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Matthew Brady - Tasmania's 'Gentleman' Bushranger


In 1820 Brady was sentenced to tranportation for 7 years

Matthew Brady was just 20 when he was transported to Van Diemen's Land. Six years later he was hung from the gallows in Hobart Town.

But what was it about Brady which endeared women to him so much that his trial had to be interrupted because of the sound of women weeping. And what prisoner had a cell filled with flowers and gifts before he was taken to the gallows?

Brady's story rivals (and in my mind surpasses) that of Australia's Ned Kelly.
I am currently researching the life of Matthew Brady with a view to writing his story in a narrative form.

Pic: Matthew Brady image from 'James McCabe, Matthew Brady, Patrick Bryant', ca. 1823 - 1843. by Thomas Bock in his 'Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers'. (Ref: DL PX 5/ f.8 ). Courtesly Dixson Library, State Library of NSW


Hobart Town - Van Diemen's Land in early convict days

In the days of the first fleet, ships docked in the Derwent River or later, tied up against the wooden wharf built on the tiny Hunter Island in Sullivan's Cove.

One of the first jobs assigned to the convicts was to construct a stone causeway joining the island to land. Today this area has wharf buildings on it.

The information reads:

"In the centre of this cove is a small island, connected with the mainland at low water, admirably adapted for the lands and reception of stores and provisions.

The Ocean and Lady Nelson are lying within half a cable's length of the shore in nine fathoms.

In 1804 Colonel David Collins selected Sullivan's Cove for the settlement on the Derwent. Hunter Island was linked to the cove by a causeway constructed by the first convicts. On this reclaimed sandpit the merchants built warehouses. For the first 30 years this area was the centre of commerce and shipping. At first there was a small jetty but no wharf and convicts, settlers and cargo had to be carried between ship and shore by boat."

This information board is located of the wharf in Hobart, Tasmania.


McCabe, Matthew Brady and Bryant

Next to Brady, McCabe was the most forceful character in the Brady gang, and though Brady and McCabe operated well together there was eventually a confrontation which resulted in McCable leaving.

But it was not long after they separated that McCabe was caught. He was executed on 6 January, 1826 (four months before Brady and other surviving members of his gang).

Pic:'James McCabe, Matthew Brady, Patrick Bryant', ca. 1823 - 1843. by Thomas Bock in his 'Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers'. (Ref: DL PX 5/ f.8 )

Courtesy of Dixson Library, State Library of NSW


Macquarie Harbour - suitable for penal settlement

Mountains surround Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania. Their lower slopes are thickly forested. This is an area of temperate rainforest and it received 3 - 5 meters of rain a year.

When the convicts were first brought to the Harbour, ancient Huon pine trees dominated the hillsides. These trees have a specific oil content which safeguarded the timber against rot and ship worm.

These facts made the timber highly desirable for shipbuilding.

The major jobs the convicts were employed in were logging, sawmilling (by hand) and shipbuilding.

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Col George Arthur - Lt-Governor of Van Diemen's Land

Colonel George Arthur followed Lt-Governor Sorell into office in 1824.

He continued and perfected Sorell's policies on penal servitude.

The legacy of his time in office is seen in the ruins of the penal settlement at Port Arthur. Little remains of the Hell of Earth which was the Sarah Island penitentiary in Macquarie Harbour.

Arthur was present when Brady and members of his gang were hung at Hobart Gaol in May 1826.

Pic: George Arthur - Lieutenant Governor May 1824 - Oct 1836

Courtesy of Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.


Members of Matthew Brady's gang - Gregory, Brown and MacKenny

During the time Brady was on the run he attracted quite a following.

But he insisted on respect for women and no killing.

All three members of Brady's gang were excecuted on 5 May 1826.

Pics: Gregory, Brown and MacKenny ca. 1823 - 1843. by Thomas Bock in his 'Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers'. Courtesy Dixson Library, State Library of NSW

Sarah Island was known as Settlement Island in convict days


Sarah Island lies in Macquarie Harbour stretched out like a sleeping dog - the tiny morsel it is eyeing is Grummet Island .

But Sarah Island was anything but dormant in 1820 and at one time over 400 convicts were housed on its 15 acres.

It was named Sarah Island by John Kelly, the first white man to sail into the harbour through 'The Gates'. While it operated as a penal settlement, it was known as Settlement or Headquarters Island.


Bushranger - Samuel Hodgetts

Samuel Hodgetts was a member of Brady's gang.

He was caught and executed.

Samuel Hodgetts ca. 1823 - 1843, by Thomas Bock in his 'Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers'. (Ref: DL PX 5/ f.12)

Courtesy of Dixson Library, State Library of NSW


Convict Hell - Sarah Island - the Penetentiary

I visited Sarah Island to learn more about the convicts who were sent there. I wanted to be feel what it was like to stand on an isolated island in the path of the Roaring Forties and imagine to some small degree what life must have been like.

After doing the conventional conducted tour, I felt I needed to see more, so I returned a few days later and explored the island alone.

It's hard to imagine that the island of 15 acres accommodated several hundred prisoners; that it was devoid of vegetation as it had been cleared by the convicts; that it had numerous stone buildings and high wooden fences and that it was a place of incredible depravity, hardship, and severe punishment.

Goodness knows how the men could survive on limited rations, with no heating, no beds, often saturated from head to foot and no change of clothes or extra clothing. And apart from that, any complaint resulted in the prisoner receiving up to 100 lashes from the cat o'nine tails.

Only a few convicts managed to escape from the island and survive to tell the tale. Some resorted to cannibalism to survie.

Brady and 13 other convicts stole a whaleboat and got away.

It's this remarkable story that I am proposing to make into a fictionalized novel.

Pic: Ruins of the old Penitentiary building


Convict members of Brady's Gang - Goodwin, Dunn, Hodgetts and Tilly

Goodwin Hodgetts and Tilly were excecuted on 5 May 1826.

Dunn who was dispised by the other bushrangers for his viscious and cruel nature was caught some months after Brady was hung. He was excuted on 8 January 1827.

James Goodwin Dunn, Saml Hodgetts, Wm Tilley, ca. 1823 - 1843, by Thomas Bock in his 'Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers'. (Ref: DL PX 5/ f.13 )

Courtesy of Dixson Library, State Library of NSW


Grummet Island - ultimate penal settlement

It was Grummet Island (or Small Island as it was called by the convicts) which originally housed a group of women. Later it was the place where the worse male offenders and troublemakers were sent at nighttime.

As there was no wharf, the men often had to wade through chest deep water or swim to get ashore. They would then have to sleep either naked or in wet clothes in the draughtly two room building. Next morning they would wade back to the boat for another day of hard labour.

Pic: Tiny Grummet Island seen from Sarah Island. Today the rocky outcrop is overgrown with bush and nothing remains of the single prison building which existed there


Bushranger - John Thompson

There was a man by the name of Thompson who was shipped to Van Diemen's Land on the Colonical Transport ship, 'Juliana' in 1820 - the same vessel which brought Matthew Brady to colony. The ship arrived in the Derwent at Christmastime which is the middle of the summer in the southern hemisphere.

I must check in the convict records in the library to discover if this John Thompson is the same man who sailed with Brady.

John Thompson, Murder, ca. 1823 - 1843, by Thomas Bock in his 'Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers'. (Ref: DL PX 5/ f.19)

Courtesy of Dixson Library, State Library of NSW

Through Hell's Gate's to Macquarie Harbour


With the pilot's station to one side and rocks to the other and musket fire whistling over their heads, Brady and friends made a daring escape in a whaleboat through Hell's Gates. From Macquarie Harbour they sailed south and then east to the Derwent River.

That was the start of Brady's 22 months on the run. It's an intruiging true story.

Pic: looking back from the Ocean towards the Harbour.

Note: the lighthouse did not exist in Brady's day.


John Gregory - member of Matthew Brady's gang

Another member of Matthew Brady's gang.

Hung in Hobart Town.

John Gregory ca. 1823 - 1843, by Thomas Bock in his 'Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers'. (Ref: DL PX 5/ f.16)

Courtesy of Dixson Library, State Library of NSW


Hell's Gates - to the Indian Ocean and freedom

It is a narrow channel with a fast flowing current and a sandbar stretching across the entrance to The Gates. There are rocks to the south of the inlet and sandy shoals to the north and the winds from the west are the Roaring Forties.

Waves as high as 60 feet (20) meters have been recorded on this stretch of the coast. Several ships have been wrecked trying to navigate The Gates.

Brady and 13 other convicts sailed from Macquarie Harbour and out to the Indian Ocean in a whale boat ducking musket shots fired at them from the pilot station.

Pic: from the beach on the northern side of the entrance


James Goodwin - bushranger

James Goodwin ca. 1823 - 1843, by Thomas Bock in his 'Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers'. (Ref: DL PX 5/ f.)

Dixson Library, State Library of NSW

No Escape from West Coast Wilderness


Though the railway was not constructed until 70 years after Brady's death, this picture gives an idea of the type of terrain of the wilderness of Western Tasmania.

Deep gorges, raging rivers and impenetrable terrain made escape by land impossible for the convicts of Sarah Island.

Pic: I too this from the now restorted West Coast Tourist Railway which runs between Strahan and the mining town of Queenstown.

This journey is rated as one of the TOP TEN railway journeys in the world.

Note: Sadly after 100 years of mining the King River is now biologically dead and it will take hundreds, if not thousands of years before it will live again sufficiently to carry any form of life.


The soldiers

The Heritage Highway through Tasmania's Midlands was once the stagecoach route. In the early days there were four miliary posts between Hobart and Launceston and towns grew up around them.

It was the soldiers' duty to apprehend bushrangers and escaped convicts.

The town of Oatlands still has 87 sandstone Georgian buildings, the largest collection in Australia - many of these were built by convict labour and today retain the character of the 19th Century.

Included is the oldest Supreme Courthouse in the country.


Alexander Pearce - Convict and Cannibal

The recent movie, Van Diemen's Land, tells of his first escape

Pearce was never involved with the Brady gang although they may have crossed tracks at some time before Pearce was hung.

He served time and escaped from MacQuaries Harbour and it was on both of his escapes that he ate his fellow convicts.

Pearce's story has now been told in two films and several books, including 'Bloodlust'.

Alexander Pearce ca. 1823 - 1843, by Thomas Bock in his 'Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers'. (Ref: DL PX 5/ f.26)

Courtesy Dixson Library, State Library of NSW


Van Diemen's Land - movie review - a tasty appetizer

Alexander Pearce (the cannibal's) first escape from Sarah Island

For me Jonathon auf der Heide's film, Van Diemen’s Land did not go far enough. The title is somewhat misleading, as cinamagraphiically, the movie did not portray Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) of the 1820s. It only provided a cameo picture of Tasmania’s awesome West Coast wilderness forest which surrounds Macquarie Harbour.

Having known the movie was to be about Alexander Pearce, the cannibal, I was disappointed that the story's plot was no more than Pearce’s first escape attempt along with seven other convicts.

(When he was captured, he admitted his crimes but his story seems too far fetched and he was not believed. The second time Pearce escaped he was found in possession of a human limb and was hung.)

After a few days in the forest, the eight men run out of food, and through frustration and anger begin to feed off each other. Like the lore of the sea, this seems almost logical under the circumstances.

Apart from the opening scene where the barefoot prisoners patiently await the order to swim to the waiting whaleboat, there is little indication of their festering desperation to escape from the hell-hole that was Sarah Island.

It was disillusioning for me to see convicts who were made to toil twelve hours in deplorable conditions and fed on incredibly meagre rations, looking fit and healthy, with perfect teeth and one at least with a neatly trimmed beard – and tall at that.

In dress and stature, producer Oscar Redding, who played Pearce, presented as the most convincing character.

The wilderness scenery of the Gordon and King Rivers area creates a chillingly haunting atmosphere, though to traverse those areas is even more difficult than depicted in the film. Unfortunately, some of the scenes filmed in Victoria depict countryside which is foreign to the Macquarie watershed.

Having recently visited the area to learn about VDL’s history and to see first hand the site of the convict settlement (see earlier blog posts), and to cruise the waterways of the King and Gordon Rivers, I wanted more.

The convict history of Van Diemen’s Land, in particular the settlement in Macquarie Harbour, is incredibly rich and disturbing. The movie Van Diemen’s Land is a mere tempting appetizer.

Notley Gorge - one of Matthew Brady's hideouts


Brady's tree in Notley Gorge, northern Tasmania

Notley Gorge is a pristine area of rainforest where some of the giant trees have stood for several centuries and even the tree ferns are over 100 years old. Little has changed since the days of the bushrangers.

It is reputed that the 'Gentleman' bushranger, Mathew Brady and members of his notorious gang, used this particular hollow tree as a hideout. Muskets, rifles and ammunition were found here. The bushrangers had several hideouts around the countryside. They even left horses and sheep at vaious locations.

Brady's short but intriguing life, from his sentence at the Lancaster Assizes and transportation to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), to his time on Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour and his exploits as a bushranger, make a fascinating story.

Mathew Brady was eventually caught in the Tamar Valley and was taken first to Launcseton goal and then transferred by sea to Hobart where he was hung, along with other members of his gang. He was 26 years of age.

River Tamar - view from the top of Brady's Lookout


From the lookout on the top of a castelated cliff, it is possible to see halfway to George Town (left - Port Dalrymple) and up river almost to Launceston (right). The Tamar is tidal throughout its length. Speed of navigation was determined by the wind and could take anything from a couple of days to a week or more. Without wind ships had to be warped (towed) upstream.

From this vantage point, the bushrangers could watch for ships on the river. With no roads through the bush, the river was the only means of transport - so Brady and his gang planned to take a ship and escape from Van Diemen's Land. But neither Brady nor most of his men were seamen.

Pic: Panorama image (MM) - I wonder if the dead tree in the picture was living when Matthew Brady was standing on this very spot - interesting thought!

The plaque at Brady's Lookout - Tamar Valley, Tasmania


Transported to Hobart Gaol - 1826

Early in 1826, not far from Launceston, Brady was wounded. With no possibility of escape, he surrendered to John Batman, the man who was later to found Melbourne.

From Launceston goal he was transported by ship down the Tamar River and around the coast to Hobart Town - a sea journey of a least a week - where he stood trial with other members of his gang.

On the same voyage was Jeffries, the sadistic child-killer and murderer. Brady refused to travel in the same cart with Jeffries and objected to being confined in the ship with him.

Pic: The rugged cliffs of the southeast coast of Van Diemen's Land.


Reflections on the Colonial Brig, Lady Nelson

In the above picture you can see the Colonial Brig, Lady Nelson, anchored on the Derwent River. That was in 1804.

Today a replica of the Lady Nelson sails out of Hobart. She was built on the Derwent River and is operated by volunteers by the Tasmanian Sail Training Association.

To read more about the Lady Nelson go to my sailing links at the bottom of this page. Join me as I sail around Tasmania on this historic replica ship.

Pic: Lady Nelson and Windeward Bound in next dock.

Note: Today the Lady Nelson carries a crew of 18 which is full capacity.

The ship which carried Matthew Brady from Portsmouth to Hobart was the 'Juliana', a fully rigged ship which carried its crew plus 180 convicts.


Van Diemen's Land bushranger - Godliman

John Godliman was executed for the murder of Mr Pike's shepherd.

Most bushrangers were aged in their early twenties.

Godliman, ca. 1823 - 1843, by Thomas Bock in his 'Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers'. (Ref: DL PX 5/ f.23)

Courtesy of Dixson Library, State Library of NSW


Metal Sculptures remind of notorious bushrangers in Van Diemen's land

Today the historic town of Oatlands has some remarkable modern metal sculptures dotted across the hillsides which remind the traveller of its history.


From Hobart Town to Launceston in 1820

It's only a 200 mile journey from Launceston to Hobart but in 1820 this journey would take days

Today Tasmania's Midlands are rich in the history of early settlement and most places still retain the names given by early settlers - Richmond, Tunbridge, Jericho, Bagdad, Jerusalem (now Colebrook) and Oatlands.

The Heritage Highway, as it is now called, became the stage coach route and in the early days there were four miliary posts between Hobart and the north, and settlements grew up around them.

This lovely old mansion is at Kempton.


Van Diemen's Land coast first charted by Abel Tasman

When Abel Tasman sailed with his two armed merchant vessels and crew of 110 men from Batavia (Dutch East Indies), he was instructed to take possession of all continents and islands which he discovered.

In 1642 while charting sea routes of the Indian Ocean, he sighted a land mass unknown to any European nation and gave it the name of 'Anthony van Diemens Landt' in honour of his Governor General.

A landing party came ashore on November 24 and a second party took possession for the Dutch by planting a flag. The ships then sailed eastward and discovered 'Staten Landt' (New Zealand) and other Pacific Islands.

There is no mention of Tasman entering Macquarie Harbour - perhaps like other later navigators he did not realise what was beyound The Gates.

Tasman died in 1659 - almost 150 years before Captain Cook charted the Australian coast.

For many years, Tasmania was known as Van Diemen's Land and the west coast of Tasmania still reflects the remarkable voyages of those early Dutch navigators.

North of the entrance to Macquarie Harbour though the entrance to 'Hell's Gates' are the peaks which still bear the names of Abel Tasman's ships - Heemskerck and the smaller Fluyt Zeehaen. Other Tasmanian coastal features still retain the Dutch names.

Pics: statue of Abel Tasman (Hobart waterfront)

If you enjoyed reading this page, please leave a comment

Alan June on May 18, 2018:

Absolutely fantastic.

anonymous on November 21, 2010:

@SusannaDuffy: hi what you doing

Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on January 01, 2010:

They were terrible days! I had to revisit your Matthew Brady so that it could be blessed in an Angel's Last Tango (

Margaret Muir (author) from Tasmania, Australia on September 24, 2009:

[in reply to susannaduffy]


I would love to know if your great grandfather left any anecdotes about his time on Sarah Island.

Thanks for popping by.


Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on September 24, 2009:

Fascinating story! What a history Tasmania has, I get the creeps looking at the jails. My great grandfather was on Sarah Island and all I could think of, when I first stood there, was how damp it was. Thanks for a great lens and a thoroughly interesting read, Lensrolled to my Ned Kelly.

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