29 September 2016

Consecration of the Church of England Burial Ground (Brisbane, 1862)

The following article about the consecration of the old North Brisbane Burial Ground - at what is now Lang Park - appeared in the The Courier, Brisbane, on Saturday 24 May 1862. Such rituals were one-offs and only possible in religiously 'segregated' cemeteries, where separate portions of land were set aside for the use of different denominations.

In non-segregated 'mixed' cemeteries, such as the ones at South Brisbane and Balmoral, consecration was considered to happen at individual grave sites when religious burial services were performed beside them.

Looking across the former Paddington Cemetery, c. 1870. (Qld State Archives)

These rituals were not often covered in the newspapers of the time in this level of detail:

"THE consecration of the ground set apart and granted for burial purposes to the Church of England took place on Thursday, as announced, at eleven o'clock. This land, which is very prettily situated in a valley behind the Green Hills, has been for a long while since dedicated to purposes of burial, but had not been consecrated. The piece of ground is now almost fenced-in, and a small chapel has been erected on it.

At eleven' o'clock the Bishop commenced the service, assisted by the Chancellor of the Diocese, J. Bramston, Esq., B.C.L., of All Souls' College, Oxford, and by the Rev. T. Bliss, Rev. J. Moseley, Rev. J. Tomlinson, Rev. J. R. Moffatt, Rev. Mr. Bailey, Rev. B. E. Shaw, Rev. E.G. Moberley, and the Rev. V. F. Ransome. There were comparatively few persons present at the commencement of the ceremony, but the number subsequently increased, so that the little chapel could scarcely afford sufficient accommodation for those present.

The boundaries of the ground having been traversed by the Right Rev. Prelate, his reverend assistants, and the other persons present, joining in the appointed service, the chapel was entered, and the Chancellor, Mr. Bramston, read the document under the hand and seal of the Bishop defining the ground, and setting forth the purposes for which it had been consecrated, and to which alone, for all time to come, it was to be applied. Prayers were then offered up, and a portion of the Communion Service performed, after which the Bishop, Dr. Tufnell, delivered a brief appropriate, and earnest sermon, taking as his text John xi., 25th verse - "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." The right rev. gentleman dwelt upon the beauty and appropriateness of the opening passages of the service for the burial of the dead, appointed by the Church of England, the verse, "I know that my Redeemer liveth, &c," which seemed, as we heard it at the church door when following the corpse, to embody the expression of hope on the part of the dead body, whilst the following verse - "We brought nothing into this world, &c," contained, as it were, a consolation for the living and an expression of implicit resignation to the Divine will.

The reverend speaker then drew attention to the fact that, whilst heathen nations had different ways of disposing of their dead, the Christian nations invariably respected the remains of their people and buried them. The first instance we found in the Bible of the care observed with regard to burying places, was that of Abraham, who purchased a burying-place from Ephron, and who would not accept one of the sepulchres of the children of Heth for his dead. The right rev. gentleman then enlarged at length upon the points that, both on account of the dead, and' also for the instruction of the living, it was the duty of Christian communities to have burial places consecrated and set apart. He pointed out as one reason why the remains of the dead should be respected, and preserved from indignity, that the members of the Church expressed in the creed their belief in "the resurrection of the body," not the resurrection of the soul, for the soul, although withdrawn, was eternal, and could not die; but the resurrection of the body as it was on earth. This resurrection was, perhaps, he said, a more wonderful instance of the Divine power than even the original creation of the body. The rev. gentleman then pointed out how the setting apart of burial places, consecrated and respected, was of instruction and benefit to the living, as it served to remind them of the transitory nature of their own existence. It was also a pleasant feeling to know that we could visit the last resting-place of those we loved, and that their remains would not be rudely disturbed or suffer indignity. The right rev. prelate concluded his Sermon by alluding to the chapel in which they were assembled, which he hoped would be of some service. Humble as the building was, if it were the means of saving but one soul, it would not have been erected in vain.

At the conclusion of the sermon, a collection was made, after which the Communion was administered to such as remained to partake."

25 September 2016

The Number's Up for Malaita Men on the Boggo Road Gallows

"And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is burning
And in a way I'm yearning
To be done with all this measuring of truth."
(Mercy Seat, Nick Cave)
I once conducted a quiz on the Boggo Road Gaol Facebook page asking which demographic made up the greatest proportion of the 42 people hanged at Boggo Road, giving a choice of Irish, Aboriginal, Chinese or South Sea Islander as the answer. The answers were quite divided, and the whole exercise provided a bit of an insight into perceptions about hanging in colonial Queensland. Most people thought it would be Aboriginal people who suffered the most at the end of the noose, but the correct answer (as given by about 25% of respondents) was actually South Sea Islanders, which clearly surprised some people. The full range actually looked like this:

Origins of people executed at Boggo Road Gaol

The overall make-up of convicted prisoners has always reflected historical circumstance. This is why Irish or British men formed a clear majority in early capital punishment statistics when they comprised the vast majority of convicts. The conflict between Indigenous peoples and the new arrivals also resulted in a steady flow of Aborigines into the prisons and onto the gallows throught the 19th century. It comes as little surprise that Aborigines formed the largest number of executions (21) in the overall totals, shown below:

Overall executions in Queensland

The end of the convict era and the subsequent arrival of waves of immigrants from around the world is also reflected in the execution data. The influx of Chinese labourers to work in regional Queensland during the early 1850s saw a spike of Chinese men held in Brisbane prison during that time, accounting for as much as 40% of prison expenditure in 1851. This was largely a result of workplace relations conflict between the immigrants and their new bosses, not to mention an ever-present backdrop of racist hostility towards non-white immigrants. As the chart below shows, a total of nine Chinese men were hanged in the colony, comprising about 10% of the overall total.

Germans were another prominent immigrant group in 19th-century Queensland, and six German men were hanged here. As far as Boggo Road goes, it was the arrival of South Sea Islanders (or more specifically, Solomon Islanders) from the 1860s onwards that was most reflected in the execution numbers. A total of 13 of these men were hanged in Queensland over the next half-century, eight of them in Boggo Road. The Islanders were brought to work in the sugar plantations in often-controversial circumstances, especially in the earlier years, and there was a lot of racial tension on the central coast. Many of the murder cases involving these men had an element of racial conflict in them, and it is clear that some Islanders did react to provocation in a swift and brutal manner. Most of the executed South Sea Islanders came from Malaita Island (see below) and were no strangers to a violent culture. The novelist Jack London was familiar with the region and described Malaita as "the most savage island in the Solomons". It is notable that even if the Malaita men were counted as their own demographic group, they would still comprise the largest proportion of Boggo Road's executed prisoners. Here is the full list of the hanged prisoners:

  • Miorie, from Malaita Island, hanged May 1895 
  • Narasemai, Malaita Island, May 1895 
  • Sayer, Malaita Island, July 1895 
  • Wandee, Malaita Island, May 1901 
  • Arafau, Malaita Island, December 1901 
  • Sotulo, Malaita Island, June 1903 
  • Gosano, Malaita Island, April 1905 
  • Twadiga, Gawa Island, May 1906

Map of Malaita, Solomon Islands

There was a great deal of unfounded paranoia in white communities regarding South Sea Islander crime, and prison authorities took to bussing in labourers from various plantations in the vicinity of Mackay, Bundaberg and Rockhampton to act as reluctant witnesses at the Brisbane executions of their countrymen. The intent was to make sure that word got back to the plantations and so help reduce capital crime rates. It is interesting that during the 1850s, the authorities had all-but abandoned notions that public hangings had a deterrent effect on witnesses, and introduced private executions instead. It seems that the rule was only applicable to white people (enforced viewing also occurred at a number of hangings of Aboriginal men).

The introduction of the White Australia policy in 1901 saw most South Sea Islanders returned home during the following decade, although some remained and more hangings did take place in Brisbane, the last being in 1906. And that is how South Sea Islanders gained the unwanted distinction of making up the largest numbers of those executed in Boggo Road Gaol.

A small but touching moment provides an epilogue to this article. In 2005 I worked with the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society and Brisbane City Council to install a plaque near the graves of the hanged prisoners in South Brisbane Cemetery. It lists the names of all those who were hanged, and where they came from. Among other dignitaries, an elder from the South Sea Islander community spoke very movingly at the unveiling ceremony. Earlier this year I was taking a tour through the cemetery one night when I noticed a wreath and a bit of paper with writing on it by the plaque. It had been left there by "A.S.S.I.S.", which on further investigation turned out to be the Australia South Sea Islander Secretariat. It seems the eight men who died on the Boggo Road gallows were not to be forgotten.

Wreaths on the South Brisbane Cemetery plaque (ASSIS)
Wreaths on the South Brisbane Cemetery plaque. (ASSIS)

02 September 2016

Unnaturally Offensive: Queensland Zoophilia

Australian law has generally taken a tough stance on bestiality (or 'zoophilia'). Until the mid-19th-century it was considered illegal enough to warrant the death penalty, although nobody was ever hanged for the offence here. It remained a capital crime in Queensland until 1865, when the Offences against the Person Act changed the maximum sentence to penal servitude for life with a minimum of ten years. In the Unnatural Offences section of that Act, bestiality was dealt with in the same sentence as sodomy, both being referred to as “the abominable crime of buggery committed with mankind or with any animal", and also as "an infamous crime”.

The vast majority of "unnatural offence' court cases in the historical records relate to homosexual acts, especially against children. Even men who engaged in anal sex with their wife could face the death penalty, as Lawrence Maher of Maryborough found out in 1864. The death sentence was recorded but not carried out in his case. Trials for bestiality were few and far between in early Queensland, and these all involved male defendants because "unnatural offence" laws about bestiality and homosexuality laws did not apply to women.

One of the earliest trials involved a Chinese immigrant named Tee Ang. In 1852 he was living in a camp in South Brisbane, where he was arrested for committing the crime on a dog there. The newspaper articles did not go into many details in these matters, but in this case it was reported that the dog was so badly injured by the act that it had to be put down. At this time such "unnatural offences" were still a capital crime and Tee Ang was sentenced to death, although his sentence was later commutated to 12 months hard labour working on the Newcastle breakwater. Two more Brisbane cases during that decade involved attempted bestiality and attracted two-year sentences. The first was 60-year-old John Moore in 1857, and then Benjamin Jackson during the following year for his attack on a dog, the details of which were described in the Moreton Bay Courier as "horrible and disgusting".

Another case involved William Sunnington (or Sturmington or Simmington), an English immigrant working as a farrier (with horses hooves and shoes) in Maryborough. In 1875 a man and woman witnessed him committing bestiality, although the species of animal was not referred to in reports. Sunnington received ten years imprisonment. He was initially sent to the penal establishment at Saint Helena Island, where he worked as a farrier, before being sent to the old gaol on Petrie Terrace where he died of heart disease in 1878 at the age of 58. He was buried in Toowong Cemetery.

William Sunnington, 1875. (Qld State Archives)

It seems the minimum ten-year sentence was not always applied. In 1886 one old Brisbane man received 12 months for the crime, but in 1894 George Gayton of Bundaberg got ten years (although he was released on remittance two years later). One Blackall man also received ten years for the crime in 1900, but in 1909 another Blackall man only got three years. In 1919 the unfortunate William Webster received a two-year sentence in Cairns for attempted bestiality. Apparently he was too drunk to succeed in his attempt.

George Gayton, 1894. (Qld State Archives)

This quick run-through of some Queensland cases shows that they were relatively rare, but it has to be assumed that the prosecuted cases were only the tip of the iceberg as far as the extent of the practice goes. It is one of the more unfortunate details of Australian legal history that homosexuality (which was widespread in the colonies) was treated under the same laws as bestiality, paedophilia and incest.

  • Under current Queensland laws bestiality carries a maximum seven-year sentence although, as is the case with most things, the situation differs in other Australian states and territories.
  • New South Wales - maximum 14 years 
  • Northern Territory - maximum 3 years 
  • South Australia - maximum 10 years 
  • Tasmania - maximum 21 years 
  • Victoria - maximum 5 years 
  • Western Australia - maximum 7 years 
  • Australian Capital Territory - maximum 10 years (although between 1988 and 2011 it was not a crime here) 
  • (DID YOU KNOW? Bestiality is still technically legal in 15 states of the U.S.A., and is permitted in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Russia.)