The story of Constable Samuel Nelson and his death at the hands of the Ben Hall Gang in 1865 is well-known to Collector locals, even if versions differ slightly. It will be one of many retold for National Police Remembrance Day (29 September).
Local history buff Gary Poile said Constable Nelson had originally been posted to the area as a fisheries inspector on Lake George. But when the lake dried up, he was sent to Collector Station.
He lived at the station with his wife and children until 26 January.
“[That day] the other mounted troopers had heard the Ben Hall Gang was holding up travellers in the area, so all the professional police went and left the lock-up keeper to look after the village,” Gary said.
“But the bushrangers doubled back.”
Infamous bushrangers Ben Hall, John Dunn and John Gilbert roamed the central west of NSW in the early 1860s.
At one point, the gang held up the entire town of Canowindra. While in Binda, they locked the local police officer in the basement of the Flag Hotel before dancing with the locals.
But what happened in Collector shifted the public’s attitude against the gang.
When Constable Samuel Nelson heard the bushrangers were in town and robbing a local hotel, he armed himself with a single-shot musket before heading out.
“He wouldn’t have had any choice not to do anything,” Gary said.
Accounts vary on what happened next.
Local historian Roger Bayley said the myth about Nelson’s death saw him marching down the main street.
“He was actually climbing through the fence to look through the window when he was shot by Dunn,” he said.
“He certainly was a brave man; he wasn’t as stupid as the myth portrayed him to be.”
Whatever the story, the result was the same: Nelson was dead.
Community favour for the gang turned sour, and a bounty was put on their heads.
Nelson’s wife was given a pension from the police, which was reviewed each year.
“It wasn’t a common thing to happen at the time,” Roger said.
Several months later, Hall and Gilbert were killed a week apart in shoot-outs with police, while Dunn was arrested in northern NSW and charged with Nelson’s murder. In March 1866, he was hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol in Sydney.
A memorial to Nelson was built in 1965, next to the Bushranger’s Hotel in Collector, where he died.
A NSW Police statement said the memorial marked his “extraordinary courage against overwhelming odds”.
“But his legacy goes beyond that,” they said.
“His great-great-grandson is a serving police officer himself and holds the rank of Inspector at Bankstown Police Station.
“His name – Samuel Nelson.”
The story was highlighted as part of National Police Remembrance Day, which is recognised across the country.
For the past week, Canberra’s National Carillon has lit up with the faces of eight police officers who have been killed in the line of duty between 2020 and 2022.
A combined dawn service for ACT and NSW was held at the National Police Memorial earlier this morning, where the touchstones of 15 fallen police officers were mounted to the Memorial Wall.
AFP Superintendent Dean Elliott said it was important to pause and pay tribute to the officers who had lost their lives while serving.
“After two years of virtual services due to pandemic restrictions, we are pleased to return to in-person ceremonies which allow us to physically unite and pay the utmost respect to our fallen officers,” he said.
The touchstones were carried by a convoy of vintage cars reserved for special occasions.
The vehicles will also be part of the national march procession across Kings Avenue Bridge at 4 pm, along with horses and mounted units, motorbikes, the AFP Pipes and Drums and the NSWPF band, as well as AFP and NSWPF recruits. A dusk service will then be held at 4:45 pm and streamed online.