The Actual True Story of Ned Kelly : Part VII – The murder of Scanlan and Kennedy at Stringybark Creek

As recounted in the previous post, the Kelly Gang of four armed men bailed up two policemen at their Camp beside Stringybark Creek, killed the one who was armed almost immediately – Lonigan – spared the life of the unarmed one – McIntyre – and then laid in wait for the other two policemen in the party to return.

 

Kelly later made contradictory claims in the Jerilderie Letter about why the Gang confronted the police. He wrote in one place that “If they (the police search party) came on us at our camp they would shoot us down like dogs” and later“I was compelled to shoot them or else lie down and let them shoot me”, comments which seems to imply that because he believed the police had come to try and kill him and his brother – which would have been illegal –  he decided to kill them pre-emptively and claim it was self-defence. There was no history of Victoria police ever having done what Ned Kelly suggested they would do to him, to deliberately and in cold blood murder suspects, and the evidence from the time provides not a single fact to support that idea. To me, this explanation of Kellys seems more like a retrospective attempt at creating a justification and a potential legal defence for what ended up happening, the shocking multiple murder of policemen.

 

In spite of those words of his, I don’t think Kelly planned to assassinate the policemen at Stringybark Creek, because as he said himself, he could have done so without confronting them : “We could have shot those two men without speaking but not wishing to take lives we waited” .  Elsewhere in the Jerilderie Letter Kelly wrote something which to me seems more likely to be the truth: “We thought it best to try and bail those up, take their firearms and ammunition and horses and (then) we could stand a chance with the rest.”

 

 

Bailing people up and robbing them was what Ned Kelly had observed the older and experienced highway robber Harry Power doing several years earlier when 14-year-old Kelly was his so-called ‘apprentice’. Harry Power made it look easy and Kelly no doubt thought he would be able to do it just as easily, that he would confront the police, teach them a lesson, take what he needed and send them on their way, disarmed, embarrassed and humiliated. Why else would the gang have dressed up in the Greta mob outfit of brightly coloured sash and hatbands under their noses, before heading out to confront the police?  They were planning to show off. But Ned Kelly was a failed apprentice. Given how things went at SBC its apparent that Kelly failed to learn important lessons that Harry could have taught him, skills Harry had no doubt learned along the way, such as being selective about who you confront, about the difference between a coach-load of travellers and a party of armed police, about being able to command instant obedience with your voice and never firing a shot!

 

As a result of Kellys foolhardy overconfidence coupled with his ignorance of the subtleties involved, he blundered headlong into a confrontation that he lost control of almost immediately. Within a few seconds an attempted robbery turned into murder and Kelly would have known immediately that not only had his plan failed disastrously, but if he was ever caught he would probably be hanged. He probably started working on his ‘self defence’ claim right then, knowing it might be his only hope of escaping the noose, should he ever get caught.

 

However, though a policeman was dead, none of the Gang had been injured and they had acquired all the police ammunition, two police revolvers, a shotgun, four horses and any other items of police equipment they wanted. By waiting for the other two policemen to return they must have decided that the opportunity to steal two more horses and three more firearms was worth the risk of having another disastrous confrontation and more deaths, maybe even their own. Ned Kelly hadn’t learned anything.

 

So, inevitably, when Scanlan and Kennedy made their way into the camp later that afternoon, once again Kelly lost control of the situation almost immediately, panicked again and started shooting again. McIntyre had been ordered by Kelly to approach Kennedy and Scanlon and persuade them to surrender, but McIntyres account is that before he had even opened his mouth, Kelly emerged from hiding and shouted “Bail up, hold up your hands”. Kennedy initially appeared to think it was a prank and put his hand on his revolver, whereupon Kelly fired, just as McIntyre was saying they were surrounded and had better surrender.

 

Once again there are major differences between the accounts given by McIntyre and by Ned Kelly in the Jerilderie letter of what happened. Kelly claims the Gang only fired in response to police firing first – Kennedy, according to Kelly leaped off his horse and fired from behind a tree, and Scanlon, his rifle still slung over his back “fired at me with the rifle without unslinging it and was in the act of firing again when I had to shoot him and he fell from his horse”

 

We know Kelly lied about how Lonigan was killed, so we have no reason to accept as honest his self-serving descriptions of how Scanlan and Kennedy were killed. This is what McIntyre remembered seeing when Scanlan was shot:  “He let go his hands before he had reached the ground to seize his rifle which was strapped over his shoulder; in doing so he fell and in his efforts to scramble to his feet and at the same time disentangle himself from his rifle he fell again and both his hands and knees were upon the ground when he was shot under the right arm. I saw a large spot of blood appear upon his coat…”

 

As McIntyre said of Kelly “He incurred no more danger in shooting Lonigan or Scanlan than he would have done in shooting two Kangaroos; he simply gave the men no chance to injure him, and might have shot them down without challenging them, as they scarcely had time to realise their danger until they were shot”

 

The death of Kennedy was the most horrifying and pitiless killing of them all: like McIntyre he attempted to escape, but unlike McIntyre who had a stroke of luck when Kennedys horse came to him and he grabbed it and took off, poor Kennedy was on foot, and his only defence was a six-shot revolver: a six-shot revolver, and possibly enough spares for one reload, against four heavily armed men, intent on killing him. Ned Kellys is the only written account of what happened but given the lies he told about Lonigan and Scanlans’ murders, there’s no reason to believe it to be anything other than more lies and another self-serving attempt to deflect blame away from himself. Kellys claim that he mistook a blood clot for a gun is laughable, and his crocodile tears about being forced to shoot Kennedy dead at point blank range are contemptible: if he hadn’t wanted to kill Kennedy why did he chase him half a mile or more into the bush, peppering the trees along the way with bullets that missed him? But by the time the Gang chased him down, Kennedy was wounded and unarmed – so brave Ned Kelly put the rifle against his chest and fired, executing him on the spot. One forensic opinion was that Kennedy was standing upright at that moment; if true, Kennedy was exhibiting heroic courage at the moment of his death, but it also means he was nowhere near terminally wounded as Kelly claimed: terminally wounded people are collapsed and barely alive, not standing upright. It also was not a killing in self-defence. Arguably, if he could have been taken to Mansfield, Kennedy might have survived long enough to see his wife and children again, and conceivably recovered completely. Kelly took no chances and ruthlessly made certain we will never know.

Much is made by the Kelly crowd of the fact that when Sergeant Kennedys decaying corpse was found after a three-day search, it was covered by his police cloak. Ned Kelly claimed he was the one who placed it there, and his followers claim it was done as a mark of respect – speculation which is undermined by the fact that Kelly then ransacked Kennedys body, taking his watch, his wedding ring, and his notebook which was later found back at the campsite with pages torn out of it. Kelly was reported later to have told hostages at Faithfuls Creek that the pages torn from Kennedys notebook had been used by Kennedy to compose a farewell note to his wife and family, and that Kelly was going to deliver it – but the note disappeared without trace. Such was the measure of Kellys ‘respect’ for the doomed policeman.

 

It’s common to read comments from Kelly supporters that what happened at Stringybark Creek was a fair fight, the police lost and they got what they deserved. Not one single fact supports that sickening allegation: four armed men surprising two, only one of whom was armed could be accurately described as a fair fight in no known universe, shooting dead a man who had fallen onto his hands and knees and who never fired a shot is not a fair fight in any known universe and neither is four heavily armed men chasing a single fleeing man with a six-shot revolver a fair fight in any known universe.

The horrible truth is that it wasn’t by any standard a fair fight – it was an unholy massacre by an out-of-control gang of four murderous thugs, who from that evening on, were known as the Kelly Gang. However, their fate was sealed: death by hanging if they were ever caught. For the rest of their lives they were on the run.

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18 Replies to “The Actual True Story of Ned Kelly : Part VII – The murder of Scanlan and Kennedy at Stringybark Creek”

  1. My understanding of the weapon Ned Kelly used to murder Sgt Kennedy was a shotgun, not a rifle. You are correct that every one of those policemen were murdered in a cold-blooded way.

  2. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

    Another good piece Dee!

    One small issue, I think you make it sound as though Ned executed Kennedy as soon as he found him. ‘But by the time the Gang chased him down, Kennedy was wounded and unarmed – so brave Ned Kelly put the rifle against his chest and fired, executing him on the spot.’

    In fact, the gang stayed with Kennedy for something like two hours in an effort to get information out of him. That’s a much bleaker and crueler scenario than the usually depicted immediate ‘mercy kill’. Also more support for the suggestion Kennedy was not as badly wounded as Ned said and possibly could have survived with medical attention (or lived long enough to say goodbye to his family).

    1. Thanks Thomas, I was aware as I wrote that sentence that it is not the accepted truth but we only have Ned Kellys word for it that he lived a couple of hours before being executed! I cant imagine he was standing up for two hours though.

      I once speculated that the reason the coat was thrown over Kennedy was because he was alive and they were going to leave him there alive, but then had second thoughts, pulled it back, shot him on the ground and threw it back over him again. Its possible – but of course we will never know. Whatever happened it was a sickening and inexcusable act of cold blooded murder…..

      And this is the man the north East are about to make the Centrepiece of their attempt to revitalise Tourism up there… I am not sure we should allow that to happen without some very loud protests. Its not the north-easts private history to tell travellers whatever lies about it they want, but all of Australias.

  3. The death of Kennedy is not known only from Ned Kelly’s self-serving ramblings, but also from a detailed description in chapter 11 (pages 50-54) of GW Hall’s 1879 book, “The Kelly Gang, or The Outlaws of the Wombat Ranges”. This is the first book (as opposed to some short pamphlets) written about the Kelly gang, while they were still on the run.

    This is the source of the hour and a half interrogation of Kennedy after the gang chased him some 30 chains (600 metres) into the bush before shooting the badly wounded man despite his pleas to live. Ned Kelly “placed the muzzle of the [shotgun] to the left of the victim’s left breast and fired the shot”. The Kellys [presumably meaning Ned and Dan] then turned out the dead man’s pockets while his corpse lay blasted apart, taking anything of value including his watch and the ring from his finger. The entire country was outraged by that barbarity.

    Hall’s book is available as a free PDF download from Bill’s site (this one includes Bill’s excellent facsimile of the original title page), and from Project Gutenberg which for some unknown reason didn’t include the front cover facsimile illustration. Here are the links:
    https://ironicon.com.au/gw-hall-the-kelly-gang-1879.htm
    http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks19/1900581p.pdf

    What are the north-east tourist people doing? I haven’t heard anything new for ages.

    1. Oops, Hall’s book says Kennedy was chased 22 chains, which is just over 600 metres. I typed 60 metres in my above comment. Big fingers, little phone buttons…

      1. I fixed it for you Stuart!

      2. Incidentally Stuart, that quote from Hall is another nail in the Kennedy Tree groups coffin. According to them, Kennedy was killed only 200 yards from the Police campsite, so if their tree is the right tree then their campsite is wrong its too close. On the other hand if their Campsite is right, the tree is wrong. Actually its quite clear to me after investigating their claims – which they are now no longer defending by the way – that the tree and the campsite are BOTH wrong!

        1. There is no reason to doubt the 1879 source document about the distance Kennedy was pursed and killed. Remember, people went there and retrieved his body.

          1. The problem is that different people gave different estimates of how far it was from the police campsite to where they found Kennedys body, and it varied from 400 yards at the minimum. The Kennedy tree groups claim is that the true distance was only 200 yards, half the minimum estimate made by people on the ground at the time, most of whom guessed it to be considerably more than 400 yards. You’ve got to be pretty sure of your facts if youre going to insist that your are right and everyone else is wrong by at least a factor of two.

  4. Nearly 30 years ago I was involved in a bank robbery. I was working in a large branch of the CBA in Sydney. 9 tellers. 50+ staff. Half of those staff saw the guy as he robbed every single teller. My personal sighting was brief. I was an examiner, I heard raised voices while I was on the phone. We had partitions for those staff who were back office staff so that customers would not feel frustrated that that person wasn’t serving customers. The person on the other end of the phone could hear shouting. I dismissed it as yet another customer complaint and rose to my feet to see where the commotion was. Walking towards me was a man in dark baseball cap and a shotgun. What else was he wearing? Not a clue! I turned to walk to an alarm point. Automatic pilot. I was told later that the gunman turned and saw me walking away. Unbeknown to me had told everyone not to move. My supervisor dragged me to the floor and told me to stay. Half a minute later he fired the shotgun through a plate-glass window and made his own exit.

    The next day we all talkied about our experience. Some saw a tall guy, some said he was short. Some say he had a blue hat, some said it was black. The gun had 2 barrels for some and one barrel for others. 25 staff all saw differing details. Include the 25+ customers and you would most likely get another 25 differing opinions.

    My point obviously is that the record of events from McIntyre and Ned Kelly were most likely inaccurate in various ways. From shock, or a mis-conception, or just plain wrong. From what I have read……and I apologise for the vagueness…..is that McIntyre changed certain elements of his version of events. He may have legitimately forgotten something when he was first asked to record the events and included it at a later date. He may have talked himself into believing something happened afterwards that didn’t. I can’t blame him! He was in an incredibly stressful situation. He may have felt guilt about being the only survivor. The same could be said for the four bushrangers.

    I’m not trying to justify anyone’s version of events or ridicule another’s. It just may not have happened the way we perceive it to have happened. David asked if it was a fair fight. I told him I would put forward my understanding of why I think it was. His assumption is, Lonigan was shot before going for his gun. 4 against one. Doesn’t sound fair. Ian Jones assumption is Lonigan was attempting to defend himself. 4 against 2. Still not fair. But you can hardly pause the fight and organise what and what isn’t fair before recommencing. Does fairness come into it? I don’t think that entered either Lonigan or Kelly’s minds before Lonigan was shot. Except maybe when Kelly was in the bush and able to work out that there were possibly only 2 officers at the camp. Possibly more in the tent. He may well have hoped they would surrender without incident. He was very wrong. Was it still a fair fight? All depends on how you perception. If each side engages is that not an agreement to terms? Trained police may think 2 against 4 is fair odds. The Kelly gang may feel that 4 against 2 was not. Later on at Glenrowan 4 men went up against bigger odds.

    At the end of the day, 3 policeman were killed. Indisputable. Unjustifiable. It was an horrific outcome. No disagreement there. Killed. Murdered. The result is the same. To argue over events that may or may not be the way they happened seems pointless to me. 25 years prior was the Eureka Stockade. Men fighting against the police for what they believed in. Was Ned Kelly not doing the same thing? Does that make him right or wrong? Were the gold miners wrong? Different times to how things are now. I know David will disagree with that comment but I think its true. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

    I’m fully aware I have not backed up my arguments with any factual information. (It’s more a long-winded query.) I have been open and honest when I have said most of what I have read is via Ian Jones. I am more than prepared to be proved incorrect. I just ask for proof. Not personal attacks. So far, I have been treated well here. I hope to continue the discussions. If I am treated with respect I will do the same. If I am proven wrong I will admit it. Sounds fair?

    Cheers,

    Neal

    1. Thanks for your comments Neal. You make many good points and I am still thinking about many of them. Your comments about what happened at the CBA and how different people remember different things and some are contradictory are excellent observations. They are examples of the challenge every historian faces in trying to work out and understand history, which is about things that happened in the past that usually none of us was there to see for ourselves. This I think is the puzzle which makes history a fascinating subject, and the reason many of us are intrigued by history – many facts and many possible ways to connect them all together.

      This same thought is sometimes expressed on Kelly pages by people who write “Opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one” by which I think they mean that all opinions are valid. Certainly as none of us was there at SBC in 1878 none of us can afford to be dogmatic about everythng, or about exactly what happened down to the tiniest detail, and its also true that we are all entitled to have an opinion and to defend it however we see fit. But its not true – and this is the mistake so many Kelly followers make, in my opinion anyway – its not true that that all opinions are EQUAL, or equally valid. Simple illustration : My opinion about how to skin a rabbit is informed by having seen it on you tube. Would you prefer my opinion or that of a hunter who has shot and skinned hundreds of them? Two opinions, both ‘valid’ but one based on better knowledge and experience than the other, so NOT actually EQUAL. A better description of opinions would be they are like brains – we all have one – but some are pretty useless!

      So when it comes to reconstructing history , its rational to be inclined to accept opinions based on greater knowledge and understanding than those based on less. But all we can do is reconstruct to the best of our ability what seems like the best explanation of what happened, and be prepared to change our view if more and better information comes along.

      Another commonly seen and related approach in the Kelly world is the statement that “well you weren’t there so you couldn’t possibly know”. This is true of all history learning. None of us was alive during the Kelly Outbreak or the Reign of Henry the Eighth – but people WERE there and they were our eyes and ears. So we find out what was said by observers at the time, as many as we can find and then use their accounts and other evidence from the time – such as autopsy findings, or weather records or official records and so on – and again do our best to reconstruct what took place.

      So back to the Kelly story and Stringybark Creek. My training is in science and medicine and I am a huge fan of the scientific method : it relies on the gathering of observations and the use of reason to construct and then test ideas about reality – and there has been no more powerful tool in the search for truth and knowledge than the scientific method, ever. Its also the way Historians approach their subjects, and the way I approach the kelly story. I like to focus on the problem, find the best answer to each puzzle and put it out there. It can then be tested and challenged and if its found wanting improved or chucked out and replaced with a better explanation. Its no help in my opinion to have a narrative that refuses to make claims, said it could be this or that maybe this or that, this but on the other hand that…no, I say make the best claim you can out of whats available and put it out there, test it in all conditions and see if floats!

      So in this Post the big question was Fair fight or not? Ive gathered all the evidence I can find, and in my opinion it says it wasn’t.

  5. Hi Neal, the problem is that Jones gave some credence to Kelly’s claim that SBC was a fair fight. This ignores extensive evidence that has been discussed by a lot of people on this blog that no such thing as a fair fight happened.
    First, a party of 4 armed men With rifles and a couple of revolvers strode from cover to ambush two men, one armed and one not. The one armed man (Lonigan) was shot and killed the arvo he began to run. No fair fight so far.
    When the second pair of police came back to the camp site, Scanlon was killed right after McIntyre said they should surrender, before he could undoing his rifle. No fair fight there,
    McIntyre saw the gang were now going to kill him (unarmed) and Kennedy, and fled on Kennedy’s horse when it came near him.
    Kennedy did dismount and may have got off a couple of revolver shots before being pursued and killed at the murderer’s leisure. No fair fight there.
    It all comes from Kelly’s boasting.

    As to the Eureka comparison of men fighting for what they believed in, how does that connect with the Kelly gang? I can’t see any connection at all.

  6. Thomas Whiteside says: Reply

    I think the point Neil is making is both involved violence against police / soldiers in the name of ‘the cause’.
    However, the differences here are also fairly stark.
    1. The diggers at Eureka had a fair degree of political sophistication (Lalor went on to serve in parliament, J.B. Humffray was an active Chartist , Carboni was an Italian nationalist etc – although admittedly neither of the latter two were in the stockade).
    2. The diggers’ cause itself was viewed by a great many as ‘just’ (against the license which was designed to control the shortage of labour in the cities which had resulted due to the gold rush, and also the brutality and corruption of its enforcers).
    3. The diggers’ cause also began peacefully, initially, with the Ballarat Reform League.
    4. The battle of Eureka was instigated by a raid of troopers / soldiers not the diggers themselves and also followed a high profile murder trial (though admittedly the diggers also burnt down the hotel and took up arms – but still different ‘look’).
    5. Despite taking up arms in the stockade, the leaders were not found guilty of treason and do not seem to have harboured any real hatred towards Britain or were for the most part not even republicans (the Union Jack was reportedly also flown with the Eureka Cross) (Lalor wasn’t even a democrat).
    6. Post the Stockage and Treason trial, the Diggers pursued their agenda via the parliament and essentially won the argument.

    Ned on the other hand, as Dawson argues well, was not driven by such high minded ideas (unless homicidal hatred of police counts as political conviction).

    1. https://www.abebooks.com/book-search/isbn/0730660117/

      Alf thinks it went to a fifth or sixth Ed.

      Horrie and Alf

      1. That book was prone to split in half because of faulty binding. The quick fix is to get a binder and pop the book in there. Otherwise be careful opening it.

        By far the best Eureka book ever.

        Jamie

  7. As one of the Kelly descendants (Griffiths) said and is quoted in Leo Kennedy‘s book, Ned “didn’t have a political bone in his body”.

    Nor was anything remotely political claimed for him or any of the gang in Kenneally’s 1929 Inner History. The politics myth was started by Max Brown in his 1948 book and pursued to idiotic proportions by Jones from 1967 onwards with much twisting, distortion and omission of any evidence to the contrary.

  8. Replying to David at 5:38pm on 25 May – it won’t allow any more follow on replies there, so I am down here.
    Re the distance from camp that Kennedy’s body was found, I am most inclined to go with Hall’s 22 chains. While various distances have been said, you said that all of them are more than 400 yards. I assume the distances are from various reports of the time. Unless McIntyre gave a distance otherwise, Hall is likely most reliable as not only was he around at the time but he went to considerable trouble to write an objective account that would be seen as such. A chain was a standard unit of measure, universally known and easy to both estimate and check. 22 chains is a definitely stated distance that could readily be corroborated by those who knew the area and where the body was found both in October and subsequently. Hall published in early Feb, not long after the event and had followed the story closely with sources on all sides – Kelly associates, police, officials and civilians.
    22 chains is 484 yards (google) so that is in line with what you were saying about the distances given at the time all being upwards of 400 yards. Any modern writers claiming a much lesser distance than the sources from back in the day are wrong.

  9. McIntyre said: “Const Scanlan was carrying the breech loading rifle, but before they could use them Const Scanlan received a ball under the right arm which I feel assured has caused his death, Sergeant Kennedy I am unable to say anything about, he was advised by me to surrender, he said it is all right I will, but as the desperadoes continued shooting at the Sergeant and me, I seized his horse which he had abandoned and made my escape upon it I was fired at repeatedly and I believe the horse must have been wounded as he knocked up after two or three miles”.

    The Kelly Gang Unmasked, p.70

    Cam West

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