Monday, January 15, 2007
Just returned from another trip to Melbourne. Saw a bit more of the city this time. Visited Old Melbourne Jail in the centre of the city. A sombre building with three tiers of miserable little cells which I can only imagine must have stunk to high heaven given the lack of sanitation in the place. We get to see the restored and sanitised version of this building but the misery, violence and abuse of basic human rights must have created an atmosphere that was palpable and nauseating.
The death masks of the convicts that were hung are gruesome reminders of a less forgiving era in our society and one that certainly did not seem to be swayed by present day ideas of political correctness. Although corporal punishment certainly had its opponents then.
The death mask of Ned Kelly has a prominent position in the building and his countenance gave me the impression of strength and resolution..quite a handsome, broad face.
The biographies displayed with the death masks told of lives ravaged by tragedy and criminal acts often prompted by desperation rather than depravity.
I found Emma Williams' story unbelievably sad as did many people of the day. There were many public petitions against the death penalty before her execution but they were unsuccessful. Arriving in Melbourne in 1893, the pregnant Emma lost her husband to typhoid. After many unsuccessful attempts to place her son in an orphanage or with a baby-farmer she resorted to prostitution to survive. The baby was nuisance in the house as it was always crying after Emma and in 1895 the body of a small boy was found in the Port Melbourne lagoon with a stone tied around his neck. Emma was arrested and subsequently convicted of his murder.