On anything other than the briefest of visits to Gundagai you will hear about a ‘Captain Moonlite’. Captain Moonlite never lived in Gundagai and, from what I can ascertain, his only visit to the town was a short time he spent, at Her Majesty’s pleasure, in the former Gundagai Gaol prior to a committal hearing in the adjacent Gundagai Court House.
Moonlite’s most enduring and indeed continuing connection with Gundagai is that he is now (I say now, as he hasn’t always been) buried here, in the North Gundagai Cemetery.
Many sources that I have read on Captain Moonlite, whose real name was Andrew George Scott, refer to him as a murderer, thief, kidnapper, fraudster, trickster, villain and all round scoundrel. Add to these attributes, civil engineer, Anglican lay preacher, prison reformer and gay bushranger with a wonderful Irish brogue and you have a rather interesting chap.
Andrew George Scott was born into a very well to do and highly respected family in Rathfriland, County Down, Northern Ireland in 1845, his father an Anglican Minister. He is believed to have studied engineering in London, which may explain his occupation of civil engineer as stated on police records at the time of his execution in Sydney in 1880.
Prior to his family moving to New Zealand in 1861 he is rumoured to have served with Garibaldi in Italy (in 1860).
In New Zealand, Scott started out as a schoolteacher. In 1864 he joined the Waikato Militia, later transferring to the Auckland Volunteer Engineers Corps where in 1867 he turned down the post of inspector or sub-inspector and headed for Australia. Once in Melbourne he became a lay reader in the Church of Holy Trinity, Bacchus Marsh and simultaneously announced his intention to set up as a consultant surveyor and engineer.
The following year Scott moved to Egerton near Ballarat and a change of ‘career’ soon followed. Having befriended LJ Bruun, a local bank official at the London Chartered Bank, Scott decided he would rob the bank. Disguised in a mask and cloak but easily recognisable to Bruun, Scott struck one night and relieved to bank of the contents of its safe (cash and gold). Nice guy as he was and keen that Bruun not get into trouble, he had Bruun write a note certifying his resistance to the robbery which Scott signed ‘Captain Moonlite’. Scott escaped to Sydney and Bruun was acquitted of the robbery.
In Sydney the now Captain Moonlite took to passing fraudulent cheques including one to acquire a yacht with the intention of sailing off to Fiji. As he tried to leave he was arrested by the water police and in early 1871 was sentenced to 12 months in Maitland Gaol though, feigning madness, he got to serve some of his time in Parramatta Lunatic Asylum.
On his release in April 1872 he was arrested – on the evidence of Bruun – and charged with the Egerton gold robbery. While on remand he escaped from Ballarat Gaol but was soon recaptured and appeared in court on 24 July where he conducted his own defence which included a seven hour cross examination of Bruun. Seven hours of ‘shrewd and pertinacious questions’ during which spectators derived endless amusement from Scott’s facetious remarks. All to little avail, he received ten years hard labour for the robbery plus one year for escaping gaol while on remand.
Though often a recalcitrant and violent prisoner in Pentridge Gaol (Melbourne) he was released early, in March 1879, for his good work in officiating over the prison’s Bible classes. For a while, to the annoyance of the authorities, he addressed open-air meetings on prison reform and similar subjects. This didn’t last long and on 18 November he and his gang of five (James Lyons – alias Nesbit – a career criminal at the age of 19 whom he met in Pentridge Gaol, Thomas Rogan, Thomas Williams, Gus Wreneckie and Graham Bennet) held up Wantabadgery sheep station near Wagga Wagga for two days. In a resultant gun battle the gang escaped to be engaged again shortly at Edmund McGlebe’s Farm where they were holding the occupants hostage. In the resultant shoot-out with police gang members Nesbitt (allegedly acting as a decoy to allow Scott’s escape) and Wreneckie were killed as was police Constable Webb-Bowen. It is said that as Nesbit lay dying Captain Moonlite carried him into the cover of a farmhouse, and “wept over him like a child…and kissed him passionately.” More on that later.
Those killed were all buried in North Gundagai Cemetery – Nesbit and Wreneckie in unmarked graves and Webb-Bowen in a marked grave beside Sargent Edmund Perry also killed in a shoot-out with bushrangers some years earlier.
Scott and his three living accomplices were held in Gundagai Gaol while they awaited committal proceedings in the adjacent Gundagai Court House. The good people of Gundagai were granted a half day holiday so that they could see the bushrangers in custody. Scott and his accomplices were sent to Sydney where he and Thomas Rogan were hanged in Darlinghurst Gaol on 20 January 1880. The other two gang members were sentenced to life in prison.
Throughout his trial Moonlite wore a ring made of Nesbit’s hair. His dying wish was to be buried in Gundagai beside his beloved James Nesbit, the man with whom he was “united by every tie which could bind human friendship, we were one in hopes, in heart and soul and this unity lasted until he died in my arms.”
Unsurprisingly, Captain Moonlite’s dying wish was not granted, given attitudes to homosexuality that would have prevailed at that time.
If further proof were needed that Scott and Nesbit were partners, letters written to friends (but not sent) while in Darlinghurst Gaol speak of Scott’s love for Nesbit. He wrote:
“we were one in heart and soul, he died in my arms and I long to join him, where there shall be no more parting”
“he died in my arms, his death has broken my heart”
“when I think of my dearest Jim, I am nearly driven mad”
“I am to die on the 20th instant, and hope that I may rest with my friend. The only thing I long for is the certainty that I may share his grave.”
Scott was buried in Rookwood cemetery (Sydney) in an unmarked grave.
Captain Moonlite’s final wish to be buried in the Gundagai was finally realised in 1995, some 115 years after his death, when two local women got permission to take his remains back to Gundagai where today he is buried (in a marked grave) close to James Nesbitt in the North Gundagai Cemetery, under the shade of a eucalypt.
Scott’s epitaph on a rough unhewn rock, penned by himself reads:
“As to a monumental stone, a rough unhewn rock would be most fit, one that skilled hands could have made into something better. It will be like those it marks as kindness and charity could have shaped us to better ends.”
Do pop in for a look.
Address: William Street, North Gundagai