They are an interesting collection of women who were all photographed in the custody of New South Wales police between 1916 and 1929. They range from notorious brothel madams, to bigamists, murderers, drug dealers, prostitutes and simply the unfortunate, like Kate Ellick who was sentenced to prison because her family were dead and she was forced into being homeless.
Particularly interesting are the photos of Alice Cooke (who the police describe as ‘rather good looking’) and that of Eugenia Falleni who spent most of her life masquerading as a man called Harry Crawford, even going as far as marrying a local widow who she then murdered.
Above: Prostitute Ettie Sultana worked in northern New South Wales and in the Queensland cities of Brisbane and Toowoomba for most of her career. She had multiple convictions for prostitution, theft, drunkenness, swearing and vagrancy. She was sentenced to six months with hard labour. DOB: 31
Emily Hemsworth killed her three-week-old son but could not remember any details of the murder. She was found not guilty due to insanity. Hemsworth was to be detained in custody until judged fit to return to society – it is unknown if she was ever released. Aged 24.
Crime: malicious injury to property and wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm. When a police officer arrived to arrest Esther Eggers for malicious damage she attacked him, causing serious injury. Eggers was sentenced to 12 months prison. Aged 22.
Doris Poole appeared before the Newtown Police Court charged with stealing jewellery and clothing. She had previously been convicted on a similar charge in North Sydney and so received a six-month sentence with light labour.
Charged with stealing a fur coat. Teenager Annie Gunderson was charged with stealing a fur coat from a Sydney department store called Winn’s Limited, in 1922. Police records do not indicate whether the fur she is wearing is the stolen item. Aged 19.
Clara Randall worked as a travelling saleswoman for a jewellery company. She reported to police that her Bondi flat had been broken into and a quantity of jewellery stolen. It was later discovered she had pawned the jewellery for cash. A career criminal, Randall was sentenced to 18 months with light labour.
Convicted of bigamy and theft. By the age of 24 Alice Cooke had amassed an impressive number of aliases and at least two husbands. Described by police as ‘rather good looking’, Cooke was a habitual thief and a convicted bigamist. Aged 24.
Convicted of selling liquor without a licence. Alice Clarke was an entrepreneur who took advantage of restrictive liquor regulations, which forced pubs to close at 6pm. As a “sly grogger” she sold high-priced alcohol from a private residence. Clarke’s arrest came only weeks after the legislation was introduced. Aged 42.
Amy Lee was described in court as a ‘good looking girl until she fell victim to the foul practice’ of snorting cocaine. Her dry, blotchy skin is testament to the evils of addiction. Aged 41.
Convicted of using an instrument to procure a miscarriage. Janet Wright was a former nurse who performed illegal abortions from her house in Kippax Street, Surry Hills. One of her teenage patients almost died after a procedure and Wright was prosecuted and sentenced to 12 months hard labour. Aged 68.
Crime: murder. Eugenia Falleni spent most of her life dressing as a man and most people who met her believed her to be a male called Harry Crawford. In 1913 Falleni married a widow, Annie Birkett, whom she later murdered. The case whipped the public into a frenzy as they clamoured for details of the ‘man-woman’ murderer. Aged approximately 35.
May Smith, alias ‘Botany May’, was an infamous drug dealer. She once chased policewoman Lillian Armfield with a red-hot iron to avoid arrest. Smith was sentenced to 10 months with hard labour.
When this photograph was taken, Alice Fisher, 41, was serving two consecutive sentences of four months for larceny.
Convicted of stealing. Muriel Goldsmith looks like a country schoolteacher but was actually a prolific thief with a string of aliases. She was found guilty of stealing money and jewellery from the Criterion Hotel in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. Aged 25.
Mary Harris, criminal record number 589LB, 15 August 1923. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW
Convicted of unlawfully using an instrument to procure a miscarriage. Mary Brownlee was a backyard abortionist who was caught during an extensive police investigation. She was sentenced to 12 months light labour, but her male accomplice was acquitted. Aged 64.
Margaret Teale moved to the small Riverina town of Beckom where she married John Selby. Unfortunately, her first husband, Ernest Teale of Windsor, was still alive. She was charged with bigamy and sentenced to six months gaol. Aged 25.
Leslie Rees was convicted of bigamy at the Moree Quarter Sessions and was sentenced to four months light labour.
Convicted of conspiracy to procure an abortion. Lillian Boland worked as a secretary for an illegal abortionist who operated out of a dentist’s surgery on Oxford Street, Paddington. Boland protested her innocence and ignorance of the ‘doctor’s’ work; however, the court decided she must have had detailed knowledge of the business and handed her a suspended sentence of 12 months hard labour.
Kate Ellick had no family to support her and no fixed address. In the early 20th century employment options were limited for women of her age and there was no aged pension. Ellick was homeless when arrested in Newcastle and was sentenced under the Vagrancy Act to three months in prison.
Matilda ‘Tilly’ Devine used a razor to slash a man’s face in a barber’s shop and was sentenced to two years gaol. She was Sydney’s best-known brothel madam and her public quarrels with sly-grog queen Kate Leigh provided the media with an abundance of material. Aged 25