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Old Adelaide Gaol 'Comes Alive' Ghost Crime Tour

Home > Adelaide > Museums | Performing Arts | Places of Interest | Tours | Unusual Things to do
by Paula McManus (subscribe)
Photography obsessed writer and urban explorer. Lover of nature, art and long weekends. Adelaide, South Australia.
Published December 7th 2016
Tales of the Condemned
Hear the violent, sad and sorry tales from some of the Old Adelaide Goals most prominent inmates portrayed by real actors.

Benjamin Ellis, Old Adelaide Gaol
"Benjamin Ellis", Old Adelaide Gaol (©paula mcmanus)

Ghost Crime Tours and Fancy That on Beach Road have collaborated to bring a very exciting and theatrical history and paranormal tour of the Old Adelaide Gaol.

Actors dressed in period costumes take you on a journey through the stories of life inside the jail. Add the fact that this tour is done at night-time and you're in for a seriously great night out. Some of the stories are those of the criminals, some are those who worked there and all of the stories are drop-dead fascinating! You may even have an uninvited 'guest' join you in your tour group. The Old Adelaide Gaol is South Australia's most haunted site.

The people whose tales of hardship and murders are told are:

Gaol Governor William Ashton
The Adelaide Gaol's first governor arrived with his family in South Australia in 1838. William Ashton and his family lived above the main Gaol gate and entrance. In 1850 the second section of the gaol was complete and women prisoners were housed there as well. Ashton's wife, Charlotte, was given the role of female matron. William Ashton was Gaol Governor for a total of 15 years, from 1839 until his death in 1854. His death was a bit of an embarrassment for the grand old fellow!

Governor William Ashton, Old Adelaide Gaol
"Governor William Ashton", Old Adelaide Gaol (©paula mcmanus)

Benjamin Ellis, the executioner:
Ben Ellis was a very efficient executioner. He was the resident hangman at the Adelaide Gaol from the mid-1860's to 1870's, living within the walls of the gaol in rooms below the female dormitory. His job was most unpleasant and not an enviable one by any means.

He was in charge of the hanging of South Australia's only female prisoner execution. Elizabeth Woolcock was sentenced to death and was subsequently hanged on December 30th 1873 for the poisoning of her husband. It is believed that this execution and one other that followed both rattled him incredibly and his demise as Gaol executioner began.

hangman Benjamin Ellis, Old Adelaide Gaol
"hangman Benjamin Ellis", Old Adelaide Gaol (©paula mcmanus)

Elizabeth Woolcock
Elizabeth Woolcock was the only woman to be executed in South Australia. She was abandoned by her family at 4 years of age and eventually married a man who drank to excess and was abusive. At her trial, the jury took less than half an hour to find her guilty of murder. There was a recommendation for mercy, but this was ignored. She was hanged on the 30th December 1867 at the age of 26.

Elizabeth Woolcock, Old Adelaide Gaol
"Elizabeth Woolcock", Old Adelaide Gaol (©paula mcmanus)

William Francis
Francis was the 54th execution in South Australia. He was executed on the 22nd of November 1927 at the Adelaide Gaol for the horrific and brutal murder of his new wife. When asked if he did it, he replied "I done it. I was in the horrors and I hit her on the head with a hammer and cut her throat with a razor". The jury took just 40 minutes to return a guilty verdict.

William Henry Francis, Old Adelaide Gaol
"William Henry Francis", Old Adelaide Gaol (©paula mcmanus)

Glen Sabre Valance
Glen Sabre Valance, age 21, was the last person ever executed at the Adelaide Gaol. Born Graham Paul Fraser, he changed his name to Valance after the character in a 60's western film Liberty Valance. In June 1964, Glen Valance tied up three station hands at the Koonroon property near Bordertown in South Australia. He then murdered Richard Strang as he slept and raped his wife Suzanne. He was executed on the 24th of November 1964.

Glen Sabre Valance, Old Adelaide Gaol
"Glen Sabre Valance", Old Adelaide Gaol (©paula mcmanus)

John Balaban
Balaban was a man with a history of mental instability and violence and has been called Australia's first known serial killer. He was the first person to be hanged in the newly converted Hanging Tower at the Adelaide Gaol and was executed on the 27th of August 1953 for the murders of a prostitute, his wife, step-son, mother-in-law and a waitress. His trial lasted just 5 days. He showed no remorse for what he had done and apparently stated that they all "deserved to die".

John Balaban, Old Adelaide Gaol
"John Balaban", Old Adelaide Gaol (©paula mcmanus)

These are the people and their stories that are told at one of the Old Adelaide Gaol 'Comes Alive" tours. They are fascinating and having actors in period costumes there to re-tell their stories takes you to a whole new level of experience. Suddenly you're there with them - hearing their stories in the first person. I was totally absorbed in their moments - the stories were real and I found it to be a more interesting way of understanding the stories of our state's criminal history. Much more interesting than reading a story on a wall or in a book or listening to a person reading a narrative.

prison guard, old adelaide gaol
"Prison guard", Old Adelaide Gaol (©paula mcmanus)

These night time crime tours will run once every couple of months and tour group sizes are fairly limited. I would imagine that the tickets wlll sell out quickly once they are made available for sale. I would highly recommend that you contact David or Darren at Ghost Crime Tours and book into one as soon as you can. Be aware though - there is graphic violence and coarse language used. Persons under the age of 18 are not permitted on the tours.

Fancy that on beach road, old adelaide gaol
Fancy That On Beach Road at Old Adelaide Gaol (©paula mcmanus)

Old Adelaide Gaol is Adelaide's second oldest public building and the most haunted building in the state. The original gaol was a tent and was nicknamed "Ashton's Hotel" The gaol was established in 1837, less than 5 months after the proclamation of South Australia.

There were a total of 45 people hanged at the Old Adelaide Gaol and by law, the bodies of the executed had to buried within the prison grounds, It is believed that, at the time, it was a commonplace practice to bury the executed prisoners in a standing up position in order to never give their souls peace.

This tour should definitely be on your 'to do' list. It is simply amazing.

Ghost Crime Tours, Old Adelaide Gaol
David and Darren, paranormal investigators, Ghost Crime Tours (©paula mcmanus)

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Why? Crime history in real life
Phone: 1300 0 GHOST
Where: Old Adelaide Gaol
Cost: see the website for details
Your Comment
Superb photos Paula - what an incredible event it will be!
by Jenny Pickett (score: 3|1720) 1500 days ago
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