There are numerous stories about Harry’s heritage. He was born in Mudgee NSW. His father, Thomas Readford (in convict records as Thomas Ratford) was transported to Sydney on the ship Marquis of Wellington which left London on 1 September 1814. He was from York and stole four hides from a shoemaker. Thomas went on to become pretty respectable and established his children well, mainly with hotels and multiple land holdings (urban and rural). His wife Jemima Smith was a currency lass, born in or near Sydney N.S.W on 2 Feb 1801 and died on 5 Feb 1860 in Emu Plains, N.S.W. Thomas married Jemima, the daughter of Edward Turleigh SMITH and Jane MAHER, on 29 Jul 1834 in Windsor, N.S.W. Harry Redford was the youngest of eleven children. His family were landowners and hoteliers from the Hawkesbury River area, while his older brother was highly respected and known as ‘The Father of Warren’, a town in NSW.
In the late 1800s, cattle theft was rife in Queensland and NSW. In March 1870, Redford and four others stole between 600 and 1000 head of cattle from Bowen Downs, which stretched some 228 kilometres (140 miles) along the Thomson River and tributaries. Included in their haul was an imported white bull belonging to the Scottish Australian Company. Redford and his associates, George Dewdney and William Rooke decided to overland the cattle south to sell in Adelaide, as the Queensland brands were unknown there.
It took three months for the three men to drive the cattle 1,287 kilometres (800 miles) down the Cooper through country where Burke and Wills had perished ten years before. Two cows branded ‘LC’ and the bull were sold to a storekeeper for rations and the rest of the cattle were sold for £5000 to Blanchewater Station. Bowen Downs’ employees tracked the large herd to South Australia and identified the white bull.
During this time Redford married a childhood friend, Elizabeth Jane Skuthorpe on 13th April 1871. On the 11th February 1873, Redford and the white bull were star attractions at his trial in Roma. Rejecting any well-dressed men for the jury, he was found ‘Not Guilty’ and Judge Blakeney made the famous statement, ” I thank God that the verdict is yours, gentleman, and not mine”.
To this day in Australia, it remains difficult to get a conviction for stock stealing. Continual brushes with the law over horse stealing resulted in Redford being jailed for eighteen months in Brisbane.
On his release, he continued droving cattle from the Atherton Tableland to Dubbo, and in 1883 drove the first mob to Brunette Downs in the Northern Territory where he became the first manager. He is said to have pioneered his own property ‘Corella Downs’, now part of Brunette Downs, and in 1899 became Manager of McArthur River Station.
In 1901, he set out from Brunette Downs to explore Central Australia, but although a strong swimmer, was drowned in Corella Creek, which had become a raging torrent after rain. The true stories of Harry Redford and other Australian bushrangers were woven together to become the mythical bushranger ‘Captain Starlight’; immortalised by Rolf Bolderwood in his novel “Robbery Under Arms”. As a direct result of stock stealing, Mt. Cornish became a separate cattle station with E.R. Edkins becoming manager in October 1872. The registration of brands was enforced throughout the state.
Adapted from text by Lesley Cowper