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Const Samuel Nelson

On 26th January 1865 news reached the police at Collector that the Hall gang were in the vicinity. The mounted police from Collector set off in pursuit leaving only the lock-up keeper, Constable Samuel Nelson, to protect the town.

The bushrangers were at Geary’s Gap, near Lake George bailing all passers-by. The long slow haul up hill from the lake made easy pickings for the gang. They bailed up three horse teams, nine bullock teams and about thirty people. Later in the day the bushrangers made their way towards Collector having decided to plunder Kimberley’s Inn.

Constable Nelson had spent the day cutting a good supply of wood and tending the garden and was looking forward to a hearty dinner and a quiet evening with his family, including his wife who was eight months pregnant with their ninth child. Suddenly, a young girl came running calling, “Mr Nelson come quickly the bushrangers are at Kimberley’s Inn.” Then a series of shots were heard coming from the direction of the inn.

Samuel Nelson put on his uniform, complete with jacket and belt and armed himself with the only weapon available, an obsolete single shot constabulary carbine with bayonet. His wife looked on and pleaded with him not to go. Nelson is reported to have replied; “Now I am just going to do my best.”

He set off down the street and around the corner walking slowly and deliberately towards the inn. When close to the site he was joined by his eighteen year old son, Frederick, who was unarmed but on hearing of the bushrangers’ raid proceeded to the inn to supports father.

What happened next is best described in Frederick’s own words, “When he [Constable Nelson] got opposite the fence at Kimberley’s, a man jumped up and ordered him to stand; he then fired at my father; my father staggered back; the man then rushed forward and fired at my father a second time; my father then fell; the man then fired at me, but I managed to escape unhurt; sometime afterwards I went back to Kimberley’s, where I found my father dead.” 

The awful scene was also witness by another of Nelson’s son, Henry, who was a captive of the bushrangers and forced to hold their horses while they plundered the hotel.

Kimberley's Inn, early 1900's
Photo: Peter C Smith Collection 
September 2010
Photo: Peter C Smith 

John Dunn eventually stood trial for the murder of Constable Nelson in February, 1866 and the evidence of the witnesses at the trial provide the best source of information as to what happened at Kimberley’s Inn that day. The Sydney Morning Herald of Tuesday 20th February 1866 accurately summed up the statements of the witnesses.

“On the day in question the boy Henry Nelson was on his way from Taradale to Collector, when he was met by Dunn, who called upon him to stand, searched him and then took him about 200 yards, where some drays had been stuck up. Here he joined Ben Hall and Gilbert, all three being upon horseback, each having a revolver, and one a double barrelled gun. They broke open some cases, helped themselves to drink, and gave some to other persons who were there. Here they were informed by a woman that the boy was the son of Constable Nelson. Taking the boy with them they proceeded towards Collector, and on the way came upon James Bull, a farmer, who with Michael and William Davoren and James McKay, his companions, were coming from Millbank. These were ordered to stand, and having been detained for sometime and searched were taken to the nearest public-house, Kimberley’s Commercial Hotel, at Collector. Before getting to the house, one of them said, “Ben, you had better go on.” The three dismounted opposite the inn and ordered the boy to hold their horses telling him that if he let one of them go they would blow his brains out. Thomas Kimberley, the landlord, who was at this time sitting in a room, a little off the bar, hearing a disturbance outside, rose and proceeded towards the door, when he was met by one of the armed men who presented a “pepper-box” revolver at his breast. At this man’s order, Kimberley was directed to come outside; he obeyed, was searched, and with other persons, was commanded to range up by the wall at the front of the house. Ben Hall and Gilbert entered the house, one going upstairs, the other into the store, Dunn being left outside. Mr. Edwards, the clerk of Petty Sessions, was coming up on horseback, when Dunn perceiving him, mounted his horse and pursued him, and fired upon him. When Dunn returned, he said there were constables coming, and exclaimed, “Call Ben Hall down stairs.” Hall came down with two guns in his hand, one of which he gave to Dunn, saying, “You go outside, you can manage them, Jack.” Dunn went away a second time on horseback, but retuned and warned the boy not to let the horses go. He went down to the corner of the fence and bent down, his hand holding the gun, being on the ground. He had not been in this position long, before constable Nelson (the only constable in town) approached by the road from the township along the fence, armed with a carbine and fixed bayonet. When about ten or twelve yards off the corner where Dunn had placed himself, Dunn jumped up exclaiming, “Stand! Go back”, almost immediately firing a shot from the revolver. Nelson staggered a few paces towards the prisoner, who the fired from the gun, and Nelson fell. Frederick Nelson, his son, who had followed his father, was close to the spot just before this happened, and was pursued by Dunn but managed to escape from him. This occurred about dusk. Dunn then returned to the front of the house, saying, “I’ve shot one of the b------- traps, the other has bolted.” Hall, who, with Gilbert, had come out of the house, said they had better go and see who it was. Gilbert took Nelson’s belt saying, “It’s just what I wanted, I’ve burst mine.” And Dunn took his carbine. They then fetched a lot of things out of the house, boots, clothes etc, packed them upon the horses and made off. Nelson’s body was brought to the inn, life being extinct.”

On 27th January a post mortem examination by Dr. Hanford of Goulburn found, “a wound on the left side of the face, a ball having entered there and penetrated to the thick muscles of the back of the neck, and another wound which entered the left side of the chest, broke several ribs, lacerated the heart, the wire cartridge turned its course eventually embedding in the liver. The immediate cause of death was laceration of the heart.”  

Samuel Nelson was born at Chesterton, Oxfordshire, England on 9th September, 1827. He married Elizabeth Goode. The couple, with four children, Frederick, 6, Henry, 4, Jonas, 2, and Matilda, born at sea,  arrived in Australia on the ‘Parsee’ on 17th January, 1853.

Samuel’s occupation was listed as labourer although both he and Elizabeth could read and write. They proceeded to a property, ‘Barakula’, near the Darling Downs, in what is now Queensland, where Samuel was employed as a labourer. On 5th August, 1857 Samuel joined the New South Wales Police force and settled at Collector, where five more children were born, Emma, 1857, Samuel, 1860, David, 1862, Thomas, 1864, Arthur, 1865.

Samuel Nelson was buried at Collector in the cemetery next to the police station. The community rallied around the family and raised funds to purchase a farm for Elizabeth and her family. The farm was stocked with livestock and items of necessity to ensure Elizabeth and her family would be provided for. Sons, Frederick and Henry were to run the farm. The government also provided a pension of fifty pounds (almost a full salary for a police constable) for ten years.

Within months of the murder of Nelson the Hall gang was destroyed. Ben Hall was shot on 5th May, Gilbert on 13th May. Dunn, remained at large, until 26th December. He was captured near Quambone, after fierce resistance and wounding another policeman, constable McHale.

Dunn was tried before the Chief Justice, Sir Alfred Stephen. and found guilty of the murder of Samuel Nelson. In summing up the Chief Justice addressed the following comments to John Dunn:

“Was it nothing to you to shoot brutally, and murder a poor man like that? Talk of bravery- I know no greater bravery than was displayed on this occasion by Constable Nelson. The town was deserted by the police, who had been put upon a wrong scent, and he was left alone. A little girl tells him the bushrangers are at Kimberley’s and what does he do? ‘I will go down and see what I can do alone’, such a sentiment can only be equaled by his namesake, who expected ‘every man to do his duty.’

Nelson went to do his duty, and met his death; it was a most brutal murder, and it is impossible for anyone to sympathize with you. The unhappy man is not only shot dead, but you at once return to your companions, and the others who were at your peril and made use of the most filthy expressions, you talk in this beastly and insulting way to men whom you had covered by revolvers, and firearms pointed at their heads, spoke to them insultingly when they were helpless- That was your courage and here is your bravery.”

Sentence was then passed and Dunn was duly hanged on 19th March, 1866.   

  Constable Nelson's grave, Collector, September 2010
Photo: Peter C Smith 

Peter C Smith.

Samuel Nelson 1827 – 1865
Photo: Edgar F Penzig Collection