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John O’Meally was not a liked man and even today people remember him for burning down a barn with the horse trapped inside, which was a more unforgivable sin in the countryside than robbery or murder. Like most bushrangers of the time, they were simply moving crime scenes and often robbed anyone they met. A little insight into John O’Meally’s character can be seen from an article which appeared in “The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser” on 17 November 1917, admittedly many years after the events occurred and some colour may have been added over time.
“When John O’Meally was a small boy he was rather fond of teasing a girl who was employed by Mrs. Wood to do house work. He took a delight in ‘hindering’ the girl from her work, and Mrs. Wood remonstrated with him, saying, ‘ There is a pick and shovel waiting for you at Cockatoo Island.’ Fifteen years afterwards he was a notorious bushranger, and he stuck up Mrs. Croaker on Burramunda Station, 16 miles from Young, robbing her of £7. She protested severely, and told ‘him that the money belonged to B. J. Wood.
Here was O’Meally’s revenge. ‘I am glad of that;,’ he said. ‘You can tell Mrs. Wood that the pick and shovel is not waiting for me at Cockatoo Island, but that the rope and soap are waiting for me at Darlinghurst,’ That day he stuck up and robbed several people’, who were returning home with money. He met a Frenchman on the road who had a particularly fine ring on his finger, and J O’Meally made up his mind to have it. The Frenchman, however, did not want to part with the ring, and assured the bushranger that it was a fixture and would not come off. O’Malley saw no difficulty about such a small matter, and he took a large knife out of its sheath and commenced rubbing it up on a rough stone. We will soon manage that,’ O’Meally re plied, drawing the knife with great rapidity over the stone, ‘ and you will get used to being one finger short.’ But the Frenchman had taken the ring off and was begging O’Meally to take it as a freehearted gift.”
The Maitland Mercury, on 31 October 1863, gave a detailed account of a brush with the Gilbert gang which again showed O’Malley/O’Meally up in a brutal light. After 6pm on Saturday 24 October, Gilbert, ‘O’Meally’, Ben Hall, Vane, and Burke appeared at the house of Mr. Keightley (assistant gold commissioner), at Dunn’s Plain, near Kockley. Mr. Keightley was outside and at first mistook the men as policemen in disguise. However, as they approached they called out to him to ” bail up.” He immediately ran to the house about thirty yards away as the bushrangers fired four or five times at him. While he had armed himself well for such an event, his man servant has left taking a brace of revolvers with him on a trop for his own protection. He armed himself with a double-barrelled gun and a revolver. Accompanied by a guest, Dr. Peechy, they guarded the door where a shower of bullets greeted their appearance, some of which passed perilously close and embedded themselves with a “ping” in the door frame.
The bushrangers kept cover as much as possible with Burke creeping
Keightley and Peechy then had to expose themselves to repeated fire, which even cut through Keightley’s beard, to reach a loft. Gilbert called out to them to come down, and Ben Hall said if they did not they would burn the house. Fearing that they would carry their threat, and given the risk to his wife and child, the two surrendered. On reaching the ground, Vane ran up to Dr. Peechy, and struck him in the forehead with the butt end of his revolver, knocking him down. He apparently mistook him for Keightley. Another couple of employees of Keightley arrived and were captured. The life of Keightley then hung in balance. Vane said doggedly that Burke and he had been brought up as boys together, that they bad been mates ever since, and that the gun that had deprived him of life should in turn take the life of the man who killed him. The gun being reloaded, he threw it over his arm, and turning to Mr. Keightley, told him to follow him down the paddock. Mrs. Keightley ran up to Ben Hall, and clutching him by the collar, said ” I know you are Ben Hall, and they say you are the most humane, respectable, and best of them all; far God’s sake do not let them murder my husband – save his life !” She then turned to Gilbert, and addressing him in similar terms begged him to intervene. Gilbert and Hall appeared to be moved, and the latter called out to Vane to desist. Gilbert and Hall then dictated the terms upon which Keightley’s life would be spared. This involved the Keightleys’ collecting the five hundred pounds on Burke’s head and turning it over to the gang. Surprisingly Burke was still alive despite his gut protruding from his abdomen and his head wound. The bushrangers said it was of no use and intended to shoot him to end his, misery. Dr Peechy prevailed upon them to let him go and obtain his instruments, pledging not to raise an alarm, but Burke was dead before he returned.
In the meantime ‘O’ Meally’ had been away looking after the horses. When he returned he wanted to kill Keightley and would not listen to their proposal. He eventually was pacified by the others. Apparently the bushrangers said that Burke’s daring arose from their teasing him for want of courage. When Mrs. Keightley commented that with their many robberies they must possess considerable wealth, Gilbert replied that they had but not as much as would keep them a week. Arrangements were next made for the payment of the ransom. Keightley was taken to a place called the Dog Bocks, on a hill near, and Mrs. Keightley was warned that if any information was given by which the police might be brought down upon them, they would shoot her husband immediately. She then rode to Bathurst where her father went to the Commercial Bank and procured the money. She and Dr.Peechy then returned handing over the money and Keightley was released.
Keightley said he was treated well during his captivity and that the gang only came to Bathurst because of two individuals who had said that Keightley was a splendid shot and would riddle them through with his first-class weapons. The gang has wanted to take the guns. John O’Malley murdered publican Adolph Cirkel at Stoney Creek on the 20th February 1863. The inquest found that Cirkel had been shot in his head above the left ear. It was an unncessary killing of unarmed man. On 30 August O’Meally and Vane bailed up bailed up businessman John Barnes and his employee Mr. Hanlon near Wallendbeen station. Barnes attempted to flee on horseback but John O’Malley pursued and killed him with fire from his rear. Johnny O’Malley continued continued his crime spree until 19 November 1863. The death of John’ O’Meally’ was widely reported, as in the Queanbeyan Age and General Advertiser on 26 November 1863.
On the night of Thursday 19 November, Mr. David Henry Campbell was at his Goimbla station, which was about thirty-two miles from Forbes when he was attacked by Gilbert, O’Meally, and Ben Hall. Campbell had spoken out against the bushrangers and had even at one time pursued them with some friends so revenge was at least part of the motivation of the attack. In Campbell’s own words, “While seated in my drawing-room last evening (Thursday), I was startled by footsteps on the front verandah. I grasped my double-barrel gun, and first passed through my bedroom to the back door of my dressing-room. I was intercepted by a man who fired two barrels in my face. I retired by firing my gun at him whereupon he retreated, I followed him to the corner of the house, and saw the others at the front door well-armed. I rushed to my bedroom for arms and ammunition which were in the drawing-room, which was lighted, and the blinds raised. My wife rushed to secure them under a volley from the bushrangers. She was unarmed. I reloaded; and, together, we rushed along the room to a back outlet, and took up my position between two slab walls leading to the kitchen, and thus commanded every corner in safety. In about a quarter of an hour several shots were fired simultaneously from different directions when one of the men called out “If you don’t surrender, we will burn the place down.” I said “Come on; I am ready for you.” One replied, “Oh, that is it!” In a few moments the fire was kindled at the barn, and, driven by the increasing light, the bushrangers retired into the out paddock and remained be- hind the fence, forty yards from the front verandah. The lamp had been removed, and the blinds dropped. My wife watched their proceedings and informed me that a man with a cabbage-tree hat stood watching the flames, I rushed round the house to the front corner, took a deliberate aim at the fellow’s throat, I fired and returned to load my gun. Just before this several shots were fired at the drawing-room, and was called upon to surrender, I did not reply. At half-past 11 o’clock I cautiously approached the spot where the man stood, and on the opposite side of the fence found a carbine and a cabbage-tree hat, which I secured. At daylight I visited the spot with the constable, and saw two yards from the fence a pool of blood. We followed a track into the oaks, and discovered the body of the man who was wounded in the neck. Immediately on firing the man disappeared – no sound was uttered. The deceased’s pockets had been rifled and his ring removed from his right little finger. Mr. Campbell estimates his loss, not accounting for harness, &c., at £1090, consisting of wool, hay, horse, and new chaff-cutter, together with the entire buildings which have lately been roofed with iron-bark shingles.
Mr Campbell’s brother William had rushed out the back door into the verandah where he was shot in the chest by one of the bushrangers but survived. In his deposition he stated that “While in my bedroom, about nine o’clock last evening, I heard three shots fired in quick succession, and immediately rushed into the dining room, where several shots were then fired through one of the front windows. The room was lighted, and the blinds were up. I, therefore, immediately rushed out of the back door into the verandah. I there saw a man at my bedroom window (distant about five or six yards from where I stood), who fired two shots at me in quick succession. The first shot struck me in the chest, and I consequently stumbled and fell near to the step. So soon as I recovered I escaped through the back gate, and made my way through the standing oats at the back of the barn, intending to make my way back to the house as soon as an opportunity presented itself. Very shortly afterwards a volley of a dozen shots were fired, accompanied by shouts from the bushrangers, which to me were unintelligible. While still in the oats I saw the barn on fire, and saw two men passing the back wall of the barn rapidly, in the direction of the house After the fire was lighted there was another volley fired towards the house from the direction of the barn. This is the last firing that I heard, and I saw nothing more of the bushrangers; and finding that all was quiet, I proceeded to the Eugowra police station on foot to give information to the police”.
John O’Meally’s body was apparently covered by part of a woolpack, and the face by a towel. The body was clad in a corduroy, buckskin, high bootMs with spurs, and three crimean shirts; underneath his neck lay a white comforter. Underneath the ear on the right side of the neck was a gaping wound extending through the vertebra, which was completely shattered by the ball. Decomposition had set in, and the wound was discharging freely. The hair, which was dark auburn, was saturated with blood, as was also the beard under the chin. “The features wore a scowl, and the mouth an expression as if the man had died uttering curses and imprecations.” It was at first intended to remove his remains to Forbes but the rapid decomposition resulting from the hot weather meant that he was initially buried at Goimbla on the near bank of the Eugowra Creek. The Campbell’s won considerable admiration for their resistance and received a £1,000 reward. Hundreds came to see the body before it was buried. It was subsequently removed by family members and the final burial site is not now known.