The Greatest Last Meal of All Time!

I recently thumbed through an interesting book called Texas Death Row, a compilation of information about the people executed in Texas in the modern era. Each prisoner’s last meal request was listed, and what stood out for me was how the vast majority of them wanted hamburgers or fried chicken, with fries, ice cream, cola, milk shakes, etc. It was a clear reflection of the culinary tastes of the Texan criminal class.

Unfortunately there is not too much in the records to show what the residents of the Boggo Road condemned cells had to eat, but every once in a while one of the newspapers would mention it in passing.

Under the Murder Act of 1872, condemned murderers were allowed only bread and water in the usual 48-hour timespan between sentencing and execution. Catholics were also allowed wine of the Sacrament. This changed in later years, and condemned prisoners were given special privileges, including ordering whatever food they wished (within reason). For example, Chinese man Wong Tong, who was hanged at Boggo Road in 1886, was fond of plates of boiled rice and milk, tinned fish, and boiled meat. He also drank tea and the occasional glass of brandy. His compatriot Tim Tee, hanged in 1886, was quite particular about his last meal, requesting two boiled eggs on the condition that they were not boiled for more than two-and-a-half minutes.

Others were less fussy. Ernest Austin, who gained considerable weight during his time in Boggo Road by eating a 450g block cake every day, settled for a last meal of bacon, eggs, and a bowl of hominy (the rough prison porridge made from cracked wheat and water).

George Gleeson, hanged in Boggo Road Gaol in 1892 (Queensland State Archives)
George Gleeson, 1892.
(Queensland State Archives)

By far the most extravagant request was made by George Gleeson, who was hanged for murder in 1892. He had an Indian mother and a white American father, and was a cook by trade. He used the full extent of his culinary imagination to dream up this fantastical meal on the Thursday before his execution:

  • 2 lbs of rump steak, to be cooked as a bread steak, with walnuts and poached eggs. 
  • 1½lbs green peas, 1lb carrots, 1lb turnips, 1lb beans and a cauliflower. 
  • A suckling pig, stuffed with pork sausages, bread crumbs, onions, pepper, salt, thyme, sage, parsley, butter and the yolks of two eggs. The sauce for this was to be made of brains of calf or sheep, a little flour, pepper, salt, parsley and butter. 
  • Cucumber and boiled egg salad. 
  • A boiled cabinet pudding, made with 12 eggs, 1lb sultanas, 1lb raisins, 1lb currants, candied lemon peel and lemon essence. To be served with custard. 
  • Plum pudding, made with 1lb suet, 6 eggs, a bottle of rum, 2lbs flour, loaf of bread, small packet of baking powder. 
  • A selection of bananas, oranges, pineapples and American apples. 
  • 1½lb pound cake 
  • 6 bottles of lemonade 
  • 6lbs white loaf sugar 
  • 3 packets of cigarettes 
  • 2 dozen quill cigars

Such a request was of course beyond the means of the humble kitchen and staff, not to mention the prison budget. It is probably also beyond human ability to actually eat this much food anyway, and even Monty Python's Mr Creosote would struggle with it.

There again, maybe George planned to eat himself to death.