[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 SEARCH FOR THE BODIES.
There was great excitement in the peaceful town of Mansfield when the news of the tragedy was made public. A search party was organised, and Inspector Pewtress, Constables Allwood and McIntyre, Dr. Reynolds, and five civilians started off late on Sunday afternoon to recover the bodies of the brave police officers. The party called at Monk’s sawmills, and there secured a reliable guide, who led them through dense scrub and thick undergrowth to the scene of the tragedy. There they arrived about midnight, and had no difficulty in finding the bodies of Lonigan and Scanlan. Rain fell in torrents, and the search for the body of Kennedy was delayed until the following day. It was expected that, in accordance with the report of McIntyre, the body would be found quite close to the spot where that of Scanlan lay.
After searching for some time on Monday is was evident that the morale of the party was becoming seriously affected. It was feared apparently that the Kellys would return and annihilate the whole search party. Finally, it was decided to tie the bodies of Lonigan and Scanlan together and “pack” them on horseback through the dense scrub and timber to Monk’s sawmill. There a buggy was obtained, in which the bodies were taken to Mansfield and placed in the mortuary room of the Mansfield Hospital, where the subsequent inquest was held.
Two members of the Wright family were in Mansfield when the bodies of Lonigan and Scanlan were brought in. The local police authorities showed signs of nervous strain, and they arrested “Wild” Wright on a charge of using threatening language. They also arrested his totally deaf and dumb brother, “Dummy” Wright, on the same charge. This was considered the limit of police hysteria. The charge, of course, could not be sustained, and “Dummy” was discharged and the police ridiculed.
Police now began to filter into Mansfield from the surrounding districts. Another attempt was made to discover Kennedy’s body. A party was organised and arrived on the scene of the tragedy on Tuesday afternoon. A search was made until evening, but no inducement could persuade the members of the search party to remain there until the following morning.
The fear that the Kellys might attack them was so demoralising that the volunteer searchers, when night fell, went back to Mansfield.
It was now thought that Kennedy had been taken away alive by the Kellys, and Superintendent Sadleir, who arrived from police headquarters at Benalla, interviewed “Wild” Wright, in the Mansfield gaol, and offered him £30 if he would find Kennedy, alive or dead. A special proviso was put into the “conditions” with regard to the protection of Kennedy from injury or death should Wright discover him alive. It was arranged that Wright should go at once to Greta and interview Mrs. Skillion, from whom Wright asserted he would obtain the full facts. While these arrangements were being made a larger search party was organised and set out on Wednesday for the scene of the conflict.
The searchers hitherto had been misled by McIntyre’s statement that Kennedy had surrendered before he (McIntyre) snatched the bridle reins and galloped away on Kennedy’s horse.
The search commenced on Wednesday, and on Thursday morning the search party widened out considerably, and at 8 o’clock a farmer named Tomkins, crossing the Stringybark Creek, came across Kennedy’ body a quarter of a mile from where McIntyre had sworn he had surrendered.
The wounds on his right breast and armpit were recognisable, and the last and fatal wound was clearly seen on his left breast. The clothing was blackened by powder, showing that the shot had been fired, as Ned Kelly subsequently stated, at very close range.
The police and press, thinking the Kellys shot Sergeant Kennedy, and Constables Lonigan and Scanlan with single bullets, jumped to the conclusion that the several wounds, caused by each charge of swandrops, had been inflicted after death.
These assertions of police and press were not, however, supported by the evidence of Dr. Reynolds, of Mansfield, who made the post-mortem examination of the bodies of Scanlan, Lonigan and Kennedy.
Kennedy’s body was brought to Mansfield. By this time the confidence of many of the search party was shaken in McIntyre’s evidence as to whether Kennedy had surrendered. The searchers’ view to a great extent coincided with the statement delivered for publication by Ned Kelly at Jerilderie to one of the prisoners in the hotel when the bank was robbed by the Kellys in February, 1879. Dr. Reynolds, who examined Kennedy’s body, said that an ear was missing. From appearances he concluded that it had been gnawed off by native cats.
Before despatching the first search party to Wombat Ranges, Inspector Pewtress wrote his comments on McIntyre’s somewhat rambling report, and despatched Constable Thomas Meehan to deliver this to Superintendent Sadleir at Benalla.
Meehan left Mansfield unarmed, but in uniform, at 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 27, 1878, and was instructed to get a change of horses at Dawes station, half way between Mansfield and Benalla. The distance from Mansfield to Benalla by the main coach road is forty miles. The following is Constable Meehans evidence on oath:
“I went as far as Barjarg — a station — and saw two suspicious-looking men on the road, and I could not get past them, because I had no arms (fire arms) at all, and I was in uniform. I said to myself these men have euchred everything — they have shot the police — and what am I to do? I have no firearms, and I have been despatched on this message. Then I returned to Joe Allen’s (a farmer, who lives about a mile back from Barjarg), going back towards Mansfield again. I went back with the object of getting firearms. Allen was not at home. Then I asked Mrs. Allen how far was it back to Hickson’s. I went to Hickson’s and he was out, and there was nobody there at all. Hickson’s place was about 100 yards off the road, and I said to myself I must do something. I must use my head, as I have no firearms, and I took the mare I was riding back and took the saddle and bridle off her, and took the boots off that pinched me. I took them off in the excitement of the moment, and made the best of my way to Broken River, my station (Dawes). I travelled all night, and got there the next day. I did not know the country at the time; I was a stranger. I let the horse go. Then I came on to Benalla, and gave information to Mr. Sadleir after that. Mr. Nicolson was in Benalla at the time, and there were five of us despatched to catch the Kellys. Sub-Inspector Pewtress interviewed me and said, Meehan, I will never forget you as long as you are in my district for making such a fool of yourself as you did that night when you went out!”
After the fight on Stringybark Creek the morale of the Victorian police seems to have been somewhat shaken. In fact, it was considered very unwise of Supt. C. H. Nicolson to have bragged of “taking the flashness out of the Kellys.
After the death of Kennedy, Ned Kelly covered the body with the victim’s cloak and rejoined his companions. Dan Kelly reported that McIntyre had got clear away, and felt somewhat annoyed at Ned for refusing his suggestion to handcuff him. Ned agreed that McIntyre’s escape had been unfortunate. If they had held McIntyre they could have given attention to the burying of the three dead policemen, but now that McIntyre had escaped there would surely be an immediate hue and cry. The Kellys had to get away from the scene as soon as possible. They collected from the police camp everything that was of immediate use to them, and then set the camp on fire and destroyed what they did not want. The Kellys secured four police horses, viz., Kennedy’s pack horse and the mounts of Scanlan, Lonigan and McIntyre, and the three weeks’ rations which the police had brought with them. They then went back to their camp, and after throwing their tools down a shaft and covering them with stones and clay, they set out for the meeting place where they had previously arranged to meet their providore Tom Lloyd that (Saturday) night.
That (Saturday) night (26/10/1878) the providore arrived with a supply of rations, and the proceeds of the sale of some gold — about £12 in cash. On his arrival the providore suspected that something had happened. He noticed a strange horse — a police horse. Then he saw the Spencer rifle, and, picking it up, said, “It’s heavy.” Ned replied, “Yes, and very deadly.” He noticed that the food they were eating was not their usual diet, and he remarked, “You are living high.” Ned replied that they had had an engagement with the police that day (Saturday), and that three of the police were dead.
Ned then explained how they had discovered the police camp, and the manner of the attack, with fatal results to the three policemen who showed fight; how McIntyre had surrendered, and afterwards escaped on Kennedy’s horse.
Discussion regarding their future plans was renewed. It was decided to return at once to their home at Greta, and then make their way to hold up the bank at Howlong. As they were at war with the Government, and the police employed by the Government, it was absolutely necessary to raise enough money to conduct successfully their plan of campaign. There was, Ned Kelly told them, no middle course for them. They would have to “go on” or “go under.”
Rain fell in torrents, and long before they had covered half the journey they were all drenched to the skin. When, however, they were within a few miles of their own homestead, the providore was sent on ahead to see if the coast was clear at the house, and prepare the family for the return of the party. It was pitch dark when the providore rapped at the door and was invited to “Come in.”
He got a change of clothes and put on a white shirt with a stiff front. While he was changing his clothes he hastily recounted the outline of the fight with the police on the Wombat Ranges.
The providore now hastened back to meet the Kellys, and report “Line clear.” He had ridden back for some distance, when suddenly he was startled with, “Bail up! Throw up your arms!” But as he recognised it was Ned Kelly’s voice, he quickly regained his composure, and said, “Surely you’re not going to turn on your mate?” “Oh!” said Ned, “it’s you? I didn’t know you with that white shirt on. When you left us you looked different, and I thought you were one of the police.” Continuing, Ned said, “You know, we can’t take any risks now.” The providore had met and passed Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne, and Steve Hart without seeing them, and neither of them saw the providore. Ned, who rode behind the others, was quick to detect the person with the changed appearance.
The other three pulled up when they heard Ned give the challenge, and came back to see their faithful friend — the providore — pulled up. They went home, and after changing their clothes and partaking of a good meal, they related in detail what happened on Saturday at Stringybark Creek. After a few hours’ rest both men and horses were refreshed.
ON THE RUN.
The rain having ceased, the sky cleared, and shortly after midnight the Kellys left home, and made for the Greta Ranges. Here they camped during the next day, Monday (28/10/78).
They started at dusk for the Beechworth Ranges, crossing the King River, and keeping as much as possible off the main roads. They camped on the Beechworth Ranges, and were observed by some people while in this neighbourhood. These people reported to the police what they had seen. On this report the police organised that notorious failure afterwards known as the “Charge of Sebastopol,” or the raid on “Rats’ Castle.” The Kellys pushed on from Beechworth Ranges to Barnawartha, and in due course arrived on the banks of the Murray River. They knew there was a punt there, and expected to cross the Murray in it to reach Howlong on the other side.
They found the river in flood as a result of recent very heavy rains. They met one of the Baumgartens, who told them there was no hope of getting across the Murray while the flats on both sides were flooded, and that the police were about there in droves. Baumgarten also gave them the views the police held on the Kellys and their alleged plans. The Kellys camped in the vicinity of Baumgarten’s till dusk; they then set out for the Warby Ranges.
They travelled all night and passed through North Wangaratta and crossed the Ovens River, and pushed on for the Warby Ranges.
They had run out of meat, and shot a sheep to replenish their meat supply. At the foot of Warby Ranges Kennedy’s pack-horse knocked up and was left behind.
The Kellys peacefully camped on the top of the Warby Ranges, resting themselves and their horses for some days. While reconnoitering it happened one day that they saw a party of policemen led by a local blackfellow following their tracks. As soon as they came to the discarded pack-horse the Kellys fired a rifle shot to attract the attention of the police. The police distinctly heard the shot, and immediately turned back, and made for Wangaratta at top speed. When they reported on this expedition, the police laid all the blame on the blacktracker. The tracker, they said, was too cowardly to proceed. He actually ordered the police to go first and “catchem Kelly.” The police resented such orders and the refusal of the blacktracker to go on to capture the Kellys. The police, anyhow, considered the present was not the proper time to take the “flashness” out of the Kellys. The Kellys started from Warby Ranges and went back to their home at Greta. Their horses had had a very bad spin up to the present, and they themselves were worn out for want of sleep, and, not knowing that the demoralised state of the police affected the officers more than the men, they decided to take no unnecessary risks. They accordingly decided to discard their horses and move about at night on foot, and rest and sleep in the standing crops by day. The police had received information that the Kellys would be likely to come to Frank Harty’s farm, near Winton.
The Kellys also had information that the Police intended to interfere with Harty, who had offered to bail Mrs. Kelly out. The Kellys took up their position in Harty’s crop to defend this farmer from the vindictiveness of the police.
The police took up their position on the hill near Harty’s house.
Harty knew the Kellys would protect him, and could afford to display his independence; but he did not know they were in his crop. And the police did not know that the Kellys were watching them. They (the police) were not afraid of Harty. The scene resembled the cats in the crop watching the mice on the hill. After a few days the police retired from Harty’s, and went back to Benalla to recuperate, after their strenuous efforts to capture the outlaws. When some one of the Kelly relatives asked Ned Kelly why he didn’t pop over the police who were watching Harty’s house he replied: “So long as the police keep within the laws of truth and decency, he would not shoot at them, but if the police start shooting, or refuse to obey orders when called upon by him to surrender, then he was prepared to shoot, and shoot to kill. As long as the police behave themselves, and keep out of their way, they (the Kellys) would not hurt them.” The night following the withdrawal of the police from Harty’s, the Kellys moved towards Benalla, to the crop of another farmer. The weather was pleasant and the crops were on the turn. The four outlaws were very comfortable, watching train loads of police passing up and down the railway line. Next day the owner of the crop happened along, and suddenly came on the Kellys in his crop. He was taken aback, but quickly recovering his presence of mind, said: “Oh! So its here ye are, boys,” and hurriedly added, “I was just having a look to see when the bit of crop would be ripe enough to cut; but,” he continued, “I won’t touch it while you boys are here.”
Ned Kelly, as spokesman for the outlaws, thanked the farmer for his interest in their safety. “We’re shifting from here to-night,” said Ned, “so that you may go ahead with the harvest when the crop is fit to cut.”
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 84-94
[Editor: Corrected “reconnoitring” to “reconnoitering”.]