Last Woman Hanged exposes grisly tales from the gallows in Australia’s past

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WHEN Caroline Overington set out on a five-year undertaking to analysis the potential injustice that noticed Louisa Collins hanged for homicide after an unprecedented 4 trials she felt “blessed” that a lot materials from the 1880s had been preserved.

Louisa’s case — introduced after arsenic poisoning was alleged within the deaths of her first and second husbands — was extremely uncommon and have become a catalyst for the marketing campaign for girls’s rights in Australia, however was it truthful?

Lousia’s brutal dying is being explored in NewsCorp Australia’s True Crime podcast, which launched in the present day.

Even if there “was no homicide weapon, there was no actual motive, there have been no witnesses”, the chances have been stacked in opposition to the mom of ten, who was given a barrister “who turned the primary barrister in NSW to be struck from the position for incompetence,” says Overington.

Three juries did not convict, however a fourth discovered her responsible and Collins died on January eight, 1889 in a botched hanging that just about tore her head off, leaving a gaping wound in her throat.

Her horrific finish was removed from uncommon for the occasions although.


“Hanging is a horrible approach to die and there have been a number of accounts of executions that went terribly mistaken throughout New South Wales and throughout the opposite states,” Overington says.

“It’s not a exact science. It’s a must to do plenty of arithmetic, if you’ll, in regards to the size of the rope, the peak of the gallows, the load of the physique, and it’s not exact, you possibly can’t predict how a physique will react, whether or not the neck will break, whether or not the flesh will tear.

“Louisa’s case was uncommon in that she was the primary girl and the final girl to be hanged on the Darlinghurst jail (in Sydney), and so they actually didn’t have a lot of an concept the way to cope with a lady whose physique is completely different.

“That they had in thoughts that if she was hysterical — as a result of the thought was that she could be hysterical — they may maybe strap her to a chair and cling (her on) the chair.

“To our thoughts in the present day (it’s) fully barbaric. In my opinion it was barbaric then too. I imply she died a horrible dying. They didn’t see it that manner as a result of they noticed it as confessing your sins and being despatched again to your maker, however it should have been terrifying.”

Within the following extract from Final Lady Hanged, Overington describes one other brutal dying by the hands of the authorities that shocked even the far much less delicate sensibilities of spectators of the time.


Capital punishment had, no matter gender, been the usual response to the crime of homicide because the arrival of the First Fleet. The popular methodology was hanging, which was for years achieved earlier than crowds of enthusiastic onlookers, and infrequently with startling ineptitude. Take, for an instance, the primary public hanging within the colony of South Australia. Given it was the primary, errors have been certain to occur — however nonetheless. The 12 months was 1838, and the condemned man’s title was Michael Magee. He was twenty-four years outdated and had been delivered to the court docket in clanking irons, accused of firing a shot on the native sheriff, Mr Samuel Good. The shot missed, leaving nothing however a gunpowder graze on Mr Good’s cheek — however the choose determined that Magee ought to cling.

Three quick issues arose.

First, Magee was a Roman Catholic and would due to this fact must see a priest earlier than he died, however there appears to have been no Catholic priest within the colony of South Australia in 1838. The judiciary contemplated this drawback for a day or so earlier than deciding native tradesman — fellmonger or blacksmith, the report doesn’t say — must do (Magee reportedly agreed to this association, not, one supposes, that he had a lot selection).

The second drawback was extra severe: moreover having no Catholic priest, the colony had no executioner.

Once more, the judiciary contemplated. The sheriff’s title was talked about, however given he had additionally been the meant sufferer of Magee’s poorly timed shot, this was thought of ‘unseemly’ and so the job was put to tender.

Who, now, would take 5 kilos to execute Michael Magee?

No one got here ahead.

Who now will take ten kilos to execute this man?

Nonetheless no takers.

By the day of the hanging — it was a Wednesday — all of Adelaide was agog with curiosity. Would the execution go forward and, if that’s the case, who can be the hangman? Everybody wished to know and so, within the hours instantly after dawn, no less than 1000 individuals — ladies and youngsters included — rose from their beds and started to make their manner throughout fields to the hanging place to see what would possibly occur.

Officers had determined that Magee ought to cling from a tree on the banks of the Torrens River. The tree was chosen each as a result of it had a thick, horizontal bough over which the noose could possibly be thrown, and since it was the one such tree on authorities land.

Maybe due to the beautiful location, many individuals had determined to deliver picnics, and earlier than lengthy the riverbank was crammed with spectators. Then, shortly after 9 a.m., the temper turned severe: by the bushes, individuals may see a procession leaving the distant gaol. (It wasn’t actually a gaol; it was extra a timber shed. A correct gaol wouldn’t be constructed for a 12 months, and it will be run for many years by a person so fats that when he died his corpse must be carried out by a window.)

The procession comprised mounted police and a cart led by two horses, one in entrance of the opposite. Upon the cart sat a timber coffin — and upon the coffin sat Magee. If that weren’t dangerous sufficient, additionally sitting on the coffin was the hangman.

Who was he? Nicely, it was onerous to make certain. To maintain his id a secret, the hangman had stuffed his garments with padding, so he appeared like he had an enormous hump, and he coated his face with a horrible hand-made masks painted white across the eyes. The nearer the hangman acquired to the crowds on the riverbank, the extra monumental and repulsive he appeared. Ladies gasped and youngsters screamed, the ‘thrill of horror creeping by their veins’.

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In an effort to maintain individuals from crowding too near the hanging tree, the judiciary had arrange a short lived enclosure, like a sheep pen, round its base. That they had additionally saddled an additional horse so the hangman may make a fast getaway after the job was achieved.

With Magee’s cart now parked contained in the pen, the execution was, as they are saying, good to go. The noose was positioned over Magee’s head and a cap was drawn over his face. Prayers have been concluded. A movement was made that every one was prepared after which, after ‘a whip or two of the main horse’, the cart upon which Magee nonetheless sat was drawn away. Many within the crowd shut their eyes, as effectively they could, as a result of ‘right here commenced one of the vital frightful and appalling sights that ever maybe can be once more witnessed within the colony’. Both the horse was transferring too slowly or else the hangman had bungled the noose, however as an alternative of getting his neck immediately damaged, Magee began to slip gently off the coffin till he was hanging by his throat within the air, screaming, ‘Oh God! Oh Christ! Save me!’

Now it was time for males to gasp. The hangman — nonetheless in his masks and lumpy costume — acquired on the saddled horse and bolted.

‘Fetch him again!’ the gang cried, so mounted police took off at full velocity. Magee, in the meantime, was uttering the identical piercing cries: ‘Lord save me! Christ have mercy upon me!’ No one knew what to do. Some cried, ‘Lower him down!’ Others urged the marines to shoot Magee useless with their muskets to no less than put an finish to his distress, and all of the whereas, Magee’s fingers have been up the rope as he madly tried to avoid wasting himself, whereas his physique twisted ‘like a joint of meat earlier than the hearth’.

Lastly, the hangman was introduced again. Inspiration had struck and, with a ‘fiendish leap’, he threw himself upon Magee’s physique and proceeded to hold himself from the condemned man’s legs, pulling him towards the bottom till Magee may not cling to the rope and started to suffocate. By some counts, it took 13 lengthy minutes for Magee to die this fashion. Many within the crowd have been horrified. Others waited for the physique to be lower down after which carried on with their picnic.

• That is an edited extract from Final Lady Hanged by Caroline Overington, revealed by HarperCollins.

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