Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

A Dread Decision: The Execution of Edwin Hickey, 1936

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2014), 107, (1), 95–114.


Edwin Hickey’s trial, conviction and subsequent execution in 1936 for the apparently unprovoked murder of conciliation commissioner Montague Henwood raised questions about the administration of justice and legal representation in New South Wales. This controversial execution laid bare the anxieties of a troubled society, exposing conflicting attitudes to youth, crime, sexuality and sexual assault. Hickey was portrayed as one of a lost generation, who unfairly carried the burden of societal disquiet following World War I. For many he was also a symptom of communal guilt concerning the cruel impact of the Great Depression on rural youth. Such representations did not save Hickey, whose unsubstantiated allegation of attempted sexual assault rendered him beyond redemption in the eyes of conservative politicians who made the final decision on whether his death sentence would be commuted.

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135.The USA took the lead with this approach when the state of Illinois passed such legislation in 1899.Clive Emsley, Crime, Policing and Penal Policy: European Experiences, 1750–1940(:Oxford University Press, 2007):230–31;Child Welfare Bill, NSWPD LA 158(11 May1939):4550–53. Google Scholar

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Author details

Curby, Pauline