Two pirates who landed in Victoria in 1853 had nothing in common with Jack Sparrow, Captain Hook or Long John Silver. While stories give an impression that pirates were romantic characters, in fact they were extremely violent people, as they are today.
While Henry Bradley and Patrick O’Conner were pirates by definition, they could also be called bushrangers – in fact the Melbourne newspaper The Banner referred to them as ‘The Pirate Bushrangers’.
O’Conner, born in Galway, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1850 but escaped to Adelaide. Arrested there for robbery with violence he was returned to Tasmania for life. Born in Liverpool, Bradley had arrived in Australia in 1840 as an ‘exile’ (one who had been in one of the English model prisons and was considered to be reformed) but within two weeks of landing he was convicted of robbery and sent to Tasmania for 12 months. After escaping from custody he was soon apprehended and received a life sentence.
The pair became notorious in September 1853 when they absconded from service as ‘passholders’, bailed up two homesteads in north-western Tasmania and stole property including firearms. In the process of one attack they murdered a man. They then made their way to the Inglis River, near Wynyard, and there committed their act of piracy. According to the Geelong Advertiser, they signalled “the Sophia, a small trading schooner, at anchor not very far from the beach”. When the captain came ashore he was attacked and forced to take the convicts to Victoria. They were landed in Western Port to avoid the risks involved in coming through Port Phillip Heads.
From Western Port they made their way to a station at Brighton where they shot a man ploughing a field and stole a horse. Other people were held up and robbed as they travelled north. In the process of their capture near Kilmore they shot one trooper and grazed the face of another with a bullet. After their apprehension they boasted to their captors of their evil doings. The Geelong Advertiser reported: “They declared they had murdered six persons in Van Diemen’s Land, and beat off a whole detachment of police who attempted to capture them, when the Sophia went on shore, on the Tasmania coast. Since their arrival in Victoria, they admit having robbed no less than 28 men, one of whom they shot.”
O’Conner and Bradley were sentenced to death and were hanged on October 24, 1853.
BY MAURIE HUTCHINSON
President, Peninsula SS
T: Maurie Hutchinson 9787 5780
The Peninsula Ship Society meets at Hastings Yacht Club on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 10am. Visitors always welcome.