By MIA FREEDMAN
Louisa Collins was not your average Australian woman. A mother of 10. She liked a drink and a dance. She had two husbands and a baby who all died in a short space of time in unexplained ways. One woman. Two husbands. Four trials. One bloody execution.
The new book by best-selling author Caroline Overington is a ripping read and a true-crime story that you won’t be able to put down. But it’s more than that. Because Louisa Collins was the Last Woman Hanged in NSW and what happened to her had an impact on every woman in Australia.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I read it in a couple of sittings and you will love it. Also makes a most excellent gift for any woman in your life of any age. I’m buying in bulk for Christmas.
I’d love to say I sat down with Caroline to ask her about the book but whenever Caroline and I get together, we always have so much to talk about, there’s never enough time. So we did this via email.
Also – she’s quite busy. She’s written a best-selling novel every year for the past six years, is an Associate Editor at the Women’s Weekly, writes for their website, is the mother of twins and keeps winning awards.
But this book has been her passion project over the past decade and when you read more about it, you’ll understand why………
Mia: Louisa Collins was the last woman hanged in NSW. What crime did she commit?
Caroline Overington: Louisa was twice married and – unlucky for some – she was also twice widowed. She was accused of the murder of both of her husbands.
MF: Her execution was pretty brutal. What went wrong?
CO: The hangman misjudged the drop. It had been around 40 years since a woman had been hanged, and he was supposed to calculate Louisa’s weight, and decide how long the rope should be, based on that. But he made the rope too short, and almost tore her head off. It was ghastly.
MF: And why were no other women hanged (hung?) after her?
CO: Capital punishment had been standard for the crime of murder since the arrival of the First Fleet. Floggings were also common, as were the stocks. But by the late 1880s, Australia was keen on becoming a nation in its own right, not just a penal colony. And the local politicians – all men – thought that Australia wouldn’t be taken seriously as a mature nation, if it continued with such barbaric practices. Louisa’s hanging was for many people the last straw.
MF: You’re a Walkley-award winning journalist and this is your ninth book but you’re best known as a best-selling fiction author. How did Louisa come into your life?
CO: I was working at The Australian in 2008, when my editor asked me to find out if anyone had ever been tried more than once for murder. I went looking – and Louisa’s trial came up. I thought, how strange! She was tried four times? How compelling could the evidence have been? Why were they so determined to get her? Once I started the research, it was difficult to stop.