|The Four Police killed by the Clarke Gang in 1867|
“Towards evening on 8th January 1867 Special Constable Carroll and his men set out on foot from Jinden, in the midst of the Jingeras, south of Braidwood, intending to visit the house of a man named McGuinness, whom they suspected of harbouring the Clarkes. The property was 6 kilometres from the hamlet, the last kilometre of the road passing through thick scrub.
At around 8.30 pm the residents in the McGuinness house heard shots coming from the vicinity of the scrub. Some time later other shots were heard. Nobody thought to leave the house to investigate.
The following morning, stockmen found the bodies of special constables Phegan and McDonnell lying on the road. Both had suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Three revolvers lay near Phegan’s body. A kilometre away, the bodies of Carroll and Kennagh were found by a police patrol from Ballalaba. Carroll had been shot in the head and through the heart. He was lying on his back with a neatly folded handkerchief and a pound note pinned to his chest. Kennagh had been shot in the throat. None of the men were robbed of their valuables.
It was thought that all four men were ambushed in the scrub – Phegan and McDonnell being hit and falling almost immediately. Carroll and Kennagh managed to run but were forced to surrender. They were then executed. Powder burns on Carroll’s face suggested he was shot at close range”
This is an extract from “Bushrangers : Australia’s greatest self made heroes” by Evan McHugh, published in 2011 by Penguin Books. It describes the worst single act of police murder in Australian history, the killing of four police in 1867.
Ive posted it here for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it horrified me. The thought of those four police walking into that trap and being slaughtered, executed like criminals by the Clarke Gang is almost unimaginable, it turned my stomach. Then I wondered why it is that I don’t have the same reaction to an almost identical horror – the killing of three police at Stringybark Creek by the Kelly Gang. I’ve concluded that in all our discussions about SBC, about exactly where it took place, who told lies about what happened, how there could be four wounds from one shot, what the police motivations were, what the Gang really intended when they went there, why Kennedy was hunted down, and so on – all those deliberations have caused me at least, and I think many Kelly apologists as well to lose sight of the horror that SBC actually was. These merciless killings were undertaken by a gang of delinquent youths – Kelly and Byrne were 23 and 22, Hart was 19 and Dan Kelly 17 – and their victims were adult men in their 30’s, two married with children to support. Kennedy was hunted down and executed. Lonigan and Scanlon were shot the moment they attempted to resist. It was an appalling inexcusable slaughter, and there simply cannot be any excuse for it, though of course, many have been made. The self defence excuse has been thoroughly debunked, another nail going into that coffin as recently as the Lawless TV miniseries last year. The description of these murders by apologists as a ‘shoot out’ or as ‘a fair fight’ is a blatant falsification. This outrage, by itself ought to have long ago ended any idle chatter about Ned Kelly being any sort of hero.
What happened I think was that the inexperienced Ned Kelly, feeling tough because he had a gun in his hands , full of bravado and rash thoughtless youthful anger and police hate, imagined he could do what he had seen his former teacher Harry Power do : disarm people, take what he wanted and disappear. Harry Power, much older and much wiser knew how to threaten with a gun but not be forced to use it; that was the subtle skill and critical lesson Ned Kelly never learned. Powers victims were ordinary citizens on the road – Ned Kelly took on armed police! They were out there specifically charged with the task of bringing him in, a completely different prospect to travellers just wanting to stay alive. Kelly obviously never thought about that – what a fool! And so seemingly without hesitation he blundered into the police camp, never having properly thought out what possible responses there might be and how he might react, and from the very first minute it all went disastrously wrong. Three good men dead and the Gang on the run.
The other reason I posted this description was as a reminder that the Kelly Outbreak didn’t happen in a vacuum. There was a considerable history of bushranging in the Colonies, and when men joined the police they would have known these stories of police murder, and of the other atrocities committed by bushrangers against them. It made me realise again that many police, indeed I am sure the majority of them even then, as today were decent brave people, very far from deserving of the disgraceful abuse they get still from people who admire Ned Kelly. I really couldn’t care what people believe about Ned Kelly but what I really find offensive is when they use that belief as some sort of excuse for police hate.
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