Execution of Joseph Burns.
The extieme penalty denounced, alike lay divine and human law, against •' whoso sheddeth man's blood", was accomplished upon this atrocious malefactor, precisely at noon, on Saturday last. Rarely, if ever, did crime of such appalling turpitude and followed up by devices of such diabolical malignancy, conspire to excite a move intense or more universal sensation. Its wholesale butcheries — the criminations and implications of its callous perpetrator — the purely circumstantial testimony upon which he was condemned — the less than little credibility of the chief evidence against him — and the impel turbable peitinacity with which, until the hour of death drew near, the murderer protested his utter blood guiltlessness — all combined to distract the public mind with uneasy misgivings, and to aggravate the already more than sufficient horror. Until the last evening of his existence closed in, Burns maintained most obdurate persistence an his innoceucy. To the admonitions of the gospel ministers, (Messrs Churton & Buddie), who fiom the first, ■\veie unwearied in attendance, he gave a respectful attention, joining in their devotional exercises, and listening to their sacred instructions ; but, to every attempt to awaken him to a just sense of penitence by its sole practical exhibition, — confession, — he lemained relentless and impassive — his mind a piey to one undying desiie of vengeance on his miserable concubine, the chief instalment of his conviction, and whom he longed to lender paiticipatress of his punishment. He would pi ay with the clergymen whilst present, but the moment their backs were turned he would indulge in a strain of levity and licence ill-becoming any man, much less one in his awful situation. He continually insisted that Real don had not told the truth although she could do so , fand when, at his own desiie, f,hr> A\as introduced into his. cell, a scene of contradictions and cumulations ensued disgusting to those whose duty compelled them to be piesent. Reunion, how evei, met all his assertions with a full and feasible denial, and (we have it from an authentic source) gave unanswerable lilies to their conflicting allegations. On Fiiday. he took faiewellofhis childien , the separation is desenbed as being most harlownig; they weit litcially loin horn his em. brace." <• Oi^e touch of natuu 1 /' my\ a niaM.eu
spirit, " makes the whole woikl akin," and the looted ailection borne by Burns to his hapless oflspnng. was almost the sole peiceptible touch which could be ti.iecd betwixt this savige and his kind. About eight o'clock on Vnda) e\ening Mr. Chuiton, leturned to his oflice of nuucy, m the cell of the condemned. The culpat was moie than usually dejected — m (iuth,upto this moment, be had manifested no symptom of fear, and little inclination to lcpentance. A bout half past nine the Sheriff enteied the cell when the unhappy convict expressed the utmost gratitude to that gentleman for the kindness he had experienced at his hands during the lengthened period of his incarceration. He then said he had told many a lie since he had been in gaol, for which he was heartily sorry and that he would soon declare the truth. It seemed as if this was the first moment in which he had been awakened to the full reality of his situation, because he, more than once, intimated that until then he had always cherished a hope of avoiding his fate. The three subsequent hours were dedicated entirely to devotion ; but during their passage, the wretched criminal repeatedly betrayed the racking tortures of his soul, evincing a desire to unburthen his mind. He repeated his assertions that he had ne\er hitherto spoken truth, but that he would do so before he died. At length, moved by Mr. Chin ton's benevolent exhortations, he divulged the long denied secret, making and signing a lull and complete confession. That confession, for many reasons, must, at present, be withheld ; but, during its utterance it would be impossible to describe the fearful conflict apparently wairing in the convicts heart. Immediately it. was made he sank from sheer exhaustion, fainting several times, and falling into frequent convulsiona. At h\o a.m. the Sheriff withdrew. Worn with fatigue the condemned yielded to the influence of sleep reposing soundly until half past seven. The Rev. Chaplain remained throughout the night. Shortly after eight the Sheriff returned and informed him that the period of preparation for his last earthly scene had arrived. " Well, Sir," he said, " has it cometo this ? God's will he done !" He was, nevertheless comparatively cheerful and much refreshed by slumber. — Immediately previous to quitting the cell he requested that the Bible might be opened and held before him. This wish complied with, he placed both hands upon the sacred volume, calling God, into whose dread presence he was just about to enter, to bear witness to the truth of the written statement of the preceding night. He, then, with feeble steps, approached the block to have his fetters knocked off. We were greatly struck with the change that a fortnight had wrought in his appearance. — His look was haggard — almost ghastly — and he seemed nearly incapable of supporting himself, leaning heavily whilst his irons were being removed. From the cell he was conducted to the gaol yard under an escort of armed police. Heie a cart was in waiting, into which (being handcuffed) he was assisted, the Rev. Mr. Churton taking a seat on his left and Mr. Justin on his right — the police filing off on either side; the Sheriff, the Governor of the gaol, and the other public functionaries in the rear. In this order,Jshortly afterten,the doleful cortege issued from the prison gates, a strong detachment of the 58th regt., under command of Captain Thompson,^being drawn up outside, and immediately forming a flanking escort. The procession passed along Queen Street and up Shortland Ciescent, crowds of people gazing with a curious dread at the terrible show. The unhappy culprit preserved a wonderful composuie, and had rallied greatly through the bracing influence of the morning air. During this stage of his piogress he implored Mr. Chuiton to address the spectators at the place, of execution, warning them against the vices that led him step by step to that day's end. The reverend gentlemen promised he would do so, and asked him whether he might add that he confessed the crime and the justice of the sentence but he replied " No, not at this time — not till lam gone — at this time speak only of those two things." At about a quarter to eleven the cortege reached the place of embarkation at Official Bay. — Here a number of boats belonging to Government, the ships in port, and private individuals, wcie congregated, and many large Maori canoes were plying for European passengers. — The chief actor in this tragic drama having, with the armed police, been transferred to the pinnace of the Ann, the funeral flotilla, (which was by no means so numerous as might have been expected) commenced cleaving the blue and placid waters. This aquatic portion of the ordeal was by no means one of its least imposing features. It excited a thrilling of the marrow to contemplate so much of active life intent upon the accomplishment of one degiading and abhorrent death — and a spectator unconscious of the freightage round which the tiny squadron circled must have deemed them a fleet of pleasuie lather than a convoy of doom. The North Sho.e was speedily attained, and as the assassin approached his final bourne his physical strength fand composure appeared to inciease. In fact it was observed that he marched towards the scaffold, erected over the veiy spot where his victims were massacred, with a fiim unflinching step, yet without the least bravado of bearing. Upon entering the lower enclosure, conducting to the scaffold, to which a few were admitted besides the pfficeis of justice; the
culprit sat down upon hr. co (Tin, upon which his rcveiend attendant knoll and wept o\ci him. The flinty ho.ut of the nniulciei A\as tombed, and he i. unity niiiinmicd. " God bless )ou, sit — God bless yon !" Ah. Churton then engaged in prayer for the wietehod man. and thanksgiving to God for biinging Ihe hidden things of darkness to light, and laying the lighteons aim of the law upon the head of the guilty paity ; in ay Inch aspirations the eulpiit joined, apparently A\ith gieat sincciity ; and, notwithstanding the enormity of his guilt, all who were present weie deeply affected, and united in earnest supplication foi his soul's sal vi lion. Burns then requested to see Mr. Dudor, who was brought to him. As soon as he entered, the condemned man fell on his knees, and addressed him thus :—: — " Tom, I now ask your forgiveness for trying to take away yom life ; but I said all that I did against you at the instigation of that Avoman (meaning his paramour, lleardon). She laid the plot against you and Oliver, and I was weak, enough at the time to try to carry lit out. When I laid that charge against you in the gaol, I knew nothing about her swearing against you outside. But, Tom, I could not rest afterwards ; and as soon as I came to myself I gave timely Avarning of your innocence, befoie I cut my throat. (Here he appealed to the Sheriff as to the truth of a\ hat he j said, to which that gentleman assented) . If ' I had not done so innocent men would have suffered the death that I, who am guilty, am about to suffer this day. May the Lord have mercy on my soul ! lam going to meet my God, aud I ask your forgiveness, Tom. (Mr. Dudor here said, "I freely forgive you, Burns, for all you have attempted, and may God also forgive you ; but I can never forget it. You knew I was innocent as Avell as I did niTself; but my conscience was clear, and that was the best of it.") Thank you, Tom ; may the Lord Almighty keep every person from my end. Good Lord, keep them from it ! Remember me to your wife, Tom, and give her my blessing." The handcuffs having been taken off, and his arms pinioned, he ascended the ladder leading to the platform with a firm step. Whilst the rope was being adjusted, with perfect composure he gave directions to the executioner to place the knot " a little higher." All being ready, he stepped upon the drop, I and whilst Mr. Churton was engaged in prayer immediately behind him, turned round and remindtd the rev. gentleman of his request, that he would address the assembled people. Mr. Churton then said, u Bums desires me to say, as his last woids, that the causes which have led him to this sad end, are indulgence in two sinful courses—his fondness for bad women, and his love of (Linking. From these evil beginnings he dates his ruin ; and he entreats of those avlio will listen, to take warning from him — and for all the sinful past he prays pardon, both from God and man." The reverend gentleman then withdrew — the bolt Avas draAvn — the platform fell — and all was hushed. And thus terminated the first European execution. May it be long ere avc be called upon to record another ; not because of any paiticipation in the modern mock sentimentality which avouW set at nought the laAvs of God in exaltation of those of visionary theorists. The divine command has never been lepealed, and he avlio hath said " Vengeance is mine" has, in his unerring providence, oidained that man shall be the instrument of that vengeance, and that the blood of the blood-letter shall be shed. But passing the heavenly command, let us look at the human consequences its disregard would entail. From social civilisation we should sink to moral degradation. Where the laAv in matters of homicide is lax there assassination is rife. As practical examplars, we need only point to Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where one murder is the fruitful parent of many. Are these the countries worthy of English imitation ? Heaven forbid ! Far better to tolerate an occasional execution, with all its disgusting details, rather than by a mawkish philanthropy give tacit sanction to the knife or the stiletto. The gallows, indeed, does well to those who do ill. It does more. It curbs the passions of many a ruffian, who but for its wholesome terrors would not scruple to wade in blood, if necessary to his object. The awful event was improved on the Sabbath — in the morning, at St, Paul's, by the Rev. J. F. Churton, who delivered a discourse founded on the history of David's conduct towards Uriah the 1 Hittite ; and in the evening by the Rev.T.Buddle,attheWesleyan Chapel, who also delivered a discourse on the character of Ahab, and the evil he brought on himself andjposterity by his iniquities, founded on a portion of I. Kings, chapter 21. And though neither of the rev. gentlemen directly referred to the late execution, yet the allusions were too plain, and the Scripture history too applicable, not to be understood. Solemn and impressive warnings were drawn from those portions of sacred history against crime and its sad consequences, both in this world and that which is to come.
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Execution of Joseph Burns., New Zealander, Volume 4, Issue 215, 21 June 1848
Execution of Joseph Burns. New Zealander, Volume 4, Issue 215, 21 June 1848
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