TODAY IN BUSHRANGING: June 18, 1862. Camped atop Mount Wheogo in the wild west of New South Wales, Frank Gardiner’s gang of bushrangers hide out after ambushing the gold escort coach at Eugowra Rocks three days before.

The gold and cash stolen added up to about $5 million in today’s money – to this day, the largest haul of any armed holdup in Australia. Alongside Gardiner, the eight-man gang included some of bushranging’s biggest names such as Ben Hall, John Gilbert and John O’Meally.

Eugowra Rocks, NSW, where bushrangers ambushed the Forbes Gold Escort in June 1862.

As they shared out the takings and relaxed on Mount Wheogo, sitting out some heavy rain, they had no idea Sergeant Sanderson of the Forbes police, guided by tracker Charley Edwards, was closing in fast.

The holdup went well enough for them but the getaway would soon prove problematic…

Today in bushranging (May 5, 1865): Ben Hall, surprised at first light by police in his bush camp 12 miles from Forbes, is shot dead while evading arrest. His death ended a three-year criminal career described in its day as a ‘reign of terror’.

So bad were his depredations, and so unstoppable did he seem, that the government eventually fixed on outlawing him so he could be shot on sight. However, he was killed just a few days before this could take effect.

The shooting – he was riddled by many bullets – is controversial to this day, with the police party’s actions still coming under scrutiny. There were conspiracy theories, even in the 1860s. Did they act illegally, as if he was already an outlaw? Was he given a chance to surrender? Why did they fire so many times? More on this soon (in book form, I intend).

Death Of Ben Hall (1894) by Patrick Maroney is a fairly accurate depiction, although the police were not in uniform (standard practice for bush patrol work back then).

Today in bushranging: on April 23, 1862, colourful colonial police chief Frederick Pottinger (below) astonished the western NSW goldfields town of Forbes with the very public arrest of Ben Hall at the local races. It was Hall’s first – but far from last – brush with the law.

Although popular and well-known locally as a grazier, Hall had a secret sideline in armed robbery, which now lay exposed. Nine days before, he was recognised while sticking up road travellers with Frank Gardiner, who was then Australia’s most notorious bushranger.

Hall (above) was refused bail and committed to trial. The case against him seemed watertight and it looked as if a bushranging career had been nipped in the bud. But this was the beginning of a life of crime, not the end – the beginning, in fact, of the most extensive outbreak of armed holdup in Australian history.

Today in 1865: Ben Hall’s last bushranging raid (horse-thefts excluded) – the home invasion of Charles Cropper’s Yamma station, eight miles outside the goldfields town of Forbes in western New South Wales.

Ben Hall (above) and his partners-in-crime John Gilbert and John Dunn had just been named in a controversial ‘Summons To Surrender’. They had until April 29 to turn themselves in or be declared outlaws, which meant they could be shot on sight. Their response? Business as usual, as you’d expect. But Yamma had little for them to steal. Charles Cropper wasn’t home, and they left early so heavily pregnant Mrs Cropper could send a maid for medical help. Before riding away, Gilbert carved their names on a stool, which now has pride of place in Forbes Historical Museum (below).

Three weeks later two of them were dead and Australia’s biggest-ever bushranging outbreak was over. Hopefully my book telling this epic and wild tale will soon be arresting readers’ attentions from Bunbury to Byron Bay some time soon!