[The following is an article that was published in the days following the death of Dan Morgan at Peechelba Station. It recalls details of his life as regaled by those who knew him for better or worse, in an effort to record his depredations and decipher his wild life. ~AP]
It is nearly certain that the man known variously as John Smith, alias Bill the Native, alias Down-the-River Jack, alias Moran, alias Daniel Morgan, was born of convict parents, going under the name of Moran and who resided, at the time of his birth, in 1831, at Appin, near Campbelltown, in the colony of New South Wales. The first, portion of his life appears to have been passed in a manner similar to that of other children and, for some time, he attended a respectable school at Campbelltown.
What we know, chiefly, of his very early life has been, at various times, derived from prisoners who had been in jail with him, and to whom he was occasionally — only occasionally — very communicative. He was, according to his own account, a very bad boy. His parents could make nothing of him, and his education was entirely neglected.
He had even then solitary habits, living in the bush, and subsisting on ‘possums, grubs, or whatever else he could find, for days together, Morgan described himself as always having a dread of darkness ; a dread that was not in the least dispelled by company. He always longed for daylight as for a friend. He was passionately fond of horses, and had an extraordinary and, from his own account, what would appear to be a mysterious mastery over them ; following, as a child, horses about the bush, and fondling them, until they would allow him to mount them bare-backed while feeding. These moments Morgan used to refer to with extraordinary pleasure when he was in a talkative mood. Without paying anything more of his characteristics, even as he himself described them to other prisoners, we will come at once to his known criminal career, premising that any reference we make to his motives or feelings, has been derived, as we said, from men who have been in jail with him, or with whom — and there are many of these — he has been on intimate terms in New South Wales. We attach no further importance to the narratives of such men than will be found to be confirmed by his life, and we omit many things that appeared to us to be evident attempts at romancing.
We first find him as a criminal — although, by his own admission, he had committed frequent crimes in New South Wales — attracted here by the gold fields, sticking up two hawkers close to Castlemaine, and, of course, robbing them, half shipping them, tying them to trees, and leaving them there until half dead from cold: They were found by. some passers-by in the morning. This is the crime of which he complains as having been unjustly convicted. He was on this occasion known by the police to be well aimed, and they surrounded a shepherd’s hut in the dead of night, to which he was tracked by one of the old black troopers, then a hanger-on to the Camp at Castlemaine. The shepherd afterwards described him as having a revolver in each hand, and swearing he would use them, but, on finding the party outside too strong to leave any hope of escape, he hid under the bed, from which he was dragged ignominiously. So bad a character did he bear with the police that, on taking him into Castlemaine the next morning, they handcuffed him to the front of the saddle, and led the horse on which he was mounted, and which was one he himself had stolen. The stolen horse, it appears, was a good one, having the foot of anything in his escort. Suddenly Morgan, alias ‘ Bill, the Native,’ stuck his heels in his horse’s ribs, and, with a shout that all horses understand, started away from his captors, endeavouring to guide him with his legs alone. The horse, probably not feeling the support of the bit, stumbled, and before he recovered a trooper, coming alongside of the prisoner, struck him with the butt of his pistol. Morgan fell over on the other side, and, between the grip of his knees and the handcuffs, pulled the saddle over with him. Then there was a painful scene, the horse in full career, and the man dragged by his hands at the horse’s hind legs until he had kicked the man and the saddle from him. In this daring attempt at escape he suffered severe injuries, for which he was for a long time under medical treatment, and from this moment may be traced his now celebrated expression of ‘flash Victorian Police.’ For the crime for which he was captured, and to his innocence of which attributed his subsequent ‘ down’ on society in general, he was at once picked out of a crowd of prisoners by each of the men whom he had stuck up ; and, by a, string of the clearest testimony that ever was produced in a court of justice found guilty, and sentenced to 12 years on the roads. In jail he never hid from his mates his being the perpetrator of the crime; but attributed his capture to the treachery of the shepherd in whose hut he took shelter ; his failure in his attempt at escape to the looseness of his girths and the ‘b—y flashness’ of the Victorian Police ; and his sentence to a want of knowledge on the part of the jury to the laws of evidence. This cut him more sorely than anything in his whole career to-think that a jury of his countrymen should not discover some flaw in the testimony, which he always proudly repeated. Previous to this conviction he as ‘Bill, the Native,’ was known as a notorious horse thief, and was the terror of horse owners in the neighbourhood of Avoca, where he used to live a lonely life in the Mallee scrub which then abounded there. He had several narrow escapes from the squatters, who frequently pursued him, and on one occasion he was raced for his life for several miles by two settlers, one of whom seeing that he was getting the best of him shot him in the knee.
This is a statement of his own to his fellow prisoners, He also, says and mentions the name, that he gave one squatter, whom he met by himself in the bush, an awful horsewhipping because ‘he made himself too busy ‘ about his own horses. In fact he appeared to think himself a very badly ill-used poor fellow because men would not allow him quietly to rob them. The particular trait in his character, that he always desired to excuse himself to those with whom he was present at the moment, is shown by the fact that even in jail, where he occasionally gave all the details of the Castlemaine affair, he invariably explained that he had left blankets with the hawkers ; quietly blinking the fact that he had taken all he could carry, and that the naked men, being tied to a tree, could not get at the blankets; which among other property useless to him, their own clothes for instance, he had left behind him. In prison he was very quiet and orderly, — was believed by officers and prisoners to be a determined but not desperately wicked man, and was a great mark for being drawn out of his solitariness to spin a yam of his bush experiences and bush crimes. He was sent from Castlemaine to Melbourne Jail, thence to the ‘ President’ hulk, subsequently to the ‘Success,’ and lastly to Pentridge. While working with a gang from the ‘Success’ at a quarry near Williamstown he lost the top of the finger, the absence of which has been one of his peculiar marks. The finger was jammed between a heavy bar and the stone they were lifting at the moment.
He was at work with the gangs on the day Mr. Price was murdered, and although his assistance was eagerly sought by the murderers he refused to have any complicity. It was, however, well known among the prisoners that he would have joined in any plan of escape, and, indeed, concocted a few. In all these matters, however, he was invariably solitary, lonely, and tried to make others his tools in the way of gaining information for his own ends. In June, 1860, he obtained his ticket of leave for the Yackandandah district, but never reported himself. As a matter of curiosity, we give his description as gazetted :— ‘Native of Sydney ; jockey; aged 29; height 5 feet 10 ¼ inches; complexion fresh, hair brown, eyes hazel, nose long, medium mouth and chin, small lump under left jaw.’
He was next heard of at the Howqua Station, near Mansfield, and afterwards crossed to the Buffalo, where he for some time hung about the stations on that, the King, and Upper Ovens Rivers, occasionally employed as a horse breaker, but always leading a most secluded life in the bush, not mixing with the men, and never courting the women. While in that part of the country, he was known as ” Down-the-River-Jack,” as a petty pilferer of the commonest necessaries of life, and as a horse stealer. It is believed that he was one of the men who stuck, up a digger’s hut at the Buckland about the time, and subsequently a man returning towards Wangaratta from the Myrtleford races. It was not until after the appearance of Gardiner in New South Wales, that he showed any signs of being the desperate character he afterwards proved, but during the period of Gardiner’s exploits, he certainly made his appearance on the New South Wales side of the river at Mr. Rand’s station, whence several horses were suddenly missed, and where he was found camped one day in Mr Rand’s paddock by that gentleman. Mr. Rand told him to be off, and the answer was that the station was his as much as Rand’s, and that if he talked to him again like that, he would blow his b— guts out.
It proved afterwards that this station and several others appeared rather to belong to Morgan — now ‘Daniel Morgan’ — more than to anyone else, and Mr Rand had personally for a time to quit his in danger of his life. By pretending that he was ‘the poor man’s friend,’ and spending the fruits of his robberies pretty freely among shepherds and stockmen, almost all of whom in New South Wales sympathise with such a villain, he gained a most extraordinary influence. While in the Piney Range, Table Top, or Roundhill country, or on any part of the Billabong, he was looked upon with admiration and treated and sheltered as the most gallant and injured of men. His business at this time was horse stealing, in which, it being a congenial employment, he was assisted in every direction by the stock keepers, servants, bushmen, and others all over the territory. Soon too some of the squatters became, partly from terror and partly that they themselves might be free from his depredations, tainted with the prevailing sympathy.
At length in June, 1863, he commenced the real career of a highwayman by robbing mails and stations, having successively stuck up Walla Walla, Cookendina, and Wallandool, all in the same month. On the 21st of August he committed his first known capital offence, by shooting at and wounding, near Urana, Mr Bayliss, Police Magistrate of Wagga Wagga, whom he had robbed on the previous day after a severe race, and firing at that gentleman. When shot Mr Bayliss was camped with a party of police at night, in search of the very man who shot him. There was issued against him a warrant for the capital offence, and he was particularly marked by the police as a dangerous character. The reward of £200 was offered for his apprehension. It would be impossible in this short notice even to mention half the crimes he is known to have, or one hundredth part of the crimes and offences he is suspected to have committed, but among the more heinous we may mention the sticking up the Roundhill Station, owned by Mr Henty, in that gentleman’s absence. His first murder was here committed on Sunday, the 19th July, 1863, and curiously enough, and as will appear to many to be more than a coincidence, on a Sunday he met his doom. And here is the case in which the villain says he has been so cruelly misrepresented by the Press, as we had the affair from the lips of young Mr Heriot himself on the day following the outrage, while that, poor lad was lying wounded after the massacre : Morgan entered the station with a revolver in each hand, and four more ostentatiously displayed in his belt. There were present, Mr Watson, the superintendent, Mrs Watson, a Mr McNeil, a cattle dealer, Mr McLean, the overseer, and Heriot, a young gentleman from a neighboring station. He marched all the men out to a small shed, where they found eight or ten of the men already bailed-up, one of them complacently holding Morgan’s horse. He sent a servant girl in for all the gin in the house, and made those present drink six bottles, he, himself, scarcely tasting it, so that it is quite true that every one on the station was more drunk than himself, but he forgot to add that he made them so. When he was mounting to go away; Mr Watson incautiously said, ‘These are the stirrup irons you stole, Morgan ;’ and, being the writer of the following, we give the report as taken from Mr Heriot’s lips, as already stated ; that young man being then perfectly cool and collected although badly wounded :—” On Mr Watson making the remark, the ruffian coolly turned round in his saddle, took deliberate aim at Mr Watson’s head and fired. Seeing the deadly aim, Mr Watson involuntarily put up his hand, through which the ball passed, turning it probably aside, as it only touched his scalp. The wounded man ran behind the shed, and hid himself, but Morgan returned to the door of the shed, fired right and left, amongst the inmates, crying out, “Now,you b—— b——, clear out of this.” The first shot went through young Mr Heriot’s leg, between the knee and ankle, shattering the bone in pieces, and then hit another man’s leg behind, maiming him; but not, luckily, breaking the skin as its force had been spent. The men then all ran away in different directions, the poor wounded young man among them, dragging his broken leg after him for about thirty yards, when he fell from pain and exhaustion. In the meantime Morgan galloped after another man, across the yard, with pistol cocked, but the fugitive escaped through the kitchen. The horse stood fire well. Morgan then galloped back to young Heriot, dismounted, and put the revolver to his head (Mrs Watson, in the meantime, was running, screaming, and terrified about the yard). Young Heriot said, ‘Don’t kill me, Morgan, you have broken my leg ; ‘ and Mr Watson, who had also, seeing Morgan with a pistol to the boy’s head, come out of his hiding place, cried out, ‘For God’s sake, Morgan, don’t kill any one.’ The villain, who seemed to act with the inconsistency of drunkenness, or of a murderer gone mad, then cried out, Where are the d- wretches gone to?’ and swore a fearful oath that he would blow the brains out of every man on the station if they did not come to Heriot’s assistance. He himself knelt down, cut the boot off the wounded leg, and carried the unfortunate youth to the gate next the house. Two men then, frightened by his threats, came forward and he swore he would shoot them dead if they did not carry him in, which they did, and laid him on a bed. At this time, also, two men (one a half-caste aboriginal) who had not yet appeared on the scene, but evidently Morgan’s men, came up and remained on the ground while young Heriot was carried to bed, where Morgan cut off the other boot and sent a man to attend him. Seeing Morgan apparently relenting, as if satiated with bloodshed, Mr McLean asked him if he might go for a doctor. Morgan answered ‘Yes,’ and then for a short time regaled himself and his mates ; but apparently mistrusting Mr McLean, he followed him along the road, overtook him five or six miles from the station, and without ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’ coming close behind him, fired at him. The ball entered the unfortunate man’s back above the hip and came out close to the navel, and he, of course, fell mortally wounded.” For the first time the squatters and people were aroused to the danger in which they stood, and a party of volunteers, chiefly squatters, who knew every inch of the country, started in pursuit. This, together with the greater activity of the police, made that part of the country too hot for him, and he made for Tumberumba, and here his second cold blooded murder was committed. Sergeant McGinnerty, a man with a wife and family, was riding, along the road on the 24th July, with another trooper; not having heard (having been in the bush) of the Roundhill affair, when they saw a man riding quietly ahead of them. Not for a moment imagining who it was, they rode up to the horseman, as policemen will do, McGinnerty ahead of his companion. On coming alongside, and before a word passed, Morgan fired a revolver into McGinnerty’s breast, and the other policeman seeing him fall, bolted, or as he says, his horse bolted. Morgan robbed the dead man of his money, his arms, accoutrements, and horse, and laid him out on the road side, putting his cap in the middle of the road.
Again, on a Sunday night, Morgan inflicted a mortal wound on Sergeant Smith, of Albury, on the 3rd September, 1864, while the officer was camped with three other men on Morgan’s track. Poor Smith lingered for some time, but finally died of the wound at Albury. Of persons, well known in Beechworth, he has stuck up on the New South Wales side of the river, Mr Manson twice, Mr Braschs twice, Dr Mackay’s station on the Billabong once, Dr Stitt’s station at Walla Walla once at least; Mr Kidston’s station, by common report, constantly (but this has been denied by Mr Kidston on oath), and others, whose names we cannot recall at this moment. He wound up his career in New South Wales by sticking up the Sydney and Deniliquin mails, and by shooting an unfortunate shepherd in a most brutal and cowardly manner, of course, because lie had a ‘down’ on Society. And we are asked, after all this, to believe that this is the much-injured individual, who was so badly treated by being fired at for stealing horses on the Avoca, fired at again for robbing hen roosts, and stealing legs of mutton on the King River, but, above all, because he got twelve years for an offence, which he avowed he had committed, but in the proof of which this jail lawyer discovered a flaw.
It is hard to talk so of a man, who is dead, but not of a beast, who is dead. For some time he has been egged on by his mates in New South Wales to show the b—y newspapers, and the flash police here what he could do, but his own cunning for a long time resisted the temptation of the cowardly scoundrels, who dare not attempt it themselves, yet who thought that the name of Morgan would terrify the people of Victoria, as it did those of the other colony. At length, in a happy moment, but evidently after a mature study of the course he might best pursue, he crossed the river Murray to his doom. Our readers already know his short career here, and the manner in which he finally was disposed of, by the whole of the Ovens district being aroused to the danger of allowing the presence of such a visitant by the pluck of the people, men and women, at the station where he was to pass his last night in Victoria, and where he did pass his last night on earth ; by the persistent pursuit of the police, who had never given him a single hour’s rest, and by the courage of an Irish girl whose name, Alice Keenan, deserves to be immortalised. That Morgan was an extraordinary character is shown by his whole career, but that he had one single manly quality we utterly deny. He cared more about being the talk of a few bad men than :f gaining the admiration or love of one woman good or bad. He never desired the society of the fair sex, or sought it except in the spirit of bravado, and had he had that one redeeming quality he must have been a much worse or a much better man. His fellow prisoners say that in any talk about women he took no interest, but in any conversation about crime he was immediately excited. His head, which has been sent by the police to Melbourne, will show, if there be any truth in phrenology, Locality, Music, Destructiveness, (immense), no Veneration, no Benevolence, Combativeness and Self-esteem large, but Caution larger, and a total want of Amativeness or Philoprogenitiveness. We cannot absolutely tell what Morgan would have been in a fair fight, even for his life, but he never sought a fight of any kind, and was altogether about the most selfish, cold, calculating, and cowardly scoundrel, of whom we ever remember to have heard. He was perfectly cool where he thought he was perfectly safe, and never for a second placed himself in a position where he did notbelieve himself, with his cold drawling voice, his deadly look, the sympathy of convicts, the terror of his atrocities, his stolen race horse, and his loaded revolver, to be master of the situation. Can anyone tell us where Morgan ever did the act of a man?
The few additional items below are contributed by our Wangaratta correspondent :—
The excitement concerning Morgan is still intense. The body was removed from Peechelba to Wangaratta yesterday, and placed in one of the cells of the lock-up. Hundreds from all parts visited the body of the bushranging chief. A cast of the head was taken yesterday. It appears the name of the young man who fired the fatal shot is Wendlan, not Quinlan. He has been in the employ of Messrs Rutherford and McPherson for several years. He was in Wangaratta on last Thursday when, the express arrived from the Messrs Evans’s station; King River. He wished, very much to proceed to the scene of the outrage, but was unable to find a horse. Some of his friends said that Morgan might, next visit Peechelba. Wendlan said if he ever did he was bound to shoot him. It is said,that Mr Rutherford also promised £100 to the man who would shoot Morgan, and Mr Rutherford is a gentleman who will not break his word. One particular Scotch air played by Miss McPherson struck Morgan’s fancy, he asked her to play it over and over again. It was the last time she played, he called the piano an organ, and said often come Miss give me, another tune on that ere organ. He also told Mr McPherson that he passed through Benalla at 4 o’clock on the afternoon of Friday last. Mr McPherson said he was in Benalla himself about the same time but did not see him there. Morgan assured him that it was quite true he was in Benalla on that day, and at the hour mentioned. It is said that Morgan told some of the persons at Evans’ station that he was in Melbourne lately, and had the pleasure of seeing himself in wax — he also told the man that it was a very striking likeness of himself. He also told Mr John Evans that he was on Oxley Plains last winter ; he met Mr Bond on the Plains by accident, and would have shot him dead there and then, but he was afraid of creating a b-—-y stink at the time. Some bullock drivers, who reside in Wangaratta, state most positively that they saw ‘Down-the-River-Jack’ at Oxley last winter, coolly riding on a horse. It has since been proved beyond a doubt that ‘Down-the-River-Jack’ and ‘Bill-the-Native’ was one and the same person.
Morgan also stated at the Whitfield station that Mr Bond must have also observed him, for he looked d——d hard at him. ‘Down-the-River-Jack’, was a frequent visitor at other stations. He was in the district for about two months. It was supposed at the time that he had just got out of prison, as his hair then was cut very short. He was in the habit in those days (four years ago) of stealing saddles, bridles, horses, cattle, &c. When he slept at some of the most remote stations on the King River, it was always with a tomahawk under his head. Two young lads in charge of one of the upper stations on the river used to call him ‘Jack,’ and did not look upon him then as a very dangerous member of society. When engaged chatting, over the fire, he told them he knew every inch of bush in the three colonies. He suddenly disappeared and has never been heard of until seen by the bullock drivers, who reported him at Oxley in last winter.
A reporter, representing the Melbourne Herald, arrived in town yesterday. He has especially been sent up to report concerning Morgan. Mr Evans, the constable, recognises Morgan as the same person who was tried at Castlemaine in 1854, under the name of Smith, alias ‘Bill, the Native,’ for some crime, and for which, he received a severe sentence.
Source: “SKETCH OF THE LIFE AND CAREER OF DANIEL MORGAN, THE NOTORIOUS BUSHRANGER” Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918) 13 April 1865: 3.