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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Chapter XVIII

page 72

Chapter XVIII.

A Systematic Course of Black-mailing—The Road to Gabriel's Gully via West Taieri—Stuck up—The Release, and how effected—Garret, the Bushranger—Tracking and apprehending the Gang.

Arriving in Dunedin, Sam Perkins lost no time in fulfilling the promise he made to himself of communicating with his principals in San Francisco. True to his natural instincts, these communications took the shape of a systematic course of blackmailing, which in the end became so intolerable that the thing ended badly for Sam.

As yet, however, he had not filled up the cup of his transgressions, nor had his adventures in a general way come to an issue. We must therefore keep Sam's company a little longer, however undesirable that company may seem.

Leaving Dunedin, he (Sam) took the road for Gabriel's Gully,* giving a preference to the then lately-discovered short cut by West Taieri. His second day's journey brought him to the top of the Maungatua, separating the flats, afterwards named Waipori, from the Taieri Plains. Selecting a convenient spot, at the edge of a belt of bush, he pitched camp for the night, when he was suddenly pounced upon by two men whose faces were concealed by loose coverings of black cloth. Springing upon him from behind a clump of trees, and covering him with their pistols, Sam was completely at their mercy before he knew where he was. His own Californian experience having brought him into contact with similar encounters, he was not long in realising the situation. On being ordered to bail

* See Appendix, Note 24.

page 73up,177 Sam at once threw up his arms in token of submission, and allowed himself to be led away by his assailants into the bush. Selecting a particular spot, they secured him to a tree. During the operation not a word was spoken, nor was any attempt made to rifle his pockets. Before leaving, one of the masked men produced a flask of brandy, with which he regaled178 Sam, allowing him to drink as much of the liquor as satisfied him. The remainder was placed before him, but at such a distance as prevented his reaching it.

"There," said one of the masked men, "is a drop of stuff; it will come in handy for you when you get the bandages off."

Sam ventured to inquire how long it was intended the bandages should remain on.

Without betraying the slightest harshness, or any great concern, the owner of the flask replied that he would find he had mates to keep him company, and all that was aimed at was to keep them quiet until he and his masked confederates had had time to move out of the way. So saying they took their departure, leaving Sam, as we have just described, secured to a tree.

Sam himself was wholly at a loss to understand the meaning of it. That it was a case of sticking-up he knew; but, as no searching of pockets and rifling of the swag had taken place, the real object was wanting. He soon discovered the information given him about having mates to keep him company was true, and, by dint of shouting and bawling, ascertained they had been dealt with in a manner similar to himself. He further ascertained that they had been relieved of a considerable quantity of gold-dust.

After being kept in durance179 for some hours, one of the number succeeded in regaining his liberty, and forthwith set about releasing the others.

It is astonishing the amount of popularity the name and exploits of the individual attains who, setting the law at defiance, succeeds for a time in evading the efforts made to bring him to justice. The celebrated outlaw, Rob Roy Macgregor,180 is a case in point, and numerous cases in our own day of a similar character, although of less note, could be cited.

Garret, the Otago bushranger,181 was a man of this stamp.

page 74

He took to the road between Tuapeka and Dunedin, and for some months worked it to good advantage—for himself, at least. The colony rang with the story of his escapades, and, despite the exertions of the then newly-formed mounted police force, he and his band were for a time singularly successful in eluding pursuit.

Garret's modus operandi was unique in its way. He gathered round him a band of kindred spirits, and to each man assigned the duty he was best fitted for. One of his men acted as road-surveyor, and another as swagger,182 the remainder being kept about him to assist in more active service.

The road-surveyor would leave Tuapeka in the morning on a fleet horse. Riding along, he noted carefully the strength and equipments of the parties en route for Dunedin. Arriving at Garret's haunts, all particulars were reported to him, and he took his measures accordingly. His plan was to provide man for man, so that if the travelling party numbered more than one they were confronted by a number of his men equal to their own. In that way travellers were easily overpowered, and one by one marched into the bush, and securely bound to the trees. Their swags and pockets were rifled, and, if possessed of gold-dust, as most of these travellers were, it was appropriated by the robbers, and they were left, to all appearance, to find release as best they could.

Garret, however, never robbed them entirely of their gold. He always left sufficient for enabling them to make a fresh start. Indeed, so rigidly did he adhere to that rule that in some cases, when the men stuck up were found to be destitute, instead of taking anything from them he gave them sufficient for a start.

The swagger was done up as a digger on the wallaby.183 He always managed to turn up just as the others were being led into the bush, and he too was stuck up and secured along with them. In that condition he remained until a sufficient time had elapsed for enabling his confederates to get well away. He then got himself free, the ropes being arranged so as to enable him to do so when it suited the purpose, and, as we have seen in the case of Sam Perkins, he released the others.

The whole transaction was well managed. No one having page 75the slightest suspicion of the swagger, he contrived to pick up a good deal of valuable information as to plans for bringing the offenders to account. These, of course, were duly communicated to Garret and the gang, and they took precautions accordingly. In that way Garret, no doubt, ascertained that Sam was an up-country traveller, and was not likely to have anything valuable in his possession; consequently, he was merely detained to prevent alarm, and with no other purpose of robbery.

Assisted thus, Garret was enabled to carry on operations successfully for months together, although eventually he and his gang fell into the hands of the authorities.

That he had accomplices besides the road-surveyor and the swagger is now well known. Living as he and his gang did, amidst the fastnesses of the Lammerlaws,184 provisions must have been conveyed to them by surreptitious means, and for a time the police were completely baffled in their efforts to discover these.

At length, after a great deal of patient investigation, it was ascertained that a teamster in the habit of travelling the road, and who invariably carried his own loading, which he professed to dispose of by the way, paid into the Bank of Otago a peculiarly-shaped nugget, which was identified by its owner as having been taken from his swag by Garret. On that clue the police worked cautiously. Spies were placed at convenient intervals along the road followed by the teamster, and, without exciting suspicion,—for the teamster was acknowledged to be a knowing card,—careful watch was kept on his movements. It was ascertained that in approaching the dividing-range at the upper end of the Taieri185 he made a detour from the beaten track. On again emerging from the bush, at a point higher up, it was noted his dray appeared considerably lightened of its freight, and the police accordingly concluded they were now on the right scent. Waiting their opportunity, careful inspection was made in the vicinity. At the bottom of a deep ravine a large cave was discovered, the entrance to which was concealed by scrub and undergrowth. Exploring the recess, unmistakable evidence was found to show it was made use of by the gang as their store-room. On the occasion of the next visit of the teamster the country was well manned in the vicinity page 76by armed police, disposed of in such a way as to be concealed from view, while at a moment's notice they could cover any given number of men in the ravine. A dreary watch ensued, extending far into the night, when the robber band made its appearance. Lighting their way with dark lanterns, they made for the cave, wholly unsuspicious of danger. In a moment the surprise party was upon them, and, being taken at a disadvantage, their capture was comparatively easy. A few shots were exchanged, but nothing but flesh-wounds inflicted. The capture was cleverly gone about, and had the effect of breaking up one of the greatest terrors that ever beset goldfields life in Otago. Garret himself afterwards confessed to a grand design for surprising and robbing Gabriel's Gully; and, from the fact that a strange craft was seen hovering off Molyneux Bay* about the time indicated, it is generally supposed to have formed the part thereof for making good an escape.

* See Appendix, Note 25.

177 Being held under guard in a robbery.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

178 Excessively provided.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

179 Confinement.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

180 A Scottish outlaw charged of treason and burglary, who later became a folk hero; starring as protagonist in Daniel Defoe’s Highland Rogue, and Walter Scott’s Rob Roy.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

181 Henry Garret was a legendary criminal of Australia and New Zealand, who later became a biographer writing under the name “Clodhopper.” Aside from his innumerable crimes, he is said to have never physically harmed anyone. Papers Past.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

182 Whoever carries the group's belongings.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

183 Resembling a wandering digger searching for work.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

184 A mountain range in Otago.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]

185 The fourth-longest river in New Zealand, running between Dunedin and Queenstown.

[Note added by Danny Bultitude as annotator]