Album liner notes by Craig Lawler, Operator, Blind Freddy’s Bushranger Tours, Canowindra, NSW.

There’s not much written in history about the Walsh girls — Ellen, Biddy and Kitty — but their stories are integral to the rampant era of bushranging that gripped the New South Wales goldfields from 1860 to 1865. The man largely responsible for that outbreak of freebootery was one Frank Gardiner, aka Francis Clarke, aka Francis Christie (actual name) of whom plenty has been written. By 1860 he was a career criminal, Pentridge escapee and a recently granted ticket-of-leaver from Cockatoo Island Prison. With the authorities now well aware of his various identities, and his renewed proclivity for large scale stock theft, he was a wanted man with a price on his head. With the noose his likely destination he took to the road, and the road he took ran right by the gate of the Walsh’s family farm at Wheogo.

Before the Gold Rush, the Walsh family were peaceably farming cattle at Wheogo. They were beyond the officially sanctioned limits of colonial occupation but they had a permanent spring on their land and their prospects weren’t bad. Kitty was the youngest of the Walsh girls, not yet 20, and had recently married John Brown, the manager of the Wheogo property. She lived on the farm with her husband, her stepmother, and her younger brother, Johnny “The Warragul” Walsh. Over the hill at Sandy Creek her two sisters lived with their cattle-farming husbands Ben Hall and John Maguire.

The discovery of gold at Lambing Flat in 1860 and at the Lachlan in 1861 brought chaos and tens of thousands to the district. Wheogo was on the road between these two new boomtowns. Gold also attracts bushrangers. Frank had adopted the persona of the gentleman highwayman, eschewed violence unless it was offered, would return money to those he had robbed if they complained they had no more money to continue their journeys, and was polite and gallant towards the ladies. In his early 30s, he cut quite a figure, fashionably attired with the latest stolen finery. When Kitty met Frank she was smitten and they began an affair.

The attentions of Sir Frederick Pottinger, a disgraced Baronet who was the Inspector of the Lachlan District, were putting the heat on Frank, who came up with a plan for one last big job to fund a future beyond the gallows. On June 15th 1862, Frank led a brilliantly planned ambush on the Lachlan Gold Escort at Eugowra Rocks. The gang netted 2719 ounces (77 kilograms) of gold and £3700 in cash. After a close encounter with Sir Frederick, where Frank only survived due to Pottinger’s gun misfiring, Kitty and Frank escaped Wheogo with a sizeable portion of the loot.

They ended up at Apis Creek, west of Rockhampton, Queensland. There they set themselves up as Mr and Mrs Christie, with a general store, a pub, and other businesses catering to travellers headed for the Peak Downs goldfields. This idyll lasted until March 1864 when, acting on a tipoff, a party of NSW Police came to Apis Creek and arrested Frank.

Frank was put on trial in Sydney but due to a botched prosecution he was not convicted of the Eugowra robbery. He was found guilty of lesser crimes, incurring sentences adding up to 32 years in Darlinghurst prison. Kitty was not allowed to visit him as the court recognised her only as ‘Mrs Brown’. After a concerted campaign by Frank’s sisters, the Colonial Secretary Henry Parkes granted Kitty one visit. Kitty and Frank would never see each other again.

Despondent, Kitty went to visit her sister Biddy, who was living with a man called Jim Taylor near Lake Cowal. Kitty took up with Jim’s brother Richard, and headed for the New Zealand goldfields. He was an abusive drunkard and Kitty could take no more. She shot herself with a pistol engraved with Frank's name.

Frank gained release after just ten years in gaol, but it was under the condition of exile from Australia. He ended up in San Francisco where he opened a bar called the Twilight Saloon. He lost his bar due to extending too much credit and ended up sleeping on the docks. He died in a pauper’s hospital in 1882.

Craig Lawler, Operator, Blind Freddy’s Bushranger Tours, Canowindra, NSW. Get in touch & take a tour!