Spotlight: Execution of Edward Kelly

“THE EXECUTION OF EDWARD KELLY.” The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) 12 November 1880: 6.


Immediately after sentence of death was passed on Kelly, additional precautions were taken to ensure his safe custody in the Melbourne Gaol. He was placed in one of the cells in the old wing, and irons were riveted upon his legs, leather pads being placed round his ankles to prevent chafing. The cell had two doors — an outer one of solid iron, and an inner one of iron bars. The outer door was always kept open, a lamp was kept burning overhead, and a warder was continually sitting outside watching the prisoner.
During the day he was allowed to walk in the adjoining yard for exercise, and on these occasions two warders had him under surveillance. He continued to maintain his indifferent demeanour for a day or two, professing to look forward to his execution without fear but he was then evidently cherishing a hope of reprieve. When he could get anyone to speak to, he indulged in brag, recounting his exploits and boasting of what he could have done when at liberty had he pleased. Latterly, however, his talkativeness ceased, and he became morose and silent. Within the last few days he dictated a number of letters for the Chief Secretary, in most of which he simply repeated his now well-known garbled version of his career and the spurious reasons he assigned for his crimes. He never however, expressed any sorrow for his crimes; on the contrary, he always attempted to justify them. In his last communication he made a request that his body might be handed over to his friends—an application that was necessarily in vain.


On Wednesday he was visited by his relatives and bade them farewell. At his own request his portrait was also taken for circulation amongst his friends. He went to bed at half-past 1 o’clock yesterday morning, and was very restless up to half-past 2, when he fell asleep. At 5 o’clock he awoke and arose, and falling on his knees prayed for 20 minutes, and then lay down again. He rose finally at about 8 o’clock, and at a quarter to 9 a blacksmith was called in to remove his irons. The rivets having been knocked out, and his legs liberated, he was attended by Father Donaghy, the Roman Catholic clergyman of the gaol. Immediately afterwards, he was conducted from his cell in the old wing to the condemned cell alongside the gallows in the new or main building. In being thus removed, he had to walk through the garden which surrounds the hospital ward, and to pass the handcart in which his body was in another hour to be carried back to the dead-house. Making only a single remark about the pretty flowers in the garden, he passed in a jaunty manner from the brilliant sunshine into the sombre walls
of the prison.


In the condemned cell the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church were administered to him by Father Donaghy and Dean O’Hea. In the meantime a large crowd of persons had commenced to gather in front of the gaol, and the persons who had received cards of admission assembled in the gaol yard. A few minutes before 10 o’clock, the hour fixed for the execution, Colonel Rede, the sheriff, and Mr. Castieau, the governor of the gaol, proceeded to the condenmed cell, followed by the persons who had been admitted. The latter numbered about 30, and included Superintendent Winch, Sub-inspector Larner, several constables and detectives, three or four medical men, a number of justices of the peace, and the representatives of the press.


The gallows is situated in the centre of the new wing, and consists simply of a beam of timber running across the transept over the first gallery, with rope attached and a trap-door in the gallery floor. Warders were arranged on the side galleries, and the onlookers stood on the basement floor in front of the drop. The convict had yet two minutes to live, but they soon flew away. The sheriff, preceded by the governor of the gaol, then ascended to the cell on the left hand side of the gallows, in which the condemned man had been placed, and demanded the body of Edward Kelly. The governor asked for his warrant, and having received it, in due form bowed in acquiescence. The new hangman, an elderly grey-headed, well-conditioned looking man, named Upjohn, who is at present incarcerated for larceny, made his appearance at this juncture from the cell on the opposite side of the gallows, entered the doomed man’s cell with the governor, and proceeded to pinion Kelly. At first Kelly objected to this operation, saying, “There is no need for tying me;” but he had to submit, and his arms were pinioned behind by a strap above the elbows. He was then led out with a white cap on his head. He walked steadily on to the drop; but his face was livid, his jaunty air gone, and there was a frightened look in his eyes as he glanced down on the spectators. It was his intention to make a speech, but his courage evidently failed him, and he merely said, “Ah, well, I suppose it has come to this,” as the rope was being placed round his neck. He appeared as in court, with beard and whiskers, never having been shaved. The priests in their robes followed him out of the cell repeating prayers, and another official of the church stood in front of him with a crucifix. The noose having been adjusted, the white cap was pulled over his face, and the hangman stepping to the side quickly drew the bolt, and the wretched man had ceased to live.


He had a drop of 8ft., and hung suspended about 4ft. from the basement floor. His neck was dislocated and death was instantaneous; for although muscular twitching continued for a few minutes, he never made a struggle. It was all over by five minutes past 10 o’clock, and was one of the most expeditious executions ever performed in the Melbourne gaol. Half an hour afterwards the body was lowered into the hospital cart, and taken to the dead-house. On removing the cap the face was found to be placid, and without any discolouration, and only a slight mark was left by the rope under the left ear. The eyes were wide open.

The outside crowd had increased by 10 o’clock to about 4,000—men, women, and children; but a large proportion of them were larrikin-looking youths, and nearly all were of the lower orders. When the clock struck 10 the concourse raised their eyes simultaneously to the roof of the gaol expecting to see a black
flag displayed; but they looked in vain, for no intimation of the execution having taken place was given. One woman, as the hour struck, fell on her knees in front of the entrance, and prayed for the condemned man. As the visitors left the prison the crowd dispersed also, and no disturbance occurred.

An inquest was subsequently held upon the body, and the jury returned a verdict that deceased had been judicially hanged, and that the provisions of the act for the private execution of criminals had been properly carried out. The remains will be interred in the gaol yard this morning.

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