Rethinking the ‘Mount Rennie Outrage’

History Seminar Series
School of Humanities and Social Science,
The University of Newcastle

2010, Semester 1

Held in Cultural Collections, Level 2 of Auchmuty Library

Friday 28 May

10am- 11am
(followed by morning tea)

Amanda Kaladelfos (History, University of Sydney)

Rethinking the ‘Mount Rennie Outrage’: White Savages and the Colonial Pursuit of Justice

In Sydney, 1886, nine young ‘larrikins’ were convicted of the gang rape of a sixteen-year-old girl and sentenced to death. After weeks of public debate, the New South Wales Executive Council decided to execute four of these men. The so-called ‘Mount Rennie Outrage’ now holds a privileged place in modern conceptions of colonial Australia. In popular histories, it represents an instance of elitist tyranny over young working-class men; for feminist scholars, it stands as an indictment of colonial era misogyny. Here, I offer a new interpretation. The early nineteenth century saw a turn away from state-sanctioned violence and by the 1860s, the English government retained execution for only murder and treason. The decision of NSW colonial governments to maintain the death penalty for rape had long been a source of public controversy. The ‘Mount Rennie Outrage’ was one of many protests and debates over the legitimacy of the NSW criminal code and the sexual morality of its inhabitants. In this paper, I explore the racial and gendered elements of capital punishment debates, as supporters and protesters drew upon conceptions of manliness and whiteness to justify their political and philosophical stance.

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