Sunday, August 8, 2010

Memories of the rampage of Jimmy Governor

image courtesy of NSW Museum

Thanks to those who sent information and comments on posts on the traditional Australian song Streets of Forbes and the murder of bush ranger Ben Hall (here and here).

My friend and colleague Michael Breen, who lives in the NSW Southern Highlands, sent this piece about memories of the Governors who were the last two outlaws proclaimed in NSW. As Michael points out the memories of the Governors was still alive in the 1960's among people he knew in rural NSW.

In 1900 during the process that led to Federation of the Australian colonies, Jimmy Governor and his brother commenced a murderous rampage through central NSW, killing 9 women and children. The pursuit and capture of the Governors transfixed the colonies on the eve of Federation.

Interestingly enough on Sunday night the Indigenous channel on Foxtel showed the Australian movie the Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, which was a fictionalized account of Jimmy Governor and his rampage.

Katherine Biber writes that the execution of Jimmy Governor was delayed for two months until after Federation celebrations, partly because of concern about the symbolism of executing an Aboriginal man at the same time as the nation's founding was celebrated. A series of recent books and articles have revisited the significance and legacy of those events in Australian history (here and here).

Memories of Jimmy Governor
by Michael Breen

Jimmy Governor, bushranger was still a household name in my childhood. My grandmother, when told something she did not want to hear would say "Go and tell it to Jimmy Governor". In Dubbo in the 1960's I met Ray Bates the grandson of the first brick-maker in Dubbo and local historian who had known my Diehl ancestors in Dubbo. Ray showed many of the buildings such as the Dubbo Gaol for which he and his family had made the bricks. He also told me about his memories of Jimmy Governor who was a legend in Ray's early nineteenth century life.

Ray took me to Breelong to the site where the Governor gang attacked the Mawbey family. Ray remembered as young lad in Dubbo, how when white women taunted Ethel Page who married Governor at age 16 when she came to town to shop, "That's the woman who married the blackfellow", she would be meant to overhear in stores or in the street. The Governor team of Jimmy's brother Joe, his nephew Peter, Jacky Underwood from Mudgee and Jacky Porter were cutting railway sleepers and fence posts for John Thomas Mawbey and Mawbey would refuse to pay for sleepers or posts he considered poor quality. This he did often and unfairly to the annoyance of the team. Jimmy and Jackie Underwood plotted revenge.

At Breelong the Mawbeys had a small shanty pub on the south side of the creek and the main house was a few hundred yards across and to the northeast. According to Ray, Jimmy and Jacky went to the pub on a Sunday evening ostensibly to ask the Mawbeys to get a bag of flour for the team the following day from Dubbo. But they were eying out the occupants of the sheben to make sure all the men were there engaged in drinking. They then went across to the main house where they attacked the women and went on their rampage across NSW, evening the score with previous exploitative employers.

Ray, my guide, had been at WWI with Alex Mawbey who was a toddler at the time of the July 20th 1900 attack. He had been thrown out a back window and hidden in the bushes as the rampage went on. Alex and Ray visited the Breelong Massacre in Madam Tussard's waxworks in London while on leave from the fighting. Alex explained the details to Ray who relayed them to me as she showed me around the Breelong site.

Later on returning to Dubbo town we met Gil Henderson who ran a furniture shop in Talbrager St for many years. Gil, a Dubbo identity, was in his 90's and remembered my great-Grandfather, his orchestra and band and remembered the Governors. He told me the following story. A decade or so after the Governor's episode there was a gang of sleeper cutters at Eumungerie to the north west of Dubbo. Food and some clothing were disappearing from the camp so Constable Senior was sent from Dubbo to investigate. He arrived on horseback and inspected the campsite for a considerable time. Then Senior noticed movement in some nearby bushes and fired into the scrub. Immediately a shot was fired and Senior was hit in the chest. The constable was bought back to Dubbo where Dr Tressiter saved his life and nursed him back to health. The culprit Roy Governor, relative of Jimmy and family was bought to trial in the Dubbo Court. Gil Henderson was the jury foreman. Roy was charged on three counts, illegal possession of a firearm, stealing and wounding with intent to kill. The jury was unable to reach a decision.

Late that night, Gil as foreman suggested that they ask the Judge who had retired to the Court House Hotel, to come back to the jury and respond to the question " If a man shoots and wounds another another man, can we kinow if he intended to kill the wounded person?". The Judge came to the courthouse, listened to the question and responded. " No you cannot know the intention of the person who did the wounding. And in fact you should decide in favour of not intending to kill, rather than assume intent to kill." With that the jury reached a verdict of not guilty of intending to kill and Governor was sentenced to prison on the lesser charge.

Several years later in the 1920's Gil was in his shop when a man came in with a letter and said "Would you read this to me Boss?". The man was illiterate. Gil obliged and read him the letter. The man was grateful and Gil said to him, "I see this letter is addressed to Ray Governor, is that you?" "Yes Boss that's me". "Well you may not want to talk about it but I was on a jury which sat on a trial of yours about an incident at Eumungerie some years ago and I would like to ask you about it . OK?" "Yeah OK Boss". "Well we had to decide on whether you shot a Constable Senior intending to kill him. We couldn't really decide. Did you want to kill him?. It's all over now and there will be no police action, but for my sake I would like to know", said Gil.

"Oh no Boss. If I'd wanted to kill him I could have done that a lot of times. He led his horse over a log where I was hiding and I could have easily done it. But he shot into the bushes where I was hiding, the bullet hit me in the arm, my hand flew up and the gun went off as my arm went up in the air. No I did not want to kill that man, no way".

Gil was pleased with this justification of his decision despite prejudices and history.

August 1 2010
Michael D Breen

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