When Steele Rudd Met the Kenniff Brothers at Boggo Road

The famous Australian author Steele Rudd (real name Arthur Hoey Davis) had a very unpleasant experience at Boggo Road prison on New Year’s Eve, 1902. In his capacity as the Under Sheriff of Queensland, he was required to deliver some devastating news to two brothers who had been sentenced to death for murder but were awaiting news of an appeal against that penalty.

Steele Rudd (State Library of Queensland).
Steele Rudd (State Library of Qld).
He wrote the following account of this event in later years, as part of his reminiscences about life in the public service:
(Brisbane Courier, 18 October 1924)
"The Sheriffs Office.
The Kenniff Case.
By STEELE RUDD. 
ANOTHER criminal sittings came round. They came round as regularly as a circus. And with them came the sensational trial of the Kenniffs for the murder of Doyle and Dahlke in the solitude of the Carnarvon Ranges. Ah! that was a trial to sit and watch and listen to. The accused men were brothers and bushmen and horsemen and they were ‘marked' men. One of the murdered men (Doyle) was a constable of police; Dahlke a station manager. Accompanied by a black tracker leading a packhorse, they went into the ranges to arrest the Kenniffs on a charge of cattle stealing. On the evidence of the tracker, James Kenniff was arrested at the camp and was in handcuffs when the abo. left the scene. He left the scene because he heard some shots fired and left in such a hurry, and because be heard bullets whizzing after him that he saw little else other than his way through the brigalow timber as he flogged and spurred his mount for home - and his home was Morven, the Lord knows how far away! And all that was ever seen afterwards, or recognised, of the unfortunate victims was then burnt ashes and some clothes buttons! When found they were being hawked about the ranges in saddle-bags thrown across the back of a horse that had got out of hand. It was put forward, however that others besides the men on trial were on the scene when the abo. fled. And the great question was: Who did the shooting and the burning of the bodies? An unenviable position, truly, for a jury; a trying one for a judge and one of appalling interest to the public. 
Sitting there, a silent official from day to day following the train, and threads, and broken threads of circumstantial evidence, pregnant with materials, for another ‘Robbery Under Arms,’ the Under Sheriff was in his element. 
Genius of the Judge. 
The obvious lack of bush knowledge, the false conception and surprising idea of the habits and instincts of the bush horseman and how he would act in an emergency that were displayed by some of the legal minds was to him amazing. On the other hand, the keen and remarkable insight to a life he could have known but little about at first hand displayed by the judge in laying bare by adroit examination damning weaknesses in the defence, amounted to legal genius. To the Under Sheriff those weaknesses were as obvious as the numerous absurdities put forward by the prosecution. 
James Kenniff (Qld State Archives)
James Kenniff (Qld State Archives)
Local Lore. 
He too, had known the bush: as a youth he had associated himself with horsemen and cattlemen; had followed hard and breathlessly on the flying heels of then favourite mounts, knocking sparks from the flint-strewn ranges; knocking the bark from the forest saplings and ‘barking' themselves from then shoulders to their shins as they crashed in pursuit of affrighted mobs. Had followed 'men who knew the way’ into the Horse Gully - followed them down mountain spurs and gorges, turning and sliding and wheeling this way and that till an ancient suspicious-looking track hacked through the still, silent scrub was reached - a track that led into grazing country inaccessible by any other track - grazing country that was the planting ground for stolen station mares and stallions! Had lain ‘oft in stilly nights’ listening to old hands and middling old hands relating stones of how this mob and that mob were ‘litted’ and how the thieves got through with the haul by the skin of their teeth - listening to them recounting night rides by moonlight and by starlight - of quarrels over horses and women and plunder - of the capture of Thunderbolt and of the Wild Scotchman - of the murder of So and So, and the mysterious disappearance of someone else! 
And so, knowing the craft and resources of the bush horsemen as he knew them, it seemed strange to the new Under Sheriff that sane persons could believe that a packhorse carrying the bags containing the ashes of the murdered men ever escaped from the hands of either accused or, having escaped, that either could have failed to secure it again! Ah no! that packhorse got out of the hands of someone not very clever amongst horses!
But the writer is not dealing with the trial, nor with the finding of the jury. All he knows is that the jury was composed of twelve sober, conscientious men and that the judge was a great judge. 
The Course of Law. 
Both accused were found guilty and sentenced to death. Then followed days and nights of excitement in Brisbane. The Sheriff and the Under Sheriff were not as lighthearted as they usually were, and the public executioner changed his address several times and was difficult to find. That James Kenniff, at least, was not guilty there was in the minds of some a grave doubt. From a lorry in Albert-square the pungent, picturesque oratory of Joe Lesina, the stormy petrel of Parliament, never slackened in fiery appeals to public opinion in favour of a reprieve. 
An appeal to the High Court brought from Justice Real in a thunderous voice: ‘Were I to concur in the sentence passed on James Kenniff I would regard myself guilty of judicial murder!' [Writer is trusting to memory.] 
Later the sentence of death passed upon James Kenniff was committed to years of hard labour in St Helena; and the day and hour when Patrick Kenniff would be executed fixed. And it fell to the official lot of the Under Sheriff to convey the Executive Council’s decision to the prisoners. Curiously enough, the letter conveying the decision was signed by the tender-hearted Brunton Stephens, who professed a horror for trials, gaols and executions! 
Patrick Kenniff (Qld State Archives)
Patrick Kenniff (Qld State Archives)
Breaking the Decision. 
The Under Sheriff was closing his office for the day when the document was delivered, and, hopping into the nearest cab, was in a quarter of an hour knocking on the door of Boggo-road Gaol. And never, were he to live to be a thousand, would he forget that mission to Boggo-road! He hadn't long to wait at the door before he was accompanied by the genial, kindly Chief Warder MacDonald -himself since passed to his last resting place - to the condemned cells. Suspecting the purport of the visit, he whispered hoarsely as they entered the cold shivery, almost lightless corridor: ‘What is the decision?’ 
'And not Patrick too?' he questioned when he heard it. No other warder was present. And perhaps no one knew the facts of that dreadful tragedy better than the kindly chief warder. 
‘Prisoners Patrick and James Kenniff’, he announced in calm official formula, as he opened the cell door. ‘The Under Sheriff to see you - stand forward., Two pale, worn-looking men stood forward. Their eyes gleamed with anxiety and hope. There was a twitching in the muscles of their faces – their hands clenched and opened, clenched and opened. They stood silent and erect, side by side. Patrick was a bigger man, and his features of more distinctive Irish mould than the other. And thus they waited for the Executive’s decision. In a voice broken with the tremor of emotion the Under Sheriff read it to them. When he had finished, James turned to Patrick, who remained motionless and solemn as Eternity itself and said: ‘Paddy I will go with you!’ 
Then Patrick Kenniff’s lips parted – ‘No Jimmy,’ he said, ‘you shall not! One of us is enough!’ 
In a delirium of despair, Jimmy Kenniff dropped on the floor of the cell at his brother’s feet, and lay there until the chief warder coaxed him to rise and control himself. Then for the last lime on this side the Great Divide, the Kenniffs pressed each other’s hand; and the last the Under Sheriff remembers of Jimmy Kenniff was his voice calling in sobs as he was being escorted to another yard: ‘So-long, Paddy – so-long!’"
The following account of the same scene appeared in the Evening Telegraph on 5 January 1903:
"Breaking the News.
James Kenniff Bursts into Tears.
Brisbane, January 5. 
It is understood that when the Kenniffs wore informed of the decision of the Executive, James, who was in a separate cell from Patrick, was over-joyed to learn that his life had been spared, but when he inquired as to his brother's fate he burst into tears upon being given to understand that Patrick was condemned to die.
The official then proceeded to Patrick's cell and informed him that his doom was sealed. He turned ashly pale, and upon hearing James weeping he remarked he was sorry Jim took the matter so badly, he being under the impression that James was also to be hanged. Patrick expressed himself pleased on learning that James' life was spared. The two brothers were allowed a few minutes conversation, in the course of which James informed Patrick he would rather die with him. James also asserted that they were about to hang an innocent man."