So now we come to Ned Kellys most heinous crime, the killing of three innocent Policemen at Stringybark Creek. Had he been successful, Neds plans for Glenrowan would have involved even greater violence, and murder in far larger numbers, but thankfully his plans were thwarted, leaving the events at SBC the central and defining act of the Kelly Outbreak. There are some intriguing controversies within the SBC debate – the EXACT location of the Police encampment is one, and another is argument about how Lonigan had four bullet wounds when it was reported by Ned Kelly that he killed him with a single shot. Unsurprisingly the precise detail of what happened at SBC is confused because the two witnesses who spoke about it are the traumatized Policeman McIntyre, and Ned Kelly, a man who even Ian Jones admitted, told lies.
However there isn’t much in dispute about the basic facts of the incident. Ned and Dan Kelly were wanted for the attempted murder of Fitzpatrick. A party of four Policemen searching for them in the Wombat ranges was “Bailed up” at their camp beside Stringybark Creek by the Kellys with Steve Hart and Joe Byrne, in October 1878. The encounter ended with three Policemen dead, the fourth fleeing for his life and the four assailants escaping with the police horses and ransacked personal effects and equipment, to remain fugitives until the final Act of the Outbreak at Glenrowan in June 1880. I discussed the events at SBC in some detail HERE but there are still issues I want to return to.
The first of these is the claim by Kelly sympathisers that the Police Party intended not to capture but to kill Ned Kelly. Their “proofs” of this claim are allegations that the Police who went to SBC were in disguise, that they were heavily armed, and that they brought specially made leather straps for the transport of bodies. These three “proofs” are repeated ad nauseam throughout the Kelly literature and by self appointed Kelly experts whenever they pop up on their Forums on TV or in print – but lets be perfectly clear about it – these “proofs” are fabrications – the Police were NOT in disguise, they were NOT heavily armed and there were NO body straps. To précis the reasons I describe these claims as fabrications, understand that not being in Uniform is different from being “in disguise” – and it was unexceptional for Police to be out of uniform; understand that in addition to their regular equipment – a single revolver each– they had a total of TWO additional weapons – a shotgun and a rifle, both borrowed at the last minute, and hardly enough to start “a small war” as claimed preposterously by an NKF Member who poses as an expert on all things Kelly; and lastly Ian Jones story of body straps is a very late and unproven oral tradition backed by no evidence and no logic.
All that is left of this idea that the police were planning to kill them on sight is an allegation made by Ned Kelly, in the Jerilderie Letter, that certain Policemen had vowed they would kill Ned if they ever came across him, then say they had called on him to surrender first. Its never a good idea to uncritically believe anything said by Ned Kelly but Ian Jones says that these threats were confirmed by “police sources” though he doesn’t provide any additional detail. In any case, it is completely misleading for Kelly sympathisers to claim angry expressions like that were expressions of police Policy – they were not. This was perfectly illustrated much later on when Ned was brought down at Glenrowan by Sergeant Steele, who then, in an excitable state wanted to execute him on the spot. He was prevented from doing so by Constable Bracken who is reported to have said “ I’ll shoot any bloody man that dares touch him” So the idea that ‘the Police’ were planning to kill Kelly rather than capture him has nothing to support it. It’s a myth.
The next issue I wish to revisit is the Kelly sympathisers portrayal of the encounter at SBC as some sort of a fair fight that Ned won because of his superior marksmanship and his skill in battle. According to a self appointed Kelly expert on the NKF “The police had enough weaponry and ammunition to start a small war”. Firstly, as we have already seen this is simply wrong. The Police were armed with just one revolver each – their regulation equipment – plus a single additional rifle and a shotgun which they borrowed. Two extra guns, one a “fowling piece” between four is hardly heavily armed! Moreover, when Kelly later took possession of these guns, the shotgun was loaded with shot for killing game, not people – so Kelly somewhat ominously emptied out the “ shot” and replaced it with bullets. Secondly, when the Gang approached the Police camp only two of the Police were there and one, McIntyre was unarmed and making a cup of tea. The other, Lonigan, had a revolver secured in a leather pouch and was shot and killed almost immediately. When the other two Police returned their reaction to being ordered to surrender was to fight back, but being on horseback they were sitting ducks. Scanlan was killed almost immediately, whilst scrambling off his horse and trying unsuccessfully to get to the rifle slung across his back at the same time. Kennedy fought back as he fled into the bush, wounded, he was followed and eventually dispatched with a point blank shot to the chest.
By no means was this a “fair fight” – the Gang had the advantages of surprise, cover and numbers. The outcome was inevitable. It was a slaughter. Admiring Ned for coming out on top after this encounter would be like admiring an adult who bashed kids. Sickening.
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