|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 1862, Ben Hall was arrested as a suspected accomplice in a holdup near Forbes and spent a month in gaol before charges against him were dropped. During his month of detention his life was turned upside down. His wife Bridget ran off with a former policeman; his home was vandalised and burned, and the cattle on his previously successful property had either strayed or been stolen.
Devastated and disillusioned by these events when he returned to his small spread, and caring little for his future or welfare, Hall joined the gang of notorious bushranger Frank Gardiner, who roamed the nearby Weddin Mountains, Hall took part in the infamous Eugowra Rocks robbery, with the Gardiner gang and shared in the $14,000 spoils it provided. When Gardiner and most of the gang members separated, he returned to the Weddin Mountains and assumed leadership of the remaining bushrangers.
In the following 3 years Hall surpassed his predecessors with the number and audacity of his raids, which included mail robberies and race-horse thefts. Public officials, including police, were captured and often humiliated. Homesteads,and whole towns were raided. Once, in a 3 day celebration at Robinson's Hotel in Canowindra, there was considerable drinking, feasting and merry-making, Świth even the local constable coerced into the merriment. The 5 gang members then insisted on paying the hotelier for the spree as a display of their honesty and respect for the common man,
When 3 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. The Officer in Charge of the Lachlan District was subsequently lectured on the folly of Police excesses while being robbed and, when Inspector Sir Frederick Pottinger gave chase, the gang relieved him of his horse.
The prestige of the New South Wales Police was not only undermined by the bushrangers, but the press took to lampooning their efforts to maintain law and order. After the killing of a police sergeant during a robbery, the situation became serious to the New South Wales government and Ben Hall, Charlie Gilbert and Johnny Dunn were called on to surrender or be 'outlawed'
The trio were the first in Australia's history to be the recipients of 'outlaw' status, an extreme measure, rarely invoked, which meant they could be shot dead by anyone in the community. Hall's reaction was to promise 'They'll never hang Ben Hall'.
A week later he was dead, betrayed by a 'friend' who offered him shelter but was tempted by the $2,000 reward which was on offer. Hall fell gunned down by a dozen police bullets in the ensuing fight and, as he lay dying, pleaded with black-tracker Billy Dargin. 'Shoot me dead Billy...Don't let them take me alive'. he pleaded.A further fusilade from police made his plea unnecessary, he was 27 years of age.
Ben Hall was buried by police at Forbes, with no cross or headstone to mark his final resting place. However, the grave was in a public cemetery and locals tended it. A neat picket fence appeared and it was frequently adorned with flowers. In the 1920's a headstone was erected and the grave upgraded. Further work has been carried out in recent years to ensure Ben Hall's brief but spectacular role in Australia's history.
© Pete Wilkins 2013|
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