Stand and deliver: the 1853 gold escort robbery at Mia Mia

July 9, 2024 BY

Safe passage. The Bendigo gold escort on its way to Melbourne in 1856. Images: CHARLES LYALL/STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA

THE sleepy hamlet of Mia Mia, south-west of Heathcote, hit headlines across Australia in 1853 after the ambush of a private gold escort.

On 20 July a party of armed raiders made off with 2223 ounces of gold, worth more than £8000, and £700 in cash when they intercepted a heavily-guarded cart that was on its way to Kyneton to meet the main Bendigo to Melbourne transport.

A contemporary account was published in the Geelong Advertiser on 26 July.

“The outrage was committed at a point of the track situated about three miles from the Mia Mia Inn, between the latter and McIvor,” it reported.

“A log of wood, or rather the trunk of a tree, was placed in such a direction as to form an angle in the road.

“On the right of the road, and about five yards from the highway, there appeared to be a deserted mi-mi, formed of boughs and branches of trees.

“This was the form of ambuscade chosen by the murderous assailants.

“The undulations of the road, and the thickness of the scrub in that country, went far to aid their terrible design.

“The first intimation the escort received of their dangerous neighbours, was a volley, from seven or eight guns, discharged from the mi-mi.

“Four of the troopers, including the driver, were put at once hors de combat.”

The report went on to describe how three mounted troopers and the driver were shot, fortunately not fatally, while three horses were wounded and one killed.

Troopers accompanied gold escorts on their way to Melbourne.


Sergeant Duins was able to escape and rushed to the Government Camp, returning with reinforcements which included more troopers and many diggers.

However rough terrain and misleading information meant the search yielded little.

A breakthrough came when the theft of a pistol from a tent was reported at Collingwood Flat, now Abbotsford, in inner Melbourne.

A trail of evidence led to two brothers, George and John Francis, who were on board the ship Madagascar anchored in Hobson’s Bay.

Both were arrested, although John was initially released after two days.

George gave a lengthy statement on the understanding that he was to receive a pardon, £500 and a passage out of the colony.

He provided ten names, including that of his brother, but a short time later took his own life.

John Francis then became a queen’s witness in the case, having also been offered similar terms to George.

George Elston, Robert Harding, Edward McEvoy, George Wilson, George Melville, William Atkins, and William’s wife Agnes, faced the District Police Court in Melbourne on 25 August.

The evidence against Elston, Harding, McEvoy and Agnes Atkins was not considered strong enough to warrant conviction.

However George Wilson, George Melville and William Atkins appeared before the bench the Supreme Court on the morning of 17 September.

Each man faced three charges, the first regarding the serious assault on the driver,Thomas Fookes, as well as robbing him of both money and gold, while the other two counts related to robbery alone.

The trial lasted a single day, with the jury returned a guilty verdict on the first charge after only forty minutes.

Justice was swift and exacting, all three men were executed at Melbourne Gaol on 3 October, a mere 16 days later.