Queensland Police Service remembers Irish heritage on St Patrick's Day

Queenslanders will join the millions of people of Irish descent across the globe in celebrating St. Patricks Day today, March 17.

The Queensland Police Service has strong links with the Irish diaspora, going back to its very beginnings over 150 years ago.

Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, the Irish policing organisations were viewed as exemplary, and members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were actively recruited in Australia.

In the 1880s, 61% of all recruits to the then-Queensland Police Force listed Ireland as their country of birth.

In fact, Queensland's first Commissioner of Police from 1864 to 1895, David Thompson Seymour, was an emigrant of Ireland, along with the first two Queensland Police officers to be killed in the execution of duty.

While Commissioner Seymour lived to the age of 85-years-old, Constable John Power and Constable Patrick Cahill met their deaths on duty at the age of 25 and 27 respectively, brutally murdered near a lonely outback river crossing.

Patrick Cahill was born in Waterford County in 1840, and was a childhood friend of John Power, born two years later in Carrickson Suir, between the counties of Waterford and Tipperary.

They emigrated separately to Australia in their early 20s and reconnected in Brisbane in 1865.

Gold Escort officers and Irish emigrants Constable John Power and Constable Patrick Cahill (seated, centre) are the first police officers listed on the QPS Roll of Honour. They were murdered in 1867 by the man Constable Cahill is glaring at, Gold Commissioner Thomas Griffin (seated, right). (Images courtesy Queensland Police Museum)

Gold and greed

With gold being discovered in central Queensland in 1861, the rush was on.

Gold Escorts were needed to transfer gold nuggets from the diggings to the bank for exchange into bank notes, which then had to be transported back to the gold fields.

In early 1867, the two friends travelled together to Clermont to join the police force as Gold Escort officers, and they commenced their duties escorting deliveries of bullion and cash between Clermont and Rockhampton.

Later that year, on October 26, Gold Escort officer Sergeant James Julian - another Irishman from County Kerry - was instructed to escort 10 canvas bags containing more than £8,000 in notes and coins from Rockhampton to Clermont.

Clermont in 1870
East Street, Rockhampton in 1887
The Gold Escort transferred gold nuggets from Clermont to Rockhampton, and returned to the gold fields with bank notes and coins.

Commissioner Griffin came with a reputation for gambling, bribery, infidelity and tyrannical behaviour.

The man issuing the instruction was 45-year-old Thomas John Augustus Griffin, Police Magistrate and Gold Commissioner to the Clermont Gold Fields.

Although a former member of the Royal Irish Constabulary and decorated for his service in the Crimean War in the 1850s, Commissioner Griffin came with a reputation for gambling, bribery, infidelity and tyrannical behaviour.

He was also in debt for £252 to six Chinese miners.

Constables Power and Cahill were assigned to the escort along with Sergeant Julian, and Commissioner Griffin announced his intention to travel part of the way to Clermont with them.

There was no official reason for him to accompany the gold escort and his presence raised the suspicions of the three officers.

After several delays and false starts orchestrated by Commissioner Griffin, the escort departed Rockhampton for Clermont on November 1.

Sergeant Julian had been relieved of his command after confrontations with Commissioner Griffin, and Constable Power had been appointed in this place.

The bank manager had halved the quantity of cash to £4,000 in recorded notes due to the inexperience of the young constable.

Less than a week later, Commissioner Griffin returned to Rockhampton and bought drinks for his friends at the Commercial Hotel, paying with one of the recorded bank notes.

The same day, Constables Power and Cahill were found murdered at the crossing of the Mackenzie River now known as Bedford Weir, near Blackwater.

The fledgling Queensland Police Detective Office had its first major case to solve.

After the crime scene had been examined, post-mortems conducted and witnesses interviewed, Commissioner Griffin was arrested on November 9 on suspicion of having drugged and shot the two constables, and stolen the money on November 6.

He was found guilty and executed by hanging on June 1, 1868.

Always remembered

Buried at the murder site, Constables Power and Cahill were exhumed from their lonely graves in 1869 and reinterred at Rockhampton.

In 2018, a Blackwater police officer, Senior Constable Donna Gilliland, initiated a community project to install a new headstone at Rockhampton and erect a memorial and information board at the murder site at Bedford Weir.

The names Constable John Francis Power and Constable Patrick Cahill sit at the top of the QPS Roll of Honour, which lists police officers killed in the execution of duty.

A new headstone was installed at Rockhampton in 2018 in honour of the first two police officers – both Irishmen – to be killed in the execution of their duties.
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