“A Namesake Well-Hanged”

Lawrence Cavanaugh in the Dock –Tasmanian Superior Court — September 6th and 7th — 1843 — Courtesy — State Library of Tasmania

While I was always professionally known as “Peter C. Cavanaugh”, my actual middle name is Lawrence, named after my Great-Grandfather Peter’s Uncle Lawrence.

Making a VERY long story short, while I discovered only last year that our family on my mother’s side date back to the Mayflower (https://petercavanaugh.wordpress.com/2010/01/12/there-went-the-neighborhood/ ) — it’s quite different from the Cavanaugh (Irish) side of the bed.

Great-Great Uncle Lawrence was naughty. The above picture is from a newspaper portrait featured in the Tasmanian Times from September 6, 1843. He is actually standing in the dock, on trial for — you name it –although he was always a gentleman to the ladies. The following is from official records:

“Lawrence Cavanaugh was born in Waterford, Ireland. His actual birth date has been lost, but may have been around 1805. He is described as a man of indomitable spirit, courage and resolution and it is unfortunate that for whatever reason he turned to a life of crime. His particular marks are described as a missing little finger right hand, “A.D.” above elbow joint left arm, two stars in palm of left hand, one on wrist. He was Roman Catholic, had some education in that he could read and was a stonemason and quarryman by trade.

On 24 August 1828, he was convicted of burglary in Dublin and sentenced to transportation for life. He arrived in Sydney on the ‘Ferguson’ in 1829. Cavanaugh was in trouble with the law almost immediately committing several offences, including bushranging, escaping and attempted Robbery Under Arms. His record became so serious that in 1831 he was transported to Norfolk Island (the prison for the most hardened criminals) for 14 years, where he continued to get into serious trouble. On 13 February 1833, he received forty lashes for insolence, followed by another 150 the following January for attempting to escape.

In 1842 he returned to Sydney and on 19th January he received 36 lashes for cutting his irons and trying to escape. His next bid for freedom was successful. He stole some firearms and escaped with two others. When they were recognized near South Head some 17 days later, Lawrence fired at the two men who had seen him. He was quickly recaptured and charged with attempted murder.

On 12 April 1842, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment in Tasmania. He was sent on the ship ‘Marion Watson’. On arrival there he was sent to Port Arthur where he met Martin Cash and George Jones, both of whom also had long criminal records.

Between 1830 and 1877, Port Arthur was used as a high security prison. Desperation drove many convicts to attempt escape from Port Arthur, but only a few ever made it successfully via Eaglehawk and East Bay Necks.

Some ‘bolters’ perished in the dense bush or drowned whilst attempting a sea crossing in makeshift canoes and rafts. Others were caught in the act and subjected to severe punishments for their efforts. Some of the escape plans were quite bizarre. In one case, the convict Billy Hunt disguised himself as a kangaroo and attempted to hop across the Neck. His plan was brought to a sudden halt when one of the soldiers decided to shoot the large hopper. Billy was forced to reveal his true identity.

None of this detered Cash, Cavanaugh and Jones. They made a carefully planned and executed escape on 26th December 1842. On reaching the Neck, they tied their clothes in a bundle on their heads and followed each other silently into the water. Cash lost sight of his friends and feared that they had been eaten by sharks.

On reaching the opposite bank, however, they were re-united, though all had lost their clothes during the crossing. The men stole provisions and clothes from a nearby road-gang’s hut. They then built a log fort on the top of Mount Dromedary. They turned to full-time bushranging operating  in the Derwent, Bagdad, Pittwater and New Norfolk Districts. For the next 20 months they caused much fear across Tasmania as they robbed homesteads, inns and travellers, including mail coaches.

They considered themselves lucky as they normally managed to avoid parties of police and soldiers sent after them and survived a number of shootouts and close pursuits with the authorities and armed civilians. They also tended to concentrate on the properties of the well-to-do, leaving the poorer farmers and settlers in peace. They became known as Cash, Cavanaugh & Jones and then simply “Cash & Company”.

In August 1843 Cash discovered that his paramour Bessie (who was living in Hobart) was seeing another man. Furious he decided to kill her. He and Cavanaugh disguised themselves as sailors and made their way into Hobart to find her, but were quickly recognised. There was a shootout in which Cash escaped but Cavanaugh was wounded and surrendered.

Cash decided to try again, so on Tuesday 29 August 1843 he returned to Hobart. This time he was recognised by two Constables who challenged him and then chased him as he fled. He could have made good his escape, however he made a mistake by running down a dead-end street.

Here he was seized by another Constable named Peter Winstanley. Cash fired a pistol and the bullet struck Winstanley who died shortly afterwards. By now the two other constables had been joined by some civilians and they tried to seize Cash. He fired again and the bullet struck two civilians. However, he was quickly overpowered and taken to the Davey Street gaol.

On 4th September 1843, Cash and Cavanaugh were tried before Justice Montague at the Hobart Town Criminal Sessions. Cash was charged with murder, Cavanaugh with Robbery Under Arms of the Launceston Mail Coach at Epping Forest on 13th July 1843, both of which were hanging offences.

They were found guilty and sentenced to hang on 14th September. However, an hour before the execution was due to be carried out the sentence was reprieved. Instead, both men were to be transported to Norfolk Island, known to prisoners and guards alike as ‘living hell’.

At Norfolk Island Cash became a reformed man. In 1852, he was considered to be a “trusty” and was appointed as a Convict Overseer. On 24th March 1854, he married a woman named Mary Bennett and on 31st March 1854, he was appointed as a Constable. On 24th June 1856, Martin Cash received a Conditional Pardon and this was confirmed as a Free Pardon on 11 July 1863

Lawrence Cavanaugh, however made no attempt to reform. In October 1846, he joined the former New South Wales bushranger Jackey Jackey (William Westwood) and several other prisoners in a mutiny.

They killed or seriously injured four men and committed several other serious crimes. Justice was quick to follow and on 12 October 1846 Cavanaugh was hanged. Shortly before his execution he asked to see his old mate Martin Cash and both men exchanged final farewells.

Lawrence Cavanaugh is buried in Murderer’s Mound, outside the Cemetery on Norfolk Island, along with the other mutineers.

Today a ferry boat named in honour of Lawrence services Dunk Island 4 miles of the coast of Queensland Australia.”


So the story actually has sort of a happy ending, with poor Lawrence having the boat named after him many years following his final swing.

As I’ve mentioned and written before, “Rock ‘n Roll” is not just music — “It’s An Attitude.”

I find I’m MUCH prouder of my Great-Great Uncle Lawrence than those fucking Pilgrims.

They banned Christmas!

Rock ‘n Roll!

3 Responses to ““A Namesake Well-Hanged””

  1. Ellen Light Says:

    And a fine story it is 🙂 It’s great that you have that much information on your ancestor. That be rare!


    • petercavanaugh Says:

      And there’s so much I left out. This poor man from a very large Irish family was quoted as saying, following his initial arrest and night in jail, “That’s the first time I’ve ever had a bed to myself!”

  2. Ellen Says:

    Hahaha! You should write a book about him… Certainly enough adventure and action!

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