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Century since abolition of death penalty in Queensland

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary since the closure of one of the darkest chapters in the Queensland criminal justice system – the abolition of the death penalty.

Queensland became the first place in both Australia and the British Commonwealth to abolish the death penalty on 31 July 1922 – but not before 94 souls perished at the end of a hangman’s noose.

To mark the centenary of Queensland’s repeal of capital punishment, a special event will be held in the Premier’s Hall of Brisbane’s Parliament House between 10.30am and 8.30pm on Monday 1 August.

The ‘Commemoration of the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Queensland 1922-2022’ event is scheduled to be hosted by the Speaker of the Queensland Parliament, Curtis Pitt, and will include a keynote address by former High Court of Australia judge the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG.

Other events will include discussions with national and international identities involved in opposing the death penalty today, an historical analysis of the events of 31 July 1922 and the launch of the 2022 edition of the seminal anti-death penalty tome from 1968 The Penalty of Death edited by renowned Australian polymath writer, teacher, lawyer, social activist and former Federal politician Barry Jones AC.

Eminent Queensland barrister and renowned death penalty abolition advocate Stephen Keim SC will be the Master of Ceremonies, with Queensland Law Society President Kara Thomson set to chair.

Other scheduled attendees and guest speakers include Law Council of Australia President Tass Liveris, state government MPs Jon Krause, Jonty Bush, Robbie Katter and members of the ‘Australian Parliamentarians Against the Death Penalty’ group Senator Dean Smith and MP Graham Perrett.

It is a ticketed event, and the allocation of tickets for people wishing to attend in person has been exhausted. However, the event is being telecast via Zoom. If you are interested, please email the Julian Wagner Memorial Fund at admin@jwmf.com.au.

The first two people legally sentenced to death in Queensland – John Bulbridge and Charles Fagan – were executed at Brisbane’s then named Moreton Bay Penal Settlement on 18 December 1830 for the offences of absconding from the ‘penal colony’ and robbery.

Over the ensuing 83 years, 91 men and one woman were legally killed for a myriad of heinous and oft brutal crimes – the vast majority being for murder.

The last person executed in Queensland was Ernest Austin at Brisbane’s infamous former high security Boggo Road Gaol for the murder of 11-year-old Ivy Mitchell on 22 September 1913.

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