The first person to successfully swim the shark infested waters off the Tasman Peninsula was a bushranger named Martin Cash in 1840 to escape the terrors of Port Arthur.
Back then the penal colony was surrounded by high walls, armed guards, impenetrable bush, high sea cliffs and those uninviting waters.
I was introduced to Martin Cash by my Life’s An Adventure guide Danny on the Three Capes walk. Danny’s a local and loves talking about Tassie’s colourful history. As we began our walk to Cape Raoul on the day one the trail plateaued out onto an open track of banksia scrub. Two platforms offered excellent views of Tasman Island and the southern capes. Over lunch Danny continued his story.
Martin Cash was born in 1808 in Ireland. He worked as a farm boy until he was convicted in 1827 of shooting a man. Martin claims he fired at the man through a window after he spotted him embracing Cash’s mistress. Apparently the steel ball wounded his rival in the buttocks, and for that Cash was sent to Australia for seven years hard labour. He worked in the NSW Hunter Valley for a landowner but trouble was never far. After getting involved in cattle rustling he left for Van Diemen’s Land, accompanied by a Miss Bessie Clifford, arriving in February 1837. Two years later he was convicted of larceny and again sentenced to seven years.
The start of day two’s walk at Waterfall Bay took us straight to a lovely spot overlooking a gorgeous waterfall plunging 200m into the sea. As we wandered up the long winding stringybark forest slowly gaining elevation, Danny continued his story.
Martin Cash was not having a good time at Port Arthur. Over the first three years of his sentence he escaped three times – including his infamous swim in shark infested waters. Once he evaded capture for two years, but was returned to Port Arthur with an additional four to his sentence.
Soon afterwards, with two bushmen Cash eluded the guards at Port Arthur. The three then pursued a bushranging career on foot, robbing inns and the houses of well-to-do settlers with seeming impunity, and without the use of unnecessary violence, thus earning them the reputation of ‘gentlemen bushrangers’.
During his time on the run, Cash heard Bessie Clifford had deserted him for another and he risked a visit to Hobart to see her. He was captured and was tried for killing one of his pursuers. Some popular sympathy had been aroused for Cash and somehow he escaped the noose instead being given a further 10 years prison, this time on Norfolk Island, where among other things he became a hat maker.
After breakfast on the final day we drove back to Fortescue Bay to walk to Cape Hauy. The well made path is part of the official Three Capes Track. Popping up onto a saddle we got our first views of our destination. After another hour of easy walking we came to the viewing platform just across from the exceptional rock formations of the Candlestick and Totem Pole, large columns of dolerite rocking out of the ocean. Just breathtaking.
And what happened our outlaw mate? After doing his time on Norfolk, Cash returned to Tasmania with his new bride Mary Bennett. He worked as a gardener for a local policeman and was fully pardoned in 1856. Cash passed away in his bed in Glenorchy in 1877, one of the only bushrangers to die of old age.