Judicial executions are still practiced in many parts of the world, notably in the United States of America, where “capital punishment” remains in force across 32 states.
In contrast the death sentence has been banned in Australia, with the last execution taking place in 1967 with the hanging of Ronald Ryan.
The process of putting someone to death legally has always produced a somewhat morbid fascination for many, in particular the “last words” spoken before death and many of these have been recorded for posterity. Some of the more famous include:
“Such is Life” – attributed to Ned Kelly just before he was hanged on 11 November 1880
“God Bless you, please make it quick” – Ronald Ryan to the hangman on Friday 3rd February 1967.
“I’d like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me. And the rest of the world can kiss my ass – Johnny Frank Garrett Sr. before his execution by lethal injection in Texas, 1992.
“Long live Germany. Long live Argentina. Long live Austria. These are the three countries with which I have been most connected and which I will not forget. I greet my wife, my family and my friends. I am ready. We’ll meet again soon, as is the fate of all men. I die believing in God”. – Adolf Eichmann before being hanged in Israel on 31st May 1962
“I am now face to face with my Maker, and I swear by Almighty God that I am an innocent man. I never saw the child. I never committed the crime, and I don’t know who did. I never confessed to anyone. I ask God to forgive those who have sworn my life away, and I pray God to have mercy on my poor darling mother, and my family.” – Colin Ross, while standing on the scaffold before his hanging at the Melbourne Gaol on 24th April 1922.
“Take a step or two forward lads, it will be easier that way” – Robert Erskine Childers before his execution by firing squad in Dublin on 24th November 1922.
“Famous last words” continue to fascinate humanity with their great mix of fear, humour and wisdom, forming a unique page of human culture.