Born in 1830 in New South Wales, John Fuller was the son of Mary “The Gypsy” Owen, a promiscuous Irish lass, and George Fuller, a greengrocer. Fuller had an unstable childhood and was eventually fostered by a man named Jack the Welshman. At seventeen he became a stock-rider in Murrumbidgee where it is likely he developed his love for thoroughbreds. His first conviction came in 1854 when he was sentenced to 12 years hard labour for highway robbery. Spending his sentence on the prison hulk Success, when granted his ticket of leave in 1860 he promptly bolted.
It wasn’t long before Morgan, as he now identified, was committing robberies, the first of which was when he stole racehorses and saddles from travellers on their way to the races. Morgan’s love for race horses was a repeated factor in his crimes and he stole yet another to ride to Bathurst for his mother’s wedding. Morgan stayed quiet for some time, but he soon teamed up with a man called German Bill and the pair tried to rob a magistrate named Bayliss. In the ensuing shoot-out Bayliss was injured by a bullet from the bushrangers and German Bill was shot dead. There has been specualtion as to whether Morgan was the one that shot German Bill as a distraction but what is certain is that Morgan escaped from the conflict.
Now with a reward of £200 on his head Morgan set out on an epic career of bushranging, robbing stations from Henty to Tumbarumba. When he stuck up Burrumbuttock station he made the manager sign £400 worth of cheques for the staff. Morgan began to gain a reputation as “the traveller’s friend” despite his criminal acts, but in 1864 everything began to unravel.
When Morgan bailed up Round Hill Station he raided the gin supply. Later as he got onto his horse his gun went off and he assumed he was being shot at. In the resulting chaos the station manager was shot in the hand, a stockman was shot in the leg and another stockman named McLean was murdered while riding to fetch a doctor when Morgan suspected him of going to the police instead. Morgan’s behaviour had become erratic and paranoid. In the next few months Morgan killed two more policemen, Sergeant Maginnity and Senior Sergeant Smyth, and burned down the granary of a squatter he had a grudge against for an earlier wounding during a raid gone wrong.
In April, 1865, Morgan crossed the border from New South Wales into Victoria and began operating near Glenrowan. His bush telegraph had gotten word to him that the Victoria police were bragging that Morgan would not last more than forty eight hours in Victoria so Morgan decided to take the flashness out of them. On April 8 he stuck up Peechelba Station and proceeded to hold the McPherson family captive while he got drunk and forced one of the girls to play the piano for him. One of the maids escaped when Morgan allowed her to tend to a sick child and raised the alarm. Soon a posse had surrounded the homestead and when Morgan emerged in the morning to tend his horses he was shot in the back by a stockman-cum-bounty hunter named John Wendlan.
Morgan died that day, slowly choking on his own blood, after which time his body was removed to Wangaratta and people posed with it for photographs. The body was thereafter mutilated by onlookers, the jaw skinned so that the beard could be converted into a pouch, the ears hacked at and Morgan’s scrotum allegedly removed to be used as a coin purse. Morgan’s head was hacked off and kicked around like a ghoulish football and then sent to Melbourne in a wooden box where a cast was made for phrenological study. His headless corpse was put in a box and buried in Wangaratta cemetery where it remains, only recently marked with a plaque to acknowledge Morgan’s historical significance.
Morgan was thirty-five when he was cut down. Within a few weeks his contemporary Benjamin Hall would meet a similarly gruesome end. While Morgan and Hall had completely different approaches to bushranging, they both captured the imagination of the people of the day and in 1879, as they left the town of Jerilderie, the Kelly gang would charge up and down the main street hooting and shouting “Hurrah for the good old days of Morgan and Ben Hall!”
While Morgan’s burning hatred of the authorities earned him many admirers, to many Morgan was no more than a villainous thug and a lunatic but was he a product of his broken childhood or perhaps some underlying mental health issues? Was Dan Morgan really “mad” or just misunderstood?
Morgan: The Bold Bushranger by Margaret Carnegie
“Mad Dan” Morgan, Bushranger illustrated by J. A. King
Morgan the Murderer: A Definitive History of the Bushranger Dan Morgan by Edgar Penzig
Mad Dog Morgan (1976) directed by Phillippe Mora, starring Dennis Hopper