State Library of South Australia

The Good the bad and the barely believable: tales of law and disorder in colonial South Australia

From a bare-chested bushranger and a firewood filcher who got his fingers burnt, to the reformatory hulk reminiscent of Dickensian times moored off Largs Bay and a notorious hanging on the banks of the Torrens. Join your guide for tales from the gritty side, from a good dose of black humour to the downright harrowing.

The Governor and staff at the Adelaide Gaol by Henry Glover 1850 B 17790
The Governor and staff at the Adelaide Gaol, by Henry Glover 1850, B 17790

There are countless stories from South Australian history in your State Library, and friendly ambassadors are waiting to share some of these with you as they guide you through our buildings and exhibitions. 'The Good, the Bad and the Barely Believable' is a popular themed tour on offer for those who enjoy tales of colourful and often outrageous characters.

Although South Australia was lauded as a convict-free state the colony had its share of miscreants right from inception, being engendered by two men who themselves spent time in English prisons. They were followed by villains arriving from the east, committing robberies and other crimes.

Sometimes it was unclear as to whether the felon was villain or victim, as was the case with a grisly event on view across the road from the Library in 1862. And perhaps even darker was the disturbing story of the only woman to be hanged in South Australia. You be the judge - was she guilty or not guilty?

Wonder at the barely believable story of South Australia's most eccentric bushranger: his passion for jewelry and his ingenious means of making his escape. Other states may lay claim to legendary bushrangers like Ned Kelly but South Australia has its very own Irishman who will capture your imagination like no other.

Learn of the link between South Australia and the cattle-rustling Captain Starlight from the book Robbery Under Arms, who found his nemesis in an eye-catching white bull.

And hear about the man who turned South Australia's failing state of the economy from bankruptcy to prosperity when gold fever struck in the 1850s, and the impact this had on the colony.

'The Good, the Bad and the Barely Believable' is a tour of many tales and we invite you to join us for a slice of life from the early days of our state.

More information is available about our tours.

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