The Duchess- Margaret Gregson
The Duchess – Margaret Gregson
Perhaps no one person has been responsible for more prisoners of Boggo Road Gaol than The Duchess of Montague Road – Margaret Gregson.
Native Place: Ireland
Age: 50 years
Height: 5 ft 3 inches (152cm)
Hair: Dark Brown
Weight: 13 stone 7 oz (83kg)
Previous Convictions: 9
Remarks: Ears Pierced; Scar first finger left hand and left arm; Burn mark right arm.
Born Margaret Ellena McAuliffe in 1850 in Kanturk, County Cork, Ireland; she emigrated on the ship General Caulfield with her mother and older brothers. Arriving in September 1864 the family taking up land at Mount Walker.
Five short years later aged just seventeen, Margaret met and married William Alexander Fraser Gregson in the Leyburn courthouse. Gregson a bushman was ten years her senior.
They would start a family the following year, settling in booming tin town of Stanthorpe on the Darling Downs, where William Gregson would open a store ‘Gregson and Prebble’. There they would begin to raise their family. Unfortunately, William Gregson was not a successful shopkeeper and would file for insolvency in 1873. There after he would find himself in trouble with the law for embezzlement. Indeed Gregson would do whatever it takes to care for his growing family.
Over the next ten years, the family would expand to twelve. The pressure of this large family and the financial difficulties had taken its toll. Margaret and William would separate but never divorce. He would return to his home state of New South Wales and she would carry on back in the big smoke with the children.
Turn to Prostitution
Margaret had a large family to raise and while her husband still supported them financially she was determined to make her own way. Taking over a boarding house in Margaret Street, Brisbane; she found herself a career and a way to make a fast buck. “Boarding House” is a very loose term; the house quickly became known for its bawdy behaviour, sly grog and ladies of the evening.
For the next ten years, Margaret would manage the ladies of Margaret Street and expanded her empire to the newly available “Killarney” another notorious house on North Quay.
Margaret appeared before the court regularly on charges of breaching the licencing act, selling sly grog and managing a “disorderly house”. Somehow, she managed to stay for the most part free from gaol, only serving a few short hours in the lock up each time before appearing in court. She was imposed some hefty fines, however, in the lucrative “trade” money was never a problem.
Early in 1907, Margaret with her band of “lovely ladies” opened her very own ‘Maison De Joie’ a series of houses and outbuildings on the block surrounded by Montague Road, Musgrave and Anthony Streets, West End.
The buildings each having their own name and “functions” or theme. It was a remarkable achievement of its time and was perhaps the largest complex of “disorderly houses” in Queensland.
The houses ‘Botany Villa, SanToy, Bleak House, The Laundry, Marooka, Musgrave Villa and the Wine Shop’ would be the downfall of many a young fallen lady. Equally, it would be the downfall of many a customer; some would leave without their wallets some would barely escape with their lives.
This vast expansion of her empire led Margaret only down one road. Wealth and lots of it. She quickly became known as “The Duchess of Montague Road” but to her girls she was simply known as “Ma or Mother”
Of course, this expansion attracted quite a bit of attention by the licencing men, the police and the courts. Before she knew it The Duchess herself was before the court. Dressed in her finest silk gown, her fur coat, broad hat and wearing all of her jewels. Margaret knew how to make the right impression in public. After all she was an innocent proprietor of a “boarding house”.
The magistrate, who she had appeared before numerous times, had had just about enough of The Duchess and her innate ability to avoid gaol time. Either by legal representation or lack of evidence. This time she was found guilty of selling sly grog at Montague and for harbouring girls for the purposes of a disorderly house. Margaret “The Duchess” Gregson was sentenced to two months imprisonment and a whopping fifty pound fine plus costs. Or in default an additional four months with hard labour.
The Duchess was whisked off in the Black Maria to Her Majesty’s prison for females later known as Boggo Road Gaol. When she arrived, she was admitted just like all the others. However, when she entered the yard, it was like she had walked into her home. You see, the Maison De Joie at Montague was responsible for over thirty-five of the frequent fliers in Boggo Road Gaol at this time, and many, many more in years to come.
Margaret Gregson would only serve her two months imprisonment after paying her fifty-pound fine. This of course would not be the last time the court would see her, nor would it be the last fine that she would pay.
The Duchess – Margaret Gregson would continue working at Montague with a new generation of ‘Lovelies’ and many of the older girls until she retired due to ill health in 1924.
She would linger on for the next two years, eventually passing away in October 1926 at her home at Ascot. Her £25,000 plus estate was left to her seven surviving children and grandchildren. The estate was one of the largest of its time, certainly one of the largest ever seen in her profession. Her remarkable fortune would be worth close to two million dollars in today’s currency.
The only condition placed on the inheritance was that the money was not be spent on anything immoral or illegal. Perhaps, Margaret saw the errors of her ways. Or perhaps she thought herself innocent all along. Either way, the estate would sadly be argued over until the end of 1929.
No other female prisoner in this era had such a profound impact on the story of Boggo Road Gaol. The ladies of Montague would be around the prison for the next twenty years before the houses were demolished to make way for modern commercial buildings.
This story is simply too long, and too wonderful to tell in one go. So, follow along with us over the coming months where we will talk more about the ladies of Montague and the remarkable Margaret Gregson.
This Sunday why not escape the 21st century; leave behind the cars, air conditioning, electricity and modern technology. Bring along the family and show them what life was like before all of the modern conveniences and even some of the things we see as basics to everyday. Click here to secure your tickets.
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.