MacPherson - the Wild Scotchman
Authentic Bushranger This story was provided by Edna
FORMAT (C) by Edna MacPherson SABATO.
My great-grandfather's brother James McPHERSON, was a bushranger in the
1860's. James McPHERSON was born in Duthil, Inverness, Scotland, on 27th
August, 1841, the second son of John McPHERSON, and his wife, Elspeth
BRUCE, who emigrated to Australia, with their ten children in 1855.
They went to live on Cressbrook Station, in the Brisbane River Valley,
working for Mr. McCONNEL. The older boys worked on the station, where
James learned to ride horses, and shoot rifles. The older girls did
domestic work on the station, and the younger children went to school,
on the station, with the Station Manager's children. John eventually
bought property at Bald Hills, and moved the family there. James was
apprenticed to John PETRIE, in Brisbane, as a builder, where he learned
many facets of the building trade.
James joined the School of Arts, which had an excellent Library. He
became interested in Debating. Charles LILLEY, a Member of Parliament,
was trying to bring in an unpopular Militia Bill, and held meetings at
various sites in Brisbane. On two occasions when he was speaking in
Fortitude Valley, the crowd became unruly, and Mr. LILLEY was saved from
"lynching", only by the quick thinking of James McPHERSON. By
some strange co-incidence, many years later, Charles LILLEY was Chief
Justice at the time of the Bushranger's Trial for Robbery Under Arms.
There are many stories about why this happy-go-lucky, educated young
man, decided to embark on a life of crime. James was not happy in his
apprenticeship, and was encouraged to go shearing with two young men he
met. None of them had tried shearing before, with the result that the
owner of the sheep, refused them payment for their labours, claiming
they had badly mutilated the sheep. James asked for his pay, holding a
rifle in his hand, not aimed at anyone, - he just happened to have it
with him. The three men then held up the Cardington Hotel, on the
Houghton River, near Bowen in North Queensland. During this incident, in
March, 1864, the Publican was accidentally shot in the face. James then
had a price on his head.
James decided to leave the other two men, and headed down into New South
Wales, hoping to meet up with Ben Hall and Frank Gardiner, and join
their gang. He did a few robberies on the way down, and ran into a lot
of police activity in the area , due to the intense pursuit of the local
bushrangers, and was shot in the arm during one of the skirmishes.
James was captured, and taken to Sydney for trial, but, as Sir Frederick
Pottinger, a policeman, was the only witness, and he was accidentally
killed on his way to Sydney to give evidence, the charges were dropped.
James was extradited to Bowen, to face the charges of the shooting at
the Cardington Hotel.
James appeared in court a couple of times, being remanded each time, and
was being taken to Brisbane on the "Diamentina", when he
managed to escape, by jumping over the side, and swimming ashore, even
though he was in leg-irons at the time.
James then began robbing mails in a widespread area. Pat McCallum was
robbed several times, in the Nanango-Gayndah area. If the bushranger
needed a horse, saddle, bridle, or whatever, he would help himself to
Pat's gear, always returning it, usually with a note, such as -
"This is Pat McCallum's saddle - see that he gets it back!"
Ned Armitage was robbed twice in the Gin Gin area.
James stole only the best race horses from the cattle stations, so was
always well-mounted. Once, he entered a stolen race horse in a country
race meet, but the owner recognized the horse, and he had to leave in a
On 30th March, 1866, James was riding a tired horse, having ridden from
the Gayndah area since the day before, and was captured by Station
Managers, and stockmen from Monduran and Gingin Stations, along with a
17-year-old mailman, Ned Armitage. He was taken to Monduran Station,
where he was held overnight, tied to a red-cedar tree, whilst a
messenger was sent to the Telegraph Station to alert the police, who
arrived on 1st April to take him into custody, at Gingin Station, to
where he had been moved, from Monduran Station.
James appeared in court in Maryborough on 12th April, 1866, remanded,
and transferred to Brisbane, where he was tried, and acquitted on the
Cardington Hotel charges.
He appeared again in Maryborough Assizes on 13th September, 1866, when
he was sentenced to two terms of twenty-five years hard labour, to be
served concurrently. James was imprisoned on a hulk in the Brisbane
River, then four years later, transferred to St. Helena Island, in
Moreton Bay, where he and four other men attempted to escape, but were
re-captured soon afterwards.
While in prison, James wrote some remarkable poetry, in a school
exercise book. Some of it was in Latin, and one in particular, contained
many references to Greek Mythology. He continued writing poetry right up
till the time of his death. Many of his poems were printed in "The
Eagle", a newspaper based in Charters Towers. James' father, and
several important people in the community, Rev. Benjamin Gilmour Wilson,
Mr. McConnel, from Cressbrook Station, who offered to employ him on his
station near Hughenden, Mr. Somerset, and Mr. Petrie, to name a few,
sent petitions to the Governor, for James' release, when was eventually
granted in December, 1874. He went to his father's house, but his father
turned him away. James' cousin, Duncan, assisted him on his way to the
Hughenden area, where he worked, with Mr. Somerset, on McConnel's
station. On one occasion, James saved Somerset's life, in a swimming
Four years later, James met and married Elizabeth Ann HOSZFELDT. They
had seven children in the following years, one of whom died as a baby.
In the early 1890's, James and his family moved to Burketown, on the
Gulf of Carpentaria, where he conducted a carrying business. He was
well-respected in the community. People knew of his past, but didn't
hold it against him.
In July, 1895, James attended the funeral of a friend, and on the way
back, his horse bolted and fell on him, leaving him with grievous
injuries. The doctor could only administer morphine, and he died three
days later, on 23rd July, 1895. He was buried in an unmarked grave in
Elizabeth and the six children, aged from 15 down to 3, left Burketown,
with all their possessions in a wagon, and travelled to the Queensland
coast, several hundreds of miles away. They were followed all the way by
an aboriginee, who kept saying a word that meant "poor, fatherless
children". He protected them all the way.
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