eCite Digital Repository

Bushrangers, the Exercise of Mercy and the 'Last Penalty of the Law' in New South Wales and Tasmania 1824-1856


Plater, DJ and Crofts, P, Bushrangers, the Exercise of Mercy and the 'Last Penalty of the Law' in New South Wales and Tasmania 1824-1856, University of Tasmania Law Review, 32, (2) pp. 295-343. ISSN 0082-2108 (2013) [Refereed Article]

Restricted - Request a copy

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2014 Law School, University of Tasmania

Official URL:


The death penalty in the 19th century in both colonial Australia and Great Britain was widely seen as necessary for punishment and deterrence. However, the prerogative of mercy served a vital role during this period in mitigating the effects of capital punishment. This article examines the exercise of the death penalty and the prerogative of mercy in colonial Australia during the period from 1824 to the grant of responsible government in 1856 with respect to bushrangers. Bushrangers despite their often celebrated and even sympathetic status in ‘popular culture’ were perceived (in official and ‘respectable’ circles at least) as more than mere colonial criminals and as posing a particular threat to the often tenuous stability and even existence of early colonial society. However, even offenders ‘beyond the pale’ such as bushrangers were not exempted from the benefit of mercy. It is argued that the prerogative was taken seriously in colonial Australia by the public, the press and notably the authorities to even the worst of capital offenders such as bushrangers. Different conceptions were expressed during the time, ranging from ideas of mercy as based on desert and equity, as something that was predictable and consistent, to ideas of mercy as an undeserved gift. These debates about the prerogative of mercy articulated different conceptions of law and order, community and justice in an embryonic, self-governing society.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Research Division:Law and Legal Studies
Research Group:Public law
Research Field:Public law not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Law, Politics and Community Services
Objective Group:Justice and the law
Objective Field:Justice and the law not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Plater, DJ (Dr David Plater)
ID Code:88368
Year Published:2013
Deposited By:Law
Deposited On:2014-01-31
Last Modified:2014-07-31

Repository Staff Only: item control page