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First Execution in South Australia, in 1838, for shooting Sheriff Smart.
Title : First Execution in South Australia, in 1838, for shooting Sheriff Smart. First Execution in South Australia, in 1838, for shooting Sheriff Smart.
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Creator : Skipper, John Michael, 1815-1883, artist
Source : B 7797
Place Of Creation : Adelaide, South Australia
Date of creation : 1838
Format : Artwork
Dimensions : 130 x 180 mm (irreg)
Contributor : State Library catalogue
Catalogue record
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Description :

Pencil on paper sketch of the execution of Michael Magee. Convicted of shooting Sherriff Smart, he was the first man executed in South Australia. Artwork is inscribed 'Sketched on the ground by J. M. Skipper' which suggests the artist witnessed the execution.

Chiefly remembered as an artist, Skipper combined an enthusiastic approach with acute observation and a natural and cultivated skill with some aesthetic sensibility. His sketches and paintings of the landscape, the flora, fauna, the Aboriginal people of South Australia, and of the streets, buildings, every day life and notable events of Adelaide are of some artistic and great historical interest. Skipper retired in 1872 and lived on a small pension on his farm at Kent Town. He died 7 December 1883. He was survived by three sons and four daughters; his eldest son, Spencer John (1848-1903), was a journalist and satirist in Adelaide (Radford, R, Hylton, J. Australian colonial art : 1800-1900 Adelaide : Art Gallery Board of South Australia, 1995).

On 2 May 1838 Magee was led to a gum tree at the foot of North Adelaide hill where the hanging took place; the grisly affair was described as follows:

While the hangman was busied in adjusting the rope and greasing it up with his filthy fist, Magee addressed the Sheriff and the assembled multitude in a firm audible voice, confessing the crime of which the jury had found him guilty. As soon as the cap had been drawn over his face and the prayers concluded, a motion was made that all was ready. With a whip or two of the leading horse the cart was drawn away, and many shut their eyes whilst the poor sufferer was launched into eternity.

Here commenced one of the most frightful and appalling sights. The noose had been so badly placed that the knot came right under the dying man's chin, and as the cart was drawn very slowly from under him he did not fall, but merely slid off gradually. There he was hanging in the air, uttering the most excruciating cries - '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. It was a horrible sight to witness. The twisting of the rope and the man turning around like a joint of meat before the fire, while women were fainting, and the Sheriff attempting to address the crowd amidst fierce cries of 'Shame! Shame!'. Finally, the hangman made a fiendish leap upon the body of the dying man and all was hushed; Magee's hands could cling no longer to the rope, and his agonised cries were heard no more (Geoffrey H. Manning's A Colonial Experience).

Related names :

Skipper, John Michael, 1818-1883

Coverage year : 1838
Period : 1836-1851
Place : Adelaide, South Australia
Region : Adelaide city
Further reading :

The Hempen collar : executions in South Australia 1838-1964 : a collection of eyewitness accounts / compiled by David J. Towler and Trevor J. Porter. Norwood, S. Aust. : Wednesday Press, [1990]

Manning, G A colonial experience, 1838-1910 : a woman's story of life in Adelaide, the District of Kensington and Norwood together with reminiscences of colonial life Underdale, S. Aust. : Gillingham Printers, 2001

Register Newspapers Ltd The late J.M. Skipper : a pioneer coloniest of 1836 [Adelaide, 1883]

Skipper, S. H. John Michael Skipper : biographical notes Adelaide : Pioneers' Association of South Australia, 1957

Radford, R, Hylton, J. Australian colonial art : 1800-1900 Adelaide : Art Gallery Board of South Australia, 1995

Internet links :

SA Memory, The Foundation of South Australia, See also Skipper's South Australian Almanac, 1841.

Manning Index

Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition : Search for Skipper, John Michael, 1815-1883

State Library of South Australia, General Information Factsheets Online : Criminal Justice System

Pictures Catalogue National Library of Australia




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