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, a second generation native, was born at Jerrys Plains, near Singleton in New South Wales on June 26th. 1842 to a farmer, 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.
In 1850 when he was just 8 years old his parents sent John and his elder brother William (Billy) to Wentworth Gully Station, a property near the Weddin Mountains and it was here that Billy taught John to ride. The brothers worked as stockmen and farm labourers.
At the time his family was living at Triangle Flat near Rockley and the boys returned home the following year after the death of their sister in a house fire. Billy and John would help their father shepherding and cutting timber around the Abercrombie Ranges.
By 1854 Vane's parents were living at Number One Swamp (now Neville). At age 14 he gained an apprenticeship as a trainee blacksmith with Alexander McDonald 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.
Vane spent about 18 months on the goldfields and then worked 3 years for a Mr. Murray driving a bullock team between Orange and Murray's Lachlan property. He then returned to his parents place at Number One Swamp and established himself as a horse and cattle thief, enlisting cousins Mickey and Jim Burke and they would sell their haul throughout the district making handsome profits.


On the afternoon of 12th February 1863 John Vane, his brother Billy, Jim Burke, John McKeller and George Cheshire approached the public house of Michael Boyce at Long Swamp (now Arkell). Boyce reported they had stolen money and silver from him and a lodger. This was the first serious crime Vane was involved in and led to a warrant being issued. All were arrested except Vane who took to the bush hoping things would blow over. The other four were released due to lack of evidence.
It was around this time that Vane and Mickey Burke met John Gilbert and John O'Meally, members of Ben Hall's gang who had heard of their exploits. They were seeking to obtain some fresh horses and, also, make an attempt to rob the Commercial Bank in Carcoar. Vane was still only 20, but had earned a reputation for daring after stealing a famous racehorse 'Comus 11', a gelding, from the stables of Mr Thomas Icely at Coombing Park Station. Iceley's groom, 'German Charley' fired at Burke which went high, Burke returned fire and hit the groom in the lower jaw, causing a nasty wound.
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 for the second time, and they terrorised several homesteads around Bathurst and Cowra, and as far south as Junee. 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, Dr. William Peachey, 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.
In response to the raid on Keightley the reward for each surviving gang member was doubled to £1,000.
Vane 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 Superintendant Morrisset at Bathurst. 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 short period he remained in Sydney working as a stonemason on St. Mary's Cathedral before retuning to to the western districts and resuming his old criminal 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 August 1884 he worked for a number of local properties including 'Blossom Flat' at Triangle Flat, 'Sunny Hill' in the Abercrombie Ranges and Charlie Brown's 'Crosshills Station' at Newbridge. While at Crosshills Vane wrote his memoirs in a exercise book.
Vane died of Ileocolitis (Crohn's Disease) and exhaustion on 30th January 1906 at Cowra General Hospital. He was buried in Woodstock cemetery where a memorial plaque has been placed at the site marking his resting place.
The only survivor of the infamous Ben Hall gang had his memoirs posthumously published by Charles White in 1908.

Thanks to Craig Bratby who assisted in upgrading this information. September 2011.
Pete Wilkins 2003