Corporal Stephen KIRK
Trooper Luke DUNN
Burnt to Death
12 & 21 November, 1845
On 12 November, 1845 the two mounted troopers were riding along the new Wollongong Road through Bottle Forest (now Heathcote). Bush fires were raging in the area and the two troopers were advised by a local landowner, Mr Nicholson, not to go on due to the danger the fires presented. Ignoring that advice both troopers and an Illawarra publican, Mr McAulay, set out toward the fires. The Sydney Morning Herald of 21 November, 1845 described the events which followed.
About an hour after their departure Mr McAulay’s horse came up to the door of Mr Nicholson’s house; McAulay’s hat was off, he was not holding the reins, and he was much burnt and confused, so that he was only able to request to be lifted off his horse; he said that one of the policemen was burnt. Mr Nicholas most promptly and considerately despatched five or six men to search for, and, if possible, to aid the policemen. After going about three miles they met Luke Dunn crawling along, dreadfully burnt, on his hands and knees, and scarcely able to move,. They men carried him back to the house, while others went on to the place where Dunn said he had left the remains of Kirk, burnt and quite dead. His hands were extended upwards as if in the act of praying; both horses were dead. Dunn said that seeing his comrade’s firearms go off, he returned to go after him, and in doing so got so much burnt, otherwise his injuries would have been comparatively trifling.
Stephen Kirk was burned to death in the fire, while the gallant and courageous Luke Dunn who, in the greatest of Australian traditions “went back for his mate”, lingered for nine days before he finally succumbed, no doubt in extreme agony. The scene of the incident was present-day Heathcote.
(At the time of this tragedy there were almost a hundred men in the Sydney Police Force and about 32 mounted police stations across New South Wales. The two police killed in this incident were members of the Military Mounted Police, which had been formed in 1825. It was disbanded in 1850 when it was replaced by a civil mounted police unit. This in turn was destined to be absorbed into the new state police force which was created on 1 March, 1862 by Captain John McLerie.)
At the times of their deaths both troopers were seconded soldiers attached to the Mounted Police Force and were stationed at Campbelltown. Stephen Kirk was aged 32 years and Luke Dunn was aged 33 years.