QSA DID 2800: List of Exhibits presented in the case Rex vs Patrick and James Kenniff, 1902
News of the day

Brisbane Courier, Tuesday 13 January 1903, page 6




At Boggo-road Gaol yesterday morning the veil was drawn over the final scene in one of Queensland's greatest tragedies. The law had to be enforced, and Justice called for the body of Patrick Kenniff to make amends for a foul crime - the murder of Constable Doyle. The execution had been fixed for 8 o'clock, and a few minutes before that hour the officers of Justice and those whose business it was to attend were ushered into "A" Wing, where the scaffold stood erected at the west end. The sun streamed brightly through the narrow windows of the large Hall, but it required more than Nature to brighten the gloomy throng within. The following were present:-The sheriff (Mr. Gilson Foxton), the under-sheriff (Mr. Arthur Davies), the Comptroller-General of Prisons (Captain Pennefather), the superintendent of the gaol (Mr. J. Vivian Williams), Dr. Espie Dods, Rev. John Macpherson (chaplain), two detectives, seven constables, a number of warders, several Government officials, and several Press representatives.

At two minutes to 8 the prison bell clanged forth harshly twice. A grating noise was heard as the bolts shot back, and the door swung open. The deathly procession came into view, with the Rev. Father Baldwin in front offering up prayers. The condemned man came next, walking with a firm step. His arms were pinioned to his sides and he was surrounded by warders under Chief Warder J. A. Macdonald. The condemned man marched steadily up the stone steps and took his place over the trap-door, attended by the hangman, who was disguised with a heavy beard and darkened spectacles. When the pinioning had been completed the priest stepped forward and gave the doomed man a firm shake of the hand. The prisoner looked grateful, and returned the shake as steadily as possible with the arms pinned. He then made a momentary glance below and around him, and his face flushed somewhat as the chief warder uttered the significant words in a rather unsteady voice, " If you have anything to say, say it now." Looking straight before him, the reply came in steady and perfectly clear accents : " I have told you before twice I am an innocent man, and I call God as my witness on the spot I stand that I am innocent. I am as innocent as the Judge who sentenced me. I must thank the warders for their kindness towards me, and to all my well-wishers I say ' Good-bye.' " He then lowered his voice, and uttered his final words, " May God have mercy on my soul." The rope was then adjusted round the prisoner's neck. He made no sign while the cap, after some little difficulty, was drawn over his head. The hangman then touched the lever, and at two minutes after the hour the flooring opened, and the body swung below, the drop being 2ft. 9in. Not even a tremor was apparent. After a short pause, Dr. Dods stepped forward and felt the pulse. Several minutes elapsed before he declared life to be extinct, and the body was then lowered into a coffin which had been placed below the drop after the execution. The body was handed over to the under-takers, Messrs Sillett and Barrett, the application made by Mr. Kenniff, sen., for the body of his son having been granted. The final deed was the signing of the certificate of the execution of death by those present.


Often described as Australia’s ‘last bushrangers’, the Kenniff brothers lived in the Carnarvon Ranges district of Central Queensland and had numerous brushes with the law, largely concerning the theft of stock. In 1902 their career took a more violent path after a warrant was issued for the arrest of James Kenniff over the suspected theft of a pony. The Kenniffs were tracked to the remote Lethbridge’s Pocket by Constable George Doyle, Aboriginal tracker Sam Johnson, and the manager of Carnarvon Station, Albert Dahlke. After a pursuit James was successfully apprehended and Johnson returned to the packhorse left some distance behind for handcuffs. Based on circumstantial evidence it appears that after having made his escape Patrick Kenniff returned to the scene and shot both Doyle and Dahlke dead. Seeing both brothers riding towards him, Johnson fled to safety. Burnt human remains and personal items belonging to Doyle and Dahlke were later found at Letherbridge’s Pocket and a massive manhunt lasting three months finally ended with the capture of the Kenniffs. In one of the first major trials following the codification of Queensland’s criminal law, the brothers were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Patrick was duly executed, but James had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment and served sixteen years before being released. What set the Kenniff trial apart was an almost total reliance on circumstantial evidence and questions over the conduct of the presiding judge, Sir Samuel Griffith. The drama of the events and the wild location in which the crime was allegedly committed also served to arouse considerable sympathy for the accused, and Patrick Kenniff’s execution played a pivotal role in the eventual abolition of the death penalty in Queensland.


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