Ned Kellys versions of anything cannot be trusted.

It would be unexceptional to expect that murdering three policemen in the space of a couple of hours would result in unanimous condemnation of the perpetrators. Yet, in the bizarre case of Ned Kelly, a triple police murderer, we have the criminal being upheld as an Australian hero and icon, though as we know from a published survey there aren’t that many such people. But even so, the fact that anyone at all can regard such a person as  a hero requires explaining, or so I would have thought. The point I am going to make in this post is that one reason some people think Ned Kelly is a hero is because the story they have been told about him is a gross misrepresentation of the truth about him. They’ve been fed a line by the Kelly apologists and have swallowed it. They’ve been fed Ned Kellys lines but his versions of anything cant be trusted, because as even the great Ian Jones said, and I quote “he lied”
Take the killing of those three policemen at Stringybark Creek as an example. Its common to read that atrocity described as a ‘fair fight’ and a ‘gunbattle’
“When Kennedy and Scanlan returned to the camp Ned called to them to “Bail up”. Instead the troopers opened fire. A gunfight followed with the policemen dodging from tree to tree”
This description from the recently published “Ned Kelly the Iron Outlaw” is a typical example, written by one of the leading Kelly fanatics, but is factually grossly misleading. For anyone unfamiliar with the facts, it reads, as Ned Kelly himself, and the Kelly apologist who wrote this would have wanted, as if the police brought the so called ‘gunfight’ on themselves. The vibe is that the idiot  police tried to take on the Kelly Gang instead of sensibly surrendering, but it was Ned Kelly who opened fire on the police and only one of  the police was ever ‘dodging from tree to tree’. 

On Facebook pages for Kelly followers one often reads things like ‘They got what they deserved’.
Now, there were only two witnesses who wrote about what happened that evening – Ned Kelly and Constable Thomas McIntyre, but for some reason, its always Ned Kellys view that predominates in the literature describing it all. Thus, though McIntyre very clearly stated that Lonigan was shot within a few seconds of being ordered to ‘bail up’ , and wouldn’t have had time to get his gun out, the story that everyone tells, from Kenneally in 1929 to now, is Ned Kellys version that Lonigan ran six or seven yards to some logs, got behind them and then was shot in the head as he came up to shoot at Ned Kelly. Ned Kelly thus maintained he killed in self-defence.
Likewise in describing the second half of this debacle, McIntyre clearly states that he was given almost no time to explain to Kennedy and Scanlan what was going on – in fact he stated that Kelly shouted “Bail up” before he had said a word to Kennedy:
“I stepped towards Kennedy and was about to explain the position to him when Kelly sang out ‘Bail up, hold up your hands.’ Kennedy smiled and playfully put his hand upon his revolver case. Judging from the expression on his face he thought that Lonigan and I were jesting with him. Immediately he put his hand down he was fired at by Ned Kelly.” (My underlining ) (Reminiscences of a Victorian Mounted Constable)
The bullet went over his head, but Kennedy, suddenly realising it wasn’t a joke, rolled off the horse and drew his revolver just as the rest of the gang broke cover and advanced, firing. Scanlon also tried to throw himself off his horse, and in his panic, he fell.
“.. in his efforts to scramble to his feet and at the same time disentangle himself from his rifle he fell again and both his hands and knees were on the ground when he was shot under the right arm. I saw a large spot of blood appear on his coat” (Reminiscences)
Its accepted now I think that Kelly’s description of how Lonigan died was bullshit. The forensic evidence clearly shows that Lonigan was out in the open when he was shot, and supports McIntyre’s recollection. So, isn’t it time we also called ‘bullshit’ on Kelly’s description of what happened when Kennedy and Scanlan returned?
Kelly blamed McIntyre for not getting them to surrender but McIntyre’s testimony shows that  Kelly gave him almost no chance to do it. Kelly should have shut his mouth and stayed hidden and given McIntyre a real chance to persuade Kennedy and Scanlan to disarm and surrender, but instead, exactly as when Lonigan was killed, Kelly panicked  at the crucial moment, and he started shouting and shooting almost straight away. Its interesting to notice that Kellys first written version of these events more or less agrees with McIntyre’s version, there being no mention of McIntyre actually speaking to Kennedy:
McIntyre went up to Kennedy, Scanlan being behind with a rifle and revolver. I called on them to throw up their hands. Scanlan slewed his horse around to gallop away but turned again and as quick as thought fired at me with the rifle, and was in the act of firing again when I shot him” (Cameron Letter)
In his second version however, he says something quite different. He now says McIntyre spoke to Kennedy who then reached for his revolver, got off his horse and “got behind a tree when I called on them to throw up their arms’(Jerilderie Letter)
So, in the Cameron letter, while the Police are still mounted Kelly calls on them to Bail up and then Scanlan and Kennedy react. In the second version, the Jerilderie Letter,  they react not  to Kellys words but to McIntyres word and only after Kennedy is behind a tree does Kelly call on them to “bail up”. So was Kellys call to ‘ bail up’ made while Kennedy was on his horse or behind a tree? McIntyre said Scanlan didn’t fire his rifle, Kelly said he did.
My question is why would we believe Kelly’s versions of Scanlan and Kennedys deaths when we know his version of Lonigans death was a self-serving lie? Why wouldn’t his versions of Scanlan’s and Kennedys deaths also be self-serving lies ? They have every appearance of being exactly that, especially when you look at the changes he made in the second version.
My next question then is why is it always the Kelly version that gets repeated and promoted and written into the texts time and time again, in preference to McIntyres? My own answer to that question is that people haven’t yet fully realised what an outrageous liar Kelly was.

And one other thing : this garbage about a fair fight – on what planet is it a fair fight when three or four armed men confront two men, only one of whom carries a weapon? And the fight with Kennedy : Kennedy retreating from tree to tree was armed with a revolver that took six cartridges.  The Kelly gang of four, pursuing him for almost a mile through the bush, was now armed with the police shotgun, the Spencer Carbine carried by Scanlon, McIntyre’s revolver, Lonigan’s revolver, Scanlon’s revolver, dozens of rounds of ammunition taken from the Police tent, and of course the guns they brought with them to the police camp at the outset: Neds ‘rickety old carbine, a cheap shotgun and a pocket revolver’ (Ian Jones: A Short Life Hachette Edition p157). What kind of lunatic could ever imagine that could be a fair fight?
(Visited 55 times)

8 Replies to “Ned Kellys versions of anything cannot be trusted.”

  1. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Dee, 2 comments. First, regarding "It's interesting to notice that Kelly's first written version of these events more or less agrees with McIntyre’s version [about SBC] , there being no mention of McIntyre actually speaking to Kennedy". The most common descriptions of SBC focus on alleged discrepancies in McIntyre's statements, mostly focussed on whether or not Lonigan drew his pistol out or not. This is a new angle, at least to me, about what was said (or not) to the arriving Kennedy and Scanlon upon their arrival. I don't have any time to put into SBC. but I think this is worth more investigation by somebody.

    Second, you said that "one reason some people think Ned Kelly is a hero is because the story they have been told about him is a gross misrepresentation of the truth about him". I'm not really persuaded by this as the main reason for seeing Ned as a hero. I think SBC is pretty much ignored in common retellings, except for being explained away as a fair fight in order to not contradict the hero figure that emerges from Glenrowan. In other words, I think the tale of Ned as armoured hero requires that he not do anything too dastardly in his past actions. SBC is sort of brushed under the carpet and explained away as self-defense precisely because it goes against the popular image of a hero. Try putting "and the hero unnecessarily murdered three men" into the back story of any other hero story, e.g. a war story or a Western movie, and the problem is obvious. So I could be wrong, but my suspicion is that the armoured Last Stand is the key to the hero tale, not anything before it. Walking through a hail of bullets in an iron suit, the stuff of legend… I think the past history just gets forgotten about, and where it is not forgotten, it is required by our popular ideas of heroes to be minimised or explained away. what do you (and anyone else) think?

  2. Thanks Stuart. Its surprising how often you can read something and miss whats plainly stated – we've all read about SBC innumerable times I am sure but who before has ever highlighted the fact that Kelly gave McIntyre absolutely no time at all to persuade Scanlan and Kennedy to surrender? For Kelly then to blame McIntyre for failing to get them to surrender is nonsense.

    In regard to your second point, I know Mark Perry will be in total agreement – he is convinced that its the armour and especially the Helmet as a kind of marketing tool that 'sells' the Kelly image. And youre right I think, that a person doesnt become a hero just because there are no 'negatives' in his story – there have to be some, or maybe just one outstanding positive, and in this case its the Last Stand, symbolised by the armour and the helmet. Never-the-less, airbrushing out the negatives has a role in making hero worship possible.

  3. Absolutely agree Stuart. And thank you for the acknowledgement Dee. This has indeed been my point for a long time. After the theatrics of Kellys Last Stand, everything else became background and white noise to a point. If there was no Armour involved, 1. The Kelly story would be nowhere near as prominent as it actually is and 2. The events at SBC would be looked upon with more horror rather than being diluted. That Iron Mask indeed has indeed done a lot of legwork for Ned and the Gang.

  4. Stuart Dawson says: Reply

    Hi Dee and Mark, I think it also shows in the most popular expressions about Ned – the Iron Outlaw, the Armoured Outlaw, and of course the Nolan paintings where Ned basically becomes his helmet. You can do a helmet painting or image with no other armour, and everyone knows it's Ned. Here's one some kid made from a cereal box at
    I've done some Kelly art with the metal top clips off the old computer floppy disks. When people around the gang like Joe Byrne's mother said they were going to do something that would startle the world, they were right. The failed train derailment attempt has been forgotten too; the focus of the whole legend is about the 15 minute walk that finished the shootout. And there is no doubt that it was an act of extreme gutsiness. There is still an unanswered question of why. Was it to rescue the others, as Ned told one of the reporters, or was it to rally them to come out for a desperate final showdown.

  5. Hit the nail on the head. The Last Stand is the main reason the Kelly story flourishes. The "Game as Ned Kelly"catch cry and mind set was born in this moment. Its the entry point for most of us. If Ben Hall had used an Iron Helmet, it would be all about him, not Ned. The Armour was an inspired act of lunacy that has become a pop culture artifact.

  6. Hi Mark. I think its funny to bring this up. I agree that the armour is what makes Ned Kelly stand out above the rest. It could also be argued that without it Ned Kelly is just playing 'cops and robbers' since his 'career' mirrors Ben Hall's in so many ways. Funny how know one brings that up…

    BTW: Hi everyone!

  7. Hi Lilly. I take it you are new here? In which case, welcome aboard. Yes, this point does seem to get lost amongst all the differences of opinion. The helmet and the armour give the Kelly story a huge boost and it's own logo. A boon for Tourism Victoria. Without it, I doubt there would be a Ned Kelly Trail, museums, tours, so many books, so many stage plays and films…

  8. Hello Lilly,
    Is it possible you are related to Lilly Wheelan by any chance?
    If so, could you please contact me – bill at ironicon dot com dot au

Leave a Reply