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AN OLD STORY RETOLD, West Coast Times, Issue 11289, 11 May 1899
AN OLD STORY RETOLD
MIVOR'S ESCORT STUCK UP. A pioneer tdls in the Argus tbo atory ofiho robbery of the M'lvor escort : — " Immunity from attack led to a false sense of security both amongst -the Govvernment and private escorts, and the lesson came wheu the private escort from M'lvor was suddenly fired upon and robbed at the Mia Mia on the 20th of July, 1853. They had 23000z of gold and and some £820 in cash— treasure worth £9500— and were travelling from M'lvor to Kyneton to catch the main Bendigo escort on its way to Melbourne. The escort was in command of Superintendent Warner, with Sergeant Duins, with four troopers, and the driver. Duins was riding in front, and as they came round* a bend of the road by the Mia Mia he found a tree felled across the track, forming a sort of barricade. The trap had been well planned. Some of the branches had been cut away, and thrown with apparent, carelessness by the roadside, but behind this screen two of the gang had taken shelter, so as to cut off auy possibility of retreat. Tha others were hiding behind trees on the hill slope commanding -4-ho roadway. While four of the robbers arranged the ambuscade, two others went up the road to watch for the coming of the escort. Sergeant L'uins was riding at its head, and the fallen tree, as he suddenly came upon it, seemed to excite his suspicion. He held up bis hand, and cried " Halt !" That was taken as the signal to fire. The bushrangers jumped from behind the trpes and fired a volley — having loaded their guns with a double charge — a bullet and heavy shot. Four of the escorts-^Davis, Boeswater, Fookes and Morton— instantly fell, seriously wounded. Davis was shot in the neck as he tried to unstrap his carbine, and another of the wounded men was pinned Qown by his dead horse. Sergeant Duin3 dashed his horse through the barricade, being repeatedly fired at, for the robbers carried horse pistols as well as guns, and one of them, George Melville, had a revolver. . Two bullets lodged in the flanks of Duin's horse/ and boih he and Warner ex:hanged shots with the gang until their ammunition was -^exhausted, but at too long ranfce to be effective. Warner gave up^ wheu^his horse* was> shot in the jaw, and the sergeant galloped to the nearest police station for assistance. It was all over in a few minuces. The wouuded men- were left on the ground just as they lay, and while two of the " biwhrangers galloped out to exchange shots with Duins and Warner, tha others took the v gold and cash, overlooking, however, one packet of £120, and rode ' away through the bush. They had disappeared -while "the smoke of their .gu,us still floated over the box trees. v ' '?•-
The number of, men who took part in this raid- has. never been absolutely known. They multiplied 'and dwindled, like Falsjaff's men in buckram. The first estimate'was tweufcy, then fifteen, while the wounded troopers themselves, when able to give ovidence, made it ten. Two biotbers named Francis, both ex-convicts, wbo were amongst the gaug, turned infjrraers afterwards, and /even their accounts varied strangely. George Francis, who . was - pixßßted\ at tb?* Rocky Waterholes, said, 'iwels% men-jtook part in the exploit? and gave " the names of several, who were arrested and. afterwards released. On his way to Melbourne Francis managed to get hold of a razor at one of the inns by the way, and wuile still handcuffed cut his throat aud died. His brother, John Francis, who later on turned Queen's evidence,' siid x Aat only six men were concerned in the raid. These wero Gray— who organised it and escaped scot free — the two Francises, Melville, Wilson and Atkins.
j . '' According to the confession of John j Francis, the bushrangers rode to a dense pirt of the forest on the Cirapaspa river threw tlieiv «uns into the^water, keeping only the pistols, which they could easily conceal ; and, having divided the gold equally— with a powder disk as a measure —decided to sep'irats. Gray, who had the jkill and daring to plan the raid, had the wit to know that, while these desperate criminals— most of them had been trausported-=were just the men to aid him in the robbery, they wore nob "to be trusted afterwards. John Francis bad once before turned Queen's evidence. Gray determined to trust s noue of them but cub himseif clear at once, and was supposed to have gone to Adelaide. George Francis stayed in the M'lvor district, and the other four choosing as a rendezvous a cottage owned by John Francis on, Oollingwood Flat, found their way by different roads to Melbourne. No suspicion attached* to a man having gold for sale; therefore they had no difficulty iv getting rid of part of the spoil, though some of it was afterwards found in their possession. Indeed, one digger was able to identify a partienlar nugget, shaped like an eagle, which had the dent of a pick in it.
"Having arrested George Francis, heard his confession, and lost a valuable witness in his sudden suicide, the police listened, to Melbourne, aud. we.re, jugc in
time. The ship Madagascar, lying in Hobson's Bay, was -on the eve of sailing for England. Wilson had taken his passage by her, but the night before she sailed he created a disturbance on board and drew a pistol. The police made this the excuse for his arrest, and brought him ashore. On the way he asked them to pull under the stern of the ship Collooney, shortly to sail for the Mauritius, when he asked Melville to look after his wife. The hhit was sufficient. Melville was the very man they most wished to meet, so they dropped upon him suddenly n*>xt day. Atkins was found at a hay and corn store in Elizabeth-street. He had on him a draft for £400, his wife Agnes had £80 in cash, and sewn up in the lining oE her plaid dress the police i afterwards discovered a draft for £700. In George Melville's trunk on Jaoard the Collooney the police found two bags of sovereigns — £720 in all -while he had £100 on . his person. Melville had. married a handsome Frenchwoman, who was said to have money, and the solicitude of the one for the other was a feature of the Hubsequent trial, that created much public interest. Even in those days, when every second prisoner at the assize courb was charged with" 'robbery under arm°, the trial made a great sensation, the late Mr R. D. lroland and Mr (now Sir Archibald) Michie, two of the leading barristers of the day, ap pearing for the defence. John Francis saved his life by turning Queen's evidence, but George Melville, George Wilson and Willia n Atkius were found guilty and hanged. When asked whether he had anything to say before sentence of de°tb was passed, Melville made a remarkable speech, "attaching rather the method of the tiial than offering excuses for himself. In the midat of a savage attack on John francis, the informer, who had been deathly pale as he gave his evidence, Melville was advised by the late Mr Justice Williams— father of the present judge— to prepare himself for death by divesting himself of all feelings of malice towards men, difficult though it might bs in the case of an informer Melville's mood instantly changed, and he exclaimed, 'T,hen may God forgive me as I forgive John Francis!' Ho listened to the death sentence, with his eye 3 towards his wife in the gallery, bub the .agony in his drawn face deeply impressed those who watched him.
AN OLD STORY RETOLD, West Coast Times, Issue 11289, 11 May 1899
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