Grenfell

Bushranging began in Grenfell in the late 1850's with the discovery of gold at Lambing Flat and later in the 1860's at Forbes. During this period there were many travellers on the roads and the Weddin area was a haven for bushrangers. Probably one of the first to operate in this region was Frank Gardiner. Gardiner had been in trouble with the law on previous occasions having served many years on road gangs at Parramatta.
Ben Hall was born near Maitland in 1837. In 1850 he and other members of the Hall family moved to the Lachlan district, where Ben Hall became a stockman. In 1856 he married Bridget Walsh and had one child. In 1860 he and his brother in law, John McGuire went into partnership in Sandy Creek station, a property of 16,000 acres.

Grenfell
Ben Hall's Cave - Weddin Mountain NP
Grenfell
O'Briens Mine
   

One of the most daring robberies that ever took place in Australia in those early days was the Great Escort Robbery at the Eugowra Rocks in October 1862. This raid was masterminded by Gardiner. Ben Hall, had agreed to join the group along with Daniel Charters, John Fordyce, John Bow and Henry Manns. The gang planned the attack at the home of John McGuire (Ben Hall’s brother in law). John Gilbert and one other were sent to Forbes to purchase shotguns and supplies. The gang then rode to Eugowra Rocks where they attacked the gold escort without warning, wounding two policemen. After the troopers and the driver withdrew, the bushrangers plundered the boxes with £3,700 in cash and 2,719 ounces of gold, the equivalent to over $1 million dollars. The proceeds were never recovered and local legend has it that the booty is still stowed somewhere in the Weddin Mountains possibly near Ben Halls cave.

By early 1865, Ben Hall (who had remained a bushranger since the escort robbery) was riding out with John Gilbert and John Dunn. After separating from his two cohorts, Hall visited one of his harbourers (a man named Strickland) whom had supplied information to the police that Hall was coming. At dawn on May 5th 1865, Hall was surprised by a police party who had surrounded his camp during the night, and he was shot and killed whilst trying to escape.

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John Wood and two sons pioneered the Grenfell area. Guided by friendly Aborigines, they settled at Booroodina Springs in 1833. In 1866 one of their shepherds Cornelius O’Brien stumbled upon a gold bearing quartz outcrop. O’Brien took samples of the ore to Young where he secured a miners right. His claim yielded 4.5 ounces of gold per ton. O’Brien having insufficient money to take a lease marked out an ordinary thirty feet 1 man claim where he had first found gold. This is the site on the Mid Western Highway now known as O’Brien’s Reef. A company was eventually formed to work O’Brien’s reef with Cornelius O’Brien holding a one twelfth share. It proved the best line on the fields and produced sixty thousand pound of gold in the first 3 years. At the end of the 5 year lease the claim was sold and a public company was floated to take it over. This site was eventually worked to a depth of 800 feet, the deepest of all mines in the Grenfell goldfields. Grenfell gold fields were the richest gold mining fields in NSW during 1867-1871.
Escorts of mounted police troopers were provided to ensure the safe passage of the gold to Sydney thus preventing the bushrangers from attacking the gold carriers. The first escort left via Cowra in December 1866 accompanied by 5 policemen. Large quantities of 3000 ounces were sent regularly under escort though it was known that some gold was sent privately, unescorted.
At the height of the gold rush 13 batteries operated on the field to crush the ore. No great fortunes were made from alluvial gold in the district. Within weeks of O’Brien’s find, large parties of miners from the Lambing Flats and Forbes diggings had moved to the Grenfell gold fields. Within 6 months of O’Brien’s find there were 10,000 people on the fields and tents and bark huts and a business centre grew along the banks of Emu Creek.
Between 1867 and 1869 there were over 40,000 ounces of gold produced each year on the Grenfell goldfields. However as with all goldfields in the colony the easily gained alluvial and easily worked reefs soon gave place to the steady production of gold from deeper leads and to the movement of some of the population away from the fields. By 1870 the Grenfell goldfields had become quieter and in 1873 the population was reported at 3000.
Originally called Emu Creek, Grenfell was proclaimed on January 1 1867 after the former Gold Commissioner, John Granville Grenfell, who was wounded by bushrangers near Narromine on December 7 1866. John Granville Grenfell was driving a coach at the time and refused to stop when bushrangers called him to. He was shot twice in the groin and collapsed and died 24 hours. Grenfell was buried at the Dubbo Cemetery and his tombstone still carries the story. He was 40 years of age and left his widow with three children under 5 years of age.
Old shafts and assorted machinery including the horse works and a stamper can still be viewed. Although many of the mullock heaps were flattened some still remain, one of which can be viewed near Lawson Oval.



Source: grenfell.org.au