All Posts by Royce Sample

Hedi Horse Stealing Case 1882

We often forget the critical role horses played in the life of the early selectors. They provided personal mobility, were also a valuable source of “horsepower” for the farm and horse racing was one of the primary forms of entertainment. It is no wonder that horse stealing was considered a major crime, punishable by hanging until 1831. By the 1880’s it was still a major crime in Victoria’s rural areas and resulted in serious prison sentences if proven. The Ovens & Murray Advertiser (Beechworth 21 Dec 1882) reported that Isaiah Wright was charged with horse stealing. The committal case is briefly outlined as follows.

The Oxley poundkeeper – George Kennedy – was contracting 2 horses (a Bay & a Black) to plough in Hedi – the original name for Edi – when the Black Draught Horse with distinctive white markings went missing from its overnight paddock on 19 Nov. According to Wright’s employer Wright quit that day and left riding a Bay Mare (which he apparently owned) and leading a Black Draught Horse. He said he was going home to Mansfield. A wagoner John French from Murmungee testified that he met Wright near Barwidgee Creek (where it is possible to go by bush track to the Buckland Gap) riding a Bay horse and leading a Black Draught Horse. He said he was going to German Gully to sell the Black horse to the “German’s” and asked if French’s employer (Pini & Co – who were Italians) would buy it. French said that they might do so.

The next day at Mrs Holloway’s (Buckland) Gap Hotel a local carpenter – Robert Bruce – testified that he saw Wright ride in on a Bay horse leading a Black horse. Wright asked him if he knew anyone in the area would like to buy the Black horse. Bruce replied James Hume in Murmungee could be interested and Wright asked him if Hume had the money to pay for the horse. Bruce said he believed he did since Hume had just sold a horse. After a drink Wright rode down the Gap towards Hume’s.

James Hume was an early Scottish selector at Murmungee and was locally renowned as a judge of horses. The Basin’s first Gymkhana were held in his paddock. Wright rode in about noon and asked if he was interested in buying the Black horse. James said he was interested in a Mare but after testing the Black by getting it to pull a dray load of stones up a hill agreed to buy it. Wright wanted 25£ but James refused so a deal was done for 22£ 18s. After paying him James’ wife wrote out the receipt (Wright could not read or write) to “John Kitchen” (the horse’s brand being JK).  When asked if there was any faults with the horse Wright replied, “He’s a bastard to catch and when he is caught he’s not worth a damn.” Wright advised Hume to hobble the horse overnight (making it easier to catch) and he did so. The next morning he discovered the paddock fence had been broken into and horse tracks leading to Mrs. Allen’s hotel/store about a mile distant. Later that day James reported the theft to the local Murmungee Constable Blade. Blade with the help of “blacktrackers” traced the tracks to Gapsted towards Whorouly where rain had obliterated the tracks. Sometime later (7 Dec) they found the horse’s remains with the brand removed at Rocky Gap (now Henley Ridge) and brought the head, hide and legs (must have been a smelly bundle since the horse had been dead for over a month) to court.

A road contractor from Bowmans Forest said he saw a man riding a Bay and leading a Black horse coming from Pioneer Bridge at 5 am. Shortly afterwards a local farmer from Carboor saw Wright – now without the Black horse – riding 2 and ½ miles from the State School. They had a short conversation where Wright boasted that he had just ridden past Milne’s, Blackburne’s and O’Donnell’s stations (all in Bowmans Forest) and wasn’t that good work for a man who did not know the country. All of the witnesses (except the last 2) said the Black horse remains were those they had seen on the 3 days following the theft. 

​Wright was arrested by Greta’s Mounted Constable Leahy at the Victoria Hotel in Greta (he obviously liked a drink or two) on 24 November. Greta was known as a centre of police harassment at this time. This date appears to be a little unusual since Kennedy – the original owner of the horse – did not report it missing until 26 November (although James Hume had in Murmungee). In any case Wright was committed for trail and denied bail. It is unknown whether he was convicted for this theft.

However this is not the only unusual thing about Isaiah Wright who was “known” to the police as a serial horse thief. He was the same Isaiah ‘Wild’ Wright that Australian bushranger Ned Kelly defeated in a famous 20-round bare-knuckle boxing match at the Imperial Hotel in Beechworth on 8 August 1874. Kelly was sentenced to 3 years for “receiving stolen property” (a horse Wright had actually stolen) when he was 16. Supposedly Wright (who received only a 1 & ½ year jail sentence for stealing the horse) failed to tell Ned it was stolen and Ned harboured a grudge against him. When they met (both having a drink at the pub) the pub owner – a boxing promoter – suggested the bout. Wright was larger, heavier than Ned, an experienced bare knuckle boxer and 9 years older than the teenaged Kelly. However Ned gave him a thrashing becoming the unofficial NE Victorian boxing champion.

The surprises don’t stop there. Wright (born 1846 in Ireland) was married to a Kelly relative and became an ardent supporter of Kelly’s “revolution” (as several of the Murmungee selectors were). He was jailed following the Glenrowan siege as a Kelly sympathizer. It seems unusual that the locals did not know who he was but of course these were the days before photos were widely available. Soon after this report he decided to move to the Victoria River District in Northern Territory to avoid further trouble where he died in 1921.

​Ned Kelly in boxing costume

Isaiah “Wild” Wright as a young man

Harry Power and the Chinese Lady

Picture: The young Harry Power

​In 1869 the Ovens district was terrorised by the notorious bushranger Harry Power (born Henry Johnson in Ireland). Harry had been transported for theft and turned to horse theft after obtaining his ticket of leave. After escaping from Pentridge Jail in 1869, Harry roamed throughout the NE robbing the rich and the poor. He finally settled on highway robbery as the most profitable line of work. It was said that he took a young teenager named Ned Kelly as his apprentice.

​In the summer of 1869 Harry was in Beechworth having a drink at the Commercial Hotel (now Tanswell’s). He overheard a Crawford & Connolly’s coach driver (their office was across the street) boast that he would shoot Harry if he came upon him. Harry quickly rode down the Buckland Gap Road and blocked it with a barrier of logs to halt the coach.

​"Bailed Up", Tom Roberts (1895)

​There were 4 passengers on the coach, a little boy, a Bright store keeper and 2 women – one being a Chinese woman named Hing Ung. This was highly unusual since of the 1500 district Chinese only 2 were females. Hing Ung was from Canton and married Mah Ket in Bendigo when she was 18. They arrived in the Buckland Valley in 1866 where Mah Ket was an opium seller (not unusual at the time since opium was legal). Hing Ung always wore traditional Chinese dress and her feet had been bound from childhood (the common Chinese custom for the upper class at the time since small feet were a desirable characteristic). This meant she could only walk short distances with a stick and often Mah Ket carried her (in China a servant would do this duty). Interestingly she recognized foot binding was inappropriate in Australia and did not bind her daughters’ feet.

The coach halted and Harry sprang from the bush (was Ned holding the horses?) and ordered everyone to put their valuables on the ground. The other woman on the coach was young Kate Dalgleish – the teenaged Murmungee School Assistant Teacher! The coach driver emptied his pockets of £2/16s (and pistol) after denying his boast. The Bright store-keeper his gold watch and Hing Ung offered 13s. Harry insolently suggested she had more money hidden in her garments and threatened to strip her to discover it. She protested tearfully and her fellow passengers pleaded with Harry to leave her alone. Harry was rough but chivalry prevailed and he made off with the lead horse from the coach to forestall any pursuit.

The Victorian Government immediately raised the reward for Harry’s capture from £200 to £500. Alas Harry’s days were numbered and his fondness for watches led to his undoing. Offering to return a gold watch (for £15) to one of his victims via one of Ned’s uncles, the uncle revealed his hideout for the reward. Harry received another 15 years in Prison and is largely forgotten today.

Training the Bullocks

On an extensive visit to the Victorian Goldfields in 1852-54, the famous English writer William Howitt visited the Reid family at “Carraragarmungee” (today’s “Reidsdale”). He reported on various things of interest for an English audience, among them on how to train a young bullock to join a team. This was very important at the time since bullock teams were the long distance trucks of their day, hauling heavy loads over rough tracks to keep the far flung settlements supplied. Several of the early Bowmans Forest selectors were engaged in this trade which provided a good living and enabled them to purchase farming land.​

“Here, also, we saw the method of breaking in young bullocks to the yoke. Having managed to drive one of them up in a corner of a paddock, behind some steady old bullocks, they got on a yoke as well as they can – very commonly a task of no ordinary difficulty. Once on, however, theyput into the same yoke a stout, steady, practical bullock; and they then tie the tails of the two animals together, or the young wild ox would soon wheel around, and thus turn the yoke upside down. Thus yoked together, the pair is let loose, and the poor victim of a practised bullock is dragged and pulled about by the young frantic one, in a most unceremonious manner. For a day or so the tyro is a most uncomfortable companion to the steady one. He makes the most violent efforts to get rid of his newfangled machinery. He rears and kicks, and tries to rush here and there. He snatches and drags, and darts forward, and as suddenly hands back, as if he were trying to just pull off the other bullocks head, and did not care how soon. He refuses to eat, and won’t let the poor wretch of a yoke fellow eat either according to the temper of the subject, the two are struggling and wrangling. The poor patient prisoner to the fiery neophyte holding down his head, and silently but stiffly resisting the efforts of the youngster. At length hunger tames the impatient juvenile; he begins to eat and becomes quiet; the elder is glad to avail himself of this improved circumstance, and soon all is right. The young beast finds this primitive bond of unity is an indissoluble bond so long as his master pleases, and the two are left to bear the yoke itself but to all commands under it that the driver is pleased to impose”.