A bushranger's lair

Mt Tennent

Rising majestically above the historic village of Tharwa, one mountain dominates the landscape. This mountain has been crafted by tectonic forces, moulded by the elements over millennia. In recent times it has borne the brunt of a landslip with a cascading scar clearly visible for all to see.

Originally referred to by its aboriginal name of Tharwa, signifying thunder mountain, early European pastoralists renamed it Mount Currie after the British explorer. But during the late 1820s it became a mountain lair synonymous with the exploits of a local bushranger whose name it still bears today.

An Irishman of only 29 years was convicted of minor theft and sentenced for transportation to a far flung penal colony for the term of his natural life. Arriving upon these shores in 1824 on the convict ship Prince Regent, life’s prospects were looking rather bleak for John Tennant. Assigned to the iron-chain gang of road construction with its back-breaking task of cutting, by hand, the Great South Road, Tennant soon absconded.

Tennant quickly formed a notorious gang with other convict runaways, robbing lonely huts of the district settlers, shepherds and out-stations of the colony. They developed a formidable reputation amongst the pioneers on the Limestone Plains. A substantial reward was posted for his capture.

In 1827 Tennant’s gang attempted to hold up the station belonging to Thomas Rose on the Yass River. In the ensuing shoot-out their attempt was foiled and Tennant wounded, shot in the back by the plucky hutkeeper James Farrell. The bushrangers departed without any bounty, injured and seeking refuge, a place to recuperate beyond the limits of occupation, the mighty Murrumbidgee River.

Beyond these outer limits, a mountain offered sanctuary. Solitude, as no Europeans had settled the area. With wounds healed, the Tennant Gang soon began to ride again, raiding Campbell’s Duntroon property along with numerous out-stations over the summer of 1827.

A mounted Police party consisting of Aboriginal trackers soon discovered Tennant’s whereabouts on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River below his mountain hideout. Completely surrounded, Tennant succumbed to a blaze of bullets in his neck, face and arm.

Brought before the courts, Tennant’s Gang was sentenced to a penal colony with a brutal reputation, the notorious Norfolk Island. After serving seven years, Tennant eventually returned to Sydney Cove a broken man. He died aged 43.

Having resided on the Limestone Plains for a brief seven years, Tennant, like the landslide scar of today, has left an indelible mark upon the cultural heritage landscape of our bush capital.

Brett Mac

Brett McNamara - Regional Manager with ACT Parks & Conservation Service

Brett loves our national parks almost as much as the Gang-gang on his uniform. He is prone to using the word 'majestic' when referring to the bush capital. He loves talking. A lot. His favourite animal is the playful platypus.

Article also appeared on 24 April in The Chronicle