The Capture of Michael Howe in 1817

Being in regular contact with William Drew, Michael had no reason to suspect that he would be the one to betray him. The bushranger had made several visits to the shepherd’s hut, as well as giving him a letter to deliver to Sorell after his escape from gaol. However, loyalty was a foreign word to Drew, and indeed to George Watts, a bushranger who Drew had taken into confidence. Together they conspired to capture Michael, where a reward and conditional pardon would be offered to them in Hobart Town and a noose for Michael. They met at daybreak on the 10th of October 1817, at a place called Long Bottom, where Drew’s master, Mr Williams, grazed his sheep, and where Drew was to meet Michael. Secreting their guns, they walked to the bank of the creek and Drew called out several times before finally getting an answer from Michael, who was no doubt taken off guard by the arrival of Watts. Each man knocked the priming out of their muskets and a fire was lit so breakfast could be cooked. While Michael was warming his hands by the fire, Drew and Watts seized their opportunity and grabbed him by the collar and threw him to the ground, which given Michael’s strength and determination would have been no easy feat. Drew quickly bound Michael’s hands together and searched him for weapons, removing two knives from his pockets, overlooking his moccasins where a dirk was concealed. With their scowling prisoner bound and breakfast cooked, Drew and Watts callously offered some to Michael, which of course he refused.

After it was eaten, and Drew had informed Mr William’s of the situation, they proceeded to Hobart Town. Watts in front with his reprimed musket, Michael in the middle and Drew behind with Michael’s musket, which he had forgotten to reprime. After traveling 8 miles, Michael had managed to get his hands loose and had taken up the dirk, which caused Drew to let out a scream. Watts turned around and received the blade in the stomach and he fell to the ground. Michael grabbed Watts’ musket and turned on Drew, telling him he would “settle his business” and shot him dead. Seeing his mate fall, Watts asked if Drew was dead and Michael replied, “yes, and I will shoot you as soon as I can load my piece.” Believing that Michael would follow through with the threat, Watts struggled to his feet and hid in the scrub, but Michael had already headed to the safety of his hideout, with no one left to trust.

Illustration by Aidan Phelan.

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