Cooks River, Earlwood, Marrickville, Petersham

The Hanging of the Bushrangers who Murdered Dr Wardell

Those of us living around Marrickville have heard the name Wardell, mostly because of the road that leads from Petersham to Earlwood.

Named for Dr Robert Wardell, a barrister who, along with William Wentworth (Blue Mountains explorer), ran the colony’s first private newspaper: Australian.

Early in the afternoon of Sunday, 7 September 1834, astride his hack, he left his cottage at Petersham to inspect his estate. Near the Cook’s River boundary he spotted an unauthorized little humpy, from which on his approach emerged three bushrangers John Jenkins, Thomas Tattersdale and Emanuel Brace, who, he suspected, correctly as it transpired, were convicts unlawfully at large. After a few inflamed exchanges, John Jenkins, the leader of them, shot him. His body was found next day. The three men were arrested about a week later. Brace, the youngest of them turned approver and the other two were executed. An expertly finished marble tablet, on which is moulded, in alto relievo, a side view of the head of Wardell, may be seen on the southern wall of St James’s Church, Sydney. It is said to be a good likeness. [1]

Dr Wardell Memorial Stone – St James Church Sydney

The trial of the three bushrangers spurred community interest and was comprehensively reported in the newspapers. The bushrangers of the 1830s were often former convicts rebelling against their harsh treatment. Many had escaped and became known as ‘bolters’. Most did not live for very long in the bush as it was very different from anything they knew and they lacked the skills and knowledge necessary to survive. They robbed travellers, coaches and houses. Some sympathisers within the local community would help them with supplies and avoiding the police. To be a successful bushranger you needed to know bushcraft, be a good horseman and be able to work with others in a gang.

Jenkins actions at trial and his consequential hanging are “the thing of legends”. His actions however also opened up public debate into the “freedoms of convicts”. The following article published November 13, 1834 in The Sydney Herald [2] recounts Jenkin’s and Tattersdale’s hanging and hints at Jenkin’s “devil may care” attitude to what he had done.

EXECUTION.—The extraordinary and reckless conduct of the culprit Jenkins on his trial made, such an impression on the minds of the Public, that, on Monday morning last the time appointed for his execution, the neighbourhood of the goal was crowded to a degree never before observed on any similar occasion, to witness the last scene of one of the most depraved of the human species. At the usual time, the culprits were led into tho yard, to the foot of the scaffold, attended by their respective Clergymen. Tattersdale entered first, accompanied by the Rev W. Cowper, and testified the most sincere repentance and devotion through the melancholy scene; Jenkins followed, staring wildly around on the spectators, and seeming perfectly indifferent to the ignominous fate that awaited him. McCormack appeared penitent, but his demeanour on the whole, seemed to indicate extreme despair and dejection. The prayers being ended, the Under Sheriff read the warrant which consigned them to their fate ; when Jenkins ascended the ladder with the greatest expedition, and on arriving on the scaffold went over to one of the ropes suspended from the fatal beam, and struck it with his hand in a playful manner ; the dreadful preliminaries being adjusted, Jenkins addressed the felons in the yard to the following effect, ” Well, good bye my lads, I have not time to say much to you ; I acknowledge I shot the Doctor, but it was not for gain, it was for the sake of my fellow prisoners because he was a tyrant, and I have one thing to recommend you as a friend, if any of you take the bush, shoot every tyrant you come across, and there are several now in the yard who ought to be served so. I have done several robberies, and for fear that any innocent man should suffer on my account, I have made a confession to the gaoler and given such marks and tokens as will prove it was I that committed the acts. I robbed a man named Mills at Kissing Point, and also a man on the Liverpool road, named Farrell, and a man at Liverpool whom I stabbed; he may be since dead for aught I know ; I have heard that he was missing since that time, and it is most probable he has been eaten by the native dogs, I have told where the property is, in order to show that I have told the truth. I have not time to say any more lads, but I hope you will all pray for me.” This address being ended, the rope was secured round his neck, and the other culprits shook hands, but Jenkins turned away from Tattersdale with disdain, and said something like, ” let every villain shako hands with himself,” at the solicitation of the Rev. Mr. McEncroe, he consented to shake hands with him, and as he approached his unhappy companion in crime, who appeared to be absorbed in prayer, .and making pious ejaculations, he said come, come my lad, none of that crying, it’s no use crying now ; we’ll be all right in ten minutes time, be then gave him a hearty shake of the hand, and took his hand. The clergymen having retired and the arrangements being complete, the   platform fell, and the world closed on one of the most ruthless assassins that over in fated the Colony. The case of these Convicts show in a striking point of view, the absolute necessity for an unrelaxing system of restraint on the Convict population.

[1] Currey, C. H., ‘Wardell, Robert (1793–1834)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,
[2] THE CONVICT SYSTEM. (1834, November 13). The Sydney Herald (NSW : 1831 – 1842), p. 2. Retrieved September 26, 2012, from

The story ‘Death casts a shadow‘ tells another part of the story of Wardell, Jenkins, Tattersdale and Brace.

An interesting journal article “Whatever Happened to Emanuel Brace?” has been written by Kate Dunbar about the fate of the informer Brace. It can be found in the MHS’s Book “Marrickville: A Past Worth Preserving”. The book is on sale for $35 and is available at MHS meetings or by post. Cheques or Money Orders for $35 (made out to the Marrickville Heritage Society) can be sent to MHS, PO Box 415, Marrickville 1475 

Another article was written about Dr Wardell “A Bloodstained Inheritance: The Pioneers of Petersham” by John Edwards in the MHS’s Heritage 12 journal.  
Contact the society about details of this journal.

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