The Bloodhole Massacre, Glengower

Dugald McLachlan and the Massacre at the ‘Bloodhole’

Barry Golding July 2021

‘For many settlers and their families, Australia was a country which broke them on the wheel. Nature was regarded as dangerous and capricious. Men could be ruined in a season by drought, fire or flood. The British had dispossessed the Aborigines, but they had yet to learn how to master the land.’

(Pounds and pedigrees: The upper class in Victoria: 1850-80, Paul de Serville, 1943, p.222)

Dispossession and Violence

Dispossession and the violence typically associated with it occurred in every place across Australia, from the first time the British flag was raised and terra nullius was declared in 1770. Contact and the dispossession that ensued happened in different places and at different times for the following 150 years. Indeed the last known, officially sanctioned massacre of Aboriginal Australians on the contested frontier occurred on the Coniston cattle station in Central Australia in 1926, only 24 years before I (Barry Golding) was born in 1950.

Appropriately, Hepburn Shire recently supported the creation of a ‘Frontier Wars’ memorial to such conflicts locally in the form of a Manna Gum Avenue, officially opened in July 2021 as part of its commitment to Reconcilation.

I have chosen to write in some detail about the Glengower run and its owner Dugald McLachlan, because the property and its owner features prominently in a local Aboriginal massacre that occurred on Middle Creek just 15 minutes north of where I live in Kingston in central Victoria. The Bloodhole Massacre (Massola, 1968 ‘Journey to Aboriginal Victoria’ & Ian Clark, 1995, p.97) suggest that the massacre most likely took place sometime between 1 December 1839 and 31 January 1840. 

This was immediately prior to Chief Aboriginal Protector, George Robinson’s February 1840 visit to John Hepburn with Assistant Protector Edward Parker in the process of choosing a suitable site for an Aboriginal Protectorate in north western Victoria. As with many such massacres, whilst a lot was deliberately not written down or shared, several primary as well as local oral histories shed considerable light on this event. 

The main firsthand oral account of the massacre at a location locally referred to as the ‘Slaughterhole’ or ‘Bloodhole’ goes back to a shepherd at Glengower station in 1840, Donald McDonald, known familiarly as ‘Donald Ruadh’ or ‘Red Donald’, passed down to and reported by local Daylesford historian, Edgar Morrison in Frontier life in the Loddon Protectorate (pp.12-13) published in 1967.

The process, nature and perpetrators of dispossession are rarely acknowledged, talked or written about. It is far easier and less confronting to call the process by the more benign term, ‘settlement’. In the process, the men involved are usually regarded as ‘pioneers opening up the country’ rather than closing down a First Nation whose roots go back one thousand generations. No matter what they were involved in, they and the places they come from are still memorialised in our local towns, streets and geographical features. 

Bain Attwood lists 26 ‘incidents of conflicts between settlers and Aboriginal people in Dja Dja Wurrung country’, some of which were massacres, in just four years between March 1838 and March 1842. The Bloodhole massacre that is the subject of this blog is not included in Attwood’s list, but referred to in just one paragraph as ‘an oral tradition recounted by local historian’ (p.49), described in part as follows, based entirely on Edgar Morrison’s account.

A group of Jardwadjali [from the Grampians area] murdered a former convict who was the cook on the Glengower station. … The leaseholder, Lachlan [sic.] McLachlan is remembered as a hard and ruthless exploiter of men and it believed he led an armed party who overtook the murderers on the banks of a creek several miles to the west and killed them as they sought shelter in a large waterhole there. The place consequently came to be known as the ‘Blood-hole’.

In the present account I seek to unpack this one massacre on one pastoral run, Glengower, not because it is unusual, but because its disturbing circumstances are illustrative, and because the events, timing, location and setting are local and reasonably easy to reconstruct and locate.

The local, rapid and violent dispossession, removal and exclusion of Aboriginal people from their traditional lands by huge interlocking squatting runs from 1838 left traditional Dja Dja Wurring owners with few safe places to turn to. It was certainly not safe on Dugald McLachlan’s Glengower run in the vicinity of present day Campbelltown in the four year window between 1838 and 1842.

Where did the events that led to the massacre take place?

For those unfamiliar with the area, much of what took place occurred in central Victoria within 10km of present day Campbelltown, in 2021 a tiny rural locality on the Midland Highway between Newstead and Creswick, now with only a delicenced ‘Black Duck Hotel’, a fire station and public hall.

A Google search for Glengower suggests that

… the pastoral run of 44,000 acres was originally owned by W. Kirk who briefly occupied it before abandoning it in 1838. It was then taken up and named (after a location in Argyllshire) by Dugald McLachlan (1801-1855) in early 1839. … The run was gazetted on 4 October 1848 at 41,280 acres with 10,000 sheep.

The huge, former Glengower home station and rambling outbuildings sits decaying in 2021 under some ancient Washington palms in the paddock opposite the hotel. Joyce’s Creek running seasonally alongside flows north though Campbelltown, a ‘lateral stream’ following the boundary between the ancient folded sediments and the recent basalt flow. The Campbelltown forest still clothes the rocky ridges to the east, and the expansive and still fertile Moolort Plains and wetlands stretch west to Clunes and Carisbrook, and north to the Loddon River.

Confusingly, ‘Glengower’ is also the name of the ruins of a former township on the road 7km south west on the Campbelltown to Clunes road, approximately 2km upstream of the now privately owned massacre site on Middle Creek. The local Glengower / Campbelltown cemetery, the final resting place of many of the local Scottish ‘pioneers’, is located several kilometres south west of Campbelltown. It sits on a picturesque knoll overlooking the volcanic plains that made fortunes for many including William Campbell after whom the town was named and who is buried there. Campbell was one of three executors to Dugald McLachlan’s will.

Middle Creek, that as its name suggests, runs north along the middle of the Moolort Plains through the ruins of the former township settlement of. It flows intermittently to the north across the centre of the wide volcanic plain bounded to the east by both McLachlan’s Creek (still named after Dugald McLachlan) and Joyce’s Creek, named after Alfred Joyce who held the Plaistow run north of the Glengower run from 1843.

Middle Creek’s headwaters seasonally drain the steep slopes around (Mount) Kooroocheang and the Kangaroo Hills, eventually to join Joyce’s Creek just upstream of where it flows into Cairn Curran Reservoir. At times Middle Creek gets lost in bogs and spiny rush: in other places it runs over mainly basaltic bedrock. In only a small number of places north of the former Glengower township does it form deep pools (below) that closely match the oral history description of ‘The Bloodhole’.

The likely Bloodhole site on Middle Creek, downstream of the former Glengower settlement (not the former Glengower station site)

The Moolort Plains, Joyce’s Creek and the Major’s Line

Before 1836 the Dja Dja Wurrung people were living along a major Aboriginal highway in the rich ecotone of present day Joyce’s Creek (between the present day localities of Campbelltown, Strathlea and Joyce’s Creek). To the west were the extensive Moolort Plains grasslands and wetlands. To the east was the Campbelltown Forest. 

Until September 1836 the thousands of generations of people living on and passing along Joyce’s Creek between the Loddon River and the northern foothills of the Great Dividing Range had experienced no local squatter or explorer incursions, though the people had no doubt heard from neighbouring Aboriginal nations about people and boats arriving in Melbourne the previous year and Sturt’s ‘exploration’ a decade beforehand of the already comprehensively settled, named and cultured Murray Darling River system. 

The first known visitation by Europeans to southern Dja Dja Wurrung country was in late September 1836. Thomas Mitchell crossed the Tullaroop Creek at Mount Cameron Gorge, and Joyce’s Creek near present day Strathlea before camping on the Major’s Line at present day Newstead on the Loddon River. Mitchell was then two weeks ahead of the slower wagon party led by Granville Stapylton as they also rolled back towards Sydney. Whilst they were both on the homeward run between Mount Greenock and present day Newstead, Mitchell was keen to be the first to break the good news of his discovery of an inviting ‘Australia Felix’ ripe for ‘settling’, or more accurately, unsettling.

Staplyton wrote in his diary on 8 October 1836 of the view from ‘a high Forest Hill’, most likely Mount Greenock ‘… beholding a country beyond measure superb, a mixture of every terrestrial qualification desirable for a settler’. Two days later on 10 October from the Moolort Plains, Stapylton gushed that ‘… such a splendid spectacle of fine country never open to the view of explorers before, it is far beyond my power to describe it.’ By the time he reached the admittedly wide and deep pools in the Loddon River immediately downstream of Newstead he became particularly hyperbolic, describing the ‘cavity for the river the size of the Murray’.

Both Mitchell and Stapylton noted many emus on the Moolort Plains, and killed some, but both Mitchell and Stapylton were strangely silent in their diaries about the people who were then living on Joyce’s Creek. What was left behind, visible for decades, were the wheel ruts on the plains caused by their heavy wagons, that came to be referred to as ‘Mitchell’s Line’.

It was their maps, notes and particularly the wheel ruts and river crossing points that were critically important when overlanders with sheep and cattle began streaming south west, hot in the heels of Mitchell’s fresh tracks and his glowing descriptions of Australia Felix.

By the time George Robinson first came to the area and crossed Mitchell’s Line as they journeyed north along Joyce’s Creek on 20 February 1840, even Robinson was ‘at a loss to account for the wheel [tracks] and immense number of cattle tracks’ that he and Edward Parker encountered. 

In just over three years, Mitchell’s Line had become a veritable highway, not only to get between Portland (where the Henty brothers had settled illegally since 1834) and Sydney. Parts of the Line had also been used by overlanders taking sheep and cattle from Sydney, swinging west to Adelaide and south to Melbourne, as well as to set up runs and move stock through the southern Loddon Valley between 1837 and 1840.

By 1837 at least two parties of current and intending pastoralists from both the Geelong area and Melbourne had gone ‘exploring’ beyond the edge of country already ‘taken up’. One party went clockwise from Corio to Buninyong via the Loddon past present day Newstead and back via Mount Aitken. The other party approximated the same route anticlockwise. It is very likely that both parties passed through or close by this area of interest. We have no record of the people they encountered. They were looking for land to settle, and any people in the landscape were an incumbrance to settlement.

What was the environment like along Joyce’s Creek before 1840?

By 1840, George Robinson had become an incredibly experienced and astute observer and recorder of places, landscapes, vegetation and people, including Aboriginal people, wherever he went. He described people and features Mitchell and most of his explorer contemporaries either dismissed or ignored. It is possible to use Robinson’s diary observations and reconstruct precisely where he went. His return trip with Parker from John Hepburn’s homestead beyond the Loddon River and back has not previously been described. It is described here to give a hitherto hidden window into ‘being on country’ in February 1840, likely just weeks after the Bloodhole massacre.

In a landscape where only the major rivers and mountains had then had names able to be recognized or reconstructed in 2021, and where to most other colonial observers, all Aboriginal people were wrongly regarded as one people and denied their traditional names, national or clan affiliations, Robinson’s diary is invaluable.

In brief, it is evident from Robinson’s February 1840 diary records that Robinson and Parker ventured past Mount Kooroocheang, across the Smeaton Plain, past the Stony Rises, north past Glengower and Campbelltown, along Joyce’s Creek to the Loddon River and finally up onto Goughs Range before heading back to Kooroocheang via Boundary Gully, Yandoit Hill and Pewley Hill. 

We now know that the Glengower run straddled much the southern part of the traditional lands of the Bane bane bulluk Clan of the Dja Dja Wurrung people. Their Clan area covered the rich Banksia-rich Kangaroo grasslands and open Casuarina woodlands south of the Loddon River, including the well-watered north flowing catchments between Middle Creek in the west, and Jim Crow Creek (soon to be renamed larnebarramul yaluk) in the east, including much of the Joyce’s Creek and the Green Cully catchments.

In the vicinity of present day Campbelltown, Robinson described the ‘timber’ vegetation in the tongues of forest on the verge of the plain. The plain was ‘as usual: the oak [Buloke: Allocasuarina luehmannii], gums [Eucalypts], cherry [Native cherry: Exocarpus cupressiformis], honey suckle [Silver banksia: Banksia marginata], with herbs amongst the grass [Kangaroo grass: Themeda triandra’.]

Travelling north on Joyce’s Creek, a valley still retaining huge and ancient river red gums, Robinson noted several recent Aboriginal campsites (with ‘bark screens’) and many oven mounds. He observed how high the creek had been in a relatively recent flood, that he estimated might have been 20-30 feet [approximately 8 metres] above its then summer level. He described ‘… numerous deep waterholes and good water. Natives had been there; saw the places where they had roasted and eaten the [Freshwater] mussel’. Like the ‘blackfish’ [River blackfish: Gadopsis marmoratus], the local freshwater mussel disappeared from Joyce’s Creek within living memory but is still present in other streams including the Loddon.

Robinson saw ducks and ‘what resembled a large white cloud … a large flight of white cockatoos’, a flock he estimated in the ‘tens of thousands’. Somewhat similar in appearance to the Sulphur-crested (‘Major Mitchell’) cockatoo and the Little corella, these were most likely flocks of Long-billed corella: Cacatua tenuirostris, whose staple food once included the then plentiful Yam daisy/ Myrniong Microseris lanceolata. Long-billed corella habitat depended on now rare, older, hollow trees for nesting. Populations of tens of thousands is indicative of copious old growth trees and extensive Myrniong grasslands. Like Staplyton, Robinson noted numerous emus, with ‘several camping places of the natives where they had been eating emu eggs’. 

The ‘… grass and herbs were so thick in some of the marshes as to be almost difficult to walk through and up to the saddle girth’. This, in summary, was a remarkable, occupied food Eden without and before sheep and pastoralists.

Between where Joyce’s Creek joined the Loddon River downstream of present day Newstead, Robinson noted two huge ponds which he estimated averaged 400 (365m) yards long and 100 feet (30 metres) across. ‘It is said they abound in fish: perch [likely Golden perch: Macquaria ambigua] and cod [Murray cod: Maccullochella peelii]’.

Who was Dugald McLachlan?

Having established what the country was like, it is important to also establish some facts about Dugald McLachlan, the man who blundered into this landscape and First Nations community with sheep in 1839, and was almost certainly involved in the Bloodhole massacre soon after. 

Dugald (also spelled ‘Dougald’) McLachlan (also spelled McLaughlan & McLauchlan) also self-identified as ‘Captain of the Rifle Brigade’, denoted as ‘RB’ after his surname. ‘Dugald McLaughlan’ was listed in the Colonistnewspaper as a ‘cabin passenger’ on the Strathfieldsaye that arrived in Sydney on 25 July 1839, which ‘McLaughten’ as he was also called in one of the shipping records, had boarded in Plymouth, England on 8 April 1839. Unlike the dozens of single women on board the same voyage as assisted or ‘bounty’ immigrants, McLaughlin was one of the few ‘respectable passengers’ mentioned in the account below, who had paid his own way. A ‘J . McLaughlin’, likely Dugald’s nephew (through his sister Catherine) was on the same cabin passenger list. 

A contemporary record from the Sydney Herald notes that:

The Strathfieldsaye arrived on Thursday 25 July 1839 from London and Plymouth bringing 295 bounty emigrants and a great number of highly respectable cabin passengers, all of whom have arrived in a healthy state. The emigrants chiefly consist of labouring men and house servants, male and female. This vessel made a very fair passage, being about three months on the voyage … Only Two infants died and three were born during the voyage. This vessel brought out some pure blood hounds which will be a great acquisition to the colony.

While McLachlan will become better known as the story progresses, the Bloodhounds on the same voyage and the reason why they might be ‘a great acquisition to the colony’ are worthy of note here. From the earliest times the Bloodhound was used to track and kill people. There are stories written in Medieval Scotland of Robert the Bruce (in 1307) and William Wallace (1270–1305) being followed by ‘sleuth hounds’. Whether true or not, these stories show that the sleuth hound was already known as a man-trailer, and it later becomes clear that the sleuth hound and the Bloodhound were the same animal.

With the rise of fox-hunting, the decline of deer-hunting, and the extinction of the wild boar, as well as a more settled state of society, the use of the Bloodhound diminished in the UK. It was kept by the aristocratic owners of a few deer parks and by a few hunting enthusiasts until its popularity began to increase again with the rise of dog-showing in the 19th CenturyThe important point to make here is that while we don’t know whether the Bloodhounds that arrived on the same boat as McLachlan were actually his, we do know he was an ardent hunter and Bloodhound enthusiast.

His tombstone in the Presbyterian section of the Melbourne General Cemetery records ‘Dugald McLachlan, late Captain of the Rifle Brigade’, died on 21 January 1855 age 55 or 56. His actual birthdate and place is not certain. While a Rifle Brigade military record, below, suggests in was 12 August 1898, it was not uncommon for young underaged men desperate to enlist to put their birth date down.

The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own) was an infantry rifle regiment of the British Army, originally formed in January 1800 as the “Experimental Corps of Riflemen” to provide sharpshooters, scouts and skirmishers. Renamed the “Rifle Corps”, from January 1803 they became an established regular regiment and were titled the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles). In 1816, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars which McLachlan likely saw active service in, including the Battle of Waterloo, they were again renamed, this time as the “Rifle Brigade”. This is presumably the Brigade McLachlan belonged to and where he likely developed his love of guns and proclivity for violence and killing.

A ‘Dougall McLachlan’ born in Invernesshire, Scotland with a 12 August 1798 date of birth enlisted (as a 16 year old) in the 96 Foot-Rifle Brigade as a 2nd Lieutenant on 19 May 1814. His last listed rank a decade later on 5 August 1824 was as 1st Lieutenant (The National Archives, Kew, UK: Reference WO 25/804/178, Folio 357).

What do we know about Dugald McLachlan at the time of his death?

Remarkably little is known about McLachlan in life, though we know he spent the last months before his death in January 1855 holed up in a room the Port Philip Club Hotel in (232) Flinders Street, built in the 1840s. His will (first written on 1 May 1852), particularly his listed beneficiaries mentioning his seven sisters, are very helpful in identifying his family and closer connections during the 1850s. In 1852:

  • Captain Dugald Mc Lachlan was then living at Glengower.
  • His sister, Hughina McLachlan was then residing at Clunes (but had died by 27 December 1854 when his will was amended).
  • His nephew, John McLachlan of Glengower, son of his sister Catherine, was by then the widow of the late Alexander McLachlan.

His three executors were: 

  1. ‘Donald Cameron of Clunes’. Donald Cameron after which the Clunes township is named was the son of Alan Cameron of ‘Clunes House, Inverness, Scotland’. Clunes is a small hamlet, located on the west shore of Loch Lochy, just northeast of Bunarkaig in Inverness-shire in the Scottish Highlands. Donald had arrived as a cabin passenger on the William Metcalfe, leaving Cromarty (north of Inverness, in Scotland) in early May 1838, arriving in Sydney on 1 September 1838, seven months before McLachlan in 1838. Donald later held the Clunes pastoral run from 1839 to1855, as well as part interest in ‘Tourello’ (with McLachlan) and ‘Strathlodden’ (with William Campbell, see below) from 1848.
  2. ‘William Campbell of ‘St Kilda near Melbourne’ (also with interests in ‘Tourello’ from 1848 and ‘Strathloddon’), and
  3. ‘James MacGregor, Fort William, Scotland’. 
  • Dugald’s late sister, Margaret [McLachlan], was the former wife of late Captain Robert Stewart late of Kilmalin (Kilmartin?) in Scotland.
  • His late sister Margery [McLachlan], was late wife of the late Donald MacLean, Salochan, Scotland.
  • His late sister, Ann [McLachlan], was the late wife of Duncan Cameron, formerly of Pollock but then living in Rosshire in Scotland.
  • His late sister, Jane, was the wife of the late Alan Cameron of Clunes in Scotland.
  • His late sister, Margaret, was the late wife of John McMillan, Bucktoosh, New Brunswick in North America.
  • His sister Catherine’s late husband, Alexander McLachlan, is listed as being late of Inversanda, Scotland, perhaps the ‘Inversanda’ near Fort William in Scotland. A separate, later death notice for a ‘Mr Alexander McLachlin of Inversanda, New Brunswick, United States’ records that he ‘… arrived in NSW as far back as the year 1839. He subsequently went to Victoria, where during the early days in the goldfields he assisted his uncle, the late Captain Dugald McLachlin RB [Rifle Brigade] in the management of Glengower Station. Alexander McLachlan Esq of NB’s [New Brunswick’s] third daughter Eliza married in 1872.

All this family detail aside, it appears that Dugald McLachlan had his family origins in north eastern Scotland around Inverness where most of his sisters remained, though some relatives also came to Australia and America. What happened to Dugald in the 15 years between his last military record in the Rifle Brigade 1824, presumably attaining the ranks as ‘Captain’ and his voyage to Australia in 1839 is not known. It is known that when he died on 31 January 1855, he was a very rich man including cash, Melbourne properties and guns. His estate and its distribution were as below.

  • £7,803 was in the Bank of Victoria,
  • £4,277 was in London Chartered Bank, Melbourne,
  • He owned property: (a ten-roomed brick house) in Brighton (sold for £850) and also Swanston Street, Melbourne (sold for £1,100)
  • proceeds of his guns sold for £14.03.00
  • He had owed £52.04.00 to Alexander McCallum, Mount Greenock since May 1846 with interest payable of 10 per cent.
  • equal amounts of £440 pounds were paid to:
    • John Cameron and Donald Cameron, late of Clunes.
    • John, Alexander, Flora and Joan Cameron, Stoneyfield (likely Stonyfield, just east of Inverness).
    • Marjory McVean, Wardy Yalloak (Woady Yaloak, McVean being an early squatter family in the area)
    • Jessie Smith, Scotland
    • Jane Stewart and Mary Bell Stewart, Edinburgh
    • Allan McLean, Jamaica
    • Margaret McLean, Melbourne
    • Isabella McLachlan, Catherine Horniman, and Eliza McLachlan, Sydney
    • David McLachlan, late of Glengower
    • Christina McMillan, Melbourne.

What do we know about McLachlan’s arrival?

It is clear from other accounts that Donald Cameron and Dugald McLachlan must have met up in Sydney sometime after he arrived in Sydney, perhaps with his Bloodhounds, in July 1839. They both overlanded with sheep in September 1839 following the Major’s Line, reportedly having ‘a brush with aboriginals approaching Mount Alexander’.

In the absence of accounts from McLachlan, we have firsthand accounts painted by George Robinson when passing along Joyce’s Creek in February 1840, just prior the massacre, of the landscape which McLachlan claimed from arrival as his own. It is now evident part of the cause lay in the fact that the very recently established Clunes, Glengower, Charlotte Plains and Smeaton Hill runs (of Cameron, McLachlan, Simson and Hepburn respectively) not only evicted and terrorised the traditional owners and virtually wiped out almost all members of the local clan by1840. It also cut right through a series of much travelled north-south and east-west Aboriginal highways. 

Another likely cause was the known violent temperament of the brooding, gun toting, former military Scotsman, confirmed bachelor, Dugald McLachlan, who kept a pack of Bloodhounds as hunting dogs. 

It is now evident that the site of secure, permanent water on Middle Creek in huge ponds the middle of a plain was regularly traversed by traditional owners as a campsite. Middle Creek was known to the Dja Dja Wurrung as Minere minne, likely in reference to its camp ovens (minne = camp oven). The oven mound still on the creek bank near to the massacre site indicates that the creek would have been fringed by sizeable native trees necessary to fuel the oven. The men in the trading party passing through from the Grampians who were brutally murdered were likely on the regularly-used, east-west trading route that included the local section between Mount Greenock and Mount Franklin.

How did the story get out?

Given the contemporary cone of silence in relation to massacres at that time, it is relevant to examine how and why the story about the massacre got out and through which sources. As recently as June 2021, I was contacted by Roy McPherson, whose Dja Dja Wurrung great-great grandmother was Martha Arnold. As Roy pointed out,

… however, much like many others at that time, as she was born in or about 1837, there is no birth certificate. She married an actor named Arthur Wellesley Arnold who performed in Mrs Hamners tent theatre at the diggings in Ballarat and was present when the Eureka Stockade happened. … Family lore says that as a baby she was on her mother’s hip as an infant at the time of the Blood Hole Massacre, and her mother along with a number of other women and children fled to Avoca, where they came in contact with white society. It’s likely here that she was given the name Brown. She then acquired the last name “Marshall”, and then married Arthur Arnold. 

It is also pertinent to ask who and what is commemorated and who and what is forgotten in this story. It took a lot of research to locate the likely Aboriginal massacre site, but minimal effort to locate the commemorative gravesite on the roadside north of Campbelltown honouring the white station cook whose actions and death allegedly provoked the massacre. It was easy to access the follow-on narrative about the later (1841) death of a white traveller in the night by McLachlan’s station dogs, buried in the same commemorative grave. If this had been an Aboriginal death by mauling on the same dark night, we might never know.

Glengower and McLachlan

In 1839 or 1840 the Glengower pastoral run (2020 [photo of the later main homestead, below) was taken up and named by Dugald McLachlan, as we now know, a Scottish highlander from Argyllshire and retired army captain. The run apparently had only one prior owner, a ‘W. Kirk’, who briefly occupied it in 1838 before abandoning. 

The original Glengower run was centred on present day Campbelltown. Joyce’s Creek runs south to north through the centre of the original run. McKinnon’s Tarrengower run was to the east. McLachlan’s nephew to the west beyond Middle Creek was Donald Cameron, who in 1840 held the adjacent Clunes run: his homestead was just downstream of present day Clunes’ main street on the Creswick Creek. The Plaistow and Rodborough Valeruns of Joyce and Bucknall were not established to the north until 1843 and 1844 respectively.

McLachlan and his nephew were one of many parties of ‘overlanders’ who followed Major Mitchell’s 1836 track with sheep or cattle to central Victoria and beyond. Arriving with his young nephew, Donald Cameron (born 1819) early in 1839, McLachlan reputedly named his run Glengower after a place of the same name in his native Argyllshire. The dates McLachlan actually held the run are uncertain but are likely 1839-40 to 1854. In support of a later start date than 1839, Robinson made no mention of McLachlan or his homestead being in the landscape in February 1840, despite passing through part of what became the Glengower run on the way north along Joyce’s Creek.

Donald Cameron aged only 21 had elected the northern portion of Alexander Irvine’s Seven Hills run and named it Clunes after his birthplace. Donald later became Glengower’s owner between 1856 and 1867 after Dugald died.

Glengower pastoral run’s southern boundary adjoined John Hepburn’s Smeaton Hill run, and its northern boundary later abutted the Plaistow run managed by Alfred Joyce. Joyce arrived in Port Phillip in 1843 and being self-described as ’of English nationality’ (p.65, in Joyce, 1942) became good friends with the Parker family at the ‘Jim Crow’ Aboriginal Station that they and McLachlan passed through on the way to Melbourne during the 1840s. 

Dugald McLachlan, a bachelor and retired army captain, was by all accounts an uncompromising and strong personality. Known as ‘the fiery Scot’, Edgar Morrison (1967, Frontier life, p. 12) summarised historical information relating to his temperament as ‘a hard grasping and ruthless exploiter of land, stock – and men, who would go to any lengths to obtain his ends. Any respect extended to him during his life seems to have been tinged with fear’.

Alfred Joyce (pp.55-6), who actually knew McLachlan described him somewhat more diplomatically as ‘a little austere’, but typically ‘accompanied by four or five strong and lithe kangaroo hounds’ ostensibly for killing dingo. Joyce noted that McLachlan was an ardent sporting hunter and displayed all manner of trophies of his kills including dingo ‘brush’ (tails), eagle’s heads and talons, emu’s legs and feet etc.’ According to Edgar Morrison (1967, p. 12), McLachlan had a reputation ‘… for announcing his arrival at the Homestead gates by firing almost simultaneously bullets into each post as he galloped through’.

All of these attributes, to use the Scottish double negative, are not inconsistent with evidence in what follows of deadly hostility and aggression towards Aborigines on their own country but also transgressing on McLachlan’s run in 1840.

The circumstances leading up to the massacre

The only physical sign in the landscape today that all was not well at Glengower between the squatters and the Aborigines on Joyce’s Creek in 1840 is the ‘Glengower Pioneers Memorial Grave’ on the roadside approximately one kilometre north of the Black Duck Hotel on east side the Campbelltown to Strathlea Road. The graves are only a few hundred metres north of Glengower’s original front entrance on the Strathlea Road..

The memorial grave is approximately ten metres beyond the fence on private property but can be viewed and appreciated from the roadside. On the opposite (west) side of the road verge opposite the graves is a stand of unusual, distinctive and inedible Osage oranges (Maclura pomifera). Aside from being used in colonial times as a live hedge, the wood from the tree had a very high value to Native Americans for the making of bows. Perhaps this latter use had some fascination for the sporting hunter, McLachlan?

The grave features a concrete base surrounded by a low pipe and wire fence. A brass plaque displays the following text in capitals as below:








Erected by T. Anderson & A. Cumming in 1949

The graves were originally enclosed with a post-and-rail and brush fence that in time rotted away. The present (2021) enclosure was created in 1949 on the initiative of Colonel Tom Anderson, of Ballarat, and Alec Cumming, of Campbelltown. The plaque was donated by a ‘Captain Baldwin’. These men took on the task of identifying the location of the graves, which were apparently easily located, as the ground had never been ploughed. One local historian held that ‘for more than a century the graves were marked only by three tiny mounds disturbing the smooth grasslands’. 

The veracity of the information and informants

Information about the graves and the subsequent massacre linked to the first death has been handed down through several former and current local residents. Some of these residents have been identified by new research in this paper, in order to ascertain whether the people and reported events are real and credible. There are several versions of the oral history explanation for the graves, and particularly for the alleged massacre of several Jardwadjarli Aboriginal men from the Grampians that allegedly followed the first burial. By all accounts, these men were perhaps in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One account was published in Morrison’s Frontier Life (1967, pp.12-14). Another account appeared in the Shire of Mount Alexander’s Heritage Study of the Shire of Newstead in 2004 (revised in 2012). The version that follows is adapted from both, augmented by some new information from other sources including from local historian Glenn Braybrook, that appears on the ‘Goldfields Guide’ website (See

Some of the very persistent and disturbing massacre story dating back at least 180 years was passed down to Edgar Morrison second hand by a ‘Peter Smith’. Peter Smith’s original informant is named as a shepherd named ‘Donald McDonnell’, (or McDonald, known locally as ‘Donald Ruadh’, ‘Donald Rhu’ or ‘Red Donald’), an employee on the Glengower run in the 1840s. What follows suggests that Peter Smith would have likely been in his teens at the turn of the century when he heard the story 60 years after the 1840s events elaborated below, and that the McDonnell informant might then have been in his 80s.

Australian War archives confirm Private Peter Oliver Smith of 44th Battalion (1886-1967) returned to Australia, 2 January 1919 then age approximately 33. Peter’s father, William Smith, formerly of Wirrate via Nagambie was listed as his next of kin, then living at nearby Sandon (between Campbelltown and Newstead) in 1918. It is of relevance here to add that Edgar Morrison himself served overseas for Australia in the same war with the 4th Battalion from 1915.

The same archives tell a tragic backstory relating to Peter Smith’s own family from the First World War. Peter’s brother, William Oliver Smith was killed in action age 27 in 1918 at Villers-Bretonneux, France, following the death in action of another brother, James Smith in 1917. As the only brother of three to return to Australia alive, Peter was not only the key to the passing on of the story about the local 1840s massacre to Edgar Morrison of Yandoit, but also a witness to the deadly carnage that killed both his brothers on overseas battlefields. 

What and who do the graves commemorate?

The three European people buried in the Pioneer Memorial Graves were all associated with the Glengower run. It appears that this spot was first used as a burial ground following an initial disturbing incident and burial by Dugald McLachlan in winter or spring of 1840, and for a second time in 1841. 

The third burial, unrelated to the violence associated with the first and second burials, is the grave of the son of the likely possible original informant, Donald (‘Rhu’) McDonnell. A ‘Donald McDonald’ then of nearby Kangaroo Hill, was the holder of a miner’s right according to the List of Electors of the electoral District of Castlemaine for 1855.

The general account associated with the first burial is that a cook at the Glengower station was killed by a band of Aborigines returning to the Grampians after obtaining stone axes from Mt William, near Lancefield. The Aborigines are said to have called at the station for food when McLachlan and the stockmen were away mustering sheep for shearing, and only the cook was present in the cookhouse. One version of the oral history is that the cook had added Plaster of Paris to a damper he had cooked for the Aborigines, which once ingested would have caused a horrible and painful death.

Whatever the truth of what happened at the homestead, an altercation allegedly occurred and the Aborigines murdered the cook, hanging his body in the cook house on a meat hook. When McLachlan returned, it is alleged that he immediately organised a punitive expedition comprised of Glengower and neighbouring Smeaton Hill stockmen. The Aborigines were tracked down with dogs and they hid in the waterholes on Middle Creek, a small Creek about 8km west of Glengower station, the same Creek that flows past Hepburn’s 1840 homestead site.

On seeing the approaching men on horseback with guns, the Aboriginal men jumped into the creek to swim to the other side or hide under water. The mounted men from the station including McLachlan fired on the Aborigines in the water. Some had hollow reeds to breathe through while submerged, which still grow at the site today. By the time the firing stopped, at least 12 Aboriginal men were dead and floating in the bloody water. The place is still known locally by some residents as ‘The Blood Hole’. This massacre is understood to have taken place sometime between 1 Dec 1839 and 31 Jan 1840.

McLachlan buried the cook, whose name is not known, about 800 yards north-east of the homestead at the present grave site. In expectation of a reprisal raid, McLachlan released his savage hunting dogs into the station grounds after nightfall. About a year after the cook’s murder in 1841, the dogs savaged to death a visiting itinerant White traveller, who was buried beside the murdered cook. The third grave is of George McDonnell, the son of the shepherd (and the original informant) Donald McDonnell, who died of natural causes in 1841. 

The Bloodhole on Middle Creek today

The ‘Bloodhole Massacre’ on Middle Creek is one of several hundred Australian sites in which conflicts are known to have place between Aboriginal people and Europeans but remains unmarked and unknown. Whilst these sites are being documented by Jane Morrison as part of her recent ‘Australian Frontier Conflicts’ research through the University of Newcastle, the site is only approximately located on the project’s Victorian Maps. 

‘The Blood-Hole’ incident on Middle Creek is briefly mentioned by Bain Attwood’s A good country (2017, p.49) but not listed in his table, ‘Documented incidence of conflict between settlers and Aboriginal people in Djadjawurrung country 1838-42’ (Attwood, 2017, p.69).

Middle Creek today flows broadly to the north across the ‘middle’ of the wide sheet of basalt bounded to the east by Deep Creek and to the west by Tullaroop Creek. Its headwaters drain the steep slopes north of Rutherford Park Country Retreat and Kangaroo Hills. Middle Creek joins Joyce’s Creek just upstream of Cairn Curran Reservoir. Middle Creek in its upper reaches is sometimes called ‘Captains Creek’ in 2021 as it flows broadly west in the vicinity of Hepburn’s original homestead, before swinging around to the north as it flows past the former Glengower township ruins.

This ‘middle’ section of Middle Creek between Glengower Road and Saligaris Road includes several deep pools (below) with fringing reeds that approximate the description and location in the various versions of the massacre narrative.  A site still identified through oral history as the actual ‘slaughter hole’ by the 2021 landholder is on private land on a section of Middle Creek north of the ‘kink’ in a gravel road signed ‘Half Chain Lane’, that runs between Cotswold Road and Glengower Road. Middle Creek at that point emerges from a boggy area with spiny rush and flows for around 100 metres across exposed basalt before opening out for approximately 500 metres to form an almost continuous, deep and wide series of pools interspersed by fringing reeds upstream of a farm road crossing and concrete culvert.

This wide and deep section of Middle Creek is almost certainly the Blood-Hole massacre site from 1840. Tantalisingly, Gib Wettenhall and I located an Aboriginal oven mound on the west bank of the creek approximately 50 metres from a partially destroyed bluestone house site and foundations. The oven mound is in fair condition despite being cultivated and grazed for almost 180 years. This story is told, lest we forget.


Author: barrygoanna

Honorary Professor, Federation University Australia: researcher in men's learning through community contexts, author of 'Men learning through life' 2014) book (NIACE, UK), 'The Men's Shed Movement: The Company of Men' (2015) & 'Shoulder to Shoulder: Broadening the Men's Shed Movement' (2021) books, both published Common Ground Publishing, US.

2 thoughts on “The Bloodhole Massacre, Glengower”

  1. When I learned about Australian history in high school (late 90s) I was excited initially thinking I would learn about Aboriginal history only to hear a very boring, very white version of events and 99% of it about white settlement. This didn’t feel right to me even as a teenager and being pretty clueless about life…this only seemed like half the story. And when I put my hand up in class to say ‘Terra Nulius is invalid because people have always lived here’ our fat and lazy history teacher just referred me to the text book. I knew it was a pile of shit. And as an indigenous person (Māori) I felt equally that if they knew I was Māori maybe they would think my culture was nothing too. Such a shit education system back then, I hope Australian history is different for kids now.

  2. Certainly overturns the more mundane tale of settler progress. I wonder if the Captain and his posse hunted the warriors down on horseback, chasing them into the deep holes of Middle Creek? This was a common tactic for wearing down Indigenous people on foot.

    A similar style massacre at Warrigal Creek in Gippsland is chillingly described by a Scottish member of the Highland Brigade (refer Don Watson’s ‘Caledonia Australis’,p.166)

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