Ellen Thomson

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, 11 years of age and her sister Mary, 9, arrived in Australia on the 6th of April 1858 on board the ship "Joshua". The ship's manifest lists their widowed mother Mary Lynch as a native of County Cork, Ireland. They would join her sister residing in Goulburn, N.S.W.

During the Palmer River gold rush in the early 1870's, Ellen was known to be in Cooktown, widow of William Wood, and struggling to support her children.

Arriving in Port Douglas about 1878, Ellen commenced work as housekeeper to William Thomson who had selected a farm on the Mossman River.

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.

The admission came too late - the double execution proceeded!

The name of Ellen Thomson was written into history as the only woman ever hanged in Queensland.

The Douglas Shire Historical Society now presents a 13-minute video re-enactment of Ellen's committal hearing in the actual court room where it occurred in 1887 in this building.

Visit the Port Douglas Court House Museum

Wharf Street, Port Douglas.

Open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays

From 10am to 1pm

Admission $2
Children and Students free.