Ernest Austin went to the gallows with a quiet resignation at 8am on 22 September 1913. His criminal record tells the story of a tragic life with heartbreaking consequences.
Born in Victoria in 1890, Austin had been charged with stealing by the age of 11 and entrusted to the Care of Neglected Children Department. In 1906 and 1908, Austin faced charges of larceny, and on each occasion was sent to a reformatory school. After escaping, Austin was charged in 1909 with assault with the intent to rape and was sentenced to three years imprisonment. Upon his release from prison, Austin travelled first to New South Wales and subsequently to Queensland, where he found work as a labourer on a number of farms including the property of Mr Fogg in the Samford region.
On 8 June 1913, Austin was seen at the Samford Hotel in the early afternoon before riding towards Cedar Creek. That same day, farmer James Mitchell and his wife took their young daughter Ivy to spend the day with Mary Frisch and her siblings. Mary saw Ivy off at approximately 4.30pm, walking part of the way with her, and Ivy stopped to talk with school friends at 4.45pm. At around 5pm, Austin was seen riding along the road. Approximately half an hour later, a neighbour saw Ivy holding the hand of a heavy-set man leading a saddled horse in the direction of Parker State School.
Ivy’s family became concerned when she did not arrive home for dinner and their anxiety heightened when the Frisch family confirmed that Ivy had left their property hours earlier. By 6.30pm, a search party was formed. Ivy’s barefooted tracks were discovered next to a set of large boot prints near the school.
James Mitchell was the one to find his daughter’s body in the scrub later that evening. Her throat had been cut and there were signs of a desperate struggle. The distinctive boot prints matched Austin’s and his riding whip was discovered nearby.
Austin was arrested the next morning and held in Boggo Road Gaol during his trial. ‘I highly deserve this punishment,’ Austin said just before his execution.
I did not know what I was doing at the time when it happened … I have asked God to forgive me and he has done so … I ask you all to forgive me; I ask the Samford people to forgive me; I ask my mother to forgive me.
He was the last man to ever be hanged in Queensland. In 1916, Premier Thomas Ryan and the Executive Council introduced a policy that all sentences of death be commuted to life imprisonment, and in 1922 Premier Edward Theodore abolished capital punishment in Queensland, the first state in Australia to do so.
Austin’s death was apparently instantaneous. He was buried in the Dutton Park Cemetery, although rumours linger that his ghost haunts the Boggo Road Gaol.