This article is about Gibbeting in Van Diemen’s Land which is Tasmania today. This is from the book A -Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard. It is a must read for all those interested in the early history of Tasmania.
In the early days of settlement in Australia, convicts sentenced to death were hanged. Initially executions were held publicly, as the spectacle of seeing criminals swing was believed to be an excellent deterrent to others. In February 1825, however three convicts mounted the scaffold at Sarah Island. They kicked their shoes off, laughed and shouted goodbye to the cheering comrades. The authorities were not amused and the gallows at Hobart town were moved inside the Murray Street gaol
The bodies of executed criminals were sometimes suspended from Gibbets to deter others from criminal behaviour.
In Van Diemen’s Land which is today’s Tasmania, this practise was carried out many times. This practise was regularised in England by the Murder Act 1715.
The first person to be gibbeted in Vand Diemen’s land was a bush ranger named John Brown. After being hanged and dissected his remains were gibbeted off Pinchgut Island in New South Wales. In May 1815, Denis McCarty carted the headless body of James Whitehead, the former leader of Howe Gang, into Hobart Town where it was hung in chans off Hunter Island to greet incoming ships. In June, Richard McGuire, a bushranger from the same gang was executed and gibbeted next to white head’s rotting corpse. One year later the bodies were moved to a point of land near the Queensborough Cemetery. The Hobart Town Gazette described the bodies as objects of disgust. Others, however, believed them to be a beneficial beacon. In December 1818, Governor Macquarie congratulated Lieutenant Governor Sorell on brining Michael Howe to justice and regretted not being able to gibbet the corpse. When Judge Algernoon Montagu ordered the execution of Francis Mazfield for the attempted murder of his overseer, Joseph Ellis, he stated his desire to have the body gibbeted at Port Arthur.
Gibbeting was outlawed in 1834, but in 1837 case of John McKey , Van Diemonian authorities made an exception.
Gibbeting of John Mc Key and naming of Gibbet Hill
In April 1837 John McKey was charged with the murder of Joseph Edward Wilson. He was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged and then gibbeted at the murder scene. McKey’s body was taken to Perth. It was placed in an iron casing and suspended from seven metre gibbet. A crowd gathered to view the proceedings. It was reported that two men positioned themselves below the gibbet and consoled themselves with Rum. Rather than being reformed by the fate of their comrade, they committed numerous crimes on the journey back to Launceston and wound up in the police lock up. Within a few weeks of his body gibbeted the locals were so disgusted by the thought of flies swarming on the body and flying their dwellings that they lobbied to have it removed. In September McKey’s body was taken down and after Doctor de Dasssel and Dr Grant removed his head for phrenological examination, his remains were interred on the spot. McKey was the last man to be gibbeted in English history. Van Diemonians immortalised the end of an era by naming the area Gibbet hill.
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