Saturday, October 17, 2009

Floggings in Mt Eden Gaol, 1868

My eyes caught the word “garrotting”, so I followed the Weekly News article while on a trawl in the central library. A garrotte in these times has the sinister meaning of a rope or wire used to strangle someone to death. In the 1860s, it apparently meant the use of an arm around the throat. That query led to the story of two of the very few incidents of penal flogging at Mt Eden Gaol.

Private Joseph Bryant arrived on the Empress in 1863, described in later court records as being an illiterate English Roman Catholic soldier, born c. 1844. (Southern Cross, 29 May 1868) He was a deserter from the Military Train in 1865, captured by police then escaping from the military guard. (Southern Cross, 6 March 1865) He was charged with highway robbery in Auckland’s Queen Street in 1866, stealing ₤9 10s. in gold from Count Albert Klaprodi after garrotting him. (Southern Cross, 27 June 1866) Bryant came up behind Klaprodi, choked him with his arm around the Count’s neck, then reached into the man’s pocket and took the gold. Bryant was sentenced to two years’ hard labour at Mt Eden gaol.

On the same day, in the same court, Samuel Johnson, Henry Kersting and George Saunders were up on charges of stealing three pigs from butcher Albert Dornwell. Johnson received four years’ sentence, Kersting two years and Saunders twelve months, all with hard labour. (Southern Cross, 6 September 1866)

Bryant and Kersting were released together from the stockade in March 1868 – and two days later, assaulted and robbed a baker named Caley on Upper Queen Street, this time one adding heavy punches to the face, chest and stomach while the other held their victim by an arm around the throat. As he lay on the ground during the latter part of the attacked, Caley was kicked. A watch and some silver was taken. (Southern Cross, 16 March 1868) Kersting had arrived on the War Spirit in 1860, described in the court records as being a literate English Catholic labourer, born c.1846. This was his third time before the bench. Another involved with the Caley robbery, Henry Goldsmith, had arrived in Auckland off the Caduceus in 1862 from Sydney, a labourer born c. 1846. Like Kersting, this was his third appearance in an Auckland court. (Southern Cross, 29 May 1868)

Bryant, Kersting and Goldsmith were sentenced to penal servitude, but with an extra sting: flogging. Bryant was sentenced to 10 years gaol, with 50 lashes; Goldsmith 10 years with 50 lashes as well; Kersting to 5 years, and 25 lashes with the cat-o-nine-tails. (Weekly News, 6 June 1868)

Just as volunteers to be executioners were drawn from the prison populations in colonial New Zealand – the position of flogger for the three men was to be filled from out of the penal staff in Mt Eden. The authorities had some difficulty, however.

We believe some difficulty has arisen, in the way of the gaol authorities carrying out the punishment of flogging awarded by Mr. Justice Moore at the last criminal session of the Supreme Court, upon the garotters Bryant, Kersting, and Goldsmith. On Friday last the overseers and warders of the Mount Eden Gaol were asked to furnish volunteers for the infliction of the lash upon the confines, but none stepped forward. They were then asked separately to perform the duty, but one and all refused, inasmuch as their terms of engagement did not specify that they would be called upon to undertake such an unpleasant duty. 
(Southern Cross, 6 July 1868)

The next day, Bryant and Kersting were flogged.

The prisoners' Bryant and Kersting underwent the infliction of the lash yesterday at the Stockade. The prisoner Goldsmith,who was first sentenced for a burglary, and afterwards for the attack on the warder, will not be flogged until the expiration of his first term of imprisonment. As we stated yesterday the warden refused to have anything to do with the corporeal punishment and the authorities were therefore compelled to get someone from without. They succeeded in procuring the services of a man said to be a discharged soldier, and yesterday morning at seven o'clock - before any of the prisoners were allowed to leave their cells— Bryant and Kersting were brought out into the prison-yard for punishment in the presence of the Governor, Mr. Young, Dr. Philson, and the whole of the warders employed at the Stockade. Bryant was first stripped and tied to the triangle, when the operator proceeded to give his first instalment of twenty-five lashes, which he bore without a wince. On being unfastened he picked up the clothes which had been taken off him, tucked them under his arm, and went to his own cell, where he remarked in the presence of the warders "That he had many a worse flogging from his mother." Kersting was then served in the same manner, and received his punishment apparently with the same unconcern as his confederate. After dinner Bryant went to his work as if nothing had happened.

(Southern Cross, 7 July 1868)

On 5 August 1868, Bryant, Goldsmith, Kersting and a horse thief named Alexander Campbell escaped from the gaol. Bryant evaded capture the longest, the others caught the same day. (Southern Cross, 6 August 1868) He was eventually caught, and all four received sentences of two years in gaol. (Southern Cross 2 September 1868)

Come November, the authorities had a problem. Under the 41st clause of the Offences Against the Person Act, the punishment of flogging had to be completed within six months of the sentence being passed. Bryant stood to escape half of the flogging, and Goldsmith the whole lot. (Southern Cross, 25 November 1868)

It would appear that time ran out – I haven’t seen a report on the further flogging of Bryant and Goldsmith.

The last floggings at Mt Eden seem to have been in the 1870s, going by what comes up from Papers Past. Even so, other centres, such as Blenheim and Dunedin, continued the practice for a time. The 1941 Crimes Amendment Act abolished flogging and whipping as punishments for murder, but it wasn't until 1961 when they were finally off the books for other crimes in New Zealand, including homosexual acts. (

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

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