Bolters, Bushrangers & Duffers

5
Notes on the Songs by Edgar Waters (1965)

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NOTES 5:
Ben Hall - biographical notes
Ben Hall
The Death of Ben Hall
The Streets of Forbes

Ben Hall was born at Wallis Plains, Maitland, New South Wales, in 1837*. Both his parents had been transported to Australia as convicts. He grew up in the bush on the Hunter River, but in the 1840s the family moved west, to the Lachlan. Hall worked as a stockman for John Walsh of Wheogo Station in the Weddin Mountains. Walsh had been transported to Australia for life in 1823. In 1856, Ben Hall married one of Walsh's daughters and settle down on a small run at Sandy Creek, near Wheogo. He was in partnership with another son-in-law of Walsh, John McGuire. When Walsh died in 1858, the two of them helped his widow, her daughter Kitty, and Kitty's husband, John Brown, to run Wheogo as well. Kitty was later to run off to Queensland with Frank Gardiner.


The chimney is all that remains of John Walsh's "Wheogo" homestead in the Weddin Mountains, N.S.W., where Ben Hall worked and met Walsh's daughter, Bridget, whom he later married. In the distance is Wheogo Mountain on top of which Frank Gardiner and his gang buried the proceeds of their Forbes gold coach robbery at Eugowra.

 

Hall and McGuire had friendly contacts with Gardiner and others of his gang, but they seem to have both been honest men - which is not to say that they would have denied Gardiner a meal at their table or a roof over his head for the night. Ben Hall was arrested early in 1862 and charged with highway robbery-under-arms, seemingly without good reason. He was acquitted. Hall and McGuire were both arrested after Gardiner's gang robbed the Forbes gold coach at Eugowra - again, seemingly, without good reason - and both were acquitted. McGuire, however, spent six months in gaol before his acquittal on this charge, and while Hall was in gaol, the police burned down his homestead and mustered his cattle into a paddock, leaving them there to starve to death. Hall, in fact, seems to have been one bushranger who really was driven into bushranging by police persecution.

Hall became leader of a gang which included men who had formerly been led by Gardiner. The gang carried out some daring robberies, but Hall seems to have been even more interested in pulling the nose of authority and making fools of the police, than in gathering up loot. The gang raided Bathurst and some other fairly large towns for amusement. They took over the entire town of Canowindra and held a carnival for three days, and one of the ballads about the gang says:

Some day to Sydney city
We mean to pay a call,
And we'll take the whole damn country,
Says Dunn, Gilbert and Ben Hall.

Hall's reign as "the most notorious bushranger ever spawned in New South Wales" came to an end when a party of police caught up with him alone one day in 1865. Hall tried to escape and did not return their fire. The police pumped some thirty bullets into his body.

Ben Hall was the ideal type of bushranger -modest, game, a most skillful bushman, chivalrous to women, no robber of the poor, averse to killing (though some of his gang were readier to shoot), gaily defiant of the police, the wealthy, and all colonial authority. Popular admiration shows clearly in all the many ballads about him.

*Editor's Note - Ben Halls' birthplace as Wallis Plains comes via Barbara Dunn, a descendant of Ben Hall, from information based on family research. Earlier research had suggested that Ben Hall's birthplace was Breeza.



Ben Hall

BEN HALL

Gary Shearston learnt this ballad from the singing of Sally Sloane (from a recording made by John Meredith, and issued by Wattle Recordings on an album of field recordings called Australian Traditional Singers and Musicians). The midwife who attended at Sally Sloane's birth was a sister of Ben Hall. This ballad - like many of the bushranger ballads, for example, The Maryborough Miner and the version of Bold Jack Donahue used on this record - is in the Irish come-all-ye style. It is performed the way in which folk songs were almost always performed in the bush itself - without accompaniment.

native dog - dingo.

 

THE DEATH OF BEN HALL

A number of versions of this song have been recorded from bush singers, but their manner is not that of the general run of bush songs. It looks like the work of some amateur poet with misplaced literary ambitions who borrowed from some collection of "poetic gems" a bombastic and artificial style which he mistakenly thought fitted his subject better than the colloquial idiom of the bush folk song. However, the badly chosen words somehow still manage to convey deep and strong feeling, at least to the sympathetic listener. Jack Bradshaw printed a version of the song in his True History of the Australian Bushrangers and one would not be surprised to find that the song, in its original form, was the work of Bradshaw himself.

The version used here sounds a little more natural and colloquial than the one printed by Bradshaw. A Victorian folk song collector, the late Joy Durst, taught Martyn Wyndham-Read, of Melbourne, the present version and he passed it on to Gary Shearston. Where Joy Durst learnt the song is not known.

Turpin - Dick Turpin, England's most famous highwayman; hanged at York in 1739.
Duval - Charles Du Vall, a Frenchman who became a notorious highwayman in England; hanged at Tyburn in 1670.
blue coat imps - police troopers.
peelers' pimps - police informers.

 

THE STREETS OF FORBES

The police who killed Ben Hall tied his bullet-riddled carcass to the back of a horse and led it through the streets of Forbes. John McGuire, Hall's brother-in-law, was sitting outside a shop as the procession went past. There are reasons for thinking that this song may be the work of John McGuire.

The version of the song used here is that given in The Penguin Australian Song Book. The editor, John Manifold, says that it was sung for him in a Brisbane pub by a Mrs. Ewell, who had once lived at Bathurst in Hall's country.

Bill Dargin - famed Aboriginal blacktracker of the district and time
prad - horse.


Ben Hall's grave in Forbes Cemetery. The headstone was erected sometime after 1912.

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