Until Stuart Dawson published his “Redeeming Fitzpatrick” article in 2015, the Fitzpatrick story had been more or less unchallenged and unchanged for most of the preceding 140 years. The story up till then focussed almost entirely on Fitzpatrick’s time in the Victoria police, which ended in less than three years when he was sacked in April 1880.
What Dawson showed in 2015 was that the universally accepted view, promoted and supported by Ned Kelly and his apologists ever since, that Fitzpatrick was a drunk and a womaniser who then became a corrupt lying policeman, was not supported by a detailed and critical review of all the evidence, and that up to the time of the incident, he had an unblemished record. A month before the ‘incident’ an entry in his Police Record Sheet reads: “A young member of the force, likely to prove acceptable” (Morrissey 2018, p270). Dawson showed that Fitzpatrick’s testimony about the so-called ‘Fitzpatrick incident’ itself also stood up to intense scrutiny, and was consistent and reliable, something which could most certainly NOT be said about the testimony provided by the various Kelly clan witnesses for the defence at the trial.
However, two years after the incident, Fitzpatrick was sacked, an event which Kelly apologists claim proves their point about him. In fact, Fitzpatrick was never charged let alone convicted for any alcohol related offences or for lying or for perjury, his sacking was not for being a drunk, or for being a ‘liar and a larrikin’ as they often assert, but for ‘inefficiency and insubordination’, a description that arose out of some quite trivial charges laid against him by senior police who had an openly admitted hostility towards Fitzpatrick. The outbreak and the murder of three police colleagues after the ‘incident’ led some police unfairly to hold that Fitzpatrick was largely to blame for it, and they wanted him gone. Despite his protestations and requests for an independent investigation into the charges against him, and the support of two petitions signed by a couple of hundred reputable citizens of Lancefield, the last town he was posted to, Fitzpatrick was sacked and that was the end of his police career. In 1881 Fitzpatrick was vindicated somewhat by the Royal Commission of enquiry into the outbreak, the Report offering no direct criticism of him and saying that his conduct ‘was justified by the rules of the service’. They had much harsher criticism of Standish, the Police Commissioner who sacked him.
In recent weeks, Kelly apologists have turned their attention to the rest of Fitzpatrick’s life in their search for support for their now disproven attempts to discredit his character and performance as a policeman. It had long been claimed as proof that he was a drunk, that his death certificate registered one of the causes of death as cirrhosis of the liver. This claim can be found in Justin Corfield’s Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia, but it’s wrong. The death certificate actually says he died of a disseminated liver sarcoma, it was invading his stomach and there was ascites, an almost universal accompaniment of disseminated abdominal malignancy. Despite the known facts regarding the pathology of disseminated malignancy, Kelly apologists like Bob McGarrigle, a Kelly gang ‘relative’ and former bank officer continue to insist on Facebook that the ascites proves Fitzpatrick was an alcoholic, and that I am a liar. What these people are refusing to accept is that disseminated sarcoma and cirrhosis both cause ascites, but what the doctor who did the autopsy found was that the cause of the ascites in this case was not cirrhosis but sarcoma. Sarcoma and cirrhosis are two very different things, but in this case the sarcoma was the cause of the ascites. Bob I hope you’re not going to go around telling every terminally ill patient dying of disseminated abdominal malignancy and ascites, like Fitzpatrick did, that they’re all alcoholics! But that’s what you’re saying of Fitzpatrick. Pretty nasty if you ask me.
So that attempt to prove Fitzpatrick was a drunk also failed.
In the last few days, still looking for an opportunity to vilify Fitzpatrick, they have resurrected the old news that someone called Alexander Fitzpatrick, listed on the charge sheet as a farmer, went to gaol for cheque fraud in 1894. Some but not all of the newspaper reports claim this Fitzpatrick had been drinking heavily. I mentioned this in my post a couple of weeks ago, and accepted the possibility that this man was ‘our’ Fitzpatrick, even though he was said to be a farmer and there were other details in the police record that didn’t match ‘our’ Alexander Fitzpatrick, such as that he was single and had dark hair. However, reasonable doubts remain; the cheques, for amounts of only one or two pounds were drawn on the bank at Orbost, which is a very long way from where Fitzpatrick was living in Melbourne in 1894. Adding to the doubts, Stuart Dawson made the surprising discovery that in 1891 an actual farmer named Alexander Fitzpatrick was approved for a lease of land at Murrungower, a few km further east from Orbost. As yet, no link has been found between ‘our’ Fitzpatrick and Murrungower, so perhaps he is in the clear after all? However, newspaper reports of this case, and even the Police Gazette mention of it, link this man with the Kelly outbreak. So, does that settle it?
Well no, not quite.
Dawson reported in a comment to this Blog the other day that Fitzpatrick told Cookson (p. 94), about a number of cases of mistaken identity: “A man was arrested for drunkenness or some other minor offence at Korong Vale, in the Bendigo district, and he said he was ex-Constable Fitzpatrick. A Bendigo newspaper printed a paragraph, reflecting on my character, and I issued a writ for £1,000 damages. My legal advisers, however, said that I would have to show that I suffered some loss in consequence … before I could succeed, and reluctantly I had to abandon the action. Every now and again, for years afterwards, I had to stand up and defend myself against unjust accusations”. So, we know that identity mix-ups DID happen, and thus it’s possible that the newspaper reports and even the Police gazette got it wrong this time too, mislabelling the farmer from Murrungower as the former policeman from the Kelly outbreak.
Yesterday, I came across yet another intriguing twist in the tale : a post to Facebook that urges caution in the rush to judgement with news that there were two other police constables from that time called Fitzpatrick! One was Patrick and the other Charles! More opportunities for confusion and misidentification!
Lastly, we come to the prison photos of Fitzpatrick. In his recent book, Morrissey confidently dismisses the idea that the man sent to gaol was ‘our’ Fitzpatrick and says that the prison photos of the ‘farmer’ look nothing like ‘our Fitzpatrick’ – but others swear the opposite, saying it was definitely him. As we all should know, it’s easy to get it wrong – to anyone claiming certainty in their identification of the Police photo, I have two words: Gentleman Ned! Who wants to be reminded how the foremost Kelly biographer and all round expert on Kelly matters went out on a limb and declared his absolute certainty that the photo named Gentleman Ned was undeniably Ned Kelly, lampooning the doubters – only to be proved wrong!
In the end though, the reality is this – even if he was an alcoholic in later life, and even if he did go to gaol for cheque fraud, these incidents cannot be used against Fitzpatrick’s unblemished record from years earlier as a young Policeman, to claim they prove that all the innuendo and lies that were spread about him back then must be true after all. The claims against him need to be justified by evidence from the same time, not by ‘evidence’ dragged back from the future.
The most likely reality, if these charges against him being an alcoholic and a fraudster in later life were proven to be true, is that they were a result of the outbreak, not a cause of it. There is ample evidence in modern society of the way in which the traumas of police and armed forces service can give rise to the disabling psychological injury now called PTSD. Enormous energy is now given to supporting men and women with PTSD because of the high risk that it leads to alcohol and drug abuse, marital breakdown, depression and suicide. Its entirely possible that after his harsh treatment in the police and what he regarded as unfair and summary dismissal, Fitzpatrick suffered with PTSD, and struggled to maintain his equilibrium. To continue to abuse and vilify the memory of a man likely to have been suffering PTSD would be contemptible – but then, look at how the Kelly apologists have been talking over the weekend about Kelly gang murder victim Michael Kennedy and his great grandson, the newest Kelly author Leo : contemptible! But then, bullying abuse, lying and vilification was the stock-in-trade of their criminal hero Ned Kelly, so why wouldn’t they follow his example?
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