The Gunfight with Denis McCarty

On the 24th of April 1815, the gunfight between Michael Howe and Irishman Denis McCarty took place on the banks of the Derwent River at “The Falls”, halfway between New Norfolk and Stoney Hut Plains (Gretna).

Believing that there were “two or three parties of soldiers out”, Michael knew that gathering weapons was essential for their continued survival. After killing a government cow for a hearty breakfast, the gang, nine in number, made for Constable Gay’s house to retrieve the items he had taken from them four days previously. After this, they made their way to Mr. Barnes’ house, where they asked for firearms and then on to Mr. Able’s where they again collected weapons and ammunition. Arriving at Mr. Carlisle’s house, they filled their knapsacks with sugar and green tea, after a humorous interlude involving flour, which Michael had to direct them to remove from their knapsacks in order to fit the other items. From here, they proceeded on to Mr. Thomas Humphrey’s, where they furnished themselves with arms and travelled on to Mr. Cullen’s, from whom they procured a cutlass and a musket. Proceeding on to Constable Hay’s house, with the man as a prisoner, having taken him at a stream called the Front River, the gang were surprised by three armed men who rushed at them from the Constable’s house. Shots were fired and one of the men, George King, attempted to run, but was quickly overtaken by Michael, who marched him back to the Constable’s house, guarding him while three of his gang went to Mr. Triffitt’s. Having been informed of the morning’s depredations, McCarty armed himself and with Carlisle, Brown, Murphy, O’Burne, Triffitt, Hacking, Tombs and Jemottt went in search of the bushrangers. Much to their surprise, they came upon Michael and his gang sitting beneath trees, with George King making himself a pair of moccasins with a piece of cow hide he had been given by the bushrangers. Brown ran in amongst them with his cutlass, slashing left and right and whether he took part in hand-to-hand combat with Michael, who also had a cutlass, is not recorded. McCarty then fired, and in response to this surprise attack, the gang, excepting Michael and James Geary, left their weapons and ran a little up the hill, which led McCarty to defiantly shout, “now you dogs, if you are men, face us like men!” Adhering to his order, the remaining members of the gang retrieved their arms and the firing commenced, with the gang posting themselves between the cover of trees. With the wounding of five of McCarty’s men, Carlisle, Murphy, O’Burne, Triffett and Jemott, one of the gang, most likely Michael, demanded a cease fire with the wild call, “McCarty, stop, you scoundrel, it is you we want, or we will blow your brains out!” This was ignored, and McCarty fired again before making off in the direction of his home. After the firing had concluded, one of the bushrangers removed his handkerchief so that Hacking could tie up Carlisle’s wounds, while Michael ordered James Geary not to partake in any more bloodshed, after he had expressed a desire to shoot one of the injured men.

From ‘Historical Records of Australia’ series 3, volume 2. Illustration of Michael and his gang by Aidan.

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