FLOOD, FIRE AND FEVER
A History of Elwood
Bushrangers in Elwood
The road from the city through Elwood to Brighton via St Kilda Junction seems to have been a favourite haunt of bushrangers. They reputedly caroused at the Elsternwick Hotel, a coaching inn established in 1854 to a design by Robert Russell on the corner of Brighton and Glenhuntly Roads. Even two years before the hotel was built, an audacious crime was committed on the sunny Saturday afternoon of 16th October 1852 when bushrangers held up and robbed nineteen citizens in the space of two and a half hours. 10 William Keel and William Robinson of Brighton Road were driving in a cart down Brighton Road. After passing the St Kilda racecourse in the vicinity of Glenhuntly Road, they saw two or three men with guns apparently hunting for birds. Suddenly they were surrounded, with guns pointed at their heads and that of their horse. At first they thought the exercise was a practical joke until informed that their brains would be blown out unless they got out of the cart. They were quickly robbed of £28 and £46 and ordered to take their cart into a nearby wattle thicket. Here a halter was cut in shreds and used to tie them together. They were ordered to sit on the ground while two men stood guard over them with double-barrelled guns.
A few minutes later they were joined by two other victims who were also robbed, tied and made to sit down. For the next two and a half hours the bushrangers continued to hold up passers-by and rob and tie them together in the scrub.
After three hours, the bushrangers retreated for refreshment to the Busy Bee public house in Little Brighton Road. At dusk they tried to bail up a man passing on a well-bred horse who bolted. Pursued by the bushrangers, he jumped several fences while the less well-mounted outlaws smashed through the same. Skirting the shallow bed of Elwood swamp, he passed the St Kilda slaughter yard and eventually reached the Royal Hotel on the south end of the Esplanade. James Mooney, the licensee, heard the galloping horse and soon saw a terrified man dismount and enter shouting ‘The bushrangers are after me!’
Mooney’s customers hurried to the open doorway where a glance up the Esplanade confirmed their worst fears. The dusk of the October evening merged into night with armed desperate men prowling the hotel, all outer doors of which were shut and barred. Inside Mooney watched with loaded gun in hand. Soon, the frustrated bushrangers commenced to smash in the door with the butts of their guns. Just as the door panels were beginning to splinter, the hammering suddenly stopped and the Mooeny’s customers heard cursing and then silence. George Francis, a young man and one of the imprisoned customers, had crept out in the darkness and cut the tethering rope of the bushrangers’ horses and stampeded them.
Just another day in the life of an Elwood commuter in 1852.
This crime in broad daylight was the subject of a famous painting by William Strut which encouraged the public outcry for greater law and order and hastened the formation of the Victorian Police Force. It also motivated the residents to clamour for works to reduce their isolation from Melbourne. The main focus of their campaign was the Elwood swamp and eventually the government was spurred to action.
(1825 - 1915)
Bushrangers Victoria 1852
Oil on Canvas
(Gift of the Russell and Mab Grimwade bequest, 1973
The University of Melbourne Art Collection
Reproduction courtesy Ian Potter Museum of Art)
10 Reported in the Argus newspapers of 15,19, 20 October and the 1,2 November 1852.