Presumed Guilty by Margaret Dakin

Margaret Dakin is a lass from Brisbane’s Redlands district, neighbouring the beautiful Moreton Bay, whose writing career only started once she retired at 65 years of age. Not only did she have success winning numerous awards with her short stories Margaret took to becoming a playwright which included song writing. She utilises her love of history to share stories of an early Australia which I have mentioned previously – see A Bonnet For Eliza.

Margaret continues to research and write and her most recent play, performed at some of the local museums in South East Queensland, has now been published in book format.

Presumed Guilty is loosely based on the trial of Ellen Thomson and John Harrison and the event which led up to it – the shooting of Ellen’s husband, William Thomson in October 1886.

More importantly, the particularly ugly death by hanging of Thomson, with the rope severing her jugular vein, began the social push to end hangings. “Blood trickling down her body and patterning in large drops on the hard cement floor. It increases in quantity and (soon) the whole floor is covered with a woman’s blood,” the newspaper reported.

By 1899, a powerful community mood had grown to abolish capital punishment and by 1922 Queensland became the first place in the British Commonwealth to end the practice.

Even in its written format Presumed Guilty is an interesting read which I believe would be an invaluable teaching tool for middle year school students. It covers pioneer life in the goldfields, the influx of Chinese miners, racism, sexism and class distinctions. The arrogant and pompous judge marks Ellen Thomson as a troublemaker having placarded for schools for the children of north Queensland.

Was she innocent or guilty in the death of her drunken and violent husband? We really don’t know………..

Never one for learning history from dates written on a chalkboard my fondest memories of Primary School days are the musicians and theatrical troupes who would visit the little school in the midst of bushland in Sydney. Surrounded by Eucalypts, Wattle and wildflowers history came alive in song, dance and movement. Alex Hood, folk singer, writer, actor, educator and folklorist immediately comes to mind even some fifty years later.

Well done, Margaret. Can’t wait to see what you come up with for your 85th birthday!

• available on kindle or paperback from Amazon


Thomson and Harrison were executed at Boggo Road Gaol in Brisbane. The remaining prison building has been Heritage Listed and is currently open for tours and selected movie nights. I watched Brubaker with Robert Redford surrounded by high fences topped with razor wire and was totally freaked.

The gaol was Australia’s most notorious prison and was the site of numerous hunger strikes and rooftop protests until the 1980’s. I was horrified to discover that the cells had no toilet facilities right up until closure.

Developers have targeted the city fringe property for fine dining, wine bars and night clubs. Not on your life – the joint reeks of other worldly presences……….