Almanac Poetry: The Capture and Incarceration of Frank “Captain Melville” McCallum (1822-1857)

The Capture and Incarceration of Frank “Captain Melville” McCallum (1822-1857)


Geelong, 1852:
Corio Street, the waterfront.
A brothel, Christmas Eve:
Frank McCallum,
with partner-in-crime,
Bill Roberts,
had been enjoying drink
and the company of women.
Roberts, blind drunk,
was sound asleep,
slumped upon a table.
McCallum remained more sober,
but didn’t notice one of the ladies
steal out a back door
while he held court.
(It was such exhausting work
robbing those travellers
on the Ballarat road,
he cheerfully bragged.)
She told the local police
who’d arrived in town,
tongue loosened by the prospect
of one hundred pounds reward.
Time passed … Frank sniffed trouble.
When he creaked the front door ajar,
preparing to escape
(Roberts being too drunk to follow),
he glimpsed two constables and a woman
walking towards the gate.
He grabbed a chair,
raced through the house,
shattered a rear window.
A leap into the twilight,
a shirt-front given to the constable
sent to cover the back.
Across vacant lots,
then Malop Street
a chased ensued
— McCallum and the three police.
Near La Trobe’s Dam,
half a mile away,
he dragged a local man,
Henry Guy, off his horse.
But he couldn’t mount the raring beast.
Indeed, Guy didn’t know
with whom he was dealing
as he grappled with the desperate stranger
until the constables arrived.


Months later, Geelong Court:
Judge Redmond Barry presiding.
McCallum sentenced to thirty-two years
on charges of highway robbery,
term to be carried out
on prison hulks in Port Philip Bay.
He couldn’t keep from trouble there
— attempting to bite off a sergeant’s nose,
involved in an aborted escape
in which a constable, Owens,
had his head caved in with a hammer.
This time his sentence was death,
commuted to life
on a legal technicality.
“You’ll be sorry for that,” McCallum warned.
The authorities were.
Transferred to Melbourne jail,
he stabbed its Governor, Wintle,
with a soup spoon sharpened into a shiv,
and was rumoured to have organized
the murder of John Price,
Superintendent of Victorian Prisons,
stoned to death by convicts
at Point Gellibrand quarry
in March 1857.


In the end, it seems,
McCallum was too much trouble.
Jail warders, most likely,
put him out of his misery,
though the coroner’s jury returned the convenient
verdict of felo de se
— that he’d strangled himself in his cell.


Acknowledgment: previously published in Azuria journal, Geelong, 2018.






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Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (late 2020) by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose.


  1. Kevin Densley says

    For those interested, there’s a plaque in the ground on the city side of Johnstone’s Park, which among other things, marks the approximate location of Frank McCallum’s capture.

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