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7 corrections, most recently by wattlesong - Show corrections

EXECUTION OF WILLIAM CONROY.

On Friday morning, Nov. 18, William Conroy suffered the extreme penalty of the law for the wilful murder of the late Mr. John Snook, It will no doubt be still fresh in the minds of the majority of our readers that the celebration of the Queen's Jubilee was brought to a close at Fremantfe on Thursday, the 23rd June last, by the hold-

ing of a children's fancy dress ball in the local Town Hall. The deceased gentleman, Mr. Snook (who was about 70 years of age) acted as one of the stewards on that occas- ion; and in the discharge of his duty, as- sisted by the caretaker of the Town Hall, he had occasion to refuse Conroy admittance to the Hall. Conroy, however, persisted in his attempts to force an entrance, but with- out avail; and eventually he was turned away by the combined efforts of Cr. Snook and the caretaker, greatly to the amuse- ment of the crowd that toad assembled in front of the entrance door of tie building. Conroy then went off to the National Hotel of which house he was the licensee ; and after the children had left the hall at about midnight some of the elders present in- dulged in a couple of dances, subsequently to which the stewards and other persons whe had been engaged in supervising the arrangements went to supper. At about half-past one on the morning of Friday, the 24th June, Conroy returned to the hall, looked into the supper room, and in reply to a question put 10 him stated that he was

occupied in waiting for Cr. Snook. A few minutes afterwards Conroy met that aged gentleman, when he drew a revolver from one of the side pockets of his coat and de- liberately fired at Mr. Snook's head. The ball entered the unfortunate man's month and made its exit just below the right ear, having shattered the lower jawbone on the right side in its passage. The assailant was at once arrested, and was subsequently committed to take his trial at the October criminal sessions of the Supreme Court. Shortly before the opening ot the session Cr. Snook died, and on Thursday, the 6th of Oetober, the prisoner was ar- raigned upon tie charge of wilful murder. The trial took place before the Acting Chief Justice and lasted two days, the accused being defended by Mr. Sept Butt, Q. C. (instructed by Mr. J. Horgan), who raised the plea of insanity in his client's defence. But after his Honor (Mr. G. W. Leake) had summed up strongly against the prisoner the jury returned a verdict of guilty, coupled however with a strong recommendation to mercy, bat unfortunately the Judge did not ask the foreman upon what ground the jury based their recommendation. Conroy was then sentenced to death in due form and was removed to the Perth Gaol, when he was ironed in the usual manner and placed in one of the condemned cells. Owing to the Governor having gone on a long tour through the Murchiaon district before the trial took

place the consideration of the verdict by his Excellency and the Executive Council was necessarily delayed for about a month, during which time the prisoner's numerous friends took active steps to prepare a peti- tion to Sir F. N. Broome praying for com- mutation of his sentence. The peti- tion was signed by over 1,500 citizens and residents of Fremantle, including the whole of the jury who had tried him. Upon the Governor's return to Perth about a fortnight ago the petition was presented to him, and at a meeting of tie Executive Council held last week the serious case was taken into their most earnest, anxious and careful consideration, the result being that

by and with the unanimous advice of his Executive, the Governor decided the law should take its course. The decision was at once announced to the condemned man by the Sheriff (Mr. J. B. Roe) in the most delicate and considerate manner ; but Con- roy did not appear at all dismayed at the fearful fate awaiting him, for as we shall subsequently show he had been prepared to meet his doom in a proper manner. There the case rested until Monday, the 14th inst, when we published a long letter written by Dr. Kenny, in which that gentleman stoutly urged that that the execution of Conroy would under the circumstances of the case be an act of legal murder. The literary controversy thus provoked was continued in Dr. Kenny's support by Dr. Jameson, and on the other side by Dr. Hope and Dr. Ingoldby. On the evening

of Wednesday, the 16th instant, a public   meeting was held in the Perth Town Hall to pass a resolution respectfully urging the Governor to respite the condemned man. The meeting was attended by about 1,000 citizens, and after addresses had been given by Dr. Jameson, Mr. A. P. Hensman and Cr. Crowder the resolution was unanimous- ly adopted. That resolution was presented to the Governor on the following day, Thursday, and was most carefully considered by his Excellency. It does indeed redound to the credit of Sir F. N. Broome that in

determining this case he spared neither time nor trouble. His Excellency again re-perused the whole of the evidence of and all the documents connected with the trial, and by his direction, the Acting Chief Justice (Mr. G. W. Leake) and Mr. Justice Stone held a consultation upon the subject. Subsequently his Excellency held a long conference with the two Judges, after which he consulted also the medical gentlemen who were personally acquainted with the

circumstances of the case. After a most lengthy and exhaustive deliberation his Excellency finally decided that the law should be allowed to take its course. Meanwhile Conroy's conduct in Prison had been of the most exemplary character. Since the date of his conviction he spent most of his time in prayer, the reading of religious works, and profound meditation. The Rev. Father Duff and the Sisters of

Mercy were unremitting in their attend- ance, visiting him never less than three times a day, spending much time with the condemned man in prayer. Up to the last Conroy most solemnly declared that he had not the slightest recollection of having fired

the fatal shot. He stated that he re- membered being rudely and violently repulsed from tie entrance-door of the Town Hall by Cr. Snook, but that all after that was a complete blank to him until he found himself in custody in the Fremantle Round House and accused of the crime. Yet he expressed his profound penitence for having committed the deed, and eager- ly availed himself of the religious minis- trations of his spiritual adviser. His spiritual state was considered so satisfactory that the Sacrifice of the Mass was repeated- ly offered up on his behalf in the Catholic Cathedral, and at the hands of the Rev. Father Duff he received the Sacrament of Absolution. Up to the date of the decision

of the Governor-in-Council being announc- ed to him, Conroy was buoyed up with a hope that the largely-signed petition in his favour would lead to a commutation of his

sentence; but after that he calmly resign- ed all hope, and assiduously devoted him- self to preparing for his violent death. The last Night. At ten minutes past seven o'clock on Thursday evening the Sheriff arrived at the gaol, and announced to Conroy that he was to die at eight o'clock the next morn- ing. The condemned man received the

fearful intimation with the utmost com- posure, merely remarking that be wished through the medium of the Perth and Fremantle Press to thank all those friends who had so kindly exerted them- selves on his behalf ; adding that he hoped all true Catholics would of their charity

pray for the repose of his soul. He then devoted himself to earnest prayer and medi- tation, in which he was engaged until a quarter of an hour after midnight, when he retired to bed. But not to sleep—for while   lying on his couch he assumed an attitude of devotion, and continued in prayer until ten minutes past two in tie morning. He then fell asleep, and slumbered peacefully until a quarter to five, when he was roused in accordance with his previously expressed wish. He then spent an hour in private prayer, from uhich he was interrupted by the welcome arrival at a quarter to six of the Rev. Father Duff, who administered to

him the Holy Sacrament of tie Bfee&ed Eucharist. At seven o'clock the Sisters of Mercy called upon the condemned man, and after spending half-an-hour with him re- tired to give place to the blacksmith, who came to perform the necessary task of Cutting off the Irons. Conroy greeted the arrival of this functionary with a cheerful smile, and actually assisted him in his work by holding up his irons in a conven- ient position for the operation. The man had cut off the head of one rivet, and was just going to drive it out, when Conroy quietly observed—'You have left a little   corner, you had better cut it off too.' When the shackles were removed from his legs, and just as the blacksmith was leav- ing the cell, Conroy coolly drew his atten- tion to the fact that he had left his punch on the floor, and told him to pick it up. During the few remaining minutes left Conroy warmly thanked Mr. Woodbridge and the other prison officials for the kind- ness with which they had treated him ; and again expressed a hope that all his friends who had interested themselves on his be-   half would, through the medium of the Press, be publicly thanked for him. At a quarter to eight the Sheriff arrived, and formally demanded the body of the con- demned man. Ten minutes after that the executioner entered the condemned cell and proceeded to pinion the prisoner. This was done in the usual manner by se- curing his arms by lashing them as closely as possible behind the back, just above the elbows, with a thin but strong cord. Then, contrary to all precedent, The Prisoner was Handcuffed behind his back. This unusual course was adopted on account of his being a strong, lithe, active young man; and it was feared that he might possibly catch hold of the rope above his head with one of his hands after the bolt had been drawn, aad thus prolong his sufferings. A similar case re- cently occurred in Victoria; and therefore it was thought advisable to prevent the possibility of such an event happening in the present case. Sharp at eight o'clock the prisoner was led from his cell into the corridor, and then the mournful Procession to the Scaffold was formed. And here it may be noted that this execution differed in some respects from those which have previously taken place in the Perth Gaol. A few months ago the citizens residing in the immedi- ate neighbourhood of the prison presented a petition to the Governor, praying him to order the tolling of tie death-bell, and the hoisting of the black flag at executions to be discontinued. His Excellency was pleased to comply with the prayer; and therefore no bell was tolled as the prisoner walked to the gallows, nor was the black flag flown when the fatal bolt was drawn. At this moment, a large number of curious people assembled in and about the prison reserve ; but of course they were unable to see any- thing of the execution, and when they looked in vain for the hoisting of the black flag at the usual moment an incorrect rumor was circulated that the condemned man had been respited on the scaffold. Upon being requested to march to the gal- lows Conroy stepped out of his cell with the utmost coolness. He appeared as joyous and happy as though he was going to his marriage instead of to his death, and as he entered the corridor he cheerfully said, 'Good by!' to the representative of this paper, who was standing there at the time. After having received Holy Communion, Conroy was asked what he would have for breakfast. But he replied that as he had just partaken of the Blessed Eucharist, and as it was a fast day, he would take nothing but a cup of tea. That was given him, and so he went to his fearful fate physic- ally unsupported by any solid nourishment. The condemned man stepped briskly for- ward on His Last Short Walk, and preceded by the Rev. Father Duff (who, vested in bis canonicals peculiar to the sad occasion, was reading the funeral service) marched with a firm step and admirably courageous demeanour to the execution yard. Passing through the prison office the prisoner stepped under the gallows, and continuing his way firmly mounted the winding staircase and at last stood On the Fatal Drop. He was dressed in prison clothes — a cotton striped shirt open at the neck, a pair of duck trousers supported by a strap round the waist, and had on his feet a pair of worsted stockings and a pair of brown leather slippers ; his head was, of course, bare. Gloomy was the morning, and not a single beam of the sun shone forth

To guild with rays so light and free That dismal, dark frowning gallows-tree. Having been told where to stand Conroy took his place directly under the traverse beam overhead, and then the hangman quickly pulled the white cap (or rather bag) over his head and adjusted the fatal noose round his neck. Meanwhile the devoted Priest stood near the condemned man, au- dibly commending his soul to the infinite mercy of Him Who died on Calvary for the eternal redemption of sinful humanity. And the executioner, who was grasping the upright handle of a huge lever, which when pulled draws the two bolts at once that support the drop, stood awaiting the dread signal from tie Sheriff. 'In manus tuas   commendo spiritum meum,' prayed the Priest — the Sheriff gave a nod, the hangman drew the long handle towards him with a sudden jerk, the trapdoors swung back- wards and downwards, and Conroy was launched into eternity. But not at once — No ! When the unfortunate man fell he hung at the end of the rope for a few seconds motionless, but then began to kick and struggle in a most frantic manner. For fully a quarter of an hour the

desperate conflict between life and death continued, during which time the convul- sive sobs and gaspings of the hanging man were audible to all present. At last nature gave way, and Conroy yielded up the ghost; but not until he had kicked off his left slipper in his struggles, and had bruised his wrists in the ineffectual efforts he made to burst the manacles. Meanwhile Father Duff stood on the scaffold continu- ing his earnest prayers on behalf of the departing soul, and by the time he had concluded his orisons there hung at the end of the rope only a lump of lifeless clay. For the contre- temps that occurred the officials were in no way to blame. Conroy was but a light weight, while his neck was a most muscular one — the thoratic sinews being unusually well developed. Under these circumstances a thinner rope than generally employed was used, and he was given a drop of six feet. This, with the four feet to which the rope stretched, gave him a fall in all of ten feet ; more than that could not have been safely allowed, as even then his feet were within a ten inches of the pavement when he

dropped. Still the unhappy fact remains the wretched man's neck was not broken, but that he died from slow strangulation. The only redeeming feature of the case was that the severity of the shock must have deprived Conroy of consciousness, and therefore he felt no pain. Soon after-   wards the corpse was cut down and placed in a handsome coffin, supplied by Mr. W. Wimbridge to the order of the deceased's aunt, Mrs. Herbert. The coffin lid bore a plate with the simple inscription 'William Conroy. Aged 30 years.'

Above that was a medallion of the Blessed Redeemer, below which in letters of gold appeared the words 'For us He suffered,' and the whole was surmounted with a large metal crucifix. Subsequently a form- al inquest into the death was held by the City Coroner (Mr. J. C. H. James, A.P.M.) and a jury composed of Messrs. K. Smith, S. Hymns and E. Stevenson ; when the usual verdict was returned of , 'Death in   accordance with the law.' The coffin was then removed for burial to Fremantle, and so ended the last scene of the fatal Fre- mantle Jubilee tragedy.

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