This post is about the claim Adam Ford made on the History Channels Lawless documentary in 2018 that he had located ‘for the first time ever’ the actual site at Stringybark Creek where three police were murdered by the Kelly Gang in 1878.
Last week, in the first part of this two part essay, I described how it was that Ford reached that conclusion. Essentially, what he did was excavate a pile of rocks near the picnic ground at SBC, and declare that because bits of broken pottery and nails and things that he found there were probably of late 19thcentury origin, he had located the ruined hut known to have been at the Police Camp site. He claimed this hut had to be the one at the police campsite because it corresponded with a hut marked on an 1884 map of the area. In the Documentary Ford made it look as if he had discovered this ruined hut after doing a highly sophisticated scan with a drone using a Laser to map the area. He said that he used it to find a flat area of one to two acres, because according to Ford, that was what McIntyre, the surviving police witness had said was where the hut was. In fact, this was a charade, a quite cynical deception designed to impress TV viewers with some whizz-bang kit – amateur historians had shown the pile of rocks to Ford almost the moment he got to SBC but that wouldn’t have created a dramatic TV moment would it? So the Laser gimmick was introduced.
In fact, as Ford himself noted in his Report, nothing was found at this site that specifically linked it to the police campsite – it was a typical hut site of which he said there were many along the creek. The reason he believed that never-the-less this WAS the police campsite, as I explained last week, is because it was on the only area of one to two acres that the drone found in the area that was flat, and because it corresponded with the hut marked on the 1884 map. Last week I finished by writing that both these arguments fail, and now I will show how.
- Ford misinterpreted the Gatward Map
In the Report Adam Ford wrote “In 1884 and reproduced/drafted in 1885 (6 and 7 years after the event) detailed survey maps were made of the area and the location of the ruined hut (mentioned by Kelly and McIntyre) were recorded” (p20)
This is incorrect. The ‘location of the ruined hut’ is not recorded on the Gatward map. What the map records, as shown below, is a hut close to the words ‘Scene of the Police murders by the Kelly Gang’. These words are centred on an area well away from the “HUT”, the hut is not labelled as anything other than a hut, and is certainly not identified as the ‘ruined hut’ seen in the Burman photographs.
Ford has simply jumped to a conclusion which may or may not be correct, that Gatwards HUT and the ‘ruined hut’ are the same thing. But that is almost certainly the wrong conclusion, for the following reasons:
Ford makes the point both in the Documentary and in the report, that “A surveyors job is to accurately map the landscape and other features and it is unlikely that Gatward would have been any different so it is reasonable to assume that the location of the hut is accurate”. It’s important to recall that even in 1878 there was no actual hut at the police camp-site, only the remains of a hut – a few burned posts – and by 1885 when Gatward drew his map, they may well have disappeared entirely. But if we accept Fords reasonable point that Gatward did indeed ‘accurately map the landscape’, then we must accept that in 1885 at the place where he wrote ‘HUT’ on the map there must have been an actual real intact hut. Clearly, this actual real hut was NOT the hut that had been at the police camp site because it was already a ruin in 1878 and possibly lost without a trace by 1885. It was some other hut, probably one of the many that Ford acknowledged were to be found up and down the creek.
The argument might be advanced in Fords defence, that Gatward was documenting the site of a former hut, or of a ‘ruined hut’ . However, this cannot be sustained, because it’s not consistent with what Gatward did in regard to a hut at the site of the Kelly Gang camp on Kellys creek a mile away. There, as can be seen in the image below, Gatward recorded the presence of a hut at Kellys creek and wrote beside it ‘KELLYS HUT’, but then added underneath‘(Ruined)’
This annotation indicates that Gatward was well aware of the historical significance of the location, and the identity of the ruined hut at Kellys creek, that it was a relic of the Kelly outbreak and of the need to record exactly what was in the area, and its condition. That’s why elsewhere he also wrote ‘old’ gold workings. At Stringybark Creek however, what he noted was that close to the area where the police murders took place, there were old Gold diggings and a hut. He clearly did not regard that hut as having any particular historical significance, because, if he had, following the example of his annotations in relation to the hut at Kellys creek, he would have written something similar at Stringybark Creek to make it clear. But he didn’t.
Ford defies his own logic when he correctly asserts that surveyors like Gatward would have been ‘accurate’ but then implies that when Gatward wrote HUT he meant something else, that he wrote HUT at a place where there was no hut, or only ruins. That would not be accurate – it would be inaccurate and it would mislead anyone making use of the map, the opposite of what Ford himself acknowledges would be what the surveyor intended.
Clearly then, contrary to Fords assertion, there is no rational basis to claim that the hut shown by Gatward near Stringybark Creek was the ‘ruined hut’ photographed at the Police camp site. Fords claim that finding the Gatward hut is a key to finding the police camp is wrong. Ford may well have found the remains of the Gatward hut, but nothing links this hut to the site of the ‘ruined hut’ or of the police camp and shootout.
- The LiDAR Survey was based on a misinterpretation of the sources
The second part of Fords evidence that what he found were the ruins of the hut at the police camp, was data provided by the LIDAR survey. Ford repeatedly claimed that McIntyre said that the ruined hut and the place where the police pitched their tent was a flat clearing of one to two acres. On that basis, he commissioned the LiDAR survey to look for such an area, and indeed one such area of flat ground of one to two acres was located. No other similar sized flat locations were found along the creek so it was declared that the site of the police camp and the ruined hut had to be somewhere on that one area that was identified. All other places were thereby excluded from consideration.
However, though Ford repeatedly said it, McIntyre did not actually say anything about the entire area being flat – he said it was partly cleared, and it was one to two acres in size. In fact, McIntyre’s actual words, and the Burman photos contradict the idea that the cleared area was ‘flat’ as claimed by Ford. McIntyre said that where the Gang approached from it was not flat – there was a ‘declivity’, a slope – and in the Burman photo there is an easily seen cleared area of ground rising behind the logs. None of the references quoted by Ford in his report describe the one to two acre clearing as being ‘flat’, though obviously, parts of it had to be, and such areas would be selected as the place to erect a tent or a hut. The flat area that can be seen in the Burman photos is very much smaller than an acre, so what was to be found in the rest of the cleared area not seen in the photo is anyone’s guess. It may have been flat, or it may have been sloping, broken, rough or steep but all we actually can say about it from McIntyre’s report is that in 1878 it was partly cleared. By 2018 regrowth meant that it was no longer cleared.
Thus, the premise on which the flat area revealed by the LiDAR survey was asserted to be the only area where the ‘ruined hut’ could have been, is false. It was never claimed by anyone that the ruined hut was on one to two acres of flat – or ‘flattish’ – land. Because of this error many areas big enough for a small hut and a tent that LiDAR could have identified were overlooked, excluded by the mistaken assumption that the ruined hut had to be on a flat area of one to two acres. Inevitably, the various sites nominated by the amateur archaeologists were thereby excluded.
- Ford misinterpreted the Burman Photos.
Ford was right to notice that the local topography at the signposted site didn’t match the topography of the police camp site captured by the Burman photographs. No matter in which direction you looked, at the sign-posted site no view matched the Burman photographs, which showed a slope rising behind the flat area where fallen logs and the police tent had once been. The blackened posts in the foreground of the photo are the remnants of a now burned, and ruined hut.
Ford wrote in the report that there had been debate about the orientation of the photos ‘for many years’ but said that following the discovery of McIntyre’s map in 2008 ‘it could be established that the image was taken from the south west corner of the clearing looking in an ENE direction’.Exactly how Ford decided that the McIntyre map gave rise to that interpretation is not made clear but again he is in error.
The orientation of the photos is established by the fact that the photo was staged by Arthur Burman to be a re-enactment of the ambush. His photo of the place where Sergeant Kennedys body was found was also a re-enactment, created by a volunteer lying at the foot of the tree where Kennedys body was found covered in a police cape. Burman had been shown exactly what happened and where by local saw miller Edmond Monk, who had himself been part of the search party and was personally informed by McIntyre only a few days before. People seen in the campsite photo were placed there by Burman to show Ned Kelly hiding behind a log with McIntyre to his left as Kennedy returned to the camp from the north. Kelly and McIntyre are therefore looking northward, which is towards the right side of the photo. This can only mean that the photographer was facing the west and south, in which direction a slope is seen rising behind the logs. Fords belief that the photos were taken looking in the opposite direction would mean that Burman placed the ‘actors’ in the wrong places and had them facing south instead of north and Kennedy approaching from the south and not the north. It makes no sense to imply as Ford does that Burman got it all so awfully wrong within just a few days of the event, especially in view of the fact that his informants were people who saw the bodies of the murdered police.
Ford claimed that a slope rising behind the Gatward hut site that he identified, supported his claim to have found the right place. However, this slope is north and east from the picnic ground, not south and west, so doesn’t match the Burman photo at all. The justification given by Ford for rejecting the sign-posted site, that it doesn’t match the Burman photo, is the same justification that should be used to reject the Picnic ground site nominated by Ford: it also doesn’t match the Burman photo.
i) Ford misinterpreted the Gatward map, believing the hut shown on it was the ‘ruined hut’ the Lawless team was looking for.There is no basis for that claim.
ii) Ford misinterpreted the crucial evidence of the Burman photographs, believing the photos were taken looking towards the north-east but they were taken looking to the west and south.
iii) Ford misinterpreted descriptions of the camp site, wrongly believed the ruined hut had been on an area of one to two acres of flat ground, and thereby failed to search many other possible sites, including the two sites previously identified by knowledgeable local historians. IN fact nobody ever said the hut was one to two acres flat ground.
iv) there was nothing in the excavated site that directly linked it to the ruined hut they were looking for.
v)the topography shown in the Burman photograph cannot be replicated at the picnic ground.
Archaeologist Adam Ford conceded in his report that his argument was entirely circumstantial. Never-the-less, in his view the various components of his argument when seen together were sufficiently ‘persuasive’ to justify his conclusion, that the remains he identified were in fact the remains of the hut at the police camp site, and therefore the place at which the police murders took place.
In fact, as shown here, the individual components of Fords argument collapse under careful scrutiny, and therefore his conclusion cannot be supported. He did not find the site of the police camp and the murders by the Kelly Gang. What he found was the site of a hut that was near SBC in 1874. That hut had nothing to do with the police camp.
PostScript: There was MUCH that Adam Ford got RIGHT in that first Episode of the Bushrangers Documentary and I will make a post about that very soon.