“Bushranger” is a uniquely Australian term for the lawless characters who roamed the fringes of civilised districts seeking out easy money through robbery and violence. The word was first used in the Sydney Gazette in 1805, referring to a wild assortment of escaped convicts, deserters from the military and disillusioned free immigrants; full-bearded, dirty, and afraid of nothing.
The gold rushes of the 1850s saw the heyday of these bushrangers, but they had pretty much disappeared by the late 1880s as better police tactics, technology and burgeoning population made it harder for them to hide out in the bush for the long periods necessary.
The most famous bushranger was certainly Ned Kelly, but Captain Thunderbolt, John Gilbert, and Frank Gardiner are still well-known. Most interesting of them all, perhaps, was Ben Hall, who became a bushranger for reasons of passion, not lust for wealth or an easy life.
Ben was working as a stockman just out of Forbes, New South Wales. He was strong, reliable and honest. He had no time for bushrangers or lawlessness of any sort, and soon saved enough money to buy a small place of his own.
He married a local girl called Bridget in 1856, but she proved not to return Ben’s steadfast love and loyalty. Falling in love with a flash young stockman, she took hers and Ben’s child to be with her lover. Ben was heartbroken, but that wasn’t the end of it. When she was seduced and bedded by a policeman Ben swore vengeance on that “trap” and all his kind. Ben Hall took to the bush he knew so well, the remote Wedden Mountains, and became one of the most feared men of his generation.
Despite this reputation, he robbed only from the rich, mainly mail coaches with their rich burden of gold. According to folklore Ben Hall never killed a man, right up to that fateful day in 1865, when police found him alone at his campsite at Billabong Creek.
According to the testimony of one of the policemen in the party that killed Ben Hall, Sub-inspector James Henry Davidson:
I levelled a double-barrelled gun and fired one shot. I believe I hit him, for he halted and looked back. Sergeant Condell and Billy then fired. I think they both hit him; we fired pretty close together.
Condell and Billy were running a little in my rear, about fifteen yards to my left; Hall ran about sixty yards to a few saplings, and caught hold of one. I think he was then mortally wounded. The four constables and tracker then came across. I think Hall saw them coming, for he changed his course; they fired; I was then within thirty yards, when Hipkiss fired his revolving rifle.
I noticed Hall’s revolver belt fall to the ground. Hall, still holding to the sapling, gradually fell back; altogether, thirty shots were fired. Several were fired after Hipkiss fired; I fancy he was shot in the head after that. He spoke afterwards. He said, “I’m wounded, shoot me dead.
When they carried Ben Hall’s corpse into Forbes he had nine bullet wounds, four of which might have been fatal.
Researched and written by Greg Barron. Click here to view the sources for this story.