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“The Female Vagabond of Melbourne”

“People of the Rialto”, a collection of real life forgotten stories, secrets and mysteries collected from years of previous tenants and businesses who lived and worked in the Rialto building.

Be transported back in time from when the Rialto was first built in 1891 and immerse yourself in the stories of those who had once been apart of Melbourne’s famous Rialto building. Discover how the Rialto building played a significant part in Melbourne’s growth and uncover the forgotten stories of those who once resided between these walls.

Miss Catherine Hay Thomson – “The Female Vagabond of Melbourne”

No one could really put a finger on her, even her age was a mystery. Some said she lived until 77, yet other documents stated she passed away at 82. A reserved yet empowering woman, Miss Catherine Hay Thomson’s tale is impressive yet mysterious and earned her the famous title of “The Female Vagabond of Melbourne”.

Her undercover role as an investigative journalist fostered heroism, courage and bravery. Catherine dressed as a man at night to visit countless brothels and taverns to gather corrupt information which she exposed in her newspaper articles. Her undercover roles also extended to her time as an attendant within the Kew Asylum, one of the largest psychiatric hospital asylums ever built in Australia. This daring and mysterious persona gained her the well-known title “The Female Vagabond of Melbourne” in 1886.

Melbourne’s laneways were hidden hollows for crime and debauchery, with secret entrances to brothels, adult book shops and massage parlours.
“Laneways were for rubbish, sewerage collection, some were privately owned — they were almost part of the property. And they were where all the things happened that you wanted out of sight. Over time they attracted undesirables, criminals.” Source: Victorian State Library

During Catherine’s time as an investigative journalist in Melbourne, it was later discovered her private residency was secretly on the 4th floor within the Rialto in 1904.

Also known to be a strong pioneer of feminism, Catherine Hay Thomson started the Austral Salon in 1890, a women’s club to foster literature, music and the arts. Moreover, Catherine founded the National Council of Women of Victoria in 1902, a council which affiliates all women’s society in Victoria.

Despite her passing on July, 24th 1928 Catherine ‘s heroism and bravery created a voice for all women in Melbourne, long before women had a voice in society.

 

Flinders Lane, between 1891 and 1914 - Picture State Library Victoria
Flinders Lane, hidden hollows for crime and debauchery between 1891 and 1914 – Picture State Library Victoria
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