A huge crowd for a hanging: the end of John Knatchbull

One of my very favourite letters in the collections of the State Library of NSW was written by a wool merchant by the name of Joseph Whitehead. In an 1838 letter to his uncle in England, Whitehead describes Sydney as ‘without exception one of the most wicked places...

When a Spade’s a Spade: the hanging of John Hammell

On 7 May 1832, John Hammell (also reported as John Hammill, John Haymell and Charles Hammell) was hanged for the murder of his boss George Williamson. Not everyone was sorry Williamson had been bashed in the head with a spade, but committing murder has consequences....

Brutality at Birch Grove

Research on the epitaph on a tombstone in Sydney’s old Devonshire Street Cemetery led to the shocking story of the deaths of Samuel Bradley, 59, and his wife Esther, 65, who were brutally murdered at their home in Birch Grove on 15 August 1822. Listen to Rachel...

Order in the Court! The Trial of Two Murderers

In the mid-eighteenth century, the famous London magazine Punch published a short piece on the ever-increasing popularity of true crime stories: We are a trading community—a commercial people. Murder is, doubtless, a very shocking offence; nevertheless, as what is...

Sydney’s Oldest Unsolved Murders

When people talk about the convicts sent to Australia across the early years of colonisation, there are two dominant stories that emerge. There’s the story of the unjustly treated convict: driven, by poverty, to steal basic supplies such as clothing and food to...