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John McKenna





"Mr. John McKenna, for a number of years Chief Inspector of Police in Western Australia, died at the age of 80 years yesterday, after a long illness.

The late Mr. McKenna was born in Perth in 1853 (sic).  He joined the Mounted Police on his twenty-first birthday and continued in the service for exactly half a century, rising from the ranks through all grades and ultimately attaining to the chief inspectorship.  This position he held until his retirement to private life. In his time Mr. McKenna served in one capacity or another in practically every police district in the State, and, whether as trooper, non-commissioned or commissioned officer with marked distinction. In his noviciate, within only a few weeks of donning the uniform, he had to his credit the capture of that elusive bushranger, best known as "Moondyne Joe".  The arrest was made at Mandurah. "Moondyne," who was vain of the cleverness which he had frequently displayed in effecting numerous escapes from custody, boastingly intimated to his captor that he would be in Fremantle before him.  If he seriously contemplated such an escapade he counted without his host, who retorted. "If you do you will take me with you," and chained the prisoner to himself. The pair spent the night linked together.

This adventure, which gave the young trooper's superiors' some indication of his mettle and resource, was a trifling episode compared with many others in which he played a conspicuous role, and into which more than once there entered the element of tragedy.  It was Mr. McKenna's lot to be stationed in Kimberley during the disastrous gold rush to that district, and at Coolgardie in the roaring nineties.

While Mr. McKenna was stationed at Derby serious native troubles were constantly demanding the police services. On one of these occasions the duty was assigned to Mr. McKenna of leading a party of six against certain wild and savage aboriginals who were wanted for the murder of a white man, one Captain Poyten.  The party had to travel 100 miles over country where they were in hourly peril of sharing Poyten's fate.  However, they succeeded in finding the body of the murdered man and in tracking the murderers, who were not easily taken, to their lair. The police were attacked with spears and stones, but there were no casualties and the four natives who were wanted were, arrested after a struggle, brought to trial and sentenced to death.  None, however, were hanged. Their sentences were commuted and they were interned in the native prison at Rottnest.

Earlier in his career, Mr. McKenna in association with Constable [afterwards Inspector] Farley, unravelled a murder case in the southern part of the colony. A sandalwood cutter had been brutally butchered near Kojonup, and his remains burned. For two months the constables worked on this case, and in the end were successful in securing the identification of the remains and in sheeting home the murder to two men, Moroney and Watkins, who paid with their lives for their atrocious crime.

But by far the most memorable of Mr. McKenna's exploits in the force had for its theatre the country bordering the Dale River, he being then a corporal in the Criminal Investigation branch of the service. A horrible murder of which a police constable, Patrick Hackett, was the victim, had been perpetrated at Beverley. The murderers, Carberry and Miller, after shooting Hackett, who was seeking to arrest them for several burglaries, were joined by another desperado, a ticket-of-leave man named miller, the trio then taking to the bush. During the ensuing week they waylaid and robbed settlers on the country roads after the manner of highwaymen and terrorised a wide district. Detective McKenna, as he then was, was despatched to Beverley alone to essay the dangerous task of capturing the murderers.

Fortunately three civilian volunteers gallantly joined him and the party thus constituted and armed with rifles and revolvers set out on its hazardous enterprise. The fugitives, who were well armed, were overtaken on the banks of the Dale river, where a pitched battle ensued, the shooting being initiated by one of the murderers. Mr. McKenna and his three civilian comrades came out of the fray scatheless. Not so two of the desperados. Brown was shot dead and Miller was mortally wounded. Carberry, who made his escape, was later easily captured near the lakes on the York road, was tried, convicted and hanged. In recognition of their heroic services in connection with this affair, McKenna and his three volunteer companions were each presented with a gold watch by the West Australian Government and their conduct having been brought before the Imperial Government, Mr. McKenna had the gratification of receiving a copy of a despatch from the Secretary of State for the Colonies expressing the highest appreciation of his gallant conduct and the gallant conduct of the three civilians on the Dale River.

Although the Beverley case won him the most distinction, Mr. McKenna's long police career was studded with perilous adventures. On several occasions he was in peril of losing his life both from hunger and thirst in the bush and from attacks of criminals, white and black, whom it was his duty to bring to justice."

West Australian, 1933