Colonial family feud

Bushranger hanging, racetrack fracas, omnibus brawl, child maintenance cases, and more. In seven years, the Tapp family made at least eight appearances in the Ipswich courthouse in Queensland. This was a nineteenth century Australian family feud of epic proportions. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

It started in March 1894 when a family matriarch Lois Tapp of Blackstone, Ipswich, was a witness in a child maintenance case. Lois testified against the father who was ordered to pay maintenance or go to gaol for six months. Protesting his innocence, the man chose gaol even though he had the money.

Just two months later in May 1894, Lois was back in court when her daughter Mary Ann Tapp brought her own child maintenance case. Mary Ann’s sisters Elizabeth Tapp and Harriet Taylor testified in her support.

Harriet Taylor went a step further by visiting the defendant. “Well, Jimmy,” she said, “I’ve come to see what you are going to do for my sister.” But Jimmy couldn’t do anything because he was under the thumb of his own matriarch – his mother wouldn’t let him. The court ordered the young man to pay maintenance.

Interestingly, just a year earlier Harriet had taken control of the situation and named her new baby ‘Mary Floodena Taylor’ after the 1893 floods during which she was born, which were the worst floods in Queensland history.

Blackstone in 1892 during the Tapp time there

In October 1894, another Harriet Tapp, who had married into the family, was charged with the assault of a woman on an Ipswich omnibus. Harriet was accused of punching the woman and hitting her in the face with a basin of butter.

Harriet defended herself by saying that the bus had hit a bump which caused the woman to fall face-first into the butter. In any case, the woman had kept “daring” Harriet the whole time. Harriet was convicted and fined. Eighteen months later in 1896, Harriett was fined again, this time for indecent language.

Harriet was no stranger to court rooms. When she was a young girl, she had testified in support of her brother-in-law. He was a ship’s captain and was charged with manslaughter on the high seas. Thanks in part to her testimony, he was found not guilty of the death of a crew member, but was severely censured for cruelty.

In 1898 Harriet’s husband William Tapp was sued for defamation although the case was withdrawn before a decision was handed down.

In 1899 the Tapp feud turned against themselves. That’s when the married Tapp girl Harriet Taylor charged a family patriarch Jacob Tapp with assault.

Harriet went down to her paddock in Blackstone and called her boys to come back up from the creek. She heard her mother Lois Tapp call out, so Harriet went up to see her. According to Harriet, and totally unprovoked, that’s when Lois caught Harriet around the neck with one hand and pulled her hair with the other. Lois started punching Harriet and knocked her to the ground. The pair then wrestling and screaming, with fingernails being use with force, until the father Jacob got home. Harriet ran up to him, but, according to Harriet, Jacob then hit her. The evidence was colourful, but the case got dismissed.

Jacob Tapp memorial placed by Lois Tapp

Just two years later in 1901, the mother Lois and daughter Harriet were back at it, this time very publicly at the Ipswich Races. Their physical fight drew a large crowd and so there was a long list of witnesses who were eager to appear at the court case that followed. Harriet this time was found guilty of assault.

Meanwhile, the feud between the Tapp family and the rest-of-the-world continued.

In 1902, another family member Richard Tapp of Bundamba, Ipswich, risked his life when he testified against the Kenniff brothers (pictured at the top of the page) in their murder trial. The Kenniffs were Australia’s last bushrangers. James Kenniff was hanged partly on Richard’s evidence.

The feud extended to the next generation, and in 1918 Tom Tapp from Booval, Ipswich, was killed in action during the First World War. That was straight after he’d been released from prison having served twelve months for being Absent Without Leave. If he had been in the British Army, he might have been executed for desertion.

And in 1938 another boy Jacob Tapp fractured his skull while playing soccer for Blackstone Rovers.

History is littered with court appearances and tragic outcomes, but rarely is one family so dominant as were the Tapps starting in colonial Queensland times.


Photo credits:
Patrick and Jimmy Kenniff were infamous cattle and horse thieves who graduated to murder – Nine News 60 Minutes
Blackstone Road and bridge Blackstone Ipswich c1892 – Picture Ipswich
Jacob and Tom Tapp memorial Ipswich General Cemetery – Find a Grave Photo added by ‘Anne – here lies’

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