Thomas James Heaney – A Queensland Police Officer Remembered

The following article was published in the October 2018 edition of Police Down Under – the journal of the Australia Section of the International Police Association (IPA). The article is reproduced here with the permission of the author, Robert Cochrane, IPA Social Coordinator (Queensland Region) and Committee Member of the Friends of the Queensland Police Museum.

The Norman Hotel on Ipswich Road, Woolloongabba

The bar door and front windows of the Norman Hotel

Qualtrough Street, Woolloongabba

The former Woolloongabba Police Station built from 1913 to 1936. At the time of the Heaney incident, the police station was a rented house on Ipswich Road, near the Woolloongabba Fiveways

The Norman Hotel on the corner of Ipswich Road and Qualtrough Street, Woolloongabba (Brisbane) is widely known for its steaks. It is unashamedly advertised as “Brisbane’s worst vegetarian restaurant”.[1] The heritage listed hotel was built for Robert Heaslop and opened in June 1890 with Heaslop as the first licensee. The 1885 Licensing Act required the licensee to live on the premises, so the licence was quickly transferred to Henry Marsden. Heaslop lived just across the road from the hotel so he was able to keep a close eye on the premises.[2]

On the evening of Tuesday, 6 June 1905 last drinks were served in the hotel at about 10.50 p.m. Ellen Cecilia Crowe, the then licensee, closed the front door and bar windows at 11.00 p.m. before counting out the day’s takings. She left 10 shillings in threepenny and sixpenny pieces together with two shillings and sixpence in copper coins in the till as small change for the next day. During the evening she noticed in the till, either a sixpence or threepence with a hole punched through it. After counting the takings she went to bed at about 11.45 p.m.[3]

Early on the morning of Wednesday, 7 June 1905, First Class Constable Thomas James Heaney was on a foot patrol of the Woolloongabba district. He had commenced duty at midnight at the Woolloongabba Police Station and part of his duty was to visit the Diamantina Hospital and patrol back streets. At about 2.20 a.m. he left the Diamantina Hospital and was walking back along the centre of Ipswich Road towards the police station. When he was opposite Robert Heaslop’s house, he saw a light in the bar of the Norman Hotel. Heaney then saw a man come out through the bar window nearest to the bar door. The man stood and looked up and down the footpath, before turning and looking into the bar through the window. Heaney was about 25-30m from the man and had a good view of him.[4]  

Heaney stood for a moment before moving towards the man. When he was within 10m of him, the man turned, looked at Heaney, and then quickly ran around the corner into Qualtrough Street. As he ran, Heaney heard what sounded like coins rattling in the man’s pockets and he then heard something like falling or breaking glass in the hotel bar. Heaney pursued the man into Qualtrough Street and caught up with him near the residence of Thomas and Mary Plint. A fierce struggle took place as Heaney and the man stumbled across the street towards Mr Collin’s house with Heaney holding the man’s coat front with both hands. In the course of the struggle, the man bit Heaney on the left hand in an attempt to escape and called out something like “Come on” as though he had an accomplice. The battle continued and Heaney turned his head to see another man coming from the direction of the hotel. When this man reached Heaney, he (Heaney) attempted to catch hold of him but missed. This second man then struck Heaney a heavy blow to the face and following that blow, Heaney had no further recollection of the incident.[4]  

August Maurer, a storekeeper, on Ipswich Road near the Norman Hotel, heard a noise and opened his window. He heard further noises from Qualtrough Street and a voice saying “Come on.” Maurer ran out to the corner of Qualtrough Street, where he heard the sound of blows. One set of blows were light and the other heavy, as though two men were striking alternately. He saw two figures moving about near the “watertable” (gutter) in Qualtrough street, about 140m away. Maurer ran to the Woolloongabba Police Station and returned a short time later with Constable O’Rourke. It is then that he saw Heaney lying unconscious on Qualtrough Street. Other residents heard noises and when they went to investigate, they also saw Heaney lying injured in the gutter. One of those residents, Richard Collins, stayed with Heaney while Constable O’Rourke went away for assistance.[5] 

Sergeant Quinn, the officer in charge of the Woolloongabba Police Station, went to the scene in Qualtrough Street. There he found a blood-stained piece of a pair of blacksmith’s tongs in the gutter near where Heaney was and, at the back of the Norman Hotel bar, he found a blacksmith’s pritchel (a type of punch used to make nail holes in horseshoes). He examined the windows of the bar and found the brass fastener on one of the windows was broken and the fastener on the second window was bent. There were marks on the sills and sashes of the windows that corresponded in size and shape with the point of the pritchel. Subinspector Malone found another piece of blacksmith’s tongs close to the piece found by Quinn.[6] Ellen Crowe, the licensee of the hotel, was awakened and saw that the bar of the hotel had been “burglariously entered”.[7] It was later established that the pritchel and tongs had been taken earlier in the evening from a nearby blacksmithing business on Ipswich Road.[8]  



Alexander Marks, the Government Medical Officer, was called to Qualtrough Street where he examined Constable Heaney and ordered him to be removed to the Brisbane General Hospital.[7] At the hospital, Dr John McLean assessed the injuries of the unconscious Constable Heaney and found that he was suffering from loss of blood and shock. Above Heaney’s left ear was a wound 7.5cm long in connection with a compound fracture of the skull running in a transverse direction. Pieces of bone were removed from the wound, and it was then found that there was a hole in Heaney’s skull about 3.8cm long and 1.9cm wide. There was a lacerated wound on the right side of his scalp about 5cm long, a lacerated wound on the left cheek extending from below the eye to the lip, the left lip was torn open, a fracture of the right lower jaw, and the base of the tongue was torn on the right side. Further, Heaney was bruised on the face, scalp, arms, and chest. Heaney was sent to the surgical ward, where a fracture to his right index finger was found. Dr McLean also noted that Heaney was “not a strong man, though healthy”.[8]

Constable John Donnelly, of the Criminal Investigation Branch, conducted an investigation into the assault on Constable Heaney. At about 9.45 p.m. on the evening of the assault, he had cause to speak to Lawrence Blake in Albert Street, Brisbane (City).[7] He saw what appeared to be blood stains on the sleeve and breast of Blake’s coat and asked Blake how he accounted for the stains. Blake said, “I was fighting about the town several times last night, and I got a punch on the nose.” Blake was subsequently arrested and the next day, Henry Smith was located nearby and also arrested. When Smith was searched, he was found to be in possession of 9½d and one of the coins in his possession was a threepence with a hole in it.[9]

Smith and Blake were both charged with assault occasioning grievous bodily harm to Heaney and breaking and entering the dwelling of Ellen Crowe, licensee of the Norman Hotel, and therein stealing the sum of 12s. 6d.[6] A committal hearing took place over several days in the South Brisbane Police Court from July through to September 1905. The two accused were undefended. The hearing was followed closely by the press with the Telegraph newspaper reporting that Constable Heaney was “the victim of a murderous attack by ruffians on the Ipswich road, some weeks back”.[3] It appears that Heaney may have been too ill to give evidence until Friday, 29 September 1905, the last day of the committal hearing. It was reported he “appeared in court looking pale and weak, and wearing a black skull cap. He sat down when giving his evidence, and answered the questions briefly and slowly, articulating his words with difficulty”.[10] In the course of giving evidence, Heaney stated that he did not remember anything after receiving the blow to the face. He identified the two defendants from amongst six men standing in a line in the yard of the South Brisbane Police Court two days earlier. Neither Smith nor Blake asked any questions of Heaney at the hearing and they were committed for trial on both charges at the next Criminal Sittings of the Supreme Court, to be held in Brisbane on the 6 November 1905.[4]

The Supreme Court trial of Smith and Blake commenced before Mr Justice Real and Mr Kingsbury prosecuted on behalf of the Crown.[8] Evidence was again heard from a number of witnesses including Martin Finucane, a dairyman, of Cooper’s Plains. Finucane recalled he was at the corner of Arthur Street and Ipswich Road at about 2.40 a.m. on 7 June. He was delivering milk at the time and was standing with a lit lantern in his hand at the back of his cart. He saw two men coming from the direction of the Norman Hotel, which was about 450m away and he had a good view of one of the men as they passed him. At Boggo Road Gaol on 9 June, he identified Blake as the man in question.[10]

Constable Heaney was called and entered the witness box wearing a black skull cap. He spoke very slowly and with apparent difficulty.[8] He again recounted how he identified the accused in a line up of six men in the yard of the South Brisbane Police Court. Constable Donnelly was there and asked him to have a look along the line and see if anyone was there whom he knew. Heaney said, “I know that man” (pointing to Smith). Donnelly said, “What do you know about him?” Heaney said, “I saw him at the Norman Hotel on the morning of the 7th of June last.” Heaney also saw Blake in the line, and pointing to him said that he was there also.[8]


Sergeant Thomas James Heaney

Sergeant Heaney’s Queensland Police Medal for Merit

Detective Donnelly gave evidence regarding the arrest of the two accused and in cross-examination, an interesting exchange took place between Blake, Donnelly and Justice Real:

Blake: You are sure you have not manufactured this evidence?

Donnelly: I am quite sure.

Blake: Well, your honour, I do not know what other questions to ask him, he is telling so many lies.

His Honour: I will not allow you to say that. You can ask him any question you like. I have to confine you to asking questions, as I have to confine the witness to answering them.

Blake: I do not know what to ask him. He is telling so many lies. I wish your honour would ask him a few questions for us.

His Honour: I do not see any question to ask.

Blake: The man is telling lies. I would not assault anybody unless I received provocation.

His Honour: I am not at all certain about that. But go on, ask any question you like.

Blake: Is not this the way you are getting even with us?

Donnelly: Nonsense! I am only telling the truth – exactly what occurred.

Blake: Yes. In your imagination.[5]

On Wednesday, 15 November 1905 Henry Smith and Lawrence Blake were found guilty of the horrific assault on Constable Heaney. Smith was sentenced to four years hard labour, as it was his first offence and there were other extenuating circumstances. Blake was sentenced to ten years hard labour as he was the more serious offender. Both prisoners protested their innocence.[11]

Heaney never recovered from the terrible injuries he received in the attack and was unable to return to duty. On 22 November 1905, he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant by the then Police Commissioner William Cahill with the promotion being backdated to the date of the assault. In a report to the Home Secretary, Commissioner Cahill described Heaney’s promotion as being in recognition of his “zeal and bravery in persistently attempting to single handily capture these dangerous criminals”. Sergeant Heaney was medically retired on 1 January 1906 with a pension and, sadly, on 27 September 1906 he died at his South Brisbane residence as a result of the injuries so viciously inflicted upon him by Smith and Blake.[12]      

Thomas James Heaney was born sometime between 1862-1868 and was the son of George Heaney and Mary Heaney (nee Mullins), farmers from Country Cavan, Ireland. On 6 December 1887, he arrived in Brisbane aboard the Duke of Buccleuch with his sister Maggie and Francis Ebbitt. Many of Heaney’s siblings also immigrated to Brisbane including his younger brother Samuel.[12]

Thomas Heaney was sworn in as a Queensland Police officer on 18 December 1888 and initially served at the Roma Street Station. In 1894 he was transferred to the Woolloongabba Police Station. His brother, Samuel Heaney also joined the Queensland Police in 1891.[12] Thomas Heaney married Mary Rogers on 17 February 1891 and together they had six children, two of whom died as young children. His wife Mary died on 21 August 1902, four years before his death.[12] In what would now seem strange, even bizarre, her name is not mentioned in her newspaper funeral notice which simply reads:

FUNERAL NOTICE – The Friends of Mr. THOS. J. HEANEY, Police Constable, are respectfully invited to attend the Funeral of his deceased Wife, to move from his residence, Victoria street, late Jurgens street, Woolloongabba, THIS (Friday) AFTERNOON, August 22, at 3.30 o’clock, to the Toowong Cemetery.[13]

Upon his death, Heaney was granted an impressive police funeral. The procession was headed by the Commissioner of Police and 60 constables followed on foot.[14] He was buried in an unmarked grave with his late wife Mary at the Toowong Cemetery (Brisbane). Heaney’s four surviving children aged 14 years, 13 years, 9 years and 8 years were raised by his sister Anna and her husband Benjamin Heaslip.[12]

On 22 November 1906, it was announced that Heaney would be posthumously awarded the first Queensland Police Medal for Merit, an award that was only instituted on 4 October 1906 – shortly after his death. Curiously, in 1909 Heaney’s younger brother Constable First Class Samuel George Heaney was also awarded this medal for stopping a horse and trap which had bolted down Grey Street, South Brisbane after its rider lost control of the horse.[12]

While the focus of this article is on Thomas James Heaney, it cannot be completed without recognising another Queensland police officer; Benjamin Ebbitt. By a chance discovery, it turns out that Ebbitt was also assaulted by two men whilst on duty. It has not been established when Benjamin Ebbitt immigrated to Australia, however, it is likely that he used his eldest brother’s name (Francis Ebbitt) when he immigrated with Thomas Heaney in December 1887 and the two are believed to be cousins. From available records, it appears Benjamin Ebbitt did not marry and did not have any children.[12]

Croydon is a historic gold rush town located in the heart of the Gulf Savannah, 529 kilometres west of Cairns (Queensland). It started with the discovery of gold in 1885.[15] At Croydon in 1890, Constable Benjamin Ebbitt intervened in a fight between two men when they turned on him and he was brutally assaulted. One of the men struck Ebbitt on the ear with a stone, rupturing his eardrum. He also received internal injuries.[16] Ebbitt eventually lost his eyesight and hearing as a result of the injuries and died three-and-a-half years later when his health continued to deteriorate.[17] At the time of his death, Ebbitt was staying at Highgate Hill (Brisbane) with Thomas Heaney and his grave sits on a gentle slope immediately above Heaney’s grave at the Toowong Cemetary.[12]


Sergeant Heaney’s grave (arrow) before restoration

Constable Ebbitt’s grave before restoration

Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart APM speaking at the rededication

Members of the FQPM, Senior Sergeant Melanie Wilkins (3rd from left), Peter Macfarlane and Mandy Cotman (3rd and 4th from right [Brisbane Memorial Care+Repair]), Police Commissioner Ian Stewart (right) beside the restored graves of Heaney and Ebbitt

Both Heaney and Ebbitt appear to have “slipped through the cracks” and their names did not appear on the National Police Memorial in Canberra nor the Queensland Police Service (QPS) Honour Roll until 2016. Their additions to the Memorial and the Honour Roll were the result of a QPS review when it was found both officers died as a result of injuries they received whilst on duty.[18] Until recently, Thomas and Mary Heaney’s grave was unmarked other than for a small rusty grave marker and the grave of Benjamin Ebbitt was found to be in a poor condition. In 2015 the Friends of the Queensland Police Museum (FQPM) took on the project of restoring the graves.[19]

On 31 July 2018, a brilliantly sunny Brisbane winter’s day, a rededication ceremony took place at the site of the two graves. The impressive ceremony was attended by a large group including descendants of Heaney, one of whom was his great, great, great, grandson. Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart APM gave a tribute to the service of both Heaney and Ebbitt and highlighted the hardship of police life in times gone past. It was proudly announced that the descendants of Sergeant Thomas James Heaney have donated his Queensland Police Medal for Merit to the Queensland Police Museum.

As an epilogue to this article, on the day details of the new Queensland Police Medal for Merit were announced, the Queensland Figaro (newspaper) printed the following poignant statement: We admire our soldiers, we idolise Jack Tar (sailors), but we have little thought for the man who is daily and nightly in active service in our direct interests.[14] These few very moving words were a fitting tribute to the service of Sergeant Thomas James Heaney. The passage applies equally to Constable Benjamin Ebbitt and to those who then, as they still do now, make up the Thin Blue Line.

The author wishes to acknowledge Sergeant Chris Hebblethwaite whose keen interest in medals led to his discovery that Sergeant Heaney was the first recipient of the Queensland Police Medal for Merit. His interest caused him to question if Heaney’s name should rightfully be included on the National Police Memorial in Canberra and the Queensland Police Service Honour Roll. Also acknowledged is the dedication and untiring efforts of Senior Sergeant Melanie Wilkins who eventually located the grave of Heaney in the Toowong Cemetery and by a chance discovery, the grave of Constable Ebbitt immediately above that of Heaney. Her research into the service of Heaney and Ebbitt culminated in a recommendation that their names should be included on the National Police Memorial and the QPS Honour Roll. The commitment of The Friends of the Queensland Police Museum in the restoration of the two graves is also recognised, and Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart for his enthusiastic support of this project.  


  1. The Norman Hotel. Accessed 3 March 2018
  2. Wikipedia – The Norman Hotel. Accessed 3 March 2018
  3. Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.: 1872 – 1947), Wednesday, 19 July 1905, page 2
  4. Brisbane Courier (Qld.: 1864 – 1933), Saturday, 30 September 1905, page 10
  5. Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.: 1872 – 1947), Saturday, 30 September 1905, page 2
  6. Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.: 1872 – 1947), Tuesday, 18 July 1905, page 2
  7. Brisbane Courier (Qld.: 1864 – 1933), Wednesday, 15 November 1905, page 8
  8. Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.: 1872 – 1947), Wednesday, 15 November 1905, page 5
  9. Brisbane Courier (Qld : 1864 – 1933), Thursday, 14 September 1905, page 2
  10. Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.: 1872 – 1947), Friday, 29 September 1905, page 2
  11. Evening Telegraph (Charters Towers, Qld.: 1901 – 1921), Thursday, 16 November 1905, page 1
  12. Honour Roll Program – Courtesy of Queensland Police Service
  13. Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.: 1872 – 1947), Friday, 22 August 1902, page 1
  14. Queensland Figaro (Brisbane, Qld. : 1901 – 1936)  Thursday, 4 October 1906, Page 13
  15. “Croydon Shire Council”. Croydon Shire Council. Retrieved 9 July 2018
  16. The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld.: 1866 – 1939)  Saturday, 19 May 1894, Page 955
  17. Friends of the Queensland Police Museum – Profile of Constable Benjamin Ebbitt
  18. ABC News 28/9/2016. Accessed 2 April 2018
  19. Friends of the Queensland Police Museum Projects. Accessed 2 April 2018

Proudly sponsored by:

Queensland Police Union of Employees


Queensland Police Commissioned Officers' Union of Employees


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This