|Ben Hall - Bushranger|
|Wrongly accused and devastated by circumstances, Ben Hall took up the gun and cried 'Stand and Deliver' on the highways around the goldfields.|
In 1860, Ben Hall took up the lease of a property at Sandy Creek, south of Forbes,
where he lived with his wife Biddy and baby son Henry. He and his partner, John
McGuire, sold cattle to the miners on the diggings at Lambing Flat.|
But in early 1862 his life was turned upside down when his wife left him for another man, taking their son with her. Ben Hall was devastated by this turn of events and lost all interest in running his property, caring little for the future or his own welfare. He began associating with Frank Gardiner, a charismatic career bushranger who frequented the area. Soon he was in trouble with the police when he was arrested on charges of highway robbery, but was released after a witness changed his evidence.
He then joined Gardiner and a number of other young men to carry out the famed Escort robbery at Eugowra Rocks on June 15th 1862, where the gang got away with more than 14000 pounds in gold and cash.
Again he was arrested, and again the police had to release him for lack of evidence. However he and his partner had incurred heavy legal expenses and they were forced to give up their property. Alone now that his family had split up and with his previously settled existence destroyed, Ben Hall felt he had nothing more to lose when he joined a group of bushrangers including Johnny Gilbert and John O'Meally. Meanwhile, Frank Gardiner had escaped to Queensland, taking with him a large share of the loot from the Escort robbery as well as Biddy's younger sister, Kitty.
Over the next 3 years, the Hall-Gilbert gang were involved in hundreds of robberies and there were some sensational episodes. In 1863 they carried out "the raid on Bathurst", when on a Saturday night the gang rode boldly into town, visited a gunshop and a jeweller, bailed up patrons at the Sportsman's Arms, then casually left under cover of darkness, robbing a number of inns and stores as they went.
A few days later they bailed up the village of Canowindra, holding a celebration at Robinson's Hotel where all the local residents were held for 3 days. There was considerable drinking, feasting and merry-making, with even the local constable was coerced into joining the entertainment. The five gang members insisted on paying the hotelier for the spree as a display of their honesty and respect for the common man.
When three police officers from Carcoar chased them after a mail-coach robbery, the pursuers were captured, divested of their uniforms (for use by the Hall Gang in later raids) and tied to trees. Sub-Inspector Norton of the Lachlan District Police was lectured on the folly of police excesses after he was captured by the bushrangers near Forbes.
The prestige and morale of the police was certainly undermined by the bushrangers, and the press took to lampooning their efforts to maintain law and order. But after the killing of a police sergeant during an attack on the Gundagai mail coach, and the murder of Constable Nelson at Collector, the situation became so serious that the New South Wales government enacted special legislation to 'outlaw' the bushrangers, which meant that they could be shot on sight without warning by anyone at any time.
By early 1865, there was 1000 pounds reward being offered for the capture of each member of the gang. Inevitably, perhaps, one of their supporters was tempted by such a huge amount of money to betray them. About the end of April 1865, the gang temporarily split up but they had arranged to meet a few days later at a place on the Billabong Creek near Forbes. This time the police were watching and waiting. At dawn on Friday 5th May, an unsuspecting Ben Hall walked out of the scrub to collect his horses. Eight police opened fire with shotguns and rifles; a few seconds later the bushranger lay dead on the ground with more than thirty bullet wounds.
Ben Hall was buried at Forbes cemetery, two days before his 28th birthday. Nearly two hundred people attended his funeral, such was the widespread sympathy for a young man who had fallen so far. A neat picket fence appeared around the grave and in the 1920s a headstone was erected.
Today it is still frequently adorned with flowers and there is now a renewed interest in Ben Hall's brief but spectacular role in Australia's history.
My thanks go to Peter Bradley, author of 'The Judas Covenant', a new and extensively researched book sub-titled 'The Betrayal and Death of Ben Hall', who updated and corrected parts of this story on our website.
Peter can be contacted on 0412 640 975 or you can see details on the book at www.benhall.net.au
..."A remarkable new book on Ben Hall, in which the exact circumstances of his betrayal and death at the hands of the police is examined in considerable detail."...
Pete Wilkins 2003 Revised Peter Bradley 2007|