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Fatal Pulpit Hill convict breakout

Mon 27th Jul 2020

Headstone of Constable Thomas Madden at Hartley cemetery. Photo: Kevin Banister.
Headstone of Constable Thomas Madden at Hartley cemetery. Photo: Kevin Banister.

The two men gripped hands as if their lives depended on it. For one of them, that was true. He was dying from the gunshots he'd received from the man whose hand he held, but his final words were ones of forgiveness. Constable Thomas Madden and Sergeant Walter Casey would have no idea at how their lives would be changed for ever on the night of 29th April, 1867 when they were to take charge of an escort of 15 prisoners that were travelling from Bathurst to Sydney.

 

Sergeant Casey was stationed at the tiny village of Sofala and had been called to guard over the men at the Pulpit Hill lockup from 7pm to 10pm on that fateful night. Constable Madden was originally from Ireland and  had joined the New South Wales police force  in 1864 at the age of 28. That night, as a mounted trooper he was also responsible for guarding the long term prisoners. Long before Katoomba or any of the lower Blue Mountains villages came into existence, the Pulpit Hill lockup had been built in 1862 as a resting place for prisoners who were being transported from Bathurst to Sydney, along the Bathurst Road.

 

Sergeant Casey's watch was uneventful and while he was relieved at 10pm by Constable Duggan, he was unable to sleep. He lay down on the sofa allocated for him with his loaded gun sitting on the nearby windowsill, and chatted to Duggan and then Madden who finished his shift at 2am. As Constable Hitchcox was to take over the next shift Madden made a fatal mistake.

 

"I will look to see that (the prisoners) are alright," he called out to Hitchcox, who was in an adjoining room.

 

As the door was opened, Madden was overcome by a number of prisoners who stormed through the cell door and into the front room where Casey was lying on the sofa. Both Madden and Hitchcox were seized by the throat and nearly strangled.

 

Casey jumped up, grabbed his revolver and shot at the prisoner called Moran, who had been sentenced to 17 years for highway robbery. There was absolute chaos as prisoners and police were yelling and fighting to be the ones to overcome the situation. The room had gone dark as a blanket was thrown over the oil lamps and acrid smoke from the first two gun shots filled the now crowded space.

 

Casey kept firing. He aimed and shot at another prisoner Thomas Kerr - sentenced to hard labour on the roads - who was rushing at Madden. Kerr fell. Another prisoner, Southgate, had hold of Madden and when Casey shot at him, he managed to dodge the bullet. After five shots were spent, all but two of the prisoners ran back into the cell.

 

Casey started to follow the two prisoners but then came back in and shut the cell door on the prisoners who had returned. His relief would have been palpable, especially when back up arrived in the form of Senior Constables McArthur, McNanamy and other police constables from the barracks.

 

McArthur gave Casey the bad news that Madden had been shot in three places, and that the prisoners must have gotten hold of a gun. Casey checked each of the revolvers and realised with a growing dread that the only gun discharged had been his own.

 

"Oh my god, I must have shot poor Madden," he raced up to the barracks where the injured constable had been taken and was lying, complaining of pain in his bowels.

 

Casey confessed to Madden that it was he who shot him, causing him the pain he was in. Madden wouldn't hear of it, believing in all the mayhem, the prisoners had managed to get a gun and shoot him.

 

"No, it was me," Casey wished with all his heart it wasn't true.

 

"No other revolver was discharged."

 

Madden grabbed Casey's hand and held it tightly.

 

"If it was, I forgive you," he said to the grieving sergeant.

 

"I know you didn't do it on purpose."

 

Casey was so overcome with emotion that when he was giving evidence at the inquest that followed after Madden died, he testified that he must have fainted. While the prisoners that were shot were only wounded, it must have been small comfort to Casey to know it was because of his shooting that stopped them from escaping.

 

The inquest found that Constable Madden  had been "Accidently shot by Sergeant Casey in the execution of his duty". A memorial headstone was erected in the Hartley cemetery to Thomas Madden in memory of his bravery by the police of the western district.

 

Post script

 

The two prisoners that escaped in the early hours of April 30, 1867 were Charles Rutherford and James Holmes. Rutherford was captured by Constable McNanamy at Hartley, but Holmes was never seen again. Walter Casey was promoted to Superintendent in the NSW police force.

 

Originally published on Tales From The Grave Uncovering family history from down under By Samantha Elley

 

References

  • 'Draft Heritage Data Form - Blue Mountains Heritage', Blue Mountains City Council, https://yoursay.bmcc.nsw.gov.au/23774/documents/53257, accessed 28th December, 2019.
  • 'The Pulpit Hill Outbreak', Empire, 14 May 1867, Page 8.
  • 'New South Wales, Australia, Registers of Coroners' Inquests, 1821-1937, for Thomas Madden, ancestry.com.au, accessed 28th December, 2019
  • 'Police vs Convicts - Fatal fight at Pulpit Hill', Coolgardie Mining Review, Saturday, 27 February 1897, Page 16
  • 'Affray at Pulpit Hill Lockup 1867', hartleyhistory, https://hartleyhistory.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/afrray-at-pulpit-hill-lockup-1867/, accessed 28th December, 2019
  • 'Thomas Madden', Australian Police - The Thin Blue Line, https://www.australianpolice.com.au/thomas-madden/?fbclid=IwAR3Slo6oOD8lbXJvulu_qmNeS39WPNmj4Gg30w4faVcqMRMFYAOPxl1hQ-o, accessed 29th December, 2019