Author Peter Bradley believes he has new evidence suggesting the marked grave in Forbes does not contain his famed relative
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Steve Meacham theguardian.com, Thursday 14 November 2013 00.30 GMT Jump to comments (4)
Ben Hall Bushranger Ben Hall, who met his end in 1865. Photograph: Peter Bradley
An author and relative of the notorious 19th century bushranger Ben Hall has begun proceedings to exhume the outlaw’s historic grave in the western NSW gold rush town of Forbes.
Peter Bradley, who is descended from Hall’s younger brother Henry, believes he has unearthed new evidence to suggest the marked grave in Forbes cemetery – now one of the town’s best-known tourist attractions – doesn’t contain the bushranger’s body at all.
Having raised his suspicions in a recent book, Ben Hall – Stories from the Hard Road, Bradley is now seeking permission from the director-general of NSW Health to excavate the grave.
“The next step would be to extract some bone samples from the body for DNA analysis,” Bradley says. “Then we can compare it with that of Ben Hall’s relatives.”
Hall, the NSW equivalent of Ned Kelly and a folk hero to many, was shot dead by police on May 5, 1865 near Forbes.
He was gunned down after the NSW government passed specific “shoot-to-kill” legislation, the Felons Apprehension Act, to end his gang’s humiliating exploits.
Most historians believe Hall was disarmed by the first bullet that hit him, through the back. But the police ambush party continued to riddle his body with more than 30 other bullets, ensuring he didn’t survive.
His corpse was then taken to Forbes for burial. However, it wasn’t for another 30 years that a headstone and picket fence were put up by locals to mark Hall’s grave.
“I think they got the wrong one,” Bradley insists. “By the 1890s, the Ben Hall story was more myth than fact, and the cemetery records of gold rush towns were incomplete.
“The problem is that the gravesite identified with Ben Hall lies inside the bounds of Forbes cemetery when, as an outlaw, he should have been buried on unconsecrated ground.”
Bradley believes the same mistake was made with the grave of another member of the Hall gang, John O'Meally.
Unlike Hall, O’Meally was a known murderer, responsible for killing at least two men. “He was almost certainly mad, or at least unbalanced,” says Bradley.
“Before helping to found the Hall gang, O’Meally had been associated with another bushranger, Frank Gardiner, and had participated in the Escort robbery at Eugowra in June 1862.
“He met his end during a raid on Goimbla station in 1865 – shot in the neck as he foolishly stood up to watch the flames from a barn the gang had set on fire.”
Bradley Relative Peter Bradley at Ben Hall's "grave". Bradley says the bushranger was