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In July 1853 a large gang of bushrangers which included most, if not all of the following: George 'Frenchy' Melville, an ex-convict from Tasmania aged thirty-one; William Atkins, another ex-convict aged twenty-eight; George Wilson, aged thirty-two; John and Joseph Francis who used the alias of 'John' and 'Jeremiah Murphy'; Joe Grey alias 'Nutty'; Bob Harding; Ned McIvoy; George Elson: and a man named 'Billy" planned to carry out a most daring robbery on the gold escort from the McIvor diggings.
On the 20 July 1853, the Melbourne Gold Escort Company dray driven by Thomas Flookes pulled out of McIvor carrying 2223 ounces of gold and £700 in notes. He was headed for Kyneton where it would join up with the government Gold Escort and continue on to Melbourne. He was accompanied by five men on horseback, the man in charge, Mr Warner, three company employees, and a Police Sergeant.
They had travelled about twenty miles from McIvor when they came across a big log thrown across the road and what at first appeared to be an Aboriginal mia mia next to it. As the driver attempted to drive his team around the log a large volley of shots rang out from the shelter. Flookes was fatally wounded and its escort soon gave up any attempt to fight back and retreated leaving the dray to be plundered of its contents.
A huge manhunt was soon under way to find the culprits of the outrage. John Francis and George Wilson were soon arrested along with their wives aboard the "Madagascar' in Hobson's Bay. Shortly after George Melville and his wife were arrested on board the barque 'Callooney', while William Atkins and his wife who had booked their passages on the 'Hellespont' were discovered in a boarding house in Melbourne.
As to the others involved there is a lot of confusion as many of the documents concerning the case are no longer in existence. Joseph Francis was reported to have been arrested in Queensland, but released after giving information. Another report stated that Cadet William Symons arrested Joseph Francis at Burnewang Station on the Campaspe River, and while being escorted to Melbourne committed suicide. The latter could be the more likely as John Francis was supposed to have told Captain McMahon all about the robbery and then committed suicide by cutting his throat.
From those captured the authorities recovered £2501.10.0d in gold, banknotes, sovereigns and bank drafts, plus 7 bags of gold, value unknown. The bulk of the gold was never discovered as the rest of the felons were never apprehended.
George Melville, William Atkins and George Wilson, were all charged with the murder of Thomas Flookes and sentenced to death by Judge Williams. They were hanged on Monday 3 October 1853, before a large crowd and the body's were handed over to their respective family's. Because of the public display put on by Mrs Melville to condemn the police, this was the last time that remains were handed over and from that point on those executed were buried in prison grounds.
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