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Michael Howe was born in Pontefract, Yorkshire to Thomas and Elizabeth Howe, and it would appear that he was a man with some education.
In his early life he had been a sailor on a British ship, but deserted to join the Royal Navy. In about 1806 he joined the army, but some time later absconded to become a highway man on English roads. Soon caught and convicted of highway robbery, he was transported to Sydney in 1812, and later to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). There he was assigned to Mr Ingle, a merchant, but he boasted: "I have served the King, and will be no meaner man's slave!" He escaped into the bush, and by 1814 he had joined up with a gang led by John Whitehead. When Whitehead was wounded by soldiers, he pleaded with Howe to finish him, which he did, and from then became known as a captain of a gang of bloodthirsty wretches, calling himself "The Governor of the Ranges". One day they attacked an Aboriginal tribe and carried away many of the young Aboriginal girls. A beautiful girl, that was to become known in history as "Black Mary", became Howe's lover, and although the other girls eventually escaped into the bush, she stayed with him, and soon became indispensable to him. She was his faithful and devoted companion, servant, mistress, and also his trustworthy confident, ally and scout. However, soon she was to experience his cruel and despotic behaviour!
The soldiers of the 46th regiment were out, combing the countryside in their search for the "bolters". Suddenly they appeared everywhere, and Howe ran for his life. Black Mary, now pregnant to him, tried to protect Howe by staying between him and the soldiers. On the spur of the moment Howe decided to kill her, knowing that if she were caught, she would be used as a lead to catch him. He fired at her, then disappeared into the bush. After a long and fruitless search, the soldiers gave up.
Howe later sent a letter to the newly appointed Lieutenant - Governor Sorrell, defending his deeds and offering to give himself up on condition that he received a free pardon. The Governor, who was aware of the fact that outlaws had dictated terms on many occasions, recognised the power of the bushranger; he was anxious to put a stop to this, therefore he replied that he had no power to grant pardons, but would write to Governor Macquarie in Sydney, and recommend to grant Howe a pardon without delay. Howe was liberated on parole and told to wait in Hobart Town for the outcome. Later, when he heard an unconfirmed rumour that Governor Macquarie had declined to grant him a pardon, Howe broke his parole and once more escaped into the bush. A reign of terror began - and things were soon worse than ever. As a result of this, Howe was proclaimed an outlaw with a hundred pounds reward offered for his capture. Another hundred pounds was added to the first reward soon afterwards.
In the meantime Black Mary, who had been badly wounded, was found by her people who nursed her back to health. Her great love turned to hatred, and one day she appeared in the soldiers' camp, offering her services - she would track Howe down for them. She refused the money, just hinted merely that the hunt for Howe had lasted too long and so far with no result. The officers agreed and accepted Black Mary's offer. She led the search party through the bush with certainty and skill, and finally found Howe. He had to surrender and was returned to prison, but later managed to escape from custody again. He was captured in October 1818 by three men: a kangaroo hunter named Warburton, a former seaman John Worrall, and a soldier William Pugh, nicknamed "Big Bill". A terrible fight took place, and Howe's brains were battered out.
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