Louisa Collins - a name all Australian women should know
October 28, 2014
A thoughtful piece from Fairfax's Clementine Ford with a focus on the women who tried to save Louisa's life.
I must admit, my favourite part of the research process was discovering their names.
Women like Elizabeth Parsons, a cheerful and talented watercolourist from Melbourne, who went around to all her neighbours in St Kilda, trying to drum up signatures for a Women's Petition to prevent Louisa from being sent to the gallows.
Women like Caroline Boyce, who gathered up signatures in inner-city Sydney.
Many of these women went on to campaign for women's rights more generally. They ultimately achieved the vote, and yet we barely know their names. Clementine is quite right: it's time to change that.
On December 22, 1888, just 19 days before Louisa’s execution, a Women’s Petition pleading for Louisa’s life with over 600 names was presented to the Governor. (After its publication in the Sydney Morning Herald, one correspondent heaped scorn on the signatories, sneering at the women for daring to interfere in a matter which they could not possibly understand.)
But the governor was not to be dissuaded. After an appeal failed, a small group of women formed a collective to fight for Louisa’s life. Although most of their names are lost to history (one of the many tragedies of living in a world which undervalues women’s stories and contributions), there are some whose names we can at least remember. Eliza Pottie, Caroline Boyce, Mrs Lee and Elizabeth Parsons, who was further west and leading the Victorian charge. All were integral not only to this particular fight, but also to the broader struggle for women’s rights in Australia.
The fight for Louisa Collins’ life ultimately failed, but her sentence and subsequent execution further mobilised the women’s suffrage movement to demand their rights to participate equally in the system which determined their fates.