DESCRIPTION: The singer condemns the murder of Ben Hall. Hall is made an "outcast from society" when his wife sells his land. He refuses to shed blood, but is finally ambushed and, abandoned by his comrades, is shot repeatedly
EARLIEST DATE: 1955
KEYWORDS: death homicide outlaw abuse betrayal infidelity wife police Australia
May 5, 1865 - Ben Hall is ambushed and killed by police near Forbes, Australia
FOUND IN: Australia
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Meredith/Anderson, pp. 164-165, "Ben Hall" (1 text, 1 tune)
Manifold-PASB, pp. 62-63, "The Death of Ben Hall" (1 text, 1 tune)
John Greenway, "Ben Hall" (on JGreenway01)
cf. "The Ballad of Ben Hall" (plot)
cf. "Streets of Forbes" (plot)
cf. "The Death of Ben Hall" (plot)
cf. "My Name is Ben Hall" (subject)
NOTES [730 words]: Ben Hall is widely regarded as "the noblest of the bushrangers"; Nunn, p. 21, includes him among the "'Gentleman' Bushrangers," and on page 113 reports that he was "the least violent and most tragic of the bushrangers." One bit of folklore told by Davey/Seal, p. 149, has it that, after robbing a victim, he gave him back five pounds to safely finish his travel.
The story is that he was hounded from his home by the police, and only then turned to crime. Even as a bushranger, he attacked only the rich and never shed blood. Boxall, p. 223, even tells a story of him arranging for the return of a victim's gun.
The truth is not quite so pretty. Hall was the child of convicts, born probably in 1837 (so Nunn, and Boxall, p. 251, says he was about 28 at the time of his death). His father is described as having a clean record. Nunn, p.113, reports that Ben himself "worked as a stockman in the Lachlan district as a youth and then took up a selection and, in 1856, married Bridget Walsh. They had one son, Harry."
Hall showed no signs of banditry until his wife ran off with another man. Nunn, p. 115, says that the police came after him on a minor charge and, while he was being held, he found that his wife had run off with an ex-policeman. His property was burned and his stock strayed.
From there his life took a turn for the worse; he sold off his land and eventually joined Frank Gardiner's outlaw band (see "Frank Gardiner," as well as the notes to "The Ballad of Ben Hall" for some other members of the gang); he was said to be part of the gang that committed the famous Eugowra Rocks robbery in 1862. Boxall, p. 217, reports that Gardiner may have been largely retired from the gang by the time Hall rose to prominence, but Hall and Johnny Gilbert (a Canadian who migrated to Australia in 1852 to seek gold, according to Nunn, p. 117) kept it active.
In the aftermath of the Eudowra affair, Hall was charged with armed robbery but was acquitted for lack of evidence. The police continued to harry him, though. His leading exploit in this period was taking a high official hostage and releasing him in return for a 500 pound ransom (Nunn, p. 117).
Hall supposedly concluded that the life he was leading was too violent, and decided to leave Australia (Nunn, p. 119; Learmonth, p. 247, says that "Hall killed no one but was not able to prevent his gang from doing so"). Eventually Hall was ambushed and killed; at least fifteen and perhaps as many as thirty bullets were found in his body, which made him a hero to the locals who hated the police.
Another bit of Ben Hall folklore has it that his posthumous child had birthmarks corresponding to all the bullet wounds he suffered in his fatal final encounter (Davey/Seal, p. 149). His grave in Forbes is still maintained by the locals.
Dunn and Gilbert, like Hall, were associated with Frank Gardiner's outlaw band. John Gilbert brought the full force of the law down on the gang when he shot a policeman, and he died along with Johnny Dunn in 1866. Johnny O'Meally, also mentioned in the song, was a member of the gang killed in 1863. Gardiner was eventually taken, but was paroled after seven years and allowed to emigrate to the U.S., where he opened a saloon and, it is said, was shot in a poker fight in 1903.
"Sir Fred" is Sir Frederick Pottinger, a "monumentally inept" officer of the crown who bungled the whole case -- and eventually managed to accidentally kill himself! According to Boxall, p. 223, he once ran across the bushrangers he was supposed to be pursuing but failed to do anything about them. "Sir Frederick was called to Sydney to attend an inquiry, and resigned his position in the force. About a month later he died from the effects of a wound from a pistol, accidentally fired by himself."
To tell this song from the other Ben Hall songs, consider this first stanza:
Come all you young Australians, and everyone besides,
I'll sing to you a ditty that will fill you with surprise,
Concerning of a 'ranger bold, whose name it was Ben Hall,
But cruelly murdered was this day, which proved his downfall.
This is not the text found in Manifold (which begins "Come all you young Australians, and hear what did befall Concerning of a decent man whose name was bold Ben Hall"), but the tune (which wobbles oddly between Mixolydian and Dorian) puts Manifold's transcription with John Greenway's version. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
- George Boxall, The Story of the Australian Bushrangers, Swan Sonnenschein & Co, 1899 (I use the 1974 Penguin facsimile edition)
- Davey/Seal: Gwenda Beed Davey and Graham Seal, A Guide to Australian Folklore, Kangaroo Press, 2003
- Learmonth: Andrew and Nancy Learmonth, Encyclopedia of Australia, 2nd edition, Warne & Co, 1973
- Nunn: Harry Nunn, Bushrangers: A Pictorial History, Ure Smith Press, 1979, 1992
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