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Lawrence Kavanagh

Lawrence Kavanagh 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. Kavanagh 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.

Port Arthur Penitentiary

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. One of the security measures was the infamous Dogline which was devised by John Peyton Jones :-

It occurred to me that the only way to prevent the escape of Prisoners from Port Arthur in consequence of the noise occasioned by the continual roar of the sea breaking on the beach and the peculiar formation of the land which rendered sentries comparatively useless, was to establish a line of lamps and dogs. I therefore at once covered a way with cockle shells so as to show a brilliant light on the ground at night and proposed that a certain number of Lamps be supplied and rations for a certain number of dogs (9) to be so placed that they could not fight although eat out of the same trough, and render it impossible for any one to pass through.

(Peyton Jones, 1852)

Any break of the scrub, movement or slightest noise would set the hounds barking and alert the sentries. Dogs were also placed on stages out in the water to detect absconders attempting a sea crossing. They made an impassable barrier. When one of the sergeants decided to test the effectiveness of the line he was attacked, receiving a severe wound from one of the dogs.

Melville described the guard dogs as a fierce and motley bunch:

There were the black, the white, the brindle, the grey and the grisly, the rough and the smooth, the crop-eared and the lop-eared, the gaunt and the grim. Every four-footed, black-fanged individual among them would have taken first prize in his own class for ugliness and ferocity at any show.

(Melville, c. 1840)

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. A belief that the bays were shark-infested acted as a deterrent to sea-based getaways.  

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 boomer. Billy was forced to reveal his true identity.

None of this detered Cash, Kavanagh 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, Kavanagh & Jones and then simply “Cash & Company”, or “Cash & Co.”

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 Kavanagh 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 Kavanagh 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 Kavanagh were tried before Justice Montague at the Hobart Town Criminal Sessions. Cash was charged with murder, Kavanagh 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

MV Lawrence Kavanagh
MV Lawrence Kavanagh

Lawrence Kavanagh, 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 Kavanagh was hanged. Shortly before his execution he asked to see his old mate Martin Cash and both men exchanged final farewells. 

Lawrence Kavanagh 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.


Three men, named Cavenagh, Cash and Jones, became celebrated as gallant intrepid and generous Bushrangers throughout the countryt he two former Irishmen, the latter an Englishman. They were never known to offer an incivility to a female, or rob a ticket-of-leave man or any other prisoner. It was however no uncommon thing for them to stop a stage coach, and ask the passengers to fork over their watches, money, jewellery and clothing. If they hesitated about delivering the latter, from modesty or other cause, then the generous scoundrels would propose to exchange coats, pants, &c. They would commit a robbery one night, and the next be heard of forty or fifty miles distant. One evening they called at a tavern, and drove the company into one room. Cavenagh watched at the door, Cash guarded the family, while Jones, being light fingered, was set to weeding. The landlord told them his better half was sick in one of the chambers. They assured him that his wife should not be disturbed. Having finished their business, they bid him good night; but had not proceeded far before soldiers and constables were after them. A few shots were exchanged, but it being dark, the Rangers escaped with their booty. Nothing delighted them more than to rob the Magistrates house.

The Exiles Return or Narrative of Samuel Snow who was banished to Van Diemans Land. 1846

I am indebted to Andrew Stackpool who provided most of the material relating to Lawrence Kavanagh. Andrew specialises in the history and memorabilia of the Bushrangers of Australia.
Learn more about the Bushrangers.