The Bushrangers: A play in five acts

And other poems

The Bushrangers


Charles Harpur

SCENE 1.A Room in the Windsor Police Office.


Tunbelly. There is no question but you met their objections most ably. But what particular matter was it you had to inform me of?

Woolsack. Oh! I received a letter last night from the Parramatta Bench by a special messenger. I have surely left it behind me—but no matter; I can tell you the purport of it. It begins with deploring—in very choice English, I assure you—the appalling prevalence of highway robbery and burglarious violence, and the consequent insecurity of life and property: and it states then, that with the view of capturing or destroying the audacious Banditti—headed by that predatory devil, Stalwart, and which is daily augmenting—a strong party of Police, commanded by Chief Constable Dreadnought, is now on its way to Richmond—a justly suspected District: and it concludes with requesting us, of the Windsor Bench, to strengthen the same by some six or eight of our most approved Constables.

Tunbelly. Ha! All this now ought to have been done before. But as matters are, it is, as I may say, atrociously necessary! Nothing but highway and byeway robberies, robberies, robberies!

Woolsack. Matters in those respects have indeed come to a terrible pass. But which of our Constables shall we send to Dreadnought?

Tunbelly. I have chosen two already in my mind. Bomebard the deputy—fierce fellow! he’s one. He’s relentless as a Calmuck, and thinks and talks, when on duty, of nothing but blood and thunder, to the salutary terror of every drunken cobbler and pot-walloping ’prentice in the town. His very terms of respect—for Ned is not wanting in proper respect—are discharged as ’twere from a blunderbuss; and even his whiskers seem made to gore with, like a bull’s horns. Then the fellow’s nose, look you, is a true Wellington; and his brows—why they are done, sir, as ’twere in granite, with an habitual frown that might turn the edge of an axe. Ned’s one; and the other is old Cant, the Methodist, who is too pious to run away, while he has (as he would himself phrase it) both the law and the testimony on his side of the controversy. As for the other four, let Bomebard himself select them. He’ll pitch upon fellows somewhat of his own kidney, I’ll warrant you.

Woolsack. You devise the matter well, sir.

Tunbelly. Why, in these sort of things, do you see, I have a kind of a—knack, as it were. In detecting the outward signs of inward resolution, I am particularly at home, sir; particularly. — Without there! Tell Bomebard and Cant to come hither immediately.


We have sent for you, Bomebard, because we are requested by the Parramatta Bench to strengthen Dreadnought, who is now in quest of Stalwart and his desperadoes, by six of our best constables, who are to join him in the vicinity of Richmond; and knowing, do you see, that you are a brave and zealous officer, we have chosen you to conduct the detachment. What say you?

Bomebard. I says this here, your Worships—I’m thankful in’ardly for being pitched on, and for your noble ’pinion o’ me likewise; which is, in a manner o’ speaking, right down coin o’ the relam to me. Brave, did your Worship say?—But I’ll not brag!

Tunbelly. No, don’t Ned: it were needless.

Bomebard. Only this here I must say—and I don’t care in regard o’ who knows it: my wery chest, your Worships, is too counteracted to hold my roused-up heart with ease—with proper ease, your Worships.

Tunbelly. We are quite confident in your courage, Ned, and have every thing else to expect from your zeal.

Bomebard. Zeal?—But I’ll not brag.

Tunbelly. And we have also chosen you, Cant, for one of the six; holding you, next to Ned here, our most trusty constable.

Cant. I’m proud o’ your Worship’s depinion o’ thy servant to command. I feel gracious towards your Worships both. Moreover, I hope your Worships think me a godly and faithful seeker o’ the Lord—saving your presence—and a fast holder of the Faith; all which I am, God be thanked—and saving your presence. Furthermore, if your Worships might wish to cross-contaminate me with hard questions touching my experience—

Tunbelly. No, no; not now, my good fellow. We are confident in you as an officer—and that is enough. Away home now, and get you ready. And, Bomebard, we leave to your selection the four others who are to accompany you.

Bomebard. Your Worships kiver me with honorableness; but I’ll desarve it—there! If so be as I comes across that ’ere Mister Stalwart, I’ll l’arn him what right down fighting is—there! What more can I say?

Tunbelly. That’s enough—that’s enough! Now, away with you!

Bomebard. Cant! right shoulders for’ard! March!

(Exeunt BOMEBARD and CANT.)

Woolsack. Truly, then, he is an extraordinary fierce fellow, that same Ned!

Tunbelly. Isn’t he? An’ he do come athwart the Bushrangers, they’ll have small relish of his company, I’m thinking. What a desperado the fellow would make! Why, Stalwart himself were a mere pet lamb to him! But, luckily, Ned has a very great respect for every thing legal. — Is the Court thrown open, fellow?

Doorkeeper. This good hour, your Worship.

Tunbelly. Gadsblood, you cub, see how you answer! What is it to you whether the hour is good or bad, sir? Eh, sir?

Doorkeeper. O Lord, sir!

Tunbelly. O Lord, sir! Can you never answer as you should do? What is the Lord to you, sir? Eh, sir?

Doorkeeper. O Lord, sir!

Tunbelly. Zounds! (striking him with his cane). Take that, you calf! You ought to have your ragged head broken every day of your life, you unteachable ironbark junk, you! — Let’s in, sir. — I’ll teach you —

(Exit with WOOLSACK.)

Doorkeeper(clenching his fist). O! if it was a thing as how I only might, I think I know whose corporation ’ud ake a bit! Well, all’s one, as the saying is.


SCENE II.—A Room in FENCE’S House.

MACBLOOD, RACKROAD, DESPERATE, FILCH, and a number of other BUSHRANGERS are discovered drinking, &c.



In the Forest we are free yet,
    In the Forest we are free!
And though through strife we hold this life,
    ’Tis a life of liberty!
And while traveller goes with aught to lose,
    Right merry will we be.

We nor bend to seed the soil, men,
    Nor gather up its birth;
Yet its fruits for us shall smile, men,
    And its harvests yield us mirth,
    In the Forest ranging free:
And though through strife we hold this life,
    ’Tis a life of liberty!

Enter STALWART from an inner Apartment.

Stalwart. Come men, break off!
Our need is at the worst.
A like necessity to that which pricks
The wild-dog from his forest lair, to prey
Around the guarded sheep-fold, bids us hence
Into society’s more beaten paths,
For spoil, to glut our need. In then, at once,
And get you ready.

Macblood.        Yes; the Captain’s right.
This same Necessity, like a she-centurion,
Says, Go! and go we must.

Filch.        Seeing it isn’t
So merry a deed to disobey the jade,
As ’tis to trick dame Justice.

Desperate.        Well! I care not;
Come what, come will, ’tis all as one at last.

Rackroad. Hey, for the roads again! Let’s in, my tigers!

(Exeunt all but STALWART into an inner Apartment.)

Stalwart. So we depart once more: and here comes Mary.
To take another leave. Poor girl, she loves me;
And as I deeply feel the charm of being
Beloved by one, else innocent, despite
My desperate fortunes, I must grieve as deeply,
To know what sorrow and shame I and her parents—
Her all-abandoned parents!—are entailing
Upon the creature that thus loves me! Yes;
Although a wild, ungovernable heart,
Hath driven me neck-deep in crime;—though misery,
And burning wrongs, have stung me to commit
Deeds, terrible but to name! yet I, at times,
Am quick to pity.

Enter MARY.

Why so sad, my girl?

Mary. What, Stalwart! Can you ask me such a question?
Do you not now depart—going, as it were,
In quest of an untimely grave, or bonds,
Or worse than these, of crime? I would not vex you!
They say you are a wild and fearful man,
But I will not believe them;—be not angry!
I ask not what you are: to me you seem
Only unhappy, like myself; and very—
Yes, very gentle—at least to me; and this
Aye makes me weep to think on when you are gone.

Stalwart. This kindness kills me!

(moving away from her, and speaking aside).

Did she only know
In full the blackness of my life, she’d fly me,
Maddened with horror! Yet I here am honest;
For, by the hell I merit, I would fill—
Here, at this very point of time, would fill
A dastard’s grave as freely as a throne,
Could I undo the evil, by my death,
Which, living, I have done her. Still ’twere nought,
Unless she could be so secured, besides,
From all that she must suffer in the future,
Of degradation and corrupting shame,
At her vile parents’ hands. And this the fiend
Within suggests as comfort. — Mary, go
Compose yourself within.

Mary.        Stay: I would ask you,
Is there no way by which you might forsake
These desperate courses? Listen to my thoughts:
Many might call them foolish—but you will not,
Even though they be. Stalwart, there’s many a vale—
Many a nameless vale, browed in by those
Blue shadowy mountains we behold afar,
Here to the west—which you might shelter in
Unknown, unsought for;—there, to till the soil,
Attend the herd, or hunt the forest beast,
You should not go alone.

Stalwart.        Alas! poor girl.
Mary, your thoughts are sweeter to my heart
Than are the wood-notes of a bird, to one
Who hears them, lying bed-rid—but they are vain!
Where is the solitude, under yon bright heaven,
Which might afford a refuge now to Stalwart,
Even for a week; attended, as he must be,
By the tell-tale personal echoes that resent
The world’s wide outcry, and the death-doom, pealed
By Vengeance through the trumpet of the Laws?—
Laws born of ages that were drunk with blood,
And mad with loss: hence are they merciless
In their effects, and never, never spare
The wretch whose wretchedness they help to make
The outcast thing it is. No, no: I may not,
Now still the legal hubbub that thus dogs
My hunted steps—not even by flight. And since
I may not, it must be my aim to make,
By deeds yet wilder and escapes more strange,
Its very prevalence become a fence
Of fearful mystery round my wandering life.
Yes! and besides, I am sworn unto my band,
In life, and to the death; and having now
No honest trust to pride in, be it mine,
Living and dying, to hold inviolate
The gloomy honor of a Robber Chief!

Mary. Then you would not reform, even though you might?
Nay, would you not?

Stalwart.        Not now. There was a time,
Not long since, Mary, when I much was wont
To fashion in my mind some scheme by which
I might retrieve the lost: ’twas when sweet thoughts
Of thee—and of my sister, one like thee—
Had breathed within me, like unfolding flowers,
Or stirred my listening heart, recurringly,
Like love-remembered music.—But, enough
Of this vain talk! Nay, why so sad?

Mary.        To think
What, in an honest path, you might have trod to;
And, for you will not break an evil oath
To mend your soul. There’s many an inland vale
Whose shades strife never enters—

Stalwart.        Say no more!
(moving from her, and continuing to speak aside).
O misery! This holding to my hopes
Glimpses of good, however far and faint,
Makes but my reason shudder all the more,
To apprehend the impassable gulf which crime
Hath thrown ’twixt me and aught but evil!—Crime,
The consciousness of which must ever make
The quiet interval, that overlasts
A week at most, less prizable to me
Than strife or riot; which, or arm remorse
Against itself, or blunt the thorns of guilt
Even in the sprouting. (Turning towards her).
                    Mary, hear me! rather
Than be the shuddering Thing that safety now,
And an unriotous life, could not but make me—
Rather, I say, than be so pale a worm,
I’d turn relenting Fortune’s brightest smiles
To hostile flames, and be myself, before them,
A sun-parched stubble!—Ho! within there, men.

Re-enter the rest of the Bushrangers, with Old FENCE and his Wife.

Well, are you ready?

Macblood. Yes; and willing also.

Stalwart. ’Tis well. (Apart to Mary). Forgive this haste. Follow!


Mrs. Fence. Well, I’m main glad they’re gone; for they were sucked dry, and my welcome weighs with their purses: a fresh purse—a fresh welcome. Eh, master?

Old Fence, (admiringly). You can do it, old ’oman; you’re the one that can do it, and no mistake.


Mrs. Fence. Come, girl, let’s in to our work: every thing is at sixes and sevens.


Mary. May God forgive her all the misery
She has dowered her daughter with. My heart is broken!


SCENE III.—The Forest near Richmond.

Enter BOMEBARD, CANT, and four others.

Bomebard. It’s him! Yes, my dymons, yonder’s Dreadnought, and his constab’lary waryers, awaiting for us. Shoulder your bright-barrelled impelments o’ war! Lift your legs, and push on afore me; and when you jines ’em, say this here—Ned Bomebard’s a-coming like lightning in the fernament! Presto!

Cant. Verily, we will denounce thy coming to strengthen them against the Philistines.

(Exeunt CANT and the four others.)

Bomebard. Said jist like yourself, old book o’ sarmonses. That bible Parson Teartext ’stowed on him has cracked his old pie-matter, as sartainly as I’m called the Waliant Trap—that is, by the scurvey Townsmen; but, by my bold com-rades, the Waliant Dog: though dog’s a tarm most low and wulgar-like, unless the sense bees right taken, as sinnicating—infarnal brave, which it does. Now the only book I studies is one about the days o’ cavelry, when every man wore steel at his side and fout his fill. And now the optu-nitty’s come for magnamalous deeds, and I’ll kiver myself with glory, and be well shot! (starts) I meant to say— well rewarded! (reflects). My wife says, Glory’s the foolishistus thing in all the wide world round, and that my fondness for it ’ill get me a death soonerer or laterer, and leave her a weeping widder without a dump! But she ’ticulates blasphybious words, and ought to lose her mortal tongue in consekence. And besides, amn’t I the Waliant Dog?
Yes I am—there!


SCENE IV.—Another part of the Forest.

Enter STALWART and the other BUSHRANGERS.

Stalwart. We can but look to be hunted.
The Laws’ proscription writes upon our heads—
“This is a lump of gold for any one
Who dares to knock it off.”

Macblood.        And gold’s a thing
That seldom travels safely —

Rackroad.        On the roads.

Desperate.        Let’s seek a meeting with our hunters, just
To know the worst they can do us.

Filch.        ’Twere the way
To gain a loss, at all events.

Several Bushrangers. But ’twere brave!

Stalwart. No: it were rashness—such as seldom fellows
Much inward pith and courage. All we lose
In such affrays, to us is absolute loss;
Whilst our opponents, howsoever crippled,
Have but to roar their damage in the ear
Of startled Justice (so to speak) to have
All re-made service-tight. What boots it then,
So wild a daring? For myself, you know
I care not—nay, that rather I am glad
To make acquaintance with a desperate chance;
But, being charged with others’ interests,
This is my counsel: Let a wily heed
Speak now our mastery o’er them, even more
Than open trial could,—a thing of numbers.
Be this our system, till we are tired of it,
Or likely to be hedged about.—Why, then,
The starting hole is force; and we, being thus
Baited by their pursuit, into a spirit
Of furious rivalry, shall conjure round
Their tingling ears, such a full peal, that they
Shall verily think these scrubs the skirts of Hell,
And us the Devil’s vanguard! Then may he
Who proves himself not one,—to whom, when wroth,
Danger’s a mistress, and a foeman’s blood
The choicest vintage,—be the next poltroon
That, dog-like, swings by the neck!
But, ho! what say you?
Shall we now seek them?
By the Lord, I have talked
My spirit into such a blaze, that I
Would now do nought but fight!

Filch.        No, let us first
Outwit them, for we like the trick on’t rarely.

Stalwart. Well, to the trial.

Macblood. Ha! beware! Yon scrub!

Rackroad. Faith, we’re beset!

Stalwart. Fall back, but steadily. (shots within). So! Into cover.

(The BUSHRANGERS fall back, firing out: then DREADNOUGHT, CANT, and a number of others charge across the stage after them: lastly BOMBARD enters in great apparent fury).

Bombard. Fight on, my hayroes! I’ll purtect your rear with the rage and wengence of a dragon. That’s a wip’rous-looking scrub yonder. I’ll jist try if any o’ the willians is planted there. (fires at random.) No, there ain’t, or—(firing and shouting within)—I don’t feel well somehow;—sick at stomach like, and narvous. But I won’t run away: no, I’ll only lie down among these here bushes, in resarve like. (He hides among some bushes.)

Re-enter several of the Bushrangers, firing out: they pass over as CANT and other constables re-enter on the attack.

Cant. Hang not back neighbours! Faithful death is the gate o’ life! quit yourselves like men! Put your trust i’ the God o’ battles, saith the ’vangelist! Come on!

(They pass over.)

Bomebard. (poking out his head) Well said, old boy! Fight on my ginnys o’ goold! I’ll guard your re——

(snatching in his head, as STALWART re-enters, speaking.

Stalwart. Look to your heart there! (Fires out.)


Dreadnought. And now look to yours! (He fires at STALWART, who falls.) A true ball. It has turned him into a giblet pie for the worms; which ancient gentlemen would have had a glorious meal prepared for them by this, had not Bomebard’s figitty rashness betrayed our ambuscade a thought too soon. But lie you there, my friend, while I seek you a bedfellow or so.


Stalwart. Thank you, Sir Trap! but then I am not fond
Of soulless bedfellows. (Rises.) I played the dead man
Most famously: ha, ha, (bitterly.) But the damned ball
Grates in my hip! Yet I can make a halt on’t:
And now, Fortune, shake hands.

(Exit halting.)

Bomebard. (starting from his hiding place as though he would arrest STALWART, but stopping short at the side). Well, go and be damned since you’re hipped! You beastly, blacklivered, infernal, stinking, wile scorpiant o’ the wilderness!

Re-enter DREADNOUGHT and the rest of the Police.

Dreadnought. (speaking as he enters). Well, my lads, we must be even content with dispersing, since we could not capture them. Faith, while the rascals have sound legs, we might as well hope to run down so many kangaroos. The master spirit, however, is let off the chain. Its kennel should lie somewhere here (looking about him). Why, this was the place. Gone. How’s this? Damnation!—But he cannot be gone far yet, and must have gone in this direction. Spread out for a search.

Cant. Verily this Pharaoh hath escaped us, and returned again to Egypt. I speak by types and shadows and s’militudes.

Dreadnought. What, Bomebard; Why, I haven’t seen you before since the tussle began. Where have you been, man?

Bomebard. Where have I been? That’s rich, that is! Why a chasing o’ two o’ the enemy, who fout like two fiends o’ the woods, till one o’ them says to the other, says he—I’m blowed if it ain’t Ned Bomebard! and with that they fled, like lightening in the fernament.

Dreadnought. And in good time no doubt. (Aside.) I begin to suspect this fellow of being a mere braggadocia.—But come! we are wasting moments that are like so many drops of gold. Spread out well: we must not let this wounded fox escape us.

The Scene closes as the Police spread about the Stage.

The Bushrangers - Contents    |    Act II

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