On the Trail of Dan Morgan

Recently I read that the bushranger, Dan Morgan, was buried in the Wangaratta Cemetery, and that several memorials were around commemorating his reign of terror over southern NSW and northern Victoria.  Seemed like a good reason for a run on the Guzzi.

Involved in petty crime from an early age, Morgan – whose real name is uncertain – was eventually arrested for robbery at Castlemaine during the gold rush.  He was initially imprisoned aboard the hulk the “President”, in cells below the water line before being transferred to the ‘Success’ to work on the Williamstown breakwater.  The conditions on these vessels were nothing short of barbaric, even by the standards of the times, so rehabilitation seems to have failed.

Released in 1860, he failed to report to the Ovens police.  He commenced a series of violent robberies and murders between Whitfield and Benalla in the south, to Henty and Culcairn in the north, and Tumbarumba in the east.  He was probably insane and given to murderous rages.  He was known to torture his prisoners, but it was his beastly act, on the terrified wife of a suspected police informant, that frightened the surrounding population. She was forced to sit upon the flames of the kitchen stove, and it was only when she was well alight that he doused her with water.  There was a desperate shoot out with police in 1863 where Morgan only escaped by shooting his own mate, German Bill, as a distraction.

I thought I’d do a loop, so I fired up the Breva 1100 and wound my way through the hills, past Yackandandah, to Albury.  Hopped onto the freeway for a short run, then on to the Olympic Way to Culcairn – hardly any traffic.  I nearly had a heart-attack here as an oncoming semi suddenly snaked across the road ahead of me.  I thought he’d blown a tyre or lost his load.  A few seconds later I saw a dog in the middle of the semi’s lane.  That was skilful driving by the truckie – and fortunate for the dog that the traffic was light.

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In June 1864 Dan Morgan called at the Round Hill Station, just east of Culcairn, and rounded up all the station hands and their wives.  Here, he shot several people, including station hand John McLean who died.

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A few days later, he killed Sergeant David Maginnity near Tumbarumba.  In September he killed Sergeant Smyth near Henty.

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After a series of major robberies and shootings,  the New South Wales government introduced the Felons Apprehension Act in 1865, which made Morgan an outlaw with a £1000 price on his head.

I turned west and tracked out via Walla Walla, past Morgan’s Lookout, reputedly one of his hide-outs with a 180 degree view (on the hill to the right of the sign).  The roads out here were in good condition, some lovely sweepers, so I may have to ditch my Victorian-prejudices about our northern cousins.

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Eventually Morgan crossed the Murray River in April 1865.  Within two days he had held up and robbed three properties, burned down haystacks and out buildings, and held up coaches on the Benalla Road.  On April 8, Morgan held up his last property, Peechelba Station, near Wangaratta (pronounced peechle-bar, not peech-elba).  One of the maids slipped out and gave the alarm.  The station was surrounded and Morgan was shot by John Windlaw, one of the station hands.

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I rode through Peechelba but couldn’t find any reference to Morgan.  He died later and was beheaded, and doctors shaved his head and removed the skin from his face to make a death mask for phrenological analysis.  Great days!  He was buried at Wangaratta Cemetery.

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What sort of person would add flowers to his grave?

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