Abstract

Esther Warden was described in court in 1912 as ‘a dangerous woman’ and ‘an incorrigible nuisance’. By 1939, when she was in her late sixties, Esther had notched up over 200 criminal convictions, mostly for drunkenness and being an idle and disorderly public nuisance. In Fremantle she was one of the most notorious criminals of the early twentieth-century and known as the ‘terror’ of the West End. Western Australia’s Police

Act had been enacted in the late nineteenth century as a means to monitor and punish criminal behaviour—mainly such offences against good order as drunkenness, vagrancy and loitering. But it was also used to control female behaviour. The feminine ideal in the British world was then of a passive, chaste and moral woman who best contributed to society through respectable paid work or by upholding a domestic identity as a good wife and mother. Women who did not conform to this idea faced being outcast from society through convictions for good order offences. When Perth’s Magistrate Augustus

Roe sent Clara Bull to the Salvation Army Home in 1902 he told her it was a ‘chance to be a better woman’. His words, therefore, echoed the dominant public discourse about women who were charged with offences against good order. While they had committed crimes, their greatest offence was considered to be their failure to meet social expectations.

Keywords

women, outcasts, disorderly conduct, Fremantle, Western Australia, 1900 – 1939

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