There are two opposing views of Ned Kelly. The popular view is that he was a hero who fought to save his friends and family from a corrupt and oppressive police force. This view sees Ned as a good man driven to crime by poverty and circumstances beyond his control. The other vie
w is that Ned was a career criminal who stole horses, robbed banks, shot down policeman and plotted to kill many more. As leader of the Greta Mob of horse and cattle thieves, Ned was a cunning and dangerous criminal foe.
At Stringybark Creek on the 26th of October 1878, Ned Kelly and his men ambushed a police party. In the ensuing gunfire, three policemen were killed; Constables Thomas Lonigan and Michael Scanlan and their leader Sergeant Michael Kennedy. A fourth policeman, Constable Thomas McIntyre escaped.
Six months before this event, Ned and Dan Kelly were implicated in the wounding of Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick at the Kelly family home.
The Kelly’s were then wanted for the attempted murder of a police officer. The police were searching the Wombat Ranges near Mansfield, when Ned and Dan Kelly, and their larrikin friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart attacked their camp. According to the testimony of sole survivor Thomas McIntyre, he was unarmed and surrendered immediately. Constable Lonigan was running for cover, attempting to draw his revolver when Ned shot him dead. According to McIntyre, half an hour later, Kennedy and Scanlan arrived back at the campsite. Scanlan was shot while on his hands and knees, attempting to untangle the rifle strapped to his back. Kennedy drew his revolver, made it to a tree and fired several shots at the bushrangers. Kennedy was pursued by Ned Kelly through the bush for a quarter of a mile and wounded him with several shots. According to Ned Kelly, he put a shotgun to the pleading policeman’s chest, as he pitifully begged that ‘his life to be spared for the sake of my wife and children’. Ned said that he shot him in the chest as “he could not live, or I would’ve let him go.”
Stringybark Creek was the defining moment in Ned Kelly’s career as a bushranger. Rather than simply ride away when he discovered the police camped at Stringybark Creek, Ned chose to confront his ‘natural enemy’. Then 18 months after the events of Stringybark Creek, Ned made another plan to confront the police at Glenrowan. He planned to the derail a passenger train carrying police, aboriginal trackers and civilians – but the derailment did not eventuate and he and his men ended their bushranging careers in a violent gunfight at Anne Jones Inn. He was captured and found guilty of the murder of Constable Thomas Lonigan at Stringybark Creek. He was hanged for the crime at Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880.
The four policemen who went in search of the Kelly Gang, were well-respected community policeman with impressive conviction rates against the northeast Victoria criminal fraternity. Only one of the four policemen had any prior dealings with the Kelly brothers. They were not as the Kelly myth claims, corrupt or disreputable police officers. Ned and his gang stole the policeman’s watches and other valuables, leaving the pockets of their clothing turned inside out.
Sergeant Michael Kennedy
Michael Kennedy came from County Westmeath in Ireland. Before immigrating to Australia in the early 1860s, he served for two years in the Dublin police force. He joined the Victorian police force at the age of twenty-two on the 19th of August 1864. Michael married Bridget Tobin at Dry Creek near Mansfield in 1868 and together they had six children. Bridget lost her unborn child after her husband was murdered. Kennedy was a career policeman, who pursued Mansfield’s larrikins and criminals with fairness and devotion to duty. Michael was thirty-six years old, when he was killed at Stringybark Creek.
Constable Thomas Lonigan
Thomas Lonigan was born in County Sligo in Ireland. Thomas married Maria Siggins in 1868 in County Mayo, converting from his Catholic religion to Protestantism. The newlyweds, who eventually would have four children, emigrated to Victoria in 1869, where Thomas tried his hand at several occupations, before joining the police force on the 4th of July 1871. Lonigan is remembered for a confrontation with Ned Kelly in a Benalla boot shop in 1877 when he grabbed Ned Kelly by the testicles to bring him under control. Ned is alleged to have said ‘if ever I shoot a man, Lonigan, you will be the first!’ Constable Lonigan was the first to die at Stringybark Creek, shot through the right eye by Ned’s rifle bullet. Thomas Lonigan was thirty-four years of age when the fatal shot was fired.
Constable Michael Scanlan
Michael Scanlan came from County Kerry in Ireland. He attended Dublin Agricultural College training as a farmer, before emigrating to Victoria in May 1861 at the young age of 18 years. In 1863, Michael was working as a storeman at Beaufort. He joined the police force aged twenty-two on 22nd of December 1865. He never married and died intestate without a relative in Australia. Kennedy and Scanlan served together as police officers in the Jamieson and Mansfield districts. It is reputed when leaving Mooroopna to join the Mansfield search party, Scanlan promised his dog to a friend if he did not return from scouring the ranges for the Kelly brothers. Michael Scanlan was thirty-five years old, when he died on at Stringybark Creek.
Constable Thomas McIntyre
Thomas McIntyre was thirty-one years of age, when he encountered the Kelly Gang. He was born in Northern Ireland and followed his father into the Royal Irish Constabulary, where he served for three years before emigrating to Australia in February 1865. He became a schoolteacher for four years in New South Wales, before joining the Victorian police force on the 14th of December 1869. In 1877, McIntyre was transferred to Mansfield, where he served with Kennedy and Scanlan. When taken prisoner by the Kelly Gang, McIntyre claimed he was unarmed and cooking the evening meal. During the firefight encounter with Kennedy and Scanlan, he managed to escape on Kennedy’s bolting horse. McIntyre lived to tell the tale of ambush and murder; but he suffered for the rest of his life from criticism of his actions on that day.
The Kelly Gang:
The members of the Kelly Gang were criminals long before Ned and Dan took to the bush after Ned allegedly shot Constable Fitzpatrick. They were professional horse and cattle thieves who stole livestock from rich and poor alike. As bushrangers, the Kelly Gang shot three policemen dead at Stringybark Creek. They robbed the Euroa and Jerilderie banks and, dressed in homemade armour at Glenrowan and planned to wreck a police train.
Ned Kelly was born at Beveridge in December 1854. From an early age, Ned engaged in criminal activity and at the age of fifteen joined bushranger Harry Power in highway robbery. Ned was a clever criminal and only went to gaol twice, once for assault and once for receiving a stolen horse. Ned confessed to committing many crimes, but he was able to escape punishment for them. After his capture at Glenrowan, Ned claimed he shot the policemen in self-defence, but the evidence clearly shows it was an ambush and the police were attacked with little warning. The Euroa and Jerilderie bank robberies netted the Kelly Gang thousands of pounds and captured the imagination of the public. At Glenrowan, Ned dressed in his signature armour confronted the police in a last stand fight. He was captured, tried and convicted of the murder of Constable Lonigan and sentenced to be hanged. Ned died on the gallows at the Melbourne Gaol 10 o’clock in the morning on 11th of November 1880. He was twenty-six years old and had been an outlaw for just over two years.
Dan Kelly, Ned’s younger brother, was born at Beveridge in June 1861. Dan served a short prison sent
ence at a young age and was a hardened horse and cattle thief. Ned had to keep Dan under control, as he was reckless and threatening to their captives. During the Euroa bank robbery, Dan suggested to Ned ‘they have a lark among the women’. Dan Kelly was nineteen years old when he died (along with Steve Hart) in the siege of Glenrowan. His unrecognisable burnt corpse was dragged from the ashes of the burnt Anne Jones Inn and placed on a slab of bark.
Steve Hart was born at South Wangaratta in 1859. He was small in stature, a superb horseman and a district jockey admired by all for his skill in winning races. As a member of Ned’s Greta Mob gang of horse thieves, Steve was a flash bush larrikin, who when asked to join the Kelly Gang is reputed to have said ‘Here’s to a short life and a merry one’. Steve was twenty-one years old, when his charred corpse was placed on view next to that of Dan Kelly.
Joe Byrne was born in the Woolshed district of Beechworth in 1856. Joe was two years younger than Ned and was his most trusted friend. Joe was better educated than the rest of the gang and he penned Ned’s Cameron and Jerilderie Letters. On the eve of the Glenrowan battle, Joe shot to death Aaron Sherri his childhood friend, who had fallen out with the Kelly Gang and was seen as a traitor. A little over a day later at the Glenrowan pub wearing his armour, Joe was raising a glass and toasting ‘the bold Kelly gang’ when a police bullet struck him in the groin, severed an artery and he died almost immediately. Joe’s dead body was dragged from the burning Glenrowan Inn, taken to Benalla and strung up to be photographed. Joe Byrne was twenty-four years old when he died and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Benalla cemetery.
A NOTE ABOUT NED KELLY’S GUN
Constable McIntyre refers to Kelly holding up his rifle when he ambushed the police camp. Ned Kelly’s rifle was a .577 inch carbine, Enfield muzzle-loading sawn-off barrel [60 cm] rifle. Bound together with waxed string. There would have been a number of advantages in a shortened firearm.
It would have been more manoeuvrable than a longer weapon, lighter and concealable under a coat. The disadvantages would be a reduction in range and accuracy but if the intended use was for short range firing such as the shootings at Stringybark Creek, the advantages would win out. Ned Kelly is also known to have another gun – a Colt Revolver.