Labour History

A Dread Decision: The Execution of Edwin Hickey, 1936

Labour History (2014), 107, (1), 95–114.

Abstract

Edwin Hickey’s trial, conviction and subsequent execution in 1936 for the apparently unprovoked murder of conciliation commissioner Montague Henwood raised questions about the administration of justice and legal representation in New South Wales. This controversial execution laid bare the anxieties of a troubled society, exposing conflicting attitudes to youth, crime, sexuality and sexual assault. Hickey was portrayed as one of a lost generation, who unfairly carried the burden of societal disquiet following World War I. For many he was also a symptom of communal guilt concerning the cruel impact of the Great Depression on rural youth. Such representations did not save Hickey, whose unsubstantiated allegation of attempted sexual assault rendered him beyond redemption in the eyes of conservative politicians who made the final decision on whether his death sentence would be commuted.

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Footnotes

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72. NSWPD LC 148(7 May1936):3628. See also the “wireless message” Stevens sent to the Howard Prison Reform League when it contacted him concerning Hickey;SMH, 15 May1936, 12. Google Scholar

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79.In 1916, amidst the industrial and political turmoil of the War years, Grant was given a 15-year sentence. He served almost four years and was released in 1920 after a royal commission overturned most of the convictions.Ian Turner, Sydney’s Burning(:Alpha Books, 1967), 32, 57, 190. See alsoThe History of Donald Grant: Officially Selected and Endorsed Labour Candidate for the Senate(:National Association, [1925?]); andFrank Farrell, “Grant, Donald McLennan (Don) (1888–1970),” ADB, accessed September 2014,http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/grant-donald-mclennan-don-6453. Google Scholar

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97. NSWPD LA 148(12 May1936):3641. Google Scholar

98. Sun, 13 May1936, 17. Google Scholar

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100. SMH, 12 May1936, 12. Google Scholar

101. SMH, 14 May1936, 10. Google Scholar

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104.This was John Raymond Brown who was hanged at Grafton Gaol in December 1906; see“Australian Executions 1870–1967,” Capital Punishment UK, accessed September 2014,http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/aus1900.html. Google Scholar

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110. NSWPD LC 148(13 May1936):3715. Google Scholar

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113.Lang was citing section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933.SMH, 7 May1936, 11. Google Scholar

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116. SMH, 13 May1936, 15. Google Scholar

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119. NSWPD LA 148(12 May1936):3647–51. Google Scholar

120.Ibid., 3653, 3659. Google Scholar

121. SMH, 13 May1936, 15. Google Scholar

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123. NSWPD LC 148(13 May1936):3717. Google Scholar

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125.Women in NSW had only been allowed to assume this responsibility since 1921.Kingston, A History of New South Wales, 135. Google Scholar

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127.Lynch was active in the campaign to save triple child murderer Edward Williams from hanging in 1924.SMH, 14 April 1924, 13. For other women involved in this campaign, seeSMH, 25 April 1924, 8; and 28 April1924, 10. Google Scholar

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131. SMH, 14 May1936, 10. He abdicated later that year so he could marry the woman he loved. Google Scholar

132. SMH, 15 May1936, 12. Google Scholar

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134. NSWPD LC 148(13 May1936):3718. Google Scholar

135.The USA took the lead with this approach when the state of Illinois passed such legislation in 1899.Clive Emsley, Crime, Policing and Penal Policy: European Experiences, 1750–1940(:Oxford University Press, 2007):230–31;Child Welfare Bill, NSWPD LA 158(11 May1939):4550–53. Google Scholar

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Curby, Pauline