Fatal Encounter with Bushrangers in Victoria [re. Ned Kelly, 31 October 1878]

[Editor: A report on the shooting of police at Stringybark Creek by Ned Kelly and his gang.]

Fatal Encounter with Bushrangers in Victoria.

(By telegraph to Evening News.)

Melbourne Monday.

A terrible encounter — almost without parallel in Victoria — has taken place at Mansfield between the police and four bushrangers. The particulars to hand are meagre, owing to intelligence being only received at Mansfield yesterday evening, but they are of such character as to show that four most unscrupulous ruffians are at large. No effort must be spared to secure them immediately. As will be seen from the following telegram, received last night from Mansfield, two constables have been murdered, a third had his horse shot under him, while the fate of Sergeant Kennedy is dubious :—

Mansfield, Sunday, 6 p.m. — News has just reached Mansfield that Constables Lanigan and Scanlan were shot dead by four bushrangers at Stringybark Creek, about 20 miles from here. Constable McIntyre who escaped just arrived with the intelligence. His horse was shot under him. Sergeant Kennedy is also missing. Sub-inspector Pewtress, constables Reynolds and Collopy, and others, have left on horseback to scour the country and bring home the dead bodies.

The bushrangers are supposed to be the notorious Kelly’s party, for whom the constables were in search, the offenders referred to are two brothers named Edward and Daniel Kelly, for arrest of whom warrants were issued some months ago for various offences, the most serious being a murderous attack made on Constable Fitzpatrick.

The Kellys are well-known, notorious criminals. Their father died a long time ago, and the family remaining consisted of two brothers, the mother, and four young sisters. Edward Kelly is 22 years of age, 5ft. 10in. high, of medium build, and has a fresh complexion, dark brown hair, and hazel eyes. His brother Daniel is only 17 years of age, 5ft. 6in. high, medium build, fair complexion and blue eyes. The former was arrested in 1870, on suspicion of being a mate of Power, the bushranger, but was discharged owing to the evidence of identification being insufficient. In February, 1874, he was discharged from Pentridge Stockade after serving a term of three years for receiving a stolen horse. The younger brother was discharged from Beechworth gaol in January last where he had been imprisoned three months for wilfully damaging property. They lived between Winton and Greta, on the Eleven Mile Creek, and their house formed a convenient rendezvous for criminals of all classes.

Soon after the younger brother’s discharge in January last a warrant was issued for his arrest on a charge of horse-stealing, and on the 15th April, mounted-constable Fitzpatrick, of Benalla, proceeded to the house to apprehend him. Finding him there, he at once placed him under arrest. Unfortunately for himself the constable allowed his prisoner to take supper before leaving ; and whilst standing guard over him, the elder brother, Edward, rushed in, and shot him in the left arm, two inches above the wrist, with a revolver. A struggle followed, and the brothers assisted by their mother and two men named Williamson and Skillion, soon overpowered the constable, and he was beaten to the ground and rendered insensible. On regaining consciousness, he was compelled by Edward Kelly to extract the bullet from his arm with a knife, so that it might not be used as evidence, and on promising to make no report against his assailants he was allowed to depart. He had ridden about a mile when he found two horsemen pursuing, but by spurring his horse into a gallop he escaped. On regaining safety, he no longer considered the promise he had made to criminals as binding, and reported the affair to his superior officer. The result was a number of policemen from the surrounding district, set out for the scene of the outrage, and arrested Mrs. Kelly, Williamson, and Skillion, who were all recently convicted at the Beechworth sessions. The brothers Kelly escaped, and have ever since been at large.

Vague reports as to their being seen at different parts in the north-eastern portion of the colony have been received, but the police for a long time could obtain no tangible trace. For some months back the Government have been offering a reward of £100 for the capture of Edward Kelly on a charge of shooting Constable Fitzpatrick. If the Kellys are concerned in this last affair, and there seems but little reason to doubt it, they must now be in league with at least two other ruffians, desperate as themselves. Four such characters form a formidable gang of outlaws.

Sergeant Kennedy, who is reported missing, was stationed at Mansfield, under sub-inspector Pewtress. The two constables who have been shot were both efficient members in the force. Scanlon was well-known in Melbourne when stationed here, but that was a good many years ago. At one time he acted as orderly to the chief commissioner, but was subsequently told off for duty at the Theatre Royal.

Up to an early hour this morning the police authorities of the town had received no intelligence of the affair, a circumstance which is perhaps accounted for by the probability that sub-inspector Pewtress, on learning what had taken place, had hastened off immediately to the encounter, and was unable for want of time to wire to Melbourne.

Melbourne, 4 p.m. — Telegrams from Mansfield report the finding of the bodies of two troopers ; one shot through the throat, the other through the brain and heart. There is no trace of Sergeant Kennedy. Tremendous excitement prevails. The police seem to have been surprised by the bushrangers while camped. Another trooper is missing. This one was sent from Mansfield to Benalla yesterday night with despatches. His horse was discovered to-day on the road. There was no trace of the rider, his despatch bag was empty.

Melbourne, Tuesday.

The following are fuller details of the murders by the bushrangers at Mansfield. It appears that the police heard privately that the Kellys, for whom they had been looking for months, were in the ranges at the head of King River. The Kelly family live at Greta, fifty miles from Mansfield, and the brothers were understood to be in concealment in a place where the noted Power had once hid himself in security. Two parties of police were secretly despatched last week, one from Greta, consisting of five men, with Sergeant Steele in command, and one of four, from Mansfield.

Though the movement of the Mansfield party was supposed to have been kept dark, the object of the expedition leaked out, and was no doubt rapidly telegraphed across the bush to Edward Kelly. The ranges are infested with the brotherhood of Kellys, Lloyds, Quinns, &c., who occupy land amongst the hills, ostensibly carrying on the occupation of cattle-breeders. From the account given by Constable M’Intyre, it appears that the Mansfield party started on Friday equipped with revolvers, one Spencer rifle, and a double-barrel gun, lent by a resident of the township. They had also a fortnight’s provisions with them. They reached Stringy Bark Creek on Friday evening, and camped on an open space on the creek, the site of some old diggings. Their tents were pitched near the ruins of two huts, and about fifteen miles from the head of King River.

No special precautions were thought to be necessary, because the party thought they were a long way from Kelly’s whereabouts. The ranges round about are almost uninhabited — indeed, the party wore not quite sure whether they were on the watershed of King or Broken River. Both Kennedy and Scanlan knew the locality intimately, and it was Kennedy’s intention to camp for a few days, patrol backwards into the ranges, and then shift their camp in.

About 6 a.m. on Saturday Kennedy and Scanlan went down the creek to explore. They stayed away nearly all day. It was Mr. M’Intyre’s duty to cook, and he attended closely to camp duty. During the forenoon, some noise was heard, and M’Intyre went out to have a look, but found nothing. He fired two shots out of the gun at a pair of parrots. This gunshot, it was subsequently learned, was heard by Kelly, who must have been on the look-out for the police for days past.

About 5 p.m. M’Intyre was at the fire making afternoon tea, and Lonergan by him, when they were suddenly surprised with a cry, “Bail up, throw up your arms.” They looked up and saw four armed men close to them. Three carried guns. Edward Kelly had two rifles. Two of the men the constables did not know, but the fourth was a younger Kelly. The four were on foot, and had approached up the rises, some flags or rushes having provided them with excellent cover until they got into the camp. M’Intyre had left his revolver at the tent door, and was totally unarmed. He therefore held up his hands, as directed, and faced round. Lonergan started for shelter behind a tree, and at the same time put his hand upon his revolver, but before he had moved two paces Edward Kelly shot him in the temple, and he fell at once, and as he lay on the ground said, “Oh, Christ ! I am shot.” He died in a few seconds. Kelly had M’Intyre searched. When they found he was unarmed, they let him drop his hands, and got possession of Lonergan’s and M’Intyre’s revolvers. Kelly remarked, when he saw Lonergan had been killed, “What a pity! what made the fool run.” The men then helped themselves to several articles in the tent.

Kelly talked to M’Intyre, and expressed his wonder that the police should have been so foolhardy as to look for him in the ranges. He made enquiry about four different men, and said he would roast each of them alive if he caught them. Steele and Flood were two of the four he named. He asked M’Intyre what they had fired at in the forenoon — they must have been fools not to suppose he was ready for them. It was quiet evident that he knew the exact state of the camp — the number of men, and description of their horses. He asked where the other two were, and said he would put a hole through M’Intyre if he told a lie. M’Intyre told him who the two absent men were, but hoped they would not be shot in cold blood. Kelly replied, “No, I am not a coward ; I’ll shoot no man if he holds up his hands.” He told M’Intyre the best thing he could do was to advise Kennedy and Scanlan to surrender, for if they showed fight, or tried to run away, they would be shot. M’Intyre asked, “What would Kelly do if he induced his comrades to surrender.” Kelly said he would detain them all night, as he wanted sleep, and let them go next morning, without arms or horses. M’Intyre told Kelly he would induce his comrades to surrender, if he would keep his word, but would rather be shot a thousand times than sell them, and added that one of the two was the father of a large family. Kelly said “You can depend on us.” Kelly stated that Fitzpatrick, the man who had tried to arrest his brother in April, was the cause of all this. That his mother and sister were unjustly “lagged” at Beechworth.

Hearing the sound of Kennedy and Scanlan approaching, Kelly and the four men concealed themselves, some behind logs and one in the tent, and made M’Intyre sit on a log. Kelly said : “Mind, I have a rifle for you if you give alarm.” Kennedy and Scanlan rode into the camp. M’Intyre went forward and said : “Sergeant, I think you had better dismount and surrender, as you are surrounded.” Kelly at the same time called out “Put up your hands.” Kennedy appeared to think it was Lonergan who called out, and that a jest was intended. He smiled, and put his hand on his revolver case, and was instantly fired at, but was not hit. Kennedy then realised the hopelessness of the position, and jumped off his horse, saying — “It’s all right; stop it, stop it.” Scanlan, who carried the Spencer rifle, jumped down and tried to make for a tree, but before he could use the rifle was shot down and never spoke. A number of shots being fired, M’Intyre found that the bushrangers intended to shoot the whole of the party, so jumped on Kennedy’s horse and dashed down the creek. Several shots were fired, but none reached him, as apparently their rifles were empty, and they had only their revolvers available, or he must have been hit. He galloped through the scrub for two miles, then his horse became exhausted, having evidently been wounded. He took off the saddle and bridle, and concealed himself in a wombat hole until dark. He then started on foot across the country, and walked until 3 p.m. on Sunday, when he reached M’Coll’s place, near Mansfield.

Two hours after M’Intyre reported the murder, Inspector Pewtress set out, accompanied by M’Intyre and seven or eight townspeople, but the police station was so empty of weapons that all arms they could take were one revolver and one gun. They reached the camp with the assistance of a guide at half-past 2 this morning, and found the bodies of Scanlon and Lonergan. They searched at daylight for the sergeant but met no traces. The tent had been burnt, and everything taken away or destroyed. There were four bullet wounds on Lonergan, and five on Scanlon ; three more additional shots had been fired into Lonergan’s dead body before the men left camp. It is supposed extra shots were fired, so that all are equally implicated.

M’Intyre is certain Kennedy was not hit, but no one at present ventures to do more than hope the brave fellow not been since murdered. M’Intyre’s belief that Kelly meant to spare none, but dispose of them in such a way as to render their fate a mystery. Now he knows that M’Intyre has escaped, he may possibly let Kennedy live. A large party has been despatched to succour Kennedy, if alive, and run down the murderers, who have provided themselves with food for several days. M’Intyre is weak from the bruises he received in his forty-eight hours’ journey and severe exertion.

The sorrow felt for the death of Scanlon is universal throughout the district. He seems to have been a brave, cool, amiable, and excellent man. Kennedy was an efficient bushman and resolute officer. He has a wife and five children ; fortunately for them should he be killed, his circumstances are good. Scanlon is unmarried. Lonergan was from Violet Town ; he has left a widow and four children badly off.

The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (Maitland, NSW), Thursday 31 October 1878, page 3

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