Billy Dargin was born on the Bogan River in about 1843. Nothing is known about his parents, but it was recorded at the time of his death in 1865 that he obtained his surname through working for Peter Dargin, a squatter who owned land in the Bathurst district and further west. Dargin is common Aboriginal surname from the Bogan River particularly near its headwaters in the Peak Hill district. Billy may have been related to Joseph Dargin who was born on Bogan River in 1835 to Billy Dargin and Mary.[ref]Joseph Dargin passed away at Condobolin in 1905 (DC 1905/012360)[/ref] It is possible they were brothers. Joseph spoke the Wangaaypuwan dialect of the Ngiyampaa language and was recognised as a clever man. It is known among members of the Peak Hill Wiradjuri community that Billy Dargin was the uncle of Samuel Dargin who was born at Gradgery near Parkes in 1861. The exploits of Billy Dargin as part of the team who shot and killed Ben Hall are remembered today.[ref]Interview with Valda Keed, Peak Hill, May 2014. Samuel Dargin passed away at Parkes in 1937 (DC 1937/002816)[/ref]
Billy Dargin’s name first appears in the Salary Register in September 1863, but he had already been tracking for the police at least since the beginning of the year. In February 1863 he and another tracker named Pilot [ref]According to the Salary Register, Pilot did not join the force until May. There appears to be a lag between when trackers were first employed and when their names appeared in the Salary register. He finished in September the following year (Police Salary Registers 1863 SRNSW 3/2998 Reel 1971 & 1864 3/2989 Reel 1972). No further details about Pilot are known.[/ref] were at the Pinnacle Police Station (near the Weddin Mountains) when Ben Hall, Patsy O’Meally and Patsy Daly are thought to have broken in and stolen a rifle, ammunition, saddlebags and a bridle.[ref]Shiel, D.J. 1983. Ben Hall Bushranger. University of Queensland Press, St Lucia: 100[/ref] Dargin was sent out with Sub-Inspector John Oxley Norton to pursue the offenders in the Wheogo area and they came across all three. Norton fired at Hall, but withdrew to go for reinforcements. But Norton and Dargin were pursued by the three bushrangers; Norton surrendered after firing his ammunition. Dargin continued on foot after his horse was shot. He later recounted that Daly and Hall pursued him for about 13 kilometres. Hall reputedly said to Dargin:
“Well, old man, you’re a plucky one, we’ll let you off, but we’ll stick up your barracks tonight.”[ref]Shiel, D.J. 1983. Ben Hall Bushranger. University of Queensland Press, St Lucia: 100: 105[/ref]
Daley was captured soon after, with Billy Dargin playing a prominent role.[ref]Goulburn Herald 21 March 1863: 2[/ref] Although unsworn, he gave evidence in court identifying Daley as one of the fellows who robbed the Pinnacle Station.[ref]McMahon, Vincent 1993, “Patsy Daley: Bushranger to Businessman, Part 1” Western Connections Nos. 34 & 35, Dubbo and District Family History Society.: 9-10; Tisdell, Kate 2012. Ben Hall – The Highwayman. Forbes Shire Council: 77.[/ref]
Billy Dargin continued to pursue the Hall gang and associates throughout 1864. In October, he helped arrest Tom White (a friend of Hall) at Gillenbah on the Murrumbidgee River. The trail was followed for over 300km from Wheogo to the Murrumbidgee before the arrest was made.[ref]Illustrated Sydney News 16 November 1864: 1; see also Shiel, D.J. 1983. Ben Hall Bushranger. University of Queensland Press, St Lucia: 179-180.[/ref]
The Forbes Police Diary of Duties and Occurrences (held by the Forbes Museum) contains details about the work of Billy Dargin and and another tracker named Charley Edwards in the lead up to Hall’s death on 8 May 1865. Early on in the year Edwards came down with an illness and was unable to work for over a week. After recovering in late January he accompanied a Superintendent to nearby Billabong Creek Station to transfer a man named Glazer (who was charged with receiving a stolen saddle) to Forbes. A further tracker named Jackey (who was usually based at Condobolin) was engaged in early February tailing (ie rounding up) the Forbes Police horses. In the same week, Edwards spent several days in the station, but also accompanied a constable on patrol to Billabong Creek. In early March, Jackey was sent to Billabong Creek to assist with “bushrangers” (but not Hall’s gang who were down towards Braidwood at the time[ref]Bradley, Peter 2013. Ben Hall: Stories from the hard road. Yellow Box Books: 164.[/ref]). Towards the end of the month, Edwards and Jackey alternated between station work and bush patrol, again sometimes to Billabong Creek. On Wednesday 23 March 1865, Billy Dargin and Constable Nichols arrived at Forbes from The Pinnacle Police Station to get their horses shod. They returned the next day. A similarly purposed trip occurred towards the end of April at a time when Edwards and Jackey were alternating as before between station work and bush patrols. By 25 April Dargin was stationed at Forbes when he accompanied a sergeant and constable on bush patrol. Hall’s gang was back in the district by now, having reached Billabong Creek by about 16 April. The heavily armed patrol which ended in the death of Hall left Forbes on Saturday 29 April and included Dargin and Edwards. It was commanded by Superintendent Davidson. Hall arrived at Billybong Station on 4 May and set up camp near Mick Coneley’s house (an informer). At dawn on 5 May, the police opened fire on Ben Hall as he went to round up his horses. Various accounts indicate Dargin was one of the police who fired his double barrelled gun and struck Hall in the torso. Dargin and Edwards returned to Forbes the next day along with the other Police who were carrying Hall’s body.[ref]Forbes Police Diary of Duties and Occurrences 1865 (original held by Forbes Museum) Bradley, Peter 2013. Ben Hall: Stories from the hard road. Yellow Box Books: 154-165, Bradley 2006: 115-116.[/ref]
Davidison praised Dargin for his part in the pursuit and death of Ben Hall. He wrote that the “coolness, courage and determination” shown by him were “worthy of some substantial reward.” He was critical of Charley Edwards, stating this his behaviour did not warrant anything beyond “some slight recompense”. No details were given, but from available accounts it seems that Edwards did not participate in the shooting. Perhaps this prompted Davidson disapproval.
In a shocking development, both Billy Dargin and Charley Edwards were dead before the year was out. Dargin continued his employment until the end of October. Another tracking success came the previous month when he found £800 in bank notes by Boyd Creek on Uah Station, probably the proceeds of one of Hall’s robberies.[ref]Sydney Morning Herald 9 September 1865: 6.[/ref] But within a week of leaving the police, Dargin experienced agonising pains on the following Saturday morning and was dead by midday. He was buried the following day in the Presbyterian section of Forbes cemetery; no mourners attended.[ref]Sydney Morning Herald 6 November 1865: 5.[/ref] The conventional account is that remorse over the shooting of Hall drove Dargin to alcohol which soon caused his demise.
There is greater mystery surrounding the death of Charley Edwards. His remains were found near Gradgery Station in August, again within a month of leaving the police. The feet were missing from the body, supposedly taken by wild dogs. Authorities knew the remains to belong to Edwards from the three shirts found nearby. Another clue was that the skull, like Edwards, was missing a front tooth.[ref]Empire 14 August 1865: 5. The missing tooth indicates that Edwards was an initiated man.[/ref]
It is possible that both met with foul play. Supporters of Hall were horrified by the manner of his death, calling the shooting a cowardly act. There was little to be gained by wreaking their revenge on the police, but two former unprotected trackers may have been considered fair game. It is worth remembering that the massacres of the frontier were well within living memory in the mid-1860s and that generally, Aboriginal lives were considered less worthy than others. It is unlikely that proof will be found, but the timing and manner of their deaths raise suspicions.
This website explores the history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW from 1862 when the current NSW Police Force was established through to 1973 when the last tracker, Norman Walford, retired. You can read about the lives of individual trackers and some of the incredible tracking feats they...Learn More ►
There were over 200 NSW police stations that employed Aboriginal trackers between 1862 and 1973. Many were concentrated in the central-west and north-west of the state, the agricultural and pastoral heartland of NSW. This is because one of the main jobs of trackers was to pursue sheep, cattle and horse thieves. Trackers sometimes lived in small huts out the back...Learn More ►
Pathfinders book Pathfinders, A history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW, written by Dr Michael Bennett and published by NewSouth, is now available from all good bookstores. Click on the link below to order your copy. https://www.abbeys.com.au/book/pathfinders-a-history-of-aboriginal-trackers-in-nsw.do Early History Since the beginning of the colony, government agencies, explorers, surveyors and members of the general public called upon the tracking...Learn More ►