William Timothy, alias Driscoll, alias Dido, Bushranger

Digital representation of Point Puer Boys’ Prison

Three thousand boys, some as young as nine years old, were sentenced to the Point Puer Boys’ Prison between 1834 and 1849. Located across the harbour from Port Arthur, Point Puer was the first reformatory built exclusively for juvenile male convicts in the British Empire. It was renowned for its regime of stern discipline and harsh punishment.

While there are many reports of the positive outcomes from Point Puer Juvenile Prison, what has been less-well studied is the failures. Those boys who did not go on to be ‘good citizens’. Some continued to run foul of the law after they left Point Puer, a few became bushrangers. One who didn't reform during his stay at Point Puer was Dido, alias Timothy Driscoll. His real name was William Timothy, even though he was known as Timothy Driscoll at Point Puer and had been transported as a youth under the name William Driscoll. He arrived in Tasmania on 28 August 1835, being one of 280 convicts transported on the Norfolk, which departed Sheerness on 12 May 1835.

The conduct record for the rebellious Point Puer lads are useful guides to the offences, work habits, sub-culture and punishment regime used. Although some boys played the system, many took head-on 19th century society, and the lads suffered the consequences.

Although flogging was used, limiting or removing hours of play had a more drastic effect, and was less harsh than removing one of two blankets for boys under detention. Common elements emerge when studying their “crimes” on The Point, and their later careers. Of these selected, apart from Robert Hay, six were bushrangers while another was executed on Norfolk Island. Four reached Victoria where the best known, Frank McCallum (or Captain Melville) became part of Australian folk-lore. Five died violently. All had accomplices of whom some were Point Puer lads or had met at Port Arthur.

Ruins of Point Puer Boys’ Prison

William Driscoll, alias Timothy, was the first "rebel" to arrive, Later on, as a bushranger on Tasmania’s East Coast and Northern Districts, Dido – as he was known – robbed in an apologetic manner. From St Giles, London, Driscoll received 14 years fro stealing a “boot from a child”; aboard ship he was flogged for disorderly conduct.

Arriving when the population of Point Puer was only 229, a succession of offences began with “losing potato sets” (15 lashes on the breech), plus several “refusing to work” (5 days solitary confinement) plus “bathing and endangering himself”; “talking in cells”, “blasphemous language”, “absenting himself from Point Puer until brought back by a (military) escort” and “most improper language to an overseer” (remanded) Once freed, Driscoll was assigned to the Cottons near Swansea (a Quaker family) and in 1855 with accomplice George King absconded. After a varied but ‘successful’ career, including holding up Dr Storey and other East Coast residents he knew, “Dido” was sentenced to 5 years at Port Arthur, eventually receiving a conditional pardon in 1858.

Dido, along with an accomplice John Wilson, earned a short spell of notoriety around 1846. They never did anything spectacular, but hung around the main roads of northern Van Diemen's Land looking for easy targets. Their bushranging exploits began when they were watching Mr. James Clifford's house, at Piper's River, on 16th September 1846. When Mr. Clifford came out they rushed upon him, took him inside, tied him, and took wearing apparel, ammunition, and other articles out of the drawers and boxes.

In January, Mr. Rees and Mr. Stevenson started from Campbell Town in a gig for St. Patrick's Head (St Marys). On reaching the fourth gate on the road, known as Davidson's gate, they saw two men with guns. At first they took these men for constables. Stevenson got down to open the gate, and while he was doing so Rees became aware of the character of the two armed men who were approaching, and called out to Stevenson, "Make haste! Here's the bushrangers!" Stevenson tried to jump into the gig, but before he could do so the men were upon him.

They presented their guns and called upon the travellers to surrender. They then ordered Rees to drive the gig off the road into the timber. Mr. Rees objected, and the bushrangers told him he need not fear, as they intended to act honourably. "But what do you want?" asked Rees. "We want to rob you; we want your money," was the reply. "Then," said Mr. Rees, "why not take it here and let us go on?" The bushrangers made no reply, but took the horse by the head and led him away.

When the gig was in among the timber the robbers took £18, a gold watch and chain, and a gold pencil case, from Mr. Stevenson; and £8 and a silver watch from Mr. Rees. They also took two dress suits and two top coats from the gig, and then ordered the gentlemen to take off their boots. "What for?" asked Mr. Rees. "Because we want them," was the reply. "But," cried Mr. Rees, "how are we to get home?" "Oh, you're all right. You can ride while we have to walk," said the bushranger. "But—" began Mr. Rees, when he was interrupted with, "Oh, no more nonsense. If you don't make haste we'll strip you."

Stevenson took off his boots, and Rees thought it prudent to follow his example. They returned to their homes in Campbell Town two and a-half hours after they had left, and deferred their visit to the Heads to another day. On the 27th the police were informed that Dido, the bushranger, had been seen in a hut in Prosser's Forest. A party of constables started immediately, and reached the place at one a.m.

Everything was quiet, and the constables walked very cautiously, fearing that if they stepped on a stick and broke it the noise would waken the bushranger should he be there. The constables took up positions round the hut to prevent escape, and then District Constable Davis, who was in command, suddenly burst in the door.

Dido sprang out of the bed and fell on his knees on the floor begging for mercy. He was secured without resistance. In the hut were a double-barrelled gun and a pistol, both loaded ready for use. Mr. Rees's watch and some of Mr. Stevenson's clothes were found in the hut.

When brought up at the police court Dido said he had been transported in the name of William Driscoll, but his proper name was Timothy. Mr. Tarleton, the magistrate, made some remarks on the folly of men taking to the bush. Dido replied that he might not of do that if he had not been betrayed by his partner Wilson, with whom he had parted company. In spite of this assertion, however, Wilson was captured a few days later while drinking at Pitcher's Inn on the Westbury Road. He showed a pistol and this excited suspicion, so Mr. Pitcher sent a servant to inform the police. Constable Leake came and found the man asleep in a hut at the rear of the public-house. He handcuffed him and took him to Launceston in a cart. He was identified as Dido's mate and was committed for trial at the same time.

Robberies of a similar character to these took place from time to time, but after the discovery of gold in Australia in 1851 the great object of the disaffected in Van Diemen's Land was to get to the mainland. No doubt many of these men made their way across the Straits in stolen boats, but the majority paid their passages out of the proceeds of their robberies. Probably it was in consequence of this exodus that no bushrangers became notorious in Van Diemen's Land at that time.

After a varied but ‘successful’ career, Dido was sentenced to 5 years at Port Arthur, Driscoll was assigned to the Cottons near Swansea (a Quaker family) and in 1855 with accomplice George King absconded. He received a conditional pardon in 1858.

James Platt, a Tasmanian bushranger in the Prosser-Buckland area of Tasmania, arrived aboard the “Francis Charlotte” in May 1837. The boys on ship were put under the guidance of a far-sighted tutor, Nesbitt, who divided them into messes, providing above-deck activities, including music, and the boys were apparently well-behaved while on board. But once at Pt Puer, the ship-board advances quickly disappeared. From Launceston, England, Platt was transported for stealing tobacco and behaved well aboard ship. Four months after arrival at Pt Puer he received 48 hours solitary confinement on bread and water for “gambling in school”, with offences of “idleness and insolence” degenerating into more serious misdemeanours including “absenting himself from the establishment” on several occasions, plus secreting chisels, removing leg irons and his “log” (to which he was chained.) By 1839 stripes on the breech were replaced with 50 lashes for absconding from the Grass Tree Hill Road Party near Richmond, only to be sent to the Victoria Valley station in the Tasmanian highlands in 1840, where he was charged with “aiding and abetting” and a “strong suspicion of having committed an unnatural crime”, as homosexual acts were described. After being sentenced to Campbell Town, Platt was returned to Port Arthur in 1843. He absconded and, with accomplice Moore, became an outlaw. He joined with George Jones, the last free member of Martin Cash’s gang, committing more violent crimes near Hobart before being caught in a shoot-out at the Tea Tree Brush near Brighton. On 30th April 1844 Platt was executed in Hobart.