John Gilbert

This website is designed, researched and written by Mark Matthews. It may alter and be expanded with updated information and research as it comes to hand. This section is a work in progress...
In the annals of Australian history, the name John Gilbert stands out as one of the most notorious bushrangers of the 19th century. Known for his audacious exploits and daring robberies, Gilbert, also known as "Happy Jack," was a central figure in the bushranging era, a time of lawlessness and rebellion in the Australian colonies.

This webpage, "John 'Happy Jack' Gilbert, aims to delve into the life and times of this infamous outlaw. Drawing from historical records, personal accounts, and extensive research, we will explore Gilbert's journey from a young immigrant boy to one of the most feared outlaws in Australian history.

Born in Canada and arriving in Australia at the tender age of ten, Gilbert was swept up in the gold rush fever that gripped the nation. His early life in Australia was marked by parental disobedience and recklessness, but it was also during this time that he developed his skills as a horseman and his knack for survival. These skills would later serve him well in his life of crime.

As we delve into Gilbert's life, we will explore his first forays as a youth into crime the allure of the NSW goldfields, and the circumstances that led him to choose a life of crime. We will also examine his relationships, his exploits, and the impact of his actions on Australian society and history.

"John Gilbert: Happy Jack" is more than just a biography. It is a journey into a tumultuous period in Australian history, seen through the eyes of one of its most notorious characters. It is a tale of adventure, crime, and ultimately, tragedy. So, join us as we journey into the life and times of John Gilbert, the bushranger who lived fast, died young.

John (Happy Jack) Gilbert
("A Real Flash Cove")

There's never a stone at the sleeper's head,
There's never a fence beside,
And the wandering stock on the grave may tread
Unnoticed and undenied,
But the smallest child on the Watershed
Can tell you how Gilbert died.....
                                                                                                  A.B. Paterson

"Happy Jack"
Coloured by me.

Gold! Gold! In the 1850s, gold emerged as the ultimate prize, captivating men's hearts with a tantalizing gamble devoid of concern for success or failure. Australia, like a new Eldorado, beckoned to thousands who flocked to its shores from every corner of the globe. People from diverse backgrounds and nations found themselves swept up in the fever, driven to uplift their lives and brave perilous sea voyages in search of this precious treasure. Among these hopeful adventurers were the Gilbert's, a Canadian family enticed by the promise of vast fortunes on the shores of Victoria.

Within the Gilbert family, a ten-year-old boy was destined to carve his name into the annals of Australian history as the most notorious bushranger of all time. His name was John Gilbert.

New York Herald.
25th June 1852.


Library of Congress.

The allure of gold captivated the entire world when the news of abundant gold discoveries in California initially broke. In the year 1849, people from all walks of life and from every corner of the globe hastened to this newfound treasure trove, earning themselves the moniker of "49ers." This historic gold rush sparked an unprecedented human migration, surpassing even the scale witnessed during the crusades, and its effects would reverberate across the globe for the ensuing two decades.

The fervor ignited by the California gold rush did not remain confined to its shores. In 1851, the flame of excitement engulfed the colony of Australia on the opposite side of the world. The precious metal, primarily concentrated in Victoria, became the catalyst for the birth of the colony on July 1, 1851, under the governance of Charles Joseph La Trobe. Astonishing tales of vast riches enticed many to abandon California and embark on a new quest for fortune in Australia.

Whispers of incredible wealth circulating throughout the world fueled this fever, spreading like an uncontrollable pandemic, infecting the hearts and minds of all who heard them. The mere mention of kicking the ground in search of gold carried with it the promise of Eureka-like glory. It was amidst this backdrop that William Gilbert, a man enticed by the challenge and allure, set his sights on the Australian shores.

William Gilbert found himself grappling with adversity. The Canadian landscape was plagued by economic hardship and political instability, making it arduous to secure steady employment for himself and his sons. However, amidst this struggle, the newspapers of Canada in 1851 resounded with tales of extraordinary fortunes awaiting those who ventured to Australia. The allure of gold's promise captivated William, compelling him to consider a life-changing decision.

Motivated by the enticing whispers of newfound wealth, William became swept up in the fervor surrounding Australia's golden opportunities. After spending twenty-two years in Canada, he found himself embarking on a momentous journey for the second time, spanning over fifteen thousand miles across two vast oceans. It was a courageous endeavor to seek a better life for his family in the distant and unfamiliar land of Australia, a new world full of hope and possibility.

Church of England Marriages
and Banns for
 William John Gilbert.
The Gilbert family originally emigrated from London to Canada in 1830, accompanied by their young children, three-year-old William Jr, born in 1827, and one-year-old Eleanor.
John Gilbert, who would later gain infamy as a bushranger, was the son of William John Gilbert and Eleanor Gilbert (née Wilson). William John and Eleanor were married at St. John the Evangelist, Smith Square, Westminster, Middlesex on April 23rd, 1826.
In London, the Gilbert family pursued the occupation of innkeeper-distiller and owned the esteemed Three Castles Inn, located on St. Andrews Lane. William, in particular, held the distinguished title of "Freeman of the City of London," a recognition that allowed the family crest to be proudly displayed on the premises of their business. The role of innkeeper-distiller was not only a time-honored profession but also one that carried a sense of nobility and prestige.

Note: William's entitlement derived from purchasing Freeman's rights, enabling him to become an Inn-holder under the auspicious of Liveryman, an esteemed privilege. The Order of Liverymen was derived from the ranks of Freemen. Liverymen traditionally have the right to wear a distinctive form of dress during official City occasions. The order came into existence in the 13th Century and survives today. It harnesses Charity, Education, Trade, and Fellowship.

During the 1830s, the City of London witnessed a decline in the prominence of livery companies and hotels. This decline was primarily a consequence of new distilling and licensing laws enacted by the British Parliament, which imposed challenges and hardships on innkeepers. The impact was significant, with many innkeepers experiencing a decline in business and, subsequently, widespread closures. In the face of these difficult circumstances, numerous innkeepers were enticed to seek better prospects elsewhere, and one such opportunity presented itself in the form of migrating to Canada.

Recognising the changing tides and the declining state of affairs in England, William Gilbert saw this as his chance to make a fresh start. Taking advantage of the opportunity that presented itself, he made the decision to leave England behind and embark on a journey to Canada, in search of a new beginning for himself and his family.
The Gilbert family was not spared from tragedy possibly during the Cholera Pandemic that ravaged London from 1827 to 1830. It is believed that two of William Gilbert's daughters, Ann and Ellen, tragically fell victim to this devastating illness. The Cholera Pandemic had a profound impact on London, claiming the lives of approximately 6,000 individuals in the city alone. The Gilbert's, like countless others, experienced the profound grief and loss brought upon by this widespread outbreak, forever altering the course of their lives.

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada,
c. 1859.


by C. S. Rice.
After settling in Hamilton, situated on the shores of Lake Ontario, William Gilbert embarked on a new chapter of his life. He found employment as a building contractor, working on various public works projects while also establishing a successful business manufacturing building materials. William Gilbert achieved prosperity for his family through his hard work and entrepreneurial spirit.

During this time, the Gilbert's welcomed the arrival of four more children. Francis, born in 1836, James in 1838, Charles in 1840, and John William, born in November 1842, expanded the Gilbert family. With their newfound prosperity, the family took up residence in a two-story home adorned with framed wood paneling, embodying their improved circumstances.

To assist with household tasks, the Gilbert's employed a fifteen-year-old Irish girl named Mary Cassin as a servant. Her presence undoubtedly alleviated some of the daily responsibilities and allowed the family to focus on their endeavours.

Unfortunately, amidst their growing success, the Gilbert's again experienced heartbreak and loss. John Gilbert's mother, Eleanor, passed away due to illness circa 1845, leaving a void in their lives. Additionally, in 1850, tragedy struck again when John Gilbert's older brother, William, also passed away, further deepening the family's sorrow.
Following the passing of Eleanor, William Gilbert found love once again and remarried one Eliza Cord on December 28, 1846. Eliza, originally from England, had migrated to Canada during her childhood with her parents. At the time of their marriage, William was 44 years old, while Eliza was 25.

The union between William and Eliza resulted in the birth of two sons, Thomas and Nicholas. However, their arrival in Australia would bring forth seven more children: Frederick, Mary, Jane, Louisa, Mary-Anne, Christopher, and Dagmar.

Amidst the tumultuous times in Canada, William Gilbert found himself deeply involved in the unfolding political events when native born Canadians attempted to separate from English rule. William Gilbert served as a dedicated volunteer by demonstrating his loyalty to the British during the insurrection of the Rebellion of Lower (Quebec) and Upper (Ontario) Canada, which took place from 1837 to 1838. The rebellion was a significant period of political unrest that rocked the country.

In a parallel course, the waves of political turbulence that swept through Canada reached a climax when the parliament building in 1849 was by demonstrators arson consumed by fire. This event further underscored the prevailing unrest and uncertainty of the time.

Despite the prevailing challenges, William remained actively engaged in local politics. He took on the role of an Alderman in the City of Hamilton, playing his part in shaping the affairs of the community. Reflecting upon his involvement in the rebellion and the events that unfolded, William Gilbert would later offer his insights and observations, providing a valuable perspective on the tumultuous era that shaped Canada's history

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.
As the Gilbert family bid farewell to Canada, they embarked on a new journey, with Eliza Gilbert once again expecting a child. Their arrival in New York City, located approximately 400 miles south, marked a significant transition in their lives. In the bustling New York Harbour, filled with numerous ships carrying individuals and families seeking new beginnings, the Gilbert's secured passage on the ship named 'Revenue,' which was operated by the Pioneer Line. Accompanied by around 160 other hopeful passengers, predominantly Canadians, they set sail for the far side of the world.

During the months-long voyage, a fellow passenger on the ship took notice of a young ten-year-old boy named John Gilbert and made the remark that:
"I noticed nothing very particular in the lad during the voyage." 
After navigating the treacherous waters of Port Philip Bay's entrance, known as the Rip, the ship 'Revenue' finally found its safe haven, securing a berth alongside Hobson's Bay in Melbourne, Victoria, on October 15th, 1852. The long and arduous journey across vast oceans had brought the Gilbert family to the shores of their new home.

As the ship glided into the bustling harbour, a sense of anticipation and excitement filled the air. The Gilbert's and their fellow passengers gazed in awe at the bustling scene unfolding before them. Melbourne, a vibrant and rapidly growing city, greeted them with its sprawling docks, diverse crowds, and the promise of new opportunities.

The harbour teemed with activity as ships of various sizes and origins navigated the waters, unloading cargo and welcoming weary travellers to their new land. The Gilbert family, stepping ashore onto the solid ground of Victoria, felt a mixture of relief and anticipation. They had left behind their familiar life in Canada to embark on this bold adventure, driven by the allure of the gold-rich lands and the prospect of a better future.

As they disembarked from the 'Revenue,' the Gilbert's joined the throngs of people streaming through the harbour, each with their own dreams and aspirations. The air buzzed with conversations in different languages as individuals from all walks of life intermingled in this melting pot of cultures and ambitions.

For the Gilbert's, the journey to Australia marked a new chapter in their lives—a fresh start in a land brimming with possibilities. With the shores of Melbourne beckoning, they eagerly awaited the opportunities that lay ahead, ready to embrace the challenges and forge their destiny in this new and promising land

The Revenue, from New York, has had a good run from that port. She brings a large number of apparently very respectable people, attracted hither by the fame of our Gold Fields.

In the eventful year of 1852, Melbourne's Hobson's Bay port became a gateway to dreams and potential fortunes. As the 'Revenue' ship docked, a sea of anticipation engulfed the bustling harbour. Among the multitude of passengers who disembarked that day were the Gilbert family, accompanied by their ten-year-old son, John, and his six siblings.

The sheer magnitude of the scene was awe-inspiring. An estimated ninety thousand fortune seekers had arrived in Melbourne, their eyes filled with visions of newfound wealth. The port buzzed with activity, a melting pot of languages, cultures, and aspirations. The air crackled with the energy of possibility as individuals from all walks of life stepped onto the shore, eager to claim their share of the golden opportunities that beckoned them.

For young John Gilbert, this bustling harbour's sights, sounds, and smells marked the beginning of an extraordinary journey. The vibrant atmosphere and the stories whispered among the arrivals fueled his imagination and stirred a sense of adventure within him. He was surrounded by a sea of hopeful faces, driven by the shared desire to change their lives and unearth treasures that lay hidden within the vast Australian lands.

Little did they know that, stepping onto that foreign shore, young John Gilbert would carve his name into the annals of Australian history. His future as the most prolific bushranger in the country's history lay ahead, yet in that moment, he was merely a young boy, filled with dreams and the audacity to chase them.

With the Gilbert family's arrival, another chapter unfolded in the ever-evolving story of Australia's gold rush. Their tale intertwined with those of countless others, their destinies interwoven against the backdrop of a land teeming with possibilities. The journey had been long and arduous, but the Gilbert's, driven by hope and determination, were ready to forge their path.


As John Gilbert settled into his new surroundings in Collingwood, it didn't take long for his curious nature and adventurous spirit to lead him towards the fringes of society. Collingwood, a bustling working class area was brimming with opportunity and lawlessness, provided the young boy with a firsthand introduction to the darker side of life.

In this vibrant but precarious environment, John found himself rubbing shoulders with a motley crew of fringe characters—men of questionable reputations and shady backgrounds. These individuals, often seen lounging in the taverns and alleys, became his unlikely companions and sources of guidance in this new world.

Embracing his natural street smarts and resourcefulness, John soon discovered an entrepreneurial streak within himself. He observed the constant stream of gold seekers passing through Collingwood en route to the prosperous goldfields of Ballarat and Bendigo. Recognising an opportunity to profit from their ambitions, he engaged in various hustles and schemes, using his charm and cunning to extract what he could from those on their way to the goldfields.

With an innate ability to read people and a knack for persuasion, John navigated the fine line between mischief and outright criminality. He learned the art of the quick deal, the subtle manipulation, and the clever exploitation of those driven by the allure of gold. It was within these encounters, surrounded by the fringe criminals of Collingwood, that John Gilbert's character began to take shape.

His experiences in the underbelly of society provided him with a unique education, teaching him both the art of survival and the depths of human nature. It was a formative period for the young John, a time when he honed his streetwise instincts and learned the value of cunning and adaptability in a world where lawlessness often reigned.

Little did anyone suspect that this spirited and street-savvy boy, mingling with fringe criminals, would one day become the most prolific bushranger in Australia's history. These early encounters and experiences would shape John Gilbert's path, propelling him towards a life of infamy, danger, and, ultimately, a place in the annals of Australian folklore. 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 his humble beginnings mingling with fringe criminals, John Gilbert's path took an ominous turn, propelling him to infamy as one of the most notorious outlaws and murderers in Australian colonial history. As part of the ranks of the colloquially known 'Bushrangers,' John Gilbert's name would strike fear into the hearts of those who crossed his path.

Despite his nefarious deeds, John Gilbert was known to some as 'Happy Jack,' a moniker derived from his light-hearted humour and carefree disposition. This nickname reflected his ability to find moments of levity even amidst a life filled with danger and lawlessness. His quick wit and relaxed outlook set him apart from the hardened criminals of the time, earning him a reputation for being a somewhat enigmatic figure.

London, England, Freedom of the City Admission Papers, for William Gilbert, Innkeeper 1681-1925.
1851 Census for William Gilbert for Canada West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Note John Gilbert, aged 11, next birthday in 1852, indicates his birthday in November or December. Note education, John and Charles.
Gilbert family 'Revenue.'
The Argus newspaper
 report  of the arrival
 of the "Revenue" 1852.
With Melbourne was awash with fortune hunters. Hobson's Bay's piers were jammed with arriving ships disembarking the masses of migrants and tons of cargo. Lodging houses and hotels were packed to bursting point. Rough-hewn dwellings of all descriptions sprang up across the city. 
Upon their arrival in Collingwood, William Gilbert and his family settled in the neighbourhood's George Street. Eager to establish a stable life and find employment, they began the process of acclimating to their new surroundings. However, their dreams of a fresh start were quickly tempered when they encountered Melbourne's criminal underbelly mere days after their arrival.

As fate would have it, it was John, the youngest son of the Gilbert family, who found himself face to face with the audacious thieves on that fateful day in Collingwood. The stolen horse, recently acquired by the Gilbert's, vanished right before his eyes, igniting a spark of defiance within the young boy.

Undeterred by fear, John mustered his courage and confronted the brazen culprits. His youthful indignation overflowed as he remonstrated with the thieves, passionately expressing his anger and frustration at their audacity. In that moment, he embodied a spirit that refused to be cowed by the criminal elements lurking in Melbourne's shadows.

This incident left an indelible impression on young John, serving as a formative experience that would shape his future path. The encounter provided him with a firsthand understanding of the harsh realities that accompanied life in this bustling colonial city. It ignited a fire within him.
'Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer' Thursday 21st October 1852.:

John Jones, James Seymour, and William Thomas were arraigned for stealing a horse the property of William Gilbert and pleaded not guilty. A horse, the property of a Mr Gilbert, who resides at Collingwood, was grazing (hobbled) in a vacant space before Mr Gilbert's house. The three prisoners were observed, at ten o'clock in the morning, by Mr Gilbert's son, to go up to the horse, and in spite of his remonstrances, the prisoner Seymour got on the horse and rode off. Sentence-Six years' hard labour on the roads of the colony.

Frederick Gilbert's death.
The Argus,
14th May 1853.
As the Gilbert family settled into their new life in Australia, tragedy struck their midst. Eliza Gilbert, who had been pregnant during the voyage to Victoria, gave birth to a son named Frederick in December 1852. Amidst the hopes and dreams of their new beginning, a cloud of sorrow descended upon them when, on the 13th of May 1853, young Frederick passed away at their home in Collingwood.

John Gilbert's father, William, found himself backing the wrong horse in his pursuit of a fortune in the goldfields. The fickle nature of gold mining led him down a path that did not yield the expected riches. Undeterred, William decided to explore alternative avenues to secure his family's livelihood.

In 1853, he made the decision to apply for the position of Pound Keeper at Deep Creek, known as 'Bulla Bulla,' situated approximately 28
kilometers north of the Melbourne Town Hall. Recognizing the stability and security that came with such a position, William saw it as an opportunity to provide for his family in a more reliable manner.

However, the process of securing the position was not without its challenges. As is often the case with bureaucratic procedures, William encountered minor hiccups and delays along the way. His initial application faced postponement, a not uncommon occurrence in the administrative realm. It required patience, perseverance, and the ability to navigate the intricacies of the system.

For the Gilbert family, this setback meant a period of uncertainty as they awaited the final decision on William's appointment. They grappled with the prospect of a continued search for stability and financial security. However, they remained resilient, drawing upon their resilience and the strength they had developed throughout their journey.

Eventually, William's application proved successful after overcoming minor obstacles and demonstrating his suitability for the position. He was granted the role of Pound Keeper at Deep Creek, bringing a sense of relief and a newfound sense of stability to the Gilbert family. They could now rest assured that their future was secured, at least for the time being.
'The Argus' Saturday 8th August 1853:

Argus, 1853.
The application of Wm. J. Gilbert to be appointed poundkeeper at the Deep Creek Pound was postponed until next Thursday.

A Mr. W. J. Gilbert has been appointed keeper of the Pound up the Deep Creek. There were four applications, and one of the defeated candidates had the following appendages tacked to his name, viz. :- 'Baccalarius atrium Trinilatis College juxta Dublinii; late bullock driver to Bendigo." The lucky man is described in his testimonials as "an alderman of the City of Hamilton, Canada West.

The town Bulla is close to where Melbourne Airport is today.

On William's application, he stated that he was a former 'Alderman' for Hamilton City, whereby he lost his seat in the local Hamilton election of December 1851. Regardless, the move to Australia was finally evolving into success.

In conjunction with the pound keeper license, in November 1853, William was granted an Auctioneers License for Deep Creek. 'The Argus' Wednesday 23rd November 1853;

At a special meeting or the District Licensing Magistrate, held yesterday at the District Court, (Messrs. Thomas and Vaughan, J P.'s presiding) district auctioneer's licenses were granted to the following persons: -Mr. Gilbert, of Deep Creek; Mr. Grant, of Melbourne; Mr. Lascellis of Pentridge; Mr. Zohrab, of Prahran; and Mr. Donne, of Melbourne.

The new home of young John Gilbert was described in an article from the 'Sunbury News' on 6th August 1910:

Bulla is a pretty little village, situated on the banks of a clear stream called Deep Creek. In the year 1850, there were very few houses in Bulla, mostly all tents. A police station was opposite Mr Hillary's house. The constable, Mr Talty, was very clever with a sword. Where Mr Honan is living now was known as the 'Troopers Bend,' as the police horses used to graze on it. There was a pound yard on the main road. The first-pound keeper, Mr Gilbert, was the father of John Gilbert, the bushranger.

William Gilbert's role as the Deep Creek Pound Keeper proved to be highly lucrative, providing a substantial income for the Gilbert family. The position brought in an average annual earning of approximately £515, a significant sum during that time. As the Pound Keeper, William's responsibilities were supported by his three older sons, who assisted him in managing the operations.

However, despite the financial success that came with the position, the Gilbert's eventually made the decision to relinquish their control over the pound in 1857. The family's adventurous spirit and their desire to seek new opportunities led them to explore the ever-changing landscape of gold mining.

With a keen eye for promising mining ventures, William's three older sons, William Francis, James, and Charles, joined him in the pursuit of gold. They ventured wherever new rushes appeared, including across the waters to the goldfields of New Zealand. The allure of these new discoveries enticed the Gilbert's to test their luck and potentially strike it rich in the search for precious metals.

Their decision to transition from the stable income of the pound-keeping role to the uncertainties of gold mining underscored their entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to take risks. It was a testament to their unwavering determination to seize opportunities as they arose, even if it meant embracing the unpredictability and challenges that accompanied mining ventures.
Victorian Gazette table of Pound keeper returns July 1851-November 1854.

Gilbert's sister Eleanor's 
Wedding notice 1854.

In the significant year 1854, the infamous miner rebellion known as the 'Eureka Stockade' erupted in Ballarat. During this time, twelve-year-old Johnny Gilbert, who had developed a reputation for being unruly and somewhat rebellious, decided to break free from his father's care and guidance he embarked on a journey that led him to the town of Kilmore.

In Kilmore, Johnny sought refuge with his married sister, Eleanor, and her husband, John Stafford. Eleanor and John Stafford had established their home in Kilmore.


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:

The following was an interesting extract from a gentleman's private letter describing Eleanor. Printed in the 'Yass Courier' soon after John Gilbert's death:

His sister, Miss Gilbert, being the only marriageable young lady on board, was quite the idol of the young men, one of whom she ultimately married.³

In 1875, Eleanor and John moved to Ireland after he had "come into some property". Eleanor passed away on 18th June 1928 at the age of 98.

The Argus,
26th October 1854.
However, John Stafford as well gained employment as the Pound Keeper at Sugar Loaf Creek, Kilmore, Victoria:

He was the keeper of the Sugar Loaf Pound, a money-making business in those days. 

Remaining in Kilmore, Johnny Gilbert aided his brother-in-law. These formative years of handling horses and cattle at the pound enabled John Gilbert to develop into an excellent horse rider and experienced Stockman. The boy could ride like the wind learning a great deal about the value of good cattle and horseflesh. Gilbert also remained enamoured, as at Collingwood, with life in the hustle and bustle of free-wheeling spendthrifts and gamblers frequenting the Kilmore pubs. While still underage.

Pubs packed with miners and shysters traversing to the next big strike as coaches and bullock teams made their way to Beechworth and McIvor goldfields and other fields further on. Gilbert embraced the carefree cashed-up miners' raucous atmosphere. Men quick to throw their new fortunes into gambling and carousing. 
There is no doubt that Gilbert was hustling weary travellers enjoying a hearty meal or refreshment at the centre of town activity while the overland coaches changed horses. Notably, the Kilmore Hotel on Sydney Street, a two-story brick building containing an ample bar and fittings, three large dining rooms, a private room, three bar-parlours, large billiard room that stood on the south side of Memorial park owned by Matthew Kelly. For young Gilbert, travellers were there for the taking.

Frank Gardiner as
Francis Clarke.
Early release from
Cockatoo Island
December 1859.
At age 15, circa 1857, John Gilbert again bolted, heading to the Ovens River goldfield near Beechworth, Northern Victoria. While hustling at the Kilmore Hotel, Gilbert came into contact with some old crew from his passage on the 'Revenue'. These rugged men, now gold miners, were crossing from the Mount Alexander goldfield near Castlemaine to the Ovens River Goldfield Beechworth, a stone's throw from the border with New South Wales, took Gilbert in tow. Reported here:

About the time of the first rush to the Ovens, when a number of old Revenue hands were crossing from Mount Alexander to the new field, young Gilbert was fallen in with in a hotel in Kilmore.

In the veins of John Gilbert coursed adventure and recklessness, a spirit unyielding to the wishes of his family. Against their objections, he carried a Bible bestowed upon him by his loving sister. At the tender age of sixteen, he packed his belongings, driven by an insatiable desire for excitement, and embarked on a daring escapade alongside weathered seafarers.

Whether his audacious venture into gold mining yielded success or failure remains shrouded in uncertainty. What is certain is that Gilbert's path led him to the Ovens River goldfield, a once-thriving site that had begun to wane by the year 1858. Unfazed by the dwindling prospects, he pressed on, crossing the border into the untamed expanse of New South Wales.

Emerging from the depths of his journey, a hundred miles east of Beechworth, Gilbert found himself rumored to have surfaced in Kiandra, nestled on the banks of the formidable Snowy River. This approximate timeline places his arrival around the years 1857 or 1859
On the 13th of February 1860, a letter penned in the Sydney Morning Herald shed light on the endeavors of a shrewd businessman who had set his sights on the burgeoning Kiandra diggings. This astute entrepreneur recognized the immense potential and sought to establish a store to cater to the needs of the approximately 1,500 tenacious diggers who had flocked to the area.

In the pursuit of valuable insights, the businessman engaged in thoughtful conversations with a group of Americans hailing from Victoria. These seasoned individuals, well-versed in the ways of mining, shared their experiences and wisdom, offering a glimpse into the world of gold-seeking ventures. Their perspectives undoubtedly informed the businessman's decision-making process as he meticulously assessed the feasibility of his proposed enterprise.

With aspirations of tapping into the thriving community of Kiandra, this enterprising individual sought to fulfill the needs and desires of the intrepid diggers who had ventured to this remote location in search of fortune. Through his interactions with the knowledgeable Americans, he aimed to glean invaluable knowledge that would shape the success and sustainability of his prospective store:

The new diggings at the Snowy River, where he went last week in order to ascertain if worth his while to take up stores, &c. He says there are about 1500 diggers on the spot, chiefly from Melbourne side and the Adelong and Turon fields; they are all, he says, sanguine of success, and one party of old Yankee diggers (experienced hands of the working school) assured him (Mr. -) that these diggings were likely to prove equal to Ballarat. They offered to sell him £500 worth of gold then in hand; but, as he did not go up prepared to speculate, he bought only a few nice specimens, which were dug and washed in the course of half an hour while he looked on; three nuggets about 1½ ozs. altogether, good, strong, nuggetty gold.

It is plausible to surmise that Gilbert may have been counted among the American diggers in Kiandra during that time. However, the harsh and rugged environment, coupled with the grueling labor of wielding a pick and shovel, likely put an end to his stay in the region.

The remote nature of Kiandra, nestled amidst untamed wilderness, presented numerous challenges and hardships. The demanding physical exertion required for mining, combined with the unforgiving conditions, would have surely tested Gilbert's resilience and determination. It is conceivable that he, like many others, found the arduous realities of life on the diggings to be overwhelming.

Although the specific details of Gilbert's time in Kiandra remain elusive, it is reasonable to assume that the formidable combination of the remote landscape, harsh working conditions, and backbreaking labor led to his eventual departure from the area. The pursuit of gold in such an untamed frontier demanded unwavering dedication, and it is likely that Gilbert's presence there was but a fleeting chapter in his adventurous life.

While numerous writers have entertained the notion of John Gilbert crossing paths with Frank Gardiner during his time in Kiandra, it is important to acknowledge the limitations imposed by time, distance, and Gardiner's confinement at Cockatoo Island from 1854 to 1859. These factors effectively eliminate any possibility of their acquaintance prior to their alleged encounter at Lambing Flat around 1861.

Speculation surrounding Gilbert and Gardiner's connection at Kiandra must be approached with caution. The geographical separation between Cockatoo Island and Kiandra, combined with Gardiner's imprisonment during those formative years, makes it highly improbable for them to have had any prior knowledge of one another. The circumstances simply did not align for their paths to intersect before Lambing Flat, a location notorious for its gold rush activity.

While the romantic allure of linking these two figures in history may captivate the imagination, it is crucial to base our understanding on the available facts. The realities of time, distance, and Gardiner's incarceration undermine the plausibility of their acquaintance prior to Lambing Flat, thereby dispelling the notion propagated by some writers.

After bidding farewell to the untamed wilderness of the Snowy River region, Gilbert's presence was soon noted in Bathurst, located approximately 200 miles south. It was here that he found employment, albeit briefly, as a groom and reputed part-time jockey for the esteemed publican, Alderman John De Clouet, who presided over the Sportsman's Arms Hotel on Piper Street. De Clouet, affectionately known as 'Dublin Jack' in 1860, had garnered a well-deserved reputation as a highly successful racehorse trainer, with an impressive record of numerous victories to his name.

Gilbert a few years after ceasing his employment would cross paths once again with 'Dublin Jack'. However, this reunion would be of a rather contentious nature. In 1863, the audacious bushranger attempted to abscond with De Clouet's prized racehorse, Pacha. Dublin Jack, the resilient and resourceful trainer, found himself in a renewed acquaintance with Gilbert as he fiercely defended his beloved steed from the clutches of the brazen outlaw. At that time Mrs De Clouet offered to return the bible that Gilbert left behind given by his sister. Gilbert commented, "That is no good to me now, you had better keep it."

Bathurst will be long remembered for its early associations, with the turf. One of the earliest and best patrons of the 'Sport of King's' was John De Clouet or 'Dublin Jack,' a rumour being spread that De Clouet first saw the light in Dublin city where the bogs are all full of rum and fun, and all the girls were plump and pretty. 'Dublin Jack' got one of them for Mrs De Clouet was a fine woman and as plucky as she was pretty. One of the gang, John Gilbert, had once worked at De Clouet's as a stable hand. This was no doubt before he decided to take to the roads as a vocation. Gilbert left a Bible behind when he gave up his job at De Clouet's and probably with a view of winning him to her, Mrs De Clouet brought the bible out and offered it to him. But he waved it back with the remark:—"That is no good to me now, you had better keep it.

Gilbert himself in 1863 when in conversation with a victim of a robbery alluded to his time with De Clouet;
"Gilbert made himself known, he having at one time been engaged by that gentleman as a jockey." 
Around 1860/1861, Gilbert bid farewell to Bathurst and set his sights on Murringo (also known as Marengo), a town situated near Burrowa in New South Wales. It was a time when the fever of gold mining was beginning to ignite in the region, promising potential wealth and excitement. However, prior to the gold rush taking hold, Gilbert turned his attention to a different endeavor – horse-breaking and stock work on several cattle stations in the surrounding district.

Embracing a different kind of adventure, Gilbert immersed himself in the challenging and demanding world of horsemanship. With his skilled hands and fearless spirit, he took on the task of taming wild horses and engaging in the vital work of tending to livestock on the various cattle stations dotting the area. Gilbert's knack for understanding these magnificent animals and his willingness to tackle the rugged tasks of stock work earned him a reputation as a capable and reliable hand.

As the region prepared to unveil its hidden gold treasures, Gilbert found himself engaged in the toil and rewards of horsemanship and stockmanship. Little did he know that the winds of change were soon to sweep through Murringo, ushering in a new era of gold mining that would undoubtedly shape his destiny once again.

Benjamin Morgan
(b. 1849 - d. 1933)

Private Source.
According to Benjamin Morgan, who was just a young boy at the time, John Gilbert was known to him as a stockman in the Murringo district. Morgan, who grew up in a family closely connected to the land, later recounted his memories of Gilbert. Describing him as a slender, slightly built individual, Morgan noted that Gilbert possessed exceptional equestrian skills, earning him the nickname 'Happy Jack'.

Morgan's recollections shed light on Gilbert's prowess as a horseman, emphasizing his ability to handle and ride horses with great skill and finesse. It is evident that Gilbert's reputation in the region extended beyond his mere presence as a stockman, as he left a lasting impression on young Benjamin Morgan, who remembered him fondly.

In the annals of history, John Gilbert would become a figure intertwined with tales of adventure and outlawry, but in Morgan's recollections, we catch a glimpse of the man behind the legend. Through Morgan's words, we come to know Gilbert as a slender figure, distinguished by his exceptional horsemanship and the nickname 'Happy Jack'. These insights offer a humanizing touch to the enigmatic persona of John Gilbert, the stockman who would later carve his name into the annals of Australian folklore

Very jolly always laughing and whistling, we nicknamed him 'Happy Jack.

Writing in his memoirs that Gilbert was in Murringo (spelt Marengo in those times) circa 1861. Gilbert was engaged as a station hand on both "Narra Allen" located in the shadows of Mount Geegullalong and lay between Burrowa and Murringo. "Kenne" (Kenyu, Kenu) straddling the Burrowa River, both properties were then owned by James Chisholm. Morgan described Gilbert's employment and his eventual shooting through:

His work being to ride amongst the horses and keep them quiet. He worked well and was quite a good fellow, but from the time of the gold rush at Lambing Flat in 1860, Gilbert seemed to follow the wrong path.

Authors Note: Benjamin Morgan was the fourth eldest son of the late Mr and Mrs Jenkin Morgan, who were amongst the earliest settlers. In his infancy, the late Mr Morgan came from Goulburn — his birthplace — to Boorowa with his parents, his father having been engaged by the well-known Chisholm family (who owned a large stretch of country between Boorowa and Goulburn) to manage the 'Narra Allen' portion of the run, later removing to the 'Kenyu' portion, which he subsequently purchased. (Obituary Burrowa News May 1933)

Lambing Flat.
c. 1860's.
Adjacent to the stations where Gilbert was stock riding was 'Burrangong Station', owned by Mr James White, one of the first European settlers in the remote district. 
During the 1850s and 1860s, the existence of stockmen like Gilbert revolved around a perpetual cycle of arduous labor on cattle stations. Days melded seamlessly into one another as these resilient men toiled under the sun. However, the tranquil rhythm of this idyllic way of life would soon face a seismic shift with the momentous discovery of gold at 'Burrangong Station' in late June 1860.

The reverberations of the gold rush would disrupt the tranquility of the pastoral landscape, forever altering the course of history. The alluring gleam of gold sparked a frenzied influx of prospectors, transforming the once-peaceful countryside into a bustling hub of activity. The subsequent gold rush at 'Burrangong Station' unleashed a whirlwind of change, attracting eager fortune seekers from near and far.

For stockmen like Gilbert, the newfound prosperity brought by gold mining would reshape their lives and the environment they had grown accustomed to. The tranquil existence on the cattle station would soon be overshadowed by the clamor and chaos of the gold rush. The lure of potential riches enticed men to abandon their previous occupations in search of the golden dream, leaving behind a transformed landscape in their wake.

The discovery of gold at 'Burrangong Station' marked a turning point, disrupting the serene routine of the stockmen and heralding an era of rapid transformation and uncertainty. The tranquil days of tending to cattle and the rhythms of the land would be forever altered as the glittering promise of gold held the region firmly in its grip.

The report of Gold at
Amidst the vast expanse of Lambing Flat, a stockman named Michael Sheedy, accompanied by fellow hired hands, had set up camp. Lambing Flat, known today as the town of Young, served as a sheltering ground for ewes during the lambing season. It was during their search for horses that the men found themselves joined by an American cook, whose experiences in goldfields back in California had granted him a keen eye for the precious metal.

As they traversed the land, the observant American remarked upon the striking similarity between Lambing Flat and the goldfields he had previously worked in America. Intrigued by the prospect, he decided to conduct a small experiment. Gathering a handful of dirt using a spade and depositing it into a trusty Billy can, commonly employed for boiling water, he added water and carefully swirled the contents. To their astonishment, the water revealed a dazzling display of gleaming gold.

This serendipitous discovery unleashed an unparalleled frenzy that swept through the region, forever altering the fate of John Gilbert. The allure of gold and the ensuing excitement that gripped Lambing Flat became another step in the downfall of Gilbert. Drawn by the promise of untold riches, individuals from near and far descended upon the area, each vying to stake their claim and seize their share of the newfound wealth.

The gold rush that ensued at Lambing Flat would shape the course of Gilbert's life, entwining him with the chaos, lawlessness, and temptation that often accompanied such frenzies. The tantalizing allure of gold would ultimately contribute to Gilbert's descent into infamy, leading him down a treacherous path that would forever cement his name in the annals of Australian history.

The gold discovery at Lambing Flat was published in the 'Sydney Morning Herald on 4th August 1860 and by years end began one of Australia's biggest gold rushes. As with Victoria.

The discovery of gold at Lambing Flat swiftly drew a diverse multitude of individuals, spanning all social strata, to the burgeoning diggings. However, as gold fever gripped the masses, it also brought to the forefront a darker aspect of the times—the scourge of bushrangers. These opportunistic outlaws seized the chance to exploit the chaos, as the frenzy of gold-seeking and intoxicated miners flaunted their newfound wealth, providing ripe targets for their illicit activities.

Sheedy's remarkable find at Lambing Flat garnered significant attention, prompting an article in the local newspaper that outlined the astonishing reward bestowed upon him. The magnitude of this discovery surpassed even the renowned 1851 goldfield at Ophir, New South Wales, where Edward Hargraves had first sparked the Australian gold rush. The scale and richness of the Lambing Flat deposit stood as a testament to the immense wealth that lay hidden beneath the land.

As news of Sheedy's find spread, it fueled the fires of ambition and desire within the hearts of countless individuals who flocked to Lambing Flat in search of their own fortunes. However, the allure of gold also served as a magnet for bushrangers, who preyed upon the vulnerability of the intoxicated miners, flaunting their riches and carelessly discussing their windfalls. These lawless bandits saw an opportunity for easy plunder, further adding to the sense of lawlessness and danger that permeated the goldfields.

The unfolding events at Lambing Flat demonstrated the transformative power of gold, both in terms of its capacity to enrich individuals and attract hordes of fortune seekers, as well as its unintended consequence of inciting criminal activity. The vast wealth unearthed in this new goldfield elevated the region's significance, overshadowing even the renowned Ophir goldfield, while simultaneously casting a shadow of lawlessness that would impact the lives of all those involved, including John Gilbert himself:

For deciding on claims for rewards for the discovery of goldfields in the south-western district, has recommended that the maximum amount, £300, be awarded to Michael Sheedy, for the discovery of the Burrangong Goldfield.

Committal of
Michael Sheedy,
Authors Note: 
Michael Sheedy was born in Kilfinane, Limerick, Ireland, in 1824, the son of John Sheedy and Mary Dinan. John Sheedy was convicted of forgery and transported to New South Wales in 1826 aboard the transport ship ‘Mangles'. He petitioned the Governor of NSW in 1828 to have his family join him in NSW and arrived in 1834 aboard the Andromeda II. Michael married Margaret McIntyre at Yass in 1849. She had been born in Caven, Ireland, to John and Margaret McIntyre. Her father’s occupation was stated as a farmer. However, Michael’s wife Margaret came to a sad end when she died, on 13th August 1859, due to injuries received when kicked in the side by Hugh Smith. At the time, Margaret, whilst in a state of intoxication, struck Smith, who retaliated by kicking her in the stomach. Margaret was pregnant at the time and died from the resultant internal injuries. Hugh Smith was charged and found guilty of manslaughter with a recommendation for mercy because of great provocation. Michael was described as a ‘bit of a rouge'. In October 1851, Michael was charged with selling a stolen heifer from Patrick Kelly to ‘Martin, the publican at Yass'. Sheedy was well known in the Yass and Boorowa districts and was also a victim of Ben Hall and Gilbert in robbery. Sheedy held a butchers license for Binalong. Michael Sheedy died at Young, of heart disease, on 1st June 1880, aged 56 years and was buried in the Young Cemetery. Source - Brian James, Young NSW.

Consequently, the ramshackle town of Lambing Flat was created. As described in an extract from the 'Goulburn Herald', 1860:

The "Lambing Flat" is situated about thirty-five miles north-west from Binalong, about the same distance westerly from Burrowa, and about twelve miles south-west from Maringo; it is a granite country, with open box-tree ranges, and forms a portion of Mr White's run, called "Burrangong." The diggers expressed a strong desire that the "Lambing Flat" should be proclaimed a gold-field, and that a commissioner should be sent there.⁶ 

The proclamation for the gold field came on the 27th November 1860:

The Gold Field on Crown lands — at and in the vicinity of Burrangong Creek and its tributaries, and at Demondrille Creek, to be called 'The Burrangong Gold Field.' The date of the proclamation is the 27th day of November. A resident commissioner has been appointed in the person of Mr. David Dickson, and we understand his instructions are to reside as near to the goldfield as possible, until suitable buildings have been erected for a police camp.

William Fogg.
The news of Michael Sheedy's extraordinary gold finds at Lambing Flat spread like wildfire, attracting a multitude of merchants and tradespeople to the burgeoning goldfield. Many embarked on arduous journeys, trekking on foot from Victoria or braving the rugged paths across the Blue Mountains from Sydney. The demand for seats on coaches skyrocketed, as eager individuals sought to reach Lambing Flat and stake their claim in the golden bonanza.

The rapid influx of people created a vibrant and bustling scene at Lambing Flat virtually overnight. General stores, hotels, and makeshift shanties sprang up, transforming the landscape into a thriving hub of commerce. These establishments, catering to the needs of the burgeoning population, became lucrative enterprises akin to gold mines in their own right. Bullock drays, in great numbers, transported vital supplies and necessities for the gold-seeking populace.

Amidst the flurry of businesses, one establishment stood out in particular—a butcher shop operated by a dubious character named William Fogg. However, Fogg's notoriety paled in comparison to his partner, a charismatic and infamous career criminal who went by the name Frank Gardiner released from Cockatoo Island Prison Sydney in December 1859. Unbeknownst to many, Gardiner was actually Francis Christie, an escaped prisoner from Victoria's Pentridge Prison. His 'Ticket of Leave' status was rescinded as an absentee from Carcoar added to his aura of mystery and danger.

Gardiner, with his persuasive charisma and criminal background, played a pivotal role in transforming John Gilbert from a spirited troublemaker into a hardened bushranger and cold-blooded killer. It was under Gardiner's influence and guidance that Gilbert would embark on a treacherous path of lawlessness, forever altering the course of his life.

The convergence of these individuals—Sheedy's gold finds, the rise of Lambing Flat as a bustling center of commerce, and the shadowy partnership between Fogg and Gardiner—created a volatile mix that would propel Gilbert into the realms of bushranging, where violence and infamy awaited him.

Frank Gardiner surfaced at Spring Creek Lambing Flat as the rush gathered pace. 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 with 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.

With the influx of thousands of eager fortune seekers descending upon Lambing Flat, the butcher shop operated by the unscrupulous duo of William Fogg and Frank Gardiner quickly transformed into a veritable gold mine. However, the riches they reaped were not from the precious metal but rather from the ravenous appetites of the miners. The demand for beef was insatiable, presenting a lucrative opportunity for Fogg and Gardiner.

To capitalize on this profitable market, the pair devised a scheme. Fogg would take charge of running the butcher business, ensuring a steady supply of meat for the hungry miners. Meanwhile, Gardiner undertook the task of procuring the necessary cattle. However, the origin of these cattle was often shrouded in questionable circumstances. It was widely rumored that Gardiner acquired the livestock through dubious means or other illicit activities.

The butcher shop became a thriving enterprise, feeding the voracious appetites of the gold-seeking populace. While the miners pursued their dreams of wealth, Fogg and Gardiner capitalised on their hunger, amassing a different kind of fortune through their beef sales. Yet, the shadow of their questionable practices loomed over their success, tainting the legitimacy of their enterprise.

The partnership between Fogg and Gardiner, built on deceit and opportunism, epitomised the lawlessness and moral ambiguity that characterized the era. As they profited from the miners' hunger, their ill-gotten gains added another layer to their reputation as cunning and unscrupulous individuals. Little did they know that their alliance would extend beyond the realm of the butcher shop, ultimately entwining them in a web of criminality that would have far-reaching consequences.

James Chisholm
(1806 - 1888)

Courtesy NSW Parliament.

As droves of men and families flocked to the burgeoning tent city from every direction, driven by the hope of striking it rich, eighteen-year-old John Gilbert found himself caught up in the fervor of the gold rush. The electrifying news of the precious metal discovery Gilbert embarked on his own quest for fortune. Determined to seize the opportunity presented by the gold rush, Gilbert made the decision to abandon his current employment with the influential Chisholm family.

The Chisholm family, known for their influence and standing in the community. However, the allure of the goldfields proved too irresistible for the young Gilbert to ignore. Fueled by the prospect of a fresh start, he resolved to part ways with the Chisholm's and join the swelling ranks of gold seekers who converged upon the tent city.

Gilbert bid farewell to his occupation, ready to embrace the opportunities that awaited him on the goldfields. Little did he realize that this decision would set him on a tumultuous path, one that would shape his destiny in ways he could scarcely imagine.

A fellow roustabout and horse-breaker at the time Mr Robert 'Chipp' Thompson wrote that Gilbert was a crack buck jump rider who met resistance from the Chisholm's while attempting to quit.


"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 for gold, reliable labour was a vexing problem for the large station owners who resisted to letting their hired hands quit. Gilbert remarked to Thompson that he would take any measures to gain his discharge:

He (Gilbert) was employed breaking horses by a squatter, who would not give him his discharge or his money. You had to have a discharge in those days, or you would not get work anywhere else. I was going down to the river and saw Gilbert near the road. I asked him what he was doing. He said, "I am going to stick up that squatter and get my money and discharge." I said, "Don't do that; you are only taking your own liberty away. You'd better come with me. I have more horses to break in." "No," said Gilbert, "I'll make him pay." He did stick the squatter up and tied him to a tree. Gilbert got a cheque from the man, and said, "If this cheque is not cashed, I'll come back and shoot you." However, the cheque was cashed, but a warrant was taken out for Gilbert's arrest, and he took to the bush.
James Chisholm Stations. The Squatters Act.
John Chisholm.
Gilbert also reputedly worked for the Mulholland's, who owned 'Stoney Creek Station' situated on Ready Creek. STONY CREEK STATION {Lachlan district);

Occupier, Mulholland William; area, 3040 acres; grazing capability, 250 head of cattle. The old charges were £33 8s. 9d.; the recently appraised rental is £50.

Note: There is no evidence that the warrant mentioned by Chipp Thompson was ever issued for Gilbert over the incident or served. It is also speculation that the squatter was James Chisholm as Frederick Chisholm, James' younger half brother, had an active stake in the station. Another half brother John Chisholm controlled runs as well in the Goulburn district. All three had encounters with Gilbert and Hall. Troubadour, a fine thoroughbred owned by Frederick Chisholm then in control of Groggan Station, was in Hall's possession when shot dead May 1865. However, Gilbert was employed by James or Frederick Chisholm in c. 1861.

Frederick Chisholm
1831- 1892.
By 1861, the butchering business of Frank Gardiner and Fogg had developed into a gold mine. Gardiner embraced a reputation amongst the miners and families for selling beef at a fair price to the thousands flocking to the fields. 
Furthermore, due to the high demand, the two owners needed more stock. Stock to be acquired by any means

The desperadoes go scouring the back parts of runs, and take the fat stock away in scores, and drive them off to the various diggings, where they very readily dispose of them.

Gardiner sought out some extra help in the shady youths loitering around the Lambing Flat. Idle young men, too lazy to have a crack at the pick and shovel in search of the yellow metal. Gardiner came into contact with one such fast and flash youth, John Gilbert. 
John Gilbert was by now, a seasoned shyster. Slick in the saddle and having a way with unruly stock. 
Gilbert was the perfect choice for Gardiner's operations. Gilbert was streetwise, plus he held intimate knowledge of the surrounding stations whose cattle often roamed unattended. Gilbert's reputation also included being a part-time bush telegraph. He was never short of a quid and lived at ease in a boarding house at Lambing Flat. Gilbert often had a sharp eye for easy pickings and informed his layabout associates of persons worth robbing. However, upon Gardiner's endorsement, Gilbert was hired to obtain cattle for the business.

A typical Goldfield
butcher's shop.
c. 1862.
In this capacity, Gilbert went about visiting cattle stations, many well known to him. He paid cash for so many heads of cattle at one station and at the next duffed (stole) a similar amount. By the time Gilbert handed the animals over to Gardiner for slaughter, they had quite a number for a moderate outlay. Gardiner also sold some stock to other butcher shops at a discount. No doubt during this time that Gilbert also came into contact with one John O'Meally, the son of sheep and cattle station owner at Arramagong Station at the foot of the Weddin Mountains 25 miles distant. O'Meally undoubtedly pitched in. Consequently, Gardiner and Fogg manipulated their advantage to undercut the other butchers. They sold the meat relatively cheaply through volume, making a fortune.

Gilbert, in particular, was for many years a stock-keeper at and near Marengo, among the inhabitants of which he was a general favourite, because of his good temper and inoffensive habits. He quitted stockkeeping and the neighbourhood of Marengo about the year 1861, was lost sight of for two or three months, and then reappeared in company with John O'Meally flashly dressed, and flush of money, turning off with a jest or laugh all questions thereon. It was during the above-mentioned two or three months that he fell into the society of, and was seduced by, that arch-villain Gardiner, the founder of modern bushranging. 

Once more, Benjamin Morgan afterwards wrote regarding Gilbert's employment by Gardiner:

Even in those days’ butchers in a country town had price wars, and a butcher employed Gilbert to buy cattle for him. For this purpose, Gilbert visited the stations. At one, he would buy so many heads of cattle; at the next one he would probably take a similar number, so by the time he handed them over to the butcher, he had quite a number for a very small outlay. Of course, the butcher could then sell meat very cheaply, and he made a fortune.

In turn, o
Mrs Betsy Toms.
c. 1920.

Courtesy NLA.
ne of the first residents to the Burrangong/Lambing Flat rush was Mrs Betsy Toms and her husband. She reminisced in her twilight years how she knew Gardiner (then under an alias) well and how she had held a soft spot  for him in her heart, declared:

He kept the butcher's shop near to our place, and his was the only place at that time where you could get a piece of meat in reason. The prices up to then, and elsewhere, were outrageous and the fooled police said he must have got his meat on the cross (stolen) to be able to sell it at the price. He was the only one willing to make a fair thing out of it. Certainly, there was a lot of cattle duffing – the whole district was alive with it.⁹ 

Gardiner's Lambing Flat butcher's shop was raking it in. It is beyond question that Gardiner made the acquaintance of two local graziers commencing a new venture at a farm called Sandy Creek forty miles to the north. 
They were Ben Hall and John Maguire, who also drew cattle from the adjacent Wheogo Station of their wives' stepmother. They herded cattle to the lucrative Burrangong field. With beef in high demand the two cattlemen were as well striking it rich as the demand from the many butcher shops increased. However, through this association with Hall and Maguire, Gardiner would commence a torrid love affair with the wife of the two men's brother-in-law John Brown and their respective wives' sister. She was Catherine 'Kitty' Brown. A vivacious blonde beauty.

Furthermore, Ben Hall's closest friend, Daniel Charters, also came into contact with Frank Gardiner, John Gilbert and John O'Meally. Charters' older sister Margaret Feehiley operated the vast Pinnacle cattle station upon which she had the license for a public house. The Pinnacle cattle station was adjacent to Hall's Sandy Creek. The Feehiley hotel was a well-known watering hole of Gardiner, Hall and Maguire. Two local Lambing Flat identities had stopped over at Feehiley's for a drink and came face to face with Frank Gardiner:

short time after up came three mounted troopers, and it was proposed that Torpy and Greig should accompany them and see if they could not overtake the robbers at a house kept by a Mr. Fielding, or Feeley, which it was thought they frequented. They rode up to Feeley's, and one of the party immediately recognised Gardiner's horse tied up to the fence. The constables rushed into the house and searched, but no robber was to be seen. Upon going outside the door, however, one of them saw a man crouching down, whom Torpy recognised as the man who had just before stuck him up-that is, the man Gardiner.

Lambing Flat.
c. 1862.

Young Historical
Subsequently, Lambing Flat became a thriving gold town, with thousands filling her surrounding gullies and hills. Town crime was soon chaotic, if not overwhelming, for the small number of NSW Police and a lack of a cohesive town administration. Nevertheless, offences were widespread and atrocities occurring daily against the bane of the European miners, the hated Chinese.
In response to the troubles a new inspector arrived from Dubbo to support the officer in charge, Captain Battye, in his drive for law and order. 
His name was Sir Frederick Pottinger. Pottinger took command of the Southern Mounted Patrol. Before long, Pottinger became the nemesis of Frank Gardiner and his pupils John Gilbert and John O'Meally. Unrest targeted against the Chinese saw attacks and protests even riots occur daily. To bolster police efforts, military forces were sent in from Sydney. The 1st Battalion of the 12th Regiment was dispatched to Lambing Flat. However, the gold fever infected the regiment after arriving. Whereby, the regiment's officers and privates deserted the company—for gold.

As Lambing Flat ballooned, a number of police were recruited of varying abilities. The total police personnel at the inspector's disposal in 1861 was a sergeant-major, seven sergeants, twelve corporals, and fifty-seven mounted troopers. In addition, a foot patrol under Senior Sergeant Sanderson, Battye's right-hand man, consisted of a sergeant, a corporal, and twenty-one-foot constables. They were employed to oversee and administer a goldfield of thousands.
Cattle duffing in the surrounding district was committed on a massive scale. accompanying the crimes sporadic bushranging began to appear. Gold mining saw many fail in the search and often destitute and a large influx of weapons brought in from the old 49ers. Robbing at the end of a gun added to the anarchy prevailing on the Flat. In turn, Battye was at pains to seek assistance from landholders to prevent the likes of Gilbert, Fogg, and Gardiner from inflicting this costly crime on their stations.

Consequently, to facilitate aiding the police. A meeting of prominent squatters was called at Bathurst in 1861. These wealthy settlers were directly wearing the cost and effects of stock losses. The losses were estimated at over £19,000. The squatters supported the police but attacked the government demanding more police. Furthermore, the landowners also faced the prospect of their extensive holdings being broken up through the approaching Robinson Land Act reforms of 1861. Therefore, as well as land losses, their cattle had also become fair game. 
However, many of the settlers had strong ties with the NSW parliament and where, in fact, a few held seats in the parliament's chamber. As a result, the disgruntled Lachlan landowners now cried out for more stringent measures to prevent men such as Gilbert and Gardiner's bold method for the procurement of the prized beef;

History proves that all nomadic people are notorious for their disregard of the law of 'meum and tuum'. Mr Clements stated at this meeting that within the past three months upwards of not less than £4000 worth of cattle had been stolen in three drafts from an area of no more than sixty miles’ square, and the fact set forth in the petition, that "cattle and horses of the aggregate value of £15,000 have been stolen within the last twelve months from the stock-holders on the Lachlan River alone." It is a well-known fact that numbers have grown wealthy upon this infamous traffic and that the wages of a wide-spread profligacy and debauchery are regularly earned from this source. No wonder, therefore, that the stockholders of the squatting districts have taken the alarm, and are endeavouring to organise a comprehensive movement to stem this crying evil. With us, the wonder has been that action has been so long procrastinated, and that something was not attempted years ago towards the suppression of this species of crime. The surest remedy for this state of things would be the location in the neighbourhood or some scores of honest agriculturists, whose good example might be the means of purifying the moral atmosphere of the Lachlan.¹⁰

To appease the squatters' concerns and check the prolific theft by Gardiner types. Captain Battye, a career soldier turned police officer, took the bull by the horns. As a daring, efficient officer, he was unafraid to dirty his hands. Battye resolved to grab cattle theft and the rising acts of bushranging by the throat. Battye and Captain Henry Zouch encouraged the farmers to become more proactive. Battye placed a letter to all auctioneers and station proprietors in the 'Burrangong Courier' asking for their cooperation in systematically registering their stock brands to 'curb this growing evil' in assisting auctioneers. A copy of the letter follows;

Captain Battye.
c. 1870's
Courtesy NLA.
LAMBING FLAT. -- "We have received the following letter from Captain Battye enclosing a "Notice to Stockholders," (which will be found in our advertising columns). We hope it, will draw the attention of settlers and others to the very important matter to which it refers. A little attention on the part of those to whom the "Notice" especially given, would greatly assist the gallant and energetic Captain, in his design "to check at least", if not "effectually stop the crime of cattle stealing:"

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.

However, nothing passes one's eye in the rough and tumble-goldtown. The miners knew that Fogg and Gardiner were mixed up in cattle duffing and Gilbert was the lifter. Other butchers vying for the shillings had no trouble alerting Battye's troopers of the suspect produce sold on the cheap by Fogg and Gardiner. Gardiner, before long, was exposed as a Ticket of Leave absconder from the Carcoar district. 
The known cattle stealer was quickly sought out by police after discovering the outstanding warrant. The exposure and police interest promptly ended the butchering business. Beef of questionable origin was found in a raid of Foggs shop and Gardiner nabbed.
"He was arrested at his shop at Spring Creek, brought into Lambing Flat, and charged at the Gold Commissioner's Court with horse-stealing." 

In fact, without realising it, Battye had for a brief moment Frank Gardiner in police custody;  However, the self-assured Gardiner convinced the authorities that they had the wrong man. Confusion reigned as in a self assured style Gardiner produced one of his many alias':

Frank strenuously denied the charge but told his friends that though he was innocent, he believed the man whom, he bought the cattle from was not. Gardiner was let out on bail, and as he could not establish his innocence without the evidence of the man who sold him the cattle.

Map showing O'Meally's
Shanty, the haunt
of Gilbert.

Courtesy Des Sheil.

Released as Fogg went bondsman and put up £400, Gardiner fled back to Fogg's on the Fish River. However, after shifting his swag with a tip off, John Gilbert shot through, taking refuge in the centre of criminal activity in the Lachlan district. The Weddin Mountains.


Gilbert new mate, John O'Meally's family, kept a hotel of notorious reputation in the Weddin Mountains. The pair stood bar at the O'Meally tavern situated on Emu Creek. The Inn was beautifully positioned, for 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 it 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.

The relationship between John O'Meally and John Gilbert was marked by a fiery dynamic, characterized by frequent disputes and clashes. Their interactions often escalated into squabbles where each would accuse the other of lacking gameness, or bravery in facing challenges.

The spirited nature of their relationship was a testament to the strong personalities and competitive spirits of both O'Meally and Gilbert. Their fiery exchanges and disagreements were fueled by their individual desires to prove their mettle, establish dominance, and assert their courage in the face of adversity.

These disputes likely arose from the intense and perilous circumstances they found themselves in as they delved deeper into a life of bushranging. The dangers and risks they encountered would undoubtedly test their resolve and bravery, leading to moments of conflict and tension between them.

The accusations of lacking gameness
(Courage) served as a reflection of the high stakes and the need to prove oneself in the dangerous world of bushranging. In a life fraught with peril and constant scrutiny, the willingness to face challenges head-on and display fearlessness held significant importance for bushrangers like O'Meally and Gilbert.

Their fiery relationship and disputes highlighted the complex dynamics and individual personalities that shaped their experiences as bushrangers. These clashes, while indicative of the challenges they faced, also underscored the unwavering determination and fierce spirit that propelled them through their notorious careers.
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 stood between 5ft 10in and 6ft, with reddish-brown hair or Auburn colour, and as in the style of 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
 Davis' encounter
 with police and
MaGuinness' shooting.
As well as chumming up with O'Meally. Gilbert as Gardiner's newest recruit came into contact with many of Gardiner’s closest cohorts, John Peisley, Fred Lowry, John Davis, and the McGuinness brothers, the Fogg's and the Taylor's.

Note: Johnny MaGuinness was shot dead, believed to have been ordered by Gardiner for not helping Davis during the police encounter at Brewers Shanty on April 1862. Davis was wounded four times by detective Lyons, Kennedy and Sanderson and then captured. (See articles right.)  

By all accounts, John Gilbert was described as a remarkably handsome young man, bordering on possessing feminine features. His physical appearance at 5ft 10in slim and agile with a shock of blonde hair, light grey laughing ęyes, round nostrils, thick lips garnered attention, and he took great care in maintaining a stylish and well-groomed image. Known for his fashionable attire and meticulous attention to detail, Gilbert had a penchant for adorning himself with various trinkets and accessories.

Beyond his striking looks, Gilbert possessed a keen intellect and a quick, humorous wit. His ability to charm and entertain others with his carefree attitude and lighthearted nature earned him a considerable amount of popularity, particularly among the local ladies. Many women were captivated by his charm and found themselves enamored with him, leading to romantic relationships and a legion of admirers.

When Gilbert took breaks from his bushranging exploits, it was widely observed that he enjoyed indulging in the company of these adoring women. The allure of his charismatic personality and dashing appearance made him an object of fascination and desire.

Gilbert's charisma, sense of style, and amorous escapades added an intriguing layer to his persona. These qualities, combined with his audacious bushranging activities, further solidified his status as a legendary figure of the Australian Bushranger;


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 in the style of a fast young squatter or stockman and was particularly flashy in his address and appearance.

Others would remember the happy go lucky stockman who on one occasion when turned bushranger met former stock-keeper friends working cattle at a station Gilbert once worked where they lamented Gilbert's new career; 'Yass Courier':

Tailing cattle near there they rode up to him, and Gilbert, who knew him, said "How are you?" got off his horse and had a long talk (offering not the slightest violence), and asked after many whom he had formerly known when he was an honest, light-hearted stock-keeper at the Gap and Mullhollands, but from whom, through his present vile career, he is now widely separated. Whenever any of the good folks around here talk of Gilbert — or 'Johnny,' as they generally term him — the conversation nearly always winds up with a shake of the head and saying "Well, Well, whoever would have dreamt of that quiet, civil-spoken, respectable-looking young fellow, turning out as he has; oh! it is all through that villain Gardiner.

NSW Police Description.
To add to John Gilbert's character on several occasions, John Gilbert employed the cunning tactic of disguising himself as a woman, adorning himself in elegant attire, to evade police scrutiny. The unconventional approach allowed him to effectively elude capture by law enforcement.

His ability to convincingly pass as a woman in disguise speaks not only to his physical attractiveness but also to his resourcefulness and adaptability. The disguise allowed Gilbert to exploit societal expectations and biases, using them to his advantage as he outwitted those who sought to apprehend him.

In describing Gilbert's allure, John Maguire, a contemporary figure of the time, drew comparisons between Gilbert and John O'Meally. Both men possessed a magnetic appeal, captivating others with their charm and captivating personas. Gilbert's attractiveness and charismatic presence, combined with his audacious escapades as a bushranger, cemented his status as a figure of legend and intrigue.

Gilbert was smarter still, he was a handsome young chap, with a clean feminine face–no side whiskers –wore his hair long. Frequently, after he took to the roads, he used to visit the towns disguised as a girl riding side-saddle.

In his twilight years, Mr. James Haddon, a bullock operator from Lambing Flat, fondly reminisced about his encounters with John Gilbert, even in the most unconventional circumstances, under the barrel of a six shooter. Haddon recalled with warmth and nostalgia how Gilbert had the remarkable ability to blend seamlessly into the bustling crowds at the district race tracks while disguised as a woman.

According to Haddon's recollections, Gilbert's mastery of disguise allowed him to immerse himself in the vibrant atmosphere of the racecourse, evading detection and scrutiny. Gilbert's uncanny ability to adopt a feminine guise enabled him to navigate the crowds undetected, enjoying the exhilaration of the racing events while remaining hidden in plain sight.

Haddon's fond memories painted a picture of Gilbert as an enigmatic figure, effortlessly slipping into different roles and personas to outwit authorities and blend in with the local community. This facet of Gilbert's character showcased his resourcefulness, adaptability, and audacity in defying conventional expectations.

While the details of these encounters may have faded with time, Haddon's recollections painted a vivid picture of Gilbert's skill in using disguise to his advantage, further cementing his reputation as a cunning and elusive bushranger.:

He remembered clearly, seeing Johnny Gilbert in a lady's riding habit, riding a beautiful black horse side-saddle on the racecourse at Young. Gilbert had a veil drawn around his face as was the fashion in those days.

During another robbery at Old Junee in 1863 at local identity Mr Hammond's farm Gilbert commented about wearing female apparel was recorded. 'Freeman's Journal', 23rd September 1863:

He met riding along the road a tall ungainly looking woman, and from what afterwards occurred firmly believes it to have been no woman at all, but Gilbert disguised as one; if so it is not the first time Gilbert has adopted female apparel, for I'm credibly informed that when he stuck up Hammond's station at Junee, one of the servant girls, there was making some remarks upon his long and well-oiled hair, and he laughingly observed "I'm obliged to wear it long for I've sometimes to dress in women's clothes, and I intend to escape out of the country in petticoats" It is well known that he attended the last Young races, mounted on horseback, disguised in a lady's riding habit, hat and feather. His smooth, good looking face much assists him in this respect.

In addition to his skills in disguise and his ability to blend in amongst crowds, John Gilbert possessed formidable fighting prowess. He was renowned for his ability in boxing and had the capacity to hold his own against any opponent. Gilbert's fighting attributes were not to be underestimated, and his quick reflexes and agility made him a formidable force.

Witnesses, such as John Maguire, discovered firsthand the lightning-fast speed and dexterity that Gilbert possessed when engaged in a bare-knuckle fight. Gilbert's lightning-quick strikes and nimble footwork proved to be a formidable combination, leaving his opponents, in this case Maguire stunned and often overpowered. He possessed a raw strength and a determination that made him a force to be reckoned with in physical altercations.

Gilbert could use his fists well, as I knew to my sorrow, for we had had a big encounter over at the Flat, and I got the worst of it.
Gilbert's skill as a fighter further added to his reputation as a tough and resilient bushranger. That ability to hold his own in physical confrontations highlighted his tenacity and resilience, characteristics that likely contributed to his success in evading capture for an extended period.

In the reminiscences of Mr. Ted Taylor, a longtime resident of Forbes, he recalled a particular incident involving the bushrangers and an encounter between John Gilbert and a stable hand known as 'Towny'. This event took place at the Dog and Duck, a well-known hotel owned by Tom Higgins, a trusted associate and close friend of the infamous bushranger Ben Hall.
According to Taylor's account, tensions escalated between Gilbert and 'Towny,' resulting in a confrontation. The details of the encounter were not provided, but it is clear that a clash occurred between the two individuals.
The incident serves as a reminder of the volatile and unpredictable nature of the interactions involving bushrangers during that era. The close-knit relationships among the bushranging fraternity, as well as their connection to local communities, often led to encounters that ranged from camaraderie to conflict.Taylor's recollection sheds light on the dynamic and potentially confrontational relationships that existed between bushrangers and individuals within the communities they frequented. These encounters further underline the precarious nature of life during that time, where chance meetings and clashes of personalities could lead to significant repercussions in the tumultuous world of bushranging:

I recollect the bushrangers coming to the Dog and Duck Hotel and holding up the house for the time. It was the bushrangers' habit, when holding a place up, to have all people employed there under their observation. One of the grooms, who went by the name of "Towny," refused to obey the orders of the outlaws, and threatened Gilbert with a pitchfork. Gilbert drew his revolver, and "Towny" remarked, "That he was very brave when he was at the right end of a shooting iron, but that, without it, he would be different.

Gilbert was very good with his hands, and Ben Hall told him to put away the gun and try the "mitts." They fought as fair as two men could, and Gilbert won the day; Then good-humoredly, he said — "Drink, all hands, and I will pay." The bushrangers didn't rob anyone there that day, and they did not molest Higgins.

Police Gazette, July 1862.
John Gilbert's accent was tinged with his original Canadian tone, where his brother Charles, who was in NSW as John broke out into bushranging, spoke with a soft Canadian accent and was often mistaken for an American. A police description of Charles after his leaving NSW and an escape from Pottinger, was noted in November 1862:

He is a particularly fine square-built young man, aged 23 or 25, about 5 feet 11 or 11 1/2 inches high, about 12 stone weight, fresh brown complexion, high cheekbones, brown eyes, hair dark, wiry and long, worn native fashion, largemouth, fine teeth, small downy moustache, and tuft at the tip of the chin. He described himself as a Yankee, arrived some years ago in a revenue cutter; he seems, however, more like a native. He has evidently been in New York and was also well acquainted with the Victorian goldfields. He is very well informed and of good address. He rode well and was mounted on a half-broken three-year-old. When arrested, he had boils all over his hands and arms; he then gave the name of D'Arcy. He is now supposed to be with John Gilbert.¹¹ 

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 was issued, two mounted troopers were dispatched by the presiding magistrate Beardman to apprehend Gardiner. 


Constable Hosie and Middleton discovered their man, and after a brief fight, where both officers were wounded after cornered Gardiner opened fire. Gardiner rushed the wounded Middleton but was overpowered and severely beaten with the officer's silver headed riding whip. Handcuffed and guarded by Hosie who had been shot in the head. Middleton rode off for assistance. Consequently 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. Peisley was also named but it was also disproved.

After escaping from Fogg's farm, Frank Gardiner sought refuge in the Wheogo/Weddin Mountains area near the Lachlan River. During his recovery from the injuries sustained in his encounter with the police, Gardiner found solace among his numerous friends and admirers. Among them, Catherine 'Kitty' Brown, a stunning young woman with golden locks, held a special place in his heart.

However, it should be noted that Catherine 'Kitty' Brown was a married woman, and her connection to Gardiner added a layer of complexity to their relationship. She was not only married but also the sister to the wives of two local squatters, Ben Hall and John Maguire, who were acquainted with Gardiner. This familial connection further intertwined their lives and contributed to the unique dynamics at play.

Despite Kitty's marital status, she captivated Gardiner with her beauty and became a significant presence in his life. Their bond, forged amidst the rugged backdrop of the Australian frontier, represented a complex entanglement of emotions and loyalties.

The story of Frank Gardiner and Catherine 'Kitty' Brown serves as a reminder of the intricate relationships that unfolded in the midst of the bushranging era. Their connection, despite the challenges and complications it posed, added a touch of romance and human emotion to the narrative of bushrangers' lives, highlighting the multifaceted nature of the individuals who inhabited this notorious chapter of Australian history. Kitty would follow Gardiner to the ends of the earth.

Following Frank Gardiner's narrow escape from the police, he quickly resumed his activities as the notorious "King of the Highwaymen," accompanied by his trusted associates John Gilbert and John O'Meally. Together, they embarked on a series of bushranging operations across the Bland, Lachlan, and surrounding districts, asserting their dominance over the Queens Roads.

While Gardiner recuperated, John Gilbert took on an active role, roaming extensively and seizing opportunities for hold-ups wherever they presented themselves. He maintained a connection with the O'Meally shanty at Arramagong, often coming and going alongside his fellow roughneck, John O'Meally. Gilbert and O'Meally collaborated on various robberies, with their first victim being a local employee of Mr. Curren who was bailed up near the O'Meally shanty.

During this encounter, O'Meally, known for his rough demeanor, subjected the individual to physical aggression as a means to expedite the surrender of both his own and Mr. Curren's money. O'Meally also took the opportunity to appropriate the victim's boots for himself.

These early acts of robbery and aggression demonstrate the ruthless nature of the bushranging activities carried out by Gilbert and O'Meally under the guidance and leadership of Frank Gardiner. Their exploits would continue to unfold, leaving a trail of notoriety and fear in their wake as they operated outside the boundaries of the law, challenging authority and preying upon unsuspecting victims.

The collaboration between Gilbert, O'Meally, and Gardiner formed a formidable alliance that posed a significant threat to the peace and security of the regions they targeted.; 'The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser' Saturday 22nd February 1862:

We are informed that a person in the employment of Mr Curran travelling from Lambing Flat to Forbes a short time ago was stopped by bushrangers and robbed of £80 the property of his employer; £6 his own property a valuable horse and the very boots off his feet. The robbers first took his own money, which chanced to be in his pocket, and then his horse. The man attached great value to this animal and offered them £20 if they would return it. They demanded at once that he should tell where the money was secreted when he confessed it was in his boots. They immediately knocked him down, dragged them off his feet, and left him in a destitute condition above described. 

After successfully carrying out their robberies, John Gilbert and John O'Meally would often seek refuge at O'Meally's bar, likely in an effort to establish an alibi for their actions. This strategic move aimed to create a sense of plausible deniability by placing themselves in a public space where they could be seen and accounted for during the time of the robberies.

Retreating to O'Meally's bar served as a means to potentially deflect suspicion and provide an alibi if authorities were to investigate their involvement in the criminal activities. By mingling with other patrons and engaging in typical bar activities, Gilbert and O'Meally could create an impression that they were simply ordinary individuals socializing and enjoying themselves, rather than being involved in illicit pursuits.

Such practices were not uncommon among bushrangers during that time, as they sought to navigate the fine line between criminal activities and maintaining an appearance of normalcy. Establishing an alibi was crucial for their evasion of the law and ensuring their continued freedom to carry out further robberies and acts of bushranging.

The choice to retreat to O'Meally's bar demonstrates the calculated nature of Gilbert and O'Meally's actions, highlighting their awareness of the need to protect themselves from suspicion and potential law enforcement scrutiny. This practice allowed them to maintain an air of innocence while continuing their illicit activities as bushrangers. There presence appears from reports to be well known to the police but for reasons unknown were never acted on regardless of the strong information nor the descriptions given by victims.  John Maguire writes:

Both these men at this time kept a shanty at the point of the Weddin Mountains, on the road from Lambing Flat to Forbes, Gardiner used to frequently hang out there.

Reunited with the rejuvenated Frank Gardiner, the duo of John Gilbert and John O'Meally embarked on a spree of wholesale robberies targeting the roads that connected to Lambing Flat and the Forbes gold diggings. Their operations expanded in scope and audacity as they sought to exploit the wealth and vulnerability of those traveling to and from the goldfields.

Taking advantage of the gold rush frenzy and the influx of fortune-seekers, Gilbert, O'Meally, and Gardiner targeted unsuspecting travelers on these crucial routes. Armed with their guns and a reputation for daring, they struck fear into the hearts of those unfortunate enough to cross their path. Their robberies were characterised by swift and calculated actions, often leaving their victims stunned and helpless.

The brazen nature of their operations challenged the authorities and instilled a sense of unease and insecurity among the gold fields. The notoriety of Gilbert, O'Meally, and Gardiner grew as their robberies escalated in frequency and scale, solidifying their positions as some of the most infamous bushrangers of the time:

Gardiner, the bushranger, is again on the road between this and Lambing Flat, and on Friday stuck up and robbed two drays, taking provisions and spirits, as also clothing for his winter supply, as he termed it.

While Gilbert and O'Meally were the core of Gardiner's activities the trio were accompanied occasionally by John 'Warrigal' Walsh the young brother of Gardiner's lover Kitty Brown. Frank and his men often held as many as 40 people captive at a time.
Rather than simply carrying out straightforward robberies, Gardiner and his men created a peculiar spectacle. They transformed the captive situation into an almost festive affair, where food, drink, and entertainment took center stage. Fiddlers would play lively tunes, and the captives were compelled to partake in forced merriment, with dancing and revelry becoming the order of the day.

Amidst the revelry, the victims would ultimately be stripped of their possessions. The seemingly jovial atmosphere masked the underlying threat and coercion exerted by the bushrangers. This distinctive approach to their crimes further added to the notoriety and audacity of Gardiner's gang, leaving an indelible impression on those unfortunate enough to experience their exploits firsthand.

The combination of terror and unexpected celebration during these encounters exemplifies the complex nature of bushranging during that era. It showcased the cunning tactics employed by Gardiner and his gang, as they manipulated the psychological state of their captives while ruthlessly seizing their belongings at the end of a revolver:

Gardiner himself stuck up 32 people at a station, took all their money, and—there being a fiddler among the crowd proposed a dance, selecting a lady well known on the Indigo for his partner; the company amused themselves for some time when he took round the hat for the fiddler, but on being reminded that he had all their money, he made him a handsome donation. Of course, before leaving, he kissed his partner. From what we hear of his dashing appearance, his noble steed, and splendid horsemanship, we should not be surprised to hear ere long of people — ladies especially — going out of their road for the pleasure of being robbed by him the same as they used to do in the days of Gardiner's great prototype — Claude Duval.

It was stated that Gilbert with Gardiner so held the Queens roads that all one needed to be unmolested was a ticket to pass:

It asserted that the bushranger Gardiner is supplied with information by numberless accomplices both in the township and along the roads; a journalist has had it said of him that he can secure any friend from Gardiner by giving "passes." 

During his early days of stock work, John Gilbert formed a significant relationship with a man who would become both a friend and, at times, an adversary—Ben Hall. 
The exact origins of their relationship have been subject to speculation, but according to a local squatter's report in 1863, the two men had known each other for several years prior to the notorious Eugowra Gold Robbery of 1862.

Their acquaintance can be traced back as early as 1860 when Gilbert arrived at Murringo and began breaking horses. It was during this time that he became well acquainted with Ben Hall. In the company of Hall, Gilbert took part in expeditions across the Lachlan Plains in search of unbranded cattle, commonly referred to as Duffers.

The partnership between John Gilbert and Ben Hall would go on to leave an indelible mark on the history of Australian bushranging. Their collaboration in numerous criminal endeavors, including the infamous Eugowra Gold Robbery, showcased the combined skills, audacity, and camaraderie that defined their infamous careers as bushrangers

Duffer, it simply means clean-skinned animals, which are appropriated by whoever can get them into a yard.¹² 

These forays also included snagging wild horses whilst camping out on the Bland and Lachlan Plains. Evidence suggests that Ben Hall may have even this early dabbled in the sticking up game.
The squatter writes in 1863 as Gilbert's bushranging blossomed and he had assumed a leadership role following Gardiner's disappearance from the Lachlan in late 1862:

About four years since, whilst taking some cattle overland from my station on the Lachlan, I fell in with young Hall, who was then stock-keeping for his brother near Bundaburra. He, O'Meally, Gilbert, and some others had all just returned from their usual trip after cattle, and on my asking them what luck they had met with, they replied "they had camped out for three nights at a place called Humbug Creek, but had met with little or no cattle, only in one mob there were a few duffers.¹³

The axis of evil was coming into being. It was also recalled of Hall and Gilbert when fencing for Mrs Walsh of Wheogo Station on one Sabbath and were both admonished by a minister of the cloth doing his rounds:

On one occasion the same preacher was travelling near the residence of Hall, on a Sunday, when he discovered Ben, Gilbert and others doing some fencing. Reminding them of the sacred character of the day, the preacher was surprised to learn that they did not know it was the Sabbath. They referred the point to a lady who happened to live in a homestead near, and on the statement of the preacher being confirmed they, immediately ceased their work for the day. Facilus descensus averni.

NSW Police Gazette
April 1862.
However, with Gardiner commanding the Lachlan, it was reported that:

There is still a great deal of sticking-up in the vicinity of the Western gold-fields. Gardiner, the bushranger is plundering on the road between the Lachlan and Burrangong. 

Gilbert was Gardiner's constant companion, which also included John O'Meally and others such as John Davis. 
John Davis was a carpenter by trade and had built the O'Meally's hotel at the Weddin, joined Gardiner, a frequent visitor in highway robbery. 'Freeman's Journal' 9th April 1862 of the Gardiner sticking-up process. Reported as the modern Claude Du-Val:

As Gordon's coach on its down trip from the Lachlan was being tooled along a good road by Fred Newman, about twenty-five miles from the diggings, two horsemen suddenly appeared on the road with an imperative "stop" to the driver. Twigging a 14-inch Dean and Adams in the hands of the speaker, Fred, received orders to drive into the bush. They stopped at about half a mile and demanded the money of the passengers—£2 from one, and £30 with a watch and ring from the other, being luckily their only booty. They were exceedingly polite and disdained to touch the silver. A number of private letters for different people in Chiltern and Rutherglen were returned to the bearer, on his saying he believed there was no money in them. It is almost unnecessary to state that Gardiner and his mate were these very polite highwaymen. The man robbed of the £30, &c., now a mate of Tom Watson's, of "jeweller's shop" notoriety, was formerly a mate of this very Gardiner's in some other walk of life. The following is -the colloquy that ensued between them: — J. M’Auley. "I did not expect this from you, Frank." —Gardiner: "I expected to get £1000, or at least £400 or £500, from you, Jim." — J. M'Auley: "Well, give me back my watch and ring." — "Not now— I will return them another time." The gentlemen of the road then shook hands with them and departed. It will thus be seen that the fact of a mate of the man that had the first 'jeweller's shop' on the Lachlan being in the coach was the cause of its being stuck up— so much for notoriety of any description.

The 'Modus Operandi' described in the above robberies by Frank Gardiner became Gilbert's future trademark as well. The majority of robberies often left a victim with his shillings to continue his journey. It was rare that Gilbert, Hall and O'Meally stole shillings. 
Gilbert taking the road become the quintessential bushranger and, to a degree, an entertainer during his robberies. Gilbert's leadership of the Lachlan bushranger's following Gardiner's eventual departure only passed on to Ben Hall after Gilbert's many long absences, and the press in due course referred to 'The Boy's' as Ben Hall's gang. (Jeweller's Shop is colloquial for a gold mine lease.)

Great Eastern Hotel, Forbes.
Hangout of John Gilbert, Hall,
Gardiner & Co.

c. 1862.
Gilbert frequented the many Forbes hotels and dance hall's. A favourite was the Great Western then owned by Charles MacAlister. A pub where mayhem ruled. However, MacAlister wrote in his golden years his account of his friendships with Gardiner and his entourage, who regularly visited Forbes.

Ben Hall and Gilbert were only suspected of a bushranging “kinship” with Gardiner. For though several of them had been before the Forbes Bench on suspicion (Ben Hall and O’Malley were repeatedly brought up), the law had failed to sheet the guilt home to them to the satisfaction of the local J.’s P. 

Gilbert and O'Meally were  frequent visitors not only to Forbes but also to Maguire and Hall's property Sandy Creek. The pair in Gardiner's company hovered in the area as frank maintained his affair with Kitty at Wheogo homestead under the nose of her husband John Brown. The visits possibly with James Taylor occurred before and after the breakdown of Hall's five-year marriage to his wife, Bridget. A marriage breakdown many who knew the amiable grazier believed was responsible for Hall's turning bushranger. The taking of Hall's son Henry when Bridget ran off with Taylor was no doubt the straw that broke the camels back:

Gardiner the bushranger, is again on the road between this and Lambing Flat, and on Friday stuck up and robbed two drays, taking provisions and spirits, also clothing for his winter supply, as he termed it.

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, at the death of Gilbert. Robert Hewett, one of the 1862 victims, failed to name or comment that Gilbert as one of the robbers at the inquiry. A robbery led by Gardiner that cost Hewett a pretty penny: 

I reside in Burrowa; I was formerly a storekeeper at Wombat, and when there knew the deceased John Gilbert; he was frequently in my store, and I saw him almost every day for about four months; I saw him last on the 10th of March, 1863; I have seen the body now shewn to the jury, and identify it as the body of John Gilbert; I have no doubt whatever of the fact.

R.B. Mitchell letter
condemning Hall's
Nonetheless, on April 14th, 1862, Gilbert and Gardiner, together with the aforementioned Ben Hall and another individual named John Youngman, an employee of Hall, 'bailed up' the bullock drays belonging to William Bacon (Benkin) outside Forbes. Brandishing their revolvers, they pilfered a substantial amount of goods. Edward Horsenail, an employee of Bacon's, later testified at Hall's remand hearing stating

I noticed two men ride out of the bush, and cried out to Bacon, "Look out, Bill, here are the boys!" they came up and presented their revolvers, and ordered us into the bush.

During the robbery, Gardiner ordered both Hall and Gilbert to round up two passing riders who subsequently were robbed and held with the dray operators:

The man I supposed to be Gardner, noticed two men on horseback passing along the road and ordered the prisoner, (Hall) with another, to go and fetch them in; they did so; they bailed them up also, and took a saddle from them.

Gilbert was in due course referred to as Gardiner's Lieutenant following the capture of Gardiner's good mate and current Lieutenant, John Davis at Brewers Shanty, Little Wombat by Police officers Lyons, Kennedy and Sanderson. The encounter and gunfight saw Davis severely wounded, shot four times, 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. Gardiner's bushranging continued. The Golden Age 4th June 1862:

Bushranging, it seems, is again the order of the day at Burrangong. Several parties have been stuck up and robbed on the road between the Wombat and Petticoat Flat. One man was eased of £16 17s., besides his pipe and knife, and was told at the same 'time to thank Frank Gardiner for leaving him his tobacco and two fourpenny pieces, which were returned to him.

NSW Police Gazette
May 1862.
Gilbert first featured in the NSW Police Gazette in May 1862. He robbed a Mr William Bell, a butcher from Stoney Creek, Lambing Flat, of 3s 9d, which was subsequently returned to the unfortunate victim. This might have been because Gardiner and Gilbert knew him from the butcher's trade or, more likely, they simply didn't accept silver, a trait observed in many of their future thefts. Shortly after this, Gilbert, alongside two others believed to be John O'Meally and Gardiner, robbed four German miners.

NSW Police Gazette
June 1862.
Gilbert fully embraced his life as a bushranger. He garnered a reputation for his audacious attacks, where he was consistently reported as composed, cool, and unflustered. Years later, a photograph surfaced, thought to have been in the possession of a descendant of William Fogg. The image, possibly taken at Lambing Flat in 1861, features Gilbert and Gardiner. However, there is some speculation that the person identified alongside Gardiner as Gilbert could potentially be John Davis.

Frank Gardiner &
 John Gilbert. 
c. 1862.

However, the modest proceeds from the robberies weren't sufficient for Gardiner to abandon his life as a bushranger. His ambition was to abscond from NSW with his lover, Mrs. Brown. Consequently, he needed funds, and he turned his gaze towards the often unsecured and regularly scheduled gold escorts.

John Gilbert was on the verge of participating in one of the most audacious heists in Australian history. He would take part in Frank Gardiner's boldest theft - the 'Forbes Gold Escort' robbery, located at Eugowra, 25 miles east of Forbes. Gilbert was involved from the very beginning. The plot was conceived and developed over a period of two weeks, with planning sessions held at the homes of John Maguire and Ben Hall at Sandy Creek station. These residences also served as the meeting and departure points for the gang. Gardiner scheduled the robbery for June 15th, 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
 Royal Mail."
John Maguire was thoroughly involved in the pre-planning, even though he didn't participate in the actual robbery at Eugowra. Nevertheless, he was completely aware of who participated in the attack. The gang included the leader Frank Gardiner, Gilbert, Ben Hall, John O'Meally, Daniel Charters, Alex Fordyce, John Bow, and Henry Manns. They embarked from Sandy Creek on June 13th, 1862. While on their journey, Gilbert, known for his fondness for revolvers, misplaced one. He intended to turn back to retrieve it, but Gardiner advised, "Leave it. It is your own fault for not securing it."

However, as the men navigated their way to Eugowra, Gardiner had earlier sent Hall and Charters and possibly Henry Manns to Forbes to acquire some equipment. The items included six double-barrelled guns, food supplies, an American tomahawk, blacking, comforters, caps, and a powder flask. Charters later recollected this, though conveniently at the eventual trial of four of the robbers, he failed to mention that he and Ben Hall were the ones who actually procured the supplies, constantly obscuring his true role in the upcoming events.

Friday we got within six miles of Forbes, and camped there; afterwards, we went on within a mile and a half of the police camp at Forbes. We camped again, and Gilbert went into Forbes;" "Gilbert returned about one or two in the morning; he had three other men with him; one of them "Charley," I had some knowledge of. One was called "Harry," and the other "Billy;" I saw him in the Sydney Police Office since; Gardiner said shortly after that "no man's name was to be mentioned, but it did not matter about him.

Charters continued;

When the men came they had six guns, and the other articles which were sent for; they had some rations also, and we consumed part of them. Heard Gilbert say he had great trouble in getting the guns and the axe, as there was only one store where he could get one. One gun with a rifle barrel and a nice carved stock, Gardiner chose for himself." "Gilbert cut down the fence at Roberts', and we went on towards Eugowra; Gardiner rode mostly behind the others; I asked him where we were going; he said he'd tell me by and bye; we camped on the Saturday night between Eugora and Campbell's. On the Sunday, Gardiner rose early and ordered the arms to be loaded.

Arriving without incident at the Eugowra Rocks and where, before the coach's arrival near dusk on that fateful Sunday 15th June 1862, Gardiner took advantage of some passing bullock drays to create an obstacle for the oncoming coach to negotiate and marked out the firing distance:

Gardiner hid his men behind some large rocks by the roadside, having first forced a number of carriers to block up the road with their wagons. The long-expected coach came in sight. "Make way for the Royal mail," cried the driver John Fagan, as he noticed the teams on the road. There was no answer, and again he repeated the order. There was no answer but the echo of his voice. 

Escort Coach.
 The photograph was taken in
1917 by W H Burgess JP.
(See Authors Note.)
As Fagan's voice trailed off, the crack of gunfire echoed through the air. A flurry of bullets battered the gold escort coach, splintering wood and injuring several unsuspecting policemen, including the man at the helm, Sergeant Condell. The sudden and intense gunfire startled the horses, causing them to bolt and overturn the stagecoach. Under a hail of bullets, the outgunned escorting troopers managed to drag their wounded comrades from the maelstrom of gunfire and retreated into the nearby undergrowth. Upon seeing the advancing bushrangers, a panic-stricken Fagan hastily tried to make an exit, pleading to the marauders, "Don't shoot me, for God's sake." The injured policemen then made their way to Mr. Hanbury Clements's farm as the bandits, Gardiner, Gilbert, and their cohorts, pillaged the coach and made off with over £14,000 worth of gold and cash - equivalent to approximately $5,307,200 in today's value.

Authors Note: The image above right was believed photographed in the yard of Dr Roberts property in Moulder St Orange 1917 and is of a Concord Coach, the property of Ford & Mylecharane. John Fagan, the driver at the time of the robbery, stated, "I had four horses in my coach; I lost some of the horses in the attack; they were the property of Ford and Co,; Phil. Mylecharane was one of the owners." The reverse of the photograph states, "This photograph was taken by me, W.H. Burgess of Calias, Bay Road, North Sydney. It is of a stage coach owned by Cobb & Co., and was stuck-up in the vicinity of Euganda by Gardiner's bushranger gang. At the time it had the gold escort with it. The bit of wood accompanying this photo was taken by me from the body of the coach as it stood in 1917 in the backyard of Dr. Robert's of Moulder St., Orange. W.H. Burgess." (Source: 'A Yankee Mounted Trooper' by Dick Adams.)
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.

Authors Photo.
Cock a hoop, the exultant cries from the robbers echoed amongst the rocks as they loaded their newfound treasure. They then made a slow, methodical departure from the scene of their victory, crossing Mandagery Creek and the Lachlan River. John Gilbert and his companions stuck together, riding in single file en route to Wheogo Hill, a location 60 miles from the scene of their robbery. On the way, Gardiner, well aware of the local police black trackers' expertise, directed Charters, who was leading the group, to "go as crooked as you can, so as to bother the trackers." This was their strategy as they made their way towards Wheogo Hill to split the fruits of their successful robbery.

Hanbury Clements
c. 1881.

Private Source.
The gang arrived undetected at Wheogo Hill, situated next to Wheogo station and the home of Kitty Brown. They began to divide the gold and cash, which amounted to 23 lbs of gold each and £435 in cash. While on the hill, John Warrigal Walsh served as the supply link. After dividing the loot, several of the robbers, including Ben Hall, left the hill. John Gilbert stayed with Gardiner, along with Fordyce, Charters, and Walsh. Needing more capacity to carry the surplus gold with one pack horse, Gardiner sent his lover's brother to Ben Hall's home, which was equidistant to Kitty's. However, historical accounts suggest that Gilbert was sent on this errand. He was allegedly the rider that the police sighted approaching Hall's home, who then panicked, turned, and fled, alerting the others as he hurried up Wheogo Hill. Nevertheless, evidence strongly points towards Warrigal as the rider. However, Charters named Gilbert. This was proven to be false since all of Charters' testimonies at the Escort trial were obscured. Charters blatantly lied under oath, naming Gilbert as the one who left the hideout to reduce his own guilt and to protect Hall and O'Meally. Unfortunately, his testimony has been misused since then. John Maguire's account of the occasion also stated that he knowingly lied, well aware that it was Walsh who had fled from the police. For his part in providing the necessary supplies, Walsh received £100 from the men.
Maguire claimed as he knew the hideout and no doubt received some of the loot said. "Gardiner in referring to young Walsh, "Here's the boy, He's got to have something." The others agreed that my brother-in-law was entitled to something. So they-gave him £100; in notes, all fivers. The boy had never seen so much money in his life before, and he was the proudest in the whole company."
The spurious comment of Maguire's on Charters at Hall's. Charters had reputedly been having an affair with Elen Maguire while John Maguire was held in custody in Sydney appears vindictive. Maguire and Elen divorced soon after.

It was to Hall's, not my place, that Charters, not Gilbert went. Hall had told them previously that they could get them. It was from here that the police galloped after Charters to the mountain.

Sadly for the 'Warrigal' his devotion to Gardiner would cost him his life.

As Pottinger and his posse made for Eugowra, Sanderson decided to take another route were suspicion brought him to Ben Hall's home. Arriving at Hall's, his tracker Hastings spotted a rider fleeing. Thinking it was a bush telegraph, the police gave chase. In 1903 Sanderson recalled in 'Old Times' his action and of reaching the Wheogo camp:

Charles Sanderson.
c. 1896.
On leaving Forbes I took four men and a black tracker, with the object of moving in a different direction, as it was only natural to suppose such a large party of bushrangers would separate. I camped by the banks of the Lachlan, and as there were no tracks on the opposite bank, I presumed some of the men had made for the Weddin Mountains. When we reached Ben Hall’s house near Wheogo, the tracker noticed a man riding from it for all he was worth. Surmising this was a bush telegraph, we followed him immediately, and in course of time, his tracks brought us to a camp, which had evidently been abandoned in a hurry. We pushed on as fast as we could and were soon rewarded by seeing a packhorse in the trees ahead. When we came up with it we found four bags of gold, containing 1239 ounces, strapped to the saddle. It was then dark, and as we consequently could follow the tracks no further with them in that condition, we returned to Forbes, consoling ourselves that if we hadn’t caught anyone, we had recovered part of the gold.

When on Wheogo Hill Sanderson noted Warrigal's supply chain:

At the top of the mountain I found the remnants of a camp; there were sixteen empty bottles; some contained remnants of port wine, some of gin, some of rum, some of ale; there were biscuits about and tea with milk in it; I did not see how the robbers could have got milk on the spot without going to the stations round about; there were remnants of beef, bits of bread! pieces of green hide tied to bushes, and bits of red tape.

Upon hearing the sound of approaching troopers galloping, Gilbert quickly mounted his horse and took off, leaving Gardiner, Charters, Fordyce, and Walsh atop the hill to deal with the pack horse carrying their loot from Eugowra. With the police hot on their trail, Gardiner was forced to abandon the pack animal, which was then triumphantly seized by Senior Sergeant Sanderson.

Daniel Charters
c. 1862.
Coloured by me.
For the first time in his lawless career, Gardiner panicked after making a catastrophic mistake. Fearing the imminent arrival of the police and hindered by the pack-horse slowing their escape, Gardiner released the reins and galloped away, leaving his own, Charters', and Fordyce's share of gold and cash on its back. He called out,
Go your own roads, and look after yourselves this command was promptly acted upon, the other three promptly, disappeared in various directions. 
However, had Gardiner maintained his composure in the dwindling daylight, with the approaching darkness potentially aiding his escape, his bounty might have been preserved. Sanderson would later remark on Gardiner's foolishness, stating that he never got within five miles of the fleeing bushrangers.

Gilbert was long gone from the scene and shortly after joined his brother Charles. Extract from 'Sydney Mail’ on 28th June 1862:

The chase down the hill again, over rocky ground, and through dense scrub, was then resumed for about twenty miles, during which, at a gallop for most of the distance, the blackfellow never once missed the track. They then come to a point where the robbers divided into three parties, and by the greatest good fortune, Mr. Sanderson selected the track that the pack-horse party had taken, and he soon overtook the horse laden with gold and firearms, completely done up. Though Mr. Sanderson never sighted the robbers once; it is certain that the scout warned them of Sanderson's approach with his men, and in their flight, the robbers thought him much nearer than he actually was, as they abandoned the pack-horse without attempting to make away with the gold, though Mr. Sanderson tell me he does not think he was ever nearer than five miles of the robbers, and they would have had ample time to unload the pack-horse before he could overtake them.

Charles D'Arcy Gilbert,
with daughter.
c. 1870s

Never before published.
Private Source.
In the weeks leading up to the Eugowra robbery, Charles Gilbert had journeyed to NSW and the Lachlan in search of his wayward brother, arriving around May 1862. He had spent some time gold mining in New Zealand with his older brother, James Gilbert, and they had departed Dunedin in February 1862. Under their father's orders, Charles was tasked with bringing his youngest brother back home to Victoria and extricating him from the bushranging lifestyle. Upon his arrival at Young, Charles began to search for his brother. Charles comments:

Previous to leaving New South Wales, I had some intercourse with my brother John, but had never while there heard anything prejudicial to his character; but my suspicions were awakened by what I heard alleged against some of his associates, and I therefore deemed it my duty to persuade him to abandon them and that colony, and accompany me to New Zealand via Victoria.

Charles was able to connect with his younger brother John. While there's no direct evidence suggesting that Charles participated in any illegal activities related to his brother's criminal conduct, it's quite likely that Charles was aware of Gilbert's involvement with Gardiner and O'Meally in the criminal sphere. Charles stayed in the Lachlan region while John Gilbert orchestrated the gold heist at Eugowra, and might have even waited until his brother's wealth was divided, given his awareness of the situation. After escaping from Wheogo Hill, Gilbert kept a low profile, probably at O'Meally's shanty - who had also left the hideout earlier - for a few weeks. During this time, he and his brother Charles prepared for their lengthy trip back to Victoria.

Following the discovery of the hideout at Wheogo Hill and Gilbert's decision to leave Gardiner to fend for himself, it was revealed that Gilbert's actions had caused a strain and hostility between the two bushrangers. As a result, it's believed that they parted ways and never interacted again, as referenced in an article from a Queensland paper in 1864:

It appears that he (Gardiner) is prepared to challenge detection by his late mates, except, perhaps Gilbert, with whom he had a difference before leaving New South Wales.¹⁴. 

Having deserted Gardiner, John Gilbert remained hold-up at the Weddin Mountains.

NSW Police Gazette,
18th June 1862.
A lesser-known detail about the Escort Robbery and the events of that day is that a few hours before the fateful gold coach left Forbes for Orange, two other passengers were expected to board alongside the police. These were the Police Magistrate for Forbes, Captain Brown, who was a longtime friend of Captain M'Lerie, and the Gold Commissioner for Forbes, Mr Grenfell. Grenfell had previously sent Ben Hall to Orange to stand trial for the Bacon Dray Robbery that had occurred earlier in April of that year. The two men departed Forbes on horseback. This was reported in 'The Courier' on Tuesday, 8th July 1862, which also documented the initial police activity at the start of the hunt for the gang.:

Captain Brown and Mr. Commissioner Grenfell were to have come down by the escort but owing to special instructions from Inspector General M'Lerie, they came on horseback and were some miles in advance of the escort when the attack was made. Early on Tuesday morning, Mr. Superintendent Morrisset, with a detachment of six troopers, passed through this town en route for the scene of attack; and on Wednesday morning a couple of troopers from Stoney Creek also set out for the same destination. On the arrival of the Forbes mail-in Orange, on Wednesday, we were informed that two troopers belonging to Sir Frederick Pottinger's party had returned to Forbes to obtain fresh horses, theirs being knocked up. These men report that they had tracked the bushrangers to within a short distance of Finn's public-house on the Lachlan, and within ten miles of Forbes. The rain had, however, set in, and destroyed the tracks. The black trackers could only discover the tracks of six horsemen.

It is unknown whether the gang, while waiting for the coach and before obstructing the road, observed the two men passing by. However, upon Sanderson's successful recovery of the abandoned loot, the following telegram was swiftly sent and received by the Inspector General of Police from Mr Morrisset, the superintendent of Western District Police.

Telegram to Inspector General of Police. Captain M'Lerie: Senior Sergeant Sanderson returned to Forbes yesterday with half the gold taken from the Escort on the 15th instant. It appears that when near Wheogo, Sanderson's patty saw a man at a distance riding towards them, who, when he saw the police, at once turned and rode back full gallop the police following on his track ran to the top of a high mountain, from which four others had just descended. Having one of the police black-trackers with them, the police were enabled to follow their tracks for twenty miles. The bushrangers, finding themselves so hotly pursued, let their pack-horse go, and on him was found about 1500 ounces of gold, a police cloak, and two of Terry's carbines lost by the guard of the Escort. Sanderson's horses being quite knocked up; the party was compelled to return. I start with Sanderson to-morrow or next day in pursuit. Sir Frederick Pottinger's party have not yet returned since they started.¹⁵

The press clambered for news of the sensational events over the report of the gold recovery. Every journal jockeyed for the most spectacular information or eyewitness accounts of the police's efforts pursuing the bandit's. News the entire populace hungered for. One headline ran, THE LATE ESCORT ROBBERY. THE ROBBERY OF THE ESCORT. — RECOVERY OF 1500 OUNCES OF THE GOLD:

We have already given full particulars of the cowardly attack made upon the escort on the 16th instant by a band of armed ruffians, and the few additional particulars which have come to hand shew that these men have not the slightest claim to that morbid sympathy which is sometimes evinced for men who, in the prosecution of their villainous plans, display great personal bravery. As our readers are aware, the bushrangers had arranged drays across the road so as to leave only a narrow pass close to a rock by which they were concealed. As the coach passed, six of their number fired and then drew out of range, and other six or seven discharged their volley at the escort before the police could return the fire. Two of the horses were wounded, and the team started off, upset the coach, and turned out the escort. One of the constables appeared to be mortally wounded by the overthrow. While a comrade was carrying him into the bush, they were seen by two of the bushrangers who, after uttering an obscene expression, fired upon them. One of the bullets inflicted a most dangerous wound on the already wounded and helpless man. It is remarkable that one of the balls which struck sergeant Condell tore a piece off the invoice of gold and cash transmitted under the escort— the document being at the time in the sergeant's breast pocket. This paper shows that in all there was cash to the amount of £3700, and 2719 ozs. 9 dwts. 6 grs. in gold— the cash being for the banks, and the gold for the Master of the Mint. As a matter of fact, however, the gold was also the property of the banks but was ordered to be transmitted to the Master of the Mint in the usual course of business. It was on Monday reported to the Bank of New South Wales that 1500 ounces of the stolen gold have been recovered.¹⁶

Newspapers continued sourcing the best accounts in an effort to out do each other in printing every morsel of information from any source over the now infamous Lachlan Gold robbery. Another newspaper ran the below story. Late Escort Robbery:

We have been furnished with the following letter, received by a gentleman in the city from his correspondent at Forbes. As it contains some particulars of the recovery of a portion of the gold stolen from the escort, it will perhaps be interesting to our readers - "Forbes, June 22, 1862. "Dear Sir, Inspector Sanderson arrived Yesterday, at 4 p.m., with about 1400 ozs. of gold taken from the robbers. He sighted one of their scouts near to Wheogo, and gave chase, but too far behind to get within rifle shot, and he soon disappeared. Mr. Sanderson and four men followed his tracks, by the aid of a black tracker, and came to the robbers' camp on the top of a very high hill. They had but lately left, and the remains of their meal were lying about, consisting of tea, milk, port wine, and other delicacies of the season. The chase down the hill again, over rocky ground, and through dense scrub, was then resumed for about twenty miles, during which, at a gallop most of the distance, the blackfellow never once missed the track. They then come to a point where the robbers divided into three parties, and by the greatest good fortune, Mr. Sanderson selected the track that the pack-horse party had taken, and he soon overtook the horse laden with gold and firearms completely done up.

Though Mr. Sanderson never sighted the robbers once; it is certain that the scout warned them of Sanderson's approach with his men, and in their flight the robbers thought him much nearer than he actually was, as they abandoned the pack-horse without attempting to make away with the gold, though Mr. Sanderson tell me he does not think he was ever nearer than five miles of the robbers, and they would have had ample time to unload the pack-horse before he could overtake them. The conduct of Sanderson is beyond praise, and he was most ably seconded by his men, consisting of senior constables Armour and Burke, constables Powell and Westhead, and not least, if last, his blackfellow Charley, who by merely sighting the scout when beyond rifle range followed the track at a gallop for twenty-five miles without a check. I from the first, with many others, was sure Gardner was the leader of this gang, and feel most sanguine that Sir F. Pottinger, who is yet out with a second party, will be equally fortunate in recovering the rest of the gold and notes, and bets are freely laid that within a month the whole of the gang will be captured. The reward offered is good, but should have been £200 each for the first four robbers taken. There is a feeling here that the Government is decidedly liable for the loss on account of want of proper precaution. If properly managed by Pottinger, who is still out, I firmly believe all the gold will be got. It is most amusing to us to see by the Sydney papers that an impression prevailed that Gardner was not concerned in the robbery.¹

Sir Frederick
c. 1863.
As the officer in charge of the pursuit, Sir Frederick Pottinger had turned his horse south, unaware of Sanderson's success. The Escort Robbery:

Sir Frederick Pottinger and the police are still in pursuit of the robbers, but after running the tracks forty miles, unfortunately, lost them, owing to the late rains. Up to a particular point, we believe there was little difficulty in tracking and had not the rain interfered with the pursuit, it is by no means improbable that the scoundrels might have been hunted down. The superintendent of police of the Western districts has arrived in Forbes with the intention to co-operate with Sir Frederick Pottinger but is for the time being condemned to inaction owing to the impossibility of ascertaining his whereabouts until some of the troopers return. Speculation has been very rife as to the personnel of the delinquents, not a few having fixed upon Gardiner and his gang as the perpetrators of the robbery, alleging that the direction of the tracks points to his beat; that his quietude of late was simply a ruse to lull suspicion; and that the present affair is his last grand feat prior to closing his accounts as a disciple of Turpin. On this score, we leave the public to form their own conclusions, merely premising that as mere speculation there appears to be some feasibility in it.¹⁸

How right they were.

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. Some papers refer to the tracker Charlie later found dead after Ben Hall was shot to pieces. However Hasting is widely believed to be the escort tracker.

On the arrival of the little band with the treasure-viz., a packhorse carrying about 1600 z° of gold, two rifles and a trooper's coat, they were loudly cheered, and surrounded by some 2000 people, eager to learn the news and see how affairs stood. The horses and men appeared knocked-up, the blackfellow who had served as tracker appearing the least fatigued, to judge by his self-satisfied and merry countenance.¹⁹

John Gilbert.
Enhanced by me.
The pursuit of the gold escort banditos began. Sir Frederick Pottinger split his forces into sections to cover the entire Bland, Lachlan and points further south. The original tracks led the police towards the Weddin Mountains. Sir Frederick Pottinger headed south towards the Victorian border. His assessment was that the bushrangers hailed from that state. A notable point here is that Sir Frederick along with Lyons and Mitchel was also riding with a tracker. No doubt Billy Dargin. In correspondence by newspapers writers they invariably disregarded any mention of the trackers and their assistance. 
After many days in the saddle and worn out, Pottinger duly arrived in the southern NSW township of Hay. 'Sydney Morning Herald' on the 6th July 1862; Saturday, July 6th:

INTELLIGENCE has been received, during the week to the effect that Sir Frederick Pottinger and his party of police had arrived at Hay (about 280 or 300 miles from Forbes), and that they were then probably within a day's ride of the escort robbers, whose tracks they have followed with great care. The bushrangers are supposed to be making towards the Victorian country. As they make it a rule to steal fresh horses at every opportunity, they have rather the advantage of their pursuers. As, however, the Victorian police are on the 'qui vive' along the borders, there are hopes that the miscreants will be captured, together with that portion of the gold that is still missing. The tracks that Sir Frederick were following were those of another group of miscreant's, the next telegram was sent from Deniliquin to the Inspector-General in Sydney of Pottinger's arrival at Hay, NSW; 

The following telegram was received on Tuesday, by Captain M'Lerie, from the superintendent of police it Deniliquin: "I have received a letter from Sir F. Pottinger, dated Hay, 20th June. He had tracked five suspicious men with two pack-horses within seven miles of Narrandera, near which place three of them crossed, and he believes the other two would follow and ultimately re-join them and travel down the Yanko (a creek between the Murrumbidgee and the Murray). I shall be on the Yanko this evening with my party. I know the country well; three of the men are on foot; Sir F. Pottinger, Mr. Mitchell and detective Lyons are all who reached Hay, the remainder of the party knocked up.

John Gilbert
Patrick William
Marony 1858-1939.


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 at daybreak in what they had hoped would be an uneventful ride.

John Gilbert's brother Charles later 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 possibly in fear of self incrimination. 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:

It was whilst pursuing our journey hither, accompanied by a third person (Henry Manns), with whom we had fallen in on the road, and who was known to my brother, and was to part from us a few miles further on our way, that we were stopped by Sir F. Pottinger and a posse of constables, and two of us made prisoners. John Gilbert, with affected politeness, lifting his hat, bade the worthy baronet good day.

R.B. Mitchell. 
c. 1882.
Gilbert and his two companions rode leisurely along a stock route that today is still in existence. From Traegers Lane, it crosses the Goldfields Hwy onto Campbell's stock route. (The course has not changed since 1862 and is nothing more than a dirt track today.) However, as they chattered together, they were approached by a rider going the other way. It was the 7th July 1862. As the unknown rider came up to Gilbert and Co, they had no idea that the gentleman was Mr R. Mitchell, acting Clerk of Petty Sessions at Forbes. (Son of explorer and Surveyor-General of NSW, Sir Thomas Mitchell, 1792-1855). Who was a special constable attached to Sir Frederick Pottinger's tracking party had been riding in advance of the inspector. Stopping, Mitchell engaged in conversation with the three horsemen, asking, "how far they had come" to which John Gilbert replied, "they had come from the Flat". When Mitchell first saw the three riders, he observed how well-dressed they were, noting:

They were three well-dressed young fellows, booted and spurred, with close-fitting breeches, turn-down collars, and new cabbage-tree hats, all well mounted, and leading three horses.²⁰ 

Undeterred, Mitchell turned his horse to ride alongside the three horsemen who gave the impression of not wishing to prolong the conversation when Sir Frederick Pottinger and detective Lyons rode up to join them.

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:

On Saturday evening last, acting sub-inspectors Norton and Wolfe left Forbes with a strong body of police, in consequence of the receipt of intelligence that Sir Frederick Pottinger, inspector of police, Mr R. B. Mitchell, late C. P. S. of Forbes, and sergeant Lyons, had captured three of the escort robbers, with 400 ounces of gold, and a considerable amount in bank notes. Although the movement was intended to be of a somewhat private character, everything connected with it gradually oozed out, and public curiosity was stimulated in a corresponding degree.

Yesterday morning Sir Frederick Pottinger and party, followed by the troopers, arrived in town early in the day, having stayed at Fenn's Inn, Wowingragong, the previous evening. From one of the pursuing party, we have received the following information- "After Sir Frederick and party had bid adieu to Messrs Cropper, Clements, and the other gentlemen who so praise worthily assisted in tracking the bushrangers from the scene of the reconnoitre, Sir Frederick's party prosecuted their inquiries at sundry places, as far as Nerandarra, and then on to Lang's Crossing place (Hay), on the Murrumbidgee, where they arrived about a fortnight ago, and stayed a day to rest.

Their horses were, by this time, completely exhausted, a great portion of the country over which they had travelled being vast barren plains, without a blade of grass, apparently for hundreds of miles, and presenting nothing in the shape of herbage but saltbush. During this part of their expedition, Sir Frederick frequently heard some of the fugitive robbers being in front of him. Sometimes he would arrive at a station from which good horses were missed, poor or fatigued ones being left in their stead; and he feels convinced that three of the robbers have effected their escape into Victoria. The plan of their retreat appears to be to divide into parties, of whom three travel together along the roads, carrying the booty, while reserves of greater strength keep near at hand, concealed in the bush and resolved to retrace their steps, although tolerably certain that a section of the party had made their way over to Victoria with part of the booty.

On Monday, 30th June, they commenced their retrograde movement, and on the following Monday had just left the Merool Station, where they called for refreshment when about half-past one o'clock, and just as they had lost sight of the place, they met three well-dressed young fellows, booted and spurred, with close-fitting breeches, turn-down collars, and new cabbage-tree hats, all well mounted, and leading three horses. Mr Mitchell, who first addressed them, asked how far they had come and was answered by one of them that they had come from the Flat, having left it three days previously. As they showed no disposition to prolong the colloquy but appeared anxious to push on. Mr Mitchell returned with them until they met Sir Frederick, who was about two hundred yards behind, and who addressed one of them to the following effect:-'' By the bye, that is a good horse you are riding; can you show me a receipt for him?" Upon this, the man addressed let go the horse he was leading and put his hand in his pocket as if to search for the receipt, but at the same moment, and as quick as lightning, struck spurs into his horse, sprang over a log, and the next moment was seen dashing through the bush at a pace which defied pursuit.

As two remained behind, and the pack-horse which the fugitive had cast off, Sir Frederick and Mr Mitchell drew their revolvers and ordered the men to stand. Having handcuffed them, and secured the cast-off the horse, they started for the Merool; and one of the fellows on his way attempted to escape by darting underneath his horse's belly and making for his led horse, but was baulked in the attempt. Having arrived at their destination, one of the first steps was to search the swags upon the led horses. In one of which were found some tea, sugar, and clothing, and in a dirty flour bag 242 ounces of gold. From one of the prisoners £2 14s, cash was taken, and from the other £135 in notes. The party remained at the station one day and night, keeping guard over their prisoners, no information respecting their absconding mate could be obtained from the prisoners.

By Sharpe,
The Canberra Times,
Escaping from Inspector Pottinger, John Gilbert showcased his exceptional horsemanship by embarking on a remarkable feat. Despite the fading light, he rode at full speed, pushing himself and his horse to cover a distance of 60 miles across plains and scrublands, navigating obstacles such as jumping creeks. Remarkably, Gilbert accomplished this journey in under ten hours, demonstrating his agility and skill as a horseman.

Upon reaching the Weddin Mountains, Gilbert wasted no time and quickly assembled a rescue party to aid his brother Charles and Henry Manns, who were being held as prisoners by the police. Aware of the limitations of the police's mobility and their lack of preparedness for an attack, Gilbert devised a plan to intercept the troopers along the anticipated route of their travel.

The rescue party, likely consisting of individuals such as O'Meally, Ben Hall, and potentially Patrick O'Meally and other associates connected to the gold heist, mounted fresh horses and retraced Gilbert's earlier route. Riding through the night in anticipation of freeing Charles Gilbert and Henry Manns, the gang eventually arrived at Sproules Timoola Station. There, they held the household captive and readied themselves with their weapons for the impending encounter with the troopers.

This daring rescue operation exemplified the resourcefulness, strategic thinking, and audacity of John Gilbert and his associates. Their ability to cover long distances swiftly, plan effectively, and execute intricate maneuvers illustrated the prowess of the bushranging gang as they defied authority and sought to liberate their comrades from custody

When they reached Sprowle's Station, they forced the occupants, two women, together with a couple of travellers, to go inside and lie low. They rested their horses and loaded their weapons.

Temora (Timoola) Station
Pottinger, Lyons, Mitchell and Tracker (Possibly Dargin) with their two prisoners left Quandary Station, and proceeded leisurely towards Forbes. The newspaper article below continues with the astonishing encounter and gunfight between the bushrangers and the troopers;

On the following morning started on the road, sergeant Lyons leading, with the prisoners handcuffed, and mounted on two of the worst horses, Sir Frederick and Mr Mitchell bringing up the rear. In this order, they arrived at Mr Aymer's, Quandary Station, thirty-five miles from the Merool, whence they departed on the following day with the intention of proceeding to Mr Cole's station. Nothing worthy of note transpired during the first twelve miles of the journey, but after they had travelled that distance, and when within about 200 yards of Timoola, four men with blackened faces and red caps rushed out of a dense scrub, at an angle of the road, each armed with a double-barrelled gun and a brace of revolvers; and bellowing out "Bail up," almost at the same instant, pouring a volley into the party. Almost simultaneously, three others similarly attired fired upon Sir Frederick Pottinger and Mr Mitchell, Lyons' horse, which had received one of the balls, reared up and throwing his rider, galloped into the bush, with his revolver attached to the saddle, thus leaving him powerless. At this moment, three of the men dashed forwards to the prisoners and released them. The contest here became fast and furious, the odds being greatly in favour of the bushrangers, several of whom crouched among the scrub, ran to and fro, taking deliberate aim and pouring shot after shot upon the party, uttering as they did so the most frightful yells and imprecations. One, in particular, bellowed out to Sir Frederick that he knew him and would quickly dispose of him, at the same taking a deliberate aim with his piece, but fortunately without effect, whilst he, in turn, wheeled round and returned the well-meant compliment with his revolver. Four or five exchanges had now taken place until Mr Mitchell was reduced to his last shot and Sir Frederick little better off when the former proposed that they should rush on and charge their adversaries.

Mr Aymer's,
Quandary Station

c. 1890.
To this proposal, however, the principal object of which was to rescue Lyons, who had disappeared from the the scene, and, it was feared, was in the hands of their assailants, Sir Frederick demurred, seeing its utter hopelessness against such fearful odds, consisting moreover of reckless miscreants who appeared bent upon taking life. To beat a retreat, therefore, and save the gold, appeared to be the only course open; and the two now on the field turned their horses and galloped back at racing pace to Quandary a distance of twelve miles, which they accomplished in about forty minutes, Mr Mitchell minus his hat and a richly-mounted pistol. In the heat of the contest, one of the bushrangers repeatedly screamed out at the top of his voice for their horses, which, it appeared, were tied up to a paling fence, near the house at the neighbouring station, but one of the balls having struck a paling and shivered it with a crashing noise, the horses took fright and ran off into the bush, and to this circumstance most probably were the retreating party indebted for the safety of their lives and treasure. In their hope to obtain assistance at Quandary, they were disappointed, but the services of a man were procured, who guided them by a bush track to Timoola the scene of the late reconnoiter. Here they were rejoiced to learn that Lyons was safe and uninjured, and had started with Mr Sprowle, the proprietor of the station, for Quandary, to ascertain the particulars of their fate. On their way they met two travellers who had breakfasted at Quandary with them, from whom they received the important intelligence that they were hailed in their journey by a body of fine-looking black-fellow's, who was ensconced in a scrub, one of who beckoned to them with his rifle, asking whether the troopers were behind, and where they last saw them. Having satisfied themselves upon these heads, they ordered their informants, upon pain of immediate death, to lie face downwards upon the ground, and in this position, they remained for ten minutes before the police with their prisoners arrived, and the battle commenced. From these men, they also ascertained that each of the bushrangers was armed with two double-barrelled guns and a pair of revolvers, and were provided with a bag of ounce balls.

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
Gunfight opposite
Mrs Sproules


My Photo, 12/3/20.
When the news of the confrontation hit the telegraph wires. The colony was gobsmacked at the effrontery of the bushrangers. As citizens rummaged through the newspapers for up-to-date accounts of the audacious rescue of the two captives. It was suspected that between seven and eight attackers were involved in the bailing up of Pottinger. However, this number was refuted by Charles Gilbert's own account of the rescue, who claimed that four were involved:

Before reaching the place to which they were escorting us, our custodians were attacked by, four armed men only, and not by seven, as stated in the papers on the authority of the police. (I say on the authority of the police, as I had several opportunities afterwards of hearing one of them on oath declare that to be the number.) The result of this collision was the transfer of our persons to the charge of those who were less apprehensive of our "levanting" than our guard just relieved, for they proceeded to release us at once from our "physical restraints". You must not infer from what I have just stated that I wish it to be understood that the members of the police force engaged in the scrimmage have told a wilful and deliberate falsehood. Far from that; charity to our fellow men-aye," although dressed up in a little brief authority," constrains me to say it has arisen from the suddenness of the attack, producing a slight obliquity of mental vision, by which they saw merely "double."

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
later life.
Another extract and graphic account regarding the affairs of that day, highlighting the escape of Gilbert and the attackers: 

From an equally authentic source, we subjoin some further details, particularly as to the rescue of the prisoners; "The plan of the retreat of the robbers, after securing their booty, seemed to have been to divide into parties, of whom three travelled together along the roads, carrying the spoil, while reserves of greater strength kept near at hand, concealed in the bush. Having secured his prisoners, Sir Frederick Pottinger took them back to the Quandary Station, which they had just left, and sent word of what had happened to Deniliquin and Wagga Wagga. On the following morning, he again started with the prisoners, who were tolerably communicative. Turner said the man who had bolted carried the arms, having two loaded revolvers, and they made him cashier. Sir Frederick marched them on quietly all that day and the next day (Wednesday), till about one o'clock, when they reached Mr Sprowle's station, on the Levels, but, the house being hidden from view by a large, clump of young gum and fir trees, they were not aware of its proximity. Mr Lyons was in advance, conducting the prisoners, both manacled, and with their horses (now the worst in the party) tackled together, Sir Frederick Pottinger and Mr Mitchell following, in double file, about ten or a dozen yards in the rear, when three men, armed with double-barrelled guns, suddenly emerged from the bush, in front of Lyons, and shouting "Bale up, you b_" fired upon him. His horse, shot in the neck or breast, reared up, and, in the attempt to manage the wounded beast and get at his revolver, Lyons lost his seat and fell to the ground.

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.

Sir Frederick
They waited till he returned, and, in the meantime, gleaned from the inmates that at the time of the attack there were only two women in the house, one young and one elderly person, who had been warned by the ruffians not to venture out lest they should be hurt; that outside were two travellers, who had been baled up, and were compelled to lie under the palings, surrounding the house, with their faces downward; and that to the palings were hung the ruffians' horses, which, during the affray-terrified, it is supposed, by a shot from Sir Frederick's revolver splintering one of the palings all broke away, and galloped off pell-mell. Sir Frederick, who has reason to believe he wounded, at least, one of his assailants, had heard a fellow calling out impatiently for the horses to be brought, exclaiming that they would " Never be able to take the b-without them;" and, no doubt, his own safe retreat from the affray, with Mr Mitchell, is owing to the providential circumstance which occasioned the stampede of the robbers’ horses. Mr Sprowle had heard the robbers swear, by all that was impious, that Sir Frederick should never take the recovered gold to Forbes; and one of the travellers who had been baled up, under the palings, afterwards stated that orders were given by the leader of the band for some of the bullets (of 1 oz. weight), which he said he would no longer rely upon, to be cut into four, which was accordingly done forthwith, and their guns were loaded with the slugs. The band had, in addition to the guns and revolvers with which they commenced the attack, a large bag full of loaded guns; and, furthermore, a carrier, who was baled up, very soon after the retreat of Sir Frederick, by two men on horseback and three on foot, near Colwell's, for provisions, positively asserts that one of that party was Gardiner whom he knows well; from which, and other circumstances which have come to his knowledge, Sir Frederick Pottinger feels perfectly confident that Gardiner has been a participator in the whole affair.²²

The verbal vitriol toward Sir Frederick Pottinger may well have been by Ben Hall, who Pottinger arrested within weeks of the rescue. 

Furthermore, during the adrenalin-charged atmosphere of the gunfight, Inspector Pottinger fought to retain the prisoners. But in a ten-minute fight, volley after volley poured down on them from Gilbert and Co. Sir Frederick Pottinger, seeing retreat as the better part of valour. Then, finally, retired, reaching the nearest homestead's safety. Pottinger sent a rider post-haste to Wagga Wagga 50 miles away. Sending a further series of telegrams to Inspector General M'Lerie in Sydney and waited for a response. 
The press remarked:
The telegraph wires to the metropolis were busily employed sending information to the Government and the Press."²³ 
The telegrams and those of Pottinger's relief column led by Captain Battye read as follows. The first dispatch is from Sir F. Pottinger, Lachlan, to the Inspector-General of Police, Sydney, and is as follows on the link below: 
Freeman's Journal
Wednesday 16th July 1862

Captain Battye.
c. 1880's.
'The Empire' newspaper reported this article below in regards to the escape of John Gilbert, who at the time was not mentioned by name as the escapee but was revealed in due course. The article below also reports Captain Battye's departure as well as mentions falsely the belief that Frank Gardiner was involved at Sproules and the few however, who believed rightly that Frank Gardiner led the gang at Eugowra:

It is stated that one of the attacking party is the man who escaped at the time of the capture of the two robbers by Sir P. Pottinger, and it may be supposed that he made arrangements for the rescue. On riding off with the men who were prisoners, the leader of the gang intimated that the party would return and fight for the gold and money that had been secured by the police. Sir F. Pottinger has entrenched himself and awaits the arrival of assistance from our camp. It ¡s confidently believed here that, in the event of an attack, Sir Frederick will hold the gold and money, and beat off the bushrangers. Captain Battye and all the available force left here at one a.m., yesterday, Friday, to succour him at Beckbram's station, about four miles off. The bushrangers are in the vicinity of Gardiner's old haunts, and it is believed by many that he headed the rescuing party. At the same time, few suppose that he had anything to do with the cowardly attack-volley after volley having been fired from behind rocks upon the comparatively defenceless troopers.²⁷

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 regarding their actions in response to the attack is as follows;

Forbes, Lachlan Diggings,
14th July 1862.

Detective Lyons has the honor to report, for the information of Mr. Inspector Harrison, that about 1 p.m., Monday, 7th July instant, when en route from Lang's Crossing-place, Hay, on the Murrumbidgee, to Forbes, along with Sir F. Pottinger and Mr. Mitchell (son of Sir Thomas Mitchell), we arrested Charles Darcy, alias Gilbert, and Thomas Turner, alias Manns, charged with robbing the gold escort at Eugowra on 15th June 1862. On searching them we found 213oz of gold and £135 in notes upon them. We took possession of their five horses. The arrest took place near Arrah cattle station, belonging to Mrs. Hardy, on the Merool Creek, Levels Country. There we met three men, mounted, each leading a pack-horse. On being accosted, one of the men pretended to recover the halter of his horse that fell from his hands. Taking advantage of this circumstance, he darted into the scrub and escaped (this man turned out to be Johnny Gilbert); the other two men we secured, and the property (gold and money) above referred to was found upon them.

The following day we reached the Quandary station, and the day following again (viz., the 9th instant), when within about 20 yards of Sproule's dwelling, on the Merool Creek, seven men rushed from behind a clump of heavy scrub, each having double-barrelled guns, and cried out, 'Bail up, you b------s. At the same instant, they fired a volley into the police. Three of them fired at Detective Lyons, who was leading in front, having the prisoners on horse-back, handcuffed, holding a halter attached to the prisoners' horses in his left hand, and guiding his own horse with his right hand.

When the volley was fired the horses got frightened; and Lyons was violently thrown from his horse and temporarily stunned, but soon recovered, and tried to catch his horse, which he saw in the distance. The horse was shot in the neck, but was able to run fast, and got amongst the bushrangers' horses that were tied up to a fence. The £135 in notes found on Manns was in Lyons' monkey jacket pocket, and, with other things, strapped on the front of the saddle, and his revolvers in a holster attached to the side of saddle, all of which fell into the hands of the marauders. After they moved away with the prisoners I found the handcuffs broken and covered with clots of blood, as if an axe had been used. Sir Frederick Pottinger and Mr. Mitchell, after firing some shots, retired to Quandary Station, 12 miles from the place of rescue.

Some of the bushrangers cried out, 'Don't let the bl--dy police have the gold.' 'Description of Offenders (rescued). — Charles Darcy, alias Gilbert, about 24 years of age, 5ft 9in high, stout, and well built, prominent cheekbones, dark-brown hair, blue eyes, will have marks wrists of handcuffs having been recently broken off as if with an axe. Thomas Turner, alias Henry Manns, about 20 years of age, 5ft 9in high, slight build, sharp face, blue eyes, will have marks on wrists of handcuffs having been recently broken off as if with an axe. Both of these men wore knee-breeches and boots. The man who escaped into the scrub was dressed similar to these above described. — I have, etc.,

P. LYONS, 'Detective, 1st Class.
Mr. Inspector Harrison,

Detective Office, Sydney.
NSW Police Gazette, 1862.
In the summer of 1862, specifically on the 24th of July, a peculiar incident occurred that raised more questions than answers, subsequently propelling a narrative which spurred a sharp criticism towards the newly instituted police system.

Only seventeen days had passed since the infamous bushranger, Gilbert, had managed to free his brother and their companion Manns. A daring escapade that had turned the trio into an object of fascination and dread in equal measures.

This scenario had subsequently inspired an unnamed correspondent, commonly referred to as the 'Wag', for his sarcastic wit, to pen a rather thought-provoking piece in 'The Empire' newspaper. His biting sarcasm and incisive commentary, turned his attention to the alleged gun battle that had transpired between the bushrangers and the police.

His perspective on the incident was one of scepticism, subtly hinting at a narrative far removed from the official reports. With reports of bullets flying haphazardly, the Wag found it suspicious that the only casualty from the entire ordeal was Lyon's horse. The absence of any other injuries or damage was a curious anomaly that did not escape his keen eye.

In his article, the Wag applied his signature style, lacing his words with a heavy dose of sarcasm that teetered on the edge of mockery. He expertly drew attention to the disparity between the reports of the gun battle and the actual results, adding a layer of humour to the strange situation.

Yet, the Wag's jests had a deeper purpose, serving as a subtle yet potent criticism of the newly established police system. It had been a mere four months since the police system's inception, and already it was riddled with stories of inefficiency and incompetence, as highlighted by the curious case of the gun battle.

The Wag's portrayal of the incident, while amusing to many, underscored the deeper issues plaguing the nascent police system. The lack of substantial results from such a reportedly fierce gun battle suggested a lack of competence within the ranks, an issue that the Wag pointedly brought attention to.

This incident and the Wag's commentary on it, served as an early indicator of the shortcomings of the new police system. It added to the growing voices of discontent and raised questions about the efficacy of the newly implemented police force. Little did the Wag know, his satirical take on the incident would set the tone for a broader conversation about law enforcement reform in the days to come.
'The Golden Age' Thursday 31st July 1862:

The conclusion we have come to is, that revolvers, rifled carbines, double-barrelled guns, and firearms in general, are the most harmless, things in existence - especially in the hands of those who know how to use them. Trooper LYONS'S horse did not appear to have been aware of this, for he "galloped off into the bush," and has not since been heard of. This, however, is not the worst of it, for we are gravely told: "he carried off the bank notes (£135) with him!" Are even the horses in league with GARDINER? What particular reason there was for intrusting to equine care the bank notes which "are said to have been taken from the "young men with boots and spurs, close-fitting breeches, and turn-down collars," we are unable to say. The four-footed thief, however, got clear off with the money. Also, he succeeded in taking away Sergeant LYONS'S revolvers, - a matter perhaps of little consequence, as they were not very likely to be of any use to their owner. We feel rather pleased than otherwise that the horse ran away, for, if he had remained, the return of the killed, wounded, and missing would have been nil. As it is, the absence of the horse affords a certain amount of corroborative evidence, however slight, that something actually did occur at the place and time stated.

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.

John Gilbert
Coloured by me.
Following the daring rescue conducted by John Gilbert, which saw the release of two captives, the group involved in the operation, suspected to include John O'Meally, Ben Hall, Patsy Daley, Patrick O'Meally and their cousin Downey, rapidly dispersed. Each took varied paths, all leading back to their common sanctuary, the Weddin Mountains.

Adding an element of victory to their escape, the men managed to acquire new horses during the skirmish, compensating for the loss of their original mounts. However, the gold that Sir Frederick Pottinger had held onto eluded them despite their threats. After their daring venture, the men dispersed, each to his own course.

John Gilbert and his brother Charles continued bravely on their intended journey to Victoria. They found their way to 'Coliban', a goldfield situated on the fringes of Bendigo, lying along the historic Coliban River. Notably, this area was the former childhood home of the infamous Frank Gardiner. Here, they were reunited with their elder brother, James Gilbert. Meanwhile, Henry Manns made his way back to his old stomping grounds near Borrowra, NSW. However, his freedom was short-lived; by December 1862, he was apprehended at Murrumburrah and executed in March 1863.

Laying low for several weeks, the Gilbert brothers made contact with their family members in the Taradale district, located some 25 miles from Bendigo. They then set sail from Port Phillip Bay, heading to the South Island of New Zealand and aiming for the Otago district of the Dunstan Goldfield, located approximately 135 miles west of Dunedin.

This relocation was driven by a concerted effort by John's family, who wished to convince him to renounce his bushranging lifestyle. They hoped that this new chapter on the Otago Goldfields would represent a fresh start for all of them.

The story of their escape from Sir Frederick Pottinger, their homecoming in Victoria, and their subsequent move to New Zealand's South Island was vividly detailed by Charles. His account offers a fascinating insight into their adventures and the motivations that spurred their decision to abandon their homeland for a new beginning.

Continuing our journey to Victoria, J. E., (James Gilbert?)., J.G., and I, when we arrived, at the Coliban, I immediately wrote to the postmaster at Forbes, requesting him to forward to me a registered letter which had reached the office subsequent to my leaving that place, and it was not till I had written repeatedly that it came to hand; so you can gather from this fact that, had I felt conscious of having violated the laws of that colony, or had a suspicion of criminality on the part of J.G., I would hardly have taken a more effectual, method of publishing my whereabouts. After staying, here five or six weeks, we proceeded to New Zealand, where we were engaged in mining, for some time.

Together again in Victoria. The Gilbert brothers set about the preparations for the move to New Zealand, a country that Charles had departed from earlier in February of 1862:

I, therefore, resolved to return to Victoria, en route to New Zealand, having been in the latter place before, and only having left it the preceding February.

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 letter was written by his father regarding his son's wayward path:

I will here avail myself of the occasion to say that I am well-advised that John Gilbert was too fully sensible to the extent to which he had already outraged parental feelings when he first entered on so vicious and reprehensible a course of life and knew therefore in so far as I was concerned his conduct was barely susceptible of aggravation. But whatever may be the nature and extent of his lawless aggressions on society, he abstained from the solicitation of his parent to participate in his ill-acquired gains, the acceptance of which would have made me the abettor of his crimes. I have the melancholy consolation of holding him guiltless of this atrocity.²⁸

Gilbert, having returned to the family unit and linking up with older brother James, and no doubt cajoled, as mentioned above, by his father, then gold mining in the Coliban and Kangaroo Creek vicinity. The brother's conversation with their father, who was undoubtedly aware of the fiasco with Pottinger, looked to their old digs in New Zealand to bring their wild brother John back into the fold. In September 1862, Gilbert's father was noted as a miners representative requesting a field for the mining communities leisure;  'The Herald' Friday 26th September 1862:

Mr. W. J. Gilbert, on behalf of the miners of Coliban and Kangaroo Creek, in the Taradale district, waited yesterday upon the Commissioner of Lands and Survey to apply for a piece of land as a miners' common. He stated that they were denied the use of the farmers' commons in the neighbourhood, and in support of his application he produced fifty miners' rights, to show that the miners were at work in the locality. Mr. Duffy said instructions would be given to Mr. Harcourt, the district surveyor, and if the facts turned out as stated, the request would be complied with.

Steamship, City Of Hobart.
 c. 1862

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. Next, 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. As such Mrs Musgrave provided a fascinating account of John Gilbert's trip to New Zealand, claiming in the following conversation with Gilbert recounting his move to New Zealand. The twist was that John Gilbert made the crossing disguised as a woman.

Sarah Musgrave
c. 1920's.
Courtesy Junee Historical
Mrs Musgrave relates her conversation with Gilbert, where he talks of his attempt to give up the 'Bushranging Game' and how under a woman's  disguise, he travelled to New Zealand:

I have tried twice to give the game up," he said, "but there is no hope. No matter how I disguise myself, the law finds me out, and l am only safe while sinning in the shelter of the bush. The first time I tried to reform I went to New Zealand dressed as a woman. I let my hair grow long and did it up like my mother used to do hers, full of hairpins and with a knob at the back, I wore a fashionable net, fastened to my hat and drawn under the chin, just like she used to do it; but after being there a time, people were beginning to say funny things about me, so I cleared out and came back here.²⁹

Gilbert's use of a woman's disguise was also highlighted by John Maguire. Maguire state:

He was a handsome young chap, with a clean feminine face – no side whiskers – wore his hair long. Frequently, after he took to the roads, he used to visit the towns disguised as a girl riding side-saddle.

The articles imply that Gilbert's ruse was continued on arrival at Dunedin and all the way to Clyde. So again, listen to John Gilbert's in his own word regarding his use of a disguise to flee Australia for New Zealand. 
Note: Mrs Musgrave died at Auburn, Sydney in 1937, aged 108yrs. It was noted:

Few women have had a life so closely packed with stirring events as Mrs. Sarah Musgrave, who died at Auburn last week in her 108th year. But, in spite of the many trials she passed through, Mrs. Musgrave always looked back on her outback days with pleasure. "They were the happiest days I ever spent," she used to say.

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 cover 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.

Shipping Advertisement
However, on the 28th August 1862, 'The Ringdove' as a possibility arrived with the following report of her passengers from the 'Otago Daily Times', 29th August 1862:

The arrival in Dunedin of the greater proportion of the 300 gold or prospective gold-getters, who were brought from Melbourne to Port Chalmers by the ship Ringdove, caused a marked addition yesterday, to the number of those who were busily pushing about the city, purchasing picks, shovels, and tin dishes, or laying in a store of provisions, more or less approaching the minimum quantity recommended by the Government to be taken by each of those who are determined at once to move off for the Dunstan diggings. We fear, however, judging from the size of various biscuit bags, that very few came up to the precautionary standard officially suggested—that is, sufficient for at least a fortnight.

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.

This extract from 'Otago Daily Times' dated the 24th September 1862, gives an insight into John Gilbert's final destination. The Dunstan Goldfield' and its situation.:

The Dunstan gold-field is situated on the Clutha River, at the south-western base of the Dunstan Mountains, on the opposite bank of the river, which has here worn a passage through the solid rocks. The workings are principally confined to the shallow beaches and river bars, where fine gold is found intermixed with magnetic iron sand. The melting of the snow has lately caused a "fresh" in the river, in a great degree preventing the pursuance of the mode of operations, Parties have commenced tunneling from the banks, on a very limited scale, and large gold has been found. It is believed that, if properly worked, a rich harvest will be the result.

'Dunstan Goldfield' 1862.
Unidentified Artist.
There are about 4,000 miners on this field. These appear to have done well. Six thousand ounces have been brought down by escort, 2,000 ounces have reached town by private hand, large quantities still remain in the hands of the miners owing to the want of cash on the field for purchasing. A fortnightly escort service has now been established.

This piece of information may have stroked the bushranger in John Gilbert, but there is no evidence of Gilbert having committing robberies or any criminal activities while in New Zealand:

The climate of this district is described as mild, and dry in the winter, although snow covers the surrounding mountains.

The timing of the Gilbert brother's return to the Dunstan was perfect, with winter in retreat and the milder spring weather breaking through. The brothers rejoined the hustle and bustle of the goldfield and settled down to mining for the earth's riches.

Top, Dunstan Hotel,
Clyde c. 1862.
Hotel 2017.

My Photo.
After a trek of some 80 miles of lugging equipment, Gilbert and his two brothers arrived at the Dunstan goldfield. Setting up their camp, they commenced mining. For Gilbert and most of their fellow miners, rough tents were the order of the day. Erected along the Clutha River's foreshore at Clyde. Where the bulk of the yellow metal was ferociously sought after. The following comment in the 'Otago Daily Times', in October 1862 stated:

At the Dunstan proper the people are every day becoming more and more settled, and as the season advances it is generally believed it will be found that the locality will turn out as good a diggings for summer as it is known to be for winter.³⁰

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 facade 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:

Sir—It was with great surprise and indignation, that I read the evidence given by Detective Howard, in an assault case, tried at the Supreme Court on Monday last, October 20, wherein he states that all females on the diggings are of loose character. Never was there a more foul slander ever uttered, for to my certain knowledge there are plenty of the most respectable females on Tuapeka and Whetherstone Diggings, and I only feel surprised that Detective Howard should have made use of such expressions. We all know amongst a large population all cannot be good—even look to your good city Dunedin, and are all the respectable ladies of that city to be calumniated because there are some frail ones?³¹

James Redmond
c. 1870's
Therefore, it would not be uncommon for fellow diggers living by hard yakka, hard-drinking and an environment deprived of the sweet fairer sex not to be intrigued with the "sister" of the Gilbert's. Subsequently, the intrigue and attention to Gilbert's 'sister's' attractiveness set the need for the handsome young man to leave the Dunstan field. As John Gilbert himself stated:

After being there a time, people were beginning to say funny things about me, so I cleared out and came back here.³²

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:

J. G’s health declining he parted from me, having expressed his intention of going to a place the name of which I must be excused mentioning, but to prevent any misconception as to the withholding of it, I say most truly it was not New South Wales. Since that time, I know nothing of his movements, neither does any member of his family, farther than what may be gleaned from the papers.

Dunstan on the
Clyde River c. 1862.
Courtesy CHS
Whether Gilbert re-entered Australia through Victoria or sailed directly to NSW is unknown. Suffice to say that on the evening of the 30th January 1863, Gilbert once more emerged near his familiar haunts at the small township of Marengo. His old stockman patch was thrown into turmoil when a panicked word was broadcast by a messenger on horseback. A word set the towns heart's racing by its troubling contents, and that was:

To be on the 'qui vive' and plant our money or valuables, as a body of armed bushrangers were in the neighbourhood ransacking the stations and plundering all before them.³⁴

John Gilbert as flash as ever had returned.

Marengo had been a familiar country for John Gilbert. On first arriving in NSW in the late 1850s, Gilbert worked as a stockman on some local cattle stations as gold fever was breaking out amongst locals, especially the ladies. On his first foray back in home territory, Gilbert, with a band of seven or eight bushranger's including John O'Meally, Patsy Daley, Patrick O'Meally and Ben Hall, was accused of robbing the station Bentick-Morrell owned by Mr George Tout. This was then followed by robbing a roadside accommodation house run by Mr G Harcombe. The robbery was reported in 'Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle':

There are many rumours afloat as to the number of bushrangers in this affair, and the number of stations "stuck up," but I know for certain of two places being ransacked by them, viz, the Bentick-Morrell station (Mr George Tout's), and a roadside accommodation house (G Harcombe's). At the latter place, they only got £7. The house was entered by three robbers, but six others were counted waiting at a short distance within call as a reserve if necessary, apparently with the plunder from the Bentick-Morrell station strapped upon them. The rascals were under the leadership of one Johnny Gilbert, a henchman of Gardiner's. This is an undoubted fact because a sister-in-law of George Harcombe's was present, and distinctly recognised him, she is a native of Marengo, near which place John Gilbert was stock-keeper for some time. None of the desperadoes took the trouble to mask themselves.

However, another account stated that Gilbert did not steal anything from the Tout's residence as he had known Gilbert in his earlier vocation; The 'Lachlan Miner' says:

News arrived at Burrangong, on the 29th January, that the too celebrated Gardiner, accompanied by another bushranger, named Gilbert (who made his escape some months since from Sir Frederick Pottinger) called, on the previous night, at the station of Mr. George Tout; but no robbery or attempt at robbery or violence took place. Mr. G. Tout knew Gilbert, and he thinks that the bushranger knew him. Probably this might be the reason why he was not molested. Mr. T. has strong reasons for suspecting the companion of Gilbert to be Gardiner. Gilbert is suspected to be one of the men who robbed the Lachlan escort. Captain Battye and the sub-inspector, together with Mr. Wolfe, the sub-inspector of detectives, left in pursuit of these noted desperadoes, who are most earnestly wanted by the police authorities.

Within hours of the robberies, the police under the command of Captain Battye arrived at Marengo in full police regalia; 'Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle':

Last night this usually quiet town was thrown into a state of great excitement by the arrival of a messenger from one of the suburban stations telling us to be on the qui vive and plant our money or valuables, as a body of armed bushrangers were in the neighbourhood ransacking the stations and plundering all before them. About two hours after, the distant sound of rapidly approaching horsemen was heard, and the first thought was, "Here they come," but almost simultaneously was heard the jingling sabre accompaniment, which sound gave us considerable relief, clearly foretelling who was approaching. Really this long sword and steel scabbard ought to be dispensed with, particularly upon night marches and attacks, where silence and surprise is half the battle, for when the men are inactive equestrian motion, the aforesaid instrument creates such a loud jingling sound as to be heard a quarter of a mile off, thus giving all her Majesty's subjects that are encamped on or near the road ample time to strike into the ranges or remain, at pleasure. After a short conference, our patrol joined that newly arrived, and they proceeded to the appointed rendezvous (Stewart s Gap) there to meet others, all being under the personal command of Captain Battye, and there to proceed to the stations of some well-to-do settlers, who were thought most likely to be honoured by a call from the robbers.

On the 12th February 1863, a reward notice was reprinted in the NSW Police Gazette for Gardiner and Gilbert:

Reward for Gardiner's Capture. --Yesterday's Government Gazette contains the offer of a reward of £500 for such information as will lead to the capture of the notorious Gardiner, and a like sum for the apprehension of Gilbert, one of his companions.

However, with the bush and certain inhabitants of stations as their lairs, a new wave of determined sticking-up resumed. Furthermore, there were also conflicting newspaper reports and general gossip as to the whereabouts of Frank Gardiner, the banditos' leader, with even speculation by correspondents in some quarters, although humorous, of Gardiner's reputed death from a broken heart at the Abercrombie, this assumption, however, was quickly rebuked by another writer who saw their folly:

Did you ever see Gardiner? If so, I'm sure you will coincide with me in thinking that a man of his vigour of life, stalwart physique, and determined physiognomy would almost be the last man in the universe to expire from that malady, peculiar to hopeless sighing swains and lovelorn forsaken damsels.⁵⁰

The scribe goes on to say: 

The freebooter would have been taken long ago, but for the false sympathy and shelter granted him by some of those petty vitiated settlers of the Abercrombie Ranges.

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.

Before long Gilbert seized the spotlight beginning to appear regularly in the columns of the newspapers. As reported below that included the flogging of an off duty policemen:

It is this week our province to record two most daring attacks of robbery committed in broad daylight, on Monday, the 2nd instant. The victims of these acts of bushranging were first:- Mr. Dickson, of the Commercial Store, Spring Creek, Burrangong, and Mr. Dalton, innkeeper, of the same place. We may add that the robbers are well-known, and can be identified. Two of them are from the Wedden Mountain, two from the Levels, and one from the Abercrombie. The thieves tied up their horses outside of the gentleman's store previously mentioned, two remained on guard, and three entered the establishment. While the premises were being ransacked, a policeman happened to pass. He was stuck up also, and his horse, saddle and bridle, were taken away. The horse was the constable's private property. He consequently offered resistance, when one of the villains struck him a severe blow on the hand and wrist, quite disabling the limb; they kept him in durance vile until their unlawful work was accomplished; they then allowed him to proceed. He made his way with all possible speed to the camp, and Captain Battye mustered all hands, and started immediately in pursuit. The men also stuck-up the adjoining inn, Mr. Dalton's, known by the name of the Golden Fleece. They are supposed to have obtained about £60 in cash, and several guns and pistols. The latter were taken from Dalton's. The robbers are supposed to be the same who stuck-up the Bendick Morrell station on the 29th ultimo.³⁵

Gilbert's run constantly reminded the NSW government of the teething problems the newly formed police force faced. After one year, the police continued to be criticised for not taking a stand against bushranging and apprehending the main culprits, John Gilbert, John O'Meally and Ben Hall. As a result, the NSW government, led by Mr Cowper, was forced to place large amounts of money as an inducement to break the Cone of Silence of the western districts. Where rewards offered in the hundreds of pounds would have been quite a windfall for the poorer cockatoo settler for dobbing in the bushrangers. To draw out information Cowper placed advertisements in newspapers throughout NSW:

Cowper is getting quite convinced of the inclemency of the grande idea about the New Police, for he has just offered a reward of £500 for the apprehension (without conviction) of Gardiner, and another £500 for his mate Johnny Gilbert. The only chance of capturing these ruffians seems to be by offering a large reward.³⁶

However, the ploy was unsuccessful as locals failed to rat out the bushrangers. Furthermore, there was widespread awareness that Gilbert and his entourage were favoured with much sympathy, welcomed or otherwise in the central west. 'Freeman's Journal' Wednesday 18th February 1863:

Violence and crime are so much on the increase in the country districts that the government it is said are about to adopt very strong measures for their repression. It cannot be denied, that in many parts of the country a great amount of sympathy exists towards the bushrangers with whom we are infested and that other persons through fear are deterred from giving information which may lead to their detection. Even men in good positions of society are said to harbour bushrangers if they do not actually participate with them in their crimes, the government are aware of those facts and will use every effort to remedy this disgraceful blot upon our social system. A reward of £500 has been offered for the apprehension of the notorious Gardiner, and another £500 for that of Gilbert, so that before long we hope to see both these worthies in the hands of justice. If taken, they will, of course, be tried in Sydney, as the chances are that they would be acquitted if their trial took place in the country.

Colonial Secretary Cowper’s use of rewards for Gilbert was quickly ridiculed in the newspapers:

The very unsatisfactory apportionment of the reward of £100 originally offered by the Government for the apprehension of the parties engaged in the Escort Robbery, which was to be meted out at the ratio of £100 per head, having failed to tempt any nibblers, we are glad to perceive that a more enticing douceur has now been proclaimed, of £500 each for the bodies of Messrs. Gardiner and Gilbert. We believe that this will accomplish the much to be desired object, and that ere long General Gardiner and his Lieutenant will be introduced to the admiring gaze of as crowded an audience as that which on the occasion of the late trial thronged the Darlinghurst Court House. In the event, of the "hero" of the roads being betrayed into the hands of the authorities, we would willingly give the Government £1000, simply for the loan of him for three months; guaranteeing that he should be returned "in good order," making fair allowance for the "wear and tear," which his public exhibition as "the greatest man in New South Wales" would entail. Should this proposition be accepted, we shall immediately enter into negotiations with the Chief Justice for his appearance on "one occasion only" for "our benefit," conjointly, with that of the public.³⁷

NSW Police Gazette
March 1863.
How John Gilbert viewed the flattering news of a large reward by the NSW government is unknown. Suffice to say, his good-natured character, thespian disposition and quick wit may have caused him much merriment.

Gilbert enjoyed himself whenever the occasion presented and could spin a good yarn to his captive audiences with humorous intent. The ladies often fell under his spell. This lackadaisical attitude and handsome looks made him one of the most intriguing bushrangers taking the western and southern NSW districts by storm. 

However, John Gilbert, unlike his compatriot Ben Hall. Whose onset into lawlessness arose from instances of self-perceived police prejudice and self-inflicted confrontations with the police. Particularly regarding Sir Frederick Pottinger, a ruthless enforcer of the law and the one officer whose suspicions of Hall's fraternisation with Gardiner and Gilbert had much foundation.

From his early days as a youth in Victoria, Gilbert embraced the fast life and the easy money associated with gambling activities, ultimately succumbing to bushranging. At first, Gilbert was just a juvenile delinquent whereby drifting into NSW. He came under Frank Gardiner's spell. Many newspaper reports noted that he was always smartly dressed and took great care in his appearance, his long fair hair and good looks bordering on the feminine.

Gilbert's success and the ever-changing gang of accomplices, many of whom were unknown or only joined in for a lark, returned to the bush telegraph role, which resulted in the police being derided in the press as clueless. An issue of paramount concern was the inferiority of police equipment. The bushrangers, however, were mounted on the best thoroughbreds and armed to the teeth with the most up-to-date weaponry easily lead the troopers a merry dance through the vast, often boggy, rocky and densely wooded bushland. So much so that Sir Frederick Pottinger introduced the new concept of troopers no longer wearing a police uniform in the forest but the clothes of a miner or stock rider, which consequently saw the bushrangers having difficulty identifying friends from foe. However, in the early weeks of 1863. At the gang's core was John O'Meally, Ben Hall, Patsy Daley, John Gilbert, with O'Meally's younger brother Patrick also implicated in robberies. Before long, a newcomer and murder emerged who escaped from Bathurst Gaol in February 1863. His name was Fred Lowry. For the next few months, these men would light up the goldfields of central NSW.

Meanwhile, as Gilbert re-emerged, the colony was enthralled with the Eugowra Escort Trial's proceedings and its first conclusion. Finally, on the 14th of February, the newspapers carried the news of the end of the trial of Fordyce, Bow, Maguire and Manns. The citizens waited with bated breath for the announcement of the verdict. 

The court gallery and outside crowds were on edge as word soon spread that objects were secreted into the gallery for a riot in the event of an adverse finding. However, to the Judge's dismay, a hung jury emerged. 

The prisoners once again were returned to Darlinghurst gaol as the Chief Justice Sir Alfred Stephen sort direction from the government over the verdict. However, the government was to have their pound of flesh and consequently directed a new trial for the accused. The secreted missiles disappeared. The Crown main witnesses, Charters and Richards, became the target of the public's disgust. Furthermore, following much of the evidence and events regarding the Escort robbery only enhanced John Gilbert's bushranging celebrity in Western districts:

The escort robbery case lasted over three days, and was brought to a close by the jury not being able to agree. The parties indicted for the offence, including the wounding of James Condell, were Alex Fordyce, John Bow, John M'Guire, and Henry Manns alias Turner. Manns objected that he had never been known as Turner, and after discussion that name was struck out of the indictment. The trial of Manns was then postponed. Mr. Martin and Mr. Isaacs ably defended the other prisoners. The principal evidence in support of the charge was that of two men named Charters and Richards. Charters was one of the escort robbers. And Richards appeared to have been connected with them in a more indirect way. Gardiner was the leader of the robbers. Evidence of respectable parties was given in corroboration of some points of the approvers' testimony, but the case rested on all its main points upon the evidence of Charters and Richards, men of admitted bad character, at least in some respects. It being a capital case the jury were locked-up each night until it was finished. On the third evening, prior to the jury being locked up to consider their verdict, about 1000 persons were in or about the court in anticipation of hearing the verdict. An extraordinary circumstance occurred in the Supreme Court, Sydney, on the morning when the jury on the escort robbery case was discharged. The Herald says; - His Honor, addressing the officer of police in charge, directed that three extra constables should be stationed in the gallery and a like number in the body of the court, and that this precaution should be followed up by the arrest of any person attempting a disturbance. He was informed that early this morning a number, of stones, brickbats, and missiles were found in the gallery, and that they had evidently been conveyed there for some purpose unknown, it was not shown how they came there; suffice it to say that they were found there. Constables would, therefore, be stationed in the gallery and the body of the court on each day till the session closed.

[The impression of the officers of the court regarding these missiles is that they were intended to be thrown at the informers {Charters and Richards) in the event of the case closing on the Thursday night. The presumption is that they were left were found by some of the friends of the accused.]³⁸

The press was relentless in addressing bushranging and pressed home many assumptions regarding its current path and its onset. It was pointing the finger for bushranging at the sealing up of the sizeable fertile lands of the interior by Squatters who in the 1830s and 40s snapped up massive areas squeezing out the small prospective selectors. Large landholders dominated not only through social standing but within the parliament.

The path to parliament was for those who had the money, but parliament was a bridge too far to the mainly uneducated folk. It was not compulsory to vote. Therefore, many parliamentarians achieved their seat by a few well-placed incentives for district votes. The fix in pre-federation Australia was undoubtedly in. However, through the Robinson Land Act, the government attempted to level the playing field. This move created equity in land ownership both out on the vast plains and in the local town precincts. Be that as it may, many wealthy squatters usurped the Act by setting dummy buyers to purchase land related to their farms still knocking out the genuine cockatoo's:

Let us not lose sight, however, of another fruitful cause, concurrent in its effects with the foregoing of the prevalence of highway robberies in the bush. The pastoral system had been raising a set of wild youths whose whole habits and training threw them on the first temptation into a career of lawless adventure. Of this character and origins are each and all our notorious highwaymen. PIESLEY, GARDINER GILBERT, are all bush natives,- all stockmen, drovers, horsemen- all the natural products of the squatting system. They are precisely of that class, who, it has been long foretold in this journal, would be brought forth by that system by way of retribution for its selfishness. Such are the chief causes, plainly and truthfully stated of the present prevalence of highway robberies in the country districts.³⁹

However, the above explanation was typical in deflecting accountability for the polices' failure and a lack of consistent education practices or compulsory schooling of the Cockatoo squatter children and the local town children of itinerant workers. Lack of skills led to idleness and, for some, the easy step into crime. As Frank Gardiner said on the subject:

Young men can find no employment in the country districts except herding sheep or stock-riding. The latter occupation leads to horse-stealing simply because you become wholly engrossed in horseflesh, and the crime is so easily committed that you do not think of the consequences. Horse-stealing and horse "sojering" are of everyday occurrence in certain parts of the country.

As such, the drawing of a link between those with land and those without turning to bushranging is ludicrous. 1860 is no different from 2020, as we all have choices and personal responsibilities to determine our path. Failures are yours and yours alone. It has become too easy to blame others or circumstances for those failings—John Gilbert was well educated his family prosperous law-abiding citizens. Gilbert's crime partners were also once diligent settlers, such as Ben Hall, a former large landholder and moderately wealthy. John O'Meally was educated and from a family that previously controlled the vast Arramagong Station 30,000 acres and others who were often provided with education by tutors. But, in the end, they chose poorly.

On the 19th of February, the government gazetted the reward for Gilbert and again described his appearance in the newspapers;

Between 22 and 24 years of age, boyish appearance, 5 feet 7 or 8 inches high, between 9 and 10 stone weight, slight, light brown straight hair, worn long in native fashion, beardless and whiskerless: has the appearance and manner of a bushman or stockman and is particularly flippant in his address and appearance.⁴⁰ 

Gilbert's description often varied in height and appearance. At times, Gilbert was reported as 5ft 10in - 11in and very attractive.

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:

Another thing that greatly counteracts the strenuous efforts of the mounted police is the system of "bush telegraphy" which I will explain. Of all the numerous settlers on the Fish River, Abercrombie Ranges, or the Levels, scarcely half are true subjects; only five settlers on the levels are considered by the police to be truly loyal and free from the taint of harbouring, and directly or indirectly encouraging bushrangers. For instance, some two or three months ago, the patrol were on the Bland Plains (the Levels), in pursuit of some well-known desperadoes, who they know were not many miles off, and they called at a slightly suspected station, but being unsuccessful, they proceeded to the next station, the residence of a truly loyal man.—a gentleman, though boasting of no great birth or education—no scion of aristocratic tree, yet still a gentleman; "for honest men are the gentlemen of nature." He gave the officer in command all the information in his power, but while doing so, he suddenly exclaimed: "Haste! or you'll be too late; for by Jove there goes the 'telegram' from Mr.— — — 's place you passed last."

The officer looked in the direction pointed out, and there was, straight across one of the highest ranges at a stretching gallop a finely-mounted youth. No time was lost by patrol, but when they got to their destination, they found the residents calmly awaiting their arrival, having been evidently on the look-out for some time. Of course, everything was found correct and square; so the police had to return, sadder, but in slightly one sense (i.e., bush-telegraphy) wiser men. There is a strong suspicion that a "bush telegram" exists in this very township; for upon the day that Gardiner despatched his junior corps upon the above mentioned strategic expedition to Bentick Morrell, and some other stations, after the plundering, they camped in the evening in a secluded part of the bush, near Marengo, not very far off the old sheep station, and were visited by some two or three members of a certain family here.⁴¹

These telegraphs enabled the Gilbert to move with ease in and around the towns and amongst the throngs of miners and rough hotels they patronised:

Of course, they experienced no interruption from the authorities, as the villains were well aware that the police were on a wild-goose and previously cut-and-dried chase miles away.

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:

The store at Wombat, belonging to Mr Myers Solomon, was stuck-up by four armed men on Saturday, about four p.m. They had evidently made a regular arrangement for the onslaught on the goods, as they had three led pack-horses in readiness to convey spoil. Those animals they well and very coolly loaded with, as much as they could carry; also appropriating all they could conveniently take on the horses they rode. In fact, they just took what was most valuable in the shape of jewellery and store goods. They likewise relieved Mr Solomon of two splendid revolvers and a double-barrelled gun. One man cautioned Solomon against resisting, saying that he shot Cirkel. Mr M'Carthy, of the Oriental Bank, when on his way from Wombat the same afternoon, passed four men answering the description of the robbers, but having along with him an escort of two troopers, and himself well-armed, the knights of the road left the way clear, taking to the bush on their near approach. No trace has, I believe, been fond of the villains that can be followed in the absence of black trackers. Their sagacity in these matters has been found to be wonderful.

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.

The second assailant was described as short 5ft 7in stout build, and roughly twenty six-thirty years old, around 13 stone. This did not fit the known attributes of John Gilbert. Gilbert was described as 5ft 8/10 in height, slim around 10 stone (63Kg) light brown straight hair, worn long in native fashion, beardless and whiskerless. Two other possibilities for O'Meally's accomplice were a rogue named John Clarke or Ben Hall. Both were known to be riding with O'Meally at the time. An inquest was conducted and the medical examiner outlaid his findings; Henry Wilkinson deposed:

I am a legally qualified medical practitioner, and live at Young; yesterday, by direction of the Coroner of the district, I made a post mortem examination of the body of the deceased at Stoney Creek; on external examination, I discovered a wound, apparently made by a ball about an inch above the left ear; not being able to find any piece where it had made its exit from the skull, I proceeded to deflect the scalp, when I discovered a tractate of the occipital bone; on removing the fractured portion of the bone the brain protruded externally, and I at once found a portion of the bone flattened just inside the substance of the brain; I then removed the skull cap, and made a careful and lengthened examination of the brain and base of the skull, having broken down its substance and carefully washed it, but without being able to find any further appearance, of the ball; I am of opinion that the wound was sufficient to cause instant death. 

The jury returned a verdict that the deceased came by his death by a wound from a pistol, fired by the taller of the two men. A verdict of wilful murder was made against both parties, names unknown.

NSW Police Gazette
March 1863.
On the 14th March, Gilbert and O'Meally bailed up Mr Percy Scarr near Burrowa, relieving him of several items and his horse and gear. Mr Scarr would have some run-ins with Gilbert, Hall and O'Meally in the coming weeks. Mr Percy Scarr, then manager of a station belonging to Mr Broughton, was present when Hall, Gilbert, O'Meally and another Henry Gibson were set upon by police during Hall's relocation of Susan Prior and his daughter Mary following the incineration of the Sandy Creek home while at Scarr's station in April 1863.

Percy Scarr.
c. 1905.

Private Source.
Following the Solomon robbery, 
the Cirkel murder. Gilbert had detached himself from Hall and O'Meally, who, now in company with O'Meallys first cousin Patsy Daley, (who helped himself to sweets during the Solomon robbery,) confronted police inspector Norton and tracker Billy Dargin near Hall's former station Sandy Creek. The trio surrounded Norton and letting fly with a fusillade of bullets forced Norton after his own ammunition was expended, to surrender. The accompanying black tracker Billy Dargin escaped on foot, reaching the Pinnacle Station to raise the alarm.

While Hall and O'Meally held Norton. Gilbert was off on his own and did not participate in Norton's capture. Gilbert from reports appeared to be holed up with one of the many friends from his stockman days. No doubt Gilbert, as a ladies favourite the young flash robber was seeking out the ladies fair. As reported on 11th March 1863 with Gilbert enjoying not only the sweet juicy peaches but the even sweeter peach-blossomed girls; February:

Johnny Gilbert,' who is known to have a great 'penchant' for Marengo and its peaches. The last time our patrol were absent Gilbert came and got some peaches from another party; it seems pretty certain that either the peaches or the peach-blossom cheeks of some of the girls about here, seem to act as a magnet to the youthful desperado. I know for a fact that not a month ago he got a handkerchief full from a contiguous settler, with whom he was a stockkeeper for some time.

The latest news of Gilbert's whereabouts also highlighted the ease in which Johnny moved about the area;

Mr. John, alias Johnny Gilbert, again visited this neighbourhood, and was seen by several, and actually had the effrontery to call at a respectable farmer's (Mr Batkin's) and ask how they all were, and solicit a light. It is lucky for him that the male members of the family were absent, or the young freebooter (notwithstanding his revolvers) might have found himself in awkward clutches.

Alone on the 14th March 1863, Gilbert robbed the Young to Morangorell Mailman James Eady rifling the mail for a few pounds. The 14th of March was also a red-letter day for Ben Hall as while separated from Gilbert his Sandy Creek homestead was burnt to the ground by Sir Frederick Pottinger.

As Gilbert settled back into life amongst the Weddin Mob having left his two brothers James and Charles in December 1863 at the Dunstan. The two men were soon after arrested at the goldfield in New Zealand on the 12th March 1863 under the suspicion that they were connected to Frank Gardiner and the Eugowra Gold Escort Robbery of June 1862. 'Dunstan News' 13th March 1863:

The two Gilberts, supposed to be associates of Gardiner, the notorious bushranger of New South Wales, have been remanded. Charles and James Gilbert,— we are informed that they were at first arrested as deserters from the 70th Regiment. This charge, they treated with the utmost contempt, and laughingly referred to the blunder the police had made in arresting them on it. When, however, on the second day; they were informed of the true nature of the charge preferred against them, they became frightfully indignant at the manner in which they had been deceived. The Magistrates, before sending them to Sydney, wished to have further information, for "which they have sent to the New South Wales police.

Subsequently, Charles was transferred to Sydney and after some time in custody was released without charge. James Gilbert had no case to answer.

NSW Police Gazette
April 1863.
Also in March 1863, as Gilbert was wiling away his time amongst some close acquaintances at Marengo, another rouge was stealing horses in the Lambing Flat district. Originally from Sutton Forrest near Berrima, a young man named Thomas Nye, a carpenter by trade, 5ft 9in was taken into custody by sub-inspector Roberts for theft including suspicion of, 
'being concerned in the late escort robbery at Eugowra.'  However, where Gilbert was fair-haired Nye had dark brown hair and Gilbert was blue-eyed Nye was grey-eyed. But this did not deter the police from arresting him.

As far as they were concerned there was something familiar about Thomas Nye that piqued their interest. That being Nye's reputedly uncanny resemblance to John Gilbert. A similarity that saw Nye ferried from Lambing Flat to Berrima and Berrima to Darlinghurst Gaol then back to Berrima then again Lambing Flat for identification by none other than the informant on the Eugowra Escort robbers, Daniel Charters. Charters travelled to Berrima Gaol to provide his identification as to whether Nye was indeed Gilbert. Charters stated that Nye was not the famous Johnny Gilbert, a man the informant knew intimately.

Nye, Darlinghurst Gaol
April 1863.
However, the police were not convinced, and for four months, Nye was booted around the gaols as the police were sure they had the man providing them with tremendous headaches. Thomas Nye was no saint and would be charged for numerous offences from stealing to fistfights with neighbours during his life. Nye was educated and had, during the Boer War wrote poetry about the gallant English forces. Nye would, in November 1863, be incarcerated for horse stealing and larceny, released in November 1864 at Berrima, then short walk home to Sutton Forrest. The farce of Nye's apprehension as John Gilbert is linked below.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Tuesday 21st April 1863

Whether Gilbert was aware of his doppelgänger Thomas Nye being arrested is unknown, but with widespread attention, the probability of his knowledge can not be doubted. However, after a short recess, the handsome bushranger appeared back on the road. Robbing several persons in company with no doubt Hall and O'Meally after their other henchman Patsy Daley had been captured by Sir Frederick Pottinger hiding in a mine shaft at the Pinnacle Range on the 11th March 1863; Goulburn Herald' Wednesday 8th April 1863:

STICKING UP AT LITTLE WOMBAT. --- We are informed upon good authority, that three ruffians, one of whom is supposed to be Johnny Gilbert, stuck-up and robbed about fifty Chinamen and some Europeans, yesterday morning, between eight and nine o'clock. Information having been sent to the police at Murrumburrah, one of the force stationed there immediately started for the camp here, and gave information to the police authorities, when a number of the mounted troopers were at once despatched with the black tracker in pursuit of the desperadoes. For the ends of justice, we hope they will be apprehended without delay.

#-Reference notes and source material can be accessed on the EndNote page except where the book, author or newspaper title are named. Publications referred to can be found on the Links Page. For any research assistance no charge, contact is on the Home Page under Contact details or Email to For an enhanced view of photographs, click right mouse button and select 'open in new tab'.


  1. The Legend of Ben Hall movie is a pure film gem, much like being there in 1860's, the countryside so gorgous it appears "photoshopped" and its crazy how the actors without sugar coating anything could make the purely criminal characters so....lovable. Amazing movie which many will miss, poor things.

  2. What a wonderful web site and so much research and detail about Ben Hall and his accomplices Johnny 'Happy Jack' Gilbert, John O'Meally etc. Ditto Harold Missamore (above) comments. I borrowed the DVD from my local library on the recommendation of Johnny Gilbert's ggg niece. Proud to have Johnny Gilbert in our family tree. A loveable rogue who went wayward.

    1. Thank you very much. Still a lot to do. Have his niece contact me if you wish.

    2. why would you be 'proud'.. He shot and killed a police trooper. That's nothing to be proud of.

  3. Ive been fascinated by Ben Hall and his exploits since the BBC series many years ago, and collected a few books about him on a visit to Australia seven years ago. Just recently watched the Legend of Ben Hall movie mentioned above and was struck by how close the actors chosen resembled the Ben Hall and his accomplices, and how close the story seemed to be to the actual truth. Great site, thankyou, Tony Matthews (no relation!)

  4. Congratulations on your awesome website. Constable John Bright of the NSW Mounted Police 1864-1866 Carcoar was my 3x great grandfather and I do believed he is the police officer who shot and killed John Gilbert.

    1. Thank you, still have far to go. However, my research continues and I will arrive at your esteemed relatives great contribution to ending Gilbert's career and almost John Dunn. Mark Matthews.

    2. Megan, thankyou for the information of your 3x great grandfather Constable Bright who shot and killed Johnny 'Happy Jack' Gilbert. I will pass it on to his 3x ggg niece.
      Sue, my husband was a former NSW Police Officer for 30 years. Maybe my choice of word 'proud' offends but how many family genealogists find convicts, law breakers in their family history?
      Keep searching Mark!