Ben Hall Pt 3

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

"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.

This website aims to provide a comprehensive, chronological account of Australian bushranger Ben Hall's calamitous life. Gathered through the accounts of eyewitnesses, former gang members, government documents, as well as the reproduction of historical newspaper and N.S.W. Police Gazette records of Ben Hall and his associates' bushranging activities. (All related articles incorporated into the narrative are coloured and transcribed as originally published.)

 "Young man with a pleasant disposition."
Continued from Part 2...
The Charters' former home,
now  Fern Hill. c. 1970's.

Reputed birthplace of 
Henry Hall.
Courtesy Carcoar Historical Society.
Under the relentless pursuit of law enforcement, Hall found himself cornered. The police, indefatigable in their efforts, persistently scoured his favoured hideaways in the Weddin and Pinnacle mountains. This continuous pressure impelled Hall to forsake his once familiar refuge around Lambing Flat. Despite the political unrest over his antics in the New South Wales legislature and police pressure mounting, Ben Hall remained impervious to both the political sphere and police hunts. In September 1863, Hall fled Lambing Flat and shifted into the Carcoar region situated 70 miles northeast of Lambing Flat.

In the years leading up to his outlaw career, Hall enjoyed simpler times in Carcoar. He often shared these moments with his close friend, Daniel Charters. However, their friendship underwent a severe test when Charters transitioned into an informer of the Eugowra Gold Robbery in August 1862. The strain in their camaraderie peaked when Charters became a key prosecution witness at the trials held in Sydney in February 1863.
In August 1859, in the quiet town of Carcoar, Hall's personal life took a significant turn. His ex-wife, Bridget, brought their only son, Henry, into the world. The birth occurred at the home of Daniel Charters' mother, adding another layer to Hall's complex ties to Charters, (for more details, refer to Henry's birth certificate in Ben Hall part one).

Despite the life changes and looming notoriety, Hall managed to preserve his relationships with old friends from his more peaceful days in Carcoar. Their unwavering loyalty became evident as they willingly offered him sanctuary amidst his burgeoning outlaw activities. As Hall began to assert his presence in the Carcoar district, his violent escapades weren't confined to the shadows. Detailed accounts of his ruthless attacks on storekeepers, settlers, and travellers in New South Wales's Western districts flooded the newspapers and police gazettes. These chronicles painted Hall as a fearsome bushranger, and he swiftly became public enemy number one. The media further magnified his reputation, transforming him into a figure of notorious celebrity status akin to his mentor, Frank Gardiner.
However, the authorities didn't limit their pursuit to physical search efforts; they also adapted their strategies to further outmaneuver the bushrangers. Officers cast aside their identifiable uniforms and adopted the attire typically donned by bushmen, stockmen, or miners instigated and directed by Sir Frederick Pottinger. This cunning strategy blurred the line between friend and foe, adding a layer of uncertainty to their operations.

These relentless endeavours by the police signalled a change for the isolated locals, inspiring renewed confidence in those supporting the police. They began to believe that the terror of Hall's gang was nearing its end, as law enforcement seemed to close in on them with each passing day. This period represented a crucial turning point in Hall's notorious life, indicating the impending downfall of his reign as a bushranger.
'The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser' Saturday 5th September 1863:

The Marengo correspondent of the 'Yass Courier' writes, under date 20th ult:- It is the general impression here that the bushrangers days are numbered — at least, if they are not, they ought to be, for there is now scouring the bush of this district no less than five parties of troopers, each party consisting of six or seven men, headed by an officer and accompanied by a black tracker. The officers commanding these detachments are — Messrs. M'Lerie, Pottinger, Singleton, Orridge, Roberts, and Tippon. These officers have very properly dispensed with all military trappings, arms excepted, and have adopted the costume of ordinary squatters, and their men that of rough bushmen or stock-riders; also, on a pack-horse each detachment carries a tent and provisions. Some parties of foot police are likewise performing their share of the programme, which, being of a highly strategic nature, must be kept dark for the present. Sufficient to say that we all think in fourteen or twenty days the majority of the desperadoes will be either killed, taken, or compelled to retreat to their other stronghold, viz., the Abercrombie Ranges; for I'm sure they have or will soon find the Wedden Mountains far too hot.

In addition to their relentless pursuit, the authorities heightened their vigilance over those known to harbour sympathies for Hall. This meant rigorous inspections and a succession of unanticipated visits that effectively disrupted Hall's ability to seek undisturbed refuge. This tightening net of surveillance added an air of tension to his already precarious existence as a bushranger.

Yet, in the face of these mounting challenges, certain sympathisers remained resolute in their support for Hall. Key among these was his brother, William, who was engaged in gold mining at the Pinnacle Range, and the steadfast Charters family in Carcoar. Their unwavering loyalty provided Hall with a semblance of support and refuge

Inspector Charles Sanderson, who retired in 1903, later shared his thoughts on those individuals who showed sympathy towards Hall.
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.

Henry Hall.
c. 1895.

In spite of the exhaustive efforts by law enforcement, they found themselves unable to break through the 'Cone of Silence' that was steadfastly upheld by those sympathetic to Hall. Even with a bounty of £500, no one seemed willing to betray the notorious bushranger. The town of Carcoar offered Hall more than just a strategic hideout; it provided him with familial comfort and support in the form of his elder sister, Mary.

In 1851, Mary Hall had wed an ex-convict, William Wright, and subsequently settled in the vicinity of Carcoar. Initially, they made their home at 'Bulligal Station', where Wright shepherded sheep, thereby carving out a modest existence. However, in a tragic turn of events, William Wright passed away near Forbes in 1861. Left to navigate life on her own, Mary eventually found companionship in George Huddy, whom she married at Forbes.

As the years rolled on, Mary relocated to Charters Towers in Queensland, where she spent her later years. Despite the geographical distance, the familial bond between her and Hall remained, offering him a safe haven amidst the tumultuous chapters of his life. This bond, no doubt, contributed to the 'Cone of Silence' that the authorities were unsuccessful in breaching.

Hall's knack for continually evading capture ensured his activities remained a constant subject of government deliberations. Parliamentary debates were often dominated by discussions around the perceived inefficiency of the police force and the cost it entailed. The seeming lack of resolve demonstrated by the police force in apprehending Hall was regarded as scandalous by many legislators.

The expenditure on policing for the year ending 1863 was a staggering £257,000 (equivalent to $21,588,000 today, with £1 equating to $84). This figure placed a significant financial strain on the citizenry of New South Wales, a burden that many found to be untenable given the population of approximately 350,000.

As such, many parliamentarians of New South Wales found these costs justifiably objectionable. Their discontent found expression in the relentless questioning of Colonial Secretary Charles Cowper about the seeming impunity that allowed Hall to sustain his reign of terror.

The loudest clamour of criticisms emanated from the seats of those parliamentarians whose districts were subjected to the terror of the bushrangers. They faced the twofold pressure of their citizens' fear and frustration and the risk of losing their parliamentary seats due to the ongoing lawlessness. The saga of Hall was not just a tale of outlawry but also a political whirlwind that stirred the highest echelons of government.
'Sydney Morning Herald' 1st October 1863:

How was it that the Government could not manage to capture a half-dozen bushrangers? Whether five or fifty, they ought to be able to bring them to justice, considering the great expense of the present large police establishment. It is necessary that the head of the Government would devise some plan which would lead to the speedy capture of these robbers. It was, he thought, clearly incumbent upon the members of the Government, and on those who had supported them on the police question to take this matter in hand. It was but too true that the country was now in a great state of insecurity so that something should be done at once.

Amid the mounting parliamentary furore, Ben Hall remained undeterred. He boldly continued his activities, holding sway over the Queen's roads. Venturing into the Carcoar district, Hall, in tandem with Gilbert and Burke, began their audacious raids. Even as spring brought with it the challenge of inclement weather, their activities remained unaffected. If anything, the adverse conditions did little to aid the beleaguered police in their relentless chase.

It was reported in newspapers of the time that the only ones seemingly thriving under such inhospitable conditions were Hall, Gilbert, Burke, and their network of informants. In contrast to the frustration and impotence experienced by law enforcement, this infamous trio seemed to be revelling in their outlawry, unaffected by the elements or the escalating public and governmental outcry. Hall's story was becoming one of continuous audacity and bravado, his life a source of intrigue for both authorities and the citizens who lived under the shadow of his exploits

OUR GOLD-FIELDS.- The heavy rains that have occurred at intervals during the past month have been a great drawback to the work of the miners, since every creek, and the river has been flooded, and in many instances, the work of months has been destroyed in a night by the resistless force of the torrents that rush down many of the mountain watercourses or creeks, in the beds or bunks of which so many of our diggers are employed. The accounts from the mines, taken as a whole, are consequently somewhat unencouraging. Gold is scarce, and the storekeepers are complaining of the little business doing. The only activity that prevails is that shown by the bushrangers, Hall, Gilbert and O'Meally, and their gang. Scarcely a day passes without their making themselves heard of, conducting their proceedings in the most open and wholesale manner. A store is bailed up, pack-horses are brought to the door, and laden with the proceeds of the robbery, unfortunates who come in to purchase are made to give up their cash without any return, and then the bushrangers ride gaily off, never to be heard of again until another robbery is committed, in the same manner. It is understood that the police in large numbers are scouring the country in every direction, and yet by some means the bushrangers manage to evade them, thus proving that they must be in possession of information of every movement of their pursuers.³

As 1863 swept on, a climate of fear permeated the region. Every whisper of a suspected robbery echoed with cries of "Ben Hall! Ben Hall!" Just as in the past, these exclamations had been "Gardiner! Gardiner!" Yet, this attribution was not always accurate. Amid the thousands who flocked to the gold-rich districts of Forbes and Lambing Flat, a sizable number were of questionable repute, a blend of rogues and vagabonds.

Among them, a significant number were miners, either strapped for cash or on the run from past misdeeds. Driven by desperation or lawlessness, some resorted to sporadic acts of robbery and, in more extreme cases, even murder. The spectre of crime was ubiquitous and not always attributable to the notorious Ben Hall. His name, however, had become synonymous with lawlessness, a symbol of the rampant disorder that gripped the gold districts. As his reputation grew, so did the infamy attached to his name.
As highlighted:

On Saturday last the body of a man was found in the bush, near Green's station. Not a vestige of clothing was left on it, decomposition had made considerable havoc, and no one has been able, up to the present time, to identify it. That the unfortunate man was murdered there can be no doubt, as two bullets were taken out of his body, one of them having lodged in the chest. The police are making diligent inquiries respecting the murdered man, and will probably be able, in a few days, to throw a little light on what is now a matter of mystery.

Despite the almost reflexive tendency to associate all manner of crimes with Ben Hall, the reality was a complex tapestry of opportunistic thievery. Indeed, a significant number of these infractions were hatched by individuals operating on remote stations or within the confines of isolated, small towns.

Among the most common culprits were domestic workers. Often placed in positions of trust, these individuals had access to their employers' cash. Fueled by desperation or greed, they found themselves drawn into the web of crime. Once more, Charles Sanderson, 'Hero of Wheogo', provides numerous instances of such thefts.

Though Hall's notorious exploits continued to dominate the public narrative, Sanderson's observations underscored the fact that crime in these turbulent times extended beyond the deeds of one man and his gang. The gold-rush era fostered a broader climate of lawlessness. :

Bushranging often led to bogus sticking-up cases. There was nothing easier than for anyone entrusted with money or valuables to say that he had been stuck up and make away with the property himself. In two cases I was able to bowl servants out who tried this sort of thing, as I proved that the men who were supposed to have robbed them were hundreds of miles away at the time; but there were undoubtedly many cases that were never found out.

While Ben Hall, and permanent gang members John Gilbert, and John O'Meally were prominent figures in the public consciousness, a plethora of others also wielded six-guns in the goldfields of New South Wales. Notable among them were individuals such as the Druitts, Cocorans, Lynhams, Seary brothers, Cumming's brothers, and Foleys. Some of these rogues would occasionally ride in the company of Hall himself, a testament to the expansive and fluid nature of the bushranging fraternity.

In parallel, other demographic groups were drawn into this lawless world, notably the much-maligned Chinese gold diggers. Since the riots at Lambing Flat in 1861, the Chinese community had endured an unending barrage of assaults and slurs from their European counterparts. Although the government eventually quelled these violent uprisings and jailed prominent anti-Chinese agitators such as William Spicer, Charles Stewart, and Dougal Cameron, the leaders of the 'Roll-up' campaign aimed at expelling the Chinese from the Flat, the sentiment continued to simmer beneath the surface in the goldfields of both New South Wales and Victoria.

This prevailing hostility and distrust towards the Chinese community confined them to old, abandoned areas of the goldfields. Marginalised and vulnerable, they became easy prey for acts of robbery, physical violence, and, in extreme cases, murder. This grim reality underlines the pervasive lawlessness of the era, a state of affairs that extended well beyond the notorious deeds of Ben Hall and his gang.
John Ward

Amid the era's tumult, one individual broke through the relative invisibility of the Chinese community in the lawless saga of New South Wales. A Chinese miner named Sam Poo took the path less travelled by his compatriots and embraced a life of crime. In February 1865, he began his outlaw career, robbing travellers along the trail between Mudgee and Gulgong. Poo, endowed with an impressive repertoire of bush skills, managed to elude the authorities for several months, painting a portrait of defiance that made him a notable exception among his generally reticent peers.

However, Poo's run as a bushranger was not destined to last. He was eventually located and cornered by police trooper John Ward. What ensued was a dramatic chase and gunfight, the confrontation escalating until Poo landed a fatal shotgun blow to Ward's groin. The gravely injured Ward was transported to Birrawa Station, formerly known as "Billaroy", situated near Dunedoo, where he succumbed to his injuries. The place of his final rest became his grave.

The death of Trooper Ward, however, marked the beginning of the end for Sam Poo. A few months later, he was apprehended and faced the full weight of justice. He was sentenced to death and on December 19th, 1865, met his end at the gallows in Bathurst Gaol. His story is a stark reminder of the multifaceted nature of the era, demonstrating that the paths leading to lawlessness were taken by individuals from all walks of life.

Chinese convict Sam Poo, who at the last assizes was convicted of the murder of constable Ward, suffered the extreme penalty of the law, within the precincts of the gaol. In the absence of any of his countrymen outside the prison walls, three Chinese prisoners, who are at present confined in Bathurst gaol, were brought out to see the end of Sam Poo; there were also about a dozen other persons present besides the police and the officers of the gaol. The wretched man, who, ever since his apprehension has been quite weak in intellect, appeared perfectly unconscious of his fate, and until his arms were pinioned by the executioners, stood at the door of his cell clapping his hands. The ceremony of pinioning over, he was led to the gallows without speaking a word, or even once lifting up his head. The rope was fixed, the bolt drawn, and Sam Poo ceased to exist. The body was, after the lapse of little more than half an hour, cut down, and taken away for burial.
As Ben Hall, John Gilbert, and Micky Burke were entrenching their operations within the districts of Rockley, Carcoar, and Mount Macquarie, two notable figures in their ranks - John O'Meally and John Vane - were holding the fort in the Weddin/Burrangong district.

Due to their implication in the murder of John Barnes at Wallendbeen Station, both O'Meally and Vane found themselves estranged from the gang, leading them to remain anchored in the Lambing Flat area. This part of their story is echoed in John Vane's autobiography, where he stipulates that their arrival in the Carcoar region did not occur until September 21, 1863.

Interestingly, Vane's memoirs also point to a lull in their criminal activities with Hall, indicating that between September 1 and September 22, 1863, the pair were not implicated in any robberies alongside Hall. This period serves as an intriguing chapter within their tumultuous lives as bushrangers, reflecting their mobility and sporadic criminal operations.

Hall, Gilbert and Burke wanted to make back for the Bathurst district, but O’Meally and I were not agreeable, so they left us. A couple of days after this we went to a road leading from the Twelve Mile Diggings to Grenfell and took up a position commanding sight of the road for a good distance on either end. Travellers, most of whom carried a little gold or money, were numerous on those roads at that time, and we wanted to make a “haul” before leaving that part.

Vane continues:

We stayed together for several days on the Black Range, and then parted, Gilbert, Burke and Hall started for Borrowra, on the Yass side, and O'Meally and I remaining at James O'Meally's place at Black Range.

(James O’Meally is John’s uncle and was transported with his father.)

As Ben Hall roamed freely, terrorising the Carcoar district, law enforcement maintained their vigilance, constantly scouring the Weddin Mountains in hopes of capturing the notorious bushranger. One day, during a seemingly routine patrol, a troupe of mounted troopers found themselves the victims of a juvenile ruse.

A group of audacious boys, native to the Weddin Mountains, (possibly the younger O'Meally's) decided to play an elaborate prank on the unsuspecting patrol. Emulating the very bushrangers that the troopers were seeking, the young boys provoked a chase. The prospect of apprehending the notorious bushrangers, not to mention the enticing reward attached, spurred the troopers into action.

Covering a sprawling eight miles, the relentless pursuit persisted until the troopers finally managed to catch up to their elusive quarry. However, their jubilation swiftly soured as they were confronted with the disheartening reality - their relentless pursuit had been provoked not by bushrangers, but by a band of mischievous boys.

Bitterly disappointed and far from amused, the police vented their frustration on the young pranksters. What was initially a harmless jest resulted in a harsh reprimand from the duped troopers, serving as a stern reminder of the serious and dangerous nature of their profession., S.M.H. 3rd October 1863:

Some silly young men in the neighbourhood of the Weddin Mountains thought proper, a few days since, to ride away in a suspicious manner from a small party of police, with the view, as it would, seem, of leading the police to imagine that they were bushrangers. They led the police a dance for seven or eight miles before they were overhauled by the constables, who, not altogether seeing the fun of the thing, are stated to have administered a salutary corporal chastisement to the practical jokers.

On the 19th of September, the time had come for O'Meally and Vane to break their solitude and set out to rejoin their companions in Carcoar. Their journey was a daunting one, stretching across 70 miles of diverse terrain. Their trek, lasting several days, was a testament to their determination, endurance, and commitment to their lawless brotherhood.

In his writings, Vane provides a vivid recollection of their expedition:

Leaving Spring Creek, we made for the mountain called Black Hill and there stayed for a day and a night, receiving shelter in the sawyer’s hut. We here made inquiries concerning Ben Hall, Gilbert and Burke, but the sawyer had not seen them, although he had heard of the Carcoar-Bathurst coach having been recently stuck-up, and a policeman’s firearms taken from him; so we concluded they had not left the district which we were entering. We, therefore, pushed on for Teasdale Park, about six miles from Number One, and reaching there after nightfall decided to make our camp at the back of a cultivation paddock.

The encampment Vane made reference to was possibly situated about a mile south of the southern terminus of what is now recognised as the Carcoar Dam, concealed within the sheltering embrace of Mount Macquarie. It is worth noting that the coach robbery he mentioned was the handiwork of Gilbert, Hall, and Burke.

Allowing us a continued insight into their escapades, Vane's narrative goes on

But two days having passed without our hearing anything, we sent a messenger to Teasdale to make a few inquiries, not only about the police but about Ben Hall, Gilbert and Burke who we felt sure were somewhere in that locality.

The messenger returned bearing the encouraging news about Ben Hall. However, an amusing case of mistaken identities between the two parties led to an initial mix-up. Vane recounted how he and O'Meally unwittingly happened upon Ben Hall's camp, misconstruing it for a police camp. On the other hand, Hall's group had also confused Vane and O'Meally for the police, now donning bushman's attire — a cunning strategy introduced by Sir Frederick Pottinger.

After some shared laughter over this harmless misunderstanding, the five bushrangers — Vane, O'Meally, Gilbert, Burke, and Hall — ultimately reunited in camaraderie. Their shared experiences served as the adhesive that bonded this band of outlaws in their quest for survival and defiance against the law.

We were not long in coming together, and full explanations followed as soon as we met, each laughing at the other’, but O’Meally and I claimed the best of it.

Cowra Mail Robbery,
NSW Police Gazette
September 1863.
Note, Description of the 2nd
perpetrator matches that

of  Ben Hall.
Prior to their reunion, a bold mail coach robbery took place just a short distance from the town of Blayney on Saturday, September 19th, 1863. Historically, it has been assumed that Gilbert, O'Meally, and Burke were responsible for this particular robbery, with some references also including Vane.

Nevertheless, a reexamination of historical records suggests that John O'Meally and John Vane were not involved in this specific hold-up. Instead, recent research places the responsibility on the shoulders of Gilbert, Hall, and Burke. Diaries, memoirs, and various documentations from the period leading up to September 19th, 1863, indicate that O'Meally and Vane were in transit from the Weddin Mountains at the time.

Given this, it seems increasingly likely that the actual perpetrators were John Gilbert, Ben Hall, and Micky Burke. This conclusion finds robust support in the descriptions of the mail coach robbers provided by the New South Wales Police Gazette in September 1863, which even notes Burke's use of a face covering, a fact which further implicates him.

The following linked newspaper article provides a detailed account of the day's events, from the robbery of the Mail Coach and its passengers, including Mr Garland, to other victims, one of whom was a trooper and another was the former magistrate, Mr Beardmore. Notably, Beardmore was the one who initially issued the warrant for Frank Gardiner's arrest in 1861. He had already been detained by Burke at the time of this report.

However, one point of contention arises regarding the article's account of the destruction of a police carbine. It was not perpetrated by John O'Meally, as commonly believed, but by Johnny Gilbert, a fact which Vane corroborates. He affirmed that this robbery unfolded before the end of their period of estrangement, thereby excluding their involvement in this particular incident.

We here made inquiries concerning Ben Hall, Gilbert and Burke, but the sawyer had not seen them, although he had heard of the Carcoar-Bathurst coach having been recently stuck-up, and a policeman’s firearms taken from him; so we concluded they had not left the district which we were entering.
Sydney Mail
Saturday 26 September 1863
In the same newspaper, link above, the Beardmore reference and incident validates Ben Hall's presence. Where he reputedly talked Beardmore out of his notions of a duel with Gilbert by expressing:

That if he wanted a shooting match, he should have brought his own gun.

The encounter with Mr. Garland also merits particular attention. He proved to be a rather unwilling victim, which led Gilbert to threaten to "blow the gentleman's brains out" if he did not surrender the money quickly. However, Hall was able to placate Gilbert and defuse the situation.

Later in the evening, at a location known as Flood's Mount, the three bushrangers found themselves in the midst of stealing horses when they were confronted and asked about their identities. Cleverly, they responded by asserting they were 'policemen'. Further adding to their ruse, they informed the inquirers that the man leading their supposed patrol was one Sanderson.

Stuck up three young men on Flood's Mount, later in the evening, and at sundown, they were observed "rounding up" some horses, who objected to their taking them; they said they were policemen, and that they had orders to take, on an emergency, the first horses they could lay their hands on. The one "who acted as spokesman, when asked his name, replied "Sanderson." They were last seen passing Cheshire's public-house.

As previously mentioned, Charles Sanderson was a steadfast and diligent officer of the law, serving at the Forbes station. Recognised by Hall due to his involvement in the retrieval of the Eugowra Gold in 1862, Hall often invoked Sanderson's name when questioned about who was "in charge." Notably, Vane was not a participant in these particular encounters. (The Cheshires were relatives of Vane.)

In Charles White's posthumously published account, "John Vane Bushranger", which is narrated by Vane himself and was released in 1906, there's no mention of the Cowra Mail robbery. Only later incidents at Marsh's Farm and the Stanley Hosie raid at Caloola are recollected. Given that the Cowra mail robbery had been successful, and Vane was known to boast about his triumphant ventures, it appears that the gang regularly sought to confound their victims regarding their true identities. They would sometimes purport to be law enforcement officers or each other, and occasionally suggest that Gardiner was surveilling from a distance.

However, one consistent aspect in the victims' descriptions was that Ben Hall was regularly depicted as being relatively short, with a height of around 5 feet 6 to 7 inches, and of a stout build, verging on being overweight at approximately 190 lbs or 13½ stone, as documented in police gazettes. By contrast, the other members of the gang were all noted to be taller and leaner.

"Never expected to be called upon to pursue bushrangers."

NSW Police Gazette
30th September 1863.
After a period of reprieve in a hidden bush camp, the invigorated gang of five bushrangers resumed their exploits on the Queen's roads. On September 22nd, 1863, they found themselves traversing the bushland around Mount Macquarie. As fate would have it, three NSW troopers, Turnbull (Trumble), Evenden, and Cromie, were patrolling the same region, doggedly pursuing the elusive bushrangers.

The troopers, having found no trace of their quarry around the Number One, Caloola and Trunkey, were returning to Carcoar. They decided to pause their journey at a local farm, inhabited by Mr. & Mrs. Marsh along with their five children. Mrs. Marsh was also expectant with their sixth offspring. Nestled in the foothills of Mount Macquarie, southeast of Carcoar, the farm offered a chance for the troopers to relax and replenish, while also providing the possibility of obtaining any information on recent sightings of the bushrangers.

Mr. Marsh shared with the troopers his recent observation of a saddled horse nearby, which he suspected belonged to the notorious bushranger Micky Burke, a man he knew well. Armed with this valuable lead, trooper Cromie and Marsh ventured out to investigate further and hopefully recover the horse. Yet, unexpectedly, they found themselves face to face with the very bushrangers they were seeking.
'Golden Age' of October 1863,

On Tuesday afternoon three troopers left the Long Swamp on route for Carcoar, and called at George Marsh's farm, distant about 8 miles, where they had. some refreshment, and were informed by Mr Marsh that he had seen a horse, with saddle and bridle on, and he believed that it had got away from the bushrangers who were in the neighbourhood, and he offered to go with one of them to get the horse. After being out about half an hour, the two troopers at the house heard two shots fired a short distance from the place, and went in the direction of the reports when they met two mounted men who ordered them to stand. Only one of them had taken the precaution to carry his rifle with him, and he was told that if he attempted to fire he would get his b--- brains blown out and, that they would go to the place, where Marsh and the other trooper were handcuffed to a tree, and shoot them. As a matter of course, the trooper gave up his rifle and revolver. The two bushrangers were then joined by three more of their gang, and after liberating Marsh and the captive trooper, they went into the house and had something to eat and then secured the three revolvers, three rifles, and all other traps belonging to the police. The gang are O'Meally, Gilbert, Burke, Vane, and Ben Hall. When the troopers first saw them they thought they were some of the Carcoar police, having carbines at their side, with buckets to hold the muzzles in. They informed the troopers that they would like to fall in with McLerie and his men, for they would strip and handcuff them to trees for the night, having handcuffs with them for the purpose.

The unfortunate event that led to accusations of "Neglect of Duty" by Superintendent Morrissett against the three troopers proved to be a costly misstep for the police force. The bushrangers managed to seize new and potent weaponry during their abduction of the unsuspecting lawmen. The loss of such vital equipment was not overlooked and was meticulously recorded:

Four breech-loading carbines, and four revolvers, and all the holsters, straps, breastplates, and other lumber that make up the total of a trooper's accoutrements.

In December 1863, a courtroom setting revealed the full extent of the dire situation that Marsh and Cromie had found themselves in. Mr. Marsh recounted his confrontation with the bushranger gang, making note of the fact that his wife, then six months into her pregnancy, was also a bystander during the gang's intimidation. Unfortunately, the daughter Eleanor Marsh gave birth to in March of 1864, Alice, would tragically pass away in 1875. (For more comprehensive details, refer to the link provided below.)
A contemporary view
of the capture of the

troopers by Ben Hall.
Courtesy NLA.
Nonetheless, the episode at Marsh's farm only served to amplify the public's opinion of the situation, casting it as a scene of embarrassment both for the police force and the Cowper administration: 'Bathurst Times', 23rd, September 1863:

Sergeant Turnbull and two troopers came into town last evening (Tuesday), about eight o'clock, without arms, ammunition, and chapfallen, and stated that when they joined the police, they never expected to be called upon to pursue bushrangers, but unfortunately, the bushrangers pursued them the whole of Tuesday afternoon, and about five o'clock, bailed them up at Marsh's, about eight miles from Carcoar, and took their carbines, revolvers, pouch box, handcuffs, and sent them about their business. The troopers say it was Ben Hall, O'Mealy, Gilbert, Vane, and Burke and that when they get caught, they will be enabled to swear to them, as they had a good view of them.
The episode at Marsh's farm was a glaring testament to the inadequate state of law enforcement in New South Wales. The public's reaction was one of bewilderment and disgust as three capable troopers allowed themselves to be easily apprehended by the bushrangers they were tasked to pursue. Their ineptitude gave the bushrangers a significant boost in morale, not to mention an additional arsenal of high-powered weapons.

The troopers' unexpected display of incompetence was a significant blow to the reputation of the police force and the government. The officers' startling assertion that they had "never expected to be called upon to pursue bushrangers" further called into question the preparedness and determination of the entire force. It painted a damning portrait of a police service that lacked bravery, decisiveness, and the resolve to carry out their sworn duties.

The public dissatisfaction with this alarming development was captured in a piece by a Carcoar townsperson in the 'Bathurst Times'. The writer expressed a sense of frustration and incredulity, reflecting the collective sentiment of the public.

These developments set the stage for an escalation in the lawlessness and emboldened the bushrangers who, bolstered by their success at Marsh's farm, continued their campaign of robbery and intimidation seemingly unimpeded. With the police force and government seemingly incapacitated and unable to stem the tide of lawlessness, public trust and confidence were severely eroded. The situation was spiraling rapidly out of control, with a palpable sense of apprehension gripping the citizens of New South Wales.

The police magistrate took the depositions of the three men in his office this day, and there were a lot of specials sworn in, as they will be very useful to go into the bush to protect the troopers and prevent the bushrangers from taking the firearms from them. Would it not be better to furnish the police with some make-believe firearms? It would not be a bad idea, I think, - for them, the bushrangers would not be so well supplied with such effective weapons, the loss to the country since Saturday cannot be less than £70, and all for arms alone; there were four breech-loading carbines, and four revolvers, and all the holsters, straps, breastplates, and other lumber that make up the total of a trooper's accoutrements, and all this done within seven or eight miles of this once quiet place. Some of our townspeople are really so uncharitable as to call the police a lot of muffs and cowards, and that they ought to wear crinoline, but some people are never satisfied. When they told the trooper not to fire as it would be worse for them, what could the poor men do? That the police will never capture them on horseback, is an admitted fact, acknowledged by the police themselves. Some men that can and will use firearms with effect should be sent in pursuit.

The Marsh's farm incident was a significant event that would cast a long shadow over the law enforcement activities in the region for years to come. The police's hesitancy to confront the bushrangers became a recurring theme, emboldening the gang and causing the public to lose confidence in their ability to maintain law and order. This reluctance would continue to manifest itself in various instances as the gang intensified their activities.

On a separate note, legal proceedings were underway for two of Ben Hall's former accomplices, Patrick 'Patsy' Daley and John Jameison. After spending several months in custody, they were finally brought to trial at the Goulburn Court. The result of the trial was a harsh sentence for both men. They were each given fifteen years in prison, with the first year to be spent in irons. This was a stern punishment meant to serve as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to engage in similar criminal activities.

The sentencing of Daley and Jameison was another blow to the gang, as it meant the loss of two experienced and capable members. However, it is also likely to have fueled the gang's resentment towards the law enforcement authorities, further stoking the flames of their rebellion. The situation in New South Wales was becoming increasingly volatile, with an emboldened gang of bushrangers on one side and an increasingly frustrated and fearful public on the other. The stage was set for more confrontations and conflicts in the years to come. Notably the 1870s pursuit of the Kelly gang.

NSW Police Gazette
for Daley and Jameison
Mr. Marsh's comments provide a unique insight into the tactics employed by Ben Hall and his gang to outmaneuver law enforcement and confuse unsuspecting citizens. By rigging their horses and their attire to resemble that of NSW mounted troopers, the bushrangers were able to disguise their identities and intentions, often allowing them to approach their targets unopposed.

This tactic was a clever subversion of the police's own strategies, as law enforcement officers often dressed as stockmen to blend in and avoid detection. By adopting the appearance of police, the bushrangers could often approach their targets without arousing suspicion, giving them a significant advantage in their illicit activities.

Additionally, Marsh's claim of prior acquaintance with John Gilbert suggests that the bushranger's past connections may have helped him and his gang blend in and evade capture. These factors highlight the cunning and resourcefulness of the bushrangers, which was a key factor in their continued success and notoriety.

However, these tactics also further increased the fear and mistrust within the community. With bushrangers disguised as police and vice versa, it became increasingly difficult for ordinary people to know who they could trust. This likely contributed to an escalating atmosphere of fear and suspicion throughout the region.
He had known Gilbert before he took to the bush. When I first saw the men, I thought they were policemen by the way in which they were equipped; they had on belts like those worn by the troopers; they also had pouches and handcuffs on their belts; their carbines or rifles were slung in buckets, and they had holsters for their revolvers on their saddles; their whole appearance was similar to that of troopers.

Despite the charges of 'Neglect of Duty' following the incident at Marsh's farm, troopers Trumble and Evenden were exonerated, and their careers as troopers continued unaffected. The investigation must have concluded that their actions under the circumstances were not negligent, considering the superior force they faced.

As for trooper Cromie, who was directly captured and outgunned by the bushrangers, the authorities found that he had no case to answer. Given the circumstances of his capture and the significant firepower advantage held by the bushrangers, Cromie's lack of resistance was deemed reasonable and understandable.

While these outcomes might have preserved the careers of the three troopers, they also highlighted the difficult and dangerous circumstances faced by law enforcement officers in their attempts to capture and suppress the bushrangers. Even when well-armed and ostensibly prepared, the police were frequently outmaneuvered and outgunned, creating a narrative of frustration and embarrassment for the authorities.
Caloola Robbery.

NSW Police Gazette
September 1863.
Mr. Hosie's initial reaction was quick and assertive, grabbing his double-barrelled gun, as he perceived the two men who entered his store as a manageable threat. However, his actions were founded on a critical misjudgment. Hosie was under the assumption that he was only dealing with two potential robbers, not realizing that three other members of the gang were strategically positioned outside to control the surroundings and provide support if needed.

This kind of tactical coordination was a hallmark of these bushrangers. Their well-planned and executed operations often caught their victims off-guard, contributing significantly to their success and notoriety. Despite Hosie's courageous initial response, he soon found himself significantly outgunned and outnumbered.

These kinds of situations highlighted the often dangerous and unpredictable conditions faced by shopkeepers, travellers, and settlers in regions troubled by bushrangers. Being prepared to defend one's property was essential, but as Mr. Hosie discovered, even the best-laid plans could quickly unravel when facing such formidable and determined adversaries.
Mr Larnach
c. 1860.

Private Source.
Never before published.
The unfortunate Mr. Hosie was quickly overpowered, his double-barrelled gun no match for the five hardened bushrangers. They promptly handcuffed him with the very handcuffs they had taken from the hapless police the previous day. Hosie's brave but futile attempt to protect his store was ended almost as soon as it began, and he found himself shackled and helpless.

The bushrangers, efficient and methodical, then turned their attention to George Garrett's blacksmith shop. Garrett and his mate found themselves in the same predicament as Hosie. Outnumbered and outgunned, they too were quickly handcuffed. The bushrangers' relentless raid continued, with local shoemaker Robert Knott also falling victim to their aggressive tactics. He was brought back to the store, joining Hosie and the blacksmiths as prisoners of the audacious gang.

With their captives securely locked away, the bushrangers proceeded to ransack the store. The captives, powerless to prevent the looting, could only watch as their hard-earned livelihoods were casually destroyed by the ruthless gang. The correspondent from the 'Bathurst Times' would later describe the bushrangers' brazen actions, painting a vivid picture of their audacity and the destruction they left in their wake.
The Courier' Monday 5th October 1863:

Mr Hosie's goods were thrown from the shelves, the whole store ransacked, and everything turned upside down-the bushrangers appropriating and putting on one side every article they took a fancy to, or which was of any value, and wilfully destroying what was of no use to them-by this means completely gutting the store, and consummating the ruin of their hapless victim.

They said they did this because he had dared to give information to the police when he was formerly robbed, and they threatened if he breathed a word about the present transaction, to blow out his brains the next time they visited him. They packed their booty in three-bushel bags, and, proceeding to Mr Larnach's paddock which adjoined the store, endeavoured to capture some horses that were grazing in it. They managed to secure two (one belonging to Larnach and the other to Mr Hosie) and being unable to catch the others, deliberately shot them.

Returning to the store, they packed the goods they had selected upon the two horses and another they had brought with them, and then adjourned to a public house a short distance off, where they remained carousing till-ten o'clock at night. We have omitted to mention that the scoundrels robbed the blacksmith of £1 in cash, a saddle and bridle, a ham, and some bacon.

Stanley Hosie.
c. 1872.

Kindly provided
by Brenda Simmons.
During Vane's trial in December 1863, Hosie's testimony added depth to the true scale of the bushrangers' destruction and disrespect. Not only did they cause substantial damage to his business, but they also violated his personal space, ruthlessly stealing items of sentimental and practical value.

Hosie's account noted that it wasn't just his livelihood that was violated; his family was also directly affected. Ben Hall, the leader of the bushrangers, personally robbed Mrs Hosie of brooches and other trinkets, in a blatant display of disregard for personal boundaries.

Additionally, the bushrangers didn't hesitate to utilize the Hosie's own bedding to facilitate their theft, showing a disturbing level of comfort and familiarity with their criminal acts. These insights into the bushrangers' behaviour not only showcased their audacity and callousness but also gave the public a glimpse into the personal violation and emotional distress endured by their victims.

John Vane, one of the five bushrangers, had surprisingly turned himself into a priest in November 1863, mere months after the incident at Hosie's. This unexpected surrender led to his trial, where Hosie's damning testimony was shared. However, despite his surrender and the subsequent trial, the scars left by the bushrangers' actions remained, a harsh reminder of their relentless and ruthless exploits.
'Empire', on Tuesday 8th December 1863; Stanley Hosie being duly sworn stated:

I am a storekeeper and reside at Caloola; I know the prisoner before the court; on the 23rd September last, he and four other bushrangers came to my store; I was sitting in the parlor writing; when I first saw them I thought they were police by their equipment; when I rose from my chair I recognised one of them whom I supposed to be O'Meally; I had been robbed on a previous occasion by the same man and Mickey Burke whom I know; when I saw they were bushrangers I seized the double barreled gun which I kept in the place; the doors were open and one of the men who I thought was Ben Hall, rushed into the store: I pushed the parlor door to, and he retreated; he was coming into the parlor when he retreated; Burke and Vane sat on their horses outside, pointing their guns at me through the window: the one I thought was O'Meally ran to the door, and ran in, with a revolver in his hand, which he presented at me; Hall was still in the store; O'Meally called on me to surrender, and I said that as there were five of them I would do so; I then gave up my gun to him; after that they took me into the stores and handcuffed me; some of the party went out, and returned with the blacksmith and his man, and the shoemaker and his man, who lived just opposite; they were handcuffed in couples and brought into the store; the bushrangers then fastened their horses to the post in front of the store, and fed them with corn from my stock; they then ransacked the place, pulling the store goods down and selecting what they thought proper; Gilbert and O'Meally came into the parlor searching for money; they took about 15s. from the cash-box; O'Meally took half-sovereign from my pocket but left me what silver I had; Gilbert afterwards searched me and took the silver O'Meally had left in my pocket; the men then selected six three bushel bags and filled them with store goods; there was a horse of mine just outside the door, the prisoner ran him in and caught him and put my bridle and saddle on him; they also caught another horse and took a saddle from the blacksmith and put on it; they had a led horse with them when they came to the store; they tied the sacks together and slung, two over each of the three horses; they then released us from the handcuffs and went away, saying they would watch me, and if I went for the police that night they would shoot me; they said they had come the second time to, rob me because I had informed the police the first time; Hall took possession of my gun and they took several articles from me besides store property; they went into the bedroom and took some of my wife’s brooches and trinkets; they also took some silk handkerchiefs from the drawers and some pillow-cases to put sugar in.

Hosie's store Hill End.
Hosie standing middle.
c. 1872.

Courtesy NLA.
Author's Note: The Sydney Morning Herald, Tue 27 October 1925, Page 6 reported the death of Stanley Hosie. MR. STANLEY HOSIE.- Mr. Stanley Hosie, whose death occurred at Mosman on Friday, had reached the great age of 85, years and 8 months. He was born at Leith, Scotland, and came to Australia in the sailing ship New York Packet when 18 months old. Upon retiring from business some 12 years ago, he took up his residence at Mosman. Mr Hosie had a very retentive memory and could relate incidents of early Sydney. As a child of 5 years, he lived in what is now Market-street and could recollect the time when there were several green paddocks within the city area. Later, when a very young married man in business in the Bathurst district at Caloola, his place was twice raided by Ben Hall's gang of bushrangers. He was resisting on one occasion, and he and O'Meally were on the point of firing at each other when Mrs. Hosie rushed between them. The bushrangers then took all that they wanted, including a fine grey horse. Mrs. Hosie, who died seven years ago, was born at Penrith, being a daughter of Mr. George. Larnach and niece of Mr. Donald Larnach, first chairman of directors of the Bank of New South Wales at Sydney, and later held a similar position in London. Mr Hosie reared a family of eight children-five sons and three daughters. The officers and brethren of Manchester Unity I.O.O.F. Loyal John Gelding Lodge, Mosman, acted as pall-bearers. Mr. Hosie had been a member of the order for over 50 years. He was also a prominent Mason.

Emily Hosie
c. 1862.

Kindly provided
by Brenda Simmons
The callous and reckless actions of the bushrangers extended beyond their human victims to helpless animals as well. In their rampage, they reportedly mercilessly shot at Mr Larnach's horses, causing severe injuries. While some accounts reported that the horses were only wounded, the severity of their injuries necessitated euthanasia, adding further distress to an already horrific situation.

The gang also displayed their audacity and disregard for the law by seizing any animals they fancied, including Hosie's own horse. The ability of the bushrangers to conduct such brazen and cruel actions without immediate retribution underscored the public's growing frustration with the inability of the authorities to curtail these outlaw activities.

The horrifying incident at Hosie's store painted a vivid picture of the bushrangers' cruelty and their destructive force. These events only served to deepen public resentment and fear, creating an atmosphere of anxiety and desperation as the local communities awaited the next attack. The bushrangers' reign of terror was increasingly painting a bleak picture of lawlessness and disorder, sowing seeds of doubt in the effectiveness and strength of the law enforcement authorities.

The best horses that could be found at the place they took possession of, making them carry a part of the swag; the rest they shot. Leaving the store, the bushrangers adjourned to an inn close by, and there caroused until a late hour.

Note: Emily Hosie was the daughter of Mr Larnach. The child in the photograph with Emily is their son b. 1862 William Henry.

Grubbenbong Station.

john loudon
Mr John Loudon
c. 1863.

With their cunning intelligence and audacious approach, the bushrangers devised an ingenious plan to catch their unsuspecting targets off guard. Disguised in their captured police attire, they approached 'Grubbenbong Station' late into the night. The station was owned by Mr John Loudon, a newly appointed Magistrate of the Colony.

Unknown to the bushrangers, the station was housing several troopers, who were blissfully unaware of the impending danger. The bushrangers, leveraging their telegraphs' intelligence, quickly gathered up the station hands and secured them in the station's store. With the station hands under control, the bushrangers turned their attention to the homestead, tracking down the unsuspecting police.

Ben Hall, known for his audacity and cunning, knocked on the homestead's back door, startling Mrs Loudon. When she inquired about the late-night visitor, Hall, maintaining his police disguise, replied, "Police". When Mr Loudon asked which officer was at the door, Hall further deceived them by using the name "Sanderson", a known figure in the police force.

This clever ruse showcases the bushrangers' audacious tactics and their ability to manipulate situations to their advantage, further highlighting the threat they posed to the law enforcement authorities and the community at large.

Thomas Kirkpatrick
brother of
Helen Loudon.
1810 - 1895.

Kindly provided by
 Val Kinghorne.
Fearing that the men were not as they had said, the Loudon's retreated into their bedroom area where one of the men called, "Open the doors, or we'll shoot." The bedroom was where Loudon maintained a loaded shotgun. However, one party visiting Mr Wilson had used the weapon that day to shoot a feral cat. With the backdoor unopened, the bushrangers continued to harangue the occupants to open it, threatening they would shoot through the door and burn the house down. Finally, Gilbert, Hall, and Vane forced the door and made their way into the passage. Shots were fired through the bedroom door, behind which Loudon and Mrs Loudon sheltered. Gunshots were again fired, and in unison, Hall and Gilbert crashed through the backdoor into the bedroom passage. O'Meally and Burke kicked in the front door, brandishing their weapons at Kirkpatrick and Wilson, calling them to stand with the usual threat of their brains blown out if they resisted. Inside, all five rushed to the bedroom door and secured the occupants. Mrs Loudon and the other females in the home were brought out, placing chairs to sit upon, offering them no violence.

In the darkness, after the candles and lamps were extinguished, Loudon was unsure of who was who. Thrust aside a man standing near him. It was John O'Meally, who said, placing his revolver against Loudon's cheek, "I will put this through you if you resist," Fortunately for the Loudon's and their guests, there were no troopers present. Miraculously no one was injured by the barrage of shots piercing the walls. The bushrangers were disappointed that troopers weren't present remained about four hours. Vane amused the party by playing on the piano. It was about two o'clock when they left‘Sydney Morning Herald’, 28th September 1863:

News has just reached here that Gilbert, O'Meally, Ben Hall, Burke, and Vane have stuck up Mr John Loudon's house at Grubbenbong, near Carcoar. Grubbengbong, fourteen miles from here, had been stuck up about eleven o clock on the night previous (25th Sept), by Ben Hall, O'Meally, Gilbert, Vane, and Burke, who made up to the house and knocked at the door. Upon Mrs Loudon inquiring, who was there, they answered "Police." Mr Loudon then inquired who was their officer-when they answered Sanderson." Mr Loudon told them that he would not admit them, and the words were no sooner spoken when a piece was fired, sending six slugs through the door into the passage. The door being unpaneled the bushrangers immediately entered, and having bailed up Messrs. Loudon, Kirkpatrick (Mrs Loudon's brother) and Wilson, putting handcuffs on them, they ordered Mrs Loudon and her niece into another room. They then commenced ransacking the place, and searching the men, taking what they pleased. They demanded some supper, and Mrs Loudon ordered some ham and eggs to be cooked for them, apologising for not having something better to offer them. However, they did ample justice to what was laid before them, ordering, as an additional zest, some wine, which was at once brought them. During the whole of this time, the gentlemen were on the verandah handcuffed. After supper, they had a smoke, Gilbert proposing to go outside as the smoke might be annoying to the ladies. After the villains bailed up the family and helped themselves to what they wanted, they obliged the young ladies to preside at the piano whilst they tripped it on the light fantastic, enjoyed themselves till two o’clock in the morning, and said "adieu! till next, we meet," without, however, either robbing or abusing any of the family or inmates but before departing all, except Vane, returned what they had previously taken in the shape of jewellery and trinkets. After they had handcuffed all the inmates they searched the house for policemen they had been told were there. Finding none, they went to prosecute their search elsewhere. They said before leaving Mr Loudon's house, that if any more troopers were sent from Bathurst, they would capture them, and take them in handcuffs to Carcoar. 

In conjunction with the newspaper report of the Grubbenbong attack, this interesting notice also appeared;

Portraits of Lowry, the bushranger, after his death, maybe had of S. W. Fry and Co., 452, George Street, Sydney.

During John Vane's December 1863 trial at Bathurst for bushranging, Loudon was called as a witness. Loudon's describes how well armed the gang were—carrying both revolvers and carbines. Stating the bushrangers opened fire indiscriminately without any concern for those in the house. The 'Illawarra Mercury' Friday 11th December 1863:

I am a magistrate of the colony, and reside at Grubbenbong, about fifteen miles from Carcoar; I have known the prisoner Vane from childhood; on the 26th of September last, about 10 o'clock in the evening, my house was attacked by bushrangers whilst I and some friends were sitting at supper, the servant called out "there are some police here" they were then at the backdoor; I called out who is in charge, and one of them replied "Saunders" Mrs, Loudon said "see it is not the bushrangers," "shut the door "the doors were all fast, and one of the men outside called out "open the door or we will shoot" Mr James Kirkpatrick opened the door to see who was there; Mrs. Loudon and I went into the bedroom, where I generally kept a double-barrelled gun, but I found that Mr Wilson, a friend of mine, had been out shooting that day; he had discharged the gun and left it in an outside store; I then went to the front door and when I opened it I saw O'Meally and Burke standing one on each side of the doorway, with their firearms presented at the door; I at once shut the door, when they shouted that unless I surrendered they would fire or burn the house down; the other three men, Gilbert, Vane, and Hall, forced their way through the passage to the parlour, and a shot was fired by one of them through the bedroom door: there were six balls came through, and there were six holes in the door; I and Mrs Loudon were in the bedroom when the shots were fired; as soon as the gun went off the front doorway burst open, and they then rushed into the bedroom, and seized me, put a pair of handcuffs on me; one of the men took my watch from me; I am not sure whether it was Vane or O'Meally, but Vane afterwards gave it back to me when I spoke to him about it; on one occasion they pushed me back and I said "keep hands off," when O'Meally placed his revolver close to my cheek and said, "I will put this through you if you resist," I was then taken onto the verandah, after that they brought out Mr Wilson, Mr Kirkpatrick, and Mr Young, my overseer and handcuffed them all: the females were also taken to the verandah, and chairs placed for them; there was no violence offered beyond what I have stated; there were three men in the store and they locked the door on them; they then searched the drawers and the boxes, throwing the contents upon the floor; they took a good many articles at the time, but returned most of them before they left the house; they took away with them some shirt studs, a few nuggets of gold, and a bridle belonging to me; they then took us all into the house, took off the handcuffs, and ordered supper; they stopped in the house about four hours, and on going away said they would never trouble me again; Vane amused all present by playing on the piano, but there was not much done while they were there, except that Mrs Loudon talked to Gilbert about his evil conduct, and advised him to give it up. The men were all well armed; O'Meally had six revolvers, and the others had four each, besides their carbines.

Loudon's overseer Mr Charles Young had arrived from Scotland in 1860 with his wife Elizabeth onboard the ship 'Telegraph' and commenced work for his kinfolk, Mr Loudon. In later life, Mr Young recounted how he attempted to fetch the police but was thwarted by Burke with a gun held to his head:

During the time Mr Young lived at 'Grubbenbong' the place was stuck up one night by the Ben Hall gang. While Mrs Young was preparing supper for the bushrangers, Mr Young endeavoured to get his horse to go for the police, but he was captured and brought back, Mick Burke holding a revolver to his head while the others had a high old time at the house.

Mrs Helen Loudon
c. 1863.
Former stockman Mr Bates reflected in 1924 the sticking-up when a 15yr old. In an article in 'The Bathurst Times' on Saturday 13th December 1924, Bates painted a differing picture from the original 1863 account. Mr Bates' observation produces a good insight into the course of the evening. However, Bates is the only eyewitness to claim that Loudon fired in defence of his home. Though this was untrue, the story possibly added some colour to his account:

On one occasion they stuck up a station in the Carcoar district. They first secured the station hands and locked them in the hut, a precautionary measure afterwards adopted by the Kelly gang at Euroa. Loudon, the station owner, had barricaded the homestead, leaving holes in the walls through which he could get a view of any unwelcome intruders. As Hall and his men approached, Loudon fired two or three shots, but no one was hit; The bushrangers gained entrance to the house but instead of taking Loudon out and shooting him as the Kelly’s invariably did to those who showed resistance Hall and his mates treated the affair as a joke and turned it into merry-making. Loudon had a well-stocked cellar, upon which the outlaws bestowed liberal attention, and a convivial evening was whiled away in vocal hilarity. Some of the most popular air of Loudon's native Scotland was included in the program. The owner, well primed with his own whisky, joined heartily in the singing, and in a time-honoured journalistic phrase, a most enjoyable evening was spent. Gilbert was the Claude Duvall of the occasion. He was the polite and gallant highwayman of Old England transplanted to the Australian bush. He rebuked Burke for lighting his pipe: "Not in, the presence of ladies, Mick," he said. Mrs Loudon was standing, and Gilbert offered her a chair. She indignantly declined the invitation. "Well, it is your own chair, madam," he replied. The only article the gang took on leaving was a valuable bridle. Loudon begged them not to take it, as it was the gift of an old friend. They took the bridle but later sent it back to the owner.

Although Bates portrays a festive evening, the presence of the bushrangers would have had Loudon conscious enough not to give the appearance of willingly entertaining Ben Hall for propriety sake.

Melbourne Punch,
22nd October 1863.
A depiction of
Ben Hall & Co.'s evening
at Loudon's.

Note the papers use
of satire with the artist name. 
Courtesy NLA.
In the letter written in 1908 by one of the ladies held hostage at 'Grubbenbong Station,' we gain a unique perspective on the character dynamics of the bushrangers and their interactions with their victims. The writer of the letter, possibly Thomas Kirkpatrick’s daughter and niece of Helen Loudon, was clearly affected by the bushrangers and their behavior during the incident.

The letter suggests that Ben Hall had effectively taken the leadership role within the gang. His strong command over the group was observed, and it's likely that his assertive behavior contributed to the successful execution of their criminal activities.

Interestingly, the letter also indicates that John Gilbert, one of the bushrangers, managed to charm at least one of their captives, the letter's author, with his charisma and good looks. Known for his quick wit, engaging stories, and physical attractiveness, Gilbert clearly left a lasting impression on this young woman.

This fascinating insight into the interpersonal dynamics of the bushrangers and their victims offers a unique perspective on these historical events. Despite the criminal and violent nature of the bushrangers' activities, it seems that they were able to cultivate complex relationships with their captives, demonstrating their ability to manipulate and influence people to their advantage. However fear is a great motivator.
'Sydney Sportsman' August 1908:

The whole five of them seem mere youths, in their ways, especially. They are always armed though, and ever ready to place their hands upon their revolver stocks. Gilbert is quite a good-looking fellow, is always in a jolly humour, and smiling. He told us he is an American by birth, and I quite believe it, for he seems to be more travelled than the others. O'Meally I don't like a little bit. He looks a spiteful fellow, with hard eyes that flash all about, and take in everything, but never rest in one place for any length of time. Vane is a great, big fellow, but Burke is a little man, and both seem very quiet in their ways. When Gilbert told them to go outside and smoke they at once did so, and seemed more at ease sitting on their heels smoking in the open air than they did in the drawing-room. Ben Hall is a big, young man. He seemed very serious and was always going to the door and keeping watch. The others always went and consulted him about anything they intended doing, and he decided whether it would or would not be done. Gilbert, as I have said, is the best-looking one of the lot, and was on for singing and fun.

A Dambrod Board.
A game of Draughts.
Finally, Mrs Loudon herself, years after and before her death in 1901, recounted first-hand Ben Hall, revolvers drawn, walking through the doors of 'Grubbenbong Station' and Gilbert's gunfire raking the inside of the house. Her story was relived during an interview circa 1878 and later reprinted in 'The Sydney Morning Herald' on Tuesday 10th July 1923, as part of the publication titled 'The Women Pioneers'by J. Ward Harrison:

I sat one day at Grubbenbong, in the Carcoar district, five and forty years ago, and listened to the story which a member of the Kirkpatrick family, Mrs John Loudon, told me of a visit from Ben Hall's gang. I had been looking at five holes in the door leading to the bedroom from the room in which I sat enjoying her hospitality. "That," she said, "was Gilbert's work. I mind it as though it were but yesterday. Mr Wilson and my niece were playing dambrod (A chess or checker-board) on a board which Loudon had just bought from town, and Loudon was lying down, a bit tired, on the sofa, there. My husband always said that he wouldna' knuckle-down to the knaves if they ever came his way, and Ben Hall had sent us a message through some of his scouts that he'd be along some night. I heard a knock at the back door and went to see whom it might be. It was Ben Hall though I didna' ken. I opened the door, and there were three of them. They had just put a pair o' handcuffs on my brother James and the overseer, out in the store, that they had taken from two o' the police at the back o' the mount that day, and sent them walkin' into Carcoar without their boots, the villains! Ben Hall said, 'Goodnight, Mrs Loudon, we're the police.' 'No,' said I, 'I dinna think ye're the police, ye're the bushrangers,' wl' that he laughed. 'Bail up, then,' said he. I let the door slam and came back. 'Loudon Loudon, the bushrangers are here, get your gun, man, get your gun.' Loudon ran into the bedroom to get it, and I followed him in. Wilson came in to say he had had it out to shoot a native cat and had left it in the store. Man! It was a pity. Burke and Vane stood on the verandah in front of the window, in the moonlight, it was a grand shot. With that Hall was calling out to us to come out, and Gilbert put his carbine up and fired shot after shot through the door.

One bullet smashed my mirror, and another splintered a drawer. Wicked destruction, I called it. Some had to go out, and they handcuffed Loudon and Wilson together and sat them on two chairs by the window. Then they said they were hungry, so my niece and I got them some supper, and put it on the table. 'There ye' are,' I said, 'and I'm sorry to say that for the 'first time in my house I canna' say yo're welcome to it.' And I must say the poor fellows were hungry. When the table was cleared, and they had turned the place fair inside out, looking for money, Burke lay down and put his dirty boots upon my sofa, and went to sleep. I told Ben Hall the little wretch would sell him yet. There's none of the breed was any good says I. Hall said if he had any suspicion, he would shoot him like a dog. And sure enough, he did, about three weeks after. Don't tell me Keightley shot him. Hall did it himself, I'm sure. But I was real sorry for Gilbert. I talked to him a long time that night. He told me he was sick of the life, and if he could get away from the country he would. But he said, 'there's not one of my mates who would stick at putting a bullet in me if he heard me say what I am telling you,' Poor boy! I used to pray for him every night till I heard that Dunn's grandfather had sold the pair to the police, and Johnny Gilbert was shot." But space is running out. This sketch of the bushrangers' visit to Grubbenbong is a picture of Helen Loudon. And Helen Loudon is but one of a regiment.

Aside from Mrs Loudon's thrilling encounter, J. Ward Harrison went on with this tribute to our valiant women of yesteryear:

These pioneers, they are the source from which has sprung the Light Horsemen who in the Holy Land can bare their heads in reverence as they stumble from out the conflict upon the sacred shrine, and value more than they can express the opportunity of casting forth the unbeliever from the land of holy memories, which their grandmothers hold so dear. And who can tell how much of the calm endurance of hardship, the cheerful facing of odds, the associations expressed the world over in the term "Anzac" found its origin. In the life of endurance and intelligent grappling with difficulties displayed in the life of Australia's woman pioneers, there you will find the Helen Loudon's of the nation.

Mrs. Loudon's assertion indeed adds an unexpected twist to the narrative surrounding the incident at Henry Keightley's station. The widely accepted version of events asserts that Burke was mortally wounded by Keightley's gunfire. However, Mrs. Loudon presents a different story - one in which the fatal shot was not fired by Keightley, but rather by fellow bushranger Ben Hall.

However, there is corroboration, to validate Mrs. Loudon's claim.

Cliefden c., 1900.
Courtesy NLA.

The bushrangers' strategy remained the same as they moved on to their next target - Mr William Montague Rothery's 'Cliefden' estate. It was located near Limestone Creek, a mere 5 miles north of Woodstock. This 2,500-acre estate was famous for its thoroughbred horses, which were considered to be of immense value. Rothery, aware of the attractiveness of his assets to horse thieves, had installed an elaborate alarm system. The system would trigger a bell to ring if the stable doors were opened, alerting everyone in the vicinity to the possible theft.

Ben Hall and his gang arrived at Cliefden around eleven in the morning. As was their usual strategy, they rounded up the staff and secured them to prevent any resistance. Once they gained control over the estate, they indulged themselves in a midday feast, consuming Rothery's food and champagne. Following this indulgence, they moved on to the stables, where they had the pick of the highly prized thoroughbreds.

This incident yet again highlights the boldness and audacity of Ben Hall and his gang. Despite the presence of security measures such as the stable alarm, they carried out their activities with a level of brazenness that seemed to embolden them further. Their ability to remain unscathed despite such high-risk operations underscores their adeptness and adaptability, as well as the challenges that law enforcement officials faced in trying to apprehend them.

 'Empire', 6th October 1863:

On Saturday, (26th Sept) at half-past three o'clock, p. m., Mr Rothery, Junior, rode into town, stating that about two hours previously, Gilbert and four other bushrangers had taken their quiet departure from Cliefden about 15 miles from Carcoar. He stated, that at eleven o'clock that morning, he saw Gilbert, Ben Hall, O'Meally, Vane, and Burke, riding up to the house, when he gave the alarm to his father, who ordered the door to be closed and fastened. This done, Mr Rothery and his two sons armed themselves with fowling pieces and revolvers—the cook and ostler being shortly afterwards admitted by the window. The cook was armed with a carving knife and toasting fork, and the ostler with a stable fork and a sickle. By the time these arrangements were completed, the bushrangers came up to the front of the house, when the young men wanted to fire, but their father ordered them not, directing them to plant the firearms and open the door. The bushrangers accordingly entered and took immediate possession of the premises, so that the pluck of these three gentlemen exploded instead of their powder.

The ostler and cook were dispatched to their several departments—the one to feed the bushrangers' horses, and the other to cook dinner for them; of which, when ready, they partook with excellent appetites. They ordered a bottle of brandy and champagne, which was brought them without delay, when Gilbert, filling glasses round, proposed the health of Mr Rothery, J P., and his sons, the latter of whom, he said, he hoped shortly to see gazetted as sub-inspectors; believing, as he did, that they possessed as much pluck as most of them. Mr Rothery, J.P., in a neat speech, returned thanks for himself and sons, and assured them that he felt deeply the compliment they had paid him and was not able to express all be felt, but would represent to the Government the flattering opinion they held of his own and his sons' pluck, as no doubt they would be considered better authorities on such matters than Captain McLerie. After a few more compliments, they inquired of Mr R. what horses he had, and being shown them, they tried the animals and selected three, which they took with two new saddles and bridles. It was now two o'clock, and they took their departure, stating that they were bound for Canowindra. As there were no police in town, Mr Rothery returned by himself, being advised to keep the back "slums" on his way back.

William Rothery
Courtesy NLA
These accounts highlight the public spectacle and sensationalism that surrounded the activities of Ben Hall and his gang. Their daring exploits, brazen attitude, and seeming invincibility were often splashed across the pages of colony newspapers, further contributing to their notoriety. Burke's braggadocio about their exploits, particularly the successful ambush and capture of the three troopers at Marsh's Farm, added an extra layer of intrigue and audacity to their public image.

What stands out in these accounts is not just their criminal activities, but the gang's uncanny ability to revel in the finer things in life while on their lawless spree. Their enjoyment of William Rothery's fine dining, even as they carried out their operations, adds a unique twist to their outlaw image. It suggests that their motivations extended beyond mere theft and violence - they were perhaps seeking a certain level of excitement, thrill, and even social status that their otherwise ordinary lives could not provide.

Nevertheless, their behavior also served to deepen the public's fear and outrage. With each passing day and each new incident, it became increasingly clear that the bushrangers were becoming a formidable force, one that the authorities were struggling to contain. This escalating situation painted a grim picture of the state of law and order in the colony, further intensifying public calls for stronger action against the outlaws.

Yesterday intelligence was brought into town that, on Saturday 26 September, the five bushrangers Ben Hall, Gilbert, O’Meally, Vane and Burke stuck up Mr Rothery's house at Limestone Creek, just as that gentleman was about to sit down to dinner. It is said they handcuffed Mr Rothery and enjoyed the dinner themselves, washing it down with some champagne which they called for. After dinner, they played the piano and otherwise amused themselves. As they wanted a horse, they took some pains in selecting one--going into a paddock and making a trial of two or three before they found an animal to suit them. During the inspection of the horses, Burke showed a revolver and a breech-loading rifle, which he "took from one of the bl——dy traps at George Marsh's." They informed Mr Rothery that they proposed visiting Canowindra and Bungaroo, where they expected to find Mr T. R. Icely, whom they intended to serve out for being so officious. However, Mr Icely arrived at Coombing all right on Sunday evening, being fortunate in having missed them on the road. Before leaving, they said if Mr Rothery desired to send to Carcoar for the police, they would be happy to wait for their arrival, as they would then be handcuffed and taken back to their barracks as prisoners.

John Stinson

Private Source.
Never before published.
In 1921 an old resident of the district, John Stinson, then a 13yr old farmhand in 1863, worked at 'Cliefden,' passing away aged 71, had recalled the evening spent in Ben Hall's company. Recounting that Rothery initially decided to defend his station, the situation presented weighed heavily upon Rothery. He wavered at the thought of the loss of life that may have resulted, therefore, unconfident; he abandoned the defence of CliefdenThe Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser Friday 29th April 1921:

The gang rode into Carcoar on the following Saturday afternoon and called at the home of Mr Rothery, where the men, forewarned, were armed with rifles, the cook with a carving knife, and the groom with a long stable fork. Mr Rothery changed his proposed tactics when the outlaws knocked at the door and hid the arms. The bushrangers ordered the groom to look after their horses and the cook to prepare a meal, which they attacked with full appetites. Glasses went round, and Hall proposed the health of Mr Rothery, J.P. After an exchange of compliments, the gang made off with three of the house's horses.

(John Vane's version of these events can be read by clicking the link on the Source Page, 'John Vane Bushranger' and proceeding to page 135. Page 137 also re-tells the first Canowindra raid and festivities.)

Canowindra from
Blue Jacket Lookout, 2016.

My photograph.
Following a tranquil respite, the gang rode out of 'Cliefden' buoyant with their success and three new steads, turning their horse's heads toward their intended destination, the town of Canowindra. En route sticking-up travellers, they came across. 29th September 1863, as commented:

The bushrangers Gilbert, O'Meally, Hall, and others continue to rob passengers on the Western Road and to elude the police.
Henry Gibson's surprise self-representation at his trial adds yet another twist to this tale of outlaws and law enforcement. His claim of acting as the manager of Sandy Creek, a station formerly owned by Ben Hall, was indeed a far-fetched assertion, given that Hall had lost ownership of the property almost a year prior. Nevertheless, Gibson skillfully managed to weave this narrative into a convincing defence, implying that his association with Hall was professional rather than criminal.

However, the fact that Gibson, along with Hall's former lover Susan Prior and William and Ann Hall, had continued to live on the Sandy Creek property even after it was no longer under Hall's ownership suggests a level of complicity and support for the outlaw's activities. The destruction of the station by the police, led by Sir Frederick Pottinger, had been a clear message to Hall and his associates, but it seemed to have done little to deter their activities.

While Gibson's acquittal on the charge of 'Shooting with Intent' was a significant setback for the police, it also exposed the complex network of relationships and loyalties that underpinned Hall's operations. It showed that the bushrangers had allies and sympathizers who were willing to defy the law and risk their own freedom to support them. This, coupled with the public's growing perception of the police's ineffectiveness, continued to bolster the bushrangers' boldness and audacity.
‘Sydney Mail’, 19th September 1863:

Henry Gibson alias Henry Parker was charged with shooting at a constable named James Townly, at Brewer River on the 17th of April. This was a case in which the prisoner was proved to be one of the party whom a body of police had chased, under the supposition that they were bushrangers. The prisoner had been called to stand (but not in the Queen's name) and, not complying with the order, had been fired at two or three times and eventually captured. Immediately afterwards a shot was fired by one of the prisoner's companions, the whole of whom escaped. On the prisoner, a loaded revolver was found. Some witnesses were examined to prove they had seen him frequently in company with Gardiner, Lowry, Gilbert, O'Meally, and Ben Hall, in the Wheogo district. The prisoner, who had no legal advisor, spoke in his own defence, and in such a way as to create a great impression in his favour. He said that at the time the witnesses proved having seen him in company with two bushrangers they had not "turned out in the bush," and that he had been managing overseer to Ben Hall when the latter was an honest man and said if they ware criminals surely he was not to be held equally guilty. His Honor summed up very favourably, and the jury retired for a short interval, and on returning gave a verdict of not guilty, which called forth some applause from the body of the court. His Honor ordered these manifestations to be checked, and then spoke as follows:-"It will no doubt be a gratification to you, gentlemen of the jury, as well, no doubt, to everyone else, to learn that the prisoner will not escape. Since the jury retired, it had been ascertained beyond all doubt that the prisoner is an escaped convict from Melbourne.

The prisoner was removed back into custody. However, the verdict was still not enough to save Gibson from justice, and he was removed to Victoria for further sentencing on his previous charges. Ben Hall continued his onslaught.
After Gibson's May 1863 release, Sir Frederick Pottinger re-arrested Gibson, and he was held over until the Victorian Police bona fides could be ascertained.
Gibson Acquitted, NSW Police Gazette, September 1863.
Gibson held for transfer to Melbourne Victoria September 1863.


However, following the raids at both Loudon's and Rothery's, the bushrangers, as openly stated to Mr Rothery, arrived in the town of Canowindra. Whereby, appraised by their telegraphs that the troopers stationed there were currently out in the bush, the bushrangers rode in. Indeed, the quaint town of Canowindra was not unlike many of the small settlements that dotted the landscape during this time in Australia's history. The town, which was situated strategically along the routes between Bathurst, Blayney & Carcoar, and Cowra, was a bustling hub for travellers and settlers. Yet, for all its activity and strategic location, Canowindra maintained a somewhat unassuming presence.

This description of Canowindra as a place one could "blink, and you would miss it" reflects the sleepy tranquillity that often characterises such rural settlements. It would have been easy for outsiders to overlook Canowindra's strategic importance, but for people like Ben Hall and his bushranger gang, it presented an opportune setting for their operations.

Knowing that the troopers stationed there were out in the bush, they saw a window of opportunity to continue their bold streak of raids without fear of immediate interference from the mounted troopers. The telegraphs, their informants, had once again proven to be a reliable source of information for the gang, enabling them to stay one step ahead of the authorities. It goes to show the network and level of organization they had established to support their bushranging activities.

Canowindra is a small town on the Lachlan, and might at this period have been not inaptly designated 'a one-horse place,' containing as it did one store, one inn, one lockup, one constable, one J.P., one pound, and one everything else. The seal of oneness seemed set on all, and it only required the population to be represented by one man to crown the strange effect.

As unassuming as it was, Canowindra proved to be the perfect location for Hall and his gang to continue their daring exploits. Upon their arrival, they likely would have been greeted by the sight of a quintessential rural settlement of the time - a scattering of buildings, including a general store, blacksmith's shop, and perhaps a pub or two, all surrounded by a seemingly endless expanse of Australian bushland.

Their arrival at Canowindra marks yet another chapter in their notorious escapades. Despite its humble appearance, the town was about to become the backdrop for the exploits of one of Australia's most infamous bushranger gangs.

On Gilbert and staff arriving at Canowindra, they bailed up the stores of Messrs. Pierce and Hilliar, where they took £3 in money and about £30 worth of goods, recounting, at the same time, some of their former exploits with enthusiasm. The next amusement was to visit the inns of the place. At Daley's they did not do anything worthy of notice; but at Mr. Robinson's they had quite a jollification—there being a piano, dancing was kept up until morning was far advanced. They paid for everything they had, except a valuable horse which the service required. Burke being quite overpowered, had to be roused with some force at 8 a.m., to take the line of march ordered by his Commander. 

The property stolen noted in the article above included five pairs of boots, five waistcoats, four pounds of tobacco, and £9 cash. The bushrangers shepherded the locals into the town's inn owned by William Robinson and maintained a surprisingly cordial atmosphere. This is not to say that the townsfolk were not afraid or wary of their unexpected guests. Still, the absence of immediate violence or aggression likely contributed to a begrudging sense of calm. In stark contrast to their usual modus operandi of ambush and intimidation, the gang seemed content to enjoy the comforts of the establishment, for the time being, indulging in food, drink, and perhaps even a bit of joviality.

However, beyond the stolen store goods, they seemed primarily interested in seeking shelter and respite from their usual fugitive lifestyle. Rather than resorting to violence or threats, the bushrangers sought temporary camaraderie with their captives, turning the event into an odd sort of celebration.

This unusual conduct, characterised by a mix of audacity and bonhomie, might have further mystified the townsfolk. For some, it might have even humanised the gang members, who, despite their criminal activities, displayed a certain degree of charm and charisma.

William Robinson owner
of the Travellers Rest Hotel,
situated on the Cowra side of
the Belubula River
12th July 1862.
For Lease.

In an unexpected turn of events, the bushrangers orchestrated an evening of entertainment, with festivities including music and dance. Forcing the townspeople into this strange celebration, the outlaws footed the bill for the revelry, ironically using the spoils they had taken from their victims.

Despite being conducted under duress, this unusual show of goodwill has created an atmosphere of relative merriment amongst the town's folk. Reports of the incident described it as a jovial gathering, transforming the otherwise fearful encounter into a strange and paradoxical event. Even as they committed criminal acts, they displayed camaraderie and joviality that challenged societal norms and expectations.

While it's essential to remember that these actions were still within the context of their lawless activities, the bushrangers' actions during this event painted a more nuanced picture of their personalities. They were criminals, undoubtedly, but they were also individuals capable of warmth and generosity, albeit in their unique and unconventional way.
'Empire', 6th October 1863:

On Sunday (27th) evening, we received information that Gilbert and his four companions reached Canowindra, as promised, four hours after they left Mr Rothery's. About six o'clock they rode into town, tied up their horses, and commenced searching every house and person for cash, but obtained a very limited amount. They took from the only stores in town, Messrs. Pierce and Hilliar, about thirty pounds' worth of men's clothing, and three pounds in cash; after which they adjourned to Robinson's, junior, inviting all hands to have a ball, for which Gilbert paid-tea being first ordered. I may state that the landlord and his wife had departed that morning for Bathurst, leaving only his sister and two miss Flanagans in charge of the house.

After the tea-things were cleared away, Gilbert very politely asked one of the young ladies to play him a tune on the piano. Some short time after, a dance was proposed, and commenced about nine o'clock, and continued till daylight next morning (Monday). Constable Sykes being amongst the company, it was proposed by Ben Hall that he (Sykes) should act as M.C. and that Burke and O'Meally should receive any company that might arrive during the evening. The company, we are informed, numbered eighteen at 12 o'clock, and the numbers were not augmented after that hour. Gilbert and his companions called and paid for all they drank during the night, and the night's amusement is spoken of as one of the jolliest affairs that has ever taken place in that small town-not a low or improper word being spoken by the gang. Gilbert kept the crowd in roars of laughter, at intervals, during the night, by giving an account of the police, whom he designated as a lot of cowards and said when he left Rothery's he mentioned where he was going so that it might be intimated to the police; knowing full well that they would not reach Canowindra until they (the bushrangers) had left. He said they never came till a day or two after. How fully borne out is this assertion, I will presently show. However, to finish my narrative: The bushrangers left Robinson's at five o'clock, and retired to a paddock opposite, where they had two hours' sleep, and left Canowindra unmolested at eight o'clock.

In the aftermath of the night's festivities, it was reported that O'Meally, who had many friends and relatives throughout the district, paid some of them a celebrity visit:

Before leaving Canowindra, O'Meally visited some of this admiring relatives, about three or four miles off, and was most cordially received by them.

Shortly after the festivities at Canowindra, a resident's letter to relatives characterised the bushrangers appearance stating that Ben Hall was the leader as all requests were deffered to him:

The whole five are sober youngsters—none of them drinks. They all have breech-loading rifles, and each has four revolvers. Gilbert is a very jolly fellow, of slight build and thin—always laughing seemed to be Hall's favorite and the happiest man in the country. O'Meally is said by everyone to be a murderous-looking scoundrel. 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 years of age. Vane is a big, sleepy-looking man, upwards of 12 stone. Mick Burke is small. They seem at all times to be most thoroughly self-possessed and to perfectly understand each other, and being sober men are not likely to quarrel. They appear to be always talking of their exploits and of the different temperaments of the people they bail up.

Sub-Inspector George McPherson McLerie, the son of the Inspector-General of Police, Captain John M'Lerie, had a near-fatal encounter on September 27th. While on patrol in search of the notorious Ben Hall, he attempted to cross the flooded Five Mile Creek near Carcoar.

The treacherous water levels and swift currents posed a significant risk, and McLerie was nearly swept away. This event underscored the dangerous conditions that law enforcement had to contend with in their pursuit of the bushrangers. Apart from the risks of confronting these armed and often desperate criminals, the natural environment often presents significant challenges.

McLerie's brush with death would have been a sobering reminder for all involved in the search for Hall and his gang of their potential dangers. It also demonstrated the commitment and determination of the authorities in their pursuit of justice.

Mr Inspector M'Lerie had a narrow escape from drowning on Sunday night. He and his men were returning to Carcoar, and on attempting to cross the Five-mile Creek, he was swept down — his horse being turned over and over in the stream— and but for the assistance of some diggers encamped near the spot, he must have perished.

Crossing the Belubula.
Contemporary Illustration
by Frank Dunne,
Smiths Weekly.

Courtesy NLA.
The day dawned following the night’s entertainment at Robinson’s hotel.  Information surrounding the gang’s movements following their departure from Canowindra came to light. It became known that the bushrangers separated. Two, O’Meally and Gilbert remained in the vicinity of the town, whereas Ben Hall, Burke and John Vane rode off to secure fresh horses.
However, the rain had been falling steadily, and the Belubula River, which meandered through Canowindra was rising as not yet in flood Hall and Burke and John Vane crossed over to the southern or Cowra side. They rode to ‘Bangaroo Station’, owned by Mr Icely of Carcoar. Their purpose was to obtain some good horses. However, on investigation  none were of any use. Disappointed the three returned to Canowindra. Approaching the earlier crossing point, they were surprised and disconcerted to find the river in flood. However, on the opposite bank, Gilbert appeared with O’Meally. They were calling out that a party of troopers had camped across from the town on their side. The troopers were also held up from crossing the rising waters, Hall and his two companions discussed whether to swim for it or wait, deciding to swim the flooded river. Without hesitation and stripped naked, their guns rolled into their clothes. The first to leap in was Ben Hall plunging his into the turbulent waters:
It was decided that the three men on the south bank should swim their horses across. They dismounted, undressed, rolled their clothes round their revolvers, making each a compact bundle. These they strapped on their saddles, and, remounting, completely naked, they rode to the river bank, Ben Hall leading. His horse plunged into the flood-waters and sank to its neck and to its rider's waist. Swimming strongly, it reached the north bank.

As Vane spurred his horse into the river after Ben Hall, the situation took a disastrous turn. The horse, unlike Hall's mount, became skittish as it hit the turbulent waters, faltering in its steps. In an instant, it began to flounder amidst the raging torrents. Its legs, unaccustomed to such conditions, buckled under the force of the river's currents.

Vane, desperately clinging onto his panicked horse, found himself struggling to maintain control. The duo was rapidly swept downstream by the river's relentless pull. The bushranger's desperate shouts were lost amidst the roar of the flood, creating a scene of frenzied chaos. It was a stark contrast to Hall's determined crossing, and the danger Vane found himself in became alarmingly clear to his watching comrades on the other bank.

Despite the desperate struggle and danger, Vane's resolve did not falter. Mustering all his strength, he tried to right his faltering mount and guide it through the perilous waters, hoping to emerge safely on the other side as Ben Hall did.

It floundered helplessly, its clumsy attempt at natation being hampered by the fact that its rider was a big man and clumsy of build. This caused the animal to be top-heavy. When Vane made an effort to keep its head turned upstream, it swung round too abruptly, almost roiling over, and, as a result, unseating its rider. Vane struck out for the shore and joined Ben Hall.

Vane's horse struggling to stay afloat, Burke, in his gallant attempt, plunged into the water to rescue the panic-stricken animal. Mustering all his strength, he battled against the raging currents to reach the struggling horse.

Burke's rescue attempt was successful, and he was able to bring the horse back to safety. The horse was saved from a watery grave. However, the river's relentless currents had washed away Vane's saddle in the chaotic struggle. Along with the saddle, valuable possessions including £19 in banknotes, two revolvers, and other personal items were irretrievably lost to the river's depths.

Despite the harrowing experience, crossing the river was no longer a feasible option given the rapidly increasing water levels. Burke with the saved horse were caught on the Cowra side of the Belubula Creek. Vane narrated:

Mickey Burke who was still on the south bank of the stream, still naked and seated sideways in the saddle, he held consultation across the yellow rush of water with his two dressed and two undressed comrades on the north bank. They decided that he should drive the two stolen horses across the stream, and this was done. But these, also, had such difficulty in fighting the current that it was thought unwise to take, any further risk, especially as the river was likely to go down, just as quickly as it had risen. It was arranged, therefore, that Burke should remain on the south side of the river during that day, while the other four should return to Canowindra, where Burke could rejoin them the following morning. He dressed and rode away to the hut of a sympathiser in the bush toward Mt Logan.

With a near miss from drowning, John Vane retells the event:

Hall, Burke and I rode down the river to Bangaroo Station hoping to get fresh horses; but there were no horses in the paddock, and we returned up the river again, only to find it in full flood. Shortly after we had reached the river, Gilbert rode up on the other side of the stream and said there were a lot of police higher up on the top crossing, waiting for the floodwaters to subside, and they were camped just opposite the town; so we made up our minds to swim the river without delay. First stripping our clothes off we each folded our revolvers and ammunition inside, rolling them up securely, and strapping the bundle securely to the saddle. Hall was first in the water and I followed close behind; but my horse would not swim, and when he reached the strong part of the current he turned turtle and sank, raising only to be carried down the stream until he came near the bank on the side from which he started, which I reached in safety. When he reached the bank the horse got his head between two saplings that were growing close together and became fast, while his hindquarters remained in the stream. He remained in this position until Burke, who had not started to cross, ran down and pushed his head back when the stream caught him again and carried him into the branches of an old oak tree that had fallen in the river. He sank once more and remained so long underwater that I thought he was drowned; but he rose again, this time without the saddle, and made for the opposite bank, where I was standing when I caught the bridle and assisted him out. With the saddle, I lost my clothes and firearms and £19 in money. Burke did not cross the river till next morning, by which time the water had fallen; but Hall, Gilbert, O’Meally and I rode away from the river and camped for the night on a hill overlooking the town. We paddocked our horses there and re-saddled at day-break the next morning when Burke re-joined us.
However, with a loss of weapons and devoid of suitable clothes, the bushrangers returned to Canowindra to refresh their wardrobe. From a correspondent:

Gilbert and O'Meally dismounted and assisted Johnny Vane to unstrap their reserve pack, from which Johnny was able to make up a set of clothing sufficient for the moment. They then remounted, and, with the two stolen animals on a lead, and with big Johnny Vane perforce riding bareback, returned to Canowindra and committed a breach of Sunday trading regulations by helping themselves to a new saddle and a suit of clothes at the general store. By that time it was afternoon, and they decided to make for the hill at the back of the town, where they could paddock and rest of their horses.
Vane, still soaking wet from his near-drowning experience, made his way back to Pearce's store. His need for new attire was evident, given the remnants of clothing he was left with after the river's treacherous currents had taken most of his possessions. As Pearce recounted, Vane's appearance was a sorry sight to behold, a stark contrast from the self-assured bushranger who had waltzed into the store previously. Sydney Mail Saturday 30 January 1864 (Vanes Trial)

Vane made his appearance at the store the night after they had taken their departure. His clothes were wet, and he said his horse had sunk with him in attempting to cross the river. He had a revolver in his hand and said he must have some dry clothes. He then took a Crimean shirt, a pair of trousers, and a pair of boots.

A Correspondent wrote of the river affair. Freeman's Journal Wednesday 7th October 1863:

I mentioned in my last that Gilbert and his gang were at Canowindra on Sunday morning, and left there at eight o'clock a.m. They then proceeded to Bangaroo (Mr Icely's station) and took some horses. In crossing the race at Duffy's fall, they had to swim, and in doing so Vane lost his seat and was precipitated into the water—the horse being carried down some distance, till he washed against a tree. The girths then breaking, the horse made for the bank, where he was secured by the others, who ran down for a mile on foot to catch him. The saddle and swag, containing three revolvers £25 in notes, and some clothing, were lost. They then returned to Canowindra, ran some horses into the town, and slept there on Sunday night. I may state that when they were within half-a-mile of the town, they (the bushrangers) sent a message by a man named Sullivan, an old resident of Canowindra, to the police, that they were prepared to meet them and would stop there for them, so long as no more than six came. That they would fight them man to man and allow the police one extra to take the place of the first trooper that fell. Sullivan took his message, but the police said they could not cross the river. Sullivan offered to punt them across, but they declined!

Sullivan had been sympathetic to the bushrangers, having punted them across the river on other occasions. He was a man that Hall trusted to pass on the offer of a duel to the camped NSW police. Crossing the swollen river, Sullivan fronted at the camp of the pursuing troopers and relayed Ben Hall's challenge. To facilitate the proposed duel, Sullivan offered to ferry the police over to the bushrangers side. However, Sullivan's keenness in offering to help raised suspicion amongst the police. Who suddenly realised that Sullivan might be a Charon with a more sinister motive and hastily declined the offer.

In a buoyant mood after their recent jubilee at Canowindra and surviving the fording of the flooded river, the gang allowed Micky Burke his first opportunity for a solo performance in coach robbing. However, just in case, the young bushranger could not handle the robbery. The remainder of the gang observed the proceedings from the nearby bush. Accordingly, Burke came through with flying colours, S.M.H. October 1863:

The Carcoar mail has been stuck up again. It was stopped by Burke alone, while Gilbert, O'Mally, Vane, and Hall lay concealed. The mail bags were cut open, and the money in the letters about £10 was abstracted.

Furthermore, the newspapers continued commenting on the ease with which the bushrangers robbed uninterrupted and editorialised the widespread belief that the gang had the police's measure; 'Bathurst Times', 30th September 1863:

In the Bathurst district, Gilbert, O'Meally, and Company appear to be as busy as ever, helping, themselves indiscriminately to whatever they choose. The police are in hot pursuit, but, so far, have not succeeded in apprehending any of the gang; and we cannot but regret to see the belief expressed that the constables are afraid of them. We certainly should be glad to see these offenders brought to justice, but the lawlessness of their pursuits keeps them so constantly on the alert, that their capture is far easier to write about than to effect.

"Afraid of them" rang out in the corridors of power. As the above writer's ink was drying, Ben Hall was about to conduct one of the most daring raids in Australian colonial history. An assault that sent shock waves into the very heart of colonial power.
The family homestead of John O'Meally, one of the bushrangers, was incinerated, an event that was covered in Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle. The piece exhibited a surprising degree of sympathy towards Ben Hall and sharply criticized the actions of the police, which appeared to be condoned by the NSW government. The event was detailed in the publication's issue of Saturday, 26th September 1863:

Within the last two years, several bad characters have been captured at O'Meally's; therefore, this burning down looks like destroying the trap that ensnared the vermin. Such Culverhouse acts will never stop bushranging; they are more likely to increase it, as in the case of Ben Hall, who was rendered the desperate outlaw he now is principally through the police burning down his once comfortable homestead, and thrusting his wife and family into the shelter-less bush. At least one of the victims in Hall's case must have been innocent, for it was an infant at the breast. But acts of indiscriminate harshness have been, and always will be the distinguishing characteristic of a weak government. People around here say that as some police inspectors find themselves incompetent to take the leading bushrangers, they, therefore, vent their disappointment and rage upon the robbers' relatives, i.e., by rendering houseless their aged parents, wives, and children. Such retaliation indeed smacks of the medieval ages and is unworthy of the enlightened nineteenth century.

Portrait of
Joseph Harpur.

Courtesy of  Harpur Critical
The assumptions in the article mentioned above have long been proven unfounded. Furthermore, the article's sympathetic tone may have been the work of the same person who wrote an earlier piece in the 'Yass Courier' in June 1863 detailing Ben Hall's life.

Despite this, the above article is trying to garner some sympathy for Hall from readers. By painting a picture of Hall's background that might elicit both pity and a somewhat perverse admiration of his current actions, the author capitalises on the surge in Hall's notoriety driven by media coverage of alleged injustices by authorities against him. However, this perspective is far from the truth.

Hall voluntarily gave up his property in September 1862, and his home was burned down on March 14, 1863, under the 'Crown Lands Occupation Act of 1861', to prevent it from continuing to serve as a base for bushrangers. Nevertheless, Joseph Jehoshaphat Harpur, a member of the New South Wales Parliament who likely knew Ben Hall personally through his mother, Sarah Walsh nee Harpur nee Chidley, often defended the affected settlers and, to an extent, the bushrangers. His stance drew significant criticism, and Harpur was quick to call out the police for their heavy-handed treatment of the settlers who found themselves in the spotlight:

Mr Harpur, Mr Cummings, and Mr Dalgleish censured the police generally and especially denounced them for burning down the houses of Ben Hall and the elder O'Meally.

The Bushrangers.
Courtesy NLA
Indeed, Harpur's critique of police aggression was increasingly out of sync with the actual realities of Hall's brazen activities. Many settlers lived in constant fear due to the bushrangers' relentless and audacious actions.

In response to these mounting outrages, newspapers continued to publish severe editorials about the bushrangers' escapades. The editors were indignant over the seeming ease with which the attacks were carried out, and they demanded answers from the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. They questioned why the NSW police seemed reluctant or unable to successfully confront the bushrangers, despite the significant resources deployed to do so.

The editorials insinuated that if the police conduct at George Marsh's Farm was a suitable gauge, then the public had seriously overestimated the NSW Police's abilities, leadership, and the government's legislative power to apprehend the bushrangers. These public discussions created a palpable sense of frustration and demand for accountability. (See article below.)
Sydney Mail
10th October 1863

NSW Police Gazette
7th October 1863.
The bushrangers, unaffected by the press's critical reports of their exploits, took a perverse delight in reading about their own actions. They viewed the stories with a mix of amusement and ridicule, embodying an attitude of complete indifference towards the NSW police force and its faltering attempts to apprehend them. Given their recent string of successful robberies and narrow escapes, Ben Hall and his gang held an air of superiority and confidence.
After their merry celebration at Canowindra, the gang leisurely made their way east towards Bathurst, a provincial town situated approximately 55 miles away. Despite their notorious reputation and the locals being well aware of their presence, the bushrangers travelled with a surprising degree of freedom and impunity, seemingly immune to discovery or capture.
Upon reaching the outskirts of Bathurst, they established a camp at Swan Pond, a locale situated alongside Evans Plains Creek, just four miles from the town centre. They also set up a secondary base further south at Long Swamp near 'Mulgunnia Station' on the road to Trunkey. This strategic setup allowed them to maintain a degree of mobility and evade the police's efforts to capture them. 'Sydney Morning Herald', 1st October 1863, announced the gang's presence in the Bathurst district:

Good information has just been received that the bushrangers were seen camped about fifteen miles from Bathurst three hours since. These scoundrels have been within twenty-five miles of this town, committing all kinds of depredations, during the last week, and it is firmly believed that the police, from their dilatory and sluggish proceedings, are afraid of them. 

Where were they! The police, that is? 

However, the activities had many of the districts asking just that! Where were the police! The question of the polices' inability to corral the gang following the Canowindra party brought more severe criticism from the 'Sydney Morning Herald', 7th October 1863 expressing disdain at the response to the gang's Canowindra, Rothery and Loudon outrages:

I would now say something about the police:"information reached Number One Swamp of the sticking-up of Rothery's and the bushrangers going on to Canowindra, about five o'clock on Saturday evening. Mr Superintendent Morrisett immediately dispatched five troopers to Canowindra ordering them to call at Clifden on their way up. Instead of proceeding direct, they first came to Carcoar, which they did not leave till nine o'clock p.m. Previous to their departure, they, however, received information that left very little doubt as to the bushrangers being at Canowindra. Now, giving them seven hours to get to Canowindra - thirty-two miles — they ought to have reached there at four o'clock a.m., where they would have had a good chance of taking the bushrangers, but, from some cause they did not arrive at Canowindra till eleven o'clock—three hours after the bushrangers had left—thus taking fourteen hours to travel thirty-two miles!

It is proved beyond a doubt, that when the bushrangers left Mr Rothery's they kept the road the whole distance, meeting carriers and others. The police could have heard, and no doubt did hear, from the teamsters camped on the road, that the bushrangers had passed in the direction of Canowindra, and they're failing to reach that place goes to prove what Gilbert said about them that they have not "the pluck" to meet them. This, however, is not the opinion of Gilbert only, but the police believe the same thing. Certainly, these five troopers should be called to account by Mr Morrisett, who to a certain extent, is held responsible for the conduct or misconduct of his men. Then again we hear that a magistrate and his stockman were going into Canowindra about ten o'clock on Saturday evening when he heard that the bushrangers were at Johnson's Inn. Much to his praise, he rode to the first police station, Cowra, about eighteen miles off, reaching there about twelve o dock, and found two troopers in the barracks. He informed them of what was going on at Canowindra and directed them to proceed there, but they refused to go, saying "two were of no use" Consequently, they could be seen the next morning turning out with polished boots, calculating, it is presumed, when the aberrants would be up so that they might fill in their pay. Such is the state of the police system, that these same two troopers are sent down with, and to deliver, Mr Icely's horse while the mail coach comes down unprotected.

While stationed in the vicinity of Bathurst, Ben Hall and his gang used their camps as vantage points, surveying the region and planning their subsequent attacks. With their seclusion and proximity to crucial points, Swan Pond and Long Swamp provided the perfect cover for the bushrangers. This helped them not only to strike rapidly and retreat but also to gather intelligence on police movements and the goings-on in nearby towns.

Their frequenting of local establishments further evidenced their brazenness. Even as the local law enforcement ramped up their patrols and the newspapers continuously issued reports about their misdeeds, the gang seemed to taunt them by hiding in plain sight. They would often frequent local pubs, engaging in conversations with locals and gathering information. For some, there was a secret thrill in having a drink with the notorious outlaws. For others, the presence of the bushrangers was a terrifying ordeal, not knowing when or where they might strike next.

The gang’s affinity for strategic planning and their intimate knowledge of the terrain made it incredibly difficult for the police to make any significant headway. Officers often found themselves chasing shadows, arriving at reported sighting locations only to find the gang had long since moved on. Furthermore, Ben Hall's innate ability to charm and persuade meant that he often received tips from sympathisers about police movements and planned raids.

All these factors combined made the bushrangers a formidable force. While they revelled in their reputation and the fame it brought, it was their meticulous planning, intimate knowledge of the region, and the complacency of the police force that allowed them to remain at large for as long as they did.
Having evaded the police, the gang bedded down. The police foundered in the bush. Were they afraid of the gang? However, public debate persisted and continued to rage in and out of parliament over the gang’s round-the-clock reign of terror.

Dr Richard
Machattie, father
of 'Dosh.'

Private Source.
October 1863 commenced with Ben Hall and John Vane breaking camp at Long Swamp and proceeded on horseback in the Trunkey Diggings direction, searching for some gold. Vane recalled:

Leaving Long swamp early next morning, Hall and I decided to take a short run in the direction of the Trunkey Diggings, for gold had always had an attraction for us, although we didn't trouble to search for it as the diggers searched.

In the rugged terrains near Bathurst, amidst the shadows of gum trees and echoing sounds of native birds, an encounter took place that would ripple through the annals of local history. Richard Machattie, often affectionately called 'Dosh' by those who knew him best, was a bright young man with a promising future. He was the pride and joy of Dr Richard Machattie, a distinguished figure in the Bathurst community known for his profound medical knowledge and compassionate nature.
Walking alongside Dosh was Charles 'Bertie' Battye, a youth whose lineage was equally impressive. Bertie's father was none other than the courageous NSW Police Captain Edward Battye. Captain Battye, a dedicated officer, had marked his tenure in 1861/62 with his relentless efforts at Lambing Flat, where he pursued outlaws and rustlers with unwavering determination. Under his watchful eye, the area saw a decline in the bushranging activities that had been instigated by the notorious Gardiner and his ally, Ben Hall. Captain Battye's knack for suppressing cattle rustling also became a significant highlight of his illustrious career.
However, on this fateful day, destiny had plans that neither young man could have ever predicted. As they navigated the gully, they found themselves face to face with the very menace that Captain Battye had vowed to eradicate - Ben Hall and his gang. In an ironic twist of fate, Hall now had the younger Battye, Charles Herbert 'Bertie' Battye, staring down the barrel of his gun.
The encounter was not just a chance meeting but a symbolic face-off between the legacy of law enforcement and its arch-nemesis. The young heirs to Bathurst's esteemed community were now in the clutches of the outlaws. (In 1861, Charles was nominated for a commission in Her Majesty's land forces. His older brother Montague joined the NSW police in August 1863 and was posted to the Lachlan district. In 1865 he resigned.)

In the midst of this precarious standoff, young Richard Machattie, known as 'Dosh' to his close friends and family, displayed a level of audacity that surprised even the most seasoned outlaws. With the blood of the esteemed Dr. Richard Machattie coursing through his veins, Dosh wasn't one to be easily intimidated. His upbringing in the Bathurst community had endowed him with a combination of pride and youthful confidence.

Challenging the very man who held him at gunpoint, Dosh threw down a gauntlet, proposing a running race or even a bare-knuckle boxing bout. The audacity of the challenge elicited a chuckle from Ben Hall, who, perhaps recognising the spirit of the young man before him, declined with an air of amused indifference.

But Dosh, and his companion Bertie, were not easily dissuaded. They decided that if they couldn't challenge the bushrangers physically, they would challenge their bravado. With a mischievous glint in their eyes, the duo dared Ben Hall and his gang to undertake a feat that would prove their real mettle - to target Bathurst, the very heart of the western capital. It was a dare that encapsulated the spirit of youthful rebellion and resilience, even when faced with Australia's most notorious outlaws.
'Empire’, Tuesday, 6th October 1863:

On Thursday morning, at a place called One-Eye, near Mulgunnia, young Messrs. Machattie and Battye were stuck up by Hall and Vane. The young gentlemen were out surveying and had dismounted from their horses to roll up their cloaks when two ruffians appeared and ordered them to stand and give up what money they possessed, they had each twenty-two shillings, but the robbers returned the odd two shillings, they eased Mr Machattie of his watch, and searched each, for pistols or revolvers. They detained both gentlemen as prisoners for two hours and a half, during which time a continued "chaffing" was kept up. One other victim who passed along was stopped and taken prisoner, but as the robbers could only find a few shillings upon him they declined to take them. One of the bushrangers showed the young men how to take the shoes from a horse's hoofs with the help of a stirrup-iron, and by way of illustration pulled off the shoes of the two forefeet of Mr Machattie’s horse in a few seconds. To relieve the monotony of their forced captivity several proposals were made to the bushrangers, one consisting of an offer to run Hall two hundred yards for the ownership of the horses, and another to have a little amusement in the shape of a fight. The bushrangers laughed and said they would fetch "the toad," meaning Burke, as he and Battye would be about a match. On being asked where their three companions were, they said "close by," adding that they were going to get some horses out of Mr Smith's paddock. They said they must take the young gentlemen's horses, but if they could get better, they would leave them where they could be easily recovered. A ring worn by Machattie in his scarf attracted Hall's attention, but upon learning that it was prized as a maternal gift, the bushranger declined to appropriate it. Hall showed a revolver which he had taken from one of the three policemen at Marsh's and said they did not offer the slightest resistance. As no one else appeared to be coming along the road, the prisoners were released and before they left Hall returned Machattie’s watch The two men are described as being very muscular, and to betray no symptoms of care and anxiety. Hall was continually laughing, but Vane was sullen and morose.

In the intricate tapestry of Australia's bushranging history, the candid insights from those who were part of that world provide invaluable colour and detail. One such voice belongs to John Vane, a man deeply woven into the fabric of the Ben Hall gang's exploits.

Interestingly, within the camaraderie of the gang, nicknames emerged that provided hints about personalities and appearances. For instance, the moniker "Toad" was affectionately used for their comrade Burke. This playful nickname speculates that the long-circulated hand-drawn portrait of Burke might be more generous than accurate.
However, the true essence of their life and times is captured best in Vane's first-hand account of the unexpected encounter with the young sons of two esteemed Bathurst community members - Captain Battye and Dr Machattie. Through Vane's eyes, one can almost feel the tension of the standoff, sense the youthful bravado of the young men they 'bailed up', and witness the audacious challenges thrown at Ben Hall and his gang. It's a testament to the rich, multi-layered narratives that make up the bushranging lore of Australia: Jon Vane narrates:

Evading the main road, we were quietly jogging along a gully when we met two young surveyors on their way to Bathurst – “Dosh” Machattie, son of the late Dr Machattie, and young Battye, son of the then well-known Captain Battye, of the Western police. Without much ceremony, we bailed them up, but neither of them was burdened with riches, and we didn’t get much. Battye wanted to run me a foot-race (he was a good sprinter), but I was “not on,” and there was some light talk about an engagement with fists; but this came to nothing. Before leaving, Machattie said, “Why don’t you come to Bathurst? I suppose you are not game?” Hall replied that we would show him whether we were game or not and that we would pay the big town a visit during the following week. They took this as a big joke and a piece of boasting and bluff on our part; but, as the result proved, they had put a thought in our heads which led to a determination that was fully and faithfully carried out.

In the twilight years of the 19th century, an older and undoubtedly wiser Richard 'Dosh' Machattie sat with a friend, the weight of years evident in his eyes, but a hint of youthful mischief still present. As they settled into comfortable chairs, Dosh began to reminisce about a day from his youth, a day that had left an indelible mark on his memory.

He recounted the unexpected and tense encounter with the infamous bushrangers, Ben Hall and John Vane. As he delved into the story, his friend could picture a younger Dosh, filled with bravado, alongside his close friend, Charles 'Bertie' Battye. The two, though sons of esteemed members of the Bathurst community, were, on that day, at the mercy of two of Australia's most notorious outlaws.

The afternoon's events were etched into Dosh's memory – the surprise of being 'bailed up', the audacity to challenge Ben Hall, and the adrenaline that came with it. With every word, his friend could sense the palpable tension of that standoff, the audacious spirit of the young men, and the amused reactions of the bushrangers.

Through Dosh's recollections, that fateful day from decades past came alive once more, offering a firsthand glimpse into a time when legends roamed the Australian bush, and everyday encounters could turn into stories told for generations.

At a place called Mulgunia, they came up with Dosh Machattie and another gay and festive young man named Bertie Battye, who had left their party and were on their way into Bathurst to attend a ball. As the two parties drew near Ben Hall was noticed to issue some order to Vane, and he then rode in advance until he came up to the surveyors. "Pull up," said Hall quietly, as he stopped his own horse and brought a large-sized revolver into view.

"What for," said Machattie with a smile, not knowing who it was in front of him. "We want your horses," replied Hall, who was now joined by the other bushranger. "Who the devil are you?" said Battye. "Young gentlemen whom you have no doubt heard of," said Hall. "We are the cocks of the country; and are known as Ben Hall and Co, now, will you get off the neddies quietly." Machattie and his friend were without firearms of any kind, and rightly judging that it would be safer to give in than attempt a rush; they reluctantly dismounted. Battye was no end of a good man with his hands, and was then, as in after, years, always ready for a "scrap," and as he gave his horse up to Vane he protested that they ought not to take the horse without a fight.

"Look here," said he, "I have no arms to shoot, but I'll fight the best man among you to see whether you take our horses or let us keep them." "No time," said Hall, laughing heartily at the proposal. "Then I'll tell you what I'll do." said Machattie. "I'll run any man amongst you 100 yards, and if I win you let us go. If your man wins take the horses."

The bushrangers greeted this offer with a roar of laughter. It was a new experience to be treated like this. But they took the horses and told the victims they would leave them in a paddock some miles farther out if they could get others. "Why don't you come into Bathurst?" said Battye. "Why?" cried Machattie. "They know they would get a hot reception." Then turning to Hall, "You would not leave the town."

Hall only smiled at the two irate but helpless young men, and quietly rode, off leaving the surveyors nearly twenty miles from the nearest house. They walked into Bathurst. The taunt hurled at the men by Machattie was fated to bear strange fruit.

(Richard Randolph Machattie died in 1902. Charles Herbert Battye died in 1899.)

A tumultuous storm was brewing in the NSW Parliament's grand chambers. Hall's exploits in the western districts were not just drawing the attention of the common folk; they had the halls of power echoing with vehement debates and urgent calls to action. Members who represented the afflicted western districts were in a state of distress. Their constituents, who once held them in esteem, were now questioning their capabilities, driven by their frustration over the police's ineffectual response to the growing bushranger menace.

Some of these parliamentarians' seats of power were hanging by a thread. The system of compulsory voting was still decades away from its 1912 inception, making every vote a battle to be won. Fearing the potential backlash from their communities, these parliamentarians were caught in a web of political survival, with many grappling with the idea of significant change.

At the forefront of this tumult was James Martin, an ambitious figure who seized upon this discord, fanning its flames. His incendiary rhetoric and pointed critiques led the charge, placing immense pressure on those in power.

Amidst this backdrop, the Premier, Mr Cowper, felt the weight of responsibility. With the public outcry mounting and his own position under scrutiny, he took a decisive step. In a move that reverberated through the corridors of power, he publicly censured the Inspector-General of Police, Captain McLerie, signalling a momentous shift in the narrative surrounding the bushranger threat

On Wednesday night the Colonial Secretary read several telegrams to and from the Inspector-General of Police. Captain M'Lerie was informed that the Government were disgusted at the behaviour of the police and that he would be expected to resign if the five bushrangers, including Gilbert, O'Meally, and Ben Hall, were not captured within a month. And further, that a new force would be inaugurated. The House expressed its gratification at this decided step on the part of the Executive.⁹ 

The bushrangers marched on.

Amidst the political unrest and public outrage of 1863, the relentless journey of the bushrangers persisted. These renegades of the wild terrains became the embodiment of rebellion and fear in the hearts of many.

As the 21st-century adage goes, politicians have often been more fluent in the art of rhetoric than in the act of meaningful change. This was as true in the 1860s as it is today. Much to the public's chagrin, obfuscation and evasion became the political norms. Yet, while politicians bickered and debated, the local press played an essential role in shaping public opinion.

H.P. Williamson's 'Lachlan Miner', dated September 30th, 1863, stood as a testament to the times. Williamson, who would later have a fateful encounter with Hall and Gilbert, used his platform to shed light on the trials faced by a beleaguered police force, perpetually at odds with the wily bushrangers. For the first time, the media, echoing the public sentiment, termed this relentless chase and elusive evasion between the lawmen and outlaws as the
'Bushranger War'. This term captured the intensity of the ongoing confrontations and painted a vivid picture of a nation grappling with its very identity and the battle for law and order:

The aspect of the war (for we can call it nothing else) between the bushrangers and the police, is becoming every day more alarming to the peaceable inhabitants of New South Wales; and were it not for the imminent danger to which both properly and life are exposed, the performances of our defenders would be truly a farce of the broadest kind. Not satisfied with, attacking parties of police sent out to scour the country in search of offenders, the present "Overseers of Roads" have actually been searching premises, where they expected the "protectors of life and property" were concealed; and the rifles and handcuffs are now transferred from those who either could not or would not use them, to others who both can and, will.

We are told by the Bathurst Times, in the most matter-of-fact manner, that when two troopers went out from Mr Marsh's, near Carcoar, after hearing two shots, which they must have supposed to have been exchanged between bushrangers and one of their mates, who had accompanied Mr Marsh to secure a stray horse, only one of them had taken the precaution to have his rifle with him. The one who had his arms, as a matter of course, gave them up, and these troopers were specially sent out to take bushrangers. No wonder the Times recommends make-believe fire-arms, so that the bushrangers may not be benefited. Why not have dummy troopers, who would benefit the country, by costing nothing for pay, and wearing out no shoe leather?

While these accounts are reaching us every hour-while the district, from Bathurst, round Canowindra, Cowra, and Carcoar, is in a state of martial law if the law of bushrangers can be called by such a name-we hear of but few efforts (beyond the old six-and-eight penny ones) being made by the police. The Lambing Flat papers, as well as those of the "Great City of the West," teem with reports of robberies, handcuffing’s, and murder's; enlivened at intervals by an account of a spirited, and usually successful resistances by some "private individual”, who does not receive Government pay for allowing himself to be shot at. The proceedings which have lately taken place in the Bathurst districts are a disgrace to the police officers, and men who are supposed to protect others, but cannot, in reality, take care of themselves. The same applies in a large degree to the Burrangong district; where it certainly appears that the inhabitants must look out for themselves. Such a stigma upon officialdom, we venture to say, has never been cast in any other British colony. But why should we waste more time and space upon a subject which we have worn threadbare, without the least advantage resulting to anyone, or the slightest effort having been made by the Government?

NSW Police Gazette,
30th September 1863.
In the midst of the so-called 'Bushranger War', certain acts of resistance caught the attention of the public and press alike. One such incident involved a formidable settler, Mr Thomas Wilding, owner of the 'Wildash Station' near Burrowa. Although the article from the 'Lachlan Miner' did not explicitly name him, Wilding's actions became a beacon of resilience against the rampant lawlessness of the time.

In a startling confrontation in September 1863, two bushrangers made the fateful decision to target Wilding's homestead. As fate would have it, the owner was not alone. Surrounded by guests, they all found themselves momentarily held at gunpoint, their fate seemingly sealed. However, the tables turned swiftly. In a sudden turn of events, one of the invaders met a violent end, falling to the combined efforts of Wilding and his guests. The second perpetrator, after a savage confrontation, was left brutally battered, teetering on the edge of life.

The identity of these two bushrangers emerged as James Murphy and Frederick Phillips, both from Lambing Flat. Their association with Ben Hall and his infamous gang remains a matter of speculation. Were they mere opportunists inspired by Hall's exploits, or did they belong to the fringe of his notorious company? The lines blurred in these tumultuous times, but Wilding's resistance against their aggression stood as a testament to the resilience of some settlers, unwilling to bow to the reign of the bushrangers.
From the 
Queanbeyan Age and General Advertiser, Thursday, 1st October 1863:

Mr Thomas Wilding's residence at Gunary Creek, seven miles from Burrowa, was attempted to be stuck-up last night by two bushrangers, one of whom was shot dead, and the other severely wounded by Mr Wilding and another party who was in the house at the time. The dead body was brought into Burrowa this morning on a cart. The other man is not expected to recover. Another correspondent states that no firearms were used by Mr Wilding, but that on the bushrangers entering the house they were attacked with cudgels; that the head of one man was thoroughly beaten in and the jaw of the other broken in three places. When the last accounts were received the wounded man was in Burrowa lying in a very precarious state. We refrain from entering into further particulars, as various accounts of this affair are current, and we, therefore, prefer waiting until we are in possession of an authentic statement, which we shall be provided within due course. The names of the men are Phillips and Murphy, alias Jem the Blackguard. An enquiry was commenced on Thursday morning. Phillips, under the name of Vane or Kane, was tried and convicted, about three years ago, for abduction. He and Murphy were suspected of sticking-up Maloney's inn, at Wallah Wallah, a short time since. The writer adds: I saw both the murdered man and the prisoner; the former had four large cuts on the back of the head, which broke that part of the skull into fragments; The latter's jaw is broken in two or three places, and he is so beaten and chopped about the face and skull, that there can be very little hopes of his recovering.

The community of Burrowa and its neighbouring regions had long endured the terror and thievery brought about by Ben Hall and his gang. So, when news arrived of the capture of two bushrangers and the subsequent demise of one, a wave of satisfaction washed over the beleaguered townsfolk. In an era where the death of a bushranger was often met with widespread celebration, this particular incident was no exception. The feeling of jubilation was palpable.

Upon hearing of the face-off at Wilding's residence, a surge of curiosity swept through the town. People flocked to the local lockup, eager to lay eyes on the bruised and battered survivor and, in a morbid twist of the era, to view the lifeless body of his accomplice. As whispers permeated through the crowd, speculation grew that the deceased might be either Gilbert or O'Meally, two notorious names that had long haunted their nights. The identity was yet to be confirmed, but hope and rumour intertwined for the moment, offering the community a temporary respite from the shadow of fear that the bushrangers cast over them.
Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser, Tuesday 20th October 1863:

The townspeople, who had already, heard of the affair, and the supposed capture of Gilbert and O'Meally, ran in crowds towards the lock-up to ascertain its truth and to satisfy their curiosity by feasting their eyes on the two men who had committed so many depredations but much to their astonishment, the men turned out to be James Murphy, better known as Jemmy Blackguard well known in the district for some seven or eight years, being in the employment of several of the settler's, and a man of very small stature; the other, the survivor, calls himself Frederick Phillips, of huge size.

The captured survivor was described so:

The above account was received from a man in Wilding's employment. The writer adds: I saw both the murdered man and the prisoner; the former had four large cuts on the back of the head, which broke that part of the skull into fragments; The latter's jaw is broken in two or three places, and he is so beaten and chopped about the face and skull, that there can be very little hopes of his recovering. The Goulburn Herald says: A correspondent writing on Monday states that after two, lengthy sittings, the coroner's jury returned a verdict of justifiable homicide. He adds that, according to the evidence adduced, there is no reason to doubt that the case really was one of bushranging.

Note: Phillips recovered and went down for five years of hard labour on the roads.

Prelude to Bathurst

View of Bathurst from
the bushrangers
perspective on
Bald Hill.
(Mount Panorama)

Courtesy NLA.
Amidst the audacity of their crimes and the brazenness of their actions, Ben Hall, John Gilbert, O'Meally, Vane, and Micky Burke plotted their most audacious move yet. Fueled by the dare from Machattie and Battye, the band decided to make a sensational appearance in Bathurst on the evening of October 3rd, 1863. This venture into the heart of Bathurst, often termed the 'City of the Plains', was set to become one of the boldest incursions ever recorded in the annals of New South Wales' bushranging history.

Bathurst, the cultural hub and the beating heart of the Western Districts has a rich history of its own. Its growth can be traced back to 1813, with the pioneering journey led by Surveyor William Evans. After successfully navigating the treacherous terrains of the Blue Mountains, Evans became the first European to cross the Great Dividing Range, finally reaching the Macquarie River, situated forty-two miles beyond Bathurst. This monumental feat was achieved despite the numerous challenges presented by the mountains. Though the renowned expedition of Blaxland, Lawson, and Wentworth had set the pace earlier in the same year, they had not managed to traverse the imposing Great Divide completely. Evans' accomplishment thus marked a turning point, forever etching Bathurst's name into history.
Furthermore, Evans, after struggling across the majestic ranges, noted:

To the surveyor, it was like a glimpse of paradise after his strenuous journey over the Blue Mountains.

Established in the wake of exploration, Bathurst's origins date back to 1815, mere years after William Evans' trailblazing traversal of the Blue Mountains. The town's inception was strategically placed along the primary route connecting it to Sydney. This critical roadway, carved across the challenging terrains of the Blue Mountains, stands as a testament to the architectural vision of William Cox. With the assistance of hundreds of convicts, Cox masterminded and completed this remarkable construction by the close of 1815. Therefore, Bathurst became a testament to exploration, human tenacity, and the drive to connect new frontiers.

Governor and Lady Macquarie, the year after its formation, drove in a carriage over this road, which was highly spoken of by Surveyor Oxley in his published reports. For this service, Mr Cox received a grant of land on the Bathurst Plains, which he called Hereford.

The crossing was the footnote that changed Australian History.

Father Jerome Keating,
who married Ben & Bridget
as well as her sisters Ellen
and Catherine Walsh.
c. 1870's.

Courtesy E. Penzig.
Bathurst held more than just a geographical significance for Ben Hall; it cradled memories of a life he once knew. In the year 1856, beneath the spires of St Michael's Catholic Church on William Street, Ben exchanged vows with Bridget Walsh. The ceremony, officiated by Father Jerome Keating, was a moment of joy and union. Prior to his days as a bushranger, Ben was no stranger to the streets of Bathurst. He frequently visited, often accompanied by his older brother William. The echoes of his wedding celebrations at the 'Bentinck and Piper Inn', managed by Alexander Crilly, still lingered in the air. The newlyweds had chosen to bask in the joys of matrimony in Bathurst for nearly a week post their nuptials.

Yet, for Ben Hall and his gang, Bathurst was more than just a repository of personal memories; it was a formidable fortress of law and order. The town functioned as the nerve centre for the NSW Western police, commanded by the adept Superintendent Morrissett. Officers like Morrissett and the tenacious Inspector Pottinger routinely patrolled its streets and surrounding regions, with their sights set on capturing the five bushrangers who had become local legends. The juxtaposition of Hall's personal history with the looming threat of law enforcement painted a picture of Bathurst that was both nostalgic and perilous.

Authors Note; Father Keating was born in Ireland and attended Dublin University and Carlow College, arriving in Sydney in January 1845. As a priest, he served at Penrith, Bathurst, Maitland and Norfolk Island for over 33 years, eventually migrating to America in 1878. He served as Chaplin at West Point Military Academy Staten Island amongst their large Irish community. Father Keating passed away in New York in 1885.

William Street, Bathurst. View
from top of St Michael's Church
looking N.E. as the Gang

approached Pedrotta's shop
on the right from the south
c. 1880's
Courtesy RAHS. 
In 1907, the pages of "John Vane, Bushranger" were turned eagerly by those who sought an intimate window into the legendary Bathurst raid. Authored by Charles White, who claimed to be an eyewitness to the raid, the narrative centred on Vane's tenure with the infamous gang. From August to November of 1863, Vane rode alongside Ben Hall, painting the hinterlands with tales of audacity and rebellion.

However, the book was not without its imperfections. White's account often jumbled the sequence of events, interchanging time and place, creating a mosaic of memories rather than a linear story. Yet, the inconsistencies did not overshadow the essence of Vane's recollections, especially the events leading up to the Bathurst spectacle.

Upon rejoining their comrades - Gilbert, O'Meally, and Micky Burke - after a short hiatus, Vane and Hall were animated as they narrated their encounter with the spirited youths of Bathurst, 'Dosh' Machattie and Charles 'Bertie' Battye. With an air of amusement, they recounted the dare posed by Machattie and Battye, their audacious challenge that would set the stage for one of the most memorable events in the annals of New South Wales's bushranging history.

You are not game they called to come to Bathurst and take DeCloutt’s ‘Pacha’:

Vane stated to the group that Ben was incensed at the cheek of Battye, where Hall remarked:

We’ll show you about that.

John O’Meally, always game was ready to jump at a chance for action stated:

We’ll show the beggars whether we’re game or not! It’s a pity one of you didn’t take on the cove that talked fight; either of you could have flattened him out.

However, Hall, the cool-headed of the five, brushed off O'Meally's taunt about failing to belt the boys, responded:

Oh, that’s nonsense, we got something better to do than fight with bragging schoolboys, and neither of them was much better. But, I’ll tell you what; if you are agreeable, we will take up their challenge in earnest and go to Bathurst.

Subsequently, a quick discussion ensued on the topic of a run into Bathurst, and the boldness of the idea having been thrown down for a visit was unanimously accepted. Once more, O’Meally said:

Well, I’m agreeable to make the next trip to Bathurst the ‘go’, and as the police are all out from the head station we could have a free run in and out, and the affair would make a big sensation; besides which we ought to make a big haul from one of the jewellers. If we go at night, the banks will be closed, or we might ‘touch’ one of them.

As the idea took root, the gang unanimously decided upon the audacious raid on Bathurst. With a glint in his eye, Vane expressed his desire to acquire one of the 'Revolving Rifles' or the 'Double-Trigger Revolvers'. He believed Pedrotta's gun shop in the town would have these sought-after firearms. Meanwhile, ever the horse aficionado, Johnny Gilbert revealed his intentions to lay claim to the thoroughbred racehorse 'Pacha'. This magnificent beast was housed at 'The Sportsman Arms', a hotel owned by his former employer, 'Dublin Jack' DeClouet.

The gang wasted no time. With meticulous attention to detail, they handpicked the finest horses from their stock for the impending expedition. On the brisk morning of October 3rd, 1863, the bushrangers set out as dawn painted the horizon. They chose a circuitous route via Newbridge, Wimbledon, and George's Plains to avoid the main thoroughfares. Eventually, they crossed the Evan's Plains and ascended to the vantage point of Bald Hill, from where the sprawling town of Bathurst lay visible. Here, amidst the embrace of nature, they decided to pause, allowing the hours to roll by as they patiently waited for evening's cover to embark on their audacious mission.

Bathurst, "a big sensation."

As the hues of twilight began to paint the skies, the bushrangers readied themselves for their audacious venture into Bathurst. Saturdays in the town were always bustling, as it was re-stocking day — a day of significance for the outlying farmers. They would ride into town to replenish their larders and indulge in a rare night of festivity and relaxation. In the year 1863, the concept of standardised trading hours had not yet been established, making the night an opportune time for extended business and revelry. Against this backdrop, the sight of five young horsemen weaving their way through the town's streets would hardly draw a second glance.

Note: Vanes book 'John Vane, Bushranger', can be accessed from the Source Page, see pages 124-132 inclusive on the Bathurst raid.

Amidst the vibrancy of a Saturday evening in Bathurst, the town hummed with life. Farmers and townsfolk alike converged in the bustling streets, filling the air with the clamour of commerce and jovial conversations. Melodies from dance halls wafted through the night, harmonizing with the lively chatter of people catching up with friends or partaking in a bit of shopping. In such a lively atmosphere, no one anticipated the unexpected arrival of the bushrangers.

Emerging amongst the throng were five impeccably dressed men, each astride a magnificent horse. They ambled leisurely at first, blending seamlessly with the ebb and flow of the crowd. But as they approached the dimly lit heart of William Street, they transitioned to a confident jog, all while going almost unnoticed amidst the unsuspecting townsfolk.

Bathurst was badly lighted, I. N. Wark not having at that time descended upon the city with his gas. The shops were dimly lighted with oil and candles so that the time was well chosen—the residents were at tea, and the town at peace.

Navigating the energetic thrum of William Street, the five bushrangers guided their horses to a halt outside Mr Pedrotta's esteemed Gun Shop. With anticipation, they sought the new marvel of weaponry — the Revolving Rifle. However, their aspirations were met with disappointment as they discovered the absence of such rifles in the inventory. Undeterred, they promptly moved to McMinn's jewellery store, drawn by the allure of potential treasures.

Yet, their ambitions within the jeweller's establishment were abruptly interrupted. 
Frances, the spirited daughter of John McMinn, let out a shrill scream of alarm upon spotting the intruders. Her cry, resounding with genuine fear, expedited the bushrangers' departure from the store.

Charles White.
Amid this unfolding scene, whispers began to ripple through the streets. The word "bushranger" echoed repeatedly from one alarmed townsfolk to another. The weight and urgency behind that singular term spread a palpable sense of excitement and trepidation among the citizens, rendering the evening unforgettable.
One such witness was the future author of the 'History of Australian Bushranging', Charles White:

The alarm was taken up outside, in the street, by Messrs. Curtis and Charles White, who called out for help, but before anything could be done the bushrangers were in their saddles and going down the street at full speed.

For Bathurst, the much-publicised 'Bushranger War' materialised at the towns front door. Word of the bushrangers, these mythical men who like ghosts led the police a merry dance through the hills and valleys drew large numbers of locals to flood the dimly lighted streets to catch a glimpse for themselves, the bushrangers in person. As the townsfolk gathered close by crowding the riders, Ben Hall fired a shot into the night air to clear a path, scattering the unbelieving crowd.

View of Bathurst from cnr of
 Russell and Stewart St
 c. 1880's.

Frank Walker, 1861-1948.
In the heart of Bathurst, the widely discussed 'Bushranger War' came to vivid life. Tales of these enigmatic men, who had eluded law enforcement through the rugged terrains, hills, and valleys, had been told and retold. Their mystique had grown, and now, they had become almost legendary in the collective imagination of the town. Thus, when they materialized, it was as if legends had walked into reality. Throngs of curious onlookers, eager to witness these figures in the flesh, poured onto the streets, their excitement palpable in the dimly lit night.

However, as the crowd swelled and edged closer, Ben Hall fired a shot into the dark sky, perhaps feeling cornered or seeking to command some authority. The loud crack of the gunshot reverberated, pushing the awestruck crowd back, creating a makeshift pathway for the riders.

Yet, as history often demonstrates, even the best-laid plans can unravel. The events that unfolded that fateful night in Bathurst were chronicled in a series of newspaper articles that gripped the colony. In a frenzied rush, editors battled to procure the most sensational and fresh updates as they received telegrams with new information. By Sunday morning, the colony was abuzz. Homes and coffee houses were filled with astonished voices as the telegraph wires hummed with the shocking news of the audacious Bathurst raid.
Last night, about half-past seven, Gilbert, O'Meally, Ben Hall, Burke, and Vane came into the heart of the town and attempted to stick up the shop of Mr McMinn, jeweller, in William-street. Gilbert and O'Meally went into the shop, leaving the others outside, but the screaming of the females in the house raised the alarm, and they beat a retreat. Jumping on their horses, they galloped down William street, and, firing a shot in the air, passed down Howick street, then cantered up George street, as if going out of town. In a little time, a troop of police were in pursuit, but by a manoeuvre of the bushrangers, they passed them, and so were outgeneralled. The bushrangers, ongoing up George-street, made for the rear of Mr De Clouet's, and entering the house, stuck up the inmates and remained there in cool conversation for fully twenty minutes. They wanted the racehorse Pacha, but at the request of De Clouet, in whose employ Gilbert had at one time been, they relinquished their design and left quietly. Several young men volunteered immediately to go in pursuit, but there was neither ammunition nor caps in the police barracks. It is said that later in the night, the police afterwards came up with them and exchanged shots, but without any result. The townspeople are in a fearful state of excitement. It is impossible to describe the state of feeling caused by the visit of this notorious gang of bushrangers. 

On the crisp morning of 5th October 1863, the town of Bathurst was still reeling from the audacity of the bushrangers' weekend incursion. By Monday afternoon, as the town's iconic clock tower struck 5 pm, an air of collective resolve had begun to replace the initial shock and panic. The townspeople had seen firsthand the menace that had been eluding the authorities for so long and were determined to take matters into their own hands.

A town meeting was hastily convened, drawing in concerned citizens from all walks of life. Assembled under the high ceilings of the town hall, their murmurs echoed as community leaders discussed the urgent need to fortify their community against further such attacks.

The gathering's outcome was a unanimous call to form a unit of Special Constables. This would be a force composed of local volunteers, men who knew the town and its surroundings intimately and were committed to its safety. The proposition was met with enthusiastic agreement, with many hands raised and names noted. Some among the volunteers had military or policing experience, while others were driven solely by a desire to defend their homes and loved ones.

Newspapers celebrated the town's resilient spirit the next day, splashing headlines about Bathurst's newfound defiance and determination to capture the notorious gang. The formation of the Special Constables embodied the community's collective will to resist and signalled a turning point in the 'Bushranger War' - the townspeople were no longer mere spectators; they were active participants:
'The Sydney Morning Herald' reported on the 6th regarding the efforts of the townsfolk.

A meeting was held today at which resolutions were passed to accept the services of special constables, to form a committee to deliberate in secret on the best means to be adopted to capture the bushrangers. —A telegram from Mr Cowper, authorising the Police Magistrate to take whatever steps might be suggested by the townspeople, was received with gratification. A horse thoroughly knocked up, supposed to belong to the bushrangers, was brought in by the police last night. It had a saddle with a poncho on it, and a leather buckle to hold a rifle but was without a bridle.— A report is circulating through the town that the mail from Bathurst at Carcoar was stuck again this morning, twelve miles hence, at Fitzgerald's Mount. —The bushrangers were at Bartlett's yesterday and took two horses from Mr Mackie. ——A report has been received here to-day that Burke, the bushranger, had been taken near Carcoar by the police, who shot his horse and broke his arm.

In the midst of the chaos and shock, the 'Bathurst Times' became a beacon of information and opinion for the local residents. The paper's fresh ink carried the emotions and tumult of a town wrestling with newfound vulnerabilities. One correspondent, whose pen was driven by a mix of anger and urgency, penned a passionate call to arms.
As copies of the 'Bathurst Times' circulated through the streets, many took the correspondent's words to heart. Conversations around town echoed the sentiment of the article, further strengthening the community's determination. (See link below from the Bathurst Times, October 5th 1863)

The Sydney Morning Herald
Friday 9th October 1863
(From the Bathurst Times, October 5.)

More news flourished; 
Tuesday, 6th October 1863, 8.30 p.m.

A horseman has just galloped into town from the Vale Creek, about a mile and a half distant, with intelligence that the bushrangers have made an attack upon Mrs Mutton's house, and had proceeded in the direction of Mr Hellman's. Five troopers jumped into their saddles, and have this moment left the barracks in pursuit of the bushrangers.- The Inspector-General of Police arrived in town this afternoon.¹⁰

Mary Mutton
1800 - 1883.

Private Source.
The bushranger army was on the march, and for the next few days, the town held its breath as Ben Hall roamed and robbed the district. Seemingly oblivious to the authorities and their efforts Wednesday Evening, 7th October 1863:

GILBERT and his gang, last night, at 9 o'clock, stuck-up Mrs Mutton's house on the Vale Road, half a mile from Bathurst. Whilst searching for money, the rascals accidentally set fire to the bed, and one of them burnt his hands severely in attempting to put out the flames. The police on hearing the news sallied forth at once, but arrived at Mrs Mutton's half an hour too late, having taken a wrong direction. The bushrangers went right on from Mrs, Mutton's, and stuck-up Walker's Inn, M'Diarmic's store, and Butter's inn, all within four miles of Bathurst. A second party of police, headed by the Inspector-General of police himself, went in search of the scoundrels on receipt of the information. Meantime, the bushrangers attempted to rob several other places further on the road, and managed, after all, to escape from the police who are still out. There was great excitement amongst the townspeople on bearing the news, and crowds were in the streets until 3 o'clock this morning. It ought to be noted that immediately after the police under Captain M’Lerie started, shots were fired off; supposed to be meant for a sort of telegraphic signals, by confederates of the bushrangers in town. Placards have been posted offering £500 reward for the capture of each bushranger, and many volunteers are enrolling themselves. ¹¹

NSW Police Gazette
14th October 1863.
In the heart of Bathurst, amidst the ornate buildings and bustling streets, an urgent assembly of the town's leaders convened. The room, often a place of reasoned debate and discussions about municipal matters, was unusually tense. The faces of the gathered men were etched with a blend of anger, concern, and steely determination.
Thus, the idea of forming a posse was born. A civilian-led force that would operate in tandem with, but separate from, the official police. The goal was clear: track down Ben Hall and his gang and bring them to justice.
A committee was swiftly formed to spearhead the initiative. They were tasked with recruiting men, procuring arms, and formulating a strategic plan. Word spread quickly, and men from all walks of life – farmers, blacksmiths, merchants, and even some former military men – volunteered to join the posse.
The formation of the posse wasn't just a tactical move; it was symbolic. It represented Bathurst's refusal to be cowed, its determination to stand up to the threat, and most importantly, the indomitable spirit of its people. The message was clear: Ben Hall may have started this audacious game, but the people of Bathurst were determined to end it. BATHURST. Wednesday, 10th October 1863, 9 p.m.: 

The committee appointed to consider the best means for capturing the bushrangers have, with the sanction of the Government, issued placards, offering £2500 reward for the apprehension of the five Bushrangers-Gilbert, O'Meally, Bourke, Vane, and Ben Hall, or £500 each. Volunteers are called for, and the town has the appearance of being in a state of siege. The police have been out all day.¹²

Bartholomew Pedrota
In the weeks that followed the audacious raid on Bathurst, the town was abuzz with chatter, gossip, and countless retellings of that fateful evening. The newspapers, always eager for a sensational story, had done their part in stoking the flames of public sentiment. Every movement, every shot fired, every word uttered by the bushrangers was pored over, dissected, and embellished upon.

On the 9th of October, 1863, a comprehensive account of the raid appeared in the Bathurst Chronicle. The article, filled with vivid descriptions and eyewitness accounts, offered a detailed chronology of the events. It spoke of the gang's casual stroll down William Street, the disappointment at Pedrotta's gun shop, the McMinn's jewellery store commotion, and the panic gripping the town. The article also detailed their encounters with the local residents and the sheer audacity of their actions in the heart of a major town.

However, as engrossed as the townspeople were in recounting the events of the raid, Ben Hall and his gang had not been idle. They had moved on, riding the trails and back roads, continuing their life of crime. They left a string of robberies in their wake, each adding to their notoriety and the lore that surrounded them. With each successful raid, their confidence grew, and the myth of their invincibility was further cemented.

The authorities, meanwhile, were left scrambling. The police, the posse, and countless volunteers spent days and nights on the hunt, but the gang always seemed one step ahead. The vast landscapes of New South Wales, with its sprawling plains, dense forests, and rugged hills, offered countless hideouts.

As days turned into weeks, the initial shock and fear gave way to a mix of grudging admiration for the bushrangers' audacity and a burning desire for justice. The events of that night in Bathurst became a part of local folklore. A story passed down through generations, a testament to the town's resilience and the indomitable spirit of its people.

THE shrieks of a woman in terror, a cry for "Help!" the trampling of horses, the report of a pistol, and the rapid galloping of a body of horsemen, whose figures as they shot through the darkness looked like shadows gliding down the main thoroughfares of the town, were productive of such a scene of consternation and amazement, on Saturday evening, as can never be forgotten by those who have witnessed what we have just described. In an instant, the bewildered inhabitants of the houses within the line of disturbance were at their doors, and almost as quickly the cry of "Bushrangers" passed from lip to lip. To say that astonishment or excitement prevailed does not convey an adequate notion of the stunned and appalling effect produced, as little by little the fact was gradually affirmed that the bushrangers had actually made a descent upon the town. Proceeding in the direction from which the bushrangers had come, we found a crowd assembled outside the shop of Mr M'Minn, the jeweller, in William-street, and there learnt that Gilbert and his gang had made a daring attempt to "stick up" that gentleman's shop. In order that the bushrangers' proceedings may be better understood, we must first inform our readers of the manner in which they were disposed of so as to prevent surprise. There were in all five, being as is supposed, O'Meally, Ben Hall, Burke, and Vane - the fifth, Gilbert, having been positively identified. 

Pedrotta's Gun shop located
in William St. It was situated
next to Rachel Leed's
Western Hotel,
seen here 
on the

Courtesy BDHS.
When they came into town, Vane appears to have been stationed in the right-of-way between the Church of England school and the Telegraph Office, and in the darkness, he was effectually screened from view. The others rode in a body to Mr Pedrotta's shop, where a number of firearms are displayed for sale. Gilbert and one of his companions, leaving their horses in charge of the other two, went in and asked if Pedrotta had any revolving rifles or double-trigger revolvers, upon being answered in the negative and shown the common kind of revolver, they said they were of no use and walked out. They then went down to Mr M'Minn's shop, and the family being engaged at tea, walked into the room where they were sitting and presenting their revolvers, ordered all to be quiet. Miss M'Minn, however, at the sight of the revolvers, screamed with fright, and though they threatened to blow out her brains if she did not keep quiet, she did not heed them in her terror, but still gave expression to her fear. Disconcerted, the two ruffians beat a retreat, presenting their revolvers as they backed out of the shop - one of them as he passed by the counter trying to lift the lid of a glass case, but he was foiled, as it was constructed to open from the inside of the counter. 
The alarm was taken up outside, in the street, by Messrs. Curtis and Charles White, who called out for help, but before anything could be done the bushrangers were in their saddles and going down the street at full speed. At the corner of Howick-street, two of them turned sharp round, but the others appeared to be uncertain of their way and galloped on towards the police barracks, but a shot being fired into the air, by one of the first two, caused them to turn and re-join their companions. Galloping along Howick street, they were met as they turned the corner of George street by Vane, who had ridden down the right of way already mentioned, and rapidly crossed the square. As he came up, his horse stumbled, when the others eased their pace and went up George-street at a moderate canter. In about a quarter of an hour, a body of troopers passed through the town in pursuit, following the direction taken by the bushrangers, but as it subsequently proved they passed them on the way.

The Gang's account. "The night was bright, clear and calm."

In the annals of Australia's bushranging history, few tales are as compelling as that of Ben Hall's gang and their audacious raid on Bathurst. Amidst the swirling mists of embellishment and sensationalism, John Vane's account stands out as a beacon of truth, offering a window into the inner workings of the gang and the ethos that drove them.

The night of the raid was, as Vane described, "bright, clear and calm." Under the silvery sheen of the moonlight, the town of Bathurst presented a serene picture, its streets alive with the regular hustle and bustle of a Saturday evening. The unsuspecting townsfolk had no inkling that this night would be etched into their town's lore forever.

As they rode in, the gang, led by Ben Hall, was a study in contrast. On one hand, they were hardened criminals, feared and reviled. On the other, they were five young men with the audacity to challenge an establishment that seemed ill-equipped to handle them. As they made their way through the town, stopping at Pedrotta's gun shop and McMinn's jewellery store, their swagger was evident. They weren't just there to loot but to send a message.

Newspapers, always on the lookout for sensational tales, had a field day with the Bathurst raid. Each report was more extravagant than the last, with some accounts bordering on the fantastical. But Vane's detailed and unembellished account painted a picture of a gang that was more than just a band of outlaws. They were a tightly knit unit with a clear hierarchy and an unshakable bond.

Ben Hall's leadership was undisputed. Charismatic and strategic, he was the glue that held the gang together. John Gilbert, O'Meally, Vane, and Micky Burke each brought their unique strengths to the table, making the gang formidable.

But what set them apart was their audacity. They didn't just operate in the shadows; they rode into towns, in full view of everyone, taunting the police with their brazen acts. Their modus operandi was clear - it wasn't just about the loot; it was about challenging the establishment, about showing them up for their ineptitude.

In the days and weeks that followed, as the dust settled on the Bathurst raid, one thing became clear - Ben Hall's gang was not to be trifled with. They were a force to be reckoned with, and their legend was only growing. The 'Bushranger War' had truly begun.

Howick St & William St
looking southeast.
St Michael's in the
background. John Staines
and William Matthews
premises foreground.
c. 1872

Having lit up Bathurst. As dictated to Charles White, John Vane looked back on Bathurst's events before his death in 1906 and provided an overview of the sensation that brought about the downfall of Cowper premiership's.

John Vane opened his narrative as they entered the town; "The night was bright and clear and calm." Riding first in a single file as they rode down William street, grouping closer, nudged their horses into a jog to avert any undue suspicion. Giving the appearance of five local lads in town for an evening out, tipping their hats at the ladies as they passed, they made their way towards Pedrotta's gunshop. Reining their horses outside entered, seeking the much-heralded new type of weapon, the Revolving Rifle. The gang's historic invasion commenced. Dismounting in front of Pedrotta's Gunshop here Hall, Gilbert and Vane entered but were disappointed that Pedrotta had no 'Revolving Rifles' in stock and his quality firearms not to their liking. Without fanfare, they left promising to return another time. Re-mounting, they rode on with Gilbert spying a fruiterers shop wishing to grab some oranges dismounted and ordered two dozen but was soon called away by O'Meally to "come on quick" riding with Ben Hall reached the jewellery shop of Mr McMinn's.

At McMinn's, their much-heralded 'Lark' commenced with Ben Hall entering the store first. The family were at tea. Hall walked in, revolvers presented, ordering the family to be quiet. However, the ladies, McMinn's wife Mary and daughter Frances believing their, "last hour had come", began to scream, which startled the bushrangers, one of whom threatened to"Blow their brains out" if they did not cease. The unrest forced a hasty retreat. However, emerging from the store, a crowd had now formed con-fuddled by the noise and uproar from the store. The bushrangers leapt into their saddles as the public became more excited by the McMinn women's continued screaming. Finally, Mr McMinn rushing to the door of his shop crying out, "Police! Bushrangers! Bushrangers! Police!"

Charles De Clouet,
son of 'Dublin Jack'

Private Source.
The Gang re-mounted and rode off, each holding a revolver in hand when abruptly Ben Hall fired off a shot over the crowd's heads as a warning to prevent them from blocking their path. The five cantered on to Howick street then into George street. Vane commented that:

We headed up that thoroughfare in the direction of the Bald Hill's again, quietly laughing at the scare we had created, for we could see people running in all directions towards William Street.

Vane continues:

Cantering quietly up George street we came to its intersection with Piper Street. 

DeClouet's Pacha. "Blow out somebodies brains."

On an otherwise ordinary evening in Bathurst, the stillness of the night was broken by the unmistakable clatter of hooves. As John Vane later recounted, the "night was bright and clear and calm," but that tranquillity was about to be shattered.

Down William Street, they rode, five silhouettes bathed in the soft moonlight, a quintet of mischief that would soon send shockwaves throughout Bathurst. At first glance, they appeared as just another group of young locals, maybe out for some revelry after a hard week's work. The deceptive calm with which they tipped their hats to passing ladies did little to reveal their intentions.

But as they halted outside Pedrotta's gunshop, their objective became clear. Here, at the heart of Bathurst, the fabled raid began. Their mission: to procure the latest marvel in firearm technology, the Revolving Rifle. The disappointment was palpable when they discovered none in stock. However, with a coolness that marked their every move, they promised to return and mounted their steeds once more.

Next, Gilbert's whim took them to a fruiterer's shop. Just as they were in the process of procuring oranges, a call from O'Meally changed their course. They sped towards McMinn's jewellery store, where their escapade took a dramatic turn.
Navigating the narrow lanes of Bathurst, the gang veered onto Piper Street. They slowed their pace as they approached the 'Sportsman Arms Hotel', a notable establishment owned by the prominent Mr DeClouet, affectionately known by locals as 'Dublin Jack'. This wasn't just any ordinary tavern – it was the abode of the famed thoroughbred 'Pacha'.

Even as the town's exhilaration reverberated through the night, the bushrangers maintained their composure. Stealthily, they bypassed the main entrance, choosing instead to enter through a back fence leading to the stables. Their target was clear: 'Pacha', the majestic steed that was the talk of Bathurst.

Within the dim confines of the stable, they encountered Mark, the hotel's Ostler. With a mix of authority and desperation, they demanded the keys to where 'Pacha' was kept. But Mark, ever loyal to his employer, revealed that only Mr DeClouet himself had the keys. The gang now found themselves facing a new dilemma in their audacious night of mischief.
However, to expedite the snapping up of the horse, one of the gang, no doubt O'Meally, said:

Blow out somebodies brains; you'll soon have the keys then.

John Vane
With three gang members holding ground in the yard, Hall and Gilbert took it upon themselves to venture deeper into the heart of 'Dublin Jack's' domain. They stealthily made their way inside the hotel, bursting through the back door. The sight that met them was one of domestic tranquillity: Rachel DeClouet, 'Dublin Jack's' wife, was amidst the soothing routine of preparing her children for bedtime.

As Hall approached Rachel, the intention was clear. He was after the hotel's cash box. Remarkably composed given the circumstances, Rachel, holding her youngest, made a light-hearted offer to Hall. "Would you mind holding the baby while I fetch the tin?" she jested. With a revolver in each hand, Hall chuckled, showcasing the impracticality of her request. But time was of the essence. With the money secured, an impatient Hall was soon on edge, the pounding of distant hooves suggesting the arrival of mounted police.

With the hotel's cash box in tow but their original mission unfulfilled, Gilbert's quest to secure 'Pacha' was abruptly cut short. Despite their threats and pleas, Mr DeClouet and Mark the Ostler remained steadfast in refusing to part with the keys to the prized thoroughbred's stable.

With their path forward uncertain and the approaching peril evident, the duo decided to abandon the original plan, choosing discretion over valour. They quickly rejoined their counterparts in the yard, ready to decide their next course of action.

'The Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News' Wednesday 14th October 1863:

About half-an-hour after, while the townspeople were gathered in knots talking excitedly of the events we have described, a rumour began to circulate that Mr De Clouet's public-house had been visited by the gang, who had robbed the inmates, and but just left. This proved to be true, for upon inquiry it was discovered that the bushrangers on passing Piper-street, in which Mr. De Clouet's house is situated, had turned off George street and made for the rear of the premises. Here they dismounted, and tearing down two rails of the fence leading into the stable yard, four of them went to the stable door, leaving one behind in charge of their horses. Just at this moment a man named William Bromley, a horse trainer, stepping in the house, crossed the yard when he was bailed up. The ostler, Mark, almost at the same time, was coming up with a lighted lantern, and he was quickly pounced upon and asked for the keys of the stable. Mark told them the keys were kept by Mr De Clouet, and, in answer to another question, told them he did not know what money there was in the house. Leaving the two prisoners to be guarded by the others, Gilbert and (it is supposed) Ben Hall went into the house and made their way into the bar-parlour, where Mr. De Clouet and a lodger, Mr. John Hunter (a compositor engaged in our own office), were seated reading the newspapers. In a bedroom leading from the parlour, Mrs De Clouet was engaged washing and putting the children to bed.

Woodcut of DeClouet's
Sportsman Hotel
Piper St, Bathurst.

Hall went up to Mr. De Clouet and demanded his money, and after receiving a £1 note, took a watch from his waistcoat pocket. Mr Hunter was then compelled to hand over what money he had (£2), and while Gilbert remained to keep them quiet, Hall passed into the bedroom and asked Mrs. De Clouet for " the cash-box;" but that good lady, thinking he was some drunken man, at once ordered him out of the house. He soon undeceived her, and as she declined to say where the cash-box was placed, he proceeded to a chest of drawers and commenced to turn over its contents. He told her it would be better not to give him the trouble and save his disturbing all her things if she would tell where the cash box was kept at once. At this, she asked if he would desist upon her placing the cash box in his hands when he promised that he would. She had a child in her arms, and unthinkingly asked the fellow to hold it while she was getting the box, but he showed her the revolvers in his hands and laughed. The box having been produced and opened, he took out what notes it contained, and in doing so dropped half-a-sovereign, which rolled under the bed. He stooped down and hunted for it, turning over the carpet, and not being able to see it said it must be found, for he "couldn't leave that behind." Mrs. De Clouet at length picked it up and handed it to him when he returned to the parlour.

Gilbert on being left with Mr. De Clouet made himself known, he having at one time been engaged by that gentleman as a jockey, and a long conversation is described as having taken place, and Gilbert's manner is spoken of as being extraordinarily cool and self-possessed. He asked for the keys of the stable, as they had come expressly for the racehorse Pacha, and must have him, and added that they should not have come in at all had it not been that Machattie and Battye had dared them to do so, and had tauntingly told them they had not the "pluck" to come in and take Pacha. Mr De Clouet begged him not to take the horse, as it was only a colt and would be unable to do the work they required of him. Gilbert then went to see what money there was in the till, and finding it contained nothing but silver, shook his head and said they only dealt in gold, at the same time putting his hand into his pocket, he pulled out two shillings which he told Mr De Clouet he would give him. Mr De Clouet came into the bar, and Gilbert stood with his face fronting the door, talking, without the slightest trepidation, of by-gone times, saying once that he and his companions might as well stop there for an hour or so as anywhere else. Hall now came out and asked Gilbert if he had the keys of the stable when Mr De Clouet told them that the ostler kept them. Hall said they must have the horse, and went out to the ostler. While he was away, Mr De Clouet begged Gilbert to leave his horse and prevailed on him to go out and speak with the others. He heard Gilbert in conversation, and then he heard a brutal suggestion to "blow out somebody's brains, -you'll soon have the keys then." Almost immediately Gilbert returned, followed by Hall driving in the ostler. He threatened to shoot him if he did not give up the keys. The man, however, still persisted in saying that he had not got them. A parley ensued, in the course of which the ostler told them the police had just gone by when one quietly answered: "Two of us are enough for four of them any day." Shortly afterwards they ordered all present to come out at the back of the house, but on receiving a promise that no one would go into the street, they took their departure without any further attempt to obtain possession of the horse, having remained altogether about twenty minutes.

After the lapse of a quarter of an hour, two-foot policemen came in and expressed their astonishment and disapproval of Mr. De Clouet's conduct in allowing himself to be stuck-up. From what we afterwards learned it appeared that the troopers on reaching the reserve at the head of George-street, listened for the tramp of the bushrangers' horses, so as to discover what direction they had taken, and not being able to hear anything they came to a halt. The night was exceedingly dark, and while deliberating what course to pursue, they spied the bushrangers, through the gloom, coming towards them, having just left De Clouet's. The bushrangers, it would seem, caught sight of them at the same moment, for they turned and galloped off in another direction. A hot chase ensued, when one of the troopers named Johnson, whose horse was better than the rest, got in advance, and the bushrangers seeing this turned and fired two shots at him, which he returned. Undaunted, he kept up the pursuit, but his house foundered, and the bushrangers finally escaped.

In the night, the bushrangers' silhouettes faded from view, leaving behind a town buzzing with whispers, fears, and tales of audacity. The horse hooves of the gang rhythmically tapped, matching the elevated heartbeats of Bathurst's inhabitants. Heading down George Street, the landscape of Milltown awaited them.

Yet, in the midst of all the chaos and cunning of the night, Hall had left behind a token of information, a breadcrumb of sorts. He had a message for Machattie, an almost cheeky nod to the audacity of their raid. He informed them that the horses belonging to Machattie and young Battye were not stolen but simply relocated. The creatures were in Mrs Mutton's paddock on Vale Road, just a short distance from the town. A semblance of honour among thieves, perhaps?

As dawn's light broke the next morning, Machattie's horse was indeed found, just as Hall had promised. However, fate has its own jests. Battye's horse, while supposed to be alongside Machattie's, was absent. Someone from the town, seizing an opportunity amidst the chaos, had presumably taken Battye's horse.

The bushrangers' jest was clear in their message to John DeClouet. If not for the brazen challenge the two young men threw at them, they might never have ventured into Bathurst. But who were they to resist "having a lark" when dared? The events of that night became yet another chapter in the legendary escapades of the gang, proving that sometimes, tales are birthed not just from ambition but from sheer mischief.

It appears that they had according to a promise made to Mr Licensed Surveyor Machattie and young Battye a few days before on occasion of sticking them up in the neighbourhood of Mulgonnia, brought both the horses of the young gentlemen with the and left them in Mutton s paddock on the outskirts of the town they left word at the Sportsman's Arms that the horses would be found there remarking at the same time, that if young Machattie had not said they were not game to come into town, they would not have paid that Saturday evening visit. The whole time they stayed at this house was about 20 minutes. 

Bathurst streetscape at
the time of the Ben Hall

Courtesy NLA.
The atmosphere on George and Lambert streets was thick with tension. The notorious gang and the men sworn to bring them to justice found themselves face to face. The moonlight painted their figures, and the wind carried whispers of impending confrontation.

The gang's intent was clear: stay unnoticed and move on. But fate had other plans. They paused, hoping to remain shrouded in the darkness, a mere shadow among the many. But their counterparts, the police, too halted, sensing the presence of the very men they'd been chasing.

In that split second, their cover blown, the bushrangers tried a ploy. They leaned low, hugging their horses' necks, hoping to merge into the night and confuse the troopers. But the darkness wasn't enough to shield them. The ploy crumbled.

What followed was a burst of adrenaline. Sensing their time was running out, the gang clapped spurs into their horses, urging them into a frantic gallop. The ground beneath them seemed to tremble, descending steeply, making their escape all the more perilous.

The police wasted no time. Their revolvers found voices barking loudly into the night, sending bullets whistling past the bushrangers, each one echoing the danger the gang now faced. The chase was on, a dance of danger in the dead of night, with each side driven by its own form of justice and rebellion.John Vane declared:

Congratulating ourselves that we had escaped so easily, we were talking and laughing as we rode Hall and I being almost twenty yards behind the other three, when suddenly one of the police galloped past us and when near O’Meally, Gilbert and Burke he commenced firing. The three at once scattered but as Hall and I followed the policeman pretty close he abandoned the chase.

John Gilbert
The frenetic pace of the chase had the town ablaze with action. As Vane recalled it, the unpredictable nature of the pursuit caught even the seasoned bushrangers off guard.

As Vane and Hall were in hot pursuit of the troopers, an unexpected sight disrupted Vane's focus: a horse galloping wildly without its rider. The silhouette of the riderless beast in the pale moonlight evoked instant dread in Vane. He surmised it must belong to Gilbert, further complicating their escape.

Determined, Vane and Hall chased the panicked horse, which, fueled by its own fear, took a daring leap across a creek. The sight was almost cinematic - the horse, against the backdrop of the night, sailing over the shimmering waters of the stream.

Emboldened and perhaps carried away by the moment's intensity, Vane decided to mirror the horse's audacious jump. Spurring his mount, he braced himself for the leap. But Vane's attempt lacked the same grace and precision as the horse. The creek seemed to stretch wider than he had anticipated, and in a heartbeat, both he and his horse faltered. Vane was unceremoniously unseated, finding himself tumbling, disoriented, with the echoes of galloping hooves filling his ears. The waters of the creek, which had looked invitingly serene moments before, now loomed as a testament to his miscalculation. Vane un-injured commented:

Hall came up just at this moment, and after assuring him that I was not injured, I began to search for my hat, striking matches for the purpose. While thus engaged we were startled at the sound of a revolver shot, and as the bullet whizzed rather close we cleared away without the hat, riding a short distance into the scrub, where we found O’Meally and Burke.

Remounting and without concern at their near-miss with the troopers the four turned into George Street. Vane recollected that:

We headed up that thoroughfare in the direction of the Bald Hill’s again, quietly laughing at the scare we had created, for we could see people running in all directions towards William Street.

Aftermath, "You were afraid of the bullets which were flying about."

Another view from
Bald Hill of  Bathurst.

Courtesy NLA.
The Reunion at Evan's Plain.

The immediate aftermath of the chase was a haze of anxiety and relief. As the gang regrouped, it was Burke who brought the startling news: Gilbert had fallen during the pursuit. But as always, hope and camaraderie shone through. Burke was adamant that Gilbert had managed to evade capture, having caught a fleeting glimpse of him fleeing on foot.

With Gilbert's safety now their paramount concern, the gang did what they always did - they looked out for one of their own. Dismounting their horses, they trawled the rugged landscape, the moonlight guiding them through the shadows. Their efforts, however, proved fruitless. Re-mounting, the weight of Gilbert's absence hung heavy on their shoulders as they pressed on towards Bald Hill.

But nothing could prepare them for the scene that would greet them upon their return to camp near Evan’s Plain. To their astonishment and relief, there was Johnny Gilbert, alive and relatively unscathed. Gilbert recounted his harrowing tale as the gang embraced their seemingly lost comrade. In the heat of the chase, sensing he couldn't outpace the relentless police, he had chosen to dismount. His horse, he claimed, had faltered at the creek, echoing Vane's own experience.
However, O’Meally, never one to mince his words, looked at Gilbert whereby O’Meally, in disbelief, reiterated his long-held view regarding Gilbert’s bravery,

You were afraid of the bullets which were flying about, and I believe you will be shot yet when running away for you have no fight in you.

Tensions flared at Evan’s Plain. Johnny Gilbert, the audacious and brazen outlaw, was not one accustomed to ridicule or doubt, particularly from his own gang. Yet, the words thrown at him by O'Meally that evening, coupled with the mocking undertones, touched a raw nerve. There was an intense energy in the air as the two men faced off, their words like daggers in the cool night.

For almost ten minutes, the verbal clash echoed through the camp, with the other members of the gang watching in uneasy silence, unsure of how to mediate the growing hostility. Gilbert's pride was wounded; like a wounded animal, he retreated into a shell of resentment. His slouched and defeated posture was uncharacteristic for a man of his reputation.

Yet, it wasn't in Gilbert's nature to wallow in defeat. In a burst of indignation, he made an emotional appeal to the gang, offering to strike out on his own and inviting any of them to join him. But the gang's loyalty was complex. Despite the tensions, Hall, Burke, and Vane decided to stay put, further isolating Gilbert.

The camp, which moments ago was filled with the cacophony of disagreement, now settled into an uneasy quiet. Distancing himself from the main camp, Gilbert found solace in his solitude, a lone figure in the vast expanse of the bush.

Morning would reveal another twist to the tale. The horse that Gilbert had so hastily abandoned during the chase was discovered by the police, a silent testament to the harrowing events of the previous night. The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, Thursday 8th October 1863:

A horse thoroughly knocked up, supposed to belong to the bushrangers, was brought in by the police last night. It had a saddle with a poncho on it, and a leather buckle to hold a rifle but was without a bridle.

In the aftermath of their audacious escape from Bathurst, Ben Hall and his gang had become the stuff of legend. Word of their escapades had spread far and wide, and their recent act of daring had sent tremors of unease through the heart of the town. The townsfolk spoke of them in hushed tones, part fear, part admiration. The ghostly image of the bushrangers moving through the night was enough to send a chill down many a spine.

From the intelligence gathered through their network of informers and messengers, it was clear to the gang that Bathurst had been stirred into action. The police, under pressure to capture these elusive outlaws, had mounted extensive searches, their presence growing more pronounced with each passing day. Not just the trained lawmen but even a band of enthusiastic volunteers had taken to patrolling the roads and highways, their determination fuelled by a mix of civic duty and the promise of the bounty on the bushrangers' heads.

But Ben Hall was not one to be cowed down. He thrived on the very challenge, the cat-and-mouse game with the law. It was this fearless attitude, this audacity, that set him apart. Instead of fleeing the region, he chose the Vale Road, a mere four miles from Bathurst, as his next hunting ground. This major thoroughfare, peppered with inns and stores, was ripe for the taking. And taking he did, in a series of raids executed with military precision.

For the townsfolk and the police alike, it was almost incredulous to imagine that the bushrangers were operating right under their noses while they searched the distant corners. Each successful raid was not just a treasure trove for the gang, but a slap in the face of the establishment, an establishment that seemed increasingly incapable of reigning in the renegades.

James Martin, MLA.
As the whispers of Ben Hall's audacious escapades echoed through the alleyways and street corners, they reverberated with greater force in the hallowed chambers of the New South Wales parliament. Inside its wood-panelled walls, an entirely different storm was brewing.
The usual quiet hum of parliamentary proceedings was disrupted as Henry Parkes, the state's Father of Federation, looked on. At the centre of this maelstrom stood Mr Martin Q.C., a well-known thorn in the side of the incumbent government. Tall, with a sharp nose and piercing eyes, Martin was known to possess an oratorical flair that could set the room on edge.
Taking the floor, he unleashed a tirade against the government's handling of the bushranger menace. Each sentence was a pointed barb aimed at Mr Cowper, the premier, and his administration. But it wasn’t just the failings of the police force at large that were under Martin's microscope. He had a particular bone to pick with Captain McLerie, the Inspector General of Police, whose leadership he believed to be wanting. However, Martin espoused the unthinkable. Declare Ben Hall and his gang as outlaws. The term "outlaw" was not thrown around lightly; it had significant and brutal implications. For Cowper, this was a line he was not prepared to cross.  Queanbeyan Age and General Advertiser, Thursday 8th, October 1863:

In the Assembly this evening, Mr Martin called the attention of the House to the recent exploit of the bushrangers at Bathurst. In the course of a warm debate which ensued. Mr Cowper denied any intention on the part of the government to outlaw the gang and refused to offer additional rewards for their capture. He also stated that he did not intend to dismiss Captain M'Lerie; and informed the House that the police had encountered the bushrangers near the Bathurst racecourse, that shots had been exchanged, and the police were still in pursuit.

Night raid on Bathurst.
Painting by
  Patrick William Marony

In the twilight of the bush, where shadows merged with the reality of the day, the notorious gang led by Ben Hall worked in stealth, maintaining an invisible presence thanks to an intricate network of informers. As they were known, these bush telegraphs were an indispensable part of the gang's operations. They provided intelligence, early warnings, and updates on police movements, ensuring the gang stayed one step ahead of their pursuers.

After the dramatic events in Bathurst, the gang felt the heat of increased police vigilance. However, the precision of their informants' information ensured their hideout remained untouched and unseen. It was as if the very earth opened up to hide them from their relentless pursuers.

The gang decided to break camp with the autumn evening chill setting in. With the soft orange hue of the setting sun as their backdrop, they proceeded along the Vale Road towards Caloola. Despite the potential danger that lurked in every thicket and behind every tree, there was an air of confidence about them. Each gang member knew that they had the intelligence and skill to evade capture, which filled them with a certain arrogance.

The Vale Road, stretching ahead of them, was not just a route of escape but a path lined with opportunities. On the evening of 6th October 1863, under a clear sky that held the soft glow of a waning moon, they embarked on a series of heinous crimes. From isolated storekeepers to remote hotels, no one was spared their wrath.

The robberies weren't just for personal gain; they were a necessity. The gang had to fund an extensive network of informers and protectors. These collaborators didn't come cheap, and the gang had to maintain a steady inflow of money to ensure their loyalties. Every stolen coin, every looted item was a means to an end.

However, among their many transgressions that night, one incident stood out for its sheer cruelty. After taking everything of value at one humble dwelling, they didn't hesitate to snatch away a child's piggy bank. It was a heart-wrenching moment; the act not only robbed the child of its savings but also of its innocence.

More than any other, this act painted a vivid picture of the depths to which the gang had sunk. Their actions were not just about survival or rebellion against the establishment. They were a stark reminder of the darkness that dwells within men when unchecked by the boundaries of morality and law.
Link to the events attached below.

John Vane, an integral part of the gang and a witness to many of its infamous exploits, decided to set the record straight years later. The widely narrated story of the Vale Road raid depicted Gilbert as the one with burnt hands from Mrs Mutton's bedroom curtains that had been accidentally set on fire. The incident had cemented Gilbert's reputation not only as a ruthless criminal but also as a careless one.

However, Vane's account painted a different picture. He claimed his hands had borne the scars of the burning curtains, not Gilbert's. This wasn't a trivial matter of burnt hands but a significant episode that laid bare the internal dynamics of the gang. The fiery accident had led to an altercation among the gang members, with O'Meally reprimanding Gilbert, accusing him of starting the fire. If Vane's account was to be believed, it showed a clear case of misunderstanding and wrongly attributing blame within the gang. 

Vane's correction of this episode is essential as it challenges the previously held narratives and shows that memory and truth could become a contested terrain even within tight-knit groups like the bushrangers.

As historians and enthusiasts pick apart Vane's version of events, the question arises: how many other tales of the bushrangers' exploits are based on misremembered events or purposeful alterations? In the murky waters of history, where facts blend seamlessly with myths, Vane's account is a stark reminder that sometimes the truth may come from the most unexpected sources.

We turned down on to the Vale road and paid a visit to Mutton’s store, where Hall said we might get a little money. The only person in the store when we entered was old Mrs Mutton, and there wasn’t anything in the whole place that would be any use to us. Gilbert then asked Mrs Mutton for money, and she said she hadn't got any, whereupon he said he would look for some; taking a candle he went into the bedroom to make a search. While he was tossing things about the bed-curtains caught fire, and as they were flaring up, O’Meally rushed in and rated Gilbert for trying to burn the place down. Gilbert protested that it was a pure accident. I rushed in at the same time and got my hands well burnt when putting out the flames. The old lady was very kind when she saw what had happened, and got me some Holloway’s ointment to dress the burns, at the same time remonstrating with us for pursuing such evil courses. We took her sermon in good part, and shortly afterwards took the road.
     Vale Road and countryside, outside Bathurst, filmed by Craig Bratby.
Publican License
Henry Butler's
Hen & Chickens Hotel
Samuel Walker's Sportsman's Arms Hotel in Queen Charlotte's Vale, now known as Perthville, became one of their targets. Its picturesque setting concealed the drama that would unfold that night. After swiftly raiding the establishment, the gang moved on to M'Diarmid's. Their trajectory then took them to Butler's Hen and Chickens Hotel, an establishment that had once been the pride of Samuel Walker. Their loot amounted to a meagre few pounds and a horse, which they seized from an unsuspecting German guest. They used this new acquisition as a packhorse for their plunder.

It's worth noting that before setting his sights on the Hen and Chickens, Butler had managed the Carriers Arms in Bathurst for a year, from 1859 to 1860. His shift in proprietorship made for an intriguing backdrop to the gang's activities.

As dawn approached, the gang swiftly distributed their spoils among their allies and supporters. The police, in their relentless pursuit, always seemed to be a step behind, often left confounded by the gang's uncanny ability to disappear into the night. With their recent conquests behind them, the bushrangers shifted their gaze towards Caloola, ever eluding the grasp of the law. Vane narrates.

We made a start for home and reached a place called the Rock Pond, where we camped till daybreak, laughing quietly with each other as we heard the police clatter along the road past our camping place. Shortly before dawn, rain set in and continued during the whole day, but we left the road and kept to the bush till we came to the 'Big Brother' mountain at the back of Caloola. Suspecting that the police were still ahead of us, we decided to make for the mountains after darkness set in, the office of pilot being given to me. We started a little after dark, keeping off the road, and at the foot of the range, we came across fresh tracks of shod horses, which, we concluded, had been made by the party of Bathurst police who were out after us. We followed the tracks for some distance, and I then said to Hall: "They are going in the direction of Teasdale, and will probably stay at the pub there all night, as it is raining; let us push on and pass them there." We, therefore, pushed on but had not gone more than four miles through the bush when the darkness became so intense that we could not see the trees. We then dismounted and tried walking, but kept stumbling over roots and logs, and Ben Hall stepped into a stump hole and hurt his back. He then advised waiting for daylight, but I said there was a small paddock not far ahead in which we could camp, although we would have to keep our horse's in hand-all night as the police were in the neighbourhood. After a time we reached the paddock, and each man picked out a stout gum tree and crouched by its butt all night, holding the reins of our horses In our hands. There wasn't much poetry in that sort of camping out, but we were well used to roughing it by this time and didn't feel much concerned.

Police Effort at Bathurst.

Inspector-General of
N.S.W. Police,

Captain M'Lerie,
c. 1863.
The inability of the New South Wales police to successfully apprehend or even confront the bushrangers, particularly after their raids along Vale Road, became a matter of public uproar. The community perceived this repeated ineffectiveness as a lack of competence and an outright dereliction of duty. This sentiment was especially exacerbated after the underwhelming police response at Marsh's Farm. Such episodes only intensified the scrutiny and criticisms the Inspector General and the Colonial Secretary faced.

Following the bushrangers' audacious exploits in Bathurst and the consecutive robberies that had left Vale Road reeling, a correspondent from the 'Bathurst Times' took it upon himself to journey to the crime scenes. Through detailed interviews with the victims, the correspondent was able to paint a vivid tableau of the bushrangers' activities on that fateful night: the methodical manner in which they operated, the total number of stores they targeted, and an inventory of all the stolen assets.

Intriguingly, the correspondent’s report pointed out that during the later stages of their crime spree, the bushrangers were accompanied by four additional individuals, believed to be their local informants, or "bush telegraphs" as they were colloquially known. This network of informers played a pivotal role in the gang's operations, providing timely information on police movements. Such intelligence emboldened Ben Hall and his gang, allowing them to commit their crimes with an air of invincibility.

The correspondent also meticulously described how the gang transported their stolen wares: goods were fastened securely to the front of their saddles, piled so high that they almost reached the riders' waists. Some items were even seen falling off during their hasty retreat, a sight that should have offered police a viable opportunity to chase and possibly apprehend the culprits. However, for reasons that remained shrouded in mystery, Superintendent Morrisset hesitated, letting this golden chance slip through his fingers.

In a seemingly desperate attempt to manage the situation, Captain M'Lerie from Sydney arrived at the scene. Rather than pursuing the real perpetrators, he displayed a perplexing penchant for badgering the very victims of the robberies. M'Lerie's lack of empathy and dismissive attitude towards the rural populace, which he derisively termed "that class of people," only further alienated the local community.

Meanwhile, unaware or perhaps indifferent to the criticisms they had sparked, the bushrangers revelled in their newfound loot. Setting up camp not too far from the scene of their latest exploits, they celebrated their victories undisturbed by law enforcement despite widespread reports of their whereabouts.
Attached link below.
Sydney Morning Herald
13th October 1863

In 1912, memories of Ben Hall's audacious raid along the Vale Road still lingered in the collective psyche of New South Wales, particularly for those who had witnessed it firsthand. Among those was John Harper, an elderly resident who had once plied his trade as a butcher. Harper's recollections of that October evening in 1863 weren't mere musings of a bygone era – he had been an actual participant in the unfolding drama, albeit in a tangential role.

Superintendent Morrissett, in his pursuit of the bushrangers and perhaps out of desperation to gather intelligence, had approached Harper. Recognizing him as a local, Morrissett had implored Harper to accompany the police in their search for Ben Hall and his gang. For Harper, this wasn't merely an observation from the sidelines; he was momentarily thrust into the epicenter of one of the most talked-about events of his time.

As 1912 rolled around and Harper narrated his experiences, it served as a poignant bridge between the past and the present. For the younger generation, his account offered a tangible connection to the thrilling and tumultuous days of the bushrangers. For Harper and his contemporaries, it was a nostalgic journey back to a youth marked by danger, audacity, and the legendary exploits of Ben Hall.

However, Harper declined in participation. Harper recalls the excitement of that evening and cast his mind back in an interview for 'The Bathurst Times';
The Bathurst Times
Tuesday 16th July 1912

NSW Police Gazette
October 1863.
Decades after the Vale Road robbery, the memories of that audacious raid remained vivid for many. Among the tales that swirled around the escapades of Ben Hall's gang was the intriguing episode of the hidden loot. Much to the surprise of many, the stolen goods from the Vale Road robbery did not remain in the hands of the bushrangers for long.

Superintendent Morrisset, determined to track down the gang and their stolen treasures, eventually made a breakthrough. His relentless pursuit led him to Cheshire's hotel. And hidden away were the very goods that the gang had plundered.

The connection to Cheshire's hotel wasn't merely coincidental. The Cheshires, proprietors of the hotel, were related to none other than John Vane, one of the members of Hall's gang. This familial tie raised eyebrows and deepened the intrigue surrounding the gang's operations and their intricate network of informants, hideouts, and collaborators.

The recovery of the stolen goods was a small victory for the beleaguered police force, who often found themselves outwitted and outpaced by the bushrangers. For the public, it was yet another chapter in the fascinating and tumultuous saga of Ben Hall and his notorious band.

NSW Parliament. Bathurst aftermath.

Ben Hall's audacious raid on Bathurst stands as a testament to the audacity of outlaws and the vulnerability of the colonial administration. The fact that the raid yielded a meagre financial reward was inconsequential; its real value lay in the symbolic defiance of the colonial authorities.

Bathurst, a major settlement west of the Blue Mountains, represented the expanding frontiers of the British colonial enterprise in Australia. For an armed gang to strike at its heart, almost in a dare, was a slap in the face of the colonial establishment. More than just a criminal act, it was a political statement, underscoring the limitations of the government's reach and control.

The fallout was swift and politically charged. Mr Cowper, the Colonial Secretary, found himself in the eye of a storm. Parliamentarians, already critical of the government's inability to rein in the bushrangers, saw in the Bathurst raid an embodiment of their worst fears. The brazenness of the act brought to the fore calls once more for drastic measures, including an 'Outlaw' proclamation targeting Hall and his gang.

Yet, in the labyrinthine politics of the day, Cowper sought to deflect blame. He pointed fingers at the very citizens of Bathurst, suggesting their complicity and lack of support for the police. It was a risky gambit, seeking to turn public sentiment against the gang by implying broader societal complicity in their crimes.

In the larger tapestry of Australian colonial history, the Bathurst raid is but one of many such episodes, yet its implications were far-reaching. It challenged perceptions of order, questioned the government's efficacy, and highlighted the ever-present tension between the colonial authorities and the land's rugged individualists.
(I have placed below one of the verbal encounters from the Parliament Hansard relating to the debate by Slippery Charley on the Bathurst raid.)'The Empire’ Wednesday, 7th October 1863 page 3; THE BUSHRANGERS IN BATHURST. (Government Hansard)

Mr. Cowper, five-time
Colonial Secretary
( 1856-1870)
Photo c. 1863.
Mr. HART (without notice) asked the Colonial Secretary-"Whether the Government was aware that on Saturday last a party of bushrangers had come into Bathurst? Whether means had been taken for the special protection of the Western District?"
Mr. COWPER said, on Sunday morning, he received a telegram informing him that a party of bushrangers had gone into Bathurst and entered two houses. They were pursued by the police, and speedily made their exit.
Mr. PIDDINGTON: The police or the robbers (A laugh.)
Mr. COWPER: Both-one running away, the other pursuing.
Mr. LUCAS: Which running away? (A laugh.)
Mr. COWPER: "Those that usually do so-the bushrangers. No doubt the bushrangers had friends and admirers in all the country; he would not say in that House. (Oh!) The following steps had been taken:-He (Mr. Cowper) dispatched three constables who arrived in Bathurst on Saturday at 7 o'clock. The only policeman in Bathurst-a sergeant placed himself at the head of these three men and pursued the bushrangers to the racecourse, where they exchanged shots. Neither party had been heard of since. He hoped they would soon hear that the police had been successful. At all events, it was evident that the police had not been wanting in their duty on this occasion. By a telegram received last night, he found that a public meeting was held yesterday in Bathurst, at which the inhabitants proposed certain resolutions offering to take measures for self-protection. He had answered that the Government would willingly co-operate with parties acting in the way suggested. (Hear, hear.) As to the proposition that the Government should proclaim these robbers as outlaws, and offer a large reward for them, dead or alive, -that was under the consideration of the Crown Law Officers."
Mr. MARTIN asked how long the Crown Law Officers took to consider this question, -whether there was the power in the Government to proclaim a person an outlaw, and to hand over the protection of the Western districts to a committee of the Bathurst people?
Mr. COWPER: Crown Law Officers now answer questions much more speedily than in the honourable member’s time, (Hear, hear.) And it ill-became him especially when the Attorney-General had been engaged in the performance of a sad duty for a relative-to complain of the time thus occupied? He would have the opinion of the Crown Law Officers in a few minutes. He (Mr. Cowper) had not read the telegram in the newspaper referred to."

NSW Police Gazette
21 October 1863.
The political turbulence in the wake of the bushranger raids only heightened existing tensions within New South Wales's power halls. While the outlaws pillaged and humiliated the colonial establishment on the ground, in the corridors of the NSW Parliament, a storm was brewing that threatened to unseat the very leadership of the colony.

The idea of declaring the bushrangers as outlaws was not new, but it had never been seriously considered during the era of Hall's precursor, Frank Gardiner. Yet, Premier Cowper found himself on increasingly shaky ground with the public and the press clamouring for action in the aftermath of the Bathurst raid. The colonial administration's seeming impotence in the face of the bushranger menace made them vulnerable to political attacks.

Enter Mr Martin, QC, Cowper's arch-nemesis. Martin, a formidable political operator, saw once more a political opportunity to rally his forces and challenge Cowper's leadership regarding the Bathurst raid. The Colonial Secretary's controversial decision to blame the citizens of Bathurst for the raid only added fuel to Martin's fire.

Martin's motion of No Confidence was more than just a political tactic; it was a declaration of war against Cowper's administration. Such a motion could potentially topple the government, ushering in a new era of leadership with potentially drastic policy changes, including how the government would deal with the bushranger threat. Martin wanted Ben Hall brought to heel.

The political machinations in Sydney might have seemed a world away from the dusty roads and bush camps of the outlaws, but they were intrinsically linked. The challenges faced by Cowper's administration in quelling the bushranger menace had direct implications for the political survival of his government. The fight against the bushrangers was not just a battle for law and order; it was a battle for the very soul and future direction of the young colony of New South Wales.
'The Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News’, Saturday 10th October 1863:

Mr Martin moved the adjournment of the House, with the view of bringing under notice the conduct of the Government, and especially of the Colonial Secretary, with reference to the disclosures just made, and which, if the newspaper statements were to be credited, showed that the honourable gentleman had been guilty of a suppression of the truth.

In the shifting sands of colonial politics and the backdrop of escalating bushranger activities, Premier Cowper faced an uphill battle to retain confidence. Stoked by humiliating episodes such as the Bathurst raid, and the detainment of armed troopers, the public outcry demanded a swift response. The delicate situation required both a show of strength and a bid to win back the trust of a disillusioned populace.

Thus, in a move aimed at showing decisive action, Cowper took to the widely-read 'Sydney Morning Herald' on the 8th of October. Announced a substantial new reward for the capture of Ben Hall's gang. This was not just an increase in the bounty; it was a message to the outlaws and their supporters that the government was stepping up its efforts and was willing to pay a premium for their apprehension.

The strategic calculation behind the decision was clear. By hiking up the reward, Cowper aimed to lure potential informants from within the inner circles of the bushrangers, perhaps even those who harboured and aided them. The idea was to create divisions, sow distrust, and tempt someone from the gang's periphery to rat them out.

Interestingly, the reward for Gilbert remained unchanged at £500, a holdover from his days riding alongside the notorious Frank Gardiner. This static figure for Gilbert, amidst an otherwise revamped reward system, perhaps indicated a recognition of his elevated status and the existing challenges in apprehending him.

The new reward announcement was as much a political move as it was a strategic one. Cowper aimed to portray an image of a government taking a hard line against criminality while simultaneously fending off political adversaries eager to exploit the situation. The stakes were high; the government's credibility, Cowper's political survival, and the safety of the colony's inhabitants hung in the balance.
BATHURST. Wednesday, at 9 p.m.:

The committee appointed to consider the best means for capturing the bushrangers have, with the sanction of the Government, issued placards, offering £2500 reward for the apprehension of the five Bushrangers-Gilbert, O'Meally, Bourke, Vane, and Ben Hall, or £500 each.

Sir James Martin
Amid the bushranger crisis's tumult, New South Wales's political atmosphere was electric. At the centre of it all was the significant reward increase for the capture of the infamous bushrangers. While intended as a resolute move, it further spotlighted the government's struggles and did little to placate a restless parliament.

Enter James Martin. With a sharp legal mind, honed through his defence of the Eugowra robbers just months earlier, he sensed the momentum shift. His history of challenging authority figures and his familiarity with the bushranger issue placed him in a unique position to lead the charge against Cowper's faltering leadership. Martin recognised the growing unease among country members, many of whom bore the brunt of the bushrangers' reign of terror. Their cries for more effective action were getting louder, and Martin made it his mission to amplify them.

Assembling a coalition of discontent, Martin's efforts culminated in a strategic move: a call for an adjournment vote, a clear indicator of lost confidence in the Cowper leadership. The very essence of Cowper's tenure - his approach to law enforcement and the colony's financial health - was called into question. The vast expenditure, necessitated by the ongoing bushranger threat, was proving to be a fiscal albatross, and many viewed it as a drain on the state's prosperity.

Mr Piddington, a formidable political figure and a close ally of Martin, took up the mantle in parliament. His fiery orations highlighted the government's perceived failings, from the ineffectiveness of the police force to the financial ramifications of the bushranger epidemic. Piddington's impassioned plea was not just an indictment of Cowper's policies but a clarion call for change.

With the political walls closing in, Cowper found himself in an untenable position. The weight of the bushranger issue and broader concerns about the state's direction under his leadership proved insurmountable. Recognizing the inevitable, Cowper relinquished his position, marking the end of a tumultuous chapter in New South Wales' political history. The aftershocks of the bushranger saga were being felt far and wide, and the state's leadership was its latest casualty.

The outrages of bushrangers were more flaring than had ever been known in the history of the colony. Ample power had been given for the repression of these outrages, and it was a disgrace to the colony, that four or five bushrangers could perpetrate these glaring enormities in the focus of a district furnished with such means of police protection. This state of affairs was the more reprehensible when it was borne in mind that the colony was now incurring an annual police expenditure of upwards of a quarter of a million sterling.¹³

Colonial Secretary
Charles Cowper.
On Wednesday 7th October, Mr Martin rose in the parliament and stated:

As to conflicting statements as to the condition of the finances made by two of the leading members of the Government, and on the confused statements contained in the accounts presented to the house, from which it was almost impossible to collect the true financial position of the country.¹⁴

Accordingly, Mr Martin achieved the resignation of Charles Cowper. The scuttled Premier tendered his resignation to the Governor, Sir John Young on the 8th October 1863:

Mr Cowper announced that, in consequence of the vote of the House on the last night, he and his colleagues in office had tendered their resignation, and that they only held office until their successors were appointed, and he moved therefore that the House adjourn until Tuesday next.

In the political maelstrom following Cowper's resignation, there was a mad dash to control the reins of New South Wales. Leading this charge was Mr Forster, a seasoned political player who had once held the Premier's position himself. With his background and connections, many believed he was well-equipped to navigate the complexities and emerge as the colony's leader. However, despite his best efforts, the dynamics within the parliament and the need for a fresh face at the helm meant his attempts to form a government were in vain.

This political stalemate presented an opportunity for Mr James Martin, a rising star and recent thorn in Cowper's side. Invited by Governor Sir John Young to step into the breach, Martin was given the task of piecing together a government from a fractured and fragmented parliament. With a keen eye for strategy, Martin assembled a minority government primarily composed of unaligned members without strong ties to the major factions of the time. This bold move signalled his intent to prioritize governance over partisanship.

On the 15th of October, 1863, with the official pomp and circumstance befitting the occasion, Martin's new ministry was sworn in. In a move that showcased his political savvy and a desire for continuity amidst change, he retained Mr Forster, Cowper's close ally, in the cabinet. This gesture was seen by many as an olive branch, an attempt to heal the wounds of past political battles and bridge divides.

With the formation of the new government, there was an immediate and pressing matter on Martin's desk: the issue of Ben Hall and his gang. Their reign of terror, audacity, and recent raids had embarrassed the previous administration significantly. Their actions were not just criminal; they symbolized the government's inability to maintain order and protect its citizens. For Martin, addressing the Ben Hall menace was more than just a matter of law enforcement; it was a test of his leadership, a chance to prove that his administration could succeed where others had failed. Ben Hall, illiterate, brought down the government.

On Monday last, the now Ministry was sworn in by his Excellency. The first official act was to take active measures to strengthen the hands of the police, with the hope of capturing the bushrangers.

Hen & Chickens Hotel
Vale Road 2019.

My Photo's.
Under the leadership of Mr Martin, the NSW government found itself grappling with the same challenges that had plagued its predecessors. The audacious escapades of Ben Hall and his gang continued unabated, mocking the very essence of law and order in the colony. In stark contrast to the government's image of stern authority, Hall presented himself as a rogue hero, revelling in the adoration of the locals.

The gang's audacity went beyond their brazen robberies. They set up camp in plain sight, a stone's throw away from the territories most patrolled by law enforcement. To the chagrin of the authorities, Hall seemed to have little fear of the troopers, almost making a game out of evading them. While the police, armed with their badges and rifles, combed the bush, they seemed to be always a step behind or in the wrong place, turning their pursuits into futile exercises.

But more than their heists and escapes, the gang's flamboyant disregard for convention captured the public's imagination. They didn't just hide; they celebrated. Locals would whisper tales of the gang's merry-making. There were accounts of jubilant evenings under the stars where laughter echoed, music played, and shots were fired, not in violence but in celebration, as the bushrangers demonstrated their shooting prowess.

Ben Hall's antics were not merely about the thrill of crime; they were a performance, a theatrical defiance against the establishment. By inviting locals to join in their festivities, they were sharing their spoils and building an image of themselves as folk heroes, the Robin Hoods of New South Wales. In doing so, they blurred the lines between outlaws and legends, further deepening the government's quandary. How does one battle not just criminals but myths in the making?
As reported:

Private information reached us last night that the gang of ruffians, who so lately made a raid upon our town, are camped, in a dense scrub, twelve miles from Rockley, in the direction of Carcoar. The intelligence is contained in a letter which states that the fires of the party can be seen for a considerable distance round. The writer says the bushrangers are enjoying a lengthy carousal— indulging in a variety of amusements such as singing, dancing, &c. &c, — and that no police have been seen in the neighbourhood. Considerable anxiety is naturally felt by the inhabitants in the vicinity, who look with alarm upon the close proximity of such desperadoes.¹⁵

As the bushrangers roamed the Queens roads again, the populace waited with bated breath for the next audacious episode. They hadn't to wait too long. As New South Wales was still coming to terms with the audacity of Ben Hall's gang, another shockwave was sent through New South Wales. Daniel 'Mad Dog' Morgan, with a reputation so fierce and deeds so heinous, had overshadowed Hall's escapades.

While Hall was seen by many as a charismatic rogue, a Robin Hood of sorts, Morgan was a different beast altogether. His very moniker, 'Mad Dog', was an embodiment of his violent and unpredictable nature. The tales of his deeds, more horror than adventure, filled the pages of the press. Morgan's exploits were not just of theft or evasion; they were tales dripping with blood and marked by sheer brutality.

The discovery of the mutilated body of one of his try-hard's, Clarke sent a shiver through all.
Could it be that Morgan had really turned on one of his own? Clarke's corpse became a testament to the depths of Morgan's depravity. While the initial findings hinted at suicide, whispers soon emerged that the wounds were indeed Morgan's handiwork. To many, the idea was not far-fetched. If Morgan could unleash such brutality on strangers, what would stop him from doing the same to an associate, especially if he deemed it necessary for his survival?

In comparison to the wild ferocity of Morgan, Ben Hall's gang seemed almost genteel. With Halls charisma and panache. Hall was fearsome but not overly brutal in the vein of Mad Dog. While Morgan emerged as the face of unbridled, psychotic violence. The citizens of New South Wales were now caught in a tale of two bushrangers: one a defiant rogue, the other a bloodthirsty villain. The frontier was no longer just wild; it was becoming terrifying.

The Wagga Wagga express hears that this miscreant has been seen about Piney Ridge within the last week but not engaged in depredation. There is a twofold rumour afloat of his mate Clarke, one as to his having shot himself from the apprehension of falling into the hands of justice the other of a darker dye, that Morgan has made away with him a view to his own safety from discovery.¹⁶

For all its audacity and bravado, Ben Hall's gang had yet to descend into the dark abyss of distrust and mutual suspicion. The line they walked was thin but held together by shared success and an often unspoken camaraderie. Their reputation was built on their collective ability to evade capture and humiliate law enforcement, not on internal betrayal or violence against one another.

But even in the strongest of groups, tensions simmered. John Gilbert and John O'Meally were prime examples. While bound by their shared exploits, the two men often found themselves at odds. O'Meally, fiery and impulsive, frequently cast aspersions on Gilbert's courage. The accusation of "lack of pluck" was not merely an affront to Gilbert's pride but a challenge to his very place in the gang. In the bushranging world, where reputation was everything, such accusations could not be taken lightly.

Such internal tensions were a stark contrast to the public persona of the gang. They were a cohesive unit to the outside world, mocking the law and living by their wits. But within the camp, the dynamics were more complicated. Egos clashed, tempers flared, and the pressure of life on the run tested the bonds of loyalty and trust.

Yet, despite these internal squabbles, the gang was not at the point of self-destruction. They had not experienced the kind of paranoia and distrust that would lead one member to turn on another, as seen with Morgan. The unity of the gang, despite its frictions, stood in stark contrast to the mad descent of 'Mad Dog' Morgan. Where Morgan's tale was one of escalating violence and paranoia, the story of Ben Hall's gang was still one of shared rebellion against the establishment.

You were afraid of the bullets which were flying about; I believe you will be shot yet when running away for you have no fight in you.

Amidst the rugged terrains and dense eucalyptus forests, the tensions within Ben Hall's gang simmered. The frequent clashes between Gilbert and O'Meally, both hot-headed and prideful, threatened the cohesion of the unit. These outbursts, however intense as they were, remained just that – moments of tempers lost, and words regretted. The other gang members, notably Hall, Vane, and Burke, often played peacemaker, ensuring that differences were patched up before they could fester into irreparable rifts.

The dynamics of the gang were a complex tapestry of loyalty, ego, and the shared experience of life on the run. While Gilbert would often retreat in sulks after his altercations with O'Meally, it wasn't long before the shared camaraderie and thrill of the next venture pulled him back into the fold. The unity of the gang, however, wasn't always secure. The occasion when Gilbert knocked Vane flat with a punch was a testament to the fragile equilibrium within their ranks. Burke's questioning of Gilbert's courage didn't help matters, adding to the internal strife. Gilbert's subsequent warning to Burke – to watch his back – was a chilling reminder of the high stakes of their life of crime and the simmering tensions just beneath the surface.

While the internal dynamics of the gang played out, the larger world of bushranging in New South Wales saw the rise of other formidable figures. 'Mad Dog' Morgan, with his erratic behaviour and brutal tactics, was spreading terror in the Wagga Wagga district. Other smaller but influential gangs, led by figures like the Seerys and the Druitts, took charge of regions like Yass and Burrowra.

Yet, despite the many threats posed by these external forces and their internal skirmishes, Ben Hall's gang thrived, thanks in large part to the complicity of many settlers. This unwavering support from the local community, a sort of 'Cone of Silence', was a shield that allowed the gang to operate with a level of audacity and impunity. These settlers, driven by either admiration, fear, or a mix of both, became the lifeline for the gang, ensuring their legend grew even as the law sought to bring them down.

Our readers are doubtless weary of the continual occupation of public time by discussions in reference to the exploits of the bushrangers. When the first alarm is past, or the amusement excited by the comicalities of crime is exhausted, the feeling which remains is one of indignation that so much attention should be exacted by persons so worthless. As an abstract proposition, it is perfectly true that Government is responsible for the peace of the country, but that responsibility only implies that it is accountable for the use of those means at its disposal for the prevention and suppression of crime.

It is not responsible for the luck which sometimes attends a criminal career, and much less so for the corruption of principle by which it is encouraged. It is difficult to say how much guilt pertains to those parties who have lately been dancing with bushrangers, and treating them as a great Minister was entertained. It either indicates the force of fear or a dangerous tolerance of crime. One question which seems now to press upon the public and Government is what are the limits of legal effort to destroy these marauders, for their destruction ought to be the desire of every honest man.

We have little patience with those whose sole anxiety seems to be that these enemies of the public peace should have every chance of success which the forms of law may give them, and be covered by its most rigorous restraints in any attempt to capture them. It is only in deference to the general principles of law which extend their protection even to the worst of men, that there could be any hesitation to use every possible means to entrap and dispose of these robbers. All our sympathies are with their victims. It is deplorable to think how many are suffering, directly and indirectly, from the perpetual terror of their isolated homesteads. Surely, all these things are enough to rouse any man who has any sympathy with right, or whose heart is not essentially the heart of a felon.¹⁷

Canowindra return, "The bushrangers, who were beginning to be quite popular." 

As the vast, rolling landscapes of New South Wales unfolded before them, Ben Hall's gang made their way towards Canowindra, a town already familiar with their antics. Whispers and murmurs trailed in their wake as news of their audacious Bathurst raid sped through every corner of the colony. It wasn't just a robbery; it was a brazen challenge to authority, a defiance that had become symbolic of the bushrangers' spirit.

While Bathurst still grappled with the aftermath of the 'Big Sensation', Canowindra was set for a return of Hall and Co. Once more, they rode towards Canowindra, their journey punctuated by occasional sightings and tales of their camaraderie, painting a picture of men who still revelled in their newfound infamy despite being on the run.

Australia, still in its infancy since its establishment in 1788, had never seen anything quite like the boldness exhibited by Hall and his gang. They were a far cry from bold Jack Donahue. Their very existence was a testament to the rugged, wild nature of the sparse bush of human habitat, where rules could be bent and boundaries tested. The Bathurst raid had already cemented their place in history, but the whispers hinted at more. A sense of anticipation hung in the air – the feeling that Ben Hall's gang was just getting started and more daring feats lay just beyond the horizon.

Reputed photo of
Pierce's Canowindra

General Store.
c. 1860's
Like phantoms from tales of old, Ben Hall's gang found themselves again in the familiar landscape of Canowindra, a hamlet nestled 54 miles west of Bathurst. The humble settlement, with its rough wooden edifices, lay scattered in a modest layout. A butcher’s store stood adjacent to the rhythmic clanging of the blacksmith shop. And just a brief walk away, close to the ford of the Belubula River—where today stands the John Grant Bridge—the hamlet held a small police outpost manned by constable Sykes, its wooden walls bearing testament to the law's attempt at reaching every corner of the colony.

But amidst this rustic array, one brick structure stood out prominently, its walls echoing the prosperity of its owner, Mr Collits—a name well recognised not just in Canowindra but in the broader district for his extensive land holdings and business ventures. Collits' leased the thriving business of Mr Pearce and Mr Hilliar, their general store a hub of activity and commerce.

However, for these businessmen, prosperity came at a cost. As the shadows of the notorious gang lengthened over Canowindra, Pearce, and Hilliar, weeks earlier deprived of valuable stock by the gang, many others would again find themselves ensnared in the outlaws' escapades. Little did they know that their enterprises would become recurrent targets for Hall and his men.


Mr James Collits, aged 74.
Courtesy NLA.
With its rustic charm, the small hamlet of Canowindra was home to a few establishments that catered to weary travellers and residents alike. Foremost among them was the 'Canowindra Hotel', a modest yet significant structure bearing the name of its esteemed owner, Mr Collits. But while Collits owned the building, the bustling day-to-day operations of the hotel were leased to a young couple, William "Bill" Robinson and his wife, Rose. Both, at the age of 21, had not just taken up the mantle of running the 'Canowindra Hotel' but were also responsible for the 'Traveller's Rest Hotel' situated across the Belubula River. This dual responsibility came to Bill after the unfortunate demise of his father, William Robinson Sr., in 1860. He inherited the 'Traveller’s Rest', a testament to the Robinson family's influence in the area.

While these establishments played pivotal roles in the community, serving both locals and travellers, there were certain customs and regulations that they had to adhere to. One of the most prominent of these customs was the practice of prominently displaying the licensee's name at the hotel's front. As a result, establishments often became colloquially known by the licensee's name, leading to the 'Canowindra Hotel' often being referred to as 'Robinson's Hotel'.

But this was not just about nomenclature. For the safety and convenience of travellers, laws of the 1800s mandated that hotels, especially those in the countryside, keep a light prominently displayed during the night. This beacon would guide weary travellers, ensuring they found solace in the comforts provided by establishments like Robinson's. Situated strategically on Gaskell Street, the light from 'Robinson's Hotel' would have been a welcoming sight for many, a symbol of safety and rest in the unpredictable wilds of the Australian countryside.
(There are some conflicting views on the right spot where the bushrangers held both their jubilee's.)

Making their way towards Canowindra, with the sun gradually ascending the horizon, the five bushrangers, a quintet notorious for their audacious crimes, approached 'The Falls' station. The sprawling land, owned by Thomas Grant J.P., was a testament to his stature and influence in the region. Grant was no mere landowner; he held the title of Justice of the Peace and was well-regarded among the upper echelons of society. He was a firm believer in the rule of law, a staunch supporter of the police force, and had little sympathy for the likes of Ben Hall and his gang.

Their unanticipated visit, however, was not one of animosity. Hall, ever the tactician, sought to converse with Grant, likely wanting to gauge the atmosphere in the region and any potential threats. But it was more than mere pleasantries; the underlying tension in the conversation was palpable. With his questions about the police, Hall subtly, yet firmly, indicated that any act of treachery or assistance to the authorities would not bode well for Mr Grant or his estate.

Grant, with his strong allegiance to the law, would have been well aware of the bushrangers' brutal reputation. Any false move or perceived betrayal could have dire consequences. The exchange, though cordial on the surface, had layers of mistrust and veiled threats.

And then, as swiftly as they had arrived, the bushrangers mounted their steeds, leaving behind an atmosphere rife with tension. Their departure from 'The Falls' was but a precursor to the events that would soon unfold in Canowindra, and the entire region would once again be reminded of their presence and the challenge they posed to law and order.

On Sunday or Monday morning, the robbers - Gilbert, O'Meally, Hall, Vane, and Burke paid a visit to the residence of Mr T. Grant, near Belubula; we have not ascertained the nature of their vagaries at that place.¹⁸

Bill Robinson publican
with daughter
c. 1880's.


Departing Grant's. The sudden appearance of the five bushrangers in Canowindra must have been akin to a storm cloud drifting ominously over the horizon. Though familiar with the tales of their daring escapades, the townspeople had never expected their little hamlet to become again the stage for one of the gang's audacious plays.

The gang used nature's shielding to their advantage as the rain, as happened in their September raid, continued its downpour, muddying the tracks and transforming the Belubula into an impassable barrier again. Any concerns of swift police retribution from Cowra were dismissed; Mother Nature herself seemed to be conspiring to aid the outlaws.

With his piercing gaze and commanding presence, Ben Hall led the way, followed closely by his comrades. They approached the heart of the town where life was just beginning to buzz, with the early risers tending to their morning chores. The clip-clop of the horses' hooves and the jingling of tack must have been like a drumbeat heralding the approach of a renowned parade.

Bill Robinson's hotel, being a central hub of the town, was their initial point of focus. The sound of their arrival would've attracted curious eyes from the windows, and whispers would've begun circulating like wildfire. By their drays, the teamsters would've exchanged uncertain glances, perhaps hoping this was just a brief stopover. But the methodical manner in which the bushrangers began to secure the town suggested otherwise.

Some of the townsfolk might have been wary, even frightened. Still, there would've been others, particularly the young and the adventurous, who might have watched in awe, excited by the unfolding drama and the presence of the infamous outlaws in their midst. This was a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle, a real-life tale that would be recounted for generations.

Each move made by the gang, from the tethering of their horses to their interactions with the locals, was observed, analysed, and whispered about. Within minutes, the town was in the firm grip of the bushrangers, and an atmosphere of anticipation and uncertainty enveloped Canowindra. The day's events would indelibly etch this date in its history.

Ben Hall then remained on guard, and despatched Gilbert and O'Meally as messengers to the two sentinels at the township approaches. By that time, it was beginning to be sufficiently light for easy movement, and the four men next went on pre-arranged sectors, galloping across paddocks and herding into the town all horses found within a mile of it. That was a precaution against news being taken to the police at Cowra, some twenty miles away. Shortly after the horses had been placed in a fenced paddock nearby, the hotel opened its doors in the normal way, but with the precaution that at each end of the verandah, leaning against a post, stood a bushranger. Another was inside the barroom. There were a number of teamsters camping in the town, and most of them called along for an early-morning drink before resuming their journey. They were commanded to remain in the town until further orders. Ben Hall then announced that no one was to leave the town without a written permit, and stated that no harm would be done to anyone unless they attempted treachery.¹⁹

Reputed photo of
Canowindra Inn.
c. 1860's
(Robinson's Inn.)

Courtesy Canowindra
Historical Society.

The seizing of Canowindra commenced and was afterwards fondly recalled by those in attendance as a 'Robbers Jubilee'. Over the next three days, the bushrangers spoilt the citizens with plenty of eating, drinking, cigars, games, running races, and such, including a favourite shooting at targets.

The rounded up and assembled townsfolk, included the lock-up keeper and lone police officer Constable Sykes, was marched into Robinson's Hotel. Ben Hall and Vane negotiated the fast-flowing Belubula River crossing to the south side of Canowindra on a shared horse as the rain fell. After fording they arrived at 'The Travellers Rest' hotel to threaten and prevent anyone from getting a message to the police in Cowra, 25 miles away. While the townsfolk enjoyed refreshments, the bushrangers themselves drank only bottled ale and port, all opened in their presence. There were all kinds of food items for guests. The whole of the affair and its three-day festivities are transcribed below;

World News illustration of
Ben Hall marching

Constable Sykes. c. 1950
Courtesy NLA.
Canowindra would long remember the historic occasion of the gang's visit in terms that could only be reviewed as a lavish gala to the isolated life of people in the remote town. Its effect was widely commented on:

Free drinks were not the only form of entertainment provided. During the morning, various people arrived in the settlement on business from outlying homesteads. Included among these was a young woman able to play the piano. She was requested, quite politely, to favour the company with dance music, and intermittent dancing helped to pass away the morning. All prisoners were next provided with a good lunch, also at the expense of the bushrangers, who were beginning to be quite popular. By afternoon all apprehension had evaporated. The citizens decided it was not every day their town was captured by outlaws, and that the occasion ought to be celebrated with due jollity. Another teamster had arrived. He had a concertina. This made a variation to the piano for dancing, so that by evening time the whole party was able to have a really fine time, the bushrangers (generally two at a time) participating and enjoying a thoroughly sociable interlude to their usually hazardous life. Altogether, this impromptu ball was such a success that it continued till dawn, as is the habit of the bush, after which the women and children were allowed to go to the bedrooms for asleep. The men had to take what slumber they could get seated round the dining-room table, head in arms. The members of the gang seemed to be impervious to any such need.²¹

A contemporary
illustration of Vane
 at the Canowindra
3 day Jubilee.
c. 1932.

Courtesy NLA.
As the third day progressed, requests were made to get on the road by three well-known detainees Hibberson, Twaddell, and Kirkpatrick, all Forbes residents and acquaintances of Ben Hall who knew them well and agreed, allowing them to depart. The bushrangers themselves also prepared to move on:

On hour later, Hall ushered all the guests onto the verandah. O'Meally was still on guard there, and the bushrangers' horse’s, fine thoroughbreds, stolen from rich squatters were tethered to the posts. Hall and Gilbert gravely thanked everyone for their attendance, paid Robinson the final reckoning for the party, and galloped off. As they rode off the three young outlaws waved gaily back at the crowd on the verandah. For nearly 60 hours they had held a whole township captive-five men against 40. They had danced with pretty women, eaten good food again, sung songs and laughed with other people-a change from the grim hide-and-seek they played with the police in the ranges.²²

Nevertheless, for the unfortunate constable Charles Sykes this was the second time Ben Hall had accosted him. However, to Sykes's credit, he attempted to cross the rising Belubula River to get word to Cowra. Unfortunately, due to its fast-flowing waters, he was discovered when Ben Hall got wind of his leaving, riding quickly to intercept him on the road a short distance from Sykes' home. Hall returned him at the point of a revolver, marching him back to Robinson's Hotel. Described by witness:

While the morning was still reasonably young, Ben Hall strolled out of the hotel-bar, limping slightly, as usual, due to one of his legs having been broken, unhitched the reins of his horse from the hitching rail, and cantered away in the direction of the police barracks. After all, it is no use conquering a city and leaving its official defenders to wander free. Before long, he returned. Ahead of him walked the one constable of the settlement, with rifle at the shoulder and bayonet fixed. The officer, thus armed, was then ordered to march up and down in front of the hotel, as though on parade, and, having no mistaken ideas, either of valour or duty, he obeyed. After a brief while, Ben Hall strolled outside and relieved the constable of his arms, telling him to go and enjoy himself with the others.

James Twaddle

Private Source.
After the gang departed, Constable Sykes again attempted to flee the town. However, Hall and Co. were still canvassing the road, discovered Sykes again and sent him back. Undeterred Sykes eluded the gang and made for Toogong 15 miles away, arriving there successfully. From Toogong, the police sought David Campbell of Goimbla Station's assistance,
 Empire, 23rd October 1863:

On regaining his liberty, the peeler tried to make for Cowra; but the gentry of the road put a veto on his journey in that direction. He then headed another way and came to Toogong, where he secured the co-operation of two troopers. The army then marched to the homestead of Mr Campbell, of Goimbla, who, being a J.P., very wisely thought he was bound to join in the chase; and taking with him his brother and Mr Barnes (an agent of Cobb and Co., who was driving the coach nearer Bathurst at the time) and at a moment's notice, sounded his bugle "to horse!" That party returned next morning, and issued the usual bulletin; - Results nil. 

In January 1864, at Vane's bushranging trial, his presence with Ben Hall was recounted by Charles Sykes. Sykes provided an account of both of his encounters with the bushrangers. First remarking on the meeting on the 26th September 1863, and then the October visit to Canowindra, from the 'Empire', Friday, 15th January 1864: Constable Sykes, being sworn, said:

I am stationed at Canowindra, I saw prisoner on the 26th September last; he was in company with Hall, Gilbert, O'Meally, and Burke; I was going down the town about half-past seven in the evening, and they all stuck me up when near Robinson's public-house; I had no arms at the time; they took, me to Robinson’s public house, and kept me a prisoner until five o'clock the next morning; they were drinking during the night; I could not get away as they watched me closely; they went backwards and forwards to the store during the night; there were between twenty and thirty people in the house; the men were all well-armed at the time; I saw; Vane again on the 15th October with the same party; I was away for a short time, and when I returned I was informed by my wife that my arms had been taken away by Hall; I had a carbine and a horse pistol-they were both taken; I then left to go to Cowra, and was stuck-up by Hall near my own house; I saw Vane at the same time at some little distance away from Hall; Hall ordered me to stand, and I was taken to the public-house; that was about eight o'clock in the morning, and I was kept a prisoner until about four o'clock; Gilbert, O’Meally, and Burke were there; there were between twenty and thirty people there; when I left Vane told me he would get me the arms back, and they were afterwards given to me; I did not see the bushrangers any more after that time.

After the constable's ordeal, Sykes expressed this comment his capture and treatment by the gang, especially Gilbert:

They detained the constable a close prisoner from the time of his arrest, until eight o’clock on Wednesday morning. The prisoner speaks very highly of the kindness he met with from Gilbert and does not seem to have suffered any indignity at the hands of his captors. During the time of his captivity, Gilbert showed the constable a pistol taken from the police camp; and asked whether, in the event of its being returned loaded to him, he would shoot Gilbert; to which he replied, that "he might if he got a chance." "Then," said Gilbert, "to do away, with any chance you might have, I'll fire it off for you." After discharging the pistol, he handed it to the constable, remarking that such arms were useless to them, we learn from the constable, that they rode splendid nags, though rather light in condition, and that they took the police paddock fence like a bird.³⁰ 

Constable Sykes also attested to Gilbert's leadership of the five bushrangers, although this assumption could be disputed as per another view below of Ben Hall's stamp of authority:

Gilbert is described as possessing the most unlimited authority over the rest of the band. His every command is law, no one daring to dispute it; and at night, while one of the five keeps watch, the other four slept soundly, and with the utmost confidence and reliance upon the watchfulness and good faith of their mate on sentry. The same men, on this visit to Canowindra, gave a look in at Mr Pierce's, and took £12 in money; and about £30 worth of goods.³¹

John Gilbert's position as Frank Gardiner's former lieutenant appeared to carry some weight in the public's eyes. However, at this stage, whether Gilbert still wielded some influence with his bushranging fraternity is questionable, as Ben Hall was often reported as the leader. During the three periods of festivities at Canowindra, the residents deferred to Hall to resolve any matters. Hall's leadership is also attested to and noted as organising the bushrangers as guards at various points and gathering those about the town, and allowing passes to be issued so residents could return home for a while:

Ben Hall next announced that no one was to leave the town without a written permit, and stated that no harm would be done to anyone unless they attempted treachery. Although Ben spoke in a quiet voice, there was such a stamp of authority about his presence, and such a tone of determination in his speech, that no one felt inclined to resist. Ben Hall was not only quiet of speech, but of appearance and behaviour. He wore a dark tweed suit, slouch hat, Wellington boots. There was nothing of menace, nothing of boastfulness in his manner, and had it not been for the points of two revolvers just showing below his coat, he would have passed for an ordinary, rather prosperous, squatter. His beard helped to hide his fine features, and also his youth, making him look more like 37 than his correct 27.

Note: Charles Sykes would retire from the force in 1872 on a pension of £126 per year.

Robert Kirkpatrick.
1841 - 1881.

Kindly provided by
Val Kinghorne.
Consequently, with
 the festivities concluded, this was illustrated regarding the bushrangers standing amongst some of the local farmers:

The bushrangers remained until evening, the town having been in their possession for three full days, three gala days, three days which established their popularity, announced to the world that they did not rob or kill as a pastime, and which served as a direct challenge to the police parties that during those three days were out searching the surrounding bush for the outlaws. It was a remarkable piece of audacity on the part of the bushrangers, whose resultant prestige was enhanced greatly by the fact that all the expenses of those three days of jollity were borne by them.

It must also be mentioned that as gracious as Ben Hall and Gang appeared. However, the funds provided for the three days being covered by the men were not earned through hard toil, but from the point of a revolver on some hapless victim who on occasion was, no doubt, terrified for his life.

Canowindra c. 1905.
Note, General Store
of C.L.T. McDonagh'
Courtesy NLA.
Furthermore, the initial newspaper reports of the gang's arrival at Canowindra indicated that Bill Robinson's publican had been absent. However, this appears to be incorrect, as once again at Vane's future court hearing. Bill Robinson gave a brief account of the situation. Robinson states that at the first raid in late September, he was absent from Canowindra. Robinson's testimony varies from the newspaper accounts of the gangs gala over the three-day hiatus.

However, John Vane, in an odd way, fails to recall one of the greatest triumphs in bushranging history by passing over any of the Canowindra three-day festivities in his biography.; 
'Empire', Friday, 15th January 1864, William Robinson, being sworn in deposed; 

About the end of September, while I was absent from my home, my house was robbed by persons said to be bushrangers. One day, about the beginning of October, about eight o'clock in the morning, five armed men came to my house; they were Gilbert, Ben Hall, Burke, O'Meally, and Vane. Ben Hall and Gilbert came into the house, leaving the others outside, they bailed me up with the other inmates of the house. Hall searched me and found some silver in my pockets, which he returned, saying he never took silver. Gilbert asked for the keys of the cash box which he opened and took one pound from it, he returned the pound about an hour afterwards, saying if he could not get any more he would not be bothered with it. Hall was dissatisfied, and said Gilbert could not have half searched the house, he then went to the drawers, and found £2 10s' he took the notes and left the silver, the other men then came in, and other people being about the house, Gilbert treated them, after this Hall and Vane got on one horse and rode across the river to the other public-house. Gilbert, O'Meally, and Burke remained at my house. Hall and Vane did not return until one o'clock in the morning, and an hour after that they all want away. Next morning (Sunday) about six o’clock, they all returned, and told me they intended to take the town and stick-up everybody, they did so but did not take any money from those they stopped. Young Mr Robert Kirkpatrick was stopped and searched, and a revolver taken from him, they also bailed-up Messrs. Twaddell and Hibberson, and a number of bullock teams.

The same day Ben Hall went up for Sykes the policeman, on the first occasion he could not find him, but brought his arms down, consisting of a pistol and a carbine, he went again some time afterwards and returned with Sykes and another man named Ferguson about 4 o'clock in the afternoon they let Messrs. Waddell and Hibberson go as the river was rising, and they were anxious to reach Bathurst. Mr Kirkpatrick went with them. O'Meally and Burke then went in the direction of Molong. O'Meally took one of my horses, the others went away in about an hour. At about 8 o'clock at night Burke and O'Meally came back again, and at 10 o'clock Gilbert, Vane, and Hall came to look for them, the night was very wet, and Hall said they could not camp out without blankets, and he had no money, he asked the strangers in the house if they had any money, and on their saying no he turned to me and said I must have done well that day, and ordered me to turn out, my pockets that he might see what I had. I did so, there being £3 in notes and £2 in silver, he took the notes and returned the silver, he went over to Mr Pierce's stores to get some blankets, they paid for everything they got at the store after the first time they robbed it. When the bushrangers left this time they did not return until after Burke was shot. I then asked them where Vane was, and they said they had left him behind, for since Burke had been shot he was no good, they had some drinks, and offered to pay, for them, but as I heard that the money was a portion of Mr Keightley's ransom money I declined to take it; they then went away, and I have not seen them since, before going away they told me not to give information to the police, as they wished to getaway. I had given information on both the previous occasions. I know John Vane as one of the men who came to my house.

A Police Debacle, "With three, I shall have enough to do to protect myself should I by chance meet the bushrangers." - Superintendent William Chatfield.

View of Canowindra, c. 1901.
Taken from south-side
looking north. In 1863 there
 was no bridge over the
Belubula River.
Hall and Vane crossed close
 to this point and
Robinson pitched his
message in a bottle across.
Courtesy Canowindra
Historical Society.
As Robinson's Hotel lay under siege, the police at nearby Cowra knew of Hall's presence in the district but not holed up at Canowindra. Even so, the scene of action commander stationed at Cowra, Superintendent William Chatfield, procrastinated about taking the field. Instead of following his superior's orders, Chatfield bickered with Inspector-General Captain McLerie over absurd administrative issues as the gang was carousing at Canowindra.

Chatfield complained constantly to his superior Captain McLerie about transferring his troopers into Sir Frederick Pottinger's command. Chatfield was a Superintendent and Pottinger merely an Inspector. He argued that any transfer of men diminished his effectiveness. Via brisk telegrams, he complained of his depleted forces. A situation that becomes diabolical for him over his lack of reaction and action to the presence of the rangers at Canowindra that would ultimately see him dismissed from the NSW police force, Telegram, 5th October 1863:

My dear sir, I have just seen a note from Mr Orridge to Sir F. Pottinger, by which I am led to believe you wish me to proceed to Canowindra; I start accordingly tomorrow for that place; my party, however, only consists of three men besides myself. I do not think it quite fair, as Superintendent of a district, to have my best men taken away from me and to be sent about the country with a party so small. Had I a larger party I might perhaps have been able to do something, but with three I shall have enough to do to protect myself should I by chance meet the bushrangers.²³

Eventually, Chatfield departed for Canowindra, but he was too late for any effective action as the bushrangers once again melded into the bush. Regardless, after a fruitless search for the bushrangers in foul weather. Chatfield returned to Cowra irate. However, Chatfield again complained again to McLerie about his force's reduced size. Firing off another telegram on the 12th October 1863. Meanwhile, on the same date, Ben Hall and entourage rode into Canowindra, Telegram, Cowra, 12th October 1863; 

Sir, - I have the honour to report, for your information that I returned to Cowra yesterday and intend to retrace my steps towards Canowindra tomorrow. My party is so small, consisting of three constables besides myself that I fear I could not do much towards the capture of the bushrangers should they again visit Canowindra. I beg, therefore, to request that, if possible, it may be strengthened by at least two, and this request I make with the more confidence, having brought nine constables with me from my own to the South-eastern district.²⁴ 

Canowindra c. 1900.
Note Robinson Newsagency.
Courtesy NLA.
However, the Inspector-General recently arrived in Bathurst assumed command of the search for the gang after their success expedited a telegram acknowledging Chatfield's circumstances and as requested dispatched two constables, one of which was mounted to Cowra; Telegram from Inspector General; 

Reporting your arrival at Cowra on the 11th, and your intended return to Canowindra on the 13th, and to acquaint you, in reply, that a senior constable and, one constable (mounted) has been detailed for duty at Canowindra. The senior constable will hand you this communication; and if nothing is heard of the presence of the bushrangers in the vicinity of that township, you on will leave the party sent from Bathurst for permanent duty at Canowindra, and return with the party under your orders to Cowra, and there wait for further instructions.²⁵

Furthermore, in a rebuke from the Inspector-General, he reminded Chatfield in his telegram of what he had previously intended for Chatfield’s small party of police to achieve:

I may add, that it was not intended, with your small party, that you should have gone in pursuit of the bushrangers, but that you should have watched the Lachlan and have ascertained whether the gang had crossed that river towards the Young district.²⁶

However,  Chatfield demonstrates the lack of courage in fronting the gang man for man. As the squabbling police allowed the bushrangers free reign in Canowindra and after the bushranger's departed sometime around 1 pm on Wednesday 14th October 1863, William Robinson took the initiative and dispatched a desperate message to the police at Cowra addressed to Sir Frederick Pottinger. Furthermore, the Belubula River was now in flood, too swift to cross. Undeterred, Robinson flung his message in a bottle across to the other side. A flying messenger rode to Cowra on horseback and placed the message into Pottinger's hands; Robinson's letter transcribed below:

Canowindra, Wednesday,

Sir, - I wish to inform you that the bushrangers, viz. Gilbert, O'Meally, Hall, Burke and Vane, are here; they came here on Monday morning at 8 o'clock and have been on and off until one o'clock today. They stuck up the stores and public houses, and everyone that was travelling to and from the Lachlan yesterday, and detained them all day - would not let anyone go for fear of giving information. Constable Sykes could not get across the river to go to Cowra; he then started to go to Eugowra, but they met him somewhere on the road and turned him back; they would not leave sight of him all day yesterday, and took all his firearms and handcuffs but gave them back to him last night, saying they would give him or anyone else fifty lashes if they left the town. They detained Waddell, Hibberson and Kirkpatrick, but did not search the former; John O'Meally searched Kirkpatrick and took a revolver from him. I have not time to give you any more information as the mail is starting; the bushrangers are only now gone, so I could not write while they were here.
I am, &c

To Sir F. Pottinger, Cowra.
I have to throw this letter over in a bottle, as the river is very high.²⁷

Artist contemporary
impression of
Sir Frederick Pottinger with

silver-tipped riding-whip.
Courtesy NLA.
On the evening of Wednesday the 14th October 1863, the flying messenger delivered Robinson’s letter. Sir Frederick Pottinger dispatched a memo at 7 pm to the Inspector-General, briefing him of the fluid situation and how he would utilise his forces. In the process of writing, Pottinger takes a swipe at Chatfield. However, of interest is the mention of the use of a boat/punt to assist the police in negotiating the flooded rivers; Telegram, Cowra, Wednesday, 14th October, 7 p.m. Memo: 

Intelligence has just arrived that on Mr Chatfield (injudiciously I think) leaving Canowindra the "5" put in an appearance at 8 a.m., bailed up the township and everybody passing, and remained there till this afternoon. It would seem they are intent on the escort, but were baffled by Sanderson's precautions; and the party at Goolagong, who having seen the escort by, returned to "spell" at Goolagong.

2. Mr Chatfield started at once this evening with two men, having only light enough to swim two of the horses. He proceeds tonight to Goolagong, and with the party there swims the river the first thing in the morning at Young's on the Lachlan Road (there being a boat there) and thence works across to Canowindra sending one man with instructions from me, to the Eugowra party, to co-operate with the Toogong men, and work the bush thereabouts between this and the next mail. Tomorrow I proceed or send a party with a boat in a cart to the Belubula, establishing pro tem stations at the crossing place to Canowindra, as to the present state of the weather the district in that quarter is necessarily quite isolated and at the mercy of the gang.

I shall either leave or stay with a good party, however, here, as I am positively informed they are only waiting for my departure to make a descent here.
I have nothing more to report."
The Inspector General.

N.B.- The Carcoar police had better work towards Canowindra. I have informed them of the contents of this. The Orange police must lookout too. The rivers and creeks are higher than they have yet been - regular bankers.²⁸

The citizens at Cowra, on learning of the bushrangers antics, prepared for their own encounter where Pottinger believed that on the bushranger telegraphs, passing word of the police departure Hall and Co. would descend. However, Cowra was spared.

Charles Lydiard
c. 1860's

Consequently, the western patrol's lack of success prompted the Inspector-General to seek more efficient officers. Accordingly, McLerie ordered an officer based at Maitland and recruited from Victoria, Superintendent Charles Lydiard, to the battlefield of western NSW.

Charles Lydiard arrived in the Victorian colony in 1850, serving in the public service in various capacities from 1851 to 1860. However, Lydiard's credentials and contacts in Victoria enabled him to rapidly rise to an Assistant Gold Commissioner at the Mount Alexander gold diggings on a salary of £250 per yr. Then he enlisted into the Victorian police force.

Lydiard also commanded the Victorian Native Police Force of twelve highly skilled and disciplined Aboriginals and commanded various Victorian gold escorts. Including the first escort from Ballarat to Geelong. However, Lydiard's quick rise to prominence may well result from nepotism. (reportedly rife throughout the colonies) A family connection to the highly placed cousin Evelyn Sturt of the Victorian police. Sturt was Superintendent of the Victorian police force. Lydiard was also the cousin of Australian explorer Charles Sturt. Superintendent Charles Lydiard transferred to the NSW Police and was seconded from Maitland. At Bathurst, he was directed to hunt independently with his select party of police. Lydiard's handpicked police departed Newcastle on the 13th October 1863:

On Tuesday, orders were received by Mr Superintendent Lydiard to proceed to the Western District in pursuit of the gang of scoundrels, called bushrangers, who infest that district. He took with him senior sergeant Kerrigan, and four troopers (Connolly, Johnston, Woods, and Rayfield), and started on Wednesday morning by train to Newcastle, and from thence by steamer to Sydney. On their arrival in Sydney, they will without delay proceed to the district whither they have been directed. Mr Lydiard and senior sergeant Kerrigan, and also the men under their command, are the right stamp to employ on such a mission.²⁹

Lydiard took to the field, as Sir Frederick Pottinger received Robinson's message in a bottle, gathered his troops, and departed Cowra. A departure that had the newspapers speculating, even ridiculing, the polices' movements. Observing that a force from Bathurst was en route with orders not to return without Ben Hall:

It is also currently reported that ten policemen, with an officer at their head, were at Cowra when information reached that place of the state of affairs at Canowindra; but instead of proceeding, as persons anxious to meet with the bushrangers would have done by the nearest and most direct route, they crossed the Lachlan at Cowra, and whether they got lost in the bush, or, as the river was rising at the time, could not recross it, we are unable to say; but it is pretty certain that up to the period of our informant's leaving, they had not arrived at Canowindra. A large party of the police left Bathurst on Thursday morning and another party yesterday, who, we understand, have orders if possible to circumvent the bushrangers, or get upon their track and follow them; but not to return to Bathurst without fighting with, or taking them.³²

The five surviving their brush with the flooded Belubula River rode northward towards Murga. The town of Murga is situated on the fringe of the Nangar State Forest. The settlement lies on the road from Forbes to Orange. The same highway where 16 months previously Hall, Gilbert and O'Meally had robbed the Eugowra Gold Escort in-company with Frank Gardiner. The bushrangers pushed on from Canowindra, forming a camp near the town. However, law-abiding citizens kept the NSW troopers appraised of the gang's whereabouts; unfortunately, this critical intelligence appeared to produce no urgency except to have the police traversing from one reported sighting to another but not near the described or marked camps. Was it the cold, salty taste of fear that held the troopers back?

The searching troopers at times were overloaded with bushranger sightings and information, often becoming wholly bewildered. The deluge of local reports also contributed to frustration and nervousness, whereby troopers often resorted to drinking hard spirits whilst either on duty or camped—no doubt for the Dutch courage required to confront the five desperadoes who had murdered in their repertoire. The frequent use of booze gave rise to five mounted troopers, led by a senior constable Wright to be outed for drinking on the job. Complaints from citizens reached Sir Frederick Pottinger, who was furious over their lack of discipline and did not hesitate in dragging offenders in front of a magistrate charged with Neglect of Duty

The case was brought by Sir Frederick Pottinger against five men of the police force, for neglect of duty, by being drunk and unfit for duty and that at a time when their energies were most required to track and apprehend the band of bushrangers that have lately been keeping this portion of the Western and South-western districts in a state of lawlessness and fear hitherto without precedent in the history of the colony. Senior Constable Wright, constable Mannix, constable Simpson, constable Hamilton and constable Cox were charged by Sir F. Pottinger with misconduct and neglect of duty They pleaded not guilty, and were defended by Mr James, solicitor, from Forbes.³³

Thomas Grant appointment,
May 1863.
The troopers in question had been scouring the bush in the immediate area of Thomas Grant’s station ‘The Falls’ along the Belubula River. Here they camped in a paddock of Grant’s when the newly appointed J.P. received information that a police party was there. The magistrate went to investigate and found them under the weather. During the subsequent trial of the contrite constables some weeks later, Grant highlighted the police conduct:

Some time since (about a month or six weeks ago,) I met a person on the road near my residence, who told me that there was a party of police camped in my paddock, and that they seemed to be drunk. A short time after senior constable Wright came galloping down the road towards me, when he came close to me I stopped my horse, and then went on one side a little, as I expected he would ride over me, —his horse appeared to be unmanageable, and himself drunk; he appeared to have been spurring his horse, he rode his horse close to where I was standing, and I had to move out of his way; he had some conversation with me, but I do not remember what it was, but think it was something about bushrangers; I saw other police, some of them I now identify as the defendants before the Court, and to the best of my belief the greater number of the party I saw were drunk, I might be some fifty or sixty yards on when I saw them, but as I was driving some cattle at the time I did not take much notice of them; I would not swear they were drunk, but to the best of my belief they were drunk.³⁴

Trooper's dismissal.
NSW Police Gazette
16th December 1863.
However, the troopers' actions exposed in court were indicative of the locals view regarding the weak effort of the NSW troopers, including those working at the coal face hunting bushrangers. Furthermore, many police faced their fear with a strong drink where the prospect of being shot dead in a gun battle by heavily armed banditry was genuine. Therefore, most no doubt took some solace in the bottle, which of course led to slovenliness and dereliction in their duty. Moreover, during the evidence presented against the troopers, one of their own, constable Burk, reportedly did not participate in the binge drinking, stated in court:

That on the 21st day of October last he was on duty with the defendants, we were under the charge of senior constable Wright; we left Robinson's public-house at Canowindra and went to Mrs Hartigan's house, some short distance from Canowindra: constable Wright was drunk, but not so drunk as he had been an hour previous: we left Hartigan's and went to the Falls across the Belubula, and while there we were drinking, having heard at Hartigan's that the bushrangers had been there and were then only a short distance ahead. We proceeded to the Falls in search of them. Early in the day Wright was drunk, the others, with the exception of constable Hamilton were drunk in the afternoon, and my reasons for believing the defendant to be drunk were, first, that constable Wright could not walk straight, and said it was the only day he had seen double, and that he had lost a horse pistol. My reason for believing constable Mannix to be drunk was, that as he was trying to get on his horse, he fell down. Cox and Simpson were not so drunk as the others but were the worse for liquor. There was some contention between senior constable Wright and Hamilton wanting to go to the Falls, and he (Wright) said he would not allow of his parting from his company, and said he should not go. When we left Robinson's inn the defendants were sober, but I believe they had had a few glasses or rum before they left: this was at eight o'clock in the morning: when leaving they took with them a spare bottle of rum; about one o'clock the same day we returned to Robinson's: we remained there till three o'clock when we again left; when on the road constable Cox asked a shilling a man from each of the party, as he said to pay for the grog-the second bottle they had had that day; when we came to Hartigan's in the morning we heard that the bushrangers had been there, and had only left five minutes; after going to the Falls we went in search of them; we had then ridden some twelve or fifteen miles that day; we returned to Robinson's about one o'clock, and stayed there till three in the afternoon; before starting I saw Hamilton, Cox, and the other three drinking in the bar; I was not drinking.³⁵

On this occasion, Sir Frederick Pottinger's outcome was that the troopers were fined accordingly, £5 for Wright and £3 for the others; however, the severity of the charges including Pottinger's fury finally resulted in their dismissal from the NSW police service. Buke continued to serve. (See above right. For court details and testimonies, see the Link below.)
Sydney Mail
Saturday 12th December 1863
The whereabouts of the bushrangers after departing Canowindra had been difficult for the police to ascertain. Whereby Chatfield, on return to Cowra from his search, provided a detailed statement to the Inspector-General of his latest trek through the Belubula district. Chatfield noted that at some point, the bushrangers separated believed to visit some of their local sympathisers. One was a settler named Catherine Hartigan who resided near Cargo and often provided sustenance for the gang (unnamed but probably Gilbert and O'Meally as Hall, Vane, and Burke about this time were out securing horses) at her residence. Catherine Hartigan later said:

Some time in October last the five defendants come to my place on a Tuesday evening, and had some tea; about sundown they all went away, and returned next morning about nine o'clock; they asked me if the bushrangers had been at my place the night before; I said yes— two of them (that is, two of the bushrangers); the police asked me what direction they had taken when they went away; I pointed it out to them, and then the police galloped away together; about twelve o'clock the same day two of them returned; the two were Mannix and Cox; shortly after senior constable Wright also rode up to my place: I asked him to stop and have some dinner; he said he had not time, and that he had only come to see the other two policemen; they then went away together.³⁸

However, Catherine’s friendliness offered by many of the settlers to Ben Hall was typical of the disenchanted with the behaviour of the local troopers. Confirmed when Catherine was accused of the following comment to friends, which she later denied;

I would sooner see the bushrangers at my house than a party of police.³⁹

Looking toward the hill
that overlooks Grant's
'The Falls', where Hall camped
with the Belubula
treelined in the foreground.
However, Chatfield had collated the latest expedition and believed that the gang was heading back towards the Bathurst district, possibly No 1 Swamp (Neville). Furthermore, Chatfield and Pottinger's friction once again reared its head as Chatfield complains to McLerie of Sir Frederick's abrasive attitude towards himself. The date of the publication of Chatfield's correspondence on the 23rd of October coincided with Hall's arrival at a prominent settlers homestead at Rockley 52 miles distant.; The Inspector-General of Police, Sydney, Canowindra, 23rd October 1863. The memo to McLerie was originally sent c. 20th October 1863:

Sir, - I have just returned to Canowindra, I am sorry to say, without success. Last night I camped at Nyrang Creek and discovered a hill known as "Bald Hill," where the tracks of the bushrangers were very distinct and some horse dung so fresh that they must have been there on Tuesday last. This day I proposed attempting to pick up and follow the tracks, but heavy rain falling from 4 until 9 o'clock this morning rendered it impossible, the spoor being destroyed, and the ground so soft that the horses could not carry their riders without danger of straining.

On my arrival, here I found a party of six men whom Sir Frederick Pottinger has sent to cooperate with me. The senior constable (Wright) has gone to Mr Grant's: I have not yet seen him, but one of the men tells me that the whole five bushrangers were seen the day before yesterday at Hartigan’s, some miles up the Belubula. I have also heard that they have a camping place opposite Mr Grant's on the Canowindra side of the creek, on a rising ground, whence they can see everything that goes on. I purpose going there this evening with the fresh party nowhere.

The Bald Hill just mentioned is a remarkable place from whence the bushrangers had a view of the Eugowra Road, the crossing-place at King's, on the Nyrang Creek and the whole surrounding neighbourhood. From this hill they can escape in any direction through the bush; but, should they again make it their rendezvous, which as I am keeping its discovery dark, is probable, I think it improbable that they could altogether escape were two police parties working together, and ascending the hill from different directions. I do not think any of the gang have gone from this part of the country unless there be truth in the report that they were seen at Hartigan’s. If so, they are returning to No.1 Swamp, through King's Plains.

I believe I told you in my note from Goimbla that I had engaged a black tracker "Albert." He was in the police at Forbes, some time ago., Without him, I could have done nothing, the whole country being intersected by hills and gullies, and being a perfect terra incognita to me and my party, I have gone over a great deal of it; much more might be searched with advantage, should the gang be in the neighbourhood.

I beg to call your attention to the perfect uselessness of sending parties of police out after bushrangers, such as are now at large, without trackers; by chance, they might meet the offenders, but they would never trace or find them.

I trust you will excuse this note; I have no other paper. I have been up nearly all night, and am wet through. I have one request to make, before I conclude, which is to be rendered perfectly independent of Sir Frederick Pottinger. I have only three men of my own.

I consider I ought to have five. Sir Frederick has lent me one; he has also sent a party to co-operate, but he writes to me as if to a subordinate under him. As a senior officer working out of my own district, this is not pleasant; at the same time, I will not allow any such feelings to interfere with the public service. This request I make contingent on my being continued here, for, unless I hear farther from you and I learn that the gang have left this district, I intend returning to the Flat by the end of next week.

I have, &c.,
W. CHATFIELD, Supt., Eastern District.

P.S. - I was obliged to purchase a horse at Goimbla, to remount one of my men who was riding a borrowed horse. It is not such as I should like to have bought; I gave £10 for it. I trust you will sanction the purchase; at the same time, I must inform you that it is already strained in the back sinew from being sent after the pack-mare, which broke her hobbles and got into the bush. I am obliged, to leave it here and mount the constable on the pack Mare. - W. Chatfield, S.P.⁴⁰

For a more comprehensive account of the mass of correspondence between M'Lerie and Chatfield over the Ben Hall debacle, see pages 2 and 3 in the link below;
Monday 11th April 1864 
While inspector's Pottinger and Chatfield traipsed through the rain-sodden scrub, Ben Hall left the immediate area of Canowindra heading north along the road (Longs Corner), setting up close to the small settlement of the district, Murga. Murga, NSW, in 1863, was known as a horse changing station for the many un-contracted coaches plying travellers from Orange to Forbes. With the fever associated with the gold rush at Forbes, the town principally serviced the multitudes of passing bullock drays and miners in transit to and from Forbes. Former resident Mr Edmund Rymer reflected in the 'Forbes Advocate' in 1920 on early life in Murga and the memory of his father's hotel when a 15-year-old;

In 1861 my father built and conducted a hotel at Murga, about midway between Orange and Forbes, where all goods were taken by carriers on horse and bullock teams from Orange and Forbes, and the Western country. Little townships sprang up along the line of route. There were 17 or 18 hotels between Orange and Forbes, all doing good business. Cobb & Co. were the mail contractors from Orange to Forbes, receiving two thousand pounds per year, the coach drivers being Ted Workman, Ted Smith, Jack Fagan.

Near Murga, with Nangar
Range in view.
The camping area
of Ben Hall, October 1863.
The trail to Murga from Canowindra conveyed the gang into the Nangar Range confines passing the northern cliff's parallel to Mandagery Creek. To the east of Murga were Toogong, Cudal and Orange to the west, and Forbes thru Eugowra. For many years, Murga was also known as a timber town with a mill and post office, a school and two hotels where travellers could stop for accommodation and refreshments. One hotel was known as 'German Jack's'. At the height of the gold rush, Murga had some 100 residents scattered in and around the township. The road from Toogong through Murga to Eugowra was highlighted in an 1878 'Sydney Mail' article 'Notes of a Journey Westward':

Toogong, Murga, and Eugowra are just the beginnings of small towns, which we passed through on our way; but however small a place may be, we are sure to find it possessed of two or three public houses, which always manage to secure a fair share of patronage. There is nothing worthy of mention on this road until we reach Murga, where we changed horses. Here we see a grand country—several ranges of very steep picturesque hills of metamorphic slate, their forest-clad sides a pleasure to the eye. Dark green coniferous trees here begin to relieve the sight from the dusky line of the gum trees. As we proceed on our journey these become more numerous and of larger size, so that at last they become even more numerous than the eucalypti. Afterwards, we lose them almost altogether, but they reappear again at intervals.

The raids on Bathurst and Canowindra were to have lasting implications for two of the officers in charge. First Chatfield, by November 1863, would be suspended. In 1864 Chatfield was dismissed from the NSW Police, and Secondly, Superintendent Morrissett would be relieved from his post at Bathurst and reassigned to Maitland in November 1863. (I drove thru here, today's Escort Way in 2020, and it is truly a lovely trip.)

Subsequently, with the bushrangers' Jubilee's deeds at Canowindra spreading throughout the district, and for that matter, the nation. Murga residents soon became aware that the bushrangers had arrived in their town's vicinity and their old haunts. News circulated of the gang had formed a camp well-positioned to hold the road from Forbes to Orange and survey the many coaches plying the road. 15th of October, 1863:

It was reported in town on Thursday night that the bushrangers had been seen at Murga on that day, amusing themselves by firing at targets. They were expected iOrange yesterday, and preparations were made to give them a warm reception.

David Henry

Private Source never
before published.

On the 16th October 1863, 'The Five' conducted several hold-ups in the neighbourhood of Murga. One of the first hold-ups was the Forbes mail coach. Earlier that day, an old friend of Ben Hall's and reputed bush telegraph had been sent out to canvass the outgoing Forbes coach.

However, Hall's man scrutinised the passing coach for police and, seeing none present, quickly turned on his heels to report to Hall the situation, including the coach driver's encounter with a local and influential landholder Mr David Campbell Goimbla Station. Mr Campbell was a well-known advocate of suppressing bushranging and wanted to see the end of Ben Hall. The bush telegraph had seen Campbell pull up the coach informing the passengers to be alert for Hall and Co. Campbell saw it as his duty, as with many other graziers to assist the police in the bushrangers' pursuit. Campbell was also in company with his brother William:

David Campbell made no pretense as to his intentions with regard to the outlaws under discussion, and who did such desperate deeds along the Lachlan-side in those days—he stood out prominently, amongst a number of sympathisers, as one man at least who would show them no quarter. 

Furthermore, the presence of Hall's suspected bush telegraph, who had been openly observing the encounter and conversation, was also reported to Campbell, who unfortunately ignored the information. However, Campbell's presence would do little to deter the bushrangers next actions. Furthermore, Campbell's presence may well have been the catalyst for a future encounter with Hall, Gilbert and O'Meally, which turned deadly for one. As reported:

On the Forbes side of "German Jack's," a man was seen standing behind a large tree, growing within a few feet of the road. As the coach approached him, the horses walking, he advanced carelessly, twisting his pipe between his finger and thumb, with his cabbage-tree hat slouched over his left eye, so as to hide one half of his face, or otherwise make his features partially irrecognisable, and surveyed the passengers most minutely, and having satisfied himself that the troopers were not there, he carelessly turned on his heel. Just previously, Mr. Campbell of Goimbla, accompanied by his brother and two others, came upon horseback, all armed, having one double barrel and three single-barreled shotguns—with only one ramrod amongst the lot. These gentlemen told the passengers to look out, as Gilbert and his gang were close at hand, they themselves - being on the search for the marauders. They passed on in the direction from which the coach had come, the man before alluded to casting an anxious glance after them, and then watching the coach to the turn of the road, from which point he was observed to dart away and disappear over an adjoining ridge. Half a mile further on, our informant observed the track of a horse's hoofs coming down the road in the direction of Toogong; near which place it was afterwards ascertained the bushrangers were encamped the same night.

The features of the bush telegraph were well known to two gentlemen in the coach, who remembered him as an old "pal" of Ben Hall's, and who had lived at Gallen's some twelve months back with that individual and is frequently to be seen in Forbes. Three troopers, stationed at Toogong, were told of what had occurred, when they started off, saying, "they would soon catch them," and, putting spurs to their horses, our informant says they went at such a pace through a soft sandy paddock that their horses must have been blown before they were a mile on their way. It was afterwards ascertained that they reached Murga and thence made their way to Eugowra, meeting no bushrangers, as those gentry are not so particular in keeping to the main road. Towards evening the same three troopers rode quietly back to Murga (where our informant had been detained) in company with eight or nine others, with whom it seems they had fallen in during the day, coming from the direction in which they were going, and shortly afterwards they left for their quarters. Mr. Campbell and his party also came to Murga, without having encountered the bushrangers, and were considerably "chaffed" upon their adventure with one ramrod. The next day, as our informant passed Toogong, he learned that the gang had camped on Wednesday night within three miles of that place, and in the precise direction taken by the bush telegraph.⁴¹

Later the same day as Campbell rode on, Ben Hall's old pal Gallen reported the pursuers' passing. The bushrangers with the latest intelligence descended on the town of Murga:

YESTERDAY morning, the bushrangers- we suppose them to have, been Gilbert and Co.-stuck up German Jack's well-known hostelries, at Murga. We did not hear that they took anything. They next visited Mr Hanley, next door to German Jack's, where they possessed themselves of seven pounds and then departed. They said they were going to Goimbla, and that they would “Shave.” Campbell, and "warm" Barnes. Fortunately, it was not our Barnes not the Barnes of Cobb and Co., -but, as we suppose, an overseer of Mr Campbell. The next thing the maunders did was to stick up the coach- a feat they accomplished at a place about three miles on the Forbes side of Murga. Jerry was driving, and the number of "rangers" five. These gentries asked for the mail and found there was none. They then asked for firearms, when the same answer being returned-they left."⁴²

In 1920, an eyewitness to the gang's visit to Murga, Mr Edmund Rymer, then 15 yrs old, recounted the day's activities. 'Forbes Advocate':

One morning early, Ben Hall, with his gang of men, including J Gilbert, J. O'Meally, J. Vane, and M. Burke, visited my father's hotel. After having two rounds of refreshments in the bar. Hall asked for my father, who was absent, at Molong on business. They informed my mother they had no intention of interfering with the hotel or the inmates, and not to be alarmed. They left two half-crowns on the counter for their refreshments, and went over to the other hotel about 100 yards distant, held up the inmates, took their money, and also took all the money the butcher possessed. The butcher imagined there was something doing and was getting out the back door with his money when one of the gang came on the scene and demanded his roll of money. He took the gold and notes and returned the cheques to the butcher.⁴³

A dry Nyrang Ck, summer 2016,
with Nangar Range
in background.
The foray into Murga was corroborated by John Vane in his narrative. However, Vane states that the coach they held up following the bush telegraph's intelligence was empty of passengers:

That night we camped in very rough country, and on the following morning started for the Forbes-Orange road, which we reached about ten o’clock. Having heard that it was escort day when the coach from Forbes would be carrying a good sum of gold under police protection, we determined to vary the proceedings by sticking-up the mail. So, we rode in the direction of Forbes, with the object of meeting the escort. The day proved full of adventures, some amusing, some disappointing. A mile further along the road we met a horse with hobbles on and Hall caught him and rode him on to Murga township, giving his other animal a rest. There were two public houses and one general store there, and as we dismounted in front of one of the hotels, a man came out and said to Hall, “Why are you riding my horse?” to which Hall made reply “It’s my horse now and don’t you touch him.” The man opened his eyes at what he, no doubt, a cool piece of impudence, but he speedily realised that we were out for more than a single horse.

Vane describes the raid on Murga:

Gilbert and I went over to the other pub and found an old woman in charge. When we made known our mission she said, “There’s no money here boys, but you can have all those youngsters if you like”- pointing to a number of children of varied ages that surrounded her. Not being in want of such spoil we passed on to the store, to find this also in charge of a woman. As we approached she ran out at the back door, and I followed her in time to see her throw something into a tub of dirty water. I at once picked up a broom that was handy and stirred the water, fishing up a pickle bottle containing twenty- two £1 notes. We were more fortunate than our mates who got no money, and after Hall had returned the horse to its owner we proceeded along the road to meet the coach. But here we met with great disappointment. The coach was empty, not having a single passenger or mail-bag aboard. We turned back in the direction of Canowindra and camped that night at a place called Nyrang Creek.

The limited success at Murga and conscious of the police and landowners searching the gang broke camp. It commenced the ride back towards Canowindra, passing over Nyrang Creek, skirting the township and taking up the track parallel to the Belubula River, heading in the direction of Orange and the rough country of Mount Canoblis. As the gang arrived at a good reach of flat along the banks of the Belubula, they once more made camp, and here the bushrangers took advantage of the fine weather swimming in the rivers cool waters.

However, always vigilant for signs of the NSW police, Ben Hall sent a scare through the group whilst they were stripped naked in the water, at which point, hearing horses coming through the scrub, called out to the others to flee. Luckily the approaching horses, after closing within 800 yards, veered off as the gang were racing to gather their clothes and weapons:

As the weather was comfortably warm we let the horses feed on the flat till the next day and amused ourselves with swimming. We were all stripped and had left our guns and revolvers on the bank of the river with our clothes, and while we were in the water Hall called out that he could hear the sound of horses coming through the bush. We at once ran to our clothes, but before we could dress we saw seven policemen riding up the flat. I grabbed my gun and ran to my horse, which was near at hand, but before I could mount the police had turned off and headed for the town. We concluded that they had not seen us, although we were not more than 800 yds distant.

The police party was no doubt led by Inspector Chatfield. Furthermore, friction soon raised its head in the gang, and a petty squabble erupted between Vane and Gilbert over some victuals that saw the two come to fisticuffs:

After travelling over some very rough hills until about midday we halted to have a 'snack. Burke and I acted as cooks on the occasion, grilling slices of the bacon on the hot coals; but there was none for Gilbert, and when he saw this he coolly stepped over and took a slice of mine. I told him to put it down, but he commenced to laugh, and I at once struck him a blow in the mouth with my fist, and the row commenced in earnest. But before we could get fairly going Hall and O'Meally seized Gilbert, while Burke stood before me. Then Hall asked Gilbert if he was determined to flight, and he replied "yes" "Very well then," said Hall, "give me your firearms;" and we at once handed over our revolvers to Hall and O'Meally who took charge of them while we tested the soundness of each other's heads and ribs. I being the taller, gave Gilbert the higher ground, and for a time he laid it on to me fairly well, but I suddenly caught him once in the throat, and from that time could do pretty well what I liked with him until he gave in. But we were not allowed the firearms until we became friends again.

However, whether or not Vane had the better of Gilbert is up for debate as later Vane was reported carrying a significant black eye. In contrast, Gilbert showed no signs of a scuffle. The angst between Vane, Burke and Gilbert was never far from the surface. As the bushrangers leisurely made their way toward Orange, it had been reported earlier that as Ben Hall had departed Canowindra and before the Gang's descent on Murga, there appeared to have been a malicious encounter a local squatter named Grant. The report was to the effect that the Gang incinerated his home. However, it is unlikely to have been Thomas Grant's home as the police charged earlier with 'Neglect of Duty' had been on several occasions at Grant's 'Falls Station' observed no destruction. However, a newspaper report commented that the Gang reputedly had burnt down a homestead of a man named Grant over his suspected cooperation with the police. Stories abounded of destructive acts by Ben Hall. However, in this case, they appear spurious:

The same night the ruffians stuck-up Mr Grant's place on the Belubula, and burnt it down, to wreak their vengeance on the owner, who had dared on a former occasion to give information to the police. They said they were overlooking him when he was directing the police, and saw him point out their tracks.⁴⁴

Spurious maybe? However, if any may have been a victim, exactly which Grant is unknown or if it ever happened? Burning down someone's home would not be seen lightly. At this juncture, the gang still had many harbourers where if the gang started this type of attack, their welcome would undoubtedly wane rapidly. Furthermore, the Grant family had been highly respected, and long-time residents of the Canowindra district having been settled there for well over thirty years holding extensive property throughout the fertile reaches of the Belubula River. At the Canowindra raid, three of Grant's brothers owned three properties on the town's outskirts. George D Grant held the 'Grove', John Grant' Belubula' and Thomas Grant' The Falls'.

Moreover, it is difficult to ascertain to which home was believed burnt down. As before the arrival of Ben Hall at Canowindra on the 12th of October 1863, it had been reported that 'The Boys' had paid a brief visit to the property of Thomas Grant's 'The Falls,' where it was said that "they committed no mischief there," and after a short conversation departed. (see above) However, the incident regarding the destruction of one of the brothers' homes may well be only Chinese Whispers, not based on any solid evidence!

Model 1855 .56 calibre
Colt Revolving Rifle.
Nevertheless, after a close shave, while swimming outside Canowindra, the bushrangers broke camp, trekking further along the river, where their path became blocked by boulders. Clearing the boulders, the gang headed towards the rugged ranges of "Old Man Canobilas", arriving at 'Errowanbang Station' the farm of Mr William Lawson (1833-1865). Flyers Creek 9 miles from Carcoar and 18 miles from Canowindra. Flyers Creek was known for sporadic gold finds and reputation as a 'good poor man's diggings.'

Lawson's 'Errowanbang
Station' homestead.
Original home with
some minor upgrades.

Courtesy Edward
Higginbotham, 2010.
Lawson was the grandson of the famous explorer William Lawson (1774-1850), who, with Blaxland and Wentworth, first crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813, opening up a new path to the west of NSW. Ben Hall had heard that Lawson owned the much sought after revolving rifle, which was rare bringing the gang to his doorstep. However, it later transpired that the revolving rifle had been loaned to Inspector Davidson. The bushrangers also caught a fine racehorse:

Gilbert, O'Meally, Ben Hall, Vane, and Burke paid a visit to Mr Lawson, at Flyers Creek, seven miles from this town, on Thursday, about two o'clock p. m. On Mr Lawson seeing them approaching the house he made off and kept out of the way till they left. The bushrangers entered the house and asked the housekeeper, an elderly woman, where the keys were when she replied she did not know. They brought an axe and broke open all the doors, and took out all the boxes on the floor, and appropriated what they pleased. They then ran the horses in from the paddock, and took away three, amongst which was "Mickey Free," the racehorse. After this, they left and made for Messrs Welber and Francks, on the opposite side of the Creek, and bailed those gentlemen up, together with about thirty sheep washers and shearers that were in the shed at the time. They took a quantity of wearing apparel, two horses, saddles, and bridles, and when they left they had five horses, saddles, and bridles with them.⁴⁵ 

View of Lawson's
'Errowanbang Station'
across Flyers
Courtesy Edward
Higginbotham, 2010.
The raid at Lawson's also dismisses any thought of bravery on Lawson's part as various accounts state that upon seeing the Gang riding up. To save his soul, Lawson bolted into the bush, leaving his servants to face the Gang. Vane remarked that they were told the family had gone to Sydney:

We ran the top of the main range eastward till the country became broken and more level, and we continued in that direction till we reached Mr Lawson's station on Flyer's Creek. We had been told some time previously that Mr Lawson kept a revolving rifle, a weapon which Hall desired greatly to possess, so we rode up to the station in hopes of securing it. But there were only two servant men at the place, and they told us the station people had all gone on a visit to Sydney, and that Mr. Lawson had lent his revolving rifle to Inspector Davidson, who was after us. Finding Mr Lawson's favourite saddle horse in the stable, I appropriated it, and also a shot-gun which I found in the house. 

Note: On the 1st February 1865, William Lawson died of Apoplexy at Flyers Creek.

Success at Lawson's and his neighbours Ben Hall, as evening set in, went about setting up camp one mile from Carcoar on Kirr's (Kerr's) Station. On the chance that the troopers would be absent from the town. When the police heard of the Flyers Creek raid, they immediately set off. In their absence, it was reported that Hall had planned to take advantage and create havoc at Carcoar:

About half an hour after they were gone six troopers can up, but though they were put on the bushranger’s tracks, they, as usual, lost them.

More news arrived in the evening informing the police that the gang was camped close to the town, but this news was brushed off; S.M.H. 7th November 1863:

The same evening a report came into town that the bushrangers were camped at Kirr's station about one mile from town. The police did not believe the report, therefore nothing was done; but it has been proved since, that they were waiting for the report of the Fryer's Creek robbery to reach the town, as they intended, as soon as the police left, to make their way to Carcoar.

However, while camped in Kirr's station's confines, John Vane again provides further insight into the gang's conduct and the subject of burning homes of those settlers who aided the police highlighting Gilbert's desire to use it as a punishment. Ben Hall was at first against the action but would eventually support the measures. Subsequently, this brings into question the Grant episode and where the gang did at the time burn some property, not at Grant's but Flyers Creek and only a haystack. Therefore, Grant's suffrage at the loss of his home appears to have been seriously confused with a burning haystack. The burning subject brought about a heated exchange of words between Gilbert and the others: Vane recounted:

Gilbert appeared very dissatisfied, and before long his dissatisfaction found vent in very strong language. "I don't care what you say," he declared, addressing us all, his language being liberally punctuated with oaths; "you are too easy-going with the wretches who are so fond of helping the police. Here's Lawson gives Davidson, one of the smartest men out here after us one of the best rifles in use, and the like of which we can't get, and yet you let him off. I say burn the bloody station! and give them something to remember us by." Burke was the first to speak up: ''You're a fool, Johnny," said he. "If we start burning, the country will get too hot to hold us and we'll be roasted in the very fires we raise. I won't be a party to using the fire-stick against anyone, and certainly not against Lawson, who I know is a good sort.

Hall and I also denounced his proposal, and shortly afterwards we left. That night we arrived under Mount Macquarie, near Carcoar, and camped at a waterfall. While we were lying down, Gilbert again opened the subject of burning, arguing that we should destroy the property of everyone who assisted the police. Then Hall, who was generally very quiet, spoke up. Leaning upon his elbow he called out: "Now. look here Gilbert, you had better stop that talk at once. Once for all, I tell you I won't have any of that sort of work, and if I hear any more of it you will have to reckon with me in a way you won't like. Even if we were inclined to that game and started it, we would come off second best, and we wouldn't last long, for every settler would turn out and help to hunt us down. I don't want to quarrel with you, but by God, if I hear you say anything more about burning. I'll bore a hole through you!" Then Gilbert, who seemed in a terribly surly mood, growled out: "I don't care what you do, but I mean to shoot every man I find helping the police against me.'' Hall then replied in a quieter tone: "You had better not try shooting either. I am determined not to shoot anyone unless I am compelled to do so in defence of my own life. I mean to hold out until I am shot if I can't get away, but I won't take the life of another man who doesn't try to take mine." The discussion dropped at that and quietness reigned during the remainder of the night.

The sentiment above expressed by Ben Hall regarding the burning of victims' property or the shooting dead of the same was, as history demonstrates, fanciful. However, these imminent threats of incineration to property in due course became a reality. Regardless, the use of burning out threats was continuously thrown down as a means of intimidation and subjugation against any resistance. Furthermore, the use of coercion by incineration was about to transpire a few days after the robbery of Lawson's homestead.

Melbourne Punch,
22nd October
In touch with their local mates, the plan to take Carcoar was abandoned upon Ben Hall, learning that a settler named Keightley had made it known around the district that he would riddle them through if given half a chance. Furthermore, Keightley had a reputation as a good shot. Ben Hall, after contact with his mate. The overseer of Dunns Plains station derided the settler for assisting the police. Including the overseer's own falling-out with Keightley over a piggery, he sought retribution with help from Hall, whom it is reputed new well. The bushrangers set off to teach the impudent man a lesson; 'Old Times' reminiscences of Sgt Hanley canvassed the overseer and Keightley's disagreement that brought Ben Hall to Dunns Plains. May 1903:

These pigs were the cause of several disputes between Keightley and the station overseer, and the latter informed Keightley that he would get even with him. I may digress here a bit to say that, if any man could give you a complete history of the Ben Hall gang, it would be that same overseer. He was, I think, the finest horseman I ever saw, and a regular bush dandy. The general idea was that Keightley’s house was attacked by the bushrangers because he was supposed to have given the police information of their movements, and I merely mention these facts to show that there was probably another reason. I think this is borne out by the fact that, after the raid, the overseer was dismissed.
Consequently, Hall arrived at the residence of Mr Keightley, a government official and his wife Caroline at their Dunns Plains home near Rockley, NSW. Here a battle royal would ensue, taking the life of one of the gang. Henry Keightley, whom Hall previously had not heard of, rented the station homestead and 20 or 30 acres where he bred pigs in large quantities. These he sold at a handsome profit to the Chinese miners. On a Friday, the gang made their way towards Dunns Plains, believing that Keightley may also be apprised of a good stock of weapons, which were always in need and that they would hand him a lesson over threatening their friend and them.

The gang arrived at Dunns Plains am Friday 23rd October and took up an advantage point 300 yards east from the house amongst a copse of trees and granite rocks on a small hill overlooking their quarry's residence. (See maps below.) Taking up positions, the men observed that a police party was camped in a paddock adjacent to Keightley's house headed by Inspector Davidson.  During the whole day and into Friday night, the bushrangers paid attention to the occupants' comings and goings. Including sighting Keightley conversing with Davidson whom Keightley had invited to lodge at the house, but Davidson declined to remain encamped with his men:

The day before the occurrence took place which we have just described, Sub-inspector Davidson with some troopers were encamped near to Mr Keightley's house, and the bushrangers told Mr Keightley that they had been watching them through the night, and mentioned several little incidents that had transpired, in proof of their assertion. Mr Davidson, it appears, declined to accept the accommodation proffered by Mr Keightley, preferring to sleep out with his men, and Mr Keightley was told of what happened during a visit he had paid the party, and also that they (the bushrangers) had been watching both him and the neighbourhood the whole day through. 

The gang remained secluded and unnoticed. As day broke on Saturday the 24th, the bushrangers observed Inspector Davidson and his party prepare to depart and unknowing that they were being watched by the men they sought. However, for Henry Keightley and his wife, as the daylight of Saturday dwindled into dusk, life was about to become most memorable.

William Crisp
In the dying light near six o'clock on Saturday 24th, October 1863, Ben Hall and Co. rode into the station's back yard ready to give the Gold Commissioner a going over. At first glance, Keightley and his guest, Dr Peachy, a cousin of Keightley's wife Caroline, presumed the approaching riders were the returning party of Inspector Davidson. However, in the dimming light, the two men realised the riders were cut from a very different cloth altogether, and although Keightley had heard that the gang had marked him, he and Peachy were startled.

Aware that the gang were in the vicinity, a plan of defence had been prepared. The bushrangers dismounted near the rear stables opening fire on the two men who made for their defence position as the bushrangers scattered around the homestead. Consequently, the two men under fire would show stubborn resistance secreting themselves into the house then onto the roof as the gang peppered the dwelling and back door with shot after shot which luckily did not course injury. As the gunfight erupted, it was reported that Mrs Keightley's four-year-old step-sister Lily had been left outside and wandered about with bullets flying in the twilight hour. However, she was miraculously unharmed. (Lily Rotton was Elizabeth Clive Rotton, born in 1859 to Henry Rotton and Mary Ann Ford's second wife. Caroline's mother, Lorn, passed away in 1843. ) Unknown to the gang as they peppered the house with shots, Mrs Keightley's four-month-old baby Henry b. June 1863 was inside under the housekeeper, Mrs Baldock's protection. (There was a daughter Caroline who passed away in 1863; however, her 1863 date is unknown. She was born in 1862.) In the melee, Micheal Burke, aged 19, would be mortally wounded and, in fear of his capture, placed a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger not once but twice. The young bushranger lay dying for some time before life departed.

H.M. Keightley.
Henry Keightley was noted as a strikingly handsome man of splendid physique, standing 6 ft 3 in. In the year 1854, whilst Keightley was travelling from the port of Brisbane to Sydney, he made an impression upon author Nehemiah Bartley who attested in his book titled ‘Opals and Agates’ published in 1854:

One of the first men I saw on my return to Brisbane attracted my notice by his really handsome face, with a heavy, long, brown moustache that seemed carved from mahogany, so compact and solid did it look, and with eyes as blue, arid richly blue, as any sapphires. I asked his name. It was Henry McCrummin Keightley.

Henry had been born at Corfu, Greece, in 1830, where his father had been Governor of several Greek islands controlled by Britain following Napoleon's defeat. Henry's father had also fought at the Battle of Waterloo in the Fourteenth Regiment as a Major and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Unfortunately, as the third son, Henry was required to make his way in the world wherein adulthood due to the constraints of Primogeniture's law that upon his father's death, Henry was compelled to immigrate to NSW in 1853, the same year as his father's death.

Keightley was employed by two brothers named Tindal, who held extensive property on the Clarence River in far northern NSW. During his time, Keightley was involved in a variety of work. Work that incorporated an expedition to dispose of aboriginals who had been stealing cattle from his employer’s;

Blacks have been spearing our cattle here, and I only returned last night from the pursuit. We surprised two camps with the remains of beef in each. It was Keightley's first service we were camped out eight nights.⁴⁶

It is at this time that Keightley develops his reputation of prowess with weapons.

However, Keightley's striking frame and consciousness of his attractiveness to women soon suffered a flirtatious setback whilst at the Clarence River. When his desire for a female cook may have got the better of him. In turn, the female made known her disinterest in the tall man, made apparent through her reaction and rejection towards Keightley following an argument of a fiery nature.

At 'Ramornie' they stand in awe of the cook since she threw a coal shovel at Keightley.⁴⁷

As a result, the lady became the hero of her fellow workers. No doubt these actions were from a woman who perchance let it be known to Keightley that impropriety towards her would not be tolerated, as Keightley’s dashing good looks which no doubt the ladies of Sydney swooned after. But where, unlike Sydney, the ladies of the bush stood firm in repelling possible boarders. Keightley was also in the market for a lady of some social standing and was rumoured to have been engaged. However, often noted as a jokester, his fellow workers were amused, and the prospective bride talked of was never revealed.

Consequently, upon leaving the Clarence River, Keightley found a minor position in the NSW government and whereby a scandal arose over the misappropriation of funds. Following an investigation, Keightley was found guilty of general carelessness and subsequently transferred to the interior at Tamworth in c. 1858. In 1860 Henry Keightley married Caroline Rotton at Kelso Bathurst, daughter of an M.P. and wealthy landowner at Bathurst. With the right connections now in place, Keightley prospered to become a Magistrate and Gold Commissioner for the Bathurst region. Henry and his wife were acclaimed by writer Cuthbert Featherstonehaugh who swooned:

The Keightley’s were the handsomest couple he had ever seen.

When Keightley's arrived in NSW 1853, Brittan found itself caught up in the Crimean War against Russia through its alliance with France, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia. The war was principally fought over protecting the Christian minorities in the Holy Land, controlled by the Ottoman Empire's Islamic Sultan, Omar Pasha. Although the war also had a broader objective. Denying Russia any new territory, the war even posed a Russian threat to NSW, creating Fort Denison's construction in Sydney Harbour. The conflict itself was noted for its sheer butchery and where the 'Victoria Cross' Medal for bravery was born. The Medal was cast out of the cannons' steel from the war by the order of Queen Victoria. And where Florence Nightingale brought a revolution to medical care for the wounded. However, as with many British subjects in NSW, Keightley at the time of the war's outbreak had expressed a desire to enlist, but those who knew him took it as a half-hearted proposal:

Keightley is principally occupied in horse dealing. He talks of going home to "serve his country” (in the Crimean War) but I question his being in earnest.⁴⁸

However, in late October 1863, five bushrangers challenged Keightley for his life and used the stables as cover. Keightley, with his wife's cousin Dr Pechey, commenced their defence. For Ben Hall, it was the first time the gang came up against a settler willing to fight for his life and liberty. The newspaper report below gives an excellent account of the whole of the events.

Sunset at Rockley on the 24th October 1863 was at 6.18 pm; however, the moon was up and known as a waxing Gibbous moon providing strong evening light over Dunns Plains. Therefore, the whole of the events regarding Burke's death was conducted during dusk and an early, well lit evening for both Mrs Keightley's flight to Bathurst and Pechey's return on Sunday morning the 25th with Sunrise at 5.20. Am. Def of a Gibbous Moon: (of the moon) having the illuminated part greater than a semicircle and less than a circle.
The layout of events at Dunns Plains 23rd, 24th, 25th October 1863.

(From the Bathurst Times of Wednesday.)

The Back Door peppered
with the bullet holes
fired by the gang.

Can Be viewed at the
Bathurst Historical Museum.

My photo.
On Saturday evening, between six and seven o’clock, Gilbert, O’Meally, Ben Hall, Vane, and Burke made their appearance at the house of Mr Keightley, assistant gold commissioner, at Dunns Plains Rockley. Mr Keightley was at the door at the time, outside the house, and, seeing the men advancing, thought at first they were policemen in disguise. On their coming up they called out to him to “bail up,” but, without paying any attention to the command, he ran into the house-about thirty yards off – with the intention of arming himself- four or five shots being fired at him as he went. It seems Mr Keightley had been expecting a visit from the gang and had provided himself with the necessary means of defence; but, owing to a most unfortunate circumstance, they were beyond his reach at the very moment he required to use them. Having occasion shortly before to send a letter to the post, he had dispatched it by a manservant, who bears the character of being a trustworthy and courageous fellow, and he, it appears, had taken a brace of revolvers with him for his own protection. Snatching up a double-barrelled gun (only one barrel of which was loaded), and also a revolver, Mr Keightley, accompanied by a guest, Dr Pechey, took his station at the door, where a shower of bullets greeted his appearance, some of them passing within a hair’s breadth of their bodies, and burying with a "ping" in the woodwork about the threshold.

Burke lays dead.
Highlighted from the painting by
Patrick William Marony
Courtesy NLA.
The plan pursued by the bushrangers was to keep undercover as much as possible, Burke from time to time creeping up at the side of the house, and suddenly swinging his arm around, managed in that way to fire at the gentlemen as they stood in the doorway. Vane is mentioned as coming out in full view, and deliberately taking aim. Unwilling to risk a shot at him, Mr Keightley waited for the next approach of Burke, who came up shortly afterwards in the way described, and incautiously exposing his body, he was instantly shot in the abdomen, whereupon he was seen to reel like a drunken man and stagger to the side of the house. Leaning with one hand against the wall, he cried out, “ I’m done for, but I’ll not be taken alive;” and then with the other hand he pulled out a revolver, and placing it to his head, endeavoured to blow out his brains. The first shot appears to have merely grazed the skin on his forehead, but the next blew away a portion of his skull. He then fell to the ground. The bushrangers, seeing what had happened, still continued to conceal themselves, while they kept up a constant fire upon the house. Dr Pechey at this juncture, made a rush across the yard towards a kitchen, in the endeavour to obtain possession of a gun placed there, belonging to the servant, William Baldock, whom we have mentioned as having been dispatched to Rockley. He was, however, encountered by Vane, who, presenting a revolver, ordered him back, at the same time firing at him. The doctor accordingly retraced his steps. The two gentlemen unable, by reason of the tactics pursued, to get a shot at their assailants, now resolved to effect a change in their position, and with this object in view, they walked out of the door, and, by means of a ladder, deliberately mounted to a loft above the house, being exposed the whole time to an incessant fire; but although the bullets passed around them in a shower-some cutting through Mr. Keightley’s beard and hat-miraculous to say, they reached their destination unhurt. The bushrangers still kept undercover, and fired about twenty shots at the loft, when Gilbert called out to them to come down, and Ben Hall said if they did not they would burn the house. Mr. Keightley, fearing that they would carry their threat into execution, and perhaps murder his wife and child, who were below, determined to give himself up and accordingly called out his intention to surrender. 
Saturday evening, 24th October 1863, Ben Hall lays siege to H.M. Keightley's home.
On reaching the ground, Vane ran up to Dr Pechey, and struck him with the butt end of his revolver a violent blow on the forehead, immediately above the left eyebrow which knocked him down. Mr Keightley remonstrated, asking him why he treated him in that manner when Vane made some answer, which showed that he mistook the doctor for Mr Keightley, whom they believed to have been the instigator of the resistance they had experienced. Just at this moment some persons in the employment of Mr William Bowman, whose station is in close proximity, were observed standing on a rise of ground. (Injustice to these, it must be mentioned that, through private means, we are possessed of information which exonerates them from the charge of standing coldly by while the murderous assault was going on.) It seems Mr Keightley has been in the habit of firing for practice, accordingly the reports of the firearms created no surprise, and it was not until the voice of Ben Hall was heard, threatening to burn the house down, that their attention was aroused, and they came up the hill to see what was going on. Ben Hall at once fetched them down in a body to where the others were standing, and such a scene was presented as we trust it will never be our fate to chronicle again. In one corner of the yard lay the boy highwayman, while on a portion of the well frame sat Mr Keightley, under sentence of death,- Vane standing close to him loading the gun with which Burke had been shot. Mrs Keightley turned to the others and implored them to spare her husband’s life, but seemingly without avail. Vane said doggedly that Burke and he had been brought up as boys together, that they had been mates ever since, and that the gun that had deprived him of life would, in turn, take the life of the man who killed him. The gun being loaded, he threw it over his arm and turning to Mr Keightley told him to follow him down the paddock.

Mrs's Keightley and Baldock
pleading for
Henry Keightley's life.

Painting by
 Patrick William
Marony 1858-1839.

Courtesy NLA.
In frantic agitation, Mrs Keightley ran up to Ben Hall, and clutching him by the coat collar, said “I know you are Ben Hall- and they say you are the most humane, respectable, and best of them all; for God’s sake do not let them murder my husband – save his life!’’ She then turned to Gilbert, and addressing him in similar terms, begged him to interfere (O’Meally, it appears, was away looking after the horses); Gilbert and Hall appeared to be moved, and the latter called out Vane to desist. A parley ensued, when Gilbert and Hall dictated the terms upon which Mr Keightley’s life should be spared, viz., that as the Government had placed five hundred pounds upon Burke’s head, the amount of the reward should be handed over to them, and they agreed to allow a certain time (till two o’clock the following day, Sunday) for the production of the money.

Dr Pechey then examined Burke and discovered a large wound in the abdomen, through which his entrails, in a frightfully torn and lacerated condition, were protruding. He was still breathing, although unconscious, and the doctor said he could do very little for him without his instruments. He asked, if one of them would go into Rockley, and fetch what he required, but they said it would be of no use, and that it would be better to shoot him at once and so end his misery. The doctor thought something ought to be done, and at length prevailed upon them to let him go and obtain such things as he wanted, having first pledged his honour that he would not raise an alarm. Before he returned the man was dead. We have said O’Meally was absent, and Mrs Keightley, fearing lest he might not agree to accept the ransom, prevailed upon one of the party to fetch him. When he came, he at first refused to listen to the proposal, and declared his intention to revenge the death of his companion; but he was, however, eventually pacified by the others. They then went into the house, and remained there for a considerable time, awaiting Dr Pechey‘s return, and drank some spirits and wine, Mrs Keightley having first tasted it, in order to assure them the liquor was not drugged Some conversation passed, in which the bushrangers said that the reason Burke was so daring, arose from the fact that they had just previously been twitting him with the want of courage, and seemingly he was determined to convince them to the contrary. In answer to a question from Mrs Keightley, as to what could induce them to pursue the course they did, when, by the many robberies they commuted, they must possess considerable wealth, Gilbert replied – that, with all their depredations, they had not so much as would keep them a week.

Following the night flight to Bathurst, Dr Pechey alone pays the ransom to the gang on Sunday morning, 25th October 1863. The exact place may have been any one of the small hills close to the homestead. Dunns Plains elevation above sea level is 850 m.
Arrangements were next made for the payment of the ransom. Mr Keightley was taken to a place called the Dog Rocks, on a hill near, and Mrs Keightley was warned that if any information was given by which the police might be brought down upon them they would shoot her husband immediately. She was to go into Bathurst with Dr Pechey, and fetch the money, and if any treachery was attempted, after shooting Mr Keightley, they said they would come down and fight those who approached for the £500. The position they took upon the hill enabled them to overlook the road so that they could see whoever might arrive, and it was stipulated that Dr Pechey should alone approach them with the money. Burke being dead, two of the men, engaged at Mr Bowman’s, were hired to take the body in a spring cart to the house of his father, being paid £2 each for the service by the bushrangers. On the return of Dr Pechey, Mrs Keightley, under his escort, rode into Bathurst, where she sought out her father, Mr Rotton, M.L.A. That gentleman instantly repaired to the Commercial Bank (it being about four o’clock in the morning) and procured the sum required, with which, accompanied by Dr Pechey, he started to Dunn’s Plains, whereupon it's being handed over to the party by the brave doctor, Mr Keightley was set at liberty, and soon after arrived in safety at Bathurst. A body of police had, however, some lime previously started in pursuit of the gang.

Mr Keightley speaks most favourably of the manner in which he was treated during his captivity, and it seems he had a long conversation in the night with one or two of them, in which he was told that the gang would never have come into Bathurst, or visited him, had it not been for the taunts received from two individuals who ought to have known better than to spur them to the enterprise. They denied ever having threatened to use any violence towards him, but being told that he (Keightley) was a splendid shot, and would riddle them through, as he was in the habit of practising at a target, they imagined he must be possessed of first-class weapons, and the desire to possess these, as well as to test his courage, had induced them to make the attack they had. Personally, they did not know him. Once in the night, the galloping of horses was heard, and as for some time the bushrangers had taken it in turns to rest – two sleeping while the others watched – Gilbert, who was standing sentry over the prisoner, went up to the sleepers, and touched them gently with his foot, calling them quietly by name. They jumped up without noise and held their weapons in readiness, but as the sound drew nearer, it was discovered to emanate from a passing mob of bush horses.

The day before the occurrence took place which we have just described, Sub-inspector Davidson with some troopers were encamped near to Mr Keightley’s house, and the bushrangers told Mr Keightley that they had been watching them through the night, and mentioned several little incidents that had transpired, in proof of their assertion. Mr Davidson, it appears, declined to accept the accommodation proffered by Mr Keightley, preferring to sleep out with his men, and Mr Keightley was told of what happened during a visit he had paid the party, and also that they (the bushrangers) had been watching both him and the neighbourhood the whole day through. There are one or two circumstances which we have omitted to mention, but we believe the narrative we have given contains everything connected with the matter which can be relied upon.⁴⁹

Henry & Caroline

c. 1885.
Courtesy NLA.

In the years following the battle of Dunns Plains, the hellish events have been analysed on and off. The harrowing experiences of Dr Pechey and the Keightley's are riddled with multiple and conflicting accounts regarding what transpired during the first initial engagement in the dying light of Saturday evening, 24th October 1863 and the subsequent detainment of Henry Keightley for ransom. In Keightley evidence at Vane's later trial, he said under oath describing his initial observation of the bushrangers, Empire 4th December 1863:

On the evening of Saturday, the 24th October, between the hours of six and seven, he was standing in the yard of his house at Dunn's Plains, when he saw five horsemen coming over a hill at a walking pace, towards the house. The moment he saw them he called out to Dr Pechey to come and look at them. He thought they were a party of police who had camped in the paddock the night previously, headed by Mr Davidson.

They passed the gate, which is the only entrance into witness's place, and as they still came on at a walk, he was still under the impression they were police. But he told Dr Pechey who was standing by his side (if they should prove to be bushrangers), to make a rush for the campkeeper's room and prepare some firearms placed there. It was in consequence of this that he afterwards retreated to the roof, being under the impression that Dr Pechey had assured the weapons, which, however, as subsequently transpired, he had been unable to do. The party came up slowly until within thirty yards when they simultaneously jumped off their horses and then lept over the fence.

He ran by the back door into the house furthest from where he stood. As they jumped off, they cried out "stand," but he did not heed them. In his bedroom, he picked up a revolver. As he was entering the house, two or three shots were fired. From the glance he caught of them, he thought they were a parcel of lads, so young was their appearance. 

William Pechey provided his account under oath and the wound inflicted upon Burke:

Towards evening, Mr Keightley, who was in the yard, called him out, and he then saw five men who rode up to the house. When they approached, they called to witness and his companion to stand. They ran back, witness endeavouring to reach the servants' room, where there were some firearms, but he was confronted by one of the bushrangers, and he then retreated towards the house and took his position near Mr Keightley. While doing so he heard the report of firearms all round. Shortly after, they made for the roof, when the bushrangers commenced to fire on them again, and a bullet passed through Mr Keightley's hat. The hat (produced) was the one worn by Mr Keightley. 

The men were then screening themselves behind posts and other things. They shouted out to witness and Mr Keightley to surrender, which they consented to do, and came down. They did so, and the bushrangers finding by that time that their mate was wounded, rushed up to them, and Vane knocked witness down with his hand, in which he held a revolver; producing the cut of which the scar now remained on his temple. 

He asked them to let him attend to the wounded man, telling them he was a doctor. Upon going up to Burke he found a large wound in his abdomen, from which his bowels were protruding about two feet.

In 1911 an account of the battle was published, titled 'The Lone Hand' by Mr George Quickie. In it, the son of Henry Keightley, Leo Keightley, recounts the details of the passing night. Whereby shining a light on his father's night of infamy at the hands of the gang. The bulk of 'The Lone Hand' is a solid historical account and relates how the gang passed the night away. Including the intense desire of both Vane and O'Meally to seek retribution for the death of Micky Burke. Hall's command over the gang is also evident. The events surrounding Mrs Keightley departure at midnight, cradling the couple's baby son, and her 4 yr old half-sister Elizabeth and Dr Peachy are recounted as well as her arrival at her father's home 'Blackdown' outside Bathurst.

The 'The Lone Hand' is linked below and exposes that contrary to the belief that the gang's inner relationships were harmonious, Leo Keightley reveals through his father's account that a fracture was evident. Where Hall, Gilbert and then O'Meally long time mates afterwards left Vane in the cold and became in fear of his life. As such shortly after, he left the gang:

Followed by the death of Burke at Mr Keightley's; Vane, being tired of a bushranger's life, and afraid of his associates, next gave himself up to the authorities.

The events surrounding Micky Burke's death become surrounded by rumour and innuendo. Widespread scrutiny cast suspicion over if Keightley had indeed fired the shot. A series of contradicting accounts from eyewitnesses highlighted that Ben Hall fired himself and admitted hitting Burke in the abdomen accidentally, leading to the reasoning that when Burke appeared from his concealed position at the water tank in the evening's dullness, he startled Hall, whose instant reaction was to pull the trigger. There is no doubt that the bushrangers lost sight of each other as they moved around the homestead in the moonlight.

In the after events, a victim of a Ben Hall robbery canvassed the Keightley subject directly with Hall and his mates:

I asked them how Keightley shot Burke, and with what weapon. Neither of them spoke for a few seconds, and then Hall said in a gloomy way, "Keightley didn't shoot Burke; I shot him myself by mistake," and then he related how Burke was dodging behind a water-butt or tank, and Hall seeing him indistinctly fired and mortally wounded him, supposing him to be a foe.

Furthermore, Mrs Loudon of 'Grubbenbong Station' who on differing occasions suffered at the hands of the bushrangers also cast doubt over Keightley's wounding of Burke, remarking in later life:

When the table was cleared, and they had turned the place fair inside out, looking for money, Burke lay down and put his dirty boots upon my sofa, and went to sleep. I told Ben Hall the little wretch would sell him yet. There's none of the breeds was any good says I. Hall said if he had any suspicion he would shoot him like a dog. And sure enough, he did, about three weeks after. Don't tell me Keightley shot him. Hall did it himself, I'm sure.⁵⁰

Sgt Michael Hanley
In 1903 in an issue of the Old Times' again Ex-Sergeant Michael Hanley recounts his involvement at Dunns Plains in both the lead-up and following the battle between Hall and Keightley. The following extract highlights the common belief that indeed Keightley was not the one who shot Burke. 'Old Times' May 1903:

We took two nights and a day reaching Bathurst by coach. When we arrived there, Superintendent Morrissett immediately sent us on the road again, before we had even time to eat anything. The reason for this was that the Dunn’s Plains tragedy had just taken place. We halted at Rockley, and there we took up our quarters. The police station was a small cottage without any accommodation at all, and we had to lie down and camp as best we could with our blankets and saddles. The township was in a state of great excitement, and every man in it had been sworn in as a special constable. The Dunn’s Plains affair is pretty ancient now, but I may say right away I don’t think Keightley ever shot Burke.

Hanley continues:

When Keightley was secured, O’Meally took him to a well which was in the yard near the detached kitchen. O’Meally placed him here, and then went back ten or twenty paces, saying he would give him five minutes to live. Ben Hall now interfered, and told him to put down his gun, and said, “You fool, you know he didn’t shoot him." You can imagine what an awful time it was for Mrs Keightley when her husband’s fate hung by a mere thread,  and, needless to say, she begged very hard that his life should be spared. 

Lastly, Hanley clarifies the shooting of Burke;

At the back door was a porch and beside this a watercask. When the attack commenced, Burke rushed from the stable and hid behind the cask, with a view to getting a better shot at those in the house. He hadn’t been there long before he was observed to roll over and cry out. The others then immediately rushed over and found that he had been shot. The charge laid ploughed right across his abdomen. “No, I never heard that Burke had been shot by one of his own mates, nor do I suppose it likely. I think it just a case of his mates shooting him accidentally. If Keightley had shot him, the wound would have been of a different nature, as he was at a considerably higher elevation than Burke. (Let us make no mistake. Keightley did not shoot Michael Burke!)

Keightley Testimonial.
S.M.H. 2nd November
However, the public euphoria over a settler's stand against the bushrangers peaked when Testimonials were initiated by leading citizens praising the Gold Commissioners heroic stand. These testimonials were monetary in value and where folks from all classes contributed donations in all denominations of currency. The value of many hundreds of £'s. Furthermoreeight days after the encounter, newspapers reported that the Commissioner had been paid by the government the reward of £500 for Burke:

The Government has paid £500, the reward offered for the capture of Burke, to Mr Keightley, who shot him dead, when stuck up by Gilbert and his gang, the other day. (See article right.)

With the reward paid and testimonials gathering pace, doubt continued to appear in the NSW press regarding whether or not Keightley indeed fired the fatal shot. The Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser, 8th December 1863, noted the subject raised at Vane's court appearance following his surrender to Father McCarthy in November 1863:

Vane is to stand his trial for the attack on Commissioner Keightley. One object to be attained by this procedure is the discovery of the truth in regard to the circumstances of that occurrence. We shall soon know whether Keightley has entitled himself to a monument for his "heroism" or not. It is rather a suspicious circumstance that he should have lost no time after receiving the £500, in packing up his traps and making his way down to Sydney. He reported himself to the Lands Department, and represented that he left the scene of his duty because "his life was in danger." He was told that he might please himself with regard to his movements so that he is still displaying plumes in the promenades of the metropolis. Now, is this "heroism?''

However, one person overlooked in the events' rush to heroism was Mrs Isabella Baldock, the housekeeper whose husband was also an employee of Keightley's. Earlier that day, Mrs Baldock's husband had been dispatched to Rockley with mail and carried one of Keightley's pistols for self-protection. In her later testimony, Mrs Baldock held firm that Hall admitted to her of having fired the shot that dropped Burke, saying:

The bushranger (Vane) replied, “You wretch, you shot my mate, and I'll blow your brains out." Mr Keightley said, “On my soul, men, I never shot him, and if I did, I never meant to.” The bushranger replied, "You’re a liar; if you didn't mean to shoot us what did you fire for?" The other bushranger, the shorter of the two (Hall, I believe), said to Mr Keightley, “You didn't do it; I did it in mistake when firing at you.⁵¹

At the time the conversation turned to the still alive Burke. Here Pechey expressed a desire to help save the boy, although he had assessed it was hopeless, as did Ben Hall, who expressed as Peachy prepared to depart Dunn's Plains a desire to shoot Burke and put an end his misery:

It was decided that the doctor should ride into Rockley and get his surgical instruments, and return and attend to the wound as quickly as possible. Hall at first protested, on the ground that it was a hopeless case. "What's the good?" asked he. "Better shoot him and put him out of his misery." But he withdrew his protest, and so the doctor went his way, though under strictest compact 'not to bring the traps' on them.

The above extracts from the letter sent to the press by Isabella Baldock's husband concluded with this addendum:

I have no desire to bring my wife before the public-for I want nothing, and expect nothing; but when it is insinuated in Parliament that the story concerning her interference on behalf of Mr Keightley is a fabrication, I do not think I ought to remain silent. In conclusion, I beg to say that Ben Hall himself told me on Sunday morning, that, had it not been for my wife, he should certainly have shot Keightley. Mr Keightley said to me as he was leaving Dunn's Plains for Bathurst, after having been ransomed, "Be sure and take care of Isabella: she behaved like a brave girl to me last night." It is as well for me to note that I was absent at Rockley, for letters, &c., and did not return till late in the evening. I must not further trespass on your space, Mr Editor, but cannot close without taking the opportunity of thanking Mr J. Stewart, M.L.A., for his kindness in taking notice of the conduct of my wife in the unfortunate affair at Dunn's Plains. For the full account of Mrs Baldock's statement, see the link below.
Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle
Saturday 6th March 1869
Caroline Keightley.
c. 1865.
In 1898, Mrs Keightley passed away and, over the preceding years, had projected an image both in print and on the theatre stage of herself as the heroic damsel in not only saving her husband's life but her ride to obtain the £500 ransom nursing her four-month-old child. These usurped the actual events in the public's mind and where fact and fiction became distorted. However, an unnamed NSW trooper, out of respect for her whilst she lived, decided to reveal that he was one of the parties of police who intercepted Burke's body from the two stockmen and transported it into Carcoar for the inquest and after sighting the many differing accounts over the years wished to put the record straight as he knew of the details:

For certain reasons which he explained, our informant does not wish his name to become public but has, he asserts, implicit belief in the reliability of the information which he obtained concerning Burke's death, and his mind and memory, he states, are especially clear upon the matter, "I have never rushed into print with it," he said, "but my friends have all heard it, and now the chief actors in the tragedy are dead, I can see no objection to your publishing it.⁵²

The former trooper reiterated the long-held version of Hall's confession and sorrow said:

That Ben Hall, who did not see the defenders go to the top of the house, made his way round by the kitchen in order to get a better opportunity to fire at them. On turning a corner of the kitchen, he suddenly saw a man, whom he took to be Keightley, but who afterwards proved to be 'True Blue' in a small recess between the kitchen chimney and the wall of the house, Hall fired, and the man dropped down, dangerously wounded in the loins. The remainder of the gang, being under the impression that he had been shot by Keightley, became so incensed that when he afterwards surrendered to them, they announced their determination to execute him summarily. Hall, however, showed less animosity towards him, and, apparently actuated by the pleadings of the young wife, used his influence with the gang in the direction of mercy. This is the version of the affair as related to me by a man who was a friend of Ben Hall, and also a friend of mine. He told me the story years afterwards when we had been travelling together in the bush for some time. He said that he was in the immediate vicinity of the place where the sticking-up occurred, which I knew to be a fact. He went on to say that, after Mrs. Keightley had gone away to Bathurst for the money, Hall left the others and went back to the house, where he appeared to be searching for something. My informant, who knew Ben intimately, said "Why, Ben, you look as miserable as if you had lost sixpence. What's up", Hall replied, "I have done the worst day's work I ever did, that's all." "You're not breaking your heart about sticking up old Keightley, are you?" he was asked. "No, it is not that," was the reply, "but I have shot little Micky, He never would go where I told him," he continued, "and the little devil, thinking he knew best, went and got into that niche by the chimney. I thought he was Keightley and shot him." He told me that Ben Hall seemed greatly affected and that he had no doubt whatever as to the truth of his statement." "This little story brought to my mind the inquest on Burke, which was held in Carcoar, and a peculiar circumstance connected with it.

I remembered that the late Dr Rowland conducted a post-mortem examination of the body and that his evidence was to the effect that nine 'leaden slugs' were taken from the body of the young fellow. The Commissioner, who gave evidence subsequently, stated that the gun with which he is said to have shot the bushranger was loaded with shot. No attention, however, was paid to this discrepancy at the time, as the whole colony was ringing with Keightley's praises. He was afterwards presented with a gold medal for his gallant conduct, and the Government paid him the reward of £500 which had been placed on Burke's head.⁵³ 

The back of the homestead
at Dunns Plains
as it was in 1863 when
occupied by the Keightley's.
Henry Keightley was perched
 on the roof between the two
buildings while returning
the bushrangers' fire.

Note the backdoor extreme
right and rear garden gate.
Burke hid near chimney
in foreground left.

Courtesy Des Shiel.
Burke dead, the bushrangers seconded two stockmen from the neighbouring station and gave the men £1 each to deliver Burke's remains to his father, without the £500. However, as the two were transporting the body in a cart along the road were unaware that Burke's body had fallen off the cart onto the roadway where it lay in the dirt until a body of troopers intercepted the cart to take possession and on finding the dead bushranger missing went in search:

Another incident worthy of note is in connection with the recovery of the dead man's body. The bushrangers had hired two men to convey it in a cart to his father's residence. A detachment of police, including myself, met them, but the cart was then empty. The body had dropped out further back along the road, as a subsequent search showed, and we then removed it to the Carcoar Hospital, where the inquest was held.⁵⁴

Caroline Keightley went on to become a public favourite as the heroine of Dunns Plains. However, the initial £500 laid out by Henry Rotton MLA appears to have not been reimbursed by the Government nor Keightley. Long after the events, Mr R. J. Rotton, brother of Caroline, stated that only Keightley was given the reward money:

My father was not then or any other time recompensed by the Government in any way whatever.

As the dust settled on the events, the talk in the colony continued a closer examination. Questions regarding the shooting and defence of Dunns Plains constantly appeared. In reviewing the circumstances, the first crack in the Keightley version of events was the weapon he admitted to firing, a double-barrel shotgun and stated that it was only loaded in one barrel. Primed with snipe (birdshot.) Snipe is the smallest lead pellet used out of all the shotgun ammunition types of the period. Was snipe capable of disembowelling Burke to the extent evidenced by Dr Pechey? Even at close range, reputedly less than ten yards?

Upon going up to Burke, he found a large wound, in his abdomen, from which his bowels were protruding about two feet.

Accordingly, at the inquest into Burke's death, the physician, Dr Rowland, reported that he removed nine Leaden Slugs (Buckshot) from Burke, indicating that at ten feet, a rough estimate of the distance from Keightley at the door to Burke. Remembering that Keightley stood 6ft 3in and Burke 5ft 6in, snipe would not cause the massive gut-tearing injury inflicted on Burke. But lead slugs would rip him apart. Therefore, when considering Burke's clothes' and their thickness, where the bushrangers were known to wear two or three thick Crimean shirts also two pairs of trousers while living rough against the cold nights. (See the illustration of the shot effect below.)

During the siege, Hall armed with a shotgun would have undoubtedly loaded it with lead shot/balls for full effect. Thereby providing a tight grouping for accuracy and damage at close range. Drawing the conclusion based on Hall's position at the side of the house and Burke's concealment in the alcove of the chimney/water-tank gives credence that Hall was more than likely responsible for wounding Burke as alluded to previously and wherein another instance again Hall reputedly reaffirmed his firing:

The little devil, thinking he knew best, went and got into that niche by the chimney. I thought he was Keightley and shot him.

During the detainment of Keightley, the gang remained at the property till the early hours. As the evening wore on and their nerves frayed, the sound of horses galloping brought the men to their feet, guns drawn covering Keightley. Hall exclaimed, "By God, we are betrayed", leveling his revolver at Keightley's head. Fortunately for Keightley, the alarm was only his horses galloping around the home paddock. Commenting so, Keightley placated Hall and the bushrangers stating that they were his animals, which diffused the tension. On initial detainment Keightley says before his wife and Pechey left they suppered and afterwards, Vane and O'Meally ransacked the house taking various items:

Before doing so, however, they had supper, and Vane with O'Meally (to the best of witness's belief) went into his bedroom and took some clothes, rings, his arms, and a few other things which he had since missed.

The bushrangers returned to their places and continued to wait out the night dozing. As day dawned and for safety, the bushrangers shifted their position a short distance from the house at the request of Mr Keightley, as noted in the 'Lone Hand', to a spot known as the Black Stump. With daylight tingeing the sky in the early hours, the doctor arrived at the Black Stump location with the ransom:

Witness was then taken upon a hill about half a mile distant, where, upon his parole, that he would not attempt to escape, little restraint was imposed upon him till the morning, when the ransom was paid and he was released.

Notwithstanding, there is contradictory evidence about the gang's specific place, one named the Black Stump and the other location named Dog Rocks. It may be that the Black Stump and Dog Rocks are virtually next to each other or one upon the other or the same place as noted:

At about daybreak the bushrangers, having arranged for the disposal of Burke's body, went off with Keightley to the Black Stump at the Dog Rocks; arise that gave a long view of the Bathurst Road.

However, many small hills surround the property that fit the description (I was there in 2019) of the places named the Black Stump or Dog Rocks. However, over time, their significance and importance as local landmarks have been lost. Much of what has been recorded as to the bushrangers' actual location at daybreak while holding Keightley and awaiting Dr Pechey's return is pure conjecture. Therefore, it would be prudent for the gang under the circumstances to remain close to the home, within a few hundred yards at most, as Dr Peachy had limited knowledge of the local landscape. Consequently, the payment most probably occurred near the homestead. It must be noted as well that upon the gang's arrival they told Keightley that; 

The day before the occurrence took place which we have just described, Sub-inspector Davidson with some troopers were encamped near Mr. Keightley's house, and the bushrangers told Mr. Keightley that they had been watching them through the night, and mentioned several little incidents that had transpired, in proof of their assertion. Mr. Davidson, it appears, declined to accept the accommodation proffered by Mr. Keightley, preferring to sleep out with his men, and Mr. Keightley was told of what happened during it visit he had paid the party, and also that they (the bushrangers) had been watching both him and the neighbourhood the whole day through.

Following the passing of the ransom, Hall addressed Keightley and said; "you have been an excellent host, on a trying occasion." Then with a wave of his hand, two of Keightley's finest horses in tow galloped off. Within days of the battle at Dunns Plains, Keightley and family departed for Bathurst, arriving at his father-in-law's home, Blackdown. Finally, at no stage does Dr Pechey allude to nor confirm that Keightley fired at Burke even though the two were ensconced together against the withering attack. (examples of the effects of both birdshot and lead shot (Leaden Slugs) are below. Source the NRA.)
Dr Pechey said; "I went to look at Burke's body, and saw that the bowels were protruding from the abdomen; I also saw blood coming from his mouth and nostrils; there was a wound in the head, and one of the bushrangers said Burke had shot his brains out. The shot must have been fired close - I should think within a yard or so..." This type of stomach wound is consistent with a discharge of Leadshot/Buckshot, not Birdshot, remembering that Keightley stated he fired around the door frame. At 6' 3in and Burke 5' 6in, Keightley, blindly, would have fired towards the head, not abdomen of Burke. Dr Rowland also stated that he removed nine lead balls from Burke. Therefore, it is most probable that Hall, at near the same height as Burke, most probably startled, shot the young man accidentally being within a yard of the young man at that time of night. The damage would have been enough to blow out Burke's intestines at one yard and stove his shirt into the wound.

Rough height difference
between Keightley
and Burke.
John Vane himself, in his reminiscence, did not believe that Keightley fired the shot that wounded his longtime friend Michael Burke

Keightley could not have shot Burke from the doorway in the position in which he was standing.

In his narration to Charles White, Vane, to add more confusion, expressed that Gilbert was the guilty party. As throughout his conversation with White, Vane never places Ben Hall in a bad light; therefore, Hall's possible complicity in shooting Vane's mate is passed over. As a result, Gilbert was often Vane's focus for a backhander. Accordingly, from the evidence, there appeared to be much animosity between Gilbert and Burke and Vane as Vane had had a stand-up fistfight earlier with Gilbert. Although championing himself as the victor over Gilbert, however, Gilbert could handle himself against all comers. No doubt Gilbert may have had in truth the better of Vane, leaving him with severe bruising and black eyes. Nevertheless, Vane contends that Gilbert was the perpetrator of Burke's death as before their arrival, some chaff passed between Burke and Gilbert:

Gilbert and O'Meally were riding in advance as we got near to the paddock fence when suddenly Burke trotted forward. "Now then Jack" he called out as he reached Gilbert's side, "This man will shoot, and we will soon see who are the game men in the gang. "What the f--k do you mean?" growled Gilbert as he half turned to look at Burke. "Look out for your own skin, and don't be trying to throw anything out about me, for I won't have it." "Alright, old boy," said Burke, as he laughingly fell back again; "you'll see what I mean if the 'boss' is at home and has his gun on hand." Gilbert made no reply to this and but rode sullenly on. He knew we all looked upon him as a bit of a coward, and he evidently resented Burke's little bit of pleasantry.

Again Vane contends that after a conversation with Mrs Keightley, he exchanged the following over the shots fired as Burke lay dead upon the ground:

While she was putting on her gloves she asked me "Did Mr Keightley really shoot that man" I replied briefly "I don't know who shot him." Well, she said, "there were nine shots fired, for I counted them.-Who fired them all?" I replied that I had fired three from a gun and Burke had fired four from a revolver, and I showed her that four of the chambers of one of the revolvers I had taken from Burke were empty. "Then," she said, "perhaps some of your mates shot him by accident?" To which I replied, "Well, all I can say is that I didn't shoot him"; and as I did so, I looked fair into Gilbert's eyes.

Vane also comments that O'Meally pointed the finger at Gilbert. However, O'Meally and Vane were closer in friendship which may attribute to Vane's bias view:

Hall interposed and told them to stop growling at each other, and then O'Meally heatedly said that Gilbert was the cause of Burke's death.

The close examination swirling around the Keightley's brought one of the few statements from Dr Pechey, but only in defence of his cousin Caroline. She had been accused of varnishing her efforts following the surrender of her husband and Pechey. He also confirms Mrs Baldock's intercedence after Vane dropped him with a pistol blow:

The following letter has been addressed by Dr Pechey, to the Editor of the Bathurst Times in answer to an article published in that paper claiming a share of the public honours accorded Mrs. Keightley for her servant, Mrs. Baldock:— "To the Editor of the Bathurst Times. — Sir— An article appeared in your last Saturday's paper, concerning "Mr. Keightley and the Bushrangers," and I feel it my duty to reply by the simple statement of a few facts. If it concerned myself, I should not condescend to notice it, as I should not set the least value on what any person in the colony said or thought of me, but as it makes everything that has been previously said on the subject false (even down to the sworn evidence), as one of the two eyewitnesses, I should be doing wrong if I let it pass.

The following facts I had a good opportunity of observing, as perhaps after the first minutes I was the least in peril of the party: — When I came down from the top of the house and was standing in the garden, Mrs. Keightley came out of the front door, while Mr. K was still on the roof. Gilbert came first into the garden, and Mrs. Keightley went up and caught hold of him, imploring him not to shoot her husband. Mrs. Baldock did the same to Hall when he appeared, and when Vane knocked me over, she called out "Oh, for God's sake, don't hurt the doctor, he never hurt you!" This caused the explanation which saved my life, and I was then allowed to go to the body. While I was bending over Burke, Mrs. Keightley again came up to me and asked me to do all I could for him, and if there was any hope. I replied that there was no hope, but I must pretend there was to gain time. After I had caught my horse, Mr. and Mrs. Keightley were sitting together, on the frame of the well. Mrs. Keightley got up and tried to hasten Gilbert's departure, who was going to accompany me, and told him that Burke could be kept there and attended to till he recovered; Gilbert then let me go alone.

It is some time after this that your article makes Mrs. Keightley appear on the scene. Here I may conclude, as I did, not intend to write a description of the affair, but merely to prove that Mrs. Keightley was there and was as active as possible from the very beginning in saving her husband's life. Let the questionable praise of the people around us, by all means, be awarded to anyone who may care to have it, but let the truth be spoken concerning all.

Before I conclude, I cannot but express my surprise, that a gentleman should base an article which directly impeaches the truth of a lady, on the testimony of those who were not present. You say you have two authentic documents, while Mrs. Baldock and myself were the only eyewitnesses of the first part of the attack. I am, Sir, yours truly, W.C. Pechey. P.S. — If the value you set on truth is anything more than a profession, insert this in your next. Rockley, December 1863.⁵⁵

Rolf Bolderwood. The
pseudonym of Thomas
Alexander Browne.

c. 1891.
Rolf Bolderwood, author of Robbery Under Arms and the pseudonym of Thomas Alexander Browne, penned an expose of the Dunns Plains homestead events recounted to him by Mr Keightley while both were on the board of the Albury Land Board twenty-three years later in 1886. The two were travelling together on business and returning from Germantown, today's Holbrook. Bolderwood persuaded Keightley to describe the attack made upon him in October 1863 by Ben Hall. Mr Keightley obliged. Some years later, armed with Keightley's account and a former reporters instinct for a story. Bolderwood penned the renowned and thrilling novel 'Robbery Under Arms' published in 1888, twelve months after Mr Keightley passed away.

The conversation between the two men was recorded on a coach ride from Germantown (Holbrook) to Albury. In this extract, there is no mention of Keightley being detained away from the homestead. Extract, 'Kalgoorlie Western Argus' Tuesday 28th March 1905, page 43: 

However, they ran up the horses, and Mrs Keightley and Dr Peechey went off to Bathurst. When they were fairly away and out of sight, Mr Keightley lit a cigar. "Now, boys," he said, "we've had a hard day. I think we all stand in need of refreshment. I'll order supper, and we'll take it together." Ben Hall laughed, and said he "rather thought we were due for a square meal." Mr Keightley's man, who returned from the post after the surrender, got supper ready, and they all sat down, Mr Keightley, of course at the head of the table, when he and his strange guests had supper together. Keightley and his four friends at supper enjoying themselves. Ha, ha! The whisky had gone round more than once or twice; their host—for this night only—urging them to make themselves at home, as they might not for years, indeed never, have such a chance of meeting under the same circumstances. Under the same circumstances? Not the good cheer, not the glasses so freely filled and passed round, not the jests, which, in spite of the serious situation, from time to time "set the table in a roar," could take the frown from O'Malley's face.

It was well into the small hours when the revellers went off to their rooms. They slept till the sun was high when Ben Hall sounded the "Reveille." Whisky and milk were thoughtfully provided by their host; their horses had been fed and watered. And when the abundant breakfast was despatched, they expressed themselves as feeling very fit and willing, but for pressing engagements, to stay another week in such good quarters. Dr Peechey returned, in company with Mr Rotton, Mrs Keightley's father, bringing a hundred five-pound notes, which were carefully counted and fairly divided, Burke's share being kept separate and given, in trust, to Hall for his relatives. One of them said, "I suppose Mr Keightley, we part friends, and you'll give us your word of honour not to follow us up again ?" "If my wife has suffered any injury," replied Mr Keightley, grimly, "I'll hunt you all to the gates of hell; so don't deceive yourselves." "If that's the talk," said Vane, "we'd better shoot him and have no more bother." O'Malley agreed, but Ben Hall, as before, interfered and persuaded Mr Keightley to promise. Gilbert sided with Hall, and Bourke, being a non-voter, parties were equal. 

From this account, it concurs the Lone Hand statement that the gang and Keightley remained close to the homestead the entire time while awaiting the return of Dr Pechey on Sunday morning. The mention of Mr Rotton returning with Pechey is incorrect as Pechey returned and paid the money alone. (Full article below.)
Kalgoorlie Western Argus
Tuesday 28th March 1905 

Mural at Binalong depicting
a new reward of £4000
for the remaining four.

My Photo.
In December 1863, following John Vane's departure under strained circumstances, the bushranger surrendered to Father McCarthy on the 19th November 1863 and conveyed to Bathurst Gaol to stand trial. During the December proceedings, Dr Pechey presented the following testimony on Vane's actions and Burke's death, leaving out any reference under oath to Keightley having fired the wounding shot; William Crisp Pechey, being sworn, deposed that:

He was a medical practitioner residing at Rockley, and on the evening of the 24th October, he remembered five men coming to Mr Keightley's house, where he was staying. Vane was present. When they approached, they called to witness and his companion to stand. They ran back, witness endeavouring to reach the servants' room, where there were some firearms, but he was confronted by one of the bushrangers, and he then retreated towards the house and took his position near Mr Keightley. While doing so, he heard the report of firearms all round. Shortly after they made for the roof when the bushrangers commenced firing on them again, and a bullet passed through Mr Keightley's hat. The hat produced was the one worn by Mr Keightley. The men were then screening themselves behind posts and other things. They shouted out to witness and Mr Keightley to surrender, which they consented to do, and came down. The bushrangers, finding by that time that their mate was wounded, rushed up to them, and Vane knocked witness down with his hand, in which he had a revolver, producing the cut of which the scar now remained on his temple. He asked them to let him attend to the wounded man, telling them he was a doctor. Upon going up to Burke, he found a large wound, in his abdomen, from which his bowels were protruding about two feet. He asked them to let him go into Rockley and fetch his instruments, which they did, upon his promising not to give the alarm. When he came back, he learned that Mr Keightley had been taken prisoner, and was to be kept until £500 was paid. He heard so from Mrs Keightley, who had made the arrangement with Gilbert and Hall. The witness came into Bathurst, procured the money, and handed it to the bushrangers, Vane being one of the party. Mr Keightley was then liberated.⁵⁶

Pechey the next day elaborated further on Burke:

I gave evidence in the case against Vane yesterday; when Mr Keightley was in the passage I was behind him: he said he had fired; after I came down from the roof I went to look at Burke's body, and saw that the bowels were protruding from the abdomen; I also saw blood coming from his mouth and nostrils; there was a wound in the head, and one of the bushrangers said Burke had shot his own brains out; after I saw the body I went to Rockley to get my instruments, and when I came back Burke was dead; I afterwards assisted to put the body in a cart, and it was taken away; I heard it was to go towards Carcoar; a German and one of Mr. McDonald's men went with it; about two feet of the bowels were out; that would have ultimately caused death; I think the wound was of that character that it must have caused death; a portion of the shirt was driven into the wound; the shot must have been fired close-I should think within a yard or so.

Here again, Pechey fails to corroborate Keightley's claim of hitting Burke. Therefore, it may be a cryptic hint that Keightley did not inflict the wound and its severity as he fired blindly from the door frame!

'Empire' 27th October
However, one hundred and fifty-five years after one of the most audacious attacks perpetrated by bushrangers in the annals of Australian colonial history, the precise details of Keightley's defence are still a perplexing set of circumstances regarding who fired the shot heard around the country. The colonies citizens relished every account regarding Ben Hall's deeds which had become a household name, overtaking the wild John Gilbert and John O'Meally and was seen as the gang leader. Accordingly, the affray at Keightley's was at the forefront of the talk on every street corner. There were many suggestions subscribed to the press on how to suppress bushranging. Some quite bizarre:

A proposition has been made that those who are convicted of highway robbery shall be punished by the amputation of a leg so as effectually to bar any future exploits of the kind. Another correspondent has suggested that bloodhounds might be employed in hunting down the bushrangers.⁵⁷ 

The reward for the remaining

However, there is sufficient historical evidence to cast suspicion upon Ben Hall for shooting Burke. In another account, the conversation between Vane and Hall after Vane struck Pechey went thus:

Ben Hall, whom Vane regarded as his chief, came up and advised him to refrain, and said Hall, "in a scrimmage like that it is impossible to say who fired the fatal shot; I might have done it myself.

Furthermore, in December 1863, this appeared in the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser':

Mrs Baldock came out of the house, and at the same instant Ben Hall ran into the garden by the night-gate, and, putting a pistol to Mr K's head, swore he would blow his brains out, as one of his men had been shot through him. Mrs Baldock (Mrs Keightley was not present) rushed between them, caught the ruffian's arm, implored him to desist, and to think of Mrs Keightley and her little infant. Vane then passed them rapidly, and knocked the doctor down with his pistol, when the courageous woman turned to him and exclaimed 'Oh, for God's sake, don't hurt the doctor, for he never hurt you.' There was a pause, in which the explanation as to who was Dr Pechey took place, and then Ben Hall said he believed he had shot Burke himself, in mistake. Dr Pechey put an end to the scene by pointing out the necessity of immediate attention being paid to the wounded man, and so, for the time, their danger was over. 

Nevertheless, the bushrangers were not yet finished by a long shot and would continue to have the police on the back foot until another country squire held firm in the coming weeks. The attack on Keightley saw the government increase the reward on their lives from £500 to £1000 for the remaining four. However, Keightley was paid £500 and retained the funds for himself. Money and honesty can be strange bedfellows!

Authors Note; Henry Keightley arrived in the NSW colony on the 8th May 1853 on-board the 'Panthea' 511 tonnes under Captain Hannant's command. Keightley's departure from England took place from 'The Downs' situated off the Kent Coast adjacent to the area of the southernmost part of the North Sea near the eastern entry to the English Channel. In England, Keightley, it appears, was offered an opportunity of employment in NSW by Mr Charles Grant Tindal. Tindal was visiting relatives in England, and who, in conjunction with his brother Frederick Tindal—owned two large cattle stations at the head of the Clarence River in northern NSW known as 'Koreelah' and 'Ramornie', which at that time of Charles' absence were managed by Frederick Tindal. Tindal also engaged another gentleman and an acquaintance of Henry Keightley by the name of Baitman. Soon after, all three men sailed together on-board the 'Panthea', having departed on 26th January 1853. However, one of the brothers residing at 'Koreelah', kept a diary of his life and events of those he worked and lived with, including Henry Keightley.

Tindal Diary Entries; 1853, July 29. — Baitman has arrived, leaving Keightley to follow by next vessel. 1853, August 11. — Blacks have been spearing our cattle here, and I only returned last night from the pursuit. We surprised two camps with the remains of beef in each. It was Keightley's first service; we were camped out eight nights. He is a lively, amusing fellow. I prefer him to Baitman, but they’re both too old. (C. G. Tindal, from Ramornie). 1853, October 20 (from Fred Tindal, at Koreelah). — 'The unexpected arrival here of K. and B. prevented my finishing my letter. They created an immense commotion here, the former especially, bullying the shearers in English, Scotch, and Irish by turns, till he was voted fit to travel anywhere. 1854, January 3. — Private races have come off at Eatonsville (Mylne's), opposite Ramornie, at which Keightley was the principal winner. The new chums certainly make the place (Ramornie) very noisy and gay, but I don't think they work very hard. Keightley's room is hung with a profusion of his father's watercolour sketches and knick-knacks of great variety. 1854, January 31. — Baitman and Keightley are now called Jack and Jill. I don't think Charles gets much work out of either of them. Jill (Keightley) is more particularly celebrated for buying and selling horses, mixing punch and telling facetious stories. Jack (Baitman) is fond of a comfortable armchair. (F. C. Tindal). 1854, March 7. — Keightley, who is the more prominent of the two, is very clever and entertaining, what is termed 'good company,’ yet he is not a favourite altogether. He shows too much fondness for making money by games and sharp bets, etc., which is not pleasant, even to lookers-on. I dare say he will make a good enough settler whenever he has work of his own to attend to. Baitman, alias Jack, is devoted to the armchair. 1854, May 28. — Keightley has just started for Ipswich races. Both K. and B. are too old to do any good for themselves or to be of much service, but K. is the better of the two. 1854, September 8. — In my last, I told you both Keightley and Baitman left us. The former has a small Government appointment, the latter intends sailing for England immediately. 1854, September 24. — Keightley is a clerk in Sydney. 1854, December 8. — Keightley is here low on leave of absence from his Rifle Corps duties. He is still connected with the Emigration Office in some way. 1854, December 10. — Writing in a noisy, room, Keightley and Charlie Porter detailing adventures. Keightley says he is on sick leave, but I have an idea he has been in some scrape in Sydney. Ramornie same date. — Keightley, who is here on a visit with C. E. Porter, has just returned from fishing. They frequently bring in from six to 14 dozen perch and fresh-water herrings. Keightley gives out that he is to be married in six weeks, but he is so given to joking that we do not know if this is so or not. He is in the Emigration Office, also a com. in the Rifles. All are employed writing letters, Keightley upon one to a Miss Palmer at Sydney, to whom he tries to persuade us he is engaged.

Henry McCrummin Keightley passed away on the Saturday 8th January 1887; DEATH OF MR. KEIGHTLEY.- "The death is announced, at Sale, on Saturday last; of Mr. H. M. Keightley, for the past four years stipendiary magistrate at Albury. For some time past, the deceased gentleman had been a sufferer from Bright's disease, and it was during a tour to the Gippsland Lakes, undertaken for the benefit of his failing health, that the symptoms as summed a fatal character. On Thursday Mr. Keightley was obliged to take to his bed; on Saturday his illness had assumed such a character that Mrs. Keightley was hastily summoned by wire, and on the same night the end came. Mrs. Keightley, accompanied by one of her four sons; arrived in Sale on Monday, on which date the funeral took place privately, in the local cemetery." Upon the Commissioners death and his long service in public office, the government allocated £1000 to Mrs Keightley in the recognition of his services. On June 22nd 1855 sadly Charles' brother Frederick Tindal drowned while fording the Clarence River at Smith's Falls.

Reward notes and
their numbers
paid by

Dr Pechey to
Ben Hall.
Burke dead and £500 in their pocket. The four remaining bushrangers rode north-westward into an old familiar area, Eugowra. It was a rugged country with its precipitous nooks and crannies. Eight months earlier, Gilbert, O'Meally and Ben Hall participated in the famous 1862 Gold Escort robbery led by their long-departed mate Frank Gardiner.

Furthermore, the loss of Burke brought to bear their perilous situation, and disquiet hovered amongst the four as they headed north-westwards. The heavens compounded their reflective mood as heavy rain pounded the district. The local creeks and rivers flooded as they negotiated the bush road, searching for a suitable camp. However, the wildness of today's Nangar Forrest was perfect as a backdrop for concealment.

Four days after their departure from Keightley's on Thursday morning 29th of October, en-route to Eugowra as they passed Mt Canobolas, the four were reported near the road from Forbes to Orange by a coach driver. The driver stated that the bushrangers appeared to separate: 

Forbes Friday. 6 p.m.-It is reported that Gilbert's gang were seen in this district yesterday morning by the driver of the coach and that they have separated; Gilbert and Vane going by themselves, and Ben Hall and O'Meally nearly an opposite direction. -There is a great flood on the Lachlan, the river being near bank high.⁵⁸

However, contrary to the coachman's view, the separation was no doubt O'Meally departing with Vane, Hall and Gilbert heading to their planned rendezvous. Here Vane would take his leave from the gang, telling O'Meally he wished to see his father. O'Meally offered no objection saying they would wait at the appointed rendezvous site. Vane stated:

Now that blood had been spilt I felt I had had enough of the game, and on the way back I suddenly told O'Meally that I wish to go to my fathers place that night, promising to return to the camp on the following day. He offered no objection, and we parted. This was the last I saw of my mates, for I did not return to the camp and they did not come to look for me.

O'Meally re-joined Hall and Gilbert, and the three subsequently immersed themselves in the confines of the local bush cutting west further into the rugged confines of the forests surrounding Eugowra and after covering 70 odd miles went into camp; The 'Illawarra Mercury' November 1863 said of the three:

They are now confined to the line of Country extending from Eugowra to Canowindra, their refuge in case of difficulty being the Eugowra ranges. These consist of short, broken, intricate ridges, crowned with out-cropping masses of granite, huge boulders of which lie about in all directions and in the most confused manner. They are very difficult to ride over and provide amongst the vast rocks and boulders innumerable places of concealment. When hard pressed they fall back upon those ranges, and are soon lost to sight amongst the short jumbled ridges. Once out of view, all pursuit of them is hopeless, as there are crevices and caves in every direction, in which they can lie concealed without the slightest fear of discovery. There they remain until pursuit is over, and it is only when the bush telegraph is set to work to inform them that danger no longer presses that they again emerge from the fastnesses of Eugowra, and once more enter upon the country.

Vane having departed the three bushrangers they settled into the rugged confines of Murga and Eugowra, the unsettled weather that they had been subjected to developed into a crescendo as the district fell under the might of nature as reported on the 29th October 1863:

The storm as it cut its way through the thickly-timbered forest between Forbes and Orange-premising, by the remark, that this hurricane can be traced from Lambing Flat, gathering strength, however, as it travelled to the north-east. Huge timber trees were torn up by the roots-others snapped across the trunk like reeds; while branches flew about thickly, threatening travellers with destruction if they remained in the forest. At the Southern Cross, a tree fell across the prospectors' tent: the men were inside at the time, and escaped, as if by a miracle, unhurt. At Mr Rogers's well-known hostelry, at Eugowra, the inhabitants had a very narrow escape. A large portion of the roof was blown off, and all hands, for safety, had to rush from the house and run the risk of being struck down by the boughs, which flew about like hail. Here Mr Charles Collis was hit by a sheet of bark, in its passage before the wind, and knocked down; he fell into a deep hole, full of water; the ground was all submerged, and he was within a little of meeting his death by the accident.

The men who are building Mr Clements' new house at Eugowra were also very providentially saved. They lived in two tents, which stand apart from each other about six feet. A tree, fully three feet in diameter, fell right between these two tents, without injuring or touching either the one or the other. At Murga, when the storm was at its height, about noon, the hailstones fell by bushels, and of the size of pigeons' eggs. A gentleman in whose veracity we can perfectly was out on the Burns Creek, a tributary of the Eugowra when the storm came on. Taking warning from the lightning and thunder which preceded the hail, he sought an open space, sat down, and covered himself with a blanket, which he, fortunately, had on his saddle. When the hail ceased, he could with difficulty rise, so great was the weight of hailstones on his shoulders; and he was surrounded by an accumulation of hail fully two feet deep. This gentleman describes the storm at that point as grand in the extreme.
Donald Cheshire's Return of Prisoners Tried at Different Courts 1864. 
Donald Cheshire and the
shopping list for the gang

& receipts in his possession
when arrested.
Photo of Cheshire
c. 1890's.

Penzig ©
As Hall Gilbert and O'Meally withstood the weather, unbeknownst to them, the notes paid by Mr Rotton for Keightley's life had had their serial numbers recorded. On the 31st October 1863, one of the gang's telegraphs and a cousin of John Vane's, Donald Cheshire, was arrested for some of the marked £5 ransom notes. Cheshire had used the money embarking on a shopping spree for the bushrangers at Bathurst. 'Bathurst Times' 31st October 1863:

Some of the notes paid by Mr Rotton to obtain the release of Mr Keightley have been recovered. From what we have learned, it appears that on yesterday morning, a young man named Donald Cheshire— who is a cousin of the Vanes—came into Mr Webb's store, and there purchased a double trigger revolver (price £9), for which he paid two £5 notes —receiving in change £1. Shortly after Mr Webb took the notes into the Bank of New South Wales when it was discovered that they corresponded with two of three paid to Gilbert. Cheshire thereupon was followed, arrested, and taken to the lock-up. On his person being searched, we believe, four more of the £5 notes were found, and also the following list of articles, which, it is supposed, he was commissioned to buy;- "Big fellow-revolver £8, crape, mother's medicine, caps; powder, and bullets." It has also transpired that this worthy visited the shop of Mr Pedrotta, the gunsmith, and Mr Craig, the saddler, and, at each place, succeeded in passing some of the money extorted for the ransom of the gallant commissioner.

Vane to be kept separate
from Cheshire.
New South Wales, Australia,
 Sheriff's Papers, 1829-1879.
Cheshire was convicted and sentenced to five years on the roads; however, he was released in 1868. Furthermore, in December 1863, another dubious character, James Coffey, would claim to be robbed by Hall, and Gilbert would also be arrested for passing funds from the Keightley ransom. However, this money was no doubt used by the bushrangers as payment for hospitality at Coffey's Inn near Borrowra as he was a known harbourer of Hall by the police and was recorded on the 1862 Gardiner map of known harbourers:

A man named Coffee, who was stuck up by, Gilbert and Hall lately, near Burrowa, was yesterday arrested and charged with endeavouring to pass some of the notes of the Keightley ransom.

Coffey and his wife would be released on bail in January 1864 at £100 to appear when called upon. However, as will be seen, the plot thickened with the Coffees.

For John Vane, it was the end of the road. The feelings between Vane and the other three had become unsettled since Burke's death as he struggled with losing his close mate. There was talk of a dispute between Vane and the others over the £500 paid for Burkes death and in the dividing up of the money Burke's share was set aside for his family, but Vane was excluded. On one report stated:

He (Vane) had excusable reasons for annoyance when he was denied any part of the ransom money. The other three shared it equally, and it was a blessing in disguise to Vane that he did not get the £125.

Furthermore, Vane had remained unconvinced that Keightley had fired the shot wounding his friend, as alluded to earlier and therefore, in an abrupt move, quit the gang. Vane never returned, commenting: 

Having departed from O'Meally I made my way to the hut of some people who were friendly to me, reaching the place at about midnight. I told them I had left the gang and did not intend to re-join it, and they cheerfully made room for me to stay with them for a time. I kept quiet for several days until I heard that Hall, O'Meally and Gilbert had left the old camp and gone toward Forbes.

Vane & Cheshire separated at
Darlinghurst Gaol. As well

as Frank Gardiner.
New South Wales, Australia,
Sheriff's Papers, 1829-1879.
Donald Cheshire was arrested with the notes from the ransom and the three bushrangers awaiting Vane's pending return Gilbert and O'Meally restless ventured out in search of Vane whereby they hailed a passing coach questioning the driver if they had seen their mate:

STOPPAGE OF THE MAIL.-The mail from Forbes was stopped on Thursday, in the neighbourhood of Toogong, by two mounted men, said to be Gilbert and O'Meally. They inquired from the coachman if he had seen a young man, whom they described, upon the road. They passed on, offering no violence to the coachman or to the passengers.

Consequently, the realisation that Vane was not returning Hall, Gilbert and O'Meally remained camped in the remoteness of the Eugowra bush.

Meanwhile on 28th October as Hall retreated into the wilds of Eugowra another bushranger was commencing his run. He was Fred Ward who, in due course, would become known as Captain Thunderbolt. Ward, originally from Windsor, made the New England region of NSW his district from Tamworth to Murrurundi. One of Ward's first forays was noted in The Sydney Morning Herald' Monday 2nd November 1863. The small entry also remembers Hall's link to Murrurundi:

Sergeant Granger and Reynolds, with a black tracker, again started on Tuesday night but returned to-day (Wednesday) being unable to find a further trace of them. I should not be surprised to hear more of these desperadoes further down the northern line before long. The whole affair either appears to be a great bungle on the part of the bushrangers in alarming the whole neighbourhood by robbing the hut of a gun and a flitch of bacon or else it is only a feint for more desperate notion in another quarter. It behoves the gold escort to be vigilant, and to be prepared for any contingency, especially between Tamworth and Murrurundi; the Northern escort is completed at Tamworth, and it should be remembered that one of the bushrangers at least is well acquainted with the Northern bush. I allude to Ben Hall who resided for some years in the district of Murrurundi. I may mention that sergeants Granger and Reynolds were attired in plain clothes, and appear to have used every effort to capture the men herein alluded to, although they were unsuccessful in doing so.

However, the gangs' success in September against the three troopers at Marsh's Farm. Saw the communique's on the matter between Superintendent Morrisset and the government made public. These telegrams were released to the press on the 7th November 1863 to appease the continued public's dissatisfaction with their police force's prowess. These police questions centered around effort and needed answers for their unpardonable actions! (The to and fro may be viewed through the attached link. The telegrams note the firepower at that time, which had fallen into the hands of the gang.)
The Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday 7th November 1863
To the Editor of the Herald.
Furthermore, like Hall, O'Meally, and Gilbert sitting snug in the bush, the pursuing police were enduring rugged conditions as they slogged it out in the wild scrub in search of Hall:

The police constantly camping out at night under the most unfavourable circumstances — a country pretty nearly as large as Old England itself. No one knows or can suppose the hardships these men endure. They have been frequently seen to pull off their shirts and socks, go to a creek, turn to and wash them, sit down contentedly while the articles became half or one-fourth dry, and then put them on again! Their food, too, is for the most part half-baked damper (large fires being prohibited) tea and sugar, procured at stations, of the very worst description, and for which they are charged the highest price; and beef, instead of being supplied, as might reasonably be expected, by large squatters, is sold to the police at exorbitant rates.

While the police dealt with their rough conditions, Ben Hall still had many settlers prepared to offer aid and comfort throughout the district. Such as Agnes Newell (sister of Dan Charters) of nearby Bandon, who had a hotel from which Hall and Co could take some R&R as well as Tom Higgins at 'The Dog and Duck' hotel near Forbes. (Higgins mended Hall's broken leg when a youth.) This support for Hall in defiance of the local police's efforts was highlighted when a correspondent attempted to fall in with the three bushrangers by throwing cash around the Eugowra/Forbes districts' shanty's in an attempt to be 'Bailed-Up' by the boys. Although he was unsuccessful, his article exposes the depth of local knowledge of the inhabitants regarding Hall, Gilbert and O'Meally's movements and protection:

It is now very generally admitted that the only likely way of reaching the gang is through this bush telegraph. The term has made for itself a distinctive meaning in the Western district, "He is a bush telegraph," is now the ordinary mode by which a spy for the bushrangers is described. These telegraphs are scattered far and wide over the whole district, and, but for their assistance, the gang would have long since been extirpated. O'Meally, Vane, and Ben Hall are all natives of that part of the country and are connected by marriage or by family ties with very many of the small settlers around. The feeling of relationship would cause many of these to provide the bushrangers with the means of evasion when they would not give them any co-operation. But, besides this, they have also been brought up in the district, have been employed as stockkeepers in riding over it, and know every inch of the bush, as well as the citizens of Sydney, know the streets and lanes whose intricacies puzzle the countryman. What is of more importance to them is that they have an acquaintance with every soul in the district, and more particularly with the stockkeepers, shepherds, and other hired men, whose information has been so valuable to them, and whose services they have, through an old acquaintance, been able to command.

My own experience has shown me how very widely information in regard to these bushrangers is spread, and how speedily it is circulated. "Anything about the bushrangers?" I heard one man ask of another. "No," said the other, "nothing new." "Where are they now," demanded the first, "Down at Eugowra," replied the second, "at least they were there last night." And this was said in such a way as to convey the impression that he knew it because he had seen them there. You will hardly meet a man upon the road,—I mean, of course, the loungers about the public's and shanties, and not the travellers—who has not some little explanation or experience to give, some last news to relate. How far this is correct, you may yourself judge, when I tell you that the telegram I sent you from Forbes of the attack by the police, the escape of Ben Hall after his horse being bogged, the withdrawal of Vane from the gang, and the quarrel between Gilbert and Hall, was gathered by me on the road, from the narratives much more amply given, of some of these loafers. In fact, the row between Gilbert and Hall was so graphically narrated with the "then says Gilbert," and "then says Hall," that I had a kind of lurking suspicion that the storyteller had actually been present on the occasion. Of course, I did not spoil his tale by hinting any such suspicion, as nothing but the man's impression of my most profound ignorance and innocence would ever have induced him to say so much to me as he did. It is in this quarter, as I before said, that the gang may be most easily reached, and it is against these bush telegraphs that the police are now more particularly proceeding.⁵⁹

Vane Retires.
Following a short recess and Vane's departure, the trio returned to the fray. In the dead of night, they appeared back at the scene of their earlier triumph, Canowindra. Between the hours of two and three o'clock in the morning, the men reined their horses outside Robinson's Hotel, knocking on the locked door. Bill Robinson opened the door to Hall's revolver barrel after Hall once more claimed to be the police. On gaining entry, Hall inquired about police movements, to which Robinson replied of his knowledge in the negative. Hall turned to Gilbert and O'Meally, "All right-come on", ordering some grog. Although Robinson commented on not seeing any troopers, a magistrate was lodging overnight, this Robinson kept to himself. After a few drinks, the bushrangers departed. Ben Hall wished to pay Bill Robinson for the drinks on leaving the hotel, but Robinson had been informed that the bushrangers carried the Henry Keightley ransom's proceeds. Robinson declined to accept the £5 note offered for the grog. Hall said he must do without payment as they had no other money. They then rode away.

Subsequently, troopers arrived from Cowra at daylight, led by Chatfield. Robinson and the magistrate lodging for the night, named Cummings, informed Superintendent Chatfield of the Hall visit. They then pointed out the road which the gang left by:

Last Wednesday morning, at half-past one o'clock, Gilbert, O'Meally, and Ben Hall went to the hotel of Mr Robinson and knocked at the door, replying when asked, "Who's there?" that they were "Police." The door was opened by Mr Robinson when he was confronted by Ben Hall, holding two revolvers levelled at him. The fellow asked whether there were any police in the house and was answered in the negative. He then inquired whether there were many in the neighbourhood; but as Mr Robinson had only that evening returned from Forbes, he told him he was unable to say. Gilbert and O'Meally were standing close by, and they all entered the bar and drank nobblers. They had some conversation with Mr Robinson, in the course of which they said Vane had left them, but they did not much regret his absence, as they felt more secure with the smaller party. 

They stopped altogether about a quarter of an hour, and as they left took two bottles of port wine and two of old tom, which they offered to pay for with a £5 note, but which Mr Robinson could not change. They cautioned him, however, not to mention anything about their visit, as they said they wanted, if possible, to "clear out" quietly. Mr Kerian Cummings, J.P., was sleeping in the house, it appears, and Mr Robinson considered it his duty to report to him what had occurred, and accordingly did so. It was then decided that as the only police assistance to be procured was that of a trooper stationed in the barracks, about half-a-mile off, it would scarcely be prudent to risk an encounter with the bushrangers in order to acquaint him with the circumstances, so the sending of communication was deferred till the following day. At daylight a messenger was sent for the solitary policeman who lives about half a mile from Robinson's; on his arrival, he was asked if he knew where to find Mr Chatfield, and while they were conversing about the affair Mr Superindent Chatfield and a party of policemen rode up to the house. Information was at once given to them of the occurrence and the road the bushrangers had taken being pointed out to them they shortly afterwards started in pursuit towards Eugowra.⁶⁰ 

On the query of Vane's whereabouts, Ben Hall confirmed to Bill Robinson that Vane: 

Had left them about ten days ago, promising to meet them at a particular rendezvous, and, as he had not kept the appointment, they supposed he had deserted the party. ⁶¹

The attached link is a map that covers the area during John Vane's membership in the gang. It was meticulously constructed by Craig Bratby, author of John Vane; Bushranger. Vane was an active member from August 1863 to November 1863.

Publican Licences

Superintendent Chatfield departed Robinson's, heading in Cargo's direction, also known as Davy's Plains Run. Cargo was principally a farming community with sporadic gold mining, situated 20 miles from Orange, and the locals were known to be sympathetic to Hall.

However, as luck would have it, after leaving the town, the police came across the three bushrangers in the company of another person whom the lawmen thought was part of the troupe. On sighting, the troopers put the spurs to their horses. Hall seeing the troopers galloping towards him took to flight. In the panic, the stranger's horse also bolted, giving an impression of partnership. However, instead of fleeing, the rider attempted to pull up his panicked horse as Hall and Co. melded into the bush. As the police pounced upon the man, the bushrangers halted a short distance off and observed the scene.

Consequently, in the chase, the unknown rider became a live target. To save himself, he called out, "For God's sake, don't shoot me," throwing up his hands. The troopers adrenaline-charged descended ferociously upon the rider and, without hesitation, fired away as they galloped towards him. In a rush to clobber the unknown, the accompanying black tracker Albert soon identified the man as Henry Hurkett, a local.

Henry Hurkett was a farmer and assisted at the families 'Miners Arms' hotel/shanty at Cargo. For the remote settlers, it was a period when every shilling counted to every inhabitant. As such, many publicans and prominent settlers often turned a blind eye to the needs of the bushrangers. Consequently, those beneficiaries of remuneration for a warm bed and hot meal and information regarding police movements enjoyed the notoriety of the bushrangers friendship. The few shillings went a long way! Hurkett may well have been one who, on that basis, was undoubtedly friendly with the three rogues.

Furthermore, Hurkett was well known about the Canowindra district with a reputedly sound reputation amongst the populace. However, that reputation may well have been more nudge-nudge-wink-wink. He was also well known to the police and brushed with the ruthless Sir Frederick Pottinger earlier. However, for Hurkett, his presence in-company with Hall, he passed off, after almost dying, as not fraternisation but a hold-up and said the bushrangers had stuck him up and taken £2 12s 6d from him.

Not satisfied, the police pumped up, maintained their suspicions clapping Hurkett in handcuffs. As Hurkett was suffering ill-treatment in the barrage, the three bushrangers casually retreated up a hill on foot, leading their horses, occasionally turning to watch the proceedings. For details, see the link below;

The Sydney Morning Herald
Friday 13th November 1863
The Bushrangers at Canowindra
Hurkett's confrontation with the police saw him spend some time at the Cowra lock-up. However, after failing to pin him to the gang, he was released. Furthermore, during his apprehension on the road, Hurkett was ordered to stand fast until the police returned. However, after some hours and no sign of the troopers, Hurkett, handcuffed and his horse dead, walked into town to await their return. (Mr Penzig, in his book, refers to Hurkett as Urquhart.)

NSW Police Gazette
9th May 1866.

There were three brothers Hurkett they were Henry, Charles and Thomas. All three would spend considerable time in various NSW Gaol's for various offences, predominately cattle stealing. 

Note: In 1869 Henry would be sought by police over cattle stealing crimes and bolt to Hay NSW under an assumed name of James Wood. NSW Police Gazette, 1869, page 143. In 1871 Hurkett would be convicted and sent to Berrima gaol for two years hard labour. However, he was paroled in November 1872.

Dismissive of the troopers Hall, Gilbert and O'Meally loitered around Canowindra. The celebrity of being a high profile bushrangers relative drew this article from the Melbourne 'Herald' regarding a brother of John Gilbert, Charles:

It may not be uninteresting to many of our readers to learn (says the Daylesford Express), that within a few miles of Daylesford, resides a veritable brother of Gilbert, the bushranger. He is engaged in tilling a farm upon the banks of the Caliban, not far from the Farmer's Arms  Hotel, on the Malmsbury road. We have been informed that Mr Gilbert expresses considerable regret at the course of life his brother is leading.⁶²  

However, while Henry Hurkett was fumbling around handcuffed. Subsequently, after covering some forty miles with night falling, the police rode towards Mr Icely's 'Bangaroo Station' to stop for the night. Consequently, when passing a nearby settler's hut, they were seen by a small mixed-race child, who alerted the occupants in the cabin of their approach. The child calls out, "there's some men coming." 

Unbeknownst to the approaching police, Hall and O'Meally was 
relaxing inside the home; however, their respite suddenly ended at the child's voice. Consequently, the troopers were startled when suddenly, the two bushrangers bolted out from the hut with items of their clothing in hand and, under cover of darkness, jumped into their saddles and galloped off. The troopers were dumbstruck at missing an opportunity to capture Hall and O'Meally, and a short time later, Gilbert as he approached the hut unaware:

We understand that Mr Chatfield and his party followed the bushrangers in a circuitous route about 40 miles when they made in the direction of Bangaroo, and then as the darkness came on they could no longer follow the tracks; however, they went on to Bangaroo, and on riding up to the hut a little half-caste girl called out "there's some men coming." O'Meally and Hall were then in the hut at tea; O'Meally went to the door and said: "it's them blasted peelers coming to hunt us again." They were resting themselves in the hut when the police appeared insight and had to get out in a hurry. Hall not having time to put on his boots carried them under his arm which appears to have been wet and placed at the fire to dry, and going outside with O'Meally, they barely had time to jump in their saddles and make off before the police rode up. In the meantime Gilbert had been in an adjoining paddock it is supposed looking for some horses, and when he rode back for his mates he found the policemen in the hut; one of the policemen called out "who's there" and Gilbert turning his horse round rode away; the policeman fired at him, but the result was nil. The bushrangers were not seen by the police anymore, but we have heard that on Thursday morning they breakfasted a the station of Mr Icely's 3 miles below Canowindra and that on Friday morning they were at a station of Mr Grant's not far from Carcoar. So sudden was the departure of Hall and O'Meally that they had not time to take all their things with them but left a coat belonging to Gilbert which is now in the possession of the police and in the pocket of which was found with other things a bag containing a quantity of revolver bullets and a bullet mould.⁶³
Icely's Bangaroo Station. Bailliere's New South Wales Gazetteer and Road Guide 1866.
A narrow escape! A dash to freedom, the bushrangers, after taking horses and breakfasting the following morning at 'Bangaroo Station', headed northward in the direction of Eugowra and its wild scrub. While riding towards today's Nangar-Murga Range between Toogong and Canowindra, the three bushrangers happened across some bullock drays whose whip-men were preparing the morning meal before the new day commenced. The bushrangers rode up demanding food for themselves and ordering feed for their horses in a leisurely manner. As they parlayed with the draymen, a mounted troop headed by Sir Frederick Pottinger appeared forcing a hasty retreat for the bushrangers;

The Bushrangers near Eugowra.—The Lachlan correspondent of the Bathurst Times writes to that journal as follows:— The three draymen who were favoured with an interview with Messrs. Gilbert, O'Meally, and Hall, near Eugowra, on Thursday! arrived in Forbes yesterday. The account they give of the meeting is as follows. They were on the road from Carcoar to Forbes, In charge of three teams laden with potatoes, corn, and chaff, and had camped on Wednesday night seven miles the other side of Eugowra Creek, or about thirty-five miles from this place. On Thursday morning at about six o'clock, they had just kindled a fire and put on the billy preparatory to breakfasting when the three bushrangers galloped up to them. One of the draymen immediately recognised them, and accosted the chief with "Good morning Mr Gilbert!" Good morning," was the reply, "Get us some breakfast, and be quick about it!' This peremptory order was obeyed with the utmost alacrity; when the bushrangers had commenced active operations on the bush fare set before them—which they lost no time in doing—the order was given to feed their horses. But before the order was complied with, and ere they had finished their breakfast, seven troopers were seen coming down the road. "To saddle!" shouted Gilbert, and a minute after the three men were galloping fiercely across the bush, with the police in hot pursuit. Before the police had advanced far, however. Ben Hall's horse got bogged in a swamp that crossed the line of retreat. 

Hall immediately dismounted, while the other two desperadoes drew up beside their comrade, and with a revolver in each hand awaited the onset of the 'force.' Hall, on unhorsing, lost no time, but drew a bayonet pistol from his belt, and 'prodded' his horse with the point of it, at the same time lifting the animal with the bridle. After a short struggle, the horse extricated itself; but in the meantime, the troopers had approached within (so it is reported) twenty yards and opened fire with their breech-loaders but without effect, Gilbert and O'Meally standing in the position above stated, but without returning the fire. As a matter of course, none of the shots were effective, and on Hall leaping into the saddle the gang started off afresh, the troopers following. My informant states that he watched the progress of the belligerents for a great distance, and could observe that the police lost ground at every stride, It has since been made known that the police after a prolonged chase lost sight of the freebooters, as usual, and returned with their horses considerably blown. If these are the actual facts of the case—and there appears no reason for doubting them—we have another illustration of the peculiar construction of the New South Wales 'military' police.⁶⁴

Chatfield became the fall guy for the NSW government  regarding the Canowindra siege. Causing embarrassment over failing to capture the bushrangers. Chatfield's inability to act as the bushrangers returned to the district and continued to rob unabated culminated in the Superintendent's dismissal from his position in February 1864. In his defence, Superintendent Chatfields communicated his efforts to the Inspector-General of police and the hardships hunting Ben Hall:

Between the 1st January' and the 15th November 1863 when I was suspended, I have gone over upwards of 300 miles on horseback-have constantly visited my stations- have managed the office work, so that it was never in arrear-and during the period I was out after the bushrangers I was nearly always in camp, frequently experiencing very bad weather, and sometimes without tent or other covering and that from the length of time I had been on bush service my clothes and those of my men were worn out and we were without ammunition. Dating the whole of this period I have had no complaint in regard to my conduct in office; I refer more particularly to my conduct as superintendent of police in my own district, in respect to the charge of absenting myself from my post at Canowindra in October last; the explanation, forwarded the same month was, as I understood from you personally, considered satisfactory. I have always exerted myself to render the police employed under me efficient, and if the absence of complaints and the harmony existing between the various local benches of magistrates and myself be any criterion I may confidently appeal to these results as proof of it. Had it been desired, I could have produced ample proof in support of the fact from most respectable testimony in writing from various parts of the colony.

Although Chatfield launched a spirited defence of his command and attributes, he was unable to hold office.

Ben Hall, Gilbert and O'Meally escaping from their close shave camped close to Toogong. Toogong had two hotels, the 'Toogong' and 'Travellers Rest', a Post office and was inhabited by farmworkers. The town's population in 1863-20. One of those locals was Ellen Chandler, a passenger on the coach where Cst Havilland had died following the Eugowra Gold Robbery in June 1862 and with blood-covered hands, Ellen helped prop the dead constable up in his seat. It was reported that while camped, Hall and Gilbert had a falling out whereby it was said the two almost came to pistol shots:

Ben Hall and Gilbert were nearly coming to pistol shots, but the disagreement was patched up. 

However, the exact cause of the scuffle is unknown. As the bushrangers rested and the angst between Hall and Gilbert settled. A local wrote that the police were often more dastardly than bushrangers when seeking information and repeatedly harassed even children when parents were absent. 'Goulburn Herald' Wednesday 18th November 1863:

The police have insulted more females than the robbers. The cowardly farce enacted, and the official insolence used, in connection with the memorable Vale-road affair, though not more than half made public could not be publicly replied to. But only within the last few days one of these pauper puppies ordered a settler's wife on the roadside to bring out to him and his man two cups of tea, as they sat on their horses. She very properly refused. Again, a few days since--and this is known to the authorities-three policemen came to a sheep station at George's Plain, and finding that the shepherd and his wife were out, demanded from the children the whereabouts of their mother's rings and brooches, then ransacked the house but found none. Taking into consideration the well-known fact that members of the force, immediately after leaving it, have been convicted of robbery, and that even while receiving pay have been guilty of the most barefaced lies in describing false encounters with robbers, it is not very uncharitable to suppose that had the shepherd's hut contained any valuables-considering the clothes worn are the same--another robbery by the bushrangers would have been reported. I unhesitatingly say that the police, both officers and men, are at the present time inflicting as great an injury on society as the lawless bands of robbers. The profound contempt that is at present felt for the police, and which pervades all classes and ages, is fraught with interest, especially to the rising youth. 

More often than not, the bushrangers were welcomed into the small farmers' homes rather than the police.


David Henry

Private Source.
A prominent settler who resided in the area of Hall and Co.'s retreat near Toogong was one, who as with Henry Keightley, wished to bring the bushrangers to heal. His name was David Campbell J.P., who, along with his brother William held the station 'Goimbla', a mixed farming enterprise set in the lee of Mandagery creek 12 miles from Eugowra NSW 7 miles from Toogong. Campbell had made it well known in the district his loathing of the bushrangers and their antics and, on several occasions, led parties into the wilds in an attempt to apprehend the gang. But, more often than not, unsuccessfully.

When Ben Hall seized the town of Canowindra in early October 1863, news reached David Campbell whereby the squatter organised a party of neighbours to take the field in search of Ben Hall:

It will be recollected by those who have perused your columns, that Mr Campbell has made no secret of his abhorrence of these lawless freebooters, and that, stimulated by their repeated outrages in this neighbourhood, he some time ago started out in pursuit of them, accompanied by a few of his immediate friends. This was a sufficient cause of offence to the "gentlemen of the road," and their fiendish resentment has been on more than one occasion openly expressed.

Campbell's marriage.
19th Feb 1856.
David Campbell was born at Jellasore, Bengal, India 21st November 1829. Thomas Alexander Browne (Rolf Bolderwood) noted:

Campbell was Scottish by descent. A keen sportsman, a high couraged, chivalrous gentleman, he was justly indignant that he should be menaced by the lawless men who were then terrorising the country.

On the 19th February 1856, Campbell married Sydney society lass Amelia Breillat. Amelia was the daughter of a wealthy merchant Thomas Chaplin Breillat who resided at "Thurnby House" Enmore Road, Newtown. Amelia was a refined, delicately nurtured woman but nonetheless fearless in times of trial.

Amelia Campbell

Private Source.
Never before published. 
However, having no luck in previously confronting Ben Hall. Campbell had been apprised of the intentions of the bushrangers after Hall at Murga said, "they were going to Goimbla, and that they would “Shave.” Campbell." Hall desired to visit Campbell and correct his hunting them after the 1862 Eugowra robbery. Therefore, the bushrangers following their recent activities, Micky Burke, died, and Vane departed and decided to go through with their attention. On Sunday, the 15th of November, the three rode towards Goimbla. They were approaching in the afternoon. Gunfire was heard coming from the property. Unknown to Hall, Campbell with his brother and a friend were out practising on targets after hearing of the gang's presence in the vicinity of Goimbla. It was reported:

The bushrangers had planned to attack the Campbell homestead on the previous Sunday, but Mr Campbell and a friend were at target practice that day, and the bushrangers, hearing the shooting rode away.

Leaving Campbell's for the time being, the three bushrangers from the 15th-19th November once more settled into their bush camp. However, in the early morning, they descended on the town of Murga. Now minus Burke and Vane, the three men made quick work robbing the local hotels and a shanty. A stockman employed at Goimbla years later recounted the events long after they had left Murga:

The bushrangers had paid a flying visit to the town that morning. The owner of the first place they visited was absent, but the young man then in charge — he is now a resident of Eugowra — when asked for money, said he had none.

"What! A smart young man like you got no money? I am surprised at that," said Gilbert.

There was a bedroom immediately behind the bar, and O'Mealey opened the door, but there were two females in it, and when he saw them he shut the door again. Hall in the meantime had gone into the shanty, which was next door, and caught the old man in the act of dropping a pickle bottle into a water butt, as it contained all the cash he had in the place.

Hall made the remark, "You're too late, old man," and look the bottle out and also the cash out of it, but left him the cheques.

One of the others went over to the other pub, but as there was only a female there, they did not interfere further. It was pretty early when they came up to the hotels, in the morning, so that they must have camped close the night before. They never interfered further, but had some drinks and cleared out.

When appraised of the gang's presence. The worker returned to Goimbla to inform David Campbell what he knew. However, Campbell recounted that he saw three men loiter near his entrance but was unsure of who they were:

I told Mr Campbell when I went home, and he asked me how many of them there were, and I replied, "Three." Campbell informed his man that; "he saw three men on that morning ride up to his front gate — some half a mile from the house — and have a consultation, or appeared to have, and then ride away again. Mr Campbell also said that he knew they had a "down" on him for assisting the police — when the escort was stuck up. But I am prepared for them," said he. "It was a good, job they did not come up to the house this morning.

The unknown employee then remarked:

Mr Campbell was always well armed and a good shot, he was always on the alert, even when riding on the run with me, and I nearly always accompanied him. When on the run he was constantly on the look-out in case the bushrangers should come on him unawares. 

Contemporary illustration
of Hall approaching

Courtesy NLA.

However, in not wanting to let stand the threat of David Campbell's desire to finish them off. Ben Hall, Gilbert and O'Meally approached Goimbla Station in the early evening of Thursday 19th November 1863, arriving from Murga along Mandagery (Eugowra) Creek. The trio, unobserved, made their way up to the homestead.

Goimbla was a 12,800-acre property rated to hold 640 head of cattle with one of the district's finest homes. The house walls were pisé (rammed earth) with a shingle roof, long verandah, and a garden enclosed by a picket fence. The property included a yard with a water-well, 3-stall stable with a loft. Fowl and pig houses. Men's huts and every requisite for a first-class head-station. Woolshed 50 x 15 with drafting yards and pens attached. Two cultivation paddocks of 8 and 5 acres as well as a grass paddock of 150 acres. Stock and milking yards, eight sheep station huts, with large yards. All overshadowed by a large mountain.

David Campbell relaxed after the evening meal as his wife and their maid Miss Mary Taylor settled their three children down for the night. Thomas b.1857, David b.1860 and two-year-old Percy b.1861. Also present was David's brother William Campbell who retired to his bedroom.

David Campbell sat in the lounge room, enjoying the quiet. The only sounds filtering in the house were the children fusing and boisterous as they prepared for bed. A silence descended in the home. The night sounds of the bush insects were all that flowed through the house. As the old grandfather clock chimed a bell marking 8.45 pm, Campbell suddenly became alerted as a noise of unfamiliarity caught his ear. Footsteps on the verandah. Earlier, fearing some reprisal from Ben Hall, which had been passed on to him. Campbell had prepared and placed against the fireplace two double-barrelled shotguns ready loaded and other arms at various places in the house.

Arising, Campbell picked up one of the shotguns moving to the passage near the backdoor, whereby at the end, he saw a man standing there who immediately fired twice, one round entering the wall on the right of where Campbell stood the other, the left. Campbell instantly returned fire from his gun but was ineffective. Simultaneously, the stranger retreated as a volley of shots crashed into the house front shattering some windows and embedding into the front door frame.

Campbell knew his moment had come.

After leaving the horses hobbled some distance from the homestead, Ben Hall with his two companions made his way through an oat field to a picket fence beside one of the outbuildings listening for life inside the home. Then, all quiet, Ben Hall brazenly walked to the back of the house, shotgun in hand, the same gun that had earlier by his hand mortally wounded Micky Burke, entered via an open backdoor into the rear passage. An occupant with a weapon in hand suddenly appeared, and Hall fired. The other person fired as well, the shots missing. Hall retreated to the back of the house as Gilbert and O'Meally discharged their revolvers into the home's front. As Hall stood on the back verandah, another man emerged on the porch from the back door. Ben Hall fired again, having reloaded hitting the man in the chest who staggered and collapsed. Unknowing if the man was dead or alive, Hall quickly retreated to the front yard re-joining Gilbert and O'Meally. 

Goimbla Homestead.
c. 1930.

Sitting in his bedroom, William Campbell was startled by the sound of gunfire echoing through the house, ending the quiet solitude of the evening. Subsequently, he rushed from his bedroom and headed for the dining room, then well-lit by a strong kerosene lamp when at that moment, gunshots smashed through the front windows. Fearing the worst "Bushrangers", William made for the back porch where on exiting and near his bedroom window noticed a man standing in the shadow who raised his weapon and fired two shots hitting William in his chest, four wounds in all. Darkness enveloped William as he stumbled from the impact and collapsed beside the rear steps. Coming too moments later, William crawled bloodied out through the back gate. Fortunately, the slugs had not penetrated too deep. Nevertheless, he lay bleeding in a field of oats behind the house at the gate for some time.

Amelia Campbell was in the act of putting her three children to bed with help from her maid Mary Taylor when suddenly the terrifying sound of gunfire erupted. Amelia told Mary to watch the children making her way to the dining room to join her husband and defend their home. The couple joined after David had fired at the intruder and together moved to a bedroom at the end of the passage adjacent to the children's rooms, then altered to various positions to confuse their enemies' fire.

Amelia made for the dining room without a word spoken, passing the front windows already shattered when more gunfire erupted, whereby some fragments of wood from the bullets slightly grazed her as she retrieved a powder flask and bullets. On returning to her husband's side, shots rang out again, peppering the walls. Once again, by her husband's side, she commenced reloading the discharged shotgun.

O'Meally and Gilbert crouched by the front fence saw shadows passing the windows fired, not knowing whether they reflected male or female. Mary Taylor secured the children, and the cook hid himself under a table in the kitchen. Campbell would later praise Mary's calmness. Mary Taylor was a native-born Australian from Tumut. Campbell, in complementary terms, said how cheerful and composed Mary was and whereby at half-past nine, thirty minutes into the battle, Mary brought a tray— with the glasses of refreshment—as usual to the Campbell's. Campbell later mused that he couldn't help laughing as the situation was so severe that their lives hung in the balance.

Amelia Campbell

Hall, Gilbert and O'Meally in failing to dislodge their quarry by the barrage of shots. Hall called out, "If you don't immediately surrender, we will burn your place down." The demand was met with Campbell's response calling back, "Come on-I'm ready for you." Hall then replied, "Oh, is that it!"

As the bushrangers waited, Amelia had unknowingly left the house, covering a distance of some 150 yds to recruit the farmhands holed up in their quarters for support. Arriving, Amelia could not convince the men to support her husband. Distressed, she commenced making her way back to the house when suddenly flames from the adjoining barn and stable licked the night sky. Amelia's presence in the yard had brought her under the aim of Gilbert's gun, who later commented:

He could have shot Mrs Campbell if he had wanted to, as he was planted in a bush close by which she passed on her way to the gardener's hut. 

Mary Taylor, without fear, went to assist David Campbell in Amelia's absence.

In her rush back to the house, Amelia, without realising two of the gang Hall and O'Meally had made their way to the barn and stables, stacked with fresh-cut hay and many bales of wool, the bushrangers set fire to the buildings. As the fire took hold, Amelia had returned to the house. Seeing the flames, she clutched her throat in fear and, with the assistance of the maid, again ventured out as the fires took hold to clear the ground about the house strewn with harvested hay and a dray loaded standing between the burning stable and the rear of the house. If caught on fire, it would catch on to the back verandah and the house, ensuring their current position would become untenable.

Together, Amelia and Mary courageously covered the dray with hay by a tarp, saving the house from destruction. Amelia later commented:

I was in such deadly fear of its catching at this point that I rushed out and succeeded in getting the road cleared with the assistance of the maid. 

The fire's intensity turned night into day, where the roof of the fired buildings collapsed sparks like fireflies bellowing into the night sky.

As the fire raged in the stables, Campbell's favourite horse Highflyer became trapped and engulfed in flames. The fire's heat increased, whereby the terrified animal raced and to and fro, desperately seeking a way of escape. The family heard its kicks for freedom and the animal's heart-rending cries inside the house as Campbell ground his teeth in despair. Helpless, Campbell shouted to the bushrangers to let it go, but they ignored him instead of calling out taunts and jeers as the fire took hold. Finally, Campbell again called for mercy, yelling, "I will have one of you for poor Highflyer," then, suddenly, the horse's terrified whinnying died out as it was roasted in flames. Soon after, all went quiet for some thirty minutes.

The flames roaring Hall, Gilbert and O'Meally placed themselves behind the paling fence at the front of the house some 40 yds distant. The bushrangers' position was behind thick pine stakes, pointed and driven into the ground affording good cover. The house saved from incineration Mary Taylor returned to the children who hid under their beds. The eldest Thomas comforted the youngest Percy as random gunfire reverberated through the house, hitting various walls, doors, picture frames, and the children's bedroom wall as stray bullets hit just above the boy's beds. Campbell, all the time undaunted, returned fire with fire. Time marched on, with Hall occasionally calling for Campbell to give up. Campbell did not reply.

William Campbell recovering his senses and seeing the flames engulfing the outbuildings decided to head to Eugowra and assistance, staggered off. William, at 2 am, arrived delirious at Hanbury Clements Station, Eugowra, with gunshots in his chest and covered with blood. Mr Clements, in the dim light of the lamp, extracted the bullets, later producing a leaded slug which had been removed from William Campbell's chest during a testimonial gathering for the Campbell's. Clements sent a runner into Eugowra to alert the police.

The flames from the barn burned brightly, enabling Campbell to have a good view of the surroundings. In the lull, Campbell and Amelia placed themselves between two parallel walls, which formed a passage between the house and the kitchen. Watching for movement, Amelia pointed out one of the bushrangers heads with a cabbage-tree hat occasionally pop up, peering over the fence, looking at the burning buildings. Alerted, Campbell shifted for a better look at the corner of the house. Which fortunately was cast into shadow by the burning buildings at the opposite end. Kneeling Campbell brought his gun to his shoulder aimed deliberately at a spot level with the throat as the man once more rose from behind the fence. Campbell fired. The crack of the gun boomed in the night air.

The Death of John O'Meally.
Patrick William Marony
The bushrangers were leaning backs against the paling fence, watching as the burning buildings glowed in the night. John O'Meally, the tallest of the three, occasionally peeked over mesmerised by the fire ravaging the outbuildings. Hall cautioned O'Meally to stay down and again called on Campbell to give in but elicited no reply. While contemplating their next move to unseat Campbell, O'Meally once more stood up to check the house when suddenly his head snapped back, the neck shattered as his carotid artery pumped his lifeblood out, soaking his rich reddish auburn hair. O'Meally crashed to the ground dead as the report of the blast echoed in the still night. Completely startled at seeing O'Meally lifeless, his head lolling at an awkward angle Gilbert and Hall opened up a barrage of shots at the house.

Campbell was sure he had hit one of the bushrangers with his shot. He retreated again into the interior to join his wife as bullet after bullet raked the front of their home, where they maintained their cover. All became quiet except for shouts and threats and obscenities cast at the house, but they too became silent with the night sounds returning, and the acrid smell of smoke permeated in the air.

Mural at Binalong.
Hall & Gilbert
kneeling over a
dead O'Meally.

Hall and Gilbert dragged O'Meally a few yards into the adjacent oat field and near a tree stripped off O'Meally's jewellery which would later be returned to O'Meally's sister Ellen 'Kate' O'Meally (1845-1908). The two then approached the worker's hut, cursing and swearing profusely, stating that they would have their revenge. Their angry voices carrying on the night where Mary Taylor heard one of them, Gilbert said he regretted not shooting the woman. However, Hall turned to him, telling him to "hold his tongue and mind what he was about." Then, returning to O'Meally's lifeless body for one last look, the pair made back to their horse's and departed Goimbla.

The sound of the grandfather clock clunked loudly as every second ticked along. The bush sounds once more drifted on the night air, joined by the faint crackling of the outbuildings as they collapsed, sending more embers into the dark sky and the charred bloated remains of 'Highflyer', swollen to nearly double its natural size, lay inside the crumbling enclosure. Listening intently, David Campbell cautiously emerged from his home alert for any sudden occurrence, approached the spot where he believed his shot had taken effect. Reaching the scene at the paling fence Campbell was surprised to find a carbine and cabbage-tree hat but nobody, thinking that the gunshot may have wounded the bushranger. The hour had passed eleven-thirty in the evening, and the two hour battle for life and limb had ended. Unsure, he returned to the house to await daybreak.

Amelia Campbell.
As the night wore and the quietness returned. The farmhands emerged from the huts, having found some courage, ventured up to see what was happening. Campbell then stationed them at various posts, whereby they stood sentry till morning. Amelia stated as the men kept watch that, it was by this time three o'clock. I was very tired, went to bed, and managed to sleep a little, but was awoke before dawn by the arrival of the police.

William Campbell having been wounded managed to make for a neighbour relaying the news of the siege taking place at Goimbla. Clements sent information to Eugowra, where Snr Cst Fagan was apprised of the battle at two o'clock in the morning. Fagan and two constables immediately set off for Goimbla, arriving at three-thirty in the morning. Fagan was informed that the bushrangers had departed. Together as the light was breaking, Campbell and the Fagan returned to the fence. The pair discovered O'Meally in the adjacent oat field near the fence where he fell. At O'Meally's inquest, Fagan stated:

Mr Campbell showed me a place in the direction of which he fired, and where also he had found a carbine and a cabbage-tree hat. I found the spot to be in front of the dwelling, beyond a paling fence about forty yards from the house, near to which Mr Campbell informed me he had found a carbine and a cabbage-tree hat. On this ground was a crop of oats-six feet in height. On examining the ground, I discovered a fresh track, which I followed up into the oats, and I found the body of the deceased about ten yards from the fence. I searched the body and found two silk handkerchiefs thereon, which I produce. I found a bullet wound on the right side of the neck, the carbine produced I identify as a police carbine, and it is the same carbine which was pointed out to me by Mr Campbell as the one found by him near to the spot where I found the deceased. I produce the cabbage-tree hat, aforesaid, which was handed to me by Mr Campbell. I also produce a Colt's revolver, which was handed to me by constable Hogan, who stated that he found it near the body, The revolver has six chambers, five of which were loaded.

After the inquest, a finding of "Justifiable Homicide" was returned. On the same date, as O'Meally fell, former gang member John Vane surrendered to police at Bathurst.

NSW Police Gazette
2nd December 1863.
By the Friday morning, word had spread far and wide as people commenced arriving to view the body of John O'Meally laid out under a veranda, a towel draped across his face. One of those who viewed the bloodied corpse wrote:

Under the verandah of an outbuilding hard by lay the disfigured corpse of the dead bushranger; the body covered by part of a woolpack, and the face by a towel. It was clad in corduroy buckskin, high boots with spurs, and three Crimean shirts; underneath his neck lay a white comforter. Underneath the ear on the right side of the neck was a gaping wound extending through the vertebra, which was completely shattered by the ball. Decomposition had set in, and the wound was discharging freely. The hair, which was dark auburn, was saturated with blood, as was also the beard under the chin. The features wore a scowl, and the mouth an expression as if the man had died uttering curses and imprecations. As he had been detestable in life, his figure was hideous in death. At twenty-two years of age, his features were small but coarse and betokened habitual indulgence in the brutal passions. His frame was athletic, his arms muscular, his hands as small and delicate as a lady's. His lower limbs were light and apparently well-knit, and his figure as a whole gave the impression of activity and strength combined in more than an ordinary degree.

O'Meally was still dressed in the boots and breeches stolen from Henry Keightley's:

It was Mr Keightley's invariable custom to wear breeches and boots when riding. During their ransacking O'Meally unearthed a new set, which the owner had recently obtained from Sydney. The thief was evidently much pleased with his find, for he there and then pulled off his own nether garments and donned the Commissioners.

The cruelty associated with the burning alive of the horse Highflyer drew this comment of damnation by another:

Their brutality to that noble animal whose claims upon mankind are rarely disallowed, save by the most cruel heart. Fancy men standing by while a horse was roasted to death, enjoying its cries and preventing its escape!

Plaque Forbes Cemetery.
By Saturday afternoon, gawkers abounded at the Campbell's home for the last look at the wild colonial boy's body. Those present reputedly cut mementos of O'Meally's rich dried blood-soaked Auburn hair. Later displayed on command at local hotels:

Nearly every publican and sundry of the storekeepers of Forbes, besides other parties within a radius of several miles of Forbes, have possessed themselves of locks of the hair of Johnny O'Meally, the bushranger killed at Goimbla, which they display to their friends and patrons generally. The request to see O'Meallys hair can apparently be everywhere complied with instanter.

However, it may well have been a business ploy to generate sales. As the question was asked:

Seriously speaking, there is something remarkable as to how such a desecration of the body could have been perpetrated.

One observer sarcastically noted:

Few cared to interfere with O'Malley's hair when alive. Probably, Pottinger and the whole army of troopers that swarmed round Goimbla after the work had been done, each took a lock-in Memoriam, when their enemy lay prostrate and dead!

Mr Charles Cropper a long time advocate as with Mr Campbell in the destruction of bushranging and was very active in the pursuit of Ben Hall, frequently accompanied, Sir Frederick Pottinger was one who retained some hair from O'Meally as a  souvenir:

Mr Cropper has also cuttings of the hair of O'Meally the bushranger shot by the late Mr. D. Campbell at Goimbla station in the Carcoar district, with the blood from his death wound on it.

In the heat of a November day, the bloodied body whose decay had set in from the heat and O'Meally's inquest completed. The fast-turning putrid body was thrown unceremoniously in a hole near Mandagery Creek (Eugowra) coffinless. However, O'Meally's body would be exhumed by the family after an application to the court and consequently placed reputedly in an unmarked grave at Forbes close to or alongside John "Warrigal" Walsh and where later Ben Hall would be laid:

The brother of the deceased left Forbes for that place this morning with a conveyance, in order to bring it to this town, and the reburial of the body will take place to-morrow evening, in the burial-place near the Red Streak. The spot chosen is close to the grave of young Walsh with whom O'Meally was well acquainted.

Henry Knight.
NSW Police Gazette
4th November 1863.
While the crowds had gathered at Goimbla, taking a last look at one of the district's terror's. Sir Frederick Pottinger observed a lad of seventeen amongst the group. The lad's appearance and actions raised the inspector's suspicions. Pottinger suspected the young man was a bush telegraph of Hall and Gilbert's. His name was Henry Knight, often known as the Warrigal as young John Walsh had beenKnight's presence may well have been gathering information on the day's activities, and the police and the inquest results for communicating to Hall and Gilbert believed to be still in the area. 'The Golden Age' 10th December 1863:

Amongst a large concourse who visited Mr Campbell's station to take a look at the departed bushranger was a youth named Henry Knight, who rejoices in the soubriquet, "The Warrigal" apparently about seventeen or eighteen years of age. His style and appearance at a single glance bespoke the bush telegraph, and attracted the attention of Sir Frederick Pottinger, who had him arrested in the belief that a warrant was out against him. Fortunately, a copy of the lately published Gazette had been taken out by the police magistrate, and a reference thereto disclosed the fact that two warrants had been issued for his apprehension by the Burrangong bench--one for horse-stealing, and the other for absconding from hired service. A bench was extemporised in the person of the police magistrate, and after the formal remand of the accused to Young, he was placed between two troopers and sent on his way sorrowing over his experiences at Goimbla.

The death of O'Meally rekindled the memory of John 'Warrigal' Walsh and the cruelty of Pottinger, who held the lad of 16 in custody and the confines of the Forbes lock-up brought about his death. 'The Argus' 12 December 1863:

Young Walsh, it will be remembered, was "captured" by Sir Frederick Pottinger and eight troopers, at Mrs Brown's, Wheogo, at the time of the futile "attempt" by the party to arrest Gardiner. The boy was imprisoned so long within the confined walls of the noisome lock-up at Forbes, that at last, he fainted from mere weakness when brought into court to be remanded for the hundredth time, and then followed the gaol fever, various surgical operations, and, three days subsequently, death. The death of the poor boy was the only practical result attending all the military operations of Sir Frederick Pottinger and the men under his immediate charge against the bushrangers up to that period. Since then Sir Frederick Pottinger has sworn to the identity of O'Meally, after death, at Goimbla. His next feat of arms is anxiously looked for. 

The crowd dispersed, O'Meally was exhumed from the banks of Mandagery (Eugowra) Creek by his father and brother Patrick for reburial at Forbes. At Goimbla, Mr Campbell, the settlers hero, received the government's warm good wishes for the actions in disposing of one of the men who had held the state to ransom for three years. The reward for O'Meally was £1,000. After identification, David Campbell received the reward and a letter of appreciation from the Colonial Secretary:

Mr Campbell, who shot this desperate man, has received the following letter from the Colonial Secretary. At first, he hesitated to receive the promised reward, although property of more value than £1,000 was destroyed by the bushrangers: but, after consulting his friends, Mr Campbell has very properly consented to accept it:— "Colonial Secretary s Office. Sydney, Sydney, Nov. 23. 1863. Sir— It has been reported to me that John O'Meally, for whose apprehension a reward of £1,000 has been recently offered by the Government, was shot dead by you on the night of Thursday, the 19th instant, during an attack made upon your residence by a band of armed bushrangers. I have therefore the honour to inform you that on the identification of the body by the proper authorities, you will be entitled to the reward in question, which will be paid forthwith, in such manner as you may direct. In making this communication, I am happy at the same time to be the further means of conveying to you the very high appreciation entertained by the Government of the spirit and personal courage exhibited by both yourself and Mrs Campbell on the occasion above referred to.— I have, &c, William Forster.

When the gawkers were gone a final word on the Battle of Goimbla noted Davidson's apprehension:

That it was months before certain of the combatants, recovered from the effects of the nervous tension, ceased to listen, as the dusk hours deepened, for the sound of horse hoofs and the crack of a rifle.

A few days after the confrontation and concern for her family in Sydney of the distressing news, Amelia penned a letter to her mother and father Thomas and Mary Breillat on her harrowing experience. 
However, as early as December 1863, soon after the exhumation of John O'Meally. It was widely believed that his brother Patrick placed rocks or such materials in the coffin interned at Forbes to dupe the authorities and instead buried his brother at Gooloogong. Patrick tended to his brothers grave on the Lachlan River banks up unto his death in September 1923. Sixty years after his older brothers death. Patrick plyed the trade of Baker in Gooloogong. 'The Sydney Morning Herald' Tuesday 1st December 1863:

In your Monday's telegram, it was stated that O'Meally's remains were interred on the bank of the Eugowra Creek. Since then on an application has been made to the Police Magistrate, by his brother, Patsey O Meally, for his body. The matter, I understand, was referred to the Government, and as permission was given for the removal, it is to be inferred that the reply was favourable to the application. The remains were brought into Forbes today (Thursday), and interred in the Roman Catholic Cemetery.

Having loitered near Goimbla following their mate's death, the two bushrangers were next heard of on Saturday 21st November 1863, two days after the Goimbla disaster crossing the Lachlan River at the Kirkpatrick and Twaddell's toll bridge half a mile from Forbes. The toll keeper brought the two men to a halt demanding the required payment. The two attempted not to draw attention to themselves, paid the amount due, and proceeded to Forbes. Within minutes a party of police rode up to the bridge identifying themselves as troopers from Goimbla. The police inquired if he knew the two men who passed moments earlier as they believed them to be Hall and Gilbert, whom they were pursuing but had been unable to overtake. 'Empire' 1st December 1863, Lachlan correspondent Bathurst Times:

Since the affray at Goimbla the whereabouts of these bushrangers par excellence has apparently been lost sight of; for while the Sydney Mail states as a fact in one of its leaders that "Gilbert had gone to Victoria," a circumstance occurred on Saturday last within a mile of Forbes by which it would appear that both the chief and his remaining companion were at that time, at any rate, not far from us. The following information was derived from the toll-keeper of Kirkpatrick and Twaddel's bridge, Lachlan River, and from other sources. The toll-keeper states that about the hour referred to, hearing horses rapidly approaching the bridge, he hastened out to collect the toll, and that two men galloped up, each having a led horse. He stopped them and demanded the toll (2s.), when one of them took out a pound note and tendered it.

The toll-keeper had to go to his hut to get change when the other party followed him at once and narrowly watched his movements until the silver was handed over, when both the men again galloped off. Shortly after, a party of police came up and made inquiries at the bridge, with regard to the persons who had passed. They said they (the police) were from Goimbla, and that they had sighted, the two men described several times on the road, but were unable to overtake them. They believed them to be Johnny Gilbert and Ben Hall. Both wore ponchos, a favourite article of raiment apparently amongst bushrangers, and their appearance generally bore out the idea that they were the men. I have not heard that any parties answering this description have been met elsewhere; but there, are certainly reasonable grounds for suspicion in this case that the parties were Gilbert and Hall making tracks for a new section of country, from the scene of their late murderous exploit.

The police had lost the scent. Meanwhile, Hall and Gilbert cautiously sought refuge at Forbes and soon relayed the death of O'Meally to their touts and harbourers; 'The Sydney Morning Herald' Tuesday 1st December 1863:

The news of O'Meally' s death caused great excitement in Forbes and throughout the surrounding country, and created no little consternation amongst the whole tribe of horse and cattle thieves, touts, and telegraphs with whom these regions abound. The social and commercial aspect of Forbes was considerably enlivened on Saturday last, by the arrival and departure and to and fro movements of bipeds of this genus, and not a few were the laments expressed in some of the holes and corners of the place, upon the "brave boy" who had been to suddenly dispatched to his last account.

While in Forbes, Ben Hall visited the editor of the 'Miner' Mr H.P. Williamson arriving at three in the morning on 23rd November 1863 for an interview. The contents of which have not been revealed. For Hall to visit Mr Williamson demonstrates a friendship of some type possibly due to Williamson's position as Secretary of the Forbes Racing Club; 'Sydney Mail' 24th November 1863. FORBES. Monday, 4 p.m.

At three o'clock this morning, two men, representing themselves as Ben Hall and Johnny Gilbert, visited the house of Mr. H.P. Williamson, editor of the Miner. Mr W. was alone, and after some parley admitted them. He believes them to be Hall and Gilbert, but under the circumstances he had no alternative but to allow the police to do their own work.

The raid on Goimbla brought the vulnerability of the surrounding stations to the forefront. Station owners who assisted Campbell in searching for Hall subsequently took steps to prepare their properties against the marauders. Nevertheless, an unannounced arrival could prove perilous:

We feel called upon to make it known that several squatters resident in this neighbourhood (two of whom have been threatened) have converted their homesteads into something like fortified camps, and are ever on the qui vive. It would be well, therefore, if travellers would adopt the precaution of not approaching these places after, nightfall for fear of accident which might terminate seriously. We cannot particularise but are in a position to assert that a disposition to resist the ruffians, in the event of an attack, is now pretty general. Since the raid upon Goimbla, several narrow escapes have occurred, in which life was nearly being sacrificed owing to the existing necessity for vigilance.

However, Hall and Gilbert's shock at the loss of O'Meally left Forbes and retired to the familiar grounds of their old haunt, the Burrowa district. They as well sought out the O'Meally's, presenting their dead comrade's jewellery to O'Meally's sister, Ellen, aged 17. Ellen herself was a feisty young lass who in late 1862 led the NSW police a merry chase, over hill and dale, riding like the wind dressed as a boy resembling her brothers. To confound the police Ellen and her friend Elizabeth Mayhew was also similarly attired. On reaching home, the two girls changed into their dresses, as the fooled police led by trooper Clark became the butt of many a joke. So great was their humiliation of the law that a song appeared in the girl's honour called 'THE MAIDS OF MARENGO'.

Birth of Ambrose Stonham,
1867. Son of Alfred and
Mahalah Stonham.
Susan Prior, the mother of Ben Hall's daughter Mary now ten months old, was also in the Burrowa district employed as a housemaid on a local station at nearby Tangmangaroo 8 miles south of Burrowa township. Therefore, it is conceivable that Hall was taking respite at various periods into late 1863 and early 1864 in Susan and his daughter's company. The farm in which Susan was employed belonged to Alfred Stonham, an immigrant from England who married Mahalah Dengate at Gundaroo near Gunning, New South Wales, in 1853. Susan's relationship with Stonham would mature.

Mahalah Stonham.
However, in 1864 Susan Prior gave birth to Alfred John, whose birth was registered at Yass with Alfred Stonham, named the father; however, Alfred was married and living with his wife, Mahalah. Consequently, 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 his birth was attributed to Alfred Stonham to deflect any link to Ben Hall. Alfred Stonham would marry Susan Prior in 1882, and the couple had several children. Ben Hall's daughter Mary would as well become Mary Stonham. When Alfred John died in 1932, he was interned with his mother, Susan.

Arriving in the confines of Burrowa, Hall and Gilbert returned to the road and the rich pickings of the tracks within the gold district. 'The Burrangong Star' ran this headline that Hall and Gilbert were in their old quarters again highlighting the pairs resurgence in the district:

The reign of terror has again commenced in this district. The villains, Hall and Gilbert, are once more amongst us. Like an invading army, these ruffians soon make their progress known by fire, rapine, violence, robbery, and too often murder. Nothing daunted by the losses they have sustained in the deaths of O'Meally and Burke, and the apprehension of Vane, they again brave justice, and set at defiance the outraged laws of the land. Some of the miscreants have met the fate they long deserved, two having been shot down like dogs. It was to have been both hoped and expected that the deaths of these men would have struck terror into the hearts of the out laws. Vain hope! Deceitful expectation! It has only had the effect of making them more desperate and more callous to their fate. Last week the townspeople and inhabitants of the district generally were astounded at hearing rumours of the appearance o! the desperadoes in this part of the colony, and the natural consequence— sticking-up of a number of persons on the Burrowa Road. All the information obtainable here was very meagre, the accounts being of a most contradictory nature. Hall and Gilbert, since their visit, appear to have lost no time. On Tuesday, 1st instant, forty men, women, and children were stuck up.

Controlling the roads and not a trooper insight, on Saturday 6th December, the mail from Young to Yass via Burrowa was stopped and robbed. Bailing up the mails, Gilbert was keen to obtain the newspaper of the day to glean stories of their exploits and accounts of their former mates following Vane's surrender and O'Meally and Burke's deaths. News of the 26th November 1863 reported O'Meally as reburied at Forbes in heavy rain and thunder. The Lachlan correspondent of the 'Bathurst Times writes:

The of the remains O'Meally:—The body of this notorious criminal was brought to Forbes by coach on Thursday, the 26th ultimo, about 5 p.m. and was buried in the general cemetery. It was escorted by his brother, who rode a little ahead, and another horseman. There were three persons in the coach with the coffin, and another sat by the driver. It rained heavily at the time of the arrival of the cortege in the town, and the sullen thunder which reverberated with an almost thunderous roll was a fitting requiem for so such criminal.

However, on the outskirts of Burrowa, a family known as Coffey owned a blacksmith and general store with a school attached on the road, passing a creek of the same name. Coffey immigrated to NSW in 1841 from Ireland onboard the 'Pearl' as a free single male occupation blacksmith. In 1842 Coffey married Honora Ryan, another immigrant from Ireland and the pair produced ten children. The store was well-known to police as a retreat of rogues and vagabonds linked to Hall and Gilbert. Coffey's were as well a source of converting stolen cheques to cash for Gilbert and Hall. As such, it was a safe harbour. However, in the last days of November or thereabouts, Hall and Gilbert allegedly conducted several robberies, including the purported robbery of the Coffey's themselves at home.

Furthermore, in conjunction with the infamous bushrangers riding the paddocks of Burrowa, another band of long-time scoundrels was robbing all comers between Binalong, Bowning and Burrowa during the last months of 1863. These men were reported with one of the party sporting a police tunic. Two of whom were known to Hall and Gilbert. They were George Lynham and Michael Corcoran, who were robbing travellers with long-time mate Michael Seary. These three had come to prominence during Hall, Gilbert and Co.'s activities in the Carcoar-Bathurst region. They had recently conducted a hold-up at Dalton, forcing entry into the home of William Townsend, Wm Brown and John Wheatley stealing £80 on 12th November 1863. Cocoran was described as 5ft 9in, with fair hair and complexion. Like Gilbert, Yass Courier reported:

A number of travellers were stuck up yesterday between Bowning, Binnalong, and Burrowa. Two teams loaded from Messrs. Davis, Alexander, and Co., of Goulburn, were also stuck up. From one of the teamsters, the bushrangers took £35. A woman was bailed up from seven in the morning till late in the evening; and a newly married couple, travelling from Burrowa, were robbed of everything they possessed worth taking. One of the bushrangers had on a policeman's jacket. They did not belong to Gilbert's gang. The police have been out all night in search of the bushrangers.

So common was the claims of locals in being confronted by Ben Hall that it elicited this observation by Yass businessman Edward Watts:

It is a fact, daily becoming better known, and to none more patent than to the police of Gunning and of Yass, that under cover of Ben Hall's name and reputation many outrages have been committed by parties of whom, the law has not taken cognizance, and who never saw Ben Hall in their lives, and, judging from the experience of the last three years, it by no means follows that no bushrangers are in a district because the police do not come across them.

Coffey was arrested
with some Keightley ransom
money paid by Hall
 for lodgings.
Newspaper correspondents were soon appraised of Hall, and Gilbert roaming the district of Burrowa and broke the Coffey's plight under the gun's of Hall and Gilbert. However, the widely reported robbery was an ill-conceived attempt by the shady Coffey's in concealing that Hall and Gilbert were guests at their home. As payment for a night's sleep and ablutions, the bushrangers remitted to the Coffey's cash, which had been part of the ransom from the October 1863 Keightley raid.

Coffey's fake robbery was attributed to Hall. Gilbert was in effect an attempt to recover the cost of a spring cart recently purchased by Coffey for £35 from Mr Aaron Steenbohm, a Hawker paid for out of the Keightley ransom money. Coffey got word to Hall and Gilbert to rob Mr Aaron Steenbohm, who had arrived at the Coffey's 27th November 1863, and recover his funds. Thereby, Coffey could claim the spring cart payment to Steenbohm as lost and, in the process, deflect any subsequent connection to the ransom money. For Coffey, it was a win-win. For Steenbhom, it was a lose-lose. The fact that Coffey was a harbourer and close friend of the bushrangers was highlighted in Mrs Steenbohm later evidence where she commented on Ben Hall reprimanding Gilbert for spilling the beans:

Gilbert said to me, "Give me up the money;" I said. "I have not a shilling;" he then said, "That I may be taken this minute, and (using an imprecation) if you say that again," "I will blow your brains out. I know to the shilling what you have and where and from whom you got it;" I asked him, "Who told you?" He was just uttering the word when Hall interposed, "You fool don't tell, or they'll split, and tell where we are harboured," every person who came by Coffey's were bailed up in the house.

Honora (Nora) Coffey.
NSW Police Gazette
December 1863.
The Coffey's ruse was soon uncovered, and Coffey and his wife were bought before the court at Burrowa, the magistrates being Messrs. Bernard and Hayes.  They were charged and bailed to be called upon for aiding bushrangers:

At the Burrowa police court on Monday, the 28th,—Coffey and his wife were brought up charged with aiding and abetting two bushrangers, supposed to be Ben Hall and Gilbert. The charge, in fact, was that the prisoners had circulated some of the notes received by the bushrangers as the ransom money of Mr. Keightley and that they had aided bushrangers who had robbed about forty persons at their place on the 2nd of last month. After hearing the evidence, the bench discharged the prisoners on their own recognizance of £100 each, to appear when called for.

Many of those connected to Hall and arrested were never short of a quid. Bails and sureties often deposited in the hundreds of pounds always appear ready at hand. Whatever associations between the local harbourers or recipients of stolen goods, they had a positive cash flow. In today's terms, £1 in 1863 equates to $84 in 2020. Therefore, Coffey's £200 paid to the court would amount to $16,800.00, even today still a considerable sum. The local populace took great interest in the court proceedings as it was noted that even though it was harvest time, the court was packed; "This ease created so much interest that the court was crowded, notwithstanding that the people had the business of harvesting to attend to.-Burrangong Times.

The Coffey escapade was graphically illustrated in detail by Arron Steenbohm and Mrs Rachael Steenbohm at the Burrowa Court; Rachael Steenbhom was sworn. Her evidence has not yet been published. It is as follows:
Friday 15th January 1864
NSW Police Gazette
12th Dec 1863.
While at Coffey's, anyone passing along the road was challenged and directed to come in. A young gentleman named Campbell objected to the order and galloped off. Hall jumped on his horse, pursued him for some distance but without overtaking him. The next day, Gilbert and Hall still at Coffey's chased Mr James Poplin's son, Charles, who was mounted on a magnificent Grey horse. Charles beat his pursuers and got away. One of the detainees later commented that Gilbert was very playful with some, but Hall appeared to be more sullen and reserved deportment. Hall' sullenness may have been from the effects of seeing O'Meally's head blown apart and still playing on his mind, as well as the dangerous environment where death could come from any direction and by anyone. After all, £1000 could change a life!

Furthermore, rumours indicated that Hall and Gilbert, while canvassing Burrowa, had got wind of the possibility that the recent compensation to be paid by the government to the Chinese miners routed at Lambing Flat after the 1861 riots said to be about £4,000 was to pass through Burrowa en-route to the Flat:

It is supposed by many here that in consequence of the Chinese claim, amounting to upwards of £4000, being now in course of payment, that this neighbourhood will be again the rendezvous of Gilbert and his party.

However, there were more wily protagonists than Hall and Gilbert seeking the Chinese compensation monies when it was reported by; The 'Burrangong Star'; 

That some of the compensation money granted to the Chinese for losses sustained by the Lambing Flat riots has passed into the wrong hands, through one Chinese personating another.

The Chinese ruse was, however, foiled; 

Some of the Chinese have during the week endeavoured to deceive Mr Campbell and the commissioners by answering when their names were called, and to pass themselves off for those mentioned in the Government lists as being entitled to receive the compensation money for loss sustained during the Burrangong riots. One of them succeeded in doing so and obtained a cheque from those gentlemen. One report last night stated for upwards of £300— others for £104. The Chinaman we understand is in the lock-up, but the cheque cannot be found. It is supposed he has passed it away amongst his country men. As it has no doubt been reported to the bank and payment stopped, it will of coarse be useless to the holder. Others of the celestial's who tried to work the dodge with the authorities are also in custody. It is a very difficult thing to identity the real Simon Pures, many of these fellows are so much alike that it is not a very easy matter to tell one from the other besides there are so many of the same name.

The bushrangers instead of Chinese good fortune turned to another interrogating a shearer about the man who bolted Campbell, questioning when the men of the station would be paid:

They left the house with a shearer of Mr Campbell's, whom they asked when the men were going to be paid. On being told the following day, they left the man within a short distance of the house.

The whole of the affair at Coffey's hinged on the recovery of the five-pound notes from Keightley's ransom, whereas happened with Donald Cheshire, the Coffey's faced possible incarceration. Soon after, the facade of the robbery Hall and Gilbert to protect one of the few who would give them safe harbour denied ever being present when the Steenbohm's were robbed. The headline read GILBERT AND HIS MATE.- The Bathurst Times says:

Apropos of "sticking up," we have it upon the authority of one who has had the misfortune to come lately in contact with Gilbert and Ben Hall, that they indignantly repudiate any connection with the party who with blackened faces recently attacked and robbed the residence of Mrs Coffey, near Burrowa. In fact, said Gilbert, there was, no necessity for any disguise on their part as "the milk was spilt, and they must abide by it.

Hall and Gilbert remained in the confines of the district surrounding Binalong, Bowning, Burrowa. Spending possibly some nights with Susan Prior. On the 21st November, Hall was seen camped at The Marengo Gap;

The Marengo correspondent of the same paper thus writes on the 21st;"Last night the bushranger camped at the junction of the Marengo Gap and Calabash runs, near the Middle Station. 

Some of the sightings noted that Gilbert and Hall were mounted on very ill-conditioned horses. So free and comfortable were the bushrangers in their movements and not the least concerned with the scouting police that after the night camping at Marengo Gap, the same correspondent noted Gilbert's visit to a former mate working cattle:

Early this morning, as an acquaintance of mine was tailing cattle near there they rode up to him, and Gilbert, who knew him, said "How are you?" got off his horse and had a long talk (offering not the slightest violence), and asked after many whom he had formerly known when he was an honest, light-hearted stock keeper at the Gap and Mullhollands, but from whom, through his present vile career, he is now widely separated. Whenever any of the good folks around here talk of Gilbert—or "Johnny," as they generally term him—the conversation nearly always winds up with a shake of the head, and saying, "Well, well, whoever would have dreamt of that quiet, civil-spoken, respectable-looking young fellow turning out as he has; oh! it is all through that villain Gardiner" — the finale to which remark I fully endorse. It is a thousand pities that the arch tempter and founder of this desperate gang were ever permitted to escape and that too with the lion's share of the unrecovered portion of the escort robbery in his possession, valued at more than £9000. The gang is not camping around here without an object; that object is either to intercept the mail between here and Young or to pounce upon some of the horses now in training for the various races. Gilbert and Ben Hall were seen near Burrowa on the previous day. We believe that Gilbert, Hall, and a third party were seen crossing the bridge at Burrowa on Monday last.

On the 3rd of December, the bushrangers were seen between Burrowa and Bendenine (Bendinne), Mr. C. O'Brien's station. Hall and Gilbert came out of the bush near the main road and scrutinised a traveller but did not meddle with him. Ben Hall having since replaced his knocked up horse, "was then mounted on a remarkably fine horse," and that since leaving Coffey's, Hall acquired his mount at the expense of Mr Poplin. The troopers from Burrowa, Marengo and Yass, set off in pursuit, but they had no success locating the bushrangers. Hall and Gilbert next appeared at the station of Mr Smellie of Taringo:

We have been informed that the bushrangers previously visited Mr. Smellie's house, at Taringo, and were disappointed at not getting any money there. They also stated that on the previous day they noticed the police in a paddock near Burrowa, but did not care for that, as they knew the police never intended to take them.

NSW Police Gazette.
16th December 1863.

Newspapers were inundated with new outrages against those travelling the roads. A few days after the Coffey occurrence on Saturday, December 5th, Hall and Gilbert held up the Binalong to Yass mail five miles from Burrowa on the Binalong road. Ben Hall and Gilbert walked out of the scrub adjacent to the road and waited patiently for the approaching coach. A passenger Mr Handley who had just completed an engagement with Mr Scott, of Burrowa, as a miller, and was proceeding to Sydney, observed the pair as "being exceedingly clean and well dressed."

As the coach approached, they waved the driver down and ordered him to pull up, Gilbert presenting a revolver at the time, with Hall mounted resting a double-barrelled gun across his knee. Gilbert, who appeared throughout the robbery, to have acted with some authority over his companion. Ordered the Whip to a spot 300yds off the road where four other persons were sitting on the ground. Three mailbags were thrown out. Hall took one, and Gilbert searched the other two. Ripping open the bags, they examined each letter's contents, taking what notes and cheques were found. One of the letters contained a cheque where Gilbert asked Handley if he could cash it for him:

On coming to one that contained a cheque for £37, asked Handley if he could give them change for it. On being told that he could not, Gilbert said he supposed they would have to go into Yass and cash them themselves.

Hall appeared rather disgusted at the useless bounty which would be difficult to cash.

As such, Ben Hall contemplated destroying the mail. Mr Handley interjected, requesting him not to do so, as it would be useless destruction of property Gilbert joined in, placating Hall. Hall threw the cheques down with the remark, "If I thought it would do the bastards an injury, I would burn the lot." One of the other four captives asked if he might go now, and Gilbert said, "Yes, you may all go except the mailman" The four men left. Handley remained to continue in the coach with the mail. At one stage, as the letters were opened, Hall came across a piece of wedding cake. Hall looked at it very wistfully and was half inclined to eat it but at last threw it down, "No, damn it; it may be a trap." Gilbert also found a letter in a black-bordered envelope this he put carefully on one side, without touching it, expressing his intention always to pay due respect to death.

During the activities, Mr Handley asked Gilbert about a stolen watch, asking Gilbert if he remembered taking a gold watch from Murphy some time previously. He answered that he did. Mr Handley then said, "Are you aware that the watch belonged to Mrs Scott, of Burrowa, and that Murphy was only fetching it out to her from the Flat." Gilbert replied that he was not aware that if he had known it to be hers, he would not have taken it. He also said that if Mr Handley were so inclined, he would give it to him to return to Mrs Scott. Handley expressed his will to do so, and Gilbert took it off a gold chain, adorned with four or five others worn around his neck, handing it to Handley. Subsequently, the watch was given to the mailman by Handley. Arriving at Binalong, the mailman handed the watch over to the police.

The two bushrangers laughed and chatted while they were opening the letters. Gilbert remarked that it would give the newspapers something to talk about again and show them that he and his mate were still game enough to stick up the mails whenever they wanted money. Searching the newspapers, Gilbert read one that contained the latest account of John Vane giving himself up—giving their opinion of the cowardice of their former companion in terms that were by no means complimentary. Handley commented to Gilbert that he could inform him further of Vanes situation, stating: