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A Gallery of New South Wales Women

This Gallery showcases the different lives of a variety of women living in New South Wales from beginnings of the colony in 1789 up to the mid twentieth-century. Some of the women in this gallery will be familiar to many of you, some led infamous lives and others are completely unknown.

A series of record items has been brought together to reflect some of the well-known aspects of each of their lives and also, to hopefully show other aspects of the private individual. The individual voice is rarely heard, let alone testimony to explain their actions.

Browse through each gallery and read the story that unfolds through the records.

Tilly Devine | Annie Turnbull | Jane Ann Benson | Eugenia Falleni | Louisa Lawson | Mary Reibey

NEW! Tilly Devine and the Razor Gang Wars, 1927-31
NRS 2496 [3/6007 photo 659]
Tilly Devine, known as the ‘Queen of Woolloomooloo’ ran a string of successful brothels centred around Darlinghurst and the Cross, in Sydney. For many years she had a running battle for supremacy of the criminal underworld with Kate Leigh, known as the ‘Queen of Surry Hills’, who was a sly groger and fence for stolen property. 
This fight for supremacy led to a running battle in the streets of Sydney that left many people dead, disfigured or doing gaol time.
More »

Annie Turnbull portrait (small)Annie Turnbull - convicted abortionist
Very few details about the life or personality of Annie Turnbull have survived in the State archives.
She must have reached a certain notoriety in Newcastle and Sydney and have been well known to the Police.
She stood trial several times for abortion related crimes and seems to have been under investigation by Police almost constantly. More »

Benson (small)Jane Ann Benson - a love story turns sour
These records document Jane's relationship with Thomas Breckenridge, their engagement and subsequent falling out. Jane appears like any other eighteen year old in love - a little bit naive about how the world works and infatuated with an older man.
Many of these gallery images are from the exhibits used in the trial. In most cases the Exhibit numbering on the front of the exhibit has been used to idenitify each record as this correlates to a typed exhibit list at the start of the trial papers. More »

Gaol photo of Eugenia Falleni, 1928Eugenia Falleni - convicted murderer
Her arrest for murder and the subsequent trial a few months later caused a sensation in Sydney in 1920. Falleni, also know as Harry Crawford, dressed as a man and had married two women. The first of his wives, Annie Birkett, may have been killed after she discovered the fraud.
Not much is known about Falleni's early life. She came to Australia from Italy, via New Zealand by 1898. She soon had a daughter Josephine, who may have been the girl born to an unmarried Lena Falleni in Woollahra in 1898. Falleni does not appear to have looked after the child. Instead she bacame Harry Leo Crawford (sometimes known as Jack Crawford) and worked in a series of low skilled jobs, such as a hotel useful, around Sydney. More »

Portrait of Louisa Lawson, ca. 1880Louisa Lawson - suffragist and business woman
The name Louisa Lawson may be familiar to many of us as the mother of poet Henry Lawson. Louisa is also remembered as a writer, poet, newspaper proprietor and suffragist in her own right.
By 1888, Louisa had started The Dawn, a fortnightly journal for women, that combined household hints, stories and fashion with political comment. The Dawn was an immediate success and continued to be printed until 1905.
From 1891 Louisa was also a member of the Womanhood Suffrage League of NSW and actively campaigned for the enfranchisement of women. This campaign was successful and from 1902 women could vote in NSW. More »

Mary Reibey portrait (small)Mary Reibey - convict and business woman
One of the more famous early convict women in the colony of New South Wales; a convicted horsethief, Mary went on to run an extensive importing and mercantile business.
There are numerous references to her business dealings, liquor licences and land grants and purchases throughout the State archives. Although Mary was a very successful business woman she took time out for more philanthropic pursuits. For example, in 1825 she became one of the governors of the Free Grammar School. More »

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