Spotlight: THE EXECUTION – CONFESSION OF “ROCKY” WHELAN

Colonial Times (Hobart, Tas. : 1828 – 1857), Wednesday 27 June 1855, page 2


THE EXECUTION. – CONFESSION OF “ROCKY” WHELAN.


DISCOVERY OF THE BODY OF MR. DUNN.

Yesterday morning the last sentence of the law was carried into effect upon the four unhappy men who were respited from Friday last, namely Peter Connelly, John Whelan, Edward Heylin, and John Parsons Knight, convicted at the late session of the Supreme Court, before His Honor Mr. Justice Horne and in whose behalf it will be remembered a petition numerously signed was presented to the Governor, but to which an unfavorable reply was received by the petitioners. A strong feeling prevailed in certain quarters that as mercy had been extended in one instance, and life had not been proved to have been taken, the Royal clemency might have been shown in the cases of these men. Upon that, it is not necessary here to express an opinion, we merely state the fact Connolly and Whelan were convicted of two robberies under arms, first the robbery of Mr William Kearney, at Grass Tree Hill in February last, when they conducted him into the bush, and presenting pistols at him, rifled his pockets, and took away £23 in notes, threatening to shoot him if he looked at them or said a word. The other robbery was that of Mr. Richard Carpenter in March, at North West Bay when they got £8 and used similar threats, leading him into the bush and driving away his horse. In both instances the bush-rangers were positively identified, and neither Connelly nor Whelan offered any defence, the latter maintaining an obstinate silence, because, (as he said) the judge would not order his money to be restored to enable him to employ counsel. The way in which the delinquents were captured was remarkable. Connolly had been sentenced, as a vagrant, and two pistols, a powder flask, watch, chain, and other articles found in his possession at the police station led to his being apprehended at the Prisoners’ Barracks by that energetic officer, D. C. Beresford, on a warrant charging him with the robbery at the North West Bay. Whelan, it will be remembered, was taken into custody by constable Mulrenan (formerly in the 99th regiment ) at the shop of Mr. Gorney, bootmaker, next the Royal Standard Inn, Elizabeth street, while fitting on a pair of boots, having at the time, a pistol in his pocket loaded up to the muzzle. The other two unfortunate men, Heylin and Knights, were convicted of the burglary, with violence, at the house of Mr. Nicholson, solicitor, Victoria-street, on the night of March 5. Some commiseration has been expressed for both these men, who are stated to have been repectably connected, and well educated. Heylin, who was transported for forgery, was a graduate of one of the universities. Knights was stated to be the son of pious parents his father having been a Wesleyan local preacher, and special interest had been made in their behalf, but as the result shows, unavailing. The whole of the condemned having avowed themselves Roman Catholics, received the ministrations of the clergymen of that church, and the Vicar-General and the Rev. Mr. Bond were unremitting in their attentions. Heylin and Knights were extremely penitent. As to Connolly, his behaviour on the scaffold did not warrant a similar presumption. Whelan made a confession, by which it would appear he was sensible of the justice of his fate.

According to custom a great crowd assembled to witness the execution. Among them were many females, some with children at their breasts, and many boys varying in age from seven or eight years upwards. It was quite shocking to observe the eager haste of the multitude to be present at the scene of death, and to see hundreds rushing to the spot towards the hour of eight. The preliminary remarks of the lookers-on showed any thing but respect for the dread ceremony of the law, many indulged in speculations as to the probability of a further respite, and to the last moment hopes were expressed that the execution would not take place. These hopes were heightened by the delay in the appearance of the executioner. The clock struck eight, and there was in awful stillness, two minutes passed and three, and five, but no one was seen on the fatal boards. The suspense was harrowing, the majority not being aware that in this dread interval the priests were performing their sacred avocations, and endeavouring to prepare for eternity those whose souls were being summoned thence. At about seven minutes after eight, the hangman presented himself, followed by the Very Rev. the Vicar-General, whose solemn recital of the litany was heard below. Knights came next, he seemed nearly over-powered, but bowed deferentially, being evidently engaged in fervent prayer. On Heylin making his appearance, several men in the crowd exclaimed, “Poor Ned, that’s him,” “Yes, there’s Ned”‘ and (what we never witnessed on a previous occasion) they burst into tears, some of them weeping like women. Heylin had gained the respect of his companions, as it appeared from these sympathetic demonstrations. But, when Connolly came, the scene was most extraordinary, the ill-fated man jumped from the step on to the scaffold, and vociferated something to this effect, “Arrah, and it’s the heart and blood of an Irishman they’re after taking: if I had to live again I’d shoot them right and left like ducks, so I would.” Father Bond, who came up with him, went over, and endeavored to pacify him, but it was with difficulty he was restrained. While the executioner was placing the cap, he repeated the exclamation and Whelan turned round and told him to be quiet. The effect of this scene on the spectators was anything but salutary. Murmurs were heard in several directions, and a few referred to the late case of pardon as compared with this proceeding, which they characterised as a murder. The hangman was a long while adjusting the sad preliminaries, when, at length, the bolt was drawn, and the four men were launched into eternity. The crowd then began to disperse, and no one can say that the influence of the public execution under such circumstances is likely to be beneficial. The idea that the men should have been reprieved appeared to have taken fast hold on many minds, and small knots of people freely renewed the discussions on the event. The policy of carrying out the sentence is matter of opinion, but the impropriety of public executions was never more decisively evinced, and it is to be hoped that the practice pursued in the adjacent colonies of executions within the walls of the gaol will be speedily introduced here.

WHELAN’S CONFESSION.

During Monday night an intimation was conveyed to the Hon. the Colonial Secretary that Whelan wished to make a confession of his crimes, and Mr. Champ consequently went to the condemned cell, and received the statement, which was reduced to writing. We understand the unhappy man acknowledged himself to have perpetrated the dreadful murders that hare lately produced so much consternation throughout the colony. Among others he confessed to have murdered Mr. James Dunn of the firm of Merry and Dunn, of Franklin, Huon, who, it will be recollected, left Hobart Town to proceed to Franklin about the 30th April, but had been since missing. He mentioned that he did the deed near Stony Steps, on the Huon track, and that the remains would be found in a hole a short distance from the road, about four miles from town. It will be recollected that a Gazette announcement appeared on the 10th May, of Mr. Dunn not having been heard of since he left town, and offering the reward of a conditional pardon to any prisoner of the crown who should afford such information as would lead to Mr. Dunn’s discovery, and a further reward of £50 in the name of Mr. J. A. Learmouth, a relative. Whelan also confessed to the murder of Mr. William Grace, of Great Oyster Cove, in the Huon district, who left his home for Hobart Town about the 23rd April, and had not been since heard of. And he also stated that the remains would be found about two miles on the other side of Brown’s River. The next admission     he made was that he was the man who murdered Mr. Axford, whose remains, it will be remembered, were found about a mile and a half from Mr. Palmer’s, the Swan Inn, Bagdad, on the 25th of May, at the foot of Constitution Hill, in a state of nudity, the head and face being dreadfully mutilated. Deceased had been last seen on the 8th May walking down Constitution Hill, on his way to Hobart Town, intending to take the coach. As to this affair there is still a mystery attached to it. It is quite possible that Whelan did the deed, as he was at large until the 19th of May, but it can easily be conceived that a man like Whelan would think it a praiseworthy not to confess to this murder in order to save others. We understand there are three persons in custody on suspicion, and the confession will require to be well tested, in order to guide further proceedings to the accused. Whelan next acknowledged to have robbed the hawker (Hopkins we think his name is) at St. Peter’s Pass, about the 12th May; and the description given by the hawker of his assailants tally with that of Whelan and Connelly. There were some other confessions by Whelan, but as they will be published tomorrow, we shall not at present give particulars.

FINDING OF THE REMAINS OF MR. DUNN.

Yesterday, in consequence of the confession made by Whelan, a communication was made by the Colonial Secretary to the Chief Police Magistrate, who gave the necessary directions to the chief constable to cause search to be made for the remains of Mr. Dunn and Mr. Grace. Accordingly, between 11 and 12 o’clock, Mr. Symons, accompanied by constables Bailey, Vickers, &c, started off to Stoney Steps with the Vicar-General, &c., on the melancholy errand. After wending their way through mud, and scrub, and clambering the rocks in the direction of the Huon track, they found themselves in the vicinity of the spot described by the murderer. A dog belonging to Mr. Vickers scented a place where some crows were disturbed, to which Vickers ran, followed by Bailey, and the rest of the party, and there, indeed, in a ravine forming a natural grave, was discovered the object of the search, the mutilated remains of the unfortunate Mr. Dunn, clothed in his flannel and linen shirts; on the latter of which was marked the murdered man’s name, one boot on, the other on the bank close by, his sword stick hear the side, and his glazed cap in a ditch just by. No blood was visible. Deceased’s skull was broken in, the forehead was pierced with a pistol shot, and the greater part of tho flesh torn away by the crows. One hand was perfect, and an ear, but the other remains were much decomposed. When found there was no covering, but from the position of the hole, although so near the road, discovery would have been very difficult. It is supposed that the ruffian made his victim strip near the fence at the road, and then having shot him dead, dragged the body to the ravine or dry creek where it was found. Singular to relate, the clothes which were found on Whelan, are found on inspection to be like Mr. Dunn’s clothes, and we understand that a relation saw them yesterday and identified them. Mr Dunn’s height correspond-ed very nearly with that of his murderer. On discovering the body, Vickers was despatched to town with the intelligence, and afterwards took with him eight or ten men from the Prisoners’ Barracks to fetch the remains in a shell. The news of Whelan’s confession, and the subsequent discovery of Mr. Dunn’s body, caused the utmost excitement in town.

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