What a fabulous night!
I was invited to speak at the Annual General Meeting of the Botany Historical Trust ... and that's quite an honour!
Botany is where Louisa Collins lived, and where her husbands died.
It was police from Botany who arrested her, and walked her into Sydney, to face a murder charge.
Many of the key documents that form the basis of Last Woman Hanged can be found at Botany Library.
It was in Botany that I found some of Louisa's letters from gaol.
It was in Botany that I found librarian Kathryn Cass's amazing file, which includes the now famous letter from the Crown prosecutor, urging the courts to give up the case against Louisa Collins, because there simply wasn't enough evidence to convict her.
It's historians and librarians from Botany who have kept the files on Louisa open, for researchers to come and have a look and make up their own minds about what happened to her, and where would we be without them?
I felt a little anxious, giving a speech, because the room was filled with historians, librarians, genealogists, and other experts, including many who know the case better even than me.
But I was made to feel incredibly welcome. It was one of the best organised events I've ever attended. The Mayor of Botany, Ben Keneally, was there, as was the Federal MP, Matt Thistlethwaite, and the President of the Botany Trust, Anne Slattery, who was incredibly gracious; and best of all, the general manager of the whole Botany Bay council was there - and she's a woman!
Step forward Lara Kirchner!
I can just imagine how stunned the women who tried to save Louisa woud have been, to see a woman in charge of the whole show. Botany was about the most masculine place in the world in 1888, full of fellmongers, slaughtermen, and heavy drinkers.
Now there's a woman in charge. It's what the early suffragettes dreamed about - no barriers to any women, anywhere - and now it's come true.
A man came up during the book signing and told me that he used to deliver newspapers around Frog's Hollow, where Louisa used to live. I met descendants of the First Fleet, and descendants of one of Australia's first hangmen; and I was shown photographs of the old houses that used to stand quite near where Louisa lived (which may even have been where she lived; it's hard to say, precisely.)
It was a wonderful night, and I hope to post more photographs soon. In the meantime, warmest thanks to Botany Historial Trust. It was just wonderful to meet you all.