“Frank Gardiner”


"Frank Gardiner he is caught at last; he lies in Sydney jail...." The song details the deeds of this daring bushranger, then tells how he was taken after the death of fellow bushrangers Ben Hall and Gilbert


According to Harry Nunn, in _Bushrangers: A Pictorial History_ (Ure Smith Press, 1979, 1992), p.113, Frankie Gardiner was "the illegitimate son of a Scottish free settler and an Irish-Aboriginal servant girl, Born Frank Christie at Goulburn in 1830, he was befriended by an old man from whom he took the name Gardiner." He turned to crime in his teens, was caught, was sentenced to five year in Pentridge in 1850, escaped, was caught again, and was sentenced to seven years of hard labor. According to George Boxall, _The Story of the Australian Bushrangers_, Swan Sonnenschein & Co, 1899 (I use the 1974 Penguin facsimile edition), p. 193, he served half the sentence, was given a ticket-of-leave, and once again fled.

According to Fahey, he also claimed higher morals than most bushrangers; an 1862 newspaper published a letter in which he claimed never to have taken the last of a poor man's money, and to have discharged those from his gang who did such things! The letter was signed,

Fearing nothing, I remain, Prince of Tobymen,

Francis Gardner, The Highwayman.

(Boxall, p. 201, prints the whole letter and notes the misspelling of Gardiner's name but believes it an error made by the paper.)

Ben Hall (d. 1865; for whom see "The Death of Ben Hall" and "Ben Hall"), who also disdained violence, was associated with the Gardiner gang. Other members included Johnny Dunn (d. 1866), Johnny O'Meally (d. 1863), and John Gilbert (d. 1866). These were among the leaders of the gang that committed one of the most famous crimes in Australian history, the Eugowra Rocks robbery of 1862.

Despite the implication in some versions of the song that Gardiner would be executed, he was condemned to prison. (The confusion may arise from the fact that many versions are reconstructed from fragments.) Having served 10 years of a 32 year sentence, he was released in 1874 (known as the "year of clemency"; Nunn, p. 117). He went into voluntary exile in America (he is said to have opened a saloon in San Francisco).

Gardiner himself was much longer-lived than most of his gang; legend says that he died in a poker game in Colorado in 1903. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1830 - Birth of Francis Christie in New South Wales. He later took the name Frank Gardiner, and was known as "the Darkie" for his part-Aborigine ancestry


  1. Meredith/Anderson, p. 30, "Frank Gardiner" (1 text, 1 tune, with a confused ending)
  2. Fahey-Eureka, pp. 86-87, "Frank Gardiner" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Manifold-PASB, pp. 58-59, "Frank Gardiner" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Paterson/Fahey/Seal, pp. 84-86, "Frank Gardiner He Is Caught at Last" (1 text)
  6. Roud #9117
  7. BI, MA030


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1954 (collected by Meredith from Ina Popplewell); fragments are reportedly found in Bradhsaw's _The Only True Account of Frank Gardiner, Ben Hall and Gang_ from before 1900
Keywords: outlaw prison
Found in: Australia