The Actual true Story of Ned Kelly : Part VI Stringybark Creek Police Murders

Immediately after the Fitzpatrick ‘incident’ Dan and Ned Kelly went into hiding in the Wombat Ranges, taking over an abandoned mining claim, reinforcing an existing hut to make it bullet proof and, as a visitor to the site noted some months later using all the trees around it for target practice. Bullets fired into them had obviously been dug out, melted down, and refashioned into new slugs that could be fired again and again. Clearly, they were not intending to hand themselves in or go quietly if police came looking for them. 



 

In addition to target practice, a variety of beet was cultivated that could be used to distil whisky, and they prospected for gold in a creek Kelly said in the Jerilderie letter was ‘very rich’. Much later Ned Kelly claimed all this activity was ‘the quietest means to procure a new trial for my mother’ (Nov 10th 1880 Condemned Cell Letter) but there is no evidence that any of this money or indeed the thousands of pounds stolen later in the Euroa and Jerilderie bank raids was ever used in that way. No application for a retrial was ever made. In fact, the money was all spent on the sympathiser support network, made up of family and friends who kept nothing even for Ned Kellys defence, let alone his mothers.

 

Inevitably, after posting a £100 reward for information, police learned that Dan and Ned Kelly were hiding out somewhere in the mountains, and so, on Friday October 25th 1878, a party of four Irish policemen headed north on horseback from Mansfield into the Wombat ranges. They were Sergeant Michael Kennedy, husband of Bridget and father of five, and Constables Thomas Lonigan, Michael Scanlan and Thomas McIntyre – and their mission was to arrest the Kelly brothers and bring them to justice. What happened was that within 48 hours three of them had been murdered by the Kelly Gang who were forever after on the run, no doubt well aware that if they were ever caught they would hang.

 

So what went wrong?

Ned Kelly claimed that the police came not to arrest but to murder him and that he killed in self-defence: “This cannot be called wilful murder for I was compelled to shoot them, or lie down and let them shoot me”.(JL)

 

There was no history within the Victorian police of extra-judicial killings, so one wonders why Ned Kelly would imagine that was what was planned – he was wanted on serious charges but none were capital offences. Nobody accepts that killing police was the only option open to him, even if he really did believe they were coming to kill him. He could have gone to Benalla and handed himself in, and probably received a sentence of six years like the others, but no lives would have been lost. In fact, his intentions were made clear by what had been happening at the Kelly campsite : fortifications and target practice reveal a readiness to stay and to shoot it out.

 

In support of the accusation that Police planned to murder him, the Kelly legend claims that the police left Mansfield in secret and in disguise, that they were heavily armed and took ‘body straps’, custom made long leather straps whose only purpose was to simplify the transport of corpses. In fact, none of these allegations withstands careful scrutiny.

 

When they left early that morning, police were not in disguise, they were simply wearing ordinary clothes. It was not unusual on country patrol to wear ordinary clothes rather than police uniform because costly repairs and replacement of their uniforms was something many police could ill afford. But was it a ‘secret’ mission? – only in the sense that its always been routine for police to avoid as far as possible telegraphing to suspects when and where they are going to be trying to locate them – there was nothing sinister about the early morning departure, or not being in uniform.

 

The popular ‘body straps’ theory originated with Ian Jones about fifty years ago, when he claimed to have seen a document recording the existence of these straps in 1934. He didn’t see them himself, and nobody else has ever mentioned them or claimed to have seen them, either before or after 1934. They were certainly never listed as being part of the search party’s kit, all of which, apart from guns and ammunition was said to have been destroyed by the Kelly gang when they set fire to everything after the police had been murdered. Effectively, Ian Jones has asserted as fact an improbable and unsupported piece of oral history, something which he once cautioned others against doing, saying that if all the old weapons that their owners claimed had once belonged to the Kelly Gang were put in a pile, it would be a pile “as big as those two projectors” (in the middle of the lecture theatre). Remarkably, in an overlooked comment made by Jones himself at the 1993 ‘Man and Myth’ Kelly Symposium, Jones said this :  “Theres no evidence that they actually ever took them”  As I’ve said many time before, claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.



 

The claim about the police being heavily armed was nowhere more graphically, nor more inaccurately illustrated than by Professor John McQuilton on the ABC ‘Outlawed’ documentary, (HERE) where at the 52 minute mark he stands beside a packhorse laden with six Martini-Henry rifles, describing them as ‘state of the art in modern weaponry’ and ‘a clear indication that the police meant business’. In fact, in addition to their usual standard issue revolvers the police took only two additional firearms. One was a shotgun – borrowed from the Mansfield Vicar – so they could kill game for food, and the other was a Spencer rifle, not a ‘state of the art’ Martini-Henry. A single additional rifle among four does not by any means render the police patrol ‘heavily armed’.

 

The police set up their camp beside Stringybark Creek, not realising the Kelly Camp was barely a mile away. If they had known, Scanlan and Kennedy probably wouldn’t have left McIntyre and Lonigan alone at the camp while they went on patrol the next day, and McIntyre certainly wouldn’t have been shooting at parrots, alerting the Kellys to their presence.

 

Realising a police search party was close by, and finding it at Stringybark Creek, Ned and Dan Kelly, along with Steve Hart and Joe Byrne, after weeks hiding out in the bush preparing for a fight and practicing their marksmanship decided to take the initiative. They armed themselves and returned to Stringybark Creek, later saying their intention was to bail up the police and take their horses and guns. When confronted and ordered to ‘Bail up’ McIntyre and Lonigan were standing on opposite sides of a fire, and McIntyre turned to see the advancing line of four armed men. Lonigan and the fire was now behind him. According to Ned Kelly, McIntyre surrendered immediately but Lonigan ran back a few steps and hid behind a ‘battery of logs’, then came up and was about to shoot at Kelly but Kelly fired first, hitting him in the head. That narrative became the basis for Kellys claim he had killed in self-defence. McIntyre described hearing Lonigan move just before he was shot, then looked back and saw him writhing on the ground for a few moments before he died.

 

Three days later Dr Samuel Reynolds performed a post mortem examination of Lonigan’s body and uncovered a mystery that has long baffled Kelly historians of all persuasions: McIntyre and Ned Kelly both reported that Lonigan was shot only once, but Reynolds found four bullet wounds. The one that went into his brain through the right eye was expected, but there was also a graze on the right temple, a wound in his left arm and another in the left thigh: “the one on the thigh travelled round the thigh under the skin and I extracted it” (ie the bullet) which he described as ‘an ordinary revolver bullet’.

 

Some said the extra wounds were inflicted much later, when in a gruesome bonding ritual never talked about, gang members all fired a shot into Lonigans corpse. Ian Jones believed the extra wounds were inflicted by Kennedy as he fired back at the gang as he ran for his life, missing the gang members but hitting Lonigan’s corpse three times as it lay in the grass. McIntyre wouldn’t have known about those events because they happened after he also had fled the scene. Others guessed that the thigh wound was self-inflicted, Lonigan shooting himself with his own revolver accidentally or involuntarily after being shot – but McIntyre saw Lonigan die and didn’t ever report such a thing happening. Neither did Kelly.

 

The key to understanding what happened to Lonigan is contained in an overlooked comment of Reynolds, made when questioned at Ned Kellys trial by his barrister, Mr Bindon. He said he did not think that the other wounds were inflicted after death, and that ‘if wounds were inflicted before circulation has actually ceased it would be impossible to state accurately whether they were before or after death’ . In other words, he is saying that its possible to tell if wounds were created before or after circulation had ‘actually ceased’, and in this case his opinion, based on the appearance of the wounds was that they were all inflicted before that had happened, in other words while Lonigan was alive. He had already said that the brain injury ‘must have caused death in a few seconds’.

 

The conundrum is therefore the presence of four wounds, all inflicted before death and yet two eyewitnesses reported that Lonigan died after being shot only once!  The solution is this : Ned Kelly didn’t fire a single bullet at Lonigan but a load of shot, or as later suggested by McIntyre, a ‘quartered bullet’ :

“The doctor had found in each body three other distinct bullet wounds. Judging from the appearance of several bullets in my possession which were taken from the bodies of the murdered men, Kelly had his rifle loaded with slugs, apparently made by cutting a spherical bullet into quarters”(A True Narrative of the Kelly Gang by T.N.McIntyre) 

 

A large rifle bullet cut into quarters, or projectiles made from the bullets the Kellys cut from their target trees, melted down and remade into new slugs could be mistaken for a revolver bullet, as Reynolds must have done. He was a doctor not a military expert. So there were no ritual shootings into Lonigan’s corpse or accidental firings of his own powerful police issue Webley – which, incidentally would have blasted an enormous hole in his thigh – and neither did wayward bullets from Kennedys revolver find Longans corpse on the ground three highly unlikely times. No, its very clear from all the good forensic work of Reynolds that Lonigan was killed with a single shot from Kellys rifle, a blast that was made of multiple slugs, three or four of which found their target.

 

The other startling implication of Reynolds findings and the realisation that Lonigan was hit with four bullets all at once, is that he couldn’t possibly have been hiding behind a battery of logs as Ned Kelly claimed, raising only his head to take aim. If that had been the case, Lonigan’s left leg would have been protected by the logs and no bullet could have entered his left thigh from the side and create the wound Reynolds described. Instead, in contrast to Kellys lies about Lonigan being behind a battery of logs, Lonigan could only have been out in the open, with his left side turned toward the Gang, perhaps stepping back, perhaps reaching for his gun when Kelly shot him almost instantly, as McIntyre said, well before he had a chance to get behind a battery of logs and well before he had time to draw his gun, let alone aim it at Kelly. Below is Bills excellent illustration of exactly what happened:

 

 

What a thorough analysis of Dr Samuel Reynolds careful recording of his post mortem findings reveals is that when Kelly claimed he shot Lonigan in self-defence he was lying. Again. Strangely enough though, out of the mixed-up chaos of emotion delusion and passion that swirled inside Kellys mind, a kind of admission did actually emerge in the Jerilderie Letter:

It is foolhardiness to disobey an outlaw as any policeman or other man who do not throw up their arms directly as I call on them knows the consequence which is a speedy dispatch to Kingdom Come”

That is actually what happened, in Kellys own words. Lonigan didnt instantly do  exactly what was ordered, Kelly panicked and shot him.

(Next time : Scanlan and Kennedys murder, McIntyres escape)

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16 Replies to “The Actual true Story of Ned Kelly : Part VI Stringybark Creek Police Murders”

  1. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

    How exactly did Ned stumble on the police’s location? Was it the tracks or McIntyre’s shots at the parrots? Both?

    McIntyre’s shot at several parrots on the morning of 26 October but Ned says he found tracks the day before on 25 October (the police arrived about 2pm on 25 Oct). Ned refers only to the tracks in both letters but the sound of shots seems a lot more likely. Perhaps Ned is ‘big noting’ himself (as usual).

    It also appears Ned was watching the police camp all day before finally making his move late in the afternoon at around 5pm. Creepy.

    Question remains, did McIntyre’s decision to shoot at the parrots make any difference to the fate of the police?

    Two side notes.

    1. Morrissey makes the point the Gang actually dressed up for the occasion – ‘larrikin battle dress’ – Ned had a red sash on and all wore chin straps under their noses Greta mob style – which McIntyre found odd and confusing.

    2. It’s interesting Ned refers to Joe and Steve only as his brother’s mates at the time of SBC – Steve I get – but Joe?

  2. Anonyrat's son says: Reply

    If you can find a copy of the CSI a SBC report you will be able to get more info as to how Ned found tracks which were obviously police horses (by the style of shoe used I think) a map also shows the route taken by the police and it was near the bogs that Ned came upon the police horses tracks.
    And that excellent illustration is not as excellent as it should be – three “bullet” trajectories only !! but the text about Reynolds says there were FOUR bullet wounds, assuming he means that one of these was the graze; two wounds – left arm and left thigh and skull/brain/eye making FOUR!
    Another almost right drawing by Bill needing to be corrected to be 100% correct.

  3. Bills drawing is fantastic. It illustrates clearly for the first time the only scenario that. makes sense of all the forensic facts that had bamboozled everyone for more than a century! No better example of the adage that ‘One picture is worth a thousand words’. There was doubt about the fourth wound and it was an inconsequential one so not put in.

    And maybe you can explain how the csi mob worked out that great looping track supposedly of Ned Kelly shown on their map. I am inclined to think Ned Kelly was trying to make an image of himself as a Tracker like the Aboriginal trackers he was so fearful – and maybe jealous – of, when he actually found the Police after hearing the gunshots.

  4. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

    Hi David,
    I’m sympathetic to your idea Ned was trying to compare himself to the trackers, there is one issue though.O’Connor and the six native trackers did not arrive in Benalla until 10 March 1879, after both the Cameron and Jerilderie letters were written. This makes me more sympathetic to the idea Ned found tracks which made him suspicious police were nearby and the shots at the parrots then pinpointed the police camp location.
    Also need to say, the notion the police we riding horses with clearly identifiable VicPol horseshoes also cuts against the idea the police were in disguise.

  5. Hi David, when you say that “Ned … was wanted on serious charges but none were capital offences. … He could have gone to Benalla and handed himself in, and probably received a sentence of six years like the others, but no lives would have been lost”, he had recently heard of the 6 year sentences that October but those were for aiding and abetting attempted murder of a constable. His charge would have been attempted murder, with a much heftier sentence. Plus, he said on several occasions that he would never go to gaol again – and he already had “3 years experience in Beechworth [and] Pentridges dungeons” (Jerilderie letter p. 12), which may have included some underground dark cell experience if he was uncooperative inside, hence the “dungeons” reference? Although I haven’t been able to confirm dark cell confinement through records. Records may exist, but if they do they have not been catalogued. But we know both Beechworth and Pentridge gaol had underground dark cells in his day, so that is a possible explanation of the term “dungeons”. Then again, he may have been in a wing at Pentridge with a row of underground cells or in a row of windowless cells (such as the demolished C division as I recall) which could explain that reference. Someone else might know more about it.

    1. Thanks Stuart, thats a fair point, the prospect that he would have received a longer sentence than the others. And its also interesting in light of that and those other quotes you mention, to speculate on what Ned Kellys state of mind was at the time. Given those statements and the intensity of the Gangs preparations for a shoot-out, the case would seem strong for his intent on going to confront the Police being to kill them if there was the slightest provocation, as he later stated in the Jerilderie Letter. …” a speedy dispatch to kingdom come”…

      1. We have to allow for McIntyre’s much quoted statement that he didn’t think the gang were initially out to kill him or the others. As Ned said, if they had wanted to do that they could have shot at least the first two police down on first approach without any warning. So outright murder from the start seems problematic; but we must also allow for Barry’s statement of the case in sentencing, that a party of armed men had no right to hold up or shoot at others, police or otherwise. McIntyre said he thought that while Ned (and possibly others, but not the gleefully murderous Daniel) may have wanted only their arms and horses, that Ned wouldn’t have been fussed either way if he killed them or not. Perhaps Ned had determined on a course of action that he would carry out whether or not he had to kill any or all of the police in the process. We also have to agree from the obvious that Kennedy was murdered in cold blood. He was chased a long way into the bush, murdered and his body looted in an act of piracy. Of all the murders, his was the most unforgivable as utterly wanton and unnecessary. There was no glorious shoot out. It was a matter of time – and not much time – until he ran out of ammo and the four pursuers got him. The endless discussions about Ned and the gang’s possible first intentions emerge as largely irrelevant given this savage and brutal ending of murder most foul. It was in the murder of Kennedy that the true character of the Kelly gang was revealed. That is why they were reviled in their day.

        1. ‘Murder Most Foul’ Bob Dylan’s latest record is about the assassination of JFK in Dallas. Like most Americans, Bob doesn’t think Oswald did it. Neither do I…

          David, I am not yet fully persuaded, despite your persuasive arguments, that Ned used a quartered bullet to kill Lonigan. I could not find evidence Ned used such bullets – although swan drops were a likely possibility instead. There is, I think a continuum problem. Continuum problems include early Westerns where the Indians are seen wearing wrist watches!

          Until Ned found that SBC contained cops he had no reason to make quartered bullets, and even then, why? His rifle was very accurate it is said.

          After Lonigan was killed, Ned wrote: I approached the camp and took possession of their revolvers and fowling piece, which I loaded with bullets instead of shot. [The Kelly Gang Unmasked, p.72]

          Ian MacFarlane

          1. Hello Ian, regarding Oswald for a minute, do you mean he didnt even fire the gun from the Book depository window, or do you mean he wasnt acting alone? Ive been to Dallas and went on a fantastic Tour of the JFK sites after walking around Dealey Plaza and standing on the grassy knoll! Ive never been persuaded. by any of the conspiracy theories ! ( well, so far!)

            Regarding Lonigans death, I am not sure if it was a quartered bullet that Ned Kelly fired, but I am convinced that what he fired was some version of shot, or slugs or whatever it took to fire multiple projectiles of some sort or another, rather than a single rifle bullet. A single bullet would have created a single wound – or possible a through and through injury of his left arm as well if the bullet that entered his brain had firstly gone through his arm, but certainly a single bullet couldn’t also have made the wound in the left thigh.

            The conundrum is that Reynolds said all injuries were sustained while he was still alive, only one shot was ever fired while Lonigan was alive, there were three or four wounds, the gun used was a rifle,but a bullet described as a revolver bullet was found in Lonigans left thigh! This is a terrific set of seemingly contradictory facts, and a fascinating mystery thats confounded many.

            These are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and I dont believe they can be fitted together in any other way than the way Ive described. This solution rests on an assumption that Reynolds description of the bullet as being a revolver bullet was wrong, but that is not an unreasonable possibility, whereas all the other explanations of Lonigans death and wounds require acceptance of a variety of much more unlikely and bizarre possibilities .

            Remember in the Capital Case file Barry records Reynolds claim about that bullet being ‘as of a revolver’ rather than definitively and unequivocally an actual revolver bullet.

  6. The mechanics of quartering a bullet would have required a saw. Not a five minute job.

    Against what I say: “Constable Lonigan’s Webley revolver, stolen at Stringybark Creek, was recovered coated in Ned Kelly’s blood after the Glenrowan siege. Lacking access to the manufactured bullets available to police, the gang, or Ned, had modified ammunition to fit it. These modifications were crude, with bullets having been carved by a knife to fit the chambers of the revolver” [The Kelly Gang Unmasked, p. 86]

    And: “Lonigan’s revolver and holster were later recovered at Glenrowan (as recounted in Chapter 4). The revolver had been struck by a bullet and damaged. More importantly, it had been loaded with the wrong ammunition, made to fit by a knife, and was probably dangerous or even unusable. At Stringybark Creek, however, it had been in serviceable condition, with the correct ammunition”. [KGU: p. 68]

    Ian MacFarlane

    1. To add to all this, McIntyre says on p. 36 of his memoir (A True Narrative of the Kelly gang of bushrangers, download from the Vic Police Museum), “Judging from the appearance of several bullets in my possession which were taken from the bodies of the murdered men, Kelly had his rifle loaded with slugs apparently made by cutting a spherical bullet into quarters.” This is just after he quotes at length about what bullets were where in the bodies, from Dr Reynold’s deposition at the Magisterial inquiry into the police deaths. So it does add weight to David’s argument for quartered bullets. There are several related problems about what happened, particularly the one about the bullet in Lonigan’s thigh where no powder burns were noted, suggesting against what some have proposed, that the wound was not from his own revolver.

      A bookthat I found by googling “quartered bullets” called “A Right to Bear Arms?: The Contested Role of History in Contemporary Debates” edited by Jennifer Tucker, Barton C. Hacker, and Margaret Vinning, 2019, in a page preview has the information in the attachment below. It does suggest that such bullets were manufactured rather than carved, and were rare in any case. And there is the problem that there seems no rationale for Kelly to carve a bullet that would spread in flight when he would more logically want to hit whatever he aimed at with as much accuracy as possible. Unless his old gun was not as accurate as he boasted? I don’t know if this is solvable… But maybe it will be eventually.

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  7. Another problem, that I think I mentioned over a year ago: the idea of a quartered bullet was that it expanded in the target’s body, creating a bigger and deadlier or more disabling wound. The idea does not appear to be that it separated in flight to the target, otherwise shot could be used rather than going to the trouble of creating a quartered bullet. McIntyre said he had in his possession several bullets taken from the murdered men that appeared to be slugs made from cutting a spherical bullet into quarters, that easily reads that Ned’s rifle was in fact loaded with slugs, i.e. shot, which of course would scatter slightly when fired; and that these slugs appeared to have been made by quartering a bullet.

    Put that way, there is no problem with the point that making the slugs by quartering a bullet might take some time, as they could be pre-prepared. It is compatible with the idea that Lonigan’s four wounds including the fatal eye wound might have resulted from the one rifle shot that McIntyre recorded. It allows for Lonigan being hit in several spots at the one time, in the same way that a charge of shot rather than a bullet would. Perhaps McIntyre’s precise observations allow us to solve this at last?

  8. At last? This is what I’ve been saying for a couple of years!

    It’s the only way all these facts can be fitted together, the only issue being the OPINION of Reynolds that he removed a revolver bullet from Longans thigh. I am not being in any way critical of Reynolds here but he mistook a slug of a certain size to be a revolver bullet. Easy to do I am sure.

    The reason this explanation won’t be adopted by the Kelly mob is that it exposes as a very big LIE Ned Kelly’s claim about killing in self defence. Yet another one! So instead to preserve their faith in Saint Ned they adopt the preposterous nonsense about those wounds that Ian Jones invented last century!

  9. Hi David, I think part of the source of confusion which as you said earlier has “confounded many” about Lonigan’s death is the loose wording and paraphrasing that recurs in a lot of discussion around the idea of quartered bullets. For example even in the above discussion you said, “Regarding Lonigans death, I am not sure if it was a quartered bullet that Ned Kelly fired, but I am convinced that what he fired was some version of shot, or slugs or whatever it took to fire multiple projectiles of some sort or another, rather than a single rifle bullet.” This type of wording over a year ago (by a number of people) got me interested in researching quartered bullets and finding no evidence that they could split before impact. Therefore I had good reason to doubt that a quartered bullet was used. Such a bullet would not produce the scattered wounds that killed Lonigan, but one large ugly wound. It is a language problem, not due to pedantry but to the use of a term for a specific type of ammunition.

    In fact we can definitively rule out that a quartered bullet in its military sense was used. A quartered bullet is not a bullet cut into quarters. It is a solid, intact bullet scored or part cut in a particular way so as to expand upon impact. What McIntyre reveals is that it was slugs “apparently made by cutting a spherical bullet into quarters”. This is a different kettle of fish, and one with which I can now agree, even if it has taken a couple of years to get my head around it – but I have not really focused on it till now. The same language issue comes up again when you mention in your lead article that “The solution is this : Ned Kelly didn’t fire a single bullet at Lonigan but a load of shot, or as later suggested by McIntyre, a ‘quartered bullet’.” Again, if we stop saying quartered bullets and insist on using McIntyre’s wording of a bullet cut into quarters, the terminology problem disappears.

    Thirdly, about the point that a bullet was found in Lonigans left thigh, that holds true if the bullet was a piece of a cut up rifle bullet. You said above that in the Capital Case file Reynolds said it was a bullet described as a revolver bullet, but first, in the Magisterial Inquiry he spoke only of bullets; he did not say a revolver bullets; and second, it is as you say reasonable to suspect that a recovered bullet made from a quartered large rifle bullet could well approximate the appearance of a smaller gauge revolver bullet. Perhaps Bill or someone with subject knowledge of C19 bullets might be able to comment on this. So pending any good argument to the contrary I have come around to accepting your case for how Lonigan was killed – one shot from a rifle loaded with slugs made from a rifle bullet cut into quarters. But that is not a quartered bullet, which is a noun for a specific type of ammo that left the rifle intact and expanded on impact. How’s that?

    1. Thanks Stuart I had not realised that “quartered bullet” was a technical term that described a bullet that had been cut in a certain way but was still an intact single projectile that would split apart on impact. Obviously as you point out this is not the same thing as cutting a bullet into quarters! A subtle but important distinction!

      If somebody can fit the facts together in a better way I would love to see it but I can’t think of a better way myself.

  10. Hi David, just out of curiosity I visited your old Death of the Kelly Legend blog the way it was before you transferred it over to this new blogsite back in late 2018, to see what visits it had. You had over 387,500 visits to that old site – wow, impressive; and over 37,000 on this new blog so far. That’s over 425,000 visits to your Kelly pages to date – congratulations on keeping interest in critical history bopping along.

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