Judicial Murder-Suicides in Van Diemen's Land

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Abstract

On the morning of December 17, 1827, nine convicts were executed by public hanging in Hobart Town, the capital of the British colony of Van Diemen's Land (now the Australian state of Tasmania). Two months previously they had drowned senior Constable George Rex on Small Island, which was part of the penal settlement at Macquarie Harbor, in front of five bound and gagged witnesses. They offered no defence at their trial. Examination of the Tasmanian colonial convict records shows that “suicide by lottery” involved convicts choosing two men, one to die and the other to kill him. The witnesses would earn a respite when taken away for the trial, and the murderer would be executed. “Death by gallows” could be considered a nineteenth-century version of an orchestrated suicide reminiscent of more modern “death by cop.” This category of “judicial” murder-suicide expands the range of contemporary classifications of dyadic deaths.

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