Christchurch’s Soiled Doves

On the 22nd November 1867, a city meeting took place at Christchurch’s Town Hall concerning the ‘…too bold and brazen…’ and ‘…professionally quite openly…’ attitude of Christchurch’s fallen sisters of the night. No women were in attendance.

Even before the arrival of the First Four Ships, prostitutes were known to frequent Lyttelton. With the jump from the lonely whaling stations dotted around the coast of Banks Peninsula of the 1830’s, to the increased foot traffic caused by the Canterbury Association’s surveyors and road gangs in the 1850’s as well as two pubs already on the go, the new port offered plenty of opportunities for a gal to make a little money.

As more ships sailed into Canterbury, many young tradesmen stepped ashore – more men than women. By 1858, women only made up 36% of the adult population of Christchurch. Pressure was put on our immigration agents in England to source more single women – those keen for domestic work and a married life with a family of their own.

It was those immigration agents who came under fire during the aforementioned city meeting. They had obviously been too easy with the selection process and failed to research into the backgrounds of some of these women keen for a new start. As Canterbury Superintendent, William Rolleston, was in attendance, he took the concerns of his fellow Cantabs to Parliament in Wellington. Through that meeting in Christchurch, two Bills were passed in August 1869.
The Contagious Disease Bill and The Vagrant Amendment Bill. This meant more police surveillance, state regulation and medical inspection.
Those soiled doves were no longer allowed to loiter on the streets, hang around in public thoroughfares or use public buildings such as hotels to look for business. These ladies could now be arrested on sight.

Between 1864 and 1867 there had been a jump from 10 working girls to 39 with 23 brothels opening – although a few of these women were homeless. Some had husbands who they still lived with, helping to bring in an income while their men were out of work. Most faced jail time when fines issued from the courts couldn’t be paid – this was usually in the lock up in Market Place, now known as Victoria Square.

Eliza Lambert was well known to the police. Infamous for her bad language and offensive behaviour – her start in life wasn’t a good one. James Edward Fitzgerald – who was our immigration agent back in England after his term of Canterbury Superintendent ended – found her in an English work house and selected her to be brought to Christchurch for a better chance at a better life. On the sea journey over, she stole from those aboard and drank with and ‘did tricks’ for the crew.
One of her appearances in court later in life was for stabbing one of her Johns. Apparently during a drunken encounter, she had banished a small knife and he had dared her to use it – so she did. She was sentenced to one year hard labour as she had only wounded him. She left the court with her nose in the air ‘slamming the door [closed] in a very violent and passionate manner…’ in true Eliza style.

Emma Craigie was a tattooed, cheeky, violent mother of two. Happy to expose herself on the street and swing punches in brawls, she had no loyalty to those in the same situation. When caught with a bottle of brandy in hand late one night, she happy ratted out the bartender who had sold it to her after hours – which was against the law.
Wanting a new start, she married and moved to Wellington but was back on Christchurch’s streets when she was kicked out of the North Island. Once described as a stout woman, she had become dangerously thin and her mind had begun to slip. She spent the last two years of her life in Sunnyside Asylum and died there at the age of 43.

I couldn’t finish this article without the mention of Martin Cash – the brothel owning policeman!

Martin Cash was born in 1808 to a very wealthy family in Ireland. There is very little about his childhood but as a young man, he worked as a farm labourer. He was very well liked by those around him, his manners and personality showed he had a good upbringing. So, when he was arrested for breaking and entering in 1827, many questions arose I’m sure. He was deported to Australia for 7 years of hard labour. What followed was a career of wife stealing, robbery and murder. Even after all this, he became a policeman!

In 1860 Martin moved to Christchurch and took up law enforcement again. His work mates soon became suspicious of him as there were reports of him being late to work or not showing up at all. It was soon uncovered that from the shadows, he had been running one of the most well known brothels in Christchurch. It was known as ‘The Red House’ and was situated on Salisbury Street.

He was understandably sacked and was fined £5. He hadn’t learned anything from this experience as, after 2 years back in Tasmania, he was back on the streets of Christchurch and back in the brothel business. His girls were well known for taking their ‘Johns’ to the darkness of Barbadoes Street Cemetery to turn their tricks. His newest ‘house of ill-fame’ was known as the ‘White House’ and was situated on Peterborough Street.

Like most of the able bodied men of that time, he was caught up in Gold Fever and he moved down to Otago to try his luck. It seemed he did quite well for himself and he left the New Zealand shores for good with his ill-gotten gains.

Martin settled down in Hobart and returned to farming. With him were his wife Mary, and their daughter, Monique. He stayed there until his dying day in 1877. He never left his past too much behind him as he would talk about his days in prison and the brothels and even wrote a book about his adventures!

*Image of courtesy of University of California Press –*


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