The true story of Australia's first female serial killer
Black Widow has been turned into a computer game.
Never before in the hundred year history of Australia has a female prisoner become so notorious as Louisa Collins. (Evening News)
Two inquests, four trials, three hung juries and the executioner ... but was Louisa Collins really a husband killer? Was she the callous adulterous, drunkard and liar known as the Botany Bay Murderess and the Lucretia Borgia of Botany Bay? Or was this mother of seven a spirited and defiant woman who was punished for breaching society’s expectations of womanly behaviour?
Compelling, freshly told and richly detailed, Black Widow uncovers the truth of a story that challenged the morality, the politics and the notion of law in an Australia on the edge of nationhood.
[Baxter] tells a good story ... [and] offers a perceptive and emotionally plausible account of why Louisa decided to poison Michael Peter Collins.
The Australian, Australia
Carol Baxter is, however, alive to the gender politics of the case, particularly the depiction of Collins in the press as a Lucrezia Borgia ... She offers her own more nuanced interpretation that convincingly accounts for the unanswered question of why Collins killed her second husband. Sydney Morning Herald, Australia
The book is very readable and cleverly structured so that any reader unfamiliar with the case is left in suspense almost to the end ... It's not exactly a cheerful tale but it is undeniably and interesting one, and Carol Baxter tells it well.
Online review by Stephen Dedman [www.tarasharp.com.au]
Carol Baxter ... has dug deeper into the archives to arrive at a new, intriguing theory that portrays Collins as something of a sexy cougar desperate to control her much younger second husband ... Baxter's colloquial tone makes the book a compelling mix of domestic drama and detective work ... It also gives insight into the thinking and politics of colonial times.
Herald Sun, Melbourne, Australia
Sydney, July 1888. A distressed woman begs a doctor to visit her violently ill husband whom she fears is close to death. The doctor, alarmed at the man’s deteriorating condition and the ineffectiveness of his prescribed treatment, discusses the case with a colleague and learns that the woman’s first husband died in suspiciously similar circumstances. The subsequent death of husband number two triggers a chain of events of which no-one involved could be proud. The little-known story of Louisa Collins, the so-called Botany Bay Murderess, makes for fascinating, albeit disturbing, reading. Convicted only after being prosecuted through three hung jury trials and a decisive (but legally questionable) fourth trial, Louisa was ultimately sentenced to death—the last woman to meet this fate in New South Wales. Author Carol Baxter tells Louisa’s story with eloquence and dispassion. Without advocating Louisa’s innocence, Baxter probes the facts of the case and questions the Crown’s relentless pursuit of her conviction and their determination to bring her to the gallows. By situating the case within its historical context, Baxter canvasses the various political and social debates it inflamed, such as the role of capital punishment, the case for gender equality and society’s expectations of women—issues that remain relevant more than a century later. Black Widow is an intelligent, extremely well-researched and thought-provoking examination of a grim episode in Australia’s colonial history.