Clipper (Hobart, Tas. : 1893 – 1909), Saturday 21 August 1897, page 4
EXIT SOLOMON BLAY.
AN OLD TIME IDENTITY GONE.
One of the connecting links between Vandemonia and Tasmania was severed on Wednesday last, when old Solomon Blay, erstwhile hangman, shuffled. Old Sol. of late years has been a constant source of interest to a certain class of the rising football-cycling generation, and his tales of the olden times would have been of some moment had they been half as truthful as they were useless. An ancient identity, cognomened Gypsy Smith, who lives out somewhere in the wilds of New Town, on several occasions has held a warfare of words with old Sol., but the Brisbane Hotel audiences were never too appreciative of anything outside the rough-and-tumble side of humanity, and in consequence these little interviews, like some others, were not prolific of much useful information. Amongst the old gentleman’s (?) effects there is a box containing about two hundred pieces of knotted rope. These are the knots cut off the ropes of every man he has hanged. They are all labelled and ticketed, and form a most interesting collection of relics for those who are that way inclined. It is averred that old Sol. never saw a man hanged. He would officiate in all the wretched details to the letter, and when the sheriff’s signal warned him that the lever working the bolts was to be moved, he invariably turned his back upon the victim. In the Hobart gaol the old gallows, now happily falling into decay, was so situated that the executioner could, by using the left hand with his right, advance a step of the right foot and screen his face from the disappearing white-capped figure. It is said that when the notorious, but wrongfully idolised Martin Cash slipped through his fingers, old Blay lamented his, as he called it, loss in unmeasured terms. Why that fellow Cash should have ever been sent to Norfolk Island to have an easy billet under John Price, a man who admired him, Solomon Blay could never understand, and on Cash’s return to this island the pair have frequently, when meeting, taunted each other with each other’s discrepancies. In Cash’s memoirs, now out of print, he refers to the defunct hangman in tones of the supremest contempt. Blay was flagellator prior to his exaltation to the office of executioner, for his expertness in which position he obtained a full pardon and pension, and referring to him Martin Cash writes: ‘Of all the wretches attached to or in the employ of Her Majesty’s Government there are none so truly contemptible as the flagellator, and in all my experiences through life I never knew a man with one redeeming feature who ever filled that odious office. I generally found them to be treacherous, cruel, and cowardly . . . . I observed a man braced up in front of the door, the flagellator having cat in hand for readiness to perform his part of the drama. The constable gave the prisoner orders to strip, and having done so, the flagellator casually asked him the name of the highest mountain in his country. The prisoner replied that Ben Lomond was considered the loftiest, and by this time he was secured at the triangles. ‘Well,’ exclaimed the flagellator, ‘I’ll make you belive in less than five minutes that you had Ben Lomond on your back.”
Solomon Blay had a mortal horror of being photographed. All kinds of inducements were offered him to attend and be seated before the camera, but the softest blandishments failed in this matter. This, it was alleged, was due to the eccentricities of a certain person whose taste for the gruesome apparently overcame his natural discretion, and who suggested that an enlargement of the old man with a frame formed of the gilded knots of the ropes which had hanged the wretches he had officiated upon would have formed an interesting exhibit for the Royal Society!
He had a distinct aversion to the figure 7. He would, on occasions when the game of hazard was being played, remark ‘seven’s the main, we’ll all throw it some day.’ His record runs in sevens. In 1837 he was forwarded to Van Diemen’s Land from London for housebreaking. In 1847 he was elevated (!) from the prison to the office of executioner. In 1857 he received a full pardon on account of his usefulness (oh save the mark!). In 1887 he turned off his last man, Tim Walker, and in the year 1897 he threw a seven himself, and handed in his record to his Maker.