James MacPherson, known locally as the 'Wild Scotsman', was the South Burnett's bushranging Don Quixote. (Picture: State Library of
James MacPherson, known locally as the 'Wild Scotsman', was the South Burnett's bushranging Don Quixote. (Picture: State Library of

Part 1: The bad boys of the Burnett

This is part one of a three-part series.


THE South Burnett has a rich and wonderful pioneering history that is often celebrated across the region.

Virtually the only part of our illustrious history that is rarely celebrated is the unhonourable but nevertheless spectacular roles played by our bushrangers - the bad boys of the Burnett.

The first of the troublesome trio we'll look at is James MacPherson, the South Burnett's bushranging Don Quixote.

MacPherson was known locally as the 'Wild Scotsman'.

Though his stamping ground stretched from the Weddin Range country of New South Wales to the Houghton River region of North Queensland, the usually accurate 'bush telegraph' reported his presence around the region, including a particular incident in 1865.


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Pat McCallum, the Nanango district's pioneer horse mailman was lowering the rails at the town common to begin his long run to Gayndah when he heard someone yell, "Bail up!"

With true Highland courtesy, the Wild Scotsman, after ransacking the mail, apologised that he had to "borrow" the mailman's horse.

Staring down the barrel of a pistol, McCallum could do nothing but oblige the Wild Scotsman, and give him his horse.

The pistol-brandishing bushranger assured the mailman he'd return his horse, but McCallum knew he'd never see it again.

A few days later, however, the horse was found with a note requesting the finder return the animal to its owner, Pat McCallum.

A few months later, Pat McCallum was travelling between Goomeri and the Barambah Homestead when he once again heard the familiar order: "Bail up!"

He turned around to berate whoever it was, assuming it to be a joke, when he found himself once again staring down the muzzle of the Wild Scotsman's pistol.

The bushranger was this time mounted on Black Eagle, a thoroughbred stolen from the Hon H.B. Moreton of Wetheron Station.

The mail was again ransacked by the Wild Scotsman, and the mailman's rage reached its peak when the bushranger made off this time with his saddle, declaring he would return it as soon as he could.

A few weeks later the saddle was found in a stable of a Taroom pub with a note saying, 'Please see that Pat McCallum gets this saddle back'.

On one occasion MacPherson played the role of Robin Hood when he called to a shepherd's hut and tried to give a sizable quantity of silver to the shepherd's wife.

The woman politely declined, assuming it was the proceeds of a stick-up.

After complaining that she was ungrateful, the Wild Scotsman rode off full of contempt, just dodging the pursuing police.

Having twice already accosted the poor mailman, McCallum once again found himself at the mercy of the Wild Scotsman's pistol.

This time it was near Meandu Creek, on the Nanango-Jondaryan mail run.

Again McCallum was forced to forfeit his horse and he was so overcome with rage that the Wild Scotsman had to tell him, "Better take it easy, Pat. I don't want to hurt you, but I will if you cause trouble."

As he rode away, the bushranger promised McCallum he'd leave his horse in a particular spot on the following Saturday.

Anticipating the Wild Scotsman would keep his word, a police ambush awaited his arrival.

At midday McCallum's horse stalked along the track into the middle of the concealed cordon of troopers, but the Wild Scotsman was not spotted.

The Wild Scotsman was eventually captured near Gin Gin by a group of civilians who employed the Maryborough mailman as a decoy.

MacPherson was forced to surrender after his horse was overcome with exhaustion after a long gallop.

On September 13, 1866, he was sentenced to jail for 25 years and was imprisoned on St Helena Island. He was eventually pardoned and released on December 22, 1874.

He later met and married Elizabeth Ann Hoszfeldt and they had seven children, one of whom died as a baby. They lived most of their married life in Burketown.

On 23 July 1895, James 'Wild Scotsman' MacPherson died after falling from his horse and was buried in an unmarked grave in Burketown cemetery.


The second instalment of The Bad Boys of the Burnett will be published on Wednesday, June 10.

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