Michael Howe (1787-1818) Bushranger




Michael Howe was a the leader of a bushranger gang in Van Diemen's Land. Howe was born at Pontefract, Yorkshire, England, son of Thomas Howe and his wife Elizabeth. He served two years on a merchant vessel at Hull before deserting to join the navy as a seaman.

On 31 July 1811 he was sentenced to seven years transportation for robbing a miller on the highway. He arrived in Van Diemen's Land in October 1812 in the Indefatigable, and was assigned to a Mr. John Ingle, a merchant and grazier, but ran away and joined a large party of escaped convicts in the bush.

In May 1814 Howe gave himself up to the authorities in response to an offer of clemency made by Governor Macquarie. (For copy of proclamation see Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, Vol. VIII, p. 264). Howe, however, took to the bush again and joined a band of bushrangers led by John Whitehead.

Houses were robbed and ricks burned by his gang, and being pursued by an armed party of settlers, two of the latter were killed and others wounded in a fight which followed. Rewards were offered for the apprehension of the bushrangers and parties of soldiers were sent out to search for them. On one occasion the bushrangers fired a volley through the windows of a house in which soldiers were stationed, and Whitehead was killed by the return fire.

Howe then became the leader of the bushrangers, and though two of the gang were caught and executed, many robberies continued to be made. In February 1817 two more bushrangers were shot and another captured, and in the following month Howe left the party accompanied only by an indigenous Australian girl. On one occasion, finding the military close on his heels, he attempted to shoot this girl, but only succeeded in slightly wounding her.

Howe found means of sending a letter to Governor Sorell offering to surrender and give information about his former associates on condition that he should be pardoned. He gave himself up to a military officer on this understanding, and was taken to Hobart gaol on 29 April 1817 where he was examined by the magistrates. Howe would quite probably have been pardoned, but at the end of July he escaped and again took to the bush.

In October he was captured by two men, William Drew and George Watts. Howe's hands had been tied but he managed to free them, stabbed Watts, and then taking Watts's gun, shot Drew. For nearly a year he hid in the bush, but needing ammunition, on 21 October 1818 he was decoyed to a hut where William Pugh of the 48th regiment and a stock-keeper, Thomas Worrall, were hidden. All three fired and missed but during the struggle which followed Howe was killed by blows on the head with a musket.

There is little doubt some of the most powerful men in Hobart and Launceston had arrangements with Howe and the most profitable of these partnerships was with the colony's wealthiest man, Edward Lord. This is not to suggest there were direct negotiations between the two, but rather understandings were reached. In this, the role played by Lord's wife, Maria, was crucial. Maria Lord not only ran her husband's affairs in his absence, as an ex-convict herself, she had the contacts and cultural understanding to negotiate with the bushrangers.

The official investigations into Howe's relationship with Edward Lord and Robert Knopwood never went far, and no documents from the testimonies have survived.