On this date in 1913, Ernest Austin was hanged at Brisbane’s Boggo Road Gaol — the last person to suffer that fate in Queensland.
Austin stalked an 11-year-old girl down a dirt road — one that inconveniently recorded the distinctive prints of his heel-less boot — and raped and murdered her.
This “mental deficient” (“The State Slays Its Own Creation,” headlined an anti-death penalty newspaper, alluding to Austin’s institutionalized upbringing) was resigned to his fate even prior to conviction. Resigned enough to hurry it along.
Witness opened the cell door, and found accused standing with an upturned cell bucket by his side. O’Callaghan shook out all the blankets, and found a rope plaited of three strips torn off a blanket. Witness said to accused:—”You should not do anything rash.” Accused replied:—”I will be hanged anyhow.” Witness then said:—”You are not found guilty yet.” Accused said:—”I admit I murdered the girl.”
Little wonder the government wasn’t interested in clemency.
Nine years later, Queensland became the first Australian state to abolish the death penalty.
Austin’s ghost is supposed to haunt Boggo Road Gaol to this day, even though the section of the prison where he died has long since been demolished. The haunting story seemingly rests on an urban legend that Austin was some outsizedly diabolical creature and not the run-of-the-mill pathetic malefactor that a century’s perspective might suggest.