Michael Howe (bushranger)

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Michael Howe
Born Pontefract, Yorkshire
Died (1818-10-21)21 October 1818
Cause of death Died in struggle
Other names Demon Bushranger
Victims 5+
Country Australia
State(s) Tasmania

Michael Howe (1787 – 21 October 1818) was the leader of a gang of bushrangers in Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) being a convict transported to Australia.

Early life

Howe was born at Pontefract, Yorkshire, England, son of Thomas Howe and his wife Elizabeth. He served two years on a merchant vessel at Hull before deserting to join the navy as a seaman.[1] He later owned his own small craft.[1]


On 31 July 1811 he was sentenced to seven years transportation for robbing a miller on the highway. He arrived in Van Diemen's Land in October 1812 in the Indefatigable, and was assigned to a Mr. John Ingle, a merchant and grazier.[1] Howe refused the assignment, declaring that, "having served the King, he would be no man's slave".[1] He escaped, and joined a large party of escaped convicts in the bush.[2]

The gang

In May 1814 Howe gave himself up to the authorities in response to an offer of clemency made by Governor Macquarie. (For copy of proclamation see Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, Vol. VIII, p. 264). Howe, however, took to the bush again and joined a band of bushrangers led by John Whitehead.[2] Houses were robbed and ricks burned by his gang, and being pursued by an armed party of settlers, two of the latter were killed and others wounded in a fight which followed. Rewards were offered for the apprehension of the bushrangers and parties of soldiers were sent out to search for them. On one occasion the bushrangers fired a volley through the windows of a house in which soldiers were stationed, and Whitehead was killed by the return fire. Before death, Whitehead begged Howe to cut off his head, and take it, so that it couldn't be taken by his pursuers, and used as evidence to claim the offered reward.[3] Howe complied with the request.[3]

Howe then became the leader of the bushrangers, and although two of the gang were caught and executed, many robberies ensued. In February 1817 two more bushrangers were shot and another captured, and in the following month Howe left the party accompanied only by an Aboriginal girl. On one occasion, finding the military close on his heels, he attempted to shoot the girl, but only succeeded in wounding her slightly.

Howe found means of sending a letter to Governor Sorell offering to surrender and give information about his former associates on condition that he should be pardoned. He gave himself up to a military officer on this understanding, and was taken to Hobart gaol on 29 April 1817 where he was examined by the magistrates. Howe would quite probably have been pardoned, but at the end of July he escaped and again took to the bush.

Howe had pleaded ill-health and was allowed to walk freely to a doctor in the company of a constable, and he walked ahead of the constable who was distracted and then made his escape. He quickly fell in with some bushrangers which included some of his old companions in arms. He quickly rose to leader but not without tension, two of the gang having incurred his anger so he made short work of them. At midnight, while both were sleeping Howe crept upon them and cut the throat of one and clubbed the others head in with the stock of his gun.


In October 1817 he was betrayed by one of his own men, George Watson and William Drew a shopkeeper. Howe's hands had been tied but he managed to free them, stabbed Watson, and then taking Watson's gun, shot Drew dead. Watson was to die weeks later from his wounds. For nearly a year he hid in the bush, but needing ammunition, on 21 October 1818 he was decoyed to a hut where William Pugh of the 48th regiment and a stock-keeper, Thomas Worrall, were hidden. All three fired and missed but during the struggle which followed, Howe was killed by blows on the head with a musket. Worrall later recalled those final minutes when he faced Howe:

"We were then about 15 yards from each other... He stared at me with astonishment, and, to tell you the truth, I was a little astonished at him, for he was covered with patches of kangaroo skins, and wore a black beard – a haversack and powder horn slung across his shoulders, I wore my beard also as I do now, and a curious pair we looked. After a moment's pause he cried out, 'Black beard against white beard for a million!' and fired; I slapped at him, and I believe hit him, for he staggered, but rallied again, and was clearing the bank between me and him when Pugh ran up, and with the butt end of his firelock knocked him down, jumped after him, and battered his brains out just as he was opening a clasp-knife to defend himself.'"[4]

He was 31. Howe's head was cut off to take to Hobart,[5] while his body "was left to bleach in the woods".[6] Worrall received a third share of the reward, a pardon from his convict sentence, and free passage back to England.[5]


Some of the most powerful men in Hobart and Launceston had arrangements with Howe and the most profitable of these partnerships was with the colony's wealthiest man, Edward Lord. Understandings were reached between them. Lord's wife, Maria played a crucial role in this connection. Maria Lord not only ran her husband's affairs in his absence, but as an ex-convict herself, she had the contacts and cultural understanding to negotiate with the bushrangers.

The official investigations into Howe's relationship with Edward Lord and Robert Knopwood did not go far, as no documents from his testimonies have survived. As Carlo Canteri wrote in his Origins of Australian Social Banditry, "...a complete exposure of all the bushrangers, interconnecting linkages would shake Van Diemen's Land to its very rum-cellars."


In 1818, T. E. Wells, a cousin of Samuel Marsden, wrote an account of Howe's life and crimes, called The Last and Worst of the Bushrangers of Van Diemen's Land.[7]

Howe's exploits inspired one of the earliest bushranger plays, William Thomas Moncrieff's Van Diemen's Land: An Operatic Drama (1830).

Howe is commemorated in two Tasmanian place names; Mike Howes marsh,[8] near Oatlands and a gully on the River Derwent.[9]

In 2011, Screen Australia announced that a film called The Outlaw Michael Howe was in development.[10] The film was directed by Brendan Cowell and starred Damon Herriman, Mirrah Foulkes, Rarriwuy Hick, Darren Gilshenan and Matt Day.

The Outlaw Michael Howe aired in Australia on the ABC television network on 1 December 2013 [11] and again for Australia Day week in 2016.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "MICHAEL HOWE, VAN DIEMEN'S LAND BUSHRANGER". Fitzroy City Press. Vic.: National Library of Australia. 31 August 1912. p. 3. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ a b "MICHAEL HOWE AND HIS GANG". Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal. NSW: National Library of Australia. 1 October 1891. p. 4. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Tawell, the Quaker Murderer, and Howe, the Bushranger". South Bourke and Mornington Journal. Richmond, Vic.: National Library of Australia. 6 February 1889. p. 2 Edition: WEEKLY., Supplement: Supplement to the South Bourke & Mornington Journal. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  4. ^ "HISTORY OF AUSTRALIAN BUSHRANGING". Sunbury News. Vic.: National Library of Australia. 10 September 1904. p. 4. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  5. ^ a b "THE DEMON BUSHRANGER". The Mirror. Perth: National Library of Australia. 3 February 1923. p. 2. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  6. ^ "Tasmania's 100th Birthday". The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times. Tas.: National Library of Australia. 16 September 1903. p. 4. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  7. ^ "MICHAEL HOWE". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 4 September 1926. p. 10. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  8. ^ "Place Name Search: Mike Howes Marsh". Gazetteer of Australia Place Names. Geoscience Australia. Retrieved 2013-12-03.
  9. ^ Von Stieglitz, K.R. (1966). "Howe, Michael (1787–1818)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  10. ^ [1] Screen Australia Invests [millions] in Seven Documentaries
  11. ^ [2]
  • Bonwick, James Michael Howe in The Bushrangers: Illustrating the Early Days of Van Diemens Land, pp. 47–57. George Robertson, Melbourne, 1856. At Open Library.
  • Serle, Percival (1949). "Howe, Michael". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 2009-08-08.
  • Boyce, James Far From the Fatal Shore (The Australian)
  • K. R. Von Stieglitz, 'Howe, Michael (1787–1818)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, Melbourne University Press, 1966, pp 560–561. Retrieved 8 August 2009
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