"A Grave Mistake" - is Ben Hall buried somewhere else?

(The following article was passed on to the Grenfell Record by a local relative of the author, Peter Bradley. The article has appeared already in the Forbes Advocate – although they called the book a novel and Mr Bradley would like to point out that his book is no such thing. No doubt there will be many people who will disagree with the hypothesis of the author although a lot of what he speculates on bears some consideration. Still the book is entertaining and should appeal to readers from the Weddin Shire, where Ben Hall grew up and lived most of his life and where every old family in the District nowadays has a Ben Hall tale handed down to them from earlier generations of relatives who lived here in the Pinnacle Mountain area, even before the town of Grenfell existed – Peter Soley – Editor – Grenfell Record) 

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.

“There are reports of other bushrangers being buried in unconsecrated ground just outside the cemetery, close to what was then the Red Streak mine,” says Bradley. “That lies just to the east of the present cemetery, between Churchill Street and York Street, and it is almost certainly where Hall and O’Meally were buried too.

“As was usual for bushrangers, the service would have been conducted by a lay preacher, not a priest.”

Bradley, a professional engineer who lives in Eastwood, has led a team which has already carried out preliminary investigations of the “Red Streak” site using ground-penetrating radar used in civil engineering to determine soil density beneath the surface.

“We found three areas just outside the fence surrounding the cemetery which may or may not be burials,” Bradley says.

They are now waiting for permission from Forbes council to see whether any bones lie beneath the surface – and if so, DNA test them.

Excavating the two bushranger graves inside the cemetery requires permission from the director-general of NSW Health, but Bradley does not anticipate any problems.

“There is considerable support from the relatives of both Ben Hall and John O’Meally to have this done,” he says. “We think it is worth doing to finally resolve those lingering doubts.”

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