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The drunkards, prostitutes and ‘wolf-like larrikins’ of 1880s Albert St

The historian, now based at Brisbane’s Queensland Police Museum, has extensively researched the criminals of Brisbane’s early days.

“I wouldn’t call the area thriving,” Dr Dukova said.

The Nine Holes section of Brisbane's Albert Street, with Mary Street in the mid-background.

The Nine Holes section of Brisbane’s Albert Street, with Mary Street in the mid-background.Credit:State Library of Queensland

“Although this ‘den of iniquity’ was only two blocks south-east of Queen Street, it was a world away in terms of class.

“It was one of the poorest and dilapidated areas of Brisbane.

The floods of the 1880s led to unsanitary conditions and spreading disease. After more flooding in the mid-1890s the region was disinfected, Dr Dukova said.

“The police on this beat were very busy due to frequency of drunk and disorderly offences, prostitution, gambling and assaults,” she said.

Chinese leather works and an opium pipe pick (top left) found under Lower Albert Street during Cross River rail excavation team.

Chinese leather works and an opium pipe pick (top left) found under Lower Albert Street during Cross River rail excavation team.

“And yes, the area was the first Chinese ‘quarter’.

“There were also Chinese vegetable markets in Roma Street.”

The historian’s research showed the area hosted an array of public houses, shops, and hotels, along with the crime some of those businesses tended to foster.

“In 1880, three out of the five assault and robbery cases reported in the Brisbane Courier, were committed outside local hotels: the Gympie Hotel (57 Albert Street) and the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel on the same street,” she said.

Prostitution was not a crime but “to be known or suspected as a common prostitute” was enough to prompt a medical examanation under the Contagious Diseases Act and possible compulsory treatment at the Lock hospitals.

Author Rod Fisher described the region as Brisbane’s red light district in article titled “Old Frogs Hollow: Devoid of interest, or den of iniquity?”

“[It was] a rare clustering of drunkards, prostitutes, larrikins, thieves and assailants who, one way or another, lived off the visitors, mariners and new arrivals at the many boarding-houses, lodgings and hotels,” he wrote.

Dr Dukova said the suburb in Lower Albert Street stretched from Elizabeth Street to Alice Street and from George Street to Edward Street.

Looking down Albert Street towards the Oriental Hotel on Mary Street during the 1893 floods.

Looking down Albert Street towards the Oriental Hotel on Mary Street during the 1893 floods.Credit:State Library of Queensland

“The hollow was a low-lying area with a stream running through it, which frequently flooded with water flowing into the basements, backyards and premises of the workshops and stores,” Dr Dukova wrote in her book To Preserve and Protect: Policing Colonial Brisbane.

“Originally, in the centre of the area was ‘a swampy depression’, with a tidal swamp and several creeks, including an outlet around Margaret Street.

“This was named Frog’s Hollow due to ‘the vocal efforts of the batrachians, [an order of tailless amphibians comprising frogs and toads] which made the night hideous in its neighbourhood’.

“The streets were inundated by any high spring tide let alone a real flood.

“Old Frog’s Hollow was the disreputable area of town.

Dr Anastasia Dukova, an urban crime historian from Ireland now working at Griffith University.

Dr Anastasia Dukova, an urban crime historian from Ireland now working at Griffith University.

“As local publication The Boomerang described it, ‘Walk down Albert-street on any night in the week, if you care to venture through its suffocatingly significant aroma of opium and insanitation, and among its prowling gangs of wolf-like larrikins and its filthy swarm of cursing slatters.”

In her book, Dr Dukova said the Nine Holes section of Albert Street was a mass of narrow shops running between Charlotte and Mary streets.

“On the north side of (Albert) street there was a row of nine shop-houses under one roof between Charlotte and Mary streets, which were referred to as ‘holes’,” she wrote.

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“Each of the ‘holes’ had a narrow room at the front, which was used as a shop, with apartments behind that included a cellar.

“Most of these dwellings were occupied by Chinese immigrants and their families. These nine ‘holes’ were run-down and unsanitary, and, given the ‘sickening odour’ that arose from the holes, they were ‘looked upon for many years as a disgrace to Brisbane’.

“Further along from the ‘holes’, a drapery store on the corner of Elizabeth and Albert streets was used as a front for a gambling ‘den’, which was a popular place for card games such as fan tan troy.”

Dr Dukova agreed efforts should be made to display some of the artefacts at the new underground Albert Street station, a suggestion put to the Cross River Rail Authority by Brisbane Times last week.

“I think it is vital to show what Brisbane was like in the 19th century,” Dr Dukova said.

“I would argue though that it needs to be adequately historically contextualised.”

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