150th Anniversary Clarke Brothers Capture
Maitland 2016

John (Johnny) Gilbert

by Edgar F. Penzig

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

John Gilbert (1842?-1865), bushranger, was born in Hamilton, Canada, son of William John Gilbert. In October 1852 he arrived at Melbourne in the Revenue with his family. He soon left home and worked as a stable-boy in Kilmore before drifting to the goldfields where he associated with gamesters and petty thieves and attracted suspicion by his flashy dress and 'flush of money'. At 18 after moving into New South Wales he met Frank Gardiner at Kiandra and in 1860-61 joined his raids in the Wheogo district. 'A superb horseman', his 'certain cheerful charm and courage' appealed to Gardiner. On 15 June 1862 Gilbert took part in the Eugowra gold escort robbery and like Gardiner had a £500 reward on his head. Soon afterwards he rescued his brother Charlie and Henry Manns, who had been arrested by Sir Frederick Pottinger, and then vanished for about nine months.

In May 1863 Gilbert returned to the Weddin Mountains and became Ben Hall's right-hand man although they did not always work together. In July 1863 with John O'Meally he held up the bank at Carcoar in broad daylight but the alarm was given before they took any loot. He was with Hall in the affair at Bathurst, 'the piratical descent on Canowindra' and the raids on H. Keightley and Goimbla station when Mickey Burke and O'Meally were killed. Early in 1864 Gilbert went to Victoria but soon returned to join Hall and John Dunn. On 17 November the gang robbed the Gundagai-Yass mail after a battle with the police in which Gilbert killed Sergeant Parry. On 27 December the gang rode into Binda, robbed Morris's store and attended a dance at the Flag Hotel. Morris's store was later burnt in revenge for his attempt to capture the bushrangers. In January 1865 they attended the Wowingragong races and mixed with the punters including Pottinger. On 27 January at Collector when Constable Nelson was mortally wounded by Dunn, Gilbert took the dead policeman's gun-belt. Between 2 February 1862 and 10 April 1865 Gilbert took part in at least forty-four armed holdups and robberies in New South Wales, including the theft of five race-horses and eighteen other mounts.

Gilbert and Dunn were proclaimed outlaws in April under the Felons Apprehension Act with £1000 on each of their heads. Gilbert was shot by Constable John Bright on 13 May and buried in the police paddock at Binalong. Dunn managed to escape but was captured in January 1866 and hanged in March.