The small village of Nerrigundah, situated 36km north of Narooma, 19km west of Bodalla, began with a large gold rush in 1861, and was well established as a gold mining town by the end of the 19th century.
Nerrigundah boasted a population of some seven thousand inhabitants of many different nationalities, a large proportion being Chinese who settled in a tent city in what was known as the ‘Old Town’, upstream from the present village. Nerrigundah gold was reputed to be the purest in the colony which attracted bush rangers to the area. The infamous Clarke gang operated in the area unopposed for a number of years.
On April 9th 1866, they robbed various places in the village and were confronted by Constable Miles O’Grady who left a sick-bed to face them. In the ensuing gun battle he was shot dead. There is a well preserved sandstone monument erected in his honour in the tiny village centre by a grateful NSW Government of the time.
The murder of trooper Miles O’Grady - Nerrigundah – 9th April 1866
Nerrigundah when it was raided by the Clarke gang in 1866 was a gold mining town with a population of 1200, five hotels, several shops, a Court House and a Police Station. There were a number of cottages and the main part of the town was in two streets which intersected in the form of a “T”.
On Sunday 9th April, 1866, the Clarke gang consisting of Thomas Clarke, Patrick and Thomas Connell, William and Joseph Berryman were seen riding down the Araluen Valley in a leisurely manner and made their appearance at Deep Creek, a short distance out of Nerrigundah. They took possession of an abandoned hut near the road, and from Sunday to Monday afternoon held up all who passed. This included Mrs Groves who kept the hotel at Deep Creek, and a number of persons going to or from Nerrigundah.
About 6pm on Monday, John Emmott a Moruya storekeeper and a gold buyer coming from Nerrigundah was bailed up but immediately turned his horse and tried to gallop away. The gang fired at him, killing his horse. A bullet also struck Emmott in the thigh. He was robbed of 25ozs of gold, a gold watch and about £120 consisting of bank notes, silver and a Promissory note. In addition, Emmott suffered a head wound where he had been struck with the muzzle of a pistol by one of the bushrangers.
Near nightfall, five of the bushrangers set off for Nerrigundah leaving the other two in charge of those they had already robbed and who were held prisoner at the hotel – store. On arriving at Nerrigundah, the gang held up Wallis’ Hotel and robbed all present. Two of the gang then proceeded to Pollock’s store while others bailed up every person passing in the street. Mr Pollock was robbed of £7/10/0 and the keys of the safe which contained a quantity of gold, as Pollock was one of the principal gold buyers in the town. As people were robbed they were herded into the bar-room of Wallis’ Hotel.
Later, while Clarke’s attention was distracted, Mrs Pollock snatched the keys of the safe from him and threw them across the street. Young Pollock, a barefoot boy of about 12 or 13 at the time, was standing in the street and had the presence of mind to put his foot on the keys and walk away with them between his toes. After abusing Mrs Pollock, Clarke got a lighted candle and searched the street for the keys. Robert Drew, the local butcher was bailed up outside Wallis’. He pulled a roll of noted containing £40 from his pocket and threw it over the heads of the crowd into the bar.
Meanwhile, the police at the station in the next street had been told that the Clarke gang was in the town. There were two constables at the station, Miles O’Grady and Patrick Smyth. Sergeant Hitch, the Officer in Charge was away at Moruya. Miles O’Grady was in bed with a high fever but he got up and dressed, armed himself and with Constable Smyth, proceeded to Wallis’ Hotel.
The hotel, they could see, was filled with people and two armed men were standing to the right of the doorway threatening to shoot Drew; they were Fletcher and Patrick Connell. The two second police fired simultaneously. Fletcher fell dead and the second bullet lodged in the door jamb close to where Connell was standing. The Policemen had already decided that once they had engaged the attention of the bushrangers they would retreat to a position where there would be no likelihood of innocent persons falling victim to their guns. At the sound of the gunfire, the rest of the bushrangers and many of their captives rushed into the street. As Constables O’Grady and Smyth began to withdraw, Clarke fired at them; a bullet struck O’Grady near the heart and he died almost immediately. Clarke and his gang, now a little frightened, mounted their horses and galloped back to Deep Creek. Here they picked up the rest of the gang and a pack horse laden with goods from the store.
A messenger from Nerrigundah met Sgt. Hitch on his way back from Moruya and he formed a posse of twelve men, including Charles Harper the poet, then Government Gold Commissioner at Nerrigundah. At Eucumbene River crossing they found that the Clarke gang had not yet arrived and prepared for an ambush. The Clarke gang with their pack horse was seen approaching the river in single file. They were watering their horses when Sgt Hitch gave the order to fire; but the bushrangers made their escape with the pack horse the only casualty.
Sgt Brennan and Trooper Baker, of the Moruya Police, heard at midnight of the shooting and set off after the bushrangers. They found the gang had gone over the Wandello Mountain on their way to the Tablelands and gave up on the pursuit.
The body of Constable Miles O’Grady was buried in the catholic portion of the Nerrigundah Cemetery the next day. Later the remains were removed to Moruya Cemetery and a marble headstone subscribed for by the Police of the southern district of NSW was placed over the grave.
The Government erected a monument in front of Wallis’ Hotel at Nerrigundah as a memorial to O’Grady. It is believed that this is the only monument in Australia erected in honour of a policeman.
The Clarke gang was eventually hunted down in the Jingera Ranges, their favourite hideout. Thomas Clarke was hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol and lengthy prison sentences were meted out to the others.
(Source: Commemorative brochure 100th Anniversary: Shooting of Miles O'Grady)
Click here for the Nerrigundah Historic Village Trail.