From Kilfinane to Kalgoorlie

On April  27, 1926  two policemen from the special Gold Stealing Detection Unit boarded their bicycles and pedalled off  to carry out surveillance on an illicit gold plant in the  goldfield area of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. They were Detective-Inspector John Walsh  and  Detective-Sgt. Alexander Henry Pitman. On a recent trip to Australia, I happened on their graves in the Catholic section of Karrakatta Cemetery, outside Perth, Western Australia.

The monuments on these two graves are high and imposing, but as they lie very close to, and face a very high boundary hedge, it was not possible to take clear photographs of the front of the graves.

Pitman's Grave concealed by foliage

Pitman’s Grave partly concealed by foliage

These two graves are marked as part of an Historic Trail , with Walsh listed as Irish-born on the adjacent plaque.  I was therefore compelled to discover more.

The plaque  referred to a monument to the men that was originally in Perth City,at the front of the Police Headquarters building in East Perth, but had been relocated to the Police Academy at Joondalup, just minutes from my sister’s workplace on the adjacent Edith Cowan University Campus. I set about finding it, and wanted to check if I could get access to it, so I wrote to the Western Australia Police Department asking for permission to photograph the monument at the Police Academy campus,and I was thrilled to bits when permission was granted to visit and take photographs. And so, on my last full day in Australia, between torrential thundery showers, I walked across the huge parade ground towards  the statue commemorating the two policemen.

Between the flagpoles on the Parade Ground, is the memorial to Walsh and Pitman

The flagpoles on the Parade Ground frame the memorial to Walsh and Pitman on the far side of the water

Crossing the water feature at the Police Academy was  almost surreal as I felt I was coming to a very special place.

The Memorial to Pitman and Walsh dominates this area which is dedicated to all WA Police Officers who have died in the line of duty.

07-DSCF5550

The Memorial was made in Italy with funds raised from policemen all over Australia. It is of the goddess Themis, familiar to many as the ‘scales of justice statue’ usually blindfolded,holding scales aloft in one hand a sword in the other.  In this case however, the ‘Justice’ figure has eyes downcast and holds the sword downwards, bearing a wreath. There is a Swan emblem on the shield,representing the black swans of  Perth.

12-DSCF5560On either side of the base are beautifully worked  images of Pitman and Walsh

Immediately behind the Memorial is a Remembrance Garden  in memory of all Western Australian policemen who have lost their lives while on duty.

13-DSCF5563The contrast between the classically styled  Pitman/Walsh memorial and the ultra modern design of the Memorial garden is quite stark, but adds to the sense of sombreness and certainly adds to the story that law enforcement people have been losing their lives across decades and generations.

The list makes sobering reading and I was struck by the high number who have died in road traffic accidents

On returning home to Ireland, I began researching the story of Walsh and Pitman, to put with the photographs I had taken in Western Australia. I was quite horrified to discover the horrible details of their deaths. Having been missing for some time, a search was mounted and following reports of a terrible stench and many flies near a mineshaft, their decapitated, dismembered and partly burned bodies were discovered 60 feet below ground. Three local men were arrested. One turned King’s Evidence and the other two, William Coulter and Philip Treffene were hanged for the double murder of Detective-Inspector John Walsh  and  Detective-Sgt Alexander Henry Pitman.

I was then very surprised to find that John Walsh was a native of County Limerick, Ireland, not far from where I live. He was born in Kilfinane, to Ellen nee Bourke and James Walsh on 14 February 1862. He attended Ardpatrick National School,  studied medicine in University College Cork for a couple of years, but by 1881 he was in Sydney Australia where he joined the police force. He eventually arrived in Western Australia, after serving in Queensland and the north-western part of New South Wales.

This streetscape of Kilfinane may well have been familiar to the young John Walsh.

1-4-DSCF5780

Ardpatrick is a small village just minutes from Kilfinane. Until 1861 they were in the same parish. The church in Ardpatrick dates from 1835 and is adjacent to the school. There are many original features still remaining in the school, which is now used as a community centre.

Ardpatrick National School adjacent to the Church

Ardpatrick National School next to the Church

The fine church bell dates from 1856, and the young John Walsh probably heard it peal on many an occasion.

Original window on Ardpatrick school

Original window on Ardpatrick school

Ardpatrick schoolhouse is a protected  two storey building. The boys classroom was on the upper floor, with access via stairs on the church side of the building nearest the bell.

I stood looking at this for a long time. I  couldn’t help but contrast the image of a small boy who climbed these stairs to learn and who ran down them to play, passing  that beautiful small window and perhaps glancing at the church bell, with the image of  the gruesome, horrible way in which his life would end, thousands of miles away in Kalgoorlie.

My grateful thanks to Beth Naylor, Public Affairs Officer at Police HQ, Perth, Western Australia, for her help, courtesy and kindness in facilitating access to the Walsh-Pitman Memorial at the Police Academy Campus at Joondalup, WA

I am also indebted to the Ardpatrick Community worker (whose name I do not have) who was watering flowers,and  allowed me access the school building.

Notes:

*When making this post that I noticed the shamrock embellishment on Pitman’s headstone, indicating some link  with Ireland. I have been unable to prove a direct connection, but it is possible that his wife’s family was Irish. His mother -in-law, Margaret Shepherd Fitzgerald  who sadly died on May 18th, 1926, only one day after her son-in -law’s funeral, was buried in the same grave. Perhaps the headstone reflects her direct link to Ireland. More research required.

References

Australian Dictionary of Biography

http://monumentaustralia.org.au

Newspaper report of Inquests 

Newspaper report May 16, 1926

Gruesome details of the discovery and retrieval of the  bodies

Western Australia Police Historical Society

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27 Comments

Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, My Travels

27 responses to “From Kilfinane to Kalgoorlie

  1. Such an interesting story, but I have certainly come to expect that from you. You have taught me far more about Western Australia than I previously knew, even though I live in the same country. Of course, now I want to visit there even more… Thank you…

    • Thank you so much – delighted you found it interesting. It must have been a huge thing all over Australia for such a monument to have been funded by police forces across the country. It was a post I enjoyed doing – there is something very special about standing at a grave and then visiting a local area where that person grew up, in a different country, in a different hemisphere.

  2. Lyn

    Great story Angela. I had to look to see if Alexander’s parents were listed on the WA BMD online indexes but alas, they weren’t for either man. 😦

    • Thanks Lyn and thank you for going ‘the extra mile’. and of course for dropping by!

    • Alistair Goodfellow

      Hi Lyn
      Alexander Henry Pitman was born in Rokewood, Victoria, Australia. His mother was from Fife, Scotland. Alexander was my 2nd cousin, 4 x removed.

      • Alistair, thank you so much for that Information! It must have been an awful thing for the families of these men to deal with, having suffered such awful deaths. Was there any Irish connection at all …I wondered about the shamrocks on the headstone?

      • Terrence Walsh

        Hello I’m Terrence Michael Walsh Alexander Pitman died side by side with my greatgrandfather they  are heroes of Western Australia they are buried side by side also thank you for that information I didn’t know much about Detective Pitman

      • Thank you for dropping by! I am sure you are very proud of your ancestor! What a horrible death they had, hopefully they did not suffer! It’s a beautiful memorial, isn’t it? Kind regards, Angela

      • Thank you Alistair! It’s great to ‘meet’ family of these two tragic men and to know more about them! I wonder would you know what the Irish connection was as there are shamrocks on the gravestone? Perhaps he married and Irish woman. You should be justifiably proud of them and the stem in which they were held by the fellow members of the police force. Thank you for dropping by! Kind regards
        Angela

      • Alistair Goodfellow

        Hi Angela
        I suspect the Irish connection is through his wife. Don’t get much more Irish than “Fitzgerald” !.

      • That is true ! Have you ever visited or do you know of her Irish origins?

  3. Leith

    You’ve struck gold yourself with this post, Angela! The deaths of Walsh and Pitman was an infamous incident that I remember my father recounting. It’s fitting that the Memorial has been relocated to the WA Police Academy near ECU. Your writing and photos enhance the record most poignantly.

  4. SV, this is an amazing story and it is great how you have managed to pull many of the threads together. Brilliant research.

  5. Great story, great research SV. As you say, who would have guessed one of that group of lively young lads in a small Irish town would have met such a fate in a foreign land.

  6. Excellent story! You do an excellent job of digging deeper for more of the story. A mystery can start with a grave.

  7. scarteenryan

    A great story I very much enjoyed it and eventhough I live in Kilmallock I had heard nothing of the dreadful event and my father lived in Australia at that time. I grew up in Charleville and there were a family of Pitmans there in the 1950’s otherwise I have never come across the name except for the Typewriter.
    George Quain.

    • Hi George.It is a good story, although very tragic. It would be nice to see Walsh commemorated at home. The only connection between Pitman and Ireland that I could find is that his mother-in-law was obviously Irish, although he may well have had such a direct connection himself. There is nothing concrete to suggest that he is from Limerick or Ireland for that matter

  8. scarteenryan

    Jack Ryan of Scarteen emigrated to Melbourne in 1880 that was after he had become the first Catholic Sub Sheriff of Co. Limerick, I have been unable to trace his descendants. His family consisted of five girls and one boy who died when travelling with horses to the Boar War. The youngest Ethil married a Mr Ardlie who had three children none of whom married. The youngest daughter Kathleen married a Mr Young and they in turn had three daughters and their decedents cannot be traced despite my best efforts.

    George Quain.

  9. Terrence Michael Walsh

    He was a mate of cy oconnors I’ve heard he ran freo station never carried a gun he was my grandads father my fathers grandad my hero my greatgrandfather but I know nothing about his life in kilfinane I was in eire 89 never even knew he came from there I was in Cork too.my grandfather would never talk about john my greatgrandfather it hurt him

    • It must have been very difficult for your grandfather having lost his father in such awful circumstances. People I met in that locality had not heard of him, which I think is a great pity. sometime when I ge a chance it would be good to try to track down his birth certificate, although he was born just before civil registration in Ireland and I did not find him in the church records . He was an interesting man by all accounts. Thank you so much for contacting me. You must be very proud to have such a lovely memorial to him. Kind regards
      Angela

  10. Jamie Meskell

    Horrible death just one thing about your passage the ard Patrick church bell used to hang on the roof of the church . It was moved to its current location as the seal around it was causing leaks in the church. So instead of looking out the window he coundnt see it as it was not there.

    • Hi Jamie. Thanks for that information. I had not established when the bell was placed in the church grounds, or whether it had been set up as an Angelus Bell from the beginning. Do you have a relevant date? In any event, he would have heard it, if he didn’t see it out of the window! It would be great if this man who is so honoured on other side of the world, could be honoured in his native land. Are you local to the area? Thanks so much for dropping by and for your comment. Regards, Angela

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