Gallows Tale V: Did Tanganyika’s Hangmen Go on Strike in 1924-1926?

 

Gallows File I The Extra “Whack”

Gallows File II Escape?

Gallows File III Are We Hanging the Right Man?

Gallows File IV The Advantages of Executing Locally!

Gallows File V: Did Tanganyika’s Hangmen Go on Strike?

 

It must be remembered that quite apart from the question of gallows, the difficulty of persons to carry out the executions is exceedingly acute. A great number of people have the greatest abhorrence of the job, and no compulsion can be used where there is any conscientious objection. In Kenya, the Prison staff decline altogether to undertake the work and they have the greatest difficult in finding a hangman. It has always been surprising to me that so many of our staff have undertaken the work without complaint, as I now the majority dislike it. At Bukoba it has been found impossible to carry out the executions on the gallows there for the last two years, because the Prison officials who have happened to be stationed there have had strong scruples against acting as executioner.

This is my last of the Gallows Tales of Tanganyika Territory, at least for a while. And as with most endings, there is a surprise. Which is that, after enthusiastically designing, gallows with humane trap doors, calculating the savings from having hangings done locally rather than across Lake Victoria, worrying about hanging the wrong man, and speculating that a man marched five weeks to the gallows might be a flight risk, the bureaucrats of the Office of the Commissioner of Police and Prisons missed one thing that could break down the whole system: The lack of hangmen. You see, after an enthusiastic push to construct gallows (stationery and mobile), and proceed post-haste with executions, they soon found out that the job of hangman was objectionable—and that the fees they paid were inadequate to keep the trap doors swinging downwards.

In the memo below from 1926, the Commissioner of Police and Prisons laments this condition, which according to some documents was due to an insistence that only a European operate the trap door (Africans were used to truss and bind the prisoner as well as position him on the trap door—but the final flip of the trap door was the responsibility of a European). But no Europeans could apparently be found to do this, at least for a short time. So thus after the enthusiastic kick off of hangings in Bukoba in 1923, by 1924 a de facto moratorium was declared due to the lack of willing hangmen. The same happened in British Kenya, according to the memo.

This was not of course the complete end to hanging in British East Africa (i.e. Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika). Indeed, a whole book, The History of the Hanged, has been written about how enthusiastically the British executed purported Mau Mau rebels in the 1950s. But at least in this small corner of East Africa, apparently the strike of the hangmen led to at least a temporary moratorium in 1924-1926. The memo is below. Tony Waters.

 

OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF POLICE AND PRISONS,

DAR ES SALAAM 11TH January 1926

 

 

Telegrams: Crime                                                      Registered No. H.Q. 27/71

Telephone: No. 73

 

The Hon’ble

 

The Chief Secretary to the Government,

Dar-es-Salaam.

 

Execution Gallows

 

With reference to your 3093/56 dated 8/1/26, gallows have been erected at Morogoro, Lindi, Tanga, Mwanza, Bukoba, Songea and Tukuyu.

 

  1. The following list shows the districts which they serve:-

 

Execution Gaol Districts Served
Morogoro Daressalaam, Bagamolyo, Kilwa, Utete, Morogoro, Kilosa, Dodoma, Iringa,
Tabora Mahenge and Kigoma ?Ufipa
Lindi Lindi
Tanga Tanga
Mwanza Mwanza
Bukoba Bukoba
Songea Songea
Tukuyu Tukuyu

 

  1. There should of course, be a gallows at Dar-es-Salaam, but with the present construction of the gaol it is impossible as there is no space available, and the situation in the middle of the commercial and partly European residential area makes such a course undesirable.

 

  1. I think that perhaps a permanent gallows might be erected at Tabora to serve Tabora and Kigoma and Ufipa districts; otherwise, so far as the stations off the line are concerned at which there are no gallows, the number of executions is negligible. It would be possible, also, to keep a portable gallows at Dar-es-Salaam for transport, as required, to Bagamoyo, Utete, or Kilwa, but in other cases I do not think the number o executions, elsewhere, makes such a course necessary.

 

  1. It must be remembered that quite apart from the question of gallows, the difficulty of persons to carry out the executions is exceedingly acute. A great number of people have the greatest abhorrence of the job, and no compulsion can be used where there is any conscientious objection. In Kenya, the Prison staff decline altogether to undertake the work and they have the greatest difficult in finding a hangman. It has always been surprising to me that so many of our staff have undertaken the work without complaint, as I now the majority dislike it. At Bukoba it has been found impossible to carry out the executions on the gallows there for the last two years, because the Prison officials who have happened to be stationed there have had strong scruples against acting as executioner.

 

  1. In conclusion, I consider the present unsatisfactory position cold be ameliorated by erecting another gallows at Tabora; (this will entail erecting a new building completely) and by providing a portable gallows at Dar-es-Salaam

 

 

 

signed (illegible)
Commissioner

Tanganyika Polic