Of all the major events in bushranging history, the Bathurst Rebellion is one of the most significant yet least talked about. Over the course of close to two months Ralph Entwistle’s “Ribbon Boys” (aka The Ribbon Gang aka The Bathurst Insurgents) grew to an incalculable size and was involved in ferocious battles with authorities. Such was the rebellion that it almost transcended bushranging to become a minor civil war. The following is a condensed account of the uprising that should provide a reasonable framework of understanding for those who are unfamiliar with the events.
Ralph Entwistle and a fellow assigned convict are entrusted with taking a load of merino wool to Sydney. They are assigned to Liscombe’s Stowford station in Fitzgeralds Valley near Bathurst. During the journey they decide to cool off by skinny dipping in Campbell’s River. At the same time, Governor Darling was passing through with his family and a military guard. The two nude men were spotted in the water and arrested, charged with causing an affront to the governor and the wool was confiscated.
The following day they are tried before Police Superintendent Lieutenant Thomas Evernden. Both men were publicly flogged, receiving 50 lashes each, and the time they had already served that would contribute to a ticket of leave was nullified.
Entwistle and his mates abscond from Stowford. They proceed to raid multiple farms to equip themselves with firearms and ammunition as well as bolster their numbers. The initial gang consists of Entwistle, Michael Kearney, Patrick Sullivan, William Gahan, Paddy Burke, John Shepherd. At Woodstock Patrick Gleeson and Tom Dunne join the gang.
At Hare Castle servants are locked in the milking shed as farm buildings are ransacked. Isaac Clements, Thomas Hunter and John Ashley join the gang. At Blackett’s Farm, the homestead is looted, horses and wagon taken, and assigned servants pressed into joining the gang, bringing the number to 35.
At 9:00am the gang move on Thomas Evernden’s station Bartletts. The farm overseer, James Greenwood, intervenes. He taunts the bushrangers and is shot dead.
The gang go to Michael Grady’s camp at Five Islands Creek to redistribute weapons and plot their next move. They continue on to raid several more farms. By the time word reaches authorities, the gang is 80 strong and on the warpath. Lieutenant Brown and a party of troopers begin searching for the rebels.
At Robert Smith’s farm on King’s Plains, the gang lock up Thomas Marsden, the manager, and camp at the farm for the night. During the night Kearney, Kenny, Gleeson, Gahan and Dunne ride out. They come upon the horses belonging to Brown and his troopers tethered to trees at the foot of Mount Pleasant and steal them.
That night some of the pressed men arrange to return to their stations, afraid of the repercussions if they are found in company with the bushrangers. At around midnight, Paddy Burke flees from the camp on horseback. Patrick Sullivan also flees on horseback at the same time with their ammunition.
At Bartletts, four of Evernden’s servants return. They are joined by Paddy Burke who gives information to Lieutenant Evernden, who is there to retrieve Greenwood’s body, of the gang’s upcoming movements.
The Ribbon Boys continue their rampage, raiding farms including Thomas Icely’s Mandurama Station and Hare Castle. The gang decide to turn the pressed men loose. The core gang now consists of Ralph Entwistle, Michael Kearney, Patrick Gleeson, Tom Dunne, Dominic Daley, William Gahan, John Kenny, John Shepherd, James Drivers, and Robert Webster. The pressed men are allowed to return to their farms at sunrise.
At midnight, the Ribbon Gang splits up. They plan to meet up again at Charlton in two days.
The Ribbon Boys head to Dunn’s Plains. They have now added a few more convicts to their ranks. There are more raids. At Brownlea, Entwistle’s division ask for information. They then find Captain Brown and demand to see the overseers, but they have all been recalled to Bathurst. The gang attack the homestead, damaging property and stealing goods. They raid Captain Watson Steele’s farm taking weapons, a horse and gear then raid Three Brothers, owned by Magistrate McKenzie. They open the stores so the servants can help themselves and then stay there overnight.
A detachment of men from the 39th Regiment of Foot under Captain Horatio Walpole are sent from Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney to Bathurst to support the actions against the rebels. They march until they reach Emu Ferry, where they camp the night and gather supplies.
The split factions of rebels descend upon Thomas Arkell’s Charlton station and reunite. They leave with food and fresh horses. On their way they rob another of Arkell’s stations, Mulgunnia.
An emergency meeting is held in the Bathurst Court House, convened by the local magistrates in order to determine an appropriate course of action in response to the bushranger uprising. At the conclusion of the meeting a volunteer cavalry is created. William Henry Suttor, Charles Suttor, John Levingstone, George Cheshire, David Leighton and John Pollet all volunteer.
William Henry Suttor is appointed commander on recommendation of Major McPherson, the district Commandant. Accompanied by infantry, they pursue the bandits into the Abercrombie Ranges.
At 5:00pm the volunteer cavalry receives intelligence that the bushrangers have just robbed Charlton, and are in the vicinity of Campbell’s River. Suttor and his men immediately head out in pursuit.
The Ribbon Boys take up residence in the Abercrombie Caves where they remain sheltered overnight.
The volunteer cavalry reach Charlton just before dawn but the bushrangers have long gone. They partake of refreshments then head off again in pursuit.
Along the way the party encounters two Aboriginal men and Suttor persuades them to act as guides to the cavalry.
The Battle of the Abercrombie Caves
The volunteers follow Burrangylong Creek until they locate the bushrangers’ camp at dusk. They leave their horses with the Aboriginal men in the bush as they split up to surround the camp.
Charles Suttor takes a smaller detachment to circle around behind the camp while the rest are to engage the bushrangers from the front. As the group are climbing a steep embankment one of the men causes a stone to come loose and alerts the bushrangers to their presence. A gunfight breaks out which lasts around an hour. During the fight two bushrangers are injured.
The men attacking from the front run out of ammunition and feign a full frontal assault, charging at the bushrangers who fall back. The volunteers then retreat into the bush to their horses where one of the gang surrenders.
Ralph Entwistle sends his men after the retreating volunteers. He is under the mistaken impression that the group is being led by Evernden and tells the gang to direct their fire at him. There are no volunteer casualties.
Upon reaching Mulgunnia, William Suttor writes to Major McPherson to inform him of what has transpired. He intimates that the rebels are a more formidable force than previously reckoned. The letter will be sent at first light.
During the night the volunteer party’s horses get loose. Suttor’s men spend most of the day looking for the horses. During this time they meet a detachment of mounted police from the Wellington depot led by Lieutenant Moore.
Upon receiving the previous day’s letter from Suttor at noon, Major McPherson arranges for a detachment of soldiers and volunteers to ride to Bathurst as reinforcements, led by Lieutenant DeLaney. The parties led by Suttor, Moore and DeLaney converge at Mulgunnia. Moore and DeLaney team up to scour the country around Copperhania and Carraway.
The Battle of the Bald Hill
The Ribbon Gang ambush a detachment of the 57th Regiment of Foot led by Lieutenant James Brown, sheltering among rocks on a bald hill near Rocky Bridge Creek for protection. In the attack several of Brown’s men are shot and five horses are killed. Brown takes two wounded soldiers on the back of his own horse as he orders a retreat.
Later that day Private James Stevens of Brown’s party is found, wounded, by members of DeLaney’s party.
When Brown and the remainder of his regiment reach Bathurst he sends word to Goulburn, requesting reinforcements. A party of mounted police led by Lieutenant Lachlan Macalister is dispatched from Goulburn to Bathurst in reply.
The two wounded soldiers rescued by Lieutenant Brown succumb to their injuries overnight and pass away.
Over the next couple of weeks the Ribbon Boys continue to travel to various farms, gathering horses and supplies. Meanwhile military and police continued to track the gang and attempt to gather information as to their whereabouts from informants.
The Battle of Bushrangers Hill
En Route to Bathurst, Lieutenant Macalister’s party are attacked by the Ribbon Gang on Bushrangers Hill. Constable David Geary is one of the first wounded when he is shot in the leg.
During the battle, Macalister is shot in the wrist and falls. Ralph Entwistle is heard shouting, “That’s number one, boys; take ’em steady!”
Macalister uses his wounded arm to steady his pistol and he shoots Entwistle, replying, “That makes number two!”
With casualties on both sides a ceasefire is declared until dawn, allowing the wounded to be retrieved safely. Kearney, Dunne and Shepherd are captured by Macalister’s men.
Mcalister’s forces are bolstered by the arrival of a party under Captain Walpole. Kearney, Dunne and Shepherd are sent to Bong Bong at first light. After a brief return to combat, the bushrangers are subdued and arrested. The Bathurst rebellion is at an end.
The remaining Ribbon Boys are tried before Chief Justice Francis Forbes in Bathurst. Ralph Entwistle, Tom Dunne, Patrick Gleeson, Michael Kearney, William Gahan and John Shepherd are charged with the murder of John Greenwood.
Dominic Daley, Jim Driver, John Kenny, and Robert Webster are charged with stealing from the house of John Brown of Dunns Plains. It is the first capital case tried in Bathurst, and one of the first held outside Sydney. All defendants are found guilty and sentenced to death.
2 November 1830
There is a public hanging of the bushrangers in Bathurst. A wooden gallows is specially erected in the town centre using wood from oak trees on a nearby hill.
Reverend Mr. Kean attends to the condemned Protestants, while Father Therry attends to the condemned Catholics.
Six of the offenders are hanged in the first batch. Four are hanged in the second batch. The bodies are gibbetted for public display and then after the allocated time are taken down and buried nearby.