Alexander Green Executioner NSW 1828 – 1855
For the term of his natural life was the sentence bestowed upon Alexander Green in 1824 when sentenced for the theft of “brown stuff” from a shop. As non descriptive as the brown stuff was, it must have been expensive brown stuff to get a sentence of that severity.
Born 1802 in the Netherlands to a circus performer, he was a tumbler by trade. He arrived at Sydney, on the Countess of Harcourt in 1824 aged 22 years of age.
In May 1825 inflicting much severe suffering he became the official scourge at both the George Street gaol and at Hyde Park barracks. He became the under study to Harry Stain the official hangman. Stain died in 1828 Green took the role of Official Government Executioner for the State of New South Wales.
There would be a steady increase of work for Alexander Green, as the Colony was going soft in the eyes of the British Government. Convicts liked what they saw in Australia and where reputedly writing home encouraging relatives to get caught stealing something with the express purpose to getting transported out to Australia. The British were about to recall Governor Brisbane and replace him with the far sterner Governor Darling.
During his career as hangman he was credited with 490 executions within the years 1828 – 1855 in Sydney and in the colony of New South Wales. When Green began in 1828 New South Wales encompassed all the states along the east coast from Queensland to Tasmania. Green performed his duties on the east coast mainland states tho he never went to work in Tasmania.
For the most part Green’s employment was based at Hyde Park Barracks as a Flogger and as Hangman at the Sydney Gaol in George Street, but from his arrival in 1824 through to 1840 he would watch the construction of the new gaol rise up on the hillside of Darlinghurst and from the opening of the gaol in 1840 he was the hangman at Darlinghurst.
The Sydney Goal was the site of the first hanging in Sydney in1788, and the gallows was situated in the south western corner of the gaol. At the site of the original hanging tree, the gallows consisted of a raised platform to accommodate the crowds that would gather for the public spectacle of a hanging. Prior to 1840, the public execution of prisoners was an event that lasted a few hours as there were mass hangings of four or more people the largest number to be “turned off” in one session was in October1828 with eleven on the day.
Green was the finishing point for some of the most notable legal cases of that time. The condemned men from the Myall Creek massacre the first instance where white men were made accountable for the murder of Aboriginals:
(Spelling as per the era in which it was written)
South Australian Gazette
EXECUTION.—Yesterday morning was that appointed for the execution of the seven unhappy men found guilty of the massacre of one or more of the twenty eight native Blacks at Dangar’s
Mile Creek, at the Big River, beyond Liverpool Plains. Their deportment was humble and penitent, free from all vulgar bravado or cowardice. They were very pale but did not tremble. A most becoming deportment characterised their behaviour from their entrance into the yard to their final exit on the scaffold. They listened with devote attention to the exhortations of the clergy of their respective religions, and fervently responded to their prayers. Previously to commencing their religious exercises, one of them requested permission to embrace his fellow sufferers, which was instantly acceded to. They all arose, and saluted each other on the cheek, and then shook hands in a manner very affecting to the bystanders. Preceded by their respective ministers they ascended the scaffold. Being ranged in order, the executioner and his assistant adjusted the ropes about their necks, the clergy men continuing their attendance until warned to retire. Then shaking hands once more with each, each whispering to his fellow the last adieu, the cap of death was drawn over their faces, and the world was forever shut out from their sight. While the executioner and his assistant were descending to withdraw the bolt, they called upon a merciful God in an audible voice. In the midst of their prayers, the bolt was withdrawn, the floor fell from under their feet, and they descended till brought up by the fatal rope. After hanging the usual time, the seven lifeless bodies were cut down and deposited in their last home.— Sydney Monitor, December 19,1838.
Of almost five hundred he hung more than 360 hung in his first ten years such was the strict penal policies of the day during the time of Governor Darling he hung 170 people in 3 years 10 months where as the slightly more lenient Governor Bourke 183 people were hung in a 6 year rule, (including the controversial Myall Creek Massacre Murderers) under Governor Gipps it was 10 people in a 8 year reign, Governor Fitzroy 27 people in 8 years. Governor Dennison thought the side show that went with a public hanging vulgar and Green his last hanging was the first private hanging one, William Ryan in 1855.
Australia was ahead of Britain in that respect where the last public hanging was thirteen years later in 1868.
Sydney Morning Herald
EXECUTION OF RYAN FOR THE MURDER OF HIS WIFE
Yesterday morning at nine o’clock, the murderer, William Ryan, suffered the extreme penalty of the law, upon the scaffold erected In the hard-labour yard, Inside the walls of Darlinghurst Gaol. Six respectable citizen« (jurymen) were in attendance, in obedience to summonses which had been served upon them as witness’s of the execution, and with the exceptions of the Governor, medical, with other officers of the gaol, Inspector, two sergeants, and a division of police, comprised all the spectators at the scene.
The intelligence that the Governor-General had signed the warrant for his execution to take place on. the 28th Instant, was officially made known lo the condemned man a fortnight ago, but he persistent in the belief that a reprieve would be granted him, up to this night before his execution Prior to .that night, he appeared quite callous to his crime und fate, and a week ago, he told one of the turnkeys that the rope was not yet made with which to hang him. But on Tuesday night, be became apprehensive and anxious, and did not sleep at all during the entire night continuing in unremitting. – Prayer with his spiritual advisers, the Ven. Archdeacon M’Encrno, and tile Rev. Mr.Sheehy, who have been most attentive to the unfortunate convict since his condemnation. Yesterday morning, under the ministration of the clergy he began to express symptoms of sorrow and penance. A few minutes after nine o’clock, the death bell began to toll, and the condemned man appeared, pinioned and walking firmly, and erect between the clergymen.
He was calm and collected, going up to the instrument of his death with a look of slight curiosity, apparently without fear, and stooping his face towards hls pinioned hands to wipe his mouth with his handkerchief Ryan then spoke In an unfaltering tone as follows :- It is owing to spite and malice that I am brought to this end.
My brother in law. Sergeant Newton, my sister, and inspector Higgins, and the cause of my misfortune, and of my, wife and children. I forgive them all, and hope God will forgive them.
I could get out of this, but I know that I could do nothing In this world to make a recompensed for killing my wife; she was n very good woman,” He then firmly ascended tho scaffold, mid the reverend gentlemen continued with him In fervent prayer while the fatal noose and cap were being adjusted.
He shook hands with them, and they descended the ladder, leaving him standing on the platform, earnestly saying aloud, “Oh! Lord have mercy upon my soul!” until the executioner drew the bolt and he fell through the trap. Although the first shock was so great as probably to deprive Ryan almost immediately of feeling, still, being a remarkably powerful man, of at least 12 stone weight, and just ,38 years of age, tho muscular action continued during nearly five minutes. After hanging three-quarters of an hour, the corpse was cut down, placed in a coffin, and convoyed to the Roman Catholic cemetery.
This is the first (so-called) private execution under the Act of Council passed during the last session. There were about fifty females, and as many children, together with three or four men, assembled out-side the gaol gate. The scaffold was erected in the rearward of the building, so that not even with the gates open could it be seen from tho outside, but the top of some high buildings in the neighbourhood, from whence the spot might, perhaps, be seen, were covered with spectators.
He was paid an annual rate of £15 14s. 2d., with an additional option to live at the gaol. The hangman previous to Stain, Thomas Hughes had difficulty finding accommodation due to his job and the accommodation option became a part of the job. Green lived at the gaol as well as being one of the first inhabitants of the fledgling suburb of Newtown, which at that time was a collection of unused paddocks.
By the mid 1840’s he was earning £60 p.a. Green was growing with disfavour amongst the Public Judicial Officers of the day and had several minor brushes with the law himself. His tendency to drink, brawl and be generally raucous did himself no favours. By 1841 he was living o a small piece of land next to the Darlinghurst gaol that was later became known as Green Park. From his time as a Public Executioner he was recognisable figure about Sydney town, that became enhanced when he was struck across the face with an axe, in 1830 by a prisoner, apparently you could not mistake the discoloured scar across his face.
To achieve a successful execution by hanging, there is a required amount of cooperation by the condemned person any last second flinching as the bolt is drawn can result in any number of undesirable results. Although Green had his number of less than clean hanging where the prisoner “died hard” for the most cases he was a competent practitioner of his calling. One memorable exception was the hanging of a man named Mackie in 1848, where he miscalculated the length of rope required and Mackie dropped through the trapdoor and found his feet touching solid ground, Green grabbed a shovel and pick axe and began digging a hole beneath Mackie’s feet so that he would be suspended.
Although not stating his name the hangman in this incident was Alexander Green, The following was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in an article about years gone by (26 December 1857).
Sydney Morning Herald
August 23 1830.
Tiernan, a Capital felon, aged 17, was about to be hanged at Windsor. Having mounted the scaffold, pinioned, he violently jostled the executioner, who thereupon fell a distance of seven feet to the ground, the culprit falling likewise. The hangman was greatly bruised by the fall, and could only be induced to ascend the scaffold again after very much persuasion and entreaty from the Under-Sheriff.
There are many mentions of the hangman or executioner in the papers of the day without naming Alexander Green the following are newspaper mentions of him outside the job.
Alexander Green was charged with being drunk, and found upon a person’s premises for unlawful purposes.
Bench : What are you?
Green : A public officer.
Bench (with astonishment) : What ?
Green : The executioner or hangman.
Bench (with a shudder) : Oh ! we know the light in which you are regarded here : to put a man like you in the stocks would not be to make an example You are discharged ; but you may depend upon it that you will be punished in a different manner to being put in the ¡stocks if again brought here.
Although he never officially married Green appears to had a de facto relationship with this woman
Alexander Green (out on bail), the public executioner, was indicated for a violent assault upon his wife. The woman, on being sworn, stated that she was unwilling to prosecute, the prisoner having behaved well to her and her children, both previously and subsequently to the assault charged — she was therefore not examined. Margaret Robinson, the prisoner’s daughter in-law, proved the assault. The prisoner stated in his defence, that it arose out of a drunken spree, he having been exasperated by Robinson calling him a hangman. The Jury found him guilty, and the Court sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment in gaol.
SLIP RAILS AND SLIP KNOTS.
Yesterday a milkman residing at New Town, in the neighbourhood of Alexander Green, alias Jack Ketch, the assistant hangman, was brought before the bench by his official neighbour, charged willingly permitting his cows to trespass upon his close.
The defence was that the sliprails was continually down, and as a matter of course the cattle would trespass. A wordy war then ensued between the milkman and the hang-man. The milkman said when he was sitting down reading hid bible of a Sunday afternoon, the horrid oaths and imprecation of the hang-man diverted his attention, and that of his family from their godly exorcise.
The hang-man recriminated and harped upon the cows. They argued and bullyragged each other until they nearly argued and abused themselves into reconciliation–when Mr. Windeyer, after listening to them with great patience for a considerable time, advised the parties to make up.
The milkman then made an open and public declaration that if the hangman should afterwards meet him and say ” it’s a fine day ,”he (the milkman) would say ” it is”-or if he the (milkman) would say the like-or if the hangman met him and’ did ” nothing at all ,”he (The milkman) would say ” nothing at all.”In fact if the hangman said .’ the moon was made of green cheese,” the milkman consented to say the same anything at all for a quiet life? “Very well” magnanimously ejected the hangman, pay the shot and mizzle.”, This done the parties left the vicinity of the office, their faces averted, and walking on opposite sides of the street.
In early May 1855 the colonial secretary ordered Green committed and was admitted to Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum (now known as Gladesville Psychiatric Hospital) for an undisclosed condition and lived in various institutions until his death in 1879.
Morton Bay Courier
SAMUEL WILLCOX and WILLIAM ROGERS, the former for the murder of JOANNA SMITH, in, Sydney, and the latter for the murder of JOSEPH ALLSOPP, at Baulkham Hills, were hanged within the walls of Darlinghurst Gaol on the 5th instant. The execution was carried into effect by a prisoner named ELLIOTT, the hangman GREEN being confined in Tarban Creek Asylum as a lunatic.
At some point Green was moved from Tarban Creek to Parramatta Lunatic Asylum as per this exert from the Sydney Morning Herald dated 4/8/1866 tells of a Ministerial inspection of the institution… The party then proceeded to inspect the establishment in every part, commencing with the dormitory for the general male lunatics. The bedding was very clean, under the vigorous physical exertion of a lunatic, named Green the hangman under the old regime, whose ribboned unmentionables pointed him out an a person of distinction, who was energetically operating upon tho floor with a mop. Tho floor and dormitory generally were clean, comfortable appearance…
Although the below article states Green’s age as 85 years, all his penal records say he was born in 1802, making him 77 years old. Perhaps he just looked older from hard living.
The Maitland Mercury
Green, formerly the hangman, died at the Lunatic Asylum, aged eighty-five. He had been an inmate of the asylum for twenty-five years.