Bushrangers, the Exercise of Mercy and the ‘Last Penalty of the Law’ in New South Wales and Tasmania 1824-1856

The University of Tasmania Law Review, 2013

49 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2016

See all articles by David Plater

David Plater

University of Tasmania - Faculty of Law

Penny Crofts

University of Technology Sydney, Faculty of Law

Date Written: 2013

Abstract

The death penalty in the 19th century in both colonial Australia and Great Britain was widely seen as necessary for punishment and deterrence. However, the prerogative of mercy served a vital role during this period in mitigating the effects of capital punishment. This article examines the exercise of the death penalty and the prerogative of mercy in colonial Australia during the period from 1824 to the grant of responsible government in 1856 with respect to bushrangers. Bushrangers despite their often celebrated and even sympathetic status in ‘popular culture’ were perceived (in official and ‘respectable’ circles at least) as more than mere colonial criminals and as posing a particular threat to the often tenuous stability and even existence of early colonial society. However, even offenders ‘beyond the pale’ such as bushrangers were not exempted from the benefit of mercy. It is argued that the prerogative was taken seriously in colonial Australia by the public, the press and notably the authorities to even the worst of capital offenders such as bushrangers. Different conceptions were expressed during the time, ranging from ideas of mercy as based on desert and equity, as something that was predictable and consistent, to ideas of mercy as an undeserved gift. These debates about the prerogative of mercy articulated different conceptions of law and order, community and justice in an embryonic, self-governing society.

Suggested Citation

Plater, David and Crofts, Penny, Bushrangers, the Exercise of Mercy and the ‘Last Penalty of the Law’ in New South Wales and Tasmania 1824-1856 (2013). The University of Tasmania Law Review, 2013 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2826903

David Plater

University of Tasmania - Faculty of Law ( email )

Private Bag 89
Hobart
Tasmania, 7001
Australia

Penny Crofts (Contact Author)

University of Technology Sydney, Faculty of Law ( email )

Sydney
Australia

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