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GEORGE COMERFORD & JOSEPH DIGNUM
George Comerford and his companion Joseph Dignum, may well have been the first bushrangers in the colony of Victoria, then part of New South Wales.
In 1837, three convicts including Dignum escaped from Yass, N.S.W., and shortly after were joined by another six, one of whom was George Comerford. With Dignum in charge the band of desperate men, they headed for the small settlement of Melbourne. After robbing isolated homes in the region they were soon to attract the attention of the police force, which at that time numbered only seven men. As things were getting a little hot for them they decided to set off on foot to South Australia. It was not long before they started to run short of provisions and a quarrel started as to which route they should take. Dignum and probably Comerford had decided to rid themselves of the rest of the group and laying doggo they waited for everyone to go to sleep. Dignum and Comerford rose quietly and picking up an axe each attempted to kill all the others with a blow to the head. The scene must have been horrific as only four men died immediately and the others being either finished off with further blows or shot. They threw the bodies onto several huge logs and tried to get rid of their remains by burning them. Dignum & Comerford now had to back-track due to their shortage of food and took a job with a squatter for a short while and then left him to work for another. The first squatter had a work agreement with the two men and had them arrested, but before he could take them to court, they escaped. Dignum decided that he would go to South Australia but this time he would travel alone. He took a shot at Comerford who managed to escape and returning to Melbourne, decided to turn his former mate in.
Both men had to be taken to Sydney as there was not a suitable court in Melbourne to try them. When Comerford told the authorities about the massacre it must have been hard to believe, but they escorted him back to Mt Alexander to check it out. Comerford found the site and the story was proven by the human bones and clothing which were scattered about. As they were returning to Melbourne, Comerford complained bitterly at having to walk with handcuffs on, so they took them off during the day. One day it was found that the tea and sugar had been left at the previous campsite and two men were sent back to retrieve it. While they were gone Sergeant Tomkins made the mistake of leaving his carbine leaning against a tree, and seizing his opportunity, Comerford grabbed it and as the Sergeant made a rush at him he fired, killing the sergeant instantly.
Comerford returned to his old stamping ground and a reward of £50 and a free pardon offered to any convict who could secure him. Shortly after he entered a hut occupied by Kangaroo Jack who recognised the bushranger. As Comerford was lighting his pipe, Jack landed a terrific blow almost knocking him out. He was taken to Melbourne, tried, and hanged for the murder of Tomkins.
Joseph Dignum on the other hand was sentenced to life imprisonment on Norfolk Island. Many years later Dignum was finally hanged for the murder of a police sergeant, killed during an attempted escape bid.
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