The Hawkesbury’s final bay is a quintessence of white beaches and small islands whose water sparkles even on cloudy days. Upstream this turns from ultramarine blue to the colour of weak tea, but still clear to the bottom. The banks become thick with overhanging trees and the river narrows to merge with zigzagging streams like Mother Mathers Creek. This ‘frontier country’ was in tribal land of the rainbow warrior, Pemulwuy, who united bickering tribes into a single force that waged a short-lived guerrilla war against people they deemed ‘invaders’. After being shot in 1802 Pemulwuy’s confederated army dissolved and the Hawkesbury’s fecund creeks and backwaters became liquid roads for colonising farmer-speculators like Joseph Mann, who had witnessed the flood of 1806, when livestock, human bodies, hay bales, sheds and intact huts floated like a devil’s parade down river and into the central bay. By 1814 Mann was an established businessman who was purchasing partnerships in schooners to run produce to Sydney and back.

Patrick Stokes laboured on Mann’s outer farm that skirted Mother Mathers Creek. He had seen Mann’s new schooner Revenge arrive and tie up not far from his campsite along the bank. Low on sugar, tea and tobacco, Stokes was keen to barter his freshly caught flathead with its crew the following morning.

Stokes took the fresh fish and introduced himself to William Alder, Thomas White and his de-facto Hannah Sculler. He apologised on behalf of Joseph Mann for being in town and not meeting them in person. Stokes explained how the flathead’s increasing numbers were a good sign the drought was breaking. Stokes laughed off Hannah’s fears about cannibalistic, savage natives and left the crew to the passive buzz of an autumn Hawkesbury evening, when to watch a yellow moon rise to phosphorescent white is almost enough.

Stokes was woken early the following morning by agitated native boys gesturing him to the schooner. After grumbling a greeting from the bank to no reply he reluctantly followed the boys up the gangplank. At the ship’s fore hatch, among strewn papers, unravelled ropes and smashed boxes, William Alder was lying face down. Congealed crimson knots of hair surrounded a bloody skull wound. Thomas White was nearby, his throat horribly and conclusively cut. There was no sign of Hannah Sculler. An axe lay on the deck smeared in blood. They had been made compulsory on all small colonial vessels to deter pirates: if threatened with a boarding, the main mast would be chopped down to render the vessel impotent.

Stokes trusted the Natives and while Alder’s injury resembled a nulla-nulla punishment, it was never so brutal. They kept to their campfires at night anyway, if only to avoid confused and mad ancestor spirits and other malicious demons who fed off the darkness. The local boys had taught Stokes about hunting, including how to examine dead animals and avoid contaminated carcass meat. The skin of the dead men before him now were somewhere between cowhide and sharkskin to the touch. The mild autumn weather had delayed the first fly maggots and the all-consuming, noisome smell of decay. Patrick Stokes had seen human brutality in hulks, gaols and on transport ships but this was bland wickedness. He thought about last night’s full moon; a sharp London flashman told him once that a smart serve was never on when Oliver was about. He had heard nothing. White and Alder were found at opposing ends of the vessel, with no blood trails. White’s throat looked to have been slashed where he fell. The boys pointed out a confusion of bloodied footprints which they hand gestured as evidence of more than one attacker. Stokes had seen meditating native medicine men leave their bodies for eagles to survey the world from the sky. He wished for that cool, forgetful topography now as the breakfast of coagulated flour and fish rose up in his stomach.


For an ocean empire, most Brits were hopelessly disorganised in the water. Britannic pride might include calling a ship your mother, your lover or your wife, but the British sailor knew less about swimming than landlocked Prussians who had demanded all sailors learn to swim. By 1814, an elaborate resuscitation treatment had at least been devised by a London doctor responding to the increasing number of Thames River drownings from suicide and misfortune. The treatment claimed it might revive a person twenty five to thirty minutes after being pulled from the water.

The doctor’s method was an elaborate process based on the theory of Vitalism, which contends that the human body is a series of correctible humours and temperatures influencing a unique motility of human muscles, organs and nerves. The physical co-operation of these parts manifests ‘the nature of life’, sparked by the élan of each human being’s soul. For some vitalists, degrees of human activity and difference were measurable by tasting urine, a by-product of the process. Vitalism was at odds with new science proclaiming life was a series of chemical reactions in which base elements moved between liquid, gas or solid without losing a single ounce of mass, making the individual soul a curious, weightless passenger.


Not far from the Revenge, at a bank shaded by overhanging mangrove branches, Hannah Sculler’s floating corpse was tethered by rope to a tree. Tiny, ravenous mouths of gathering fishes, worms and crabs tugged methodically at the threaded edges of Hannah Sculler’s striped linen petticoat, and the wound in the back of her head. They were unable to penetrate her blouse, whose oriental flowering of an uncommon and remarkable pattern i would later match a roll left in the safekeeping of a friend in Sydney; it had been Hannah’s gift to herself, celebrating her new life with Thomas White.

Sculler’s sodden corpse refracted the clear water like a jewel-cased doll. If White and Alder had been jumped and murdered quickly, Hannah’s fate was more uncertain. She may have been restrained below deck while White and Alder were dealt with, or escaped the vessel before becoming cruel sport for her attackers. If she screamed out, the sound was lost to the bush. Perhaps she was too frightened to do anything, and simply gave in to her attackers? The disposal of her sexually-violated body on a tether seemed an absonant, ramp gesture.

Her vitalism expired and ethered off into the landscape. The natives thought her disorientated spirit-soul would be frightened lost so far from home, ignored by all except the tossing wind. It would float lonely in the elemental un-mercy of the land, air and sea, or become a slave to an unfriendly spirit. For the materially fraught colony, Hannah represented the loss of another healthy, child-bearing woman, a commodity still in massive undersupply.

A sentence at Newcastle’s Penal outstation was like waking from a long sleep to find the dreams that sustained you erased from memory. A raw and uncompromising place one good day’s sail from Sydney, it felt like nowhere. You learned quickly to take care of your slops, keep lively with the sly-grog suppliers, flatter the ration-and-slops clerk with a pinch or two, and not bite for loans off the dice-men: the infamous half-naked bodies walking their sunburnt genitals around the settlement were stung slop-gamblers in debt, rather than neglected inmates. The starkness of place and purpose conversely allowed some inmates to finish their set-work by the early afternoon. For the rascal reoffenders there was always a few months at a Limeburners camp across the river.

The lime produced at this settlement is made from oyster shells … The process of making lime from them is extremely simple and expeditious. They are first dug up and sifted, and then piled over large heaps of dry wood, which are set fire to, and speedily convert the superincumbent mass into excellent lime. When thus made it is shipped for Sydney, and sold.

Lime was primarily mortar and render for Macquarie’s grand public building program. Good quality lime confidently held together bridges and private cottage palaces made fashionable by Mrs Macquarie’s famous book of architecture. Newcastle’s limeburning camps began as ruddy huts built near native shell middens close to Pirate Point. By 1810 these had cannibalised the shoreline beyond easy contact from the main settlement across river.

Barefooted prisoners negotiated razor sharp fields of oysters and shells on the tide. After collection the produce was burned off, and the unslaked lime powder was strained into casks or suitable dry-packing and back-humped to waiting vessels. The shell firing released a sickening, caustic smoke that could choke the lungs or leave the eyes swollen and mad-itching. Handling the concentrated powder could skin sick with raw abrasions that received no sympathy from overseers or the camp surgeon.

Limeburning was Newcastle’s punishment within a punishment. Stick-wielding overseers and musket-primed guards maintained twenty four hour watch. The Commandants encouraged stories of starving, naked men and women sleeping in dung piles, or under seaweed to keep warm at night. Isolation, poor diet and constant surveillance encouraged the desperate to suck up the toxic shellfire smoke or smear their eyes with lime powder in the hope of transfer to the main settlement infirmary. Sharper convicts pushed through by refusing to acknowledge that each ragged and bitter day was no better or worse than another. The Newcastle limeburner camps claimed the sanity of some and made the reputation of others.

Twenty years transportation to New South Wales saw the die-hard Vinegar Hill rebels of the 1790s replaced with a more generic criminal rogue. Despite similar accent the new convicts seemed as foreign as Africa to long term lags and the new generation of locally born currency kids for whom Great Britain was the plaintive songs and stories of sentimental parents. Patrick Collins and Dennis Donovan were prime examples of the new breed: cross-hardened, professional thugs who arrived in the colony within a year of each other after surviving the toughest and dirtiest Irish prisons. Newcastle would bring them together. In March of 1814, after two months in the limeburners camp for mauling an overseer, they bolted from the camp south to the Hawkesbury River, in search of the road to Sydney Town.


Patrick Collins and Dennis Donovan made it into Sydney unnoticed and immediately tracked down William Farrell, who in turn put them in touch with part-time fencer and indentured labourer John Coffey. Farrell, Donovan and Coffey had lagged to Sydney together in 1809 on the transport the Boyd. As a Dublin family man, Coffey dodged a swing-call for time in Kilmainham gaol, before being transported over a substantial cache of stolen muslin and calico. While not an exceptionally violent prison, Kilmainham worked inmates over with cold darkness and negligible cracker: piss froze midstream in overcrowded cells illuminated and warmed by single candles. The tight cold spaces were worse than receiving a beating, where the pain at least warmed the body before subsiding. Kilmainham traded in contemporary criminals and unhanged rebels. Like the Newcastle outstation, another experiment in penalogical head-fucking.

John Coffey was a reliable and inventive fence. Donovan and Collins produced a plummy rig for disposal including; a fine looking canvas bag, various pots and pans, a beautiful piece of print, some cutlery and a well maintained case knife. There was also male and female clothing, including beautifully sewn petticoats, fine cotton shirts and a fine suit of blue striped trousers with a yellow buttoned waistcoat. The prime piece though was a watch with a perfect working mechanism. Knowing Donovan, Coffey never asked where the stolen goods had come from.

Trading between individuals was controlled through Government commissary stores. Being a transaction with no sale bill of authenticity, fencing was an ideal alternative for departing sailors and isolated farmers. In the more finite world of Sydney it was more risky and easily traceable.

If they’d been a Newgate Calender yarn Dennis Donovan and Patrick Collins would be rendered predestined and barbarically Irish monsters. The street-hard twenty-three year old Collins was offloaded in early 1811. Donovan was a Limerick scrapper with a year or two on Collins in age and time in the colony. Both were regulars on local court lists for violent misdemeanours and absconding from work. As thugs without fear for consequence, secondary punishment at Newcastle was an inevitable step in their penal knowledge.

Collins found stoicism in a shadow life while Dennis Donovan was open bluster and confrontation. For Donovan the world was something you shoved around until it pushed back with a bigger fist, musket, forearm or cock. Collins preferred to strike from the shadows. What they did share was the brutality and random convergence. Donovan’s drew his vitalism from the Ireland of trawling Whiteboys, Armagh maniacs, Peep O’ Day Protestants, and hardened gangs of Catholic Defenders. It was a bitter, violent world where the defenceless, country tenant farmers had their stock butchered and stolen, their houses burned down and their children kidnapped. The folksy, Rousseauian saying that Ireland struggled ‘for as long as the well-stocked castle resents a small cabin full of hay’ was a just a convenient goon’s excuse for men like Donovan.

When Coffey’s nibbles proved unsuccessful Donovan turned to another Boyd veteran, Michael McGrath, who managed a government trading store with his wife, Elizabeth. The couple were in the keep of certain government officers and traders who allowed them to run a limited, backdoor, black-coin rig as pawnbrokers who exploited dregs and kitten-rigs from drunks and hocked-up gamblers. The bullying Donovan persuaded McGrath into paying upfront for the stolen goods and recouping his outlay – with a small profit – by on-selling later. McGrath also hide a compass stolen from the Revenge that Donovan was almost sentimental about keeping after it had guided him and Collins safely to Sydney.

Michael McGrath rattled off something to Elizabeth about a man’s honour being his loyalty, but Elizabeth McGrath knew her husband was just another of Donovan’s rabbits. Gifts of pots and petticoats barely assuaged her anger at supplying the brutes a safe crib. She did haggle a blue suit for Michael, which after professional adjustment sat straight enough to suggest her husband had a spine.


There is blue and there is blue. Ask the sailor, the bird, the soldier, the daughter, the atom, the whale, the Native, the sky. Ask the indifferent Naval Office clerk or his more indifferent Home Office cousin, who bleach colour from the world by inking into black and white lines. The convict colonial blue was a slops dye that faded quickly from cheap calico but then there was also William Alder’s suit, a freeman’s blue in a dye-caste that would outlast the stitching.

The bland convict blue annoyed Macquarie. He saw a colour-coded order in yellow and black for road gangs, grey for ticket of leavers, stencilled arrows for new felons and then the rest. He wanted a demarcated world as bold and signifying as local parrots. The London clerk might sneer and say such stuff was swallowing the dick, but the expert refurbishment stitching on William Alder’s suit was of such precise cut and thread-work – showed clothing was as much self-esteem as vanity. Alder’s tailor had originally suggested to Alder yellow buttons to highlight the cutaway of the coat: a modest, Brummellesque touch. While more snap than hummingbird, Alder walked Sydney streets like a freeman of substance.

Collins and Donovan burned their nights drunkenly at the McGraths, undecided on their next move. Beyond the dog-eat-dog agenda of prison, the pair’s short relationship was a case of all honey or all turds: Donovan’s loud-mouth and simplistic greed agitated the more taciturn and calculating Collins. He left the fat-mouthed bore, and Sydney for good, tracking south.

Collins felt at home in the dark-blue colonial winter-morning sky, holding its glow until the sunlight slowly lights up. Ice-water ablutions heave the lungs wide awake while the kindling smokes reluctantly flames last night’s embers. Cold infuses every space, producing clean edges for the sunlight’s churchlike stillness, broken by a contest of bird noise and the thud of waking kangaroos. The new light also brings distinction to the world of small things: the bejewelled outlines of floating insects and the sharp silhouetted stillness of rocks and small trees. The ground crunches cleanly underfoot Collins’ boot, and for a moment the morning speaks without talking.

Collins’ sudden departure offended Donovan. Collins was fearless, not that a Limerick hard man needed anyone beside him. A thug presents freedom as self-sufficiency, but this requires a host: the criminal is essentially a parasite whose authority feeds off victims. Donovan stayed in Sydney Town and hit the grog with William Farrell, who he found walking the streets carrying a freshly signed ticket of leave.


To outsiders the lenitive Irish accents signal one generic brotherhood, but in an ocean-tossed convict transport, squawking about the sectarian ‘Battle of the Diamond’ in Monahan or Dublinese could mean a responsive fist or a calculated four inch chiv in the side. It took a fellow Irishman to pick the Irish-Scots out of William Farrell’s Donegal accent. Yet another transportee veteran of the Boyd, Farrell had once bolted with Patrick Collins from Newcastle in 1813. When both men recaptured by local Natives, Collins wanted nothing to do with Farrell after his dog-grovelling to the Commandant for a lenient punishment.

Farrell’s appearance gave Donovan ideas, especially after he found him shaking with two hard beaten nibblers: William Ruston and Bill the Nailer. Donovan took charge and the foursome ransacked the western back roads and edges of Sydney, until they were another transient gang of bushrangers running a profitable if doomed suit. A ticket of leave had persuaded some convicts to square up and take up the bonnet life of good behaviour (which may have included the occasional, piddling fraud). For others the urge for trouble was too ingrained as a behaviour. Dennis Donovan had no respect for any puissant duality, and stormed like a drunken Trojan through town and country, friend and acquaintance.


Patrick Collins’ instincts about Farrell were pin-needle fine, and when arrested with some of the stolen goods he boned Donovan straight-up. Sydney was a maze of Seven Dials type pannies where renegade convicts could disappear for only so long, and Donovan was jumped and ironed in a York Street kennel while warming himself before a fire, whistling a jig signifying nothing. Farrell might be considered a snake, a sluggard and a turncoat, but judged without his own experience he might also be someone trying to get by. Tied to men like Dennis Donovan, the personal lacked clear alternatives.

In the days following Donovan’s scurfing the Government offered twenty pound reward was for information regarding Patrick Collins, now publically deemed a notorious bushranger. The amount had doubled from the previous week. Ten pounds might make the most loyal cross-cove second guess their family ties. It could buy a sequence of prime beef meals, washed down with a pound-a-gallon of good Jamaican rum, or a pot of Hyson tea sweetened with Bengal sugar. Add a cotton or silk shirt cut to fit, set off with a starched silk necktie, or a pair of English leather crab-shells (to soften the hard ground underfoot). Imagine separate clothes for each day and night. Doubling that amount would be all that again, with enough left over to perfume the shonky hand of the female factory overseer, transacted under the rim of a fine, kangaroo skin hat.

Dennis Donovan was first tried on a charge of stealing a free settler’s bedding swag from his time with Farrell and the gang. For this he was committed to hang, but not before being ordered to reappear on unrelated charges of robbery and rape. He said nothing in court and would speak next to nothing for the rest of his life.


Donovan’s rape trial was preceded by three ticket-men up for stealing and butchering a young bull. George Stone was a skilled butcher and sliced the prime cuts from the animal, leaving all but twenty pounds of flesh for waiting dogs and pigs to gorge on. The charge was therefore slaughtering a progenitive animal, with an additional, local amendment of wasting edible produce. It echoed the still precarious psychology of the now established colony that had almost starved to death when food ran out in the first couple of years, along with a haughty sense of superiority that ignored the fact the Indigenous population survived without employing European farming. The bull killers George Stone and Joseph Brooks received a five year sentence at Newcastle. Donovan imagined their soft faces after a few shifts cockroaching through black coal tunnels, or time at a limeburners camp. Joseph Brooks bolted and was recaptured three times in his first year there. Stone managed one run of nine months. He finished his time quietly after that and remained on as shepherd for the outstation’s cattle herd. While never proved, Stone was rumoured to have spent most of his run with Benjamin Davis, freed convict cum kangaroo-skin trader living in a humpy on the Hunter River, and suspected of feeding and assisting Newcastle runaways for a small price.

Dennis Donovan’s refusal to acknowledge questions in court, saving it from entering gruesome details of the rape. The rape charge proved a timely distraction for Police Superintendent D’Arcy Wentworth and his constables who had retrieved some stolen items and confirmed them as possessions of William Alder, Thomas White and Hannah Sculler from the Revenge. Wentworth asked Macquarie for a further delay to Donovan’s hanging. The price on Patrick Collins increased by another ten pounds.

The landowner Joseph Mann provided first testimony with a description of the murder scene on the Revenge. It was a disturbing and emotional prologue to a methodically arranged parade of witnesses. The prosecution’s strategy was to prove the recovered items connected directly to Donovan and Collins, having been the possessions of the Revenge crew members and on the boat when they left Sydney those months ago. It was hoping this would connect the murders, the robbery, Dennis Donovan and Patrick Collins. Most of the items in evidence were originally bought by Alder to kit out the Revenge. Mary Anderson cried in the dock seeing a scrap of dress material, recovered from Hannah Sculler’s body, perfectly match a larger roll Hannah had left in her safe-keep. William Farrell, already on other charges, and knowing Donovan was for the drop, answered yes to everything. Having the McGraths give evidence last would complete the story.

The threat of being charged with receiving and selling stolen goods (and losing the store) encouraged the McGraths to turn King’s evidence against Donovan and, in absentia, Patrick Collins. Like Farrell, this was made easier knowing Donovan was already sentenced twice to the drop. Michael McGrath claimed Donovan bullied him into buying the stolen goods, and burying the compass until a buyer could be found.
Elizabeth McGrath admitted having William Alder’s blue jacket altered and unpicked to fit her husband’s frame, but she claimed no knowledge of where it, or the glossy, purple-printed calamanco petticoats she bought from the killers originated: her husband told her nothing. As for the pots and tin – which she now spoke of as her own property – they were gifts from Donovan and Collins for providing food and shelter. Elizabeth was unaware of how ghoulishly indifferent she sounded.

Five years after the trial the McGrath’s world – which included four children – was wrenched apart like bad stitching when Michael was charged with sheep stealing and sent to Newcastle for life. Elizabeth was forced into indentured service and in 1822, not long after her husband was transferred on to the new outstation prison at Port Macquarie, Elizabeth Frazier (as she was now known) petitioned for her children to be received at the Orphans Institution.


Throughout the trial Alder’s pocket watch ticked in the cold courtroom air like a judgemental tongue click. The prosecution set out to prove its bishoping, a common trick with stolen watches whereby the manufacturer’s name and details, usually inscribed on the interior plate, were altered beyond recognition. This required a basic level of engraving skill to ensure no trace of interference on the metal. There was no finesse in the poorly conceived cat-scratching now before the court.

A master watchmaker conceives the pocket watch as a singular, portable universe. Its journey to harmonic oscillation begins with thousands of flea-sized screws fitted together into links by fine fingered English girls. Each individual watch part is dependent on the next: a fine lever escarpment for example, creates the energy necessary to move gears, which is in turn dependent on a well-made balance spring. That spring’s operation effects the oscillation of the balance wheel, which must take into account the effect of heat which can expand and quickly unbalance any regulated motion. The well-made pocket watch or clock is a sublime expression of human ability and beauty. In court, the prosecution concluded that Alder’s watch had been altered inexpertly by a rank.ii

Donovan’s sullen bravado drained away as the Mother Mather trial slowed into Friday afternoon. He was a koala shaken from a tree, but unable to blunder back up. His mouth disappeared into his beard and his silence lost its shamanistic detachment. Donovan’s world had boomeranged, tied to the regulated motion of connected facts, moving within its own self-made and self-destructive harmonic oscillation. It seemed like half of Sydney, the rest of Parramatta and everyone at Newcastle were now reliable witnesses with a personal interest in the pots, the pans, cutlery and clothing taken off the Revenge. If nothing else, Donovan was now proof that the confederacy of the family way was always self-interest.

The tailor Michael Lamb had originally made Adler’s suit and was professionally outraged at Mrs McGrath’s poor restitching. He also suggested the yellow buttons – now found in the property of one Patrick Broderick – had been removed without any care or understanding. The quick-witted but effeminate Broderick had been supplying Collins and Donovan grog while they camped out at the McGraths. He was a sustained sharp while the bottle ran. In his time as grog fetcher to Donovan and Collins he fawningly convinced them that their brutishness had a necessary honesty to it. Collins took a liking to the young man and give him the shirt. Michael McGrath suggested in his testimony there was more than drunken gallivanting going on between Broderick and Collins which produced shock, disgust and a few mocking, knowing sniggers in the court.


The transport ship the Boyd provided a full range of protagonists and minor characters for the Mother Mather’s Creek trial. It arrived at Port Jackson in 1809 without commotion or incident, and quickly exchanged convicts for timber, salted pork and whale oil. The well-kept brigantine’s Captain John Thompson was keen to avoid the Southern Ocean weather and had set himself on recouping a large profit on the turnaround voyage via the profitable Asian trade route. The Boyd would first stopover in New Zealand to drop off passengers and pick up kauri, a flexible timber used as the horizontal support for ship’s sails. Among the passengers was Te-Ara George, a Maori prince returning to his North Island tribe.

There are different stories explaining the bad blood between Thompson and Te-Ara George after the New South Wales coast dipped concavely off the stern horizon. One story said Thompson accused Te-Ara George of stealing pewter spoons. Another claimed Thompson felt George’s claim to nobility was an excuse to avoid working for his passage. Before leaving port, Thompson claimed convicts had exploited his good will on the journey out and it would not happen again. The crew thought he just didn’t like darkies. Whatever the reason, John Thompson humiliated the young prince by publicly flogging him on deck. It was an indignity his tribe would hear about and not let go.


The Maori word kaitangata can be translated as ‘people food’ or ‘long pig’. While the word differs throughout the known world the act of butchering and eating of an enemy had universal similarities. The Maori say it as devouring an enemy’s energy, strength and spirit, but, unlike other parts of the world, they did not include the final humiliation of excreting the body onto a mound to be laughed at. The same Christian Europeans who made slavery acceptable business viewed cannibalism as the true face of uncivilised barbarity, though any experienced sailor worth his bokoo knew that after a shipwreck, a marooning, or an extended stay in the doldrums, hope or prayer didn’t feed you.

Whale boats returning to Port Jackson from New Zealand were telling of a kaitangata on a North Island. The City of Edinburgh was sent to investigate, along the way recruiting members of a tribe in conflict with Te-Ara George’s to act as scouts. They found a river entrance prefaced with mounds of neatly piled, shining human bones. Further upstream the Boyd was found, heeled and still smouldering more than a month after being ambushed by Te-Ara George’s father and his warriors. Te-Ara’s tribe attacked the vessel and feasted on most of the crew and passengers before sparing one of the crew to manoeuvre it as far as the mudflats allowed. The vessel’s holds of flour, salted pork and wine were jettisoned; the tribe was after gunpowder and muskets. On finding the magazine they were experimenting with a flint-flash that ignited powder and exploded. Holds of whale oil were consequently set alight, causing the vessel to burn inexorably. A visiting taboo was placed on the scuttled remains. As The Gazette of 1 September 1810 described it: the muskets they prized very much; and one of the savages, in his eagerness to try one, stove in the head of a barrel of powder, and filling the pan of the piece snapped it directly over the cask, the explosion of which killed five native women and eight or nine men, and set part of the ship on fire. iii The reason given for all but four people being dismembered and eaten was the Captain was a bad man.iv

The Boyd massacre fulfilled Christian fantasies of the barbarian unknown and morally reasserted colonisation’s claim of being a civilising necessity. It also excused a revenge attack the following year by whalers on Maori villages in the region, which was unfortunately on the tribe who had assisted the City of Edinburgh. It would be four years before Macquarie sent Reverend Samuel Marsden into the savage darklands to broker a diplomatic deal with the Maori.


Patrick COLLINS and Dennis DONOVAN



D’Arcy Wentworth was an unreliable and profiteering Government Surgeon, but the position of Superintendent of Police indulged his curiosity in everyday human behaviour, which he knew as wildly patterned as Hannah Sculler’s oriental cloth. The unique social world of the open prison made for straightforward convictions, but despite the seeming evidence, The Parramatta Turnpike case annoyed him like a mis timing pocket watch.

In May of 1814 Rowland Edwards and William Jenkins arrived at the turnpike House from opposite directions. Both ex-cons, they now introduced themselves respectively as farmer and goods dealer. Edwards had a young apprentice in tow. The sandstone building provided food, a fireplace and dry bunk bedding for overnight stays. It was a king’s chamber for tired travellers and the new class of small businessmen.

The turnpike-house manager signed in his guests with a warning to expect a dawn alarm of curses, pickaxes, shovels and chisels as yet another Macquarie road project headed industriously west outside the window. Edward Mayne never disputed the road’s ambition or the enormity of clearing miles of thick bush and mountains of granite. His problem was the free-roaming of unsupervised ticket-men constructing it, living in humpies close to free settlers and the new Female Factory.

The Turnpike occupants were woken from their sleep about 11 pm by a banging door and rough voices demanding entrance. Edward Mayne thought he recognised one of the voices and opened the door to two masked-men – one tall, one short – aiming primed muskets. Mayne would claim he lunged and wrestled with the short intruder. In the confused scuffling that followed, the taller ruffian, levelled his musket v and fired. In the confined space the shot scattered through Rowland Edwards’ side and lodged in the lung and genitals of William Jenkins.

The intruders ran off. William Jenkins died where the shot felled him. Mayne regained some composure and ordered the apprentice to comfort Roland Edwards while he headed off to get his local magistrate, the Reverend Samuel Marsden. Roland Edwards lived four hours longer than Jenkins despite the assassin being so near when he fired, that the whole contents are supposed to have entered his right side, in which 15 shot and slugs were

Mayne’s certainty of the attacker’s identities emboldened him. The tall vagabond had called him by name to open the door! Mayne’s self-righteousness generally needed little encouragement and it surged into longer steps as he repeated ‘I warned you all’; the mantra steeling and clearing his mind of what he’d just experienced. He was Edward Mayne. He was obviously their intended target, but he was alive and walking along on a road due to the grace of his Lord God.

Michael Hoolaghan and William Suitar (aka William Scott) were asleep in their work hut just a crow’s call from the turnpike when constables arrived and arrested them. The fact they were sleeping was seen as evidence of their devilish coldness. Marsden, ‘the hanging parson’, reluctantly handed them over to Sydney Town’s Police Superintendent, D’Arcy Wentworth, along with a red handkerchief and a straw hat found near the turnpike house. The two shared digs for almost three months after taking up Macquarie’s offer to rough it as road-building labourers. As provisionally ticketed men the work provided victuals, a small wage and the possibility of a reduced sentence or an early pardon.

The constables chained them for transfer to the Sydney Town prison along with two handkerchiefs and a beaver hat both found outside the turnpike hut on the morning after the shooting.


Edward Mayne considered himself more moral advisor keeper than supervising tollkeeper in government employ. Paying his tollgate fee entitled users to guidance. Mayne’s Calvary was the daily sodomite parade of ticket men and Factory girls passing like some Old Testament flood or disease. He was a Christian warrior fighting the end of the world at the end of the world with its nights of drunken singing, foul language, fighting, gambling and lord knows what else in the row of filthy road gang huts. This noise fed his nightmares of sweat-soaked fornicators laughing while the sky turned green with locust clouds as a wall of heavenly fire reduced trees to charcoal, broiled livestock stew & white bones, and turned creeks and rivers to dust. His wife Ann had given up trying dissuading him from reading scripture at bedtime, and calm his exaggerating mind, but, despite printed proof on the page, she could not even convince him his favourite bible book was entitled Revelation, never Revelations.

The nearby Female Factory was in its third incarnation after real fires burned down the previous two. For Mayne multiple conflagrations were clearly proof of celestial justice rather than poor building technique; it was God’s indignation with the open brothel of wanton, bastard pregnancies and flaunting, free walking, breast-thrusting, penis grabbing, rum-lipped Jezebels and whores.

The day before the shooting Michael Hoolaghan had crossed Parramatta’s main street to confront Ann Mayne, who was out walking with a friend. Hoolaghan suggested in a sarcastically threatening sweet tongue that her husband might prefer to mind his own business and leave his holy tongue in the arse of a bull where it belonged. Hoolaghan was interested to know why such an obviously firm religious man spent so much of his time spying on female convicts. Indeed, what was a self-proclaimed religious gentleman doing sneaking about bush shadows during the hours given over to ex-convicts, whores and drunks? A man hiding out like that at night could easily be mistaken for a native dog on the jaw. Hoolaghan dipped his straw hat and remarked what a crime pretty ladies were forced to hide behind bonnets and parasols, considering what the good God’s sun might reveal if given a chance.

Michael Hoolaghan fancied himself a sharp and a stallion. He talked of muscle-charm, toby prowess and mostly himself. Edward Mayne bristled when his wife relayed Hoolaghan’s insults and accusations, but as a gentleman he would not mix words with a ruffian. Restraint would guide his indignation. His wife detected the fear in his voice. Mayne was concerned that Ann and her friend, Susannah Wyatt, seemed far too undisturbed and even familiar with Hoolaghan’s confrontational attitude. He was further incensed when Anne forgetfully mentioned that Hoologhan’s surprisingly clean dress (and fine red neck handkerchief) did not reconcile with his sharp conversation, or reputation for pursuing local ladies, married and otherwise.

Fantasy snaked too freely about Mayne’s head. Religion gave it shape. He took in on himself to be the Reverend’s Marsden’s community trumpet: other people’s private talk fluttered in his head like manic butterfly wings, blinking frantically for him to net and pin down for examination. His neighbours saw another religious bigot too obsessed with eternity to see the day ahead. Mayne’s self-designation freed him from the customary timidity of English politeness. Most of his fellow countrymen and women treated silence as a quiet relief from co-existence. For Edward Mayne silence was a space for another judgemental interruption.

Most Parramatta settlers and free folk accepted the road works while moaning fearfully about dirty washing lines and bad manners. The loudest complainants came from emancipated ex-cons who agreed with Macquarie’s expanded ticket-of-leave experiment in principle rather than shoulder-to-chin reality. Workers like Hoolaghan and Suitar were always just one verifiable complaint away from returning to a chain gang or being sent Newcastle.

Hoolaghan and Suitar went to trial on Edward Mayne’s evidence. It would be the tollgate keeper’s grand moment of public vindication. He would display restraint and laconic detail in the witness box, earnestly confirming the straw hat shape and red handkerchief as being Hoolaghan’s. He would note the lead earring worn by the smaller gunman he had wrestled with. He would undersell his bravery in relation to that while remaining firm lipped and white-faced in describing the implicit threat made against him through his wife a day prior. He would stare at the two accused while ever so slightly scratching the small musket-butt scar above his eye.


William Suitar was in Sarah Barrow’s bakery the afternoon of the shooting. Sarah noticed Suitar’s large lead earring, and a pistol jutting out under his jacket. When she asked him about the weapon Suitar absently replied it was needed out and about.vii Barrow’s assigned convict Thomas Woolley recognised Suitar as a sailor from his transport vessel. He reminded Suitar as much, saying yes, you ought to know me, for we both came in one ship, and added that his name was Scott.viii

Suitar and Hoolaghan’s fellow road workers were sincerely surprised by their arrests. They knew Hoolaghan fancied himself a bit of a Dutch dick with females, but both men were hard working and collegiate in sharing their grog and rations. No one had seen either man use firearms or their fists in blank anger. As far as anyone knew, all the huts were grog spent and sleep-silent by about ten on the evening in question. The prosecution asked the court disregard this as the inadmissible evidence of attainted persons.

Michael Hoolaghan’s unchecked peacock vanity was the main hindrance to his self-defence in court. He smiled and winked in court, smirking at questions and playing with trivial, solipsistic questions to witnesses such as ‘Did you ever say to any person Hoolaghan had decoyed or taken your woman from you?’ ix A succession of hostile witnesses – most of them a Hoolaghan acquaintance or supposed sexual conquest – filed in and out past him. Ann Mayne and Susannah Wyatt confirmed their street confrontation included a threat for Edward Mayne to look to the next time that Hoolaghan got drunk, for then he’d serve him. William Suitar sat in quiet confused amazement, as if he’d been stolen by someone else’s passing dream.


The red silk handkerchief found outside the turnpike was produced for the seamstress Eleanor Norris who determined it the very handkerchief I swapped with Martha Dunn; I have call to know it: for I bought it myself, I hemmed it myself, I washed it myself, I wore it myself, and I tore a hole in it with a pin, which I laid upon my hand to darn it up again, but let Martha Dunn have it as it was, and there is now the hole in it, just as when I parted with it. She had also hemmed it with yellow silk…x

Norris had stirred local gossip after noticing Hoolaghan flaunting the yellow handkerchief like some strutting bird. An unimpressed Martha Dunn explained to the court Hoolaghan had begged her to borrow it for a trip to Sydney and never returned it. Tea, a forced titter and a handkerchief were the only enjoyments she had shared with William Hoolaghan.

After twenty years of minor misdemeanours and long blags at Newcastle for repeated petty crime, the Second Fleet lag John Whiteman existed day-to-day as the custody cells cleaner who occasionally shaved prisoners in exchange for tobacco.



Hoolaghan engaged Whiteman to very exactly alter the form of his beard xi during the trial. The prosecution noted it was common practice for working men not to shave during the week, never mind such dandified whisker alterations. William Hoolaghan boasted to Whiteman of having recently taking it to some bushrangers who refused to pay their dues during a grog night, so what was Edward Mayne to him? Whiteman snipped away in agreement and later corroborated the conversation in court after being forced to give evidence. Isaac Howell – also temporarily in the cells when Whiteman shaved Hoolaghan – said he heard the prisoner boast that he had twice snapped the gun and it missed fire both times and that he had struck at him twice with the butt end of his piece.xii Howell denied saying to Whiteman that man has said enough to hang 50 men.xiii

After this damning hearsay Parramatta’s chief constable Francis Oakes provided a pause in which to summarise what now seemed certain: a hat produced in Court was found in Hoolaghan’s presence near the toll-house, shortly after the offence had been perpetrated. The state of the toll-house Mr Oakes also described – Jenkin’s body lay lifeless, and Edwards in extreme agonies till between two and three in the morning, when he expired. The handkerchiefs found at the gate were given into his charge, and were the same produced in Court; one was an old red one torn asunder, and the other was of a yellow ground. The third handkerchief produced and which exactly corresponded in pattern with that found at or about the spot where Mayne described the man whom he considered to be Hoolaghan had been posted, he took off Hoolaghan’s neck-chief on account of the similarity, when he was bought for examination before the Coroner’s Inquest.xiv

Mr Patrick Cullen’s call to the stand on the final afternoon seemed a perfunctory exercise by this stage. The one-time keeper of lunatics at Parramatta Gaol and the colony’s first asylum at Castle Hill was now a tollgate keeper himself who kept professional contact with Edward Mayne. He two spoke after the shooting Cullen found Mayne’s obsession with Hoolaghan understandable, but oddly extreme. His previous experience with lunatics had perhaps alerted Cullen to the feverish, unrealistic edge surrounding many of Edward Mayne’s narratives.

Judge Advocate Ellis Bent suffered from arthritic, crooked pins, a dodgy heart, and a nob’s conceit but his verdicts were straight-up and merciful. He considered the turnpike killings a crime at which all Mankind has shuddered down the ages.xv Hoolaghan and Suitar were charged with murder and returned to the cells with Bent advising them to set a value on your everlasting peace.xvi Chief of Police D’Arcy Wentworth was perhaps the only one apart from Patrick Cullen left troubled by certain presumptive holes in the trial narrative.

Edward Mayne’s testimony suggested to Wentworth something did not square. He knew charlatans and fakes and instinctively agreed with Cullen’s implication that Mayne would say anything, especially if was to impress Reverend Marsden, who was often heard pronouncing that there was a devil laying shadows in the light.

Mayne described two long barrelled weapons being used in the assault, but no such weapons were recovered (Suitar had a shining pistolxvii on his person in the bakery). As to the beaver hats, perhaps a better question to ask would have been how many workers didn’t own one. That Woolley from the bakery recognised Suitar as Scott only revealed that Woolley had known Suitar as Scott; name changing among cons and settlers was as common as beaver hats in the land of reinvention and second chance. Most puzzling for Wentworth was the issue of a missing red jacket Mayne determined Hoolaghan wore at the shooting. No such jacket had been seen or found; Hoolaghan was never seen wearing one, though it would have suited his sense of fancy. Wentworth also considered Hoolaghan’s cell boasts to the mizzling Whiteman for what they were; like most men playing the traveller with their exploits, Hoolaghan was a talker first and foremost. Wentworth saw the trial as evolving into the tale of a bore and an idiot.


Michael Hoolaghan’s trial self-defence was ignored as irrelevant attention seeking. It therefore slipped notice when he asked Edward Mayne why hadn’t either man shot or brutalised Mayne on the night, if that was their sole purpose at the tollhouse that night? Mayne’s response that he immediately rushed upon them, and began tearing the handkerchiefs off their faces, so that I was too close for him to use a gun brazenly, illogically contradicted the fact two men having been shot dead. xviii The intruders had the time, ammunition and the numbers to at least fire upon their alleged target Edward Mayne. Especially so after the peripheral Jenkins and Edwards had been dealt with by one extraordinary gunshot. Wentworth asked for the Governor and Judge Advocate to delay the signing of death warrants until he had spoken with an assigned farm servant called John White, who he had questioned recently over stolen muskets and the use of a conspicuous red jacket relating to Dennis Donovan’s recent capture.

John White was yet another Boyd transportee who had spent time in Tipperary gaol with Donovan. He had also lagged at Newcastle with Patrick Collins. He had most likely arranged muskets for Donovan and Farrell’s gang but was not arrested or charged. When re-interviewed by Wentworth he astonishingly admitted to being Dennis Donovan’s second at the tollgate, and having wrestled with Edward Mayne while Donovan fired the shot that killed Edwards and Jenkins. Donovan had burned the red jacket after borrowing off it off White. Donovan admitted to White he fired the Tollgate shot because he could.

Despite this startling information and a new trial Mayne continued to spruik Hoolaghan as the shooter. When White and Donovan were brought forward Mayne declared to have been thoroughly conscientious, insomuch, that he even now could not rid himself of his first conception as to the identity of his person.xix William Suitar wept relief and Michael Hoolaghan, his banal manliness returning, opened his tobacco pouch and requested Master Whiteman and his scissors for a beard trimming.

The judge explained to Donovan he could have no hope, no wish from the society he lived in that he should longer live to burthen his existence with fresh crimes. xx He was executed in July of 1814 and died remorseless and unrepentant,xxi except at the scaffold moment where all Artifice, all Disguise is supposed to cease as being no further useful in this World,xxii and he protested in the most solemn matter his total innocence of the murder of the two unfortunate men, Jenkins and Edwards, at the Parramatta Turnpike House.xxiii His final confession prompted Macquarie to publically abhor the man in the following week’s Gazette. He was launched into eternity and his body given to the surgeon for dissection, investigation and atomisation. Wentworth was himself a trained assistant surgeon, but knew dissection was as useful to understanding men like Dennis Donovan as the ancient Greeks divining truths from splattered goat entrails.


Wentworth later stated that it was Hoolaghan and Donovan owning nearly identical yellow handkerchiefs that set him thinking the obvious was getting in the way of the facts. He then remembered John White wore an almost identical lead earring as Alex Suitar, and he was certain Hoolaghan was no murderer. Stripped of murderous context, events and objects were just strange daily coincidences of no consequence except for two innocent men awaiting execution.

On the morning of John White’s execution –a day before Dennis Donovan’s – a man walking the Liverpool road between The Devils Back and Prospect south of Parramatta was held up and robbed of cash. Patrick Collins had just resurfaced from the shadows to reclaim the narrative.


The great, humane, indefatigable and incessant exertions of our worthy Police Magistrate had ensured providence interposed on behalf of the innocent, and levelled its vengeance at the proper victims.xxiv Donovan was dissected on the coroner’s slab in the same week the Surgeon General received a significant pay rise due to an extra workload. Ellis Bent’s fiddling brother, Jeffrey also arrived as the colony’s new Supreme Court Judge. Still angry and insulted being passed over for a knighthood and sent to the colony, Jeffrey Bent refused to come ashore at Port Jackson without a salute of gunfire. For exclusives like Reverend Marsden this new Bent brother was a sign that real gentlemen of the first order were arriving to counter the wet and weak emancipist influence infecting the infant colony.

The same Gazette reported settlers had been speared to death by natives not far from Mother Mathers Creek. This supported whispers that Mountain and Hawkesbury clans who had terrorised the same area under Pemulwuy were reforming and resorting to bushwhacking. One Hawkesbury Chief (either theatre-trained or mistranslated) was quoted as claiming that when the moon shall become as large as the sun the killing will start.xxv Governor Macquarie lamented the future of cohabitation but prepared armed forces with martial law powers.

Just like the Boyd was only a ship, Dennis Donovan and Patrick Collins were in the end just men who nonetheless became loadstones at a confluence of brutality and chance. Donovan’s disgust with life and others in some ways made him the embodiment of what the German thinker Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi had recently called nihilism. After Donovan’s execution Patrick Collins notoriety made him an apparition on every road between Newcastle and Van Diemen’s Land. After some highway robberies on the south-western fringe of Sydney he was confirmed as the ruffian who jumped a patrolling constable for sad-coin and victuals.

Native trackers were called in to help search the water lines west of Liverpool. They systematically hunted and cornered Collins at The Devil’s Back, part of a chain of granite outcrops scattering out over plains at the base of the Blue Mountains. The September air was fresh after heavy, cleansing storms, leaving the uneven boulders slippery and uncertain. Collins was a resilient bolter but no rock wallaby. His muddied, bloodied and hungry body finished up in a rock-hole with native spears snagged into his legs and shoulder. On the journey back to Sydney the posse came across the smouldering carcass of a dead horse struck by lightning during the previous evening’s storm. Its huge bauble eye stared at them like judgement as they passed by.

The native boys saw none of the reward money and received tobacco, flour and grog for their excellent service. Collins’ trial in December of 1814 was three months after Donovan’s execution. He was preceded on the day’s court list by Thomas McCarthy, the tailor who had altered Thomas Alder’s blue suit. The ticket man had been caught stowing away on a sloop about to leave the Hawkesbury for Asia, after trying to fake death by drowning at the mouth of Mother Mathers Creek.

The day of Collin’s trial The Gazette announced Bonaparte had been expunged from the names of potentatesxxvi and was now exiled on Elba. The news was over six months old by the time it reached Sydney. The Admiralty thanked all its surviving Petty Officers, seamen and Royal Marines around the globe for their service. War had taken an unexpected pause. At a Sydney court the magistrate William Broughton was conducting Patrick Collins’ trial. His web of accomplices included many ex-Boyd transportees. Broughton’s convict wife Elizabeth and daughter Betsy were passengers on the ship’s fatal last voyage. Betsy miraculously survived and was exchanged for a captured Maori. Te-Ara George’s father was infatuated with her innocence, and made sure the infant stayed beside her with a fresh flower in her blonde hair replaced every day. William Broughton arrived in the colony a surgeon’s servant. He was a diligent and trustworthy government official with no time or interest in corrupt Rum Corp officers or smug would-be gentlemen (though he was far less principled when it came to romancing their wives). A combination of professional honesty and a string of cuckolded husbands saw him remain on the colony’s political outer. Broughton could barely hide his disgust when detailing the Mother Mathers murders. He sentenced Collins to swing alongside the stonemason John Shepherd, who had gone berserk in The Rocks and knifed two females after an extended drinking session. Mary Bryant died from a thigh wound that became infected, while Maria Foster recovered after an agonising hospital stay. Both women were celebrating the end of their sentence at Newcastle, where they were soft meat for hardened men. Maria Foster would return to the outstation the following year in 1815 for drunk and disorderly misdemeanours, and though her two year sentence was reduced on the proviso she reconcile with her estranged husband, a ship carpenter.

Patrick Collins fainted on the gallows. He was calmed by the stoic Shepherd when he awoke screaming. Collins kicked off in dumb-struck shock offering the world no confession and with nothing to say.

Word of the execution reached Newcastle on the sail winds and dry mouths of recycled inmates. Those who’d crossed his path philosophised that Patrick Collins would have been better off alone in the wilderness. The colonial mind and body (even that of an escaped convict) still conceived the unknown in terms of conquest rather than adaptation. Collins hid out in the bush but always had to return for sustenance. Like the first convict runners of the 1790s, he took to the mapless, trackless west like a blind pilgrim. This ignorant arrogance never considered the Indigenous residents already had answers and deeper connections to the pulse of the land. Runaways like Collins never found the fantasised waterworld thought to cut New Holland in two: A celestial kingdom, and walled, cornucopian city warehousing fresh food and clothes of satin and fur. They found no hot water or fountain spring baths. No wells of Jamaican Rum. No green eyed cats curling asleep to the notes of seductive music. No kowtowing oriental buttocks or rosy cheeked, dimple-chinned maids with fucking hips that mock-swayed to the swing of the church bell. No laudanum lakes where harsh memories dissolved in the blissful eyes of ornamental carp. No babies, free and strong and bereft of sickening coughs. No husbands true. No hookah pipes smelling of cinnamon and red cedar. Nothing.


i The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842)Online (, Saturday 2 July 1814, page 2, accessed 11 Nov. 2011.

ii The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842) Online (, Saturday 2 July 1814, page 2, accessed 11 Nov. 2011.

iii The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842) Online (, Saturday 1 September 1810, page 1, accessed 11 Nov. 2011.

iv Ibid.

v The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842) Online (, Wednesday 29 June 1814, page 1, accessed 11 Nov. 2011.

vi Ibid.

vii Ibid.

viii Ibid.

ix Ibid.

x Ibid.

xi Ibid.

xii Ibid.

xiii Ibid.

xiv Ibid.

xv Ibid.

xvi Ibid.

xvii Ibid.

xviii Ibid.

xix The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842) Online (, Saturday 6 August 1814, page 1, accessed 11 Nov. 2011.

xx The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842) Online (, Saturday 23 July 1814, page 2, accessed 19 February. 2012.

xxi Ibid.

xxii Ibid

xxiii Ibid

xxiv The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842) Online (, Saturday 6 August 1814, page 1, accessed 11 Nov. 2011.

xxv Ibid

xxvi  The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842) Online (, December 31 1814, page 2, accessed 11 Nov. 2011.



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