An Uncommon Hangman: The life and deaths of Robert ‘Nosey Bob’ Howard

This is the story of Robert Rice Howard (1832–1906), the man known as Nosey Bob. It is also an important chapter in the story of the changing attitudes towards capital punishment in Australia, as the country transformed from generally enthusiastic spectators at executions into campaigners for the abolition of the death penalty. These interconnected stories are told through the men, and the one woman, who met Nosey Bob under the worst possible circumstances between his first employment by the Department of Justice in 1876 and his retirement as the executioner for New South Wales in 1904.

Once a household name, Nosey Bob was the most infamous public servant in Sydney: a noseless hangman who sparked fear and fascination everywhere he went. Howard has only ever been cast as an extra in someone else’s play, making frightening appearances in a felon’s final scene on the gallows. Here, for the first time, he has taken the lead.


‘Riveting, startling and brimming with powerful insights.’ — Grace Karskens

‘Franks displays wit, writerly sensitivity and a scholar’s rigour.’ — Peter Doyle

‘Rich with gruesome detail and resonant with Franks’ noir humour.’ — Katherine Biber


RACHEL FRANKS holds PhDs in Australian crime fiction from Central Queensland University and true crime texts from the University of Sydney. A qualified educator and librarian, her work on crime fiction, true crime, popular culture and information science has been presented at numerous conferences as well as on radio and television. An award-winning writer, her research can be found in a wide variety of books, journals, magazines and online resources. She tweets @cfwriter.


Rachel Franks will present an RAHS Special Lecture in August, titled Crime, Punishment and a Noseless Hangman in Colonial New South Wales. For bookings, visit the RAHS Events Calendar.