Spotlight: Bushrangers in court in Bathurst (13 April 1865)

Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Thursday 13 April 1865, page 2


MONDAY, APRIL 10, 1865.

(Before His Honor Judge Wise.)

Crown Prosecutor, E. Butler, Esq. Barristers, W. B. Dalley, J. L. Innes, and E. Lee, Esqrs. Attorneys,

Messrs. James and McIntosh.


James Mount alias Gordon alias the “Old Man,” and James Dunleavy were charged with, on the 7th day of July, 1861, assaulting and robbing William Brandon, and taking from him a quantity of letters, the property of himself and another.

Mr. Dalley applied for time to plead on behalf of Dunleavy, which was granted.

Gordon, after having objected to be arraigned by any other name, pleaded guilty. His Honor reserved sentence.

Another count charged Gordon with having, on the same day, in the Half-way House, robbed Ebenezer Davis of £3, and with, on the same day, at the same place, assaulting and robbing one George Asmus, to both of which he pleaded guilty. He also pleaded guilty to having robbed, with fire-arms, on the 13th June, 1864, one Charles David Clements of a quantity of fire-arms and £2 in money ; on the 19th August, in the same year of having stolen horses, &c, the property of William Faithful Gibson ; and on the 22nd June, at Canowindra, a quantity of wearing apparel and £3 in money, from Joshua Pierce.


Sam Poo was indicted with, on the 18th February, at Barney’s Reef, shooting at one Henry Hughes, to prevent his lawlful apprehension. The prisoner remained mute, and would not answer the charge.

Wilson Ramsay being sworn said that the prisoner since his arrest had not to his knowledge spoken, but he had been told that he could speak English well.

John Duff deposed he knew the prisoner. Had spoken to him in English, and he had replied to him. He can speak English as plain as witness can.

It was therefore decided that the jury should be empanelled to try whether he was mute by malice, or by the visitation of God. The jury being sworn, Mr. Butler said that the only thing they had to try was whether he was wilfully mute or only unhappily so. He thought he could prove by various witnesses that the former was the case, and that he had only become obstinate.

Tommy Hoy deposed that he had a conversation with the prisoner on the previous day in the coach, both in English and Chinese, and he understood him.

John Duff re-called, repeated his former evidence. He asked him in English where he was going to, and he said if himself and his brother did not go on he would soon make them. Asked him where he lived, and he said, pointing down a log, “there.” This was in English. Told him he would fetch somebody to shift him. He said, “You had better not.”

Senior-constable Webb deposed that the prisoner had been in his charge. He heard him ask for a drink of water whilst on the coach, and he also spoke at his examination before the Bench.

Mr. Sub-inspector Davidson had never heard him speak.

Mr. Chippendall said that after he came into gaol he would not speak at all. Was informed he had eaten the food given to him.

Edward Clark deposed he had seen the prisoner in Mudgee, but could get him to speak. Had heard others speak to him, but he would not answer. He refused to take his food for some fourteen days.

Constable Burns deposed to his having spoken in the lock-up at Sofala, and also in the coach.

The jury retired for half an hour, and brought in a verdict of dumbness by malice.

His Honor decided that this was equivalent to a plea of not guilty, and directed the trial to proceed.

Another jury was therefore empannelled.

Mr. Butler, in opening the case, said that the prisoner was charged with shooting at Henry Hughes with intent to kill him, and in a second count with shooting to resist his lawful apprehension. The prisoner was arrested on suspicion of having shot constable Ward, but the evidence was not at present sufficiently complete to go on with that case. The Chinaman had been told by the police what he was arrested for, and he then shot at them, being well armed both with a gun and pistol, and it was only when knocked on the head with the butt end of a rifle that he was arrested.

Miles Burns deposed he was a constable in the Western Police. Remembered hearing of the death of constable Ward, about the 5th or 6th of February. Went out with senior constable Webb and another to apprehend a Chinaman. Was stationed at Mudgee then. Received information on 17th March that the Chinaman was about the town and went in pursuit with three others. Saw prisoner about fifty miles from Mudgee. McMahon was with him, the other two having taken another direction. A shot was fired and they saw him retreating. Called on him to stop but he would not. Did not see him till after the shot was fired. He was about sixty yards distant. Heard the shots passing over their heads. Fired at him and missed him. Chased him through the bush and met the others. Other shots were fired. Saw Hughes’ hat after the prisoner was taken. When prisoner was taken he was on the ground, taking deliberate aim at witness, when he knocked him over the head and stunned him.

Told him five or six times to surrender, as they were police. Found on him a powder horn, a large pistol, and a fowling piece. The pistol was loaded and the gun discharged.

Senior-constable Webb deposed he was with Burns when they went in search of the prisoner. Saw Ward when he was dead. Was not present when the firing took place.

Henry Hughes, a half-caste, deposed he was lately in the employ of Mr. Blakeman, being brought up by him. Was with the police when the prisoner was taken. He fired at witness, and the shot went through the rim of his hat (produced). The hole was not in the hat when this occurred. The hat was knocked off his head at about six yards from the prisoner. The other time he was fired at he was about twenty-five yards away. Whilst taking aim the last time constable Todd shot him, and Burns knocked him on the head. There was only one hole made in the hat.

Constable Burns was re-called, and in reply to his Honor reiterated his former evidence.

His Honor, in charging the jury, said that as the prisoner had been adjudged guilty of wilfully holding his tongue, and as others had said he could speak, the only course left open was to show them the evidence and leave it to them to judge whether he was guilty upon the first or second count.

The jury, after retiring a few minutes, returned a verdict of wounding with intent to kill. The prisoner, who appeared to be very weak and emaciated, was remanded for sentence.

The Parkes Letter

In February 1879 the Kelly Gang crossed the border into New South Wales. The reward on their heads was £4000 and having been declared outlaws by act of parliament, they could be shot dead without challenge. Having successfully robbed the bank at Euroa and made Victoria’s police the target of much derision from the press, the gang decided to take the flashness out of the NSW police as well.

The Kelly Gang performed an incredible raid on the township of Jerilderie over the course of a weekend. They locked up the police, scoped the town in stolen police uniforms, then took the townsfolk as prisoners while they robbed the bank. The plot was executed almost perfectly, except that Ned Kelly’s attempt to apprehend the newspaper editor, Gill, to make him publish a letter he had dictated to Joe Byrne (largely based on the one he had earlier sent to Donald Cameron M.P.) had been thwarted by the man’s fleeing town at the sight of the outlaws in the bank.

Letter writing was a key part of Ned’s public relations campaign to soften his image. He wanted his version of events published so that the public would have a different perspective on events to the one pushed by the press. He believed, quite inexplicably, that he could both state his interpretation of crimes associated with him, as well as graphic insults and threats against his enemies, and come away with people seeing him as the victim.

It was not altogether unheard of for bushrangers to write to the press to state their opinions or try to clear their name. Both Frank Gardiner and John Peisley had done so in the 1860s. The key difference was in the brevity of their correspondence, whereas Ned’s letter spanned 50+ pages.

In response to the Jerilderie affair, Sir Henry Parkes, Premier of New South Wales, doubled the reward for the gang to £8000. This was an incredible sum, equivalent to over $1000,000 in modern Australian decimal currency. This, naturally, raised eyebrows and seemingly prompted Ned Kelly to pen a letter, mocking the New South Wales government and police force.

Sir Henry Parkes

March 14, 1879

To Sir Henry Parkes

Premier N S W

My dear Sir Henry Parkes

I find by the newspapers that you have been very liberal in offering a reward for the Kelly gang or any one of them Now Sir Henry the man that takes I Captain E. Kelly will have to be a plucky man for I do not intend to be taken alive. And as I would as soon die in NSW as Victoria I will give you or any other person who wishes to take me a fair chance to try your pluck. I am at present not very far from Bathurst (in fact I have been in the town of Bathurst and has taken a peep at the bank) Now I tell you candidly that I intend to rob Bathurst and particularly the bank. So now you are warned of course I will not say what time I and the gentlemen that follows in my train will visit the City of the plains. But one thing you can count on that I will pay it a visit. Now Sir Henry I tell you that highway robbery is only in its infancy for the white population is been driven out of the labour market by an inundation of mongolians and when the white man is driven to desperation there will be desperate times. I present my respects to the Sydney police

yours E. Kelly

Needless to say, the Kelly Gang did not rob the bank in Bathurst as suggested, and this was likely a ploy to redirect attention to allow the gang to move without risk of being caught, if indeed the letter was genuine.

If this is truly a letter from Ned Kelly, apparently written without the input of Joe Byrne, it gives an intriguing insight into Kelly that the other letters do not offer. Here, rather than trying to justify his criminal career and threatening violent retribution against his foes, this Kelly engages in a much more playful manner of speaking that is more reflective of the tone used in many of his speeches, albeit with less emphasis on his own victimhood and more on a political bent. It seems he is trying to summon up the spectre of the golden era of bushrangers that he grew up with in an effort to get the government on edge, if only for his own amusement. Again, if this is genuine, it provides a glimpse at a playful, boastful side of Ned that takes a back seat in his other missives.

The author does make a rather odd claim that the Chinese (referred to as “Mongolians”, as per the racist styling of the time) are forcing white men to turn to crime by squeezing them out of the labour market. Such invective was not uncommon at the time, and the prevailing belief among many lower class white men was that the pitiful wages Chinese workers commanded was undercutting their competitors, thus giving an unfair advantage that put white men out of work. Such a mentality was not helped by the press, who seemed to prey on the xenophobia. Little has changed on these fronts. The reality was that economic depression was the root cause of much of the unemployment, as would be experienced by Captain Moonlite’s gang only a few months after this letter was written, leading to their depredations at Wantabadgery.

Ned, as is well known, did not exactly have a good track record with the Chinese. In 1870 he was put on trial for assaulting a Chinese man named Ah Fook. Ned got off due to the prosecution case being weak (much of this likely due to poor translation.) Ah Fook, or at least a countryman of the same name, would later suffer a hideous fate at the hands of his fellows, being mutilated then murdered. Ned didn’t exactly deny that he had beaten the man with his own bamboo staff, justifying himself by stating that he was responding to his sister’s distress as the man verbally abused her. However, this does not automatically translate to Kelly having a racist hatred of the Chinese.

Now, it is certainly possible, if not probable, that the letter is a fake. People impersonating the gang was common for a myriad of reasons. In this case it may have been a practical joke to make fun of Parkes and the police. With that said, the tone and style in of language is quite in keeping with the patterns of speech we know Ned employed when he didn’t have Joe Byrne to refine it. The strangely polite, almost erudite, manner of speaking despite the rough edges, as well as the tendency to declare what will happen with absolute certainty, is typical of Kelly. However, much of the turn of phrase and the overall contents of the letter are so unusual for him that the most likely scenario is that this was a letter penned by someone else pretending to be him, maybe even a sympathiser or close associate who was familiar with the way Ned spoke.

If nothing else, the letter is an interesting curiosity that highlights the way that Ned Kelly had become such a celebrity, even by February 1879, that people could actively contribute to the mythos by impersonating him, and his actions had begun to suggest he represented something political to sections of the population. In essence, this letter encapsulated the zeitgeist of that small period between the bank robberies and the Glenrowan plot.

A Concise Guide to the Bathurst Rebellion

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.

View from the summit of Mount York, looking towards Bathurst Plains, convicts breaking stones, N.S. Wales [Source]


13 November

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.


23 September

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.

A government jail gang, Sydney, N.S. Wales [Source]

24 September

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.

26 September

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.

27 September

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.

Abercrombie Cave near Bathurst, New South Wales [Source]

28 September

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.

William Henry Suttor [Source]

29 September

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.

30 September

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.

While it is generally believed the gang got its name from their leader wearing ribbons on his hat, it likely has more to do with Irish rebels known as “Ribbonmen“.

13 October

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.

14 October

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.

29-30 October

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.

The Gilbert-Hall Gang: An Overview

Beyond the Kelly Gang, only one other bushranging gang has truly cemented its place in the culture of Australia so firmly to become synonymous with bushranging. The early 1860s belonged to a rotating roster of brigands that operated mostly on the Lachlan Plains and came to be known popularly (for reasons that will become apparent) under the name of Ben Hall, though the contemporary press preferred to take their nomenclature for the gang from it’s most prominent figure, Johnny Gilbert. They were said to have committed hundreds of crimes ranging from robbery to murder. The following is not a detailed account of their career as the sheer scale of their depredations makes for heavy reading, but rather it is a summary of the career of the most legendary bushranging gang of the 1860s.

The origins of the Hall Gang are quite ephemeral. There was no definitive incident that forged the gang as it would come to be known, rather it evolved from the vestiges of other gangs. The one element that brought the key players together was the Prince of Tobymen, Frank Gardiner. Gardiner had been on the run after violating his ticket of leave, and after having worked the roads with companions such as The Three Jacks and John Peisley, he decided to set his sights on a bigger score than what mail coaches could yield. Gardiner wanted to have a crack at the escorts taking the gold from the diggings. He soon realised to do so he would need a lot more men to help him out. So in 1861 Gardiner began forming a gang to help him rob the Orange gold escort. This would become a defining moment for the core members of what would eventually become the Gilbert-Hall Gang.

The gang Gardiner had formed consisted of Johnny Gilbert, the flash Canadian who had been his off-sider on and off during his time in the bush; John O’Meally, a volatile Australian-born who had proven to be a reliable and enthusiastic underling; Charlie Gilbert; Henry Manns; Alex Fordyce; John Bow; and Patsy Daley. These men were to be the shock troops who would attack the escort but Gardiner needed more assistance. To hold the horses and scout he had Jack “The Warrigal” Walsh, the teenage brother of his lover, Kitty Brown. It was also rumoured that among those helping to look after the horses was a young stockman named Ben Hall and his brother-in-law John Maguire, who had turned to crime as a way of getting easy money to counter the hardships of farming life.

Ben Hall in more lawful times.

On 15 June, 1862, the Gardiner gang bailed up two bullock teams near Eugowra Rocks. They tied up the teamsters and left the drays on the road to act as a blockade. The bushrangers were disguised with their faces masked or blackened. When the wagon came up the road from the Lachlan diggings, it was forced to stop because of the blockage. As it did, Gardiner emerged and the gang opened fire and riddled the coach with bullets, injuring two of the police. Sergeant Condell was shot in the ribs, while Constable Moran was shot in the testicles. The horses were spooked and bolted, causing the wagon to strike a boulder and topple, flinging the driver and police across the road. Once the victims had escaped, the gang descended upon the wreckage and picked it clean, stealing around £6000 worth of gold and cash.

The booty was split among the bushrangers but the celebrations were short-lived as police led by Sir Frederick Pottinger soon found the gang’s hideout. Their sudden arrival forced the bushrangers to split up. Gardiner and Walsh narrowly avoided capture, but lost their share of the gold when their over-burdened packhorse was seized. The bushrangers tried to hide their booty and keep quiet but the police were quick to make arrests. Charlie Gilbert and Henry Manns were captured by Pottinger but rescued by Johnny Gilbert and Frank Gardiner. Manns set off alone and was soon recaptured. Bow and Fordyce were arrested as were Ben Hall, John Maguire and Daniel Charters, an associate of theirs. The Gilbert brothers successfully managed to escape to New Zealand to lie low. Gardiner took Kitty Brown with him and escaped New South Wales, eventually being arrested at Apis Creek in Queensland.

When Johnny Gilbert returned from abroad he started bushranging with a number of off-siders including Fred Lowry. As each of them left, John O’Meally was the only one who remained. The pair did not exactly like each other but it was a marriage of convenience that allowed them both to enjoy the lawless adventure they craved.

When Hall got out of remand he had a chip on his shoulder. He promptly found his way to Johnny Gilbert and John O’Meally and joined them in bushranging. The trio hit the highways with considerable success. Nobody was safe and the police could not catch up to them. Eventually they decided that they needed extra help as their operation became more prolific.

In 1863, the gang recruited John Vane to source horses for them. Vane and his cousin Mickey Burke acted as scouts for the gang but soon managed to become fully fledged members. Vane was a tall, quiet young man who was a fearless rider and a skilled bushman but not as ruthless as the others. Burke was young and feisty; itching to go on the adventure of bushranging but not keen to use violence willingly. This latter quality seemed to make him a target for bullying.

In late September, 1863, the gang began a spree of lawlessness that caused a stir throughout the colony. On 22 September they bailed up three troopers and stole their weapons and uniforms. The next day, the gang bailed up Hosie’s store dressed as police. The gang took supplies and stole all of Hosie’s sweets. It was not the first time the gang had robbed him.

On 26 September they raided John Loudon’s house at Grubbenbong dressed in their stolen police uniforms. They went through the building in search of police they believed were staying there. The search turned up nothing but the gang bragged that if any troopers came after them, they would handcuff them and march them back to Carcoar. They forced Loudon’s wife to prepare food for them. Once they were satisfied, the gang left.

The following day the bushrangers, still in their stolen uniforms, went to William Rothery’s Cliefden Station at Limestone Creek, where they engaged in a standoff with Rothery’s staff. Rothery ordered his men to stand down and the bushrangers bailed up the household, ate lunch, drank champagne then played piano. As with their visit to Grubbenbong, they left quietly after having their fill. They moved on to the township of Canowindra. They robbed Pierce’s store then quietly rounded up the townsfolk, including the local constable, into Robinson’s pub and held an impromptu party. The party continued into the morning and the gang left without fear of police intervention.

The success of the Canowindra raid bolstered the gang’s confidence and they set their sights on Bathurst, one of the biggest cities in colonial New South Wales. With John Vane on watch, the gang entered town at dusk on 3 October, 1863. They went to the gunsmith and looked at what he had in stock but could not find anything to their liking. They attempted to rob the jeweller but the screams of female onlookers roused attention. Suddenly Vane called out to signal the arrival of troopers. They mounted and bolted through the streets, escaping without a scratch. They took refuge in the house of a man named De Clouet, from whom they intended to steal a racehorse named Pasha, but the horse was not there. The gang were able to leave town without further incident after the search had been called off.

The gang decided to stick to what they were good at and once again headed to Canowindra. Again the townsfolk were rounded up into the pub and festivities took place. In the morning Mickey Burke proved difficult to rouse, his drinking having been rather excessive, but even though they were delayed in leaving, there was no sign of the police until long after the gang had left.

The reward for the gang was sitting at £4000 and things were becoming serious as police drew heavy criticism from the press over their inability to stop the bandits. On 24 October, 1864, they headed to the Keightley farm on Dunn’s Plains on a vendetta to take the flashness out of gold commissioner Henry Keightley. Keightley had bragged about his part in helping the police hunt the gang and his readiness to shoot them down. The bushrangers arrived at sunset whereupon they were spotted by Keightley and his friend Dr. Pechey. The bushrangers dismounted and opened fire as the men sheltered inside. There was a vicious shootout during which Mickey Burke was shot in the belly. Keightley and Pechey took refuge in a barricade that had been made on the roof but were low on weapons and ammunition. Burke refused to allow his wounding to lead him to be captured and he determined to take his own life. He shot himself in the head but only succeeded in further wounding himself. He shot himself in the head again, finally succeeding in committing suicide. John Vane was grief stricken and when Keightley and Pechey were captured he bashed Pechey with his pistol, mistaking him for Keightley, and was fully prepared to execute them in retaliation. Mrs. Keightley intervened and convinced them to hold her husband to ransom instead of murdering him. Dr. Pechey rode into town and fetched £500 – the equivalent of the reward money offered for Burke – from Mrs. Keightley’s father and returned to the farm. The bushrangers entrusted Keightley’s servants to convey Burke’s corpse to Carcoar then left.

In the wake of the tragedy tensions were high and Vane left after a fight with Gilbert. He turned himself in and was imprisoned at Darlinghurst Gaol. Once again the gang was a trio, but they were determined not to lose face. They continued to rob travellers at an alarming rate and soon heard about a magistrate named David Campbell who had been talking about his eagerness to capture the bushrangers.

On 19 November, 1863, the gang rode to Goimbla Station, where the Campbells resided. They spread out to find a way inside. O’Meally went to the back door where he was met by Campbell. O’Meally discharged his shotgun and narrowly missed Campbell’s head. O’Meally ran to the front of the house, chased by Campbell who doubled back when he saw the others. The bushrangers began firing into the house. Campbell took cover by the kitchen and his wife, Amelia, ran under fire to fetch ammunition and weapons from the drawing room. Campbell’s brother had been roused by the firing and was shot and wounded. He ran and hid in a crop field until there was a safe moment to get help. The bushrangers took cover behind a fence and O’Meally set fire to the barn. Campbell called out for the bushrangers to set his horses free but they refused out of spite and the animals were burned alive. As O’Meally stood to admire his handiwork, Campbell shot him in the neck. Hall and Gilbert dragged him to the bush on the edge of the property and propped his head up but the wound was fatal. When O’Meally died they looted his body and evacuated, leaving the grisly find for the Campbells to deal with.

Hall and Gilbert slowed down after Goimbla but found two new recruits very quickly. James “Old Man” Gordon and John Dunleavy were inducted into the gang and soon they were up to the same old tricks. The new outfit was put through the ringer when they were ambushed at the Bang Bang Hotel and engaged in a shootout with police. The bushrangers narrowly escaped but it clearly rattled Gilbert who left the gang to return to Victoria for a spell.

Hall continued on with Gordon and Dunleavy but they were hardly alike the outfit Hall was used to. During a shootout in the bush at Bundaburra, Dunleavy was injured. He surrendered himself and was soon tried and sent to Darlinghurst Gaol. Hall and Gordon continued together briefly before Gordon also split and was arrested near the Victorian border. He too was imprisoned.

Hall now faced the daunting prospect of bushranging solo. He kept a low profile, preferring to avoid confronting police or making his presence known. From time to time police would stumble upon where he had been sleeping and he would barely escape, but the lifestyle was beginning to impact on his health. Fortunately for Hall he was soon reunited with Gilbert.

Ben Hall was just as eager to recapture the glory days as Gilbert, but they knew that they needed at least one extra set of hands. Gilbert recruited John Dunn, a teenaged jockey and Gilbert’s former bush telegraph. Dunn was wanted for skipping bail and saw bushranging as a viable alternative to honest work or gaol.

John Dunn

The trio hit the roads and bailed up as many people as possible, their exploits reaching new heights of audacity with each event. At the end of 1864 the gang went to work at Black Springs near Jugiong. They bailed up scores of people travelling the road, robbed them and kept them prisoner behind a large hill while they awaited their true goal: the mail coach. The coach arrived as expected and the bandits bailed it up, but when Ben Hall spotted the police escort catching up the trio galloped away and doubled back once they had sized up the threat. All three demonstrated their incredible horse riding abilities by steering the horses with their legs while double-wielding pistols. The gun battle was frenetic and vicious. Sergeant Edmund Parry became locked in one-on-one combat with Johnny Gilbert. They exchanged fire and a bullet from Gilbert hit Parry in the back, killing him.

A dangerous precedent had now been set and the gang had become elevated from audacious highwaymen to murderers. Undeterred, the gang continued to go about their depredations. At Christmas the bushrangers visited their girlfriends, Christina MacKinnon and Peggy and Ellen Monks, and decided to have some fun at the Boxing Day ball in Binda. They bailed up a former policeman named Morriss and robbed his store before heading to the Flag Hotel. They sang, danced and drank with the patrons while Morriss plotted to take the wind out of their sails. As the night wound on Morriss managed to escape through a window and tried to set the gang’s horses loose. When Hall discovered Morriss missing, he tried to find him outside. In an act of vengeance the bushrangers and their girlfriends burned down Morriss’ store. The women were arrested for their role in the arson but not convicted.

On 26 January, 1865, the gang bailed up several travellers on the road near Collector before heading to Kimberley’s Inn. The occupants were marched outside and robbed while Hall and Gilbert raided the interior. As the local police were in the bush looking for the gang there was only one constable in town – Samuel Nelson. Nelson heard that the inn had been bailed up and set out on foot to confront the bushrangers. When he arrived there was a brief standoff between himself and John Dunn before Dunn shot him in the stomach and head, killing him.

The raid of Kimberly’s Inn as portrayed in The Legend of Ben Hall.

In response to the murders and countless other offences committed by bushrangers in the colony, the New South Wales government passed a legislation called the Felons Apprehension Act. This would render any person declared an outlaw to lose all protections of the law, and anyone could kill them without provocation and with no fear of punishment. It literally rendered the proclaimed outlaws as exempt from human society and encouraged people to treat them as vermin. The act allowed the wanted people 30 days to turn themselves over to police before being officially declared outlaws.

Things became very treacherous for the gang. Several ambushes occured where the gang narrowly escaped alive. The decision was made to do one last heist and get out of the colony before they were officially outlawed. They recruited John Dunn’s mate Daniel Ryan to help strike at a gold escort. The gang lay in wait on a stretch of road in the bush at Araluen and when the gold escort arrived they opened fire. The heist was a poor imitation of what Gardiner had masterminded and the end result was that the gold remained untouched and the gang was forced to retreat. Daniel Ryan would carry out several other robberies with the gang before disappearing from the line-up.

Back down to a trio, the gang attempted to rob a wagon full of teenage boys – the Faithful brothers. What the gang did not anticipate was that the brothers, who had been out hunting, would resist with firearms. A gunfight broke out wherein Gilbert accidentally shot his own horse and was trapped under it. The brothers succeeded in getting to safety, leaving the gang to lick their wounds.

The Faithful brothers

The gang decided the time had come to call it quits. Ben Hall took care of some business around Forbes before heading to a rendezvous with the others at Billabong Creek. Unfortunately Gilbert and Dunn had seemingly gotten spooked by teamsters they mistook for plainclothes officers and Hall decided to set up camp near the home of police informant Mick Coneley. On 5 May, 1865, Hall was ambushed as he fed his horse. He ran to escape but was shot over and over until, as he held a sapling, he died from around 30 bullet wounds, two passing through his brain. Coneley would earn £500 for selling Hall out.

The death of Ben Hall from a contemporary illustration.

Gilbert and Dunn continued to run from place to place before seeking shelter at Dunn’s grandfather John Kelly’s place near Binalong. In the wake of Hall’s death they had learned not to trust harbourers, especially as the date to turn themselves in by was rapidly approaching. Unfortunately the belief that Dunn’s family was a safe bet was another poor judgment and Kelly sold them out as well. A team of police surrounded the house and the bushrangers were forced to escape through a window. As they ran Gilbert was shot through the heart and killed. Dunn sustained a leg injury but managed to escape.

Death of Gilbert

Dunn by virtue of being the only survivor of the gang at large became the first person to be declared an outlaw in New South Wales. Rumours abounded that he had joined up with Captain Thunderbolt, but in fact he had gone into hiding on a farm under an assumed identity. He was soon discovered, however, and once again tried to escape. He shot a trooper in the leg but was himself shot in the back, the bullet lodging in his spine. He fought off the police as much as he could but the pain was too intense and he was captured.

He was taken to the lock-up in Dubbo but managed to escape despite his crippling injuries by climbing out of a window. He crawled along the ground, unable to walk from his wound, but was soon recaptured. He was tried for the murder of Constable Nelson and sentenced to death. He was hanged in Darlinghurst in January 1866. With Dunn’s death the Gilbert-Hall Gang had finally been snuffed out for good.

Even in their own lifetimes, the bushrangers who formed the roster in the gang were something akin to celebrities. They developed a reputation as daring highwaymen and folk heroes that robbed from the rich but would never molest a needy person or woman. The truth was far from this lofty ideal and the gang had its fair share of indiscriminate robberies to their name. It has been estimated by some that the gang committed hundreds of crimes in their short career. Indeed, the number of bail ups attributed to them is probably far and away the largest of any organised gang of bandits in Australian history. It was the inefficiency of the police that helped seal their reputation and turned this band of robbers into glorious rebels, rather than incorrigible ne’er-do-wells. What pushed them into this life of crime is hard to pinpoint as most members of the gang came from respectable backgrounds. Perhaps the allure of reaping the benefits of the gold rush without having to engage in the back breaking labour was just too big a temptation to refuse.

Jack Donohoe: An Overview


As one delves into the history and folklore of bushranging, the name Jack Donohoe comes up regularly, but there’s usually not a lot of clearly defined information to accompany the name. Donohoe has suffered the fate of Thunderbolt, Hall and Kelly – the myths have become ingrained in the story as much as the facts. Was Jack Donohoe really worthy of folk hero status?

Donohoe was born in Dublin, Ireland in around 1806 and was transported to Australia in 1825 for “intent to commit a felony” as a teenager. Donohoe was not fond of the prison life and as soon as the opportunity presented itself he absconded, taking to the bush. Teaming up with two fellow convicts, Kilroy and Smith, Donohoe engaged in a spot of highway robbery, bailing up three carts just outside Bathurst. The gang got away with a little cash and a keg of rum but were found soon after and tried. Found guilty of highway robbery, the trio were sentenced to hang but the legend of “Bold Jack” Donohoe was just about to begin. Somewhere along the line between Bathurst Gaol and court Donohoe managed to escape custody without being noticed until muster was called. The frantic search turned up zilch and Donohoe went bush in pursuit of pastures new. Kilroy and Smith on the other hand met their fate on the gallows in a disturbing display of the incompetence of colonial executions.

“Bold Jack”: No contemporary imagery exists of Donohoe in life.

Donohoe never worked alone, understanding the importance of division of labour and, perhaps, safety in numbers. Ganging up with eight other bushrangers led by native-born William Underwood, Donohoe quickly made his mark on colonial New South Wales. The robberies were many and the spoils great. Donohoe himself dressed as an upwardly mobile gentleman in his navy blue coat and top hat. It was at this time that the bushrangers understood the value of a sympathiser network, making an effort to reconnect with former convict colleagues that had done their time and acquired properties and businesses for themselves. The gang would provide goods to their friends from their crimes and in turn the sympathisers would provide shelter and protection.

A noted distinction of this gang of Bathurst bushrangers was their ruthlessness. Whereas bushrangers like Matthew Brady, who operated around the same time, had a code of honour in a vainglorious effort to affect an air of decency, Donohoe’s gang believed the end justified the means which is why a disastrous raid on the farm of James Hassall saw the bushrangers use the station staff as human shields during a gunfight. By luck or by providence there were no fatalities. The outrages had caused quite a stir in the community and police forces were mobilised in a search for the notorious bushrangers. One such party stumbled upon the bushrangers’ camp, still kitted out with their tools and supplies, and waited for the men to return. When the gang arrived at camp they were escorting some freshly pinched cattle but seeing the police sitting around their fire they decided to engage them in a gunfight – a bad decision. For the next two hours the bushrangers and police battled each other, at one point the police stopping to eat the bushrangers’ dinner rations and inviting them to join. In the end nearly the entire gang was dead or captured with Donohoe one of the lucky ones to escape. A couple of days later the party encountered the remaining bushrangers and opened fire killing Donohoe’s mate and badly wounding Donohoe’s left arm.

A map of the town of Bathurst in 1833

In late 1830 Donohoe and Underwood were accompanied by William Webber and William Walmsley on their various depradations. Once more Donohoe was in top form but the success was short lived and the men soon resorted to raiding the farms of poor and well-to-do alike. A common modus operandi was for the gang to denude their victims and make them stand on the side of the road stark naked (save for their shirt if they were lucky) while their clothes were rifled through in search of hidden treasures. At this time Underwood mysteriously disappeared and it is supposed he was murdered by other members of the gang when they discovered that he had been keeping a journal of their exploits. However the more likely scenario is that he simply took his leave of the gang as he was allegedly shot by police in 1832. Regardless of the veracity of these claims the remaining trio continued business as usual. The robbery of Mr. Eaton proved to be one of the more horrifying of the gang’s acts. During the robbery Eaton was shot and as he lay mortally wounded on the road the gang stripped him and took all they desired, leaving Eaton on the road where locals found him and took him home where he could be seen by a doctor. With the gang becoming ever more desperate the road for Donohoe was soon to reach a short end at Bringelly.

A police party had once again found the gang’s camp and when they were returning from visiting sympathisers nearby they were set upon. Donohoe took cover behind a tree and taunted the police. Little did he realise he was facing some of the best marksmen New South Wales had to offer and as he poked his head around he was shot in the throat and temple. As Donohoe lay dying his confederates ran away. When Donohoe’s body was searched a small pistol was found in his coat which was supposedly reserved in the event that he should need to take his own life to avoid being taken alive.

After Donohoe died a mold was made of his head for a death mask by a tobacconist. There were two castings made from the mold, prominently showing the bullet wound in his forehead, both have vanished over time. Clay pipes were made of Donohoe’s likeness, the bowl of the pipe sculpted based on the death mask. These morbid curios were quickly snapped up. Songs were written about him, his exploits and his death; nearly all of them were tremendously inaccurate, but the most prominent was a ballad titled Bold Jack Donohoe which later provided a basis for the more famous Wild Colonial Boy that lifted its lyrical content heavily from the former.

As for Webber and Walmsley, Webber was soon shot down by police and Walmsley turned informer in an attempt to overturn his own execution. Walmsley dobbed in all of their sympathisers resulting in dozens of men and women losing their farms and livelihoods and returning to convict status. Despite this Judas act Walmsley met his end on the gallows all the same, the slipknot was the one thing he couldn’t weasel out of.

Death mask of Jack Donohoe

Selected Sources:

“BUSHRANGERS—NOTED AND NOTORIOUS” Truth (Brisbane, Qld. : 1900 – 1954) 20 January 1935: 36.

“TERRIBLE HOLLOW.” Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954) 24 March 1932: 4

White, C. History of Australian Bushranging Volume I. Angus and Robertson, 1900.

Spotlight: The Botched Execution of Donohoe’s Mate

In 1827 Jack Donohoe teamed up with two fellow convicts named George Kilroy and William Smith. Taking to the bush they robbed a man named Plomer. Found guilty of highway robbery, the trio were sentenced to death but Donohoe escaped from Bathurst Gaol and avoided his appointment with the hangman. What happened to his mates?


William Johnson, for murder, and two other criminals, named Kilroy and Smith, for highway robbery, underwent the awful sentence of the law on Monday last. The unhappy men abstained from addressing themselves to the multitude assembled for the purpose of witnessing the dreadful spectacle. Though silent, they appeared extremely devout. The Reverend Messrs. Cowper and Horton attended Johnson and Smith, whilst their hapless associate, Kilroy, received consolation through the Reverend Mr. Power, the Roman Minister. At about 20 minutes to ten o’clock, the fatal signal was given the pin that supported the drop was withdrawn, the drop fell! Horrible to behold, however, the rope that was to have suspended the centre culprit, Smith, snapped about half way, and the unhappy creature fell senseless against the foot of the gallows, whilst the other two were apparently dead in an instant. After a few moments the wretched man recovered, to be again susceptible of all the horrors of his situation. He did not appear to suffer much in his body from the dreadful fall but dismay, and anguish the most bitter, were portrayed in his looks. He was relieved from the broken cord, and supported on one of the coffins, when the Reverend Mr. Horton resumed the task of attempting to impart spiritual instruction to the unhappy man’s mind, by directing him to look to ” another and a better world.”

As it was impossible to fulfil the sentence on the culprit, until the other bodies were suspended the usual time, the Sheriff, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Cowper, proceeded to Government-house, and acquainted the Governor with the heart-rending occurrence, for the purpose of ascertaining whether it were possible that clemency could be extended. HIS EXCELLENCY, however, who was aware of the painful consideration which the case of the unhappy criminal, Smith, had received by the Executive Council, and as he had committed no less than three highway robberies (one of which was attended with extreme violence, and that in one day, though he had only arrived in the Colony in August last-we say, HIS EXCELLENCY was reluctantly constrained to declare that he could not interfere with the operation of the law; and everyone must feel satisfied, if mercy could have been exercised with propriety, the life of this hapless wretch would have been spared. When the Sheriff returned to the press-yard, and announced to the unhappy man that the law must take its course, he seemed no way horror-stricken at the result of the application which he understood had been made in his behalf. Whilst the bodies of Johnson and Kilroy were lowered from the gallows Smith was removed; and, upon the bodies being placed within the coffins and the drop re-adjusted, Smith was assisted to the platform, when his earthly sufferings speedily terminated.

‘Ere this painful subject is dismissed, we cannot help remarking that this constitutes the second or third accident of the kind that has occurred within the last two or three years, and as it is a circumstance of that description wherein casualty should be always carefully prevented, we feel it our duty to condemn the practice of hazarding the possibility of increasing the sufferings of hapless criminals, who have justly forfeited their lives, by not, having recourse to those kind of instrument — that species of cord or rope — which would ensure the speedy destruction of life. Bale rope, we are informed, and indeed it has been proved in several instances, is not adapted to the executioner’s purpose; and we have no doubt, in future, that the sufferings of a poor wretch will not be prolonged, nor public feeling harrowed up, by a repetition of that which, we hope and trust, will never again occur in this Country.

“Execution.” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842) 26 March 1828: 2.