Matthew Brady (1799-1826) bushranger




A painting of the Macquarie Harbour penal station

Mathew Brady is the central figure among the bushrangers of colonial Tasmania. He was a gentleman convict: that is, he was an educated man. Brady was convicted for stealing at Manchester, England, a basket and some butter, bacon, sugar and rice. He was sentenced to transportation for seven years by the Lancashire Quarter Sessions held at Salford in April 1820. Described as a labourer, he was transported in the Juliana, arriving in Sydney on 29 December 1820.

During four years under convict discipline he received a total of 350 lashes for attempts to abscond and for other misdemeanours. Sent in 1823 to Macquarie Harbour, Van Diemen's Land, then a new penal station for secondary offenders and desperate prisoners, he was one of a gang of fourteen who effected their escape from Macquarie Harbour a year after his arrival there.

His companions in this enterprise were James Bryant, John Burns, James Crawford, James McCabe, Patrick Connolly, John Griffiths, George Lacey, Charles Rider, Jeremiah Ryan, John Thompson, Isaac Walker, and John Downes. They stole a whale boat on June 7th, 1824, and pulled round the coast until they came to a favourable place for landing, from whence they walked to the settled districts. Here they were joined by James Tierney, and for some two years they defied the authorities. In company with the "notorious Dunne,"

Brady stuck up Mr. Robert Hobart house near Hobart Town when the males of the family were away. In the evening Mr. Walter Bethune and Captain Bannister returned from the city on horseback, and Brady went out to meet them. He told the two gentlemen that they were prisoners and that resistance was useless. They were taken by surprise, and unarmed, and surrendered at once. Brady called one of his men to "take the gentlemen's horses to the stables and see that they were cared for," and then conducted the gentlemen into the parlour as if he were, the host and they merely visitors.

The ladies of the family and the servants, except the cook, were already gathered there, and Brady ordered dinner and invited those present to take their seats at the table. He himself sat down, while his companions had food taken to them at the stations where he had placed them on guard. When the meal was over Brady made a collection of watches, rings, money, and other valuables, and then, after profusely thanking Mr. Bethune for his hospitable treatment and the kind reception he had given them, the whole gang mounted and rode away.

On the following evening he rode into the little town of Sorell. The soldiers stationed there had been out kangarooing, and were cleaning their muskets. Taken completely by surprise, they were easily overpowered, and were locked up in the gaol, the prisoners being released. Mr. Long, the gaoler, contrived to make his escape, and ran to the residence of Dr. Garrett. Here he found Lieutenant Green, who was in command of the military stationed at the town.

The doctor and the lieutenant walked together to the gaol, and the doctor was seized by Brady's orders and placed in a cell. Green refused to surrender, and was shot in the arm by one of the bushrangers and overcome. The bushrangers made a good haul from the houses in the town, and then left quietly. The only personal injury inflicted was the wound received by Lieutenant Green, who was forced to have his arm amputated.

On August 27th, 1824, Governor Arthur issued a proclamation offering rewards for the capture of Brady, McCabe, Dunne, Murphy, and other bushrangers, and calling upon all Crown servants and respectable citizens to aid the soldiers in their capture.

By way of reply, Brady and his gang paid a visit to Mr. Young's house at Lake River. It was late at night, but the bushrangers soon roused the inmates up. After having secured the men, Brady enquired whether there were any ladies inside, and on being told that there were he issued an order to them to get up and dress at once, and to go into any room they pleased, pledging his word that they should not be interfered with.

While this was being done Brady sat on the verandah chatting with Mr. Young. Among other things he spoke of the Governor's proclamation, and asked whether Mr. Young had seen it. He laughed heartily at the idea of the soldiers capturing him. While the chief was thus employed the other members of the gang searched every room of the house, and collected everything they thought worth taking. The ladies had all gone into one room, and when the rest of the house had been searched they were requested to leave that room and go into another.

One day Brady walked alone into a house close to the town and "made a swag" of all that was valuable. He then called two of the convict servants and ordered them to take up the bundles and carry them for him into the bush. He was obeyed because it was believed that his gang was not far off, and the owner of the property saw it carried away without making an effort to preserve it.

On another occasion Brady ordered an assigned servant to leave his master's house and join the band. The man refused. Brady walked to the sideboard, filled a glass with rum, and asked the man whether he could drink that? The man said he never took strong liquor. "Well, you will this time," exclaimed Brady, pointing his pistol at the servant's head. "Now choose." The man took the glass and swallowed the rum. Brady laughed heartily as he staggered away.

However, the next morning, the unfortunate man was found lying in the bush some distance from the house. His dog was lying beside him licking his face. He was still drunk. His employer, who found him, tried to rouse him up, and after he had shaken and called for some minutes the man opened his eyes, called out "Water, for God's sake, water!" and rolled over dead. When Brady was informed some time after of the man's death, he said he was very sorry. He had made him drink the rum as a joke and without any thought or desire to injure him.

Brady stuck up the Duke of York Inn, and finding Captain Smith there, knocked him down, having mistaken him for Colonel Balfour. On discovering his mistake the bushranger apologised. He then threatened to shoot Captain White, but on Captain Smith saying that White had a wife and family Brady told the two officers to go away. He "hated soldiers" and did not know what he might do if they stayed.

Colonel Balfour, of the 49th regiment, with a strong party of soldiers, had been beating the bush for some time in hopes of capturing Brady and his gang. A report spread abroad that the gang intended to break open the Launceston gaol and torture and shoot Mr. Jefferies. The threat was treated with derision, but about 10 a.m. a man came into the town and said that the bushrangers had taken possession of Mr. Dry's place, just outside the town.

Colonel Balfour, with ten soldiers and some volunteers, started out and a fierce fight took place. Ultimately the bushrangers were driven off, but not before they had secured Mr. Dry's horses. The soldiers followed, and the bushrangers fired from behind the trees.

Suddenly a report spread that the attack on Dry's place was a ruse to draw the soldiers from the town, and that a party of bushrangers under Bird and Dunne had gone to attack the gaol. Colonel Balfour sent half his force back to protect the town. The report was found to be partly true. The bushrangers had entered the town and had robbed Mr. Wedge's house, but had not gone to the gaol. At Dr. Priest's house some shots were exchanged, and the doctor was wounded in the knee, but the soldiers coming up at the time the bushrangers made off.

Old Hobart Gaool, where Brady was hanged

The following day the gang made an attack on the farms of the Messrs. Walker. They burned the wheat-stacks and barns belonging to Mr. Abraham Walker and also those of Mr. Commissary Walker. They had Mr. Dry's two carriage horses, which they had stolen the day before. Brady was wearing Colonel Balfour's cap, which had fallen off in the fight at Launceston. On the next day they burned down the house of Mr. Massey at South Esk, having sent him a letter a day or two before informing him of their intention.

Two of the gang called on Thomas Renton, and shouted for him to come out. On his doing so, they charged him with having attempted to betray them. Renton denied the charge. A wrangle took place, during which one of the bushrangers shot Renton dead. It is highly improbable that Brady was aware of this outrage. He boasted loudly on every available occasion that he never killed a man intentionally, and he is known to have quarrelled with members of his gang who were too ready with their firearms. Thus he drove McCabe out of the gang on account of his brutality, and McCabe was captured and hung shortly afterwards.

The gang held almost complete control over the roads, and resistance was very rarely offered when they ordered a man to "bail up." One of the customs established by the gang was to order their witnesses to remain where they were for half an hour, and the order was rarely disobeyed. Any person who declined to promise to remain was simply tied to a tree and left for any chance passer-by to unloose. In by-roads, or in those cases where the prisoners were marched some distance off the high road into the bush before being plundered, being tied up was a very serious matter.

Cases are known to have occurred in which men had remained bound to a tree until they have died of starvation. From this time forward tying up the victims was a common practice with bushrangers, though some like Brady accepted the promise of the victims to remain where they were left for a certain time to allow the bushrangers time to get away

At length about the middle of 1825 a convict named Cowan or Cohen was permitted to escape from an iron gang with broken fetters on his legs. He was found by some of the gang and was taken to a friendly Aboriginal smith who knocked his irons off for him. He joined the gang and more than once led them into conflicts with the soldiers out of which only the skill and bravery of Brady delivered them.

Cowan was no doubt a clever man in his way; he completely hoodwinked Brady and his mates; he fought bravely in their skirmishes with the troops and was always eager in looting houses or other places attacked. He professed to rob "on principle." He is said to have murdered the bushrangers Murphy and Williams while they slept, but there is no proof of this. He betrayed the camp to Lieutenant Williams of the 40th regiment, who was out with a party of soldiers in search of bushrangers. A terrific fight took place in which several were killed on each side; some of the bushrangers were captured while others escaped, but the gang was broken up. Cowan is said to have received a free pardon, several hundreds of pounds reward, and a free passage home for his services.

Brady's Lookout, used by the bushranger as his hideout. Located just off the West Tamar Highway between Legana and Exeter, Brady's Lookout offers beautiful views over the Tamar River and surrounding areas.

Brady made his escape in the bush and was followed by Batman and his Aboriginal trackers. The bushranger had been wounded in the fight and could not travel fast. Batman came up to him in the mountains and called on him to surrender. "Are you an officer?" asked Brady, coolly cocking his gun. "I'm not a soldier," replied Batman, "I'm John Batman. If you raise that gun I'll shoot. There's no chance for you." "You're right," replied Brady, "my time's come. You're a brave man and I yield; but, I'd never give in to a soldier."

Brady was taken to the nearest lock-up, where, as it happened, Jefferies, the cannibal, had been lodged some days before, and much to Brady's disgust the two men were conveyed to Hobart Town in the same cart. Brady, however, refused to sit on the same side of the cart as Jefferies, and kept as far from him as possible during the journey.

The trial of Mathew Brady excited great interest. He and his gang had kept the country in a ferment for twenty-two months. Many of his companions had been shot or captured, but the leader had escaped. One of his mates, James Crawford, who had escaped with him from Macquarie Harbour, but who had been shot by the soldiers some time before the break up of the gang, was said to have been a lieutenant in the army.

Numerous stories were told to illustrate his reckless bravery, his skill in strategy, or some other trait of his character. On the day of his trial a number of ladies were in the court, and when the verdict of guilty was returned, and the judge put on the Aboriginal cap, they showed their sympathy by weeping so loudly that the judge had to pause until order was restored, and sentence of death was pronounced amid signs of sorrow by all present.

At the same sessions Jefferies, Hopkins, Bryant, Tilly, McKenny, Brown, Gregory, Hodgetts, and Perry were sentenced to death for bushranging, cattle, horse, and sheep stealing, and for murder. Some of these had been "in the bush" with Brady. The last of the batch was hung on April 29th, 1826, the prisoners being hung two or three at a time at intervals of a few days.

The remnant of the gang under the command of Dunne continued for a time to commit depredations. In one of their journeys they saw a tribe of Aboriginals camped on the other side of the river. Dunne swam across and attacked them. He fought them for some time driving them back until he seized one of the women, when he turned back forcing her to accompany him across the river. He had an Aboriginal girl with him when an attack was made on Mr. Thomson's house, but she escaped.

On the following day two men were quietly driving in a cart along the road when the Aboriginals attacked and speared them, killing one and wounding the other. The Aboriginals went on and burned the hut of Mr. Nicholas. They attacked Mr. Thomson's place, and speared a man named Scott. The woman who had been stolen by Dunne was present urging the Aboriginals on when Scott was killed. The troops were sent out to drive the Aboriginals back, and while so engaged came across the bushrangers and shot Dunne. One or two were captured and hung as related.

The Hobart Town Gazette, of 29th April, 1826, reported that for some months the roads had been safe, and with the executions to take place that day, the colony might be congratulated on having at length stamped out the crime of bushranging. As a fact, it was only the close of the first bushranging era; the first act which was to close this chapter in Australian history so sensationally more than fifty years later was the capturee of Ned Kelly, the son of a former Irish convict who had been transported to Van Diemen's Land.

Brady was hanged on 4 May 1826 along with three other prisoners, including the cannibal Thomas (Mark) Jeffries. He was buried in the Old Roman Catholic Cemetery in Hobart.