Matilda Mary Devine, known as Tilly Devine, was an English Australian organised crime boss. She was involved in a wide range of activities, including sly grog, razor gangs, and prostitution, and became a famous folk figure in Sydney during the interwar years.

Matilda Devine was born in London, England in 1900. She married an Australian serviceman, James (Jim) Edward Joseph Devine in London in 1917. They had one son, Frederick, born in 1919.

Her career in prostitution began when she was a teenager and continued after she was married. She would be found soliciting on The Strand, at night and would spend time at Bow Street Court and Lock Up for prostitution, theft and assault.

Matilda and Jim returned to Australia around 1920. Her son stayed in London and was brought up by her parents.

Tilly Devine, known as the ‘Queen of Woolloomooloo’ ran a string of brothels centred around Darlinghurst and the Cross, and particularly Palmer Street.

In five years since she returned to Australia, Matilda had accumulated a long list of convictions; the numerous offences ranged from common prostitution to indecent language, offensive behaviour and assault. The police report is a snapshot of the life that Tilly was leading up to 1925, a life that involved working the streets at night, clashes with Police, lots of parties and heavy drinking.

Devine’s wealth was legendary, although it was all earned from crime. Devine faced numerous court summons and was convicted on 204 occasions during her long criminal career and served many gaol sentences in New South Wales gaols, mainly for prostitution, violent assault, affray and attempted murder.

Tilly and Jim Devine’s marriage was marred by domestic violence. In 1931, Jim was charged at Central Police Court with the attempted murder of his wife after a heated argument at their Maroubra home. Tilly escaped unscathed. The police were called resulting in Jim being arrested and charged over the incident. He was later acquitted because Tilly refused to testify. The Devine’s separated in the early 1940s and were finally divorced in 1944.

Devine married for the second time in 1945 to ex-seaman and returned serviceman Eric John Parsons.

Tilly famously shot Parsons in the leg after an argument only months before they were married. This shooting occurred at her other Sydney residence in Palmer Street, Darlinghurst. She was arrested by police and charged with the shooting but was acquitted at trial in 1945. They were married for 13 years until Eric Parsons died in 1958.
For over 30 years, Devine lived in Malabar Road, Maroubra. Several homicides were committed at this residence. The property remained derelict from the 1950s until it was sold in 2009.

Devine had suffered from chronic bronchitis for 20 years and died of cancer, aged 70 at the Concord Repatriation Hospital in Sydney in 1970. Her funeral service was held at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Darlinghurst. She was cremated with Catholic rites by her married name, Matilda Mary Parsons. She was survived by her son Frederick Ralph (Devine) Twiss and 2 grandchildren.

Source: https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/devine-matilda-mary-tilly-5970
Source: findmypast.co.uk
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilly_Devine
Source: TROVE National Library of Australia
Source: NSW State Archives Collection – Index to Gaol Photographs: Devine, Matilda, Long Bay Women’s Reformatory
Source: NSW State Archives Collection – Index to Gaol Photographs: Long Bay