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Kaipara, or, Experiences of a settler in north New Zealand

Chapter XX. — A Story of a Bushranger

page 159

Chapter XX.
A Story of a Bushranger.

We are indeed very seldom troubled in the North Kaipara district with thieves or burglars. No one ever thinks of bolting a door, nor do people hesitate to vacate their habitations for two or three days, leaving them entirely tenantless and unguarded. There are no wolves among us; we are all lambs (I was going to say sheep, but I won't).

This was the state of things, until a sort of amateur bushranger started business in the district, about eighteen months ago, and upset all our feelings of security. He was not a gumdigger, however, but a labourer employed by a gentleman sheep farming in Matakohe. As correspondent for the Auckland Weekly News, I sent the Editor the following account concerning his little enterprise:—

"A North Kaipara Bushranger.

"An individual has for some time past been wandering about the different settlements here, page 160whose doings do not at all meet with the approval of the inhabitants. He has contracted an unpleasant habit of visiting houses at the witching hour of midnight, and extracting from the larders whatever comestibles he finds to his taste. His penchant for sweetmeats of all kinds is remarkable. He would risk his liberty for a bottle of lollies, while the sight of a jam tart would draw him through a plate-glass window. This gentleman rejoices in many names, Sullivan being the one he at present patronises. Last week he visited Paparoa and Maungaturoto, and regaled himself at several establishments. On Saturday he called at Mr. D.'s. store, Maungaturoto, the owner being engaged elsewhere. Sullivan, unwilling to disturb him, broke open the door, and captured a bottle of prime bulls'- eyes and some other articles. He next made a short stay at the Doctor's, but what he secured there I have not heard. Some time last week he honoured Mr. B. of Paparoa with a visit, took all the loose cash he could find, a jar full of sweet jelly, and a batch of bread, leaving a stale loaf in its place. Finding that creeping through windows, hiding in holes, and sleeping in the tea-tree scrub had had a very deteriorating effect on his clothes, he applied page 161to Mr. H.'s store, Pahi, during the proprietor's absence, and selecting a suit to his satisfaction, left without a word. Last Sunday he was reported to have reached Matakohe, and probably his presence will be felt by some of the settlers before long. Naturally, his movements have excited, and still excite, a good deal of notice and criticism, and a few weeks back some settlers, taking an unfavourable view of his peculiar free-and-easy mode of existence, applied to a local constable to come and put a stop to his little game. In due course this functionary arrived, and a sigh of relief went through the several settlements—an arm of the law was with us, and confidence was restored.

"The energy displayed by this officer was indeed most reassuring. No sooner did he hear of a settler's house having been entered the previous night, than he was off at once to the place. No sooner did the news reach him of another depredation being committed elsewhere, than away he went again, and at last succeeded in capturing—not the man—but some mementoes of his travels. The story goes, that he very nearly captured the man himself, and would have done so, if the man, who is very powerfully page 162built, had not unfortunately captured him instead. It was in this way. Having sighted his proposed captive, our energetic and plucky local official immediately gave chase, and was evidently gaining ground, when the pursued suddenly crouched down in some tea-tree scrub. ‘Now I have him,' thought the exulting rural representative of the law, and in another instant he was on the back, and his hand was on the collar, of the larder-breaking Sullivan, while in a voice of thunder he shouted, ‘I arrest you in the name of the law.' Had the midnight prowler any sense of decency and the fitness of things, now was the time to show it by resigning himself quietly to his fate and the majesty of the law. But no! the bump of reverence must indeed be wanting in the cranium of this sweet-toothed bushranger, for instead of thus comporting himself, he actually (so runs the tale) passed his hand over the constable's shoulder, grasped his coat collar, and raising himself from his stooping posture, marched off with the highly indignant officer kicking and struggling on his back. On arriving at a creek, he shot the representative of the law over his shoulder into the water like a sack of coals, and retired into the bush to suck lollipops. After this episode our page 163rural official returned to his home (eighteen miles away) to consider what was best to be done, leaving word, however, at Paparoa that should the knight of the jam tarts and bulls'- eyes be seen anywhere, he was to be detained until our rural official could come over to arrest him. Mr. Sullivan has made his presence felt several times since, but there always seems to be a difficulty about inducing him to remain in any one place sufficiently long to call in the services of our rural officer. Another rural officer from the Wairoa has now come forward, and is at present at Maungaturoto, while Sullivan is here. By the time the rural officer arrives here, the wily Sullivan will probably be at Pahi. If he could only be induced to partake of some carefully doctored jam tart, I think the rural officer would be more evenly handicapped. As it is, unless our volatile visitor gets a sunstroke, or accidentally chokes himself with a bull's eye, I fear a good many more larders will be emptied and a good many more jam tarts reported missing before he is safely placed under lock and key in Mount Eden Jail."

This lollipop-sucking bushranger for several page 164weeks completely baffled all efforts to arrest him, and pursued with impunity his meteoric course, leaving behind him a well-defined train composed of jam tins, lolly bottles, pie dishes, infuriated settlers, and rural policemen. He was finally captured near Helensville, about sixty miles from here, and in due course brought before the magistrates at Pahi, who committed him for trial. I rode over to be present at the hearing of the case, and in returning after dark, my horse shied, the saddle, too loosely girthed, slipped round, and I was thrown, the result being concussion of the brain. An acquaintance, a Paparoa settler, got me home somehow or other, and for three days my mind was wandering, during which time my poor wife had to attend to me entirely unaided, as on the very day of my accident she had dismissed our servant girl for dishonesty. The principal storekeeper in Matakohe kindly came at once, offered his services, and telegraphed for the doctor, who unfortunately was engaged attending a serious case at a distance. When he did arrive he said my wife had done everything he could have done, and that I was going on all right. It was months, however, before I could get about again, and neither my wife nor myself are likely page 165to easily forget the North Kaipara bushranger, now safely installed in Mount Eden Jail, and about half way through the term of three years' imprisonment with hard labour to which he was sentenced.