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The Story of the Haunted Gully

At 9pm on 10th November 1857, William Ruddock, cook and hut keeper on Mt Elephant Station (later to be called Gala), was reported dead in his hut. The men who made the report were William 'Brummy' Boote, and Daniel Healy, both of whom had been with Ruddock the previous night.

When the station manager, George Logan, arrived at the outstation hut next day to inspect the scene, he found a naked body laid out in the middle of the floor, arms crossed on his chest, legs drawn up, and all covered with a blanket. Some scraps of burnt clothing were outside. His hair and whiskers were singed. His cheeks and all his body was burnt, '...not blackened, but brown and shiny like a leg of mutton roasted before a slow fire.'

Margaret Kidddle in 'Men of Yesterday' says, ' would be impossible to over-estimate the amount of drunkeness throughout the Australian colonies at this time. ...Lonely, bored, unhappy in a strange land; if these men failed to rise above the status of station hands, almost inevitably they became periodical drunkards...without hope or kindred they lived improvidently; they drank to forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.'

Her description fits this situation here well. Ruddock was a small, elderly, sandy-haired man, an alcoholic and quarrelsome when drinking. He had been employed here for 5 months.

Healy had been working at the homestation for three weeks as a cook, but had just been sacked, as he could not work through having injured his shoulder, apparently in a fight. He was an erratic, totally illiterate braggart.

William Boote, known as 'Brummy' Boote, was the shepherd Ruddock shared the hut with, and he had been employed for 6 months. He was apparently a man of few words.

Where Ruddock died was a rough one-roomed hut fifty yards from a spring and about 3 miles west of the station homestead. The owner at the time was Robert Adams. There was no road between, just a worn track..

Another path, possibly better worn, snaked east along the high ground to the White Swan hotel at Brown's Water Holes, an equal distance away. Ruddock had been seen here by Logan a few days before his death. His eyes were blackened from a fight with 'Brummy' Boote .

On the night Ruddock died, he, Healy and Boote were drinking heavily as usual. Though Healy mentions wine and brandy in one of his statements, the White Swan also sold rum, and port (remains of all these bottles were found in the 1960's in the large patch of titree growing round the spring near the hut). At some point Ruddock was hit over the head, probably either with a bottle, or a kettle - there was one found in the hut with its spout broken off .

When Logan saw Ruddock he decided he was too badly burnt for his death to have been accidental. Nevertheless he asked John Johns, a carpenter in Lismore, to make a coffin.  Edward Howell, a Mt Elephant groom, accompanied Johns to put Ruddock in the coffin, and bring him to the homestation to be buried. 

On the way they met Healy, 'neither drunk nor sober', who said he was going to the homestation to say he had not killed Ruddock. He then offered to tell them how he had done it.

Howell proceeded to bury Ruddock without ceremony in an unmarked grave. During the following days Healy was busy incriminating himself by bragging to the 20 or 30 employees at the Mt Elephant homestation that he had killed Ruddock, though his story changed regularly. One quote was, 'Do you think they will hang me for murdering only one man'.

John Johns, among others, was unhappy about the lack of official interest in the situation and wrote an anonymous letter to Senior Mounted Constable Knox at Shelford. Knox collected Dr Watkins, the doctor at Pitfield. On 26th November they had Ruddock's body exhumed. Watkins could find no apparent fracture of the skull, though it was very thin. There was one obvious bruise. Watkins assessed that Ruddock was likely to have been alive when put into the fireplace.

On 16th March 1858, Daniel Healy was arrested at the Skipton Hotel. He was drunk and put up a savage fight. He was taken by cart to Carngham, questioned, charged with Ruddock's murder, and remanded to stand trial in Ballarat at the end of June.

Healy's trial was in the Ballarat Circuit Court before Judge Redmond Barry (to become famous as the judge who tried and sentenced Ned Kelly years later). The trial was extensively reported in the Ballarat papers. Barry sentenced Healy to hang, and he was sent to Melbourne.

Only two days before Healy's execution date Francis Ormond JP of 'Booriyallock', near Skipton, read about it in the Melbourne papers, these having just arrived, and decided there was a miscarriage of justice.

Leaving at 5pm he rode to Melbourne through the night in mid-winter. This ride was a momentous feat as he had to change horses regularly at stations en route, and ford flooded rivers in the dark several times.

He arrived at the Melbourne law offices just as they were being locked up at 5pm the next day. Ormond persuaded them to re-open, and brought about a stay of execution, on the basis that Healy was convicted on his own drunken bragging. He was eventually found innocent and released.

Boote had continued to mind his flock of sheep.  The story goes that Ruddock's successor, possibly helped by the liquor from the White Swan, complained about the ghost of Ruddock, and demanded that the hut be rebuilt on the other side of the creek, on the theory that ghosts can't cross running water.

There are hut foundations on the other side, though by the lack of rubbish around the doorway it wasn't lived in long. The site of the two huts is now on 'Titanga', which became a separate property in 1870, making the outstation there redundant. However, to provide company for the lonely ghost of Ruddock, some of the better 'Titanga' sheepdogs, at the end of their lifetimes of service, have been buried near the spring.

Andrew Lang 26.3.04. Information drawn from Pat Lang's fuller account which used records of the time