Gibbetting is the act of executing a person for a crime and then hanging their body in chains to deter others from commiting similar crimes. Bodies were often placed in obvious spots so as to be easily observed by members of the public.
Martin Cash, later known as the gentleman bushranger, related in his life story how he had met constables carrying the body of a bushranger, named McKay. He had been hung for the murder of a coach passenger, named Wilson, whom he had shot on the coach near Perth. The murderer's body was brought back to be hung on Gibbet Hill as a warning to others.
Then there is the story told of a harvest worker, a woman who, while in a bar, grabbed two sovereigns and swallowed them. Two men attacked her and tried to retrieve the gold. When their efforts failed, they killed her. They met their death by hanging, and ended up as gruesome relics on Gibbet Hill. Others were hung here as a result of crimes committed while the bridge and roads were being built.
Much could be written of Perth and its romantic past: episodes with natives, clashes with bushrangers, murders, floods, storms, and all the peril of the outback. Bushrangers like Matthew Brady, hung in 1826, raided the farms; Thomas Rares, known as the boy bushranger because he was sent to Port Arthur at the age of nine, was captured near here, with his hand blown off, and was literally carried to the scaffold more dead than alive. There were many others, for such names as Bloodshed Lane recall a grim past. Gibbet Hill and its gruesome adornments gives the past almost as grim a background as Tyburn, England.
Reference: Rait, B. 1971 'Perth and its story', Advance Publicity Co, Hobart.
This passage from The Cornwall Chronical, the local Launceston paper, describes the events around Gibbet Hill:
John McKay, and John Lamb, were tried on Friday last, for the wilful murder of Mr. Wilson. The evidence given against the prisoners was with little differences, a mere repetition of the facts connected with the murder as given in the newspapers —it is not necessary, therefore, for us to extract it from the Colonial Times, in which Journal it is given in full. The guilt of the prisoners was satisfactorily proved to the Jury, who returned a verdict of Guilty against both of them, when his Honor passed upon them the following sentence—"to be severally hanged on Monday morning next, and when dead, their bodies to be hung in chains ."The particular spot where they were to be hanged in chains was to be described in the execution warrant.
The principal evidence against the prisoners was HANNAH WARD-the woman who was apprehended as concerned in the murder, and was committed, charged with being accessary before the fact She was admitted as evidence on the part of the Crown, but it did not appear upon the trial, that she knew any thing of the murder until after it had been perpetrated. It would be -satisfactory that the public should know, that it was those men who lived at Mr. Gee, on the Magpie Hill ; probably before we go to press we may be in possession or some circumstances at tending the execution, which may explain it— if so, it will be found in another part of this paper.
THE GIBBETTING—The body of McKay, hung at Hobart Town, arrived at Perth, at two o'clock yesterday afternoon, under charge of Lyons the Sheriff's Bailiff, and a constable, arranged in the usual iron casing, and ready for exhibition on the gibbet, agreeable to the terms of the sentence of the Judge. The Under Sheriff of this town had previously received instructions to cause the body of the malefactor to he gibbetted, as near to the spot at which he committed the murder, as possible, and had prepared ready for its arrival, a gibbett, 20 feet high. at about 40 yards from the main road, to which the body was securely attached about 4 o'clock, in the presence of that Officer, the Commandant, and a number of spectators. With that promptitude to benefit the inhabitants or this town, for which our Commandant has been distinguished during his residence among us, he did not permit the awful ceremony to pass over, with- out rendering it serviceable, by way of example, to the unhappy members of the chain-gangs and road- parties stationed along the Perth road. They were present, and after the termination of it, were ad- dressed by the Revd. J. Manton, in a very appropriate and feeling manner.
It is represented to us, that the exertions of Mr. Purvis, the Superintendent of the chain gangs at Perth, were praiseworthy, and that to them may be attributed the expeditious execution of the commands of the Government. Lyons, it is said, stated at Perth, that he expected to meet the body of Lamb, on its way over, for a similar exhibition, on his return to Hobart Town, and that McKay made some confession under the gallows, that caused the delay of his execution. McKay acknowledged the justness of his sentence, and said, that it was Lamb, and not him-self, who shot Mr. Wilson.
Reference: The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas. : 1835 - 1880) Sat 6 May 1837, page 2.