The Stringybark Creek killings:
Ellen Kelly, Bill Skillion and Bricky Williamson were sentenced by Redmond Barry on 9 October 1878.
At first the police did nothing in looking for the Kelly Gang, waiting for the worst of the winter to be over. In late October the local police chief, Superintendent Sadleir, sent out two parties to look for the Kellys, one from Greta in the North and one from Mansfield in the South, the intention being to trap the Kellys in the middle.
The Mansfield party, under the charge of Sergeant Kennedy, consisted of 4 members disguised as prospectors. The party comprised:
Sergeant Michael Kennedy
Age 36, from Westmeath, Ireland,
Father of five
Constable Thomas McIntyre
Age 32, from Belfast, Ireland
A schoolteacher before becoming a police officer, he was the only survivor of the Stringybark Creek killings.
Constable Thomas Lonigan
Age 34, from Sligo, Ireland.
Lonigan, the person who had grabbed Ned by his private parts and put him in considerable pain in Benalla in 1877, was included in the party to identify Ned and Dan Kelly. Perhaps with a foreboding of disaster, he returned twice when setting off to say goodbye to his wife.
Constable Michael Scanlon
Age 35, from Killarney, Ireland.
Scanlon had arrived in Australia in 1863, tried his hand at shopkeeping and became a police officer in 1865. Possibly also having a premonition, he told a friend that the friend could have his dog if he did not return.
The police party left on 25 October 1878.
According to Superintendent Hare, the police received a tip off as to exactly where the Kellys were. The informant, however, immediately rode to the Kellys camp and told them where the police would be camped.
That police camp was a clearing used by prospectors near Mount Wombat on the banks of Stringybark Creek.
The Kellys were alerted to the precise location of the police camp by Scanlon and Kennedy, who had left the camp to search for the Kellys, shooting at parrots as they did so. Dumb move. The Kelly encampment was only a kilometre from the police camp. (There was speculation at the 1881 Royal Commission that Scanlon and Kennedy intended to capture Kelly without the others and split the reward between themselves, as they had done previously with a capture of Wild Wright. This was known as “going whacks”.)
The police were heavily armed, having with them four Webly revolvers, a .500 calibre seven shot Spencer Carbine and a double-barrelled shot gun. Steve Hart and Joe Byrne did not even have guns.
Ned and Dan Kelly sneaked up on the police camp and scouted the situation. They were aware that there was a police party looking for them but they were not aware that there were in fact two parties, coming from opposite directions. They were also aware that one police officer, Constable Strachan, had declared that “If I come across Ned Kelly I’ll shoot him like a dog”. Also unknown to the Kellys was that Strahan was a member of the Greta party, not the Mansfield party.
McIntyre was unarmed, cooking the evening meal. Lonigan was wearing a revolver and was dozing against a log. The horses of the supposed prospectors had heavy leather strapping, such as would be used for transporting bodies. Ned wrote in the Jerilderie letter that they believed that the police intent was to shoot them down like dogs but that it was their intention merely to take their weapons and mounts:
“We saw they carried long firearms and we knew our doom was sealed if we could not beat those before the others would come as I knew the other party of Police would soon join them and if they came on us at our camp they would shoot us down like dogs at our work as we had only two guns we thought it best to try and bail those up, take their firearms and ammunition and horses and we could stand a chance with the rest.”
Ned stepped into the clearing and called out “Bail up.”
McIntyre put up his hands but Lonigan ran for a tree and drew his revolver. Kelly fired his shotgun and hit Lonigan in the head. Lonigan cried “Oh, Christ, I am shot” and died almost immediately.
Kelly stated in the Jerilderie letter that when Lonigan fired, he initially believed him to be Constable Strachan, who had declared that he would shoot Kelly as soon as he met him.
Kelly was later to also make a remark which became part of popular culture: “It was him or me. E
What a pity the bastard had to run.”
Kennedy and Scanlon returned about 6.00pm and Ned told McIntyre to have them surrender. McIntyre went forward and called on them to surrender for they were surrounded. Not sure as to what was happening, Scanlon put his hand on his holster. Kelly stepped into the clearing and again yelled “Bail up”. Scanlon tried to fire and Kelly shot him in the chest. He fell off his horse dead.
Kennedy dismounted and ran from tree to tree, exchanging shots with Kelly. Ned in the Jerilderie letter wrote “I shot him in the arm pit and he dropped his revolver and ran I fired again with the gun as he slewed around to surrender I did not know he had dropped his revolver, the bullet passed through the right side of his chest and he could not live. . .”
Kennedy lay on the ground pleading for his life. Kelly shot him to end his life and later wrote “I put his cloak over him and left him as well as I could and were they my own brothers I could not have been more sorry for them . . .”
The 1881 Royal Commission saw it differently:
“The cold blooded dispatch of the brave but ill fated Kennedy when, wounded and hopeless of surviving, he pleaded to be allowed to live to bid farewell to his wife and children, is one of the darkest stains upon the career of the outlaws. It was cruel, wanton, and inhuman, and should of itself, apart from other crimes, brand the name of his murderer, the leader of the gang, with infamy."
From the Sydney Mail, 16 November 1878
he Murderous Attack on Victorian Police, Breaking from Ambush.
Drawn by our own artist, from a rough sketch by Constable M'Intyre.
Drawn by our own artist, from a rough sketch by Constable M'Intyre.
Whilst the battle was in progress, McIntyre fled on Kennedy’s horse.
Kelly wrote about this “McIntyre jumped on Kennedy's horse and I allowed him to go as I did not like to shoot him after he surrendered or I would have shot him as he was between me and Kennedy therefore I could not shoot Kennedy without shooting him first”.
McIntyre, having escaped the shootings, fled through the bush in terror, writing in his diary not long afterwards “Ned Kelly, Dan, and two others stuck us up while we were unarmed. Lonigan and Scanlon are shot. I am hiding in a Wombat hole until dark. The Lord have mercy on me. Scanlon tried to get his gun out.”
(Kelly had a dig at McIntyre subsequently about his having hidden in a wombat hole. McIntyre wrote an unpublished book about his experiences, "A True Narrative of the Kelly Gang, by T.N. McIntyre, Sole Survivor of the Police Party Murderously Attacked by Those Bushrangers in the Wombat Forest on the 26th October, 1878". In it he records that he, McIntyre, was part of the detail that took Ned to Beechworth for preliminary trial after his capture. McIntyre recounts that “When he [Ned Kelly] saw us he said ‘I suppose you fellows are going to hang me, here is McIntyre and I know he is going to do it.’ Making no reply to this, his next remark, ‘This is better than a wombat hole, eh, McIntyre.’ “)
When McIntyre made his way back to Mansfield he told of ambush and slaughter. Superintendent Sadleir told the 1881 Royal Commission that people were so terrified that the police had trouble raisng a party to retrieve the bodies.
The autopsy of Kennedy reported that Kennedy’s ears had been cut off. Kelly denied this and it is likely that Kennedy’s ears were gnawed off by an animal, likely a wombat.
The Victorian Government immediately passed the Felons’ Apprehension Act, based on the 1865 Act passed in New South Wales which declared Ben Hall and his gang outlaws. Any civilian could shoot the gang on sight and any person suspected of giving them aid could be arrested. There was no need for the outlaws to be arrested or for there to be a trial upon apprehension. Police were given emergency powers to enter premises, search and arrest without warrant.
The Kelly Gang were declared outlaws, to be hunted down and brought to justice, alive or dead, no questions asked.