Alexander Green was sentenced to transportation for the term of his natural life in 1824 for the theft of “brown stuff” from a shop.
Born in 1802 in the Netherlands to a circus performer, he was recorded as a tumbler by trade. He arrived in Sydney on the Countess of Harcourt, aged 22 years of age. He was described as: Height – 5 ft 41⁄2 ins; Complexion – Pale, pitted; Hair – Flax; Eyes – Lt Blue. He was not particularly attractive, having pockmarked skin and stumps for teeth, and was of simple mind.
After a year he obtained a conditional pardon in May 1825, probably because he turned police informer. However, he was found guilty of bearing false witness in court and his services were no longer required in this capacity.
Lodged in Hyde Park barracks, Green was assigned briefly to William Hutchinson, then Samuel Marsden. He worked intermittently as an official scourger at the barracks and Sydney gaol, and as a labourer and honorary constable at Port Stephens. He became understudy to Harry Stain, the official hangman.
Green continued to get into trouble with the law after his appointment as assistant executioner. He faced court on numerous petty charges throughout his life but was always treated leniently because the job of hangman was unpopular, and it would be difficult to replace him.
After Stain died in 1828 Green took on the role of Official Government Executioner for NSW. On 26th January 1831, his original sentence having been commuted to seven years, he became free.
When Sydney gaol opened in 1841 Alexander Green lived for a time in a whitewashed hut outside the eastern wall. He would leave his house to the jeers and catcalls of the gathering crowd, enter the prison and do his job. However, the hut was burnt to the ground in 1842 and Green moved back into the gaol.
Hangings were open to public viewing over several decades, and people would gather at the front gate of the gaol in Forbes Street, where the condemned would be brought out on a platform built above the gaol gate.
The heritage-listed gaol building was designed by NSW Colonial Architect, Mortimer Lewis. Construction commenced with pegging out by Francis Greenway in 1821. The gaol wall began in 1822 and was finished in 1824 using convict labour, but due to a lack of funds, the site sat empty for 12 years. Construction of the rest of the complex did not begin until 1836, with completion of some of the cell blocks in 1840. The gaol was ready for occupation a year later, with the first prisoners occupying the gaol on 7th June 1841. The gaol was finally completed in 1885 and closed in 1914. It has subsequently been repurposed to house the National Art School.
During his career as hangman, Green was credited with 490 executions between 1828 and 1855 in the colony of New South Wales, which included Sydney, Moreton Bay penal settlement and Brisbane. Under Governor Darling he hanged 170 people in 3 years 10 months; under Governor Bourke he hanged 183 in 6 years; under Governor Gipps it was 10 in 8 years; and under Governor FitzRoy it was 27 in 8 years 6 months.
Despite several ‘botched’ executions, Green appears to have been a competent hangman. He was strong, and skilled with ropes and mechanical drops and at assessing his victims. Notwithstanding occasional reports that prisoners died hard, or that Green swaggered and strutted, most executions went off routinely.
He had several minor brushes with the law, some of which involved incidents with women, but apparently, he never married. He was instantly recognisable, having a livid scar down the side of his face, the result of an axe attack by a prisoner in December 1830. He did try to hang himself when his attentions towards a woman were scorned but was cut down before he was able to expire.
From the mid-1840s Alexander Green was in growing disfavour with the authorities for intoxication, insolence and mental instability. In early May 1855 the colonial secretary (Sir) Edward Deas Thomson ordered him committed to the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum (Gladesville), where he worked as aa cleaner of the male dormitory. He remained there until his death in 1879. Nothing further is known about Green as the relevant records are missing.
Heritage: Newsletter of the Blue Mountains Association of Cultural Heritage Organisations Inc. – January-February 2022.