‘Upholding the Cause of Civilization’: The Australian Death Penalty in War and Colonialism


The abolition of the death penalty in Queensland in 1922 was the first in Australian jurisdictions, and the first in the British Empire. However, the legacy of the Queensland death penalty lingered in Australian colonial territories. This article considers a variety of practices in which the death penalty was addressed by Australian decision-makers during the first half of the 20th century. These include the exemption of Australian soldiers from execution in World War I, use of the death penalty in colonial Papua and the Mandate Territory of New Guinea, hanging as a weapon of war in the colonial territories, and the retrieval of the death penalty for the punishment of war crimes. In these histories, we see not only that the Queensland death penalty lived on in other contexts but also that ideological and political preferences for abolition remained vulnerable to the sway of other historical forces of war and security.

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Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Published: 2022-09-01
Pages:23 to 32
Section:Special Issue: Death Penalty Politics
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How to Cite
Finnane, M. (2022) “‘Upholding the Cause of Civilization’: The Australian Death Penalty in War and Colonialism”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 11(3), pp. 23-32. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.2473.

Author Biography

Griffith University

Mark Finnane FAHA FASSA is Distinguished Professor of History at Griffith University. He has published widely on the history of criminal justice, policing, punishment, and criminal law in both Australia and Ireland. His books include Police and government: (1994), Punishment in Australian Society(1997), When Police unionise (2002), JV Barry: a life (2007) and (co-authored with Heather Douglas) Indigenous Crime and Settler Law: White Sovereignty after Empire (2012). With the support of an ARC Laureate Fellowship (2013-18) he established and continues to direct the Prosecution Project (https://prosecutionproject.griffith.edu.au/), an historical database of criminal prosecutions in Australia, hosted at the Griffith Criminology Institute.