There are many stories hidden within the history of Northern New South Wales, stories now forgotten or little known. Have you ever heard of the 'Jewboy gang'? I had not.
Edward Davis was born 1n 1816. His place of birth is uncertain, as indeed is his real name. However, it does appear that he was Jewish.
In April 1832 under the name George Wilkinson, Davis was centered to transportation for seven years for attempting to steal a wooden till along with some copper corns. He arrived in Sydney in February 1833. Convinced of the wrongness of his sentence and determined to find freedom, Davis made the first of three unsuccessful escape attempts in December 1833. Now with an ever lengthening sentence, in July 1838 Davis made a further escape attempt, this time remaining at liberty.
In the summer of 1839, Davis formed a gang of runaway convicts. Davis’s biographer G F J Bergman suggests that they were not hardened criminals, but more juvenile delinquents who considered themselves chevaliers of the road. Davis himself bore curious tattoos, while gang members wore gaudy clothes and tied pink ribbons to their horses.
The gang based themselves at Pilcher’s Mountain near Dungog. Formed by tectonic stresses, Pilcher’s Mountain is a maze of massive boulders, with many caves and hiding places. From this base, the gang launched a series of raids across the Hunter and onto the Liverpool Plains as far north as Tamworth. They adopted a Robin Hood approach, distributing part of the booty to assigned convict servants.
By December 1840, the gang had grown to seven members. On 21 December, they descended on Scone. Davis had always insisted that they should use violence only for their preservation of their own liberty, but this time things went wrong.
The gang broke into two groups. Three including Davis went to rob the St Aubin Arms, four to rob the store of Thomas Dangar, a member of a family that would become well known across New England.
At the store, the store-keeper’s clerk, a young Englishman named John Graham, fired a shot. The gang’s John Shea returned fired, killing Graham. Learning the news, Davis realised that the gang was now in deep trouble. Gathering his men, they fled to one of their hiding places, Doughboy Hollow near Murrurundi.
Retribution was swift. Police magistrate Captain Edward Day organised a party of mounted men to pursue the bushrangers.
Day is another of those important minor figures in New England history; in June 1838 he was in charge of the party sent to arrest the men responsible for the massacre on Henry Dangar’s (Thomas’s uncle) Myall Creek Station; later he would be police magistrate for the Northern Districts.
Day’s party surprised the gang. With one exception, they were captured after a short battle and later sentenced to hang. Davis himself attracted considerable public sympathy, but appeals for clemency were rejected.
On 16 March 1841 Davis, assisted by the reader of the Sydney Synagogue, was hanged at the rear of the old Sydney goal together with his companions.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 6 November 2013. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013.