How Joseph Samuel Survived His Own Execution
Dumb luck or divine intervention?
Joseph Samuel was convicted of robbery in 1795 and was exiled to the British penal settlement in Australia. Security was not tight on the settlements as guards figured that the Australian wilderness would kill any escapees, because of this that Samuel succeeded in his escape.
After his escape, Samuel formed a gang with other felons. The gang went around Australia and committed robberies.
One day, Samuel and his band robbed the home of a rich lady but was caught in the act by a policeman named Joseph Luker. In the scuffle that ensued, officer Luker was murdered.
Authorities quickly searched and captured the culprits, placing them on trial for robbery with homicide. Among the accused, Joseph Samuel was the only person the rich lady positively identified.
Samuel subsequently confessed in participating in the robbery, but said he had no participation in the policeman’s murder.
The court acquitted all other members of the gang due to lack of evidence. Unfortunately for Samuel, his identification convinced the judge of his guilt, and he was sentenced to death by hanging.
On September 26, 1803, Joseph Samuel and other convicts on death row were brought to Parramatta in New South Wales. Hundreds of people were in attendance for their public execution.
The executioner fastened nooses around their necks and the men were given their final rites by a priest. Then, the carts that were holding their feet moved slowly away. Before the late 19th century, death by execution in British law was slow strangulation as oppose to a quick neck-breaking drop.
The ropes that held the dying men were made with five cords of hemp, which had a carrying capacity of 1,000 lb — more than needed to dangle a person for hours. But to the crowd's surprise, Joseph Samuel’s rope snapped. He fell to his feet and sprained his ankle.
Authorities quickly got a new rope and tied a noose on his neck to redo the process. At this point, the other convicts were twitching in death.
As the cart drove away for a second time, his noose slipped off, and he fell squarely on his feet. The crowd was riled up, with some people claiming this was divine intervention.
Undeterred, Samuel’s executioner carefully and tightly tied the noose for the third time. And as the cart drove away, the rope snapped, causing Samuel to stumble into the ground once more. The crowd went on an uproar.
A policeman from the crowd took notice of these unlikely events and prevented the executioner from his fourth attempt. He fetched the governor and delivered him to a crowd crying for mercy.
Three botched executions, they claimed, was a sign from God proving Samuel’s innocence.
After confirming that the nooses were not tampered with, the governor agreed and commuted Samuel’s sentence to life in prison. They took him to the doctor the next day to treat his sprained ankle.