Posts filed under 'Australia'

1951: Jean Lee, the last woman to hang in Australia

Add comment February 19th, 2018 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Jean Lee, an attractive 31-year-old redhead, made history as the last woman to hang in Australia when she went to the gallows in Pentridge prison in the Coburg suburb of Melbourne in Victoria state on the morning of Monday, February 19th, 1951. She and her two male companions were hanged for the murder of 73-year-old dwelling house landlord and bookmaker, William “Pop” Kent.

Jean Lee was apparently quite intelligent and a bit rebellious at school and had a succession of dead end jobs from which she soon left or was fired.

She married at 18 and lived with her husband for about nine years before leaving him and entrusting her daughter to her mother. She had a relationship with a petty criminal who got her into prostitution with American servicemen. He acted as her pimp whilst she worked to support them both.

She left him for another professional criminal, Robert David Clayton, with whom she fell deeply in love. As is so often the case, she became caught in a downward spiral. She was in love with a criminal who abused her and used her in his criminal activities.

These centered principally on what was known as the “badger game.” Lee, at the time, a voluptuous and attractive woman would pick up men and get them to a hotel room, their own home, or a car where she would appear to be about to have sex with them. Once they were semi-naked and vulnerable, Clayton would appear in the role of outraged husband and demand money from them. Usually the victims handed over their ready cash but kept quiet for fear of their wives finding out or of being ridiculed — so it was a fairly safe bet. If they were not forthcoming Clayton would beat them up. It was a scheme that had worked well, although at least two previous cases had been reported to the police.
On the evening of November 7th, 1949, Lee, Clayton and a third accomplice, Norman Andrews, whom Clayton had met in prison, saw William Kent in a Melbourne hotel lounge. Jean Lee had several drinks with Kent and soon succeeded in persuading the old man to take her back to his apartment where she tried to pick his pockets.

However, Mr. Kent, although inebriated and quite elderly, was of sterner stuff. He put up a fight with Lee which was ended when Clayton and Andrews entered his room. Mr. Kent was systematically kicked, beaten and tortured over the next hour in an attempt to get him to reveal where he kept his money. His hands had been tied behind his back and his thumbs tied together with bootlaces. He had been repeatedly stabbed with a small knife and was finally manually strangled.

The trio were soon arrested at their hotel and bloodstained clothing was found in Lee’s and Andrew’s rooms. At police headquarters, they were questioned in separate rooms where each initially denied their involvement and then started to blame the others.

They came to trial on March 20th, 1950 at Melbourne’s Criminal Court and the proceedings lasted six days. As each had tried to shift the blame on to the others in their statements to the police, the trial judge Mr. Justice Gavan Duffy explained the law of “common purpose” to the jury, i.e. that when three people take part in a violent robbery and murder they are all equally guilty, irrespective of which one had actually strangled Mr. Kent. The jury took less than three hours to find them all guilty and they were sentenced to death. Lee became hysterical whilst Clayton shouted abuse at the jury.

Their appeal was heard by the Court of Criminal Appeal and was upheld by a two to one majority decision on the 23rd of June 1950. The Appeal Court ruled that their statements to the police had been obtained improperly as the statement of one was used to extract confessions from the other two. They were thus granted a retrial. However, this was not to be as the High Court overturned the Appeal Court and reinstated the convictions and sentences.

There was considerable protest, led by left-wing and feminist groups, when Lee was sentenced to death. However, it seemed to primarily be against the execution of a woman by hanging, rather than the execution of women per se.

Lee would became the first woman to be hanged in Victoria since Emma Williams in November 1895. She had aged noticeably during her time in prison and suffered violent mood swings — now abusing her wardresses, next begging them for an alcoholic drink. She told one of her wardresses: “I just didn’t do it. I haven’t enough strength in my hands to choke anyone. Bobby was stupid but the old man was trying to yell for help. None of us meant to kill him.”

It was decided that Lee should be the first to hang at 8 am, the two men being executed two hours later.

She was heavily sedated as she shuffled under escort to a double cell near the gallows. Her weight was recorded as 7 stone 6 lbs, her height as 5′ 7″ and the drop was set at 8 feet exactly.

Sheriff William Daly was required to read the death warrant to her. She collapsed on seeing the hangman and his assistant — both wearing “massive steel rimmed goggles [with a] soft felt hat … to ensure that they were not recognised in the future”. A doctor examined her and found she was unconscious. However, the execution had to proceed so Daly continued to read out the details of her conviction and sentence although she would not have heard a word of it — if she had, she would have spotted a mistake (the date on which she had been sentenced).

Because of her state of collapse, the executioner pinioned her arms in front of rather than behind her back as was normal. His assistant then pinioned her legs with a strap whilst he put the white hood on her head, and they carried her from the cell the few yards to the gallows where she had to be placed on a chair on the trap. Her head drooped to her chest and the executioner had to pull it back in order to adjust the noose correctly.

The flap of the hood, which was to cover her face, had been left open. At a signal from the sheriff, the executioner dropped the flap to obscure her face, stood back from the trap and pulled the lever. The trap fell and both she and the chair plummeted through. The chair had been secured to the gallows by a cord and although it fell with her, the two parted company at the end of the drop leaving her suspended normally. Her weight was recorded as 7 stone 6 lbs, her height as 5’ 7” and the drop was set at 8 feet exactly. The knot was positioned under her left ear and death was said to be “instantaneous”. At 8.05 am the prison doctor found no heartbeat. The death certificate was signed at 8.20.

Two hours later Clayton and Andrews, both mildly sedated, shared her fate.

Capital punishment ended in Australia with Victoria’s next execution, that of Ronald Ryan on the same gallows at Pentridge prison on the 3rd of February 1967.

A recent book, Jean Lee: The last woman hanged in Australia by Paul Wilson, Don Trebl and Robyn Lincoln casts doubt on the justice of her conviction and execution based upon the police interrogation methods and her part in the murders.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Pelf,Sex,Women

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1936: Edward Cornelius, vicarage murderer

Add comment June 22nd, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1936, Edward Cornelius hanged at Victoria’s Pentridge Gaol for the vicarage murder.

The Murder at the Vicarage also happens to be the title of Agatha Christie’s very first Miss Marple novel, published several years before the very real vicarage murder of Rev. Cecil.

One lonesome night the preceding December, Cornelius, a mechanic, turned his spanner on the aged head of plain-living 60-year-old Rev. Harold Laceby Cecil of St. Saviour’s — the horrible conclusion to Rev. Cecil’s 18-year ministry in Fitzroy, then one of Melbourne’s roughest neighborhoods.

Cornelius’s motive was robbery, and it was hardly the first time that Rev. Cecil had been braced for the few quid in donatives he kept on hand for charity cases. Though undeterred from his mission, Cecil was philosophical about repeated robberies: “I will get them, or they will get me.” According to Cornelius’s confession, it was the getting that got Cecil killed: surprised in the course of a midnight stealth pilfering of the vicarage study, Cornelius grabbed the tool of his other trade and clobbered the intercessor, repeatedly: there would be 17 distinct head wounds discerned by investigators.

He fled the vicarage with £8 and few gold and silver trinkets. Some, like a silver watch, he would discard as too incriminating; others, like a gold crucifix, he pawned to obtain ready cash and readier eyewitnesses against him.

A death-house chum of similarly notorious Arnold Sodeman — the two passed Sodeman’s last hours on earth together, playing draughts — Cornelius followed the latter’s steps to the same gallows three weeks later.

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1788: Thomas Barrett, the first hanged in Australia

Add comment February 27th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1788, Thomas Barrett became the first person legally executed in Great Britain’s Australian colonies when he hanged at Sydney Cove for stealing from government stores. It was barely a month after the First Fleet had arrived from England to found the penal colony.

More than just a milestone, Barrett packed an amazing criminal career into the few years he surfaces for us in the documentary record.

Our man was condemned to death in 1782 for stealing a silver watch, the first of three death sentences he would hear. That sentence was reprieved in favor of convict transportation, a system which had ground to a halt with the American Revolution and still awaited the creation of the Australian pipeline.

In 1783, a convict hulk that had been rejected by the now-independent North American colonies, the Swift, mutinied. Barrett would meet survivors of that mutiny who were stashed away with him on the Censor, one of the earliest of the Thames’ frightful stationary convict hulks where reprieved felons awaited their deportation.

In 1784, Barrett and one of the Swift mutineers, Charles Kellan, rebelled once again on their next convict transport ship, the Mercury — earning Barrett his second death sentence, and his second reprieve. Three more years on the fetid hulks ensued while legislators* and cartographers stroked their beards over Britain’s next move in the convict transportation game.

And this is when Australia the prison was invented. That First Fleet Barrett arrived on was a flotilla of eleven ships carrying 700 or so prisoners was it, the literal first European colony Down Under.

Besides being a man of spirit and enterprise, as his mutiny showed, Barrett was a skilled craftsman who enlivened the tiresome trip around the world by fashioning little metallic mementos. The journal of the ship’s surgeon John White narrates with more admiration than censure an escapade off the coast of Brazil that revealed Barret’s talent for counterfeiting.

This morning a boat came alongside, in which were three Portugueze and six slaves; from whom we purchased some oranges, plantains, and bread. In trafficking with these people, we discovered, that one Thomas Barret, a convict, had, with great ingenuity and address, passed some quarter dollars which he, assisted by two others, had coined out of old buckles, buttons belonging to the marines, and pewter spoons, during their passage from Teneriffe. The impression, milling, character, in a word, the whole was so inimitably executed, that had their metal been a little better, the fraud, I am convinced, would have passed undetected. A strict and careful search was made for the apparatus wherewith this was done, but in vain; not the smallest trace or vestige of any thing of the kind was to be found among them. How they managed this business without discovery, or how they could effect it at all, is a matter of inexpressible surprise to me; as they never were suffered to come near a fire; and a centinel was constantly placed over their hatchway, which, one would imagine, rendered it impossible for either fire or fused metal to be conveyed into their apartments. Besides, hardly ten minutes ever elapsed, without an officer of some degree or other going down among them. The adroitness, therefore, with which they must have managed, in order to complete a business that required so complicated a process, gave me a high opinion of their ingenuity, cunning, caution, and address; and I could not help wishing that these qualities had been employed to more laudable purposes.

Duly impressed, White found that more laudable purpose by commissioning Barrett to create a medallion celebrating the arrival of their vessel to Australian soil. This Charlotte Medal from Barrett’s hand is one of the most celebrated artifacts of Australian colonization; it depicts the Charlotte at anchor in Botany Bay with a narration on the reverse of its long journey from home:

Sailed the Charlotte of London from Spit head the 13 of May 1787. Bound for Botany Bay in th Island of new holland arriv,d at Teneriff th4 of June in Lat 28 13 N Long 16 23 W depart,d it 10 D’, arriv,d at rio janeiro 6 of Aug in Lat 22,54 S Long 42,38 W, depart,d it the 5 of Sep’ arriv,d at the Cape of good hope the 14 Oct’ in Lat 34 29 S Long 18 29 E depart,d it th13 of Nov’ and made the South Cape of New Holland the 8 of Jan 4 1788 in Lat 43,32 S Long 146,56 E arrivd at Botany Bay the 20 of Jun’ the Charlotte in Co in Lat 34.00 South Long 151.00 East distance from great Britan Miles 13106

But Barrett’s legitimate artistic career was as brief as it was scintillating.

The colony had a tight supply situation and its isolation and heavy convict population seemed to Governor Arthur Phillip to demand the strictest discipline, like that of a ship upon the sea: any significant failure of order could imperil the entire project. He assembled the little colony in early February to impress upon all that stealing rations would be harshly punished.

White, again, in his entry of February 27, 1788:

Thomas Barrett, Henry Lovel, and Joseph Hall, were brought before the criminal court, and tried for feloniously and fraudulently taking away from the public store beef and pease, the property of the crown. They were convicted on the clearest evidence; and sentence of death being passed on them, they were, about six o’clock the same evening, taken to the fatal tree; where Barrett was launched into eternity, after having confessed to the Rev. Mr. Johnson who attended him, that he was guilty of the crime, and had long merited the ignominious death which he was about to suffer, and to which he said he had been brought by bad company and evil company. Lovel and Hall were respited until six o’clock the next evening. When that awful hour arrived, they were led to the place of execution, and just as they were on the point of ascending the ladder, the judge advocate arrived with the governor’s pardon, on condition of their being banished to some uninhabited place.

As the infant colony had scarcely prioritized establishing an executioner right off the boat, one of Barrett’s fellows was pressed into the disreputable role. Another narrative underscores the tension this incident must have created among the convicts, half-starved and under the lash on the empire’s most distant moon. “The unhappy wretches were conducted wt. a party of Marines walking before them … with a large party of Marines drawn up opposite the Gallows … in case an insurrection should take place … & all the Convicts were summoned to see the deserved end of their Companions.” Hall and Lovel’s pardons should probably be read in this light; Phillip had a job to enforce obedience without triggering rebellion and once he had established the firmest precedent wisely reflected that the quality of mercy blesseth him that gives and him that takes. Two other thieves (of wine, in their case) named Daniel Gordon and John Williams were likewise condemned on the 29th of February only to be spared for banishment instead.


A small marker at Sydney’s Circular Quay commemorates Barrett’s execution. (cc) image by mazzle278.

Barrett is an important character in the BBC drama Banished.

* The Home Secretary who orchestrated the pivot to Australia was the Viscount Sydney: hence, the Australian city of Sydney.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Artists,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Theft

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1873: Elizabeth Woolcock, the only woman hanged in South Australia

Add comment December 30th, 2016 Headsman

Elizabeth Woolcock on December 30, 1873 became the first and only woman ever hanged in South Australia.

The daughter of a gold prospector, Elizabeth Oliver (as she was then) began a lifelong bout with chemical dependency when she became hooked on the opium used to treat her after she survived a rape at the tender age of seven. (This attack also left her permanently unable to bear children.)

At 19, she joined the Moonta household of alcoholic Cornish immigrant Thomas Woolcock — first as his housekeeper helping to mind the sole child to survive the tuberculotic ravages that had carried away his brother and mother, and within a few weeks as Woolcock’s wife.

Elizabeth was very young and had not known Thomas long. Her infelicitous choice opened an unhappy union that, in the trial to come, would mark her with an obvious motive for murder. “I have to put with it as long as I can but Tom has got so bad, that I cannot bear it any longer,” she wrote to her stepsister a few months before the events that would lead her to the gallows. “He is a perfect devil; and if stop [sic] here much longer I shall hang myself.”

Motivation aside, however, quite a few people not only latterly but also in Woolcock’s own time have suspected that she got a bum rap, product of shoddy medical evidence and a sort of self-confirming communal tunnel vision when Thomas wasted away over a period of weeks in 1873. Thomas Woolcock’s cousin in particular appears to have spearheaded the campaign to open a coroner’s investigation of the death aimed squarely at his widow.

Three different physicians treated Thomas from the time he fell ill at work on July 23 of that year until his death six weeks later. Drs. Bull, Dickie and Herbert each made different diagnoses and prescribed, as this examination of the case puts it, “a bizarre (to modern eyes at least) range of medication that included rhubarb, cream of tartar, mercury and lead acetate.”

Dr. Bull’s prescription of pills containing mercury seems like any obvious place to begin the inquiry since the government’s chemists concluded that mercury poisoning had killed the man, and since the erratic Bull had a chinashop-type relationship to medical competence. (Dr. Bull had done time in the insane asylum; a few months after Woolcock’s execution, he died of an opium overdose.)

Instead, and seemingly driven by the suspicions of local chin-waggers, the investigation and subsequent trial focused on Elizabeth’s acquisition of “poisons” in a dismayingly unspecific sense: she used her stepson to hustle the local druggist for morphine and opium to service her own addictions, and this was a “poison”; she obtained a dandruff medicine that (like many household products of its day) contained mercury, and this was a “poison”;* she had some strange draught called antinomial wine that she was seen to spice with sugar and this too was inferred a “poison”. It all painted Elizabeth Woolcock as a latter-day Tofana without quite telling a coherent story of how she went about killing her husband. It’s not even clear now — and was publicly questioned in 1873 — whether the initial determination of death by mercury poisoning was itself reliable, nor can be certain whether, if mercury is supposed to be the lethal agent, it alone accounts for the entire span from health to grave or if instead a small exposure from Dr. Bull’s pills or contact with the skin medicine only finished Thomas off in a context where unrelated illness had already broken his health.

The evidence as it survives for us doesn’t rule out the possibility, but it’s difficult to reconcile it with anything like the confidence that ought to sustain a death sentence. However, Elizabeth’s garbled last letter did appear to vindicate the prosecution with an admission, though it’s one that her defenders have dismissed as pro forma for a confessor who would have been pressuring her to acknowledge the crime in the context of a final spiritual redemption.

in a evil hour i yielded to the temptation he was taken ill at the mine and came home and quarreled with me and Satan tempted me and i gave any poison for i more and i being very self willed i told him that i knew what power the poison had as i took it my self for some months and i was so ill treated that i was quite out of my mind and in an evil hour i yielded to the temptation he was taken ill at the mine and came home and quarreled with me and Satan tempted me and i gave him what i ought not but thought at the time that if i gave him time to prepare to meet his god i should not do any great crime to send him out of the World but i see my mistake now i thank god he had time to make his peace with his maker.

Efforts, thus far unavailing, to secure a posthumous pardon for Elizabeth Woolcock continue to the present day.

* The family dog died shortly before Thomas got sick; it would be postulated against Elizabeth that she experimented with poisoning on the pet before moving on to the man. An alternative hypothesis that fits the facts could be that the dandruff medicine was administered to treat a skin condition of the dog, which then proceeded to lick at the ointment and poison itself.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1895: Emma Williams, Frank Tinyana, and Jackey

Add comment November 4th, 2016 Headsman

From The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), Nov. 5, 1895:

Melbourne, November 4.
Emma Williams, who was convicted of the murder of her child at Port Melbourne on August 13 last, was executed in Melbourne Gaol this morning in the presence of about a dozen persons.

Public excitement was aroused over the murder when it was first discovered owing to the callous and unfeeling way in which the deed was done and the careless attitude of the mother afterwards. The victim, who was only two years of age, was taken by its mother to the pier in the Sandridge Lagoon, where she tied a stone to its body and pushed it into the water.

After her conviction the Anti-Capital Punishment League made strenuous efforts to obtain a reprieve, chiefly because the condemned woman alleged that she was pregnant.

Medical examinations did not support that statement, and it was discovered on Friday last that the condition which lent color to the woman’s statements was produced artificially.

At first Williams treated her terrible sentence with apparent unconcern, being buoyed up with the hope of reprieve; but when that expectation had passed she became most devout and earnest in her attentions to the ministrations of the gaol chaplain (the Rev. H. F. Scott), by whom she was attended to the scaffold. She expressed great sorrow for the crime she had committed and for the loose life she had led.

She remained in that frame of mind to the end.

When the sheriff demanded the body of the prisoner from the governor of the gaol at the door of the little cell alongside the gallows this morning she walked calmly on to the drop, but her face was blanched and wore a terrified expression.

In answer to the usual questions from the sheriff as to whether she wished to say anything Williams answered “No,” in a low but firm voice.

The white cap was immediately drawn over her face and the rope adjusted, and then, as Roberts, the hangman, turned to pull the lever, she exclaimed, “Oh, Lamb of God, I come.”

The next moment the drop fell, and at that moment Williams uttered a nervous, plaintive exclamation that was not quite a scream. Then all was over. The whole of the proceedings did not occupy more than a quarter of an hour, and death was instantaneous.

The dead woman had a very eventful career, having been married when she was 14 years old. At 15 she bore a daughter, who is still living. Her husband left her, and afterwards died in the Melbourne Hospital, while the widow continued a career of dissipation. Her daughter was adopted by a friend of her husband, and the child which she drowned was born after his death.

She was born in Launceston, Tasmania, where her mother still lives.

Brisbane, November 4.
A double execution took place at the Boggo Road Gaol this morning.

Jackey, an aboriginal, was hanged for the murder of a Javanese, Jimmy Williams, at Mount Morgan, and Frank Tinana [or Tinyana -ed.], a Dative of Manila, was executed for the murder of Constable Conroy, on Thursday Island. The men behaved well in prison. Jackey was able to recite prayers taught him by the Bey. Mr. Simmonds, and Father Dorrigan attended Tinana, who admitted having committed murder. He said he bad a jealous quarrel with another colored man, in which Constable Conroy attempted to arrest him. He then stabbed Conroy to death.

During the past few days both condemned men ate and slept well, and this morning they partook of breakfast. When they came upon the scaffold Tinana was agitated and seemed afraid. Neither man spoke.

The preliminaries were quickly arranged and the bolt was drawn. Death, in each case was apparently instantaneous. When Jackey, whose height was nearly 6 ft, fell blood burst from his nose and stained his white cap.


Diagram from an 1880 memorandum the British government sent to colonial authorities in Queensland detailing procedures for the cutting-edge long drop hanging method.

No colored men were present to witness the execution, which was carried out in the presence of the usual officials. Jackey left a letter to a woman who is looking after his child, telling her to take great care of the infant, to bring it up as a white man’s, and not to let it drink rum or go to the blacks’ camp. Tinana left a letter coached in terms of great affection to his wife.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Women

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1862: Thomas Sanders, rapist

Add comment October 31st, 2016 Headsman

Thomas Sanders was hanged on this date in 1862 at Melbourne Gaol.

An ex-con at Norfolk Island, Sanders took to the bush with another man named John Johnson and in 1862 perpetrated a terrifying home-invasion raid upon the farm of Henry Cropley. They spent five hours there, eating, relaxing, and terrifying the family, comfortably remote on Keilor Plains from any possible source of help. Nobody died — but Sanders too a liking to the family serving-girl Mary Egan and raped her. Egan gave the evidence about her harrowing ordeal — and subject to Sanders’s own direct cross-examination* — just three weeks before Sanders hanged:

The tall man was standing in the middle of the room. I turned to look at him, and he told me to turn my face away, and put a chair for me against my master and missis. He then told the other man to “tie my master’s hands up,” and pulled a rope out of his pocket, and tied him up. He afterwards told me to get up and make tea. I got up and stood at the fire, but was so frightened I could not make tea.

When I saw my master tied up I began to cry, and the little man came up and told me to “shut up,” at the same time pulling a pistol out of his pocket. Sanders then searched the rooms. I saw him as I was standing at the mantelpiece. Johnson was walking about the kitchen with a double-barrelled pistol in each hand.

I thought they were then going away, but they came back again, and Sanders saw the ham hanging up in the kitchen. After they had had their own supper, Sanders sent Johnson to ask me if I would have any. I said I would not.

They had been drinking a bottle of port wine and some spirits. I then heard them go into my rom and pull out my little box. Sanders then said it was time to put the girls to bed.

He told my missis to go into her room, and then came back and took the cradle in. He stopped there some time. I can’t say how long, and then came out, and said to me, “You, girl, you go to bed.”

I went in, and he followed me into my room with the candle.

I was going t bed with some of my things n, and he made me get out and take off everything, except my chemise.

He then tied me hand and foot to the four corners of the bed, and as my foot slipped while he hurt my ankle, I kicked him in the face.

He then said, “Oh, you —- little wretch; I’ll give it to you for that.” I ceased to resist him, as I saw it was no good, and my master had told me to do what he told me. I did not resist him, because he had pistols in his pocket and he said if I did not do what he ordered me he would blow my head off, and would think no more of my life than a cat’s.

He ordered me then to be quiet, and tied my hands behind me. He then brought the other man in, and said, “Isn’t she an enticing little devil.”

I didn’t hear the other man say anything.

They then went out, and took the candle with them, and, after remaining a few minutes, Sanders returned, and said, “Now, my good girl, I’ll give it to you for kicking me in the face.”

It was in the dark. I could not see him, but I knew his voice. I think he was undressed.

He got into bed, and I said to him, “For God’s sake not to do anything t me, for I was a poor orphan girl.”

He did not seem to hear, but I spoke loud enough for my master and mistress to hear.

I then heard him at the foot of the bed, and he asked me “if I had any relations in the colony.”

I said “Yes, I had brothers and uncles.”

He said he didn’t care, and then he had connection with me.

I said, “God help me; there is no help.”

(The witness here described the circumstances, and was almost unable to proceed from agitation. They distinctly proved that a rape was committed.)

Afterwards I begged him to untie me, as the flesh was rising over the ropes, and hurt me. He then untied me.

I never told any one afterwards, as I never dreamt they would be taken up. I afterwards told the doctor everything.

The witness here looked round, at the desire of the Bench, and said, “These are the two men. The one (pinting to Sanders) is the man who had connexion with me.”

* Egan was credited with maintaining her composure admirably under the trying circumstances, but at noe point Sanders asked a question “of such a brutal nature that her firmness, which had been remarkable, gave way, and she had to be removed, in a fainting fit, from the court. The prisoner Johnson made some remark, and Sanders exclaimed “Oh, she’s well tutored!”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Rape

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1853: Three for the McIvor Gold Escort attack

Add comment October 3rd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1853, three bushrangers hanged in Melbourne Gaol for the sensational (and very nearly successful) McIvor Gold Escort attack.

Our hanged trio’s crime traces to the mad 1850s gold rush to Victoria, mainland Australia’s southwesternmost province* and more specifically to the McIvor Creek diggings near Heathcote. Gold was struck there late in 1853; by the next year, the place was heavy with prospectors. And gold, why, we know what gold does to men’s souls.

The notes are eternal but gold sings her siren song in every major and minor key; where she calls men, haggard and desperate, bearing pickaxes and gilded dreams, she also beckons in another register to their counterparts bearing ready sidearms and black hearts. Miners after a different name.

On July 20, 1853, some 2,300 ounces of gold extracted from the McIvor diggings were dispatched with an armed guard from the Private Escort Cmpany on its regular run to Kyneton. Here was a mother lode for characters who could stake it.

The July 20 gold escort encountered a blocked road and six desperadoes waiting in a well-orchestrated ambush: without bothering to demand the escort stand and deliver, the robbers opened fire on their prey, wounding four of the troopers — non-fatally, but enough to compel submission — and killing the coach driver, William Flookes, ere they looted the dray of treasure worth near £10,000.


19th century illustration of the attak on the McIvor gold escort.

When news of the incident reached McIvor, 400 outraged miners formed up in posses and set off in pursuit — but the robbers had planned their strike cunningly and were well ahead of the chase. Racing away through wilderness, they paused to divide their spoils near Kilmore and proceeded to Melbourne, where they scattered themselves and were able to duck a sweeping but essentially blind manhunt for several weeks.

Joseph Grey, George and Joseph Francis, William Atkins, George Wilson, and George Melville were perhaps on the verge of completing the caper by August 13 when George Francis got cold feet and turned himself into the police — shopping all of his confederates into the bargain.

Joseph Grey, the wiliest of the bunch, was cautiously changing his address every single night — and so George Francis’s information did not nab him. Grey managed to stay ahead of the search and make good an escape with his share of the booty: he was never caught.

The remaining four — including Joseph Francis, George Francis’s own brother — were all speedily snapped up.

A twist in the plot occurred when star witness George Francis slashed his own throat, leaving the crown with a virtually empty case until brother Joseph fulfilled the informer’s place, piously declaiming against the shootings as more crime than either Francis had bargained for. This self-serving pap came in for uproarious pillory by the defense barristers when the surviving Francis took the witness stand — “with your own person in danger, you would sacrifice your mother and tell any lie you rpoor intelligence could invent!” — but the stool pigeon’s evidence stuck, corroborated by accounts from the troopers who survived the ambush.

Atkins, Wilson, and Melville hanged together at Melbourne Gaol sixteen days after their judge donned the black cap. Melville’s wife availed her right to claim her husband’s body and scandalized Melbourne’s authorities by cheekily garlanding the corpse in flowers and putting it on display in her oyster shop on Little Bourke Street, charging half a crown per gawk. Melbourne Gaol’s hanged thereafter were exclusively buried within the prison yards itself, and Parliament soon legislated this as a nationwide requirement.

* While the gold rush brought many boom towns that expired with their associated mineral veins, it boomed the frontier town of Melbourne right into the gigantic metropolis it remains today.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf,Theft

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1943: Rev. Leonard Kentish, kidnapped Australian civilian

7 comments May 4th, 2016 Headsman

On lonely scrubland at the Aru Islands port of Dobo on this date in 1943, the Japanese military beheaded kidnapped Australian Rev. Leonard Kentish.

Nobody knew his fate at the time — his wife spent years tring to discover it — but the so-called “Kentish Affair” was one of the true oddities of the Pacific War: a civilian of no particular import to the war effort who was snatched from Australian territorial waters.

On January 22, 1943, the civilian Kentish, chief of Northern Territory Methodist missions to the aboriginal peoples, had hitched a ride on the HMAS Patricia Cam, a wooden tuna trawler that had been requisitioned as a wartime naval transport. The Patricia Cam wasn’t running any blockades — she was strictly for local cargo runs, in this instance shuttling among Elcho Island and the Wessel Islands just off Arnhem Land.

She had no radar capacity, and no inkling at all of her fate that afternoon when the Aichi E13A floatplane dove out of the sky and skimmed above the Patricia Cam, within 100 feet of the mast — dropping a bomb amidships that ripped open the trawler’s belly and sent her to the bottom.

While survivors scrabbled in the Arafura Sea for “overboard drums, planks, boxes — anything that would float” the raider circled for another pass, splintering with a second bomb an emergency canoe that men were crowding into, then strafing the waves with machine gun fire. Finally, the victorious seaplane set down in the waves.

And then mysteriously, the pilot gestured Rev. Kentish into the vacant seat of his plane, and took off. Kentish was the only prisoner taken, and his countrymen never again laid eyes on him.

Sixteen other people survived the attack and were rescued a few days later. But poor Mrs. Violet Kentish remained entirely in the dark as to the fate of her husband. “I know that Len is not beyond God’s love and care wherever he may be,” she vainly pleaded to the Minister of the Navy. “But you will understand because we are only weak humans, the heartache and longing for one we loved so much.” (Quoted in Australia’s Forgotten Prisoners: Civilians Interned by the Japanese in World War Two)

After World War II, she desperately resorted to firing letters to newspaper editors, until an intelligence officer chanced to read one published in the Argus and made the necessary inquiries via U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff in Tokyo to unravel the mystery. In the clipped official findings:

1. The Rev KENTISH was taken on board a Jap float plane on Jan 22 43 after it had sunk the patrol vessel HMAS “PATRICIA CAM” off WESSEL IS.

2. Unfortunately no info can be obtained of the whereabouts of the Rev KENTISH until 13 Apr 43, when he arrived at DOBO.

3. The Rev KENTISH was held at DOBO as a prisoner till the 4 May 43. Throughout this period he was subjected to ill treatment by severe bashings, the most common being punches in the nose and eyes to such an extent that his nose was broken, and he had great difficulty in seeing. His diet, as such, was just sufficient to keep him alive.

4. On the morning of 4 May he was taken in to the scrub, (a distance of under 200 yds from the township of DOBO) where a grave had been prepared, and executed.

5. The execution was carried out by the order of 1st Lieut SAKIDJIMA.

6. The remains of the Rev KENTISH have been recovered, and handed over to Capt STOCKWELL, of the War Graves Unit. They will be transported to AMBON, and buried in the Internees cemetery there.

7. This case is now considered closed. All dates must be treated as approx.

The consequence of this inquiry was a 1948 war crimes case against Lt. Sagejima Maugan, who was hanged in Hong Kong on August 23, 1948 for conducting Rev. Kentish’s execution.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Australia,Beheaded,Cycle of Violence,Execution,History,Indonesia,Japan,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Religious Figures,Torture,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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1863: James Murphy, after a reunion

Add comment November 6th, 2015 Headsman

On November 6, 1863, Old Geelong Gaol (op. cit.) hosted the hanging of James Murphy.

This horse thief, having been put to some light piece of penal servitude cleaning up the Warrnambool courthouse, noticed his minder kneeling over the fireplace and bashed that constable’s head with a three-point mason’s hammer.

Murphy made good his escape … for two days. He paid for those meager hours of harrowed liberty with his neck: a remarkable occasion, for it was noted that

[t]he executioner was a man sent down from Melbourne for the purpose, and a rather affecting scene took place when he was first introduced to his victim. It ap- peared the condemned man and he had been intimate friends in Tasmania, and as soon as he recognised him the tears began to roll down at the idea of his having to carry out the grim sentence of the law upon his old mate. He soon recovered his composure, however, and got through the remainder of his thankless office creditably.

The death mask taken from Murphy is still exhibited, and a display at the Old Gaol purports to re-create Murphy’s hanging. (His was the first of only two executions to take place within the gaol’s walls.)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder

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1861: Robert Thomas Palin, under Ordinance 17 Victoria Number 7

Add comment July 9th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1861,* Western Australia’s Ordinance 17 Victoria Number 7 claimed its one and only victim.

Implemented early in Western Australia’s convict era as the influx of criminals made existing settlers jumpy, this law made a wide variety of violent but non-fatal crimes potentially subject to the death penalty when committed by an escaped fugitive.

Robert Thomas Palin was a newcomer to Australia, having debarked from a convict ship only in January 1860. Despite his burglary conviction back in the mother country, he was an exemplary prisoner and earned his ticket of leave (a sort of limited furlough). He even kept a house in Fremantle and took lodgers.

In May 1861, he threw every away every bit of good will and more by burgling another Fremantle home. A Mrs. Susan Harding awoke in the moonlight to find this invader looming over her bed — and he greeted her in that classic of convict argot, “Your money or your life.”

Mrs. Harding didn’t have any — in the words of her testimony on July 3:**

He repeatedly told me to “hush.” He took hold of me by the arm and pulled my hair about, and then pulled the bed clothes down, and felt about the bed. I was afraid he was about to commit some assault — he touched my night dress, not to move it, and then I got so dreadfully alarmed, that I jumped out of bed on the opposite side of the bed. I went to my looking-glass drawer, and took out a watch and chain, which I handed him, and prayed him to leave me.

Palin did so.

Although terrifying for Susan Harding, the encounter did not result in any injury; as Palin’s boot-prints were easily followed back to his own house, even her watch and chain were recovered. To send this offender to the gallows seemed like a punishment out of the wrong century, as Perth’s Inquirer and Commercial News editorialized (June 10):

Burglary attended with violence, however brutal that violence might be, so long as it did not result fatally, is not punished with death in the United Kingdom.

… What was the violence on this occasion? Catching hold of the arm of the principal witness; and it does not appear from the evidence that even the grasp was violent, nor was it necessary to be so according to the acceptation of the meaning of the word laid down for us. It was propounded by the Chief Justice that, strictly speaking, merely laying a hand upon a person, under such circumstances, constituted violence. Is this truly the spirit of the law? …

Palin might have taken everything in that house, yet he would not have been hung. He might have threatened with the presumed pistol, have gesticulated, have stormed and terrified the occupant of the chamber almost to the verge of insanity, and yet he would not have been hung, but he touched her arm, and death is the penalty. There is something horrible in this. But there is something more fearful still when we further look into the matter and find that had he committed any enormity, even to the shedding of blood, he could not have had awarded to him a more extreme measure of punishment. …

[It is our] fervent hope that never again may the pages of our Colonial History be inscribed with so terrible a record; that never again will it be our province to allude to an event of so dreadful a character as that which has lately passed away.

The fervent hope was realized. In the only other case where Ordinance 17 Victoria Number 7 was used to secure a death penalty for an ordinarily non-capital crime, the sentence was commuted.

* As of this writing, Wikipedia avers July 6. References from 1861 newspapers make it clear that this is erroneous. (example, another).

** Yes, that’s six days before the execution occurred.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Theft

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