Spotlight: The Escort Robbery (25/07/1853)

Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer (Vic. : 1851 – 1856), Monday 25 July 1853, page 2


The Melbourne newspapers of Saturday contained statements that the Private Escort had been attacked and robbed, but no particulars had been ascertained. The Argus says, “The most diligent inquiry enables us to state nothing further for certain than that the attack has taken place,” and the Herald simply states that the rumour “seems” to be too true.

We are enabled to supply a more reliable account than has reached Melbourne, the following letter from Forest Creek, having been delivered at our office yesterday. It will be perceived that although several of the Escort were wounded, there is no reason to believe that any deaths have taken place:—


Thursday Morning, 21st July, 1853.

The Melbourne Gold Escort Company was robbed last night. I have just been speaking to the manager; he says that the Escort left McIvor yesterday evening, to proceed to Kyneton, meeting there the Forest Creek Escort, belonging to the same Company; that about half way between McIvor and Kyneton, the Escort was fired on from some rocks, close to the track, the leading horse shot, and one of the mounted men in charge of the Escort, and others were wounded; the Gold, amounting to over three thousand ounces, was then carried off; it does not appear that the Escort Guard returned the shots.

The public mind is greatly agitated. About 20 mounted men formed the robbing party. All are sorry here for the outrage, as the Company is very popular.

I have written this on the stump of a fallen gum tree.

The Eugowra Rocks Robbery 

For months Frank Gardiner had been plotting a big heist. He knew that the key to a big haul was to attack one of the gold escorts from the diggings but they would be heavily guarded so he would need to be able to overwhelm the security. So, as 1862 trundled along Gardiner built up a gang for his heist that could hardly be rivaled by any police escort. Among his men were Gardiner’s wingman Johnny Gilbert and his brother Charlie, Ben Hall, John O’Meally, Henry Manns, Alexander Fordyce, Daniel Charters, and John Bow. In that time Gardiner had been bouncing ideas around with Gilbert and O’Meally, finally devising a plan as winter set in.

The first stage of the plan was simple – create a blockade. Choosing a sparsely forested area along the coach route dotted with cypress, myrtle and gums with rocks jutting out of the soil near Eugowra Station, the coach would be stopped in its tracks and made vulnerable. To this end the gang bailed up two bullock teams and took the teamsters prisoner. Placing their drays across the road near a granite boulder on the slope just around the bend, the bushrangers proceeded to ensure the prisoners were tied up and placed out of sight. The gang bristled with nervous energy, nothing on this scale had been executed successfully. Gardiner geared himself up, checking his watch, running the ends of his waxed moustache through his fingertips. His men had blackened their faces with  boot polish or black crepe to obscure their identities. Gardiner tugged the brim of his cabbage tree hat low over his eyes to block the sun and gazed out over the vista, the road winding down through the bush into Araluen toward the diggings. Suddenly he heard hooves…

Frank Gardiner

As the afternoon settled in on Sunday 15 June, the Ford & Co. coach departed for Bathurst with an impressive cargo. Within the coach was 2067oz of gold and £700 from the Oriental Bank; 521oz of gold from the Bank of New South Wales; and 129oz of gold and £3000 from the Commercial Banking Company. At 3.30pm, with two mounted troopers riding as escorts for the coach they took the road up through the rocks. Here they discovered the bullock drays blocking the road. The driver, Jack Fagan, was ropeable!
“Get your bloody drays off the road, you cretins!” he shouted as he tried to take the horses around the obstacle. The coach drove close to the rocks and all Hell broke loose.
Gardiner signalled to his men from behind the rock. The crack of gunfire lacerated the tranquillity of the bush and bullets tore through the wooden coach hitting Constable Moran in the groin, the unfortunate policeman overwhelmed with confusion, pain, and terror. A bullet whipped Fagan’s hat off his head. As the bushrangers who had fired the first volley reloaded the next lot took shots at the coach. Sergeant Condell was shot in the ribs and the escort horses tried to bolt. The bullet riddled coach lurched and snagged on the rocks, overturning in spectacular fashion and tossing the occupants and driver across the road like rag dolls. As Fagan and Haviland collected themselves, spitting out the mouthfuls of dust they had collected on landing, they took up their rifles and let off a shot as the bushrangers descended upon the stricken vehicle. The constables were no match for these devils with red shirts and black faces. Frank Gardiner had led his men like a true captain, cool under pressure and giving directions with clarity and precision that left the police totally blind-sided. As the police scurried away the gang descended like carrion birds and the coach was picked clean. The gang knew that they had struck it rich, but little did they know the extent of their haul. Within half an hour the Gardiner gang had made history.

The distressed troopers were found by a squatter named Hanbury Clements, who had been roused by the gunfire and ridden towards the commotion. Seeing Condell and Moran struggling and bleeding, propped up by their colleagues, he immediately assisted them in getting to the Eugowra homestead where his wife Edith was entrusted with attending the injuries, to her great trepidation – after all, she was no doctor.

Escort Rock, Eugowra (Source)

The victors secured the coach horses and secured the loot to them before they retrieved their horses from the scrub and allowed the teamsters to go free. They rode to Noble’s Lagoon and redistributed the booty and sent Charters off to gather food supplies before heading to their camp north of the Lachlan River. At camp the bushrangers regrouped and had a proper look over the spoils. The elation of the men was not shared by Alex Fordyce, however, who had been far too overcome by nerves and downed a bottle of gin and passed out. Fordyce, a craggy faced stockman and bartender, was not well-suited to the high risk undertaking of robbing a gold escort. When Gardiner tried to revive the forty two year old he noticed that Fordyce had a fully loaded revolver – he had not fired a single shot. The Darkie was furious and shook the man into a terrified awakening.
“You bloody coward! You were too much afraid to fire. I’ll cut your rations for that!” Gardiner roared with his distinctive burr. True to his word, Gardiner ensured that Fordyce would only receive a cut of the cash and not the gold. The others took little notice of the outburst, far more involved with their own afterglow. Gardiner was a man with the temper of Zeus and you didn’t want to get on his bad side.

Night closed in tight in the winter and as darkness closed its grip on the world Hanbury Clements mounted and rode the almost 30 mile journey into Forbes to alert the police. The response was immediate and the police and a team of civilians set out under Sir Frederick Pottinger with trackers Billy Dargin and Jimmy the Dealer to find the bushrangers while the trail was fresh. All night the men scoured the country for the robbers, finally locating a lead at daybreak when they discovered the gang’s tracks separating, indicating that they had split to baffle pursuit. The pursuers also split, one group headed by Sub-Inspector Sanderson who headed straight for Ben Hall’s run on Sandy Creek. This would prove to be a fateful move for the wily Sanderson.

While the gang had been moving through the district towards the Weddin Mountains, Fordyce, Gilbert and Manns had taken their cuts and gone home while Dan Charters had stopped by Sandy Creek to visit Ben Hall’s brother and sister-in-law. The moment he heard the dogs barking to signify an unexpected arrival he went outside and sensed the impending arrival of police. He mounted his horse and galloped away towards his comrades. Sanderson saw this and immediately knew that was his man and directed his team to pursue Charters like hounds. The police kept on Charters’ like the angel of death shadowing a starving man, following him right into the Terrible Hollow. At camp, Gardiner sat with O’Meally, Bow, Hall and Hall’s brother-in-law “Warrigal” Walsh, a sinewy eighteen year old who idolised The Darkie as a highwayman hero and had been acting as his telegraph. Their peace was disturbed by Charters riding up and bellowing,
“Here come the police, boys!”
The men scattered, Gardiner attempting to escape with “Warrigal” Walsh and the pack horse carrying Gardiner’s and O’Meally’s cut of the gold. Hall split from the group and planted his haul before returning home. The others all took off on horseback while The Darkie and The Warrigal tried to push the pack horse on, prodding it with sticks to make it move faster. The thunder of police hooves became apparent and Gardiner could feel his heart in his throat as his prodding became more urgent.
“Go you blasted thing! GO!”
Sanderson peered down from the saddle at the bushrangers’ camp fire and sensed that his target was near and pressed on. Ahead of him the pack horse huffed and puffed with the strain of carrying the gold and Gardiner climbed in the saddle of his mount – Walsh doing the same – and spurred it on leaving his valuable prize behind where it was found by the police. Gardiner had narrowly avoided capture at the cost of his and O’Meally’s gold.

But it was not over yet…

Spotlight: The Hold-Up at Eugowra Rocks


This traditional ditty tells of the robbery of the Gold escort at the Eugowra Rocks by the Gardiner gang and is one of the more popular songs about Gardiner and his colleagues. At the bottom are a collection of videos so you can listen to the song in its different variations.

The Hold-Up at Eugowra Rocks aka The Bail Up at Eugowra Rocks


It’s all about bold Frank Gardiner, with the devil in his eye,
He said, “We’ve work before us, lads, we’ve got to do or die.
So blacken up your faces before the dead of night,
And its over by Eugowra Rocks we’ll either fall or fight.”

Chorus (after each verse):
You can sing of Johnny Gilbert, Dan Morgan and Ben Hall,
But the bold and reckless Gardiner, he’s the boy to beat them all.

“We’ll stop the Orange escort with powder and with ball.
We’ll shoot the coach to pieces and we’ll down the peelers all.
We’ll lift the diggers’ money, we’ll collar all their gold,
So mind your guns are killers now, my comrades true and bold.”

So now off go the rifles, the battle has begun.
The escort started running, boys, all in the setting sun.
The robbers seized their plunder so saucy and so bold,
And they’re riding from Eugowra Rocks encumbered with their gold.

And as with savage laughter they left that fatal place.
They cried, “We’ve struck bonanza, boys, we’ve won the steeplechase!”
And Gardiner their leader, he shouted loud “Hooray!
I think we’ve made our fortunes at Eugowra Rocks today!”

Frank Gardiner: An Overview

Few names stand out in bushranging history quite like the self proclaimed “Prince of Tobeymen” himself – Frank Gardiner. Often considered the godfather of bushranging, he was responsible for the largest gold heist in colonial Australian history and introduced many of the big names to bushranging.

Gardiner was born in Rosshire, Scotland in 1830 as Francis Christie. He had a brother and two sisters who accompanied he and his parents on board the ship James to New South Wales in 1834. Settling at Boro Creek near Goulburn, the family kept a low profile until Frank hit adolescence.

Young Frank Christie first veered from the straight and narrow path when he began adopting false names to engage in stock theft. Teaming up with Jack Newton he stole two racehorses from Jugiong Station and took them across the border into Victoria. Adding William Troy to the cohort, they stole more horses and accrued a mob of thirty they planned to sell in Adelaide. The plans were scuppered, however, when police nabbed the offenders near Geelong. Christie was given five years for horse stealing. He was first accommodated in Melbourne Gaol before being transferred to the stockade at Pentridge. On 27 March 1851 Frank Christie escaped from Pentridge and went bush.

Christie assumed the name Clarke and teamed up with Ted Prior and spent a couple of years stealing stock in the Abercrombie Ranges. When he was finally nabbed, “Clarke” was sentenced to fourteen years on Cockatoo Island. In March 1854 he began his sentence and while inside he met John Peisley and the two gelled immediately. It is possible that he may also have encountered Frederick Wordsworth Ward (later known as Captain Thunderbolt) while he was there. On New Year’s Eve of 1859 Frank Christie gained a ticket of leave for the Carcoar district but as soon as he raised freedom he stole a horse and headed for the Kiandra Goldfields where he became a butcher and called himself Frank Gardiner.

Adding William Fogg to his business, Gardiner’s butcher shop was a source of high quality meat of dubious origin. It was widely believed that the animals he was slaughtering were stolen, but nobody could pin him for it until Sir Frederick Pottinger arrived in town. Gardiner and Fogg were arrested on suspicion of cattle theft but were released on bail. On 3 May 1861 Gardiner vanished into the bush. Gardiner became the self-proclaimed “Prince of Tobeymen” with John Peisley and a flash Canadian named Johnny Gilbert as his sidekicks. Gardiner was a well dressed and groomed gentleman of the road – a far cry from the balding and bloated Peisley and the impish Gilbert.

Things became serious when Gardiner took shelter at Fogg’s residence due to suffering from exposure in July 1861. It wasn’t long before police arrived and there was a scuffle. In the fracas Sergeant Middleton and Constable Hosie were shot and wounded, and Gardiner was savagely beaten and captured. What happened next is not known for certain. Some say Peisley helped rescue Gardiner, others say Gardiner bribed the police to free him. Whatever the means, Gardiner once more gained his liberty. From this time on bushranging would never be the same.

Gardiner wrote to the press to disclose his own narrative of the incident with Middleton and Hosie and talked himself up in the process. His reputation was beginning to become part of the popular culture of the day as he began recruiting more offsiders. He roamed the Lachlan with the “Three Jacks” – John Davis, John Connors and John McGuinness – in early 1862. When John Connors was shot and captured by the police at Lambing Flat in April the other two Jacks fled. Gardiner was outraged and turned them away. When John McGuinness was found dead days later it was believed that Gardiner had killed him in his rage.

It was at this time Gardiner took on Ben Hall as an accomplice. Gilbert also became Gardiner’s sidekick, accompanying him on various robberies presumably because of his competence when it came to criminal activities as much as his loyalty. Gardiner now had his eyes clapped on a far bigger prize. He was aware of the route the gold escort took from the Araluen diggings through to Orange and decided to rob it as it took the gold from the diggings to the town at a place called Eugowra Rocks. He recruited John Bow, Alex Fordyce, Henry Manns, Johnny Gilbert, Dan Charters, Ben Hall, John O’Meally and Charles Darcy to help him make the score. The gang hid in the rocks and on 15 June 1862 they blocked the road with a bullock train then as the escort came around the bend Gardiner launched his attack. The coach toppled as the horses bolted and the cabin was riddled with bullets. Some of the troopers were badly injured but no lives were lost on the day and the bushrangers got away with around £6000 worth of gold as well as almost £4000 cash and other goods. Unfortunately Gardiner lost his share of the gold when the gang was intercepted by the police and he was forced to abandon his packhorse.

Gardiner had been wooing Kitty Brown, younger sister of Ben Hall’s wife Biddy, and the two were conducting a secret affair. After the robbery Gardiner took Kitty with him to Victoria where they aimed to make a new start on the Goldfields but when this didn’t work they headed to Apis Creek in Queensland. Here they bought a pub and ran it very effectively until one of Kitty’s letters was intercepted and a detachment from the New South Wales police led by Detective Pye headed north to nab the most wanted man in the empire. Gardiner was dragged out of the pub into the street and forcefully apprehended. He was taken back to New South Wales despite the police having not received permission to go outside their jurisdiction.

Gardiner was put on trial for his crimes and after much anticipation was found guilty and sentenced to thirty four years imprisonment. He was sent to Darlinghurst Gaol but meanwhile Kitty and Gardiner’s sisters were fighting tooth and nail to get him out. All was for nil and Kitty Brown eventually moved to New Zealand with her brother-in-law and committed suicide after months of living in dire poverty.

In 1874 Gardiner was released from Gaol after a movement was passed allowing a number of criminals who had been given longer sentences than were the current norm at that time to be freed. However for Gardiner there was a catch and he was exiled, never to return to Australia. He spent time in Hong Kong before moving to San Francisco where he ran a saloon. When and how he died is a mystery. Some claimed that he was killed in a bar room brawl, others that he married a rich widow and had two sons before dying of old age. The most likely scenario is that he turned to alcoholism and died in a poor house in 1892. Hardly a romantic death for the great Frank Gardiner, Prince of Tobeymen and King of the Road.


The following is an account of the hanging of Henry Manns, sentenced to death for his role in the Eugowra Rocks robbery. What follows is taken directly from The Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News of 1 April, 1863.

Be warned, it is not for the squeamish.

New Picture (50)


Another of those sad and terrible spectacles a criminal execution, took place at Darlinghurst gaol, last Thursday morning, the dreadful sentence of the law having been carried into effect on the body of Henry Manns, convicted, together with John Bow and Alexander Fordyce, of participation in the gold escort robbery on the 10th June last.

Since the period of his condemnation, the unhappy young man, who was only twenty-four years of age, had conducted himself in gaol with great propriety, and under the zealous and untiring efforts of the clergymen who attended him, devoted himself earnestly to preparation for the awful ordeal through which he was to pass; though, it would seem he was not without hope up to Wednesday evening, that his life would be spared. This belief was intensified no doubt from his learning what had been done in the case of Bow, and the strong efforts which were being made on his own behalf. The Executive, however, did not feel justified in acceding to the prayer of the memorialists, and hence, on Wednesday afternoon, intimation was forwarded to the Sheriff that the law must take its course.

There were but few persons present at the distressing scene, the spectators not exceeding thirty in number, and the execution was delayed for nearly twenty minutes beyond the usual hour, probably with the humane object of allowing any communication in the shape of a respite or reprieve to reach the gaol. No such document, however, arrived, and at about twenty minutes past nine the prisoner was pinioned and brought forth. He was attended by the Venerable Archdeacon McEnoro, the Venerable Archpriest Therry, and the Rev. Father Dwyer, the latter having precedence in the mournful procession. He walked firmly and erect, and though somewhat pallid, in expression, he displayed no agitation or want of fortitude — still less anything approaching to bravado or recklessness.
Arrived at the foot of the gallows, he remained, in prayer for five or six minutes with the reverend attendants, and then ascended the ladder in company with the Venerable Archdeacon and the Rev. Mr. Dwyer. ;


Truth (Sydney, NSW), 22 August 1897

On arriving at the drop, he spoke briefly to the persons assembled, stating that he had nothing further to say beyond what he had already told ; adding that he was thankful to his friends and the good people in Sydney who had exerted themselves to save his life, for which services he hoped God would bless them. The clergymen then parted with him, praying as they descended from the platform; while the executioner, proceeded to perform his terrible office. On this occasion, whether it arose from nervousness or excitement on the part of the executioner, the preliminaries were not speedily performed as they were in the case of the two men (Ross), a lapse of nearly two minutes occurring ere he had concluded his preparations.

When at length these were completed, and the bolt was drawn, there ensued one of the most appalling spectacles ever witnessed at an execution. The noose of the rope instead of passing tightly round the neck slipped completely away, the knot coming round in front of the face, while the whole weight of the criminal’s body was sustained by the thick muscles of the poll. The rope, in short, went round the middle of the head, and the work of the hangman, proved a most terrible bungle. The sufferings and struggles of the wretched being were heart rendering to behold. His body swayed about and writhed, evidently in the most intense agony. The arms repeatedly rose and fell, and finally, with one of his hands, the unfortunate man gripped the rope, as if to tear the pressure from his head — a loud guttural noise the meanwhile proceeding from his throat and lungs, while blood gushed from his. nostrils and stained the cap, with which his face was covered.

This awful scene lasted for more than ten minutes when stillness ensued, and it was hoped that death had terminated the culprit’s sufferings. Shocking to relate, however, the vital spark wasn’t yet extinguished, and to the horror of all present, the conclusive writhings were renewed — the tenacity to life being remarkable, and a repetition of the sickening scene was only at last terminated at the instance of Dr. West, by the aid of four confines, who were made to hold the dying malefactor up in their arms while the executioner re-adjusted, the rope, when the body was let fall with a jerk, and another minute sufficed to end the agonies of death.
The executioner expressed his sorrow to the gaoler and under-sheriff for what had happened, insuring them that it was from no fault or intention of his, but solely the result of accident. The body was lowered, into a shell shortly before ten o’olock, and it was with deep regret and indignation that some of the spectators saw the hangman attempt to remove a pair of new boots from the feet of the corpse. This revolting act was, however, instantly prevented, and the body, which was decently attired in a white shirt, moleskin trousers and blouse, was removed to the deadhouse, where it remained untouched till the arrival of a hearse procured by the relatives of the criminal, to whom the authorities had decided to hand it over for interment.

Source: “REVOLTING and HORRIBLE SCENE at the EXECUTION OF HENRY MANNS.” The Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News (NSW : 1859 – 1866) 1 April 1863: 4.