Australia – The Ribbon Gang



Ralph Entwistle was a brick maker from Bolton before he was transported for life to New South Wales for stealing clothing. In his short life he achieved a certain amount of notoriety as leader of the Ribbon Gang which terrorised the countryside around Bathurst, New South Wales, and occupied the Abercrombie Caves as a hide-out. Ralph was hanged at Bathurst November 2nd 1830 at the age of 25 along with nine of his companions for murder, bush ranging and horse thieving. The following story is reproduced courtesy of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) LATELINE – Late news and current affairs, and its author Andrew Jones of New South Wales. See also the article on bushrangers on the Abercrombie Caves web site by Barry Cubitt, local historian and Senior Guide in charge at the Caves. Published: 22/09/2003.

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 the Bathurst Magistrate’s property near the modern day village of Wimbledon, turned ugly. The gang arrived seeking revenge for their perceived mistreatment at his hands. The Magistrate was absent, but his overseer was shot and killed for refusing to allow any of his convicts to join the uprising. The Magistrate’s convicts felt threatened so joined in, bringing the gang’s membership to 130!

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.

The Ribbon gang headed towards the Abercrombie river and at Trunkey Creek, a hard core group split from the masses and headed for the nearby Abercrombie caves. While resting in the caves for a while, the police and troopers caught up with them. A pitched battle took place on top of Grove Creek Falls resulting in bloodshed on both sides and the gang losing their horses. The rebels retreated on foot, hiding in Bushranger’s Cave. The troopers decided to flush out the Ribbon Gang. It is possible that the troopers who searched the Bushrangers Cave dropped a pair of leg irons. These were found over 60 years later and are on display at the Caves today.
The fugitives attempted to head for the hills. About 3km from the caves, they encountered a group of soldiers. A gun battle ensued and the gang were surrounded and arrested. Ralph Entwistle and his men were charged with murder, bushranging and horse thieving in Bathurst. The trial was conducted by Chief Justice Forbes. In November 1830, ten members of the Ribbon boys were hanged. This was the first and largest public hanging in Bathurst. The site of the hanging is marked today by the council street sign ‘Ribbon Gang Lane’.
Killed in the line of duty (or wounded):
  • James Greenwood, Overseer, murdered
  • Con. Geary, wounded
  • Two mounted police (48th) wounded
  • Lieut McAllister, wounded
Hanged at Bathurst November 2nd 1830:
  • Ralph Entwistle, aged 25, brickmaker from Bolton
  • Tom Dunne, 35, shephed from Kildare
  • Dominic Daley, 32, ploughman from Armagh
  • Jim Driver,22, brickie from Boston
  • William Gahan,24, ploughman from Tipperary
  • Patrick Gleeson,28, labourer from Tipperary
  • Michael Kearney, 23 ploughman Tipperary
  • John Kenny, 22, carter from Cork
  • John Shepherd, 24, boatman from Wiltshire
  • Robert Webster,28, waterman from Wapping
©Andrew Jones, New South Wales
Note for EFHA 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.