Ben Hall (bushranger)
Ben Hall, circa 1862
9 May 1837|
Wallis Plains, Maitland, New South Wales, NSW, Australia
|Died||5 May 1865
Goobang Creek, NSW
|Cause of death||Shot by police and aboriginal trackers|
|Resting place||Forbes, NSW|
Ben Hall (9 May 1837 – 5 May 1865) was an Australian bushranger of the 19th century. He and his various companions roamed an area of NSW from Bathurst to Forbes, south to Gundagai and east to Goulburn. He was known as "Brave Ben Hall" and has become part of Australian folklore. Ben Hall carried out many audacious raids, some of which were intended to taunt the police. Unlike many bushrangers of the era, he was not directly responsible for any deaths, although several of his companions certainly were. He was shot dead by police in May 1865 at the Billabong Creek. The police claimed that they were acting under the protection of the Felons Apprehension Act 1865 which allowed any bushrangers who had been specifically named in under the terms of the Act to be shot and killed by anyone at any time without warning. At the time of Hall's death, the Felons Act had not come into force, resulting in considerable controversy over the legality of his killing.
Ben Hall was born on 9 May 1837, at Maitland, New South Wales, Australia now East Maitland, New South Wales (though there was an 1865 newspaper report incorrectly naming Breeza as his birthplace). His parents were Benjamin Hall (born in Bedminster, England, in 1805) and Eliza Somers (born Dublin, Ireland 1807). Both of Ben's parents were convicted for minor stealing offences and transported to New South Wales, and first met each other as convicts. Benjamin received his ticket of leave in August 1832, but it wasn't until 1834 that Eliza was granted her freedom. They were married the same year and moved to the Hunter Region. The couple had numerous children; Ben Junior was the fourth child and third son.
Benjamin Senior found work as overseer on the Doona run near Murrurundi, as an employee of Samuel Clift, while Eliza was employed on domestic duties at Clifts home in Wallis Plains. Following a severe drought in 1838-9, Clift had to move all his stock back to the Hunter, so Benjamin lost his position at Doona. However, during his time working in that area, he had discovered an isolated valley north of Murrurundi with permanent water and good grazing. Here Benjamin built a rough hut and began collecting any wild cattle and horses he could find in the hills. Then in mid-1842, he bought a small block of land in the newly created village of Murrurundi, where he established a butcher shop and also sold fresh vegetables.
About the end of 1850, Benjamin Senior moved down to the Lachlan River area, taking with him the children Ben Junior, William, Mary and his stepson Thomas Wade. It appears that Ben Junior never returned to Murrurundi, although his father did in 1851. Young Ben spent his early years working with horses and cattle, developing his expertise in stockwork and bushcraft, skills which would stand him in good stead in later years.
In 1856, at the age of 19, Ben married Bridget Walsh (1841–1923) at Bathurst. Kitty, one of Bridget's sisters was married to a Wheogo stockman named John Brown, but in 1862 she became the mistress of Frank Gardiner and eloped to Queensland; another Walsh sister Ellen married John Maguire. On 7 August 1859, Ben and Biddy (as she was called) had a son, whom they named Henry. In 1859-60, Ben Hall and John Maguire jointly leased the "Sandy Creek" run of 10,000 acres (40 km²) about 50 km south of Forbes.
The circumstances surrounding Ben Hall's fall from being a successful grazier to an infamous bushranger remain something of a mystery. By early 1862, his marriage was in trouble, and Biddy left to live with a flash young stockman named James Taylor. They moved to Humbug Creek, near Lake Cowal, well away from Ben Hall. He soon began a disastrous association with the notorious bushranger Frank Christie, alias Gardiner. In April 1862, Ben was arrested by Police Inspector Sir Frederick Pottinger for participating in the armed robbery of Bill Bacon's drays near Forbes. Hall was identified as having been in the company of Gardiner during the robbery, and two other men, names unknown. The charge was dismissed when one of the Crown witnesses changed his evidence. Shortly afterwards, on 15 June 1862, Gardiner led a gang of eight men, including Ben Hall, in robbing the gold escort coach near Eugowra, New South Wales, of banknotes and 2700 ounces of gold worth more than 14,000 pounds.
Ben Hall and several others were arrested in July, but once again the police were unable to gain enough evidence to formally charge him. He was released about the end of August. However, he and his partner at Sandy Creek faced mounting legal costs and were forced to transfer the lease of the property to John Wilson, a Forbes publican.
Estranged from his wife and young son, and with the property gone, Hall for several months drifted around the Weddin-Wheogo associating with numerous undesirable characters including John O'Meally, Johnny Gilbert, Patsy Daley amongst others. After several confrontations with the police, culminating in Insp Pottinger's decision to burn down Hall's hut at Sandy Creek, Ben Hall gradually drifted into a life of crime.
In one instance, Hall and his gang bailed up Robinson's Hotel in Canowindra, New South Wales. All travellers and the townspeople were required to remain at the hotel, but they were not mistreated and were provided with food and entertainment. The local policeman was subjected to some humiliation by being locked in his own cell. When the hostages were set free, the gang insisted on paying the hotelier and giving the townspeople "expenses". Their aim was to emphasise that the gang could act with impunity and to belittle the police. In this they were spectacularly successful.
Shortly afterwards the gang raided the town of Bathurst followed a few days later by another takeover of Canowindra, this time for three days. Their cavalier activities were soon brought to a sudden halt however, when Micky Burke was killed at Dunns Plains, John Vane surrendered to the police and O'Meally was shot dead in an attack on Goimbla station, near Eugowra. The gang of five had been reduced to just two - Hall and Gilbert.
During 1864 Ben Hall continued his life on the roads with various companions, including Gilbert, Dunleavy and the Old Man, James Gordon. Finally the gang consisted of Hall, Gilbert and John Dunn. In November 1864, during the robbery of a mail coach at Black Springs Creek near Jugiong, John Gilbert shot and killed Sgt. Parry. Then in January 1865 Constable Nelson was shot and killed by John Dunn when the gang raided a hotel in Collector. In early 1865, the authorities finally determined on radical legislation to bring an end to the careers of Ben Hall, John Gilbert and John Dunn. The Felons Apprehension Act was pushed through the Parliament of New South Wales for the specific purpose of declaring Hall and his comrades outlaws, meaning that they would be "outside the law" and could be killed by anyone at any time without warning.
From 1863 to 1865, Ben Hall and his various associates conducted one of the most prolific periods of bushranging in the colony. Over 100 robberies are attributed to them in this time, including the holding up of several villages, dozens of mail coach robberies and the regular theft of prized racehorses.
In May 1865, Hall and the others realised that to survive they would have to leave New South Wales. They first retreated to an isolated area on the Goobang Creek, northwest of Forbes, intending to gather fresh horses and provisions for a long journey northwards. Their whereabouts were reported to the police by 'Goobang Mick' Coneley, a man who had earlier promised to give the gang assistance and protection. In late April Hall temporarily separated from his companions, intending to meet them again a few days later at the Goobang Creek. But this time there were police waiting, hidden in the bush. At dawn on 5 May, Hall was ambushed by eight well-armed policemen. He was shot dead as he emerged from his campsite and ran to reach his horses.
Ben Hall's body was taken back to Forbes where an inquest was held by the Police Magistrate. He was buried in the Forbes cemetery on Sunday 7 May 1865. A headstone was erected in the 1920s.
On 5 May 1957, the Forbes Historical Society dedicated a plaque at Goobang Creek, where Hall had been shot. There is a cave in an isolated section of the Weddin Range, near Grenfell, that is known as Ben Hall's Cave. A memorial called Ben Hall's Wall is located in Breeza, south of Gunnedah, New South Wales. Ben Halls Gap is a small section of State Forest named after the bushranger's father, and is located south of Nundle, New South Wales.
A number of folk songs recount Hall's life and exploits. The most notable is "Streets of Forbes", which has been recorded by numerous singers and groups. Others include "The Ballad of Ben Hall's Gang", "The Death of Ben Hall", "The Ghost of Ben Hall" and "Land of Fortune".
- Forbes Historical Society 1957 plaque at site of death
- "Ben Hall and the Outlawed Bushrangers". Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
- "Family seeks justice for Bold Ben's demise", -- Meacham, Steve, The Age, 31 March 2007
- McLellan LL, Benjamin Hall and Family, 1982
- "Ben Hall". Interesting certificates: bushrangers. NSW Births Deaths and Marriages. Archived from the original on 11 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-17.
- Orr, Hazel K. (2003). "Ben Hall". Bushranger profiles. University of New England, School of Education - "The Bushranger Site". Archived from the original on 20 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-17.
- Family History Library Microfilm 1278891 Items 15-17
- "BIOGRAPHY OF BEN HALL.". The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893). NSW: National Library of Australia. 18 May 1865. p. 2. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
- Bradley P. Ben Hall - Stories from the hard road, 2013
- SMH 1 May 1862
- Empire September 1862
- Bradley P - The Judas Covenant (2006)
- Bradley P, Ben Hall - Stories from the hardroad, 2013
- Bradley, Peter ( September 2013), Ben Hall - Stories from the hard road. A collection of true stories concerning the life of Ben Hall, from the early years at Murrurundi to his death at Billabong Creek. ISBN 978-0-646-57633-6. (non-fiction)
- Bradley, Peter (2006), The Judas Covenant. An examination of the circumstances leading to the death of Ben Hall. ISBN 0-646-46772-7. (non-fiction)
- Bradley, Peter (2006), The Billabong Creek Study. An archaeological research study of the area near the Billabong Creek where Ben Hall was killed. (non-fiction)
- McLellan, LL (1982), Benjamin Hall and Family. Quirindi. (non-fiction)
- Penzig, Edgar (1996), Ben Hall. Tranter Enterprises, Katoomba. (non-fiction)
- Bleszynski, Nick (2011), You'll Never Take Me Alive. The life and death of Bushranger Ben Hall. Random House Australia. ASIN: B0069HD0FK.(Novel)
- Shearston, Trevor (2013) Game. Allen & Unwin (Sydney) ISBN 978-1-74331-521-7.(Novel)
Film and Television
- Ben Hall and His Gang silent film (1911)
- Ben Hall television series (1975)
- The Legend of Ben Hall feature film (2016)
- www.benhallbushranger.com.au - Selected extracts from historical research by Peter Bradley
- Application to exhume Ben Hall's grave 
- Death certificate - New South Wales Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages
- Ben Hall at the National Museum of Australia
- Pictures of where Ben Hall was shot, his grave and statue on the Ben Hall Page of the Forbes website