“Scenes of riot and debauchery” – Dr Murphy’s letter

Sir Francis Murphy, by T. F. Chuck, 1872, courtesy State Library of Victoria

Sir Francis Murphy, by T. F. Chuck, 1872, courtesy State Library of Victoria

Dr Francis Murphy was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1809 to public servant Francis Down Murphy and Mary (née Morris). He trained in the medical profession in Cork, Trinity College, Dublin, and London qualifying  as M.R.C.S., in 1835. The next year he migrated to Sydney in where he was appointed by Governor Bourke as colonial surgeon to the Bungonia district of New South Wales in January 1837 at the age of only 27.

Murphy relinquished his medical career and became a successful farmer. He was a prominent member of the Goulburn community, acting as a magistrate on the Goulburn bench for eight years. Murphy married Agnes, daughter of Dr David Reid, in 1840 and in 1846 they followed Agnes’s brother David Reid jnr to Port Phillip where Murphy worked Reid’s Tarrawingee run until he was elected to  the Legislative Council representing the Murray district. Tarrawingee was sold in 1853 and the Murphy family moved to Collingwood. Murphy was a very influential man in the Wangaratta district in the 1840s, including being a Justice of the Peace. His connections gave him a power that few other men had. Hence, when Murphy complained about something, people in Melbourne listened.

The following is an annotated transcript of a letter written by Murphy in December 1849 to the Colonial Secretary complaining about the lawlessness and lack of police in Wangaratta. I wish Murphy had been a little more descriptive about the “scenes of riot and debauchery”!

Sir, I extremely regret, that I feel it to be my duty once again to bring under your Honours’ notice the lawless state of the township of Wangaratta, and the want of police protection in the district immediately surrounding it, and to express my conviction that sooner or later, some fatal occurrences will be the result of the present unchecked scenes of riot and debauchery which daily occur.

It is interesting to note that this was not Murphy’s first complaint about the lack of a police presence in the town.

Owing to the circumstance of this being the only township in these districts where no police are stationed, it has followed that the idle and disorderly, far and near, congregate here, and I am constantly receiving complaints from the residents of outrages committed upon them both in person and property and which I am wholly unable to take notice of, through want of the necessary means of redress.

These scenes are interesting as the discovery of gold at Beechworth was over two years away so these trouble makers weren’t fresh from the goldfields and flush with money. Most of them were probably ex-convicts from New South Wales, moving away from areas where they would be under easy surveillance, as Murphy pointed out.

Saturday afternoon at the diggings 1854 by Charles Lyall, courtesy of the State Library of Victoria

The above image, while probably sketched around Victoria’s central goldfields gives an idea of what was going on in the pubs on a good day.

The publicans have frequently stated to me their inability to prevent the hordes of drunkards, which are always to be found upon their premises and about them, and I know that they have upon several occasions been subject to great violence with serious damage to their homes and persons in their efforts to keep disorderly people away and to suppress outrage.

Sydney Hotel on the site of Clark’s Hope Inn c1860s, courtesy Museum Victoria

William Henry Clark’s Hope Inn was operating at this time, as was his Commercial Inn on Murphy Street. Thomas Bond’s Travellers’ Inn was on Sydney Rd (now Ryley St) and James Melville held the Wangaratta Hotel on the north bank of the Ovens. There may have been two other hotels in the town that I’ll post about another time.



It is but a few days back that one of the innkeepers had a narrow escape from being shot by a scoundrel who put a loaded pistol to his breast and snuffed it when it providentially missed fire. The pistol was loaded with ball and went off the second time in the hands of the innkeeper who wrested it from his antagonist. Upon this occasion I had the police sent for, from the Broken River [Benalla], some 40 miles off, but before their arrival, which always takes place after a most leisurely interval, the thing was well known, and of course the offender was out of the way. The police made, as usual, a careless and ineffectual search, returning to their quarters the following day, and thinking no more of the matter, and when their backs were about, the man I am told reappeared. And I have every reason to believe from the reports I have heard, that he will again attempt the life of the publican. The latter’s offense appears to be, that he gave some information about a robbery which there is no doubt this villain had committed a few days before, as the stolen property was found by some blacks near his hut.

I would really like to know who this poor terrified innkeeper was. I’ve found no reports of this incident in newspapers, although coverage was sparse at this time, and police gazettes revealed nothing. It seems appalling that the ‘villain’ wasn’t apprehended and that the event and victim’s name have disappeared from the record.

Yesterday I was waited upon by Mr Gemmell, a medical practitioner at Wangaratta, who informed me that his house had been attacked in his absence by some drunken fellows, who broke in his windows in the face of his wife, a lady at the time in a very delicate state of health, and he describes the place (the township), to use his own words ‘as a Hell upon earth’ where it is becoming utterly impossible for any decent person to live.

Dr Murphy didn’t take the advice of Dr Gemmell merely because he was a fellow medical practitioner and therefore respectable. The two doctors had other connections that show them to be more than mere acquaintances. They owned land in Melbourne next to each other and both had political aspirations amongst other things. Murphy’s mention of Dr Gemmell’s wife being “in a very delicate state” was a term commonly used for pregnancy. Maria Caroline Nash (nee Winnington) Gemmell was barely 21 years old at the time of these attacks, and pregnant with her first child John Gemmell junior and as Murphy reported, was alone in the house. Gemmell’s house may have been targeted as it had real glass windows which were expensive and signalled a relatively wealthy person lived there.

He says that drunken people are frequently about stark naked in the day time, and that all kinds of rioting and blasphemy exist from one weeks end to another. As Mr Gemmell is I believe, about going to Melbourne I have recommended him to wait upon your Honour and represent the state of the place of which he is a constant eye witness.

I can’t say much more about people swanning around the streets of Wangaratta in drunken stupors and stark naked except that I wish Murphy had named names!

There are now considerably upwards of two hundred person living at ‘Wangaratta’ and many houses of brick and wood are built and are in course of erection.

Dr Murphy uses ‘Wangaratta’ as the town was named only in the April of 1849, previously being known as the Ovens Crossing Place. His mention of the housing stock indicates that for the past 12 years accommodation had largely been temporary with tents and bark huts the norm. Wood and brick buildings were signs of establishment and that people were prepared to invest in the future of the town. Murphy clearly thought the town had potential if only it had adequate policing.

I would strongly, but respectfully, press these statements upon your Honour’s attention, with the view of urging your Honour to take whatever step your Honour may deem requisite in the matter and that be in your Honour’s power.

And I have the honour to be your Honour’s most obedient humble servant.

Francis Murphy JP

If you have any stories of crime and police in early Wangaratta I’d love to hear from you.

On This Day In Wangaratta – 4th July 1875

This day marks the 140th anniversary of the death of George Moore at the tender age of 28 years. George died at the home of his parents on the One Mile Creek after a four week battle with typhoid fever. It must have been a horrible lingering end for the young man.

George Moore - part death certificateGeorge was born on the 23 November 1845 at Hedi Station (otherwise known as Oxley Plains or Edi) on the Ovens River where his father John Moore was an overseer for the brothers George and William Pitt Faithfull. His mother Margaret (nee Considine) also worked on the property.  George’s birth was quite unusual for the time as he was a twin, and both babies survived to adulthood. His (possibly identical) brother was William Moore, my great great grandfather.

The death of George was a tragedy greater than the loss of a son and brother. George had married Moyhu resident Mary Jane Armstrong less than three years before his death. The marriage took place on 25th September 1872 at the old Holy Trinity Church and was conducted by William Charles Ford. Witnesses to the union were John Moore junior (George’s eldest brother), and Harriet Marum, one of George’s sisters. Mary Jane was only 17 years old and permission for her marriage was given by her mother Sarah Ann Montgomery Staton. Sarah had been widowed when her husband John Armstrong, a mines inspector died, and had remarried when Mary Jane was around two years old.

On the 1st February 1874 Mary Jane had given birth to George Earl Moore. Now, less than 18 months later she was aged 20, and was a widow with a child to raise. The parallels between Mary Jane’s experience and that of her mother are obvious. Mary Jane continued to be part of the Moore family, with her son George Earl visiting the Moore family until well into the 1930s.

Mary Jane did marry again, to Moyhu blacksmith James Lonnie Fulton in 1879.

She continued to live at Moyhu, and had seven daughters in a row and finally another son with James. When that son William Dunsmore Fulton was only two years old James Lonnie Fulton died aged only 42. Incredibly, the cause of death was typhoid. Mary Jane was again a widow, this time with eight children, the oldest of whom was only 16. At least in these circumstances Mary Jane inherited the land at Moyhu that the family lived on. George Earl, by now aged 23, assisted his mother and remained close to her all his life.

This is an image of Mary Jane Fulton and her first child George Earl Moore taken in 1935, probably on the occasion of Mary Jane’s 80th birthday. Mary Jane passed away in 1936. George Earl married Rosalie Salmon in 1901 and raised five children in Melbourne. This image was kindly given to me by George’s son Charles Bertram Moore in 1991.

The bank teller and Ned Kelly

Regular readers of this blog will know that I don’t spend a lot of time on Ned Kelly. Blogs and websites dedicated to the Kellys explore the subject in great depth and I could never, nor do I want to, go into the kind of detail found on them. The history of north eastern Victoria is so much bigger than the story of the Kelly Gang and so I have focused on things that interest me and what I can relate to my family history and my own experience.

Ned Kelly, wood engraving published by Alfred May and Alfred Martin Ebsworth, November 1878, courtesy State Library of Victoria

So, now that you’ve read that disclaimer you are probably wondering what I’m up to.

Early this year I had the opportunity to research some letters written in early 1879 in order to authenticate them. The letters were written by a bank teller named George Vernon McCracken when he was working at the Colonial Bank of Australasia in Benalla. The letters mention a whole host of interesting things, not the least of which were the Kelly Gang. The letters had been brought to the attention of Wangaratta solicitor John Suta, known for his work in the repatriation of Ned Kelly’s remains, and a self confessed “Kelly tragic”. John immediately saw the value in the letters and determined to have the letters authenticated. He enlisted Jamie Kronborg, a journalist for North Eastern Media  who wrote this article, published in January this year.

Not long after Jamie’s article I was hard at work, analysing every part of the letters and verifying their provenance. Using dozens of research questions I was able to verify the letters as genuine with a solid provenance. The story and information that came out of this research is complex and very interesting. The connections to Wangaratta come in the most unexpected form and every aspect of the letters and of it’s provenance has its own story.

Just one of the comments young McCracken makes on bank letterhead is that there was “great dissatisfaction at the movements of the police in the matter of the Kellys and people are beginning to declare against the force in general”. He makes other comments about the Kelly Gang, his home and family, and about ordinary events in the bank. The letters give an insight into the life of a young man making his way in the world and reporting back to his parents during his first job away from home.

Needless to say the writing up of this research will take quite a while. It may end up as a peer reviewed journal article as it will probably be too long for one blog post. While I’m working on getting all this down there will be questions about different aspects of the letters and the author but please hold off as all will be revealed in the final publication. I will not respond to specific questions, nor debate about the content of the letters or the author until after the publication. Comments asking about specifics or making uninformed assumptions about the letters, my research or qualifications will not be approved for publication.

While you’re waiting for the bigger story a truncated version of Jamie’s latest newspaper article on my findings can be found for free here. If you subscribe to the Wangaratta Chronicle you can see a more detailed review of the research on page 6 of the edition published on Friday 26th June 2015. This article will also be published in the Beechworth based Ovens and Murray Advertiser. After three months I believe these editions will be available for free via Press Reader.

**Postscript 3rd July 2015** Unfortunately some readers have not understood the above information regarding comments so all comments have been disabled on this post.

This post was first published on https://conversationswithgrandma.wordpress.com. If you see it anywhere else, please contact the author of this blog.

On This Day in Wangaratta – 22nd June 1857

Bushranging has long been a part of Australia’s history and folklore. We have all heard about the big stories, but we probably don’t realise that bushranging occurred regularly in poorly policed areas and that Wangaratta was one such place, until at least the early 1860s. This sketch by S. T. Gill, composed in 1852 and courtesy of the State Library of Victoria is of bushrangers lying in wait for ‘contributions’ by passersby who were transporting their gold findings around Bendigo.

Bushrangers by S T GillBelow is an account of bushranging carried out by one Wangaratta resident and an accomplice at the One Mile bridge on 22nd June 1857. Their victims were John Currie and Robert Cousens. Even in these early days the bandits tried to add a romantic element and a touch of notoriety by giving themselves nick names. Robert Harding dubbed himself “The Trooper”, while his partner in crime John Banks had yet to determine to own personal style. Also in this article published in the Ovens & Murray Advertiser is a report that John Brown, a butcher, was burgled by John Hilton, also known as John Robinson Hall, who fancied himself as “the Marquis”.

On This Day in Wangaratta – 15th June 1930

On this day in Wangaratta the famous female aviator Amy Johnson landed at Bowser. The landing was quite a coup for the town as Wangaratta was the only stopover on her route from Canberra to Melbourne. Newspaper reports put the crowd at 17,000!

These images were taken by local photographer G. E. (Godfrey Ernest) Roberts and come from the collection of the State Library of Victoria. If you look closely at the first image you can see an awful lot of the local police got front row seats! Their shiny police helmets are a giveaway.

Amy Johnson probably leaving the Pinsent Hotel

Amy Johnson probably leaving the Pinsent Hotel

This report from the Maitland Mercury tells all.

Maitland Mercury, 16th June 1930A better image of Johnson’s Gypsy Moth can be viewed at the Coffs Harbour Library here and an image of Major de Havilland’s Hawk Moth which accompanied Amy to Melbourne can be viewed here.


On This Day in Wangaratta – 9th June 1896

On this day in 1896 Dr William Joseph Carroll passed away after battling pleurisy for six weeks. He was only 41. Dr Carroll was born in Dublin to wealthy former Lord Mayor Sir William Carroll (also a doctor) and Margaret Elizabeth Pearson. Sir William was quite well known in Dublin society, being dubbed one of the city’s ‘Civic Celebrities’. What brought his sons William and Stanislaus to Victoria is not known but William jnr arrived in New South Wales around 1880. He married 17 year old Ada Agnes Hudson early the next year at Corowa.

Dr Carroll worked for short times at Wahgunyah and Warracknabeal, before settling in Wangaratta in the late 1880s. His name made the news in 1893 when a man named Carl Stumph was brought before the Rushworth Court on a charge of perjury after he claimed to be a registered medical practitioner. Stumph had ‘practiced’ in Rushworth for several years, using the name and qualifications of the real Dr William Carroll of Wangaratta.

The Carroll’s must have been a theatrical family. William jnr’s brother Stanislaus, was an actor who used the stage name Stannis Leslie while working at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. Their father, while knighted, struggled to find the respect often accorded to his position. You can see a wonderful cartoon lampooning Sir William by portraying him as a fat clown here.

Dr Carroll’s widow, later spelling her name as Aida Agnes or Agnes Aida, moved to Brisbane where she died in 1923. For all the prominence of Dr Carroll’s father and the celebrity of his brother, Dr William Joseph Carroll quickly faded into obscurity. No death notice appeared in the newspapers and most probably no international obituary. He left no probate and he is buried alone in an unknown grave in the Roman Catholic section of the Wangaratta cemetery.

Trove Tuesday – Wangaratta 1863 – Part 5

Following on from the last Trove Tuesday we continue reading an account of Wangaratta published in the Ovens & Murray Advertiser (O&MA) in January 1863.

The progress of the town, although gradual, is very marked, and those buildings in course of erection are all brick, of which material the town principally consists. The antiquated structures of bark and slab have, by happy degrees, yielded to the ravages of time, and been replaced by more durable specimens of architecture ; a conspicuous instance being the lock-up, a commodious erection, secure and well ventilated ; spoken of in the highest terms by many of its ‘ habitues,’ and recently substituted for a combination of green hide, bark, slabs, nails, and iron hoop ; a structure which, having acted as kitchen to a former resident, was promoted to do duty as a lock-up for some six years, and was one time actually proclaimed a Gaol.

Reading this part of the article one can see how inadequate the protection of residents of the Wangaratta district from criminals was until the early 1860s. Certainly the authorities thought initially that a bark shack was adequate, as prisoners were also handcuffed or chained up inside this ‘lockup’. As the goldfields around Beechworth expanded things changed dramatically. More travellers came through Wangaratta, and the town prospered and grew in line with the burgeoning economy, requiring a way of containing more prisoners in more than a humpy. Wangaratta was also proclaimed the site of a Court of Petty Sessions in 1851. Accommodation for attendees of the court from all areas around the town had to be provided and tenders were called for the same year.

Tender  lockup, The Argus, 22 May 1851

Like the story of the various Court House buildings, the police lockup was a story of false starts. Tenders were called for a lockup several times. In May 1855 F. Ryley was awarded the contract to erect a lockup and in 1857 another tender was awarded to E. Chambers to erect an iron lockup. In August 1858 another contract was awarded to Smith, Banks and Cranston, to build a lockup at a cost of £170. Still the lockup didn’t get built or the one already in existence was beyond capacity and tenders were again called in December 1859. The newspaper report of 1863 indicates that the town wasn’t successful in getting an adequate lockup until around 1862.

The location of the hide, slab and bark lockup building is not known. Having been a kitchen at one time, it must have been closely connected with an early house. The lockup could have been on the same block as the police camp on the corner of Murphy and Faithfull Streets, or at the Police Office. The Police Office was originally on a peculiar triangular piece of land (later absorbed into the market and still later the King George Memorial Gardens) on the corner of Ovens and Templeton Streets. It had a direct line of sight to the punt over the Ovens River, to the market reserve, and to William Henry Clark’s Hope Inn. Police could see who was coming and going in and out of the town, and in and out of my ancestor’s pub!

Wangaratta, 1857 by Surveyor Wedge

Wangaratta, 1857 by Surveyor Wedge

Not surprisingly, the early bark lockup featured in several adventures, or rather misadventures in the town, not the least of which occurred in 1855.

The man Macnamara, whose capture I reported in my last communication, …  effected his escape out of the lock-up here on the same night of his incarceration. It is not known at what hour he made his unceremonious exit ; but thus much is known, that about half-past five o’clock on Thursday morning last, as Mr. Cook was proceeding to his work at Mr. Millard’s new building [Royal Victoria Hotel], his attention, when passing the lock-up was attracted to a hole in the roof of that substantial and truly architectural edifice. Mr. Cook fancying the hole had been recently made, and that some foul play had been at work during the night, naturally inquired of Lieutenant Hare’s* servant, a Chinaman, who happened to be close by, whether there were any prisoners in the lock-up, and, if so, how many ? The celestial gentleman replied ” three,” but on his going to the window of the cage to ascertain if the birds were all there, he to his utter astonishment found that one (Macnamara) had flown. Rose, the lock-up keeper, who was comfortably enveloped in the arms of the drowsy god, was at once aroused, and in less than half an hour Lieutenant Hare and all his subordinates were fully accoutered and seen wending their way in different directions in pursuit of the fugitive. … From what I can learn, he had been securely hand cuffed to a chain in the usual way, and this, I presume, was supposed by the Government at Wangaratta to be quantum sufficit for his safe keeping. Should this be the case, I for one beg to differ with them, and at the same time to tell them that when such characters as Macnamarra are in their custody, and when the interest of their paymasters, the people, is so deeply involved they should invariably place a sentinel on the lock-up, knowing as they do that it is a most miserable and dilapidated fabric, and quite unfit for the retention of the most harmless prisoner.

*Lieutenant Hare was Francis Augustus Hare who became a Superintendent of police and was involved in the capture of bushranger Harry Power in 1870 and the Kelly gang at Glenrowan in 1880. Hare’s involvement with Kelly’s capture was symbolic rather than practical as he was wounded in wrist in the first volley fired by Ned Kelly. This 1855 incident would also have looked rather embarrassing on his record. This image of Hare is courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.

The lockup building however, wasn’t the only thing amiss with law and order in the district. The police themselves were sometimes a problem to the residents as shown by this report of January 1853.

This morning the Lock-up-house-keeper of  Wangaratta was charged by the Chief Constable of that place with having been intoxicated while on duty last Tuesday night and with allowing a prisoner in his charge at the time to be drunk also, and at large on the station. The case was heard by Mr. Smyth, Resident Commissioner and Mr. Harper, Police Magistrate. The prisoner was sentenced to forfeit the wages due to sum £4 8s, and to be discharged from his office. Mr Smyth stated in court, that he had received a serious charge of drunkenness and misbehaviour against several of the Wangaratta Constables including the Lock-up-keeper from Lieutenant Christian of the mounted patrol, and that … the matter would be strictly investigated. The establishment of the new police of the Colony will, it is to be expected, bring the constables of the different townships on the road into a better state of discipline. The presence of the expected resident Police Magistrate at Wangaratta will (if a suitable man be appointed) be of great service to the travelling public.

Tenders were also called annually for people to provide rations for both prisoners and police horses. This is a good way of finding your ancestors in early records as this information, if not published in newspapers, was always published in the Government Gazette available online.