Criminal Record of Ellen Thompson
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The Brisbane Courier, Tuesday 14 June 1887

The Double Execution

She [Ellen Thompson] crossed the yard from the little hospital building so quietly that one could hardly imagine she was walking to her death with a companion woman, a female warder it appeared, by her side, and a guard, for form’s sake, behind. She walked with head bent a little and with hands clasped, in neat black garments, and with black bonnet thrust back a little from the drawn and haggard face, the face of a woman whose whole life has been passed in ceaseless toil.

One heard the priest’s voice raised in prayer as 8 o’clock drew near, the gloom seemed to deepen, and the wind seemed to moan passionately as it came in through the bars. A sturdy warder, pale-faced, stepped on to the scaffold, there was a rustle, the prayer sounded louder, and in a moment the murderess stood on the trap, under the fatal rope. She was white as marble, and her teeth set hard, but she never faltered, and she looked such a poor little woman as she stood there waiting to die. Her hands were clasped still, and she held a little crucifix in the right one; she protested her innocence, she bade good-bye to her children, and then she prayed in Catholic fashion−not passionately, but as one who labours under a burning sense of wrong. She never moved from where she stood, but she swayed as one fainting when the noose was drawn about her neck, her hand clasped convulsively over her crucifix, and it seemed as though her lips, under the death-cap, moved silently in prayer. The strapping warder, who stood on the scaffold, held out his hands to steady her, but she braced up in a moment and did not fall. The executioner shook the rope to clear it, he and the warder stepped to the side corridors.

At 8 precisely the bolt was drawn. Her last thought was for her children. Thud! That was the only sound, for the wind had lulled, and nobody seemed to breathe. Ellen Thompson fell straight as an arrow through the trap, her knees drew up spasmodically, and then Ellen Thompson’s body dangled lifeless. The rope had cut into the neck, severing the jugular vein, and in a moment a patch of red appeared on the white cap and a crimson stream poured over the black dress, falling in a pool on the stone floor. It was pitiful before, but it was still more pitiful now, this execution.


The following is courtesy of the Douglas Shire Historical Society:

Ellen Thomson became the only woman legally hanged in Queensland.

She was sentenced over the murder of her husband, William Thomson, 24 years her senior, after increasingly violent confrontations. She proclaimed her innocence but her young handsome English ex-marine lover, John Harrison, was also convicted for the same crime. They were hanged in Boggo Road jail, Brisbane, and buried in the South Brisbane Cemetery.

Ellen and Billy Thomson married in November of 1880 after the birth of a daughter, Helen, also known as 'little' Ellen.

By 1886 life was difficult. The marriage was strained, the children sent away. The friendship of Ellen with a young marine deserter on the adjoining "Bonnie Doon" selection caused conflict. That conflict would explode into a charge of murder after the committal hearing in Port Douglas.

At the subsequent Townsville trial, Mr. Justice Pope Cooper in passing sentence said:
"Prisoner Ellen Thompson and you prisoner John Harrison, have been found guilty of the crime of murder on evidence which I must say to my mind is quite sufficient. One of the jury has thought to make a recommendation of mercy on the grounds that he is of the opinion that there may have been a quarrel between the murdered man and Harrison immediately preceding the murder. I will, of course, forward that recommendation to the proper authorities. I can give you no more hope than that. That you, Harrison killed the old man Thompson, I have no doubt whatever. The jury have found that you did so, and I confidently believe that Thompson's wife was present at the time aiding and abetting you. You committed a most cruel murder, and you did it, in my opinion, for sake of gain. Nothing now remains for me but to pass upon you both, the sentence of the law. I have no option in the matter. The sentence that I have to pass on you, Ellen Thompson, is, that you be taken to the place whence you came, and thence to the Brisbane gaol; and thence on the date to be appointed by the Governor-in-Council, you be led to the place of execution, and that you be hanged by the neck until your body be dead."

On the eve of execution, Harrison confessed he alone shot and killed William Thomson in self-defence.


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