The Execution of Scott and Rogan

“I, Maurice J. O’Connor, being the medical officer of the gaol at Darlinghurst, do hereby declare and certify that I have this day witnessed the execution of Andrew George Scott, alias Moonlight, lately convicted and duly sentenced to death at the Supreme Criminal Court, Sydney; and I further certify that the said Andrew George Scott, alias Moonlight, was, in pursuance of his sentence, ‘hanged by the neck until his body was dead,’ Given under my hand this 20th day of January, in the year 1880.

(Signed) Maurice J. O’Connor, visiting surgeon.

1880 was set to be a big year as bushranging was concerned. With the Kelly Gang still at large after the humiliation of the Jerilderie raid, the New South Wales authorities had been desperate to make an example of lawbreakers and found the perfect targets in Captain Moonlite and his gang.

The previous few months had been incredibly turbulent in the lives of Andrew George Scott and Thomas Baker, known popularly as Captain Moonlite and Rogan respectively. The bailing up of Wantabadgery Station in November of the previous year had attracted much attention, but it was the subsequent siege at McGlede’s farm that sealed the fate of the bushrangers. The death of Constable Webb-Bowen from a wound he received in battle had seen the pair sentenced to death with fellow surviving gang members Frank Johns, alias Thomas Williams, and Graham Bennett. The latter two had clean records and youth on their side and after much agitation had their sentences commuted to long prison terms to be served in Berrima. There were still motions by the public, and even some parliamentarians, to have Rogan’s sentence commuted because he had hidden under a bed throughout the pitched battle that took place. Cowardly or not, the action was enough to suggest that he should not have been considered to have the same level of involvement in the crime as the others, but he had a history of crime going against him, having previously done time for larceny and horse theft in Victoria. His sentence was upheld. When Scott learned that the executive council had upheld the death penalty for himself and Rogan, he expressed dismay at the injustice of hanging his young companion, though he did not express any disagreement with his own punishment.

Of the gang, Rogan had struggled the most with his conviction. He had become irritable and morose as time went on. Rogan’s mother and sister had travelled from Melbourne to Sydney with a petition for reprieve that they hoped would gather enough signatures to cause the executive council to change their position on the case. When they visited their condemned kin in Darlinghurst Gaol the meeting descended into a screaming match and the women left in tears. The press made much of this behaviour and took it to be a sign of weak moral character on Rogan’s part. It was not typical behaviour for him, as he had always been seen as quiet and otherwise subdued. It is likely that he was merely struggling with the injustice of his imminent death. In light of this, Rev. Father Ryan doubled his efforts in bringing spiritual comfort to the young man. On 17 January, Rogan’s mother and sister left Sydney for Melbourne. Rogan was in a strange place with no kin nearby to grieve his passing. Strangely, their absence seemed to allow Rogan some peace of mind.

Source: Truth (Sydney) 14 November 1897: 7.

Meanwhile, Andrew Scott had spent much time with Canon Rich – a minister of the Church of England. They spoke at length about the scriptures and Scott described his relationship with Bishop Selwyn and Bishop Patterson; a portrait of the latter he would present to Canon Rich as a gift mere moments before his execution. Scott occupied himself mostly with writing during the remainder of his time on earth. He knew his time was short and was desperate to set the record straight regarding the latter events of his life. He also took the opportunity to record many of his thoughts and feelings. In one letter he stated:

In the silent hours of the night, when I believe myself unobserved by the gaoler, I go down on my knees and try to pray, but all my efforts have failed. I have tried several times, but find that I cannot pray with that earnestness and fervour with which I used to pray when I was a boy.

The notion of a former preacher confessing a loss of faith was certainly juicy gossip for the press who had been harassing the gaol for any morsels of information regarding the condemned men. The countdown to the execution seemed to be a very exciting event to cover for the press. One of the things that was gobbled up by the media was the frequent appearance of a mysterious woman in black. This austere woman was spotted visiting Scott several times in the gaol and the journalists wasted no time speculating on her identity. She had been instrumental in pushing for a commuting of the sentences for Scott’s accomplices and had been running around procuring Bibles and prayer books that Scott signed and dedicated to his family and friends as gifts.

Scott never seemed to indicate a fear of death, however he did express indignation at the shame of execution. In one of his letters he invoked the torturous botching of the execution of the Eugowra escort robber, Henry Manns, in expressing his misgivings in such a method of execution.

I could now go into that yard and command a company of soldiers to fire at me, but I cannot bear having to die an ignominious death on the gallows. Besides, the hangman, might not do his work well, as in the case of Mann. Why should they pinion me, and why place over my head that abominable garment, the whitecap? I should like to see how I am dying, for I am not afraid of death.

The night before their execution, Scott was visited by Canon Rich for spiritual consultation. He also received a telegram from a man named William Powell from Mannum Station in Victoria stating, “May God have mercy on your soul! Would like a reply.” As Scott had no idea who this person was he declined the request. No doubt it was some morbid souvenir hunter looking for something to add to his collection. Later he was visited by the “woman in black”, whose real name proved to be Mrs. Amess, who was permitted to stay with Scott far longer than was usual for visitors. The assumption was made that she had been affianced to Scott, an engagement publicly stated by Canon Rich, and there remained the distinct possibility that this was indeed the woman Scott claimed to be seeing when the bank at Mount Egerton was robbed – a crime he continued to deny any part in. All that could be confirmed about the woman was that she had a nine year old son and was a school teacher by profession. After his guest departed, Scott furiously scribbled out his last few letters, desperate to record his thoughts, feelings, and autobiography until 4.00am. Most of these missives would be locked up rather than reaching their intended targets. Amongst the various letters was one addressed to the mother of James Nesbitt, Scott’s partner, attempting to apologise for what happened in Wantabadgery. He also wrote to Nesbitt’s brother, requesting to be buried with his beloved Jim after his execution. Scott expressed a sense of relief at the notion that he might spend eternity with Nesbitt upon his passing. He also wrote a final goodbye to his parents in New Zealand. Canon Rich consulted with Scott and passed on a request from Rogan that Scott not make any grand speeches on the gallows the following day, which Scott agreed to do. When Scott went to his hammock he was unable to sleep and fidgeted throughout the night. Rogan had spent the evening writing and praying and slept peacefully, which must have been a welcome change from his see-sawing between anxiety and fury that had defined the previous few days.

On the morning of 20 January, there was a surprising calm that had settled over the prisoners. They ate their breakfast heartily and at 8.30am they were informed that they had only a half hour left to go until their appointment. Scott would have taken a moment to spare a thought for his parents in New Zealand; the events that were unfolding were not a great gift for his father who should have been spending the day celebrating his birthday instead of mourning the loss of a son. The six pound leg irons that had been applied to Scott’s already crippled ankles were removed. Scott merely exclaimed “Ah, that’s a relief,” then proceeded to neaten himself up. Rogan said nothing as his irons were removed, merely keeping his eyes fixed on the ground. The men were attended by their spiritual advisers – Canon Rich for Scott, and Father Ryan for Rogan. Their hangman was to be Robert Rice Howard, better known as “Nosey Bob”, an infamous executioner whose most defining physical trait was that his nose had been completely demolished from being kicked by a horse during his time running a cab business. Such a traumatic event would have killed most people at the time but not Howard; but while he survived, his cab business was dead so he was left unemployed and turned to booze. He saw a way out of his struggle when he learned that the New South Wales government was looking for a new hangman and signed up. It was a thankless job and he attempted to keep it quiet but gossip is gossip and before long the identity of the new executioner was common knowledge and Howard was ostracised for his choice of employment.

The gallows of Darlinghurst Gaol [Source: The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) 27 April 1913: 11.]

The gallows of Darlinghurst Gaol were situated in an external corner of E Wing. Inside the cell block, on the middle tier, were the six condemned cells. From condemned cell number one it was only around a half dozen paces to the scaffold. In previous years the gallows had been a removable structure that would be set up when needed. On this model, John Dunn and the Clarke brothers, among others, had expiated their crimes. Had Scott and Rogan been condemned in the time of public executions, they would have been forced to climb a long ladder to the gallows that would be set up by the prison gate on Forbes Street. Such an inelegant design owed much to the style of hanging in the previous century, wherein condemned prisoners were forced to climb a ladder then jump from the top, rather than be dropped through a trapdoor. To the baying crowds it was more entertaining that way, but to the authorities the new method was more efficient. Since then, hanging had become a precise science — performed mostly by illiterate and uneducated convicts. Scott and Rogan had the nervous wait to see if their hangman had done the calculations properly. An extra inch or more longer or shorter than required in the length of the rope could be the difference between strangling to death for fifteen minutes or having your head ripped off. Neither prospect was pretty but both had precedent.

Source: Truth (Sydney) 14 November 1897: 7.

Outside the gaol, crowds began to gather, comprising men, women and children of a mostly lower class background. It is unsure what they expected to see, but some of the local larrikins climbed trees that neighboured the gates in a vain attempt to see into the gaol, hoping to snatch even a fleeting glimpse of proceedings. People up to a quarter of a mile away climbed onto the highest roofs in an effort to see into the prison, but were also disappointed. Police had their work cut out trying to keep people at ground level. The gaol governor had stipulated that members of the press were not to be admitted to the execution and security was on high alert after rumours of a potential attempt to break in to the gaol to rescue Rogan had begun circulating.

“Nosey Bob” Howard [Source: Truth (Brisbane) 26 April 1903: 3.]

At 9.00am, Charles Cowper, the sheriff, officially requested the bodies of the condemned men, as per regulation. “Nosey Bob” entered the condemned cells and pinioned the arms of the men. They were walked the short distance to the scaffold at 9.05am where they looked out over the railing to see the rising sun over a manicured lawn. Below was the collective of officials who were there to act as witnesses. Among those attending the execution were Maurice O’Connor, the Darlinghurst Gaol medical officer; Charles Cowper, Sheriff; J.G. Thurlow, Under Sheriff; J.C. Read, principal gaoler; W. Chatfield, visiting magistrate; Miehl Burke, Chief Warder; Edmund Fosberry, Inspector General of Police; Constable John Maguire; Constable John Simmons; Constable Edward Keatinge; Senior Constable Henry Shiel; Louis C. Nickel, Coroner; Edward Smart, J.P.; Peter Miller, J.P.; Ernest Carter, J.P.; Dr. Halkett; John Stewart; Daniel O’Connor; Angus Cameron; Alexander Pinn; Alexander Tate; Rev. Macready; and T. Kingsmill Abbott.

Andrew Scott was already haggard from a night without sleep but now felt indignant that such a personal moment as one’s departure from the mortal realm was to be viewed by a horde of strangers. He glared at them, his crystal blue eyes flashing with passion one final time as he turned to his attendants.

“What does this mean? What do all these people want? I think I ought to speak.”

Scott was about to make one final farewell address, a suitably grandiose statement to tell the world of the injustices that had led to that moment, but one look across at Rogan reminded him of his promise to stay quiet. The fire in his belly smouldered and he allowed himself to feel empathy for the young man whose life had been wasted, due in no small measure from Scott’s own actions. Father Ryan administered the last rights to the Roman Catholic Rogan, while Canon Rich and Rev. Macready attended Scott in the fashion of the Anglican and Presbyterian churches respectively. The nooses were placed around their necks by “Nosey Bob” and his assistant. The hemp rope was heavy on their shoulders and draped in such a way that the sudden stop when the rope ran out would jerk the slipknot up behind the left ear and snap the neck. Scott suddenly felt his own resolve washing away like sand on a beach at high tide.

“Goodbye, Tom. We have made a sad mistake.”

Rogan did not speak. He was using his last moments to concentrate on maintaining his composure. Scott put out his hand and grasped Rogan’s fingers in one last gesture of solidarity in an effort to comfort his friend as much as himself. The customary white hoods were pulled over their heads and the hangman stood clear of the trapdoor and pushed the lever, releasing the pin that kept the trapdoor shut. There was an incredible crash as the door swung open and locked into place via the appropriate mechanisms. Scott and Rogan plummeted in freefall only a few feet. When the crash of the trapdoor stopped reverberating around the courtyard, all that could be heard was the creak of hemp. Scott’s death had been instant and all life signs were snuffed out cleanly. Rogan was not afforded the same. The rope was too slack and had not cleanly broken his neck, resulting in the young man squirming like a worm on a hook as he was strangled to death by his own body weight. After ten minutes the thrashing and convulsing stopped. Dr. O’Connor tried to alleviate the ill-feeling in the crowd by telling them that the convulsions were merely involuntary postmortem muscle spasms.

The corpses were allowed to dangle until 9.25am to ensure death had set in. After this, the ropes were cut and the bodies loaded onto hand carts. They were taken to the dead house and prepared for burial and the ropes were burned. No inquest was held as the 49 witnesses all signed a document attesting to the pair’s death by hanging. The heads and faces were shaved completely and molded by a sculptor named McGee for death masks. The casts taken from the moulds would be used for phrenological study, but also remained as trophies – mementos of the triumph of the law over the lawless.

The certificate of execution

The bodies were put in coffins by J. and G. Shying and co., undertakers. Rogan’s coffin was government issued, but Mrs. Amess had paid for a handsome black coffin to be used for the preacher-cum-outlaw. In the afternoon the coffins were loaded into a hearse and a procession headed to Redfern mortuary, which included Mrs. Gregory, the gaol missionary; Rev. Dowie; Mrs. Amess; and two warders. Both men were buried in Rookwood cemetery, Haslam’s Creek, in unmarked graves.

The authorities hoped that in time people would forget the names Scott and Rogan, but would remember the message that their execution was to convey – break the law and suffer the consequences. Despite Scott’s initial request to be buried with James Nesbitt being denied, in 1995 his remains were exhumed and reinterned at Gundagai cemetery near the unmarked graves of Nesbitt and Gus Wernicke. Thomas Rogan remains in his unmarked grave in the Roman Catholic section of the Rookwood cemetery.

As to a monument stone, a rough unhewn rock would be most fit, one that skilled hands could have made into something better. It will be like those it marks as kindness and charity could have shaped us to better ends.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s