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Tales of the Hangman from the Old Brisbane Gaol Gallows

It has been my lot to see death in many shapes, and they were all nearly dismal. The first executions seen by me were in the old Brisbane gaol in Petrie Terrace, and the two victims, who were hanged together, were a white man and a Chinaman. The white man was a teamster from the west, a man of splendid physique, a fine looking fellow, who had deliberately shot one of his mates, at whom he fired five times before killing him. He was only 32 years of age, and bore the name of an old time honoured English family.

It was a mournful sight to see that perfect specimen of manhood, brought out of the grim cell on that glorious morning, when the life of the city was just beginning, and the birds were singing their morning songs on the somber pines outside the gaol yard. He had only his arms pinioned across his back, by the elbows, his legs being free, but a strong policeman held him on each side. As he passed us he cast one swift sidelong glance, as if looking for some friendly face, then passed on to the foot of the gallows.

Arrived there he gave one look and actually ran up the steps to the platform, where he stood on the drop, and the hangman fastened his ankles. When the rope was being adjusted, he gave his head an impatient jerk, and we heard him say, “Put the knot farther round!” Those were his last words.

He was absolutely fearless and defiant, evidently his one desire being to have to over as soon as possible. He had really gone through the horrors of it all in his imagination in the condemned cell, and it was a positive relief to face the stern reality.

The Chinaman was in mortal terror, and had to be partly carried up to the platform. They stood side by side about 2ft apart, on a trap door hinged at the back, and held by a sliding bolt in front.

At a signal the hangman drew the bolt, with a lever, and the trap door fell, the two men gliding down off it into space, ending with just such a sound as any heavy object would make under the same conditions. The white man was about 12 stone in weight, and he fell stone dead, without making the slightest movement. Both gave a slight convulsive start when they felt the trap door going from under them. The Chinaman struggled for about a minute, and kicked both his shoes off.

When cut down, his body was handed to Baron Mikhoule Macleay, a visiting Russian scientist, who had to cut John’s head off, a privilege given by the Home Secretary, and he asked Jack Hamilton and myself, the only two members of Parliament present, to remain and witness the act of decapitation.

The Baron took the head away to a back room in the Museum, for anatomical purposes, to decide if the skull of the Mongolian was built the same as that of the European. That, of course, was all bunkum, as hundreds of Mongolian skulls were familiar to comparative anatomists long before that date.

Was present when a notorious aboriginal known as “Johnny Campbell” was hanged. His native name was “Parpoonya” a very powerful determined man, who showed no fear whatever upon the gallows. Like the Western teamster, it was a relief to get away from the monotony of gaol, and brooding over the final catastrophe.

He, too, fell stone dead and his body was given to the Russian scientist Baron Macleay, who dumped it in a cask of rum, or as much rum as Johnny left room for, labeled it “Dugong Oil,” and consigned it to a St. Petersburg scientific society.

When going up the Baltic, and the Gulf of Finland, the Russian sailors could only understand the word “oil”, and having a weakness for fat or oil of any sort, and assuming that Dugong oil must be a special and expensive brand to be sent so far with such care, they decided to “tap the Admiral,” and so bored a gimlet hole in the cask, and drank everything inside, except Johnny Campbell.

When the corpus delicti of the redoubtable Queensland aboriginal was delivered to the scientific society, and they knocked out the end, the perfume was wafted over St. Petersburg in a thick cloud, and the members of the Scientific Society drove rapidly out of town in two horse droskys to get some fresh air.

There has only been one woman hanged in Queensland, a woman who assisted a man to murder her own husband on the Mosman River, She and her paramour were hanged together, but as her husband and herself had once been my host and hostess, and a very charming hostess she was, it was necessary for me to avoid the pain of seeing that execution, but heard that she showed far more courage than the man. With her, too, it was probably a relief from the deadly monotony of Gaol, and the pain of the awful suspense

- Unknown