On the Town by Dianne J.E Cassidy

‘Life as a prostitute in Launceston was nothing if not eventful.’

In her preface, Ms Cassidy writes: ‘This book does not, and cannot, in any way mention all of the brothels and prostitutes operating in Launceston in the 1800s. It merely tries to bring to light some of the more notorious characters living at that time so that their lives and tales are not lost to history.’

Ms Cassidy draws on public records (usually from newspaper accounts) to write about the experiences of women who ‘lived on the town’ in nineteenth century Launceston. This is a part of Tasmanian history about which I know little, in part because most accounts of the time focus on the historically well-known figures. Newspaper accounts only provide a partial story, of course, but those records have enabled Ms Cassidy to provide a social history of the lives and times of some of the women involved. I found the photographs interesting as well: some of the buildings that formerly housed brothels still exist.

As I read through Ms Cassidy’s book, I was drawn to parallels with elements of Dickensian London: the poor trying to survive however they could; violence; and the role of alcohol. And, of course, the moralistic judgments made.

This book is a valuable addition to the history of Launceston, especially as it covers people and events generally ignored in historical accounts.  And when I next return to Launceston, I will visit some of the graves at Carr Villa, and I will walk around central Launceston in the streets where some of these women walked.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith