9 September 1911
THE OUTLAWRY IN THE BEGINNING
TRAGEDY OF THE WOMBAT RANGES
OUTLAWYS EXPLOITS AT EUROA continued Let it be said at first that Kennedy was clever, intrepid and determined. His chief fault lay in the extraordinary publicity that he permitted his men to give as to their whereabouts. He made one other grievous mistake. He never for a moment thought that he, the hunter, would ever in that expedition, become the hunted. That was an error in tactics that cost himself and two other brave men their lives.
The details of the tragic episode have been published time and time again. Let it merely be said that one day, not long after the police camp had been formed, Sergeant Kennedy and Constables Scanlan went away to scour the ranges, leaving Constables M'Intyre and Lonergan in camp. These men appear to have kept but a poor watch, if any at all, because when about 2 o'clock in the afternoon the four outlaws armed to the teeth, suddenly appeared in front of the tent and covered them with rifles, they were unable to raise a hand in self-defence. M'Intyre surrendered at once. Lonergan made for a tree. Two of the outlaws' rifles cracked as he ran, and he fell dead in his tracks.
Much has been written and spoken about this dreadful business, but the Kellys' pleaded that they had, 'to shoot or be shot.' The presence of the police there, they claimed, was an extension of the menace to their liberty that the ill-considered conduct of Constable Fitzpatrick had instituted. They said that the police made the war, and that they, as men, had to defend themselves. Always throughout the whole of the defence raised by the outlaws there rings the one note of the intolerable injustice of their mother's sentence, of the ruin of their home, and of the dismal prospect of incarceration as felons for long terms that confronted themselves. Always they asserted that they were innocent of having injured Fitzpatrick in any way. That was the basis of their defence, and it was maintained as the groundwork and reason for the whole of their subsequent conduct till the red tragedy at Glenrowan.
Most people are familiar with the rest of the details of the encounter in the Wombat Ranges. No one could feel anything but sympathy and admiration for the brave Kennedy, who, on returning to camp with Scanlan, found the outlaws in possession. Ned Kelly told him to surrender-told him that his position was a hopeless one. Four levelled rifles in the hands of the outlaws emphasised the fact. There is not the slightest room for doubt that had Kennedy realised the absolute fatality of resistance in such desperate and fatal circumstances, and accepted the inevitable, there would have been no blood-shed. But he did not. He was brave-too brave. Even M'Intyre's advice to him to surrender was disregarded. Kennedy threw himself from his horse and opened fire with his revolver upon the outlaws. Scanlan, who had promptly decided to follow his leader's example and precept, was shot as soon as he had alighted on the ground. Kennedy was putting up a good fight with his horse between him and the rifles of his enemies, but to make his position hopeless where before it was desperate, the horse sprang away and bolted, leaving him exposed to the fire of the bushrangers. M'Intyre, who does not seem to have been handicapped with that special species of desperate courage that animated Kennedy, saw the horse coming, and took the opportunity to escape that offered. He sprang on to the animal, threw his arms round its neck, and was carried away to the bush.
Kennedy's body was found a quarter of a mile away from the camp. The outlaws admitted that they had given him the camp degrace, when, seeing that he was so desperately wounded that he could not survive many minutes, he pleaded for a chance to see his family before he died. Several versions of this dismal business have been circulated. What actually occurred was only known to the outlaws themselves and to their victim.
But Ned Kelly and Byrne, at least, expressed the most fervent regret for the necessity which Kennedy put upon them of shooting when the situation could have been saved by surrender. Their own position, they claimed, was desperate, and the police knew it. They had to shoot or be shot. They never anticipated that, in the face of such fatal odds, and with one of his comrades dead, and another captured, Kennedy would show flight. It was matter for the bitterest regret, from this to the end of their career, that poor Kennedy did not accept the position and save his own and his comrades' lives.
But, as Ned Kelly told one of his closest friends after the tragedy, Kennedy's resistance upset all their plans, well laid as they were. They intended the police no harm whatever, and when the sergeant and Scanlan, scorning the injunction to surrender, laid hands upon their weapons, the issue at once became one of life or death on both sides.
One thing is certain in connection with Kennedy's death - that is, that Ned Kelly, declaring that he was the bravest man he had ever heard of, put his own overcoat over the body. The coat was still there when the body was discovered two or three days afterwards.
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