There are many myths about the death of Dan Morgan, some of which aren’t entirely without reason. Here we examine the end of one of Australia’s bloodiest legends.
- Despite being seen by many as monstrous and inhuman, Morgan had a great many sympathisers and friends who were so outraged by his death and mutilation that police had to quell potential riots around Wangaratta in the aftermath.
- As he lay dying, Morgan was asked if his real name was Morgan or Moran – he refused to answer. This may lend a certain weight to the “McNally” origin. The origin story championed by Margaret Carnegie is that Morgan was born as William Moran junior in Campelltown in 1833, though his siblings had the surname McNally because that was the surname that the parents were using prior to their relocating to Campbelltown. Jack Bradshaw, whose autobiography is often riddled with false information, claimed to have been a good friend of Morgan’s and reported that he frequently visited his widowed mother in Wangaratta. If Morgan’s real name was Moran, could he have been trying to obscure attempts to single out his relatives?
- Claims that Morgan’s scrotum was removed to make a coin pouch seem to be no more than rumour handed down as oral history, however the flaying of Morgan’s beard and the people cutting off pieces of hair (including one alleged instance where the knife wasn’t sharp enough so the souvenir hunters just yanked the hair until it came out with a piece of scalp) definitely happened and Superintendent Cobham was suspended over asking Dr. Dobbyn to perform such a gruesome act. This combined with the subsequent decapitation and postmortem contusions indicate more may have occurred that wasn’t deemed acceptable to print at the time. Thus with the postmortem autopsy having been carried out before the butchery occurred it is impossible to say what condition the remains were in when they were buried so this rumour may actually have some substance to it.
- The man who shot Morgan, John Wendlan, was reported as being named “Quinlan” in earlier reports, likely because the reporter was attempting to record the name phonetically and rush the information to the editor as quickly as possible.
- Reports in the wake of the death of both Morgan and Ben Hall shortly after state that copies of Morgan’s death mask were being sold around Wangaratta and were doing excellent trade. None of these copies are known to exist still, or if they do the owners are not willing to let on.
- The bullet that killed Morgan shattered vertebrae in his upper spine and caused considerable damage to his throat. Morgan was paralysed from the neck down and died choking on his own blood. Though he was capable of speaking in small bursts he was largely inaudible.
- When Morgan’s head was severed it was wrapped in cloths that were soaked in brine to preserve it for the trip to Melbourne. It was then placed in a wooden box and taken by coach to Professor Halford of Melbourne University. Initially the head was deemed incapable of molding by Professor Halford due to the severe damage inflicted upon it and the decay that was beginning to set in, but a cast was made nonetheless. The casting demonstrates a severe contusion (swelling) in Morgan’s left eye that was not present in any of the photographs, which could indicate that claims the head was kicked around like a soccer ball may have been true. Many of the people who examined the corpse expressed that they were impressed at how straight and handsome his teeth were. After the casting the flesh was stripped from the bones and the skull was kept in the university archives where it was later studied for a book comparing races based on bone structure.