"Adelaide is a thoroughly modern town, with all the merits and all the defects attaching to novelty. It does not possess the spirit of enterprise to so adventurous a degree as Melbourne, but neither does it approach to the languor of Sydney." - R. Twopeny, 1883

Friday, 6 April 2012

Meet Sophia...

Sophia Thomas is probably the most notorious and fascinating person I’ve learned about so far. Throughout her colourful life, she was known as a ‘neglected child’, a ‘little girl’, an ‘old offender’ and an ‘immoral character’. She was the child of an abusive alcoholic, a teenage prostitute and a product of the government’s reformatory system. She was constantly before the courts in Adelaide and the Port for prostitution, drunkenness and generally bad behaviour when she was years younger than I am now. I’ve wanted to write her story for so long, but couldn’t figure out exactly how to do it. Finally, I’ve decided to let the facts speak for themselves and do a timeline. It covers a little over 10 years of her life, and all the information comes from newspaper articles about court hearings. But first, some information that will probably be useful:
Boddington’s Row was a row of houses near Light Square, between Hindley Street and Hawden Street. They were ‘filthy hovels’ and were rented cheaply by prostitutes from Thomas Boddington, who ran a notorious hotel in Light Square (which is now the Colonel Light Hotel). In 1879, the women of Boddington’s Row were cast out and they set up camp by the River Torrens, in an area nicknamed ‘The Willows’. The ‘Willow class’ became a euphemism for prostitutes who frequently walked the streets and were often drunk.

November 1874: 12-year-old Sophia Thomas was sentenced to the Industrial School for being a ‘neglected child’. Her mother, Frances Thomas, was charged with ‘allowing her child to become chargeable to the public’ (i.e. not providing a safe home). The Police Court heard that Frances was ‘of very drunken habits’. Sophia often slept in outhouses, water closets and ‘such places’ because she was too afraid to go home. Frances was sentenced to prison and her three-year-old daughter was allowed to go with her.
The Advertiser, 12 November 1874, p. 3

July 1877: Sophia Thomas, Ann Conroy and Eliza Smith, little girls, absconded from the Reformatory School by unscrewing the screws on their bedroom door and climbing over a seven foot high fence. They had been sent there for robbery, loitering, and for being a neglected child (although it is not clear which girl committed which crime). It was intimated that Conroy was the ringleader and she threatened to “run away again or break her neck in the attempt” if she were returned to the School. They each received a punishment of bread and water at the School, but Sophia and Eliza Smith were sentenced to two months’ imprisonment (I can only guess at the Reformatory School and not the gaol) for destroying blankets. Sophia also received an extra two months’ with hard labour for stealing a wincey dress valued at 7s, property of the Government. In the newspaper article about the girls’ court appearance, the last sentence reads: “The girls…very much liked the excitement of appearing before the Magistrates”.
The Register, 3 July 1877, p. 3

December 1877: Sophia Thomas, with Margaret Case and Elizabeth Alderson, was charged with ‘loitering &c’ at the Port Adelaide Police Court. She was sentenced to seven days’ imprisonment.
The Advertiser, 14 December 1877, p. 7

March 1878: The same three above women, and Kate Brown, were fined 10s and 5s costs at the Port Adelaide Police Court for loitering in St. Vincent Street. On 28 March, Sophia was arrested yet again for loitering. As she was a repeat offender, she was sentenced to gaol for a month.
The Advertiser, 11 March 1878, p. 3; The Advertiser, 1 April 1878, p. 3

May 1878: On 3 May, probably the day after she was released from gaol, Sophia was arrested for loitering in Port Adelaide with Mary Arthur. Sophia was fined 20s and Mary Arthur, 10s. On 30 May, Sophia, Elizabeth Sebelan and Elizabeth Lowther were charged with ‘indecent and riotous behaviour on Maclaren Wharf [sic].’ These three girls were frequent offenders, incorrigible and had been sentenced to gaol for similar offences so, therefore, were sentenced to Gaol for one month with hard labour. “Defendants on receiving sentence rushed out of the Court to the cells shouting and yelling like maniacs, and kept up a hideous uproar for a considerable time.”
The Register, 4 May 1878, p. 3; The Register, 31 May 1878, p. 3

July 1878: Sophia Thomas and Elizabeth Lowther were charged with loitering &c in St. Vincent Street. They both plead not guilty and promised to return to ‘the homes of their friends’. However, they were both arrested again on 27 July for loitering &c at Maclaren (now McLaren) Wharf. They were sentenced to gaol with hard labour for one month.
The Register, 16 July 1878, p. 3; The Register, 29 July 1878, p. 3

September 1878: Sophia and Georgina Aslee were arrested for using indecent language. Fined 10s at the Adelaide Police Court.
The Register, 23 September 1878, p. 9

October 1878: Sophia and Elizabeth Lowther were arrested for behaving in a riotous manner and fined 10s at the Adelaide Police Court.
The Register, 19 October 1878, p. 3

November 1878: Sophia, along with many others, was charged with aiding and abetting James and Annie Kelly, who were occupiers of a house in Boddington’s Row ‘frequented by prostitutes and persons having no means of support’. Sophia (and the others) was sent to gaol for 10 days with hard labour. Two of the other women were Georgina Ashleigh (a.k.a. Aslee) and Mary Arthur, who had been arrested with Sophia in the past.
The Advertiser, 2 December 1878, p. 6

December 1878: Sophia was fined 10s for drunkenness and was remanded until Christmas Eve for trying to commit suicide by strangling herself. On Christmas Eve, she was cautioned for her behaviour but was discharged.
The Register, 23 December 1878, p. 9; The Advertiser, 25 December 1878, p. 7

January 1879: Sophia was fined 20s at the Adelaide Police Court for loitering.
The Register, 28 January 1879, p. 9

May 1879: Sophia was fined 10s at the Adelaide Police Court for indecent language. She, Mary Ann Young and Elizabeth Alderson (who had been arrested with her earlier) were fined 10s each for riotous behaviour in Morphett Street.
The Register, 8 May 1879, p. 9; The Register, 12 May 1879, p. 9

June 1879: Sophia was fined 10s for drunkenness.
The Register, 9 June 1879, p. 6

August 1879: Sophia was fined 10s for drunkenness and, later, sent to gaol for two weeks for loitering. This is the first time she is explicitly called a prostitute.
The Register, 9 August 1879, p. 7; The Register, 26 August 1879, p. 6

September 1879: Sophia was fined 10s for loitering &c at Port Adelaide. On this occasion, hers was the only case heard at the Port Adelaide Police Court on that day. She was later fined 10s at the Adelaide Police Court for using indecent language. On 22 September, she and Mary Ann Minchin, Annie Teakin and Catherine Coleman were fined 10s each for loitering in Adelaide. Three days later, Sophia was fined yet again for loitering (£1).
The Register, 12 September 1879, p. 6; The Register, 18 September 1879, p. 10; The Register, 23 September 1879, p. 10; The Register, 26 September 1879, p. 6

November 1879: Sophia was fined 10s for being drunk and using indecent and disgusting language in Currie Street. On 25 November, Sophia, Catherine Brown and Bridget Leake were fined 10s each for using indecent language.
The Advertiser, 7 November 1879, p. 6; The Register, 7 November 1879, p. 6; The Advertiser, 26 November 1879, p. 6

February 1880: Sophia Thomas was named in an inquest into the death of Thomas ‘Scottie’ Quinn. He died from injuries following a fight with James Viant, whose brother Violet Rawlinson (I wrote about her in the past post) stabbed with a pen knife. A witness, George Ashley, said he saw Sophia and another prostitute, Emma Willis, watching the fight: There were two girls close at hand, who were watching the fight. The names of the girls were Emma Willis and Sophia Thomas. I think, but I do not know, that these girls are prostitutes. When the police arrived, George Ashley left the scene because he didn’t want to be associated with the two girls. John Murphy, who resided at the same boarding house as Thomas Quinn and George Ashley, said that he, the deceased and three girls had been standing on the Morphett Street Bridge, chatting, when James Viant approached them: We had been there two or three minutes when the prisoner Viant come up from the other side of the bridge, and he commenced to abuse a girl called Sophia Thomas. I thought that he was angry with the girl on account of a jealous feeling excited by seeing the deceased sitting on the fence close to the girl. Thomas Quinn hit James Viant, who returned with a blow and they then fought for a couple of minutes before Viant threw Quinn to the ground. Quinn landed on the crown of his head.
Emma Willis appeared to be intoxicated when she was called as a witness. I was with the deceased on North-terrace, near the Black Swan Hotel. A girl named Sophia Thomas and the man John Murphy were with us. We walked towards the Morphett-street Bridge…The prisoner was leaning up against the bridge when the deceased came up and struck him on the mouth…The other girl was sitting between Murphy and the deceased. When the Coroner said he would not admit any more evidence from Willis until she was sober, the police detective said she was a long-time drunkard and he had never known her to be sober before.
Charles Johnson, “a coloured man”, was another witness to the fight and one who knew James Viant from childhood. He did not know Sophia Thomas by name, but knew Emma Willis and another prostitute he called ‘Carrotty Nell’. To my mind the prisoner and deceased both wanted to walk with the same girl – not Emma Willis, but another girl.
Surprisingly, Sophia Thomas herself was not called as a witness. The Coroner addressed the jury, saying the above witnesses were the only witnesses that could provide evidence for them. The inquest was adjourned until another witness, a sailor called McDonald, could be called and “it was also possible that the other girls who saw the row might bring forward fresh facts.”
The Register, 4 February 1880, p. 9
When the inquest began again, James McDonald was found and gave his evidence. Another witness, Frederick Acourt, saw Thomas Quinn talking to Sophia Thomas: Scottie was talking to one of the girls, Sophia Thomas, who saw Black [Charles] Johnson coming along the footpath and said, “Hullo, here comes Johnson, Jimmy aren’t far away.” Prisoner then appeared, and came across the road. He said, “Come here, my girls.” Thomas said, “We’re not doing any harm.”
James Viant was committed to trial for manslaughter.
The Advertiser, 6 February 1880, p. 6

May 1880: Sophia, Bridget Leake and Harriet Sune (I think!!!) were fined £1 each for being drunk and using indecent language.
The Register, 5 May 1880, p. 10

August 1880: Sophia, Eliza Jane Wooden, Timothy Ryan and Margaret Skerving were fined 10s each for drunkenness.
The Register, 23 August 1880, p. 10

October 1880: Sophia and Johanna Brockman were fined 10s each for drunkenness and using indecent language. [You can read more about Johanna Brockman at http://wags.org.au/o/wags-tales/characters/adelaide-ladies-on-the-town.html].
The Register, 18 October 1880, p. 9

January 1881: Sophia, Georgina Aslee and Alice Tree were charged by Thomas Poole, hotel proprietor, for ‘behaving in a riotous manner’ at the Provincial Hotel. They were fined 10s each, and Sophia and Georgina were charged with breaking a bottle of schnapps and three glasses (with a combined total of 4s) and were fined an extra 3s each.

February 1881: Sophia was fined 10s for drunkenness.
The Register, 15 February 1881, p. 9

March 1881: Sophia, Emily Clark and Maud Blanche Gould were charged with drunkenness. Sophia and Emily Clark were fined 15s and Maud Gould was fined £1.
The Register, 30 March 1881, p. 10

July 1881: Sophia and Ann Tonkin (‘old offenders’) were fined 10s for being drunk and using indecent language. A few days later, Sophia, Mary Jane Cuffe (who I wrote about in my thesis – her son died at the hands of a baby farmer and led to reforms in legislation surrounding ‘neglected children’ in 1881), Walter Longbottom, Emily Clark and Bernard McKee were fined 10s each for being drunk and using indecent language.
Later in the month, Sophia was named in another Coroner’s inquest – this one was into the death of Catherine Pearce, who was found drowned in the Torrens Lake on 18 July. Christina Williams, who had known Catherine Pearce for many years, said that she saw Sophia give Catherin a black eye a fortnight earlier. [I] last saw [Catherine Pearce] a fortnight ago at the City Hotel, when a woman named Sophia Thomas struck her in the eye and blackened it, at the same time remarking, “You gave one man eight years, but mark my words, you will never go against another man.” A man named Viant [yep, those Viants again] was present, but he did not interfere. “You,” continued Thomas, “will be found in the river one of these days, and then you will not ‘cadge’ for the detectives.” She had that morning met several men in the Stag Inn, and one of them, named McCue, said, “We have put one cad in the water.” Witness asked, “Are you speaking of a woman?” and the man replied, “Yes, and if we get you we will put you there too; and we will have Teddy Leake’s eight years out of you yet.” Mr. Badman, the landlord of the hotel, told her to take no notice of the remarks. The doctor who performed the post-mortem deposed that the deceased had a swollen eye and that she must have been struck very violently ‘because of the appearance of the inside of the scalp’. Again at this inquest, Sophia Thomas was not called as a witness, despite being a fairly important player in the events leading to Catherine Pearce’s death. The Coroner deemed Pearce’s cause of death as simply ‘found drowned’.
The Register, 11 July 1881, p. 9; The Register, 12 July 1881, p. 9; The Advertiser, 20 July 1881, p. 12; The Register, 23 July 1881, p. 9

November 1881: Sophia was fined £1 for drunkenness and indecent language.
The Register, 14 November 1881, p. 6

January 1882: Another inquest for Sophia, but this one was much closer to her.
The City Coroner, Mr. Ward, held an inquest at the Destitute Asylum on 12 January 1882 into the death of an unnamed female infant. The infant was the ‘illegitimate female child of an immoral character called Sophia Thomas’.
Here are the details of the case, all directly quoted from newspaper articles (because I really didn’t think paraphrasing would be worth it.)

The city coroner received a report on Wednesday morning, January 11, that a single woman named Sophia Thomas had been confined of a female child that morning in a shed at the rear of Mrs. Gearing’s premises in Currie-street. The child died shortly after birth, and the body was removed to the city morgue, the mother being taken to the lying-in hospital. An inquest will be held on the child at the Destitute Asylum today. (The Advertiser, 12 January 1882, pp. 4-5)

The City Coroner (Mr. T. Ward, J.P.) held an inquest at the Destitute Asylum on Thursday morning into the circumstances attending the death of the illegitimate female child of an immoral character named Sophia Thomas. The only evidence taken was that of Police-constable Osborne, who deposed that his attention was called to a woman who was lying in a fowl house at the rear of Mrs. Gearing's, next the Ship Inn, in Currie street, on Wednesday morning, about 6.30 o'clock. He found it was Thomas, who had been confined of a child, which had been removed to the house by Mrs. Gearing, and was lying on a sofa in a blanket, alive. He felt its heart beat and heard it cry. He had the mother removed to the Destitute Asylum. He had known her for the last eighteen months as living an immoral life. She was greatly addicted to drink. He saw her at the Provincial Hotel on Tuesday evening last. She informed him she bad been taken to the Hospital by a policeman, as she was suffering from pains in her stomach, but they would not admit her also that she had been walking about all night prior to her confinement At this stage the enquiry was adjourned until Friday, January 20. (The Register, 13 January 1882, p. 6)
The city coroner (Mr. T. Ward, J.P.) commenced an inquest at the Destitute Asylum on Thursday morning, January 12, on the body of the female child of a single woman named Sophia Thomas, who was confined in a shed belonging to a Mrs. Garing in Currie-street on the previous morning. Constable Osborne deposed to finding Sophia Thomas in a fowl house at the rear of Mrs. Garing's house, adjoining the Ship Inn, in Currie-street, at 6.30 on Wednesday morning. His attention was called to Thomas by Mrs. Gearing’s daughter, and he found she had been confined, and the child was in Mrs. Garing's house lying on a sofa- wrapped up in a blanket. The child was alive, as witness saw it move and heard it cry. Went for the police trap, and removed Thomas to the Destitute Asylum. Had known Thomas, who was a young girl, for the past eighteen months. She was a prostitute, and greatly addicted to drinking. At this stage the inquest was adjourned till Friday, January 20, in order to allow of Sophia Thomas being present. (The Advertiser, 13 January 1882, pp. 4-5)

The inquest on the infant child of Sophia Thomas, which died on January 11, shortly after birth, was continued by the city coroner (Mr. T. Ward, J.P.), at the Destitute Asylum, on Friday, January 20. From the evidence previously taken it appeared that Thomas, who was a single woman, was confined of a female child in an outhouse at the rear of Mrs. Gearing's premises in Currie-street. Mrs. Gearing deposed to hearing someone crying out for assistance, early on the morning of January 11, and finding Thomas in due course of her confinement in her fowl house. The child was born alive, but died very soon after birth. The landlord of the Ship Inn stated that he saw Thomas in his bar shortly after 6 o'clock, when she had a nobbler of brandy. Heard about three-quarters of an hour afterwards that she had been confined. The girl Thomas said she was a single woman, and had no particular place of abode, although she sometimes slept at the house of Mrs. Arnold in Hindley-street. She had been walking about during the two or three nights previous to her confinement. A man named William Tyson, who was now in gaol, was the father of the child. She did not know when she was to be confined, and did not think she was going to be confined until she called for assistance. She was taken to the Destitute Asylum about a week before, but left at the suggestion of the matron. Did not return to the Destitute Asylum because she thought she would not be taken in. Dr. Clindening stated that he found Thomas lying on a lot of dirty straw. Found the baby lying on the sofa in Mrs. Gearing's house, dead. The child was prematurely born, being about a seven or eight month's child, and was not well nourished. There were no marks of violence. The cause of death was debility after birth. Arthur Lindsay, superintendent of the Destitute Asylum, said when Thomas was brought to the Asylum on January 6 she was intoxicated, and in the matron's opinion was not likely to be confined for two months, so she was allowed to go. If Thomas had desired to remain she might have done so. Some further evidence had been called in explanation of the action of the Destitute Asylum authorities. The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the cause of the child's death was debility. They considered that no blame was to be attached to the Destitute authorities, and that Dr. Clindening was deserving of praise for the attention he showed to Thomas. (The Advertiser, 21 January 1882, pp. 4-5)

Death of an Infant — The City Coroner (Mr. Thomas Ward, J.P.) resumed the inquest on the body of the illegitimate female child of Sophia Thomas, a woman of immoral character, at the Destitute Asylum on Friday morning. The young woman, who was twenty years of age, was confined of the child in a fowl house at the rear of Mrs. Garing's house, in Currie-street, but it only lived for about twenty minutes after birth. In her evidence she stated she had been living with a Mrs. Arnold in Hindley Street, but for three or four nights before her confinement she had been in the habit of walking about all night. A policeman took her to the Destitute Asylum one night about a week before, and she stayed there then; but the next morning the matron told her to get up and go into the office, as she did not seem to be in the family way. Her name and address were taken, and she went away. She said, in reply to the Foreman and Jurors, that she did not return to the Asylum because she thought she would not be taken in. She would have remained if she had not been told to go to the office. When she left she had a piece of tin given to her to pass to the man at the gate as she went out. She did not remember that Sergeant Teate told her on the night before her confinement to go to the Asylum. Dr. Clindening, who was called to attend the mother, said the child had been prematurely born, and was ill nourished, but there were no marks of violence. The cause of death was debility after birth. In reference to the girl's statements as to leaving the Asylum a week before her confinement, Mr. Lindsay, Superintendent of the institution, said she was admitted on the night of the 4th, supposed to be in labour but it was subsequently found that she was m a state of intoxication. It had been intimated to him that she would not be confined for two months, and therefore on the following morning did not press her to remain, but if she had asked to be allowed to do so he would have given his permission. The Jury returned a verdict in accordance with the doctor's testimony. They considered that no blame was attached to the authorities, and that praise was due to Dr. Clindening for the attention he had paid to the woman. (The Register, 21 January 1882, p. 5)

March 1882: On 14 March, Sophia was fined 15s for drunkenness at the Adelaide Police Court. Later in the month, she was named in a robbery case involving William Tyson, the alleged father of her daughter. William Tyson, Thomas Williams, James O’Connor, Bernard McCue and Michael Kelly were charged with stealing a bank cheque, cash, a purse, a pair of spectacles, and a handkerchief from John Sweetland. Sophia Thomas witnessed all the prisoners but William Tyson stealing from him while he was sleeping at the Provincial Hotel, Hindley Street. The next day, Tyson tried to cash the cheque at a bank but the teller was suspicious of his character and, after questioning Tyson, called the police. The men were committed to trial.
The Register, 15 March 1882, p. 10; The Advertiser, 28 March 1882, p. 7

April 1882: William Tyson et.al.’s case was heard at the Supreme Court on 5 April. Sophia Thomas said she witnessed Thomas Williams reach into John Sweetland’s pockets and that McCue was watching him. William Tyson threw Sweetland’s handkerchief in her face. When Tyson was arrested with the cheque, he called out the others as he was being taken to the cells at the police station: “Sophy Thomas has cracked. I will turn dog on her to-morrow.” All the men were found guilty, despite a witness claiming that Michael Kelly was in Woodville at the time. Kelly was sentenced to two years’ hard labour but the other men were sentenced to four years’ hard labour, as they had prior convictions.
The Register, 6 April 1882, p. 9

May 1882: Sophia and many others (including Georgina Aslee – or Ashley, as she was known here, and Elizabeth Alderson), “an unsavory-looking lot” were charged with ‘being occupiers of a house in Clarendon-street frequented by thieves and prostitutes. The house only had one bed, one sofa and one mattress. The police detective said that when male prisoners were released from gaol, they went to the house “where the women attended them” but would go to the Park Lands with the women if they “wanted for anything”. Thomas and the others, apart from Charles Harris, were sentenced to three months’ gaol with hard labour.
The Register, 10 May 1882, p. 7

October 1882: Sophia was fined 10s for riotous behaviour at the Provincial Hotel (and was charged by the landlord, Thomas Poole) and a further £1 for assaulting Edward Johnson.
The Advertiser, 1 November 1882, p. 12

January 1883: Sophia, Kate O’Connell and Mary Louisa Serbalan were fined 10s for riotous behavior at the Provincial Hotel. Thomas Poole said they were using ‘the most filthy language’ when he ordered them to leave. Later in the month, she was charged 20s for being drunk and using indecent language.
The Register, 12 January 1883, p. 7; The Register, 26 January 1883, p. 7

March 1883: Sophia was fined 20s for drunkenness and indecent language.
The Advertiser, 9 March 1883, p. 7

May 1883: Sophia was fined 15s for being drunk.
The Advertiser, 12 May 1883, p. 9

June 1883: Sophia was fined 10s for drunkenness.
The Register, 6 June 1883, p. 3

July 1883: Sophia was fined 20s ‘for being drunk and behaving in an insulting manner  in the vicinity of the Salvation Army’. The Register said: “Miss Thomas was alleged to be drunk in Currie-street, and began rolling about among the ranks of a branch of the Salvation Army”.
The Advertiser, 19 July 1883, p. 7; The Register, 19 July 1883, p. 10

February 1885: Sophia was fined £2 for indecent language.
The Register, 18 February 1885, p. 7

According to the Australia Marriage Index, accessed via Ancestry, a Sophia Thomas married Fred Burrows on 27 June 1885 in Adelaide, South Australia. Sophia was the daughter of William and Fred, the son of Joseph. Considering there was a Joseph Burrows who owned a tobacconist’s shop in Hindley Street, one of Sophia’s haunts, it is very possible that Sophia Thomas married Fred Burrows, especially as she disappears from the newspapers after February 1885. I haven’t been able to find anything on Sophia Thomas or Sophia Thomas after this date, apart from one mention in an article from August 1885:
Sophia Thomas was found lying in the doorway of a cottage in Pirie-street, opposite the National Hotel. She had a ‘ghastly wound’ over one eye. She and her mother had been drinking and quarrelling throughout the day and her mother had bitten her on the face, almost taking off her whole right eyebrow. The police took her to hospital, where the wound was dressed, ‘and she afterwards returned to her home and went to bed’.
The Advertiser, 13 August 1885, p. 4

1 comment:

  1. I'd encourage you to write this as a microhistory, not unlike what John Demos did with The Unredeemed Captive- there's a central story, but underpinning it are major themes or facets about colonial SA history (the law, single women, destitution and poor relief etc.) I think it would be fascinating and probably a lot less dry than some of the histories currently available about these topics.


Thank you for your comments; I really appreciate them :)