Life as it was lived in “Little Lon”

“Little Lon” is a part of Melbourne whose history as a ‘slum’ and home of Madame Brussells brothel is part of popular culture, but there’s a lot more to the story.

The histories of the places and people of the area have been investigated in a number of different ways, but rarely through newspaper reports of the day. The more sensational events were reported especially after the 1880s, when the ‘poor character’ of the ‘slum dwellers’ was a cause for approbation rather than sympathy.

While many people just struggled along with insecure work, and substandard housing, others made a living by not strictly legal means, and others were simply trapped by disability, alcoholism and poverty. Among all this were legitimate business that profited from such a central location and provided employment to those around them, and included numerous Chinese enterprises after the 1890s. The stories below are ones associated with the actual buildings and laneways that are part of our proposed Casselden Place precinct, much of which will be lost if the 271 Spring Street office tower goes ahead.

Proposed Precinct outlined in red on a map from 1925.

The Mission to the Streets and Lanes

This red brick gothic Mission was built in 1913, incorporating an 1871 Dance Hall into its structure.


Low Dancing Saloons And Their Victims

A magistrate penned a letter to the Age reporting on his failed attempt to assist ‘an old lady’ who was prevented in her attempt to take her daughter out of the establishment by five or six youths. At his mention of calling the police,  he received a ‘torrent of abuse’ from one young man at the door who claimed to be the manager, of whom he said: ‘I never met a more complete or insulting member of the larrikin class’.

The Argus 12 October 1881

Work of Anglican Mission

The work of the Mission is carried on by the Sisters of Community of the Holy Name. The sisters who work in the city live at the Mission house, where they have clubs, meetings of mothers, classes and Sunday Schools. They visit goals, police courts and ‘places where other women cannot go’.

The Argus, 20 August 1927

The Elms Family Hotel

Built in the 1850s as the Old Governor Bourke Hotel, rebuilt 1925



Maurice Keppel, landlord of the Governor Bourke Hotel, was sued by John Falvey for ‘loss of services’ due to the pregnancy of his daughter Mary, a teacher at the Model School [where the College of Surgeons is now, across Spring Street]. The prosecution stated that no ‘improper liberties’ were taken with Mr Keppell until he made her a promise of marriage. The defence subjected Mary to a ‘severe cross examination’ to paint her as a ‘profligate young woman’. The jury was not convinced, and fined Mr Keppell 200 pounds.

The Age, 10 August 1859

Wilful Murder

George Elms took over and renamed the hotel in 1883. His brother, Thomas Elms, a hat maker, had separated from his wife and often stayed at the hotel. Having been out all day, Thomas was involved in a drunken fight in a house in another city lane involving a saucepan, where neighbors heard cries of ‘out of my house’ and, ‘murder!’, but he returned to the Elms Hotel ‘with his head bandaged up’. After some days in bed, George took him to the Alfred hospital and ‘did not see him alive again’. His assailant, Ellen Lennon, an ‘old woman’, was found guilty of manslaughter. In November the next year George Elms himself died in his residence upstairs. Both left wives and children behind.

The Argus, 29 June 1887

Griffin Lane


Slum Den : Police Raid

A Sunday raid on no 11 Griffin Lane, a ‘haunt of known thieves’, including ‘Squizzy’ Taylor, ‘Fatty’ Jordan, ‘Banger’ Curry, and ladies such as ‘Ginger Liz’, resulted in the arrest of 30 men and women, and the discovery of 180 bottles of beer. All were later released, but the proprietor, J Gardiner, charged with ‘being the occupier of a disorderly house frequented by suspected persons’, was fined 25 pounds for Sunday liquor trading.

The Age, 5 November 1912

W M Blakeley & Sons

Saws and Knives

A family company established in 1865, the second generation built this factory in 1924. They were part of a high court action opposing the compulsory acquisition of this ‘slum’ block by the Commonwealth in 1948, but were forced to leave in c1961, to Fitzroy, and are now operating in Clayton.

‘Low Degraded Broots’, J A Leckey PhD, 2003

Casseldon Place

This lane had existed since the 1850s, earlier known as Whelan Lane, but often simply ‘off Little Lonsdale’. A row of seven three room brick cottages were built in 1877, nos. 7 to 17, of which only no 17 survives.

Slum Sirens

The police claimed that Hilda Norman ‘ a plump young girl’ was occupying  13 Casselden Place ‘for assignation purposes’, and was seen standing out front ‘with her hair down’, while Ruby Smith was said to be ‘a prostitute who lived at no 8’, who was ‘an associate of undesirables’. Hilda was released on the promise who would depart for Sydney, and Ruby was placed on remand.

The Truth, 30 March, 1918

Sly Grog Selling

Edward Ryan was charged with selling  beer without a licence from this house at 17 Casselden Place, and Ernest McAuliffe with doing the same a week later. Both were convicted but allowed appeal.

The Age, 24 December 1913

A Terrible Outrage

30 year old Frederick Payne, was very badly cut up with scissors by Ada Stack, with whom he had been living with in Casselden Place ‘for about 10 years’. Neighbours reported ‘they frequently quarreled, the woman having an ungovernable temper’. He had been the ‘worse for liquor’ and she was arrested.

The Age, 7 March 1903

Porta Bellows and Lugton Engineers

Bellows ! Bellows! Bellows !

The Porta bellows business began in 1866, probably the first in Australia, and became one of the most prominent manufacturers, working out of the factory they built here in 1883, winning a silver medal at the 1888 Centennial Exhibition. In 1894 the company contracted, moved two doors up to no 13-17, where they stayed until 1923, moving to the northern suburbs. The company, now into the fifth generation, still trades.

‘Low Degraded Broots’, J A Leckey PhD, 2003

Lugton & Sons: Prize Winning Engineers

The company, located here from 1863, won a ‘first order of merit’ prize for their chaff-making machine at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. The business, which stretched through to Lonsdale Street, advertised itself as ‘Makers of engines and boilers, axles and bearings, every class of machinery made and repaired’. Following compulsory acquisition, they sold out to a rival firm in 1952 and closed the site.

‘Low Degraded Broots’, J A Leckey PhD, 2003

Oddfellows Hotel

Eastern part built c1850 as a terrace house, extended 1853 to the corner and became a hotel with a house attached. Delicensed in 1912 it became a Chinese owned furniture making factory.

Robbery in Company: City Police Court

Ellen Copley, a ‘wretched looking woman’ was committed for trial after robbing a ‘seafaring man’ Thomas Donegan of a purse containing 5 pounds. Copley met him at Oddfellows, and after having nobblers, invited him to her house nearby for a ‘comfortable drink’, where she borrowed money to get the drinks, but did not return. He found her at Coopers Hotel on Exhibition Street, where they had ‘three rounds of comfortable drinks at his expense’ and took his purse.

Leader, 2 August 1862

Fatal Stabbing Affray : Charge of Wilful Murder

Two young men, Henry Legg and James Redden, son of the licensee of Oddfellows, had a drunken quarrel in the street outside the hotel, surrounded by several others ‘more or less under the influence of liquor’. Legg drew a knife and wounded three of his assailants, including Redden who died a week later of his injuries. Legg was later acquitted.

Express and Telegraph, (Adelaide) 8 July 1887

Factories Act Prosecutions: Chinese Furniture Makers Fined

Sun Cheong Loong, whose company occupied this building in the 30s, was fined 20 shillings, and 28 shillings costs, for allowing an employee to work after 2pm on a Saturday. H Pang, whose factory was on Lonsdale Street, was fined for neglecting to stamp his furniture as ‘Chinese Labour’.

The Argus, 11 April 1903

Little Leichhardt Street (Eagle Alley)

Little Leichardt Street ran next to Oddfellows, and its edges are outlined in paving within within the Urban Workshop Building.

Fire in the city : furniture factory alight

A fire in a three storey building ‘in the centre of rookeries that are a disgrace to this city’ trapped a Chinese worker by the name of Ah Gouey. His friends held up a blanket for him to jump into, but ‘his leap was rather wide’ and while half of him hit the blanket, the other half ‘hit the pavement with some force’. The ‘plucky Chinese’ was taken to the Melbourne Hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries.

The Age, 30 June 1910