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).

 Mug shot of Patrick Kenniff.  Image No: 159982

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

 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.  Neg. No: 55026

 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

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Could you please ask Bob Good to contact me by email, have tried different ways to find him with no luck. Thanks Helen

Helen KenniffWe would like to make contact with you.regards the Kenniffs. We believe we may be related.Thanks Jacqueline

Hihave you heard back from Helen and are you still interested in contacting Kenniff's?

Sorry didn't see your comment. Email address above.

Hi,Have you found out whether you are any relation to these kenniffs. I am related and have the full family history of them. I can be contacted on ahldonohoe83@gmail.com

hi,My great grandfather (William Tasker) was the police officer that lead the police party that captured the Kenniff Brothers. I have his original diary notes of tracking them through the bush and an original calico Murder Reward poster for the capture of Patrick and James Kenniff. It is dated 19th April, 1902 and authorised by Governor Robert Philp. The reward offered for their capture was 1,000 pounds!

Hello Kylie,I am a professional author and artist and am compiling a book on the Kenniff story. I would like to contact you re your grandfather's diary notes and any other information relevant to the story. My email is: jde81371@bigpond.net.au

Hi Kylie,I would be very interested in looking at what you have i have collected much information over the years on Pat & James.Regards,Geoff Kenniff

These are my great uncles.My great grandmother was James and Patrick's sister.

Just so you know I am studying law at ANU at 68 years of age because I have a passion to right the corruption and injustice of the past. My father was Colin Bennett Shadow AG of Qld fro 12 years and a barrister of 60 years. My brother Colin was buried near Patrick in 1959 - age 5. Every Sunday Mum and Dad took their eight children to say the rosary at Colins gravesight. And then took us each week to say a decade of the rosary for Patrick a man hung he says because of corrupt police, incompetent lawyers and a defence lawyer who did not believe in his client. As a boy I ofeth rose my bile there on my way home from St Lawrence's. My son too is now buried there - age 15 hours 30 mins - as are Mum ( 92) and Dad (82). May you take comfort from the fact your Patrick sleeps in good company.

Were Patrick and James nephews or younger brothers of Mary Anne Kenniff? She's my great grandmothrr.

Thank you Christian . Members of the Kenniff families held a prayer service at Patrick's grave in 2003 on tbe 100th anniversary and placed a plaque on his grave. We also had a similar service at their father's (James) grave at Injune in 2008.

HI. Was wondering if there is anyway to contact Mr Bob Good. Please email info@poniesponiesponies.com.au or phone 0754266133

Hi...my name is gail boland and my family was told our grand-father william (snapper) barnes was one of the blacktrackers involved in the kenniff brothers capture. Could this be possibly true?

Hi Gail Thank you for your question. Could you please fill in our online enquiry form and our reference librarians will look into this for you. Here is the link – http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/services/ask-usThanksMyles Sinnamon – blog editor

Hello RitaPatrick & James Kenniff had a sister Mary Kenniff 1866 - 1908 (who is my great grandmother). She married Rupert Rutlidge 21 March 1891. They had 5 children Phillip, Ruth, Daphne, Rupert jnr & Jessie. Does this sound like your Mary Kenniff? As we are probanly related.RegardsJudy Balston

Hi Kylie,It's been a little while since 2013 but I thought I'd give it a try. I work at the Royal Australian Mint and would be interested in talking with you about an exhibition we are holding in 2019 that will include the Kenniff brothers. We are currently searching for objects relating to the pair and I am wondering if you would be interested in loaning the diary notes and wanted poster if they're still in your possession. Please contact me at holly.anderson@ramint.gov.au Kind regards,Holly

My name is Henry Munro i am related to the Kenniffs. James and Patricks cousin was also named Patrick Kenniff and after the two brothers were getting a lot of publicity he changed his name to henry munro and moved to Camperdown in Sydney (the house is still there). He is my great great Grandfather.

James lived with my great grandparents Jim and Kate Boyce. I was also told that there were flowers left on Paddys grave. My mother told me they were left by her mothers cousin.

My Grandmother was Catherine Ann Coveney....Her maiden name was Stapeltin...She always kept it a secret thst she was related to James Kenniff....