Spotlight: The Execution of Smith and Brady (13 May 1873)

Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), Tuesday 13 May 1873, page 2


Yesterday was enacted in the Beechworth Gaol, one of those tragedies which are the necessity, as they are the curse, of civilised communities. Two men, James Smith and Thomas Brady were hanged till they were dead. They had been convicted of one of the most causeless and brutal murders which has ever occurred in this colony. John Watt, of Wooragee, a man who was never known to do an ill turn to another, was shot down in his own house, without provocation, and he died from the effects of his wounds. Three men, Smith, Brady and Happenstein were arrested on the charge of being participes criminis, but Happenstein turned Queen’s evidence, and seriously inculpated the others. Smith and Brady were tried with painful care by a jury, Judge Williams presiding, at the last Beechworth Circuit Court. They were found Guilty, and sentenced to death. Yesterday morning that sentence was carried out. There were about sixty spectators present, some compelled, by duty, but others, and these formed the larger part, simply avid of strong excitement. For these latter, we have no sympathy; they were present to gratify a morbid taste, and they gratified it; c’est tout! If they enjoyed it, no one will grudge them their enjoyment; if they did not enjoy it, it may perhaps be hoped that they learned a useful lesson. Seldom have men gone to the scaffold more self-possessed and self-contained than these showed themselves to be. One of them said a few words, to be mentioned elsewhere, but the other was scarcely standing on the drop before the death-dealing handle was pulled by Bamford. It should be stated that both prisoners had previously informed the sheriff that their dying statement was contained in a written paper, which had been handed to the governor of the gaol for the sheriff, and for publication, and that they would not, personally, address the public. That understanding was not fulfilled.

The sheriff received the paper in question, and refused to hand it to the representatives of this journal, or rather of the Press generally. That request was refused; on what ground Mr Brett probably knows. At a later hour, Mr Warren, proprietor of this journal, called at Mr Brett’s office, and saw that gentleman. He asked some questions with reference to the serious matter at issue, and received only indefinite replies. Stronger language might be used, but that Mr Brett, being an officer of the Government, and therefore unable to reply, we have no desire to characterise his conduct as it deserves. Failing to obtain a definite answer to his request, Mr Warren took further action immediately by telegraphing to two of the Government departments, viz., the Hon. the Chief Secretary and the Hon. the Solicitor-General, to ask that authority should be sent to Mr Brett to communicate the contents of the document in his possession. We append the substance of the telegrams, viz.:—

Beechworth, May 12th, 1873.

Applied personally to sheriff for Smith’s written document. He (Smith) expressed wish made public after execution. Mr Brett not only refuses to give the document, but declines to intimate his course of action or any way in which the public can get it. Please advise by telegram.


The following correspondence passed between Mr Warren and the sheriff, and we commend it carefully to all whom it may concern:—


The Ovens and Murray Advertiser Office, May 12th, 1873.

Sir,—I beg, as proprietor of The Ovens and Murray Advertiser, to request formally from you, permission for a member of my staff to take a copy of the paper handed to you, by or from, one of the convicts, Smith and Brady, this morning. According to your own statement, this paper was given to you to be made public by the special request of the men now dead. It is therefore the property of the public, and as an act of justice to Smith and Brady, as well as to the public, it should appear at the same time as the record of the death of these men. Should your official instructions compel you to refuse this request, I shall publish a copy of this letter to satisfy my readers that all that was possible has been done to provide them with the words of a paper, the publication of which they have certainly a right to expect.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient servant,


W. G. Brett, Esq.,

Sheriff of the Beechworth District.


I regret that I cannot comply with this request pending the decision of the Government, to whom the statement has been referred by me, and perhaps Mr Warren will be kind enough to address his request to the Hon. the Chief Secretary.

W. G. BRETT, Sheriff.

Mr Brett is afraid to do his duty to the public, and afraid, it seems, of doing anything! We must urge that the withholding from publication of the paper handed in by the deceased, even for a single day, is without justification, any law in that case made and provided notwithstanding. Mr Brett will have to regain wisdom, and to drop down to the level of his really very commonplace functions soon! Till then, we can afford to wait.

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