On the 22th 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 and with 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.
Between 1864 and 1867 there had been a jump from 10 working girls to 39 and 23 brothels had opened – although a few of these women were homeless. Some had husbands whom 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 for drunkenness and public disturbances couldn’t be paid – this was usually in the lock up in Market Place, now known as Victoria Square.
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 regulations and medical inspections.
These 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.
For a more in depth look at Christchurch’s early prostitutes and some of their stories, please check out the following link: http://www.peelingbackhistory.co.nz/christchurchs-soiled-doves/
*Image of courtesy of University of California Press –http://publishing.cdlib.org*