On This Day – January 15, 1894

THE hanging of Frances Lydia Alice Knorr not only split the community, but also had a dreadful impact on the executioner. Knorr, born Minnie Thwaites, was known as the “Baby Farming Murderess” and her arrest and trial made national headlines. She’d been found guilty of strangling two infants she’d taken into her paid care. The executioner, Thomas Jones (William Walk), had an impressive record as a hangman. He’d sent 15 men to their deaths. But Knorr would be the first woman he’d hang. Jones not only had problems with alcohol, he was under immense pressure at home, namely from his wife who strongly believed Knorr should be saved. Two days before the execution, the hangman killed himself. Jones cut his own throat while drunk. Nevertheless, the execution proceeded, creating much public opposition, particularly from women’s and church groups. On being walked to the gallows Knorr was asked ‘Have you anything to say?’ prior to the drawing of the bolt. “He received in answer the words: ‘Yes, the Lord is with me. I do not fear what man can do unto me, for I have peace, perfect peace.’ “The first sentence was spoken almost inaudibly, but the last words were delivered in a full, clear voice. “The next instant the bolt was drawn, and death was instantaneous.” Her entry in the hangman’s manual, called the Particulars of Executions, states she had a one-pound lead weight sewn into the shirt to stop it billowing out. In a matter-of-fact way, it was stated that the 5ft 2in Knorr was hanged with a rope with a drop of 7ft 6in. Soon after her execution, prison authorities found a confession back in her cell, penned a few hours before she left it for the last time. She wrote: “I express a strong desire that this statement be made public, with the hope that my fate will not only be a warning to others, but also act as a deterrent to those who are perhaps carrying on the same practice.” Although Knorr was convicted of the murders of two babies, police inquiries later revealed she could have been responsible for the deaths of a dozen, and even more, infants.



ON THIS DAY – January 14, 1891

Shortly after 7pm, a ghastly tragedy was perpetrated in a narrow lane off Chapel-street, Prahran, known as St. James’s-place. In one of the small wooden house lived three women and two or three men, one being a labourer named Monteith. One of the women, Ada Hatton, was constantly visited by a John Thomas Phelan, a railway engine driver, a single man, who was at one time had living with Hatton. Although no longer living with her he was still very fond of the woman, and was jealous of Monteith, about whom he had had several quarrels with Hatton, about. On the night of the 14th of January, Phelan had been drinking, and about 7 pm made his way to the house in St. James’s-pIace, where he found Hatton alone. They had a few short, sharp words, and then terrible screams were heard. Some neighbours rushed in and found the woman lying on the floor in a pool of blood with her throat cut, and Phelan leaning heavily against a portion of the room with a knife in his hand, and gashes in his throat from which the blood flowed freely. He was seized before he was able to dispatch himself. When the police arrived they found the woman’s head half severed from the body and a dreadful gash in the cheek. The woman was dead before medical assistance could arrive. Phelan’s wounds were stitched, and he was taken to the Alfred Hospital in a precarious, though not hopeless, state. Phelan stated to the police that he wished the knife had been keener and he would have been dead, adding—”Now I suppose I shall be hanged. Oh! My mother will break her heart.” Phelan was executed in Old Melbourne Gaol on the 16th of March 1891. At 10am he was led from his cell to the gallows. When asked if he had anything to say, Phelan replayed with a smile “no”. The lever was pulled and death was immediate.



On This Day ……. 24th of August 1923

On the 24th of August 1923, Angus Murray, who is serving a sentence of 15 years for robbery under arms, made his escape, by means of a small saw, he removed the stones at the base of his window. The bars were then loosened, leaving him sufficient room to squeeze through. Murray had torn his bedclothes into shreds to form a rope to lower himself to the ground. He was then able to scale the outside wall were a motor car was waiting for him. A boy, passing the Gaol at the time of the escape saw Murray clamber down from his cell and spring into a car. The police scoured the district, but could not find any trace of the fugitive. On the morning of the 9th of October 1923, Murray shot Mr Berriman the manager of the Glenferrie branch of the Commercial Bank and robbed him of £1851. Berriman died the on the 22nd of October. A large force of detectives raided, a house in St, Kilda at 5am, arresting Angus Murray, Leslie (Squizzy) Taylor, and Ida Pender. Angus Murray was charged with the Glenferrie robbery and with escaping from custody. Taylor and Pender were locked up on holding charges, but were later released. A few days after Berriman’s death Murray was charged with his murder and on 14th of April 1924, he was executed in the Melbourne Gaol. Murray stood on the scaffold and made the following statement: “Never in my life have I done anything to justify the extreme penalty being passed upon me. I have prayed hard for those who have acted against me, and I hope that those whom I have injured will forgive me.” Turning to the hangman as the rope was passed around his neck, he said: “Pull it tight.” Murray’s death was instantaneous.


The headless remains of Australia’s most infamous criminal, Ned Kelly, have been identified. Victoria state Attorney General Robert Clark said that a team of forensic scientists identified Kelly’s remains among those exhumed from a mass grave at Pentridge prison in Melbourne in 2009. Kelly led a gang of bank robbers in Victoria in the 19th century. Today he is considered by many Australians to be a Robin Hood-like figure who stood up to the British colonial authorities of the time. He was executed in 1880, but his final resting place had long been a mystery. “To think a group of scientists could identify the body of a man who was executed more than 130 years ago, moved and buried in a haphazard fashion among 33 other prisoners, most of whom are not identified, is amazing,” said Victoria Attorney General Robert Clark. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that investigators revealed that an almost complete skeleton of the outlaw was found buried in a wooden ax box. Clark said DNA analysis and other tests were used to confirm the skeleton is Kelly’s. The Morning Herald said DNA samples were taken from Melbourne school teacher Leigh Olver, who is the great-grandson of Kelly’s sister Ellen. Kelly’s skull was stolen from a display case at the Old Melbourne Gaol in 1978. A 2009 claim by a West Australian farmer, Tom Baxter, that he had Kelly’s skull was eventually rejected, but led to the investigation that uncovered his bones. The Morning Herald said that investigators believed that Kelly’s remains were transferred from the Old Melbourne Gaol to the Pentridge prison in 1929, then exhumed with the remains of 33 other people during the investigation in 2009. Baxter had handed the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine what he said was the stolen skull, which featured the inscription “E. Kelly” on its side — Kelly’s actual first name was Edward. Baxter has not revealed how he got ahold of the skull. Scientists at the institute set out to determine who the skull belonged to, and to identify Kelly’s full remains among the tangle of skeletons exhumed from the Pentridge site. Through CT scans, X-rays, anthropological and historical research and DNA analysis, the team finally identified one skeleton as Kelly’s. Most of its head was missing. Stephen Cordner, the institute’s director, said the DNA left no doubt the skeleton was Kelly’s. Tests on the remains also uncovered evidence of shotgun wounds that matched those Kelly suffered during his criminal rampage. “The wear and tear of the skeleton is a little bit more than would be expected for a 25-year-old today,” Cordner said. “But such was Ned’s life, this is hardly surprising.” As for Baxter’s “E. Kelly” skull? Not Ned’s. The whereabouts of Kelly’s skull remain a mystery, Cordner said. Descendant Olver told reporters in Melbourne that he hoped his notorious ancestor will finally be laid to rest in a place of dignity. “It’s such a great relief to finally have this side of the story resolved,” Olver said. Kelly’s story has been documented in several books and movies, including a film starring Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and another starring late actor Heath Ledger. Kelly’s use of homemade armor to protect himself from police bullets was even given a nod during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, when actors on stilts dressed in similar armor were featured in the opening ceremony. “I think a lot of Australians connect with Ned Kelly and they’re proud of the heritage that has developed as a result of our connection with Ned Kelly and the story of Ned Kelly,” Olver said. “In our family, he was a hero.”

herald Sun


ON THIS DAY – July 20, 1889


The trial of Robert Landells for the murder of Peter Joseph Sherlock, at Ringwood, on July 20, was concluded, before Mr. Justice Hodges. The jury returned a verdict of guilty. The prisoner, in reply to the usual question, said he had nothing to say. Sentence of death was then passed upon the prisoner. Landell was executed at old Melbourne gaol on the 16th October 1889.

On This Day ……. 30th May 1914

Mr. W Furnell as governor of the Geelong gaol, was promoted to Melbourne to the Governor of the Melbourne gaol (old Melbourne gaol). Until his replacement Mr Finnish arrives from Beechworth, Mr. M. Hayward will take charge.

During its operation, the gaol was the setting for 133 hangings. The most infamous was that of bushranger Ned Kelly at the age of 25, on 11 November 1880. After a two-day trial, Kelly was convicted of killing a police officer. As stated by law at the time, executed prisoners were buried (without head) in unmarked graves in the gaol burial yard. The head was normally removed from the body as part of the phrenological study of hanged felons. Historian and associate professor of Wollongong University John McQuilton states that the lack of monitoring for burial processes was odd, given Victorian society’s normally brilliant attention to detail. The first hanging of a woman in Victoria, Elizabeth Scott, was performed in the prison on 11 November 1863 – along with her co-accused, Julian Cross and David Gedge. The last person to be executed was Angus Murray in 1924, the same year the gaol was closed.

EXECUTED THIS DAY……. 14th May 1872

The execution of Edward Feeney for the murder of Charles Marks in the Treasury gardens on the 6th March last, took place in the morning at the Melbourne Gaol at the appointed hour of 10. The sheriff (Mr. W. Wright) was present, as were also the governor of the gaol, Drs. Barker and Moloney, the representatives of the press, and a few other persons. When the prisoner stepped out of his cell he appeared to be quite resigned to the awful punishment about to be inflicted upon him, and submitted to the pinioning operations of William Bamford without any visible signs of emotion or fear. The Rev. Mr. Lordan, the Roman Catholic chaplain of the gaol, who had been in close attendance on the prisoner all the morning, read prayers during the whole time he was on the scaffold. When the drop had fallen there were slight spasmodic muscular contractions of the body, which lasted for about two minutes, but it did not seem that there were any remains of life, or that the contractions were different from what are sometimes seen in the bodies of other strongly-formed men in similar positions. All the particulars of the history of the deceased man which are known in this colony have been already published. He was born in Ireland in 1834, came out to Victoria with the 18th Regiment, in which he was a private, in the year 1853, and was for some time latterly employed in the Melbourne Hospital. No public confession was made by him excepting a statement to Mr. Castieau, in which he denied another crime that had commonly been imputed to him besides that of murder.

On This Day ……. 14th May 1881

It was reported in the Argus news paper on this day in 1881, that the body of Ned Kelly was dissected by the students at the Melbourne Hospital who carried away large sections of it. The remainder was thrown into a pit at the back of the old Melbourne Gaol, with quick-lime, and soon became dust and ashes.

On this day …….. 17th of April 1929

After the closure of the Old Melbourne Gaol in Russell st, the bodies of the condemned were exhumed and reinterred at Pentridge Prison. There was great excitement in Melbourne when Ned Kelly’s body was discovered in 1924. On this day in 1929, Ned Kelly’s bones were returned by souvenir hunters.


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.