Bushrangers have always puzzled me. Students seem to find bushrangers naturally appealing; notorious, challenging authority and sticking by their beliefs no matter the danger they encounter. Bathurst is home to many bushrangers who galloped over the countryside and seriously threatened the stability of the Bathurst outpost.
Engaging students in historically rich sites is a simple and effective way of teaching. They love looking at the surrounding areas and imagining bushrangers, convicts and troopers colliding over their morals and values. Ned Kelly is the main bushranger or “hero” that students recall. Kelly has been trivialised by Hollywood and his message has been altered to create a legend in Australian folklore. The bushrangers crossing the streets of Bathurst hold a deep historical significance and whisper a life lesson. They remain untouched by Hollywood.
What do historical sources tell us and what is there a moral to the Bushranger legends? Truth, honesty, friendship, loyalty?
John Vane dictated his life story to Charles White. I was skeptical about what a convicted criminal could possibly teach but I was pleasantly surprised. Vane outlines his life in a series of narratives that spell out a very clear lesson – It is never too late to admit you were wrong and change the direction you are heading. Vanes life is full of remorse mixed with a heavy scent of adventure.
Vane was a member of Ben Hall’s gang in the 1860’s. He terrorised the roads between Bathurst, Cowra and Cootamundra. In 1863 Mickey Burke was shot dead at Dunn’s Swamp. Burke was a close friend of Vane’s and it appears this incident lead to Vane leaving Hall’s gang and surrendering to the police. He was sentences to prison for 6 years.
This small photograph of a young child was found tied around Burke’s neck when he was killed. Who was the child and why did Burke carry this image? The child has never been identified and historians remain puzzled. This draws many questions from students – why was a notorious bushranger carrying this image? Who had taken the photo? Who are Burke’s ancestors?
Vane was released from prison in 1870 and worked as a stone mason on St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. 5 years later he returned to his life as a bushranger and was convicted again for stealing and armed robbery. Back to prison!
Vane is the only one of Ben Hall’s original gang to survive to old age. His story and memories are a worthwhile read and have be easily integrated into our cross curricular program. Students can not only learn that all actions have consequences but more importantly change is always possible. It is never too late.
Some basic information about the Gangs we meet on our tours:
The Ribbon Gang
In 1830 the Ribbon Gang used Abercrombie Caves as their hide out. Ralph Entwistle was the leader of the Ribbon Gang. He was transported to Australia for stealing clothing, a minor offence with a harsh punishment. Entwistle was assigned to work for John Liscombe near Bathurst. After working all day Entwistle and a fellow convict decided to skinny dip in the Macquarie River. Unfortunately the Governor was passing through the area and witnessed the men illegally swimming naked. Both men were arrested on the spot and sentence to 50 lashed. They were brutally lashed publicly in Bathurst. Another example of convicts receiving very harsh punishments for very minor offences.
9 months after his flogging Entwistle and a number of other men took up arms against the police. They travelled west of Bathurst raiding many farms and stealing enough to survive in the bush.
50 men formed the Ribbon Gang and proceed to the Magistrates farm one morning. They demanded the release of the convicts assigned to the farm. These convicts joined the Ribbon Gang bringing their numbers to 130! The largest organised bushranger gang in Australian history.
A battle between the police and the Ribbon Gang occurred on the top of Grove Creek waterfall. Men were killed on both sides and the Gang lost their horses. They retreated to the Bushrangers Cave at Abercrombie. The bushrangers fled to Bushranger Hill where another battle occurred. Finally outnumbered the Ribbon Gang were arrested and sentenced to death.
On November 2nd 1830, 10 members of the Ribbon Gang were sentenced to death. This was the first and largest public hanging in Bathurst. The site is still marked today as Ribbon Gang Lane in Bathurst.
A rather dashing young man born on the 9th May 1837. “Brave Ben” was renowned for carrying out raids that infuriated the police. They were sneaky, witty and cleverly planned to annoy police more than to steal large amounts of wealth. Ben Hall was not responsible for any deaths but some of the men he rode with did commit acts of murder and robbery.
Nobody is certain why Ben Hall went from successful grazier to bushranger. He worked briefly with Frank Gardiner in 1862. Gardiner was the leader of 8 men who robbed a gold escort coach outside Eugowra, NSW. They stole 2700 ounces of gold worth over £14,000. Retrace his steps from the Bathurst Goldfields through Bathurst and into the Western District.
Check our 2016 program options for more information.