Nine Stories Nine Women -9- Elizabeth Tabke

Nine Stories Nine Women -9- Elizabeth Tabke

Name (with aliases): Elizabeth Tabke– Elizabeth Ilsley; Bessie Ilsley; Elizabeth Taebke

Native Place:  Queensland

Year of Birth: 1894

Trade or Calling:  Domestic

Religion:  Church of England

Education: R & W

Height: 5 feet 5½ inches

Weight: 8 Stone

Hair:  Brown

Eyes: Grey

Complexion: Sallow

Build:  Slight

Features:  Four teeth missing upper jaw, three teeth missing lower jaw; Mole Left side of nose near eye; small mole under right eye at right side.

The terribly sad case of Elizabeth Tabke, a married woman with the desire for the nicer things.  She was unable to care for herself or her children and stole numerous amounts of jewellery from stores all over Brisbane which she pawned for money.  The court gave her several chances but little understanding.  She seemingly required money for her family, she certainly was not stealing for her own glamourous means.  Makes you question… was her married life all it was made out to be?

Elizabeth was born in February 1894 to Gustav and Alice Taebke in the sugar farming community of Tinana, Queensland.  Her childhood was a very tumultuous one.  Her father having a severe farming accident when she was just 11 years old sadly passing away a few days later in hospital.  Her mother, Alice, had just had a baby at the time.  Money was tight, the farming community in Tinana rallied around them. Alice remarried quite quickly, as was very typical of the day.

Soon enough Elizabeth would be married herself… though not legally.   Elizabeth would be in a relationship with a man named Ralph Joseph William Ilsley and they would have one child together. However, Ralph was already married and had deserted his wife and two children… before taking off to the first world war.   It is after she too is abandoned by Ralph… who has moved on to someone else that she first dabbles in crime.


Picture this, you are in post world war one Queensland.  Rations are scarce and you have a brand-new baby.  You would do just about anything to make ends meet.  She did, she tried to obtain money by false pretences.  Purchasing four watches, and then trying to sell them as a product worth much more.  Of course, the judge was lenient, this was her first charge.  If she would pay the restitution she would be released on good behaviour.  Elizabeth was lucky.

This was the beginning of a shameful spiral for Elizabeth. Every year, seemingly around February and March, Elizabeth ran out of money.  She would steal items like jewellery, watches, silver cutlery. Just about anything of value.  Occasionally she stole some clothing… a dress, some underwear, baby clothing.   Elizabeth was clearly living in difficult circumstances.


In 1921, Elizabeth serves her first stint in Boggo Road Gaol, six months with hard labour for stealing. After being released from this term she commits another stealing offence.  Again however, Elizabeth is lucky, the judge takes pity on her and releases her to the care of the Salvation Army Home for wayward ladies.

Sadly, their tutelage had little effect and Elizabeth was in trouble time and time again for stealing. Each time in court, she would declare the same circumstances. She was stealing to feed her family.  Which was very true.  They were living in a rented room with little furniture.  In 1924, another six months in Boggo Road Gaol.

Seemingly again things seemed to be turning around for Elizabeth, in 1925 she met William Archibald Sheppard. The two were married in January of 1926.  Not long after their first child was born.  Elizabeth, however, could not help herself.  She wanted to create a beautiful home for her new family.  She again committed crimes to provide her with money.  The couple would then have a second child in 1928.


In July 1930, Elizabeth would make a big mistake.  She would steal from a fortitude Valley Jewellers some wristlet watches and pawn them for money.  When the police caught up with her… they also added thirteen charges that were committed in 1926… that they had been looking for her for years under her maiden name Taebke!

Elizabeth would again be sent to Boggo Road Gaol.  This time for fourteen months, her longest ever sentence.  Elizabeth would serve a full nine months before being released from Gaol.  This would be her last charge.   Elizabeth died in the Diamantina Hospital just three years later of a condition called Tuberculosis.  A terrible lung complaint that is often carried for some years before killing the victim. Evidence that Elizabeth had had the condition for some time is that she had significant muscle wastage and was in frail health.


Her husband William would remarry just seven months later. He had three small children that needed care. Eventually he would have two more children.  William passed away in 1939.

Both Elizabeth and William were buried in Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane.   William in a beautifully marked war grave in portion ten.  Elizabeth, in an unmarked hospital burial plot.  Elizabeth had a hard life, full of tragedy and difficult circumstances.

Elizabeth made a lot of silly mistakes in her life, however, the circumstances in which she found herself made things seem utterly hopeless. Options were few.  Elizabeth did what she had to do to make sure that she could support her family.


The story of Elizabeth Tabke is the last of our Nine Stories Nine Women series.  We would like to thank all of the visitors that came to Boggo Road Gaol during Queensland Women’s Week 2019. We would also like to thank all of you that experienced the gaol via these stories and our podcasts.  It has been our pleasure to share with you just some of the many stories of the women of Boggo Road Gaol. 

Each Thursday we share our free podcast BOGGO and full accompanying written stories.  Be sure to check back here each week to find more interesting tales of the prisoners of Boggo Road Gaol. Also, if you haven’t already… follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date with all the goings on around the Gaol.   We look forward to locking you up again soon!

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