This article examines crimes committed by women involving the use of poison, notably upon their husbands, in 19th century colonial Australia. It draws on the extensive press archives of the period to determine if the historical and British perceptions and experiences of female poisoners of the 19th century were translated to 19th century Australia. The notion of the supposedly devoted wife stealthily poisoning her unsuspecting husband aroused particular revulsion and was viewed as a threat to social order and as the ultimate betrayal of the female role. Women accused of poisoning their husbands might therefore expect an uphill task within the male dominated criminal justice system of the period in escaping conviction and, if convicted, were unlikely to be regarded with sympathy and as worthy of a grant of mercy. However, this article suggests that the reality in colonial Australia was subtler and more complex than the hostile and often exaggerated perception of female poisoners might indicate. Women accused of capital crimes (including murder) involving poison upon their husbands had every expectation of acquittal and, even if convicted, such offenders were still often regarded with sympathy and might even be spared the “last extremity of the law”.
The full text is not available from SSRN.