Yes, in the annals of Australian history, the name Ben Hall stands out as one of the most infamous and intriguing figures of the 19th century. Born in a penal colony, raised in the rugged Australian bush, Hall's life story is as captivating as it is tragic.
This Website, "Ben Hall: From Stockman to Bushranger," aims to delve into the life and times of this notorious bushranger. Drawing from historical records, newspaper accounts, and personal testimonies, we will journey through Hall's life, from his humble beginnings in New South Wales to his violent end at the hands of the NSW police.
Ben Hall was not born a criminal. He was a child of convicts, yes, but he was also a skilled stockman, a loving brother, and father. A respected member of his community. So, how did this young man, known for his good looks and charm, become one of the most feared bushrangers in Australian history? What forces drove him to a life of crime? And how did his actions impact the lives of those around him and the course of Australian history?
In the following webpages, we will explore these questions and more. We will delve into the societal and historical context of Hall's life, shedding light on the conditions that gave rise to bushranging in 19th-century Australia. We will also examine Hall's personal relationships, his criminal exploits, and the legacy he left behind.
"Ben Hall: From Stockman to Bushranger" is more than just a biography. It is a journey into a fascinating and tumultuous period in Australian history, seen through the eyes of one of its most notorious figures. So, let us embark on this journey together, into the life and times of Ben Hall, the bushranger who captured the imagination and fear of a nation. (All historical related articles incorporated into the narrative are coloured and transcribed as published.)
Google Earth image.
The Halls embarked on their journey from Maitland with a bullock dray filled with their belongings and a small herd of cattle and horses. The 90-mile journey was just another relocation for a family accustomed to frequent moves, and it was an exciting adventure for the five Hall children, all under the age of 10, who were undoubtedly thrilled at the prospect of having a farm of their own. The trek northward took two to three weeks.
Upon arrival, the Halls set up a modest farmstead near a creek that flowed into the Barnard River. The creek, where Ben Hall Sr built the family home, would later become historically known as Ben Hall's Creek. The landscape of Hall's Creek was described as wild and inhospitable, with harsh winters often blanketed in snow and oppressively hot summers. Years later, the station and its location were remembered as being in "a very mountainous country."¹
|Remains of the|
Halls Creek home.
Courtesy A.A. McLellan.
Eliza Hall found the move to Haydonton to be a substantial upgrade. Once again, she had access to the conveniences of a more civilized life. Haydonton was linked to the settlement of Murrurundi, established in 1840. By the year 1890, Haydonton had fully integrated with Murrurundi.
|Clift residence Maitland|
Courtesy Dr John Turner
(1933 - 1998)
Ben Hall was born reputedly at Samuel Clift's residence, named 'Bridge House', Toll Bridge Lane, East Maitland or the home of Eliza's sister Catherine Wynn at Maitland. Samuel Clift passed away at 'Bridge House' in 1862, aged 71.
Evidence indicates that the Hall family never actually resided there. However, Eliza was reputedly employed by Samuel and Ann Clift as a servant, as was her husband, Benjamin, although in another capacity, as a stockkeeper at Clift's Wallis Creek 44-acre property.
Eliza's sister Catherine (also transported for seven years) was a resident at East Maitland and married Mr John Wynn. (See Hall's page) The two sisters were close and possibly resided together. One of Eliza's children is named after her. Undoubtedly, Catherine would have attended to her sister during the labour and birth of Benjamin Hall. Ben Hall's Great Grandson, Ben Hall, has stated that Ben was born in February and not May.
|Benjamin Hall land|
Courtesy Haydon papers
The property also had immediate access to the major thoroughfares of the Great Northern and Southern roads, which are known today as the New England Highway. As previously mentioned, Ben paid £140 for the land. The price, higher than average, was due to the fact that the parcel already had a rudimentary dwelling on it. Ben Hall Sr quickly set about transforming this dwelling into a substantial home. The house, built with wooden slabs and a bark roof, had three bedrooms. Over time, additional outbuildings such as a butcher's shop and a blacksmith shop were added. In a relatively short period, the family had established a self-sufficient homestead and were running a successful butchering business.
Note: New research confirms that before his transportation to NSW, Ben's father was a butcher or Skinner by trade. See Hall's Page.
Reputed home of the
Courtesy A.A. McLellan.
The family home of young Ben Hall, located in Haydonton/Murrurundi, was depicted in the book 'Rambles and Observations in New South Wales 1848', authored by traveller and adventurer Joseph Phipps Townsend.
Haydonton and Murrurundi were small settlements with limited facilities and amenities. In 1841, Murrurundi had a population of 52 and consisted of 11 houses. Haydonton was even smaller, with a population of 22 and a few cottages. There were two inns - The White Swan in Murrurundi and the White Hart in Haydonton - both of which were substantial buildings.
In Murrurundi, the Hall family was representative of the smaller settlers in remote NSW towns and villages. Livestock such as horses and cattle were their lifeblood, providing income, wealth, and sustenance. Benjamin Sr also acquired a second home in Haydonton during this early period, which he rented to the local doctor, Dr Hallett, as noted in the Haydon Family Papers - Volume 3, page 32.
Ben Hall Sr, aided by Eliza and their eldest son William, managed to evade arrest thanks to a tip-off from his friend, James Gowan. Hall Sr quickly left Haydonton and travelled 200 miles south to the Lachlan region.
Furthermore, Hall and others of dubious character had built reputations as proficient thieves in the town. This led to the formation of several societies committed to eradicating stock theft. Many of these associations were spearheaded by prominent landowners who formed alliances and offered rewards for the capture of these criminals. These associations included the Upper Hunter District and Scone District Associations for the Suppression of Horse, Cattle, and Sheep stealing.
|Ben Hall's father|
However, the law was patient. In October 1848, Benjamin Hall Sr was arrested at the Lachlan River hold-up, where he had been working at Mr Hugh Hamilton's farm near Forbes for two years.
During his prolonged absence, Eliza and the children were left to maintain the stock and store. They earned income by selling their own farm-grown vegetables, fruit, and butchered livestock, managing to get by in their father's absence. With Benjamin Hall's departure in 1845, the police turned their suspicious gaze upon his eldest son William. At the tender age of eleven, William was arrested for horse theft, charged as an accomplice to his father. William Hall was charged with the following:
William Hall, aged eleven, Parramatta Gaol Entrance Book, 4th October 1845.
William managed to evade imprisonment and, upon his release, was met with a stern admonishment from the Judge. The impact of their older brother's treatment by their mother on the other siblings remains unclear. However, when the time came for Thomas Wade, Mary, William, and Ben Hall to leave home and join their father in the Lachlan, it could be seen as a potential move for the entire family. This plan, however, did not come to fruition as Eliza Hall refused to leave Murrurundi. Her refusal was based on the fact that she was once again pregnant, this time with the couple's last child, Ellen. A.A. McLellan, in 'Benjamin Hall and Family' pg. 25, discusses Eliza's reluctance:
|Benjamin Hall arrested|
30th October 1848
at Hamilton's station.
Hamilton had previously met Ben Hall's father between 1846-48, when Hall Sr was laying low under an assumed name, believed to be Jack Binding. Despite Hall Sr's past offense and subsequent arrest in October 1848 by Constable Hoy of the old New South Wales mounted police, Hamilton seemed unperturbed. He hired the three boys, who, despite their young age, were highly skilled riders.
|Hugh Hamilton's leases.|
Squatting Licences, 1848.
The stations were overseen by head stockman William Jones. Among Jones' assistants was young Ben Hall, who would later become a significant figure in the area. Another assistant was James Newell, who would become a lifelong friend and future ally of Hall. It was Newell who introduced Ben to his brother-in-law, Daniel Charters. Charters and Hall would go on to form a close friendship. Newell had married Charters' older sister, Agnes, in 1850, and they also resided at Tommanbil. The Newell family would eventually own several hotels, the most notable of which was located at Bandon, NSW, near Eugowra.
However, Jones' tenure as Ben Hall's supervisor came to an abrupt end during a mustering operation near Speck's Gap. He fell off his horse, resulting in a broken thigh. He lay in agony until he was discovered by stockmen, including Ben Hall and Cornelius O'Donnell.
Author's Note: Over time, there has been speculation that the Hall family relocated again in 1850 and moved to the Lachlan. The birth of Ben Hall's youngest sister, Ellen, was registered during their journey south at the Whittingham Post Office, located at the junction of the old New England Highway and Bulga Trail (Putty Road). However, it was Ellen's father who was responsible for registering her birth, as per the law. It seems he did so at the first opportunity when passing through Whittingham with the four children, which may have led to the misconception that Ellen was born there or that the Halls ever settled in the Lachlan district as a family. The birth record reads: "Ellen E Hall: Birth Date: 1850 Birth Place: New South Wales Registration Year: 1850 Registration Place: Whittingham, New South Wales, Australia Father: Benjamin Hall Mother: Elizabeth- Volume Number: V18501899 71". My ongoing research suggests that it would have taken a significant force, akin to dynamite, to move Eliza Hall from her comfortable home at Murrurundi, as hinted at in the 1854 advertisement and dispute over their home, which will be discussed further on Hall's page.
|15th April 1843,|
Pages River Racing.
Ben's love for thoroughbred racehorses was sparked during his childhood in Murrurundi. His father owned several quality horses that regularly competed at the rough-and-tumble Murrurundi racetrack. Prominent landowners of the time, such as Charles Dangar, the Single brothers, Dr. Welsh's horse Death, Mr. Butt's Snake, W Wightman's Canonball, Henry O'Neil's Wallaby, and Benjamin Hall's Jacky Jacky and Roderick, dominated the district's racing purses. This information is documented in the Haydon Family Papers - Volume 3, page 40.
|Earnest and sister|
Bowler also spoke highly of Hall's work during the mustering period, a busy time for all the workers. His comments shed further light on Hall's integrity, his remarkable ability to understand cattle, and his exceptional skills as a horseman, as documented in 'The Moleskin Gentry' by Frederick Howard.
Adding to Ernest's recollections of Ben as a: "young man with a pleasant disposition." The 'Freeman's Journal', recounted in 'The Last of the Bushrangers', 25th September 1930, through some old-timers reminiscences that:
There was another view where Ben Hall appeared characterised by a 'certain detachment and shyness,' such as commented on by Mr Thomas Bates who in old age recalled in the 'Bathurst Times' of the 13th December 1924, that Ben, "could spin a good yarn and sing a song in the rough, boisterous fashion of the day."
|Station Cattle Branding,|
by S.T. Gill. 1862.
Jack Bradshaw, an aspiring bushranger, wrote about Hall's work at Hamilton's in a book titled 'Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall & Gang' in the 1920s. The book primarily draws its narrative from the recollections of Ben's older brother, William.
In his teenage years, working for Hamilton, Ben Hall took on a multitude of responsibilities. These included mustering, droving, branding, castrating, and protecting the herd from wildlife threats such as wild dogs or dingos. His workday stretched from sunrise to sunset. Station life for Hall, and stockmen in general, continued with little variation throughout the seasons, except for the annual break in routine that involved horse-breaking. This event often turned into a test of horsemanship, manliness, and courage among the men.
A couple of times a year, all station hands not engaged in boundary riding or outstation work would gather at the main homestead. Their numbers would increase with the arrival of stock riders from neighboring stations, who came for the great musters that took place on the vast plains of the Bland and Lachlan. These events involved long days in the saddle, building makeshift stockyards, and camping out in remote areas, sleeping in a swag.
The great stock musters were an environment where the affable and easy-going Ben Hall thrived. His exceptional horsemanship was admired as the men also mustered one of the grand prizes for any stockman - wild horses, or Warrigals. These were ridden down with a skill that would baffle most city dwellers. Ben Hall was right in the thick of it. His involvement in the chase was later commented on by a local:
John Maguire, who would become Hall's future brother-in-law, wrote an account of Ben's accident in his narrative, 'The Biography of a Reliable Old Native'. This account was written by P.H. Pinkstone, owner of the 'Hawkesbury Herald', and first published in his newspaper after many in-depth interviews and fireside chats around 1906.
|Mary Coneley nee|
Mary would later marry Michael Coneley, a stockman from Bundaburra, who would play a treacherous role in Ben's life. The union was rumored to be un-welcomed by the Strickland family as Coneley was an employee. The couple eventually separated in 1900. According to documents, Coneley is believed to have passed away in Nobby, Queensland, outside of Toowoomba, in 1910. This information is based on the Queensland, Australia, Will Index, 1857-1900 (all districts), 1901-1940 (Southern District. 1910/224 Item ID: 42556 Prev Sys: SCT/P753 Microfilm Number: Z1741 File Name: Wills 1901-1940. However, this is conjecture as there are also records of a Michael Coneley buried in Petersham, Sydney.
Nevertheless, long after Ben Hall's demise, this was noted regarding the tendering of Hall's grave's over many years. 'The Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer,' Saturday 5th August 1911:
|Mary Strickland nee|
|Daniel Charters. This|
photo was most
probably taken at
Mrs Reed’s photographic
gallery Forbes in 1862,
on the same day
as the Ben Hall
Daniel Charters was a tall man, standing at 6 feet, with a stout build, a fresh complexion, light brown hair, and blue eyes. He was literate, a beneficial attribute that helped his friend Ben Hall, who was neither able to read nor write. Both men shared similar qualities - they were amiable, excellent riders, and skilled bushmen. Charters remarked in 1863:
However, Daniel Charters also had a reputation as a ladies' man. While Charters was outgoing and comfortable in the company of women, Ben Hall was known to be shy and lacked confidence. In 1863, Charters was rumored to be in a relationship with Elen Maguire, whose husband, John Maguire, was on trial in Sydney over the Eugowra gold escort robbery of June 1862.
In addition, during Maguire's trial in 1863, Charters faced a paternity suit from Miss Charlotte Brandon. As a result, Charters was named the father of her son. Unfortunately, the child passed away within a year.
Although Charters ran cattle at several properties in the vicinity of Forbes, he also grazed cattle on Hall's newly acquired Sandy Creek station. Sandy Creek bordered the Pinnacle Station, and since fences were unheard of in those days, cattle from both properties would mix and be sorted out during muster times.
Charters owned approximately 500 head of cattle, which had a total value of over £5000. In 1863, Charters revealed his financial status as a stock owner:
St Michael's Catholic
However, the move was about more than just work; it allowed Ben to court a young woman who had caught his eye - fifteen-year-old Bridget Walsh, John Walsh's second daughter. At the time, Ben was eighteen. It was said that Bridget, along with her two sisters Elen and Catherine, were seen by locals as pure creatures of the Weddin - tough, wild, and untamable. This was a stark contrast to the quiet, easy-going, and shy Ben Hall.
Moving to Weeogo (Wheogo) Station not only provided Hall with independence and opportunity, but it also solidified his romance with Bridget, a relationship that eventually led to marriage.
The very same Alter at
St Michael's Catholic
Church, Bathurst where
Ben and Biddy
exchanged their vows
in 1856.My Photo.
|John Walsh's Uoka (Weeoga) Station, registered under The Squatters Act-1846-47.|
Note; John Tait's station Oma.
|The Charters' former home,|
now Fern Hill. c. 1970's.
of Henry Hall.
Courtesy, Carcoar Historical Society.
However, the summons was issued to Hall to testify on behalf of Charters. In the end, though, Hall was not called upon to give evidence. This move was likely intended to absolve Hall of any involvement in the matter. Charters, in order to alleviate any potential blame on Hall's part, openly stated that Ben Hall had no part in the affair, despite having witnessed Charters acquiring the horse in question.
Bridget Hall from the Penzig collection.©
In 1859, the advertisement above demonstrates that Ben Hall was a person of good standing in the community supporting Law and Order. Note the commitment of some of the Lachlan's most esteemed citizens marked by a #.
Nevertheless, for those possessing courage and determination, the vast land offered a chance to break free from the old molds and establish a position in the emerging beau monde by establishing an Australian landed gentry. This new order, forged by former criminals from England, swept away the old conventions. The convicts, once bound by iron chains, had been cast out and banished to a new land on the far side of the world. For the pardoned and enterprising former misfits and their offspring, this new land offered abundant opportunities.
It was a triumph for those exiled and transported on sailing ships under heinous conditions. They endured imprisonment ranging from seven to fourteen years or faced the despair of a life sentence, enduring unimaginable horrors and severe physical punishments during the voyage.
The vast open tracts of land in colonial New South Wales and beyond, teeming with cattle and sheep, provided the setting for the birth of a new Australian gentility. Men who had experienced real hardships were less pretentious and more at ease. Over time, their origins upon arrival in the colony became blurred. These "old lags" established wealth more abundant than some of the landed gentry in England.
Sandy Creek Station.
Gazette, 15th February 1861.
In the year 1860, at the tender age of 23, Ben Hall, accompanied by his brother-in-law John Maguire, made the daring decision to seize this opportunity. Together, they took the plunge into a new venture, ready to navigate the challenges and embrace the rewards that awaited them.
NSW Government Gazette
27th March 1860.
However, these challenges did not hinder the determined duo from embarking on the arduous task of establishing Sandy Creek cattle station. Encompassing an expansive area of 16,000 acres, the station boasted a carrying capacity of 640 head of cattle. During that time, the station remained largely uncleared but benefited from the presence of numerous well-watered creeks that traversed the property. A newspaper extract described the reputation of Sandy Creek as follows:
|Sandy Creek c. 1883.|
When it came to acquiring livestock for their venture, John Maguire reveals that he and Ben Hall engaged in some duffing activities, which involved rounding up unbranded and wild cattle known as "Mickies" and capturing untamed horses referred to as "Warrigals." This was a means of obtaining additional stock for their enterprise.
According to Maguire's account, cattle duffing was considered "not a great crime" and was prevalent among many graziers, regardless of their size. It was a common practice to supplement their wealth by acquiring unbranded animals. Interestingly, there were thoughts and rumors circulating about Ben Hall and Maguire's stock acquisition. One old-timer recalled the prevailing belief that Ben Hall, who had cattle running down the river, had a unique herd that seemed to multiply rapidly. The locals explained this phenomenon by suggesting that "Ben Hall's cows always bear twins," attributing the rapid increase in his herd to a supposed extraordinary fertility of his cattle.
|Maguire and Hall's Sandy Creek Station still recorded as owners in Bailliere's New South Wales Gazetteer, 1866. Note acreage.|
|William and Ann Hall.|
It is unclear whether tensions arose between William, Ann, and Bridget as a result of these living arrangements. However, it is known that considerable friction developed between William and Bridget in the future. Following Ben's death, Ann openly accused Bridget of his demise and the circumstances surrounding it. This may have been indicative of the beginning of marital issues between Benjamin and Bridget, as Ben held a strong loyalty towards his older brother. Bridget, perhaps desiring to be the sole mistress of the house, may have felt discontented with William's presence, which subsequently provided her with an opportunity to leave and join her married sister Catherine Brown in secret encounters with her new lover, the bushranger Frank Gardiner.
During Bridget's absences, it is likely that Ann Hall took care of young Henry as well as her own children, Mary (born in 1858) and John (born in 1860). In later years, young Henry Hall resided with William and Ann while they were living in Parkes, New South Wales.
Note: It should also be noted that John Maguire also used the spelling of McGuire with an A, i.e., MaGuire, Maguire as demonstrated on Ben Hall's marriage certificate. However, for the purposes of this bio, I have used Maguire.
|Edward Hall, 1879|
However, one incident, in particular, made headlines in 1860. It was reported that Ben's brother Edward Hall physically assaulted their father, Ben Hall Sr., as documented in 'The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser' in that same year.
|John Wilson freehold|
portion of Sandy Creek.
A document has surfaced indicating that John Wilson, the purchaser of Sandy Creek in 1868, was granted 40 acres of freehold land on the southern edge. The title map of the 40 acres also indicates the presence of a hut, which aligns with the current marker that has long been believed to represent Ben Hall's home, which was burned down in March 1863. It has been reputed that Hall and Maguire's huts were located approximately five hundred yards apart, although there is debate regarding the exact compass directions of north, south, east, or west.
In 1909, a Mr. Pearse reportedly destroyed and removed all past buildings that had stood on the Sandy Creek run during Hall and Maguire's time, as noted in an extract from 'The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser' dated Saturday, 30th January 1909.
The first major gold discovery occurred at Burrangong (Lambing Flat), and as rumors spread, a wave of hopeful prospectors flooded into the Lachlan district. This influx of gold seekers transformed the once quiet town of Forbes, previously known as 'Black Ridge,' into a bustling and thriving gold township. The rapid metamorphosis of Forbes was truly astounding, as reported in various accounts.
The influx of such individuals was so significant that many stations suffered substantial losses of stolen cattle. Mr. George Ranken of Bogabigal station, having experienced heavy losses, even sued the government for £10,000. After a lengthy legal process, Ranken managed to recover approximately £1000. In his honor, a street in Forbes was named Rankin St, although it is misspelled.
Originally, the term "bushranger" referred to escaped convicts who defied the oppressive conditions of the chain gangs. These convicts resorted to robbing remote settlers in order to survive, often facing grim consequences such as execution upon recapture. However, as the goldfields grew in size and population, the term "bushranger" no longer solely referred to escaped convicts but also to dedicated individuals bent on criminal activities, using phrases like "Bail-up," "Stand and deliver," and "money or your life." In this era, the nexus of humanity comprised a range of characters, and it was within this context that Ben Hall was establishing a thriving and prosperous cattle station. As luck would have it, Sandy Creek was strategically positioned between two goldfields, catering to the needs of thousands hungry for beef.
The sudden invasion and newfound prosperity of Forbes were vividly described in a newspaper account from late 1861.
Another article describes the life and times in the frontier town of Forbes as it appeared during Ben Hall's time:
As gold fever swept through the Burrangong and Forbes goldfields, Ben Hall transitioned from being a working stockman to a prosperous squatter, enjoying a newfound wealth. Instead of participating in gold mining, Hall focused on tending to his livestock while also engaging with a group known as the 'Wild Colonial Boys' and occasionally carrying a revolver. Little did he know that his home and its surroundings would become a central hub for bushranging activities in the years to come.
alias Francis Clarke,
In reality, Frank Gardiner was a pseudonym for Francis Christie, who was born in Scotland in 1829 and arrived in the colony of New South Wales at the age of five with his parents in 1834. His family eventually settled in pre-statehood Victoria. However, as Christie reached his twenties, he found himself on the wrong side of the law. After a legal entanglement in Victoria that resulted in a guilty verdict, Christie was sentenced to five years at the Pentridge Stockade in Coburg, Melbourne, for horse stealing. Approximately one year into his sentence, he managed to escape and fled to New South Wales in late 1851 (for more details, see Gardiner page).
Taking on the aliases Gardiner and Clarke, he continued his criminal activities. However, his run came to an end when he was apprehended for horse theft in February 1854 in Yass, New South Wales. Found guilty under the name Clarke, he received a sentence of fourteen years, comprising two consecutive seven-year terms, to be served at the harsh Cockatoo Island prison in Sydney.
Never before published.
Shortly after, Frank Gardiner, as he now called himself, partnered with his close friend William Fogg to establish a butcher's business in the emerging Lambing Flat goldfield, located 100 miles away from the Carcoar district, in mid-1860.
During Gardiner's thriving butcher's shop at Lambing Flat, he undoubtedly crossed paths with the local graziers Ben Hall and John Maguire. The demand for beef on the goldfield was high, and Hall and Maguire were herding cattle to the lucrative Burrangong field, reaping significant profits alongside Gardiner.
However, suspicions of cattle theft led Gardiner and Fogg to abruptly leave Lambing Flat and retreat to the familiar territory around the Fish (Lachlan) River district. Gardiner found refuge at Fogg's residence. As they laid low, the police caught wind of Gardiner's presence and attempted to apprehend him. A confrontation ensued, resulting in a gunfight and brawl. In the exchange, two police officers, Middleton and Hosie, were severely wounded, while Gardiner was brutally beaten. Under suspicious circumstances, Gardiner managed to escape.
Now free, Gardiner suddenly appeared in Wheogo, most likely due to his connection with John Gilbert and John O'Meally, who assisted Gardiner in cattle theft operations in Young. Gardiner's arrival in Wheogo also coincided with his intimate and passionate relationship with Catherine Brown, a married woman and Bridget Hall's younger sister. Catherine, 18 years old at the time, resided with her husband John Brown in a hut located a short distance from the Hall family's Sandy Creek homestead. Gardiner, who was 14 years Catherine's senior, became entangled in a scandalous affair with her.
Pottinger's primary objective was to capture the newly arrived and elusive bushranger, Frank Gardiner. He spent many weeks scouring the bush in the Wheogo and nearby Bland districts, leading the search in collaboration with other dedicated bushranger hunters, such as Captain Battye and Captain Zouch. However, Pottinger faced significant challenges as the local landowners and grog shop traders held a deep disdain for the police. This animosity allowed Gardiner to receive aid and support from certain individuals, including Mrs. Feehiley, the owner of the notorious 'Pinnacle Station.'
|Kitty's hut, Wheogo Station.|
Courtesy Gordon Piper.
Over time, Ben Hall grew to view Pottinger solely as his adversary. The strained relationship and Pottinger's approach created a divide between cooperation and support for the police, further worsening the already tense atmosphere in the region.
The map provides a revealing glimpse into the close connections that the married "wild Weddin girls" had with numerous shady characters who were marked as suspects by the police. These were likely individuals whom the girls had known throughout their lives.
This comprehensive map was sent to the Inspector-General of police in Sydney under the strictest confidence. Its confidentiality was crucial, as any leakage could not only alarm those who were aiding and abetting Gardiner but also potentially lead to reprisals against citizens perceived as supportive of the New South Wales police. The protection of this sensitive intelligence was paramount to maintaining the effectiveness of police efforts.
|The Map drawn by NSW police c 1861, shows the Routs and Harbourer's of Frank Gardiner living in the western districts and notes Mrs Ben Hall and her sister Mrs Catherine Brown as Women of Interest. ( I have edited the map to make it more legible.)|
|Ben Hall's son|
Henry, aged 56.
Note; Henry's big solid
frame. A dead ringer
for his Father.
Courtesy Noel Thurgood
During this period, another man would enter Bridget Hall's life: James Taylor, a friend of Frank Gardiner. Bridget spent time at the homes of known supporters of the bushranger, often without her young son Henry.
While it is clear that Ben Hall had some form of friendship with Gardiner, initially he may have kept the association at a business level, given their involvement in delivering cattle to Young. However, his cattle station partner, John Maguire, had a close relationship with the bushranger. Additionally, Hall was linked to Gardiner's close companions, the emerging and notorious bushrangers John Gilbert and the O'Meally brothers, John and Patrick, who hailed from the nearby Weddin Mountains. A long-time resident of the Lachlan wrote in 1863, reflecting on Ben Hall's friendship with John O'Meally and Gilbert, which had developed around 1859/60.
Note Wedding ring.
Never before published.
During Bridget Hall's frequent absences from home, often in the company of her younger sister Catherine and Gardiner's associates, Bridget found herself drawn to the lively company of James Taylor. Taylor, a charismatic and exuberant stockman, captivated the attention of the 20-year-old Bridget, despite the ten-year age difference between them.
It has been speculated that Taylor was unknown to Bridget prior to her marriage to Ben Hall. However, evidence suggests otherwise. Before her marriage, Bridget was familiar with the older James Taylor, indicating a strong level of acquaintance. Interactions among settlers in the socially isolated stations were common, with spirited horseback journeys of 50 or 60 miles not being considered out of the ordinary for visiting neighbors or attending social gatherings in the bush.
Documented records indicate that many families in the Weddin Mountains and Bland district had close connections and intimate knowledge of one another, often through intermarriages. In the case of Bridget Hall and James Taylor, their connection can be traced back to Taylor's ex-wife Emma (nee Dower) and her sister Mary Jamieson's family. The Jamieson family owned property at Back Creek in the Bland district, located a few miles from Bridget's father's station, 'Wheogo.' Taylor's family held properties such as Balabla (30,000 acres) and the Rocks (16,000 acres) since 1848, situated close to Bimbi and the former Arramagong Station of the O'Meally family in the Weddin Mountains. They also owned property at Reid's Flat on the Fish River.
|William Fogg and Mary Fogg,|
The close bond between Fogg and Gardiner was evident in the actions of Mary Fogg. She proudly showcased to visitors a symbol of victory against authority—a shredded and bloodied shirt belonging to Gardiner, obtained during his encounter with troopers Middleton and Hosie in 1861. This memento held great sentimental value for her, representing defiance and triumph over the forces of law and order. The 'Empire' newspaper on Saturday, 14th March 1863, reported on this display by Mary Fogg.
Initially, Taylor's visits to Ben Hall's station were masked as friendship. However, it soon became apparent that his true intentions were to pursue Bridget Hall romantically. Taylor's character stood in stark contrast to that of Ben Hall.
In a significant turn of events, John Maguire, Ben Hall's station partner, revealed to him the questionable nature of Bridget's association with Taylor. Maguire's disclosure, as documented in 'The Biography of a Reliable Old Native,' exposed Taylor as:
In the early spring of 1861, Ben Hall prepared to depart from Sandy Creek for the annual task of mustering. He bid a heartfelt and affectionate farewell to his wife and ruffled the hair of his young son Henry, unaware that it would be their final goodbye. With a lingering gaze at his beloved cara sposa, Hall set off on his horse to join the other squatters in the extensive round-ups of branded and unbranded cattle and wild horses across the vast plains of the Bland and Lachlan districts. Regardless of their social standing, all the squatters participated in these grand gatherings, where the chilly spring mornings gradually gave way to longer days.
Upon Hall's return from mustering, he was confronted with the devastating reality that Jim Taylor had whisked away his young wife Bridget. Not only that, but they had also taken Hall's beloved son Henry with them. The couple had eloped and sought refuge in Bigga, a location roughly 80 miles away from Hall's station. John Maguire described Ben Hall's emotional state as:
After their time away, Bridget and Taylor eventually returned to The Bland region and sought refuge at a property owned by Alice Gibson, situated between Humbug Creek and Lake Cowal, approximately 45 miles from Sandy Creek Station.
Amidst Bridget's abandonment and betrayal, John Maguire, in his memoirs, strongly believed that her actions played a pivotal role, if not the critical factor, in Ben Hall's subsequent descent into a tumultuous life of bushranging. Another account, written by Jack Bradshaw in "Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall & Gang," drew heavily from the recollections of Ben's older brother William Hall. According to William Hall, Bridget supposedly left behind a letter of apology to Ben, acknowledging her unfaithfulness:
Following Bridget's elopement and the subsequent fruitless search for his son Henry, numerous reports indicate that Ben Hall was devastated by the loss, as his son was the joy of his life and the light of his home. Additionally, the revelation of Taylor's duplicity reportedly filled Ben with an intense rage and a desire for bloody revenge against the man who had usurped his home. John Maguire commented on this change in Ben's demeanor.
|Rev. John Dunmore|
b. 1799 - d. 1878.
Great Eastern Hotel,
Forbes, frequented by
From that point on, Hall became a restless wanderer, traversing the surrounding districts with frequency. He would often be seen at local shanties and public houses in close proximity to Sandy Creek Station, such as Forbes, Lambing Flat, the Pinnacle, and the O'Meally's Inn in the Weddin Mountains. These sightings and interactions were reported by a drayman and others in the area, further highlighting Hall's growing presence in these establishments:
MacAlister also mentioned the practice of disguising one's identity during robberies, which may have been employed by Hall in his early forays with 'the boys' in stick-ups. This could have involved blackening his face or wearing a crape or calico mask to conceal his identity.
While some historians dispute Hall's early connections and involvement in bushranging, the testimonies of individuals like MacAlister and others of the time provide compelling evidence to the contrary. Their remarks are not flights of fancy but rather grounded in observations and experiences. MacAlister's account offers valuable insight into Hall's collaboration with Gardiner and his gang, which becomes evident when thoroughly researched:
In 1863, Ben Hall himself acknowledged the accuracy of MacAlister's assessment when he mentioned being hauled before magistrates. Hall admitted that he had faced arrests and expressed his frustration over feeling harassed by the police inspector, Sir Frederick Pottinger. However, it is important to note that these arrests were fully warranted, considering Hall's association with known bushrangers and the mounting evidence suggesting his involvement in criminal activities:
Illustration of hotel
festivities on the
Image courtesy NLA.
One particular attraction that provided temporary respite from Hall's domestic troubles was the presence of the dancing Hurdy-Gurdy Girls. These admired ladies would dance with stockmen and miners for a fee, offering a rare opportunity for male inhabitants starved of female companionship. Some of the dancers took advantage of the abundance of gold nuggets and the inebriated men, charging exorbitant amounts for a dance. The music played by lively musicians, who sang and played loudly to drown out the noise of stamping feet, created a vibrant atmosphere. However, amidst the revelry, there were also moments of melancholy as ballads of distant homes were sung, evoking a sense of longing among the crowd.
According to Charles MacAlister's recollections, these gatherings often descended into brutal fistfights among the revellers, and the cashed-up bushrangers, including Gilbert, engaged in various mischievous activities. The NSW police, attempting to maintain order, often found themselves outmaneuvered and unable to apprehend the instigators of the rowdy brawls that erupted during these raucous festivities. Even barmaids were not spared from the attention and advances of the boisterous crowd:
Another former old-hand recalled life in the new sin city of Forbes; 'Western Herald', October 1908:
Every entrepreneur was vying for the patronage of the cashed-up prospectors, graziers and station hands. A Forbes theatre advertisement 1862:
|Gold Warden Captain|
During one period, Hall found himself living with a woman named Betsy, although their time together was short-lived as she soon departed with another individual. Nevertheless, Forbes had its share of illicit drinking establishments known as Sly Grog shops, where shady characters gathered. One such den was operated by Gilbert and O'Meally along the road from Lambing Flat to Forbes, along the Gold highway that passed by the Weddin Mountains. Highlighted below:
These establishments also served as valuable sources of information for planning highway robberies and disposing of stolen goods. The sly grog shops not only provided a cheaper alternative to the upscale dance halls and hotels but also attracted a different clientele. These establishments were often frequented by gangs of disreputable individuals who preferred to stay under the radar of the police. On the outskirts of the goldfields, sparring saloons were popular among these characters, offering bare-knuckle boxing matches for wagers. Interestingly, many of these shady hotels were operated by women, despite the blitzes conducted by the law enforcement authorities:
Long after the gold rush had faded, and recounting the heady days of life in Forbes, an old resident mused over the throngs of people parading the streets circa 1862. 'The Forbes Advocate', Wednesday 4th April 1928:
Bridget, known for her fiery temperament as one of the wild Weddin Girls, used her sharp tongue as a weapon, unleashing a torrent of verbal abuse at Elizabeth Fitkin. The explicit language exchanged between them shocked those who overheard it. The barman of the hotel, Mr. Murray, was so taken aback by the vitriol of their exchange that he failed to appear as a witness when summoned to court, resulting in him being held in contempt. Eventually, Murray was escorted into the courtroom by a policeman. When questioned about his reluctance, Murray candidly explained to the judge.
There were rumors circulating that Taylor had served as a constable, but these allegations were baseless. The truth was that Taylor's father, Adam, held this post. Convicted in Derby near Nottingham, England, Adam Taylor was transported to the colony with a sentence of seven years, arriving on the 'Baring' in 1819. He gained his freedom in 1825 and reinstated as a constable in Penrith in 1827.
Tragically, Jim Taylor's life was cut short just 13 months after his wedding to Bridget. On July 21, 1877, he succumbed to the effects of alcoholism at Cadalgulee near Forbes, dying at 46. Bridget, left a widow for the second time, was only 37.
Following Taylor's death, Bridget decided to make a fresh start. She moved to Fords Bridge in Bourke, New South Wales, joining her sister Ellen and her sister Kitty's husband, John Brown. While in Bourke, Bridget found herself in court for failing to abide by the new 'Public Instruction Act' by not sending her children to school. Representing her in court was Henry, Ben Hall's son, but Bridget was still fined for her violation.
In 1904, Bridget decided to leave Fords Bridge and move to Cobargo, where she lived out the rest of her life. She died on July 9, 1923, and was buried in an unmarked grave.
The bond between Bridget and her son Henry may have been strained, as Henry moved away from Bourke to Condobolin. In 1884, Henry married Ellen Barnes, with whom he had a son, Arthur. Tragically, his life mirrored that of his father when his wife Ellen left him for another man, Charles Keightley, and they got married in 1892. However, life went on for Henry, who married Kate Fullbrook, an immigrant from England, in 1899. Charles and Ellen went on to make their home in South Australia.
On this particular occasion, the elder Hall was viciously assaulted by an individual believed to be known to him. This attack happened while he was on his way home after spending a peaceful evening at Thomas Abbott's Plough Inn at Blandford. The story was covered extensively in the January 8, 1862, issue of 'The Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News.'
|Ben Hall c. 1862.|
Thus, in the final weeks of 1861 and into the early days of 1862, Ben sought a deeper connection with Frank Gardiner, the so-called 'Prince of Tobymen'. Gardiner was the person who had the most significant influence over Ben during this reckless period. Maguire wrote:
|Flamboyant, Claude Du Val.|
William Powell Firth (1819-1909)
Gardiner was a pioneer among bushrangers in harnessing the power of his growing notoriety. Realizing the importance of his public persona, he ensured that he left a favorable impression on those he encountered during his hold-ups. Always courteous and showing a certain democratic fairness, he exuded a flamboyant style and charm that captivated his unwilling audiences. Aware that every gesture and utterance would be thoroughly dissected by correspondents, Gardiner was careful to play up to the romantic outlaw image, further feeding the public's fascination with him. His every action was an act of performance, making him one of the first bushrangers to understand and leverage the concept of celebrity power.
This precedent was also adopted by his accomplice, John Gilbert, who projected a flamboyant persona himself. Even the more conservative Ben Hall, known for his pride in personal appearance, began to follow suit. This resulted in an intriguing pattern amongst the trio - Gilbert, O'Meally, and Hall - who despite their lawless undertakings, were often described as clean, sharply dressed, and composed. In their daring escapades across the Lachlan landscape, these bushrangers exuded a dignified air, their criminality juxtaposed against their cultivated appearances. In this way, they blurred the lines between villainy and respectability, offering a captivating image to a public fascinated by their exploits.
These actions, as unconventional as they may seem for outlaws, only served to enhance Gardiner and Hall's prestige. They were not just mere thieves but held a certain code, a chivalry of sorts, within their lawlessness. This intriguing facet of their characters further cemented their reputations, presenting a compelling contrast to the ruthless bushranger image, thereby keeping the public perpetually captivated.
Sir Frederick Pottinger, a law enforcement officer, had already set his sights on the notorious Frank Gardiner and his followers. When several highway robberies took place near Sandy Creek between March and April 1862, one of which was attached to Ben Hall led to his arrest in a public and dramatic fashion - he was taken into custody, in handcuffs, from the Forbes racecourse and carted off to lock-up.
This arrest caused quite a stir among locals, many of whom were shocked and incredulous that one of their own had been taken into custody in such a manner. Despite Gardiner's notorious reputation as the undisputed 'King of the Road,' the idea that Hall could be involved was a revelation that left many reeling. With Gardiner exerting control over local travel, it was rumored that free passes could be obtained to ensure unimpeded passage. This perception further complicated Hall's public image, merging the lines between criminal and hero.
Gardiner's gang was a motley crew, a revolving door of sorts, as numerous men down on their luck joined and left the ranks of his band of bushrangers. His bold exploits, characterized by his willingness to brandish his pistol at any unfortunate traveler who crossed his path, were the stuff of legend. These audacious escapades were even discussed in the New South Wales 'Parliamentary Hansard' and published in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' on August 19th, 1863, covering the period of March 1862 to April 1862. This further illustrates the widespread fascination, and in some circles, admiration, for Gardiner's audacious lifestyle.
Ben Hall's association with Frank Gardiner can be traced back to late 1861, around November or December. This was corroborated by a mail contract rider who was held up at Binalong in 1863 by Hall and John Gilbert. The postman's account served to solidify the bond between these notorious bushrangers, illuminating the intricate web of relationships in their outlaw lifestyle. 'Geelong Advertiser' December 1863:
|Ben Hall description|
NSW Police Gazette,
for 8th April 1862,
2nd villain. Others
no doubt 1. Gardiner, 3. Gilbert
and 4. O'Meally.
Since the gold rush had brought hordes of hopeful prospectors to the Burrangong (Lambing Flat) and Forbes regions, highway robberies had become a common occurrence. Ben Hall, in all probability, had taken part in earlier stick-ups, yet through a combination of luck and cunning, he managed to evade direct attribution for these crimes. This was underscored by the observations of Charles MacAlister, implying that Hall's earlier infractions had escaped the notice of the law.
|Ben Hall woodcut|
image, c. 1865.
Bushranging; "Next time they take me, they'll have something to take me for."
|Forbes Annual Horse|
April 22,23 and
|Clerk of the Peace, Forbes, Depositions received an entry book for Ben Hall, 1862.|
Never before published.
In a town like Forbes, bustling with thousands of inhabitants and riddled with constant criminal activities, the lack of a higher court to adjudicate on severe crimes was a significant concern. The townsfolk expressed their frustrations over this judicial gap, as reported in the 'Empire' on May 23, 1862. This sentiment echoed throughout the community as they awaited the outcome of Hall's case, a situation that highlighted the pressing need for a local Sessions Court.
The question that arose, however, was why Gardiner didn't seize the opportunity to rob them too, as he had done with other unsuspecting passersby during the incident. This inconsistency, along with Hall's known association with Gardiner, fueled the suspicion that Hall was more than an innocent bystander and, indeed, was an active accomplice to Gardiner.
This conclusion is further bolstered by the fact that Hall was unable to secure bail, a clear testament to the strength of the case against him as evidenced by the eyewitness accounts from the victims. The squalid conditions of the holding cell where Hall was detained were depressingly rudimentary, inadequately equipped for a town brimming with thousands of prospectors. This inadequate penal facility, which was all too easy to escape from, was wholly insufficient for a burgeoning town like Forbes. As an 'Empire' article from April 28th, 1862, bleakly painted the picture:
Pottinger firmly believed that both Hall and Maguire were on the wrong side of the law. The inspector held a steadfast belief that nobody was above justice and, with Bacon's compelling court deposition, finally had one of Gardiner's men securely behind bars. In his eyes, a guilty verdict for Hall was all but assured, a victory he desperately sought. Yet Hall's perspective differed greatly. He had witnessed Pottinger's brash manner firsthand during his own arrest at the Easter Wowingragong race meeting. With Hall confined within the walls of the Forbes jail, Pottinger soon became the primary target of his growing resentment, fueled by a refusal to recognise or accept his own criminal culpability.
|NSW Police Gazette,|
14th May 1862.
One plausible explanation for this omission could be that Pottinger had grown weary of the constant evasion and protection that those associated with Gardiner seemed to enjoy. There was a widespread belief that Hall was one of Gardiner's key allies. As such, it is conceivable that Pottinger may have seen this public declaration as an opportunity to discredit Hall in the eyes of his neighbors and, perhaps, extract valuable information that could further implicate Hall and his associates. This maneuver was, no doubt, a shrewd tactic, indicative of Pottinger's determination to dismantle Gardiner's network.
Here Hall's trial took place on
19th May 1862. Hall had been
transported to Orange under
escort by Sgt Condell.
Image courtesy NLA.
|View overlooking the street|
from the Orange Courthouse.
Image courtesy NLA.
As Hall braced himself for his upcoming court date set for May 19th, 1862, plans for his release were hatched with the help of his brother-in-law, John Maguire, and his brother, Tom Wade.
While Hall remained in the cells of the Orange courthouse, he received visitors: his half-brother Thomas Wade and John Maguire. Maguire secured the services of solicitor George Colquhoun, who subsequently appointed the highly esteemed barrister Edward Lee to defend Hall.
Hall's co-defendant, John Youngman, was scheduled to face the Orange Court following Hall's trial. However, the Crown Prosecutor had reservations about the strength of evidence against Youngman, resulting in his bail. Lacking sufficient funds for his release, Youngman turned to Maguire and another friend, Peter Murray, who both posted bail of £40 each. Seizing this opportunity, Youngman absconded and vanished from the bushranging history narrative. Maguire was left with a financial loss.
With Youngman's sudden disappearance, Hall's conviction seemed imminent. His trial began on Monday, 19th May 1862, with Hall maintaining an air of indifference as he stood in the dock. Bill Bacon, a key witness, reiterated his account of Hall's involvement in the robbery, identifying Hall as one of the culprits alongside Gardiner.
In a shocking twist, one of Bacon's employees, believed to be a man named Ferguson who worked as a driver, abruptly changed his previous statement. Despite having previously identified Hall as one of the culprits in his deposition to the Clerk of the Court, R.B. Mitchell, at the Forbes Court, Ferguson expressed uncertainty at the Orange trial about whether Hall was indeed the man he saw during the wagon robbery. This sudden change in testimony took the court officials by surprise.
After considering the new and now questionable evidence, the jury withdrew for deliberation. They returned after a brief interval with a verdict of 'Not Guilty by Reasonable Doubt', reflecting the uncertainty that had been introduced into the proceedings.
Elated at his unexpected liberation, Hall, his half-brother Tom Wade, and Maguire decided to celebrate their triumph with a night of merriment in Orange. Departing the town in high spirits, they came across Bacon and Ferguson on their journey home, an encounter that was likely laden with tension given the recent events.
This effort is illustrated by an article published in the 'Scone Advocate' in 1934, which suggests that Hall's arrest for the Bacon robbery was primarily instigated by the fears harboured by James Taylor and Bridget Hall. This account is consistent with many published since Hall's death, which portray him as a tortured soul, haunted by his past. But haunted by what, one might ask? The spectre of Mrs Hall? An old saying, "if you lay with dogs, you get fleas", seems to encapsulate Hall's life, contradicting the attempts to depict him as an "amiable man with a generosity of spirit, and an honesty in all his dealings with his fellow-settlers."
Courtesy Penzig Collection.
The Sandy Creek homestead was already a bustling household, with Hall's brother, Bill, and his wife, Ann, residing there along with their two children, Mary, born in 1858, and John, born in 1860. The home also served as a frequent stopover point for Frank Gardiner and his band of bushrangers.
When news of Hall's acquittal reached Gardiner, known colloquially as 'The Darkie', he reportedly paid a visit to Sandy Creek. According to Maguire's memoirs, Gardiner approached Hall with an apology for his role in implicating him in the dray robbery, further complicating the intricate web of relationships at Sandy Creek.
Next day Gardiner called Ben, and expressed regret that Ben had got into trouble through him.
Hall shrugged it off in reply, stated:
Next time they take me they'll have something to take me for.
Following their meeting, Maguire noted that:
From that out, Ben and Gardiner were often together.
Maguire's suggestion that Hall was innocent and had received an apology from Gardiner clashes starkly with the well-documented facts of Hall's involvement in the Bacon Robbery and his other criminal escapades. Yet for Hall, the specter of the law was not banished but merely lingering in the shadows, poised to confront him once again in the not-too-distant future.
Sydney Telegraph Officec. 1862.
Image courtesy NLA.
Suddenly, the exploits of these bushrangers were thrust into the public eye, turning them into the sensation of the 1860s. The tales of their daring deeds captivated the public, inspiring children to imitate their rebellious acts in their games and imbuing them with an almost celebrity-like status.
In the corridors of power in Sydney, however, the relentless onslaught of lawlessness that had accompanied the gold rush was proving a formidable challenge. The audacity of the bushrangers began to unsettle the authorities, igniting a sense of urgency as they grappled with the escalating chaos and the need to preserve law and order in their burgeoning society.
Despite returning to his Sandy Creek operation and welcoming new love into his life, Ben Hall's recent close brush with the law had done little to deter him from his path of criminality. In fact, within weeks, Hall would find himself conspiring to commit one of the most audacious crimes in Australian colonial history — the robbery of the 'Forbes Gold Escort'.
Gold, it has been said, is at the root of all evil. Dating back to the days of the Egyptian Pharaohs some 5,000 years ago, gold has been synonymous with power and prestige. It has been the makings of kings and queens, and has offered even the poorest the potential for instant, life-changing wealth. In the Australian colonies, this coveted precious metal not only upset the societal status quo, but also transformed countless humble stockmen and farmers into overnight millionaires.
In its wake, the allure of gold sparked an immigration boom. From the Americas to Europe and China, tens of thousands flocked to Australia, eager to stake their claim in the golden opportunity. Ships arrived in droves, the hopes and dreams of countless fortune seekers adding to the burgeoning population and irrevocably altering the landscape of the colony.
An NSW mounted gold
Image courtesy NLA.
Acquiring gold was a demanding task, requiring exhaustive exploration of remote rivers and creeks in search of promising signs. Some even pursued reef gold, a risky endeavor involving the sinking of deep shafts into the ground. Miners often descended between 100 to 300 feet to lay their hands on the highly coveted treasure. For some, the cost was their very lives. Yet for others, there existed a different path to securing gold — the Frank Gardiner method. This involved procuring riches at the end of a revolver, a horrifying experience endured by many innocent victims.
By the beginning of 1861, Frank Gardiner found himself in love, and the notion of abandoning his life of crime started to occupy his thoughts. The daily loot of cash, jewelry, and gold he stripped from his unfortunate victims no longer seemed to satisfy his needs. The constant challenge of living rough was becoming increasingly unbearable, and even his safe havens were fraught with danger and growing monotony, not to mention the escalating costs.
Despite this, Gardiner's audacious exploits were garnering him notoriety and regular coverage in the press. Such publicity, while bolstering his infamous reputation, also provided the police with valuable leads for his capture. Gardiner's ability to elude the authorities was indeed bewildering. He even went so far as to pen letters to newspapers, boldly highlighting his knack for moving freely among the police undetected.
|S.M.H. 8th May 1862.|
Gardiner may have been inspired by a daring and highly publicised robbery in Victoria back in 1853. A private gold escort, heavily guarded by the Victorian police and transporting gold from the McIvor diggings to Bendigo, was ambushed and robbed by a gang of six men. Splitting into two groups, one attacked the police while the other seized the gold. In the ensuing action, four police officers were wounded. The event created quite a sensation. The gang managed to escape with over 2,300 ounces of gold and £800 in cash.
Meanwhile, as Gardiner was gathering information for his heist, the local newspapers he had been reading began to express serious concerns about the inadequate police protection afforded to the escorts. On 30th January 1862, the 'Western Examiner' voiced its worries:
Fully aware of the concerns raised by the 'Western Examiner', Frank Gardiner was emboldened. He knew that the limited police guard could easily be overwhelmed, and this gave him the confidence to finalise the details of his audacious plan. John Maguire, a close associate who witnessed the events both before and after the heist, vividly recalls Gardiner's ambitious scheme:
c. 1910. (Penzig)
Courtesy Mrs Fred Wells
(Coloured by Author)
|Foreground view of |
Escort Rock as Fagan would
have seen on approach,
View from behind
as the coach
approached the hidden
Sgt James Condell.
Coloured by me.
However, for Condell and Moran, the wounds upon further investigation were not considered life-threatening. Constables Haviland and Rafferty providentially appeared unhurt, including the coach driver, Mr Fagan, who in turn had been very lucky as many whizzing bullets passed through his hat and coat. The whip or driver of the coach John Fagan describes his close encounter:
Coloured by me.
Upon encountering Hanbury Clements and his brother William, who were making their way towards the scene of the crime, the grazier assisted the injured police, who had managed to emerge from the bush. They were escorted to Clements' homestead, where they received immediate first aid. Following this, Hanbury embarked on a 25-mile ride to Forbes, the objective of his journey being to “carry intelligence of the affair”.
When word of the audacious heist reached the public, the entire colony was left in a state of shock. Instantaneously, Frank Gardiner became an infamous figure, his notoriety spreading far and wide. His daring act had not just stolen gold, but had also brazenly challenged the existing law and order, leaving an indelible mark on the narrative of colonial Australia. 'Sydney Morning Herald', Saturday 21st June 1862:
|Sub Commissioner for|
Newspaper Image c. 1867.
First time published.
As they made their way to Clement's, they encountered the draymen who had witnessed the incident. Pottinger questioned them in detail, attempting to piece together the sequence of events that had led to one of the most audacious robberies of the era.
|Hanbury Clements station Eugowra.|
Bailliere's New South Wales Gazetteer and Road Guide, 1866
|NSW Police Gazette,|
As the search parties scoured the landscape, the perpetrators – Ben Hall, Charters, and Gardiner – adroitly evaded their pursuers, making their way towards the relative safety of Wheogo Hill, a stone's throw away from Hall's homestead. The seeming insouciance of their retreat spoke volumes about their intimate knowledge of the terrain and the audacious confidence they had in their ability to outwit the law. Mr. Cropper's detailed recounting of their tireless efforts vividly portrays a community on high alert, determined to bring these outlaws to justice.
|Eugowra Escort Coach.|
Photograph was taken
in 1917 at Orange,
by W. H. Burgess.
This was also the coach
in which Cost Haviland
Many thanks to Dick Adams.
Having deposited the mail, they proceeded towards Dalton's Inn, located on Byng St. However, as the coach creaked forward, the startling echo of a gunshot cut through the air. The sound sent a ripple of panic through the gathering dusk. Inside the coach, Constable Haviland lay lifeless, the victim of an accidental discharge from Constable Moran's revolver. In the confusion of the earlier confrontation with the bushrangers, the weapon had slipped from Moran's grasp and had lain unnoticed beneath Haviland's seat. The unintentional discharge brought a sudden and tragic end to the constable's life.
|Mrs Haviland's gratuity.|
In the wake of this tragedy, an inquest was convened at the O'Connell Inn by Coroner Mr John Templer. After deliberation and consideration of the evidence, the verdict stated that Haviland had "died from a wound inflicted by a bullet, the intent or cause of which remained unknown." Consequently, William Haviland's passing marked a grim milestone as the first fatality among the ranks of the recently formed and restructured NSW Police Force while on active duty. His untimely death added a sorrowful twist to the narrative of these turbulent times, it was noted:
|"Make way for|
the Royal Mail."
Sketch by Percy Lindsay. c. 1935.
As the law enforcement continued their pursuit and the gang dispersed, Hanbury Clement penned a letter to a friend in Bathurst, providing a vivid account of the robbery and its repercussions. He commended Sergeant Condell for his level-headedness during the assault. Notably, Clements emphasised that three bullock teams obstructed the road, and the only member not masked was Frank Gardiner. Impressively, one of the guards managed to traverse the twenty-five miles back to Forbes through the wilderness. This excerpt from a letter received by a gentleman in Bathurst was published in the Free Press on June 24, 1862:
Very rare photo.
Mr Penzig's re-drawn Map from theoriginally sketched NSW Police
at the time of the Robbery.©
|Back to Molong Celebrations.|
|The police original map|
of bushrangers track too
and from Eugowra.
Bathurst Historical Museum.
Fortunately for the beleaguered police, they were able to claim a small victory within days of the robbery when Sgt Charles Sanderson, accompanied by Senior Constables Armour and Burke, Constables Powell and Westhead, and the tracker Charlie, discovered the gang's hideout. Located atop Wheogo Hill, some 32 miles from Forbes and 60 miles from Eugowra, the hideout was strikingly close to Ben Hall's dwelling.
Sanderson's determination to head straight for Ben Hall's residence clearly indicated that the police harbored suspicions about Hall's alleged connections to bushranging activities. However, when they arrived, Hall was absent, presumed to be a short distance away atop Wheogo Hill, presumably counting his ill-gotten gains.
Sanderson's track record as a diligent trooper was invaluable to the Forbes police at this time. He had proven his mettle during the Chinese riots at Lambing Flat in 1861, serving as a right-hand man to Captain Zouch. His commitment to maintaining law and order contrasted starkly with the behaviour of others who were quick to abandon their duties in pursuit of instant wealth at the goldfields. Nonetheless, despite these challenging times, dedicated men like Charles Sanderson were emerging as stalwarts, forming the backbone of the police's efforts to combat the rampant crime wave.
|View from Gardiner's camp|
Wheogo Hill. Weddin
Mountains in the
Courtesy Peter C Smith
|View of Wheogo Hill|
from Deaths Lane. 2013.
Upon his retirement in 1903, Charles Sanderson reflected on his search for the gang, recounting his actions independent of Sir Frederick Pottinger. He detailed his decision to head for Hall's home and his ultimate success in securing the packhorse. His account, published in 'Old Times' in May 1903, provides an intriguing perspective on these dramatic events.
Coloured by me.
Unbeknownst to them, as Pottinger rode up to the group and engaged Gilbert in conversation, he found himself speaking directly to one of the very individuals he was hunting. Pottinger, none the wiser, casually queried Gilbert about the quality of the horse he was riding.
|Marker commemorating the|
gunfight opposite Mrs
My photo 12/03/20
|The arrest of Ben Hall, William Hall,|
and Dan Charters,
by Sir Frederick Pottinger
depicted by Monty Wedd,
from Bold Ben Hall.
c. 1970's ©
Six weeks after the Eugowra robbery, on the 27th of July, 1862, Ben Hall was taken into custody along with his brother William Hall, his brothers-in-law John Brown (husband of Catherine Brown), John Maguire, and his close friend Daniel Charters. They were all apprehended at Sandy Creek. Pottinger had received reliable information regarding these men's knowledge and involvement in the events at Eugowra. The informant was Maguire's friend Tom Richards, who later served as a voluntary crown witness during the Escort Trials. Richards had been present during the planning stages of the Eugowra robbery at Maguire's. The enticing £1000 reward provided ample motivation to reveal the secrets and ensure his safety. Furthermore, it became clear that Bill Hall was also fully aware of the events surrounding Eugowra. His detailed recounting of the events to Jack Bradshaw revealed his complete knowledge of his brother's guilt. Indeed, Bill Hall was privy to everything.
|Ben Hall & others court|
appearance August 1862.
John Maguire's Darlinghurst Gaol entry log February 1863.
Note that John Maguire was blind in his right eye until now; this information was unknown.
|Robert Hall, Maitland Gaol 1862, released in 1863.|
In the course of the trial of the four accused individuals — Bow, Fordyce, Manns, and Maguire — in connection with the Escort Robbery, Sgt Sanderson, the much-celebrated hero of Wheogo, was summoned to testify about his commendable endeavors in recapturing half of the stolen loot. Sanderson shed light on the scene at Gardiner's camp on Wheogo Hill, a location which was only a mile's ride away from the residences of Ben Hall and Maguire at Sandy Creek Station and near Wheogo Station.
Rising to an elevation of 430 meters, Wheogo Hill provided a panoramic vista of the surrounding areas. Sanderson, in his testimony, vividly portrayed the spectacle that awaited them at the bushrangers' camp after their spirited chase of a suspected Daniel Charters from Hall's home to the summit of Wheogo Hill.
|Report of the hold-up of Sale|
of Sandy Creek in 1865,
This juncture heralded a profound transformation for Ben Hall and his associates. Once prospering and standing tall with untarnished reputations, they found themselves abruptly caught in the grip of an uncompromising descent. Their lives, previously abundant and esteemed, were now bracing the winds of change. This period of tumult presented a profound shift, mutating their life trajectories in a manner they could hardly have foreseen. It was a pivotal moment that marked the beginning of an unanticipated chapter in their personal narratives.
As circumstances unfolded, Maguire disclosed that he and Hall were compelled to relinquish ownership of Sandy Creek Station to Wilson during their time in custody. As a result of Maguire's detention in Sydney and Hall's own inability to manage the station due to constant police scrutiny, Sandy Creek's administration fell into disarray. Despite these changes, Hall's brother, Bill Hall, and girlfriend, Susan Prior, remained on the premises even after Wilson assumed control. It took an extended period before the changes in the station's ownership were officially recorded in the government gazette, further complicating the situation. This shift marked a pivotal moment in the intertwined lives of Hall, Maguire, and Wilson, as they navigated the turbulent waters of their personal and professional dilemmas.
|New South Wales|
Friday, 23rd October 1863.
Strong evidence suggests that Warrigal was present at Wheogo Hill during Sanderson's arrival, and was likely the individual attempting to head towards Hall's location, possibly eluding the police by leaping across a creek. This action was initially attributed to either Charters or Gilbert.
Wilson eventually gained control of Uoka (Wheogo), only to sell the lease three years later in 1866. Sandy Creek's value was estimated to range between £3,000 and £8,000, factoring in dwellings, stock and improvements. As of 1864, both John Maguire and Ben Hall still owed the New South Wales government an outstanding rent of £5 10s for Sandy Creek dating back to November 1862. It was recorded that a partial payment of £3 15s was made in late 1863 when Sandy Creek was still under Hall and Maguire's control, leaving some of the debt unsettled.
|Uoka Station, Bailliere's New South Wales Gazetteer, 1866.|
|NSW Gazette November|
1862, a notice of forfeiture.
With the sale of beef to the nearby goldfields of Forbes and Lambing Flat, a mere forty-five miles away, their income was readily supplemented. This is corroborated by Charters' statement at the Special Commission that he and Hall were rounding up cattle for market when Pottinger made his unexpected appearance in 1862. Further indicating their comfortable financial standing, William Hall, also arrested, had over £60 in his possession at the time.
Moreover, Maguire was able to afford the services of a cook and housekeeper named Mrs Shanahan, which implied a lack of financial distress. Despite these seemingly comfortable circumstances, it appears that Ben may have succumbed to the allure of easy money and the excitement of the lifestyle offered by Gardiner. With no home, no family, and devoid of the warm glow of his son Henry to return to at the end of a long day's work, Ben Hall began to drift away from his previous life. Despite becoming a father once again to baby Mary, he abandoned it all for the thrill of a fast horse and the power of a six-gun.
|The Peak Hill Express,|
5th July 1907.
Rumors swirled that Elen had an alleged affair with Daniel Charters while Maguire was held in remand in Sydney for his involvement in the Escort robbery. As a result, it is plausible that any funds intended for Elen from the sale of Sandy Creek were withheld by Maguire as a form of retribution. This retention of wealth might have been Maguire's attempt to regain some control over a personal situation marred by betrayal and loss. (See article above right.)
However, this burgeoning family life was compromised as Hall deepened his association with Gardiner, participating in the April 1862 Bacon dray robbery and the notorious June 1862 Escort robbery. There is some speculation that Susan's presence might have represented a brief period of attempted reform for Hall before these events, but such attempts to stay on the straight and narrow seemed fleeting at best.
In this time of turbulence, a controversial portrait emerged, often erroneously attributed to Bridget. However, by the end of 1861, Bridget had already entered a relationship with James Taylor, making it highly doubtful that she would have posed for a portrait with her estranged husband. Bridget and Ben's relationship had become mired in acrimony by the dawn of 1862, and despite any shortcomings Taylor may have had, Bridget remained faithfully by his side until his death in 1877.
|Locket reputed to be among|
Ben Hall's effects when
shot dead on 5th May 1865.
Note no wedding ring.
Unlikely Bridget Hall.
Forbes Historical Museum.
|Susan Prior and her|
youngest daughter Esther
Stonham. Note the striking
resemblance between Mother
and Daughter. Susan right.
c. 1862, aged 17.
Esther Stonham never published before.
Meanwhile, back at Ben Hall's former residence at Sandy Creek, the household expanded with Susan Prior, her mother Mary, sister Charlotte, and brother William. In January of 1863, Susan gave birth to a daughter named Mary, at Sandy Creek. Ben Hall, though often in the crosshairs of Pottinger, would periodically return home to visit his newborn daughter. Interestingly, Mary's birth was registered in Wellington, a town located roughly a hundred miles to the northeast. This could possibly be attributed to the fact that the child was born out of wedlock, and the mother was an unknown entity in the local district.
Moreover, this story seems to foster misplaced sympathy for Hall, who was initially seen by many in his district as a respectable, industrious individual. This image, however, faded quickly with Hall's multiple arrests and the public's increasing awareness of his association with Gardiner and his gang. The tale of the decimated livestock further clouds Hall's culpability in his bushranging activities by redirecting blame onto the NSW police's supposed persecution of Hall - a claim entirely without basis.
The reality of the situation at Sandy Creek Station in 1862 and prior is well documented. The homestead was inhabited by William Hall, his wife Ann, their two children, and the then-pregnant Susan Prior. Additionally, Hall's former in-laws, the Walsh family, along with John Brown, resided nearby, within a mile or so and his partner John Maguire lived about 500 yards from Hall.
To suggest that these individuals would allow the livestock to succumb to such cruel fate, without intervening, would be inconceivable. Given the critical importance of these animals for sustenance and survival in such an isolated location, such neglect is simply implausible. Would these people have ignored the audible distress of the suffering animals?
At the second escort trial in 1863, Sir Frederick Pottinger was questioned under oath about the circumstances surrounding the arrests of Ben and William Hall and Dan Charters. His responses shed light on the individuals' reactions at the time of his arrival, the condition of the livestock, and the suspicious cash found on Bill Hall at the time:
‘Nothing was said beyond the expression of surprise. I took them to Maguire's, where I had arrested Maguire and Brown, and took them all into town. I did not notice any cattle in Hall's stockyard. They might have been mustering, but I saw nothing of it. I found £50 or £60 in notes on Hall. A great deal was said about them, and a long investigation was had into the matter, about there being notes that had been taken from the escort. I took some notes from the house of Ben Hall, and they were claimed by William Hall, to whom they were returned. There was an investigation before the Bench, and then they were returned. I took possession of them and produced them before the Bench with a view to show that they were taken from the escort. They were placed before several witnesses; Mr Weakes and a clerk of the Commercial Bank who is not here.’ By the Judge: ‘An investigation took place; the notes were examined by witnesses, and the magistrates dismissed the case and returned the notes to William Hall.
It must also be noted that £1 in 1862 is equal today to $84.00.
Purchased by author.
|The Empire. 16th August,|
Pottinger had laid a stakeout at the home of Catherine Brown, Gardiner's paramour, in Wheogo, accompanied by eight officers. The Inspector had received credible intelligence that 'The Darkie' would show up for a romantic rendezvous with Mrs Brown. Indeed, the information proved accurate when, under the cover of darkness, Gardiner was seen departing on his white steed. Pottinger, seizing the element of surprise, abruptly stood and fired at Gardiner point-blank, who was completely taken aback. However, owing to a malfunction in Pottinger's rifle, Gardiner managed to slip away, evading the eight strategically positioned troopers. Two of them discharged their weapons but missed Gardiner, who disappeared into the night. Pottinger under oath discribed the moments.
As the pine scrub in which myself and Sergeant Saunderson were hid was 150 yards distant, we could not identify her; about twenty minutes afterwards I saw a man on a white horse with a gun slung by the saddle, proceeding from the house; he proceeded quietly along in a certain direction 80 or 100 yards, from which he finally deviated, taking a cattle track through the scrub; up to this period myself and Saunderson proceeded in a parallel direction through the scrub, but when he diverged we fell back; presently we heard the sound of horse's hoofs proceeding slowly towards us. I waited until he had arrived within five yards, when I stepped out, and levelled my carbine at him over the horse's shoulder, with the muzzle within three yards of the rider's body; I called out 'stand;' the rider, I swear was Frank Gardiner; he immediately uttered a yell or shriek, and threw up his arms into the air, still holding the rein; at this moment the horse turned away, and determined not to lose a chance; I pulled the trigger; the cap missed fire, and the next moment the horse bolted into the bush; the shriek was that of a man already shot; I called out to Saunderson and the trooper to shoot the wretch; Saunderson fired two shots from his revolver, and Hollister fired at him, but was 100 yards distant or thereabout, and Newton was too far off.
Moreover, it was reported that Gardiner having bolted reined his horse some five hundred yards away:
Yet, the exploits of the bushrangers held an irresistible allure, drawing extensive coverage in the newspapers and becoming the topic of conversation in homes, restaurants, and hotels. The trend even inspired children to mimic the bushrangers in play, causing a wave of concern over the idolisation of figures like Gardiner and, in due course, Ben Hall. In response, 'The Goulburn Chronicle' expressed deep worry over the growing number of children pretending to be bushrangers in its issue from October 24, 1862. The newspaper cautioned its readers, stating:
|NSW Police Gazette, 1863.|
The NSW Police Gazette contained descriptions of perpetrators who closely resembled the known physical characteristics of Gardiner, Gilbert, O'Meally, Hall, and other known acquaintances such as the three Jacks, Patsy Daley, and another emerging bushranger, young John Jameison, a close friend of John Walsh. These records provided crucial information that helped keep track of the infamous outlaws' activities and movements. (See above.)
|NSW Police Gazette,|
14th January 1863.
However, the bushrangers didn't lay low for long. On the following day, January 14, 1863, they struck again, robbing David M'Veigh 10 miles outside of Forbes on the heavily trafficked road to Lambing Flat. These successive daring raids further underscored the audacity of these bushrangers, who continued their lawless exploits seemingly unimpeded by the threat of capture.
NSW Police Gazette.
Interestingly, many of these correspondents appeared reluctant to name these suspects in newspaper articles, likely as a self-preservation strategy. The act of publishing their speculations often ran the risk of alerting the bushrangers or their confederates about the extent of information held by the police, potentially providing them with a forewarning to evade capture or alter their criminal strategies. Thus, the bushranging epidemic continued, with the names of those involved often whispered in hushed tones, rather than splashed across the public press.
|NSW Police Gazette 1863.|
January 1863 marked the reappearance of John Gilbert in the Lachlan District, following a period of absence after the notorious Escort robbery. His lucky escape from Inspector Pottinger in July 1862 had led him to New Zealand's South Island. Accompanied by his two brothers, Gilbert had found temporary refuge at Clyde on the Dunstan goldfield. On his return to NSW, he wasted no time jumping back into the saddle, revisiting his old stomping grounds around the Weddin Mountains and its surrounding districts, including Marengo, Gilbert's former home.
This homecoming was not a quiet affair. Gilbert quickly reestablished himself, joining forces with O'Meally and Hall. Known collectively as 'The Boys,' they launched a spree of plundering local establishments with reckless abandon. As reported by the "Sydney Morning Herald" on February 7th, 1863, Gilbert's return was anything but inconspicuous.
In quick succession, many robberies were Gazetted by police fitting Ben Hall's description:
|NSW Police Gazette|
Note; Hall's description- 5ft 6in.
Hall's height would
vary in future police
Gazettes from 5ft 6in-5ft 8in.
|NSW Police Gazette,|
Interestingly, the Police Gazette initially named Patrick O'Meally, younger brother of John O'Meally, as one of the bushrangers. However, upon subsequent investigation by Captain Zouch, Patrick was found to be innocent of this particular crime. He was arrested by police for his alleged involvement in the two robberies, but upon examination, the young man was exonerated, proving that not all initial suspect identifications were accurate.
|NSW Police Gazette,|
As fate would have it, during the robbery, a police trooper named Constable Stewart happened to pass by the scene. This chance occurrence was to significantly alter the trajectory of the event, adding a further layer of tension and potential for chaos to the unfolding scenario.
|Boland. Police Gazette|
On 26th September 1863, Mr Dickenson offered his unique account of the robbery during Patsy Daley's trial, as reported by the 'Goulburn Herald'. His testimony would add another riveting chapter to the captivating saga that was Ben Hall and his gang's life of crime.
|NSW Police Gazette,|
Frank Gardiner &
However, the massive restructuring was not without its initial difficulties. The police force often found itself in overwhelming situations as it grappled with bringing law and order to the rugged western territories. Gold fever had gripped the isolated towns, leading to an atmosphere where robberies, beatings, and murders were alarmingly commonplace. In this chaotic milieu, opportunistic robbers thrived, and bold bushrangers, who brazenly flouted law and order, began to emerge. Ben Hall was one such figure who etched his name into this notorious category of committed bushrangers.
Mr Charles Cowper, the Colonial Secretary, often earned the moniker 'Slippery Charley' due to his cunning political maneuvering. During his tenure, he faced the daunting challenge of confronting a new and audacious wave of lawlessness. In his estimation, the solution lay in substantial financial rewards - incentives he believed would set the hearts of 'cockatoo squatters' racing, and pave the way for apprehending these outlaws. The Manaro Mercury, and Cooma and Bombala Advertiser, on the 13th February 1863 wrote:
Later that evening, Bowler found himself back at the public house on the Pinnacle Station, sharing a meal in the kitchen when whispers that 'The Boys' (local slang for bushrangers) were lurking nearby began to circulate. Bowler vividly recounts Hall's dramatic arrival following the earlier recovery of the horses:
|NSW Police Gazette,|
|Pinnacle Station with Weddin|
Mountains in the background.
Recognising the men, Hollister and his two trackers immediately took up pursuit, engaging in a high-stakes chase peppered with gunfire. One of Hollister's trackers, Billy Dargin, later provided a firsthand account of the harrowing events that unfolded.
|NSW Police Gazette,|
Trooper Hollister harboured no doubts that it was Ben Hall he was pursuing. The robbery at the Pinnacle Station would prove consequential for Constable Knox, leading to his dismissal from the NSW police force.
The Pinnacle Station and its police presence were depicted in a 1863 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald:
His collaboration with Patrick Daley in the Pinnacle hold-up was confirmed by eyewitness accounts. It wasn't a case of mere coincidence. Even when Hall claimed he merely ran into Daley for a drink at Allports' pub and was incidentally in the vicinity during the Pinnacle hold-up, Constable Knox identified him as Daley's accomplice. Knox would have been familiar with Hall from his time spent at Pinnacle with Charters. It was also common knowledge that Constable Knox was romantically involved with Daniel Charters' widowed sister, Margaret Feehily.
However, Hall's account — that he had left Allports with Daley and was casually riding home when trooper Hollister began pursuing them based on Knox's information — doesn't hold water. Why would an innocent man flee and brazenly exchange gunfire with troopers? This act alone gives credence to the guilt he professed to not bear. And it was unfortunate for Hall that Hollister knew him well, most likely due to Hollister's awareness of Hall's notorious associations and recent criminal activities.
Ben Hall, Daley, and O'Maley, three well-known bushrangers.
Numerous newspaper reports, entries in the NSW Police Gazette, and accounts by respected citizens like Ernest Bowler and Charles MacAlister, among others, all provide solid evidence for what the police had long suspected: Ben Hall had long been embroiled in the world of bushranging, a fact all too familiar to the local populace of the Lachlan region.
After his encounters with Knox and Hollister, wherein shots were exchanged, the NSW Police Gazette published a disturbing account on February 13, 1863. This report detailed an attack on an elderly woman named Mrs. Mary Finnigan. Mrs. Finnigan, who ran a shanty near Forbes, was known locally for her benevolent nature. The report read as follows:
|NSW Police Gazette,|
13th February 1863.
The brutal attack on Mrs. Finnigan marked a turning point in Ben Hall's criminal career. The incident at the Pinnacle had already exposed Hall's ruthless nature, but his assault on Mrs. Finnigan indicated a drastic escalation in his disregard for societal norms. Now, more than ever, Hall seemed to be on a reckless path that could only end in prolonged imprisonment, death on the gallows, or a violent end in a shootout.
|Gardiner & Gilbert.|
One might also note that the accomplices Hall kept were often from similar backgrounds as himself. Like him, they were children of convicts, raised among cattle and horse thieves who took advantage of any opportunity to steal. This new breed of bushrangers, including John Peisley, O’Meally, and Fred Lowry, shared a common bond of lawlessness passed down through generations. Family ties and close friendships often drew Hall and his associates into their criminal lifestyle, and the older generation's tales of past adventures and their longstanding distrust of authority played no small part in influencing them. Prolonged idleness likely exacerbated the situation, leaving young men such as Hall susceptible to the allure of crime. The 'Empire' newspaper on March 12th, 1863, aptly summarised the bushranging epidemic's adverse impact on the country:
The regularity of the bushrangers' outrages and their successes were often due to their ability to remain one step ahead of the frequently befuddled NSW police. Their achievements and easy access to money were facilitated by reliable intelligence. Furthermore, they had a wide selection of high-quality thoroughbred horses and a variety of firearms easily obtainable from many larger stations. In contrast, the NSW police had to contend with inferior horses and subpar equipment. The law enforcers also had to deal with numerous settlers who were in league with the desperadoes and had established a 'Cone of Silence' against the police.
However, an article published in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' on 17th February 1863 expressed hope that the NSW Government, through the police and the courts, would soon eliminate all the troubled districts' bushrangers. This included their extensive network of supporters and minor squatters. Expectations were high, as reported:
In certain situations, local residents stepped in to fill the void, adopting the roles of self-styled constables. These individuals often administered vigilante-style justice, doling out summary punishments to transgressors, as highlighted:
As Ben Hall was igniting chaos across the western plains, other long-past criminal activities related to the Hall family at Murrurundi were brought to light in parliament, events still vivid in the memories of some. 'The Empire' newspaper in 1863 revisited one such episode concerning the past criminal exploits of Ben Hall's father. This incident was commented on by Mr. Joseph Jehosephat Harpur, a Parliamentarian.
Harpur represented the Hunter Valley seat of Patrick Plains, NSW. Importantly, Harpur was the son of Sarah Walsh, the stepmother to Bridget Hall and hence Ben Hall's stepmother-in-law. Given his close familial ties, Harpur was privy to all of Ben Hall's antics and robberies, and it is plausible that he benefited indirectly from the proceeds of those criminal activities via Elen Maguire. Therefore, Harpur was keenly aware of the activities within the bushranger fraternity.
After all, three of his mother's stepdaughters, who were also Harpur's stepsisters, were involved in relationships with individuals deeply entrenched in criminal activities. Harpur shared his insights:
Undoubtedly, Harpur's intimate knowledge of the Lachlan bushrangers was likely informed through his mother. His familial ties subsequently tarnished his reputation within the NSW Parliament, as he was perceived as being lenient due to his family's associations. This leniency was notably absent in his stance towards the rigorous measures proposed by the Cowper Government to address the bushranger menace. In July 1863, Harpur's perceived soft approach was brought to light:
However, on the 15th of February 1863, just a week after the Pinnacle Police station robbery and two days before the brutal assault on Mrs Finnigan, a heinous murder was committed, suspected to be the work of Ben Hall. On that fateful evening, a well-respected businessman named Adolf Cirkel, originally from Germany, was shot dead at Stoney Creek. Cirkel, an enterprising individual, owned 'The Miners Home Inn', situated three miles south of Lambing Flat township, as well as a bakery shop that served popular pastries to the local miners.
Around six to seven o'clock in the evening, John O'Meally and John Gilbert reputedly arrived at 'The Miners Home Inn'. As the evening unfolded, a gunshot echoed, and Mr Cirkel was found dead, shot by John O'Meally.
However, the witnesses described the culprits as one tall man and another short and stout. This description, particularly the characteristic of being short and stout, conflicts with the long-standing belief that John Gilbert was the second perpetrator. The 'Empire' newspaper published on Thursday, 26th February 1863, had the following to say:
Following Mr. Cirkel's murder, a group of fellow German diggers, suspecting O'Meally's involvement, sought justice. They made their way to O'Meally's public house in the Weddin Mountains, where they arrested Patrick O'Meally, Patrick MaGuiness (an associate of Gardiner), and a 16-year-old youth named Brown.
Believing they had captured the right men, they forcefully brought them back to the crime scene. However, when Patrick O'Meally was presented in court, no eyewitness could identify him as one of the murderers. Subsequently, he was released, 'leaving the court with a laugh,' as reported by 'The Burrangong Star'.⁵⁷
Following the fatal incident at Cirkel's, suspicion also fell on another outlaw, John Clarke. However, despite his physical similarities to Ben Hall - Clarke was born in 1842, stood roughly 5ft 6in to 5ft 7in tall, had a stout build and brown hair with grey eyes - no concrete evidence connected him to the crime. Clarke would eventually face his own legal troubles, being sentenced to three years for the robbery of Demondrille Station.
In an ironic twist, many members of Hall's gang had chosen to dress as police troopers for this particular heist, possibly using uniforms they had stolen from the Pinnacle Police Station. This tactic, while certainly bold, must have caused immense confusion and fear amongst the local populace, making the gang's lawless activities even more disruptive and threatening.
However, a moment of remarkable bravery came from an unexpected source - the shop boy. Seizing one of Solomon's revolvers from the counter, he aimed at one of the bushrangers. In a chilling moment, another gang member seized a pregnant Mrs Solomon, threatening to "blow Mrs Solomon's brains out" unless the boy dropped his weapon. The boy, recognising the danger to Mrs Solomon, reluctantly dropped the gun, commenting, "If it hadn't been for Mrs Solomon I'd have stopped your run."
This robbery was widely reported, including in 'The Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News' on Saturday 7th March 1863. The evidence presented in these reports suggested that it was indeed Jack O'Meally who had earlier fired the fatal shot that killed Mr Cirkel. (In colonial Australia, hundreds of newspapers existed and re-produced the same articles from their original source thru the Electric Telegraph.)
Following the robbery, the use of the stolen Pinnacle police items appeared in the 'Sydney News:
|Typical country store. |
Image courtesy NLA.
The article gave a vivid account of the audacity and ruthlessness of Ben Hall's gang during the robbery. Solomon recounted how they burst into his store in the middle of the afternoon, their pack horses waiting outside to carry off their spoils. Despite the terrifying threat to his wife's life, his shop boy showed remarkable courage, attempting to stand up to the intruders.
In addition to detailing the events of the robbery, the report also served to highlight the brutal and lawless nature of the bushrangers. Their threats against Mrs. Solomon, who was heavily pregnant at the time, were particularly shocking, showing a clear disregard for innocent lives.
The eyewitness account provided by Mr. Solomon served to heighten the sense of fear and urgency felt by local communities in the face of these escalating crimes. The report also shed further light on the identity of Jack O'Meally as the individual who had earlier fired the fatal shot that killed Mr. Cirkel.
|NSW Police Gazette,|
11th March 1863.
This portrayal painted a picture of a police force that was either incapacitated by fear or hampered by apathy. The bushrangers were running rampant, and the police, who should have been the protectors of the community, seemed unable to counteract the escalating threat.
The police's actions, or lack thereof, further frustrated and frightened the local communities. People looked to the police for protection and justice, but they were being let down. The authorities' seeming inability to control the situation only served to embolden the bushrangers, allowing them to continue their reign of terror with seeming impunity.
This confusion could likely be attributed to Hall's seniority compared to the rest of the gang, as well as his commanding presence. His previous reputation as a respected stockman and station owner may have endowed him with a demeanor that, when turned to criminal pursuits, was reminiscent of the charismatic and influential Gardiner. This inadvertent association bolstered Hall's reputation, unintentionally casting him in a role that he was swiftly growing into: the feared leader of a notorious gang of bushrangers.
However, the reality was quite different. Following Gardiner's narrow escape from the clutches of Sir Frederick Pottinger in August 1862, he and his lover, Catherine Brown, had left the Lachlan area. Around late October 1862, the pair embarked on a challenging journey north towards the Peak Downs goldfield, via Rockhampton. Finally reaching Apis Creek in Queensland, they had travelled an impressive distance of approximately 900 miles as the crow flies. Their journey was made in a spring cart through terrains that varied from challenging to outright inhospitable.
Despite this, the press was awash with speculations and various reports regarding Gardiner's supposed location. Some believed he had relocated to South Australia in the guise of a priest, others suggested he had gone to Portland, Victoria or Gippsland where his family lived. There were even assumptions that Gilbert's family was based in South Australia. These reports highlighted the widespread confusion and the prevalent rumours surrounding Gardiner's whereabouts. A case in point being a report in the 'Launceston Examiner' on Tuesday 30th September 1862, which was further fueling the speculative fire.
|"next time you bring me here|
it will be for something,
and don't you forget it."-
Mr Redman, a member of Parliament and Hall's former defence counsel, commented later on Hall's character and the circumstances that led to his turn to bushranging.
Ben Hall, prior to his entering upon the career of a bushranger, bore an unexceptionable character. He was well known in the Lachlan District as a hardworking, industrious, and honest man, who had by his own efforts risen from a humble position to be the proprietor of a station. A squatter of that district stated that he had known Hall intimately for some years, and that his character for honesty and industry stood so high that he would have trusted him with all he possessed.
Unfortunately, Hall became implicated in a horse-stealing case, and although the charges were dismissed, his reputation had been tarnished. The police, however, seemed to have marked him down, and on more than one occasion he was brought up on charges which were later proved to be entirely false. This injustice, and the suspicion which was constantly thrown upon him, caused Hall to become reckless, and he eventually threw in his lot with the bushrangers.
He was a man who might have been reclaimed, who might have been made a useful member of society, but the law and its administration instead of reaching out a hand to save him, pushed him to the very brink of the precipice, and then left him to his fate. No wonder that, feeling himself outlawed and persecuted, he should become a desperate and dangerous criminal.
Redman's depiction of Hall's story stirred sympathy and evoked questions about the workings of the judicial system. According to Redman, Hall was driven to a life of crime due to continuous targeting by the police, despite the charges against him being proved false repeatedly. It was the failure by the systems heavy hand, Redman argued, that transformed a hardworking, honest man into one of the most notorious bushrangers in Australian history.
Indeed, while Mr Redman's perspective provides a sympathetic lens through which to view Ben Hall's life, it is vital to remember that it does not justify the actions that Hall took. It's important to note that, while he may have been subject to minor injustices' and persecution, his response—to embark on a violent path of criminality—holds no excuse
Hall's lack of formal education might have limited his options in some ways, but he but he had established a fine cattle property was still capable of making better choices. However, it's clear that he was through associations with Gardiner not just a passive recipient of circumstances. His expert knowledge in bushcraft was to make him a formidable adversary for the law enforcement agencies trying to apprehend him.
Ultimately, Ben Hall made a choice to lead a life marked by violence and crime. He perpetrated or was involved in serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, theft, arson, intimidation, assault, and robbery, spreading fear and distress. His actions caused harm to many. Therefore, while it is crucial to understand the circumstances that might have led him down such a path, it is equally important not to romanticise or excuse his choices and actions.
It's important to note that he did not operate in a vacuum. He was influenced by individuals like Gardiner and sought their approval, adopting the same blend of charm and menace in his interactions with others. This dual persona could have been an attempt to maintain some level of public sympathy or gain protection from those he encountered. However, such calculated manipulations do not negate the seriousness of his crimes.
Furthermore, the assertion that his actions were due to external circumstances such as police pressure or marital troubles lacks substance when weighed against his subsequent actions. The choices Hall made were not reactionary but premeditated and strategic, indicating a degree of agency in his actions.
Next in the annuls of outrage Hall and his associates attempt to kill a police inspector and a blacktracker illustrating a level of aggression and lawlessness that characterised Hall's activities. Such instances highlight that despite any perceived veneer of respectability or charm, at his core, Hall was a violent and dangerous man.
|John Oxley Norton.|
Never Before Published.
The presence of these men was suspicious, and it was clear that this chance meeting was about to take a dangerous turn. Norton and Dargin prepared themselves for a potential confrontation. In these perilous times, officers of the law had to always be ready for encounters with outlaws who were just as likely to fight as they were to flee. The event and outcome are narrated by Inspector Norton in his own words:
"The three men were scattered at about 100 yards apart, one on each side of the road, and one near the road; the man on the left side advanced within eighty yards of me, and then commenced firing; the man on the left charged and fired a double-barrelled gun; I cannot swear to the man on the right firing his rifle, but he fired a revolver; the man I supposed to be O'Meally took up his position about eighty yards from me; Hall and the prisoner a little farther off; O'Meally cried out, "Throw up your arms," repeatedly; they then commenced firing with revolvers; we fired several return shots; they might have fired fifteen or eighteen shots; my ammunition was then expended, and O'Meally with Hall rode up to me; the latter presented a revolver at me, while O'Meally and Daley ran after the black-fellow, and fired after him; after a few minutes, Hall rode up to me, and said that they had nothing against, me and that I might go.
|Artists impression of|
Billy fleeing after
With his commanding officer held by the bushrangers. Upon reaching the station, Dargin arranged for a rider to take the news of Inspector Norton's capture to Forbes. A contemporary newspaper article provides more insight into Dargin's actions during this intense episode, highlighting his courage and resourcefulness in a bid to save his leader:
George Boyd, a new recruit to the NSW police force at the time, would later recall the frenzy in Sydney following the news of Inspector Norton's capture. As he tells it, the force was in a flurry of activity, scrambling to assemble a team of troopers to be dispatched as soon as possible. The goal was clear: apprehend the trio responsible for Norton's capture and end their reign of terror in the region.
Boyd's recounting gives a vivid picture of the urgency and intensity that gripped the police force in response to the lawlessness of Ben Hall and his gang. Despite their efforts, the challenges of distance and limited resources made it difficult for the law enforcement of the time to effectively contain the bushrangers' activities. The Sun, Monday 19th August 1912:
Boyd's career coincided with a tumultuous period in Australian history, marked by the notorious activities of bushrangers. The most infamous of these events involved the audacious capture of Inspector Norton by bushranger Ben Hall, which sent shockwaves of disbelief and embarrassment throughout the New South Wales Police Force.
The bushrangers' shrewdness, their superior horses, and weaponry, and most crucially, their intimate knowledge of the local terrain, often gave them the upper hand in their confrontations with the police. Their exploits became a source of both fear and fascination for the colonists, a vivid manifestation of the harsh realities and unpredictable nature of life in the Australian outback.
An intriguing postscript to these events was found in a report from 'Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle.' The publication speculated about the potentially tragic consequences had it been Sir Frederick Pottinger, not Norton, at the mercy of the bushrangers. It suggested that Pottinger's encounter with the bushrangers could have ended not in capture but in bloodshed, a sobering reflection on the danger that these lawmen faced in their tireless pursuit of justice.
|Ben Hall's pursuers|
promotions in March 1863.
On 7th March 1863, an article in 'Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle' shed light on the palpable frustration permeating the town. The citizens had reached a tipping point; they were thoroughly exasperated with the bushrangers' continued reign of terror, their relentless and indiscriminate acts of violence.
The newspaper provided a chilling insight into the ruthless nature of Ben Hall. It suggested that only a combination of Hall's poor marksmanship or a stroke of tremendous luck saved the disarmed Inspector Norton from a fatal bullet. This grim scenario underscored the cold-blooded nature of Hall, painting a picture of a man who was not just willing, but ready, to kill without a second thought.
While on patrol, Sir Frederick found himself near the very scene of Norton's harrowing encounter. His reliable aide, Billy Dargin, pointed out the specific spot where Ben Hall had made his ruthless attempt on Norton's life. Eager to piece together the chilling event, Sir Frederick dismounted his horse and approached the tree where the remnants of Hall's missed bullets lingered.
A closer examination of the tree revealed the close brush with death Norton had experienced. The bullets had struck alarmingly close to where Norton's head had been, a stark testament to his narrow escape. The sight of this grim memento stirred within Sir Frederick a renewed determination to bring Ben Hall to justice. The calculated violence of the bushrangers had to be curtailed, and Sir Frederick was resolved to be the one to do it.
As the dust settled on the events surrounding Inspector Norton's return, the grim specter of the gallows loomed over convicted Eugowra Escort robbers, Manns and Bow. While Fordyce's death sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment, Manns and Bow languished on death row, awaiting their imminent fate.
Yet hope was not entirely lost for the condemned pair. The citizens of Sydney, in an act of collective mercy, petitioned for the commuting of Manns and Bow's death sentences to life imprisonment. The appeals echoed through the city, a testament to the compassion that underscored the community's sense of justice.
The media, too, continued to cast a critical eye over the proceedings. Doubts were raised over the credibility of the evidence provided by Daniel Charters, adding another layer of intrigue to the case. For the first time, Benjamin Hall and John O'Meally, two notorious figures, were explicitly named in the press as members of the gang involved in the Eugowra Gold robbery of June 1862. This revelation injected a new dimension to the narrative, linking the events of the present with the unresolved crimes of the past. The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 17th March 1863;
However, the end of the trial did not signal the end of the drama. A tantalising piece of gossip circulated among the populace. It was rumoured that the bushrangers had sent a bold message to the government through their confidante, Billy Dargin.
The message was said to contain a chilling ultimatum: if any executions were carried out on their incarcerated comrades, Inspector Norton would pay the price. It was a threat, framed as a polite missive, which demonstrated the audacity of the bushrangers and the desperate lengths they were willing to go to in order to protect their own. The alleged threat further heightened the tension between the bushrangers and the authorities, adding a perilous new dimension to an already volatile situation.
A few days after Manns' execution, the 'Goulburn Herald' of Saturday 7th March 1863, weighed in on the alleged threat to Norton. As was often the case during these turbulent times, the writer sprinkled the account with a touch of derision aimed at the police. The article provided yet another angle on the unfolding drama, showcasing the media's critical and often mocking commentary on the authorities' struggle to maintain law and order against the audacious bushrangers.
After their intense confrontation with the Norton gang, the Lachlan area experienced another turbulent event. Within mere days, the community was stirred by the sudden appearance of a new and formidable gang member, Frederick Lowry, also known as Frederick McGregor. On March 8th, 1863, the local newspaper, 'Burrangong Star', published the news of Lowry's arrival.
Frederick Lowry was no stranger to the life of lawlessness. He had spent a significant part of his life at Cockatoo Island, sharing his confines with none other than the infamous Frank Gardiner, the former leader of the gang that now prowled the Lachlan region. Their time together in incarceration had forged a bond between them, binding them through shared experiences and hardened resolve.
In February 1863, Lowry made headlines for a daring escape from Bathurst Gaol. His freedom was hard-won, and his arrival in the Lambing Flat area symbolised a new beginning. Braving the challenges and risks of life on the run, Lowry decided to establish his presence in the Lachlan area, ready to follow in the footsteps of Gardiner and, in time, to carve his own path in the annals of local lore.
Before his audacious escape, Lowry was being held accountable for a grave incident that took place at a race meeting in the Brisbane Valley, near the head of the Fish River. The event had drawn a crowd of around a hundred spectators, creating an atmosphere ripe for unpredictability.
In the midst of the gathering, a scuffle broke out, the details of which remain a topic of whispered speculation. What is known, however, is that the altercation ended with a man named Mr. Foran suffering a gunshot wound to his chest. The source of the bullet was traced back to Frederick Lowry.
The severity of Foran's injury resulted in Lowry's subsequent capture and incarceration by those present spurred into action at Foran crashing to the ground. In Bathurst Gaol Lowry with a number of others would hatch his plan to escape, further solidifying his place in the regional history as an infamous outlaw.
Confidently navigating through the Wheogo area, Ben Hall seemed to operate with an unusual degree of security. He was bolstered by the knowledge that he was surrounded by old friends and family members who were more than willing to lend him aid and comfort. Their support served as a safety net, enabling him to move fearlessly through the region.
A local newspaper, capturing the dichotomy of his persona, alluded to him as a well-off squatter who paradoxically indulged in the dangerous and illicit activity of robbery. Hall's life was full of such contradictions. Born into a convict family, he was no stranger to struggle and hardship. Yet, he managed to ascend to a level of relative affluence through his illicit activities, blurring the lines between respectability and criminality.
These circumstances painted a complex picture of Hall, a man who, despite his outlaw status, seemed to enjoy the privileges of wealth and community support. His story is an illustration of the paradoxes that can exist within one person's life, underscoring the complexity of human nature and the unpredictability of fate. February 1863:
In the mid-1860s, Ben Hall's presence cast a long shadow over those who existed outside of his inner circle, his power instilling a palpable sense of fear. This was exemplified by the apprehension felt by Margaret Feehily, a widow and sister to Daniel Charters, once Hall's closest friend. Though Hall and Charters had likely maintained sporadic contact after the infamous Escort trials, the fear endured.
An incident from around 1863 underscores this fear. Staff from the Pinnacle public house faced a stern reprimand, having attempted to scapegoat the bushrangers for squandering provisions and alcohol. Hall's reputation was such that his name was used to cover their own transgressions.
Years later, in 1889, the Freeman's Journal published a letter by an anonymous correspondent who called himself Viator. He recounted an encounter at the Pinnacle public house that took place during a journey in 1863. He had been a passenger on a coach that had a chance meeting with the notorious trio: Ben Hall, John Gilbert, and John O'Meally.
Published on November 23, 1889, Viator's letter offered a glimpse into the past, detailing a direct encounter with these infamous outlaws, a brush with the annals of the Australian bushranging history. The narrative, tinged with the fear and respect these men commanded, enriched the legacy of Ben Hall and his cohorts.
|O'Meally's holdings Weddin|
Mountains. c. 1863.
However, the advocated safe period for the police was short term. During the lull, Hall appeared to have retreated to his former stockman's haunts out in the back-country of the Bland Plains and camped around Lake Cowal and Humbug Creek. Areas which Hall knew intimately. In this wild country, Hall had maintained many friends. Hall's Bland haunt was described as:
Furthermore, as well as the Bland, it came to light that Hall often appeared at his former home of Sandy Creek, where his latest child Mary and her mother Susan Prior continued to live. However, events at Sandy Creek would shortly alter to disastrous, culminating in a confrontation with Pottinger and his troop. As Hall and the gang had dropped off the radar, elements in the press had attempted to paint Sir Frederick Pottinger and his men as being a law unto themselves. Much criticism from many quarters of the region was directed at Pottinger, who dismissed any notion of unfairness and wreaked havoc against anyone suspected of sympathies toward the bushranging fraternity.
Newspaper's such as the Empire (1850-1875) had an editorial flair that appeared to garner support to the sympathisers and harbourers of bushrangers. The paper often censured the police over their perceived brutality towards the smaller, less well to do settlers who provided a helping hand for a gratuity from the hunted. Those sympathisers were noted as:
On the other hand, some more conservative newspapers like the Sydney Morning Herald viewed the troubles and difficulties faced by Sir Frederick Pottinger more sympathetically. The root of those difficulties was a continued 'Cone of Silence' employed by many inhabitants. Therefore, the more conservative papers judged the inspector far more fairly, such as, 'The Courier' Brisbane:
Nonetheless, under the spotlight of numerous failures, in particular, Frank Gardiner. Sir Frederick Pottinger was hungry for success. Just one victory would do, and for a brief moment, Pottinger’s luck bore fruit. Sir Frederick's Pottinger's instinct's regarding the Weddin Mountains/Pinnacle/Wheogo areas as a continuous haven for bushrangers, including Ben Hall's previous run at Sandy Creek and his former in-laws at Wheogo as well as the nearby Feehily's Pinnacle Station were places Pottinger considered his best opportunity to 'nail the bastards'. The Pinnacle bordered the same name's range with its outlying miner's huts and a heavily wooded scrubland. Pottinger's dogged patrolling paid off.
"Ben Hall then charged witness, and ordered him to bail up against a tree; said—he would see them d--d first. Witness then jumped off his horse and taking up a pistol he had thrown upon the ground, threw it at Ben Hall, hitting him on the jaw; Ben Hall then called out to Daley to come on with his revolvers. By the Bench: The pistol struck Ben Hall on the right ear. Prisoner Daley; was engaged loading two revolvers. Ben Hall called out, come on with the revolvers. Young O’Meally then came up and gave one of his revolvers to Ben Hall. Witness then took off his boots, leggings, and coat, and run off, throwing sticks at his pursuers the whole time. They, chased him in this manner for eight-miles, firing all the way, till they got near the Pinnacle Mountain. They told him they would "whollop" him to death with sticks; witness replied, he would like to have a chance with him; he would forgive them if they killed him with sticks. They then went under the Pinnacle, and picked up some small pebble stones and fired them at witness. The prisoner Daley said, "I like you, you white livered scoundrel. “Witness in reply told Daley, "He would like him better if he would get off his horse. Afterwards asked them if they would go to the Pinnacle, and he would shout for them. Ben Hall said, "Well, old man, you're a plucky one, and we'll let you off, but we'll stick up your barracks to-night." They then went off to the Pinnacle—To the Bench "Am certain the prisoner is the same man who was with Ben Hall when the police barracks were stuck up. Followed them at that time, with Prince Charlie and trooper Hollister. Chased them for three miles and a half, and should have taken them but for Hollister getting thrown from his horse through running against a tree. Saw the prisoner Daley snap his revolver three times at Charlie. —To Sir Frederick Pottinger: Can swear that prisoner is one of the three men who stuck up Mr Norton, and likewise to being the same we chased with the trooper Hollister. —To the Bench. Identified the prisoner directly when he was taken into custody by Sir Frederick Pottinger.⁷¹
|John Wilson, mate of|
Sir Frederick and
Under pressure from Sir Frederick Pottinger, Wilson moved to evict them all. It's worth noting that as early as 1861, there had been efforts in the New South Wales Legislature to remove defaulting renters and undesirables from leased Crown Lands. During that year, Ben Hall held legal tenure over Sandy Creek. However, the Crown Lands Occupation Act of 1861, enacted in response to those criminal activities, impacted the lease of Sandy Creek. This resulted in Wilson taking up the lease in late 1862. A factor that played a role in Hall losing his hold over the land was his failure to sign the lease transfer to Wilson and settle any rent arrears with the government.
In March 1863, officials from the Lands Office, including a certain Mr Crosby, were instructed to pass on information about individuals unlawfully occupying Crown Land to the police in Forbes. This list included Ben Hall's homestead. Consequently, Hall's hut became one of the first in the Lachlan District to be subjected to these impending, arbitrary evictions.as set out under section 32 of the Act, which stated in part:
The severity of these actions, which left a mother and her baby exposed to the harsh elements, stirred discontent among Hall's close associates and significant landowners, such as William Jameison of Back Creek Station.
Nevertheless, Pottinger remained steadfast in his conviction that Hall's former residence was serving as a sanctuary for the elusive bushranger and other criminals. He perceived these individuals as a 'low character', a prejudiced view that was possibly influenced by his aristocratic background.
The destruction of Hall's home was a bold demonstration of Pottinger's intention to exert control over those he considered part of a criminal underclass. The inspector aimed to send a strong message that the police were a force to be respected and obeyed, not hindered.
In June 1863, Pottinger relayed a memorandum justifying his actions to the Inspector-General of police, Captain McLerie. The document underscored Pottinger's disdain for the class of people who, in his view, operated under a 'cone of silence' when dealing with the authorities.An extract follows:
The destruction of Ben Hall's home marked a significant step by the government in addressing the issue of unlawful occupancy. It was part of the government's broader strategy to tackle the problem of squatters who were residing on land without proper leasing agreements. However, these harsh actions did not go without criticism, with some sections of the media expressing strong disapproval of the government and police's behaviour. These critics argued that attempting to suppress support for bushrangers by any means necessary was an overreach of power. 'Sydney Morning Herald', April 28th, 1863; Dispossession of Illegal Squatters:
|Constable John Bohan|
who would assist
at the burning of Hall's
home, and later
act in Hall's death.
|Hollister's actual diary entry,|
|Rare portrait of|
William Jameison father
Not long after Jameison's candid letter surfaced, he died under suspicious circumstances following a fall from his horse near Goulburn. His death further inflamed the tension within the community.
While Jameison had shown both admiration and criticism for Pottinger in his dealings, his thoughts on the police's conduct, especially that of Pottinger, were further articulated in another letter he sent to the editor of 'The Sydney Morning Herald.' This letter was shared by John A. Hux, revealing more of Jamieson's insights and opinions about the controversial law enforcement practices of the time.
Mr Charles Cowper.
Pottinger's memorandum was presented to the NSW Legislative Assembly with the intent to placate members' concerns by providing a comprehensive account of the law enforcement's challenges in policing such a vast, largely uninhabited and desolate portion of the state. The document illustrated Pottinger's conduct and underscored the difficulties faced by other commanders in an untamed territory, where their efforts were often unappreciated and scorned by insulated parliamentarians who rarely ventured beyond Macquarie Street.
Intriguingly, Pottinger addressed the issue of Ben Hall's home's destruction in a rather offhand manner, attributing the decision to John Wilson. It highlighted the complexity of the circumstances, and the delicate balance between law enforcement and individual rights in a region often dictated by lawlessness.
Author's Note: The death of William Jamieson at the time was considered a mystery;
On the day of the police action, Ben Hall was present, and his attempts to distract the police and engage them in a confrontation were met with dismissal. This refusal to be drawn away from their mission by Hall led to considerable ridicule of Pottinger by Mr Harpur. As documented in the Parliamentary Hansard, Harpur praised Hall's courageous attempt to divert the police's attention. Still, it was insufficient to deter the determined and resolute Sir Frederick Pottinger. This incident's narrative highlights the tension and conflict between the bushrangers and the police and their families.
From that point onwards, Hall wholeheartedly embraced a path of criminality, throwing himself willingly into the arms of 'Hades'. As the years passed, the charred remnants of Ben Hall's once cherished home stood as a stark reminder of life irrevocably changed. The remains of his house visited and recorded by R. Fitzgerald of Wamboyne in 1876, were a tangible testament to the personal tragedy and lawless exploits that marked Ben Hall's infamous legacy when writing for the 'Wyalong Advocate' in 1919:
However, after the deed was done in a surprise statement, the Lands Minister, Mr Robinson, denied that Hall's home was incinerated as means of the Crown Lands Act.
|John Wilson's claim|
on Wheogo Station.
Despite their sudden eviction, these women continued to support Hall, providing him with valuable information, food, and other necessities. Spurring his horse into a gallop, Pottinger and his troopers charged towards Hall and his companion, John O'Meally, hoping to cut off their escape. But as night descended, the bushrangers vanished into the thick pine scrub. They abandoned their equipment in their haste, and Hall even left his horse behind.
In the wake of this pursuit, Pottinger telegraphed the Inspector General of Police in Sydney, recounting the events of March 18, 1863. He described his encounter with Hall and O'Meally, shedding light on the close ties between the two outlaws. The presence of O'Meally with Hall, not long after the murder of publican Cirkel at Stoney Creek, raised suspicions about Hall's involvement in the brutal act at 'The Miners Home Inn'.
In the aftermath of the chase, Susan Prior's younger brother, William, was apprehended and intensely questioned about Hall's whereabouts. Despite their hardships, Hall's network of supporters remained resilient, their loyalty seemingly unswayed by the ruthless tactics of law enforcement.
Courtesy of R.A.H.S.
NSW Police Employment
Record May 1862.
New South Wales, Australia,
Registers of Police
|Hollister's diary, March 1863.|
In an attempt to address these concerns, Sir Frederick Pottinger, responsible for the Lachlan Police District, submitted a memorandum to parliament. This memo, previously requested by the Colonial Secretary, contained a detailed account of Pottinger's conduct and his experience overseeing the district's policing. Furthermore, it provided an insightful depiction of the territory under his jurisdiction.
Pottinger's goal was clear: to shed light on the enormous challenges the police force faced, given the district's sheer vastness and complex social dynamics. He hoped that by presenting an in-depth view of his tasks, he could quell the mounting criticism and bolster understanding among the honourable members of the intricacies and tribulations encountered in his line of duty.
|Sir Frederick Pottinger|
in the uniform
Adding to the turmoil, the New South Wales Police Gazette entries in the early months of 1863 were inundated with crime reports from 'the interior'. This rampant criminal activity seemed insurmountable for the police in the afflicted districts. As such, many holdups and robberies often went unreported due to victim apathy and a prevailing sentiment that the police were reluctant to respond in any significant manner.
Ernest Bowler, a contemporary observer, exemplified this attitude of indifference. Bowler recounted a personal experience of being held up by Ben Hall's gang members, an incident he chose not to report, highlighting the general sense of futility many felt regarding police intervention at the time. 'The Moleskin Gentry'; by Frederick Howard. Ernest explains:
Note on Earnest Bowler; FORBES, Monday, 7th September 1896.- "This morning news was brought to the town of the death of Mr Ernest Ulysses Bowler, managing partner for Messrs. Suttor and Co, of Boyd station, about 20 miles from Forbes. The deceased gentleman had been suffering from a weak heart for some years and as he was 67 years of age, his demise was not altogether unexpected. He was judging at the Grenfell show that week and returned home on Saturday. On Sunday night he retired to bed in his usual health but awoke at about 2 o'clock and died in less than half an hour. His remains will be brought into Forbes tomorrow for interment. Mr Bowler was the son of Major Bowler a well-known colonist of the early days. Mr Earnest Bowler was one of the earliest pioneers of the Lachlan country and has been a resident of this part of the country for about fifty years. He was greatly respected in this district and great sympathy is expressed with his family. He leaves a widow, one son, and one daughter."
Image courtesy NLA.
Suddenly crime reporting in the 1860s took a great leap forward through the newly installed and innovative Telegraph line. The line became a vital artery for McLerie, funnelling reports of crimes committed throughout the vast police territories under his command almost instantly. Despite the telegraph's relative speed, it often could remain up to two weeks for the Police Gazette to be relayed, assessed, printed and dispatched via mail coach to the relevant police districts. Officers, eager to capture the lucrative bounties on offer for criminals like Ben Hall, Gilbert, O'Meally, and Gardiner, would often take the initiative and launch a pursuit proir to the receipt of these reports.
The first Telegraph line in New South Wales was constructed between Sydney and Liverpool, spanning a distance of 20 miles, and was operational by 30th December 1857. By 1858, the Liverpool line was extended to Albury on the New South Wales-Victorian border, covering over 300 miles. Importantly, this route traversed through the Southern and Western police districts of New South Wales, bringing real-time communication to the doorstep of these remote communities. By 1861, Sydney was linked to Brisbane by telegraph, marking a significant shift in the way information was shared and potentially shifting the balance in the police's battle against bushrangers such as Ben Hall.
NSW Police, Captain
|".. too late there goes the|
Image courtesy NLA.
During his early days as a stockman and his tenure at Sandy Creek, Ben Hall had built a network of relationships with individuals who held him in high regard. As he ventured into a life of bushranging, these connections proved invaluable, offering safe harbour to Hall and his partners. This support, coupled with his trusted 'Bush Telegraph' network, allowed the gang to remain elusive, frustrating the police and staying a step ahead of their pursuers. Despite their notorious exploits, their ability to remain under the radar was a testament to Hall's strategic foresight and his careful cultivation of relationships throughout his life.
Image courtesy NLA.
For the men on the force, already strained from their relentless pursuit of Hall and his gang, the inclement weather made their task even more taxing. They were now grappling with harsh, cold and damp conditions.
Meanwhile, it can be assumed that Ben Hall, far more acquainted with the land and its secrets, sought refuge in the warm embrace of a shepherd's hut or a supportive harbourer's abode, protected from the downpour. He must have been acutely aware of how the harsh weather played to his advantage, erasing his tracks and further complicating the pursuit of Pottinger and his men. As reported:
|Bushrangers in Australia |
By: Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton.
Although initially limited in its reach, the new network commenced its operations as early as June 1860. It continued to expand gradually, eventually reaching all major settlements throughout NSW and beyond, following the path of the telegraph lines.
This emerging technology was praised for its potential to safeguard individuals' funds against the risk of robbery. The Money Order system represented a major leap forward in financial security, making it increasingly difficult for the likes of Ben Hall and his gang to intercept and seize people's hard-earned money. It marked a significant turning point in the fight against bushrangers, demonstrating the power of innovation in thwarting criminal activities, highlighted in the 'Moreton Bay Courier', Thursday 26th July 1860;
The press played a pivotal role in promoting this new financial service. They emphasized its safety features, ease of use, and the significant layer of protection it added against the ever-looming threat of bushrangers like Ben Hall and his gang. The push for the widespread adoption of Money Orders served as a testament to the times - a symbol of society's willingness to adapt and implement new strategies to counter the persistent menace of bushranging. In this way, the narrative of the notorious bushranger, Ben Hall, was not just a tale of crime and punishment but also a catalyst for significant societal and technological progress. 'The Sydney Morning Herald', 27th January 1863:
We hope that the Money Order Office will be brought into extensive use for the suppression of highway robbery. While the policeman is exerting himself to affect a cure, for that evil, the money order may facilitate the still more desirable process of prevention. A few days ago, the newspaper reports informed us of a disgusted bushranger, who bitterly complained that there was no use in robbing the particular mail that he was then rifling since it never contained anything worth carrying away. The fellow seemed to consider himself hardly used, and probably a continuance of such fruitless results to his enterprises would induce him to direct his genius to some other sphere of action possibly an honest one. We may fairly conclude that the days of gold escort robberies are at an end. Large bank bills, which are mostly payable to well-known firms in town, are not of much value to highwaymen; and in future, they must rest their hopes upon the registered letters containing small sums in bank notes, which may amount to something handsome in the aggregate. But if the Post-office money order be generally substituted for the banknote, as a means of remittance, even this source of revenue will be lost to the thief, who will hardly be likely to risk his life or liberty for the pleasure of seizing a few documents which are utterly worthless to him. Even if, in the extremity of his disappointment, he should destroy the orders, the money will not be lost, but will still be the property of the remitter. When a sum of ten pounds can thus be safely insured from all the perils of the road by the payment of a shilling, the person who neglects so simple and reasonable a precaution will hardly deserve pity for any loss that he may sustain. A traveller called upon to stand and deliver might complacently baffle his assailant by presenting him with a Post-office order. The business of the road would be done, and the professional highwayman would become an extinct animal.
Contrary to the American 'Wild West' experience, where bounty hunters played a crucial role in law enforcement, Australia did not encourage this practice. The task of apprehending criminals was squarely the responsibility of the constabulary. That said, local settlers, motivated more by self-preservation than the potential rewards, did occasionally take matters into their own hands.
The strategy of leveraging the inherent fear and desperation of apprehended suspects to turn them into informants was a common police tactic. The promise of a significant reward portion or legal leniency often successfully swayed detainees to cooperate. In some cases, these turned informants would infiltrate the bushrangers' hideouts or even participate directly in their capture.
A key example is Daniel Charters, who played a critical role in the apprehension of Bow, Fordyce, Manns and Maguire following the Eugowra gold robbery of 1862. For his cooperation, Charters was rewarded with £150 and a pardon, despite his attempts to shield Hall and O'Meally from implication in the robbery.
To ensure their continued cooperation and safety, the identities of these informants were guarded with utmost secrecy by the police. However, these protective measures weren't always successful, and leaks did occur. For instance, an article in the 'Empire' newspaper from April 26th, 1863, cited an unnamed source to reveal the presence of an informant within a mounted police patrol in the Burrangong district. This unfortunate revelation essentially placed the bushrangers on high alert, and if an informant was found among their ranks, the consequences could be brutally fatal.
It was a complex web of suspicion, deceit, and survival that characterised the environment in which Ben Hall and his gang operated. Struggling to stay a step ahead of the authorities, the threat of betrayal became another challenge that they had to navigate in their perilous life on the Queens roads. Empire correspondent:
Charles Herring, also known under the aliases Charles Burgess and Zahn, was a figure enshrouded in infamy and suspicion. Herring was a career criminal with a notorious reputation in the Fish River district, often seen in the company of known criminals like William Fogg and the recently executed John Peisley.
On the cusp of his unexpected recruitment into the NSW police force, Herring, as Zahn, made a bold statement regarding the Eugowra affair, stating:
|Herring with John Peisley|
NSW Police Gazette.
Seemingly overnight, Zahn transitioned from a prisoner to a police trooper. In his initial ventures in this new role, he successfully apprehended one Henry Gibson, a known associate of Hall, who had previously claimed to be Hall's overseer on Sandy Creek. Notably, Zahn's diligent efforts nearly resulted in the capture of John Gilbert, Ben Hall, and John O'Meally in April 1863. Zahn was described as; 36 yrs old 5 ft 4 in tall light brown hair Hazel eyes thin pale face sallow complexion rather long sharp nose mole under right eye dresses smartly.
Henry Gibson, also known under the pseudonym 'Parker', was a close associate of Ben Hall and John Gilbert. He had resided at Ben Hall's home until its fiery destruction. Notably, Gibson was a companion of John Gilbert, having encountered him at the Ovens River Goldfields in Victoria. Gibson found himself a wanted man by the Victorian Police, prompting his flight into New South Wales, where he eventually reunited with Gilbert. As Ben Hall and Susan Prior headed towards Lambing Flat, accompanied by O'Meally, Gilbert, and Gibson, their movement did not go unnoticed.
The group was spotted by police troopers, triggering a high-speed horse chase. Hall, Gibson, and the others spurred their horses, trying to elude their pursuers while firing shots in their direction. The troopers, responding in kind, closed the distance, expertly dodging the hail of bullets. Eventually, Gibson was apprehended by troopers Coward, Townly (who was tasked with handling Zahn ), and the informant Zahn. The chase and subsequent capture unfolded as follows:
When Gibson was detained, Detective Coward queried him about his destination and the identities of his three companions. However, as expected, Gibson denied having any knowledge of the other riders. It was a standard tactic used by those involved in bushranging to shield their comrades and maintain their network of allies, ensuring that even if one fell, the others could continue their illicit activities unhindered. The loyalty to the band of outlaws often ran deep, reinforcing the difficulty faced by law enforcement in cracking down on Ben Hall's atrocities. When asked Gibson replied that:
|Mr Percy Scarr.|
However, Mr Scarr's evidence gave a revealing insight into Ben Hall's movements between the 14th and 28th of March, 1863. This information was consistent with a series of telegrams sent by Sir Frederick Pottinger to the Inspector-General regarding Hall's activities and Constable Hollister's diary account from the 14th of March. Pottinger had believed that Elen Maguire was the woman accompanying Ben Hall, but Scarr's testimony highlighted that Hall was in the company of a woman and a child, who were most likely Susan Prior and their daughter Mary. During this period, Elen Maguire was a mother to two children, aged five and two, and remained married to John Maguire. The other men confirmed to have been present were John Gilbert, John O'Meally and Gibson.
Meanwhile, as Gibson's court appearance unfolded, a tragedy was taking place in Forbes that would involve Elen Maguire, Bridget Hall, their stepmother Sarah Walsh nee Harpur. The tragedy was the serious illness of Elen's and Bridgets younger brother, 'The Warrigal', John Walsh, who was lying on his deathbed at 'The White Hart Inn', a hotel owned by John Wilson and managed by Hall's brother-in-law, John Maguire. Young 'Warrigal' had contracted Gaol Fever while being held in custody for his associations with Frank Gardiner. Sir Frederick Pottinger had persistently pushed for 'Warrigal' to be remanded, resulting in him being regularly presented in court. S.M.H 26th August 1862;
Despite the historical oblivion, local memory and efforts have sought to right this wrong. Thanks to the endeavours of the Forbes Historical Society and other interested parties, a memorial plaque now graces the Forbes Cemetery. Though it may not mark his exact resting place, it serves as a poignant reminder of his existence and his tragic life, a testament to a young man caught in the tumultuous web of the lawless world around him.
|John Fletcher Hargraves|
2nd April 1860-31st July 1863
b. 1815 - d. 1885.
The case against Henry Gibson, despite the multitude of evidence pointing towards his association with Ben Hall, Gilbert, and others, was surprisingly dropped by the NSW Attorney General, John Hargraves. This unexpected turn of events took place on the 17th May 1863, with Hargraves citing the lack of a possible guilty verdict as the reason for the decision (the relevant article is not provided here).
However, Gibson's brief taste of freedom was not to last. Upon his release, he was swiftly re-arrested by Sir Frederick Pottinger and transported to Forbes, where he was set to face charges on other related matters. This quick turn of events demonstrated the relentless pursuit of justice by the police and the tangled web of criminal activity that was associated with the notorious bushrangers. ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’, Tuesday 2nd June 1863:
Eager to relay this new information, Pottinger dispatched a telegram to the Inspector General of Police on 4th April 1863. In his message, he detailed the continuous efforts of his troopers and, for the first time, expressed his belief that the notorious Frank Gardiner had fled New South Wales. This update marked a significant turning point in the hunt for the bushrangers and signaled a shift in focus in Pottinger's investigations.
This perilous situation was only exacerbated by a controversial decision by the government and the police hierarchy. They decided to transfer Captain Battye, one of the most diligent and respected officers in the region, from Burrangong to Bathurst. This decision left the citizens of Lambing Flat feeling particularly vulnerable and baffled, as they grappled with the sudden absence of a trusted authority figure during a period of escalating lawlessness.
Following the close encounter with the police during the capture of Gibson, Ben Hall and his gang disappeared from the public eye for a time. News of their activities slowed to a trickle and then stopped altogether, leaving the authorities and the public alike in suspense. The press reported this sudden silence from the notorious bushrangers, underscoring the sense of uncertainty and tension that their disappearance brought. Despite their relief at the temporary cessation of Hall's criminal activities, the people knew that this quiet was likely the calm before the storm. They waited with bated breath, wondering when and where Ben Hall and his gang would strike next.