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Monday 10 March 2014

“Mad” Dan Morgan: The Great Australian Robber

Emigrant experiences form but only a small part of Calum Maclean’s manuscript collections but there is at least one example recorded from Mrs Hugh Milne, from Laggan, Badenoch, on the 29th of July, 1952. The narrative focuses upon one of the most notorious Australian robbers (or bushrangers) known as “Mad” Daniel Morgan. The following oral account appears to be substantially true as it is based upon what actually happened according to those that witnessed these very events.

You know, when my grandaunts and our uncle went to Australia first, they went by cart from Balgown to Fort William and from Fort William quite likely to Glasgow, you see. And they took six months going across to Australia Well, that was 1837. The aunts left in 1837 and this uncle was a gardener to trade. And he left a little later. I think it would be ‘39 or ’40 it would be, I would say. The letters are there in the house. And he arrived
out in Australia. And the aunties, one of them, cooked on board to pay her passage across, you know. The other one was a nurse with the Clunys, an under nurse with the Clunys. They went out there and they were in places out in Australia Well, my uncle thought he would go and he went away. He was staying with them for a whilie. One of them married an hotel-keeper. He was an Englishman – a very fine man he was. And uncle went away. And he thought he would go out and look for work as a gardener, himself and another companion. So they left the hotel this night and they went
away. They walked a long distance. That’s in Victoria they were. And they went to look for work, jobbing gardener or whatever work they would get, you see. They would prefer the gardening. And his companion gave in. He got very tired and he gave in – about the third day it was. And they came to a huge plantation. And he seen that his companion was likely to be gone. You know, you know he was done all together on him. Well,” he said, “What am I going to do now?" he said. "Whatever will I do now?" And he noticed a fire and camps in this huge wood.

“Well,” he said, I’ll try and carry him along to this camp,” he said. “They will either give us shelter or kill us, whichever they do. However,” he said, “I must bring him along.”  And he carried him. And he went to this camp. Now this is perfectly true, because he told it himself several times. He went to this camp and one of the men came out. And they had a lot of lovely horses. There was a lot of men there, all in riding boots and breeches and, you know, the hats they wear and all.

“Oh!” he said to himself, “I’m afraid I have landed in a robber’s camp. But however,” he said, “I’ll go and ask them,” he said, “if they’ll give something to my companion."

“Well, one of the men came out,” he said. “And a very fine man he was. And he asked him what was wrong and he told him that they were just poor men,” he said, “that had just landed in Australia and were looking for work, and that his companion had given in, that he was faint and hungry and tired and that he had given in." And he seen the fire and that he had carried him along to see if they could give him something or shelter for the night. So this one went into the camp – they were having their dinner – and he went into the camp. And he told than in there and he told the head. There was a head man he said, at the end if the table. And he knew fine, my uncle knew fine they were the robbers but well-to-do, you know. And he asked for shelter. What could they do for him? And the man came back and he said, “Yes, come in, and bring his companion in”. 

And he told the others. And they questioned him in there and he told how they were looking for work and that the companion had given in and he couldnt leave him to die at the roadside, you see. And they gave him a good meal there. They gave something to his companion. It would have been whisky or brandy, whatever they had, revived him a little. And then they gave them a good meal there at the table there wi’ themselves and he said how beautifully they were dressed. I always remember him telling us that. And he knew that the man at the head of the table was the head of them, of the robbers. And they gave them a bed and all in one of the tents. They gave them a bed and all. They had beautiful horses, he said. And they gave them a bed and all. And uncle was awful frightened to sleep, you know, because he was afraid they might be killed. But no: you see they weren’t. And they were that kind to them. Well in the morning his companion was better. And they went an their way and they came to this town. And he got work there and the companion got work and I think it was in a big garden they were Both of them got in anyway. And they told their stories – about where they were and they told them the place and they told them the camps. Uncle was very clever and he described the man. And they said to him:

“You were in the camp of Morgan, the great Australian robber, all night.”

Now that's perfectly true. Now years after that there was a Macpherson went out from Drumgask, years before that went out from Drumgask. And he had a family. And they had a farm out there. And one of his daughters was coming into the town with a pony and trap for messages. And she was along a good bit the road when this gentleman stopped her. And he asked her where she was going. She said she was going into the town for messages. And he asked:

Can you give me a lift into the town?”

“Oh! yes, certainly,” she said. “I’ll give you a lift. So they went on he was chatting away to her. But when he got on a good bit to a lonely part, he demanded her bag and her money. Mind you she was very clever:

“Oh,” she said, “Certainly you’ll get the bag.”

And she threw the bag ever so far. And he thought there was a lot of money in the bag and he jumped down out of the machine and went to get hold of the bag. While he was doing that, she whipped the pony and got on as fast as she could, and he never caught her. And she got into the town and she reported it in the town. And there was a whole lot of policeman and people came out to where they thought they were, you see. They captured a lot of them and her father came out too. It was him that got this Morgan, the chief robber. And he got fifty hundred for capturing the robber. Fifty thousand he got far capturing the robber. There was a price on his head, you see. He had murdered such a lot and done such a lot, you know, robbed such a lot of people. Well, it was a native of this place who caught the robber then. And he got all this money. And he bought the estate of Glendall in Perthshire with it, Macpherson of Glendall, Perthshire. And my uncle was all night in the robbers’ camp. And there was a big bit in the paper about it; you know she was…and wasn’t she brave. You know she threw her handbag ever so far from the road, you see. And if it was the robbers of today, perhaps they would have killed her right away or done something like that. Many and many a time I heard my uncle telling about it. He came back from Australia.

“Mad” Dan Morgan is said to have been an inspiration to the even more notorious Ned Kelly. Both these freebooters entered into Australian folklore as shown, for example, in a song dating from the 1860s that has Morgan as its subject:
Over the border to rifle and plunder
Over the border went Morgan the bold
Over the border a terrible plunder
For over the border bold Morgan lies cold.

The song was inspired by Morgan’s most bloodthirsty crimes―including the killing of stockman John Maclean and police sergeant David Maginnity―and the deserved fate that saw his end when he was shot dead on the 9th of April, 1865. Following a long line of vicious crimes, committed in the Colony of the New South Wales, where a price of £1000 was put on his head, he left for the neighbouring Colony of Victoria, in his own words “going to take the flashness out of the Victorian Police.”
But who was this six-foot black-beared thief, robber, arsonist, and killer, the heavy drinker who possessed a violent temper and often brutally tortured and wounded his victims, who killed two civilians and a police officer in cold blood?
John Fuller was the illegitimate son of Irish emigrants, namely, George Fuller and Mary Owen (called “the Gipsy Woman”), and was born in Sydney in 1830, and brought up around Campbelltown and Appin, New South Wales. When he was about two years old, he was adopted by John Roberts, better known as “Jack the Welshman”, who looked after him till he was seventeen, and who subsequently found him a job as a stockman. However, this was not appreciated by his charge, who obviously wanted something more exciting, and therefore he left Campbelltown for Victoria to try his luck at the Castlemaine goldfields. In 1854, he was back again in New South Wales, this time under the name of “John Smith”, who in no time became a suspected horse-thief and robber with the reputation of being a heavy drinker and having a violent temper. The inevitable happened – he was caught and subsequently sentenced to twelve years imprisonment for robbery under arms. He served only six years and on receiving a ticket-of-leave, headed back to New South Wales. From then on he led a wretched life of vicious crimes, using different nick-names such as “John Smith”, “Sydney Native”, “Dan the Breaker”, “Down the River Jack”, “Bill the Native”, but mostly “Dan Morgan”, “Jack Morgan” or simply “Morgan”. On the 5th of April, 1865, with the police hard on his heels, Morgan crossed the Murray into north-east Victoria. He held up several carriers near Winton, burned down barns and a granary down at the Evans’ property near Whitfield, and on the 8th of April held up the MacPherson family at Peechelba Station, terrorising the eight women and four unarmed men through the night till the early hours of the morning. Luckily a brave young woman – Alice Keenan the nursemaid, managed to slip away to Mr. Rutherford’s, a co-owner of the property who lived a quarter of a mile away and informed him of the situation.
On Sunday morning, the 9th of April at 8.30 a.m., Morgan was leaving the homestead for the stables to select a horse for himself. By then, the property was surrounded by around a crowd of forty policemen and civilians. John Wendlan, a station employee, couldn’t hold back any longer and fired his single barrel gun. Morgan, who was struck in the back just about his shoulder blade, fell mortally wounded. So he didn’t take “the flashness out of the Victorian Police” after all, but found his own death amongst them, and now lies buried in the Wangaratta cemetery.
Over the border not long did he plunder
Swift is the justice as slow she is here
Bold are the men over the border – no wonder
When even the women know nothing of fear.

Contemporary accounts of Morgan’s violent death were printed in many of the Australian newspapers such as Albury Banner, Empire, Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney Mail, and also the following reprinted in full from The Argus:

WANGARATTA, April 11. As a spectator at Morgan's death, I have thought fit to send you my impression of the scene.
Peechelba station is twenty-one miles from Wangaratta. Being a friend of the families there, the messenger sent by Mr. Rutherford for the police aroused me near midnight on Saturday with the news—“Morgan is at Peechelba.” Mounted on a fast horse, I soon over-took the party of police, with two other men and the guide; but we had not gone half-way when another party of four joined us. The messenger guiding, we were brought to a retired spot within a few hundred yards of Mr. Rutherford's house, and here we dismounted; while the guide on foot went to reconnoitre, and find whether Morgan had come down, and taken possession of it also. In the deepest anxiety we waited in the thick riverside scrub.
At last we heard persons approaching. We found these to be Mr. Rutherford and the guide, with the glad news—“Morgan is still at M'Pherson’s, and likely to remain there till morning.” We all left our horses, and went on foot to Rutherford's house, and there, after much consultation, the armed men were distributed, and sent off to their respective stations round M'Pherson’s house.
It was about half-past two when the armed men took their places, while the unarmed remained at Rutherford's. Three of these, I being one of them, sat in a room looking towards M'Pherson’s. It was an anxious time. We knew not when we might hear the report of firearms, for we feared that Morgan might attempt to drive his captives down to our quarter. We knew that he could not well go away, as his horse, and indeed all the horses, were in the paddock. We saw the lamp burning hour after hour in that distant house; and there we pictured—as, indeed, had been described by the bold nurse-girl—the revolvers on the table, the sleepless, but sleepy murderer, and the innocent inmates huddled together in the room. A brave Scot, D. Clarke, who had been the guide to the placing of the armed men, brought us tidings of the inmates twice through that strange night-tidings that all as yet was well, and that the ladies were in their bedrooms.
As morning broke we extinguished our lamp, to avoid suspicion, threw open the shutters, and then sat down to watch with anxious hearts. While it was yet scarce broad day, we saw a new lamp light, it was that of the hall; and then a figure on the verandah, whom we judged to be Morgan. Soon the door closed. Then ever and again we saw the women servants going backwards and forwards from the house to the main building. After a while down came a man with pails in his hand, and a message from Mrs. M’Pherson from her bedroom to allow everything to go on as usual. So the hours flew speedily; and as the house was being lit up by the rays of the sun, one man went to milk cows, another to drive the horses to water, other two with a cart to bring in some mutton killed the night before—and all this in sight of M’Pherson’s house.
And how we watched that house so eagerly, for that door to open. “O God!” cries one of our party, “there moves these armed men at the fence” (it was a far better shelter, we afterwards learned). About eight, the door again opens. A man comes in his shirt sleeves; walks in the garden; looks over the fence. It is Morgan! But again the door is shut.
But who is this coming down on horseback, past M’Pherson's house; and who are these men in the distance, with glancing arms? The man we find is from Wangaratta, and these are police just arrived, who take their station behind the house (M’Pherson’s). Well, it was that a man had been stationed on the road from Wangaratta to stop any who might come that way, or there would have been a different tale to tell; however, they were warned in time. Still the door remains closed. A scout brings in news that Morgan is at breakfast, chatting freely with his captives. Mr. Rutherford and his men go about as usual; while we strangers, to avoid suspicion, stay within doors. It was nearing nine. On that lovely Sunday morning there must be death ere long, were our thoughts of how many, who could tell? There must be blood spilt – whose we knew not. One thought of one, and another of another of friends they loved. What was to be the end? Some dozen men, armed, were round that house – a cool, well-trained shot and cruel murderer within. The suspense grew terrible. The clock was about to strike nine, when the door opened, and one, two, three, four, five persons came out into the verandah. In indian file they passed, Morgan last, through the gate, and evidently through the horses, now  eating hay at the haystack. When they were half-way down we saw the three armed men moving at last, running stealthily running from tree to tree—behind that man driving down his captives before him—little he knew who was behind.
We four now stood in the verandah. One of our party could not restrain the shout of cheer, “Well done.” Nearer, nearer. Two are behind a tree. That string of men separate a little. A sharp ringing sound—some smoke—a shout. I ran, fleetest of our party, and I stood at the head of that man—his long black hair, his long dark beard, his keen, half-closed grey eyes, his arms lying still by his side, his mouth with warm blood frothing on his compressed lips—these are the lines of a picture which Time’s weird hand can never blot out.
A warm pressure from the hand of him whom I call my friend—the man whose life was in peril from the murderer's—and from the avenger's hand, this was all ; and I fled on speedy horse to the distant township, to hear the bells calling worshippers to prayer.

Anon.,’Morgan, The Bushranger’, The Argus (14 April 1865), p. 6
J. A. King, Mad Dan Morgan, Bushranger (Sydney: Phillip Mathews, 1976)
John McQuilton, ‘Morgan Daniel (Dan) (1830–1865)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography []
SSS NB, pp. 1261–67

Morgan the Bushranger by Samuel Calvert
Death of Dan Morgan

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