Blood and Gin: Morgan at Round Hill Station 

In 1864 “Mad Dan” Morgan was at the peak of his career, terrorising the homesteads in the New South Wales Riverina. Some believed that the terror he struck into the settlers meant that they were too afraid to turn away travellers asking for accommodation and gave Morgan the moniker “the traveller’s friend”. Perhaps the most important single incident in Morgan’s career of crime was his bailing up of Round Hill Station, a colossal blunder that resulted in grievous bodily harm to two men, the death of another, and Morgan being declared an outlaw wanted dead or alive.

About 40 miles from Albury was Round Hill Station, owned by a Mr. Henty. The superintendent was Mr. Sam Watson and the station was also attended by Mr. McNeil the overseer and John McLean the cattle overseer. On Sunday 19 June the station was visited by John Heriot, the son of a neighbouring squatter, Elliot Heriot-Watt.  Heriot, Watson and McLean were relaxing in a room of the homestead when Mrs. Watson noticed someone looking in the front door about one o’clock in the afternoon. Mrs. Watson immediately suspected that the visitor was none other than the notorious Morgan. He cut a striking figure with his flowing black beard and hair in long, raven-black ringlets tumbling over his shoulders under a rumpled felt hat. He looked to Mrs. Watson and asked with his deep, drawling voice where her husband was and she gestured to the sitting room. Morgan introduced himself and presented a revolver before asking where the grog was. Within moments Mrs. Watson and her husband, Heriot and McLean were mustered up at gunpoint. The group marched to the apartment where the grog was kept.

“How many bottles is there?” Morgan asked. Mr. Watson replied “Six bottles of gin and one that’s been broached.” This appeared to be all Morgan needed to hear. Once inside, Watson poured a glass from the broached bottle for himself and Morgan. Before taking a drink Morgan gave a wry smile behind the voluminous beard and curly moustache, “you must drink that yourself, as you may have had it ready for me.” Watson obliged and the pair proceeded to dig into the supplies. Morgan called for one of the female servants to bring him dinner and asked that his horse be fed and stabled. He ate his dinner with a pistol ready at each hand, his prisoners seated in the corner of the room. When his plate was cleared away he sat and chatted amiably with his captives, a cocked revolver in each hand and four more pistols in his belt.

After dinner Morgan took the initial four and rounded up the station staff bringing the number of prisoners to eleven. Making the crowd wait at the stable door Morgan checked in on his horse. Satisfied that his horse had been well looked after the crowd moved to a cattle shed and Morgan sat everyone down on benches before sending Watson back to the stores for more gin. Morgan ordered the gin be passed amongst the staff and himself. In total, four bottles were consumed.

Now intoxicated and looking for amusement, Morgan went back to the stable and mounted his horse, stashing a gin bottle in his saddle bag. Watson allegedly shouted that Morgan’s horse was kitted out with stirrups stolen from a Mr. Johnston who had recently been robbed. It is unclear if Morgan heard the remark. Heavily intoxicated, he was less than elegant in mounting and one of the loaded, capped, and cocked revolvers went off unexpectedly. The bullet whizzed past the crowd and grazed the temple of one of the prisoners. Morgan was furious and began shouting “Who shot at me? Somebody shot at me!” evidently believing it was one of the prisoners firing and not his own gun. Morgan aimed deliberately at the prisoners and fired. The unfortunate Mr. Watson was directly in the line of fire and as he put his hand up reflexively the bullet passed through it cutting across his head (later accounts would state that Watson had been shot through the palm or had a finger blown off by the shot, the latter claim seems less likely given the weight of evidence indicating the former). Watson ran and hid behind a barn, cradling his injured hand. John McLean emerged and sternly addressed Morgan “No, Morgan, nobody shot.  It was your own revolver that went off!”

Still mounted despite his intoxicated state, Morgan fired again into the crowd. This time the projectile struck Heriot in the leg fracturing his shin and cutting through the calf muscles before grazing the leg of another worker. Everyone scattered in a blind panic, Heriot dragging his shattered leg around for thirty yards before collapsing. Morgan leaped down from his mount and held a pistol to Heriot’s head. “Don’t kill me Morgan. You’ve broken my leg.” gasped Heriot, reeling from pain and exhaustion. Watson, seeing Morgan with a pistol to the young man’s head emerged from hiding shouting “For God’s sake Morgan, don’t kill anyone!”

(Source: The Australian News for Home Readers, 25 July, 1864)

Morgan at that instant became inconsolable and withdrew the firearm. Trembling, he searched furiously around hollering “where are all the damned wretches gone to?” pleading for help in the only way he knew how, screaming “I’ll blow the brains out of every man in this station if they don’t come and help!” but none came. Morgan took a knife he had concealed about his person and used it to cut the boot from Heriot’s foot to allow easier treatment for the wounded leg, then Morgan scooped the injured young man up and carried him to the homestead where he demanded McLean and James Williamson Rushton, a carpenter from Albury, take him inside. Once Heriot had been placed on a bed Morgan cut the other boot off and, apparently overwhelmed, left him there to be treated by Rushton and McLean. He tied a handkerchief around Watson’s wounded hand and apologised profusely. It was apparent that the intensity of the situation had cowed Morgan into repentance.

In the chaos two men, unknown to the staff and suspected to be confederates of Morgan appeared, one a half-Aboriginal man, and spoke at length with Morgan. During the conversation John McLean approached Morgan and suggested he could ride to fetch the doctor from a neighbouring station. Morgan, desperate to make amends for the injuries he had caused, allowed McLean to go. McLean told Heriot he was leaving to fetch Dr. Stitt and Heriot told him to take his horse for the task. McLean mounted Heriot’s horse and galloped off at top speed. However, Morgan’s paranoia got the better of him, perhaps spurred on by further conversation with his confederates, and he mounted his own steed and rode to overtake McLean, believing he was going to rouse the police instead of the doctor. Cutting him off, he called on McLean to stop but McLean apparently not hearing the command rode on. Morgan screamed “You bloody wretch! You’re going to give information!” and fired at McLean’s back. The bullet struck opposite the tenth rib and tore through his hip and out three inches above his navel. McLean tumbled from his mount but was still alive. Morgan rode up and after assessing the situation gave McLean grog then slung the fallen man over his own saddle and rode back to the station with him.

When Morgan arrived back at the station, just under two hours after McLean had left, he dismounted and cradled McLean in his arms as he proceeded to the homestead. Rushton emerged to see who the arrival was and upon seeing Morgan was told “Come here, young fellow, come and assist me,” McLean was taken indoors by Morgan’s half-Aboriginal mate and Rushton and laid on a bed. Morgan sat by Heriot’s bedside for two hours and intermittently checked on McLean. After a while the bushranger went off and raided the grog supply with his friends. The three men drank and caroused well into the night in spite of the chaos and carnage that Morgan had just incurred. Perhaps Morgan was drinking to forget the pain he had caused with the other men drinking just for the bragging rights of saying they had drunk with Morgan the bushranger, but the details of the carousing were not documented, the staff of the station rather more concerned with the injuries to Watson and Heriot and the precarious state of McLean. In the early hours of morning Morgan and his friends rode away from the station. Five minutes later a police party arrived at the station led by Superintendent McLerie.

A medical man, Hugh Scott, was summoned on the Monday and attended to McLean who was in severe pain and vomiting convulsively. Scott would come back to McLean several times, noting peritonitis had set in from the wound and made a request that McLean send for anyone he especially needed to see or speak to. While Scott was absent McLean was attended to by Dr. Stitt, the man McLean had been going to when he was shot, who had previously been a victim of Morgan himself. Heriot was taken to Albury where he was looked after by his father in Botterill’s Imperial Hotel. When Scott returned to Round Hill on the Wednesday he was informed that McLean had died. An autopsy was conducted by Joseph Knight Barnett who noted that as the bullet had entered the body it has smashed a rib and that the projectile, as well as splinters from the rib, had perforated McLean’s pancreas. The projectile had moved between the stomach and intestines and perforated the peritoneum and caused considerable inflammation, which was in the end the cause of death. The charge now leveled at Morgan would be murder.

The newspapers expressed community outrage and a sense of dread if the scourge of the Riverina were not to be brought to justice promptly and made an example of:

Can any man after this ride a mile from Albury without expecting a bullet through his head? No remarks of ours can fire the train, if this simple but hideous narrative does not. The whole country should be up in arms, and swear as one man, that they would never rest until this demon is brought to justice.
Already Albury has been moved to action, and volunteers, men who will not throw away a chance, are at work. Perhaps something may be done, and if the one life which has as yet been sacrificed will be the means of ridding the world of such a scoundrel, it is providential, but the country itself has this life to answer for.

 (The Age, 27 June 1864)

If New South Wales was not afraid of Morgan already, they now had reason to be petrified; McLean’s was the first life taken by Morgan.

It would not be the last.


Sources:

Carnegie, Margaret. Morgan: The Bold Bushranger. 2nd ed., Melbourne, Vic, Angus & Robertson, 1975.

“MORGAN AT THE ROUND HILL STATION.” The Australian News for Home Readers (Vic. : 1864 – 1867) 25 July 1864: 12. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63170868&gt;.

“MORGAN AT ROUND-HILL STATION.” The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) 25 June 1864: 5. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5749983&gt;.

“MORGAN’S OUTRAGE AT THE ROUND HILL” Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929) 29 June 1864: 3. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article150463342&gt;.

“THE MURDEROUS OUTRAGE AT THE ROUND HILL STATION.” The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954) 27 June 1864: 6. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155013204&gt;.

“THE LATE OUTRAGE AT THE ROUND HILL STATION.” The Farmer’s Journal and Gardener’s Chronicle (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1864) 15 July 1864: 4. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article179480350&gt;.

“RANGER MORGAN” The Burrowa News (NSW : 1874 – 1951) 8 August 1930: 3. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article102375059&gt;.

“MORGAN’S CRIMES.” The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 14 April 1865: 5. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13103179&gt;.

“THE BUSHRANGERS” The Farmer and Settler (Sydney, NSW : 1906 – 1955) 31 August 1915: 9. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article116661827&gt;.

“MORGAN, THE BUSHRANGER.” The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929) 18 July 1916: 4. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60611921&gt;.

“MORGAN’S CAREER.” Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918) 15 April 1865: 9. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197037101&gt;.

“MORGAN, THE BUSHRANGER.” The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929) 18 July 1916: 4. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60611921&gt;.

“MORGAN, THE BUSHRANGER.” Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931) 11 April 1903: 1 (EVENING NEWS SUPPLEMENT). <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article113417329&gt;.

“BUSHRANGING IN THE 60’s AND 70’s” The Gundagai Independent (NSW : 1928 – 1939) 24 March 1932: 1. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article224981074&gt;.

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