At 2am on 1 October 1915, police on patrol heard hammering from inside Trades Hall. Sub Inspector McKenna, Senior Constable Dent and Constable David McGrath, entered Trades Hall through a Victoria St window. Through the light wells in the second floor, they spotted shadows moving, and McGrath and Dent charged up the dark steps. Dent entered the office of the Typographical Society, while McGrath followed the corridor towards the Council Chambers. Dent heard McGrath shout “Who’s there? We are the police!”, and then:
“a fusillade of shots rang out. Dent rushed to the help of his comrade. As he did so, a man slipped past him and made for the stairs. Dent fired, and the fire was returned.”
- The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), Saturday 2 October 1915
One of the bullets fired back at Dent pierced the wooden bannister; over 20 others dinted the bluestone and woodwork around the stairs. The thieves were apprehended, but Constable McGrath lay dying.
The thieves had been after union dues kept in the safe of the Typographical Society. On eight hours day the same year, thieves had made off with 400 pounds from the safe of the Carpenters Union; the charitable takings for the day. On this occasion, the safe contained only 20pounds. The Secretary of Victorian Trades Hall Council, Mr Charles Grey, lamented; “It would have been far better had all the safes in the building been robbed than that a life should have been sacrificed”.
The next evening, the usual Trades Hall Council meeting was adjourned so that delegates could observe a moment of silence... soon interrupted by a delegate from the Bread Carter’s Union, who interjected “more sharp practices” and challenged another delegate to a fight.
The Trades Hall Council paid the cost of Constable McGrath’s funeral, which was attended by thousands. Then, as now, the Trades Hall stood with the Police Association of Victoria in their fight for better protections for police on the job.