Captain Jack Hoyle (retired)
‘The Kelly hunters: dispatch challenges bushranger myth’ Sydney Morning Herald July 17, 2009. The headline in Melbourne’s Age July 17, 2009 was grander: ‘Crime scene dispatch challenges Kelly Mythos’. Carolyn Webb reports on the discovery of lost police files and letters and that Dr Robert Haldane ‘will give a talk titled ‘The Kelly Hunters: a Police Perspective’. Dr Haldane is quoted as saying a report sent by Sub-Inspector Henry Pewtress ‘ran counter to a popular view that Kelly was humane towards his victims.’
The Age describes the report ‘written in hurried script on yellow Post Office paper’ and quotes: ‘The body was face upwards and Kennedy’s cloak thrown over it. It presented a frightful spectacle. He had been shot through the side of the head, the bullet coming out in front carrying away part of the face.’
Interviewed by Phillip Adams on Late Night Live on July 27, 2009 the host spoke of “the ugly side of the story” and Dr Haldane talked of “the inconvenient truths” in Pewtress’ report. On the finding of Kennedy’s body Dr Haldane stated: “It was so badly damaged that they couldn’t let Mrs. Kennedy view the body, basically half the face was blown away.” Phillip Adams asked “Didn’t Kelly admit to this? Didn’t he say that he had put Kennedy out of his misery?”
Dr Haldane stated “Of all the police involved in this whole saga one of the most competent and credible was Kennedy. If ever there was to be a star witness against the Kellys, at any subsequent court proceedings, the most credible would have been Michael Kennedy, you could have at a take (sic) that Ned was putting him out of his misery, it just so happened at the same time that he got rid of the best witness.”
The story of the tragedy at Stringy Bark Creek is ugly and there are many ‘inconvenient truths’. Sub-Inspector Pewtress’ original report may have been rediscovered, but it was also published in full in the days after the discovery of Sergeant Kennedy’s body. Henry H. Kitchen, sent this telegram which was sent ‘in the absence of Inspector Pewtress’: ‘Mansfield Thursday: Mr. Tomkins found the body of Sergeant Kennedy at 8 o’clock half a mile from the scene of the former murders, lying on his back, a cloak over his face, pierced with three balls, one through his lungs. His jacket was singed as if fired closely. There is the mark of a bullet ball on a tree within two yards of the body. Kennedy was evidently trying to escape and getting to shelter behind this tree and following in Constable McIntyre’s track.’ It is interesting to note that this was left out of the recent newspaper stories on Pewtress’s report as it states ‘He appears to have been shot whilst running away in the direction taken by Constable McIntyre.’
Kitchen’s report is similar to Kelly’s account in the Cameron letter: ‘My brother advanced from the spring. Kennedy fired at him and ran, and he found neither of us was dead. I followed him. He got behind another tree and fired at me again, I shot him in the armpit as he was behind the tree. He dropped his revolver and ran again, and slewed around; I fired with the gun again and shot him through the right chest, as I did not know he had dropped his revolver and was turning to surrender.’ In the Jerilderie letter Kelly states ‘I did not know he had dropped his revolver – the bullet passed through the right hand side of his body and he could not live – or I would have let him go. Had they been my own brothers I could not help shooting them or else let them shoot me, which they would have done had their bullets been directed as they intended them.’
Dr Samuel Reynolds of Mansfield was responsible for the examination of the body of Sergeant Kennedy. In his evidence at Ned Kelly’s trial he stated: ‘I saw that one of Kennedy’s ears were off. It did not furnish any evidence of being cut off. I thought it might have been gnawed off by native cats. The body was much decomposed’. He also stated that ‘I did not make a postmortem examination of the body of Kennedy. I was instructed that there was no necessity.’(VPROV) At the magisterial inquiry at Mansfield on the 1st of November 1878 Dr. Reynolds testified ‘there was a large wound in the centre of the sternum which I believe was caused by a charge of shot fired at a very short range which passed completely through the body. The cause of death was a gunshot wound through the chest.’ (VPROV) There was no bullet to the side of the head and half of Kennedy’s face had not been shot away.
These contemporary suppositions have led to modern critics using the claims as horrifying ‘facts’ that point to a murderous, vengeful man. In December 2006 Martin Leonard wrote in the Australian Police Journal that a report in the Argus dated June 3 1880 stated that ‘Kennedy did not die on the night of October the 26th 1878. The sergeant was, according to information received by the paper, handcuffed to a tree where he remained throughout the following morning while he was interrogated before being eventually murdered. In his examination, Dr. Reynolds noted that the right ear was detached from Kennedy’s corpse and he suspected that a wild animal might have been responsible for the act. Might it have been a two legged animal? Kennedy’s body was badly decomposed by the time it was discovered some four or five days after death, thus making an effective examination difficult.’
Edgar Penzig claimed recently on ABC TV’s ‘The Collectors’ that Kelly had ‘souvenired Kennedy’s ear’ and the late Frank Devine wrote in the Australian of January 26, 2007, in an article entitled ‘Ned’s nicked as investigator unravels the Kelly fable’, ‘I am delighted to learn the cops are still on his trail.’
Kelly wrote in the Jerilderie Letter ‘But as for handcuffing Kennedy to a tree, or cutting his ear off, or brutally treating any of them is a falsehood. If Kennedy’s ear was cut off it was not done by me. . I put his cloak over him and left him as well as I could, and were they my own brothers, I could not have felt more sorry for them. This cannot be called willful murder for I was compelled to shoot them, or lie down and let them shoot me.’
There are other rumours that swirl around the darkness of Stringy Bark Creek. The encounter was the brutal and inevitable outcome of the struggle that was occurring in rural Victoria in the 1870s. Dr Haldane in his excellent history of the Victorian Police Force ‘The People’s Force’ writes ‘With the passing of the Land Acts, police were empowered to report on selections and could recommend the abolition of licences and leases. They were also used to remove selector’s fences interfering with squatter’s runs, pursue alleged selector-duffers on behalf of the squatters under the Masters and Servants act. One officer described the presence of his men in parts of north-eastern Victoria as ‘an army of occupation’.’
The orthodox history of the Kelly saga states that a fundamental cause of the outbreak was the Kelly/Quinn/Lloyd clan bringing their Irish beliefs and prejudices with them to Australia. Dr Haldane records that at a time when Irish settlers represented only 12% of the population, the Victorian Police were 82% Irish, of which 46% were ex Royal Irish Constabulary. It is impossible to compare the police force of the time with a modern understanding of the role of police. Dr Haldane writes ‘given that no police training was conducted in Victoria, it is fair to expect that the ethics and skills of many of the Irish police in Victoria were unaltered from those taught in Ireland. Many of the Irish police were inured to the ways of the RIC, accepting such duties and methods as normal. The Age wrote of ‘squatter governments’ Dr Haldane writes that the police role ‘though not of itself ‘Irish’ the work was analogous to that performed by the RIC on behalf of landlords in Ireland. Victorian police were known to resort to perjury, brutality and the use of extensive ‘spy’ networks in order to control the selectors, to whom the police were synonymous with authority and the squatters. In Victoria the squatters had much to thank the Irish landlords policing precedent.’
Dr Haldane told Phillip Adams ‘I am not a fan of the Jerilderie Letter’ but his description of policing at the time is in agreement with Kelly’s words.
Untrained and paid a base salary of six shilling and sixpence a day, a police constable was forced to buy his own uniform at a cost of twelve pounds, costing more than a month’s wages. The policeman of the time worked a seven day week, with no rest days or public holidays, and was granted only twelve days leave a year. This contrasted with all other civil servants who were paid annual wage increments, and received at least one rest day each week, ten public holidays a year and twenty-one days annual leave. Constables worked from five am to five pm. on Day duty. Night duty was a fixed shift from 9pm to 5am, for 14 days before rotating back to day shift. ‘The pursuit of rewards and fine-sharing was partly rooted in an economic imperative.’ wrote John McQuilton in ‘Police in Rural Victoria: A Regional Example’ stating ‘A force modeled in a defacto sense on the RIC meant the force was unrepresentative in a colony which was neither predominantly Irish nor familiar with the Irish Constabulary.’
Dr Haldane writes that of the more than 1,000 policemen, only 30 were native born Australians. Most of the police who figured in Ned Kelly’s life were Irish, with one exception. Although always portrayed as Irish, Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick was an Australian native born son of English parents. Alex McDermott might be surprised to discover that Police Commissioner Standish was also part of the ‘shanty culture’ which was part of Victorian society at the time. Dr Haldane writes that ‘The Police Hospital operated as a sly-grog shop under Standish, at the very time he was urging the Government to purge the colony of the flagrant evil of sly-grog selling ‘carried out to an extent almost incredible.’ The best known of all sly-grog shops was that within the walls of the Police Depot.’ Standish had favoured Irish Catholic immigrants with a special interest in those who had served with the Royal Irish Constabulary.
McIntyre wrote in his memoirs ‘I served for nearly three years in the RIC and never fired a shot during my service, and this notwithstanding the Irish Police Force is a military body. Sgt Kennedy had served on the Dublin Metropolitan Police, a fine body of men distinct from the Constabulary.’ McIntyre also noted that Scanlon and Lonigan ‘had no former police experience.’ He also states Scanlon was an ‘old mate’ of Kennedy’s. McIntyre wrote that the stock protection societies ‘offered a very handsome reward for the arrest and conviction of any person stealing the stock of any member of the association. The reward thus offered was nominally 100 pounds’ McIntyre ruefully adds ‘Although it usually fell short of that amount, it was always a very good sum of money. Sgt Kennedy had received several of these rewards.’ Sgt Kennedy’s gold watch had been presented to him by an appreciative squattocracy.
G. Wilson Hall, newspaper proprietor and future member of the Royal Commission, wrote in ‘The Outlaws of the Wombat Ranges’ which was published in February 1879: ‘had the temptation of the glittering reward been removed. .the sacrifice of three valuable lives . . . might have been avoided’ and further states ‘it rather tallies with an opinion that has been expressed by more than one – that they were suspected (Ned and Dan) by Kennedy and Scanlon to be in the vicinity; and that these two went out with the desire to capture them without the interference or assistance of their fellow troopers.’ Kennedy and Scanlon had shared 100 pounds reward after arresting Wild Wright and there was a 100 pounds offered for the capture of Ned Kelly.
Kennedy had written to Sadleir as far back as August 17 1878 that the search for Ned and Dan would ‘require to establish a kind of depot at some distance beyond the Wombat – say, Stringybark Creek, seven miles beyond Monk’s.’ and emphasized ‘I am of the opinion Constable Scanlon, Constable McIntyre and myself would be quite sufficient to undertake the working of that country without anymore assistance.’ Kennedy then added ‘I should like to have a personal interview with the sub-officer taking charge of the party starting from Greta.’
McIntyre expressed surprise at the amount of weaponry, including the 7 shot Spencer rifle, describing it as ‘unusual’. Kennedy told McIntyre as they looked for the Hollands Creek crossing ‘he had been shown it a few days previous by a man from Tolmie’s Dueren station.’ McIntyre tells that Kennedy went out on his own for two hours on the Saturday afternoon, taking the Spencer rifle for company. Strangely, they all tried to sleep that night, no watch being taken. In the morning Kennedy and Scanlon rode out together, in the words of McIntyre ‘Kelly’s hut was to the north of our camp and in the direction the men had gone on patrol.’ Writing of his shooting of parrots, McIntyre states that ‘I have been much criticized for this shooting, but I had the sanction of the Sergeant.’
There are a series of questions in the Royal Commission that probe the rumours around Kennedy’s actions at SBC. Presumably the unnamed Commissioner is G. W. Hall himself. McIntyre is asked ‘What was the special object of camping on this ground?’ (Question 14344) he replied “That I cannot say. I expected to go to Hedi Station (to meet the other patrol then to scour the country). I asked Kennedy, in a jocular manner, why he came there, and he said “If we meet the other party of police, we will find they are out of tucker and they will eat us out.’ Question 14355 ‘Is it your opinion that he had no special knowledge or suspicion the outlaws were in the neighborhood at that particular time?’ McIntyre replied ‘Well, from what has come to my knowledge since, I do not know what to believe; I do not know what to think.’
The inference becomes clearer with Question 14376: Might it be possible, as you say Kennedy and Scanlon took provisions with them, that their desire might be to catch the Kellys without your being present?’ McIntyre admits ‘Yes, that is possible’.
The questioning of J. H. Graves MLA includes 15523: ‘Did you ever hear it said that these men, Kennedy and Scanlon, had information as to where the Kellys were?’ Graves answers ‘They must have. They would not have gone to that place without some pretty well grounded information.’ The line of this questioning proposes that Henry Perkins informed Kennedy as to the whereabouts of the Kellys. It was suggested that Perkins also warned the Kellys of the search party. By encouraging Kennedy to try to get the reward for himself and Scanlon, the four troopers were divided to the obvious advantage of Ned and Dan. Question 15526: It is asserted, I do not know with what authority, that this was part of a plan to lead them into a trap.’ Question 15529: Do you think the object of the information given first was with a view to leading them to this position there, and the fact of the two leaving was part of a pre-concerted plan to bring those police into a position that they might be betrayed” Graves replies ‘ I don’t think so.’
As McIntyre states he was expecting to meet at Hedi station as they had been ordered. The Royal Commission was critical of Sgt Kennedy, finding ‘He seems to have acted with a singular disregard to possible contingencies. He not only divided his party, but allowed McIntyre to fire off his rifle at some birds, thus attracting the Kellys to the spot.’ Considering they anticipated meeting only the two Kellys, and that no more of a show of resistance would have been offered, those arms (4 regulation revolvers, a Spencer rifle and a double shotgun) were considered sufficient for every purpose; but the absence of foresight, of proper discipline or precaution, enabled the gang to take the party in detail, and, consequently, at a disadvantage.’
The image of Ned Kelly as the vengeful murderer is contradicted by an anecdote published in 1902 in ‘Iron Ned Kelly and his Gang’. In his epic work ‘What They Said About Ned’ Brian McDonald writes: ‘The author [of ‘Iron Ned Kelly and his Gang’] appears to have had firsthand knowledge regarding aspects of the Kelly outbreak and some of the information he relates is quite extraordinary. His account of the unveiling of the Mansfield Monument by Captain Standish is totally factual, he states:
And in the rain, disguised only by overalls and the total unexpectedness of his presence, stood Ned Kelly, listening to the words spoken by Captain Standish in honour of the dead. Some in the crowd noticed one who, in spite of the rain, reverently lifted his hat and stood with uncovered head and face bent down during the ceremony. It was he.
Dr Haldane writes that ‘For too long the achievements of Australian police and the study of their history has languished in the shadow of Ned Kelly.’ But he also admits that ‘Ned and his immediate relatives often came under police notice – sometimes unfairly and roughly – but there is little evidence that this police activity amounted to victimization’.
That there is antipathy towards a man responsible for the death of three brave officers is understandable, but a deeper resentment is revealed when Dr Haldane writes: ‘Never in the history of the force has a clash between police and criminals had such public and dramatic consequences as did the Kelly hunt. Lives were lost, careers ruined and the innermost workings of the force made the subject of public scrutiny, debate and ridicule. In the final analysis it was found that many of the police – Irishmen and others – were not as efficient as they ought to have been and that Kelly, although not invulnerable was certainly extraordinary. During his time as an outlaw Kelly and his companions tested the basic capabilities of the police to the limit – and beyond. It was both a tragic and humiliating time for the police; they were pilloried in the newspapers, criticized in parliament and made antagonistic towards each other in the field. The destruction of the gang did not, however, bring respite for the beleaguered force, for the spectre of Kelly caused them as much anguish in death as he did in life.’
Dr Haldane describes Kelly’s prophetic words to another Irishman, Justice Redmond Barry “I will see you there, where I go.” as an ‘appropriate curse for the police force as Kelly knew it.’ The Royal Commission described the Detective force as a ‘threat to society’. Dr Haldane describes the RC as a ‘vituperative and searching’ inquiry that led to a number of the senior officers ‘instead of the anticipated exoneration and acclaim, several of them received rebuke, embarrassment and retirement.’
Superintendent Francis Hare wrote ‘The gang never behaved badly to, or assaulted, a woman, but always treated them with consideration and respect, although frequently compelled by the exigencies of the situation to put them to considerable inconvenience. In like manner they seldom, if ever, made a victim of a poor man. And thus they weaved a certain halo of romance and rough chivalry around themselves, which was worth a great deal to them, much in the same way as did the British highwaymen during the last century.’
Max Brown spoke of the enigma of Ned Kelly and concluded that ‘people are not remembered for nothing.’ With the precise planning and violence free raids at Euroa and in particular Kelly’s treatment of the two policemen at Jerilderie, a very different Ned Kelly emerged. Public opinion started to shift and the debate began. Dr Haldane quotes retiring Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police Sir Colin Wood an Englishman as saying “Australian (police) are handicapped gravely by Ned Kelly and his myths and traditions.”
The contradictions of Ned Kelly were noted during his short life. Many prominent Australians went to see the monster of the Wombat Murders at his Melbourne trial. J. F. Archibald, founder of the Bulletin magazine and the man, who gave the annual Archibald Prize for portrait painting to the nation, was in the public gallery at the trial in October 1880 and wrote: ‘There is nothing especially villainous about the outlaw’s appearance. He is a rather handsome and essentially manly looking fellow. His principal characteristics are his height, which is above the average, and the largeness of his eyes, which are of a pale blue or steel grey hue, and are guarded by remarkably long lashes. His eyebrows are heavy and almost straight, and his lips, so far as one can see, are so thin and determined-looking as to seem in some regards out of keeping with his Celtic cheekbones.’ Archibald’s description is extremely detailed, and he further states ‘Perhaps the face won’t take it as a compliment when I say Ned Kelly looks suspiciously like a tall policeman in plain clothes.’
Ned Kelly was convicted of the murder of Constable Thomas Lonigan and was hanged until he was dead. He was then decapitated, eviscerated and his headless body buried in an unmarked grave. It is said that his skull was used as a macabre paperweight. Ned Kelly’s crimes are well documented and he received the extreme penalty of the law. His three confederates did not escape justice – Joe Byrne shot dead by police and Dan Kelly and Steve Hart consumed in the inferno at Glenrowan. Thomas McIntyre was the only survivor of the eight men who clashed so violently at Stringy Bark Creek. Kelly wrote:
I do not pretend that I have led a blameless life, or that one fault justifies another, but the public, judging a case like mine, should remember that the darkest life has a bright side, and after the worst has been said against a man, he may, if he is heard, tell a story in his own rough way that will lead them to soften the harshness of their thoughts against him and find as many excuses for him as he would plead for himself.
The enduring fascination with the Kelly saga should not be a reason for Australian police forces to feel ‘cursed’. Ned Kelly’s legend has little to do with his crimes, his other qualities make him unlike a Mad Dan Morgan or even a Ben Hall, and interest in Ned Kelly does not mean anti police.
An interesting story is told in Colonial Doctor and his Town by Joan Gillison. She writes of her grandfather Dr Samuel Reynolds of Mansfield. ‘As the medical officer who had examined the bodies of the three policemen Doctor Reynolds was summoned to the trial of Ned Kelly to give evidence. Accompanied by his son Willy he travelled to Melbourne by coach and Willy often recalled how on the long journey back his father puzzled over the life and death of Ned Kelly. While he deplored utterly the brutality of the Kelly gang and had indeed suffered personal sorrow in the death of Michael Kennedy he had been impressed, as many were, by the demeanor of Kelly in the dock. Something had gone gravely wrong, he said to his son, that a young man of native intelligence, fierce family loyalty and courage should have become a murderer and an outlaw. ‘He seemed to think’ said Willy, years later, ‘that we were all somehow involved.’
The Argus November 5 1878
The Sydney Morning Herald July 17, 2009
The Age July 17, 2000
The Australian January 26th 2007
ABC Radio National Late Night Live 27th July 2009
Robert Haldane The People’s Force: A History of the Victorian Police Melbourne University Press 1986
Robert Haldane In the Shadow of Ned Kelly Police History Book. Official Journal of the Australian Police Historical Society. March 1996
George Wilson Hall The Outlaws of the Wombat Ranges 1879
Francis Hare The Last of the Bushrangers 1892
Max Brown Australian Son 1948
Martin Leonard Ned Kelly: The Murderer Unmasked Australian Police Journal December 2006
Thomas McIntyre A True Narrative of the Kelly Gang 1894
John McQuilton Police in Rural Victoria: A Regional Example. Policing in Australia: Historical Perspectives New South Wales University Press 1987
Joan Gillison Colonial Doctor and his Town Cypress Books 1974
Brian McDonald What They Said About Ned Australian History Promotions 2004