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William Sydenham Smith (1815–1879)

"Gipsey Smith," whose name is associated with some of the most daring bushrangers in the early days of the goldfields in Victoria, died in the Melbourne Hospital last week. According to the prison records he was transported from England when a mere youth to Van Diemen's Land. Being a refractory convict he was subsequently sent to Port Arthur where the worst class of criminals were confined. In the year 1853, he with six others escaped in a whaling boat and after a perilous voyage landed at Brighton. Being an absconder he said it would be useless to go to the diggings as he would soon be discovered and at once decided on a course of bushranging. In those days the assistance rendered by the police for the security of life and property was but limited, which encouraged desperate criminals to commit acts which have furnished a long catalogue of crimes in the early days of the goldfields and subsequent years. Smith was often seen in a spirit of bravado passing among the diggers with a red sash round his waist, in which were exhibited a brace of pistols. On one occasion he was arrested by a young trooper, who was taking him to the lockup. In a lonely part of the road Smith asked the trooper to take off the handcuffs for a moment, which the officer consented to do. As soon as the prisoner's hands were free he seized the officer's sword and attacked him. The trooper at the same moment drew the scabbard from his belt, and at once stood on his defence. The two fought for some time, and the prisoner finding he was getting the worst of the fight struck the officer's horse, which bolted into the bush, and Smith escaped. Smith always spoke of the trooper as one of the best men he had ever met with in an encounter. On another occasion, when Smith and his mate, named McNally, were surrounded by the police, the latter was shot dead, and the former escaped. In the year 1857, Smith was arrested at Ballarat, and would have been lynched by the diggers, but they were prevented by a few of the police. Smith was tried and sentenced to 15 years on the roads of the colony. In those days the Pentridge stockade was very insecure, and Smith was sent to the hulk President. Afterwards he was transferred to Pentridge, and placed in a position of trust in one of the divisions, where he conducted himself to the satisfaction of the authorities. After he was discharged from prison he was taken in hand by Mr. Lang, son of the late Dr. Lang of Sydney, who appears to have placed considerable confidence in Smith's honesty. He was often entrusted by Mr. Lang to bring mobs of cattle from New South Wales to the Melbourne market to sell, and in subsequent years he was placed in charge of a station.

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'Smith, William Sydenham (1815–1879)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Turner, William
  • Gipsy Smith
  • Gipsey Smith

5 February, 1815
Taunton, Somerset, England


July, 1879 (aged 64)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Key Places
Convict Record

Crime: theft
Sentence: life