Ghost of the Hangmans Noose
Most people take pride in their work, but Ben Ellis, Hangman for the Adelaide Gaol from around 1860 until the mid 1870's, and also hangman at Mount Gambier Gaol in the same period. Ellis took exceptional pride in his efforts to make sure he did the job precisely.
The Adelaide Gaol hangman lived on site within the gaol, part payment for being the most unpopular man in Adelaide, and doing the dirtiest job of all. Partly to keep him safe from the general public, and from released prisoners who may have made promises to condemned prisoners.
His quarters were in a small apartment under the female dormitory. In an observation in an Adelaide newspaper in the late 1860's, it was noted how filthy Mr Ellis kept his room. It was also noted that fires would often break out inside, or near his particular dwelling.
Mr Ellis only had one execution go wrong in his time as hang man, and that was of prisoner Charles Streitman in 1877. In this particular instance, Mr Ellis was hasty in his preparations, and didn’t not go about his job in his usual way. When it became time for the trap door to drop, Streitman, rebounded and got caught on the platform – it took him 22 minutes before death took him from hanging – an insufferable way to die.
Ben Ellis was described ion one old newspaper as a hulk of a man with “alcohol” blemishes on his nose, a whisp of grey head and a shabby beard. A grumpy looking fellow whom lived in squalid conditions.
Ellis went about his job without no complaint, until 1873, when Elizabeth Woolcock was due to be hung in the gaol. The first woman to be hung in Adelaide. Ellis protested her execution and from then on questioned his position as executioner.
It wasn’t too much longer until Ellis found himself unemployed, and unemployable. Ellis ended up in the district court for vagrancy. His solicitor stated that he could not get a job anywhere in Adelaide due to his incredible unpopularity, from his previous career, and since being released from his position, had lived on the streets of Adelaide.
Ben Ellis would eventually pass away a vagrant, and be buried in a paupers grave in West Terrace Cemetery