In the pantheon of Australian bushrangers Ben Hall holds a special place. Noted for his handsome features, riding skills, politeness to women – and those hostages he had taken – he became known as “Brave Ben Hall” and achieved a degree of popularity and admiration despite his extensive list of criminal activities.
Ben Hall was born in 1837 at Maitland in New South Wales. Like most lads born in the Australian rural areas at the time he became an expert bushman and horseman and was reportedly a crack shot.
He entered adulthood in a promising fashion, marrying and becoming father to a young boy, Henry, in 1859, at 22 years of age. He also started up a lease on a pastoral run near Forbes in New South Wales.
What tipped young Ben over to the wrong side of the law is not fully understood, but his wife left him in early 1862 to live with another man, and soon after Hall linked up with the bushranger Frank Gardiner to begin a life of crime.
As a member of Gardiner’s gang he participated in the infamous robbery of the gold escort coach near Eugowra on 15 June 1862, a robbery that produced banknotes and gold worth some £14,000 – a massive sum for the day.
Hall became one of the principals of another gang during the early 1860’s, and this group was responsible for a large number of robberies, mail coach hijackings, theft of racehorses and the “bailing up” up of several townships, including Canowindra, Bathurst and Collector. However these were deadly games, and two gang members were shot dead during this time, along with two police officers who were killed by gang members John Gilbert and John Dunn. Although Hall was present he was not directly involved in the murders.
By 1865, the authorities had had enough and Hall and his gang, by this time consisting of just Hall, Gilbert and Dunn were to be declared outlaws, meaning they could be shot on sight, with no questions asked.
On 5th May 1865 Hall was ambushed by a police party at Goobang Creek, near Forbes, where he was shot dead. The legislation to declare the gang “outlaws” had been proposed but not formally ratified, so the circumstances of this shooting attracted considerable controversy.
John Gilbert was shot dead by police just eight days later and John Dunn was captured in December near Coonamble. He went to the gallows at Darlinghurst Gaol on 19th March 1866.
Image: A painting of Hall, based on a photographic portrait taken c 1860, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.