The notorious Australian bushranger, Frank Gardiner, and his common-law wife Kittie made their way to Queensland in 1862 via the New England District of New South Wales. After passing through the Darling Downs, they made their way north to the Rockhampton District where they would settle under new identities. Prior to this time, Gardiner and his gang were considered by many to be folk-heroes in New South Wales. The boldness of their feats inspired many others to take to the bush and try their hands as highwaymen. Gardiner’s background and reputation is noteworthy as an example of the mythologising of Australian bushrangers.
About 1858, a ticket of leave man named Frank Gardiner, took to the roads in New South Wales, and, by the boldness of his conduct yet absence of roughness or brutality to those he robbed, and not infrequently gifts to the poor, soon became regarded as an Australian Dick Turpin. (Bird, 1904, p.255)
Bird would argue that it is easy to understand the appeal of the Gardiner legend. His reputation held appeal for many in New South Wales and on the Queensland frontier who embraced a certain lawlessness of life and held antipathy to the newly formed colonial police forces. As a bushranger, Gardiner, riding “Darkie” – a distinctive black horse of outstanding quality, was reputed to show “no fear whatever” (Brid, 1904, p.225). Embracing the romance surrounding him, a squatter’s wife, Catherine “Kittie” Brown, in fact left her husband in Forbes NSW to become his “mistress” and was widely regarded as his wife. G
iven Gardiner’s reputation, Bird argues that “it is not difficult to understand that such a man would soon be regarded by a certain class as a hero, and that considerable sympathy for him” was felt throughout the regions in which he frequented (Bird, 1904, p.225).
After a reward of £1000 was offered for his capture, Gardiner evaded NSW police and left his gang who continued under the leadership of Ben Hall and Johnny Gilbert. With Kittie Brown accompanying him, Gardiner crossed from New South Wales vanished into the jurisdiction of Queensland whilst the public speculated as to his whereabouts. At the time, reports were “very contradictory. Sometimes it was said that he had gone to new Zealand. Then that he had made his way to California or to South America” (Boxall, 1899, p.217).
A reward of £1000 was offered for the capture of Gardiner, dead or alive, but all at once his depredations ceased and, for a considerable time, people were wondering what had become of him. It was surmised that he was hidden away ill, or that he was meditating some big robbery. By degrees the opinion gained ground that Gardiner had escaped from Australia and that he would be heard of in America or some foreign country. At length the bushranger was almost forgotten in the depredations of other outlaws. (Bird, 1904, p.247)
The reality was somewhat different to the common speculation. By September 1863, Mr and Mrs Frank “Christie” had settled in the Rockhampton district after travelling via New England, the Darling Downs and Burnett. The Christies are reputed to have stayed overnight along their journey in “popular wayside inns, able to pay for their comfort with the spoils of former escapades” (Grabs, 1983, p.106). At Gracemere, on the outskirts of Rockhampton, Gardiner’s mount was noted, admired, and the subject much frontier conversation but it seems no-one connected the horse and the mysterious “Frank Christie” with the relatively recent disappearance from public view of Frank Gardiner who rode a similar distinctive mount. It’s understood that Gardiner, himself steered the conversation to the exploits of the Gardiner Gang when people noted his horse and given name. Perhaps this “disconnect” can be understood easily when one considers that nature of the frontier in Queensland, the type of people who moved there, and the opportunity the Queensland bush offered to those wishing to start new lives unencumbered by their past miscreants. The further north Gardiner traveller it appears, for some time, the less people cared about his background. It appears that on no occasion during Gardiner’s journey did anyone publicly recognise Frank Christie as Frank Gardiner. In the Rockhampton region, “even local policemen were friendly enough and offered him advice on the difficulties of the Old Peak Road” (Grabs, 1983, p.106).
In June 1863, is found the first recorded and confirmed meeting of a local with Gardiner and Kittie approximately 9 km west of modern Rockhampton. The local, John Jacobs, is reported to have, one evening, met a man and women camped with a dray near the Gracemere Station gate not far from Scrubby Creek. He engaged the couple in conversation as was customary. It would appear that Jacobs was one of the few in the area not to have been aware of whom the “mysterious” traveller he had met actually was.
The traveller said he had come across from new South Wales with his wife. he had a very fine looking black horse which struck Mr Jacobs’ fancy. The traveller said the horse had brought the dray the whole journey. The horse was in capital fettle, and eventually Jacobs offered to exchange a heavy draught horse he had for the black stating the the heavier horse was more suitable for the dray… (Bird, 1904, p248)
Perhaps growing weary of the attention of Jacobs was giving his distinctive horse, “Christie”
… expressed regret at the trouble he had given, but stated his wife was adverse to parting with the horse which was an old favourite. After yarning on several subjects, which included Gardiner’s career, Mr Jacobs left. The next year, he found out that the man and woman he had been interviewing were Frank Gardiner and Mrs brown, and the black horse was the celebrated thoroughbred Darkie… (Bird, 1904, p.248).
Bird continues to point out that after this meeting, Gardiner/Christie and Kittie Brown/Christie moved camp to Deep Creek from where he would routinely ride to the residences of selectors of the district, often ‘yarning with the young fellows, asking if they ever heard anything about Frank Gardiner in the papers” (Bird, 1904, p248). The bushranger, in these conversations, would often “express the opinion that Gardiner was not so bad as many people thought because, though he robbed the rich, he always gave to the poor” (Bird 1904, p248).
Gardiner’s chance meeting with a fellow traveller, Archibald Craig, led to the pair building and opening a public house and store in partnership at Apis Creek some “hundred miles” west from Rockhampton not far from the Fitzroy River. Craig held the liquor licence while Frank Christie ran the store. Both Craig and Christie were well-known and well-liked by travellers on the Peak Downs road and quickly developed a reputation for honesty and fair dealing. Their “shanty establishment gained a good reputation”. The Craigs and Christies were, reportedly, “honest in their dealings, and many down-on-his-luck traveller received a free feed and accommodation and took away a bit of tea, sugar and flour in his pack when he left” (Grabs, 1983, p108). Such was their esteem in the community that “Christie had been frequently entrusted with the escort gold as it came from peak Downs whilst private persons with a big parcel of gold gave it all to Christie for safe keeping when stopping at the hotel” (Bird, 1904, p.247).
Towards the end of 1883, Gardiner travelled west to Peak Downs to explore the possibility of opening another business. In Clermont, he formed a friendship with the Gold Commissioner, Thomas John Griffin, who was considered one of the most trustworthy men of the area.
He also became a confidante of the manager of the local Australian Joint Stocks Bank. At one meeting with these gentlemen the incognito bushranger was left in sole charge of “six or seven hundred ounces of gold”(Grabs, 1983, p.110). Gardiner would later point to this incident as an example of his reformed character when on trial. Such esteem in the community would end not long after with his arrest in March 1864 by Sydney detectives and local police troopers.
Bird reports that in March 1864, Rockhampton was ‘thrown into a state of excitement” with news of Christie/Gardiner’s arrest. Although many in the town disbelieved the reports of the arrest at first, indeed, Gardiner was placed into the Rockhampton lock-up. Sydney based police detectives McClone and Pye took primary responsibility for the arrest. They were assisted by Queensland police Lieutenant Brown, a trooper named Wells and a number of black troopers – probably of the infamous frontier militia, the Queensland Native Mounted Police. A full account of the arrest of both Gardiner, Kittie Brown and Archibald Craig is given in the Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser of Tuesday 8 March 1864 (Click HERE). Gardiner’s arrest was swift and brutal.
Mr. Larnarch JP: Did he offer any resistance? Witness: Not the slightest.
Mr. Bellas: How did you arrest him?
Witness: In the usual way; the same as any other man, I arrested him fairly.
Mr. Bellas: Was he knocked down senseless?
Witness: Not senseless.
Mr. Bellas: Was he knocked down ?
Witness: Yes. He was laid down on his back quietly, and secured.
Gardiner was widely believed betrayed to police by a Rockhampton auctioneer who Bird refers to as “Mr Smith”. Smith and Gardiner were connected many years previously when horses and cattle were stolen by Gardiner then sold by Smith as a auctioneer in Lambing Flat, New South Wales. It’s said that when Smith stumbled upon Gardiner in the bar of the Apis Creek hotel, he recognised him instantly. After some reminiscences, Gardiner warned Smith not to reveal his identity and “gave him a large sum of money for his silence… Smith could never keep money and when her was again penniless the reward which had only to open his mouth to receive, no doubt tempted him sorely” (Bird, 1904, p250).
After his chance meeting with Gardiner, Smith was noted in Rockhampton “spending money freely in hotels”. This was noted by many as unusual in that Smith was usually one short of money and not “flush” – relying on others to buy him drinks not the reverse. After a day or two in Rockhampton, Smith departed for Sydney. A short time later Detectives McClone (sometimes recorded as McGlone) and Pye of the Sydney Police arrived in Rockhampton from Sydney and traveled to Apis Creek. McClone testified:
I came up here from Sydney, from information which I received some time ago, in company with Detective Pye and Mounted Police Constable Wells. From Rockhampton we proceeded to Apis Creek, a place a hundred miles or thereabouts from here, on the Peak Downs Road.Here, at Apis Creek, I saw the prisoner in a store; I saw him when I arrived; I believe the store belongs to him; it was on the 2nd instant that I first saw him; I did not then arrest him, but on the following morning I saw him again, and with the assistance of Detective Pye,Constable Wells, and Lieutenant Brown, of the Queensland Native Police, I took him into custody; I apprehended the prisoner on the road outside his own store; I did not then charge him with any offence; I took him to Mr. McLennan’s station, which is about a mile from the place where I apprehended him, and here, at the station, I informed him of the charge against him; I confined the prisoner at the station, and have secured him safely until I could bring him down to Rockhampton, where I delivered him over into the custody of the last witness; I charged him with the commission of various robberies, and also with the escort robbery at Eugowra Creek in June, 186?; I believe it was in June last that the escort was robbed at Eugowra Creek, but do not recollect the exact date. (Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser, Tuesday 8 March 1864, p2)
Taken by surprise, Gardiner stood little chance of resisting or escaping the detective and trooper. The police had come prepared in disguise as gold diggers and were armed with “a handy little pistol known as Sharp’s Repeater” – probably actually the Sharp’s Pepperbox pistol – “only about four inches in length and [with] four barrels which formed a sort of square. After committal proceedings in Rockhampton, Gardiner was sent on the SS Queensland for trial in the NSW Supreme Court before Sir Alfred Stephen. On July 6, 1864, Gardiner was sentenced to 32 years “hard labour on the roads” (Bird, 1904, p248). His sentence was received in silence.
Sir Alfred Stephen no doubt thought that such a sentence would deter others but if so he was mistaken for bushranging was worse than ever after Gardiner’s conviction. Gardiner, by his reckless daring and absence of cruelty, had thrown a halo of romance over bushranging which no doubt led to the flash young fellows of those days to think that robbing coaches, mails and gold escorts was something to be proud of. (Bird, 1904, p248)
Gardiner’s pleas for mercy went unheard. His documentary statements of reformed character went without sympathetic hearing. Kittie Brown committed suicide in 1868 in New Zealand after trying in vain to influence authorities to grant Frank an early release. Gardiner himself was released in July 1874 and exiled.
In 1872 William Bede Dalley, who had defended Gardiner, organized petitions to the governor to use his prerogative of mercy. Sir Hercules Robinson decided that Gardiner had been harshly sentenced and in 1874 released him subject to his exile. This decision provoked a public controversy with petitions, counter-petitions and violent debates in the Legislative Assembly, and led to the fall of Parkes’s government. (Penzig, 2015)
Gardiner travelled via Hong Kong to the United States and is “said to have afterwards kept a drinking saloon in San Francisco where, many years later, he was killed in a drunken row among his customers” (Bird, 1904, p253) although the precise date and circumstances of his death are unknown. His life in America is subject to some conjecture and speculation.
During Gardiner’s arrest, several horse were impounded by police and brought to Rockhampton. One of these horses, Darkie, was identified as a property of a magistrate Beveridge of Swan Hill, NSW. The thoroughbred was taken to Sydney with Gardiner on the SS Queensland. “What became of the animal is not known” (Bird, 1904, p253).
The SS Queensland was owned by the Eastern & Australian Mail Steam Company and sank off the coast of Wilson’s Promontory on the 3rd August 1876 after a collision with the SS Barrabool.
- Bird, J.T.S. (1904), The Early History of Rockhampton, The Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton.
- Boxall, G. (1899), The Story of the Australian Bushrangers, Swan Sonnenschein and Co, Paternoster Square.
- Grabs, C (1983), Queensland Desperadoes, Angus and Roberston, Sydney.
- Penzig, E.F. Gardiner, Francis (Frank) (1830–1903), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gardiner-francis-frank-3589/text5561, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 29 December 2015.
- Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser, Tuesday 8 March 1864, p2, Available at: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/51561008, 28/12/2015.