Captain Moonlite was the pseudonym of Andrew George Scott, a bushranger who led a gang of teenage boys in the late 1870s. The events of Scott’s life is difficult to relay accurately because of his propensity for making up stories about his past.
Scott was born in 1842 and raised in Ireland, the son of a minister who encouraged him to take up a career in the church. Scott was more interested in more earthly pursuits and went to London as a young man where he studied to become a civil engineer. Scott showed early signs of promise but soon became rather distracted. While he was in London he was courted by the most esteemed clubs in high society and allegedly had an affair with the wife of a well known society figure. When the cuckolded husband found out he threatened to thrash Scott. Scott knew that his time in England was at an end and sent word to his father that he was going to Rome to study the aqueducts. He traveled to Italy where he fought as a Redshirt in Garibaldi’s army during the Second Italian War of Independence, then went to New Zealand and fought in the Maori Wars where a spear wound left him permanently disabled with a limp. He then allegedly moved to California and joined the Union army in the American Civil War before seeking gold in Australia.
While employed as a lay preacher in Bacchus Marsh in 1869, Scott received a transfer to the burgeoning goldfields of Mount Egerton. Unfortunately the church withheld Scott’s wages and he turned to crime, robbing the Mount Egerton bank. There has been much conjecture about exactly what happened, but what is incontestable is that the bank safe was cleared out and the bank clerk Ludwig Bruun was found tied up in the schoolhouse with a note exonerating him of cowardice or collusion signed by “Captain Moonlite”. Bruun accused Scott of the crime, Scott denied anything to do with it and suggested that the handwriting matched that of Simpson, the schoolmaster. Simpson in turn accused Bruun of forging his handwriting and both Simpson and Bruun ended up in trouble with the law and their reputations in tatters while Scott headed north to New South Wales.
He was soon in trouble, however, being arrested by the water police while preparing to sail to Fiji in a yacht bought using bad cheques. Scott did time in Maitland Gaol where he spent four months in a lunatic asylum after feigning madness. After his release from Maitland, he ended up in Ballarat Gaol over the Egerton robbery, thanks to new evidence that had come to light, where he and five other prisoners escaped in 1872. Scott managed to make it all the way to Bendigo before he was caught. He was tried by Sir Redmond Barry and sent to do the remainder of his sentence in Petnridge Prison where he was a typically uncooperative prisoner. Here he met James Nesbitt, a yound man with a history of petty crimes, who he met up with on the outside once they were both released.
Scott and Nesbitt lived together in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy before Scott decided the best way to utilise his experience and oratory skills would be to tour Victoria giving lectures on prison reform. As the pair traveled Scott began attracting followers in the form of teenage boys from the slums. Soon he had a gang consisting of himself, Nesbitt, Thomas Rogan, Thomas Williams, Graham Bennett, and Gus Wernicke. However his colourful criminal persona as “Captain Moonlite” had resulted in police frequently arresting Scott for suspected involvement in crimes he had nothing to do with. Before long, the gang, calling themselves “Moonliters”, took to the bush near Mansfield, Victoria, heading North to New South Wales on foot.
However, their lack of bush survival skills began to create trouble for the gang and they decided to seek work at a station to support themselves. Without supporters they became desperate for supplies and decided to take up bushranging, sticking up stores and stations as they went. The Moonliters were frequently mistaken for the Kelly Gang, which Scott used to their advantage in gaining cooperation.
They applied for jobs at Wantabadgery Station but were turned away, causing Scott to fly into a rage. The gang stuck up the station and held people prisoner inside while the gang took turns eating and sleeping. When Scott heard of a plot by some of his prisoners to escape and raise the alarm he held a mock trial. The stress of the situation resulted in Scott suffering a migraine, as was typical of him in times of stress. In the morning the station was besieged by four police and a shoot out took place. Initially the police were defeated, retreating from battle. Moonlite was ecstatic and the gang rode to the nearby farm of the McGledes for breakfast. Soon the police were back in greater numbers than before and another shoot out erupted. In the fight Gus Wernicke was killed as was Constable Webb-Bowen and James Nesbitt, who tried to create a diversion for Scott to escape. Scott was beside himself that the love of his life had sacrificed himself, carrying the body back inside under fire and holding Nesbitt in his arms and kissing him passionately once safely inside. After the gang were captured, Scott provided his own defence in court and pleaded for mercy for Thomas Rogan, Williams and Bennett who had suffered a nasty injury to his arm. Scott and Rogan were sentenced to death, the other boys given extended prison sentences. While awaiting the inevitable Scott wrote letters to Nesbitt’s mother to apologise for what had happened to her son, his closest companion. The letters were suppressed by prison authorities.
Andrew George Scott was executed in Darlinghurst Gaol on January 20, 1880 with fellow gang member Thomas Rogan for the murder of Constable Webb-Bowen. His last request was to be buried next to James Nesbitt – a request granted in 1995 when his remains were transferred from Rookwood Cemetery to Gundagai.
In recent years there has been much discussion of the nature of Scott and Nesbitt’s relationship being a homosexual one and indeed it would appear to be the case. It is indisputable that Scott loved Nesbitt very deeply and it is claimed that he wore a ring made from a lock of Nesbitt’s hair. There are anecdotes that indicate Scott may have been bisexual also. Perhaps the best insight comes from this extract from one of the surviving letters to Mrs. Nesbitt:
19th January 1880
From Prisoner Andrew G. Scott
My dearest Mrs Nesbitt,
To the mother of Jim no colder
address would be true, My heart to you
is the same as to my own dearest Mother
Jim’s sisters are my sisters, his friends
my friends, his hopes were my hopes his
grave will be my resting place and I
trust I may be worthy to be with him
when we shall all meet to part no
more, when an all-seeing God who
can read all hearts will be the judge
I send you some of his hair
and will try to send you any
thing else of his I can get
Give the love of a brother to dearest
Jim’s Sisters and to his father
Farewell my dearest Mrs Nesbit
I am ever to you a loving son
Captain Moonlite: Bushranger by G. Calderwood
In Search of Captain Moonlite by Paul Terry