She married William Skilling/Skillion in 1873. They had two children. Then a few years her later, her husband is arrested and sent off to gaol for six years, and at the same time, her mother is also gaoled. So at 21, Maggie is left looking after her own children, her mother’s young kids, and running the property; with the help of her teenage sisters. Of her adult brothers, one is in gaol and the other two get into trouble with the police. OK so the older one shoots some of them. So along with looking after the family, she takes on providing for her now-fugitive brothers, while avoiding the police and media.
A correspondent for the Brisbane Courier says
Maggie and her sister were flaunting about Benalla, riding on twenty guinea saddles, and making extensive purchases right under the nose of Captain Standish, the black trackers, and the troopers. They buy whole dray-loads of provisions, part of which doubtless goes to feed the bushrangers. 1
From testimonies at the Longmore Commission…
Patrick Quinn (resident):
…Mrs. Skillian called at his place and asked his wife if she could give her some rations for the gang. 2
Superintendent Sadleir (police):
As to the information received by witness that Mrs. Skillion cooked food for the gang, it had been proved that the hollow log in which one informant said the food was probably deposited was found full of cobwebs and dust. He could not remember the instructions he gave as to the watching of Mrs Skillion’s hut to see how the food was conveyed to the outlaws, but this ought to be cleared up by the re-examination of Senior constables Mullane, Flood, and others. 3
Once Mrs. Skillion knew the police were watching the house, and they did not know she knew it. In the morning she rode off with a bundle. They followed her, and at last came upon her sitting on a log with her fingers to her nose. 4
She wasn’t without support, of course. A cousin, Tom Lloyd, provided company and no doubt assisted in whatever schemes were being plotted.
On a trip to Melbourne they were recognised by a gentleman carrying on business in the North-Eastern district, by whom information was at once given to the police. The party were immediately put under surveillance, and were traced to an hotel in Carlton, where they still remain. None of the party were seen at Sandridge on Saturday. The police are extremely reticent upon the subject, and somewhat bitterly complain that if there had been any chance of gaining information as to the movements of the outlaws by observing the actions of their friends while in town, it has been entirely spoilt by tho attention which has been called to their presence in Melbourne. While it is possible that the visit of Mrs. Skillian may country(?), there is a very strong impression abroad that the movement may, after all, be but a ruse to divert the attention of the police from some movement in another direction. 5
And a few days later:
Mrs Skillion and Lloyd returned to Benalla by the night train and the police took the precaution of examining their effects to see if any ammunition was concealed but of course there was not.
On their return Mrs Skillion and Lloyd stopped a night in Benalla and Lloyd put his horse in a paddock but in the night the slip-panels were let down and the horse lost. The party were back next day, accompanied by other reputed friends of the outlaws and their activity at present is the subject of much remark. A good many persons consider another outbreak is a not very distant event as the gang must be running short of means, but of course this is merely conjecture.
The same article goes on to say, that the female members of the family are noted for the guard they keep upon their tongues. Always civil in reply to either official or curious questioners, they invariably speak as if in the witness box without undue loquacity, and not the slightest information is obtainable from them. They appear to have some of the caution characterising the elder brother. 6
The following story appeared a month later. Whether it resulted from the same visit, I don’t know. Certainly she has the antteion of the media.
Mrs. Skillion made a bargain to get the gang taken on board at the Heads, and the captain informed the police, who waited at the trysting place in order to arrest the bargainers. The whole thing turns out a fabrication, but had it been true how much better would it have been for the police to have gone on board the vessel and bagged the gang on their arrival. The Victoria Cross sailed and did, it appears, take two men on board who wished to get away from their wives and be off to California. 7
Despite all the speculation and media attention, it is another year before anything happens. And that is a siege with police, that ends with the younger brother holed up in a hotel.
Maggie arrives at the scene of the siege (wearing “a black riding habit, with a red underskirt, and white Gainsborough hat”, in case you were wondering what the best-dressed outlaws’ sisters were wearing that year)
Her arrival on the ground was almost simultaneous with the attempt to fire the building. Her object in trying to reach the house was apparently to induce the survivors, if any, to come out and surrender. The police, however, ordered her to stop. She obeyed the order, but very reluctantly, and, standing still, called out that some of the police were ordering her to go on and others to stop. She, however, went to where a knot of the besiegers were standing on the west side of the house. 8
From a different account (this time she is “dressed in a dark riding habit trimmed with scarlet, and wearing a jaunty hat adorned with a conspicuous white feather”):
Father Tierney earnestly requested her to go to the hotel and ask her brother and Hart to surrender. She said she would like to see her brother before he died, but she would sooner see him burned in the house than ask him to surrender.
After they set fire to the building…
Mrs. Skillion exclaimed, ‘I will see my brother before he dies,’ and then sped towards the hotel, from the roof of which by this time tongues of flame were beginning to ascend. The police ordered her to go back, and she hesitated. 9
Whether they’re killed by the fire, commits suicide or fell to a police bullet has been the subject of much discussion, but whatever the cause, the two bodies are handed over to relatives.
It appears that on the arrival of the bodies there was great excitement in the district. The remains were laid on a table in Mrs. Skillian’s hut, which was soon crowded. So great was the crush that Mrs. Skillian lost her temper, and, seizing a gun, hustled the crowd out, and then allowed them to view the remains in couples. Many of the male sympathisers were armed, and whilst in a drunken state professed to be anxious for a brush with the police. 10
And then there is the older brother to take care too, even if he is in gaol now.
He complains bitterly of the treatment he has been subjected to in not having been allowed to communicate with his relations in any way. He has not been able to form any opinion until now as to whom he should entrust with his defence until he received a letter from his sister, Mrs. Skillion, when he determined to retain Mr. Gaunson. It has been impossible to give instructions in time to admit of a defence, consequently a most argent demand will be made this morning for a remand long enough to enable instructions to be given. The prisoner has been kept so close that no communication could be made to him. His sister purchased a suit of clothes for him, but the authorities would not let them be given in; the police and gaol authorities appear to dread the introduction of poison. 11
Poor little cop-killing, horse-thief.
The Court being adjourned, Mrs. Skillion was allowed to speak to her brother. They shook hands and exchanged a few words in the presence of the police. 12
After the trial is concluded, she then goes on to fight for a reprieve, although unsuccessfully.
On Thursday last, when the sisters visited their brother in gaol, they stated that they were going home on Saturday, and were told that they could see the condemned man again before they left. Since then, however, the Gaunsons have started the present agitation [for a reprieve], and the consequence is that the sisters remain in town, but do not seek another interview with their brother. Another mass meeting is to be held tomorrow night, on the Supreme Court Reserve, and petitions are being sent by William Gaunson all over the colony for signature. The object of this meeting is to carry a resolution in favour of a reprieve, and to present it to tho Chief Secretary.13
A different account:
Mr Gaunson afterwards waited on the Chief Secretary, and informed him that the petitions contained 32,424 signatures and that he believed had the time been a little longer 500,000 signatures could have been obtained. The petitions are for the most part signed in pencil the handwriting being that of illiterate people. In a great number of cases the names of whole families are attached and in numerous instances whole pages of signatures have evidently been written by one person. The decision of the Executive that the law would take its course was received by the crowd outside without any expression of feeling whatever. 14
After the execution, things seems to mostly settle back down to normal (the police might have disagreed). Their mother is released about 3 months later, and returns to her family. And Maggie settles down with Tom Lloyd, and they add another dozen children to the family. She dies aged just 38.
Generally she’s been overshadowed by her younger sister. Kate seems to have been the media darling, and she took advantage of that. She’s the one who has much written (and sung) about her. But Maggie seems to have been a capable young women, growing up in difficult times and trying to make the best of it. For all the attention her family has got, she deserves a bit more for herself.
And that is the last in my series, except for a summary post.
1. The Brisbane Courier, 18 June, 1879
4. The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 April 1881
8. The Launceston Examiner, 1 July 1880
9. The South Australian Advertiser, 3 July 1880 reprinting a description “taken from the Melbourne Age of June 29”.