The Abolition of Execution

Political and public support for the abolition of the death penalty grew throughout Queensland during the early 1900s. This was due to various reasons, including the controversial executions of convicted murderers Patrick Kenniff (1903) and Arthur Ross (1909) - both of whom had strong public sympathy - and the rising strength of socialist elements within the Queensland Labor Party. The abolition of capital punishment had official Labor Party support from 1910, and after the party won power in 1915 it introduced an abolition Bill.

Pro-abolition cartoons, Queensland (click to enlarge images)

Anti-hanging cartoon from the 'Worker', 1909An anti-hanging cartoon from the 'Worker', 1922.
An anti-hanging cartoon from the 'Worker', 1922.An anti-hanging cartoon from the 'Queensland Figaro', 1884


The main arguments put forward against capital punishment at this time were:
  • Religious: Prisoners would be deprived of their full time for repentance.
  • Medical: Criminals sometimes had ‘mental disease’.
  • Utilitarian: Hanging failed to act as a deterrent.
  • Legal: Sentences were irrevocable even though mistakes had been made in the past.
  • Moral: The punishment did not fit the case nor effect the reformation of the offender.    

The arguments for retaining it included:
  • The government had more pressing concerns at that time (World War 1)
  • Capital punishment was a deterrent to crime.
  • The absence of the death penalty would result in the rise of ‘lynch law’.

Although the Bill failed, all death sentences after this time were commuted. Overall, there were 118 commuted death sentences during the Boggo Road era. In 1922 the Labor-controlled parliament successfully passed a Bill abolishing capital punishment, by a vote of thirty-three to thirty. Queensland had become the first part of the British Empire to abolish the death sentence, but the event passed without much fanfare in the press. 


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