The Troopers

There were several goldfields in Queensland before James Nash’s 1867 discovery of the rich field that became Gympie. Between Rockhampton and Clermont were the Crocodile Creek, Morinish, and Rosewood diggings, drawing hundreds of hopeful prospectors from the southern colonies and as far away as California and China. While most hard-luck miners were left desperate and destitute, a lot of gold was pulled from the ground.

The Clermont Gold Escort was one of the elite police units in the 1860s tasked with carrying gold and cash safely between the remote goldfields and distant banks. Gold Escort troopers rode better horses, carried more and newer weapons––Colt revolvers and Terry’s breech-loading rifles––than the ordinary town police, and wore special uniforms to distinguish themselves from the common constabulary.

Clermont Gold Escort, 1867.  (Sitting, L-R) Constables John Power, Patrick Cahill, George Gildea, Sergeant James Julian.  (Standing) Unidentified troopers, Native Mounted Police.  Courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum (Cat. No. PM0680a).

Clermont Gold Escort, 1867.

(Sitting, L-R) Constables John Power, Patrick Cahill, George Gildea, Sergeant James Julian.

(Standing) Unidentified troopers, Native Mounted Police.

Courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum (Cat. No. PM0680a).

As Gold Commissioner for the region Thomas Griffin commanded the Clermont Gold Escort, comprising Sergeant James Julian and troopers John Power, Patrick Cahill, and George Gildea. Like Griffin––and so many other colonial police––these men were all Irish-born. Power and Cahill joined the escort in early 1866. Cahill was a bit older than his mate Power, but Power was reckoned the ‘senior partner’ of the inseparable pair.

Julian and his troopers arrived in Rockhampton in late October 1867, after another long ride through the bush from Clermont bringing a shipment of gold for deposit in the Australian Joint Stock Bank and the Union Bank. Griffin arrived in town a few days later, and told the escort they’d soon return to Clermont with a huge parcel of cash––£8,000 in banknotes and coins for the AJS Bank.

During the few days’ rest the men and horses needed before setting out again, Griffin began to behave strangely. He took an unusually direct interest in the bank’s money and appeared hostile towards Sergeant Julian. When Griffin demanded that he take personal custody of the money, Julian resigned from the Escort. This left the escort short of experience and firepower, so the bank decided to send only £4,000 to its Clermont branch––all paper, no gold or silver coins. Power, anxious about suddenly shouldering this extra responsibility, asked Griffin to place his wax seal (as Commissioner) upon the packages of banknotes to prove they had not been meddled with while under his care.

That request by Power sealed the fate of three men.

‘Power was shot in the back of the head, apparently from a pistol, the bullet, which was of ordinary size, having passed out over the right eye. He was found lying apparently as he had gone to rest. Cahill had a wound on the top of the head, the orifice of the wound being large enough for a ball from a rifle or a carbine. The bullet came out behind the left ear. Cahill had turned over on his side; his body was slightly bent from mere spasmodic effort.’

Dr David Salmond (Medical Officer, Rockhampton) testifying at Thomas Griffin’s committal hearing.

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Following Thomas Griffin’s execution in 1868, the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin described the murdered troopers with typically florid literary prose: ‘Taken all in all, probably, the Emerald Isle never sent forth two nobler specimens, and few could see the pair of friends without admiration.’

On John Power: ‘…for high spirit, indomitable courage, love of adventure, open-handed generosity, energy, and chivalrous honour, joined to an exquisitely proportioned frame, uniting strength and activity in their fullest perfection, John Power was the very type of the ideal young Norman noble of the middle ages.’

On Patrick Cahill: ‘Those who knew him speak of him as a model of manly beauty––nearly six feet high, and made in full proportion, with a superb head, regular features, dark hair, and lustrous dark-hazel eyes, soft, brilliant, and expressive, a fair noble brow, rich complexion, and countenance as open, guileless, and winning as that of a child––a true index to his stainless integrity of character.’

Voices in Ink

Thomas Griffin’s Fall is the story, told in serial, of one of Australia’s most sensational murders––that of the first Queensland police officers killed on duty.

Gold Escort troopers Patrick Cahill and John Power were drugged, robbed, and shot dead by their commanding officer, Police Magistrate and Gold Commissioner Thomas Griffin, in the bush between Rockhampton and Clermont in November 1867.

We are retelling this dramatic story in the 150th anniversary, using intricate research to unfold the narrative with creative non-fiction and archival documents.

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Two key characters in Thomas Griffin’s Fall were only a few years old when the events took place––Rockhampton’s local newspapers, the ‘Morning Bulletin’ (1861) and the ‘Northern Argus’ (1865).

Like the other characters, they had different personalities and distinctive voices. Their manners of speech will seem quaint to readers 150 years later, because they both spoke the journalistic language typical to their own era––literary, pretentious, and verbose––but they each saw the world from their own unique perspective.

Also in common with some of the story’s other characters, they hated each other with vehement passion. The continuing bitterness between their proprietors––Arthur Bourcicault and William Buzacott––was expressed in high-flown language and sharpened insults rather than with fists or weapons. These personal animosities and professional antagonisms resulted in local events and people being written about in dramatically diverse ways.

Readers will come to recognise the individual styles with which the ‘Argus’ and the ‘Bulletin’ reported and editorialised the story of Thomas Griffin’s Fall, and come to learn which of them became intimately involved in one of the most dramatic episodes in the whole narrative.