Friday 8 March marks the fortieth anniversary of the firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub in Fortitude Valley. One of the worst crimes ever committed in Australia, the two men found guilty of the crime, James Richard Finch and John Andrew Stuart, became household names in Queensland. From within the walls of Boggo Road Gaol they run one of the most powerful and controversial campaigns ever seen inside a gaol anywhere. They divided the community – into those who believed in their innocence – and those who knew they were guilty.
The strength of Stuarts conviction, reinforced by his dramatic actions – such as sewing his lips together with wire, swallowing wire crosses, and climbing onto the roof of A Wing cellblock and spelling out messages in bricks – “innocent’ – buzzed by media helicopters – led many to believe his story of being “verballed” by police.
This was a shadowy era as later shown by the Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption, leading many at the time to wonder whether the career criminals may have been scapegoats. The truth behind the torching of the popular nite spot was never revealed. Stuart’s story that a group of ‘Sydney criminals’ had approached him to join them in extorting money from local nightclubs, never quite gelled. His denial of involvement was strenuous; Stuart shared his inside information with police and reporters in what he claimed was an attempt to save lives. Others regarded it as a twisted attempt to create an alibi for himself.
Whether he did the crime or not, Stuart took the truth to his grave. He was found dead in his cell at Boggo Road Gaol on New Years Day 1979.
James Finch eclipsed his friend in the media stakes ultimately. He became known as the “Birdman of Boggo Road” for his avian hobby, found love and married in prison, and found support for his claim of innocence through “the Friends of Finch” an eclectic mix of learned and ordinary citizens thoroughly convinced the man was wrongly imprisoned. Soon after his release in 1988, via a live cross to England, his native country, to which he had been deported, Finch confessed to the murders. He admitted the involvement of himself and his friend Stuart. When it was pointed out that he had only been convicted on one indictment, and that he could still be charged for the other murders, Finch retracted his admissions.
In 1973 while being locked in Number 2 Division at Boggo Road Gaol, James Finch allegedly confessed to committing the crime to a well-known prisoner while the two were working in the sanitation yard. The prisoner was called to give evidence at the trial and did so; Finch denied ever saying such a thing.
Jack Sim will be on-air on Crime Corner on radio 4BC at 1pm on Friday with Moyd and Loretta to talk about this diabolical crime.
Visit Boggo Road Gaol – see the Sanitation yard. Book a tour at www.boggoroadgaol.com
Today marks 60 years since Arthur Ernest Halliday was found guilty of the murder of taxi driver Athol McCowan. Otherwise known as “Slim”, Halliday was already well-known. In 1940, and again in 1946, he managed the seemingly impossible – escaping from Brisbane’s Boggo Road Gaol. He served a lengthy period of imprisonment following those two dramatic break-outs. Following his release in 1949, Halliday seemingly stayed out of trouble, until the discovery of a brain and blood spattered taxi cab at Southport in May 1952. Police initially had few leads, but after learning of the gaol-breakers presence on the Coast, their efforts turned to locate him. Halliday had already fled, casting suspicion on him even more strongly. READ MORE FROM THE ORIGINAL ARCHIVES…
Arrested in a dramatic shootout in New South Wales, Halliday was extradited to Queensland where he faced trial. On Monday 2 March 1953, jurors found the evidence overwhelming. Even, Justice Stanley, not known for expressing his thoughts on cases, commented ‘I agree with this verdict’. Read the front page coverage by The Courier Mail newspaper sixty years ago…
However, veteran reporter Ken Blanch in his book THE TAXI DRIVER KILLER cast doubt on Halliday’s involvement. Blanch questioned the scientific evidence presented by police of the era, and their motives. Copies of this true crime book are available HERE
To visit Boggo Road Gaol – book a tour at www.boggoroadgaol.com
It never ceases to amaze us the incredible connections to Boggo Road Gaol that are out there in the community. We recently acquired four original prison padlocks from a member of the public whose father performed maintenance for the State Government at Wacol prison. Three are “Chubb” brand padlocks, commonly used to secure cell doors due to their incredible strength – the clasp was capable of withstanding 38 tonnes of pressure! One Chubb is in exceptional condition with three unused matching keys; the other two are very old and had seen a lot of use. Given their age and providence these would have come from Boggo Road Gaol. Incredibly each still has a matching key albeit worn. Chubb padlocks were used throughout Boggo Road Gaol and other Queensland prisons through the 1950s to 1980s. Expensive pieces of security in their day, they were originally manufactured in London. They are still made today retailing for approx. AU$175. The fourth padlock was a brass “Jackson” brand. These simple but strong locks were usually used on cellblock gates.
Modern collectors have driven the prices of old locks up in recent years but our interest in these was their connection to Queensland’s prison history. These rare items will be used to demonstrate to visitors on our HISTORY OF BOGGO ROAD GAOL Tour how prisoners were locked up. Any willing volunteers?
THE TWO GAOLS AT BOGGO ROAD: Just after the turn of the new century, the original Brisbane Gaol (at left) was joined by a new gaol. The original Gaol was renamed H.M. Gaol for Men and H.M. Gaol for Women (right) opened to compliment it. “A” Tower can be seen on the wall of the Men’s Gaol.
Source: Queensland Parliamentary Papers, 1911-12, Volume 2.
This is the earliest known photograph of the Brisbane Gaol as viewed from Bolgo Road (“Boggo Road”), circa late 19th century, showing the drive and gatehouse. Opened in 1883, the prison would become infamous. Number Two Division, the only remaining section today, had not yet been constructed at the time this photograph was taken.
Source: Farrell, J. former prison officer, Brisbane Prison.
The only remaining section of Boggo Road Gaol was originally a purpose-built female prison. In the 1920s when it became No2 Division, the home of long term male inmates, the words on the parapet were updated from “H M PRISON FOR WOMEN” to “MEN” , with the letters “WO” being covered over to indicate the new use. This alteration can still be seen today.
Boggo Road Gaol Tour Guide Toby Martin carefully removes ‘Bluetac’, sticky tape and other rubbish from the walls of the Gatehouse in Number Two Division; left from years of poorly managed events and functions, this laboursome task is one of many being carried out by Boggo Road Gaol staff to reinstate the image of the prison as a heritage site. Our Tour Guides are passionate about the significance of Boggo Road in Queensland’s history – when not taking tours or re-enacting they have been hard at work removing non-original material deposited from years of abuse.
Number Two Division closed in 1989, and during the early 2000s was a popular venue for parties. Inadvertently many hirers did not realise when they put up streamers, balloons and decorations at these events that evidence of their celebrations would remain a decade later.
When Number Two Division was in use as a prison substances such as Bluetac were never used. Unfortunately it can now be found throughout the entire prison – particularly on walls including those in F Wing cellblock taken in on the HISTORY OF BOGGO ROAD GAOL Tour.
Each blob of Bluetac takes around 5-10 minutes to remove. ‘Although people would assume Bluetac would not harm brickwork, left for years to dry out or harden in the sun has made it a challenge. It can be extremely difficult to remove. We cannot use chemicals or solvents as this is a heritage site so it is a gradual process of teasing the substance off the surface using new Bluetac or water.’ According to Jack Sim, ‘slowly and carefully we are gradually removing all trace. It is a shame that this was not policed in the past.’
New signage throughout the Gaol is being fixed in place with easily removable adhesive tape and will routinely be checked and replaced as it ages.
The last minutes of Patrick Kenniffs life were captured in an article written for The Brisbane Courier newspaper published the day after his execution. Patrick was a Catholic, and as such, was compelled to confess his sins before he died. Many placed great weight upon his maintenance, in the presence of death, that he was innocent of murder.
Following his burial in South Brisbane Cemetery, a grave was permitted to be erected. In 2003, to commemorate the centennial of the execution, a plaque was added in the presence of related families and members of the community. READ MORE FROM THE ORIGINAL ARCHIVES HERE.
The last chapter of the Kenniff story played out at Tamrookum Station with the internment of the victims remains in the church yard there. A memorial was later erected to mark the resting of their few mortal remains. Boggo Road Gaol would encourage readers to visit the lonely, but powerful gravesite near the town of Beaudesert. READ MORE FROM THE ORIGINAL ARCHIVES HERE.
The whole state of Queensland was gripped by the trial of the Kenniffs, which took place in the Brisbane Supreme Court. The trial was held before Sir Samuel W. Griffith, regarded as one of the founders of the Australian Constitution.
The Prosecution case was circumstantial, and the evidence of Crown witness, tracker Sam Johnson, regarded as unreliable. However, during the trial the courageous indigenous man proved to be faultless in his recollection of what transpired that day. His testimony to the jury was damning, and showed, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Kenniffs had brutally shot and murdered Albert Dhalke and George Doyle. READ MORE FROM THE ORIGINAL ARCHIVES HERE, HERE and HERE
Join us Saturday 12th January for the commemoration of the execution of Patrick Kenniff, bushranger. GO TO OUR EVENT ON OUR FACEBOOK PAGE.