The Capture of the Kenniff Brothers
It was April the 2nd 1902 when Queensland policeman, Constable Doyle, closed in on Patrick and James Kenniff at a rugged mountain hideout called Lethbridge’s Pocket. With the manager of Carnarvon Station, Albert Dahlke, and a tracker called Sam Johnson for company, Doyle stealthily approached the camp.
Wanted for horse stealing, Jim and Patrick had been in trouble with the law before, and both had served time. Born and raised in New South Wales, they moved to Queensland one step ahead of the bailiffs. Then, from a base in the Upper Warrego area they raced horses, ran illegal books, and stole livestock at night. When police arranged for the lease on their land to be terminated, the brothers became outlaws, and rarely rode unarmed.
Dahlke and Constable Doyle got lucky at first. Patrick managed to slip away, but they chased Jim on horseback and rode him down. When tracker Sam Johnson was sent back to fetch handcuffs he heard five gunshots. Patrick had returned for his brother, with deadly result.
Sam was forced to ride for his life, but he returned later with a man called Burke. In two pack bags they found the charred remains of Dahlke and Doyle.
A huge manhunt followed, but the two brothers stayed on the loose for more than two months before they were tracked to a ridge just south of Mitchell called Bottle Tree Hill (pictured above). Four policemen; Constables Tasker, Scanlan, Meston and Cramb surrounded the camp, and waited until sunrise when they were able to surprise the sleeping men. Patrick and Jim both fled on foot.
Patrick had no time to locate a weapon, and was easily ridden down by Constable Cramb. Jim fled with both loaded rifles, but was captured on the road back towards Mitchell, near what is now called Arrest Creek.
The brothers were placed on trial on Brisbane, and found guilty of wilful murder. Public sympathy, however, was on the side of the Kenniff brothers, in part because of a groundswell of anti-establishment feeling at the time. Jim’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but Patrick was promised an appointment with the gallows.
Four thousand people marched outside Brisbane’s Boggo Road Gaol to protest the execution, but the government held firm. Patrick had his neck broken by the rope on the 12th of January, 1903, still protesting his innocence.
Below are the words to one of several ballads in circulation at the time. They are believed to have greatly boosted public sympathy for Patrick and his brother, who served only twelve years of his life sentence.
THE EXECUTION OF PADDY KENNIFF
by John Creevey 1867-1912
With head erect he left his cell, he needed no man’s aid,
He walked upon the scaffold, and this is what he said:
“My name is Patrick Kenniff, I am condemned to die,
As witness of my innocence I call my God on high.
To my few friends I bid farewell, the last farewell I’ll say,
My time has come and soon I’ll be a lifeless lump of clay.
I wish to thank the warders, who have treated me so well,
And the Rev. Father O’Riley, who saved my soul from hell.”
Then forward came the noble priest, and shook poor Paddy’s hand,
“Paradise is yours,” he said, “when you quit this sinful land.”
The good priest then began to pray, he prayed ’till all was o’er,
The lever wrenched the scaffold sprung, poor Paddy was no more;
He may have died an innocent man, ’tis very hard to say,
There were other men in Killman’s Gap, upon that fatal day;
Then let’s not judge lest we be judged, by him who judges all,
And never despise your fellow man, if he should chance to fall.
Story researched and written by Greg Barron. Photo by Greg Barron.