17 November 2011

The Strangest Argument Ever Made Against Capital Punishment

This story can be read at 'A Scaffold High'.

Dr William Frederick Taylor, Queensland MLA (John Oxley Library)
Dr William Frederick Taylor. (John Oxley  Library)


  1. Very interesting article indeed! Whilst Taylor's opinions were fairly controversial, as a spiritualist they would have been quite understandable - execution & burial of criminals was tailored to ensure the soul could never rest. When it came to the disposal of executed prisoners remains, the usual practice was twofold.

    Bodies of the executed would be buried in unconsecrated ground to ensure the soul could not find salvation outside the realm of God. Secondly, corpses would be laid facing the west differing from consecrated burials that faced east - the belief prevailed that on the Day of Judgement, the bodies of the righteous would sit up to face the rising sun in the east & salvation...when the criminals sat up, they would face the west & hence could never be saved. Thus, the entire burial custom for criminals was perfectly suited to ensuring their spirits were trapped on earth for eternity...which would no doubt have panicked the spiritualists immensely!


  2. Thanks Liam,

    I know where you're coming from, but I'm not sure executed prisoners in colonial Queensland were treated any differently to other people in death. They received full religious ministration inside prison (some were baptised in their cell) and most had funeral services in the cemetery, so the intent seems to have been to 'save their souls'. It was felt that repentant murderers would be accepted into Heaven, and this is what the religious ministers worked hard at. There again, I would be happy to hear of any evidence to the contrary, especially regarding direction of burials, as there is nothing in the official records on this.

    The question of consecration is an interesting one. As South Brisbane was a 'mixed' cemetery there were no 'mass' consecrations of burial ground as happened at denominationally-segregated cemeteries like Toowong. I understand that graveside services themselves would mean the individual ground was consecrated. Again, I would be happy to learn more about this one, its a bit hazy.

  3. I think Liam may be refering to medival practices and beliefs. Most of this kind of thinking was rejected after the reformation ans so was unlikely to have played a part in British Colonial history. However if ithet exists I'd be happy to be pointed towards sources that refute my assertion.

  4. I would tend to agree Wid. Executed prisoners were 'property of the Crown'and so it was the government's responsibility to bury them. There is no record or evidence of the Queensland government adopting burial practices out of the ordinary in these cases.

    Laws relating to capital punishment and the treatment of prisoners underwent massive change from the 1830s onward, and by the 1880s those laws had taken their modern form and were more-or-less unchanged at the time of the last Australian hanging in 1968. The colonial government was certainly not in the business of legislating to affect the 'afterlife'.

  5. Which is why William Taylor's parliamentary comments were so out of place in 1916.