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Murdered on the job

By Kevin Banister


Constable Denis Guilfoyle is buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery in Sydney, NSW. He was Constable 1st Class of the New South Wales Police Force who was shot and murdered on July 19, 1902 in Redfern.


Final resting place for Constable Denis Guilfoyle in Rookwood cemetery. Photo taken by Kevin Banister.

The constable was shot by an offender named Shaw at Redfern whilst attempting to arrest him and another man for passing counterfeit coins.


Following an incident involving a storekeeper, Constable Guilfoyle had sought the assistance of an off-duty member, Constable Michael Maher and after checking several shops the offenders had been in, they located them in Shepherd Street.


As the two constables approached the offenders, one produced a revolver and shot Constable Maher three times. Shaw then also produced a pistol and shot Constable Guilfoyle twice. Constable Maher later recovered, however Constable Guilfoyle’s wounds proved to be fatal. Shaw then made good his escape, making his way to Victoria.


Constable Guilfoyle was a native of Ireland, having been born c1859 at Scariff in County Clare. He arrived in Sydney in 1885 and joined the New South Wales Police Force in November of that year. He did his initial training at the old Belmore Barracks and was first sent to Bathurst, where he remained for about two years.


He was then transferred to Redfern in 1887 and was destined to remain attached to that station until his death. He was described as a very powerful, muscular man of nearly 17 stone. Prior to his death, the constable had been severely injured in an accident and after a spell in hospital had been incapacitated for five or six weeks.


He also had the misfortune to recently lose three of his children, one of them being a girl 10 years old. Although he could have retired from the police force on half pay, he apparently preferred to continue to work and had continued working ‘street duty’ at Redfern and Darlington.


Shaw was found three months earlier after another incident. About 11am on 12 October, 1902 Constable Richard Johnston was off duty at his home at Elwood (Victoria) when a neighbour informed him that a man had attempted to abduct her eight year-old daughter.


The constable quickly set off on his bicycle after the suspect and located him a short distance away. When he saw the approaching policeman the offender drew a revolver and shot Constable Johnston, inflicting fatal wounds. The offender then left the scene, only to commit suicide a short time later when confronted by other police. It was later found that the man who had murdered Constable Johnson was the same offender (Shaw) who had murdered Constable Guilfoyle at Redfern (NSW) three months earlier.

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