|The Charters' former home,|
now Fern Hill. c. 1970's.
Reputed birthplace of
Courtesy Carcoar Historical Society.
Hall was forced to decamp his previous stomping ground, Lambing Flat through round-the-clock pressure from the police combing Hall's Weddin and Pinnacle bush haunts. In their search, the police adopted a new dress code by dispensing with standard police uniforms. These were replaced by troopers wearing bushman's apparel, making it difficult for the bushrangers to determine friend from foe. The effort of the police brought heart to the locals convinced that the gangs days were numbered, '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..."
Nevertheless, the police failed to break the 'Cone of Silence' of those favourable to Hall. Even though a reward of £500 was on offer. Carcoar also allowed an opportunity for Hall to seek shelter with his elder sister Mary. In 1851 Mary Hall had married an ex-convict, William Wright, and had settled in the Carcoar area first at 'Bulligal Station' where Wright was shepherding sheep. William Wright passed away near Forbes in 1861, and Mary married George Huddy at Forbes. In her last years, Mary settled in Charters Towers Queensland.
Furthermore, Hall's avoidance of capture continued to bring his activities dead centre of governmental alarm. Accordingly, the dissent centered over the costs of administering what appeared to be a jinxed police force. In some sections, the police's lack of energy was deemed scandalous.
In an economic shock to NSW, the cost of policing for the year ending 1863 was £257,000 (today $21,588,000, £1=$84). The funding subsequently highlighted public money being expended in the pursuit of Hall and Company. Many NSW parliamentary members understandably were indignant over the costs, with a population of some 350,000. Many in the parliament and press would not let the matter rest, continuing to badger Colonial Secretary Charles Cowper over the impunity in which Hall conducted his terror attacks. The badgering was loudest by those seats harassed by the bushrangers. In turn, putting their parliamentary seat in jeopardy; '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."
Regardless of parliamentary outrage Ben Hall continued scot-free, holding sway over the Queen's roads. Ben Hall, accompanied by Gilbert and Burke, eased into the Carcoar district, where even the onslaught of inclement weather failed to hamper their activities nor assist the police as the spring rains fell. Newspaper's reported that the only ones making a go of it under the inclement times were Hall, Gilbert and Burke and their spies; 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
However, by late-1863, every suspected robbery was a victims cry of Ben Hall! Ben Hall! As it had earlier been Gardiner! Gardiner! However, this was not always correct. Subsequently, amongst those thousands flooding the gold districts, there were many rogues and vagabonds in its ranks—a significant number of those were luckless miners short of a quid or on the lam—accordingly, a few committed one-off robberies and murder, "On Saturday last [sic] 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."
While Ben Hall, John Gilbert, and Micky Burke undertook operations in the Rockley, Carcoar, and Mount Macquarie area. Their compatriots John O'Meally and Vane had lingered behind the Weddin/Burrangong district. Having been ostracised over the murder of John Barnes at Wallendbeen Station. Vane and O'Meally's had remained in the area of Lambing Flat. (Evidenced through John Vane's biography.) Vane clearly stated that the pair had not arrived in the neighbourhood of Carcoar until about the 21st of September 1863. Vane's memoir precludes the couple from an active part in robberies with Hall between 1st-22nd September 1863; Vane op. cit. "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 then comments; op. cit. "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. See Gang Page.)
Hall in the Carcoar district, the police continued to be on edge as they searched the Weddin for Hall. However, some youthful boys at the Weddin Mountains chastised a patrol of mounted troopers giving the impression they were bushrangers. The troopers determined to capture them, and the windfall attached to their capture gave chase covering eight miles, finally overhauling the youths. The police, not at all amused, to find some recalcitrant boys making fools of them dealt out a thrashing to the mischievous lads.; 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." (Imagine the police doing this today. Although it is much needed.)
On the 19th of September, O'Meally and Vanes sin-binning came to an end, and the pair set about seeking out their comrades at Carcoar. Commencing the 70-mile trek to rejoin their companions. A trek that took a few days; op. cit. “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 camp mentioned above would roughly be within a mile south of the southern extremity of the Carcoar Dam in Mount Macquarie's confines'. (The coach robbery referred to is highlighted below and conducted by Gilbert, Hall and Burke.) Vane continues; op. cit. “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 with positive news of Ben Hall. However, what appeared to be a case of mistaken identity between the two parties upon contact created confusion between them. Vane recounted that he and O'Meally had unknowingly stumbled upon Ben Hall's camp thinking it was a police camp. However, on the gang finally re-joining. It arose that both sets of bushrangers feared each other as the police now wearing bushman apparel, championed by Sir Frederick Pottinger. The five bushrangers, following much amusement between themselves, reunited; Vane op. cit. “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...” Together again, the five bushrangers remained in camp some six miles north of the nondescript settlement of Number One (Neville) and prepared to mount new and daring activities. Now a formidable gang and heavily armed they would ensnare some unsuspecting troopers.
|Cowra Mail Robbery,|
NSW Police Gazette
Note, Description of the 2nd
perpetrator matches that
of Ben Hall.
Before their reconciliation and a stone's throw from the town of Blayney, a brazen mail coach robbery occurred on Saturday 19th September 1863. Subsequently, most historians assume that Gilbert, O'Meally and Burke perpetrated this particular robbery and, in some references, Gilbert, O'Meally and Vane. Whereas solid research indicates, the hold-up did not involve John O'Meally or Vane but Gilbert, Hall and Burke. It is well established through historical records and memoirs that led up to 19th September 1863 demonstrates that O'Meally and Vane were transitioning from the Weddin Mountains.
Therefore, the evidence puts beyond doubt that the perpetrators were John Gilbert, Ben Hall and Micky Burke. They were noted by the au fait descriptions of the perpetrators in the NSW Police Gazette September 1863. The latter, in this case, Burke wearing a face covering. (See the description right.)
In Charles White's John Vane Bushranger, narrated by John Vane and published after Vane's death in 1906, the Cowra Mail robbery is not recalled. Only the later episodes at Marsh's Farm as well as the Stanley Hosie raid at Caloola. The Cowra mail was a success, and Vane often recounted his successes and bravado. Finally, the bushrangers generally deliberately confused their victims with their identities by either claiming to be police or each other at various times. Even in some instances stating that Gardiner was observing. However, it must be emphasised that Ben Hall's description maintains he was short and stout in stature, and considered overweight, roughly 190 lbs-13½ stone as per police descriptions. The other members were all lithe.
|NSW Police Gazette|
30th September 1863.
In the wake of a spell in a bush camp, the well-rested bushrangers remounted and returned to the Queen's roads. Consequently, on the 22nd September 1863 as the five bushrangers roamed the scrub near Mount Macquarie. Coincidentally, three NSW troopers, Turnbull (Trumble), Evenden and Cromie, were also out in the scrub searching for the elusive bushrangers. The troopers, who had been patrolling in the vicinity of Long Swamp, were returning to Carcoar. However, eight miles from Long Swamp in the mid-afternoon, the three troopers arrived at a local farmer's small property owned by Mr & Mrs Marsh and their five children with Mrs Marsh pregnant with their sixth child. Their farm sat in the shadow of Mt Macquarie southeast of Carcoar. On arrival, the troopers made inquiries regarding any sighting of the bushrangers. They were also looking forward to some relaxation and refreshments.
However, while they were relaxing, Marsh responded to their enquiry and commented that he had seen a horse not far off, saddled, and believed it belonged to the bushrangers, namely Micky Burke, whom Marsh knew well. Armed with this information and a quick discussion, trooper Cromie accompanied by Marsh set off to investigate and retrieve the animal. In the process, unfortunately, the pair were suddenly confronted by those for whom the police were seeking, 'Golden Age' of October 1863, STICKING UP THE POLICE AGAIN. "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 confrontation saw the three troopers charged by their commander Superintendent Morrissett with 'Neglect of Duty'. Furthermore, it was an expensive day for the police. The kidnapping of the troopers enabled the bushrangers to rearm with new and devastating firepower. The equipment loss was noted as; "four breech-loading carbines, and [sic] four revolvers, and all the holsters, straps, breastplates, and other lumber that make up the total of a trooper's accoutrements."
|A contemporary view|
of the capture of the
troopers by Ben Hall.
The offensive comment "never expected to be called upon to pursue bushrangers" from the three troopers blighted the broader police effort. However, it did paint a picture of the men being terrified by their encounter. Making such scandalous statements concerning their lack of pluck (Guts) brought great discredit to the government and the police. Incensed at the capitulation brought the ire of the townsfolk of Carcoar who through a correspondent of the 'Bathurst Times' expressed the following view, "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 fire arms from them. Would it not be better to furnish the police with some make believe fire arms? 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, breast plates, 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 fire arms with effect should be sent in pursuit." - Bathurst Times. The reluctance to face the bushrangers head-on would rear its ugly head various times over the next few years as the gang pressed home their raids. Furthermore, at the Goulburn Court, Ben Hall's former confederates, Patrick 'Patsy' Daley and John Jameison, following months in custody, were given fifteen-year gaol sentences each, the first year in Irons.
|NSW Police Gazette|
for Daley and Jameison
|NSW Police Gazette|
Never before published.
by Brenda Simmons.
|Hosie's store Hill End. |
Hosie is first on the left.
In the wake of the devilment at Hosie’s, the bushrangers ventured across the country, crisscrossing their way towards another remote settlement, the small town of Canowindra roughly 44 miles to the west of Caloola. However, while en route to Canowindra and late on the night of the 26th of September 1863. The bushrangers diverted to ‘Grubbenbong Station’ some 15 miles from Caloola, reputedly accoutered as previously in police attire.
|Mr John Loudon|
'Grubbenbong Station' was owned by Mr John Loudon J.P. Loudon, had been recently appointed by the NSW Government as a Magistrate of the Colony. In the dead of night and en-route to Loudon's, the bushrangers made contact with their telegraphs. The Telegraphs provided intelligence that several troopers were lodged at the station. Without fear, the bushrangers descended, arriving at 10 in the evening invoking their well-practised modus operandi of gathering up the station hands first and securing them in the station's store. Then, with all the station hands stabled, the gang proceeded to the homestead to track down the reputedly visiting police. Subsequently, Ben Hall, knocking at the homestead's backdoor, startled Mrs Loudon, who called out, "who was there," and the reply was, "Police". Mr Loudon then asked which officer and the answer came, "Sanderson."
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.
During John Vane's December 1863 trial at Bathurst for bushranging, Loudon was called as a witness. Loudon's evidence, also described how well armed the gang were—carrying both revolvers and carbines. Commenting on how the bushrangers opened fire indiscriminately without any concern for the lives of those inside. The 'Illawarra Mercury' Friday 11th December, 1863; John Loudon, being duly sworn, said: “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.
At the time of the audacious raid, the overseer was Mr Charles Young, who 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|
22nd October 1863.
A depiction of
Ben Hall & Co.'s evening
Note the papers use
of satire with the artist name.
|A Dambrod Board.|
A game of Draughts.
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." Interestingly! Mrs Loudon raised an issue in the interview that has long been in contention. That is, in the dramatic attack to come in the following weeks at the station of Henry Keightley, where one of the bushrangers would be fatally wounded. Mrs Loudon believed that another gang member fired the shot attributed to Keightley? Naming Ben Hall!
|Cliefden c., 1900.|
Never before published.
Blue Jacket Lookout, 2016.
|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.|
Nevertheless, for the next few weeks, Ben Hall would hover in the district. Canowindra was the one town that was to become well acquainted with the gang. Gaining lasting historical notoriety. Arriving at Canowindra from Rothery's, the bushrangers rode in dismounting outside the General Store of Pierce and Hilliar. Drawing their revolvers, they strolled in; “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...”⁵ The property stolen from the store included five pairs of boots, five waistcoats, four pounds of tobacco, and £9 cash. The occasion presented an opportunity for the boy to enjoy themselves and escape the current wet and trying conditions of living rough. Therefore, without any malice, they gathered up the townsfolk and herded them into the local hotel. Once gathered, the gang exhibited no vindictiveness towards any of the citizens.
|William Robinson owner|
of the Traveller's Rest Hotel,
situated on the Cowra side of
the Belubula River
12th July 1862.
Moreover, the evening turned into a welcoming distraction for the town's inhabitants as the bushrangers rounded up its folk for a night of dancing. The evening was conducted in a friendly and festive atmosphere. As such, the night became legendary and was widely reviewed as a thoroughly enjoyable jubilee. The bushrangers were footing the bill at their own expense. No doubt via their ill-gotten gains; '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..."⁶
Newspapers continued to refer to the five bushrangers as Gilbert's gang and continued to do so until mid-1864. Then, however, local observers gave the title to Ben Hall, as Mrs Loudon commented. Shortly after the festivities at Canowindra, a resident's letter to relatives characterised the bushrangers appearance; —"The whole five are sober youngsters—none of them drink. 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 [sic] 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."
|Crossing the Belubula.|
by Frank Dunne,
The day dawned and the night’s entertainment at Robinson’s hotel and the pleasantries ended. Information regarding the gang’s movements following their departure came to light. It arose that the bushrangers separated. O’Meally and Gilbert remained close to the town, whereas Hall, Burke and Vane headed off to secure new mounts. However, the rain had been falling steadily, and the Belubula River was rising as Hall and the other two crossed over to the southern side. They rode on to ‘Bangaroo Station’, owned by Mr Icely. Here they had hoped to obtain some good horses. However, none were forthcoming. They returned to Canowindra. As the three bushrangers approached the previous crossing point, they were surprised and disconcerted to find the river had risen considerably. 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. Held up from crossing the rising waters, they consulted amongst themselves, deciding to swim the flooded river. Without hesitation and stripped naked, their guns rolled into their clothes. Hall plunged his horse in first;[sic] “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…” Next to go was Vane, but unfortunately, his horse stuttered and became unmanageable as it made the plunge into the raging waters. When the animal did so;[sic] ”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…”
As Vane’s horse floundered in the racing waters, Micky Burke, also naked, attempted to retrieve the distressed animal. After a struggle, Burke managed to save the horse from drowning. However, the panicked horse in its thrashing had lost Vane’s saddle, including £19 in bank notes, two revolvers, and other assorted possessions. By now, the waters were too quick to cross, therefore;[sic] “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…” That evening a soaked Vane returned to Canowindra and again ventured into Pearce's store to replace his attire from the remnants he was wearing as recounted by Pearce's brother, who was looking after the store; "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."
'Sydney Mail', Saturday, 10th October 1863;- [From a Correspondent.]- Carcoar, Saturday. October 3rd.- “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.
With a near miss from drowning, John Vane retells the event; Vane op. cit. “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 next morning when Burke re-joined us...”
However, a loss of weapons and devoid of suitable clothes, the bushrangers returned to Canowindra to refresh their wardrobe;[sic] "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..."
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.
In 'Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle', John O'Meally's family homestead's was incinerated. The O'Meally subject demonstrated a certain sympathy toward Ben Hall in his current circumstances and a strong criticism of the police's actions, seemingly condoned by the NSW government; 'Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle' 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..."
Courtesy of Harpur Critical
However, the assumption's expressed above have long proven to be without foundation. What's more, the above 'sympathetic' article may have been composed by the same gentleman. He had penned (unlike today, where almost every piece will bear the journalist's name. In this period, writers were only referred to as correspondents. They, therefore, did not attach their name or deem themselves as pseudo-celebrities!) the earlier June 1863 article in the 'Yass Courier' on Ben Hall's life. (See Ben Hall page.)
Nonetheless, the above article may well have sought out some empathy from the reader toward Hall. By conjuring up a view in the public mind for those unacquainted with Hall's background by encompassing, on the one hand, pity and a somewhat perverse praising of Hall's au courant actions. The general upsurge in Hall's notoriety via the newspapers covered the purported injustices wrought by authorities against Ben Hall. A point of view, far from the truth.
Hall relinquished his property voluntarily in September 1862. Under the 'Crown Lands Occupation Act of 1861,' Hall's home was incinerated to prevent its continued use as a bushranger base on 14th March 1863. NSW Parliamentarian Joseph Jehoshaphat Harpur, who personally knew Ben Hall through his mother Sarah Walsh nee Harpur nee Chidley, often defended the affected settlers. Harpur was severely critical of the police's heavy-handed practices against those settlers in the spotlight;[sic] "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."
|NSW Police Gazette|
7th October 1863.
Unperturbed by all the press reports surrounding their atrocities, The Boy's, whenever possible, sought newspapers to obtain their latest antics, viewing the stories with amusement and ridicule. Unsurprisingly, the gang had become utterly indifferent to the NSW police force and their floundering pursuit regarding their most recent successes and narrow escapes. Ben Hall, knowing he held the upper hand, the gang casually drifted from their jubilee at Canowindra, tracking east towards Bathurst's a mere 55 miles distant.
Moreover, though locals widely confirmed their presence in the area, many enjoyed visiting without fear of discovery. The bushrangers made the provincial town's outskirts, forming a camp close to Bathurst at Swan Pond. Swan Pond ran alongside Evans Plains Creek 4 miles from the town centre. Furthermore, they set up another base camp further south at Long Swamp near 'Mulgunnia Station' on the road to Trunkey. 'Sydney Morning Herald', 1st October 1863, announced the gang's presence in the Bathurst district;[sic] “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 district 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!
Of course, in 1863, as with the 21st-century, politician's talk is cheap! Obfuscation, an art form. The 'Lachlan Miner', of September 30th 1863, owned by H.P. Williamson, who later in the year would be called upon by Hall and Gilbert, highlighted the trial and tribulations of a police force under immense pressure to achieve success and for the first time the press referred to the contest between the bushrangers and the police as a 'Bushranger War'; STILL THE BUSHRANGER.- “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.
|NSW Police Gazette,|
30th September 1863.
The citizens of Burrowa and its surroundings, who for some time suffered the pillaging and plunder of Ben Hall, we're gratified by the news of two bushrangers being captured and incredibly joyous in one meeting his death. (Bushranger deaths were treated with jubilation.) However, on the news spreading of the confrontation at Wilding's, the townsfolk rushed to the lockup to catch a glimpse of the surviving severely beaten robber and a view of his displayed dead mate. At first, it was rumoured the men to be either Gilbert or O'Meally; ‘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." Phillips recovered and went down for five years of hard labour on the roads.
|View of Bathurst from|
With Machattie and Battye's dare in the back of their minds, the bushrangers were game to create a big sensation, appearing in force at Bathurst on the evening of Saturday the 3rd of October 1863, marking one of the most audacious raids ever committed by bushrangers in the history of NSW. As a result, Ben Hall, John Gilbert, O'Meally, Vane and Micky Burke breezed into the social and cultural centre of the Western Districts. A sprawling township and gateway to the rich western plains oft referred to as the 'City of the Plains'.
Bathurst grew following the 1813 crossing of the Blue Mountains by Surveyor William Evans. The latter accomplished the task of completely transiting the Blue Mountains, reaching the Macquarie River forty-two miles beyond Bathurst. Evans was the first European to cross the Great Dividing Range. However, faced with many trials and tribulations, the famous expedition led by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth earlier in 1813 fell short of having traversed the Great Divide. Furthermore, Evans, after struggled across the majestic ranges, noted; "surveyor [sic] It was like a glimpse of Paradise after his strenuous journey over the Blue Mountains."
Bathurst's founding soon followed in 1815 and established on the main track to and from Sydney via the road cut-out across the Blue Mountains constructed by William Cox, and hundreds of convicts completed in late 1815.[sic] "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.
Courtesy E. Penzig.
Furthermore, Bathurst was a town that was very familiar to Ben Hall. In 1856, Ben married Bridget Walsh at St Michael's Catholic Church on William Street. Father Jerome Keating performed the nuptials. In Hall's pre-bushranging days, he was known to visit often. These stayovers were also in the company of his older brother William. Hall reputedly held his wedding party at the 'Bentinck and Piper Inn', licensed to Alexander Crilly after his marriage. Afterwards, the newly married couple enjoyed Bathurst for a reported five days.
However, for the bushrangers as a whole, Bathurst was also the lion's den, for the town was the headquarters of the NSW Western police aptly led by Superintendent Morrissett. Superintendent Morrissett and other NSW police officers, including Inspector Pottinger, continually scoured the local area for the five elusive bushrangers.
|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
In 1907 Charles White, an eyewitness to the famous Bathurst raid, published 'John Vane, Bushranger', highlighting Vane's membership. However, much of Vane's story is out of sequence regarding time, place and events. However, Vane's account is worthwhile regarding the bushrangers' actions in the lead-up to all of the events related to the Bathurst phenomenon. Vane rode with Hall from August 1863 till November 1863.
Therefore, in the lead up to the Bathurst raid, Vane recounts the gang's attitude on his and Hall's return to camp, re-joining Gilbert, O'Meally and Micky Burke. Here the pair outlined the conversation with 'Dosh' Machattie and the fiery Charles 'Bertie' Battye's, and their challenge to them;[sic] “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;[sic] “We’ll show you about that.”
John O’Meally, always game, was ready to jump at a chance for action. Vane op. cit. “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 of failing to belt the boys, responded; op cit. “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; op. cit. “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.”
Accordingly, the run into Bathurst was agreed upon by all. The raid settled. Vane claimed he might obtain one of the 'Revolving Rifles' or the 'Double-Trigger revolvers saying Pedrotta's gun-shop would most likely hold the fancy weapon. Furthermore, Johnny Gilbert stated that he had desires on the thoroughbred racehorse 'Pacha' which could be stolen from his former employer 'Dublin Jack' DeClouet's hotel 'The Sportsman Arms.' The gang prepared for the ride to Bathurst, selecting from their stock the best horses. The journey commenced early on Saturday morning, on the 3rd of October 1863. The bushrangers evaded public roads. They travelled by way of Newbridge, Wimbledon, George's Plains, then crossed The Evan's Plains arriving at the mount known as Bald Hill, which overlooked Bathurst. Here the gang rested to wait out the day till the early evening.
Bathurst, "a big sensation."
In the early dusk, the bushrangers prepared to enter the town. Saturday in Bathurst was re-stocking day. A day when all the outlying farm folk attended to replenish their groceries, they enjoyed a much needed festive night out. In 1863 trading hours were not defined. That night another five young men on horseback riding through the streets was not an unusual sight. ('John Vane, Bushranger', can be accessed from the Links Page, see pages 124-132 inclusive on the Bathurst raid.)
The hustle and bustle of a Saturday in town were in full swing with farmers and such; the sounds of the city permeated the night air, and music from the dance hall's filtered across the city as others shopped or caught up with friends. No one had expected the bushrangers to materialise. As those mingling and went about their affairs, five well dressed and superbly mounted men drew little attention as they casually walked then jogged their horses down William Street into the town centre;[sic] "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..."
|View of Bathurst from cnr of |
Russell and Stewart St
Frank Walker, 1861-1948.
All hell was breaking loose as the audacity of the gang's fearless actions was hitting home. A correspondent from the 'Bathurst Times' published a frantic call to all good citizens to help eradicate the scourge of bushranging and set forth an opinion that Ben Hall and Gilbert's actions were more about taunting the authorities than from the scarcity of the rewards; (See link below from the Bathurst Times, October 5th 1863)
1800 - 1883.
|NSW Police Gazette|
14th October 1863.
|Pedrotta's Gunshop located|
in William St., It was situated
next to Rachel Leed's Great
Western Hotel, seen here
on the right.
|Howick St & William St|
St Michael's in the
background. John Staines
and William Matthews
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;[sic] "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[sic] "last hour had come", began to scream, which startled the bushrangers, one of whom threatened to[sic] "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,[sic] "Police! Bushrangers! Bushrangers! Police!"
|Charles De Clouet,|
son of 'Dublin Jack'
The gang turned into Piper street, reigning their horses at the rear of the 'Sportsman Arms Hotel' and the public house of the thoroughbred racehorse 'Pacha' owner, Mr DeClouet, aka 'Dublin Jack'.
Unruffled by the sounds of excitement excited city echoing through the night, the gang entered DeClouet's via the back fence and made for the stables. Here they came across the hotel's Groom and demanded 'Pacha'. The Ostler named Mark informed the bushrangers that Mr DeClouet had the keys for the stable. 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."
While O'Meally, Burke and Vane waited in the yard, Hall and Gilbert proceeded into the hotel and entered through the back door bailing up all those present. Rachel DeClouet, while preparing her children for bed, was confronted by Hall in search of the hotel's cash box. While holding her child in her arms, Rachel, without a thought, asked Hall to hold the baby while getting the tin. Hall laughed as he showed her the revolvers in his hands. However, the contents of the cash box in hand Ben Hall became impatient after hearing the gallop of a suspected body of mounted police pass close told Gilbert to be quick about it. Gilbert gave up his chance for the horse, with both DeClouet and the ostler refusing to divulge the stable keys' whereabouts.
'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|
Piper St, Bathurst.
The five bushrangers re-mounted and headed off down George street towards Milltown.
However, on leaving the Sportsman's Arms, Hall left a message for Machattie that both his and young Battye's horses were in Mrs Mutton's paddock on the Vale Road about a mile from town. Sure enough, on the following morning, Machattie horse was located in the spot indicated. Unfortunately, however, someone knicked Battye's horse as it was not there. They also told John DeClouet that if the two young men had not dared them to come to Bathurst, they would never have thought of coming or pass up a chance of "having a lark" when the opportunity offered.
|Bathurst streetscape at|
the time of the Ben Hall
|Another view from|
Bald Hill of Bathurst.
After some heated words between the two antagonists, which lasted some ten minutes, Gilbert, not liking the ridicule dished out by O'Meally, sulked for some time like a spoilt child. Finally, however, Gilbert would not let the matter rest and, still, fuming, declared he would separate from O'Meally and go off on his own, asking who would join him. His impassioned plea fell on deaf ears as Hall, Burke and Vane declined. Then, with peace restored, the camp settled down, with Gilbert resting some distance off by himself. After Gilbert rode in fright, the police recovered the abandoned horse. ‘The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser’, Thursday 8th October 1863; Bathurst- “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...” Having escaped Bathurst successfully and with information from their messengers. The bushrangers were told that their ‘big sensation’ had given the jitters to the townsfolk, also that the police were out in force. They were searching in every direction, including some volunteers. Unperturbed, Ben Hall made for the unprotected Vale Road four miles south of Bathurst, raiding the stores and Inn’s scattered along the thoroughfare under the noses of the police.
|James Martin, MLA.|
|Night raid on Bathurst.|
Patrick William Marony
Hen & Chickens Hotel
Criticism by the citizens of New South Wales over the polices' ineptness regarding the bushrangers raids along the Vale Road was resounding. Bringing their actions or, more succinctly, the continued dereliction of duty again under closer scrutiny. Highlighted by their most recent lack-luster efforts at Marsh's Farm or at least a willingness to engage in a confrontation only added to the headaches of the inspector general and colonial secretary.
In the wake of the bushrangers triumph's, with the Bathurst visit, and the ease of the robberies along the Vale Road. A correspondent for the 'Bathurst Times' ventured out to the scene, taking first-hand accounts from the victims.
Gave a detailed view of how the bushrangers proceeded in the night, the number of stores robbed, and stolen property. The correspondent reported that four other men were in company with the gang during the last stage of the robberies. He believed them to be local bush telegraphs. These telegraphs showed how well informed Ben Hall was of the police movements. The intelligence enabled the gang to proceed with their business without a care in the world.
The writer clarified as well how the gang carried away the stolen property. Writing that, the goods were strapped to the front of their saddles. They reaching waist-high, even dropping some items in retreat. Their well-observed movements demonstrate that the police had ample time to pursue the gang. Even capture them.
However, for reasons unknown, superintendent Morrisset was reluctant to press home his advantage. However, from Sydney, Captain M'Lerie rushed to the scene of action, took to the saddle in search, and harassed the gang's innocent victims as if they were responsible. McLerie exhibited little respect or empathy for what the locals had endured under the gun. Like Pottinger, McLerie had a low opinion of the country folk or 'that class of people.' Shortly after and in jubilation of their success, the gang made camp, enjoying a very festive time and were not disturbed by police. Although it was widely reported of their presence; Attached link below.
|NSW Police Gazette|
The gang's raid on Bathurst achieved little reward. Apart from the few pounds taken at De Clouets. However, for Ben Hall. The boldness of the incursion into the heart of the largest town west of the Blue Mountains validated the ease with which an armed gang could humiliate the government and police. The dare by the two young lads set forth a chain of events that brought the colony's leadership to its knees.
Nevertheless, Ben Hall's raid on Bathurst and its audacity reverberated throughout Australia. The Colonial Secretary, Mr Cowper, was badgered and grilled incessantly over the brazen attack. Vigorous questioning by many parliamentarians raised the acceptance of Mr Martin's call for an 'Outlaw' proclamation against Ben Hall, Gilbert and Co. However, Cowper counted his critics by blaming the good citizens of the town and those in the broader districts protecting the gang and not supporting the police. (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|
Photo c. 1863.
|NSW Police Gazette|
21 October 1863.
Threatened, Cowper acted quickly to save the day, and in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' of the 8th of October, the government gazetted a new reward for the apprehension of the whole gang. This time Cowper hoped the new offer would sway a harbourer, although Gilbert's current value remained the same as his day's of riding with Gardiner, £500; 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." ($207, 500 or $41,000 each in today's value.)
|Sir James Martin|
However, this proved unachievable, and a disappointed Mr Forster informed the Governor, Sir John Young, of the failure whereby the Governor invited Mr Martin to form a government. After a short deliberation, Mr Martin went about recruiting a new minority government to be made up of unaligned members, which he duly achieved. The new ministry was sworn in on the 15th of October, 1863. Mr Martin, gracious in victory, retained Cowper's ally, Mr Forster, in the cabinet. Martin's first order of business was Ben Hall;[sic] "on Monday last, the now Ministry were 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.
The sojourn came to an end, and unmolested by police, 'The Boys' broke camp and headed once more onto the Queens roads. However, a new sensation was about to break regarding a deed so audacious that the Bathurst raid would be considered 'A Dull Affair'. While Hall moved about freely further south in the Wagga Wagga surrounds bushranger, Daniel 'Mad Dog' Morgan's depredations were still reverberating in the press. Stories abounded of Morgan perpetrating heinous deeds and vicious robberies, often gruesome. One particular case could only be described as the brutal death of Morgan's cohort Clarke.
However, Ben Hall and the gang had not yet countenanced a situation of that magnitude. As such, that heightened sense of betrayal and paranoia had not yet entirely reared its ugly head. Still, friction amongst the five bushrangers was never far from the surface, especially between Gilbert and O'Meally, often at loggerheads with O'Meally repeatedly accussing Gilbert of his lack of pluck; Vane op. cit "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..." These outbursts were always very heated between the two bushrangers— often creating a fracture amongst the men. However, Gilbert's outbursts never convinced Hall, Vane or Burke to abandon O'Meally; therefore, Gilbert would go off and sulk alone for a short time. However, these cat-fights would become not uncommon amongst the five bushrangers where on one occasion, fisty cuffs saw Gilbert flatten Vane as Burke also questioned Gilbert's courage. The remark from Burke drew the ire of Gilbert, who told him to watch his back.
While Mad Dog Morgan wreaked havoc in the Wagga Wagga district and the likes of the Seery's and the Druitt's taking control of the Yass/Burrowra surrounds, Ben Hall and the gang did as they pleased. Many settlers continued to aid and abet the bushrangers. The 'Cone of Silence' held fast; MONDAY, OCTOBER 12, 1863. "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.
Canowindra return, "the bushrangers, who were beginning to be quite popular."
Having departed Bathurst and its surroundings after their 'Big Sensation.' The gang, without fear or favour, made for the town of an earlier visit, Canowindra. Reports filtered in that the men appeared to be in genial spirits as they crossed the countryside. However, the bushrangers' Bathurst raid was still the most daring achievement since Australia's foundation in 1788. The audacity of raiding a provincial town continued reverberating throughout the country—an event which they would surpass in the coming days.
|Reputed photo of|
|Mr James Collits, aged 74.|
Consequently, the Hotel at Canowindra patronised by the gang on the evening of their September visit and were on that occasion, the subsequent night's festivities were held was owned by Mr. Collits and named as the 'Canowindra Hotel', leased under license to a Mr William Robinson a 21 yr. Old and his wife Rose was also 21.
Bill Robinson also operated the 'Traveller's Rest Hotel' owner on the south side of Canowindra, separated by the Belubula River and accessed by a ford. Robinson had inherited the 'Traveller's Rest' upon his father William Robinson Sr passing in 1860. Furthermore, for country hotels, it was the practice in the 1800s by de rigueur that publicans were required to display prominently at the front of the establishment the licensee's name. Therefore, hotels were colloquially known by the licensee's name, i.e., 'Robinson's Hotel'. Furthermore, a law requirement was for the licensee to display a light prominent during the night to guide travellers to the Hotel. Robinson's Hotel was reputedly situated on Gaskell street. (There are some conflicting views on the right spot where the bushrangers held both their jubilee's.)
Consequently, the five bushrangers arrived on the outskirts of Canowindra on the morning of the 12th of October 1863. Before entering Canowindra, the five rode nonchalantly into Mr Thomas Grant J.P. 'The Falls' station four miles east of Canowindra. Like many other well-off squatters, Thomas Grant held strong views in supporting the police and welcomed the destruction of the bushranger scourge.
However, at the homestead, Hall entered into a conversation with Thomas Grant and being suspicious, Hall questioned him for information on police. No doubt notifying Mr Grant of the penalties to be meted out by him to relay any knowledge of their current whereabouts or assist the police in their search. It had been many landowners' practice to either accompany the police or search independently for the bushrangers. Shortly afterwards, the bushrangers casually remounted and departed; “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
Tuesday 20th October 1863
CANOWINDRA HELD BY THE BUSHRANGERS FOR THREE DAYS.
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; "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..."
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; "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 days 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;[sic] "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..." (Charles Sykes would retire from the force in 1872 on a pension of £126 per year)
Consequently, with the festivities having concluded, this was illustrated regarding the bushrangers standing amongst some of the local farmers;[sic] "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.
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
Hall and Vane crossed close
to this point and
Robinson pitched his bottle
Chatfield finally 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 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." signed, Wm. Chatfield.²⁴
|Canowindra c., 1900.|
Note Robinson Newsagency.
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.
Sir Frederick Pottinger with
Consequently, the western patrol's floundering and lack of success prompted the NSW police's Inspector-General to cast his net further afield for efficient officers. As a result, McLerie ordered an officer based at Maitland and recruited from Victoria, Superintendent Charles Lydiard, to western NSW's battlefield.
Lydiard had 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 become an Assistant Gold Commissioner at the Mount Alexander diggings on a salary of £250 per yr., then he was enlisted into the Victorian police force.
Lydiard took to the field, and 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 murder 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,|
NSW Police Gazette
16th December 1863.
|Looking toward the hill|
that overlooks Grant's
'The Falls', where Hall camped
with the Belubula
treeline in the foreground.
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 now here.
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.
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;
|Near Murga, with Nangar|
Range in view.
The camping area
of Ben Hall, October 1863.
Private Source never
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.
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; “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.
Later the same day as Campbell rode on, Ben Hall's old pal had 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 gentry 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 refreshment 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
Vane describes the raid on Murga; Vane op.cit. “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 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; op.cit. "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 [sic] 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.
Original home with
some minor upgrades.
|View of Lawson's|
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;[sic] "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.
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.
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
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 Russia lost. The [sic] battle was a confused affair, fought in thick fog. The British won thanks to the dogged determination of their infantry, who were supported as the day went on by French reinforcements. The British suffered 2,500 killed and the French 1,700. Russians losses amounted to 12,000." The war as well featured the famous Charge of the Light Brigade. Source: National Army Museum UK.
However, in late October 1863, five bushrangers challenged Keightley for his life and used the stables more than the house as cover. Keightley, with his wife's cousin Dr Peachy, 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.
|Burke lays dead.|
Highlighted from the painting by
Patrick William Marony
|Saturday evening, 24th October 1863, Ben Hall lays siege to H.M. Keightley's home.|
|Mrs's Keightley and Baldock|
Henry Keightley's life.
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 Peachy 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.
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.
|Henry & Caroline|
In the years following the battle of Dunns Plains, the murderous events have been analysed on and off. The attack is riddled with many 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 1911 a short account of the famed battle was published, titled 'The Lone Hand' by Mr George Quickie, whereby the son of Henry Keightley recounts the affair's details. (George) Leo Keightley shines a light on his father's night of infamy at the hands of Ben Hall. However, be that as it may, the bulk of the 'The Lone Hand' narration is a solid historical record and relates in interesting detail how the gang passed the night away with their prisoner. Including the intense desire of both Vane and O'Meally to seek retribution for the death of Micky Burke. The book also sheds light on Hall's command over the gang and Mrs Keightley departing at midnight, cradling the couple's baby son, including her half-sister Elizabeth and Dr Peachy and her arrival at her father's home 'Blackdown' outside Bathurst.
The 'The Lone Hand' is linked below and illuminates the behaviour of the remaining four bushrangers and demonstrates 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. A split that would see Hall, Gilbert and then O'Meally turn on John Vane, who soon feared his life. Whereby shortly after, they expelled him from the gang:[sic] "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 truest account of the siege at Dunns Plains
|Sgt Michael Hanley|
S.M.H. 2nd November
With the reward paid and testimonials gathering pace, doubt continued to appear in the NSW press about whether or not Keightley had fired the fatal shot. In the 'Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser', 8th December 1863, the subject was 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' wildness 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 a pistol for self-protection. In her later testimony, Mrs Baldock held firm that Hall admitted to her of having fired the shot that dropped Burke; 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 where Pechey expressed a desire to help save the boy, although he knew it was hopeless, as did Ben Hall, who expressed as Peachy prepared to depart Dunn's Plains to shoot Burke and end his misery;[sic] "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.
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.
|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.
Caroline Keightley became a public favourite as the heroine of Dunns Plains, and the reward of £500 for Burke's death was paid to Keightley. 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, would state 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 courageous battle, the colony's talk over the episode continued to come under closer examination. Questions were maintained regarding the shooting and defence of Dunns Plains. 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 birdshot. Birdshot is the smallest lead pellet out of all the shotgun ammunition types of the period. Was birdshot capable of disembowelling Burke to the extent evidenced by Dr Pechey? Even at close range, reputedly less than ten yards?[sic] "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 from Burke, indicating that at ten feet, a rough estimate of the distance from the door to Burke. Remembering that Keightley stood 6ft 3in and Burke 5ft 6in, Birdshot would not cause the tearing injury inflicted on Burke's stomach but lead slugs would rip him apart. Therefore, when considering Burke's clothes' thickness, the bushrangers were known to wear two thick Crimean shirts due to their warmth and two pairs of trousers while living rough against the cold. (See the illustration of the shot effect below.)
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", levelling 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. 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.
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.
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|
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; Vane op. cit. "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..."
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 BUSHRANGERS AT MR. KEIGHTLEY’S. —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.
|Rolf Bolderwood. The|
pseudonym of Thomas
|Mural at Binalong depicting|
a new reward of £4000
for the remaining four.
|'Empire' 27th October|
|The reward for the remaining|
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|
Dr Pechey to
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 op. cit. "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..."
|Donald Cheshire's Return of Prisoners Tried at Different Courts 1864.|
|Donald Cheshire and the|
shopping list for the gang
& receipts in his possession
Photo of Cheshire
Courtesy Penzig ©
|Vane to be kept separate|
New South Wales, Australia,
Sheriff's Papers, 1829-1879.
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; "he (Vane) had excusable [sic] 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; Vane op.cit. "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.
On 28th October as Hall and the others retreated to the wilds of Eugowra and the onslaught of inclement weather. 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 centred 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.)
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.
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.
Superintendant 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;
|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. (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."
Unbeknown 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.|
Chatfield became the NSW government's fall guy 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 highlighted his efforts and hardships in the hunt for Ben Hall;[sic] "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 with out 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;[sic] "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 (Police) 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.
When Ben Hall seized the town of Canowindra in early October 1863, news reached Campbell whereby the squatter organised a party of neighbours to take the field in search of Ben Hall;[sic] "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...".
19th Feb 1856.
Never before published.
of Hall approaching
However, not wishing to let the matter of Campbell's desire to finish them stand, Ben Hall, Gilbert and O'Meally approached Goimbla Station in the early evening of Thursday 19th November 1863 from Murga riding along the banks of Mandagery (Eugowra) Creek. Arriving, 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 of pisé (rammed earth) with a shingle roof, long verandah, a garden in the front enclosed by a picket fence. The property included a yard with a well, 3-stall stable with 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.
At around 8.45 pm, David Campbell was relaxing after the families evening meal. Mrs Campbell and their maid Miss Mary Taylor settled the Campbell's three children for the night, Thomas b.1857, David b.1860 and two-year-old Percy b.1861, and David's brother William Campbell retired to his room.
David Campbell sat in the lounge room in the quiet of the evening near nine pm; night sounds filtering through the house. Campbell suddenly became alerted as a noise of unfamiliarity caught his ear. Footsteps on the verandah. Earlier, fearing some reprisal from Ben Hall, Campbell had prepared and placed against the fireplace, two double-barrelled shotguns already 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 of the rounds 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 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 made his way with his two companions through an oat field to a fence line beside one of the outbuildings and listened for life inside the dwelling. All quiet; Hall brazenly moved to the back of the home shotgun in hand, the same gun that had earlier mortally wounded Micky Burke and 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.
While sitting in his bedroom, William Campbell, startled by the sound of gunfire echoing through the house, ending the quiet solitude of the evening, subsequently rushed from his bedroom and headed for the dining room, then well-lit by a strong kerosene lamp as 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 he noticed a man standing in the shadow who raised his weapon and fired two shots hitting William, who received a charge of slugs 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 out through the back gate. Fortunately, the slugs were not too deep. Nevertheless, here he lay for some time bleeding in a field of oats behind the house.
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 to defend their home. The couple moved to a bedroom at the end of the passage next to the children's rooms, then altering various positions to confuse their enemies' fire. Amelia made for the dining room without a word spoken, passing the windows already shattered when gunfire again erupted, whereby some fragments of wood from the bullets slightly grazed her as she retrieved a powder flask and bullets. 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 saw shadows passing the window 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 later praised Mary's calmness, a native-born Australian girl from Tumut saying how cheerful and composed she 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 serious.
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." Hall's demand was met with a response from Campbell, who called, "Come on-I'm ready for you." Hall 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; "that 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 went to assist Campbell in Amelia's absence.
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 wool bales in returning to the house. The two bushrangers set fire to the buildings. Meanwhile, 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 as there was 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 that their current position would become untenable. Therefore, Amelia and Mary courageously covered the hay with a tarpaulin, 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 roofs 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 galloped 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. Campbell again called for mercy, yelling, "I will have one of you for poor Highflyer," then suddenly the horse's whinnying died out as it was roasted in flames. After that, 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 fence the bushrangers had grouped behind consisted of stout pine stakes, pointed and driven into the ground affording good cover. Inside the house, Mary Taylor had the children scramble 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 bedroom wall. Where some stray bullets were discovered embedded just above the boys, Campbell 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 out-buildings decided to head to Eugowra and assistance, staggered off. William, at 2 a.m., arrived delirious at Hanbury Clements Station, Eugowra, with a gunshot in his chest and covered with blood. Mr Clements, in the dim light of the lamp, extracted a bullet later producing the leaded slug which had been removed from William Campbell's chest at a testimonial gathering for the Campbell's. Clements sent a runner into Eugowra to alert the police.
As the flames burned brightly, they enabled Campbell to have a good view of the surroundings. Campbell and Amelia placed themselves between two parallel walls, which formed a passage between the house and the kitchen, moving to alternate positions to confuse the bushrangers gunfire. Amelia pointed out one of the bushrangers heads wearing a cabbage-tree hat occasionally appearing over the fence, looking at the burning buildings in light of the flames. Alerted, Campbell bolted to the end of the house, wherefrom the corner of the building, which fortunately was cast into shadow by the burning buildings at the opposite end, took deliberate aim 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
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
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 yet 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 his target 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.
As the night wore and the quietness returned. The farmhands emerged from the huts, having found some courage, ventured up to see what was going on. 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...".
|NSW Police Gazette|
2nd December 1863.
|Plaque Forbes Cemetery.|
In the heat of a November day, the bloodied body with decay setting in the heat and the inquest completed. The fast-turning putrid body of O'Meally 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 ("Gardiner's page") with whom O'Meally was well acquainted..."
NSW Police Gazette
4th November 1863.
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 until 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; The late Bushranger, John O'Meally.— 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. To hear Amelia's letter, please play the link below;
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; "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 police having lost the scent. 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. Wililliamson 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."
However, Hall and Gilbert's shock at the loss of O'Meally departed Forbes and retired to the familiar grounds of their old station, the Burrowa district. The pair as well sought out the O'Meally's. They presented it to O'Meally's sister, Ellen, aged 17, their dead comrade's jewellery. 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 also wearing the same. On reaching home, the two girls smartly 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
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 of the pairs resurgence in the district; GILBERT AND HALL IN THEIR OLD QUARTERS AGAIN. - "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 ths 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."
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.
|Coffey was arrested|
with some Keightley ransom
money paid by Hall
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 Steenbhom, a Hawker paid for out of the Keightley ransom money. Coffey got word to Hall and Gilbert to rob Mr Aaron Steenbhom, who had arrived at the Coffey's 27th November 1863, and recover his funds. Thereby, Coffey could claim the spring cart payment to Steenbolm as lost and, in the process, deflect any subsequent connection to the ransom money. For Coffey, it was a win-win. For Steenbolm, it was a lose-lose. The fact that Coffey was a harbourer and close friend of the bushrangers was highlighted in Mrs Steenbhom 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
|NSW Police Gazette|
12th Dec 1863.
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;[sic] "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 Chinese for losses sustained by the Lambing Flat riots has passed into wrong hands, through one Chinese personating another..." The Chinese ruse was, however, foiled; Chinese Compensation Money. -— The Burrangong Star of 5th instant says; "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 mush 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;[sic] "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 façade 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; 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." (Gardiner lost his share of the escort robbery, recovered by Sgt Sanderson, June 1862.)
|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 seemed 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.;[sic] "that Vane, on surrendering himself, had told the clergyman that he believed that Gilbert was prepared to do the same. Gilbert appeared indignant at what he was told and, opening his peajacket placed his hands on a brace of revolvers which hung on each side of his belt in enamelled leather pouches, saying he would never do as Vane had done so long as he carried these. During the time that the bags were being searched the parties appear to have become very loquacious..." Gilbert was asked of what became of the local race champion 'Jacky Morgan' whom Gilbert stole from its jockey Harry Wilson some months prior;[sic] "Gilbert was asked about Jacky Morgan, Mr. Hancock's race-horse, and which, it will be remembered, was taken from the jockey the day before the last Burrowa races. Gilbert said it died long ago of the disease, and that when he next met Harry Wilson (the jockey) he would serve him out..." Earlier, while at Coffey's store, the subject of Vane's surrender came up after Arron Steenbhom canvassed Hall on his wayward life and that, like Vane, he should consider following that path. Eliciting this reply; "I remonstrated, with Hall; about the dangerous life he led, and told him he ought to leave the country or give himself up like Vane; he said "he would shoot himself first;" Coffey then remarked, "Vane deserves to be hung for being such a coward as to give himself up he ought to have, shot himself first..."
|NSW Police Gazette|
December 16th, 1863.
A sad epitaph from the Binalong mail robbery was a letter of particular significance brought to the newspapers attention regarding a young hardworking wood splitter, employed on the 20,000 acres Calabash Station, who in the finest traditions of taking care of his invalided mother 200 miles away in Sydney. Falling victim to the callous work of the two bushrangers. From the S.M.H 18th December 1863; A HARD CASE- "The Marengo correspondent of the Yass Courier complains that one of his communications of six or eight pages of closely written foolscap on bushranging matters had fallen into the clutches of Gilbert and Ben Hall. This, he adds is vexing, yet that vexation is trivial compared to that of other sufferers by the late mail robberies. To give an illustration I know an honest young fellow, who is a splitter near the Calabash station. By strict frugality he is enabled about four times a year to remit a certain sum to an aged mother near Sydney-her sole support. Anxious that she should experience no delay in getting it, knowing how urgently it was required, he, contrary to the advice, of the postmaster, sends the money in whole notes by the mail from Marengo, on the 9th instant Gilbert and Hall ransacked that mail-appropriated the said notes. How is this decrepid mother to exist for the next three months? Conceive the anguish of her dutiful son, he well knowing his mother's destitution, and his own inability to send more money until it is earned. I say again, let anyone conceive this and think if Gilbert and Hall deserve the names so frequently given to them in this district, of "bold, dashing jolly fellows," "gentlemen of the road," &c. No, rather let them be called paltry, sneaking hounds, too lazy to work So, mean scum as they are, they rob and enjoy themselves at the expense of the poor and aged." The correspondent was on the money considering that this would be one sample of the pain of the loss of many hard-won wages often transported by coach seized without Ben Hall's due consideration. Furthermore, the same correspondent's latest reports totalling eight pages would have been invaluable to the authorities.
|Mr John J Garry|
Never before published.
In the wake of the Binalong hold-up. 'The Yass Courier' commented on the personal appearance of the two bushrangers prompting this observation and the audacity of their actions;[sic] "it would appear that the last mail robbery was committed with as cool a determination as could be possibly be imagined. On the morning of the day upon which the offence was committed, two young men of the name of Kelly fell in with Gilbert and Hall near Binalong, and conversed with them for some time, and were allowed to proceed on their journey on promising not to give information to the police until the robbery of the mail was effected..." The Kelly's were cousins of a later gang member, John Dunn. The paper further stated;[sic] "the reckless life which Gilbert and Hall have led for the last two years is plainly telling on their constitution. Those who knew them before they took to the road, and who have recently seen them, speak of the premature old age which is making rapid advances on their appearance. Of the two, Hall has evidently suffered the most. He is considerably the senior of Gilbert in age, and does not appear to be possessed of such a hardy constitution as enjoyed by his more youthful companion..."
Following the Handley incident of the 5th December, a few days later on the 8th, the coach from Forbes via Young to Yass was trundling along when Hall and Gilbert again emerged from the scrub at twilight held it up as the mail cart came into view. A woman was riding along with the mailcart on horseback called on to stand. However, showing as much courage as Mrs Campbell at Goimbla, the unknown lady set her horses head and galloped off whereby Gilbert with a chuckle called "Oh, let her go."; 'Yass Courier' Saturday 12th December 1863; STICKING UP OF THE FORBES MAIL (By ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH.) YASS. Thursday, 11.30. A.M- "About five o'clock on Wednesday evening last, while Richard Henry, in the employ of Mr Jacob Marks, the contractor, was conveying the mail from Binalong to Yass, he was stuck up by Gilbert and Hall. As to the identity of the two bushrangers there can be no doubt as their faces were not disguised in any manner, and Richard (or Dick as he is better known by, a half caste aboriginal) had the opportunity of fully recognising them as those well known bushrangers, who in company with Gardiner waited upon him professionally while he was conveying the mails in the neighbourhood of Murrumburrah two years past. The details so far as they have reached us are as follows:- Whilst proceeding on his journey, Dick observed some teams drawn off the road into a place it was improbable that any would have been willingly taken. This circumstance raised his suspicions. After he had passed them a man rode across the road, and then recrossed it, when he commanded the mailman to pull up.
They kept the mailman for about an hour and a half in custody. He represents them to be exceedingly gentlemanly-looking men, well dressed; they had plenty of gold chains ornamenting their persons, and, to use his own words, Gilbert's neck-tie was tied with as much neatness as that of any swell. Amongst the articles taken from the mail bags was a gold brooch containing a photograph likeness. Several letters were torn up; but strange to say that one, not registered which contained £5 was left untouched by the bushrangers. The mailman states, that while they were searching the bags, Hall told Gilbert that he had got £7 in cash, a gold watch, two rings, and a locket. Gilbert said he had either £26 or £27. One of the rings was subsequently returned to the mailman. They then rode away."
The current activities of Hall and Gilbert drew this summary in the 'Sydney Mail' 12th December 1863, noting that if the police did not step up to the task, then no doubt private citizens such as Campbell and Keightley would continue to benefit in the large rewards; "Gilbert and Ben Hall have not taken warning by the fate of their comrades. They are either too desperate to think of withdrawing from a freebooter's life, or too in grained in crime to care to abandon evil courses. They have been sticking-up the mails and passengers near Burrowa. The gang does not appear to have enlisted any new recruits, but now that it is reduced to two the police ought to be able to make short work of it. None of the gang as yet have been captured by the police, and if they do not look sharp all the honour and glory of ridding the country of these miscreants will be enjoyed by private individuals."
There can be no doubt that families such as the Kelly's and Coffey's and many others in the area of Burrowa, Binalong and Bowning were providing shelter for the two bushrangers. Another person and long-time close friend of Ben Hall, Elen Maguire Hall's former sister in law, lived within the district and would be arrested soon for receiving a stolen watch from the Binalong mail robbery of the 9th December. There can be no doubt that Elen was harbouring Ben Hall and knew Susan Prior intimately.
Hall and Gilbert were believed connected to the robbery of one Henry Morgan proprietor of the 'Burrangong Star' and his wife travelling to Burrowa along the Bowning-Binalong road on the 16th December 1863. Morgan was a shrewd newspaperman. Having been held up reputedly by the two infamous bushrangers Hall and Gilbert in company with two other lowlifes George Lynham and Michael Corcoran. However, all was not as it seemed, whereby the whole Morgan affair appeared exaggerated or a case of mistaken identity over the perpetrators. The confrontation ran as front-page headlines in Morgan's Lambing Flat paper. What follows are circumstances of robberies and persons quickly identified as Ben Hall but are, in fact, completely without foundation.
|NSW Police Gazette|
18th November 1863.
NSW Police Gazette,
|NSW Police Gazette,|
23rd December 1863.
Neither Hall nor Gilbert.