NED Kelly has been dead nearly 140 years, and his legend still grows. But what we know about the bushranger simply isn’t true.
BUSHRANGERS are part of Australia’s folklore. And there was no bigger name than Ned Kelly.
While the man himself was hanged in the Old Melbourne Gaol on November 11, 1880, his legend has grown through the years. But the people who were left behind: widows and young children of victims he killed have largely been forgotten.
Sergeant Michael Kennedy was one of those killed on that fateful day 140 years ago. His great grandson Leo Kennedy has written a book about that time and the impact Ned Kelly’s murders had on his family.
On October 26, 1878, 140 years ago yesterday, three policemen were murdered at Stringybark Creek. The Sergeant and two Constables were part of two groups of policemen sent in search of the fugitive Kelly brothers. Ned and Dan Kelly were wanted for horse theft and the attempted murder of a policeman. They had been on the run for months. The police parties were underprepared, under-resourced and ill-informed. Worse, the group of policemen from Mansfield who travelled to Stringybark Creek had already been given away. They were sitting ducks.
At 5pm, Constable Thomas Lonigan, a married father-of-four, was gunned down by Ned Kelly as he ran for cover. Lonigan’s revolver was still in his capped holster; he had no chance to defend himself.
Forty-five minutes later, Constable Michael Scanlan was shot as he stood in his stirrup attempting to dismount his horse. He fell to the ground and was slain on his hands and knees.
Constable Thomas McIntyre saw the criminals shooting at his Sergeant as he got the Sergeant’s rearing horse under control. McIntyre fled on the horse with bullets trailing after him.
He was a husband; he was a father-of-five. His name was Michael Kennedy. He was my great-grandfather. His death changed the course of our family.
The colony of Victoria, Australia and the British Empire were aghast at the murders of the policemen. The shocked and devastated community of Victoria remembered these men with a monument erected in their honour in Mansfield. They were good men killed in the performance of their duty; they were good men who were to never be forgotten.
On October 26 each year we remember him, our Michael; and Thomas Lonigan and Michael Scanlan. We reflect on the impact their loss at the hands of the Kelly Gang had on their families, and still has on us.
Over time something went wrong. Their story and their killers’ story altered.
Writers and movie makers changed the victims from underprepared authorised law enforcers to heavily armed bounty hunters. The lone survivor of the Stringybark massacre, Constable Thomas McIntyre, has been branded a liar by Ned Kelly mythologisers. The families of the murdered policemen, still in mourning, were powerless to stop the rewriting. They became victims to the Kelly myth.
The human cost of distorting a family’s history is far-reaching. The families did not cope with the myth making and character assassination of their husbands and fathers. Their widows never got closure. Their families suffered. They still suffer.
Sergeant Michael Kennedy’s widow, Bridget, wanted to confront her husband’s murderer, but was refused. Instead she endured a life coloured by other people’s imaginings and the glorification of a “convicted criminal, a bully, a liar, a drunkard, a thief, a hostage taking killer”.