The Wild Man of Glasgow by chenboying


                      The Wild Man of Glasgow

                          What is it about the Scots that makes them throw off their clothes and ‘head for the
                      hills’? If anyone saw a tribesman called Duramboi cautiously approaching prey with
                      a spear among a group of aborigines in the 1830s or sitting in a corroboree or eating
                      witchetty grubs, it would be a normal scene in the Australian outback; until they looked
                      more closely and noticed that his skin was a lighter colour than the others.
                          That’s because ‘Duramboi’ wasn’t who his new family thought he was. In fact, he was
                      a Glaswegian called James Davis, Arthur Laurie in the Australian Dictionary of Biography
                      (A.D.B.) calling him “an absconder and shopkeeper born in Broomielaw.” So, what was
                      he doing running around the undergrowth half-naked right at the start of Queensland’s
                      earliest days under European management? Davis had pulled off the ultimate escape. Not
                      only had he fled from the authorities, who wanted him in their nice new penal settlement
                      – well new, anyway – at Moreton Bay; but, seemingly with no effort, he had stepped into
                      another culture with a new identity, and had made himself as safe from his pursuers as a
                      time-traveller who steps into a time-machine and closes the door behind him.
                          James Davis was one of about 2,259 men and 144 women, as transported convicts,
                      sent ever deeper into the land of the aborigines to the north-eastern part of Australia that
                      would become known as ‘Queensland’ – that in 1859 would separate from New South
                      Wales to become its own self-governing colony – from 1825 until the late 1830s, when
                      the Moreton Bay settlement would finally wind down. It was the “worst kind of felons”
                      another Scot, the Largs, North Ayrshire-born Governor of New South Wales, Sir Thomas
                      Makdougall Brisbane, wanted sent north – a sailing distance of almost 900 kilometres
                      – away from the comfortably developing Port Jackson (Sydney), a town now thought to
                      be a bit too soft and inviting for the convicts that were still arriving by the shipload from
                      Great Britain and Ireland. Could one of the desperate master criminals the authorities
                      had in mind have been twenty-seven-year-old Surrey convict John Barry, who ended up in
                      Queensland after being transported for the heinous crime of “stealing bagatelle balls from
                      a beer shop”?
                          James Davis was born in 1808, and at the age of fourteen “was apprenticed to his
                      father as a blacksmith at Old Wynd, Glasgow [Scotland]” and at sixteen was “convicted for
                      stealing from a church box in Surrey [England].” On arrival in Sydney, he was sent north to

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               the Moreton Bay Settlement for a three year sentence. “Six weeks later he absconded with
               a companion” and immediately encountered aborigines. Would their fate now be worse
               than incarceration at Moreton Bay, they must have wondered when they saw them?
                   Luckily, not. Compared with Captain Patrick Logan, its commandant from 1825 to
               1829, who, according to Laurie, was “notorious among convicts as a strict disciplinarian,
               excessive in use of the lash”- and receiving due punishment for it, many must have thought,
               when he was later murdered while exploring the source of the Brisbane River – they might
               have thought the aboriginal chief was ‘mamby pamby’ by comparison. True, his name
               was Pamby-Pamby and he promptly “claimed Davis as his dead son returned to life as a
               white man, but although his mate was also protected, (he was) later killed for a breach of
               tribal law by destroying an aboriginal grave in the branches of a tree.” James was now
               called Duramboi; although, unless the name wasn’t his own idea, why he didn’t suggest
               Glasgowboi is anyone’s guess.
                   Even the man Governor Brisbane had sent in the cutter Mermaid in 1823 to find a good
               place to build a penal settlement, Lieutenant John Oxley, must have wondered how secure
               this particular setting would be when he rounded Point Skirmish into Moreton Bay and
               saw a ragged-looking white man running along the beach waving excitedly at him with a
               group of aborigines following, as if to say: “See how easy it is to escape?”
                   He was Thomas Pamphlett, a castaway who, with his friend Finnegan, had been living
               with the aborigines for seven months and seemed perfectly healthy for it. Whether people
               would abscond here – or try to – or not, Moreton Bay, it was decided, would be the
               perfect place for a penal settlement, Captain Cook having found it in 1770, eighteen years
               before Australia’s First Fleet came. Pamphlett told Oxley about a big river that flowed into
               the bay and two days walk away found a perfect anchorage on what they would call the
               Brisbane River for all the ships that would come.
                   In September 1824 Oxley returned with Lieutenant Henry Miller, who was in charge
               of a detachment of soldiers and the first batch of convicts, the site they picked being Red
               Cliff Peninsula (today’s Redcliffe). Bothered by the shortage of water as well as mosquitoes
               and spears constantly coming at them, Miller soon afterwards resited the settlement further
               upriver (between today’s Queen and William Streets in the centre of Brisbane).
                   The tiny group of buildings that made up Moreton Bay Settlement – referred to as
               ‘Brisbane Town’ in some 1826 dispatches – was very rough and ready at the start; and
               some convicts would have noticed its flimsiness with glee. Consisting of an army store,
               barracks, a few tents and bark huts, a sawpit, a brick kiln and a blacksmith’s forge, by the
               end of 1825, there were about 100 men and women there altogether. As well as the wives,
               women and children allowed to be there, the convicts were quite closely watched, there
               being one guard for every six to eight of them.
                   In fact, Governor Brisbane’s instructions to Miller make Moreton Bay sound like a bit
               of a holiday camp: “The hours of morning labour will be from daylight till eight, when
               one hour and a half will be given for cleanliness and breakfast. Work will be resumed
               from half past nine until twelve. Two hours will then be allowed for dinner, and labour
               will afterwards continue from two o’clock until sunset.” Having three and a half hours a
               day to spend on meals and general preening, new arrivals might even have thought that
               a quiet stroll around the settlement with a cocktail before bedtime wouldn’t be out of the

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                      The Wild Man of Glasgow                                                                       3
                          Other rules included the Sunday requirement for prisoners to be “perfectly
                      clean” for Divine Service, and it probably went without saying that “no other dress
                      will be allowed to be worn at the settlement than that which is furnished by the
                      Government.” So, colourful frocks were out of the question. Prisoners were split into
                      first and second classes, depending on whether they wanted to be eligible to be made
                      constables, overseers, clerks or officers’ servants to the Officers of the Settlement, and
                      be put in charge of the cows, and receive flour and tobacco, or do time the hard way.
                      Unfortunately, it was no Club Med. The work was fine: digging with hoes and spades in
                      the sea air in gangs of fifteen to twenty. But with subtropical diseases, such as dysentery and
                      malaria to contend with, punishments like solitary confinement, hard labour, and flogging,
                      the 1828/29 summer drought when the crops failed, not to mention overcrowding,
                      unsanitary conditions, and malnutrition, some would have thought they had a better
                      chance making a run for it.
                          The 1829 regulations pompously point out that “an aversion to honest industry and
                      labour [was] the chief cause of most of the convicts incurring the penalties of the law”.
                      But was it catching? Were some members of Australia’s colonial government inspired by
                      Governor Brisbane’s insistence that Moreton Bay officials pay “due attention … to minute
                      faults”, when charges of various kinds against [the governor himself] were sent to England,
                      the worst of these [being] that he had connived at sending female convicts to Emu Plains
                      [New South Wales] for immoral purposes? His defence may well have been that he was
                      looking upwards at the time and didn’t notice, Brisbane also being an astronomer who
                      would publish The Brisbane Catalogue of 7,385 stars of the Southern hemisphere in1835.
                          Hannah Rigby may have been a repeat offender who did a very good impression
                      of not wanting to leave Moreton Bay, but her “habits” were hardly, as The Fell Tyrant
                      described the female convicts of Moreton Bay in 1836, of “the most depraved of all kinds”,
                      although, technically, it could be said that Hannah’s “reformation [may have been] quite
                          An embroiderer born in Lancashire in about 1794, she was twenty-six when transported
                      for seven years at the Liverpool Quarter Sessions in October 1821, for theft, reaching Port
                      Jackson in February 1823 in the Lord Sidmouth. After marrying convict George Page in
                      Parramatta, New South Wales in January 1825, she spent three months in a Female Factory
                      for absconding from service as an assigned servant, perhaps to be with her husband who
                      seems to have been just as busy stealing from a ship because in September 1826 he was
                      sent to Moreton Bay for seven years.
                          The 1828 census described Hannah as a sempstress and free by servitude, living at
                      Newcastle with her sons, Robert, aged five, and Samuel, three months. That year she was
                      free. If most people would then imagine that Hannah would now be able to settle down,
                      Hannah still had things to do, namely steal thirty yards of ribbon in 1830, using force and
                      arms, and be transported all over again, this time to Moreton Bay , via Sydney Gaol, with
                      her two sons, boarding the ship Isabella on October 16 that year with seven other female
                      convicts and joining eighteen women prisoners already living there with one thousand
                      men. After a third son, James, was born at Moreton Bay, in 1837, she returned to Sydney
                      in 1837, when her seven years were up, and got her certificate of freedom.
                          Now would she settle down? Forget it. Three months later she got another seven
                      years in Moreton Bay for stealing the grand total of two hats. Returning again on the

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               Isabella, where they probably gave her her old hammock. She had officially outlived the
               penal settlement. When it closed in 1839, Hannah stayed in Brisbane. By this time she
               was the servant of the assistant colonial surgeon, David Ballow, who in July 1840 asked
               Commandant Lieutenant Owen Gorman to petition for her freedom, saying that he trusted
               her. Freed yet again, three-timer Hannah would soon be able to be thought of as one of
               Brisbane’s most affectionate admirers, by deciding to remain near the penal settlement – in
               a hut near Queen Street – long after it ceased to be one. Clearly, Moreton Bay was a place
               she had regarded as home.
                   On October 10, 1853, “having danced vigorously at wedding festivities five nights
               earlier … she succumbed to apoplexy,” says Jennifer Harrison in the A.D.B., the inquest at
               the Donnybrook Hotel putting the cause of death down to “visitation of God”. She was
               buried in St John’s Church graveyard. Although she was about fifty-nine, she was listed for
               some reason as being seventy-seven. Unless they were counting the number of waltzes.
                   Another wild Queenslander, but not in the same way as the culture-travelling James ‘Dr
               Who’ Davis, was another Scot, James Alpin McPherson, a bushranger who would do his
               best to terrorise the state in the post-Moreton Bay Settlement days. He even lived until
               the ripe old age of fifty-three which, in bushranger years, was old age. Born in Inverness-
               shire in 1842, the eldest of eight children, his whole family migrated to Queensland in the
               William Miles, arriving at Moreton Bay on January 19, 1855 when he was thirteen. Alpin
               was even a good boy at school.
                   James may have “pleased his teachers” in Brisbane, according to Basil Shaw in the
               A.D.B., where he learnt French and German and was a good debater, but at twenty-one he
               went bush and soon became known as the ‘Wild Scotchman’. He became “an excellent
               horseman and an accurate shot” and in 1865 used these skills in Bowen, on the coast
               midway between Mackay and Townsville, where he held up a publican who owed him
               back wages. This put the first fifty-pound reward put on his head. He was a bushranger
               the public liked too, although I’m not sure why. When he started robbing mail coaches,
               he was caught because his horse wasn’t very fast. He certainly wasn’t violent. In his only
               clash with police, he was shot in the arm by Sir Frederick Pottinger, the police inspector in
               charge of the Lachlan district in central New South Wales, causing titters, presumably, back
               at the barracks when they found out that the Wild Scotchman had only been firing blanks.
               He even lost his horse, and, was eventually caught by police the most unmelodramatic
               way possible, according to Shaw, the wild Scotsman having been “reading quietly by the
               Lachlan River when the police surrounded him.”
                   Pottinger had probably been shooting at himself anyway. He seems to have been
               one of those people who made it hard for the public to tell outlaws from lawmen when,
               according to the website, he was sacked for committing the terrible
               departmental offence of “riding in a public horse race” on 5 January, 1865. He is also
               famous for setting out for Sydney by coach two months later “to seek reinstatement …
               [and after stopping] at Wascoe’s Inn in the Blue Mountains [near the present town of
               Blaxland] … climbing aboard the coach to resume the journey, [having] a pocket pistol
               [he] was carrying in his waistcoat accidentally [discharge]” and dying a month later. If
               Pottinger, as this New South Wales police website suggests, had “a reputation as a most
               fearless … Police Officer at a time when … bushranging … was at its peak”, I would hate
               to see how the least fearless of New South Wales policemen carried on.

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                      The Wild Man of Glasgow                                                                       5
                           Basil Shaw describes the rest of the Wild Scotchman’s days as an outlaw:
                              [Escaping from a ship in Mackay, he] stole a horse and began to rob mail
                              coaches on the roads between Maryborough, Gayndah and Gladstone,
                              sometimes sending the stolen cheques to Governor Bowen … [Then] the price
                              on [his] head [was] £250 …[He ended up in] Maryborough to face charges
                              of robbing the mails [and was] found guilty and sentenced by Chief Justice
                              Cockle to twenty-five years in [Moreton Bay’s new maximum security] penal
                              settlement on St Helena Island [in the Brisbane River, the ‘Wild Scotchman’
                              being the perfect person to try it out. Arriving there in September 1866, he
                              was released just in time for Christmas,] on 22 December 1874, following
                              a petition presented by Brisbane citizens [ – his fans – who had particularly
                              enjoyed his] spectacular though unsuccessful escape attempt.

                          As well as settling with Elizabeth Annie, née Hasfeldt, in Blackall, central Queensland
                      in 1878 and having four sons and two daughters, McPherson’s bushranging exploits do
                      seem to have inspired TA Browne’s famous novel Robbery under Arms, although he didn’t
                      exactly go down with guns blazing in a shoot-out like the Kelly gang. In fact, his end was
                      far less glamorous. He met it in Burketown, north Queensland on August 23, 1895, when
                      his horse and cart tipped over when leaving a friend’s funeral; he was buried next to him.
                          Although many of the convicts sent to Queensland, such as James Davis, could be
                      described as petty thieves, the penal settlement did receive some pretty hardened criminals
                      in its time, such as Irishwoman Eleanor Doughy who was there as part of a life sentence
                      “for assisting a rape in Waterford [Ireland],” according to Jennifer Harrison in the chapter,
                      The Very Worst Class: Irish Women Convicts at Moreton Bay, in the book, Irish Convict Lives: “A
                      newspaper report of her trial in the Waterford Mirror [of August 2, 1878] indicates that
                      she was a prostitute who assisted some young males ‘of that class with which our town
                      is infested’ in the pursuit of a highway robbery during which rape also took place.” But
                      generally, the original crimes were far less serious, some women offending in Britain or
                      Ireland purely in the hope of following husbands who had already been transported. This
                      ruse actually worked, if in an odd way, for Mary O’Brien whose husband in Ireland had
                      already been transported, perhaps becoming one of Moreton Bay’s ‘first class’ prisoners
                      working as an official. “She joined him as a free servant … but then chose to return to
                      County Carlow on the Midas … Four years later she stole ribbon in Cork and was sent
                      back as a convict with their two children.”
                          In the early days, the ramshackle place that was the Moreton Bay Settlement would
                      probably not have put fear into its inmates as much as gaols in other parts of the country
                      were doing, such as the infamous Port Arthur Gaol on the Tasman Peninsula in the south-
                      east of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), where repeat offenders were sent. Although St
                      Helena Island would have held the same fear of sharks that Port Arthur did, making inmates
                      think twice about swimming for it, at least Moreton Bay was without the line of vicious
                      guard dogs Port Arthur had chained up across the narrow strip of land at Eaglehawk Neck
                      that connected the peninsula to the Tasmanian mainland.
                          In Port Arthur, convicts could expect punishments for offences that were often stranger
                      than their original crimes. According to Phillip Hilton and Susan Hood in Caught in the
                      Act, John Glanville committed fifty-five offences over ten years in Tasmania, including

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               “having turnips improperly.” One convict got a reprimand for “washing his shirt during
               Divine Service”, another for “baking light bread”; a crime, of course, that goes unpunished
                   Other crimes various prisoners in Port Arthur and Hobart Town were charged with
               include the following: “feloniously, wilfully and diabolically” interfering with a dog …
               “having lollipops in his possession” … “setting fire to his bedding” … “drawing improper
               figures on his slate” … “threatening to split the overseer’s skull with his spade” …
               “gross filthiness within the barrack square” … “wilfully breaking his wooden leg” …
               “apprehending Godfrey Moore and biting his nose off ” … “groaning at the Lieutenant-
               Governor when he entered Government House”; and one woman got two months in the
               Female House of Correction for “concealing a man under her bed.”
                   Best of all, though, was George (alias ‘Billy’) Hunt. Transported for 14 years from
               London for stealing a handkerchief, his crime was “absconding”; nothing unusual about
               that, except that Billy was “dressed as a kangaroo at the time and was attempting to hop
               to freedom, only to be shot at by rationed soldiers, who had grown accustomed to hearty
               kangaroo stews.”
                   Would this be James Davis’s – Duramboi’s – fate too when soldiers finally caught up
               with him in the wilds? All he could think about when he escaped was surviving. The
               chance that instead he would die in the bush, as many who absconded did, was great since
               he would have had no idea how to hunt or gather food. But, unwittingly, he had fallen on
               his feet and found out as time went on that there were other laws that commanded respect
               other than the English ones he knew. Would he ever return to his old world?
                   In fact, ironically, Davis, who was only ever facing a three-year term at Moreton Bay
               anyway, would become so immersed in aboriginal culture that when thirteen years later,
               writes Laurie, “he was found at Wide Bay in 1842 by Andrew Petrie” (the man appointed
               by the government in 1837 to supervise the building of Brisbane Town, having sailed
               with others in a whale-boat up the coast from Brisbane in search of sheep country, also
               discovering the river where Maryborough now stands), he had forgotten how to speak
               English altogether. “When he did attempt it,” according to Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of early
               Queensland, “all he could say was a few words, and these often misapplied, breaking off
               abruptly in the middle of a sentence with black gibberish, which he spoke very fluently.”
               So, obviously, there was no way anyone could tell he was from Glasgow.
                   Andrew Petrie, “with difficulty, [then] assured James/Duramboi [now thirty-four] that
               he could return safely to Brisbane as the convict settlement had ended,” says Laurie. He
               married Annie Shea four years later, “opened a crockery shop in George St [Brisbane] in
               1864 and married Irishwoman Bridget Hayes in 1883”, Annie having died the previous
               year. The runaway had become reformed citizen. After he died in 1889 at the age of
               eighty-one, 1,850 pounds of his estate was bequeathed to the Brisbane General Hospital.
               He had “guided settlers to good land in the Wide Bay area and had been employed as a
               court interpreter for aborigines.” But was his civic-minded generosity appreciated? When,
               says Laurie, “in 1866 he petitioned the governor to raise his salary to the twenty pounds
               paid to Chinese and German interpreters, his request was refused. He gave descriptions
               of some aboriginal rites, but remained stubbornly reticent about one supposedly obscene
               ceremony.” It probably involved up-ending a naked governor and roasting him over a
               medium fire for two hours.

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