Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Hunter Valley Bushrangers

Thomas Forrester and George Wilson

George Wilson was twenty-one years of age and previously employed as a tradesman's clerk when he convicted of stealing plate at the Old Bailey on 17 August 1835. He was sentenced to transportation for Life and arrived in New South Wales on the convict ship Moffatt in 1836.

Thomas Forrester was known as 'Long Tom Forrester'. He arrived on the Henry Porcher in 1835. He was said to be a powerfully built man standing 6'3in tall (*indents state otherwise) and one of the swiftest runners in the district. He had been captured several times, however had always managed to outwit the Constables and make his escape.


George Wilson and Thomas Forrester together with a third man waylaid Magistrate Francis Edward Bigge, on his way to Moreton Bay in company with Alexander McDonald and others in August 1842.

The Australian carried the following account related by Mr. Bigge -

Three armed bushrangers galloped up the them and ordered them to halt, at the same time presenting three double barrelled guns. Mr. Bigge and party halted, and they were then ordered to dismount, which command they also complied with. As soon as they had dismounted Mr Bigge was ordered to strip, which he refused to do; upon this one of the bushrangers told another to knock him down with the butt end of his gun. But observing Mr. B. fumbling with his belt, endeavouring to draw a pistol, he fired, fortunately without effect. The bushrangers had dismounted and turned their horses loose while one of the stockmen was holding Mr. B.'s horse. As soon as the first shot was fired by Long Tom, Wilson who was about fifteen paces off, took a deliberate aim and fired, hitting Mr. Bigge in the left shoulder.

On being struck, Mr. Bigge rushed forward at Long Tom, who was nearest and discharged a pistol at him apparently without effect. McDonald and one of the men observing the bushrangers off their guard mounted their horses and galloped off for assistance, having no fire arms of any sort. Three other shots were fired at Mr. Bigge all of them piercing his coat, and cutting his pocket handkerchief; and a fourth shot which was fired missed him.

As soon as the bushrangers had discharged their pieces, Mr. Bigge endeavoured to come up with one of them who was nearest with his second pistol but without effect, as a pair of large boots which he wore prevented his running. Finding they were reloading their pieces, Mr. Bigge leapt upon his horse and galloped to Brennan's station in quest of fire arms and ammunition with the intention of following and if possible of capturing the bushrangers. On entering Brennan's hut his horse broke away and he was obliged to relinquish the pursuit.

Mr. Bigge then walked to Ninemga where he remained, attended by *Dr. Jay. Mr. Bigge's wound was only a flesh one. As soon as information reached Mr. Allman he started in pursuit of the scoundrels with a party of police and Mr. Scougall did the same.

As there were upwards of eighty men in different parties in pursuit there is no doubt that they will be captured
' [1]


Wilson was captured by Corporal Kirk and troopers Stevenson and Scott on the 14th September 1842 when they surprised his camp-out 20 miles from Doughboy's Hollow. He made a desperate bid to escape into the ranges but was pursued and captured. His companions, one of whom was thought to be wounded managed to escape. Wilson had with him four double-barrelled fowling pieces, all loaded; and a horse belonging to Mr. Armitage. George Wilson stated that his accomplice was a man known by the name of Long Ned, who had been turned off from their party for not firing at Mr. Bigge when he called on him. He would give no information on the other man, but it is suspected to have been Coxen's Tom (Long Tom).[2]

Tom Forrester was captured on Friday the 13th January 1843. Chief Constable William Shields of Scone was the brave constable who finally outwitted him at Belltrees on the Hunter River. The grateful residents of the district banded together to thank John Anderson Robertson for the successful measures he adopted to secure the apprehension of Thomas Forrester as well as his efforts to break up an extensive and regularly organised band of cattle stealers in the neighbourhood. They also thanked Chief Constable Shields and Assistant Constable Thomas Aspinall, for their promptitude and successful perseverance in the capture of Forrester. [3]

A public subscription was called for the purpose of presenting the constables with a testimonial. John Farrell, a conditional pardon holder, John Small a ticket of leave holder and John Sedling, an assigned servant of Mr. Single of Cresswell Park were recommended to the Governor for 'whatever indulgence he may consider appropriate'.

Transferred in Irons

Mindful of his aptitude for escape, the chief constables of the Hunter were taking no chances this time. Instead of walking to Maitland for trial Long Tom was taken by gig in handcuffs and double irons and escorted the entire time - not by lowly ordinary constables, who may have been susceptible to bribes or otherwise incompetent but by the chief constables themselves. Chief Constable Shields who captured him passed him to the chief constable of Muswellbrook who in turn passed him to Chief Constable Samuel Horne of the Patrick Plains Police, who brought him into Maitland himself. All the way 'Long Tom' was escorted with two armed constables riding on horseback. [4]. No chance for the notorious and daring 'Long Tom' Forrester to escape this time!

Maitland Assizes

At the Maitland Assizes held on Saturday 18th March, George Wilson was indicted for wilfully and maliciously wounding Francis Edward Bigge with intent to Murder him at Peel River on 18th August 1842 and Thomas Forrester was indicted for aiding, assisting and abetting Wilson. The prisoners (both 'intelligent looking men') insisted on pleading guilty despite being informed by the Judge that wounding with intent to murder was an offence punishable by death, and he would allow them to withdraw the plea and make a lesser one of 'shooting at' if they so wished.

After a brief glance at each other, both men explained that they were prisoners under transportation for life and had no wish to change the plea. The Judge then stated that it was his painful duty to pass upon them the last sentence of the law, which was that they should be taken thence to the place of imprisonment from whence they came, and thence to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck until they were dead, the Lord to have mercy on their souls.[6]

Newcastle Gaol

After this, 'Long Tom' and George Wilson were taken on the long journey to Newcastle gaol. Here they were lodged in the custody of the gaol Governor, John Field, with 44 other male prisoners who were awaiting trial. They were seen to behave with exemplary conduct. With little over a month to live and no hope of reprieve, Long Tom was said to be deeply sensible of his awful situation; passing his time in the gaol in a state of depression. The two were said to have met their fate with Christian resignation.[5]

On a cool Tuesday morning late in April 1843, the two men marched with great firmness, quite a distance from the old Gaol at Newcastle to the gallows that awaited them. They were accompanied on their last journey by Rev. C.P.N. Wilton, Rev. Innes and Rev. Lightbody.

Upon arriving at their place of execution they joined the Reverend gentlemen in hymns and prayer before ascending the drop unaided. The executioner fastened the ropes around their necks and one of the men then addressed the waiting crowd in an impressive manner.

He exhorted them to take warning by his own and his companion's untimely fate and begged them to prepare for eternity. He told them he died happy and at peace with mankind.

* Probably Richard Gardener Jay


[1] Sydney Morning Herald 31 August 1842

[2] Sydney Gazette 22 September 1842 (p3)

[3] Maitland Mercury, 31 January 1843

[4] Maitland Mercury 28 January 1843

[5] Sydney Morning Herald 28 April 1843

[6] Colonial Observer 25 March 1843