|New York Herald.|
25th June 1852.
Library of Congress.
Church of England Marriages
and Banns for
William John Gilbert.
|Hamilton, Ontario, Canada,|
Library of Congress Collection.
Preceding departure, William Gilbert served as a volunteer loyal to the British during the Rebellion of Lower and Upper Canada 1837-38. Simultaneously, the political unrest sweeping Canada culminated in the parliament's burning down in 1849. However, William was active in local politics as an Alderman in the City of Hamilton. William Gilbert later commented regarding his participation in the rebellion:
I allude to the military character with which you are pleased to invest me. I should feel extremely proud could I lay claim to such a distinction; but I think I owe it to the good nature of my friends in recognition of the part I acted at the outbreak of the rebellion in Canada, in 1837-38. At that time, I was engaged as a contractor on the public works of the Upper Province, and though at considerable loss to myself, I entered as a volunteer in support of law, order, and British supremacy, and induced almost every man in my employment, as well as many others, to follow my example.¹
|New York Herald.|
2nd July 1852.
Library of Congress.
In 1852, an estimated ninety thousand fortune seekers disembarked at Melbourne's Hobson's Bay port. Nine-year-old John Gilbert stepped off the Revenue with his parents and six siblings.
Even as a boy, it didn't take long before John Gilbert began mixing with the many fringe criminals lounging around their new home at Collingwood. Hustling those making for the goldfields of Ballarat and Bendigo. A family friend noted:
Soon after settling in Melbourne, young Gilbert began his 'fast' career. He was then only a growing boy; but he had even thus early apparently began his career on the road, for he was betting notes on every stroke at the billiard-table, and seemed to be possessed of any amount of money.²
From those early forays into crime, John Gilbert would rise to become one of the most hunted outlaws and murderers in Australian colonial history. Men, colloquially known as 'Bushrangers'. John Gilbert was also referred to as 'Happy Jack' a nickname due to his light-hearted humour and free and relaxed outlook.
|Gilbert family 'Revenue.'|
|The Argus newspaper|
report of the arrival
of the "Revenue" 1852.
|Frederick Gilbert's death.|
14th May 1853.
|Gilbert's sister Eleanor's |
Wedding notice 1854.
The year of the infamous miner rebellion, the 'Eureka Stockade' at Ballarat in 1854. Johnny Gilbert, then 12 years of age, had it said that he had become unruly and somewhat rebellious and "bolted" from his father. However, having bolted from his father's care and guidance, John Gilbert went to Kilmore. Here his married sister Eleanor and her husband, John Stafford, resided. Upon absconding, his father commented that Gilbert was not without parental affection; "was not destitute of affection." Whether his sister attempted to send Gilbert home to Bulla is unknown. Kilmore was 25 miles north of Bulla. Eleanor and John had met on the ship 'Revenue' during its passage from New York to Australia, and they married on 23rd February 1854:
26th October 1854.
|Frank Gardiner as|
Early release from
Nevertheless, departing the Snowy's wilds. Gilbert next noticed at Bathurst some 200 miles south and was duly employed for a short time as a groom and reputed part-time jockey for a well-liked publican, Alderman John DeClouet's of the Sportsman's Arms Hotel, Piper street. John DeClouet, known as 'Dublin Jack' in 1860, and was a very successful racehorse trainer with many winners to his credit. Within a few short years, Dublin Jack would reacquaint himself with 'Happy Jack' when the bushranger attempted to steal DeClouet's fine racer Pacha in 1863:
(b. 1849 - d. 1933)
|The report of Gold at|
Frank Gardiner was released from Cockatoo Island prison in December 1859 and surfaced at Spring Creek Lambing Flat. Gardiner and Fogg had been long-time acquaintances from the Fish River/Wheeo area when Gardiner appeared on the scene in 1851 following his escape from Victoria. Both men were close to another notorious bushranger John Peisley with whom Gardiner was connected in Highway Robbery:
Gardiner, formerly the companion of the bushranger Peisley, was still at large, robbing right and left, and the terror of the road.
The thousands descending upon Lambing Flat guaranteed the butcher shop of the two rouges was a gold mine of a different sort via beef sales to the hungry miners. Consequently, the pair arranged that Fogg operated the butcher business, and Gardiner procured the required cattle. Cattle questionably obtained.
(1806 - 1888)
Courtesy NSW Parliament.
Men and families continued to pour into a new tent city from all compass points to try their luck. Eighteen-year-old John Gilbert was no different. Gilbert was swept up in the great rush of excitement at the news of the gold discovery. Gilbert endeavoured to end his current work with the highly influential Chisholm family.
Fellow roustabout and horse-breaker Mr Robert 'Chipp' Thompson wrote that Gilbert was a crack buck jump rider who met resistance from the Chisholm's. "I used to do a good deal of horse-breaking with Gilbert, I had finished up breaking horses, and Gilbert left me." With men fleeing, reliable labour was a vexing problem for the large station owners who resisted letting their hired hands resign. Gilbert remarked to Thompson that he would take any measures to gain his discharge:
|James Chisholm Stations. The Squatters Act.|
|A typical Goldfield|
Once more, Benjamin Morgan afterwards wrote regarding Gilbert's employment by Gardiner:
|Mrs Betsy Toms.|
DEAR SIR,— You will oblige me by causing the enclosed advertisement that I have had inserted in the Lambing Flat papers, to be made known throughout the Western Districts. For during the short time I have been in this quarter, circumstances have come to my knowledge, that convince me that mobs of cattle are slaughtered on this goldfield, chiefly brought from the Macquarie, Bogan and Lachlan. I am determined to do my best to check it if I cannot effectually stop it, and I only ask this trifling assistance from the proprietors of stock stations, who think it is worth their while to curb this growing evil.
E. M. Battye, Captain
Assistant- Superintendent of Police.
Police Camp, Young.
|Map showing O'Meally's|
Shanty, the haunt
Courtesy Des Sheil.
Released, Gardiner fled back to Fogg's on the Fish River. However, after coming under scrutiny and shifting his swag, John Gilbert shot through, taking refuge in the centre of criminal activity in the Lachlan district, the Weddin Mountains. His mate, John O'Meally's family, kept a shanty of notorious reputation in the Weddin Mountains. The pair stood bar at the O'Meally tavern situated on Emu Creek. Beautifully positioned as the passing road was the main thoroughfare between Lambing Flat and another newly discovered gold field at Forbes. It was said of the Weddin Mountains at that time that the place was infested with thieves:
The Weddin Mountains were then the head-quarters of the most villainous gang of horse and cattle duffers in the country.
John O'Meally's relationship with Gilbert was often fiery, and disputes often arose. Squabbles that accused the other of lacking gameness. (Courage) John O'Meally was described in 'The Biography of a Reliable Old Native', by John Maguire, 1907: "O'Meally was born and reared there, and I have known him since he was a baby. He was tall, smart, and a splendid horseman." John O'Meally was between 5ft 10in and 6ft, with reddish-brown hair or Auburn colour, and as with Gilbert, O'Meally wore his hair long. He had grey eyes and a look of a constant scowl. Another commented on O'Meally that he was; "what in the vernacular of the bush is known as 'flash, there were six sons and three daughters. The sons were all 'six-footers' and as straight as pine saplings." O'Meally had earlier been accused of rape with his cousin Patrick Daley and another cousin Edward Fox with whom several crimes were committed. However, the rape allegation was a case of mistaken identity as two others were charged and found guilty of the offence.
|Extracts from the|
Burrangong Courier of
with police and
By all accounts, Gilbert was a very handsome young man bordering on the feminine. He earned a reputation as a stylish dresser taking great care of his appearance, and often adorned himself with various trinkets. Furthermore, Gilbert was savvy, with a quick and humorous wit and a carefree attitude. Gilbert's popularity with the local ladies saw many of them as his lovers and admirers. It was widely noted that when taking a spell from bushranging, Gilbert; "perhaps was doing the Lothario business amongst the "pretty horse-breakers" of the Bland and Weddin." The police, in advertisements, offered a reward of £500, stating that he presented as a fast young squatter or stockman and was particularly flashy in his address and appearance.
|NSW Police Description.|
|Police Gazette, July 1862.|
|Frank Gardiner 1874.|
Meanwhile, as Gilbert lay low, the police were ferreting Gardiner out. Having been set free by Battye, Gardiner disappeared, resurfacing at Fogg's farm, Fish River, 100 miles away in June 1861. A warrant for his arrest as a 'Ticket-of-Leave' absconder from Carcoar issued, two mounted troopers were dispatched by presiding magistrate Beardman to apprehend Gardiner. Constable Hosie and Middleton discovered their man, and after a brief fight, both officers were wounded when Gardiner opened fire. Gardiner rushed Middleton but was overpowered and severely beaten with the officer's riding whip. Handcuffed and guarded by Hosie, Middleton rode off for assistance. Gardiner, through a bribe given by Fogg to Hosie, shot through. However, Gilbert was reputed to have helped in Gardiner's freedom. It was later disproved.
Fleeing Fogg's farm Gardiner returned to the Lachlan, arriving at the Wheogo/Weddin Mountains area. He convalesced from his thumping amongst many friends and admirers, none more so than a beautiful young blonde, Catherine 'Kitty' Brown. A married woman and sister to the wives of local squatters and Gardiner acquaintances Ben Hall and John Maguire. Mrs Brown was fourteen years his junior. After Gardiner's narrow escape from the police, the 'King of the Highwaymen' was soon brandishing his revolvers in the dying days of 1861 with John Gilbert and John O'Meally by his side. Gardiner and his apprentices commenced bushranging operations throughout the Bland, Lachlan, and surrounding districts and soon commanded the Queens Roads.
Great Eastern Hotel, Forbes.
Hangout of John Gilbert, Hall,
Gardiner & Co.
In early 1862, former publican of the Great Eastern Hotel, Forbes and reputed Gardiner confidant, Mr Charles MacAlister, later penned in his memoirs, "Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South," of Gilbert's shenanigans in Forbes circa 1862:
The great Sir F. Pottinger (then head of the police) was riding by at the time with one of his troopers, and he and his subordinate rushed into the bar, leaving their horses tethered to a tree near by. While the police were inside quelling the row, someone made off with their horses, and we doubt if they were ever recovered. Johnny Gilbert, it was said, had a hand in the business; but whoever took them reduced the awful Pottinger to the level of an old vituperative fish-fag and he threatened several bystanders with summary punishment if the "prads" were not returned.
MacAlister's comments highlighted that the leading citizens of Forbes widely suspected that John Gilbert, O'Meally and Ben Hall's activities around Forbes indicated they were indeed bushranging. Gilbert was a suspect in the Horrsington and Hewett robbery of March 1862. However, any participation has been disproved. Later on, the death of Gilbert Robert Hewett, one of the 1862 victims, failed to name Gilbert as one of the robbers at the inquiry. A robbery led by Gardiner that cost Hewett a pretty penny:
|R.B. Mitchell letter|
Gilbert was now viewed as Gardiner's Lieutenant following the capture of Gardiner's good mates, John Davis at Brewers Shanty Little Wombat by Police officers Lyons, Kennedy and Sanderson. The encounter and gunfight saw Davis severely wounded but miraculously survived the gunshots. Davis was then tried and sentenced to death. Luckily for Davis, his sentence was commuted to life. However, with Davis captured, bushranging by Gardiner continued. The Golden Age 4th June 1862:
|NSW Police Gazette|
|NSW Police Gazette|
|Frank Gardiner &|
Gilbert and John O'Meally were now constant companions of Frank Gardiner, roaming and robbing throughout the Lachlan and the Bland Plains. It also includes laying low at the O'Meally's Arramagong Station when times got hot. However, for Gardiner, petty and small rewards did not provide him with the funds necessary to quit bushranging. Moreover, Gardiner had the desire to flee with his lover Mrs Brown. As such, funds were required, and Gardiner's eyes looked towards the frequent and poorly guarded gold escorts.
John Gilbert was about to embark on one of the boldest robberies in Australian history. John Gilbert would participate in Frank Gardiner's most daring robbery. The 'Forbes Gold Escort' robbery at Eugowra 25 miles east of Forbes. John Gilbert's involvement was from the very outset. The plan was hatched and formulated over two weeks, with planning conducted at John Maguire and Ben Hall's homes at Sandy Creek station. Both were also utilised as the rendezvous for the gang's meetings and departure. Gardiner planned the robbery for the 15th of June 1862. Maguire wrote in his narrative:
It was with Gardiner that the idea of taking the escort originated and took a fortnight to prepare for the attack. For some months before Gilbert and O'Meally were Gardiner's constant companions, and they had been talking about it together. They were getting full of the petty bailing-up business, and wanted to make a grand haul and then quit the country.
|"..make way for the|
The photograph was taken in
1917 by WH Burgess JP.
(See Authors Note.)
|Wheogo Hill, view looking South-East towards Grenfell with Weddin Mountains in the distance right. Sanderson approached the hill from Ben Hall's home to the extreme left and out of sight.|
Courtesy Peter C Smith's, Tracking Down the Bushrangers'.
|Escort Rock. View towards|
the coach's approach.
Coloured by me.
|Charles D'Arcy Gilbert,|
Never before published.
|NSW Police Gazette,|
18th June 1862.
Newspapers fought to out do each other while vying to print every morsel of information from any source over the now infamous Lachlan Gold robbery; Another wrote, Late Escort Robbery:
However, the much-anticipated success of the NSW police had the population of Forbes turn out in force lining the streets to greet the triumphant return of the hard-pressed and weary troopers. Laden with the spoils of their dogged pursuit, which included the unbridled joy of the black-tracker Hastings.
Enhanced by me.
Meanwhile, as the police searched willy-nilly, John Gilbert remained at the Weddin Mountains. Finally, on the 4th July 1862, with his brother Charles D'Arcy Gilbert and fellow accomplice Henry Manns, the three men took to the Victorian road. They were mounted on fine horses, trailing a packhorse, each with their provisions, and started south in what they had hoped would be an uneventful ride.
John Gilbert's brother Charles wrote in a letter published in November 1863. An account of the journey, including the fateful events when the three men came into contact with the returning Sir Frederick Pottinger's party. Unfortunately, some portions of Charles's letter to the Kyneton Guardian's editor are vague and misleading. Notwithstanding, Charles was fully aware of John Gilbert's participation at Eugowra and their accompanying mystery rider. Charles Gilbert elusively states in this extract from the 'Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News' 25th November 1863:
|R.B. Mitchell. |
The outcome was reported in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' on 16th July 1862. This true account speaks for itself. John Gilbert first identified himself as Charles Turner:
The Canberra Times,
|Temora (Timoola) Station|
The party remained at Timoola until the return of Lyons from Quandary, whose safe arrival was a source of intense delight to them, and proceeded thence under the guidance of Mr Sprowle, who escorted them across the bush to Narraburra, Mr Beckham's station, where they arrived about half-past two in the afternoon, and were hospitably received. From this point Sir Frederick Pottinger at once forwarded a dispatch to Captain Battye, at Burrangong, on Thursday, informing him of their position and requesting a reinforcement, and with a very creditable degree of promptitude the Captain, with a body of ten troopers, arrived on Friday evening, by a cross-country route of fifty miles. On the following morning, the party thus reinforced, took their departure for Forbes, and, as it is hardly necessary to state, were uninterrupted in their course thither by bandits or bushrangers.²¹
|Marker commemorating the|
My Photo, 12/3/20.
Authors Note: To visit the approximate area of the gunfight at Sproules Timoola Station, take the Goldfields Hwy from Temora for 9.6 km's turn right at the Flying Spitfires Temora sign. Travel roughly 2.5 km's on Treagers Lane (un-signposted). The road is very rough but with care can be taken by car. The Commemorative Marker is on the right of the track, fenced off alongside a creek, and easy to spot. (Sproules Lagoon) Sproule's old station (Sprowle's) homestead was opposite the Marker. Congratulations to those in Temora who erected the Marker and their help in directing me there.
|Det Lyons in|
The horse made for the bush, whither Lyons followed it, minus his revolver, and being fired at by the bushrangers. Simultaneously with the attack upon Lyons, four ruffians wheeled out of their ambuscade with military precision, in front of Sir Frederick Pottinger and Mr Mitchell, and, with a similar exclamation, blazed away at them. One of them, apparently the leader of the gang, addressed himself principally to Sir Frederick Pottinger, saying, "I know you, you bl---y ba---rd, Pottinger: " I'll put a pill through you, you ba---rd," &c. Sir Frederick fired at this fellow three times, Mr Mitchell, at his side, being also fully occupied with their assailants, and discharging shot for shot. The odds against them were fearful, for besides their superior number, the bushrangers were provided with a large store of fire-arms, and no sooner discharged the contents of one piece than they threw it down and took up another. Sir Frederick and Mitchell, immediately after each discharge of their revolvers, galloped a little distance off, receiving the fire of their enemies as they retreated. The whole of the affray lasted about five or six minutes. Sir Frederick and Mitchell found their ammunition all but expended, Sir Frederick having but two charges left, and Mitchell only one. There was now a lull in the firing, and Mitchell, believing the assailants had also exhausted their ammunition, proposed to charge them. Sir Frederick, however, with praiseworthy discretion, having the gold upon his horse, advised a retreat. Accordingly, they turned their horse’s heads, and galloped away as hard as they could, to the station they had left in the morning, known as Little George's, some twelve or thirteen miles distant, and which they reached in from thirty to forty minutes. Here they remained, till evening, recruiting, and devising plans for a future procedure. They expected to find Lyons seriously wounded, if not dead; but had the satisfaction of learning that he, like themselves, having miraculously escaped unhurt, had called there, and was gone out with Mr Sprowle in search of them.
By the 14th July 1862, Sir Frederick Pottinger returned to Forbes with the gold recovered from Manns totalling 213oz. Unfortunately, the cash of £135, which Detective Lyons carried, was lost to the bushrangers. However, within days of the affair, detective Lyons dispatched his account of the battle to police headquarters in Sydney addressed to Inspector Harrison of their actions in response to the attack is as follows;
Forbes, Lachlan Diggings,
P. LYONS, 'Detective, 1st Class.
|NSW Police Gazette, 1862.|
On the 24th of July 1862, seventeen days after Gilbert freed his brother and Manns. The following article in 'The Empire', written by a Wag correspondent (sarcastic jokester), highlights his interpretation of the excellent gun battle between the bushrangers and the police. Curious about how with bullets reportedly flying willy-nilly, not one scratch except for Lyon's horse was inflicted. The article is heavily laced with sarcasm but is also a subtle criticism of the new police system, which had only been in force for a mere four months, 'The Golden Age' Thursday 31st July 1862:
Another very remarkable feature in these extraordinary encounters is the unlimited quantity of firearms possessed by "the enemy." We are told that on the occasion of the rescue of the "smart young men with boots and spurs, close-fitting breeches, and turn-down collars", "the enemy wheeled out of their ambuscade, with military precision," "each armed with a double-barrelled gun and a brace of revolvers;" and that "the odds against the police were fearful, for, besides being superior in numbers, the bushrangers were provided with a large store of firearms, and no sooner discharged the contents of one piece than they threw it down and took up another!" Also, that "the band had, in addition to the guns and revolvers with which they commenced the attack, a large bag full of loaded guns!". These are stated to have been charged with slugs, consisting of ounce bullets cut into four parts; and yet at the conclusion of the fight- volley after volley having been fired from them by men "taking deliberate aim"-nobody is hurt! In all seriousness, the state of the southwestern interior is a disgrace to Australian civilisation. The notorious fact that thousands of people, otherwise well-disposed, look on the police with dislike, and treat them with contempt, is sufficient to show that there is something radically wrong in the whole system. The people have no other feeling than abhorrence for the desperadoes who are setting the laws at defiance. Still, nevertheless, they will neither succour nor assist arrogant, overbearing, self-sufficient officials, decked out in semi-military costume, many of whom figured in the famous retreat from Burrangong, (Chinese riots of 1860) and who, whenever occasion has arisen, have failed to display that contempt of danger which is calculated to merit the respect of the rough and ready miners and others of which the digging population is mainly composed.
Coloured by me.
Consequently, John Gilbert's rescue released the two captives. The success and the men involved in the melee. Long believed to be John O'Meally, Ben Hall, possibly Patsy Daley, and Downey quickly dispersed. Taking different routes back to their home turf, the Weddin Mountains. Furthermore, the assailants procured new mounts in the skirmish after losing three horses. Finally, they retreated without the gold held by Sir Frederick Pottinger as they had threatened.
John Gilbert and his brother Charles boldly continued their original path to Victoria, arriving at the 'Coliban', a goldfield on Bendigo's outskirts on the historic Coliban River. Here the two brothers were joined by their elder brother James Gilbert. Finally, Henry Manns returned to his former haunt near Borrowra, NSW.
After five to six weeks in the Bendigo area, where no doubt, John saw his father, sister and extended family, who all resided within a day or two's ride from the Coliban, a reunion which would see John Gilbert admonished by his father who resided at Taradale. A later letter was written by his father regarding his son's wayward path:
|Steamship, City Of Hobart.|
Departing their father's home and all preparations completed, the brothers arrived in Melbourne at the end of August 1862, booking passage for the 9 to 10-day voyage to Dunedin's Port Chalmers. As Gilbert prepared to sail for New Zealand, the Escort Robbery in NSW was still major news, and rumours of the culprits' whereabouts were still rife in the daily newspapers.
Moreover, articles on Gardiner referenced his presence in South Australia, masquerading as a minister of cloth. Then, at one of his sister's residences in Portland, Victoria or even that, he fled the country to California. Speculation on John Gilbert's whereabouts persisted. Reported in the Victorian Police Gazette in October 1862, stated, "he is reported as having gone through Meroo Creek towards Victoria, and to be about Kilmore where he has been before."
Just where were they?
The reward for Gilbert of £500 was still a fortune in 1862, and the brothers would have had to take great caution in their movements. However, John Gilbert's journey to New Zealand was recalled in 1916 with an exciting twist. Mrs Sarah Musgrave lived at Burrangong Station, Lambing Flat, in the 1860s. A time when Burrangong Station was a favourite retreat of the bushrangers. Mrs Musgrave reminisced of her time there and her encounters with Gilbert and O'Meally. Mrs Musgrave provided a fascinating account of John Gilbert's trip to New Zealand, claiming in the following conversation and recounting his move to New Zealand straight from John Gilbert's lips. The twist was that John Gilbert made the crossing disguised as a woman.
Courtesy Junee Historical
Gilbert's use of a woman's disguise was also highlighted by John Maguire. Maguire state:
|S.S. Gothenburg c. 1862|
When Gilbert shot through, ships sailing to New Zealand became more frequent as the reports of gold littered the Australian newspapers. The news instigated another mass exodus of men from the Victorian and New South Wales diggings. The Gilbert's soon joined the men awaiting passage, using Melbourne's crowds for anonymity. Fortunately for John, his daring deeds in New South Wales were not as well known in Victoria.
John Gilbert flushed with cash from the proceeds of the Escort robbery. Which amounted to £435 ($32,ooo) and the proceeds from the gold that had no doubt been fenced off. Enabled John Gilbert and his two brothers to travel comfortably to New Zealand, possibly under their mother's maiden name, Wilson. In late August 1862, Dunedin's shipping traffic was brisk, with several ships ferrying the three Gilbert brothers. They included The Aldinga, The City of Hobart, The Gothenburg, and The Ringdove. All possible berths for Gilbert's travel and all ships sailed from Melbourne in the final week of August 1862, with full complements of passengers.
Note: A search of the ship passenger lists unfortunately only covers 1st class cabins, and an examination of passengers travelling as two men and a woman of the same surname is noted, but too numerous to decipher, as well as with so many arrivals identification documents not required.
A good many parties came up from Port Chalmers in boats, in some cases stepping directly onboard one of the steamers for Waikouaiti, all of which were we believe well loaded. Of course, wet weather could never deter your true steady-going miner, much less a hot enthusiast who starts eagerly, if not happily, because he is ignorant of the privations he will have at present to undergo while tramping up the country; but certainly the bright, brisk, invigorating weather we enjoyed yesterday seemed to add wonderfully to the spirits of those who plodded in strings, swag-laden, out of the city.
|Dunedin Harbour 1862.|
The Gilbert brothers required mining supplies, even though Charles had previously worked on the Dunstan goldfield. Therefore, it would not have been unusual to have a lodged claim ready to return to and then have purchased the proper supplies needed to commence the well-worn track to the Dunstan field. How much equipment the brothers brought with them has yet to be discovered.
|'Dunstan Goldfield' 1862.|
|Top, Dunstan Hotel,|
Clyde c. 1862.
However, how successful the brothers were in finding gold is unknown, but many fellow diggers had plenty of good luck. From all accounts, John Gilbert maintained his disguise. He continued in the appearance of a female, at least in public. Nevertheless, how long this façade was acted out appeared to be only for a short period. Unsurprisingly, women were a scarce commodity in most gold-diggings. Those women who were present and unattached, were often tarnished with the unsavoury title of 'loose'. This branding was commented on in a letter from Mr James Fisher defending their honour:
Consequently, John Gilbert departed New Zealand. Returning to Dunedin's port in his brother Charles's. Here the pair parted company. The New Zealand diggings and her ports continued to be inundated with steamers and windjammers, filled with more miners ready to strike it rich on the Otago Goldfields. Therefore, many ships were returning to Victoria and other Australian ports with few passengers. Accordingly, John Gilbert took a return passage to Australia in early January 1863. However, his brother Charles indicated that John's departure was under the auspices of John Gilbert's poor health and not his attractive disguise:
|Dunstan on the|
Clyde River c. 1862.
|NSW Mounted Police.|
As John Gilbert returned to familiar surroundings, Sydney newspapers canvassed the 'Special Commission Trials' starting in February 1863 on bushranging. The commission included the trail of those involved in the now-infamous escort robbery at Eugowra of June 1862. When the trials began with the whole of the colony including John Gilbert closely followed the proceedings that included the evidence of informers Daniel Charters and Tom Richards. Charters succumbing to the pleas of his family went turncoat for the pardon on offer and Richards for the large reward.
Consequently, the evidence implicated John Gilbert as one of the main instigators of the robbery, but Gilbert may have been somewhat amused at Charters' evidence, when he deliberately avoided implicating Ben Hall and John O'Meally. With Gardiner gone Gilbert assumed a quasi leadership of the Weddin Mountains mob and dived straight back to where he left off leading robberies around the Lambing Flat, Bland, Marengo and Burrowa area.
|NSW Police Gazette|
On the 19th of February, the government gazetted the reward for Gilbert and again described his appearance in the newspapers;
For Gilbert the age-old system of communication prevailed. Colloquially known 'Bush Telegraphs'. These old-style runners or messengers and town informants were in a position to have their fingers on the pulse of police activities and were able to pass the word swiftly for a reward. Gilbert himself had filled this role earlier for those such a Gardiner. These messages conveyed police movements, persons travelling with large sums of cash, mail coaches with valuables on board, and a myriad of other pertinent intelligence, including those assisting the police. Information paramount in the prosecution of the robbery of the lonely traveller:
Back riding the range and tracks of the Weddin and Pinnacle Mountains. Gilbert saddled up once more with O'Meally, Ben Hall and newcomer O'Meally's first cousin Patsy Daley. In February they struck again at Wombat close to Lambing Flat, sticking up the general-store of Mr Meyers Solomon. 'The Sydney Morning Herald' Saturday 28th February 1863 reported:
However, before the pillaging of Meyers Solomon. John O'Meally was involved in the shooting death of a German hotelier Adolph Cirkel at the Stoney Creek diggings. O'Meally, in company with another long believed to be John Gilbert, attempted to rob the Miners Rest Hotel, whereby in the process, Mr Cirkel walked in, surprising the two assailants. A struggle ensured between Cirkel and O'Meally for the revolver. As O'Meally arm-wrestled Cirkel, his accomplice called out, "Shoot the bastard." Instantly O'Meally pulled the trigger, Cirkel dropped dead.
|NSW Police Gazette|
|NSW Police Gazette|