One of the most infamous events in bushranging history is the so-called “Stringybark Creek Massacre” wherein the Kelly gang (Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart) ambushed police that were looking for them and killed three of the four officers. The only first-hand accounts we have are from Ned Kelly and Constable Thomas McIntyre who tell the story from opposite sides for obvious reasons. Here we can examine each perspective and compare the accounts against each other to see what matches and what is different in an effort to hove closer to the truth.
Kelly: On the 25 October I came on Police tracks between Tabletop and the bogs. I crossed them and returning in the evening I came on a different lot of tracks making for the Shingle Hut. I went to our camp and told my brother and his two mates, and my brother went and found their camp at the shingle hut about a mile from my brother’s house, 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.
McIntyre: Taking some lunch with them Kennedy and Scanlan then left, going down the creek or nearly due north. The last words that Kennedy said to me were “Mac, don’t be uneasy if we are not home tonight”…having cut a large sheet of bark off a white gum tree, out of which I improvised a table and a baking board I proceeded to bake some bread. Lonigan looked after the three horses, and grass being scarce they were inclined to stray, so that he was kept fairly busy. During the time he was not looking after the horses he was reading the “Vagabond Papers”. About noon I was busy with my baking operations when, Lonigan who was lying down reading, told me that he heard a strange noise down the creek. I had not heard the noise myself, but considering that it might be a kangaroo or a wombat that he had heard I took the shotgun and went down the creek to see… I killed a couple of parrots and cooked them for our dinner. I have been much criticised for this shooting, but I thought the Kellys were not within a dozen miles of us, and I had the sanction of the Sergeant to fire the rifle the evening before. Lonigan who had not previous to this carried his revolver, buckled it on, at the same time remarking that as he had to go a considerable distance for the horses he thought it would be wise to take it with him. He evidently placed more importance upon the noise than I did. I was convinced that it was made by a kangaroo or wombat. Now I think differently.
Kelly: We approached the spring as close as we could get to the camp. As the intervening place being clear ground and no battery, we saw two men at the logs. They got up and one took a double-barreled fowling piece and fetched a horse down and hobbled him at the tent and we thought there were more men in the tent asleep (those being on sentry). We could have shot those two men without speaking, but not wishing to take their lives we waited.
McIntyre: About 5 o’clock I asked Lonigan to assist me in making a large fire to guide the men home should they not arrive until after sundown. We built a fire at the intersection of the two logs… After we had completed the fire Lonigan remained upon the north side of the logs and I proceeded to boil the billy to make the tea. I was standing with my face to the fire and my back to the rushes looking down the creek for the men whose approach I expected. Lonigan was standing on the opposite side of the fire into which he was gazing intently, he had been strangely silent all day, if he lifted his head he must have seen four men who were approaching us from behind the rushes before they challenged us, but he did not do so. Suddenly and without warning I heard some voices crying out “Bail up, hold up your hands”. My first impression was that it was Kennedy and Scanlon who, coming from an unexpected quarter, were jesting; on turning quickly round I saw four men standing in the rushes, each of them armed with a gun which they held at their shoulders presented in our direction. I noticed particularly the man upon the right of the attacking party and I knew it was Ned Kelly as soon as I looked at him.
Death of Lonigan
Kelly: McIntyre laid the gun against a stump and Lonigan sat on the log. I advanced, my brother Dan keeping McIntyre covered (which he took to be Constable Flood) and had he not obeyed my orders or attempted to reach for the gun or draw his revolver he would have been shot dead, but 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, as I took him to be Strachan the man who said he would not ask me to stand he would shoot me first like a dog. He is the man that blowed before he left Violet Town if Ned Kelly was to be shot he was the man that would shoot him and no doubt he would shoot me even if I threw up my arms and laid down as he knew four of them could not arrest me singlehanded, not to talk of the rest of my mates, also either him or me would have to die. This he knew well, therefore he had a right to keep out of my road.
McIntyre: Seeing that he had me fairly and deadly covered, without the slightest tremor in the rifle, I wanted that rifle lowered before I attempted to get my firearms and accordingly threw out my arms horizontally. Immediately I did so Ned Kelly shifted the muzzle of his gun to the right and without taking it from his shoulder shot at Lonigan who had started to run partly towards and partly down the creek putting his hand down as if to get his revolver, he had no time to open the case and must have been looking over his right shoulder when he was shot in the right eye by Ned Kelly.
Kelly: As soon as I shot Lonigan he jumped up and staggered some distance from the logs with his hands raised and then fell. He surrendered but too late. I asked McIntyre who was in the tent he replied “no one”.
McIntyre: I took a hasty glance around when Kelly fired and saw Lonigan fall heavily he said “Oh! Christ I am shot”, made several plunges, breathing stentorously, after which he remained quiet. The whole affair occurred so quickly that Lonigan did not run more than four or five paces before he was shot; had he stooped down he would have been under cover of the logs when no doubt I would have been shot as a preliminary to their shooting him.
The Gang Raid the Camp
McIntyre: After shooting Lonigan the four men rushed over to me, Ned Kelly with a revolver in his right hand and carrying his rifle in the other. As I had lowered my hands when the shot was fired, they cried out loudly “keep up your hands; keep up your hands”. I was jammed in a corner having a log on either hand and a fire at my back, both my revolver and the shotgun were at the tent about twenty four yards distant on my right and about the same distance from some of the attacking party.
I had only time to ejaculate “Oh God, my time has come”, when the four of them reached me and presenting their firearms at my chest within a distance of three feet Kelly demanded to know if I had any firearms. I said “I have not”, he asked where was my revolver, I replied “at the tent”. On hearing this Dan Kelly, whom I easily recognised by the family likeness especially about the eyes, suddenly whisked round and presenting his gun at the tent called out “come out here you bloody bastards”. I told him there was nobody there. Ned Kelly asked me where my mates were, I replied “they are out”.
Kelly: I asked McIntyre where his mates was, he said they had gone down the creek and he did not expect them that night. He asked me was I going to shoot him and his mates. I told him “No, I would shoot no man if he gave up his arms and leave the force”. He said the Police all knew Fitzpatrick had wronged us and he intended to leave the force as he had bad health and his life was insured.
McIntyre: He asked my name and station, I told him and having in view the fate of the four men in New South Wales [referring to the special constables murdered by Thomas Clarke in the 1860s], I also told him my life was insured, I was unmarried at the time and had not a single relative in Australia, and my being insured was unknown to my people at home. I told him this under the impression that he would mention the matter at some future time, when he was brought to justice and thus assist my relatives in getting the insurance money.
Kelly: He told me he intended going home and that Kennedy & Scanlan were out looking for our camp, and also about the other Police he told me the N.S.W Police had shot a man for shooting Sergeant Walling. I told him if they did they had shot the wrong man and I expect your gang came to do the same with me. He said no they did not come to shoot me, they came to apprehend me. I asked him what they carried Spencer rifles and breech loading fowling pieces and so much ammunition for, as the Police was only supposed to carry one revolver and six cartridges in the revolver, but they had eighteen rounds of revolver cartridges each, three dozen for the fowling piece, and twenty one Spencer rifle cartridges and God knows how many they had away with the rifle. This looked as if they meant not only to shoot me only to riddle me, but I don’t know either Kennedy, Scanlan or him and had nothing against them.
McIntyre: When he said “What became of the Sydney man”, I knew he referred to the murder of Sergeant Wallings of the New South Wales Police. […] The ofender was a man named Gibson alias Wilson who in ’72 escaped from Parramatta gaol where he was serving a sentence for cattle stealing. In reply to Kelly’s question, I said, “The Police had shot him”. He said “Well if the Police shot him they shot the wrong man and I suppose some of you fellows will shoot me some day, but I will make some of you suffer first, for you know I am no coward. That Fellow Fitzpatrick is the cause of all this, for those people lagged in Beechworth the other day no more had revolvers in their hands than you have now, in fact they were not there at all these are the men who were there”, nodding towards his mates.
McIntyre: Ned Kelly and the two strangers were cool and held their weapons steadily. Dan Kelly was nervously excited and was laughing with a short laugh almost hysterical; there was something grotesque about his appearance; all his clothing including his hat was much too large for him and when he turned his back to me to cover the tent there was very little of the inhabitant of the clothing visible.
Ned Kelly told his mates to keep me covered and me to hold my hands above my head which I had not hitherto done. He searched me very carefully round the body, down the legs and even examined my boots to see if I had a weapon concealed. He then jumped over a log and going to where Lonigan lay, whose struggles in the death agony had ceased, he took possession of Lonigan’s revolver. On his return to where we were he said “Dear a dear! What a pity, what made the fellow run?” He then proceeded to the tents and securing the firearms there he told his mates to let me go. Judging by the expression made use of by Kelly when he returned from the body of Lonigan it is possible he may not have contemplated murder in the first instance relying upon taking us separately and unprepared but there could be no doubt that after shooting Lonigan he intended to shoot the whole party, for clearly their safety demanded our destruction.
Kelly: He said he would get them to give up their arms if I would not shoot them as I could not blame them, they had to do their duty. I said I did not blame them for doing honest duty but I could not suffer them blowing me to pieces in my own native land, and they knew Fitzpatrick wronged us and why not make it public and convict him? But, no, they would rather riddle poor unfortunate creoles, but they will rue the day ever Fitzpatrick got among them. Our two mates came over when the heard the shots fired but went back again for fear the Police might come to our camp while we were all away and manure Bullock Flat with us.
McIntyre: Handcuffing was an indignity I was not inclined to submit to, and I did not raise my hands but appealed to Ned Kelly by saying “What is the use of putting these things on me, how can I get away and you all armed as you are?” He said “All right, don’t put them on him, this (tapping the butt of his rifle) is better than handcuffs”. To me he said “but mind you don’t try to get away or we will shoot you if we have to follow you to the police station to do so”. Dan Kelly accepted this order from his brother very sullenly, and in language more forcible than elegant he stated that he would soon find the handcuffs upon himself if our positions were reversed. From that moment I knew who was most likely to be my executioner when the time came. Byrne brought up our billy of tea and filling out some into a pannickin [sic] he handed me a drink. I thought he did it from a kindly motive but Kelly put a different construction upon his act by asking me if there was any poison about the place.
During the time Kelly’s associates were eating, Kelly was busy loading his own rifle and extracting the shot from the cartridges which we had for the sporting gun he replaced it with bullets of which he seemed to have a plentiful supply. […] He gave our gun loaded in both barrels to Byrne and took Byrne’s himself. Kelly thus had two guns one of which he told me was to shoot me if I did not obey him. Byrne had our gun loaded with bullets. Hart had also a double barrelled gun and Dan Kelly a single barrelled one.
Kelly: I advanced and took possession of their two revolvers and fowling piece, which I
loaded with bullets instead of shot.
Confusion over Lonigan’s Identity
McIntyre: Kelly asked me “Who is that over there?” nodding towards the body. I said “Lonigan”. He said “It is not Lonigan, I know Lonigan well, Iand I will put a hole in you if you don’t tell me the truth”. During the time they had me a prisoner Kelly threatened not less than a dozen times to shoot me and several times pointed his rifle at me apparently for that purpose. […] Kelly then joined the others in feasting upon our cooked ham and the fresh bread which I had made. I feel pleased, now, that they all expressed so much approval of my bread that I believe I could have got a testimonial from them as a first class baker.
[…] A favourite expression of his was: – “I will let them see what one native can do”.
[…] I said to him, “What are you going to do with me, Are you going to shoot me?” He replied “No! I could have shot you half an hour ago when you were sitting upon that log if I had wanted to do it. At first I thought you were Flood and if you had been I would have roasted you upon that fire. There are four men in the police and if I ever lay hands upon them I will roast them alive; they are Flood, Steele, Strachan and Fitzpatrick.”
Kelly: I took him to be Strachan the man who said he would not ask me to stand he would shoot me first like a dog, but it happened to be Lonigan the man who in company with Sergeant Whelan, Fitzpatrick, and King the bootmaker, and Constable O’Day that tried to put a pair of handcuffs on me in Benalla but could not, and had to allow McInnes
the Miller to put them on, previous to Fitzpatrick swearing he was shot. I was fined two pounds for not allowing five curs like Sergeant Whelan, O’Day, Fitzpatrick, King, and Lonigan and would have sent me to “Kingdom come” only I was not ready, and he is the man that blowed before he left Violet Town if Ned Kelly was to be shot he was the man that would shoot him, and no doubt he would shoot me even if I threw up my arms and laid down as he knew four of them could not arrest me single handed, not to talk of the rest of my mates. Also, either him or me would have to die – this he knew well, therefore he had a right to keep out of my road. Fitzpatrick is the only one I hit out of the five in Benalla, this shows my feelings towards him as he said we were good friends and even swore it, but he was the biggest enemy I had in the country with the exception of Lonigan and he can be thankful I was not there when he took a revolver and threatened to shoot my mother in her own house.
Kelly: […] When I heard I was outlawed and a hundred pounds reward for me for shooting at a trooper in Victoria and a hundred pound reward for any man that could
prove a conviction of horsestealing against me so I came back to Victoria, [and] knew I would get no justice if I gave myself up. I enquired after my brother Dan and found him digging on Bullock Creek heard how the Police used to be blowing that they would not ask me to stand they would shoot me first and then cry surrender, and how they used to rush into the house upset all the milk dishes, break tins of eggs, empty the flour out of the bags on to the ground and even the meat out of the cask, and destroy all the provisions and shove the girls in front of them into the rooms like dogs so as if anyone was there they would shoot the girls first, but they knew well I was not there or I would have scattered their blood and brains like rain. I would manure the Eleven Mile with their bloated carcasses and yet remember there is not one drop of murderous blood in my veins.
Kennedy and Scanlan Return
McIntyre: They were all inside the tent and I standing outside looking down the creek. Lonigan’s body was visible from where I stood and I tried to keep myself form looking at it, lest it should unnerve me, but my eyes wandered back in spite of myself.
[…] Kelly was in one angle formed by the logs, on the creek side, and I was in the angle other, on the tent side. […] He then inquired about the men on patrol. I told him that I did not expect them home that night, but, I said “What are you going to do with them, because if you are going to shoot them down in cold blood I would rather be shot myself a thousand times than tell you anything about them.” He replied “Well of course I like to see a brave man and you can depend upon me not shooting them but you must get them to surrender, I don’t want their lives I only want their horses and firearms.”
Kelly: I could have shot them without speaking but their lives was no good to me.
McIntyre: Just then we heard the noise of approaching horses and Kelly sang out, “Hist! Lads, here they come.” I said to him, “For God’s sake don’t shoot the men and I will try to get them to surrender.” He said “All right but mind you do so, go and sit upon that log and give no alarm, or I will put a hole in you.” At the same time he covered me with one of the rifles.
Kelly: On our arrival I stopped at the logs and Dan went back to the spring for the troopers would come in that way but I soon heard them coming up the creek I told McIntyre to tell them to give up their arms.
McIntyre: I went to the place he indicated about ten yards off and had barely time to sit down when the two men came in sight. Kennedy was in advance about two horses length and Scanlan was carrying the rifle. I stepped towards Kennedy and was about to explain the position to him, when Kelly sang out “Bail up, hold up your hands.” Kennedy smiled and playfully put his hand upon his revolver case. Judging from the expression on his face he thought that Lonigan and I were jesting with him. Immediately he put his hand down he was fired at by Ned Kelly, but as I was in a direct line between him and Kennedy, who was on higher ground, Kelly had to shoot over my head and in doing so fired too high to hit him. I said to Kennedy, “Oh Sergeant, I think you had better surrender for we are surronded.” His face immediately assumed a serious look. I turned round to look at Kelly, who was in the act of changing his rifle, and his mates just now broke cover and advanced. I again looked at Kennedy and saw him throw himself on his face on the horse’s neck and roll from his horse on the off side, just at this moment there were some shots fired by the advancing bushrangers.
Kelly: He spoke to Kennedy who was some distance in front of Scanlan. He reached for his revolver and jumped off on the off side of his horse and got behind a tree when I called on them to surrender, throw up their arms, and Scanlan (who carried the rifle) slewed his horse around to gallop away but the horse would not go, and as quick as thought fired at me with the rifle without unslinging it and was in the act of firing again when I had to shoot him and he fell from his horse. 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: Scanlan who had not lessened the distance between himself and Kennedy was in the act of dismounting when he heard the challenge to bail up, and saw Kennedy fired at. He had already removed his right leg from the off side of his horse when he looked around, and from the expression on his face I believe he fully realised the position he was in, and further that he saw the body of Lonigan he let go his hands before he had reached the ground to seize his rifle, which was strapped over his shoulder; in doing so he fell, and in his efforts to scramble onto his feet and at the same time disentangle himself from his rifle he fell again and both his hands an knees were upon the ground when he was shot under the right arm. I saw a large spot of blood appear on his coat, which was of a light grey colour, simultaneously with hearing a shot fired by Ned Kelly.
[…] Probably owing to Kennedy having dismounted on the off side, his horse, which had been frightened by the firing, plunged over in my direction, I caught him by the rein, and as I did so, he swung round , thus placing my back towards Kennedy and had I not restrained him he would have bolted down the creek as Scanlan’s had done.
Kelly: Kennedy kept firing from behind a tree. My brother Dan advanced and Kennedy ran. I followed him, he stopped behind another tree and fired again. I shot him in the armpit 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 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. 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 and none of my mates was near him after he was shot. 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. This cannot be called wilful murder for I was compelled to shoot them or lie down and let them shoot me.
McIntyre: I did not know that Kennedy was not already shot, and I believe he received his first wound at this time, which caused him to drop his revolver. I rode down the creek for about half a mile when I turned the horse’s head towards the setting sun, which direction would take me to the Benalla road.
[…] The forest was so thick hat it was impossible to guide the horse, I therefore gave him his head… Throwing myself to the right or the left, to avoid branches as well as I could, I did not succeed in escaping many bruises and scratches which were little thought of at the time, but some of which have left their scars to the present day.
Kelly: It would not be wilful murder if they packed our remains in, shattered into a mass of animated gore, to Mansfield. They would have got great praise and credit as well as promotion, but I’m reckoned a horrid brute because I had not been cowardly enough to lie down for them under such trying circumstances and insults to my people. Certainly their wives and children are to be pitied, but they must remember those men came into the bush with the intention of scattering pieces of me and my brother all over the bush and yet they know and acknowledge I have been wronged and my mother and four or five men lagged innocent. And is my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied also? Who was has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big, ugly, fat-necked, wombat-headed, big-bellied, magpie-legged, narrow-hipped, splaw-footed sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords, which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police – who some calls honest gentlemen, but I would like to know what business an honest man would have in the Police, as it is an old saying “It takes a rogue to catch a rogue”, and a man that knows nothing about roguery would never enter the force and take an oath to arrest brother sister father or mother if required and to have a case and conviction if possible.