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Robert Burke (1842–1866)

Robert Burke, his capture, by S. T. Gill, 1866

Robert Burke, his capture, by S. T. Gill, 1866

State Library of Victoria, IMP27/​09/​66/​349

The sentence of death passed upon Robert Burke, at the last criminal sessions of the Supreme Court, for the murder of Henry Facey Hurst, at Diamond Creek, on the 4th of October last, was carried into effect at 10 o'clock on Thursday morning, within the precincts of the Melbourne gaol. Since the condemnation of the culprit, he has been sedulously attended by the Revs. Messrs. Mackie, Becher, and Dare, as well as by Mr. Studdert, the chaplain of the gaol. As his end grew near, he paid the greatest attention to their exhortations. Early in the morning, he was removed from the cell which he had occupied since his trial to that on the first gallery, in immediate proximity to the drop. About twenty persons, who assembled a short time prior to the hour fixed for the execution, were present at the scene. At 10 o'clock the Sheriff, accompanied by the governor of the gaol, knocked at the cell door, and informed the unhappy man that the fatal hour had arrived. The door was then opened, and, attended by the chaplain and the Rev. Mr. Mackie, Burke came from the cell and stood upon the gallery outside, his face being turned from the spectators. His arms were then pinioned, and other preparations made by the executioner, during which he remained perfectly motionless and silent. The culprit was then conducted to and placed upon the drop, but he still refrained from speaking, appearing to ignore even the presence of those standing near him. During this brief interval the chaplain read appropriate prayers. At this juncture, Burke's firmness seemed for an instant to fail; he slightly reeled, and would, apparently, have fallen, had not the executioner sustained him on his feet. The first two lines of the following verse were then sung by him, in a low, indistinct, and almost inarticulate voice: 

Just as I am—without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid'st me come to Thee,
O, Lamb of God, I come. 

The hymn had been sent to him by his sister, and he placed it in his bosom before leaving the cell. From the time the process of pinioning commenced to that when he endeavored to chant the above lines, only occupied a few minutes. The arrangements all being completed, the bolt was drawn by the executioner, and the drop fell, the body descending about seven or eight feet, with a shock apparently sufficient to extinguish life, although the limbs twitched convulsively for several minutes. The body having been allowed to remain suspended the usual time, it was cut down, and the customary formal inquest held upon it. Burke, who was born in Dublin, in the year 1842, was sent out to this colony by his uncle, in the ship Salem, in the year 1854. He was 5 feet 9 inches high, stoutly made, of fair complexion, with light brown hair and blue eyes. He professed to be a member of the Church of England, and never appears to have followed any professional or mechanical occupation. On his arrival in Australia, then in his fourteenth year, he was consigned to the care of a Christian family. Soon afterwards, however, he obtained employment on a station, when his pilfering propensities became known, and he ultimately absconded. In the Ararat and Avoca districts he was looked upon by those who know him as a clever and bright, but at the same time, idle, reckless, young follow, from whom much good was not to be expected. On the 9th December, 1862, he was sentenced at Ararat to three years' hard labor on the roads of the colony for robbery under arms, when he gave the name of Closky, which is his right name. After he had served his sentence at Pentridge he appears to have crossed over to the New South Wales side, and to have entered upon a career of bushranging, he himself admitting that he stuck up the mail three times in the course of twelve weeks. And he has also several times stated that his great desire through life has been to become a notorious highwayman. It also appears that he was ambitious of becoming an actor, for he once wrote to Mr. Barry Sullivan, late of the Theatre Royal, with a view to effect an engagement. The number of his lawless acts in New South Wales soon made that neighborhood too hot for him; and he shortly returned to Victoria, remaining a few nights at a boarding-house in Melbourne. On leaving, it appeared to be his intention, to judge from subsequent circumstances, to visit the locality of his former depredations. About the commencement of October last, he called at the house of a man named William Horner, at Scoresby, between Dandenong and Ferntree Gully. He asked for a bed, which the inmates refused to give him, whereupon he said they required to be taught civility, and presented a pistol. He ordered the inmates to "bail up," and Horner replied to the demand by shutting the door in his face. Upon this Burke fired, and lodged a shot in the door, which he then tried to break open, but failed to do so. He then commenced to parley with them, and ultimately gained admittance. On leaving, he remarked that he would be over the ranges before morning. It was on the second day afterwards that he went to the Diamond Creek Station, and that the events occurred which led to his capture and subsequent execution. Age, November 30.

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'Burke, Robert (1842–1866)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Robert Burke, his capture, by S. T. Gill, 1866

Robert Burke, his capture, by S. T. Gill, 1866

State Library of Victoria, IMP27/​09/​66/​349

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Closky, Robert

Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


6 December, 1866 (aged ~ 24)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.

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