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)