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Tasmania's most hated public servant

No one may ever find exactly where the body of Solomon Blay is buried at Cornelian Bay in Hobart. According to Wikipedia he lies in an unmarked pauper's grave. The English convict, however, has a very distinct achievement from the early days of settlement in Tasmania, despite the notoriety attached.

Solomon Blay as drawn by Ariah Davenport-Hawkes

Solomon Blay was the longest serving hangman in the British Empire having hanged over 200 people in the course of his career from 1837 to 1887.

Charged with theft and counterfeiting, Blay was sentenced and transported to Australia in 1836 on the convict ship Sarah. By 1840 he was 24 years old and applied for the position of hangman with the government. This was after he was still a convict and had taken on the role of police constable in Brighton, although lost this position due to his use of alcohol.

At the age of 25, Blay performed his first hanging, a double event when he had to deal with two bushrangers in the north of the state. They had put people in 'bodily fear' when they held up civilians, which was punishable by death. Blay caught a coach from Hobart to Launceston to perform the deed. The next morning he was summoned by the sheriff to the cell. They bound the men's hands, marched them up the steps, put them on the trapdoor, cloth on head, rope round neck, stood clear, waited for the sheriff's signal, pushed the lever, released the bolt and down they went.

Using the short rope method, which was only around a metre long, essentially killed slowly by strangulation, Blay later adopted the more humane long drop method (around two metres long), which ensured a short, sharp dislocation of the neck. Because of his career, he was not a popular man, often having to spend days walking to his executions as no one would give him a lift, or eat outside at a coachhouse as he was not welcome in the warmth of the eating establishment.

He received a full pardon in 1857 due to his work for the government and had married an Irish convict by the name of Mary Murphy. During his career he hanged people of all ages which included three women with the last of those happening in 1862. This was Margaret Coghlan who stabbed her husband to death.

He was paid a small wage as hangman and was entitled to keep the clothes of the prisoners he hanged. With his wife he sold the clothes for extra income. He and his wife attempted to relocate to England but his identity was discovered and he had no choice but to return to Tasmania and plead for his job back. He performed his last hanging at the age of 71 when he executed Tim Walker, an old man who had stabbed a prostitute to death.

In his obituary, in 1897 when he died at the age of 75 he was referred to as Old Sol. It is said that amongst his effects was a box containing about two hundred pieces of knotted rope. These are the knots cut off the ropes of every man he has hanged. They were believed to be labelled and ticketed.


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1 Comment

I wonder if he ever had any regrets about his choice of career?

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