John Gilbert

This website is designed, researched and written by Mark Matthews. It may alter with updated information and research as it comes to hand. This section is a work in progress...

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.
During the mass migration to Australia in the early-1850s, set in motion by the discovery of gold in Victoria, thousands flooded unchecked into the colony from all parts of the known world. Gold was the allure for men and their families to up-lift their worldly possessions and embark on dangerous sea voyages to acquire the riches of the golden treasure. The prospect of these bounties drew a Canadian family to the shores of Victoria. They were the Gilbert clan.

New York Herald.
25th June 1852.

Library of Congress.
The Gilbert's led by their patriarch William Gilbert had been swept up as well by the allure of Gold. William's desire for a new life for his family arose in 1852 with immigration to Australia. After twenty-two years in Canada, the shift in country location would be the second time William had embarked on an endeavour to better his families lives. On this occasion, they would travel some fifteen thousand miles across two vast oceans to a new world. Australia. What underpinned the relocation may well have been a result of tragedy through the death of William's first wife and eldest son and a problematic employment period faced by many in an emerging Canada still settling after 1832 rebellion. Therefore, a new wife Eliza Cord two additional children, the family departed Canada travelling 400 miles to New York, America. William sought and gained passage on one of the many ships standing in New York Harbour loading, men and families for the other side of the world filled with dreams of success. The family embarked on the Pioneer Line packet ship 'Revenue' along with 160 other hopefuls mainly Canadians. Following a voyage of some months, the Gilbert family sailed through the entrance to Port Philip Bay known as the Rip. Their ship 'Revenue' secured alongside in Hobson's Bay Melbourne, Victoria on October 15th 1852. “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...”

New York Herald.
2nd July 1852.

Library of Congress.
1852 alone an estimated ninety thousand immigrants disembarked at Melbourne's port. Landing with his parents and six siblings was a ten-year-old named John Gilbert. Within eight years of arriving in the colony, John Gilbert would relish the wildness and lawlessness of the areas away from the larger metropolitan towns. Through his flagrant disregard of parental oversight and mixing in with fringe criminals of the villages along the goldfield roads, John Gilbert would rise to become one of the most prolific outlaws in the history of colonial Australia. Men, colloquially known as 'Bushrangers'. Gilbert would also be referred to by those who knew his acquaintance as 'Happy Jack' on account of his light-hearted outlook and free and relaxed attitude.

Church of England Marriages
and Banns for
 William John Gilbert.
John William 'Happy Jack' Gilbert was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, November 1842. His parents William James and Eleanor Gilbert nee Wilson were born in England and married on 23rd April 1826 at St John the Evangelist, Smith Square Westminster, Middlesex. Gilbert's father's occupation in London was an Innkeeper-distiller, reputedly occupying the Three Castles Inn, St Andrews Lane, as well as a 'Freeman of the City of London', entitled to exhibit his family crest for their business. An old and noble investiture. Note: William's entitlement derived from purchasing the rights of Freeman enabling him to become an Innholder 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 exsistance in the 13th Century and survives today. It harnesses Charity, Education, Trade, and Fellowship. (see letter below.)

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada,
c. 1859.


Library of Congress Collection.
Mr and Mrs Gilbert, their three-year-old son William Jr b. 1827 and one-year-old daughter Eleanor immigrated to Canada in 1830. By 1830 Livery Companies or Hotels fell into decline. Parliament’s new distilling and licensing laws brought about hard times for many Innkeepers. The decline in business and widespread calls for people to migrate to Canada encouraged William to quit England. Furthermore, a Cholera Pandemic struck London in 1827 whereby two other daughters Ann and Ellen succumbed to the illness. In London alone, it cost the lives of a reputed 6,000 people. (Including Frank Gardiner's mother.) John's surviving sister Eleanor born in England in 1829 and his three older brothers, Francis, James and Charles all born in Canada. Settling in Hamilton Ontario, John Gilbert's father commenced work as a building contractor on Public Projects and as a Manufacturer of building materials.

William Gilbert by all accounts prospered and resided in a framed two-story home employing a young girl named Mary Cassin an Irish lass aged 15 as a servant. However, bound for Victoria the voyage onboard the 'Revenue' included as well, Eliza's sister Mary Ann Holywell and husband Samuel who had been residing at William's home. Samuel Holywell was noted as a Miller and William was recorded on the immigration entry manifest as a Distiller. The shipping documents indicate a large contingent of people from Hamilton joined the Gilbert's in taking passage onboard the 'Revenue'. The Holywell's resided in Flemington then Flyers Creek then Kyneton nearby to William Gilbert's last residence at Lauriston circa 1862.

Battle of Montgomery's
Tavern Toronto Canada.
December 1837. A decisive
British Victory.
However, between 1837-1838 Canada experienced significant unrest in many areas of the country, which soon descended into open dissent and became known as the Rebellion of the Lower and Upper Canada. William Gilbert, during the disturbance, served as a volunteer loyal to the British in putting down the rebellion. The uprising inspired by elements of the native-born Canadians of both English and French descent were attempting, as had happened in neighbouring America, to break free of the ties of British Colonial rule and bring about political reform free of Westminster subjugation. The rebellion was crushed. However, its end result was the emergence of Canada as a country as the colony merged. William Gilbert stated this about his participation in those events. ; "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 
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 1852, which would indicate his birthday either in November or December. Note education, John and Charles.
Unfortunately, John Gilbert's mother Eleanor passed away in Canada through illness circa 1845. His older brother William would also pass away in 1850. John's father remarried a young woman Eliza Cord on 28th December 1846, Eliza was 25 years old, and originally born in England immigrating to Canada with her parents as a child. William was 44 years old. This union produced two boys, Thomas and Nicholas. (On their arrival in Australia, the Gilbert's were to produce another six children - Mary, Jane, Louisa, Mary-Anne, Christopher and Dagmar.)
Gilbert Family arrival, Victoria 1852, onboard the Revenue.

The Argus newspaper

 report  of the arrival
 of the "Revenue" 1852.
Gold! Gold fever had been gripping the world since news spread of the rich gold finds in California and the subsequent rush of world citizens to that place in 1849. However, the frenzy did not end there, as by 1851 on the far side of the world gold fever struck the fledgling colony of Australia. Here the precious metal was discovered predominantly in Victoria, and it quickly became the new destination for those seeking their fortune with fantastic stories abounding of the riches to be got. Rumours of immense wealth went viral often circulated through scuttlebutt where talk of just kicking the ground resulted in eureka glory. The wild claims of massive fortunes to be made swept the known world creating a new Gold Rush. As a result of the grapevine, men such as William Gilbert were lured from the four corners of the earth. 

Melbourne was awash with fortune hunters. The piers of Hobson's Bay continuously jammed with arriving ships disembarking the crowds of migrants and tonnes of cargo, lodging houses and hotels packed to bursting point. Rough-hewn dwellings of all description sprang up across the city. Amongst this thriving population, William Gilbert and family first settled in the Collingwood area of Melbourne where they resided for a short period as William Gilbert found his feet and searched for work.

Argus, 1853.
However, John Gilbert's father backed the wrong horse in his gold search, subsequently, in late 1853 William applied for and was successful, after a small hiccup, obtained work as the Pound Keeper at Deep Creek, 'Bulla Bulla' 28 km north of the Melbourne Town Hall. Initially upon application William's appointment was postponed; 'The Argus' Saturday 8th October 1853 - The application of Wm. T. Gilbert to be appointed poundkeeper at the Deep Creek Pound was postponed until next Thursday. However, at the next sitting, the application was approved. (The town Bulla is close to where Melbourne Airport is today.)

The new home of young John Gilbert was described in an article from the 'Sunbury News' 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..." Work as the Pound keeper was a very lucrative position for John Gilbert's father. Earning an average income of some £515 per annum. ($43,000 in today’s value) Gilbert's three older brothers were also assisting their father at the pound. However, by 1857 the Gilbert's had relinquished their control of the pound. William Francis, James and Charles commenced gold mining where ever a new rush appeared. In 1890 William Francis was employed at the South Russell mine Lauriston and appeared in court over the negligent death of a miner.
Victorian Gazette table of Poundkeeper returns July 1851-November 1854.

Young Gilbert received a good standard of education in his formative years in Canada. However, in the year of the infamous 'Eureka Stockade' at Ballarat in 1854, Johnny Gilbert then 12 years of age had it said that he had become unruly and somewhat rebellious and before long had "bolted" from his father at Bulla. A family friend commented on an emerging young scamp; "I noticed nothing very particular in the lad during the voyage. There was a large family party of them together. 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

Gilbert's sister Eleanor's 
wedding notice 1854.
Departure from his father's guidance young Gilbert virtually ran away from home and made his way to Kilmore and the home of his recently married sister Eleanor and her husband John Stafford. Whether his sister attempted to send Gilbert home to Bulla is unknown. Kilmore was 25 miles from 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 is 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 had as well gained employment in the position of Pound Keeper at the Sugar Loaf Creek Pound, Kilmore, Victoria.[sic] "he was the keeper of the Sugar Loaf Pound, a money-making business in those days." Remaining in Kilmore, Johnny Gilbert through the experiences of assisting at the pound at Bulla with his father, aided his brother-in-law at the Sugar Loaf Creek Pound. Furthermore, the constant handling of horses and cattle during these formative years enabled John Gilbert to develop into an excellent horseman and become an experienced Stockman. Consequently, he learnt a great deal about the value of good horseflesh and the boy could ride like the wind. (See article right.) Not only was Gilbert handy with horses, but he also frequented the Kilmore pub's and with the roads packed with miners traversing to the next big strike. Gilbert embraced petty crime and gambling.  

At the age of 16, circa 1858 John Gilbert during the time of the first big gold rush to the Ovens River goldfield near Beechworth, Northern Victoria. Gilbert had come into contact with some old ship hands he knew from his boyhood passage on the 'Revenue' at a local public house in Kilmore. These men were in the process of crossing from the Mount Alexander goldfield near Castlemaine to the new Ovens River Goldfield near the border with NSW. Consequently, with adventure and recklessness in his blood and against his families wishes. Gilbert packed his swag and took off north with the prospective miners. Whether success or failure ensued during Gilbert's foray into gold mining is unknown. However, it was from the Ovens River goldfield that Gilbert made his way into New South Wales. First surfacing most probably 100 miles east of Beechworth at Kiandra on the Snowy River c. 1858/9 in company with the men. A letter dated 13th February 1860 in the S.M.H. regarding a businessman investigating the prospect of opening a store on the Kiandra diggings to cater for the nearly 1500 diggers commented that he had engaged some Americans newly arrived from Victoria;[sic]"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..." These men may well have had Gilbert amongst them. No doubt, however, the freezing conditions and hard work with a pick and shovel put an end to Gilbert's presence there. Furthermore, over the last many years there had been speculation that Gilbert had made the acquaintance of Frank Gardiner while at Kiandra, unfortunately, time, distance and Gardiner's incarceration at Cockatoo Island preclude any chance of their knowledge of each other prior to coming into contact at Lambing Flat, c. 1861.

Nevertheless, departing the wilds of the snowy Gilbert next appeared at Bathurst some 200 miles south and was duly employed as a groom and reputed part-time jockey for a well-liked publican, John De Clouet, known as 'Dublin Jack'. De Clouet was the proprietor of the Sportsman Arms Hotel and a very successful racehorse trainer with many winners to his credit. Within a few short years, Dublin Jack would reacquaint himself with 'Happy Jack' when the bushranger attempted to steal De Clouet's fine racer Pasha;[sic] "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." Subsequently, Gilbert departed Bathurst circa 1861 for Murringo (Marengo) a town not far from Boorowa, NSW where before long gold mining soon raged in the district. However, as gold was being discovered Gilbert had commenced horse-breaking and stock work on various cattle stations.

Benjamin Morgan
(b. 1849-d. 1933)

Private Source.
Benjamin Morgan a young boy whose father was overseer of 'Narra Allen' and in later years his family took control of 'Kenyu.' Knew Gilbert as a stockman on the cattle station. Morgan noted years later that John Gilbert was a thin, slightly built man and an excellent horseman who picked up the sobriquet 'Happy Jack'. Morgan remarked that Gilbert was "very jolly always laughing and whistling, we nicknamed him "Happy Jack..,”⁴ writing in his memoirs that Gilbert was in Murringo (spelt Marengo in those times) circa 1860/1. Engaged as a station hand on both "Narra Allen" located in the shadow of Mount Geegullalong between Boorowra and Muringo and "Kenne" (Kenyu) straddling the Boroorwa River both properties then owned by James Chisholm; "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)

Australian Gold Diggings
by Edwin Stocqueler.

c. 1855.
Courtesy NLA.
Adjacent to the station where Gilbert was stock riding was ‘Burrangong Station’ owned by Mr James White one of the first European settlers in the remote district. For men such as Gilbert, life on a cattle station in the 1850/60's saw the work of a stockman blend from one long day into another as they carried out their duties. However, this idyllic way of life would be considerably changed when gold was discovered on ‘Burrangong Station’ at the end of June in 1860.

A Burrangong stockman by the name of Michael Sheedy in company with several other hired hands had been camped at Lambing Flat (the area was used to shelter ewes at lambing time) known today as the town of Young. Here some of the men while out looking for horses were accompanied by an American employed as the cook. The American had observed that the lay of the land was not unlike that of other goldfields he had worked in America, namely California. Therefore, after scraping up a few spades of earth placed in a billy can (a tin used to boil water) and washed with some water produced an astonishing amount of gleaming gold. This discovery and the ensuing frenzy that followed would be another step in the downfall of John Gilbert.
Lambing Flat c. 1860's.
The report of Gold at
The discovery of gold at Lambing Flat was published in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' on 4th August 1860 (see article right) and thus began one of the biggest gold rushes in Australia. As with Victoria, the new diggings amassed not only thousands of people of all walks of life but it also brought into focus the scourge of the bush, the freebooter or bushranger who embraced the opportunity for easy pickings associated with gold fever and drunken miners. Following Sheedy's discovery an article appeared in the newspaper outlaying the reward presented to Sheedy for his lucrative find which dwarfed Hargraves 1851 goldfield at Ophir NSW; "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..." (Michael Sheedy would go on to open a new type of gold mine and reap a new harvest through a general store and hardware, in time Sheedy became quite influential at Burrangong.)

William Fogg.
Consequently, the ramshackle town of Lambing Flat was created, 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..."

Drawn to this rising mecca and the prospects of instant wealth were miners, merchants and tradesmen. Many hoofing it to Lambing Flat from Victoria. However, one business, in particular, was a butcher shop. The shop was operated by a shady character named William Fogg who had formed a partnership with a notorious and charismatic career criminal and 'Ticket of Leave' absentee from Carcoar, Francis Clarke alias Frank Gardiner. Gardiner, as he would become widely known as was, in reality, Francis Christie an escaped prisoner from Victoria's Pentridge Prison. Gardiner would be the initial force in turning John Gilbert from rambunctious scallywag to dyed in the wool bushranger.

Gardiner had recently been released from Cockatoo Island prison Sydney and surfaced at the Spring Creek diggings Burrangong. Gardiner and Fogg had been longtime acquaintances from the Fish River/Wheeo area, and both were close to another notorious bushranger John Peisley with whom Gardiner was reputedly connected with during hold-ups. The goldfield and the thousands descending upon it guaranteed the two rouges a different gold mine in the form of beef sales for the hungry miners. Consequently, the arrangement between the pair was that Fogg operated the butcher business and Gardiner would procure the required cattle which in the main were questionably obtained.

James Chisholm
(1806 - 1888)

Courtesy NSW Parliament.
The discovery of gold and all its riches, men continued to pour in from all points of the compass to try their luck. An eighteen-year-old John Gilbert was no different and saw a different and exciting opportunity from the mundane employment of a stockman and horse-breaker. Gilbert swept up in the excitement of the great rush endeavoured to end his current employment with the highly influential Chisholm family.

However,  according to fellow roustabout and horse-breaker, Mr Robert 'Chipp' Thompson, Gilbert met resistance from either James or possibly Frederick Chisholm. As with so many men fleeing for the goldfields, reliable labour was a vexing problem for the large station owners who were reluctant to let their hired hands depart. 'Chipp' Thompson commented in the autumn of his life, his time in Gilbert's company stating that Gilbert remarked that he would undergo any measures to be released"used to do a good deal of horse-breaking with Gilbert, "I had finished up breaking horses and Gilbert left me. He 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 was also reputed to help out William Mulholland who owned the 3000 acres Stoney Creek station situated on Ready Creek. (There is no evidence that a warrant was ever issued for Gilbert over the incident. It is also only speculation, that the squatter was James Chisholm as Frederick Chisholm, James' younger half brother had as well an active stake in the stations. 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 either James or Frederick Chisholm in c. 1861.)

In 1860/61, the butchering business operated by the pair of Frank Gardiner and Fogg had developed into its own gold mine. Gardiner embraced a reputation amongst the miners and families of selling for a fair price to the thousands flocking to the fields. Furthermore, due to the high demand for meat the two men needed more cattle to be acquired by any means. Therefore, Gardiner sought out some of the shady youths loitering the streets of the Flat. Idle youths to lazy to have a crack at the pick and shovel in search of the yellow metal. This brought him into contact with one such fast and flash youth John Gilbert. 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. Not only was Gilbert streetwise but he had intimate knowledge of the surrounding stations whose cattle often roamed unattended. Gilbert's reputation also included being a part-time bush-telegraph. Gilbert was never short of a quid living at his ease in a boarding house at Lambing Flat. With a sharp eye for easy pickings, he often acquainted his associates of persons who were worth robbing. However, upon Gardiner's endorsement, Gilbert was given the job to purchase cattle for the business.

A typical Goldfield
Butcher's Shop.
c. 1862.
In this capacity, Gilbert visited local cattle stations and at one station paid cash for so many heads of cattle 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. It was no doubt during this time that Gilbert also came into contact with one John O'Meally son of a large proprietor of sheep and cattle at the nearby Arramagong Station at the foot of the Weddin Mountains 25 miles distant. Consequently, upon delivery of the beasts, Gardiner and Fogg manipulated this advantage to undercut the other butchers and sold the meat quite cheaply through volume, making a fortune in the process.

Mrs Betsy Toms.
c. 1920.

Courtesy NLA.
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 head 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..."⁸ In turn, one 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 well and how she had held a soft spot, even at that time, 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 fool 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 

There is no doubt that during the operation of the Lambing Flat butcher's shop Gardiner made the acquaintance of two local graziers starting out on a new venture at a station called Sandy Creek sixty miles distant through Gilbert and O'Meally whom Hall and Maguire had known for some time. They were Ben Hall and John Maguire who also drew cattle from the adjacent Wheogo Station. Wheogo was owned by the stepmother of their wives. The new beef producers herded cattle to the lucrative Burrangong field. Gardiner as well would commence a torrid love affair with the wife of their other brother-in-law John Brown and the sister of their respective wives, Kitty Brown a vivacious blonde beauty. Furthermore, another of Hall's close friends was Daniel Charters whose sister operated the vast Pinnacle Station also adjacent to Sandy Creek. Daniel Charters would also befriend Frank Gardiner, John Gilbert and John O'Meally whom he too was already an acquaintance. 

Subsequently, for the NSW Police, the influx of thousands tended to overwhelm the constables stationed on the Lambing Flat goldfields. Whereby in these wild west times the police also had to contend with the widespread anti-Chinese sentiment prevailing on the goldfield. In 1861 a newly arrived inspector of police and magistrate posted from Dubbo arrived to support the recently appointed Captain Battye to quell the unrest, his name was Sir Frederick Pottinger. Pottinger took command of southern mounted patrol headquartered at Lambing Flat and would shortly after becoming the nemesis to both Gilbert and his mentor Frank Gardiner and later Ben Hall.

The numbers of law enforcement personnel at the disposal of the police in charge in 1861 consisted of the mounted patrol made up of a sergeant-major, seven sergeants, twelve corporals and fifty-seven troopers. To augment these officers a foot patrol under Senior-Sergeant Sanderson, Battye's right-hand man, consisting of a sergeant, a corporal and twenty-one-foot constables. All to oversee a goldfield of thousands. Therefore, in the unruly and widely dispersed ramshackle settlement, the police had their hands full and through various forms of intelligence were well apprised of the large-scale cattle duffing in the district. In turn, Battye was at pains to seek any assistance in the effort to prevent the likes of Gilbert, Fogg, and Gardiner from inflicting this dastardly crime on the large surrounding stations.

Consequently, to facilitate aiding the police a meeting of prominent squatters was called at Bathurst in 1861. These settlers were directly wearing the cost and effects of stock losses. Estimated at over £19,000 in the short term, and supported the police but attacked the government. 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 loss their cattle had also become fair game. However, many of the Squatters had strong ties with the NSW parliament and where, in fact, a few held seats in the chamber, as a result, the disgruntled Lachlan landowners now cried out for more stringent measures for the prevention of men such as the likes of Gilbert and Gardiner's bold method for the procurement of the prized beef"meeting was held at Bathurst last week, to take steps to prevent cattle stealing in the Western Districts. The promoters of the meeting appeared anxious to kill two birds with one stone. Being persons notoriously adverse to the present Government, they very charitably charged the Cabinet with being to blame for the alleged prevalence of cattle-stealing. Mr. J. B. Suttor said the Government did not provide protection for the squatters. If Mr. Suttor had referred to the estimates, he would have seen that a very considerable portion of the public revenue is annually devoted to the protection of the squatters. So long as the face of the country is scattered over with a semi-civilised race of nomads, it will be impossible to provide the protection Mr. J. B. Suttor requires; and, after all, it would appear from the records of our courts of justice that "the squatters" require most to be protected from "the squatters." 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 If Fogg and Gardiner took one-eighth of the producer's lost earnings their effort was a bonanza. 

In an effort to quell their concerns the government installed in 1861 a man of sterling character Captain Battye to the Burrangong field. Battye was a daring and efficient officer unafraid to get his hands dirty and who resolved to grab cattle duffing, as well as the burgeoning acts of bushranging by the throat. Battye also had to contend with the persisting anti-Chinese sentiment and widespread prejudice prevailing on the goldfield. Furthermore, the astute Captain in an effort to force the victims of cattle losses to become more proactive went so far as to place a letter to all stock and station proprietors in the 'Burrangong Courier' asking for their co-operation through calling for the systematic registration of all their horses and cattle brands for the benefit of the 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, it was widely known by the miners that Fogg and Gardiner were mixed up in cattle-duffing which alerted Battye's troopers. Subsequently, a warrant was issued for Frank Gardiner as an absconder from the Carcoar district and cattle stealer. This warrant promptly brought about the end of the butchering business as questionable beef was also discovered. Without realising it, Battye had for a brief moment held Frank Gardiner in police custody. However, the self-assured Gardiner convinced the authorities that they had the wrong man;[sic] 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.

O'Meally's Shanty
the haunt of Gilbert.
Released the lucky man bolted back to Fogg's farm on the Fish River. John Gilbert as well soon shifted his swag (belongings) as he too came under scrutiny, moving to the centre of criminal activity in the Lachlan district the Weddin Mountains where his tearaway mate John O'Meally lived. While at the Weddin Mountains and having chummed up with one of the real wild colonial boys the pair hung out and stood bar at the O'Meally families shanty. A place with a notorious reputation situated on Emu Creek just north of the Weddin Mountains southern extremity and beautifully positioned. As the passing road was the main thoroughfare between another newly discovered gold-field at Forbes and the vibrant Lambing Flat. 

John O'Meally's relationship with Gilbert was often fiery, and squabbles arose often, squabbles which would have them both accuse the other on different occasions of lacking gameness. (courage) John O'Meally is described here from 'The Biography of a Reliable Old Native'by John Maguire, 1907; “O’Meally was born and reared there and I have known him since he was a baby. He was tall, smart, and a splendid horseman...” John O'Meally was between 5ft 10in and 6ft, reddish-brown hair or Auburn colour and as with Gilbert, O'Meally wore it long, grey eyes and held a look of a constant scowl. O'Meally had earlier been accused of rape in the company of his cousin Patrick Daley and an Edward Fox.

Extracts from the
 Burrangong Courier of
 Davis' encounter
 with police and
MaGuinness' shooting.
Gilbert as Gardiner's newest recruit, 'Happy Jack' 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 encounter with police at Brewers Shanty on April 1862. Davis was wounded four times by detective Lyons, Kennedy and Sanderson and then captured.) (See articles right.)  

A view of robberies conducted between 1861-1862 in the district as Gilbert broke-out into bushranging was reflected in 1863. The accounts of crime in and around the Lachlan district frequented by Gilbert and his mentor Gardiner including John O'Meally were recorded in the S.M.H. Bushranging was now the only game in town for the young tearaway and his mate. From the 'Sydney Morning Herald', 19th August 1863, and states; "In 1861.-July 2nd, at Bogalong, two men stuck up inmates of public-house; 9th, at Bogalong, three men stuck up inmates of Mr. Armour's house; Mr. Armour turned the firearms presented at him aside, and the men left without robbing, remarking "that this was Sandy's house; "13th, between Gundagai and Yass, just beyond Carberry's, three men stopped the mail, but the escort rode up, and the robbers rode off; 19th, at Froggley's, in the Abercrombie district, an affray between two police and three bushrangers-Sergeant Middleton shot in several places, and trooper Hozie (said to be) killed; mem. Hozie recovered. 20th, three men bailed up inmates of the inn at Chesher's Creek; 29th, three men bailed up Mr. Mackay's station and several parties. August 5th, three men stuck up Fowler's Inn, on the Marengo Road, about five miles from Lambing Flat, and a tent in the same vicinity; 6th, three men stuck up one man, near Wombat, and another coming from the diggings; 8th, three men stuck up Mr. Murphy of Wagga Wagga, at O'Brien's, at the Levels, and took money, coat, &c , same men then robbed a dray of a gold watch, &c., and afterwards took a keg of spirits from a traveller; at Bathunga, two men robbed Mr. Hausen of money, clothes, &c.; 17th, Mr. Pring's station visited by bushrangers, and on his refusing to supply them with rations, his stores were robbed, and he was so seriously maltreated as to put his life in danger. September 2, Forsyth's store at Tipperary Gully was stuck up on Thursday night, and two men very badly treated; on the 23rd ultimo, two men robbed Mr. Belf's store, at Back Creek, of the cash-box; 1862-January 1st, two men stuck up and robbed of £127 by two armed men (telegram); 3rd, the Uar station, on the Lambing Flat road, stuck up by four armed men, and the inmates robbed of about £150 (telegram); 13th, Mr. Green's station, ten miles from Wowingragong, stuck up and robbed; Dr.Temple, formerly of Burrowa, stuck-up near the graveyard at Spring Creek, and robbed of his watch, chain, saddle and bridle." Although not all are directly linked to Gilbert there can be no doubt that he and O'Meally were active in the area. Many victims were reluctant to report their brush with bushrangers, fearing retribution.

NSW Police Description.
Gilbert, by all accounts, was a very handsome young man and earned a reputation as a flashy dresser taking great care in his appearance and often adorned himself with trinkets. Furthermore, Gilbert was very intelligent with a quick humorous wit and carefree attitude. Gilbert was also very popular with the local darlings of the bush and had a number of them as lovers and admirers. It was widely noted that when taking a spell from bushranging he "perhaps was doing the Lothario business amongst the "pretty horse-breakers" of the Bland and Weddin..." The police in their advertisements for the reward of 500 pounds on his head reported that he gave the appearance of a fast young squatter or stockman and was particularly flash in his address and appearance.

Gilbert on occasions was sighted in the disguise of a woman to avoid police scrutiny. As described by Maguire;op.cit. “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...” A Mr James Haddon who was a bullock dray operator out of Young having faced Gilbert's gun on occasion fondly recalled in his twilight years how Gilbert mixed in amongst the district race crowds disguised as a woman; "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..." At a later robbery at Old Junee in 1863 it was recorded of Gilbert's own comment and view about wearing female apparel; '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..." However female apparel aside Gilbert was more than game and very capable as a pugilist and could hold his own against all comers. Light and quick as lightning as John Maguire stated after being on the end of Gilbert's fist;op.cit. “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...” Future gang member John Vane would also fall to the fists of Gilbert.

Police Gazette July 1862.
John Gilbert, including his brothers Charles and James, were said to have spoken with the soft Canadian accent and were at times often identified or mistaken as Americans. This was noted of Gilbert's older brother Charles in a November 1862 police description; "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 Charles Gilbert would eventually depart Australia and resettle in the USA under his mother's maiden name Wilson. He died in San Francisco at about the same time as the reputed death of Frank Gardiner - c. 1906. However, there has never been any confirmation as to Frank Gardiner's demise in the USA, just rumour and nonsense.
'The Darkie'
Coloured by me.
Meanwhile, as Gilbert laid low at O'Meally's. At the Weddin after learning that the police were searching for him, Gardiner having been unwittingly set free by the police at Lambing Flat disappeared and resurfaced at Fogg's farm at the Fish River 100 miles away in June 1861. Discovered by two police officers Constables Hosie and Middleton a brief fight ensured whereby both officers were wounded from shots fired by Gardiner. Gardiner attempted to flee but was overpowered by Middleton and severely beaten. Handcuffed and guarded by Hosie, Middleton rode off for assistance. Gardiner through a bribe given by Fogg to Hosie fled.

Gardiner, fleeing the Fogg's returned to the Lachlan and made for the Wheogo/Weddin Mountains area where he convalesced amongst a large circle of friends and admirers none more so than a blonde extremely attractive young women Catherine 'Kitty' Brown a married woman and sister to the wife of local squatter and Gardiner acquaintance Ben Hall. A future disciple of Gardiner. Gardiner had formed a torrid romance with Mrs Brown who was fourteen years his junior. However, following his arrest and a narrow escape at Fogg's including the long convalescence of some months in the arms of 'Kitty' Brown at Wheogo, the 'King of the Highwaymen' was soon back brandishing his revolvers in the early weeks of 1862 with Gilbert alongside and John O'Meally in tow. Gardiner and his apprentices once more commenced bushranging operations throughout the surrounding districts of the Bland, Lachlan and the Levels where they soon commanded the Queens Roads.

However, Gilbert during Gardiner's absence also roamed far and wide bailing up as the opportunity arose for easy cash as well as continuing to come and go from the O'Meally Shanty at Arramagong with pal John O’Meally. However, in the main, the young pair back in the company of a rejuvenated Frank Gardiner would conduct most of their robberies on the roads to and from the Burrangong diggings often holding as many as 40 people at a time. These victims would often be treated to a festive affair with fiddlers playing and dancing the order of the day. Then stripped of their possessions; “Gardiner himself stuck up 32 people at a station, took all their money, and—their 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 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." On completion of their robberies, the merry band would retreat to O'Meally's bar no doubt for the want of alibi's. John Maguire writes,op.cit. “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...” The shanty that Maguire alludes to is the public-house, the fine built 'Weddin Mount Inn' operated by the O'Meally family, which had a notorious reputation and was frequently raided by the NSW police. The Inn would eventually become a police station and the O'Meally's moved further up Emu Creek to a new shanty. (See Map Above.) However, during this early period, John Gilbert had already made the acquaintance of a man who in the very near future would become both friend, as well as at various times adversary... Ben Hall.

There has been speculation as to the foundation of Hall's relationship to Gilbert, however, it was reported in 1863 by a local squatter that the men had been acquainted for some years as far back as 1860 while Gilbert was breaking horses and employed in various stock work. In Ben Hall's company Gilbert had joined Hall's expeditions out on the Lachlan Plains for the unbranded cattle otherwise known as Duffer's; "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 63 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. 

On the 13th of March, 1862 in company with Gardiner and O'Meally the three struck again, reported in the 'Goulburn Herald', 19th March 1862; BUSHRANGING AGAIN- "between half-past six and seven o'clock on Thursday morning, as Mr. Thomas Jackson, a resident of Yass, was returning on horseback from Burrangong, and when between the Flat and Mr. Roberts' station, he was stuck up by three mounted bushrangers, each armed with a revolver, and robbed of £18 3s., all the money he had about him..." It was also reported in the 'Freeman's Journal' 9th April 1862 of Gardiner acting alone; "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, be 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 Du-Val..." At this time, a report in the same newspaper wrote that Gardiner's former partner Peisley also an acquaintance of Gilbert's was found guilty of the murder of William Benyon. Peisley was sentenced to death; CONVICTION OF PEISLEY. - "The trial of the bushranger Peisley for the murder of William Benyon at Bigga was concluded on Thursday last. He was found guilty and sentenced to death..."

NSW Police Gazette
April 1862.
How Gardiner took this unsettling news is unknown. However, with Gardiner back at the Lachlan, it was reported that;[sic] "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 constantly alongside Gardiner including John O'Meally and others such as another close companion of Gardiner's, John Davis. This was recounted in the 'Freeman's Journal' 9th April 1862 of the process involved in sticking-up; 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 was to become Gilbert's trademark as well. The majority of his future engagements saw the extraction of silver coins from Gilbert's victims rarely procured. Gilbert would ultimately become the quintessential bushranger and to a degree an entertainer during his robberies. Gilbert's leadership of the Lachlan bushranger's only passed on to Ben Hall after Gilbert's many long absences and the press in time 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 was also acquainted with John Maguire, a partner with Ben Hall in nearby Sandy Creek station at Wheogo. Furthermore, due to a marriage breakdown, Ben Hall was often seen as well in the company of Frank Gardiner and John O'Meally. However, Maguire would write in his golden years his own account of his friendships with Gardiner and his entourage who regularly visited Hall's and his home during those turbulent times. (See Links Page.)

The frequent visits to Hall's property Sandy Creek occurred prior to and after the breakdown of Hall's five-year marriage to his wife Bridget. It was a turbulent time for Hall as his wife had shot through with a known associate of both Gardiner and Fogg, one James Taylor. While mixing together, Hall Gardiner and Gilbert were seen regularly on the spree in the booming gold town of Forbes, often under the very noses of the police. As well as being prominent in the local's eyes due to their many links and suspected lawless activities.[sic] "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..."

However, during early 1862 a former publican and reputed confidant of Gardiner's, Mr Charles MacAlister penned in his memoirs, "Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South," accounts of Gilbert's shenanigans in Forbes circa 1862. Furthermore, MacAlister comments that even at this early stage John Gilbert and Ben Hall's activities were widely thought of by the leading citizens in Forbes and its surrounds that they were bushranging. Gilbert was suspected of involvement in the Horrsington robbery of March 1862.

The perpetrators were Gardiner, O'Meally, MaGuinness and John Davis. During the robbery a gun was discharged, the bullet barely missing Mrs Horrsington fired by MaGuinness; “news was brought in on the sticking up of Mr. Horsington, the Lambing Flat storekeeper, at Big Wombat, by Gardiner and his gang, Horsington having to part with £500 odd in money and over 200 ozs. in gold dust. Up to that time, this was the biggest coup the Darkie (Gardiner) had made." MacAlister as well comments on Gardiner's band frequenting the Forbes hotels; Ben Hall, Gilbert, Fordyce, Charters, and others of the bushrangers had drinks on many occasions at the Great Eastern Hotel in Forbes, and in broad daylight, too. This was prior to the Eugowra affair, and up to that event, 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.P....” (MacAlister built and was a former owner of the Great Eastern Hotel in Forbes. MacAlister's book may be accessed on the Links page.) Davis from Gardiner's comments in 1864 had been a member of the team that robbed the two shop keepers; "as there are only two left of the party-myself and another man, who is at present undergoing a sentence of fifteen years." At the time of Gardiner's statement, Davis was in custody. O'Meally and MaGuinness were both dead and Gilbert still ranging the bush with Ben Hall.

R.B. Mitchell letter
condemning Hall's
On the 14th April 1862, Gilbert, Gardiner's constant companion was a party too with the aforementioned Ben Hall in Hall's first recorded holdup. Here Gilbert himself was named when they Bailed-Up the bullock-drays of William Bacon (Benkin) outside Forbes. With revolvers drawn they stole a large number of goods. An employee of Bacon's, Edward Horsenail, later attested at Hall remand hearing that;[sic] "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 roundup two passing riders who subsequently were robbed and held with the dray operators.[sic] "the man I supposed to be Gardner, noticed two men on horseback passing along the road and ordered the prisoner, with another, to go and fetch them in; they did so; they bailed them up also, and took a saddle from them."

As a result, Ben Hall and another John Youngman reputed to have been employed by Hall were both arrested by Sir Frederick Pottinger after being identified at a Forbes Easter Race meeting April 1862 and faced court charged with Highway Robbery.[sic] BEFORE Mr. S. G. Grenfell, J.P. Benjamin Hall, described as a settler in the Wheogo district, was brought before the Court charged with highway robbery under arms." Pottinger who had had no success in apprehending either Gardiner or his accomplices believed he had struck gold with Hall's arrest; Sir F. Pottinger, sworn, stated from information received I apprehended prisoner on Wednesday last on the racecourse, charged with highway robbery, in company with others, on the road between the Lachlan and Lambing Flat; he denied the charge. Prisoner, who declined saying anything, was remanded until Saturday (this day) when he was again brought before the Court and committed for trial: bail refused. In turn, Youngman was granted bail and ultimately fled, whereby, Ben Hall after some weeks in custody and a trial held at Orange was acquitted and released after a bribe was paid to alter a witnesses evidence. The acquittal was shrouded in controversy and disgust by a court official. (See letter right.) The Youngman family were close friends of Gardiner and John Youngman had a sister known as the 'Fat Girl' who was exhibited by her father for a fee throughout the country. Ben Hall his marriage shot his farm neglected would fall in with Gilbert as another of Gardiner's accomplices.

Gilbert was now viewed as Gardiner's Lieutenant following the capture of another of Gardiner's good mates, John Davis at Brewers Shanty by Police officers Lyons, Kennedy and Sanderson. The encounter and gunfight saw Davis severely wounded but miraculously survived the gunshots. Davis was then tried and sentenced to death. Luckily for Davis, his sentence was commuted to life.

In May 1862 Gilbert appeared in the NSW Police Gazette for robbing a Mr. William Bell a butcher from Young of 3s 9d, which was returned to the unfortunate victim, most probably as the two bushrangers either knew him from their days in the butcher's trade or more likely as would be seen in many future robberies they didn't take one's silver. Gilbert had now become a fully-fledged bushranger and was soon building a reputation as daring and game (brave) in his manner of attacks, as well as being reported as a very cool calm and collected operator when conducting these depredations. There may even be some conjecture that the mystery person in the famous photo of Gardiner and another, long believed to be John Gilbert maybe actually be John Davis? (Below right.)

Frank Gardiner &
 John Gilbert c. 1862.
Gilbert and John O'Meally were now the constant companions of Frank Gardiner roaming the Lachlan and the Bland Plains and hanging out at O'Meally's shanty at 'Arramagong Station'. Arramagong covered some 30,000 acres situated at the foot of the eastern extremity of the Weddin Mountains. However, whilst Gardiner had been secreted there news of one of his former confederates and one of those men long considered to have rescued him from Constable Hosie back in 1861, John Peisley was hanged. John Peisley took his final steps to the gallows at Bathurst Gaol 25th April 1862, coincidentally, at Forbes on the same date Ben Hall was arraigned at the Forbes court by Sir Frederick Pottinger following his recent arrest in the company of Gilbert and Gardiner.

Newspapers reported on the 26th April 1862, the occasion which saw Peisley ascend the gallows steps into the hands of the hangman for the final preparations to meet his maker. On Peisley's conviction, a voice from the court onlookers called, "What is it Johnny" and Peisley replied "Oh! It's a swinger." On the gallows drop, Peisley spoke his last words denying that he had any part in Gardiner's release from the police at Foggs' farm nor did he implicate John Gilbert claiming Hosie was bribed with 50 pounds by Fogg. The news may have had a sobering effect on Gardiner and no doubt planted the seed to clear out of the colony.

However, within weeks of his friends hanging the Claude Duval of the queen's roads began preparations for the greatest robbery of his life and to amass the funds required to shoot through from NSW. His grand exploit all planned while he may have contemplated Peisley's last moments; ''Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal', Saturday 26th April 1862"the last sentence of the law against John Piesley and Jackey Bullfrog, (Aboriginal) both convicted of murder at the last Assizes, was carried into effect yesterday morning, within the precincts of the gaol at Bathurst, in the presence of about fifty of the inhabitants of the town. With reference to the charge which had been made against him, of being concerned in the rescue of Gardiner from the hands of the police, he called God to witness, that the charge was utterly groundless, as he was not near the spot on that occasion. He knew that Fogg had promised Hosie £50 if he would let Gardiner go free, and the money being made up, the sum of £50 10s was given by Fogg. Among the money paid to Hosie, was a cheque for £2 10s, and that was the reason of his receiving ten shillings over the £50. He hoped that God would forgive all his enemies; he forgave them freely, and fully. He concluded by saying "Goodbye gentlemen, and God bless you." The fatal rope was then adjusted and the white caps being drawn over the faces of the culprits, at a signal from the Acting-Sheriff, the drop fell, and the two unfortunates were launched into eternity. Peisley did not appear to suffer much nor long, but the poor blackfellow was for several minutes frightfully convulsed. Piesley maintained to the last moment, the same calm, firm determination which characterised him through the whole of the proceedings. He ascended the ladder steadily but firmly and we did not observe the slightest change of colour or of countenance, neither was there any appearance of tremor when making his dying statement..." 

"..make way for the
 Royal Mail."
John Gilbert became instrumental in Frank Gardiner's most daring heist of all. The robbery of the 'Forbes Gold Escort'. John Gilbert's involvement was from the very outset, with the plan hatched and formulated over a two week period with planning conducted at John McGuire and Ben Hall's huts at Sandy Creek station, both of which also utilised as the rendezvous for the gang's meeting and departure.

John Maguire was fully included in the preplanning, although Maguire didn't participate in the physical robbery at Eugowra. However, he was fully aware of who was to be involved in the attack of the Gold Escort which travelled regularly between Forbes and Orange. The heist was planned for 15th June 1862. Maguire wrote in his narrative;op.cit. "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..." The audacious plan was put into effect and the gang was made up of leader Frank Gardiner, Gilbert, Ben Hall, Daniel Charters, Alex Fordyce, John Bow and Henry Manns set off on the 14th June 1862. The gang arrived without incident at the Eugowra Rocks and where, prior to 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;[sic] "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...”  As the echo of Fagan's voice faded, the crack of gunfire erupted and a barrage of bullets crashed into the gold escort coach splintering timber and wounding a number of unsuspecting policemen including the man in charge Sergeant Condell. The rapid-fire of the gun's discharge startled the horses which bolted, flipping over the stagecoach. The escorting troopers outgunned and under intense fire and dragging their wounded comrades with them from the fury of the bullets managed to retreat into the nearby scrub where they made their way to Mr Hanerbry Clement’s farm as the armed robbers Gardiner, Hall and company ransacked the coach and cleared out with over £14,000 worth of gold and cash. Roughly $5,307,200 in today’s value.
Wheogo Hill, view looking South-East towards Grenfell with Weddin Mountains in the distance right. Sanderson approached the hill from Ben Hall's home which is to the extreme left and out of sight.
Courtesy Peter C Smith's 'Tracking Down the Bushrangers'
Delightful yells from the robbers reverberated amongst the rocks as the band loaded their treasure and made a slow and methodical exit from the scene of their triumph and crossed the Mandagery Creek then the Lachlan River. John Gilbert and his cohorts remained together zig-zagging their tracks en route to Wheogo Hill, 60 miles from the scene of action to divide the spoils of their success.

Gilbert’s share was 300oz of gold and £435 in cash - a fair fortune in 1862. However, a need for more capacity to carry the individual shares of the heavy gold required saddle-bags, therefore, Daniel Charters (who would later turn informer) was dispatched to his best mate Ben Hall's hut to-gather the items. Historically, however, there have been accounts that indicate Gilbert as the accomplice sent on the errand and that he was the rider the police sighted approaching Hall's who in panic turned and fled raising the alarm. Unfortunately, evidence strongly draws Daniel Charters in to focus as the rider as Charters was proven to have lied under oath at his future Escort trial to lessen his culpability. Sadly, his testimony has been widely misused ever since. John Maguire’s account of the occasion stated;op.cit. "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..."

It made sense for Gardiner to send Charters as he knew the terrain around Wheogo and Hall's property intimately. Of interest however, is the role played of young Johnny Walsh following the return of the men to Wheogo Hill. Walsh's presence in the main, has been overlooked. 'The Warrigal' was the link in fetching the victuals needed to sustain the men as the proceeds of the robbery were divvied-up. Furthermore, the man Gardiner sent to Hall's for saddlebags may well have been Walsh and not as suspected Gilbert nor Charters, as evidence suggests that it was the 'The Warrigal' who was sent to collect the saddlebags from Hall's as he would have not raised suspicion and that Maguire instead named Charters to protect the young larikin who on seeing the troopers quickly turned and fled.

On Sanderson reaching the camp, he 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.." For Johnny's help in the camp at Wheogo. Maguire comments that the young lad received £100; Maguire op.cit. "When Gardiner's gang was dividing the money-taken from the Eugowra escort robbery, 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..." However, luckily for Gilbert upon hearing the call of the troopers galloping approach, it soon became every man for himself. Gilbert jumped on his horse and bolted leaving Gardiner, Charters and Walsh on his arrival atop the hill to cope with the pack-horse on which the remaining proceeds of the robbery, including Charters' share, had been placed. The police now hot on their heels forced Gardiner to abandon the animal which fell triumphantly into the hands of Senior Sergeant Sanderson.

Charles Sanderson.
c. 1896.
Gilbert fled and Gardiner for the first time in his lawless career panicked whereby Gardiner made a catastrophic mistake. Fearing that the police were almost upon him and the pack-horse slowing their escape. Gardiner dropped its reins and galloped off leaving his, Charters and Fordyce's share on its back calling out "Go your own roads, and look after yourselves" this command was promptly acted upon, the other three promptly, disappearing in various directions..." Sanderson would later state that he never got within five miles of Gardiner. Extract from the ‘Sydney Mail’ 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..."

After the events of the discovery of the hideout at Wheogo and Gilbert's fleeing leaving Gardiner to cope alone, it came to light that Gilbert's actions caused friction and ill will between the two bushrangers and it is believed they went their separate ways never to come into contact again, as noted from an article in 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 headed for O'Meally's Shanty at the Weddin Mountains. Here Gilbert laid low for a few weeks finally rendezvousing with his brother Charles and prepared to commence the long journey home to Victoria at his brother's insistence.

NSW Police Gazette,
18th June 1862.
In a little-known fact regarding the events of the Escort robbery was that some hours before the fateful Gold coach departed Forbes for Orange there were to be two other passengers on board as well as the police troopers, they were Police Magistrate for Forbes Captain Brown a long-time friend of Captain M’Lerie and the Gold Commissioner for Forbes Mr Grenfell who had previously sent Ben Hall to Orange to face trial for the Bacon Dray Robbery in April of that year. The two men left Forbes on horseback. This was reported in 'The Courier', Tuesday 8th July 1862. It also reports the initial police movements at the commencement 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.”

Whether or not as the gang waited for the approaching coach and prior to the blocking of the road the villains watched the two men pass is unknown. However, Sanderson's success saw the following telegram urgently dispatched and received by the Inspector General of Police from Mr Morrisset, superintendent of Western District Police following Sanderson's recovery of the Eugowra gold; - "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, and 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 was clamouring for news of the sensational events and reports of the recovery and the efforts of the police in their pursuit were devoured by the populace. Every journal was jockeying for the most spectacular information or witness accounts; 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, and 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 vying to print every morsel of information from any source over the now infamous Lachlan Gold robbery; — 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.
Sir Frederick Pottinger who was the officer in charge of the pursuit 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 township of Forbes' population turn out in force to greet the triumphant return of the hard-pressed and weary troopers laden with the spoils of their success which included the unbridled joy of the black-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.
Sir Frederick Pottinger in the pursuit of the escort bandito's had split his force into various sections to cover a wider area as the original tracks were leading the police towards the Weddin Mountains. However, Sir Frederick Pottinger had himself headed south towards the Victorian border as his assessment was that the bushrangers hailed from that state. Pottinger after many days in the saddle and worn out duly arrived in the southern NSW township of Hay where as reported in this article from the '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, and 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."

Charles D'Arcy Gilbert.
c. 1870's.

Never before published.
Meanwhile, as the police searched willy nilly John Gilbert remained at the Weddin Mountains whereby on the 4th July 1862 in company with his brother Charles D'Arcy Gilbert and fellow escort accomplice Henry Manns the three men took the road bound for Victoria. The three travellers were mounted on fine horses and trailing a packhorse each with their provisions and stolen loot headed south in what they had hoped would be an uneventful ride. John Gilbert's brother Charles wrote in a letter published in November 1863 an account of that day's journey including the fateful events that followed when the three men came into contact with the returning Sir Frederick Pottinger's party.

Charles' letter also noted his desire to draw his little brother John away from the Lachlan and those Charles thought were of a bad influence. Some portions of Charles' statements in the letter to the editor of the 'Kyneton Guardian' are vague and misleading, notwithstanding, Charles had to be fully aware of John Gilbert's participation at Eugowra as well as who the identity of their mystery rider really was. Charles Gilbert elusively states in this extract from the 'Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News' 25th November 1863; "in the month of May 1862, I arrived at the Lachlan diggings, attracted there by the very flattering account of the richness of that gold-field. I need scarcely add that like many others who left Victoria about the same time, I felt disappointed, and 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. 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. lt 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.
However, as Gilbert and his two companions rode leisurely along a stock route which today is still in existence, now called Traegers Lane crossing the Goldfields Hwy, to Campbell's stock route, the route has not changed since 1862 and is still today nothing more than a mere dirt track. However, as they chattered together they came in contact with a rider approaching them from Merool Station. (known today as Mirrool, situated between Hay and Quandary, NSW) As the unknown rider approached 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 and had been riding slightly ahead of the Inspector as the men made their way back to the Lachlan. Mitchell on approach was the first to address the three horsemen, he asked, "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.

What happened next is reported in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' 16th July 1862. This true account speaks for itself. Gilbert first identified himself as Charles Turner; TWO OF THE GANG. -THEIR SUBSEQUENT RESCUE. (Abridged from the Lachlan Observer, July 16th, 1862.) "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 Merandarra, 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 of 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, in 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."

Gilbert on effecting his rapid escape from the clutches of Sir Frederick Pottinger set off on a feat of great horsemanship. Whereby riding flat-out made tracks back to the Weddin Mountains covering a distance of some 60 miles across plain and scrubland, jumping creeks and arriving there in under ten hours. Upon arrival at the Weddin Mountains, Gilbert quickly assembled a rescue party for his brother Charles and Henry Manns. Gilbert knowing that the police could not travel quickly while leading their prisoners and would not be prepared for an attacked set about a plan to intercept the troopers along the road he judged they would travel. Gilbert's rescue party most probably included O'Meally, Ben Hall, and others associated with the gold heist. Gardiner was not involved. The gang mounted fresh horses and retraced Gilbert's route back to a point which Gilbert suspected the troopers would arrive at. All this was done within thirty-six hours. Leaving Quandary Station the police with their prisoners leisurely proceeded towards Forbes. The newspaper article below continues with the astonishing encounter and gunfight between the bushrangers and the troopers;

Temora (Timoola) Homestead.
"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, (today's Temora) 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.

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 reconnoitre. 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 hit the wires the colony was gobsmacked at the affront of the bushrangers and citizens rummaged the newspaper for up to date accounts of the audacious rescue by John Gilbert 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; op.cit. "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 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 and fenced off alongside a creek and is 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 including 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 Ben Hall. 

Furthermore, with the Adrenalin charged atmosphere of the gunfight behind the Inspector and the vigorous battle to free the prisoners lasting over ten furious minutes as volley after volley rained down upon the police from Gilbert and Co. Sir Frederick Pottinger seeing retreat as the better part of valour retired and on reaching the safety of the nearest station sent a rider post haste to Wagga Wagga 50 miles away firing off a series of telegrams to Inspector General M’Lerie in Sydney and waited for the response. The press remarked; "the telegraph wires to the metropolis were busily employed sending information to the Government and to the Press..,"²³ The telegram out-lined Pottinger's predicament and an urgent requirement for reinforcements. The telegrams and those of Pottinger's relief column lead 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 who believed 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 and band returned to Forbes with the gold recovered from Manns totalling 213oz. Unfortunately, the cash of £135 which was in possession of Detective Lyons was lost to the bushrangers. However, detective Lyons dispatched his account of the battle to police headquarters in Sydney addressed to Inspector Harrison of their actions in response to the attack 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 on 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.

On the 24th July 1862, seventeen day's after Gilbert freed his brother and Manns, the following article appeared in 'The Empire', written by a Wag correspondent (sarcastic jokester) based on his interpretation of the amazing gun battle between bushrangers and police and how with bullets reportedly flying willy-nilly not one scratch except for Lyon's horse was inflicted. The article is heavily laced with sarcasm but is also a subtle criticism of the new police system which had only been in force for a mere four months
; "the 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; but 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..."

Consequently, the rescue by John Gilbert released the two captives and its success then saw the men involved in the melee, long believed, to be John O'Meally, Ben Hall and possibly Patsy Daley and Downey quickly dispersed taking different routes back to their home turf of the Weddin Mountains. Furthermore, in the skirmish including the loss of three of their horses the assailants procured new mounts and retreated without as they had threatened to fight for, the gold held by Sir Frederick Pottinger.

John Gilbert
Coloured by me.
John Gilbert and his brother Charles boldly continue their originally planned trek back to Victoria eventually arriving in an area known as the 'Coliban', a goldfield on the outskirts of Bendigo situated on the historic Coliban River. Here the two brothers were also joined by their elder brother James Gilbert. Henry Manns returned to his former haunt near Borrowra, NSW.

The Gilbert's now laid low for a number of weeks on the 'Coliban' visiting family members residing in the Kyneton district some 40 miles from Bendigo prior to sailing from Port Phillip Bay for New Zealand's South Island and the Otago district of Dunedin, then on to the Dunstan Goldfield, 135 miles west from Dunedin. The Dunstan field is known today as the township of Clyde. John Gilbert's brother's James and Charles were both attempting to dissuade John from continuing the path of lawlessness and hoped to commence a new beginning for themselves and at the same time strike it rich on the Central Otago Goldfield.

Charles wrote in an extract from the earlier letter, regarding their escape from Sir Frederick Pottinger of their arrival home in Victoria and then the subsequent move to New Zealand's South Islandop.cit. "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..."

The Gilbert brothers, together again in Victoria, set about the preparations for the move to New Zealand, a country that Charles had departed from earlier in February of 1862;op.cit. "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 endeavoured to see 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  Lauriston, through a later letter wrote about his son; "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

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, there were stories of Gardiner in South Australia, masquerading as a minister of the cloth, or at one his sister's residence at his childhood home of Portland, Victoria or even that he had fled the country to California. This speculation was also rumoured to be similar for John Gilbert, where it was reported in the Victorian Police Gazette October 1862; "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. John Gilbert's journey to New Zealand was recalled in 1916, with an exciting twist, a lady by the name of Mrs Sarah Musgrave, 86 yrs old at the time and who was living at Burrangong Station, Lambing Flat in the 1860s. During the time when Burrangong Station was a favourite retreat of the bushrangers. Mrs Musgrave reminisced of her time there and of her encounters with Gilbert and others. Mrs Sarah Musgrave gave a fascinating account of John Gilbert's trip to New Zealand, where Mrs Musgrave claimed in the following conversation, recounted here, and recounted as it came straight from the lips of John Gilbert regarding his move to New Zealand, that is! That John Gilbert made the crossing disguised as a woman.

Sarah Musgrave
c. 1920's.
Courtesy Junee Historical
Mrs Musgrave recounts her conversation with Gilbert, where he related his attempt to give up the 'Bushranging Game' and how under feminine 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

The use of a woman's disguise was also highlighted by John Maguire about Gilbert. Maguire state's op.cit. "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...” This also implies from the articles above that the ruse was continued on by Gilbert on arrival at Dunedin and all the way to Clyde. Listen to John Gilbert's own word regarding his use of a disguise to flee Australia for New Zealand. 
(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
During the time that Gilbert shot through to New Zealand, ships sailing to New Zealand were becoming more frequent as the reports of gold finds ran through the newspapers. This news instigated another mass exodus of men from both the Victorian and New South Wales diggings. The Gilbert's soon joined the throng of men awaiting passage, using the crowds of Melbourne for anonymity, for their younger brother John was not as well known for his daring deeds in Victoria as in New South Wales.

Shipping Advertisement
John Gilbert flushed with cash from the proceeds of the Escort robbery, amounting to £435 ($32,ooo), as well as 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. In late August 1862, the shipping traffic to Dunedin was brisk with a number of ships capable of ferrying the three Gilbert brothers, they included, The Aldinga, The City of Hobart, The Gothenburg and another 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. (A search of ships passenger lists unfortunately only cover 1st class cabins, and a search of passengers travelling as two men and a woman of the same surname are noted, but too numerous to decipher, as well as with so many arrivals identification documents were rare if used at all.)

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.

Dunedin Harbour, 1862.
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..."

The Gilbert's were also be in need of mining supplies, even though Charles had previously worked on the Dunstan goldfield. Therefore, it would not have been unusual to have a lodged claim all ready to return too and then to have purchased the proper supplies needed to commence the well-worn track to the Dunstan field. How much equipment the brothers brought with them is not known.

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 tunnelling 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; op.cit. "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 re-joined the hustle and bustle of the goldfield and settled down to mining for the riches of the earth.

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

My Photo.
After a trek of some 80 miles lugging equipment, Gilbert and his two brothers arrived at the Dunstan goldfield. Setting up their camp they commenced mining. For the Gilbert's and the majority of their fellow miner's, rough tents were the order of the day and were erected all along the foreshore of the Clutha River at Clyde where the bulk of the search for 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 the finding of gold is unknown, but many fellow diggers were having plenty of good luck. John Gilbert from all accounts maintained his disguise and continued in the appearance in which he had travelled to New Zealand, that of a female, at least in public. Nevertheless, how long this façade could be acted out appeared to be only for a short period. Unsurprisingly, women were a scarce commodity on the majority of the gold-diggings and those who were present and unattached were often tarnished with an unsavoury title of 'loose'. 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 in a world dominated by men, hard yakka, hard drinking and an environment deprived of the sweet fairer sex to be intrigued with the "sister" of the Gilbert's. Subsequently, the intrigue and attention to Gilbert's 'sisters' attractiveness had set in motion the need for the handsome young man to take his leave from the Dunstan field. As John Gilbert himself stated; "but 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 back to the port at Dunedin in the company of his brother Charles and where 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 return passage to Australia in early January of 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; op.cit. "but 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, the small township of Marengo. His old stockman patch, which was thrown into turmoil when a panicked word was broadcast from horseback by a messenger. A word that 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 had returned.

Marengo had been a familiar country for John Gilbert, as on first arriving in NSW in the late 1850s, Gilbert had worked as a stockman on some of the local cattle stations as gold fever was breaking out and was well known 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.

NSW Mounted Police. 
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 the capture of 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 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 "this 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..."

Furthermore, as John Gilbert settled back into the familiar surrounds of the Weddin Mountains and the wider Lachlan district, the newspapers in Sydney commenced coverage of the ‘Special Commission Trials’ into bushranging and more importantly the now-infamous escort robbery at Eugowra of June 1862. The trials commenced in February 1863. John Gilbert as with the whole of the colony would follow the proceedings closely, including the testimonies of Daniel Charters and Tom Richards both of whom had turned Queen’s evidence. Charters succumbing to turncoat for the pardon on offer and Richards for the large reward.

Consequently, much of the evidence implicated Gilbert as one of the main instigators of the robbery, but Gilbert may have been somewhat amused at the evidence of Charters who deliberately avoided implicating both Ben Hall and John O’Meally. Either way the dye was cast and Gilbert assumed a quasi leadership of the Weddin Mountains mob and dived straight back in leading robberies in and around the Burrangong, Marengo and Burrowa area.

Gilbert now began to appear regularly in the newspapers and was, as reported below soon in full flight which included a vicious assault of a policeman. DARING ATTACK OF BUSHRANGERS IN BROAD DAY-LIGHT. – “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 association with Frank Gardiner was a constant reminder to the NSW government of the teething problems of the newly formed police force. Which after one year faced much criticism in the fight against bushranging and the inability of apprehending the principal offender's John Gilbert, John O'Meally and Ben Hall amongst others. The NSW government led by Mr Cowper placed large amounts of money as an inducement to break the cone of silence infesting the western districts. Rewards which for the poorer of the cockatoo squatter's would have been quite a windfall for dobbing in the bushrangers. In an effort 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 not successful 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 and Gardiner was quickly ridiculed in the newspapers; THE REWARD FOR GARDINER AND GILBERT. - A SPORTING OFFER. - "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 this 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 was as well very humorous and enjoyed himself whenever the occasion presented and could spin a good yarn to his captive audiences. The ladies often fell under his spell. This lackadaisical attitude made him one of the most intriguing of the bushrangers taking the western and southern districts of NSW 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 brushes with the police, particularly regarding Sir Frederick Pottinger, a ruthless enforcer of the law and one officer whose suspicions of Hall’s fraternisation with Gardiner and Gilbert had much foundation.

Whereby, Gilbert from his early days as a youth in Victoria embraced the fast life and the easy money associated with the drinking dens and gambling activities then the ultimate fall into bushranging. At first, Gilbert was just a juvenile delinquent whereby drifting into NSW he came under the spell of Frank Gardiner. The many newspaper reports of his activities noted that he was always smartly dressed and took great care in his appearance with long fair hair and good looks bordering on the feminine.

The success of Gilbert and the ever-changing gang of accomplices many of whom were unknown or only having joined in for a lark, before returning to the role of bush telegraph often resulted in the officers of the law ridiculed by the press. As the bushrangers mounted on the best thoroughbreds and armed to the teeth with the most up to date weaponry lead the troopers a merry dance through the vast and 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 the difficulty of identifying friend from foe. However, the early weeks of 1863. The core of the gang made up of John O’Meally, Ben Hall, Patsy Daley, John Gilbert with O’Meally’s younger brother Patrick often implicated in robberies and before long a newcomer and murder who escaped in February 1863 from Bathurst Gaol, Fred Lowry. For the next few months, these men would set alight the goldfields of central NSW.

Meanwhile, as Gilbert re-emerged, the colony was enthralled  with the proceedings of the Escort Trials and its first conclusion. Whereby, on the 14th February the newspapers carried the news of the end of the trial of Fordyce, Bow, Maguire and Manns and the citizens waited with bated breath for the outcome. As they waited for the announcements of the verdicts. 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 dismay of the Judge, a hung jury emerged, and the prisoners once again were returned to Darlinghurst as the Chief Justice Sir Alfred Stephen sort direction from the government. For the accused the government were to have their pound of flesh and consequently directed a new trial. The secreted missiles disappeared. Whereby, Charters and Richards as informers became the target of the public's disgust. Furthermore, following much of the evidence over the events of the Escort robbery coming to the light enhanced John Gilbert a bushranging celebrity of the 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 where found by some of the friends of the accused.]³⁸

The press was relentless in addressing the plight of bushranging and invented many assumptions regarding its current path as well as with regard its outset, pointing the finger at the sealing up of the large fertile tracks of the interior by Squatters who in the 1830s and 40s snapped up massive areas squeezing out the small prospective selectors and where large landholders dominated for their own means, the parliament. The path to parliament in the 1860s was trekked by those who had the finances and social standing whereby the mainly uneducated folk were not compelled to participate. 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 was certainly in. However, the government was in the process of redistribution through the Robinson Land Act. This move was an attempt to create equity in the ownership of land both out on the vast plains and in the local town precincts; "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, this 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 itinerant workers. Lack of skills led to idleness and crime. Therefore, drawing a link between those with land and those without turning to bushranging is ludicrous. Gilbert was educated his family antecedents, prosperous law-abiding citizens. Gilbert's partners in crime were also from an environment of industrious effort and risk such as Ben Hall a former large landholder and moderately wealthy. John O'Meally as well was educated and from a family that previously controlled the vast Arramagong Station 30,000 acres and others who as well were provided with a form of education often by tutors.

On the 19th of February the government placed a description of Gilbert again in the newspapers; DESCRIPTION OF JOHN, alias JOHNNY GILBERT. 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. Gilbert was at times reported as 5ft 10in, 8in, 11in  and very attractive.

For Gilbert and the gang a age old system of communication prevailed that of the colloquially known 'Bush Telegraphs'. These old style runners or messengers and informants were in a position to have their fingers on the pulse of police's activities and were able to pass the word swiftly for a stipend. These messages would convey police movements, persons travelling with large sums of cash, mail coaches with valuables onboard as well as a myriad of other pertinent intelligence including those assisting the police. Information paramount in the prosecution of 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 enable the bushrangers to move with ease amongst the throngs of miners and the shanty's 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, Pinnacle and the gold areas Gilbert once more with O'Meally, Ben Hall and new comer Patsy Daley 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; SYSTEMATIC PLUNDERING UNDER ARMS.- Writing to the Yass Courier from Burrangong, on the 23rd Instant, the correspondent of that journal says:- "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 found 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, prior to the pillaging of Meyers Solomon. John O'Meally was involved in the shooting death of a German hotelier Adolph Cirkel. O'Meally in company with another long believed to be John Gilbert attempted to rob the Miners Rest Hotel at  Spring Creek whereby in the process Mr Cirkel walked in surprising the two assailants. A struggle ensured between Cirkel and O'Meally for the revolver. O'Meally's accomplice called out to "Shoot the bastard." O'Meally pulled the trigger, Cirkel dropped dead. The second assailant was described as short 5ft 7in of 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 8/10in 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 known to be riding with O'Meally at the time.

NSW Police Gazette
March 1863.
On the 14th March Gilbert along with O'Meally bailed up a Mr Percy Scarr near Burrowa relieving him of a number of items as well as his horse and gear. Mr Scarr would have a number of 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.

Following the Cirkel murder and the Solomon robbery as often happened, Gilbert detached himself from Hall and O'Meally, who with O'Meallys first cousin Patsy Daley who had helped himself with sweets from the Solomon robbery, confronted police inspector Norton and tracker Billy Dargin near Hall's former station Sandy Creek. A short fusillade of shots ensued before Norton surrendered and Dargin escaped on foot reaching the Pinnacle Station to raise the alarm. Gilbert was not a participant in the ordeal of Norton's capture and appeared to be holed up with one of the many friends from his stockman days. No doubt Gilbert as a ladies man the young flash robber sought out the ladies fair, as reported on 11th March 1863 when enjoying not only the sweet juicy peaches but the even sweeter peach-blossomed girls; "Writing on the 23rd ultimo, '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;[sic] "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...”

NSW Police Gazette
April 1863.
In March 1863 as Gilbert was wiling away his time amongst some close acquaintances from his stockman days at Marengo, another fringe 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, was taken into custody by sub-inspector Roberts for theft as well as on suspicion of;[sic] 'being concerned in the late escort robbery at Eugowra.' There was something familiar about Thomas Nye that piqued the interest of the NSW police. 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 over his life be charged for numerous offences from stealing to fist fights with neighbours. Nye was educated and had during the Boer War written 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 a 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. However, after a short recess the handsome bushranger appeared back on the road and robbed a number of persons in company with no doubt Hall and O'Meally as 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."-Burrangong Star.

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  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!