Sound clip: executions at Mt Eden Prison

Don McKenzie, a former prison psychologist at Mt Eden and retired director of research in the Justice Department, describes reactions to a hanging in the prison.


You were a prison psychologist at Mt Eden Prison, I believe, at a time when the death penalty was enforced. What is the effect on the prison when a hanging takes place?

Well, as the execution approaches the prison goes quieter – a sort of grim moodiness settles over the place, and staff become a little more agitated, nervous, apprehensive – especially the superintendent who, of course, has to carry the full burden. The prisoners themselves become very sad and usually try to do something for the condemned man – give him cigarettes or something like that – but there is an odd silence over the place as the day approaches.

As part of your duties did you have to attend a hanging?

Yes, I did. It wasn't part of my duty, but I think the superintendent felt that I should, as a member of the staff, attend at least one hanging.

Could I ask what effect it had on you personally?

Absolutely dreadful, quite the most unforgettable event in my life, and I hope never to have such an experience again.

Did it colour your feelings about the death penalty at all?

Well, I was never in favour of it but certainly having been to one, made my feelings absolutely concrete as far as that is concerned.

Was hanging itself an unusual occurrence for murderers in New Zealand?

New Zealand hanged 27 murderers since 1900. It was fairly unusual, yes.

What then normally happens to a murderer once he is convicted and in gaol?

Well, he is weighed every morning, because on the day of the hanging he has to be weighed, and a mock-up hanging take place with a sack of sawdust of the exact weight of the man. In order to allow the man not to know when he's going to be hanged – what the day is – he is weighed every morning. He is attended 24 hours in his cell by officers on eight-hour shifts. He is never alone in case he presumably commits suicide and cheats the gallow of its prey. He is given normal food if he can eat it, quite often of course there is no great appetite. We try to keep him going with playing draughts with him or chess or something like that, and that's about it.

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Posted: 07 Mar 2010

The man that Albert Black was convicted of stabbing was my Uncle Allen. My Mother was Allen's sister, they were sent to New Zealand from England after the second world war as teenagers whilst their parents remained in England.(The stolen Generation I think they called these English children that were removed from their parents. My mum was sent to NZ along with her sister and brother Allen). My understanding of the event was that the two had gotten into an argument over the affections of a young girl and Allen was stabbed in the neck whilst putting music on at a duke box by Albert Black. My mother was 16 at the time of Allen's death who was only 19 at the time of his death.


Posted: 24 Feb 2009

Dear Ted What great recollections you have of Pat Black. Pat and Peter came to board with my family in Lower Hutt after they left the P&T huts at Trentham. I was a young child (3 or 4 years old) but I have clear memories of that time. Pat and Peter were great fun and fitted well into our family. Peter is still a close family friend, although he is now in poor health and living in care. He stayed close to Pat throughout the trial and appeal. It was a tragic and terrible end for such a young man and I absolutely agree with your final comments. Of course, there was also the desire for the authorities to make an example of a young 'delinquent' at the time. I hope this is of interest to you. I would like to hear more memories of Pat and those times. Lyn

Ted Hardy

Posted: 24 Feb 2009

Dear William I came to Wgtn on the same boat (Captain Cook) as Paddy in Oct 1953. I remember Paddy’s fascination with the showers, under which he spent a considerable amount of time. He told me he had never seen showers before! We were allocated to the P & T Dept to work on the cable laying gang and were housed at the P&T huts at Trentham. On arriving at the Melling yard on Monday morning we were sorted out into gangs and ours was under a foreman named Clarrie and consisted of myself, Geoff, Paddy, Gordon, Peter, Hans and Carl. Paddy was the youngest on the gang and as tradition decrees he got to be teaboy. Our first job was ‘main line inspection’ and comprised inspecting the main phone line for broken insulators, rotten cross arms, unsafe poles etc. This was wonderful with glorious weather and working high on the hills overlooking Wellington Harbour. The pine trees were so thick we could scramble from tree to tree to reach the lines without hauling the heavy extension ladders around. Paddy was a handsome lad; you would probably guess he was Irish with his jet black hair, green eyes and endearing grin. I don’t know how old he was but I doubt if he would have been out of his teens. He could take a joke against himself without rancour and loved it when he could get a joke on someone else. Somewhat naïve, I got the impression he probably came from some small rural village. He certainly didn’t seem used to city life. I can’t remember exactly when Paddy left Wellington but it must have been 18 months later that I read that Paddy had been arrested for murder. As I recall, he had stabbed somebody with the steak knife whilst eating his dinner in an Auckland café. The details were sparse but I can imagine some smart alec making a derogatory remark and Paddy being Paddy, would have swung at him. Probably not even realising he had a knife in his hand. He must have had a lousy lawyer – I mean, a young lad, no previous convictions, certainly not street wise, not pre-meditated and given a death sentence? Ted Hardy


Posted: 17 Aug 2008

Dear William I could help you out with further information about Albert 'Paddy' Lawrence Black. My Grandmother personally new Paddy. Myself and my mother have been trying to track down Paddys living relatives. I would really like to make contact with you. Paul

Jamie M

Posted: 09 May 2008

William, there is a chapter on Albert Black in Sherwood Young's Guilty on the gallows (1998) - this includes footnotes to further information.

William Tate

Posted: 03 May 2008

i wish to know about the case of Albert Lawrence Black, excuted for murder on 5th December 1955, my Grandmother Elizabeth Tate, Nee Black was a sister of Albert Black, father of Albert Lawrence Black. i would also like to know when he emigrated and to where in New Zealand