Michael Howe (bushranger)

Australian bushranger

Michael Howe (1787 – 21 October 1818) was a famous bushranger in Tasmania, Australia. He called himself the "Lieutenant Governor of the Woods". He kept a written record of his thoughts in a book he called "The Journal of Dreams".[1]

Early life


Howe was born in Pontefract, Yorkshire, in 1787. He joined the merchant navy at Hull. After a short while he ran away and joined the Royal Navy. He deserted (left without permission) the navy after two years. He had his own small boat and carried coal. In 1811 Howe was arrested at York and charged with highway robbery. He was sentenced to seven years in Van Diemen's Land.[1]



Howe arrived in Hobart on October on the convict ship Indefatigable. He was sent to work for John Ingle, who had once been the Supervisor of Convicts. He was now a farmer and merchant. Howe soon escaped and went into the bush. He joined up with a large group of escaped convicts who had become bushrangers (robbers). The gang of 28 was led by John Whitehead. It included two soldiers (who had deserted) and two aboriginal women.[1]



The bushrangers robbed a lot of houses and farms around New Norfolk. On April 25, 1815, the gang went to the house of a Mr.Carlisle. Carlisle and his friends went out to stop the gang from stealing a boat. Carlisle was shot dead, and his neighbour, Mr.O'Birne, was badly wounded. O'Birne died a few days later. The gang returned to New Norfolk in May 1815, to rob more houses. They met a group of soldiers and John Whitehead was shot and killed. To claim a reward for killing a bushranger, the body had to be identified. To stop people from claiming a reward for their capture, Howe and Whitehead had made a promise to each other. This would be to cut the head off whoever was killed first so no one would know who it was. As soon as Whitehead was shot, his head was cut off by Howe and hidden in the bush.[1]

Leader of the bushrangers


After Whitehead's death, Howe became leader of the gang of bushrangers. He set up the gang as if they were on board a ship. Gang members could be punished if they broke the gang's rules. Punishment included having to cut and carry firewood, and even included being lashed (whipped). Howe would read to them from the Bible. He wrote letters to Governor Davey. In 1816 he signed the letters as "Lieutentant Governor of the Woods." In 1817 he began calling himself the "Governor of the Ranges." He was living with an aboriginal woman, called "Black Mary." Members of the gang were known to be James Garry, Peter Septon, George Jones, Richard Colier, John Chapman, Thomas Coyne, James Parker, Mathew Kegan, John Brown and Nenis Curry. The gang continued to rob people at Green Point, Coal River, and Bagdad.[1]



In 1817, Howe wrote to Governor William Sorell and offered to give himself up in return for a free pardon (not be put in gaol for any crimes). He offered to tell the government where all the gang members could be found. He was put into Hobart gaol while he was being questioned about the gang. He escaped while being taken for a walk through Hobart to get fresh air. He went back and rejoined the gang. Governor Lachlan Macquarie in Sydney stopped the pardon, and told Sorell to put more effort in to capture Howe. Sorell offered money, a free pardon and a return to England for anyone that captured Howe.[1]

The gang breaks up


The hunt for the bushrangers became more organized. John Chapman and a man called Elliot were shot dead by the soldiers in 1817. A gang member called Hillier cut Peter Septon's head off to claim a reward. He also tried to cut off Richard Colier's head. Both men were hurt in the struggle. Hillier was taken to Sydney where he was executed by hanging. Colier was executed in Hobart on March 26, 1818. In April, 1818, a group of convicts tried to steal a government boat. They were going to rescue Howe and take him to America. John Brown, James Parker, Thomas Coyne and Mathew Kegan gave themselves up to the military. They were all taken to Newcastle, New South Wales where they were given the lash (whipped) and sent to gaol.[1]



In September 1818, a group came from Sydney to join in the hunt for Howe. They wanted the reward. One member of the group was the famous aboriginal tracker, Mosquito. They nearly caught him. They did get his guns and his knapsack (a backpack). In the knapsack they found his "Journal of Dreams". It was a book made from kangaroo skin and Howe had written in it using kangaroo blood as ink. In it Howe wrote about his fear of being killed by the aborigines, his dreams of his sister, and lists of vegetables and flowers he would grow in a house in the forest. As he escaped, Howe thought Black Mary was slowing him down, so he tried to shoot her.[1]

On October 10, Howe was captured by two people he knew and trusted, Watts and Drewe. He managed to untie himself and stabbed Watts and shot Drewe dead. Watts died later from the injuries. On October 21, 1818, Black Mary led another two men, a convict, Thomas Worrall, and a soldier, William Pugh, to where Howe was hiding near the Shannon River. Worrall had been a sailor who had been sent to Van Diemen's Land for his part in the naval mutiny at the Nore (mouth of the Thames) in 1797. He wanted the reward so he could be free and return to England. All the men shot at each other, but after a fierce fight, Pugh and Worrall bashed Howe to death with their muskets (guns).[1]

Howe was buried by the river, but his head was taken back to Hobart where it was put on public display.[2]

Australian first


Much of the information comes from a book by Governor Sorell's secretary, Thomas Wells. The book was called Michael Howe, the Last and Worst of the Bushrangers of Van Diemen's Land and printed in 1818 in Hobart. This was the first work of general literature printed in Australia.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Wells, T.E. (1979). Michael Howe: the last and worst of the bushrangers of Van Diemens Land. Dubbo: Review Publications.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Von Stieglitz, K.R. (1966). Howe, Michael (1787 - 1818). Melbourne University Press. Retrieved 30 December 2008. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)