Brilliantly penned by Australian author Steve Harris, Solomon’s Noose is the story of the life and times of Solomon Blay – the Hangman at Hobart Town.
Solomon Blay began his life on the wrong side of lucky. Born in Oxford in 1816 at the commencement of England’s industrial revolution, he learned how to make ends meet by following his father’s illegal example. By 1837 at 21 years of age, Blay was a resident convict in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). In 1840, looking for a way to evade the shackles of hard labour, he volunteered to be Her Majesty’s hangman – a position he held until 1887.
During his term as public executioner, Blay put to death over 200 men, women and children, all the while enduring his own personal hell. An obvious subject of contempt and ridicule, he battled with the bottle, eventually succumbing to complications of cirrhosis of the liver – or ‘dropsy’ – as was listed as his official cause of death in 1897.
Solomon’s Noose is more than the story of Solomon Blay – it is the tale of the beginnings of our nation and the sinister foundation upon which it was built. From the stomach-turning climate of the prison hulks of England, to the treacherous conditions of the convict ships crossing from England to Van Diemen’s Land, the book exposes the brutal birth and formation of Australia, from a prison island inhabited by convicts and the military, to the townships and eventual cities that evolved from these dark beginnings.
Steve Harris’s prose is an effortless read, seamlessly blending storytelling with fact derived from what must have been a heck of a lot of research. By itself, this extensive essay on the life of Blay makes for a ripper tale. From his struggle with his own inner demons, to coming to terms with being paid to kill human beings, his seeking a friendly shoulder on which to lay his head, to his constant battle with alcoholism and his own brushes with the law.
But what really sets this tome apart is Harris’s coverage of the characters and the lives of those around the hangman – from Darwin and Dickens, to bushrangers, bolters and British imperialists – this is an incredibly informative and entertaining book that is hard to put down once you start reading.
Solomon’s Noose is the real-life account of the man who held the noose as “a potent symbol of an empire’s cruelty to men, women and children; its corruption, hypocrisy and greed; the lottery of impoverishment and injustice; the desperation and brutality of humankind”.
Beyond that, it is a shocking true tale of the origins of our great nation, built off the backs of convicts and the unlucky, on its way to becoming the lucky country.