Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Australian Women Who Broke The Law - Susan Horsnell


Some of the not-so-innocent faces of convicted criminals who were put behind bars from the 1880s to 1930s.

Among them was the infamous razor gangster and prominent madam of the times - Matilda 'Tilly' Devine.

Many others included backyard abortionists, drug dealers and those convicted of bigamy, drunkenness and theft.

Most of them were sent to the State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay - south of Sydney - which is now known as Long Bay Correctional Complex.

Matilda 'Tilly' Devine pictured on May 27, 1925 before she was sent to the State Reformatory for Women in Long Bay, south of Sydney. She was 25 at the time she was arrested for using a razor to slash a man's face in a barber's shop. She was later sentenced to two years jail.

Tilly Devine became infamous in Sydney, initially as a prostitute, then later as a brothel madam and organised crime entrepreneur. The NSW Vagrancy Act 1905 prohibited men from running brothels; it did nothing to stop women with criminal gangs' support and bribes to the police from running criminal enterprises. Historian Larry Writer has noted that the Devines ran diversified operations. Elite "call girls" were available for politicians, businessmen and overseas guests of significance, while "tenement girls" were young working class women who resorted to casual prostitution to supplement their drug spendings, clothings and meagre earnings during times of Australian criminal and narcotic culture, absence of a comprehensive welfare state and unemployment. Older female prostitutes, "boat girls", catered to itinerant sailors or working class-men. Devine does not seem to have run similar operations for the gay sex market during this time 
Tilly Devine's wealth was legendary, although it was all earned from crime. She owned a large amount of real estate in Sydney, many luxury cars, looted gold and diamond jewelry, and traveled by ship in first class staterooms. Much of her wealth was also used to pay bribes to the police sectors, and fines for her criminal convictions that spanned fifty years. 
Tilly Devine faced numerous court summons and was convicted on 204 occasions during her long criminal career, and served many jail sentences in the New South Wales jail, mainly for prostitution, violent assault, affray and attempted murder. She was known to the police to be of a violent nature and was known to use firearms.

Lillian May Southwell Boland on September 28, 1922 when she was convicted of conspiracy to procure an abortion. 

She was known to be a secretary for an illegal abortionist who worked from a dentist's surgery on Oxford Street, Paddington - Sydney's inner city. 
While she maintained her innocence and said she was unaware of the illegal activity, the court ruled that she must have known about the business and subsequently gave her a suspended sentence of 12 months hard labour.

Lillian Sproule pictured on October 31, 1928. The Tasmanian reportedly had dealings with Sydney's cocaine trade and had multiple drug convictions. Labelled a 'parasite in skirts' by the media, the 50-year-old was sentenced to six months in prison.

May Ethel Foster on March 27, 1928. She had worked with a male associate, Albert Roy Callaway aged 28, to break into some houses and steal the goods inside. She had previous convictions including failing to appear in court, vagrancy and receiving stolen goods. The court sentenced the 27-year-old to six months with hard labor.

I hope you have enjoyed this peek into just some of the infamous women in Australia's history. 



E.E.Burke said...

Tough ladies! The one with the razor sounds especially interesting. That would give a man second thoughts about approaching her. ;)

Ginger Jones Simpson said...

Very interesting. I can't imagine running a brothel, although a lot of women did. I feel informed. :)

Caroline Clemmons said...

Sue, thanks for the peek into women criminals. The one with the razor sounded scary.