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Romsey history buff delves into robbery.

Sunbury. Leader Newspaper.

17 Sep 12 @ 09:08am by Barry Kennedy


Historian Geoff Stewart at the site of the old township of Ashbourne, where police arrested a suspect for a stage coach robbery.

Geoff Stewart is infatuated with the 1853 McIvor Gold Escort robbery and its link to local history.

For 25 years the Romsey teacher and history buff has painstakingly scoured newspaper reports, police and court records, maps and shipping documents yielding a vastly different account of the crime.

His research has yielded the newly released e-book, The Silent Moon, which links the theft of 5000 oz of gold from a coach near Mia-Mia to a conspiracy between an American pirate, a bushranger-poet and a future American Civil-War hero.

Mr Stewart only came to researching the event by chance - he had set out to research Ashbourne outside of Woodend, where he then lived. In 1853 Ashbourne was known as Campaspe or Jeffries Station and was a bustling mill town with a lawless reputation.

The key arrest of a McIvor suspect (George Francis) occurred at the Campaspe Hotel, but he later died while in police custody at another hotel before he could be moved to Melbourne.

Officially twelve people were involved in the escort robbery, but according to Mr Stewart a number of records from the day were missing while the court case was compromised by political interference bent on a quick attribution of guilt. Although three men were hanged for their role in the robbery, Mr Stewart believes they weren't the central players.

He believes an account by police officer John Sadleir which said a pannikin (tin cup) bearing the initials W.H. which was found near the scene belonged to William Hayes, a famous American pirate.

Mr Stewart's story also links Hayes to the Madagascar, a ship laden with gold which disappeared - believed sunk near an island off Chile.

"I am trying to popularise history with an international story that is an exciting and accessible tale," he said.

"The story has historical facts but never before have they been assembled in this way."

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