On this day …….. 28th of December 1853
On the 28th of December, 1853, what appeared to be the body of a man was noticed floating near an overseas boat, the Royal Shepherdess, at Port Adelaide. Most of those who saw it thought that some unfortunate man had met death by drowning.
However, on being removed from the water the body proved to be a dummy. A jury of ‘highly respectable men’ was assembled with alacrity beyond all precedent and, the foreman having expressed to the coroner a desire for a post mortem examination, the aid of a surgeon was obtained with equal promptitude. The examination went to show, very convincingly, ‘that the deceased met his death from natural causes, and not otherwise.’ A large quantity of mud was said to have been found in the stomach, also, that on removing the scalp the cranium was found to be empty.
The effigy was then paraded through the streets of Port Adelaide, attended by 22 ‘priests in full canonicals’ and followed by several hundred towns people. After this, with all the solemnity of a funeral, the body was removed by boat to one of the ships and hung to the fore yardarm for some time. It was then cut adrift and allowed to float with the tide until, with a cleverly assumed sympathy for the memory of the deceased, several of the mourners brought it ashore and placed it in a coffin. Bearers carried It to where a shallow grave had been prepared. A burial service was read and, with much well-simulated grief, the remains were duly interred. Then all the chips in the port dipped their ensigns, and the ‘sorrowing’ crowd dispersed.
The idea of the strange performance originated in the strong feeling of resentment excited by the Collector of Customs who, when speaking in the Legislative Council, had designated Port Adelaide ‘a mud hole.’