A Female Burglar- Maria O’Rourke

A Female Burglar – Maria O’Rourke

Young women of poor origins quite frequently found themselves falling afoul of the law.  Her Majesty’s Prison for Women Brisbane at Boggo Road was where most of these women ended up.

Maria O’Rourke

Known aliases:  Violet Gray; Lapworth ; Green ; Ruby Hanley

Native Place:  Queensland

Aged: 19 years

Height:  5 ft

Make:  Medium

Complexion:  Fresh

Hair Colour:  Brown

Eye Colour: Blue

Weight: 7 Stone 12 oz

Previous Convictions:  8

Marks:  Nil


Maria first appeared before the bench when she was just fourteen years old. As she was walking past the residence of Mr and Mrs Powell at South Brisbane, Maria spotted an open window. She took the opportunity to steal a ring from the chest of drawers belonging to Mrs Powell. She was seen wearing the ring which was later identified by Mr. Powell. Maria was taken before the bench and fined 10 shillings or in default, one month in prison.  

This was the beginning of a long run of break and enters and charges of stealing for Maria which would eventually see her serving three years imprisonment with hard labour in HM Prison for Females Brisbane later known as Boggo Road Gaol. No sooner had Maria been released, she found herself in trouble again and back behind bars.

The time behind bars was definitely not a good experience for Maria. She began to associate with all of the wrong kind of people. Interestingly, every time Maria is before the court, her mother appears on her behalf begging for her daughter not to be sent to gaol, and every time it has no effect. Makes one wonder what the home life must have been like.

In researching this article I have had the greatest of difficulty locating even the smallest sliver of information on the O’Rourke family. This tells the researcher one thing -they were poor, in fact likely the poorest of poor. Perhaps that is why young Maria was on the street at just fourteen years old, committing some very serious crimes.


Without lawful means

Perhaps the saddest part of Maria’s story is yet to come.  In May 1905, police raided a known house of ill fame (a known brothel) in Albert street belonging to a Greek man named George Antonio.

We have discussed George Antonio before when looking at the case of the Juett sisters. Indeed, on this particular day, Maria O’Rourke was arrested with Lily Juett at Antonio’s as being without lawful means of support. A similar charge to vagrancy, it is usually the law stepping in for the person’s own good, providing a roof over their head and a hot meal. The typical sentence for this “crime” is three months imprisonment with hard labour. Lily Juett was sent to the care of the good people of the Salvation Army Home For Wayward Young Ladies. Maria was not so lucky. She was sentenced to three more months behind the walls of Boggo Road Gaol.  

For more about Antonio’s house of ill fame click here

Maria, it seems, did not learn her lesson for some time to come. It was a vicious cycle and Maria was only just 19 years old. In and out of prison for the next three years on similar charges as before; stealing something or being arrested for having nothing at all.   

Finally, it seemed things were looking up for Maria; after her final release from prison in March of 1910, she meets a fine young man named McRae. Just two short months later, they were married in Brisbane. Never again does Maria appear before the court. She has turned the corner and made it out of the shadows.   

The same cannot be said for the majority of women with the same history. For some, their entire life will be in and out of the notorious HM Prison for females more commonly known as Boggo Road Gaol.

Want something cool to do this Sunday? Learn more about the women of Boggo Road Gaol by taking an 11am History Tour and watching our Prison Players perform!  You can book your tickets here

This article was contributed by Research Coordinator Sue Olsen as part of the ongoing research program for Boggo Road Gaol Pty Ltd. The aim of the program is to bring to light and share articles relating to Boggo Road for the purposes of review and study. Do you have a story to share or something you would like us to know about? You can contact the research team here

Boggo Road Gaol
Boggo Road Gaol