Two Shots in the Night

Constables John Power and Patrick Cahill––troopers of the Clermont Gold Escort––lie in a drugged stupor near the remnants of their campfire. These are their final moments.

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They have been riding for three days to get here, before spending the day drinking and bathing, letting their horses rest. The camp is down by the Mackenzie River, about a hundred yards from Bedford’s bush hotel. As the night closes in, their last drinks carry an opium tincture through their bodies––assuring their final rest is complete, while the murderer waits to carry his plan forward.

He watches them, his head quite still but his eyes shifting to and fro between the sleeping men. There are tears in those eyes, but not many. He wipes them with slow fingers, while his other hand quietly draws the revolver from its holster.

Griffin stands, still watching Power and Cahill as he adjusts his back and shakes the ache from each leg in turn. He walks a few yards in the direction of the hotel, stopping when a stick cracks loudly beneath his heel. He checks the men again––undisturbed, unmoving––and turns his head back towards the deep darkness between the camp and Bedford’s pub, waiting more than a full minute without any movement, the pistol pointed to the ground. He returns to the campfire, and squats beside the fading coals, peering at each man in turn as he holds the pistol in his left hand and wipes his right palm on his shirtfront.

He stands decisively and steps forward, taking the weapon in his gun-hand and bringing it down to an inch from Power’s skull. The thunderous percussion of Power’s death rouses Cahill, who groggily attempts to sit up before Griffin’s boot knocks him down. Griffin places the muzzle close to Cahill’s temple and fires again.

He steps back, surveying the dreadful scene, and then stumbles away from the camp into the bush for maybe twenty or thirty yards before the retching brings him to his knees. He coughs and vomits, spitting out bile before standing again and taking a few steps to sit on the trunk of a felled ironbark tree. Griffin wipes his sleeve across his mouth. His hand is shaking too much to re-holster his gun, so he sits with it laid across his lap––alone in the night while he listens for anyone who might be approaching.

Witnesses could not agree as to how many shots they heard, nor when they heard them. Sleeping minds are prone to additions as much as they are omissions, but two shots at least were fired between midnight and the dawn. Two good men, gone to that far forever place so that another could try to avoid admitting his errors and losses.

Thomas Griffin’s Fall

This is the true story of one of Australia’s most incredible murders––the first Queensland police officers killed while on duty, drugged and shot by their commander, Gold Commissioner and Police Magistrate Thomas Griffin––and the sensational trial that led to his execution in 1868.

The motivation for the murders was common and quite ordinary, but Thomas Griffin’s crime and punishment––and what happened to him after he was hanged––make this story unique in the annals of Australia’s dark past.

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Behold the man, standing tall in a magisterial pose.

Facing the camera with a straight gaze, his body slightly turned to suggest a confident bearing rather than an arrogant air.

The uniform conveys the sense of his power––the purpose of this studio portrait. His magistrate’s frock coat, buttoned only at the top in 1860s fashion, is decorated with his campaign medals from the Crimea. Braided stripes on his trouser legs, his cap adorning the small table next to him, and his sword held casually in his left hand.

Thomas Griffin is, in 1867, a man climbing towards the peak of Queensland’s power elite––Police Magistrate, Gold Commissioner, and one of the most formidable men on the colonial frontier––he is charming, clever, strong, and carefully proud of his whiskers.

He is also a chronic gambler, and on a short path to ruin.

By the end of that year he has been committed to stand trial for the murder of two police troopers––one of them his closest friend. They are the first Queensland police killed in the line of duty.

Griffin is tried for robbery and murder. His sensational trial ends in a verdict of guilty and a sentence of hanging.

A week after his execution in June 1868, his head is stolen from the grave by three men––a doctor, a bank manager, and a newspaper editor.

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Thomas Griffin’s Fall is a serial story of creative nonfiction, using meticulous research to unfold this uniquely dramatic story from Queensland’s violent colonial frontier.

AndAlso Books will unveil this story, our first serial, over the next 12 months using original historical documents, reports, and images, as well as short stories taken from the wider narrative, to mark the 150th anniversary of the story’s events.

Welcome to Serials

No, not like that Serial. Here you will find an unfolding series of original Australian gothic historical fiction stories. 

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