Melbourne Brothels, madames and prostitutes in the glittering age of Marvellous Melbourne
In the late 19th century the area bounded by Little Lonsdale, Spring, Lonsdale and Exhibition Streets in Melbourne was the home of countless brothels, opium dens and rowdy pubs. It was known as Little Lon and here prostitutes lived and worked side by side with tradespeople and merchants in a part of Melbourne’s slums separated from the affluence that was the age called “Marvellous Melbourne” around them. This area, and its residents, fascinated Victorians. It housed the poor in an era where no social security net existed. These Melbourne Brothels were the red-light district but also contained families, factories, workshops and immigrants.
Its proximity to parliament, churches and the theatre life of Marvellous Melbourne at a time of fabulous affluence made it infamous. It was visited by tourists, written into novels, evangelised by missionaries and was the source of endless scandal and innuendo by newspapers such as the Truth. Little Lon more than rivalled the waterfront bawdiness of Williamstown, a place rife with its own seafarer’s brothels, opium dens and prostitutes. Marvellous Melbourne was an apt name as at this time it was one of the richest cities in the world modelled in a very French chic style. As such, it was the target of educators and moral crusaders of the Victorian Age keen to rid the city of Melbourne Brothels at its seedier heart.
Madame Brussels was, and remains, Melbourne Brothels’ best-known madame. The vitriol directed at her, particularly by male members of the church, media and parliament during her career, reveals much about social attitudes to women at the time of Federation, which was a strange mixture of inferiority and superiority. Women were widely accepted as inferior intellectually and physically and in need of protection. On the other hand, they were considered morally superior to men who were subject to the pleasures of the flesh. Men had strong sex drives. Women did not – unless they were ‘fallen’ or occasionally romantically aroused, unintentionally, by their husbands. Madame Brussels was clearly not of superior morals, employed female sex workers and had the cheek to run a successful business empire. One, by all accounts, that was well frequented by men of the wealthier classes. It was even said that tunnels ran from the Parliament into Little Lon and many a notable MP’s reputation was sullied in the arms of Madame Brussels’ prostitutes in her up-market Melbourne Brothels.
In 1891, the parliamentary mace famously went missing, causing a scandal as it was said to have been used by members for rude, quite un-parliamentary things in her most famous and refined Melbourne brothel at 32 Lonsdale Street. Despite the reward it was never found and rumour has it that it was the sex toy of choice for many of her distinguished guests.
As the high-profile representative of a despised industry, Madame Brussels attracted extreme bile. Nearly a dozen Melbourne brothels in Little Lon were controlled by her at some stage, and most were high-class establishments, but others like the one at 4 Casselden Place were of a more dubious calibre. In 1878, a local policeman, Sergeant Dalton, was cited in the Report on the Bill for the Prevention of Contagious Diseases that “she has two splendid houses in Lonsdale Street that cost her 1,300 pounds and those two houses are her own property, plus two cottages and another nearby house let out for prostitution”. He was quoted as saying that her weekly earnings were “something enormous: 3 or 4 pounds”. He also said that no other Melbourne Brothels were as extensive as Madame Brussels’.
Her infamy reached its peak in 1889, when conservative moral crusaders claimed that she had been parading along fashionable Collins Street in charge of a beautiful 20-year-old girl with a white feather in her hat, indicating that her maiden’s virtue was to be had for a price “in her gilded den”.
By all accounts, Madame Brussels herself cut a fine, if dowdy, figure. Her real name was Caroline Hodgson and it is said she was always well-dressed, drove in a smart carriage, and educated her daughter at a respectable private school while they resided at 39 Beaconsfield Parade, St Kilda, Melbourne’s riviera at the time.
Marvellous Melbourne was never as straitlaced as its reputation would have us believe and in its glory days this jewel in the Empire’s crown flourished as a sinkhole of prostitution, gambling and debauchery around Little Lon. It even had the highest per capita consumption of champagne in the world for fifty years – apparently the beery 6 o’clock swill of the sixties couldn’t hold a candle to Melbourne society of the 19th century.
Madame Brussels found herself used a political football in 1906. The Government was campaigning to control gambling and they came under attack from vested interests. In 1906 the Chief Secretary Sir Samuel Gillott was forced to resign after being accused of financially supporting the “wickedest woman in Melbourne”. In 1908, the new Police Offences Act forced Madame Brussels to close after 32 years in business but came too late to cause the gambling laws to be curtailed, and the pandora’s box of Melbourne Brothel operations had long been open.
Madame Brussels died in 1908, more famous than any of the politicians of her era and subsequently enjoys near cult status around Melbourne Brothels having made a fortune running “flash houses”—luxury bordellos—for the colony’s wealthy.
Today, this raunchy vision of the past seems a little fantastic, but there are relics and museums around the old red-light area, including artefacts unearthed when modern buildings’ foundations were dug—personal items of women who worked as prostitutes there in the 1880s, from bone-handled combs to cheap necklaces, from oyster shells to champagne bottles. A nearby lane has even been renamed after Madame Brussels. The woman once denounced from the pulpit as the “Queen of Harlots” is more celebrated now than any mutton-chopped governor or pastor ever was.
We’ve yet to see another iconic personality emerge in the Melbourne Brothel business to rival Madame Brussels. We can only hope, for the sake of preserving this part of Marvellous Melbourne, that one day…
What People Say
Over some time now I have been fortunate to have visited many establishments claiming to be “Melbourne’s Best Brothel”, or words suggesting similar statements. I am now of the opinion that this claim should only apply to one such establishment. The Cherry Tree Garden, in industrial western suburbs Williamstown, of all places, is the one. The most discreet staff, the most beautiful, caring and certainly sensual ladies, in exquisite surroundings. If you have not had the pleasure, and, I mean pleasure, of visiting this establishment, then, put it on your bucket list. You will return again and again. Why?
It is simply the best. Unsolicited and with permission,
Happy New Year to Lily, girls and managers at the Cherry Tree. Unbelievable place! I’ve watched the place grow since you opened a year or so ago and always had a great time. Keep doing whatever you’re doing. (with permission, 1 Jan 19)
This place is getting great reviews and I would like to add mine. As others have said it is very stylishly decorated with the nice themed rooms and someone has put in a lot of attention to detail in the furnishings, decor etc – well done to whoever that is. Nice private parking at the rear, very friendly reception staff and the girls are all very beautiful. They have only ever had a couple available during my visits but they have always been so WOW that it has not been a problem – all equally beautiful, very friendly, polite and immaculately groomed. The girls provide a terrific service, no STARFISH in/out and on your way at this establishment. During my most recent visit I had a service from M****e who I can highly recommend. It was especially nice in that she included an incredibly good professional massage which was well received as I was quite sore and aching in parts form an overdone bike ride the previous day. Got a great “comfort service” and therapeutic massage all in the one visit. I have always visited during the early daytime and it seems to get a good steady flow of clients. I am overdoing the bike rides again to get an excuse to return ASAP. Nov 20/2018
From the moment you’re greeted at the door. Till you’re being waved goodbye by an exotic beauty, service and pleasure are what you get at The Cherry Tree. Highly recommend it to anyone. (Nov 10/2018)
PS. You have permission to use this on your comments page.
Dear lily. Amazing to come back again – it was nearly a year ago last time I came. Please post this on your website if you wish to let others know this is without doubt the best run brothel in Melbourne. You should be proud of what you’ve achieved and of the happy, beautiful girls you employ. Nov, 2018
I can only agree with all the great reviews for the Cherry Tree. Lily’s running a great shop, girls are wonderful and service outstanding. October, 2018
This place seems to get great reviews was worth a visit. Amazing. I loved the friendly front desk people, the decor and, to make it complete, the girls are great – happy friendly and gorgeous. August 2018
Dear Rob and Tiffany. Been coming here since you opened last year. Love seeing the Cherry Tree doing so well and that you have never compromised on the friendly service and having happy, beautiful girls around. Had a great time tonight. Best, May 26/18
Thanks for the wonderful time with two of the beautiful, happy young women there. Great place and so nice to get a genuine full service for the prices you advertise, without a list of optional “extras” You guys need to advertise more! With permission-April 30/18
Beautiful, happy girls and great service. Thanks lily. P.s. the blog on 50 shades of grey is the funniest thing I’ve read in years! With permission-April 2/18
Lily's legendary ladies today
Lovely French Mia is back, Alisha is back from holidays and joins beautiful favourites Selina, Kiki, and Susanne - all stunning ladies, as usual, in our classic escape.