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Painful Encounters: Executions and Emotions in Colonial Melbourne

Date: Friday 24 March 2017
Time: 4:10pm - 5:30pm
Venue: Napier LG23, The University of Adelaide, North Terrace, Adelaide
Enquiries: Jacquie Bennett (jacquie.bennett@adelaide.edu.au)

The execution of a criminal was an emotive scene that generated a variety of different responses among the well-to do in colonial Melbourne – squeamishness, disgust and sympathy to name only a few of the more prominent. These reactions were triggered by the sight of a body in pain, a scene that conflicted with the colonists ‘civilised’ sense of self and the hopes they had for their fledgling metropolis. Throughout the colonial period the practice of executions in Melbourne was altered in such a way as to sanitise ‒ but mostly to hide ‒ the pain felt by the criminal. Only then would such troublesome emotional scenes be avoided, or otherwise forgotten, as capital punishment was inflicted in ever greater privacy as the nineteenth century matured.

Steven Anderson researches the history of capital punishment in colonial Australia with a specific focus on the transition from public to private executions that occurred during the 1850s. His recently completed PhD from The University of Adelaide was awarded the Dean’s Commendation for Doctoral Thesis Excellence and his work appears in the Journal of Australian Colonial History, the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society and Aboriginal History.


Image: Hideki Saito, Old Melbourne Gaol, 2006. Courtesy of Wikimedia commons.