Charles Henry Bushby's booted feet stood on the trapdoor of the scaffold at the Ballarat Gaol at shortly before 10am on the cool morning of September 3, 1885.
The 33-year-old, arms and ankles pinioned with leather straps by the local hangman, a white hood balanced on his head, stood some eight feet or nine above the stone floor beneath him, only the timber deck separating him from an assignation with eternity.
Customarily asked for his last words, he replied:
"Gentlemen,I stand here before you and before Heaven, and thank God I can look up and say that I have not been guilty of murder, or the attempt to murder. May God have mercy on my soul."
Or so The Age newspaper reported.
The hangman then swiftly pulled the hood over the condemned man's face, stepped back and pulled a lever, shooting back the iron bolts holding up the trap. The door dropped open, and Bushby fell in the space of a second to his death.
Was his neck broken, or did he die of strangulation? It made little difference to Bushby of course, but reports of the local sheriff hanging on the hanged man's legs in an attempt to fulfil the sentence of death give some gruesome vivacity to the reality of how capital punishment works.
Bushby's heart ceased to beat some 23 minutes following the hanging. The Ballarat hangman took offence at suggestions he had botched the job, wrenching the head of the executed man about after he was taken down to display the supposedly clean break of the neck.
"Do they mean to say that his neck is not broken?" he exclaimed.
Now the plaster death bust of the felon executed at the gaol has returned to the city for a City of Ballarat Heritage Weekend exhibition.
Dr David Waldron of Federation University worked assiduously to discover the provenance of the bust of Bushby, who went to his death at the end of the rope for the attempted murder of police detective sergeant Richard Hyland near Gong Gong reservoir in December 1884.
Charles Bushby 'had form' as the criminal lingo goes. He had allegedly passed dud cheques somewhere around Echuca, but the shooting was a new level of wrongdoing, and he denied his intent to the day of his death.
Hyland and another police constable, O'Hehir, attempted to speak to Bushby after they suspected him of being involved in the theft of wool near Kyneton.
As their horse-drawn cab pulled up near him, Hyland alighted to speak to Bushby, whereupon he was shot through the shoulder by him with a revolver. Bushby discharged two further rounds to no effect in an ensuing struggle, and was arrested.
Bushby claimed he was absolutely drunk when the police seized him, and had no recollection of admissions he allegedly made when lodged at the gaol that night.
Do they mean to say that his neck is not broken?Ballarat hangman
Hyland survived the shooting with a bullet lodged between his top rib and clavicle, although his condition was critical for a time.
Charged with attempted murder, Bushby was tried twice, his first jury unable to reach a conclusive verdict. The second trial reached a unanimous verdict of guilty, and Bushby went to his death that September morning, proclaiming his innocence of the intent to murder.
He wrote a long and piteous letter before his death, published in print in full. In part it read:
"...thank God I have found peace for my soul more than ever I knew before, for I have now given up all hopes and joys of this world, in hopes to go to a better..."
The plaster cast for Bushby's death mask was created by the plaster moulder J. Douglas. There are 37 death masks on display at The Old Melbourne Gaol, where Bushby's is usually kept, and the practice of making them has its beginnings in the dubious 'science' of phrenology.
Essentially a theory that a person's character is the product of their brain's physical development, phrenologists argued the shape of one's skull was a reliable indicator of their likelihood to be of a good or evil disposition.
Different areas of the brain would be larger or smaller according to the personality of a subject, and the skull would accommodate the development.
A trained phrenologist could supposedly feel the shape of the skull and determine whether such aspects of the human personality such as 'propensities' (adhesiveness, alimentiveness, destructiveness etc), 'sentiment' (cautiousness, love of approbation, veneration, wit or mirthfulness etc), and 'intellectual' and 'reflecting faculties' (eventuality, form, hearing, individuality, language, comprehension etc) were more prominent than others.
National Trust volunteer Laraine Stephens says the practice was already discredited by the time Charles Busby was hanged.
"These death masks were made for the famous and the infamous," Ms Stephens says.
"With these masks, they were made to try and predict criminal behaviour. By the time of the 1880s they knew it was rubbish. For example, 'destructiveness' was supposed to reside above the ears, so in a criminal this would be over-developed. 'Kindness' was at the top of the skull, so logically in a criminal this part would be atrophied."
To capture the likeness, Ms Stephens says the dead prisoner's head was shaved (only male prisoners), a coating of oil and then wax or plaster was laid over the face and cranium, allowed to set, cut away and then reassembled. More plaster was then poured in to make a true-to-life-size bust.
National Trust collections curator Michelle Derrick, who helped arrange the transfer of Bushby's mask to Ballarat, says the artefacts came from the Australian Institute of Anatomy in Canberra. They were transferred to the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) in 1972.
Prior to this, they were part of a collection originally held by Victoria Police.
"These death masks: some individuals look quite peaceful; some look like they're smirking or smiling. It's quite eerie, catching a person's last moments. In some you can see the break in the neck, the rope marks. For Bushby, it took a long time to die."
The National Trust said it was thrilled to support the Ballarat Heritage Weekend through the loan from the Old Melbourne Gaol collection to Federation University.
'To reconnect the Bushby death mask with its history in Ballarat will provide people with the opportunity to quite literally put a face to the name - learn about Charles Bushby and the consequences of his actions one night in 1884, which nearly claimed the life of a police officer and would cost Bushby his own life as punishment a year later.'
The plaster bust of Bushby will be displayed at the former gaol, now part of Federation University, as part of Heritage Weekend in the City of Ballarat.