The Burman photos of the “Kennedy Tree” are not the only sources of clues to finding the place where the Kelly gang murdered Sergeant Michael Kennedy. There are also reports made at the time describing what happened, and most of them contain information that directly contradicts the central claim made by the KTG that the tree where Kennedy was murdered was on the western side of Stringybark Creek, and that it was only 200 yards from the police camp. A number of reports from the time suggest that Kennedy was found much further away, and on the eastern side, and therefore if it survives to this day, the “Kennedy Tree” should be found on the eastern side of the creek.
The earliest of these reports was from the head of the search party, Sub Inspector Henry Pewtress, sent to the Police commissioner (Standish) on the very same day that Kennedys body was found, Thursday 31st October:
To the Chief Commissioner of Police :
- “Since my report to you on Monday night, I organised a party of eleven volunteers and six constables. Started on Tuesday morning for Stringybark Creek and searched for Kennedy until dusk without success. We returned to Mansfield at Midnight. I got together another party of sixteen volunteers yesterday afternoon and with five constables proceeded to Monks hut. Stopped there at night and started for Stringybark Creek this morning at daybreak. We arrived there at half past seven am and immediately renewed the search. At 8am the body of Kennedy was found about half a mile north east of the camp by one of the volunteers named Henry Sparrow an overseer at Mount Battery Station.”
This report immediately raises some serious questions for the KTG. Has anyone wondered why it took more than two days for sixteen searchers to find Kennedy, if, as the KTG claim, his body was only 200 yards from the camp, and right beside the bridle track and a tree with a large ‘blaze’ cut into it? This doesn’t make sense. But of greater significance, the report supplied by an eye-witness on the very same day that the body was found, an eye-witness who was also the man in charge of the search party, says clearly that Kennedy was found to the north-east, and half a mile from the camp, which is in a different direction and more than four times further away than what the KTG claim.
The next day, November 1st, the man who found Kennedys body, Henry Sparrow swore a deposition, one of 24 that were taken at Mansfield (VPRS 4969 Unit 1 Item 24):
“…..We then proceeded in a north westerly direction from the camp. At about a quarter of a mile from the camp I discovered the body of Sergeant Kennedy, he was dead and lying on his back with a police cloak spread over his head and body…He was lying with his head towards a tree about six yards off. The tree was between deceased and the camp….,”
The very next deposition, all of which were sworn at Mansfield and recorded on lined blue paper is from Mounted Constable Thomas Orr. Here is the relevant part of Orrs actual deposition:
“On arriving at the camp the party scattered about to search in a north easterly westerly direction for the body of Sargent Kennedy. After proceeding about a quarter of a mile I heard the last witness call out. I then went to him and found he had discovered the body of a man…”
Pewtress mentions north-east but now Sparrow and Orr mention north-west – is this a contradiction? In their Report about Orrs deposition, the KTG ignore the fact that Orr estimated Kennedy had covered at least twice the distance that the KTG assert he ran, but they correctly note that the word ‘easterly’ has been crossed out and replaced with ‘westerly’. However, as this quote from the KTGs own report makes clear, the KTG case is based on a serious misrepresentation of what Orr wrote:
“A report completed by Mounted Constable Orr initially refers to finding the body towards the east however for reasons unknown the report was changed to the west. The word ‘easterly’ has been crossed out and replaced with westerly” (KTG Report :‘Kennedy Tree – Stringybark Creek’ p4)
The critical difference which the KTG didn’t notice, and which means these three depositions are all perfectly consistent with each other, is that Sparrow and Orr are talking about the direction that that the search party headed off in – north west – whereas Pewtress is talking about the direction in which Kennedys body was found – north east. The KTG Report is completely misleading on this point, and the only way anyone would know this is by going back to the original documents, which is what I have done. Orr did NOT refer to finding the body towards the west (after crossing out easterly) – what he referred to was the direction in which the party ‘scattered about’ at the commencement of their search.
Taken together these depositions, given almost immediately after the events are powerful evidence as to the location of Kennedys body and they provide a believable explanation of why it took so long to find it : Kennedy managed to get quite a long way from the camp and it was to the north east and not the northwest which is where the searches had been concentrated.
There is a fascinating account written by James Tonkin, a member of the search party, in which he describes the frustration the entire party was experiencing on the last morning of the search, at having been unable to find Kennedy after two days searching the northwest:
“Then we had a discussion as to the way we all should go. I described to them what I thought would be a more likely direction in which Kennedy would go pointing to a clump of timber in the direction of Mansfield. This I considered was the most probable as if he had gone in any other direction he would have been more under fire. However there were several others who thought we should take another route and after a lot of argument it was put to a vote and by a majority of two the direction I had indicated was decided upon. We started off (24 of us altogether) at about 50 yards apart…….we had not gone 30 chains(about 660 yards) when a young man named Sparrow sang out “Here is something; here it is” (Benalla Standard July 5th 1907)
There are at least two other reports that undermine the KTG claim about where Kennedys body was found. The first is from Constable Thomas McIntyre, the only policeman to survive the Kelly gangs attack. He also was with the search party and as even the KTG say in their report, he wrote that the bodies of Scanlan and Kennedy were on opposite sides of Stringybark Creek – so this must mean police camp on the west bank, and Kennedy on the east.
This view was also held by Thomas Kenneally, who wrote in “The Inner History of the Kelly Gang” (p55) :
“By this time, Kennedy having crossed the creek, had contrived to place some distance between himself and Kelly, but in running he dropped his revolver and was turning to surrender when Kelly, unaware of his intention fired again. The charge entered his chest and he fell mortally wounded”
Ian Jones, accepting Kenneallys description, also believed that Scanlan and Kennedys bodies were on opposite sides of the creek. However, Jones believed the Campsite was on the east side of the creek and therefore after fleeing across the creek, Kennedys body would have to have been found on the western side:
“The delay meant that Kennedy had made good distance ahead of him. Now the sergeant could afford to move more slowly and quietly. If Ned hurried through the bush, he advertised his approach. Moving from tree to tree, over the creek, and across the low ridge to the north-west, it must have struck Ned that Kennedy was heading for the hut on Bullock Creek” (Ned Kelly A Short Life p 169)
However, now that everyone agrees that Jones was wrong about where the campsite was and that it was most definitely on the western side, it follows that in fleeing across the creek, Kennedy would have found himself on the eastern side of the creek, which is where he was finally run down and murdered, exactly where Pewtress claimed it was, in his report written the day Kennedy was found.
More recently, the CSI team also attempted to work out where Kennedy was murdered using the documentary evidence. They also concluded it was on the east bank:
“The CSI@SBC investigation finds that the killing of Sergeant Kennedy occurred on the eastern side of Stringybark Creek. The finding is based on analysis and interpretation of eyewitness accounts of Sub-inspector Pewtress, Mansfield Victoria Police, leader of the final day search party which found Sergeant Kennedys body on October 31st 1878 , and James Tomkins , Mansfield Shire President a member of Pewtress’ party whose tactical planning quickly led to the finding of Kennedys body by Henry Sparrow on the eastern side of the creek.
The Investigation observes that a number of commentators over the years have consistently placed the finding of Kennedys body on the western side of Stringybark Creek (ie in the direction taken by Constable McIntyre when he fled from the police campsite) The investigation thus far has been unable to find other witness references in the public record of the time which would confidently validate these claims”
What the CSI team are so politely saying, along with everyone else not in the KTG bubble is that there is not a single shred of evidence anywhere that gives anyone any reason not to believe that Kennedys body and the Kennedy Tree are north east from the site of the police camp. If the KTG had such evidence they would have put it in their Report but all they have managed to do with the documentary evidence is misunderstand it . What the KTG have provided and called “New Evidence” is not evidence at all, but a long tenuous string of suppositions and hopeful speculations, none of which amount to anything anywhere near robust enough to overturn the powerful testimony of actual eye-witnesses:
For example they write “it would not have made sense for a man who is running for his life, to slow himself by running through creek beds or dense bush“. Well yes of course, but who said he did? Why are they setting up this ‘straw man’ argument about Kennedy running “through creek beds or dense bush” ? Nobody has ever said he did, but as the Burman photos themselves show, the bush wasn’t impenetrable jungle ! In any case, why would Kennedy have necessarily done what the KTG think was ‘sensible’? People behave in all kinds of irrational ways under conditions of extreme duress!
They say that “the crossing of creeks is considered unlikely” – but it wasn’t thought to be unlikely by McIntyre, by Kenneally, by Ian Jones, or by the CSI team who were all sure it actually happened, unlikely or not!
On Facebook they are saying part of their reasoning about why they believe Kennedy only ran 200 meters was a statement by McIntyre that “he (McIntyre) didnt make a run for it as he was in riding boots and wouldn’t have got far” – but McIntyres situation was very different from Kennedys. McIntyre was surrounded and being watched by four armed men in the middle of a clearing, and even in running shoes McIntyre wouldn’t have got far if he had made a run for it right then. Later though, in the chaos, and after some firearms had been discharged it was a different calculation entirely, and McIntyre DID make a run for it, grabbing the horse and taking off. I doubt very much that riding boots would have slowed Kennedy down by much – he was fleeing for his life, but even at walking pace 800 yards would have taken less than ten minutes
Jim Fogarty also states on Facebook that “Distances etc are all covered in our report” . but in fact the entire difficult issue of distances is ‘covered’ in three sentences, with yet another vague stab at some sort of entirely unreferenced speculation aimed at providing a fig-leaf of protection for the KTG’s meagre 200 yards. To make their claim fit, the KTG propose without reference to anything that maybe when the search party were saying how far Kennedy got from the Camp, they were talking about how far he got from the place where the search party camped! This speculation is absurd : what everyone wanted to know was how far Kennedy was chased by the Gang, and the idea that when the searchers said he got 400 or 800 yards from the camp they were referring to their own camp is clutching at straws. People on the ground estimated Kennedy ran at least double the distance from the police camp, maybe as much as four times the KTG estimate, but what would the people on the ground know?
None of this vague speculation is “evidence” – Its conjecture aimed at discrediting an actual eyewitness report that the KTG cant accept.
My suspicion is that once again the influence of Ian Jones is the cause of this problem. For several decades he had everyone convinced that the Police camp was on the eastern side of the Creek, and therefore Kennedy must have been killed on the western side because in trying to escape, everyone accepted, he had crossed the creek. Unfortunately, when it was realised that Jones was wrong about which side of the Creek the camp was on, nobody noticed it also meant he was wrong about which side of the creek Kennedys murder took place, and the belief that it happened on the western side remained unchallenged.
Its now as certain the day is long that the KTG searched the wrong side of the creek. The tree they found might look like the tree in the Burman photo from 141 years before, but it wont be the only one in that forest that looks like it, and its not the right one. No wonder Bill couldnt find anything there with his metal detector.
4 Replies to “The KTG have NOT Found the Kennedy Tree”
That is a very convincing summation of the actual evidence David.
Thanks Peter. I know people wont believe me when I say this, but I did at first seriously consider that even though its clear their Campsite is wrong, they might have actually found the tree. It was after all, their first motivation to go searching at SBC, and the photo of their tree, assisted by their clever mock-up does seem convincing at first.
But when you look at that photo of Bill and Leo in front of another tree, there are surprising resemblances with that one as well, so I realised that appearances alone weren’t going to be enough.
So I went through their document critically and it all fell apart.
The thing that intrigues me now is to understand where the idea came from that Kennedy was found on the western side of the creek. As far as I know, nobody at the time argued with Pewtress claim that the body was found to the north east of the camp. Nobody challenged the claims that Scanlan and Kennedys corpses were on opposite sides of the creek. Nobody challenged the claim that Kennedy crossed the creek in his flight.
The theory I advanced above is that once everyone accepted Jones view that the Camp was on the eastern side, it made sense that Kennedys body would have been on the western side, and thats what became the accepted story. However, everyone eventually changed thier view about where the police camp was but they forgot why they had believed Kennedy must have been killed on the western side and so didnt change their thinking on the topic. All the earlier reasoning still made sense, and so logic ought to have led everyone to realise Kennedy must have been on the eastern side. As Pewtress said!
I really do wish the KTG would explain why they can’t accept that whole chain of logic – but they need to if anyone is going to have a rational belief in their tree site.
The latest signage at SBC was intended to tell the story without directing people to the police camp site where three policemen were killed. I understood there was a desire by the police, DELWP and Leo Kennedy not to identify this site due to a concern that pro-Kelly people might make it some kind of a shrine and that this would be disrespectful to the memory of the murdered police. I appreciate the rationale for this and can sympathise with the sensitivities of the descendent families. I find it interesting though that this concern apparently does not apply to the site where Leo’s great-grandfather was killed, wherever that may be.
There are a lot of unanswered questions regarding Stringybark Creek. I suspect there will be debate for decades to come.
I will be there next month and will pay my respects to the 3 police that Kelly murdered in cold blood. May they rest in peace.