When Charles Christie emigrated from Scotland to New South Wales in 1829 he left behind his wife, who was expecting their first child. He was then employed on a cattle station some 30 miles from Goulburn as the supervisor of convicts. Soon he was keeping company with Annie Clark, a part‑Aboriginal girl. When their son was born he was called Frank, but was never baptised as such.
When Christie's wife and daughter arrived from Scotland in 1832 his de facto wife disappeared, and the young boy was brought up by his step‑mother. When two more sisters arrived in the next four years, their fairness against his swarthiness made him the butt of jokes among his young friends.
When he was 10 he found out about himself, and one night, out of shame, he caught his horse and rode away. After living with a tribe of blacks for a while, he found work on a farm until he was 13. When, eventually, he decided to return home, it was only to find that his family had gone. Having nowhere to go, he wandered from place to place in the Goulburn district under the name of Frank Clark, but those who knew him preferred to call him Christie.
Inevitably he roamed towards the Abercrombie Ranges, the home of a gang of horse thieves who soon taught the youngster the tricks of the trade. Already his jet‑black hair reached almost to his shoulders and a straggling beard hid a scar on his chin. Darkie, as his mate Jack Newton called him, found him daredevil company, ready to have a go at anything and to hell with the police and the consequences. It seemed strange that such a character as he was able to read and write, where most of the men of the Abercrombies were almost illiterate and scorned book-learning.
Soon they were joined by Bill Troy, another Abercrombie boy, now turned stockman and supposedly going straight. When Darkie found out that Troy's boss ran good horses they prevailed upon him to sell out his boss and help them lift the best of his horses to the saleyards of Portland.
Unfortunately for them, they were followed. A bogus letter, sent to an auctioneer from a “Mr William Taylor” in Darkie's handwriting, was intercepted, and a trap was set for the thieves. As they slept the police raided their hotel, and Clark, Newton and Troy were taken without a fight. Before appearing in court in October 1850, Troy escaped. His mates were given five years with hard labour in Pentridge, but within a year Darkie also escaped, and again went on the rampage. This time he helped himself to the hard‑won gold of others on the far‑spread diggings around Ballarat and Bendigo.
Early in 1864 he headed for his beloved Abercrombies to take shelter with old Fogg, an experienced hand at horse‑thieving. His hut was the home of others on the run, situated where the police found it almost impossible to patrol in the remoteness of the mountains. Darkie had brought in with him a mob of good horses, and when he announced he was going to take them 60 miles into Yass for Ikey Moses to auction, Fogg called him a fool.
“Where'll you get receipts for the horses?” Fogg asked. “You know no auctioneer will take them without a receipt.”
“I can write, can't I?” Darkie laughed. “I'll write my own receipts. Ikey won't ask too many questions so long as my price is right.”
At the inn in Yass' without any fear of detection, Darkie went in and ordered a drink, then asked for a pen and paper. Without attempting to conceal what he was doing, and as the publican watched, he wrote down what appeared to be a list of horses and brands. Then he completed a lengthy receipt which was made out in the name of a Joseph Williams.
Ikey Moses was an easy man to do business with, but he became suspicious at the apparent freshness of the ink on the paper. At the hotel he asked who the horse dealer was, and when he was told that he had been doing some writing on the bar counter, Ikey took off to the police station. The brand was soon identified as belonging to Jos Reid, who had previously reported the loss of a number of horses.
Once again, when the police raided the hotel, Darkie and his mate Prior were caught asleep. Justice was swift. Fourteen years for Clark and three years for Prior, as from March 1854.
By 1860 Darkie was free and working as a ticket‑of‑leave man for a butcher. Ticket‑of‑leave men were bonded to their master, and to abscond meant a return to prison. Darkie watched the frenzied diggers rushing to the new Kiandra field and slipped his bond to join them, but found no gold in the sluice box. It was easier to obtain, one way or another, from others.
Darkie changed his name to Frank Gardiner and looked about for new friends. He found one in Johnny Gilbert, a man of his own heart, afraid of no one, not even the devil. Together they became the terror of the diggings as they roved far and wide, well mounted with a brace of guns to back them up. When things became too hot for them with the arrival of police reinforcements, they cleared out to old Fogg's hut and lay low.
Through the 1860s the wild rush days of Lambing Flat brought hordes of new diggers and an ever‑increasing number of bushrangers. Frank Gardiner and his friends lived well on the toil of others, though they had no occasion to do more than threaten with their guns. Then came a period when he put his guns away and lived the “respectable” life of a butcher, slaughtering mostly stolen beasts or beasts he knew weren’t clean. Finally he was caught red‑handed by Trooper Pottinger and locked up until bailed out by his friends.
At a party where there was plenty of drinking and a few girls, Darkie announced he was clearing out till things quietened down. One of the ladies present was Kittie, or Kate Brown, John Brown's wife. The Browns managed a station not far away. Darkie and Kittie hit it off well and were soon to find they were destined to meet on other occasions.
Mid 1861 saw Gardiner and Johnny Piesley back in the Abercrombies planning new forages against travellers on the roads to and from the goldfields. There was a price on their heads, but they had many friends who looked upon them as heroes in the fight against the evils of the law.
The bush telegraph alerted them to police movements for miles around, and as they knew every nook and cranny in the mountains, they were always able to hide away in safety. They established numerous camps and caches of food and ammunition to see them over any period when the police were on their scent. Perhaps it was the reward for information leading to their capture that led an informant to pass on the knowledge that Gardiner was at old Fogg's humpy.
On 15 July 1861 the Police Magistrate, Mr Beadmore of Carcoar, where Gardiner had worked as a ticket‑of‑leave butcher, despatched Sergeant John Middleton to investigate old Fogg's place. After Middleton had picked up Trooper William Hosie the pair rode out from the Tuena police station, where Middleton was stationed, and camped the night at an inn about 6 miles from Fogg's.
The next morning, disguised as common travellers, they jogged in the drizzling rain along a bush track towards the hut. Each had his horse pistol in a holster strapped to the saddle. These pistols were cumbersome, percussion‑type firearms, where the powder cartridge was inserted in the muzzle, followed by a one‑ounce ball and then a wad of paper. After ramming, the cap was fitted under the trigger hammer and, all going well, a squeeze of the trigger fired the ball from the smooth barrel. Beyond 20 yards, its accuracy was doubtful.
Perhaps more lethal was the heavy, plaited stock-whip loaded with lead that each carried over his shoulder. At closer quarters the cruel handle with the brass topping made a more fearful weapon than a pistol.
As they approached the pair saw smoke rising from the chimney of the rough iron‑bark slab‑built hut. So far, they were unseen. Hosie dismounted to lower the slip‑rails of the house paddock fence, and then they put their horses to a trot towards the hut.
Mrs Fogg came to the door and, for a moment, idly eyed the strangers. At the paling fence no more than 20 yards from the door, Middleton dismounted. As he reached for his pistol, Mrs Fogg sensed trouble. “The traps!” she screamed.
Middleton was across the yard and through the door in time to see a figure disappear through a curtained partition. By a blazing open fire stood Fogg, his wife, their three children and a stranger. It was none of them that Middleton had come for.
From near the curtain, with pistol aimed, he called, “Come out of there!”
There was silence.
“Come out, Gardiner. I know you're in there,” he called again. “One step through the door and you're a dead man,” Gardiner called back. “I'm armed. Stand back or I'll shoot.”
Middleton grabbed the curtain, and, as he stepped inside, there were two reports, one from the horse pistol and the other from Gardiner’s colt. Those standing petrified in the main room ran outside as Hosie made to enter.
There was another shot from the colt and Middleton staggered from the room to the open air, bleeding from the hand and mouth.
Through a crack in the wall, Gardiner saw Middleton outside, still on his feet
As he had no idea how many police were in the raid, he determined to reduce the number by at least one when he saw Middleton try in vain, with his wounded hand, to reload. He took steady aim but the colt misfired. He aimed again as the cylinder revolved, and this time Middleton's hip was smashed, but he refused to fall. He ordered Hosie to go to the back of the house to stop Gardiner from escaping that way, but when Hosie saw there was no escape door, he hurried back to help Middleton.
Hosie saw Gardiner emerge from behind the curtain. With gun levelled he made a dash for the entrance, but not before Gardiner had seen him. They fired together. Both crashed to the floor, Gardiner wounded in the forehead and Hosie in the temple.
The momentary mist cleared from before Gardiner's eyes. Then, wiping blood from savage eyes, he struggled to his feet.
Middleton saw him.
“Surrender, Gardiner!” he gurgled as blood flowed from his wounded throat.
Gardiner still had his colt in his hand, but knew it was useless as the chamber was empty. Like a wild animal he sprang at Middleton before he could fire.
“Be damned,” he swore. “I’ll die but not surrender,” and, taking his colt by the barrel, he made at Middleton. They clinched and rolled on the ground. At last Gardiner was on top, choking the last breath out of Middleton.
Hosie's senses returned in time to see Gardiner like a madman exerting every ounce of pressure he had on Middleton's throat. He struggled to his feet and used the brass hammerhead of his whip on Gardiner's skull. Gardiner released his vice‑like grip and struggled to his feet to ward off Hosie’s clubbing blows. Then Middleton also rose, and, swinging his handcuffs wildly at Gardiner’s head and face, dropped him to the ground. As Middleton struggled to handcuff his man, Hosie struck again with his whip handle.
The horrified spectators watched the battle. Mrs Fogg screamed at them not to kill him.
At last the handcuffs were snapped on and Mrs Fogg fetched a dish of water to clean up the bloodied bodies.
But in spite of the wild events of the morning, Darkie was not to be brought to trial for another three years. Some say that Hosie accepted the £50 Fogg offered him to unlock the handcuffs while Middleton struggled away to get help. Others vow that Piesley and Gilbert came to his rescue. Whatever happened, Gardiner escaped.
Now with the blood of two policemen on his hands, he decided to leave his old haunts and head for South Australia. When he called to see Ben Hall and John McGuire who were working a nearby farm, Kittie Brown was there. Once again they enjoyed each other’s company and, before he left, Darkie promised that one day he would take her away with him. Kittie did nothing to discourage him.
Early in 1862 he was back, announcing that he had one really big job to do that would set him up so that he could leave Lambing Flat, the Weddin Mountains, and the Abercrombies for ever. Perhaps it was the thought of taking Kittie with him when he went that spurred him on.
He organised a gang who were ready to take on anyone who stood between them and the gold they wanted, and that included the new police force set up to keep order on the lawless goldfields. The former trooper Pottinger had just been promoted to inspector when it was revealed he was an English baronet, and now, as Sir Frederick, he vowed to clean up the bushranging gang.
Soon Gardiner, Gilbert, O'Meally and McGuinness were on the rampage, relieving among others two storekeepers, Horsington and Hewitt, of the money and gold they were taking to the bank. Then it was back to their beloved mountains.
The “big one” that Darkie had promised himself was the stickup of the Forbes gold escort, which weekly carried up to £20,000 in gold and notes to Sydney. He went to see Ben Hall, who had just been found not guilty of being one of Gardiner’s men in a hold‑up.
Ben had lived a respectable life on the land until he had the misfortune to become mixed up with Gardiner. He had been identified as being at the scene of the hold‑up, and Pottinger had made every effort to get him convicted. While he was awaiting trial Ben’s wife had eloped with a neighbour, so when Darkie called on him he was in a foul mood, and ready to avenge himself on society in general and Pottinger in particular. They decided on a gang of eight to do the job, with Gilbert and O’Meally as their main off-siders.
The group met in the Wheogo scrub a few days later and listened to the plan their 32‑year‑old leader had worked out. He had already been repeatedly into Forbes to witness the despatch, by Pottinger, of the escort at precisely the same time each Sunday morning.
On the morning of 15 June 1862 Gardiner had his gang in position about 30 miles out from Forbes on the road to Orange. They were well supplied with guns, pistols and revolvers. Towards the top of the mountain where they lay in waiting there were great boulders strewn about. The men had masked their faces and covered the upper part of their bodies with long coloured shirts. They watched as several travellers passed along the road. Then two bullock, wagons appeared and Gardiner changed his plans. Instead of blockading the road with a log or rocks, he decided to use the wagons.
The startled bullockies did as they were bid and manoeuvred the wagons partly across the route. Under threat of a bullet if they raised their heads, the drivers buried their faces out of sight of the road.
Soon after 4 o'clock the four‑wheeled coach was seen approaching. A policeman was seated beside the driver. Now on the incline, the four horses were being urged on. Gardiner knew that inside there would be three other well‑armed escorts to protect the steel boxes and canvas bags of money.
They had reached the wagons obstructing the road, and had begun to skirt them, when Gardiner gave the order.
“Stop the coach! Bail up! Your money or your life!”
As the outside guard raised his gun, Darkie yelled, “Fire!” and each of the gang let go at the coach.
As the horses reared and the inside guards tried to get clear, Gardiner called for a second volley. Two guards were wounded and all four tried to take cover in the bush. The horses took off in terror, the coach hit a rock and turned over. The gang swooped down from their hide and hauled out the precious boxes and bags. Soon they had them slung across two of the coach horses and were making off from the scene of battle. As darkness fell, they stopped and smashed open the unwieldy boxes to reveal the well‑packed bags of gold inside. The fat wads of bank notes were stuffed by Gardiner into a valise across the front of his saddle, and the gang rode away into the night.
By 2 p.m. on Monday they were safely home at Gardiner's camp on the summit of Mount Wheogo.
When the news reached Forbes, Pottinger vowed vengeance. Eleven police troopers reached the hold‑up point on Monday afternoon, and the chase was on, but luck was with the gang because heavy rain on Monday night washed out every track.
Over the next days the loot was divided into eight shares and the gang started to split up to go their own ways. By Thursday, Gardiner had only four left with him on the mountain. He bemoaned the fact that he had no proper pack‑bags to carry the precious load. Young Charters volunteered to go to Ben Hall’s place to get one, but as he approached he saw a number of troopers near the house. They saw him and beckoned him to join them, but instead he turned and galloped directly for the lair atop Mount Wheogo with the troopers in hot pursuit.
Gardiner had observed what was happening, and the five immediately took off down the opposite side of the mountain into the thick scrub. Their pace was slowed by the lumbering packhorse they had used to transport the spoils from the coach.
To black tracker Billy Dargin the trail was as clear as the highway, and slowly the pursuers gained on the bushrangers.
“Split up,” Gardiner ordered, “each man for himself.” Walsh stayed with the leader and urged on the tiring packhorse. Billy Dargin read every movement and pointed the way the three horses had gone, one a packhorse and two others.
“Follow the packhorse, Billy,” Sergeant Sanderson called. Gardiner saw them coming.
“Let the packhorse go, Warrigal,” he said to Johnny Walsh. “Follow me!”
Without the knocked‑up animal, the two disappeared into the scrub without difficulty and hid long enough to see the tracker lead the packhorse back to the following troopers.
Soon darkness came, and the chase was over for that day, which was Thursday 19 June. The police had taken one horse with four shares of gold in its load, but Gardiner's gang of eight were still at large. Ben Hall returned to his farm and carried on as if nothing had happened to disturb his peaceful way of life. His gold and wads of notes were safely hidden. Over the next week others of the gang resumed their former occupations and waited for the heat of the chase to cool down.
Sir Frederick Pottinger was away to the south, out of touch with Forbes, when Sergeant Sanderson returned with the recovered gold. He was certain that at least some of the gang would head for the border and hide away in Victoria. But after a fruitless search, Pottinger decided to return to base.
On 7 July his party ran into three horsemen heading south. Pottinger asked where they came from, and when told from up north near the Weddin Mountains and Lambing Flat, he asked if there was any news of the bushrangers who had held up the escort.
He was told nothing except that the gold had been found.
Pottinger eyed one of the horses and asked its rider to show him the receipt.
“Sure, it's in my pocket,” the rider answered, and as he stood in his stirrups to reach into his trouser pocket, he plunged his spurs into his startled horse and took off. Johnny Gilbert was gone. His two mates were slower off the mark, their horses were held and handcuffs snapped on before they realised what had happened. Pottinger's joy was great. He felt certain he had two of Gardiner's gang in his grasp.
Johnny Gilbert headed for home, and by midnight found Darkie, O'Meally, Ben Hall and three others drinking. When he found out that Pottinger had two of their mates, Gardiner swore. They went to their horses and, with Gilbert mounted on a fresh animal, headed south to take up a position on the road they knew Pottinger must take on his triumphant return to Forbes.
As unsuspecting as the gold escort had been, the police rode into the trap.
“Bail up!” Darkie Gardiner yelled, and before the police had time to react, a volley of shots broke them up. One of the troopers was forced to unlock the handcuffs, and while Pottinger and his men returned their fire from a safe distance, the gang spurred away with their rescued mates.
Sir Frederick Pottinger swore vengeance on all Weddin Mountain people, guilty or otherwise. Arming himself with a search warrant, he searched their homes one by one, and found bits of evidence here and there that might link the owners with the bushrangers. Anything was good enough for him to put the men-folk of the families under arrest.
When he visited the Browns' hut, Kittie was not there. When he asked her whereabouts, he was told she was away somewhere with a friend, but no one knew where. When her husband came home, he was arrested, along with John McGuire, because they couldn't account for some gold and money that had been found in the search. Ben Hall fared no better, and joined the others in the triumphant Pottinger procession through the main street of Forbes to the lock‑up. But the main object of their search remained free.
Pottinger was determined to entrap Darkie when he came to visit Kittie. With Kittie's husband in gaol, the bushranger was free to visit as he wished. Gossipy giggles had been Pottinger's reward whenever he mentioned Gardiner and Mrs Brown to any of the suspects. Sly winks behind his back clearly indicated that their secret was common knowledge among the people of Weddin Mountain.
On Saturday night, 9 August, Pottinger had the Browns’ house encircled by nine well‑armed men. About midnight, they heard the approach of a horseman. The man on the white horse was almost upon Pottinger before he scented danger. As he reined in, Sir Frederick stepped forward, his pistol aimed, and ordered him to stand.
Darkie fired his own gun and wheeled his horse. Pottinger's gun clicked. The misfire at point‑blank range gave his quarry a flying start. Pottinger cursed as the ghostly form of the speeding horse disappeared into the night.
Gardiner knew that if he didn’t go elsewhere, it would only be a matter of time before he was caught. His luck would have to run out soon. Queensland was far enough away that no one would think to look for him there. There were stories of rich gold strikes in Central Queensland, too. His mind was made up.
He watched Pottinger and his men ride away from Kittie's place the morning after his close shave. That night Kittie promised to go away with him, and to leave the Weddin Mountains and the Wheogos for ever.
Turning Over a New Leaf
Through the night Kittie and Darkie rode, and by day they hid and rested, keeping clear of the main roads until they were far away from Forbes and the clutches of Pottinger. On past Tamworth, Armidale, and Tenterfield they rode. Gardiner still had several thousand pounds to help them on their way.
By September 1862 they had reached Rockhampton, having travelled openly by day on the inland road to cross the Darling Downs before heading back to the coast to travel through the Burnett District. From Gladstone to Rockhampton there had been little danger of detection as they were now more than a thousand miles from home. Mr and Mrs Frank Christie, as they called themselves, stayed at popular wayside inns, able to pay for their comfort with the spoils of former escapades.
But Darkie and his Kate, as he preferred to call her, had no intention of staying in any of the larger centres of population, for there was always a chance a traveller from down south might recognise him from the numerous reward posters that were scattered throughout New South Wales. They were on the lookout for a remote place where they could settle down to a respectable life and an honest living.
At Gracemere, on the outskirts of Rockhampton on the northern road to Yaamba, Darkie stopped to talk to a station owner near Scrubby Creek. In the conversation, the Christies told him that they had overlanded from New South Wales with their dray and were heading north. The stranger took a fancy to the fine‑looking black horse pulling the dray, and offered to swap it for a heavy draught-horse that would be more suitable if the roads became boggy on the way. The next day when he brought out the draught Christie had changed his mind, for he couldn't bring himself to part with his own “Darkie,” the horse that had saved his life when the police were close on his heels. The station‑owner wondered at the good condition of the horse after overlanding so far. He had no way of knowing that the dray had just been bought, and had travelled only a few miles from Rockhampton.
On past Gracemere, to Deep Creek and Yaamba. The pair passed the time of day with travellers and called in to nearby homesteads. Often Darkie turned the conversation to the bushrangers of the Weddin Mountains, but no one took a second look at him. Even the local policemen were friendly enough, and offered him advice on the difficulties of the Old Peak Road.
They had not gone far, however, when they came upon a bogged cart, belonging to one Archibald Craig and his wife Louisa.
“Need a hand?” he called, as they pulled up behind the cart stuck half‑way to the axle.
“Thanks, these roads would make an angel swear,” the mud-bespattered Craig called back.
Together they heaved and pushed. Christie's black stallion was harnessed alongside the other animal, which was already in a lather of sweat.
When the cart was free of the bog, the two parties made camp together. The Craigs were Victorians, heading north to find a likely place to set up a small business, possibly on the Peak Downs Road. The ladies were glad of each other's company on a road used mostly by a motley mob of diggers either going to the diggings, dreaming of making a fortune, or returning, sad and disillusioned by the hardships suffered.
Having passed Princhester and Marlborough, they travelled together south‑west towards Aphis Creek station at the big northerly bend of the Fitzroy River, a short distance from its confluence with its great tributary, the Isaac.
The Craigs had in mind to build a shanty pub and accommodation to serve the ever‑growing number of travellers. They chose a site near where the road crossed Aphis Creek between the station homestead and a rugged range of hills about 8 miles away. Frank Christie saw the opportunity to set up a general store alongside the pub. For an initial outlay of about £50 each, Aphis Creek hotel and store were built, with Craig holding the liquor licence and Christie running the store.
Soon the new shanty establishment gained a good reputation. The Craigs and Christies were honest in their dealings, and many a down‑on-his‑luck traveller received a free feed and accommodation and took away a bit of tea, sugar and flour in his pack when he left. Those suffering from malnutrition and fever found the two ladies of Aphis Creek angels of mercy.
There were also those who came in carrying packets of gold and fat wads of notes from lucky strikes on the field. Before they went on the binge, many handed over their fortunes to Frank Christie to take care of. There were times when Kate knew that he must have been sorely tempted.
The first year of their new life slipped easily away. The gold escorts passed through Aphis Creek and, on occasion, also left their precious bags in the care of the storekeeper.
Towards the end of 1863 Christie decided to go west to Peak Downs to see for himself what opportunities were there for setting up a business. No one had yet suspected his identity, though many miners from the Lambing Flat diggings had gone through Aphis Creek. He was still the same strong, wiry character, weighing about 12 stone 7 pounds, with dark, deep-sunken eyes that peered out from among thick, dark brown whiskers, a heavy beard, and strong moustache. He was a typical outback man, ready to do anyone a good turn, and he never turned anyone from his door without a kind word and enough money in his pocket to see him through his next stage.
He found Clermont a thriving township, already abuzz with the excitement of new finds at Expedition Creek and Hurley's field. He stayed at the Digger's Retreat, owned by Winter and Veale, near the Clermont Lagoon. They had been there nearly a year and had built up a prosperous business to serve those coming and going at the new rich copper mines of Copperfield, about 6 miles to the south. Already thousands of diggers were scouring the alluvial gullies and plains or looking for lodes on the nearby ranges.
Frank Christie felt a surge of life. He could almost be back home, he felt, where all the talk was of gold. Now the gold he was after was to be won honestly, from the diggers who would come to him for provisions and lodgings. Kate had so far kept him straight, and he prayed, in his own way, that the old temptation to help himself was gone for ever.
The gold diggers' township of Clermont where Frank Darkie Gardiner was introduced to Gold Commissioner Griffin.
At the Digger's Retreat Winter introduced him to the soldierly looking Gold Commissioner.
“Mr Griffin,” he said, “this is Frank Christie of the Aphis Creek Hotel.”
As they stood at the bar Darkie remembered another Griffin, who had been with the police on another goldfield, but there was no recognition in the other man's eyes. Confidently, Christie asked about the prospects of setting up in Clermont.
“From the good reports I've heard about you, Mr Christie, you'd be very welcome here. There are too many publicans and groggers ready to take a man down for his socks. Set yourself up in town or at Copperfield and you'll be right.”
Christie felt a new charity towards the law, and Griffin himself had an unusual liking for this honest, rugged storekeeper from Aphis Creek.
In a short time, a well‑dressed (for the goldfields) fellow joined the Commissioner.
“Tom Hall, manager of the A.J.S.,” Griffin said to his new found friend. “The right sort of man to know in a place like this, particularly if you want the loan of some money to set up a business.”
Frank Christie was in the best of company, a gold commissioner and a bank manager.
Before leaving the Retreat, Darkie was invited to spend that evening with Griffin, who had a well‑stocked cupboard.
Well into the evening, Griffin was disturbed by an urgent caller, informing him of some trouble at Hurley's. He cursed.
“Will you hold the fort while I'm gone?” he asked his easygoing friend. “There's those bags of stuff brought in from Hurley's today. Must be a good six or seven hundred ounces. Maybe that's what the trouble's about.”
Frank Christie watched them ride away. Six or seven hundred ounces! Once, the very thought of so much gold would have sent him in a frenzy. He eyed the strongbox in the corner. And then in his mind, he saw Kate sitting on the box.
When Griffin returned after midnight, all was as he left it. In a few days Darkie headed for home, well satisfied with his visit and his new‑found friends.
A few weeks before Christmas an unlikely looking digger called in at Aphis Creek. His first port of call was the bar, which Frank was minding for his mate. After the normal bush greetings, he downed a quick drink, and as the second was being pulled, he suddenly exploded. “My God, Frank, what a place to find you.”
The other was startled, and looked up with the half‑filled pot unsteady in his hand.
“What did you say?” he asked in a hushed voice.
The visitor thrust out his hand across the bar.
“Frank Gardiner, I'd know you anywhere,” he said. “Shake the hand of an old mate, Frank.”
Darkie's big rough paw swallowed the offered hand, and as he looked hard into his face, he recognised an old Lambing Flat acquaintance of nearly 10 years ago. In a flash he remembered the stolen cattle he had delivered to be auctioned. Before him was the auctioneer, a man who knew all about the Weddin Mountain gang and the £1,000 reward on the head of the Prince of the Bushrangers.
Frank and his “mate,” as he claimed to be, talked long about the good old days, and before he left a few days later, heading west along the Old Peak Downs Road, he promised that he wouldn’t breathe a word of their meeting to a soul. There was a fierce threat in Frank’s voice when they shook hands.
“Not a word,” he repeated. The other knew better than to betray Frank Gardiner. Besides, Frank had given him a generous gift of cash to keep him honest.
Christmas Day 1863 was long remembered by those who were treated as special guests at Craigs’ and Christies’ by Kate and Louisa, who did their best to keep up the traditions of the festive season.
The New Year saw the end of the dry season. With the early rains all roads became impassable and life at Aphis Creek was bogged down. The food wagons that should have got through were caught further south and provisions ran short. Fortunately, there was plenty of fresh meat to be had from the nearby station, but for those travellers caught in the mud on the long lonely stretches between settlements, life was intolerable. Fever broke out, and those who managed to struggle through to Aphis Creek were thankful to find the two women doing all they could to comfort the forlorn.
By February the roads were open again, and a steady stream of traffic again passed by.
Late on the afternoon of 2 March, Kate was standing by the door watching the last fading colours of the setting sun. Nearby, Frank as usual sat contentedly on an upturned case, puffing at his pipe. Idly they watched three diggers ride into camp and go about setting themselves up for the night. While one set up the campfire, another spread a blanket and appeared to doss down. They watched the third as he crossed the short open space from the camp to the hotel and store.
“Looks like we've got a visitor,” Frank said as he puffed on. Kate nodded, then turned to go inside. In the fading light the stranger looked just like all the other diggers who called in.
“G'dday, boss,” he said. “Come to see if yer got a bit uv sago. One uv me mates's sick and can't keep nothing down. Fever, I think.”
“See the missus,” Frank said. “She's just gone inside. Come far?”
“Marlborough. Heading for the Downs.”
As the visitor came closer to Frank, he appeared to trip.
“Mind what you're about,” the boss said, “or you'll be knocking me off my perch.”
“Sorry, Mr Christie,” he replied as he took a swift look at the strong, dark face before him.
Then he went inside and Frank followed him. Kate had lit the hurricane lamp now and had it on the counter.
“How's the sago, Kate?” he asked. “There's a sick'un over at the camp can't keep anything down.”
The stranger watched as the sago was weighed on the old shop scales. When Frank pushed the paper bag across the counter he saw an old, raised scar on the knuckle, and when he asked, “How much?” he saw another fading scar a little below the left eyebrow.
The stranger thanked the Christies and left for the camp well satisfied with what he had seen.
Kate closed the door behind him.
“He made me feel creepy, Frank,” she said. “Did you notice the way he looked at you.”
“It's nothing. I've never seen him before in my life,” he reassured her.
“Still, I'm glad Lieutenant Brown and those native police came into camp yesterday and won't be leaving for a day or two,” Kate replied as she took the hurricane lamp and went to the kitchen at the back of the store.
In the morning, as usual, work began long before sun up. Those at the camp were astir, and Kate noticed that the three latecomers of the previous evening had their swags already rolled and were coming towards the store. She went over to the woodheap, where Frank was talking to two of his men. One was grinding an adze, the other was cutting roof shingles. She nodded in the direction of the three strangers.
“He seems to have gotten over it quick,” she said as she went past on the way to get an armful of wood from the cut pile.
They stopped at the woodheap, one to talk to the adze‑grinder, one to have a few words with the shingle‑cutter, and the one who had been for the sago to talk to the boss.
“Just come to thank yer for the sago and let yer know me mate’s got over whatever ‘e ‘ad and let yer know we’re on our way to the Peak,” he said. “Mind if I say hurray to yer missus?”
Frank watched as he started to move towards Kate at the pile. He had gone a few steps when he stopped to pat one of the dogs He turned about.
“Nice dawg, Mr Christie. I see he's got a sore foot,” he said, still looking at the dog. “Must have a prickle in it.”
“I hadn't noticed,” Frank replied as he bent down to have a look. In a flash, the digger sprang at the unbalanced Christie and knocked him to the ground. Before the two workmen realised what had happened, a second digger had him by the legs, while the third had his pistol drawn, threatening to shoot anyone who made a move.
Kate screamed loud enough to bring the Craigs running, but before anything could be done the handcuffs were snapped on, and Lieutenant Brown and the native police had covered the hundred yards from the camp.
“It's a stick‑up,” Craig yelled as he rushed to help his mate.
“Stand back, Craig, and keep those screaming women under control or I’ll have you all in irons,” the obvious leader of the police called, as he hauled the stunned Christie to his feet.
“You must be mad. That's my mate, Frank Christie,” the distraught publican shouted.
Christie be damned. It's Darkie Frank Gardiner, the
bushranger, with £1,000 on his head. And I’m Detective McGlone
and these other two diggers,”
he laughed, “are Detective Pye and Trooper Wells of Sydney. We’ve come a long way to get you, Gardiner.”
”Let my husband go”" Kate screamed as she made a dash to his side, but rough hands grabbed her and held her back.
McGlone gloated even more as he said for all to hear, “and you’re not Mrs Christie, either. You’re stockman John Brown's runaway wife from Wheogo station, and you’ll be wanted too for aiding and abetting a known criminal. And you as well, Craigs, for the same reason. Seems we've made a good haul out here at Aphis Creek.”
It had been no accident that Lieutenant Brown and his native troopers were on the spot at the right time. McGlone had planned things well.
No one knows for sure how the information was passed on to the Sydney police that the most wanted man in the state was leading an honest, respectable life at remote Aphis Creek. Some said Gardiner’s auctioneer friend had sold him out for the reward when he had gone through the cash Christie had given him to buy his silence. Others said that Kate had written to her sister, Bridget Taylor, and that her drunkard husband, preyed on by police pimps, had revealed her whereabouts to Detective McGlone, who had then prevailed upon the authorities to allow him to go to Aphis Creek to see if the information was correct.
Be that as it may, the Prince of the Bushrangers was now secure. A search of his house and store revealed £2,000 in notes.
The news soon spread. When on 6 March 1864, a Sunday, the party rode down the main street of Rockhampton to the courthouse, Frank Gardiner was well surrounded by police, as it was rumoured that there were those in the excited crowd who were going to attempt a rescue. But nothing eventuated and the prisoner made no move to escape as the cell door clanged behind him.
Kate Brown and Archibald Craig were locked up apart from each other.
McGlone’s pimping had paid off. Darkie was safely behind bars exactly one year and nine months after the eventful Sunday of 15 June 1862, when the Gardiner gang had bailed up the gold escort and escaped with 2719 ounces of gold and £700 in bank notes.
The next day Kate and Craig appeared before a bench made up of an unprecedented number of magistrates. A Mr Dick appeared for the Crown and Mr Bellas for the accused. As evidence was produced to show that the Craigs had no inkling of who their partner was, Craig was freed. Kate swore that she had married Gardiner, and so was not harbouring a wanted criminal but merely living with her husband. McGlone suspected otherwise, but as he had the bird he wanted Kate was discharged. McGlone swore that Frank Christie was none other than Frank Gardiner. As his crimes were committed in New South Wales, he was remanded to appear at a date to be fixed in the Central Criminal Court, Darlinghurst, Sydney. Kate did her best to postpone his transfer by boat, but McGlone forestalled her. Not
intending to be left behind, she followed so she could be near the man she was determined to defend with the best legal aid she could afford.
The Crown thought it had all the evidence needed to put the hangman's noose around Gardiner's neck for his part in the great escort robbery, but unfortunately no one was willing to give evidence against him. An epidemic of loss of memory broke out, for Kate found she still had many friends who looked upon her husband with awe and respect.
Inspector Sir Frederick Pottinger and Detective McGlone swore they’d get him another way, on a charge they considered could not be denied.
On 18 May, at Darlinghurst, Gardiner heard the new charge read out: that “on 16 July 1861, at the Fish River, he fired at one John Middleton, with the intent to kill and murder the said John Middleton.”
In a flash, his mind relived that violent morning three years ago at Old Fogg’s hut, when Middleton and Hosie had jumped him.
The Crown felt confident that there was only one verdict the jury could bring in, but they had not reckoned on the cross-examination skills of Mr Robert McIntosh Isaacs, whom Kate had engaged to defend Frank.
The court listened enthralled as Sergeant Middleton tried to parry the thrust of the questions Isaacs put to him:
“Sergeant Middleton, were you or were you not in heavy disguise as you approached Mr Fogg’s dwelling place?”
“Did you inform anyone before you carried out your attack on the prisoner that you were a policeman and that you had a warrant for his arrest?”
“I did not. I had no reason to do so. Gardiner had a price on his head.”
“Did you in fact have a warrant?”
“No. Under the circumstances it wasn't necessary.”
“Don't the police need such a warrant to enter someone's house to make a search or an arrest?”
“Yes, under normal conditions, but this was different.”
“Well then, did the prisoner know you were a policeman?”
“He must have known when I called on him to surrender.”
“But did you in fact inform him so?”
“Then how was he to know for certain who you were?”
“He knew all right. He knew he was a wanted man.”
“But he could have thought it was someone else out to get him.”
“Well then, who fired the first shot?”
“That is only your word for it. Could it be you both fired together?”
“It could have been. They sounded almost together.”
“Then that being the case, you might have fired a fraction earlier and he returned a shot in self‑defence.”
“No, he fired first. I am sure he did.”
“And if you were so sure it was Gardiner, do you expect this court to believe you would allow him to get in the first shot?”
“The shots were so close we may have fired together.”
“May have! Have we reached the stage where servants of the Queen can shoot down a civilian like a dog? He was doing no more than any other man would do under similar circumstances‑ defending himself against an unknown assailant with a gun.”
For three days Mr Isaacs defended his client, but everyone knew Gardiner was guilty. Mr Justice Wise summed up and left little for the jury to ponder. It was only a matter of how long the jury would take to reach the verdict, it seemed.
At 6.30 they filed back into court.
“Gentlemen of the jury, do you find the prisoner at the bar guilty or not guilty?”
The foreman of the jury stood and in a voice loud and clear said, “Not guilty.”
"What?" His Honour asked increduously.
"Not guilty, Your Honour."
The courtroom crowd that had followed the case for three days stood and clapped and cheered.
The King of the Road was not guilty!
Frank Gardiner stood up and smiled. He had beaten them again. He looked to where Kate was sitting and waved to her. She smiled and waved back.
Darkie was a free man again.
But the Crown had other cards to play.
“Your Honour, I apply that the prisoner be kept in custody. There are other charges to be laid against him. I apply for a remand.”
The Judge nodded.
“Request granted. The prisoner is to be held in custody pending further charges.”
Once again Frank Gardiner found himself led away and the prison door clanged shut behind him.
Kate had another fight on her hands.
Two months later he was back in court facing a new charge. This consisted of:
“Attempting to murder Trooper Hosie or wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm.”
The Crown now gave the jury an alternate verdict to bring in.
On the first count‑ attempted murder‑ there was only one sentence: death.
The second charge was not a capital offence. If found guilty, Gardiner would still escape with his life.
Again the prisoner sat through the proceedings and relived a third time the events of 16 July 1861. Mr Isaacs fought to preserve his life.
His Honour, Chief Justice Sir Alfred Stephen, proceeded to sum up in the most damning and prejudicial way. He had had Gardiner before him once before, ten years previously, on a charge of horse‑stealing, and his sentence had failed to deter him from a life of crime. It seemed that this time Stephen was determined to put to an end his long and violent career. He attacked Mr Isaacs’s defence as to who fired the first shot.
“Who fired the first shot? Supposing that in your opinion it was Hosie who fired first, I say that he had a perfect right to do so! Was he to wait until Gardiner had fired and perhaps shot him dead? I say it is absurd to contend that a constable must wait to be fired on before he himself fire at a reputed bushranger who is armed. It is well known that at the time the country was infested with bushrangers. It still is. The police are blamed for not apprehending them. How can these bushrangers be apprehended if juries will not protect police in the performance of their duty? You may consider, gentlemen, that the prisoner is entitled to your sympathy because of the position of danger in which he now stands‑ but is there to be no sympathy for a constable recklessly shot down while performing his duty for the benefit of the community?”
The jury withdrew and in an hour were back.
“How do you find the prisoner, guilty or not guilty?”
There was deadly silence from the crowded courtroom.
“We find the prisoner not guilty on the first count of intent to murder.”
There was a hum of voices from the gallery, but no outbreak of cheering as before, as dozens of policemen had been strategically situated about the room.
The foreman of the jury looked around the courtroom before he went on.
“And we find him guilty on the second count of intent to do grievous bodily harm.”
The news soon spread to those in corridors and the crowd waiting outside
“Gardiner is guilty on the second count”
There were other charges yet to be brought against him. Back in March 1862, Gardiner, Gilbert, O’Meally and McGuinness had held up Mr Horsington and Mr Hewitt on the Big Wombat Road near Young, and had robbed them of gold and notes worth about £1,000. Horsington had known Gardiner when he worked m the butcher’s shop with Fogg at Spring Creek, so there was no mistaking his identity. As usual the bushrangers had not been caught, but Gardiner was now facing a charge brought in case he escaped again with the killing of Hosie.
Now that he had been found guilty of the second count against him, he pleaded guilty to the robbery of Horsington and Hewitt.
His Honour asked him if he had anything to say.
“No, Sir, only this letter which I beg to be presented to the court.”
The room was hushed while the letter was read:
“If I may be permitted, in praying for a merciful consideration of my case, I beg to say that, during the last two years, I have seen the error of my ways, and I have endeavoured to lead an honest and upright life. During this time I have had great temptations, for I was entrusted on several occasions with large quantities of gold from the Peak Downs diggings, yet the honest resolutions I had formed were so strong as to prevent me from doing a dishonest action on these opportunities. I entrust Your Honour will do me the justice to believe that I would never again have fallen into practices which I have felt for a long time past to be a sin against God and man.”
Then Sir Alfred Stephen addressed the Court.
“If I am to take what you say as sincere, I can rejoice, for your own sake, that you are now repentant and determined to reform. I have known you, and of you for a number of years, and I know that you have enough common sense to be aware that a judge, sitting in this place, has a duty to perform which cannot be countervailed by considerations of repentance. Now consider the dreadful example you have held out to this community. What a career you have led! You have been captain of a band of robbers and you must be sure that you cannot escape the punishment proportionate to your crimes. Many have followed your evil example, influenced by the animal courage you have shown. You cannot expect mercy, for it would be unjust if the law were to stay its hand in your case. Some young men who have perished on the scaffold owe their deaths to your example‑ is this to be regarded as nothing? The character of the country destroyed, security of property and of persons travelling at an end, persons robbed to an extent which seems inconceivable‑ are these things nothing? When I consider the crimes you have committed, can I hesitate in saying that the law has at last justly overtaken you? It is not for one offence, but for many, that you are here.
“Take the case of these constables. Were they not brave men? It is a strange thing that we hear little of the undoubted bravery shown by men such as Hosie and Middleton, yet if there is the slightest courage shown by a bushranger, he is lauded as if he were a hero of romance. You are a man that many people sympathise with, but I intend to make an example of you that will be a lesson I hope the community will never forget. You are going to receive the just and necessary reward for a series of acts of cruelty, wickedness and crime utterly unequalled within my experience‑ acts which would disgrace any community on earth. I charge you, Gardiner, with being the head, the fount, the parent of all this! I declare to you on my honour, speaking to you as man to man, face to face‑ if I could feel any sympathy for you I should be ashamed of myself as a gentleman, as a colonist, and as a Christian! I know, unfortunately, that the sentences I intend to pass upon you will be regarded by many as too severe. People will say that if you had been let alone you might have been contented to live an honest life. But why should you be left alone? It would be unjust to the thousands who earn their livelihood by honest toil if you, with your record, were allowed to go inadequately punished.”
Then Sir Alfred Stephen passed his sentences.
For the shooting of Hosie‑ 15 years' hard labour, the first two years in irons.
For the armed robbery of Horsington‑ 10 years' hard labour.
For the armed robbery of Hewitt‑ seven years' hard labour.
For Darkie Frank Gardiner, Prince of Highwaymen and King of the Road, it seemed the end.
Kate and his two sisters, who had also fought desperately to save him, sobbed as they left the court.
Thirty‑two years! Half a lifetime, in a lifetime already half-spent! The sentence drummed in Kate's mind.
Soon the news spread to the remotest outback station of the fate of one who many looked upon as a sort of national hero. On the far away Peak Downs goldfield, Gold Commissioner Griffin remembered the man he had left in charge of the gold the night he had been called away to Hurley’s. He wondered that Darkie, who had gained the respect of everyone who travelled through Aphis Creek, could indeed be the Prince of Australian bushrangers.
“Thirty‑two years with the first two in irons,” he thought. “I'd rather hang than that!”
Little did he dream that within four years he himself would be dangling at the end of the hangman's rope for a crime more gruesome than Gardiner could ever have committed.
The faithful Kate continued to use every influence she had, and to stir up all the public sympathy she could, but to no avail. There was nothing left she could do to help the man she still loved. Eventually she could stand it no longer. Her spirit broken, she left Australia to try her fortune on the Thames goldfield in
New Zealand. Maybe good fortune would smile upon her just once more, and she would come back to Sydney with enough money to carry on her fight for Darkie's freedom.
But poor Kate had no luck on the field. There was nothing left to keep her fighting. Kittie Brown, or Kate Christie, surrendered.
If only she had not taken her own life she could have joined her beloved Frank in San Francisco, for in 1874, after serving only 10 years of his sentence, he was released and sent into exile. She might have helped him run the saloon he bought, and together they might have lived as they had in their little place back at Aphis Creek.
The Cadrington Hold‑up
There was initially nothing unusual about the morning of 4 March 1864 at the Cadrington Hotel, on the Houghton River, some 40 miles north‑east of the yet‑ to- be- discovered Charters Towers goldfield.
By mid‑morning Mrs Willis had finished her usual chores of tidying the living quarters, the attached store, the bar, the four makeshift guest rooms and two scantily furnished sitting rooms of the rough, slab‑built public house.
From the kitchen came the appetizing smell of fresh, yeasty bread and the zing of many uninvited “blowies,” attracted by the far‑reaching aroma of slightly pungent vinegar water in which a hunk of corned beef was simmering slowly.
Outside, as usual, the two Willis youngsters were amusing themselves.
Down at the blacksmith's shop, about 150 yards away, John Hill, a servant of about a year's standing, was hammering rhythmically, trying to fit a red‑hot cast‑iron rim to a heavy dray wheel.
In the bar, perched on roughly padded stools, were two casuals known to Willis as Fendilon and Morred, who had stayed the night and were now settling their bill over a drink or two before their departure.
At about 10 o'clock, just as the two were about to leave, a decrepit, barefooted, hatless stranger, wearing a grubby red shirt and once‑cream moles, appeared from nowhere. He dumped his scatty swag on the dirt floor and bottomed himself on a spare stool near Fendilon.
“Drinks on me!” he announced loudly enough for any strays in the vicinity to hear. There were no others.
As Willis pulled three pots his quick eyes took in the stranger’s hollow, piercing blue eyes, his Roman nose and ruffled., light sandy hair.
“And one for the boss,” he demanded as the beers were passed across the counter. “I said the drinks are on me and that means you too, Mr Willis. No one’s ever accused me of being stingy and drinking with the flies.”
Fendilon and Morred watched as the newcomer poured, at one gulp, the amber contents of the glass down an obviously parched throat.
“Ah, that’s better,” he said. “A dry whistle’s no good for any self‑respecting man.”
As two more drinks followed in quick succession, his tongue seemed to loosen, and Willis gathered from the conversation that the fellow’s name was Kerr, or something like that, and that Fendilon had previously met him somewhere with two of his mates they referred to as “the two Charlies.”
He seemed to be well educated, the way he spoke, what with big words and some highfalutin, foreign‑sounding phrases thrown in for good measure.
Just when it seemed that the three were settling in for a morning session, Kerr ordered a bottle of whisky and announced he had to be going.
“How much?” he asked standing up and running his fingers through his uncombed hair.
“That’ll be two and six and four shillings for the whisky,” he was told.
Kerr slipped his hand into the hip pocket of his moles and took out several notes. After studying them for a moment, he selected one which he slapped on the counter.
Willis saw that it was a 10 shilling calabash drawn on Burns and Co. of Rockhampton.
“That'll be three and six change,” the barman said, but, on opening the till, found he was out of sixpences.
“I’m sorry, Mr Kerr, but I can’t make it up. You don’t have any change, I suppose?” he asked.
“Forget about it, boss. What's a few bob? Make it up in drinks to the next thirsty throat that calls. Tell him the shout’s on me,” he laughed good‑naturedly.
Fendilon and Morred slid off their stools to go.
“I wish my swag was as light as yours,” Fendilon said, picking up his new mate’s bundle to try it for weight.
“Here, give it to me, and if you’re going my way, I’ll carry yours too if you like,” Kerr replied as he slipped an arm through the rope around his swag and flung it easily across his left shoulder.
And with that the three departed, but soon split up, Kerr going on down the track and the other two branching off, heading east.
Willis stood at the door watching them go.
“A strange sort of bloke, that,” he said to himself as he stroked his stubbled chin. “Wonder where he blew in from?”
With the bar now empty, Willis went into the house and recounted to his wife what had happened.
Since taking over the new licence of the Cadrington, the Willises had had little trouble from the teamsters and other travellers of the early 1860s, for their establishment offered the simple, cordial hospitality of the traditional public houses of Australia’s outback‑ even as did the Christie and Craig set‑up at Aphis Creek, some 300 miles to the south‑east.
But that fellow, Kerr. Somehow, the boss felt uneasy about him. Perhaps it was because two days before a bay draught-horse and a good chestnut gelding had disappeared from the hotel yards. Willis didn’t know what it was about the man that made him feel uneasy. He just did.
“Anyhow,” he said to his wife, “thank goodness he’s gone. We can do without his sort for custom.”
Only the persistent metallic rat‑a‑tat‑tatting of the hammer on the anvil and the low, comforting roar from the forge bellows disturbed the quietude of the Cadrington.
Willis was behind the bar tidying things when he saw dust rising from down the track. He went to the door and saw three well‑mounted horsemen approaching at a quick trot. As they neared, he recognised two of them as casuals he had served over the last day or so.
One he knew as Charlie Dawson, and the other as Charlie Macmahon.
The third appeared to be a well‑built, neatly dressed stranger.
At the door, they reined in.
“Here, Charlie,” the apparent leader said as he swung down, “mind the horses!”
Dawson did as he was bid, whilst his mates made for the door. By that time, Willis, again feeling a little uneasy, was inside and behind the bar, standing within easy reach of the keg hammer on the counter and the hidden rifle on the shelf underneath.
He glanced at the old‑fashioned, slow‑ticking pendulum wall clock and saw that it was going on eleven.
Macmahon and his mate breasted the bar.
“What'll it be, gentlemen?” they were asked. “Beers?”
“Beers all round and one for Charlie, my mate, outside,” the stranger ordered. “And please make it quick, Mr Willis, we're in a hurry.”
By then the barman had recognised the Roman nose and the voice, only now the man was wearing a clean, red‑spotted shirt, good quality Bedford riding pants, long‑spurred boots and a newish cabbage‑tree hat.
It was Kerr!
Willis pumped the beers.
One was passed outside to Charlie Dawson.
Soon, three empty glasses were back on the counter.
“Fill ‘em up again?” Willis asked, trying not to show concern.
“Yes. And we also want something to eat,” Kerr demanded. “And quick! I told you we haven’t got all day to hang around. We’ve got more important things to do, haven’t we, Charlie?”
By now, Willis sensed real trouble. Kerr was becoming increasingly belligerent and aggressive.
Best play it as some sort of joke, he decided.
“And is there anything else you gentlemen would like in a hurry, while you’re about it?” he asked with a forced smile.
“Yes. As a matter of fact, there is. You can load some rations and some slops into this here bag,” Kerr grinned as he shoved a bag on the counter. “And while you’re at it, I’ll thank you for the new saddle hanging up by the door.”
“Anything else?” Willis asked evenly.
“Only all the loose money you’ve got in the place! That should suffice for the moment, don’t you think, Charlie?”
Charlie nodded agreement.
“Like hell it will. Only over my dead body you’ll get it. You’re three bloody robbers, that’s what you are!” Willis called as he made a move towards his concealed gun.
“Look here, Willis, I’m in earnest,” Kerr snapped as he drew a revolver. “I repeat, Mr Willis, I’m in dead earnest. Behave yourself and do as you are told, and no harm will come to you.”
“And I warn both of you, I’m in dead earnest too. You can all go to hell, as far as I am concerned. Pull the trigger if you’re game,” Willis said defiantly. “I’ll die first before I hand anything over!”
The barrel was menacingly close to his face.
“You’re a fool, that’s what you are. Here, Charlie, tie him up!” Kerr ordered as he tossed a strap to his mate.
Macmahon took a few steps towards the end of the counter to do as he was bid.
“Come on, get around here,” he bullied as he reached for Willis’s shoulder.
“Like hell, I will! No one gets anything from me without paying.” And with that, he drew back his fist as if to defend himself.
Kerr reached across the bar and prodded his revolver against Willis’s cheek.
“I’ll drop him,” Macmahon threatened as he cocked his rifle.
“Leave him to me, Charlie. I can handle him,” Kerr replied as he prodded again with the cold steel of the barrel.
Just then, Charlie Dawson came in with a startled black boy named George Jefferson who had been unfortunate enough to come unexpectedly upon the scene. One glance from George was enough! He made to bolt from the door, but Kerr’s yell froze him.
“Don’t move, blackie, or you’re dead! Tie him up!”
The two Charlies soon had the terrified Jefferson secured to a table leg.
As Dawson turned to go back to the horses, he spotted one of Willis’s guns leaning half‑hidden behind the door.
“Look what I've found,” he called as he picked up the piece to examine the capping.
Kerr turned to look. Willis saw the chance he had been waiting for. His right hand darted towards his rifle. Kerr glimpsed the move. There was a deafening explosion and Willis collapsed to the floor behind the bar.
From the blacksmith's shop, Hill came running. He saw the three horses being held outside the bar. When he was about 10 yards away, Dawson threatened him with his gun.
“Stay where you are, or I’ll shoot,” he menaced.
This brought Kerr and Macmahon to the door.
Hill turned to run back to his shop. Oddly enough, they made no effort to stop him.
Mrs Elizabeth Gordon, Hill’s sister, met him at the blacksmith shop’s door and he told her what he suspected had happened. She ran for the pub to see if they would allow her in.
Kerr saw her as she made for the entrance.
“Stand back!” he ordered, turning a gun on her.
For a fleeting moment she thought she had seen him somewhere else, but owing to the tense circumstances the glimmer of recognition faded and was lost.
By then Mrs Willis, who had been some distance away with the children, had also come running.
Dawson threatened her as well, but she pushed him aside. Kerr stood in her way with levelled revolver but she brushed past him and ran around behind the bar to find her husband bloodied and slumped in a half‑seated position by a trunk. She did what she could to stem the bleeding. To her surprise, he was still conscious and able to make gurgling words.
Kerr, without showing any emotion, looked on.
Then Dawson bustled into the room with another man, Jonathan England, who had come to see what was going on. Soon he too was tied to the table to keep the terrified George Jefferson company.
While Mrs Willis tried to comfort her husband, he managed to call, “You better not hurt anyone else, Kerr, or you’ll both swing for it.”
“Shut your trap, you fool. It’s all your own fault. If you had done as you were told in the first place, none of this would have happened, would it?”
Dawson came inside and bent down by Mrs Willis’s side to look more closely at the shattered face of her husband. Then he said softly to her that he was sorry it had happened like that, and if he had known anybody was going to get shot he would have had no part of it.
And then he raised his voice for all to hear.
“We never intended to kill anyone, Missus. Honest to God, we didn’t.”
Kerr turned on him.
“Shut up, Charlie! It’s his own fault, not ours.”
And while Mrs Willis again tried to help her husband, Kerr busied himself handing out items of clothing, stores and grog. Later these were reckoned to include three cabbage‑tree hats, two pairs of riding pants, one pair of boots, one gun, one Crimean shirt, one bottle of whisky, and 14 pounds of flour.
Obviously satisfied with their little escapade, the three decided to go.
Dawson handed over the bridle reins, but before Kerr swung to his saddle he went back inside to make a final inspection of Willis.
“Are you much hurt?” he asked.
Then after a cursory glance, he added, “It’s nothing much. Only through your cheek. You'll live!”
And with that much consolation, he hurried out of the Cadrington bar to re‑join his waiting mates.
Before setting spurs to his horse, Dawson turned in his saddle and called,
“You better not send anyone for help for six hours or we’ll be back to get you.”
Then they were gone.
From the blacksmith shop, Hill watched them ride away towards the river crossing, Kerr leading, Dawson following with a packhorse, and Macmahon bringing up the rear.
Hill hurried to the bar. By then Willis was able to speak well enough to order Hill to ride for help to the Blacks’ property on the Fanning River, some 30 miles away.
And it was then that Mrs Gordon remembered where she had seen Kerr before. It has been at the Fanning River just before Christmas and his name, she thought, had then been Alpin McPherson.
The next day Mr Black arrived with a Mr Byrne, and the two were able to extract a part of the ball from Willis’s jawbone.
Black and Byrne then set off to ride the 125 miles into Bowen to report the hold‑up at the Cadrington to the officer‑in‑charge, Inspector Pinnock.
James Alpin McPherson
Since the early 1820s John Dunmore Lang, the Sydney‑based republican and Presbyterian clergyman, had had a vision of settling many of his fellow Scots in Australia.
When the epidemic of gold‑rush fever of the 1850s swept beyond Australia to all parts of the globe, tens of thousands of gold‑hungry men from everywhere put aside their workaday life and flocked to the diggings of Summer Hill Creek, Ballarat and Bendigo.
Lang saw this as a means of putting his visionary plan into effect, for Australian farmers and pastoralists were particularly hard hit by the subsequent shortage of labour.
Scotland had been through long years of hardship as, season after season, crops failed due to blight and mildew. Landholders had turned to sheep and cattle, so that agricultural workers were left in dire straits.
The McPhersons, living in the Scottish Highlands near Inverness, was one such family. They had 10 children, six boys and four girls, and nothing but a bleak future before them.
Lang, in the early 1850s, made an impassioned plea to his beloved Scots, and lauded Australia, and in particular the Moreton Bay District of New South Wales, as the Lord’s Promised Land.
John and Elizabeth (commonly called Eppy) McPherson were convinced.
They, along with 392 others, embarked from Liverpool on the clipper ship William Miles and arrived in Brisbane on 16 January 1855, after an uneventful journey via the Cape and Torres Strait.
Brisbane at that time was a ramshackle town of some 4000 inhabitants. In dry weather the winding streets were dirty and dusty, in the wet they became furrowed thoroughfares of churned mud.
There were several public buildings already showing signs of permanency, such as the Immigration Depot, the Commissariat stores, the court house, the gaol (where the General Post Office now stands) and the hospital and the imposing structure of the once‑dreaded convict treadmill on Mill Hill overlooked an expanding settlement encompassing the prospering Fortitude Valley.
Several creeks snaked into a swampy ground called Frog’s Hollow (later the site of the Botanical Gardens), and across the road river the prestigious area of Kangaroo Point was already taking shape.
But a town such as this was not what McPherson had in mind when he stepped ashore at Queen’s Wharf. He was a country man, so not long after the family was on the move to an area some 90 miles up‑river at Cressbrook, to work as labourers on a property belonging to Mr David McConnell.
The eldest son, Donald, and the second, James, who was then aged fourteen, worked as shepherds and stockmen. Two of the girls worked as domestics, while the younger children attended a private school established on the property for the McConnell employees.
After three years the family returned to Brisbane, where James was apprenticed to John Petrie, probably Brisbane's best‑known building contractor. Over the next five years he became proficient in most aspects of the building trade‑ carpentry, brick and tile laying, stonemasonry and monumental work with fine marble.
Towards the end of 1862 the family moved on again to Bald Hills, about 15 miles north of Brisbane, but James remained behind in the employ of Petrie.
An article in the Brisbane Courier of 17 April 1866 stated that young James McPherson had been an extensive reader and was an active member of the debating society connected with the School of Arts. It said that on one occasion when the Attorney-General, Mr Lilley, was addressing his Fortitude Valley constituents over the very controversial Militia Bill, he was attacked both verbally and physically by an angry mob, and that young McPherson had stoutly defended the Attorney‑ General and was largely instrumental in his escape from a very nasty situation.
It also reported that soon after that McPherson had disappeared from the Brisbane scene.
Later it would be revealed that he had been enticed away by two mates, Charlie Dawson and Charlie Morris (later known as Macmahon), who had already had brushes with the law over minor charges of theft.
Without parental control, James had been persuaded to leave Brisbane to go north to try his hand at shearing and droving. As there was no shortage of work, the three stayed only a short time in any one place. It was said that they changed horses more frequently than they could afford, and that, when confronted, they displayed much bravado which sometimes led to fights both inside and outside the bars of public houses. But for all that, they managed to keep their noses clean as far as the police were concerned.
Towards the end of 1863 they were shearing for a Mr Hill of Reedy Creek on the Burdekin River. From all accounts, they were rough‑and‑ready at their work and so kept the tar-boy busy.
This led to disputes with Hill and his overseers, until finally, it was claimed, they were sacked.
When they went to collect their pay, Hill refused them.
“You're nothing but a lot of butchers. You should be paying me money, the number of my sheep you've injured,” Hill said.
To this, McPherson is reputed to have replied, “You’ll pay up, all right!” Then he pulled a gun and marched the boss off to produce his rightful wages, plus a bit more for good measure.
Feeling now that justice had been done, the three rode away, convinced that the only way to get a fair deal in this world was to help yourself to what you want, and to hell with the consequences.
It was soon after this that they had planned their first hold‑up. In late February 1864 they helped themselves to some good hacks and a packhorse from the Firth property on the Upper Burdekin so that they could go about the job properly.
It was Willis’s Cadrington Hotel that was their first target.
On the Rampage
When the news spread of the capture of Darkie Frank Gardiner by McGlone at Aphis Creek on 3 March 1864, the day before the Cadrington hold‑up, Inspector Pinnock feared that he may have on his hands others of the Hall gang to deal with.
With Inspector Marlow, Sub‑Inspector Williams, and several lower rankers plus 20 native police, Pinnock set out from Bowen, determined to run to ground Kerr, Dawson and Macmahon. A reward had been offered, but no trace of their whereabouts was found.
Some said that they had gone south of the border to join Ben Hall and Johnny Gilbert in their private war against Sir Frederick Pottinger at Wheogo and in the Weddin Mountains. Others said that they had fled the country. One thing seemed certain ‑ they were not in Queensland, and, as it turned out, the two Charlies were never heard of again.
In July the same year, however, Sir Frederick Pottinger received reports of a fresh outbreak of horse‑thieving near Forbes.
The suspect seemed to be a stranger to the district, but as Forbes was 1600 miles from the Houghton River, no one gave a second thought to Kerr, even though his “wanted” notices were displayed at police stations throughout the country.
In August the same man was chased by Sergeant Condell at Wowingragong, near Forbes, but after an exchange of several shots he escaped.
The horse‑thief was now a much wanted man, and undoubtedly, people said, a new member of the Hall gang.
A short time after that Pottinger and a party were hot on the trail of Ben Hall at Wheogo when they came unexpectedly upon the Forbes horse‑thief at camp. Certain that he was one of Hall's men, Pottinger challenged him and called upon him to put up his hands.
The police were too close for him to make a dash for his horse, so he took off like a hare for the nearby swamp.
Pottinger opened fire as he gave chase, but the shots appeared to have no effect. Then return shots stopped the police as their horses began to flounder in the mud.
Soon the wanted man was out of sight, plunging further into the swamp along a track he had obviously used before.
“Come and get me, Pottinger! What are you scared of,” a taunting voice called from a safe distance.
The police searched as best they could and were rewarded by the discovery of a trail of blood that appeared to come from a dragging left arm. That was all.
By now it was generally accepted that the wanted man was a Hall man. Those who boasted of having met him said he had a distinct Scottish accent, and so he became known locally as “Scotchie,” or the Scottish Bushranger.
There were other sightings of him and, as on earlier occasions, he wore the distinctive bushranger dress of tweed trousers, grey Crimean shirt, red jumper, Wellington boots and a cabbage‑tree hat. His arms consisted of a rifle, a pistol and two powder flasks. Some observers also reported that he carried two concealed revolvers.
The wounded left arm was slow to heal, so for a time he kept clear of the law, until, in October, he made an appearance at Scone, some 200 miles to the north‑east.
Dressed in his usual outfit, he stuck up the mailman and escaped without being challenged.
Police searches found no trace of him.
Then he decided to try a little disguise, and to change his mode operation to something more respectable.
In December he moved to Narrabri, some 150 miles north of Scone, and obtained a job on a station belonging to Mr Doyle. There he contracted to drove a mob of cattle to the Melbourne saleyards, but soon thought better of it. The route would take him south past Parkes and Forbes, places where he was too known to Pottinger's boys.
Pottinger he had good reason to curse, for his arm was still giving him trouble.
To give it more time to heal he headed some 150 miles west of Forbes, to the wide open spaces beyond the Lachlan where there were few police but enough station outhouses to keep him in tucker.
Still the search went on for him, both as Kerr in Queensland and as the Scottish Bushranger in New South Wales, although by now the police were fairly certain that Kerr and “Scotchie” were one and the same. They also still believed that in some way he was connected with the Hall gang.
Perhaps McPherson became too careless and neglected to sweep the tracks leading to his camp in the thick scrub along the bank of outback Billabong Creek, for on 11 February 1865 his old enemy, Sergeant Condell, with a four‑man patrol, came upon them.
Condell reconnoitred and sighted his quarry.
“It’s him, all right,” he whispered to his men.
Then he drew up his plan to encircle the unsuspecting man, who was reading a newspaper.
At an arranged signal they rushed the camp, and before McPherson had time to reach for his gun he was covered.
“Hands up, Scotchie,” Condell ordered.
Taken completely by surprise, he did as he was told.
“What's this all about?” he asked innocently.
“That’s for you to say, Scotchie. You should know who it was who opened fire on me at Wowingragong!”
“I think you must be mistaken, Sergeant. My name’s Bruce, Jack Bruce, one of Mr Strickland’s hands. You can ride into the station and ask him if you don’t believe me,” the fellow argued.
“Bruce or Scotchie, or who ever you are, you’re coming into Forbes with me,” Condell replied as handcuffs were snapped on, first the right wrist, then the left.
“You’ve got a bad arm there,” Condell continued, looking more closely. “How’d that happen, Mr Bruce? Don’t say you shot yourself accidentally!”
“Oh, shut up, Condell. You know damn well how it happened. Too bad my shots went astray,” Scotchie told him defiantly.
“Yes, too bad. And mine, too. I’m sure Sir Frederick will be pleased to see you, seeing that he was a better shot than you were,” the Sergeant said, running his hands in an unsuccessful search over the prisoner’s body.
Leg irons were also secured.
The procession down the main street of Forbes to the lock‑up caused much interest among the locals, many of whom had looked upon Scotchie with the respect due to one of Ben Hall’s men.
When Scotchie appeared before the bench the next day he had to answer two charges of attempted murder, several charges of horse‑stealing, and one of robbery of the Royal Mail.
The prisoner was also positively identified by the police as James McPherson, alias Kerr, wanted for a more serious crime in Bowen, North Queensland.
He was remanded to the next criminal sittings in Bathurst, and from there it was decided to extradite him to Queensland to face the charge of attempted murder of Richard Willis, licensee of the Cadrington Hotel on the Houghton River.
On 10 May 1865 the paddle steamer James Paterson cleared Sydney Heads bound for Port Denison, Bowen's port, with Detective Lyons aboard to guard the prisoner.
On 17 May McPherson faced Police Magistrate Pinnock and Mr Miles, J.P.
Pinnock now had his chance to pin the man he had been after for the past fourteen months.
As chief witness Richard Willis had to come from the Houghton River, an estimated four‑day journey away, a week’s remand was requested and granted.
On 24 May Willis had not yet arrived, but the blacksmith, John Hill, who had left the Cadrington and was then living a closer distance west of Bowen, gave evidence that the prisoner was one of three men who had held up the Cadrington Hotel. The most serious charge, however, concerned the shooting of Willis.
“How do you know it was the prisoner who shot him?” Hill was asked. “Were you in the bar when the shot was fired?”
Hill admitted that he wasn’t, so it was decided to hold over the case until Willis’s arrival.
On 3 June McPherson was again brought before Pinnock, and Willis positively identified him as the man who had held the gun no more than 8 or 10 inches from his face and then had pulled trigger to send a ball through his cheek.
The black boy, George Jefferson, also testified that the accused had held a gun at Willis’s head.
McPherson tried, unsuccessfully, to twist the story by accusing Willis, Fendilon and Morred of attacking him, but his story was too improbable for Pinnock to accept.
The hearing ended with the Scotsman being committed to appear before the next criminal sitting in Rockhampton on 22 September 1865.
When the news spread that Scotchie was to be accompanied by Constable Maher, a curious gathering, mostly of well‑wishers, gathered at Port Denison to see their tall, strong, good‑looking, 24‑year‑old hero go aboard the paddle steamer Diamantina, which was returning to Rockhampton for a refit.
As the Scotsman had often boasted that cuffs were yet to be made that would hold him, Maher was instructed to keep him in irons below deck.
But for some reason Maher looked upon his well‑spoken, polite charge as a man to be trusted.
“It would be so nice to go on deck for a breath of fresh air. This foul place turns my stomach,” McPherson said, speaking easily with his guard.
“And mine too,” Maher agreed. “But orders are orders, you know.”
“You are perfectly right, Constable. I would not want any friend of mine to get into trouble on my behalf. But just a breath of fresh air? Is that too much to ask, by a man cuffed and ironed?”
Maher relented and the next day, much to the dismay of the captain and the crew, McPherson was seen on deck enjoying the invigorating air of the Whitsunday Passage.
When evening came, he went quietly below deck and thanked Maher for his kindness.
The following day, while the ship was at Mackay, McPherson was again on deck. Whether he had slipped his handcuffs or not is not known, but he was exercising himself as freely as his leg-irons would allow.
Constable Maher was obviously basking in the warmth of the equinoctial sun, for soon he drowsed off and lost all interest in his prisoner.
Judging his occasion nicely, the Scotsman slipped overboard without being seen, and by the time he was missed he had disappeared into the nearby bush.
That, at least, is one version of McPherson's escape.
Another, as reported in the Rockhampton Bulletin of 17 April 1866, simply stated that “when the Diamantina reached Mackay, Maher suffered his charge to wander about the vessel with merely leg‑irons on, and paid no attention to the advice of the captain, who recommended him to secure the prisoner in the steerage, lest he should effect his escape. At about half past five o’clock on Saturday morning, the prisoner was near the cook’s galley. He was missed an hour afterwards, and on search being made his presence was found wanting. The steamer left Mackay and brought Maher to Rockhampton minus his prisoner.”
A further report stated that the morning after McPherson’s escape, a search party found his leg‑irons and a file under a tree. Pinned to the trunk was a note which reportedly read:
“Presented to the Queensland Government with the Wild Scotchman’s best thanks, that gentleman having no further use for them, the articles being found to be rather cumbersome to transit in this age of enlightenment and progress‑ the nineteenth century‑ many thanks‑ adieu!”
Once more he vanished, having stolen a horse, saddle and pistols from an Aboriginal stockman. A month later more horses disappeared from the Dawson and Peak Downs district, and there was little doubt who was responsible.
Next he was at work in the Clermont district, where Gold Commissioner Thomas Griffin (later the infamous Gold Escort murderer) gave chase.
Then it was the turn of the Upper Condamine, with Dalby, Roma and Warwick being honoured by his presence.
He stole horses as he pleased and taunted the police to capture him.
There was no mistaking him, for he continued to wear the traditional outfit of the bushranger‑ but now with a distinguishing broad red band around his cabbage‑tree hat and a broad red sash around his waist. For good measure he wore two new revolvers, and across the pommel of his saddle was strapped a deadly double‑barrelled repeater.
Emboldened by his own success, he decided it was time he “brushed some of the dust off the shoes of the lazy, good‑for-nothing police.”
“I’ll stick up the Condamine‑Taroom mail,” he boasted to a stockman he had relieved of a horse. “That should put some life into the lazy loafers!”
And it certainly did. When mailman Phillips rode into Condamine on 16 October and reported that the Wild Scotchman, as he was now called, had stuck him up and stolen cheques and silver worth £400, Inspector George Elliott raised a hurried force and set off in pursuit.
Two days after the mail hold‑up a thoroughbred was stolen from a nearby station and the hunt was on from the new location, but, although tracks were picked up, the comparatively slow police horses were no match for the Scotsman’s new acquisition.
Another two days passed and then it was the turn of the mailman, Wallace, on the short 10‑mile run between Blythedale and Roma. As with other mailmen similarly robbed, he was ordered off the road into a patch of scrub, and there the bushranger took his time to open the mailbags and systematically go through the letters and packages looking for valuables.
Wallace stated, in a newspaper interview, that the highwayman was very nice about everything and did him no harm. The reporter then wrote:
“the robber seems the most impudent, if not the most imprudent, one we have been favoured with in the colony. He makes no disguise, and takes everything with the utmost coolness and effrontery. Among the letters he opened was one containing a piece of bride cake, with the usual compliments etc. This sweet morsel was partaken of by McPherson with great gusto; and he hospitably invited the mailman to ‘go snacks’ regretting that there was not more of the dainty to be divided. After finishing the robbery, he bade the mailman ‘ride like h… to Roma,’ and tell them as quickly as he could about it.”
So the infuriated army of police grew.
Almost daily someone reported seeing him around the Taroom district, but he was never on hand by the time the police arrived.
Two more bail‑ups followed.
For a change, he now wore a blue jacket with a white sash.
Each time, he gave the mailman a taunting message to deliver to Inspector Elliott. The whole Condamine district seemed to swarm with police and trackers, but for a month nothing was heard of him.
Then on 27 November Scotchie held up the mailman some 20 miles from Gayndah, a town on the eastern side of the range about 200 miles from his Condamine haunts. There was no mistaking him, for he was as courteous as ever and was wearing, this time, a bright red scarf across his chest, obviously for easy identification.
Now it was Gayndah's turn to take up the chase, with Inspector John Bligh O’Connell, Sergeant Clohesy and several trackers on his trail. Soon they picked up tracks leading to the Port Curtis Range.
The next day O’Connell, on patrol, caught up with him as he was traversing a deep gully. He called on him to surrender.
“Come and get me,” McPherson called back, standing his ground. O’Connell advanced with his gun drawn but the other made no apparent move to defend himself.
When O’Connell was only a matter of yards away, the Scotsman made a move for his gun. O’Connell didn’t wait. He pulled the trigger. His gun clicked. Again and again he pulled, but with no better luck. The bushranger roared with laughter.
“What’s wrong, did you forget the powder, Bligh? Don’t you want me? I gave you your chance, didn’t I, and you were too stupid to take it!”
“I’ll get you yet, McPherson. Luck won’t always be on your side,” he swore.
The Scotsman twirled his revolver expertly on his trigger finger.
“You know, Inspector, I could shoot you like a dog if I wanted to,” he said evenly, “but you know that the Wild Scotchman wouldn’t hurt a fly. Now, my friend, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll go back to your mates the way you came and leave this harmless bushranger in peace. I’ll count to ten, and if you’re not on your way, I’ll help you. One‑ two‑ three…”
Bligh O’Connell cursed again as he reined his horse around and headed back to his friends.
Soon new reinforcements were rushed in, but, as usual, the bushranger had vanished.
While the Gayndah district was being combed, McPherson was heading north‑west to the other side of the range. At Banana, 120 miles away, the Royal Mail was bailed up and the wild scramble was on once more to get him.
Bligh O’Connell and Sergeant O’Brien, at the head of one strong force, picked up his tracks and unexpectedly came upon him as he was riding along an opposing ridge. The Scotsman spotted them, reined in his horse, and stood in his stirrups to give them a cheery wave. Then his booming voice echoed among the ridges.
“Here I am. If you want me, come and get me,” and, still standing in his stirrups, he beckoned them on, knowing full well that a steep impassable gully known as “The Fiddlehead” lay between them.
O’Connell led his men down the steep, rugged hillside, but their horses refused to take the gully jump. By the time they had ridden around, McPherson was gone and his tracks were lost in the thick wattles and broken terrain.
Where would he turn up next? It was always the same question, as people followed his progress from place to place through newspaper reports and general gossip.
They had not long to wait for an answer, for only a few days after his latest brush with Bligh O’Connell he turned up 200 miles away to the south‑east, sticking up the Nanango mail.
The following account, dated 6 December 1865 from the Maryborough Chronicle, tells the story of what happened:
“Last Friday evening, McCallum, the mailman, was riding along with the mail near Barambah Station when he was accosted by a man riding a black horse, who, presenting a revolver said ‘Stand, who are you?’ Without answering him directly, McCallum said, ‘First tell me who you are.’ The bushranger then said, ‘Where are you going to?’ To which the mailman replied, ‘I’m going to Gayndah with a horse for the races.’ ‘Indeed! well you look very much like a postman to me, and I’ll trouble you to go a few yards off the King’s highway until I satisfy my curiosity,’ the robber said.
“During this conversation, the bushranger rode around McCallum, and examined the mailbags. He then compelled him to ride some distance into the bush before him, then ordered him to get off, which being done, he asked him if he had any matches. McCallum answered in the negative. ‘No matches, eh? Well here’s some; now get some sticks and make a fire.’ McCallum went through the ceremony, and, having finished to the satisfaction of the stranger, was ordered to take down the bags
“McCallum remonstrated, saying that if he did, he should be taken as an accessory.
‘Oh! Oh! is that all? Well, if your conscience pricks you, I’ll do that much for you.’
‘He then took down the bags, told McCallum to stand at a distance, and commenced an attack on the mail, rifled all letters, and took such as pleased him. During this time, he was talking familiarly about things in general; said there was nothing much in the mail worth his trouble, but did not expect much, and would not have stuck it up, only that he had told the Maryborough mailman he would do so, and though only a poor bushranger, he always kept his word. He said he knew that Clohesy and Bligh O’Connell had heard he was going to do so and didn’t want to disappoint them and really he expected them to be on the lookout for him, but he didn’t care a d..n for crawlers like them, and had merely stuck up the mail in defiance of them. He said that he had heard that the Gayndah people called him a coward for running away from Bligh instead of shooting him, but they were fonder of blood than he was; he would never take a life unless he had to, but if forced, he did not scruple about shooting a man like a wallaby, and that at the time Bligh had come upon him he was taken unawares, and though he was surrounded, didn’t want to waste a shot needlessly, expecting about a dozen bullets in his skin the moment he should attempt to fire, hence his reason for trusting his good riding rather than fighting, and said he was not fool enough to let a whole mob surround him; but if Bligh or Clohesy, singly or together, fancied themselves and ever dropped his way, he'd d..n show them what the ‘Wild Scotchman’ is; and if any two or three others came in his road, he’d prove he was no coward. Said he had exchanged many a shot in many a bush with the Gilbert gang, and was afraid of no three men in Australia.
“Look here, McCallum,’ he said, baring his arm to the elbow- ‘that is the mark of a bullet fired by Sir Frederick Pottinger; it entered the wrist and came out at the elbow. Here is another from a trooper, in the leg; and here on the shoulder blade, the worst of all, Pottinger has left another mark. The rascal left me for dead at that shot. Look here, do you think I care a d..n for a few traps like Bligh and Clohesy after that?’
“With this, he swore a volley of oaths that he would prove to them he was no cur, and when once well mounted, he’d show them a thing or two to open their eyes. Said whatever mail he fancied, he’d have if there were not more than three traps with it. Said he’d pay Gayndah a visit shortly, and call at the Post Office for a letter, just to show he wasn’t afraid. Said he was going to have the Banana mail again to settle a score with the mailman. Said he had a ‘derry’ on him, he was such a sniveling cur; he’d often seen him riding along, and if a kangaroo moved, he started around; if a rustling in the trees, he looked up; said he’d give him something to be frightened about when he caught up with him and tied him up.
“By then, he had satisfied himself with the mailbags and said he must be going as he had a long journey before him.
“And then he said to McCallum, ‘Here's a couple of letters I’d like you to post for me. One is for Governor Bowen himself and here’s one for Bligh for you to deliver personally. It's a bundle of unsigned cheques not of much use to me. Give them to Bligh with the Wild Scotchman’s compliments and if I ever hear that you forgot to deliver the letter, I’ll see you again and tie you up.’
“When the mailman took the letters, the bushranger said, ‘I think I’ll swop you saddles, Paddy. Mine’s getting the worse for wear and needs some repair. I only kept it because it was light. Yours looks good leather. You can boast to your mates that you’ve got the Wild Scotchman’s saddle.’
“Then he saddled up and rode away.”
To this story, the reporter added his own comment:
“Such unheard of impudence and cool determination and consummate presumption together with the fellow’s proven skills, renders him, in the eyes of everyone, a most dangerous man to be at large, and, although we must admire his pluck and acknowledge his cleverness, yet, as a bushranger, he will little sympathy in the Burnett District. We can only deplore he, a fine smart young fellow, gifted with more natural advantages than most men, should thus throw away those blessings nature has endowed him with, particularly in a country like this, where every man can earn an honest living.
“If poverty drove him to such deeds of daring; if starvation misery had compelled him to such a course, there might be room for a little sympathy; but knowing to the contrary, we can only conclude that it is the result of a mind naturally depraved, and consequently can feel no mercy for him, but hope that, in a very short time, he will pay the penalty for his long list of crimes, and die as he has lived, in the estimation of his fellow‑man‑ the death of a dog.”
A week later, Paddy McCallum was again confronted by his doubtful friend.
After a cordial greeting, the mail was ransacked as before, but there was now little reward, as people by this time sent few valuables by post.
“All right, Paddy, you can go now,” he said good‑naturedly when he had finished his search. As a parting gesture, he added, “I’ll be seeing you later.”
McCallum hoped not.
The police again combed the district, but with no further success. It seemed that the reporter was right when he wrote that “such unheard of impudence” was the work of a very smart man.
It was now Christmas 1865.
Throughout the outback, the traditional Christmas race meetings were being held.
“Why not give it a go?” McPherson confided to one of his many friends. “What a lark if the Wild Scotchman won the Gayndah Cup!”
Stealing “Foxhunter,” the best thoroughbred in the district, was easy. It was not the first time he had rung a change with a horse so that not even the horse’s owner recognised his own nag. But with Foxhunter it was more difficult, as he was also the best-known horse in the area.
Nevertheless, the Scotsman was prepared to give it a go.
On race day he rode into Gayndah, but, as he half expected, Foxhunter was soon recognised. Without waiting for the Cup he took off and with the best horse for miles around under him, he easily outstripped the field.
Poor Paddy McCallum! Now it was his turn again, for the third time.
A few miles out of Nanango, as he jogged along the track, he heard the familiar call of: “Bail up, Pat!”
McCallum stopped and as the Scotsman came from the trees the mailman called: “What! Not me again! What's so special about me, Scotchie?”
“Nothing much, I admit, Pat, only I want your horse. Some thieving sods pinched mine. You ride pretty well, so I think you won’t mind leaving me your nag till I can get one of my own.”
The mailman was not prepared to argue too aggressively.
“Look here, Scotchie,” he said, “the first time it was my saddle. Now it’s my horse. The next time I suppose you’ll be wanting me to join you.”
“Don’t upset yourself, man. You should feel honoured to have enjoyed my company so often. Anyhow, I only want to borrow your horse. I’ll return him to you in a day or so and your saddle, too, seeing as you’re so upset about it,” said McPherson.
For a time they sat on a log talking, and then the bushranger rode away, leaving the luckless McCallum to foot the last few miles into Nanango.
True to his word, a few days later the mailman’s horse was found grazing by the roadside, and his saddle was left in Taroom with a note attached saying, “This is Paddy McCallum’s saddle. See that he gets it.”
And still the army of police could not catch him, though it was generally known that, on more than one occasion, he shouted drinks for his mates in the local pubs in Nanango.
Then it was back to Taroom, where the Maranoa mailman was once more waylaid, and while Commissioner Seymour was again scouring the countryside the will‑o’‑the‑wisp was helping himself to food and grog from a group of miners on the Calliope diggings, far to the east near Gladstone. And to show he wished them no ill‑will, he offered to pay in full for what he took!
The tired, bewildered police followed, not knowing where he would strike next.
When, early in March 1866, a 17‑year‑old mailman named Edward Armitage returned to Gladstone and reported that the Wild Scotchman had held him up near Baffle Creek, Sub-Inspector Watts took up the chase, but McPherson, mounted on a stolen thoroughbred named “Spitfire,” was far away by the time Watts was on the scene.
At the end of the month he brazenly rode up to the Gin Gin homestead, owned by the Brown brothers. There he intended stealing a fresh horse, but as he didn’t find one to his liking he kept the piebald thoroughbred he had been riding hard for some days.
When he appeared at the homestead he was wearing two colt revolvers, crossed cartridge belts over his chest and, as usual, the distinguishing red sash around his waist.
“When is young Armitage due?” he asked.
“About three o’clock,” he was told.
“And how far is it to Kolongo and Monduran? I’ll be needing a drink at Monduran before Armitage comes along, won’t I?” he added, chuckling at his little joke.
“As if he didn't know it was 8 miles to the Monduran!” one of the hands said as McPherson rode away.
“The cheek of him, riding in like that as if he owned the place, and with half the police force after him,” another said.
Young Armitage arrived on time and was told of the Scotsman’s visit. He had a quick snack and set off for Monduran, his next stop, accompanied by two men named Gadsden and Walsh, who rode ahead of Armitage with the intention of warning Mr Nott, the superintendent of Monduran station, of the presence of Scotchie in the district.
Just before reaching Monduran homestead, Gadsden and Walsh met a station hand who said he had seen the bushranger about a mile away.
They waited for Armitage to catch up and together they rode into Monduran.
When Nott heard what they had to say, he decided to take the law into his own hands to protect the homestead property.
“Get fresh horses while I see what guns are on hand,” he said to one of his men, named Currie.
All he could find was a revolver, a shotgun and a rifle.
As they saddled the horses, they saw the Scotsman riding towards the pub on the other side of the Kolan River. They watched him dismount, hitch his horse, and then go inside for a few minutes. Soon he came out and headed off down the Kolongo road.
Nott’s plan was that Walsh, Gadsden, Armitage and he should take a short cut to the road and lay in wait for McPherson, but, when they reached it, fresh tracks showed that he had already gone past.
“Ride on, Ted,” young Armitage was told. “He’ll most likely wait for you somewhere ahead. As soon as you spot him, give us the signal. We’ll keep a hundred yards or so behind you, but in sight as much as we can, so we can see you when you raise your right arm.”
Armitage nodded that he understood and took off at a slow canter.
A couple of miles further along he saw McPherson about a quarter of a mile away, riding his piebald horse at a slow jog, along a level narrow ridge known locally as “The Razorback.”
When he heard the hoof‑beats of the mail horse, the Scotsman stopped. Evidently he had other things on his mind, for he merely gave a wave and went on his way.
Armitage looked around and raised his right arm as instructed, but the others were nowhere in sight. Soon they broke into view, but it was too late, for they had been heard up on the ridge. McPherson stopped, and, turning around, saw the three new horsemen almost abreast of Armitage.
He turned his none‑too‑fresh horse from the track and headed down the steep, rugged ridge. The packhorse he had been leading jibbed and snorted. Then it backed off and threw back its head so suddenly that the lead was dragged free. It then galloped away along the ridge track.
By that time Nott’s men were at the place where McPherson’s horse had half‑slid down the slope.
“Get the packhorse,” Nott shouted to Armitage, as he led Gadsden and Walsh after the scrambling bushranger who had reached the gully.
“Stand, McPherson!” Nott called as the Scotsman tried to spur his flagging piebald up the steep slope of the far side of the gully.
“Stand, or I’ll fire!” he shouted again as he sent a shot over the bushranger’s head.
McPherson turned to face the three who were now in the gully nearby.
“Put up your hands, McPherson! Move for your guns and you’re dead!”
One against three at close range, with a done‑in horse beneath him, were odds he was not willing to take. He threw down his guns and slowly raised his arms.
By now, Armitage had returned with the runaway packhorse.
It almost appeared that the Wild Scotchman was enjoying the novel experience of being captured, for he chatted freely with his captors as his arms were secured.
A quick body search revealed no hidden guns.
“You know,” McPherson quipped, “I knew you weren’t the police from the very moment I saw you. They would never have come down the slope like you did. They would have been hanging on to the pommel with one hand and the crupper with the other. I have seen them do it. Scared stiff, they were. They want a good shaking‑up, and I’m just the one to do it, don’t you think? There’s Bligh and O’Connell and Seymour and all the others after me, and it takes only three ordinary fellows like you to get me. Just goes to show what a bunch of lazy loafers the others are!”
And so he prattled on, obviously confident that, in due course, he’d be able to “tickle up” the lazy good‑for‑nothings who were the police.
Next, he was legged up into the saddle and a strap secured to one ankle. Then the strap was passed under the horse’s belly like a surcingle and secured to the other ankle.
With Armitage leading the piebald, the party set off by an easier track for the Monduran homestead.
There, Nott made a more thorough search and, to his surprise, found two miniature revolvers hidden in deep pockets.
For the first time since his capture the Scotsman cursed, for with those guns still on him, he knew the opportunity would have come to use them, if need be, to make good his escape.
Then he was taken inside and suffered the indignity of being chained to Nott’s bed.
When evening came, he was taken outside and chained to a cedar‑apple tree. With an armed guard watching over him as well, he thought it best to take whatever uncomfortable rest he could.
A search of the packhorse revealed how little the Wild Scotchman had accumulated from all his escapades ‑ £9 in cash and notes, an axe, surgical instruments, lint and balsam, powder, a bullet mould, some cigars, a pocket compass and a postal guide.
The next day, 31 March, the escort party set out for Maryborough by way of Gin Gin.
Acting Inspector Ware had already been alerted to McPherson’s capture, so he despatched Constables Harris and Kelly to bring the prisoner over the last leg of the journey.
At 8 p.m., on 2 April 1866, James McPherson was safely behind bars, and a relieved police force was breathing more easily. The lone bushranger had led them a merry dance for over two years.
Now, they hoped, it was all over.
On 11 April 1866 James McPherson appeared before Police Magistrate Kemball and Justices of the Peace Sheridan and Davidson, on two counts of robbery under arms of the Maryborough‑ Gayndah mail on 27 and 28 November 1865, and was committed for trial at the next Circuit Court of Maryborough. As he was rated a very high security risk, it was decided to transfer him on the steamer Leichhardt to Brisbane. This time he was afforded no opportunity to escape, as handcuffs and heavy leg‑irons were secured and instructions were given to the guards that these were not to be removed. Nor was he to be allowed on deck.
On Monday, 20 August, with Chief Justice Sir James Cockle Presiding, James McPherson, alias Alpin McPherson, alias Kerr, was brought before the bar and charged “for that he, on 4th March, 1864, at the Houghton River, in and upon one
Richard Henry Willis, feloniously did make an assault, and put him in bodily fear of his life; and three cabbage‑tree hats, two pairs of riding pants, one pair of boots, one gun, one Crimean shirt, one bottle of whisky, and fourteen pounds of flour, of the property of the said Richard Henry Willis, feloniously did steal, take, and carry away and of feloniously wounding the said Richard Henry Willis.”
When asked how he pleaded, he replied in a strong, confident voice, “Not guilty!”
The Crown Prosecutor was the Honourable Charles Lilley, who was also Attorney‑General.
Opposing him was Mr Ratcliffe Pring, reputed to have one of sharpest legal brains in his profession.
The first witness called was Willis, who related in detail the two alleged visits of McPherson to the Cadrington Hotel on the morning of 4 March.
Pring questioned whether it was, indeed, the same man who had visited the hotel on each occasion, seeing that, to all outward appearance of dress and conduct, the two characters were so different.
He then proceeded to analyse Willis’s evidence, and in the literary style of the day, a court reporter for the local newspaper wrote:
“Mr Lilley contended that the evidence went to show rather that the discharge of the pistol was the result of an accident, it being distinctly admitted that at the moment it went off, the prisoner’s attention was diverted by someone coming in at the door, that the pistol was known to be a self‑activating one, and that Mr Willis, attempting to take advantage of his being, for a moment off his guard, the mere nervous trembling of the prisoner’s finger would discharge the pistol. There was no motive for the prisoner’s shooting Mr Willis. His, the prisoner’s life was not in danger, and the subsequent anxiety he evinced as to the extent of the injury Mr Willis had received, negatived the assumption of the guilty intention with which it was sought to charge him.”
Mr John Hill stated that, on the morning in question, he was working in his blacksmith shop and had seen a man with a swag on his back pass the shop. He said he had seen the man go into the bar, and then when he (Hill) had gone into the public house to get some nails, he had seen the man drinking. He said he had then returned to his shop and about an hour later he had heard a shot.
Pring quickly attacked the reliability of Hill’s evidence, for, in the earlier Magistrate’s Court, Hill had said nothing about seeing a man with a swag pass his shop. Nor had he said anything about going to get nails, or of seeing the swagman drinking at the bar.
When asked why he had not given such evidence before, Hill replied, “I must’ve forgot.”
Mrs Elizabeth Gordon, in her evidence, stated that she had previously seen the prisoner at the Fanning River about Christmas Day, 1863, and that she had recognised him as the man who had shot Mr Willis.
Under cross‑examination, she admitted that it was about dusk when she claimed she had seen him, and had not been very close, and that she had not spoken to him.
“Is it reasonable to accept that any person could carry such a hazy picture of a man’s face in the mind for nearly two years?” Mr Lilley asked the jury. “And,” he asked, “how could Mrs Gordon recognise him as the man who fired the shot when she had admitted she was not in the bar at the time the shot was fired?”
At the end of the day the Chief Justice, addressing the jury, said, “With regard to circumstantial evidence, there is no proof that the prisoner was the man in the company of two others seen going into and coming from the public house. Oh, here’s a man who bears a name of ill‑omen, which prejudices against him, and the witness, with minds acted on by prejudice and with facts half-obliterated by time, see the prisoner under suspicious circumstances, and immediately say ill of the man.”
The jury retired at seven minutes past six o’clock and at 20 past six returned to their seats.
In the courtroom the crowd was hushed.
“Have you reached a verdict?” the Chief Justice, Sir James Cockle, asked.
“Yes, your Honour,” the foreman replied. “We find the prisoner not guilty.”
Most in the room stood and cheered.
But the Crown was not finished with McPherson, for there were still two more charges to be preferred against him‑ one of armed robbery of the Queen’s mailman, John Hickey, and the other of the robbery of the Maryborough‑to‑Gayndah mail on 27 and 28 November 1865.
On 13 September 1866 James McPherson was again before Sir James at the Maryborough Circuit Court to face charges of armed robbery.
This time he was not so lucky, for on each charge he was found guilty, and was given 25 years hard labour on each count.
The police were happy. The Wild Scotchman's bushranging days were over.
An Honourable End
In prison, McPherson's conduct was exemplary. It seemed that he had turned over a new leaf and that he was truly repentant of his past waywardness.
On 20 February 1870 he was transferred to Saint Helena with another bushranger named Henry Hunter, who had been given 15 years imprisonment the previous June for holding up the Peak Downs and Taroom mails.
The temptation to try to escape from the island prison was strong.
With another prisoner, named Ross, who had robbed the A.J.S. Bank at Mackay, McPherson and Hunter planned a break. Three others begged to join them.
The result of their planning is best conveyed by the brief letter written by the Officer- in- Charge, Saint Helena, to his superior officer:
“I have the honour to report for your information that on Sunday, 10th inst., at 4 p.m., 6 prisoners rushed the warder of the stockade gate and made for the south end of the island. Within twenty minutes, five of the runaways were apprehended, the sixth was apprehended by myself at 8 p.m. They were all safely locked up in single cells in the head prison. The prisoners’ names are James McPherson serving 25 years, Patrick Gruz 15 yrs, Henry Boss alias Hunter 15 yrs (and three others).
“Henry Boss was slightly wounded on the right hand with a rifle shot.”
This was the last time the Wild Scotchman caused any trouble in gaol.
In 1869, a petition for his release was not recommended by Sir James Cockle.
In 1874, a new petition was presented on behalf of his father, which carried the signatures of 34 reputable citizens, including 12 Members of Parliament, two Justices of the Peace, the Mayor of Brisbane, and several clergymen.
This petition, couched in the polite language of the day, was addressed to:
“His Excellency the Most Honourable George Augustus Constantine, Marquis of Normanby, Earl of Musgrave, Viscount Normanby and Baron Mulgrave of Mulgrave all in County of York, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, and Baron Mulgrave of New Ross, in the County of Wexford in the Peerage of Ireland, a Member of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, Governor and Commander‑in‑Chief of the Colony of Queensland and its Dependences,” ‑ for such was the title of the then Governor of the Colony of Queensland, the Viscount Normanby.
Then followed an outline of the case for McPherson's release:
“That on or about 1865, the said James McPherson was employed on a station and that on asking his master for his wages he refused to pay him and turned him off without a shilling in his pocket and that the said James McPherson was then only about 21 years of age and was of an unsettled disposition and having early acquired a liking for novel reading, his mind was imbued with wild fancies and his imagination pictured the heroes as men whose example it would be honourable to follow- and that- your petitioner's family believe the said James McPherson has been almost 8 years undergoing sentence, during which time he has, with one exception, conducted himself in an exemplary manner and is now thoroughly reformed and can now see the extreme wickedness of his past conduct.”
Finally it requested that he “be given an opportunity of becoming a respectable member of society and so be able to prove himself, by his future conduct, to be an obedient servant of Her Majesty and thus show his regard of Your Excellency's leniency.”
To this petition was added a recommendation from Mr W. Brown, a Justice who visited Saint Helena regularly. It read:
“During the time the Prisoner James McPherson has been at the Island, his conduct, with one exception (four years ago) has been remarkable good when in gaol and before going to the Island it was the same. I believe the prisoner to be thoroughly reformed and would be glad to hear of his sentence being remitted, but would recommend that in the event of such being granted, that the prisoner be obliged to leave the colony and not return.
On 22 December 1874, after serving eight years of his 50 years sentence, James McPherson was released.
He became head stockman on a Barcoo River station and gained the respect of everyone for his honesty and diligence.
He married 17‑year‑old Elizabeth Hoszfeldt in 1878, and later moved to the Hughenden district, a thriving centre for the prospering cattle industry.
Six children, four sons and two daughters, followed as he moved from place to place working as a drover, a carrier and stone cutter.
On 23 July 1895, a month before his fifty‑fourth birthday, he was accidentally killed near Burketown when a horse reared and fell on him.
And today, somewhere in an unmarked grave in the Burketown cemetery, lie the remains of James McPherson, better known to many by the more romantic name of the Wild Scotchman.
Of those who volunteered from the Irish constabulary to go to Crimea in 1854, none was more eager to get to the front and kill Russians than young Thomas John Griffin. Being made an assistant storekeeper in the commissariat department behind the lines wasn’t his idea of war. He knew life in the front lines was grim, and that many had been maimed or killed at Sebastopol, but this only made him more determined to be in the thick of it when the next great attack was made at Balaklava.
It didn’t matter to him that he had to join a Turkish contingent to get his commission as Cornet Griffin. Later he preferred to be called Lieutenant, though a Cornet was really only a Sub-Lieutenant. Lieutenant sounded better.
No one doubted his courage. He never flinched in the face of he enemy. He came away unscathed from the horrors of war, but lived in the glory of having been there in support of those illustrious men of the British Light Brigade. He cherished too the memory of the Lady of the Lamp, Florence Nightingale.
After the war Griffin re‑joined the County Sligo constabulary as a hero. His skill with the sword and pistol made him feared by wrongdoers and earned him the respect of his superior officers.
Unfortunately, the humdrum life of a policeman was now too tame for the high‑spirited young man. When he heard that the Government was offering a free passage to Australia to any Crimean veteran, he jumped at the challenge of life in the exciting new land.
Already the news of great gold discoveries in Victoria had brought thousands of eager diggers to the infant colony, all lured by the prospect of a quick fortune.
Till his dying day, Tom Griffin would dream of gold.
The journey out was long, but not as lonesome as it might have been, for aboard was a certain woman who, by her good looks and bearing, quickly attracted his attention. He soon noticed also that she appeared to have enough money to buy the few luxuries that most others could not afford. His plan of action was simple. At dinner, bedecked with his Crimean medals, including his Turkish medal, he introduced himself as Lieutenant Thomas John Griffin, bound for Melbourne Town, where he planned to open a business to serve the expanding colony. The lady gave her name as Mary Crosby, bound for the same destination.
The rest of the long journey was not wearisome. Reluctantly and apologetically, Griffin allowed the lady to pay for extras, for, he explained, he had been forced to leave before an expected inheritance had come through.
Before reaching Melbourne, his suave Celtic charm had won from her a promise of marriage and an understanding that they would pool their resources to buy or lease a small boarding house or hotel. Soon after their arrival, towards the end of 1856, they married and set themselves up as proprietors of a small apartment house where they found life in the colony much easier than they had expected. Griffin soon made friends, and when his wife complained that he spent too freely, he was quick to remind her that they had agreed to share equally what they had, and that as soon as his inheritance arrived, they would set up either at Ballarat or Bendigo and make a fortune.
Six months passed. Griffin decided it was time he left, while there was still a little money remaining. He bought a passage for New Zealand and promised to send for Mary as soon as he got himself established. That, she thought, was likely to be never. Without his drain on her meagre earnings, she hung on and counted her blessings.
The few letters she received spoke of golden opportunities to make money, but there was no indication of when she might expect to join him. Her replies were curt.
Towards the end of 1857 she received a brief letter addressed in an unfamiliar hand. Pinned to the page of notepaper was a brief newspaper clipping announcing the death of a Thomas John Griffin, formerly of County Sligo and Melbourne.
Mary read the brief, scrawled half‑page letter which told her that her husband had been accidentally killed, and that before he died he had asked his friend to write and tell her what had happened. She wondered at his being thrown from a horse, for he had been a good rider. As the “friend” had not given his address, nor any indication of which paper had published the death notice, she didn’t know what action to take.
After a time she received a small parcel addressed in the same handwriting as the letter. With trepidation she unwrapped it, to find a small cardboard box containing a leather pouch, inside which was a watch. She shuddered involuntarily, for she knew what initials would be engraved on the back of the case.
In the bottom of the box was a neatly folded half‑page which simply said that it was Tom’s wish that she keep the watch in memory of him.
As New Zealand was then a long way in time and distance from Australia, she had no simple way of checking the authenticity of the communications. Perhaps she felt even a little relieved.
A Matter of Promotion
The ever‑expanding colony of New South Wales was always on the lookout for constabulary to police a territory that, at the time, stretched from the River Murray in the south to Cape York in the north. The squatters who had followed in the footsteps of the explorers had opened up the wide open spaces to the west of the Great Divide as well as the fertile coastal plain, and the police force was hard‑ pressed to keep up.
Early in 1858 a fine, strapping young fellow of soldierly bearing presented himself to police headquarters in Sydney. He was shown into the interview room, where two officers were poring over some papers.
Griffin was well equipped to make a good impression as he responded to their questioning. The interview over, he saluted smartly and left the room as Constable Griffin, having been excused the customary probationary period.
“A likely character if ever there was one,” the Inspector said. “I warrant he’ll straighten out some of the scum we have to handle if he gets a chance!”
“Especially if he’s got a gun or a sword in his hand, if he’s as good as his papers say,” the other chuckled.
Before many months had passed Constable Griffin was well known to the shady characters of Sydney, and they did their best to steer clear of him.
By the middle of the year, news of an exciting gold discovery at Canoona, not far from the infant town of Rockhampton, reached Sydney. The rush was on. Thousands flocked towards the field, only to find the way to the diggings difficult and dangerous. The tiny town of Rockhampton filled with frustrated men‑ those who were coming in by ship and trying to get to the fields, and those who had been there and returned with nothing. The mood was such that there was every chance that violence would break out if something was not done quickly to bring the situation under control. It was the responsibility of the New South Wales police to keep order in this far‑off part of the colony.
An urgent call for volunteers was made. Constable Thomas John Griffin saw this as the opportunity he had been looking for. The posting was his.
Before the end of 1858 he arrived in Rockhampton with a promotion to Chief Constable. When the first auction of town allotments was held in November of that year, he bought two of the 120 blocks offered, and so established himself as a landholder as well as a policeman in the rapidly developing town. He also managed to get himself engaged to the daughter of Mrs Elizabeth Ottley who ran Ottley's Inn at Rockleigh Farm some four miles out of town. The Ottleys seemed on the way to prosperity so he saw no reason why he should not stake a claim to young Miss Ottley.
He carried out his responsibilities so diligently that, in 1861, he was posted to Brisbane as Chief Constable, and in 1863 he was promoted to Clerk of Petty Sessions. He was now on the way to making a name for himself in the new colony of Queensland.
As always, his happy knack of making friends with his superiors stood him in good stead. To those below him, he was often arrogant and inconsiderate. On the bench he was feared for his lack of compassion and understanding, but for all that he continued to cultivate friends in higher places, for in them lay the key to future promotion.
Griffin had never been short of the company of ladies, especially if there was a possibility he might benefit from the relationship. One such was the sister of a minister of the Crown. Griffin had no qualms about entering into a third marriage contract, as he had successfully survived the six years since his “death” in New Zealand.
To the envy of his fellows, he received rapid promotion until finally he was made Gold Commissioner, a rank nearing complete social acceptability. By now the pending marriage of the minister's sister and the newly created Gold Commissioner was common knowledge.
Unfortunately for Griffin, one of the younger constables had heard of his previous marriage and had checked the information. Many times from the bench Griffin had spoken scathingly of the police, and now there was an opportunity for revenge. Discreetly, the constable let it be known that Griffin was “not a clean‑skin.” When confronted by his bride‑to‑be’s brother, Griffin confessed to his previous marriage rather than face an investigation that might reveal to Mary his whereabouts.
To prevent a scandal, the marriage plans were postponed. Towards the end of the year, Griffin received a convenient transfer to the new goldfield at Clermont in Central Queensland, where a replacement Gold Commissioner and Magistrate was needed.
Clermont was like most other gold‑rush towns. In 1861 a shepherd named Sweetney had discovered gold in a nearby gully, and soon a rush was on. In 1863 new, rich finds were made at Hurley's and at Wolfang stations. Soon the one‑inn bush township by the lagoon had several busy stores and inns along Drummond and Wolfang streets, where those lucky enough to find gold could find the amenities of life. Those less fortunate, hungry and emaciated by fever, headed back as best they could towards Rockhampton. Some, the troublemakers, stayed on.
It was to this bustling, mostly canvas‑housed community that Griffin came in 1863 to take charge of the Gold Commissioner’s staff and the courthouse. One of his responsibilities was to arrange the transport of gold to Rockhampton.
Fortunately, Griffin found that Sergeant Julian, the escort, was a most responsible and experienced officer. There had been few hold‑ups, but an attempt was always on the cards. As Commissioner, Griffin was often left in charge of large parcels of gold awaiting the escort’s next trip.
Shortly after arriving in Clermont, Griffin became friendly with a Mr Francis Christie, who came into town from Aphis Creek where he kept the only hotel and store. Aphis Creek was on the Old Peak Downs Road that ran through Yaamba. Christie was well liked and trusted by all who knew him. Griffin hoped he might soon be able to help Christie set up a better class place in town.
He also became friendly with Mr T. S. Hall, the manager of the Australian Joint Stock Bank in Clermont. Between the two they were responsible for handling most of the gold brought in from the fields. It was natural that, in their positions of responsibility, they would fraternize freely.
Two years after Griffin arrived, Hall was transferred to Rockhampton as Assistant Manager to Mr Larnach. He and Griffin still kept in touch, however, as Griffin consigned parcels of gold to Hall, who in turn sent back the money with the escorts for the Commissioner to pay the diggers.
As on all goldfields, gambling and grog went together. Griffin knew the right places to go. Unfortunately he was an unlucky gambler and didn’t know when to quit, particularly after he had been drinking. To help settle some of his commitments he needed additional income, and it was soon said that justice in the court could be bought at a price. Others claimed that some of the gold that was handed over to him for safekeeping was “shorted,” or went missing.
Already six Chinese diggers from Copperfield were pestering him for their money, following repeated delays on his part.
After being in Clermont for about a year Griffin forgot the previous three women in his life, but as Gold Commissioner and Police Magistrate he found it easy to find other acceptable company.
To his dismay, he now received a letter from a Melbourne solicitor informing him that his wife, Mary Griffin, had been informed of his whereabouts and position, and was now demanding maintenance. “Should this not be forthcoming,” he read, “formal application for same shall be made through the Colonial Secretary.” Rather than have his past revealed, he paid, and so found his financial position even more strained.
Four more years passed, during which he made many enemies. One of these was Oscar de Satgé of Wolfang station, who complained in writing to the Colonial Secretary in April 1866 that Griffin had interfered with bench proceedings whilst he, de Satgé, was the Magistrate. It was claimed that justice had been bought through the Commissioner. It was also claimed that he had used troopers and escorts, at times, as “servants,” to his own advantage.
These complaints, on top of his questionable drinking and gambling habits, led to a public meeting being called. As a result a letter was forwarded to the Colonial Secretary:
“To the Honourable
The Colonial Secretary
The petition of the undersigned inhabitants of Clermont, Copperfield and the surrounding district Humbly Showeth
That a Public Meeting was held in the Prince of Wales Hotel on Friday the 20th September after due notice by advertisement in the Peak Downs Telegram, ‘The Mayor Presiding,’ to take into consideration the advisability or otherwise of having Mr T. J. Griffin, the Police Magistrate, removed from the district.
That in accordance with resolution passed, it is the earnest desire of the undersigned that he be removed without delay and that for the following reason.
He is ‘Despotic,’ ‘Arbitrary,’ ‘Partial,’ and has lost the confidence of the Public.
And by having him removed at once your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.”
The petition was duly signed by 20 of the townspeople and forwarded to the Colonial Secretary. De Satgé’s name headed the list.
His poor reputation had obviously been previously noted by those in higher authority, for a brief notation on the original letter read, “Acknowledge and inform that the Govt. had, previous to receipt of Petition, transferred Mr Griffin to another office of duty.”
Whether to uphold Griffin’s reputation, or their own judgment in appointing him, a Civil Service Board, comprising Messrs Wiseman, Jardine and Brown, was set up to hear the charges laid in the petition. Largely on the evidence of Griffin’s old friend, T. S. Hall, Griffin was exonerated and even praised for the responsible way he had carried out his duties.
Possibly to give credence to the notation on the letter, the transfer was held over until the following year, when, in October 1867, some 35 of his friends from the mining, squatting, and commercial interests gathered at the Leichhardt Hotel to bid him farewell. He was to depart for Rockhampton as a Second Gold Commissioner.
If those 35 were sorry to see him go, there were many more glad to see the last of him.
Before his departure, he had one more escort to arrange. Nearly 3000 ounces were ready to go out. He sent for Sergeant Julian.
“Well, Julian,” he said, “This is your last escort before I go. Arrange for Cahill and Power to go with you. I'll be leaving in a couple of days, so I’ll see you in Rockhampton.”
Julian thanked his superior for past assistance and asked when he should pick up the bags.
“Early tomorrow,” he was told.
Soon after first light, Griffin handed over and watched as the three troopers rode away down the New Peak Downs Road.
After an uneventful trip by horseback and then by train from Westwood, they arrived in Rockhampton on 17 October and handed over the gold to Mr Hall at the A.J.S. Bank. They received a receipt for the full 2806 ounces.
The Sleeping Troopers
After delivering the gold on the 17th, the escort enjoyed a few days’ break in town, for Rockhampton had much more to offer than Clermont. Griffin arrived two days later and, as expected, went out to Ottley’s.
Strategically situated about 400 yards from Ottley’s was the police camping ground. Griffin went across to see Julian, but found he was away in town at Hill’s Railway Hotel. Cahill and Power, his associates, preferred Prendergast’s Golden Inn.
Griffin found Julian in the bar and offered to shout him a drink. Julian was taken aback because it was most unlike the Commissioner to offer to buy a drink for any of his subordinates, least of all in a public bar.
“Thank you, Sir,” Julian said, “providing you do me the honour of allowing me to return the compliment.”
Julian wondered at his ex‑superior’s uncommon good mood.
After a while Griffin said, “Sergeant, I want you and Cahill and Power to go back tomorrow with the escort money.” Julian demurred, as he had hoped to have a few more days in town.
“Sorry, but I’ve had orders,” Griffin replied. “And seeing as you’ll be carrying a good deal of money, I’ve decided to go back with you until clear of the scrub section.”
Julian expressed surprise. They had carried bigger amounts before without any trouble, but Griffin continued to insist on his course of action.
“Come out to Ottley’s after lunch and I’ll give you the order to pick up the money from Mr Hall at the A.J.S. You can take it in this afternoon and they’ll have it ready for you in the morning,” Griffin said, finishing his whisky.
By mid‑afternoon Julian had picked up the order and delivered it to the bank.
“What time will you be calling for it?” Hall asked.
“About 12.30. We want to be on our way long before dark. Mr Griffin is going back with us until we clear the scrub,” he said.
“Oh! It’s funny he didn't mention it to me when I saw him this morning. He just said you’d be calling for it. He must have changed his mind,” Hall commented.
On Saturday morning, 26 October, shortly before 9 o'clock, Julian and Cahill rode in to collect the money. They left the packhorse in the charge of the stable boy at Hill’s. As Cahill removed the saddle, he noticed some loose packing protruding from under it. He asked Julian if he could go to Scanlon’s to get a quick repair job done.
“All right,” he replied. “I’m going to Bush’s to get a haircut and a shave. Meet me at the bank at 12.30.”
It was 1 p.m. before Cahill arrived. Julian cursed. Then they went inside to find everything was ready for them. The consignment was listed as:
4 packages with 1000 one pound notes in each
2 bundles with 400 fives
1 bag containing gold, silver and copper worth £151
This was approximately half the proceeds from the gold they had brought into town.
As Julian signed the receipt, Cahill placed the parcels into the two police‑type canvas bags they had brought with them. With the bags slung securely across the saddle, they walked the horses back up the street to Hill’s, where Julian removed the bags and handed the horses to the yard boy.
Cahill then asked permission to go to Prendergast’s to pay his bill. “Well, don’t be too long,” Julian said. “We’re already late.” At 3.30, Cahill still hadn’t returned. Julian thought to go and look for him, but didn’t like the idea of riding alone around town with the money. He waited. Finally, he made up his mind to return the bags to the bank. Hall inspected the seals and issued Julian with a receipt.
About an hour later, Cahill returned to Hill’s to be met by a furious sergeant threatening to report him to Griffin.
“Have you still got the money?” he asked Julian.
When Julian explained what he had done, Cahill suggested they go and get it, but Julian refused, saying he wasn’t going to be made to look a fool in front of the manager.
“It can wait till the morning now,” he said.
When they returned to camp, there was no sign of Griffin. They thought better of going to find him after he had been at Ottley’s all day. Soon after dark, however, Griffin stormed into camp, demanding to know where the money was. When Julian explained what had happened, his hand went to his pistol as he threatened the unfortunate Cahill.
“We shot men at the Crimea for a lot less than that,” he screamed. “I’ll see you get what’s coming to you before much longer. Just see if I don’t.” Then he turned his wrath on Julian for returning the money without his authority. When Julian tried to defend himself, Griffin told him to shut up.
“First thing in the morning, you and Cahill can get back in there and get it again so we can get away as early as possible. Any more funny business and I’ll have the hide off both of you,” he told him. Julian had never seen him so angry.
By 8 a.m. on Sunday they were back at the bank, the seals checked, and new receipt issued. At noon, when Griffin had still not returned to camp, Julian and Cahill went across to Ottley’s and found him relaxing, his coat thrown across a chair and the pistol belt hanging from a nail near the door. When Julian told him they had the money and asked when they might be leaving, he swore.
“Damn it all, man, it’s too hot to go anywhere just now.”
And then he became more tolerant. “Be good fellows, will you? Just go back to camp and I’ll join you at 2 o’clock. Have my horse ready, and we’ll get away at once.”
At 4 o’clock they decided they had better go to him again. On the way back with them, he was surly and unsure on his feet. They set off and had only gone about 12 miles towards Rowbottom’s Inn when Griffin decided to camp for the night in a clearing just off the road. As was his habit, Griffin bunked down a little distance apart from the others. Julian spread his blanket and placed the moneybags under it, close to where he was going to lie.
Some time after midnight, the two troopers were awakened.
“Cahill,” Griffin said, “the horses seem to have wandered too far away. Go and find them and bring them back closer to camp so we can get away at first light.”
As Cahill growled and went off into the night, Julian watched Griffin pick up his blanket, give it a shake, and then walk over towards him.
“Mind if I spread out over here?” he asked.
“No, Sir,” Julian replied. He sat up and propped his back against his saddle. He had taken out his revolver and now made play at spinning its chamber. Griffin lay on his side, watching. He knew that Julian was a good shot, and quick.
Before dawn Cahill was back with the horses. Breakfast was eaten and they prepared to move on. Griffin turned to Julian and asked how much money he had on him.
“Only £5, left out of the cheque for 15 you gave me,” he replied.
“Not that money, you fool. In the bags.
“About £8000 in notes and some gold and silver and copper,” Julian replied.
“Are all the notes signed?” Griffin asked, looking towards the bags Julian was preparing to sling across the saddle. Cahill fumbled with some strappings and listened to the conversation. Julian had suggested that he keep his ears and eyes open.
“Yes, Mr Hall told me they were.” He eyed his superior with concern.
They were about to push on when Griffin spoke again.
“Sergeant Julian, when were the horses last shod?”
“Not long ago. I think they’ll be all right to Clermont.”
“Well, I don’t think so. It’s a long trip, and with so much money to look after, they need to be in tiptop condition. Trooper Cahill and I will go back into town and get them re‑shod. You can wait here, and when I get back to camp I’ll send Trooper Power out to join you.”
“I don’t think it is right to leave me alone out here with the money, Mr Griffin. Let me go in to Rowbottom’s and wait there till Power comes out. It will be much safer. Anyone could jump me out here.”
“You’ll do as I say, Julian. There's nothing to worry about.”
“I’m sorry, Sir,” said Julian, “but I refuse to be responsible if left by myself. I’ll have to report the matter to Sub‑Inspector Elliott when I get back to town.”
“Oh, all right, if that’s the way you feel. We'll all go back to camp with the horses.”
When they arrived back, Troopers Power and Gildea were there.
“Cahill, you and Power take the horses into town and get them reshod. I’ll go to Ottley’s. Trooper Gildea can keep Sergeant Julian company, seeing he’s afraid to be left alone.”
In the afternoon, Griffin returned to camp.
“Trooper Gildea,” he said, “I want you to saddle up and go into the office in town and see if there is any mail.”
Julian made no objection. But as soon as Gildea went off to bring in his horse, Griffin headed back to Ottley’s. As he rode away, he called back, “Don’t forget to be back at camp before nightfall.”
Julian’s fears were further aroused. He didn’t want to be left alone with the money, especially with Griffin anywhere near. He asked Gildea to remain in camp while he went over to Ottley’s to protest to Griffin yet again. When the Gold Commissioner saw him come in, he turned on him.
“What in the blue blazes are you doing here, Julian? I gave you orders to remain in camp while Gildea went into town.”
“That’s what I’ve come to complain about, Sir. I refuse to be left alone with that money.”
“You do, do you! And where’s Gildea?”
“Back in camp, where I ordered him to stay until I came back.”
“You insolent cur, Julian. That is downright insubordination.”
In a fury he returned to camp.
“Trooper Gildea, you had my orders to go into town to see if there was any mail. Why are you still here?”
“Begging your pardon, Sir, but Sergeant Julian instructed me to stay.”
“And since when has he had the authority to countermand my orders? Mount your horse at once and do as you are told, or I’ll have your hide as well as Julian’s.”
As Gildea rode away, he could hear Griffin still dressing down the unfortunate sergeant.
But Julian had at least made his point. If anything happened to him or the money before the troopers got back from town, it would be known that Griffin was the last man to be seen with him.
The two remained in camp. Julian was on his guard when the other approached his tent.
“I’m not feeling too good, Julian,” Griffin said. He was much calmer now. “I’m afraid I’ve been a bit hasty with you sometimes. You know how it is. Would you allow me to lie down in your tent for a while?”
“As you like, Sir.”
He folded back the flap of the tent. The moneybags were visible as bulges under the blanket. Griffin entered and stretched himself out alongside the uneven lumps. Julian sat on a log just outside. He took out his pistol and studied it slowly and deliberately. Then he polished it and left it lying comfortably across his lap.
Shortly before sundown, Cahill, Power and Gildea returned to camp. Griffin scowled. He felt thwarted and warned Julian again about being insubordinate. Then he left the camp and headed for the more congenial company to be found at Mrs Ottley’s.
Julian told his mates of his fears. As a precaution, he took the money from under his blanket and carried it to another tent. In its place he left rolled swags big enough to make the blankets look the same as before. Before morning, the sergeant dozed off. Suddenly he was wide awake.
“Julian,” he heard a voice calling softly.
“Yes, Mr Griffin,” he called, in a voice that would waken the dead. The other troopers were out in a flash.
“What is it, Mr Griffin?” Julian asked in a normal voice.
“I only came to ask where my blankets are.”
“In the tent where you were this afternoon. Don’t you remember? I left them there for you.”
Griffin knew well enough. He had already gone to inspect the bumps under the blanket, and he was furious. He would willingly have murdered Julian on the spot, had he been able.
The camp was now astir. It was the morning of Tuesday, 29 October.
“I’ve left some things at Rockleigh,” Griffin said. “I’ll go right away and get them. While I am away, get breakfast over and be ready to start as soon as I return.”
The troopers looked at each other. Soon the billy was boiled and the tea made. Julian filled the mugs.
“Cripes, Julian,” Power said. “What’ve you done to the tea? Tastes like you’ve put salts in it.”
Julian sipped his and spat it out.
“Something rotten must have got into the billy to make it taste like this.”
“Well, no one can drink that stuff. Thank goodness we got plenty of fresh milk from Ottley’s yesterday. Better drink that instead. There’s no time to go and get more water. If the boss gets back and we’re not ready, we’ll all cop it again.”
It was just after sun‑up when Griffin came back. He eyed them over.
“Everything ready?” he said. “Let’s get going. I’ll take you on a short cut as far as Gracemere. I know a track through the scrub that will cut off a couple of miles. No one uses it much, but it's a saving.”
He led the way, single file, along a narrow bush track. After about half an hour they stopped in a small clearing.
“You all feeling all right?” he asked.
“Seems a long short cut, if you ask me,” Gildea said.
“Didn’t seem so long last time I was on it. But anyhow, it’s not far from here to Gracemere. We may as well take a breather before we reach the main road.”
They dismounted. Then, in a dismayed voice, Griffin said, “By jove, you men, I’ve forgotten something. I had a small parcel of gold at the Club Hotel to take back with us. It came down with the last escort by mistake.”
“A good thing we’re not far from town. Julian and I will take the track till we reach the road and then follow it back. Power, you and Cahill can go back the way we came to camp and unpack. Julian and I will join you later, after we’ve picked up the gold from the Club. We might as well have another day’s rest and set off at first light tomorrow.”
Griffin and Julian had only ridden on a short way before Griffin apparently changed his mind.
“On second thoughts, Julian, I think you had better go back and join the other two in camp.”
Julian soon caught up with the others.
“I don’t trust Griffin,” he told them. “I don’t like the way he’s acting. Seems a bit mad to me, the way he keeps changing his mind. Did you notice the way he kept looking back at us as we rode along by that swamp? Almost looked as if he expected us to drop dead or something.”
“My God! That tea!” Gildea said suddenly. The men looked at one another.
They rode on, but instead of stopping at the camp near Ottley’s, Julian ordered them to ride on into town. They went directly to the bank.
Mr Hall looked hard at them when Julian went in and dumped the bags back on the counter. He opened them and examined the wrappings and seals. Everything was in order. Sergeant Julian pocketed the new receipt.
“I wish I knew what was going on with you fellows,” the manager said. “I’ve never seen an escort change its plans so often.”
Before going back to camp, they headed towards the Railway Hotel for a drink. Julian left Cahill and Power there, as he wanted to see Elliott. On the way, Griffin saw him.
“Julian,” he called from across the street, “what the blazes are you doing in town? I gave you instructions to return to camp and wait there for me.”
“I’m sorry, Sir, but I thought it would be safer to return the money to the bank, and that’s what I have just done.”
“You insolent bastard, Julian. You’re suspended from duty this very moment. I’ll see Elliott straight away and have you booted out. Where’s Power and Cahill?”
“At the Railway Hotel.”
“Then return there at once and surrender your arms to Trooper Power. I shall appoint him to take your place in charge of the escort immediately. You are dismissed.”
When Julian handed over to Power, his advice was short.
“Just keep your eye on him, he’s up to no good.”
Griffin immediately went to the bank to see his old friend from the A.J.S. at Clermont.
Hall greeted him as he came in. “I don’t suppose you've come for the escort money so soon, have you, Tom? Sergeant Julian has only just handed it in. Is it a little game you’re all playing with us?”
“No, T.S. I’ve just come to tell you I’ve sacked Julian for insubordination. I’ve appointed Trooper Power in his place. He’s in charge of the escort from now on. I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you. When Power comes with the order, would you give him the money?”
“So long as you say it’s all right, Tom, and he has your written authority to sign for it.”
“Thanks, T.S. He shouldn’t be too long. I’ve only got to go down to the Railway to tell him. I'm going out with the escort as far as Gogango.”
“I know. Julian told me you were seeing them through the early scrub section.”
It wasn’t long before Power rode up to the bank and signed for the money. Griffin, from a doorway across the street, watched him come and go.
Before going back to camp, Gold Commissioner Griffin had another job to do.
When he had first come down from Clermont, Captain Hunter from headquarters informed him that six Chinese diggers been in to claim that Griffin owed them money for gold they had brought in from Copperfield. They had seen Griffin in town and so had come to see him, Hunter, insisting that they hadn’t been paid.
“Is it true?” Hunter asked.
“No. They’re nothing but a lot of troublemakers,” Griffin said. “I don’t owe them anything.”
“Did they give you any gold for the escort to bring in?”
“Yes, and I paid them long ago, all that was due to them.”
“They claim you refused to pay them anything before you left Clermont. Have you got any receipts to show you paid them?”
“No, not here. They’d be in records back at the office.”
“Look here, Mr Griffin, I know you’ve had some trouble up there. There have been other complaints as well, you know. I suggest you either get the receipts for what you paid them, at that you see them and iron out your differences, in private or here in the office, before Sub‑Inspector Elliott and me. I don’t want those Chinamen pestering us here any longer for their money.”
“Leave it to me, Sir. I’ll see they don’t worry you any more.”
Now that Griffin had seen Power on his way back to with the money, his mind was made up.
It didn’t take him long to find where the six Chinese hung out. Yu King was their spokesman.
“Yu King,” he said, “Captain Hunter has told me you have been pestering him about money I owe your friends. I told you before, didn’t I, that I would pay you?”
“Yes, Mr Griffin, but it is a long time now, and they are waiting to be paid so that they can go back home to China.”
“Well, Yu King, you tell them to come with you to the Club tomorrow morning at half past ten and I'll have it ready for them.”
“Thank you, Mr Griffin.”
He turned and spoke in Chinese to his friends.
“They agree, Mr Griffin, but they say that if they don’t get paid, they will go straight back to Captain Hunter.”
“Tell them that that won’t be necessary. Just meet me at the Club in the morning at 10.30.”
“Thank you, Mr Griffin.”
He left them and rode back to camp to see Power.
“Look here,” he said, “it’s a lot of responsibility to ask you to look after so much money the first day of your promotion. Give it to me to mind, and I’ll take care of it. That way you won't be awake all night worrying about it.”
Power remembered the warning Julian had given him, but he was in no position to refuse an order given by his superior officer. He untied the canvas bags and saw that the parcels were properly wrapped and sealed. He then handed them over to Griffin.
“Could I have a receipt for the parcels, please, Mr Griffin?” He knew this was always necessary when escort money was handed into the charge of another person.
“I’m sorry, Trooper. I haven’t got the receipt book with me. It’s with my things over at Ottley’s. I’ll make one out for you later. Don’t worry about it just now. I’ve looked after escort gold and money hundreds of times, there’s nothing to worry about.”
“All right, Sir.”
Griffin put the parcels back in the bags. Escorts in charge weren’t supposed to leave camp alone, but for the Gold Commissioner himself it was different. Besides, Ottley’s held too many attractions for him.
The next day Power, Cahill and Gildea waited in camp for Griffin to return so that they could set off yet again.
Griffin, however, had other business on hand this Wednesday morning. He rode into town and punctually at 10.30 went to the Club. Already the six Chinese were waiting for him on the veranda. Yu King greeted him.
“Good morning, Mr Griffin.”
“Good morning, Yu King. Come with me.”
They followed him into a small, unused room out the back. They watched him as he put his hand into his deep coat pocket. Six times he did this. Each time he took out a small, neatly wrapped roll of notes and handed one to each of the diggers. An amount was written on a small piece of notepaper tied round the roll.
“There,” he said, when each roll was handed over, “you have your money, like I said you would. Take it and go, and if I ever hear another word from any of you, I’ll have your yellow hides salted and sent back to China. Not a word of this to Captain Hunter or Elliott, or I’ll have your tongues out as well.”
They bowed politely to the Commissioner.
“Thank you, Mr Griffin,” Yu King said. “My countrymen are happy now. They will go and not trouble anyone any more.”
Griffin watched them depart. He had handed over £252 altogether.
To Chinese soon to return home, paper money from a foreign country was valueless. The AJ.S. Bank was not far away. Four of them had soon handed over their rolls in exchange for new shiny gold.
Mr Hall noted that the writing on the outside notepaper around each roll was familiar. He would recognise Griffin’s distinctive hand anywhere. He wondered what it was all about, but asked no questions.
The troopers waited all day for Griffin to return. They checked at Ottley’s, but he wasn’t there. Power was becoming concerned.
Early the following morning, Thursday, they watched Griffin come across from Ottley’s.
“Here, Power, I’ve brought back your bags and parcels. You can look after them from now on. You’ll find them all in order.” Power opened a bag and took out one of the parcels. He saw it was wrapped differently. Griffin anticipated what he was going to ask.
“Don’t worry about the wrapping, Trooper. I just rewrapped it with stronger paper so nothing would fall out on the trip. It didn’t seem too good to me, the way it was.”
“Thank you, Sir, but I would like you to take the new wrapper off, so that I can see it’s the same inside as when I handed it over to you.”
“I tell you, there’s nothing to worry about! Why wouldn’t it be the same? It hasn’t been out of my hands ever since you gave it to me.”
“I’m sorry, Sir, but I would like you to open it.”
“Look here Power, you’re being quite silly about all this. You have my word for it. There’s no sense unwrapping it and then tying it up again.”
“All right, Sir.” He took the parcel. It felt uneven, as if something was out of place or missing. He again felt alarmed.
“Mr Griffin,” he said again, “the parcel feels different. It won’t take a moment to open it so that I can see it’s the same.”
“Look here, Power, I’ve had enough of this. Just put it in the saddlebag so we can get on our way.”
He fumbled with the saddle girth and undid the straps of the bag. Griffin called out to Cahill to bring in the other horses.
“Before you go, Cahill,” said Power, “will you have a look at this girth sore and see what you think?”
Cahill bent down to look where the other man indicated. Power whispered to him.
“I’m scared of Griffin. Pretend you can’t find the horses. If you get a chance, drive them further away. I don’t want to leave here until I see that parcel opened.”
Cahill rode off down the paddock. It wasn’t long before he was back.
“The horses aren’t down there, Mr Griffin. Someone must have left the rails down. They’re gone.”
“Well, you better go and find them. And while he’s doing that, get the saddlebags off your horse, Power, and you can go into town and see what can be done for those sores. Seems we’ll never get away from here.”
Power rode into town. To cover himself, he went to the stables to get some attention for his horse and a new, softer girth. Then he went back to the bank.
“Good Lord, Trooper, surely you haven’t come to return the money again, have you? I thought you’d all be far away by now,” Mr Hall said.
“As a matter of fact, we haven’t left camp yet. We’ve been delayed, and now my horse has girth galls and the others have got away.”
Hall looked hard at him.
“Yes, but that’s not what brought you here. What’s wrong?”
“I’m not sure, Mr Hall, but with all these delays I’m worried about the money. It looks to me as if one of the parcels has been tampered with, and it’s in a different outside wrapper. I would like you to come out to the camp and have a look at it before I take it over again from Mr Griffin, who has been minding it for me until we get on our way.”
“Well, it’s impossible for any of us to come out today, as it’s the end‑ of‑ the‑ month accounting, but tomorrow morning I’ll come out and check it over, if that will make you feel any better. I know how you must feel, being in charge of things for the first time. I’m sure it wouldn’t have worried Julian.”
“Thank you, Mr Hall. I will feel much better if you would do that.”
He delayed his return to camp until late in the evening. He’d have to put up with the “blowing up” Griffin would give him, especially when he found out he’d been to the bank.
“Where the blazes have you been until this hour?” Griffin stormed when he rode into camp. “Seems you’re going to be no more reliable than Julian.”
“Sorry, Sir, but it took longer than I thought it would.”
“I know that, you fool. Now we’ll have to wait another day to get away. See the horses don’t get away again,” he called to Cahill. “I’m going over to Ottley’s. I’ll be back in the morning. Have everything ready after breakfast. I’ll look after the parcels for you till morning, Power, seeing as you are frightened of them.”
About 9 o’clock on Friday, 1 November, they were again ready to break camp. Power anxiously watched the road out of town. Thank God, he saw the two horsemen in the distance.
“Mr Griffin,” he said, “that looks like Mr Hall coming. Looks like his piebald.”
“What’s he doing, coming out here?”
“Well, to be truthful, Sir, I took the opportunity while I was in town yesterday to go down to the bank and ask him to come out to have a look at the parcels before I took them over.”
“You interfering bloody idiot, Power. You know bloody well I gave you my word they were all right. That’s gross insubordination. I’ll have you on a charge for this when I get back. Just see if I don’t!”
By now Mr Hall and the accountant, Mr Zouch, were in camp.
“Good morning, Tom,” Hall called as he rode up.
“Good morning, T.S. What brings you here?”
“Didn’t Trooper Power tell you I was coming out to check the parcels before you left?”
“Oh yes, he did, though I don’t know why he would want to put you to the trouble. I told him everything was in order.”
“He told me you had wrapped one in a new paper and he just wanted to see it was all right inside before he took over.”
“And I gave him my word it hadn’t been out of my possession all the time I was looking after it for him. I’m sorry now I went to the trouble to take it from him.”
“That’s all right, Tom. I don’t want to interfere. We’ve been friends long enough to trust one another. I don’t really know what the trooper’s got to worry about, if you’ve given him your word.”
“It’s just that I wanted to be sure, Mr Hall. If you say it’s all right for me to take over, then I’m satisfied and will say no more about it.”
“Well, what say Mr Griffin puts seals on the saddlebags?” suggested Hall. “Then, you Trooper Power, cannot be held responsible.”
Griffin unwillingly took the parcel and, watched by the others, melted wax from a stick supplied by Hall over the knotted string.
“Thank you, Sir. I feel better about it all now. It takes a load off my mind,” said Power.
“Well, we must be getting back now,” Tom Hall told them. “Good luck, boys.”
For security reasons, Griffin decided they would all go in civilian dress. That way they would be less conspicuous. The troopers looked at one another, but didn’t feel inclined to question the wisdom of the move. They hadn’t done escort before out of uniform.
The New Peak Downs Road took them through Stanwell and Westwood, which was then the terminus of the Western Railway. Then came Gogango and Gainsford. The new road after Gainsford passed through long stretches of dense scrub interspersed with open patches of country where travel was reasonably easy.
Power had expected Griffin to leave them at Gogango, but unexpectedly he said he would stay with them.
They crossed the Dawson River and swung north‑west to cover the 25 miles of scrubby country to Cadona on Bridgewater Creek. They were about half‑way there when a near‑fatal accident occurred.
Cahill was in the lead, then Power, with Griffin bringing up the rear. A shot rang out.
“For God’s sake,” Power called out as he swung round with his gun at the ready to return the fire. “Where’d that come from. Take cover, Cahill.”
Cahill spurred his horse off the road to take cover behind a tree.
“Did you see where it came from, Mr Griffin?”
“It’s all right,” he called back. “It was an accident. I was just adjusting my pistol in its holster and it went off.”
He held up the holster and showed where the bullet had ripped through the bottom.
“Then for God's sake, Mr Griffin, next time it goes off like that I hope it’s not pointing in my direction.”
“I’m sorry, Power. It was only an accident. Lots of men have been killed that way. At the Crimea it happened every day.”
“So it would seem, but I don't want to be one of them.”
Cahill dropped back to ride side by side with his friend. Again they looked at each other questioningly.
“A close shave, John,” he said. “We’d better be more careful in future. See if you can make an excuse to fall back behind him. It might be safer that way.”
But when Power tried, Griffin was quick to remind him that the trooper who carried the gold or money always rode in the middle.
On the fourth day out, Monday 4 November, they reached Ashcroft’s at The Dam. As at other spaced intervals along the road, there was the accommodation house for travellers. Mrs Ashcroft was well known for the quality of her homely meals.
They made camp a short distance away, but came up to Ashcroft’s for lunch. During the evening, Constable Moynihan from the Dawson Centre called in. He was looking for lost police horses. Power saw Moynihan as a possible welcome addition to their escort till they reached Clermont, or at least until Griffin decided to leave them and go back to Rockhampton. Another man would add to their safety. Moynihan agreed to accompany them, but first the Commissioner’s permission would be required. Power approached him.
“Mr Griffin,” he said, “it would be a good idea if Constable Moynihan was to go with us until we cleared the next dangerous scrub section of the road. He is quite willing to join us, with your permission.”
He felt certain that some excuse would be forthcoming to prevent the request. To his surprise, Griffin replied:
“By all means, let him come. Moynihan,” he called, “come over here a minute.”
“Yes, Mr Griffin.”
“Moynihan, Power says you are willing to accompany us over the next section of the road as far as the Mackenzie Crossing. Is that right?”
“Yes, Sir. I might even locate the lost horses further up the road.”
“All right then. We’ll be leaving at first light, so be sure you are here. We want to be at Bedford’s at the Crossing by breakfast time.”
“Don’t worry about me, Mr Griffin. I won’t be late.”
Mrs Ashcroft prepared them a special evening meal. Griffin for once seemed in a jovial mood. Power, Cahill and Moynihan drank ale and porter with their meal. It was all the more enjoyable because Mr Griffin had told Mr Ashcroft to put the cost on his bill. The troopers found this hard to believe.
When the meal was over and they were about to leave, Griffin called Moynihan aside.
“It’s been a pleasure having a change of company. Troopers Power and Cahill are rather boring at times, and they seem suspicious of everything I say or do. I’m looking forward to your coming along tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Mr Griffin. You flatter me.”
“It’s true, Moynihan. What would you like for a nightcap before you turn in?”
“There’s nothing like a good stiff brandy, Sir, to give me a good night’s sleep.”
Griffin promised to bring him one.
Just as Moynihan was beginning to think the Commissioner had forgotten his promise, he saw him coming towards his tent.
“Here, Constable,” he said, pouring a good stiff drink from a bottle he had in a brown paper bag, “drink this up and I'll guarantee you sleep soundly till morning.”
“Thank you, Mr Griffin. I could do with a good night’s sleep, after the last few I’ve had on the track of those blasted horses.”
At first light, Griffin, Power and Cahill broke camp. Unfortunately, Constable Moynihan slept late into the morning. When he awoke his head was splitting and the sun was already high.
“Oh my God,” he said, “what a head!”
Before the party left for the Mackenzie, Power asked Griffin if he might go across to see what was keeping Moynihan. This was refused.
They covered the 20‑odd miles to Bedford Arms at the Mackenzie Crossing in time for a late breakfast. Mrs Bedford offered them fresh beef or bacon and eggs, with tea or coffee. They settled for the bacon and eggs with coffee. Griffin preferred to wash his down with a glass of brandy.
After breakfast, the troopers took a clean towel and a lump of soap and went down to the river for a clean‑up and a swim. Griffin went to the bar and drank more brandy and porter.
When Power came back he asked when they were moving on, because he had hoped they would reach Lilyvale, some 35 miles further, before making camp for the day. Then the following day they could easily make it into Clermont. But Griffin had other ideas.
“We are going to make camp here today, as I am not feeling too good. Diarrhea, I think. I’m going back to Rockhampton tomorrow, and you two can finish the trip by yourselves. I am going to ask Alf Bedford to come with me.”
They spent the day between the hotel and their camp, which they had made down towards the river about 400 yards away. During the afternoon Cahill borrowed a billy can from Mrs Peterson, who worked for the Bedfords, to take some fresh water from the tank down to the camp to make a billy of tea.
Griffin asked Mrs Bedford if she had any laudanum to fix up his diarrhea and pains in the stomach. Mrs Bedford gave him some. He then went to see her husband.
“Alf,” he said, “I’m not feeling too well. I shouldn’t have come so far on this trip. I’m going back to Rocky tomorrow. Will you come with me for company?”
“As a matter of fact, I’ve been thinking I’d have to go down soon on business. Tomorrow would be as good a time as any. What time do you want to get away, Tom?”
“At first light, to give us a good long day's ride.”
That evening, Tuesday, Griffin came in for dinner at about six o'clock and ate with Bedford. They had young kid, potatoes and fresh bread. Then they went for a swim.
“Power and Cahill will be up later,” he called to Mrs Bedford. “Give them a bottle of porter and some brandy on me, seeing this is my last night with them.”
The troopers finished their meal at about 8 o’clock and went back to camp to be ready for an early morning start for Lilyvale. Just before they turned in, Griffin called at their tent.
“A last drink before we part,” he said. He filled a mug of dark-coloured brandy from an English Lemon Syrup bottle Mrs Bedford had given him.
“Good luck, Mr Griffin,” they both said.
“Good luck, Power and Cahill,” he replied. “Safe trip into Clermont.”
He left them and went to his own bedroll. Instead of stretching out on his blanket, he propped himself against his saddle so that he could see across to the other tents.
Before first light he went across to the Bedford Arms and rapped on the window of the bedroom where he knew the Bedfords slept. In next to no time the place was astir, and Mrs Peterson had the fire going and a cup of coffee ready for the boss and the Gold Commissioner.
“Mrs Peterson, my two men should be over for breakfast later on, but if they don’t come, don’t worry. Yesterday afternoon I saw them talking to one of those Italian hawker fellows who has his dray here. John Babora, I think he’s named. Trooper Power said something about going to see them early for breakfast, so don’t worry if they don't come over.”
“All right, Mr Griffin, I won’t.”
Mrs Bedford watched the two ride off down the Peak Road.
On the way back to The Dam, Alf Bedford thought to himself that Griffin wasn’t looking too well, and seemed to be having a lot of trouble with the pack tied across the front of his saddle. After a while Griffin said:
“I’ve got a touch of diarrhoea again, Alf. You ride on while I go up this track a bit off the road to relieve myself. I’ll catch you up.”
“All right. I’ll take it steady. There’s no hurry.”
They breakfasted at Ashcroft’s and rode on. Griffin kept Bedford in the lead. By late evening they had covered the distance to Gainsford and they stopped for the night at Beattie’s Hotel. The next day they reached Westwood, stabled their horses, and caught the night train back to Rockhampton.
It was just a fortnight since Sergeant Julian had first gone to the A.J.S. Bank to collect the escort money.
After a good night’s rest, Griffin and Bedford went to the Commercial Hotel in Quay Street for a drink.
“How’s the diarrhoea, Tom,” Bedford asked.
“Much better. Must have been something I ate. There’s nothing like a few good drinks to fix a bout of the runs.”
They drank for an hour or so.
“Well, Alf, I better be reporting at headquarters, so they’ll know I'm back.”
He took out a roll of money to pay for the drinks and peeled off a one pound note. The barmaid looked at it.
“Goodness, Mr Griffin, this is about the most battered note I’ve seen. What gutter did you pick it up in?” she laughed.
“Now come off it, Lily. They’re all good if you’ve got enough of them, aren’t they? Even if they are a bit the worse for wear?”
Lily put the note by itself in the till and took out the change. “Thanks, Lily, see you again later.”
Griffin headed up to headquarters. Bedford wanted to go down to Rutherford’s to see what horses they had in the stables.
When Griffin walked in, Sub‑Inspector Elliott greeted him with a telegram.
“Where the dickens have you been, Mr Griffin? You haven’t been in for days.”
“I thought I told you I was going out with the escort. There’s been unavoidable delays, so it’s taken a bit longer than I anticipated.”
“How’s the Peak Road now, Griffin? I hear the Gogango and Mackenzie scrub parts are open slather for a hold‑up. It’s a wonder it hasn’t been done for such a long while.”
“I don’t believe that if there was a stick‑up it would be done on the road. It would be a lot easier to get the escort while they were in camp for the night. There’s good scrub hiding places near all the campsites.”
“You could be right, Griffin.”
“Anything for me to attend to for the next day or so?”
“No, not till after the weekend. Call in on Monday. There may be something then.”
Griffin left and went back to the Club. There’d be time to go out to Ottley’s
About 10 o’clock on Wednesday morning, after Gold Commissioner and Police Magistrate Thomas John Griffin and Alfred Harding Bedford had departed from the Bedford Arms Hotel, Mrs Peterson went across to the troopers’ camp to see if they were finished with the billy can she had lent them the evening before.
When she was about 20 yards away she called, “Is anybody there?”
No one answered.
“Is anyone there?” she called more loudly, but no one stirred. She saw the form of one of the men, lying on his side, with his head hidden by the saddle that he was using as a pillow. He was partly covered by a blanket.
“That's funny,” she thought. “He must be awful tired to sleep with a blanket over him this time of the morning.”
Mrs Peterson didn’t like to interfere with their sleep, especially as she knew they had had a heavy day of it the day before at the pub.
She went back to the hotel and told her husband that the troopers were too fast asleep for them to hear her when she called out.
“It’s best we mind our own business and not disturb them, Mary.”
“I suppose so, but I know they were to be on their way to Lilyvale early. Mr Griffin mentioned it to me when he said they mightn’t be in for breakfast.”
“Just mind your own business. They know what they’re doing It’s nothing to do with us.”
“All right, but I’ll be needing my billy later on, so I hope they bring it back.”
When the troopers did not come in for lunch, Mrs Peterson asked her husband to go across and get her billy. He was talking to Jos Ashcroft, who had ridden up from The Dam. She told him about the troopers sleeping in late with a blanket pulled up over them.
“Don’t worry about them, Mary,” he said. “I’ve got an idea they may be foxing. There’s been a couple of shady‑looking characters around our place. I chased them, but they got away up the scrub. I told Griffin and his boys about them as they were passing through, and they said they’d keep an eye out for them. This could be some sort of plan Power and Cahill have got to nab them. They won’t give you any thanks if you stick your nose into their business.”
“That’s what I say, Jos,” her husband agreed.
“Oh, all right then, I suppose I can make do without my billy,” said Mrs Peterson.
The next morning Jack Peterson set off to look for some horses belonging to a Mr Armstrong, from Fyfe’s, who was staying at the hotel. He waded through the Mackenzie a fair way upstream from where the road crossed. The horses were nowhere about. He then thought they might be somewhere down along the river towards the road, so he followed a track down. He picked up the road at the crossing and headed back home. He turned aside a bit towards the troopers’ camp, but hadn’t gone far when he spat at the bad smell that struck him.
“Must be something dead, to make a stink like that,” he said to himself. As he came closer to the camp the smell got worse. He saw the two troopers lying fairly close together with their blankets still pulled up.
“Hello there,” he called. When he had no reply, he rode even closer. The smell was rotten. He got down from his horse and pulled back a blanket.
He didn’t need to look twice to see the man was dead. Maggots were already beginning to crawl. The other man was dead also. He put the blanket back exactly as he had found it.
He wasted no time getting back to the hotel.
“Find the horses, Jack?” Mr Armstrong called.
“No, but I found a couple of dead ‘uns over at the camp. Come back with me and have a look for yourself.”
“Who are they? Not the troopers?”
“Looks like it to me. Come and have a look.”
“Not likely. I’ll take your word for it. If I have to have a look at them you’ll have another one on your hands! If you like, I’ll ride straightaway up to the Native Police Camp at Wilpend and tell Sub‑Inspector Uhr. It’s a police job, not ours, Jack.”
By Thursday afternoon Uhr was on the scene. A quick examination of the bodies showed that the two troopers, Cahill and Power, had been shot through the head.
In the dead ashes of the fire he found the charred remains of some brown wrapping paper with red wax still clinging to it.
Uhr returned to Gainsford to report the murders. When Constable Moynihan heard what had happened, he realised what a narrow squeak he had had. If he had gone along with them instead of sleeping in, he would most likely have had a bullet through his skull as well.
Sub‑Inspector Uhr handed Moynihan the official report.
“Get these in to Rockhampton as soon as you can, Moynihan. Elliott will be waiting for a full report.”
By six o'clock on Friday, 8 November, Moynihan was at the Rockhampton police station.
To his surprise, when he went to hand in the report to Elliott, Griffin himself was seated at the table.
“Hello, Moynihan,” he said. “If I remember right, the last time I saw you was at Ashcroft’s, and you were going to join me and Power and Cahill as far as the Mackenzie, but you didn’t show up. What happened?”
“Lucky for me I didn’t. I slept in. God knows why. It’s the first time that it’s ever happened.”
Then he handed the report to Elliott. Elliott’s face turned pale.
“Good God! Power and Cahill brutally murdered at the Mackenzie. I can’t believe it. Here, read this, Griffin.”
Griffin studied the report.
“But it can’t be true. I only left them a couple of days ago. It was shortly after midnight, with Cahill on watch. Everything was all right then.”
“Well, they’re dead now, Mr Griffin. Sub‑Inspector Uhr said they’re the most grisly murders he’s ever seen,” Moynihan said.
“I can’t believe it, Elliott. Power and Cahill were both good men. They must have been stuck up, of course.”
Moynihan left the office. Elliott turned to face Griffin.
“What d’ you think, Tom? You’ve been with them. Have you any suspects in mind?”
“Well, no, not really, only that Julian has been acting queerly ever since the escort was first arranged. I’ve heard him say more than once that the escort would be easy picking for anyone who really wanted to do the job.”
“But you know you stripped Julian of rank and put Power in his place, so I don’t see how he could be a suspect.”
“Maybe not, but just the same, it’s worth keeping an eye on him.”
“No one else?”
“Well, there were a couple of fellows reported as hanging around Jos Ashcroft’s, and there was one of those Italian hawkers’ outfits at Bedford’s the day before I left. I saw Power and Cahill talking to them. Could have been them, I suppose.”
“Could have been. What was the name of the hawker?”
“Babora, I think it was. His party were camping not far away from our camp. They could have slipped in during the night and done it.”
“Yes, that's a possibility. As soon as we get up to the Mackenzie we’ll pick them up for questioning. They shouldn’t be too hard to find. And those other two you mentioned. We'll go all out to find them if the hawkers are ruled out.”
Elliott and Griffin made plans for the party that was to go out as soon as possible to Bedford’s. It was too late to set out that night so they made arrangements to catch the first train for Westwood the next day.
Orders were given for Sergeant Julian, Mr Ottley, Detective Kilfeder, Mr Abbott from the A.J.S., and the Government Medical Officer, Dr Salmond, to be ready to set out in the morning.
Sub‑Inspector Elliott kept his suspicions to himself. He knew only too well that Griffin had financial troubles in Clermont. He had had those six Chinese diggers in to see him about money they claimed Griffin owed them. For some reason he had not seen them again since he had told Griffin to fix the matter up. But then, the murders were well after that, so if Griffin had done it, how could he have squared off with the Chinese? It didn’t tally. Still, Griffin had been with Power and Cahill the night they were murdered. Elliott couldn’t help recalling the petition that had gone to the Colonial Secretary about Griffin’s character.
“Despotic.” “Arbitrary.” “Partial.” He also knew that Griffin gambled a lot and that he owed money. It was Elliott’s job to look at all possibilities.
The party gathered at the station on Saturday morning, 9 November 1867.
Elliott had struck an unexpected snag. Dr Salmond refused to go unless he was guaranteed £50 towards out‑of‑pocket expenses. This could only be authorised by the Colonial Secretary in Brisbane. The return electric telegraph granting permission had not arrived, so Salmond refused to leave his premises. Without the doctor, Elliott knew the mission would be useless.
It was nearly time for the train to depart. The station‑master agreed to hold it for another hour. Elliott fumed at the delay. He sent off a further urgent request to Brisbane, but again there was no reply.
“Look here, Elliott,” Griffin said. “I’ll stand by the guarantee. You know there’s nothing we can do at the Mackenzie without the doctor. He’s got to be there, or we may as well stay where we are.”
The station‑master warned them he couldn’t hold the train much longer.
“All right, Griffin. That’s very good of you. I’ll accept your offer and take the responsibility.”
“Good. Leave it to me. I’ll go and get Salmond at once, even if I’ve got to drag him here.”
Elliott scratched his head. He couldn’t fathom Griffin. Surely, if he’d done it, it would be the last thing he’d want, to get the doctor to the Mackenzie. The longer he could put off the examination of the bodies the better, and here he was standing guarantee for 50 quid to get the doctor on the train. It didn't make sense.
It wasn’t long before Griffin and Dr Salmond drove up in the doctor’s gig. The station‑master waved his green flag, the engine snorted steam, and they were away.
Elliott sat beside Griffin. He had made up his mind to be as friendly as he could to the Gold Commissioner. He couldn’t get his suspicions out of his head, no matter how hard he tried.
“You know, Griffin,” he said, “the more I think about it, the more I think it might have been one of those Italian hawkers. They would have had every reason and opportunity to do it. They would have to be the prime suspects at this stage.”
“Yes, I think so, or those other two Ashcroft saw hanging about. But just the same, I wouldn’t rule Julian out.”
“I don’t see how Julian could have done it. He’s been in town most of the time, you know.”
“Just the same, keep your eye on him. I’ve suspected all along that he was up to something. Between you and me, that was one of the main reasons why I sacked him from the escort.” He paused, while Elliot continued:
“There’s another thing you mightn’t know about. Moynihan told me there was some sort of rumour at Bedford’s that they might have been poisoned.”
“Poisoned? I didn't know about that,” said Griffin.
“No. It wasn’t in Uhr’s report. It’s only what Moynihan told me later. It seems some of Bedford’s pigs died the morning after the murders. They were up around the camp and someone said they must have eaten some of the vomit that was near the bodies.”
“Good God, Elliott, the whole thing looks more impossible than ever.”
“Well, if they were poisoned, Salmond will soon find evidence of it, and if he doesn’t, they will when they hold the post mortem later on,” Elliott said.
“I suppose so. They say all poisons remain in the stomach a long time after death,” replied Griffin.
“Most do, but not all those made from plants or vegetables. All traces of some disappear in a few days.”
Griffin looked surprised. “I didn't know that,” he said. “But why would anyone want to poison them and then shoot them? It doesn't make sense.”
“No, it doesn’t. But then few murders do, do they?”
The train pulled in to Westwood and they lunched at Philip Hardy’s hotel. Then all except the doctor mounted fresh horses and set off at their best pace for the Mackenzie. Salmond was a poor rider, so Elliott found a suitable gig for him.
Before the day was out, Griffin approached the doctor.
“I haven’t been feeling too well for a few days. I had a touch of the diarrhoea before leaving the Mackenzie and I think this whole rotten thing is getting me down. It’s been a terrible shock, you know, Doctor, to have two of my men murdered like that. One night you’re with them and the next morning they’re dead. I wish I hadn’t left them when I did, or they might have been alive today. I feel so bad about it all.”
Griffin hesitated, then said, “Would you be good enough to let me ride in the gig with you? They say I’m a pretty good driver so it will relieve you of the worry.”
“Thank you, Mr Griffin. That’s very good of you. I’ll be glad of your company. I never have been one to enjoy driving on roads like these.
Griffin tied his horse on a lead behind the gig and climbed up to take the reins. They now pushed along at a smarter speed. Sub‑Inspector Elliott fell in behind them. They were aiming for Gainsford on the Dawson River for their first night’s camp. Night came on just after leaving Herbert’s Creek. The road was poor, with some dangerous twists and turns. Griffin slapped the reins and urged on the horses. The doctor hung on.
“For goodness’ sake, Mr Griffin, slow down, or you’ll have us both killed.”
“Sorry, Doctor, the horses must have smelt a good feed at Gainsford. It’s not far, you know.”
“The way you are driving, man, you’ll have us up a tree and the gig on top of us. Slow down, I say.”
Elliott galloped up and grabbed the reins
“Slow down, Griffin,” he yelled. “The road’s not made for driving like that.”
Griffin reined the horses in.
“Sorry,” he called. “The horses must have started at something. They’re all right now.”
At Gainsford the doctor reprimanded his driver.
“One more display like that, Sir, and you’ll never drive my gig again!”
“I said I’m sorry. It wasn’t my fault. They just took off. I’ll keep a tighter rein on them tomorrow.”
The next day they reached a creek just the other side of Duaringa. The crossing involved a long dip down, with a sharp turn up the bank on the other side. Unexpectedly, as they approached, Griffin gave a shout and threw his hands in the air. The reins flapped over the horses’ rumps. Startled, they took off down the bank and swung wide of the track. The doctor saw a fallen log in front of them. He shut his eyes and flung his arm across his face to ward off the seemingly inevitable smash. Griffin reached down to grasp reins that were now far out of his reach. At the last moment, the horses swerved around the log and back on to the road. Elliott galloped to their head and grabbed the reins, which were trailing near the ground. He managed to bring them to a halt just as they finished crossing the creek.
Doctor Salmond was white with rage.
“You confounded idiot, Griffin. What did you do that for? I think you’re trying to kill me. Get him out of my gig this very moment, Mr Elliott, or I’ll take the whip to him. The man’s mad.
Elliott held his peace, more determined than ever to keep his eye on Griffin. Something was definitely wrong.
They stopped for lunch at Cadona.
Elliott had by this time made up his mind. Griffin had to be his man. He must be afraid of what the doctor would find when he examined the bodies, to make him want to make sure he never reached the Mackenzie. Last night and again this morning Griffin had almost wrecked the gig. He was certain that both occasions were no accident.
He went to see the hotel‑keeper.
“John,” he said, “I want to have a private talk with Mr Griffin. Can you give us a room to ourselves for a while?”
“Yes, there's one at the back you can use, Inspector.”
“Thank you. And I wonder if you would help me another way? When we are alone, we will be asking for some drinks. Now listen carefully. I will always ask for gin. You must bring me straight water. Mr Griffin won’t be able to tell the difference by sight. Now, you are also to bring Mr Griffin whatever he asks for. He mostly drinks brandy. If he does, be sure to make it a double. You understand? Whatever he asks for, bring it to him straight. Now tell me, what are you to bring me when I ask for gin?”
“Just good, plain unadulterated water, Mr Elliott.”
“That’s the man. I knew you'd help me.”
As expected, Griffin asked for brandy. Elliott kept to gin. The afternoon was hot. Griffin’s tongue was loose. Elliott let him talk on, but he gave nothing away. Finally, Elliott yawned.
“Must be the heat, Griffin,” he said. “I feel drowsy.” He dropped his head on his folded arms on the table.
“Me too. Mind if I stretch out on the sofa a bit? I’m still not feeling the best. Told the doctor about it, but he’s an old fool.”
“Why not have forty winks? It will do you good before we push on to the Mackenzie.”
Soon Griffin was flat out and breathing deeply. His arm hung limply over the side of the sofa. He had unbuttoned his coat to make himself more comfortable, and had swung his belt round so that his gun was resting on the middle of his stomach.
Elliott looked up over his folded arms. There was no doubt about it, Griffin was out like a light. Carefully, he reached out and slipped the gun from its holster. He took the caps from the nipples and scraped out the powder. Then he dampened them with water to make quite sure they were useless. He wiped and replaced the caps. Griffin didn’t move as the firearm was slipped back into place. So far, so good.
Elliott looked at his watch. Three o’clock. They should be on their way. He dropped his head back on his arms. Then, with a startled cry, he sprang up.
“My God, Griffin, wake up! How long have we been asleep?” He grabbed him by the shoulders and gave‑him a shake. “Look, it’s three‑thirty. We should have been on our way long ago.”
Griffin yawned, stretched himself and stood up. He swung his gun back behind his hip and buttoned up his coat.
The party rode on into the afternoon with Elliott bringing up the rear. The doctor kept a tight rein, but managed to keep up with the brisk trot of the riders.
Elliott’s careful planning nearly came unstuck just before dark. A snake slithered across the road just in front of them.
“Look out,” Griffin yelled.
Elliott spurred his horse forward. Griffin whipped out his gun.
“For God’s sake, Griffin, don’t shoot,” Elliott yelled. “This horse I’m riding will go berserk! It’s not used to gunfire! Let the thing go, it won’t hurt anyone out here,” he continued, as Griffin put his gun away.
They rode on to Bedford’s. Four hundred‑odd yards away, the tents still stood and the blankets still covered the undisturbed bodies of Power and Cahill.
Before going on down to the camp, the Sub‑Inspector had a brief talk with Mrs Bedford. She told him that she and her husband had heard two shots the night of the murder. One was at about 2 a.m. and the other about an hour and a half later.
She remembered that they hadn’t gone to sleep after the second shot, and that it was only about half an hour later that Mr Griffin had come to knock on the window to wake them up. She told him about the English Lemon Syrup bottle of brandy Mr Griffin had got from her husband to take down to the troopers.
Elliott guessed the rest of the story.
They then left the hotel to go down to the camp. Doctor Salmond started the grisly post mortem.
“Well, Doctor, what killed them, poison or bullet?” Elliott asked.
A bullet, Mr Elliott. Right through the back of the head and out the eye for Power, and behind the left ear for Cahill. They never knew what hit them. I wonder how it was done.”
Elliott thought of what Mrs Bedford had said. The second shot was about an hour and a half after the first. Whoever fired the shots knew quite well that the first shot wouldn’t wake the second trooper. He put one and one together and the answer had to be the brandy.
He called Constable Kilfeder over to him.
“Well, Kilfeder, what do you think? Have you got anyone in mind?”
“No, Sir, no one at all. It beats me.”
“Now, listen carefully, Constable, to what I have to say. Griffin did it, and I’m going to arrest him right away, with your help.”
“My God, Sir,” he started, but Elliott cut him short.
“Just keep quiet, Kilfeder, and do exactly as I say. I want you to go over to him shortly and start talking about anything you like. Somehow, I want you to get him over to that log, then sit down beside him and keep talking. In a little while I will come across and join you. I will sit on the other side of him. Keep your eye on me, and when I give you the wink, snap the handcuffs on him quick. Have you got that clear?”
“Yes, Sir, but what if he gets suspicious? What then?”
“He won’t. He doesn’t suspect a thing. Just do as I’ve said and leave the rest to me.”
All went according to plan. Elliott strolled across after having another look at the bodies. He sat alongside Griffin.
“My God, Tom, that’s about the most horrible sight I’ve ever seen. It’s almost made me sick. I don’t suppose you’ve got a drop of brandy on you, have you?”
“Yes. I think I could do with a nip myself.”
Griffin put his hand into his coat pocket to take out his flask. Kilfeder saw the wink. He grabbed Griffin’s free wrist and Elliott took him by the arm. Before Griffin knew what had happened, Kilfeder had snapped on the handcuffs.
“What the bloody hell are you up to, Elliott? What's going on?”
“You’re under arrest, Griffin, for the suspected murder of Troopers Power and Cahill.”
“You’re mad, Elliott. But I suppose I had to be a suspect, seeing that I was the last to see them alive. You’ll soon find out I had nothing to do with it.”
“I hope you’re right, Griffin, but I’d like you to come along just the same. Constable Kilfeder will take you in charge.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t cause you any trouble. I know I’m innocent. Go back to the murder scene and see what else Salmond can find. You might even find a clue to who the real murderer was.”
After the party had recovered from the shock of the arrest of the Gold Commissioner, Elliott decided to hold a preliminary enquiry immediately, back at Bedford’s. Fortunately, Mr Abbott, Justice of the Peace, was on hand to preside.
Evidence was given by Mr and Mrs Peterson, Mr Ashcroft, Sub‑Inspector Uhr, Sergeant Julian and Mr and Mrs Bedford.
Mr Abbott was satisfied that there was ample reason to hold Griffin on remand to Rockhampton.
When the party returned to town, the news spread fast. There was a great deal of excitement. Some thought Mr Elliott had been too quick and high‑handed and had gone too far. They telegraphed their protest to the Colonial Secretary, who requested an urgent explanation.
As soon as he had had enough time to compose a reply, Elliott sent off the following:
“Time of despatch 7.30 p.m. Date 16 November 1867.
“My grounds for arresting Mr Griffin are first that he stated to me that he accompanied deceased to Mackenzie River; that he left them at 1 o'clock a.m. on Wednesday morning 6th; that he arrived that morning at Bedford’s Inn at ten minutes past four stating that he had been lost ¾ of an hour in the bush which is two hours unaccounted for.
“Second he stated on several occasions that the men would be found shot; which turned out to be the case.
“Third that Bedford stated that he heard one shot about 1 o’clock a.m. and another about two hours after; which must have been about the time that Griffin left the camp.
“Fourth his expressed intentions to myself and Mr Abbott not to be present at the post mortem.
“His general demeanour and various other circumstances which I have ascertained along the road too lengthy to mention in a telegram which have been borne out by evidence.
“Just arrived and if necessary will send copy of depositions to you. Depositions in this case extend over 58 pages of closely written foolscap.
Griffin was locked up in the Rockhampton gaol under the charge of Constable M’Mulken.
On 21 November 1867, Thomas John Griffin appeared before Police Magistrate Wiseman, Henry Abbott and Frederick Byerley at the crowded police court. Those fortunate enough to gain admittance saw him as an alert, well‑built man in his mid-thirties. The lower part of his face was hidden by a long flowing beard, and he had a thin, neat moustache above narrow, set lips. There was an early stir when Sub‑Inspector Elliott refused Griffin’s solicitors, Milford and Rees Jones, permission to appear for Griffin.
“How can we be expected to defend our client if we cannot speak to him?” they asked. But Griffin was left to answer for himself. The Court decided there was ample evidence for the accused to be put on trial.
While biding his time, Griffin pleaded with M’Mulken to give him one night’s freedom, supposedly so that he could locate the one vital witness who could clear him of the charge. The gaoler refused.
“I can make it worth while for you,” Griffin promised, but M’Mulken said it was not worth the risk to him if anything went wrong.
“Well then, will you post a letter for me?” he pleaded.
M’Mulken agreed, but instead of posting it, took the letter, addressed to a Mrs Fitzherbert in Melbourne, to Elliott. It didn’t take long for the Melbourne police to establish that Mrs Fitzherbert was none other than Mrs Griffin. The only other person who knew the secret was said to be Hall, who arranged maintenance payments from Clermont. The letter told her that certain difficulties had arisen in making payments, but that they would be resumed as soon as possible. Little did Griffin know that she had already received a copy of the Peak Downs Telegram, which reported his arrest for the murder of the troopers.
At his trial on 16 March 1868 Griffin still maintained his innocence.
The Attorney‑ General, the Honourable R. Pring, and the Honourable Charles Lilley, Q.C., appeared for the prosecution.
Mr McDevitt, Mr Hely and Mr Samuel Griffith (later Sir Samuel) appeared for the prisoner.
There was much damning evidence against him.
The money the Chinese diggers had taken to the bank was part of the escort money. The notes were all numbered. The tattered pound note Griffin had offered for drinks at the Commercial Hotel was also identified. Not far from Bedford’s, up the side track where Griffin had gone to “relieve himself” of his diarrhoea, several scattered notes had been found, all marked and numbered. Griffin’s evidence as to what had happened that terrible night at the Mackenzie Crossing was confused and contradictory.
On 25 March, after a little more than an hour’s deliberation, the jury brought in their verdict- “Guilty.”
His Honour put on the black cap and said, “Thomas John Griffin, you have been found guilty by a jury of your countrymen of the crime of wilful murder, and I can say that, sitting in my place here, I never heard circumstantial evidence of guilt more satisfactory or more conclusive. The crime is one unparalleled in Australian history.”
Then the death sentence was pronounced.
But Griffin was not ready to surrender to the hangman without a fight.
The bulk of the escort money had not been found. The bank offered a substantial reward for its recovery. It went unclaimed. Naturally, Griffin denied any knowledge of its whereabouts.
His day of execution was drawing near. He still proclaimed his innocence. He claimed he had vital new evidence that would lead to the real murderers being found. He requested that he be allowed to communicate this evidence immediately to the Colonial Secretary. The chief gaoler asked the visiting Justice of the Peace to take down the details of the appeal that Griffin wished to make. The request was acceded to, but Griffin was unable to come up with substantial grounds.
Griffin then turned his attention to the assistant turnkey of the gaol.
“Grant,” he said, “let me escape from here and I’ll see you get £1000.”
“You must think I’m mad, Mr Griffin. Where’d you ever get that sort of money?”
“That’s my business. I know where I can get it, all right. Have no worry about that.”
“You mean the escort money?”
“But you said you knew nothing about it.”
“Well, on second thoughts, I might. Let me out and I’ll see you get a thousand.”
“Then you did do it, after all?”
“Maybe I did, but I won’t admit it to anyone else. What about it? You could make it easy for me to escape, and no one would ever know. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened. Look, I’ll split it two ways with you, if you like. That’s more than a couple of thousand. It’s more than you’re likely to earn in a lifetime in this goddam place.”
“Sorry, Mr Griffin. Let you out, and you’d skip with the money and I’d never see you again. And I’d get the bullet and be out of a job. No, Mr Griffin, I couldn’t take the risk.”
“You’re mad. No one would ever suspect you, and later on you could live on easy street the rest of your life.”
“I’m sorry, Mr Griffin. Would you think to draw me a map of where it’s hidden?”
“And let you find it and clear off with the lot! Oh no, Mr Grant. I’m not as stupid as all that.”
“Well, just as you like. You’re going to hang, so you won’t have any use for the money anyhow.”
Griffin knew when he was beaten.
“All right, then. I’ll draw you a map on condition you send £500 to my sister in Ireland. I’d look for a valise if I were you.”
Assistant Turnkey Grant was in a quandary. Should he, or shouldn’t he? If it was ever found out that he had found the money and kept it, he would most likely find himself behind bars for a good long stretch. But, then again, it was more money than he was ever likely to own. How would he ever be found out? Griffin would soon be dead. No one else need ever know.
“Well,” Griffin said. “What about it? You don’t stand much of a risk, do you, for all you’ll get out of it? Just £500 to my sister and the rest’s yours.”
“All right, Mr Griffin. I’ll take you up on that.”
“Give me your word of honour and I’ll let you have the map.”
“I swear on my honour, Mr Griffin.”
“Then give me a page out of your notebook and a pencil and I’ll do it now.”
Grant watched as he drew a rough sketch of the area near the police camp and Ottley’s. On the back and front he wrote his sister’s address.
“Here you are,” he said, “take it, and may all the devils of hell get you if you don’t keep your promise to my sister.”
Grant took away the map. It didn’t tell him much, and he still felt scared. He made up his mind that he’d tell the head turnkey, Mr Lee, what Griffin had proposed, and see what he had to say.
“Do you think we should go to Elliott and tell him all about it?” Lee asked him.
“No. Not yet. Let’s have a look for it first. You never know Griffin might just be telling the truth.”
“All right. Seeing as we’re both off tonight, what about we go down Ottley’s way and have a look around. Pity he didn’t say more precisely where it was. In a valise, did he say?”
“Yes, but he wouldn’t put his finger on it.”
They spent part of the night down around the Saw Mill Paddock, the creek and lagoon at the back of Ottley’s. They found nothing.
When Grant saw Griffin the next day he tried to get him to spell out exactly where the valise was hidden.
“I’ve told you all I’m going to. If you’re so stupid not to be able to find it from the map I gave you, you don’t deserve it.”
“I don’t believe you, Griffin. I think you’re trying to pull the wool over my eyes.”
“Just as you like, Mr Grant. If you can’t find it someone else will, some day, if it’s not destroyed by then.”
Grant and Lee spent another night out searching. They met with no better luck.
The next day Griffin laughed openly at him.
“Looks like you’ll have to spend the rest of your days here looking after lags like me, doesn’t it, Mr Grant? It would be much easier if you let me slip out. Then we’d split even‑stevens, like I said.”
“Nothing doing, Mr Griffin. You’re going to hang in a day or so. They’re already getting the scaffold ready. You’re guilty. You’ve as good as admitted it, and you deserve what’s coming to you.”
“All right. I’ll admit it to you. I did it, and now I want to make a proper confession.”
“Then why don’t you make it to Elliott or someone like that? Why me?”
“Because you’re straight, see, and will put my confession in just as I tell it to you. Now sit down beside me. I won’t attack you or anything. Just listen carefully. You can get it all down, later on. Promise you’ll hand it to Elliott tomorrow.”
“You said you can trust me. I'm listening.”
That night he wrote, as best he could remember, what Griffin had told him. He took it to Lee.
“What do you think I should do?” he asked.
“Forget about it for now. Nothing can save him.”
The next two days passed. Grant found excuses to keep away from Griffin’s cell. On Monday the execution was to take place. The two visiting clergymen, Reverend Mr Botting and Reverend Mr Smith, found him to be composed and unconcerned. He still proclaimed his innocence. He asked them if he could see Turnkey Grant, but Grant was away for the weekend. He listened to the sounds of the scaffold being constructed. The reverend gentlemen pleaded with him to confess before he went to meet his Maker. He remained adamant.
“I have nothing to confess. As God is my Maker, I am innocent.”
Early on Monday morning, 1 June 1868, he went up the scaffold steps two or three at a time. At the drop he stood rigidly to attention.
“Prisoner Griffin,” the hangman said, “do you have anything to confess?”
Griffin's voice was firm. “No, I have nothing to confess.”
The white cap was placed in position.
“Go on, get it over with. I am ready,” he said. The bolt was drawn and Gold Commissioner and Police Magistrate Thomas John Griffin dropped to his death.
That afternoon Doctor Salmond sat at his desk to write the necessary certificate for the Colonial Secretary.
“I, David Salmond, being the Medical Officer of the Gaol of Rockhampton do hereby declare and certify that I have this day witnessed the execution of Thomas John Griffin, lately convicted and duly sentenced to death at the Circuit Court of Queensland held at Rockhampton on sixteenth day of March A.D. 1868, and I further certify that the said Thomas John Griffin was in pursuance of such sentence ‘hanged by the neck until his body was dead.’
“Given under my hand this first day of June A.D. 1868.
Griffin's body was buried in the Rockhampton cemetery.
Chief Turnkey Lee was a witness to the execution. He had added his signature as a witness to the formal certificate Sheriff Holloran was required to make out. Lee was badly shaken by what he had seen. He knew Grant still had Griffin’s confession. He knew what they should have done with it.
He also knew they should have told everything they knew about the hidden money and the map. The sight of Griffin’s body failing into emptiness through the trap burned in his mind. He felt he couldn’t take the strain any longer. He went to Grant, and together they decided to go to the authorities.
They went to see Mr Sheehy, the Gaol Governor, and he in turn went to inform the Sheriff.
“Mr Holloran,” Sheehy said, “I’ve just had information from Turnkeys Lee and Grant about a confession Griffin made before he died, and also about the stolen escort money.”
Holloran was startled.
“How long did they have this information, Mr Sheehy?”
“For nearly a week before Griffin died.”
“And when did they tell you about it?”
“Just now. I’ve come round right away to tell you what they told me, and give you the confession and the map Griffin gave to Grant.”
He handed them over. Sheriff Holloran read the badly written confession half‑aloud.
“I have the honour to state for the information of the Government that the Prisoner Thomas John Griffin made a statement to me to the effect that he did commit the murders at the Mackenzie. The part relative to the murders was as follows:
“When I left Bedford’s I went straight across and was by the track. When I was about 20 yards from the camp, Power jumped up and without challenge fired. The shot passed through my beard. I returned the fire in a crouching position. The shot must have entered at the eye. The report woke Cahill who attempted to fire but the cap only exploded.
“I fired at him and I think it took effect on the stomach, for he vomited directly. I walked up, and when I was within about five yards he again attempted to bring the pistol to bear on me. He had his arm in an upward position. I threw my pistol at him, struck it back to his shoulder, and it exploded and thus he shot himself, and that is why you may have noticed that I always said I never murdered Cahill. I left the camp and wandered about for some time. At length resolved to make up the fire. Got the Bags and took out the Notes. Destroyed the Wrappers; placed Power on the saddle; covered him with the blankets; tore a blanket in half; rolled the notes up like a swag; placed the pistols and left the Bedford’s. On the road down they worked very loose; that was the reason I kept Bedford in front. I went to the Club to get the valise to put them in.’
“This information was made to me by the prisoner, he believing that I would be a willing instrument to aid him in escaping or in supplying him with poison or a knife. The escape he could see was impossible through the constant watch that was kept. When all failed he then said that on condition of my remitting to his sister the sum of £500 and making the Bank pay full value for every note he would disclose to me the whereabouts of the valise and the notes.
“He gave me the information and I gave the same to the Sheriff.
I have the honour to be Sir
Your Obedient and Humble Servant Alfred Grant.”
“So,” said Holloran, “it seems we have two of a kind. Griffin’s confession is, of course, a pack of lies, and Grant’s cover‑up for himself is just as bad. Trying to make himself out as a goodie to protect his own skin.”
“Seems like it to me,” Sheehy answered.
They studied the map.
“I wonder if Griffin was only pulling their legs with this thing. What do you think?” asked Holloran.
“Could be. But he has his sister’s address up there in the corner, and again on the back.” He read it out.
“Elizabeth M. Griffin, Kennelworth Terrace, Rathgar, Dublin, Ireland.”
“Perhaps he really did have visions of the poor woman getting the money,” said Holloran.
“I wonder what she will think when she hears what happened to her brother? A shame you know,” Holloran continued. “By all accounts he came from a good family. Served with distinction at Crimea, too. And now, this. A bad way to end a promising career. Just goes to show, doesn't it?”
They took the map down to the A.J.S. Bank. Tom Hall studied it carefully.
“Not much to go on,” he said. “But my good friend Mr Pattison knows every twist and turn in the roads about here, and every waterhole and nook and cranny as well. If anyone can find it, he’s the one. I think we should organise a search party right away.”
“What about Grant and Lee?”
“I don’t think we want them with us, do you?”
“Perhaps they are entitled to come. There’s a reward for finding the money. Lee mentioned it to me when he gave me the map. If we find the valise with the aid of the map, will they be eligible for the reward?”
“I should think so. You had better let them come. Soon after lunch we’ll go down to Ottley’s and have a look around. I'll see if Pattison can come.”
They met at the bank and set off. They crossed the railway line and headed across the Saw Mill Paddock.
“I think we ought to split up,” Holloran said to Hall. “What say you and Mr Pattison go together, and me and Mr Sheehy and Grant can go with Lee. That way we can cover more ground.”
“I think somewhere down around Ottley’s would be the likely place,” Tom Hall said. “Griffin spent a lot of time there, so I reckon that’s where he would have headed. It’s near the camp, too, and he’d have known the area around there like the back of his hand.”
Grant and Lee wandered off in the Saw Mill Paddock on the opposite side of the road to the others. They studied their copy of the map again, though they already knew it by heart.
“You know, Grant,” said Lee suddenly, “that tree he’s got marked near the junction at Jones’s place must mean something It’s the only tree he’s got marked on the whole sketch.”
They had already looked near it for signs of freshly dug dirt They had also looked up the hollow logs nearby, but there was nothing.
“I’m going to have one more look.” Lee took the slashing knife he had brought with him and cleared the surrounding low brush. There was nothing. He tapped round the trunk. It sounded solid.
“Well, that rules this out,” Lee said. He leaned back against the tree and kicked at a large, half‑buried root. As he did, his foot fell into a well‑hidden hole between the root and trunk.
It took no more than a minute to toss out the loose earth to reveal a hollow that ran into the tree trunk just below ground level.
“Mr Holloran, Mr Sheehy,” Grant shouted. “We’ve found it,” and he held the valise up over his head. Hall and Pattison were also soon apprised the search was over.
On the way back into town, Grant asked about the reward money.
“You’ll get it, all right. Don't worry.”
To Pattison he said privately, “If you ask me, I think they knew where it was all the time. Hardly half an hour searching, and they had it. I don’t trust those two.”
Back at the bank, the valise was emptied and the money counted. Taking into account the £252 Griffin had paid to the Chinese diggers, there was only £18 missing. He had not had much time to enjoy the spoils.
Nor did Lee and Grant benefit a great deal. They received two things‑ their £200 reward, and their dismissal from the Government service.
The Colonial Secretary hoped that the case against Griffin was finally closed, but it was not to be.
Before his burial, rumours had spread in Rockhampton that Griffin’s body was not to be allowed to rest in peace. To thwart any desecration of his body, an unusual step was taken. The body of a Chinese sailor from a ship in port was buried on top of Griffin’s, but even that was not enough to stop the spread of rumours. Interference was suspected soon after the grave was closed.
On 8 June the Colonial Secretary received a telegram:
“Griffin’s grave has been disturbed. Subsequent to the burial another body was interred in the same grave. The authority of the Colonial Secretary is requested for the cemetery board to open the grave and ascertain particulars also instructions to Government Surveyor to superintend examination.
W. J. Brown,
Justice of the Peace & Chairman Cemetery Board.”
“Permission granted,” came back the reply.
The job was soon carried out. The Colonial Secretary grimaced as the next telegram was handed to him on 11 June.
“Griffin’s grave was examined yesterday. Griffin’s head has been removed. Cemetery Board recommends that a Reward be offered by the Government for discovery of perpetrators of outrage.
W. J. Brown Justice of the Peace.”
“Permission granted for offer of £20 reward,” was the reply.
Many were disgusted that such a price should be placed on any man’s head. Others said that every man, even Griffin, had as much right to be left in peace as a king or a queen.
No one came forward to claim the reward, though there were many who strongly suspected that the well‑respected Doctor Callaghan was behind the macabre deed. Griffin was such a complex character that it was possibly hoped that a phrenological study of his skull would further scientific knowledge.
Some time later his gold watch was raffled, and at a subsequent auction, eager souvenir hunters quickly snapped up his three saddles, his uniforms, tufts from his beard, and even lengths of the hangman’s rope that had terminated his life.
Since then, Griffin has been left to rest in peace.
Only his will remained of interest to anyone. The Colonial Secretary read the copy forwarded to him:
“This is the last will and testament of me Thomas John Augustus Griffin of Clermont of Queensland, Police Magistrate. I give, devise and bequest all my real estate of whatever description and wheresoever situated and also all my leasehold and other personal estates and effects whatsoever and wheresoever unto and to the use of my sister Elizabeth Margaret Griffin her executors administrators and assigns according to the nature and tenure thereof
And I appoint William John Brown of Rockhampton in the colony aforesaid executor of this my will.
In witness whereof I have herewith set my hand this third day of January one thousand eight hundred and sixty five.
Thomas John Griffin.”
The Colonial Secretary slowly folded it and put it back in its envelope.
“So be it, Griffin,” he said, “may your unfortunate soul rest in peace.”
NB. Sergeant Julian’s rank was subsequently restored to him.
John Francis Power was 25 years old when he died. Like Julian, who was from County Kerry, he had come from Ireland.
Patrick William Cahill was about 27 years old when he died. He also came from Ireland. Power and Cahill had been schoolmates before emigrating to Australia. They remained mates to the end. Their bodies were buried with full military honours in the Rockhampton cemetery and a monument was erected to their memory.
Hidden deep and almost unknown on the eastern side of the tangled mountain mass of the Buckland Tableland in Central Queensland is a place called Lethbridge's Pocket. Here at the turn of the century lived Old Kenniff, as tough and wiry as the mountain ponies that came from down Kosciusko way. Only a few stockmen knew of the Pocket, but before the end of 1902 the names Lethbridge and Kenniff were known throughout Australia.
The Kenniff family had drifted to the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales and settled near the Clarence River. Old James worked at whatever he could get‑ fencing, scrub‑clearing or minding cattle ‑ anything to keep his growing family together. He was generally respected as a reliable, hard‑working fellow who kept clear of the police. Their home was often no more than a rough, makeshift lean‑to, little better than a gunyah roofed with bark, a tent or even a convenient cave. Old Kenniff‑ that was the only name most people knew him by‑ used no more than his mark, X, to sign his name.
James, his second son, who had somehow managed to reach about fourth class at the different bush schools he sometimes attended, taught his elder brother Patrick how to do a little better than could his father, but that was the extent of their literacy.
From boyhood the brothers had shown a love of horses, the faster the better. When thirteen, Pat stole a good‑looking horse from the pound by jumping it over the rails and heading for the bush. His father lectured him, and later reluctantly paid the £5 fine to the court.
Other brushes with the law occurred. As the boys grew up they were never short of a pound or two, for clean‑skins were easy to pick up and just as easy to dispose of. They were usually well-mounted and the police, as well as others on the runs round about, looked upon them with suspicion. Finally, James was called before the court for “illegally using a horse” and given three months with hard labour in Grafton prison.
Pat, surly and quarrelsome, was the taller of the two. No one quite knew how to take him. One time he would be friendly, good‑natured and good company; then for no apparent reason he'd fly into a violent temper and threaten everyone in sight with murder. Neither of the Kenniffs turned his back on a fight, and if a king‑hit helped to settle the matter quickly, so much the better, for this was part of the Rafferty's rules of bush scrapping.
Pat had just turned 24 when both the boys were had up on a serious charge of cattle ‑stealing. Pat shouldered the blame and shielded his brother.
“Look after the Old Man, Mum and the kids while I'm away, Jim,” he called, as he was taken from the dock to serve four years behind bars. The warders wondered at the well‑behaved prisoner who seemed to bear no malice towards anyone.
“A strange bloke, Paddy Kenniff,” the turnkeys said.
Meanwhile James swore to himself that some day he'd repay his big brother for what he had done to keep him out of clink.
By now, the Kenniff name was too well known around the Northern Rivers. Everything they did was looked upon with suspicion. The Old Man made up his mind. When Paddy came home, they'd pack up traps and overland some place else, where they'd be unknown. Then they could start all over again with a clean slate. He had never been on a charge himself, and others felt sorry for him.
Besides, there were the two younger sons, Thomas and John, aged seven and eight, who were beginning to hero‑worship their big brothers. The Old Man was afraid they'd follow in their footsteps if he didn't do something about it. He talked it over with Jimmy, and they decided that Central Queensland, where vast new stations had been opened up, offered the best opportunities. When they went to see Paddy in gaol, they talked it over again, and it was agreed.
The first 25 years of settlement in Australia had seen the white man hemmed in by the mountain barrier of the Great Divide. In 1813 Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth showed the way through the mountains to the seemingly endless plains beyond. Then came Hume and Hovell, Sturt and Mitchell, to solve the tantalizing mystery of the outlet of the western rivers. Moving north in 1827, Cunningham showed the way to the Condamine, and opened up the riches of the Darling Downs to the squatters who always followed close in the footsteps of the explorers. The efforts of the Aborigines to hold back the white invader were generally futile.
The explorers Kennedy and Mitchell traversed the northwestern plains of the Maranoa, Barcoo and Warrego rivers and traced them to their headwaters in the Divide, where the great mountain ranges knotted themselves together to form the watershed of the Buckland Tableland. From the south and north other great rivers meandered like the tentacles of an octopus before joining the Fitzroy River to flow to the Pacific Ocean.
It was here, in the foothills of the Great Divide, that the vast cattle stations of Babiloora, Baringo, Carnarvon, Mount Moffatt and Merivale were established. Across the other side of the range was Meteor Downs station, owned for a time by William Kelman, who had discovered a pass across the mountains to link Meteor Downs with Carnarvon in the west. Travellers by way of Kelman's Gap, as it was known, would pass by Lethbridge's Creek and Lethbridge's Pocket, secreted deep in the mountain range. The area was called after R. C. Lethbridge, who ran a property backing onto the ranges between Carnarvon station and the growing town of Mitchell.
The nearest town to Meteor Downs head station was Springsure, some 30 miles away. By the 1890s the settlement of this part of Queensland was well established, and some of the great stations were already being subdivided and newcomers moving in.
A few months after Paddy's release, Old Kenniff and his two boys headed north. It was still early 1891 when they reached Springsure and settled down in a bark humpy on a remote part of a station unknown to them. Maybe it was part of Meteor Downs, but the name didn't matter much, so long as no one disturbed them in their far‑off corner.
As well as being chief cook and bottle‑washer, the Old Man looked after the few cattle they had managed to pick up on the way. There was plenty of casual work on the stations for the boys. While Paddy was a good stockman, James was a born horseman. Good stockmen were always in great demand in a country where white labour was in short supply. For a time they accepted the new life and were well liked. Their past was not questioned.
When they wanted a break from station work, they went kangaroo shooting, or snared or shot possums or koalas, for skins were always in demand. For added thrills, they turned to horse-breaking, at which James excelled.
Life was never dull. There were always good horses on the vast runs, for station owners prided themselves on the quality of their blood stock, particularly at bush race‑meetings. Sometimes the top horses escaped and took to the mountains, and were lost in the tangled ranges or hidden river valleys and gorges. Here the “bloods” mated with heavy draughts that found their way into the wilderness.
The progeny was a powerful stock horse much in demand, and the Kenniffs would round up the pick of these brumbies for James to break. A “Jimmy‑Kenniff‑ broken‑in‑horse” brought good money, and no one asked too many questions about where it came from.
The boys were inseparable as they roamed the ranges and scoured the concealed watering places where the clean‑skins came to drink. There was no way any overseer could keep an eye on ever‑expanding mobs. Some of the “lost” cattle turned up at mustering time, but others disappeared and were never accounted for.
Old Kenniff and his boys were happy. If they were ever suspected of helping themselves to a few head of cattle or a horse or two, they were never accused. They were good workers and James was always in demand for breaking in “specials.” As a team, the brothers found no difficulty holding their own in any company. Money was never a very real problem, for disposing of cattle and horses they “came by in the line of their work” was easy. Buyers usually asked few questions, particularly as animals the Kenniffs had to sell were always at a very reasonable price. The Old Man had long since given up pleading with his boys to go straight.
After two years in the Springsure district the Old Man thought it was time to move on again. Their reputation was slowly catching up with them, though no one had laid any charges against them.
“It's only a matter of time,” he said as they held a council‑of-war around the campfire. Paddy and James agreed. They suspected there were greener pastures on the other side of the mountains, anyway
The old man and his sons crossed the Great Divide by way of Meteor Downs, Lethbridge's Pocket and Kelman's Gap, and then headed west to the Upper Warrego. Here, some of the big blocks of leased land were being resumed for closer settlement by the Government.
To the south of Carnarvon and Babiloora they found two blocks of about 35 square miles for the going rental of £39 per year. They scouted the country, liked what they saw, and decided it shouldn't be too difficult to find more stock to add to what they had brought with them. They registered their brand of K.T.G., but let their licence lapse when they saw the prospects of a better block becoming available from a similarly resumed section of Carnarvon station. This was a rugged area of some 40 square miles known as “Ralph.” The old man paid the fee of 15 shillings per square mile and awaited the permit to take over.
The New Year of 1895 looked full of promise for the Kenniffs, despite some strife the two boys had found themselves in towards the end of the old year.
They had been caught with two racehorses stolen from Lansdowne station. They had tampered with the brands with a pocket knife and the manager had warned them off, but had refrained from pressing a charge. This only made the Kenniffs more arrogant and reinforced their belief that others were afraid to dob them in for fear of retribution. They again rode the ranges freely, making an easy living picking up cattle and horses from here and there.
Of course, if duffers were caught red‑handed on or near home properties, the owners were as likely as not to take the law into their own hands rather than report to the police. A stirrup iron swinging on a long leather was a terrible weapon, even more terrible than a stock whip. There was little likelihood the duffer would report such an assault, and he would think twice before he returned to the same place for a second dose of the same medicine.
Paddy and Jimmy, always well mounted and well armed, got away with more than most others, not that they had ever, as far as was known, drawn a gun‑ fist fights aplenty and much bravado, but not guns. Here on their new stamping‑ground they were soon well known as far away as Roma, Charleville and Mitchell, and even on the eastern side of the Range at Eidsvold.
Now, in the New Year, they were waiting to take over Ralph, which was surrounded by Carnarvon, Babiloora, and Mount Moffatt to the east. The managers of these stations shuddered at the thought of having the Kenniffs as neighbours.
Early in 1895 the boys were caught with two more stolen racehorses. It was the opportunity the police were waiting for. Patrick was given three years and James two. With the Kenniffs safely out of the way on St Helena, the managers on both sides of the range heaved a sigh of relief.
The Old Man's application for Ralph was knocked back a month after the boys were taken away. Thankfully his two younger sons, Thomas and John, who were still with him, had kept their noses clean, but the family was always under the surveillance of the law.
In March 1897, when James was released and was back with the family, the Old Man again applied for, and was granted, Ralph under the normal yearly licence system.
March of the next year saw Pat home as well, and they began building up their stock on Ralph and some new smaller areas they were holding at Babiloora and Augathella. The Kenniffs were on the way to questionably lawful prosperity with a reported thousand head of cattle, unfortunately mostly at the expense of surrounding stations.
Then, to their dismay, Paddy fell foul of the law once more. In August 1899 he was given three years on the lesser charge of receiving stolen cheques from a robbery carried out earlier that year at Yuelba, some 35 miles east of Roma. There were many who believed, however, that he had been framed by the police and put away for safe keeping.
In December, the family received a further blow. Ralph was taken from them when they sought to renew their annual licence. This deprived them of their main pasturage. But worse was to follow in December 1900, when the Government decided to establish the Upper Warrego police station on a square mile block within Ralph. From here the police would be able to keep a close eye on what the Kenniffs were about on their neighbouring holdings. Unless they moved further afield, their cattle duffing days seemed at an end.
By November 1901 Patrick was again released, and returned home to find most things had changed. The family had been forced to surrender all their holdings and were continually on the move with the small mob of cattle and horses they still retained.
Patrick and James were bitter, for they felt that the family had been victimized and hounded from their rightful land. Their terms behind bars had hardened them even more, despite their good behaviour there. They looked upon the Upper Warrego stations of Carnarvon, Babiloora and Mount Moffatt as their special territory, and they vowed they would make their owners pay for the way they had been treated.
The older brothers stole the best horses they could lay their hands on, armed themselves with Winchesters and Colt revolvers, and set about terrorising and bullying the neighbourhood. Back in the ranges they knew so well, they were secure. No one knew where they would turn up next, for their excellent horses could carry them long distances overnight.
Despite their criminal record, they retained many friends who looked upon them as others had earlier looked upon the Kellys. Many felt the Kenniffs had been hounded by the police and blamed for duffing committed by others. These friends were ready to shelter them and keep them informed of the whereabouts of the traps.
At the popular bush race‑meetings the Kenniffs prided themselves on their choice of horseflesh and were ready to challenge anyone for a good wager. They always had money, and so had plenty of drinking mates. When they came to town, the coppers kept an eye on them, waiting for an excuse to pick them up, but somehow they managed to keep clear and within the law as they gambled, swopped, bought or sold. As well, the Old Man and his younger sons backed them up with unquestioned loyalty, and always kept a camp and a feed ready for them whenever they needed it. However, many of the station managers feared the Kenniffs would one day go too far with their daredevil recklessness, and then someone would get hurt.
The Kenniffs Challenged
In 1900 Carnarvon station, one of the Kenniffs' particular targets, came under new management. Albert Christian Dahlke was only 26 when he was sent by the Collins family from one of their Beaudesert holding's to take over. The Dahlke family had emigrated from Germany and had eventually settled as very respectable pioneers in the Gayndah district. The Australian-born children grew to be typical of this country even though their hard‑working parents still spoke very broken English. Young Albert was described as being strong and intelligent. He was known to be a first‑class horseman who knew how to manage “rowdy” cattle. As well, he was quite able to handle himself when it came to a scrap, not that he ever went looking for one. He was the type of manager a place like Carnarvon needed, for there was no way that Paddy or Jimmy Kenniff could bluff him. He let it be known from the very beginning that duffers on his property would not be welcome, and that included the Kenniffs. News of Dahlke's arrival soon spread and the managers of surrounding stations offered to back him up.
The Kenniffs accepted the challenge, and let it be known that Dahlke would have his work cut out keeping them off any property they cared to ride.
With war thus declared, Dahlke went out with his stockmen and burnt all unauthorised yards on the property. These were usually built across narrow, almost inaccessible valleys, so that animals could be driven into them and then held until they could be disposed of.
But the Kenniffs knew the country almost as well as the backs of their hands. As one lot of fences were destroyed, they built others. The watching station managers waited for a showdown.
Then, at a race‑meeting at Babiloora, Paddy found himself up against Dahlke, who prided his mare Boadicea as the best in the district‑ Paddy took him on, but from the start of the race it was obvious that Boadicea was too good. Later, after some drinking and urging on by his mates, Paddy found Dahlke and accused him of riding a dirty race. The crowd gathered round as they shaped up. Paddy was a well‑known exponent of the king hit, but Dahlke didn't give him the chance.
“Come on, Pat,” yelled Jim, “kill the bastard!”
The Kenniff sympathisers urged on their hero, but when it was all over, Paddy was a bloodied mess. Dahlke bent over him and offered his hand.
“Shake on it, Paddy,” he said, without bitterness.
“You bastard, Dahlke,” Pat ground out from behind a split lip and bloodied teeth. “I'll get you for this. Just see if I don't!”
“Just as you like, Paddy. I'll be ready for you any time you wish.” And without a second glance at his sorry‑looking opponent, Dahlke strode off.
The Kenniffs left the race‑meeting and went back to their camp. Dahlke had out‑ridden and out‑fought him in front of everyone, and he vowed he would never rest until he was square.
It wasn't long before Jimmy was hanging around Carnarvon, hoping to avenge his brother. Dahlke met him, alone and away from the main station, and ordered him off. When Kenniff defied him and threatened him with his stirrup iron, Dahlke called his bluff.
“I'll do to you the same as I did to your brother if you don't clear off, Jimmy,” he told him.
“All right, Dahlke,” Jimmy answered, with a string of obscenities, “but you haven't seen the last of me yet, not by a long chalk. Just you wait and see.”
He turned his horse and galloped away.
Within the week he was back, this time to be faced by Jos Ryan, head stockman on Carnarvon. On a previous occasion when he had picked a fight with Ryan on being ordered off the property, Ryan had been thrashed. Now he went in fear for his life. When Jimmy menaced him with a swinging stirrup iron, he turned and galloped off.
“Don't forget to tell bloody Dahlke, will you?” Kenniff yelled after him. “Tell him Paddy and me'll get him when we're good and ready.”
Back at the now well‑established Upper Warrego police station, Senior Constable George Doyle was in charge of Constable Stephen Millard and a black tracker, Sam Johnson.
The station, which had three rooms serving as sleeping quarters, cell, and kitchen, was on raised stumps. A detached galvanised building with a dirt floor was used as a harness room. It was a fairly typical outpost police station, and it drew largely on nearby homesteads for supplies. Of necessity, the men who manned such stations were good horsemen and good bushmen, well able to take care of themselves during the long periods when they found themselves out of contact with anyone else. It was their business to know as many as possible of the whites and blacks who worked on the properties. Naturally, Doyle and Millard had heard plenty about the Kenniffs.
Some 25 to 30 miles south of Mount Moffatt homestead was the Merivale outstation. The Kenniffs had singled out Merivale for more than its fair share of attention, it seemed. Paddy appeared to have a belief that most Merivale horses somehow belonged to the Kenniffs, and that they had a perfect right to help themselves to any they wanted. Early in 1902, Constable Doyle had gone to Merivale to apprehend Paddy on a charge of horse-stealing.
Paddy remained defiantly in his saddle as Doyle rode up.
“Good morning, Constable Doyle,” Paddy said pleasantly. “What brings you here today?”
“I've got a warrant against you, Patrick Kenniff,” Doyle replied, just as evenly.
“Now that's nice of you, Constable. What for this time?”
“For horse‑stealing, Paddy, and that horse you're riding now is one of them,” Doyle told him, pointing to the shoulder brand of his mount. “That's not your brand, Paddy.”
“I don't give a damn what the bloody brand says. This is a Kenniff horse. If it's not our brand, then someone must have changed it, like we always get accused of doing.”
“Don't be stupid, Paddy. You know quite well that's a Merivale horse.”
“Well, just try to take him from me, Doyle!”
“All right, Paddy, if that's what you want.” Doyle drew his revolver. “I'm taking you in, Patrick Kenniff.”
“Like bloody hell you are.” In a twinkling, Doyle found himself looking down the barrel of Paddy's colt.
“Don't be mad, Paddy. Put that thing away before you get yourself into worse trouble.”
For a long minute they eyed each other.
“I could kill you, Doyle,” Paddy said, “but I won't. The Kenniffs aren't killers.”
He put away his gun and together they rode companionably into Mitchell, as if no threats had ever been made.
The western towns were reluctant to convict duffers, and in particular, the Kenniffs. To no one's surprise, the horse‑stealing charge was dropped and a lesser charge of travelling stock without a permit was brought against him.
Paddy smiled as he handed over his fine.
The next day a police horse disappeared from the Mitchell yards.
The following month, Doyle received a message from Charleville that the two Kenniffs were wanted on a charge of horse‑stealing from Springsure. Then another message was received. The brothers were back at Merivale, rounding up more horses. Soon after, news came in that Sunnyvale, a Merivale outstation, had been burned and property stolen. It seemed that the Kenniffs were on the warpath with a vengeance
On Good Friday, 28 March 1902, Senior Constable Doyle left the Upper Warrego police station with Sam Johnson, the black tracker, and Albert Dahlke, who had called at the station the day before and stayed the night.
Doyle rode a black police horse called George. On the front right‑hand side of the saddle, he housed his police issue Webley revolver with five cartridges in the chamber. In his ammunition belt he carried five spare rounds. As usual he wore his cabbage-tree hat, bound with leather, and his old, faded, worse‑for‑wear black serge coat. He wore a light‑coloured tie with the white Oxford shirt with a red stripe. Its long sleeves were held up with two armbands made of twisted wool. Two cylindrical metal clasps secured the ends of the arm bands. His regular issue khaki canton moleskins showed signs of long hours in the saddle. Low on the heels of his elastic‑sided boots were the police type of short‑necked spurs. On his ring finger, he wore a heavy, plain gold ring. This was his usual working apparel.
“See you on Wednesday, Steve,” he told Constable Millard as he swung himself into the saddle. “Don't leave the station unattended till I get back.”
Dahlke rode Boadicea with ease as they set off at a relaxed canter. Sam Johnson had always had an eye for Mr Dahlke. He wished his old chestnut plug, Tommy Dodd, was a bit more like Boadicea. The bay packhorse, Dandy Pat, carried leather pack-bags fastened with a leather surcingle which flapped as they jogtrotted behind, heading down towards the horse‑paddock gate. As he brought up the rear, he admired Mr Dahlke's straight back and easy seat. He looked like a soldier, the way he rode with his coat buttoned correctly over faded khaki trousers. Sam wondered why he wore two long bouquet pins, with glassy bead heads, in the lapel of his coat. Only his broad‑brimmed, high‑crowned cabbage‑tree hat with the fine metal chin strap with long links, looked out of place.
Where Doyle had short‑necked spurs, Sam observed that Mr Dahlke's were long‑necked, with bigger, sharper rowels. He never carried a gun, but his long stock-whip with the plaited leather handle was a weapon no one would like to face at close range.
Sam continued to jog along at the rear with the packhorse.
It didn't enter Constable Doyle's head that there was anything wrong in his taking Dahlke, a civilian, with him to apprehend the Kenniffs, though he knew there was much animosity between them. Dahlke was unarmed, anyway, but he would still be a good man to have with him if there was trouble. The Kenniffs had only once offered any resistance to arrest and Doyle didn't think it would be any different this time. Still, since Paddy had come home the last time the two boys had been in strife over and over again, and they appeared more arrogant and resentful than ever.
But Doyle hadn't heard of the brush that had taken place between the Kenniffs and Ryan the night before, or he might have thought better of taking Dahlke along with him, and Dahlke himself might have been more than concerned.
Jos Ryan would later relate the episode in a sworn statement in court:
“I am the head stockman at Carnarvon Station. I was at the station on Good Friday night last. Mr Dahlke had gone to Ralph Police Station the previous evening and had not returned. About 7.30 p.m. I was standing at the blacksmith shop near the station when Thomas Kenniff walked up to me from the direction of the creek and said, ‘Is Mr Dahlke home?’ I replied, ‘No, but he will be back tonight.’ I always said this to the Kenniffs if they enquired for him when absent, even though I knew he was not returning for days. He said, ‘I want a little tobacco.’ I gave him two sticks of tobacco and he walked away. About twenty minutes afterwards, I was sitting at supper in the kitchen when I heard James Kenniffs voice asking Mrs McCann, who was sitting near the door, for food. I got up from the table and went to the door and saw the three Kenniffs, Paddy, James and Tom standing on
the kitchen veranda close together and three saddle horses hanging at the horse rail close by.
“James said, ‘Where is Dahlke?’ I replied he was out, but would come back tonight. He said ‘What bloody yarn have you been spinning about Dahlke giving me a hiding?’ I said, ‘I have been spinning no yarns about you.’ He said, ‘Yes, you have,’ and becoming very aggressive said, ‘We came tonight to meet you and Dahlke together to give you a bloody hiding.’ Just then James made a rush with his clenched fist, striking at my face, which he missed. I received the blow on my shoulder. He then stood back and said, ‘Dahlke will be home tonight and we will see both you buggers in the morning.’ Then they turned to go away when Paddy said, holding a revolver in his hand, ‘Whatever we do to Dahlke we will bloody well do to you.’ Then they went to the horses and rode away.”
Now, unknowing of this incident, Doyle, Dahlke and Sam Johnson rode to Carnarvon station and then on to Mount Moffatt, where they stayed the night. They told Charlie Tom, who was in charge of Mount Moffatt, that they were out to bring in the Kenniffs, and asked whether he had seen them.
“No, but I think I can help you,” he said. “One of my stockmen told me he saw fresh tracks of five horses down near Western Branch. They seemed to be heading north towards Marlong and Kelman's Gap.”
Doyle nodded to Dahlke.
“That'll be them,” he said, “heading for Lethbridge's Pocket, I reckon.”
On Saturday morning they rode on, with Charlie Tom guiding them, to the place where the tracks had been seen on Western Branch. The tracks were still easy to pick up.
Tom left them there and headed back to Mount Moffatt.
Sam had little trouble following the tracks, for no effort had been made to hide them by brushing them with branches. They camped that night just west of the range on Marlong Creek, so that they would be able to cover the last 6 miles to the Pocket first thing in the morning.
Doyle had not previously been to Lethbridge's Pocket, but Dahlke had, several times, and knew well the lay of the land. So did Sam.
Early on Easter Sunday morning they moved on, following the bridle‑track over the range. Then they began riding down the lightly timbered hillside, which was covered here and there with patches of dogwood scrub. At this time of the year Lethbridge's Creek, which meandered through the valley, was little more than a number of drying waterholes. The few showers that had fallen were patchy and thin.
What happened next is best conveyed by Sam's sworn evidence, also later produced in court:
“I went first leading the packhorse and Doyle and Dahlke came along close together. We went about six miles like that and then we saw the Kenniffs. I saw them first. They were Tom Kenniff, Pat Kenniff and James Kenniff‑ the young fellow, not the old man. They were coming on, walking their horses back towards us. I saw them and I pulled up and said to Doyle, ‘There they come.’
“Doyle was just behind me. I let the packhorse go. Doyle raced after the Kenniffs, who turned round and raced away. Dahlke went after them too. Tom Kenniff and Pat Kenniff went together one way and Jim Kenniff went another way. Doyle and Dahlke raced after Jim. I galloped a little way after Tom and Pat, and then I turned around and came back to Doyle and Dahlke. I rode right up to them. Dahlke was on his horse holding Jim Kenniffs horse by the rein of the bridle. Jim Kenniff was on his horse and Doyle was pulling him off.
“When Doyle had pulled Jim off his horse, Doyle said to me ‘Go back and get the packhorse.’ The handcuffs were in the pack.
“From where the packhorse was, I was out of sight of Doyle and Dahlke and Jim Kenniff. There were too many trees for me to see them. Before I got to the packhorse I heard one shot fired. When I got to the packhorse, I heard another shot fired. I caught the packhorse. After I caught him I heard three more shots, five shots altogether. They were all loud shots, none louder than any other. I know Mr Doyle's revolver that he had with him that day was in his pouch. I did not think the shots came from Doyle's revolver.
“After I heard the shots I continued to lead the packhorse. I saw Jim Kenniff and Pat Kenniff coming towards me riding on horseback. They were coming fast, galloping.
“They did not sing out to me. I let go of the halter of the packhorse when I saw them coming and I cleared. I cleared because I could not see Doyle or Dahlke. I have never seen them since. After I got through the scrub I got to where Burke was working at a place called Pump Hole. I told Burke, ‘I think Doyle and Dahlke got shot,’ and I asked him to come with me.
“When we got near the place I saw Doyle's horse and the packhorse. I saw them before we got there. Burke said to me, ‘Are you frightened to go up there and I said, ‘I am frightened a little bit.’ Burke said, ‘You stop here and I'll go up and see,’ and I stopped. He went on and came back in a little while and brought my packhorse and Dahlke's horse. I looked at Dahlke's saddle and saw there was a lot of blood on the front of it. It was fresh blood.
The pack‑bags were not on the pack when Burke brought the packhorse to me. Burke told me he saw the pack‑bags on the ground.
“I was close to Jim Kenniff that day when Doyle had him. He had a red necktie and he had a coat. The coat was grey and he had on beaver moleskin trousers.
“I stopped there when Burke brought the horses to me and Burke went back a second time to see if he could see Dahlke or Doyle. Burke did not stay there very long that time and he came back to me. He said he saw a hat there but couldn't find Dahlke or Doyle.
“We then went to Marlong and took the horses. When we got to Marlong, Burke left me. I went to Mount Moffatt and took the horses with me. When I got to Mount Moffatt, I told Mr Tom I thought Dahlke and Doyle had got shot and told him all about it and showed him Dahlke's saddle.
“Mr Tom and I started again that night for Mitchell and I took Mr Dahlke's mare and saddle and Doyle's packhorse with me. I made a statement at Mitchell to Chief Inspector Douglas. It was read to me and I made my mark on it.
“I had been twice before to the place where Doyle and Dahlke and I met Pat, Jim and Tom Kenniff. I call the place Lethbridge's Pocket
Sam (X His Mark) Johnson.”
When Burke left Sam at Marlong he hurried to Carnarvon station, hoping somehow that Doyle and Dahlke may have escaped. It was late when he got there.
“Have you seen the boss?” he called to Jos Ryan.
“Not since he left here to go to see Doyle at the station. Why?”
“I think he's been shot by the Kenniffs up at Lethbridge's.”
“My God,” Ryan started to say, but Burke cut him off.
“And Doyle too. They must have got the two of them.” He quickly told Ryan what he thought had happened.
Without wasting time, Jos Ryan caught his horse and set off rapidly into the night for the police station 12 miles away.
Millard was in a quandary when Ryan arrived, for Doyle had told him he wouldn't be back until Wednesday and that he wasn't to leave the station unattended. Besides, there weren't any police horses on hand, so it was not until Monday morning that he borrowed a horse and rode over to Carnarvon to find out if there was any further news. Mrs McCann told him that Burke had gone back to the Pump Hole, about 9 miles east towards Lethbridge's, so Millard again returned to the police station.
In his evidence before the Court in Rockhampton Burke in turn related what had happened when he went back to Lethbridge's Pocket:
“I stayed at Carnarvon a couple of hours and then went back to the Pump Hole. Tapp and Lee, who were two travellers on the road, had camped at the Pump Hole and were still there. They had come in by the head of Meteor Creek and would have passed Lethbridge's Pocket about 8 miles away on the Sunday morning, but they didn't hear any shots. I told them what happened and when I told them I was going back in the morning, Tapp said he would come with me if I got him a horse. This was Tuesday, 1 April.
“When I got there I searched around with Tapp for a couple of hours. We were about 200 yards apart when Tapp whistled to me. I went down to him and he showed me where three fires had been. He showed me where there was clotted blood alongside one of the fires. I looked around and found two pairs of spurs at the foot of a tree near the fire. I recognised the spurs as belonging to Constable Doyle and Mr Dahlke. There was no sign of the pack‑bags and the hat which I had seen on Sunday but there were some marks where the pack‑bags had been dragged along the
ground. About 90 yards away I could see where a big log had been burnt. Parts of it were still burning. The log appeared to be about 4 feet round. Judging from the stump, if the log was hollow, it would have been big enough to put a body in. We did not find anything else about there, only where a fire had been made as if somebody had camped there.
“We then went back to the Pump Hole and on Wednesday I went to Carnarvon and Constable Millard joined me. On Thursday we went back to Lethbridge's and I showed him everything. After dinner Millard asked me to take him down to where Sam said Old Kenniff was camped. We went about a mile and a half and found Constable Doyle's horse, George, with the saddle still on and the two pack‑bags which I had seen beside the track on Sunday. Constable Millard examined everything in my presence.”
In his evidence, Millard described this examination, but it was Dr Voss, a medical practitioner who also later examined the packs, who gave the full, horrific details:
“The pack‑bags were full of ashes, and on examining these I have sorted out various fragments of human skull and vertebrae. One portion was charred by the fire and the flesh was still adhering to it. There were portions of bones of the palm and fingers and a number of broken teeth. There were buttons, a piece of a stud, two peculiar pins and metal rings which were a pair.
“From my examination of the body portions, thickness and size and state of the teeth, I concluded they were fully grown males. I am unable to say the cause of death of the men, but they were subject to a great deal of heat and a good deal of force. The breaking of the bones could quite readily have been effected by such an implement as this stone on exhibit.”
Immediately Sam Johnson's story was told, the search was on for the Kenniffs.
Senior Sergeant Rody Byrne of Toowoomba was already on the way to Merivale after the reported burning of the outhouse and the theft of the horses. Immediately he set off for Springsure, which he knew was one of the favourite stamping grounds of the wanted men. He felt sure they would return to their old haunts to recoup before going on the rampage again. Some 20 miles from Springsure, at Uraway Springs, he caught up with Old Kenniff and the two younger boys, Thomas and John. He took them in on charges of horse‑stealing and of having in their possession stolen goods from the raid on Sunnyvale. There was no sign of Paddy or Jim, and the others denied having seen them for quite a while.
Soon stories began to drift in as to the fugitives' whereabouts. They had left Springsure and the Upper Warrego‑Maranoa districts and had taken to the fastness and security of the Great Dividing Range with its hidden valleys and multitude of unknown caves. Always there were remote station shelters and “friends,” afraid to be otherwise, who offered them food and said nothing about their visits.
At Chinchilla they raided an outstation, expecting to find provisions, but the manager had taken the precaution, as had most others, of removing all stores. As arrogant as ever, the Kenniffs scrawled an obscene note and added, “We'll be back. Remember Dahlke ‑ K.”
They then holed up in the rugged Bunya Mountains and, with little help from the terrified settlers, the police were at their wits' end to find them.
The country the Kenniffs had to roam was too great for any force to patrol with effectiveness, so the police asked the Government to offer a substantial reward. A supplement to the Queensland Government Gazette of 19 April 1902 read:
“His Excellency the Governor, with the advice of the Executive Council, has been pleased to direct that a Reward of £1000 be paid for information that will lead to the capture of the murderers of the two persons whose remains, found at Carnarvon on 4 April 1902, are believed to be those of Constable George Doyle and Albert C. Dahlke, who were last seen alive at or near Carnarvon on Sunday, the 30 March 1902, when in pursuance of his duty, the said Constable George Doyle, accompanied by the said Albert C. Dahlke, was in sight of and in immediate, pursuit of Patrick Kenniff and James Kenniff who are now charged on suspicion of murdering the aforesaid men, and who were in the company of Thomas Kenniff, who has since been arrested. His Excellency, with the advice aforesaid, has been further pleased to direct that a pardon be granted to any person concerned in the crime, not being the principal offender, who may give such information.”
The police now pounced on anyone suspected of aiding the Kenniffs in any way. Some were taken in under some pretext of aiding and abetting, whilst others were harassed so much that they found it more comfortable to temporarily leave the district.
Still no one was willing to come forward with information.
Close to the southern slopes of the Carnarvon Range was Westgrove station, partly watered by Hutton Creek. On this creek was camped a man with about 15 head of horses. Acting on a tip, Senior Sergeant Byrne kept him under surveillance. When he finally departed, the police noticed that he had two fewer horses than he had had originally. They suspected that the Kenniffs might be about to come in for a change of mount.
Byrne decided that, at dawn next morning, they would make a thorough search of the surrounding scrub. In extended line they advanced stealthily. It was arranged that on a given signal from Byrne, a single shot, the party would rush the campsite. A shot from the direction of the campsite broke the crisp, pre‑dawn air. The party broke cover and rushed forward to find tethered to some trees, two saddled horses and a packhorse, fully laden as for a long trip.
Disappearing on foot into the heavy undergrowth were the two Kenniffs. Such was the haste of their departure that they had left behind the Winchester and Colt, ammunition, saddles, bridles, a daily newspaper and food including fresh bread and butter.
As well as the three tethered horses there was a fourth, in its death throes. The shot that had despatched it had been fired by one of the Kenniffs. As they were preparing to break camp it seemed they had found that one of the horses was lame, and rather than leave it wandering around to cause suspicion, they had shot it. It was this shot that brought the rush on the camp
The friend who had supplied the horses was soon picked up and charged.
No one imagined that Paddy and Jim would remain long un-mounted. At Baffle Creek, a tributary of the Dawson some 8 miles from where they had so narrowly escaped capture the day before, they carried out a successful raid. When the station cook went at daylight to prepare breakfast, he discovered his entire stock of cooked food had disappeared. Flour, tea and sugar were also gone and the cupboard was bare. Later it was found that the saddles of the manager and head stockman were missing, along with a pack‑saddle, a rifle and three horses.
It seemed strange that no one at the station had seen or heard a thing that night. Not even the station dogs had stirred. The Kenniffs were once again cook‑a‑hoop and in full flight.
Luck continued to run with the boys as they once again moved freely from station to station, helping themselves to horses and food as they needed. Managers and stockmen armed themselves, and every effort was made to leave as few provisions and as little equipment as possible at outstations. Jos Ryan, who had been beaten up more than once by the Kenniffs, was taken into safe custody by the police. A modest army of some 60 police were out on the hunt, but still the brothers eluded capture.
June came, and they continued leading the police a merry dance. As the police continued to hound anyone who was not cooperative, the Kenniffs found their circle of trusted friends diminishing. Living in poor shelters in the mountains in May and June they found that the nights were bitterly cold, and there were few opportunities to partake of warmth or sustaining food. The long dry spell continued, and good grass to keep the horses in top condition was difficult to find. The police were confident that soon their quarry would be forced from their lair.
Then news was leaked that the Kenniffs had forwarded a sum of money to a storekeeper in Mitchell to pay for provisions which they planned to pick up later. All the same, no one expected they would be stupid enough to come into a town bristling with police.
Late one evening, however, there was a knock on the door of the store, and when the storekeeper's sister answered the call there they were.
“Where's George?” Paddy asked.
“He's not home,” the frightened girl told him.
“Where is he? He knew we were coming, didn't he?”
“Yes, Mr Kenniff. He's been waiting, like you said. He's just gone out, but he'll be back later.”
“He better be! You tell him Paddy and Jim called. We'll be back later, and next time, if he knows what's good for him, he better be in. A word of this to the traps, and you and George'll end up like Doyle and Dahlke. You tell him that.”
Then they turned, and, unhurried, walked back down the street to lose themselves in the scrub just out of town.
The poor girl was too terrified to say a word to anyone of what had happened.
At midnight, they were back.
“Where's George?” Paddy demanded again.
“He hasn't come home yet. He said he would. I don't know what has happened to him,” she stammered.
The two went inside, looked around, and put some food in a bag. Before they left Paddy said, “You tell George we'll be back in a few days and he better have everything packed like we ordered and paid for, if he knows what's good for him!”
Two nights later, just before dawn, they returned. Jim remained out of sight holding the horses while Paddy moved across the deserted street towards the back door. Jim saw a shadow move.
“Quick, Pat,” he yelled. “The traps!”
Before a shot could be fired, the two Kenniffs were on their horses and spurring away to cross the bridge a short distance out of town. Pat's horse crashed through a fence recently erected across an old track, but they managed to make good their escape.
For some reason best known to themselves, the police who had set the trap had no horses on hand to take up an immediate chase More horses disappeared from Morven, about 50 miles to the west, and from Mungallala, back along the road to Mitchell. By now the search party had taken on the proportions of a small army, with Sub‑Inspectors Dillon and Malone, Senior‑Sergeant Byrne, Sergeants Portley and Lane, Acting Sergeants Nixon, McCulkin, King and Bell, 43 constables and 16 black trackers. There were also extra police stationed at Morven, Augathella, Tambo, Rolleston, Bauhinia, Banana, Taroom, Miles and Yuelba. The whole area between Mount Hutton and Augathella was under close scrutiny.
Two more abandoned horses, obviously hard‑ridden, were found wandering in a dry creek bed about 9 miles from Mitchell.
A report came in suggesting that the Kenniffs might be hiding in an abandoned hut near Back Creek about 6 miles out of town. The police had to be careful how they approached the wanted men, for they had so often vanished at the slightest warning.
A farmer, Mr Eaton, from near Back Creek, reported a bag of wheat stolen. On investigation, tracks of two unshod horses were found leading from the grain shed to a thick patch of brigalow scrub not far away, where the bag had been broken open and two horses allowed to feed.
The next day Malone set up a plan. At 3.20 a.m. three policemen, Meston, Scanlon and Cramb, with trackers Rankin and Bundi Jack, left Mitchell to search an area near the Bottle Tree Gate on the St George road, about 6 miles south of town. At daylight Meston had them on the tracks he had seen the day before The trackers led the way across stony ground where tracking was difficult, so the party dismounted and proceeded on foot.
They found a deserted camp and the place where the horses had been fed. The going was difficult with prickly pear, scattered brigalow and sandalwood logs.
Constable Cramb crept towards the crest of a low stony ridge and saw the two Kenniffs camped not more than 40 yards away. The police removed their boots and silently approached the top of the ridge, ready to make their final rush.
Paddy and Jim were preparing to break camp when one of the tethered horses sniffed the air and turned its head towards the crest. Paddy nudged his brother and pointed to the horse. They had lived their lives among horses and were sensitive to their every move.
Paddy dropped on his belly and crawled towards the top of the rise in the direction indicated by the sniffing horse. Carefully he raised his head from behind a log. Not more than 30 yards away he saw them. He dropped his head and, crouching low, ran back down the slope. But not before he had been seen.
“Quick, Jim,” he yelled. “Bloody traps!”
Before they had time to reach their mounts, Constable Cramb fired and brought down the two saddled horses. Jim snatched up two loaded rifles and made off through a fence towards the sandalwood scrub. Pat had the cartridge bandolier and had raced about 250 yards when he tripped and fell over a hidden log. Scanlon was close behind.
“Stop, or we'll shoot!” the Kenniffs heard from different directions and, as they continued to flee, shots rang out. Pat stopped, faced his hunters, and threw up his hands. Constables Tasker and Cramb kept him covered as they approached. Then they snapped on the handcuffs and the first of the Kenniffs was at last out of action. Jim had disappeared.
Meston and Scanlon searched the scrub and undergrowth for about half an hour without sighting their man. Soon after, Tasker and Cramb saw him doubling back towards them and Paddy from about 70 or 80 yards away.
Tasker called, “In the name of the law, stop, Jim Kenniff.”
“Come and get me,” he yelled as he turned and headed back into the scrub.
Cramb opened fire, but Jim kept running and was soon out of sight. Meston and Scanlon, attracted by the shots, also came running, but they took up the hunt again with no better luck than before. Jim had again vanished.
The party, with their captive, then returned to the Kenniff camp and found four horses, two of which were dead, two loaded Colt revolvers, one and a half bags of wheat, 25 pounds of flour, some tea and sugar, a billy can, a plucked fowl, some fresh johnny cakes and a lot of clothing.
They then headed for Mitchell, and had gone about 2 miles when they saw Jim about a quarter of a mile away running along the side of the road. Tasker and Cramb set off in pursuit and got within 100 yards of him. Cramb fired at him again. Jim bounded off into the scrub where the going was more difficult for the horses. Shortly afterwards he appeared again by the roadside.
“We've got Paddy,” Cramb called. “Give yourself up, Jim.”
“I'll surrender if Paddy's not shot.”
“Paddy's all right. Surrender, and nothing will happen to either of you.”
“Well, bring him out where I can see him,” Jim Kenniff called back.
They led him to a clear spot where he could be seen
“You all right, Paddy?” Jim yelled.
“Yes, I'm all right,” his brother called back.
Tasker, without any gun in his hands, rode slowly towards Jim.
“Throw down your guns, Jimmy. Don't make it any worse for yourself. We've got Paddy, so it's all up for you. Throw them down and no harm will be done to you.”
Desperately, Jim looked towards his brother and made to move towards him with guns half‑raised. Then he stopped, tossed both his rifles aside, and slowly raised his arms above his head.
Paddy watched as the cuffs were sprung on his brother's wrists
The party then made its way down the Mitchell road with the two Kenniffs side by side, a length of chain linking one to the other.
The long hunt for the killers of Senior Sergeant Doyle, police officer at the Upper Warrego police station, and Albert Christian Dahlke, manager of Carnarvon station, was over. It was now 16 June 1902.
Most observers thought the outcome of their trial a foregone conclusion because so much circumstantial evidence had been gathered against them since the murders had taken place on Easter Sunday morning, 30 March, two and a half month before.
His Worship, Mr G. Murray, Police Magistrate of Mitchell, along with a panel of Justices of the Peace, determined after a long hearing that there was a charge for the Kenniffs to face.
As the murders had been committed in the Central Queensland Police District, the trial was to take place in Rockhampton, before Mr Justice Virgil Power.
During this period of Australian history there appears to have been a strong wave of sympathy towards wrongdoers. In many cases where evidence weighed heavily against the accused, the jury inexplicably brought in a verdict of “not guilty.” This applied particularly to western towns, where the courts often found juries most reluctant to convict.
There had always been a great deal of sympathy shown towards the Kenniffs. When they were brought by the Western Mail to Brisbane a large crowd gathered at the station to meet them ‑ some out of curiosity, many to make a vociferous appeal on their behalf. Already petitions had been signed against use of the circumstantial evidence intended by the police.
As the police did not want a demonstration at Central Roma Street station, the prisoners were taken from the train at Milton, one stop from the city, from whence they were driven under tight security to Boggo Road Gaol. A fortunate spectator who happened to be at Milton wrote:
“Pat Kenniff, the elder brother, is taller by nearly half a head than the other. His beard, whilst not being cut right off, has been considerably trimmed, but even at that he looks very much like the police photos. His hair, short cropped, is turning grey, and his beard also has streaks of white. Jimmy is younger, much shorter, and more inclined to be a nuggety sort of man. He was minus a beard. On the way from the platform the elder brother concerned himself less at the curious glances of the public than the work of keeping in step, and his eyes were fixed on his feet most of the time. Jimmy on the other hand looked about him more and several times on the way down the platform cast his eyes up at the curious passengers on the train.”
The prisoners came from Mitchell in the charge of Sergeant Lane, who had with him Constables Scanlon, Meston and Cramb.
Old Kenniff, James Senior, and Thomas and John came up for trial in Rockhampton on two charges- the first of stealing a horse which was in their possession when they were picked up at Uraway Springs after the events of Easter Sunday. The horse was one of those stolen from Merivale. The evidence was convincing, but they jury brought in a verdict of not guilty of stealing, although they found Thomas guilty of a lesser charge of receiving,
The second charge was stealing a pack-saddle, a stock whip, a halter and a surcingle which they also had in their possession, but two jurors failed to agree and the Crown was again defeated, much to the glee of the pro-Kenniff sympathisers.
To counter this anti-establishment mood, the Commissioner of Police requested that a special jury be sworn in from 72 jurors. Special juries, by law, were drawn from a select group of professional men such accountants, brokers, engineers, architects and merchants. This excluded those whom the Crown might consider antagonistic to law and order. Besides, they argued, the evidence to be presented would be of a technical nature, based largely on circumstantial evidence, that was beyond the comprehension of the ordinary working man.
There was also a move to have the case heard in Roma. Understandably this was soon ruled out, for no Roma jury would have convicted the Kenniffs either.
Mr. McGrath, a Rockhampton solicitor, agreed to appear for the defence, while a Mr. Kingsbury was the Crown Prosecutor. Before the case had proceeded far, however, the defence claimed that through a misunderstanding they were unable to produce a key witness, named McIntosh, who could swear that Old Kenniff, Tom and John were at Emerald station miles from Lethbridge’s Pocket at the time of the crime.
As the Kenniffs were all in gaol the police had made no effort to locate McIntosh, whom they knew well enough. Without McIntosh, the Kenniffs' defence would be weakened considerably. However, Mr McGrath also claimed that as there was no evidence to prove Doyle and Dahlke were dead, there was no charge for the Kenniffs to face.
Doyle's father had previously filed a petition for leave to administer his son's estate. Had he been successful, this would have been used as evidence that his son was dead. After lengthy legal argument, it was ruled that the appeal should be held over until after the trial.
With a long delay facing the court until the vital defence witness, McIntosh, was found, the trial was re‑scheduled to come up at a later date before Chief Justice Sir Samuel Griffith.
Again Mr McGrath appeared for the Kenniffs, this time with Mr E. Lilley for the Crown.
The Chief Justice ruled that the defendants should be tried for each murder separately, and the Crown decided it was desirable that the murder of police officer Constable George Doyle should be dealt with first. Griffith made it known that, under existing law, both men would have to be found guilty if it was proven that they had acted together with a common intention, even though only one of them had actually committed the crime.
In his opening address Lilley went over the events leading up to the gruesome event at Lethbridge's Pocket, and then gave his version of what had happened.
“It is for the jury to say whether, when James Kenniff was standing under arrest by Constable Doyle, Patrick Kenniff rode round a little hill, and Dahlke, thinking Doyle equal to James Kenniff, had ridden to meet Pat Kenniff, that Pat had shot Dahlke on his horse. Doyle, then seeing Dahlke in distress, had run to his help, and as he did was fired at by Pat Kenniff, and missed, and was again fired at and done to death by one of the men. What the first fires were lighted for he did not know. They had then taken the murdered men in the fly of a tent‑ which Doyle and Dahlke had brought with them‑ and left the pack horse in the creek. Taking their burden to the rock, they must have cut their victims to piecemeal, otherwise they could not have been so consumed by fire. Next, they had scraped up and swept all the charred remains into the pack‑bags, and started off with their ghastly burden.
They could not have chosen a worse horse than George, the police mount, for it was flighty and restless. He had evidently broken away from them in the dark, and they had been too frightened to go back to recover him, knowing that the police would be scouring the country. If the prisoners, on 20 March 1902, were engaged in common design to resist arrest, and either of them was armed, to the knowledge of the other, for the purpose of carrying out a common design of resisting arrest, and one of them‑ it was immaterial for the jury to say which‑ to resist his own arrest, or to enable the other to escape, or resist arrest, shot either Doyle or Dahlke, they were both guilty of murder.”
When tracker Sam Johnson concluded his evidence, McGrath took up the cross examination in defence of the Kenniffs.
When did you last see Jim Kenniff?
Racing towards me at Lethbridge's Pocket.
How far were the Kenniffs away then?
About 100 yards.
What was the first thing you did?
I pulled up the horses and walked a bit.
About 10 yards.
And led your packhorse?
What did you do then?
I let the packhorse go and raced away.
You turned your back on them?
Yes. I raced straight up the mountain
How far did they follow you?
I didn't see them. I never looked behind.
That was the first time you saw James Kenniff.
At the time Jim Kenniff raced towards you, did you know his name?
I know Pat's name. Doyle used to tell me that.
How could he when it was the first time you saw him?
Yes. He told me we were going after James Kenniff.
Is that the only reason that you know one of the men racing towards you was James Kenniff.
McGrath had established his point. Then he went on to discredit Sam's evidence further.
(producing a pair of spurs) These, you say, are Dahlke's spurs. How do you know?
I saw him wearing them often.
Is there anything you know them by?
(producing another pair of spurs) These, you say, are Doyle's spurs. How do you know them?
I know them by the leathers, and I clean them often.
Surely there must be something different, for there would be many pairs of spurs like the ones you say belonged to Dahlke and Doyle.
No. I just know they were theirs
Sam, further examined by Mr McGrath, said that he did not know how many days there were in a week, or how many weeks there were in a month. He said he could neither read nor write, and that he did not know how old he was.
Well, what time of the day was it when the bullets were flying about? Sun go up, him go down, or him on the other side?
(quietly) It was about 8 o'clock. (laughter in court)
Are you a pretty good tracker?
Yes, pretty good, Sir.
After further considerable cross examination of Sam's evidence upon which the prosecution depended so strongly, Mr McGrath said his clients had an alibi and witnesses to prove that they could not possibly have committed the murders, for at that time they were nowhere near Lethbridge's Pocket.
When James Kenniff was called to the witness stand, he denied Ryan's account of what had happened at the Carnarvon homestead just prior to the murders. He stated that his brother Thomas was not with them when they called to see Ryan as had been claimed. He also said that the main reason for their going to the homestead was to ask Ryan if he had seen a chestnut horse they had lost. Ryan had replied, “Yes, he's running on Dooloogarah Plains.”
James Kenniff denied making any threats against Dahlke. Neither had he thrown any punches at Ryan, nor had he pulled a gun from under his coat.
After leaving Carnarvon, Jim claimed that he and Paddy had ridden about half a mile up the creek to camp and had made a mug of tea. Later that night Tom had ridden in and, after staying half an hour, had ridden off to Skeleton Creek about 23 miles away. Then, Jim said, he and Paddy had set off to ride to Roma for the races and got as far as the Maranoa River that night, about 30 miles away. After a few hours camp they had headed for Merivale, another 35 miles on. Here they had picked up a racehorse named Darramundi and then ridden on to Hutton Creek about 30 miles away. He claimed that they reached it at 11 o'clock on Saturday night.
His Honour interrupted him.
“That makes it 95 miles in 24 hours!
Jim replied that wasn't an unusual ride for them in a day.
“And you ask us to believe that you intended to race your horses in Roma, which was still a long way off? Please tell us what happened next,” His Honour demanded in a tone of disbelief.
Jim replied that the next morning, Easter Sunday morning, Pat had gone to catch the horses and that while he was away, two riders named Thornton and Mulholland had ridden in and stayed to have a cup of tea with them when Pat came back. After about an hour they had left and he and his brother had ridden on to Myall Downs.
In the meantime Darramundi had gone lame so Pat had changed mounts to a racing mare named Faithful.
For the next few days, Jim said, they had gone looking for some horses they had lost about three years before. By that time they had given up the idea of going to the Roma races so they had headed back to Merivale where they arrived about 4 or 5 April. After that they had visited various places around the Upper Warrego and it wasn't until they had decided to ride into Mitchell that they had read in a paper about the murders of Doyle and Dahlke and discovered that they were wanted for questioning. It was just after that that they had seen a reward notice nailed to a tree, so they had decided to ride into town to see what it was all about.
That, Jim said, was when the police had jumped their camp and they had been arrested.
Mr McGrath then called Mulholland as the next witness for the defence.
Mulholland told how he and Thornton had gone down the creek at Boyce's grazing farm, and had come across Paddy Kenniff. Jim had come in a little later. The place was about 90 miles away from Lethbridge's Pocket so he couldn't see how the Kenniffs could be anywhere near the place that Easter Sunday morning.
Mr Lilley then cross‑examined Mulholland.
Did you know the Kenniffs were wanted by the police for horse stealing and the suspected murder of Doyle and Dahlke?
Why didn't you tell the police?
Because ‑ because I didn't.
Is it not because it is a lie?
Would you expect to be believed on oath?
How did you know it was Easter Sunday when you saw the Kenniffs?
I am a Christian and I look forward to it like Christmas.
You knew they were wanted men?
Yes, but I knew they were innocent as they couldn't have been at Lethbridge's Pocket when the police said they were.
Well, why didn't you go to the police and tell them your friends were innocent?
It was none of my business.
I thought you were a Christian. Why didn't you tell Inspector Dillon about it when you saw him in Springsure on 12 April?
Why should I?
I would have.
But you're different.
I am very glad I am.
In response to further questions Mulholland denied that he said to Sub‑Inspector Dillon, after he had been charged with being an accessory after the fact to the murders, “It's a funny charge to be arrested for: harbouring men I haven't seen for months.” And he denied that he had told Inspector Dillon that he had not seen Jimmy Kenniff since before Christmas, “Why should I tell a lie when I was not asked to do so?”
Mr Lilley then resumed his questioning.
Would you tell a lie if you were asked?
And that's what you are doing now. Did you also say, “It's a wonder they don't give themselves up?”
Yes. I said if I were near them, I. would advise them to, but I know they were innocent.
Did you ask if you would get £500 if you brought them in?
No. I asked if I would get £1000.
You didn't express any surprise when they were charged with murder and didn't tell the police they were innocent?
And I ask you again, did you deny seeing Jim Kenniff for 12 months?
You were telling lies?
Yes. I certainly was
You thought it was quite right?
I did it because I was being charged as an accessory after the fact. I had a right to tell the police anything. I was only protecting myself.
On your own confession you are a liar?
No. I only tell lies when people get inquisitive.
Do you think me inquisitive?
You get paid for it. If I were paid like you.
You would tell lies.
Yes. But I have a reputation for telling the truth.
Do you think 124 miles in 24 hours is a stiff ride for a grass‑fed horse?
I do that.
Do you think they could do it?
Not unless they were knocked about a bit.
I would be a bit fatigued and the horse wouldn't go very far the next day.
No, I don't think they would be very fit for the Roma races, Mr Mulholland.
It appeared that His Honour had listened with some amusement to the questions and answers. Then he remarked that he thought witness Mulholland's evidence was not very reliable and so the Kenniff alibi was of little value in their defence.
In his address to the jury McGrath said that he did not believe that Sam Johnson had deliberately committed perjury, but he suggested that Sam's mind was so disordered by the fright that he had received that he was prepared to see a Kenniff in every possible person in the Pocket.
Then he went on to ask how the tracker could have escaped the Kenniffs if they had really chased him as he claimed. The Kenniffs were well mounted and were first‑class bushmen so they would surely have caught him in the bush, if not on the 180 yard clearing in the Pocket.
McGrath then asked the jury if they were prepared to take the uncorroborated evidence of an illiterate black‑fellow who was not a Christian and so had no knowledge of the hereafter.
And finally the solicitor said to them that if they did believe Sam's story, then Jim Kenniff was innocent, because Sam had stated that when he went back to get the handcuffs, Dahlke was holding the bridle of Jim's horse and Doyle., an experienced police officer, was holding him securely by the wrist. Therefore, McGrath suggested, Jim Kenniff could not have used his gun and so was innocent.
The Kenniffs' defence now rested on the circumstantial nature of the evidence before the court.
At 12.40 a.m. on Saturday, 8 November 1902, His Honour commenced the summing up. He reiterated that if one of the accused was found guilty of wilful murder, then the other was equally guilty.
He discredited Thornton and Mulholland's evidence and left the jury with little doubt as to the validity of the alibi.
Referring to the tracker's testimony, His Honour asked the jury to judge Sam Johnson's evidence by his demeanour in the witness box and by the probability of his story when considered along with the evidence of the other witnesses.
He treated with scorn the Kenniff story of their wandering for three months after the murders without making contact with civilisation. He asked the jury to consider all the evidence when they determined their verdict.
The jury retired at 3.15 p.m. They returned after an hour and the judge resumed his seat on the bench.
The prisoners were visibly nervous. Pat's hands twitched spasmodically, and he mechanically tapped the tips of his fingers together, an action he repeated for a couple of minutes. Jim leaned well forward, with his arms crossed on the front of the dock, and scanned intently the faces of those who would judge whether he should live or die.
The Associate called the names of the jurors and, they having answered in order, the suspense became acute.
“Do you find Patrick Kenniff guilty or not guilty as charged?”
Clearly the foreman replied, “Guilty.”
“Do you find James Kenniff guilty or not guilty as charged?” he was asked.
Again came the reply, “Guilty.”
Mr Lilley then murmured rather than spoke.
“I pray the sentence of the court.”
The Associate turned towards Paddy.
“Do you have anything to say?” he asked.
Patrick Kenniff raised himself with apparent effort and exclaimed in a deep husky voice:
“Yes. I know the sentence that is going to be passed on me. Before Your Honour passes it, I would like you to understand I am an innocent man. I hope that before you depart from this world you will find I am an innocent man.”
He was clasping the front of the dock as he spoke and when he had finished speaking he relaxed his grip and stood erect.
The Associate then turned to his brother.
“James Kenniff, you have been convicted of murder…”
Before he could finish the sentence, His Honour quickly cut in:
The Associate started again.
“James Kenniff, you have been convicted of wilful murder. Do you have anything to say why sentence of the court should not be passed?”
The prisoner braced himself, and raising his voice to a strained unnatural pitch he said:
“Yes, Your Honour. I have something to say. I wish to mention if you will allow me. I wish to comment on your summing up in our case today.
“I think you never gave me one item of justice. I have no other witness to call, except the Almighty God, that I am an innocent man today. He is the only One I can call and I call on Him today. I am an innocent man. That is all I have to say.”
His Honour eyed him coldly before he made reply.
“Patrick Kenniff and James Kenniff, you have been convicted of wilful murder, after a long and patient trial, by a jury of great intelligence, who gave the fullest attention to the case. I invited them upon the facts as found established by the evidence, that, if they could say the truth was consistent with your innocence, to find you not guilty. They have not been able to say that. Nor can I. I think it is my duty to say that I entirely agree with the verdict of the jury and I fail to see how they could give any other verdict. By a series of singular coincidences you have been brought to justice. The means adopted for concealing the evidence of your crime would certainly have been successful had it not been for an extraordinary accident of a horse escaping with such terrible evidence in the pack‑bags.
“You have never been arraigned upon so serious a charge before, but you are both familiar, for long periods, with the interior of gaol, and according to the evidence you had practically resorted to a further career of crime. I do not want to say anything to hurt your feelings. I told the jury I believed there was ample evidence to justify your conviction.”
The judge then put on his black cap.
“You will both be returned to your former custody, and at a time appointed by the Governor‑in‑Council, you and each of you will be hung by the neck until you are dead.”
He lowered his voice and added, “May God have mercy on your souls.”
Turning to the jury, he said, “After a long and painful trial you are discharged with the thanks of your country.”
The prisoners heard the sentence in silence and unmoved. Jim and Paddy Kenniff looked at each other and spoke a few words inaudible to the court. Paddy smiled mournfully. As the crowd filed from the court, the two shook hands with Mr McGrath and Mr O'Neill, his partner. Then they were led below.
Outside, a crowd had gathered, hoping to catch a last glimpse of the prisoners as the police vans took them away, but the heavy blinds were drawn.
There was no demonstration beyond a feeble voice raised to call “Goodbye Jim, goodbye, Pat.”
No response was made, and the van rumbled away with the men who had just received the most extreme sentence of the law.
The Kenniff affair was not yet over. Petitions protesting the death sentence came from Brisbane, Toowoomba, Charters Towers, Townsville and Rockhampton. Donations arrived from far and wide for an appeal to be made to the Privy Council and a stay of execution was requested until the appeal was heard. The swell of public opinion mounted in the Kenniffs' favour.
Sir Samuel Griffith directed that a respite in the execution be granted, pending a hearing by the four judges of the Full Court made up of Justices Griffith, Cooper, Chubb and Real.
Real disagreed with the verdict reached against James. He maintained that the jury was strongly biased, as they had undoubtedly read much about the Kenniffs before the trial. They could not possibly have not already decided, before they heard a word of evidence, that the Kenniffs had murdered Doyle and Dahlke.
He argued strongly that the Chief Justice should have ruled there was no evidence to present to the jury that James had acted in concert with Patrick, as he was at the time being held by Doyle and “stood over” by Dahlke. He maintained there was not a shred of evidence against James, but that there was against Patrick.
Public opinion continued to run with James. On 31 December the Executive Council announced that James Kenniff’s death sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment, as there was no evidence to show that he had had a revolver and so could only be found guilty of acting in concert with his brother.
12 January 1903 was set as the date of Patrick's execution, as no grounds were found for an appeal to the Privy Council.
James broke down at the news that he was to be spared but that his brother was still to hang. His mind went back to the days on the Clarence when Paddy had taken the knock for both of them on the charge of cattle‑stealing and had done four years in Grafton. He remembered the vow he had made to himself, that he would some day repay Paddy for taking it on the chin without a word against him. And now his best mate was again copping the lot while he was reprieved.
“By God, I swear Paddy is innocent,” he said. “If you're going to hang him, hang me too.”
In gaol the brothers were permitted to meet every second day. The Old Man, Thomas and John were allowed to visit.
Before Paddy went to meet the hangman at 8 a.m. on Monday, 12 January 1903 he made his last statement.
“I have told you twice before I am an innocent man. I am as innocent as the judge who sentenced me. I must thank my warders for their kindness towards me, and to my well‑wishers I say ‘Goodbye.’ May God have mercy on my soul.”
Special permission had been given for Pat to be buried in the South Brisbane cemetery. A long cortège of vehicles, horsemen and pedestrians followed to his last resting place.
The remains of Constable George Doyle and Albert Christian Dahlke were taken to the Collins's Beaudesert property of Tamrookum and buried in a private cemetery.
James Kenniff served some of his time on Saint Helena and the rest at Boggo Road. He still had friends who fought for his release. In November 1914 he was freed and for a short time returned to the Roma and Mitchell districts before going far away from Kenniff country to Cloncurry and Richmond, the part of north‑west Queensland where he and Paddy had once sold cattle and raced horses.
Later known as Old Jimmy Kenniff, he died at 66, never having forgiven the police and the authorities for the way they had treated the Old Man and his family. To his dying day he continued to proclaim their innocence of any crime at Lethbridge's Pocket.
A MESSY BUSINESS
Patrick Halligan, an Irish immigrant from County Clare, arrived in Australia in 1862 with his bride, Hannah, and settled in Rockhampton. They soon established themselves as the well‑respected licensees of the Lion Creek Hotel a few miles out of town. Patrick was an honest gold buyer who, it was well known, always carried fat wads of notes when he went out to the nearby diggings, such as Cawarral or Morinish. Friends warned him that one day he would be stuck up, but he refused to consider an escort, for, as he said, “I've got my little gentleman in my pocket who will stand by me.” No one would ever get any gold from him, he told them, so long as he could pull a trigger.
Besides, Halligan was a lover of good horses, and he was willing to back his bay mare against any horse flesh in the district. He had done just that at many of the race‑meetings he had himself helped to promote.
He'd already had one lucky escape, returning one night from Hall and Morgan's mine at Cawarral, when two unknown men jumped him, thinking most likely that it was Tom Hall coming in with a parcel of gold. It was only by good riding and local knowledge of the bush that he escaped. Rather than scaring him, he boasted that it just showed that he could handle himself without help.
The Halligans prospered, and in 1869 they sold the Lion to Alexander Archibald so that they could move into town to take over the bigger Golden Age Hotel. Now they had four children, three sons and a daughter.
Archibald had come to Rockhampton from Victoria in about 1863, and for a time was well respected as a horse‑breaker, trader, and first‑rate race rider. Unfortunately, in 1869, just before he was granted the licence for the Lion Creek, he was up on a stealing and receiving charge. As he had also been previously charged with assault, many were surprised that he was granted a publican's licence.
Patrick Halligan was also well known to be friendly with George Palmer, Jack Williams and Charlie Taylor, three local undesirables.
Williams, better known as Old Jack, was a cool, calculating character who spent much of his time lounging about hotel verandas. Palmer was fiery, daring and impetuous. Taylor had worked for Archibald and was suspected of being the brains behind many of his boss's shady deals. Palmer and Williams, who lived on the overgrown Agricultural Reserve not far from town on the Morinish Road, had been mixed up in horse-thieving and race swindles with “ring‑ins.” When things became too hot, they hid out in the abundant undergrowth of the reserve, and at night Old Jack snuck out for tucker supplied by their sympathetic friends.
Early one Sunday morning, 25 April 1869, Halligan waved goodbye to his family and set out on his business. As usual, he was well mounted and carried his “little gentleman” in his coat pocket. At the Lion he called in to see Archibald.
Old Jack, who was stretched out on the veranda, came alive when he saw Halligan go inside. He kept out of sight while he listened to Halligan telling Archibald that he was heading for Morinish to bring in a parcel from the Alliance Company for the Bank of New South Wales.
When Halligan had gone, he went inside and calmly announced that it was time Halligan was taken down a peg or two
“Me and George will have him on the way home,” he said.
Archibald raised no objections, as long as he wasn't in it himself and no one was killed. As if he had sensed that something was going to come up, Williams had been into town the day before and bought a new rope. Now he might have a use for it. He hurried away to find Palmer, who needed no urging to be in it.
“He might of escaped at Cawarral,” he said, “but he'll be a sitting duck this time.” They soon made their plans.
Halligan finished his transactions and on the way home passed the time of day with a number of travellers. By 5 o'clock, about half an hour before sunset, he was at Deep Creek, about 15 miles from home. The moon was bright by the time he reached the Six Mile Scrub.
Palmer and Williams heard him coming at a steady trot. Soon after, they saw him as he, came round a bend leading out of a steep dip in the road. Palmer left his hide and came directly into the open. Before Halligan had time to collect his wits, Palmer had him by his coat. In his other hand he had his pistol, which he jabbed into Halligan's face.
“Stick‑up!” he yelled. “Put up your hands, Halligan. We want your gold.”
Halligan struck at him with his whip.
“No one gets my gold,” he shouted, hoping that someone might hear him.
Palmer jabbed him again.
“I won't give you the gold, Palmer. I know who you are,” Halligan yelled.
As they struggled, the horses careered off the track. As Halligan tried to swing his whip it got caught in some low branches and was lost. He attempted to reach into his pocket for his “friend,” but Old Jack yelled a warning to his mate.
“Look out,” he yelled, “the bastard's drawing to shoot you.”
The shot, fired through his pocket, was buried in a tree. Palmer's own shot went through Halligan's chest to bring him to the ground.
As Palmer and Williams stood over him, Halligan's shouts faded. Old Jack rolled him over and saw that the bullet had gone right through him and out between the shoulders. Some renewed spark of life made the dying man start calling Palmer's name again. They ripped a piece from his shirt and stuffed it as a gag in his mouth
Then they rifled his pockets of £14 and pulled a ring from his finger. From the saddle‑bags they took the retorted gold, and Palmer thrust Halligan's revolver into his own belt.
They were well off the road by now, so they left him there with the choking gag to bleed to death.
Their next move was to ride to the Lion to tell Archibald that their mission had been accomplished. Archibald had had no objections to the plan, but he hadn't reckoned on anyone being murdered. Besides, Halligan had helped him when he took over the Lion, and he had never done anything to hurt him. Now Archibald wanted no part‑in any of it.
“Perhaps Halligan's not dead,” he said. “Go back and put him near the road where someone might find him.”
“Too late for that, Alex. He's dead. In one side, out the other,” Palmer said, without emotion.
Archibald was ghostly pale and trembling. Old Jack dumped the gold on the table.
“Take a look at that, mate,” he said. “You'll get your cut. You're in it as much as us.”
Archibald protested. Old Jack looked at him with obvious disgust. “Here, take it in yer bloody hands. It won't bite you!” he said.
“It's got blood on it and I don't want no part of it. Youse can have it all. I don't want none of it,” poor Alex stammered.
Palmer went into the bar and came back with a bottle of rum and poured three big snorts.
“Here, get this down your gizzard,” he said, handing a glass to Archibald.
As they emptied their glasses, the clock on the wall struck eleven. But their night's work was not yet over. They went out to where the horses were tethered.
“Go get an old sougee bag,” Palmer instructed Alex. Then they rode back to the scrub where they had left Halligan. His horse had not strayed far away. They lifted his body and slung it across the saddle so that Old Jack could secure it with his new rope. On the way to the river they stopped at a deserted, failing-down house and took a number of bricks from the chimney place. They put these in the sugar bag, and Palmer tried it for weight.
“Put in a few more, Jack,” he said. “We don't want the old bugger to come up for a breather, do we?”
At the Fitzroy River they stopped and led the horse down through the reeds at its edge. They tied the bag of bricks to the body and, when they were out far enough, undid the rope and shoved the grisly load into the water.
“Good God,” Archibald muttered, “it ain't deep enough.”
“That's right. We can't leave him like that. Strip off, Alex, and
get him out further.”
Archibald did as he was bid. He grabbed Halligan by the hair and struggled out with him far enough so that there remained no sign of what lay below the water.
There was still one piece of evidence to dispose of, however- Halligan's horse. The next morning, in a secure place in the mountains near by, they shot it, and cut out and buried the branded part so that if anybody ever discovered the horse, they would not be able to identify it as Halligan's. Their job was finished. The concealment had gone off without a hitch.
When Halligan had not arrived home on Sunday night, his wife Hannah had felt little cause for concern. Delays were not infrequent on such trips. By Monday midday, Hannah was alarmed. She informed the Gold Commissioner, Mr John Jardine, of his absence. Preliminary enquiries revealed that he had left the Alliance Company with the gold on Sunday afternoon. After that, the only reports were that he had been seen by various travellers on the road.
On Tuesday, Jardine and his son began retracing Halligan's steps, which were easily established as far as Deep Creek. From then on, nothing. A search party on Wednesday found his hat and whip and the tracks of three horses, two of which were unshod. As Halligan never rode an unshod horse, it was taken for granted that he had been waylaid.
Thursday revealed nothing new, but on Friday black trackers, brought in from the Dawson police station., discovered the spot where his life‑blood had drained away. Unaccountably, they failed to find any tracks leading to the body.
People commented on how thoughtful it was of Alex Archibald to take poor, distraught Mrs Halligan in his gig to view the scene of the murder. He joined in the search, but with no better luck than the others. Most had the opinion that Palmer and Williams were somehow involved in it, for many had heard Palmer's threats to get Tom Hall or William Pattison. That it was Halligan who had died made little difference.
The days slipped by. No one came forward with any worthwhile evidence to claim the £300 reward which had been subsequently offered by the Government.
On 11 May, 16 days after Halligan's disappearance, a search party set out by boat to scour the Fitzroy River towards Eight Mile Island. As they passed through a narrow channel, one of the men called out that there seemed to be something in the rushes near the water's edge.
The boat was pulled over, and there was Halligan's body, floating face up. A rope was fastened to pull it clear, but as it wouldn't budge, a boat hook had to be used to probe the water. Soon the sugar bag of bricks was also discovered, stuck in the mud.
The stench was too overpowering for the men to attempt to lift the body into the boat, so when the bag of bricks was cut free and recovered, the body was towed back to town. On their arrival, Archibald was one of the morbidly curious crowd that gathered to view the proceedings. He dragged his old felt hat down to hide his ashen face. A man standing by saw him shudder.
Archibald didn't wait for a second look. He scrambled up the bank, mounted his horse, and set off at a gallop to the police station to report the arrival of the body.
“Poor man,” the sergeant commented, “anyone would think he'd seen a bloomin’ ghost, but I suppose being Halligan's friend accounts for it.”
Passing the Buck
While all this was going on, Palmer and Williams were not to be found. At night, Taylor brought them food and told them what was going on. By now Palmer was growing restless, so he told Taylor to bring out a spring balance for sharing the gold equally before he made a break for it to his old stamping ground at Gympie, where he had friends.
Taylor bought the balance from Fred Hall's shop, but was afraid to go out to Palmer and Williams with it by himself. He didn't trust Palmer. He knew he'd shot Halligan, and wouldn't think twice about shooting him so that he could get a bigger share of the gold. When Taylor went to ask Archibald if he would go with him, Archibald said he wanted nothing to do with it.
“It's one way of getting rid of Palmer,” Taylor told him. “The sooner the loot is split, the sooner he'll head south and get the heat off all of us. He's the one they want. They'll soon find out where he's gone, Alex.”
On the night of 5 May the two men rode out and the four met at the Scrubby Creek hideout.
“I'm for a three‑way split,” Old Jack said. “One for me. One for George and the other between you two.”
“Count me out,” Archibald said. “I want nothing to do with it. Charlie can have my share if he likes.”
“All right, so long as you remember you're in this up to your neck, just like the rest of us,” Palmer told him.
He chopped the lump into three pieces and placed each in turn on the scales Taylor held up for him.
“24 ounces‑ 26 ounces‑ 27 ounces,” he read off.
He picked up the second piece.
“This'll do me,” he said, “and this is for Old Jack, and this biggest bit you two can whack up between you. What do you reckon?”
“Suits me,” Old Jack replied.
“I told you I don't want nothing to do with it,” Archibald repeated.
“Good. I'll have it,” Taylor said. He slipped the gold into his pocket
Palmer looked hard at him, but said nothing. Taylor didn't fail to see the look he got, and he didn't like it.
“Now for the money. Twelve pound’s all that’s left. Seeing as you've got the biggest lump, Charlie, me and Old Jack'll split this between us,” Palmer said.
There was still the ring.
“Toss you for it, Palmer,” Old Jack said.
“Heads,” Palmer called as Taylor spun a coin.
It came down tails. Williams pocketed it.
There was nothing to hold Palmer now.
Before he had gone very far, however, the packhorse he had with him got away and headed home. It was picked up by a policeman who was on the lookout for him. They now had their first real clue, for the pack‑saddle belonged to Archibald.
A few days later, Sub‑Inspector Elliott received a letter from a Mr Johnson of Ridgelands, saying that Palmer, Williams, Archibald and Taylor were all involved in Halligan's murder. So that Johnson would not be suspected of supplying the information, Elliott sent Pattison out to see him. What he was told was enough for Elliott to ride out immediately to the Lion Creek to confront Archibald, who immediately turned to water.
“It wasn't me,” he cringed, “I swear it wasn't. It was George Palmer and Old Jack Williams.”
At once he offered to turn Queen's evidence.
“Where's Palmer and Williams?” Elliott asked.
“Palmer's gone. He left a few days ago, for Gympie, I think.”
“I heard he was seen at Job Short's Cornstalk Hotel. But I wasn't in it, I swear. Me and Pat Halligan was mates, Mr Elliott. I swear I don't know nothing about it.”
Elliott interrupted him‑ “Well, how is it that one of Palmer’s horses has been found with your pack‑saddle on it?”
“He must have pinched it,” Archibald mumbled.
Without any fuss, the two rode into town. As the lock‑up door closed behind him, Archibald was still proclaiming his innocence.
Sergeant Judge was sent off to the Cornstalk. Old Jack only shrugged when he was confronted.
“I'll go,” he said quietly.
By now, Charlie Taylor was also on the wanted list. Soon he joined his mates behind bars, but was locked away in a separate cell. Excitement ran high in Rockhampton as the news spread. Now there was only Palmer at large, who, most believed, was the ringleader. Palmer had £800 on his head.
Inspector Uhr from the Dawson station was despatched south with his black trackers, and, before long, were sure they were on the right track. At a pub in Calliope, someone who was presumably Palmer had exhibited his gun with blood on it.
“The blood's from a bushranger who tried to get me for my gold,” he said. “I shot him. He's lying out there somewhere in the bush up north.”
And then he had brazenly taken a piece of gold from his pocket and given it to a girl who had taken his fancy.
Uhr pressed on. At a colliery on the Burrum River near Maryborough, Palmer had offered more gold to another girl to have a ring made for herself and her mother. When she asked where he got it, he told her, “It's nothing. I'm a gold buyer and broker from up north at Ridgelands and down south at Gympie. I lost the rest of my gold and things when I lost my packhorse near Rockhampton.”
The trail continued south. More than three weeks had passed since the murders, and he had had little time to rest while on the run. He guessed that the police must be close behind him. He had lost weight, was sick, and was no longer the same fiery, daring, impetuous character. Finally, in a sorry state, he reached Gympie on 20 May, and went to see an old solicitor friend, Mr J. W. Stable, who was startled at his poor appearance. Stable knew Palmer was wanted for murder, so decided to play his hand calmly.
“I want help,” Palmer said. “I'm done in.”
“And you look it, George,” Stable replied. “Take a seat while I go and get you something to eat and drink, and then you can tell me what you want.”
When he had eaten, Palmer said simply that he was tired of running and didn't want any more killings. Stable, knowing that his friend had also been a suspect in the murder of a bank clerk, Selwyn Smith, who had been shot when the Gympie‑to ‑Brisbane coach was stuck up the year before, decided to take no risks.
“I'll help you if I can. What do you want me to do?” he asked.
Palmer asked if he knew whether the £800 reward offered was for his apprehension only, or for his conviction as well. If he allowed himself to be taken, and Stable got the reward, would he swear to try to find his wife, who was in the Maryborough district, and give her a fair share?
Stable replied that he didn't know about the reward, but would ring up and find out. Palmer eyed his friend cautiously, but raised no objection. Stable then telegraphed Elliott in Rockhampton, told him the story, and returned to tell Palmer that the reward would be paid to anyone giving the information that led to his apprehension. He then promised to try to find Palmer's wife and give her a share.
“Good,” Palmer said. “Now this is what I want you to do.”
While Palmer remained in hiding that day, Stable went into Gympie and saw Inspector Lloyd.
That night the Inspector took with him a young constable and rode out to a place in the scrub near the Mary River, a couple of miles out of town. There they took up their hiding places.
Towards midnight, Stable and Palmer rode the same track into the scrub. At a clearing, they dismounted and sat together talking. Before long the stillness of the night was broken as the two policemen, with drawn guns, broke from their hide.
“Hands up, Palmer,” Lloyd called.
In mock surprise, Palmer wheeled and made to run. Faced by the guns, he turned on Stable and yelled, “You've betrayed me.”
It was his final effort to save face. Palmer wanted to make it look as if he had toughed it out to the end, and had only been taken by the betrayal of his friend.
Now the last of those wanted for Patrick Halligan's murder was taken in charge.
Palmer's trial took place in Rockhampton, in the September sitting of the Supreme Court in 1869. The evidence was strongly against him. He did everything he could to pass the blame on to Old Jack for firing the shot that killed Halligan. He accused Archibald of urging him on to carry out the robbery. He denied he was the ringleader, or that they had any intentions of carrying out a murder despite their making no effort to disguise themselves.
In seven minutes the jury was back with a verdict of guilty.
Old Jack, or John Williams, conducted his own case.
His greatest adversary was Charlie Taylor, his fellow‑prisoner. Taylor testified that he had taken the spring balance out to the robbers to weigh the gold because he was afraid of what would happen to him if he didn't. He also declared that Williams had told him he had shot Halligan, and when he asked him what he had done with the body, he said, “I swallowed it.”
As well, Palmer had told him he would blow his brains out if he told the police about their dividing up the gold. Charlie Taylor was spilling all the beans he could about his old friends.
In his closing address to the jury, Old Jack made the most impassioned speech he had ever made. He turned to face Taylor as he spoke.
“I do not think for a moment, gentlemen, that the evidence of this wretched man Taylor will weigh with you, for recollect, gentlemen, he is also charged with murder‑ with this murder, gentlemen. This is an awful‑ a terrible moment in my life, for my existence depends on my ability to defend myself, and convince you that I am innocent of the crime laid to my charge.
“Whilst others have acquaintances, friends, and relatives to support, encourage, and cheer them in their day of trouble and time of sorrow, I have no one. Not even a friend to give me a word of comfort and good cheer. All who are near and dear to me are far distant from me now. No loving faces of friends bearing kindly and consoling words have come to brighten the gloom and darkness that surrounds me on all sides. In peril and danger I stand alone against my enemies, and oh, gentlemen, at such times solitude is hard to bear. It is not that I fear death, for being innocent as I am, death has no terrors for me. But it is not death itself, it is the eternal disgrace that such a death would leave behind‑ a legacy of shame and sorrow to those who bore me. Confident in my innocence, I can proudly look around me and meet the eyes of my fellow men with unflinching heart, confiding in the promises of my God and My Creator that the designs of the wicked shall not prevail. Strong in the justice and righteousness of my cause, and in my innocence, I place my case in your hands, gentlemen of the jury, with those my last solemn words, my wish, and my prayer – ‘May God Defend the Right.”
After a retirement of 42 minutes the jury returned the verdict of guilty.
When the judge asked him if he had anything to say before he pronounced sentence, he stretched his arms upwards and said,
“Yes; I am innocent, as I call to Heaven to witness.”
On 24 November 1869, the hangman drew the white cap over the faces of Palmer and Old Jack as they dropped to their death.
On 22 December, Archibald also faced the hangman. At the foot of the scaffold he knelt to pray.
“Let me hear you say one word for me,” he said to the witnesses gathered to see his end. “Let me hear you say, ‘The Lord have mercy on my poor soul’.”
And those near by replied, “The Lord have mercy on your soul.”
“Thanks be to the Great God, now I'm happy.”
The bolt was drawn and he was dead.
Archibald had expected to be pardoned since he was the first one willing to turn Queen's evidence. He had been promised leniency, but as the cases came before the court, somehow it was Charlie Taylor who was smiled upon as he poured out words of condemnation against his friends. Archibald had always been known as a kindly man when he ran the Lion Creek Hotel. Charlie Taylor was a slickster who found it easy to lead his boss astray. He was a good horseman who got along well with those who liked the races, the hurdles and the hunts, and they were the upper‑crust and well‑to‑do's of the town.
The case against him was dropped, and to the disgust of many townspeople, he was discharged and ordered by the police never to set foot in the town again.
Such was the punishment meted out to those who had planned the robbery and murder of Patrick Halligan on Sunday evening, 25 April 1869.
“Flash” Peter Fagan took his time selecting an expensive looking suit from the rack at Mr Sandel's clothier's shop at the upper end of Fitzroy Street in Rockhampton.
Finally, it seemed, he found one that suited his gentlemanly taste.
“I think I'll try this one,” he said. An onlooker might have thought that buying a new suit was not an uncommon event for this fastidious shopper.
Sandel took the pants from the hanger and, handing them to Flash, said appreciatively, “You've got very nice taste, Mr Fagan. The colour suits you fine.” He pointed to the fitting room clearly marked “Gentlemen” at the far end of the store. Fagan swaggered off, and when he returned, wearing the trousers, he seemed satisfied.
“Fit you to the T,” Sandel beamed. And before Flash knew it, he was into the waistcoat with all the four buttons done up. He studied himself in the long wall‑mirror and liked what he saw. Then Sandel held the jacket professionally for Flash to slip on, first his left arm, then his right. A shrug, and the coat was on, with the expert fingers of the clothier smoothing the wrinkles across the back. He adjusted the very adequate padding, and Fagan's shoulders became at least a couple of inches broader. The buttons were fastened with the bottom one left free, as was the fashion among the young bloods of the day.
Sandel moved back a pace or two to run a critical eye over his creation.
“Beautiful,” he beamed. “Fits you like a glove.”
“Think so?” Flash grinned, and then he pirouetted as proud as a peacock to admire himself from different angles in the mirror.
“It'll do till I can find somethin’ better," he said off‑handedly Sandel helped him off with the coat and vest, and, while Flash returned to the dressing room to change his pants, he wondered about his customer. Fagan and his two mates were well known about town as lavish spenders in the bars and billiard saloons. Some said that loud‑mouthed Flash had struck good pay‑dirt somewhere up Canoona way, but wasn't saying much about it. Others doubted this story, but decided it was better not to ask too many questions. Flash and his mates were pretty handy with their dooks in a stoush. So the doubters just accepted the Fagan clique's company, and let them pay for more than their fair share of shouts in the bar.
As Sandel wrapped and tied the suit he hoped that Flash would have the cash to pay, for there had been no question asked as to price. But he needn't have worried, for when he said, “That'll be two pounds fifteen, Mr Fagan,” Flash hadn't blinked an eyelid. He'd slipped his hand into the back pocket of a brand‑new pair of moleskins and taken out several carefully folded cheques.
Flash studied the cheques one by one, and selected one for under the name of “Peter Macintosh of Rio station.” The date appeared to be either a 3 or an 8 April 1864, but it didn't matter much. That it was a Macintosh cheque was enough. In the 1850s and 1860s it was quite common for people to present cheques drawn on some reputable person, for it was the accepted way of doing business when hard currency was in short supply.
Fagan took the 5s change, and, without a backward glance, went off with his parcel to join his mate, “Irish’ Daniel Webster, who lived in a second‑rate apartment on the other side of the town.
Flash Fagan was in a rare good mood when Danny opened the door to his “Open Sesame” coded knock. There was no sense opening to unwelcome visitors, they had previously decided. Once inside, Flash unceremoniously tossed the parcel on to the table.
“What's in it?” Danny asked. “Not grog, I bet, for you to handle it like that!”
“Wait'll yer see, me Irish friend,” Flash grinned. He ripped off the wrapping paper. In next to no time, he was holding his prize in his outstretched hands. Danny's eyes blinked as he ran his fingers through his thick mass of tousled red hair.
“Holy Moses, Flash! Where'd you get that rig‑out?” he bawled. “Old Sandel's, of course. Where else do yer think?” he laughed.
And then, unashamedly, Flash stripped, and dolled himself up in his new outfit
“How do yer like it?” he asked.
“Nice. Real nice,” his mate grinned. And then he roared with laughter and gave Flash an almighty whack on the back.
“My mate Flash Fagan's a real lah‑de‑dah toff,” he went on, admiring the stranger before him. “But,” he added, “you can't' wear it like that. What about all the other duds like shirts and ties and socks and things that go with an outfit like that?”
“I'm comin’ to that, me boy, if yer’ll hang on a minute. They're back in Sandel's shop and ye're comin' with me to pick them up this evenin’. I just got these to try him out. It was dead easy. Old Sandel's a sucker. He took me money like a sugar dummy. How'd yer like to deck yerself out with a new rig, Irish? There's plenty in the shop for both of us. An' what's more, there'll still be plenty spondoolicks left in the hip pocket of me moles to buy other things if we want them. You know, Irish, I've never had so much money in all me life, and all in a little book that only needs me signature. Even if it is somebody else's, that is,” he added with a grin.
Danny Webster laughed. He understood.
That evening, the two mates returned to the upper end of Fitzroy Street. Sandel politely welcomed the pair and hovered conveniently nearby as they carefully inspected different articles of men's apparel. For the love of Mike, he thought, he couldn't fathom why they should be interested in white shirts, handkerchiefs, ties and socks. Only the nobs wore those things. But he supposed that it was none of his business, so long as they paid for them, and Flash seemed to have been well cashed‑up that morning. Still, he had a prickly feeling that he should keep an eye on them, just in case.
The two took their time over their purchases. Irish seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. Finally, they had together what they considered would fit them out handsomely for the ball on Saturday night
Sandel totted up the bill.
“That'll be £6 6s 11½d, gentlemen,” he announced, well satisfied with their unexpected generous custom.
Flash dug into his moles and again brought out a healthy number of cheques. After examining them, he extracted one for a tenner.
Sandel took it and noticed it was again drawn over the signature of Mr Macintosh of Rio. He saw that the three or eight he had noticed on the earlier cheque was now clearly over-marked as an eight, and the signature looked somehow different, but he couldn't be certain.
Without registering any alarm, he made an excuse that he had to slip out the back to get some change.
In the meantime an assistant named Lewis attended to the tying up of the parcel, while Flash and Irish inwardly congratulated themselves for pulling the wool once more over old Sandel's eyes. What they did not know was that, even then, Sandel was well on the way, at the double, to the nearby AJ.S. Bank to show the manager the two cheques. To manager Larnach's practised eye it took only a cursory glance to determine that the Macintosh signature wasn't even a good forgery.
Fagan and Irish were still congratulating themselves when Irish spied, through the barred but open window, Sandel and Larnach heading for the front door.
“Holy Moses, Flash,” he squeaked, pointing to the window, “we're trapped. Run!”
By the time Fagan had gathered his wits, his mate was out the front door and racing hell‑for‑leather down Fitzroy Street. But Flash himself was too slow off the mark. The door was blocked by Larnach's burly form. He raced for the back entrance, but found Sandel had thoughtfully locked it from the outside when he had sneaked out, and there was no way out by the barred window. He was trapped.
Then, as Larnach and Sandel tried to pin his arms, he started to protest wildly.
“What the hell's this all about?”
“You ought to know that, Fagan,” Larnach replied coolly. “These cheques are forgeries. I'm putting you under arrest!”
“Like hell yer are!” Flash stormed as he tried to tug and kick his powerful, 5 foot 10 inch frame free. But he had no hope at all when Lewis was also called in to help.
Flash knew when he was beaten.
“Orright then, youse can get yer hands off of me. I'll go along,” he said quietly. “There's no need to hang on so tight. I'm not gunna run away.”
Just the same, Mr Larnach, who was the usual run of Bank Manager‑ cum ‑Justice of the Peace, was not taking any chances. He released his grip only to produce a pair of handcuffs he had stuffed in his back trouser pocket beneath his long‑tailed bank coat
Flash needed no second opportunity. He gave a mighty tug and heave, and aimed a well‑placed knee where Lewis felt it most, and he was out the door and haring up a narrow lane that ran by the Rutherford Brothers' Bazaar. He then cut down a cross lane that led to East Street.
Larnach and Sandel started only a few yards behind him, but Flash was faster, and was soon drawing away.
The cry of “Stop, thief! Murder! Stop him!” soon rang out, so bringing others into the chase. This only spurred Fagan on to greater effort. He twisted and turned from lane to street, and then back up another lane.
Unfortunately for Fagan, one of those who joined in the hunt was a Mr William Purcell who, at that time, was the undisputed sprint champion of Central Queensland.
At the moment he heard the hue and cry he was reported to be at the local bowling alley. Perhaps foot running was more up his alley, for, when he saw others in hot pursuit of someone, he instinctively took off as if at the bang of a starter's pistol.
“Thief! Murder! Stop him!” was now echoing through the otherwise quiet lanes and streets.
Purcell caught a glimpse of the hare, and with his blood running hot, soon gathered him in. Fagan swung sharp right around the Tattersall's Hotel corner and raced up East Lane, which led to Archer Street, which offered the prospect of eluding the hounds in some of the busier shops. But Purcell had his measure before he cleared East Lane. Instead of taking him in a flying tackle, he passed him and then turned to front him, man to man.
Fagan was not looking for a fight. He had only one thought in mind‑ escape. He made a valiant effort to dive past the defiant Purcell, but, for good measure, got Purcell's lowered head in the solar plexus. Fagan crumpled like a pole-axed bullock, winded- firstly by his hard, unaccustomed running, and secondly by the head‑butt to his midriff.
When the rest of the hounds arrived the unfortunate Flash was still flat on his back, and in no condition to offer resistance when Mr Larnach slipped the handcuffs onto his wrists.
As the now unprotesting Fagan was marched off to the lockup, his pursuers followed, as well as other excited spectators who had heard the cries accompanying the chase. They gathered by the roadside, speculating what “The Flash” had been up to this time to warrant such ceremonial treatment.
The next day they got their answer, for Fagan was brought before the magistrate and charged with forgery. But Flash had had the night to prepare his defence, and his brain had worked overtime.
When he was asked how he pleaded on the charge of uttering false cheques in the name of Mr Peter Macintosh of Rio station, he responded, “Not guilty, Sir. If anyone 'ad gone to the trouble of askin' me, I would of told 'im where the cheques come from.”
The magistrate then asked him to elaborate, and Fagan went on to explain how he had sold some horses a week or so before to a traveller who was passing through, and that he had been paid with a number of cheques. He said that his mate, Danny Webster, would be able to back him up, because he was there when the deal was made.
“An’,” he added, with a brilliant piece of intuitive logic, “how could I forge the cheques? I ain't never been to school, so I never learnt how to read or write. How could I forge anyone's name? I wouldn't know how, would I?”
While all this was going on, the court attendant was busy writing down Fagan's statements.
The magistrate may then have recalled something of a story he had once read about a wise old judge, Sancho Panza, who heard the case of a man who hid some coins he had borrowed from a friend in a hollow cane, and then swore that he had repaid him. Which indeed he had, for he had given the friend the cane to hold while he took the oath that it was so. But Sancho saw through the trick, and when he ordered the cane to be broken open in court, the coins had fallen to the floor.
Yes, the magistrate thought, it was worth a try. Peter Fagan was a bit too smooth.
“Have you anything else to add to your defence?” he asked his man.
“No, Sir, it's like I said. I swear to God,” Fagan replied, without batting an eye.
The magistrate then instructed the orderly to pass the written statement to Fagan to read. He watched Fagan's eyes laboriously following each line, word by word, and when he looked up at the end, the magistrate asked if the statement was a true record.
“Yes. It seems orright,” Flash replied, as he made to pass it back to the orderly.
“Just put your signature at the bottom, please, Mr Fagan,” the magistrate said quietly as he, with apparent lack of interest, turned to some court papers on his desk. Fagan took the proffered pen and signed.
Flash Fagan was committed to stand trial at the next District Court's sitting. In the Rockhampton lock‑up he vowed to get even‑ in particular with that Purcell bloke who had run him down.
Irish Daniel Webster had given the police a tougher run for their money, but eventually his luck also ran out, and he found himself in court charged with being an accessory to his mate's forgeries. He, too, was committed, and so Flash and Irish had plenty of time to commiserate over their rotten luck.
“There must be a safer way of making a quid than by writin' dud cheques,” Fagan lamented. Irish agreed.
In the lock‑up, also awaiting the Court's pleasure, was a 20‑year‑old horse‑stealer named Welshie, or Johnny Wright. And there was another named Thomas Howson, alias Hill, about 28 years of age and bordering on six feet, who was doing 18 months for a similar offence to Flash's.
Soon the four became good mates, and all agreed that the lockup was not the place for them. Various plans for escape were discussed, and then, by a stroke of good luck, certain unexpected events made circumstance play into their hands.
Fun on the Run
In charge of the new gaol, which was still awaiting a permanent governor, was an acting governor, Mr French. Soon after the mating‑up of Flash, Irish, Welshie and Hillie, Mr French was taken ill. It was then 6 May 1864. By afternoon, the unfortunate acting governor was in bed and in a bad way. As usual, the gaol was sadly under‑staffed, so the chief turnkey, Mr Lee, was despatched to town to tell the doctor of French's illness, and, if the doctor couldn't come immediately, to get some medicine. This left an elderly man named Jock McWilliam in charge of the exercise yard, where the men were limbering up before being locked up for the night, which would happen when Mr Lee returned.
It took Flash Fagan little time to sum up the situation. News had already spread that old Frenchie was “crook,” and when Lee disappeared from the scene, and hopeless old McWilliam was left in charge, Flash's electric brain had everything worked out.
He sidled over to where Hillie was lolling by the wall and whispered instructions. Then he got the ear of Irish and Welshie.
“It's on,” he whispered.
Unnoticed by old Jock, Hill slipped away from the exercise yard and went inside the hall door.
Soon the whole yard was startled by wild cries. Hill came rushing out.
“Snake!” he yelled. “A bloody big black brute's in the main cell!”
This was enough to cause wild excitement among the men, for such diversions were all too infrequent within the gaol. They grabbed the first weapons they could lay their hands on, and rushed to get him.
Fagan was at the tail end. When the last of the inmates was inside, and everyone was milling about looking for the big black brute, Fagan banged the heavy door shut and fastened the bolt. He looked around, and there were only his three mates and old Jock left in the exercise yard.
But there was another he had not counted on, a fellow named Dittman who, somehow, had not been caught in the stampede. Flash produced a knife and threatened to slit his throat if he made a wrong move.
Then he approached the stunned McWilliam and threatened to do likewise to him if he didn't lead him at once to old Frenchie's room. Soon, with Jock in the lead, they flung open the unlocked door.
The startled acting governor tried to get from his bed to reach one of the guns he always kept loaded by his bedside, but he was soon knocked down, and the escapees took possession of two rifles and a fowling piece.
Then they bustled the protesting French away from his bedroom and marched him off to Flash’s cell, where he was unceremoniously locked in. Flash’s sense of humour was running high by this time, so poor old Jock McWilliam was frog-marched off to the condemned cell to cool down his flaming Scottish wrath.
So far so good.
They already knew where there was a ladder stored, so in next to no time it was fetched and placed against the outside wall.
Flash, with a rifle over his shoulder, was the first up and over. Then followed Johnny Wright, Daniel Webster and Thomas Howson, alias Hill.
Back inside the gaol there was consternation when it was found that the black snake was only a Fagan hoax.
Now Dittman saw his chance to obtain the remittance in sentence which he felt sure he would get if he released French and McWilliam. When he felt that Flash and the boys had had a good enough start, he set them free, leaving all the others storming uselessly inside.
Soon the alarm was raised at police headquarters in town, and the hunt was on.
This brought the people of Rockhampton to a state of high excitement, with some plugging for Flash and others riding hard for the police.
The first reports were that the four were heading west towards the Lower Dawson Road. Within a half hour Chief Constable Jeremiah Foran, Sergeant McMahon, Constable Canning and several other constables, plus an assortment of civilians, were in hot pursuit. All seemed to agree that it was only a matter of time before the escapers were run down.
In hastening along the Lower Dawson Road, Foran and his team missed the side track used mostly by cattle where the fugitives had changed direction.
By the time the police realised that they were running cold, Flash and his boys had gained precious time and were already several miles away, heading north towards Canoona, where they felt they would be relatively safe among friends who likewise had no great love for the law.
By back‑tracking, one of Foran's men picked up a clean trail obviously made by four men in a great hurry. Without undue difficulty, they followed it to the river. Here, all trace was lost. It was surmised that they must have done a river walk to emerge at some more difficult‑ to‑ detect point, either up or downstream.
For two days nothing was seen or heard of them.
Then news was received that they had stuck up the Bell brothers near Canoona, and stolen two saddle horses and a revolver. Now they each had a gun, and, by double‑banking the horses, they could move faster.
Before leaving the Bell property, Flash, who by now had clearly established himself as leader, had boasted openly that the Fagan gang was going to stick up the Woodville Hotel, a popular watering‑hole along the Peak Down Road, and then he had threatened to murder anyone who squeaked.
Perhaps he had hopes of taking over from Darkie Frank Gardiner, the prince of bushrangers, who had been captured at Aphis Creek on the selfsame road only two months before.
True to his promise, Fagan headed for Woodville. On the way, by great good fortune, he ran into a Mr Robert Pacey, who was in charge of two food drays. Pacey offered no resistance to the four guns levelled at him. Fagan was all apologies for having to commandeer their two saddle horses, but, as he explained, it really was necessary that each of his men should have his own mount.
That evening they rode boldly up to the Woodville Hotel. No one tried to impede their entry to the bar. There Flash, backed up by his three mates with guns at the ready, called out to the barman.
“Stick‑up, Mr Charley! No funny business and no one’ll get hurt. We only want all the food and grog our four horses can carry. Nothin’ more.”
Strange as it may seem, Mr Charley was also nicknamed Flash, so Flash Fagan had Flash Charley well and truly in the hot seat.
“Take what you want, Fagan,” he stammered.
“Make no bones about it, me friend, that's exactly what we came for, didn't we, boys?” Flash said as he turned to his admiring mates
Irish, Welshie, Hillie and Flash took their time selecting from the array of bottles along the shelf. If this was bushranging, they liked it. It was much easier and less dangerous than cashing dud cheques.
“And ever so much more rewarding,” Flash thought, as he stuffed more Scotch into a sugar bag that was already heavy.
Then they prepared to leave. Flash brandished the revolver and the others did likewise.
“See these guns,” he told them. “They’re dinki‑di Gov'ment guns, ain't they, boys, so what we do is all legal and respectable in the name of the law.” And then he roared with laughter at his own joke
“One warnin’,” he said, as he turned about again at the bar door. “One squeak that Fagan's gang has been here, and we'll be back, and these Gov'ment guns will see you don't squeak no more.”
And with that, the now established Rockhampton Bushrangers rode away into the fading light.
Of course, both Mr Pacey and Mr Charley made quick reports to the police outpost at Marlborough, and Chief Constable Foran, with his small reinforced army, was soon on the trail.
Excitement throughout the district was running high. Fagan's gang were the first dyed‑in‑the‑wool Central Queensland Bushrangers, and there were many who wished them well for the honour of the whole district. Some said it would be just the thing to put Rocky on the map. Others just hoped no one would get hurt in their little game; but to the police, four well‑armed, well-mounted, well‑provisioned ex‑prisoners were nothing to laugh about. The reputation of the whole police force was at stake. They were already being made the butt of jokes.
Next, the gang tempted their patience by turning up at Marlborough, and no one dobbed them in to the police until they were well and truly clear of the town.
Other sightings were reported, suggesting that they might be heading across country for Westwood, some 30 miles west of Rockhampton.
Certain individuals now also gathered search parties, determined to run Fagan down. One such was organised by Mr Van Wessen of Princhester station. With Sergeants Reid and Croft, Constable Fitzgerald, and two black trackers, they set off towards Westwood, but before they arrived, the Fagan gang had struck again at Hardy's Hotel.
There was no opposition, so the gang took their time over a special meal they had ordered. There was plenty to drink, and, for those in the bar when they arrived and for those who came in later, hospitality was freely available. A happy couple of hours was passed. Fagan's revolver lay untouched on the counter near the taps where he had laid it.
Late in the evening the gang decided to push on. They replenished their larder and stashed away more carefully selected refreshments.
Never, it seemed to the four, had they had life so easy.
The usual warnings about ratting to the traps were given to Hardy the pub‑owner and the carefree drinkers who stood outside to watch the gang ride away down the track, heading south.
They had ridden a mile or so before Fagan felt for his revolver.
“Me gun's been pinched!” he howled. “Some lousy bugger's pinched me gun!”
“You stupid coot, Flash, I bet you left it on the counter near the keg. That's where you put it,” Irish laughed. “A great bushranger you are, to go leaving your iron around for any Tom, Dick or Harry to pick up!”
“Shut up, Irish!” Flash threatened him.
“Well, what yer gunna do about it?” Irish taunted. “A leader without a gun ain't no good, is 'e, boys?” he asked.
“I'll show youse oo's leader,” the now angry Flash yelled. “I'll bloody well ride back and get it right now, won't I,” he called, as he wheeled his horse.
“And likely as not get a plug of lead for your trouble!” Welshie shouted after him.
But Flash was already galloping back the way they had come. Close in to the hotel, he reined his horse almost to its haunches.
“I've come for me gun,” he shouted.
And with that a bullet whistled by, perilously close to his head.
Fagan saw a fellow he remembered as Kelly, standing half-sheltered by a post at the far end of the building. In his hand was Fagan's revolver. Another shot rang out, and while the others ducked for cover, Kelly yelled, “Here's your gun, Fagan. If you want it, come and get it.”
Fagan swore. His hand went to his belt for his spare gun. It wasn't the best, he knew, but it would kill. He took good aim at the now retreating Kelly, pulled the trigger, and click! Nothing happened. He cocked and pulled again. Click! He spun the whole chamber with no better result. Fagan blasphemed loudly and hurled the useless weapon at the now out‑of‑sight enemy.
“Yer wait, Kelly,” he screamed. “I'll be back!” And without risking any more close shaves, he wheeled his horse and galloped back to re‑join his gang.
For a time, well provisioned, they kept out of circulation.
Then, after a week or so, they turned up at the township of Banana, some 70 miles to the south‑west, and again replenished their supplies of food.
Good luck rode with them, for Sub‑Inspector Foran, with Lieutenant Murray, Sergeant Doyle, Constable O'Beirne and three black trackers, arrived in the town barely four hours after they had ridden away.
Next it was Walloon, about 35 miles from Banana and a couple of miles east of Theodore.
Fagan had decided that the gang needed fresh mounts, so they scouted around, and soon had what they wanted. The local squatters responded as had Van Wessen at Princhester. The call went out for volunteers, and soon a new pack of hounds was baying at the heels of the four hares, who by this time were enjoying themselves immensely.
The community at large eagerly awaited each new move and counter‑move. No one had yet been killed. No coaches had been robbed or gold escorts bailed‑up, like in other bushranging stories. Fagan's gang didn't operate like that.
They were, it seemed to the locals, a harmless, good‑natured lot, intent only on keeping themselves well provisioned with good cheap tucker and grog. But how long would it last?
Then someone reported a sighting on the road from Walloon to Rawbelle.
That evening a party set out along the Rawbelle road, and a tracker came back with word that the wanted men were not far away, making camp in a small clearing off the main track. Their saddled horses were tethered close by, he reported. Plans were laid, and, on an arranged signal, the party rushed in.
Fagan was the first to scent danger.
“The bloody traps,” he shouted to his mates. “Quick! The horses.”
The four made a frantic dash, but before they had reached their mounts Hill was cut off. On foot, he fled into the thick scrub. Fagan, Webster and Wright flung themselves into their saddles and, bending low to avoid flying bullets, raced hell‑bent along a trail that was no more than a wallaby pad into a gully covered with dense undergrowth. They could hear the commotion behind them. Once hidden, they lay low until night crept on. When he judged it was safe, Fagan led his remaining mates, Irish Danny Webster and Welshie Johnny Wright, to refuge well beyond Walloon and Rawbelle.
Hillie Thomas Howson, left to his own fate and without a horse, headed east, hoping to cover on foot nearly 100 miles of rugged going before reaching Gladstone. Finally, while hiding in a disused hut on Riverside station, and still far from his destination, he was captured without resistance by Sergeants Balfrey and Ware.
Hillie was so sick and sorry for himself after repeated bouts of fever that he almost welcomed capture, with its accompanying certainty of a decent meal and a weatherproof roof over his head. He found both within the confines of the Gladstone lock‑up, and later back in his old cell at Rockhampton gaol.
But of Fagan and his friends, there was no word. Days slipped by. Still nothing. It was unlike him not to make a call on someone, everyone felt. Perhaps, some conjectured, he was heading towards Gladstone with the hope of picking up Hillie. But while search parties were scouring the east, Fagan and his mates were heading north.
“Where to this time?” Irish asked. Flash grinned.
“Tell me the most unlikely place they'll be lookin’ for us,” he responded.
Welshie suggested Rockhampton gaol.
“No, but you're hotter than you think. Try a place we know about 30 miles away from there.”
“Not Westwood!” Irish interrupted. “You're not mad enough to go back to Hardy's pub, are you, Flash? You nearly got blasted last time, don't forget!”
“I remember, orright! That's why I'm goin’ back. They won't expect us, and besides, I want me gun. Remember? A bloke named Kelly's got it. I promised him I'd be back for it, and now's as good a time as any.”
So they rode on to Westwood and camped the night on the outskirts of the town. It was now 6 June, nearly three weeks since their last unheralded visit.
Before daybreak the gang was astir and heading for Hardy's farmhouse, which was only a couple of hundred yards down the track from the pub. Loud banging on the door soon brought Hardy, flapping in shirt tails, to see what was going on. For good measure, he had grabbed a repeater in case he needed it.
When he demanded to know who was there, Fagan called, “It's me, Fagan, and me boys. Open up, Hardy! I've come for Kelly and me gun, like I said I would.”
With that, a bullet splintered through the door high above where Hardy's head should have been.
The bolt was rapidly drawn, and, in the dim light, Fagan saw the gun Hardy was holding.
“Put that thing on the table there,” Fagan ordered, “and don't try no funny business, or you'll get lead and me boys'll tear the place to bits. Just act sensible‑like, and everything'll be orright.”
Hardy did as he was bid.
“Now, where's me gun?” Flash demanded.
“I don't know what happened to it. Honest I don't. The last time…” he started, but before he had finished the sentence, Fagan prodded his forehead with cold steel.
“You better remember faster than that, Mr Hardy,” he threatened. “Has Kelly still got it?”
The quaking hotelier nodded.
“Where's Kelly? He's one of your hands, ain't he?”
Again a nod.
“Well, where is he?” Fagan prodded again, and Hardy pointed to an adjacent bedroom.
“In there,” he stammered. “No shooting, please Mr Fagan. Kelly's all right.”
With Hardy leading, the boys pushed open the indicated door to find the erstwhile sleeper now wide awake. Obviously he had been too terrified to make a break for it through the one small window in the room.
Fagan stepped across the narrow space.
“I've come for me gun, Kelly. Where is it?”
Kelly backed against the wall.
“Don't shoot,” he managed to say. “I didn't steal it. Honest I didn't. I was only minding it for you.”
“A bloody funny way of mindin’ it, when you opened up on me the first time I came to get it! Where is it, before I blow yer brains out?”
Kelly made a step towards his bed, and was about to slip his hand under the pillow, when Irish grabbed him.
“Look out, Flash,” he yelled. “He's going for the gun. Put a bullet in him!”
But Fagan held his temper.
“Now look here' Kelly, if me gun's under yer piller, why didn't yer say so, and I could of got it meself. There's no need for yer to touch me gun while I'm around.”
And with the unfortunate Kelly and Hardy watching in the dim pre‑dawn light, Fagan retrieved his pride and joy.
Irish Webster and Welshie Wright were all for finishing Hardy and Kelly off there and then so they couldn't squawk, but Fagan thought otherwise.
“No killin’s,” he said. “Fagan's gang ain't killers. And besides, if we did, everyone would know we've been here and no one'd be on our side, not even the country folks we get along with so well. No, there'll be no killin's by Fagan's boys.”
Then he became quite jovial and friendly.
Turning to Hardy he said, “Why don't yer get yerself dressed all proper like and get yer guests some breakfast? You too, Kelly. We all could do with a good feed after all this excitement.”
So a hearty breakfast was prepared and Fagan, Wright, Webster, Hardy and Kelly sat down to bacon and eggs washed down with pannikins of good hot tea. Had a stranger then walked into the room, he would certainly have been invited to sit at the congenial table and partake of the necessities of life provided by mine host for his obviously welcome friends.
With the repast over, and the sun soon to rise, Fagan and his boys prepared to move. They replenished their supplies, and, as a parting gesture, Fagan held out his hand.
“Here, shake,” he said, “just to show we don't bear no one no grudge. You too, Kelly! We might be bushrangers like everyone sez, but we wouldn't hurt a flea, would we, boys?”
The five of them laughed at Fagan's joke.
Then they rode away from the farmhouse. Added search parties were soon hot on their trail, but the gang had vanished as if lost.
Emboldened by their successes, the five decided to go one step further. Fagan remembered hearing stories of other bushrangers who had daringly attended local dances and race‑meetings without being recognised, at least by the traps.
“Why not?” he said absentmindedly to no one in particular as they made camp up Marlborough way, two days after their visit to old Hardy's farmhouse.
“Why not what?” Irish asked.
“Why not go to the Tradesman's Ball in Rocky tomorrer night?” he said. “All the nobs’ll be there, so we’ll fit in, I reckon no one’ll notice us if we spruce up a bit.”
So it was agreed. They'd go to the Tradesman and paint the town red.
On Saturday morning Irish decided he'd go into town early. The other two would wait till later. Irish made it to the Cornish Mount Hotel at the junction of Stanley Street and the Lower Dawson Road. There were, as usual, no shortage of drinkers in the bar at that hour of the day, particularly in view of the “do” that was on that night. Whether Irish had had a few too many and talked too much, or whether someone recognised him, is not known, but soon the news was around town that Fagan's gang was at the Cornish.
By midday, Sub‑Inspector Foran, Acting Sergeant Meldrum, Constables Canning, Judge, and O’Beirne and a couple of others were heading, in disguise, for the Cornish by an indirect route. On the way, they had planned to pick up Jardine, the Police Magistrate. They were taking no risks this time.
The pub was full, and noisy with Saturday drinkers intent on soaking up for the races that afternoon and “other things” that night. No one noticed the apparent no‑hopers taking up carefully selected positions around the hotel.
By now Irish Webster was one of the boys. That he carried a revolver worried no one, for everyone knew Fagan’s boys weren’t killers. Rather, most looked upon the whole show as a kick‑in‑the‑pants for the traps, who were always one step behind the gang. These were Rocky’s own bushrangers, blokes the revelers were honoured to drink with.
Irish had strolled from the bar, perhaps to relieve himself, when his crop of red hair was spotted by one of the waiting police. He made a move to get a better view of his man, and Irish saw him.
“Bloody traps!” he shouted, and, with that, bounded back inside. Through the milling crowd he made for the back door. He drew his gun as he raced for shelter, with several police calling on him to stop. Shots rang out as Irish crouched and then sprinted from shed to shed behind the hotel.
Behind the sheds was a bare paddock, with a growth of scrub not far away. He’d have to make a dash for it across the open. He saw a man levelling a gun at him, and, half‑stopping, turned towards him and pulled the trigger. The hammer clicked. Again! Again! Six sickening clicks! Irish swore, and tore off for the trees.
Jardine spotted him, steadied his aim on the slip‑rail fence, and pulled. A stabbing pain behind the knee brought Irish crashing to the ground. Blood stained his trouser leg. It was all over. As the police closed in, he tossed away his useless gun and held up his hands.
“Where’s Fagan and Hill?” Jardine said threateningly as he stood over his man.
“My mates? Haven’t seen them all day,” Webster taunted back.
By now, the Cornish was in a state of siege as the police combed it and its surrounds for the other two in the gang. They found no one, and for good reason, for at that time Fagan and Welshie were carrying on their own private skirmish with the police back up the road at Yaamba and Princhester. They had decided at the last moment not to go down to the Tradesman's Ball, but rather to have their own bit of fun elsewhere.
Irish Danny Webster's bushranging days were over. He was brought before the magistrate and committed for trial.
Five weeks after the breakout from Rockhampton gaol the score stood even, with two down‑ Howson and Webster‑ and two to go‑ Fagan and Wright.
Sub‑Inspector Foran and Police Magistrate John Jardine determined that an all‑out attempt must be made to round up the two still running free.
The next report came in from near Yaamba, only 20 miles north of Rockhampton. Again they escaped by a cat's whisker, this time by swimming the Fitzroy River. But the head start was enough. They again disappeared, and for a fortnight kept under cover. Everyone seemed certain that they had cleared out for fresh pastures. All homesteads and police stations far and wide in Central Queensland were put on the alert.
And then, on 25 June, just when it was feared that they had slipped through the net, perhaps to northern New South Wales, a mailman reported that he had been stuck up by Fagan just south of Princhester. Then Mr Van Wessen had his second visit from “the boys,” who brazenly stole from him a horse he was leading. Daily reports followed from many locals of “friendly” visits by Fagan and Wright. They helped themselves to a free meal and a bit of ready cash and then rode away unmolested.
The police were being made to look extremely foolish. The local folk appeared to be enjoying the whole farcical affair, where two avowed bushrangers, doing little to conceal their movements, could not be captured by a small army of police and angry squatters.
Soon the line of operation swung to the Peak Downs Road, for positive reports came that Fagan and Wright were breaking away from their old haunts and heading for Clermont, some 200 road miles to the west.
They had called in at Aphis Creek, where McGlone had taken Frank Gardiner, and crossed the Mackenzie at its junction with the Isaacs, and then continued on to Caldwell’s station, allegedly for a feed and a spell. It appears that they were initially made welcome, but soon after they had left it was discovered that £40 in cash and some cheques were missing, as well as the station manager's precious gold watch.
Caldwell wasted no time calling in every available man and they set off in pursuit, well disguised as a group of diggers heading west for the Peak Downs and Copperfield diggings. That night the party camped at Girrah Lagoon, only a few miles from the station, ready for an early start next morning.
At day break, one of the men on watch noticed a strange horse feeding not far away. He crept closer and recognised it as the one that Fagan had been riding the previous day.
He woke the boss.
“Are you sure it's his?” he whispered.
“I'm sure, boss. I never mistake a horse.”
“Good. Now listen. Sneak out and see if you can catch it, and if you can, hide it in the scrub behind the lagoon. If you can't, and it runs, try to head it this way.”
The station hand had no trouble. He stroked its muzzle when it raised its head to sniff him. Then he slipped a light halter over its head and removed the short overnight hobbles.
Caldwell’s men watched from their hides along the track.
It wasn’t long before they saw, in the gathering light, the shadowy figure of a man approaching the spot from whence the horse had been taken.
Caldwell beckoned to a couple of men, who then stepped openly onto the track and walked nonchalantly towards the stranger. They figured that a couple of diggers on the track at this time of the day would cause little alarm. When close enough, they realised that it was Fagan himself who was walking straight into their waiting arms.
Caldwell greeted him cordially.
“Good day, friend. Nice day in the making.”
The other responded genially. Then he asked, “Seen a stray horse along the track? A big bay with a slash and two white socks?”
“No, not that I can say. We’d have seen him, unless he’s wandered off for a bit of a fresh pick by the edge of the scrub or down the gully,” Caldwell replied. His friends continued strolling towards Fagan, who was studying some hoof‑prints.
“You know, that's a funny thing,” he said, as he stroked his stubbled chin, “but I could swear there are other tracks followin’ the one me horse made. Almost looks like some bugger's been trying to brush the tracks like the blacks do.”
Caldwell stooped down to study the prints more closely.
“Look ‘ere,” Fagan said, bending low by Caldwell's side and pointing. “What do yer…?” Before he could finish the sentence, he was knocked down and a couple of revolvers had him covered.
“Traps!” he had time to scream. “Run!”
And then he was pinned and gagged.
Welshie heard. He raced to his horse and was gone.
Caldwell would have to be content with just the ringleader.
Fagan's protestations of innocence were useless, for a quick search soon uncovered the untouched £40, the cheques and the gold watch. Caldwell had his man.
It was now 29 June 1864.
The news soon spread. Sergeant McMahon rode in, and the next day Flash Peter Fagan, under a strong escort, was on his way back through Aphis Creek, Marlborough, Princhester and Yaamba to a more permanent residence in Rockhampton gaol.
All along the streets people gathered in groups‑ some to cheer their hero, others to jeer at the police, as the still swaggering Fagan was taken in to rejoin his old mates.
Now there was only Welshie Johnny Wright left on the run. For days he wandered aimlessly, sticking up a digger here and there, and stealing food wherever he could.
From Wilpend station he stole a horse, and, keeping clear of the main Peak Downs Road, headed generally southward, or so he thought. Without Fagan to lead, Wright was a hopeless bushman. After several hours’ riding he was startled to hear station dogs barking. And then it dawned on him- he was back at Wilpend! The horse, without guidance, had circled wide and returned home. He reined around, buried the spurs, and again galloped off into the approaching dawn. Now, at least, he’d know which direction was east, and hopefully be able to work out the best way to keep his horse’s nose pointed southward.
Perhaps he then decided it would be safer to keep close to the Mackenzie River in its great sweep to the south‑west, for he was soon seen heading in the direction of Cooroorah station, near Alf Bedford's Arms Hotel, where the Peak Road crossed the Mackenzie.
After the Wilpend episode Alf Bedford and another man, Paton, decided to take the law into their own hands, as had so many others. They set off with two drays towards Cooroorah station, trying to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible.
They camped the night not far from Wilpend, and the next morning, as they were preparing to move off, a man who obviously must be Wright was seen walking directly towards them.
Bedford wasn’t taking the risk of losing him.
When close enough, he called out, “Good day, Mister. Heading far?”
“Far enough, I reckon,” the other replied, without committing himself.
Paton, showing no apparent interest in the stranger, studied one of the dray wheels.
“Looks like we've struck trouble, Alf,” he said as he banged one of the iron rims. “Might work loose with that broken spoke we've got.”
By that time, the man was close.
“Any good at fixing spokes or rims?” Paton asked, running a quick eye over the fellow.
“Not much. Fixed a few in my time, but no expert. Gimme a look.” And with that he bent forward. Bedford saw that he didn't stand up again before he acted. Wright was quickly covered by their guns.
“What's this all about?” he cried, struggling to his feet.
“You should know that, Johnny Wright,” Bedford replied, and before Wright had time to lower his upraised arms, his revolver was snatched from his belt.
Paton ordered one of his men to get straps from the wagon to tie him up. In the moment when the grip on his arms was relaxed and the strap slipped around him to pin his arms behind his back, Welshie made a desperate lunge to break free. As he did so, Paton's revolver went off, and Johnny Wright slumped to the ground with a cry.
“Oh, my God, what did you do that for?”
There was nothing that anyone could do for him. The bullet, which Paton claimed was fired by accident, had struck close to the heart.
Welshie Johnny Wright died exactly two months after his escape over the wall of Rockhampton gaol.
People later commented that, at 20, he was much too young to die. The law was to blame, for making such a show of hounding four such inoffensive bushrangers, who had after all never really done anybody much harm.
Later, in the Supreme Court in Rockhampton, before Chief Justice Sir James Cockle, the three surviving Rockhampton bushrangers were found guilty of various charges.
Flash Peter Fagan and Irish Daniel Webster were sentenced to 20 years on the roads and Thomas Howson, alias Hill, to 12 years. Young Welshie John Wright had paid the supreme penalty for his crimes. The short reign of mock terror of Central Queensland's first and last “home‑grown” bushrangers was over.
Light‑spirited it may have been, but heavy had been the final cost.