Michael Howe at the Ovens

On the night of the 18th of August 1814, three men of the 73rd regiment, Corporal Fentrill, his son Private Fentrill and Private Merry were travelling from Port Dalrymple to Hobart Town when they decided to set up camp in a cave near Jericho, known as the “Ovens”. Under their charge were three crown prisoners and two bushrangers, who they had captured near Epping Forest. Interestingly, there were also three other bushrangers in the party, but these men had managed to escape into the bush.

At about midnight, the soldiers and their prisoners were awoken by the growls and barks of their dogs, with Private Merry being awoken further by the muzzle of a musket at his ear. The party soon found the cave to be surrounded by six bushrangers, with five of them named as Michael Howe, John Mills, James Geary, Edward Beagent and Thomas Burrell. As Michael was in charge, it was he who spoke first. “Lay still you buggers,” he warned, “or we will blow you to pieces”, with the others soon offering similar threats. The bushrangers then ordered the soldiers to hand out their muskets with the butts foremost, for if they did not comply, Michael warned, “we will bloody fire on you.” After their weapons were secured, the prisoners were liberated, with Michael calling out each man and arming him with a musket. A single shot was then fired by Michael, which served as a signal to Peter Septon and the gang members who remained at the camp that no resistance had been offered.

The bushrangers and the liberated prisoners stayed at the cave for the remainder of the night, no doubt enjoying the provisions provided by the soldiers. According to Private Merry, before Michael left them, he told the soldiers that “he wished the old Colonel (Lieutenant-Governor Davey) was here, he would not believe that the bushrangers could do such things, but that he would show him how those things were done, and if he was here, he would send some of the buck shot through his old paunch.”

On the 22nd of August Lieutenant-Governor Davey received word of the incident, with Reverend Robert Knopwood recording the following in his diary: “The Lt. Governor received dispatches from Pt. Dalrymple. The party was stopped by the bushrangers and their arms taken from them.”

Illustration by Aidan Phelan.

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