• Captain Starlight arrested!

  • Telegram from the solicitor of Harry Redford (immortalised as 'Captain Starlight') to the Colonial Secretary regarding the arrest of his client for cattle stealing and outlining the details of the case, dated 12 November 1872.

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    QSA Series ID 5253, Inwards Correspondence
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QSA DID 2798: Telegram from the solicitor of Harry Redford to the Colonial Secretary regarding the arrest of his client for cattle stealing and outlining the details of the case, dated 12 November 1872
News of the day

Townsville Daily Bulletin, Wednesday 3 September 1947, page 3


One of the most notorious characters in the north in the early days was Harry Redford, known far and wide as the king of cattle duffers. In 1870, he, with three helpers, mustered 1,000 head of cattle at Bowen Downs and without asking permission of the owners, he overlanded them to Adelaide, a thousand miles distant, across unsettled desert country not traversed by white men since the days of Burke and Wills. At Blanchewater Station Redford sold the entire mob of Bowen Downs cattle to the manager, Mr. Mules, for £5,000. Redford was later arrested for the theft of the cattle, and as all old-timers know, was subsequently acquitted in the face of overwhelming evidence at the District Court at Roma. It is supposed the jurymen's admiration of a truly magnificent feat of bushmanship and daring overcame their sense of justice. Few people, however, know what happened to Harry Redford after his amazing acquittal. It is good to record, however, that he became a law-abiding citizen once more, and held many responsible positions. In 1883 he was put in charge of the first mob of cattle to stock Brunette Downs on the Barkly Tableland. He was later appointed manager of the station for McDonald and Macansh, in which position he was held in great esteem by his employers. In the late eighties, he set himself up as a pioneer, establishing Corella Downs, thirty miles from Brunette. But fate was unkind, and Redford lost every penny he put into the undertaking— some of those pennies, one may suppose, being what he had left from the sale of the Bowen Downs cattle, so after all, his escapade did not avail him much. For many years after this, he was manager of Macarthur River Run for Amos and Broad— a pioneer station south of Borroloola. By this time, Redford had come to be regarded as the gamest and toughest bushmen in all the north, and also identified as 'Starlight' in Rolf Boldrewood's famous bushranging classic, 'Robbery Under Arms.' But Redford was due for an ignominious end to his colourful career. Crossing Corella Creek on the property he once owned, he was swept from his horse and drowned in the wet season of 1901. He was then 59 years of age



Stock stealing was a common criminal activity throughout the pastoral districts of Australia during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but one particular theft eclipsed all others in its sheer audacity and endurance. In 1870 an experienced cattleman named Harry Redford (or Readford) conceived the idea of lifting more than 1000 head of cattle from Bowen Downs Station on the Thompson River, north-east of Longreach, and overlanding them to Adelaide. With four accomplices, Redford successfully mustered the cattle and headed south - followed by a white pedigree Shorthorn bull which, despite all efforts, refused to be separated from the stolen stock. In north-eastern South Australia Redford sold the bull and two cows to pay for provisions before completing the journey to Adelaide. By then, the theft had been discovered and Redford’s tracks were followed to Hill Hill Station where the bull was identified as belonging to Bowen Downs. Arrested at Gulgong in New South Wales in 1871, Redford was extradited to Queensland where he eventually stood trial at Roma in February 1872. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary a jury found Redford not guilty, a decision which resulted in Roma being removed from the District Court circuit for two years. Redford continued to work with cattle - and narrowly escaping convictions for stock theft - until 1901 when he drowned in a Northern Territory waterhole. As ‘Captain Starlight’ Redford became the central character in Robbery Under Arms, the classic novel by ‘Rolf Boldrewood’ (Thomas Browne) which, after serialisation, appeared in book form during 1889.


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