This is a painting that sits on the rear of the therapy unit at J Ward prison for the criminally insane in Ararat Victoria. There are two stories as to who this painting could be of. The first and more likely story is that it is a self-portrait of former inmate Garry Webb. The other is that it could be of the notorious bushranger Mad Dog Morgan.
Dan Morgan is one of Australia’s infamous bushrangers. Nicknamed Mad Dog Morgan and Down the River Jack, his real name is believed to be Jack Fuller. At one point he was even referred to in a police report as Bill the Native, but he preferred to be called Morgan. When he was 20 years old, he left his hometown in NSW to join the goldRush. He started off with petty crimes and then made his name by robbing people at gunpoint focusing on shepherd's huts as they were an easy target. He was arrested in May 1854. Soon after, he tried to escape from Castlemaine gaol while he awaited trial. He didn’t succeed and instead was sentenced to 12 years of hard labour. He served 6 and was released in 1860. He started stealing horses and would then hold up travelers around the Wagga region and said to go on murderous rages. He shot a policeman for no apparent reason and would shoot people who were unarmed during his robberies. He shot anyone who stood up to him and tortured his prisoners. Police knew that could catch Morgan if he attempted to cross the Murray River. In April 1865 he did. After raiding a house, he held the occupants, prisoner. A nursemaid managed to escape as he let her leave the room to tend to a child and she went to inform the police. after having no sleep he left the house to find 40 armed policemen and volunteers. He was shot in the back on April 9, 1865. His hair was cut and his body was publicly displayed at Wangaratta. It is worth noting that he was not known to be a prisoner at J Ward but rumoured to have passed through the area. Was it possible he made contact with an inmate who painted his portrait?
Garry Webb is probably one of the most infamous prisoners of J Ward, so much so that is rumoured to haunt parts of the gaol (and its sister Aradale Lunatic Asylum where he was also committed). His birth name was Garry David and his mother was an alcoholic. He spent a lot of his youth in orphanages, boys' homes, and youth training centers. From the age of only 11 years old, he started a career in crime in theft and making threats against people. At the age of 13, he was diagnosed with a personality disorder and psychopathic tenancies. He was admitted to a number of psychiatric facilities on 8 different occasions between 1976 and 1984 starting when he was 22 years old. It was also during this time that he began to mutilate himself on a regular basis. He swallowed razor blades, cut off parts of his ears, cut off his left nipple, hammered nails into his feet, and even cut off his penis. In 1982 he was arrested for attempted murder and sentenced to 14 years of prison. He began writing manuscripts about committing massacres after he would be released from prison. He said that he was told to write about his fantasies as a form of therapy. He particularly hated authority and authority figures. He would often make demands and perform self-harm when these demands were not met. It was said that he had mutilated himself on around 70 different occasions. After the third time he cut off his penis, they were unable to reattach it. Due to be released in 1990, there was a dilemma. Personality disorder was not considered to be a mental illness so therefore he could not be committed to an institution. Based on his behavior and graphic manuscripts, it was felt it would not be safe to let him free into the community. It was then that the Community Protection act of 1990 was penned, meaning that a judge would hold the power to keep him what was called preventative custody for a period of 12 months. He died at the age of 38 while still in custody after swallowing razor blades that led to peritonitis. He spent a lot of his time in J Ward Prison for the criminally insane and the forensic unit at Aradale Lunatic Asylum. It is thought that the painting on the back of the therapy unit was a self-portrait painted by Webb himself.
Considering how much the media loved talking about Garry Webb, there are little to no pictures available of him (that I was able to find). This is courtesy of the book 'Story of J Ward'.
According to J ward itself, they always thought the painting to be a self-portrait of Webb. Long after J Ward had closed, the Age newspaper published an article showing a picture of the painting. An ex-patient of J ward rang the retired ex-nurse who made the claims to the newspaper threatening to tear off his arms if he didn't stop telling lies about the painting. He was a current resident at the time in the new forensic unit at Aradale and it is unknown how he got the nurse's phone number and how he got access to a phone. The patient said that it was actually a painting of Mad Dog Morgan. He knew because he painted it. When he was challenged to prove his claims, he said that you would notice that one of the arms was not in fact finished. In the newspaper photo (which is on display at J Ward) it is very difficult to tell that the arm was not finished so it was highly possible he was telling the truth.
So what do you think? Do you think it is Mad Dog Morgan or Garry Webb?
The J Ward Story by Graeme Burgin
This story is also mentioned by tour guides at J Ward during their historical tours.
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