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James Dalton was born about 1819, at Browness, near Carlisle. He was already a hard case when he was transported for Larceny at Cumberland in 1834. He arrived to Van Diemen's Land on 6 March 1835 on a sentence of seven years, and only two weeks later received a further eighteen months for stealing a bible. It seems there was nothing the gaol could do to break his rebellious spirit as he was flogged repeatedly, loaded with irons, and also put into solitary confinement. Having committed everything from being repeatedly disobedient and insolent, stealing anything that wasn't bolted down, threatening to cut the overseer's throat, and making several attempts to escape, he was finally sent to Norfolk Island in 1846. But almost immediately he seized a boat and attempted to make a getaway. Three years later on 14 August 1849, he raped a young girl named Mary Willis and spent another two years in chains. When Norfolk Island started to close down and return its prisoners to Tasmania, he showed another side to his nature when he was involved in rescuing people during the 1852 floods at Ross. For this he received a four month reduction from his sentence of hard-labour.
On 28 December 1852, he and five other convicts escaped from Port Arthur. Four of them drowned when trying to swim past Eaglehawk Neck, but Dalton and Andrew Kelly survived. After stealing some weapons the two began their bushranging career. They first robbed a Halfway House near Campbelltown and next day stuck up Simeon Lord's house, Bona Vista. There were some thirty people bailed up at Lord's, including two constables and a watchhouse keeper. During the robbery they shot and killed the watchhouse keeper and escaped on two fine horses from the stables. Over the following weeks Dalton and Kelly made a number of raids, one of them holding up a hut full of men. One of them, Constable Buckmaster, made a rush at Dalton who shot and killed him. The area around Esk was getting too hot for them so they determined to make a break for the mainland.
After first trying to commandeer the schooner 'Jane & Elizabeth' and failed, they seized a whaleboat belonging to a publican, and forced four miners to take them across Bass Strait. After landing at Westernport they made their separate ways to Melbourne, hoping to board a ship bound for England. But their notoriety had proceeded them and a £500 reward had been posted for their capture.
The capture of Dalton was almost too easy. He located a boatman who agreed to take him over to the "Northumberland" lying at anchor. It was late in the evening and they popped into a coffee shop to exchange some Tasmanian banknotes into gold, most likely to pay the passage. The owners did not have enough gold to cash the notes, but a fast thinking customer, said he was a goldbroker and could make the exchange. Dalton who agreed, had just walked into a trap. The goldbroker named Brice, happened to be an ex-cadet of the Melbourne police and was suspicious of Dalton. Brice asked him to accompany him to his office, and in the dark led Dalton through the yard at the back of the Police Court and into the clerk's room of the Swanston Street watchhouse. Fortunately, know one was in uniform and while Brice showed two of the plainclothes detectives the banknotes he challenged Dalton of having come about them wrongfully. Dalton coolly replied that the accusation was rubbish. As there was insufficient evidence, Dalton was about to leave when he was suddenly pounced on by Detective Williams, Murray and Eason, who had recognised his description. Dalton was carrying three pistols under his coat, but was unable to use them. He said: "You have got the reward of £500, my name is Dalton!"
Andrew Kelly was arrested the following day and they were both returned to Tasmania to face the court. On 26 April 1853, they were hanged for the murder of Constable Buckmaster.
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