The First Trial & Execution in S. Francisco on the night of 10th of June at 2 O’Clock. artist W C. K.

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The First Trial & Execution in S. Francisco on the night of 10th of June at 2 O’Clock.

San Francisco, Lith & Publ. by Justh, Quirot & Co., June, [1851]. Lithographic letter sheet on white paper. Printed area: 7” x 9.625”. Sheet size: 8.375” x 10.875”. Mounted on larger sheet of tan album paper. CONDITION: Good, originally a bifolium the presumably blank integral leaf has been removed.

An excellent example of this rare letter sheet published by the important San Francisco lithography firm Justh, Quirot & Company.

The California gold rush commenced in 1849 and the city’s population promptly increased from 15,000 to 250,000. It’s believed that some 11,000 people travelled from Australia, and enough settled in Telegraph Hill that it became known as Sydney Town. They were known variously as the Sydney Ducks, Sydney Coves or Sydney Birds. Not all the new arrivals were interested in prospecting for gold and crime rates rose quickly. Of the many crime gangs in the city, there were also Australian ones, known generically as the Sydney Ducks, who were “one of the most maligned immigrant groups in American history. Attracted to California by the discovery of gold, the Ducks acquired a reputation for criminal activities that was remarkable even during the gold rush era in San Francisco” (Ricards). A demographic analysis of the Australian immigrant community, which skewed towards families, suggests that this reputation was somewhat overstated.

Nonetheless, “San Francisco had been plagued by the misdeeds of the Sydney Ducks. The Ducks, as they were known, were a loose knit collection of ex-convicts who had been released from ... Sydney, Australia. One such Sydney Duck, a man by the name of John Jenkins, brazenly stole a safe from a shipping office but was promptly captured, tried, sentenced, and hanged ...” (Gonzales-Day). Such was the fear caused by the gang that it prompted the establishment of the first San Francisco Committee of Vigilance the day before this very episode. The image depicts the crowd surrounding John Jenkins’s body hanging from the rafter of Customs House in the Plaza. It is surely one of the earliest illustrations of the Vigilance Committee’s infamous “Judge Lynch.”

The caption reads in full: “John Jenkins, a Sidney [sic] man entered the store of Mr. V on long Wharf in the evening of 10th of June & carried off a sale [sic]. After he was captured he was brought to the corner of Sansome & Bush Sts. where he was tried by a jury of the highest respectability, and condemned to be hung. The execution took place on the Plaza on the same night at 2 o’clock. Immediately after sentence of death was passed upon him, he was asked if he had anything to say. He replied: No, I have nothing to say, only I should wish to have a cigar & brandy & water, which was given him.”

REFERENCES: Baird, California’s Pictorial Letter Sheets, 79; Clifford Letter Sheet Collection, 73; Gonzales-Day, K., Lynching in the West, 1850-1935 (Duke, 2006), p. 50; Peters, H., California on Stone, (Garden City, 1935), p. 133 & plate 66; Ricards, S & Blackburn, G., “The Sydney Ducks: A Demographic Analysis” in Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Feb, 1973), p. 20.

Item #7340

Price: $2,500.00

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