Poem – The Shooting of Fred Lowry

The Shooting of Fred Lowry at Tom Vardy’s Limerick Races Hotel, near Goulburn, New South Wales, August 29th, 1863

 

 

A cold, still dawn in the bush.
Acting on information,
Senior-Sergeant Stephenson
and three other men surrounded the pub.
It was little more than a roadside shack
with a few roughly partitioned rooms.
Fred Lowry and mate Larry Cummins
were holed up there,
having robbed the Mudgee mail coach
the month before.
Stephenson crept along the verandah,
wincing at each creaking board,
then thumped on the bushrangers’ door.
“Police! Open up!”
Silence.
He called out again.
“Police! We’ve got you surrounded!”
Silence still. Broken by a magpie’s song.
He shouldered the door, breaking the lock,
then quickly stepped back to one side.
Lowry appeared in the doorway,
a revolver in each hand.
“My name is Lowry!” he declared.
“Come on, I’ll fight you fair!”
He fired. Stephenson heard
a bullet singing as it passed his head.
The sergeant’s first shot played its own tune,
chiming off the iron door handle.
Lowry fired again. The bullet sparked
off the barrel of Stephenson’s gun,
flew inside the sleeve of his cloak
then came out at the elbow
The policeman didn’t get a scratch.
He fired a second time,
hitting Lowry in the throat,
throwing him flat on his back.
The Sergeant dragged Fred, gurgling blood
and gasping for air, into the clear.
While the other policemen stood guard,
he returned and found Larry Cummins
hiding under the bed. Or, rather, saw Larry’s boots sticking out
with Larry still inside them.
A sharp kick. “Come on, Cummins!”
“It’s all right! It’s all right!”
came the muffled, frightened reply.
“I’m unarmed! I’m unarmed!”
Larry, head bowed, walked into the yard,
his hands high in the air.
The policemen looked at each other and laughed.
“Oh dear, Larry,” said one, with a grin.
“I believe you’ve pissed yourself!”
Hours passed. Fred Lowry’s life
slowly ebbed away.
He was carried onto a dray
and, with Larry handcuffed at his side,
jolted and bumped towards Goulburn.
Doctor Waugh, at Woodhouseleigh,
a town along the way,
tended to Fred throughout the night
but could do little.
“Internal bleeding,” Waugh explained
to Stephenson, who stifled a yawn.
As day broke, Lowry expired.
All they found in his pockets
was one hundred and sixty pounds in a purse,
part-proceeds from the Mudgee job.
In his post-mortem photo Fred looks a wreck
—a scrawny swaggie in dirty clothes.
Although only twenty-seven,
he’d have passed for a worn-out fifty.

 

Fred Lowry’s career was sorry and brief,
without glamour or reward.
But near the end, he managed to gain
a kind of immortality,
rasping the single most memorable line
in Australian bushranging history:
“Tell ‘em I died game.”

 

 

 

Kevin Densley

 

Acknowledgements: first published in Quadrant magazine, 2001, then in my first book-length poetry collection, Vigorous Vernacular (Picaro Press, 2008; Ginninderra Press, 2018 reprint).

 

 

 

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About

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.

Comments

  1. Tell ’em I died game. That was so important.

    Love it.

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers! Thanks, Dips.

  3. roger lowrey says

    Kevin,

    My great grandparents James and Honora Lowry migrated to Australia from Moneygall, County Offaly on the Black Eagle in 1859 at the ages of 25 and 21 to seek a better future for their offspring than the misery that permeated Ireland under the bloody Poms at that time.

    Get that mind you, 25 and 21 – kids having just tied the knot and heading across the other side of the world in despair but hopeful for something, anything other than where they were. How sensationally courageous.

    I sincerely thank them for this. Think here, um, I wouldn’t be here otherwise would I?!

    Of course I have no idea how closely related or otherwise Fred may or may not have been to our mob however when Jill and I visited the area where James, Honora and all the in-law Lorkins and Cuddihys came from in Moneygall last October (the overbearing smell of cows’ piss hung over St John the Evangelist church, Paddy Hayes pub and the rest of the whole little “charming” rural hamlet), the locals were all over us. It was highly emotional.

    So preoccupied with my family thoughts as I was, I missed the turn off on the M 7 on the way back to Dublin to see The Curragh racecourse. From the motorway though, a bloody huge track but with one very small built up grandstand area, by our standards anyway.

    Love your work comrade.

    RDL

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks so much for your response, Roger. I read it with great interest. Yours is a story with which many of us can identify, I feel – I have Irish on both the paternal and maternal sides of the my family tree. This being the case, how could I not write a poem like this one, I suppose? This Fred Lowry poem is a story about Irishness as much anything else, of course, with a Lowry as a central character, its references to pubs, Limerick Races, even its overall literariness. It will probably interest you to know that after being shot Lowry is also reported (in contemporary newspapers) to have said, as well the famous last words I quoted, “I’m done for. Where’s the priest?” Of course he said this, didn’t he?

  5. I love the great last words. Such is life etc. But probably the greatest of last words were from Lord Nelson, who strode around the deck of his ship as it was under ferocious attack, seemingly oblivious to the danger. He was heard to yell out:

    “Don’t worry men, they couldn’t hit the side of a barn from……………………….”

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for that, Dips! Nelson had a range of last words – or nearly-last-words, it appears! That’s the way these matters seem to go. I’ve heard the ones you quoted. He’s also supposed to have said, near the end, famously, “Kiss me Hardy” to Captain Hardy, sometimes quoted as “Kismet, Hardy”, as well as other things, such as “Thank God I have done my duty” and “God and my country”.

  7. Kevin Densley says

    Further info for Roger L … after a bit more reading or re-reading … apparently, (Thomas) Frederick Lowry the bushranger was born in 1836, near Fish River, about 30 miles from Bathurst, NSW, to James and Ellen Lowry, former convicts.

  8. Kevin, they were Immortal words .

    In the pantheon of bushranging lexicons, only Ned comes close.

    Glen!

  9. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Glen. Thanks for the input. Kelly could certainly turn a phrase, couldn’t he? Hence such material as the Cameron/Jerilderie letters – apparently dictated to / in collaboration with Joe Byrne, who wrote various Kelly Gang ballads. Byrne was the most skilled writer in the Kelly Gang, from everything I’ve read.

    Another thing I’d like to share about Fred Lowry, which I only discovered in the last couple of days – he was the only bushranger known to take fishing tackle with him when he went bush! (This is reported in various old newspaper stories.) Coming from the Fish River area, known for its plentiful supply of fish, this is not surprising, I suppose.

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