Murder at St Helena Penal Establishment

“A picture is worth a thousand words…” is how the saying goes. In this case it’s not the picture held at Queensland State Archives but the public records that tell the stories. The tranquil ruins of the St Helena prison stores buildings conceal tales of mayhem and murder.

Buildings on St Helena Island, c 1986
Buildings on St Helena Island, c 1986

In February 1898, warder Henry Harris Dodd was fatally stabbed by prisoner William Archer. Archer held a grudge against a warder, but it wasn’t Dodd. According to Superintendent James Ryan, Archer complained to warder Downie who restrained him after the stabbing that he was ‘… the bugger it was intended for’. Read more in QSA Item ID 847555 letters 2353/1898, 661/1898 & 16067/1897, top numbered to letter 3696/1898.

Warder Henry Dodd was buried at Toowong Cemetery on 20 February 1898. If you look closely at the bottom row of the burial register next to H.H. Dodd’s name, you’ll see the faint annotation which reads: ‘Killed by Archer, St Helena’.

Queensland State Archives  Item ID 1432117. Register - burials
Queensland State Archives
Item ID 1432117. Register – burials

William Archer was never tried for the murder because of ill health. He died in prison. The last entry the Brisbane Visiting Surgeons’ journal for H.M. Gaol states he was administered morphine on 7 May 1898. Refer to QSA Item ID 212525, Register – visitors, medical officers for details.

Comptroller-General of Prisons, Charles Edward de Fonblanque Pennefather ensured monetary compensation for Warder Henry Dodd’s widow and his family.

Further details can be found in QSA Item ID 847555 letters 3194/1898 & 2353/1898, top numbered to letter 3696/1898.

This story does not end there. In a cruel twist of fate, Elizabeth Dale (nee Dodd), drowned after slipping into a dam at the Toowong Cemetary in 1905. More detail about this tragedy can be found in QSA Item ID 1432117, Register of burials for Toowong Cemetery, or in the inquest about the death of Elizabeth Dale (nee Dodd), QSA Item ID 348928, file 56/1905. Elizabeth Dale Inquest 56-1905jjjj

Visit Queensland State Archives to discover more about the prisoners at the St Helena Penal Establishment, including the identity of the last prisoner to leave on 15 February 1933. You may start your research on the Queensland State Archives’ website and by searching the QSA catalogue – ArchivesSearch.

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2 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    The inquest above is correct but the Elizabeth Dale who drowned was the sister of Henry Harris Dodd not his wife and she was visiting her husband’s (he died in1894)and her brother’s graves at the time of her death. Elizabeth Dodd his wife lived a long and happy life after her first husband’s death and married again to William Hood before dying in the 50’s. This I know as she was my great grandmother
    Fiona Davey

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