Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Tilly Devine - Crime Queen of Sydney

You do not get very many British citizens who go to another country and establish a fearsome reputation on the wrong side of the law.  Tilly Devine was one such person, and like Stephanie St. Clair, she took on the men at their own game and won.  She was also avoided by many men because she had a very dangerous temper, plus she could hold her own in a fight.  She gave as good as she got.  Particularly to men.  Yet, who would of thought that this girl from Camberwell who rise to the top of the Sydney Underworld in the 20`s, 30`s & 40`s?  Whilst making vast amounts of money through prostitution, drugs, booze and extortion, she did have a long running war with another powerful brother madame, Kate Leigh.  (Was this the basis for the film "Kitty & The Bagman?)

    Matilda Mary Twiss was born in Hollington Street Camberwell, London on September 8th 1900, and by 1915, she was active as a prostitute, working alongside both English and Australian girls.  It was in 1916 that she met an Australian serviceman named Jim Devine - born in Brunswick Victoria 1892, died in Melbourne 1966 - then married the following year, on April 12th 1917 at Sacred Heart Church in Camberwell.  Tilly carried on prostituting for the next couple of years, giving birth to a son in 1919, in between numerous arrests and time spent in cells.  The charges were usually prostitution, assault & theft, and in her career, she racked up an impressive 200 plus convictions!  Her husband decided to go back to Australia, so she upped and followed him, leaving their son with her parents.  She arrived in Sydney in January 1920, joined up with her husband, and slowly built up a formidable legacy of crime.  A law was passed in New South Wales in 1905 that forbade men running brothels, but women got by, using other criminals for protection and of course by paying off the Police.

    Tilly was supplying girls for various men of stature.  The best went to politicians and businessmen.  Girls doing it for money to pay for clothes, drugs or to live, went to men higher than working class men.  The older women were for servicemen and the ordinary man in the street.  Jim Devine became a violent standover man, was a pimp, thug and wife beater.  He was arrested for trying to kill her after a violent argument, but she refused to give evidence.  He was involved in three other murder trials but was acquitted in each one.    But by the 1940`s, she had had enough of Devine and divorced him in 1944.  A year later she married serviceman Eric Parsons, but was charged with shooting him in the leg.  She was acquitted and they stayed together until his death in 1958.  What brought Tilly down was the taxman.  In the 50`s she was hit with bills that drained much of her money, but she continued living it up like a queen until her death on November 24th 1970, at Concord Repatriation Hospital, and was buried without any fanfare in what is now called Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park.  Her great rival, Kate Leigh, died in 1951.  She too, fell victim to bad book keeping with the taxman.