For the entire time that I have been producing this Blog, I have been trying to decide if the contentious subject of Bill Denhelds research, trying to identify the exact site at which the Stringy Bark Creek Murders took place, is something that should also be discussed here. I’ve hesitated for a number of reasons not the least of which is because on the Forum of mine that was sabotaged by Kelly bullies, SBC was the subject that provoked the most interest but also the most anger and vitriol, and possibly was in large part why that Forum of mine was destroyed. I’ve also noted there have been long bitter discussions on several other Forums on the topic over several years which seem to have ended in tears but no agreement or resolution about the site, making me doubt that any further discussion would end any differently. In any case for those that are interested, Bill has a comprehensive site of his own (HERE) which provides exhaustive detail and makes a very compelling argument that the place where Lonigan and Scanlon were murdered is the place he’s identified at Stringy Bark Creek. How could I possibly hope to add to it? Lastly, this subject is not really about the Mythology of the Kelly Legend but is closer to pure historical research, a dispute not about what happened and why but about exactly where, a kind of niche within Kelly history where ‘place’ is mostly well known. It’s not a dispute between ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ Ned people, but a dispute between amateur researchers.
In the end I decided I would write about SBC because anyone exploring the Kelly Legend will inevitably come across it and I expect might hope to find something about it on this Blog as well. Its about time the controversy surrounding it was settled, and that’s what discussion here will help to do. I also didn’t want to allow the Bullies who silenced the discussion last time to have the last word on the subject. This time I will moderate with much more attention to personal abuse, to relevance and to fairness.
I am not going to present two sides of this story because having participated in a long discussion between both sides of this subject a few years ago on the Forum of mine that was sabotaged, and having read all of Bills site, I have no doubt that he is right in his belief that he has identified the true site. Instead I am going to present my understanding of what Bill has proved, but in a way that I hope will be easy to understand. One of the problems with Bills site is that there is so much detail and the arguments are at times so intricate that an ordinary person is likely to find his eyes glazing over as he tries to wade through it all. I am going to provide the Idiots Guide to SBC. (with apologies to Bill!)
Stringy Bark Creek : the last debate:
According to the Tourist brochures that direct everyone to it, the famous Kelly Tree in the Wombat Ranges not far from Mansfield is the place where the Kelly Gang ambushed the Police search party and killed two of them. On this point though I think all sides are in agreement: its not! Historical records show that the Kelly tree was a more or less randomly selected tree in the general vicinity of the ambush site, at a place that could conveniently be visited by tourists. Ian Jones drew this to everyone’s attention in 1993 when he announced that he and his son had identified what they believed was the true site after ‘lengthy research and… field work’. Jones said he had ‘absolutely no doubt’ that the true site of the ambush was ‘several hundred meters south of the accepted location (which is marked by the Kelly Tree) and on the opposite, eastern bank of the Creek’ (Footnotes to Chapter 9, A Short Life by Ian Jones)
Despite the fact that Jones said it was “unarguable that the battleground was on the eastern bank’ (The Age: Oct 19 1995) I think everyone now agrees that this second site, the Jones site is also NOT the right place. (by ‘everyone’ I mean all the people who have a particular interest in this subject and who participate in these discussions) The reason is provided by McIntyre, the sole Police survivor of the ambush who says this in his “True Narrative of the Kelly Gang” :
“Sergt Kennedy has selected a clear place near an old burnt hut as the most suitable for our camping ground as it was out of danger of any timber which might fall from the forest trees. Our tent was pitched near the north west corner of this clearing, which was partly natural and partly caused by human agency. The entrance to the tent was facing east and also the creek which was about 70 yards distant.”
If the tent was facing east, and facing the creek, then the tent and the site of the ambush can only have been on the western side of the creek. Period.
But where exactly?
McIntyre wrote a detailed account of the attack, some of which I have already quoted, and he also provided a couple of diagrams of the site, one drawn with much greater care and a lot more detail and many years after the first one.
|McIntyres first sketch of the scene of the ambush.
He has inaccurately drawn the ends of the logs crossing over each other
Remarkably, there are also two amazing photos of the exact site, taken within a week of the murders, the so-called Burman photographs. Burman was a commercial photographer who cashed in on the massive public interest in the Kelly story by selling photos of the scene at Stringybark Creek, and other sites as “Cartes de Visite”. His informant and guide at the ambush site was Edward Monk who in turn received his information directly from McIntyre when they both returned to SBC with the Police search party to SBC to search for the dead policemen the day after the ambush.
|The ambush of Kennedy re-enacted, showing on the left, “McIntyre” seated on the log, “Kelly” crouched down hiding beside him,
both looking towards the north at the returning Kennedy, and one of the posts of the burned hut on the right.
Burman placed people into the clearing to recreate the ambush scene for his photos, but without McIntyre or his diagrams to help, his recreation was not entirely accurate. Burman has McIntyre seated at one end of a log with Kelly kneeling right next to him, but behind the log; McIntyres drawing shows they were at opposite ends of a log and the ‘north-south’ log was between them.(M3 and EK2 on McIntyres diagram shown below) Thus, McIntyres diagram identifies mistakes in Burmans re-enctment of the scene when Kennedy returned.
So, having excluded two places that were NOT the site of the ambush, could all these separate pieces of information be drawn together to find the place that WAS the ambush site?
Obviously 140 or more years after the Burman photos were taken, things at the site will have changed in many ways. There would be no point looking for the fallen logs for example. However, McIntyre said that the tent was 70 yards away from the creek and the creek wouldn’t have changed much. He also said the site was near ‘an old burnt hut’, and that would certainly be something that might have left discoverable traces of itself.
What else did McIntyre claim?
Following on from the quote cited above he writes: “Standing at the tent entrance and facing the creek there was upon the left front a felled tree nearly 4ft in diameter at the thickest part. It lay nearly east and west. About midway this log was joined by another which lay due north and south and terminated where it joined the other. These two logs thus formed two right angles the point of junction being 25 yards from the tent. On your right or the south side of the clearing the ground was free of timber and being of a swampy nature there was a luxuriant growth of rushes and other coarse herbage. These together with a slight declivity in the formation in that direction afforded good cover to within 20 yards of our tent for any party wishing to attack our camp and it was from this position we were attacked, the south side or up the creek.”
McIntyre drew a diagram to illustrate these points (above) but its important to notice that he did it somewhat inaccurately: McIntyre wrote that the north–south log joined the east-west one ‘midway’, and formed ‘two right angles’. From this description you would expect his diagram would show the logs arranged as a kind of “T” but what he drew was more like a “7”. He has drawn the north-south log meeting the east-west log at one end of it, not midway, and so his diagram shows only one ‘right angle’. When you look at the Burman photos of the scene you realize there are actually three big logs in the photo – two seem to be more or less in a line end to end, and lying roughly east to west, and the third lies behind them at an angle to these two, lying roughly north to south. The ‘north’ end of this log appears to be near where the other two meet – ‘midway’ along, and creating the two ‘right angles’ that McIntyre remembered.
The photos also show two prominent blackened posts, which must have been some of the ruins of the burnt hut McIntyre mentioned, though he didn’t include them in his map either. Behind the man with his raised arm, who represents the returning Kennedy, there is a clearly seen wooded slope. This is a distinctive feature of the site, and a key to locating it, as will be seen later.
So somewhat curiously, the diagram that revealed the inaccuracies in Burmans photos – in relation to where he placed the actors – is itself corrected by detail revealed in the photos – the true number and position of the logs in the clearing!.
It is clear from this that the two logs McIntyre included in his drawing are the ‘third’ log (the north-south one) and the log at the right of the photo, running roughly east-west. At M3 He indicated where he sat on this log as ‘ordered by Ea Kelly’ and at EK3 Kellys ‘place of concealment awaiting men on patrol’ on the other side of the north-south log, near where the fire was. His diagrams didn’t include the log nearest the camera.
The other critical information we can obtain from the Burman photos is the direction in which Burmans Camera was pointing. This task is made easy by the fact that Burman sat someone pretending to be McIntyre at the end of the log nearest the camera, and someone pretending to be Ned Kelly crouched down just behind him, both looking in the direction from where Kennedy and Scanlon returned, which was from the north. There is no logical explanation for the positioning and the posture of the people Burman placed in those photos, on and concealed behind logs, other than that they were looking northwards in anticipation of Kennedy and Scanlans return. He should have had ‘McIntyre’ seated at the end of the log on the right of the photo, near where these two logs are approached by the ‘north-south’ log, which is where McIntyre showed he was in his map. The log Burman had them seated on wasn’t shown in McIntyres maps. However that makes little difference to the clues they give about the direction the pictures were taken from – the camera, looking back towards them was facing in a south or south-westerly direction. The creek would have been behind and to the photographers left.
On his website Bill verifies the correctness of this interpretation of the photographs with a very detailed analysis of where shadows fall in the photos. By calculating the angle of the sun at that time of year and time of day Bill confirms that the photos could only have been taken with the camera looking in a more or less southerly direction. He also cleverly recreates the scene with scale model logs and the stumps and posts seen in Burmans photos.
After all this careful analysis of Burmans Photos, McIntyres recollections and his diagrams, Bill and a group of like-minded amateur historians searched for a site on the western side of the creek, with a declivity to the south, ( a ‘declivity’ is a downward slope) a steeper rising slope behind and hopefully, evidence of a ruined hut. A number of sites were considered but at only one could a photo have been taken looking south that matched the Burman photos. At this site they also found evidence of not one but two ruined huts in the form of piles of stones that had once formed fireplaces, whereas no convincing evidence of huts was found at the others. The historical record reports there were indeed two huts at the ambush site! At Bills website he illustrates how he used a Laser and an ingenious device he calls the viewer-scope to show that the location they identified as the true site fits Burmans photos brilliantly, whereas at the others , the fit is non-existent.
Frankly I am mystified as to why the rest of the group Bill was a part of were unable to accept the site now known as the ‘two huts’ site as being the place where the Kelly gang ambushed the Police patrol. Identifying it relies firstly on recognition of errors in McIntyres diagram that are revealed by the Burman photos, and recognition of errors in Burmans re-enactment revealed by Mcntyres diagram. This in turn enables accurate orientation of the Burman photos, and identification of the orientation and spatial relations of the slope, the creek, the declivity and the ruined huts. The subsequent on-the-ground identification and close inspection of potential sites confirmed the two huts site as the only possible place.
What needs to happen now is a thorough professional archaological documentation of the Two Huts site, its official recognition and preservation as the actual ambush site, and an acknowledgement of the work of all the people who contributed to its recognition, the foremost of whom is Bill Denheld.
He has been and remains a persistent dogged and imaginative advocate for historical truth as well as for the Legend of Ned Kelly.
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