Chinese foot race at Blackwood Sports Ground, New Year’s day, 1900. (L to R) Jack Sugar, Long Ah Toy, Jimmy Ah Foo, Ah Wah, Ah Toy, Happy Jack. SOURCE: Margot Hitchcock, Blackwood & District Historical Society

Foul play for a fowl foiled on the road to Trentham

Foul play for a fowl foiled on the road to Trentham

One fine spring morning in 1867, Ah Chuck, the keeper of an eating house in Blackwood, set off early on foot to buy chickens and ducks in Kyneton. He roped the baskets to his carry poles, tied his money bag on a string around his waist and, in high spirits, started on the road to Trentham. Ah Chuck was looking forward to negotiating with the farmer as he took pride in his good eye for fowl. His daydreaming was abruptly interrupted by two strangers emerging from behind a tree bailing him up at gunpoint. They took him down into a gully, out of sight, and fleeced him of his valuables: the four pounds of money for the fowl and a silk handkerchief.

Before disappearing into the bush towards Blue Mountain, the bushrangers tied his hands tightly with a rope, but carelessly bound him only loosely to a tree. As soon as they were gone, Ah Chuck started gnawing away on the rope, and as daylight began to fade, he was finally free. He knew the villains expected him to do what ‘the Chinaman’ did in such situations – be glad he escaped without injury and stay quiet. Not so Ah Chuck – anger about the injustice he’d suffered seized him and he hurried to the police camp near Trentham, with his hands still tied behind his back. It was almost 9pm and pitch black when he arrived and Senior Mounted Constable South freed him to take his statement.

In those days, the bush had many eyes and word travelled from the police camp to Daylesford. When the two ruffians came out of the bush at Coomoora the following day, detective Walker and a local storekeeper, McCracken, were waiting. Walker grabbed the rifle and the younger fellow, handing them over to McCracken for safekeeping. The detective then set off after the older villain who was headed for a gully. The younger lad seemed to think it all a bit of joke; when his partner in crime started throwing stones to keep the detective at bay he was doubled over with laughter. Loosening his grip on the lad, the storekeeper approached the older ruffian from behind, who soon gave up his resistance.

From here on, Ah Chuck moved from the status of victim to becoming a valuable witness as the authorities tried to rein in the depredations of bushrangers on the goldfields – one day a Chinaman, the next day the mail coach. The newspapers, however, quickly transferred hero status onto the more familiar Walker and McCracken.

At trial, where the prisoners appeared heavily ironed, all was revealed. John Ryan, the older man, alias Patrick Fogarty, was a native of Tipperary transported in 1845 and already twice convicted in Australia. His apprentice William Smith alias William Atkinson alias Billy the Native came from the Lachlan and had previously helped police track down stolen horses. Both were undefended at trial and proceeded to further incriminate themselves. Ah Chuck’s evidence, through an interpreter, proved incontrovertible, helped by the fact that his stolen silk handkerchief was found in the possession of one of the prisoners. Their horses were found abandoned between Blue Mount and Mount Wilson and had been stolen the previous month from Baynton station. Their revolver was of no use and hadn’t been fired in years.

Ryan was sentenced to seven years; Smith for three plus an additional three for receiving a stolen horse. Their time to be served labouring ‘on the road.’ Thanks to Ah Chuck, the harsh social order had prevailed.