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British Justice

This watercolour depicts Melbourne's first public execution, which took place on 20 February 1842. The prisoners were two Aboriginal men known as Bob and Jack, who had been accused of murdering two whalers in the colony's Westernport district. Unable to give evidence in their own defence, or to call Aboriginal witnesses, they were found guilty by the settler jury.

The First Execution
magnifyThe First Execution, about 1875

Their execution was a major public event. A crowd of 6000, nearly the whole population of the township, followed the prisoners as they were led to the gallows near the present-day site of the Old Melbourne Gaol. A bizarre carnival atmosphere prevailed. Well-dressed women, countless children and young bushmen jostled for position. Some jumped upon the coffins to get a better view.

Half-hidden in nearby gum trees, local Aborigines watched the grim proceedings. It was a solemn message about British justice and what it might mean for them.

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