Policeman shot in Trades Hall

Jeff Atkinson

In the early hours of the morning of October 1, 1915, a dramatic event occurred in Trades Hall in Lygon St, Carlton, that resulted in a policeman being shot dead and two burglars seriously wounded.

There had been a burglary in the Trades Hall building some weeks before and as a result the police were keeping a close eye on it. At 2.30am in the morning a policeman was passing the building when he heard noises coming from inside. He immediately returned to the Russell St police headquarters, which was nearby, to seek reinforcements and together a group of policemen went to investigate. Finding a window open, they climbed in and began searching in the dark for intruders.

Ascending the main staircase inside the building, they disturbed a group of three men who were attempting to break open a safe in an upstairs office. The men were armed with revolvers and started firing as they tried to escape. The police returned fire. In the resulting exchange, one of the policemen, Constable David McGrath, was shot dead and two of the burglars were seriously wounded. The wounded men were arrested, as was a third man who was caught climbing out a window.

In their subsequent trial, one of the burglars, a career criminal named John Jackson, was found guilty of the murder of Constable McGrath and later hanged. The other two were sentenced to long periods in jail.

Constable McGrath had been a well-respected officer who had served in the Fire Brigade before joining the police force. He was aged 42 when he died, married with two daughters. His funeral was a major event in Melbourne attended by thousands. It was led by a police band with more than 500 police, firemen and soldiers marching behind. The funeral was paid for by the Trades Hall Council as a sign of respect and appreciation for the police’s efforts.

The exchange of revolver shots in the stairwell and elsewhere in the building left a number of bullet holes in the walls, which are still there and can be clearly seen by visitors to this day. The shoot-out was one of the most dramatic events in the 160-year history of the Trades Hall, and on October 1, 2015 a service was held in an upstairs hall of the building to mark its centenary. •

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