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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Griffin, Thomas John Augustus (1832–1868)

by A. A. Morrison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Thomas John Augustus Griffin (1832-1868), policeman, gold commissioner and murderer, was born on 27 July 1832 in County Antrim, Ireland, son of John Loftus Griffin and Anne, née Thompson. He entered the Royal Irish Constabulary and then volunteered for service in the Crimean war where he won two decorations and a commission in the Turkish contingent. He arrived in Victoria early in 1857 and on 29 April at Essendon married Harriett Klisser, supposed to be a wealthy widow. He deserted her and in May 1858 joined the New South Wales police. Next February he was appointed chief constable at Rockhampton. At Brisbane he became by exchange chief constable in November 1860 and was soon promoted clerk of petty sessions, reputedly because of his friendship with the sister of a leading politician. On 18 October 1863 he was appointed police magistrate and gold commissioner on the Clermont field where his overbearing manner made him unpopular. He came close to penury by heavy losses in Chinese gambling dens and heavy demands from his wife whose discovery of his whereabouts also lost him the support of the politician's sister.

In June 1866 Oscar de Satgé, chief magistrate of Clermont, discovered that Griffin had stolen a letter addressed to him in criticism of the commissioner's work and asked for a civil service inquiry into this flagrant abuse of duty. The inquiry was held in Brisbane where few witnesses could attend and Griffin was exonerated. Rumours that he had embezzled money entrusted to him by miners led to a public meeting in Clermont and a petition for his removal, but before it could be presented he was transferred to Toowoomba as police magistrate; later he moved to Rockhampton as gold commissioner. In 1867 he was given custody of £252 by some Chinese miners but when the moment for settling came in October he was unable to pay. Soon afterwards he drew £8151 from the bank to pay for gold delivered from Clermont by the escort, extracted £252 with which he paid the Chinese and dispatched the remainder with the two troopers of the Peak Downs gold escort. Griffin accompanied the escort and at the Mackenzie River shot both troopers and stole the money. Although he himself took part in the investigation, so many of the missing notes were traced to him that he was arrested. Sentenced to death on 18 March 1868, he confessed his guilt and was hanged in the Rockhampton gaol on 1 June. A week later his body was exhumed and reburied after removal of the head. Despite the offer of a reward for apprehension of the offenders, the head is reputed to have remained for years as a souvenir in an upper-class Rockhampton home.

Select Bibliography

  • R v Griffin, Reports of Cases Argued & Determined in the Supreme Court of Queensland, vol 1, 1860-68, pp 176-86
  • O. de Satgé, Pages From the Journal of a Queensland Squatter (Lond, 1901)
  • J. T. S. Bird, The Early History of Rockhampton (Rockhampton, 1904)
  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 1867-68
  • Australasian, 11 Apr 1868
  • Colonial Secretary's letters, 1868 (Queensland State Archives)
  • Supreme Court records (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

A. A. Morrison, 'Griffin, Thomas John Augustus (1832–1868)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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