Capital punishment collection (Justice & Police Museum Collection)



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A collection of approximately 50 items relating to capital punishment in New South Wales. The collection was almost entirely amassed by the Office of the Sheriff in NSW prior to 1939. The Office of the Sheriff was responsible for the oversight of executions from 1824 until the death penalty was abolished in New South Wales in 1985. The collection includes documentation of the legal process surrounding hanging through to the artefacts used by the hangman.

The Justice & Police Museum has an important collection of items relating to the management of capital punishment in NSW up until 1939.
The execution of prisoners became increasingly scrutinised by welfare groups and the media from the 1890s onwards and this concern is evidenced in the paperwork surrounding hangings. The political and social climate is reflected in attitudes towards execution and the collection contains documents that show that officials and politicians questioned everything from whether it was ethical for prisoners to make the rope used in hangings to whether female journalists should be allowed to witness executions.
Letters written by prisoners, such as Louisa Collins the last woman hanged in NSW in 1889, provide an insight into the character and concerns of the condemned. The death masks associated with this collection, cast from the criminal’s head after execution, represent attempts to understand and classify condemned criminals using phrenology and other pseudo-sciences. The mechanics of the execution process, including plans detailing new designs for a hanging beam and documentation to assist with calculating the 'drop', form part of the collection.
The bureacratic administration of the process is reflected in a group of files relating to the hanging of prisoners. Investigations into botched hangings were conducted and some reports relating to these often horrific incidents have survived. The physical artefacts used by the hangman, including nooses and hoods are also held by the Museum.
The collection is unique within Australia as it contains both official documents and artefacts that were used in hangings. It gives an insight into both the politics and practicalities surrounding public execution.


Capital punishment; Crime; Criminals; Death masks

Coverage Spatial

New South Wales; Sydney; Australia

Coverage Temporal




2012-08-02 14:39

2011-12-19 12:28