'No Witnesses. No Leads, No Problems': The Reenactment of Crime and Rebellion

Paul Pickering

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    Opened in 1841, the foreboding buildings which comprised Melbourne’s first penitentiary were extended several times until the completion of the bluestone walls and turrets in 1864. Although its design was inspired by the fashionable reformist ideas in penology of the day, the prison regime practiced within the heavy walls also incorporated a stark reminder of the lingering ‘bloody code’ that had characterised the British justice for centuries. Before it was closed in 1929 the prison had been the site of 136 executions. Among a grim list of offenders, the most notorious individual to die in the prison was Edward (Ned) Kelly. At 10:00 am on 11 November 1880, Kelly, his arms pinioned with a heavy leather strap, a white cloth bag folded back on his forehead, was led from a holding cell adjacent to the gallows. Outside a crowd estimated at between 4000 and 8000 had gathered. Although it had been over three years since an execution in Old Melbourne Gaol, it was not morbid curiosity which drew them there. These were Kelly’s supporters (and opponents of capital punishment) who had hastily collected a petition bearing 30,000 signatures seeking a commutation of the sentence of death in the short interregnum between the court case and the day of execution. The numbers (neither crowd nor petition), however, could not disguise the fact that many Victorians supported the punishment of Kelly to the full extent of the law.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationHistorical Reenactment: From Realism to the Affective Turn
    EditorsPaul A Pickering & Iain MaCalman
    Place of PublicationBasingstoke
    PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd
    Pages109 - 133
    ISBN (Print)9780230576124
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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