Capital punishment in Australia

Until its abolition in 1976, capital punishment in Australia was the most extreme penalty, particularly in South Australian law.

The first public hanging at Adelaide Gaol took place in November 1840 while the site was still under construction. Early hangings outside Adelaide Gaol attracted crowds of up to 2,000 people, roughly one third of the population of Adelaide at the time, who gathered to witness this most radical form of 'justice'.

An Act of Parliament was passed in 1858, decreeing that executions were to be private affairs within Adelaide Gaol, attended only by those with an official reason to be there. Portable gallows erected between the Gaol's inner and outer walls were used to execute 13 prisoners between 1861 and 1883.

The site of capital punishment

The Adelaide Gaol bell, which chimed to dictate the prisoners' routine, would toll ominously when a hanging was in progress.

Adelaide Gaol's New Building was the site of 21 executions between 1894 and 1950. The Hanging Tower, built in 1841, was converted and used for the last four executions during the 1950s and 1960s.

The last of 66 executions recorded in South Australia took place in 1964. The victim, Glen Sabre Valance, was found guilty of killing his employer, Richard David Strang, and raping his wife by his dead body at their home near Bordertown. The extreme callous nature of the rape was the reason Glen was sentenced to death by hanging.