Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

Currently showing posts tagged justice

  • The Highwayman

    The Highwayman

    They say this cave on Mount Wellington was once the hideout of John ‘Rocky’ Whelan, the bushranger highwayman.

    Sent to the colonies from England as a convict, Whelan – like so many others – absconded. Like all bushrangers in Tasmania, he targeted the many isolated homesteads for plunder; but he also roved the forests ambushing lone travellers, robbing and often killing them.

    He’d never been a likeable man. Nicknamed for his gnarled, pock-marked face, Rocky Whelan was transported in 1829; he spent time in Sydney, Norfolk Island and Hobart, each time making efforts to escape. Myths surfaced about his fondness for dimly-lit cells, or his supposed imperviousness to the lash or other forms of corporal punishment. His final disappearance came as he was assigned to a public works gangs in Hobart. It took only two days for him to abscond into the bush around Mount Wellington.

    Without doubt, Whelan was bold. During his winter on the mountain, he would visit a local magistrate, repose in front of a roaring fire, and read the newspaper. He stopped visiting the day he read his own profile as a wanted man.

    But most of his time was spent in this curvaceous edifice of honey-coloured, quartz-rich Triassic sandstone, alone, with but a small fire to keep himself warm against the damp southern weather.

    In the end, Whelan was caught, by chance, outside a boot-maker’s workshop. He was repairing the boots of a missing man. He admitted to five murders. He was hanged at the Imperial Gaol in 1855 with 112 offences against his name.

    There was an old man near Brown’s River, the youth Dunn on the Huon track, an elderly gentleman at Bagdad, a young fellow on the Westbury Road, and a hawker near Clevelend. A chequered career of murder, fatalities scattered across the island. At one stage he appears to have travelled around 100 miles in three days.

    “Dead men tell no tales” was the highwayman’s mantra. And yet, this cleft of sandstone in which the cold-hearted bushranger John Whelan took refuge during his days of terror in Tasmania bears his story even still. Nowadays, a small detour off a popular recreational walking route on the mountain points out his old hideaway. I was there last week with a friend, sheltering from the wind, eating from a small container of grapes.

  • The Mullins Murder

    The Mullins Murder

    On Thursday evening, June 19, 1913, a well-to-do farmer William Mullins went for a social drink at his friend Frank Whittle’s house. The next day, at about 11a.m., he left his home to check his possum traps. He was supposed to be gone for two hours, but he never came back.

    Two weeks later, his remains turned up in a gully two miles from where he lived. All that were left were some charred bones.

    Early criminological investigations suggested that an enormous pyre had been lit for Mullins’ body, prepared and attended to by at least two perpetrators, for at least six hours. The assailants had been so well-organised they removed the metal buttons from Mullins’ clothing. The story goes that they had even put the shoes on their horse backwards, so as to confuse the investigators.

    Mullins was about 50 years old and lived on a property called ‘Sunnyside’, by the Tyne River near Mathinna. His neighbour, Daniel Jones, was the prime suspect in the case. Mullins had been accused of burning down the Jones family’s wheatstack; there were stories of poisoned dogs and pigs. Someone in the town had warned Mullins to arm himself, but he figured his fists would be enough to defend himself.

    “Have you been out of your wife’s sight since June 20,” Jones was asked in court. “Not for long,” he replied. Jones seemed to be backed into a corner. He apparently told Mr. McKenzie that he had done away with Mullins, but the facts were hazy; his brother was rumoured to have said he would one day ‘pot [Mullins] like a bird’. The judge declared that everyone had satisfactory evidence apart from Dan Jones and his wife.

    But the locals seemed to be indifferent about the murder of Bill Mullins; or worse, they seemed to be trying to shield the identity of the murderers. Jones’ bail, set at £100, was paid.

    In the end, the Hobart Criminal Court found there was insufficient evidence to charge Daniel Jones over the murder of his neighbour.

    One of the legacies of the murder: in the Fingal Valley Football Association, the Mathinna club came to be known by the unsavoury name of the ‘Kill-and-Burns’.

     

    The author also profiled Tasmanian country football locations for ''
    Writing Footy'. The first instalment, about the old Mathinna ground, can be found here.