On this day …….. 11th of June 1857

Although there was no such things as the Guinness Book of Records in the 1850s, if there had been Black Douglas would surely have rated a mention as a persistent offender. It was on this day that the notorious vagrant was brought up before the Yackandandah Police Court. He was fined five shillings, and a promise was extracted from him that he would immediately leave the district. Only a week before, he had been let out of the Beechworth Gaol, after being sentenced to three days fir drunken and disorderly conduct. Black Douglas seemed to be always in and out of Courts, and being run out of one town or another. Wether this was the same Black Douglas who was stabbed by miners in Maryborough during a robbery attempt, is not known. That particular Black Douglas survived, only to be later hanger in Melbourne.

EXECUTED ON THIS DAY …….. 23rd of May 1892

Frederick Deeming was tried at Melbourne Supreme Court on 25 April 1892, for the murder of his wife in Windsor. Alfred Deakin, (who would become the 2nd Prime Minister of Australia) his counsel, tried to mount a plea of insanity. The defence also questioned the impact of newspaper reporting of Deeming on the jury. Perhaps wishing to aid the defence of insanity, Deeming also claimed to have caught syphilis in London, and to have received visitations from his mother’s spirit, which urged his actions. Before the jury retired, Deeming made a “lengthy,… rambling, speech of self-justification.” He repeated a story he had told police that Emily had “run off with another man”. “That is my one comfort…knowing that she is not dead”. The prosecution case was conducted by Robert Walsh, Q.C. Deeming was found guilty as charged, however. Deeming spent the last days writing his autobiography and poetry; “The Jury listened well to the yarn I had to tell, But they sent me straight to hell.” He also spent time talking to the Church of England ministers, to whom he supposedly confessed. The sentence of the court was confirmed by the Executive Council on 9 May 1892 and the judicial committee of the Privy Council refused leave to appeal on 19 May 1892. Deeming was hanged at 10:01 am on 23 May 1892, he weighed 143 pounds (65 kg), 14 pounds (6.4 kg) less than when he entered prison. The autobiography which Deeming wrote in gaol was destroyed.

It was believed at the time that Deeming was Jack the Ripper, as he was in White Chapel, London at the time of the murders. The Victoria police were asked by the Brittish police to question him in relation.


EXECUTED THIS DAY…… 23rd May 1870

Ah Pew was charged at the Castlemaine Circuit Court on the 26th of April 1870 with having, at Glenluce, wilfully murdered Elizabeth Annie Hunt. Annie aged 9 year, with her sister and brother went to De Forest’s school at Glenluce, which they left at 4pm. Annie did not return in the evening, and her father searched for her almost all night, and commenced again with others at daybreak the following morning. He found her body in a hole 6 feet deep near Emu Gully on the morning of the 19th February. Her body was considerably bruised, covered over with contusions, two wounds on the side of the head. Annie had died from the multiplicity of injuries and suffocation by clay being packed in her mouth. There were appearances of attempted violation. On the place of murder, a hat and a European pipe was found, which belonged to Ah Pew. He had been well known to the children, and always brought them lollies when he came to their parents’ home to buy produce. On the 18th of February Annie had come to his hut and asked him if he had sold his boiler. She left after several minutes, but Ah Pew followed her. He was arrested on the 24th of February and was charged with murder at the Police Court at Castlemaine on the 11th March. He was convicted at the Criminal Session of the Circuit Court at Castlemaine and was sentenced to death. Ah Pew was hanged at Castlemaine Gaol at 10am on this day in 1870.


Executed On This Day…….22nd May 1876

John Duffus, age 50, was executed on this day in 1876 in Castlemaine for a charge of Rape. Mrs. Duffus, who was living isolated with her family, husband and three daughters at the Bendigo Creek, near Goornong, gave information to the police that her husband, John Duffus, had criminally assaulted his own daughter, Mary Ann, 11 years of age. Mounted Constable Clark arrested Duffus, who was formally placed in the dock at the City Police Court at Sandhurst (now Bendigo) and charged with carnally knowing a girl under 12 years of age, a capital crime. Duffus not only had assaulted his youngest daughter between the 27th January and the 17th February, but also had incestuous relationships with his elder daughters, at that time 22 and 15, who both became pregnant. The youngest daughter affirmed that her father had abused her for a period of over four years, which was confirmed by a medical officer who examined her. The isolated condition of the family and the thorough control which Duffus obviously exercised over all family members was the reason why his crimes had been detected earlier. John Duffus was convicted of rape at the Criminal Sessions of the Assize Court at Sandhurst, and was sentenced to death on 29 April 1876. He was hanged at Castlemaine Gaol on this in 1876, at 10am


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 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.



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.