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150th Anniversary Clarke Brothers Capture
Maitland 2016

Ben Hall

by Edgar F. Penzig

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Ben Hall (1837-1865), bushranger, is believed to have been born on 9 May 1837 at Maitland, New South Wales, son of Benjamin Hall and his wife Elizabeth; both parents were ex-convicts. He became a stockman and with John Macguire leased a run, Sandy Creek, near Wheogo. On 29 February 1856 at Bathurst he married according to Roman Catholic rites Bridget Walsh of Wheogo. Her sister became Frank Gardiner's mistress. On the orders of Sir Frederick Pottinger, Hall was arrested in April 1862 at a race meeting for armed robbery but was acquitted. By then his wife had left him taking their infant son Henry. In July he was detained for his share in the Eugowra gold escort robbery. He was not committed for trial. Escalating legal costs probably forced Hall and Macguire to quit the lease of Sandy Creek. On 14 March 1863 Hall's home was burnt down by Pottinger. Embittered, Hall joined John Gilbert and became leader of a gang of bushrangers.

Hall was probably the most efficient of the bushranger leaders. His men were well armed and superbly mounted, often on stolen race-horses which easily outpaced the police nags. Some of their holdups seem designed only to defy the police: on their daredevil raid on Bathurst in October 1863 they took little loot and at Canowindra they offered food, drink and festivity to all for three days, but drank little themselves and left the town empty-handed. On 24 October in a raid on Henry Keightley's homestead at Dunn's Plains Burke was shot. Hall prevented Vane from shooting Keightley in revenge and accepted the £500 ransom procured by Mrs Keightley. Vane surrendered and in November O'Meally was shot. While Gilbert visited Victoria, Hall was joined by 'The Old Man' (James Mount) and Dunleavy, neither of whom lasted long. Gilbert returned and John Dunn joined the gang. In 1864 they concentrated on the Sydney-Melbourne Road south of Goulburn. On 15 November they held the road near Jugiong and robbed some sixty travellers; while holding up the Gundagai-Yass mail Gilbert shot Sergeant Parry. On 27 January 1865 Constable Nelson was shot at Collector by Dunn. Under the Felons Apprehension Act, passed in April, individuals could be proclaimed outlaws, whom any person was permitted to shoot without warning; proclamations declaring Hall and his companions outlaws were to be gazetted on 10 May. Their only safety was to keep on the move. Hall with £1000 on his head decided to quit but was betrayed by an informer. On 5 May he was ambushed and shot by the police near Goobang Creek on the Lachlan plain. His body, riddled with gunshot wounds, was buried in the cemetery at Forbes. His funeral was 'rather numerously attended' for his reckless courage, courtesy to women, humour and hatred of informers had won him a sympathy not shared by his more bloodthirsty colleagues.