A Still from the 1906 Kelly Movie: Constable Fitzpatrick is shot in the wrist
In the first two parts of this investigation of the Kelly claims about Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, I described the novel and cruel conspiracy theory proposed by Alan Crichton to explain how it was that Fitzpatrick could have ever become so important in the Kelly story when, according to Crichton he was ‘an arsehole from the moment he popped out of the womb’. Crichton’s view is that this policeman, Alexander Fitzpatrick, was simply an unwitting pawn in a masterplan devised by his seniors in the force to ensnare ‘the heart and soul of the clan’, Ned Kellys mother Ellen. Crichton’s conspiracy theory fails because, as I showed, there is no evidence to support his central claim about Fitzpatrick that he was an incompetent and morally bankrupt policeman, let alone an ‘arsehole from birth’. In fact the evidence, the facts that we actually know about Fitzpatricks life to that point, the facts which should be the basis of our history telling, are that at least up until the ‘incident’ itself, Fitzpatrick’s life and career was nothing out of the ordinary.
His private life was complicated, but there’s no evidence that it was by any means a tale of depravity and sexual licence as is so often implied by Kelly supporters. All we actually know is that an earlier relationship that produced a child failed, and by 1878 he was engaged to someone else – Anna Savage. He paid maintenance for the child and he married and remained married to Anna Savage for the rest of his life. However, even though Fitzpatricks private life was his own business and nothing to do with the Kelly story, Kelly supporters unrelentingly discuss it and misrepresent it as part of their campaign against him. In doing so they expose their own deep hypocrisy over the issue of moral failures because they always conveniently ignore the gross moral failures of multiple members of the Kelly clan, failures which include not just rumours but actual convictions for indecency, for sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as innumerable pre-marital and extra-marital infidelities and pregnancies.
So now let’s look at the claim that Fitzpatrick was a drunk.
The claim that he had a problem with alcohol was never mentioned anywhere by anyone before the incident. If any Kelly supporter has such evidence I would be most interested to see it. After the incident though, the Kellys and their apologists like Kenneally and everyone ever since right down to the most recent Kelly books all maintain that according to the Kellys, when Fitzpatrick arrived at the Kelly household he was to a greater or lesser degree, ‘under the influence’. Predictably, as part of their attempts to malign his character it will be claimed he drank to give him the courage to approach the Kellys. Ever since that allegation was made, Fitzpatrick is almost never referred to as anything other than a drunk.
But where is the evidence for this claim, other than the unreliable word of the Kellys? There is no record of him having problems with alcohol during the time that he was in the police force, so it would be entirely out of character if true. On the other hand, if the Kellys wanted to destroy his testimony about what happened at their house that evening what better way than to make up lies about him being drunk? We know for an absolute certainty that many of the Kellys DID tell lies about what happened : Ned Kelly lied, saying he wasn’t there; Ellen Kelly lied and said at first that Fitzpatrick hadn’t even been there, and so did her daughter Kate, but then she changed her mind and produced a second version that were lies about her being there alone with Fitzpatrick; and Jim Kelly who was in gaol in NSW at the time later told Cookson that he WAS there and that Fitzpatrick was drunk.
Against the word of this family of liars we have Fitzpatrick’s open admission that on the way to the Kellys he had a single drink of brandy and lemonade during a brief stopover for information, we have the testimony of the Publican, Lindsay, who said that on his return Fitzpatrick was sober, and we have the fact that until that day there was not one shred of evidence anywhere that he had a drinking problem. Stuart Dawson’s detailed and compelling analysis of the time-line covering Fitzpatrick’s journey from Benalla to the Kellys that day shows conclusively that there was barely enough time for Fitzpatrick to have stopped at Lindsays Hotel for one drink, let alone the ‘several’ others have claimed he had on the basis of ZERO evidence, or the ‘hours’ claimed by Peter Fitzsimons that he spent there fortifying his courage, again on ZERO evidence.
It’s true that later, when Dr Nicholson was examining Fitzpatrick’s wrist wound he noticed the smell of Brandy on his breath. But this was brandy administered by Lindsay to Fitzpatrick on his late-night return in a distressed state with a wounded wrist. It was commonplace in those days for Brandy to be used in this circumstance for ‘medicinal purposes’. And in any case Nicholson said that Fitzpatrick most definitely was NOT drunk!
So, who should be believed? A man who to that point has a clean record as a policeman, the testimony of a publican who would know drunkenness if he saw it, and the word of his doctor – or the testimony of a family of known liars in a desperate search for an excuse and someone to blame? There is no credible evidence to support the claim that Fitzpatrick was a drunk in 1878. None at all.
However, it may be argued that an absence of evidence of him being a drunk isn’t proof that he WASN’T one – absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – and I expect that Kelly sympathisers will be untroubled by all this discussion because in the back of their minds they will be telling themselves that Fitzpatrick’s dismissal from the police in April 1880 proves that their suspicions about Fitzpatrick were correct. In fact, the complaints and the charges against Fitzpatrick that resulted in his dismissal – which I will review in Part Four – had nothing to do with him being drunk, or having some sort of a problem with alcohol. The subject of drunkenness is not mentioned anywhere in any of the charges and allegations that were raised against Fitzpatrick when he was in the force, and at the Royal Commission, during a long and detailed cross examination, the subject of intoxication and alcohol abuse was not mentioned once, by anyone.
There’s one other thing : some 15 years after the Outbreak, someone called Alexander Fitzpatrick was convicted of passing worthless cheques and was sent to gaol for a year. The cheques were for amounts between £1 and £2, and the newspaper articles mention that he had been drinking heavily at the time. If we put aside the possibility this could have been a different Alexander Fitzpatrick – the court documents give a different date of birth and describe him as single – this is the only known objective association of Fitzpatrick with drinking. But no fair-minded person could regard this one mention as in any way giving credence to the allegations of the Kellys 15 years earlier – the conviction wasn’t anything to do with drunkenness, and there is no way of knowing if this was a ‘one-off’ event precipitated by some other personal crisis, or evidence that he had a problem with alcohol. And even if he did have a problem with alcohol in 1894, this in no way can be interpreted as support for the otherwise completely unsupported claim by the Kellys, that he did in 1878. A lot can happen in 16 years – and certainly did, when it comes to the life of Constable Fitzpatrick.
It’s a bitterly ironic fact that the only people who made allegations about Fitzpatrick being a drunk were a family of known criminals and proven liars whose own members had convictions for drunkenness, for arson committed while drunk, for sexual assault committed while drunk and who apparently operated an illegal ‘sly grog’ outfit. Why on earth would anyone believe them – especially when there isn’t one single fact that backs them up?
In conclusion, review of the claim by the Kellys that Fitzpatrick was a drunk – and repeated ever since by people wanting to support the Kellys claim that it was all Fitzpatrick’s fault – provides absolutely no support for the claim. It was a slur aimed at discrediting the man whose evidence resulted in Mrs Kelly and two others going to gaol and would have put Ned and Dan Kelly away for several years as well.
Fitzpatrick may have been many things, but the idea that he was a drunk in 1878 is a lie.
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