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Lynching in San Francisco

Date: 15 November 1851
Overall: 402 x 271 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00005965
Place Manufactured:London
Related Place:San Francisco,

User Terms

    This image was published in the Illustrated London News and depicts a lynching in San Francisco. Samuel Whittaker and Robert McKenzie, associated with the gang Sydney Ducks, were killed before a crowd of 15,000 on 24 August 1851. They were suspected of the assault and robbery of a prominent merchant on the Californian gold diggings. The activities of Vigilance Committees and the hanging of suspected criminals were publicised in many languages around the world including in Australia.
    SignificanceThis article represents the darker side of the American gold rush and highlights the dangerous nature of life on the competitive gold fields. In 1851 the discovery of gold in Australia raised public apprehension about lawlessness.
    HistoryA diverse mix of miners from Britain, Europe, America and China lived in harsh conditions on the American and Australian gold diggings. This instigated challenges to people’s beliefs, politics, economics and technology. It also caused tension. Newspapers in Sydney, Melbourne and the wider world carried sensational reports of lynchings on the Californian diggings and many feared a repetition of these events in Australia. In America groups of private citizens had banded together to form Vigilance committees for self governance. This often resulted in the public lynching of suspected criminals.

    As droves of diggers descended on San Francisco, citizens became alarmed at the escalating crime. Members of two street gangs, the Australian Hounds and the
    Sydney Ducks, were notorious villains. While not always Australian, they were
    branded as ex-convicts from Sydney and Tasmania. Their looting and killing
    prompted irate locals to form the first Vigilance Committee in 1851. The Committee enacted its own form of justice, capturing and executing some of these men before they could be tried legally.

    Stories of these lynchings and the high level of criminal activity in the Californian gold rush circulated around the globe, featuring in the popular pictorial weekly magazines. These magazines contained numerous illustrations and articles on politics, war, travel, exploration, fine arts, science and literature. The coverage of the Gold rush was a popular story in America, Australia and England as many people were interested in seeking their fortune on the gold diggings. The Illustrated London News was a popular and leading weekly magazine during the 19th century. It was established in England in 1842 to cover news and current affairs of national and international interest. It was supplemented with large illustrations.
    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Lynching in San Francisco

    Web title: Lynching in San Francisco

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