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Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899

R. v. Collins [1888] NSWSupC 2

murder, of husband, domestic violence, capital punishment, last woman hanged in New South Wales

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Darley C.J., 8 December 1888

Source: Moreton Bay Courier, 10 December 1888[1] 



The trial of Louisa Collins for the alleged murder of her husband, Michael Peter Collins, at Botany, was continued at the Central Criminal Court on Saturday morning, before his Honor the Chief Justice.

Mr. Heydon appeared on behalf of the Crown, and Mr. Lusk appeared for the prisoner.

His Honor, in summing up, said the prisoner at the Bar, Louisa Collins, stood indicted for having murdered her husband, Michael Peter Collins, in the month of July of the present year. It was unnecessary for him to tell the jury that the inquiry was one of the most important they could enter into, and was one which involved the question of the guilt or innocence of the prisoner. What her guilt, if she was guilty, involved, it was not for them to consider, nevertheless the responsibility which was cast upon them, as well as upon himself, was very great. It was his duty to see that the prisoner was tried according to the law of the country, and, as far as he could, to have the facts of the case brought to their notice - those facts which told for her as well as those which told against her. On the jury rested the responsibility of re turning a verdict on those facts, and it was therefore necessary that they should bring to the consideration of the facts their very best judgment. Before going into the facts of the case it would perhaps be as well for them to consider the history of the family to which the prisoner belonged. They know little of it before the end of 1886; but they did know that in the month of December, 1886, the man Collins, of whose murder the prisoner stood indicted, was living in the house with prisoner and her then husband. A short time after this he ceased to live in the house as a lodger. In January, 1887, Andrews was taken ill, and in February he died. Thirteen days, or about that time, after the death of Andrews, the prisoner and Collins were together at a dance, the man Collins introducing her as though they were married, but if the prisoner's statement were correct, it would appear that they were not married until April 9. They lived together from the time of the marriage until the month of .lune, 1888, the prisoner having with her the flve children of her former husband. But two of the children were old enough to leave their home, and it would appear that they had left. In the month of June Collins was taken ill, and on July 8 he died. That was a short history of the family. He would now ask the jury to go into particulars, and first of all he would draw their attention to the particulars with respect to the death of Andrews. The evidence respecting his death was scattered throughout the trial. They were not trying the prisoner for anything connected with the death of Andrews. If, as alleged, he, too, was murdered, it was his duly to remind the jury that they were not now trying the prisoner for that. But the reason why evi- dence connected with the death of Andrews was placed before them was this: Andrews was said to have died from arsenical poisoning - but the question how he got that poison did not concern them - although it was a question of importance when they came to consider whether as a matter of fact he did die from arsenical poisoning. It was admitted on behalf of the prisoner that Collins did die from arsenical poisoning, and it was alleged that Andrews did also. The reason, therefore, why such evidence was given was to show the improbability of an accident having taken place. If Collins alone had died from arsenical poisoning, there might be the possibility of an accident having occurred. The poison might have been absorbed by the system in some way whilst the man was at work, or whilst he was dressing the wound on his leg. That would have been an accident. Or of course the man might have committed suicide. But if the jury found that a previous husband of the same woman had died of the same thing, and came to the con- clusion that he did die of that, and if they found that the same woman had been in close attendance upon both, although it might not bring them to the conclusion that she had murdered either of them, yet it was a strong presumption that the death of neither of them was an accident. When they found two men within a period of 17 months dying, and presenting the same symptoms ; and when they found in the body of one a trace of arsenic some 17 months after, and it was conclusively proved that the other did die of arsenical poisoning, then there was the strong presumption that there had been no accident. As he had said before, with Collins 's death standing by itself, many suppositions might be raised - and suppositions which would perhaps very properly have to be taken into consideration by the jury - but aided by the former death, there was the strong presumption that they were not accidents, but a result of the design of some person. It would be for the jury to say whether that person was the prisoner or not. He would now ask them to consider the evidence which had been given with respect to the death of Andrews. His Honor then read that portion of the evidence given by Constable Jaffes and Senior-constable Sherwood which related to Andrews, and which showed that the deceased was a man of about 50 years of age, and a strong, healthy, and able-bodied man. The evidence also showed that the prisoner had told the police that Andrews was dying some days before his death actually took place, and at a time when the doctor thought he would recover. The prisoner also took steps to secure the money for which Andrews's life had been insured, and told the insurance agent and others that he was dying some time before his death. His Honor pointed out that the evidence given by the neighbours and others established the fact that Andrews was a strong healthy man, subject to no illness; that very suddenly he was stricken down with an illness which had in it all the symptoms of poisoning by arsenic, and the evidence of the Government analyst showed that seventeen months after death had taken place a trace of arsenic was found in the body. This was sufficient to show the jury that the probability that Collins died from accident or suicide was very much lessened. He did not think it was necessary for him to dwell upon the scientific evidence which had been given. It would be for the jury to form their own opinions about that. If they were convinced that Andrews died from arsenical poisoning then they had arrived at the first stage in the case, and that was the probability that Collins's death was not an accident, and was not the result of suicide He would now pass on from the consideration of Andrews's case and deal with the charge upon which the prisoner had been indicted. The jury would have to carefully consider the evidence which had been given with regard to this case. He thought they might accept the prisoner herself as the first witness in this case. His Honor, then read the prisoner's statement respecting the death of her husband, and pointed out certain discrepancies in the statement when it was compared or considered with the facts as disclosed by the evidence. He dwelt at considerable length upon the evidence given by Dr. Marshall, who had attended the deceased, and the evidence of Mr. Hamlet, Government Analyst, who had examined certain portions of the body, and also called attention to the evidence given by a number of neighbours, who had deposed that that Collins up to the time of his illness was a strong, healthy, and able-bodied man, and had suffered from no serious illness whatever. Having reviewed the evidence in its collective form with regard to the illness of, and the symptoms presented by, Collins up to the time of his death, his Honor drew the attention of the jury to the conduct of the prisoner, and the inferences drawn from her conduct by the Crown. He dwelt at some length upon the discovery of the arsenic in the tumbler, which contained a fluid resembling milk, and called the attention of the jury to the evidence given by the little girl May Andrews respecting the finding of the box of "Rough on Rats" and the statements made to the child by the prisoner, and pointed out that those were matters for the most serious consideration of the jury. His Honor asserted that the suggestions made by counsel for the defence, that the police or someone else had tampered with the milk in the tumbler between the time that it was taken from the house and handed over to the Government Analyst, could scarcely be entertained, as there was no ground whatever for supposing that anyone had been guilty of the diabolical

act suggested. The jury would also have to take into consideration the fact that the prisoner had exhibited great anxiety as to the state of her husband's health, and had repeatedly called in the assistance of the doctor. There was apparently no motive for her taking the life of Collins, but there was the fact that she might have got tired of him. It was not necessary that the jury should have before them distinctly the motive, for it was impossible for them to tell always what was in the mind of a person. It might be that the prisoner after having poisoned Andrews without being discovered took the same means of dealing with Collins after she had got tired of him. These were matters for the consideration of the jury. In conclusion, he said it would now be tho duty of the jury to retire to their room to consider their verdict. If as a result of their judgment they wore left with any reasonable doubt in their minds, they were bound to give the prisoner the benefit of that doubt and acquit her. But it was necessary that the doubt should be a reasonable one, and not a doubt conjured out of the imagination. If on the other hand after careful consideration they could come to no other conclusion but that this unfortunate man met his death by poison administered by his wife, the prisoner, then, after all consideration, they as standing between the prisoner and the public would have to dis- charge but one solemn duty and pronounce that verdict which the law of the country required them to return.

The jury then retired to consider their verdict, and returned into Court at 2 o'clock with a verdict of guilty.

The prisoner rose from her seat in the dock, and throwing her head back, said in reply to the usual question that she had nothing to say. She appeared quite unmoved by the result of the trial.

His HONOR, addressing tho prisoner, said: Louisa Collins, after a most careful trial, aftter being defended with much skill and ability, you have been found guilty of the murder of your husband, Michael Peter Collins . No one who has heard this case throughout can have any doubt that this verdict which has been given is a true and honest verdict. In fact, no other verdict could be arrived at by a body of intelligent men such as those who have so care- fully attended to this case throughout. The murder you have committed is one of peculiar atrocity. You were day by day giving poison to the man whom above all others you were bound to cherish and attend. You watched his slow torture and painful death, and this apparently without a moment's remorse. You were indifferent to his pain, and gained his confidence by your simulated affection. There is too much reason to fear that your first husband Andrews also met his death at your hands; that he, too, you watched to the end - saw his torture day after day, and added to its horror this crime. I hold out no hope of mercy to you on earth. It would be wicked of me to do so; but I implore of you to seek forgiveness where it will assuredly be found. Seek the assistance of the clergy- man to whose faith you belong. Ho will point out to you the way to gain such forgiveness. Your days are surely numbered, and it now remains for me only to pass the last dread sentence of the law upon you. The sentence of the Court is that you be taken to the place from whence you came, and on a day hereafter to be named by the Governor in Council, that you be taken to the place of execution, and there be hanged by the neck until you are dead ; and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.

The prisoner, who appeared perfectly calm and collected, was then removed.


[1] In 1888 and 1889, the Sydney Morning Herald published many articles about this case and the eventual execution of Louisa Collins.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University