[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
The sacking of Hughenden.
The rumours of which Hatten had spoken in his letter to Cameron were only too true. Normanton had fallen into the hands of Dromeroff. Taken utterly by surprise, and totally unprepared to oppose a serious attack, the volunteer force and white population fought desperately, but without cohesion, with the inevitable result that they were cut to pieces, and the savage soldiery provided with a pretext for the perpetration of a general massacre.
Despatching a column by rail to effect a junction with the Charleville reinforcements at Cloncurry, and another to occupy Croydon, and hold the line from there to Cairns, Dromeroff advanced on Hughenden with his main body of troops. Undeterred by any of Leroy’s scruples as to the treatment of women and children, Dromeroff, while professing to obey his General’s orders, secretly let it be understood that his object was to create a reign of terror. Relieved from the fear of possible punishment, his savage cavalry carried out their commander’s wishes with fiendish completeness, sparing neither sex nor age in their onward march.
Soon after daybreak on the morning of Cameron’s escape from Isis Downs, the first of Dromeroffs trains approached Hughenden. Determined to give the women and children a chance to escape, Hatten had torn up the line about a mile from the town, and thrown up a rude breastwork of trees. Behind this feeble defence he had posted all his available force, but as he was totally without artillery, and short both of small arms and ammunition, he recognised that at best he led a forlorn hope.
Stopping the train some distance from Hatten’s barricade, the officer in command of the attacking column began to derail his infantry. Forming them under the shelter of some timber, he led them on, while the Maxim gun in front of the engine poured a heavy fire over their heads into the breastwork. Afraid to waste a shot, Hatten ordered his men to lie down and wait. Advancing in open order and firing as they advanced, the Mongols came within fifty yards of the breastwork. Then, just as they closed on their centre and charged, Dick gave the word, and an iron hail poured into their crowded ranks. For an. instant they wavered, then, rallying to their leader’s call, rushed on once more. But again a volley met them, and breaking, they fell back on their supports. As they retired, about fifty mounted men armed with Dick’s lances charged their flank. But, opening on the advancing horsemen, the Maxim gun swept them down beneath a withering fire. Unable to withstand the shower of bullets that rained on their shattered ranks, the cavalry melted away, leaving two-thirds of their number on the blood-smeared ground.
Glancing between two logs, Hatten could see another train sweeping round the bend.
‘It’s all up,’ he mused despairingly, ‘God send they’ve got the women away.’
In front the enemy were preparing for another attack. The defenders could see the Mongols’ officers fiercely gesticulating.
‘I hope they won’t give the other beggars time to outflank me,’ muttered Hatten grimly. He had his wish, for, scorning to wait for help against so insignificant a foe, the Mongol commander, sword in hand, led the assault.
Again Dick’s rifles rang out; but pistolling any of their men who wavered, the officers still urged them on. In another minute they were beneath the breastwork, and, following their leader, they rushed it at the point of the bayonet. Fighting for their lives and their women’s honour, the ill-armed townsmen fought like heroes, and many a yellow-faced Mongol fell back with his brains dashed out beneath their fiercely-wielded rifle-butts. Hatten met the Russian who led them face to face as he landed over the barricade, and with a swift downstroke split his skull before he could articulate his shout of victory. But even as he fell another took his place, and, over-matched both in discipline and arms, Dick’s green levies gave before the Mongol bayonets, and then, seized with panic, broke and fled. Borne back by the terror-stricken crowd, Hatten made desperate efforts to rally enough to cover his retreat, but his men were deaf alike to curses and entreaty.
‘Jump up, Captain!’ shouted a voice beside him, and looking round, he saw one of his cavalrymen holding a horse, and surrounded by a dozen other troopers.
Springing into the saddle, Hatten galloped off towards the railway-station, followed by the remnant of the Hughenden Mounted Rifles. On the platform confusion reigned unchecked. One train packed with women and children had started, and another had just run in. As Dick rode up, the crowd on the platform rushed to the carriages.
‘Women and children first!’ roared Hatten, as half a dozen men, mad with drink and fear, crushed through the press.
‘You be d——d!’ growled one of the ruffians, dragging an old woman from her seat and springing into her place.
Jumping off his horse, Hatten made for the carriage, followed by half a dozen troopers.
‘Come out of that, you cur!’ he said sternly, but the man did not move.
Stretching out his hand, Dick laid hold of his collar and dragged him out. As he landed on the platform, the man drew a knife and lunged at him, but before he had time to strike, Dick sprang aside, and, whipping out his revolver, fired. Throwing up his arms, the man fell to the ground, and holding the smoking revolver in his hand, Hatten shouted, ‘By God, I’ll serve every man who doesn’t come out of the train the same way!’ Backed by his troopers, their Adjutant now restored some sort of order. It was heart-breaking work at best. Here a woman begged him to find a child she had lost in the crush, while another implored him on her knees to allow her husband to remain. Sisters clung to brothers, and mothers cursed him for holding back their sons to die on the Mongols’ bayonets. But firm to his resolve, Hatten allowed only women and children to enter the carriages, and at last, amid wails of sorrow and curses of despair, the train moved out of the station.
An engine drawing a mixed collection of trucks now drew up. It was the last train, and the station seemed more crowded than ever. As it stopped, Hatten realized that the firing was perilously near, and. now a blood-stained, wild-eyed crowd began to mingle with those already waiting. This time no human power could stay the wild rush for ignoble life. The Mongols were at hand, and each panic-stricken wretch thought only of himself.
Rushing to the gates, Hatten determined to hold them with his life. Little as he cared for the safety of some of the men, he remembered that there were still women among them. Fighting his way through the press, followed by a few gallant comrades, he nearly reached his goal; but when only a few steps from the entrance, a fresh rush of fugitives swept him aside, and on their heels panted the red-handed children of death.
Dragging him with them, the troopers forced their way to the side-gate, where their horses stood as yet unnoticed by the Mongols.
Realizing now that all was over, Hatten mounted with the rest. For a moment his eyes took in the whole fearful scene: the screaming women pushed back by frantic men only to fall on the bloody bayonets of their foes; the children tossed from point to point in wanton devilry. Then his ears caught the shriek of the whistle and the fearful cries of those who were being ground to death between the wheels and the bloody pavement, and over all rang the yells of the Mongols as they thrust their bayonets into the passing trucks, and dragged back struggling women by their hair from the still open doors. In a moment it all passed before him, but instantaneous as it was, its gruesome impression never faded from before his eyes.
‘Let’s get, Captain,’ muttered the man who had saved him before. Tearing his eyes away from the awful picture, Hatten saw a crowd of Mongols and coolies running towards them.
‘Thank God, here are some devils to kill!’ he muttered grimly as he drew his sabre.
Sitting home in his saddle, he waved it above his head and shouted ‘Charge!’ Weary with slaughter the Mongols scattered before their rush like chaff, and without looking back, Hatten and his troopers galloped away towards Fort Mallarraway.
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 269-274