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John McKenna

Coolgardie Police Force 1898

1852 - 1933

Former Chief Inspector of Police, Western Australia




The Murder of Constable Hackett (1894)




The Murder of Constable Hackett (1894)

(Extract from the "Journal of the WA Historical Society")

"We saw blood and broken branches', wrote Farley, and surmised we had been done out of our quarry.

On that same Tuesday morning, the three wanted men had been seen by William Smith of Beverley. He reported immediately to the police station that they were around and were going in the direction of the Dale River. Detective McKenna was alone at the station at the time, but Smith and David Kilpatrick of Bally Bally volunteered to accompany him in pursuit of the men and, if necessary, to bring, reinforcements and rifles. McKenna had been the resident constable at Beverley prior to his promotion a few months earlier.

He had been sent from Perth because he knew the district and was a good bushman. He would also have known Smith and Kilpatrick as respected and reliable settlers. He accepted their offer and immediately advised Lawrence in Perth; as he said in his report, it would have been useless for him to have gone after three armed men alone .

They left the station at 2 pm, McKenna providing a police horse and revolver for William Smith's brother Horace. The other two men had their own horses, and they called at the Smith s for a Snider rifle and a double-barrelled shotgun. As they approached the Dale, McKenna gave instructions to his party. If the wanted men were in the bed of the river, as seemed likely, the first man to see them was to hold his hand up. 'We would all dismount and would call on them to surrender'. His report of the encounter continued, 'We then went towards the river in silence looking for tracks and as I got to the bed of the river 1 saw the three men. Andrew Miller was lying on the ground, William Brown was standing near a tree and Thomas Carbury was standing on the bank looking as though watching for the police. I jumped off my horse. Mr W. Smith said, "Here they are", and then Miller jumped up. They all ran together. I ran towards them and called on Miller to stand, and he at once turned round and fired; the ball struck in some dry jam trees just above my head, and the branches fell around my face. Miller then fired at me again and I threw myself down behind a jam tree and called Mr William Smith to come with his rifle. Carbury and Brown also started firing at us. I fired at Miller, and Mr Smith and Mr Kilpatrick on the other two. I struck Miller in the groin. Carbury got away after about a dozen shots and we lost sight of him. Miller fell after the loss of blood. Brown continued firing at us ... he kept close to a tree. I shot at him and grazed him; he then got up and ran up the gully. Mr Smith and I followed - I came within 8 yards of him when he saw me and got on his knees behind a tree taking aim at me with his revolver and I called out to Mr Smith to shoot as my gun was empty, and he did so and Brown fell dead.

I ran up to Brown and took from him, two revolvers and a bag of cartridges . . . We returned to Miller who was bleeding badly. I asked why he had murdered Hackett and he said, "How do you know we murdered him?" I said, "I know you did", and asked him if it was him or Carbury and he said it was both. This was in front of Mr Smith and Mr Kilpatrick. I asked him why Brown had joined them and he said he did not know.

Miller asked McKenna to put another bullet through him, as his pain was far greater than Hackett's had been. He cursed Carbury as a coward for running away. McKenna then sent Horace Smith to Beverley to despatch telegrams to the police in York and Perth, and Kilpatrick to Mrs Hancock's property for a conveyance for Brown's body. Miller lived an hour after the shooting; just before he died, McKenna asked him why they had killed Hackett, but he only answered, 'Don't bother me. Leave me alone'. Mrs Hancock's team arrived at 5 pm and the bodies of Brown and Miller were taken into Beverley. On the way, the procession met Farley and Eaton and their parties.

The following day, on Resident Magistrate Cowan's orders, the bodies were taken to York. The police recorded in their Occurrence Book:

17th September L.C. Detective McKenna at 2 pm arrived at York from Beverley with the bodies of Andrew Miller T/L 5850 and William Brown T/L 7932 who were shott (sic) in resisting their arrest at Beverley on the 16th instant. The bodies were left at York dead-house waiting for an inquest to be held on them.'

As was customary, a full list was given of the property taken from their bodies and brought in from their camp:

1 memo book, 1 wooden and 3 clay pipes, 1 pr. socks, 1 bottle Wizard Oil, pair of scissors, 1 razor case, 2 pocket knives, 1 compass, 2 small packages of gunpowder, 82 Smith and Wesson cartridges, 23 lead bullets, 2 six-chambered revolvers partly loaded, 1 towel, 1 monkey jacket, 1 bed rug, 1 o'possum skin rug, 2 hats, 1 billy, 2 panecans (sic), 1 leather belt, 1 elastic belt, some tea, flour, sugar and pork, tweed coat, butcher knife, cotton shirt, 2 combs, 2 handkerchiefs, 2 ration bags and another bag containing 1/2 lb. gunpowder, large box of gun caps, 14 carbine bullets and 70 pistol bullets.'(21)

The inquest was held the same afternoon before the Resident Magistrate and a jury of three - Messrs W. Hoops, W. Eaton and W. Dinsdale. The evidence given by the two Smiths and Kilpatrick confirmed that given by Detective McKenna. The jury brought in a verdict that the two men met their deaths by gunshot wounds, inflicted by police endeavouring to arrest them on a coroner's warrant for the murder of Patrick Hackett at Beverley.' Comment was made on the considerable amount of ammunition found on the men, and at the scene of the shooting. The report of the inquest stated, 'The jurors highly commend and approve of the public spirit and courage shown by Messrs W. & H. Smith and David Kilpatrick in thus risking their lives to assist Detective McKenna."



Coolgardie Miner, 6 July 1898

The extreme regret which is felt at the approaching departure from Coolgardie of Inspector McKenna, the head of the police force on the goldfields, was demonstrated yesterday at the function which the Mayor organised with the object of intimating to Mr McKenna that his promotion to the inspectorship of the metropolitan police district was to Coolgardieites a painful pleasure. Although the formal ceremony of bidding farewell to Mr McKenna was timed for noon, the estimation in which this official is held was indicated by the fact that between 60 and 70 of the leading citizens of the town attended to do honor to the guest. The audience included the Mayor (Hon A. G. Jenkins, M L.C.), who presided, nearly all the councillors, the Warden (Mr J. M. Finnerty, RM) and representatives of the honorary bench, the bar, and the different sections of the mercantile community.

The Mayor, with the courtesy that characterises his official proceedings made all the visitors, numerous as they were, welcome, and when the proceedings were opened, he was found in the chair with the guest on his right.

By this time it was an open secret that Coolgardie's good wishes to Inspector McKenna had to some extent been voiced in solid cash - gold at that - and although the token of esteem was only £83 10s, It was generally agreed that circumstances, not wishes, had limited the total to two where there should have been three figures.

However, as the presentation of the purses with their kindly meant, if inadequate, content, simply indicated the estimation in which the Inspector is held, the remarks of the speakers will be relished.

The Mayor in opening the proceedings said that they all knew the pleasant task which he had come here to perform. (Hear. hear) That was to make a presentation to their worthy Inspector of Police (Mr McKenna), who, he regretted to say, was leaving the town. On behalf of the town he expressed his regret at losing the services of Inspector McKenna. At the same time he congratulated him on his change of berth. He did not know whether Inspector McKenna's removal to Perth was a promotion, but he congratulated him on the advance he had made, if it were one (Cheers.) He asked Mr McKenna not to judge the small token of esteem they were giving him by its monetary value, but to recognise that it was just an indication of the regard in which he was held by all classes of the community. (Hear, hear.) He hoped that the Inspector would accept the present token in the spirit in which it was tendered, but on behalf of the people of Coolgardie he had to thank Inspector McKenna for the excellent manner in which he had always carried out the duties of his office. (Cheers.) It was admitted on all sides by all who came in contact with Inspector McKenna that he was most courteous and able. As the representative of the council, he could say that they had the deepest appreciation of his services to the town.

During the whole time he had occupied his position, he had worked with one object, and at the present time he (the Mayor) did not think that there was in West Australia a town which had better police protection than that afforded the citizens of Coolgardie during the last three years. (Cheers.)

They all knew the difficulties attending the administration of police duties on a goldfield, and the fact that Inspector McKenna had gained the esteem of all sections of the community under some very trying circumstances warranted him, in the name of the townspeople of Coolgardie, in handing him over the purse, expressing regret at the loss the town was sustaining, and felicitating him on the accomplishment to some extent of his desire to get to the metropolis, where he had ties which almost served as an excuse for his wish to leave Coolgardie. (Cheers).

Mr J. M. Finnerty, R.M., said that he would like to say a few words both on behalf of the bench of the town and personally regarding the estimation in which they held Inspector McKenna.

On behalf of the bench he would like to say that the cordiality of the relationship existing between the head of the constabulary and the bench made a great difference in the manner in which the magistrates were able to carry out their work. The difference was that if a case were not brought into court in a proper manner the bench had a great deal of trouble. On the other hand, if the constables' work was overlooked they had very little trouble, and he could say that since Inspector McKenna had been in the district they had had very little trouble. (Hear, hear.)

While he had been in the district matters had gone on very smoothly, and although he had always insisted on fulfilling his duties he had gained the esteem, not only of himself (Mr Finnerty), but of the resident justices of the town. (Cheers.) Personally speaking, he said that Inspector McKenna and himself were old friends. (Hear, hear.) They were together in the Kimberley district in the old days, when he (Mr Finnerty) was in the police. He was delighted when he heard that Inspector McKenna was to be sent to Coolgardie. He could only say that he never wished to meet anyone who could work better or more loyally than Inspector McKenna had, both in the old Kimberley days and up to the present time. (Cheers.) He was quite satisfied that wherever Inspector McKenna went his qualities would recommend him to all with whom he came in contact, and he (Mr Finnerty) had to thank the Inspector for the assistance he had given him on the fields, and in congratulating him on his promotion Mr Finnerty expressed the hope that his abilities would be recognised and eventually place Inspector McKenna at the top of the tree. (Cheers.)

Mr T. Stodart, J.P., as a resident of Coolgardie, expressed his pleasure in endorsing the appreciative remarks that had been made regarding Inspector McKenna. At the time that that officer came here the position was a most difficult one, but their guest had proved himself equal to any position and had displayed a tactfulness and fairness that was sufficient evidence of his fitness for the position he had occupied. During the time the Inspector had been on the fields he had won the respect of all classes of the community, and his departure would be a source of real regret. (Hear, hear.)

Mr Shaw, on behalf of the legal profession of the town, testified to the esteem in which the Inspector was held. He admitted that, while a hard fighter, the Inspector was always courteous, and his treatment of the members of the bar, even when fighting a different cause to that which he was, in the pursuance of his duty trying to establish, was marked with a sincerity which always commended the Inspector to their respect.

Like all the other speakers, he wished Inspector McKenna long life and prosperity, a successful career, and all the gratification that could attend so deserved and notable a promotion. (Cheers.)

The health of Inspector McKenna was then drunk with enthusiasm.

Inspector McKenna, who was received with cheers, thanked those present most sincerely for the kind remarks that had been bestowed upon him. He could assure them all that It gave him great pleasure to find after serving amongst them for a little over three years, that on the eve of his departure his efforts in a professional and personal capacity were appreciated. (Cheers.) He had seen in the Press the remarks of the Commissioner of Police in which he stated that the Department had absolute confidence in him. (Cheers.) All this was very gratifying, but he attributed much of the success that had attended his efforts to the able assistance he had received from the police In the district and the general public. On that occasion he wished to thank Sergt. Bellenger for the able manner In which he had assisted him - (cheers) - in the discharge of his duties. He hoped that before long he would see the sergeant a commissioned officer in the service (Cheers.) Regarding his successor, he could only say that he did not know very much of him personally, but from what he had heard from men who had served under him he gathered that the new inspector was an able and efficient officer, and he was sure that If they gave him a fair trial he would prove the right man in the right place. (Hear, hear.) He hoped that his successor would be treated In the same manner as he had been while serving in the district, and he had little doubt that the result would be satisfactory to the officer and the public. (Hear, hear.) He thanked them again for the complimentary remarks made about himself, and he assured them that he had only tried to do his duty. At the same time the fact that his efforts were appreciated was most gratifying to him, and he trusted that the success which they deemed had attended his services at Coolgardie would mark his career in the metropolis. If he were not successful in his new sphere of duty it would not be his fault, as he would do his best to fulfil the duties of the office. (Hear, hear.) More he could not do, but he hoped he would always be able to keep with him pleasantest recollections of his stay in Coolgardie. (Hear, hear.)

The proceedings then terminated.



The West Australian (Perth WA), Friday 6 October 1882, p.3

Edward McCormish (sic), an ex-policeman, was charged with having, on the 14th July last, feloniously, wilfully, and with malice aforethought, shot one Ellen McKenna, a policeman's wife, on the Albany road, with intent to kill and murder her. There were other counts in the indictment varying the intent.

Mr. S. H. Parker appeared for the defence.

The Attorney General, in opening the case, said the, crime with which the prisoner was charged was an extraordinary one in this respect - that, so far as could be seen from the depositions, there was no ascribed motive for its committal. Probably the defence which would be raised was that the accused fired at the prosecutrix when he was under the influence of liquor, and that the whole affair was only a drunken freak. It would be for the jury to say, after hearing the evidence, what the intention of the prisoner could have been, and whether he was actuated by any improper motive. There were several counts in the indictment varying the intent, and the degree of the prisoner's guilt, and, if the jury did not think the evidence sustained the graver and more serious charge of attempted murder, it would be competent for them to find him guilty of one of the minor counts. The learned counsel then called the following witnesses:

Ellen McKenna, the prosecutrix, said that in July last she resided with her husband, at the 36-mile, Albany road, where there is a police station. The prisoner was a neighbour. Witness was at work in the garden on the 14th July, the only other person on the station at the time being a native assistant, her husband being away at Perth. While at work in the garden she saw the prisoner, who was gesticulating and swinging his arms about, and shouting, on the top of an acclivity, about 150 yards off. This was about half past 3 in the afternoon. She did not notice that he had anything in his hand. Witness went into the house, and shortly afterwards heard a gun go off. Had heard one fired previously on the same day, but took no notice of it. When she heard the gun go off after returning to the house, she asked the native assistant to climb on the roof of the house to see if he could observe the prisoner anywhere about. She subsequently went out of the room herself, and from the passage of her house she could see McCormish, standing near some bushes, with a gun in his hand, not far from the house. He fired towards where she was standing, and the shot struck some of the shingles of the roof. He was standing opposite to her at the time, and she saw him lift the gun and aim in the direction of where she was standing. She then locked herself up in the house and, on looking out of a window, saw the prisoner moving away, and heard him shouting something, but could not distinguish what he said. He fired two more shots, but not in the direction of the house. The prisoner had resided in the neighbourhood of the station for three years, and during that time there had been no quarrel between them.

To Mr. Parker: The native Billy was standing close by me, when the prisoner fired into the passage. I did not see any shot, but heard something strike the shingles of the roof. There is a paling fence between the house and where he stood, but I could distinctly see him.

James Rogers, a shingle-splitter, said he was at work on the day in question two miles from the police station. He saw the prisoner that day, and noticed that he had a rifle with him. This was between one and two o'clock in the afternoon.

When he approached witness, he threw the gun behind a tree. He said he wanted to borrow a keg to carry water in, as he was going to Jarrahdale. Witness gave it to him, and he walked deliberately to the tree where he bad deposited the gun, and, picking it up, fired in the direction of where the witness was standing. The gun was loaded with a bullet; he could tell that by the sharp ring of the ball. After firing, the prisoner walked off, and the next time witness saw him was when he observed him firing in the direction of McKenna's house, later in the afternoon. Before he fired, he roundly abused Mrs. McKenna, using very filthy language of and to her, and threatened to shoot her dead, if she came out. After using these words he fired, and subsequently he fired twice more, but it being then dark witness did not see in what direction. He evidently had being drinking, but he was not so drunk that he did not know what he was about. After he fired, witness went up to the station, and just then McKenna returned from Perth. When the prisoner saw him, he shouted out, " Come out, you cur, with all your force, and I'll shoot the whole lot of you." Later in the evening he saw the prisoner again, parading about in the neighbourhood of the station, with the gun still in his possession.

To His Honour: I have known the prisoner for five years, but never knew him to be the worse for liquor before.

Sarah Mary McCormish, the prisoner's daughter, aged, apparently, about 8 years testified to her father going out with a rifle on the day in question towards McKenna's house, and that she saw him firing in the direction of the house.

To Mr. Parker: My father, a few days before this, had a gallon of rum in the house, and he had been drinking it freely.

Billy, the native assistant referred to in the examination in chief of the prosecutrix, gave evidence as to what he saw of the occurrence described by her, and this closed the case for the prosecution. No evidence was called for the defence.

The Attorney General, in reviewing the evidence for the Crown said it was for the jury to say what could have been the intention of the prisoner in acting as he had done. For his own part he confessed he could see no possible motive or assignable reason for his conduct, but if the jury came to the conclusion that he fired at the woman with any improper motive, although they might not be able to fathom what that motive was, so long as they believed he intended to do her harm, they were bound to find him guilty on the minor count - and he had no intention of pressing the more serious charge. Unless they were perfectly satisfied that he fired at random, without aiming at anybody, or intending to do anybody any harm, and without intention of committing any improper act, they would acquit him; but, on the other hand, if they believed he knew the prosecutrix was in the house and that he fired at her with an improper motive, they could have no difficulty, in the face of the evidence, in finding him guilty of the minor charge of unlawfully shooting with intent to do her grievous bodily harm.

Mr. S. H. Parker said it was the duty of the Crown in all these cases to strictly prove the specific allegations contained in the indictment, as, for instance, that the prisoner not only fired the gun but that it was loaded with " powder and divers leaden shot" ; and, in this connection, it was singular that, although it was stated in evidence that the shot hit the shingles of the roof, none of the shingles were produced to support that allegation, and the hypothesis which he would ask the jury to accept was this - that the prisoner, maddened with drink, fired at random, into the air, and that, if any shot hit the shingles at all, they simply dropped on them from above, causing no mark or sign of impingement. It was in evidence that the man was under the influence of drink, and, judging by his conduct, he must have been so drunk that he did not know what he was doing. Although voluntary drunkenness was no excuse for the committal of crime, yet when they came to consider the question of intention, it was a matter which a jury might take into their consideration. For instance, where on an indictment for an attempt to commit suicide, a woman was charged with having thrown herself down a well with that intent, and it was shown in evidence that she was so drunk that she did not know what she was doing, the learned Judge before whom the case was tried, asked the jury if they believed the evidence, and that the woman was so drunk that she did not actually know what she was doing, how could they say that she had intended to destroy herself ? He (Mr. Parker) did not pretend to go so far as to say that the prisoner here was in such a state of intoxication that he had no idea what he was doing, but he thought the evidence, and his conduct generally, throughout the occurrence, went to show that he simply fired at random, and without any intent to do the prosecutrix any harm. If he had intended to hurt her, or wished to have done so, he might have gone up close to her while she was at work, alone in the garden, instead of which he fired the gun a distance of about 120 yards from her, showing that he really had no intention to injure her; and, although his conduct was undoubtedly reprehensible, he did not think the jury would come to the conclusion that there was any felonious intent.

His Honour the Chief Justice, in charging the jury, said that, although the prisoner was indicted for a very serious offence, the case was a very simple one. The Attorney General having abandoned the first two counts, and very properly, they would confine their attention to the minor charges, and say whether they believed the prisoner intended to maim this woman or to do her grievous bodily harm, when he fired. It was not necessary to prove that he took deliberate aim at her; it would be sufficient if they came to the conclusion that when he fired he had the woman covered. As to this being a drunken freak, and the firing being done at random, and without any intent to do anybody harm, it was in evidence that the prisoner, though under the influence of liquor, was not so drunk that he did not know what he was doing, and he had been heard to threaten the life of the prosecutrix, at the very time he had the gun in his possession. The case of the drunken woman charged with an attempt to commit suicide was not an analogous case to this. That had reference to a crime committed by a person upon herself - an attempt to commit felo de se, and not to injure anybody else. The question there was, whether she had tumbled down a well, when she was so drunk that she did not know what she was doing, or whether she had attempted to injure herself by throwing herself down the well. In a court of justice, on the criminal side, drunkenness was no justification for an offence; if it were, society would not be safe. If they were of opinion, from all the circumstances proved before them, that the prisoner, when he fired knew the woman was there, and that she was so placed as to be covered by the gun, when he discharged it, whether he was drunk or not, he must be held responsible for his action. More than two thirds of the cases that came before him in that Court were traceable to what appeared to be the curse of the colony - drunkenness. There was no doubt about that, and he regretted to say it. He had no doubt, in his own mind, that but for the rum which the prisoner's own child, in trembling accents had told them of, the prisoner would not have found himself in the unfortunate position in which he now stood; but the law did not tolerate drunken men going about firing, like this, whether at random or otherwise, at innocent people, and endangering their lives.

The jury, after half an hour's deliberation, found the prisoner guilty on the minor count of shooting with intent to do grievous bodily harm, but recommended him to mercy.

His Honour: On what grounds?

The Foreman (Mr. Sutherland): There appears to have been no motive for committing the deed, and that it was the outcome of too free an indulgence in liquor, by a man who, until this occurrence, appears to have led a sober life.

His Honour said it would be his duty to respect their recommendation, and he thought he would be doing so by sentencing the prisoner to two years imprisonment, with hard labour. The prisoner was then removed.