Patrick and James Kenniff: Australia's last bushrangers

With the recent discovery of Ned Kelly’s bones it is timely to remember the Queensland bushrangers, Patrick and James Kenniff.  The John Oxley Library recently received a fascinating and meticulously organized collection of research material  compiled by author, Bob Good, in the writing of his book Ketching the Kenniffs: the origins and exploits of the Kenniff Brothers – Patrick and James (Mitchell, Qld.: Maranoa Regional Council, 1996, Rev. 2nd edition 2001).

Patrick Kenniff Mug shot of Patrick Kenniff.  Image No: 159982

The story of the Kenniffs is one of adventure and tragedy as well as being an intriguing murder mystery.  Patrick and James  came to Queensland in the early 1890s and became notorious for horse and cattle theft.  In 1895 both received prison terms at St Helena Island in Moreton Bay.  After their release they moved to the Upper Warrego and took up a large grazing lease known as Ralph Block.  When cattle disappeared from neighbouring properties the Kenniffs became the prime suspects.  They were evicted from their land and took up a nomadic life, riding armed through the district.  The Commissioner of Police was so concerned that the Upper Warrego Police Station was established on the Ralph property.

The Kenniffs continued to steal cattle and horses and held up a general store in Yuleba.  In March 1902 police at Roma took out a warrant against the brothers for stealing a pony.  A police posse set out consisting of Constable Doyle, Albert Dahlke, the manager of Carnarvon Station, and Sam Johnson, an Aboriginal tracker.

Albert Dahlke Albert Dahlke, manager of Carnarvon Station and murder victim.  Neg No: 7949

They tracked down the Kenniffs to Lethbridge’s Pocket, a well known Kenniff haunt.  James Kenniff was caught but Patrick managed to escape.  Sam Johnson was sent to retrieve the party’s packhorse which had been left behind at the start of the chase.  When he returned Doyle and Dahlke were nowhere to be seen and he was pursued by the Kenniffs as he fled for help.  A later expedition found the charred remains of Doyle and Dahlke and evidence of a gun fight.  A massive manhunt was organised and three months later the brothers were captured at Arrest Creek, south of Mitchell.  Despite the circumstantial evidence they were both found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.  James’ sentence was later commuted to 16 years jail and a royal pardon saw him released in November 1914.  Partick was executed on 12 January 1903 at Boggo Road Prison and buried in South Brisbane cemetery.  He proclaimed his innocence to the last.

James Kenniff on trial for murder James Kenniff on trial for murder.  Neg. No: 55026

Bob Good’s research material was compiled in the late 1970s and includes meticulously arranged biographical information about the Kenniff family and others involved in the case, a cutting book of 1902 newspaper reports from the Toowoomba Chronicle, selected reports on the Upper Warrego Police station, a first draft of the book Ketching the Kenniffs, and an amateur film made about the Kenniffs in the 1960s entitled The Innocent May Die.  For anyone researching this intriguing aspect of Queensland history the collection is a comprehensive and valuable resource.

The Kenniff collection is available at the John Oxley Library (Acc: 28092).

Lynn Meyers

Original Materials Librarian – John Oxley Library