|Dan or Steve? Imagine how intense the heat of the fire must have been to do this|
The other claimants to be Dan or Steve had less to say for themselves and are harder to research. But there is a broader point that needs to be made here about people who wish to assert something extraordinary, a new hypothesis perhaps, something thats contrary to the accepted wisdom, a claim to have survived a raging inferno : the responsibility of proof rests with the claimant. This argument for example, on the James Ryan Memorial in Queensland, is a fallacy : “Hundreds of historians from all over the country and even those who had associations with the Kellys could not disprove that James Ryan was not Dan Kelly” Who cares if nobody can DISprove something – no-one is under any obligation to do so – its up to the person making the claim to provide their proof. And if the only evidence they provide, such as the stories of James Ryan, is demonstrably wrong or untestable then proof has not been provided and the claim can be dismissed. Come back with proof when you think you have it, but don’t turn logic on its head and claim its MY job to disprove your claim.
The other debating point I wish to make is that this subject is a perfect illustration of the value of Occams Razor, that the simplest explanation is usually the best. In this case by rejecting the simplest explanation – which is that Father Gibney and the police correctly identified Dan and Steve as already being dead and it was their bodies that were raked from the ashes – one is left with a huge list of conundrums to be solved, beginning with the reasons the priest and the Policeman were wrong, the actual identity of the corpses, an explanation of why nobody ever mentioned the vagrants, the absence of evidence of a cellar, the mechanism of survival in a cellar and escape from the middle of a crowded crime scene, and an explanation of the subsequent behaviour of the survivors.
So instead of adopting the illogical approach of trying to disprove the extraordinary claims of various people to be or to have met Dan or Steve long after they were supposed to have been incinerated at Glenrowan, I decided a fresh approach was needed. Thinking about the scars many of these claimants alleged were received in the fire at Glenrowan I embarked on an academic exercise that was a lot of fun, and very revealing: was survival even physically possible? The answer presents an insurmountable obstacle to anyone claiming they did.
Gary Dean is recorded in Paul Terry’s book saying there’s ‘family lore’ telling of a cellar ‘three foot by three foot by four’ with a heavy steel lid. To me this seemed like rather a small ‘cellar’, more like a pit, but I decided to investigate the feasibility of two men being able to survive the incineration of the Inn by squeezing themselves into it and pulling the steel lid across to close it. Ive had to read up on the physical conditions created by burning houses and the physiology of human survival and death in fires.
I am going to assume that the space is airtight, because a fire consumes all the oxygen in the air around it and would have sucked it out of the Cellar if it hadn’t been airtight, leaving anyone in there to asphyxiate almost immediately. The likelihood of a Cellar being airtight is not great, so thats a serious problem right there but lets just forget that for now and think about the air in that space, which is just a little more than one cubic meter. I will also assume that the two men have no volume and the entire cubic meter is air they can breathe.
Air is 21% oxygen, but in a sealed space the concentration falls as Oxygen is used up, and once its fallen below 17.5% a person becomes disorientated, irrational and has trouble controlling their muscles.This is one of the reasons why people get trapped and die in burning houses – the reduced oxygen level quickly leaves them confused disorientated and unable to walk properly. I quickly found on Google information about oxygen metabolism and a formula for working out how much oxygen there would be in that ‘cellar’ (210 liters), how much oxygen a person at rest consumes per minute (0.38l/min) and from that how long Oxygen could be extracted by two people before the Oxygen concentration fell below 17.5%: it was about 47 minutes. In fact survival time in that space would be very much less than 47 minutes because in a state of anxiety and terror rather than at rest, Oxygen consumption is a lot higher.
More interesting than this was the discovery that in a sealed space people don’t die because they run out of Oxygen but because of the build-up of Carbon Dioxide, which we produce and emit as we breathe out. Running this calculation reduced survival time to less than 20 minutes.
Lastly I considered the effect of heat.(HERE) I found a table that suggested in dry heat at 248 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees Celsius), human survival would be only a matter of minutes. I also found that in a typical house fire, the temperature reaches a massive 1100 degrees Fahrenheit. A steel lid would have been almost white hot, and even if the temperature in the Cellar only reached a quarter of what it was in the middle of the fire, it would have been impossible to survive more than a few minutes. Forget the carbon dioxide toxicity, forget the oxygen depletion – the heat would have killed anyone in that cellar within a few minutes. This is undeniable undisputable scientific fact. Anyone interested to dispute this should first look at the grisly photos of the fire ravaged corpses that were retrieved by Police from the ashes of the Inn, or go HERE and read some quite graphic descriptions of how people died by suffocation and by roasting in buildings consumed in the firestorms of WWII, and in caves swept by Flamethrowers.
The suggestion that Dan and Steve could have survived the fire by hiding in a cellar and then shortly after it had burnt itself out emerge unseen by the crowd of press, police and public onlookers surrounding the site and disappear into the bush is absurd in the extreme; it is simply impossible. Whats more, nobody EVER reported finding a cellar in the ruins of the Ann Jones Inn, but even if they had, and even if it was ten feet deep, no human would have been able to survive the heat the fire would have exposed them to, steel lid or not.
As far as I am aware, nobody else has ever attempted to apply science to the claims that Ned and Steve survived, and determine if its even humanly physically possible. The result of this analysis is unequivocal : it is not. The reality would seem to be if they had attempted to avoid the inferno by hiding in a cellar, it wouldn’t have been airtight and they would have suffocated quickly as the fire sucked all the oxygen out of the air, and then …well it hardly bears thinking about. Considering the desperation of their circumstances at the time, their decision to commit suicide was about the most rational thing they did all day. But what a horrible place for these young men to have ended up in…
Paul Tully needs to remove that stupid sign in the Ipswich Cemetery, a sign that is testimony to the gullibility of Publicity seekers that would no doubt have James Ryan chuckling in his grave. No doubt its also an offence to the Kelly descendants, to have what effectively amounts to promotion of a Kelly imposter and an implication that Dan turned his back on the struggles of his bereft and grieving mother, and the rest of the family who wept over a body and a grave that belonged to a vagrant. If Gary Dean reads this Blog my message to him would be that he should make better use of his newly acquired degree in Archaeology than wasting it digging up the bones of old shysters and conmen. He is very welcome to send in his responses for unedited publication here.
The ‘beardless boys’ Father Gibney and Constable Dwyer reported seeing in the burning inn with armour laid out beside them were not two mysterious drunk swagmen that nobody ever remembered seeing, they were Dan and Steve whose horribly burned bodies were later buried in nearby cemeteries. They never made it to Queensland.
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3 Replies to “Well, yes, actually you WERE burnt to a cinder…”
Very well researched and unequivocal explanation there Dee. And a short physics/chemistry lesson to boot!
Sharon can you ask Brian sweetly to hurry up with that report about his debate with Councillor Tully? I am hoping the Pollie really gets slapped down…
Currently he only has his phone for internet, so might be a little while longer until he can get to a PC for easier typing. The debate was back in 2005, and here is an article from 2013 that alludes back to it –