John Vane - Bushranger
Australia had two principal bushranging gangs and John Vane was a member of Ben Hall's Gang which plied the roads and hills of western New South Wales - The other was the Kelly gang which operated in northern Victoria.
John Vane was born at Jerrys Plains, near Fell Timber Creek and Carcoar in western New South Wales on June 16th. 1842 to a carpenter, William Vane and his wife Ann. They were a respected family having arrived as Free Settlers and young John grew up with a reasonable education although he didn't attend a formal school, and developed a reputation for his horse-riding ability. His love of horses led him to an apprenticeship as a blacksmith and he gained occasional work as a stockman.
A handsome youth he stood over 6 ft., had a keen sense of humour, and was popular.
When he was just 6 years old his parents moved to a station property near the Weddin Mountains and he learned to ride, gaining occasional work as a stockman. When the family returned to the Bathurst area he also worked for a while as a shepherd.
At age 14 he gained an apprenticeship as a trainee blacksmith in Bathurst but found it unrewarding and boring and joined the miners at the Turon Gold Diggings where he saved a bit of money and, had he taken the straight and narrow, could well have prospered.
Instead, he became friendly with a younger boy, Mickey Burke, and the pair began petty crimes like stealing horses and rustling cattle to make easy money.
Within a short time they and some other youths stole over 100 head of cattle which they sold for around £500 and Vane and a friend headed for the local Cheshire Hotel to celebrate. Whilst there, a Chinaman passed on the way from the Trunkey gold diggings and they determined to relieve him of his gold. Vane stole a pistol from behind the bar and the two held him up.
This was the first serious crime Vane was involved in, but it led to a warrant being issued for his arrest, and he took to the bush for a while for things to blow over.
It was around this time that he and Mickey Burke met John Gilbert and John O'Meally, members of Ben Hall's gang who had heard of their exploits and invited them to join Hall and themselves to strengthen the gang. Vane was still only 20, but they had earned a reputation for daring after stealing a famous racehorse 'Comus 11', and a gelding, from the stables of Mr Thomas Icely at Coombing Park Station, shooting a groom in the face as they escaped.
In August 1863, the gang held up several miners and raided Demondrille Station near Cootamundra. They encountered a party of troopers and escaped after a gunfight. In September they robbed the Cowra to Bathurst mail coach, and on the 24th. of September robbed a store in Caloola, and they terrorised several homesteads around Bathurst and Cowra. A reward of £500 each was posted on the outlaws but they became even more audacious.
On the 24th of October they attacked the station homestead of Gold Commissioner Henry Keightley at Dunn's Plains. They encountered opposition from Keightley and a guest, and in the battle Mickey Burke was shot and fatally wounded. Vane was enraged and mortified at the loss of his friend and shortly after left the gang to wander the bush alone.
He was persuaded by the Rev. Father Tim McCarthy to surrender to police and on the 19th of November, accompanied by McCarthy, turned himself in to Police Magistrate Dawson at Bathurst Court House. He was tried in April 1864 and received a sentence of 15 years for Robbery Under Arms and was released in February 1870.
For a while he remained in Sydney working as a stonemason on St. Mary's Cathedral before retuning to to the western districts and resuming his old ways.
Still a reasonably young man of only 38 he was sentenced to 3 months gaol for stealing at Carcoar and, later, at Bathurst in 1880, to five years for sheep stealing, most of which he served at Berrima Prison in the Southern Highlands.
Released in the 1890s he worked for a time as a stationhand on Brown's Crosshills Station and shortly before his death in January 1906, like Martin Cash, wrote his memoirs which were published in newspapers.
He was buried in Woodstock cemetery in an unmarked grave after dying a peaceful death due to old age in Cowra Hospital. The only survivor of the infamous Ben Hall gang.

Pete Wilkins 2013

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