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Frank Gardiner

1830 – 1903

Francis Gardiner (Christie) (1830-1903?), bushranger, came to New South Wales with his family as a child. At the age of 20, under the name Francis Christie, he was sentenced to five years' hard labour at Geelong for horse theft. Escaping from Pentridge, he returned to New South Wales. In early 1854, having stolen more horses, he was convicted as Francis Clarke and imprisoned on Cockatoo Island. Five years later he was given a ticket-of-leave for the Carcoar district, but broke parole and headed south. Following a stint as a butcher at Lambing Flat, he transformed himself into 'The Darkie', engaging in highway robbery on the Cowra Road. In July 1861 at a sly grog shop near Oberon he shot and wounded two policemen. Expanding with Johnny Piesley into the old Lachlan road and the Weddin Mountains, he formed a 'gang' with Johnny Gilbert, Ben Hall and others. On 15 June 1862 they held up the gold escort near Eugowra and bagged £14 000. Gardiner fled with his mistress to Queensland, but in early 1864 he was located by the New South Wales police and arrested. Tried for wounding Sergeant Middleton with intent to kill, he was acquitted by the jury but found guilty on two non-capital charges and given a cumulative sentence of 32 years' hard labour. In 1872, the high-profile orator WB Dalley, who had defended Gardiner, organized petitions to the governor to use his prerogative of mercy. Governor Robinson decided that Gardiner had been harshly sentenced and in 1874 released him, subject to his exile. A public controversy ensued, with petitions, counter-petitions and spirited debates in the Legislative Assembly. Ultimately, the decision led to the fall of Premier Henry Parkes's government. In 1875, by way of Hong Kong, Gardiner travelled to San Francisco, where he ran the Twilight Saloon. Although most reports were unreliable, the colonial press continued to note his activities, including his death in Colorado in about 1903.

Updated 2018