Spotlight: Captain Starlight’s Cattle Raid

T. A. Browne was the real name of colonial era author Rolf Boldrewood. Boldrewood wrote many popular tales of frontier life and bushrangers, drawing heavily on his own experiences and on popular news stories as inspiration. The central character of Boldrewood’s magnum opus, Robbery Under Arms, is Dick Marston; a young stockman who becomes wrapped up in the exploits of the dashing Captain Starlight.

The theft of a thousand cattle by Captain Starlight and his gang is one of the major set pieces in “Robbery Under Arms”, and like with most events and characters in Rolf Boldrewood’s writing, was based on an actual event.

Henry Redford was a Queensland cattle duffer and part-time bushranger who performed one of the most daring heists in Australian colonial history. In 1870 he stole 1000 cattle from Bowen Downs Station near Longreach and moved them overland through the Strzelecki Desert to South Australia for sale, netting £5000. It was a daring accomplishment unrivalled by even experienced stockmen. It wasn’t until 1872 that Readford was arrested and tried for the crime. A sympathetic (or impressed) jury found him not guilty. The tale is recounted in the news article below.

(Images from “Robbery Under Arms”, 1920)

Western Grazier (Wilcannia, NSW : 1896 – 1951), Friday 26 May 1944, page 4

The Greatest Cattle Stealing Case In Our History


The greatest cattle stealing swindle of all time in Australian history was way back in 1870— that of Henry Redford, stockman and his associates.

“Thank God, gentlemen, the verdict is yours, not mine,” said the Judge, and smiting the bench with his gavel, he left the courtroom. In the year 1860 explorers William Landsborough and Nat Buchanan, after tracing the Fitzroy and the Belyando Rivers west of Rockhampton, decided to go land-seeking still further west in the country traversed three years previously by A. C Gregory.

They travelled 150 miles beyond the Belyando, and came to good country near a mountain, which subsequently they named Mount Cornish. After the usual formalities, they obtained a lease of thousands of square miles of the wonderful rolling downs country in this neighborhood; and they formed two stations — one, Mount Cornish, a cattle station, and the other, Bowen Downs, a sheep station. In due course the proprietors of these two stations formed themselves into the Landsborough Company, and their brand, L.C.5, became known in all the saleyards of Australia. Two more part owners came into the company, namely, Morehead and Young, but in the slump In the middle ‘sixties, just prior to the discovery of Gympie gold, the three original pioneers, Buchanan, Landsborough and Cornish, were obliged to sell out their interests very cheaply, and Morehead and Young were left in possession. Thus, but the luck of the game, those who found the country were deprived of the rich harvest in later years.

In November, 1867, Bill Butler, over seer of Bowen Downs Station, made a 400-mile journey eastward to Gracemere Station, near Rockhampton, to buy from the Norwegian pioneer family, the Archers (formerly of Durundur) a stud bull. Bill selected a great white bull (named Whitey), an imported animal, who was pure white, and of remarkable appearance. This animal was branded A on the near and off rumps (Archer’s brand), so Bill branded him also with an S, for extra identification. He drove the bull home to Bowen Downs, and Whitey was liberated amongst the cows and heifers of Morehead and Young.

Just as Whitey was settling down to domestic felicity a villian [sic] appeared on the scene, and Whitey’s wanderings recommenced.

The villain was named Henry Redford, a stockman, with two mates and large ideas. Redford and Company lurked in a concealed gully on the Thompson River, near Mount Cornish, where they built stockyards and gradually accumulated a herd of over a thousand L.C.5. cattle, including many hundred cows and heifers who belonged to Whltey’s harem. No suspicion was attached to the comings and goings of Redford and his mates, Doudney and Brooke, who were employed by a teamster named Forrester, of Tambo. The stockyard builders had formed the tremendous plan of lifting a thousand cattle and droving them a thousand miles to South Australia, where they expected to sell them for £5,000.


They planned the biggest cattle steal in the world’s history. Never in the wilds of Texas were a thousand head rustled at one go. We do these things on a proper scale in Australia, even though Australia’s boys prefer to read stories of Zane Grey’s Wild West instead of our Wilder West. When the mob in the hidden stockyards were ready to start on their trans continental amble, Whitey refused to be separated from his sweethearts and wives.

To avoid raising too big a dust, the cattle were divided into three mobs, and were slowly droved down the Thompson River, day after day and week after week, leaving Bowen Downs further in the rear. The plan of the ‘lifters’ was to abandon the cattle and take to the bush, should they ever be pursued.

Anxiously they watched the horizon behind them for signs of pursuit, but, in that land of great distance, great mobs and great carelessness, their absence remained unnoticed. After three weeks the bellowing mob reached the junction where the Barcoo joins the Thompson country, completely uninhabitated and following the track blazed by E. B. Kennedy In 1847. They were 200 miles south of Bowen Downs, 200 miles west of Tambo Police barracks, and 200 miles north-west of Bulloo Barracks at Thargomindah which were in the charge of the intrepid Inspector J. M. Gilmour, who was even then searching the country west of Cooper’s Creek for bones presumed to be the remains of explorer Leichhardt, missing since 1847.


The three herds were now joined into one big bellowing mob, and the daring duffers, following a very careful itinerary, drove them slowly down Cooper’s Creek towards the South Australian border at Oontoo. No human being was there to question the thieves, who were as bold as the brass they hoped to make from the sale. These were the days of slow police communication and there was nothing to fear except pursuit by black trackers from Bowen Downs. Every time a mob of emus galloped behind the duffers to the north, Red ford and his co-pirates imagined that they saw Inspector Gilmour or his equally famous offsider, Trooper Ludovic, with the two Bulloo black-trackers, Tiger and Tommy. But no Tigers or Tommies appeared, and as the season was good, the lowing kine wound quickly down the lea — in other words down Cooper’s Creek —till they came to the stockade of Burke and Wills Camp 65, which had been the focus of the drama that had thrilled and horrified a continent ten years previously.

Now, who will deny that Redford and his mates were game? For despite the tragedy of Burke and Wills, there Aussie duffers formed a plan to drive their mob down Gregory’s old path along StrzeIecki Creek towards Mount Hopeless, where Burke had been baffled. Redford was a Hawkesbury River native — one of that tough breed, descendants of convicts, outlaws, free settlers, soldiers and aborigines, who had fed on bacon and corn and ridden their shaggy ponies up and down the gullies sinces [sic] the days of Governor Bligh.

These men are the original hillbillies of Australia, distillers of moonshine, rough as bags, broad in the shoulders, narrow in the waist, long in the head, and with small hands and feet.

Redford, who by now had changed his name to Collins, was of the same Hawkesbury river breed as Postman Peat, who carried Her Majesty’s Mails on horseback from Peat’s punt, along Peat’s Ridge, to Newcastle, twice a week for 50 years, wet or dry.

Redford had the same do-or-die spirit, as now he tailed his purloined mob over the border into South Australia at Oontoo, in the district of the Three Corners of Death .


Ahead, of them the Strzelecki Creek meandered southwards in a series of waterholes, some dry and some full, and some fresh and some salt, through a desert country inhabited by the notorious Tinga Tingana blacks. This was Sturt’s Stony Desert Country, and the cattle lowed and mooed as they sensed what was ahead of them.

Whitey bravely led on, but several small mobs broke away and headed back to the north, to become a prey for dingoes and Tinga Tinganas.

The route lay through Nappamerrie, Innamincka and Burley Burley water holes, after which the Strzelecki Creek did the disappearing trick and bobbed up again in a series of soaks a few miles apart until the duffers and their mob came to Murtie Murtie waterhole, 70 miles below Innamincka.

The trio were well equipped with shooting irons, and were able to vary their diet of everlasting beef with the black duck which were abundant in the lagoons and swamps of the disappearing Strzelecki. That experienced traveller, Whitey, who had now inspected the scenery from England to Rockhampton and thence most points westward to Bowen Downs, vowed that he had never seen anything like the parrakeelia and maneroo weed of the Strzelecki. Now the Tinga Tingana waterhole was reached, headquarters of the dreaded tribe of that euphonious name, but the natives made no attempt to bar Whitey’s progress.

On he went via Yerungarrowie and Goora Goora waterhole, until finally Whitey and Redford and their thousand beefy companions sighted the roof of a slab humpy!

They had come to Artacoona Well the furthest outpost of polite society in South Australia, inhabited by the Walke Brothers, who named their station Wallelderdine. Bowen Downs eight hundred miles to the north-east. The robbers felt safe from pursuit, but their problem was how to dispose of the booty without being pinched.

Walke’s Wallelderdine Station was the fringe of South Australian settlement, and word would soon spread about the passage of such a big mob down the Strzelecki. The simple-minded Walke Brothers could scarcely believe their eyes as they saw the cloud of dust on the northern horizon of their desert-bounded station, which betokened the arrival of Whitey and his attendants, come all the way from Queensland through the graveyard of Burke and Wills.

Redford, alias Collins, announced that he was a Queensland grazier, travelling a mob belonging to himself and his brother overland to the saleyards at Port Augusta.


They asked the Walkes for provisions and clothing from the station stores, offering in exchange two prime L.C.5 cows, but the Walke Brothers had cast covetous eyes on Whitey. that deep-thewed wanderer of the waste lands.

Little did the Walkes realise that Henry Redford, in the stillness of the night, by the Strzelecki’s brackish sand holes, had already decided to sell this pedigreed champion whose value was more than £500, anonymously to the first bidder in preference to shooting him before reaching the more settled districts.

In exchange for three pairs of moleskin trousers, 150 lbs. of flour, 7 lbs. of tea, cream-of-tartar and baking soda, and some plug tobacco, Whitey changed hands.

This transaction was Harry Redford’s only mistake. It also proved a bad deal for the Walkes.

Refreshed by a feed of damper, the three musketeers of Mount Cornish next drove their bull-less herd in the direction of Mount Hopeless, passing Mulligan Spring — so named because the blacks’ name for It was Mullachan.

Mount Hopeless and Mullachan were both out-stations of Blanchewater, which specialised in breeding Indian Army remounts (walers), of which there were 3,000 head on the station.

As the mob passed through the dried mud of Lake Crossing, between Lakes Blanche and Callabonna, their hooves padded over the spot where a few years later the skeleton of a diprotodon was found by scientists and amazed the whole world. At length they reached Mount Hopeless Station, which had been pioneered by John Baker in 1858, and went on to the homestead at Blanche water. John Baker was absent, but his manager, Mr. Mules, opened his eyes at such a huge mob appearing from the desert. Now Hawkesbury Henry had had enough of cattle duffing, flies and heat, and his only desire was to convert the herd into cash, split the divvy with his pals and leave the quart pots of the Strzelecki for the flesh pots of the Torrens. So he made a proposition.


Mr. Mules jumped at the chance of buying the mob, which it had never entered his head to believe were duffed, for, in all Australian history, cattle duffers had never lifted more than a few head at a time.

So the deed was done, and the duffers departed for Adelaide to cash their draft of £5,000.

The scene changes to the courtroom at Roma in Queensland, 300 miles west of Brisbane.

There, on the 11th day of February, 1873, before Judge Blakaney on circuit, the case of Regina v. Redford is called.

The prisoner, Henry Redford, Is indicted that he in March, 1870, at Bowen Downs Station, feloniously did steal 100 bullocks, 100 cows, 100 heifers, 100 steers and one bull, the property of Morehead and Young.

Sounds a bit paltry, considering that the mob was 1,000 in addition to Whitey.

Mr. Pring, Q.C., prosecuted for the Crown, and plain Mr. Paul defended the prisoner.


Forty-eight jurymen were empanelled, but after strenuous and prolonged objections by both sides, only seven good men and true remained in the box.

The prisoner produced no evidence.

Mr. Pring, Q.C., then addressed the jury. He said that the prisoner’s guilt was beyond all doubt, that the evidence could not be answered, and that it only remained for the jury to give a verdict which would put a stop to the abominable habit of cattle-duffing in Western Queensland for all times. (No applause from the public gallery, which was crowded with cattle-duffers. Seven red faces In the jury box, which was also crowded with cattle-duffers).

Mr. Paul, counsel for the prisoner, next addressed the jury, which listened to him with bated breath. He ridiculed the evidence given by the lunatic McPherson, and asked that the Court should direct the jury to put such evidence out of their minds.

“This informer” he said “is trying to escape the penalties of his own crimes by giving evidence against his quondam mate.” Continuing Mr. Paul pointed out eloquently that the prisoner had been held under arrest for 12 months without a trial and had suffered great hardships through being refused bail.

At the conclusion of Mr. Paul’s address, which had lasted for an hour, the jury looked sorrowful.

The Judge, in his summing up, instructed the jury not to be led away by the specious though clever address by counsel for the prisoner. He instructed them to dismiss from their minds the hardships said to have been endured during the 12 months Redford was conined [sic] awaiting trial. These remarks were uttered, no doubt, with a view to making the prisoner appear a martyr.

The Jury then retired at 9 p.m., the case having lasted since 10 a.m. that day.


The jury returned to court at 10 p.m., after an hour’s retirement.

“What is your verdict, gentlemen?” asked the Judge’s associate. “Not guilty!” said the foreman in a still, small voice.

(Sensation In the Court).

“What did you say?” thundered the Judge.

“Not guilty,” replied the foreman, guiltily.

After a pause His Honor said: “I will new discharge the prisoner, but before doing so, I wish to remark that I thank God, gentlemen of the jury, that the verdict is yours, not mine,” and smiting the bench with his gavel, His Honor retired in a huff and a hurry.

The sequel came a few months later after His Honor’s return to Brisbane.

The Government of Free and Easy Land uttered the following terrible malediction against Roma:


Wednesday, 5th April, 1873.

By the Most Honorable George Augustus Constantine, Marquis of Normanby, etc., Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Colony of Queensland.

“Whereas it is now deemed expedient to withdraw for the time hereafter mentioned from the District Court of Roma, the criminal jurisdiction of such Court, now before I, George Augustus Constantine, Marquis or Normanby, Earl of Mulgrave, all in the County of York, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom; the Baron Mulgrave of New Ross, in the County of Wexford, in the Peerage of Ireland; a member or Her Majesty’s most honorable Privy Council, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Colony of Queensland and its dependencies


that the criminal jurisdiction possessed by the Court at Roma shall be with drawn therefrom for the term of two years.”

Thus by bell, book and candle, on this Black Wednesday, the Honorable George Augustus Constantine (you know the rest) formally blacklisted, reprimanded stigmatised, chided, castigated, admonished. lectured, reproved, condemned, execrated and generally anathematised the Roma Jury Panel which had found Henry Redford not guilty!

So ends the true story of Henry Redford, alias Starlight, the hero of Rolfe Boldrewood’s fictitious, false and fantastic fable, “Robbery Under Arms.”

Redford was still alive when that book was published, and had been adjudged “not guilty,” so Boldrewood had to beware of the laws of libel.

I have now told the full and true story for the first time, as Redford died in 1903 in the Northern Territory, and all the actors of the drama, including the seven jurymen and the Great White Bull himself, have long since passed away.

It is said that the Walke Brothers went broke through neglecting their own business while engaged on Her Majesty’s business at Roma.

It is also undeniable that John Baker, of Mount Hopeless, was under no obligation to return the 1,000 head which his manager, Mules, had bought from ‘Henry Collins’; for, as Redford was adjudged ‘Not Guilty,’ the receipt given to Mules was valid.

What became of the £5,000 only the lawyers and Henry Redford know. — ‘Man’

[Source: State Library of Queensland]


THE people of Queensland may be congratulated on the speedy termination of the bushranging career of the three ruffians who escaped from the Rockhampton Gaol and for a short time lived by plundering travellers and the residents of the surrounding districts. The credit for their extermination is due not to the police force, but to civilians, and if the same determination to put down crime was exhibited by the residents of the Southern and Western districts of this colony as that which characterized the conduct of Messrs. Jardine, Paton, and Caldwell, we should soon be rid of Ben Hall, the murderer
Morgan, and others, whose acts of violence have brought this colony and its inhabitants into unmerited disrepute, and enabled some of our envious neighbours to cast a stigma on the whole of the people of New South Wales. Howson was the first of the gang brought to justice. Webster another of the party, visited Tregilgus’ public-house on the 9th of June; the police having received information of his whereabouts surrounded the house, but Webster, though fired at by the police, rushed off, and would probably have
effected his escape but for the exertions of Mr. Jardine, who borrowed a revolver from Sub-Inspector Foran, pursued Webster, and coming within range fired, exclaiming, “That will do, he will not go any farther. ” Webster then fell, and the constables coming up took him prisoner and conveyed him back to his former residence, the gaol. In the end of June, Fegan and Wright visited and robbed a number of stations along the Peak Downs road. At Mr. Caldwell’s Fegan helped himself to a fresh horse and to about £30 in cash. Shortly after the bush-rangers left, Mr. Caldwell sent round, and having collected and armed six or seven of his employes, started in pursuit, accompanied by a young man named Paton. Near a lagoon on the outskirts of the station, Mr. Caldwell discovered his horse feeding quietly at the edge of the scrub. The party, believing that the bushrangers were not far off, and would soon be searching for the horse, concealed themselves in the scrub, and in a short time Fegan was seen coming along on foot; he was about to endeavour to repossess himself of the horse, when the party, springing from their ambuscade, surrounded him, and the sight of half a dozen revolvers levelled at his head convinced him of the folly of attempting to escape ; he therefore quietly submitted, and was conveyed back to Rockhampton, where he and his companions have since been committed for trial. Wright, the last of the gang, continued his robberies until the 4th July, when he was met by Mr. Paton and Mr. Bedford near the Wilpend station ; on seeing Wright approaching, Mr. Paton picked up a revolver and presented it at the bushranger, saying, “You are my prisoner ; throw your hands up !” Wright replied in a saucy tone, “All right,” and partially lifted his hands, but immediately afterwards lowered them towards his belt. Again Mr. Paton exclaimed, “Throw your hands up, or I’ll fire !” and the bushranger not immediately complying, he (Mr. Paton) turned to speak to one of his men who had followed, though still keeping the bushranger under cover. In turning he touched the trigger unintentionally, and the contents of the revolver were instantly lodged in the body of Wright, who exclaimed ” Oh, my God! what is that for?”and sank to the ground a corpse. On the body was found a revolver loaded and capped. Information of the circumstances was at once sent to Mr. Caldwell, the nearest magistrate, and an inquiry took place next day. Four gentlemen—-Messrs. Stanley, Gerard, Mackay, and Macdonald—-were empanelled as a jury, and concurred with the opinion of the presiding magistrate, that the act of shooting Wright was justifiable homicide.


Source: “THE CAPTURE OF FEGAN, THE BUSHRANGER.” Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 – 1872) 17 August 1864: 1.

Forgotten Bushrangers: “Scrammy” Jack Moreland

There are many Jacks in the pantheon of bushranging, but “Scrammy” Jack Moreland is one of the more obscure.

Moreland was nicknamed scrammy because he was missing two fingers on his left hand (“scrammy” being a term for people with busted hands). He was one of the few notable Queensland bushrangers and operated near the Cape River district in the late 1860s, emerging to prominence in 1870.

Moreland, who would be referred to in the press as Three-Fingered Jack, worked with an Irishman named John Sullivan and an unnamed Aboriginal boy, emerging to raid the store at Francis Town in May 1870. The gang came across a boy bathing in the river and bailed him up, keeping him hostage until his absence was noted. When a man came looking for him, he was bailed up as well and tied up and left on a sandbank in the river. The boy escaped and raised the alarm and a bullock driver named Donald Simpson went in pursuit. He didn’t have to go far as the bushrangers were already descending upon the store. Simpson advised them to surrender and Jack responded with a cry of “Shoot the bloody cur!” upon which Simpson drew a revolver and shot Moreland in the thigh. Wounded but still lucid, Jack fired at Simpson and shot him in the lungs. The Aboriginal boy fled and Moreland and Sullivan mounted their horses. The pair took off but as they did, Francis the storekeeper appeared and fired at Scrammy Jack. The shot hit its mark and Jack slumped in the saddle but kept riding.

Two days later Simpson died of his wounds and a search party set out. Inspector Clohesy took a constable and a tracker to find the culprits but instead only found an aggressive black snake which bit the tracker who died hours later. The inspector learned that Moreland and Sullivan had been seen crossing the river. Moreland had removed his trousers to get a better look at the nasty bullet wound in his thigh and had told the witnesses – one of Francis’ staff and an Aboriginal man named Sam – that he had snagged himself in the river. Moreland and Sullivan then ascertained that the men they were speaking to had gold on them and robbed them at gunpoint before escaping.

Queensland Police Gazette, 04/01/1871

In May 1870 Jack Moreland and John Sullivan were formally charged with the wilful murder of Donald Simpson. Unfortunately for Scrammy Jack he never got to trial. He was arrested in November 1873 and held in remand in Brisbane Gaol where, after a hunger strike, he had a severe bout of diarrhoea and died.

“SATURDAY, MAY 28, 1870.” The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) 28 May 1870: 5.
“ATTEMPT TO STICK UP A STORE ON THE GILBERT.” South Australian Chronicle and Weekly Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1868 – 1881) 30 April 1870: 4.
“Current News.” The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939) 13 December 1873: 2.



The drama in the courthouse continues to rumble on as the jury is given one last round of the evidence in the case of the murder of Constable Doyle and Albert Dahlke. The trial rumbles to its dramatic conclusion, the judge recapitulates the evidence to the jury and the brothers are given their fate.

Part One

Part Two


kenniff trial.jpg

Addresses to the Jury

Early on Saturday morning the court was filled and before proceedings commenced there was riot standing room inside. Among those present during the day were the Premier and the Minister for Railways, who sat at the barristers’ table, while many prominent citizens were to be seen standing in the crowd in the court room. With the punctuality that has marked him throughout the trial his Honor took his seat on the bench shortly before ten o’clock, and a few minutes later Mr. McGrath resumed his address to the jury. The prisoner’s advocate spoke altogether for three hours and a half.
On the previous evening he had pointed out the weak links in the chain of circumstantial evidence, and laid particular stress on the fact that the only direct testimony connecting the prisoners with Doyle or Dahlke on March 30 was that of the aboriginal tracker, Sam Johnson. Many discrepancies in Sam’s story were alluded to. Sam had said that he saw Tom Kenniff there, but a Crown witness had proved that Tom Kenniff was many miles away. Then Sam recognised James Kenniff though he had never seen him before, and he said he WORE A RED TIE.
With the aboriginal’s fondness for bright colors Sam had fixed on red, while as a matter of fact it was not probable that a bushman like James Kenniff would be wearing a tie at all. He urged that the Crown had yet to prove that Doyle was dead there was no conclusive proof that he was dead. He referred to the evidence of Dr. Voss regarding the burnt remains. The doctor would not say positively whether they were the remains of a black or a white man — in fact he could say nothing except that they were human remains. That the Kenniffs went about armed was nothing against them. Also it was not apparent that they had any animus against Constable Doyle. He dwelt at length on the evidence of Thornton and Mulholland proving that the prisoners had been at Hutton Creek on March 30, over 90 miles away from Lethbridge’s Pocket, and also referred in detail to Sam Johnson’s evidence concerning the shots he had heard fired. On Saturday morning Mr. McGrath again referred to the tracker’s evidence, whose mind, he said, was so disordered by fright that he was prepared to see Kenniffs in every person he met that day. If the Kenniffs had been there they would have had no difficulty in catching the blackfellow. They were weil mourned, while Johnson was riding an old cast-off police horse. Were they going to hang two white men on the uncorroborated evidence of a blackfellow — a blackfollow who DID NOT TAKE THE OATH and had no idea of religion? Against his evidence they had the unshaken testimony of Thornton. He then dwelt at length, on the fallacy of trusting to circumstantial evidence, and concluded his address by an appeal to the jury to give the men fair play and the benefit of any doubts that existed, and “may God direct you to do what is right.”
Sam Johnson

Mr. Lilley said that after Mr. McGrath’s lengthy speech it would be inconsistent with his duty if he did not also address the jury and thereupon spoke for about an hour in a very passionate strain. It was not the calm, clear, dispassionate, analytical address usually expected from a Crown Prosecutor, but rather a vehement appeal to the jury to find the prisoners guilty. He characterised the alibi set up by the defence as a vile conspiracy supported by deliberate lying. In his usual overbearing style he brusquely called the witness Thornton a perjured liar, and was equally hard on the other witnesses for the defence. He then gave the jury the Crown’s theory of the murder, as outlined in his opening address. When James Kenniff was arrested, he said, Patrick Kenniff came suddenly round the hill and shot Dahlke. After Dahlke was killed, Doyle had to die too. “And there,” exclaimed Barrister Lilley, pointing to the prisoners with dramatic gesture, “there are, the murderers. He was butchered to death by those fiends.” As Mr. Lilley is sfond of epithetepithe s he will perhaps pardon us if we term his speech fiendish and vindictive. Yes, Mr. Lilley certainly EARNED HIS BLOOD MONEY.

Jim Kenniff

It was about 12.45pm when His Honor, the Chief Justice, commenced his summing-up to the jury. He said that the prisoners were, as the Jury were aware, charged with the wilful murder of Constable George Doyle at Lethbridge’s Pocket on March 30 last. The facts of the case were very simple. He explained to the jury what was the law on murder and manslaughter. On the evidence in this case it was murder. He could not see anything to suggest manlslaughter, nor could he see from the evidence that the prisoners had taken the life of Doyle unintentionally. It meant that the prisoners were guilty of murder or nothing. If two or more persons formed a common purpose to prosecute an unlawful act in conjunction, and in the prosecution of that act a murder was committed, they were both deemed guilty. If the jury came to the conclusion upon the evidence that the prisoners formed a common purpose to evade arrest by Constable Doyle on that day, and for that purpose they used firearms and killed Constable Doyle, each would be GUILTY OF MURDER.

Paddy Kenniff

No doubt the jury had paid careful attention to the evidence. There were various opinions held about circumstantial evidence. Some people thought that circumstantial evidence was better than direct evidence. In some cases it was better than direct evidence because there was a probability of some people who gave direct evidence tellig untruths. The advantage of circumstantial evidence was that if the facts were established there was no object gained by falsehood. Circumstantial facts, if established and put together, were more satisfactory than the direct evidence of one or two persons. It was like a puzzle they had seen in their childhood, where a lot of blocks had to be put together before they had the picture. They could not forget that illustration as applied to this case. There was evidence that four persons met at Hutton Creek on that Sunday morning. What was material was that there was direct evidence that four people met there on that Sunday. That depended entirely on the assertion of those people. They supplied a description of the camp of the things in that camp, and said it could not be possible for the prisoners to be at Lethbridge’s Pocket on that date. In the case of murder — life or death, and even in ‘any other case — the jury should weigh the evidence very carefully to ascertain the true facts and to draw inferences. It would be AN AWFUL THING to convict men of murder or, indeed, any crime on conjectures. But he supposed no jury would do such a thing in these days.


His Honor then referred to a case quoted by Mr. McGrath which happened in the reign of Elizabeth. It was not for the jury, because that case had been a miscarriage of justice, to do anything of the kind now. His Honor next referred to another point raised, that the jury could not convict because no body had been found. There had been a case of murder tried in that court where the body had not been found. It was shown that a few miles out at sea the man had been shot through the chest, the blood spouted out, and he fell overboard into the sea. The jury were satisfied that he was dead. It was necessary to show that the prisoners or accused persons committed the deed by direct or circumstantial evidence. It was the duty of the jury in capital cases to give their attention to the evidence. If they had any doubt it was their duty to give the prisoner the benefit of that doubt. If they were satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt, they should not hesitate to do their duty. It was a lamentable thing for young men to be tried for murder. It was a painful duty for himself and the jury to perform and it was a painful thing that men should be murdered, but crime could not be allowed to go unpunished. The jury would have to weigh the evidence dispassionately and see what conclusion they should arrive at. His Honor at some length referred to the evidence of Doyle, Dahlke, and Sam Johnson leaving the Upper Warrego Police Station on the morning of March 23. He described the situation of Lethbridge’s Pocket, and referred to the fact that Doyle was OUT WITH WARRANTS for the prisoners for horse-stealing. The witness Charles Pearson Tom had seen tracks on his run. That was a coincidence. When Sam Johnson espied three men in Lethhridge’s Pocket they were riding horses and had two pack-horses. Sam Johnson knew Pat and Tom Kenniff, but had never seen James Kenniff before, though he knew he was out looking for him. His Honor then referred to what happened in the Pocket that morning, as given in evidence, and to Sam Johnson escaping through the range to a place rolled the Pump-hole where he came upon Burke, who went back to the pocket, which was a courageous thing for him to do. In referring to the blood-stained saddle on Dahlke’s mare, His Honor said “The man was gone from the saddle, which was covered with blood. Blood was on the withers and mane of the horse, which indicated that whoever sat in that saddle had received a wound of some kind to cause such a quantity of blood to come. The jury would probably come to the conclusion that he was shot. From that they would infer that Dahlke was the last man riding in that saddle and had been shot, which. caused him to bleed so copiously. His Honor referred to the next visit paid to the pocket, where little heaps apparently made by leaves and not logs were found, under which was found to be what Millard said was blood. There were THREE POOLS OF BLOOD from which, it might be inferred, that Dahlke was killed there, and if they assumed Doyle was dead, the blood might have come from him. His Honor next referred to the apple tree and the log on which bullet wounds were found. This showed that the man fired at moved to the right in a line with the log. He had been missed again and again and had moved to the right where something had occurred, which was probably the cause of the pools of blood. There were the pack-bags which Burke had seen on the Sunday which were gone on the Tuesday when he returned to the pocket. Therefore somebody must have been at the pocket between the Sunday and Tuesday and taken them away. The bodies had been burned and the bones pounded down, before they were put into the pack-bags.

Constable Doyle

At this stage the court adjourned for lunch. On resuming, His Honor continued:

Dr. Voss’ evidence had proved that the bags contained human remains. These bags had been proved to contain the remains of a man or men. They might assume, so far, that they were not the remains of Doyle or Dahlke. In the pocket on the Sunday morning Dahlke’s horse was found with blood sprinkled over the saddle and mane. Doyle’s horse was found two days later with the pack-bags across the saddle. Other things had been found in the Pocket belonging to the missing men. Neither Doyle nor Dahlke had been heard of since that time. There was the evidence then to justify, them in coming to the conclusion that the pack-bags contained the REMAINS OF DOYLE AND DAHLKE: that they had been murdered in that pocket. By whom was another matter. Evidence had been given that Doyle and Dahlke had gone out to arrest the prisoners, and had come upon them in that pocket and remains were afterwards found in the pack-bags.

Under those circumstances he thought that there was not sufficient evidence before the jury to enable them to draw an inference that they had been murdered by the prisoners, if the evidence stopped there. But it did not stop there. He would call their attention to a singular fact. The two prisoners disappeared. Nobody saw them excepting the two witnesses who said they saw them on Hutton Vale on the Sunday. With the exception of these two persons they appeared to have disappeared from civilisation for a week less than three months, when they were arrested near a camp at or near Mitchell, armed with two rifles, while two revolvers were found at the camp.

Those facts were the outline, or skeleton of the case. Some facts were not disputed, excepting the evidence of Sam Johnson. He would ask the jury whether they believed Doyle was dead. Though the prisoners were not charged with killing Dahlke the deeds took place at the same time, it was one transaction. They were hale, hearty men. Doyle was a policeman going out with a warrant. It did not appear whether Dahlke was interested in that warrant. There was evidence that James Kenniff and Dahlke had met before, and were not the best of friends. If they believed Burke’s story James Kenniff had said that he was a better man than when he was on Babilboora, and Pat Kenniff had said “Whatever Dahlke gets you’ll get.” Dahlke had thought it necessary to go with Doyle to arrest the two prisoners. He need not describe in detail how the two men were equipped. Doyle had not been seen since, and there was no reason suggested why he SHOULD SUDDENLY VANISH off the face of the earth. His father is still alive. It was proved and sworn that on the occasion they left Doyle wore on his arm two little red armlets made up with two rings which had been given to him by Millard. He had here an exhibit similar to the armlets Doyle wore. Doyle also had with him five spare bullets, which he carried in his belt. Dahlke wore in the lapel of his coat some bouquet pins. His Honor described how those pins had been found at the flat rock. Dahlke’s mother had given them to him. He then referred to the flat rock which bore signs of having carried a fierce fire, and of the fatty substance found on it and in the crevices. Also the two sticks which had been used as pokers, with charred ends covered with fat and grease. A piece of vertebrae was found, fat still remaining between the bones, showing that the man could not be long dead. His Honor further dwelt on the fact of the two rings and the pins found. After referring to the chances of one man in a hundred wearing those pins, the learned Judge said that there was a reasonable probability of the remains being Doyle and Dahlke’s. That was for the jury to say and if they had any reasonable doubt they knew how to give effect to it if they had no reason to doubt that it was Doyle and Dahlke who were burned on that rock, and that they were dead, the next thing to consider was WHO DID IT? They would probably come to the conclusion that they were murdered that day. They would come to the conclusion that the same men that killed those men covered the blood on the ground, and that the same men burned the bodies on the rock. The first thing the murderers would do would be to hide all traces of their crime. Three men were seen in the Pocket, and they did not know what time the tracker would come back again. He then referred to the time Burke was at the Pocket, and what happened when he left till the next Tuesday. The murderer or murderers had come back and had lit fires to hide the marks of the blood on the ground, and had lit a fire on the other side of the creek. Mr. Lilley had suggested that they might have had an idea of burning the bodies there. By Tuesday they had done what they proposed to do for the purpose of hiding the traces of their crime ; they had burned the bodies, packed the contents in the pack-bags, which they threw across the police horse George. Whoever they were they were trying to conceal their crime. This was attempted but was frustrated by the horse George getting loose and coming back to Lethbridge’s Pocket. Two men met their death, and the murderers endeavored to remove all traces of their crime. That was what the circumstantial evidence lead to.

Albert Dahlke and Boudicea

Various people had various ideas concerning the credibility of ABORIGINAL EVIDENCE. Some maintained that aboriginals were not truthful at all, that they would say anything that was told to them. They must judge Sam Johnson by his evidence, by his demeanor in the witness-box and the probability of his story ; it was a most consistent story. His Honor then read over Sam Johnson’s evidence. That was all the evidence of what took place, and supposing it to be true, was it not a likely story? He also read Burke and Tom’s evidence. If the blood Millard saw was Dahlke’s he must have bled profusely. Millard’s description of what he had seen in the Pocket was next read, as was also portion of Sub-inspector Dillon’s evidence. That was all the evidence relating to the pocket. If the prisoners were there, and Johnson’s story was correct that he lifted the prisoner James Kenniff out of the saddle and then, went to the pack-horse and heard five shots fired, one first and then four, it was very improbable that Jim Kenniff fired the first shot. Where Doyle was standing it was not at all likely that Jim Kenniff fired the shot at all. It must have been Pat or Tom. Tom is only a young boy, and they knew that in the evening he was at the new yards with his father and brother at 11 o’clock that night, whereas the prisoners had not been seen till their arrest. The two prisoners carried revolvers, and there was nothing to show that Tom did. It was not necessary to come to the conclusion that the prisoner James or Tom fired the shot. Th probability was that Patrick Kenniff fired the first shot at Dahlke who was sitting on the horse and the blood spurted over the horse and reins. That evidence was connected by other bullet marks to the right, and the pools of blood indicated that they WERE FIRING AT a moving object. The evidence of the surveyor was that he saw bullet marks on a log six yards from the apple tree. Two shots were certninly fired at a moving object to the right, then to the logs, where pools of blood were found, and that was where Doyle was shot or probably killed.

Supposing that that was what happened there who was responsible for it? It was not likely that both prisoners fired at Doyle, though they might have. His Honor then quoted the Law of two persons acting in concert, aiding one another, counselling and-procuring a crime. If they were acting in concert, both were guilty. If both formed the purpose before Dahlke was shot, and determined to resist apprehension and for that purpose fired at Doyle, they were guilty. The evidence was circumstantial in some particulars, though it was not as far as Johnson seeing James Kenniff held by Doyle, and Dahlke holding the bridle of his horse. Murders were not generally done while anybody was looking on. The answer to this charge, which was a serious one, was, “We were not there; we were 300 miles away, and could not be there.” That was the answer. What was set up might be called A DOUBLE ALIBI.

The two prisoners say they were at Hutton Vale on that Sunday morning, and secondly that Tom Kenniff wasn’t at the pocket at all on that Sunday morning. These two matters should be considered separately. Regarding, the allegation that the two prisoners were at Hutton Vale on the Sunday morning, his Honor referred to the story told by the two prisoners of their forming an idea to go to the Roma races. Hutton Creek was 95 miles from Carnarvon, and Roma was another 84 miles distant. They were to ride 80 miles on Saturday and Sunday to reach Roma on Monday. He described the camp at Hutton Creek, and the meeting of Mulholland and Thornton with the prisoners. He had before said that this direct evidence contradicted the circumstantial evidence. Both sides had directed the jury’s attention to the state of the country in March last. The prisoners picked up Darramundi and were going to travel him day and night till they got to Roma. The evidence of both James and Patrick was that their rifles were planted and that they did not get them until April 5 or 6, and that on their way to Hutton Vale they picked up some rations and put them in a bag across a riding saddle and that they had nothing else. The witnesses Mulholland and Thornton that on the occasion they saw the prisoners in camp at Hutton Vale, the Kenniffs had a pack-saddle and one rifle, or two. The suggestion was that the alibi was not true. His Honor dwelt at some length upon the nature of the evidence given in proving the alibis. It was extremely difficult to go into the witness-box and tell an untrue story relying solely on the memory. There must be a foundation for the facts related. He had heard circumstantial STORIES TOLD BY WOMEN which were simply impossible to have been invented. A witness might say that at time related certain things happened by substituting another date, and could then stand any amount of cross-examination. They had only to stick to the date, and relate things seen on another day. The evidence of the two witnesses, and Mulholland could not be accused of being unfriendly to the prisoners, should be considered. They said they saw a pack-saddle there and rifles. If that was true it was not on March 30. It must have been earlier or later. Of course the story was to be taken into consideration that they had ridden 95 miles on the road to Roma races and had still 84 miles to ride and had only a day to do it in. There was the evidence given by Tom Kenniff that on the evening of Good Friday his brothers said they were going straight on to Mitchell. That was the evidence, and it was for the jury to believe whether they were at Hutton Vale on March 30. It was for them to say whether they were satisfied with Mulholland’s and Thornton’s evidence. The former said he HAD LIED FREELY to the police, and considered himself at liberty to do so. Was it probable that the four men met at Hutton Vale on March 30?

The father and the sons had been traced from Lethbridge’s Pocket, and the evidence showed that the tracks were fresh, though they said they had left the pocket two or three weeks before. All circumstances should be taken into consideration. The prisoners started to go to the races on Good Friday night and changed their minds because a horse went lame. They rode about the bush with rations they had got long before, and when arrested they were armed. They knew for about a month that £1000 had been offered for their arrests. It was for the jury to WEIGH ALL THE EVIDENCE in their minds ; to consider what facts reliance could be placed on and if the truth of the truth of the actual facts established to their satisfaction was consistent with the guilt of the prisoners, or if it was with their innocence, it was their duty to say so. They should- reconcile all the facts of the case with the innocence of the prisoners, if they could not then they should say they were guilty. As to the men who fired the shot, if they were acting in concert to resist arrest then they should find both guilty. He did not think he could assist them any further. He would ask them to consider their verdict.

The Flat Rock where the bodies were burned


FOUND GUILTY! Patrick and James Kenniff Sentenced to be Hanged

At 3.15p.m. the jury retired to consider their verdict, and the prisoners were removed to the cells. Ten minutes later the jury sent in a request to be allowed to have the saddle, pins, and rings. These exhibits were sent to them.

Mr. McGrath then asked to have the following points reserved for the Full Court.
(1) That there was no evidence before the jury of Constable Doyle’s death ; (2) That there was no evidence that the prisoners, James and Patrick Kenniff, had acted in concert in committing the murder.

At 3.45p.m. the jury were again brought into court and his Honor directed them further. He said that the evidence given by Burke about James Kenniff saying he would meet Ryan, Doyle, and Dahlke together and would belt the lot of them, was not evidence of any intention to kill Doyle, it was evidence only of ill-will. If they believed the statement that Patrick drew a revolver and said. “Whatever Dahlke gets you will get the very same,” it would indicate that he had some idea of shooting Dahlke.

The jury again retired. At 4.10 p.m. the prisoners returned to the dock, and at 4.15 the jury filed into court and stood in front of the jury box while they answered individually to their names.

Then the associate asked: Gentlemen, have you agreed upon your verdict ?
The Foreman: We have.
Associate: Do you find the prisoner Patrick Kenniff guilty? — Yes.
Do you find the prisoner James Kenniff guilty? — Yes.
So say your foreman, so say you all?
Jurors (in low voice): Yes.
Mr. Lilley (in a subdued tone): I pray the sentence of the court.

While the jury were answering their names, the prisoners had shown some slight symptoms of nervousness. James Kenniff moved uneasily from foot to foot, while Patrick clasped and unclasped his hands. After the verdict “guilty ” had been pronounced both men resumed their accustomed attitudes. They leaned lazily against the front of the dock with their hands hanging over the front, and were apparently calm and composed. They had heard the worst, the tension was over, and they were now prepared for the fate that inevitably awaited them.

The Associate then turned to Patrick Kenniff and said: “Patrick Kenniff, you have been found guilty of wilful murder ; have you anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon you?”
Patrick Kenniff thus addressed, straightened himself up and, looking the judge squarely in the face, replied in a husky voice: ” Yes, your Honor, I know the sentence you are going to pass and before you do I say I AM AN INNOCENT MAN! I hope before I part from this world you will find I am an innocent man.”
James Kenniff was then similarly addressed. He hesitated, and then in a loud voice full of passion emphatically said: “Yes, I have! Your Honor I wish to mention, if you will allow me to comment on your summing up in our case to-day, that I think you never gave us one item of justice. I have no other witness to call, except Almighty God,  that I am an innocent man! He is the only one I can call, and I call upon Him. . . . Before your Honor SHUFFLES OFF THIS MORTAL COIL, you will find that . . . . is near the murderer, and that is all I have to say I am an innocent man!”
His Honor (calmly to Mr. McGrath): I reserve those points for the consideration of the Full Court, Mr. McGrath.
Then his Honor turned to the press box, and said: I hope the press will not mention the scandalous statements made. The press will not be justified in giving publicity to them.

[These remarks referred to something James Kenniff had said about one of the Crown witnesses, which we suppress out of deference to his Honor’s expressed wish, though we feel it our duty, equally with his Honor’s, to say that we see no reason why the statement of a condemned man should not have the fullest publicity. — Ed. Truth.]

After a pause his Honor said: — The Law, provides that where points are reserved, a Judge may pronounce or defer judgment. I think it is my duty to pronounce judgment.

In a voice that betrayed some emotion, the Chief Justice went on: — Patrick Kenniff, James Kenniff: You have been convicted of wilful murder, after a prolonged and patient trial, by a jury of great intelligence, who have given their fullest attention to the whole case. I invited them upon the facts as found established by evidence, if they could say the truth was consistent with your innocence, to find you not guilty. They Have not been able to say that the facts established here were consistent with your innocence. Nor can I (decisively). 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 of concealing the evidence of your crime would certainly have been successful had it not been for an extraordinary accident. I find on reference that you have never been arraigned upon so serious a charge before, but that you are both familiar, for long periods, with the interior of gaol, and according to the evidence you had practically resorted to a fresh career of crime. I do not want to say anything to hurt your feelings. The points reserved for the Full Court I have already expressed my opinion. I told the jury, there was ample evidence to justify your conviction.

His Honor then removed his wig and donned the black cap, and continued in a low, solemn voice: I have only to pass on you the sentence of the law upon each of you and that is that you be returned to your former custody and at a place and time to be appointed by the Executive you and each of you be hanged by the neck till you are dead, and may God have mercy on your souls.”

His Honor then announcod that under the Criminal Code he respited the execution till after the points raised were argued before the Full Court. Turning to the jury he said that they were now discharged, after a painful trial with the thanks of the country for their services.

returning to gaol

[The remainder of the article is damaged, a chunk missing from the page in the archival copy. I have filled in what I can from inference and by referring to other contemporary articles. – AP]

The two prisoners smilingly shook hands with their solicitor, Mr. McGrath, [and] thanked him for his services. [They also shook hands with Mr. O’Neill, Mr. McGrath’s partner, and] were removed to the cells to await [transportation to the] waggonette which was [outside.] Meanwhile, a crowd of onlookers…had collected outside the [George Street entrance to the courthouse to await the coming of the police van. The] prisoners marched through [the concourse to the police van. The blinds were closely drawn and all that could be seen was the driver and two policemen on the front seat, at the back the hands of two policemen. A trooper rode behind. As the waggonette emerged] the crowd hooted [their support for the condemned men. The policemen] cocked their revolvers. [A feeble voice] called out. ” Good-bye Jim [Good-bye Pat.”] and the condemned men [were taken to] their last earthly habits [at Boggo Road] Gaol.


“The Crown says Doyle Was “Butchered to Death by these Two Fiends.”” Truth (Brisbane, Qld. : 1900 – 1954) 9 November 1902: 5.

“TERMINATION OF THE KENNIFF TRIAL.” The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933) 10 November 1902: 6.

“The Kenniffs.” The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947) 10 November 1902: 4.

“THE KENNIFFS.” Worker (Brisbane, Qld. : 1890 – 1955) 15 November 1902: 9.

The Wild Scotchman: An Overview

James Alpin McPherson is the patron bushranger of Queensland. His lawlessness and reckless nature earned him the moniker “wild”. Active during the mid-1860s, he was a character typical of the Australian frontier who saw nothing more appealing than heading south to fall in with Ben Hall.

McPherson was born in Inverness in 1842, emigrating to Moreton Bay in 1855. He was schooled in Ipswich and became fluent in French and German. Upon finishing his schooling he had many jobs including as a stonemason in Brisbane, allegedly making headstones and monuments. He soon left the city and became a stockman tailing cattle. In his downtime he would practice with a revolver he had purchased until he became quite proficient with it. The sound of gunshots echoing through the valley made the locals nervous and McPherson soon went bush. It seems strange that a well educated, gainfully employed young man would turn to bushranging, but that is precisely what he did.


McPherson was one of a trio of banditti who stuck up a station one night in 1864, stealing clothes, whisky and flour. He soon decided to become a bushranger in Ben Hall’s gang and headed south, sticking up travellers en route.

When McPherson reached the Lachlan, he very quickly attracted the attention of Sir Frederick Pottinger who engaged him in a shoot out, wherein both were injured by bullets. McPherson escaped on foot but before long he was apprehended and brought to trial for shooting Pottinger. Fortunately for McPherson, Pottinger accidentally killed himself before the case was heard and the charge was withdrawn.

Frederick Pottinger

While being taken to face trial over the initial robbery on a steamer called “Leichhardt”, McPherson escaped while the craft was anchored in the middle of the Fitzroy river. Apparently he had so impressed his escort and the other passengers with his ability to get out of his restraints that they left his handcuffs off and allowed him to roam the deck with leg irons on.  Legend has it that when he was found missing the whole area was searched and his leg irons were found hanging on a tree with a polite note attached:

“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   19th   century. — Many thanks; adieu.”

mcpherson escapes

In March 1866, McPherson found himself captured in Gin Gin, Queensland. This time,  however, the capturers were civilians and not police. For his highway robberies he ended up with two twenty five year sentences on the island of St Helena, Moreton Bay. As the prison hadn’t actually been built at that time he was stationed on a moored former prison hulk called Prosperpine and rowed out to the island each day to construct the prison in a chain gang.  This seemed like the end of the story but McPherson, in colleague with a group of convicts, breached the walls of the stockade in April 1866. When the escapees were found McPherson copped a shot to his hand. In 1874 a petition was raised for McPherson to be released. On 22nd December he finally got out.

old mcpherson
McPherson in less “wild” days

McPherson spent the remainder of his days as a stockman and overseer. In 1878 he married Elizabeth Annie Hausfedlt and they had 4 daughters and 2 sons. McPherson’s adventures came to an end in 1895 when, riding home from a funeral, he was knocked off his horse and killed.

A natural rock formation on Cattle Creek was known as “Scotchman’s Knob” in the Upper Burnett district is a natural sort of fortress made from huge granite boulders, this is the main site associated with McPherson’s bushranging activities.

Selected Sources:

“TERROR rides the north..” Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954) 14 October 1954: 10.

“PRISON HULK” Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1926 – 1954) 4 August 1940: 2 (Supplement to The Sunday Mail).

“The WILD SCOTCHMAN: ONLY QUEENSLAND BUSHRANGER” The World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955) 12 December 1928: 6.

“”SCOTCHMAN’S KNOB.”” The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933) 13 April 1933: 15.

The life and adventures of the wild Scotchman: the Queensland bushranger by P.W. McNally

The Kenniff Brothers: An Overview


Queensland can’t lay claim to a great many bushrangers when compared to its southern kin, but at the top of the hill stand the Kenniff brothers, Patrick and James. With their roots in Tipperary during the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, the Kenniffs were seemingly born to rebel. Like many bushrangers they began as cattle rustlers but their crimes soon escalated into grisly territory.

Patrick Kenniff was born in 1863 to James and Mary Kenniff in Dungog, New South Wales. Paddy’s little brother James was born in 1869 but his birth was not registered. Later there would be Thomas and John to add to the ranks. In 1891 the family made the move to Springsure, Queensland where the boys worked as labourers, jockeys and bookmakers at the race meetings. In 1893 Paddy and Jimmy headed to the Upper Warrego where they fell in with the gang of stock thief Thomas Stapleton taking them down a slippery slope they would never return from. Throughout their early life, the Kenniffs rode with their cousins and Aboriginal boys from the Bidjara people, stealing cattle and horses with impunity.

If there was one thing that defined the Kenniffs it was their relationship to all things equine. Paddy in particular was considered one of the best horsemen around and is reported to have on one occasion robbed a Casino hotel and escaped through a flooded stream, cutting off his saddlebags mid-stream so that when the police caught up to him he could cooly inquire what they wanted. Jim was also an expert horseman too, training a racehorse called Darramundi in Roma in 1901 winning a number of races in Springsure and Tambo.

Mug shot of James Kenniff

In December 1894 the brothers first appeared on the radar of the authorities after a race meeting in Charleville. Having had a bad day at the races the Kenniffs discovered they were short on funds to repay their debts so they pinched three of the race horses and bolted. After stealing a mob of cattle at Meteor Downs, James Kenniff senior took the mob into Roma for sale while the brothers Paddy, Jim and Tom would traverse the surrounding areas into New South Wales avoiding police attention as well as they could. Paddy knew the stock theft charges against him were flimsy and planned to use the proceeds from the sale to pay a lawyer to get him off once he’d turned himself in. But, as these stories usually go, the Kenniffs could not evade the forces of law and order for long. In February 1895 the brothers were caught by Tambo police but succeeded in escaping custody and heading back into the bush leaving the troopers with egg on their faces. It wasn’t until March that they were caught proper, police sneaking up on them at their camp. Paddy mounted one of the horses and took off but was stopped by one of the officers who fired at his mount causing the rider to be thrown off. Jim mounted and took off but was knocked out of the saddle by a low branch. Tried in Roma Paddy got five years and Jim three. While the brothers did their time in gaol neighbours, spearheaded by one Albert Dahlke who was a prominent squatter from Carnarvon Station, protested about the impact such lawless people would have on the community and had the family’s land lease at Ralph Block terminated.

Mug shot of Patrick Kenniff

The Kenniffs were hardened by their time in prison and having their land taken away making the family homeless and forcing their father and the brothers to live in tents. Paddy and Jim took to riding at all times with weapons and their bitter resentment for Albert Dahlke festered away. An altercation between Jim Kenniff and Dahlke soon occurred wherein Dahlke gave the younger Kenniff an absolute belting, the Dahlkes being renowned in the region for their tough fists and indomitable resolve in a fight. Jim would later challenge Dahkle to a second fight and boasted that he would not thrash a Kenniff a second time around. From that day forward the brothers had sworn to take revenge on the squatter. The brothers roamed the Carnarvon region stealing horses from the squatters and sleeping beneath the stars dreaming of revenge.

Dahlke and his favourite horse Boudicea

In 1902 things quickly ramped up as the Kenniff brothers were once more wanted for stock theft. On 21 March a warrant was issued for the arrest of the brothers. On 28 March the Kenniff brothers had made an appearance at Carnarvon Station and threatened some of the staff so Constable George Doyle teamed up with Albert Dahlke and a black tracker named Sam Johnson to find the bandits. What happened next is the source of a great deal of controversy that has yet to be definitively resolved.

Johnson the tracker

Sam Johnson claimed that after a chase on horseback Doyle and Dahlke succeeded in catching Jim Kenniff in Lethbridge’s Pocket two miles from where James senior lived in his tent, but as they had left the pack horses behind they did not have any tools of restraint and sent Johnson to fetch handcuffs. Johnson retrieved the pack horses, which were only 200 yards away, and as he rode back he could hear gunfire. It was surmised that Paddy and Tom Kenniff had come to rescue their brother and in the process a fight had broken out between the bushrangers and their pursuers. Johnson considered it folly to attempt to intervene and rode away believing he was being chased by the brothers. He found a man named Burke from a nearby station and induced him to ride back to the scene of the crime. They found Boudicea, Dahlke’s mount, wandering with her shoulders and saddle covered in blood.

Constable Doyle

When troopers set out at Easter time, led by Johnson they discovered Doyle and Dahlke’s pack horses in a cluster of trees at Lethbridge’s Pocket saddled and equipped with bulging saddlebags. They also found three small bonfires, long since extinguished, with telltale blood drippings in the soil surrounding. They found spurs and a pistol belonging to Dahlke and Doyle and investigated the horses. When they looked in the saddlebags they discovered they were filled with ashes, further investigation revealed shards of bone, hair and charred cloth fragments. The grisly find was identified as the earthly remains of Albert Dahlke and Constable George Doyle. Dr Voss the medical examiner confirmed that the remains were human in origin and the charge leveled against the Kenniffs was now murder and a reward of £1000 was offered for their capture.

Scene of the crime: It was on these rocks that the corpses of Doyle and Dahlke were incinerated, as indicated by the white scorching in the centre of the image.

Knowing that they were wanted on a hanging offence Paddy and Jim took to the bush and were soon joined by Tom. The Kenniffs were expert bushmen thanks to their previous occupations and managed to keep ahead of the police until 23 June ranging some of the toughest, most rugged country in a 200 mile radius. Police believed there was a good chance the brothers would make an attempt to take a ship to South Africa and kept tabs on all goings on at the docks. On 23 June 1902 the Kenniff brothers were caught at last in a dawn raid on their camp. Two sub-inspectors, fifty constables and sixteen black trackers arrived at the Kenniff camp barefooted for stealth and shot the horses. Paddy and Jim bolted in separate directions with Jim being nabbed first, Paddy keeping the police at bay with rifles from the scrub before handing himself in.

Sir Samuel Griffith

Sir Samuel Griffith presided over the trial of the Kenniff brothers in Brisbane on 3 November, 1902. The pair were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death on the evidence provided by Sam Johnson. The sentence was deferred, as per custom, to await an appeal. Public sentiment at the time seemed to be largely in favour of the lads due to them accidentally becoming figureheads for the struggles in Queensland at the turn of the century. Queensland at this time was in the clutches of drought and unemployment was rife. In these circumstances people are wont to become desperate and many saw this as an explanation or justification for the Kenniffs’ foray into stock theft. As with the Kelly gang only a little over twenty years prior in Victoria, the outlaws were seen by many to also illustrate the war between the squatters and the “cockatoo” farmers. Thus supporters collected funds and lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court who dismissed the appeal out of hand, though Justice Patrick Real questioned James Kenniff’s guilt in the matter and the validity of the evidence against the brothers provided by Johnson, much to the chagrin of the Chief Justice. The appeal phase over, James Kenniff’s sentence was reduced to life imprisonment his big brother Paddy, however, would still take to the gallows. When the brothers were taken from the courthouse to Boggo Road Gaol the prison van had to pass through a crowd of 500 spectators who cheered for the brothers.

Source: Truth, Brisbane, 09/11/1902

On 12 January 1903 Patrick Kenniff went to the scaffold and hanged for the gruesome crime of murdering Dahlke and Doyle and incinerating their bodies. His last words were

“I have told you twice before that I am an innocent man, I am as innocent as the judge who sentenced me. Good-bye. May God have mercy on my soul.”

James Kenniff was released from prison in 1914 and would live long enough to see the coming and going of WWI, dying in 1940. To his dying day he protested the innocence of he and his brother.

Selected Sources:

“The Kenniff Brothers.” The Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1892 – 1917) 9 April 1902: 2.

“THE KENNIFF BROTHERS.” Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904) 2 August 1902: 37.

“THE KENNIFF BROTHERS” The Charleville Times (Brisbane, Qld. : 1896 – 1954) 5 December 1947: 16.

“Bushmen Murderers.” The Western Champion (Barcaldine, Qld. : 1922 – 1937) 30 August 1930: 12.