EXECUTED THIS DAY……. 15th May 1885


William Barnes was executed at the Melbourne Gaol for the murder of Joseph Bragge Slack at South Melbourne on the 9th September last. Since his conviction the prisoner had been much depressed, and he showed signs of breaking down. He became subject to fits of stupor, but during the visits of the Rev. H. R. Scott, who attended him assiduously, he listened attentively, and showed signs of repentance. On the night before his execution he sank into an apathetic state of half consciousness, and it was feared that he would not be able to walk on to the drop. At half past 7am he refused breakfast, and he had to be supported when an hour later his irons were knocked off and he was conducted to the condemned cell near the gallows. Presently the Rev. H. F. Scott arrived at the gaol, and found him in a most abject condition, but he rallied under the reverend gentleman’s ministrations, and asked that his last words should be given as words of warning to all evil doers to give up their crimes before they were brought to die on the scaffold like “Billy Barnes.” He said gambling and women had been his ruin. He also told Mr. Scott that on the drop he would say he was guilty, but the clergyman said he need not do so, as he had already confessed. Just as the clock struck 10 the sheriff, Colonel Rede, accompanied by Dr. Shields, the medical officer of the gaol, went to the door of the condemned cell and demanded the body of the prisoner. The hangman, William Jones, pinioned Barnes, who was offered a cordial by Mr. P. Dwyer, governor of the gaol, but he declined it. He walked on to the scaffold with a feeble step, and looking very livid. In a low voice, when Colonel Rede asked him whether he had anything to say, he replied, “No.” While the rope was being adjusted, prisoner’s fingers twitched at it convulsively. The white cap was then drawn over his face and while the Rev. H. F. Scott was reading the service for the dead the signal was given, and Barnes died instantaneously, the sole sign of life after he fell being a single convulsive contraction of the legs. The usual inquest was held an hour after the execution, and a formal verdict returned. The crime for which Barnes suffered the last penalty of the law is doubtless familiar to our readers. His victim, Joseph Bragge Slack, an old man, lived by himself and had some jewellery in his keeping which had once belonged to a man named Thompson, who was a fellow prisoner of Barnes, while the latter was serving a sentence in Pentridge. On the 9th September, a few days after Barnes was liberated, Slack was found dead in his bed with his throat cut, and with a razor clasped in his left hand. The verdict of the jury at the inquest was one of suicide, but three months afterwards Barnes, who had returned to Pentridge on a charge of robbery, confessed that he had gone into Slack’s house to steal his jewellery, that he was surprised while under the bed waiting his opportunity, and that in a struggle with Slack he killed him, and made it appear that the unfortunate man had died by his own hand. Slack’s body was exhumed, when it was found that his neck was broken. Some of his property was traced to the possession of Barnes, and a complete chain of evidence, resulting in his conviction, was established by the police. At the trial Barnes pleaded not guilty, but after his condemnation he repeated his confession and asked for mercy on the ground that the murder would never have been discovered if he had not voluntarily brought it to light. The Executive, however decided that the law should take its course. After this decision His Excellency the Governor was addressed by the prisoner’s solicitors in favour of a commutation of sentence, on the ground, among others, that the murder was unpremeditated, and was really the result of an accident while Barnes was trying to make his escape from Slack’s grasp, but Sir Henry Loch replied that the petition did not raise any considerations which had not previously received full attention, and no respite was granted.

EXECUTED THIS DAY – April 28, 1857



Execution of Thomas Williams, Henry Smith alias Brennan, and Thomas Maloney.

On this day in 1857, at eight o’clock, Thomas Williams, Henry Smith alias Brennan, and Thomas Maloney, the first three prisoners convicted at the late Special Sessions of the murder of the late Inspector General at Williamstown, on the 20th March last, were executed in the Melbourne Gaol. The unhappy men, who were all members of the Roman Catholic Church, were attended in their last moments by two ecclesiastics, and it, will be satisfactory to the public to know that all exhibited the appearance of sincere contrition for their criminal career, find patient resignation to their fate. It is remarkable, however, that only one of them, the convict Maloney, made any reference to the crime for which he was about to suffer, and of, which he declared himself innocent to the last. The other two, Williams and Smith, maintained from the first in perfect reserve upon the subject. To those familiar with the criminal character, and its notorious and habitual cunning, this circumstance will not appear in the least subversive of the verdict, of the jury, or of the righteousness of the sentence, as it is quite probable that one or all of the three cherished to the last some faint hope that the penalty would be commuted. There is reason to believe that Smith certainly did this, in consequence of the recommendation to mercy which in his case accompanied the verdict. Of course, a confession of guilt would be incompatible with such expectations. A few minutes after eight o’clock, the condemned men were removed from their cells, and brought into the corridor. Maloney came first, then Henry Smith, and last Thomas Williams. Maloney and Smith appeared in the act of fervent and unceasing prayer. Smith hold his hands closely pressed together above his head, and his lips moved rapidly. Maloney fixed his eyes upwards and never once removed them, also continuing to pray silently, and repeatedly placing his right arm across his breast in the manner of penitential humiliation. He held a crucifix in his hand. Williams did not appear to be so devoutly inclined as the others at first, but as though even his hardened nature had become affected by their example, his lips at length moved rapidly, and he continued to pray to the last. The demeanour of the three was most becoming and reverent. As the process of pinioning was going on, Maloney leaned over and whispered some last request to his spiritual adviser. When all was ready the sad procession moved on, and as it was passing from the corridor the prisoner Smith turned round and made a low bow to the persons who were looking on, as though taking his last farewell of his fellow creatures. Smith appeared to feel his awful position very keenly, and all three betrayed the symptoms of a strong mental and physical agitation, which was with difficulty mastered. Maloney was the first to ascend the scaffold, then came Smith, who was slightly supported by one of the warders, and lastly Williams. In a few minutes the preparations were completed and the drop fell. Smith and Williams seemed to die instantly, but Maloney, who was a slightly framed man, gave a few convulsive movements, and than all was over. The prisoner Maloney came to tho colonies in the year 1840, in the ship King William, a prisoner. He was subsequently convicted of felony and had a sentence of five years hanging over him from 9th August, 1853. His age was S3. He could not read or write, and was a native of Tipperary, by trade a butcher. Henry Smith, or Brennan, came free to the colony in the Coromandel, in 1817. He was 37 years of age when executed, and had previously been convicted of horse-stealing. He was a native of Dublin, and could not read or write. A sentence of six years from 15th August, 1854, was impending over him. Thomas Williams was thirty-two years old, and came to Australia a prisoner in the year by the ship Constant, for robbery. After completing his time, he was, on the 18th November, 1832, convicted on three separate charges, and was sentenced successively to twelve years, six years, and twelve years penal servitude, in all thirty years. He could read imperfectly.


On This Day ……. 22nd April 1856

This criminal suffered the penalty of his crimes on this day in 1856, at 8am. Pursuant to the provisions of the Act which abolishes the old mode of public execution, the affair was witnessed by certain officials only, to see that the sentence was duly carried out. An inquest on the body was, in conformity with the act, held in the goal, at twelve noon. A jury was impanelled in the usual way. By direction of the coroner, they proceeded to view the body, and then returned to hear evidence. The coroner read the warrant of his Excellency the Acting Governor. The sheriff gave evidence as to the identity of the person named in the warrant, and the dead body the jury had just seen. The sentence had been carried out in the usual way. The district surgeon was examined as to the same facts. The head goaler testified that the body which the jury had viewed was that of James Ross, who was sentenced to die at the last criminal sessions, and for whose execution a warrant had been produced by the sheriff. The sentence had been duly carried out. This closed the evidence, and the jury unanimously returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased James Ross had been duly executed in pursuance of sentence passed upon him by Sir William A’Beckett, judge of the Supreme Court. It was remembered by most of our readers that James Ross was convicted of the most brutal murder of his own child, and also for the murder of a Mrs Sayers. Ross intended to murder his own wife also, and left her for dead; but she recovered, and is still alive at Horsham. Seldom in the annals of crime has there occurred so atrocious a case—a crime of so black a dye, committed without any apparent adequate motive. From the time of his commitment to the last hour of his existence, Ross admitted the crimes of which he stood charged. He did not wish to live, and repeatedly, since sentence was passed, expressed impatience for the time of execution to be fixed. He spent much time in reading the Bible and other devotional books, and was assiduously attended by the Rev Mr Goodman and the gaol chaplain. Ross’s conversation and demeanour, however, so far as we could judge or learn, was by no means indicative of sincere regret. The culprit, a few days ago, wrote a letter to his wife, who is still an invalid from the cruel injuries she received from her husband. Ross, or Griffiths, was a native of Limerick, his father was Welsh. His crimes were of so deep a dye that even the most enthusiastic abolitionist of capital punishment will admit that the world is well rid of such a monster.


ON THIS DAY………..14th of April 1924


Angus Murray was last to be executed in old Melbourne Gaol, a bank robber and murderer, in 1924. After the Melbourne prison closed, the hanging beam and the hangings were taken to Pentridge Prison, in what’s now a suburb of Melbourne. The beam came back to Old Melbourne Gaol in 2000.


ON THIS DAY – 2nd April 1891


What appeared to be a brutal murder was committed Collingwood. About 230am a man named John Finnigan, 20 years old, cigar maker, was seen walking down Langridge-street with a young woman, known as Rose Summers. Both were slightly under the influence of liquor, They went into a house kept by Finnigan’s mother and sister in Hoddle-street, where another brother named Frank Finnigan also lived. Subsequently John Finnigan was seen running up Langridge-street by William Jones, licensee of the Yorkshire Stingo Hotel. He then went to the back of Mrs Finnigan’s house and found the girl lying in the yard on a cushion unconscious, and bleeding from a wound in the abdomen. The police were informed, and the girl was removed to the Melbourne Hospital, but she only recovered consciousness sufficient to ask for a drink of water. She died about 8 o’clock in the evening. It is believed that she was violated and then stabbed. Both the Finnigan brothers have been arrested.

John Finnigan was found guilty of Summers murder and was sentenced to be executed in Old Melbourne Gaol, however it was changed to life in prison with hard labour. Finnigan was realised in 1907.


EXECUTION THIS DAY …….. 28th March 1854

James Button was executed in the old Melbourne Gaol for robbery under arms and shooting Robert McLean. Button was not afraid of the physical pain of death, but expressed contrition for his numerous crimes, and looked forward to a future state with fear. Button was executed at 8am.


EXECUTED ON THIS DAY ………. 16th of March 1891

John Thomas Phelan, aged 30 was executed in the Old Melbourne gaol

John Thomas Phelan, an engine driver on the railways, had been cohabiting with 25-year-old Ada Hatton for two years, when she left him, presumably for another man. On the 15th of January 1891 Phelan found Miss Hatton at her new home at South Yarra alone, and cut her throat from ear to ear with a table knife. He was in the act of cutting his own throat, when some neighbours rushed on the scene and prevented him. He was charged with murder and stood trial at Melbourne Criminal Court. He was convicted and sentenced to death on the 23rd of February 1891, the jury recommending him to mercy on the ground that he had received great provocation. Phelan was hanged at Melbourne gaol on the 16th of March 1891.



EXECUTED ON THIS DAY ………. 16th of March 1857

James Cornick was executed at the old Melbourne gaol for the murder of his girl friend Agnes Horne at Eaglehawk Flat. Cornick met his fate with considerable firmness, walking from his cell with a firm step when apprised by the sheriff that the hour had come at which he must be procured to suffer the sentence which had been passed upon him. After shaking hands with the chaplain, the executioner proceeded to pinion the unhappy culprit, and place the white cap upon his head. It has been observed by those who have been in the habit of attending executions that it is at this point the nerve of the culprit is most tried. Cornick submitted to the operation without appearing at all shaken. The remainder of the ceremony was performed in the same hurried manner which we remarked upon a recent occasion. The unhappy man died without a struggle, and after hanging the usual time was cut down.




John Stacey, was charged with the murder of a child named Daniel McDonnell, at Emerald Hill, (South Melbourne) on the 28th of February 1865. Stacey was sentenced to be executed at the old Melbourne Gaol.



On this day ………… 27th February 1788

One of the first permanent structures erected in Australia was the gallows in Sydney Town. The first person to be executed was 17 year old James Barrett on this day in 1788, one month after settlement had been established. Barrett had stolen food because he was hungry, but he had been caught in the act. Justice was swift, he was charged, convicted and sentenced to hang on the same day.



ON THIS DAY – February 23, 1885


Martha Needle is one of our more interesting criminals from Melbourne past, and is only one of five woman executed in Victoria, on the 22nd of October 1894. Over a spate of months Needle would murder by poisoning her husband, 3 children and future brother-in-law. Martha was born near Morgan, South Australia in 1863, an attractive woman with a kindly disposition she grew up in a violent and abusive household, and had shown signs of mental instability from an early age. On the 23rd of February 1885 little Mabel Needle died after a short illness. Martha stated that she “seemed to fade “. Martha later collected 100 pounds (2016 – $40,000) life insurance on Mabel’s death. After exhuming the victims it was found that Needles had used Arsenic to poison all.



ON THIS DAY – February 22, 1897

The murder by Charles John Hall, of his wife at Eaglehawk, on the 22nd of February 1897, is one of the most brutal and cowardly in the annals of Victorian crime. Hall was a well-known footballer, and when he rushed away to call the neighbors to see his wife, who was lying dead in a tub of water, no suspicion of foul play was entertained against him. However, the medical evidence at the inquest went to show that death was caused by suffocation and that, coupled with the fact that Hall had told a barmaid. Eva Scott with whom he had committed adultery, that he had put his wife out of the way, led to his arrest. He was tried on the capital charge, at Bendigo, but the jury failed to agree. On the 27th of July, he was again arraigned at the Supreme Court sittings at Castlemaine charged with the murder of his wife and found guilty, although he strongly protested his innocence. Sentence of death was accordingly passed on him. His version of the crime was that he found his wife in a tub of water, into which sho had fallen when in a fit, and instead of releasing her he went and called the neighbours. A very large number of persons believed Hall’s protestations of innocence, and as he was very popular, a petition praying for the remission of the death sentence was presented to tho Executive Council. A special meeting of that body was held on the 24th of August, at which it was decided to allow the law to take its course, and the execution was fixed for the 13th of September, at the Bendigo gaol. Hall then presented a petition to the Governor, in which he admitted his guilt, but gave his version of the murder. He says that in a moment of passion, brought about by a quarrel with the unfortunate woman, he threw her into a tub of water. He attributed the marks which were on her face to her nose and teeth coming into contact with the edge of the tub, and denied having used pressure over the nostrils and mouth when she was being suffocated. He pleaded that he acted on the impulse of the moment, and not with any deliberation as stated by the Crown Prosecutor. He admitted being guilty of manslaughter but not of the more heinous crime of murder, and expressed the hope that the Executive Council would exorcise their prerogative of mercy and commute his sentence to a long term of imprisonment. Hall would become the last person executed at the Bendigo Gaol.