EXECUTED THIS DAY – April 20, 1891
The execution of Cornelius Bourke, convicted of the murder of Peter Stewart at the Hamilton lock-up, took place in the Ballarat Gaol at 10 o’clock on Monday morning. It will be remembered that after sentence was pronounced, some doubts arose as to the sanity of the prisoner, and he was examined by medical men who failed to find any evidence of mental aberration beyond imbecility consequent on old age. The law was therefore allowed to take its course, and on being informed of the determination of the Executive, Bourke listened without emotion, and has since looked calmly upon his fate, his only solace being his pipe and tobacco. He has been most diligently attended by the Rev. Father Rogers, who at first appeared to make little impression upon the condemned man, but within the last few days he was more attentive to his ministrations. However, Bourke was quite resigned to his fate, and when spoken to on the subject on Saturday last said he might as well die now as at any future time, as life was only a few minutes strung out, and that he was now an old man and had nothing to live for. On Sunday he was visited by Bishop Moore, and he slept soundly on Sunday night. On Monday morning he was engaged in religious devotion with Father Rogers in the condemned cell, and punctually at 10 o’clock the Sherriff (Mr Anderson) demanded the body from the Governor of the Gaol (Mr Gardiner) in the usual manner. Shortly afterwards Bourke emerged from his cell with his hands securely bound behind him. He was given over to the custody of Jones, the hangman. The melancholy procession proceeded towards the scaffold, the clergyman, at the same time, pronouncing the service for the dead. There were very few spectators besides the officials and the representatives of the Press. On taking his place on the drop of the scaffold, and his legs being bound together, the Governor asked Bourke if he had anything to say, to which he replied, “No, I have nothing to say. What should I say ?” The white cap was then drawn over his face, and the rope adjusted by the hangman. This being done, Jones, the executioner, was proceeding to draw the fatal bar, when Bourke ejaculated, ” I am choking, I am choking” at the same time moving off the drop as well as he could with his legs pinioned together. A little excitement was caused by this incident, but Jones and some of the officials managed to place Bourke on the drop again, when the bar was drawn and he fell a distance of about 5ft. Death appeared to have been instantaneous, as there was not the slightest contraction of the body or other movement. Thus ended the career of Bourke, and at the formal inquest held it was decided that he had been hanged in a judicial manner. The body was buried within the precincts of the gaol, and destroyed as usual by quicklime.