Captain Moonlite – Bushranger

On January 20, 1880, just before he faced the hangman’s noose at Sydney ‘s Darlinghurst gaol, Andrew George Scott – better known as Captain Moonlite – wrote: I want to rest in the grave of my friend. Gratify my last wish if you can. Do it in the cheapest manner possible. I have one hour to live.

It took 115 years to grant his last wish, but on January 13 1995 his remains were finally laid to rest in the Anglican section of North Gundagai cemetery, metres from the unmarked graves of his friends James Nesbitt and Augustus Wernicke.

Close by is the grave of constable Edward Mostyn Webb-Bowen, who, along with Nesbitt and Wernicke, was shot in the bushranging siege at Wantabadgery, between Gundagai and Wagga Wagga. Scott called him “brave Bowen”.

The year was 1879. Scott, a former lay preacher, had received an early release for good behaviour after serving time for bank robbery. (Until death, he protested his innocence of this.) He had been forced to abort his controversial public lecture on prison reform, which was to have provided his income. The country was in the grip of devastating drought. Unemployment was high. With hundreds of other men, Scott and five young friends tramped the track from homestead to homestead, staying alive as best they could.

At Wantabadgery homestead, after twice being refused work, food or shelter despite three days of rain, they drew their weapons and thus began the siege which would go down in Riverina history.

This was the first known, and admitted, attempt at bushranging by these six novices, only two of whom could ride. Over three days 35 people were taken hostage.

The women, especially, were treated with respect, and all hostages were released unharmed before the final shootout with troopers took place.

Scott and his three surviving friends – Thomas Rogan, Frank Johns and Graham Bennett – were tried first at Gundagai and then in Sydney for shooting Constable Bowen.

The trial contained much conflicting evidence and was conducted in an atmosphere of public hysteria with over 2000 people crowding the courthouse.

All four were sentenced to death.

On appeal, the sentences of Williams and Bennett were reduced to hard labour for life, but Scott and Rogan were hanged and buried in Sydney ‘s Rookwood cemetery in unmarked graves.