Last Woman Hanged: The Terrible True Story of Louisa Collins Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Audible Audiobook, Unabridged
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Two husbands, four trials and one bloody execution: Winner of the 2015 Davitt Award for Best Crime Book (nonfiction)—the terrible true story of Louisa Collins.
In January 1889, Louisa Collins, a 41-year-old mother of 10 children, became the first woman hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol and the last woman hanged in New South Wales. Both of Louisa's husbands had died suddenly and the Crown, convinced that Louisa poisoned them with arsenic, put her on trial an extraordinary four times in order to get a conviction, to the horror of many in the legal community. Louisa protested her innocence until the end.
Much of the evidence against Louisa was circumstantial. Some of the most important testimony was given by her only daughter, May, who was just 10-years-old when asked to take the stand. Louisa Collins was hanged at a time when women were in no sense equal under the law—except when it came to the gallows. They could not vote or stand for parliament—or sit on juries. Against this background, a small group of women rose up to try to save Louisa's life, arguing that a legal system comprised only of men—male judges, all-male jury, male prosecutor, governor, and premier—could not with any integrity hang a woman. The tenacity of these women would not save Louisa but it would ultimately carry women from their homes all the way to Parliament House.
Caroline Overington is the author of 11 books of fiction and non-fiction, including the top-selling The One Who Got Away, a psychological crime novel. She has said: "My hope is that Last Woman Hanged will be read not only as a true crime story but as a letter of profound thanks to that generation of women who fought so hard for the rights we still enjoy today."
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|Listening Length||9 hours and 33 minutes|
|Audible.com.au Release Date||06 June 2018|
|Best Sellers Rank|| 2,679 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
1 in Women History
2 in Penology (Books)
5 in 19th Century History
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Top reviews from Australia
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It's book I could read twice - once for the story and again just to get all that history clear in my head.
Top reviews from other countries
Caroline Overington has researched the story behind Louisa Collin’s four, yes you read that correctly, four trials for murder. One of the three trials was in relation to the deaths of her first husband Charles Andrews in January 1887, the cause according to the doctor who signed his death certificate was Acute Gastritis, three were in relation to her second husband Michael Collins the man she married just three months after the demise of the first. Michael Collins died on 8 July 1888 of what the post mortem indicated was arsenic poisoning.
This book not only takes us through the suffering of both men as they writhed for days in agony with stomach pain but the job of the somewhat incompetent hangman – Nosey Bob, those who presided over the trials and most importantly the clamour of women’s voices to commute the death sentence passed when Louisa was finally declared guilty in respect of the death of Michael.
As with all these reconstructions of historical crimes one of the main questions is was Louisa guilty of the crime that meant ‘that she hanged from the neck until she was dead.’ It’s certainly far from clear cut, but that isn’t the main thrust of the book which is far more about women’s rights at a time they were treated as children. Louisa hanged on order of laws made by parliament of which she had no say in. She lived a life forever in the fear of abject poverty; if her husband didn’t work, she, and her children, wouldn’t eat and there was no way out of the never-ending cycle of child-birth, the last of Louisa’s babies had recently died when just a few months old.
Louisa isn’t the most sympathetic of characters, but once the death sentence had been passed those women who did have a voice, through their husbands and fathers, began clamouring for the sentence to be commuted. Although some of these were unconvinced of her guilt, by no means all were. There was after all the unpalatable truth that whilst thirty-six men had been unable to reach a consensus of guilt, Louisa was hung on the verdict of the final trial. Al of this carried out in the space of a few short months with a dwindling population of suitable jurors. Quite why there was so much will to retry this woman until the verdict of guilt was reached is unclear,but e can assume that powerful men were clearly determined that their presumption of guilt was the right one.
There is a fair amount regarding the politics of New South Wales at the time of the trials which to be honest meant little to me sitting as I do well over one hundred years later on the other side of the world, but they sound very similar to politics everywhere with the distinction that Australia was at this time trying to move away from being a penal colony to a fully-fledged independent country.
This was a fascinating read although at times I felt that I was bludgeoned by the repletion of information that this was a man’s world and Louisa had no say in the laws. I understand the argument but if Louisa did set about to murder two husbands in such an agonising fashion, she probably understood that if her crimes were discovered that the law was going to act. After all hanging wasn’t a rarity, although in New South Wales the last women prisoner had her sentence commuted.
The afterword takes us through the next few years where due to their vociferous campaigning Australian women were the first in the world to get the vote and spread the word to the rest of the world, including Britain. We also catch up with what happened to Louisa’s children and other key members of the case. A satisfactory ending to a book which gives a factual account of Louisa’s life and trials while bringing to the forefront a fight that would live long after her body had been cut down from the scaffold.
Last Woman Hanged is from my own collection of books, chosen not for the historical factor of this true crime but following my read of the author’s I Came to Say Goodbye which I thoroughly enjoyed.
In the closing pages I was particularly touched by the fact that the author had managed to trace Louisa's descendants and has written a little about how Louisa's life affected subsequent generations.
At this late date, it is impossible to make a true determination as to how Louisa's husbands died.
This book shows how little real forensics were performed at that time. Since that time, methods for handling evidence, chemical analysis, technology, and medicine have made huge advances. More is known about how diseases affect the body, diagnostics have improved, and doctors have more testing methods to accurately diagnose illnesses. Also detection of poisons and their effects are better understood.
Many of the reported symptoms of both Charles and Michael are common to a number of illnesses prevalent at that time.
Charles Andrews' death was most likely correctly diagnosed at the time of his death. Considering the living conditions of the area in Botany, the probable condition of the drinking water, lack of proper sewage, and the unhygienic working conditions at the time, Charles was lucky to have lived as long as he did without any serious illness.
Based on the information in the book, the evidence was mostly circumstantial combined with a host of speculation based on very little scientific or medical basis in fact.
No testing or investigation was performed on the soil or water around the home or in the workplaces of either Charles or Michael. It was clear that both were exposed to arsenic, viruses, bacteria, and possibly a variety of other toxins in their homes and work. The routes for pathogens was not well understood at that time nor were there many regulations regarding toxic chemicals in the work place. These could not be discounted as the cause of death for either man.
No mention was made of the rat poison until the trial based on statements made by minors who had obviously been coached in their testimony.
The prosecution did not produce any evidence that Louisa even purchased or borrowed rat poison. She was easily recognized in the area and no merchant or chemist testified to selling rat poison to her. No neighbors came forward stating she borrowed the poison for them.
Mr Lusk did not put up much of a defense and a case could be made for an appeal based on his mishandling of the case. This shows how much a justice system can be biased against the poor who cannot afford to retain a decent lawyer and do the proper research. Unfortunately this is still the case.
Most of us only have knowledge of hanging from movies where it always appears quick and efficient. This exposes the horrors of the reality that was most likely the norm.
The follow up on Louisa's children was interesting. It is not often that the descendants are discussed in books on historical crimes.
I also found it interesting that this case provided a tipping point for women's sufferage in Australia. The historical background on this was good. I found it a bit frightening that women were not allowed to sit on juries until 1947 in Australia.
At times the book was repetitious and the style was more conversational. This lead to the structure being a bit disjointed and meandering. The syntax could have been edited to flow better. In that respect, the book read a bit like a college thesis rather than journalistic prose.
However, I do recommend this to anyone who likes history or true crime.
My opinion is that an innocent woman was brutally hanged for a crime she did not commit.
I suggest others read it and form their own opinions.