of the river, and accordingly that night he proceeded, ac companied by the Chief Constable and a strong body of police to search. Nothing however was found, and about noon yesterday a messenger arrived in
town from the beach with intelligence that a number of broken gold boxes had been found within a quarter of a mile from Liardet's. Thither the police at once proceeded, and sure enough they found the most un mistakable evidences of the plunder. Several small cedar boxes, the brands upon some of them corres ponding with those abstracted from the Nelson, were scattered, broken and battered, all around. They appear upon examination to have been smashed by means of gun-barrels, as there are several circles cut out as if by a punch. A broken gun, silver mounted whip, and a life-protector, were found close by. About a lb. of gold in the smallest particles was picked up, and afforded a morning's employment and remuneration to some dozen gold diggers. Judging from all the circumstances we are inclined to believe that the gold had been secreted in Melbourne (either north or south) and was hastily removed on Saturday night. In their hurry the robbers appear to have forgotten to bring a hammer with them to break open the boxes.