Are you familiar with the little yellow and orange brick Op-shop building at 810 Main Road, Eltham, just in front of the Uniting Church (formerly Methodist Church) on the corner of John Street? Nowadays, not many people may realise that this was once the Eltham agency of the Commercial Bank of Australia. Measuring just 3.6 x 4.5 m inside, it was built in 1878 by George Stebbing and is said to have stored gold in the early Eltham-Research mining days.
Well . . .
#OnThisDay – 70 years ago #OTD Thursday, December 15, 1949, the quiet little bank was embroiled in an infamous wild shoot-out between a daring thief and two bank officers. Today, the building still carries the scars ; a bullet hole remains visible in a cedar bench testifying to the events that played out that day.
But let us first time travel back to a few days prior to this incident. It is 3.30 a.m., Friday, December 9. The manager of the Commercial Bank branch at Greensborough, Mr Harry Wallace and his wife are asleep in their bedroom of the little house behind the branch. Harry is awakened by a noise and sees an intruder in a corner of the bedroom. He calls out but the intruder who has switched off the power in anticipation flees through a side door and scarpers down Main Street. Harry summons the police but a search by First Constable Thomas of the Greensborough Police assisted by a wireless patrol car is unsuccessful. A report is filed noting the theft of a .25 calibre pistol from the wardrobe.
Fast forward six days to Thursday, December 15th. It is 1pm and the Commercial Bank has just opened. The branch is only open Mondays and Thursdays from 1-3pm. The morning started off a little cool with some scattered showers but it has fined up and the temperature is now around 61 degrees (16 C). A new grey Singer sports car with soft-top pulls up on the opposite side of the road and a young man, neatly dressed in a dark blue suit, wearing a grey hat and carrying a brief case exits the vehicle. He looks around then crosses the road and walks up the steps and through the door into the bank. There are three people inside; Mr. Jack Burgoyne whose grocery store is situated just 50 yards up the road, Mr. Lindsay A. Spears, the Eltham Agency Receiving Officer and by chance, Mr Harry Wallace, manager of the Greensborough branch.
Jack Burgoyne takes note of the young stranger; thinking to himself he appears nervous.
The man approaches the counter and introduces himself as John Henderson of Greensborough and explains that he wishes to open a new account. He places his hat and £3 on the counter. Mr Spears attends to the paperwork. He asks the young man to sign two forms, which he does but then he withdraws from the counter and starts walking towards the door. Suddenly he spins around pulling an automatic pistol from his right-hand pocket. He exclaims forcefully;
“The game’s on! I’ll take the lot!”
Spears appears to comply by pretending to open a drawer. The man shouts loudly,
“Keep your hand away from that drawer.”
Spears instead reaches for a pistol in his pocket and challenges the man,
“Here it is. Come and get it!”
At the same time, Harry Wallace pulls a pistol from his pocket as well.
The bandit fires a shot but misses, the bullet striking the counter. Both Spears and Wallace open fire and Jack Burgoyne ducks for cover.
As the bandit turns and runs for the door leaving his £3 behind, he fires another shot, which strikes the ceiling. Spears fires back, and thinks he may have hit him in the foot. The bandit flees the bank and heads for the grey Singer car, registration NO-106, parked opposite. Wallace and Spears pursue him to the door and open fire again, striking the car three times around the driver’s door. Spears lets off eight shots and Wallace, seven before his gun jams.
The getaway car initially heads slowly down Main Road towards Bridge Street. About 100 yards down the road, Dave Adams, a PMG employee, who has heard the shots, throws a steel manhole step at the driver. It hits the roof of the car nine inches above the driver’s head and tears the hood. Another witness claims to have seen the door blow open and the driver raise his hand.
The car gathers speed and swings left into Bridge Street racing along at about 60 miles an hour careering recklessly past council employee, Mr. Percy Williams, who is driving a dray along Smarts Road [believed to be Bridge Street].
At the end of the road the Singer fails to get round the sharp turn and crashes into an embankment skidding to a stop outside the home of Mr John Clifford. One side of the car is wrecked. Mr Clifford, an aircraft engineer hears the fast travelling car bump heavily into the road bank at about 1.25 p.m. Hearing the whine of an engine he goes outside to find the grey Singer parked at the side of the road.
Jack George also lives at the corner and hears the car crash.
“The bandit opened the car door, ran 50 yards, and suddenly turned back,” exclaims Jack. “He took something from the car. It might have been a gun.”
In his haste, the bandit drops his grey felt hat, size 6 7/8, on the road and dashes up Sherbourne Road for about 200 yards then disappears into the scrub carrying a brief case and a bundle in which a sailor’s cap can be seen.
About 3 p.m., Mr H.D. Pettie of Mountain View Road, Montmorency is looking through his field glasses and notices a young man walking through thick scrub on private property some distance from his house. The man is wearing a sailor’s cap and disappears along the railway track toward Montmorency.
As the day progresses, ten police cars, one motor cycle, and about 40 police led by Det. Sgt. McMennemin of Malvern CIB are searching for him. They believe he is hiding in thick scrub along the bank of the creek about half-a-mile outside Eltham township. Wireless patrol cars, four mobile traffic cars and the CIB area cars from Malvern and Kew are taking part.
Police check the thief’s car and discover it was stolen from Helen Baxter, of Doncaster Road, North Balwyn from outside Victoria Barracks.
Harry Wallace informs the police that he believes he recognised the bandit as the man who took his pistol from his bedroom the previous Friday morning.
As night falls, armed police are posted at strategic points in the Eltham-Greensborough district. Police in cars are watching the roads. Others are searching the bush and checking passengers on trains. Little do they realise the young man has already slipped out of the net.
YOUTH OF 19 CHARGED WITH ATTEMPTED ARMED ROBBERY OF BANK AT ELTHAM
Weekly Times, Wednesday 15 February 1950, page 6
Detectives who raided a house in Bell St., Coburg, Melbourne, charged a 19-year-old youth, of South Yarra, with attempted armed robbery at the Commercial Bank’s Eltham (Vic.) receiving depot on Dec. 15. Police say they recovered a loaded automatic pistol, diamond and signet rings worth more than £200, a complete set of house-breaking instruments, a sailor’s uniform, and chloroform gauze in the raid.
The youth was charged that while armed with an offensive weapon, he attempted to rob Lindsay George Spears of a sum of money.
He was further charged on six counts of breaking, entering and stealing.
Police allege that the person who tried to hold up Mr Spears in the Commercial Bank receiving depot at Eltham on December 15. escaped in a stolen car, after Mr Spears and Mr Henry Wallace, manager of the bank’s Greensborough branch, had fired at him.
After the car crashed, he escaped into thick scrub and is alleged to have changed into a sailor’s uniform.
On December 9 an automatic pistol was stolen from Mr Wallace’s bedroom at the Greensborough bank. The chloroform pad recovered is alleged to have been stolen from the Dental Supply Company, Plenty Road, Preston.
The rings are alleged to have been taken in a £513 burglary from the shop of James Paton. Sydney Road, Coburg.
Det. Sgt. H. McMennemin conducted the investigations with Senior Dets. R. Newton and M Downie, Detectives l. Dent, R. Rayner, P. Pedersen and M. Handley and First Constable A. Thomas. The youth will appear at Eltham Court on February 22.
Manager’s Gun Used in Holdup at Bank
The Age, Thursday 23 February 1950, page 4
It was stated in Eltham court yesterday that a youth who robbed a bank manager of his pistol, later used it in an attempt to hold-up the bank.
Kay Arthur Morgan, 19, draftsman, of Castle-street, South Yarra, was committed for trial on charges of breaking and entering, and stealing a pistol and attempted robbery while armed with an offensive weapon. He pleaded guilty.
The manager of Eltham branch of the Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd., Henry Clifton Cabot Wallace, said he disturbed someone in the bedroom, in which he and his wife were sleeping, at 3 a.m. on December. 9, 1949. Later he found that his automatic- pistol was missing.
On December 15 a youth, who said his name was John Henderson, entered the bank and opened a new account. As the youth was leaving the bank he turned round with a pistol in his hand and said: — “I want the lot.” Spear indicated a drawer under the counter; and said.— “Here it is. Come and get it.” The youth said:— “Keep your hand away from that drawer.”
Witness said Spear then drew his pistol from his hip pocket. The youth fired at them, and Spear returned the fire. “I pulled my pistol and fired, too” said witness. The youth fired again, ran out to a car and drove off. Witness and Spear fired several shots at the car.
The youth was the accused Morgan, sitting in court, witness said.
Evidence was given that one bullet was found in the celling and the other in the bank.
Morgan was allowed £100 bail on each charge.
But wait, there’s more; another twist
Morgan ended up serving three years for the failed armed robbery and became a notorious criminal. He had twin sons, Peter and Doug and even though only ten years old, Morgan would get his sons to act as lookouts whilst he committed burglaries. The lads became building contractors but when the industry suffered a downturn in 1977 and they were short on cash, they returned to the family business. Over the following 23 months they undertook 24 raids on country and outer-suburban TABs and banks. Whilst robbing one country bank for the third time, just like their father, it all went wrong ending up with a police officer shot. They were nick-named the “After-dark” bandits and are considered to be Australia’s last bushrangers. They were convicted and served 17 years in prison.
1949 ‘Took Pistol From Bank’, The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 9 December, p. 3. , viewed 12 Dec 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article244149395
1949 ‘GUNFIGHT IN BANK NEAR MELBOURNE’, The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 15 December, p. 1. , viewed 12 Dec 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article244139967
1949 ‘Hunt for bandit switches to city’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 16 December, p. 1. , viewed 12 Dec 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22798717
1949 ‘POLICE HUNT FOR ELTHAM BANDIT’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 16 December, p. 1. , viewed 12 Dec 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189482129
1949 ‘-Police Search for Bank Intruder’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 16 December, p. 3. , viewed 12 Dec 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189482349
1949 ‘BANK OFFICIALS FOIL BANDIT’, The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), 16 December, p. 1. , viewed 13 Dec 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248155927
1949 ‘Search of Scrub Proves Fruitless’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 17 December, p. 3. , viewed 12 Dec 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189481390
1950 ‘Eltham Bank Arrest Leads to Other Charges’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 14 February, p. 3. , viewed 12 Dec 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article187348311
1950 ‘YOUTH OF 19 CHARGED WITH ATTEMPTED ARMED ROBBERY OF BANK AT ELTHAM’, Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), 15 February, p. 6. , viewed 12 Dec 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article225452914
1950 ‘Manager’s Gun Used in Holdup at Bank’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 23 February, p. 4. , viewed 12 Dec 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article187348043
1950 ‘”Guilty” plea to pistol theft COURT TOLD OF LAD’S HOLD-UP BID’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 23 February, p. 7. , viewed 12 Dec 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22812474
‘Australia’s last bushrangers were twins’ by John Sylvester, The Age, April 27, 2019, https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/australia-s-last-bushrangers-were-twins-20190424-p51gqb.html
‘Australia’s last bushrangers: How twin brothers robbed banks across Victoria while bamboozling police by escaping in taxis, bikes and even a canoe – and the one mistake that lead to their capture’ by Sahar Mourad, 9 May 2019 (also includes video of an interview with Peter and Doug Morgan aired on A Current Affair) https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/australias-last-bushrangers-how-twin-brothers-robbed-banks-across-victoria-while-bamboozling-police-by-escaping-in-taxis-bikes-and-even-a-canoe-and-the-one-mistake-that-lead-to-their-capture/ar-AAB8N3H?li=AAgfIYZ&%252525253BOCID=ansmsnnews11