|A typical bushrangers|
Frustrated by his inability to gather information, Pottinger was informed that Hall had moved further south from the Lachlan to the Cootamundra region. This area, known for its harsh scrub and remote stations, provided an ideal hideout for Hall. Pottinger's last reliable report indicated that Hall was in this district, robbing stores and roads. Determined to keep his chief in Sydney informed, Pottinger sent a telegram stating that he was hot on Hall's trail. April 1863.
|NSW Police Gazette.|
Pottinger was alerted to Ben Hall's ongoing presence in the Cootamundra district after interviewing two gentlemen who reported seeing the bushrangers camping nearby in the scrub. This information proved accurate when Hall and his gang descended on the station of Mr Ryan, a respected landowner. Ryan and his workers were held up by the gang, who were always on the lookout for fresh horses and, when the opportunity arose, weapons. On this occasion, they acquired new mounts and a shotgun.
Ryan was among the numerous cattle stations owners that were either visited or robbed by these bushrangers. However, journalists often used cautious language when reporting these incidents, employing phrases like 'supposed', 'thought to be', or 'can be identified' to describe the culprits. This careful choice of words was likely intended to avoid potential retaliation against anyone who might directly name the bushrangers.
|Nagle (Ned) Ryan|
In his later years, Richter recounted this encounter in an article titled "Random Recollections VIII," published in the 'Sydney Mail' in 1913. In the article, he also described a tense meeting with Sir Frederick Pottinger, who was known for his dogged pursuit of Hall.
At the time of their meeting, Richter was unaware of the men's true identities, as they had introduced themselves as simple drovers. Despite their notorious reputations, Richter noted that the men were 'pleasant in their habits,' a stark contrast to their public image as bushrangers:
|NSW Police Gazette.|
|John Frederick Barnes|
Thomas Barnes (Right)
Sons of murdered
John Barnes by O'Meally.
Although Cootamundra was 40 miles from Lambing Flat, an area frequently visited by Ben Hall, the bushrangers' notoriety was widespread. This was evidenced by a woman who recognized Gilbert. Established in 1861 on the banks of Muttama Creek, Cootamundra became a frequent target for the bushrangers over the next few months. They harassed local settlers, culminating in the shooting of a shopkeeper. Sometimes, while holding up remote homesteads, the gang would claim that Gardiner was watching from a nearby hill, likely as a scare tactic to ensure compliance.
In the wake of the attack on his son's store, Thomas Barnes' father, John, wrote a letter to the editor of the 'Yass Courier.' He expressed his frustration with the lackluster police response and his low opinion of the law enforcement authorities.
|John Hurley's Station, 1866.|
|Basil Bennett Jnr.|
Residing in Cootamundra came with its own set of challenges, as the locals soon found out that Ben Hall and his band were not yet done with their criminal exploits. On April 29, 1863, their target was the station store at Cootamundra Station. Owned by a prominent landholder, Mr. Hurley, who was based in Campbelltown, the station soon found itself under the hostile attention of the bushrangers.
As Hall and his gang made their move, a male employee attempted to flee the scene. This triggered an immediate reaction from the bushrangers, who fired off several shots at the fleeing man. Thankfully, none of the bullets found their mark, but the episode was a stark reminder of Hall's willingness to resort to violence, even against unarmed workers.
Having successfully pillaged the station store and loaded their spoils onto their pack horses, the bushrangers left the scene. However, their illicit activities were far from over. Along their route, they came across a bullock dray. With a shouted command of "bail-up," they proceeded to rob the unsuspecting carrier, extending their crime spree.
This eyewitness account was relayed by a correspondent from Young and published in 'The Albury Banner and Wodonga' on Saturday, 23rd May 1863. It vividly encapsulates the paradox of the bushrangers' persona – ruthless criminals with an unpredictable sense of admiration for courage – adding a layer of complexity to the narrative of their exploits.
In the communities regularly visited by Ben Hall, many locals were cognizant of individuals who secretly liaised with the bushrangers. These collaborators, serving as informants and conduits for stolen goods, were often compensated with pilfered items for services such as providing refuge. Consequently, these individuals harbored a deep-seated aversion to publicity, preferring to operate under a veil of anonymity. 'The Empire' 22nd April 1863:
Author's Note: Robert Lowe, J.P., shot dead a bushranger near Barney's Reef, Mudgee, in April 1863 after he and his servant were bailed up. Lowe shot one of the two bushrangers with a shotgun in the throat, and after riding a short distance, the offender fell from his horse and died. Lowe was declared a hero and, in 1875, was presented with a gold medal for his bravery.
Many locals remembered Hall as a quiet, hardworking former squatter with a pleasant disposition, and they protected him accordingly. Meanwhile, the police, often venturing into challenging terrain and conditions, risked their lives repeatedly. They launched expeditions from towns like Yass, Young, Forbes, and Cowra, often under the cover of night to avoid the watchful eyes of those who might tip off Hall.
In a strategic move, the police began adopting Sir Frederick Pottinger's tactic of wearing disguises, dressing as bushmen or stockmen. Pottinger's rationale was simple: 'if you wish to seek out the enemy, you must dress like the enemy.' This left the bushrangers with the challenge of distinguishing friend from foe.
Another motivating factor for the police was the substantial monetary reward offered for the capture of gang members. For instance, John Gilbert carried a bounty of £500, whether captured dead or alive. In 1863, there was no moral ambiguity—killing a bushranger was considered just as commendable as capturing one alive. 'The Empire', 22nd April 1863:
|"Roll up Roll up"|
However, resourceful sea captains found a way around this tax by dropping off Chinese labourers in South Australia, particularly in Robe, where no such tax was imposed. These Chinese miners would then embark on the grueling overland journey by foot to reach the principal goldfields in both Victoria and the later fields in New South Wales.
The prevailing animosity often resulted in Chinese labourers being confined to the more isolated and hazardous areas of Lambing Flat. They were relegated to working in abandoned mines and deserted claims. Due to the minimal law enforcement presence in these remote regions and the Chinese miners' general reluctance to resist, they became easy targets for bushrangers and other unsavoury characters. Regrettably, acts of violence perpetrated against them, including murder, were frequently overlooked or outright ignored. 'The Empire' newspaper 7th April 1863:
The day after the above entry a further notice from the 'Goulburn Herald' of Wednesday 8th April 1863, cast the culprits of the attack of the fifty Chinese at Hall and Co:
Furthermore, despite the apparent lull, the overall sense of fear and insecurity never truly dissipated. The bushrangers' unpredictable patterns of behaviour and their ability to strike without warning ensured that the citizens remained on edge. It was common knowledge that Ben Hall's gang could reappear at any time, ready to unleash a new wave of robberies, violence, and chaos. The populace, knowing this all too well, would have braced themselves for the inevitable return of their tormentors.
|NSW Police Gazette,|
Taylor was apprehended near the Fish River, where his sister Mary Fogg and other extended family members lived. Inspector Pottinger, while on patrol, noticed Taylor driving a herd of cattle that aroused his suspicion. Taylor's explanation did not satisfy Pottinger, who subsequently detained him on suspicion of cattle rustling.
Pottinger, who considered individuals like Taylor to be of 'low character,' was increasingly frustrated and even furious over his inability to capture Hall. This frustration led him to arrest those he perceived as belonging to that class of people.
The high number of holdups in and around the goldfields of Forbes and Lambing Flat provided an opportunity for some individuals to blame their misfortunes on the bushrangers. Instances such as losing their employers' money or suffering injuries, often self-inflicted due to alcohol, were sometimes attributed to bushranger activity. Such claims, made by individuals who reported being victimised by bushrangers, were often viewed with skepticism by their employers. Inspector Charles Sanderson highlighted the many opportunities for employees to steal and then claim they were robbed by bushrangers in his 'Reminiscences of Ex-Superintendent Sanderson,' published in 'Old Times' in May 1903.
|A representation of|
ladies travelling by buggy.
However, the ridicule of Inspector Shadforth over his encounter with Ben Hall prompted a clarification in the press. In what could only be construed as a case of spin as a means to prevent any further loss of respect by the general public for the Inspector and police in general; 'Lachlan Miner' 3rd June 1863:
However, for Jamieson, this fall from grace had severe consequences. As reported in the 'Otago Daily Times', Jamieson, who had recently inherited £22,000 (equivalent to $1.9 million today) following his father's death, would see his fortune pass to the Crown due to his conviction.
Interestingly, Jamieson's mother was the older sister of Emma Downer, the lawful wife of James Taylor, whom Taylor had abandoned for Bridget Hall. The Jamieson family property at Back Creek was just a day's ride from Ben Hall's station.
However, the claim about the inheritance was highly misleading. Jamieson had younger siblings, and as the eldest, any inheritance would naturally be divided according to Mr Jamieson's will. The principle of primogeniture, where the firstborn inherits everything, was not applicable under Australian law. (See Gang page)
|S.M.H. 21st May 1863.|
The aforementioned telegram was followed by another, showcasing the rapid pace and extensive distances covered by Ben Hall, Gilbert, and O'Meally to evade the troopers. This highlighted the bushrangers' strategic planning, including the placement of fresh horses along their well-concealed escape routes. The ongoing communication and information being relayed also confirmed previous evidence that 'The Darkie' had long since abandoned his leadership role and had fled the district.
The police's mention of Jameison is noteworthy, as he was the son of the now-deceased Mr Jameison, who had written a letter protesting the police's burning of Hall's home. Young Jameison was someone Hall had known since childhood, due to Ben's friendship with his father, the late William Jameison, and his camaraderie with John Warrigal Walsh, 'The Warrigal'. (See note above)
After securing his share of the stolen items, Ben Hall mounted his horse and, along with his three companions, took the road leading out of Cootamundra. They veered into the scrub when suddenly the crack of gunfire echoed, and the horse he was leading staggered. Turning sharply, Hall saw the shopkeeper raise his gun and fire again, the next shot whizzing past O'Meally's head.
Taken aback, Hall chose not to confront the shopkeeper and instead fled, urging the wounded horse on. After covering some distance, he dismounted and transferred items from the dying horse to another, dropping items that were later recovered and returned to the shop. The confrontation between Barnes and Hall was recalled years after the event, on Saturday, 16th May 1863:
|NSW Police Gazette|
The description fits
& Ben Hall.
To keep up with the demand, newspapers employed a wide array of local country correspondents, typically residents with a keen understanding of the district's happenings and a close ear to the ground regarding all bushranging and police activities.
Like the police, these correspondents grappled with the volume of incidents and the challenge of verifying the information's authenticity, including the identity of victims or descriptions of perpetrators. As a result, many robberies were still attributed to Frank Gardiner, even though they were likely carried out by Ben Hall, John Gilbert, John O'Meally, and Fred Lowry. Sometimes, the bushrangers operated alone, in pairs, in trios, or all together.
The enduring allure of Gardiner's reputation throughout NSW and the frequent sightings of him limited many reporters' awareness that 'The Darkie' had long since left NSW. Despite leaving the Lachlan in October 1862, Gardiner's legend continued to grow, with his name often linked to any outrage involving Gilbert, Hall, and O'Meally.
However, Gardiner's physical absence made it difficult for reporters to distinguish fact from fiction. Consequently, victims of bushranger attacks often provided descriptions that left no doubt about Gardiner's presence during hold-ups. Citizens were convinced of Gardiner's involvement, even though the time and distance between the various locations would have required him to be superhuman, as noted in the press:
|The Shamrock & Thistle Inn|
Bowning was built in 1840.
One of the many hotels
the Gang frequented.
The police after making some necessary arrangements for the pursuit, took the course which had been disclosed by the information received, crossed the Murrumbidgee, touched on the Coorradigbee and well searched the country towards Tumut. From thence they in part retraced their steps, crossed the river near Taemas, and obtained a clue that the fugitives had been seen twenty miles ahead of them, making towards Queanbeyan. To that direction, the sergeant and his party directed their chase and followed it to the borders of Jingery, where the trace was lost.
|Sub Insp Brennan|
This dual strategy was brought to the fore when Senior Sergeant Patrick Brennan of the Yass police station was lauded in a report dated May 21, 1863. Brennan had previously killed a bushranger in February 1863, an act for which he was handsomely rewarded. The event undoubtedly boosted his prestige and probably spurred his and his fellow officers' determination to bring the other bushrangers, such as Ben Hall, to justice. The incident was reported as follows from Yass, February 28, 1863:
Brennan had indeed carved a formidable reputation for himself. Locally, he was known as a terror to every bushranger, cattle thief, and drunkard, earning himself the respect and fear of those who knew him. He was even given a rather fitting nickname - the "fire-eating little devil."
Shortly after his encounter with the bushranger, Brennan received his well-deserved reward. His relentless dedication to law enforcement, coupled with his uncompromising approach, had earned him recognition and monetary compensation. His story further highlighted the constant danger and potential rewards that came with being a law enforcer during these tumultuous times.
|Painting, Yass township|
St Clements Anglican Church
Note, no spire,
it was added in 1857.
Rossi St looking SW.
Sergeant Patrick Brennan, owing to his relentless dedication, courageousness, and successful endeavors, became an embodiment of this aspiration. His exceptional performance was rewarded with a well-deserved promotion to Sub-Inspector, thus solidifying his reputation and showcasing his success story to fellow officers. This journey from Sergeant to Sub-Inspector, marked by bravery, tenacity, and ultimate success, painted Brennan as an exemplary figure in the force, inspiring many others to follow his path.
|'Old Tom' Gin.|
A favourite of the
Such was the case with a pair of troopers who, after a few too many drinks, began to weave tall tales about their supposed encounters with bushrangers. According to their accounts, they had stood up bravely to O'Meally and Ben Hall, leaving their gun barrels hot and smoking. The story they presented was one of heroic confrontation and dauntless courage. However, upon investigation, it became clear that their stories were nothing more than gross exaggerations fueled by their inebriated state.
This humorous incident, reported by 'The Sydney Morning Herald' on May 25, 1863, served to highlight the nervous tension experienced by the police during this period. But it also underscored the determination of some officers to prove their mettle, even if their bravado was just a figment of their alcohol-impaired imagination.
|John Chamber's police|
According to the account, the gunfight was as thrilling as any, filled with gunfire, daring chases, and narrow escapes. However, the revelation that the emu was a well-known local pet added a dash of comedy to the otherwise tense narrative. In an attempt to flee, the pet emu had become entangled in the chase, causing some confusion and ultimately aiding in the bushrangers' escape.
This unexpected twist in the story served not only to entertain the public but also to highlight the unpredictable and often chaotic nature of police attempts to apprehend the elusive bushrangers. As law enforcement continued their pursuit, stories like these served as a peculiar and humorous aside to the harsh reality of bushranging during this period.
Mrs Allport, who owned a lodging house in Forbes and had formerly operated Allport's shanty, where Daley and Hall had been pursued by Constable Hollister and Billy Dargin in February 1863, lodged a complaint against Inspector Sanderson. She alleged that Sanderson had unlawfully broken into her home, physically harassed her tenants, and caused damage to her property.
Mrs Allport, who was known to have had previous dealings with Ben Hall, represented one of many challenges that law enforcement officers faced in their pursuit of the bushrangers. These complications, combined with the constant threat of encountering Ben Hall and his gang, created an environment of high stress and pressure for the police. As a result, even highly esteemed officers like Inspector Sanderson found themselves in situations that tested their judgement and conduct. The incident was reported in 'The Lachlan Miner' on 24th June 1863:
In the midst of these challenging times, the anxiety and fear incited by the menace of the Weddin Mountains gang had permeated far beyond the police officers actively patrolling the bush or the inspectors conducting invasive searches. Even officials stationed in distant districts found themselves affected, leading to behaviours that served only to tarnish their reputations further among their peers and the broader public.
This collective apprehension was so profound that even the mere utterance of the term 'bushranger' could trigger an intense response. This phenomenon was humorously illustrated in an incident where the mere mention of the term provoked an immediate and somewhat comical reaction, revealing the pervasive anxiety that had permeated the ranks of law enforcement during this tumultuous period. Reported by the Goulburn Herald:
|NSW Police Gazette |
17th June 1863.
In response to this criticism, and in an attempt to honour the promises of the Colonial Secretary, Charles 'Slippery Charley' Cowper, the authorities in Sydney bolstered police presence in the Western districts. The intent was clear - to arrest or shoot down any bushranger, sending a strong message to the renegade outlaws:
The authorities suffered yet another setback on the 29th May 1863 when the charges against Henry Gibson, an accomplice of Ben Hall who was apprehended with the help of an informant, Charles Zahn (also known as Herring), were dropped due to lack of evidence. The Attorney-General ordered Gibson's release. However, Sir Frederick Pottinger, who was present at the proceedings, immediately re-arrested Gibson, taking him to Forbes to face a different charge.
Unabated, Ben Hall and his companions continued their reign of terror. They rampaged through local stores with a startling intensity, the police struggling to keep pace. Lambing Flat Goldfields and its surrounding settlements bore the brunt of these attacks, with the gang often firing indiscriminately and abusing innocent citizens and business owners without remorse.
On June 9th, 1863, Hall and his gang, accompanied by several unknown youths, attacked several stores in Lambing Flat. One of the shopkeepers who suffered under Hall's onslaught was named M'Connell. During this attack, Hall brazenly fired his revolver, spraying M'Connell's establishment with bullets and narrowly missing the inhabitants who were sleeping inside. It was reported:
For the M'Connell's, it was truly a close call and only through a miracle no one was killed, even their sleeping child! 'Courier' 24 June 1863:
|Typical Colt revolver|
percussion cap nipples.
The prevalence of misfires, a common problem with the firearms of that era, was a major concern for both the bushrangers and the New South Wales police. Misfires could happen due to a number of reasons, but they posed a significant risk, often turning the tide in gunfights and affecting their outcomes.
The weapon of choice for most bushrangers and police officers in New South Wales was the .36 calibre Colt 1851 Navy Revolver, a six-shot, single-action, percussion-cap revolver. This firearm was favored due to its availability, brought into the Australian goldfields by American miners from the mid-1850s. This revolver's ammunition load included a round lead ball weighing around 80 grams, ignited by a crimped fulminate percussion cap that ignited roughly 30 grains of black powder. The bullet's velocity was about 1,000 feet per second when fired.
Carbines were also used, which included a ready-made paper cartridge that was ignited by a fulminate percussion cap applied to the nipples at the rear of the chamber, similar to the revolvers. Despite the potential for misfires, these weapons were crucial to both the bushrangers and the police, often determining the outcome of their encounters.(See video link below for a demonstration.)
Courtesy of DrakeGmbH channel YouTube.
|Reputed revolver of Ben Hall,|
five-shot, .31 calibre, 5" barrel
1849 Pocket Colt revolver.
However, misfires were a common problem due to several reasons. For instance, the percussion cap might not be crimped onto the nipple correctly, or the black powder could be under-loaded or damp, which would prevent the firearm from discharging properly. Overloading the cylinder with black powder was equally problematic and could cause the cylinder to explode.
The safety mechanism on these revolvers was basic and consisted of positioning the hammer between the nipples of the cylinder. This prevented the hammer from striking a percussion cap unintentionally. It was also common for bushrangers like Ben Hall to carry multiple pre-loaded cylinders that could be quickly interchanged, allowing for rapid reloading in the heat of battle.
Apart from the popular Colt revolvers, Ben Hall also sought after the highly prized English-made Tranter and Adams revolvers. These firearms, particularly those with double triggers, were considered superior in terms of their reliability and accuracy.
|NSW Police Gazette|
3 June 1863.
|NSW Police Gazette|
11th June 1863.
In the same area, the presence of his other brothers, William and Thomas, might have further offered Ben Hall aid or at least a form of passive support by providing information about the police's activities or other useful intelligence.
However, it is also worth noting that family members might not have approved of Ben Hall's criminal lifestyle. It's entirely possible that their presence was a source of tension, as they may have attempted to convince Ben to cease his bushranging activities.
In many ways, the involvement or presence of family members could have added another layer of complexity to Ben Hall's life as a bushranger. They might have provided support, but they could also have been a source of potential risk if they chose to cooperate with the authorities or if they were targeted as a means of reaching Ben. The reality of the situation likely falls somewhere in between these scenarios, with the relationships between Ben Hall and his brothers characterized by a mix of familial loyalty, personal conflicts, and practical considerations related to survival.
|Robert Hall Maitland Gaol Entrance Book December 1862|
|Police Gazette, the horse, stolen by Robert Hall.|
Coloured by me.
|Goldfield miners meeting.|
|NSW Colonial Secretary|
This is a frightful state of things; We appear to be surrounded by these desperadoes; the roads, in all directions, are infested with them; safe travelling is almost impossible; life and property are insecure; the business of all kinds will, ere long, be completely paralysed; and what is done will have to be confined to the township alone. If this is to be the result of the famous New Police Act, the sooner it is repealed the better, for it appears to be a curse instead of a blessing to the colony. The ridiculous, military parade attached to it is looked upon with contempt. We do not attach the blame to the police. They are obliged to obey the orders they receive and do their duty. Even supposing they captured any of these noted robbers, the reward does not go to the individuals, but to the police fund. The heavy expense of the prosecution in attending the Criminal Courts, either in Goulburn or Sydney, fall upon them, for out of their small pay they must disburse it. The time has now arrived when some alteration in the police system must be effected. It is scarcely, necessary to add any comments of our own to this. At the outset, we prophesied the failure of the New Police Act. Every incident in connection with it has conspired to expose its fallacy. Eighteen months have now elapsed. We were told that the new system required time in order to develop the full bloom of its beauty. It has had time enough. There is nothing which can be urged in its favour, we trust, for the credit of the colony, that the approaching session will witness a radical alteration in its provisions.¹⁰⁸
The events often ran over three days with different monetary purses up for grabs, some above 100 guineas (£210). The highlights of these well-attended meetings were the popular one on one races between local champion horses with side bets abounding. The festivities didn't end at the track with evening dancing, dinners and ale's flowing.
However, in hope of securing the bushrangers, the police also checked in as well, and in many cases, acted as race stewards and officials. Sir Frederick Pottinger was one such officer who would not let a good race meeting pass him by. Arriving at one such event at Lambing Flat simultaneously as the bushrangers were looting some of the local stores; 'Empire', 13th June 1863. However, for Sir Frederick, the love of a good race would in the future, cost him dearly:
Furthermore, race meetings aside, the Australian bush for the uninitiated was an unforgiving environment. Whereas for the native-born Australian bushranger, the landscape was hearth and home. However, many police were recruited from Ireland and England. Therefore, the Australian bush for those men could be an unrelenting nightmare. Police recruits were also drawn from as far afield as America and Canada. As a result, these raw immigrants were often referred to as new chums. For some troopers, their bushranger work in an unfamiliar scrub cost them their lives as they succumbed to impenetrable hills and valley's or while fording flooded streams. 'The Sydney Morning Herald' Wednesday 4th March 1863:
The naivety of other migrants' understanding of the Australian interior's wilds was also prevalent, as these new chums often travelled alone through the bush from Goldfield to Goldfield, town to town and wrestled with the vast dryness or flooded plains and its dangerous creatures. It was, to say the least, intimidating. Inexperience could be life-threatening, as was the case of a migrant miner from a faraway land crossing from one digging to another who lost his way. From the 'Pastoral Times' 9th June 1863:
|Robert's 'Currowang Station'|
stables. c. 1863.
Courtesy Young Witness.
|NSW Police Gazette.|
|Croaker's Inn, NSW Police|
Gazette, 8 July 1863.
|NSW Police Gazette|
8 July 1863.
To disseminate the bushranger news effectively, the telegraph, much like the veins of a body carrying oxygen, issued instant reports of the bushrangers daring deeds. In an effort to thwart information of their operations, the bushrangers commenced cutting down the telegraph wires and the poles supporting them. For the first time, the bushrangers were taking an active part in limiting the new power of information reaching authorities. 'Sydney Mail', 4th July 1863:
Furthermore, as alluded to earlier the bush telegraphs employed by the bushrangers were the primary source of information on the comings and goings of persons carrying valuables. Many storekeepers who traversed the country roads sweated on circumventing contact with Ben Hall and his mates whereby with the towns' remoteness and an inadequate police presence was worrisome. Many kept their movements secret. On top of that, many people searched for fellow travellers whose company often provided protection or, if very lucky, the possibility of them joining a police patrol heading their way.
It was reported of one such occasion, where a storekeeper from Lambing Flat had procured some gold at Wombat, a small settlement eight miles south of Young and faced a dilemma for his transit to Young and a safe return to his home. Luckily to his good fortune, a local police patrol appeared like saviours, and he immediately joined the troopers. However, a secret is only safe between two people if one of them is dead therefore for the traveller Ben Hall was undoubtedly appraised of the good shopkeepers' secret and movements, and his rich purse were with his mates in tow Hall waited near the road ready to pounce. For the traveller, the sudden police protection became invaluable:
|NSW Police Gazette.|
2 September 1863.
|Fred Lowry dead.|
The photo was taken at
Goulburn Hospital. 1863.
|Lambing Flat Goldfield.|
For enhanced view open
in New Tab.
Courtesy Young Historical Society.
M'Bride's murder had instigated a sudden split within the gang. Accordingly, rumours of constant disagreements between Hall and Gilbert regarding operations or who was calling the shots spread. Either way, Ben Hall bid adieu, resulting in Gilbert with O'Meally going out on their own. However, in the wake of the recent M'Bride killing, it had made the area around Young, as it had become for Lowry, too hot for the two wild colonial boys. Therefore, they shifted their swag sixty miles east to the Carcoar area.
Arriving in the new operating area, Gilbert and O'Meally soon made their presence felt. The pair quickly sought out a local lad named John Vane, who was on the run and had been a former acquaintance of John O'Meally when stock-riding at the Weddin Mountains sometime earlier in 1861 was tapped on the shoulder to provide some help. As a consequence of renewing their mateship, Vane join-up with the two bushrangers and whose general knowledge of the surrounding countryside greatly benefited the two visiting bushrangers.
When Ben Hall began a romance with Susan Prior her mother Mary had been in an abusive relationship with one George Pentrow. When the opportunity arose to flee the wretched man the women took the opportunity to live at Sandy Creek. However, with the home's incineration in March of 63, the women returned to Young and Pentrow was soon lurking. Unfortunately, Susan's youngest sister Charlotte, an eleven-year-old, was sexually molested by her mother's partner before their move and where terrified the young girl said nothing of the attack. However, upon revealing her violation George Pentrow was arrested on the 23rd of January 1863. Consequently, Pentrow was found Guilty and sentenced at the end of March 1863 to five years of hard labour on the roads. Pentrow had previously arrived from Hobart in company with Susan's mother. Upon sentencing, the judge commented:
|Diggers at work c. 1862.|
(Coloured by Me)
As such there can be no honour in a man such as Ben Hall, who, through the vehicle of fear and abuse, stripped away the hard-won miner's reward, earned with their blood, sweat and tears. It would be enough to make anyone's blood boil. Not just the miners. As a result of the recent depredations of Hall, a general meeting of miners was called at the Burrangong Gold Field on the 4th of July 1863, for 3 pm, to petition the Colonial Secretary Cowper's New South Wales Government to take stronger action in defence of their lives and property:
So frustrated were the correspondents over the police's lack of information and the general malaise amongst the troopers. An editorial covering the last few months of Ben Hall's activities was published and countered much of the misinformation from authorities. (See the link attached below.)
Ben Hall, regardless of the miner's agitation, continued holding the roads and three days after the miners meeting on the 7th of July, 1863, Captain Zouch arrested two men who were in Ben Hall's company during a recent robbery:
|Captain John McLerie|
Consequently, Pottinger’s presence forced Ben Hall to depart his living arrangements with Susan Prior. Hall headed into the bush to Memmigong station to await the pending rendezvous with Gilbert and O'Meally Whose return had no doubt been bush telegraphed to Hall. Unknowing that Gilbert and O'Meally had recruited two new members John Vane and Michael 'Micky' Burke, to their merry band.
Furthermore, the wretched life Ben Hall had adopted in 1863 was summarised in the 'Sydney Mail' and gives a fantastic insight into his grim life outside the warm embrace of society which not only Hall but his contemporaries were suffering.
Unfortunately, a reversal of fortune was now out of reach for Hall, and with the onset of winter, the bitterly cold nights would have made the outdoors most uncomfortable for the bushranger; therefore, a remote Sheppard’s hut or cave would be a welcome relief:
Bush telegraphs for Ben Hall were still as pivotal as ever, as per this statement in Parliament on the use of those telegraphs and harbourers:
However, the bush telegraphs were a problem for the authorities. Many others from the upper echelons of Sydney society held a widespread belief that some of the larger squatters in the troubled districts were complicit in turning a blind eye. To the point of even supporting bushranger activities to minimise exposure to raids by not reporting some horses and equipment losses. These perceived scoundrels were also thought to be Journalists as well as Parliamentarians who for one reason or another were soft in their censure of the rogues:
Ben Hall had abandoned the horse taken in hand by the pursuing troopers in a deplorable condition. Hall's earlier report doing it tough also reflects on the neglect of Mickey Hunter as Hall scrounged for food and money. A later report stated Hall had been resting and was totally surprised by the troopers and in the melee was deprived of his swag:
Later that evening alone and remounted again, Ben Hall came in contact with a lone trooper, who called on the bushranger to 'Stand in the Queen's Name'. Hall's hesitation had the trooper reputedly challenge Ben Hall to a fistfight for his freedom. However, brave Ben Hall declined and in 'boastful defiance', bolted as the trooper opened fire:
|Native Police Force,|
Consequently, a letter sent to the editor of the 'Sydney Morning Herald' in July 1863, countenance the idea of using the old aboriginal 'Native Police Force' to bring a halt to Ben Hall, John Gilbert O'Meally's rampant depredations. The Aboriginal 'Native Police Force' had been founded in NSW under the leadership of Frederick Walker, who had arrived in Australia in 1844 and held the position of Clerk of Petty Sessions at Tumut and was also linked to the celebrated explorer William Wentworth by way of Superintendent of Wentworth's Murrumbidgee River station 'Tala'. Under Walker's leadership, however, the Native Police Force gained a fearsome reputation for shooting first and asking questions later. Furthermore, Frederick Walker was one of the first to engage the local Aborigines, understand their culture, learn to speak their local language, and use this knowledge to help secure peaceful harmony between Aboriginal and European settlers.
I am, Sir, yours obediently,
|"Have you seen the Traps?"|
A typical Watchbox.
|Henry Hickles, |
NSW Police Gazette.
7 September 1863.
|Micky Burke & John Vane.|
However, to impress their seasoned veterans, Burke and Vane robbed 'Coombing Park' station's stables of the top quality racehorse 'Comus II' and a fine horse of a visiting police inspector Mr James Henry Davidson. 'Coombing Park' was owned by the Icely's, a prominent family of the district. (Once again in Vane's narrative 'John Vane, Bushranger' as told to and transcribed and edited by Charles White and printed after Vanes death. Here Vane denies involvement in the robbery, but historical evidence directly involves Vane.) During the nabbing of the horses, a stable hand known as 'German Charley' surprised the two, and Burke fired shooting the stable hand in the head; 'Bathurst Times', of 6th of August 1863:
John Vane, Biography of a Bushranger.
Returning to their camp, O'Meally and Gilbert were not the friendliest toward each other and were noted to quip insults at each other over bravery went at it again:
However, they all agreed except Burke, who was reluctant to depart his home turf. Gilbert and O'Meally, in company with Vane, placated Burke, and they deserted the Carcoar district and made their way toward Young and Ben Hall. Local gossip of their whereabouts abounded:
|Inspector James Henry|
As Gilbert, O'Meally and the two new recruits arrived in the Young area for their rendezvous, there appeared in a Tasmanian newspaper an article again ridiculing even scoffing at the inadequacies of the NSW police and the appointment of a somewhat overweight Inspector, Mr Black, who had replaced Captain Battye at Young; The Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 5th August 1863:
The sentiment regarding Black was again followed with another observation and derision directed at the leaders of the police; 'Empire' 25th August 1863:
|Ben Hall c. 1862.|
the table cloth in the
previous Susan Prior
Benjamin Hall is now about twenty-eight years of age born near Maitland, and his father, who was a free immigrant, cultivated his own farm on the banks of the Hunter, and gave his son a good education. About eight years ago the young man went to the Lachlan district to take up a station and settled at Wheogo, where he won the friendship and good opinion of all the settlers in the neighbourhood. He was honest and obliging, of good appearance and address, and was what he professed to be-a gentleman. About four years ago Hall married and fortunately in an evil hour; and after the birth of his first child, his wife eloped with another man. This person, afraid of Hall, went to a certain officer, and told him that Hall was connected to the gang of Gardiner; and shortly afterwards at the Lachlan races, Hall was given in charge of the police, and taken to the watch-house. In a question put to him by Hall as to the reason of his arrest, the officer in question replied, riding a good horse, and none but bushrangers ride good horses now-a-days." The man was then heavily ironed, his hands were fastened behind his back, and he was pushed into a damp, dark cell whence he was not let out for three weeks, but where, he was taken, once every seven days, to the court to be remanded again and again, in order to allow the police to find out whether there was any charge against him or not. During the many weeks of his incarceration Hall's horse was ridden as a hackney by the officer referred to, who appeared to have taken a fancy to the animal, and at the of three weeks two witnesses were brought in to swear that Hall was like a man who was with Gardiner, and he was on this testimony committed for trial. Although several Squatters and Settlers in the neighbourhood offered bail to a large amount, none was accepted, and the man was then sent back to one of the filthiest watch-houses in New South Wales, into the company of men whose society he loathed, to await his trial. That came about in time, and, there not being the shadow of evidence against him he was discharged. In the meantime, many of his horses and cattle had been stolen, his farm had suffered from his unjust incarceration and he had expended over £500 in-law expense, in procuring witnesses, and in satisfying the harpies that preyed on him when he was down. When he was discharged he taxed the police officer with riding his horse while he was imprisoned, and that threatened to lock him up again if he did not immediately be off. Hall went back to his farm and was just getting his disordered affairs to put right and had collected his remaining cattle and horses when the escort robbery took place. Advantage the opportunity was taken, and poor Hall was again remanded on suspicion, and kept in the lockup for a considerable time heavily ironed, although the two approvers, Charters and Richards, declared he had nothing to do with the affair, either directly otherwise.
|Map of Weddin Mountains,|
Is it not possible, however, to make those districts which furnish the robbers yield the means of repressing them? It is said there are large numbers of young men who are acquainted with every nook and corner in the bush, and whose superior knowledge enables them to baffle pursuit. They are not all equally, criminal, perhaps many are not so by choice. Would it not be possible to enlist some of these last into the service of the country, and by giving them the position inspire them with the feelings of honest men? The police are said to be incapable of contending with their superior agility and skill, and we can easily imagine the helplessness of any man, whatever might be his other qualifications, if new to the country. He could not pursue, because he must keep the high road or be lost in the bush. He could not make enquiries, because, not knowing the people, he might be only letting out information to an accomplice. Wherever he might move he would find all unintelligible and trackless. If, however, a score of young men who hover about the Weddin Mountains could be brought into the service of the police, they would probably do more for the detection of the offenders, and for the prevention of robberies, than five times the number of policemen collected from the four quarters of the globe. Every man who now countenances criminals must be himself a felon in heart, probably in history. There may be excuses in quiet times for indolent toleration for loose language and idle declamation, but it is infamous now. If the slightest right feeling remains in those districts, the false admiration of robbers must have been subdued by the evidence of their cowardice and cruelty. They spare none who are not accomplices, and rob the hard-working digger with as little remorse as they rob the banker. Many a family in this colony have deeply suffered by the interception of letters, and the loss of small remittances, as well as from the personal injury inflicted by criminals in their career of crime. Mr DEAS THOMSON, Mr KEMP, and Sir WILLIAM MANNING have had too much experience of the colonies to be led away by a mere cry of danger, and the strong language they have employed in reference to the state of the country demands the serious consideration both of the Government and the Legislature. As to the colonial reputation, nothing could be more damaging than such speeches except the facts they attest to. They have done well to state the case boldly without regard to those who would imitate that foolish bird which endeavours to get relief from the cries of the hunter by sticking its head in the sand.
Although the powers in Sydney were debating various solutions to the halting of bushranging. Ben Hall, Gilbert and O'Meally, with their two new recruits, continued on and started to venture out at will. Consequently, they were spotted in Yass, and as a Catholic Priest was also in town tending his flock, a local pointed out the gang to him as they were resting nearby. Undeterred, the man of the cloth strode over to the men and attempted to counsel their lost souls. The priest ardently stated that only one fate awaited them in the course of their wayward unchristian lives, thereby urging them to consider surrender and that his duty was to place a right word to the government for clemency. However, Gilbert said they would ponder over his kindness if the government ensured they would only receive a gaol sentence. The priest passed on the information to the government in July 1863; Yass Courier, 5th August 1863:
|NSW Police Gazette|
|Robert Hall. |
Subsequently, the five bushrangers remained camped for several days:
|Mr Steele Caldwell,|
The gang were now ranging some distance from Mimmegong. On the 19th, the bushrangers were once more tracked by the police, now wearing bush clothing as recommended by Sir Frederick Pottinger and which was being widely adopted by the patrols:
The following telegram was relayed from Inspector Pottinger to the Inspector General on the 19th August 1863 was tabled in parliament by Mr Cowper:
After the above telegram as relayed by Sir Frederick Pottinger, this appeared in the 'Burrangong Star', 21st August 1863, of the efforts of Sir Frederick Pottinger:
|NSW Police Gazette of|
September for August 1863.
As time passed while waiting, other travellers were taken into the bushrangers custody but remained unmolested to not raise the alarm. The 'Burrangong Star' reported five days after the robbery on 29th August 1863 the known facts. However, in this article, Burke and Vane are unknown:
Consequently, another report of the bushrangers run down by Sir Frederick Pottinger at Mimmegong was also reported in ‘The Golden Age’, Thursday 10th September 1863, stating:
John Vane recounts his version of the fracas after Sir Frederick Pottinger's pursuit at Mimmegong:
|"getting together, however, we|
After this close encounter, the five once more split as attested to by John Vane:
|"..make for the scrub"|
John Vane recounts his version of the encounter:
After this event and narrow escape, it was discovered by the gang that they had been betrayed by none other than, no doubt, young Jameison. However, Vane only refers to the snitch a J, who had been the one to leave a trail that led the police to their haunt, as Vane explains:
|NSW Police Gazette for|
Daniel Morgan, August 1863.
|Prison Hulk "Success" c. 1900|
Another report of the hold-up at the Hammond's residence appeared in the 'Sydney Morning Herald, a week after the event on 1st September 1863, and refers to horse thefts from Mr Robert's 'Currawong Station' and fleeing Superintendent Morrissett at Carcoar:
|NSW Police Gazette|
2 September 1863.
A century after the raid of August 1863 on the Hammond's home 'Wyoming' Albert Hammond's encounter was recounted in the 'Junee Southern Cross' in July 1973 and recounts the story of the gang seeking the lad who rode to Wagga on 'Fireman.' When discovered Ben Hall informed him that if O'Meally was present he is life would have been over, as follows:
Old Junee c. 1870's.
Courtesy Junee Historical Society.
As Mr Cowper reiterated the government and police's efforts to apprehend the bushrangers, moves were afoot in the Legislature to unseat the Government by renowned lawyer Mr Martin over not only bushranging but public expenditure:
|NSW Police Gazette|
2 September 1863.
|NSW Police Gazette|
2nd September 1863.
With O'Meally and Vane having escaped, the two men arrested were the harbourers Walter Tootles and George Slater, quite possibly mistaken at first for Gilbert and Burke. However, John Vane, in his narrative of the affray, said that only himself and O'Meally were present. Vane description of the gunfight was reminiscent of the final scene of the film 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' except that, unlike in the film, the pair escaped alive under a fusillade of bullets:
|George Slater entry at Cockatoo Island, 1863|
The tragic death of Mr Barnes motivated another letter to the Editor of the 'Sydney Morning Herald' calling on the Government to employ Ben Hall's close friend Daniel Charters to help catch Hall. Charters had been employed at the police stockade at Longbottom in Sydney since the Eugowra Robbery trial of February 1863. The writer also expresses using the native police who should be brought down from Queensland, the letter is as follows:
To the Editor of the Herald.
In my younger days in the colony, I did a "leetle" amateur work in taking bushrangers, and a good deal in the capture of wild cattle. I am confident the same course might be equally successful with those wild and impracticable bipeds—namely, by tracking, and thus hunting them off their run. The manner I propose this should be done is simple. Let Captain Battye or Sir F. Pottinger be placed in charge of four troopers, lightly equipped and well mounted, procure two of the native police from Queensland; the six men should be selected as to weight, horsemanship, and proficiency with the rifle. Then take Charters, from Longbottom, or wherever he is indolently enjoying himself; mount and arm him equally well. He is a good horseman, and knows not only the country but the haunts of the desperadoes. Let this party get on the tracks, and keep to them. The bushrangers will be wearied out and forced to leave their favourite locality. Once expelled they will prove but easy victims to the numerous troopers patrolling the disturbed district.
It may be said the bushrangers can get fresh horses; well let this small force do as the old mounted police frequently did—press horses when in pursuit. If old sergeant Wilcox is alive he would verify and approve of this plan, and I believe few men have captured more bushrangers than that old soldier.
HINC, ILLINC, UBIQUE.
Authors Note: Hinc, Illinc, Ubique is Latin for here, there and everywhere.
|NSW Police Gazette,|
Ben Hall with young
Several days after the Crego robbery, a more detailed picture appeared in the press:
At 3 o'clock in the morning, I proceeded with two men to watch and search the house of a person named Downey, a relative of O'Meally's, and suspected of harbouring bushrangers, but did not find them, although I have since ascertained they had been there two hours before the store was stuck-up (this house is situated about seven miles from Burrowa). Senior constable Cornett and one man was also sent to watch the house of another suspected harbourer named Lynch, but did not find them.
I have the honour to be, sir, your most obedient servant,
JOHN BLACK, Sub-inspector.
E. Fossbury, Esq. Secretary of Police, Sydney.
The bushrangers upon having stolen many items from the store, Ben Hall was reported to be seen flashily dressed, including being adorned with several red silk sashes wrapped around his waist. A customary dress of the diggers and stockmen of the Goldfields and the youth populace. At the time, an individual was not considered well dressed unless they were dressed up with sashes and trinkets as described during country towns festivities and horse races:
|Sub Insp Brennan|
The following was reported of the recognition of the brave efforts of both Brennan and Stephenson in their gunning down of bushrangers:
Never before published.
Nobody was safe from a gang visit. Even in the quiet of a teamsters camp, the arrival of the bushrangers could not be deterred as they demanded a free feed and fodder for their stolen thoroughbreds. These raids often made for an uneasy and fearful evening for the carriers:
Subsequently, after the gunfire at the Twelve and Ten Mile rushes, O'Meally and John Vane retreated from the district and headed for Carcoar, searching for Ben Hall, Gilbert and Burke. While preparing to head for Carcoar the pair were supplied by some local lasses. Vane recounted:
NSW Police Gazette.
14th October 1863.
|Frederick Ward, alias|
in death 1870.
The police applied a fire-stick to the building and stood by till the house was reduced to a heap of ashes as had befallen Ben Hall's home. They then ran the family 'out of town.' Yass Courier, 16th September 1863: