This week 150 years ago the region was in uproar following the shooting of a mounted police trooper at an isolated area east of Dubbo.
Senior Constable John Ward was in pursuit of Sam Poo, a gold prospector who gained fleeting infamy as Australia's only Chinese bushranger.
Poo had taken to highway robbery after tiring of thin pickings on the Talbragar goldfields. He lived in an isolated camp on his own and is said to have continuously practised shooting at an old stump.
On February 3, 1865 Ward was returning to Coonabarabran after escorting a prisoner to Mudgee for a court appearance. Approaching an area known as Barney's Reef (between Birrawa and Dunedoo), he met two men droving a mob of sheep.
They reported the whereabouts of Sam Poo who had been carrying out armed hold-ups in the area.
Ward set off to investigate and tracked the bushranger to his camp. When Poo saw the constable he ran into the bush. Ward gave chase and ordered Poo to drop his weapon.
Poo is reported to have aimed a cutdown rifle at Ward calling out "You policeman. Me fire."
Police records indicate Ward jumped from his horse and attempted to use the animal as cover while he drew his Colt revolver.
Poo fired and hit Ward in the groin. Ward discharged one shot as he fell to the ground and fired twice more as Poo ran off through the bush.
Squatter James Francis Plunkett of Billaroy Station (later known as Birriwa Station) found Ward bleeding on the ground. He had the wounded man taken to his homestead and sent for the nearest doctor who lived 50 miles (80kms) away.
The trooper told Plunkett he knew he was dying and expressed concern about his wife and five children. He dictated a full statement about his encounter with Poo and asked Plunkett to pray for him.
Ward was beyond medical help when Mudgee doctor William King arrived the next day. The trooper had already been buried by the time his family travelled to Plunkett's homestead.
According to police records, Ward was 29 years old. He was described as being five feet 10 inches (179cm) tall with brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion.
Born in Surrey in England, Ward sailed to Australia and joined the NSW police force on February 1, 1858.
At the time of his death he was the officer-in-charge of Coonabarabran police station
A public meeting at Coonabarabran expressed concern about the shooting and collected money for Ward's family. Reports suggest a similar meeting was held at Mudgee.
A widespread manhunt swung into action with armed police and mounted posse-men from as far away as Bathurst joining in.
The district was scoured in every direction for two weeks.
On February 18, 1865 Aboriginal tracker and stockman Harry Hughes helped mounted police constables Burns, McMahon and Todd locate Poo in an area of scrub near the present day Golden Highway.
As they approached the wanted man a rifle ball ripped through the brim of the tracker's hat near his ear.
The bushranger was shot as he attempted to escape. He is said to have continued to fire from the ground before being subdued.
A roadside sign between Dubbo and Dunedoo marks the date and location of Poo's capture.
Poo was seriously wounded and not expected to live when he was taken to Mudgee hospital. After lengthy medical treatment he was transported to Bathurst to stand trial for the murder of John Ward and the attempted murder of Harry Hughes.
The October 11, 1865 Sydney Morning Herald reported Poo pleaded not guilty when he faced Justice John Fletcher Hargrave.
Government interpreter Sing Shigh translated the evidence to Poo.
The case opened when John Cluff, an employee of James Francis Plunkett, was called.
"'I remember the day Constable Ward was shot," Cluff told the court.
"I saw the prisoner in the neighbourhood the day Ward was shot. I was coming through the scrub and I saw him covering me with a gun. He asked me where was I going. On my telling him I was going to Mr Plunkett's, he said, 'Go on or I will give you one too', pointing to a gun or pistol that was lying near him on a log. The gun shown me, one that had been cut down in the barrel, is the gun he had. It had a piece of leather near the ripple, like that now on the gun. I did not notice the pistol (and) could not swear it was a pistol. The prisoner was dressed in a serge suit and corduroy trousers like that worn by the prisoner now. He had a hat like the prisoner's."
Elizabeth Golding, the wife of Robert Golding, told the court:
"I live with my husband at Mr Plunkett's. On January 30, I saw the prisoner at my place. He came and spoke to my little girl. It was in the forenoon and he went away. Soon after he returned. I asked him what he came back for. He said, 'If I cannot have my will of the girl, I will of you'.' He had a gun with him, like that shown me. It has a precisely similar piece of leather around the barrel. I ran off to get assistance. The prisoner is the man. The prisoner was dressed then, as he is now. I never saw him before. My husband came back (but) the prisoner was gone.'
James Francis Plunket told the court:
"I remember Constable Ward being shot. I found Ward lying in the bush wounded. I remember seeing the prisoner the night before Ward was shot. I remember seeing him in one of my shepherd huts, some things strewn in confusion. There was a mess as if a flour bag had been emptied, and on the floor was a piece of leather legging that had been cut. The leather around the gun is similar to that of the leggings. I found the things disturbed in the hut three or four days after Ward was shot. I found Ward wounded and took him into my house, where he died at four o'clock in the afternoon. He said he knew he was dying, and asked repeatedly, 'What is to become of my wife and children?' He knew he was dying and I took down a statement in writing. Afterwards, he made other statements which I did not put down."
The newspaper reported no evidence was taken from the prisoner.
Poo, aged 35, was sentenced to death. He was hanged at Bathurst gaol on December 19, 1865.
The story of the Chinese bushranger and the shooting of trooper Ward was widely reported by city and country newspapers .
The Clarence and Richmond Examiner described the execution on January 2, 1865:
"The Chinese convict Sam Poo convicted of the murder of Constable Ward, suffered the extreme penalty of the law, within the precincts of the (Bathurst) gaol. In the absence of any of his countrymen outside the prison walls, three Chinese prisoners, who are at present confined in Darlinghurst Gaol, were brought to see the end of Sam Poo, there were also about a dozen other persons present besides the police and the officers of the gaol. The wretched man, who, ever since his apprehension has been quite weak in intellect, appeared perfectly unconscious of his fate, and until his arms were pinioned by the executioners, stood in the door of his cell clapping his hands. The ceremony of pinioning over, he was led to the gallows without speaking a word, or even lifting his head. The rope was fixed, the bolt drawn and Sam Poo ceased to exist. The body was, after the lapse of little more than half an hour, cut down, and taken away for burial."
Death was certified by John Chippendale, gaoler at Bathurst. John McLean was the undertaker when Poo was interred at Bathurst. Witnesses to the burial were Reverend Thomas Ward and John Elliott.
In November 2012 police officers laboured alongside members of the community to establish a memorial garden around Ward's grave at Birriwa Homestead.
The garden, picnic table and entrance arch honouring the bravery of a police officer who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty was officially dedicated during a ceremony in 2013.
The project was started by Senior Sergeant Mal Unicomb who began researching John Ward when he was stationed at Coonabarabran in 1980s.
Senior Sergeant Unicomb spoke to relatives, searched the state archives, located Ward's grave and finally found a photo of the fallen policeman in a colonial history by Edgar Penzig.