I was recently listening to a true crime podcast and came across a reference to the story of the execution of 59 year old carpenter, John Conn which occurred in Bathurst on 5 June 1872.  Thanks to the efforts of the National Library of Australia and their trove database I found the article in the Bathurst Times  (and it was also republished in the Mercury (Hobart) and Empire (Sydney) a couple of weeks later).  I will let the crime reporter of the day tell most of the story….


Conn was at the last Assizes convicted and condemned to death for the murder of an elderly woman named Eveline Littler. Apparently Ms Littler had been struck a violent blow from behind with a tomahawk which penetrated her skull to “two inches and a half“.  The balanced and objective reporting of the time also included:  “Nobody who has heard or read of the circumstances, can for a moment doubt that John Conn was the guilty man, and that his fate was a just punishment for the heinous and bloodthirsty crime which he committed.”

The newspaper continued:    “Precisely at 9 o’clock yesterday the wretched criminal, attended by the Rev. Father McAuliffe, was led forth from his cell, and quietly submitted himself to the hands of the two executioners, who at once proceeded to pinion him. The process was conducted in the presence of Deputy Sheriff Uhr, the gaol officials, a detachment of police under senior-sergeant Grainger, the members of the Press, and about half a dozen civilians.

The hangmen then stationed themselves one on each side of the prisoner, and, preceded by Father McAuliffe, led the way to the shed near the scaffold at the western end of the building, the doomed man repeating after the priest, in a low but steady voice, the prayers usually read on such occasions. …..When the priest quitted his side, the prisoner was taken to the foot of the gallows by Bull and his assistant, and ascended the stairs without exhibiting any agitation. He assisted the executioners, by moving his head, to fix the rope, and just previous to this being properly adjusted he turned and addressed some remark to the senior hangman, but what he said was inaudible to those below. He then raised his hands twice, as if in supplication, and upon the cap being thrown over his head and tied, the bolt was drawn. A scene now occurred that never will be forgotten by those who witnessed it. When the body passed through the drop the spectators of course expected to see it swing underneath when the extent of the rope was reached ; but what was their horror to see the trunk, completely severed from the head fall into the pit below, while the head was left dangling in the noose—a terrible and ghastly sight. Death, of course, was instantaneous.

It is impossible to describe the sensation which this shocking spectacle produced…..

Despite that impossibility the report did continue with “everyone rooted to the spot” and more description of the scene.  If you want to read more you can look up Trove.

Creative commons acknowledgement for the photograph.
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