Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Bushrangers of South Australia

Bushranger's of South Australia

George Hughes, Henry Curran and James Fox were the scourge of the South Australian colony back in 1839 – 1840. These three lawless men committed countless crimes, from Crafers to Gawler, and will be forever remembered as Bushrangers.

Crafers Hotel 1840's
The three men were notorious in their time, and struck fear into the hearts of men and women in South Australia, on one occasion they “stuck up” Mincalta house , just outside Gawler, a building on the Estate of Kingsford House, which was made famous on “McLeod's Daughters”, An Australian Television show.

Long before their life of crime in South Australia, these men were well known criminals. George Hughes, was sent to Australia after a crime spree in the South-west English county of Gloucestershire. His brother was hung for his crimes, whilst George was sent to New South Wales as a convict.
Hughes and Curran met whilst convicts in New South Wales, and made their escape in 1839, they spent months crossing the harsh country, still shackled in chains, to make it to South Australia. Somewhere along the way they met James Fox, and not long after committed the aforementioned crime outside Gawler, and then held up a sheep station close by.
The three men held up Mina Pffender, the Station Managers wife, demanding supplies and money, Mina refused to give over anything to the three men, and fearing for her life, escaped. One of the men shot at her as she ran, but missed. Mina made it to safety and raised the alarm, but the local constabulary were far too late, and the three men were long gone

The men made their way towards Mount Crawford, camping along the way, they took target practice sessions, peppering a tree with sprays of bullets from their guns, which in turn led the local police to issue a report, and some smart constable to put two and two together as too whom had used so many precious bullets.
The men made their way to Crafers in the Adelaide hills, and were eventually caught by the police there, drunk in a local hotel.

The three men were charged with numerous crimes, including theft and armed robbery, Hughes and Curran were also charged with Rape, a crime that could see a man hung in Australia at the time.

The three men were brought up on charges, and somewhat of a media circus ensued, little Adelaide, at the time, had seen nothing like this before.
The Adelaide Gaol Governor, Mr Ashton, released a statement to the local newspaper “The Adelaide Chronicle” which held a list of prisoners for trial on the 4rd of March 1840, included was the charges against Hughes, Curran and Fox.
In the article it claimed the three men had stolen “ coat, a waist-coat and several articles of clothing.  Value five pounds, the property of Michael Pffender, with the intention of murdering her, on the 26th January 1840.  Also for stealing from the tent of Julius Fielder, on the 28th January 1840, 20 lbs. of flour, 6 lbs. pork, 4 lbs. sugar, 1 lb tea, 5 in notes some power and shot, a double barrelled gun, a pistol etc., the property of the said Julius Fielder.  Also for stealing from the tent of Mr. Jones, a gun, his property, value ₤5.”

The South Australian Register, another local newspaper of the time also ran a story on the case, which was much longer and featured evidence brought against the men by Pffender family, of which the three men had robbed. - the story ran on March 7th 1840 and can be found on National Libraries Trove website
The three men were found guilty, but Fox, who had shown some signs of remorse, was given a lighter, merciful sentence of life in prison. Hughes and Curran though, were to be hung in a public execution.

Justice was quick in those days, and the 4th hanging of men in South Australia was to be done on March 16th 1840, in front of the States first Police Barracks, publicly.

Even though he knew he was about to die, Hughes callousness and bravado reigned, turning and already grotesque public display into an even more repulsive event.
He asked for some tobacco and pipe so he could have his last smoke, already tied around the arms, and about to be walked up to the steps to the noose, he suddenly lunged froward and rushed the stairs of the scaffold and ran at the executioners assistants who were readying the noose.
Hughes was restrained by two men as he kicked and protested.
Curran, in a much more solemn mood with his death fast approaching, stared into the gathered crowd.
The noose were put over their heads, and as the switch was pushed and then men began to fall, Hughes, defiant to the last, caught his boot on the ledge of the scaffold – only to have it kicked off by the Colonial Chaplain.
Thus ended the lives of two of South Australia's Bushrangers...
Further reading:


Crafers Hotel


© 2013 Allen Tiller

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