A Hard Case from Down Under…

ImageA fellow Tweep read my blog on Victorian mugshots and said he had come across something similar on female criminals in Australia. I checked it out and, sure enough, there is a geat trove of stories. My search led me to a wonderful site called From The Loft (hht.net.au) which details some fascinating stories about the colourful characters Down Under. Below is an article from the site, written by Nerida Campbell. It gives the background on one hard case by the name of Matilda Devine aka Tilly Devine (pictured above). I found another gem from the hht.net.au archives, which I will post shortly. In the meantime, marvel at Matilda’s mean streak…

Tilly Devine stares out from this image taken upon her entry to gaol. She was an incredibly successful villain who, along with her nemesis Kate Leigh, ruled the inner city vice trade for almost 20 years. Tilly began her criminal career as a teenage prostitute on the streets of London. She toughened up quickly in order to survive on the brutal streets of the metropolis. During the First World War she met an Australian soldier, James ‘Big Jim’ Devine, and they married. She arrived in Sydney on a war bride ship in 1920 and began working as a prostitute immediately.

Tilly had an entrepreneurial streak and worked her way up to owning a string of brothels in East Sydney. She defended her turf with razor, knife and colourful language and was know for her short temper and fast hands. She was a complex character who was happy to sit in the gutter and drink from a bottle with her ‘girls’ but upon returning to her marital home in Maroubra insisted on sipping from the finest crystal. Her home life was marred by incidents of domestic violence and she eventually divorced ‘Big Jim’ and married a sailor, Eric Parsons.

She often appeared before the courts and her criminal record reveals convictions for consorting, malicious wounding, indecent language, vagrancy, assault and soliciting. She vigorously defended all charges and was suspected of intimidating witnesses who chose to give evidence against her.

The photograph was taken after her arrest for slashing a man with a razor as he sat in a barber’s shop on Crown Street, Surry Hills. The events leading up to the attack are disputed but what isn’t is that Tilly used a razor to punish a man she felt hadn’t shown her enough respect. It is interesting that although she had a tall, well built and violent husband who was her ‘protector’ she chose to deal with the victim herself.


About historywithatwist

I am a journalist, author and book editor. I have published five novels - four (Tan, The Golden Grave, A Time of Traitors and Patriots' Blood) set during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, and the fifth (High Crimes), a modern thriller. I'm a history enthusiast who loves a good yarn.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A Hard Case from Down Under…

  1. So you’re blogging about criminals now? Aren’t there enough in the office to be going on with??

  2. dubmantalks says:

    The mind boggles. Did she attack him down under? What a piece of work? Fascinating post D.

  3. Glynis Smy says:

    Fascinating. Thanks for sharing. I have tucked it away for future reference/research.

  4. Stonybatter Bohemian says:

    This story was turned into a TV drama series on Australian TV. It’s called Underbelly: Razor. Whilst being slightly commercial it is worth a look all the same.

  5. graham64 says:

    Here is a great link to the “Razor Wars” in Sydney between Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s