Queanbeyan District has always been known for its fine horseflesh so it was not surprising that bushrangers including Ben Hall and Frank Gardiner were attracted here in the 1860s.
A shopping spree for a bushranger was finding wealthy landowners travelling on the roads with their goods and chattels and relieving them of their upmarket possessions – fresh clothes, upmarket armoury and a fast horse that could keep you a furlong in front of the law were always good investments.
Ben Hall’s gang
In 1862 when William Davis, the squire of the Ginninderra Estate, and big supporter of cricket, reported he had been held-up by Ben Hall at the Gundaroo Gap and robbed of his rifle and personal effects, many people thought the story a concoction.
Ben Hall’s gang were better known for their escapades in other areas but were active in the Queanbeyan District in the 1860s. The proof came when Hall was killed in a shoot out and William Davis’ rifle and personal effects were found amongst Ben Hall’s possessions.
Frank Gardiner was born in 1830 at Boro Creek, near Braidwood and was in his early 30s when he was an active member of Ben Hall’s gang during 1860s.
Legend survives that Gardiner visited Queanbeyan in the early 1860s to contact his sister and niece who lived here – the dates add up – ordinary folk did not ‘dob’ in a bushranger if they could see that no harm was being done to them or their families.
Bushranger William Dunn was foolish in 1863 when he rode into the streets of Queanbeyan on his “fine chestnut horse”, which was recognized as the “fine chestnut horse” used during the Cooma Mail robbery.
There was a shoot out in Queanbeyan when police fired at Dunn but the shots missed and Dunn’s excellent selection of fine, fast, horse-flesh helped him make an escape.
When Dunn’s horse collapsed from exhaustion at Michelago, Dunn was stranded and without his fine horse flesh he was at the mercy of the two policemen, albeit on slower horses, who had eventually tracked him to Michelago where he was arrested.
QRacing a picnic
Bushranger William Dunn denied being Patrick Bermingham’s accomplice but strangely was able to show the police where the stolen mail bags were stashed. Dunn was never convicted of mail robbery but was eventually sentenced to five years hard-labour for stealing horses.
Whilst police were searching the bush for the missing Patrick Bermingham he was already on a social visit at Queanbeyan enjoying QRacing. Bermingham obviously failed to replenish with good horse-flesh because he was caught in January 1864 and sentenced to 15 years hard-labour.
Horse races to test the stamina of the horses and their boastful owners have existed from earliest times wherever men have worked or met together. Stations like Carwoola held up-market fashionable picnic races and some, like Duntroon, celebrated the end of shearing with a horse racing event.
Breeding the best
Fine thoroughbred racing horses were bred early in Queanbeyan at Currandooley and also at Molonglo (which later became part of the Carwoola estate) by William Bowen until he sold his property to another horse breeder Thomas Rutledge in 1865. Rutledge continued the tradition of breeding race horses.
Bungendore held the first race meeting of the District in 1848. Hoskingtown was also a popular venue and their annual Boxing-day horse racing carnival after Christmas had betting facilities in 1895.
Queanbeyan held its first recorded meeting to organize horse-races at the Harp Inn, Trinculo Place in 1854 – the meeting was organized by inn keepers Martin Byrne and Thomas Booth – they soon realized that the lack of a “suitable course” was a disadvantage.
A year later in 1855 the course was established but interest had waned and it took two more years before the organized annual races finally got off the ground in 1857.
Queanbeyan’s annual ‘organized’ races lasted for 5 years 1857-1861. After 1861 organized racing waned again and from 1862-1865 there were no organized races held, although spontaneous social racing still continued on the big estates that had their own track.
QRacing early history
Ordinary folk could hold bush races on a bush clearing with no amenities if they wanted to test their horses skill and their human skill and have a social get-together without attending the larger racing venues.
It was new Carwoola owner Thomas Rutledge (who continued to breed fine horses) and William Ralph McCarthy of Glenwood (who had a similar ilk) along with local Queanbeyan brewer of beer, Alfred Bradbury (acting as secretary) who restarted the organized race meetings on a private racecourse on the Jerrabomberra estate.
Those involved in the organization were local squatters, professional men and business men. It was not until after 1886 that the Government set aside 110 acres as a permanent racecourse for the Queanbeyan District.
Become a QRacing legend
Queanbeyan has always had horses and riders with the stamina and heart to keep in front when ridden for financial reward and today is no exception; we need to revalue and remember the horse racing legends from our past and the part bushranger-jockeys have played in building the legend.
Even though Canberra has a vibrant racing industry, Queanbeyan still has its own racing calendar and race track and betting facilities at QRacing.
Plan to have a great day out in Queanbeyan like the bushrangers of yore – check out the QRacing program at: www.qracing.com.au
Footnotes / Resource
1. Connee-Colleen, Unpublished Manuscript, 2000.
2. Connee-Colleen © “Queanbeyan Outlook (46): City’s horses take-over targets,” The Queanbeyan Age, 27 June, 2006, p.4.
3. Lea-Scarlet, Errol. Queanbeyan District and People. Queanbeyan, 1968, p. 78-9.
4. Golden Age, (The) 1860-1864; Queanbeyan Age (The), 1864-2010. (NB: John Gale was the founder and owner of the Golden Age, so named after the Kiandra Gold Rush but the Gold was short lived and he changed the name to the Queanbeyan Age in 1864; The Queanbeyan Age newspaper is still being published today in the town of Queanbeyan, NSW, Australia – Sister City of Canberra.)
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