William Geary – North Shore Bushranger

In 1868 there was an advertisement referring to Geary’s Cave at Pearl Bay. 
Empire (Sydney, NSW: 1850-1875) Saturday 11 April 1868 p 1 Advertising 
EASTER MONDAY – Annual GUILD PICNIC to Middle Harbour. 
GEARY, the Bushranger's Cave, at Pearl Bay; without doubt, the most romantic and beautiful spot in the colony. (Trove)

I looked for Geary’s cave at Pearl Bay, Mosman. I found this cave, located on the walking path to Beauty Point.

Geary’s cave at Pearl Bay, Mosman

So, who was Geary?

William Geary, a native of Limerick, and an artillery gunner, was sentenced to life transportation to NSW by court martial in Lisbon in 1812. He was on the list of convicts who disembarked from the Surrey on 18th August 1814, aged twenty-five, and was sent to Windsor for distribution.

Three years later (August 1817), he was captured, tried and found guilty of the stabbing murder of two men. A violent man, he was thought to be insane, and was sent to prison in Newcastle. For some reason he was sent to Sydney November 1817 and then returned to Newcastle on the Lady Nelson October 1818. He escaped from Newcastle early March 1819, but was recaptured 19th March 1819. In July 1819 he planned a murder with Gough, a fellow prisoner, so that they would be sent to Sydney.

Geary was ‘5 ft 8½ ins, pale complexion, sandy hair, grey eyes,’ and ‘very treacherous’. ‘I have a prisoner now confined in a cell for stabbing two men with an intention to murder them,’ wrote the Commandant at Newcastle, ‘their lives providentially was [sic] saved by the knife taking a slanting direction. He has some appearance of being insane and I have been unable to manage him ... I would recommend he should either be tried for his life or confined to a madhouse in a straight waistcoat, as he is too dangerous to be at large’. [Gavin Souter, (2004) Times & tides: a Middle Harbour memoir]

August 1819 Geary was sent to Sydney and September 1819 he was given a life sentence. Geary broke out of the gaol with some accomplices in January 1821. Near Baulkham Hills, they robbed houses and held up carts returning from the markets, and rifled the carts of all valuables, such as rum, calico and nankeens. They robbed several remote houses, including one belonging to James and Matilda Fish at present-day Killara on the western heights of Middle Harbour.

In February 1821 Robert Allen was charged with harbouring, aiding and abetting a gang of bushrangers led by William Geary. Geary had been the convict worker of a close neighbour of Allen and evidence was given that Allen had provided shelter to the gang in return for a share of stolen property. A free man, John Hathaway who worked for Allen and lived in his household testified that the bushrangers were welcomed into the house, and the stolen goods (calicoes, prints, nankeens, dungarees, a large bag of tea, crockery and some tobacco) were divided up amongst the outlaws and Robert Allen.

The bushrangers were soon captured, however they managed to escape whilst being transported to Sydney to face trial. On 3 March Geary and four of his men were being taken under guard on the passage-boat from Parramatta to Sydney. They freed themselves from irons and manacles, disarmed the single constable on board, and vanished into the bush at Bradley’s Wharf, Lane Cove. They continued widespread looting and plundering in the Lane Cove and Pennant Hills area. Following the Lane Cove valley, they left a trail of what the Sydney Gazette called ‘plunder and alarm’. Food and firearms were stolen from the homes of orchardists and farmers, including that of Matilda Fish, a second time, from which they stole two watches, a gun, sextant and some other property. They also raided the property of William Bellamy and Ann Fay and stole a musket, bayonet, cutlass and a powder horn. They were again apprehended. An attempted escape from Sydney goal was foiled May 1821 but they did escape on 7 July 1821. Later that month, Geary and accomplices were sprung by James Zadok Bellamy, son of William Bellamy, while raiding settler Hall’s house in the Pennant Hills area. Geary got away but his accomplice Butler was shot and killed by Bellamy.

Geary and his nebulous gang of 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or even 12 men often sheltered in caves in the area. For some time in 1821 William Geary’s gang of five, lived in a gibber gunyah or “house of rock”, an overhang or cave, in the bush on Shot Machine Creek, a tributary of Middle Harbour Creek, now known as Gordon Creek. “Geary’s Cave” is the supported/braced cave in what is now known as Seven Little Australians Park, East Lindfield.

A reward was offered and Geary and his gang were finally captured back at the cave in East Lindfield. In August 1821 William Geary, Thomas Smith, Charles Young, William Whiteman, John Cochrane, Samuel Becket, Peter Hilson, William Baker, John Mills, and John Lloyd were charged with “having perpetrated various highway robberies and felonious entries of dwelling houses” and were tried in the Criminal Court. Charles Franklin and Robert Allen were also indicted for “receiving the proceeds of the said felonies, knowing them to be stolen; they were also charged with harbouring the above-named prisoners”. They pleaded Not Guilty, with the exception of William Geary, who declared himself Guilty of the charges. Samuel Becket, Peter Hilson, William Baker, John Lloyd, and Charles Franklin, were acquitted. William Geary, Thomas Smith, Charles Young, William Whiteman, John Cochrane, and John Mills were found Guilty of all the various counts, sentenced to be executed and were hanged on the 24th August 1821.

In 2016 there was a play by Wendy Blaxland, Matilda Fish and the Bushranger, that was being performed exclusively in historic houses in the Blue Mountains. Brigid O’Sullivan played Matilda Fish and Andy Simpson played Geary. It was also performed at the Sydney inaugural bushranger festival hosted by Ku-ring- gai Council.

The play tells of Matilda Fish’s struggles to survive with her four small children in a North Shore that was not always the desirable locale it is today.

Anne Fernandez, Honorary Secretary of MHS


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