The following detailed depictions of the final form of the Hall Gang give an intriguing insight into the state of the trio in the period between the murder of Sgt. Parry and that of Const. Nelson. The incident is almost farcical in the sheer scale of the roundup of prisoners (typical of this gang) and the gang appear quite weathered by their criminal lifestyle. There is some discussion of the gang’s own account of what happened at Black Springs, which brings an interesting insight into their attitudes about the events. As none of the gang ever wrote letters or memoirs that have been made public (Hall was illiterate) reports like these are our only insight into their lived experiences. Criminal or not, they had a story to tell and it’s a shame that only one member of the Gilbert-Hall Gang (John Vane) lived long enough to record his memoirs.
Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Tuesday 20 December 1864, page 3
BEN HALL’S GANG.
LAST Saturday morning, about ten o’clock, as two of Mr. Frederick Taylor’s sons (George and James) were riding from the Fourteen to the Sixteen-Mile Road, a horseman rode down the side of a steep range and told them to “stand,” but at the same time telling them not to be frightened but to come along with him. This was the notorious Dunn, who led his two young captives up the hill, where just over the brow of which were already twenty prisoners congregated under the guard of Hall and Gilbert. The robbers, had chosen their ground admirably; for the captives were so seated that the top of the hill intecepted their view of the road, and the three highwaymen kept just so far down the “off” side of the hill, as to render their horses invisible to passers by. The first person that they, stopped was a storekeeper from Young, named Henry; this was before six o’clock; then another storekeeper named Conley, both of whom they searched, but found nothing upon them but cheques and silver, which they returned. Soon after a lot of diggers and others were brought in. At about, eleven o’clock, Dunn expressed a desire for something to eat, when Hall told Mr. Henry to fetch six or seven dozen of eggs out of his cart, so that all hands might have a feed; meanwhile another man was sent to fill a large “billy” with water; a third was told to make a fire, boil the eggs and roll them out. Gilbert produced some bread, which he divided as far as it would go among all who would accept it, and a hearty meal was the result. Thus matters jogged on for hour after hour, Dunn and Gilbert alternately and sometimes together topping the hill, riding down its declivity, and shortly reappearing with more captives, until at about three o’clock p.m. there were not less than forty prisoners. Any man that had a poorish look or in diggers’s costume was not searched, but was simply told to keep quiet until the gold buying banker from Young passed, and then all hands might stop and see the fight with his escort, or go where they liked, but those who appeared at all like storekeepers were closely watched. It was now four o’clock, and the banditti appeared to wax wrathful at the non-arrival of their longed-for prey — their impatience testifying itself by great restlessness and almost incessant gazing up the road. Suddenly Hall exclaimed “where’s that — boy who was just now sitting there.” At the same time he and his confederates sprang up and commensed hunting about for their late captive, when Gilbert said “by — he’s slithered; come on lads, we’ll take the Young road for it, and see if we can’t meet the — gold buyer.” Whereupon they all jumped on their horses, and after telling all hands to go where they pleased, galloped down the hill and along the road towards the Flat. My informant, who is a very intelligent young man, and who was for six hours a captive, during which time he paid the greatest attention to all that the gang said and did, says that Gilbert and Dunn seemed very cool and jolly, whereas, Hall’s manner was rather serious and anxious. Gilbert and Dunn’s waistcoats were festooned with gold watch-guards, and their general appearance was that of flash well-to-do young stockmen; but, on the contrary, Hall had a quiet and respectable air — by wearing nicely-shaped high boots and a well-fitting pair of brown cord pants, with fashionably cut cloth coat and vest of the same colour, and only one gold chain, and not much of that to be seen. Were I to tell you half of the robbers’ conversation it would occupy too much space, but what I’m about to state you may rely upon as being unexaggerated truth, that is, that it was really said. Respecting poor Parry’s death, Gilbert remarked that he (Parry) fought unfairly, for after he had shouted ” I surrender,” and he (Gilbert) had ridden close up to him to receive his arms, that Parry fired slap at him, whereupon he shot him. Hall said that O’Neill fired one shot, flung his revolver at their heads, at the same time loudly exclaiming “I surrender.” Likewise, Hall said that constable Roche acted the wisest part of the three, for he did just what he (Hall) would have done had he been a trap, he bolted. Mind you, I do not say that poor Parry, or O’Neill, or Roche really acted thus, but that the bushrangers said they did is perfectly true. Gilbert has not the fresh, clear expression of countenance he used to have. His features are now much embrowned by the sun, and the skin in many places is peeling off. He, in the course of conversation, admitted that he bad not long returned from Queensland, and that when there he was three times chased by the police; and furthemore, that on one of these three occasions, upon his horse knocking up, he jumped off and challenged his two pursuers to come on, whereupon they halted and jawed a bit, and then turned tail. Hall is the only one of the three who cultivates any moustache or whiskers, and he is getting fat. Of his two companions in crime, one wears his hair so long as to touch his shoulders, and the other has it in short crisp curls. They all once or twice stated that they were determined never to surrender, but to fight to the last. Each had six large-sized revolvers in his belt. — Yass Courier.
The Burrangong Argus gives the following account of the affair:—
BUSHRANGERS ON THE DIGGINGS.—Gilbert, Hall and Company have been again very close to Young; exhibiting that coolness and effrontery for which they have long since been notorious. The following are the particulars of one of their escapades in this neighbourhood:— On Saturday morning last Mr. John McLachlan, the news agent of Young, was, as is usual with him on Saturdays, on his way to the Rushes, and had arrived between the Fourteen and Sixteen Mile Rushes when be heard a horse galloping behind him, and on turning round be discovered tbat be was chased by Johnny Gilbert, who called on him to bail up. McLachlan said be had only a few shillings, to which Gilbert replied “Never mind, come with me.” He asked McLachlan if that was not his name; whether he had any firearms ; and what time the bankers would pass that way? Arriving at the outlaws’ “Camp” Mr. McLachlan found about eighteen persons, young and old, in durance ; some of whom had been kept there since daylight in the morning; and among the prisoners was a butcher (Mr. Archer’s partner) who had been laid violent hands on while driving out meat to his customer. During the time he was kept a prisoner, the meat was spoiled; and Ben Hall said he was worse off than any of the others. The bushrangers devoured eagerly the news brought by Mr. McLachlan; and Gilbert, after digesting the contents of the morning’s Argus, asked for a Sydney Mail, which having conned over for a short time, he told Hall that some fellows were sticking up in disguise near Mudgee, and he wondered who they were. About this time arrived Mr. Taylor, store keeper, of the Sixteen mile, and when he hove in sight Ben Hall fetched him in. Mr. Taylor offered his money; but as it was only silver, the bushrangers would not take it. Dunn caught sight of a nugget ring on Mr. Taylor’s finger, and tried for ten minutes to take it off. He could not succeed, however, and Gilbert told him to shove it back; on which he desisted. Mr. Henry, storekeeper, was the next addition to the company. Hall ordered Gilbert to go after Henry, as he was the man who had followed them with a gun at Possum Flat, some two years ago, when McConnell’s store was stuck up. This last arrival also had only silver in his pocket, but his cart was freighted with eggs and butter, tea, sugar, and a 4lb loaf. The “grub” as Gilbert called it, was very acceptable to all hands, especially those who had been there since early in the morning. One of McLachlan’s newspapers was turned, for the nonce, into a butter dish; three or four billies full of eggs were boiled, and every one was satisfied; and all the bread and butter had vanished; Gilbert remarking that Mr. Henry’s liberality was so well known that he would not object to having his eatables made free with. A man from Mr. Pring’s station was next on the list. He had a nine pound cheque, but stowed it away; and it was not discovered. Ben Hall remarked that Pring was one of his greatest friends. Mr. Connolly, baker and storekeeper, joined the crowd next; but he, like the rest, did not much enrich the robbers, having only silver which they wouldn’t take. They questioned each storekeeper narrowly about the bankers. Taylor and Henry told them the bankers would not be there, whereupon Hall rather despondingly observed “then there will be no one shot to-day.” The company at last numbered thirty ; and about three o’clock in the afternoon, one of the diggers told the bushrangers he thought a boy had got away. This intelligence created no small excitement. Hall and Dunn made a strict search for the missing boy in the gully but could make nothing of it; and Hall, then wanted to know who had put it into the boy’s head to run away. Hall said if he could find out, he’d take care, whoever it was, should never do the same again. By this time the bushrangers thought it was time to break up this camp meeting; and, previous to giving the word of command to disperse, Hall harangued the diggers. He told them they were too officious in assisting the “bobbies”; and that if they continued the same course of conduct, he would have no mercy on them whenever they might come into his clutches. The bushrangers then all mounted their horses; and told their captives that they were free, and might now run as fast as they could to the nearest police station and give information. This closed the seance, and the crowd dispersed. Connected with this affair, we may mention that Mr. W. R. Watt, on his way to Young, was showing a person the way to the Sixteen mile Rush ; when on sighting the diggings, be pointed them out to the man, and parted company with him. This man in two minutes time rode right into the bushrangers’ camp, and was made prisoner. From him they took a bridle, giving him an old one in exchange, which was all they appropriated of anybody’s property, besides a whip of Mr. Bremlin’s. One of the diggers had a pound note; being he said he wanted to buy a pick and shovel, they let him keep the money. While reading the newspapers, one of the miners read the inquiry into the conduct of Constable Roche; Ben Hall said Roche ought to be shot for deserting his mates, and that as for O’Neill he was a rank cur. The three spoke in the most contemptuous manner of Sir Frederick Pottinger — Hall saying , that he (Sir F. P) had had two or three chances at him, but he would take care not to give him another. The above particulars we have from persons who were present. It was currently reported early this week that the bushrangers were dancing at Bramler’s, at the Seven mile, on Saturday night. They seemed annoyed at not meeting with the bankers, and evidently had taken that road with the express purpose of sticking them up. Mr. Watt had a narrow escape. He could not have been more than two or three hundred yards distant from them, but they did not see him. Had they made him prisoner they might possibly have exacted a pledge from him not to retire from the contest for the Lachlan district.