The Heroic ‘Old’ Guardsman

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The Escape and Recapture of Four Convicts from Fremantle Prison

The notorious Graham and three other convicts made a most daring attempt to escape from the Fremantle Establishment on Thursday last. The four prisoners, viz., Graham, Lockett, Watkins, and Harding were working with what is termed ‘ the stringent gang’ at a quarry within the prison walls. The three first were in chains. Warder Brown was in charge of the gang, and a sentry with a loaded rifle, overlooked the whole from a ledge of scarped rock which runs along the prison wall. This ledge rises in the centre about 12 feet over the quarry, is about 8 feet wide, and twenty yards long. The whole of the gang was working down in the quarry under the immediate superintendence of the warder, excepting Graham, who was more elevated than the rest, so as to keep him always under the eye of the sentry, a precaution which was thought necessary in consequence of information having been received that he was plotting an escape.

About ½ past 3 o’clock on Thursday afternoon the convict Harding, who was not in irons, asked permission to go to the closet, which is in the opposite direction as regards the sentry’s post, to the spot where Graham was at work. It became requisite for the sentry to keep his eye upon Harding to and from the closet, as the warder, from his position in the quarry, could not observe him. Harding having quitted the closet, the sentry watched him until he was close up to the quarry and apparently in sight of the warder. The sentry then turned to observe Graham, and, within five or six seconds afterwards, found himself seized round the body, and rendered powerless in respect to the use of his arms. Harding, who is an active and very muscular man, had sprung suddenly up the ledge of rock, at the only spot adjacent to the sentry where it was at all accessible, and thrown his arms round him from behind. He was formerly a soldier in the 23rd Fusiliers, and after participating in the storm of Lucknow was transported, at the age of 22, for striking his superior officer. The sentry finding himself thus secured, and perceiving that Graham was approaching to assist Harding, let his Rifle drop down into the quarry, and called to the warder to ‘use it as he could not.’ The convict Lockett hastened to pick the rifle up, and was knocked down by the warder, who in return, was knocked down by Watkins. A struggle then ensued between the warder and two or three of the convicts for possession of the rifle, which was at length secured by the latter and handed over to Graham, who immediately ran towards the adjacent angle of the prison wall against which Harding (who had let go the sentry on the seizure of the rifle) hastened to raise a ladder.

Graham warned the warder to keep off and followed by one of the others ascended the ladder and got over the wall, giving the rifle to Lockett, whom he told to defend himself. The warder upset the ladder whilst the two remaining convicts were ascending, but was again knocked down by one of them. At this stage of the business, the guard for whom the sentry had been calling from the commencement of the affair came running into the prison yard, and one of them got a shot at the last of 4 convicts as he was going over the wall, but without effect.

Graham, on getting clear of the Prison, took a direction that brought him close to a garden in which Enrolled Pensioner Barrett, late of the Grenadier Guards, was at work. Barrett recognising the peculiar dress of the ‘stringent class,’ and knowing it be tokened that the wearer was illegally at large, immediately confronted him, and demanded his surrender. Graham replied by hurling a large stone at him, which he partially warded off with his arm, but not without receiving from it a contusion in his face. The old Guardsman, to whom such work was but , as child’s play to what he went through that dark November morning at Inkerman, where he was shot in the neck, immediately closed on the desperado, when a struggle took place, during which the men were up and down 2 or 3 times. At last Barrett succeeded in getting Graham under, and there kept him until the arrival of assistance. Watkins was so injured in dropping from the wall as to be unable to proceed farther. Harding and Lockett were soon after captured by some of the warders and others whom the alarm drew from the prison. Lockett was wounded slightly in the arm by one of the guard, in consequence of his assaulting a policeman after capture.

The whole affair from the first émeute to the re-caging of the 4 felons within the prison walls, did not last half an hour. A Court of Inquiry into the conduct of the sentry was convened by Colonel Bruce on Saturday last. It consisted of Major Crampton, Staff Surgeon Poulton, and Assistant Commissary General Sale. It has resulted in the complete exoneration from blame of the sentry (Private Martin, late 74th Regiment,) and some recommendations, in respect to prison arrangements for the prevention of future surprise. Enrolled Pensioner Barrett, who captured Graham, is a fine soldier-like looking man, of about 40 years of age. He was discharged in consequence of the gun-shot wound in his neck.


Source: The Inquirer and Commercial News, Wednesday 3 August 1864, p.3.