Ben Hall

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Ben Hall

Ben Hall
Born 9 May 1837
Matitland New South Wales
Died 5 May 5 1865
At Billabong Creek, near Forbes New South Wales
Cause of death Shot
Spouse Bridget Walsh

Ben Hall (9 May 1837 —– 5 May 1865) was an Australian bush ranger. A bush ranger is a thief who roamed the countryside and country towns of Australia, usually escaping on horseback, like a highwayman. Most bush rangers were simply criminals and thieves. Ben Hall is one of the few bush-rangers, like Ned Kelly, who were thought of as outlaw heroes.

Ben Hall lived at a time when gold had been discovered in New South Wales and Victoria. Thousands of people went out to the places where gold had been discovered to "seek their fortunes" and hoping to get rich. Like many bush rangers, Ben Hall and his gang robbed coaches that were carrying gold from the goldfields. Ben Hall was able to avoid being arrested by the police for many years because he had many friends and relatives to help him.

Background: the outlaw hero[change | change source]

In folklore, a typical outlaw hero is a farmer or other innocent person who is forced into crime by cruel police or government actions. Ben Hall is part of a long history of outlaw heroes that includes people like Robin Hood in England and Jesse James in the United States.[1] The outlaw hero is said to be a friend of the poor, kind to women and children, and an enemy of the rich. He is said to have died bravely in a battle against the more powerful forces of the law.[1] Ben Hall has been seen by people in Australia as such a hero; others see him as a very clever criminal who stole a lot of money.

Early life[change | change source]

Ben Hall was born on 9 May 1837, at Wallis Plains, near Maitland,[2][3] in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. His parents were Benjamin Hall (born in Bristol, England, 1802) and Eliza Somers (born in Dublin, Ireland, 1807). Both of his parents were convicts and sent to gaol in New South Wales. They married in 1834. Ben was their fourth child. After they were let out of gaol, they moved to the Hunter Valley. Benjamin worked for Samuel Clift on a farm called the "Doona Run". Around 1839, Benjamin moved to a remote valley, north of Murrurundi. He built a hut and began farming cattle. He also found wild cattle and horses in the nearby hills. In 1842, he bought a small block of land at Haydonton, near Murrurundi, and started a butcher shop.[4] The family worked hard, but there were problems with the police over stolen cattle and horses.[5] Near the end of 1850, Benjamin moved down to the Lachlan River area, taking his children, Ben, William, and Mary, and his stepson, Thomas Wade.

Sandy Creek[change | change source]

After his father died in 1851, Ben worked on many cattle farms along the Lachlan River. He was known as a hard-working and honest stockman.[6] On 29 February 1856, at the age of 19, Hall married Bridget Walsh (1841–1923), a farmer's daughter, at Bathurst.[2] On 7 August 1859, they had a son, whom they named Henry. One of Bridget's sisters was the mistress (lover) of bushranger Frank Gardiner; another sister married John Maguire. In 1860, Ben Hall and John Maguire leased the "Sandy Creek" farm of 10,000 acres (4,047 ha) about 50 km (31 mi) south of Forbes. Hall built a house, sheds and stockyards. He raised cattle and sold them at the Lambing Flat goldfield. He met Frank Gardiner who had a butchers shop at Lambing Flat.

Bushranger[change | change source]

Historians are unsure why, but Hall's life changed. By early 1862, his marriage was in trouble. Biddy left Ben and moved in with a neighbour, Jim Taylor, taking young Henry with her.[7] There were many criminals living and working in the area where Hall lived. He became friends with Frank Gardiner. Gardiner was already wanted for robbery and had shot two policemen before escaping. On April 14, 1862 Gardiner and Hall robbed three bullock wagon drivers.[5] One week later the drivers saw him at the Forbes horse races. Police Inspector Sir Frederick Pottinger, who was also at the races, told the police to arrest Ben for using guns in a robbery with Gardiner.[5] The jury at the courthouse at Orange did not think there was enough evidence to show that Hall had been one of the robbers. After he was released,[5] the police kept a close watch on Ben Hall, to see where he went and what he was doing.[8]

Gold escort robbery[change | change source]

the location of the robbery at Eugowra Rocks

On 15 June, 1862, Gardiner and a group of ten men, including Hall, robbed the Forbes gold coach near Eugowra. This coach carrying gold from the gold fields had an escort of police to guard it. The gang stole more than £14,000 in gold and money. This is about US$4 million in 2003 money value. This was Australia's biggest gold robbery.[9] Hall and several others were arrested in July. Once again the police were unable find proof that Hall was one of the robbers. The police let him go at the end of August. When Hall went back to his farm he found his house burned down. His cattle had been left in the stockyards and had died from starvation (not having enough to eat). There are claims that this was done by Pottinger to punish Hall, but not all historians agree.[7][10] Hall and John Maguire needed money to pay their legal costs. They were forced to sell the lease of their farm at "Sandy Creek" to a Forbes hotel owner called John Wilson.

With his wife, young son, and his farm gone, Ben Hall slowly moved into a life of crime as a bushranger. On 1 March 1863, Hall and bushrangers Patrick Daley (Patsy) and John O'Meally, were nearly captured in the Weddin mountains by Police Inspector Norton and black tracker Billy Dargin.[7] Black trackers were aboriginals used by the police for their skills in following people in the bush. After shooting at each other, Norton was captured and robbed. Dargin managed to escape into the bush.[7] Hall and Daley chased Dargin through the bush for 8 mi (13 km). When they caught him they told him they admired his bravery. They let him go, but told him they would rob the police camp that night.[11] While the police were out looking for them, the gang stole guns and ammunition from the police camp. The police chased them but the gang had stolen better and faster horses and easily escaped.[7]

Ben Hall's Gang[change | change source]

Frank Gardiner went to Queensland to hide from the police after the Eugowra robbery. Hall took over as leader of the gang. For three years Hall carried out well-planned and daring crimes.[6] They robbed mainly farmhouses, stagecoaches carrying mail and gold, and country hotels.[12] Hall's gang included John Gilbert as his lieutenant, his main helper. In 1863 the other three members were John O'Meally, John Vane and Michael Burke. Burke was only 20 years old. He was shot and killed on 24 October 1863, during a robbery at Henry Keightley's house at Dunn's Plains. Vane wanted to shoot Keightley for killing Burke, but Ben Hall stopped him. Instead he asked for a £500 ransom.[13] Mrs Keightley had to ride to Bathurst at night to get the money from the bank. A few weeks later on 19 November, O'Meally was shot and killed during an attempted robbery on Goimbla Station (farm).[14] Vane gave himself up and was sent to gaol. Two other men, James Mount (called "The Old Man")[13] and John Dunleavy, joined the gang but were soon captured. In May 1864, Hall and Gilbert were joined by John Dunn.[14]

The police seemed powerless to stop the Ben Hall gang. The gang were very busy in the district during 1864. For example:[15]

  • March: held up and robbed at gun point the mail coach between Wellington and Orange
  • March 20: held up and robbed at gun point the mail coach between Wagga Wagga and Yass
  • March: held up and robbed at gun point the mail coach near Cootamundra
  • April 1: held up and robbed at gun point the Groggon Station (farm) near Young, New South Wales taking horses, saddles and food
  • April 11: robbed John Scarr and his brother on the road between Burrowa (now called Boorowa) and Marengo (now called Murringo).
  • April 11: robbed the hotel at Back Creek
  • May 5: robbed carts on the road at Marine Creek, near Gooloogong
  • May 12: tried to rob a man on the road near Forbes
  • May 20: robbed two men on the road between Cowra and Young, near the Bang Bang Hotel
  • May 20: robbed the Bang Bang Hotel. Escaped after a gun fight with police
  • May 23: robbed a man called Ah Too near Burrowa
  • May 25: robbed three men camped at Cudgell's Creek
  • May 28: held up and robbed at gun point the mail coach between Young and Yass. Robbed all the people on the road during the two hours they waited for the coach.
  • May 28: tried to hold up the mail coach near Binalong. Hall was wounded during a gunfight with policeman, Constable Gill.
  • May 29: robbed a farm near Binalong, taking a horse, saddle and bridle
  • June: robbed a farm at Marengo belonging to John Pring
  • June 13: robbed a farm belonging to Charles Dunleavy, taking guns and food
  • June 23: robbed a store at Canowindra and burnt all the account books. Took the owner as a hostage and tried to get £300 for his release.
  • June 24: tried to rob a farm belonging to Mr. Rothery, but burnt the haystack instead
  • July 7: held up and robbed at gun point the mail coach between Bathurst and Carcoar. Also robbed the coach going the other way.

Canowindra robbery[change | change source]

Hall's gang robbed Robinson's Hotel in Canowindra and held all the people of the town hostage for three days. Nobody was hurt and Hall even got the people to play music and dance. The local policeman was locked in his own cell. When the people were set free, Hall paid them money. The gang paid the hotel owner for the food and drink that they had used.[13] The capture of the town is made famous in a song called John Gilbert.[16]

Jugiong robbery[change | change source]

Sergeant Parry's grave at Gundagai

The gang was regularly robbing people and holding up the mail coaches, south of Goulburn on the main Sydney to Melbourne Road.[13] On 15 November 1864, the gang tried to rob the Gundagai-Yass mail coach near Jugiong. While waiting for the coach, the gang captured and robbed over 60 people, who were traveling along the road.[14] One of those captured was a policeman, James McLaughlin. He fired six shots at the gang, but did not have any more ammunition and gave himself up.[17] The policeman on the coach, William Roche, was ordered by Police Magistrate Alfred Rose, who was riding inside, not to shoot and draw fire. The driver, Bill Geoghegan, ordered him to get off the coach or he would kick him off. Hall and Dunn began firing at two other policemen who were riding behind the coach. Sub-Inspector William O'Neill was quickly captured.[17] John Gilbert and Sergeant Edmund Parry were shooting at each other from a close distance. Gilbert shot dead Sergeant Parry.[13] Constable Roche escaped into the bush. The gang quickly took all the money and valuable items and rode away. Parry is buried at Gundagai. On his headstone it says "Edmund Parry, Sergeant of the N.S.W. Police, who lost his life in the execution (doing) of his duty whilst courageously (bravely) endeavouring (trying) to capture the bushranger Gilbert by whom he was shot dead near Jugiong."[18] Two days later the gang robbed the mail coach between Yass and Lambing Flat. On December 5, they robbed the mail coach between Binalong and Burrowa.[17]

Binda robbery[change | change source]

On Boxing Day, 1864, Hall, John Gilbert, and John Dunn, rode into the town of Binda with three local girls. The girls were Christina McKinnon aged 25, believed to be Hall's lover, Ellen Monks aged 17, and her sister Margaret Monks, aged 19.[19] Together with the girls the gang robbed a shop owned by Edward Morriss.[19] They locked all the local people into the Flag Hotel. They made everyone dance to celebrate Boxing Day. Morriss got out of the hotel through a back window at 2.00 a.m. and set off to tell the police. Gilbert fired several shots at him. Hall got angry and so he set fire to Morriss's shop and burned it down.[20] The gang and the girls left the town. Christina McKinnon and Ellen Monks were arrested for helping the bushrangers and were sent to Sydney for trial. Morriss joined the police force.[19]

Pottinger's plan[change | change source]

The police were under a lot of pressure to catch the Ben Hall gang. The gang had been able to travel around the country and go anywhere they liked. They made the police look like fools. Sir Frederick Pottinger came up with an unusual plan. He knew the gang liked race horses and horse racing; they had been seen at many country race meetings. Pottinger planned to ride in the races at Wowingragong, near Forbes, on 5 January 1865.[21] He thought this would bring the gang out into the open where his men would be able to capture them. The Ben Hall gang did not appear, and Pottinger lost his job. The Inspector-General of Police thought that Pottinger had disgraced the police force by riding in races while he was supposed to be working. Pottinger decided to go to Sydney to make the police force change its mind, but on the way he accidentally shot himself and died.[21]

Death of Constable Nelson[change | change source]

On 26 January 1865, the gang held up ten people on the road near Goulburn. They were chased into the bush by a group of policemen. A couple of hours later the gang rode into the town of Collector. Hall and Gilbert robbed the Commercial Hotel.[19] John Dunn stayed outside. When the local policeman, Constable Nelson, arrived, Dunn shot him dead at close range. One of Nelson's nine children saw the shooting. Gilbert robbed Nelson's body of money and other valuables and took his gun.[19] They left the town quickly and went into hiding.[22]

The police put more effort into the hunt for the bushrangers. In February they went to a house near Queanbeyan and found the gang had only just left.[23] The police thought that the gang might be with a friend, Thomas Byrne. They went to the Breadalbane Hotel and arrested four men that were known to be friends of the gang. This would stop them giving the bushrangers any warnings. The police surrounded Byrne's farm. As they moved passed the open door of the barn, the bushrangers began shooting. One policeman, Wiles, was shot in the hand and the leg. The bushrangers escaped into the bush, but Ben Hall was shot as he ran away.[23]

The Araluen robbery[change | change source]

On 4 March 1865, the gang robbed the mail coach at between Goulburn and Gundaroo.[23] A couple of days later they stole horses from two farms. On March 13, the gang tried to hold up the Araluen gold coach. Gold had been found at Araluen in the 1860s. The gold coach had a policeman with a gun sitting next to the driver. There were two more policemen on the back of the carriage. Four more policemen rode on horses in front and behind the coach. The gold was kept in a safe which was bolted to floor of the coach. (The coach has survived and is being restored).[24] The bushrangers began shooting at the coach. Constable Kelly was shot in the chest. He was badly hurt, but he crawled to side of the road and began shooting at the bushrangers. The police were able to keep the bushrangers away from the coach. Another policeman, Trooper Byrne, was shot in the foot. The bushrangers quickly left when miners with guns arrived from the town.[23]

Outlawed[change | change source]

In two years Ben Hall's gang, as well as killing two policemen, had reportedly robbed ten mail coaches, held up 21 properties, stole 23 racing horses, and taken over the village of Canowindra three times.[25]

In early 1865, the government made a new law to help capture Ben Hall, John Gilbert and John Dunn. The Felons Apprehension Act was rushed quickly through the New South Wales Parliament. They made Hall and his friends "outlaws". This meant that they could be killed by anyone at any time without warning. They also put a reward of £1000 for the capture of Ben Hall.[23]

The bushrangers still kept busy robbing people. They robbed a farm, Wallendbeen Station, and wanted to know where the police were. A group of Chinese gold miners were robbed and one was shot in the leg by Gilbert. The next day, 18 March, the police found the gang trying to take horses from Wallendbeen.[26] In the shooting, Gilbert shot Senior Constable Keane in the shoulder. Sergeant Murphy shot Gilbert in the arm. The gang escaped into the bush. They made their way to a shepherd's hut and forced the shepherd to put a bandage on Gilbert's arm. Hall and Dunn walked to a nearby farm, Beggan Beggan station. They held up the 16 farm workers and took horses, saddles and bridles. They went back to get Gilbert and then robbed the farm again, taking guns, ammunition, and food.[26]

Hall, Gilbert and Dunn robbed the bank in Forbes and took £81 on 25 March. More police were sent to the area, and they were given better guns.[26] A month later the gang were seen near Marengo. Two days later they took horses and food from another farm, Yamma station. This was the gang's last robbery.[26]

Capture and death[change | change source]

By May 1865, Ben Hall decided to leave New South Wales. But a man, Goobang Mick, who had once given the gang help, told the police where Hall was hiding. During the night a group of eight policemen found Hall sleeping under a tree at Billabong Creek, near Forbes. The police were armed with double-barrelled shotguns and .56 calibre Colt rifles. Led by sub-Inspector Davidson the police placed themselves in a large circle around Ben Hall.[27] When he woke up at dawn on 5 May 1865, Hall was shot in the back 30 times as he tried to run away. A newspaper report said his body was "riddled" with bullets.[27] He did not shoot his pistol once. The first rifle shots of the police cut his belt in two, and his guns fell to the ground.[28] Goobang Mick was given a £500 reward. The police were given another £500 reward.[8]

Ben Hall's body was put in a sack, tied to a horse and taken back to Forbes.[28] An official inquest was held in the court house to find out how he died. Ben Hall was buried in Forbes Cemetery on Sunday, 7 May 1865.[29] A lot of people went to see him buried.[27] The first wooden grave marker and fence were burnt in a bushfire. Two brothers from Forbes, the Pengilly brothers, put a headstone on the grave in the 1920s.[30] The tree that Hall slept under before he was shot dead became an attraction. People in the 1920s were still able to see bullets in the tree trunk. The tree was destroyed in a bushfire in 1926.[30] His grave is well looked after and many people still come to look at it.[31] Ben Hall's gun, a Colt pistol is now in the National Library of Australia.[32]

Gilbert and Dunn were nearly caught by the police a week later at Binalong. Gilbert was shot dead as he tried to run away. Dunn got away, but six months later a friend told the police where Dunn was hiding. He was captured, tried for murder and hanged in Sydney on 19 March 1866.[26]

Hall, still remembered[change | change source]

In 2007, Peter Bradley, a descendant of Hall's younger brother Henry, said he wanted to reopen the inquest into the bushranger's death. Bradley said that the Felon Apprehension Act was not yet law when Hall was killed. The first inquest found that Hall was deliberately killed, but this was allowed because the new law meant Hall was an outlaw.[33] The parliament had passed the law on April 12, but it did not become law until May 10. This was five days after Hall was shot to death by police.[33]

There is memorial called "Ben Hall's Wall" at Breeza,[34] south of Gunnedah, New South Wales. "Ben Halls Gap National Park" is a small section of State Forest south of Nundle, New South Wales.[35] It is not named after the bushranger, but after his father, Benjamin Hall.

Hall in popular culture[change | change source]

Ben Hall, about 25 years old

Music[change | change source]

Many folk songs celebrate Hall's life and actions. These include:

Movies[change | change source]

  • Ben Hall, Notorious Bush Ranger, also called A Tale of the Australian Bush[44] – made in Sydney in 1911. Script by Patrick William Marony. Directed by Gaston Mervale. No copies have survived.[45]
  • Ben Hall and His Gang – made in 1911. Directed by Jack Gavin and written by Agnes Gavin. Starring Jack Gavin as Ben Hall. Black and white silent movie, 33 minutes long.[46]
  • Ben Halltelevision show about Ben Hall was made in 1975. The BBC (England), and the ABC (Australia) worked together to make the series. It starred Jon Finch as Ben Hall. The director was Neil McCallum.[47] The theme music for the show was written by Bruce Smeaton and played by the Bushwackers. The Bushwackers also had the song on their album "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda".[48]

Art[change | change source]

The story of Hall has been shown in many works of art.

Theatre[change | change source]

Hall's story has also been told on the stage:

  • Lester Bellingham wrote Bail Up, sometime between 1887–1898, a drama based on Mrs. Keightley's famous ride to Bathurst to save her husband's life[53]
  • Australian writer, Barry Dickins, wrote a one man play called "The Epiphany of Ben Hall." It was performed in Grenfell, Cowra, Parkes and Forbes in 2007.[54]

Books[change | change source]

  • Nick Bleszynski – You'll Never Take Me Alive – the life and death of bushranger Ben Hall (2005) – ISBN 1740512812
  • Peter Bradley – The Judas Covenant – the betrayal and death of Ben Hall[55]
  • Jackie FrenchDancing with Ben Hall – a collection of true stories. (1997) ISBN 0207187479. Jackie lives at Araluen, where Hall tried to rob the gold coach.
  • Frank McClune – Ben Hall the Bushranger. (1947)
  • Edgar F. Penzig – The Sandy Creek Bushranger – a definitive history of Ben Hall, his gang and associates (1985) ISBN 0958883610[56]
  • Edgar F. Penzig – Ben Hall : the definitive illustrated history. (1996)

References[change | change source]

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  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Wilson, Chris (February 2000). "Ben Hall – Bushranger Part 1" (html). Gold Net Australia On Line Magazine. http://www.gold-net.com.au/archivemagazines/feb20/78152744.html#7. Retrieved December 14, 2008.
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Australian Encyclopaedia: Volume 4. 1958. p. 413.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Wilson, Chris (March 2000). "Ben Hall – Bushranger Part 2" (html). Gold Net Australia On Line Magazine. http://www.gold-net.com.au/archivemagazines/mar20/43509014.html#7. Retrieved December 14, 2008.
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  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 "Wild Colonial Boys – Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall, and John Gilbert". Eureka Council Objective 5. Teaching Australian History: Bushrangers. Eureka Council. http://www.eurekacouncil.com.au/5-Australia-History/History-Pages/1851-Wild_Colonial_Boys.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-24.
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  33. 33.0 33.1 "Family seeks justice for Bold Ben's demise", – Meacham, Steve, The Age, March 31, 2007
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  39. "Streets of Forbes". Martin Carthy Discography. http://www.informatik.uni-hamburg.de/~zierke/martin.carthy/songs/streetsofforbes.html. Retrieved 2008-08-13.
  40. "Chris & Siobhan Nelson". www.informatik.uni-hamburg.de. http://www.informatik.uni-hamburg.de/~zierke/folk/records/csnelson.html#dayhasdawned. Retrieved 2009-03-28.
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