Famous Detective Stories: True Tales of Australian Crime

Famous Detective Stories: True Tales of Australian CrimeFamous Detective Stories: True Tales of Australian Crime by Amelia Hartney
Published by NLA Publishing Pages: 177

From the notorious Louisa Collins in 1880s NSW, who murdered two husbands with rat poison, to a blazing shoot-out featuring prominent underworld figure Antonio Martini at Taronga Zoo in the 1940s, this book features stories of true crimes that shocked and thrilled the Australian public. When pulp magazines first started leaping off the news stands and railway station book stands of Australia's cities in the 1930s, some decried them as evidence of moral and cultural decay and the opposition continued into the 1950s. But Famous Detective Stories, which first appeared in 1946,would go on to become bohemian literary entrepreneur Frank Johnson's most successful and longest-running title. Johnson had launched his comic book and pulp magazine publishing house in the void created by the wartime ban of imported American comics in 1940. He gathered around him moonlighting journalists, former police detectives and keen amateurs, who, armed with news clippings of infamous crimes, produced story after story for a reading public that couldn't get enough. Pocket-sized and easily read on public transport, the books were cheap entertainment, disposable and unpretentious. The tawdry, lurid covers tiptoed close to the censor's line and were designed to titillate. In this new book, stories of love triangles, murders, great escapes, slave trading and robberies are paired with newspaper cuttings of the crimes, allowing the reader to delve deeper into each case. The crimes aren't always bloody-a brawl over a church pew between a bad-tempered archdeacon and a newspaper editor in the 1820s involved church invasions and retaliatory libel suits and kept the public entertained for months-but the victims and perpetrators are always memorable.

If you’ve been around long enough you might possibly know that I’m in love with pulp magazines and have been since as far back as I can remember. It’s a love affair that shows in so many magazines on my shelf which include two I bought from the newsstand in America. A newsstand sitting virtually on the street. So, when I won this book however many months ago I was in heaven. It’s a book published from pulp magazines published in Australia from a series of true crime pulp magazines.

Yes, it’s been sitting on my shelf for months. I finally read it. It is awesome. All the stories are fabulous and contain copies of the newspaper articles about the actual crime. If I wanted I could probably search through Trove and find more but I’m not doing so for reasons of time and a lack of it.

One story I’ve picked out to look at here is about a lady by the name of Louisa Collins. We’ve gone back in time to 1886 to Botany, about 30 years after my family arrived in Australia. Louisa Collins has a husband and five children ranging in ages from three to 15. She supplements the family income by taking boarders. The parents seem very happy together. One day a boarder comes along and suddenly the husband starts getting sick. The daughter sees rat poison in the cupboard and when she asks it disappears. Eventually the husband dies. Louisa marries the new boarder a few weeks later. They have a baby, he dies. The new husband eventually dies. More rat poison had been seen at some stage by the daughter. Louisa Collins was the first woman to be executed at Darlinghurst Gaol.

Besides such a bitter story, what else did I noticed here?

Gender Issues

There was much debate in the press as to whether she should be executed as she was female.  Apparently “Men are different from women.” and therefore shouldn’t be executed. Some people felt that women “unsex themselves” with this sort of behaviour and therefore “chivalric feeling or sentiment” should be ignored.

Religious Issues

The Bible was quoted freely to prove both cases. Some people talked about leniency while others used different quotes to argue the opposite.


“A woman is not allowed to take part in the making of laws, nor is she allowed rights as a property holder, yet she is placed on equality with man in the question of retribution.” This is something that woman have used for many years to argue that we should be allowed equal rights to men. This quote comes from a man.

Should you buy this?

Well, yes. But only if you like true crime. If you’re more of a romance reader then this will set your mind thinking and make you feel rather different to your normal reading matter. In case you decide you want to read it here’s the link. If you buy it through this I’ll get a few cents in affiliation fees.