THE LAST BUSHRANGER IN QUEENSLAND : James Kenniff (1940)
Charters Towers, a beautiful outback town South West of Townsville was once a thriving hub due to the large deposits of gold (the second largest city outside of Brisbane). As the gold dried up, mining became uneconomic, Charters Towers population slowly declined, but the stunning old buildings and ghosts remained.
On the outskirts of Charters Towers sits what the locals call “the old cemetery”, the Lynd Highway Cemetery was established in 1895. This bleak, barren and dead flat cemetery is bordered by a well maintained cast iron perimeter fence and charming front gate. It is the resting place for a number of interesting local characters including Jupiter Mossman who, as the local lore has it, was one of the party that discovered gold in Charters Towers; Doctor Leonard Redmond who discovered Australian Dengue Fever; Frederick Pfeiffer, owner of the rich Day Dawn PC Mine and James Kenniff who was the last bushranger in Queensland.
James and his older brother Patrick were expert horsemen who made a living by horse stealing – a very serious crime.
They were wanted in connection to the theft of a horse. A police constable, Aboriginal tracker and station master pursued the brothers for several days through hard, mountainous country in Western Queensland. Surprising Patrick and his brother James they managed to overpower and arrest them both. As the tracker was sent to get handcuffs from the constable’s packhorse, gunshots rang out and the tracker ran for his life.
A later search found the constable’s horse wandering through the scrub and the burnt remains of the constable and station master. The brothers were tracked down again and following a shootout, both were captured and tried for murder.
Throughout the trial Patrick maintained his innocence and was denied the right to appeal to the Privy Council in London, by the judge Samuel Griffith. Though there was public shock and outcry, the Queensland Government seemed to be determined to see him hang.
Patrick was sent to the Gallows of Boggo Road Gaol, protesting his innocence to the very last. His final chilling words were saved for one man, the Chief Justice, now Sir Samuel Griffith: “I am as innocent as the judge who sentenced me.”
James’s life was spared, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. Being released in 1914, he refused visitors and lived out his life alone. Some say he was the one who pulled the trigger. He took the secret to his grave in Charters Towers.
Hear about this amazing story on Australia’s longest running true crime show “True Crimes” – presented by Jack Sim on 4BC Nights with Walter Williams. Thursday evenings 9.35pm on Radio 4BC.
Visit the grave of Patrick Kenniff on a South Brisbane Cemetery Ghost Tour