Michael Howe’s Raid on Nonesuch

The following is taken from the memoirs of Alexander Laing, who at the time of Michael Howe’s raid on the residence of T.A. Lascelles was an assigned servant.

On the 21st November 1816, a banditti of bushrangers headed by Michael Howe called at Nonesuch, the residence of T.A. Lascelles Esq., in the forenoon of that day with five or six men they had picked up on their way. Howe’s party was composed of eight men exclusive of himself. I was busy in the garden when one of them came to the fence and shouted out to me, saying my Mistress wanted a salad for dinner, and that I was to bring it up immediately. He wore a kangaroo dress and carried a double barrelled fowling piece, with a knapsack on his back. Being so short a time in the colony, I had not before seen a bushranger although I had heard people talking of Mick Howe. I asked him if he was a stock keeper. He replied, “Yes.” 

In passing up to the house, with the salad, I observed another man at the front door similarly dressed, with a gun in his hand. I asked him if he was another stock keeper.

He replied, “No, I am a shepherd.”

He claimed that they belonged to Mr Edward Lord and had called upon Mr Lascelles about getting their tickets of leave and that the shepherd was yarning with my master. In passing the corner of the house I observed another armed man standing at the back, or kitchen, door. I went in and  placed the salad on the kitchen table. The kitchen maid and Paddy Brest, the cook, were very busy preparing for dinner.  Paddy asked the man standing at the kitchen door if the gardener might sit down and shell some green peas, which I had picked early that morning.

He replied, “Yes, but be quick about it”, as they wanted a tucker before they started. The girl whispered to me that they were bushrangers. I then realised into whose hands I had so simply dropped, and made all the haste I could. When I finished my job, I was politely ushered into the parlour, where there was a crowd of people with my master standing and joking in the midst of them. There was plenty of brandy, rum and wine in decanters on the parlour table, and Howe was busy handing it round to the guests, but not a drop of liquor did any of the bushrangers taste. Whilst they remained, they drank freely of tea and coffee but they manufactured it themselves. They would not permit the cook to do it for them. Howe asked me which I preferred, brandy, rum or wine, and I chose the latter as I had never used brandy and very little rum or wine. My violin hung up in a green bag in the kitchen and Howe asked my master who was the fiddler.  He pointed to me.

Howe then called out to Geary, who appeared to be second in command, “What do you say Geary. Shall we have a tune?”

He replied, “Yes Mickey, by all means let us have a little frolic for once in a way. It’s not every day we meet with a fiddler. I am a drummer, but I left it behind when I deserted from my good old corps the 73rd Highlanders.”

 Howe then called Paddy Brest the cook to hand him the green bag. He placed Mrs Lascelle’s foot stool up on the top of a table that stood in one corner of the parlour, and desired me to be seated there out of harm’s way and tune up, at the same time handing me another glass of wine which I politely refused. Not being accustomed to drink, it would make my head ache.

Geary said, “Oh! He’s a Scotchman!  He could take a glass of whisky no doubt.”

I commenced playing away and in due time the cloth was laid and dinner placed upon the table in first rate style. Seven out of the nine sat down to dinner, and the other two kept sentry at each door. They placed their arms under the table, all but their pistols which were fixed in belts round their waists. The first that finished their dinner relieved the sentries at the two doors, front and back. A second course was laid for the pressed men but very few of them would partake of anything, either meat or drink. Howe handed me some bread, and a leg of fowl, with a basin of coffee, and asked me several times if I felt comfortable. I told him I was rather more comfortable than I was on the plains of Salamanca.

The Frenchman spoke out and said, “You, fiddler, been a soldier?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I wore the petticoat.”

“Ah,” he replied, “petticoat soldiers good fellow but use too much bayonet; me no like that game.”

I asked him if he had been a soldier and he replied, “Yes, but deserted in Spain.”

Some of the pressed men got quite tipsy and overbearing which did not much please Howe and Geary. After dinner was all over and the cloth removed, they acted ‘Neptune on the Seas’, and sung some jocular songs and danced one at a time a triple hornpipe. Mr Lascelles and Howe took a walk out together. They went down into the garden and were absent nearly two hours. Before they went out Howe deputed the command to Geary and ordered him to keep an eye to business, and not to give those noisy fellows any more drinks but to gag them if they used any improper or indecent language to disturb the females, and children, who were in the next room, with no sentry placed over them. The afternoon was pretty far advanced before my master and Howe returned from the garden. On their return Geary told Howe he had disobeyed orders and given four of those out and out fellows a good stiffler of rum which soon sent them to sleep.

Howe replied, “All right if you have not choked them.”

Howe then addressed the pressed men and said, “Gentlemen, we have not paid a visit to Mr Lascelles for the purpose of injuring or robbing him or disturbing his family. I am only sorry that we fell in with any of you in our tract, but for our own safety, we are obliged to bring you along with us, but we won’t detain you much longer. I am very sorry that some of you either from pride, disdain, or delicacy would not condescend to eat or drink with us poor unfortunate forlorn creatures, who are at times undergoing very great hardships, and you four drunken rascals I would particularly caution not to indulge too much in the rum bottle. I find you are the servants of a good and humane master, and he would not withhold a glass of spirits from you at any time, in moderation, but now you have taken the bushrangers as a cloak for you, and have eaten and drunk more like beasts than human beings. What will your kind master, Mr Lascelles and his lady think of you after we are gone?  Look at Mr Nash , Mr Redpath, this young midshipman, and the fiddler. They have conducted themselves with propriety and decency. I also think my mates would give a great deal to be placed in the same comfortable situation as you are at the present moment. But your kind master can have but little faith in such servants as you appear to be, after what he has seen of you this afternoon. How can any of you look up to him for an indulgence?  I certainly used the freedom of treating you all that would partake of the good cheer placed before us by your bountiful master but not with a view that any present should eat or drink to excess. I am certain Mr Lascelles made us all welcome to partake at his bountiful board. He is no stranger to me; he is a gentleman by birth and a native of Yorkshire from where, unfortunately, I was transported, and also a ship mate. He commanded the military guard on board the good ship Indefatigable, the first convict ship that arrived direct from England to Hobart in 1812. This old gentleman Mr Redpath, is also my shipmate, and very glad I am to see him so comfortably situated as overseer upon Colonel Geils’ estate. He was very kind to me on the passage out from England. I wish I had got along with him, instead of that tyrant Ingle who got me fifty lashes before I was a month with him. He soon made his fortune with stolen cattle and sheep, and returned to England. I wish he was here now; I would pay him home  for his cruelty not only to me but to many other unfortunate men like myself, although I now truly repent having taken to the bush, and I firmly believe my mates are of the same opinion, and would willingly at this moment throw down their arms at the feet of Mr Lascelles, if we could be again admitted into society. About three weeks since we held a consultation up at the Lakes considering what plan we could adopt to get rid of this harassing life, and we at last determined if possible to see Mr Lascelles, who being Secretary to the Governor, and an old Officer of the 73rd Highlanders, and also upon intimate terms with the Governor in Chief Macquarie at Sydney. With great difficulty and exertion we reached his premises this forenoon as we passed on our journey. No less than five different parties of military, police and volunteers, were out in search of us, and, rely upon it, they are using every effort to catch us, as the Governor has offered a reward of £100 for me dead, or alive, and £80 for each of my mates so that we are worth looking after, and if taken by any of our fellow prisoners over and above the reward they obtain a free pardon and passage to England. This is a great inducement although many of them are greater villains than we are if the truth was known. Now fellow comrades, you may think it rather strange my going into the garden and remaining so long absent. But I must publicly tell you before Mr Lascelles and these gentlemen, whom we are about to depart from, perhaps never more to meet again, that Mr Lascelles had kindly promised to use his utmost influence with the Governor in Chief on our behalf as that old marine Colonel Davey, who is almost always either drunk or crankie, however were he ever so much inclined he can do nothing for us. Governor Macquarie hates him for proclaiming martial law, as Mr Lascelles told me a little while ago that the Governor in Chief had written to the Secretary of State to have old Davey removed to Greenwich Hospital, or somewhere else, and a sober, steady Governor sent out in his place. I must also inform you gentlemen, that Captain Nairn of the 46th Regiment paid us a visit with his servant at the lakes a few days before we left that quarter. He and his servant were unarmed, carrying nothing but their knapsacks on their backs, with some grub and a spare shirt each. They remained with us two days and nights. The Captain also kindly promised to use his influence on our behalf, as he was acting Engineer, and of course was daily amongst the unhappy prisoners. Our present Sheriff, the President of the Legislative Council, the Honourable W.E. Nairn Esq. is a son of his. We treated the Captain and his servant kindly. They had a kangaroo dog with them, and Geary and Jones and the Captain’s servant went out and caught two very fine forest kangaroos, which our cook dressed, and made an excellent steamer, mixed with the bacon that the Captain and his servant brought with them. We had plenty of onions that we grew at the lakes, also cabbage, peas and potatoes. As we were very seldom disturbed in that quarter until those rewards were offered for our heads, we presented the Captain with an excellent opossum skin rug, and gave his servant a good kangaroo one, and parted very good friends. We told the Captain upon what conditions we would freely surrender. Now, Mr Lascelles, you have been kind to us on this occasion. Can you spare us a little ammunition as we are getting rather short. We have plenty in store but it is upwards of forty miles from here.” 

Mr Lascelles replied that he had ammunition and arms also but he could supply us with none. The Frenchman then spoke up, and said we must have it. Howe told him to hold his tongue, or he would send a ball through him.

Geary said, “You French rascal – you have not got Bonaparte at your elbow. Recollect you are amongst the English, Irish, and Scotch, and we did not come here for the purpose of pilfering or taking anything forcibly, from my good old Lieutenant Lascelles of the 73rd highlanders and had I been as well treated by other officers of the Regiment I would have no occasion to desert and become an outlaw; therefore Mickey we will make what shift we can until we reach our own stores, where we have plenty of both powder and ball, well-secured amongst the rocks, as we may be lucky enough to reach there without any interruption. If not, we have enough to stand a brush or even two should we meet with opposition.”

It was then 7 o’clock in the evening, and Howe said, “Fiddler play up Jacky Tar, and we will then be moving on to the mountain before dark.”

After I had finished the tune Howe said, “Now Mr Lascelles and gentlemen all, not one of you is to move from this room for the next two hours, after we leave, as I have an excellent telescope and blunder-buss which I borrowed from Lieutenant Jeffreys R.N.  whilst on his journey from Hobarton to Launceston, and we will keep the telescope at work for the next two hours, and watch that no person leaves the premises. After that time Mr Lascelles is bound to send a report, or go himself to the Governor. Should any of you be so foolish as to bolt, we will immediately return, and burn the premises down, which I hope you will not for both our sakes, and that good gentleman standing there, Mr Lascelles, and many thanks to you fiddler.  Your master will give you a new jacket on my account, but don’t bag your fiddle yet, play up and keep the company merry and amuse the children at least for the next two hours.  Mr Nash you are an old Norfolk Island settler and I was sorry to have to bring you away from your mill, but I am not sorry now as you are the very life of a jocular good fellow, and your daughter saved the life of that notorious villain sitting there, Jack Baxter, who is also a shipmate of mine. He has been out as a volunteer hunting for us, until he got footsore, and had to give up the chase. I should be sorry to act as Watts and Garland did, in burning down Reardon’s barn and wheat and Humphrey’s house and stack although neither of  them are any friends of mine particularly Humphrey, the pig stealer, who sent out this poor half fool, Jack Baxter, after us. But Jack, you mind in future number one; should I hear of you going out any more after us, nothing shall save your life. You are a good farming man and stick to your plough, that you know more about than a musket. Mr Nash’s daughter won’t save your life next time, neither will her father have any room to plead for you.”

Howe and Geary then shook hands with all round, complimenting Paddy Brest for the excellent dinner he had prepared for them. They then departed down past the garden and through the valley where the Sorell steam mills now stand, and on the mountain opposite Mr Lascelles’ house.

Sourced from The Memoirs of Alexander Laing.

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