Sam Poo was a Chinese bushranger in
Australia who was active in the Coonabarabran region of New South
Wales during 1865.
Poo was a Chinese emigrant to Australia during the
Gold Rush, but instead of mining took to highway robbery on the road
between Gulgong and Mudgee. A skilled and elusive bushman, he evaded
capture from the authorities for several weeks. He often targeted
solitary travelers on foot, both Chinese and Whites, and was also
responsible for the rape of a settler's wife.
On the 3 February, 1865 the Senior Constable John
Ward of the New South Wales Police Force was returning to
Coonabarabran from a prisoner escort to Mudgee. Near the locality
known as Barney's Reef he was informed that a Chinese man had been
robbing passing travellers in the vicinity, and was nearby in the
Following a short search, Senior Constable Ward
located the offender's camp and approached him. When the offender saw
the constable he dived into the bush. A long foot chase ensued, during
which the pursued shot the Constable in his chest, mortally wounding
him. The murderer was later identified as the Chinese bushranger Sam
Two weeks after the incident Sam Poo was finally
tracked down. When confronted by police troops he attempted to escape,
but was shot in the thigh. Continuing to fire from the ground, he was
finally subdued, and taken to a prison hospital in Mudgee. When he
recovered nine months later he was taken to Bathurst, where he was
tried and hanged on 19 December, 1865.
Sam Poo was a Chinese bushranger who robbed people
on the Gulgong-Mudgee road, always meeting his victims on foot.
Nicknamed ‘Cranky Sam’, he was unpopular with his
own people as well as the rest of the inhabitants of the district.
Sam Poo was armed with a pistol and a shotgun. He
first robbed 10 of his countrymen on the Gulgong Mudgee Road, then
attacked and raped a settler’s wife.
Gold miners at Talbragar (then Denison Town), the
nearest settlement, were outraged, but not sufficiently to stop their
prospecting and chase him down.
Trooper John Ward was the sole law keeper, trying
to capture Sam Poo on his own. Ward caught up with Sam Poo at Barney’s
Reef, where they had a cowboy style shootout, dodging behind rocks and
trees, shooting all the way. Ward was shot in the chest and later
died. He was married with five children.
Sam Poo was sentenced to death by Judge Edward
Hargreaves at Bathurst in 1865.
The Chinese mystery man, Sam Poo, turned up late
1864 at the Talbragar diggings. He was a taciturn loner who mixed with
neither whites nor Chinese. There were rumours that he had been a
Chinese laundryman in Sydney.
Sam Poo set up a tent on the outskirts of the field
and walked around the area a lot. He was nicknamed “Cranky Sam” due to
his surly manner. One resident of Chinatown said “Him no good. Him bad
man – no like”.
Then it was noticed early in January 1865 that Sam
Poo was no longer around. Apparently he had packed up and left
Talbragar. Two days later ten Chinese prospectors left the Talbragar
diggings and set out along the Mudgee Road. At a lonely spot on the
road Sam Poo bailed them up at pistol point. He relieved them of their
small calico container filled with gold dust that they had concealed
under their pigtails.
Sam Poo continued to do hold-ups, but he selected
solitary wayfarers on foot, both Chinese and whites. On 8th February
1865 he attacked and raped a woman, holding her a prisoner all day. He
let her go at nightfall, then he disappeared into the darkness.
Trooper John Ward set out alone on 10th February
1865 dressed as a civilian on foot. He came upon Sam Poo, who suddenly
dived into the bush and ran. After a long chase Trooper Ward caught up
with him at a deserted goldfield known as Barney’s Reef. They engaged
in a running gunfight until Trooper Ward was shot in the chest.
Sam Poo took Ward’s weapons and set off into the
bush. Ward lay helpless all day and night, and about noon the next day
the station owner, James Plunkett, who was riding by, found him.
Trooper Ward gasped out what had occurred before whispering “Take care
of my wife and children” with his dying breath.
A widespread manhunt was swung into action with
armed and mounted posse-men from as far away as Bathurst joining in.
For two weeks they scoured the district in vain. Then a blacktracker
named Harry Hughes volunteered his services. Early on the morning of
15th February 1865 he was taken to the site of the murder where he
quickly picked up the trail of Sam Poo. He led the troopers to a place
about 6 km away where they found the Chinese bushranger.
A dogged running fight ensued for several hours.
Finally Trooper Todd shot Sam Poo in the thigh, he fell but continued
to fire from the ground. They rushed him, but Harry Hughes reached him
first. He clubbed the bushranger with his rifle butt, breaking the
stock and fracturing Sam Poo’s skull.
Sam Poo was taken to Mudgee more dead than alive
and was lodged in hospital under guard. Doctors tended him and after
nine months he was taken to Bathurst for trial. After being found
guilty of Trooper Ward’s murder he was hanged at Bathurst Gaol on 19th
The Policeman That Sam Poo Killed
Senior-Constable John Ward was born in England and
he joined the Old Police on 1st February 1858. He transferred to New
Police as a mounted trooper in 1862. He was described as 29 years old,
5’ 10 ½” tall, had brown hair and blue eyes, and his complexion was
fair. Ward was promoted to Senior-Constable on 1st May 1863.
In early 1865 a Chinese gold miner, Sam Poo,
thought to be mentally unbalanced, started sticking up people on the
road to Mudgee. He also kidnapped and raped a young woman. Ward went
looking for the Chinaman, who upon spotting the trooper ran into the
surrounding bush. Ward rode after him and when he caught up called on
him to stand and drop his weapon (a cut down shotgun). Sam Poo aimed
at the trooper and said “You policeman – me fire”.
The trooper leapt from his horse and tried to use
the animal as cover as he drew his Colt navy revolver. Ward’s
hesitancy in shooting the Chinaman proved to be fatal for him, for Sam
Poo fired, hitting the policeman in the pelvic area. Ward fell to the
ground, discharging one shot from his Colt in the process. He them
fired twice more at the Chinaman, who was running away through the
The trooper lay bleeding on the ground until he was
found by Mr M J F Plunkett, the squatter on whose run the shoot out
had taken place. Plunkett arranged for Ward to be taken to his
homestead, and sent for the doctor who lived 50 miles away. The doctor
arrived the next day, but examination showed that Ward was beyond
The trooper told Mr Plunkett that he knew he was
dying and asked what would become of his wife and family. Later he
dictated a full statement about his encounter with Sam Poo to the
squatter. Ward said he was a member of the Church of England, and
asked Plunkett to pray for him. This the squatter did using a book of
Common Prayer. The trooper then asked the squatter to send for his
wife and family. However, John Ward died shortly after giving his
request, passing away on 4th February 1865. His family arrived at the
homestead after he had been buried.
A meeting was held in Mudgee, where a large sum of
money was raised for Senior-Constable John Ward’s widow and children.
This support acknowledged the supreme sacrifice the trooper had made
in the performance of this duty.