Monday, April 23, 2012

The Brief Career of the Young Bushranger Patsy Collins

The 1860s saw the height of the bushranging period in Colonial Australia. Newspapers carried many reports of the exploits of these daring, desperate, and ruthless outlaws. Not surprisingly, bushranging tales inspired many feckless youths. But the reality was far from the mythology of the bushranger as “Robin Hood”.

Bushrangers' Camp

In November 1866, an unfortunate traveller by the name of George Cronan unwisely chose to ask directions from a pair of young ne’er-do-wells in the bush.

The Brisbane Courier February 7, 1867
The story was related in detail by Cronan during the proceedings of the court in Ipswich the following February.[1]

On the 22nd November last I met the prisoner[2] on the road between Normanby[3] and Fassifern[4]; I had lost my way about sundown; the prisoner and another man were hunting cattle; I went to them, and asked them the road to Fassifern; the prisoner said if he told me I should not find the road, and that I had better camp with them for the night; we rode on together for a short time, when another man (a third man) came up and joined us; we then all camped, and made some tea and cakes[5].

View from Normanby Homestead

The friendly atmosphere did not last long as the “gang” of young would-be bushrangers soon retreated from the camp site to hatch their plan.

Sometime after supper the prisoner called the other two men from the fire; they went about two hundred yards, when they returned, and the prisoner took off his coat and asked if I had any saddle straps; I said yes, and told him to take two off my saddle; he did so, and called me to him (making use of a filthy expression), and said he would tie me to a tree; it was no use, he wanted all I'd got.

Realising his outnumbered position, Cronan resigned himself to his fate and made no attempt to resist the robbery.

He then called to another man to come and tie me tight, adding that he supposed I did not know they were bloody bushrangers; the other man then tied me to the tree, and the prisoner asked me if I'd got any bloody money about me; before they tied me l told them that if they did me no harm I would give them all I'd got.

I had thirty shillings about me; the prisoner took that from me, and then went to my swag and searched my clothes, and took a towel and a quart pot; the other man said if I told anything about this, the next time they met me I'd know what they'd do to me; I said I would say nothing about it.

Generously, the desperados promised to return with a restorative drink for their victim.

Before leaving, the prisoner and one of the other men said, "Get loose, you bugger;” I said "I could not;" prisoner said, "Stick there till the morning; we're going to the public-house, and we'll get you a nobbler[6]."

It did not take long for Cronan to free himself from his bonds and make his way to Ipswich to report his ordeal at the hands of the Colonial juvenile delinquents.  A few days later Patsy Collins was arrested near Ipswich. Police Sergeant George Dyas told the court of the apprehension and dramatic attempt at escape by his prisoner.

I apprehended the prisoner on Sunday, the 25th November, at a house near the Three-mile Creek[7], on the Toowoomba Road, and brought him to Ipswich; when I apprehended him and told him the charge, he said he knew nothing about it, and said he would not go; I told him he was bound to come, and I would bring him; he then consented to come; Constable Cuffe was with me.

A Bushranger Escapes

On the way down prisoner run me against the telegraph post, and escaped from my custody; I called on him to pull up, and told him I would shoot him; we got him again and brought him to Ipswich.

The Hon. Ratcliffe Pring, Q.C.

The only defence offered by Patsy’s lawyer Pring was that the whole episode was merely a youthful prank and that the one member of the gang who incriminated his friend was an unreliable witness.  Unfortunately for Patsy the jury were not buying it.

His Hon. Mr. PRING, Q.C., then addressed the jury, and contended that the evidence went to show that the whole transaction was one of practical joking at bushranging, and that the evidence of the witness O'Loughlan, who was one of the parties to the offence, ought to be received with great suspicion.

Court House, Ipswich ca. 1860

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL replied, and the CHIEF JUSTICE having summed up, the jury returned a verdict of, guilty, with a strong recommendation to mercy on account of his youth.

The CHIEF JUSTICE, in passing sentence, said that notwithstanding the recommendation of the jury, to which he always paid the greatest consideration, the prisoner had been convicted of an offence which called for exemplary punishment, and the sentence of the court was that he be kept to penal servitude for five years.

So ended the short bushranging career of Patsy Collins.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] Reported in The Brisbane Courier 7.2.1867. Note: According to a reader Cronan was a German immigrant whose actual name was Cronau.
[2] The defendant, Patrick (Patsy) Collins.
[3] A homestead near the present town of Harrisville.
[4] A homestead near the present town of Kalbar.
[5] Probably damper.
[6] A small glass of rum or other spirit.
[7] A crossing of the Bremer River near the present town of Walloon.

1 comment:

  1. Collins' victim was a German immigrant whose proper name is Cronau, not Cronan.