By MICK ROBERTS ©
IT’S not widely known that a Wollongong born cop was involved in the capture of the notorious Australian bushranger Captain Moonlite.
A real unsung hero, Constable Alexander Barry has largely been forgotten by the people of the Illawarra for his part in the capture of New South Wales’ last professional bushranger.
Andrew George Scott, alias Captain Moonlite, went to the gallows at Darlinghurst Gaol on the morning of January 20 1880 for his leadership of the Wantabadgery Bushrangers, who terrorised the Wagga Wagga region.
While Captain Moonlite has gone down in Australian folklore with his story documented in countless books, Wollongong born Constable Barry’s role in helping bring the infamous bushranger and his gang to justice is sadly missing from the pages of local history.
The end of Scott’s notorious criminal career can be attributed to four police officers stationed at Wagga Wagga – one of whom was former Wollongong Constable Barry. Born to James and Johanna Barry in 1845, Alexander was appointed to the NSW Police Force on April 8 1867. He married Therese Alice Wormall in Wagga Wagga during 1877, and at the time of his gun fight with Captian Moonlite he had a one year old son, Joseph.
Moonlite and his five young gang members had taken 30 hostages in the homestead of Wantabadgery Station on the Murrumbidgee River, about halfway between Gundagai and Wagga Wagga in November 1879. The gang subjected their hostages to all sorts of physical and mental torture for two days before the Wagga police were alerted.
On arrival at Wantabadgery the four troopers, including Barry, engaged in a fierce gun battle with the gang.
Later in the morning the bushrangers made a dash to a nearby timber slab farmhouse where another exchange of bullets ensured. It was the McGlede’s homestead where Constable Barry performed his heroic feat.
After Moonlite’s trial in December 1879, Constable Barry revealed his adventure to a Wollongong journalist while visiting his half-brother and publican Andrew Lysaght at the Queens Hotel. Lysaght’s mother, Johanna had remarried James Barry after the death of her first husband, Patrick in 1834.
Constable Barry told the journalist how the bushrangers hitched their horses and made a run for the farmhouse 150 yards away when he, dodging a barrage of fire, rode his horse between their beasts and the fence breaking the bridles and causing the gang’s only means of escape to bolt. During the brave deed the youngest of Moonlite’s men, 19 year-old Gus Wernicke, fired a series of shots at Barry bringing down and killing his horse. The constable scrambled for refuge behind a stump, continuing to exchanged fire with the teenager who, while retreating behind a tree.
Mortally shot in the back, the young man managed to mutter, “I did my best; I did my best’, to Barry as he breathed his last. If he hadn’t killed the young bushranger he would have surely been killed himself Barry explained to the journalist.
As a result of the fierce battle Moonlite eventually surrendered.
The local press suggested the people of the district honour 34-year-old Constable Barry “in some suitable way” with donations made at local banks.
“Mr Barry appears to be a most unassuming young man, of a reserved disposition, but undoubtedly he possesses courage of a rare order,” the media reported.
Constable Alexander Barry disappeared into the obscurity of time and his heroic role in the capture of the infamous bushranger Captain Moonlite goes unrecognised in the place he once called home. He died at the age of 85 in Bourke, NSW in 1930. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on June 19 1930:
“OBITUARY. MR. A. BARRY. Mr. Alexander Barry, who died at Bourke yesterday, was a member of the police force for many years, and carried out duty in connection with the “Moonlight” Wantabadgery hold-up with Sergeants Cassen and Carrol on November l8, 1879. Born at Wollongong in May, 1841, he joined the police when a young man, and was gold escort in the Adelong and Jugiong districts, and later was transferred to Wagga. He captured Rogan and Wreneckie, and was promoted for his part in this affair and received part of the reward offered. He was then stationed at Gundagai. He resigned from the force soon after, and went to Cobar and Bourke. He lived In Bourke for 50 years, and was engaged in bakery, hotel and storekeeping businesses. There are three sons – Joseph, Augustus, and Alexander. The widow was formerly Miss Warmoll, of Wagga.”
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2015
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