It is Easter Sunday, 1902 when a police party is sent out to arrest Patrick and James Kennif in what is the northern part of today’s Carnarvon National Park in Queensland. Although mystery still surrounds the exact events of the day, the account of the sole survivor of the attack – Aboriginal tracker Sam Johnson – is the key evidence for investigation. His story goes, that after a confrontation with the Kenniff brothers at Lethbridge’s Pocket and a dramatic horseback chase through the bush, Constable George Doyle and Albert Christian Dahlke (the manager of nearby Carnarvon Station) manage to capture James Kenniff and get him off his horse.
Whilst Sam Johnson fetches handcuffs from a nearby packhorse he hears five shots and suddenly finds himself being pursued by the Kenniffs. Johnson escapes, alerting police at Mitchell. Two days later a grim discovery is made – 125 kg of charred and mutilated remains of Doyle and Dahlke are found stuffed in police-horse packsaddles – the animals roaming aimlessly near where the men were last seen. The bodies of the two men were apparently cremated on a large, flat rock in a creek bed, nowadays known as the ‘incineration site’.
One of Queensland’s largest manhunts ended three months later when the brothers were arrested without a fight near Mitchell. They were put on trial in 1903. It was decided during the trial that Patrick Kenniff fired the fatal shots, whilst James was standing with Doyle and Dahlke. James was sentenced to life imprisonment and Patrick, proclaiming his innocence to the end, was hanged. James was released from jail in 1918 and died in 1940.
James never spoke of the crime again.
Constable George Doyle
Born 28 April 1869 at Moggill near Brisbane to a timber getter George Doyle Snr. and his wife Julia – the first of nine children.
George joined Qld police in 1891 and worked three years in the Gulf district about Normanton and Croydon before resigning to return home where he worked as a warder in the Prisons Dept.
In 1896 he re-joined police and stationed at Bollon, Wyandra then Cunnamulla, from where he was ordered to Augethella to join a special patrol for Upper Warrego. Constable George Doyle was killed in 1902.
Albert Christian Dahlke
Albert Dahlke was from strict Prussian ancestry, and born in 1875 at Pimpama outside Brisbane to Prussian emigrants Christian and Emilie Dahlke.
At the age of 10, he rescued a drowning boy from Nerang River. A year later, he repeated the same rescue in the same spot, but this time saving his father. After his father’s later death (drowning), the Dahlke family moved to Beenleigh where Albert became an assistant to Rev Frederick Newton at Beaudesert Church of England. Four years later, Dahlke began working for Collins brothers on their land holdings. The Collins brothers sent Dahlke to Carnarvon 1899 to bring their run into order and stop cattle stealing activities. Albert Dahlke was killed 1902.
Corporal Sam Johnson was born around 1877 near Charleville. Sam, a member of the Bidjara people, served for 23 years as a tracker with the Queensland police.
Sam accompanied Constable George Doyle and station manager, Albert Dahlke to the Carnarvon Ranges in 1902 on a mission to capture the Kenniffs. Whilst Doyle and Dahlke met with a gruesome end, Sam was the sole survivor of the murders and was a key witness in the trial.
After the Kenniff trial was over, Sam was transferred to Roma and again to Longreach due to threats to against his life – thought have come from Tom Kenniff. Sam Johnson died in Longreach during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1919.
In 2015, Sam Johnson was honoured in a National Police Remembrance Day ceremony Longreach in western Queensland, with a headstone and dedication being added to mark his grave.
James Kenniff Snr
Irish emigrant arrived in NSW July 1863. Eleven children with wife Mary, eight survive. Works as bushman; turns to cattle duffing and horse stealing by 1870s. Relocates to Qld 1891. Continued bush work and trouble with law over cattle and horse theft. Only ever found guilty twice, once in 1899 (fine) and once 1902 (fine) out of ten charges. Dies 1908.
The Kenniff’s mother. Mary left her family 1884 and remained in NSW until her death in 1896.
Patrick and James Kenniff
Patrick Kenniff (1863-1903) and James (1869-1940). Patrick was born at Main Creek, near Dungog, New South Wales, on 28 September 1863. James’s birth was not registered. After convictions for stock stealing in northern New South Wales, they overlanded in 1891 with their father to Queensland, where their younger brothers Thomas and John later joined them. Living by bush work, they also raced horses and opened books on the local race meetings.
Moving to the Upper Warrego in 1893, they occupied blocks of land in the Hoganthulla and Killarney resumptions and later the Ralph block. With convicted cattle duffers Thomas Stapleton, John and Richard Riley and others, they launched a reign of ‘mild terror’ from their base on Ralph, stealing cattle from Carnarvon and other neighbouring stations. During this period both brothers served prison terms. They developed a special animosity towards the manager of Carnarvon, Albert Christian Dahlke.
When the charred remains of station manager Albert Dahlke and Constable George Doyle were found in Lethbridge’s Pocket, strong suspicion fell on Patrick and James Kenniff. Despite a reward of £1000 and a large police manhunt, they were not arrested until 23 June at Arrest Creek, south of Mitchell. Found guilty of wilful murder, both prisoners were sentenced to death. Patrick was executed on 12 January 1903 and buried in South Brisbane cemetery with Catholic rites; the sentence of James was commuted to life imprisonment.
Born 1892 Casino NSW. James initially stayed with his mother but soon joined his father and brothers in QLD in 1900, four years after his mother died. Alongside his father and brothers James starts his career in stealing cattle and horses. In 1902, he is gaoled for 3 months for illegal use of a horse. Seen with brothers Patrick and James by tracker Sam Johnson, at camp where Doyle and Dalhke were killed. However, he was not charged over the murder. Tom died an alcoholic 1926 at Winton Qld.
Sir Samuel Walker Griffith (1845-1920)
Chief Justice and Premier Samuel Griffith was born on 21 June 1845 at Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorganshire, Wales. He moved to Australia 1853 where his father was a Congregational minister. Griffith studied at Sydney University, before moving to Qld where he passed the bar exam in 1867 and began practising law on the Circuit Court and first appeared in the Supreme Court in same year. He entered politics in 1872 and combined law and politics for the remainder of his life. Griffith was QLD Premier from 10 November 1883 to 13 June 1888, and was appointed K.C.M.G. (Knighthood) in 1886. He was Premier again from 1890-1893. Griffith was a strong supporter of Federation. He was appointed Chief Justice for Qld in 1893 and later the first Chief Justice of Australian high Court in 1907. Griffith died in Brisbane in 1920. Griffith University in Queensland is named after him.
Kenniffs and the Abolition of Capital Punishment
From the moment of the sentence of death of both brothers protests began. The ALP in Queensland had a strong abolitionist movement within it that was gaining strength and had been since 1899. The movement was led by the Member for Claremont, James Lesina.
A petition to go the Privy Council against the executions was organised and Lesina spoke at a number of rallies. 500 people attended a concert in Brisbane before Christmas 1902 to raise money, while petitions came in from Charters Towers, Rockhampton, Brisbane, Toowoomba and Townsville. Newspapers in QLD and around the country covered the rally.
The Government went ahead with the execution of Patrick Kenniff before the petitions could have a chance of getting to the Privy Council in England and be returned, a turn around of around 6 months. It was this insistence to go forward against public opinion that gave the abolitionists momentum.
4000 people heard Lesina speak in the rain in Albert Square in Brisbane on the Saturday prior to the execution (Monday) arguing that Patrick Kenniff was not being allowed his rights of appeal as a citizen. The labour paper the Worker was vocal in its writings around the Kenniff case and its anti-capital punishment stance. The end of Capital Punishment became an official position of the ALP in Qld from 1907.
Two petitions were put forward, one in 1902/03 to go to the Privy Council in England to stop the executions and another in 1908 for the release of James Kenniff from prison. The 1908 Petition, which came in 2 parts of 1500 signatures and another 700 signatures were presented to Government but to no avail in terms of release.
It has not been established if these petitions are still in existence or not.