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Father gunned down by notorious bushranger

In Gunning general cemetery there is a family grave site that alongside the standard name plates, is another in cursive writing explaining the history of the woman whose remains rest there.

Matilda Parsee Rayner's grave in Gunning general cemetery. Courtesy Brian Rudd.

Born in the final days of 1852, Matilda Parsee Nelson couldn't wait to reach the new country and was born on the Parsee, the ship bringing her family out to Australia from England. She was born to Samuel Nelson and his wife Elizabeth (nee Goode).

In 1865 Matilda was 13 years old and had seven other siblings. Her father was a constable in Collector, NSW, not far from Goulburn. It was the era of bushrangers, none more dangerous than Ben Hall and his gang, which kept the local constabulary busy.

It was late in the day on January 26 of that year and Hall, along with John Gilbert and John Dunn, all notorious bushrangers in the area, had taken over Kimberley's Commercial Hotel and store at one end of the town in Collector. They rounded up all the occupants, along with a number of victims they had kidnapped during the day after holding up some drays, including Matilda's brother, Harry. He was told to hold the bushrangers horses and would be shot dead if he let them go.

It was a little girl who notified Constable Nelson that the bushrangers were in town.

He was the only policeman in the village at the time as the others were out scouring the local area for these same bushrangers, who were known to be in the district. Nelson armed himself with his loaded carbine and bayonet. He assured his wife 'Now, I am just going to do my best'.

He then approached the hotel.

Dunn was out the front of the building and saw Nelson approach. He fired a shot and managed to hit Nelson who had taken cover behind a post. He staggered and fell. Dunn shot again, ending the policeman's life.

Memorial to Samuel Nelson in Collector. Courtesy A Guide to Australian Bushranging.

Sadly, Matilda's older brother Frederick had approached with his father, standing some distance away, but had seen the fatal incident occur. Dunn scampered back to the hotel to tell his comrades what had occurred. They immediately left the area.

A year later Dunn was caught, charged of the murder of Constable Nelson and hanged. Samuel's wife Elizabeth received a pension of 50 pounds per annum to maintain and educate the children over the next ten years.

Matilda went on to marry Edmund Carr Rayner four years later in 1869. He was the son of the first clerk of Petty Session at Gunning, also named Edmund. They went on to have six daughters and one son.

A monument now stands on the very spot in Collector where Samuel was gunned down.


  • 'Mrs M Rayner', Goulburn Evening News, Friday 18 October 1935, Page 4

  • 'Tragedy at Collector: John Dunn and Constable Nelson', A Guide to Australian Bushranging', accessed 29th December, 2022, Tragedy at Collector: John Dunn and Constable Nelson – A Guide to Australian Bushranging

  • 'Bushranging Incident - Shooting of Constable Nelson', Crookwell Gazette, Friday 10 April, 1914, Page 2

  • 'More Bushranging - Murder of Constable Nelson', Queanbeyan and General Advertiser, Thursday 2 February, 1865, Page 3

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