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…a life that was less than divine
Tilly Devine, born Matilda Mary Twiss on the 8th of September 1900 at 57 Hollington Street, Camberwell England. Tilly was born into poverty and her future looked bleak. At twelve she left school to work in a sweatshop but soon came to the conclusion that working twelve hours a day six days a week and earning little was foolish so she became a
prostitute. In 1916 Tilly fell in love with 24 year old James Edward Joseph Devine ‘Big Jim’ who was an Australian soldier and small time criminal, she married him a year later at the church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They soon had two children: a daughter who died at birth and a son named Frederick James; the birth dates of her children are not recorded.Big Jim returned to Sydney in 1919 and she followed him the next year
bride ship ‘
leaving behind her son whom she never saw again.
Settling in Sydney the Devine’s soon became immersed in the criminal underworld, involved in drugs, “sly grog” and violent attacks on other gangs. By 1925 she had over 70 convictions for offensive behaviour, language and prostitution. Later that year she was jailed for a razor attack on a man. At the height of her career she had more than 30 brothels, a fleet of cars and properties around Sydney. Tilly divorced Big Jim in August 1943 after 25 years of marriage and years of abuse on the grounds of cruelty. Tilly married again on the 19th of May 1945 to ex-seaman
and returned serviceman named Eric John Parsons, they were married happily for 13 years until Eric Parsons’s death in 1958. Throughout her life she received c
olourful reports by the media gave her nicknames like ‘
Queen of the Night', 'Worst Woman in Sydney' and ‘Queen of the Loo”.
After suffering from chronic bronchitis for twenty years she died in the Concord Repatriation General Hospital, Sydney on the 24th of November 1970. She was cremated with Catholic rites and few people attended her funeral.
Tilly is famous for being a vicious, fiery madam and prominet crime figure that was part of the underworld. She was involved in the sex work market, sly-grog, drugs and razor gangs. Frequent arrests and a flamboyant personality earnt her nicknames from the media like "Worst Woman in Sydney" and "Queen of the Night". Three years after her death in 1970 a play by Peter Kenna called 'The Slaughter of St Teresa's Day' was written inspired by her. She has been mentioned in books and has had a T.V series called "Underbelly Razor" written about her life and the criminals around her, airing on channel nine in August of this year. She has even been called "one of Australia's most famous female criminals".
Tilly Devine moved to Australia from England with her first husband in 1919 and it is only recorded that she visted England once in 1953 to see the Coronation procession.
1900- 8th September Tilly was born in Camberwell England
1913- Approximate date Tilly becomes a prostitute after dropping out of school a year earlier
1916- She falls in love with James Devine
1917- 12th August she marries James Devine
1919- Approximate date of when she gives birth to Frederick Devine
1920- She moves to Australia
1925- She is sentenced to two years in prison for the razor attack on a man
1943- Tilly divorces Big Jim
1945- 19th May she marries ex seaman Eric Parsons
1958- Eric dies from cancer
1970- Tilly dies from chronic bronchitis and is cremated
This is the last page out of four pages of a Police report that outlines Tilly's convictions and ot makes a point of discussing the fact that she is a "married woman living with her husband"
“Give a dog a bad name and it sticks. I wasn’t as bad as I was painted. There are lots in Sydney who will miss me-even coppers” -Tilly Devine in a letter she once sent to the Truth newspaper
This source demonstrates that Tilly thought the media and public portrayed her in an un realistic way. She is even saying that she will be missed by many even coppers.
Theses police photos were taken in 1925 before she was sentenced to two years in prison for attacking a man with a razor. They depict her in a non flattering way.
This photo shows Tilly’s Maroubra home at 335 Tilly Devine and her first husband 'Big Jim' Devine
Malabar Road, it became famous for many gangster
parties and shoot outs. It was protected by bodyguards
and Tilly’s Pomeranian dogs in her hey-day.
illy Devine in 1925 (Police Photographs),
she was then jailed for two years for a razor
attack on a man
Tilly and her second husband Eric Parsons celebrating her 50th birthday with friends in 1950
(Above) A modern interpretation of Tilly by Australian artist Bill Leak
Tilly unconvinced by Kate Leigh's show of
affection in a rare meeting in 1948 after
years of being rival mob bosses
Oh no the coppers are after you again Tilly for prostitution! Kings Cross is such a labyrinth if you run they won't catch you. Set the timer and see if you can find you way out.
Unscramble the words below:
The Devine word search
P P Q R Z C G R V Z U R O N L
R J A Z E R A I E N K O B E T
O D K R O D C M D T L Y H K H
S N S G S I R E B O S T Y H I
T A W Y O O R U O E O G L F E
I L W U A W N M M R R J N J F
T G S W O T O S B F A W U A T
U N F R M O R A Z O R D E D G
T E L A L U W A I M A N A L G
E D D L H G I E L E T A K S L
C A O E N I V E D T N I T G G
M O H Q F B O S O L W I V U E
W C B A X J F C I G H I U R L
R E B I Z G U M V K R V S D W
X I Q D A R L I N G H U R S T
Play the Devine quiz game and see if you can get the highest score!
Guide your miner to victory with your wizard knowledge of Tilly devine
Razor by Larry Writer inspired the T.V series “Underbelly Razor” and it is a great book that gives context to the life Tilly lead and the other criminals that surrounded her.
By Peta Van Agten
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