Spotlight: Brady, Jeffries and McCabe reports (07/01/1826)

Hobart Town Gazette (Tas. : 1825 – 1827; 1830), Saturday 7 January 1826, page 2

On Saturday evening Brady and his party, appeared at Mr. Haywood’s, and robbed him of a large quantity of tea, sugar, tobacco, rum, and flour, besides all the bedding and wearing apparel in the house. Brady alone was mounted on horseback. On coming up, he said, “Mr. Haywood, I am Brady.” He desired him to be under no apprehension of being hurt on account of the late execution of Broadhead, who, he said, was not a bushranger. He wanted provisions only and after remaining about 3 hours, they departed, taking with them 2 horses, besides the one Brady had mounted, to carry their plunder. They said Jeffries, the runaway from Launceston watch-house, had tendered them his services, and had been rejected. While they, were in the house the Messenger arrived with the letters, which they took from him, saying, they wanted only the Government despatches, but carried the whole away with them. They are believed to have crossed the Derwent within these last few days, and to be not many miles distant from Town. We pray and trust most fervently that their iniquitous career may be drawing to its conclusion.

McCabe, Brady and Bryant

The reward offered in another column, by the Government, for the apprehension of that monster in human shape, the murderer Jeffries and the others, though large, will, we are informed, be materially increased by a public subscription. A feeling of horror, and an ardent desire for justice, is roused throughout the Colony, and a public and private effort is making which will give a speedy and decided blow to robbery and bushranging for ever in Van Diemen’s Land. As far as pecuniary means can assist, and it can do much, the Government, we are sure, will be both prompt and liberal. Were these circum-stances known in London to-night, what thousands would be subscribed to-morrow!

Extract of a Letter, dated Launceston, January 1, 1826

“We have three or four fellows out on this side, and yesterday morning they went to the house of a Native Youth named Tibbs, about a mile from this Town and in sight of it. They robbed him, and it is supposed murdered and disposed of the body of his stock keeper. They shot Mr. Tibbs in the neck, and what is more than all they took his wife away with them, with an infant, her first child, sucking at her breast, and she has not been heard of since. Since writing the above, I have heard that Mrs. Tibbs has arrived in Town, but without her child, the villains having murdered it.”

EXECUTION.—Yesterday morning Jas. McCabe, William Priest, John Johnson, Samuel Longworth, Charles Wigley, Jas. Major, W. Pollock and George Harding, underwent the dreadful sentence of the law. All the eight unhappy men died truly penitent, praying most fervently; McCabe in particular offered up an earnest ejaculation, which we trust will be heard, that his associates who are now at large may see the error of their ways and give up their wretched and destructive course.

Richard Brown, James Brown, John Green, Thomas Bosworth, Richard Miller, and William Craven, will likewise undergo the awful sentence of the Law this morning.

James McCabe, post mortem.

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.

Spotlight: A Bushranger’s Autobiography (part one)

In 1879, the Australasian newspaper published a series of articles that transcribed a handwritten manuscript. This manuscript contained the memoirs of William Westwood, alias Jackey Jackey. These rushed memories covered his early life, his time as a convict, and his bushranging career. Here on A Guide to Australian Bushranging, we will publish the installments weekly, just as they were when first published over 140 years ago.

This first installment covers how the author of the articles came by such a unique and precious document. It give a powerful insight into Westwood’s last hours and a rare glimpse at the man himself.


Australasian (Melbourne), Saturday 1 February 1879, page 8

The narrative, to which these remarks are introductory, which has been handed to us by a contributor, is of interest as presenting the incidents and motives of a bushranger’s life from a point of view from which it is seldom seen. It is unnecessary to point out the “personal equation” which has to be allowed for in the writer’s statement of his actions, resulting partly from that desire to put forward a justification of some sort or other which is shown by the greatest criminals, and partly from the vanity and mock-heroism which seem usually to be conspicuous elements in the characters of highwaymen of all times. These allowances we may safely leave to the reader. We wish here merely to mention that we have satisfied ourselves of the perfect authenticity of the narrative, and now leave our contributor to explain how the document came into his hands. He gives the following account “How I Came By It”:—

I do not believe there is a word of fiction in the following narrative. It is no made-up story, fancifully exaggerated, but a very unadorned, and straightforward tale of audacious bushranger adventure and privation, in which a young outlaw relates in his own way the incidents of his brigand career in two colonies. These incidents he describes without bravado or self-glorification, and with slight excuses for his lawless exploits. His rustic habits and limited education did not qualify him to write with any view to stage effect; yet the scenes he delineates, and in which he was a chief actor, are full of wild robber – daring and dramatic pose, and have all the interest that attaches to bold and reckless deeds of actual occurrence. The recent tragic events near Mansfield will serve to show with what fatal facility such deeds may be done in half-reclaimed woodland regions, and how a few desperadoes like the Kellys can terrify a whole district for many months together, and plunder or destroy life with impunity, even in times when mounted police and well-made roads are by no means so few and far between as in the dark ages of Australia five and thirty years ago, and before Victoria was born. In those dark and less settled times, the “Bolters” were a very dangerous substitute in the bush for royal Bengal tigers, though the thirst of blood in these human beasts of prey does not seem to have much abated since the convict era; for what Siberian wolf could ravin for and lap up gore with keener appetite than Morgan, or what old Sydney “cockatoo” or Port Arthur “canary ” could more treacherously assassinate than the gang which has now so long baffled the whole gendarmerie of this country? Unlike so many of the class, the hero of this present bush romance had few of the exterior marks and tokens about him of the brutal and ferocious marauder. He was a young man of six and twenty, of good stature, broad-chested, and muscular in limb, though not of brawny build, but lithe and agile as a leopard. He was of a fair complexion, regular features, and a good humoured expression of countenance, to which a broad forehead gave an air of intelligence. This broad forehead was overhung with a profusion of straw-coloured hair of a dark shade. He had a pleasant smile, which disclosed two rows of small white teeth, so small and so white as to give him a somewhat feminine appearance, which was made more feminine by thin red lips, small mouth, and well-shaped chin. But the most noticeable of all his features were his eyes, which were deep set and of a rich violet blue. I never saw eyes more “deeply, darkly, beautifully blue,” that is, in his ordinary and placid mood; but when roused to anger their mild soft violet hue wholly vanished, and in its place came something that flushed and glowed like two red coals. I first discovered this ocular transformation by coming one day unexpectedly to his cell in the new gaol at Norfolk Island when he was having a verbal altercation with the turnkeys who had annoyed him. I scarcely recognised him. The usual smile had given way to a frightful scowling frown, and his eyes seemed literally turned into two balls of fire, reminding me of Sir Walter Scott’s description in lvanhoe of Richard Coeur-de-lion’s eyes when that warrior king was pleased to lash himself up to a frenzy of rage. Our outlaw, however, was not of a peevish or quarrelsome temper, and took no delight in giving his officers trouble, as others often did, in neglecting his work, nor did he mix himself up with the common squabbles of the Lumber-yard. His demeanour at Norfolk Island was inoffensive until the unlucky morning of the July riot, in which several of the civil officers were injured and four constables killed — three of them by the hand of our outlaw, Westwood. A long series of disciplinary severities, and some vexatious alterations and reductions in the legal allowance of food, had produced extreme discontent amongst the prisoners, especially on the Settlement Station, where they numbered about 800. The Government store was sometimes nearly bankrupt in flour, meal, beef, sugar, and potatoes; and the dietary of “the men” was regulated according to the state of the store. Sundry refusals of the gangs to go to work half-fed were only succeeded by more stringent measures of coercion, until the prisoners were galled and exasperated beyond their bearing. The last ounce of sand that broke the camel’s back was laid on by an order to take away from the mess-sheds some 40 or 50 old kettles in which “the men” had for several years been permitted to boil water, and make maize corn coffee after coming in from the fields and quarries, A mutiny and a murderous attack on the constables resulted, in which our outlaw took the lead, and for this he was tried and sentenced to death at a special Norfolk Island assizes, held by a judge sent down from Hobart Town, assisted by five military officers of the garrison, who sat with the judge as assessors. This autobiography was chiefly written by our outlaw while awaiting trial; a page or two were added after his condemnation, and all of it, except in the spelling, remains as he penned it. I passed the last night of his mortal life with him in his cell, in which two other men, also under sentence, were present. It was a night to be remembered. Sleep came not to the eyelids which were so soon to close for ever; nor drowsiness to men whose wakeful hearts were pondering on the dread mysterious secrete which the grave would unfold to them upon the morrow. Yet, although subdued, they were not dejected. They were even cheerful, and disposed for conversation, and I think if any one had been with them who would have spoken to them of a plan for getting off the island they would have eagerly discussed it for half the night; for the first and last thought of a prison is liberty — escape. When the cell door was bolted on us, and the gaol-yard locked for the night, a painful stillness seemed to come down and gather round us with a stifling oppressiveness, and for a few minutes we all sat silent, as if listening for some sound or voice that might assure us of our proximity to living beings. We seemed as though entombed in a charnel-house. But the only sound that came was the booming roar of the South Pacific Ocean hurling its massy waves upon the coral reefs, over which they tumbled and fell with a foaming crash along the narrow beach close by the prison walls, which vibrated with the concussion. From this short stupor the chaplain gently recalled the men, inviting them to religious discourse and to acts of devotion until midnight. Free and friendly converse then ensued for a while, and the three doomed ones spoke of various passages in their penal life, mingling frequent, though not boisterous, laughter with many quaint and witty comments on their own and others’ doings or misdoings. About an hour after midnight our candles had burned low, and the task of lighting fresh ones was undertaken by Truelock, the oldest of the three men. In performing this task some burning wick fell on the back of his hand, and the grimaces he made in his hurried efforts to dislodge it were so comical his companions laughed merrily at them, and their laughter was increased by the grave tone and solemn shake of his head with which he reproved their mirth. “Men,” he said,” you should remember this is no time for grinning, at a fellow-creature’s sufferings, when you are to be hanged at 8 o’clock this very morning.” After this the chaplain, who was one of the highest of high church-men, addressed some words of exhortation to his small flock assembled in that cell on the duty of confessing their sins. Westwood, he found, was of the Church of England; another was a Wesleyan; and the third a Baptist; after half-an-hour’s explanation, the chaplain entreated of them to review their lives and confess all their sins penitently to God, and then he would “give them absolution.” The men then bowed their heads upon their knees as they sat in heavy chains, and in perfect silence so continued for a quarter of an hour. Then the chaplain rose up, and laying his hands on the head of the Baptist youth, Henry Whiting, he pronounced the absolution formula as given in the Anglican Prayer Book for the sick or dying; next he bestowed the same benefit on the Wesleyan, and, lastly, on Westwood, who seemed very devout. Another hour was then employed in prayers, and as these were ended Whiting, who was only 22 years of age, looked sharply up to the little grating over the cell door. We all turned our eyes in the same direction, and lo, the dull grey glimmer of the wintry dawn was faintly visible. It seemed to me as the eye of the angel of death grimly looking in upon his victims. They gazed upon it long and silently, and at last he whose quick eye first detected it turned to me, and with a smile so sad, so wistful, and so pensive that it has never left my mind, he said, “Mr. Peutetre, it is the last!” Our outlaw continued to watch the slowly growing light, as if his thoughts were faraway in his native home, among his kindred, beneath his father’s roof, with sisters and brothers who knew not that he was going forth that selfsame day to a death of infamy. While Westwood was still gazing upwards at the light, the garrison bugles sounded the reveille, which led the chaplain to speak of the judgment trumpet, and then engaged once more in prayer. As this prayer ended the bell of the prisoners’ barracks hard by began to ring. They all adverted to the well-known summons which had so often called them forth to their daily toil.

“It is tolling for our funeral,” said Truelock. “Aye,” responded Whiting; “it’s our death knell!”

Shortly after the barrack bell had ceased its harsh jangle the footsteps of the turnkey were heard approaching. The bolt of our cell door was withdrawn, and a welcome sea breeze came whirling in upon us with its saline odours and refreshing dullness. But something still more welcome soon entered. The chaplain’s wife and other ladies had sent down a basket well filled with cold fowl and ham and eggs, and well-buttered bread, and a can of coffee for the dying men’s last breakfast. Plates and mugs were soon filled and handed round to those for whom they were provided. Did not the thought of the ropes dangling from the gallows erected within 20 yards of them spoil their appetite? Apparently it did not. In spite of rope, and heavy chains, and coarse white cap, they ate with seeming relish, and even with jocularity. While I was handing an additional slice of ham to Whiting, whose pathetic exclamation, “it is the last,” had so touched me, he said, What a pity it is, men, that we arn’t to be hanged every morning, if the ladies would only send us such jolly fine breakfasts,” at which the “men” laughed heartily, as they did at one or two other ludicrous trifles that occurred while eating their last meal on earth. Shortly after the repast was finished the sheriff came and ordered their chains to the struck off, so that they might ascend the ladder to the platform. Whiting and then Truelock had been led out for this purpose, and as I stood alone with Westwood in the cell, who was waiting for his turn, he drew a roll of paper from his breast, and said “Mr. Peutetre, I give you this — all I have to give. If ever you go back to old England, give the letters and the hair inside to my father and mother. God bless you and farewell.” He was then called to have his chains struck off. This was how I came by his autobiography; and this is why I think it no fiction. Almost every statement made in it was proved on his trials; and many persons must still be living who will remember Jacky Jacky, which, perhaps, is a corruption of Jika Jika. I forgot to ask him how and why he got or took his bushranger title.

As an instance of the perils to which peaceful households were exposed, and also as a sample of the highly melodramatic situations to which the inburst of bushrangers sometimes gave rise, I would mention the following:— Jacky Jacky (Westwood) states that he and Gilling and Allom bailed up a station a few miles above New Norfolk, in Tasmania. After I left Norfolk Island I was on duty for some time at New Norfolk. One day riding with the police magistrate, we were invited to luncheon at Mr. H.’s, J.P., when his wife asked me about Jacky Jacky, saying she had once had the pleasure of being bailed up by him. It was in the Christmas holidays and her brother, Mr. Stanley J., of Hobart Town, and two other gentlemen, had come to stay a few days with her husband. On the first day of their visit, after dinner, some of the gentlemen went upstairs to have a nap until tea-time. She had retired to the drawingroom, and was employing herself at her workbox. By and bye her brother came into the room, and sat down in the rocking — “the chair you are now sitting in, Mr. Peutetre,” said the lady. Leaning back in the chair, he said to her, “Well, I declare to you, Bessy, I never spent a happier day than this. I really never was so happy in all my life; nev—.” Here he paused abruptly, and Mrs. H. turned her head to see what had cut his rocking and his enthusiastic speech so short, and found him staring in mute amazement towards the drawingroom door. Glancing in the same direction, to her astonishment and terror she beheld a tall young man, with sunburnt face, standing in the doorway with a double-barrelled gun in his hands, levelled point blank at the body of the happy brother, Mr. S. J., in the happiest moment of his whole life; the said tall sunburnt young man (Westwood) being prepared to fire on the happy gentleman, if he attempted to stand up. No sensational play could arrange a more theatrical scene than this startling impromptu reality in Mrs. H’s drawingroom.


Melbourne. Jan. 25.

[The commencement of the autobiography will appear in our next issue.]

Spotlight: Execution of Richard Collyer (1818)

Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter (Tas. : 1816 – 1821), Saturday 31 January 1818, page 2



SHIP NEWS.—On Saturday last sailed, once more, the ship Pilot, Capt. PEXTON, with live stock, for Batavia; and on Wednesday the brig Governor Macquarie, Capt. Reibey, for Port Dalrymple.

On Monday morning last, at 11 o’clock, the execution of Richard Collyer took place on the rise of the hill at the beginning of the New-town road. The crime for which he suffered was the murder, perpetrated by himself and others, of Carlisle and O’Byrne, in 1815, at New Norfolk, but the many offences which had been committed by the hand of bushrangers, during the years in which they infested the colony, rendered his life doubly and trebly forfeited to the law.

Of the six criminals implicated in the murder of Carlisle and O’Byrne, three (Whitehead, Jones and Geary) have been shot by the King’s troops, when in arms against them; one (Septon) was destroyed by his comrades; the fifth is the unhappy man whose atonement has now been made in the regular course of Law; The sixth in number but the greatest in crime (Michael Howe), is not yet come to his account; but we cannot doubt that the day of justice and retribution will arrive.

The offence for which Collyer suffered, and the general outrage committed by the bush-rangers are too well known to need any retrospection or remark. That banditti is exinct, and will in future exist only in the recollection of the settlers whose peace and property they invaded.

It is satisfactory to announce, that the criminal, Collyer, died truly penitent and resigned, admitting fully, that his life was justly forfeited to the Law. The attention of the Rev. Mr. Knopwood to the unhappy man was constant; and appears to have wrought the happiest effects. Collyer prayed fervently, and addressed the crown servants, who witnessed the execution, in becoming terms; exhorting them to take warning by his fate, and to avoid the course of life which led to it. May this example have its due effect!

Spotlight: Execution of Sam Poo (1866)

Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918, 1935), Saturday 6 January 1866, page 19


EXECUTION AT BATHURST. – The convict Sam Poo, who at the last assizes was convicted of the murder of Constable Ward; suffered the extreme penalty of the law within the precincts of the gaol; In the absence of any of his countrymen outside the prison walls three Chinese prisoners, who are at present confined in Bathurst gaol, were brought out to see the end of Sam Poo; there were also about a dozen other persons present, besides the police and the officers of the gaol. The wretched man, who, ever since his apprehension has been quite weak in intellect, appeared perfectly unconscious of his fate, and, until his arms were pinioned by the executioners, stood at the door of his cell clapping his hands. The ceremony of pinioning over, he was led to the gallows without speaking a word, or even once lifting up his head. The rope was fixed, the bolt drawn and Sam Poo ceased to exist. The body was, after the lapse of little more than half an hour, cut down and taken away for burial. — Free Press.

Spotlight: List of Executions at Hobart Town (1827)

Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser (Hobart, Tas. : 1825 – 1827), Friday 5 January 1827, page 4


List of prisoners tried, found guilty and executed, at Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land, from the 1st of January 1823, to the 1st of January 1827 :—


April 13.— James Smith, sheep-stealing.

April 14.— George Richardson, Robert Oldham, William Davis and Ralph Churlton, sheep-stealing.


July 19.— Alexander Pearce, murder.

July 22.— Thomas Butler, sheep-stealing; Patrick Connolly, James Tierney, Isaac Walker, and John Thomson, bushranging and robberies.


January 28.— Thomas Hudson, William Allen and Francis Oates, murder.

February 25.— Henry McConnell, robbery; Jeremiah Ryan, Charles Ryder and James Bryant, murder and robbery; John Logan, attempting to shoot Mr. Shoobridge, Musquito and Jack Roberts (Aboriginal Natives), murder, and Peter Thackery, bushranging and robberies.

February 26.— Samuel T. Fielding and Jas. Chamberlaine, sheep-stealing; Stephen Lear and Henry Fry, burglary at the Surveyor General’s.

August 31.— John Reid Riddle and Thomas Peacock, murder; William Buckley, Joseph Broadhead and John Everiss, bushranging and robberies.

September 7.— John Godliman, murder.

December 12.— Jonas Dobson, murder of his overseer.


January 6.— John Johnson, burglary at Mr. F. Barnes’s; Samuel Longman and Charles Wigley, burglary; James Major, burglary and stealing an ox; William Pollock and George Harden, sheep-stealing; Wm. Preece, bushranging and robberies; and Jas. McCabe, bushranging, robberies, and murder.

January 7.— Richard Brown, James Brown, and John Green, sheep-stealing; Thomas Bosworth, Richard Miller and William Craven, burglary and stealing a boat.

May 4.— Matthew Brady, Patrick Bryant, Thomas Jeffries and John Perry, bushranging, murder, and robberies; John Thompson, murder of Mary Smith.

May 5.— James McKenney, John Gregory, William Brown, John Tilley, James Goodwin, and Samuel Hodgetts, bushranging, murder, and robberies.

September 13.— Thomas Dunnings, Edward Everitt, and William Smith, murder of Mr. Simpson, of Pittwater; John Taylor and George Watters, absconding from Macquarie Harbour and robbing soldiers of their arms; Jack and Dick (Aboriginal Natives), murder of Thomas Colley.

September 15.— James Edwards, John McFarlane, and Thomas Balfour, absconding into the woods, and robbing Mr. Holdship; John Clark and John Dadd, burglary; Patrick Brown, sheep-stealing; George Brace, bushranging and robberies.

September 18.— John Penson, burglary at Richard Worley’s; James Rowles, robbing Mr. John Dunn; Timothy Swinscow, and William Wickens, robbing Mrs. Till; Robert Cable, John Davis, John Cruit, Thomas Savell, and George Farquharson, sheep-stealing.

It will appear from the foregoing list, that from the 13th April, 1823, until the 19th of July, 1824, (a period of fifteen months) only five persons were executed — all of whom were for sheep stealing. Since which period (not three years) seventy-six! have suffered; most of whom for murder, and other very daring offences. This statement however does not include the number of unfortunate men who have forfeited their lives at Launceston; which we believe to be about thirty; therefore the total is upwards of One Hundred.

Spotlight: Execution of Edward Kelly (1880)

“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.

Spotlight: Exit Solomon Blay

Clipper (Hobart, Tas. : 1893 – 1909), Saturday 21 August 1897, page 4



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.


Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Monday 25 August 1873, page 4




Written by J. E. CALDER.


Brady’s journey homewards, after the commission of his first murder, was not a pleasant one, and he spoke but little to his companions. But to deaden the feelings of remorse that rose within him, in spite of his efforts to shake them off, he walked at his best speed; and while pondering over the transactions of the morning, he got bewildered in the bush, and failed to reach his camp till night-fall, when he learned that a very curious circumstance had happened during his absence, as tragic as that in which he himself had been engaged in the morning.

Two convicts who had absconded from their employers, being captured about the day of Brady’s attack on Elphin, were temporarily secured in the Launceston gaol, from which one of them named Aiken managed to escape, and ran off to the woods for the mere purpose of temporary concealment. He was a poor irresolute fellow, having no intention of taking the bush for any worse purpose than what I have said. Wandering hither and thither, he knew not where, till he was pretty well knocked up, as ill-luck would have it he came on the bushrangers’ camp at a moment when only two of them were there. Telling them his tale of distress he was civilly treated by them, that is they refreshed him as well as they could, and allowed him to remain till rested. Having told him who they were, they asked him if he would join them? But this was the last thing in his thoughts, and he refused to do so. They then let him depart, and even directed him to where the road was, which he reached just as a constable was passing along it.

Quite forgetting the recent kindness of his hosts, he related his day’s adventures to this man, and pointed to where the outlaws lay. The constable noted the direction, and then wishing him good afternoon made off as hard as he could, partly to get out of so dangerous a neighbourhood, especially to one of his class, and partly to obtain military aid to attack them in their camp.

The fugitive from the watchhouse had hardly left the camp of the bushrangers before all the absent men of the gang – Brady, Bryant, and Williams excepted – returned; and, being told of the visit they had just had, sharply rebuked their companions for letting him go, as they thought it quite possible that their whereabouts would now be traced through this fellow’s blabbing, and they started after him at once to fetch him back again. They were not long in coming up with him, and took him in charge on suspicion, they said, of his being a runaway, informing him, as usual with them, that they were constables in pursuit of the bushrangers. “Oh,” said the follow, “if you are constables, I can tell you where they now at this moment, for I was at their camp a quarter of an hour ago.”

“Can you?” said one of them with well counterfeited surprise, “that’s just what we want to know, so take us there directly. How many of them are there?”

“Only two when I was there.”

“Is Brady with them?” said the querist.

“No; they said he had gone to the Cocked Hat, and could not say when he would be back.”

“Did you hear where the others were?”

“No; only that they were foraging about the neighbourhood.”

“Let’s see,” said the spokesman thoughtfully, “there are four of us altogether, and we can manage them very well if you will help us. Will you lend us a hand to take them? There’s fifteen hundred pounds for the gang, and you shall have your share for all we take. What do you say?”

“Oh yes,” was the ready reply.

“Then come along with us,” said the other, “and we will have them before Brady and the rest come back, and they can be managed afterwards,” and on they all went.

As they were jogging along, he told them of his adventure with the real constable just before, at which they pricked up their ears, but said nothing.

As they neared the camp, and were seen by the men there, the would-be traitor noticed with a good deal of concern, that the latter evinced no sort of dismay at the approach of the three armed constables, who he was conducting to take or destroy them; but his surprise was changed into absolute horror, when he saw his own party, as he thought them, fraternising with the enemy.

“You’ve got him then,” said one of the camp minders.

“Oh yes, we’ve brought him back to you again,” was the rejoinder.

The wretched Aiken then discovered into what a fearful trap he had fallen through his own abominable folly and treachery, and that the dreadful fate he had designed for his late entertainers would now most assuredly be his own.

“Don’t be cast down, old fellow,” said one of them to him with pretended commiseration; “but you must stand your trial, you know, for meaning to come it on us, and if we don’t find you guilty, we shall let you go again;” and a sort of trial, such as they had held on Goodwin and some others, took place.

The charge against the miserable man, was treachery to the party; and as all of them had had a good deal of experience in their own persons of the ceremonies practised in the Criminal Courts, the formalities they had seen there were gone through with well counterfeited solemnity. The wretched Aiken was nearly stupified with fear, natural to the horrors of his situation, but pleaded guilty to the charge of attempting to betray them, for of course he could not deny it, and not much good would have come of it if he had; whereupon one of them who officiated as Judge, sentenced him to die – the sentence to be carried into immediate execution.

The poor creature begged hard for his life, and cried most pituously as they pinioned him and bandaged his eyes to die; but he was now in the hands of men whose ideas of mercy were too obtuse to heed the supplications of a wretch, guilty according to their notions of criminality of the worst of offences, namely, treachery to them; and without more ado, one of them sent a ball into him, which passed into his neck; and he fell, bleeding profusely, but without a moan.

The camp of the outlaws, as said before, was near a dry watercourse, into which they threw the body of their victim, and covered it over with dead boughs.

After dusk, Brady and the others returned from their own evil adventure, and learning what had taken place, and that the Police had now a clue to his hiding-place, he commanded a move to be made. But he was himself so worn out with hard walking and the incidents of the day, that he was in no condition to travel without a little rest. But about an hour before day dawning they moved off, for he felt sure that the soldiers would be down on them as soon as they could see to travel, and they quitted the neighbourhood for some more secure retreat.

But their victim was not dead, as they thought he was; nor was his wound of a mortal nature, and he came to himself long before they left the place; but lay so still that they had no suspicion but that he went as cold as the stones he lay upon when they retired.

As soon as day broke he got up and crawled away, for he was cold and faint from loss of blood; and, more by good fortune than anything else, he reached the Launceston road, then a mere track, and took the way, as he thought, to that town.

But his faculties were so bewildered, and his intellects, never very strong, so disturbed, that he took the wrong way; and coming presently to a point where some other road crossed it obliquely, he followed it and lost himself altogether. He however travelled along it for a good distance, meeting no one till he came to a turn, where he was suddenly confronted by several armed travellers (for every one armed then), and who should they be but the bushrangers again, who were still on the move. His own surprise and dismay were hardly greater than theirs. “Good God!” was the exclamation of the foremost of them, “here’s the fellow we shot yesterday come to life again.” The amazement of all of them was intense, and not unlike Lord Nelson’s when he saw the corpse of Carraciolla, whom he had hung at the yard-arm and sunk in the Bay of Naples, with heavy weights to keep him down, risen again from the bottom of the sea, and now half out of water, coming straight back again towards his own ship. At first they knew not what to think of it. “However,” said one of them, when he had recovered his self-possession a little, “I’ll make sure of him this time”; and then sent another ball into him, and he fell, the little blood he had still left in him, spurting freely from the wound, and the party moved on again, satisfied that he was done for now. But the fellow seems to have had as many lives as a cat. The bullet had not gone fairly into him, having only furrowed the surface of his stomach; but he was so weak, and his nerves had sustained such a shock from his double execution, that it was a long time before he could rise, but he eventually reached Launceston; and the first time my informant saw him (about a couple of months afterwards) he was standing in the witness-box of the Supreme Court at Hobart Town, giving evidence against the men who had taken part in these outrages on him, and indirectly against Brady as being absent from the camp on the day of the death of Kenton.

I give the above details as related to me by Mr. Alexander McKay; and strange as they may appear to be, they may be implicitly relied on. He was present at Brady’s trial, and heard Aiken deliver them from the witness box.

The Colonial Times, of the 10th of March, 1826, records the assault on this man by the bushrangers, before the curious circumstance of his double return to life was publicly known; the account is given as follows:– “Two run-aways were last week sent into Launceston gaol from Presnell’s, where they were taken; one of them broke out of gaol, and was met by the bushrangers, who asked him to join them, and on his refusal, they shot him dead.”

The capture of Brady, and the destruction of his gang, took place very soon after the death of Kenton. It was thus related to me by the late Honourable Mr. Wedge, who took an active part in the scenes he describes:

“Several parties were organised to scour the country around Launceston. At Colonel Balfour’s request I remained with him as a sort of aide-de-camp. Whilst the search was going on, in which Messrs. Bartley, Sinclair, and Lieut. Williams were particularly active, three men, who had long been in communication with the bushrangers, tempted by the offer of high rewards, free pardons, and a passage to England, offered to betray them. Within a day or two after the affair at Dry’s, Lieut. Williams fell in with them, * * * somewhere in the neighbourhood of Patterson’s Plains,” (near Launceston) “The bushrangers took to their heels, and they were fired upon, and a ball took effect and entered the calf of Brady’s leg, and passing upwards, came out at the under part of his thigh. I don’t recollect whether Lieut. Williams came upon them by chance, or was conducted to them by one of the men engaged to betray them. Brady made his escape supported, as I understood, by two of his companions. The whole community was in a perfect state of excitement to effect the capture of Brady, who was known to be in a condition not able to travel, and numerous parties were out in search of him day and night. At length one of the betrayers, of the name of Coil, offered to conduct a party to where he was concealed. He said that he was either on an island on the left bank of the North Esk, or in a ravine on the opposite side of the river. A large party consisting of soldiers, constables, and volunteers was formed, amounting to at least fifty or sixty men, if not more, headed by Colonel Balfour (the man Coil disguised in a military cap and great coat). The island, covered with a dense scrub, was searched, as we thought, every inch of it, without discovering anyone; but it afterwards transpired that Murphy, one of the bushrangers, was behind a tree, and as one of the party passed close by it, Murphy escaped being seen by creeping round the tree,” (Murphy was a diminutive man.) “The whole party were then taken to the deep ravine on the north side of the river, * * * in which Brady was concealed. He, however, escaped being discovered, although the search was continued for an hour or more; Mr. Sinclair having, as Brady afterwards said, passed within a couple of yards of him. During the continuance of the search, Murphy removed from the island to some high precipitous rocks above the river, on the opposite side of the ravine, and within view, for the purpose of withdrawing the attention of the party from Brady, but without attaining his object. A shot or two was fired at him without effect. Brady then came to the conclusion that he was betrayed, from the circumstance of so large a party being employed, and the persistence of the lengthened examination of the ravine. He was concealed in a creek, and covered with a thick compact mass of scrub. After the departure of the party, wounded as he was, he managed to hobble with the aid of a staff as far as the “Bullocks Hunting Ground,” up the North Esk. where Mr. Batman shortly after fell in with him, and took him prisoner. His capture occurred as follows :– As Mr. Batman was preparing to encamp for the night, he observed a herd of cattle rushing down the hills, at no great distance from him. As an experienced bushman, he came to the conclusion that they must have been disturbed by someone, * * * he strolled about, to ascertain, if possible, what had disturbed the cattle, but without discovering anything. But so impressed was he with the belief that Brady was in the neighbourhood, that he could sleep but little, and rose at first dawn of light, and walked forth from the encampment. He had not gone far, when the same thing occurred again with the cattle being disturbed. This still further confirmed him in his opinion; and he shortly after observed Brady a short distance off, making his way, supporting himself with a staff. Batman then “cooeyed” for his men, then followed and captured this bushranger,”

On the approach of Batman, he made a sorry attempt to run, but fell before proceeding twenty yards. His wound though temporarily a distressing one, could not have been very severe, for within twenty-five days of its occurrence, he was discovered with some others, trying to make his escape from gaol by cutting through the wall, in which they were all but successful. A second attempt was also discovered just in time to prevent it.

Directly after his capture, he was conducted to Launceston, to be sent round to Hobart Town for trial. Being unable to travel afoot on account of his wound, he was accommodated with a horse, and reached Launceston on Sunday, 12th March. “As might be expected,” says the Colonial Times of the 17th, “the whole population of Launceston crowded to see him. He deported himself in a firm and determined manner, and rode well, although badly wounded in the leg. He had no hat, a handkerchief was bound round his head.” On the 10th he was placed on board the Government brig Prince Leopold, and reached Hobart Town on the 27th along with several others of his class, but some of whom were not of his party, such as the terrible and barbarous Jeffreys and Perry.

To return for a while to the scene of Brady’s concealment in the ravine near the North Esk, several of his party retreated southerly directly afterwards. But Murphy and the boy Williams refused to quit him. The very little good that there was in Murphy, shone out rather creditably at this crisis; and their fidelity cost both of them their lives, a little earlier than they would have lost them, had they been taken along with him, for neither lived to hear of his doom, both of them dying by the murderous hands of Cowen and Callaghan. Messieurs Wedge and Sinclair were so very near the scene of the tragedy, that they were only one second too late to prevent it. Mr. Wedge has given me the following account of it :– “Murphy and the boy Williams had lingered in the neighbourhood of the North Esk and the Cocked Hat Hill, under the idea of being able to succour Brady in his helpless condition. The rest of the party had made their escape to the south end of the island, and were harboured in the Sorell district by some of their confederates, whither the man Coil had followed them after the failure of the search for Brady on the banks of the North Esk. The other men, Cowen and Callaghan, concerned in the betrayal of the bushrangers, about the time of Brady’s capture, undertook to load a party upon Murphy and Williams, but refused to act with either constables or soldiers, and expressed a wish that Mr. Sinclair and myself should aid in searching for them. I believe they were influenced in this by the desire that no one but themselves should participate in the reward. We consequently met them in the evening just at dark, and were stationed by them under the Cocked Hat Hill, and desired to wait there till one or both came for us. We remained there an hour or two under the discomfort of a thunderstorm and rain. On the arrival of one of the men, he told us that Murphy and the boy were in a hut not far off, and took us to within a short distance of where they were, so near that we could hear them talking, but not so close as to distinguish what they said. We were to await his coming out and giving a signal; and then we were to rush the hut, and with the assistance of the two men, to try to secure them. The man had scarcely left us a minute, when a gun was fired off in the neighbourhood, at which Murphy took the alarm, and left the hut unperceived by us. About ten minutes afterwards, the same man came and told us what had occurred, and appointed to meet us in the morning at a small farm close at hand, in the occupation of two brothers. * * * On meeting them at the farm they told us they were concealed in the bed of a creek surrounded with a thick scrub, about three quarters of a mile from McLeod’s Sugar Loaf, but on the opposite side of the valley. They said they could take us within twenty or thirty yards of them without being seen. On our way it was arranged that Sinclair and myself were to remain close at hand, whilst they were to go and watch the opportunity to seize them. Waiting for a few minutes, to our surprise we heard two shots fired, and hastening to the spot we found Murphy shot dead and the boy Williams wounded.” (They were both sleeping at the moment.) One of the men snatched a pistol from Sinclair and shot the boy before any attempt could be made by us to save him. * * * The men who escaped to the Sorell district were I believe soon after shot by the three men Coil, Cowen, and Callaghan. Thus terminated the career of this gang of bushrangers, who had kept the whole colony in a state of dread and alarm during the time they were at large. In fact during their career neither life nor property were secure, so sudden and unexpected were their attacks upon the isolated and thinly scattered establishments of the settlers of the rural districts.”

For the capture of Brady and the men who were with him in 1826, the Government paid £1,525 13s, 3d. to different persons. But the official statement that I copy from does not disclose the names of the recipients, which would have revealed the secret that the Government had used the services of some of the most infamous men whom the chain gangs of the colony could furnish to put down these robbers. A writer in Martin’s Colonial Magazine, who I have quoted from before, (who was an old and well informed Tasmanian settler of the time, now comfortably settled in New Zealand) says that the chief part of the above sum went to these unworthy employees of the Government, and mostly to Cowen. He says that he “ultimately succeeded in bringing them into contact with Lieutenant Williams of the 40th Regiment,” (this should be the 57th), “by whom they were broken and dispersed, escaping only to fall into the hands of a stronger party. To place them in hazardous situations, was not the only plan adopted by this miscreant, who took advantage of Murphy and the boy Williams being asleep and removed from the band, to render their sleep eternal. This fact, communicated to Brady whilst in gaol, seemed so monstrous, that it was some time ere the captive brigand could be brought to give it credence. Cowen, with some hundreds of pounds in his pocket,* obtained his free pardon, and returned to England, a more blood-stained monster, than any that remained to expiate their offences with their lives.” (Pages 74, 75. Vol. 2, 1840.)

Such of the bushrangers who temporarily escaped pursuit after the capture of Brady, were all shot, or taken soon afterwards, the last survivor being an old and daring offender named Dunne. But very few particulars have been preserved of the last days of their career in any published reports. The only two newspapers that were then established, are silent or nearly so on these subjects, for it so happened that just after the fall of these men, all the energies of the Government were employed in the task of trying to crush one of them out of existence, for attacking its policy and exposing certain acts of maladministration, as it thought them, and as these two journals took quite opposite views of the subjects under review, every number of them is filled, or nearly so, with controversial matter, arising out of the so-called libels of the delinquent journal, that is even more intolerable to the reader of the present day, than the party squabbles of Messieurs Pott and Shirk; and the subject of those prosecutions, as well as I can make it out, just as immaterial as the egg-shell war between the rival States of Lilliput and Blefuscu. Amidst all this blazing, very little is to be gleaned about any topic except themselves; and even the trial of Brady is nearly lost in the noise and confusion of this editorial scuffle. A ray or two of light does however sometimes break through the gloom, and we hear of Brady’s attempted escapes from gaol, as named before; and one anecdote characteristic of this man is also vouchsafed us of the incidents of his gaol life.

Amongst his many companions in misfortune and confinement was the brute Jeffreys, formerly a flagellator and executioner, a man of horrid character and crimes, whom Brady had always vowed he would shoot if he ever met him in the bush; and now, finding him amongst his cell-companions, he sent for the turnkey Dodding, and authoritatively demanded the instant removal of this execrable creature to another cell, failing which, as he told him, he “should find him without his head” at his next visit. The determined bearing of Brady enforced immediate compliance, and they were separated accordingly. (Colonial Times, April 28th, 1826.)

On Tuesday, the 25th April, Brady and five of his old boat associates, and some others, were led into the Supreme Court to stand their trials for a multitude of offences. When called upon to plead Guilty or Not Guilty to the charges as they were read out to him by the clerk of the Court, Brady – who knew the general indifference of military juries, who in those days tried all criminal cases, to men of his class – avowed his intention of pleading guilty to every charge that might be brought against him, whether he were guilty of it or not (for which expression the Judge, whom Brady was eventually brought up for sentence, took care to admonish him none too kindly.) He himself was tried, firstly, for assaulting Private William Andrews, of the 40th regiment, “and stealing his musket,” secondly, for the robbery and burning of the premises of Mr. W. D. Lawrence; and lastly, for the murder of Thomas Kenton; to all of which charges he pleaded guilty, though he was not guilty, in his own person at least, of the burning of Lawrence’s house; but regarding his trial as he did, as a mere formal preliminary to a sentence of death, he treated the entire proceeding as a mockery, his doom, he believed, being in effect already registered, and his plea, therefore, of no moment. He was found guilty and remanded for sentence along with the others.†

Accordingly, on the following Saturday, they were all ranged in the dock again, and sentenced to die, twelve in all, including the barbarians Jeffreys and Perry. Of the remarks of the Chief Justice at this time nothing is reported, excepting that “it would have been a satisfaction if he could have considered that Brady and Bryant had pleaded guilty through contrition; but he feared it was done from bad feeling, and rather dictated from a motive to cast a sneer on the proceedings of justice.” This is all that is recorded. But I have been informed by Mr. McKay, who was present, that the address of the Judge was a very protracted one, and that he especially singled out Brady for animadversion, touching on the Kenton tragedy, and probably not knowing all the causes that led to that deplorable transaction (for Brady refused to give even one word of explanation) he addressed him with great severity. The bushranger listened to every syllable, but spoke not a word, nor did he betray, by any change of expression, the smallest concern at the bitter words of the Judge ; “but,” says the Colonial Times, “he behaved with the utmost fortitude and firmness.”

“On the return of these unfortunate men to gaol,” writes the Colonial Times, “Tilley offered to shake hands with Brady, who refused with much contempt. McKenny also refused to speak to him. This was on account of their supposing he had given information.” But at this time they did not know who their real betrayers were.

It was about this time that Governor Arthur called at the gaol. My old friend Wedge gives some account of his interview with Brady, at which he was present. It is as follows: “After Brady was taken, the Governor visited the Gaol, and saw him in the cell in which he was confined. I, with one or two others, was present. I forget who they were. The Governor, from something that was said, remarked approvingly upon the forbearance of Brady, in abstaining from acts of personal violence at the places he had robbed, but expressed surprise that he should have committed such a cold blooded murder as that he had perpetrated on a man of the name of Kenton. At the mention of this man’s name Brady became exceedingly excited, “Ah sir,” he replied “I determined to shoot him, wherever I met him. The villain was in league with me, he planned half the robberies I committed, then betrayed and caused me to be taken prisoner. I shot him, and do not regret having done so.” Mr. Wedge then gives the particulars of Brady’s capture at Kenton’s hut, which I need not repeat, as it does not vary much from my own account of it.

Of the twelve men who were allotted to die at this time, Brady and four others were placed on the scaffold on the morning of Thursday, the 4th of May, 1826, and all the rest suffered next day.

After death, his body was removed to the General Hospital. It was interred in the cemetery of the Catholics, whose religion he professed, and his grave was long marked by a cairn of stones that were removed, I am told, about six years ago. He was a robust but short man, and is described in what may be styled the hue-and-cry portion of the old Gazette, as five feet and a half inches high.

I will close this account with one more extract from Martin’s Magazine :– “The writer of this paper, naturally felt a great desire to see a man who had created such a prodigious sensation, not only by the number and daring character of his deeds, but who had evinced so considerable a degree of generosity, even in his worst offences. Accordingly he was admitted to the gaol, in company of the late Colonial Surgeon.

“Near the foot of the fatal scaffold they were so speedily to ascend, heavily ironed, were seated Brady, with Bryant and McKenny. They seemed to be in earnest conversation, but inclined their heads respectfully at our approach. Brady possessed a fine, open, manly, but not handsome countenance, a strong well knit frame, bespeaking great capability of endurance. His physiognomy was prepossesing, a gift further enhanced by an easy address; his wounded leg was still unhealed, and his comrade McKenny was still on crutches. Pity and regret were the predominant emotions as the surgeon thus broke silence, ‘Well Brady, how are you to-day? Is your leg any better.’

“The bushranger gazed at us for a moment; then with an ‘Oh,’ and a jerk of the head in the direction of the standing gallows, seemed by that significant gesture to reply, that in a few days all on earth would be well enough for him.

“On the 4th of May,” (the writer says the 11th, but this is a mistake) 1826, he ascended the scaffold, maintaining his constancy unshaken to the last. His demeanour, while it was perfectly firm, was devoid of all unseemly levity and bravado. Fully impressed with his dreadful position he evinced a resolution to surmount it. * * * * The drop fell, and after a few convulsive struggles, the dreaded freebooter who had struck Tasmania with terror and dismay, hung an inanimate and impotent mass of clay.”

“Here ends the story of a misspent life.”

14th August, 1873.

Of all wretched existences, that of a bushranger in Tasmania seems to have been the most unhappy. In the earliest years of settlement, when police and military were few, it may have been just endurable; but directly this state of things ceased, it became insupportable, and nothing but the certainty of death if taken kept any one of them that I have read of from surrendering. Even Howe’s gang, Governor Sorell tells us, wanted to give in, and would have done so but for the influence of their leaders, who were deserters, and therefore offenders both against the military and civil laws, one or the other of which would have certainly done for them sixty years ago. Howe himself, who was six years in the bush, described the life of those of his class as one of constant terror and disquietude, saying, on one occasion that “he believed the life of the damned was nothing to it.” Brady, says the late George Washington Walker, when interrogated by Colonel Arthur on the same subject, pretended at first that it was one of great enjoyment, saying “There is no place like the bush, Governor.” By and bye, however, he told a different story, and acknowledged it was one of complete wretchedness. For many weeks before his capture, he had not known an hour’s undisturbed repose. He made the same admissions to Mr. Wedge, when the latter was his prisoner at Lake Arthur. “He told me,” says Wedge, “that the life of a bushranger was very wretched and, miserable, that they were, in constant dread of being fallen in with – that the least noise in the forests startled them, and that they were obliged to be on the alert night and day for fear of parties coming suddenly on them, I asked why they did not surrender themselves? The reply was, ‘We know our fate when taken, and will live as long as we can;'” and Mr. Denne, who was in this man’s hands for six days, reported his experiences of their camp lives as follows :– “They lead a miserable and terror struck life. They are constantly on guard during the night, and not a creature can stir or a sound be heard, than they are instantly filled with alarm. They frequently debate and quarrel for hours together, about their future proceedings. The guard is relieved every two hours. They are constantly expressing disgust at their mode of life, and the certainty of being speedily apprehended.” (Gazette, 20th Nov., 1825.)

Such was bushranging, and such the lives of those who followed it; and though the alarm they created, which a few of us still remember, was great, it was like repose and quiet to what they suffered themselves; and we of the present day have much to be thankful for, that in the entirely altered, circumstances of the colony, we know nothing of the disturbances that the generation which preceded us in the occupation of the country were the daily witnesses of.

*Two of the men employed to betray Brady’s gang received each £400, and went home in the ship Medway, which sailed 26th April, 1826. (See Colonial Times, April 21st); of the other I can discover nothing.

† A writer in the Colonial Magazine, speaking of this trial, says that “he,” Brady, “as well as the other. Behaved with the most respectful firmness. Being asked his plea on the first indictment (he was arraigned on many) he replied with the utmost composure, ”Guilty, your honour; I shall plead guilty to all, and much more than you can bring against me. It would, therefore, be only wasting your honour’s time, and that of the gentlemen of the jury, to proceed.’ His name bring included with others, the trial did proceed, and upon the same question having been put on every fresh count, he always smilingly answered ‘Guilty.’

“He received his sentence with the same unshaken fortitude, and bowing easily and respectfully to the judge and jury, he and his confederates were reconducted to their cell,”

The Dark Side of the Law

It is no surprise that things were very different in the colonial era. However, it can be a shock when we discover just how different things were – especially in relation to crime and punishment.

While flogging, leg irons and solitary confinement are well-known aspects of law enforcement in the colonial era, they merely graze the surface of how grim things could get in the name of upholding the law. Below are just some examples of the way law was enforced throughout the colonial era, giving some degree of context to why many convicts resorted to bushranging.

Relics of convict discipline, Beattie Studio, Hobart, c1914–41. [SLV]

The Bloody Code

Arising in the 17th century, the “bloody code” described the harsh stance on crime taken by the British authorities. Under this code, hundreds of offences became punishable by death ranging from severe crimes such as treason and murder, through to relatively minor ones such as property theft and creating a disturbance. The idea was to prevent crime against property by making the penalty so harsh for even minor charges that it became too big of a risk. It was later deemed that it was creating an awful waste of life, do many cases that would have been hanging offences were commuted to transportation sentences. Inevitably it was apparent that this approach was heavily slanted against the poor, but this was not acknowledged with any considerable sense of guilt or urgency to rectify the imbalance.

It wasn’t until 1823, when the New South Wales Act was passed in Britain, that Australia was able to craft its own laws. Up to this point it was British law without any regional variation to compensate for differences in circumstances between the British Isles and the Australian penal settlements. This meant that the harsh approach to law enforcement continued in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land in exactly the same way as it did in the motherland.

With such a dim view of crime that positioned even the most paltry of offences as worthy of death sentences, the act of pursuing fugitives in Australia was treated more like pest control than pursuing the course of justice. Bushrangers and bolters would face almost certain death if they came across soldiers, or constables (in the early days this was the title given to men specifically employed to recapture escaped convicts), or bounty hunters. If they were not shot, they would almost certainly hang. At that stage defendants were tried before a panel of judges, trial by jury wouldn’t come into place until the mid-1820s. It was rare for a defendant to get off with a term of imprisonment rather than death, with most prisoners resigning themselves to their fate.

With a mindset such as this, it is hardly surprising that the following punishments could evolve. It should be stressed that they are not for the squeamish.


One of the most infamous corporal punishments that were doled out to convicts was flogging. This was the most simple punishment, designed as a retribution for misdeeds and as a deterrent for other criminally minded individuals.

Typically, the victim would be bound to a tripod, known as “the triangle”, with their back exposed. They would be stripped to the waist and whipped repeatedly. The instrument of torture was a scourge that consisted of a handle and nine knotted strands of rope, hardened with tar. This was referred to as the “cat-o-nine-tails”, and the long lacerations that it left behind were described as a “cat’s scratch”. The minimum number of lashes was usually 50 (colloquially known as a “tickler”), though the maximum tended to fluctuate depending on the views on the safety of such a punishment at any particular time.

Cat-o-nine-tails [Hyde Park Barracks Collection.]

The wounds from flogging were typically quite considerable. It was not unheard of for a man to receive 150 lashes and have the flesh on his back left as bloodied pulp. A doctor was always to be in attendance to monitor the convict during proceedings, once the prevalence of convicts dying from the punishment became a cause for concern to authorities. If the offender passed out he would be splashed with water to revive him before resumption of the flogging. If he remained unconscious he was taken to his cell to rest before resuming the punishment. Following the flogging, the recipient would usually be taken to the infirmary where the wounds would be washed with salt water. After a few days, when the wounds began to heal, they would be sent back to work.

Women and children were not usually flogged, though there are anecdotes of women receiving lashes. Typically they would be struck with a cane (referred to

In some cases these whips and scourges were modified to make them even more damaging. For example, on Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour (also known as Hell’s Gates) the strands of the cat-o-nine-tails were laced with pieces of lead to ensure that each stroke broke the skin and inflicted as much pain as possible. This more brutal variation of the flaggellator’s tool became known as the “Macquarie Cat”.

In the case of many early bushrangers, flogging was a trigger to their taking the bush. Matthew Brady, for example, had received over 500 lashes by the time he escaped from Sarah Island. The dehumanising effect of such punishment was also a key factor in why William Westwood kicked off a murderous riot on Norfolk Island. Such was the traumatic effect of flogging on convict era bushrangers, that many, such as the Jewboy Gang, used the same to exact revenge on tyrannical masters or other authority figures.

Source: Police News, 03/06/1876 [SLV]

Hanging in Chains

One of the most infamous punishments utilised by the English was “hanging in chains”. This was the practice of displaying the corpse of a freshly executed criminal in a series of iron hoops and chains or a special cage made of bars and hoops called a gibbet, in a public area to act as a deterrent to other potential miscreants.

In New South Wales, this practice was carried out on Pinchgut Island (Fort Denison) in Sydney Harbour, where one body was known to have been gibbetted publicly for four years. It is said that this, above all else, terrified the local Aboriginal peoples who believe in treating the dead body as sacred. They believed that if a body was not laid to rest, the spirit was unable to rest.

In Bathurst, the bodies of the Ribbon Boys were gibbetted along the streets. The dozen men who were hanged for treason in their attempted rebellion lined the area now known as Ribbon Gang Lane.

Photograph of the skeleton and chains used to gibbet a man convicted of murder and hung at Goulburn around 1832-1833, taken between 1876 and 1877. [Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales]

In Perth, Tasmania, there was an area referred to as Gibbet Hill. Here a gibbet allowed a body to be displayed as people entered and exited the township. In 1837, bushranger John McKay was hung in chains here for many months. When the body was taken down the head was removed for phrenological study.

A key location for gibbetting was Hunter Island in Hobart. A small landmass just offshore near the docks, it was the perfect place to send a message to miscreants in the old English way.

On this tiny lump convicts were executed on wooden gallows and their corpses “hung in chains” from a gibbet post on the shoreline. The bodies would remain in place until they were deemed to have had a suitable deterrent effect, whereupon they were typically buried on the island. This is what happened to the headless body of bushranger James Whitehead.

During an attempted raid on Dennis McCarty’s farm by Michael Howe’s gang, Whitehead was shot and killed by soldiers. His gang members then removed the head to prevent the soldiers or McCarty from claiming the reward on it. The headless body was subsequently taken into Hobart Town, where it was hung in chains. It seems, from some accounts, that it remained in place long enough to be joined by the severed heads of Whitehead’s colleagues George “Bumpy” Jones and Michael Howe. Governor Macquarie would express dismay that he did not have the rest of Howe’s body to display as it had been buried in a shallow grave where it fell.

Hunter Island was later joined to the rest of the waterfront by filling in the gap with dirt to create a causeway, whereupon it ceased its function as a place of execution and displaying corpses, and became an industrial area.

A Price on Their Head

In the early days of colonial Australia, when a fugitive had “a price on their head” it was very literal. Whereas nowadays such terms as “headhunter” have more figurative meanings, they derive from days when a bounty hunter would take a severed head as a receipt to the relevant authorities in order to claim the reward for the capture of a fugitive. It was far easier to carry a head in a flour sack than lug a full corpse around. Due to the “Bloody Code”, there were no qualms about killing suspects as the presumption of guilt meant that they would likely be hanged anyway.

In some cases the severed heads would be put on public display; in Hobart the heads were put on spikes on Hunter Island, where the corpses of executed criminals were also displayed in gibbets. Other times the heads would be stripped of flesh and the skull used for “medical study”.

When Richard Lemon was shot dead, his head was removed and his arrested accomplice Brown was forced to carry it into Hobart Town. Perhaps the most infamous case of this happening was Michael Howe in 1818, who was decapitated after being shot, bayonetted and bludgeoned to death by soldiers. His head was displayed in Hobart and generated much interest from the locals. A similar fate had befallen other members of his gang, and in fact when Howe’s mate, James Whitehead, was shot by soldiers the head was removed by the gang so that the reward could not be claimed.

[From The Outlaw Michael Howe]

A Fate Worse than Death?

For most condemned men it was terrible enough to be sentenced to death, but to offenders of a Catholic faith there was something that brought even greater dread: dissection.

It was commonplace for universities and medical schools to get their cadavers from the prisons, where there was a steady supply of freshly executed bodies to cut up for examination. Students and veterans alike practiced their surgical trade on the bodies, often preserving pieces in jars.

This was particularly terrifying for Catholics who believed in the resurrection, and more precisely that the body needed to remain intact for that purpose. Therefore, for Catholics the sentence of dissection meant that not only would their earthly life be cut short, but they would also be denied eternal life. The sentence was a fate worse than death, for it meant perpetual punishment in eternity.

The Art of Hanging

In Australia, the only form of execution generally carried out was hanging. At the beginning of the colonial era, hanging utilised what was called the short drop method. In some locations a condemned person would be taken to a sturdy tree, upon which was affixed a rope with a noose on the end. In these cases the condemned usually stood on the back of a dray with the noise around their neck, and they would drop when the dray was moved away. In other places there would be a gallows scaffold made, so that multiple executions could take place at once. In these cases the condemned would fall through a trap door on a shortened rope. The short drop was quite ineffective as it strangled the condemned to death, which was a rather drawn out process.

Execution of Michael Magee. This illustrates in great detail the tools of destruction for a short-drop hanging. [Source]

In response to the inefficiency of the short drop, a long drop method was devised. This resulted in a much quicker death when down correctly. Essentially, as the body had to fall further, the weight abruptly stopping at the end of the rope would cause the neck to snap, causing a relatively painless and instant death. However, to do it properly required many calculations to be made to account for the height and weight of the condemned and how they impacted on the velocity of the fall and in turn that would define the length of the rope. Placement of the slipknot behind the ear was also important, as this would mean a sidewards snap, which would better break the neck.

The stages of a hanging, depicted on the front page of the Police News (14/04/1877).

As most hangmen were merely prisoners looking for time off their sentence, many of whom were illiterate or innumerate, needless to say it rarely went smoothly. Poor quality ropes would snap. A rope that was too short would cause strangulation, while a rope that was too long could result in decapitation.

There were many botched hangings of bushrangers. One of the most infamous was Henry Manns, who was hanged for his role in the Eugowra Rocks heist. His rope was too short and he was strangled to death slowly in front of a crowd, with the attending gaolers having to yank down on his legs to try and snap his neck. One of Jack Donohoe’s accomplices, William Smith, went through the drop with a cheap, dodgy rope, which snapped. When he came too he was under the dead bodies of the other men he was hanged with, resting against his own coffin – naturally he screamed hysterically. After much deliberation it was decided to hang him again with a better rope. The second hanging went as planned.

Moondyne Joe’s Cell

Moondyne Joe was so proficient at escaping from custody that a special cell was built for him in Fremantle. However, the cramped space, combined with poor ventilation and being chained in place led to Joe becoming gravely ill. On doctor’s orders he was permitted to engage in labour outside once a day, on his own, in the courtyard.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Moondyne Joe positioned himself behind the pile of stone that had been brought in for him to smash. Once he was certain he couldn’t be clearly seen by the guard, he proceeded to smash a hole in the perimeter wall with his hammer when he was supposed to be breaking rocks. Soon he had made a hole big enough to squeeze through and made his way to freedom. By the time the guard had realised what had happened it was too late, and Moondyne Joe was off to the bush again.

The escape-proof cell [Wikimedia Commons]

Cruel and Unusual Punishments

Perhaps no other figure in penal history in Australia is as infamous as John Giles Price. Price was the son of a baronet, and had moved to Van Diemen’s Land with his wife in 1836. Through his connections he gained the role of muster master of convicts and assistant police magistrate then in 1846 became the commandant of Norfolk Island. Price was to gain his infamy for his callous and dehumanising treatment of convicts. He believed in punishing the offenders through whatever means possible to deter further misbehaviour, with the punishments ranging from the moderate to the extreme.

A perfect illustration of this is presented in the punishment of Rocky Whelan, a convict who had spent much time on the island and would later go on to become one of Tasmania’s most deadly bushrangers.

The man was a native of County Wexford, and knew me at home when a boy. He informed me that he had been seventeen years on the island, and had not the slightest hope of ever leaving it; but his trials were only then about to commence, as the next time I saw him he was handcuffed to a lamp post, his hands tied behind his back, and a gag in his mouth, secured round his head by something resembling a head-stall, and there he remained exposed to the burning sun and the attack of flies and other insects for eight hours, merely for having a bit of tobacco in his possession. Besides this treatment Whelan had been repeatedly flogged, imprisoned in the dark cells with the black gag — a favorite instrument of torture at the time — in his mouth for eight consecutive hours at a stretch, it being the opinion of the doctor that the punishment could not be applied for a longer period without endangering the life of the prisoner. This gag, Cash tells us, was generally inflicted for some disrespect, whether real or imaginary, on the part of the prisoner towards the officials, when on their tour of inspection round the solitary cells. Whelan had been reduced to a skeleton, and the wounds on his back rarely had time to heal before being opened afresh by the cat, and all for some trivial offence such as men tioned. Under this treatment Whelan finally became so callous that he seemed to regard the lash, the dark cells, and all the rest of Price’s contrivances with the most: perfect indifference.

Source: Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW : 1900 – 1954), Wednesday 7 August 1912, page 3

Another punishment Price seemingly enjoyed applying was the “pepper mill”. This punishment usually followed a flogging and saw the flogged man sent to grind cayenne pepper into dust. The convict was required to wear a mask for his own safety. The dust filled their eyes and lungs, and even stuck to their still-fresh lacerations as they crushed the peppers with a wheel. This would be repeated until Price was convinced that the lesson had been learned.

John Giles Price [WIkimedia Commons]

Later, the Australian gold rush had seen the population explode, and along with it came an explosion in crime. Ironically, the prisons soon became full and the Australian authorities were in a bind about what to do with the overcrowding. The solution came in the form of the acquisition of a fleet of abandoned ships that were converted into prison hulks. In Williamstown, at Point Gellibrand, the two harshest hulks in the fleet were Success and President. Here, the worst offenders were sent to be straightened out. Their possessions were destroyed; they were stripped, shaved bald, washed and deloused; then, after being uniformed, transferred to their cell. Talking of any kind was prohibited, as was any form of reading (including the Holy Bible), and the tiny portholes kept the prisoners in almost absolute darkness.

However, things got worse if any rules were broken. Typical punishments could be reduction in rations, being chained to the boltholes on deck, being flogged, or solitary confinement in the dark cell (known as the “black hole”). Another punishment was putting offenders in a cell that was too small to stand upright in. They were then suspended by their hands from the roof just high enough off the floor that they couldn’t sit down. The porthole was just on the waterline, and water would seep in through the mesh over the hole.

Another popular punishment in the hulks was to put irons on the ankles of the offender, and to lock their hands in a device that was essentially an iron bar, tethered to a belt at the waist. This kept their hands too far apart to allow them to effectively manipulate objects, or even to feed themselves.

It should come as no surprise that many of these punishments became popular on the hulks when John Giles Price was employed as the inspector general of prisons. It would prove to be his downfall as during a routine visit to the quarry at Point Gellibrand to inspect the convicts, he incited an attack by informing a convict that under the new rules that had just been implemented, any infraction would give prisoners an extra six months onto their sentence. This convict had been reprimanded for a very minor offence and only had one month left on his sentence, but under the new ruling he would have to remain on Success for an extra half a year. The furious convicts set upon Price with their tools and beat him to death on the beach.

Wax statue of a convict in “slops” on Success. [Author’s collection]

Maddening Silence

In the 19th century prisons began to adopt a Quaker ideal that the ultimate punishment is to leave the offender to ruminate on their misdeeds and punish themselves. To this end, prisoners were individually lodged in cells, all of which were juxtaposed to prevent the inmate looking across to another prisoner, and they were to remain in complete silence and isolation. In Port Arthur, this was known as the “model” or “separate” prison, and was reserved for the worst of the worst. While most prisoners were kept in the penitentiary, which was essentially a large dormitory, the separate prison was arranged in the panopticon style – a central guard point with corridors extending outwards to allow maximum visibility.

Corridor at Model Prison, Port Arthur. [Tasmanian Archives]

The “dark cell” in the separate prison took this to the next level by keeping the inmate in complete darkness. Modern studies have demonstrated that a human can spend thirty days in solitary confinement before suffering mental illness, but in the days when Port Arthur was operating inmates could be locked up in solitary for months. The bushranger William Westwood declared that after one of his many escapes he was sent by Commandant Booth to spend three months in the dark cell. The insane prisoners became a big problem for the authorities at Port Arthur and a lunatic asylum was built to house the men that had been completely broken by the treatment.

The corridors were carpeted to nullify the sound of movement, and inmates and guards wore cloth slippers for the same purpose. All verbalising was prohibited and inmates communicated with their guards using sign language. When moving around outside the cells the inmates wore calico masks that hid their identities to prevent recognition by other inmates. The result of such profound isolation and silence was that many of the prisoners began to suffer insanity, with hallucinations being a common symptom.

Many of the features of this system were adopted by prisons more broadly in the coming decades, notably the use of masks, silence and social isolation. However, in many cases these were employed only at the outset of a prisoner’s sentence to break them in, or as a punishment for rowdier inmates. Prisoners would be shifted to new cells every time they came back from work and were only referred to by the number pinned to their shirt, or their cell number.


Leg Irons

One of the most common punishments for offenders was to be put in leg irons. This saw iron shackles being placed around the ankles, joined together with an iron chain or attached to a ball and chain. The shackles – or irons – were riveted together by a blacksmith to make it more difficult to remove them, thus making them permanent for the duration of the prisoner’s sentence (though convict-made irons tended to be far less durable than those made by professional blacksmiths). In rare instances prisoners were able to mangle the irons in order to get their feet out.

The ball and chain was more typical on convict ships, with the device being removed upon arrival in Australia. Naturally the deterrent effect came from the very real risk of the weighted iron ball dragging the offender down if they jumped overboard. However, most existing examples of the ball and chain were actually replicas made in the 1860s and later as souvenirs, when the closure of many of the penal colonies saw a thriving tourism industry develop. During this time many of the “facts” about life in the convict era were spread by tour guides looking to shock and titillate their audiences.

Ball and chain [Sydney Living Museums]

Typically, offenders would have heavier irons attached depending on the severity of their offence. This could be in the form of thicker irons or heavier chains; the worse the behaviour, the heavier the irons. It was reported that while he was doing time on Norfolk Island, Martin Cash was at one time made to wear shackles as thick as a man’s arm, making him barely mobile.

As the irons were permanently attached to the convict’s ankles until a blacksmith removed them, they were forced to undertake literally every action with them on, including sleeping. In order to be able to undress while wearing the irons, convict uniforms featured trousers that lacked a fly, but rather buttoned up on the outside of the leg.

It was not uncommon for some offenders to have spent so much time in leg irons that it permanently crippled their ankles and feet. The infamous Tasmanian convict Mark Jeffrey was so badly crippled by his time in irons that he required two walking sticks to be able to move or stand. Due to the way the irons would bruise and break the skin, convicts began using strips of cloth bound around the ankle and big toe to try and pad against the shackle. This was referred to as a “toe rag”, and eventually became used as a derogatory term for a former convict.

Typically, the chain would be kept from dragging along the ground by attaching a cord to the central ring and connecting it to a belt around the waist. There were variations on the theme, of course, with one being belts on the calf that kept the irons from dragging – as depicted in photos of the Clarke brothers following their capture.

Rules for Prisoners and items of discipline such as handcuffs and chains. [Tasmanian Archives]

Time Marches On

In time the use of capital and corporal punishment in Australia was phased out, though not until well into the 20th century in some cases. As late as 1958 men were sentenced to be flogged, the last two being William John O’Meally and John Henry Taylor. As for execution, the last person legally executed in Australia was Ronald Ryan in 1967, though the death penalty was still applicable up until 1985, when New South Wales were the last to abolish it.

Given the cruel and severe nature of many of the punishments that convicts faced, it is little wonder that so many “took the bush” and why so many bushrangers would rather have died in battle than be captured alive. There is no evidence to suggest the severity of the punishments acted as a deterrent any more than a good upbringing and fair treatment. Indeed, many commentators viewed the prisons as a breeding ground for criminals as the old hands gave tuition to the young offenders. The punishments also had a brutalising effect on many, as evidenced by the later deeds of William Westwood and Rocky Whelan following years of floggings, solitary confinement and other punishments. It seems that the socio-economic factors in crime were overlooked or misinterpreted, with crime broadly considered the province of the underclasses. Indeed, many of the crimes people were subject to these punishments for breaking were crimes against property, demonstrating that the punishments were not so much about morals as they were about preventing the poor from competing with the ruling class over wealth and resources. Not much has changed, as there are many people that continue to campaign for the reintroduction of these extreme measures for many of the same reasons.