1803, September 26: The Man Who Couldn’t be Hanged

In 1803, Joseph Samuels was one of ten men in Sydney, Australia, accused of involvement in the theft of money from a woman named Mary Breeze, and the murder of a man named Josef Luker;  both incidents happened on August 25 in the dark hours of the morning. Of the ten men, two were acquitted, and eight sentenced to death; and of the eight, three were offered mercy if they agreed to become 'Transports for Life'... which is to say banned from the colonies. Among the remaining five men, Joseph Samuels was slated to be hung.

        The sentence was carried out on September 26, 1803, the day after the trial. The condemned were taken in pairs to execution; at 9:30am, Joseph Samuels was brought with a man named James Hardwicke, accused of the same crime, to the gallows. After each man had rites performed for them by a man of their religion (Samuels was Jewish, Hardwicke was presumably Catholic), Samuels was questioned once again about the murder of Luker, to which he responded that he had sworn to secrecy on the matter with one of the other accused men who was also Jewish... Simmonds, who was one of the men that was aquitted on the odd explanation that, being caught with blood on his clothes, he was prone to nose bleeds and had slaughtered a duck recently.

        Under the circumstances, Samuels felt that he had to speak... not in any way to try and change his fate, but because he did not want to face his God knowing he had lied or neglected the matter. So Samuels stated that the secret Simmonds shared was that Simmonds had stolen the money from Mary Breeze and had been surprised by Josef Luker as he was doing so; and that he had killed Luker to protect himself. This had only been told to Samuels after he made a sacred vow not to speak of it; and to his credit -- or shame -- he kept the vow as Simmonds' lies, and the lack of direct evidence past the blood, got him set free. Simmonds was in the crowd gathered to witness the execution when Samuels made this statement, and tried to cut Samuels off at several points... but Samuels' quiet and level presentation of the matter convinced many in the crowd that he was not lying.

        At 10:00am, Samuels and Hardwicke stepped up into a cart, and had nooses placed around their necks; and, as the cart was about to be drawn away, the Provost Marshal suddenly announced that a reprieve had been received for Hardwicke. As Hardwicke was assisted off the cart, Samuels prayed fervently... and, within a few minutes, the cart was pulled from under his feet.

        The rope immediately snapped in the middle, dropping Samuels face first onto the ground. The fall seems to have knocked him senseless, and he lay there until two men lifted him up, then back onto the cart. They supported him until a new rope was placed around his neck. Again the cart was pulled away; but this time the rope began to spin and unwind itself, lowering Samuels until his legs touched the ground. People in the crowd began to protest that the hand of Providence was trying to save the still unconscious Samuels; he had gained their sympathy by his confession of the guilt of Simmonds, and now his strange suffering was leading them to believe they were witnessing a miracle. Again Samuels was supported by other men as another rope was brought to use and placed around his neck; again the cart was drawn away.

        Again, the rope snapped, this time close to his neck, and Samuels fell senseless to the ground. The crowd was deeply moved, as was the Provost Marshall who immediately applied to the Governor for a reprieve for Samuels, which was granted. Samuels required medical attention to recover after the three hangings... but he did survive.

        An experiment was performed on one of the ropes that had snapped on the same day. It was found that not only could it support a weight of 392 pounds, it could do this with two of its three strands cut... so it was concluded that it must have been critically weak in specifically the spot it broke when Samuels was hanging, a possibility that boggles the imagination because it had to happen twice to the same person in a matter of minutes!

My Source

        I take the account above from three issues of the Sydney Gazette for 1803; the summary of the execution itself was published just six days after the event occurred. As Ripley was famous for putting it... Believe It or Not!

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