The importance of the huts at Stringybark Creek

One hut or two

Orientation of the Burman photo

How the bush hut fireplaces were found

A Kelly Tree history

McIntyre's sketch and the Burman photos compared

BLUE RANGE, crucial to the Kelly story?

STORY 8 The Bullets of Kellys Ck.
My story 1985

The Kelly hut at Bullock Ck. Including the Kelly Ck Kelly tree

The EK marked gun.
Plus other Kelly items of interest.

The proposed
Architect Penleigh Boyd and designer Bill Denheld take on the challenge, see the result.

























Story 8 The Bullets of Kellys Creek

Were they “The bullets of the rush to get away”?
Bill Denheld

ON THAT FATEFUL Saturday, 26 Oct. 1878 after the shooting of the three policemen at Stringybark Creek towards dusk, the Kelly gang departed from the scene loaded with the captured firearms, ammunition and provisions to ensure their survival. With bulging pockets and all they could carry on the way back to their hut, and in the rush to get away, they would not have noticed some dropped bullets along the way. (Conjecture! maybe, but something like this certainly could have happened).

Kelly's Creek

When I found the bullets back in 1985 I knew they could be important. I also knew there could be much conjecture as to their authenticity and association with the Kelly’s. The bullets came from the very place where Ned and Dan lived and worked in hiding and from where they took off as the Kelly Gang.
Central.0.45 inch Calibre bullets and balls, upper right, 0.31 revolver ball bullet. Lower, .65 Cal. balls for muzzle and breech loading cartridge shot guns. Upper left, impacted ball, all found at Kellys Ck.

It is recorded that Ned Kelly, after he had shot Const. Lonigan, had taken Kennedy's double barrel shotgun from out of the tent and emptied out several cartridges and replaced the shot with solid balls like these pictured. When Kennedy and Scanlon returned to camp, they engaged in the gunfight using their .45 Cal. Webley revolvers and were either wounded or killed with the balls loaded into that shotgun. It is not known if the police provisions included musket balls or that Ned Kelly himself produced these.  The Kelly gang were now armed with the 4 Webley revolvers, a double barrel shot gun and a powerful Spencer rifle .50 Calibre and ammunition.

Of all the places where the Kelly saga was to unfold, none could be considered today as still pristine - except for the Wombat Ranges table lands interior and in particular - Kelly’s Creek ( then known as Bullock Creek) near Tolmie Victoria. Its low population proximity, its isolation and a heap of old saw dust left behind from an old sawmill, ensured this place remained unchanged virtually without the influences of what 125 years of settlement may have done. Adjoining this site however, farms sprang up from around the early 1900's but were closed off in 1947 when the state water board acquired all surrounding farms on the table lands to ensure pure water for nearby City of Benalla

Kelly's CreekPristine forest at Kelly’s Creek on the Tatong road. Although few of the original big old trees remain, not much has changed around here. This corner is at Kellys creek heading south .

We found out about this place when we purchased Keith McMenomy’s fabulous book Ned Kelly, The Authentic Illustrated Story. In it is a picture of an 1884 survey map of the area. By foot and using hand held compass, we bashed our way into the area, only to find a huge pile of saw dust near where we thought the Kelly Hut would have been. A sawmill had occupied the Kelly camp years before.

Only a handful of people who live/d around these parts knew exactly where this place was and of its significance to the Kelly story. For more than a hundred years Kellys Creek had been almost forgotten and hard to find much as it was at the start of colonization. 

When the Kelly brothers first came here early 1878, there was already an abandoned prospectors hut, there was a running spring and a perfect natural basin to retain strayed cattle and horses ‘found before they got lost’. After fixing up the hut, Dan and younger brother Jim, began to work the alluvial gold diggings a little further down the creek. Home away from home and nobody knew they were there. The nearest farmer was six miles away and be none the wiser about activities at Bullock Creek. (Picture, reportedly taken by photographer 'Stewart' of Bourke Street.  Courtesy of Keith McMenomy's book, Ned Kelly, The authentic illustrated story. ).
Note, to read about this hut see story 9

We can wonder what influence a hide out like this would have on the brothers’ antics, where you could hide stolen cattle, they themselves were able to disappear without trace and only those who knew their where abouts could bring in provisions. While in trouble and wanted by the police and fearing the worst, it was from here that Ned and Dan learned to shoot straight, for it was recorded in a letter written by Constable / Supt. Frank James dated Sunday 24th Nov 1878 to Supt. Sadleir who had requested information on finding the Bullock Ck hut of the Kelly's, 
James wrote;


On examining the trees within range of the loopholed hut we found that they had  been used as targets for rifle- practice, hundreds of bullets having been fired into them and then cut out...


Note: The above 'left and central' ringbarked and chopped trees were identified August 2003. This was a thrilling find as I knew nobody had actually seen these details for what they were, as described and reported by Constable Frank James Nov 1878. This picture is looking North easterly late afternoon, and is un-refutable evidence of lead chopping from fully grown ringbarked trees close to the Kelly camp hut site, this casts doubt on the notion that the other photograph of the Kelly hut of 1880, can have been of the same hut and place. We know from an extremely reliable source that this was the Kelly camp on Bullock Ck.

With great interest,  as reported in The Argus Saturday November 13th 1880, (quite some time after the shootings at Stringybark Creek), the reporter wrote a lengthy article on his visit to Kelly haunts. of the Kelly camp that he visited he wrote,

in every direction- taking the hut as a standing point we saw trees which were marked with bullet holes, from five to fifty having been fired into each, at ranges varying from 20 to 400 yards. The bullets being afterwards chopped out, were melted down, and converted again into their former state.

On one small tree a circle of charcoal 6 inches in diameter had been traced and into this two or three revolver bullets had been fired one striking the black dot meant to represent the bulls eye in the centre,  and the other two being close to it. Some of the bullets had gone to a depth of four inches in the trees, and consequently a great deal of chopping had to be done to get them out, and there was abundant evidence, too, to prove that the more practice the outlaws had, the more they improved in the use of the rifle and revolver, the shooting at some marks on the trees being very wide. and on others remarkable straight and dead into the bulls eye. 

From the reporters description above, indicates the Kelly's had a revolver as he notes targets six inches in diameter into which two or three revolver bullets had been fired. I am sure the reporter would have known the difference between a large finger sized hole of a .577 inch calibre rifle bullet impact compared to a pee sized revolver bullet hole. There is no proof Kelly had a revolver other than from statements made by Const. McIntyre after the killings at Stringybark. McIntyre stated that immediately after Kelly shot Lonigan with his sawn-off carbine*, he whipped out a pistol which he tossed to his other hand to replace the now useless rifle. * (an old Crimean war relic of 1853 made by Enfield)

At the siege at Glenrowan some 20 months later. 'Ned Kelly' had a ‘Pocket Colt’ of .31 inch calibre which is considered by historians, Ned had at Stringybark Creek and thus at Bullock Ck.
Having found at least one pee size .31 ball at the Kelly Ck site , this could be compelling proof to suggest that the Kellys had a pocket colt weapon there. While the site could reveal many more bullet finds in the future, non so far can positively be connected to the Kellys. What is sure by all historical reports is they fired lots of rounds at targets around the hut, However , of great interest to me was what had happened to the lead that missed its targets.  This is what attracted me to investigate and ‘metal detect’ for the bullets of Kelly’s Creek for  where else could one find a Kelly related relic?

Kelly's CreekHere we are detecting at Kelly’s Creek 1985 with family looking on. Since then, the place has become infested with blackberries so much you can barely walk here.

During our first family visit I found the undergrowth fairly open for detecting. Many - many items were found, of mostly what you would expect to find - rusty bits of old metal left behind by prospectors and saw millers. There are lumps of old cast iron, hand made nails, brass trouser buttons, rusted bits of wire, even the rotted remains of boots or shoes detected by the rusty halo left in the ground by the long gone shoe tacks, but no rubbish of modern times.

Kelly's Creek

Splattered lead.
Each of these pieces represent a projectile  fired from a  gun. On hitting a tree or hard   ground the bullets splat into  pieces and   those left above ground level are   sometimes  melted when a bush fire goes   through the area.  
Note-top left
melted bullet after bush fires.


Kelly's CreekTop: Four inch hand forged nail. Bottom: machine made nail, bearing hammer mark on head. There are numerous nails like the lower one at the site and date from 1930’s but the top nail is much earlier and hand forged.

Skirting around, away from where I knew the hut had stood, I spent many hours detecting in the direction of the imaginary line of fire for bullet shots that had missed the target. I considered eventually I would have to find something. After detecting hundreds of signals, I was rewarded with a lead slug, some Muscat balls, and one in particular a .31 inch diameter ball of the type that could have been fired from Ned’s Pocket Colt. Finding this was considered very significant, although at the time I was not aware exactly what guns the Kellys actually had.

Kelly's CreekBullet ball 0.31 calibre. Could this have been fired from Ned’s Pocket Colt?

The pee size pellet looks like it has been fired as it is slightly impacted out of shape.


Kelly's CreekPocket Colt 0.31 calibre with accessories. Showing powder flask, bullet mould with moulded projectiles - both ball and conical, and a tin of percussion caps. Ned had one just like this but with a longer barrel. This picture from the book “Tracking Down Bushrangers” by Peter C. Smith, by Kangaroo Press 1982.

Not being sure about private property boundaries, there are no fences to cross, plus not being convinced about the exact location of the hut, and with a friend who has an aeroplane, we flew over the place. Pictures were taken from the air and local parish plans were obtained to overlay the aerial pictures to check for private property boundaries in the area and the exact location of the hut was reconfirmed. All detecting was done on ‘crown land’. No permission was required to be there and if I were detecting for gold, I was doing so with a current Miners Right.

Kelly's CreekView of Kelly’s Creek flying over Wombat State Forest. The deep impression at the head of the gully is the saw dust heap where the hut was located. The plotted lines of 21A has the saw dust heap inside the boundary on private property, but on the Parish plan below has is outside the boundary on crown land which I believe may be wrong. The hut was plotted by surveyors pre 1900’s yet very accurate.

On a return visit several months later, I decided to head out some distance from the huts estimated location, in a general North easterly direction, when I came across a find that took me by surprise. Here in a small area, I found two conical shaped bullets and two round balls, generally in a group.  They measure .45 inch unfired.

When the detector sounded, I kicked the surface litter away with my boot, hoping to move the detected metal targets, instead there was still solid soil beneath and the metal was still there. With ‘pick-shovel’ I scraped down to unearth the first bullet. It was imbedded in the soil strata and not just lying on the ground, it was well under the surface. Obviously the bullets had been there a long time and protected from bush fires by the accumulated surface soil and had not been melted by fires. All four bullets were found at similar depth, and in a manner you would expect if left undisturbed for over 100 years. The bullets were found on a slight ridge between Kelly’s Creek and Stringybark Creek and away from boggy low ground.

Kelly's CreekParish plan: This copy shows the Parish Plan dated around 1902. It shows the relationship between Kelly’s Creek and Stringybark Creek with German Creek in between. It was on the North side of German Creek where they found Sergeant Kennedy’s body. The ‘contour’ lines are pencilled in on this parish plan by myself and I believe the contour indicates the easiest path for the gang to get back to the hut. Note: Compass North at bottom left.

Supt. Frank James
Horse tracks leading away from the murder scene were found by blacktrackers  under command of Supt. James some time later - they crossed through the swampy reeds - to the other side of the creek, in a general northerly direction. My belief is that the gang would instinctively have known the direction to their hut - North West, but by following the Creek North, they would veer left to cross German Creek near where Sergeant Kennedy’s body lay, (maybe in the hope to find his dropped weapon), then they would veer left again following the land contours up into their little valley to the hut and in doing so approached the hut facing West. (The Webley revolver was found near where Sergeant Kennedy's body was found by the search party several days later).

To qualify my claim that these bullets could be associated with the Kelly’s, I would like to make the following points,

Only one other
I became a gold prospector and miner from 1979 to 1984, using metal detectors and machinery throughout the Victorian gold fields. In that four and a half year period I have dug up many thousands of items of interest, and during that time, I have only ever found one other cone bullet of .45 calibre, so I knew the significance of my find at Kelly’s Creek. Having had this vital experience and knowing what to expect in the gold fields, I feel I am in a position to qualify my claim that what I have found is important and most certainly associated with the Kelly’s.

Kelly's CreekCentral top: Conical .45 calibre bullet is the only other  I have ever found. It has been fired, I found this at Dunolly, Victoria 1980. This picture shows a range of interesting items collected from thousands of detections throughout the Victorian Gold fields.

Note 9 other Musket balls ,splattered lead, a large shell case and bullet along side. The pliers (right) is actually a bullet mould for estimate .38 calibre ball found at Wedderburn, Victoria.

.45 Cone bullets not common for hunting in 1878
Hardly anyone at that time would have had military firearms for normal hunting use. The most common firearm of the day was the muzzle loading shot gun (fowling piece) but they could also fire a solid slug or musket ball. Cone bullets of .45 calibre are associated with higher velocity military type rifles or revolvers and are intended to be used to kill people. Most common firearms were percussion type where a small percussion cap was placed over a nipple and the bullet and powder fed down the barrel from the muzzle end.

The calibre of these old weapons ranged from .52 to .758 but it was not until 1869 that due to experiments by Whitworth that .45 became a considered best calibre for military use. This trend lasted only 10 years and by 1880 was replaced by smaller calibres. My suggestion that .45 was not common at the time that the Kellys were at Bullock creek holds true since weapons manufactures like Martini Henry ,Remington, Springfield and Spencer, all breech loading, adopted .45 during that ten year period, and then slowly became available and  favoured by hunters and kangaroo shooters because the bullets were cased. However, there were many manufactures making .45 Cal. revolver hand guns during this period. Taking a look at the picture above, shows a only one .45 bullet amongst a dozen or so large ball projectiles found at goldfields over a four year plus period.  

Hard times
It is known that a certain number of saw millers lived in the vicinity, it could be argued that saw millers had dropped the .45 Cal. bullets, but how many poor millers would have had military type weapons for game shooting, while even Ned himself could only lay his hands on a buggered old 1850’s muzzle loading carbine? It would be unlikely that the 50 years between the Kellys and the Sawmill in 1930 would suddenly see a whole lot of shooting with high powered .45 calibre rifles in the area. In fact, times were tougher for the average battler in country Victoria in the early 1900’s, than the end of the previous century.

Webley .45 revolvers the police used were actually .442 caliber bore Webley Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) No1 issue. These Webleys as issued to the police and would have been favoured by the Kelly gang, as they used ready made cartridges for immediate use. It was recorded that the gang took all the Webley guns after the murders, as well as a ‘Spencer rifle. Perhaps included with the captured firearms, was a reloading kit, consisting of cartridges, powder and loose bullets for the Webleys, if not also for the Spencer rifle.

I like to believe the .45 bullets were associated with the Police.
The unfired bullets were found on a general line of contour between Stringybark Creek and the Kelly Creek hut - but closer to the hut. See map above.

Conjecture: were they The bullets of the rush to get away?
On that fateful Saturday 26 October 1887 after the shooting of the three policemen at Stringybark Creek towards dusk, the gang departed from the scene loaded with the captured firearms, ammunition and provisions to ensure their survival. With bulging pockets on the way back to their hut close by, and ‘in the rush to get away,’ they would not have noticed some dropped bullets along the way. Were these the bullets I found?

Conjecture: were they dropped by Constable James?
While we may never know the true story of how the bullets came to be there, eminent historian Mr Ian Jones, author of Ned Kelly A Short Life pointed out that they could have belonged to Constable James who followed the gangs tracks that lead to the hut at Bullock Creek. Constable James had a ‘Tranter’ hand gun that used loose .45 calibre bullets and balls of the type I found.

All opinions and conjecture are open to comment, please feel free to email me your thoughts.

The following short story is about a man whose father was there (at Kelly’s Creek and Hut). And I met that man by sheer coincidence:

Local identity Mr. Billy Stewart of Mansfield had known of this special place but had kept it secret for most of his life telling only close friends about it. By amazing coincidence I met Billy in September 1985 six months after we had found the bullets, He had been the neighbour of a Mr Kevin Shanks in Mansfield till Mr Shanks moved to Croydon, Victoria - and became my neighbour in 1978. On telling Kevin about our interest in the Kelly’s and of our found bullets, he introduced us to Billy Stewart.

Kelly's Creek Bill Stewart, aged 81 in 1985, told us he recalls when, as a child, he was taken to the Kelly hut by his father as early as 1909. Years later Billy remembers his father would surprise accompanying visitors to the Kelly hut site, by trying to axe out some bullets from an old dead tree standing nearby and then producing a slug, stating it was Kelly lead, but Billy wryly smiled at us indicating the lead was pulled from his pocket tricking the visitors to believe it was real. That tree stood for many years even while the sawmill was in operation and was known as the Kelly target tree. It was lying rotting, barely visible in the boggy creek just below from where it stood. Around 1930, Bill was employed by the Mc Cashneys  and helped build the sawmill directly over where the Kelly camp and hut had stood. Billy said the four corner posts were still standing when he was a boy. The sawmill ceased operation during the depression (mid 1930's) with little to show for the effort except a huge pile of rotted down saw dust.

When I contacted Billy he was keen to show me everything he knew for which we were very grateful but this had been his ‘protected secret’ for most of his life and six months later Billy decided to announce his secret to The Age newspaper dated 26 September 1985 and the full story of the Kelly hideout and location was revealed on the front page. Writer and historian Mr John Lahey wrote that when Billy was a child playing at the hideout he was only as far removed from the Kelly’s as today’s children are from the Beatles era.

One hundred and five years earlier, the Kelly hut had been reported in The Age and Argus news paper only days after the gang members were declared outlaws. Sometime after Ned’s capture and hanging, Bullock Creek was re named Kelly’s Creek by the local shire.

Perhaps due to the complacency of local authorities at the time, it was hoped the whole saga would go away and that this place be forgotten - as it virtually has been, but the story never went away, for the police increased their presence in most northern Victorian towns and districts fearing uprisings from Kelly sympathisers who may push further for Ned’s proclamation for a republic in North East Victoria. The police actually went on Kelly sympathiser witch hunts to weed out potential trouble. They wanted people to DOB in on people. The results of which divided families and whole communities to this day.

Kelly's CreekThe bullets of Kelly's Creek were found by Bill Denheld using a metal detector in April of 1985. Musket balls of various sizes from .3 calibre to .65 Cal. were found that may have been fired from the weapons the Kellys had while practicing his marksmanship at Bullock Creek. The bullets (right) are .45 calibre and were found in a general line between Kelly's Creek and Stringybark Creek - but closer to Kelly's Creek on crown land.

The Kelly's Creek area has escaped development and is still close to its original state as only a hand full of people knew exactly where it was right up to the present day. It is an almost untouched area due to its isolation and kept secret. It is unlikely these bullets could have been associated with the weapons that the gang took from the police camp after the killings at Stringybark Creek as the .45 Cal Webley s used fully cased bullets. The Spencer rifle used .5 Cal bullets and brass cased. Most likely, the loose bullets are of the type used in revolvers. How they came to be where I found them remains a mystery.

The author makes no claims any of the items displayed are Kelly relics. What is clear however, is the fact that in comparison to any other place he has metal detected,- through out the Victorian gold fields, this area turns up a lot of bullet lead. With virtually no farming land use in its history, it is fair to assume a lot of that bullet lead is Kelly related.

Bill Denheld   email bill at denheldid dot com
Site posted 1/8/02  refreshed  28/4/03

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