William Banford Executioner of Victoria 1857 – 1873

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Judicial hangings do not perform themselves, there is a symbiotic relationship with the legal system and the Office of Executioner.

In Australia, the first men to hold that Office, were fellow inmates of the prison system. One such inmate to take the opportunity to become the State of Victorias hangman was William Banford.

From 1857 through to 1873 Banford held his role as hangman. He executed efficiently  71 people in that time.

There are many references to his work in the newspapers of the day, so in future blog posts you will know to whom they are referring to. The following newspaper articles are the references to Banford as a human outside of the Job.

 The South Australia Register

14/9/1865

The reporter of the Daylesford Express, a connoisseur in the horrible, concluded his notice of the execution of David Young, the murderer, with    the following compliment to the hangman:— “The  executioner, Bamford, deserves credit for the  skilful manner in which he discharged his awful duty.” The Mercury hopes that its contemporary may never experience the skill alluded to.

The Argus

Border Watch

30/4/1870

Bamford the Victorian hangman having been paid for his services in flogging the three prisoners- last castigated in the Melbourne  gaol resorted to his usual practices of intemperance, and was picked up drunk in the street on Friday. On being brought before the Melbourne Bench, on Saturday morning, he was sent back to prison for a month. He appeared perfectly indifferent as to what became of him, having probably no desire* to leave the shelter of the gaol while without the means of obtaining intoxication.

The  Argus

20/8/1870

The hangman, William Bamford, who is usually in gaol os a vagrant, having earned some money by the two recent executions, has been discharged from custody, and, as customary with him, ho proceeded to expend it in purchasing drink. Yesterday ho was taken before the City magistrates for being drunk and disorderly, and was fined 10s.

Sydney Morning Herald

23/8/1870

A STATE VAGRANT  The Melbourne  Argus states that the hangman, “William Bamford, who usually in gaol as a vagrant, having earned some money by the two recent executions, h is been discharged from custody, and, as customary with him, he proceeded to expend it in purchasing drink. On Friday, he was taken before the city magistrates tor being drunk and disorderly, and was  fined 10 shillings.

The Argus

2/9/1870

The hangman, William Bamford, having received his fee for the execution of Cusack, proceeded to enjoy himself, by holding a sort of “lawn party” on the grass behind the Immigrants’ Home, Bamford, when out of gaol, usually lives amongst the scrub in this vicinity, and on the present festive occasion his guests were fellow outcasts who also in-habit the wilds between the Yarra and the Observatory. Four bottles of rum were pro-cured, and having held a noisy orgy, the boon companions separated, Bamford proceeding to the Immigrants’ Home, where he began to use disgusting language towards the schoolmaster of the place. He was taken to the lock-up, and yesterday, having recovered the effects of his debauch, he was taken before the City Court and fined £5, or two months’ imprisonment, for disorderly conduct.

1/10/1870

The Empire

The sheriff of Ararat (states; the Advertiser) has received the following application for an appointment one would scarcely have thought any person would covet :-

 To the Sheriff,

Sir,

Having seen tho disgraceful exhibition at the hanging of Vair, I consider that another hangman ought to be appointed.

Mr. Bamford is getting too old in the tooth for such work. Should you require any one in the future I should be just happy ¡to, offer my services.

I. remain, yours respectfully,

 Stawell East, 2nd September,1870.

 P.S. l am prepared to do it for 10s per head, but will expect their clothes. I undertake to do the work in a workman like manner.”

As no notice was taken of this communication, the following second letter on the subject was forwarded by the same writer ;-” To the Sheriff. Sir,-I feel rather surprised that you have not answered my letter; you would not get such an offer again. I shall apply to the sheriff of Melbourne for tho billet of hangman. I am quite sure that I can do it with the most dispatch and promptitude. It’s not because I go hawking that I am not fit for the billet I was thinking that it would pay me very well as hangman with my other business together.

Yours respectfully,

 Stawell East, 9th September, 1870

(Note, I have looked into the Hanging of Vair, and by all accounts it went very smoothly. The hanging was held the small country town, Ararat in Victoria and at this time in Banfords life, he did not present well, he had lost an eye in a drunken fight and was due to his living rough an old looking 63 year old )

The Argus

7/1/1871

Bamford, tho Victorian hangman, has been sent to gaol for six months as a rogue and a vagabond.

The Argus

19/1 1872

A varied collection of vagrants was dealt with by the City Bench yesterday. Four men, including the hangman Bamford, who were in the habit of loafing and sleeping about the reserve at the back of the Immigrants’ Home, were sent to gaol for six months’ hard labour a piece . 

The Argus

7 /9/1873

Bamford, the common hangman, is just now lying sick into death in the Melbourne Hospital.

He has (says the Telegraph) been in the institution for some days, suffering from disease of the heart and dropsy, and was on Sunday night in such a critical condition that the services of a clergyman were obtained to administer the last rites of religion.

The Argus

8/9/1873

Wm. Bamford, the hangman, has been an inpatient of the Melbourne Hospital for a few days past, suffering from dropsy and disease of the heart. Yesterday he was so bad that he sent for a clergyman, the Rev. Mr. Thomson, and last night was not expected to live.

The Hawkesbury Advertiser

27/9/1873

DEATH OF AN EXECUTIONER.

THE following ” grim” biography is taken from the Melbourne Argus of Thursday :-  William Bamford, who died in the Melbourne Hospital on Tuesday, had been the hangman of Victoria, since 1857, and had also until lately acted as flagellator. According to

Bamford‘s own statement, he must have been 73 years of age, as he alleged that he was born in England in 1800. . He was brought up as a wool-sorter, but steady industry did not suit him, and while a very young man he joined the 33rd Fusiliers, in which regimen the served for 20 years. He appears to have been a troublesome soldier, for on one occasion while his regiment was at Gosford he received 300 lashes, and eventually, for some serious military offence, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land. ‘. He arrived in that colony on the Royal Sovereign in 1841, and was unnoticed until 1857. Soon after the execution of the murderers of Mr. Price, old “Jack Harris,” the hangman of the period was lost sight of, and his assistant “Walsh” went up country. This was Bamford’s opportunity, and on November 6, being then in gaol, he undertook to hang one John Mason, and old man, aged 60, sentenced to death for murder. The execution took place in Melbourne. From that time, with one exception at Beechworth, where a substitute was found in the local gaol, Bamford has executed the whole of the criminals put to death in the colony.

He used to keep, count, and matter after an execution the number he had put out of the world. The black ruffian who was hanged at Ballarat on the 11th of August, made 71. Bamford was nearly worn out at the time he performed this last duty, and the officer who had charge of him reported that he had had no easy task to get him safely back to Melbourne. Before this the office of flogger was taken from him, as on the last occasion that he wielded the cat he was seized with an asthmatic fit, and was only just able to complete his task.

Strange to say, the man who has succeeded Bamford, though much younger, arrived in the same ship and at the same time as he did. Bamford’s appearance was rendered more repulsive than it would otherwise have been by the loss of an eye, which he got injured in some drunken row in Melbourne, some fifteen or sixteen years ago. His habits were very intemperate, and any money he obtained from the Government was soon squandered in the company of a degraded lot of both sexes, who used to lookout for him when he was expected to leave the gaol with money in his pocket, and join him in his drunken orgies. He was accustomed to squat in some wretched place of shelter in the neighbourhood of the barracks, and here could generally be found when he was “wanted ” by the authorities. To send notice to  Jack that he was required to come into the gaol was  sufficient. This would be given him two or three days beforehand, and then he would at once voluntarily imprison himself, sleep off is drunkenness, make himself clean, and be ready to hang or flog, as his “job” might be. His spells of liberty were, however, few and far between, for he was repeatedly convicted as a vagrant. Doubtless the frequent intervals of temperance thus forced upon him lengthened his days. The life he led outside the gaol without a change must have killed him years before. Bamford, as a rule, performed the terrible work allotted to him quietly and efficiently, he was faithful, too, after his kind and could be depended upon. One sickening attempt to show good feeling to those he executed he never omitted. After he had pinioned his man, and, so rendered him helpless, he used always to shake him by the hand, and murmurs ” God bless you” before he pulled the fatal bolt. Like the Gravedigger in ” Hamlet, “”he had no feeling of his business.” On one occasion, when the man executed had died instantaneously, he was observed to lean over the drop, and, with an air of satisfaction, while looking at his work, remark, ” The best job in the country-that makes 47.” Bamford was not married, and so far as is known, has left neither kith nor kin.

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4 Comments

Filed under The Hangmen

4 responses to “William Banford Executioner of Victoria 1857 – 1873

  1. HI I am a Daniel Bamford my dad and brother are John William Bamford I do beleave that was my great great grandfather I just would to know if I am or not if u can help

    • Such was the shame of the role of hangman if you had a hangman in your family you may not know about it. Although sometimes it becomes a part of family folklore.
      From my research into William Bamford, he did not marry, and I doubt that an unmarried woman in that era, having his child, would announce that the hangman was the father.
      I would check out if the hangman had any brothers in England who came out here before or after William Bamford’s arrival as a convict, I say this as names did tend to travel down through the generations (more so back then)… also check out death certificates (Victoria’s Dept. of Births Deaths and Marriages), travel back through the generations and see if the date of death matches any one you are related to.
      Should I find out anything I will reply further to this thread.

  2. Ian Bamford

    Why do you insist on incorrectly spelling William BAMFORD’s name as “Banford” when even the quotes you use get it right?
    Ian Bamford

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