Crown Prosecutor, E. Butler, Esq. Barristers, W. B. Dalley, J. L. Innes, and E. Lee, Esqrs. Attorneys,
Messrs. James and McIntosh.
James Mount alias Gordon alias the “Old Man,” and James Dunleavy were charged with, on the 7th day of July, 1861, assaulting and robbing William Brandon, and taking from him a quantity of letters, the property of himself and another.
Mr. Dalley applied for time to plead on behalf of Dunleavy, which was granted.
Gordon, after having objected to be arraigned by any other name, pleaded guilty. His Honor reserved sentence.
Another count charged Gordon with having, on the same day, in the Half-way House, robbed Ebenezer Davis of £3, and with, on the same day, at the same place, assaulting and robbing one George Asmus, to both of which he pleaded guilty. He also pleaded guilty to having robbed, with fire-arms, on the 13th June, 1864, one Charles David Clements of a quantity of fire-arms and £2 in money ; on the 19th August, in the same year of having stolen horses, &c, the property of William Faithful Gibson ; and on the 22nd June, at Canowindra, a quantity of wearing apparel and £3 in money, from Joshua Pierce.
SHOOTING WITH INTENT.
Sam Poo was indicted with, on the 18th February, at Barney’s Reef, shooting at one Henry Hughes, to prevent his lawlful apprehension. The prisoner remained mute, and would not answer the charge.
Wilson Ramsay being sworn said that the prisoner since his arrest had not to his knowledge spoken, but he had been told that he could speak English well.
John Duff deposed he knew the prisoner. Had spoken to him in English, and he had replied to him. He can speak English as plain as witness can.
It was therefore decided that the jury should be empanelled to try whether he was mute by malice, or by the visitation of God. The jury being sworn, Mr. Butler said that the only thing they had to try was whether he was wilfully mute or only unhappily so. He thought he could prove by various witnesses that the former was the case, and that he had only become obstinate.
Tommy Hoy deposed that he had a conversation with the prisoner on the previous day in the coach, both in English and Chinese, and he understood him.
John Duff re-called, repeated his former evidence. He asked him in English where he was going to, and he said if himself and his brother did not go on he would soon make them. Asked him where he lived, and he said, pointing down a log, “there.” This was in English. Told him he would fetch somebody to shift him. He said, “You had better not.”
Senior-constable Webb deposed that the prisoner had been in his charge. He heard him ask for a drink of water whilst on the coach, and he also spoke at his examination before the Bench.
Mr. Sub-inspector Davidson had never heard him speak.
Mr. Chippendall said that after he came into gaol he would not speak at all. Was informed he had eaten the food given to him.
Edward Clark deposed he had seen the prisoner in Mudgee, but could get him to speak. Had heard others speak to him, but he would not answer. He refused to take his food for some fourteen days.
Constable Burns deposed to his having spoken in the lock-up at Sofala, and also in the coach.
The jury retired for half an hour, and brought in a verdict of dumbness by malice.
His Honor decided that this was equivalent to a plea of not guilty, and directed the trial to proceed.
Another jury was therefore empannelled.
Mr. Butler, in opening the case, said that the prisoner was charged with shooting at Henry Hughes with intent to kill him, and in a second count with shooting to resist his lawful apprehension. The prisoner was arrested on suspicion of having shot constable Ward, but the evidence was not at present sufficiently complete to go on with that case. The Chinaman had been told by the police what he was arrested for, and he then shot at them, being well armed both with a gun and pistol, and it was only when knocked on the head with the butt end of a rifle that he was arrested.
Miles Burns deposed he was a constable in the Western Police. Remembered hearing of the death of constable Ward, about the 5th or 6th of February. Went out with senior constable Webb and another to apprehend a Chinaman. Was stationed at Mudgee then. Received information on 17th March that the Chinaman was about the town and went in pursuit with three others. Saw prisoner about fifty miles from Mudgee. McMahon was with him, the other two having taken another direction. A shot was fired and they saw him retreating. Called on him to stop but he would not. Did not see him till after the shot was fired. He was about sixty yards distant. Heard the shots passing over their heads. Fired at him and missed him. Chased him through the bush and met the others. Other shots were fired. Saw Hughes’ hat after the prisoner was taken. When prisoner was taken he was on the ground, taking deliberate aim at witness, when he knocked him over the head and stunned him.
Told him five or six times to surrender, as they were police. Found on him a powder horn, a large pistol, and a fowling piece. The pistol was loaded and the gun discharged.
Senior-constable Webb deposed he was with Burns when they went in search of the prisoner. Saw Ward when he was dead. Was not present when the firing took place.
Henry Hughes, a half-caste, deposed he was lately in the employ of Mr. Blakeman, being brought up by him. Was with the police when the prisoner was taken. He fired at witness, and the shot went through the rim of his hat (produced). The hole was not in the hat when this occurred. The hat was knocked off his head at about six yards from the prisoner. The other time he was fired at he was about twenty-five yards away. Whilst taking aim the last time constable Todd shot him, and Burns knocked him on the head. There was only one hole made in the hat.
Constable Burns was re-called, and in reply to his Honor reiterated his former evidence.
His Honor, in charging the jury, said that as the prisoner had been adjudged guilty of wilfully holding his tongue, and as others had said he could speak, the only course left open was to show them the evidence and leave it to them to judge whether he was guilty upon the first or second count.
The jury, after retiring a few minutes, returned a verdict of wounding with intent to kill. The prisoner, who appeared to be very weak and emaciated, was remanded for sentence.
The bushranger gangs of the 1860s were not too different to the rock bands of the 1970s. The members were larger than life, they were constantly travelling, and the members were constantly changing either because of “creative differences”, imprisonment or through untimely death. So it was with the highest profile gang of the era – that belonging to Johnny Gilbert and Ben Hall. Having just lost three of their gang within a span of months (Mickey Burke to suicide, John Vane gaoled, and John O’Meally shot dead), the pair were quick to find replacements. Thus was added into the mix Jim Gordon, alias Mount, an old hand known not-so-affectionately as “Old Man”.
Gordon assisted the bushrangers on several outings in 1864, but it was on 20 May he would distinguish himself as a formidable bushranger. The trio began their work by bailing up two men on the road from Cowra and relieving them of £6. The men were on their way to the races at Young (formerly Lambing Flat) and one was carrying pastry to be had there. The brigands helped themselves to the pastry and Hall complained that it was “devilish dry”. Surely it was one thing to rob a man of his lunch, but to criticise his cooking on top of it all must have been insult on injury. At any rate the bushrangers decided to ride to the nearest pub to wash it down.
At 5pm Hall, Gilbert and Gordon rode up to the Bang Bang Hotel, Koorawatha, where around thirty-five men were enjoying a leisurely drink. Hall was mounted on a superb chestnut horse with one white foot, the others rode a bay and a black horse. Each man was armed with a rifle and trio of revolvers. Promptly, the bushrangers bailed up the patrons. All of the occupants of the building were rounded up and guarded by Hall, while Gilbert and Gordon positioned themselves at the gate, still mounted.
In the paddock plainclothes Senior Constables MacNamara and Scott were with their horses, who were grazing. The officers were on special duty to escort race horses from Cowra to the Burrangong races and had been on the road since 10am that morning. They had been in the company of messrs Wilson of Young, and Skillicorn of Bathurst, and while the civilians were in the bar the troopers had taken the horses to the yard to feed them. Suddenly the troopers were startled when Gilbert and Gordon entered the yard on horseback. Gilbert presented a revolver and Gordon a carbine.
“Leave them horses,” shouted Gordon, but the police were baffled and did not respond. “I say once more, Leave them horses!”
Suddenly realising the danger, the troopers went for their pistols but were covered by Gilbert who stated, “Take your hands out of that, you wretches, or I’ll blow your brains out!”
Gilbert fired three shots before the police replied. Seven shots were exchanged with the police advancing upon the mounted bushrangers. As the police closed the thirty yard gap between themselves and their attackers, Hall and Gordon took off, leaving Gilbert to defend himself. Upon realising he was on his own, Gilbert took off after the others with Senior Constable Scott in hot pursuit.
Scott stuck to Hall who unloaded his revolver at the trooper while riding full gallop. After each shot Hall would rest his revolver upon his thigh while looking to see if the shot took effect. Scott kept at him, resting his weapon on his left arm to steady it. One of Scott’s shots struck Hall’s cabbage tree hat causing it to fly off, though it was attached to a string. Hall clutched at his head and swore before speeding away. With Hall out of reach, Scott returned to the hotel where Gilbert and Gordon were sheltering behind the building. Gordon, seeing Scott 350 yards away, dismounted and fired at him shouting, “Take that, you wretch!” The shot hit the ground and ricocheted into the building. Seeing his shot so ineffective, Gordon mounted and retreated. The trio threatened a return visit as they galloped away with their proverbial tails between their legs.
By the end of the fight around 30 shots had been fired, but there were no casualties. Inspector Singleton was soon informed and a party to search for the bushrangers was dispatched, anticipating that they could be headed to a local race meeting. The search was fruitless and the gang would strike again three days later.
The gang soon drew 19-year-old John Dunleavy into the fold and after a few more outings, including one wherein a victim was viciously flogged for having been part of a search party, Gilbert decided to take his leave of the gang. It is unclear what prompted his decision, but thereafter the gang would be seen to be led by Ben Hall and referred to as such in the press.
In 2017 Matthew Holmes’ dream to create a bushranging epic for the big screen was finally realised with the theatrical release of The Legend of Ben Hall. Though it was a limited release, it gained a strong following and has since added fans from around the world to its fanbase. Now the call to action has rung out as Holmes endeavours to create a new cut of the film that is closer to his original intention than was previously possible. However, in order to make this project come to fruition he has taken to Kickstarter to raise the funds needed. Those who have followed the journey of the film will know that it was crowdfunding and an army of volunteers that made it possible to make the original film. A Guide to Australian Bushranging sat down with Holmes to discuss this monumental project, what he hopes to achieve and how.
It’s been almost three years since The Legend of Ben Hall was first released, and since then it has been distributed on DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming all around the world and has met with a great reception. What made you decide to bite the bullet and have a crack at making the definitive version of the film?
Holmes – I was committed to the idea of a Director’s Cut while I was editing the Theatrical Cut in 2015-2016. It was clear that we were going to have to lose a lot of great material in order to bring the run time closer to 2 hours. After all, our first assembly edit was 3 hours and 40 minutes long. Because we only had the money to finish one version of the film, the theatrical release version took priority and any scene that had to go, I would say “that’s one for the Director’s Cut!”
Now three years since its release, the film has done really good business in the home entertainment market, especially in the USA. I pitched the concept to my distributor Pinnacle Films and they really liked the idea. So it seemed like the right time to try to get the Director’s Cut completed. Plus the fanbase has really grown and there definitely seems like there’s a demand for it. I ran a poll on Facebook last year and 500+ people said they would support a crowdfunding campaign, so that showed there was definitely interest in the possibility.
What will the director’s cut bring to the table that is different from the version that we’ve already seen?
Holmes – There will be around 30 new scenes and 48 expanded scenes in the Director’s Cut. Essentially it’s the same story as the Theatrical Cut, but there’s more stops along the way. The film will move at a less frenetic pace. In the Theatrical Cut, my editor Caitlin Spiller and I were editing each sequence within an inch of its life to bring down the overall run time. People thought were absolutely crazy for releasing a 139 min version as our Theatrical Cut and were telling us to cull it to 90 minutes. So a lot of great character moments and little nuances got lost in the edit simply for timings sake.
My plan with the Director’s Cut is to make a far more immersive and sensory film experience. It will cement the audience more in Ben Hall’s world and allow them to sit with those characters in the environment, rather just punching along to the next event. I think it will give me the chance to really play with sound design as well, to get a feeling of what it was like to live in the bush. The Director’s Cut will absolutely be one of those films you watch over the course of two or three nights, rather than all in one sitting. The experience of the two versions will be vastly different.
Are there any particular parts of the original screenplay that you wish you had been able to film?
Holmes – There are many historical moments I wanted to include, but couldn’t. I only wrote scenes that I thought we could achieve with our very limited budget. Some historical moments had to be scaled down or omitted completely. There’s a great moment where four brothers fought off the Hall Gang from the back of a travelling wagon – that would’ve been an amazing action set piece to include. But it would’ve taken three days to film and cost a fortune.
I did write an interesting scene where the Hall Gang pillage a camp of Chinese miners and we really see the cruelty and racism inflicted on the Chinese in that period. It showed Gilbert to be a really nasty piece of work – as he really was to the Chinese. But ultimately I just didn’t have the time or budget to do it. But I promise – if we get over $110,000 on the Kickstarter Campaign – I will film that scene and put it into the movie. So get pledging, folks!
To outsiders, it might seem strange that you’ve gone to Kickstarter to get the money together for the director’s cut when we see Hollywood movies getting director’s cuts of films all the time with no apparent fundraising. Can you explain why Kickstarter was the best option to enable you to make this new edition?
Holmes – The Legend of Ben Hall is in a totally different league to Hollywood films. Hollywood productions have the budget, time and resources to make both a Director’s Cut and a Theatrical Cut simultaneously. I really don’t think people realise how little we made The Legend of Ben Hall for. Our budget was barely a million dollars. For a film of that scale, that is unheard of. In the end, I was dipping into my own pocket just to complete it. For example, I paid for half of the miniature set build simply because we’d run out of money at that time. So the only way we can afford to produce a whole new version is if the fans support it. Raising money for films is even harder than it was when we filmed the movie back in 2015. People often assume that just because we made a film that we have this bottomless pit of money to draw on. It’s quite the opposite actually.
Among the rewards on Kickstarter are brand new books about the film and the weapons used by the bushrangers and their pursuers. Can you talk a little about what pledgers should be expecting from these books?
Holmes – The weapons book will cover many of the unique guns that feature in the film, which are different than your average Western. Because it’s set in 1865, the guns were a little older than those you’ll typically see in Clint Eastwood films. The guns used in Australia at the time were largely from English gunsmiths rather than from America. I think The Legend of Ben Hall may be the first film to show someone using a Tranter Revolving Rifle. I’m certain it’s the first Australian film to ever show the Tranters being used on screen.
The A Visual Journey book will be filled with images. No text. We have so many amazing photographs from the movie, they deserve to be in a coffee-table style book. Like the Director’s Cut, that book will be an immersive piece.
Why did you choose Kickstarter over similar crowdfunding websites like Pozible and GoFundMe?
Holmes – I’ve run several campaigns in the past and the ones that succeeded were on Kickstarter. I prefer their website and the way they do things. They also have better international reach.
I don’t approach my crowdfunding campaigns as a charity. I’m offering a product to my fans, I’m not asking for a handout. That’s where most crowdfunded film projects get it wrong; they treat their film like a charity cause and beg for people to help realise their dream. Their focus should be on what the pledgers stand to get out of it. With my campaign, the pledgers are essentially pre-ordering the Director’s Cut before it hits the shelves.
In the last decade we’ve seen a big increase in independent Australian genre films such as Occupation, Arrowhead, Wyrmwood, and Stringybark getting off the ground thanks to crowdfunding. These are films that frequently get overlooked by federal funding bodies, yet there’s obviously a demand for them, especially as some of them even got sequels. Do you think that it’s a sign that the Australian film funding bodies need to evolve to meet the demands of the audiences?
Holmes – Crowdfunding has been a saving grace for many indie filmmakers like myself. It allows us to go straight to our audience. When you have government funding bodies standing between you and your audience, that’s a no-win situation. They hold the keys and their opinion of the market (and your film) will dictate if you get their funding or not. Crowdfunding allows filmmakers the chance to bypass them, which I love.
The Legend of Ben Hall would not exist if it wasn’t for those wonderful people who pledged on my Ben Hall short film campaign back in 2014. That was the catalyst that ignited the feature film. Screen Australia was never going to get behind a Ben Hall feature film, and certainly not one directed by me. When we approached them to help us with some post-production funding, they refused to support the film even after it was shot and edited.
Also, the funding bodies typically avoid genre films in favour of whatever is socially or politically popular at the time. So sci-fi, horror, western, action, comedy – or any combination of those – are not going to be looked at favourably. Most of Australia’s most interesting, upcoming directors have had to launch their careers outside of the government funding system. Crowdfunding is a big key to doing that.
At around three hours, it’s going to be quite a long film.
Holmes – Yes, but it’s not going to be abnormally long. Wyatt Earp, Dances with Wolves, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Once Upon a Time in America – these are all very long films. Perhaps too long for theatrical release, but perfect for the home entertainment scenario where you can pause the movie, get a cup of tea and snacks and come back.
We’ve seen that films like the Avengers films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy increasingly have hefty run-times that people are happy to sit through. Do you think that this signifies a return to movies being a kind of event rather than the disposable entertainment that has flooded the market in recent times?
Holmes – I believe an invested audience is happy to sit through a longer running time. In the case of The Avengers or the Lord of The Rings, those films have a hardcore, established fanbase who want as much as you can give them. The Legend of Ben Hall has such a fanbase that is, of course, more niche but no less enthusiastic. People will binge 3 or 4 episodes of television in their homes, so I don’t see a 200 minute movie as being any different.
The Director’s Cut is not being made for the regular film goer; this is absolutely one for the fans or for those who love these types of sprawling, historical epics. Impatient or casual viewers should stick to the Theatrical Cut! Personally, this will give me the chance to make The Legend of Ben Hall the way I always wanted it to be, which is not very commercial. This version will let history play out rather than be driven by movie conventions. Not having to argue or debate with anybody as to what should stay or go gives me full creative expression as a filmmaker, which I felt I lost making the Theatrical Cut.
I believe people will find the Director’s Cut a very different movie because of that.
Adapting history for film is not easy; how do you go about selecting what gets shown and what is left out?
Holmes – In my case, it came down to budget and what I could afford to show. But I also knew that the film had to focus on Ben Hall’s inner journey as much as his outer journey, so I selected historical moments that had a profound impact on his personal life. That was my best guide as to what should stay and what should go. In the end, a film is about characters, not plot. I focused the scenes more on the characters rather than worrying about the external narrative drive. Sure that made it more episodic, but I don’t think that’s something to be criticised. Many of my favourite films are hugely episodic, yet they are considered modern classics.
One of the more noticeable changes that you made that history buffs would notice was that you merged the characters of “Old Man” Gordon and John Dunleavy. Was that always the intention or was it a matter of practicality come production time?
Holmes – That is something I wish I could go back in time and fix. Adding John Dunleavy to the First Act would’ve added another character in an already burgeoning cast and I was forced to make some cuts due to our constricted budget.
If you were able to, would you do a “George Lucas” and digitally insert an actor portraying Dunleavy into those scenes retroactively, or indeed use digital magic to add shots that you had not been able to first time around?
Holmes – Absolutely. If we over-finance on the Kickstarter campaign, I’ll magically weave John Dunleavy into the Director’s Cut – that’s another promise! I’d pay Jack Martin and Andy McPhee to reprise their roles and actually film some bonus scenes to make that work. It’s entirely possible if I have the funds for it. So get pledging, folks – the sky is the limit! The more money we raise, the better the Director’s Cut will be. In fact, I might make Dunleavy’s appearance and the Chinese Miner scenes as Stretch Goals.
There’s dialogue in the Theatrical Cut where Johnny Gilbert explains that he would dress in women’s clothing as a disguise. Given that this is something that he was known to do, was there ever any thought to finding a way to include Gilbert in a dress in the film?
Holmes – We actually had a scene written with Gilbert disguised in women’s clothing. We even had a yellow dress picked out along with a silly bonnett. But on the night we planned to shoot it at the Maldon Historical Village, a huge storm blew in and rained us out. It shut production down for several hours, so we had to abandon the scene. It was at the head of the ‘Forbes Brothel’ scene (which will be restored in the Director’s Cut.)
Gilbert often dressed in women’s clothes when going into a populated town, as 2 or 3 flashy young men riding down the main street would catch the attention of local police. Dressing as a woman to disguise oneself was common practice amongst bushrangers in those days. There was nothing more to it than disguise and practicality. I find it very silly that a certain other bushranger film has attempted to make wearing dresses out to be a bigger deal than what it was.
Father McCarthy is a character that plays a significant role in the story of the gang, historically having directed John Vane of the original Gilbert-Hall Gang to turn himself in to Superintendent Morrisett. He was included in early promotional material for The Legend of Ben Hall, but didn’t make the final cut. Are you glad you have the opportunity to reinstate those scenes?
Holmes – I’ll be hugely excited to see that scene reinstated. I always felt it was a pivotal one. It was one of the last and one of the hardest scenes to delete, because it carried so many of the film’s central themes: choice and the consequences of it. It had so much foreshadowing and let the audience see what was driving Ben Hall’s decisions, to understand the difficult position he was in. It was heart-breaking to remove, but we were being heavily pressured to get the first act moving faster. I know actor Peter Flaherty, who played Father McCarthy, is very happy about its return, as he gave a wonderful and earnest performance. And he really nailed the Cork accent.
The theatrical cut of The Legend of Ben Hall tended to show Hall as essentially a good man who is driven to change his ways because he realises the consequences of his own behaviour and doesn’t want his son to think of him as a villain. Will the director’s cut explore that aspect any further?
Holmes – The Director’s Cut will show a much darker side to Ben Hall, that’s for sure. There were certain moments and lines of dialogue that were lifted from the Theatrical Cut because we had feedback that viewers were losing empathy for Ben Hall, particularly during the middle of the film. I showed Hall to be quite ruthless at times and revealed that war between good and evil raging in his soul. Personally, I loved that aspect of the character and Jack Martin showed both sides of his personality really well. I wanted to show Ben Hall as he was – torn and conflicted. But that doesn’t bode well with those who are used to having their movie protagonists portrayed as squeaky clean. For the Director’s Cut, I won’t have any of those restrictions. That will be liberating and I think will make for a far more complex and engaging character.
Has there been any movement regarding the other films in the proposed “Legends” trilogy?
Holmes – Just in the last two months, we’ve received some really solid interest from the USA in the first prequel film The Legend of Frank Gardiner. Ironically, there’s been no interest from Australian investors or funding bodies. I also have two new producers onboard who are working on sourcing the finance and attaching cast. That film will introduce three new lead characters – Frank Gardiner, Sir Frederick Pottinger and Kitty Brown, Biddy’s younger sister.
If that film goes ahead, many original cast members will be reprising their roles such as Jack Martin, Jamie Coffa, Joanne Dobbin, Nick Barry, Angus Pilakui, Gregory Quinn, Adam Willson and Tom Beaurepaire. It will be an absolute dream come true if Gardiner happens. We’ll be able to show things that weren’t possible in the first film. Plus we are also planning to film it all up in Ben Hall country in the Central West of New South Wales. So fingers crossed!
When will the Kickstarter campaign be winding up for those looking to make a pledge?
Holmes – Our Kickstarter ends on March 29th, 2020. I’m running it longer than usual because it’s a big target to reach. If we don’t reach $90,000, the Director’s Cut won’t ever happen – it’s that simple. That would be a tragedy, because I believe this Director’s Cut will be a superior film to the Theatrical Cut in every way.
But in the end, it really is up to the fans. But that’s the way it’s always been with this film. The fans kickstarted The Legend of Ben Hall back in 2014; I just hope five years on, the fans are still with me for one last ride. We shall know in a few weeks time!
To learn about the rewards on offer and make a pledge to the Kickstarter campaign for The Legend of Ben Hall Director’s Cut, follow this link: http://shorturl.at/fnuPY
Beyond the Kelly Gang, only one other bushranging gang has truly cemented its place in the culture of Australia so firmly to become synonymous with bushranging. The early 1860s belonged to a rotating roster of brigands that operated mostly on the Lachlan Plains and came to be known popularly (for reasons that will become apparent) under the name of Ben Hall, though the contemporary press preferred to take their nomenclature for the gang from it’s most prominent figure, Johnny Gilbert. They were said to have committed hundreds of crimes ranging from robbery to murder. The following is not a detailed account of their career as the sheer scale of their depredations makes for heavy reading, but rather it is a summary of the career of the most legendary bushranging gang of the 1860s.
The origins of the Hall Gang are quite ephemeral. There was no definitive incident that forged the gang as it would come to be known, rather it evolved from the vestiges of other gangs. The one element that brought the key players together was the Prince of Tobymen, Frank Gardiner. Gardiner had been on the run after violating his ticket of leave, and after having worked the roads with companions such as The Three Jacks and John Peisley, he decided to set his sights on a bigger score than what mail coaches could yield. Gardiner wanted to have a crack at the escorts taking the gold from the diggings. He soon realised to do so he would need a lot more men to help him out. So in 1861 Gardiner began forming a gang to help him rob the Orange gold escort. This would become a defining moment for the core members of what would eventually become the Gilbert-Hall Gang.
The gang Gardiner had formed consisted of Johnny Gilbert, the flash Canadian who had been his off-sider on and off during his time in the bush; John O’Meally, a volatile Australian-born who had proven to be a reliable and enthusiastic underling; Charlie Gilbert; Henry Manns; Alex Fordyce; John Bow; and Patsy Daley. These men were to be the shock troops who would attack the escort but Gardiner needed more assistance. To hold the horses and scout he had Jack “The Warrigal” Walsh, the teenage brother of his lover, Kitty Brown. It was also rumoured that among those helping to look after the horses was a young stockman named Ben Hall and his brother-in-law John Maguire, who had turned to crime as a way of getting easy money to counter the hardships of farming life.
On 15 June, 1862, the Gardiner gang bailed up two bullock teams near Eugowra Rocks. They tied up the teamsters and left the drays on the road to act as a blockade. The bushrangers were disguised with their faces masked or blackened. When the wagon came up the road from the Lachlan diggings, it was forced to stop because of the blockage. As it did, Gardiner emerged and the gang opened fire and riddled the coach with bullets, injuring two of the police. Sergeant Condell was shot in the ribs, while Constable Moran was shot in the testicles. The horses were spooked and bolted, causing the wagon to strike a boulder and topple, flinging the driver and police across the road. Once the victims had escaped, the gang descended upon the wreckage and picked it clean, stealing around £6000 worth of gold and cash.
The booty was split among the bushrangers but the celebrations were short-lived as police led by Sir Frederick Pottinger soon found the gang’s hideout. Their sudden arrival forced the bushrangers to split up. Gardiner and Walsh narrowly avoided capture, but lost their share of the gold when their over-burdened packhorse was seized. The bushrangers tried to hide their booty and keep quiet but the police were quick to make arrests. Charlie Gilbert and Henry Manns were captured by Pottinger but rescued by Johnny Gilbert and Frank Gardiner. Manns set off alone and was soon recaptured. Bow and Fordyce were arrested as were Ben Hall, John Maguire and Daniel Charters, an associate of theirs. The Gilbert brothers successfully managed to escape to New Zealand to lie low. Gardiner took Kitty Brown with him and escaped New South Wales, eventually being arrested at Apis Creek in Queensland.
When Johnny Gilbert returned from abroad he started bushranging with a number of off-siders including Fred Lowry. As each of them left, John O’Meally was the only one who remained. The pair did not exactly like each other but it was a marriage of convenience that allowed them both to enjoy the lawless adventure they craved.
When Hall got out of remand he had a chip on his shoulder. He promptly found his way to Johnny Gilbert and John O’Meally and joined them in bushranging. The trio hit the highways with considerable success. Nobody was safe and the police could not catch up to them. Eventually they decided that they needed extra help as their operation became more prolific.
In 1863, the gang recruited John Vane to source horses for them. Vane and his cousin Mickey Burke acted as scouts for the gang but soon managed to become fully fledged members. Vane was a tall, quiet young man who was a fearless rider and a skilled bushman but not as ruthless as the others. Burke was young and feisty; itching to go on the adventure of bushranging but not keen to use violence willingly. This latter quality seemed to make him a target for bullying.
In late September, 1863, the gang began a spree of lawlessness that caused a stir throughout the colony. On 22 September they bailed up three troopers and stole their weapons and uniforms. The next day, the gang bailed up Hosie’s store dressed as police. The gang took supplies and stole all of Hosie’s sweets. It was not the first time the gang had robbed him.
On 26 September they raided John Loudon’s house at Grubbenbong dressed in their stolen police uniforms. They went through the building in search of police they believed were staying there. The search turned up nothing but the gang bragged that if any troopers came after them, they would handcuff them and march them back to Carcoar. They forced Loudon’s wife to prepare food for them. Once they were satisfied, the gang left.
The following day the bushrangers, still in their stolen uniforms, went to William Rothery’s Cliefden Station at Limestone Creek, where they engaged in a standoff with Rothery’s staff. Rothery ordered his men to stand down and the bushrangers bailed up the household, ate lunch, drank champagne then played piano. As with their visit to Grubbenbong, they left quietly after having their fill. They moved on to the township of Canowindra. They robbed Pierce’s store then quietly rounded up the townsfolk, including the local constable, into Robinson’s pub and held an impromptu party. The party continued into the morning and the gang left without fear of police intervention.
The success of the Canowindra raid bolstered the gang’s confidence and they set their sights on Bathurst, one of the biggest cities in colonial New South Wales. With John Vane on watch, the gang entered town at dusk on 3 October, 1863. They went to the gunsmith and looked at what he had in stock but could not find anything to their liking. They attempted to rob the jeweller but the screams of female onlookers roused attention. Suddenly Vane called out to signal the arrival of troopers. They mounted and bolted through the streets, escaping without a scratch. They took refuge in the house of a man named De Clouet, from whom they intended to steal a racehorse named Pasha, but the horse was not there. The gang were able to leave town without further incident after the search had been called off.
The gang decided to stick to what they were good at and once again headed to Canowindra. Again the townsfolk were rounded up into the pub and festivities took place. In the morning Mickey Burke proved difficult to rouse, his drinking having been rather excessive, but even though they were delayed in leaving, there was no sign of the police until long after the gang had left.
The reward for the gang was sitting at £4000 and things were becoming serious as police drew heavy criticism from the press over their inability to stop the bandits. On 24 October, 1864, they headed to the Keightley farm on Dunn’s Plains on a vendetta to take the flashness out of gold commissioner Henry Keightley. Keightley had bragged about his part in helping the police hunt the gang and his readiness to shoot them down. The bushrangers arrived at sunset whereupon they were spotted by Keightley and his friend Dr. Pechey. The bushrangers dismounted and opened fire as the men sheltered inside. There was a vicious shootout during which Mickey Burke was shot in the belly. Keightley and Pechey took refuge in a barricade that had been made on the roof but were low on weapons and ammunition. Burke refused to allow his wounding to lead him to be captured and he determined to take his own life. He shot himself in the head but only succeeded in further wounding himself. He shot himself in the head again, finally succeeding in committing suicide. John Vane was grief stricken and when Keightley and Pechey were captured he bashed Pechey with his pistol, mistaking him for Keightley, and was fully prepared to execute them in retaliation. Mrs. Keightley intervened and convinced them to hold her husband to ransom instead of murdering him. Dr. Pechey rode into town and fetched £500 – the equivalent of the reward money offered for Burke – from Mrs. Keightley’s father and returned to the farm. The bushrangers entrusted Keightley’s servants to convey Burke’s corpse to Carcoar then left.
In the wake of the tragedy tensions were high and Vane left after a fight with Gilbert. He turned himself in and was imprisoned at Darlinghurst Gaol. Once again the gang was a trio, but they were determined not to lose face. They continued to rob travellers at an alarming rate and soon heard about a magistrate named David Campbell who had been talking about his eagerness to capture the bushrangers.
On 19 November, 1863, the gang rode to Goimbla Station, where the Campbells resided. They spread out to find a way inside. O’Meally went to the back door where he was met by Campbell. O’Meally discharged his shotgun and narrowly missed Campbell’s head. O’Meally ran to the front of the house, chased by Campbell who doubled back when he saw the others. The bushrangers began firing into the house. Campbell took cover by the kitchen and his wife, Amelia, ran under fire to fetch ammunition and weapons from the drawing room. Campbell’s brother had been roused by the firing and was shot and wounded. He ran and hid in a crop field until there was a safe moment to get help. The bushrangers took cover behind a fence and O’Meally set fire to the barn. Campbell called out for the bushrangers to set his horses free but they refused out of spite and the animals were burned alive. As O’Meally stood to admire his handiwork, Campbell shot him in the neck. Hall and Gilbert dragged him to the bush on the edge of the property and propped his head up but the wound was fatal. When O’Meally died they looted his body and evacuated, leaving the grisly find for the Campbells to deal with.
Hall and Gilbert slowed down after Goimbla but found two new recruits very quickly. James “Old Man” Gordon and John Dunleavy were inducted into the gang and soon they were up to the same old tricks. The new outfit was put through the ringer when they were ambushed at the Bang Bang Hotel and engaged in a shootout with police. The bushrangers narrowly escaped but it clearly rattled Gilbert who left the gang to return to Victoria for a spell.
Hall continued on with Gordon and Dunleavy but they were hardly alike the outfit Hall was used to. During a shootout in the bush at Bundaburra, Dunleavy was injured. He surrendered himself and was soon tried and sent to Darlinghurst Gaol. Hall and Gordon continued together briefly before Gordon also split and was arrested near the Victorian border. He too was imprisoned.
Hall now faced the daunting prospect of bushranging solo. He kept a low profile, preferring to avoid confronting police or making his presence known. From time to time police would stumble upon where he had been sleeping and he would barely escape, but the lifestyle was beginning to impact on his health. Fortunately for Hall he was soon reunited with Gilbert.
Ben Hall was just as eager to recapture the glory days as Gilbert, but they knew that they needed at least one extra set of hands. Gilbert recruited John Dunn, a teenaged jockey and Gilbert’s former bush telegraph. Dunn was wanted for skipping bail and saw bushranging as a viable alternative to honest work or gaol.
The trio hit the roads and bailed up as many people as possible, their exploits reaching new heights of audacity with each event. At the end of 1864 the gang went to work at Black Springs near Jugiong. They bailed up scores of people travelling the road, robbed them and kept them prisoner behind a large hill while they awaited their true goal: the mail coach. The coach arrived as expected and the bandits bailed it up, but when Ben Hall spotted the police escort catching up the trio galloped away and doubled back once they had sized up the threat. All three demonstrated their incredible horse riding abilities by steering the horses with their legs while double-wielding pistols. The gun battle was frenetic and vicious. Sergeant Edmund Parry became locked in one-on-one combat with Johnny Gilbert. They exchanged fire and a bullet from Gilbert hit Parry in the back, killing him.
A dangerous precedent had now been set and the gang had become elevated from audacious highwaymen to murderers. Undeterred, the gang continued to go about their depredations. At Christmas the bushrangers visited their girlfriends, Christina MacKinnon and Peggy and Ellen Monks, and decided to have some fun at the Boxing Day ball in Binda. They bailed up a former policeman named Morriss and robbed his store before heading to the Flag Hotel. They sang, danced and drank with the patrons while Morriss plotted to take the wind out of their sails. As the night wound on Morriss managed to escape through a window and tried to set the gang’s horses loose. When Hall discovered Morriss missing, he tried to find him outside. In an act of vengeance the bushrangers and their girlfriends burned down Morriss’ store. The women were arrested for their role in the arson but not convicted.
On 26 January, 1865, the gang bailed up several travellers on the road near Collector before heading to Kimberley’s Inn. The occupants were marched outside and robbed while Hall and Gilbert raided the interior. As the local police were in the bush looking for the gang there was only one constable in town – Samuel Nelson. Nelson heard that the inn had been bailed up and set out on foot to confront the bushrangers. When he arrived there was a brief standoff between himself and John Dunn before Dunn shot him in the stomach and head, killing him.
In response to the murders and countless other offences committed by bushrangers in the colony, the New South Wales government passed a legislation called the Felons Apprehension Act. This would render any person declared an outlaw to lose all protections of the law, and anyone could kill them without provocation and with no fear of punishment. It literally rendered the proclaimed outlaws as exempt from human society and encouraged people to treat them as vermin. The act allowed the wanted people 30 days to turn themselves over to police before being officially declared outlaws.
Things became very treacherous for the gang. Several ambushes occured where the gang narrowly escaped alive. The decision was made to do one last heist and get out of the colony before they were officially outlawed. They recruited John Dunn’s mate Daniel Ryan to help strike at a gold escort. The gang lay in wait on a stretch of road in the bush at Araluen and when the gold escort arrived they opened fire. The heist was a poor imitation of what Gardiner had masterminded and the end result was that the gold remained untouched and the gang was forced to retreat. Daniel Ryan would carry out several other robberies with the gang before disappearing from the line-up.
Back down to a trio, the gang attempted to rob a wagon full of teenage boys – the Faithful brothers. What the gang did not anticipate was that the brothers, who had been out hunting, would resist with firearms. A gunfight broke out wherein Gilbert accidentally shot his own horse and was trapped under it. The brothers succeeded in getting to safety, leaving the gang to lick their wounds.
The gang decided the time had come to call it quits. Ben Hall took care of some business around Forbes before heading to a rendezvous with the others at Billabong Creek. Unfortunately Gilbert and Dunn had seemingly gotten spooked by teamsters they mistook for plainclothes officers and Hall decided to set up camp near the home of police informant Mick Coneley. On 5 May, 1865, Hall was ambushed as he fed his horse. He ran to escape but was shot over and over until, as he held a sapling, he died from around 30 bullet wounds, two passing through his brain. Coneley would earn £500 for selling Hall out.
Gilbert and Dunn continued to run from place to place before seeking shelter at Dunn’s grandfather John Kelly’s place near Binalong. In the wake of Hall’s death they had learned not to trust harbourers, especially as the date to turn themselves in by was rapidly approaching. Unfortunately the belief that Dunn’s family was a safe bet was another poor judgment and Kelly sold them out as well. A team of police surrounded the house and the bushrangers were forced to escape through a window. As they ran Gilbert was shot through the heart and killed. Dunn sustained a leg injury but managed to escape.
Dunn by virtue of being the only survivor of the gang at large became the first person to be declared an outlaw in New South Wales. Rumours abounded that he had joined up with Captain Thunderbolt, but in fact he had gone into hiding on a farm under an assumed identity. He was soon discovered, however, and once again tried to escape. He shot a trooper in the leg but was himself shot in the back, the bullet lodging in his spine. He fought off the police as much as he could but the pain was too intense and he was captured.
He was taken to the lock-up in Dubbo but managed to escape despite his crippling injuries by climbing out of a window. He crawled along the ground, unable to walk from his wound, but was soon recaptured. He was tried for the murder of Constable Nelson and sentenced to death. He was hanged in Darlinghurst in January 1866. With Dunn’s death the Gilbert-Hall Gang had finally been snuffed out for good.
Even in their own lifetimes, the bushrangers who formed the roster in the gang were something akin to celebrities. They developed a reputation as daring highwaymen and folk heroes that robbed from the rich but would never molest a needy person or woman. The truth was far from this lofty ideal and the gang had its fair share of indiscriminate robberies to their name. It has been estimated by some that the gang committed hundreds of crimes in their short career. Indeed, the number of bail ups attributed to them is probably far and away the largest of any organised gang of bandits in Australian history. It was the inefficiency of the police that helped seal their reputation and turned this band of robbers into glorious rebels, rather than incorrigible ne’er-do-wells. What pushed them into this life of crime is hard to pinpoint as most members of the gang came from respectable backgrounds. Perhaps the allure of reaping the benefits of the gold rush without having to engage in the back breaking labour was just too big a temptation to refuse.