The Ballad of Tom Griffin

Sit closely, old friends, and I’ll spin you a yarn, ‘round the glow of a redgum log fire.
A true story of death in the tropical north, when Tom Griffin gave rein to desire.
He gave rein to a need that surged in the night, bold with a gun in his hand.
It was no crime of love! Not vengeance or spite! This killing of Tom’s was well planned.

Tom Griffin was born on the Isle of Éire, handsome and ready to brag.
Tom paid attention to his clothes, skin and hair. He was born with the gift of the gab.
The dawn song of reveille enticed him to join, to goose-step in war’s cruel parade.
As a young man he sailed, to fight for the crown. In Crimea he bloodied his blade.

It was there that he learned, of a need for police, for men trained militarily.
New South Wales bound, leaving debtors bereft, he sailed on the Champion of the Seas.
In first saloon class Tom gambled and dined, delighting the women, describing the sight
of battlefields, embellished by wine, over card games played late in the night.

As our man’s debts, grew out of hand, he saw relief in a widow’s soft eyes.
Fifteen years older she was, but Tom laid his plans, for money trumps wrinkles and lines.
They were married in Melbourne, and Tom did his best, to spend Harriet Klisser’s last pound.
When the money was gone, recriminations began. Marital bliss ran aground.

Harriet raged! She threatened divorce! Tom took a ship to Tasmania.
Faced with the prospect of maintenance pay, he faked his own death to evade her.
Money’s a temptress, it brings only pain. Don’t march to its beat, or waltz to its tune.
Money brings death, and money brings ruin!

New South Wales stretched from the alps to Cape York in those days, and Tom travelled steadily north.
In Brisbane he enjoyed a constable’s life: fine wine, and a thoroughbred horse.
Years later, at Clermont, Tom was made magistrate, and commissioner, for the diggings around,
when careful Ah Chee of the Cantonese race, entrusted him with a fortune in gold.

Thomas loved money! The gold raised a good price, and when Ah Chee wanted his hoard,
Tom invented excuses, but looked for a way, of returning the funds that he’d scored.
Troopers Cahill and Power thought it strange when their boss, rode along on a gold escort dash.
From Rockhampton to Clermont with eighty kilos of gold, and eight thousand pounds all in cash.

The wily troopers suspected a rat, for the ways of Tom Griffin were known.
They tried to play safe, but all was in vain, our man and his plans were soon shown.
On the Mackenzie River Tom drugged a billy of tea, poured the troopers mugs full of the brew.
They were dazed and confused when Tom raged through the camp, gunning down Cahill, then Power too.

Tom carried off, most of the hoard, hid it deep in a marked hollow tree.
At a nearby hotel, he spent like a prince, and paid back the impatient Ah Chee.
Yet, the bodies of men have a way of being found; the corpses of two good men lying.
Right from the start fingers pointed at Tom. He was arrested and charged with the crime.

At Rockhampton goal they hung Tom by the neck. They cut him down when he kept still.
They buried him poor, in a murderer’s grave, while newspapers churned out the swill.
That night unknown men, dug up the grave, and hacked Tom’s head from his frame.
Gold and blood! When one flows, so follows the other! And murder meant death, in colonial days.

Gold shines more brightly than sunshine, it’s true, but don’t covet too dearly, or let yourself crave,
lest you lie headless, like Tom, disgraced and depraved.
Gold is cold fire. Gold trumps all truth.
Death is the price of unfettered pursuit.

In a whisper I’ll tell you, as the fire burns low,
Cahill and Power lie still, in sleep-like repose,
But Tom Griffin lies damned, in a torturous fever,
To pay for his crimes, for all time and forever.

© 2023 Greg Barron

Image credit: Queensland Police Museum

(Full Length Photograph of Thomas John Griffin, convicted of the murder of Police Troopers Patrick William Cahill and John Francis Power at Mackenzie River Crossing half way between Rockhampton and Clermont on 5 November 1867.)