Australian True Crime

For this story, we need to go WAY WAY back into Australia’s deep past.
Into the dark recesses of South Australia’s history

Way back to May 1837, when Samuel Smart, who had previously been a solicitor in Tasmania. Before that in England, he was made Sheriff of Adelaide by the then South Australian Governor, John Hindmarsh.
Immediately upon being signed up. Smart showed what could only be described as commendable zeal” towards anybody who stepped out of line,

It wasn’t long before a resentment for Smart grew. He was soon Marked for special attention by several local criminals.

One night Smart was sitting in his “SITTING ROOM, filling out paperwork. Two men burst into his shack and attacked him. These two men were all known to Smart. One of the men, Michael Magee, fired a pistol missing Smart. However, the shot was close enough for the gunpowder to singe Smarts ear.

The next day special constables were sworn in. It wasn’t long before Michael Magee was arrested. The second attacker, a man named Morgan, escaped overland to the Encounter bay whaling station.


Magee was tried and was soon sentenced to death by hanging.
Six days after his guilty finding led him to a gum tree in an area, now a part of the North Adelaide golf course, where the execution took place.
Because there was at this time, no official executioner in the state, The job of “Jack Ketch” (a name used during the period for the masked executioner) “was advertised for 5 pounds, and no-one came forward, then raised it to 20 pounds, and still, no-one came forward. So if one could find no one to do the job, it would fall on the Colony Sheriff to complete the task.
Not believing that the victim should be the executioner, Smart convinced and paid his cook a massive 25 to do the job.

On the day of the execution, Magee was calm and offered no resistance at all, with his only statement was that he had come to South Australia as a free man, not a convict.
Magee was standing on the back of a cart. The noose was placed around his neck, and as soon as the hood was drawn over his face and prayer concluded, he made a call that all was ready.

Actual hand prawn picture of the hanging of Michael Magee 1838
An actual hand-drawn picture of the hanging of Michael Magee 1838


Then, with a whip or two of the horse, pulled the cart away, and many shut their eyes. But, unfortunately, the noose had been so incorrectly placed that the knot came right under the dying man’s chin, and as he drew the cart very slowly from under him, he did not fall but merely slid off gradually. Finally, he managed to free his hands and grab the rope above his head, lifting himself enough to start yelling, ‘Oh God, Oh Christ, save me!’

Some spectators cried out, ‘Cut him down!’ whilst others, with a different kind of consideration, urged the marines to shoot him with their muskets. . The Sheriff attempted to address the crowd amidst fierce cries of ‘Shame! Shame!’. Finally, the hangman made a leap upon the body of the dying man, and all was hushed; Magee’s hands could cling no longer to the rope and heard his agonised cries no more.

Smart turned his attention to William Morgan. Who was believed to have escaped to Encounter Bay whaling station with that part of the debacle over.

Sheriff Smart sent three special constables. Alford, Anderson and Hateley after Morgan, with enough food for 8 to 10 days. One blanket each, an Aboriginal guide, and an “OLD MUSKET, each with orders to bring back Morgan, dead or alive. However, soon into the 95-mile journey across the wild and rugged bush, Their Aboriginal guide deserted them. Nevertheless, they managed to complete the journey in 8 days. Arriving in poor health with bleeding feet and all their strength spent.


Morgan had many friends amongst the whaling community, which made their task difficult. Finally, after a few days of recovery, the constables instigated Morgan’s arrest. This was done so well that he was arrested and handcuffed in bed even before he had time to reach for the loaded pistol by his side.

Some of Morgan’s friends organized a rescue plan. Unfortunately, this was foiled when the three constables drew their firearms on the rescue party.
For the trip back to Adelaide, the party left with enough provisions for 5 to 6 days. Then, claiming he knew a shorter route, Morgan led the way and eventually refused to travel after leading the party in a circle.

Morgan was handcuffed to a tree and left for dead. The constables took another three days to arrive back in Adelaide.

When the Governor was told what had happened, Constable Hateley was sent on a horse after Morgan.
Morgan had been shackled to the tree for four days with no food or water before Hateley found him. He claimed to have been tormented by Dingoes at night and Flies and Mosquitoes by day.

Morgan managed to walk back to Adelaide, where he was tried and sentenced to transportation to Tasmania for life.

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