Canowindra was once ‘the bushrangers’ town – quite literally. For three days and nights in October 1863 the town and all comers were held by Ben Hall’s gang in an audacious raid that deeply embarrassed the authorities. It was not the first instance of bushranger raids on the town.
But this contempt for officialdom came at a cost; the injury and death of police officers like Senior Constable John Herbert on 13 April 1865.
Herbert was born in 1837, joined the police force on 1 September 1859 and married Mary Ann Walsh in 1861 in Victoria. Their two children were Ann, born in 1862, registered Balranald, and Florence, born 1864, registered Carcoar.
In the final days of the Ben Hall gang in 1865, there was a big reward for the bushrangers’ capture and extra police were stationed at Canowindra.
On the night of 28/29 March, Senior Constable John Herbert, with Constables James Cook, Edward Ambrose and Aboriginal tracker, Peter Hogan, responded to a message that, after a robbery in Forbes, the gang was heading for Canowindra. The police made camp in the bush on the creek near Mogong, a small roadside settlement close to Canowindra.
Herbert and Ambrose decided to keep watch on a hut where they suspected the gang might be hiding, and arranged a special warning whistle would be given if they returned to the camp during the night. They did return but after losing their way in the dark, approached the camp from a different direction and failed to give the whistle. Hearing movements, Cook twice issued a challenge. But hearing no reply he and tracker Hogan both fired at a figure in the darkness, learning only too late that they had shot Senior Constable Herbert.
Herbert was taken to Canowindra and Dr Hugh Rowland from Carcoar was called to remove a bullet that had passed through Herbert’s liver and lodged in his groin.
Herbert died on 13 April.
The Maitland Mercury on19/04/1865, reported that he was buried ‘in the same place’ the next day on Grant’s Belubula station. The incident and trial were widely reported and Dr Rowland gave his account at the trial in Bathurst producing the bullet he had extracted. Constable Cook was charged with manslaughter but acquitted after a hung jury. A pension of 40 pounds a year for 10 years was awarded to Herbert’s widow and two children.
Ben Hall, meanwhile, was finally captured and killed near Forbes on 5 May 1865.