150th Anniversary Clarke Brothers Capture
Maitland 2016

John Peisley

John Peisley was born in Bathurst (NSW) in 1835. He lived with his parents, Thomas and Elizabeth, in the Abercrombie District. The Peisleys were well known settlers whose house was reputed to be a den of thieves. Believing wrongly that "cattle-duffing is not stealing", young John got himself in trouble and had to serve a prison sentence on Cockatoo Island. There he met the notorious bushranger Frank Gardiner, who had an enormous influence on him. John was aged twenty six in March 1861 when he received his ticket-of-leave, - now determined to take up his life of crime - and soon after his release many robberies of travellers were reported on the roads in the Goulbourn, Abercrombie, Cowra and Lambing Flat Districts. Gardiner, who had received his ticket-of-leave as well, joined him, so did another former prisoner named McKenzie, and also another bushranger, Johnny Gilbert, joined in occasionally. A reward of fifty pounds was offered for the reward of Peisley, but his sticking-up increased with robbing bullock drivers and mail coaches on their way from Gundagai to Yass. And yet, this man had the cheek to write to the editor of the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal on 4th of September:

"Sir, I am no doubt a desperado in the eyes of the law, but never in no instance did I ever use violence, nor did I ever use rudeness to any of the fair sex, and I must be the Invisible Prince to commit one tenth of what is laid to my charge. I love my native hills, I love freedom and detest cruelty to man or beast...."

On Christmas day 1861, Peisley, who was a heavy drinker and possessed a violent temper, arrived at the Inn of Tom McGuiness near Bigga where he took part in a heavy drinking binge for three days. On the 28th he visited an old acquaintance William Benyon, who he remembered he had a grudge against over a horse, and challenged him to a 'Run, Jump or Fight' competition for ten pounds,. An argument erupted and fight ensued, whereby Benyon was struck to the ground. William's brother, Stephen Benyon, came to his assistance and after tackling Peisley, was also left lying on the ground. Peisley fetched a knife from the kitchen and threatened to plunge it into William's chest, but Stephen came up from behind and struck Peisley to the back of the head with a spade. Peisley threw the knife into the corner and agreed to leave. Some half hour later Peisley returned and following another struggle, shot William Benyon in the neck. When the poor man died a week later from this fatal wound, a warrant was issued for the apprehension of Peisley for murder. It took some weeks, but on 29th of January 1862, he tried to stay overnight at McKenzie's Inn at Mundarlo, where some of the staff became suspicious of him. After a short scuffle, the murderer of William Benyon was captured by Messrs. McKenzie (no relation to the ex-prisoner McKenzie mentioned above) James Campbell and James Beveridge. He was handed over to the police, tried for murder at Bathurst, and sentenced to death.

On the 25th April he stood on the gallows of Bathurst Gaol and tried to make a speech. He said that he had never used violence during his bushranging until that row with Benyon, that he never showed violence towards women and never took away money from them. He blamed everyone but himself for the crimes he had committed, and he went on and on for quite a time.

"Good bye, gentlemen, and God bless you!" he finally concluded...... and the hangman pulled the lever ....