It all started with a skinny dip
The Ribbon gang was founded by Ralph Entwistle, a young English convict. Ralph had been sentenced to life transportation to New South Wales for stealing clothing and arrived at Botany Bay on board the ‘John the 1st’. Eventually, he was sent across the newly traversed Blue Mountains to work on the land of John Lipscombe, near Bathurst.
In November 1829, Ralph and another prisoner were given the task of of driving a bullock dray to the Sydney markets. The cargo was a load of merino wool, which would bring a handsome return for their master. After selling the wool, they had returned with the proceeds and supplies down the Parramatta Road to Lapstone Hill, over the Blue Mountains, along Cox’s Road, down the precipitous Mount York pass and along the old Bathurst road through Hartley, O’Connell and Tarana, a road which can still be travelled today. On returning to Bathurst, they paused for a dip in the cool waters of the Macquarie river. In fact a skinny dip!
Unfortunately for the two swimmers, Governor Ralph Darling was in the area to inspect the new settlement of Bathurst. Just as the two were cooling off, the Governor’s party were about to cross the river. Realising their imminent danger, the two convicts hid on the bank behind some reeds and tried to dress. However they hadn’t realised that there were two groups of soldiers and were promptly arrested by the second group, led by the Bathurst magistrate. They were charged was “causing an affront to the Governor” and sentenced to a public flogging of 50 lashes.
This sentence typified the harshness of the times and the punitive character of our early history. Later, Ralph Entwistle became embittered and this incident together with similar ones led to the first major rebellion of convicts west of the Blue Mountains. Less than a year later, Entwistle persuaded a number of other convicts to take up arms and take to the bush. On September 23rd 1830, nine men escaped from their master and roamed the countryside in the Fitzgerald Valley, south of Bathurst. The men visited property and stole food, guns, horses and ammunition. They persuaded other convicts to join them until the gang grew to around 50. One Sydney newspaper was reporting a full scale rebellion of 500 escapees roaming around Bathurst!
A local press report written by George Suttor of Bathurst mentioned the leader of the gang wearing “a profusion of white streamers in his hat”. Some called them the ‘Ribbon Boys’. Many of the gang were of Irish extraction and may have copied an Irish secret society known as the ‘Ribbon Men’ using this as a sign of their rebellion. An incident at
A public meeting in the courthouse at Bathurst tried to rally support for the six troopers stationed in the town. Twelve citizens came forward to offer armed support, while the troopers called for military reinforcements. The 39th regiment was marched up from Sydney whilst the 48th Mounted Police were dispatched from Goulburn. The convict-built road along which the 48th marched over the Abercrombie river, near Tuena is still visible today.
Killed in the line of duty (or wounded):
Note for EHHA members
EFHA members can find an updated article in Twissle Times, June 2010, by Australian Jen Thompson based on her PhD research and preparation for a TV programme.