1868: Thomas Griffin, gold commissioner

Add comment June 1st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1868, disgraced Australian gold commissioner Thomas Griffin was hanged for murdering two police escorts in the course of a robbery.

He was an Irish-born constable who parlayed decorated service in the Crimean War into emigration to Australia.

There he lodged himself in the policing ranks and by dint of energy and charm worked his way up by late 1863 to the administrative post of gold commissioner in the emerging gold rush boom town of Clermont, Queensland.

“During his four years’ residence at Clermont, Griffin became widely known in the district,” according to The Early History of Rockhampton by a working journalist who knew Griffin, J.T.S. Bird.

In addition to being physically a fine manly-looking fellow, he had a very suave and attractive manner, and readily gained the favour and friendship of those whom he desired to stand well with.* To those under him he was as a rule distant and overbearing, and was by no means well liked … Ostentation and vanity, with a fondness for display, were leading traits of his character, and were noticeable to all who knew him.

One index of his no means well-likedness was the community petition that deposed him from his post in September 1867. It seems that Griffin had formed a reputation as “despotic, arbitrary and partial,” made himself a fixture of gambling dens, and had been investigated for embezzling mining revenues that he was supposed to hold in trust.

Demoted to a lower position in the same bureau in nearby Rockhampton, Griffin immediately vindicated his critics by arranging to accompany the next “gold escort” transporting valuables between Clermont and Rockhampton, along with troopers Patrick Cahill and John Power. En route, Griffin gunned the two men down by surprise on the Mackenzie River, making off with about £4000 in notes (not gold). He then unconvincingly presented himself back in Rockhampton as having separated naturally from the party, surprised as anyone that the other two hadn’t returned. Although he participated in the initial search, he was arrested within days.

Bird has a lengthy narrative of the investigation and trial; one notable aspect was early forensic experimentation with shooting sheeps’ skulls in an attempt to model the damage done by the gunshots received by the unfortunate guards — further to demonstrating that they were murdered execution-style at close range rather than shot from a distance as a wilderness brigand might do.

Suffice to say that no matter the spattering of ruminant brains, Griffin’s foul reputation made his pretense of innocence completely untenable, even though he continued it all the way to the gallows.

After a prayer at the foot of the scaffold, Griffin stood up and Mr. Smith said:

I shall meet you at the judgment seat of God; you have but a few minutes to live, and in the sight of God who is to judge between us all, I ask you will you not acknowledge your guilt?

Griffin drew himself up and said in a resolute voice, “No!”

He went up the first of the scaffold steps two or three at a time, finishing the remainder with a firm step. Stepping on the drop, he came promptly to “attention.” Griffin told the executioner [John Hutton] he had nothing to give him, but if he saw Mr. Brown he would give him something. The hangman then asked if Griffin had anything to confess.

Griffin replied in a firm voice: “No, I have nothing to confess!”

The white cap was placed in position, and Griffin, as though impatient at any delay, said: “Go on, I am ready!” The bolt was drawn, and death followed instantly.

Griffin had frequently told Dr. Salmond and others that he would die with calm firmness, and he was as good as his word.

His was the first of nine executions recorded at Rockhampton Gaol. A week after the hanging, Griffin’s grave was robbed and his head stolen.

* One early indicator of the man’s character was his seduction of a wealthy widow on the very ship he took to Australia. After quickly dissipating her fortune, he parted ways with her by publishing a fake death notice in the newspaper.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Theft

Tags: , , , , , , ,


Calendar

October 2020
M T W T F S S
« Sep    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!