Martin Cash (1808 – 1877)

For those who knew Martin Cash (pictured) well, I’m sure no one was more surprised than Martin himself when he looked down to see his newly acquired police badge. Whether pride was felt that day, only Martin could answer that. How he continued to carry on his life shows us that if pride was felt that day in 1860, it was short lived.

Martin Cash was born in 1808 to a very wealthy family in Ireland. There is very little about his childhood but as a young man, he worked as a farm labourer. He was very well liked by those around him, his manners and personality showed he had a good upbringing. So when he was arrested for breaking and entering in 1827, many questions arose I’m sure.

Martin was sentenced to 7 years hard labour and exportation to Australia. When he finished his sentence, he returned to the most honest work he knew; he worked on a farm in New South Wales.

By 1837, Martin had found time from his workload to admire and convince Mrs. Bessie Clifford, the wife of his boss’ neighbour to leave with him to Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania) for a new start of things.

In 1840, Martin found himself in front of a Judge again. He had stolen 10 shillings worth of eggs. His punishment was 3 years back behind bars. No one can blame Martin for trying to escape. He failed a few times but finally had success along with two fellow prisoners. The three made a living by raiding properties and businesses they passed. By this time Martin was a household name and the leading feature of a few ‘wanted’ posters.

His next downfall came 3 years later when he got word that Bessie had found herself a new man. She had packed up her life and their infant son and moved to Hobart. Green with jealously, Martin headed to the big smoke to see if he could find her. He didn’t find Bessie but he did manage to commit murder when he killed a constable during an attempt to arrest him.

Martin was sentenced to hang but this was changed to 10 years in prison on Norfolk Island. Things can’t have been too bad for Martin there. It was reported that he was a model prisoner and was so well liked by the prison authorities that they allowed him to marry fellow convict, Mary Bennett.

In 1854, Martin was released from prison. He went back to Tasmania and got himself a job as a policeman. Either the city was desperate for more police or Martin lied through his teeth and put on a very good show. He was pardoned in 1856 and moved to New Zealand.

In 1860 Martin was in Christchurch and had taken up law enforcement again. His work mates soon became suspicious of him and there were reports of him being late to work or not showing up at all. It was soon uncovered that from the shadows, he had been running one of the most well known brothels in Christchurch. It was known as ‘The Red House’ and was situated on Salisbury Street.

Fellow policemen who were embarrassed and disgusted with this new development from ‘one of their own’ made tracks to ‘The Red House’ and forced their way in the back door. When Martin appeared, a fight broke out and Martin ended up being taken to the hospital with bad head wounds.

He was understandably sacked and was fined £5. He hadn’t learnt anything from this experience as after 2 years back in Tasmania, he was back on the streets of Christchurch and back in the brothel business – multiple houses of ill fame! His girls were also known to take their “Johns” to the darkness of Barbadoes Street Cemetery to turn their tricks. His ‘White House’ brothel was situated on Peterborough Street.

Like most of the able bodied men of that time, he was caught up in Gold Fever and he moved down to Otago to try his luck. It seemed he did quite well for himself and he left the New Zealand shores for good with his ill-gotten gains.

Martin settled down in Hobart and returned to farming. With him was his wife Mary and their daughter, Monique. He stayed there until his dying day in 1877. He never left his past too much behind him as he would talk about his days in prison and in the brothels and even wrote a book about his adventures.

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