The Clarke gang weren’t the only bushrangers who robbed, plundered and brought terror to the Braidwood district. The infamous Hall gang also struck here. The robbery of the Araluen Gold Escort would have been their biggest heist had they been successful.
On Monday morning March 13, 1865 the gold escort left Araluen at its usual time. It consisted of a wagonette owned and driven by John Blatchford, the principal gold buyer with an escort of four police, two at the front and two at the back. On this day the shipment amounted to 1,900 ounces (worth about $3 million at today’s value). The route involved a slow, steep climb up the windy mountain track to Majors Creek.
The bushrangers, Ben Hall, John Gilbert, John Dunn and probably Daniel Ryan (not Tom Clarke as originally supposed by police), had chosen a spot about half a mile from the top. They allowed the leading man Constable Byrne to pass before opening fire without warning. Constable Kelly was struck in the chest. Seriously wounded he fell from his horse. Two bullets hit the side of the wagonette, one ricocheting before striking Blatchford on the leg. The horses panicked and took off at full tear up the hill. Blatchford managed to jump off and helped Kelly to cover at the side of the road. He then ran to get help as bullets continued to rain down.
Constable Byrne intercepted the wagonette and steadied the horses before unshouldering his carbine and positioning himself to defend the gold with his life. The bushrangers fired volley after volley but could not dislodge him. His brave act saved the gold. In the meantime the other police had left the road in an attempt to cut off the bushrangers from their horses. In a further exchange of shots Senior Constable Staplyton’s horse was shot in the rump.
The shots could be clearly heard at Majors Creek and about 30 residents armed themselves and set off to assist the police. By the time they arrived at the scene the bushrangers had retired empty handed- defeated. It was a well-deserved police victory.
In the Braidwood museum the actual beautifully restored wagonette is on display as well a gold box similar to the one used on the day. There is a copy of local artist George Lacy’s watercolour painted at the time, which is a fairly accurate interpretation of the event. Also the telescope that belonged to John Blatchford, which he was supposed to have used from his residence on the mountain overlooking the Araluen Valley to keep an eye on his gold claims and those he employed to work them.
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