Robert Rice Howard Executioner (Nosey Bob) NSW 1873 – 1903

Born 1833 – Died 3rd February, 1906

Sydney’s State Executioner, hangman, for a period of 30 years. He was gainfully employed as a Cabbie for many years and had a top notch clientele. He is even supposedly been the transport for the Duke of Edinburgh when he came to Sydney, in 1867.

He had and unfortunate accident in the late 1860’s (aged 37) when a horse back heeled him in the face. Resulting for him, the appearance of having no nose to speak of. This deformation killed the Cab business and he turned to drink. 

Now the most unpopular job in the City was the role of Hangman, the Government usually had difficulty finding someone reliable for the role. The first appointed hangman, was a prisoner from the First Fleet who was to be hanged with one other Prisoner who was hanged first, they spared his life on the proviso that he became the Colonies Hangman as even the Marines of the First Fleet found the role distasteful. Then along comes Nosey Bob (His nickname, given by others, of course). He took up the role between the years 1873 (aged 40) through to 1903 (aged 70). He kept his new job on the quite at first but when the Cabbies at his old taxi rank found out it was all over Sydney in no time. He became a personality in his own right and accepted guest appearances at other State prisons to do his thing, he even did some hangings in New Zealand. During his stay in the role he Hung 64 people, and only one woman, Louisa Collins. 

He almost lost his job in 1889 over the hanging of Louisa Collins, no woman had been hang since 1855, as this was the most public of his botch jobs, Hanging was not a precise science and sometimes went awry, but not usually this badly. 

On the 8th January, 9.00 a.m. Louisa Collins made her way to the gallows. There were 12 Witness’s and 5 were from the Press. Louisa presented very calmly on her final stroll. Her arms were pinioned at the elbows. A Priest followed.

Nosey Bob awaited at the top of the stairs, with his new assistant Mr. Stepping. Collins stood upon the top trap door. The signal for the trap door to be activated but the trap door jammed. A warder grabbed a mallet and bashed the pin 3 times and the trap door opened. Collins fell awkwardly, clipped the side of the drop, split her throat, facing the yard, they left her there for half an hour till dead. Press went berserk whipping up Public opinion and thus was the last woman hanged in NSW. 

Attending a hanging in Wagga Wagga, Thomas Reilly – 4th November 1889, a cousin of the infamous Ned and Daniel Kelly Bros.

When he arrived at Wagga Wagga none of the cab drivers would take him or his luggage from the station to town and had to walk to town carrying his own bags. He went for a walk around the town and was harassed in the street by hooting and cat calls.

There were letters to the Editor on his behalf where by the writer said hanging was not his fault, no one harasses the Judge who commuted the sentence nor did the jury get hassled, he was just doing his job.

Nosey Bob died aged 74, at his home in the sand hills of Bondi near Ben Buckler in 1906. He was the old man in the area who tended to scare the local children. Even the local Publican had issues with his former occupation and would not serve him in his Pub, Bob would have to send a horse down to the pub with a billy can for the Publican to fill with beer and send back to his house.

nosey bob

Sydney Morning Herald

18 March 1882


Mr Buchanan, S M , presided in the criminal cases at the Water Police Court yesterday.

The public hangman, Robert Howard, was committed for trial on the charge of unlawfully and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm upon one Charles Maclean, the evidence, which was rather involved, may be concisely stated as follows -the two men live in Paddington the prosecutor in Weden lane, and the prisoner close by and on the day of the assault they had been drinking together the prosecutor’s account of the assault was that, as he was returning home that evening, a large dog, belonging to Howard, leaped up, and put its paws on his shoulders, and that when he pushed the dog off, Howard suddenly came out in his nightshirt and struck him over the head several times with what appeared to boat life-preserver.

He was taken to the hospital, where Dr Proudfoot found that he had sustained two true wounds and fracture of the outer table of the skull. Corroborative evidence of this was given. The defence set up by Howard was, that tho prosecutor throw stones at his dog, and that when he came out to remonstrate the prosecutor used insulting language to him, seized him by the leg, and tried to drag him down a flight of stone steps, which led to the door of his house. As he was undressed, and feared some injury, lie, in self defence he, struck his assailant on the head with the leg of a chair.

 Bail was ¡Tinted toward m his own surety of £80, and two other surety of £10 each.


Sydney Morning Herald

1 April 1882

Howard, hangman, was charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm on Charles M’cLean. It transpired pretty clearly, however, that prosecutor was the aggressor, and had on several occasions taunted prisoner about his profession, abused him, and challenged him to fight, Witnesses for the defence gave prisoner an excellent character as a good father and a peaceful man, and the jury returning a verdict of not guilty, he was discharged. The Court was then adjourned until the following morning.


18 July 1884

North Australian

Ill treating a Hangman.

A great deal of ill feeling has been aroused in Sydney at the un friendly -treatment, by the Hay people, of the hangman and his assistant, who had been engaged at the execution of Cordini at Deniliquin. A slight like this on one of the most favoured

I and most obliging Sydney officials is not likely to be soon forgotten. Mr. Robert Howard, the N.S.W. finisher, is a gentleman who almost every day takes his seat among ladies in the Paddington tram, passes their fares, and gives them change, and otherwise makes himself most agreeable.

Certainly Mr. Howard’s appearance is not attractive-his face exhibiting the absence of a nose, whence comes the sobriquet, ” Nosey Bob ;” but otherwise he’s a most acceptable fellow-passenger. It has to be admitted, of course, that as the “fatal day” approaches, Robert usually gives way to drink, and may often then be seen, clad in the strictest black, helplessly clasping a lamp-post.

But on this occasion he doesn’t appear to have touched a drop so that his reception at Hay is unkind. Here is a telegram on the subject:-“The hangman arrived in Hay on the17, from Deniliquin with his assistant. They had their meals in Tattersall’s Hotel, but no one would sit at the table with them. They could get no beds, and the police had to accommodate them in the court-house. On Wednesday the hangman started to trudge through the mud to the railway station, but his assistant waited to get a ‘ lift ‘ in a cab. All the cabs refused to take him. He had therefore to walk to the station,  and on Thursday he cleared.”This kind of treatment is very ill-advised. Mr. Howard may be required at no distant date at Hay, and with this affair before us, we wouldn’t guarantee safe and comfortable despatch for any resident of those parts. It may be however, that we take an incorrect view of this knotty question-and therefore we’ll drop it.


17 November 1887

Evening News

Assault on the Hangman,

Larrikins v. Law.

A  recrudescence of the larrikin nuisance has occurred at Bondi. According to the statements of reputable residents the neighbourhood is frequently disturbed by the exploits of disorderly young men, whose numbers and audacity seem to increase and grow in exact proportion to the laxity of the police supervision. Yesterday afternoon this quiet suburb was the scene of a disgraceful exhibition of ruffianism, and brutality enacted in broad daylight and with impunity. Robert Howard, the public executioner, who lives at Bondi, in close proximity to the beach, was set upon and maltreated by a number of young men who appear to have a prejudice against Howard’s profession, and to resent his having exercised it on some of their friends. They and others have previously threatened to’ do for’ Howard, and to burn him out of house and home, a threat which by the way, might not be very difficult to carry out in view of the fact that Howard’s house stands i& an isolated and somewhat lonely position. The following is Howard’s own statement of the circumstances under v.iiich lie was attacked yesterday : — f’ I left Darlinghurst by the half -past 3 tram, and arrived &t Brown’s public-house, Bondi, at about 4 o’clock. There were four young men in the place.- A well-dressed and gentlemanly looking man was behind, the bar serving. I called for a glass of beer and paid for it.

The man behind the bar said, ‘ You are the bastard hangman?’

I said, ‘You are a gentleman.*

He then replied, You are the one that put the rope on the neck of Moonlight and Rogan, I said ‘ I beg your pardon, I am not the man; why do you insult me when I ask for a glass of beer?’ He then took my beer, for which I had paid, and pitched it out into the sand.

Another young man came behind me and struck my ear; and another one, who wore a white waistcoat and a gold watch chain, also struck me and knocked tae. They then said they would hang me; and three of them, got hold of me and tried to shove me into Brown’s back premises. I clung to the counter, and while holding, one of them kicked me in a dangerous place and again struck me in the ear. I managed to get loose from them, and ran out of the house into the street. I ran towards Sydney, but could see no one about to assist me.

After a while I ventured back past Brown’s public house, which I had to pass on my way home. The four young men were then out on the verandah. They came after me and assaulted me again, and tore my coat and parcel. They tried to throw me over the embankment of the road, and then commenced to stone me with blue metal. They swore they would settle me some day, and burn my place down. I have now been in the Government service for many years, but I have never before been assaulted- in this way. I have been insulted, and people have refused to serve me. Sometimes when I have been travelling by coach up country, they have refused to serve me with meals. But this is the first time that I have been maltreated.’

 bobs house

Sydney Morning Herald

4 November 1889





Robert Howard, the New South Wales hangman, arrived at Wagga by train yesterday morning. None of the cabmen would drive him or take his luggage from the railway station to town; therefore he had to walk. He complains of not being met on his arrival by some person to drive him to a place where he might stop during his stay here. He is to act as executioner of Thomas Reilly on Wednesday morning. The gallows will not be erected in the gaol-yard till Monday or Tuesday.

The condemned man is completely resigned to his fate. He has been several times visited by Fathers Gallagher and Kennedy. Mass has been said during the week at the gaol. Reilly has strictly observed the solemn religious acts of his Church. Another mass will be said before Wednesday. He eats and sleeps well, and the prayer book is hardly ever out of his hands during the daytime.


24 November 1893

The Hangman’s Rebuff.

Howard, the genial gallows-manipulator, obtained a deal of credit the other day for the neat little turn for repartee which he displayed during the hearing of a certain case, but we do not think he would be able to hold his own against the blue-blooded worthy who arranges the dull-sickening thud over here.

 Not long ago Mr Howard boarded a tram bound for his sea-side villa at Bondi ; but as the car was crowded he was forced to stand. Presently a fussy old gentleman called the conductor and angrily objected to having ‘ such an infamous person as the common Hangman standing before him ‘ during a three mile ride.

 Then the pretty vein of wit for which our own knight of the Soaped Rope bubbled up, and Mr. Howard smilingly replied, ‘Don’t you get excited Mister. . One of those days I’ll have you standin’ before me, and then you’d be glad of any company you can get.’ A thrill of horror ran through ull present as the fussy man gave one ‘ convulsive movement,’ and ‘ all was over.’ — Truth.,


Bathurst Free Press

17 August 1894

The Hangman’s Application. — The New South Wales executioner, who in private life is Robert Howard, applied on Wednesday for a license to slaughter Pigs. The case came on at the Paddington Police Court, this application being opposed by Mr. W. T. Ball, the Mayor of Waverley. The applicant wished to convert pigs into pork at his place in North Bondi, but the borough’s objections resulted in . the application not being allowed.


 Maitland Mercury

14 January 1899

Hangman Howard as a Poet.

It is not perhaps generally known that Mr. Robert Howard, Her Majesty’s Chief Executioner. In this appanage of the Crown, is a bit of a poet. In his leisure moments, ‘ Nosey’ — as he is vulgarly. named — breaks out into verse, and they say that on the morning he turned off that Sydney Borgia,

Louisa Collins, he addressed her, as she moved from the condemned cell to the gallows as follows:  My pretty Louise . . .

Step on the trapeze

And I’ll let you down

With the greatest of ease.’ ‘

Anyhow, whether or not she heard the appeal, it is now a matter of history that she was ‘ let down with the greatest of ease.’

 darlo nosey  bob

Cobargo Chronicle

14 January 1899


Ten Minutes with the Hangman.

The exigencies of the law and the necessity to vindicate it, gave Dubbo recently the rare but not enviable distinction of a visit from the most picturesque figure in connection with our criminal jurisprudence.  

The chief executioner, called variously the hang-man and ‘the finisher,’ has been amongst us, done his work, and disappeared as noiselessly as he came. The chief executioner of New South Wales is known as ‘Nosey Bob’ among those classes who fear and hate him, from probably the instinctive feeling that some day or another they will be assisted by him in their last toilet, prior to attending that dance upon air which the State provides for the worst of its subjects. His first professional visit to Dubbo was 20 odd years ago, when he turned off Newman, who was hanged for that terrible outrage and murder at Coonabarabran.

 He was then a well set-up muscular man, with a good head of hair, and except that this face was nose less and consequently his beauty was spoiled, he would, pass among the average crowd as nothing out of the common or possessing any of those qualities which for some reason we associate with the gentleman who carries out the last dread sentence of our British law.

We have seen him  several times since, but on this last occasion we met him and talked with him a few nights back it seemed as if he were breaking up fast. His hair is thinner and whiter, and he does not look so active on his legs. We ventured to remark to him that he was fading, and he resented the imputation, for like most of us he does not like to be reminded he is growing old, and made some remark about the weakness of his legs being attributable to an attack of rheumatism.

‘I showed my leg to the doctor,’ said he ‘but he says its water on the knee.’ Well, I am blessed,’ (he used a stronger expression, and laughed sardonically), ‘I’ve heard of water on the brain, but never of water on the knee.’ And he went a-long with his work of greasing the rope and preparing the paraphernalia with which he was to assist Wong Ming out of the world.

‘Now,’ he continued, did you ever see a prettier bit of rope?’ and he looked at the coil with the eye of an expert, and in his voice was all that admiration which one notices in the tones of a collector when examining some rare bit of bric-a-brac. ‘You say I am getting old—well, of course. I ain’t getting younger, but there’s many a good job in me yet.

Robert Howard—to give the hang-man his full name—was originally a cab-driver and owner in the city of Sydney, and he has been 24 years in, the service of the State. ‘Yes, sir,’ he is always addressing you as ‘sir,’ and lifting his finger in a kind of salute to his forehead—’I have hanged a good few. The number I forget, but if I  was at home I could give them to you for I keep a list. I have had very few bungles, and do you know people think the bungles are when the chaps are chicken-hearted. No, sir, its when they’re too game. They won’t let you do everything for them. They want to do it themselves. Oh, I have hanged some game ‘uns’.

Asked if Butler was courageous, his eyes sparkled with the pleasure that an old cock fighter shows, when he is reminded of a favourite bird, one that I like the Old Guard, died but never surrendered, ‘Butler was a brick. He was game, take my word for it. When went into the cell that morning he says, ‘Bob now then, be quick.’ He never flinched while I pinioned him, and we was walking from the cell to the gallows, he leant this head close to mine, and whispered, Bob, don’t forget, be quick.’  Again on the gallows, as I was arranging the rope and cap, be said ‘be quick I was quick enough for him, and as he dropped, his head hit my knee, and I heard distinctly the words ‘Oh Lord,’ He was a game ‘un.

Howard has recollections too of another steely-hearted criminal, Lee, -who was found guilty of murdering young Mckay, the bank manager at Barraba, and was executed at Tamworth,—showing a contempt of death which was almost extraordinary.  While his mate Cummins’ showed the white feather, Lee was as game as a pebble. Several other instances were mentioned by him, and it is very plain that while he has admiration for the criminal with the courage of a man, he has nothing but contempt for the craven-hearted who were frightened to meet death themselves.

He has just the same eye for a neck that a painter has for a pretty scene. He is not in your company five minutes before he has surveyed your neck is sized up no doubt in his mind’s eye, the proper kind of knot you” would require, and taken in your weight with all the finish of a professional expert, calculated the drop you would require.

He is just as keen on this matter—from of course, the purely professional sense—as that fellow in De Quincey’s magnum, opus, ‘Murder considered as one of the Fine Arts, who never saw a particular throat but the desire seized him to slit it. He has peculiar ideas on the subject top, ‘Prisoners said be in quite’ a confidential and suggestive spirit, ‘ are treated too kindly and kept too long. They get flabby.

The’muscles -of the neck soften, and the neck gets as tender as a chicken. No man should be kept longer than a week or a fortnight if you want good work and a first-class execution.’

Of course, Howard is an authority, and suppose most people will do as we did—make him a present of the argument. He spoke from that conviction which long experience brings, ‘while – we—well, we listened intently to his words of wisdom. We reminded him, however of Moore, who’s head and body parted company when Bob last prosided at an execution at Dubbo. Well yes said he that was a bad case. His neck was brittle as a egg shell I gave him a drop of 7ft 6 in and I never had such an experience. I can’t understand it now and as it is also past the late Mr Moore’s understanding it was no continuing of the subject.

One would think that one who had been present at so many violent deaths -as Bob would be above any trifling superstitious feelings but like most men he has a weak spot.

 When he arrived in Dubbo the other day, his first enquiry was as to the pit or well, dug undeneath the scaffold. When Moore was hanged, his head struck the side, and so did the trunk, and great  splashes of blood were on the whitewashed bricks, lining  the well.

” Any stains on it.,’ said he in a whisper, and when “informed there were not, that all had been white washed over he exclaimed Thank God for that.

When not engaged “obeying ‘that law which decrees that ‘certain people are to lie hanged by the neck till they are dead, Howard puts in a good ‘deal of his time attending the gardens of Darlinghurst Gaol, and when not there engaged, he. enjoys bin case at his pleasant residence at Bondi.

He is a fisherman, hat does not spend his time like most professors of the gentle art in hooking schnapper, whiting, and such harmless members of the finny tribe. As on the land, where his main work is in choking the thugs and human tigers who commit crimes so deep dyed that they cry to heaven for vengeance, so on the “water “he concentrates his efforts to dealing with the savage tigers of the deep. Shark fishing is his speciality, and in his garden at Bondi are some rare specimens of ‘the remains of these marine man-eaters which infest our coast.

‘ When I hook a particularly big chap,’ he tells,  a fellow that is too big for The single handed, I make fast the line, and get the horse to pull him out? He has all sorts and sizes of shark bones, and among the curios which the late member for Petersham, Mr. Jones, took to England with him on a recent visit, were the jaws of a mammoth shark, which Bob had captured.

He is, like every artist in his own particular line, not above the effects of flattery, and it is worth while watching the pleased smile which overspreads his face when a ‘job’ is mentioned in which everything went off satisfactorily.

After Tuesday’s execution a gentleman remarked to him,’ Well, Howard, that was clean work,*and Bob put his hand to his forehead-,saluting, and replied, ‘ Yes, sir, very good job indeed,’ and the expression of his face showed that this great past master of his business in New South Wales is only human after.


Richmond River Herald

4 June 1904

Civil Service Retirement. — Mr. Robert Howard is retiring from the Government service of this State. Howard (better known as ‘Nosey Bob’) has been N.S.W hangman for many years, and has legally ‘tossed off’ into eternity more human beings than any person who filled the grim avocation, since tho early convict days. He prided himself on his ability to make a ‘ clean job;’ but in his time many unfortunates were’ horribly butchered by him — notably some of the’ Mount Rennie ‘ boys.

The Australian

11 November 1905

Some Waverley jokers at the last general election by advertisement invited the friends of a certain candidate  to meet him at the residence of Mr. Robt. Howard, at Ben Buckler-road, Bondi. Mr. Howard is known professionally as Nosey Bob Ex- hangman Howard gained his nickname through a kick administered to him many years ago by a horse when he was coachman to one of the early governors. He is a great horse trainer, and has such influence with then that he has trained his horse to fetch the beer from the Cliff House Hotel, Bondi— quite a mile away from his residence. The horse starts off gaily with the handle of the billy in his teeth and the pence rattling inside. He plods back slowly and carefully so as not to jerk off the lid or spill the beer. Several times he has been stuck up by buccaneers desirous of either beer or browns. In the first case he turns round and threatens them with his heels ; and in the other be takes to them -to his heels, not to the pirates. Howard is a quiet and well behaved man.


Sydney Morning Herald

6 February 1906

HOWARD.-The Friends of the late ROBERT RICE HOWARD are kindly invited lo attend his Funeral to leave his late residence, Bondi Beach, Bondi, THIS (.Monday) AFTERNOON, at 3 o’clock, for Waverley Cemetery.

W. CARTER. Undertaker, Waverley.

howard grave

Sydney Morning Herald

4 February 1907

HOWARD-In memory of my dear father, Robert Rice Howard, who died FEBRUARY, 3rd, 1906. Inserted by  his daughter M A Hawkins  

HOWARD -In loving memory of my father, Robert

Rice Howard, who departed this life, February 3rd  1906. Inserted by his son and daughter in law S.

E. Howard.  

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