Spotlight: Country News (14/11/1863)

Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), Saturday 14 November 1863, page 6



THE POLICE AND THE BUSHRANGERS.— Superintendent McLerie and seven or eight troopers have returned safe and sound to Albury. The gallant fellows are looking remarkably well, and they do not report having been stuck-up or ill treated by the bushrangers, although we believe some of them “sighted” Gilbert or O’Meally, or what is much the same, Gilbert and O’Meally “took sights” at them.

PROCEEDINGS OF A BUSHRANGER.— On Monday morning last, Morgan the bushranger made his appearance at Burrumbuttock, the station of Mr. Gibson, who was absent. He went into the house, ordered breakfast, and he sent one of the men to fetch up Mr. Gibson’s favourite horse. Meanwhile, he turned out all the drawers, &c., and provided himself with a full suit of Mr. Gibson’s clothes. Having breakfasted, he led the horse away, and went to the publichouse at Piney Range: there he remained some time. On remounting, he proceeded to Walbundrie, and at the stock-yard stuck up Mr. Thomas Kidston and four men who were inoculating cattle. He said he wanted the chesnut horse Euclid, and said he would shoot Mr. K. if he did not get the horse up. The stockrider went, and brought the horse in, and Morgan took him away, refusing some pressing invitations to go inside the house. Shortly after leaving Walbundrie, he let Mr. Gibson’s horse loose, having ridden him as far as he wanted. He then went to Bulgandra lower station, where Mr. Gibson was busy shearing. Morgan appeared before him in the suit of clothes which he had taken from Burrambuttock, which was the first intimation Mr. Gibson had of what had been going on at the upper station. After remarking that “he was now Mr. Gibson,” he ordered all the shearers out of the shed, and told the over seer, Smith, to prepare for death, as he would not see the morrow’s sun. The overseer’s wife told him if he killed her husband, he must kill her and the child too, and have three murders to account for. Whether this consideration influenced him or not, he let the overseer off, and went into the house, took a pair of pistols, smashed the overseer’s gun, and made Mr. Gibson sign nine cheques of £30 each, which he gave to the shearers, and told them they were discharged. He also made Mr. Gibson sign one for £95 for himself, and another for £15 to pay a man to go in to get them cashed. He then took leave of Mr. Gibson. That was one day’s work. Early next morning, he called on Messrs. Stitt Brothers, of Walla Walla, and helped himself to various articles which struck his fancy.

Spotlight: Country News (14 November 1863)

Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), Saturday 14 November 1863, page 6




THE POLICE AND THE BUSHRANGERS.— Superintendent McLerie and seven or eight troopers have returned safe and sound to Albury. The gallant fellows are looking remarkably well, and they do not report having been stuck-up or ill treated by the bushrangers, although we believe some of them “sighted” Gilbert or O’Meally, or what is much the same, Gilbert and O’Meally “took sights” at them.

PROCEEDINGS OF A BUSHRANGER.— On Monday morning last, Morgan the bushranger made his appearance at Burrumbuttock, the station of Mr. Gibson, who was absent. He went into the house, ordered breakfast, and he sent one of the men to fetch up Mr. Gibson’s favourite horse. Meanwhile, he turned out all the drawers, &c., and provided himself with a full suit of Mr. Gibson’s clothes. Having breakfasted, he led the horse away, and went to the publichouse at Piney Range: there he remained some time. On remounting, he proceeded to Walbundrie, and at the stockyard stuck up Mr. Thomas Kidston and four men who were inoculating cattle. He said he wanted the chesnut horse Euclid, and said he would shoot Mr. K. if he did not get the horse up. The stockrider went, and brought the horse in, and Morgan took him away, refusing some pressing invitations to go inside the house. Shortly after leaving Walbundrie, he let Mr. Gibson’s horse loose, having ridden him as far as he wanted. He then went to Bulgandra lower station, where Mr. Gibson was busy shearing. Morgan appeared before him in the suit of clothes which he had taken from Burrumbuttock, which was the first intimation Mr. Gibson had of what had been going on at the upper station. After remarking that “he was now Mr. Gibson,” he ordered all the shearers out of the shed, and told the overseer, Smith, to prepare for death, as he would not see the morrow’s sun. The overseer’s wife told him if he killed her husband, he must kill her and the child too, and have three murders to account for. Whether this consideration influenced him or not, he let the overseer off, and went into the house, took a pair of pistols, smashed the overseer’s gun, and made Mr. Gibson sign nine cheques of £30 each, which he gave to the shearers, and told them they were discharged. He also made Mr. Gibson sign one for £95 for himself, and another for £15 to pay a man to go in to get them cashed. He then took leave of Mr. Gibson. That was one day’s work. Early next morning, he called on Messrs. Stitt Brothers, of Walla Walla, and helped himself to various articles which struck his fancy.


Sydney Mail (NSW : 1860 – 1871), Saturday 28 November 1863, page 4



(From the Bathurst Times own correspondent.)

A Magisterial enquiry was held by Mr. William Farrand, Police Magistrate, Forbes, on view of the body of John O’Meally, at the residence of Mr. David Henry Campbell. J.P., Goimbla, New South Wales, on Friday, the 20th instant.

Michael Fagan, on oath, states: I am a senior-constable of mounted police, stationed at Eugowra. At two o’clock this morning a messenger arrived at the Eugowra police station, and informed me that Mr. Campbell’s station was in possession of the bushrangers, who were burning it down. I immediately proceeded to Mr. Campbell’s station, accompanied by two constables. I arrived about half past three o’clock. I met one of Mr. Campbell’s men, who told me that he believed the bushrangers were in the house. When I reached tho house, I saw Mr. Campbell, who told me that the bushrangers had left, and he showed me a place in the direction of which he fired, and where also he had found a carbine and a cabbage-tree hat. I found the spot to be in front of the dwelling, beyond a paling fence about forty yards from the house, near to which Mr. Campbell informed me he had found a carbine and a cabbage-tree hat. On this ground was a crop of oats six feet in height. On examining the ground, I discovered a fresh track, which I followed up into the oats and I found the body of the deceased about ten yards from the fence. I searched the body and found two silk handkerchiefs thereon, which I produce. I found a bullet wound on the right side of the neck. The carbine produced I identify as a police carbine, and it is the same carbine which was pointed out to me by Mr. Campbell as the one found by him near to the spot where I found the deceased. I produce the cabbage-tree hat, aforesaid which was handed to me by Mr. Campbell. I also produce a Colt’s revolver, which was handed to me by constable Hogan who stated that he found it near the body. The revolver has six chambers, five of which were loaded.

Frederick William Pottinger, on oath, stated: I am officer in charge of police in the Lachlan district. On my way from Cowra to Forbes I met Mr. Hanbury Clements, at about twelve o’clock this day at Waugan who having informed me that Mr. David Cambell had shot one of three or four bushrangers who had attempted to stick up his premises on the previous night, I proceeded with Mr. Clements and my party of police to Mr. Campbell’s. On my arrival the body of the deceased was pointed out to me, and I at once identified it as the body of John O’Meally. I have known John O’Meally off and on, for about three years, and I have frequently come into contact with him. I have apprehended him, and on one occasion he was in the Forbes lock-up for seven or eight weeks or more, and when in the course of prosecution of a case against him, I have had opportunities of watching him closely for hours together. I cannot, therefore, be mistaken as to his identity. The John O’Meally to whom I allude is the one who is known as the notorious bushranger, and for whom a reward of one thousand pounds is offered. On seeing the body I saw a bullet wound in the neck, after receiving which I feel sure that the deceased could not have lived many seconds.

William Hollister deposed: I am a senior-constable of mounted police. I have just seen the body of the deceased — the man said to have been shot by Mr. Campbell; I identify it as the body of John O’Meally, the notorious bushranger. I have known John O’Meally off and on since last July twelve months. I have seen him often, and have spoken to him frequently, and I feel that I cannot be mistaken as to his identity.

David Henry Campbell deposed: I am a squatter, residing at Goimbla, on the Eugowra Creek. I am a magistrate of the territory of New South Wales. About a quarter to nine last evening while seated in my dining room, I was startled by the sound of footsteps in the front verandah. I immediately grasped a double-barrelled gun, and proceeded to the door of my dressing-room, which adjoins my bedroom at the side of the house, when I was intercepted by a man at the doorway. He instantly fired the contents of two barrels at my face, which I replied to by discharging one of the barrels of my gun. The man immediately fled round the corner of the building and joined one or two others at the front door. I followed a short distance and seeing their strength, retired to my bedroom. The dining-room before mentioned was lighted up with a strong kerosene lamp, and the window blinds were raised. A spare gun was leaning in the chimney corner. My powder-flask, containing some powder and some bullets, together with a box of caps, were lying on the mantel-piece. Mrs. Campbell, whilst I was in the bedroom, rushed into the dining-room, and under the fire of the bushrangers from the front verandah, succeeded in securing the gun and ammunition before-mentioned, which she brought to me, I immediately loaded the barrel which I had just discharged, and with the spare gun and ammunition rapidly passed through the dining room, and passing out at the back door took up my position between two slab walls which formed a passage from the back of the main buildings to the kitchen. I had not been there more than a quarter of an hour when a number of shots were discharged almost simultaneously from several directions, and one of the men called out, “If you don’t immediately surrender, we will burn your place down.” I replied “Come on — I’m ready for you,” whereupon one of the bushrangers called out — “Is that it?” and a few minutes afterwards I saw flames arising from the barn, distant from the house about thirty yards. Mrs. Campbell had in the meantime, without my sanction, rushed across a paddock at the back of the house to the men’s hut, distant from the house about 150 yards, for assistance, and was returning without success, and took up her position near to me with a servant girl. On the light increasing, consequent upon the progress of the flames, the bushrangers retired behind a paling fence, about forty yards from the front of the house. Shortly after, Mrs. Campbell called my attention to a man with a cabbage-tree hat, looking over the said fence in the direction of the burning premises. I immediately ran round the end of the house, and from the front corner, took a deliberate aim at the man’s throat. I fired, retreated, and reloaded my gun. I should mention that, previous to firing this shot a number of shots were fired at the front door, with repeated calls to surrender, which I did not reply to. While occupied in reloading my gun, one or two shots were fired, and the bushrangers appeared to be retreating. About half an hour after — namely about half past eleven o’clock, I cautiously approached the spot at which I had fired, and discovered in the standing oats a single-barrelled carbine, and a cabbage-tree hat. I took possession of the same, until the arrival of the police, into whose charge I have delivered them. I identify the carbine and cabbage tree hat produced as the same I found in the oats. I kept watch until daylight, and then accompanied Constable Fagan to the spot where we had previously found the carbine and hat. We followed a track in the oats about ten yards from the fence, when we discovered the body of the deceased. When I proceeded with Constable Fagan on to the oats, I found a pool of blood within a yard of the fence, as also a small pool near to where the body was lying. Immediately on my firing the man appeared to fall, but no sound was uttered. The back part of the cabbage-tree hat was dusty, as if the man had fallen backwards when hit, there was a small spot of blood inside the crown of the hat. I have no doubt but that the body of the deceased is that of the man at whom I fired. About a quarter of an hour after I obtained the hat and carbine, a Chinaman, whom I had set to watch the front of the building, reported to me that he had heard a rustling, as of a person approaching the spot where the body was found. After the discovery of the body, I observed an indentation on the little finger of the right hand, as if a ring had been recently removed. Also, deceased’s pockets had been turned inside out as if recently rifled I had never to my knowledge seen the deceased before. The bushrangers burned to the ground a range of stables containing eight stalls, and a large barn; the walls of the stable and the barn being of “Vise” remain partially standing, but are rendered useless owing to the flames. The whole of the roofs were shingled and quite new. I estimate the cost of erecting the barn and stable at £400 sterling. The barn contained fifteen tons of hay, which I value at £50 ; and about five pounds worth of wool ready for the market. There was a new chaff-cutter in the barn, worth £20 sterling. In the stable was a favourite horse which I value at £20. The whole of the property above mentioned was entirely confirmed.

William Campbell, on oath, states: I am a squatter, residing with my brother, the last witness. While in my bedroom about nine o’clock last evening, I heard three shots fired in quick succession, and immediately rushed into the dining-room, where several shots were then fired through one of the front windows. The room was lighted, and the blinds were up. I therefore, immediately rushed out of the back door into the verandah. I there saw a man at my bedroom window (distant about five or six yards from where I stood), who fired two shots at me in quick succession, The first shot struck me in the chest, and I consequently stumbled and fell near to the step. So soon as I recovered I escaped through the back gate, and made my way through the standing oats at the back of the barn intending to make my way back to the house as soon as an opportunity presented itself. Very shortly afterwards a volley of a dozen shots were fired, accompanied by shouts from the bushrangers, which to me were unintelligible. While still in the oats I saw the barn on fire, and saw two men passing the back wall of the barn rapidly, in the direction of the house. After the fire was lighted there was another volley fired towards the house from the direction of the barn. This is the last firing that I heard, and I saw nothing more of the bushrangers ; and finding that all was quiet, I proceeded to the Eugowra police station on foot to give information to the police.

William Browne, on oath, states: I am a Commissioner, in charge of the Lachlan Goldfield ; I examined the body of the deceased, which I believe to be that of the well-known bushranger, O’Meally; I believe it to be his body from the countenance and the peculiar colour of his hair; he is however, much grown since I last saw him alive; I found a wound on the right side of the neck, which appears to have been caused by a bullet entering his neck under his ear, passing out behind the neck behind the vertebræ ; his death must have been instantaneous ; from the size of the wound I should think it was caused by an ounce ball ; in my opinion the cause of death is so obvious that medical evidence is unnecessary. A verdict of “Justifiable homicide” was returned, in accordance with the evidence.

John O’Meally by Aidan Phelan

Bushranging Gazette #6

Sunday, 1 August 2021

The Hobart Magazine

The July 2021 issue of The Hobart Magazine features an article by Sarah Aitkin about Rocky Whelan’s cave in Mount Wellington (Kunanyi). For the article, Aidan Phelan (A Guide to Australian Bushranging) was interviewed and provided contextual information about Whelan.

You can access the magazine digitally for free online.

Jingo Was Born in the Slum

Matthew J. J. Thorne, who was the photographer during production of Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang, has released a new book through Jane and Jeremy Publishing titled Jingo was born in the slum. The book is a collection of his photographs from the film with various writings and additional text from Peter Greenaway and George Mackay.

Ned Kelly in front of the Glenrowan Inn, photographed by Matthew J. J. Thorne.

Of the book, Thorne states:

The book is a collection of photos, essays and poems made during the filming of Justin Kurzel’s half-mythic, half-modern retelling of the iconic Australian Kelly myth.

Matthew J. J. Thorne, via Instagram

Though the first print run sold out in 24 hours, there are rumoured to be plans for future printings.

You can learn more about it on the Jane and Jeremy website.

Grantlee Kieza to Write Mrs. Kelly Sequel

Grantlee Kieza, author of the book Mrs. Kelly, which tells the story of the Kelly outbreak with particular emphasis on Ellen Kelly, has announced on social media that he is writing a follow-up book about the police hunt for the gang.

Kieza reached out to Kelly buffs on Facebook to announce his intention to write a book about the police hunt for the Kellys, and was looking for stories to include.

Though there are already books about the police pursuit, most of these are memoirs, so to compile a book about the police will provide a unique perspective. Leo Kennedy’s book Black Snake mainly concentrated on his ancestor Sergeant Michael Kennedy, who was murdered at Stringybark Creek. Dean Mayes is a descendant of one of the police involved in the pursuit, Joseph Ladd Mayes, and has been researching his life story and publishing it on a blog titled The Victorian Trooper. It remains to be seen what insights Kieza is to get about the pursuit from reaching out to the Kelly enthusiasts.

Ned Kelly Coming to Hobart

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery have announced that they have secured Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series for October 2021. The paintings are part of the National Gallery of Australia’s collection and travel around Australia to most major galleries.

The exhibition is scheduled to launch 29/10/2021 and remain until 20/02/2022.

Find out more here.

Henry Maple

On 12 July, the Herald Sun published a feature that covers the life and career of boy bushranger Henry Maple.

Henry Maple (left) and Robert Banks enjoyed fleeting careers as bushrangers.

As with all Herald Sun pieces, access to the article requires a subscription to the publication. Readers with an existing subscription will be fine, but new users will have to choose between buying a subscription or missing out.

Maple was a juvenile delinquent that was in and out of reformatory around the time of the first world war. He had a fascination with shooting guns and idolised Ned Kelly. In 1920, he and another boy named Robert Banks absconded from their reformatory and went on a brief bushranging career.

The career was short, Banks turning himself in after Maple wounded a man during one of their escapades, and Maple being tracked down to a patch of forest at Neerim where he engaged in a shootout with a posse. Maple was fatally shot, and the death initially ruled a suicide before a forensic examination proved the injury was not self-inflicted.

Ned Kelly in Jacobin Magazine

A feature about Ned Kelly and his Jerilderie letter by Daniel Lopez was published this month for Jacobin Magazine, an American publication that promotes socialist perspectives on political and social issues.

The article examines Kelly from a socialist angle, looking at his rumoured republicanism, the socio-economic context of Kelly’s life, how he is viewed by commentators with a decidedly conservative perspective such as Doug Morrissey, and the rise of Kelly mythology.

To this day, conservatives, police, and centrists affect righteous indignation over Ned Kelly’s challenge to their monopoly on violence. […] Their denunciation of his violence was always an entrée to celebrating the more violent reimposition of law and order.

Daniel Lopez

This month’s features on A Guide to Australian Bushranging

* The Bluestone College: Bushrangers at Pentridge — A look at some of the bushrangers who did time at Pentridge Prison and what led them there. Includes Ned Kelly, Captain Moonlite, Harry Power, Frank Gardiner, James Nesbitt and Owen Suffolk.

* Spotlight Series: Tasmanian History; Matthew Brady by J. E. Calder — This series of articles by colonial historian James Calder provides some of the most accurate and detailed information about Matthew Brady and his gang ever published.


Gilbert and O’Meally at Demondril

John Windeyer Edmonds, on oath, stated: I am superintendent to S. K. Salting, and reside at Demondril, about two and a half miles from the prisoner’s residence; on last Saturday evening about seven o’clock, as I was taking tea, two men walked in, presented pistols at my head, and said “Bail up;” I believe them to be Gilbert and O’Meally; Gilbert said “Bail up;” they ordered me to stand up, and hold up my arms; they took from the house two saddles and bridles, a halter, a revolver, and many other articles; I see the articles as produced; the macintosh is mine; the valise was in my care; the trousers I borrowed from Mr. Macanah; the coat is mine; the two newspapers I had, all these articles were taken by the bushrangers; the bullet mould produced is mine, and many of the other articles are similar to those stolen; the goods I identify are of the value of £5; I have impounded some of the prisoner’s stock; the bushrangers said I had a bad name for impounding cattle; I saw the greater portion of the property found at Toodles.

[Source: Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Thursday 10 September 1863, page 8]

John O’Meally by Aidan Phelan

Jerilderie by Norman Lindsay

An illustration of the Kelly Gang in disguise as police at Jerilderie by Norman Lindsay, which appeared in an early edition of Douglas Stewart’s play Ned Kelly.

Jerilderie by Norman Lindsay

Lindsay captures a sense of frivolity and farce with the outlaws, dressed as police, grinning while riding the police horses. The horses appear both distressed and humiliated to have been made to carry the outlaws, reflecting the humiliation the police force at large felt at the gang’s actions. Byrne’s mount strains at the bit, defiantly, while Ned’s and Dan’s are visibly distressed.

Norman Lindsay contributed illustrations for the book version of the play, as well as costume designs for the characters. In another iteration of the play, the costume designs were by Sidney Nolan, who based the costumes on his acclaimed series of paintings.

The Battle of Goimbla

In November 1863 the Gilbert-Hall gang were at the apex of their infamy. Raids on Canowindra and Bathurst had elevated them beyond the run-of-the-mill farm raiders, stock thieves and highwaymen that the pantheon of bushrangers mostly comprised of. Things had started falling apart however with the gruesome death of Mickey Burke during a siege and the subsequent split from the group by John Vane who had decided that prison was preferable to bushranging. The remaining members were Ben Hall, Johnny Gilbert and John O’Meally, all of whom had been working together since 1861 when they were united under the leadership of Frank Gardiner.

The trio were determined not to let the sudden decrease in the size of their gang impact on their notoriety and the intimidation factor that came with it. With this in mind they decided to target the Campbells at Goimbla Station near Forbes.

Word had reached the gang that David Henry Campbell, a police magistrate, had been boasting of how well prepared he was to fend off an attack by the bushrangers. Campbell was known to have spoken very openly about his desire to see the bushrangers brought to justice and was even known to have gone hunting for them. Such an avowed enemy, it seemed, could not be left unmolested.

At around 9pm, on 19 November, 1863, David Campbell was in his drawing room when he heard footsteps near the verandah. He immediately fetched a double-barrelled shotgun and headed for the bedroom. He went to the back door of his dressing room where he was met by the indistinct figure of one of the armed bushrangers, likely O’Meally, who promptly fired two barrels from a shotgun near Campbell’s face, but missed. Campbell returned the gesture and the man fled, joining the rest of the gang at the front door of the house. Campbell followed, staying out of sight, and observed the bushrangers as they began firing into the house.

Roused by the sudden bursts of gunfire, William Campbell, David’s brother, went out to the verandah where he saw one of the bushrangers. Immediately the bandit fired at him, striking him in the chest. A second shot proved ineffective. William, in pain from his wound, struggled to his feet and ran to an oat crop for cover. Concealed in the vegetation, he tried to gauge the situation so he could mount a return to the house.

David Campbell and his wife Amelia, taken from a lantern slide. [Source: National Museum of Australia]

David Campbell retreated into the house and raised the alarm. His wife Amelia ran into the drawing room, which was lit up by lamps with the blinds still open, leaving her exposed. The bushrangers fired at her as she fetched a shotgun that was resting against the fireplace and the necessary ammunition. Shots zipped past her as she boldly made her way back through the room to safety. Campbell reloaded his shotgun and the couple took cover between two slab walls that led to the kitchen. From here they had a decent field of view and were able to catch their breath in relative safety. After fifteen minutes of relentless firing, the gang ceased long enough to threaten the occupants of the fortified house verbally.

“If you don’t immediately surrender, we’ll burn your place down!”

Campbell was game and hollered back, “Come on; I’m ready for you!”

Clearly this was not the desired response and one of the bushrangers was heard to exclaim “Oh, that is it!”

Within moments the bandits set about gathering incendiary tools. Fire was something they believed had great persuasive power, and if it did not force their prey to bow to the demands it would teach a valuable lesson about dealing with the bushrangers. They set fire to the barn and it went up quickly. From inside his house, Campbell screamed at the bushrangers to free his horses. Spitefully, they refused to comply. As the flames leaped into the night sky, illuminating the house, the horrific cries of the horses emanated from the barn as they were burned alive. Not satisfied with such wanton cruelty, the bandits proceeded to set fire to a shed opposite the burning barn. Hall, Gilbert and O’Meally must have taken no small amount of joy from the terror they were inflicting upon the Campbells and they continued to mock them as they fired into the house.

Mrs. Campbell ran out of the safety of the house to rouse the workmen for assistance 150 yards away. She was unsuccessful and returned to her husband with a servant girl.

Outside, the gang moved behind a fence to admire their handiwork as the fires raged, the heat incredible and the glow brilliant. Hall and Gilbert continued to fire at the front door and taunt the Campbells, keeping low to avoid being targeted. O’Meally was seemingly entranced by the gang’s handiwork and stood up, watching the fire. Mrs. Campbell spotted him by his cabbage-tree hat, reflecting the glow of the flames. David Campbell ran to the end of the house and aimed at O’Meally then fired. While Campbell reloaded O’Meally fell, blood gushing from a wound in his neck. As the vicious brigand lay dying, blood spurting from the bullet hole, his companions dragged him to the cover of some oak trees. Gilbert and Hall, who only weeks earlier had been willing to brutalise the Keightleys and hold them ransom for hours in retaliation for Mickey Burke’s death, seemed unwilling to show any degree of loyalty to O’Meally. They rifled through his pockets, taking anything valuable, and even took a ring from his right pinky finger. The neck was rested on a comforter, the body was then covered in a towel and a woolpack (sleeping bag) and abandoned.

O’Meally’s death as portrayed by Patrick Maroney [Source: National Library of Australia]

With the firing having ceased, William Campbell headed off on foot to procure police. In the morning he returned with a constable and the scene was investigated. They found O’Meally’s cabbage-tree hat and carbine by the fence where he fell, then a trail of blood led them to O’Meally’s corpse. He was dressed in a corduroy jacket, buckskin, tall boots with long spurs, and three Crimean shirts. Inspecting the fatal wound, it was seen that there was a gaping wound in O’Meally’s neck where the shot had ripped through and smashed his vertebra. Blood was all over O’Meally’s neck and face. It was a grim sight, but a welcome one as far as the broader community was concerned. The body was examined then buried in an unmarked grave in Gooloogong Cemetery as it had not been claimed.

As much of a menace as the Hall Gang were, O’Meally was widely considered to be the worst of the bunch. To that point, O’Meally was the only member of the gang that was believed to have committed murder, that being the shooting of John Barnes near Wallendbeen. His aggressive and intimidating manner held many of his victims in a state of terror. The news of his death was welcomed by many in the Forbes district, with members of the community even coming together to write a letter of commiseration and thanks to the Campbells. Amelia also received a silver tea urn and silk cloth as gifts from the grateful people of Adelong.

Meanwhile, Hall and Gilbert were licking their proverbial wounds. They had not been injured in the fight but had been most resoundingly defeated. Yet, like the mythical Hydra, where one head was lopped off, two grew in its place. It did not take long for Hall and Gilbert to find replacements for O’Meally in the forms of John Dunleavy and Jim Gordon, nicknamed “Old Man”. This new outfit would be very short lived with Gilbert splitting off from the group after another gun fight, this time at the Bang Bang Hotel.

Spotlight: Ben Hall’s Bizarre Bushranging Battle

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Sunday 20 August 1989, page 18

Ben Hall’s bizarre bushranging battle


IT WAS late afternoon on October 24, 1863, when Commissioner Henry Keightley of Dunn’s Plains, south of Bathurst, saw five men riding along a fence line towards his homestead.

At first he thought the armed riders were police hunting the bush for the Ben Hall gang.

With him was his guest Dr Pechey, the medical officer from the nearby village of Rockley.

But Keightley, who was assistant gold commissioner in the district, discovered his mistake when the five riders fanned out, shouted “Bail Up!” and opened fire. The five were Hall, Gilbert, O’Meally, Vane and Burke.

Keightley and Pechey dived for cover in the doorway of the homestead while bullets splintered the woodwork around them. These were the opening shots in what became one of the most dramatic and bizarre battles in the history of NSW bushranging.

Keightley was said to be a handsome man of great courage and the basis of the character “Mr Knightly” in Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms. He had served as an officer in the First Sydney Rifles and had strongly supported the police in the war against the Hall gang, declaring that if he encountered them he would fight them to the death, without mercy.

The evening before the battle he had entertained a party of police at dinner and, as the bushrangers later admitted, they had been watching his Dunn’s Plains property from a hideout during the night. Apparently they decided to accept his challenge and make war on Keightley. With Keightley in his home that night was his wife, Caroline, the attractive daughter of Henry Rotton, a wealthy local landowner and member of Parliament. Also there was Dr Pechey, Lily Rotton aged four years, (Mrs Keightley’s half-sister), and Mrs Baldock who was a general household servant.

Keightley had been half expecting such an attack and had taken care to have loaded weapons ready. But the bushrangers caught him by surprise and most of the weapons were in an outhouse, approachable only under fire. In the crisis he could only get hold of a revolver and a double-barrelled gun of which only one barrel was loaded.

As the battle raged the family locked and barricaded the homestead as best they could. In the excitement no one missed little Lily and the little girl found herself locked out. She wandered about among the bushrangers while the firing continued but came to no harm.

Fire briskly returned

Keightley and Pechey briskly returned the fire while the attackers formed a circle around the homestead and kept under cover as much as possible.

As the siege settled down young Micky Burke showed more courage than the others. He crept up at the side of the house and, using a large barrel for cover, would swing his arm out and loose a shot at the doorway from time to time.

Sheltering in the doorway Keightley saw this action and waited his chance. He had one barrel of his shotgun ready and, when Burke, growing overconfident, exposed his body for a moment, Keightley fired. Micky Burke took the blast in the stomach. Those inside caught a glimpse of him as he reeled and staggered and then slumped against the house. Keightley heard him groan: “I’m done for. I won’t be taken alive.” With the last of his waning strength he levelled a revolver at his own head and fired twice. He fell to the ground, critically wounded but still alive.

Keightley and Pechey continued to return the attacking fire, but without much luck. From their various hideouts some of the other members of the gang may not have been aware that Burke was critically wounded and dying. By now darkness was closing in and Keightley apparently decided that he would have a better chance of seeing his targets from a fortified observation post he had built on the roof of the homestead.

He and Pechey raced outside and scrambled up a ladder, while exposed to a wave of shots, one of which pierced his hat. The bushrangers fired about 20 shots at the loft. Gilbert yelled to the two men to come down and Hall shouted that the gang would fire the homestead and burn them out.

Keightley must have believed them and he had a horrifying vision of his wife and family trapped inside the burning house. It must have been a bitter decision for him but he called out that he would surrender if they did not harm his family.

When the two men reached the ground the bushrangers emerged from their hiding places.

Now they discovered the body of Burke, lying near the corner of the homestead. Vane, who was Burke’s mate, rushed up to Dr Pechey and apparently mistook him for Keightley. In a fit of rage at the shooting of his mate he struck the doctor on the head with the butt of his revolver and felled him to the ground.

At this moment there was a sudden distraction when some men from the neighbouring property, attracted by the sounds of gunfire, rode up to the homestead. Hall rode up to them and bailed them up at gunpoint, and escorted them to the house.

In the half light a dramatic sight confronted them. On the ground was the body of Burke, critically wounded but still showing signs of life. Keightley was sitting on the well frame under sentence of execution. Vane was standing over him with the weapon that had been used to shoot Burke. He was saying doggedly that the gun that had shot his mate must now be used to take the life of the man who had shot him. When Vane finished reloading he threw the weapon over his arm and ordered Keightley to follow him down to the paddock out of sight of the others.

At this point Caroline Keightley, in frantic fear, rushed up to Ben Hall and grabbed him by the coat collar.

In her anguish she cried out to Hall: “I know you are Hall and they say you are the most humane, respectable and best of them all. for God’s sake don’t let them murder my husband — save his life!” Hall and Gilbert appeared to be moved by this plea and Hall called out to Vane to desist.

A bitter and emotional parley followed. Vane, supported by O’Meally, wanted to execute Keightley. Hall and Gilbert pointed out that Keightley would be able to claim the £500 reward for the shooting of Burke.

Deadline for ransom

So they decided to set a ransom on Keightley and to ask that amount for sparing his life. They set a deadline of 2pm on the following day, Sunday, for payment of the ransom.

At this point Dr Pechey, stalling for time, examined the body of Burke and detected signs of life, though he was critically wounded. Eventually the rest of the gang allowed him to ride into Rockley to get his instruments and see if he could do anything for their mate.

While they waited Pechey’s return the rest of the gang went into the homestead and Caroline Keightley served them spirits and wine which they forced her to taste first to show that it was not drugged. They admitted in conversation that they had been twitting Burke with want of courage and had driven him to prove himself. When the doctor returned he pronounced Burke dead. Arrangements were now completed for the first ransom demand in Australian history.

The gang took Keightley to a rocky outcrop called Dog Rocks, nearby. From this strong position they could watch and wait the return of Caroline Keightley and the doctor with the ransom money. They said that they would shoot Keightley if any rescue attempt was made.

Pechey and Caroline Keightley now set off on the long buggy ride in the darkness to Bathurst, taking little Lily with them.

About 3am they reached the sleeping town and Caroline desperately hammered on the door of her father’s home.

She told Henry Rotton what had happened and that her husband’s life depended on the ransom being paid.

As it happened Henry Rotton was one of the few men with the influence to obtain such a large sum early on a Sunday morning. About 4am the manager of the Commercial Bank was dragged from his bed and the business of assembling the necessary banknotes was undertaken.

Rotton carefully marked and recorded the numbers of the notes in case they later turned up. Caroline Keightley remained in Bathurst but the exhausted doctor and Henry Rotton returned in the buggy to Dunn’s Plains with the ransom money. The money was handed over and Henry Keightley was finally released after his long ordeal.

The Gilbert-Hall Gang: An Overview

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.

Ben Hall in more lawful times.

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.

John Dunn

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.

The raid of Kimberly’s Inn as portrayed in The Legend of Ben Hall.

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 Faithful brothers

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.

The death of Ben Hall from a contemporary illustration.

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.

Death of Gilbert

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.

Johnny Gilbert: An Overview

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.

[Source: National Library of Australia]

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.

Sketch from description of Johnny Gilbert the bushranger, 1863 [Source: National Library of Australia]

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.

Gilbert threatens Beardmore

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.

[Source: National Library of Australia]

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.

[Source: National Library of Australia]

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.

The death of O’Meally as portrayed by Patrick Maroney [Source: National Library of Australia]

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.

[Source: State Library of Victoria]

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.

Ben Hall (Jack Martin) and Johnny Gilbert (Jamie Coffa) at the Flag Hotel in ‘The Legend of Ben Hall’

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.

[Source: State Library of Victoria]

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.

The Hall Gang: The First Raid on Canowindra

Now well into the second half of 1863, Ben Hall’s gang felt as if they had the rule of the roost in the Lachlan. Towards the year’s end they began operating closer to Carcoar, deciding that homesteads were better targets than travellers and coaches. But it wasn’t simply ill-gotten gains the gang were interested in.

At 11.00pm on 29 September, the gang descended on John Loudon’s property at Grubbenbong. Mrs. Loudon was roused by a knocking at the door and asked “who’s there?” to which came the reply “Police”. Mr. Loudon was not convinced and asked who their officer was. The outlaws replied “Saunderson”. Still not convinced, Loudon refused the visitors entry. The gang grew tired of their own ruse and promptly fired six slugs through the door and burst in. They found Mr. and Mrs. Loudon with two men named Kirkpatrick and Wilson, as well as Mrs. Loudon’s niece. Word had reached the outlaws that police were stationed in the house of Loudon, himself a Justice of the Peace, so the men were handcuffed and taken onto the verandah and the women sent into a separate room while the gang searched the property. On discovering that there were no police in the household the gang then demanded food. Mrs. Loudon had the servants prepare ham and eggs for the bandits and apologised that there wasn’t anything more substantial to offer, though any disappointment in the fare was soon dissipated when a bottle of wine made its way to the dining table. After dinner the bushrangers smoked with their captives on the verandah, Gilbert suggesting the women might object to the smoke. The gang stayed until 3.00am whereupon they decided to search elsewhere for police and bragged that if they found them they would handcuff them and march them to Carcoar. They returned all of the objects they had pilfered in their search of the house and set off.


They next appeared at Limestone Creek at 11.00am. Sticking up the property of the aristocratically named Mr. Montague Rothery just as Rothery was sitting down to lunch. They restrained him and proceeded to eat his food themselves and called for champagne while partaking liberally in Rothery’s supply of brandy. Their bellies satisfied, they took to the piano and attempted to have a singalong before Hall, Gilbert, O’Meally and Vane  went outside to check out Rothery’s horses, intending to select the best of the three and a couple of saddles to take with them. Burke keeping watch over Rothery meanwhile showed him a breech loading rifle that he had pilfered from the police at George Marsh’s in a previous encounter. Hall and his companions made themselves at home and conversed freely with Rothery, informing him that they intended to find a magistrate named Icely and take him to task over his officiousness. Icely would reach Coombing on the Sunday afternoon, having luckily missed the gang and whatever mischief they intended to carry out upon him. The gang stayed until 2.00pm when, having completed all they desired at Rothery’s farm, they rode to Canowindra.


News of the stick up of Rothery reached Superintendent Morrisett at 5.00pm on Saturday and he immediately sent a party of five to follow the lead into Canowindra. The party was ordered to stop in at Clifden en route but instead arrived in Carcoar, where they stayed until 9.00pm gathering information that made it clear the outlaws were headed for Canowindra, which they already knew. The police were resolute and set off but without any sense of urgency.

Meanwhile, the first place the gang visited in Canowindra was the store of Pierce and Hilliar where they took £3 in cash and £30 in goods all the while bragging about their other exploits. Moving on, the gang called in at Daley’s Inn where they apparently found nothing of value, then they proceeded to the establishment of Mr. Robinson. They spent the night carousing at Robinson’s, playing piano and dancing. Mickey Burke got himself thoroughly intoxicated and flaked out on a sofa where he was abruptly roused by Gilbert at 8.00am. The gang paid for all they took except for Robinson’s horse. O’Meally spent the afternoon visiting relatives and the gang rode away from Canowindra without a care, having sent a strong message to the police and the locals that Ben Hall’s gang went wherever and did whatever they pleased.


At 11.00am the police party arrived in Canowindra only to be informed they had missed the gang by three hours. The police were much criticised for their tardiness, having taken fourteen hours to undertake a journey that should have taken eight. They had passed a series of teamsters on the road to Canowindra that informed them that the gang had indeed gone that route, yet for reasons unknown they dawdled and missed a golden opportunity. The affair in Carcoar was such an affront that the Sydney Morning Herald bewailed:

In brief, we may state that during the time specified, this band of freebooters have, in the most public and deliberate manner, been preying upon the inhabitants of this district – despoiling them of their property, laughing the authorities to scorn, and in every practicable and possible way, insulting the sacred form of justice! Were the thing not gravely serious, it would be absolutely ludicrous. If our social life and commercial security were not involved, the whole thing would be a huge joke. And where, pray, whilst all this melancholy farce has been enacting, were our police detachments – superintendents and inspectors to boot? Whilst these reprobates were leisurely pursuing their infamous traffic through the country, with their ten or dozen horses, which, owing to the softness of the weather, could be easily tracked, where were the men who are paid to protect our property – Echo answers where? – and the one universal impression is, that they were looking for the bushrangers and praying that they might not find them! We have no desire to deal unjustly by the police, but the whole business is now approximating to a crisis which can neither be ignored by the Government nor the country.

“THE REIGN OF TERROR.” The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 October 1863


“TELEGRAPHIC INTELLIGENCE” The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893) 1 October 1863: 2. Web. 19 Sep 2017 <>.

“BATHURST.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 30 September 1863: 4. Web. 19 Sep 2017 <>.

“(From a Correspondent.)” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 9 October 1863: 3. Web. 19 Sep 2017 <>.

“THE BUSHRANGERS IN THE WESTERN DISTRICTS.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 7 October 1863: 5. Web. 19 Sep 2017 <>.