ALLEGED STICKING-UP BY HALL AND HIS SEVEN COMPANIONS. — A GOOD JOKE.
[From our Gundagai correspondent.]
April 18. — On Thursday night last Messrs. Collins, do Body, Brown, and Victor Frank arrived here, and reported that about noon on that day they were attempted to be stuck-up by two men near McKay’s dam, on the road leading to Gundagai, and about three or four miles abreast of Cootamundry. They stated that when the two bushrangers galloped out of the bush towards them, they made off at the top of their horses’ speed; Mr. Collins, who was the best mounted, took the lead, followed by the others. The bushrangers having galloped after them for about a mile they were joined by seven others, all of whom took up the chase for a short time, when they turned back, and allowed the Gundagai-bound men to go their way. Immediately on receipt of the information, Sub-inspector O’Neill with a party of mounted police started for the scene of action, and have not since returned. But now the best of the joke comes, and which I have learnt from a person residing at Mr. Dallas’ station. It seems that for some time past Mr. Dallas has had eight men assisting him in the mustering of young horses. On Thursday last Mr. D. got a mob of these horses collected in the bush near McKay’s dam, which were guarded by seven men; two others were out scouring the bush for stragglers, when Collins and company rode up. The two men, hearing horsemen galloping along the road, and fearing they would start the mob of young horses then ahead, called out to them to stand or go easy. This, in these days of war, was quite enough for the travellers, who at once took to flight. Mr. Dallas himself, with the view of explaining matters to the other party, cantered after them, but finding they increased their speed, turned back. The seven stockmen set up a jolly shout, which closed the so-called “sticking-up” affair. Now it is quite enough to saddle the country with the amount of crime it is guilty of, and not lay to its charge groundless and absurd crimes which do not exist. Could none of the fugitives distinguish between a stockwhip and a revolver? I hope, however, that the gallant four will never have such a horrible alarm again.
BEN HALL AGAIN.
[From our Marengo correspondent.]
April 15. — Yesterday, Messrs. Victor Frank and P. de Body, and two others, while proceeding from Young to Cootamundry, were stuck-up by Hall and Co., but the gentlemen being well mounted, refused to bail-up, so striking spurs into their horses, dashed off, closely pursued by the robbers, who followed them almost into the town of Cootamundry before they relinquished the chase. The robbers were met near the spot where the unfortunate Mr. Barnes was shot by O’Maley, therefore the chase was rather long as well as sharp. [Our Gundagai correspondent sends a different version of the above.]
The information I sent you about a week ago respecting Hall re-organising a fresh gang turns out to be quite correct, for he has now under him seven well mounted and armed men. A very pleasant prospect for travellers and isolated settlers this winter!
Inspector Shadforth. — This police officer has sent in his resignation. He has taken this stop contrary to the wishes of his friends, who were desirous that he should submit to the enquiry into his conduct with respect to the escape of Ben Hall from Wilson’s station.
Wrong Apprehension. — Not Ben Hall. — With the usual acuteness which characterises the majority of the police of this colony, an elderly man, lame, and very much delapidated in his garments, was apprehended on the Murrumbidgee River and escorted to Young as the notorious Ben Hall. On his arrival there on Saturday he was immediately liberated, his personnel agreeing in no one particular with that of the celebrated bushranger. The old man’s hair and beard were fair, while those of Hall are very dark. There appears to be something not only stupid but heartless in dragging an old man such a distance without the remotest possibility of his turning out to be the real “Simon Pure.”
Examination of Gardiner the Bushranger. — On Friday last Francis Clarke alias Gardiner was brought before Capt. Scott, P.M. and G. Hill, Esq. J.P., in the debtor’s department of Darlinghurst gaol. Messrs. Roberts and Redman appeared for the prisoner, and Inspector Read was allowed, on his own application, to conduct the prosecution. Mr. Roberts not objecting or consenting, though he took occasion to express his strong disapprobation at the way the prisoner had been treated since his apprehension, and remarking, that on his professional visits to the gaol, he was watched, and could not consult the prisoner privately. The gaol was turned into a curiosity shop; he didn’t know by whose fault or authority, but evidently with the sole desire of gratifying morbid curiosity. The only charge against his client was that of being a prisoner of the Crown illegally at large, preferred against him by Captain McLerie. He also found fault with the mode in which the investigation was conducted, believing that such a court as the present was entirely without precedent. He did not know whether such, a step would enlist sympathy for, or create prejudice against, the prisoner; but in either case it would tend to frustrate the ends of justice. Mr. G. Hill said he did not know how he came there. He certainly expected to have some authority to conduct the prosecution, and fully believed that the criminal court would be opened. — Captain Scott said he he thought the same, and did not exactly know what he had come to try. — Inspector Reid explained the absence of a legal prosecutor, by the fact of Mr. Butler, the Crown Prosecutor, being out of town. — Francis Gardiner was then charged with feloniously shooting and wounding with intent to kill troopers Middleton and Hosie at the Fish River on the 10th July, 1861. Daniel McGlone, detective officer, had arrested prisoner at Apis Creek, on the charge of committing various highway robberies in New South Wales; also, for the escort robbery at Eugowra Creek, about June, 1862. He brought him to Sydney, and delivered him to Inspector Read; saw him received at the gaol. When apprehended, prisoner merely said “June, 1862.” Had no warrant at the time, and had never received one; was not aware that a warrant was endorsed by the authorities of Queensland; when he arrested the prisoner, he asked for a warrant, and he (McGlone) told him he would let him know all about the warrant by and by. He, at the same time, cautioned prisoner against saying anything that might he used against him. John Long Horsey, clerk in the Inspector-General’s office, produced the calendar of convictions at the Circuit Court, Goulburn, in March, 1584, before Sir Alfred Stephen, by which it appeared that a man named Clark was sentenced to seven years on the roads, for horse stealing he received a second sentence for a similar offence, of an equal duration, to commence at the termination of the first. He was sent to Newcastle Breakwater, or Cockatoo Island, till further orders. He did not know, of his own knowledge, that he ever went to Cockatoo. On the 31st December, 1859, Clark received a ticket of leave for Carcoar district. Received a letter from the Police Magistrate at Carcoar. Objection was here taken at continuing the case in the absence of the Crown Lawyer, and after some discussion between the magistrates and the prisoner’s counsel, the examination was postponed till Tuesday next, at the same place. — Bell’s Life.
New South Wales Police Gazette and Weekly Record of Crime (Sydney : 1860 – 1930), Monday 27 January 1862 (No.8), page 1
ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY POUNDS
Attacking and wounding the Patrol with fire-arms.
Vide Report of Crime of 29th July, 1861, and ante.
On 16th July last, Sergeant Middleton and Trooper Hozi, of the Western Patrol, were attacked and severely wounded at the Fish River, by Francis Clarke, alias Jones, alias Gardener, a ticket-of-leave holder, illegally at large from his District; a native of Goulburn, New South Wales, 31 years of age, 5 feet 8 1/4 inches high, a laborer, dark sallow complexion, black hair, brown eyes, small raised scar in left eyebrow, small scar on right chin, scar on knuckle of right forefinger, round scar on left elbow joint, two slight scars on back of left thumb, short finger nails, round scar on cap of right knee, hairy legs; wounded in the above affray on temple by pistol ball or whip. He was captured and afterwards released by two armed men of the following description :– John Peisley, a ticket-of-leave holder, illegally at large from his district; a native of Bathurst, New South Wales, laborer, about 28 years of age, about 5 feet 10 inches high, stout and well made, fresh complexion, very small light whiskers, quite bald on top of head and forehead, several recent marks on face, and a mark from a blow of a spade on top of head; puffed and dissipated looking from hard drinking; invariably wears fashionable Napoleon boots, dark cloth breeches, dark vest buttoned up the front large Albert gold guard, cabbagetree hat, and dark coat. Sometimes wears a dark wig, and always carries a brace of revolvers. He was in Sydney some weeks ago, in company, it is supposed, with Zahn, alias Herring, of the Abercrombie. The other man is about 26 years of age, and about 5 feet 6 inches high, light hair and whiskers, and small light moustache, sallow complexion. A reward of £20 is offered for Gardner’s apprehension, and £50 for Peisley’s. A further sum of £100 will be paid by the Government to any person who may, within six months from the present date, give such information as shall lead to the apprehension and conviction of the said John Peisley and £50 will be paid for the apprehension and conviction of each of the other offenders.
DISTRICT OF LAMBING FLAT.
FIFTY POUNDS REWARD.
The Mail from Lambing Flat was stopped by three armed men, on the morning of the 6th instant, about 6 miles from Lambing Flat, and the passengers robbed. One of the robbers is about 5 feet 8 inches high, had a comforter round the lower part of his face, wore brown California hat, dark trousers, and blue serge shirt, has thin face, and bald head, supposed to have several cuts on the top of his head, from wounds inflicted by one of the passengers; 2nd, about 6 feet high, about 25 or 26 years of age, unshaven, wore brown California hat, dark coat and trousers; 3rd, about 6 feet high, about 30 years of age, thin black moustache and whiskers, long Roman nose, wore cabbagetree hat, dark coat and trousers, and cotton handkerchief tied round his neck. They can be identified. The above reward will be paid in terms of the Government Notice of the 24th November, 1853.
Porcupine Village, Maldon, a former tourist attraction styled as a small town of the Australian gold rush, is undergoing major redevelopments, with a mind towards re-opening for tourists and school groups.
The village was used during filming for The Legend of Ben Hall, and accurately depicts the architecture and layout of a typical town in the gold rush that struck Victoria and New South Wales in the 1850s and 1860s. It opened in the 1990s and consists of a mixture of replica buildings and actual buildings that were relocated to the site.
Since 2007 it has been disused, but the current owners found many of the props and items still locked up inside the old buildings and saw an opportunity to rekindle the magic of the park.
We opened it up and almost everything is still there, which is pretty amazing. […] The education sector will be a big part of the village. We’ve already had inquiries from schools who are keen to do Australian history lessons out there. […] The whole place is pockmarked with original diggings, and we’re going to set up miners tents and camps to give people a real taste of what the region would have been like in the 1850s.
A new book about the police efforts to capture the Kelly Gang is on the way. Titled Nabbing Ned Kelly, the book by David Dufty, whose previous work has focused on military history, focuses on the police pursuit rather than the actions of the bushrangers, with a particular focus on Detective Michael Ward.
Ward was a key player in the pursuit of the outlaws, operating from Beechworth while the main hunt was run from the police headquarters in Benalla. Ward’s role involved communicating with informants, such as James Wallace and the Sherritts, in an effort to tighten the net around the gang.
Slated for a March 2022 release from Allen and Unwin, the new addition to the ever-growing library of books about the Kelly saga approaches the story from a perspective rarely explored in other texts, and demonstrates that there is still as much interest in the subject of Ned Kelly as there are fresh angles to view it from.
David Dufty goes back to the records to uncover the real story of the police officers who pursued the Kelly Gang. This pacey account of the capture of the Kelly Gang reads like a detective story.
In late December, filmmaker Matthew Holmes announced through social media that he was planning on publishing the screenplays to his “Legends Anthology” as a book.
Holmes pitched the idea of a collected screenplay book filled with storyboards and concept art from the unmade films (The Legend of Frank Gardiner and The Legend of John Vane) and photographs from his award-winning film The Legend of Ben Hall.
So….. in 2022, we are considering releasing the 3 screenplays for the ‘Legends Anthology’ films into a book! (Because sadly, they will never be made into movies). This book would contain the complete screenplays for ‘The Legend of Frank Gardiner’, ‘The Legend of John Vane’ and ‘The Legend of Ben Hall’ and would also feature storyboards of keys scenes, concept art and other such supporting artwork. These would be very Limited Editions. Who would be interested in purchasing one?
While the book is in early stages of development, fans of Holmes’ Ben Hall epic have expressed enthusiasm for the project. Earlier in 2021, news emerged that Holmes was shelving the two Ben Hall prequels due to the difficulties in procuring funding for the projects, despite interest from people in the industry. By releasing the screenplays as books it gives fans of The Legend of Ben Hall an opportunity to see what could have been.
Author of An Outlaw’s Journal, Georgina Stones, is on track to release her new book AhNam later this month. The book focuses on an incident early in the life of Joe Byrne, who would later become a member of the Kelly Gang, and weaves in the history of the Chinese and prostitutes of the Beechworth district on a backdrop of the late gold rush era.
Featuring artwork by Aidan Phelan, the book is split into two sections: a narrative that dramatises the story, and a breakdown of the history that the story was based on. The book will be released through Ingram Spark in print-on-demand or eBook format.
A Guide to Australian Bushranging’s Year in Review
Our most popular articles in 2021
2021 continued to be a very busy year for A Guide to Australian Bushranging, with 47,303 views in total from more than 25,000 individual visitors from around the world. As usual, the lion’s share of the views came from Australia, with the United States of America in second place and Norway in third place. Following close behind were the United Kingdom and Poland.
This year’s most read articles were a mix of the old and the new, with the top spot going to John Francis Peggotty: The Birdman of Coorong, an article from February 2018, racking up 2,509 views in 2021. The most read articles of 2021 indicate that there is a continued interest in the Kelly story with articles pertaining to the story taking second, third, and fifth spot on the list. Other heavy hitters were The Clarke Gang, Harry Power, and The Bathurst Rebellion.
Statistics demonstrate that May/June, then August through to November, were the busiest times of the year for A Guide to Australian Bushranging, with Wednesdays at 1:00pm being the most popular time of day for readers. In 2021 there were 119 articles in total published, including Spotlight articles and Gazettes. Social media continued to be the main avenue for people to discover the website, with 5,754 tweets on Twitter, and 5,315 shares on Facebook.
ABC Radio Hobart & Northern Tasmania
Earlier in 2021 A Guide to Australian Bushranging caught the attention of ABC Radio in Tasmania and Aidan Phelan had a guest spot on the Evenings program over several weeks, interviewed by Paul McIntyre and Mel Bush, some of which you can find below.
Streaming on Facebook, and videos on YouTube
During the earlier lockdown in Melbourne in June 2021, Aidan Phelan and Georgina Stones did a series of live streams on Facebook discussing aspects of bushranging. The streams were subsequently uploaded to the A Guide to Australian Bushranging YouTube channel.
Beyond the live streams, a number of videos made their way onto YouTube including The Battle of Goimbla and Lt. Col. William Balfour and Matthew Brady. As video production is quite a long process compared to creating articles for the website, there is far less content on that front being produced, but hopefully in 2022 time will allow for a lot more videos getting made.
2021 was a year of big changes for A Guide to Australian Bushranging. In February, due to a dispute between Facebook (now Meta) and the Australian government, the Facebook page for A Guide to Australian Bushranging was temporarily deleted. This led to a rethink in how the bushranger content is delivered to followers, with the decision being made to reduce posts on Facebook, and to limit external links as much as possible by collecting news articles on bushranger-related topics for a monthly newsletter (the Bushranging Gazette).
Along with the changes in the mode of delivery, the website got an aesthetic tweaking and a new logo. Where the original logo had Frank Gardiner on horseback leaping over the name of the site, the new logo has Dan Morgan on horseback enveloped by the name of the site.
Behind the scenes, moves were being made to prepare for a series of booklets. However what began as a small-scale project quickly ballooned into an upcoming non-fiction book titled Aaron Sherritt: Persona non Grata, and plans for a series of books that collect bushranger stories and biographies to be published under the Australian Bushranging banner. More on these books will be released as details are confirmed.
With such a busy year for A Guide to Australian Bushranging in 2021, it certainly sets the stage for an even bigger 2022. To keep track of developments, you can follow the website on WordPress, like and follow on Facebook and Instagram, and subscribe on YouTube.
It has been a while since a dedicated post reviewing media on A Guide to Australian Bushranging, but what better time than the present to look at some of the recent releases and currently available literature pertaining to this broad field of interest?
Tommy Bell – Bushranger Boy, books 1-3 by Jane Smith
It is often said these days that getting kids to read is one of the hardest things to do as a parent, especially with younger children. With the Tommy BellBushranger Boy series by Jane Smith, we have books about bushranging that are a perfect balance of fun and education for primary school aged readers. All too often books on the subject for this demographic are very dry and uninspiring, and at times wildly inaccurate or oversimplified, but not so with this imaginative series that uses a splash of magic to transport the reader to key parts of bushranger history. Tommy Bell’s magical cabbage-tree hat is just the trick to allow kids to have a relatable character to follow through the olden days.
Book one is Shoot-out at the Rock, and sees Tommy transported back in time for an encounter with Captain Thunderbolt. After Tommy Bell falls behind in his history lessons and steals a donut from a classmate, he is sent to stay with his grandparents near Uralla. Here he discovers the magical cabbage-tree hat inside Thunderbolt Rock that transports him back in time to when Captain Thunderbolt and Fred Britten had a chase and gunfight with the police there. The experience gives Tommy a bit of perspective on his own troublesome behaviour, and stokes a passion for history and bushrangers.
This book starts the series off strong, and sets up the character of Tommy Bell, as well as his family and his horse Combo, very effectively. Young readers will undoubtedly get a kick out of this exciting tale of highway robbery and a dramatic clash with police, and gain a history lesson and a moral lesson at the same time.
Following the narrative is a guide to the history that the story is based on, and a mock Q &A with Thunderbolt. The inclusion of the non-fiction section sets this up as an educational text as much as an entertainment for young readers, and these are features of the subsequent books as well.
Book two, The Horse Thief, sees Tommy becoming mixed up in the early exploits of Frank Christie, alias Gardiner. The Gardiner narrative is interspersed with Tommy travelling to and from a riding competition with his parents and his horse Combo. We are also introduced to Tommy’s new classmate named Francis, who seems to want to get Tommy mixed up in his mischief, setting up a point of comparison with Gardiner roping his friends into horse theft.
Whereas book one’s strength was in its simple story and fairly tame depiction of bushranging, thanks largely to Thunderbolt being a far more “family-friendly” outlaw, book two is a bit more ambiguous. Thematically, it still hovers around the morals of the bushrangers (or lack thereof), and how sometimes it isn’t so straightforward as seeing criminals as inherently evil or nasty, and everyone else as good and pleasant. Frank Gardiner is a scary horse thief who Tommy is clearly afraid of, but as villainous as he is the squatter, William Lockhart Morton, doesn’t seem any better, and even Tommy Bell finds it hard to justify the sorts of punishments that the criminals are subjected to. That the book doesn’t talk down to its readership and make everything clear-cut and black and white is one of the things that elevates it over the usual fare that children are given.
Book three is The Gold Escort Gang, and acts as a direct follow up to its predecessor by exploring the infamous Eugowra Rocks heist. It runs the story of Gardiner assembling his heist crew parallel to Tommy’s schoolmate Francis, from the previous installment, trying to rope him into stealing the rich kid’s bike with his “gang”. As with the prior books, the comparison between past and present is key to making the stories relatable, and therefore informative.
While most children’s books these days try to incorporate some form of gross out gag or toilet humour, these books are thankfully a little more high-brow, with the closest to this bring Tommy encountering Gardiner and Johnny Gilbert skinny dipping in a lake, then having to ride away naked when they couldn’t get dressed in time to evade the police who come up on them unexpectedly. This should hopefully endear the books a bit more to parents who struggle to find books for primary aged readers that aren’t about poo, bums, farts or other bodily fluids and functions.
In this tale, Tommy is right in the thick of the action during the robbery, and attention shifts away from Gardiner to Ben Hall, who is portrayed sympathetically. Again, the moral of the story is more nuanced than what you would normally find in a children’s book; Tommy uses his experience with Gardiner and Hall to reflect on his relationship with Francis in the present and comes to the conclusion that there is a compromise to be made between doing the right thing and being someone’s friend.
All three books feature bold, fun illustrations that are very stylised but suit the vibe of the text perfectly. The only criticism to be made on that front is that the costumes and such as illustrated tend to be based on American Westerns rather than the very distinct Australian style of the era. Nonetheless, it adds a little something to spice up the reading experience.
The first four Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy books are available in a boxed set from Big Sky Publishing (book four, Outback Adventure, featuring Harry Readford, alias Captain Starlight), and form a really neat set to get kids interested in bushrangers. From an educational standpoint, as much as a parental one, it is very hard to go part these books. If you have kids, or know someone who does, then these cone highly recommended.
Books four to six will be reviewed in a future Book Club.
If you would like to purchase the Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy books, you can find them online here.
In the Company of Madness by R.B.R. Verhagen
Few recent novels on the subject of Australia’s history focus on the light side, and In the Company of Madness is no exception. This is an intertwining narrative that takes the disparate strands of the lives of a bushranger, a priest and a soldier and braids them into a poetic, tragic and powerful human story about the foundations of Van Diemen’s Land and the human suffering that they were built on. What’s more, this is based on real people and events, and portrays them faithfully and in detail, which seems like more of a novelty than it should. Specifically, In the Company of Madness is about Alexander Pearce, Rev. Philip Connolly, Lt. John Cuthbertson and all their struggles in the fledgling southern colony.
Some bushranger enthusiasts will go into this book with at least a superficial knowledge of Pearce and his reputation as a cannibal; a fact that is handled artfully. They may also be familiar with the brutality of Macquarie Harbour, but Verhagen makes the suffering all the more savage by framing it through the lived experiences of convicts as well as through the tyranny of the overseers. The feeling of dread and hopelessness is palpable as one reads the artfully constructed prose. As for the murder and cannibalism, that is well handled as well, leaving most of the horror to the reader’s imagination, rather than revelling in the gruesome or gory.
The narratives chop and change throughout the book from chapter to chapter, while the whole is divided into three acts, a prologue and an epilogue. The text itself is rich and dense, and requires the reader to really take in what is being conveyed. This is not a book to be flicked through mindlessly while waiting at the airport, it demands the reader’s full attention.
Verhagen has evidently done diligent research in preparation for this book, and as a result his characters are not only authentic, but engaging. Enthusiasts of Tasmanian history will be pleased to see many important figures popping up such as Robert Knopwood and Lieutenant Governors Sorell and Arthur, as well as detailed descriptions of key environs such as Macquarie Harbour and Hobart Town. This interpretation of Van Diemen’s Land is alive and immersive, riddled with vice and full of people from all walks of life tumbled together in a barely functional penal colony.
It should come as no surprise that this is not a book for the faint-hearted as it contains a considerable amount of adult material. In the hands of a lesser writer this would come across as exploitative or merely titillation, but Verhagen uses the sordid side of the tales he is telling to highlight core truths about the human condition and the respective struggles faced by each core character. Pearce struggles against the brutal oppression and tyranny that he is subjected to, his humanity reduced to a crude approximation somewhere a little above a wild animal; Cuthbertson’s hubris and bigotry allows him to dehumanise those in his charge and torture them to death if only to scare the rest into compliance; Connolly struggles with his human urges and his devotion to Catholicism that requires their suppression. Readers should be aware that some of these moments are very confronting indeed and some may go so far as to find them distressing, so discretion is advised. For those who persevere with the book, it will be a rewarding and moving experience.
To supplement his book, Verhagen has curated a page of his website with maps, music and imagery to help round out the experience, which you can find here.
If you would like to procure a copy of In the Company of Madness, there is only very limited stock left, but can be purchased online here.
A special thanks to Jane Smith for providing copies of the Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy books for this review.
The Dashing Career Of Australia’s Forgotten ‘Gentleman Bushranger’
It seems appropriate that following the publication on A Guide to Australian Bushranging of James Erskine Calder’s account of the life and bushranging career of Matthew Brady that his story should catch the attention of more mainstream media.
Synchronicity saw Nine News publish a condensed account of Brady’s life online mere days after the Calder articles had rolled out on this website. The introduction makes reference to outlaw folk heroes Captain Thunderbolt and Ned Kelly before delving into the story of Tasmania’s greatest outlaw folk hero.
But as large as Ned’s helmeted shadow looms over colonial folklore, even he was hard-pressed to match a character largely forgotten now, whose execution was accompanied by tears and pleas for leniency, and who spent his last days in a jail cell surrounded by gifts of food and wine.
The article gives a decent account of he story in very broad brushstrokes, which hopefully inspires more people to investigate the story further.
Swiss-born composer Ronnie Minder recently made the entire score to 2016’s The Legend of Ben Hall available on his YouTube channel. The acclaimed score was shortlisted for an Oscar nod in the 89th Academy Awards, up against some stiff competition from hundreds of other contenders from around the world.
Matthew Holmes, director of The Legend of Ben Hall, was also interviewed by David Black for the Australian Short Film Network, which you can read here.
Papua New Guinean Bushranging
An intriguing article by Sinclair Dinnen and Grant Walton was released last month that discussed a man who is being referred to as “PNG’s Ned Kelly”. Tommy Baker is leader of a gang of bandits who have been on the run in Milne Bay since 2013 and have at least five murders to their names (two civilians and three police).
Baker and his confederates, of whom there seems to be enough to equate to a small army, seem to be living the life of some of history’s greatest outlaws, skillfully evading capture and enjoying enormous support from the ordinary people that harbour them. Born in 1986, as a teenager he began committing crimes with his friends, soon racking up charges of armed robbery, murder and piracy. Baker has also made an effort to shape himself as a champion of the native people against white missionaries, stating:
Our elders respect these white men, missionaries, families of missionaries, but we have grown and we do not like it. It’s time we Milne Bay (people) run our own province. This is our home, our land. We are Papua New Guineans.
Tommy Baker (attributed)
Baker has come to represent a struggle against a foreign power that denies the people self-governance, as well as overbearing and corrupted police who are known to treat people with excessive violence. Long-time enthusiasts of Australian bushranging history will be very familiar with these sentiments, as they very closely mirror the ideas that outlaws like Ned Kelly, Daniel Morgan, Jack Donohoe and Matthew Brady came to represent to large numbers of people of the lower and convict classes during the colonial era. This may even prove to be a real-time demonstration in exactly how these men gained their status and how it manifested in either outright sympathy or fearful compliance with the outlaws by the general public.
Like many popular outlaws, Baker has been described as being quite unlike the typical ruffian one would expect with such a reputation for violent crime. An anonymous pastor that knew Baker as a young man described him as:
A nice quiet man that could make friends easily, he does not chew, smoke or do drugs. He has a lot of friends and loves playing rugby.
The same source claims that Baker is aware that if he turns himself in he will be killed, which seems an accurate assessment when viewed in light of the fact that in late August of this year six members of his gang were killed in a gun battle with police near Rabaraba. One of the men killed was Baker’s right-hand man Mekere Yawi. Despite the enormous expense spent on the hunt for Baker and his gang, he continues to evade capture.
Learn more about this intriguing story by reading Sinclair Dinnen and Grant Walton’s article here and further articles from the Post Courier here, here and here.
“I’ll fight, but not surrender…”
September first marks the anniversary of the death of Jack Donohoe in a gunfight near Raby, New South Wales, in 1830. To commemorate, Julia Dąbrowska, long-time follower and contributor to A Guide to Australian Bushranging, has submitted an illustration depicting the outlaw’s final moments.
The gunfight at Bringelly brought an end to Donohoe’s wild and reckless career and was seen by some as a precursor to the infamous Bathurst Rebellion later that year. You can read about the battle here.
A Thunderbolt From The Past
In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, Julie Power discusses genealogy and its role in not only preserving records, but also shedding light on forgotten stories. In particular, she highlights new details about boy bushranger Thomas Mason, one-time sidekick of Captain Thunderbolt.
After Mason’s father died, he and his brothers were orphaned. Thomas at sixteen was taken under the wing of Frederick Ward and eventually ended up in gaol over his foray into bushranging. New details about his history were uncovered when orphanage documents were being digitised for researchers.
That interest in the past has spiked demand by the public for digitisation of records, said Martyn Killion, the director of collections, access and engagement with State Archives and Records Authority of NSW. It recently digitised and loaded the records of 1000 boys placed at the Protestant Orphan School in Parramatta from 1850. Mr Killion said when staff searched through these records, they had hoped to find a tale of someone who rose to greatness. A premier, perhaps. Instead, the newly digitised records online, revealed details of Thomas Mason, orphaned at six, who went on to ride with the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, born Frederick Wordsworth Ward.
The Ned Kelly story continues to capture the imagination of people around the world, and has now been immortalised in the pantheon of Scottish YouTuber Count Dankula’s “Absolute Mad Lads”. Dankula, the nom de plume of Markus Meechan, uses the series of videos to showcase figures in history that display often entertainingly extreme behaviours, ranging from war heroes to career criminals (and even an orangutan named Ken Allen). Meechan’s style is conversational and very tongue-in-cheek, but not to everyone’s tastes, especially if you are hoping for impartial and scholarly accounts. Long-time fans of the series have been putting Ned Kelly’s name forward as a candidate for some time and Meechan himself had hinted at the inclusion of Australia’s most infamous bushranger in an earlier video. As with all such media, there are some factual errors, and amusing mispronunciations of Australian place names, but there is more correct than incorrect in the recounting of the story and it makes for an entertaining interpretation.
The infamous “Captain Moonlite” note that was written during the Mount Egerton bank robbery that eventually saw Andrew George Scott gaoled in Pentridge Prison, and immortalised his nickname:
I hereby certify that L W Bruun has done everything in his power to withstand our intrusion and the taking away of the money which was done with firearms. Captain Moonlite
The Victorian prison record of Francis Christie – better known as Frank Gardiner:
What we see from the record is that Christie was convicted in October 1850, sentenced to five years hard labour on the roads, and did time in Geelong and in Pentridge Stockade before absconding in March 1851.
He would later find himself on Cockatoo Island in New South Wales. A note in pencil states, “said to be Frank Gardiner the Sydney Bushranger”.
This Month on A Guide to Australian Bushranging
This month will see a range of Spotlights on various archival reports and items pertaining to Jack Donohoe, Martin Cash, William Westwood (and more).
This month’s feature will be on some of the lost relics of bushranging, particularly the death mask of Moonlite’s mate Thomas Rogan, which appears to have been mislabelled.
There will also be a review of the first three books in Jane Smith’s Tommy Bell series and R. B. R. Verhagen’s Alexander Pearce novel In the Company of Madness.
As always, there will continue to be more posts on Facebook and Instagram, as well as YouTube videos on the official channel for A Guide to Australian Bushranging.
Of the myriad of Australian prisons, few have as fearsome a reputation as Victoria’s H. M. Prison Pentridge.
First opened in 1851, Pentridge was envisioned as a state of the art prison where the worst of the worst would be sent to learn the errors of their ways. Unfortunately, Pentridge went from being an easily escapable stockade to a home of cruel and overly harsh punishment. Here many bushrangers did time for their transgressions and this list gives the accounts of several of the more notable cases.
1. Ned Kelly
By the time Ned Kelly had graced the bluestone walls of Pentridge Prison, he was already something of a minor celebrity in the criminal world. In May 1870 Kelly had made headlines for allegedly being Harry Power’s bushranging apprentice. The charges against Kelly were dropped, as was a charge of assault that came up soon thereafter against a Chinese man named Ah Fook. His first prison stint was in Beechworth for three months for assaulting a hawker named McCormack and sending his wife an obscene letter. Ned’s reputation as a young man to be wary of was cemented and shortly after his release he was spotted by Senior Constable Hall in Greta, riding a chestnut mare that had been missing from the Benalla postmaster’s residence. Hall pulled Ned aside and told him he had papers to sign from Beechworth Gaol and as the teen was dismounting, Hall grabbed him. A prolonged scuffle broke out, during which Ned managed to straddle Hall and dig his spurs into the portly policeman’s thighs. They fell and knocked over several lengths of a brush fence and Hall ordered some workmen to restrain Kelly. As Ned’s limbs were secured, Hall bashed him over the head repeatedly with the butt of his revolver until the sixteen year-old’s head was split open and bleeding freely. Once unconscious from the head trauma, Ned was dragged across the road to the lock-up, leaving a trail of blood in the dust. The attending doctor gave Kelly twelve stitches and complained about Hall’s seeming compulsion to crack open the head of an Irishman like a macadamia. Ned Kelly was charged with horse theft, but as his court case went on this was changed to feloniously receiving a stolen horse. Apparently, Wild Wright had borrowed the horse without permission and gotten her lost. He had subsequently loaned a horse from Ned so that he could ride home (he was a friend of Ned’s brother-in-law Alex Gunn). The agreement was that if Ned found her they would do a swap. This is what Ned was in the process of doing when he was bailed up by Hall. Ned was found guilty and received three years hard labour. For taking the horse, Wright was given 18 months.
The start of Ned’s sentence was in Beechworth Gaol, but after several months he was transferred to Pentridge, then on to Point Gellibrand as his ability as a labourer was considered useful for the work occuring at Williamstown. Prisoners from the prison hulks at time were generally employed building sea walls and repairing military structures. So, having spent several months becoming acclimatised to Pentridge, Ned was transferred to the hulk Sacramento. Ned was, by most accounts, a model prisoner. His record only shows one blemish: two days in solitary confinement for giving his tobacco ration to another inmate on Sacramento. Rather than simply smashing rocks, Ned’s time in Pentridge and Sacramento taught him trade skills, namely bricklaying, which he would use for a period once he was released in 1874. No doubt the time in gaol was gruelling, and being completely cut off from everyone he knew and loved for almost three years would have been a huge thing for a teenage boy to endure. Oral tradition recounts that Ned would often state, upon his release, that if he ever went back to gaol they’d have to hang him.
2. Andrew George Scott
The troublesome preacher and convicted bank robber, Andrew Scott, became something of a celebrity in Pentridge. The press took much delight in using his supposed alias, “Captain Moonlite”, when recounting his supposed misdeeds. There remains some doubt as to whether Scott truly did committ the daring robbery that sent him to gaol, despite many of the details proving compelling such as the motive (Scott was broke due to the church withholding his wages), Scott’s relationship to the men previously accused of the crime and Scott’s subsequent escape from Ballarat Gaol while on remand. Regardless, Scott was given seven years to think about his next move. Sent to Pentridge by Sir Redmond Barry, Scott would prove to be nothing short of a nuisance. His prison record demonstrates a series of infringements, which indicate that Scott had become something of a go-to guy in Pentridge for contraband. Whatever you wanted, Scott seemed able to get for you whether it’s newspapers or even new trousers. If you were able to make a deal then he would hook you up.
Scott became something of a nuisance to the prison authorities and any opportunity they could take to punish him was too good to miss. On one occassion Scott was found with a length of lead pipe that he claimed he found by the perimeter wall. The warders asserted that he intended to use the pipe to make a gun. During the subsequent hearing Scott, a qualified engineer, explained in painstaking detail exactly why the proposition was ludicrous. He maintained that basic physics dictated that the pipe was totally unsuited to a firearm because of the pressure build up caused by the act of firing a projectile in such a narrow tube. The authorities were unswayed and sent him to solitary confinement. This only put more fire in Scott’s belly.
When Scott learned of a fellow inmate, Weachurch, attempting to murder a warder while in solitary confinement, he took it upon himself to act as a witness in the trial and use the opportunity to make public what he claimed was a massive cover up of institutionalised brutality. The cries fell on deaf ears however and Weachurch was eventually hanged for the crime.
While in Pentridge Scott befriended a juvenile delinquent from Richmond named James Nesbitt, who would become his closest confidante and, by some accounts, his lover. On one occasion Nesbitt was even punished for smuggling tea to Scott. When Nesbitt was released, Scott still had a significant portion of his sentence left. The friendship was enough to motivate Scott to pull his head in for the remainder of his sentence so that he was able to join Nesbitt outside the prison, which he promptly did when he gained his liberty.
3. Harry Power
Harry Power was to become one of Pentridge Prison’s most well-known inmates. His first stint in the prison came in 1863 when he was imprisoned for stock theft. Having done time on the prison hulk Success, he found himself back on dry land in Pentridge. By now Power had begun to develop the health problems that would plague him ever after, most notably a bowel stricture. The stricture made hard labour difficult and thus he was put on light duties. The prisoners were tasked with clearing the scrub by the Merri Creek end of the compound in preparation for the bluestone boundary wall to be built. Power’s job was to man the handcart that took the green waste to the mullock heap, but Power had a plan. He had begun piling the waste over a depression in the ground and when tools were downed and muster was called, he hid in the depression and covered himself with branches. When the coast was clear he climbed out and left via the gap in the incomplete perimeter wall. Crossing the creek, Power managed to make good his escape by allegedly hiding in a crowded pub.
The next few months saw Power increase his reputation as one of Australia’s most indomitable highwaymen. Covering vast territory and committing a number of robberies comparable to legendary bushrangers such as Gilbert, Hall and Morgan, Power managed to attract a reward of £500. He briefly operated with a teenage sidekick (Ned Kelly, as mentioned earlier) but was not fond of the arrangement, reportedly abusing the boy frequently when in camp, prompting his exit.
The reward money proved too tempting and he was sold out by one of his harbourers, Jack Lloyd, who helped police to locate Power’s hideout. After a dramatic capture by police, Power was tried in Beechworth and soon found himself back in Pentridge to serve fifteen years.
This time, Power’s health had deteriorated rapidly and he was frequently in the prison hospital. On one occasion he had the cheek to try and escape by cutting through the hospital floor with the intent of tunnelling out. Unfortunately for him he was caught in the act. As his ability to engineer escapes diminished he became belligerent and was frequently punished for minor offences, which were usually related to smoking his pipe or starting fights with other inmates. During one of his many stints in the hospital he was interviewed by an undercover journalist who called himself The Vagabond. The account was colourful and portrayed Power as something of a vainglorious raconteur. Power would begin to settle somewhat in the later years of his sentence, eventually getting out in the mid 1880s.
4. Frank Gardiner
Frank Gardiner, the alias of Francis Christie, spent his first prison sentence for stock theft in Pentridge. On 10 June 1850 he and John Newton attempted to shift 21 head of stolen cattle from Salisbury Plains, South Australia, to sell them in Portland (at that point Victoria was still part of New South Wales). They were nabbed near the Fitzroy River a couple of days after setting out, then taken to Geelong to await trial. The pair were tried in Geelong at the Circuit Court before the Resident Judge William A’Beckett, and upon being found guilty on 22 October 1850, were given five years hard labour on the roads. Gardiner remained in Geelong Gaol until he was transferred to Pentridge stockade on 4 February 1851.
At the time Pentridge was little more than portable wooden cells and brush fencing. The inmates were the ones tasked with preparing the grounds and building the fortifications, but during these early days escape was frequent due to the lack of barriers and poor security, and the rate of recapture was laughable.
On the afternoon of 26 March 1851, a group of seven convicts broke out of Pentridge, one of whom was Gardiner, at that time still being referred to as Francis Christie. Gardiner managed to make good his escape and headed for the McIvor goldfields where he fell in with a gang of bushrangers who planned to rob a gold escort.
In 1853 the notorious heist was executed and the gang made off with almost 3000oz of gold and £700 cash. Within days the police had tracked down Gardiner, then still using his real name, and arrested him in the middle of having sex in his tent. He was assumed to be the mastermind and somehow evaded imprisonment, likely by ratting out his accomplices, and quickly made his way to New South Wales where he continued his criminal career.
Ten years after his stint in Pentridge he would cement his place in bushranging history as the mastermind of the Eugowra Rocks heist.
5. James Nesbitt
Nesbitt was not a master criminal by any stretch. He was raised in Richmond (at that time a massive slum) with an extremely abusive father, who was in and out of gaol for his violent behaviour, and few prospects to better his lot. Using his mother’s maiden name, Lyons, he fell in with a larrikin “push” that tailed a man who was flashing cash around from having struck it rich on the goldfields. They cornered him and beat him unconscious before liberating him of his cash. Nesbitt did not engage in the bashing, but rather acted as a lookout. The boys were arrested soon after and tried. Nesbitt was given five years.
His sentence began in Melbourne Gaol on 15 July 1875. He had previously done a stint of three months in Melbourne Gaol in 1873 for larceny. Only a few days later he was transferred to Pentridge, where he was obviously a troublesome convict. The infractions marked on his record include idleness, talking to a prisoner, claiming paper improperly and having trousers improperly, quarrelling and leaving his seat at divine service. This was all prior to his transfer in mid-April 1878 to Williamstown, where he was stationed in the barracks in order to work on improvements to the garrison. Here he was housed in the old military barracks at Fort Gellibrand and it is around this time that he befriended a teenager named William Johnson. Nesbitt seems to have mostly behaved himself at Fort Gellibrand, only getting in trouble for using improper language the day before his transfer back to Pentridge.
Upon his return to Pentridge, it seems, that Nesbitt befriended Andrew George Scott. Nesbitt now seemed to have settled down somewhat and the only remaining infractions on his record are two counts of him sneaking tea to Scott in the last two months of his sentence. On 17 September 1878 Nesbitt gained his freedom by remission and kept his nose clean on the outside until March the following year when he reunited with Andrew George Scott, who was fresh out of Pentridge himself.
Nesbitt and Scott tried desperately to find employment but their criminal history proved to be too much of an obstacle. Scott also had theatrical ambitions and roped Nesbitt into accompanying him on a tour of the colony to preach prison reform to the masses. The police caught wind of this and tried everything they could to silence Scott. Scott and Nesbitt then found themselves the target of false accusations by the police, who were desperate to pin something on them. One such case was when Scott and Nesbitt, with their pal Frank Johns, were seen in Williamstown and allegedly tried to help Nesbitt’s old prison mate William Johnson escape from the barracks at Fort Gellibrand. They were accused of forcing open a window to pass Johnson revolvers, but there was no evidence and the case was dropped.
This persecution was inevitably what led to Nesbitt joining Scott in his bushranging expedition into New South Wales, which resulted in his violent death by police at McGlede’s farm in Wantabadgery.
6. Owen Suffolk
Owen Suffolk led a very eventful life, like something out of a Dickens novel. Prior to coming to Australia, the Englishman had been a student at a boarding school, worked as a cabin boy, fallen into vagrancy, and become a conman. He was convicted for forgery in 1846, and the following June departed for Australia on the ship Joseph Soames. He arrived in Port Phillip on 24 September and was received at Geelong. He was one of the privileged prisoners who, upon arrival in the colonies, was allowed to roam freely under surveillance rather than be imprisoned or assigned. This would prove to be a terrible decision on the part of the authorities.
On 19 December 1848 Suffolk was given a sentence of five years on the road for horse stealing, the first three to be served in irons. Prior to this conviction he had been brought up on a different horse stealing charge but was acquitted due to inconsistencies regarding the ownership of the stolen horse in the paperwork. Knowing he had other warrants out against him, Suffolk attempted to bolt before the authorities could nab him. He was chased on foot by three police for only about thirty yards before he was re-arrested and charged with stealing a horse worth £10 from a man named Thomas Seal, on which charge he was found guilty. He was sent to Cockatoo Island where he was received in March 1849.
Suffolk was infrequently in trouble during his time on Cockatoo Island, receiving additional punishments for having letters and fighting in the square. He was granted a ticket of leave on 2 March 1851, but promptly absconded and took to the bush.
Suffolk was sent to Pentridge in 1851 for ten years for robbing the mail coach at Portland, the first three to be done in irons. The sentence was served at Pentridge as well as the prison hulk President at Port Gellibrand, the most notorious at the time for the cruelty inflicted upon prisoners there at the time.
During his time in Pentridge, Suffolk was able to gain the trust of prison authorities and was given a bookmaking job. However, Suffolk used the position to secretly alter documents and shorten the sentences of his mates. It seems his forgeries were so well executed that he was kept in this role long-term, and on 28 March 1853 the prison authorities received a letter from the sheriff notifying them that his sentence had been commuted to five years.
Suffolk was referred to as “The Poet” because, despite his criminal leanings, he was an accomplished writer of poetry and even managed to write a popular autobiography during his stint in Pentridge, which was later released as Days of Crime and Years of Suffering. Many of his works actually pertain to his time in Pentridge and offer a unique insight into the experience of the inmates.
On 10 September 1853 Suffolk received his ticket of leave and was discharged. He would not enjoy his liberty for long as his tampering with the books was discovered in his absence and on 28 February 1854 his ticket of leave was revoked and he was sent back to President.
For this he was sent to the hulks at Williamstown, doing time on President where the worst offenders were sent to be broken. A little over a year later his poor health saw him transferred to Success and Sacramento.
When he eventually gained his ticket of leave just before Christmas in 1857, he was permitted to find employment in Ballarat but he was unable to, turning to crime yet again. It seems that his convict background had proven to be the biggest hurdle to his walking the straight and narrow and crime was the only way he could think of to survive. However, Suffolk was no ordinary crim. In 1858 he faced court of charges of theft where it was revealed he had taken a horse and tack in one instance, and £2 in another, by pretending to be an undercover detective.
In the 1866 Suffolk gained his liberty after his brother back in England had gotten him a pardon from the colonial governor. He almost immediately became involved in a forgery racket but skipped town before the headquarters was raided by police. Suffolk made his way to England where he pretended to be a wealthy squatter and journalist in order to gain the confidence of the wealthy English he mixed with. Through this he conned a wealthy widow named Mary Elizabeth Phelps into marrying him to gain access to her fortune. He then faked his death by drowning and ran away to America with his newfound fortune with his teenage niece, with whom he claimed to be married, where they lived the high life in New York. In 1868 his autobiography was serialised in the press, which coincided with his return to Australia. Following he was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment for theft and bigamy. By September 1880 he was out of prison and back in England where he married Eliza Shreves. It seems that after this Suffolk, now in his fifties, managed to settle down as he fades out of the pages of history thereafter.
By Owen Suffolk
‘Twas a calm summer ere when a mother led forth
Her fair child to gaze at the beauties of earth;
She bade him look up too the bright stars on high.
Tiny islets of light in an ocean of sky;
Then she pointed him down were the silver moon threw
Her beams on the flowers beshangled with dew:
And the boy as he gazed with a heart undefiled;
Seemed an angel of love in the form of a child.
Then the boy turned and said with a voice sweet and soft,
Like the lay of a lark carolled out from aloft,
“How pure and how good must that wise Being be
Who created such beautiful wonders for me;
Oh, teach me to love and commune with in prayer
The maker of all things so holy and fair.”
And the fond mother wept with emotion of joy
As she clasped to her bosom her God-loving boy.
Years passed; and the boy had grown up to a man
When I saw him with visage so woe-gone and wan.
No longer he worshipped at purity’s shrine,
For his soul was enslaved by the demon of crime.
An alien to love and an exile from home
He lay shackled with chains in a dungeon of stone:
Whilst those phantons of evil – remorse and despair –
In terrible form ever haunted him there.
“Oh man,” groaned the captive with voice harsh and wild,
As he rattled his fetters and savagely smiled,
“How relentless in feeling, how ruthless in wrath,
Art thou to the wretched and guilty of earth;
On the fallen one wreak all thy vengeance; and though
He may crouch to the storm, or be crushed by its blow,
Yet thy chains and thy cruelties teach him to be
A fiend in his nature, and a terror to thee!
I saw him once more in a forest of flowers,
Where Nature smiled forth from her leaf-shaded bowers,
And the Spirit of Beauty that reigned o’er the scene
Poured a soul-soothing song from her wild haunts of green.
There his stern heart, o’ercome by the influence sweet
Of the music and calm of that sylvan retreat,
Expanded with love and a prayer rose above
To the God of all Nature – all Beauty and Love!
Oh! ’tis sad that the good may be soon clothed with shame
By the vices of earth which enchant and enchain;
But ’tis sweet to reflect that the worthless and vile
Beyond the Kelly Gang, only one other bushranging gang has truly cemented its place in the culture of Australia so firmly to become synonymous with bushranging. The early 1860s belonged to a rotating roster of brigands that operated mostly on the Lachlan Plains and came to be known popularly (for reasons that will become apparent) under the name of Ben Hall, though the contemporary press preferred to take their nomenclature for the gang from it’s most prominent figure, Johnny Gilbert. They were said to have committed hundreds of crimes ranging from robbery to murder. The following is not a detailed account of their career as the sheer scale of their depredations makes for heavy reading, but rather it is a summary of the career of the most legendary bushranging gang of the 1860s.
The origins of the Hall Gang are quite ephemeral. There was no definitive incident that forged the gang as it would come to be known, rather it evolved from the vestiges of other gangs. The one element that brought the key players together was the Prince of Tobymen, Frank Gardiner. Gardiner had been on the run after violating his ticket of leave, and after having worked the roads with companions such as The Three Jacks and John Peisley, he decided to set his sights on a bigger score than what mail coaches could yield. Gardiner wanted to have a crack at the escorts taking the gold from the diggings. He soon realised to do so he would need a lot more men to help him out. So in 1861 Gardiner began forming a gang to help him rob the Orange gold escort. This would become a defining moment for the core members of what would eventually become the Gilbert-Hall Gang.
The gang Gardiner had formed consisted of Johnny Gilbert, the flash Canadian who had been his off-sider on and off during his time in the bush; John O’Meally, a volatile Australian-born who had proven to be a reliable and enthusiastic underling; Charlie Gilbert; Henry Manns; Alex Fordyce; John Bow; and Patsy Daley. These men were to be the shock troops who would attack the escort but Gardiner needed more assistance. To hold the horses and scout he had Jack “The Warrigal” Walsh, the teenage brother of his lover, Kitty Brown. It was also rumoured that among those helping to look after the horses was a young stockman named Ben Hall and his brother-in-law John Maguire, who had turned to crime as a way of getting easy money to counter the hardships of farming life.
On 15 June, 1862, the Gardiner gang bailed up two bullock teams near Eugowra Rocks. They tied up the teamsters and left the drays on the road to act as a blockade. The bushrangers were disguised with their faces masked or blackened. When the wagon came up the road from the Lachlan diggings, it was forced to stop because of the blockage. As it did, Gardiner emerged and the gang opened fire and riddled the coach with bullets, injuring two of the police. Sergeant Condell was shot in the ribs, while Constable Moran was shot in the testicles. The horses were spooked and bolted, causing the wagon to strike a boulder and topple, flinging the driver and police across the road. Once the victims had escaped, the gang descended upon the wreckage and picked it clean, stealing around £6000 worth of gold and cash.
The booty was split among the bushrangers but the celebrations were short-lived as police led by Sir Frederick Pottinger soon found the gang’s hideout. Their sudden arrival forced the bushrangers to split up. Gardiner and Walsh narrowly avoided capture, but lost their share of the gold when their over-burdened packhorse was seized. The bushrangers tried to hide their booty and keep quiet but the police were quick to make arrests. Charlie Gilbert and Henry Manns were captured by Pottinger but rescued by Johnny Gilbert and Frank Gardiner. Manns set off alone and was soon recaptured. Bow and Fordyce were arrested as were Ben Hall, John Maguire and Daniel Charters, an associate of theirs. The Gilbert brothers successfully managed to escape to New Zealand to lie low. Gardiner took Kitty Brown with him and escaped New South Wales, eventually being arrested at Apis Creek in Queensland.
When Johnny Gilbert returned from abroad he started bushranging with a number of off-siders including Fred Lowry. As each of them left, John O’Meally was the only one who remained. The pair did not exactly like each other but it was a marriage of convenience that allowed them both to enjoy the lawless adventure they craved.
When Hall got out of remand he had a chip on his shoulder. He promptly found his way to Johnny Gilbert and John O’Meally and joined them in bushranging. The trio hit the highways with considerable success. Nobody was safe and the police could not catch up to them. Eventually they decided that they needed extra help as their operation became more prolific.
In 1863, the gang recruited John Vane to source horses for them. Vane and his cousin Mickey Burke acted as scouts for the gang but soon managed to become fully fledged members. Vane was a tall, quiet young man who was a fearless rider and a skilled bushman but not as ruthless as the others. Burke was young and feisty; itching to go on the adventure of bushranging but not keen to use violence willingly. This latter quality seemed to make him a target for bullying.
In late September, 1863, the gang began a spree of lawlessness that caused a stir throughout the colony. On 22 September they bailed up three troopers and stole their weapons and uniforms. The next day, the gang bailed up Hosie’s store dressed as police. The gang took supplies and stole all of Hosie’s sweets. It was not the first time the gang had robbed him.
On 26 September they raided John Loudon’s house at Grubbenbong dressed in their stolen police uniforms. They went through the building in search of police they believed were staying there. The search turned up nothing but the gang bragged that if any troopers came after them, they would handcuff them and march them back to Carcoar. They forced Loudon’s wife to prepare food for them. Once they were satisfied, the gang left.
The following day the bushrangers, still in their stolen uniforms, went to William Rothery’s Cliefden Station at Limestone Creek, where they engaged in a standoff with Rothery’s staff. Rothery ordered his men to stand down and the bushrangers bailed up the household, ate lunch, drank champagne then played piano. As with their visit to Grubbenbong, they left quietly after having their fill. They moved on to the township of Canowindra. They robbed Pierce’s store then quietly rounded up the townsfolk, including the local constable, into Robinson’s pub and held an impromptu party. The party continued into the morning and the gang left without fear of police intervention.
The success of the Canowindra raid bolstered the gang’s confidence and they set their sights on Bathurst, one of the biggest cities in colonial New South Wales. With John Vane on watch, the gang entered town at dusk on 3 October, 1863. They went to the gunsmith and looked at what he had in stock but could not find anything to their liking. They attempted to rob the jeweller but the screams of female onlookers roused attention. Suddenly Vane called out to signal the arrival of troopers. They mounted and bolted through the streets, escaping without a scratch. They took refuge in the house of a man named De Clouet, from whom they intended to steal a racehorse named Pasha, but the horse was not there. The gang were able to leave town without further incident after the search had been called off.
The gang decided to stick to what they were good at and once again headed to Canowindra. Again the townsfolk were rounded up into the pub and festivities took place. In the morning Mickey Burke proved difficult to rouse, his drinking having been rather excessive, but even though they were delayed in leaving, there was no sign of the police until long after the gang had left.
The reward for the gang was sitting at £4000 and things were becoming serious as police drew heavy criticism from the press over their inability to stop the bandits. On 24 October, 1864, they headed to the Keightley farm on Dunn’s Plains on a vendetta to take the flashness out of gold commissioner Henry Keightley. Keightley had bragged about his part in helping the police hunt the gang and his readiness to shoot them down. The bushrangers arrived at sunset whereupon they were spotted by Keightley and his friend Dr. Pechey. The bushrangers dismounted and opened fire as the men sheltered inside. There was a vicious shootout during which Mickey Burke was shot in the belly. Keightley and Pechey took refuge in a barricade that had been made on the roof but were low on weapons and ammunition. Burke refused to allow his wounding to lead him to be captured and he determined to take his own life. He shot himself in the head but only succeeded in further wounding himself. He shot himself in the head again, finally succeeding in committing suicide. John Vane was grief stricken and when Keightley and Pechey were captured he bashed Pechey with his pistol, mistaking him for Keightley, and was fully prepared to execute them in retaliation. Mrs. Keightley intervened and convinced them to hold her husband to ransom instead of murdering him. Dr. Pechey rode into town and fetched £500 – the equivalent of the reward money offered for Burke – from Mrs. Keightley’s father and returned to the farm. The bushrangers entrusted Keightley’s servants to convey Burke’s corpse to Carcoar then left.
In the wake of the tragedy tensions were high and Vane left after a fight with Gilbert. He turned himself in and was imprisoned at Darlinghurst Gaol. Once again the gang was a trio, but they were determined not to lose face. They continued to rob travellers at an alarming rate and soon heard about a magistrate named David Campbell who had been talking about his eagerness to capture the bushrangers.
On 19 November, 1863, the gang rode to Goimbla Station, where the Campbells resided. They spread out to find a way inside. O’Meally went to the back door where he was met by Campbell. O’Meally discharged his shotgun and narrowly missed Campbell’s head. O’Meally ran to the front of the house, chased by Campbell who doubled back when he saw the others. The bushrangers began firing into the house. Campbell took cover by the kitchen and his wife, Amelia, ran under fire to fetch ammunition and weapons from the drawing room. Campbell’s brother had been roused by the firing and was shot and wounded. He ran and hid in a crop field until there was a safe moment to get help. The bushrangers took cover behind a fence and O’Meally set fire to the barn. Campbell called out for the bushrangers to set his horses free but they refused out of spite and the animals were burned alive. As O’Meally stood to admire his handiwork, Campbell shot him in the neck. Hall and Gilbert dragged him to the bush on the edge of the property and propped his head up but the wound was fatal. When O’Meally died they looted his body and evacuated, leaving the grisly find for the Campbells to deal with.
Hall and Gilbert slowed down after Goimbla but found two new recruits very quickly. James “Old Man” Gordon and John Dunleavy were inducted into the gang and soon they were up to the same old tricks. The new outfit was put through the ringer when they were ambushed at the Bang Bang Hotel and engaged in a shootout with police. The bushrangers narrowly escaped but it clearly rattled Gilbert who left the gang to return to Victoria for a spell.
Hall continued on with Gordon and Dunleavy but they were hardly alike the outfit Hall was used to. During a shootout in the bush at Bundaburra, Dunleavy was injured. He surrendered himself and was soon tried and sent to Darlinghurst Gaol. Hall and Gordon continued together briefly before Gordon also split and was arrested near the Victorian border. He too was imprisoned.
Hall now faced the daunting prospect of bushranging solo. He kept a low profile, preferring to avoid confronting police or making his presence known. From time to time police would stumble upon where he had been sleeping and he would barely escape, but the lifestyle was beginning to impact on his health. Fortunately for Hall he was soon reunited with Gilbert.
Ben Hall was just as eager to recapture the glory days as Gilbert, but they knew that they needed at least one extra set of hands. Gilbert recruited John Dunn, a teenaged jockey and Gilbert’s former bush telegraph. Dunn was wanted for skipping bail and saw bushranging as a viable alternative to honest work or gaol.
The trio hit the roads and bailed up as many people as possible, their exploits reaching new heights of audacity with each event. At the end of 1864 the gang went to work at Black Springs near Jugiong. They bailed up scores of people travelling the road, robbed them and kept them prisoner behind a large hill while they awaited their true goal: the mail coach. The coach arrived as expected and the bandits bailed it up, but when Ben Hall spotted the police escort catching up the trio galloped away and doubled back once they had sized up the threat. All three demonstrated their incredible horse riding abilities by steering the horses with their legs while double-wielding pistols. The gun battle was frenetic and vicious. Sergeant Edmund Parry became locked in one-on-one combat with Johnny Gilbert. They exchanged fire and a bullet from Gilbert hit Parry in the back, killing him.
A dangerous precedent had now been set and the gang had become elevated from audacious highwaymen to murderers. Undeterred, the gang continued to go about their depredations. At Christmas the bushrangers visited their girlfriends, Christina MacKinnon and Peggy and Ellen Monks, and decided to have some fun at the Boxing Day ball in Binda. They bailed up a former policeman named Morriss and robbed his store before heading to the Flag Hotel. They sang, danced and drank with the patrons while Morriss plotted to take the wind out of their sails. As the night wound on Morriss managed to escape through a window and tried to set the gang’s horses loose. When Hall discovered Morriss missing, he tried to find him outside. In an act of vengeance the bushrangers and their girlfriends burned down Morriss’ store. The women were arrested for their role in the arson but not convicted.
On 26 January, 1865, the gang bailed up several travellers on the road near Collector before heading to Kimberley’s Inn. The occupants were marched outside and robbed while Hall and Gilbert raided the interior. As the local police were in the bush looking for the gang there was only one constable in town – Samuel Nelson. Nelson heard that the inn had been bailed up and set out on foot to confront the bushrangers. When he arrived there was a brief standoff between himself and John Dunn before Dunn shot him in the stomach and head, killing him.
In response to the murders and countless other offences committed by bushrangers in the colony, the New South Wales government passed a legislation called the Felons Apprehension Act. This would render any person declared an outlaw to lose all protections of the law, and anyone could kill them without provocation and with no fear of punishment. It literally rendered the proclaimed outlaws as exempt from human society and encouraged people to treat them as vermin. The act allowed the wanted people 30 days to turn themselves over to police before being officially declared outlaws.
Things became very treacherous for the gang. Several ambushes occured where the gang narrowly escaped alive. The decision was made to do one last heist and get out of the colony before they were officially outlawed. They recruited John Dunn’s mate Daniel Ryan to help strike at a gold escort. The gang lay in wait on a stretch of road in the bush at Araluen and when the gold escort arrived they opened fire. The heist was a poor imitation of what Gardiner had masterminded and the end result was that the gold remained untouched and the gang was forced to retreat. Daniel Ryan would carry out several other robberies with the gang before disappearing from the line-up.
Back down to a trio, the gang attempted to rob a wagon full of teenage boys – the Faithful brothers. What the gang did not anticipate was that the brothers, who had been out hunting, would resist with firearms. A gunfight broke out wherein Gilbert accidentally shot his own horse and was trapped under it. The brothers succeeded in getting to safety, leaving the gang to lick their wounds.
The gang decided the time had come to call it quits. Ben Hall took care of some business around Forbes before heading to a rendezvous with the others at Billabong Creek. Unfortunately Gilbert and Dunn had seemingly gotten spooked by teamsters they mistook for plainclothes officers and Hall decided to set up camp near the home of police informant Mick Coneley. On 5 May, 1865, Hall was ambushed as he fed his horse. He ran to escape but was shot over and over until, as he held a sapling, he died from around 30 bullet wounds, two passing through his brain. Coneley would earn £500 for selling Hall out.
Gilbert and Dunn continued to run from place to place before seeking shelter at Dunn’s grandfather John Kelly’s place near Binalong. In the wake of Hall’s death they had learned not to trust harbourers, especially as the date to turn themselves in by was rapidly approaching. Unfortunately the belief that Dunn’s family was a safe bet was another poor judgment and Kelly sold them out as well. A team of police surrounded the house and the bushrangers were forced to escape through a window. As they ran Gilbert was shot through the heart and killed. Dunn sustained a leg injury but managed to escape.
Dunn by virtue of being the only survivor of the gang at large became the first person to be declared an outlaw in New South Wales. Rumours abounded that he had joined up with Captain Thunderbolt, but in fact he had gone into hiding on a farm under an assumed identity. He was soon discovered, however, and once again tried to escape. He shot a trooper in the leg but was himself shot in the back, the bullet lodging in his spine. He fought off the police as much as he could but the pain was too intense and he was captured.
He was taken to the lock-up in Dubbo but managed to escape despite his crippling injuries by climbing out of a window. He crawled along the ground, unable to walk from his wound, but was soon recaptured. He was tried for the murder of Constable Nelson and sentenced to death. He was hanged in Darlinghurst in January 1866. With Dunn’s death the Gilbert-Hall Gang had finally been snuffed out for good.
Even in their own lifetimes, the bushrangers who formed the roster in the gang were something akin to celebrities. They developed a reputation as daring highwaymen and folk heroes that robbed from the rich but would never molest a needy person or woman. The truth was far from this lofty ideal and the gang had its fair share of indiscriminate robberies to their name. It has been estimated by some that the gang committed hundreds of crimes in their short career. Indeed, the number of bail ups attributed to them is probably far and away the largest of any organised gang of bandits in Australian history. It was the inefficiency of the police that helped seal their reputation and turned this band of robbers into glorious rebels, rather than incorrigible ne’er-do-wells. What pushed them into this life of crime is hard to pinpoint as most members of the gang came from respectable backgrounds. Perhaps the allure of reaping the benefits of the gold rush without having to engage in the back breaking labour was just too big a temptation to refuse.
Few bushrangers can lay claim to being the living embodiment of bushranging as John Gilbert was during his short and violent career. Known variously as “Flash Johnny” and “Happy Jack”, Gilbert was known for his impulsiveness and energy. Gilbert was a bundle of contradictions; vain, ostentatious and unpredictable yet courteous to women, admired pluck and preferred bluff over violence. He captured the imagination of New South Welshmen in the early 1860s and became a legend in his own lifetime.
During his life Gilbert’s origins were a mystery to most. Journalists would scramble for the merest hint of a clue in the hope of uncovering the story behind the most notorious highwayman in Australia. Gilbert was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in 1842, the youngest child of English emigrants William and Eleanor Gilbert. John had a slew of siblings: Ellen, William jnr, Francis, James and Charles. When John was still an infant his mother died, but soon afterwards William remarried to a Canadian woman named Eliza. After this union John’s half-brothers Thomas and Nicholson were born.
As a ten year old he journeyed with his family from the beautiful waterside vistas of Ontario into the United States, departing from New York on the ‘Revenue’ to the dry, sweltering goldfields of Victoria.
In 1854, twelve year-old Johnny Gilbert took his leave of his family and obtained employment as a stable boy for a pub in Kilmore. While this work provided pocket money and good experience with horses, one of his greatest loves, his exposure to the larrikins, louts and rogues travelling to and from the gold fields seems to have fostered a fascination for lawlessness in the boy. When he was about eighteen, Gilbert headed to the gold fields of New South Wales to seek his fortune.
Gilbert worked around the boom town of Kiandra, one of the most bustling gold rush locations. The gold fields in this time were a cesspool of debauchery, lawlessness and other forms of villainy. Murders, riots, lynchings and robberies were everyday occurrences and put enormous strain on the understaffed and overextended colonial police. A law passed in Britain had prevented the various regional police forces to unite as one entity, forcing the existing regional forces to remain fractured and overworked. This, combined with the rise in lawless behaviour and the huge influx of immigrants seeking riches on the goldfields, resulted in absolute mayhem. No doubt this was a perfect environment for Johnny Gilbert who had a thirst for adventure and thrill-seeking. At this time bushranging had blossomed from sporadic cases of stock theft, home invasions and highway robbery by criminals hiding in the untouched wilds into something almost industrial in its scale. The easy pickings from the mail coaches and less cautious miners meant that anyone that was unprepared for the backbreaking labour of mining for gold was very likely to “go bush”.
It was around this that Gilbert crossed paths with Frank Gardiner. Gardiner was on the run, having violated his ticket of leave conditions, and had established himself in Lambing Flat (later Young) with his mate William Fogg, running a dodgy butcher’s shop that dealt in meat from stock that had been procured illegally. Gilbert adopted the Murringo region as his new home and picked up work as a stockman. Likely it was through Gardiner and Fogg that Gilbert became associated with men that were not known at that time but would soon become household names, such as John O’Meally, Fred Lowry and John Peisley.
By 1862 Gilbert was fully entrenched in the lawless lifestyle of Gardiner and his cohort and on 10 March that year he was involved in his first documented act as a bushranger. Along with Gardiner, O’Meally and Tom McGuinness he robbed two storekeepers of almost £2000 in gold and banknotes. Such a score was no doubt absolutely thrilling for the bandits but devastating for the victims. Gilbert took to adopting a very flash dress sense as his new outlaw lifestyle began to bring in spoils he could hardly have imagined on a stockman’s wage. He was fond of ostentatious clothing such as bright red sashes and tassles, as well as jewellery and accessories, particularly fob chains and rings. He worked with Gardiner committing highway robberies including at least one involving a young squatter named Benjamin Hall. Gilbert seems to have worked his way up to being Frank Gardiner’s closest bushranging associate as the only known photograph of Gilbert is a carte de visite of him and Gardiner together.
At the beginning of June 1862 Gilbert began to strike out without Gardiner. On the first of the month he and two others allegedly robbed Herbert’s Store at Little Creek, taking monkey jackets and boots. They then went to Chard’s store and attempted to rob the store owner of £30. The commotion roused some local miners who armed themselves and attempted to capture the bandits but they managed to escape.
On 15 June, 1862, Gilbert accompanied Gardiner and his gang to Eugowra Rocks where they robbed a gold escort in one of the biggest gold heists in Australian history. The bushrangers had blocked off the road with drays from a waylaid bullock team in order to halt the Orange gold escort. When the escort arrived, Gardiner emerged from behind the boulders that rested uphill alongside the road and called upon the coach driver to bail up. Gardiner’s gang promptly opened fire, injuring several policemen and spooking the horses who bolted and caused the mail coach to crash. The gang looted the coach as the police escaped, lifting around £14000 in gold and cash (close to $4000,000 in modern Australian currency). The police responded swiftly and Sub-Inspector Pottinger led a party of police that, almost by accident, managed to find the bushrangers’ camp and recover a portion of the loot.
Just after this, Johnny Gilbert was joined by Henry Manns (one of Gardiner’s gang) and his brother Charlie Gilbert as he attempted to leave the district to avoid the increased police activity. Gilbert converted his stolen gold into cash at a bank and carried the spoils – £2500 – in a valise on his saddle.
On 7 July, the trio were stopped by Sub-Inspector Pottinger who was accompanied by Detective Lyons and a volunteer named Richard Mitchell. When they asked Johnny Gilbert for documents proving his ownership of the horse he was riding, he duped and fled. Henry Manns and Charlie Gilbert were arrested but “Happy Jack” had a plan. He rode towards the Weddin Mountains and alerted members of Gardiner’s gang and Gardiner himself. The police and their prisoners stayed overnight at a nearby station. The following day, as the police and their prisoners continued on their way, the bushrangers positioned themselves for ambush at Burrangong.
The bushrangers emerged from the bush and bailed up the escort and opened fire. Detective Lyons was thrown from his horse when it was clipped by gunfire and he chased it into the bush. Pottinger and Mitchell returned fire at the bushrangers without effect on both sides. As Pottinger and Mitchell doubled back for reinforcements. Charlie Gilbert and Henry Manns were freed and the bushrangers escaped. Once clear the men split up, Manns heading to Murrumburrah where he would soon be arrested again, the Gilbert brothers heading to Victoria where they collected their brother James and left for the nearest port to make their way out of the colony.
The brothers managed to gain passage to New Zealand where they headed for the goldfields. They were determined to go straight and leave bushranging behind them. Johnny, however, became paranoid that he would be recognised and began cross-dressing in public to counter this. His disguise was unconvincing however and ended up drawing more attention to him than it diverted. Johnny told his brother that he had to return to Australia and soon made his way to Queensland.
As this was occurring, Frank Gardiner began to grow tired of the bushranging life and escaped out of New South Wales with his mistress Kitty Brown. Gardiner’s absence left a power vacuum in the Lachlan bushranging scene.
Gilbert’s time in Queensland was short lived as his sudden appearance and distinct features immediately put him on the radar and he returned to New South Wales at the beginning of 1863, where Ben Hall was making a name for himself as a bushranger.
Initially teaming up with Fred Lowry, a tall and brash former stockman and prison escapee, Gilbert was involved in several robberies around the Yass gold fields. Gilbert decided to utilise his contacts from his time with Gardiner, teaming up with John O’Meally, Ben Hall, Patsy Daley and others. This new gang, known popularly as the Gilbert Gang, wasted no time in making a splash.
On 2 February, 1863, the gang robbed Dickenson’s Store at Spring Creek, stealing £60 worth of goods. As they made their escape they bailed up a policeman and stole his horse. While positive identification of the culprits was impossible, it is more than likely that the Gilbert Gang was responsible.
On 15 February, Vincent Cirkell, a publican in Stoney Creek, was shot dead. It was believed the Gilbert Gang suspected him of being an informant and that O’Meally had been the trigger man. This version of events was merely a fabrication as the poor man was shot during a robbery that had escalated out of control and the assailants did not match the descriptions of any of the gang members. Such misidentification was commonplace as the hysteria surrounding the gang intensified and minor bushrangers were happy to let the more prominent bandits take the blame.
The gang struck again on 28 February, robbing Solomon’s store on the Wombat Diggings. The bushrangers fired at Meyers Solomon, the storekeeper, beat a young man named George Johnstone and threatened to kill Solomon’s wife before leaving with £250 worth of loot.
The first gang member to be captured was Patsy Daley. Daley’s aggression had made him particularly wanted by police and they got their man on 11 March when he was found hiding in a mine shaft. After this, the gang’s numbers would fluctuate wildly.
On 1 April, Gilbert hit the road with Lowry and a recruit named Gibson. They were spotted by a party of police and engaged in a horseback shoot-out, ending in Gibson’s capture and Gilbert and Lowry escaping into the bush. One of the officers had mocked Gilbert’s shooting, yelling that he couldn’t hit a haystack.
The Gilbert Gang continued their depredations unabated. Along with various robberies, the bushrangers made a point of partaking in less villainous activities. Gilbert and O’Meally at one point crashed a wedding and only left after being given some booze and cake. Despite such jovial incidents, the gang’s robberies were becoming more frequent and less discerning. Nobody was exempt from their attention regardless of age, sex or social class. Gilbert had even taken to using fire as a tool to distract people from pursuing him after a robbery.
On 7 June the gang were particularly busy, robbing Henry’s store near Possum Flat of half a chest of tea and dress prints; O’Brien’s store was robbed of £37 cash; McCarthy’s store was stuck up and the widow McCarthy liberated of her rings and 15 shillings, as well as taking four ounces of gold from one of her customers; finally they tried to bail up McConnell and Co. but when the staff refused to let them in they peppered the place with shot, broke in and looted the place, taking goods and £15 from the till. Having had their fill of robbing stores they robbed Heffernan’s pub of booze, watches and firearms before moving on to Regan’s Hotel while singing O’er the Hills and Far Away, an old English folk song.
On 21 June, Gilbert and Lowry attempted to rob John McBride but were met with resistance. McBride drew a Colt revolver and started firing, blowing Lowry’s hat off. In the battle McBride was hit in the thigh and the bushrangers bolted. McBride would die soon after from his wound. This appears to have been the last straw for Lowry, who was not sighted with any of Gilbert’s gang afterwards. He would go on to form his own gang and operate near Fish Creek.
After a series of brushes with police, Gilbert and O’Meally set their sights on bigger fish. On 30 July they rode into Carcoar and attempted to rob the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney. This was the first time anyone had attempted to rob a bank in New South Wales. Gilbert attempted to lure the clerk with a dodgy cheque while O’Meally watched the door. When O’Meally attempted to bail up the bank manager at the door, Gilbert was distracted and the clerk pulled a pistol on the bushrangers and fired a shot. At that moment the manager ran for help and scores of gawkers filed out into the street. The bushrangers cut their losses and mounted, riding out of town as fast as they could. Unwilling to call it a day, the pair robbed a store on the way back to their camp, leaving with around £300 worth of goods and cash.
The gang, now merely comprising of Gilbert and O’Meally, had recruited a juvenile delinquent named John Vane as a telegraph and supplier of horses. Since the failed bank robbery the pair had decided they needed more manpower and adopted as junior gang members Vane and his best friend Mickey Burke. Vane was tall, lanky and somewhat clumsy whereas Burke was energetic and enthusiastic.
The new look Gilbert Gang’s first operation was on 2 August. At dusk they arrived at Coombing Park and stalked the grounds. Their intention was to steal a prized racehorse named Comus II, owned by Icely, the station owner. Vane and Burke took Comus II from the stable along with a grey gelding belonging to Sub-Inspector Davidson but were spotted by Icely’s groom. The groom took aim but was shot in the mouth by Burke, allowing the bushrangers to escape.
Now the gang reconnected with Ben Hall and became a formidable force unlike anything yet seen in New South Wales. On 24 August the gang bailed up nine diggers and held them captive while they waited for four storekeepers they had been informed were due to pass through. The gang robbed these storekeepers of whatever they had on them that was somewhat valuable, disappointed that these seemingly well-to-do men were not as flush as had been intimated. The gang also stole the horses and gear from the men to replace the knocked up mounts they had been on and rode towards Junee. In the meantime the alarm had been raised and a police party led by Sub-Inspector Pottinger rode out to catch the bushrangers. The groups crossed paths and there was a shoot-out, but the bandits escaped much to Pottinger’s chagrin.
In Junee on 27 August, the gang got to work. Gilbert raided Hammond’s Store with Vane and Hall while O’Meally and Burke struck Williams’ pub. Gilbert left a good impression on the Hammonds and their servants with his fine clothing, well groomed appearance and pleasant demeanour during conversation. He even took the time to flirt with the ladies. When the gang left town they took two of Hammond’s horses, five packhorses and goods and cash to the value of £250.
The gang continued to wreak havoc, robbing stores and distributing the stolen goods amongst their sympathiser and selling the surplus to traders. At the end of August, O’Meally killed a storekeeper named Barnes who they had previously robbed. When they encountered Barnes they attempted to rob him and he tried to ride away. As he fled O’Meally shot him under the shoulder and he fell to the ground, smashing his head, dying instantly.
On 19 September the gang set up a mile out of Blayney and stuck up travellers. Nine people were captured and robbed and kept captive under some trees nearby. A mounted trooper was bailed up and robbed and made to join the others. This was followed by the mail coach from Carcoar, which was also bailed up. When one of the occupants refused to follow Gilbert’s orders he threatened to blow the man’s brains out. The unperturbed traveller, named Garland, called Gilbert’s bluff but Ben Hall intervened and convinced Garland to do as instructed or receive a beating. The mail was sifted through while Vane and Burke bailed up more travellers, taking possession of a racehorse named Retriever. Now with no less than a dozen prisoners the decision was made to head for Blayney. As they went Gilbert bailed up a man named Beardmore who offered to write a cheque for £20 if Gilbert would loan him a revolver and duel at twelve paces. Gilbert refused, but Beardmore’s jibe that he knew Gilbert wouldn’t be game infuriated the bushranger and prompted him to accept the challenge. Hall again intervened. Gilbert relieved Beardmore of a gold ring, but when the man asked to have it back because it was a gift from his mother, Gilbert accepted because he admired Beardmore’s pluck.
A few days later, the gang bailed up three constables. They stripped them naked and tied them to a tree. O’Meally threatened to shoot the men but Hall cooled him off. The gang took possession of the uniforms and with the one taken from the trooper near Blayney, they now had four complete troopers’ uniforms, which they began using as disguises while riding. The gang was about to seal their place in history.
In September, the gang raided Grubbenbong Station, the property of John Loudon. They ransacked the place, taking any valuables they could find before demanding supper. When Mickey Burke went to smoke his pipe Gilbert ordered him outside as it was impolite to smoke near women. After the meal, Gilbert was so taken by the Loudons that he returned all they had taken. The gang then rode to William Rothery’s Cliefden Station, where they again bailed up the household and demanded refreshments. Hall and Vane checked out Rothery’s horses before the gang indulged in food and champagne. They rode off with two of the horses and headed for Canowindra.
Here they arrived at dusk the following day, bailing up Robinson’s Hotel and shouted the patrons drinks and cigars. Gradually the townsfolk were all taken prisoner in the hotel and what began as a raid became a big party with dancing and piano. While the townsfolk were occupied with the dance the local store was raided, the loot put on packhorses. The local constable had been handcuffed and was brought in and placed on a chair to watch the amusements. The festivities continued into the early hours. The gang left at sunrise, but there was more to come.
On 3 October the gang raided Bathurst. Whereas Canowindra had a tiny population of a few dozen, Bathurst was a thriving city with more than 6000 residents. They arrived in the evening and made their way through the crowds of Saturday night shoppers. Their first stop was the gunsmith but none of the pieces on offer were to their taste. They moved on to the jewellers but when the jeweller’s daughter saw what was happening she screamed and tried to raise the alarm. The bushrangers mounted and began riding wildly through the streets. They then bailed up the Sportsman’s Arms Hotel with the intent of stealing a racehorse named Pasha, but the horse was not there so the gang departed.
With the gang’s activities becoming ever more brazen, a reward of £2,500 was offered for the apprehension of the gang or information leading to it. This did not bother the bushrangers, however, and they continued business as usual. On 12 October, they once again struck Canowindra. As before, Robinson’s Hotel was bailed up and the townsfolk herded inside for another night of festivities. The gang held the town for three days, covering the cost of meals and drinks. All who entered the town were detained but not once were they bothered by police.
Of course, the good fortune of the gang could not last and the first major blow to what was now considered the Gilbert-Hall Gang was about to be landed. On 24 October, the gang descended upon Dunn’s Plains near Bathurst. Here was the residence of Henry Keightley, a police magistrate who had been assisting police and openly bragging about what he would do if he encountered the gang. The gang ordered Keightley to surrender but instead he retreated inside and opened fire on the bushrangers. A heated battle ensued during which Burke was shot in the stomach. In incredible agony he tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head but still took half an hour to die. Keightley and the other occupants of the house surrendered when they ran out of ammunition. Vane, beside himself at Burke’s death, beat Keightley and his friend Dr. Pechey. Keightley was then held to ransom. His wife was ordered into town to fetch £500, which would them be given to the bushrangers in exchange for Keightley’s life. The demands were met and the gang took off, true to their word.
It was now established that Ben Hall had taken control of the gang. His generally calm demeanour proving to be more suited to leadership then Gilbert’s impulsive and whimsical style. The reward was raised to £4000 for the gang or £100 for their accomplices. The death of Burke had hit Vane hard and tensions arose between him and Gilbert who struck him during an argument and gave Vane a black eye. Vane promptly turned himself in, no longer seeing any appeal in the lifestyle he had adopted. The gang was once again reduced to the trio of Gilbert, Hall and O’Meally. They passed through Canowindra again but only stayed for a drink. The police were soon hot on their heels and interrupted a robbery. The gang got away but the police were becoming an ever more problematic occurrence. Brushes with the police became more and more frequent with the gang having to drop everything and run on multiple occasions, rarely even having time to get their boots on. In this atmosphere of frustration and increased tension the gang decided to attack Goimbla Station.
Goimbla Station was the home of David Campbell, a squatter who had been assisting police. As with the Keightleys, the gang intended to intimidate him into no longer helping their enemies. Campbell refused to surrender to the bushrangers and took cover in the house and opened fire. Another battle took place, during which the gang burned a barn and a stable, roasting the squatter’s horses alive. Mrs. Campbell joined in the fracas, fetching guns and ammunition while being fired at, and the squatter’s brother William was wounded. David Campbell refused to give in and seeing O’Meally stand up from behind cover, he fired and hit him in the neck. He died instantly. Gilbert and Hall knew they stood no chance and ran away, leaving the blood-drenched corpse of their longest standing confederate behind.
For the remainder of 1863 and into 1864, the pair continued to rob travellers and raid stores. They recruited John Dunleavy and Jim “Old Man” Gordon to help out. The gang were involved in several shoot-outs with the police including one at the appropriately named Bang Bang Hotel. These violent brushes with the law seemed to be bringing out the worst in Hall and Gilbert. When they bailed up a man named Barnes, who they suspected of being involved with the disaster at Goimbla, they threatened to burn his cart and hang him, even going so far as to procure a rope. Hall suggested that instead of a hanging they should flog him, so Barnes was tied to a tree and given 25 lashes.
Perhaps realising what the bushranging life was doing to him and those around him, Gilbert took his leave of the gang around August. While Ben Hall continued to commit crimes with Dunleavy and the Old Man, Gilbert returned to Victoria where his family lived.
In October 1864 Gilbert returned from his sojourn to rejoin Ben Hall who had been abandoned by the other two in the intervening months. They recruited John Dunn, a seventeen year old ex-jockey, who had previously telegraphed for Gilbert and O’Meally but was now wanted for skipping bail. Straight away the gang launched into their old tricks with new blood. Dunn was a natural, immediately keeping pace with the other two as they bailed up a buggy at Breadalbane Plains on 24 October, establishing the new outfit. More robberies followed but Hall was not satisfied with this and wanted another taste of the glory days.
16 November 1864 saw the Hall Gang strike at Black Springs, just outside Jugiong. Dozens of travellers were bailed up, including diggers, teamsters, squatters and Chinese, who were robbed then kept prisoner on the opposite side of a hill to shield them from the road. The gang intended to rob the mail coach that was due that afternoon. A trooper named McLaughlin was bailed up and added to the collective and when the coach arrived shortly after, the gang were surprised by the police escort riding behind. A horseback gunfight ensued. During the gunfight Gilbert shot Sergeant Edmund Parry in the back, killing him instantly. This was the point of no return for Gilbert.
The gang continued a spate of smaller robberies, stealing valuables and horses from the Binalong region. The mail started sending the deliveries by horseback during the night in an effort to foil the robbers but the bush telegraph informed the gang and they adjusted operation accordingly. When they had taken all they desired, they burned the rest of the letters and papers. While Hall and Gilbert always rode together, Dunn was not always present for the gang’s nefarious activities.
On Boxing Day, 1864, the gang bailed up Edward Morriss at his store in Binda. They raided the cashbox and took over £100. The gang then escorted Morriss and his wife to a ball at the Flag Hotel. With the bushrangers were their girlfriends Christina McKinnon and the Monks sisters Peggy and Ellen. At the ball the gang sang, danced and shouted drinks all the while acting in a lewd fashion with their female companions. When Morriss escaped to release the gang’s horses, the bushrangers fired on him and then turned their ire on his store. The bushrangers set fire to the building causing £1000 in damages and destroying the records of Morriss’ debtors.
26 January, 1865, the gang rode to Kimberley’s Inn, Collector, and held it up. Earlier that day they had been engaged in their usual activity on the roads. While Hall and Gilbert raided the inside, Dunn tried to keep guard outside. When Constable Nelson arrived to arrest the bushrangers, Dunn shot him dead. When Gilbert examined the body, he took the murdered trooper’s pistol belt to replace his own.
On 6 February, 1865, the gang went to work near Springfield Station. After they had robbed several travellers and a bullock team, a buggy arrived carrying the four Faithfull boys, sons of the squatter who owned Springfield. When the gang attempted to bail them up, two of the boys, Percy and George, presented firearms. A gunfight broke out during which Gilbert’s horse, spooked by the noise, reared just as he was aiming his revolver. The sudden movement blocked the aim and the horse was killed as the shot hit it in the head. Gilbert took cover behind a fence as bullets struck close. Hall chased the youths, seemingly intent on gunning them down as they retreated to their house. The gang ransacked the boys’ things and retreated before they could return.
In response to the murders perpetrated by the gang as well as the depredations of Daniel Morgan who had been operating along the Murrumbidgee at the time, the New South Wales government passed the Felons Apprehension Act that would make the three Hall Gang members outlaws by act of parliament. They had 30 days to surrender before the act was passed.
The trio were unfazed, continuing to add to their long list of crimes by stealing horses and firearms, robbing travellers and mail coaches. They brought in a fourth member to the group, long rumoured to have been Braidwood bushranger Thomas Clarke, but almost certainly Dunn’s mate Daniel Ryan. The quartet attempted to rob a gold escort on 13 March near Araluen. The gang opened fire and a battle erupted during which two troopers named Kelly and Byrne were injured while defending the gold. The bushrangers were outmaneuvered and forced to retreat without the loot.
The four bushrangers continued to operate in the wake of the failed heist. Moving their operations closer to Binalong, they stole horses to replace the ones they had been riding on in order to keep ahead of the police. By 17 March the gang was back down to three. They continued to rely on sympathisers for food and shelter, the police becoming more dogged in their pursuit.
In May the gang split, Hall seemingly taking leave of Dunn and Gilbert. He set up camp at Billabong Creek but was sold out by one of his sympathisers, Mick Coneley. On 5 May Hall was ambushed and shot to death, around 30 bullets being pumped into his body. He never fired a shot and was still mere days away from being declared an outlaw.
Gilbert and Dunn must have sensed the net was closing in. They no longer knew who they could trust, but Dunn was certain his family would provide them temporary shelter.
On 12 May, 1865, Gilbert and Dunn sought refuge with Dunn’s grandfather near Binalong. Overnight, the police were informed and they surrounded the house. The following day the police made their move and as the bushrangers tried to escape, a running gunfight took place. Gilbert was shot through the heart by Constable John Bright and killed instantly, but Dunn escaped. Gilbert was 23 years old.
His corpse was taken back to Binalong and autopsied. An inquest was held and Gilbert was buried in the paddock of the police station, the grave was unmarked. Dunn was captured nine months later and, after a trial, was hanged in Darlinghurst Gaol for the murder of Constable Nelson.
It has been claimed that in his short life Gilbert had committed more than 600 crimes. His flashy dress sense, jovial personality, expert horsemanship and flair for drama made him instantly popular among the class of people that admired rogues. Yet, his short fuse, willingness to use lethal force and his lack of distinction between who he victimised are qualities that paint him as one of the most villainous bushrangers to his detractors. Like many bushrangers he is both as noble and as ignoble as he is described by his supporters and detractors. It is a paradox only resolved by simplistic reasoning.
Best known as Frank Gardiner’s accomplice, John Peisley was a bushranger determined to lord over Lambing Flat and the Abercrombie region but whose vices brought him unstuck. Oddly, for such a well-known bushranger, many of the accounts of his life and career are light on details and plagued with inconsistencies. In the early 1860s, Peisley’s was a name regarded with fear, but was he a mere thug or a wayward youth brutalised by the prisons and victim to an alcohol addiction that impaired his judgement with fatal consequences?
Peisley (variously spelled Piesley, Paisley and Peasley also) was born in Bathurst, New South Wales in 1834. His parents were of the convict class, his father Thomas Peasland arrived as a convict on the Agamemnon in 1820 and was a ticket of leave man who took up a cattle farm on the Iceley property in Cooming Park, near Carcoar. John’s mother Sarah arrived as an infant with her convict mother aboard the Minstrel in 1812. They had six children, including John.
Peisley’s father was arrested when it was found he had in his possession a bull branded T.P, but Iceley, whose cattle often mingled with that of the Peisleys, claimed it to be a crude reworking of his own brand: T.1. A jury of local shopkeepers, unaware of the fact that the cattle mingling from the Iceleys’ prize stock with the less impressive animals owned by the Peisleys would have resulted in the Peisleys’ cattle improving in quality, thereby making it difficult to prove that the quality of the animal was proof of its provenance. Peisley was sent to Cockatoo Island for seven years but died in prison before the sentence was up. Furthermore, all of his property was claimed by the government and bought by Iceley at an agreeable price. This rendered the Peisleys homeless and young John fell into a life of crime.
Peisley fell in with a gang of stock thieves and horse planters and was arrested at 20 for stealing horses. Tried on 13 September, 1854 at the Bathurst Quarter Sessions he was sentenced to five years on the roads and sent to Darlinghurst Gaol. It would appear that Peisley managed to escape custody shortly afterwards during probation and was removed to Parramatta Gaol and again tried at the Bathurst Quarter Sessions on 18 February 1855, where he was sentenced to an additional month to be commenced at the end of the previous sentence.
For Peisley the compulsion to steal stock seemed to be an itch that he couldn’t help scratch and he found himself in the Supreme Court in Sydney on 8 December 1857 on a charge of stealing a mob of horses during probation. This offence saw him sent to Cockatoo Island for a portion of his sentence where he met a fellow stock thief, Frank Christie. Being stuck on an island prison was not a deterrent to Peisley’s desire for liberation and he was captured attempting to make his way across the water from the prison. For this he was given an extra nine months on top of his existing sentence. Peisley was lucky enough to have his Ticket of Leave granted on 23 November 1860 despite his apparent inability to demonstrate any meaningful reform of character. It was around this time that a fellow Cockatoo inmate, Frederick Britten, successfully swam across Sydney Harbour with his accomplice Frederick Wordsworth Ward who would later gain popularity when he assumed the moniker “Captain Thunderbolt”.
Almost as soon as he had gained his liberty, Peisley sought out his prison buddy Christie, who was at that time in Lambing Flat under the name Frank Gardiner, on the run after violating his own Ticket of Leave. The pair decided to take to bushranging together and roamed the district with surprising impunity.
On 16 July 1861, Gardiner was involved in a horrific fight with police at the home of his friend William Fogg at Fish River. Gardiner was captured, Sergeant Middleton badly injured after being shot by Gardiner, and Trooper Hosie apparently being bribed to release Gardiner. Peisley was implicated in the escape but always denied involvement even to his dying moments.
Nevertheless, a reward of £100 was offered for Peisley on 23 July 1861. However, so indignant was Peisley at the suggestion of his supposed involvement in the incident that he took to writing to the Bathurst Free Press to clear his name.
Sir, You will no doubt be surprised to receive a note from the (now by all account) noted Piesley; but, sir, through your valuable paper I must make it known that if it be my lot to be taken, whether dead or alive, I will never be tried for the rescue of Gardiner, in the light in which it is represented, nor did I ever fire at Trooper Hosie. Aud such I wish to be known, that it is in my power to prove what I here assert, and that beyond a doubt. I am no doubt a desperado in the eyes of the law, but never, in no instance, did I ever use violence, nor did I ever use rudeness to any of the fair sex, and I must certainly be the Invisible Prince to commit one tenth of what is laid to my charge. And, sir, I beg to state that it is through persons in high positions that I now make this assertion, and I trust I may never have to allude to it again. I love my native hills, I love freedom, and detest cruelty to man or beast. Trusting you will publish this, my bold letter no doubt, but you can be assured it comes from the real John Piesley, and not any of his many representatives,
I am, Mr. Editor, your much harassed writer, JOHNPIESLEY.
After the incident at Fogg’s shanty, Peisley took his leave of Gardiner, striking out on his own in the Abercrombie Ranges. He visited the superintendent at Lawson, who many years earlier had given Peisley’s father his ticket of leave. He had a meal there before stealing two plough horses, which he sold near Goulburn, before heading to Bigga where he stayed overnight in a pub getting drunk. The next day he rode out to see a farmer named Benton.
Peisley was not a prolific bushranger like many of his contemporaries, though he had a lot of incidents linked to him. On 14 September 1861 he robbed a Mr. O’Sullivan between Marrugo and Cowra, later forcibly entering a hut near Marrugo and robbing John Dawkins. On 30 October Peisley robbed James Eldridge, J. Laverty and Catherine Vardy near Binda and committed another robbery on December 28 of the same year. One of the less savoury incidents of Peisley’s career was when he was claimed to have robbed a woman who recognised him from their youth. According to the woman, Peisley had once sold her brother a stolen horse at Bigga and hoped that her previous association with him would compel him not to mistreat her. Her faith was ill-founded as he proceeded to strike her across the face, kicking her while she was on the ground which gave her two black eyes and severe bruising on her nose. The terrified woman attempted to get to her feet and Peisley fired a shot at her, which grazed her cheek, leaving a scar. Peisley always maintained that he had never mistreated a woman with particular vehemence, so there are questions about this incident. Regardless of Peisley’s assertions such alleged actions did nothing to endear him to the locals and Peisley was frequently referred to as a “terror”, the mere mention of his name putting people on edge.
Of all the incidents of Peisley’s life, the most infamous was that which occurred at the home of William Benyon. On 27 December, Peisley joined James Wilson, an Abercrombie storekeeper, at McGuinness’ Inn, Bigga, where they drank excessively. The pair then headed to the Benyons’ place where they asked after William Benyon and gained a bottle of porter from his wife, Martha. Peisley stayed at Benyon’s place eating and drinking himself into an awful, cantankerous state of mind. He challenged Benyon to run, jump or fight him for £10 but when Benyon refused Peisley continued to goad him into a confrontation. He accused Benyon of swapping a horse of his when they were boys, taking off his waistcoat and rolling his pistols up in it before a scuffle erupted in the yard. Martha Benyon hid Peisley’s guns in the garden as a precaution. During the conflict Peisley proceeded to ram William Benyon’s head repeatedly into a fence and Stephen Benyon, William’s brother, intervened. Peisley ran into the house for a knife with which he attempted to stab William in the breast. Martha interjected and begged for her husband and Stephen Benyon took the opportunity to strike Peisley with a spade. After this Peisley made a point of shaking everyone’s hands before demanding his guns and riding away.
In Peisley’s absence William Benyon set about loading a revolver which he gave to his brother, believing that Peisley meant to return and shoot Stephen. When the bushranger returned, he questioned Stephen:
Surely you don’t mean to shoot me?
He convinced Stephen to put down the revolver, stating that he was not guilty of any cowardly action and would not do one now and shaking his hand. As soon as Stephen put the firearm down, Peisley snatched it up and shot Stephen in the shoulder. Peisley then bailed up a number of the family and staff in the barn and upon William Benyon making a lunge at the bushranger he was shot in the throat, the bullet passing through his windpipe and lodging in his spine paralysing him and leading to his death seven days later.
In January 1862, a description of Peisley was published in the Police Gazette:
About 28 years of age, about 5 ft. 10 ins. high, stout and well made, fresh complexion, very small light whiskers, quite bald on top of head and forehead, several recent marks on face, and a mark from a blow of a spade on top of head; puffed and dissipated-looking from hard drinking; invariably wears fashionable Napoleon boots, dark cloth breeches, dark vest buttoned up the front, large Albert gold guard, cabbage-tree hat and duck coat. Sometimes wears a dark wig and always carries a brace of revolvers.
That same month Peisley found himself in a clash with police. Spotted near Bigga by Constables Morris, Murphy and Simpson, Peisley rode up to the mounted troopers and introduced himself. Peisley challenged Morris to a bout of fisticuffs but when the trooper dismounted Peisley laughed and rode off. Morris drew his pistol and fired at the retreating bushranger, the shot passing along the neck of Peisley’s horse.
Peisley turned and grinned, “That was a good one, try again!” he said mockingly. The police gave chase but their horses were no match and Peisley escaped. Constable Edward Morris would later retire from police work and open a store at Binda, which would be burned down by Ben Hall in an act of vengeance for trying to set the Hall Gang’s horses loose.
Peisley was spotted shortly after by Corporal John Carroll of the Southern Gold Escort near Tarcutta riding a fine mount and leading a pack horse. Carroll seemed to recognise Peisley and rode up to question him.
“Have you any arms?” Carroll queried.
“Just my two.” replied Peisley, seemingly misinterpreting the question. When Carroll clarified that he meant firearms, Peisley then intimated that he had his brace of revolvers on his pack horse. When presented with a single-shot pistol aimed at his head and a demand to remove his hat to demonstrate whether he was bald, Peisley instead took off after failing to grab his pack horse, dodging his way up a hill and then upon gaining the high ground drawing a colt revolver from a valise with which he threatened Carroll. The beleaguered corporal fired at the bushranger but the shot took no effect. Peisley escaped, but lost his packhorse. Carroll promptly rode to the Tarcutta Inn and procured a revolver and assistance before riding back to the spot of the encounter and seizing Peisley’s packhorse and swag. Thereafter Carroll led a group of men to watch the camp of a man whose horse closely resembled that of Peisley, resulting in a rude awakening the next morning for an innocent man.
Days later, Peisley was captured at Boothea’s Hotel, Mundarlo, by Murdoch McKenzie of Mundarlo, Mr. Stephen of Tarcutta and James Beveridge of Wantabadgery Station. Peisley had been at Tarcutta Inn having a meal when word got out about the infamous visitor. McKenzie informed Beveridge, who had been riding past, that the bushranger was in the hotel. When Beveridge rode to Tarcutta police station he found the troopers had all gone looking for Peisley, and managed to procure a set of handcuffs and rode back to the the inn where Peisley was still eating. Beveridge blocked the doorway and as Peisley went to leave, McKenzie and Beveridge leaped on top of him and secured him. The bushranger was kept secured overnight then taken into Gundagai the next morning. Beveridge would later become involved in the story of Captain Moonlite in 1879.
On 12 February 1862, Peisley was committed for trial on the charge of murdering William Benyon. He seemed not to have any concerns while in court and was described by a press correspondent thus:
At a distance he has a pleasing countenance, but upon closer inspection his features appear more hardened and determined.
Seven witnesses appeared to give evidence and Peisley’s fate was seemingly set. On 13 April, 1862, Peisley was tried for murder at Bathurst and found guilty. On 25 March Peisley was hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol. His last words came after a lengthy explanation of his own account of the crimes that had led him there:
Good bye gentlemen; God bless you.
Peisley’s death was instantaneous, however an Aboriginal man hanged with him named Jacky Bullfrog was not afforded the same swift end, the hangman clearly having botched the job as the man struggled on the end of the rope for several minutes before death took hold.
“Peisley the Bushranger” Wellington Times (NSW : 1899 – 1954) 9 March 1936: 4.
“THE BUSHRANGER PEISLEY.” Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904) 12 February 1862: 2.
“THE MEETING OF PEISLEY AND CARROLL.” The Golden Age (Queanbeyan, NSW : 1860 – 1864) 20 February 1862: 3.
“COMMITTAL OF PEISLEY, THE BUSHRANGER FOR WILFUL MURDER.” Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908) 28 February 1862: 4.
“JACK PIESLEY.” Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 – 1940) 20 September 1902: 6.
“PEISLEY THE BUSHRANGER—MURDER OF BENYON.” Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929) 26 February 1862: 3.
“HOW PEISLEY WAS SHOT” The Gundagai Independent and Pastoral, Agricultural and Mining Advocate (NSW : 1898 – 1928) 22 November 1926: 1.
“BUSHRANGER and BLACKGUARD” The World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955) 8 October 1930: 27.
Greene, S. (2017). A BUSHRANGER IN THE FAMILY John Peisley c.1834-1862. Ghostbuster, 26(1), pp.11 – 13. [https://www.cdfhs.org.au/images/pdf/gbuster/GhostMain_March17.pdf]
When it comes to law enforcement we usually think of colonial era police as stern, bearded, working class men with no time for the criminal ilk (or perhaps even some of them were little more than the criminal ilk in disguise) but some of the more notable figures in law enforcement of the colonies were far from that. Many of the police and magistrates were as colourful as the men they hunted ranging from foppish gamblers to trigger happy bounty hunters and pillars of the community. Here are a sample of the more notable examples.
Charles Frederick Standish is one of the most controversial figures in police history. Standish was an upwardly mobile gentleman who came to Australia to avoid gambling debts and by rubbing the right elbows found himself in the Melbourne Club and in the top job within the police force despite having no experience as a policeman. Standish established the Melbourne Cup to facilitate his love of horse racing and gambling, unknowingly establishing an Australian institution. Standish’s soirees were legendary among Melbourne’s elite with one party allegedly featuring nude female waitresses. Standish was a masterful card player but his love of all things four-legged and fast was where he regularly burned a hole in his wallet.
Despite his actual rank being chief-commissioner of police, Standish encouraged people to refer to him as captain. In his time in the job he oversaw the police operations to end the careers of numerous bushrangers, most notably Harry Power and the Kelly Gang. His ego often interfered with his judgement and a number of questionable decisions in relation to the Kelly hunt resulted, notably his tendency to put his favourite officer Superintendent Hare in charge of the operation at the earliest opportunity despite Hare’s being ill-equipped for the work. Standish was severely reprimanded by the Royal Commission of 1881 but continued his role for some time afterwards. He died a few years later and was best remembered for his contribution to sports.
Pottinger was the figurehead for the New South Wales police force during the war on bushranging in the early 1860s. Born in April 1831, Pottinger was a baronet who had accrued massive gambling debts and sought protection in the colonies. Dropping out of the Grenadier Guards to travel to Australia, he joined the New South Wales police force and was assigned to protect the gold escorts. He was well liked in the role and successfully hid his nobility for some time. He moved to Dubbo where he became clerk of the petty sessions. Due to the introduction of the Police Act in New South Wales he was soon promoted to a Sub-Inspector, stationed at Forbes, to get him out of the ranks. Pottinger was a proud and sometimes childish man who was not altogether suited to a lot of the police work he was assigned to undertake. On one occasion Pottinger was involved in a bar fight over billiards, cementing his reputation as someone not to be trifled with but also resulting in him being charge and convicted of assault.
Pottinger’s time in pursuit of the Hall Gang was hampered by clumsy mistakes and and ineffectual troopers as well as his own pride. Numerous times Pottinger came within a whisker of nailing Ben Hall or one of his gang but never came through with the goods. In one event Pottinger missed an opportunity to shoot Hall and capture him because his gun was tangled in the poncho he was wearing. On another occasion he was assigned to an escort mission but refused to cooperate after being passed over for a promotion. To his dismay the escort was robbed by the Hall gang en route. Incidents such as these made Pottinger a target for the sarcasm and disdain of the papers, though on occasion a word of support would make it into print.
He was tenacious in his drive to bring Gardiner and his ilk to justice, especially after being denied satisfaction on so many occasions due to twists of fate. Pottinger died in April 1865 en route to give evidence against James Alpin McPherson, the Wild Scotchman. When climbing onto the coach at the Pilgrim Inn he accidentally shot himself in the abdomen with a concealed pistol, passing away a few days later aged thirty four.
Arthur Loftus Maule Steele was a man with an ego the size of a house. He took immense pride in his reputation as the man who captured Ned Kelly. He was born in Tours, France, in 1839 while his parents were travelling but was raised in Donegal, Ireland. Here he followed in his father’s footsteps and attended a military academy and was enlisted in the army with which he was destined for the fight in the Crimea. However in between his deployment and arrival peace had been declared and Steele was denied the chance for glory on the battlefield. Steele’s family were very prominent in the nobility and relatives of Steele were high ranking military officers and even earls. Of his seventeen siblings, five of Steele’s brothers died in battle in various conflicts around the world. On the advice of the brother of Robert O’Hara Burke (of the doomed Burke and Wills expedition) he arrived in Victoria in 1853 with the intention of becoming a police cadet but ended up as a clerk. Before long he managed to join the Victoria Police and was stationed in various locations and usually acting as a gold escort. He was a family man, marrying Ruth Ingram Ballinger in 1864 and having ten children with his wife Ruth. Steele served with the Wangaratta police in the 1870s onwards. Steele had more than his fair share of bizarre, horrendous and hilarious moments during his lifetime. On one occasion he was called in to Wangaratta State School to investigate claims that a Chinese man named “Charcoal Bill” had been repeatedly pelted with apples by a student. When Steele arranged the students into a line-up, Bill found his attacker straight away – one of Steele’s own sons.
Of course, Steele’s biggest claim to fame was his role at Glenrowan where he led the Wangaratta party into battle. Steele had had lots of dealings with the Kellys and Harts over the years and had personally vowed to be at Ned Kelly’s death after his friend Sergeant Kennedy was killed by him at Stringybark Creek. Armed with his double-barrelled shotgun and a killer instinct he took potshots at anything and everything including women and children. Notably he shot at Mrs. Reardon, almost killing her infant, and shot her teenage son in the back as they tried to escape from the Glenrowan Inn. He immediately bragged that “I shot mother Jones in the tits!”
When Ned Kelly appeared in the early morning as a one man assault on the police, Steele saw his opportunity for a decent bit of bloodsport and ran into action. After much back and forth he managed to find Ned’s weak spot and blew out his knee with swan drops. He then attempted to shoot Kelly in the head once the bushranger was restrained by police but was stopped by Constable Bracken. Steele refused to leave Ned’s side for the remainder of the siege in case someone thought he hadn’t caught him. Afterwards Steele claimed that his colleagues had conspired against him to discredit his claim of being the only man to bring Kelly down. Because of his actions the Royal Commission recommended Steele be demoted but this never eventuated, retiring in 1896 after twenty two years of service. In his twilight years Steele became a horticulturalist and raised flowers on his stately property. He died of heart complications in February 1914 leaving an estate worth £7854.
Police Magistrate Baylis
Best known for his battle with Dan Morgan, Henry Baylis was a prominent police magistrate from Wagga Wagga. He was born in 1826 in Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, where his father, who was a military lieutenant, was stationed. He relocated the family to Australia in 1832. Baylis, then only six years old, became a student at The King’s School, Parramatta. Baylis trained in a legal office in Sydney before turning his hand to horses, moving stock overland to Adelaide, then prospecting for gold in Mudgee. By and by he became a clerk of Petty Sessions in Hartley working his way up over the next seven years to become police magistrate at Wagga Wagga. From 1862 he worked at the courts in Wagga Wagga, Urana and Narrandera travelling from town to town on horseback. Baylis was a very important person in the growing township of Wagga Wagga, helping establish a number of amenities and institutions such as the National School, St John’s Church of England, the bridge over the Murrumbidgee and even in getting Wagga Wagga declared as a municipality. In coming years Baylis would be involved in all sorts of adventures including being forced to read the Riot Act at Brookong Station after unionists threatened to lash out at their employer hiring non-union shearers. One account tells of his being the only member of law enforcement present at the races in one instance and arresting a drunkard. The next day in court, rather than fine the man he gave him such a stern lecture the man burst into tears and swore off alcohol.
Baylis came upon Dan Morgan and his accomplice Clarke while en route to Wagga Wagga on 21 August, 1863. Stumbling upon the pair vandalising telegraph poles, the bushrangers proceeded to bail up the magistrate. Morgan demanded he turn out his pockets but found Baylis only carried a cheque. The bushrangers allowed Baylis to ride away telling him to forget the incident. The next day Baylis returned with an army of troopers to search for the pair and after a couple of days found their camp. A shoot out occurred during which Clarke was mortally wounded and Baylis was shot in the hand and chest. When the bullet was removed, Baylis had it turned into a chain fob and wore it as a lucky charm. He suffered greatly from the wounding for the rest of his life and was compensated by the government as well as being awarded a bravery medal.
In July 1905 Baylis was struck by a train at Homebush as he was attempting to cross the tracks and died of his injuries. He was fondly remembered as a prize cattle breeder and was by all accounts a kind and hospitable man, known for his bravery and benevolence as a magistrate of forty years, letting drunks off with a warning and always being cautious in issuing warrants. Few men could boast such seemingly universal admiration.