Was the site of the Police Murders at Stringybark Creek beside the picnic ground? An analysis of Adam Ford and the Lawless Documentary claim that it was.

The news this week of the discovery of  the ‘Kennedy tree’ and the exact place where the Kelly Gang murdered three policemen in 1878  came out of the blue but has excited a lot of interest within the Kelly world. Its further proof of what Ive been saying for a long while now, that interest in the Kelly story has moved beyond the stupid unsustainable Kelly fairy stories and the absurd unhistorical myths that have bedazzled the Australian public for long enough. Instead, as the myths and the crazed conspiracy theories promoting Kelly idolatry have been successively demolished over the last seven years, people are starting to realise that the actual history and the facts and the truth of the story are at least as rich and interesting as the fantasies, and there is still much to learn.

The debates about exactly where the police camped at Stringybark creek, and where those three good policemen were murdered by the Kelly gang is a case in point. It’s a somewhat esoteric but hotly contested corner of the Kelly story, but it has interested a few of us for quite a while, and  now with this most recent claim a total of five seperate places along a short stretch of Stringybark Creek have been  nominated as the exact place of the camp and the murders. The first claim was made by Ian Jones in 1993, and he wrote at the time that he had ‘absolutely no doubt’  and it was ‘unarguable’ that he had found the campsite. Well, 26 years later EVERYONE agrees he was wrong :  this should be a cautionary tale for the Kelly sympathisers who are over-reacting to this latest claim, given that its the fifth. Somewhat coincidentally, just before the Kennedy Tree claim emerged, I had just finished writing a two part critique of what until that moment had been the most recent claim to have identified the site, a claim made on the History channel by Adam Ford a well-known TV celebrity archaeologist. He claimed that the campsite was on he other side of the creek from Ian Jones site, right beside the picnic ground.Prior to his claim, two other sites had been proposed in addition to the one proposed by Ian Jones – the so-called CSI teams site, and the Two huts site located by Bill Denheld. My analysis of those two sites was presented on this Blog some time ago and, as I wrote at the time I believe Bill is right. I still do – to date his site is the best fit for all the available confusing and sometimes conflicting evidence.

I won’t be able to comment on the Kennedy Tree report until I have read it because it hasn’t yet been released for public inspection. All we know is that a Report has been written, so the somewhat hyperbolic reaction of many in the Kelly sympathiser community to this announcement makes no sense. What needs to happen is for the Report to be made available for careful scrutiny and analysis – and then we might be able to decide whether or not the claims stack up. I’ve called on the Reports authors to make it available to the general public immediately. This would enhance their claim to be committed to openness and transparency, and also make their planned public meeting on the topic much more useful, as the participants will  not arrive ignorant but having had time to digest the report will arrive informed and  better able to intelligently contribute to the discussion. 

 

What follows is the first part of my Critique of Adam Fords claim. This post will leave readers better informed about the topic in general and hopefully will make it easier to follow the arguments in the Kennedy Tree report when it eventually becomes available.

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Adam Fords claim to have identified the site of the Police Camp at SBC:

In the 2018 History Channel documentary series ‘Lawless : the real Bushrangers’ professional archaeologist and TV celebrity star of  the ABC TV series “Who’s been sleeping in my house” Dr Adam Ford, claimed to have resolved the controversy about exactly where the Kelly Gang murdered three policemen at Stringybark Creek. Until then, Bill Denhelds  ‘two huts’ site was the front runner, though the so called ‘CSI team’ disagreed and nominated another place a bit further north. However Ford claimed to have identified a third previously unrecognised site, even further north along Stringybark Creek and he announced this:

“We can now assert for the first time ever that this location HERE is the site the shootout and the killing of the police on 26th October 1878”  

He was pointing to an area close to the public picnic ground beside Stringybark Creek. Ford said he didn’t investigate the claims of the CSI team or Bill Denheld because of their failure to agree, so instead he made his own assessment  of the primary sources, as well as conducting a survey and a limited archaeological dig. My 2018 review of the Documentary is HERE

This post is the First part of my review of  the Report Adam Ford finally submitted to  Heritage Victoria earlier this year.  In it, he attempts to back up the claim he made on TV to have identified the site of the police murders.

 

PART ONE: Overview of the Lawless Documentary and the Report

In the first part of the TV series “Lawless: The Real Bushrangers”hosted by Mike Munro, archaeologist Adam Ford said that the signposts pointing to the place where the Kelly gang murdered three police at Stringybark creek in 1878 are in the wrong place. This was the site that many years earlier had been identified  by the great Ian Jones, who said that it was ‘unquestionably’ the site of the police murders, but everyone agreed long ago that Jones site wasn’t the right place at all, for the reasons Ford correctly pointed out. Ford based his claim on the evidence from photos of the murder site taken at the time of the murders, and from a map drawn 6 years later. Ford said the place signposted doesn’t in any way resemble the landscape shown in the photographs, and according to an 1885 map of the area, the burned hut seen in the photos was on the opposite side of the creek.  Ford went on to claim that as a result of his teams search on the opposite side of the creek, they identified the true site of the murders, in close proximity to where there is now a public picnic ground.

The detail of the Lawless teams’ investigation at Stringybark creek is contained in a report Ford submitted to Heritage Victoria in February 2019, in fulfilment of a condition imposed when permission was given to conduct a limited archaeological excavation in the area.  (If you want a copy of this report email Heritage Victoria  c/o  Jeremy.Smith@delwp.vic.gov.au )  To assist the investigation, they had the 1885 map, the photos from 1878, two diagrams drawn by Sergeant McIntyre the sole survivor of the attack, and the accounts given at the time by McIntyre and Ned Kelly.

The team conducted a search along Stringybark Creek using sophisticated laser technology and believe they found an area whose topographical features matched what was seen in the photos and what was described by Constable McIntyre. This area was then searched for remains of the hut shown on the 1885 map, which had been drawn up by a surveyor named Gatward. Ford was convinced that the hut shown on the map (shown above) was the hut whose ruins could be seen in the photographs. He wrote:

“The search for the hut was a primary aim of the investigation because if remnants of the hut could be found its location would be a physical reference point around which McIntyre’s sketch map could be marked out on the ground. Without the hut this would not be possible” (p21)

In the documentary, Ford was asked how he thought he would be able to find the police campsite when nobody else had been able to, and he answered by saying “I’m going to use a new piece of technology that uses laser to survey the whole landscape”. He explained that this new ‘LIDAR’ scanning technology was being used to look for a “one to two-acre flat clearing that’s described by McIntyre and Kelly where this police camp was”. Later, looking at the imagery supplied by the LIDAR he said they had found it: “…this area is the largest area of flattish ground along the whole creek line, this is my candidate site”.

Next, when he superimposed the Gatward map on the 3D imagery, the hut drawn on the map appeared to be very close to the flat area revealed by the LIDAR: “The position of the hut on Gatwards survey aligns with the southern margin of the level ground defined by the LiDAR survey”(p55). There seemed to be a match between the large flat area and the hut drawn on the map. In the Report, he wrote that “…the clearing to the north of the hut was the only landform that matched McIntyre’s description on Stringybark Creek”.(p76)

The next task‘was to carry out field surveys of the target area with the aim of finding any evidence of a hut.’ (p52)

The Report says that this search was a “traditional field walking survey (with archaeologists walking the landscape and scrutinising the surface)”(p24) and, remarkably it only took ‘a few minutes’(p56) to find possible ruins of a hut, in the form of a pile of rocks. In fact, this site was already well known to local amateur historians, and members of the CSI team pointed it out to Adam Fords team, which is why it only took a few minutes to find. You would never have guessed this from the hype and the fake drama displayed in the documentary!

After closer inspection, it was decided that the pile of rocks could be the remains of a collapsed chimney and a rectangular hearth made of dressed granite and mudstone rocks, indicating there could have once been a hut there. The presence of charcoal at the site was thought to be consistent with, but not unequivocal evidence of the hut having been burned down, but charcoal would be expected in relation to a hearth, and bush fires were common. In addition to the dressed rocks from the chimney and hearth, fragments of glass, ceramics, wire and nails were also found nearby, and it was thought ‘their style and design and the nature of the nails are consistent with a mid to late 19thcentury occupation’.  Metal detection in the adjacent surrounding area found nothing connecting it to the police camp, though it was regarded as unlikely that anything would be, given the very brief nature of the police occupancy of the site.

Ford concluded that ‘the hut identified during the archaeological investigation is the remains of the hut described by McIntyre and Kelly, and that the police camp, the location of the attack and locations where Lonigan and Scanlon died corresponds to the southern half of the clearing that is currently the picnic area’ 

 

PART TWO: Critique of the Documentary and Report

Fords team believed it had identified the site of a hut on the western side of Stringybark Creek, and artefacts found in association with it suggested a mid to late 19thcentury date for the site. However, as Ford himself acknowledged no archaeological evidence found at the site positively linked it to the ‘ruined hut’ described by McIntyre and seen in the Burman photos. A search of the area nearby, where the police camp itself ought to have been, also revealed nothing that directly linked it to the police camp or the ruined hut.

This result was anticipated by Ford who noted that “…miners camped all along the creek valley and the archaeological evidence of their camps is likely to be very similar and therefore indistinguishable from that of the police camp and even the gun fight” (p21)

What this means, is that if the police camp site and the numerous miners camp sites ‘all along the creek’ are indistinguishable, merely finding a camp site is not sufficient. Some other corroborating evidence is needed.

Ford attempts to overcome this problem in two ways – firstly by claiming that the hut site he excavated was at the location of the hut drawn on the 1885 map, a hut which he claimed is identified on the map as the hut at the police camp site. The second item of support is Fords belief, as shown by the LiDAR survey, that the excavated hut is located on the only place that matches the topography seen in the contemporary photographs and described by McIntyre. In fact, both of these arguments fail.

My next post will explain where Adam Ford got it all wrong.

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5 Replies to “Was the site of the Police Murders at Stringybark Creek beside the picnic ground? An analysis of Adam Ford and the Lawless Documentary claim that it was.”

  1. Bill’s is THE correct site. It’s the only place where you can see an identical rise in the background to the one shown in Burman’s photos. What part of the word identical don’t Bill’s dumb detractors (people who disparage someone or something) get?

    Cam West

  2. Oh dear! It sounds like a gruesome pastiche of nonsense!

    Saturday, 14 December 2019 from 10:00-13:00
    Greta Hansonville Hall Greta
    Hosted by The Kennedy Tree Report

    This research has come from a completely fresh perspective with fresh eyes analysing and collecting new data that has not been presented before. Our sites are new sites that contain trees that we have found that can be seen in the Burman photos. To comprehend our findings one needs to completely forget all previous assumptions. Part of our research was to start the research from scratch. We believe there are some key assumptions made about the Burman photo that has proven incorrect. We do not seek to undermine previous research but we want to make the point that these findings are new, from our own perspective, and our findings do not rely on research carried out by others. We look forward to going through our findings in detail, in person on Dec 14th.

    Amateur Historians believe that they have discovered the true site of both The Kennedy Tree and the Police Camp Site.

    ____________________

    A Fresh perspective from fresh eyes!

    OMG! More amateur guesswork!

    G R O A N !

    Cam West

  3. You are totally wrong in what you have said Cam. Bill deserves a lot of credit in the work he has done and I will never criticise his work. I was actually one of the first to agree with him but simply don’t now. To say there is no slope showing in the background at any other location is wrong Cam. The slope is shown clearly in the Lawless video. It is at the current Kelly tree site, the CSI site,Bills location and the Lawless picnic area to the east of it. I have taken many photos of all these locations and Ian Jones east bank as well.Bill of course has many more than me.
    I cannot comment on north of the picnic area at all because I have never investigated there at all not once. Others have but I haven’t.
    The new team just like everyone previously has done have put a lot of work into their work.I don’t believe you should be ridiculing it even before it has been even presented.
    I am sure Leo Kennedy and his family don’t go out of their way to ridicule anyone’s work at all as has been the case many times.Leo I know is appreciative of everyone’s involvement.
    Everybody is entitled to an opinion on this matter but the criticism of anyone else’s work is certainly not.
    I Cam congratulate everyone that has been involved in this search and won’t be belittling anyone’s work.

  4. Bob, thanks for continuing to support my Blog. I should tell you though, that the critical issue about taking a photo that shows a slope, is not just that you can show a slope somewhere at the site, but that you can show a slope with the camera pointing in the same direction as Burmans camera was when he took his photo. The CSI group and the Lawless group all believe the camera was pointing to the northeast, which is wrong, as Bill has clearly shown, as I have argued on this Blog and as the Kennedy Tree group have also argued. The camera was pointed toward the southwest. The CSI and the Lawless groups ‘slope’ is therefore completely in the wrong place, thier camera is pointing in the wrong direction, to the northeast, so those two places can be ruled out for the same reason as Jones site was ruled out – you cannot replicate the Burman photo there. It remains to be seen if the Kennedy tree site can replicate that photo and demonstrate an equally steep slope immediately behind where the logs and the tent would have been, but if they cant show it, then their site also cannot be the right place. I cant see such a slop-e in the one photo so far released, but its a poor quality copy from a newspaper, so I withheld my judgement for now. But that only leaves Bills place, the Two Huts site, which you would be well advised to return to supporting. Its the only place where ALL the various components and clues fit together sensibly.

    if the Kennedy Report, when its eventually released, can demonstrate such a slope then we will need to have a closer look at other aspects of their claims, such as if its near a spring – which could be the Creek, of course – such as if there is evidence of a hut there, but without a slope to the southwest, its a nonstarter for me.

  5. Hi Bob,

    As you would know SBC is a hilly spot, and wherever you take a photo there is likely to be a rise somewhere in it. I used the word identical which is a bit of a stretch – but you get the idea.

    When I attended a Bill presentation there, he held up the Burman photo and in the background was the very same rise as in the photo.

    Cam West

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