A Letter to Thomas
What really happened to Lonigan?
My dear, dear McIntyre, I have just finished reading your memoirs, and my good fellow, what a read it is. I must admit, I have not sighted any material such as this since reading your colleague’s, Mounted Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, Police report on the attempted murder of himself by those dastardly Kellys on the 15th April 1878, in their home at the 11 Mile Creek. The sheer impudence of the villain, firing three shots at Fitzpatrick at a yard and a half in an attempt to kill him, not to mention those other armed villains who were also present. I must tell you McIntyre, that Ned Kelly must have been a most terrible shot. Might I also ad, that from what I have read in your memoirs, I believe you to be every bit as honest and heroic as that Constable Fitzpatrick. It’s very lucky for those Kellys you did not have your polished sword with you at Stringybark Creek good McIntyre. I’m sure if you did, and with your unbelievable pluck, you could have quite easily vanquished them all. But I must also make mention, from what you have written, it was very fortunate for you that you were not carrying your revolver at the time you were bailed up. What, with little or no experience in the use of firearms, you could have quite easily ended up shooting poor Lonigan, or even yourself for that matter. But it’s not your fault dear McIntyre, your Sergeant only requested you in his party for your cooking abilities, not for your expertise in the use of firearms.
At 12 noon on the 26th October, you have written that while you were baking your bread, Constable Lonigan informed you he had heard a “strange” noise down the creek. Like any good cook, you naturally assume it could be a kangaroo or a wombat that will be had for dinner, not thinking for a second about the reason you were in the wilds in the first place, that is, to track down and capture two dangerous criminals who tried to murder poor heroic and honest, Constable Fitzpatrick. It’s also a mystery why your colleague who had heard the “strange” noise, did not go down himself instead of laying down and reading the Vagabond. But with shotgun in hand, at least you returned with a couple of parrots and the knowledge that the Kellys were a dozen miles away, and of course the unknown knowledge that you have just alerted the very villains you are in search of. Well done dear McIntyre! But if a shotgun blast is not enough, you request Lonigan to help you build a raging fire to help guide your other two companions home. Did you forget Thomas that they were accomplished bushmen, unlike yourself, and had not taken off into the bush all day just to pick daisies. Short of a couple of rockets fired into the air, it’s a wonder half of Victoria were not aware of your location. In your memoir, you say that …‘We went to search for, and if we found them, which was “doubtful”, arrest two men one of whom was known to be armed with a revolver, and was likely to resist arrest by the use of that weapon’. Why did you think “doubtful” Thomas? I thought you were in search of a villain who was wanted for the attempted murder of a police officer? Is having a “doubtful” attitude in such circumstances a good attribute for a policeman, especially when he has already informed you he has received some good information? Why do you think your Sergeant had you carry extra ammunition and firearms? I’m sorry to say Thomas, that I would have expected much more from you after having served three years in that most feared and military trained... Irish Constabulary.
With your tent pitched in the North West corner of the clearing, and your tent facing to the East, and also to the creek some seventy yards away, looking to the “left front” I take from the front of your tent, were the crossed felled trees that formed right angles at their centre. One was facing North South, the other running East West. These two trees were twenty five yards from the tent. To the South or to your right, was free of timber and was of a swampy nature with luxuriant growth of rushes and other course herbage. With a slight declivity in the formation in that direction you state it afforded good cover to within twenty yards of your tent for any party wishing to attack your camp, and it was from this position you were attacked, from the South side or up the creek. Now about 5.00 o’clock in the afternoon you ask Lonigan to assist you to build a large fire at the intersection of the two logs to guide your companions home. Lonigan worked on the North or outside, and you on the tent side. Lonigan then remains on the north side while you proceed to boil the billy. You at this time were facing approximately North, while Lonigan was staring into the fire facing to the South. You say that he had been strangely silent all day. Do you think for a moment Thomas, he might have been rather more concerned than you about that “strange” noise he had heard earlier, down at the creek? It is now that you both hear the request of “BAIL UP, HOLD UP YOUR HANDS” coming from behind the rushes to the South. When you turned around to face them, you noticed four men with long firearms which they held at their shoulders and pointed in your direction. You then identify Ned Kelly as the person on the right. Not a tremor in his rifle Mac? You say you wanted that rifle lowered before you made that twenty five yard dash to the tent; the place where you had so carelessly left your firearms. But being a man of good judgement, and also realising the better part of valour, you throw out your arms horizontally and promptly surrender.
In The Outlaw’s of the Wombat Ranges written and published by G.W. Hall in February 1879, proprietor of the Mansfield Guardian, he writes this of you… The worst accusation that can be brought against you is that of foolhardy carelessness in allowing yourself to be surprised without arms, in the centre of a country occupied by well armed, courageous and determined enemies.
The separation in the detachment was, in itself, an act of supreme folly, especially in a locality where nature had, apparently, lent her utmost powers and ingenuity to affording every facility for ambush, espial, and surprise to any who, acquainted with the pathless solitude of the place, might be objects of attack to a party ignorant of its minutest, to say nothing of its general topography.
We now must focus our attention to your colleague, Thomas Lonigan, and to your description of events. Hearing the call to ‘BAIL-UP’, Lonigan has raised his gaze from the fire, looked to the direction of the offenders, turned his body in the opposite direction, and ran approximately 5-6 yards in a North Easterly direction before he is shot and killed by Ned Kelly. All of this had taken place in a matter of seconds. You also state that whilst running, Lonigan was in the process of reaching for his revolver and looking over his right shoulder when shot. If this is the case, I think it time to have a look at Lonigan’s wounds from this fatal single shot. On the 29th October 1878 at 10am Dr. Reynolds held a post mortem on the body of Lonigan. At the Magisterial Inquiry held by H.H. Kitchen on Lonigan, the good doctor found the following… Wounds on the left arm which he had no doubt were caused by bullets, another wound on the outside of the left thigh, one on the right temple, and one on the inner side of the right eyeball. The bullet which entered by the side of the eyeball passed through the bone of the Orbit, and drove portions of it into the brain. Death, he states, must have been almost instantaneous from injuries to the brain. You say Thomas, that some of the slugs removed looked like Kelly had loaded his rifle with a conical bullet cut into four pieces, and are now in your possession. Such a gruesome memento Thomas?? But this all makes some sense from the delivery of a single shot from Ned Kelly but not altogether entirely.
If Lonigan was running away in a North Easterly direction whilst looking over his right shoulder, and also as you state, reaching for his revolver, how on earth did he get bullet wounds to the left side of his body and not a single scratch to his back?? I can understand the pieces of bullet striking his eye and temple when looking over his shoulder, but in doing so, the left side of his body would have been shielded. I have always thought that a single shot fired at a distance of 40 yards, aimed in a split second, and to put it through an eye was a remarkable shot, even for Ned Kelly. But it wasn’t one bullet, it was four segments or maybe more after leaving the barrel of Kelly’s rickety old gun. Ned Kelly stated it could shoot around corners, but Thomas, I’m sure he was merely jesting.
In a letter Ned Kelly gave to Edwin Living at Jerilderie in February of 1879, he described in his letter the circumstances surrounding Constable Lonigan’s death and that of the other two troopers. This in itself is a written confession on Ned Kelly’s part regarding his involvement in the killings, so why should he tell a falsehood regarding the circumstances which surrounded the shooting of Lonigan? In Ned Kelly’s letter he stated…..
When I called on them to throw up their hands McIntyre obeyed and Lonigan ran some six or seven yards to a battery of logs instead of dropping behind the one he was sitting on, he had just got to the logs and put his head up to take aim when I shot him that instant or he would have shot me.
This was also written by G.W. Hall, the owner of the Mansfield Guardian in 1879 who would have most definitely visited the police camp after the killings. The level space, though pretty well cleared, is surrounded by thick, heavy timber and scrub, and on the right hand side has a patch of very tall spear and sword grass, which affords a jungle like cover. In front of the tent, and between it and the creek, were two fallen trees, the ends being crossed at right angle; there were also some stumps of trees that had been felled in the clearing. Could the remnants of some of these felled trees be the battery of logs Ned was talking about Thomas??
In Ian Jones book A Short Life, he writes… McIntyres version of what happened next is confused. He would claim once that Lonigan was shot as he put his hands to his revolver; many times that the constable ran four or five paces towards a tree before being shot; and once that he reached cover behind a log and was shot as he came up to fire. He had his back to Lonigan and heard him fall and did not see him fall. To say …as he once did to Sadleir… that Lonigan was under cover and preparing to fire at the Kellys when killed provided Ned Kelly with the justification of self defence. To say as he did on every other occasion would portray Kelly as a cold blooded killer.
So what do you think of that Mr. McIntyre, did you lie under oath for your superiors?
Lonigan was an experienced police officer who would have sought cover, and not run off into open ground like some duck in a shooting gallery, and definitely not when, as you say Thomas, there were four rifles pointing in that direction. Lonigan had more than enough time while you were camped to note the tree stumps and felled trees in the campsite. Even when severely injured at the Benalla railway station, and with nothing to gain, Ned Kelly could not be swayed by you or Constable Kelly from repeating that which was true. The truth of the matter is this Thomas…Lonigan had reached cover and was taking aim with his left side exposed when the spraying shot fragments from Ned Kelly’s old carbine hit him in the right of the forehead, the right eye, left leg and arm. To state that Lonigan was shot with his back to his attackers, and taking into account the location of the injuries concerned, I believe it to be no more than concocted rubbish on your part, as do so many others my dear McIntyre. Hoping for the day the truth will be revealed.
I remain your most ardent critic,
Alan D Crichton
Alan Crichton web site Ned Kelly Tales