Bushrangers Dignum and Comerford
Details of these bushrangers, probably Victoria’s first, are shadowy and contradictory. Charles Bonney, Charles Ebden and George Hamilton all had incidents with this same gang at different times, and when they later became friends of Eyre’s, they shared information that filled in some of the gaps. What became evident was that there were in fact no men hiding in the bush watching when the three bushrangers approached Eyre’s party during his overlanding to Melbourne. Hogan (alias Joseph Dignum), George Comerford and their unnamed accomplice (perhaps William Thomas) had already murdered all the others to save on rations and had tossed the bodies onto a bonfire near Mount Alexander, around 65 miles north-west of Melbourne. Comerford, a handsome, blond, slim Irish lad, admitted to the murders in November that year and took some policemen out to Mount Alexander. They found numerous relics of the murdered men, including calcined human skulls. Comerford then “slipped his handcuffs and springing suddenly upon the constable, wrenched the musket out of his grasp and shot him through the body” – and escaped. He was recaptured within days, chained to a dray to prevent another escape and taken to Sydney, where he was tried and then hung within 48 hours. Swift justice tended to happen in those days when you shot a policeman.
Comerford had been the only possible witness against Dignum, but as a convicted murderer, his written testimony was ruled inadmissible in court. Therefore Dignum escaped trial for the multiple murders! He did not walk free; he was convicted of horse stealing and robbery and sent to Norfolk Island for life. Having seen for myself how convicts were treated on Norfolk Island, I believe he may on occasion have wished he had been hung instead. Years later, attempting to escape, he killed a policeman and kept his appointment with the hangman that he had cheated for so long.