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Type: Journal article
Title: ‘All that's good and virtuous or depraved and abandoned in the extreme’? Capital punishment and mercy for female offenders in colonial Australia, 1824 to 1865
Author: Plater, D.
Milne, S.
Citation: University of Tasmania Law Review, 2014; 33(1):83-140
Publisher: University of Tasmania Law Review
Issue Date: 2014
ISSN: 0082-2108
Statement of
David Plater, Sue Milne
Abstract: The exercise of the death penalty and the operation of the prerogative of mercy in 19th century Britain have long been a subject of academic scrutiny and popular interest. In comparison, the exercise of the death penalty and the prerogative of mercy in colonial Australia have been largely overlooked, as has too, the exercise of the death penalty in respect of female offenders in Britain, and more especially, Australia. This article examines the exercise of the death penalty for the women convicted of a capital offence in the Australia colonies (with particular focus on New South Wales and Tasmania) in the period from 1824 to 1865. This article examines the context of the prerogative of mercy and the perception and treatment of female offenders during this period in Britain and colonial Australia. In considering the rationale and operation of the prerogative of mercy for female capital offenders, it is argued that whilst punishment and deterrence were recurrent themes in the exercise of the death penalty in colonial Australia, these were neither the sole nor even paramount considerations. Instead, the colonial authorities, even to those offenders who were ‘beyond the pale’, regarded the exercise of the prerogative of mercy as fundamental to the administration of criminal justice. However particular considerations applied to female offenders. They were usually viewed in polarised terms that accorded with the wider perception of female offenders in this period, ‘either they are all that's good and virtuous, or that they are depraved and abandoned in the extreme’.[1] Female offenders who were perceived to fall into the former category could expect sympathy and the likelihood of reprieve, whilst those who were perceived, sometimes arbitrarily, to fall into the latter category could entertain little hope of sympathy and mercy and could expect to receive the ‘extreme penalty of the law’.
Keywords: Female offenders; capital punishment; mercy; colonization; criminal justice, administration of; criminal law
Rights: Copyright status unknown
Published version:;dn=906131208426470;res=IELAPA
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