The excavators speculated that the site had been a brothel and our work on the artefacts has confirmed it.Alicia Bond arrived in Little Lon from Ireland as a widow but with a de facto husband suffering from tuberculosis.The area has been extensively excavated by a series of archaeological projects over the last 30 years, and our recent intensive research on the artefacts recovered (held at Museum Victoria and Heritage Victoria) is revealing much more about the brothels and the women who owned them that had disappeared from memory.The brothel owned by one Mrs Bond on Lonsdale Street was so quiet that no-one knew it was there until archaeologists dug up her back yard in 1988.Nevertheless neighbours in the "respectable" suburbs complained if women danced in the streets or appeared without a bonnet or showed their petticoats, so the police tried to confine sex workers to particular areas."These women must live somewhere," the police said in the superintendent's 1874 report, and that "somewhere" was the Little Lon district in Melbourne CBD's north-east corner, where the "dressed girls" were kitted out and lived in the "flash brothels" under the supervision of madams, and the less expensive street-walkers took their customers to the "short-time houses" and timber cottages in the back lanes.
Prostitution is often lumped together with crime and slums in the historical imagination, but it wasn't illegal in gold rush Victoria.
When Mrs Bond died her property portfolio would have been the envy of many.
This era of relative independence for female sex workers was not to last.
Wages for the kind of domestic work available to women with children (like Mrs Bond) were extremely low, and even lower for girls.
In 1878, two young women earning 12 shillings a week as domestic servants told a policeman their wages "wouldn't keep them in boots", and they earned more from street work on their nights off.