[Editor: This is a chapter from The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang and Their Pursuers (5th edition, 1946) by J. J. Kenneally.]
THE BATTLE OF STRINGYBARK CREEK.
Ned and Dan Kelly, with their mates, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, worked constantly mining for gold from April till October 1878. They lived in a log hut built years before by some previous prospectors on Kelly’s Creek. In those days, when gold was frequently discovered in large quantities and very rich patches, the pioneer miners were not satisfied with the yields at Stringybark and Kelly’s Creeks, and left for other fields. The Kellys did not get a great quantity of gold from these creeks, but they secured enough to keep the kettle boiling at home and at their mining camp. They had a regular system of communication with their home at Greta, and were regularly supplied with food and clothing. They were informed of the latest developments at their mother’s trial, and of any police movements. At first Ned had left home to keep Dan out of the reach of the warrant which brought Fitzpatrick to their home. But Ned himself was “wanted” now for his participation in the Fitzpatrick episode.
From their camp on Kelly’s Creek, Joe Byrne on some occasions went to Mansfield for provisions, but as he was a stranger there, his visits attracted no attention.
The spring came in early that year, and there was good grass on the banks of the creeks, and more care had to be taken in controlling the roving habits of their horses. Thus it happened that when, on one occasion, Dan Kelly went down to head them back towards their camp, he noticed the track of a strange horse. He followed this track, and, before he had gone far, noticed that the trees along the trail had been blazed. Still following the trail, he found a series of “baits” at intervals through the timber. To the experienced bushman the interpretation was simple. Strange horse, blazed trail, baits. Solution: Tolmie’s boundary rider had been there, laying baits to poison dingoes, which were plentiful in the neighbourhood. Tolmie was the local squatter, who had a large run in the district.
The Kellys had been informed by their relatives and friends that the Mansfield police were preparing to go in pursuit of them. They were also informed that the Mansfield police had boasted that they were seeking them and that they would bring the Kellys back with them, dead or alive. The police preparations started in August, as already stated, but the actual pursuit was delayed until the end of October.
The boundary rider who came across the horses of the Kellys informed his employer (Mr. Tolmie) that he believed the Kellys were camped in the vicinity of Stringybark Creek. Mr. Tolmie, in turn, passed this information to Sergeant Kennedy, whom he took out to Wombat Ranges and showed him the shingled hut on Stringybark Creek, near which the police party afterwards pitched their tent.
Later, on a Friday afternoon, Ned Kelly, while reconnoitering, heard a report of a shotgun, which Constable McIntyre discharged at some kangaroos, and came across the tracks of the police horses on their way to this hut, and on the following morning he discovered the tracks of horses going in another direction. He reported each of these discoveries to his brother Dan and their companions. The mining party ceased work, and considered the situation. The Kellys had only two firearms — a rifle and a shotgun.
Dan was deputed to find out exactly where the police were camped. After a careful reconnaissance he returned and reported that the police were at the shingled hut on Stringybark Creek, and that their tent was pitched in the open space nearby. He mentioned also that the police had long guns — a disquieting piece of news. On Saturday the Kellys observed that some of the police had gone out riding, and decided that their only hope of retaining their liberty would be to capture the party of police remaining at the camp before the return of their comrades.
Shortly after noon they heard the report of a shotgun, which Constable McIntyre had discharged at some parrots. There was now no time to wait. After hasty preparation, they stealthily approached the police camp, which was about a mile distant, and, coming to the edge of the cleared patch on which the police had pitched their tent, they took observations. They decided to demand the surrender of the police at the tent and take their guns. If this plan succeeded the Kellys were fairly confident of success in ensuring the surrender and disarming the other party of police on their return to camp.
The Kellys saw two men sitting on a log near the camp fire. One of them (McIntyre) got up and took up a shotgun; the other (Lonigan) drove the horses down a little distance and put the hobbles on them. They then returned to the fire and stood the gun against a stump. The one who had shotgun stood by the fire and the other man sat on a log. The Kellys thought there were other men asleep in the tent. Ned took Constable Lonigan to be Constable Strahan, who had been described by Captain Standish as “a blathering fellow,” and who had said that he would not ask him (Ned) to stand before firing on him — that he would fire first, and then call surrender. McIntyre he mistook for Constable Flood, against whom the Kellys had very bitter feelings. After a hasty consultation with his companions, Ned advanced, while Dan kept McIntyre covered. Suddenly Ned Kelly cried out, “Bail up! Throw up your arms.” The police were taken completely by surprise. Lonigan drew his revolver and made a run for a bigger log, about six or seven yards away, instead of dropping down behind the log on which he had been sitting. He had reached the log and raised his revolver to take aim when Ned Kelly fired. His gun had been loaded with a charge of swandrops, and Lonigan, jumping up, staggered some little distance from the log, as he cried, “I’m shot!” and fell dead. — That prophecy!!
McIntyre instinctively threw up his hands. He could do nothing else, as he had left his revolver in the tent, and he could not reach the shotgun, which he had placed against a stump, a little distance away.
Ned Kelly then called out, asking McIntyre who was in the hut. The latter replied, “No one,” and Kelly advanced and took possession of Lonigan’s and McIntyre’s revolvers and the shotgun and shot cartridges, from which he extracted the shot and reloaded with swandrops, in place of small shot. He asked McIntyre where his other companions were, and McIntyre said that they had gone down the creek, and that he did not expect them back that night. McIntyre inquired of Kelly if he was going to shoot him (McIntyre) and his mates when they returned, and Kelly replied that he would shoot no man if he gave up his arms and promised to leave the police force. Conversation followed between the Kellys, and their prisoner, in the course of which, it is stated, McIntyre said the police all knew that Fitzpatrick had wronged the Kellys, and that he (McIntyre) intended to leave the force, as he was in bad health, and proposed going home to Belfast, in the north of Ireland. McIntyre admitted that Sergeant Kennedy and Scanlan had gone out to look for Kelly’s camp, and told also about the police party, under Senior-Constable Shoobridge, which had set out from Greta to look for the Kellys.
Having assumed control of the police quarters, Ned Kelly despatched Joe Byrne and Steve Hart to their own camp to see if there were any signs of Kennedy and Scanlan. They returned and reported that there was no sign of the mounted constables. Further conversation between Ned Kelly and McIntyre ensued, and the former inquired why the police carried Spencer rifles, breech-loading shotguns, and so much ammunition. The police, he said, were supposed to carry only one revolver and six cartridges in the revolver, whereas this party had 18 rounds of revolver cartridges each, three dozen cartridges for the shotgun, and 21 Spencer rifle cartridges, besides all the ammunition the others had away with them. It appeared, he said, as if the police not only intended to shoot him, but also to riddle him. However, he remarked, he was unacquainted with McIntyre, Kennedy or Scanlan, and desired only that they surrender and leave the district. McIntyre said he would get Kennedy and Scanlan to surrender if Kelly would not shoot them, pleading that they could not be blamed for doing their honest duty.
“So they knew that Fitzpatrick had wronged us,” mused Ned; “then why don’t they make it public and convict him? The police will rue the day that Fitzpatrick got among them!”
Dan Kelly had come back from the spring, and the other two had returned from their hasty visit to the miners’ hut on Kelly’s Creek, when Ned Kelly heard sounds of horses coming up the creek. He immediately told McIntyre to advise Kennedy and Scanlan to give up their arms and they would not be harmed. As the mounted police came in sight Kennedy was about twelve yards in front of Scanlan. McIntyre approached Kennedy and told him that the Kellys had surprised them in their camp; that Lonigan, who showed fight, had been shot dead by Ned Kelly, and that he advised his companions to surrender.
Kennedy, however, drew his revolver, and, jumping off his horse, got behind a tree, leaving his horse between himself and Ned Kelly.
Then came the command from Kelly: “Bail up! Throw up you arms!” Constable Scanlan, who carried the Spencer rifle, slewed his horse around to gallop away, in order to be out of range of revolvers and shotguns, while he himself could then easily fire with the rifle at long range. In the excitement, however, his horse became confused and refused to answer the bit, and Scanlan fired at Ned Kelly without levelling the rifle, the bullet going through Ned Kelly’s beard. He was in the act of firing again when Ned Kelly fired, and Scanlan fell from his horse and died almost immediately.
Both Kennedy and Scanlan were well within range when they came into the clearing. Scanlan was only thirty yards from Kelly, and Kennedy about twenty yards, and both could have been shot without being challenged, or without being given the opportunity to surrender. Thus, although Ned Kelly claimed that he was at war with the authorities, on this occasion at least he upheld his vow that he would shoot to kill only in a fair fight.
McIntyre lost no time in scrambling on Sergeant Kennedy’s horse. The horse was roused by the shots and got away about 20 yards before McIntyre succeeded in getting into the saddle. Ned Kelly could have shot him then, but did not appear to concern himself with McIntyre, who had given up his arms; he was concerned with Kennedy, who was armed, and who apparently intended to fight to a finish. Attention diverted to McIntyre meant neglecting Kennedy, who was armed and firing, as opportunity presented, at the Kellys.
Kennedy opened fire from behind a tree. Dan Kelly advanced, and Kennedy fired at him, the bullet passing just over his shoulder. Kennedy then ran and got behind another tree. At this moment Ned fired and wounded Kennedy in the armpit. Ned picked up Scanlan’s rifle, but, not understanding the mechanism, promptly dropped it and again seized his own shotgun. 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 Kennedy’s chest, and he fell mortally wounded.
When McIntyre galloped away on Kennedy’s horse he stooped on to the horse’s neck and the scarf he was wearing was flying about him. Dan Kelly followed him some distance, but McIntyre quickly got out of range. The Kellys were under the impression that McIntyre had been shot. Ned came up to Kennedy where he had fallen. He was satisfied that Kennedy could not live. Kennedy begged that his life be spared, so that he might again see his wife and children. He was in great pain, but his appeal to be spared was refused. Ned Kelly’s subsequent explanation was that Kennedy was hopelessly wounded, and could not live long. He was suffering great agony, and, as McIntyre had escaped to give the alarm, they could not remain to look after him. If left alive Kennedy would, Kelly said, be left to a slow, torturing death at the mercy of ants, flies, and the packs of dingoes, which were fairly numerous in those parts. Therefore he decided to put an end to the sufferings of the wounded sergeant, and, as the latter momentarily turned his head, Kelly fired and shot him through the heart.
Thus perished three of the bravest men of the Victorian police force. It is little wonder that the story of the dreadful tragedy awakened everywhere feelings of horror and indignation and led to a renewal of the determination of the authorities to stamp out the Kellys.
Constable McIntyre galloped away for some distance through the scrub. His horse fell, but he mounted again and pushed on. Again the horse went down, and this time McIntyre assumed that the animal had been wounded by the Kellys. He therefore took off the saddle and bridle and pushed on for about a mile on foot.
He discovered a large wombat hole, and, fearing that he was being pursued, crawled into it and wrote in his notebook:— “Ned Kelly and others stuck us up to-day, when we were disarmed. Lonigan and Scanlan shot. I am hiding in a wombat hole till dark. The Lord have mercy on me. Scanlan tried to get his gun out.” Later on, after leaving his narrow shelter, he wrote in his book again:— “I have been travelling all night, and am very weary. 9 a.m., Sunday. I am now lying on the edge of a creek named Bridges.” (This was Blue Range Creek.)
McIntyre reached McColl’s farm about midday on Sunday. He related the story of events on the Wombat Ranges, and was given a horse to ride into Mansfield, a distance of about three miles. Here he excitedly repeated his story, and it was some time before he was able to give a really coherent account of what had happened. At the subsequent inquest he stated that Lonigan was shot dead just as he reached the shelter of a big log, that Scanlan was shot without being able to use his rifle, and that Sergeant Kennedy had surrendered before McIntyre snatched the reins of Kennedy’s horse, and, scrambling into the saddle, galloped away.
Had Sergeant Kennedy surrendered as McIntyre described, then his body would have been discovered quite close to that of Scanlan. But Kennedy’s body was not discovered until the following Thursday morning, five days after the tragedy, about a quarter of a mile, and across the creek from where Scanlan had fallen. The discovery of Kennedy’s body a quarter of a mile away bears out Ned Kelly’s statement that the sergeant had kept up a running fire, that he retreated from tree to tree, until he fell mortally wounded.
McIntyre evidently considered that it would not look well for him if he admitted that he had taken Kennedy’s horse while the latter, during a gallant fight, was using it as a barrage against the bushrangers’ fire. McIntyre varied this evidence at Beechworth in August, 1880, at Ned Kelly’s trial, in order to square it with established facts. Allowance appears to have been made for his hysterical condition when giving evidence at the inquest at Mansfield.
J. J. Kenneally, The Complete Inner History of the Kelly Gang and Their Pursuers, Melbourne: J. Roy Stevens, 5th edition, 1946 [first published 1929], pages 71-83
barrage = barrier, barricade (may also refer to an artificial barrier placed across a river or watercourse; concentrated artillery fire over a wide area; an overwhelming amount of something that comes quickly and continuously, such as questions or criticisms)
[Editor: Corrected “reconnoitring” to “reconnoitering”; “companions to surrenedr” to “companions to surrender”.]