In 1803, a man by the name of Joseph Samuels stood beside the gallows in Sydney Australia, wrists bound behind his back. In assembly was the sheriff, the family of a dead police officer, Joseph Samuels’ partner in crime, and a crowd of onlookers eager to see Joseph get his just reward for his high crime of murder. As Samuels shifted uneasily, he reiterated his confession as an accomplice to the theft of a desk containing over 100 gold coins, but again denied he was guilty of murder. Believe it or not, this would not be the last time he would be standing beside the gallows about to be executed. It would seem fate had something else in store for Joseph Samuels.
As he was drawn up to the cart beneath the gallows, a bag was placed over his head, obscuring the leering crowd. Isaac Simmonds, Joseph’s accomplice in theft who had single handedly murdered a policeman in an attempt to escape authorities, stood beside him as nooses were placed about their necks. A murmur went through the crowd that soon became a roar of protest as they demanded for Joseph a stay of execution. The Provost Marshal slapped the horses pulling the cart on which Joseph and Isaac stood, but only one man would die that day. As Simmonds’ dead feet dangled a few feet off the ground, Joseph clattered to the ground gasping for breath. The rope holding him had snapped. The crowd, now gathering more spectators, cheered as Simmonds sat up barely able to breath. The Marshall ordered guards to hold back the mob as excitement gripped everyone at this mysterious pardon by fate.
A second time the rope was placed around Samuels’ neck. The crowd protested loudly, proclaiming, “Cut him down! Cut him down! It is God’s will!” The Marshall was not, however, impressed and inspected a second rope personally that would hold Samuel’s neck into death. He was seated on a barrel in the back of the cart, barely conscious from his first ordeal. The Marshall, satisfied they would not have a repeat incident, ordered the rope be replaced and the horses were again driven to pull the cart from under Samuels. He gasped and kicked, and quickly the rope began to unwind, elongating more and more until Samuels was standing on the ground laboriously. A third time the rope was inspected and administered, but a third time it broke and Samuels was dropped to the ground. A doctor inspected Samuels and confirmed that he was still alive, much to the grim excitement of the crowd.
The Marshall, amazed by this twist of fate, rode out to the Governor’s mansion and personally reported the incredible events that had unfolded. The governor, himself flabbergasted, immediately drafted up a reprieve and issued it, allowing Samuels to live. When told the news, Samuels could hardly believe it. He was of course addled from his earlier end-of-the-rope shuffle, but nonetheless grateful. The ropes, each examined, were tested and found able to hold a 28 stone (390 lb) weight without snapping.
Unfortunately, however, Joseph soon returned to a life of crime. He was imprisoned soon after his release from the noose, but managed to escape from prison never to be seen again.