Solomon’s Noose: The True Story of Her Majesty’s Hangman of Hobart by Steve Harris is a book that I had been wanting to read since hearing parts of an interview with the author on ABC Radio some months ago. The author’s note states “There are no fictional characters…”
This a fascinating story that unravels the sometimes idealized view of what convict life was like and its implications across a broader society striving to take advantage of the opportunities of this fledgling country. It’s brutal and confronting in its presentation of this story about a man, Soloman Blay, who for almost 50 years was the official hangman in Tasmania.The story covers what drove him to this career path and what were the consequences for both himself and the social reform movement that stirred within the British Empire and the people of Tasmania, particularly during the 19 century. It contains some very disturbing references as to how life was, living in a society where convicts played a major role, as did the penal system that enveloped them.
Consider the implications for a group of people when the vast majority were men, the justice system was harsh in the extreme, and free settlers were striving for a greater say in a community whose origins lay in its establishment as a gaol. Life was challenging and travel hazardous. For those who have driven the Midlands Highway, it’s hard to imagine travelling the same route in the 19th century as well as understanding the impact of the changes in travelling conditions. But through this era there were some surprising ‘firsts’ and leading thinkers/activists that emerged in Tasmania that had significant impact across Australia.
The book is written in an easy style and I found it quite absorbing. I learnt things about Tasmania’s leading role in many pursuits of which I was unaware. The story moves quickly and the chapters shorter in length; there are 27 in its 320 pages. I did not find my interest flagging at all. However, as mentioned previously, parts of this book are not for the faint hearted. But then I love social history!
Steve Harris has a very substantial career in Journalism and this is his first book. I will happily read his next!