The Execution of Henry Manns’ 1863

The Execution of Henry Manns is a private Hanging as Public Hangings ceased in Australia in 1855. In attendance were Law officers, Medicos, Politicians, the Executioner and the Press.

There is an over riding assumption that a hanging will go to plan. What is remarkable is when a hanging  goes wrong the absents of a back up plan. This is an example of a hanging gone wrong,

(Spelling as per the era it was written.)

Sydney Morning Herald 

21/4/ 1863 


Another of these sad and terrible spectacles, a criminal execution, took place at the Darlinghurst Gaol, on Thursday morning, 26th ultimo, the dreadful instance of the law having been carried into effect on    the body of Henry  Manns, convicted, together with  John Bow and Alexander Fordyce, of participation in the gold escort robbery on the 15th June last. Most energetic efforts had been made to procure a commutation of the capital sentence passed on the unfortunate culprit, but although many thousands of  signatures were spontaneously appended to a petition, and though several gentlemen of great influence and respectability gave the weight of their support to the memorial, the members of the Executive Council did not fell justified in recommending, his Excellency to grant the prayer of the petitioners, by extending the some mercy to Manns which was accorded to Bowand Fordyce.

The fact of a portion of the stolen gold being found on the prisoner Manns, coupled with his own wish to plead guilty, was regarded as a corroboration of the approver’s testimony, and in this  circumstance, we understand, lay the distinction which, in considering the cases of the prisoners, the Government found it impossible to ignore. Since the period of his condemnation, the unhappy young man, who was only twenty-four years of age, had conducted himself in gaol with great propriety, and under the zealous and untiring efforts of the clergymen who attended him, devoted himself earnestly to  preparation for the awful ordeal through which he was to pass ; though it would seem he was not wholly  without hope up to Wednesday evening that his life would be spared.

This belief was intensified no doubt from his learning what had been done in the case of Bow, and the strong efforts which were being  made on his own behalf. The Executive, however, did not feel justified in acceding to the prayer of the mermorialists, and hence on Wednesday afternoon intimation was forwarded to the Sheriff that the law must take its course. There were but very few persons present at the distressing scene, the spectators not exceeding thirty in number, and the execution was delayed for nearly twenty minutes beyond the usual hour, probably with the humane object of allowing any communication in the shape of a respite-or reprieve to reach the gaol. No such document, however arrived, and at about twenty minutes past nine the prisoner was pinioned and brought forth.

He was attended by the Venerable Archdeacon M’Encroe, the Venerable Archpriest Therry, and the Rev. Father Dwyer, the latter having precedence in the mournful procession. He walked firmly and erect, and though somewhat pallid in expression, he displayed no agitation or want of fortitude-still less  anything approaching to bravado or recklessness. Arrived at the foot of the  gallows, he remained in prayer for five or six minutes with the reverend attendants, and then ascended the ladder in company with the Venerable Archdeacon and the Rev. Mr Dwyer.      

On arriving at the drop, he spoke briefly to the persons assembled, stating that ” he had nothing further to say beyond what he had already told ;”adding that he was thankful to his friends and the good people in Sydney who had exerted themselves to save his life, for which service he hoped God would bless them. The clergymen then parted with him, praying as they descended from, the platform, while the executioner proceeded to perform his terrible office. On this occasion, whether it arose from nervousness or excitement on the part of the executioner, the preliminaries were not so speedily performed as they were in the case of the two men (Ross), a lapse of nearly two minutes occurring ere he had concluded his preparations. When at length these were completed, and the bolt was drawn, there ensued one of the most appalling spectacles ever witnessed at an execution.

The noose of the rope, instead of passing rightly round the neck, slipped completely away, the knot coming round in front of the face, while the whole weight of the criminal’s body was sustained by  the thick muscles of the poll. The rope, in short, went round the middle of the head, and the work of the hangman proved a most terrible bungle.

The sufferings and struggles of the wretched being were heart rending to behold. His body swayed about, and writhed, evidently in the most intense agony. The arms repeatedly rose and fell, and finally, with  one of his hands the unfortunate man gripped the  rope as if to tear the pressure from his head —aloud guttural noise the meanwhile proceeding from his throat and lungs, while blood gushed from his nostrils, and stained the cap  with which his face was covered. This awful scene lasted for more than ten minutes, when stillness ensued, and it was hoped the death had terminated the culprit’s sufferings. Shocking to relate, however, the vital spark was not yet extinguished, and to the horror of all present, the convulsive writhing were renewed  the tenacity to life being remarkable, and a repetition of the sickening scene was only at last terminated at the instance of Dr West, by the aid of four confines, who were made to hold the dying malefactor up in their arms while the executioner re-adjusted the rope, when the body was let fall with a jerk, and another minute sufficed to end the agonies of death. The executioner expressed his sorrow to the gaoler and under-sheriff for what had happened, assuring them that it was from no fault or intention of his, but solely the result of accident.

The body was lowered into a shell shortly before ten o’clock, and it was with deep regret and indignation that some of the spectators saw the hangman attempt to remove a pair of new boots from the feet of the corpse. This revolting act was, however, instantly prevented, and the body, which was decently attired  in a white shirt, moleskin trousers and blouse, was    removed to the deadhouse, where it remained un-touched till the arrival of a hearse procured by the  relatives of the criminal, to whom the authorities had decided to hand it over for interment.

Thus miserably and fearfully terminated the life of a man barely in the prime of manhood-one blessed naturally with robust health, and a strong well-constituted frame -two good auguries of a protracted existence had not the temptation to crime and the want of  moral principles led him to the commission of an outrage -into the playing of a desperate game where he staked his worldly happiness, liberty, and life against the poor advantage of procuring gold and money without honest labour. Surely such a terrible example must have its influence, and serve to make others pause who are treading the dark path which brought this criminal so swiftly to the ignominy of a violent and disgraceful death.

Henry Manns was twenty-four years of age, and a native of Campbelltown. Many, persons who knew him there as a boy and youth have spoken of him favourably as a very well conducted lad. For the last six or seven years-he was employed in looking after stock in the district lying between the Murrumbidgee and the Lachlan Rivers, and for the last twelve or eighteen months was at a station called the Gap, belonging to a Mr ‘Sutherland, at no great distance from Burrangong. He was supposed to have made the acquaintance of Gardiner at Lambing Flat where he was frequently seen lounging about the hotels ; and is imagined to have been one of the gang employed by that marauder in that particular part of the country.


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