Ingeborg van Teeseling

About Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating from Holland fifteen years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She endeavours to explain Australia to migrants new and old at her website, and runs, telling people's life stories.

Dubbo: A regional hub of bushrangers, notable criminals and the gallows

Last week, we delved into the sordid history of Braidwood. Next up, we analyse Dubbo, a city born and raised on the acrid taste of gunpowder.



As you know, we are in the middle of an investigation. Which regional city will win in the competition set by the Business Council of Australia? The prize: special status and money from the government. Aim: to poach the best and the brightest from the capital cities and going up in the world. Method: see what has happened in their history to figure out if they are made of the right stuff.

Last week, we looked at Braidwood. Still to come: Dubbo, Bathurst, Wollongong, Broken Hill, Moree, and Bourke.

Today, Dubbo.

Although the name of the town is bastardised from a Wiradjuri word for red earth, the local Aboriginal people lost their control over the region once it was ‘settled’ by a man called Robert Venour Dulhunty. Dulhunty had been born in Devon, England, in 1803, but he arrived here in 1824, attracted by tales of endless land, all for free to a good home.

So, two weeks after his ship, the Guildford, moored, he and his brother Lawrence applied for a grant of Crown Land. Robert received 2,000 acres at Cullen Bullen, close to Lithgow, and six convicts, who were tasked to clear and fence the block. The plan had been to raise ‘Arab horses’, but that was put on hold when after a year or so his parents landed in Australia as well and settled at Burwood.

There, his dad was soon attacked by bushrangers, but because he ‘bravely countered’ them, he was made Superintendent of Police. Unfortunately, that was too much excitement for the old man, who died not long after. Robert decided to up stumps and, with an escort of 40 Aboriginal people, started walking. As one of the first white men he crossed the Great Dividing Range and followed the Macquarie River until he arrived at what is now Dubbo. There he set up a farm, on Wiradjuri land and even without the permission of the Governor, who had just made it illegal to take land that had not yet been surveyed. This made Robert Dulhunty one of Australia’s first squatters.

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Of course, a farm needed a family and in 1837 he married Eliza Gibbes, whose father Major John Gibbes was a bastard son of Frederick, the Duke of York, mad King George III’s son. This made Dulhunty part of the elite, something he made official by becoming one of the founding members of the Australia Club, which also counted people like W.C. Wentworth, James Macarthur and John Blaxland amongst its patrons.

By the way, a few weeks after the wedding, Robert and his father-in-law were travelling in a carriage when they were ambushed by armed robbers close to what is now Sydney University.

The thugs had guns and when Dulhunty refused to hand over his possessions, they tried to shoot. Sadly, it had been raining, the gun powder was damp and fizzled out, which gave Robert an opportunity to hit them with his horsewhip and get the hell out of there. In the rest of the 1930s, Dulhunty branched out from farming. Next to Dubbo station, he built a roadside inn, to ‘accommodate passing travellers’.

When ‘Bob’s Pub’ opened, somebody was murdered, and Robert, who was also the local magistrate, sent the wrong man to jail for ten years. In his spare time, Dulhunty was an honorary steward at his father-in-law’s private racecourse, but this life of luxury fell apart during the Depression of the early 1840s. Over the next few years, he lost almost all of his wealth and a lot of his power. This is why he drew the short straw during an argument with a Frenchman, Jean Emile Serisier, who wanted to put a store on Dulhunty’s property, that had by now become Dubbo village in all but name.

Robert refused, after which Serisier convinced the powers-that-be to gazette Dubbo seven kilometres away. This is where Dulhunty was buried four years later, in the Dubbo Pioneers’ Cemetery. He is remembered in the newly designed Dubbo coast of arms by a few apples, apparently because his pub was famous for its apple pie.

Also represented in the Dubbo crest is Jean Emile Serisier himself, by the cherries of his last name. Serisier, who was born in Bordeaux, France, arrived as a midshipman in 1838, 14 years old. He was sick and needed help and the small French community took care of its own, so Jean Emile was placed in the home of Michel Despointes, a wealthy businessman in Sydney. For a while, the two worked together in Despointes’ establishments, then Serisier decided to make his move in Dubbo. Not deterred by Dulhunty’s opposition, he waited until the first town blocks came up for auction, bought a few and started his general store.

Because he was well trained by his countryman, he quickly became a success. As well as the local postmaster, stock dealer, auctioneer, magistrate, guardian of minors and one of three people who stood guarantor for the extension of the telegraph to Dubbo. In 1873 he had enough money to retire. He bought a 4,000-acre property and set up a vineyard, soon producing red wine that ‘attracted the attention of connoisseurs’. Serisier called his property (and one of his daughters) ‘Eumulga’, after the daughter of an Aboriginal ‘chief’ who had married a convict.

It was a famous romance at the time, especially because it had ended deliciously tragically with her drowning. Jean Emile’s life ended in heartbreak too: in 1880, on a trip to Paris to sell his wine, he caught smallpox and died. 

A year after his demise, his widow, Margaret, married Rene Bertaux, also a member of French society. Together they built the Imperial Hotel. In 1930 this establishment was run, for two years, as ‘Flash Kate’s Casino and Brothel’ by the legendary Catherine (Kate) Mary Leigh. Leigh was born in Dubbo, but made her name in Sydney, in Surry Hills and Kings Cross to be precise.

This is where she moved just after WWI and new laws which would make her a very wealthy woman. A lot of the soldiers who were returning from the battlefields were wounded, gassed, angry, unemployed and thirsty. And because they used all those attributes to start fights in the streets, the NSW government introduced what would become known as the ‘six o’clock swill’, limiting the time men could spend in pubs. Of course, this drove alcohol underground, which this is where Kate came in.


Catherine (Kate) Mary Leigh


By the early 1920s, she had dozens of bootleg joints, although she didn’t touch the stuff herself. Besides booze, she also dealt in cocaine, that she bought from a network of corrupt doctors and dentists. Unfortunately, there was another woman who had her sights set on becoming the ‘Queen of the Underworld’, as Kate was called. Tilly Devine was not a pussycat either. Leigh had shot and killed two men and got away with it. But Devine was rumoured to have more contacts inside the police than her competitor, so for twenty years, the ‘Razor Gang Wars’ were predominantly fought on the streets of Surry Hills and Kings Cross, sometimes between the two women themselves.


For days she raved, screamed, threw utensils, spat and attacked the wardens. But today, her hands were manacled in front, her feet strapped together.


During her life, Kate Leigh was charged 107 times, but went to jail on only 13 occasions. Once, she managed to swap a lengthy period in the slammer for ‘banishment’ to Dubbo, where she set herself up as a madam and drug dealer. Leigh’s wealth was legendary. When she had to go to court, she always wore diamond rings, but she also gave thousands to the poor in her neighbourhood, who thought the world of her and were loyal to the end. That came in the 1950s when the tax office managed to bankrupt her for unpaid tax and fines. Nevertheless, her funeral attracted almost a thousand people.

Less popular after death, but famous at the moment of, was another Dubbo-born crim, Jean Lee. Born in 1920, by the time she was in her twenties she was living in Sydney, where she and her boyfriend, a man called Robert David Clayton, worked what was called a ‘badger game’. Jean would pick up men, get them semi-naked and into a compromising position, after which Robert would barge in and pretend he was her outraged husband. Then he would demand money and if that didn’t work straight away, he would bash them up and then steal what possessions they had. It was a way to make a living, but also one that regularly saw them arrested.

So, in 1949, the couple decided to ply their trade somewhere else and got on a train to Melbourne. There, on 7 November, Jean picked up William Kent, a 73-year old SP bookie. Because he was a little slow at finishing his business, Lee ‘done her block with the old man’, as she later confessed. She bashed him across the face with a bottle and then hit him with a block of wood.

For the next hour or so, Kent was tortured by Clayton and his accomplice, Norman Andrews. They repeatedly stabbed him, then strangled him with their bare hands. His blood-soaked body was found not long after, together with enough clues to connect the dead man with Lee and her mates.

In March 1950, after a 6-day trial, they were sentenced to death. A year later, the Mirror, from Perth of all places, wrote the following eye-witness report of Lee’s hanging: ‘One minute past eight o’clock on Monday morning, under a grey drizzling sky, and behind the cold stone walls of Pentridge Prison, 31-year old Jean Lee plunged to her death by hanging from the first floor level of a dim, cell-lined corridor. She was wearing well-pressed khaki pedal-pushers, a white shirt, and thinly-strapped sandals.



Her head and face were covered by a white hood. Her slim, tanned body was carried limp and fainting from the condemned cell by the executioner and his assistant, who were wearing large felt hats and goggles. Lee had been living in the hope that she would not be hanged and suddenly went berserk when she discovered that all avenues of escape had been tried and proved useless.

For days she raved, screamed, threw utensils, spat and attacked the wardens. But today, her hands were manacled in front, her feet strapped together.

Afterwards, her body hung suspended from the gallows for half an hour before it was taken down. Later that same afternoon the criminals were buried in rain-soaked graves dug by prisoners last week’. Jean Lee was the last woman to be executed in Australia. The last man, Ronald Ryan, succumbed to the same gallows in 1967.


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