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 December 1865.