Martin Cash (1808-1877), bushranger






Cash's Irish charm and cheerfulness, and the chivalry and enterprise of his rebelliousness, made him a popular scoundrel, in his later years known to all and enjoying the goodwill of all. During the late 1860s Cash had made the acquaintance of James Lester Burke, an Irish expiree and able writer, who induced him to narrate his career. This account, although often embellished, provides an insight into convict life. Buck Thor and Joan Dehle Emberg later transcribed this account from the original manuscript and released it as The Uncensored Story of Martin Cash. First published in Hobart in 1870, the book has been reprinted many times.

Martin Cash was a notorious convict bushranger known for escaping twice from Port Arthur, Van Diemen's Land. His 1870 autobiography The Adventures of Martin Cash, ghost-written by the former convict James Lester Burke became a best seller in Australia.

Born in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland, Cash was brought up in a wealthy family and was literate. When 18 years of age he became acquainted with a young woman who lived in an obscure part of Enniscorthy and earned a living by making straw hats and bonnets. She and her family borrowed money from him, until his mother stopped him for his extravagance, which was rapidly draining her resources. Subsequently he became involved in an occurrence which changed the whole course of his life.

His memoirs describe that he shot at a man named Jessop in a jealous rage for making advances on his sweetheart. He was sentenced to seven years penal transportation for housebreaking and left Cook Harbour on the Marquis of Huntly with 170 other convicts, arriving in Sydney Town on 10 February 1828. Cash was "assigned" to Mr G. Bowman of Richmond, who leased another farm on the Hunter River, NSW, where Martin was transferred, and where he became a stockrider for nine years after receiving a ticket-of-leave.

John Boodle, who had a station on Liverpool Plains, asked Cash to assist him and his brother to brand some cattle which, unknown to Cash, had been stolen. While the branding was in progress two strangers came along, remained a few minutes, and departed. Upon Boodle informing him that the strangers knew the cattle were stolen, and that transportation to Norfolk Island was the penalty for this crime, Cash decided to leave for Van Diemen's Land. He sailed in the barque "Francis Freeling" for Hobart Town, and arrived on February 10, 1837.

In Van Diemen's Land, Cash soon got into trouble again, and eventually came before John Price, a magistrate at Hobart Town, who sentenced him to two years in addition to his original seven years' sentence, and to four years' imprisonment with hard labour at Port Arthur. He briefly escaped and 18 months was added to his time. Again he escaped and almost made it across Bass Strait with his partner Bessie but was caught and faced 10 years at Port Arthur, the so called escape proof colony.

His first attempt at escape from Port Arthur failed, however, he managed to swim across the shark-infested Eaglehawk Neck, and was the first person to do so. This experience would later prove useful as it earned him much respect from other prisoners.

On Boxing Day 1842 Martin Cash, George Jones and Lawrence Kavenagh absconded from a work party. Hiding in dense scrub land and with little food they made their way 15 km to the neck. Swimming with their clothes tied in bundles above their heads, they made the other side, all three of them having lost their bundles. Now naked the trio robbed a road gang's hut for clothing, and began a twenty month spree of bushranging, robbing mail coaches, homesteads and inns.

The three became known as Cash and Co and their reputation grew, however in August 1843 Cash discovered his partner Bessie was with another man in Hobart. Whether this was an elaborate trap set by the police or not is not known, but it drew Cash and Kavenagh to Hobart. On the evening of the 29th August 1843, they dressed as sailors to avoid detection, but were soon recognised. Kavenagh was injured in the ensuing fight and in his attempt to halt the fleeing and armed Martin Cash, Police Constable Peter Winstanley was fatally shot. Other police, and several civilians eventually restrained Cash after a fierce battle. Both he and Kavenagh faced court and were sentenced to death.

Within an hour of their sentences being proclaimed, both were reprieved and sentenced to imprisonment on Norfolk Island for ten years. Kavenagh was eventually hung after another abortive escape attempt, but Cash seemed to see the error of his ways and resolved to become a model prisoner. He was eventually given some responsibility in charge of the boys' dormitory, and later made a constable. He even earned some fame as a hat-maker.

On the 24th of March 1854 he married a local woman, Mary Bennett. who worked as a domestic servant to one of the government officials. When convict transportation ceased in 1853, a decision was made to close Norfolk Island and Cash received a Ticket-Of-Leave.

Grave of Martin Cash in the Cornelian Bay cemetery

He and Mary returned to Tasmania, where he worked for some time as overseer at the gardens in the government Domain, Hobart, in preference to that of Constable. On receipt of a conditional pardon in May 1856, went to New Zealand for four years. At the age of 55 years he became a free man. On his return to Hobart he bought a 60 acre property on the banks of Montrose Creek at Glenorchy and farmed there until his death on 27 August 1877.

Melbourne born Australian tennis player Pat Cash claims descendancy from Martin Cash.