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THE BALLARAT TRAGEDY.

EXECUTION OF JOHNSTON.

James Johnston, who murdered his wi and four children ■at Ballarafc in r Decembe

last, suffered the extreme penalty of the law within the precinct's of Ballanifc gaol on May 18. , Some difficulty (says a Melbourne contemporary in its report of the execution) was experienced in making the arrangements for currying * put the death ; penalty., Johnston was unable to walk on to the scaffold, and it was found necessary to ask the warders to carry him on to the drop. The warders put their heads together yesterday and decided whatever should happen tliey would not assist in placing the condemned man's head in the fatal noose. On no account whatever would they act as assistants to the hangman. Then it was sought to get some of the prisoners' help; but here, too, a difficulty arose. Two men were spoken to, but they flatly declined to have anything to do with it, saying that the fact of their being sent to gaol to serve a term of imprisonment did not entitle them to be called as handy men to the executioner, and though they were told that some, consideration; would be attached to the job, they preferred to earn the indulgences of their gaolers in some other fashion less repulsive to their ideas of human sympathy and manly feeling. At last the Governor of the Gaol bethought him of an invalid's chair, into which the patient could be placed, and wheeled out by the hangman himself, thus requiring no extra assistance from anybody. This idea was debated .by those concerned in the carrying out of the painful operation, approved of, and adopted. j A minute or two before the appointed hour Sheriff Anderson entered, and the privileged few preceded him into the inner yard of the gaol, and took up their positions before the drop. Two warders stood on duty, one jon v each side ?of the scaffold, looking pale : and haggard, as if" the deed they were about to witness had. little attraction for; them. From the condemned cell the voice of the clergyman issued as J he addressed ; his last exhortations to the

penitent, at whose side he stayed till the last. Everyone expected to witness an awful and hideous spectacle, and an uncomfortable feeling seemed to have seized hold of the little crowd gathered beneath, who longed for it to be over that they .'might get out into the light of day again and away from the hideous surroundings of the scene. j At last the sheriff approaches, accompanied by the doctor (Dr. Jordan). A way was made for them to pass through, s and as they ascended the fateful iron structure leading to the balcony abore, it was felt that the painful moment was at hand.' The executioner stood quietly by awaiting .his victim. Jones was not disguised this, morning in any way, having-either forgotten his beard in Melbourne, or else having decided to abandon it, as a relic of an almost forgotten past, when executions were more in favour than they, are now. "I am here to the body of James Johnston," and the sheriff advancing to the door of the cell, presented his warrant to the governor, who received and examined it, and went within. • It took a few seconds to lift the convict into his-chair, and to pinion his arms behind his back. Then there was a gentle knock at the door leading out on the drop, the lumbering thing was pushed open by a warder, and then , the procession came out into the full gaze of the onlookers. Jones came out back ways, dragging the chair after him. For a moment it got jammed in the dooway, but a few tugs saw it through and when the ; poor . wretch emerged and saw the preparations for his death; he smiled pleasantly, like a man who is about to address a few words on some kindred subject to those who stood gazing up at him from the corridor. The chair was then dragged through the rail on to the:drop, the task causing Jones no little effort, but not a soul; among the warders would go to his assistance. The chair was first placed sideways, but Johnston did not appear to be satisfied' with the arrangement, and shook his head, as if requesting to turn ; his face to the door. The chair was wheeled round, and the executioner proceeded to strip his victim's thick, muscular neck. For the first time, Johnston could Be seen, to advantage. He was a splendidly made man, strong and muscular, with a powerful arid by no means repulsive cast of features. He was attired in prison garb, well branded

with numbers and broad arrows ; bub these, notwithstanding the man's great composure and pleasant smile, pave him something of an imposing air, 'as 'he sat there for the moment awaiting the affixing of the noose. It looked at first as if ones were going to hang him in the chair, and Johnston'too seemed to think so, for turning his head . sharply towards the hangman he signalled to him to raise him up. •: " Have you anything to say?" the sheriff demanded ; but the wretched creature simply responded with a shake of the head. The rope was now about his heck ; he stood steadily on his feet. The chair was drawn away, and then followed a ? few- seconds of the most painful suspense. Jones having no one to help him, was obliged to hold the man from falling backward or forward; and at the same time to tighten the rope around I his neck. The rope had not been well greased;; making the slip-knot difficult to raw as tightly as was necessary. The hangman, however, proved equal to the occasion; for, putting one arm around Johnston, he caught the knot in his teeth, and, pulling, the slack through with the other arm, drew it closely up ; then, pulling the ugly white cap down over the face, he stood aside to pull the lever. This he effected in the twinkling of an eye. Not an instant was lost ; . for, had there been, there was every possibility of the victim falling either forward or backward, though it was evident he was resolved to stand as firmly -as he could. A" sharp v click and rumbling noise, and James Johnston, fell six - feet, rand was hanged by the neck till he was dead. / Owing to his weight, nearly 14st, the drop was one foot shorter than in Wilson's case. The noose , had . not been drawn as firmly round the neck as it ought, so that it looked as if the hideous operation had been imperfectly effected. Tins opinion was borne out by the muscular twitehings of the dying man, which continued for 'two minutes; but the flesh did nob appear to have been torn.

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZH18910528.2.51

Bibliographic details

THE BALLARAT TRAGEDY., New Zealand Herald, Volume XXVIII, Issue 8578, 28 May 1891

Word Count
1,143

THE BALLARAT TRAGEDY. New Zealand Herald, Volume XXVIII, Issue 8578, 28 May 1891

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