Tolmer in 1844

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... where a gang of twelve desperadoes headed by one Gilks, a corporal and deserter from the 96th Regiment, who after committing robberies on the main established themselves, built a hut with portholes in a remote part of the island (Western River}, and then had the audacity to send a challenge through His Excellency the Governor (now Sir George Grey) to fight the police, which challenge was at once accepted by Mr. Tolmer, who with a party of selected men after six weeks' untiring exertions and privations in a whaleboat and tramping through the bush succeeded in capturing the whole gang and safely brought them to Adelaide ... (1878, December 28). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 6.


We have pleasure in submitting, to public notice, a narrative of the operations of the party of police in the late expedition to Kangaroo Island, under command of Mr Tolmer.

Mr Tolmer with Mr Shaw, and seven men, sailed for the island on the 15th August, in the Hawk. On the 16th they called at Rapid Ray to take in Sergeant Naughton, and on the same day landed at Hog Bay, where they encamped. The next few days were spent in searching the country in the neighbourhood of Western River, Hog Bay, and Creek Bay. On the 22nd they captured McDonald [McDonnell?] and Scotson. On the 24th they arrived at Kingscote, and placed their prisoners (with consent of Mr. Woodruffe) under guard, in a house formerly occupied by Dr. Harvey.

Mr. Tolmer having heard that the other parties he was in search of, were at Western River, determined to sail for that place, and Mr Woodruffe kindly consented to accompany the party. On the 25th they started for Western River, leaving three men in charge of the prisoners. The same day they came in sight of Freestone Harbour. The moment they were seen, Gilks the deserter from the 96th, and one of the Vixen prisoners started out of a hut and ran off into the scrub. In the neighbouring creek the party found the boat stolen from Mr Snowdon, and they learned that Gilks and his companion were on their way to Kingscote to barter wallaby skins for flour. Mr Tolmer as a ruse left three men in the hut, concealed under a bed, and went out to sea. In the evening Gilks came with a gun and looked in, but at that moment one of the men blew his nose, and the scheme was baulked. It afterwards appeared that Gilks had left a damper behind, and he was so hungry that he was determined to rush the hut that night, in order to obtain it, but the Prussian (Smith) who was with him, was not "game".

The party in the boat proceeded to Western River to capture two black women, who were said to have been left there along with one of the soldiers, being assured that without their assistance the men could not subsist. On arriving at Western River they found marked on the time board* in the hut, the words, "started for Kingscote on the 24th." (*The islanders keep a board in their houses, on which the days of the month and week are marked, usually with chalk.)

The party then returned to Freestone, and Mr. Tolmer determined to track the gang in the interior of the island, as he felt convinced that they had arranged to meet. He was confirmed in this, by a note received from police constable Lamb, stating that Gilks, the Vixen runaway, and the Prussian had been at Kingscote, that they had captured the latter, and that after a severe struggle with Gilks, he and his companion had got clear off and had gone in the direction of Threewell River. It appeared afterwards that the Vixen runaway had joined his mate and the black women in the interior, but that Gilks had taken a separate course, and had ultimately reached the head of the island. Mr Tolmer now secured the services of " Betty" and "Wab," two black women, Bates's and one of Warland's, the latter a Van Diemen's Land native, the best tracker in the island. Such are the astonishing powers of these women, that in the course of one day, after falling in with the tracks, they travelled a distance of 23 miles through scrub, without once losing the tracks.

The party started from Freestone on the 28th, with four days provisions in their knapsacks; the tracks first led them to Threewell River, where Stein a German settler, told them that Gilks and a soldier had begged for bread, not having had meat for three days. Here also they heard that McDonnell, the prisoner first taken, had escaped from Dr Harvey's house at Kingscote. He had taken advantage of some little indulgence of the policeman on guard, got possession of a knife, and handcuffed as he was, rushed past the policeman (who happened to be unarmed), shouting "liberty or death."

On the 30th the party pursued tracks which led them right into the centre of the island, the tracks were those of the two Vixen men, the two black women, and a number of dogs. About 5 o'clock in the afternoon when close to Rush Lagoon, the native women suddenly stopped, put their hands to their noses, and said that they smelled smoke. They said the white fellows were at a break wind about a mile off. The police remained till dusk at the lagoon, they then moved forward to leeward of the fire that the dogs might not scent them, and heard the soldiers laughing and talking to the black women. Mr. Tolmer thought it more prudent to defer the attack till the morning, as in the dusk the parties could easily escape in the scrub the moment the dogs gave the alarm. They retreated about 100 yards, and camped for the night without a fire. For the sake of warmth they huddled all together, some of them soon began to snore, and Mr Tolmer was forced to keep constantly poking at the snorers to prevent them being heard by the dogs. Day had no sooner broke than the party moved forward, and such was the caution used, that Mr Tolmer had his hand, upon the throat of a sleeping soldier before the dogs gave the alarm. It is curious, that though the prisoners had not the slightest idea that they were pursued, the men had a presentiment that they were to be caught that morning, and the women had also said, the police were near.

The police and Mr Woodruffe arrived at Kingscote on Saturday 31 st August, rested on Sunday, and on Monday 2nd September the police started in two parties after McDonnell and Gilks, each party having a native woman as tracker. Mr Tolmer was much knocked up, having had only one day's rest since he landed, and rode part of the way on the gigantic horse, the only one on the island. Betty, Mr Shaw's tracker, having mistaken the tracks, the parties met at Jacobs' hut, Morrison's Point. Gilks had been at Jacobs', and had told him that he had been two days without food, that he had lost the flint of his rifle, and that he was going back to Western River. Wab was sent out to trace him; she returned in two hours, with a very satisfied look, sat down, and commenced to smoke. On being asked about Gilks she said, 'All gammon-he is at Creek Bay." Mr Tolmer then despatched a party along with Jacobs to Creek Bay, and remained alone at Jacobs' hut, being too much fatigued to proceed. He had given his pistols to one of the men, and retained only his carbine, which was placed near the door. He then sat down beside the fire, and a damper was on the table near him. Having some idea that McDonnell might be in the neighbourhood he determined to keep awake but sleep overpowered him.

He was awoke by a man crying out, 'There, Mr Tolmer, don't say I am not a man; I could have shot you with your gun." Mr T. started up and recovered his gun-it was McDonnell. He said he had watched Mr T. for ten minutes, and had crept into the hut and looked round the corner of a bedstead; he said he had been eight days without food, and yet he did not touch the damper. Mr Tolmer thought that he had had an intention to murder him, and was only deterred by the idea that others were concealed. Mr Tolmer gave the prisoner damper, and got him to kill a pig, which he did in good style - he ate enormously. Mr T. afterwards, with some difficulty got the handcuffs on him - the other handcuffs he said he had thrown away in the scrub. Mr T. slept with his prisoner - or rather he did not sleep, neither did McD., but watched each other closely the whole night, in the morning a preconcerted signal was made, and Mr Woodruffe with some of the settlers, came in a boat, with whom Mr Tolmer and his prisoner returned to Kingscote.

Mr Tolmer having found the Victoria at Kingscote went on the 6th to Freestone in her, and brought it Snowdon's boat on the 7th. On the 9th Mr Shaw and party arrived with Gilks in custody, having captured him after a sharp run near Creek Bay. The police having waited a few days for the Jane Flaxman, sailed in her from the island on the 12th, with the six male prisoners and the two black women who lived with them, and arrived on the 13th at Port Adelaide.

It was fortunate enough that the prisoners were caught at the time they were, as it seems they were just about to steal a boat, in order to form another station. Great praise is due to Mr Tolmer for his admirable conduct throughout the whole of this arduous enterprise, and we are glad to add, that he was well seconded throughout by Mr Shaw.

PROCEEDINGS OF THE POLICE AT KANGAROO ISLAND. (1844, September 27). Southern Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1838 - 1844), p. 2.

Southern Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1838 - 1844), Friday 22 March 1844, page 3


THIS day, Charles Thompson, alias Richard Lewis, was brought up charged with being a runaway convict.

For the defence - Messrs Fisher, Smith, and Poulden.

Thomas Naughton, sergeant of police, examined.-I know the prisoner at the bar, who calls himself Charles Thompson ; I know him as Richard Lewis ; I have known him since the year 1831 or 1832; I first saw him at Moreton Bay; he was a convict, and was coxswain of a boat's crew ; I cannot say what his sentence was, but I believe it was for life ; I afterwards saw him in the Government boat's crew, at Sydney; I saw him again in this colony, about five years ago ; I did not then speak to him ; I afterwards saw him at the Old Port ; I thought at that time he was going to take a man away I was after-; I said to the prisoner-" Dick Lewis, if I find you take this man away, look out ; he said-" You are quite mistaken, I am not the person ;" I did not see him again till I saw him last Sunday morning, at Kangaroo Island ; I saw him coming out of a cellar just before sunrise; he said-"You have woke me very early;" Í asked him what ship he came to the colony in ; he said the Elizabeth ; I asked him it he had ever been to Sydney ; he said he had -for about a twelvemonth ; Mr Tolmer and several of the police were with me ; I did I not tell him what I took him for; yesterday afternoon, coming up from the Port, he said- " I do not know what I am here for ;" I then told him for being a runaway convict, and, if he had asked me, I could have told him that before ; I do not recollect his answer; in the course of conversation he said - "You are quite out ;" a person named East came to me this morning. and in the course of conversation said if I would be easy with Thompson £10 or £20 would be no object between us ; Thompson has been at the police office, but no person has had any communication with him that I know of.

By Mr Fisher.—I took Thompson last Sunday morning, at Kangaroo Island ; there was a warrant with the party ; I believe I saw it in the hands of the Commissioner of Police last ; he directed me before I went into the house to apprehend the prisoner ; I was acting under the Commissioner's directions ; I apprehended the prisoner in his cellar, but did not tell him why, as he never asked me ; at the time he was apprehended there was no warrant shewn him to my knowledge ; after he dressed himself I handcuffed him, put him on board a vessel, and brought him to Adelaide; I was a shipwrecked sailor when I saw the prisoner at Moreton Bay ; I was about fourteen or fifteen years old; I was living with the rest of the seamen ; I think I saw the prisoner at Sydney in the year 1832 ; I first saw the prisoner in this colony in the house of one Hayman, at the Old Port, nearly five years ago ; another man named McLeod, who was with me, spoke to him ; Sergeant-Major Alford was with me ; I was at the prisoner's house, at Kangaroo Island, about three years and a half ago, but I did not then see him ; I saw East at the barracks this morning ; no one was then present but East himself.

Alexander Tolmer, Inspector of Police, examined.—I was at Kangaroo Island last Sunday with Naughton and a party of police ; I went to the house occupied by the prisoner ; I went to the front of the house, and knocked ; as soon as I had knocked, I heard a great deal of shuffling inside the house ; I heard a slam as if of a trap door shut ; I heard some one say." Have you got the gun ?— have you got the gun?" I told them to look out for the windows ; on my knocking at the front door, the party who entered at the back door came to me ; when I knocked a second time, a female called out " Who is there?" on going into the house, I asked the female present where Thompson was; she replied he was out ; I then searched the house, and in the bed room, where she slept, I found a pair of trousers which Mrs Thompson said were the prisoner's son's ; one of party asked if her son slept with her ; she said they were a dirty pair ; I looked in the passage to see if I could find a trap door ; I found a crack, and a trap door then fell into the cellar ; I stepped a few steps into the cellar, and finding it dark. I called out for a light; a man came up and said—"Here I am, what do you want? " he had only his shirt on ; while looking at the prisoner, Naughton said, you are the man we want; the prisoner is the man ; he dressed himself in the opposite room to where we found the trousers.

By Mr Fisher.—There were ten in the party who surrounded the house, the Commissioner being one, the rest being police ; I had a warrant in my pocket from the Commissioner of Police, which I now produce ; I did not produce the warrant to the prisoner, or tell him the charge on which he was apprehended ; I considered that as the Commissioner was at the head of the party he was the directing person ; I searched the house with the men ; the Commissioner said he had been up stairs ; he was one who went in the house at the back; I think he opened the door to me; Mrs Thompson was in the bed room, undrest ; she was out of bed ; the sons were in the house ; they were young men ; Naughton knew whom we were going for when we went ; the prisoner is well known in Kangaroo Island ; I did not get information from any one but Naughton before we went away; Haynes, of the Port, told me of him-that he was going to have a fishery; Haynes gave me a description of him, and told me he was a convict.

Mr Fisher addressed the court at considerable length on the prisoner's behalf, contending that, supposing there was full proof of the prisoner's identity, which of course he denied, no one had any power or authority to apprehend a prisoner of the crown convicted in New South Wales, without a special warrant from that colony.

The Magistrate said he would take no step in the matter until he saw Mr Finniss, Commissioner of Police, who, it appeared, was out of town. He therefore remanded the prisoner till this day.

Thomas Wilson, who confessed himself a deserter from the 96th, was apprehended at Kangaroo Island. On being brought before the Magistrate he was delivered up to the military, and escorted by a guard to the barracks.

RESIDENT MAGISTRATE'S COURT. (1844, March 22). Southern Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1838 - 1844), p. 3.