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Michael Burke was born at Fell Timber Creek (NSW) in 1843, the son of assisted immigrants from Ireland, Michael Burke and Bridget, née Coomfoot. He was the only boy in the family, but had seven sisters. "Micky", as they called him, never went to school, but being reared in the bush, he became an exceptionally good horseman. What a shame that he gave in to a "get rich quick" temptation and used his skills in the wrong way. In 1863, when he was barely twenty, he became involved in extensive horse and cattle stealing together with his cousin James Burke, and his best friend John Vane. From then on the temptation only grew... there was no return for Micky Burke to an honest way of living.
Frank Gardiner, the "Prince of Tobymen", who was looked up to by the wild bush lads as a hero, was gone by then (to hide in Queensland), but some of his former gang were still operating in the western districts of New South Wales under the leadership of bushrangers Ben Hall and Johnny Gilbert, who now needed to recruit more young bush bandits. It was in August 1863, that Michael Burke's "big one" took place: Mr Thomas Icely, the owner of Cliefden Station near Coombing Park, who was also a magistrate and one of the wealthiest men in the district, lost some thoroughbreds, including the precious racehorse Comus II, and it was Burke, who stole them, when he and three others, Gilbert, O'Meally and Vane made a raid upon the property. The stables were in charge of a man called "Charley the German", who tried to prevent the theft, but was shot by Burke in the neck. Charley was taken to hospital, where he slowly recovered, and Mr Icely offered a one hundred pound reward for the capture of the robbers who disappeared into the bush.
However, the atrocities of the gang still went on: horse and cattle stealing, robberies under arms, sticking up of the mails and escorts, raids on storekeepers, on banks and even on whole country towns....... but a fatal day for Burke was drawing nearer.
On the 24-th of October, the gang suddenly attacked the residence of Mr Keightley, Gold Commissioner at Dunn's Plains near Rockley. Mr Keightley and his guest Dr Peachey were fired at, but showed stubborn resistance, and during the battle Burke was shot at and seriously wounded in the stomach. He turned his revolver on himself and took his own life. His body was taken to Carcoar for the inquest and later handed over to the family. He was buried on his parents property at Mandurama near a creek. His grave was marked by a small metal cross until 1981, when author - historian Edgar Penzig erected a headstone, that reads:
Michael Burke (bushranger), who took his own life on Saturday, 24th October, 1863, after being wounded in an attack on the homestead of Mr Henry Keightley".
Michael's cousin, James Burke (mentioned above) was also involved in bushranging, not with the Gardiner-Hall-Gilbert gang, but with the former American, John Mitchell. Their partnership lasted only one month, when Mitchell was caught. James sought out a priest, and in his company gave himself up. Convicted of robbery under arms, he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
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