In March 1894, John Martin was charged with breaking and entering and theft. He had escaped from F. Burton’s Glanville Reformatory and made his way to Magill. There, he had broken into Mr Moseley’s house and stolen a gold watch and chain, a gold ring, a gold locket, and other valuables.
Martin was presented to the Supreme Court, presided over by Judge Bundey. In that period, boys were judged and sentenced as men. If convicted, the boys were sent to a prison hulk at Largs Bay, or if their crime was deemed too offensive, sent to Adelaide Gaol.
Much was made in the newspapers of Martins general appearance in court. He was described as a ‘short thick-set sunburnt little fellow’ by one journalist. Martin was wearing at his hearing, a man’s coat and transfers, which were much too big for him, requiring him to hold them up with one hand.
Harry Nelson, the warder at the reformatory, stated in court that he had checked on Martin in the evening. Martin was on the third story and shackled by the ankle to his bed. At the 2am check, Nelson found Martin had escaped.
Martin was arrested at Charles Street, Norwood by constable Garland. Moseley’s valuables found in his possession. Martin, when asked if he had anything to say, said, \”I can\’t stop at that school\”. 
While standing before Judge Bundey, Martin began to sob, stating he had stolen the goods from Moseley with the idea of being sent to gaol. In his young mind, he believed he would be treated better in the Adelaide Gaol than he was in the reformatory.
Bundey took pity upon the boy, stating “Martin, yours is a peculiar case, now if I send you to a good kind gentleman, who will treat you well, look after and train your better, will you behave yourself, and remain with him?”
Martin, holding back tears stated, “yes, sir”.
Bundey: “I have never seen anything like your case here. You are under fifteen years of age and have shown extraordinary boldness and energy. You have escaped from the Reformatory fourteen times. Now what I should like to do would be to treat you not as a bold bad boy, but as a bold good boy. a bold boy with elements of good in him. You are approaching the years of manhood, and if rightly directed may make an extremely useful man. If I were the commander of a man-of-war, I would like to take you on board my ship and put you under strict discipline, which would bring out your best qualities, and tone down your evil tendencies.”
In 1894, John Martin would become somewhat of a celebrity escape artist in Adelaide. His escapades, crimes, and court appearances would be published in almost all South Australian newspapers. Such was this 15-year-olds notoriety, his exploits made national news.
Next Week: John Martin the Celebrity Delinquent: Part 2: Escape Artist
Researched and written by Allen Tiller © 2020