Now well into the second half of 1863, Ben Hall’s gang felt as if they had the rule of the roost in the Lachlan. Towards the year’s end they began operating closer to Carcoar, deciding that homesteads were better targets than travellers and coaches. But it wasn’t simply ill-gotten gains the gang were interested in.
At 11.00pm on 29 September, the gang descended on John Loudon’s property at Grubbenbong. Mrs. Loudon was roused by a knocking at the door and asked “who’s there?” to which came the reply “Police”. Mr. Loudon was not convinced and asked who their officer was. The outlaws replied “Saunderson”. Still not convinced, Loudon refused the visitors entry. The gang grew tired of their own ruse and promptly fired six slugs through the door and burst in. They found Mr. and Mrs. Loudon with two men named Kirkpatrick and Wilson, as well as Mrs. Loudon’s niece. Word had reached the outlaws that police were stationed in the house of Loudon, himself a Justice of the Peace, so the men were handcuffed and taken onto the verandah and the women sent into a separate room while the gang searched the property. On discovering that there were no police in the household the gang then demanded food. Mrs. Loudon had the servants prepare ham and eggs for the bandits and apologised that there wasn’t anything more substantial to offer, though any disappointment in the fare was soon dissipated when a bottle of wine made its way to the dining table. After dinner the bushrangers smoked with their captives on the verandah, Gilbert suggesting the women might object to the smoke. The gang stayed until 3.00am whereupon they decided to search elsewhere for police and bragged that if they found them they would handcuff them and march them to Carcoar. They returned all of the objects they had pilfered in their search of the house and set off.
They next appeared at Limestone Creek at 11.00am. Sticking up the property of the aristocratically named Mr. Montague Rothery just as Rothery was sitting down to lunch. They restrained him and proceeded to eat his food themselves and called for champagne while partaking liberally in Rothery’s supply of brandy. Their bellies satisfied, they took to the piano and attempted to have a singalong before Hall, Gilbert, O’Meally and Vane went outside to check out Rothery’s horses, intending to select the best of the three and a couple of saddles to take with them. Burke keeping watch over Rothery meanwhile showed him a breech loading rifle that he had pilfered from the police at George Marsh’s in a previous encounter. Hall and his companions made themselves at home and conversed freely with Rothery, informing him that they intended to find a magistrate named Icely and take him to task over his officiousness. Icely would reach Coombing on the Sunday afternoon, having luckily missed the gang and whatever mischief they intended to carry out upon him. The gang stayed until 2.00pm when, having completed all they desired at Rothery’s farm, they rode to Canowindra.
News of the stick up of Rothery reached Superintendent Morrisett at 5.00pm on Saturday and he immediately sent a party of five to follow the lead into Canowindra. The party was ordered to stop in at Clifden en route but instead arrived in Carcoar, where they stayed until 9.00pm gathering information that made it clear the outlaws were headed for Canowindra, which they already knew. The police were resolute and set off but without any sense of urgency.
Meanwhile, the first place the gang visited in Canowindra was the store of Pierce and Hilliar where they took £3 in cash and £30 in goods all the while bragging about their other exploits. Moving on, the gang called in at Daley’s Inn where they apparently found nothing of value, then they proceeded to the establishment of Mr. Robinson. They spent the night carousing at Robinson’s, playing piano and dancing. Mickey Burke got himself thoroughly intoxicated and flaked out on a sofa where he was abruptly roused by Gilbert at 8.00am. The gang paid for all they took except for Robinson’s horse. O’Meally spent the afternoon visiting relatives and the gang rode away from Canowindra without a care, having sent a strong message to the police and the locals that Ben Hall’s gang went wherever and did whatever they pleased.
At 11.00am the police party arrived in Canowindra only to be informed they had missed the gang by three hours. The police were much criticised for their tardiness, having taken fourteen hours to undertake a journey that should have taken eight. They had passed a series of teamsters on the road to Canowindra that informed them that the gang had indeed gone that route, yet for reasons unknown they dawdled and missed a golden opportunity. The affair in Carcoar was such an affront that the Sydney Morning Herald bewailed:
In brief, we may state that during the time specified, this band of freebooters have, in the most public and deliberate manner, been preying upon the inhabitants of this district – despoiling them of their property, laughing the authorities to scorn, and in every practicable and possible way, insulting the sacred form of justice! Were the thing not gravely serious, it would be absolutely ludicrous. If our social life and commercial security were not involved, the whole thing would be a huge joke. And where, pray, whilst all this melancholy farce has been enacting, were our police detachments – superintendents and inspectors to boot? Whilst these reprobates were leisurely pursuing their infamous traffic through the country, with their ten or dozen horses, which, owing to the softness of the weather, could be easily tracked, where were the men who are paid to protect our property – Echo answers where? – and the one universal impression is, that they were looking for the bushrangers and praying that they might not find them! We have no desire to deal unjustly by the police, but the whole business is now approximating to a crisis which can neither be ignored by the Government nor the country.
“THE REIGN OF TERROR.” The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 October 1863
“TELEGRAPHIC INTELLIGENCE” The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893) 1 October 1863: 2. Web. 19 Sep 2017 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18712393>.
“BATHURST.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 30 September 1863: 4. Web. 19 Sep 2017 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30936754>.
“(From a Correspondent.)” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 9 October 1863: 3. Web. 19 Sep 2017 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13087562>.
“THE BUSHRANGERS IN THE WESTERN DISTRICTS.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 7 October 1863: 5. Web. 19 Sep 2017 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13090959>.