Cookson, 06 09 1911 1

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6 September 1911

(full text transcription)



"WE HAD TO SHOOT, OR BE SHOT" The blackest of all the crimes charged against the Kelly outlaws was that of the murder of the brave Kennedy and his companions in the Wombat Ranges. There was callousness about that massacre that engendered more public hatred and intolerance of the authors of it than all the other exploits of the gang put together. The fact that Kennedy, when on the ground, terribly wounded, was shot dead in response to a piteous appeal to be allowed to see his wife and little ones before he died, roused popular execration of the murderers to the pitch ? frantically expressed intolerance.

At this distant date, when the dreadful tragedy itself is only a memory, and when the murderers, to a man, have long ago ? the crime in the fullest and most wilful manner, it may be worth while to hear ?somewhat of the defence. Something on ? behalf was forthcoming from an old resident of the district, a relative and active sympathiser with the Kellys, and who is well known, was very much in their confidence. This man, who, with his family still lives in the neighborhood, was in the habit of meeting the outlaws whilst thepolice hunt for them, subsequent to the Wombat affair was in progress.

He was at first very disinclined to speak at all on the subject, but when it was pointed out to him that there was an opportunity open to put before the public the outlaws' own version of the most damming and apparently wanton of the many crimes committed by them, he decided to speak- only stipulating that, as he had lived down the odium that had attached to all the more active sympathisers with the outlaws, and was now on good terms with all classes in the community, his name was not to be published.

"The first time I saw Ned after that affair," he said, "he was low in spirits. He said they all were, for two reasons. They had been compelled to kill men for whom courage they had had great respect, and they had done that which would throw the whole of the force of the colony against them.

"It seemed as if he knew there would be no chance of escape for them after that. But he kept on saying that they couldn't help it. "We had to shoot or be shot," was the way he put it. He said that the police had made themselves their enemies, and knew that it was war to the death, all they (the bushranger) should not be blamed because they had won a fair fight. All the men could have saved their lives by surrendering. But they would shoot, even when they saw it was hopeless, and there was nothing else for it.


"Kennedy was so badly hurt that he could only live a few minutes. They could not have got him to his wife and children alive. They were deeply sorry for him because he was so brave, but they cold do nothing for him. They did not treat the dying man with brutality. On the contrary, Ned got his own overcoat and spread it over him before they left."

Asked if he believed in the story that Dan Kelly and Steve Hart escaped and were now alive, this old and particular friend of the family contemptuously ridiculed the idea. "No," he said. "I would have been one of the first to know if either of them were alive. They're dead."

The report of the Royal Commission dealing with the Wombat tragedy says:

"Sergeant Kennedy's suggestion to establish a depot at Stringy Bark Creek, whence an organised search could be maintained, was approved of by his superior officer, and on the 13th of October Superintendent Sadleir issued final orders to guide parties. Two parties were to start simultaneously-one, consisting of Sergeant Kennedy and Constables Lonergan, Scanlan, and M'Intyre, from Mansfield; and the other, in charge of Senior-constable Shoebridge, from Greta. The spot indicated by Sergeant Kennedy for the purpose of a camp was, therefore, of his own selection and the arrangements generally were left to himself. On reaching the site of the proposed depot at Stringy Bark Creek measures were adopted by Sergeant Kennedy for camping there for the night. It seems clear that Kennedy had no knowledge of the presence of the Kellys in the locality. He took no precautionary measures against surprise. He seems to have acted with a singular disregard to possible contingencies. He not only divided his party, but allowed M'Intyre to fire off his rifle at some birds, thus attracting the Kellys to the spot. The party was armed each with the regulation revolver, having beside a Spencer repeating rifle and a double shot gun. Considering that they anticipated meeting only the two Kellys, and that probably no more than a show of resistance would have been offered, those arms 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. There seems no reason to suppose that the murders were the result of premeditation; the men were shot down when with an instinctive sense of duty, they endeavoured to repel the attack of their assailants.

The detailsof this grim tragedy, were briefly, as follows:- Whilst Kennedy and Lonergan were away, Scanlan and McIntyre remained in the camp. They were suddenly bailed up by the four bushrangers. McIntyre threw up his hands. Lonergan made for a tree, but was shot dead before he could draw his revolver. When Kennedy and Scanlan returned McIntyre advised them to surrender, as the camp was captured. The Kellys at the same time covered them and ordered them to put up their hands. Scanlan jumped from his horse but was instantly shot. Kennedy dismounted and fired at the outlaws from behind his horse but the animal bolted past McIntyre who jumped on it and galloed away. Kennedy fired on till his revolver was empty, and then fell.

Aaron Sherritt's version of the encounter was that Ned Kelly compelled Byrne and Hart to kill Kennedy, as they had neither of them fired a shot at the other trooper.

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