1841: The Jewboy’s Gang

Add comment March 16th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1841, Australian bushranger Edward “Teddy the Jewboy” Davis was hanged in Sydney along with five others of his gang. The reader may guess the chief’s distinguishing demographic characteristic, and some lists mark him the only Jewish bushranger.

He’d been transported from England in 1833 at the age of about 16, for a trifling theft. “Obsessed by the idea that he had been wronged when he was transported and governed by an indomitable desire for freedom,” Davis began repeatedly escaping from his penal assignments only to be repeatedly captured.

Indefatigable as Monty Python’s Swamp Castle King, he just kept trying until he got it right.

By 1839 the young Hebrew had formed a seven-strong outlaw gang plundering New South Wales’s future wine country, the Hunter Valley. Their captain seems to have brought along from the old country the romantic conception of a cavalier-thief, as this charming account of one of their raids suggests, wherein the victim “says he was treated in the most gentlemanly manner by them, and that he never spent a happier night in his life.” The stylish marauders, we find, dressed themselves “rather gaudy, as they wore broad-rimmed Manilla hats, turned up in front with abundance of broad pink ribbons, satin neck-cloths, splendid brooches, [and] all of them had rings and watches.”

They kept by a sage policy of Davis’s to eschew deadly violence for fear of bringing down the authorities’ wrath, but they didn’t quite keep to it well enough. One of their number, John Shea, slew a man in December 1840, and a posse hunted them down the very next day, and interviewed in jail, “Davies said that he would always oppose the shedding of blood, for he knew if they once committed a murder they would not reign a week; whilst saying so he looked at the other four men,* and said, you now see we have not reigned a day.”

Edward Davis, 26, Robert Chitty, 37, James Everett, 25, John Marshall, 27, Richard Glanville, 31, and the 27-year-old Shea were hanged behind Sydney Gaol on the 16th of the following March.

The notoriety which the crimes of these men has attained drew together a large concourse of spectators to witness their execution. The entrance to the Gaol, in George-street, was besieged for admission long before the arrival, at nine o’clock, of a strong military guard from the barracks, and so great was the pressure of the crowd, that it required the unremitting exertions of Captain Innes to preserve order. At ten minutes past nine, the culprits were strongly pinioned, and conducted from the cells to the area in front of the drop, where they knelt down. Chitty, Everett, Marshall, and Glanville, were attended by the Rev. William Cowper and the Rev. John Elder. The Rev. Mr. Murphy, Catholic Priest, accompanied Shea; and Davis (being of the Jewish persuasion), was attended by Mr. Isaacs, Minister of the Jewish congregation in New South Wales. All the culprits (if we except Everett), deeply lamented their having committed the crimes for which they were about to die, and acknowledged the justice of their sentences. Everett ascended the scaffold hurriedly, and in an evident state of excitement. He was followed by Chitty, Marshall, and Glanville, all three of whom, on reaching the scaffold sung the first verse of the Morning Hymn, to be found in many editions of the book of Common Prayer, commencing “Awake my soul, and with the sun.”

This act of devotion, we have since heard was entirely spontaneous, not having been suggested, or even expected by either of the reverend gentlemen, who attended to administer the consolations of religion according to the rites of the Protestant Church. The ropes were speedily adjusted, and the white caps drawn over the faces of the wretched criminals; in the short interval which elapsed before the withdrawal of the fatal bolt, Marshall and Glanville were engaged in loud and apparently fervent prayer, and we observed the culprit Davis (who was attired in a suit of mourning), thank the Jewish Minister for the attention paid him in his last moments. The struggles of all the men were of short duration; the immense crowd dispersed peaceably. It will be remembered that these men were apprehended, chiefly through the active exertions of Mr. Day, Police Magistrate, Maitland.

* A fifth accomplice was captured a short time afterwards and joined his mates on the gallows.

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1866: John Dunn, teenage bushranger

4 comments March 19th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1866, 19-year-old Australian bushranger John Dunn was hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol.

Young master Dunn, deft hand with a horse and a firearm, in 1864 joined a notorious outlaw gang then under the leadership of Ben Hall and John Gilbert.

This gang very quickly came to grief as both Hall and Gilbert were shot dead by police in May 1865. They’d been outlawed under new anti-bushranger legislation (pdf) enacted in 1865 by a parliament impatient with “the constant outrages on person and property of which the interior has for years been the scene.”

This new Felons Apprehension Act — despite its name — empowered people to kill alleged bushrangers without attempting to detain them. It did this by setting up a fast-track process to legally outlaw (pdf) individuals by name.

Dunn done did his own part to stir up this legal hornet’s nest by killing a constable named Samuel Nelson (father of eight children!) during a hotel stickup at the New South Wales hamlet of Collector.


(cc) image from AYArktos.

But the kid had better elusiveness than his bosses.

Dunn managed to escape the shootout that killed Gilbert and disappear for the best part of a year. Only in December of 1865 was he finally recognized and captured. (Then he escaped from detention, and had to be re-captured.)

Once they could keep him long enough to try him, Dunn was done for. It took a jury ten minutes to order him to hang.

Dunn’s godmother buried him at Sydney’s Devonshire Street Cemetery under a headstone reading, “He has gone to his grave but we must not deplore him though sorrow and darkness encompass his tomb — the Saviour has passed through its portals before him and the light of his love was the lamp through his doom.”

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1880: Andrew Scott and Thomas Rogan, bushrangers

1 comment January 20th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1880, Andrew George Scott and Thomas George “condemned to death for the part they took in the outrage at Wantabadgery, resulting in the death of constable Bowen, were executed at Darlinghurst Gaol.”


Andrew George Scott, aka Captain Moonlite (top); Thomas Rogan (bottom)

Scott is our main man here, an Anglican lay reader turned grifter turned flat-out outlaw with the nom de plunder “Captain Moonlite”: one of the strangest characters in Australia’s criminal annals.

How did a fellow with such a family-friendly alias end up involved in an “outrage”?

This colorful, charismatic immigrant (from Ireland, via New Zealand — and, legend has it, with a side trip to Italy to fight with Garibaldi) became a notorious public figure when, in outlandish masked getup, he robbed the bank of the South Victoria gold rush town of Mount Egerton.

His distinctive voice — remember, he was a parish reader — was recognized by his erstwhile friend at the other end of the gun, but Scott brazenly reversed the accusation and actually had his victim in the dock for a time. This Mount Egerton crime is the source of the man’s luminescent nickname, after the signature placed on a stickup note.

When he got out of prison in 1879 — having defended himself with panache, and escaped once along the way — he had a public profile, and actually got out on the lecture circuit for a brief spell.

But he soon returned to the annals of preposterous criminality.

Gathering five young followers, Moonlite went full-time into the bush. Allegedly spurned in a bid to join Ned Kelly‘s gang, Moonlite et al sought work at Wantabadgery Station.

When this refuge, too, turned them away, the outlaws found themselves in a rather pathetic state of hunger and desperately seized the place by main force. The resulting “outrage” was not a wholesale plunder of the station or wanton abuse of the prisoners (no rapes, no murders … although Moonlite did conduct a kangaroo “trial” of one of his hostages for attempting to escape: the verdict was not guilty): it was the inevitable ensuing shootout with police in which the bushrangers James Nesbitt and Augustus Wernicke died, along with the constable Bowen.

Two of the other three who survived this shootout also survived their brush with the law by blaming Captain Moonlite. The “Captain” may have been plenty eager to accept this fatal inculpation for reasons beyond those of mere honor.

In his prolific prison correspondence awaiting execution, Scott avowed his broken-hearted love for James Nesbitt, one of the two companions who had been killed in the shootout. The terms are astonishingly explicit for the time.

“My boy with a golden heart who died trying to save me … He was my constant companion; we had the deepest, truest bond of friendship. We were one heart and soul, he died in my arms and I long to join him, where there shall be no more parting. He died in my arms; his death has broken my hear. When I think of my dearest Jim, I am nearly driven mad. My dying wish is to be buried beside my beloved James Nesbitt”

Scott hanged wearing a ring of the late Nesbitt’s hair,* but his wish to share a burial plot was not honored — until Captain Moonlite was exhumed and reburied in 1995.


(cc) image from AYArktos.

* Asserted in Who’s Who In Gay and Lesbian History from Antiquity to World War II.

Part of the Daily Triple: 1880 and Death.

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1880: Ned Kelly

2 comments November 11th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1880, legendary bushranger Ned Kelly hanged at Melbourne Gaol.

The Dick Turpin of Australian outlawry — in the sense that he’s the first name on the marquee — Kelly was the son of an Irishman shipped to Van Damien’s Land on the British convict transportation plan.

Setting down in Greta, Victoria the Kelly family cultivated a keen reputation for criminality (e.g., see this 1880 newspaper article; also, here).

When Ned was all of 11, pa died doing a six-month prison stint at hard labor for stealing a neighbor’s cow, and it wasn’t much longer before young master Edward was making the acquaintance of the law himself: arrested for assault in 1869 at age 14; arrested once again the following year as an accomplice to the bushranger with the pornstar name, Harry Powers; imprisoned later in 1870 for three years for receiving stolen goods … and then he got into the family horse-rustling racket upon his release. Crime and gaol were just part of Ned’s world.

So was police antagonism.

The man’s famous last years started with what reads as a trumped-up run-in with a cop who turned up at a station complaining that the Kellys had shot him. (The Kelly story is that he got fresh with Ned’s sister and got whacked by a shovel.) Whatever the facts of the matter, it sent Ned and his brother Dan into the bush as fugitives.

At Stringybark Creek, the “Kelly gang” got the drop on the police posse sent to arrest them, and three officers died in the firefight. Now there was real trouble.

An 1878 “Felons Apprehension Act” immediately proscribed the men, making it “lawful for any of Her Majesty’s subjects whether a constable or not and without being accountable for the using of any deadly weapon in aid of such apprehension whether its use be preceded by a demand of surrender or not to apprehend or take such outlaw alive or dead.”

The ensuing two-year saga was a captivating cycle of dramatic robberies, escalating government bounties, state hostage-taking in the form of imprisoned family and friends, and Kelly’s own Joycean self-vindication.

he would be a king to a policeman who for a lazy loafing cowardly bilit left the ash corner deserted the shamrock, the emblem of true wit and beauty to serve under a flag and nation that has destroyed massacreed and murdered their fore-fathers by the greatest of torture as rolling them down hill in spiked barrels pulling their toe and finger nails and on the wheel. and every torture imaginable more was transported to Van Diemand’s Land to pine their young lives away in starvation and misery among tyrants worse than the promised hell itself all of true blood bone and beauty, that was not murdered on their own soil, or had fled to America or other countries to bloom again another day, were doomed to Port Mcquarie Toweringabbie norfolk island and Emu plains and in those places of tyrany and condemnation many a blooming Irishman rather than subdue to the Saxon yoke Were flogged to death and bravely died in servile chains but true to the shamrock and a credit to Paddys land.*

The hunt culminated in a cinematic shootout at the Glenrowan Inn, Kelly an accomplices entering the fray clad in bulky but effective homemade body armor they’d literally hammered out of ploughshares. (It’s thanks to the armor’s protection of his head and trunk that Ned Kelly survived the Glenrowan siege so he could be hanged instead.) Now on display at the State Library of Victoria, it’s the most queer and recognizable artifact of an era that was already then slipping into the past.

Ned Kelly in his armor (left), and the logo of the Victoria Bushrangers cricket club patterned after it (right).

I do not pretend that I have led a blameless life or that one fault justifies another; but the public, judging a case like mine, should remember that the darkest life may have a bright side, and after the worst has been said against a man, he may, if he is heard, tell a story in his own rough way that will lead them to soften the harshness of their thoughts against him and find as many excuses for him as he would plead for himself.

-Ned Kelly, during his trial

This cut no ice with the men who judged him guilty of murder, but the brawler, cop-killer, bank-robber Kelly seems to have found a way to tell that story to posterity and its thoughts have softened very much indeed.

Everything from his hardscrabble upbringing to his romantic man-against-the-world criminal career to his iconic robot-suit armor to his existentially heroic last words “such is life” equips his image for posthumous appropriation. He seems one-half charming anachronism, one-half hirsute postmodern avatar, especially when you go sculpt a mailbox out of him.

131 years dead today, Ned Kelly remains very much alive in memory. To this day, descendants and supporters lay flowers at the Melbourne Gaol where he hanged, and the recent decision to release his remains for reburial (as Kelly himself requested) made national headlines.

As to Kelly in the wider culture … well, you can’t escape him.

* All this Celtic stuff because the cop whose allegation started the trouble was named Fitzpatrick.

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1842: Stephen Brennan, desperate bushranger

1 comment November 9th, 2011 Headsman

From the 1908 History of the Australian Bushrangers:

Stephen Brennan was sent to the island for bushranging. He was tried there and found guilty of the murder of another convict. There had been no quarrel between the two men, who were as friendly as circumstances permitted under the rigid discipline, nevertheless Brennan suddenly struck Patrick Lynch a blow with a stone-breaker’s hammer, and then stabbed him with a knife. The murder was committed avowedly so that the perpetrator might be hung, and thus escape the harsh treatment he was subjected to, and it is not improbable that it was committed with the consent of the victim, for although there is no evidence of this in this case, it is well known that men had actually drawn lots in Norfolk Island, to decide which should murder the other and get hung for the crime.

This is a very compelling parable, but as a factual matter we’re not sure the basis of the word “avowedly” here; be that mutual lot-drawing trend as it may, the reporting accessible from the National Library of Australia archives suggests that Brennan mounted a vigorous defense, and continued to claim to the foot of the gallows that the homicide was strictly self-defense.

Incidents of “suicide by hangman” had been known among the prison population under the island’s rigorous recent commandant, Joseph Anderson.

But in the early 1840s, the once notoriously draconian penal colony was being run by noted reformer Alexander Maconochie, who relaxed prison discipline with mixed results. (Rougher varieties of discipline would be reimposed thereafter, contributing to the prison riot that resulted in the hanging of bushranger Jackey Jackey.)

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1826: Matthew Brady, gentleman bushranger

4 comments May 4th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1826, “gentleman bushranger” Matthew Brady was hanged in the Hobart jail for one Australia’s most colorful outlaw careers.

Shipped from England on penal transportation, Matthew Brady was repeatedly flogged for escape attempts before he successfully busted out of Macquarie Harbour prison in 1824.

He made for the bush and began an 18-month spell as an outlaw, self-consciously constructing the persona of the gentleman outlaw — polite to his victims, never violent towards women, that sort of thing.

Among Brady’s best-known exploits: after the colonial governor George Arthur posted a reward for his capture, Brady posted a public counter-offer:

It has caused Matthew Brady much concern that such a person known as Sir George Arthur is at large.
Twenty gallons of rum will be given to any person that can deliver his person to me.

The authorities hunted him doggedly, and he was at last captured by settler John Batman, later famous for his founding role in the history of Melbourne.

The love letters and gifts that filled his cell attested his place in the folklore, but his fate was never in question. Ever the gentleman, Brady’s main protest was sharing his scaffold with (among several other bushrangers) the murderous cannibal Mark Jefferies.

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