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Thomas Brennan (?–1832)

from Sydney Monitor

On Friday last, the awful sentence of being shot to death, passed by a General Court Martial on Thomas Brennan, a private soldier of His Majesty's 39th Regt. of foot, for shooting at his serjeant with intent to kill him, was carried into effect. At six o'clock a.m. the garrison was under arms, and with their arms reversed, marched silently with the prisoner from the Barracks through the northern-gate, proceeding to Dawes' Battery, where the dread sentence was to be put into execution. On arriving at the fatal spot, a newly dug grave was the first object that attracted attention. A spacious hollow square on the green plot immediately under the battery was formed by the troops, and the prisoner, attended by the Reverend John Joseph Therry, advanced near to the grave, where the coffin was also placed. The prisoner conducted himself with great propriety, marching with a firm step to the spot on which his mortal existence was presently to be terminated. He was dressed in a white frock and trowsers, and a white cap was on his head. The Rev. Mr. Therry then drew near him, and both kneeling down on the grass-plot, they remained a long time together engaged in prayer. After about an hour, the Rev. Clergyman was warned by the Commanding Officer, that the fatal hour had arrived. Accordingly, he quitted the prisoner, first taking an affectionate leave of him. The serjeant then drew a white cap over the prisoner's eyes. Twelve rank and file had been stationed near to the prisoner to execute the dread sentence, and six of them now advanced to within about six or eight yards of him. They presented and fired. The prisoner fell side ways, expiring without a single convulsion. The Rev. J. J. Therry again advanced to the body and read the funeral service. Having retired once more, the word of command was given to the assembled troops to march, and the Mounted Police soldiers, but now on foot (and who were at the south-east corner point of the square, their faces being to the body), led the way homewards. As they proceeded along the green under the battery, they, of course, passed near to the perforated body of their dead comrade, who now having atoned for his fault, lay a spectacle of pity. The pathetic strains of the full band of the 39th touched all hearts. Many began to feel their eyes suffused with tears. The music seemed to call on all the spectators to lament over the remains of one who, but a few moments before, was in full vigour of body and mind, and to mourn for him and for the fault which had cut him down like a flower. It was one of the finest spectacles we ever witnessed of a melancholy nature. Justice, arrayed in military pomp, had just before seemed to look on relentless, while the unhappy culprit was calling on God for the forgiveness of his sins. But when death had made the needful atonement, justice seemed to have sheathed her Sword, to assume a benignant aspect, and to sympathise with the sweet strains which breathed at once forgiveness and consolation. We noticed the friends of the deceased among the troops turning their heads to the left to take a last look at their unfortunate comrade, as they came up to the body in ranks of five or six a-breast. The band did not continue its progress at the head of the regiment, but wheeled to the left just under the guns, so that during all the time the brave garrison passed, sounds of departing melancholy soothed each manly breast, as every one internally bade the dead soldier adieu! for the prostrate warrior lay on the humble sod, to offend no more. He had committed a heinous crime, but he had asked forgiveness of God and his comrades, publicly on his knees; what more does God or man require? There was now nothing left to his countrymen of all classes, but compassion. Such were the thoughts of the feeling part of the spectators of this sublime scene, increased, if not suggested by the pious anthem which still floated on the morning breeze. The spectacle was well managed. It had a moralizing effect on all hearts. It did credit to those who had made the arrangements. No man could depart from such a scene without being made better. Justice was satisfied, and the felon-feeling, the horrible wrench to all the finer ties of human nature, which a gallows creates, with men dependent therefrom like so many dead dogs, was here happily substituted, by a sublime and exalted sympathy for a brave comrade and a British soldier, who had been put to death in a manner becoming the dignity of manhood.

Let our brave defenders take warning by the untimely fate of poor Brennan. Let drunkenness and insubordination be known no more among the protectors of our laws and property. Let them feel their dignity too much to violate any more the peace of the community which it is their special duty to preserve, or that respect and deference to their officers on which depend their own honour, and the esteem of the people by whose industry they are supported in such comfort and independence. For a soldier is a very independent man. All men are dependent on some one, either for their subsistence, or for something they covet. Whose dependence is less than that of a sober and attentive British soldier? There is a code of laws which he has sworn to obey. No others can be imposed on him. Let him therefore, but do his duty, and none can either oppress or annoy him without instant redress being at hand. Being then in a situation of so much comfort and respectability, why should brave men give way to drunkenness, which in its very nature is subversive of military duty, as well as a sin against civil society and against God?

The garrison having departed, the comrades of the dead man placed him in his last home, and covered up the grave. And what before was an intelligent being, full of light and life, was now below in the earth, dark, and without sensation, and where he will sleep till awakened by the trumpet of the last day; for he shall assuredly rise again, whether his remains be scattered to the four winds, or whether they rest undisturbed till the consummation of all things in their present humble abode.

Original publication

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Citation details

'Brennan, Thomas (?–1832)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 27 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 April, 1832
Dawes Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service
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