Devine Surname: Fame & Infamy in Equal Measure

by Mark

When you look at the mugshots of Tilly Devine and what she was wearing, it is easy to understand why she went around killing folks in a razor gang. Talk about drab, body hiding sacks of fabric, complete with large hat. Matilda Mary Devine, to give her, her full name, was a madam and purveyor of sly-grog in Sydney, back in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s. She started out as a prostitute back in England just after the turn of the twentieth century. Tilly married Australian serviceman Jim Devine, James Edward Devine, in London in 1917.

They had a son born in the UK in 1919. The couple returned to Australia in 1919-20, separately; as she followed him on the bride ship Waimana. Their son stayed in London to be brought up by her parents. The newly returned couple were soon heavily involved in drug dealing, brothels and organised crime. Tilly started her Sydney crime career as a prostitute, but soon moved up a notch to start running brothels in Sydney as a madam. The laws of the day made it illegal for men to run brothels, but didn’t say anything about women at that time.

Devine Surname: Fame & Infamy in Equal Measure

They ran high class call girls for politicians, businessmen and celebrities; and they ran poor “tenement girls” as cheaper whores for the working men; and they bribed police to protect their operations. Jim Devine was charged with several murders, but always managed to beat the rap on the grounds of self-defence. He was a stand-over man, pimp, drug dealer and gunman. The couple divorced in 1944. Tilly Devine lived in sunny Maroubra for more than 30 years in Torrington Road; a number of murders are believed to have been committed at her address there. The Australian Tax Department got Tilly in the end, ordering her to pay some $20 000 in unpaid income tax; which sent her close to bankruptcy.

Tilly Devine has a bar named after her, called Love Tilly Devine, which just goes to show how callous and superficial the nightclub industry is. Other famous Devines include, the right wing media rent-an-opinion Miranda Devine; who is always ready with some union bashing, anti-worker, bastardry. In the UK, Quentine Devine, is an exciting artist, animator and designer, doing a vast array of whacky work quite unlike anybody else. Stretching the boundaries of art is probably an understatement in his case.