On Saturday 14 July 1906, the Grand National race meeting was held at Flemington. During the afternoon young bookmaker Donald ‘Big Mick’ McLeod was beaten to death by an angry crowd after failing to pay out on winning bets.
McLeod had intended taking bets only on the Grand National Steeplechase, the main race of the day. However when many punters wanted to bet on Lady Doris in the first race he thought it would be easy money. Unfortunately for McLeod, Lady Doris won and he was unable to pay out. He gave back the wagers of the successful punters promising to settle the winnings later. This was a practise known as ‘scaling’.
List betting men on the flat A/S03/11/87/16
Bookmaking was unlicensed and unregulated and ‘scaling’ was common. McLeod seemed unconcerned and took bets on the next race. Again he was unable to pay winnings, and ‘scaled’ disgruntled winners.
Hoping for a change of fortune he took 47 shillings in wagers on the Grand National. Decoration won, a result that left McLeod liable for a ₤4:10s payout. It was money he didn’t have. He again returned bets, promising to pay the balance of the winnings later.
The Grand National Steeplechase – taking the stone wall IAN01/08/92/13
The punters were angry. McLeod began to retreat but was chased. He was struck several times and the pursuing mob grew larger. As they milled about other race goers tried to save him. There were cries of ‘Give him fair play’. One man shouted ‘Is human life worth a few shillings?’ [i]
McLeod was helped to his feet. The mob, though, wouldn’t let him go. They continued in pursuit and gathered about him again. When constables finally arrived and dispersed the crowd, McLeod lay dead. [ii]
Betting Ring, Flemington H943/1
Gambling was a volatile topic at the time with lay Methodist preacher William Judkins leading a robust campaign to force government action. On 15 July Judkins addressed the crowd at the Melbourne Wesleyan Church on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. In florid language he used McLeod’s shocking death to denounce the evils of gambling. ‘There was a body lying in the Morgue today, with face all red and blue and purple – murdered, all because of this evil….Who did it? The gamblers did it.’[iii]
Argus 16 July 1906 p. 8
In Bendigo, on 22 July, Methodist minister Henry Worrall delivered to his congregation a sermon titled ‘Who slaughtered the body and murdered the soul of Donald McLeod.’
He left no doubt as to where he thought the blame should lie. ‘There are men sitting in the Houses of Parliament upon whose heads rested the blood of this man… Sir Samuel Gillott sits in high authority and I impeach that man tonight, in God’s name, with the red blood that has been flowing from the wounds of gambling.’ [iv]
Gillott, who was Chief Secretary and Minister for Labour, and the Premier Thomas Bent, were furious at Reverend Worrall’s accusations. On 25 July, in the Legislative Assembly, Bent moved that Worrall be brought before Parliament to withdraw his words or be punished.
Sir Samuel Gillott H26341
Reverend Worrall had great support. Two thousand people farewelled him from Bendigo and up to 4,000 greeted him on his arrival at Parliament. On 31 July 1906 he was brought before the Legislative Assembly but he refused to retract or apologise for his statements. He withdrew while the matter was debated. Various members treated the proceedings as a farce. There was laughter and interjections. Finally Bent had a censuring motion carried.[v]
In delivering the censure, the Speaker of the House advised Reverend Worrall that ‘dignified language and wise arguments have more effect than dramatic accusations with no foundation in fact.’ [vi]
Reverend Henry Worrall at the bar of the Victorian Legislative Assembly
The Australasian 4 August 1906, p.274
Reverend Worrall’s appearance before Parliament received much coverage in the press and strengthened the strident anti-gambling movement. The government, sensitive to this stern campaign, reacted with the Lotteries, Gaming and Betting Act passed in December 1906. This Act closed a number of loopholes relating to gaming houses and off course betting. The Act enabled greater regulation of race courses and required bookmaking to be licensed.
Ironically, in that same month, Sir Samuel Gillott was engulfed by scandal and resigned from Parliament in disgrace after revelations were published regarding his long term business dealings with notorious Melbourne brothel keeper ‘Madame Brussels’. [vii]
[i] The Argus 16 July 1906 p.8
[ii] Mount Alexander Mail 2 August 1906 p. 2. The inquest outlines his injuries in disturbing detail. While several suspects were arrested, there was insufficient evidence to lay charges
[iii] The Argus 16 July 1906 p. 8
[iv] The Bendigo Independent 23 July 1906 p.3
[v] The Melbourne Punch 2 August 1906 p.17 had some fun at the expense of the politicians involved with the censure of Worrall.
[vii] Lechery and lucre Truth 9 December 1906, p. 5 This virulently anti-Semitic article ended Gillott’s political career.
See the Australian Dictionary of Biography for more on Sir Samuel Gillott, Caroline Hodgson (Madame Brussels) and Henry Worrall. For more on horse racing research see our Horse racing and the Melbourne Cup guide