A Tribute to the Wild Scotchman,
Queensland's own Bushranger

(based on the story on www.sabatech.net/scotchman)
by Rollo Waite, July 4, 2009

You've heard of the likes of Ned Kelly,
Frank Gardiner and Ben Hall,
those bushrangers of long ago,
great stories about them all;
of how they robbed and plundered
In the nineteenth century.
But Queensland's own bushranger
was the best you'll ever see.

Yes, James McPherson was his name,
A Scotchman bold and wild,
born in the highlands far away,
came to Australia as a child,
where he learned to ride and shoot
with McConnel's at Cressbrook station,
A bright young lad, without a doubt,
with a Scottish education.

But then his father moved away,
bought a property at Bald Hills,
had James apprenticed to John Petrie
to be trained in building skills.
But finer things were on James' mind,
such as reading and debating,
He joined the local School of Arts,
which he found most fascinating.

In eighteen sixty a politician,
Charles Lilley of the Valley,
defending his rotten militia bill
at a riotous public rally,
was saved by James' quick thinking,
from “lynching” by the crowd.
`Twas a great big feather in his cap
of which James could be proud.

Why James embarked on a life of crime,
Is hard to understand,
for after all, he was employed,
and a happy-go-lucky young man.
With two others he went shearing,
was being bored with the building trade,
made a bloody mess of their first job
and for this they were unpaid.

"You'll pay us now," McPherson said
to the owner, with rifle in hand,
and this was seen as robbery
though such had not been planned.
And thus began a new career
as they rode on their merry way,
robbed the Cardington hotel, near Bowen
to make up for loss of pay.

The owner was accidentally shot,
thus James had a price on his head,
left his co-conspirators far behind,
rode to New South Wales instead,
to join Frank Gardiner and then Ben Hall,
Did some robberies on the way,
Police were active everywhere
chasing bushrangers, night and day.

In a skirmish with the troopers
McPherson was shot in the arm,
was captured and taken to Sydney
before he did more harm.
But the only witness, Pottinger,
accidentally died on the way,
charges against James, all were dropped,
he was extradited that day.

Taken to Bowen to face the charges
for the Cardington pub affair,
then to Brisbane on the “Diamentina”,
but he wasn't staying there.
He escaped by jumping overboard,
had leg irons on at the time,
Thus James was now a wanted man,
with a life of strife and crime.

He robbed the mails far and wide,
from the Burnett to Wide Bay.
Stole gear and horses from McCallum,
along his plundering way.
And Ned Armitage over at Gin Gin
was raided a couple of times,
James needed horses and good gear
to carry out his crimes.

Not simply content with robbery,
he entered a horse in a race.
But when the owner recognised the steed,
James retreated at a great pace.
And the gear that he had stolen
was often returned with a note,
"this saddle belongs to Pat McCallum.
See he gets it" End of quote.

In March sixty six, James' luck ran out,
on a tired horse, back from Gayndah.
Mondouran and Gin Gin station hands
brought about his eventual capture.
They restrained him securely overnight,
tied up to a red cedar tree.
A telegraph message was sent to police.
Thus ended James' bushranging spree.

Two Maryborough sentences James received:
twenty five years concurrently.
He was four years imprisoned on a river hulk,
then to Saint Helena by the sea.
Not happy with this, James attempted escape
with four other desperate men.
But they all were caught and taken back
to Saint Helena, once again.

James, with his interest in literature
and being bored with captivity,
was seen to advance his creative skills
by writing some fine poetry.
Petitions for his release were made
by Somerset, McConnel and Petrie.
By seventy four he'd served his time,
was released and finally free

Turned away from his father's house,
went to McConnel's Mount Marlow station,
to work with Henry Somerset,
and live down his bad reputation.
He did all this with skill and style,
Impressed Henry with his display
of generosity and horsemanship,
saved Henry from drowning one day.

He departed Mt Marlow for Ruthven Station
got married in seventy eight
to the love of his life, Elizabeth,
no doubt marriage kept him straight.
Moved from Ruthven station to Hughenden,
where he worked until ninety two
did droving and stock work and carrying
and there his family grew.

When James moved way up to Burketown,
he was respected in the community.
He worked hard at his carrying business,
to support wife and large family.
But on the way back from a funeral
the horse he was riding shied,
causing James to be critically injured
and two days later, he died.

McPherson was buried in Burketown
in a lonely, unmarked grave,
leaving his wife and six children
to face the future alone and so brave.
They were followed by an aborigine
as east they made their way
He protected them as they moved along,
"Poor fatherless children," he'd say.

You've heard of the likes of Ned Kelly,
Frank Gardiner and Ben Hall,
but in the annals of bushranging
James McPherson was best of all.
For he paid for all his crimes in jail,
for the rest of his life he went straight.
As a bushranger, horseman and citizen,
the Wild Scotchman, McPherson, was great.

Foot note: In the process of writing about my Grandfather, Henry Plantagenet Somerset, I finally stumbled on to this fascinating story, albeit I had heard snatches of it years ago. There are just so many lusty tales that can be told about some of the legendary people who have contributed to our Australian heritage. Very often, our local heroes are the best.

Rollo Waite 04/07/2009.