You may be surprised to know that capital punishment took place in the Northern Territory up until 1952. If you’ve ever visited the Fannie Bay Gaol then you’ve probably seen the room where the last hanging took place. The gallows are still there and it’s a little spine tingling.
A specially commissioned gallows was sent to Palmerston (as Darwin was called) from Adelaide in 1885 to hang prisoners who were handed a capital punishment sentence for the crime of murder.
The gallows were temporarily erected between the cells and the infirmary and all prisoners were brought out to witness the occasion…The nerves of the prisoners under sentence of death would have been severly tested as there were always numerous practices before any executions. The gallows were constructed from wood with a beam and a rope over a trap door mounted on a platform. A deep pit was excavated and underneath the platform was screened with calico. By 1899 when the prison held five men under the sentence of death, the Gaoler, George Norcock wrote to the Deputy Sheriff requesting: ” a permanent gallows be erected in the prison yard strong enough to hang three at once. The one sent from Adelaide in 1886 is small and had then been in use for several years already in South Australia, it has been erected and taken down so often that the board screening the various parts work loose and make the whole structure shaky, also when last used for the execution of the half-caste Flannigan the white ants went through the centre of the uprights causing it to be still more unreliable and shows that the uprights must be of iron or built on a cement foundation”. Mickey Dewar Inside Out.
There are nine documented hangings in the Fannie Bay Gaol between 1883-1979. It would be fair to say however that many murderers (and suspected murderers) never made it to court. Some Aboriginal prisoners were hanged at the site of a crime and others were shot while ‘resisting arrest’.
“As well as executing prisoners at Fannie Bay gaol, the authorities also developed a practice of taking Aboriginal prisoners sentenced to death to the location of their crimes and carrying out the hanging ‘on site’. This was probably adopted following the Western Australian model. The philosophy behind this practice was to collect as many individuals from the area attracted to the place by inducement of ‘provisions and presents’ to witness the execution as a deterrent against future crimes. There were at least three on-site executions carried out during the South Australian period of the Territory administration and the policy was supported by the community”. Mickey Dewar Inside Out