Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hodgson, Caroline (1851–1908)

by Philip Bentley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Caroline Hodgson (1851-1908), better known as 'Madame Brussels', brothel proprietor, was born at Potsdam, Prussia, in 1851, one of at least two daughters of John Lohman and his wife Frederica, née Schultze. On 18 February 1871 in the register office, district of St George, Hanover Square, London, Caroline married Studholme George Hodgson (c.1836-1893), eldest son of a Hampshire landowner. The couple soon departed for Melbourne, arriving in July 1871. In October 1872 Studholme joined the Victorian police force. Upon his posting to Mansfield two years later, if not before, the couple separated, and seem not to have been reunited until the end of his life. Despite, or perhaps because of, their years apart, Caroline retained affection for Hodgson and after his death regularly marked its anniversary in newspaper 'In Memoriam' columns.

By 1874 she was keeping a brothel and going by her sobriquet, the origins of which are unknown. For thirty-three years Madame Brussels ran houses of ill fame around the top of Lonsdale Street. Her principal establishment and residence, 32-34 Lonsdale Street, was a high-class, extravagantly furnished bordello, operating as something of a libidinous gentleman's club. Hodgson drew on her connections for business and legal advice, and probably financial support and police protection. She was legally represented by the politician-lawyers David Gaunson and (Sir) Samuel Gillott; the latter's political career was ended when his role as mortgagor of her properties was revealed in 1906. In one sense operating on the margins of nineteenth-century Melbourne society, in another she was inextricably connected to its centre.

The most celebrated madam of her day, Hodgson was revered by some, for representing Melbourne's roguish character, reviled by others, for despoiling the heart of a 'great Christian city'. She had considerable organizational and entrepreneurial skills, and a greater chance to use them than most women of the period. With the passage of time, she became an icon of Melbourne's racy past. Some have claimed that she was involved with the disappearance of the Victorian parliamentary mace in 1891. While it was rumoured to have been taken to a bawdy house by drunken politicians to be used in 'low travesties of parliamentary procedure', Hodgson's name was never mentioned contemporaneously in connection with it. In her youth she was sensationally described as a 'magnificent pink, white and golden maned animal'. Later she was a 'spectacled middle aged woman', more like 'a benevolent midwife than the keeper of a notorious brothel'.

Hodgson visited Germany in 1894 and on her return married a fellow German Jacob Pohl on 10 April 1895 at St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral, Melbourne. The couple spent little time together and divorced in 1906. Earlier she had been romantically connected with the composer and music critic Alfred Plumpton (1848-1902). He was reputed to have promoted her establishment, and to have fathered a daughter by her. While no birth certificate can be found, Caroline's will did mention an adopted daughter Irene Hodgson.

At the turn of the century, moves to curtail prostitution increased and the Lonsdale Street area was gradually cleared of brothels—Madame Brussels's was closed in 1907. By then she was suffering from diabetes and chronic pancreatitis, which led to her death on 12 July 1908 at her home and former brothel in Melbourne. She was buried beside her first husband in St Kilda cemetery. Her estate was sworn for probate at £4828.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Pearl, Wild Men of Sydney (Lond, 1958)
  • K. Dunstan, Wowsers (Syd, 1968)
  • G. Davison, D. Dunstan and C. McConville (eds), The Outcasts of Melbourne (Syd, 1985)
  • R. Wright, Who Stole the Mace (Melb, 1991)
  • Truth (Melbourne), 31 Oct 1903, p 5, 10 Mar 1906, p 5, 1 Dec 1906, p 4, 8 Dec 1906, p 4, 20 Apr 1907, p 3
  • C. McConville, Outcast Melbourne: Social Deviance in the City 1880-1914 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1974)
  • P. Bentley, Edifices of Venereal Renown and Gilded Palaces of Sin: Madame Brussels a Life on the Margins in Mid to Late Nineteenth Century Melbourne (B.A. Hons thesis, Monash University, 1993)
  • A712, item 1896/C889 (National Archives of Australia).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Philip Bentley, 'Hodgson, Caroline (1851–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hodgson-caroline-12986/text23473, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Madame Brussels
  • Lohman, Caroline
  • Pohl, Caroline
Birth

1851
Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany

Death

12 July 1908
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

diabetes

Cultural Heritage
Occupation
Legacies