Gold Robbery at Eugowra Rocks
Australian bushrangers during the mid 1800s were the equivalent of American Old West outlaws. Frank Gardiner was one of the most infamous bushrangers of his time. Not much is known about his early life, but most researchers agree he was born in Scotland about 1827 before his parents left for Australia. It’s thought his real name was Frank Christie but he always used the alias Francis Gardiner.
Frank began his life of crime as an ordinary, common horse thief. He was arrested once in 1850, but managed to escape from the Pentridge Stockade at Melbourne. He was arrested again in 1854 and spent the next five years in jail. When he was released he returned to stealing horses, was caught and sentenced to seven years, but only did three before being set free.
At first glance one would’ve thought Frank was trying to go straight. He opened up a butcher shop and seemed to be very successful at it…until it was discovered the meat he was selling was stock rustled from local ranchers. Frank hit the trail when he got word a warrant had been issued for his arrest.
It seemed to Gardiner he had spent almost half his life behind bars and he was going to do everything possible to make sure he didn’t go back. He formed a gang of bushrangers and became a full time outlaw. In the beginning it was mostly petty heists. But eventually Gardiner tired of small time jobs and decided to pull off a big one by robbing a government stagecoach carrying gold bullion. It would become the largest robbery in Australian history up to that time. The take would be about $12.5 million in today’s U.S. currency.
Frank Gardiner laid plans to hold up the stage on June 15th, 1862 along with six other handpicked bushrangers. They were:
· Henry Manns
· Alex Fordyce
· Johnny Bow
· Johnny O’Meally
· Ben Hall
· Johnny Gilbert
The location would be Coonbong Rock near Eugowra. Coonbong is an aborigine word meaning “dead man.”
While they waited for the stage, the gang forced two men to block the narrow road with their bullock teams. When the coach appeared along with its police escort, Gardiner and his gang leapt from the bushes and demanded everyone to get their hands in the air. However, the guards reached for their guns instead and a short gunfight broke out. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the robbery, but the bushrangers did manage to escape. After the gang had put a little distance behind them they stopped to catch a breather and split the loot. Afterwards they each went their separate ways.
The news media quickly picked up the story and splashed banner headlines around the world making Frank a famous man. They gave him colorful titles such as Gunman Gardiner, The Highwayman and The King of the Road.
Frank Gardiner headed for Queensland, where he opened up a pub and got married to Catherine ‘Kitty’ Brown. But, authorities diligently tracked the bandit down in 1864 and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The rest of the gang didn’t fare as well.
· Henry Manns - hanged in 1863.
· Alex Fordyce, Johnny Bow - sentenced to life at hard labor
· Johnny O’Meally – shot to death in a robbery.
· Ben Hall and Johnny Gilbert - shot and killed by police
However, Gardiner served only 10 years. Two of his sisters faithfully petitioned the courts until they finally came up with a solution. They would release him if he would leave the country and never come back. He became the only man ever to be exiled from Australia.
Gardiner was given passage to Hong Kong but somewhere along the line he jumped ship. He ended up in San Francisco, California and reverted to his former profession running the Twilight Star Saloon.
It’s not known for certain how Frank died. There have been various reports of his death from the early 1880s to 1904. Some newspapers reported he died of pneumonia in 1904. Others say died in a gun fight in a California saloon.