Spotlight: Execution of Dunn the Bushranger

Kilmore Free Press and Counties of Bourke and Dalhousie Advertiser (Kilmore, Vic. : 1865 – 1868), Thursday 29 March 1866, page 4


 
EXECUTION OF DUNN THE BUSHRANGER.Sydney Herald, 20th March

 

A sadder scene was never enacted in that when John Dunn, the last of the notorious trio who, setting religion and law at defiance, excited feelings of indignation, insecurity, and terror throughout the colony — died an ignominious death upon the scaffold. Sad was it indeed to see a young man cut off in the flower of his youth, before twenty summers had passed over his head, and steeped to the eyes in crimes at which humanity may well shudder; and yet it was evident from the calm fortitude displayed by the young outlaw when the awful hour of execution came, that with proper training he would have proved himself worthy of a better fate.

More fortunate than his two quondem friends, Hall and Gilbert, who fell by the avenging bullet. Dunn had the advantage of a trial, with all the solemn forms of law ; and with a levity which he accorded not to his victims he was allowed time to prepare for his appearance before the Great Judge; he was permitted, moreover, to avail himelf of the services of a clergyman of the faith which he professed, to instruct and direct him in his appeals for mercy to an ever merciful God. It is satisfactory to know that these services were not rendered in vain, but that the guilty man, whose short life had been stained with outrages and blood, gave proofs of the sincerity of his repentance, and a desire to atone for his past sins. We understand that from the time of his conviction he was most attentive to the admonitions of his religious instructor, giving no trouble to his keepers and questioning not for a moment the justice of his sentence, and was perfectly resigned to his fate. Judging from the improved physical condition which he exhibited as he left the condemned cell yesterday, morning, his mind could not have been much disturbed by the thought of his impending doom for he was much more robust than when he first arrived in Sydney. He gained in weight upwards of a stone during his incarceration in the gaol. We are informed that the Roman Catholic chaplain of the gaol, the Rev. J. Dwyer, and the Rev T. McCarthy of St Benedict’s (to whom the bushranger Vane surrendered) were with the con-demned culprit until half-past 11 o’clock on Sunday night, and that soon after they left he fell into a deep slumber and remained asleep until half-past six o’clock yesterday morning when he awoke and perforned his ablutions. He ate a hearty breakfast and having smoked a pipe of tobacco, and to all appearance enjoyed it, he was prepared to receive two of the sisters of charity, who now, paid him a visit. Between 7 and 8 o’clock the two clergymen who were with him over night again presented themselves and the two sisters bade him a final adieu. The clergymen now endeavoured by the usual religious exercises to prepare the mind of the wretched man for his approaching end, and at a few minuted to 9 o’clock the Sheriff proceeded to the cell, and with the customary formality demanded Dunns body. The two executioners then pinnioned the culprit, and the mournful cortege moved slowly from the wing of the gaol towards the gallows erected at the eastern side of the yard. Dunn who limped slightly from the effect of the wound in his leg, walked between the two clergymen and repeated after them the solemn words of prayer which they uttered. Arrived at the foot of the grim instrument of death, the condemned man proceeded without assistance to mount the steps, followed by the Rev. Dwyer, in his clerical robes, and the executioners. Upon the platform the rev gentleman read a short prayer, shook hands with the poor misguided youth who was about to pay the penalty of his crimes with his life and left the scaffold. The fatal rope was speedily adjusted, the white cap was drawn over the condemned man’s face the bolt was withdrawn, and, with the heavy thud which immediately followed, the young outlaw ceased to live.

The neck was evidently broken by the fall, for there was not the slightest movement of the muscles to indicate any life remained. After hanging about twenty minutes the body was cut down, and subsequently given to a Mrs. Picard, (who, when the dead man was an innocent infant, stood as his godmother), for private interment. Thus perished in the scaffold, by the hands of the common hangman, the last at large, and the most bloodthirsty of Gardiner’s gang. Of this once formidable band of highwaymen, which for so many years kept the colony in awe, it may not be out of place to mention, that four still survive, viz., Gardiner, the chief, who is undergoing a sentence of thirty two years’ penal servitude ; Vane, who surrendered through the instrumentality of Father McCarthy, and was sentenced to fifteen years in the roads ; Bow and Fordyce, sentenced to death, which afterwards commuted to fifteen years’ penal servitude. Peisley and Manns were hung ; the other five, namely Lowrie, Burke, O’Meally, Ben Hall and Gilbert were shot dead – Burke and O’Meally by private hands, and the remainder by the police. The last who joined the gang was the “Old Man,” who gave himself up to the police and is now in penal servitude. We understand that a short time before his execution, Dunn write a letter to the governor of the gaol, thanking him and the warders also for his and their kindness. The were between sixty and seventy persons present to witness the execution.

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