Ben Hall Pt 1

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

"Ben Hall! Stockman, Squatter, Bushranger, from these personas, his character has remained an enigma. From a man held in high regard by all who knew him to a man through his own actions became one of the most hunted in colonial history, and who would ultimately die a violent and bloody death at the hands of his pursuers."- Mark Matthews.

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.)
BEN HALL
("A good-looking young man")
Originally held by William Hall.

 
Ben Hall was born in the British penal colony of New South Wales, specifically in Maitland of the Hunter Valley, in May 1837. His parents, both originally from the United Kingdom, were convicted for theft of goods worth more than a shilling. Their punishment was penal servitude and transportation to Port Jackson for seven years on a convict ship. Benjamin Hall Sr, born in Bristol, England, in 1805, was transported in 1827 aboard the 'Midas'. Eliza Somers, Ben's mother, was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1808 and transported in 1830 aboard the 'Asia 1'. (According to Ben Hall's Great Grandson, also named Ben Hall, the bushranger was actually born in February, not May.)

Hall's Creek.
Google Earth image.
Within a year of Ben Hall's birth, his parents, Eliza and Benjamin Hall, began planning to relocate. In late 1838, the family left Maitland in search of greener pastures, setting their sights on a remote area near Barry, New South Wales, located at the eastern edge of what is now known as Ben Halls Gap National Park.

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.
c. 1932.

Courtesy A.A. McLellan.
In the biography of the Hall family titled 'Benjamin Hall and Family', author A. A. McLellan suggests that the Hall's journey from Maitland followed a road previously carved out by the Australian Agricultural Company. Their route took them through Arden Hall and Belltrees to Ellerston, from where they diverted to the Walcha Track towards Glenrock, finally arriving at the junction of the Barnard River and Ben Hall's Creek. Upon arrival, Ben's father built a robust bark hut and began to supplement his livestock with wild cattle and horses that roamed the surrounding valleys.

Note: Old remnants of the home were still visible, and part of the house was still habitable into the nineteen-thirties. Some bricker-brack can still be found. Ben Hall's old squatterage is accessible today via the Scone/Nundle Rd.

March 1841.
The harsh and isolated conditions of Hall's Creek did not agree with Eliza Hall. After enduring two years of solitude and extreme weather, the Hall family decided to move again. In 1840, they relocated to Haydonton, a settlement conceived by brothers Peter and Thomas Haydon. The Haydon brothers, in need of more farm workers for their ventures, had obtained a large land grant of 1000 acres. They divided this land into various-sized building lots for sale, creating the division they named Haydonton. The most desirable lots were located in a long valley where the Pages River provided a plentiful water supply. Ben Hall Sr was among the first to purchase a lot

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
'Bridge House'

Courtesy Dr John Turner
(1933 - 1998)
Author's Note:- A long-held belief perpetuated through the sands of time is that Ben Hall was born on a property named Breeza. However, any reference to the town is incorrect. Breeza is situated on Liverpool Plains, NSW (the name of the current village). However, Ben's older brother Edward was born at Breeza in early 1836.

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
purchase Haydonton.

Courtesy Haydon papers
Vol-3
Benjamin Hall Sr acquired two acres of land from the Haydons, which was located along the banks of the Pages River. This transaction is documented in the Haydon Family Papers, specifically in Volume 3 on page 28.

The first parcel to be sold was 2 acres situated on the south side of the main road at the ford and is the parcel of land now bounded by Mayne Adelaide and Liverpool Streets and the Page's River. The Purchaser was Benjamin Hall a ticket of leave holder, but an independent grazier from Breeza where he had been employed by Samuel Clift. He paid £140 a price which indicated that there was probably a hut on the land.

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
Hall family, 
Murrurundi.
c. 1900.
Courtesy A.A. McLellan.
In 1854, amidst numerous marital disputes between Benjamin and Eliza, an advertisement was published in the newspapers, listing their well-established home for sale.

In the flourishing town of Haydonton, and bounded on the north by Main-street on the east by Adelaide-street on the south by Liverpool street to the River Page on the west by that river on which are erected a snug Cottage, three rooms, Butcher's Shop, Kitchen, Blacksmith's Shop; a splendid Well of Water, communing from 10 to 15 feet of water in dry seasons; a small Orchard, Garden, Three Stock Yards, Two Gallows; and the whole is enclosed by a four-railed fence. The properties situation is eligible, having an extensive frontage, and commands the main thoroughfare to all the Northern Diggings.²  
 
Note: The home portrayed right may be the cottage owned by the Halls on Mayne Street and rented to Dr Hallett. As noted in the Haydon Family Papers - Volume 3: -
 
A bark roofed slab building owned by Benjamin Hall on the opposite side of Mayne Street.
 
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.

Murrurundi affords a fair specimen of an inland town. We were greeted with the sight of something green, for the rain, probably attracted by the hills, often drives through the deep valleys as through so many open tunnels. We have two inns both well built; and one is kept by a widow of real, homely, English aspect, and as kind and attentive as neat and respectable. Her nicely plaited widow's cap and her fine countenance tell a long and touching tale. There is a slab-built Roman Catholic chapel, with broken windows and otherwise much out of repair; and, behind it, is an open graveyard, with some neat monuments and headstones. There are two or three brick cottages, and a tolerable sprinkling of bark huts; and, at a little distance in the bush, is the courthouse. Here divine service is performed once a month by a clergyman of the Church of England who travels twenty-five miles for the purpose, and the magistrate's clerk gives the responses. A Roman Catholic priest comes from Maitland four times a year to shrive his flock at the slab-built chapel. He also catches every stray drunkard, of whatever denomination, on whom he can lay his hands, and insists on his becoming a tee-totaller. There is a large store, where everything that can possibly be required in the bush is to be bought. In one of the bark huts, you would find a good-natured, intelligent, and comfortable looking medical man, who came out in charge of emigrants, and has not exactly made up his mind when he shall return, but will probably think about it someday or other. In the meantime, he turns his skill to account, and is gradually accumulating cattle and horses; and, for the love he bears them, may perhaps become a fixture. He reads 'Blackwood,' and is fond of talking of 'that fine old fellow, Christopher North, whom he follows through all his fishing excursions. In the climate of NSW, a bark hut is as substantial a dwelling as a man needs; such abodes are often very comfortable; but they do not, unless double roofed, afford sufficient protection from the sun. The river Page runs, or rather lingers, in the rear of the town. The people seem happy and contented; and as all of them have cattle running on the wasteland, they are at no loss either for meat, or a matter of constant interest. (For the full book, see Source page.)

Alongside his older brothers - Thomas Wade, William, and Edward Hall - Ben Hall helped round up wild cattle and horses that roamed the rugged bush hills surrounding Murrurundi. This work contributed to building up their father's livestock. These experiences allowed Ben to hone his skills as a bushman and stockman. The saying 'born in the saddle' was a fitting description for young Ben Hall. Moreover, the lessons he learned in bushcraft and animal husbandry would prove invaluable in the future, even saving his life on several occasions.

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.

Hall's, mark.
Marriage Certificate.
Educational opportunities in these settlements were limited. Instruction at Murrurundi was provided by Mr James Gowan, a former town gaol lockup keeper who acted more as a tutor than a traditional teacher. Thomas Haydon made efforts to establish a National School in Murrurundi, as there were approximately 120 school-age children in the district and no formal school. The previous educator, Rev. George Anderson, had left the area. A committee of supporters asked parents to contribute £5 annually, a significant sum for most families in the town, as there was no government support. The community was expected to cover the costs of the schoolhouse and the schoolmaster's residence. Many were hesitant to part with £5. However, by 1851, a school was established, initially led by Alexander Brodie and his sister, Mrs Reid. There is no recorded evidence that Ben Hall attended school. Unlike his elder sister Mary, Ben remained illiterate and used an X as his mark. By 1850, he had relocated to the Lachlan district with his father.

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.

There also was a medical practitioner residing in Haydonton in a house belonging to Benjamin Hall - Dr  Hallett.

By 1845, some of Hall's Sr financial resources and livestock acquisitions were under scrutiny when the police issued a warrant for his father, who was already known in the district as a notorious cattle and horse thief. Haydonton was recognised as a haven for various unsavory characters during this period, with alcohol often playing a significant role in the town's widespread mischief and deception. The police were occasionally involved in the town's antics. To combat the rampant alcoholism, Thomas Haydon introduced a Temperance Society aimed at curbing the detrimental effects of excessive drinking, though it met with limited success. Despite this, Thomas Haydon noted a significant improvement in the town's morals and appearance, stating, "The change in morals and appearance of the people is wonderful." This sentiment was echoed in 'The Australian' on Wednesday, 5th April 1843.

About three weeks since, Mr William Shields, our Chief Constable, met with a serious accident by breaking his leg, and otherwise bruising himself. He at the time was riding a spirited horse, after one that broke away, and came in contact with a stump. Report says, he had imbibed too large a quantity of the strong liquors usually in repute at the "White Hart Inn," and was showing off his abilities in leaping his spirited charger over logs, to the amusement of the bye-standers; (low life characters), who generally congregate at Hydonton, to see the sports of the day, and which is of almost every day occurrence, either horse-racing or cricketing, or some other game, and in which the constables take an active part, the scourger being engaged as a monitor or notcher to the said cricket club. Had the worthy Chief been on Government duty, the accident would have been taken in a different light, and he the more pitied.

Benjamin Hall Sr was widely suspected of being a skilled cattle and horse thief. These suspicions eventually led to a warrant being issued for his arrest on charges of horse theft. However, James Gowan, the town's lock-up keeper and a friend of Hall Sr, tipped him off about the impending arrest. As a consequence of his actions, Gowan was dismissed from his position as the town's lock-up keeper.
 
Was dismissed from the lockup in consequence of it having been supposed that he had given or permitted an intimation to Benjamin Hall to keep out of the way.³
 
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
Wanted.

Courtesy N.L.A.
After Ben Hall's sudden departure from Murrurundi to the Lachlan region, the Upper Hunter associations, in collaboration with the government, issued a Wanted poster for Hall and his accomplice in theft, Alexander Patterson. This was widely advertised in NSW newspapers, with a reward set at £15.

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:


The killing of two mares for their Unbranded foals by slitting the mare's throats and letting them bleed to death.
 
The circumstances surrounding William's arrest led to a deep rift between him and his mother, a divide that would persist throughout their lives. During his confinement, William was observed to be in a state of constant distress, shedding tears frequently. The darkness that enveloped his cell only amplified his fear. His terror was further heightened by the presence of another accused individual, the intimidating Taylor, with whom he was forced to share his cell.

William Hall
c. 1910.

Penzig.
The boy cried very much through fear; he was kept there some days. Means had been used to intimidate the boy by placing him in a dark room, the windows of which had been boarded up for the purpose of darkening it, and his mind being overcome by terror at being shut up in a dark place (in which a death, too, had occurred), he was put beside Taylor, who had succeeded, apparently, in moulding him to his purpose.

While held in the lockup Eliza abandoned William after he failed in the old convict adage of  'Keeping Mum' about what he knew. Thomas Blair the Clerk to the Court stated:

The boy was kept by himself for three or four days, and was then put beside Taylor; after the boy gave information his mother utterly refused to send him anything, although she had sent him food previously; food and clothes were then given him by witness. 

On the 4th of October 1845, William was removed from Murrurundi to Parramatta Gaol:

William Hall, twelve or thirteen years of age, was taught his prayers in Parramatta Gaol by the Ladies of Charity and understood the consequences of false swearing.⁶ 

He returned in March 1846 for the trial. (See below.)
William Hall, aged eleven, Parramatta Gaol Entrance Book, 4th October 1845.
When William's trial commenced at Maitland, the young boy valiantly attempted to protect his father. However, the effort elicited a rebuke from the Judge:

As the son of Benjamin Hall, of Murrurundi, lives close to the lock-up; knew Abbott's run, and went there with the prisoner and another man, but did not think proper to tell that man's name. The witness was here reprimanded by the Judge and informed that what he should say would not incriminate that person, and then said the name of the man was Benjamin Hall, his father.⁷ 

A naive William also professed that:

He had once been engaged in horse stealing himself where he did not "quite help" to kill the mares. William Butler (co-accused) and witness's father helped to kill the mares.⁸ 

Certainly, for this Hall child his father’s lessons in crime and deviousness had been thorough:

But that of Hall, a boy, although young in years, evidently old in crime, and well versed in dissimulation.

Mary Hall
c. 1905.

Penzig.
Adding to the complexity of the situation, William's older sister, Mary, also testified, presenting a narrative that diverged from her brother's account. Her testimony suggested that she had been influenced or guided by their mother, Eliza, in her statements, an insinuation that Mary vehemently denied.

No one told her to say so here. She told her mother what she had heard from her brother. Her brother used to ride about after the cattle; her father had 60 or 70 head, and 8 or 10 head of horses.¹⁰ 

As the proceedings unfolded, it was revealed that Mary was the only child from the Hall family who had been attending school. Her education was under the guidance of Mr. James Gowan, who had been mentioned earlier in the proceedings. Gowan made the following statement:

He had a daughter of Benjamin Hall's at his school, but was not aware of her coming to the Court to contradict her brother; his school was within eighty yards of the lockup and was patronized by the most respectable people in Murrurundi. Considerable laughter was excited by this witness's off-hand manner of giving his evidence.¹¹
 
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:

However, Eliza who was then pregnant objected to moving both on the ground of the long and tedious journey to get to the Lachlan area and that she and the children would be returning to primitive conditions she had endured.

Consequently, the children who chose to accompany their father did so without a backward glance. The departure of Ben Hall Sr and the older children ignited a lifelong animosity between Edward Hall, who was left behind, and his father. Edward was young Ben's older brother. However, young Ben was considered his father's favorite and was chosen over Edward to accompany him. This departure was reportedly the last time Ben Hall ever saw his mother. Eliza passed away in 1869.

Note: An admonition, where the accused is found guilty but is neither imprisoned nor fined. They receive a verbal warning, and the conviction would be made part of the record. The link below is the 1846 newspaper account of the court proceedings of William's trial at Maitland Court.
MAITLAND CIRCUIT COURT
The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser
Wednesday 18th March 1846

Benjamin Hall arrested
30th October 1848
at Hamilton's station.

Courtesy NLA.
In 1850, a 13-year-old Ben Hall said his goodbyes to Haydonton. Along with his father and older siblings, they embarked on a journey south to the Lachlan district, herding a small number of livestock for sale. Their route took them through Singleton via Whittingham, Jerrys Plains, Cassilis, and Dubbo, before finally arriving near Forbes in the Lachlan district. Upon their arrival, the boys found employment as stock-keepers for a man named Hugh Hamilton.

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.
Hamilton was the leaseholder of two stations in the Lachlan district - Tommanbil and Boyd, spanning 17,520 acres and 26,500 acres respectively. Both stations were situated near the Lachlan River, Boyd and Pinnacle Creeks.

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.
 
Note: Interestingly, in August 1865, Agnes gave birth to a son named Benjamin. Tommanbill was reputedly named after two stockmen, Tom and Bill.
 
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.

Jones was out mustering in the vicinity of Speck's Gap when his horse fell, breaking the rider's thigh. He lay there alone for a considerable time before being discovered. The limb was then roughly set, and Jones was brought to Bathurst. It was some time before he had the use of his leg, and his pronounced limp or hop suggested the nickname 'Hoppy'. One of his assistants was a young man named Benjamin Hall.

The accident produced the nickname 'Hoppy' Jones. Subsequently, Jones went to Bathurst, where he recuperated and became the publican of the 'Lachlan Inn'corner of Seymour and Lambert Street, Bathurst known today as Centennial Park:

Benjamin Hall and his wife patronised his old Boyd friend for about twelve months when Ben's happy days were obsequered. 

Note: Jones would maintain a friendship with his young former stockman until Ben's death.Although hall robbed his store at Forbes in March 1865 prior to his death 35 days later. 

(1813-1888)
In these early years, Hall also took on mustering work at other stations from time to time. These included 'Omah' (also known as Oma), which was adjacent to Tommanbil and owned by horse racing figure Mr. John Tait, as well as Green's 'Uar' station. Ben's stock work for Hamilton was described as:

The first man to bring pedigreed Short-horn cattle to the district. The man in charge of the cattle was Ben Hall, after bringing out Mr Hamilton's cattle, Hall was for years on the station as a stockman.¹² 

Hamilton's stations were located within a 25-mile radius of Forbes. Once they had settled in, Hall's older sister Mary married a local stockman named William Wright, who was a significantly older ex-convict. With the boys now gainfully employed, Ben's father decided to return to Eliza and the remaining children - Edward, Catherine, Robert, Henry, and Ellen - at Murrurundi by the end of 1851.

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.

Courtesy NLA.
Embarking on a life as a stockman at the tender age of thirteen, Ben Hall was tasked with a variety of often strenuous duties. From an early age, he demonstrated a natural aptitude for cattle work, showing a unique ability to understand the animals' behaviors and habits. This skill, coupled with his lifelong passion for high-quality thoroughbred racehorses, showcased Ben's keen eye and innate understanding of animals.

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.

The Murrurundi Race Club course was established opposite the site of the School and continued parallel with Mayne Street to the vicinity of Royal Hotel when it turned north over Little Street and round and back to the start. On this course meetings were frequently held at which Dr Welsh's Death and Mr Butt's Snake, W Wightman‘s Canonball, Benjamin Hall’s Jacky Jacky, Henry O'Neil Wallaby and Charles Dangar and John and Frank Singles's horses were the best. Races were usually run in the heat and attracted large fields. 

Ben was known for his quiet and reserved demeanor, preferring to let his skills speak for themselves. This attitude served him well in managing Hamilton's livestock with patience and confidence, particularly during the busy mustering periods. Hall had a keen eye for assessing the condition and health of livestock, making accurate observations that were crucial to their care. One of his notable skills was his ability to determine an animal's age and condition by examining its teeth, a time-honored technique in livestock management.

Earnest and sister
Adelaide Bowler.

Private Source.
Ernest Bowler, a highly respected squatter in the Lachlan district, had numerous interactions with Ben Hall in their respective roles as stockman and grazier. Bowler was a prominent station owner and country squire, a man of considerable wealth. On one occasion, while traveling in a dog cart with his visiting sister Adelaide a few years before Hall turned to bushranging, they encountered Hall carting goods by wagon for Wheogo. Recognizing Hall, Ernest stopped for a chat and they exchanged pleasantries. As they continued on their way, Adelaide casually remarked, "What a good-looking man that was." To which Ernest replied, "Yes, and a fine fellow he is too. He has a place at Wheogo near Grenfell way. His name is Ben Hall."

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.

Ben Hall had a cattle station at Wheogo, and he used to attend all the musters round.  He was one of the smart, devil-may-care bushmen, knew the whole country well, always had a good horse and knew how to ride.  He was a good mate at mustering cattle or running wild horses.  He could "mother" calves; that means, after a day's mustering, he could tell you, which calf belonged to which cow - even if there were a hundred different brands. 

Such qualities earned Hall admiration and respect throughout the Central West. Ernest's wife, Elizabeth Bowler nee Farrand, arrived in Forbes in 1857 with her father, William Farrand, who was a magistrate and the founding editor of the local newspaper, the 'Lachlan Observer'. Elizabeth married Ernest in February 1872. Despite being held captive by Hall at Yamma Station as a young girl of 15 in 1865, during which Hall had threatened her father with a flogging, Elizabeth fondly remembered Hall's early life. In later years, she would recount these events with a certain relish, always referring to Hall as 'the good-looking young man'.

When cattle were mustered in those days (there were no sheep), they were held in some chosen spot overnight. Next morning squatters who had an interest in the herd came with their riders and the job of cutting-out began. Among the stockmen of those days was one who gained a modicum of fame as being the best of them all. Mrs. Bowler describes him as being a well-built, good looking young man with a pleasant disposition which gained him the friendship of all with whom he came in contact, A splendid rider and a good stockman, his services were frequently in demand.

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:

Hall was a popular man in the district, and the circle of his acquaintances was large from Bathurst to Euabalong, and from the Belabula to the Weddin Mountains, where old Walsh, his father-in-law, lived in easy affluence.

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."

It was also remarked that Hall;

Had an amiable sincerity of soul, a generosity of spirit, and an honesty in all his dealings with his fellow-settlers that won their friendliest esteem. He was steady, industrious, temperate, keenly intelligent, and, above all, always ready to give a helping hand to a neighbour.¹³

Station Cattle Branding,
by S.T. Gill. 1862.
However, Ben Hall seemed to naturally excel in his role as a stockman, quickly becoming a favorite on the station. His potential was recognized by his peers and employers, including Hamilton, who saw a promising future in the young man.

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.

Mr Hamilton grew very fond of young Ben, finding out he possessed great ability as a stockman. Mr Hamilton gave Ben permission to graze horses and cattle on his station, which young Ben did, and purchased out of his salary in about three years a small station. He became full manager for Mr Hamilton. The seasons were good and the grass plentiful, so that young Ben became fairly rich.
  
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:


The mosquitoes and flies were the most effective agents in driving the warrigal's out of the scrub onto the open plain, where they gathered in mobs for self-protection, standing whisking each other with their tails. This gave the stockmen and others a chance for some sport. The stockman was usually an active, game fellow, and a first-class horseman, with the "bump of locality" exceptionally well developed. He could steer a course through the bush like a blackfellow, confused neither by frequent twist nor turning. Running wild horses was a fascinating but hazardous and exciting part of his work, undertaken for the purpose of recovering a broken-in horse or mare that had joined the mob; to run the warrigals off the station, where they had become a pest, or for the mere love of the sport. And sport it was when the mob could be found in the open as stated above. Driving a bunch of quiet horses to act as "trailers" (frequently with a stallion amongst them, for such was a grand auxiliary equal to half-a-dozen stockmen in rounding up and keeping together the warrigal's), the stockman often succeeded in yarding a mob. But it meant several miles of hard riding through scrub and over broken country.
 
As such, for Ben Hall and his stockman mates, the hunt for Warrigals was motivation as the money they could earn was over and above their wages, as Ray Saint Smith recalled:

The wild horses, when yarded, and brought under control, realised highly satisfactory prices, as much as £15 to £20 per head being paid for them.
 
However, a stockman's work also came with its share of dangers. Around 1853, when Ben Hall was just 16 years old, he experienced a tragic accident while breaking horses in a stockyard. Hall attempted to mount a well-known racehorse from the local bush racetracks. Unfortunately, the horse, named 'Slasher' and known for its fiery temperament, threw Hall off, resulting in a severe injury - a broken leg. This injury would leave Hall noticeably lame for the rest of his life.

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.

Whilst mounting him one-morning 'Slasher' let out a lasher and poor Ben's leg and hoof met, resulting in a bad smasher for the former.

As a result of the accident, the severely injured young stockman was transported by wagon to the nearby cattle station, 'Bundaburra'. After enduring a painful journey, Mrs. Mary Strickland, with the help of her brother Tom Higgins (who would later own the Dog and Duck Hotel and become a long-time friend and supporter of Ben Hall), attended to the serious break. In his memoirs, Maguire wrote that Tom Higgins was one:

Who had a reputation as a bush surgeon, set the fracture, making a good job of it. In nine or ten weeks Ben was able to get about on crutches, and after that was as lively as ever.

Mary Coneley nee
Strickland.

c. 1862.
Penzig.
During his recovery, Ben Hall formed a close friendship and reportedly a teenage romance with Mary Strickland, the niece of her namesake and bush doctor, Aunt Mary Strickland. Mary assisted in nursing young Ben through his early recovery. It's believed that she was heartbroken when Ben Hall began courting Bridget Walsh.

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.
 
Note: Peter Bradley in his fine investigative book The Judas Covenant reveals the correct spelling of Coneley. There are many alternatives i.e. Connelly, Conley Conerly. I have used the Bradley version. Petersham Sydney has as well been marked as where Coneley's death took place in 1910. Ancestry records.

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:

In the Forbes cemetery, today rest the mortal remains of Ben Hall, and the mound which covers his dust is still tenderly cared for by a female hand—one who, though long years have drifted by since Hall's unfortunate body was riddled with policemen's bullets, still cherishes a kindly regard for a man who, but for a certain set of circumstances, might have earned renown in a different walk of life.
 
The woman who tended to his grave for many years was likely Mary Strickland, a childhood friend who remained in the Lachlan district until 1910 and passed away in Redfern, Sydney, in 1913 at her children's home. On the day of Hall's death, near Mary's home at Billabong Creek, a distressed Mary reportedly cut off a piece of Ben's hair as a keepsake while his body lay bloodied. Furthermore, like many women living in remote properties, Mary was an accomplished horsewoman. In her youth, she often participated in race meetings at Forbes, where large bets were placed on the outcomes of her races.

Mrs Newell, whose husband, John Newell, kept the Western Hotel, which stood on the site now occupied by the Metropolitan Hotel. Dora was ridden by Miss Strickland, daughter of Mr Pearce Strickland. There was always great rivalry between those two well-known horse-women, and the match caused much excitement and considerable wagering. After a desperate race, Virginia won.

Note: John Newell is not related to James Newell, who married Agnes Charters.

Mary Strickland nee
Higgins.

c. 1890's
According to an article in 'The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate' on Wednesday, 16th October 1918, it was noted that Ben Hall always remembered the care and bush doctoring provided to Mrs. Strickland, Tom Higgins, and young Mary. This act of kindness remained ingrained in his memory, especially when he later took to the road as a bushranger.

The death of Mrs M. A. Strickland, which occurred at Bundaburra Station, Forbes, during the week, has removed one of the real Lachlan pioneers, the deceased lady was 93 years of age, on one occasion Ben Hall was severely kicked by a horse he was breaking in, and Mrs Strickland set the broken leg and nursed Ben back to health. He never forgot Mrs Strickland's kindness, and it is on record that he refused to allow his gang to raid Bundaburra. On several occasions, when hard pressed, his lawless band took valuable horses from the station, but they were always returned within a month or so.

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
portrait.

Penzig.
By the mid-1850s, Ben had formed a close friendship with another local grazier, Daniel Charters. Charters had arrived in Australia from Ireland at the age of three and settled in the Carcoar district with his family. The Charters family built extensive property interests through marriage and investment between Carcoar and Forbes, including property at the remote Humbug Creek beyond Lake Cowal. Daniel helped manage his sister Agnes Newell's Daroubalgie Station outside of Forbes and another at Bandon, which also operated a hotel. Charters was also involved with the Pinnacle Station, a large farm owned by his recently widowed sister Margret Feehily, where a hotel also traded.

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:

I have known Ben Hall for six or seven years; I used to be at his place when I was gathering cattle for myself and for my sister.
 
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:


My business is that of a stockowner, looking after my own and my sister's cattle. I have never been employed as stock-keeper by any one, and have never in my life received wages from any person. My sister's station at the Pinnacle is a large one. She has a good many people employed there, and has about 2000 head of cattle. I have about 500 or 600 head of my own.  

Marriage; "a pert and lively woman"

St Michael's Catholic
Church, Bathurst.
c. 1850's.
Around 1855, after four years of working for Hugh Hamilton, Ben Hall moved his belongings and began working as a stockman at 'Weeogo Station' (also known as Uoka), a 16,000-acre property owned by an emancipated convict named John Walsh.

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.
As a result, after years of hard work for other station owners, Wheogo offered a real opportunity for independence and ownership of his own station. This move also paved the way for marriage. On the 29th February 1856, (a leap year) at the age of 19, Ben Hall married 15-year-old Bridget Walsh (1841–1923), described as "a pert and lively woman", at St Michael's Catholic Church, Bathurst. John and Elen Maguire, Bridget's sister, served as witnesses. In the 'Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser,' February 1917, a pioneer reminisced about his memory of the joyous occasion when Ben and Bridget made the trip to get married:

I saw Ben Hall and his Bridget Walsh when they were going to Burrowa, or Yass, to get married. I think it was about the year 1857, or it might have been 1856. They stayed at our house on their return trip. They were both, young — Ben about 20 years of age, and I think she was under 20. I fancy I see her slender, little white fingers peeling, with a sharp knife, apples for us youngsters.
John Walsh's Uoka (Weeoga) Station, registered under The Squatters Act-1846-47.
Note; John Tait's station Oma.
Before Ben's marriage to 15-year-old Bridget, there were rumors that Ben Hall's father disapproved of the union. However, it's uncertain whether Ben communicated his intentions to his father in 1856, as his father had left the Lachlan District in 1851 and returned to Murrurundi. It's believed that the two men never communicated with each other again. However, in 1856, marriages between couples under the age of 21 required parental approval. It was rumored that Ben increased his age to 21 to bypass this legal requirement.

The nuptials performed the happy couple spent some time at Bathurst at "Hoppy" Jones Inn:

In the later fifties 'Hoppy's assistant from Wheogo brought a fair damsel, to invoke the aid of a man in holy orders in joining the bond that no man should put asunder, and the Lachlan Inn sheltered the newly wedded couple during their visit to Bathurst. Their friends wished them heal and happiness on their departure for Sandy Creek, a small station which he had stocked with cattle and horses, and where he settled down as a squatter.

Nonetheless, after three years of marriage, the couple's only child, a son named Henry, was born on 7th August 1859, at the residence of Ben Hall's close friend Daniel Charters' mother in Carcoar. In later years, there was speculation that the couple had another child who either died in infancy or was possibly stillborn. John Maguire, in his narrative, wrote, "There had been two children, but the first had died."

The Charters' former home,
 now  Fern Hill. c. 1970's.
 Reputed birthplace
 of Henry Hall.

Courtesy, Carcoar Historical Society.
Despite being married and recently becoming a father, Ben Hall was known to associate with less reputable individuals, which was not uncommon in a district filled with shady characters. During his time spent with Daniel Charters, these dubious connections led both men to attract the attention of the law. On one particular occasion, they found themselves facing scrutiny due to their failure to repay a loan for a borrowed horse. Consequently, they were summoned to appear at the local Burrowa Court in late 1859. The charge against them was initiated by John Healy, a known troublemaker from the area. Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, Healy happened to be acquainted with both Charters and Hall.

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.

I was brought up with Ben Hall at the court at Burrowa; I was not brought up there on any charge; I was summoned there about a horse; I had a horse from a man on trial, and he summoned me for payment for the use of it; I swear it was no charge of criminality at all; it is about two years and a half years ago; Ben Hall was present when I borrowed the horse; he was implicated in the matter in no other way, I was summoned by John Healy; the charge was made against me; I was not in custody; I went in and spoke a few words; the verdict was against me, and I paid £2.

Note: John Healy would be sent down to Cockatoo Island for larceny, robbery of a dray with firearms at the O'Meally's Inn at the Weddin Mountains, and sentenced to 15 yrs the first year in Irons in early 1863.

Hall's connection demonstrates that he indeed was mixing with the unsavoury element in the district, however he was not alone. 
 
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 #.
Ben Hall's Marriage Certificate 1856 (above)
Note:  Ben Hall signed his name with an "X" (his mark), demonstrating he was illiterate
Bridget also signed her name with an "X"(her mark)
Bridget's sister, Elen, signed her name as a witness, as did John Maguire.
It is interesting how one sister was literate and not the other.
Henry Hall's (Ben Hall's Son) Birth Certificate 1859 (above)
Note:  Again, Hall signed his name with an "X" as his mark further demonstrated his illiteracy. The certificate also names Dr Rowland (1) in attendance during Henry's birth, assisted by Mrs Charters (2).
The two photos are of, on the left, Bridget Hall, reputedly at the time of her marriage to Ben Hall. As per Penzig. Although compared to the 1919 picture the drawing seems off the mark. The picture on the right is Bridget's granddaughter Bridget May Costello, daughter of Catherine Costello nee Taylor, Bridget's daughter. Note the similarities in eyes and cheekbone structure and lips. However, the Bridget Hall image is from a drawing of a possible original. There is no doubt that, as observed, Bridget Hall was an attractive woman, as was her granddaughter. The similarities between the two women are striking. I believe the two photos eliminate Bridget from the small locket shown on the Gallery page and indicate that the locket is more than Susan Prior. (See gallery page for an explanation.) Bridget May Costello was born in 1891 and passed away in February 1973. She was never married. Bridget passed away in 1923. Courtesy of a private source.

Sandy Creek Station; "Estimated to be among the very best runs in the Lachlan district."

Ben Hall
Ben Hall, a married man, sought a future in Australia's evolving and progressive society. He recognized that the interior pastoral stations provided an opportunity for the adventurous to make their mark, free from the social judgments that had long hindered those of limited means or challenged the so-called predetermined order.

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.
 
John Maguire
Sandy Creek Station.
Gazette, 15th February 1861.
Ben Hall, despite his humble beginnings, harbored a strong desire to ascend to the ranks of the landed gentry and establish his own farm. Drawing upon his wealth of knowledge, Hall cultivated a close bond with his wife's sister's husband, John Maguire. Recognizing the potential in their partnership, Maguire agreed to join forces with Hall in managing a station.

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.
Courtesy NLA
In March 1860, Ben Hall submitted a tender for the lease and occupancy of Sandy Creek Station, as detailed in the accompanying article. This marked a bold and decisive move for the experienced stockmen, Ben Hall and his brother-in-law John Maguire. Notably, both men faced physical disabilities: Maguire was blind in his right eye due to a childhood accident involving a makeshift gun made from a bullock's leg bone, while Hall suffered from a limp in one leg stemming from a previous accident.

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:
 
Shortly after his marriage, he, in company with Mr John Maguire, obtained a lease of a run adjoining Wheogo, called Sandy Creek, which they stocked with cattle and horses. Sandy Creek, Wheogo, and Bundaburra are estimated to be among the very best runs in the Lachlan district.¹⁴ 

There was also a comment regarding Ben Hall's personal standing as a recently established Grazier:

Hall became the owner of Sandy Creek Station, adjoining Wheogo. He had it on lease, running cattle and horses, and managed it in a business-like way, thereby adding further to his reputation as a young man of fine promise.¹⁵

Sandy Creek c. 1883.
Courtesy
David Geelings.
Cattle prices at the market were excellent for the two new producers, as demonstrated in the following stock report of cattle prices in mid-1861:

This week the supply of good, quality was small and prices advanced about 20s per head no improvement for second and inferior qualities which were abundantly supplied. Prime heavy weights, bullocks brought from £9 to £11.- ditto, ordinary weights from £7 to £8 10s second quality ditto from £4 15s to £5 10s; inferior from £2; Prime cows (ordinary weights) from £5 to £6; second quality ditto from £3 to £4 inferior from 35s upwards. FAT CARVES. — Supply small and the demand good best quality from 40s to 50s.

In a stroke of good fortune, gold was discovered in the town of Young, greatly benefiting Ben Hall's fortunes. Almost overnight, his wealth multiplied as beef prices soared alongside the gold rush. Prior to his involvement with Sandy Creek Station, Ben Hall, accompanied by his wife Bridget and their young son Henry, resided at Wheogo homestead. This property neighbored Hall's run and was owned by Bridget's stepmother, Sarah, following the death of Bridget's father in 1858.

Note: Sarah Walsh nee Harpur nee Chidley was the mother of well-known Poet Charles Harpur and Josiah J Harpur, NSW Parliamentarian and member for Patrick Plains, 1861-1864 and future provocateur to Sir Frederick Pottinger.

John Maguire.
c. 1880's.
Regarding the ownership of Sandy Creek, it appears that the property may have been divided and independently managed by Ben Hall and John Maguire. In his account titled 'The Biography of a Reliable Old Native,' John Maguire mentions that Ben Hall reportedly named his portion of Sandy Creek 'Cubbine Bin.' They each ran their own cattle and horses and collaborated in clearing land and constructing stockyards near their water source—a prudent approach to operating a new farming enterprise in the 1860s. Additionally, they shared the government's yearly assessment, a common practice among squatters at the time.

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.


Ben had always done a bit of duffing. But, for the matter of that, we all duffed, with very few exceptions, it was not considered a great crime - simply a matter of business. The man who could muster and secure unbranded calves was considered a fool if he did not stick his own brand on.

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.

Cattle duffing, in those early days, it may be remarked, was not considered a criminal offence. If one settler took a beast of a neighbour's, the latter simply bided his time until he found an animal belonging to his predatory fellow settler worthy of appropriation. Under such retaliatory system recourse to law proceedings was avoided, because the sinner and sinned against then came on an equal footing. In the days referred to the holdings of Crown leases were unfenced, nothing but ill-defined lines denoting their boundaries. As a result, there was frequently a general mingling of herds, separations only being effected during the periodical musters.¹⁶
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.
c. 1910.

Penzig.
In order to establish their new life at Sandy Creek station, Ben Hall, together with his older brothers Thomas Wade and William Hall, as well as his close friend Daniel Charters, undertook the construction of a home for himself, his wife Bridget, and their infant son Henry. During this period, Ben's brother William and his wife Ann also resided with the couple. John Maguire, on the other hand, built his own home approximately five hundred yards away from Ben's residence.

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
prison admission
portrait.

Courtesy NSW
archives.
During Ben Hall's efforts to establish Sandy Creek, reports in the colony's newspapers frequently mentioned conflicts within his family. His father and brothers were consistently involved in various thefts throughout the late 1850s and well into the following century. As a consequence, Ben's brothers found themselves frequently appearing before magistrates and serving time in several jails.

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.

Benjamin Hall was charged by Honora Hall with using abusive language towards her. Case dismissed. -Edward Hall was charged with assaulting his father, Benjamin Hall, on the 11th instant. The evidence of the complainant and several witnesses went to shew, that on the day above named Hall senior went to take possession of a bullock, which was also claimed by the defendant. The father and son met in the bed of the river, near the house of the latter, when an altercation arose, which was ended by the son laying his stock-whip pretty smartly across the shoulders of his father. Defendant was ordered to pay a fine of £4 15s., or in default to be imprisoned for two months.

John Wilson freehold
portion of Sandy Creek.
Granted 1868.

Courtesy
Peter Bradley.
Author's Note: The exact locations of the homesteads belonging to partners Ben Hall and John Maguire on Sandy Creek station have been a subject of speculation for many years. In 2013, an individual conducted a search at the present marked site and discovered various artifacts such as fired nails, charcoal, and small bricks from an underground fireplace, as shown in a video. However, recent information has emerged that raises doubts about the accuracy of the site.

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.

Sandy Creek Station is a historical spot, having been the erstwhile property and occasional home of Ben Hall. The present owner, Mr J. S. Pearce, has pulled down all the old buildings and yards so curious and credulous tourists, if any ever penetrate into this part of the bush, can no longer gaze at imaginary bullet holes and speculate how closely the valiant police shot to the bold bushranger's anatomy. In overhauling one of the defunct Mr Hall's humpies, before putting a firestick in it, an ancient pistol and one shilling were raked out of the accumulated debris within. These now form the nucleus of a local buccaneer's museum. The magnificent willow-fringed dam below the hill had water in but was lower than it generally is at this time of the year. Mr Pearse has built a new and roomy house, also stables and shed on the hill near the Pullabooka and Ironbarks road. He has only had the property two years, but in that time has done a lot to improve its condition and is yet busy ringing the country. Out of 2000 acres, there are only some 150 which cannot be ploughed. From a rise beyond the dam by the old diggings hills towards Wyalong are visible in a most varied and extensive landscape. 

However, regardless of whose hut was who's the whole of Sandy Creek and adjoining stations Uoka (Wheogo) and Pinnacle and parts further afield are most important to the Ben Hall story.

The troubled events surrounding Ben Hall's father and brothers do not have recorded accounts of his knowledge or reaction. However, for the young cattleman and horse enthusiast, life took a lucrative turn with the discovery of gold near his station. Gold, a precious treasure that captivated people from around the world, enticed them to uproot their lives and flock to the new goldfields of New South Wales from all directions.

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 Black Ridge its dense scrub and sombre foliage justified the title which had been bestowed upon it, and it was regarded by its then owners as so much wasteland in the middle of a splendid run. Then the magic cry of "Gold!" went forth, and thousands flocked to the new El Dorado. No longer a desert, no longer a wilderness, the blows of the axe resounded through the forest, and a busy hive of humanity had its place, where but few weeks before was solitude of the bush. Then it was that the faint outlines of our fair town of Forbes were traced, and the solid foundations laid, on which has been reared the structure of later times.

George Ranken.
1821-1909.
The town of Forbes experienced a rapid expansion fueled by the influx of gold diggers. The discovery of gold brought along a procession of merchants, hoteliers, carpenters, entertainers, butchers, and others seeking to capitalize on the gold rush. However, the allure of gold also attracted individuals of less reputable character who sought riches through illicit means. These included criminals and opportunists who roamed the towns and countryside, waylaying travelers at gunpoint. Some were failed miners driven to theft in order to survive, while others became colloquially known as bushrangers.

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.

We never saw a place of the same age in such a state of forwardness as this. Several good streets give an appearance of regularity to the rows of calico and bark, and the existence of an unlimited supply of excellent pine timber close at hand has led to the erection of buildings much more substantial, and sightly than those we have been accustomed to see in other new townships. A bi-weekly Court of Petty Sessions has already been established; of amusements, we have no lack of music and dancing, while billiard tables, a rifle gallery, and ten pins seem as popular as ever. The banking and gold buying business, of the "Oriental", and also of the post office are transacted at the stores of Mr Greig. Mrs Reed has a photographic gallery. Coaches ply frequently during the day between the crossing place at Fenn’s. (Wowingragong) and also these diggings a distance of nearly five miles. The Cowra coaches and mails from Sydney and the Flat run three times a week. Thus it will be seen that Forbes is not a place to be lightly esteemed.¹⁷ 

Note: The Ben Hall, Susan Prior and Charters photographs may well have been taken at Mrs Reed's studio. Photographs were both a novelty and expensive.

Another article describes the life and times in the frontier town of Forbes as it appeared during Ben Hall's time:

This important town is situated on the north bank of the Lachlan River, at a point almost midway in between Cowra and Condobolin. It is 82 miles from Orange, and 245 miles from Sydney, Tens of thousands of miners went out to their work at sunrise, and returned at 6 in the evening. Then, many thousands of fires were lighted, and the diggers prepared their evening meal. Comparative quiet reigned while they were partaking of it; but, that over, all is bustle again, for, with few exceptions, the diggers betook themselves to the theaters, concert halls, dancing Saloons, or public-houses, and many did not return to their tents until dawn. Scores of shoeblacks took up positions in the streets, and did a wonderful trade; hurdy-gurdy girls and other itinerant musicians played and sang, and reaped a rich harvest; mounted troopers and policemen (under Sir F. Pottinger) moved to and from among the masses; coaches were running at all hours, and in all directions, as well as actors and singers, sawyers, doctors, clergy, tradespeople, menagerie-men, and men of almost every nation, rank, and condition were on the field in incongruous medley.¹⁸

It was also noted as the influx of people descended on to the gold-diggings and that those who were leaving the town of Sydney paid £5 one way:

Ford and Co, are the most complete and stylish things imaginable; well horsed well driven, and every way comfortable. The fare, I understand, all the way from Sydney either by Burrangong or the Lachlan diggings is £5. A new coach is to be laid on by Messrs Ford and Co, capable I am told, of carrying 16 passengers.
 
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.

Francis Christie,
alias Francis Clarke,
Frank Gardiner.
c. 1862.
The serene farming community of Wheogo would soon experience a significant shift when the notorious bushranger Frank Gardiner, also known as 'The Darkie,' chose the district as his hideout. Gardiner had gained infamy as a tormentor of the New South Wales police, single-handedly responsible for the downfall of many young colonial boys.

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.

Gardiner
Ticket-of-Leave
1859.

Never before published.
Having been granted a 'Ticket of Leave' in December 1859, Francis Christie (aka Frank Gardiner) was released from Cockatoo Island after serving five years of his sentence. However, instead of abiding by the conditions of his release, Christie violated them by fleeing the Carcoar district where he was supposed to remain and failing to report to the police. Consequently, a warrant for his arrest was issued.

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.


Sir Frederick
Pottinger.
c. 1863.
Following the rise of Frank Gardiner as a bushranger, the Lachlan district's law enforcement fell under the command of newly appointed police inspector, Sir Frederick Pottinger. Pottinger's arrival in the colony in 1859 was shrouded in mystery. After failing in his endeavors at the Victorian goldfields, he made his way to New South Wales and joined the police force as a mounted trooper in the southern gold escort at Gundagai. It was during this time that his true status as a baronet was inadvertently or perhaps deliberately exposed. Once his aristocratic background was revealed, Pottinger swiftly climbed the ranks within the government's employ. He was first appointed as the Clerk of Petty Sessions at Dubbo, then served as a magistrate during the Chinese Lambing Flat riots in 1861, and eventually assumed the position of Police Inspector in charge of the Lachlan District, with headquarters in Forbes, under the newly enacted Police Act of 1862.

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.
c. 1920's.

Courtesy Gordon Piper.
Many of the district stations came under Pottinger's scrutiny and suspicion, including Ben Hall and John Maguire's station. Maguire commented: 

I knew Sir Frederick well. He used to stay at Sandy Creek whenever he was making round my way. 

In his pursuit of Gardiner, Pottinger displayed little regard for anyone he deemed to be associated, whether rightly or wrongly, with the bushranger. Consequently, locals who found themselves on Pottinger's radar were automatically viewed as guilty in his eyes. Aware of Gardiner's close relationship with 'Kitty' Brown, Pottinger cast suspicion upon Ben Hall's Sandy Creek station. The police inspector would often arrive unannounced, either in his quest to capture Gardiner or in search of any other suspected illicit activities. However, these harsh measures only served to breed resentment and resistance towards the police. The actions of Pottinger generated outright hostility in many quarters.

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.
 
Frank Gardiner

As for Frank Gardiner, the New South Wales Police made extensive efforts to capture him in 1861/62. They created a meticulously detailed map of his known and suspected hideouts. The hand-drawn map listed individuals who were long suspected of harboring the bushranger. However, despite the map being intended as a valuable tool for tracking Gardiner, the police did not achieve significant success in their pursuit (for more information on Pottinger's efforts, refer to the Traps page).
 
In addition, the layout of the map exposed the individuals whom the police considered to be of questionable character or outright criminal, acting as protectors of Frank Gardiner. Surprisingly, among the prominently featured names on the highly confidential map were the young wife of Ben Hall and her sister, Mrs. Catherine Brown. Both women were labeled as "bad" in the map, and at one particular station, it was noted that it served as the retreat for Mrs. Hall and Brown, with Yorkshire Jack being mentioned as a good man but associated with these "bad" women.

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.
c. 1915.
Courtesy Noel Thurgood
Collection.
The inclusion of the two married sisters, Bridget Hall and Catherine Brown, on a highly confidential document indicates their association with individuals of questionable character. It suggests that Bridget's marriage of nearly five years to Ben Hall was already experiencing difficulties, likely exacerbated by the presence of her brother-in-law, William Hall.


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.

About four years since, whilst taking some cattle overland from my station on the Lachlan, I fell in with young Hall, who was then stock-keeping for his brother near Bundaburra. He, O'Meally, Gilbert, and some others had all just returned from their usual trip after cattle, and on my asking them what luck they had met with, they replied: "they had camped out for three nights at a place called Humbug Creek, but had met with little or no cattle, only in one mob there were a few duffers." The term "duffer" is too well known to need description here; it simply means clean-skinned animals, which are appropriated by whoever can get them into a yard.¹⁹ See full letter below link.
CORRESPONDENCE
The Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News
Wednesday 4th November 1863 
In later years, the enduring friendship between Ben Hall and the young troublemakers Gilbert and O'Meally, which had developed over time, was recounted by a clergyman during his religious duties. As the minister passed by Wheogo and Sandy Creek Stations, he encountered Ben Hall and John Gilbert working together on fencing. The clergyman, fulfilling his role in guiding and saving souls, reportedly admonished the pair for engaging in labor on the Sabbath.

On one occasion the same preacher was travelling near the residence of Hall, on a Sunday, when he discovered Ben, Gilbert and others doing some fencing. Reminding them of the sacred character of the day, the preacher was surprised to learn that they did not know it was the Sabbath. They referred the point to a lady who happened to live in a homestead near, and on the statement of the preacher being confirmed they, immediately ceased their work for the day. Facilus descensus averni.²⁰ (Descent to hell is easy.)

Bridget Hall
c. 1919.
Note Wedding ring.
Private Source.
Never before published.
These observations shed light on the enduring camaraderie between Ben Hall and the associates of Gardiner, disproving earlier theories of distance between them. The quiet farming world in which Ben Hall resided and his achievements were about to be disrupted drastically.

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,
nee Taylor.
c. 1870's

Penzig
Taylor's older sister, Mary, had connections to Frank Gardiner and was married to Gardiner's accomplice, the cunning William Fogg. The Fogg family had a reputation for their involvement in theft and other shady activities. Additionally, due to their association with the Foggs, Taylor's brothers were frequently suspected by the police and linked to cases of cattle and horse theft.

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.

Mrs Fogg is in the habit of showing the shirt that the desperado wore in that encounter, or rather the shreds of it that were picked up after his escape. I am given to understand that it is prized as a relic, and when shown to the rising generation, it in conjunction with the embellished narrative, will, I've no doubt, exercise a beneficial influence over that portion of the particular community in question, viz., The Abercrombie Ranges. 

When Bridget reconnected with James Taylor, he was still a married man who had previously wed Miss Emma Dower in 1849 in Yass, New South Wales. At the time of his affair with Bridget Hall, Taylor had recently deserted his wife Emma, who was dealing with alcoholism, at Narrawa, Bennet Springs near Reids Flat, NSW. He left his wife behind with a newborn baby in her arms. In addition to abandoning Emma, Taylor also left his other children behind. Sophie, born in 1851, and two other children named Mary (born in 1858) and John (born in 1859) were among those he left behind. Furthermore, interestingly enough, the newborn baby, Jameison, was born on 14th April 1861.

Note: Many have also linked Taylor with the NSW police, but this is inaccurate and often confused with his transported father, who on release, held a constabulary position at Penrith. Before settling at Balabla.

Moreover, in the latter half of 1861, Taylor's relationship with Bridget blossomed after his return to the Lachlan district. Unfortunately, Taylor struggled with alcoholism, which would ultimately contribute to his death in 1877.

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:

A pretend friend of Ben, but, as the after events showed, his visits were more on account of Ben's wife, who was a fine-looking woman.

Maguire ventured on that:

I suspected his little game myself and had dropped hints to Ben.

Furthermore, after those hints, Maguire revealed Ben's reaction:

Ben cautioned his wife, in very threatening language, what would happen if he ever discovered anything between her and Taylor. Later on, Ben actually came across some of Taylor’s letters, and there was such a row that the latter kept a civil distance.

Bridget's betrayal and her prolonged absence from home marked the beginning of the end for the once harmonious and hardworking couple, thrusting Ben Hall into a path that would make him the most feared man in New South Wales.

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.

Described below by Clarence Paget Bayly:

Wire fences were unknown, and wild horses and cattle roamed the bush at will, and you would see from 20 to 30 men saddle up in the morning to take part at these great musters, and the stockwhips would sound like thunder coming home to the yards at nightfall. Up would go the slip-rails. Off would come the saddles, when supper would be partaken of, and then you would see as jolly a lot of fellows as ever smoked a pipe.²¹

Upon Ben Hall's return to Sandy Creek, what should have been a joyous homecoming quickly turned sour as he discovered his wife's deceitful actions and the absence of his son. The pain he felt was unbearable, and a deep anger consumed him, plunging him into a dark abyss that shattered his spirit. The once-respected and hardworking man, Ben Hall, was broken by the betrayal and the loss he had suffered.

When Hall returned to Sandy Creek a few weeks later. He found the homestead hut deserted and learned from neighbours that the wife he had so greatly loved and so entirely trusted, had gone off.²² 

Unfortunately, Ben Hall discovered firsthand the extent of Taylor's treachery. Taylor, while pretending to be a loyal friend, had actually encouraged and facilitated Bridget's infidelity.

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:

Cut up terribly, for he had been fond of his wife, and the little boy was the sunshine of his home.

The 'Adelong and Tumut Express and Tumbarumba Post' of Friday 22 August 1924 looked back at the circumstances, offering an early insight from an old friend of Hall's who reminisced on the effect the desertion had after learning of his wife's faithless actions:

Ben was dumbfounded, and on recovering from his shock, said, "For God's sake, don't say that." It was abundantly clear that Hall was a changed man, and that he had received a wound that no skilled surgeon could heal. He raved and acted like a madman. The agitated father inquired eagerly after his child, only to be told that they had taken it with them. That night he saddled his horse, then procured a loaded revolver, and within a short space of time was on his way to search for the despoiler of his home and happiness. For a whole week, he continued the search, and then returned to Wheogo a completely changed man. Instead of being the industrious, hardworking grazier, he became sullen, restless and ill-tempered. He said it was useless working as he had no home nor anything to which was worthwhile living for. He had no wife, no child to cheer him at the end of the day's toil. As time wore on he became more reconciled to his lot and began to enjoy the company of others. He made frequent excursions to Lambing Flat, then a prosperous gold-digging field.

However, frustration developed into full-blown bitterness as Ben conducted a fruitless search for the lovers. Unknowing that their destination was the Fish River and the Fogg's home. Maguire recalled:

For three or four days Ben raced about, but could not get a clue as to the direction taken by the pair. He abandoned the search in despair.
 
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:

Ben, my boy, try and forget me; I do not think it is in the power of God to forgive. I love a scoundrel—that is, if it be love at all, which I know the world will say it was not. Call it what you wish. ‘The hellish promptings of the devil,’ Taylor destroyed my duty to you as a wife, and I have destroyed your happiness for life. Something was in me that I had not fortitude to resist, however, hope that you will possess sufficient manliness to bear up against the conduct of a runaway strumpet. If you have not, I can't help it. Follow not. You have always been too good a man for me. Two villains are more suitable, possessing no love nor yet even the fear of God or the eternal flames of hell. Poor Ben, good-bye.
 
The authenticity of the aforementioned letter remains questionable. If it were indeed genuine, it is likely that Bridget's older sister Elen Maguire wrote it on her behalf. Elen, who maintained a close relationship with Ben Hall until his death, possessed the ability to write, unlike Bridget who was illiterate, as evident from their marriage certificate. Both Bridget and Hall signed their names with an "X". However, Elen Maguire was well aware of Taylor's affection for her sister and eventually informed her husband John Maguire about the affair.

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.

I witnessed Ben’s first essay at pulling the trigger. It was a revolver that he had picked up on the road one day while we were out riding together a six-chambered weapon that had evidently fallen from someone’s belt. Getting a supply of ammunition, Ben used to pass his lonely moments at home practising at a target.

Jack Bradshaw,
1846-1937.
Bradshaw's account supports John Maguire's conviction, as he recalls William Hall describing Ben's life as becoming "reckless" following the devastating news. It is easy to imagine the state of mind Ben Hall must have been in upon receiving such heartbreaking news. The loss of his son and the betrayal by his wife would undoubtedly have had a profound impact on his mental and emotional well-being. These events likely fueled a sense of recklessness and a desire for some form of retribution within Ben Hall.

He rode about the country like a madman, hardly knowing what he was doing, and mixed up with all kinds of company.

Adding to the growing list of challenges that Ben Hall faced, John Maguire also noted that Ben had lost interest in his share of Sandy Creek. The emotional turmoil he experienced, coupled with the betrayal and the loss of his family, seemed to have taken a toll on his once passionate dedication to the station. Ben's priorities had shifted dramatically, and his focus on Sandy Creek had waned as he grappled with the personal hardships he had endured:

Ben soon lost interest in his station and started roaming about, so often that I missed him for days together.

With Ben Hall's loss of interest in Sandy Creek, his brother William took over the management of the station. Meanwhile, Ben's association with Frank Gardiner became more apparent, as he was frequently seen in grog shops, establishments known for attracting drunkards, hooligans, and the idle individuals of the district. This class of people, characterized as layabouts, was exposed in an article published in The Yass Courier on April 22, 1862. The article shed light on the unsavory characters with whom Ben Hall was now associated.

It behoves our protectors, the police, to have a keen eye upon all those young men who appear to have plenty of idle time to own and ride flash horses, and knock about public-houses, with apparently plenty of spare cash, and no ostensible means of earning or replacing the same; also, they are generally surrounded by old "loafers" of a shabby appearance, which fact ought to be enough to a sharp policeman for 'noscitur a sciios.' (It is known by the company it keeps.)

Rev. John Dunmore
Lang.
b. 1799 - d. 1878.

Courtesy University
of Wollongong.
During his visit to the Western Districts, the outspoken Member of Parliament and Reverend John Dunmore Lang, also known as the "Stormy Petrel," made several observations. In an article titled 'Notes of a Trip to the Westward and Southward, by the Rev Dr Lang, M.P.,' published in 1862, Lang highlighted the presence of miscreants and unsavory characters frequenting the seedy establishments surrounding the Burrangong and Lachlan goldfields. He also pointed out the citizens who turned a blind eye to the dubious elements entrenched in the area. It was within this environment that Ben Hall found himself drawn to and often seen carousing with these villains, as noted by Lang during his travels.

All along these routes there are these places of accommodation, shanties, sly grog shops, etc., of the most questionable character and it is in these places that our modern bushrangers obtain occasional shelter and general information.
 
As the turmoil in Ben Hall's home life intensified, there is speculation that he may have experienced a nervous breakdown. A nervous breakdown is a colloquial term used to describe an acute psychiatric disorder characterized by severe depression, anxiety, or dissociation, which significantly impairs a previously functional individual's ability to carry out daily activities. It is important to note that a nervous breakdown is typically considered to be a temporary condition, marked by a period of intense emotional distress and instability. Given the circumstances and the profound impact on Hall's mental and emotional well-being, it is plausible that he underwent such a breakdown, leading to a significant disruption in his ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

MacAlister's former
 Great Eastern Hotel,
 Forbes, frequented by
Ben Hall.

c. 1862.
N.L.A.
In disregard of the hard-won respect he had previously earned in the district, Ben Hall abandoned caution and embarked on associations that would ultimately lead to his untimely demise.

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
:

The last two trips we have made, on both occasions, I saw him at the Pinnacle Station Mrs Feehiely's public house.

In his memoirs titled 'Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South,' former Forbes publican Charles MacAlister provided a firsthand account of Ben Hall's associations and activities that shed light on the extent to which Hall had fallen. According to MacAlister, by 1861/2, Hall was no longer merely suspected but widely believed by leading citizens of Forbes and prominent graziers to have joined forces with the bushrangers. MacAlister's remarks suggest that Hall's reputation and associations had taken a significant downturn.

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
:

The news was brought in on the sticking up of Mr Horsington, the Lambing Flat storekeeper, at Big Wombat, by Gardiner and his gang, Horsington having to part with £500 odd in money and over 200 ozs. in gold dust. Up to that time, this was the biggest coup the Darkie (Gardiner) had made. Ben Hall, Gilbert, Fordyce, Charters, and others of the bushrangers had drinks on many occasions at the Great Eastern Hotel in Forbes, and in broad daylight, too. This was prior to the Eugowra affair, and up to that event, Ben Hall and Gilbert were only suspected of a bushranging kinship with Gardiner. For though several of them had been before the Forbes Bench on suspicion (Ben Hall and O’Malley were repeatedly brought up), the law had failed to sheet the guilt home to them to the satisfaction of the local J.P.

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:

Ben Hall referred to the trouble Sir Frederick Pottinger had given him in having him taken into Forbes so many times before the magistrates for nothing.

Note: MacAlister had built and was the former owner of the Great Eastern Hotel in Forbes a regular drinking hole for Ben Hall, Gilbert etc. MacAlister's book may be accessed on the Links page.

Illustration of hotel
festivities on the
Gold Fields.

c. 1860's.
Image courtesy NLA.
As a result, Ben Hall's loss of interest in Sandy Creek station became evident, with numerous sightings of him in the thriving township of Forbes in the company of Gardiner's known disciples. These encounters, as described in MacAlister's memoirs, often took place in the lively atmosphere of hotels and dance-hall establishments, where bushrangers and locals indulged in drinking, carousing, and entertainment.

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
:

The barmaid was shying empty bottles and, pewters at the head of a young fellow who, she said, had insulted her, and the air was full of smash and frenzy. The great Sir F. Pottinger (then head of the police) was riding by at the time with one of his troopers, and he and his subordinate rushed into the bar, leaving their horses tethered to a tree nearby. While the police were inside quelling the row, someone made off with their horses, and we doubt if they were ever recovered. Johnny Gilbert, it was said, had a hand in the business; but whoever took them reduced the awful Pottinger to the level of an old vituperative fish-fag and he threatened several bystanders with summary punishment if the prads were not returned.

Ted Plunkett
1851-1929.

Private Source.
Ben Hall was known to wander from one hotel or dance hall to another, immersing himself in the bustling atmosphere of Forbes. As the town grew in size and prosperity, it offered a wide range of indulgences, including a variety of alcoholic beverages. According to the recollections of long-time resident Ted Plunkett, one particular liquor stood out as a favorite among those reveling in their spree:

There was no such thing as whisky in the hotels. Whisky is a comparatively late drink. Pale and dark brandy was sold, then, and it was quite effective, too.

Plunkett provides an insight into the revelry and mischief in the gold town:

Everybody played practical jokes taking wheels off buggies, or removing signs from one shop and placing them elsewhere. Blazing tar balls were rolled up and down the streets, and everywhere there was skylarking going on. There was a crowd we called the Donegallers, and they were always looking for a fight. You might see one fight start away in the distance, and before you could reach it there would be half a dozen more.

Another former old-hand recalled life in the new sin city of Forbes; 'Western Herald', October 1908:

It was a motley crowd one saw in Forbes along in '62 and '63, pressmen, lawyers, magistrates, surveyors, actors, demireps, unfrocked parsons, gamblers, pugilists, golden hole men, "all sorts and conditions of men," cheek by jowl. Vice and villainy were rampant, needy adventurers on the make, bushrangers in faint—very faint, disguise; bars and dancing saloons full to o'er flowing, cafe chantants better patronised than churches. Money was flung about anyhow; it seemed as if Sheol itself was let loose. Fast and fair women danced, or drank for wagers, and boasted that they could hold-up the police—or any other body in fact. One woman backed herself to waltz "either man or woman blind for £50," and declined to dance with any ordinary mortal for less than a fiver. (Sheol is ancient Greek for Hades.)
 
Renowned journalist Dan Mayne, in an article published in the 'Freeman's Journal' on the 10th of November 1906, vividly recounted the vibrant atmosphere of Forbes during Ben Hall's notorious reign. Mayne depicted the carefree manner in which men nonchalantly tossed or showered gold nuggets, fueling the exhilaration and merriment that filled the air. The nights came alive with exuberant singing, lively dancing, and abundant libations, while the captivating allure of the ladies of Forbes added to the bustling streets that Ben Hall traversed from one place to another.

When Maggie Oliver and Joey Gogenheim were playing with old Bill Holloway's company the diggers were so delighted with the sight of those ladies' fair forms and the sound of their sweet voices that (as bouquets were unknown) they threw valuable nuggets of gold on the stage to them instead. It was the liveliest place I was ever in, and many a jolly night I spent with M'Guire's friend, Ted Barry, who kept the hotel where old John Toohey drove the mail coach too, and Ted's pretty sister sweetened the sherry with her sunny smiles. Money was thrown about in the most reckless fashion.

Every entrepreneur was vying for the patronage of the cashed-up prospectors, graziers and station hands. A Forbes theatre advertisement 1862:

Wigram's Exhibition Concert, legitimate amusement, light, laughable, and agreeable. Every evening from 7.30 to 11, by an unrivalled company of vocalists, musicians, and dancers. Reserved seats 1/-: Cushioned seats 2/-. 

Many of these establishments were well patronised and for those less lucky free theatre shows were available but would include a small stipend:

Also there were several free theaters—but everyone who went in was expected to buy a drink; and whether they wanted it or not, they had to pay sixpence for it. 

As the population of Forbes swelled with individuals seeking their fortune, opportunistic entrepreneurs seized the chance to capitalize on the town's rapid growth. They established boarding houses, hotels, and other businesses, aiming to make a quick profit before moving on. The real estate market boomed, with properties being put up for sale at premium prices to eager buyers. An advertisement from early 1862 showcases one such hotel for sale, exemplifying the lucrative opportunities available in the thriving town of Forbes:

For Sale.— A Public House on the South Lead, 4 bedrooms, kitchen and oven. 50 boarders now in residence. Price £150.

As the hotels in Forbes became packed with patrons, it was a common sight to see individuals carrying a wide variety of weapons. Guns, pistols, and other arms were frequently seen in the hands of those mingling in the lively establishments of the town. The sound of gunshots would often echo through the air, a testament to the prevalence of these weapons and the sometimes rowdy atmosphere of Forbes' festive houses:

It was a curious crowd to look at. Nearly, all the men had revolvers or pistols in their belts, few wore coats, nearly all had flannels, some red ones, and moleskin trousers; some wore riding pants, and these could easily be picked out as stock dealers or stockmen, bringing stock for sale to the diggings. 

"Gold man gold! said he have I died and gone to heaven." Forbes was flying as men and women from all walks of life continuously converged on the timber and canvas tent town seeking their fortune, before long:

Gold Warden Captain
Brown.

Courtesy HHS.
There were fully 50,000 people on the field. The Warden Captain Brown, himself informed me that up to that date over 25,000 miners’ licenses had been issued and scores were applied for every day, and truly the Forbes rush at its height was a pandemonium.

Hall embraced the wildness of the town, often carousing with Gilbert, O'Meally, and their companions. They frequented various public houses that were abundant in Forbes, where wine, spirits, women, and song filled the air. Establishments like Montgomery's Rising Sun Hotel, Great Eastern, Cohen's Inn, and numerous others dotted every corner, offering a lively atmosphere. Hall would also spend time at the Harp of Erin Inn and The White Hart Inn, owned by John Wilson, a friend of Maguire.

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:

The existence of places on the diggings at which grog is sold in defiance of the law, maybe excused by the peculiar circumstances of the population, constantly shifting from one locality to another, but we see no good reason why they should be tolerated in out of the way places in the bush, where they benefit no one except the class who live by cattle stealing. It is a veil known fact that the unlicensed grog-shops on by-roads, and in other quiet spots, are the very places where the professed horse and cattle thieves meet, concoct their plans, or effect changes in the property they have appropriated. We have known of half the carcass of a bullock (of course a stolen one) given for a bottle of rum at one of these dens, and the other day we were told of a mare of considerable value being swapped away for half a gallon of the same liquor. Of course, while men risk the chances of detection so rashly, it is not to be wondered at that they will filch a dozen foals from a herd of mares, drive them away, and brand them. As these grog-shops are out of the usual line of traffic, and as the police never bother their heads to shape that way, the trade is carried on with impunity, the customers consisting wholly of those to whom the existence of such places is of incalculable advantage. 

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:

The police have commenced prosecutions against the sly grog sellers. Five were summoned to appear before the court yesterday-Captain Browne and Commissioner Grenfell on the bench. Samuel Richards, James Pattison, and Margaret Scully were severally fined £30. The case against one Elizabeth Marshall was remanded for a week. A warrant was issued for one Helen Berriman, she not appearing to the summons.

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:

I have not as yet given you any idea of the diggings. Well, it opened my eyes. I never saw anything approaching it; it was simply impossible for you to get down Rankin Street with a mate without losing him. The people were like sardines in a tin, it was simply wonderful. The hotels were packed, you had to wait your turn to get into them as well as other places of business. I do not think there was a country on the face of the earth which was not represented.

Ben Hall had thrown off the reputation 'as a young man of fine promise.'
 
Before Hall's marriage breakdown, he and Bridget would occasionally visit Bathurst, seeking a break from the monotony of station life and indulging in some leisure time. However, their visit in 1858 took an unexpected turn at the 'Australian Hotel' on Bentinck Street. Bridget found herself engaged in a heated argument with another woman, Mrs. Elizabeth Fitkin, which quickly escalated into a full-blown confrontation. The exchange of words between the two women was so intense that it was likened to a provocation for war, leading to their appearance in the Bathurst court.

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.


Because he did not wish to mix himself up with anything so filthy and disgusting as the case in question. and I am disgusted, your Worships beyond measure, at being in any way connected with the transaction. I am an unwilling witness and will say no more than I am compelled.

The reporter in court also appeared to take a civil view and refrained to layout the ribald vitriol except to write:

It appeared that Mrs Bridget Hall had made certain references to Mrs Fitkins', chastity, in language which could scarcely be equalled by either the celebrated Mrs Moriarty or the great Daniel O'Connell, and which is therefore hardly fit for print. A portion of the language was given by Mr Murray, but as he had not taken notes of the belligerent interview he could not undertake to give the whole.

Murray concluded:

For forty years I have been occupied in that vocation, and little imagined it would be my lot, being moreover the father of a family, to figure in a dirty, filthy obscene, piece of business such as this.

The case was finalised and dismissed; 

After some little discussion, the Bench concurred in that reading of the law and dismissed the case, at the same time releasing Mr Murray from custody, who left the Court with a polite bow.

Ben Hall had been married to a hellcat!

Authors Note: Elizabeth Fitkin arrived in New South Wales in 1839 as a convict on board the Margaret and received a Ticket of Leave in 1855. Fitkin had several arrests for assault, drunkenness and disorderly conduct in Bathurst:

The Margaret, Captain Canney, with 166 female convicts from Ireland, and 56 free emigrants, under the superintendence of Dr Moxey, R.N. Passengers - Rev Mr Wilkinson, Mrs Wilkinson and family, left the Cape of Good Hope same day at the Boyne, bound to Sydney. She also spoke of the Prince George, with emigrants for South Australia, to the northward of the line. Margaret arrived in Port Jackson on 1st April 1839.

Conversely, in 1921, an old-stager reminisced in the 'National Advocate', Friday 30th, September, of another evening in Bathurst, when Ben Hall, in company with his brother Bill, attended a dance at a local hotel:

Talking of dances did it. Alec declared that he had danced with Ben Hall. "Ben Hall wasn't a bushranger, then," protested Alec. "That was before he broke out. A lot of young fellows came into a hotel in William Street and made themselves known. I was only 17 or 18 then, (around 1860) and I didn't know them. One was Ben Hall, and another was his brother Bill. Ben looked a fine young fellow. They said, "Let's have a buck set." That meant all men. And we had a buck set. I took "tops" with Ben. And the only woman in the set was the publican's daughter.

Bridget Taylor 
Author's Note:
In March of 1876, tragedy struck when Taylor's first wife, Emma, died near Crookwell due to complications from excessive alcohol use. Undeterred by the loss, Taylor hastily remarried Bridget Hall on June 1, 1876, in Forbes. Together, they had two sons and a daughter: John, born on January 1, 1869, James, born on April 14, 1871, and Catherine Ellen, born on July 20, 1873.

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.
 
Amid Ben Hall's tumultuous personal life, his family in Murrurundi was embroiled in their own turmoil. The ongoing feud between his father, his brother Edward, and Edward's wife Honora showed no signs of subsiding. In December 1861, the patriarch of the Hall family, at 56 years old, found himself in the headlines once again.

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.'

On Friday last, as poor old Ben Hall, of Blandford, was on his road home, a "little the worse for beer," and as Benjamin resided a distance of half-a-mile from the public house where he had been spending the evening, and felt tired, he sat down to rest awhile, and unfortunately fell into a sound sleep, when some villain poured over his head and face a quantity of hot water, scalding poor Hall in a fearful manner. The police have a clue to the monster who committed this atrocious act.

Yet, the method of the attack on Ben Hall's father suggested the hand of a woman, given that boiling water is not typically a man's weapon of choice. It is plausible to infer that Edward Hall's wife, Honora, may have been the perpetrator, given the bitter animosity known to exist between her and her father-in-law, Ben Hall Sr. However, the records remain silent on how Ben Hall himself reacted to these ongoing familial disputes and his elder brother's fraught relationship with their father.

Ben Hall c. 1862.
Consequently, disheartened and without a child to bring joy to his long days of labor, Ben Hall was carving out a new image for himself. He started to mirror the reckless behaviour of his new comrades, showing a side of him that contrasted starkly with his previously known quiet and amiable nature. The treacherous abandonment by Bridget, a wound that "no skilled surgeon could heal", had led Hall to morph into a character resembling the swashbuckling Frank Gardiner. Perhaps this was a declaration to Bridget, an assertion that he too could abandon caution, live life on the edge, and prove he could be as daring and appealing as any man - even Taylor, despite his issues with alcohol/ After all Ben Hall was considered a good-looking man.

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:

Things got from bad to worse, till Frank Gardiner, the bushranger came. He capped the lot. Now under 'The King of the Road's influence, Ben started on his notorious career.

Flamboyant, Claude Du Val.
by
William Powell Firth (1819-1909)
Frank Gardiner was an indomitable figure, seemingly cast in the same mold as the renowned 17th-century English Highwayman, Claude Du Val. Born in 1643, Du Val's daring escapades and flamboyant persona left an indelible mark on popular culture, setting a precedent for the gentlemanly rogue that Gardiner seemed to embody perfectly in the mid-19th century.

A gallant and courteous rogue, probably the most dashing highwayman ever to haunt the roads of England. He was known as a “true gentleman of the road.

Embodying the idealised image of the gallant rogue, Gardiner showed a keen understanding of public perception and the power of the press in shaping his image. He avidly read newspaper accounts of his exploits, not merely for the thrill of seeing his name in print, but to monitor how his actions were being portrayed. Unafraid to confront any misrepresentation, he would boldly pen letters to editors such as those at the 'Burrangong Star', refuting any false narratives or inaccurate portrayals that threatened to tarnish his cultivated image.

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.

Gardiner wore breeches and high boots, cabbage-tree hat with a black band, and black poncho spotted on the inside of like the skin of a leopard.

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.

Hall had a quiet and respectable air—by wearing nicely-shaped high boots and a well-fitting pair of brown cord pants, with fashionably cut cloth coat and vest of the same colour, and only one gold chain, and not much of that to be seen.
 
Adding to their complex personas, Gardiner and Hall showed a strange sense of generosity amidst their audacious thievery. Even when their victims were at the wrong end of their guns, stripped of their precious belongings and hard-earned money, they were never left penniless. Silver coins, particularly shillings, were a line Gardiner, Hall's mentor, rarely crossed, leaving these for their victims to get by. Hall too adopted this practice, only deviating when circumstances were particularly dire.

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.


There have been few instances where violence has been used by these modern highwaymen, they will often leave a few shillings with their victims, so that they may not be on the road quite destitute.

Embracing the egalitarian principles established by Frank Gardiner, John Gilbert, O'Meally, and Ben Hall charted their own unique course through their lawless pursuits. Hall's newfound alliance with Frank Gardiner, bolstered by his long-standing camaraderie with John O'Meally and John Gilbert, had drawn him away from his life as a grazier and into the exhilarating world of bushranging. This shift into a life of rebellion and audacity was, however, steering him inexorably towards a clash with the forces of justice.

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.

It asserted that the bushranger Gardiner is supplied with information by numberless accomplices both in the township and along the roads; a journalist has had it said of him that he can secure any friend from Gardiner by giving "passes."
 
In the wake of his immersion into the world of bushranging, Ben Hall found himself in the company of a ragtag group of characters who often frequented the rough-and-ready sly grog shops and shanties in and around the goldfields. These men, drawn to Frank Gardiner's charismatic leadership, would lounge about like dingos, biding their time and waiting for opportunities to make some easy money off Gardiner's daring exploits. Among them were familiar faces like John Davis, John McGuinness, 'Paddy' Connolly, and even 15-year-old Johnny Walsh - Bridget Hall's brother - and John Jameison, Taylor's nephew, who were also well known to Ben.

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.

March 25th, 1862.-Telegram, Forbes. Gardiner stuck-up and robbed two drays (between this and Lambing Flat) of provisions, spirits, and winter clothing; April 12th, Gardiner went to Mrs Chisholm station, at Bland, and stole a horse; 17th, telegram, from Forbes, sticking-up is still the order of the day between here and Lambing Flat, 20th, Gardiner stuck-up about twenty-five men on the Lachlan Road a few days ago, and several drays. 23rd, Gardiner and four armed men dashed in front of Greig's coach, on the road from the Lachlan to Burrangong and turned into the bush again; on the same day, they stuck up and robbed a dray, belonging to Moses and Son and the other day, they stuck up and robbed Mr Greig's dray on the Lachlan road.

Without question, the connections Hall had established, along with his recent ventures into highway robbery, were likely to have implicated him in many of the incidents reported, particularly the final three. Notably, the dates of the robberies and their subsequent reports could often diverge by several days.

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:

Richard Henry, in the employ of Mr Jacob Marks, the contractor, was conveying the mails from Binalong to Yass, he was stuck up by Gilbert and Hall. As to the identity of the bushrangers there can be no doubt, as their faces were not disguised in any manner, and Richard (or Dick, as he is better known by, a half-caste aboriginal) had the opportunity of fully recognising them as those well known bushrangers, who, in company with Gardiner, waited upon him professionally while he was conveying the mails in the neighbourhood of Murrumburrah, some two years past.

Ben Hall description
NSW Police Gazette,
for 8th April 1862,

2nd villain. Others
no doubt 1. Gardiner, 3. Gilbert
and 4. O'Meally.
In the early months of 1862, the reckless choices of Ben Hall came back to haunt him, biting hard into his hitherto scandal-free life. In the company of Frank Gardiner and John Gilbert, Hall gambled everything, engaging in his first widely recognized act of highway robbery.

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

Ben Hall woodcut
image, c. 1865.

Courtesy NLA.
During this period, the New South Wales Police Gazettes were abuzz with reports of highway robberies. Several descriptions matching the physical attributes of Ben Hall were published in these reports. In the 1862 edition of the gazette, Ben Hall was described in a way that strongly suggested his involvement in these illegal activities. Such was the state of lawlessness that the region faced, and Hall seemed to be right at the heart of it.

Rather above the medium height, 5ft 6-7in tall and rather stoutly built, lame in one leg and weighed 13 st 7 lbs.

In the context of the 1860s, men with Hall's physique might be considered overweight by today's standards, given contemporary Body Mass Index (BMI) norms. Maguire once mentioned that Hall was approximately three stone (42 lbs or 19.05 kg) heavier than himself. As a point of comparison, Maguire had a slender build, weighing around 140 lbs and standing 5 feet 9 inches tall, a stark contrast to Hall's stockier figure of 5 feet 6-7 inches. The picture on the right likely provides the most accurate representation of Ben Hall's physical appearance during this period.

Although he was a much bigger man than I was, for he was nearly three stone heavier than I.

Frank Gardiner was as well recorded as 5ft 9in and 145lbs or 10 stone. During a later robbery in 1864, Ben Hall’s appearance was noted:

Hall is the only one of the three who cultivates any moustache or whiskers, and he is getting fat.²³

Despite the common portrayal by modern authors of Ben Hall as a slim and tall figure, historical evidence suggests otherwise. In reality, he was rather short and heavily built. Notably, his physical ailment, specifically his lameness, was explicitly noted in 1863 during the infamous Canowindra raid in October. An eyewitness, one of the hostages, made detailed observations about Hall's physical state.

Ben Hall is a quiet, good-looking fellow, lame, one leg having been broken. He is the eldest of the party and the leader--I fancy about 28 at years of age.  

Bushranging; "Next time they take me, they'll have something to take me for."

It is 14th April 1862; Frank Gardiner and John Gilbert approach the transport dray of William Bacon drawing their revolvers. Edward Horsenail, an employee of Bacon's, later attested:

I noticed two men ride out of the bush, and cried out to Bacon, "Look out, Bill, here are the boys!" they came up and presented their revolvers, and ordered us into the bush.²⁴

Gardiner ordered Benkin to turn his wagons into the scrub where Ben Hall and another man, John Youngman, reputedly an employee of Ben Hall were waiting. Hall is holding the reigns of a pack-horse to load their ill-gotten gains. Two passing travellers were spotted on the road from the scrub. Gardiner orders Ben Hall and Gilbert to fetch them. They bail them up, steal a saddle and hold the men as prisoners. On completion, the four bushrangers took clothing, tobacco, spirits, and other goods. Newspapers at the time reported Gardiner's command of the Queen's highway and that his current actions could only end in misery:

Gardiner is a bold rogue and a very great fool, because, he not only braves the police and levies toll along the whole line of road from Burrangong to the Lachlan, but he risks his liberty or neck for the paltry equivalent of a few months defiance of the law. A pity it is that so bold a spirit should be occupied in so bad a cause, and should have to look forward to so contemptible an end.²⁵

Forbes Annual Horse
Racing results,
April 22,23 and
24, 1862.

N.L.A.
Capitalising on his recent windfalls, Ben Hall leisurely made his way to the annual horse races in Forbes, one of his favourite pastimes. The 1862 Easter holiday races were scheduled to run over three days, from April 22nd to the 24th at Wowingragong. The event, traditionally enveloped in a festive atmosphere, attracted a diverse crowd that included the crème de la crème of Forbes society, as well as a motley crew of intriguing and somewhat dubious characters. For Hall, this event was an opportunity to indulge in his love for horse racing and perhaps even showcase his own equestrian prowess.

The attendance was reputed to be large, but the gathering was not altogether free from the presence of notorious "sovereign-sellers," "urgers," "teardowns," "pluguglies," "pea and thimble" tricksters, and "go-getters?' of that day. 

However, on the second day of the meeting 23rd April 1862, Ben Hall was arrested by Sir Frederick Pottinger:

Benjamin Hall, described as a settler in the Wheogo district, was brought before the Court charged with highway robbery under arms.

Hall's arrest was from information received through the bullock-dray robbery victim William Bacon. (Benkin) Pottinger, who harboured suspicions regarding Hall and his associates, slapped Hall with handcuffs and presented him in court where Pottinger stated to the magistrate:

From information received I apprehended the prisoner on Wednesday last on the racecourse, charged with highway robbery, in company with others, on the road between the Lachlan and Lambing Flat”;  It was noted that; "Ben Hall denied the charge.²⁶ (See article right)

On the day of the arrest an old-timer later noted that:

It was at these races that Ben Hall, who was at that time looked upon as being in a fair way well to do, was first arrested for horse stealing or something of the kind. I remember he was dressed in knee-breeches and boots and wore a cabbage-tree hat, which were generally used at that time.

With Hall locked up it was reported of Ben's connection to Gardiner:

One of Gardner's band was arrested, mounted on a fine powerful brown horse, superior to anything belonging to the mounted force.

Note: At the Forbes race meeting one horse entered was called 'Don't You Know' a beautiful brown bay trained by Tom Higgins and reputedly owned by Frank Gardiner.

N.L.A.
Now the thing was, the victim of the robbery, William Bacon, had known Ben Hall personally and in his statement at Hall’s subsequent remand hearing, positively identifies Ben Hall as one of the assailants:

Prisoners opened a case of tobacco; the man supposed to be Gardner told prisoner to strap the tobacco and bottles of gin on the pack-horse, which he did; I was requested to help him, which I did; in doing so prisoner said to me, "You never saw me before," to which I replied that I had, and drank with him; they then ordered us to pack up and left us, prisoner leading the pack-horse away; I swear positively that the prisoner is the man; I cannot be mistaken - when he robbed the drays some chaff passed between us with respect to a woman I knew he was acquainted with.²⁷ 

William Bacon, by his evidence, had nothing to gain or lose and knew Ben Hall well. Well enough to have positively identified him. Another eyewitness, Edward Horsenail, corroborated Bacon’s evidence and also claimed to have known Ben Hall on sight from many previous social occasions:

I am driving for the last witness, I have been in his employ fully fifteen months; I know the prisoner-have seen him on several occasions; on Monday week last, as far as I can judge about ten o'clock, when about two or three miles from Green's, I noticed two men ride out of the bush, and cried out to Bacon, "Look out, Bill, here are the boys!" they came up and presented their revolvers, and ordered us into the bush, one kept near the dray I was driving, the other by the side of Bacon's dray; when a short distance off the road, two other men rode up, one the prisoner, leading a pack-horse on which there were two or three saddles; I can positively swear to the prisoner; the man we supposed to be Gardner then commenced to open the cases on the dray; prisoner stood by with a revolver in his hand; a case of gin was opened, and a bottle passed round for all hands to drink; prisoner and another left by order of the man supposed to be Gardner, and brought two other men from the road; prisoner, by order of the same man, searched my dray; he broke a case of tobacco open, and packed two bags containing tobacco and other things on a horse; they soon after left; I know prisoner; the last two trips we have made, on both occasions I saw him at the Pinnacle Station (Mrs. Feehiely's public house); I can positively swear to him; I cannot be mistaken." "Prisoner, who declined to say anything, was remanded until Saturday (this day) when he was again brought before the Court and committed for trial: bail refused.²⁸

Of all the drays in all the districts to rob. Ben Hall had to pick the one where they all knew him and knew him well
Clerk of the Peace, Forbes, Depositions received an entry book for Ben Hall, 1862.
Never before published.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Thursday 1st May 1862
POLICE COURT.—APRIL 25TH.
Ben Hall's appearance at Forbes following his arrest.
The incriminating evidence against Ben Hall led to his remand in custody for several weeks, awaiting his transfer to Orange for trial. The transfer was necessitated due to the absence of a Sessions Court in Forbes. The serious accusation of 'Robbery Under Arms' loomed heavily over Hall, and a guilty verdict would almost certainly result in a lengthy imprisonment.

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.

Amongst our many wants perhaps none is more imperatively felt than that of a session court somewhere in the district. At present, we have to go to Orange, a distance of eighty miles.

Understandably, Ben Hall steadfastly maintained his innocence, asserting that he and his co-accused, John Youngman, merely stumbled upon the robbery already in progress. Hall insisted that the revolver found in his possession was a fortuitous find earlier in the bush. He further claimed that Gardiner had ridden up to them, instructing them to stay put. According to Hall, both he and Youngman had simply complied, sitting astride their horses and not participating in the illegal activity.

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.

Prisoner and another left by order of the man supposed to be Gardner, and brought two other men from the road.
 
Considering the weight of the evidence, the image of Ben Hall passively observing as men were held at gunpoint and forced to surrender their valuables is deeply troubling, regardless of the era. The fact that Hall and Youngman made no move to intervene or later offer testimony about the crime raises questions about their involvement, especially given their known relationship with Gardiner. The notion that the victims of the robbery, many of whom were acquainted with both Hall and Youngman, might fabricate evidence against them seems far-fetched. The inference, therefore, is clear: Hall was a knowing participant, well-integrated within Gardiner's inner circle.

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:

On mentioning our Government buildings in my last, I forgot to mention our lock-up; it is a log hut, about twenty by twelve feet, anything but secure. 

The scant arrangements in the lockup created an environment for an easy escape, which occurred during the time of Hall's incarceration:

For a few nights ago, nine prisoners escaped by burrowing a hole under the logs with their knives; in the morning it was discovered that the birds had flown, and no one to go after them, our inspector and posse being on a wild goose chase after Gardiner, the bushranger." Those who shot through were named as "Richard Eady, John Lewis, James M'Grain, John Donovan, Sydney Reece, James Taylor, and David Fraser, and they had all been committed and sentenced for various offences. There must be some neglect somewhere. 

However, Hall surprisingly never apprised the opportunity to join in the mass escape. Moreover, in the local paper, Hall's arrest was commented on:

Things are assuming a quiet aspect since Davis was captured, and Benjamin Hall committed for trial for robbing Mr Greig's team, on Friday last, by Sir F. Pottinger.
As Ben Hall languished in jail, he found his support network gradually diminishing. The friendships he had once relied upon began to erode, undoubtedly due to his widely recognised association with the likes of Gardiner, John Gilbert, and O'Meally. His arrest in April 1862 proved to be a turning point, superseding any remaining loyalties or sympathies. Sir Frederick Pottinger, who had regularly ventured to Sandy Creek in search of Gardiner and his band, only fuelled the growing notoriety that now shrouded Hall. His frequent visits were spurred by suspicion that bushrangers were being harbored within the region. Hall's reputation, thus, shifted towards one of a man complicit with these bushrangers, painting Sandy Creek in the same light as the infamous locales of Arramagong and the Pinnacle.

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.

Meanwhile, Pottinger, in a calculated move aimed at undermining Hall's standing among his neighbors, initiated a public campaign to solidify Hall's association with bushranging. He strategically placed a notice in the 'NSW Police Gazette', a move likely designed to entrench the connection in the public eye. The notice tersely labelled Hall as a bushranger, an act that Pottinger undoubtedly intended to further isolate Hall from any remaining sympathizers. The stark announcement appeared in the Gazette's edition of May 14, 1862.

NSW Police Gazette,
14th May 1862.
Found in possession of Benjamin Hall a bushranger, a light chestnut horse, 16½ hands high, BB near shoulder, small star; also, a saddle and double reined bridle; Colonial made; the seat and knee pads are hogskin. The above are now in possession of the police at Forbes.

What remains perplexing in relation to the aforementioned Gazette notice is Pottinger's seemingly deliberate omission of the alleged horse theft. If Pottinger indeed suspected the horse in Hall's possession was stolen, why not append this charge to Hall's accusation of highway robbery? After all, horse theft was considered a grave offence, almost on par with Robbery Under Arms.

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.


Orange Courthouse,
c. 1860's.
Here Hall's trial took place on
19th May 1862. Hall had been
transported to Orange under
escort by Sgt Condell.

Image courtesy NLA.
In the subsequent course of events, a shackled Ben Hall, alongside his co-accused John Youngman, was taken under guard to Orange, New South Wales, to stand trial. This unfolding drama was reported in the 'Lachlan Observer' dated April 25, 1862.

At the Lachlan police-court, John Thomas Youngman, was charged with having, in company with three other men (one of them supposed to have been the bushranger, Gardiner) robbed the dray of William Benkin on the road between Lambing flat and the Lachlan. From the evidence of the prosecutor and his assistant, it appeared that on the 14th April, they were on the road to Lambing Flat with the dray, when they were met by the prisoner, and three other men, one of whom they believed was Gardiner. The prisoner was riding a brown horse, and leading a grey one. The man supposed to be Gardiner handed fire-arms to the prisoner, who stood with them until Gardiner and his mates commenced to break open the goods on the dray. The robbers took clothing, tobacco, spirits, and other goods, and then went away. The prisoner was subsequently arrested by order of Sir F. Pottinger. The prisoner reserved his defence, and was committed to taking his trial at the ensuing quarter-sessions to be held at Orange, on Monday, the 19th May.

View overlooking the street
from the Orange Courthouse.

c. 1860's.
Image courtesy NLA.
The journey to Orange was closely overseen by Sergeant Condell, a figure who would become entwined with Ben Hall's life from that point onward, ultimately playing a crucial role in his tragic demise. However, before Hall was transferred to Orange, NSW, and while he was still languishing in the Forbes lock-up, there were significant developments in Bathurst Gaol. Gardiner's close friend, John Peisley, had been recently convicted of murder alongside an Indigenous man named Jackey Bullfrog. Both men were hanged side by side on April 28th, 1862.

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.

The ensuing execution of Peisley and Indigenous man, Jackey Bullfrog, was detailed in the 'Empire' on Tuesday, 29th April 1862. The publication vividly captured Jackey Bullfrog's disposition and Peisley's final words as they readied themselves to cross the threshold into the afterlife.

During the last two or three days, Jackey Bullfrog became more resigned and attentive, The Rev. Thomas Sharps had also very frequently attended him, and notwithstanding the difficulties of the case, succeeded at length in convincing him of the existence of a Supreme Being, the certainty of a future state, and the necessity of seeking salvation through the redeemer; and being satisfied that he so far understood the leading doctrine of Christianity, the rite of baptism was administered yesterday morning. Exactly at nine o’clock the criminals, having been previously pinioned were led forth from their cells, and conducted towards the scaffold, accompanied by the Revs. Messrs. Sharpe and Hillyer, who read a portion of the funeral service as they proceeded. On reaching the foot of the gallows, the clergymen and the prisoners knelt dawn, and after prayer, in which Piesley appeared to engage very devoutly, the men ascended the scaffold. He (Piesley) concluded, by saying, "Goodbye gentlemen, and God bless you." The fatal rope was then adjusted, and the white caps being drawn over the faces of the culprits, at a signal from the acting sheriff the drop fell, and the two unfortunates were launched into eternity. Piesley did not appear to suffer much for long, but the poor blackfellow was for several minutes frightfully convulsed. After hanging the usual time, the bodies were cut down, and, being placed in coffins, were conveyed to their last resting place.

George Colquhoun.
c. 1890.
Penzig

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.

Mr Mitchell's
unvarnished 

letter.
N.L.A.
Following Ferguson's sudden reversal, it was widely speculated among members of the NSW Police and court officials that the witness had been influenced or even bribed, likely at the instigation of Maguire, to alter his original testimony. Nonetheless, Hall found himself on the favorable side of luck, and the judge, faced with a lack of conclusive evidence, had no choice but to dismiss the case.

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.

About three miles along the road we overtook Bacon and Ferguson. As we bore them no malice, we entered into conversation with them, and we all rode together for 40 miles.

The verdict, however, sparked outrage in R.B. Mitchell, a prominent court official in Forbes and the son of renowned explorer and Surveyor-General of NSW, Sir Thomas Mitchell. In response to Hall's acquittal, Mitchell penned a fiery letter, denouncing what he perceived as a gross miscarriage of justice. His strong sentiments about the case were still apparent at the time of Hall's death when he took the opportunity to reiterate his disapproval of the trial's outcome. (See article right, a must-read. Open link in new tab to enlarge.)

Author's Note: Throughout the centuries, from the 19th to the 21st, there has been a persistent effort by certain writers to downplay or dismiss Ben Hall's involvement in criminal activities. They often attribute Hall's presence or appearance near the sites of various hold-ups to mere coincidence. This selective group of sympathisers has sought to rewrite history, challenging documented eyewitness accounts and established records of Hall's unlawful exploits.

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."
 
Undoubtedly dramatic sympathy to justify the unjustifiable, as the 'Scone Advocate' attempts to portray; "but the wrong which Taylor had done did not rest there. Whether on his own initiative or at the instigation of the fly-by-night wife, is not known. Possibly it was a mutual, conspiracy born of fear, to get the outraged husband out of the way lest he might follow the traitorous pair and be avenged. In any case, Taylor supplied spurious information to the police at Forbes, implicating Ben Hall, in a recent bushranging exploit. 

Soon after came the Easter meeting at the Wowingragong racecourse, out from Forbes, and it was here that Sir Frederick Pottinger, Bart., head of the police district centered on Forbes, decided to act on the false information secretly supplied by the traitorous Taylor, and in the full publicity of the race assemblage, he arrested Ben Hall on a charge of highway robbery underarms. The meeting was amazed, left breathless, as the news raced about the course. It was impossible — that decent, likeable, well-respected young fellow charged with bushranging.

This amazement was one of the surest indications of his innocence Bushranging was so woven into the social fabric of the district and the period, and its practitioners had so many sympathisers, assistants, bush telegraphs, and such, while so many, others not actually concerned were passively acquiescent of these activities, that it would have been impossible for Ben Hall to take any part without the fact being generally known. His arrest created much indignation and served to deepen the conspiracy of silence which constituted such a barrier between the police on one side and the bushrangers and citizenry on the other. It served also to increase the contempt in which the police were then held."

The practice of providing inducements to witnesses to alter their testimonies seemed commonplace amongst poorly paid workers and carters of the time. A sum of £50 could indeed stretch a long way, as exemplified by John Maguire's alleged payment to Ferguson. Regrettably, the transcript of the court proceedings at Orange no longer exists, but it's widely accepted that William Bacon, a respected businessman who also provided evidence, had nothing to gain and everything to lose. As he reportedly stated during the initial hearing:

I swear positively that the prisoner (Hall) is the man; I cannot be mistaken-when he robbed the drays some chaff passed between us with respect to a woman I knew he was acquainted with; my loading was for Mr. Greig, storekeeper on these diggings, for whom I have carried, almost exclusively, more than fourteen months; I have not yet been paid for the loading. 

Ben Hall, it seems, made choices in his life that led him down a path of infamy. I recall being at the premiere of the film 'Legend of Ben Hall', where an intriguing question was posed: "What is Ben Hall's legacy?" If one was to analyze his legacy based on his life and actions, it would underline the stark reality that engaging in nefarious activities such as murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, arson, flogging, and crime, in general, is a perilous path that ultimately doesn't pay.

R.B. Mitchell
c. 1882.
Courtesy Penzig Collection.
In the eyes of the law, Maguire had done himself no favours. He knowingly had cast suspicion over the evidence of one of the witnesses:

On assisting Ben in his trouble, I did so believing him innocent of any crime. It cost me a tidy sum; and, moreover, was a bad day for me, as I left the impression with the police that I had tampered with witnesses.

Despite Hall's acquittal, the dark undercurrents of the trial continued to cause ripples. According to Maguire, he happened to overhear a conversation between the presiding judge, Mr. Casey, and their defence counsel, Mr. Lee. During this exchange, Judge Casey expressed his personal conviction that Hall, despite the legal verdict, was in fact guilty. It was an astonishing revelation, casting a further shadow on the controversial trial and hinting at the success of a sinister strategy that involved corrupting a witness with a financial reward.

After the court was cleared the judge and our counsel, Mr Lee, were walking to the hotel to dinner. I was just behind them. I heard the judge say that he believed Hall was guilty. Mr Lee said, "I was paid well to defend him, and I did so, by getting him off." "The judge replied, "Mr Lee, it was not you that did it — it was done outside." "Next morning our party rode home jubilant—all but Ben Hall, who had celebrated the victory by getting immovably drunk. Ben Hall, and Tom Wade (Ben's half-brother) left for Forbes.
Upon his return to Sandy Creek following the trial, Hall seemingly slipped back into the rhythm of normal life, having deftly sidestepped the jaws of the judicial system. However, fate never sleeps, and it wouldn't be long before Hall would tempt it once again. Prior to his legal proceedings, Hall had embarked on a carefree jaunt to Lambing Flat. From this trip, he returned with a young woman, Susan Prior, who had captured his heart. The 17-year-old Tasmanian native subsequently took up residence at Sandy Creek, falling into a romantic relationship with Hall that eventually led to her pregnancy.

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 Office
c. 1862.
Image courtesy NLA.
As Ben Hall grew increasingly entwined with Gardiner, a tide of reports about hold-ups, general news and gossip from all corners of society began to penetrate every crevice of public consciousness. This surge of information was facilitated by a breakthrough in communication technology, the newly introduced electric telegraph. This game-changing innovation allowed for the instantaneous reporting of a greater variety and volume of crimes, casting a spotlight on the activities of Gardiner and his gang and propelling them to an unprecedented level of notoriety.

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.

There is scarcely a nook of the colony which has any population that does not possess its press. The wires make us acquainted with every outrage committed on the great lines of communication almost as soon as it has happened. The various stages of prosecution cause a repetition of the same facts in different phraseology; and thus, a single crime becomes multiplied to the imagination of the reader, who loses the clue of identity, and takes every repetition as a now incident.³¹ 
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
escort preparing
to depart.
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.

Three of your troopers were at a house the other night and got drinking and gambling till all hours. I came there towards morning when all was silent. The first room that I went into I found revolvers and carbines to any amount, but seeing none as good as my own, left them. I then went out, and in the verandah found the troopers sound asleep. Satisfying myself that neither Battye nor Pottinger were there, I left them as I found them, in the arms of Morpheus.
 
In light of this, the monotonous routine of profitless robberies, after paying off those who sheltered him, drove Gardiner to concoct a plan. His goal was to secure a substantial fortune in gold, the financial foundation he desired to start anew with his beloved Catherine Brown. This fresh life he envisaged was far removed from the watchful eyes and familiar haunts of the Lachlan region.

S.M.H. 8th May 1862.
With the audacity of his character, Frank set into motion his plans to orchestrate an audacious heist of a Royal Mail Escort. Over several months, he had been observing the movements of the gold escorts in and around the Forbes and Lambing Flat goldfields. He noted their routes, departure times, and the amount of gold each coach carried. His task was facilitated by the fact that these details were often published in the local newspapers.

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:

Lachlan escort has, for some time, past, formed a subject of comment here. It consists of four men only, and as if to facilitate their destruction by any gang of ruffians that may take it in their heads to "stick them up," they are cooped up, two in a row, in the vehicle containing the gold. It is pretty generally admitted that our whole escort system is faulty. The men should be mounted in order to be effective in an emergency. Under the present system what would be easier than for half a dozen determined fellows-of which there are numbers on the Lachlan-to fell a tree, and when the coach had pulled up, to fire into the escort, the robbers all the time undercover. Such things have occurred in these colonies since the discovery of gold and may occur again. It certainly shows a want of prudence on the part of the authorities to do things in this half-and-half way. What possible effective resistance could four armed men, cooped up in a coach, and placed in a row to be shot at, offer to the same number, undercover none whatever. On full consideration, it appears little short of recklessly jeopardising the lives of public servants, and indirectly holding out a premium to the gang of marauders who have so long infested these districts, to continue the present system.
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:
 
It was with Gardiner that the idea of taking the escort originated and took a fortnight to prepare for the attack. For some months before Gilbert and O'Meally were Gardiner's constant companions, and they had been talking about it together. They were getting full of the petty bailing-up business, and wanted to make a grand haul and then quit the country.
All Gardiner needed now was the perfect location to stage his ambush on the gold escort. In response to this need, new accomplice Ben Hall proposed the ideal spot following discussions about various potential locations. The area needed to be relatively deserted, away from the well-trodden path between Lambing Flat and Forbes. Ben suggested the Eugowra Rocks, a vast landscape scattered with large granite rocks and boulders flanking the road that the escort would traverse between Forbes and Orange. Ben's familiarity with this particular area stemmed from his numerous trips there with his close friend, Daniel Charters. This proposed location had also been part of a conversation including Maguire, as recounted by Tom Richards:

I was speaking to Maguire about the escort some two weeks previous at Forbes; he said what a good place the "Rocks" would be to stick up the escort.

With the location secured, Gardiner then set about gathering a team of willing accomplices. It was not a challenging task for Gardiner; the promise of abundant riches was a powerful motivator. Under Gardiner's leadership, he managed to assemble a team of seven men: John Gilbert, John O'Meally, Daniel Charters, Alex Fordyce, John Bow, Henry Manns, and Ben Hall. The final stages of preparation for the audacious assault were then set in motion and meticulously executed over several weeks. The gang would often meet at the homes of John Maguire and Ben Hall at the Sandy Creek station, with some members even setting up camp in the paddocks surrounding the station's homes.

Evidence which went to show that Maguire's house was the rendezvous of Gardiner and his gang, where the attack on the escort was planned.

William Hall.
c. 1910. (Penzig)
Bill Hall, Ben's elder brother, presented a candid account of the pre-planning activities and eventual departure for the Eugowra Rocks in a series of interviews conducted by Jack Bradshaw in 1912 for 'Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall & Gang.' Bill did not hold back any details regarding the events, thereby dispelling any speculations that Ben was not an active and enthusiastic participant in Gardiner's schemes. These assertions countered any insinuations that Ben Hall was somehow forcibly dragged into Gardiner's criminal activities. It became abundantly clear through these accounts that Ben Hall was deeply entrenched in the bushranging lifestyle.

Ben Hall knew the place well and had a good knowledge of the surrounding country. He was also appointed pilot. Ben Hall was likewise chosen to go into Forbes and inquire particulars as to the escort. Hall found out that the escort would be leaving Forbes on Sunday. Word was passed around for another meeting on the Friday before. True to their promise, the lot turned up on that day. After receiving instructions on how to act, they rode away, and camped that night near Mrs Feeley’s pub.

Daniel Charters.
c. 1862.

Courtesy Mrs Fred Wells
(Coloured by Author)
The stage for the audacious armed robbery was set a mere three miles northeast of the quaint hamlet of Eugowra, about 25 miles from Forbes, planned for the late afternoon of Sunday, June 15, 1862. During this planning phase, the deep-seated friendship between Dan Charters and Ben Hall seemingly enticed Charters into this daring scheme, a chance for a quick ascent to riches. Moreover, they needed crucial information and necessary equipment. Bill Hall shed light on Charter's eagerness to participate and shared how his brother Ben, along with Charters, journeyed to Forbes to secure the required supplies for the venture.

When spoken to about it Charters said, “I am your Moses. A really good thing. To miss such a buss as this would cause me a shock in the stuffing of life.” “We knew this, old hoss, and that is why we called on you. Come over to us to-night. You and Ben Hall are required to go for the necessary equipment.” “I will do anything, lads, for my share of such a beautiful haul." Charters came to the camp and willingly agreed to do everything proposed to him. He and Hall started out the next morning for everything required and returned with six double-barrelled muzzle-loading guns, and moulds for making bullets. They also brought back with them black crape for making masks and other articles for disguise. After having dinner Hall and Charters went over to Jack Healey’s, where lived a young lad of 19 Henry Manns, and Charters persuaded him to join them also. At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon Ben Hall, Charters, and Manns joined the rest of the band.

Next Gardiner then:

Spoke to Charters and said: "Now, go and lead us through the bush to Eugowra and keep off the roads; if there are any fences we will chop them down. Charters knew every inch of the country and had never been away from it for a day, and took the party to a creek near Mr Clements station at Eugowra rocks. On Sunday morning, the gang crossed the creek and reached the Eugowra mountain, where the attack on the escort was to be made.

Foreground view of 
Escort Rock as Fagan would
have seen on approach,
2013.

My photo.
In the meanwhile, as the bushrangers set off for Eugowra, preparations were underway in Forbes on the morning of June 15th, 1862, for the Escort coach to embark on its ill-fated journey. Typically, Sergeant McClure would be in charge of overseeing the Escort; however, in this instance, temporary command was handed to Sergeant Condell. Condell was slated to travel to Sydney for drill instruction, marking his transition from the foot police to the mounted force. Thus, the stage was set for a sequence of events that would be etched in the annals of colonial history.

The escort left Forbes on Sunday morning, under the immediate charge of sergeant Condell, seated on the box alongside the driver, Mr Fagan; the remainder of the escort, three men, were seated in the body of the coach; their names, were senior constable Moran, constable Haviland, and another constable, Rafferty a stranger on the escort. The treasure consisted of 2719 ounces of gold, and £3700 in cash; there were also the usual mails, which were heavy. The escort proceeded on its way without any unusual occurrence to warn them of impending danger; at about half-past 4 o'clock, on arriving at Coobong, a distance of 27 miles from Forbes, and immediately in the vicinity of Mr Clement's station, two teams were observed in the roadway, no uncommon circumstance. As the coach drew near, it became evident there was but one passage, and that between the obstructing teams, and a mass of broken, perpendicular rocks, overhanging the narrow passage; the peculiarity of the situation never for a moment excited suspicion, but the driver brought his horses into a walk, in order to steer between the drays and the rocks.³²

View from behind
Eugowra Rock
as the coach
approached the hidden
bushrangers, 2013.
My photo.
What's more, before the coach arrived at Eugowra on that fateful Sunday afternoon, it was reported that:

Gardiner hid his men behind some large rocks by the roadside, having first forced a number of carriers to block up the road with their wagons. The long-expected coach came in sight. "Make way for the Royal mail," cried the driver John Fagan, as he noticed the teams on the road. There was no answer, and again he repeated the order. There was no answer but the echo of his voice.³³

As the echo of Fagan's voice faded, the crack of gunfire suddenly followed by a barrage of bullets splintering the coach's timbre wounding some unsuspecting police officers, including Sergeant Condell. The rapid-fire startled the horses, which bolted, flipping over the gold coach. The escorting troopers outgunned and, under intense fire, managed to retreat into the nearby scrub, where they covered the short distance to Mr Hanbury Clement's farm. Clement's had heard the gunfire and was in the process of investigating as the armed robbers Gardiner, Hall and company quickly descended on and ransacked the coach, clearing out with over £14,000 worth of gold and cash. Roughly $6,662,500 in today’s value. (Spot Gold 2020 $2,438.64 per ounce Aud)

Sgt James Condell.
Coloured by me.
The result of the successful attack and raking gunfire, Sgt Condell was shot in the ribs explains:

When the first volley came, I felt I was hit in the side; I put my hand to my side, and found a hole in my coat and blood coming from it; when I got to Mr, Clements' I examined my side, and found there were two holes in it; about 2½ inches apart; the holes were of the same size; they were in a position so that a bullet going in at one would go out at the other. Both holes bled; Sir Frederick Pottinger saw the wound four or five hours after.

Sr. Constable Henry Moran was wounded in the groin explains:

I turned, and to the right, on the rocks, I saw four men in front and two behind them; they had guns pointed down at us; I heard the word "fire," and a volley was fired; I was wounded, and I called out to my mates, "lookout, I'm wounded;" we fired in return, and the horses took fright and ran up a shelving rock, and I was flung wounded out of the coach; constable Haveland assisted me to get out of the way, and I afterwards got to Clements' station. I was wounded in the testicle.

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: 

I was mail-driver of the escort on the 15th; I had four horses in my coach; I lost some of the horses in the attack; they were the property of Ford and Co,; Phil. Mylecharane was one of the owners; I was in the coach when it was attacked; I then lost all four horses; next morning saw two of them at Clements', where they went after getting away; about a week after saw a black horse, one of the leaders, and afterwards at Forbes the other; it was at the Camp; a dark brown horse with a switch tail; I received it from Sanderson; I was not wounded, but a ball went through my hat and another through my coat; there were eight or ten bullets in the coach; the gold boxes were gone when we came back to the coach; the mail-bags were opened, and the contents scattered about; I lost two coats from the coach belonging to myself.

The men made their way to nearby Hanbury Clements' Eugowra station, some individually while Rafferty made for Forbes.

Jack Fagan.
c. 1900's.
Coloured by me.
Authors Note; John Fagan died in 1912, and it was noted that he drove the coach when the memorable robbery of the escort occurred near the rocks at Eugowra. On that occasion, he was almost shot, a bullet perforating his hat as he ran for shelter from the flying shots of Gardiner, Ben Hall and Co., fired at the police escort, and himself.³⁴ In July 1863, Mr Fagan was a bus driver for a short period in Sydney. That hat is now in possession of his family, upon his death, Mr Fagan left an estate valued at £257 970 = $21,400,000 today.

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:

Our citizens are awaiting with some impatience the result of the efforts that are being made to get upon the trail of the villains implicated. The Escort consisted of 2067 oz. 18 dwts. of gold, and £700 in cash belonging to the Oriental Bank; 521 oz. 13 dwts and 6 grs. to the bank of New South Wales; and 129 oz. and upwards of gold, £3000 in cash, to the Commercial Bank.

Sub Commissioner for
Lachlan 
Goldfield
J.G. Grenfell.
1829-1866
 Newspaper Image c. 1867. 
However, in a little-known incident regarding the day of the robbery, it was revealed that some hours before the Gold Escort departed Forbes for Orange, there were to be two other passengers, and the police troopers embarked. Those travellers were Police Magistrate for Forbes, Captain Brown, a long-time friend of Captain M’Lerie, Inspector-General of NSW police, and the Gold Commissioner for Forbes, Mr Grenfell. In the previous May, Grenfell had sent Ben Hall to Orange for trial over the Bacon (Benkin) Dray Robbery. Before the departure, the two men had decided to leave Forbes by horseback instead of the coach; 'The Courier' Tuesday 8th July 1862:

Captain Brown and Mr Commissioner Grenfell were to have come down by the escort, but owing to special instructions from Inspector General M'Lerie, they came on horseback and were some miles in advance of the escort when the attack was made. These gentlemen arrived in Orange on Monday forenoon, and took their departure for Bathurst in the mail.

Whether as the gang waited for the approaching coach and before blocking the road, the robbers watched the two men pass by is unknown.
My video of the 1862 Eugowra hold-up site.

Hanbury Clements.
c. 1881.

Private Source.
First time published.
Upon reaching Forbes, Hanbury Clements delivered the alarming news to a dumbfounded Sir Frederick Pottinger. The message had travelled twenty-seven miles through the night, a journey Clements had accomplished in three hours. With haste, Pottinger rallied his forces, assembling at Clement's residence by 6 a.m. on Monday, 16th. Accompanying him were eleven troopers, twenty settlers, and two black trackers - a formidable posse by any standard.

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.

The troopers fell across the owners of the bullock-teams, who had been stuck up by the bushrangers. The unfortunate men state that they had been made to lie upon the ground, face downwards, for several hours; and that whilst the firing was going on between the bushrangers and escort they were exposed to the bullets. After urgent entreaty, they were removed from this perilous position by the bushrangers.

Upon his arrival at Clements' Eugowra Station, Pottinger wasted no time gathering the details of the audacious heist, ensuring a thorough account of events. He attended to the injured troopers, verifying their conditions before embarking on his primary objective. Armed with the necessary details, Pottinger unleashed his trackers, keenly setting them onto the bushrangers' trail. Thus began the daunting task of pursuing the notorious outlaws, fuelled by a determination to restore order and justice to the colony.
 
About six o'clock yesterday morning Sir F. Pottinger, with eleven troopers, twenty settlers, and two trackers got on the track of the bushrangers. About three miles from the coach they found, near a camp fire, the gold boxes, which had been opened.³⁵
Hanbury Clements station Eugowra.
Bailliere's New South Wales Gazetteer and Road Guide, 1866
NSW Police Gazette,
August 1862.
Upon unearthing the remnants of the audacious robbery, Sir Frederick Pottinger demonstrated his strategic acumen by swiftly dividing his forces. This decision enabled a broader area to be covered in their relentless pursuit of the audacious bushrangers. However, as news of the robbery reverberated through the colony, the wheels of justice swung into high gear. Troopers from various districts were quickly mobilized and brought into the district, augmenting the numbers of those already combing the rugged terrain in search of the culprits. The urgent and coordinated response underscored the gravity of the situation and the intent to apprehend those responsible.

Early on Tuesday morning, Mr Superintendent Morrisset, with a detachment of six troopers, passed through this town en route for the scene of attack; and on Wednesday morning a couple of troopers from Stoney Creek also set out for the same destination. On the arrival of the Forbes mail-in Orange, on Wednesday, we were informed that two troopers belonging to Sir Frederick Pottinger's party had returned to Forbes to obtain fresh horses, theirs being knocked up. These men report that they had tracked the bushrangers to within a short distance of Finn's public-house on the Lachlan, and within ten miles of Forbes. The rain had, however, set in, and destroyed the tracks. The black trackers could only discover the tracks of six horsemen. 

Mr Charles Cropper.
c. 1900.

Never before published.
Authors Note: Mr Hanbury Clements died in January 1912; "The death occurred at "Kilmessan," Freeman's Beach, near Sydney, on January 11, 1912, of Mr Hanbury Clements passed away aged of 84 years. Deceased was the third son of the late Lieut. Hanbury Clements, R.N., and at one time owned Eugowra station, and at the time of the robbery of the gold escort, he, with Mr C. W. Cropper, the owner of Yamma station, took an active part in the pursuit of the bushrangers. Eugowra station, a few years after, was cut up, and the owner left these parts, being a single man at that time."³⁶

The robbery's audacity galvanized the surrounding area's influential citizens into action, demonstrating the unity in adversity that had been forged on this rugged frontier. Among them were Mr. Suttor, Mr. Clements, and Mr. Cropper, the owner of Yamma Station. Mr. Cropper, a long-time advocate for eliminating the bushranging menace, threw himself wholeheartedly into the pursuit.

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.

I live about fifteen miles from the Eugowra rocks. I recollect hearing of the escort robbery, and on the night of the 15th, I went in search of the robbers, with Mr. Clements, and my stockman. We went first to Mr. Clements' station. On the following morning, we set out to Eugowra rocks. From Eugowra rocks to the junction of the creek with the Lachlan River is about ten miles; the crossing place is near Newell's. At the back of the rocks, and on the bank of the river, were the only two places where we saw that horses had been tied; the rocks lie to the east of the road; there is a mountain between the road and where the horses had been tied at the rocks. The escort in coming from Forbes would have the rocks on the right hand. We saw traces there of the coach, and of men. We next went over the range and saw tracks up a path. We found tracks for about a quarter of a mile, when we came on some boxes and red comforters; there were four iron boxes broken open; there was the remains of a fire, and portion of burnt comforters; we then got on the tracks of horses; there were shod horses among them; we crossed a creek and got to a pine scrub; the tracks then went to the Canowindra road, and on by the side of a fence to the Eugowra Creek again; I was running the right hand track which led down the creek to a place where the horse had evidently slipped; I went down from my horse, and in the bed of the creek found a bottle of Old Tom; we followed on and joined the other persons tracking, and further on we crossed a creek, and on to a fence, where the rails were cut down; the mortice-holes were cut; we passed through, and followed the tracks till we got on to the Orange road; the tracks ran down the road a little way, and then went off to the right, as if in the direction of Forbes or my own place; after going some distance, the tracks bore in towards the river again, and kept along the bank; we saw no teams there; when we got on to the Forbes Road, we saw some teams; the tracks went near the teams, passing through two paddocks; the tracks went in a zigzag sort of way, and it was after passing the slip panels that we saw the teams; we saw where the tracks crossed the river, and on the other side we saw the remains of a small fire and where horses had been tied; this was in Newell's paddock; the fire was close to the river bank; we found here some beef on a bone and some envelopes; we followed the tracks across Newell's paddock and into another paddock through slip rails; the tracks went crooked, and led away to the left of Mr. Suttor's; the tracks turned off from where the dray was camped; we followed them down nearly parallel with the road; we ran them down that night to within five miles of Fenn's public-house; we followed them up till dark when we could no longer see; in the morning we resumed the track; it led in the direction of what I believe to be the Wheogo Mountain; after this, two or three days after, I noticed that my fence was cut in the way the other fence was; there was a track through my fence which led in the direction of Eugowra; the other tracks that I now speak of led from Eugowra; the track came near Newell's; they led past a sawyer's hut. We tracked a distance of about forty miles; We ran them down that night to within five miles of Fenn's public-house; Fenn's from Eugowra rocks to the junction of the creek with the Lachlan River is about ten miles; the crossing place it near Newell's, the first day we tracked a distance of about forty miles. In a straight line, the course we tracked would be about 20 or 25 miles. Near the Eugowra rocks, when starting, I found a spur and a coat; I saw where horses had been tied; the spot was about a quarter of a mile behind the rocks.³⁷ (Remembering that Newell is Charters' brother in law.)

Eugowra Escort Coach.
Photograph was taken
in 1917 at Orange,
by W. H. Burgess.
This was also the coach
in which Cost Haviland
died.
 
Many thanks to Dick Adams.
In the aftermath of the skirmish, under Sir Frederick Pottinger's direction, the bullet-ridden escort coach resumed its journey the following day. Navigating through the tumultuous scene, the battered coach finally reached Orange by 7 pm on Monday, tracing its path up Summer Street towards the Post Office. The weary passengers, Driver John Fagan, Sgt Condell, Constables Moran and Haviland, Mr. Boynton (manager of the involved coach company, Ford & Co.), along with Ellen Chandler, her servant, and her child, disembarked at the Post Office, leaving the undamaged mail behind.

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

Constable Moran described the tragedy at Haviland’s inquest into his death:

We left Mr Clement’s yesterday morning; the sergeant was on the box with Haviland, and a passenger in the coach; deceased said during the day he would not come on the escort any more unless there was a mounted party along with us; deceased had no spirits or wine that I know of; he was perfectly sober; yesterday evening between six and seven o’clock we arrived at Orange; we had taken up a lady passenger, with her servant and child; I and a lady and the other male passenger were sitting with our backs towards the driver; the female passenger was sitting in the middle; we heard the report of a revolver after leaving the Orange Post-office; the female passenger exclaimed, “My God the man is shot!” Haviland was sitting at the back of the coach opposite me; I said “No! It can’t be!” I saw the flash from the revolver in a line with deceased’s chest; the female put her hand over first; I then put out my hand and felt the blood pouring down quite warm; I said, “he is shot in the stomach”; the coach was going on all the time; I said it might be from the sergeant’s rifle; he said “no it could not be”’ in reply to a question from the sergeant I said deceased was shot; in the coach, there was my revolver, and a revolver case empty.³⁸

In the grim aftermath of the unexpected gunshot, Haviland's lifeless form was gently transferred to a bed at the Inn. There was an urgent call for medical assistance, and Dr. Warren was promptly summoned. However, upon his arrival and after a brief examination, Dr. Warren confirmed the dreadfully inevitable. Constable Haviland, a servant of the law, had met an untimely and tragic end. The solemn pronouncement cast a heavy pall over those present, transforming the inn into a temporary scene of mourning. Dr Warren deposed at the inquest:

Last night, about seven o'clock, I was sent for to see deceased. Arriving at Dalton's inn, I found him lying on the bed in the verandah-room, with blood- running out of his mouth and out of a wound in his neck; he was quiet dead; this morning, I traced the course of the bullet — it entered the throat below the chin — just above pomun-Adami its course was backward and slightly upward— passing through the larynx and through the pharynx back to the spine at the junction of the skull; I believe the immediate cause of death was effusion of blood into the windpipe; the wound would cause almost instant death; it is my opinion he might have been stooping down to pick up the pistol, it being just the close of the journey.

Mrs Haviland's gratuity.
According to the doctor's hypothesis, it appeared that Haviland had stooped down to retrieve the pistol after the delivery of the mail bags, which led to the tragic discharge of the weapon.

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:

Amongst other observations made by the deceased prior to the tragic event, was one to the effect that so soon as he arrived at Orange, he would telegraph to his wife in Sydney, to allay any alarm she might entertain for his safety.

Tragically, William Haviland left behind a wife and two children. This unfortunate circumstance was a direct consequence of Ben Hall's actions, indirectly leading to Haviland's death. Furthermore, in a tragic turn of events, Henry Moran, a survivor of the Eugowra onslaught in 1862, met a similar fate. At the age of 63, he died in 1890 following a fall from a cart at Hilton Grove, Hartley. Thus, the repercussions of the audacious events set in motion by Hall continued to echo through the lives of those involved long after the incident itself.

"Make way for
the Royal Mail."

Sketch by Percy Lindsay. c. 1935.
In the aftermath of the robbery, the drivers of the bullock drays, tasked by Gardiner to obstruct the road and impede the progress of the coach, finally arrived in Forbes. Their arrival sparked a wave of excitement and speculation about the dramatic events. Among them, likely Dick Bloomfield, provided a firsthand account of the extraordinary calamity. His narrative would serve as a poignant testament to the audacity of the crime and the audacious individuals who executed it.

Since our last we have little to communicate in reference to the robbery of the Escort which can enlighten the public mind, On Wednesday one of the bullock drivers who was stopped by the robbers arrived in Forbes, and reported that his own team and another was stopped and drawn across the road two hours before the Escort arrived, when the bandits made free with two bottles of spirits, and placed the drivers some distance from the rest, compelling them to lie faces downwards.⁴⁰ 

Intriguingly, at the subsequent trial of the apprehended escort robbers in February 1863, the dray operators were never summoned as witnesses by either the defence or prosecution. Their testimony could have been pivotal in possibly saving the life of the convicted Henry Manns.

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:

You will have heard, before this reaches you that the Escort was stopped, and of course robbed. It occurred at the head of the blind gully, on the right of the double gate. The Escort goes by Eugowra at about four p.m. I do not know whether you recollect a big rock in the gully, about twenty yards to the right of the road; from behind this a number of men (the troopers say fifteen) jumped up, all dressed in red, apparently red shirts, with red comforter on, night-cap fashion; They let drive at the guard at once. I was in the paddock on horseback, and, on bearing the firing, galloped over at once. I met Fagan, the driver, at the big stockyard, and asked him what was the matter. He said the troopers were all shot, and the coach and horses gone, but where he did not know. I went on, and met one of the troopers, who told me that he thought the others were killed. He was wounded in the side. Whilst talking to him, I saw two men at the top of the paddock; I went towards them, found they were two troopers, and brought them down, one of them was wounded in the region of the groin."

"The sergeant, or corporal, who was the only cool man of the lot, was wounded in the side, the ball having entered between the short ribs and passed through the flesh out again; another ball went through the arm of his jacket. Another out the rim of the driver's hat and a piece out of the crown. Another stuck in the wood of the seat. The coachman was fearfully frightened and jumped off the coach, the horses then ran away taking three of the guard with them until they dashed up the rocks when the men were thrown out and took to their heels. The road was blocked up by putting three bullock teams across. The fellows had blackened faces, excepting one who appeared to be the leader.

"I started at once to Forbes, and some time after my arrival the missing trooper made his appearance there, but knew nothing of his comrades, whom he supposed were all killed.

George Burgess.
c. 1930's

Very rare photo.
Private Source.
Interestingly, another direct witness to the infamous event was George Burgess, who was merely a thirteen-year-old boy at the time. Burgess is the sole person, apart from the law enforcement officers involved, to recount a detailed narrative of the happenings that fateful day at Eugowra in June 1862. Curiously, despite his firsthand knowledge, George was never summoned to give evidence. Here's a glimpse into the tale told by George Burgess:

My father had four horses and dray, and wished to take advantage of the great prices. In June 1862, he loaded up with one ton of hay, half-ton potatoes and five cwt. bacon, engaged Dick Bloomfield as driver, and I was sent as offsider or, as called in those days, his billy boiler; On the fifth day out, at about 11 o'clock; I went into a pine scrub about two miles, from Eugowra to cut a whip handle when I came out I saw the driver in conversation with a man wearing white moles and Wellington boots, with a red comforter round his head and his face blackened, who I afterwards heard was the notorious Frank Gardiner. He was leaning on a double-barrelled gun, and he said, "I want you fellows, come along". We then turned a corner in the road and came in sight of two bullock teams right across the road, ours was put in the same position and made a barricade. Our hats were pulled over our faces and tied in that position with handkerchiefs. My hat, which was an old cabbage tree one, had a hole in the crown, and I could see what was going on. We were placed behind a small rock and threatened, under pain of death, not to look up or remove our hats.

Mr Penzig's re-drawn Map from the 
originally sketched NSW Police
at the time of the Robbery.©
There were about seven of us in all, including a swagman. In about 20 minutes’ time along came the gold escort of four horses, and manned by four police. A strange thing, two mounted troopers were a few miles ahead of the escort, and never knew, that it was stuck up until they reached Orange. When the escort came up against the barricaded road, about seven bushrangers, who were concealed behind the rocks, rushed out and fired a volley at the coach, saying "bail up". The shots frightened the horses, and they became frantic. Jack Fagan, the driver, jumped off his seat and tried to steady them, but they did not go 20 yards before the coach was upset, and all was confusion in a few minutes, all the occupants scampering through the scrub in the direction of Eugowra station, then owned by a Mr. Clements, who, after attending to the wounds of his visitors, galloped to Forbes to inform the police. In very quick time the coach was, rifled, the gold: — about 5000 ounces was packed on the coach horses, and when everything was in readiness one of the bushrangers came over to us, took our blindfolds off, broke open a case of grog from one of the teams, and gave us a drink and £1 each. With my £1, I ate lollies continuously for about two weeks. As we pushed our way on towards Eugowra we saw the bushrangers pass over the mountains, in the direction of the Weddin Ranges. In due course, we reached Forbes, a huge canvas town of nearly 30,000- people.⁴¹

Back to Molong Celebrations.
1928.
Authors Note: George Burgess died on 12th June 1945; GEO. BURGESS PASSES AT 96. WITNESSED FAMOUS GOLD HOLD-UP; -"Molong 's oldest identity in the person of Mr George Burgess, of Hospital Hill, passed away on Tuesday night, at the grand old- age of 96 years and 4 months. Born at Bathurst in 1849, he came to Molong in 1860 and has resided here almost continuously for 85 years. The late Mr Burgess worked for years at shearing and other bush work. When the late John Black opened his flour mill in 1876, he was an engine driver for over 25 years. He then conducted a bakery business in Bank Street for many years until he retired. His wife predeceased him some years ago, and he is survived by two sons, George (Wellington), Alfred (Sydney), and one daughter, Miss Annie, who nursed him to the end with the fortitude and patience of a saint. The other daughter Jessie (Mrs Rodgers), is deceased. Three brothers survive — Harry (Manildra, 85), Frank (Manildra, 82), James (Parkes, 80). Unlike most old people, Mr Burgess' mind was as vivid and as clear as any man of 30 years of age. George Burgess was the only living individual who witnessed the greatest gold robbery in Australia—the Eugowra Escort Robbery in June 1862."
⁴²

The police original map
of bushrangers track too
and from Eugowra.

Courtesy
Bathurst Historical Museum.
  
The colonial populace was shocked, and the press was astounded at the apparent ease of the heist. They vehemently criticised the Cowper Government, pointing out its failure to contain the escalating lawlessness that was infiltrating larger parts of NSW, particularly the Western Districts. As a result, the NSW Police faced intense scrutiny and pressure. The press, sensing a potential political scandal, were demanding immediate arrests.

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.
 
Sanderson thirty-two years of age, was a Cockney born and bred. In the year 1848, he joined the London police, then newly established by Sir Robert Peel and known as Peelers. He won rapid promotion and came to New South Wales in 1855 under three years' contract with the government. He was sent to the goldfields, liked the life and remained in the force after his three years had expired, being raised to the rank of senior-sergeant. A policeman to the core, by training and temperament, he was one of the most reliable officers in the force, steadfast in his duty, the scourge of criminals, as brave as a bulldog, and completely lacking in imagination, as a good policeman should be. There was a need for men like Sanderson to steady the police force at a time when constables were hard to recruit and harder to keep - for who would be a policeman at 5s. 6d. a day when fortunes were being made by diggers from the golden gravel? Dozens of constables had deserted their posts during the decade of golden glory. The substitutes, hastily recruited to cope with the ever-expanding population and increase of crime, were seldom satisfactory. Many a constable was dismissed for drunkenness and other vices. A policeman's lot was "not a happy one" in New South Wales in the Furious Fifties and Sensational Sixties. - Clune.

View from Gardiner's camp
Wheogo Hill. Weddin
Mountains in the
foreground.

Courtesy Peter C Smith
After the audacious act, the gang retreated to their hidden sanctuary atop Wheogo Hill, skillfully covering their tracks from Eugowra. Daniel Charters, who would later testify in court, shed light on how the spoils of their daring exploit were divided. He revealed that, even before the robbery, Gardiner had stashed weighing scales and necessary supplies at the hideout on the hill, anticipating their triumphant return.

After camping, Gardiner went down to some rocks, and brought back a pair of scales, some weights, and some grog; we remained there for that evening. On Tuesday night it rained; we rigged a tent with a blanket; we weighed the gold, rigging up three sticks to support the scales. I assisted along with the others; as Gardiner weighed the gold, he put the gold on a newspaper on a sheepskin; he also counted the notes; I heard him say there was £3561 in notes; he weighed the gold off in lots and said, "there was about 22 lbs. weight for each man." Each man's share was put up in lots; Gardiner shared out the gold and notes.

In its 28th June 1862 edition, the 'Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal' offered a detailed account of the relentless police pursuit of the audacious bushrangers. The report highlighted the law enforcement's path from Eugowra, passing by Ben Hall's residence, and culminating in a startling incident which sent the robbers scattering to the wind.

Starting from the scene of the outrage, the track was taken up and continued with various turnings and windings down the Lachlan, till they found themselves near Finn's public house, not far from the diggings. Here the track turned off to the left and made for the Pinnacle, near which the track was lost; the party, however, searched round and roundabout, and as night had set in by this time they had to give up the search camping where the track was last seen. Next morning they started, still in company with the black-fellow Charlie, taking the direction of a mountain named Wheogo; when near the place of a person named Ben Hall, the party came upon very recent tracks, apparently of a horse at full speed, well-shod, and well ridden, (a thing rather unusual in that out of the way part of the country) they kept this trail for some time till they came in sight of a man on horseback, who on getting a sight of the pursuing party went off at the top speed on his horse followed by the troopers also at full gallop. Our men continued the chase for two miles when the man they were pursuing appeared to have vanished into the side of a creek, the tracks suddenly ceased, on this deep creek both up and down, the pursuers came to a stand thinking the man might have jumped into the creek. On close search, however, he appeared to have leapt the creek at a bound, as his tracks were observable on the other side, the party crossed over, and took up the trail, which was followed up to the top of Wheogo mount, when at the back of Mr Walsh's station.

"..me see him"
The newspaper continues:

In this camp were found various articles of bedding, bread and beef, and some tea ready-made and nicely warm, also the envelope of a letter bearing the Burrowa postmark. There were marks where several horses had been tied up to some trees. Circling round this camp, the troopers came upon the tracks of what appeared to be 5 horses, and these tracks were making for the dense pine scrubs surrounding the west point or entrance to the Weddin mountains. The broad trail was followed for a long time when on the party entering one of the densest scrubs of pine in that region, the black-fellow called out “me see him”. The pursuers charged after, but the fellows ahead were too quick for them, and making a short turn through the pines, were lost to the sight. Following on, however, a horse was observed without a rider, and thinking this might be some ruse, the pursuing party separated, and taking what cover they could find, and in expectation of a shot every moment, they bore down upon the horse, which turned out to be the pack horse of the flying bushrangers, and laden with a costly treasure; as when it was caught, a large amount of gold was found on it, supposed at the time to be some 1200 or 1500 ounces; the gold was in 4 bags and were lashed to a trooper's saddle, there were also 2 carbines strapped to the saddle; From this point, the tracks of only 4 horses were found, and these were followed all-round the Weddin, till it got dark, and then the party made the best of their way to Forbes, and gave up the recovered treasure, to the authorities.

View of Wheogo Hill
from Deaths Lane. 2013.

My photo.
Under the leadership of Sgt Sanderson, the police were instantly intrigued upon spotting a rider abruptly turn and gallop away. This sparked a heated pursuit, with the police hot on the tail of a man believed to be either Charters or possibly Johnny Walsh. In their frenzied chase, the police reached the foot of Wheogo Hill, watching as their quarry ascended the crest. Charters would later give his account of this nerve-racking event, describing how the looming approach of the police caused a panic that resulted in the loss of the pack-horse carrying the stolen gold.

A lot of police coming from the direction of Hall's towards M'guire's. After that we all got ready to start; after we got ready, we could hear the tramp of the police horses coming up the mountain; we left the bottles and several other things; we had no time to shift them; we were then five in number myself, Gardiner, Gilbert, Fordyce, and Bow; we travelled through some thick scrub, and Gardiner had got off his horse to take a drink of spirits and water, when I heard the police horses behind us. Gardiner was with me. I looked back, and saw what I thought was a black-fellow on a white horse; he was about 400 yards behind me; I could just see him through the scrub. I pointed him out to Gardiner; he said, " O'Christ, here they are." I then cantered away; Gardiner called to me not to go away that way. Gilbert went in one direction, Fordyce in another; Gardiner was prodding his packhorse with the end of his gun to urge him along, till finding he could not get him along he left him. This was in a very scrubby place, close to the Weddin Mountains. Gardiner galloped after me, and said "pull up." He said, "he had lost the gold and it was a bad job." We asked to go back, as they might miss the pack horse; we turned, and looking through the scrub, saw three men on foot catching the horse. I went to Nowlan's; there were several patrons there, amongst others Johnny Welsh, Nowlan and his son.

As the years passed and the evidence surrounding the chase from Ben Hall's residence grew murkier, a strong consensus emerged that Johnny Walsh was the rider whom Sanderson pursued.

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.

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

The success of the troopers was reported extensively in contemporary newspapers, vividly capturing the jubilation of the estimated crowd of 3000 who eagerly anticipated news of their pursuit. When the troopers triumphantly returned to Forbes with the recovered treasure, the town was thrown into a state of delight. Particularly noted was the merriment of the tracker, Charlie, who was instrumental in leading Sgt Sanderson to this significant victory. The concept of the bush telegraph once again came to the fore, suggesting that the elusive rider was indeed Johnny Walsh. The troopers' triumphant procession through the jubilant crowds was a testament to their victory and the relief that washed over the town of Forbes.

On the arrival of the little band with the treasure-viz., a pack horse carrying about 1600 z° of gold, two rifles and a trooper's coat, they were loudly cheered, and surrounded by some 3000 people, eager to learn the news and see how affairs stood. The horses and men appeared knocked-up, the black fellow who had served as tracker appearing the least fatigued, to judge by his self-satisfied and merry countenance.⁴³

Fortunately for Ben Hall, by the time the police arrived at Sandy Creek, he was already en route home, his share of the spoils secured. As Maguire noted, Hall had narrowly missed crossing paths with Sanderson and his men, a turn of events that undoubtedly saved him from immediate capture. This close shave highlighted the elements of chance and timing inherent in the outlaw lifestyle that Hall had embraced.

He had 22lb of gold strapped to his saddle and £460 in notes in his pockets, he galloped down the other side of the hill until he found a nice, convenient hollow log. Into this, he thrust the whole of his share of the spoils. Then he coolly cantered away home as if nothing had happened. And he always pretended, even to myself and his other relatives and friends, that he knew nothing of the robbery. 

Note: 22lbs of gold equates to 325 oz. and is worth in 2020 $800,000 and £460 = $38,600 for a total of $838,600.

Johnny Gilbert.
Coloured by me.
Sir Frederick Pottinger's success, however, proved elusive. After dividing his tracking teams, he led his group south, journeying as far as Hay, some 225 miles from Eugowra, without so much as a trace of the suspected bushrangers. Pottinger held the belief that the robbers had come from Victoria. While he spotted signs of riders heading towards the Victorian border, he discerned they were not the men he was pursuing. Upon reaching Hay without the slightest indication of the bushrangers' presence, Pottinger decided it was time to return to Forbes. A despondent Pottinger, accompanied by Detective Lyons, civilian court official Mr Mitchell, and a tracker, Billy Dargin all recuperated, embarked on the lengthy journey back to Forbes.

Note: Trackers were invariably discounted in articles that highlighted the police against the bushrangers. Pottinger's run to Hay undoubtedly included a tracker, most notably Billy Dargin, who was generally a constant fixture in Pottinger's patrols.

Charles Gilbert.
However, during their return journey, Mitchell -- son of the renowned explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell -- who had been riding a considerable distance ahead of Pottinger and Lyons, encountered three riders at Merool, near Temora. Mitchell did not recognize the riders, yet surprisingly, one of them turned out to be the notorious bushranger John Gilbert, accompanied by another of the escort robbers, Henry Manns, and Gilbert's older brother Charles, who had been employed in and around the Weddin Mountains, possibly at the Pinnacle Station.

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.

Pottinger said to Gilbert: 'That's a nice looking horse you're riding, young man.' Gilbert replied 'Yes.' Asked if it was his own, Gilbert again replied 'Yes.' The inspector asked to be shown a receipt for the horse. Gilbert halted as if to produce it, but, standing in his stirrups, put spurs to his horse and galloped away.

In the ensuing chaos, the police unsheathed their revolvers and successfully apprehended Gilbert's two companions. Gilbert's brother Charles and Henry Manns, both of whom were using aliases at the time, found themselves in the hands of the law they had brazenly defied.

Marker commemorating the
gunfight opposite Mrs
Sproules Station.

My photo 12/03/20
In a wild burst of adrenaline, Gilbert tore through the scrub, embarking on a legendary round trip of 120 miles to the Weddin Mountains. His mission was to rally a rescue team for his arrested comrades, a team suspected to include John O'Meally, Patsy Daley, Ben Hall, and an unidentified man. During the chaotic rescue operation, Ben Hall, who harboured a notorious and overt resentment towards Pottinger, is believed to have crossed words with the policeman. The one who leveled the verbal assault was described as the 'well-built, bearded buccaneer', according to the 'Sydney Mail' on Saturday, 26th July 1862.

One of them, apparently, addressed himself principally to Sir Frederick Pottinger, saying, "I know you, you bl---y ba---rd, Pottinger: "I'll put a pill through you, you ba---rd," &c. Sir Frederick fired at this fellow three times, Mr Mitchell, at his side, being also fully occupied with their assailants, and discharging shot for shot.

Finally, those engaged in the assault on Pottinger fell back to the refuge of the Weddin Mountains. Gilbert, along with his brother, charted a course for Victoria, before eventually venturing onwards to New Zealand. (See Gilbert Page.) Manns, on the other hand, sought solace in his former refuge near Burrowa. However, within a fortnight of the Merool conflict, Pottinger had a face-off with Hall at Sandy Creek, culminating in the latter's arrest.

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 ©
Post the encounter with Gilbert, Sir Frederick Pottinger harbored deep suspicions regarding those involved in both his near-assassination at Merool and the incident at Eugowra. He linked the dots, realizing the proximity of Gardiner's discovery at Wheogo Hill to Hall and Maguire's residences. Unfazed, the inspector returned to Forbes and began a series of arrests aimed at those known associates of Frank Gardiner. Therefore, owing to the infamous Bacon dray affair and Hall's prior misadventures in Forbes, coupled with the heated exchange during the Merool gunfight, Ben Hall was the first person Pottinger set his sights on.

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.

Hearing afterwards of the robbery, he (Richards) was forced to combine the one set of facts with the other, and on this, before any charge was brought against him, he gave information to the police.

After their arrest, Charters explained his presence with Ben Hall:

Hall was gathering cattle; getting fat cattle for market, and I was there to get mine and my sister's cattle that might be brought in.⁴⁴

Regrettably, these arrests and the subsequent lengthy imprisonments would prove to be the final blow for Hall and Maguire's Sandy Creek station. Nevertheless, having been arrested, the five shackled suspects were brought before a magistrate in the Forbes court, where Sir Frederick Pottinger formally charged them.

On Tuesday, last, at the Lachlan police-court, four men, named Benjamin Hall, William Hall, John Maguire, John Brown, and Daniel Charters, were brought up charged with being concerned in the late escort robbery. The only evidence taken was that of Sir Frederick Pottinger, who deposed to having received information to the effect that prisoners were concerned in the robbery; he prayed for a remand, for the purpose of obtaining further evidence. Mr Pendergast appeared for the prisoners, and applied for trial, but was refused, as was also bail. The prisoners were remanded accordingly.⁴⁵

Sir Frederick
Pottinger.
c. 1863.
John Maguire (who was blind in his right eye) gives an eyewitness account in his memoirs, 'The Biography of a Reliable Old Native', of the happenings on their arrest:

Sir Frederick turned to the men and ordered them to put the handcuffs on me, two of the men (police) were then sent off to Browns, a similar mission was made to Ben Hall’s house where Ben and Charters were secured, about 4 o’clock the police decided to stay for the night, so my wife proceeded to get supper for the crowd. When bedtime came round Hall, Charters, Brown and I were handcuffed together and had to doss (sleep) in our clothes on a rough shakedown, whilst Sir Frederick took possession of the sofa, in the morning we were roused up and paired off again, after breakfast Sir Frederick gave orders to start for Forbes.

Maguire continued:

Each of us was now handcuffed singly and bidden to mount our horses. Our hands were then strapped to the pommel of the saddle, and with a trooper each holding our reins, Sir Frederick giving orders that should anyone appear on the road suspected of having intentions to rescue us, each trooper was to shoot his man dead.

Ben Hall & others court
appearance August 1862
.
Under the looming specter of execution, the five chained men were confined to the Forbes lock-up, where they were brought before a judge and held in remand week after week. As they bided their time in the grim confines of the jail, Maguire observed Ben Hall and Daniel Charters frequently engaged in intense, private discussions.

I often noticed Hall and Charters whispering together apart from the rest of the prisoners; I began to suspect that they knew something about the robbery.

Maguire also stated that he overheard Ben Hall tell Charters:

They haven’t found anything on us, and they can do nothing to us.

Maguire continues:

We noticed Sir Frederick in conversation with James Newland, a brother in law to Charters, Sir Frederick then came and took Charters away. On his return Charters told us he was going to get bail whilst we could not, I watched Ben’s countenance, and noticed that he looked a bit upset when Charters got his freedom.

Daniel Charters was granted bail, with two guarantors each pledging £250 and his own promise of £500, to ensure his presence when summoned. During their time in remand, Maguire was privy to Hall confessing his involvement in the events at Eugowra.
 
Ben and I were now left alone together, and next morning he confided to me a full account of the robbery and the names of the men who took part, they were himself, Gardiner, young O'Meally, Gilbert, Charters, Bow, Fordyce and the only man I was not acquainted with-Henry Manns. This I declare, was the first time I really knew who the culprits were, although as I said before, I had my suspicions as to some of the gang, at any rate.

Maguire continues:

I remonstrated with Ben, as there had been no occasion for him to take that game on, but he said he had been run on to it by Gardiner.

Daniel Charters.
c. 1862.
Daniel Charters was granted bail, with two guarantors each pledging £250 and his own promise of £500, to ensure his presence when summoned. During their time in remand, Maguire was privy to Hall confessing his involvement in the events at Eugowra.

I have had conversations with Maguire in regard to this matter while in the lock-up; but I had none with Hall whilst there. It was nothing particular, only about what a job it was to be kept in the lock-up on this account.⁴⁶

Charters also rejected any suggestions that he had been offered a certain incentive to exclude Ben Hall and John O'Meally from the incident.

I was not confined in the same cell as Ben Hall. I was under the same roof, but not in the same apartment. I was confined for about eight days at the same time as Hall. I had no communication with Hall at that time; nor had I any with him on this matter after my release, neither directly nor indirectly have I had any communication with O’Mealy or Hall relative to this matter. I will swear that I have not been offered a sum of money to leave their names out of the information I have given in regard to this robbery.⁴⁷

This contradicted Maguire’s statement regarding their arrest in his memoirs transcribed many years later.

Author's Note; Even 40 years after the Escort Robbery, Maguire attempted in his memoirs to be totally ignorant of the planning of the escort robbery. In fact, Maguire knew full well who the participants were in the robbery, as the whole affair was planned at his and Ben's residence. Even after the robbery, he was supplying the gang with food and equipment. After having been charged for his part in the robbery, Maguire was transported to Sydney for one of the most sensational trials in the history of the young colony and appeared before the special commission established for the escort trial and bushranging. The first escort trial took place in February 1863 with a result of a hung jury. The government immediately placed the defendants back in the dock for a second trial. After all the evidence was heard again, Bow, Fordyce and Manns were found guilty and sentenced to death. John Maguire was found not guilty by his peers (he was rearrested over the bond still outstanding for Youngman, which was paid by a benefactor). Manns would be the only bushranger from the escort robbery (see “In Company” page) to be executed and died a long and horrible death at the hands of the bungling hangman. Bow and Fordyce’s death sentences were commuted to life, whereby they served 12 years and ironically enough were released from prison with the man who had led them there…, Frank Gardiner. After the convictions and Maguire's acquittal, this sentiment was also noted, from; 'The Manaro Mercury, and Cooma and Bombala Advertiser', Friday 6th March 1863; "the Escort Robbers have been sentenced to death, except for Maguire, who is acquitted. I have no doubt he is the biggest scoundrel of the three. The evidence showed clearly enough, in my opinion, that he was an accomplice of the gang from the beginning to end: at any rate, that he was cognizant of the intended robbery. The prisoners will, I am afraid, be strung up without mercy." 
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.
Subsequently, under the intense persuasion of his dedicated sisters, Charters decided to turn state's evidence in hope of securing the full pardon that was on offer. He revealed the identities of those involved in the gold robbery but conspicuously failed to implicate his close friend Ben Hall and the tempestuous John O'Meally. In the course of time, however, it was exposed that Charters had indeed committed perjury regarding the involvement of Ben and Jack O'Meally at Eugowra.

Charters' evidence was false, and consequently would not bear the production of those men; it was a lie from beginning to end. That perjured villain had not only made up his mind as to what men should be condemned, but he had also received money to swear that certain individuals who did take part in the robbery were not present. Charters swore that Ben Hall and O'Meally were not present at the escort robbery, but those men were present; Charters knew well.

Note: O’Meally would no doubt have harmed Charters had he been implicated or more than likely the pair did pay Charters to keep them out of it. Charters would be protected by the police for some months following the trial and was horse breaking at Longbottom near Concord.
 
Overflowing with rage, Ben Hall was finally granted bail towards the end of August 1862, a bond amounting to £500 and two sureties of £250 each. His bail condition was to 'appear when called upon'. Hall, however, would never again experience the confines of a courtroom or a prison cell. Intriguingly, upon Hall's release, it was noted that an exchange of words reportedly transpired between Hall and Pottinger.

On the last occasion, that Sir Frederick had Ben Hall brought up in Forbes, as Ben was leaving the Courthouse, Pottinger remarked, "Well, Hall, you have escaped again." ''Yes," replied Ben," and the next time you bring me here it will be for something, and don't you forget it.  And if all be true that I hear, when I get home you'll get cause to remember me.⁴⁸

Note; £1,000 in 1862 is worth today around $83,000, demonstrating that Ben Hall appeared to be in an excellent financial position or at least asset-rich to raise that amount of money. However, with the bush and bushranging Hall's new home Sandy Creek would pass through sale to John Wilson, thus providing the funding or Hall may have fenced off his proceeds from Eugowra. Whether Hall lost the funds is unclear as records indicate he was never called as he had crossed the point of no return. It may well be that the loss of £1000 also feeds Hall's desire to wage war with the authorities.

Author's Note; A surety is someone who is often mentioned in a bail undertaking. If the defendant fails to appear, the money or property may be 'forfeited to the court'. Another condition used when defendants apply for bail is the naming of a surety. A surety is a person who guarantees that the defendant will attend her or his court hearing. The surety is sometimes required to deposit the security as a commitment that the defendant will appear. This security is returned when the hearing has finished. If the defendant does not turn up to court, the surety loses the security, and the court may keep it. (Source; Supreme Court NSW.)
Robert Hall, Maitland Gaol 1862, released in 1863.
In what was becoming a Hall criminal tradition, as Ben Hall was released on bail in Forbes, his younger brother Robert was sentenced to six months gaol at Maitland for 'Illegally working two Bullocks'.

Robert Hall.
c. 1870.
Several months after Hall's emancipation from the Forbes prison, a 'Special Criminal Commission' was assembled, primarily targeting the infamous Escort Robbery of June 1862 but also investigating broader bushranging activities. The commission was initiated in February 1863 and took place at the Sydney Criminal Court in Darlinghurst.

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.
 
I saw a horseman coming towards me from the Wheoga Mountains, in the direction of Hall's or McGuire’s house; when he caught sight of me he turned round and bolted into the mountains; I followed him with my party; by the aid of our black tracker we got on the tracks; we followed him by roundabout course up to the top of the Wheogo Mountain; the top of the mountain was about a mile and a half from McGuire’s place; at the top of the mountain I found the remnants of a camp; there were sixteen empty bottles; some contained remnants of port wine, some of gin, some of rum, some of ale; there were biscuits about and tea with milk in it; I did not see how the robbers could have got milk on the spot without going to the stations round about; there were remnants of beef, bits of bread! pieces of green hide tied to bushes, and bits of red tape; I found the top of the hill very stoney, and consequently very difficult to keep the track; we lost it for a time; in about a quarter of an hour it was found by the black tracker, and we proceeded on it a distance of about twenty or twenty-six miles, through a dense scrub; the black tracker rode a white horse; as far as I could judge the man who evaded me at the foot of the Wheogo Mountain rode a bright bay horse; we found the track of several horses; I could not say how many; one of them was shod; we followed in these tracks about twenty-five miles; when we came upon a shod horse with a pack on his back; the pack contained a bag with 1239 ounces of gold, a bag similar to that which I saw put into the escort which started on Sunday, 15th June, from Forbes.

Authors Note: There is sufficient evidence that the rider fleeing Hall's place was young Warrigal Walsh dispatched by Gardiner to gather some more saddlebags to carry the gold and that his identity was protected by all involved.

Report of the hold-up of  Sale
of Sandy Creek in 1865,
for £3000.
In the meantime, as Ben was detained at Forbes, events were unfolding that would perpetually alter the trajectory of his tempestuous life. His reputation within his local community, who had long perceived the grazier as a man of integrity and a good-natured comrade, began to falter. Hall's image had indeed been tarnished by his recent arrests and his documented associations with Gardiner. This change in public perception became evident from late-1862 onwards.
 
As if matters were not complicated enough, the already unsettled legal circumstances surrounding Maguire and Hall brought further turbulence. A close friend of John Maguire and a familiar figure to Hall, John Wilson was also the proprietor of the renowned White Hart Inn in Forbes. In the midst of these troubled times, Wilson was orchestrating a move to take control of the Sandy Creek Station.

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.

July 1862.
John Wilson, a reputable figure, was believed to have extended financial support to Maguire, who was bracing himself for an impending, costly trial in Sydney. It is highly plausible that Ben Hall also benefited from Wilson's largesse in securing his bail, considering the hefty sum of £1000 needed wasn't easily accessible. Concurrently, Wilson was reportedly beginning to liquidate his stakes in local gold mining ventures around Forbes. It seems likely that this strategic move aimed to raise the capital necessary to finance his impending acquisition of the Sandy Creek station lease. It was a significant period of financial manoeuvring and strategic decision-making for Wilson, reflecting the intricate intertwining of personal, legal, and business affairs in this era.

John Wilson, of the White Hart Inn, Rankin-street, has for sale a full share in the Britannia Prospecting Claim and a sleeping half share in the same claim, including a share in 200 tons’ quartz now ready for crushing as soon as machinery is ready.

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.

My wife and children were living at the White Hart Inn kept by a man named Wilson, to whom I had transferred the Sandy Creek Station whilst in gaol, in order to raise the wind.

Furthermore, upon Maguire’s return to Forbes, he stated:

I made over to Wilson's to see my wife and two children; Next day I arranged with Wilson to take over his hotel, as he wished to go out and work the station.

Subsequent to these changes, Wilson moved into the station, making his residence in what had formerly been Maguire's home. It was also reported that Bill Hall relocated Elen Maguire from Thomas Richards' home in Forbes to the Harp of Erin Hotel, most likely at Maguire's behest. Recounting these occurrences, Richards stated:
 
Mrs. Maguire was stopping at my house whilst Maguire was in custody. She stopped eight or nine days. After she left my house, she went to the Harp of Erin. Mrs. Maguire left my house because William Hall, who had been taken up about having some of these notes, came to my house, and my wife kicked up a row, and said she would not have people coming about the house at all hours, and then she left next day. 

New South Wales
Government Gazette
Friday, 23rd October 1863.
In addition to the complexities surrounding Sandy Creek station, Wilson found himself indebted to Sarah Walsh, Bridget Hall's stepmother, over the Uoka (Wheogo) Station. This was primarily due to her stepson, young 'Warrigal' Walsh, aged 16. Bridget's younger brother, a budding horse and cattle thief, and purported right-hand man to 'The Darkie' Frank Gardiner, was currently under custody.

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.
Despite the seemingly small debt, its existence is perplexing when one considers that the total yearly rent for the property was a mere £5 10s, along with a twenty-pound assessment. Both Hall and Maguire had enough livestock for sale to cover these expenses, even if they had to procure additional stock. Despite a drought in late 1861 and early 1862, an occurrence not uncommon in the area, there was no evidence to suggest it significantly affected their cash flow. And this doesn't even account for the proceeds from the gold robbery.

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.

Authors Note on Maguire; I have utilised Maguire's memoirs, and in doing so, note that much of his narrative is out of context to the facts regarding times and places during his friendship with Ben Hall. Maguire recounted his memories near the end of his life, and as such, I have tirelessly cross-referenced much of and disregarded the erroneous information such as the Gardiner references. However, the bulk of his reminiscence is solid and most useful.

Despite Wilson assuming the lease of Sandy Creek, his official occupancy of the station was only recognized by the end of 1867, approximately 18 months following Ben Hall's demise. Prior to this, it appears that the legal transfer necessitated Hall's signature, to be officiated and witnessed before a magistrate. Despite still being legally married to Hall, Bridget seems to have had no voice in the sale of the station. However, securing Hall's signature would have been an impossible task given his notoriety, as it would have meant risking arrest. Yet, with the transfer of Sandy Creek complete, Ben found himself diving deeper into the abyss of lawlessness.

Following the exit of Ben Hall and Maguire from Sandy Creek, the lease value for Wilson escalated dramatically. From the initial annual rent of £5 10s, it surged to £40, a testament to the significant enhancements made to the station. The once-rough scrubland had been transformed into an exceptional property, boasting well-appointed stockyards and residences. This considerable rise in value, over a short period, is indicative of the considerable efforts both men invested in creating a thriving pastoral enterprise. Yet, through a series of unfortunate events, they saw their hard work evaporate and lost everything. (See article above right.)


The Peak Hill Express,
5th July 1907.

NLA.
According to 'The Biography of a Reliable Old Native', Maguire claimed that the proceeds from the sale of Sandy Creek were distributed evenly among four parties: the Halls, his wife Elen, and himself. This suggests a balanced distribution of wealth resulting from the station's sale, highlighting an attempt at equitable financial resolution amid the tumultuous circumstances.

My wife was entitled to 640 pounds as a fourth part of the proceeds, but by some manner of means the executor never handed over a copper of it.

At the time, Maguire and his wife Elen had separated, leading to an eventual divorce, possibly around 1867. It is believed that they had one more child together, a daughter, who tragically passed away in 1867. This heartbreaking event may have been the final straw that strained their relationship beyond repair.

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.)

Susan Prior
c. 1862.
In late 1862, Ben Hall found himself grappling with impending fatherhood once again. His new paramour, Susan Prior, whom he had met at Lambing Flat shortly after Bridget left him for James Taylor, had moved into Hall's old station hut with her family. By March 1862, Susan was expecting a child.

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.
Susan Prior.
Note no wedding ring.
Unlikely Bridget Hall.

Forbes Historical Museum.
An engaging account of the fresh relationship between Ben Hall and Susan Prior appeared in "The Gundagai Times and Tumut, Adelong and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser" on August 26, 1924. The report suggested an apparent indifference from Bridget's family towards this new relationship. The narrative reflected the complex dynamics and personal intricacies woven into the backdrop of Hall's tumultuous life.

During one of these weekend visits, he met a handsome young girl of 16 summers named Susan Pryor, whom he induced to go and live with him at his home at Wheogo. This action, or mode of life, provoked no resentment on the part, of the Walsh family. Ben now resumed his former energies and appeared as much enamoured of his mistress as he was of his wife.

Note: Little else is recorded of Susan Prior after 1864. Susan gave birth to their child, a daughter named Mary, born in January 1863. Mary died in Newton, Sydney, in 1922. However, it has been noted that in old age, Susan was a very bitter woman. However, Susan would come to live at Burrowa in 1864, and due course, forms a relationship with one Alfred Stonham where Susan Prior gave birth to a son, Alfred. The delivery was registered at Yass with Alfred Stonham named as the father. However, Alfred was still married to Mahalah Dengate, and in 1867 the couple had another child, Ambrose Stonham. By 1875 the marriage of Alfred and Mahalah collapsed. Therefore, it may well be that Alfred could in all probability be another son of Ben Hall and that the birth was attributed to Alfred to deflect any link to Ben Hall. ( See BH pt. 3.)

Following the transfer of ownership, Wilson made Maguire's former residence at the station his home. Meanwhile, Maguire transitioned into the role of manager at Wilson's White Hart Inn in Forbes, where he was initially joined by Elen and their children. Back at Sandy Creek, Hall's old hut was bustling with occupants. Among them were Henry Gibson, an associate of John Gilbert who was of interest to the police, and Hall's elder brother William, along with his wife Ann and their two children. Gibson, a native of Middlesex, England, had come to the colony as a free settler at the age of nineteen in 1853, via Victoria. This new arrangement marked another turning point in the complex saga of Hall's life.

Bill Hall never turned out on the road, though he remained in the district whilst his notorious brother went through all his exciting experiences; in fact, he lived in Ben's house until it was burnt down by the Police.

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.
Private Source.
William Hall, having decided to venture into the gold mining business, relocated to the Pinnacle Range. It was here, at the site known both as the Pinnacle Reef and Maguire's Reef, that he initiated his mining operations. Eventually, he settled down in Parkes, where he would spend the remainder of his days. As times became increasingly turbulent, Ben Hall often used the Pinnacle Reef as a hideout.

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.
 
Author's Note: In the annals of history, a persistent myth has pervaded that paints a heart-wrenching picture of Ben Hall's Sandy Creek Station during his detention in Forbes in connection with the Escort Robbery. This narrative suggests that the property was abandoned, leaving the livestock yarded at the time of Hall's arrest by Sir Frederick Pottinger in August 1862 to perish from hunger and thirst. This, however, is a fallacy, a tall tale spun and perpetuated through the sands of time that has come to be accepted as the truth.

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.
 
Hence, I encourage anyone who perpetuates this misguided tale to embark on a journey of comprehensive and credible research. Furthermore, another often-repeated falsehood is a quote allegedly uttered by Hall himself, where he claims he was driven to bushranging because "his wife ran off, his house burned, and his cattle were left to die." This assertion is entirely fictitious and baseless. Using such a fallacy as a historical reference can mislead those seeking to understand the true narrative. It may, perhaps, find a home only in the realms of fictional literature!

However, Sir Frederick Pottinger could not shake off his suspicions and remained convinced that 'Sandy Creek' was a haven for bushrangers. Therefore with good intelligence, Pottinger stepped up patrols around Wheogo, including the Pinnacle and the nearby Weddin Mountains..., O'Meally territory!

Mary's Baptism
Certificate.

Purchased by author.
Accordingly, a letter was published in the newspapers by a resident of the Lachlan depicting those bushranger friendly inhabitants that were both harbourers and telegraphs and who invoked the old 16th century saying in assistance to the bushrangers that 'a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse:

On the Billibong and Bland Plains are several stations; many of the residents there, to my certain knowledge, having been at one time hut mates and companions of the now noted bushrangers, whilst after cattle in bye-gone days; consequently, though these residents may not go out and stop persons on the roads still there is little doubt they do wink at the evil practice of their former companions, and, when they see them, give them food and shelter. It is impossible the police can take the bushrangers whilst they have such means afforded them of escape with scouts in all directions — "bush telegrams" as they are called. They may be within an hour's ride of the police, and still escape them. They will never take these bushrangers openly, or in uniform; it will be done simply by stratagem, Humbug Creek, and Weddin Mountains used to be their haunts when they were stockkeepers; consequently, they know the ground well now — every bush and tree is familiar to them.⁴⁹

The Empire. 16th August,
1862.
Nonetheless, despite his limited victories against the bushrangers, Sir Frederick Pottinger was resolved more than ever to bring law and order to the untamed west. In particular, he cast a wary eye over the stations mentioned earlier, viewing them as hotbeds of rampant lawlessness. The reality that people associated with the Escort Robbery (of which there were many) had thus far evaded justice greatly frustrated Pottinger. To add insult to injury, he was still nursing the sting of humiliation from his unsuccessful pursuit of his arch-nemesis, Frank Gardiner, on the 9th of August, 1862.

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:

Gardiner, cantered away into the bush on his white horse, and seems to have felt quite secure that nobody would follow him, for he dismounted and sat down at his ease when he got about five hundred yards away. The Battle of Wheogo was over, and the nine men remained masters of a barren field.

Unrepentant at his failure, Pottinger proceeded to Kitty's hut where she did not deny that indeed the Darkie had been present:

Rather than go home empty-handed, it seems they took a little boy out of bed, where they found him asleep, and carried him off to Forbes, on suspicion of having held Gardiner's horse.

Regrettably, Pottinger's actions drew considerable ridicule from the NSW press, particularly when he detained Catherine's young brother, 'Warrigal' Walsh.

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:

The amusement of playing bushrangers and sticking up one another may prove very exciting to the juvenile mind, but such amusements must necessarily tend to loss of moral principles and disregard of right and wrong.

NSW Police Gazette, 1863.
Additionally, the Inspector-General of Police, Captain McLeire, had the final say on all reports published in the NSW Police Gazette. This gazette chronicled robberies and hold-ups to which Ben Hall and his associates were connected. Once approved by Captain McLerie, the police gazettes were distributed to the district officers.

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.
Consequently, Ben Hall's description, as published, closely matched that of an assailant in a robbery against Henry Theobald, a resident of Young. This hold-up occurred on the Marengo road on January 13, 1863. Remarkably, this incident marked the reappearance of John Gilbert in the district. After leaving New Zealand, Gilbert had resumed his bushranging exploits alongside Hall and O'Meally. The trio had also welcomed a new member into their ranks: Patrick Daley, the first cousin of John O'Meally, and John Jameison. Daley had been sporadically involved with Jack O'Meally in various criminal activities and was implicated in a reported rape case with him at the beginning of 1862.

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.
 
On the 14th instant, Mr. David M'Veigh of Forbes was stuck up on the road about 10 miles from Forbes, by three mounted men, armed with revolvers and robbed of 13s. in silver. 1st described as being young, fair, no hair on face; dressed in flash striped trousers and cabbage tree hat; The other two men had their faces covered with crape and cannot be described.

Jameison and Daley would later be found guilty over this particular robbery, the third person being Ben Hall. Yass Courier, July 29th, 1863:

John Jamieson was also committed for trial, at the same court, on a charge of having, in company with Patsey Daley and another, committed a robbery on the persons of David M'Veigh and David Pollon, on the Lachlan road, about six months ago (the day of the fire at Forbes). He was also charged with an attempt at robbing (being armed) John Large and William John White, on the Lachlan road. 

Mrs Brown,
NSW Police Gazette.
There were additional accounts suggesting that Gardiner's paramour, Catherine Brown, had previously been involved in robberies alongside 'The Darkie,' even donning men's clothing as a disguise, before making her exit from the Lachlan district in late 1862. Meanwhile, the Police Gazette maintained that the culprits 'Can be Identified,' though it was becoming increasingly clear that many local correspondents, where bushranging was rampant, either had knowledge of or had identified the main perpetrators.

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.
Note age.
In an interesting twist, the courts often failed to underscore the diligent work of the police, frequently releasing offenders on bail. This, coupled with instances where the police suffered criticism and embarrassment for pursuing false leads, only further complicated the law enforcement efforts. A noticeable omission in the reports about Ben Hall was his distinct limp, caused by a previously broken leg. This characteristic, together with Hall's rather stout build, was typically overlooked in reports or descriptions, as evident in the above-mentioned cases.

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.

There are many rumours afloat as to the number of bushrangers in this affair, and the number of stations "stuck up," but I know for certain of two places being ransacked by them, viz, the Bentick-Morrell station (Mr George Tout's), and a roadside accommodation house (G Harcombe's) At the latter place they only got £7. The house was entered by three robbers, but six others were counted waiting at a short distance within call as a reserve if necessary within call as a reserve if necessary, apparently with the plunder from the Bentick-Morrell station strapped upon them. The rascals were under the leadership of one Johnny Gilbert, a henchman of Gardiner's. This is an undoubted fact, because a sister-in-law of George Harcombe's was present, and distinctly recognised him, she is a native of Marengo, near which place John Gilbert was stock-keeper for some time. None of the desperadoes took the trouble to mask themselves.⁵¹

In quick succession, many robberies were Gazetted by police fitting Ben Hall's description:

A man named John Grandylar, who left Goulburn for the Lachlan some time back, was stuck-up by two armed bushrangers on Monday last, about sixteen miles on this side of Burrowa, on his return hither, and was robbed of whatever money he had on his person A cheque for a considerable amount that he had sown inside the band of his trousers escaped observation. They, however, took a good pair of boots off his feet, but gave him an old pair in exchange, and also robbed him of his coat. The man's swag with a revolver in it, where of course it was utterly useless, was appropriated by the bushrangers to their own use.⁵² 

By January 1863, Ben Hall's metamorphosis into a dedicated bushranger seemed thoroughly accomplished. His visage became increasingly recognized by victims who were familiar with him from past encounters, even though some modern interpretations question the historical evidence of this. However, the undisputed reality was that Hall, bereft of any semblance of honor or civility, aimed his firearm at unsuspecting victims, instilling paralyzing fear before ruthlessly stripping them of their hard-earned wages and personal possessions. His transformation from a respected member of society to a feared bushranger was now irrevocable.

NSW Police Gazette
February 1863.
Note; Hall's description- 5ft 6in.
Hall's height would
vary in future police
Gazettes from 5ft 6in-5ft 8in.
On January 27, 1863, Ben's rapid rise to criminal notoriety was thrust into the public eye. On this day, two Forbes residents, Mr Pollock and Mr Evans, found themselves held up by three men while passing by Green's Uar station on the Lambing Flat road. Both men definitively recognized one of the culprits as Ben Hall, a man whose identity was confirmed by Mrs Green, the proprietor of Green's Inn on the Uar station, who had known Ben for several years. A later report in the 'Goulburn Herald' revealed a verbal exchange between the men during the hold-up, providing further insight into this pivotal incident in Ben's lawless career.

Mr David Pollock accompanied by Mr Reed's traveller was returning from Green's at Uah. He was bailed up by three mounted and armed men; "What have you got in your pocket"? said the leading robber, "Dam all a halfpence," was the reply, after which the lord of the road said, "what are you driving about the country, for, without money"? To this. Mr Pollock answered that he had been looking for a mule, and if his interrogator would find it and bring it to Forbes, he would give him a note. "Now Pollock," said the bushranger, "never go on the road again without money"; and the three rode away. 

Note: Once again, Hall's height is noted as 5' 6", far from the many historians claiming Hall was a tall man. Ben Hall's short and stout frame can not be emphasised enough.

NSW Police Gazette,
February 1863.
On January 28, 1863, a mere day after the previous heist, Ben Hall struck again. This time, he targeted Mr Green of 'Uar' station, who had previously been Hall's employer in the 1850s. The bushrangers approached the public house and held up Green's wife, who had been a witness to the robbery on the previous day. This time, Hall made away with bottles of gin and kegs of brandy. Once again, Ben Hall was positively identified at the scene.

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,
February 1863.
John Gilbert, also known as 'Happy Jack,' was back in action alongside his partners-in-crime O'Meally, Ben Hall, and Patsy Daley. On February 2, 1863, the bushrangers targeted George Dickson's store, swiftly followed by the pillaging of an Inn at Spring Creek, owned by a Mr Dalton. Initially, Dickson was uncertain of the event's severity, considering it might be a prank. However, as O'Meally menacingly waved his revolver, he stated, "There's no bloody mistake about it," confirming the grim reality of the situation.

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.

Regrettably for Constable Stewart, he became an unwilling participant in the unfolding chaos, as he was ambushed and stripped of his horse and saddle, a personal rather than police possession. In response to the bushrangers' demands, Stewart bravely yet unwisely attempted to resist. This act of defiance did not go unpunished; he found himself at the receiving end of a severe beating, reportedly delivered by none other than John O'Meally. This act of violence against a law enforcement officer highlighted the escalating audacity and ruthlessness of the bushrangers. 'The Empire', 13th February 1863:

On Monday evening last, (2nd Feb) about half-past eight o'clock, five men called at the store of Mr George Dickenson. He was behind the counter, serving a customer. One of the robbers said to him, in a half drunken manner, "Bail up, we want what you have got." Mr, Dickenson hearing this, made a dart for his bed-room, where he kept his revolver, but he was immediately stopped and ordered to go outside the store, where he was placed under the charge of an armed man with his customer, Mr, Mead with one of the bushranger's in police uniform. The robbers searched them. From Mr Mead, they took £5 in notes, and searched and no less than eleven other persons who were passing along the high road outside the store. They then went inside, stole a revolver, a bag containing five pounds in silver, between ten and eleven pounds’ worth of gold dust, and sundry articles of clothing. After stealing what they required, they helped themselves to brandy, gin, &c., and in fact everything they fancied. While the premises were being ransacked, a policeman happened to pass. He was stuck up also, and his horse, saddle and bridle, were taken away. The horse was the constable's private property. He consequently offered resistance, when one of the villains struck him a severe blow on the hand and wrist, quite disabling the limb; they kept him in durance vile until their unlawful work was accomplished; they then allowed him to proceed. He made his way with all possible speed to the camp, and Captain Battye mustered all hands, and started immediately in pursuit. The men also stuck-up the adjoining inn, Mr. Dalton's, known by the name of the Golden Fleece. They are supposed to have obtained about £60 in cash, and several guns and pistols. The latter were taken from Dalton's. The robbers are supposed to be the same who stuck-up the Bendick Morrell station on the 29th ultimo.

During the tense standoff, one of the onlookers noticed that Daley seemed particularly unnerved, shaking 'like a leaf' under the intense pressure of the situation. The captives saw this vulnerability as a potential opportunity to overpower their captors. However, sensing the rising tension, Ben Hall stepped in to quash any potential rebellion. "You fellows think there are only five of us, there are others within coo-ee," he warned. His firm intervention served to remind the captives of the unseen threat lurking nearby, effectively stifling any hope of mounting a successful counterattack.

Boland. Police Gazette
1863.
The identities of the five bushrangers were eventually revealed to be none other than John Gilbert, John O'Meally, Patsy Daley, and Christie Boland. Boland, in particular, would later find himself under arrest in 1864, having been linked directly to Ben Hall. Their names, synonymous with the lawless frontier, added another layer of infamy to their illicit exploits, echoing long after the echoes of their gunfire had faded. 'Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle' Saturday 23rd April 1864:

A man named Christie Boland, alias Burtell, and supposed to be connected with Gilbert, Ben Hall, and O'Meally, in the sticking-up of Dickinson's and Solomon's stores, at Young, in February 1863, was arrested yesterday by the police. The bench, this morning, remanded him to Young for identification.

'The Argus' Saturday 23rd April 1864 reported:

A man named Christie Boland was remanded last week by Captain Brownrigg, for robbery under arms, to Young, the scene of his exploits. As it is supposed he was a mate of Ben Hall's, and it being known that the latter gentleman has recruited and reorganized his gang for the winter campaign, it was deemed necessary by Mr Superintendent M'Lerie to send four troopers with this single prisoner. We have no hesitation in saying that this proceeding was a discreet one; and still further to show the opinion that officer and the police generally have of Morgan and Hall's audacity, the foot patrol are initially armed with loaded revolvers, to be prepared for an attack upon the town.

However, Boland's involvement in the group was unable to be conclusively established, and he managed to evade conviction following his imprisonment. This narrative reflects Hall's well-known propensity for mixing with a criminal element that wasn't hesitant about employing aliases for their illicit activities.

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.
 
I reside at Spring Creek, Burrangong; on Monday, 2nd February, I was stuck-up by five men; one of them stood over me with a pistol, another presented a pistol at my storekeeper, and a third held a pistol to a customer I was serving; it was about eight in the evening and moonlight; I was behind the counter; we were all stuck-up at the same moment, and were all turned outside and a guard put over us; the prisoner was the guard; I have no doubt of him; he stood with a pistol over us; there were three of us at first, but some people passing were ordered to fall in, and there were eight or nine of us; prisoner said nothing but to tell some of the men to stand back when they were pressing forward; he did nothing but stand guard; he was standing guard about a quarter of an hour, I had seen prisoner at Clark's public-house a few months before; we were both dining there, and I had an opportunity of noticing him; when the men were going away I went into the house and found all the things tumbled about; I saw five men ride away; I did not notice the prisoner particularly, but I noticed the number and I did not see him afterwards; a policeman in plain clothes passed while the men were there, and being unarmed they made him give up his horse, saddle, and bridle; I missed £5 in silver, £10 or £11 in gold dust, a revolver, three watches, several pairs of boots, and a quantity of clothing; altogether, property to the value of £50 or £70 was taken, including the money and gold; these articles were all in the place previous to the men coming; I got my revolver afterwards from Sir Frederick Pottinger, but have not recovered any of the other property; when the men left I noticed large swags in front of them; prisoner was dressed in a sort of police uniform, old fashioned.

Upon completing the testimony, Sir Frederick Pottinger attested:

I handed to Mr Dickenson a revolver I got from a horse I believed to belong to Ben Hall.

NSW Police Gazette,
Frank Gardiner &
John Gilbert.
In March of 1862, under the administration of Mr Cowper, the New South Wales Government began a comprehensive overhaul of the state's police force. The goal was to dissolve the independent arms of the organization and consolidate them under a unified command. The honor of leading this transformed entity fell to the veteran and politically astute Captain John McLerie, once nominated for the Victoria Cross for his gallant service during the Maori war in New Zealand.

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:

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

As Hall continued to carve out a name for himself in this lawless world, the echo of a once familiar name - Gardiner - still resonated with many reported robberies. Yet the erstwhile leader's whereabouts remained an enigma, prompting one correspondent to comment:

After every enquiry could hear of no confirmation of the report, nor of any stranger having visited that quarter bearing any resemblance to the redoubted bushranger. Verily, there are as many Gardiners in the colony as there were Richmond’s at Bosworth field.⁵³

Author's Note: The Police Regulation Act was passed by the NSW Colonial Parliament, and as of the 1st March 1862, all existing police forces amalgamated to establish the NSW Police Force under former Army Captain John McLerie as Inspector General.

Earnest Bowler
1830-1896

Private Source.
Ernest Bowler, a familiar associate of Ben Hall, shared an intriguing account of Hall's activities in the early months of 1863, as recounted in 'The Moleskin Gentry'. On this particular instance, Bowler had been mustering cattle on the expansive pastures of the Charter's Pinnacle Station. As the sun was beginning to set, his party ascended a mountainside, only to stumble upon two hobbled horses - stolen, by all appearances. Bowler recognised the horses as his own and those of a friend, presumably taken by Hall. One was a fine bay, the other a dappled grey. Proceeding with caution, Bowler disengaged the hobbles and spurred the horses towards the Pinnacle stockyard with all haste.

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:

Ben Hall appeared at the back door. Nothing was said for a while. Hall, Ernest noted was wearing a cabbage tree hat that seemed new. He stood somewhat menacingly, a hand on each doorpost. It was perhaps, Hall's silent warning to a man he respected that it is unwise to liberate hobbled horses. When at last Ernest said, “Good evening,” Hall nodded curtly and moved away.

Bowler, along with the others present, harbored a gnawing fear that 'The Boys' might swoop down upon them, seize their cash, and make off with their horses. In a bid to forestall this looming threat, two messengers hastily made their way to the Pinnacle police station, a mere three-quarters of a mile away. They managed to convince the sole constable in charge, a man by the name of Constable Knox, to accompany them back to the public house to provide some form of protection. It was reputed that Constable Knox was involved in a romantic relationship with the widow Mrs. Feehiley, who was the sister of Dan Charters. In retrospect, Constable Knox's decision to accompany the messengers back to the public house was a grave misjudgement. Contrary to their fears, the Pinnacle station's public house was not the intended target of 'The Boys'.

NSW Police Gazette,
February 1863.
On the morning of February 7, 1863, seizing the opportunity presented by Knox's absence, Ben Hall, accompanied by Patsy Daley, bypassed the station's public house. Instead, they audaciously raided the Pinnacle Police station, located approximately twelve miles from Hall's Sandy Creek station. The duo swiftly plundered various police possessions, which included weapons, saddles, ammunition, and clothing. The audacity of this act made the headlines and was reported as follows:

The most impudent of robberies it has ever been our lot to record was perpetrated on Saturday last, at the Police Station, at the Pinnacle, between Forbes and Lambing Flat. It appears that the station has been usually occupied by three troopers. Last week, however, two of these, including the officer in charge, had occasion to come to Forbes; the third was accordingly left behind, with instructions not to leave his post. On Saturday morning, when the men were returning, from Forbes, they were met by the trooper from the station, who reported that the place had been broken into during his temporary absence, and robbed of firearms, a pair of saddle-bags, and other property. Suspicion rested upon two men who had been seen about the neighbourhood, namely, Benjamin Hall and John Daley. Pursuit was immediately commenced, and Hall and Daley were soon within view. On the tracker approaching them, one of the fugitives turned and fired at him, but happily missed his aim., The tracker attempted to return the compliment, but his revolver missed fire. It is to be hoped the desperadoes are by this time in safe custody.⁵⁴

Pinnacle Station with Weddin
Mountains in the background.
In the aftermath of their bold raid on the Pinnacle Police Station, Ben Hall and Patsy Daley were pursued by Constable Knox, who had returned to find his station plundered. The bushrangers, however, had managed to put some distance between themselves and the scene of the crime. Not long afterwards, they were spotted by Trooper William Hollister exiting Allports Inn, a known refuge for unsavoury characters, located near the Pinnacle Station on the Forbes road.

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.

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 Daley snap his revolver three times at Charlie.⁵⁵ (For more on Billy Dargin see The Traps Page.)

Note: William Hollister was an American by birth and a former world travelling sailor who worked as a Trimmer on sailing ships, resigned as a crew member to try the NSW goldfields and soon after joined the NSW Police force in early 1862. Coincidentally he was a crewman onboard the 'City of Sydney' that arrived in Sydney with a passenger named F. Pottinger in 1860 from Melbourne. 

Trooper William Hollister, noted for his efficiency, maintained a personal diary throughout his service. He recorded the chase and attempted capture of Hall and Daley in an entry dated Saturday, 7th February 1863. The diary entry stands as a vivid testament to the fraught nature of policing in these lawless territories, offering us a firsthand glimpse into the perils and frustrations of pursuing these elusive outlaws.

On Saturday 7th instant the Pinnacle barracks were broken into and robbed of one rifle one carbine 10 rounds of rifle ammunition one pouch and bridle one pair of saddle bags belt one gunnysack one flask of powder two pair of handcuffs two Crimean shirts &c. Ben Hall was tracked from the barracks to Uar by constable Knox." Diary entry Sunday 8th February 1863;"With Dargin (Tracker) from this station to Uar from Uar to Pinnacle reefs from reefs to this station. Myself and Dargin from Forbes met constable Knox at Uar and took up the tracks and ran them for about 12 miles and came upon Ben Hall and Patsy Daly within about 3 miles of the Pinnacle reefs and chased them about one mile when my horse ran me against a tree Daly tried to shoot one of the Black Trackers McFenns black fellow was with me through me getting the fall Hall and Daly escaped came to Pinnacle Police Station. When I met Knox, I sent him back to this station.
NSW Police Gazette,
March 1863.

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:

This is the name given to a mountain range lying about a couple of miles to the right of the road from Forbes to Young. It has been made familiar to Sydney's ears from having been frequently mentioned during the course of the trial of the escort robbers, as the home of Charters, the approver, who lived there with his sister. It takes its name, as I was informed-for I had no opportunity of examining the locality closely from a peculiarly-shaped hill that forms part of the range. The Pinnacle station lies about half a mile off the road and was until lately a public house. The locality has long been regarded as a suspicious one, because the Pinnacle Range, like that of the Weddin, affords complete shelter, in its many almost inaccessible fastnesses, and offers a ready asylum through being so near the road. Captain M'Lerie, on his recent visit, established a police station here. The barracks are erected by the roadside and about a mile on the Forbes side of the Pinnacle squatting station. it was supposed that this would effectually cut off the bushrangers from the Pinnacle range, or at all events prevent them from making it a regular haunt.

By the end of February 1863, Hall had earned a reputation as being armed and dangerous. Historically, some have cast doubt on Hall's involvement in criminal activities prior to the robbery at Pinnacle Police Station. However, let's put such conjecture to rest right now! When the evidence is closely scrutinised, it's clear that Hall's illicit activities and association with the likes of Gardiner began around 1861. Although Hall proclaimed his innocence during the Bacon robbery, eyewitness accounts from the Bacon affair in April 1862, the Gold Escort attack at Eugowra in June 1862, and the subsequent Pinnacle hold-up, all suggest a different narrative.

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.


During the pursuit led by Hollister, words were fired along with bullets. Hall later confided in Inspector Norton that Hollister had threatened to shoot him, a sentiment he reciprocated. This pattern of denial on Hall's part could be traced back to the Bacon robbery of April 1862. In that incident, Hall claimed that he and John Youngman stumbled upon the crime while Gardiner was orchestrating the hold-up. After his arrest, Hall managed to secure a questionable not-guilty verdict, allegedly through bribery. Can one man really be so unlucky as to constantly be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was Hall simply a master of playing the innocent bystander? The evidence leans towards the latter. Ben Hall was deeply involved in criminal activities, a fact corroborated by his brother William.

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:

Mrs Finnigan—an elderly widow whose generous hospitality to penniless travellers keeps her poor.

NSW Police Gazette,
13th February 1863.
Mrs. Finnigan's Shanty had frequently served as a rest stop for the police in their pursuit of Hall, Gilbert, O'Meally, and Daley. The New South Wales Police Gazette reported an incident involving two men who bore a striking resemblance to Ben Hall and either Patsy Daley or John Gilbert. The men entered Mrs. Finnigan's shanty, which doubled as her home, and committed a terrible act against the helpless woman. Daley's family resided at the Arramagong station, once shared with the O'Meallys, and Gilbert was also known to take refuge at the O'Meally's shanty. Police described the O'Meallys as having reddish-brown hair, a description that did not fit Gilbert and Daley.

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.
c. 1862.
For those who had known Ben Hall in his early years as a diligent stockman, the transformation was shocking. They had watched with increasing dismay as Hall spiraled from a respected station owner into a notorious outlaw. His association with the likes of Gardiner, John Gilbert, and O'Meally had erased any lingering doubts about his life of crime. His lawless activities were not mere rumors but a well-established fact, which made him a high-profile target for the relentless NSW police, led by the zealous Inspector Pottinger. Having missed the opportunity to convict Hall for his involvement in the Bacon and Eugowra robberies, Pottinger was eager to see Hall captured and ultimately hanged for his crimes.

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:

If once detected in cattle stealing, they become depredators on a large scale, bushrangers of a more dangerous kind than the colony has yet known, having resourced in themselves and their surroundings of which the poor outlaws under the old penal system were utterly devoid. Horses they have the pick of the country and friends and brothers wherever they go. Hence the class of bushrangers who have, within, the last few years spread terror throughout the country districts. PEISLEY, GARDINER, GILBERT, are each and all "bush natives;" at first stockmen, drovers, or horse breakers, suspected or found guilty of cattle stealing, and taking to the bush to avoid as long as possible apprehension and punishment, and so entering upon a career of crime that has conducted PEISLEY, and is likely to conduct the others, to the gallows. But the ignominy and distress which these men have brought down upon their own heads is not confined to them. The influence they have exercised over their young countrymen has been of the most pernicious kind and disastrous consequences. Already some who have been misled by GARDINER, are doomed to expiate their complicity with his criminal designs and doings, by an ignominious death on the scaffold.

The article continued:

A given number of GARDINERS and GILBERTS, obtaining the ascendancy, must soon transform Australia into a howling wilderness, where men more savage and unreasoning than wild beasts could only anticipate starvation by mutual slaughter. But the class we are speaking of are not generally capable of reflecting upon the effects of a certain course of action upon the general interests of society, or upon their own individual welfare as bound up therewith. They have never been taught to think, and scarcely to read. They are not, therefore, readers of newspapers, and have no turn for politics. And, as might naturally have been expected, whatever smatterings of speculative politics the more intelligent amongst them possess are decidedly obstructive. For "bush natives," as a general role, are the rankest of colonial Tories. (Tories-a dispossessed Irishman who resorted to banditry)

J.H.M. Abbott.
c. 1919.
Renowned bushranger historian J.H.M. Abbott, writing for 'The Truth' in March 1935, offered an insightful perspective on the roots of modern bushranging and its seductive power over impressionable native-born youths. He observed:

A great many ex-convicts — 'oldhands' was the generic term— were scattered about the bush on small holdings, and a large proportion of them were hard-working, honest people who were doing well in the development of the country they had been compelled to adopt. But nearly always, deeply ingrained in their characters, was an antagonism to the laws that had made them exiles and to those who administered them. Their sympathies were wholly with anyone who made war on society, and their offspring very naturally inherited these views. Besides these people, there were innumerable wanderers about the countryside—shepherds, bullock-drivers, axemen, shearers and drovers—and when they were working together their principal intellectual recreation was spinning yarns, or listening to them, about the convict days. Men like Jack Donohoe, Brady, William Westwood (Jacky Jacky), or Martin Cash had songs made about their more conspicuous exploits, or about their inherent nobility of nature.

Years later, Frank Gardiner himself reflected on why young men were drawn to the wilderness and subsequently into the world of bushranging. He expressed his thoughts as follows:

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

When asked why Gardiner replied:

I do not know; I was young at the time and spent my money as quickly as I got it. I thought it an easy life for a while. 

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:

Acting under the direct instructions of the Executive Council through the Chief Secretary, the Inspector-General is adopting stringent measures to put an end to those acts of bushranging which have been so frequent during the last eighteen months or two years. It is understood that a considerable amount of information is in the hands of the Government which is likely to lead, not only to the apprehension of the parties actively engaged in these lawless deeds but also of persons in various stations of life who have afforded them harbour and succour. Should success attend the exertions of the police with regard to the latter class of offenders, the public will be surprised to find that Gardiner and Co have been sheltered and supplied with provisions if not with the munitions of war, by individuals who carry their heads somewhat high amongst their fellow colonists. The outrooting of what a witness at the late trials designated "a public-house, but which had no license," and the cancelling of the squatting licenses of those parties whom the Government have good reason to suspect are, or who have been, harbouring bushrangers, will, it is generally expected, be resorted to without delay. A considerable number of picked men, detectives and other police, have been already dispatched to the lawless district. Captain Battye is engaged in scouring the country about Murrumburrah, Burrowa, Marengo, and the diggings, and he will now be ably supported in his movements by some of the pick of the detectives. All accounts that have recently reached us of acts of "sticking up"' state that the robbers chiefly sought for firearms, although well-armed, themselves. This would lead to the supposition that the outlaws had increased in number, and that guns and revolvers were required for the recruits. The police station at Bogolong (Pinnacle) was attacked for that purpose, and it may, therefore, be expected that unless the police are successful in breaking up the gang, some desperate work will be done, before the winter sets in.

Accordingly, for the townsfolk of Forbes, the ease in which the Pinnacle Police station was raided and other outrages taking place daily created great concern. The citizens of rural towns were on edge due to the scarcity of police protection. Numerous instances occurred where the local police were led astray by endless wild goose chases, a result of the misinformation propagated by Ben Hall and Gardiner, even though Gardiner had long since departed the region. The 'Lachlan Observer' on February 18th, 1863, noted the police deployment for various Western NSW towns. No fewer than 47 troopers were stationed at Forbes, a town with a fluctuating population of around 20,000. Additionally, 22 police were stationed at Young, home to an itinerant population of 10,000, and 17 police at Bathurst, a community of 5,000.

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:
 
A few nights ago, a man was bailed up by a fellow opposite Dave White's establishment in Rankin street, and, on his calling out lustily, the pugilist-to his credit be it spoken-rushed to the rescue and administered a sound thrashing to the would be robber, The town is now almost destitute of police protection, the whole of the detectives being employed elsewhere, and the police generally being either at Orange, Bathurst, or some other distant locality attending to their various duties. Seeing that the Pinnacle police station has recently been taken possession of by the bushrangers, in order to secure the firearms and ammunition, we would advise sergeant Rush to "keep his powder dry," and make ready for a similar, visitation. (Sgt Rush was the Forbes lock-up keeper.)

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:

I remember when old Ben Hall robbed one Brown of a splendid horse, which he almost worshipped. A gentleman gave information to Brown about the robbers but charged him to make no use of the information because if it were suspected that he had given the information, he would not be safe for a moment. The man Brown came to him (Mr Harpur), who was then young and daring. He went with the owner of the horses, in pursuit of the robbers, and was near losing his life. Such was the state of things on the Hunter in the time of old Ben Hall, the father of the present Ben Hall, who had always been bad. They were connected with a gang of cattle stealers.⁵⁶

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:

No one would suppose that the hon. member (Mr Harpur) would put before the House a statement he did not himself believe, or that he would advocate the cause of robbers and murderers—no, not even were some of them his own blood relatives.
 
Sir Frederick Pottinger, the officer overseeing the Lachlan district, was a contentious figure who drew the ire of many, not least Harpur's mother, Sarah. Her young stepson, John Walsh, had come under Pottinger's heavy scrutiny as a suspected thief and was widely considered to be the horse handler for the notorious bushranger Frank Gardiner. Consequently, Harpur had a deep-seated bias against Pottinger, influenced heavily by his mother. Using his parliamentary privilege, Harpur would publicly denounce Pottinger as a coward, criticizing the officer's heavy-handed tactics and his perceived harassment of his mother:

In the course of the debate, it transpired that Sir Frederick Pottinger had sent a friend to demand satisfaction from Mr Harpur, the member for Patrick's Plains, who had some time since stigmatised Sir Frederick as a coward.

As Ben Hall continued to commit acts of highway robbery, his methods grew increasingly brutal. His routine involved stripping male victims to their undergarments to search for valuables, handing out beatings and even floggings, as in the case of Mrs Finnigan. He would brandish or fire his revolvers at those who resisted his commands. Thus far, through some stroke of luck, he had not yet murdered or seriously injured anyone in cold blood.

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:

On Sunday evening last, two men came to the Miners' Home Inn between six and seven o'clock and proceeded to the back of the house. One of them went into the house after fastening up his horse, and the other hooked his on the garden gate and asked the ostler to go into the bar and have a nobbler. He complied with the ruffian's request. When he did so, he was ordered by his companion to go and sit down in the corner of the taproom, not far from the bar. The shortest of the two men (the one that first went in) walked behind the bar, and said to the man who acted as barman during Mr Cirkel's absence, that he wanted the money, and helped himself to the contents of the till—about five pounds in silver. Both the robbers had nobblers. They were each well armed with revolvers. The taller of the two stood near the entrance to the bar, covering with his revolver the people bailed up in the corner, the back door, and the one leading into the next room close to the back door. Whilst this was going on, Mr Cirkel, who had been in the bakehouse, entered the taproom by the front door, which is opposite the counter. The tall man asked him to go and sit in the corner with those already there. He answered, "What for?" A struggle then ensued between the tall robber and him and there is little doubt that Mr Cirkel who was a strong, powerfully built, and very determined man, would have overpowered the other, had not the stout robber behind the bar called out to him according to the report of one witness to the scene "Blow his bloody [sic] brains out," and to another's-"Shoot the bugger." The tall ruffian immediately fired and shot the unfortunate gentleman dead. The deceased never spoke afterwards—death was instantaneous. The diabolical ruffians, after committing the murder, rushed out of the house, mounted their horses, and fled.

Lambing Flat.
c. 1862.

Courtesy NLA.
In the case of John Gilbert, his widely published description eliminates his presence. Gilbert was Gazetted:

As of slight active build and around 10 stone, between 5ft 8in-10in with blonde hair.

Moreover, a week after Mr. Cirkel's murder, John Gilbert, accompanied by Hall, O'Meally, and Daley, proceeded to rob the Solomon Store. During this event, O'Meally reportedly threatened Solomon, warning him that non-compliance would result in a fate similar to that of Cirkel:

Told Solomon not to be too flash or they would serve him like they did the man at Stoney Creek (meaning poor Cirkel), who was too flash, and blow his bloody brains out, [sic] as they did his.

Ben Hall's description of the stout man gives rise to the suspicion of his presence as in January and February 1863 Hall was a constant companion of O'Meally. Whereby to add to Gilbert's lack of presence with Hall, O'Meally and Daley that in March 1863, Gilbert was not a participant in Inspector Norton's capture two weeks later. Gilbert's presence at Cirkel's is questionable, if not misleading at best.

Patrick O'Meally.
c. 1880's.

Penzig.
Ben Hall's description of the stout man raises suspicions that he may have been present at the scene, as Hall was often seen in the company of O'Meally during January and February 1863. The notion of Gilbert's involvement seems questionable, if not downright misleading, especially considering that Gilbert did not participate in Inspector Norton's capture two weeks later.

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

Given the nature of the crime and the individuals involved, it's plausible that eyewitnesses were too fearful of potential retaliation to positively identify the culprits. The verdict at Cirkel's inquest reflected this sentiment and maintained a level of ambiguity regarding the identities of the perpetrators.

That the deceased man came to his death by a wound from a pistol, fired by the taller man of the two men, and find a verdict of Wilful Murder against both parties, names unknown.

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.

Lambing Flat.
Boorowa Street.
c. 1862.

Courtesy NLA.
With the escalating wave of robberies in the Lambing Flat district and the shocking murder of Mr. Cirkel, the local populace was on edge. Rumors were circulating that the notorious outlaw Frank Gardiner was in the vicinity, adding to the fear and tension in the community.

As for some days, the whole town has been in consternation, and several rumours of Gardiner intending to make a general attack on the town have been afloat.

The daring raid on the Pinnacle Police Station by Ben Hall and Daley, coupled with their narrow escape and gunfire exchange with Constable Hollister, was sensational news. Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle, in its edition dated 21st February 1863, keenly dissected the event. The correspondent seemed particularly fascinated by the items stolen from the police station by Hall, speculating on their possible future use.

The robbery itself must astonish every one;- to attack a police station is certainly one of the most daring acts probably ever heard of. The motive, however, is the next consideration. The stealing of the police clothing is rather a mysterious affair; bushrangers would scarcely carry about property of this description, for sale, neither would they wear it except to accomplish some daring outrage in the disguise of mounted troopers; what that will be time will tell, but it would not surprise us if the escort or some of the banks were stuck-up. This, at first sight, may appear an imaginary conclusion, but when it is borne in mind that a 'number of bushrangers (we believe a large one) are infesting the roads of this district, we do not consider it at all imaginary. Look at the late robberies at Macnash's station, Mr Tout's, Herbert’s, at the West Lead, and last, not least, Mr Dickinson's; consider the property taken in almost all instances;-firearms of all descriptions-ammunition, even to the wadding, clothing, saddles, and bridles! What does all this mean but that the force is to be well armed and mounted. We are fully aware the horses are a secondary consideration, as these ruffians can very easily help them self to horses at the various stations, which are no doubt as well known to them as the wild bush itself.
 
Unfazed by having a murderer in their midst, Ben Hall and his gang soon set their sights on the small town of Little Wombat, near Lambing Flat. Their target was the general store owned by Mr Meyer Solomon and his wife, Julia. As the gang walked through the doors of the store, Julia Solomon was just days away from giving birth to their second child, Samuel, who would be born on the 23rd of February, 1863.

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.
 
It appears that the robbery was perpetrated by four men dressed in police uniform, and hence supposed to be the same parties who lately robbed the police station at the Pinnacle.

At around 4 pm, Hall's gang arrived with their pack horses, ready to carry away their ill-gotten goods. Initially, they faced resistance from the store's owner, Meyer Solomon, who fired a shot, reportedly grazing one of the gang member's necks. Undeterred, Solomon soon fled to the safety of a nearby Chinese camp.

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.)
The Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News
Saturday 7th March 1863
Provincial News.

Following the robbery, the use of the stolen Pinnacle police items appeared in the 'Sydney News

Intelligence has reached the town of the robbery of Mr Solomon's store at Wombat near Lambing Flat on Saturday last. It appears that the robbery was perpetrated by four men dressed in police uniform, and hence supposed to be the same parties who lately robbed the police station at the Pinnacle. They took away two pack-horses loaded with the property. Mr Solomon reports having fired at and wounded one of the robbers in the neck, and that he can identify him.

Typical country store.
c. 1860's.

Image courtesy NLA.
On March 6, 1863, a reporter from the 'Goulburn Chronicle' arrived in the town and provided a first-hand account of the events, using the victim's own words. In a harrowing and detailed report, Mr. Solomon shared his ordeal at the hands of the bushrangers.

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.

A most daring wholesale robbery on Burrangong, at which shots were exchanged between the robbers and the robbed, but fortunately the latter escaped unkilled. Although happily unattended with the same fearful atrocity perpetrated only a few days previously at Stoney Creek when poor Mr Cirkel lost his life in an attempt to protect his property, yet this affair is a more extensive robbery than the murderers accomplished at Stoney Creek. The victim in this instance was Mr Solomon storekeeper at Big Wombat and also at Little Wombat and the robbery was committed at the latter place about fifteen miles from Young, and about five miles from Big Wombat. The particulars as I have learned from Mr Solomon are these:- About four o'clock in the afternoon of Saturday, four men mounted, and equipped with firearms something approaching the style of police in private clothes, were observed by Mrs Solomon riding towards the store, when she immediately gave the alarm to Mr Solomon who, having plenty of firearms at hand ready for action, instantly seized a musket, and ordered the door to be closed, but instead of obeying the order, the lad went outside to have a look at the men and discarding the repeated order to come in and shut the door, he cried out 'Troopers!" Troopers!" under the impression that the robbers were mounted, constables. Immediately on coming up to the door two of the fellows presented carbines (similar to those used by the police) at Mr Solomon who at the same instant levelled his musket at them and fired the ball grazing the neck of one of the fellows and tearing the collar of his coat: Two shots were fired in return, and the bullets lodged in some shirts on a shelf nearly behind Mr Solomon. By this time two of the ruffians had entered the store and seized the lad so that they could not be fired at without placing the boy’s life in danger. Mr Solomon then rushed out at the back, and made for a Chinaman's tent for help and in so doing fell headlong into the muddy bed of a creek which he had to cross. He was closely pursued by two of the robbers, who captured him in the mud and assuring him they had no intention of injuring his person, ultimately conducted him back to the store, and placed him under guard alongside Mrs Solomon and the lad. During the chase after Mr Solomon, all the four bushrangers left the store for a second, and with admirable courage and presence of mind the lad jumped over the counter, got hold of a revolver, presented it at one of the fellows who had returned to the store, and was about to pull the trigger, when the robber held a similar instrument of death close to Mrs Solomon's head, and said, "If you fire I'll blow her brains out." The counteracting threat stayed the hand, and immediately the return of another of the robbers compelled him to surrender, but with undaunted courage, he said, "Had it not been for Mrs Solomon, I would have stopped your run;" and for this noble exhibition of spirit one of the villains knocked him down and said, "If you want a pistol, get up and I'll give you one, and let me see if you are game to use it.

The lad instantly sprang on to his feet, and boldly held out his hand for the pistol saying, "Give it to me, and you'll see what I'll do" The coward who had given the challenge refused to give the pistol and obliged the lad to sit down The other two having returned with Mr Solomon, who was also placed under guard the robbers, after taking all the cash and gold they could find, amounting in all to only about £6-besides about one ounce and a half of spurious gold which they also took, then began deliberately to select goods of all descriptions-blankets, men and women's wearing apparel and boots, ribbons of various patterns, silk and cambric handkerchiefs, Neva candles, blacking and blacking brushes, all the firearms they could find, several pounds' weight of gunpowder, besides a quantity of jewellery, which they said was for the ladies on the mountains. They also took a supply of groceries, raisins, currants, &c, and helped themselves freely to fancy biscuits and lollies. Some idea of the extent of this robbery and of the cool, deliberate manner in which it was perpetrated, may be formed from the fact that it was commenced about four o clock in the afternoon, and the robbers did not leave the premises until nearly seven o'clock in the evening, when they departed in peace having four horses, two of which they also stole from Mr Solomon, heavily laden with the booty to the value of about £200. Of course, they could only travel very slowly, and thus even opportunity was afforded for pursuing them, but no pursuit was made.

NSW Police Gazette,
11th March 1863.
The article from March 6th, 1863 also offered a stark portrayal of the police's indecisiveness in response to the robbery. Their sluggishness when informed of the crime, their lackluster investigation upon arrival, and their failure to efficiently track the bushrangers was distinctly laid out in the report.

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.

One policeman only was on duty at Little Wombat, and of course he could not leave the station, or rather the apology for one, for fear it too should be robbed of perhaps an old corroded pistol or two. At any rate, two Chinamen volunteered to ride into town to give information at the police camp at Young, and the affair was known in town about eight o'clock in the evening, yet strange to say, the troopers did not arrive at Mr Solomon’s place until about two o'clock am on Sunday, when detective Wolf, the sub inspector of police, with his gloves on, and two troopers arrived, expressed their surprise, but from the darkness of the night, could not trace the bushrangers. At day light, they succeeded in tracing them; for upwards of ten miles, in the direction of the Weddin Mountains, where, from the want of a tracker, and exhaustion, as most of the police had just returned from Yass, they were obliged to discontinue the pursuit.

The bushrangers who orchestrated the Solomon's robbery included Ben Hall, John Gilbert, John O'Meally, Patsy Daley, and Patrick O'Meally. Among them, Ben Hall seemed to take the leading role, directing the group with an authority that often led him to be mistaken for the notorious Frank Gardiner.

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.

The ruffian, supposed to be Gardiner, ordered and directed everything that was to be done, pushing and swearing, at the others if they did not obey his orders quickly enough.

Though eyewitness accounts frequently implicated Gardiner as one of the criminals involved, certain observers questioned his involvement in these current deeds of the bushrangers. They pointed out the habitual tendency of attributing any reported robbery, no matter its scale or significance, to "The Darkie," as Gardiner was often called. Such an observation was detailed in the 'Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle' on Saturday, 21st February 1863. The prevalent inclination to attribute every act of lawlessness to Gardiner showcased his pervasive infamy at the time and highlighted the public's penchant for associating the notorious figure with the bushranging activities in the area.

We cannot look upon Gardiner us a myth, though we might almost consider him ubiquitous. Not a highway robbery takes place, not, a store or station is stuck-up, but the cry immediately is "Gardiner,"-" Gardiner!" Why, he; would want a railroad, with a carriage, to carry him sixty miles an hour, to be often in the different places people accuse him of being in.

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.

The following is the latest respecting Gardiner: "Gardiner, the supposed leader of N.S.W. escort robbery, is reported as either at Adelaide or Portland Bay accompanied by a woman named Brown, in boy's clothes. The family of John Gilbert, who is charged with being one of the same gang, resides in Adelaide. Gilbert is supposed to be either there or in Melbourne. 

Just where were they! Gilbert had resurfaced in the Weddin in January 1863 after a short stint in New Zealand, but 'The Darkie' was long gone. 

"next time you bring me here
it will be for something,
and don't you forget it."-
Ben Hall.
Indeed, Ben Hall's transformation from a well-regarded squatter to an infamous bushranger was complete. His respectable standing in society had been irreparably tarnished, as he fully embraced the life of a criminal on the run. This drastic change of course aligned with his own prophetic words shared with Ernest Bowler at Toogong following his trial in Orange in May 1862. He had embarked on his "jant", a slang term implying a spree or bout of unrestrained activity or behavior, aligning with his descent into lawlessness. He had transitioned from a gentleman of the Moleskin to a member of the Gentry of the Bush, both admired and feared by the society he once was a part of. His life had taken an irrevocable turn, marking the beginning of his notorious career as one of Australia's most infamous bushrangers.

It was at Toogong, where the coach used to change horses, that I had a talk with him about his trial. He told me that the next time the police should want him he would give them a "jant", that is they would have a lot of trouble to take him. I little thought that his word would come true.

Certainly, the transformation of Ben Hall was a drastic one. He had morphed from a respected squatter to a feared bushranger, his reputation and societal standing irreversibly damaged. His transition into a life of criminality was both shocking and tragic, signifying a complete abandonment of the life he had built as a farmer.

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.

Some of the bushrangers were the creatures of circumstances. He remembered the imprisonment of Ben Hall and young O'Meally, who was incarcerated with his father. Month after month they were kept confined without any charge against them, and against his (Mr R.'s) repeated remonstrance. The family and antecedents of Ben Hall were credible, but after he came out of prison there was no incentive to virtue; he knew he was watched by the police, and he felt disgraced by being imprisoned, and not being a man of great mind, he took to the bush.⁵⁸

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.

Indeed, it's crucial to dispel the notion of the romanticised "gentleman bushranger" when it comes to Ben Hall. The many accounts of his criminal actions certainly illustrate a man who was far from the victim he's sometimes portrayed as. Rather, his behaviors were characterised by aggression, violence, and lawlessness. Hall made deliberate choices to engage in criminal activities, threatening the lives of many he targeted.

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.
(1829-1880)

Private Source.
Never Before Published.
On March 1st, 1863, Inspector Norton and Billy Dargin, a clever police tracker, were on patrol near Sandy Creek and Pinnacle Station in the Wheogo region. While carrying out their duties, they encountered two men on horseback. Before they could react, a third man, armed and seemingly menacing, emerged. They were Ben Hall, John O'Meally and Patsy Daley.

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:

I was proceeding through the neighbourhood of Wheogo, accompanied by a black tracker, each of us leading a horse; about 9 o'clock I saw two men riding, about 500 yards before us, one of whom had a lead horse, and the other a gun on his thigh; I beckoned to the tracker, who was on the hill opposite, and he came down; on nearing the men, they made off; we followed them for some distance into the scrub, and got off, and then fired on them; we then returned to our horses, to pick up our lead horses, and, on preparing to start, saw them again watching us; we followed them again, and fired on them, when, finding our horses unable to overtake them, we returned to some huts, and remained there for twenty minutes or half an hour; seeing no more of them, I thought it advisable to go to the police station to get some men, who were to have met us in the neighbourhood, to follow them; about three or four miles from those huts, the black fellow called out that there were three men coming up behind us; they were so near that I could hear them; I could hear them shouting, "Bail-up," evidently with the intention of stopping us; the black fellow passed me and left his lead horse; I dropped mine also and turned round, and, on seeing me do so, the tracker stood at about fifty yards distance.

"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.

"Hall spoke of a trooper named Hollister, who had threatened to shoot him, and that he would return the compliment when he got hold of him; Hall returned me a revolver which he said was no good to him; he spoke of Sir Frederick Pottinger; how Sir Frederick had brought him several times into Forbes, and had him remanded from time to time, until really the magistrates were inclined to believe that there was some charge against him, and those, with him; that it was his opinion that Sir Frederick detained them till he could make up a case; Hall referred also to the case of young Walsh who was then suffering in the lock-up, as he had suffered before; I asked for my horse, and he said that I could take them; but he inquired if there was anything particular in the swag on one of them; I told him there was nothing of any consequence; the three detained a Government revolver, a Government carbine which the black-fellow had dropped, a Government saddle and bridle, and the horse on which the black-fellow rode, remarking that they would shoot the horse, and so teach people not to lend horses to policemen; the man who I supposed to be O'Meally, said to me, "you had better not give our description when you return to town"; they then rode round, and picked up their discharged arms, and cleared off; I cannot swear positively that the prisoner is one of the men.

"I never saw O'Meally but once before, and the prisoner never but on that occasion; I could not have been close to the prisoner more than three or four minutes; Hall was the one who was in conversation with me, and whom I would swear positively to; the names were given to me by the black-fellow as Hall, Daley, and O'Meally; O'Meally was dressed differently to the prisoner, the hat is exactly like what I have seen Daley wear; have seen the prisoner twice since he was apprehended, and I identify him so far as that to the best of my belief he is the man; I will not swear positively to him; while the others were away Hall fed his horse at a distance from me; I was unarmed, and he had a revolver in his belt and a gun in his hand; I did not care to go near him; he looked as if keeping guard.

Note: Why would Ben Hall want to kill Hollister if he was innocent of participation in the Pinnacle robbery?

Artists impression of
Billy fleeing after
Norton capture.
c. 1933.

NLA.
Billy Dargin, finding his commander captured and their ammunition expended, was pursued by two of the men. Despite the tense situation, Dargin, through some quick thinking and deft negotiation, managed to escape on foot dodging tress and running bare foot over the hard stone ground for the Pinnicale Station roughly eight miles distant. The two bushrangers pursued him for several minutes before returning to their companion, allowing Dargin to continue his escape unscathed.

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:

Billy, the black, being the only person with him at the time, escaped and had arrived without his horse.⁵⁹ 

Dargin reported too:

Constable Hogan who immediately sent word to Forbes telegraphed the particulars to Captain M'Lerie. Six mounted constables were immediately dispatched from Forbes to the assistance of Mr Norton and on Monday afternoon twenty mounted troopers and twelve-foot police left Sydney by the five o'clock train for the Wedden Mountains with the same object in view. A further detachment followed in the course of yesterday.⁶⁰ 

Unfortunately, in the era of the 1860s, the logistics of quickly dispatching a force from Sydney to Forbes would have been challenging. While a train line existed, it only stretched as far as Penrith. From there, it would take approximately a week of hard riding to reach Forbes, an area notorious for its rugged terrain and isolated location.

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:

Very short space had passed when the new recruit found himself actively involved in the general excitement resulting from a long succession of bold and successful outrages. "We had only been at the depot a few weeks," said the ex-sergeant, during a chat at his pleasant home at Windsor, "when we were called to the front. To speak exactly, we had been in training just seven weeks when the startling news arrived of the capture of Superintendent Norton by [sic] Ben Hall. That news threw the barracks into a tumult. With it came an urgent appeal for reinforcements. There were all the available police engaged in the hunt of the outlaws already, but they were not nearly enough. And there were very few men at the depot, even including the recruits. But Superintendent Black got together a company of 22 of us, nearly all raw recruits, and we started for the scene of war. We got off the mark very promptly. I believe we were all in the train with our horses and equipment, inside an hour. "The railway at that time went only as far as Penrith. It took us three days to get to Bathurst and we were all in the highest spirits possible, at the near prospect of excitement. But disappointment awaited us at the new headquarters. We learnt with satisfaction that the bushrangers had released Norton, unharmed. But it did not sort well with our desires to distinguish ourselves to hear that the outlaws had absolutely disappeared, no one knowing within a few hundred miles where they were working.

George Boyd was born in the scenic town of Enniskillen, nestled within County Fermanagh, Ireland. Like many of his countrymen, he ventured towards the new horizons, arriving in Australia in 1862. Not one to shy away from duty and responsibility, he enlisted in the New South Wales Police Force in February of 1863, beginning his service as a Supernumerary. His devotion and tenacity were reflected in his lengthy service of 44 years. Rising through the ranks, he reached the esteemed position of Senior Sergeant before retiring in 1907. Boyd lived out his remaining years in the tranquil town of Windsor, passing away in 1923.

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.

Sir Fred. Pottinger has just arrived. I forgot that Mr Norton was told that had he been Pottinger, they would have "shot him dead as a crow." There's a consolation for Sir Fred. Pottinger.⁶¹

Ben Hall's pursuers
promotions in March 1863.
The news of Inspector Norton's capture sent tremors through the community of Forbes. The audacious actions of the bushrangers, coupled with the inspector's perilous predicament, left the townsfolk aghast. Leading citizens, deeply affected by these events, resolved to intervene, vowing to attempt a daring rescue of Inspector Norton.

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.

The town was in a very excited state, many being anxious to be going, not only to release Mr Norton, but to use every exertion to get rid of this lawless banditti, and in a few minutes there were nearly 100 names down, and all were to meet the next morning, each bringing what arms he best could. At the appointed time crowds of determined storekeepers, miners, and others were in attendance, each one ready and willing to enter with spirit and resolution upon the enterprise, when, to the astonishment of the multitude, up rode Mr Norton safe and sound; he stated that they kept him for about three hours, during which time some of them wanted to shoot him, and one more determined than the rest, of the name of Ben Hall, did while he was a prisoner actually fire at him several shots, but still he came off free; but he was cautioned by the band of ruffians that if he showed himself any more in that quarter, he would not come off in a like manner. They took his horse and arms but LENT him another to ride into Forbes with. Directly after the return of Inspector Norton, it was announced outside the Court House that the Volunteers would not be required. The J. P. was thankful for the spirit and loyalty displayed by the people. The gallant Captain Browne was to lead the volunteers, who felt every confidence in their leader; but after that announcement of course the matter was dropped.

As the town was preparing the rescue, Norton unharmed rode in and quickly fired off a telegram to the Inspector-General telling of his situation and safe return:

Forbes, 3rd March, 5 10 p.m. I am just returned here in safety and have not been wounded. I was detained about three hours on Sunday morning. I surrendered to the bushrangers after having expended all my ammunition; having been surrounded by them, with their revolvers presented at me. The men I took with me, did not meet me at the place appointed, according to agreement the previous evening, consequently, I had only the blacktracker with me.⁶²
 
Following his release, Inspector Norton was left physically unscathed, yet his pride bore the brunt of the ordeal. Sir Frederick Pottinger, wearied by incessant derision from certain corners of the media, was spurred into action. His resolve was as steely as ever, the quest for justice now imbued with a thirst for retribution.

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.


On Wednesday morning last, whilst Sir Frederick Pottinger with Billy, the black tracker, and some of the mounted police were out in the neighbourhood of the suspected bushrangers, near the Wedden Mountains, the tracker detected fresh footprints of a horse crossing the path Sir Frederick and his party were pursuing and directing the master's attention to the circumstances Sir Frederick turned his course in the direction of the tracks. Billy soon pointed out the identical spot which had afforded such friendly protection to J. O. Norton, the sub-inspector of police. Frederick Pottinger descended from his horse and minutely examined the tree, and found the imprint of two large bullets, one of which must have strayed just over the head of Mr Norton, as he was described to have stood by the tree, and the other nearly at the level with his chest.⁶³

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; 

Considerable exertion is being made to save the lives of the culprits, Bow and Manns, now lying under sentence of death in Darlinghurst gaol. It appears pretty certain, that when Chartres, the approver, was first taken into custody, with Ben Hall and O'Meally, they were all three charged with the escort robbery. Chartres, however, in taking advantage of turning approver, declared that neither Hall nor O'Meally had anything to do with the robbery, it is now pretty clear that these two were present and took part in the robbery, and that Chartres obtained their release by declaring that they were not concerned in it; but gave evidence against Bow, Fordyce, Manns, and Maguire, who were then at large. These facts, it is understood, will be brought before the Executive.

Horse Theft.
As the nefarious activities of 'The Boys' continued unabated in the goldfield districts of Lambing Flat and Forbes, the high-profile Eugowra Escort trial and the 'Special Commission' into bushranging reached their conclusion in Sydney. The bushrangers had become a force to be reckoned with, their daring exploits providing a stark backdrop to the legal proceedings unfolding in the city.

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.
 
Inspector Norton was taken yesterday (Sunday) by fourteen bushrangers, between Lambing Flat and Forbes. It is supposed that his captors are Gardiner and his gang. A black tracker has forwarded to the telegraph station a statement informing the authorities that if the men sentenced in Sydney were executed Norton would be hanged. He is planted in the bush. A meeting has been called to consider the matter in the camp reserve this evening.⁶⁴ 

Fortuitously, the townsfolk of Forbes, along with Inspector Norton, were spared from the grim fulfillment of the bushrangers' ominous threat. Ben Hall, John O’Meally, and Daley failed to execute their menacing promise. Nevertheless, the gallows claimed the life of Manns, a somber reminder of the ongoing conflict.

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.

Then poor Norton was to be hung as high as Haman or as Gilderoy, if the executive dared to send the escort robbers to the scaffold. The government, as is usual, were fairly frightened out of their wits, and as if capturing a policeman was any worse than capturing anyone else, they sent off no less than thirty-five head of police for the scene of action, leaving Sydney, where, after all, is said and done, there is far more crime than in the interior, comparatively unprotected. Of course, the whole affair is a gross exaggeration, and the real facts were of the very tamest. There was no theatrical combat, no broadswords, no Long Tom Coffin, no harpoon, no toasting-fork, no eucalyptus, no seeking of shades below. The fact simply was that the acting-sub was out with only a black-boy, when he fell in with some bushrangers--or they fell in with him and as they were superior in number, he was taken prisoner, kept for three hours, and then let go. He certainly says he used all his ammunition; if he did he must be a doosid bad shot not to kill or maim some of his foes, and they must have had more forbearance than they ever yet have got credit for not to have retaliated. There is a report here that he was well treated by the bushrangers. It will be seen that on hearing of his capture the government at once promoted Mr Norton, who is now a full instead of an acting- sub-inspector. Rather a curious inducement to hold out to Sir Pottinger and other policemen, eh.

Ben Hall would continue in the attempt to kill men.

Fred Lowry.
Penzig.

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.

'Empire' 21st February 1863:

No reliable information has yet been received of the movements of Lowry, the ruffian who appears to have run through the town in daylight under the eyes of hundreds of people and to have left no traces behind him as to the particular direction he has taken. Rumours are afloat, but we give them no credit. Some have already lifted him into a hero. He is represented, at eleven miles distance from Bathurst on his way towards the Abercrombie Mountains as being accouted with revolvers and the usual appendages; and in possession of one animal equal to Turpin's Black Bess.

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.

 Outrage with Fire-arms, Bathurst Free Press, Jan. 3: 

On New Year's day races were held at a place called Brisbane Valley, near the head of the Fish River Creek. Among the parties present, it appears, there were two men for whom the police have been some time on the look-out, and whose names are, respectively, Lowrie and Foley. After the races, the prizes having been paid, the man Lowrie attempted to bail up the persons present. Two, however, refused to go into the house, when Lowry fired upon them. The ball grazed the cheek of one of the race visitors, and struck a horse that stood close by, on the hip. A young man named Foran then rushed at Lowrie, when the latter immediately fired, and shot the poor young fellow through the right lung. Dr. Eaton, who was sent for, is of opinion that the ball is lodged in the region of the spine. Notwithstanding that Foran was thus wounded, he sprang at once upon the villain, and was enabled to hold him; till other assistance coming forward he was effectually secured. The police at Bathurst, having received information, at once proceeded in the direction of the scene of the outrage We trust these daring men, who have so long been a terror to the neighbouring localities, will not have made their escape before the arrival of the police. 

Lowry sought out his former convict mate Gardiner following his freedom, but on Gardiner having departed, he seconded himself to the remaining gang where evidence suggests Lowry knew Ben Hall well. As reported: 

On Tuesday a man was stuck-up and robbed of 12s 6d on the Marengo Road, by a bushranger dressed in a poncho, supposed by his height, (about 6 ft 2 in), to be Frederick Lowry, who escaped out of the Bathurst gaol on the 15th of last month, for whose apprehension the Government have offered a reward of £100. On reference to the Government Gazette we perceive by his description that he is 6 feet 1 or 2 inches high.

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:

Most of the atrocities committed, the police have good reasons for believing, are committed, not by needy marauders, but by well-to-do settlers, the excrement of the old convict population.

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.

I relate the following incident to show how at that time the bushrangers comprising Ben Hall, Vane, Gilbert and O'Meally cared very little for the police, but kept on good terms with the residents of the parts they frequented. I left Lambing Flat diggings by Greig's coach, which started at 4 in the morning, to go to the Lachlan goldfield about 90 miles distant. The coach being full, the agent allowed me to ride on the rack with the mail-bags, with strict injunctions to hold well on to the ropes. It was well he did, for some portions of the road were laid down with logs from 12 to 18 inches thick, and when the coach came on to these the effect was anything but exhilarating. First a terrible shock, and then a continued bump, bump, bump for perhaps hundreds of yards. These parts were called "corduroys," and were a rough and-ready way of making a road passable over bogs and swamps until other improvements could be effected. The stages were from 12 to 15 miles apart, and in the afternoon we reached the last but one before we came to the township, and it being a public-house, most of the passengers got down, and so did I, to stretch my legs. And when I did I noticed something unusual going on in the yard adjoining the inn.

There were four men on horseback, two standing, seemingly stable men or rouse-abouts, and a woman who I heard was the landlady. I did not know them but heard after we started that the four men were Ben Hall and his mates, and the reason of their visitation at that time was the following:— The landlady, who was a widow, had a week or so before gone to Forbes to settle some business affairs, and was away for two or three days, during which period it appears that the man she left in charge of the bar, etc., etc, had started drinking, with the result that the yardman and groom and neighbours, and in fact all hands who came along, had joined in the spree, and the quantity of liquor consumed as well as provisions was something enormous, especially as there was very little money to show that any had been paid for. So, at their wits' end for an excuse, the two principals agreed to swear to the landlady on her return that it was the bushrangers had come and helped themselves.- She, who was always friendly to them, happened to tell this to one who informed Ben Hall, who came over and made the real culprits confess their guilt. At that time they stuck up no one on the coach nor any one in the house. But it was a well-known fact that they never did stick up many of the places on this line of road, and it was the general opinion that they were afforded valuable information as to the movements of the police by a very large proportion of the residents in these localities in consequence. As I looked at them over the gate I noticed that the spokesman was a rather tall robust-looking man, with a fine frank-looking face, and wore a high felt hat and cord breeches and top boots — that was Ben Hall. A slight, fair man, looking like a, horse-trainer, had a slight, fair moustache and cabbage-tree hat, breeches and boots, and had one leg-crossed over the pummel of the saddle, listening to what was said — that was Gilbert. While a very dark, determined-looking man with deep set eyes, who was looking down, seemingly brooding over something, was Vane. A young, flash, rowdy-looking young follow with keen flashing eyes, who was looking at the two men standing with no pleasant countenance, was O'Meally. At this time there were between 30 and 40 mounted police at Forbes, only a few miles distant, under Sir Frederick Pottinger.

Captain
Henry Zouch.
c. 1880's.
Nevertheless, shortly after the capture of Inspector Norton, the NSW government moved to acquire the former hotel, which doubled as a home of the family of John O'Meally's and a notorious meeting place of the Weddin criminals. The O'Meally's had sold Arramagong earlier and were illegal squatters. However, the family had continued to live at Arramagong. The police's goal was to create a police station in the heart of the Weddin Mountains with easy access to the haunts of the bushrangers and their harbourers. There was widespread approval for the government's move, and The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on the 11th March 1863, supported the action; 

The government appear to be vigorously carrying out their plans for the suppression of bushranging in the south-western district. We hear that O'Mealy's farm has been taken possession of for a police-station. If a few more of these resorts of bushrangers were served in a similar manner the roads about Lambing Flat and Forbes would again assume a state of order, and once the criminal population were dispersed they would find it difficult to gather themselves together in any other part of the colony.

Captain Zouch proceeded to install his troopers there, although the house was reportedly in some disrepair. Therefore, the Captain requested £20 to have some work carried out repairing the building’s roof; The 'Burrangong Star', 11th March 1863 wrote the following:

We understand that Captain Zouch intended on his journey to form a police station at O'Mealy's station (at the Weddin Mountain), ejecting by orders of the government, him and his family, thus breaking up that rendezvous for bushrangers and their accomplices. The Captain returned yesterday afternoon to the camp. 

O'Meally's holdings Weddin
Mountains. c. 1863.
The altercation with Inspector Norton and the increased efforts of the police patrols brought another but a rare positive comment from the Lachlan Miner: 

It is very satisfactory to know that we are really receiving some benefits, in exchange for the money expended by the government in sending up extra police to look after us. The Lambing Flat road is well patrolled; the neighbourhood of Wheogo, and Weddin Mountain is rendered safe to travellers and dangerous to bushrangers.⁶⁵

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:

The most picturesque part, of the Bland plains — viz., the intervening space between east and west Bland. The Humbug Mountain to the west impresses me with the notion that I am on the verge of a wilderness, the steep ravines and huge granite rocks form such a striking contrast to the peaceful-looking green sward, dotted with lovely pools of water, on the Back creek winding through the plains. Turkeys and wildfowl are plentiful, and there is often good sport in seasons like this.

Hall would not have lacked for grub while secreted at Humbug. The area was also the current residence of his former wife, Bridget and her lover James Taylor, residing at Alice Gibson station and, best of all, his three and a half-year-old son Henry. If Hall had seen his young son, there is no evidence, suffice to say as a father, and the opportunity arose, no doubt Hall would have apprised the chance. Presumably a fearful time for Taylor.

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.

Therefore, the press ran emotional stories in the newspapers of widespread evictions and brutality! This, of course, was exaggerated, although Pottinger could be heavy-handed in his dealings with the Cockatoo squatters. These cockatoo squatters were recipients of the Robinson Land Act of 1861, which gave the poor man an opportunity to take up land, from 40 to 640 acres at 5/- per acre down, balance 15/- per acre, carrying interest at 5 per cent; no interest payable for the first three years, but like all good things it was greatly abused. Dummyism (The practice of purchasing land for another person who is not legally entitled to do so.) and corruption were rampant, and many of the smallholdings reverted back to the big landholders.

Pottinger's antagonism amongst the less well off squatter was to reach the corridors of power in Sydney, often dividing Macquarie Street's power brokers. However, any criticism of Pottinger reinforced his defence to maintain a position of strength by wielding the law to the fullest. Pottinger was in no way an advocate nor a fan of leniency nor compassion. Pottinger's hard-line stance was demonstrated when a subordinate, Constable Hassen, was charged with killing a man in police custody. Sir Frederick was called a character witness for the constable; 'Goulburn Herald', January 1863:

Boyd never the less put himself in an attitude as if about to strike; on which Hassen fired Boyd fell mortally wounded. He died about noon. The jury by a majority of 7 to 9, returned a verdict of justifiable homicide. Sir Frederick Pottinger gave Hassen a good character and said that there had been only one charge against him since he had been in the police force, and that was for excessive leniency.⁶⁶

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:  

His parents, his brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts and cousins for all sorts of assistance. It was from amongst his innumerable relations and their close friends that the 'bush telegraphs,' who kept him aware of the movements of the police, were recruited, and the system of intelligence that served such gangs as those of Frank Gardiner and Ben Hall was highly organised and tremendously effective, even though, as has been said, the bushrangers were expected to pay for it 'through the nose.⁶⁷

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:

 There is nothing in the fact that he wears a title which places his official acts beyond the pale of honest and impartial criticism, but we have yet to learn that it constitutes him a butt for every bilious, ill-natured scribbler, who loves to shine in print. Fiat justitia ruet coelum ("Let justice be done though the heavens fall."). Let Sir Frederick Pottinger, like every other public man, be dealt with upon his merits. Above all, let the truth be spoken of him, and when the occasion is one of sufficient gravity, by all means, employ the language of censure and condemnation, as unreservedly in his as in any other case. Persecution we detest, and have small respect for that class of scribblers who hound a man down for fashion's sake.⁶⁸

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.

On Wednesday 11th March 1863, Sir Frederick, in company with some troopers and the tracker Billy Dargin, were out in the bushrangers' neighbourhood between Wheogo Range (not confused with Wheogo Hill) and Pinnacle Mountains. Traversing the beaten track, the tracker detected fresh hoof prints of a horse crossing their path near Maguire's reef. Billy Dargin directed Sir Frederick's attention to them; 'Sydney Morning Herald' dated the 17th March 1863:

Sir Frederick turned his course in the direction of the tracks. Billy soon pointed out the identical tree which had afforded such friendly protection to Mr, J. O. Norton, the sub-inspector of police. Sir Frederick Pottinger was directing his course again, when he espied in the distance, through the foliage of the trees in the bush, a mounted horseman, and at once gave orders for pursuit. The party were now in the vicinity of the Pinnacle reef, and, first of all ordering two of his troopers to make round the hill, on which the reef is situated, in order to intercept the flight of the horseman, Sir Frederick, with the black tracker and the two remaining troopers, continued the chase. All this was done in less time than it takes to write, and very shortly afterward Sir Frederick pulled up before some deserted-looking huts and found a horse, with a saddle on it, tied up to one of the huts. 

He at once recognised the horse to be one he had seen the night before in Ben Hall's paddock, "all in a sweat." to use the baronet's own language. The black-fellow also recognised a pair of girths on the horse as being a portion of the property stolen from the Police Barracks, at the Pinnacle station, on the occasion of that place being stuck up and robbed during the temporary absence of the police, shortly before. Entering the huts, Sir Frederick saw two or three men inside, and finding them unwilling to answer his questions, he threatened them, where upon he was informed that the rider of the horse was down a shaft on the reef above named.

Proceeding to the place indicated, Sir Frederick found that the shaft was about sixty feet deep, and that a permanent kind of ladder was fixed to the side, for ascent and descent. Sir Frederick called to the man (presuming him to be there) to surrender, but received no answer. Again, after an interval, the same request was repeated, but met with no response. After several minutes, the supposed bushranger was again summoned to appear, without eliciting any reply. At length, finding mild exhortations insufficient, Sir Frederick threatened that he would at once proceed to burn and smoke him out like an opossum.

The man not liking the latter alternative, surrendered at discretion, and was immediately taken into custody. It is obvious that if the notorious Gardiner selects such innocent looking striplings to execute the deeds generally left to men of sterner stuff, it must be for some new arrangement in bush tactics, such as the human telegram hinted at by a contemporary. Patrick Daley, who forms the subject of this sketch, is a mild, youthful whiskerless looking person, with light-blue eyes and fair complexion. There is nothing in his physiognomical expression outwardly, to denote the degraded villain. He certainly, during the examination, kept his head down, glancing furtively round. His eyes move quickly and, with a sinister expression, as if were in the habit of looking under his eyebrow and "taking stock" of those around him. Sir Frederick Pottinger undoubtedly deserves great credit for his prompt action and discernment in this matter; and doubtless, he is willing to accord is portion of the merit to the acute sight of his black tracker. [prisoner was brought before the Forbes bench on the 12th instant, and remanded for a week."]

Patrick Daley's,
prison photo

1873.
A chuffed Sir Frederick presented his catch in the Police Court at Forbes on the 24th March 1863. Here the loyal and brave tracker Billy Dargin gave evidence about Daley's involvement with Hall and O'Meally in Inspector Norton's kidnapping. However, Aboriginal Billy's grasp of the court's legalities and proceedings was questioned by the legal eagles. However, after some deliberation by the magistrate, Mr D. W. Irving, J.P. regarding Billy Dargin's understanding of an Oath, the police tracker was asked about his own knowledge of the oath procedure and replied: 

That he believed in another world, and that he would be punished if he told a lie.⁶⁹ 

Moreover in answer to another question on the procedure Dargin stated; 

He could not exactly describe the meaning of an oath, although he had heard of the Testament and believed in telling the truth, Billy answered all the questions put to him with an amount of intelligence quite surprising.⁷⁰

It is woefully wrong to assume that Dargin was some illiterate darky, where in fact, he was actually far more educated than Ben Hall.

The Bench, satisfied with Billy's understanding, decided to hear his statement without swearing him in. Dargin was then called to give his testimony and stated:

He was employed in the police force; He was twenty years of age and was baptised twelve years ago, at Windsor, by the Rev Mr Styles. Knew the prisoner before the Court. Some called him "Jonny” and some "Patsy Daley.

Dargin continued: 

Was with Mr Norton on the Sunday morning, about a month ago, when near Wheogo, or about three miles from there, they were stuck up by three men. The prisoner was one of them; Ben Hall and John O’Meally were the two others. On the morning, we started from Wheogo, we passed Mr Walsh's along the road, close to M'Guire's home. We saw two men riding along—one leading a horse. The two men had a gun on each thigh. They did not seem to be troopers. Mr Norton told them to come along and follow him. The prisoner was one of them, and John O’Meally was the other; Ben Hall was not there then, coming back met Ben Hall between the house and the paddock. Made a charge at him, pursuing him to the corner of the paddock. Fired once at him. Mr Norton then said we must go for more troopers. Rode on about three miles, and then told Mr Norton that the three men were coming to bail them up. The men did come up, and sang out, "Bail up." The prisoner Daley was over to the left, Ben Hall was behind, and John, O’Meally was to the right, behind a little. Mr Norton was in the middle, and witness was in a clear space about twenty yards from Mr Norton. Mr Norton fired all his charges, and then gave himself up; Did not like to stop and be killed, so prepared to gallop away. John O’Meally then fired, a double-barrelled gun, one barrel was discharged at Mr Norton, and the other at witness. Mr Norton was on foot, standing alongside a tree; witness was, also off his horse at the time, twenty yards from Mr Norton. About thirty shots were fired altogether. Saw the prisoner Daley fire at Mr Norton. Mr Norton gave himself up to John O'Meally. The other two then followed witness; and chased him for a mile and a half; Ben Hall fired at Mr Norton as he passed by."

"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

(This account, although slightly embellished, confuses Ben Hall with O'Meally, as Norton stated under oath that Ben Hall guarded him as well as a shot at him whilst Daley and O'Meally conducted the short chase of Dargin. For Dargin's story, see The Traps page.)

John Wilson, mate of
Sir Frederick and
John Maguire.
As Daley was apprehended, Ben Hall sought to evade the increased efforts of Sir Frederick Pottinger by moving his operations further south. This period marked a succession of escalating difficulties for Hall, most notably at Sandy Creek. There, John Wilson, a publican from Forbes and the new leaseholder of Sandy Creek station, expressed irritation over the residence previously owned by Hall, now being occupied by Susan Prior's family. The household included Susan Prior, her siblings, their mother Mary Prior, Ben Hall's elder brother William, his wife Ann, and their two children.

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:

On being satisfied of the truth thereof, either by the admission of the person informed against or on other sufficient evidence such Justices shall issue their warrant addressed to the Commissioner of Crown Lands or to any Chief or District Constable or other proper officer requiring him forthwith to dispossess and remove such person from such land and to take possession of the same. (See Sources page.)

The Crown Lands Act 1861 gave Pottinger the legal grounds to evict those living in Hall's former home, which he then set on fire, viewing as a refuge for undesirables. This act marked a significant escalation in the situation, causing profound upheaval and rendering Hall's baby daughter, Mary, who had been born at Sandy Creek in January 1863, homeless.

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:

I accordingly deemed it my duty to at once summarily interfere and conclusively show Hall and those of his class in the district that at any rate, as yet, they could not have everything exactly as they thought fit.⁷²
 
Dealing with the widespread illegal occupancy of Crown Land was a significant challenge for the government at the time. Many of these unauthorised occupants were known to support the bushrangers like Ben Hall actively, often providing them with food and shelter. However, these exchanges were not necessarily born out of camaraderie but often involved substantial payment. The apparent sympathy and assistance given to the bushrangers caused considerable frustration among the New South Wales Police, who sought stronger powers from Parliament to act against those suspected of providing safe havens.

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:

The success and impunity with which Gardiner and his gang and other bushrangers have, during many months, carried on their depredations, have been to a considerable extent owing to the assistance and shelter that have been afforded them by a class of unauthorised occupants of Crown lands, known in the provincial slang as "Cockatoo squatters." It is satisfactory to learn that, in connection with other efforts that are being made by the police to drive out of their haunts the desperadoes whose doings have caused so much alarm in the Western districts, steps are being taken at the instigation of the Secretary for Lands for the dispossession of the harbourers of these rascals from the lands of which they have for a long-time held illegal possession. The officers in charge of the police at Bathurst, Young, and Forbes have been furnished from the Lands Department with lists of licensed holders of runs in the country between those three divisions, and all persons found in occupation not included in those lists will be proceeded with under the 32nd Clause of the Crown Lands Occupation Act, which provides for the removal of trespassers on public lands. The country comprehended in the above districts extends from the Fish River down as far as the levels near the Murrumbidgee, and reaches westward as far as the Billybong, and northward to the Lachlan. The police having received the lists, are preparing to put the law into operation, and we may expect shortly to hear if the enforced dispossession of some of these unlawful occupants (many of whom have accumulated considerable wealth), unless in the meantime they should anticipate their expulsion by clearing out. 

Constable John Bohan
who would assist
Constable Hollister
at the burning of Hall's
home, and later
act in Hall's death.
Indeed, it wasn't a universally smooth journey for the bushrangers, as they did face resistance from several quarters. One such critic was a friend of John Wilson, known by the pseudonym 'Veracity'. 'Veracity' was vocal in expressing his strong support for Sir Frederick Pottinger's actions. Writing to the editors of various Sydney newspapers, he applauded Pottinger's initiative to rid the Wheogo region of what he considered bushrangers' havens. He also commended the effort to oust the female sympathizers of Ben Hall, who had taken up residence at Sandy Creek. 'Veracity' saw these measures as necessary steps towards restoring law and order in the region.

This formidable individual, a considerable portion of whose business and pastime consists in threatening honest wayfarers' bodies and brains, is notorious in these regions as a bushranger and outlaw. His hut has long been known to the police as a rendezvous of Gardiner and his infamous gang, and therefore, socially speaking, as a pestilence and plague-spot in the community. He, however, held no property in the land which he occupied, not even as a lessee; and as it was wisely judged that the presence of such a man, even if occasional, and the existence of such an establishment were a constant menace to the peaceable and well-disposed who sojourned in those parts, in obedience to an expressed wish of the lessee himself, who was desirous of being ridded of such a neighbour, the place was finally burned down.⁷³

Despite the ongoing debate over the legality and morality of these actions even a century and a half later, the facts of the situation are irrefutable. Susan Pryor and her mother, Mary Prior, were reportedly given a week's notice by Wilson, through Pottinger, to vacate the property. This demand came in early March 1863, but it wasn't issued via a court order. Instead, it was a unilateral decision by Inspector Pottinger, who orchestrated the final destruction of the hut under government sanction on March 14, 1863.

Hollister's actual diary entry,
March 1863.

Courtesy R.A.H.S.
Constable William Hollister, an American by birth and one of the police officers present during the incineration, confirmed the date and conduct of these events in his police diary. Hollister was the same constable who had chased Hall and Patsy Daley after their raid on the Pinnacle police station just five weeks prior in February 1863. During Hall's capture, he revealed to Inspector Norton his intention to murder Hollister, making the constable's role in the destruction of Hall's former home all the more poignant. Hollister diary entry of the incineration follows; Saturday 14th March 1863:

At Wheogo burnt Ben Halls house down and myself and constables Bohan and Hamilton went to Pinnacle station Hamilton to proceed to Gooloogong to take charge of the Gooloogong station.⁷⁴

Note: Newspapers and Government records show two versions spelling Susan's surname Pryor/Prior. I have at times used both versions. The photo on this page of William Hollister is the first time published at the time of writing.

Furthermore, a letter addressed to the editor of the 'Sydney Morning Herald' refers to Ben Hall's girlfriend Susan Prior's standing as:

The lady pro-proprietress of Ben Hall's household is a single female, who nevertheless luxuriates in the blessings of maternity, having, it is said, usurped that place in the outlaw's affections which properly belonged to the married Mrs Hall.⁷⁵

Leading up to the destruction Ben Hall upon hearing of the verbal eviction order against his folk became furious whereby he:

Had threatened to scatter a considerable quantity of brains, to whomsoever belonging, if his mansion were in any way interfered with.⁷⁶

Despite Hall's violent threats, Sir Frederick Pottinger remained undeterred in enforcing Wilson's orders. Commanding his constables to remove the inhabitants' possessions, their belongings were unceremoniously discarded into the elements. A letter to the 'Sydney Morning Herald' from 'Veracity' confirmed that the occupants were indeed given ample notice to vacate, challenging the established historical belief. In carrying out the orders, Pottinger was acutely aware of the potential backlash but felt justified in disrupting what he saw as a support network for the bushrangers. The harsh action taken was emblematic of the escalating conflict between law enforcement and bushrangers, with innocent individuals caught in the crossfire. Despite the controversy, Pottinger stood by his decision, viewing it as a necessary action in their quest to bring Ben Hall and his gang to justice.

This hot-bed of rascality was not destroyed until after frequent notice was given to the occupants to clear out, but instead of doing so they pertinaciously held on, and when at length it became necessary to eject them and destroy their den, the furniture and other valuables were first removed, and left at the disposal of their owners.⁷⁷

Following the destruction of their home, Susan Prior, the mother of Ben Hall's infant daughter, was left to watch helplessly as their dwelling was set ablaze. Although her home was lost, Susan was undeterred, returning to Lambing Flat, where she remained for some time before moving to Boorowa. There, she began a relationship with a man named Alfred Stonham around 1864. They stayed together until Alfred's death in 1907 at Tangmangaroo, near Yass. Despite their separation, Ben Hall did not abandon Susan and his child, Mary. He frequently visited them, providing support and using their home as a sanctuary during his years roaming the Boorowa district. In 1864, Susan gave birth to a son, Alfred. Evidence suggests the boy was Hall's.
 
Rare portrait of
William Jameison father
of bushranger 

John Jameison.
c. 1860.
The forced eviction and destruction of Susan's home sparked widespread outrage among settlers. The fact that children were involved made the incident particularly galling. Some landowners who had personal connections to the victims were notably incensed, including Mr Jameison, a long-time friend of Ben Hall. Appalled by the treatment of Susan and her family, Jameison penned a heartfelt letter to parliamentarian Mr Harpur, recounting the events of that day. His account suggested that Ben Hall had tried unsuccessfully to draw the police away during the eviction. Jamieson's correspondence offers a deeply personal insight into the tumultuous events of the time, reflecting a shared community sentiment of outrage towards the authorities' treatment of Susan and her family.

Sir-"I must tell you about burning of houses and turning women and a baby out in the cold to get shelter under the trees in wet. One of the women is now under the doctor's care, from being out with only a small bit of calico to keep the night air and cold from her and a baby of two months old. That was after Sir Frederick burnt the house and all that was in it.  The two women and baby had to stop out in the wet.  Sir Frederick and two men were, at Hall's house. He burnt the house down and turned the women out. The man (Hall) was only a hundred yards from them on a knocked-up horse. He only galloped a quarter of a mile, and then his horse gave in, and he jumped off and let the horse go. They got the horse but not the man. Still, Sir Frederick was riding as good a horse as was in the district; but he acted in his usual way, disputing with the women, instead of going after the bushrangers. That is the way he has always acted, for he has not yet taken a man that tried to get away; and then his excuse is to the Government that the squatters harbour them.⁷⁸ 

Mr Jameison was the father of John Jameison, a young man who often found himself in the company of Ben Hall and John 'Warrigal' Walsh. He had been apprehended by the police on multiple occasions and was known to have participated in several hold-ups.

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.

Some short time before the unfortunate man Jamieson died, he visited this township. I had a conversation with him, during which the conduct of the police was very warmly discussed—Jamieson being particularly severe on Sir F. Pottinger for turning out the woman and burning down Hall's house, concluding with the following words, as near as I can possibly recollect:—"I admit he (Sir F. P.) is the most courageous and plucky policeman that ever I knew, and had he been here some few years since he would have played hell with the cattle racket, but he is a damn wretch to turn women out of house and shelter.⁷⁹

Colonial Secretary
Mr Charles Cowper.
c. 1870's.
The incineration of Hall's home and the subsequent destitution of the female occupants sparked significant concern and critique within the NSW Parliament. The situation demanded the attention of Mr Cowper, who directed Inspector-General McLerie to submit a memorandum detailing his officers' conduct in these circumstances. The responsibility to compile this memorandum fell on Sir Frederick Pottinger, whose district was at the heart of the current conflict with the bushrangers.

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.

But one ejectment has been enforced by Lachlan police. Ben Hall's house was alone burnt down, and that at the request of the then (by mortgage) actual proprietor. The house was at the time occupied by Henry Gibson (notorious villain since committed), also illegally at large from Victoria, Mrs McGuire, and Susan Pryor, and Hall's mother, and was daily frequented by bushrangers, a week's notice was given and nothing destroyed—no woman or child frightened or molested.⁸⁰ 

Surprisingly, Pottinger mistakenly took Mrs Mary Prior as Ben Hall's mother. (The full memorandum can be read on the Traps Page.)

Author's Note: The death of William Jamieson at the time was considered a mystery;

It was a three day's trip to Goulburn, Mr Jamieson making the trip from there, removing his money from the Commercial Bank, Goulburn, intending same to be placed at Young. He was found on the road four miles out of Goulburn by a man named Broffie; he had no pocketbook, and the valise was gone, being taken off his saddle; he was insensible and taken into Goulburn where he died at 3 o'clock next morning. He was a very fine horseman; his horse Merrylegs was found feeding 100 yards from where he was lying, but his mare, Lauristina, whom he was leading back to the station, was gone. £50 reward was offered for the recovery of Lauristina, as by finding her same might lead to the cause of death, but she was never heard of again. William Jamieson's death was a mystery never unravelled. He was a very abstemious man, a perfect gentleman, very smart all-round, a good runner, and made quite a name for himself in performing a feat, while at a place between Burrowa and Walla Walla, which has been called Jamieson's Flat.

Joseph Jehoshaphat
Harpur.
(1810-1878)
Every story indeed has two sides, and the events surrounding the incineration of Hall's home are no exception. Contrary to a somewhat chivalrous portrayal of Pottinger and his men's interaction with Susan Prior during the destruction of the dwelling, the act led to an immediate state of poverty for the women and children inhabiting the house.

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.

When the police came to the house of Ben Hall, he (Hall) ran away, mounted his horse. Sir Frederick Pottinger sent two policemen after him. They chased him, and Ben Hall with two revolvers jumped from his horse and faced them. The policemen brought back the jaded horse to the house. At that time, Sir Frederick Pottinger was riding one of the best horses in the district, but when these men came back, instead of going after the robber, he ordered them to set fire to the house. They burnt it down, the women not being allowed to bring out their clothes. It was raining at the time, and the women and children took shelter under a gum tree. However bad Ben Hall was, it was not right to punish these poor women and children.⁸¹ 

In the wake of his home's incineration, Ben Hall's anger towards Sir Frederick Pottinger grew into a seething, all-consuming hatred. Hall had failed to carry out his threat to "scatter a considerable quantity of brains" during the police action, but it was not for lack of trying. However, the destruction of the home that he had built with his own hands marked a decisive turning point in Hall's life. It was the final nail in the coffin of any hope he might have had for redemption.

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:

That was the month of May, and we used to get a load of shearing supplies to take out to Caragabal station. We went through by Wheogo, and there I saw the remains of Ben Hall's Hut, it had been burnt down, and there were only the burnt stumps remaining.⁸²

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. 

There was a communication suggesting the expulsion by the police of illegal holders, but it was not thought advisable to act in this way. He believed the police had burnt down the residence of the notorious bushranger, Ben Hall; but it was the only case, and was not done under the Land Act.

John Wilson's claim
on Wheogo Station.
Author's Note: Ben Hall and McGuire were not the only people who owed monies to John Wilson, Mrs Sarah Walsh, Ben Hall's mother-in-law, also borrowed money from Wilson for legal representation associated with her stepson's arrest after Pottinger failed to capture Frank Gardiner at Kitty Browns home and he took the boy instead, (young John 'Warrigal' Walsh would die in the Forbes lock-up from Gaol fever in 1863) John Wilson would take legal action against the Walsh’s and would also become the eventual owner of Wheogo Station. (See article left.)
 
In the aftermath of Patsy Daley's capture, Sir Frederick Pottinger rode once more through the expanses of the Wheogo region, his energy renewed and his determination set. His ambition was clear: to finally capture Ben Hall. Fate seemed to favour his mission when, near the charred remains of Hall's home, he spotted Hall himself, along with the evicted women who had been forced to reside in a makeshift calico tent.

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.


Camped about Wheogo till Sunday, when, just after sundown, came with two of my troopers on Ben Hall and John O’Meally, standing about six hundred yards off, talking to Mrs McGuire and Susan Pryor the female aforesaid. The woman at once gave the word, and the men bolted into the brush. We, however, pressed them so hard that Hall had to give us the slip-on foot, leaving his horse and swag, containing ammunition and firearms-magnificent Tranter revolver and Government pistol, taken from the Pinnacle. It being by this time quite dark, and the scrub being dense, we could do nothing more, and returned to camp. Next morning, we took up the tracks for some twenty-six miles, till, about three miles hence, we apprehended William Pryor, a lad of about seventeen, whom I hope to make very useful. I start again in an hour, till last night none of us had slept in a bed, and none of the horses had a feed since we left Forbes. 

Note: William Prior is the younger brother of Susan Prior. Also, Hall's possession of the weapons stolen from the Pinnacle police station demonstrate his complicity in the February robbery.

Extract from William Hollister's Diary below, held at the Royal Australian Historical Society, Sydney. Portrait of William Hollister, first time published.

William Hollister.
c. 1870's.

Courtesy of R.A.H.S.
The arbitrary actions of Sir Frederick were recorded in Hollister's diary and corroborate the information contained in Pottinger's telegram of the 18th March; Hollister Diary Entry-Sunday 15th March 1863:

With Const Bohan from this station to Pinnacle reefs and met Sir Frederick Pottinger Constables Garlin Day and Dargin Brechs from Pinnacle reefs to Wheogo myself with Sir Frederick Pottinger and Constable Day went up to Ben Halls place got within 500 yard and saw two men who on seeing us bolted encounted gave chase but being dusk they got away in coming back found a horse saddle and bridle on a swag another saddle a government horse pistol on the swag and a quantity of ammunition bottle of port wine Poncho and Mrs MaGuire said the two men were Ben Hall and young Prior Found one Tranters revolver.

William Hollister.
NSW Police Employment
Record May 1862.

New South Wales, Australia,
Registers of Police
Employment, 1847-1885.
Author's Note: William Hollister joined the NSW Police on 5th May 1862, aged 26, described with Blue eyes, Fair hair, fresh complexion and stood 5ft 10in high. Hollister had been a sailor plying his trade on various sailing ships and whalers previous to police work. Hollister originated from Connecticut, America, coming ashore in Sydney c. 1862. After initial police training in Sydney commenced as a mounted trooper under Sir Frederick Pottinger's command in the Lachlan district. Hollister, at the side of Pottinger, participated in many well-publicised episodes against the Lachlan bushrangers. In August 1862, Hollister was one of the troopers who assisted Pottinger when in the dead of night attempted to arrest Frank Gardiner at his lover Mrs Brown's home at Wheogo. In February 1863, Hollister pursued Ben Hall after the Pinnacle Police Station robbery wherein he was unseated from his horse after shots were fired by Hall's accomplice Patsy Daley. Hollister was an integral part of the hunt for Hall, Gardiner, Gilbert, O'Meally, Lowry and others plying the bushranger trade. When Inspector Norton was captured by Hall on 1st March 1863. Norton commented that Hall referenced Hollister, saying, "Hall spoke of a trooper named Hollister, who had threatened to shoot him, and that he would return the compliment when he got hold of him." Hollister's counter-blow culminated in burning Ben Hall's Sandy Creek Station home on the 14th March 1863. Following the death of Ben Hall in May 1865. William Hollister would resign from the police and, after various enterprises, passed away in the Blue Mountains in 1915.

Hollister's diary, March 1863.
As the levels of lawlessness escalated around the Western Districts' goldfields, several New South Wales parliamentarians found themselves grappling with a relentless torrent of criticism against the government. In particular, the audacious crimes committed by Ben Hall, Gilbert and their associates stirred outrage, prompting questions about the newly formed police force's efficacy, which had been operational for just a year.

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.

The Lachlan police district comprises an area of about 600 miles by 200, but does not include the Wedden. 1. Forbes is ninety-five miles from Young, the point of junction between the two districts (the Lachlan and Captain Zouch's), being just half-way. 2. The Lachlan police do duty in the bush invariably in plain clothes, saddles, &c., without swords, disguised in fact as far as possible like bushrangers. Their 'orders' are to 'bush out,' avoiding roads, public-houses, stations, &c., in short, to in every way conceal themselves and their movements, which orders are generally duly obeyed. I have myself 'bushed out' with parties for fifteen and twenty days consecutively, the men subsisting solely on the 'rations' with them, and the horses on grass feed. From the 15th of June to the 1st of December, 1862, I slept out in the bush ninety-three nights, and I am prepared to show that I have (by the universal admission of all my men), done more bush duty than any officer or constable in the colony.⁸³

Sir Frederick Pottinger
in the uniform
of Inspector.
c. 1864.
Consequently, the audacious exploits of Hall and his gang penetrated deeply into the heart of the New South Wales Legislature. Local district parliamentarians found themselves ensnared in a complex situation as they strove to assuage their constituents' outcry over their continued suffering at the hands of these outlaws. While the lawmakers reassured the locals of the government's readiness to confront the gang, their assurances only stoked further unease. Talk and promises were one thing; actual action was another. The call for immediate and decisive police action grew louder.

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:

I was surrounded by four revolvers at my head, so close I could see the bullets in the chambers. One of the boys called me to jump off, as he wanted my horse. Then Ben Hall rode up asking what all the noise was about, Hall said "It’s Mr Bowler. It’s alright let him go.

Earnest then rode on to the town of Orange, and the morning's experience had left him depressed rather than angry, and he reflected that the police were"

Always away on some other route when the boys were close at hand. 

Later in the evening Ernest attended a dance after the day's experience, stated:

I didn't take much persuading to go to the ball. 

While the evening progressed, the police got wind of Bowler's holdup and called him away from the dance to explain why he had not reported the incident to the police. Bowler's replied: 

Because, I thought it was useless; the police always told where they got their information, so I had made up my mind to tell no more. 

Although this angered the police, it became the general consensus for survival amongst people living on isolated properties and hamlets in the Central Western Districts.

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."

Electric Telegraph.
Image courtesy NLA.
Inspector General of Police John McLerie was the officer charged with the task of overseeing all aspects of policing in New South Wales. As the officer in charge, he had control over the publication of the New South Wales Police Gazette, a crucial tool for disseminating crime reports throughout the state. 

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.


Inspector-General of
NSW Police, Captain
John M'lerie.
c. 1863.

Penzig.
For example, a crime committed in one police district on one specific day, along with the relevant information of the suspected offender, was telegraphed to Sydney, assessed and printed.

Government rewards for the apprehension of Ben Hall, Gilbert, O'Meally, Gardiner were substantial. Whereby if the police caught any offender a windfall fell their way. However, these rewards were not enough for the locals to 'rat out' gang members. However, the bushrangers had their own communication system colloquially known as the 'Bush Telegraph'.

These telegraphs had their fingers on the pulse of polices' activities and were able to pass the word swiftly for a payment. The young boys, such as Johnny 'Warrigal' Walsh, Ben Hall's brother-in-law, were adept at eluding police while delivering messages. Still, another great help in the bush telegraph service was rendered by girls who could ride fast and hold their tongues, like the O'Meally sisters.

".. too late there goes the
telegraph."

Image courtesy NLA.
These messages conveyed persons travelling with large sums of cash, mail coaches with valuables onboard plus a myriad of other pertinent intelligence. As highlighted:

A perfect system of 'bush telegraphy' had been established in every locality where their friends resided; and as they invariably moved with a given object from their hiding places, and either returned direct to the place from which they had started or made for some other friendly shelter in another direction, they were always in touch with their 'telegraphs,' and were thus kept posted in every movement made by the police force. Upon these 'telegraphs' the bushrangers depended as absolutely as do the officers of an army upon their scouts when in the territory of an enemy. Flitting on fast-footed horses from station to station in the disturbed districts, or mixing with the people in the nearest town, generally, the headquarters of the police, the 'telegraphs' would pick up every scrap of information likely to be of interest to the hunted men, sometimes coming into contact with the police, and learning directly all they desired to know, and, having satisfied themselves concerning police, intentions, they would suddenly disappear and conveyor send their news to the camp where the bushrangers were located. Occasionally one of these 'telegraphs' would be arrested,. Still, as nothing could be proved against him, a few days confinement between the time of his arrest and his discharge by the magistrate formed the worst of his sufferings. And should a suspected 'telegraph' find himself too closely watched or be arrested, others were always ready to take up the work. They were invariably young men, some of them mere boys, intimately acquainted with the bush, who could cover miles of the roughest country more speedily than the badly mounted troopers could ride along good roads. Ben Hall, Gilbert, and O'Meally had hosts of such friends in the Lachlan district.⁸⁴

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.

Bushrangers are harboured and assisted, the fact that they have belonged so distinctly to definite localities would demonstrate it. The Western gang had its headquarters in the Weddin district, to which it could always retire for concealment, and out of the range of which it was always more exposed; and the associations and relationships its members held with persons resident in the locality quite explain the security it enjoyed and the way in which the police were baffled. But the police knew too well how much the bushrangers were harboured and helped by a set of the residents, some of whom were their relatives, and many of whom were their chums. As long as bushrangers are harboured, and sheltered, and warned, so long the police will hunt for them blindfold. But wherever the police can rely on the co-operation of the inhabitants, they show that they are not deficient in skill or courage. But it is not merely for the armed brigands themselves that diligent search should be made. Such men as Gardner have, doubtless, like their English prototypes, their spies, their harbourers, their "fences." Which way goes their most promiscuous plunder? Where do they brew their punch when they have not a pillaged householder to mix for them? Who are the judicious friends that inform them where they will find an easy booty, and where they will not find a policeman? Till these questions are fully answered, even the apprehension of the most notorious ringleaders will scarcely put an end to the system. The half-hearted scoundrels who keep ostensibly within the shadow of the law, merely that they may share the prey, jackal-like, with the bolder ruffians who defy law-these are the worst traitors to civilisation-the worst enemies to order and security.

Furthermore, there were many persons of good standing who were often intimidated and threatened with summary punishment for not attending to Ben Hall's needs. As commented on:

Other people, under the influence of fear, were compelled to supply them with food and arms.
 
In his 'Reminiscences of Ex-Superintendent Sanderson,' published in 'Old Times' in May 1903, Charles Sanderson offered insights into the challenging environment in which the police found themselves. He spoke of the solid wall of resistance they encountered in their investigations, a resistance formed by sympathisers who refused to betray Hall and his gang. Sanderson noted the palpable fear and anxiety among those who might have been willing to offer information to the police. Their silence was a testament to the power and influence that Hall and his gang had among the populace, illustrating the complex social dynamics that underpinned their life of crime.
 
The men of the road were looked upon as heroes and were surrounded with such a crowd of sympathisers and friends, who often acted as bush telegraphs for them, that it was often impossible to keep our movements secret, to say nothing of getting trustworthy information. Needless to say, these people were well paid for their trouble and shared in an indirect way in the proceeds of robberies and sticking-up cases. Even when people were willing to give information they were afraid to; it would mean that they might be shot themselves, or at least get their farms, stables, or haystacks burnt. I never went into a respectable house if I wanted to learn anything. We had scores of persons who wilfully came and gave us the wrong information. When an “affair” was reported, I never looked for the perpetrators in the locality where it had taken place. I let others do that,   for I knew that the game I wanted was, by that time, in a very different direction. 

In his determined pursuit, Sir Frederick Pottinger remained relentless, scouring the region of Wheogo and maintaining vigilance over the smouldering remnants of Sandy Creek. He sought any trace or hint that might lead him to Ben Hall, often pausing at various stations to extract information about Hall's potential whereabouts. Through his connections with John Wilson, the new owner of Hall's former station, Pottinger received a valuable tip-off: Hall had allegedly left Sandy Creek accompanied by a woman, suspected to be Elen Maguire. Wasting no time, Pottinger relayed this fresh intelligence via telegraph to his superior, the Inspector-General, outlining Hall's movements and potential destination. Thus, the net began to tighten around the elusive bushranger, the result of diligent police work and the power of the burgeoning communication technology of the era. Telegram dated the 23rd March 1863:

Returned here last night, without any further definite results. On Monday last Mrs Maguire and Ben Hall cleared out via Weddin Mountains for the Fish River. Received information to that effect, and accordingly tracked them till foiled, some twenty miles from Wheogo, by inundated Plain. Heard of Hall at the Weddin, so pushed on to Gaps, in my district, leading to Fish River, but coming across no tracks, returned home via Cowra, men and horses having for twelve days and nights bushed out. Ben Hall and party must have crossed onto the Fish River via Marengo or Burrawang in the Southern district. Discovered several camps about Wheogo, and recovered sundry saddles, bridles. &c., &c., stolen property. Please telegraph touching the limits of my district towards the Weddin. The O’Mealy’s and others ought to be at once cleared out, I but I cannot act at present.

'inundated Plain'
Image courtesy NLA.
Compounding Sir Frederick Pottinger's mounting challenges, the Lachlan District's harsh climate and unpredictable weather patterns proved to be significant obstacles. Having suffered a severe drought from mid-1861 to early 1863, the area finally received much-needed rainfall. However, this relief was a double-edged sword. While the replenished Lachlan River, along with its creeks and waterholes, was a welcome sight, the downpours also washed away crucial tracks and traces that the police had been meticulously following.

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:

For some months during the past summer, the bed of the Lachlan, throughout very many miles of its course, has been dry with the exception of waterholes at a few places, far distant from each other. During the past week, however, an extensive fresh has come down, by which the channel of the river has been completely filled, and the water is now commencing to flood the flat and to run out into the numerous creeks, which are to be found on the Lower Lachlan, this flood will prove of very great service to the settler, as it will not only ensure a plentiful supply of water for the stock but will also, by swamping the flats, cause a luxuriant crop of grass to spring up on land which otherwise would remain barren and unprofitable.

Bushrangers in Australia 
By: Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton.
c. 1910.
Amid the sporadic robberies that plagued the late 1862 and early 1863 period, wherein Ben Hall and his gang relentlessly targeted mail coaches and solitary travellers, a new cash transferring system was introduced: the Money Order. This innovative system was developed alongside the expanding telegraph system, and the General Post Office in Sydney, under Mr Hunt's supervision, oversaw its rollout.

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 plan, which is very simple, may be briefly explained as follows: -a working man who presented himself at a Money Order Office with a sum-say £4-for the Savings' Bank would obtain a money order to that amount, and enclose it in a printed form to the Savings Bank Manager, who would in course of post return to him the usual voucher, and the transaction would be complete. In withdrawing the money, he would have to transmit by post this voucher to the Savings Bank, and he would receive in return a Post Office money order to that amount, minus the commission.

As 1863 unfolded, the use of Money Orders became increasingly encouraged and publicised in journals and newspapers throughout the colony. The benefits of this system were extolled, especially for the rural population. It was seen as a vital tool to secure the transfer of their funds, thereby reducing the attractiveness of their hard-earned cash to opportunistic highwaymen.

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:

THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL complains of money and other valuable articles being sent in unregistered letters. In France, he observes, it is treated as a penal offence to do this; and in the United Kingdom, letters obviously containing money are not only treated as registered letters but charged with a double registration fee. The introduction of the money-order system, which after too long delay has at length been established (though from want of accommodation in the cramped Post Office buildings, the office is on the opposite side of the street) will tend to diminish the practice of sending money in letters. As the system becomes known, and the people become familiarised to its use, it will be availed of more fully. There is also another cause in operation which will have the effect desired by the POSTMASTER of diminishing the quantity of money, sent up and down the country in letters, though that cause is one that he could hardly have recommended, or speak of with approval the singular success and impunity with which her MAJESTY'S mail now stopped mid ransacked on the highroad acts as a strong inducement to all cautious people not to send money by that means. GARDINER and his colleagues are certainly helping to increase the business of the Money Order Office, by making it so unsafe to enclose notes in letters.

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.

However, as with all new inventions and systems, there was an inevitable resistance to change. Despite the clear benefits, the adoption of the Money Order system was slow in some quarters, and this prompted an observant 'Sydney Mail' correspondent to write:

We certainly are surprised that people will be so rash and obstinate in remitting notes to Sydney and other places by these opportunities. There is now every facility given to forward money in a secure manner, by means of bank drafts and money orders. Notwithstanding these modes of transit, many prefer the very dangerous one of sending notes, either whole or in halves, in letters through the medium of the post. This is dangerous at all times. Rivers and creeks are often flooded, and in swimming the horses across them the mail bags are liable to be saturated with water, and the contents materially if not wholly damaged. To the bushranging fraternity, it is a lucky windfall, as bank notes are the only portion of booty in a mail robbery that is valuable to them. Bank drafts, cheques, orders, &c;, are mere waste paper. We certainly consider it is holding a premium out to crime, the remitting of specie and notes by the mail. If this system was once discouraged, if people would only come to the determination to alter this plan of forwarding money, we should have fewer mail robberies; in fact, they would soon cease altogether.

Adapting to the increasing threat posed by the informants, Ben Hall's survival hinged on an undercurrent of mistrust and a constant state of hyper-vigilance. Despite the substantial monetary incentives and the prospect of pardons tempting some to betray their compatriots, the notion of 'dobbing' was generally reviled in Australian society. To be an informant was to be considered the lowest of the low, a traitor to be shunned and often targeted for retribution.

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:

We understand the police authorities are confident that an expedition now out searching the haunts of these ruffians will return with some of them in safe custody. A person familiar with Gardiner and his mates in criminal acts as a guide, and the police are commanded by one of the most efficient officers in the force.

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.

Lingering in Bathurst Gaol, Herring faced charges of fraud and suspicions regarding his involvement in the infamous Eugowra gold heist of June 1862. His criminal dossier was extensive, with a series of alleged offenses including false information, highway robbery, theft, and obtaining money under false pretenses. However, despite these numerous accusations, Herring often managed to escape conviction, leading to numerous discharges.

On the cusp of his unexpected recruitment into the NSW police force, Herring, as Zahn, made a bold statement regarding the Eugowra affair, stating:

If he was lagged, he would "come it," and take some more with him as companions to Cockatoo, and that he would implicate people upon whom at the present time no suspicion rests.

Herring with John Peisley
1861.
NSW Police Gazette.
Soon after, as Zahn was incarcerated on suspicion of fraud and involvement in the Eugowra incident, he began to disclose his intimate associations with notorious figures such as Gardiner, Gilbert, and others. Zahn brazenly asserted that he could single-handedly bring Frank Gardiner and John Gilbert to justice with relative ease.

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.

Note: Zahn/Burgess/Herring would be eventually dismissed from the police for stealing a valuable pistol from Captain Battye, the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree. There is evidence that Herring/Zahn escaped from Pentridge in 1851 with Gardiner. See Gardiner page.

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:

Gibson was found in the bush, in company with Gilbert, Ben Hall, and others, and when he saw the police, he, with the others, galloped off and was pursued. After going a considerable distance, the police succeeded in capturing him. He was armed, and could not give any satisfactory account of himself.⁸⁵

The relentless chase, however, proved demanding on the inferior police horses, which soon became exhausted. Gibson, finding himself cornered along a fence line, was apprehended while the others managed to disappear into the dense undergrowth. Upon their return to the Police Camp in town, Trooper Townly narrated the gripping details of their pursuit. The account of the chase was a tale of quick decision-making, skilled horsemanship, and determined resilience. It underscored the challenges the police faced in their pursuit of these elusive outlaws, and how close they often came to their quarry, only for them to slip through their grasp once again. 'The Empire' 15th April 1863:

I am a mounted constable in the police stationed at Bathurst; on last Tuesday or Wednesday, was in company with detectives Coward and Zahn, near Kangee station; we were galloping down the ranges, and saw the prisoner and three others riding towards the station; when they saw me they put spurs to their horses, and went off at full gallop; we chased them, and detective Coward took the prisoner near the fence; I kept a little to the right, and went on after the other three; I am positive one of the men was Lowry, and I think one was Gilbert; I had seen Gilbert once or twice; the man whom I supposed to be Gilbert, after having crossed the creek, threw back his poncho, raised his carbine, and fired over his shoulder at me; I then heard Zahn say "Gilbert, you wretch, you wouldn't hit a hay stack;" I then saw Zahn on my right; we followed them to the top of the range, where my horse was knocked up; I dismounted and fired; was about 130 or 140 yards distant from them when I did so; I then mounted the blackfellow's horse, but could not overtake them; I heard Gilbert say something about "You're goose is cooked," to Zahn; Zahn kept taunting them, trying to cause them to stop; but they would not; we followed them about half a mile, and then gave up the chase; we examined a camp, and saw foot marks corresponding with the prisoner's feet; on returning, we escorted the prisoner to Breakfast Creek station; I noticed nail prints similar to the nails in the prisoner's boots, now produced; the ground at the camp was soft and black, the blackfellow I speak of is stock-keeper at Ryan's.

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:

He was going home to the Weddin Mountains, said he had recently been hunted from there by Sir Frederick Pottinger.⁸⁶

The news of the skirmish quickly caused a stir in Yass. The community, already on edge due to the persistent threat of bushranger attacks, found themselves caught in a whirlwind of rumours following the capture of an infamous outlaw. Bushranger fever was at its peak in the region, with the public anxiously following every development. Local correspondents, eager to share the latest news, were swept up in the excitement. One such writer, upon hearing the news, prematurely assumed that the apprehended individual was the infamous Ben Hall himself. In his haste to break the story, the correspondent neglected to verify all the facts, rushing to transmit his account for the Yass Courier:

The Marengo correspondent of the Yass Courier furnishes an account to that journal of the capture in that locality of a bushranger who is believed to be the notorious Ben Hall. The facts of the capture are these. The patrol belonging to Marengo, in conjunction with a black tracker, had been out in search of Gilbert and his party, but were unsuccessful in finding any traces of the robbers. Another party from a contiguous station were then dispatched to scour the country around Breakfast Creek. Their aboriginal tracker soon found some fresh tracks, which led them within sight of four or five mounted men, supposed to be Gilbert's party. Then commenced an exciting chase.

The bushrangers, as usual, had the best horseflesh, and they gradually increased the intervening distance between themselves and their pursuers, until the chase seemed almost hopeless, the heavy rifles of the troopers proving a great encumbrance. The pursed highwaymen were nearly out of sight, when the most rearward, in trying to take a shorter out, suddenly found himself "brought to grief" by a very strong line of fencing, which the officer in pursuit and his men perceiving, they, by a flank movement, one to the right and left, and three up the centre, completely hemmed in the rascal, who after trying ineffectually to make his horse take the fence, turned at bay, and seemed inclined to show fight, but seeing he was outnumbered, he returned his revolver to his belt, and surrendered at discretion. He was taken, pinioned into Marengo the same day; and a fine young fellow he is, apparently about twenty-five years of age. The name the prisoner gave is not considered bona fide, and corresponding with that of a very respectable family on the Levels, is withheld. It is thought in Young that he is the celebrated "Ben Hall," but as no person here knows him, it is merely conjecture.⁸⁷

Mr Percy Scarr.
c. 1905.
Ben Hall, they had not! He was eventually identified as Henry Gibson. As the wheels of justice began to turn, Gibson was brought before the court, where he was confronted by a new crown witness, Mr Percy Scarr. Scarr, a farm manager, had been present when the men had breakfast on the day of the chase. In court, he provided a detailed account of the events that transpired before the police pursuit. 'The Sydney Morning Herald' 27 April 1863:

The substance of the evidence was to the effect that the prisoner, with three other men, two of whom had firearms, with a woman and child, called at one of the out-stations of Mr Broughton, near Marengo, on the above day, and that the party ordered breakfast to be got ready for them, which was accordingly prepared - that they had breakfast, and remained about an hour and a half, and that they had ordered Scarr, who came up to the station to inquire of the party in charge if they were "sticking up" the place to get off his horse and join them, which he did; that the men entered into conversation with him, asked him if he was a good cook, or if he could track, both of which question he answered in the negative, and finally wound up by inviting him to join them by a nobbler, after which they departed.

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;

FORBES POLICE COURT- On the 19th instant, the young lad John Walsh, brought up on suspicion of being a mate of the bushranger Gardiner, was further remanded for three days.

The tragic death of 'Warrigal', a mere 17 years old, deeply affected Ben Hall. The young man had spent the last months of his life in deplorable conditions, only to be moved to the hotel as his life ebbed away. He died surrounded by his sisters and stepmother, their grief compounded by the harsh reality of his final days. His painful demise was reported in the 'Lachlan Observer' on March 23, 1863, bringing yet another personal blow to Ben Hall. This was a young man he had known well, who was part of his extended family, and whose death underscored the stark, unforgiving world in which they were all entangled.

An inquiry was held on Monday afternoon, at two o'clock, at the White Hart Inn, Rankin street, touching the death of John Walsh, late prisoner in the gaol. There were present Commissioner Grenfell, Esq., J. P., Dr J. J. Connell. Drs. Flatan and Nutt, and senior sergeant Rush. Senior sergeant Rush explained that the lad Walsh was lately a prisoner under his charge, and that in consequence of having been taken ill, Dr. J. J. Connell had been called in to attend him, which he did for about a week at the gaol, and that he treated him for colonial fever. The lad got worse, and senior sergeant Rush then had him removed by his mother, Mrs, Walsh, to the White Hart Inn, when Dr. Flatan and Nutt were called in, and these gentlemen pronounced the lad to have been suffering from gaol fever in the first instance, which at the time they were called had resolved itself into a violent congestion of the brain. Vigorous and prompt measures were at once adopted, and it was found necessary to open both temporal arteries, and the jugular vein, in order to relieve the congestion. In spite of every care, however, the boy gradually sank under the disease, till death put an end to his sufferings. The result of the inquiry was the finding that "the said John Walsh had died of the effects of gaol fever.⁸⁸

Note: On the Warrigal's death certificate, his mother is stated as Julia Walsh, his step-mother was Sarah Walsh, who was previously married to Joseph Harpur in 1814, who passed away. Sarah married John Walsh in 1847. She was also the mother of NSW poet Charles Harpur and NSW Parliamentarian Josiah Harpur, the member for Patrick Plains and Sir Frederick Pottinger's constant antagonist. The nickname of Warrigal stands for 'wild or untamed horse' or 'Dingo.' His birth date is reputedly November 1845.

Warrigal's' untimely demise was not only a personal blow for Ben Hall but also for the broader group of men connected to him, either by blood or marriage. This included John Maguire, John Brown, Dan Charters, and Bill Hall, who were all held in remand at Forbes, following the escort robbery. These men, who knew 'Warrigal' for most of his brief life, were also his uncles through marriage, making his loss keenly felt across this tight-knit, interconnected group. They were bound by more than just their criminal activities; they were a makeshift family, forged through shared experiences and trials. The death of one of their own underscored the harsh realities of their chosen path.

Soon after Walsh's death, this appeared in the newspaper:

A lad named John Walsh, who was apprehended at the time of an unsuccessful attempt to catch Gardiner, has lately died in the gaol at Forbes under rather peculiar circumstances. The verdict returned-"Died of gaol fever"-does not give public satisfaction. Application for a special commission of inquiry is talked of.⁸⁹

The passing of young John Walsh, known as 'Warrigal', left a tragic and unmarked imprint on the annals of history. His untimely death barely elicited an inquiry and was soon forgotten by the media. Media outrage is tomorrows 'Kitty Litter' as his demise faded from public memory as rapidly as it had entered. However, his remains were laid to rest in an unmarked or lost grave at the Forbes Cemetery, the final resting place of a life that ended too soon, tragically ensnared in the violent maelstrom of bushranging.

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
Attorney-General
2nd April 1860-31st July 1863
b. 1815 - d. 1885.

NSW Parliament.

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:

The supposed notorious bushranger, Henry Gibson, alias "Parker," against whom a charge of "suspicion of highway robbery" had been preferred by detective Coward on the 8th of April, and also a further charge of attacking (in company with others) a station near Marengo on the 26th March last, belonging to a Mr Broughton, on which latter occasion it appeared by the evidence that the supposed bushranging party in question had simply demanded breakfast, which had been accordingly prepared for them by the inmates at the hut, when they left, bidding each other "good day" - and who had been committed from this place for trial at the next Goulburn Circuit Court on both of the supposed serious offences, the full particulars of which appeared in your several issues of the 17th and 27th April - suddenly made his appearance in the town in propria persona, to the no small astonishment of many persons. I have been given to understand that the Attorney-General had directed his discharge, not, however, without good grounds for so doing, as on reading over the depositions there was nothing upon which he could file a bill either this step or an acquittal could alone have been anticipated, and no doubt a very proper course had been taken by the Attorney-General in adopting the former alternative. However unfortunately for Gibson, the presence of Sir Frederick Pottinger here had no very great advantage in his favour, in as much as he was speedily deprived of the sweets of liberty before he had enjoyed many hours of fresh air, having been arrested on a warrant issued by the police magistrate, and brought before him on Tuesday, charged with "having on or about the month of March, and divers other occasions, harboured, aided and assisted certain notorious bushrangers, to wit, Johnny Gilbert, Johnny O'Meally, and Ben Hall, contrary to the statute." Sir Frederick Pottinger, who sat on the bench, and not only acted in the capacity of a prosecutor but appeared in the witness-box against the prisoner, to prove that he knew the prisoner before the court, had frequently seen him at Ben Hall's house and had tracked him to a place where he was in company with Mrs MaGuire (supposed to be the wife of another notorious bushranger), urged that he might be remanded to Forbes, where there was a witness who would prove that he was actually in company with the before mentioned notorious characters. Mr Prendergast, who appeared for the prisoner, vainly endeavoured to show that there was no ground for the prisoner's arrest, that the warrant was informal, because no specific charge was laid against the prisoner, and neither time nor place alluded to. As a matter of course the prisoner was remanded to Forbes in order that there might be a charge with a specific offence proved against him.
 
Despite numerous obstacles and setbacks, Inspector Pottinger continued his tireless pursuit of Ben Hall, relentlessly patrolling the trouble-stricken districts and eagerly gathering any information about the elusive bushranger's whereabouts. While initial reports suggested that Hall and his gang were heading towards Fish River, Pottinger soon received evidence indicating that Lambing Flat or Burrowra were more likely targets.

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.


Start tomorrow morning via Cowra for the Fish River to co-operate with the southern police, both Captain Zouch and myself having been informed from distinct sources that Gardiner, Gilbert, John O'Mealy, and Ben Hall are there abouts: the three latter are, I believe, in that district, the former I still think is out of the colony. My movements will of course depend upon circumstances; I cannot therefore report thereon now; expect to be absent some fourteen (14) days. Have also sent four (4) troopers and trackers to scour Wheogo, &c Patrol detachments and other stations still in status quo. Sanderson returned yesterday. By-the-bye I hear Captain Zouch has applied for Sanderson to be transferred to Young; I hope you will not consent, as Sanderson a presence here till matters are quite settled is indispensable, Sergeant Rush still very ill, also detective M'Glone, our only detective. Swainson much wanted back.⁹⁰
 
After having established Susan in Lambing Flat, Ben Hall seemed to make the town his new base of operations. With the promise of new gold strikes luring miners back, Lambing Flat was once again booming with activity. Unfortunately, this meant that the hard-earned fortunes of these men were once again at risk of being snatched away by Hall and his gang at the barrel of their pistols.

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.

Captain Battye was entertained at a public dinner last Thursday evening and presented with an address signed by all the principal residents of the district. His removal has caused much regret and dissatisfaction. No officer in the force knows the haunts of Gardiner's gang better, and now when proper force is sent here, the very man who should command them is removed. If he had the force now stationed here six months ago, poor Cirkel would not have fallen a victim to the bullet of the robber, nor the colony have been disgraced by the deplorable revelations made at each circuit court. The necessity for a "special commission" would never have arisen; humanity would not have been shocked by the drivellings of a judge, nor the venomous spawn of a "Constant Reader" would never have been spewed forth through the columns of a mercenary newspaper; many a once happy home would not now be in mourning and affliction for the child who had brought down his parents grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.

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.

Bushranging is quiet just now, the spasmodic efforts made by the police to capture the members of the firm of Hall and Co. making it necessary for those pests to keep close to their haunts. Why could not all this great parade of force have been made any time within the last eighteen months, when this ruffian roamed at will throughout the district? Now, when he has ruined many young men by his vicious example, robbed and murdered people in their homes-captured an Inspector of police, after an encounter, a la Pottinger-and stuck up police stations, our paternal, or rather "maternal Government," sends up the "hero of the colonial Bull Run," and a Sydney detective to try to capture him. Well, may he laugh at their efforts? He can now rest easy for the remainder of his days, and while comfortably doing his "pipe," cogitate over the magistrate's "Advice to a Bushranger." I would suggest that Mr Cowper send our worthy P.M. and "The Hero of Bull Bun" to negotiate terms of capitulation or offer him the Inspector Generalship of police-vice McLerie, appointed to the "Fort Bourke Noodles. 

However, this lull would be temporary.


Continued on Ben Hall Pt 2

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

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