Jimmy Governor was born on the Talbragar River, New South Wales. He received his schooling at a mission school and at Gulgong, New South Wales. He worked as a police tracker, woodcutter, wool-roller, and contract fencer.
On the night of 20 July 1900, seeking revenge for racial slurs, Governor and Jacky Underwood killed Grace Mawbey, Helen Kerz, and three of the Mawbey children. Underwood was caught quickly, but Governor and his brother Joe declared themselves bushrangers.
Over the ensuing fourteen weeks, they killed four other people, including a baby, and committed numerous robberies. The Governors were pursued by black trackers, bloodhounds, and hundreds of police and civilians. After several close escapes, Jimmy Governor was shot by a hunter. In his weakened condition, he was captured by a party of settlers near Wingham, on 27 October 1900. His brother Joe Governor was shot dead north of Singleton on 31 October 1900.
Jimmy Governor was hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol on 18 January 1901, and buried in an unmarked grave in Rookwood Cemetery. Governor inspired Thomas Keneally's (q.v.) examination of Aboriginal Australians' disposession from their land and culture and of the racism of white Australians in his 1972 novel The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (1972).