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Madame Brussels was one of the most famous brothel-keepers in late nineteenth-century Melbourne.
Her houses in Lonsdale Street entertained men of influence and made her a wealthy woman. Her clients were said to include parliamentarians, wealthy businessmen and members of the legal profession, who were rumoured to have protected her from prosecution on many occasions. Madame Brussels was one businesswoman who managed to profit from the double sexual standards of Victorian Melbourne. Late nineteenth-century attitudes to sex work were complex and contradictory.
Officially sex work was frowned upon. Several of the women featured in this exhibition were so-described by the police in background reports preliminary to sentencing. Emma Williams was one whose association with the sex trade was another black mark against her. Soliciting was not made illegal until and running a brothel was not a crime until Street women were controlled through use of the vagrancy laws. Beatrice Phillips had repeated convictions for vagrancy, often a thinly-veiled reference to soliciting. But the association between brothels and other crime also meant that the police still preferred to confine such premises to certain precincts.
By the s Madame Brussels owned several houses in this precinct, conveniently located just across the street from Parliament House.
Brothels were located in Little Lon from the early s and by the s they were very numerous. In the police knew of some 17 brothels in Lonsdale Street, and at least six operating in Exhibition Street, despite attempts to remove them from this grand boulevard at the time of the Centennial International Exhibition in Less desirable houses were located in the side streets, alleys and laneways between Lonsdale and Little Bourke streets.
Respectable Melburnians avoided these narrow streets after dark, when the meagre light of the flickering gas lamps barely penetrated the gloom. Only the larger streets boasted the new blazingly-bright electric street lights in the s. Caroline and Lizzie Jane Hodgson became firm friends.
The brothers went into business, but both ran into trouble in the recession of the s. John eventually moved to Sydney, while Studholme ed the Victorian Police and was stationed in regional Victoria.
At some point she evidently realised that there were more profitable alternatives, and within the year she was running a brothel in North Melbourne. How this was regarded by her policeman husband is not recorded. The Hodgsons do not appear to have lived together during this period, although they obviously remained friendly. He died in By the s Carline was a well-known identity in Melbourne.
ADB entry Amongst her friends were prominent politicians David Gaunson, who also acted as her legal representative when required, and Sir Samuel Gillott, who was one of her mortgagors. But Caroline was also a highly skilled businesswoman, who ran her businesses profitably.
She probably knew her way around the law extremely well. However her very success attracted public attention and drew the ire of moral reformers. Thirty years of consent to the buying and selling of young girls and women for the most degrading immorality, in which Government, magistrates, police, and people have either been silent, or the efforts put forth have been so feeble that the notorious woman has not only laughed at the authorities, but accumulated thousands of pounds in her accursed traffic in the bodies and souls of young girls.
Weekly Times, 15 Junep. Mr Varley was supported in his crusade by other committed and able campaigners.
Bessie Harrison Lee was another strong advocate for social purity and allied causes — temperance, raising the age of consent for girls and the suppression of prostitution. Meanwhile the trade continued more-or-less openly. Other occupants of the house were charged with vagrancy. Chris McConville has argued that from the late s and accelerating during the s, the police made concerted efforts to rid the city of prostitutes, which only meant that the trade relocated into the neighbouring suburbs of Fitzroy and Carlton. Caroline Hodgson survived initial attempts to tighten restrictions on brothels in the s, no doubt assisted by her legal allies.
In a new Police Offences Act made police powers clearer. Then in an amendment to the act imposed more severe penalties on procuring young women for prostitution. This was a more effective deterrent. These were serious penalties, although not as serious as they might have been. In October Caroline Hodgson narrowly survived an attempt to prosecute her for employing fifteen-year-old Sarah Rogers in one of her houses. It transpired that Sarah had been working as a pupil teacher at the nearby Model School, but had been dismissed. She had then gone to the brothel, claiming to be nineteen.
The girl was not abashed by the proceeding, nor did she make any secret of the life she was leading. Her behaviour at the watchhouse was marked by an apparent disregard of her position. Madame Brussels was a particular target of Truthalthough it found her disconcertingly charming. The fair-haired, well-behaved, quiet little woman was really charming, and possessed an insinuating, subdued, placid beauty bordering on the Aesthetic.
Above all, she was clean of speech and angelically demure. She had none of the loudness and vulgarity associated with the common, fleshly, boozing, Woman looking sex Brussels woman who follows illicit pleasure as a profession. In short, Madame Brussells [sic] was a perfect little lady.
Truth, 31 October Perhaps this was the secret of her success. But her business days were ed. Seven of her Woman looking sex Brussels were charged with vagrancy, although the charges were later dismissed. Horsham Times, 9 Marchp. In the resulting scandal he was forced to re. As a member of parliament he had played a leading role in developing legislation to outlaw gambling and had chaired public meetings on the suppression of vice.
The inference of hypocrisy was clear. Herald, 4 Decemberp. The final blow came in the following year. In a new Police Offences Act made it illegal to manage a brothel, rent a property for use as a brothel, or live off the earnings of prostitution. The police acted immediately. As the Age reported:. Age, 17 Mayp. Caroline was back in court in May, before the long-suffering Mr Panton. She was represented by Mr Dethridge, who advised the court that all of the inmates had left her Lonsdale house in the intervening weeks and that business had ceased.
The career of Madame Brussels was over and Caroline officially retired. By this time she was already seriously ill. She died in the following year of diabetes and chronic pancreatitis, leaving an adopted daughter and loyal servants well provided for. Caroline Hodgson was buried beside her first husband in the St Kilda Cemetery. For all her professional notoriety, Caroline Hodgson kept her private life discrete.
Although she and her husband appear to have spent very little time together, she maintained a friendly relationship with him and cared for him in his final illness. The marriage was not a success and the couple divorced inafter a long separation. Plumpton died in Caroline maintained her adopted daughter in her St Kilda home, away from the brothels, and very little is known about their relationship.
There is now a small lane named after her in the former Little Lon area and a bar that bears her name. The mace is the symbol of the office of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. In it disappeared mysteriously and was never recovered. Although Madame Brussels was not linked with this controversy at the time, mythology has since evolved associating her with it. Like many urban myths, this story is remarkably resilient. Many were demolished before the First World War to create building sites for factories. These in turn were demolished to allow the construction of the Commonwealth building in the s.
In the late s major archaeological excavation of areas of Little Lon took place, with further work in State Library of Victoria image. Little Lon as a sex work precinct Brothels were located in Little Lon from the early s and by the s they were very numerous. Listed 11 years after his death. Strengthened police powers Caroline Hodgson survived initial attempts to tighten restrictions on brothels in the s, no doubt assisted by her legal allies. Truth, 31 October Perhaps this was the secret of her success.
Retirement The career of Madame Brussels was over and Caroline officially retired. Private life For all her professional notoriety, Caroline Woman looking sex Brussels kept her private life discrete. The disappearance of the parliamentary mace The mace is the symbol of the office of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.Woman looking sex Brussels
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