Fate is often capricious, with just a little crinkle in the fabric of history necessary for things to turn out completely different.
Take, for example, the Kelly Gang, formed almost on impulse and forged in the blood of Stringybark Creek. The membership of Ned and Dan, of course, was a fait accompli, but how easy it would have been for another local lad to become part of that select company, had they been present on that fateful afternoon.
Tom Lloyd could so easily have been a member, and indeed, was not far away when the murders occurred. Perhaps the course of events would not have been that different had steady and reliable Tom been in the Gang. But when we think of who else could so easily have been a gang member with unimaginable consequences for the story - the terminally confused Aaron Sherritt, or the unpredictably volatile Isaiah 'Wild' Wright, for example.
Well, it did not happen, and we know that Isaiah Wright lived well into the twentieth century and only spent the last decade or so of his life out of trouble.
Recently, at the suggestion of my wonderful co-blogger Sharon (I never lose a chance to tell her how great she is) I looked at the memoirs of one Hugh Malcolm (Mat) Eastman, Memoirs of a Sheepman, that seems to have been privately published in Deniliquin, New South Wales in 1953. I happened to be at the State Library of New South Wales, which, I must say, had extremely helpful staff, something us librarians notice about each other when we are incognito in other libraries.
Eastman also left behind an unpublished manuscript, but the section dealing with Wild seems to be pretty much verbatim what was published later on in his printed book, so if you are at the SLNSW, don't worry about the manuscript for this. And you have to read it on microfilm - yuck. I can't say that he is great on the details either - there is a garbled account of the incident at Jerilderie where Steve Hart abstracted the watch of the worthy Reverend John B Gribble and Ned made him give it back. The Eastman account has the watch taken from someone called Robert Gardiner, 'a jovial Scotsman with a store in Jerilderie' by Dan Kelly. Not sure if there was anyone called Robert Gardiner at Jerilderie, but of such is the stuff of legend made.
Eastman met Wild Wright in 1891 during one of the shearing strikes. He found himself in charge of the shed at Hartwood with one hundred thousand sheep to shear and only ten men to do the work. Eastman managed to hire a few additional hands, and one day 'a tall well-set up horseman on a fine type of horse' arrived. Eastman thought that he was either a policeman in civilian clothes or an Australian Workers' Union organiser. But the new arrival asked 'Any chance of a pen, boss?' meaning that he wanted a job.
Eastman, still cautious, said that he might have a pen or two of sheep left to shear (he actually had 24.) There then ensued a curious dialogue in what passed for a job interview:
'Shearing anywhere this year?'
'Shure, I never shore a sheep last year.'
'Where were you shearing last year? You say you are a shearer.'
'Shure, I never shore a sheep last year.'
'What have you been doing in your spare time?'
'I've been doing a lot of jail, I'm just after doing seven years for stealing a horse along with Jim Kelly.' Wild now provided some helpful advice. 'If you are ever short of a horse, shake it on your own, don't go with another man or you are sure to be lagged.'
'What is your name anyhow?'
'You know my name right enough.'
'No, you are a stranger to me.'
'Well, I'm not woild at art, but they call me Woild Wright.'
'The devil you are. I wish I'd known that before giving you the pen.'
'Ah sure, you will not find me woild at arl.'
Wild was hired, and according to Eastman, was 'one of the best blade men' he had ever seen. But he was still capable of 'woild' exploits.
During a meal break, Wild caught his horse, vaulted on to its back without the saddle or bridle and sent it full gallop to the dining room. When he got to the doorway, he vaulted over the horse's head and landed on his feet inside the dining room 'giving a yell audible at the sheepyards.' Wild then strolled casually to his seat at the dining table.
When signing for his pay, his boss remarked on his given name. 'Isaiah. Well, Wright, your mother gave you a good kick off in selecting a name for you.'
Wild's reply was sad. 'The divil a bit of good it's been to me anyhow.'
On the weekends, Wild lived up to his nickname. Whenever he returned from the pub on Sunday evenings, 'he had his mates scared stiff as he raved.'
Eventually Wild and Eastman came to the parting of the ways. 'Never mind', this difficult character in the Kelly drama replied: 'I will go to Conargo [a small town in the Riverina district of New South Wales] and any of the shearers pulling in after the cut out, I'll rob of their cheques.' Apparently he was as good as his word, and helped the 'robbed' liquidate their cheques, presumably with liquid refreshments!
Wild Wright's death was not documented by any government official, but from the work of Deborah Bird Rose and others, it seems likely that he died while working on a station in the Northern Territory in 1911. Eastman tells a different tale: 'Years afterwards, in the back country, a derelict, all broken up, he was buried by the police on the roadside where he fell - the end of a queer misfit.'