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A number of historians have suggested that the imbalance of the sexes was a catalyst for the increase in prostitution in the colony during the early days of the gold rushes: large numbers of unattached men were on the diggings (and in Melbourne) stimulating demand for such services. Contemporary accounts of the diggings only occasionally make reference to the trade, but police and court records show that prostitution was widespread. Patricia Grimshaw and Charles Fahey have examined the way police categorised prostitutes (some as young as 15) according to their clientele. In Castlemaine during the 1850s and 1860s those prostitutes who plied their trade with the poorer Chinese were considered the ‘lowest’ class; those who ‘sat with’ the better-off ‘mandarins’ in the Princess Alice Hotel were considered only slightly less degenerate. In an effort to avoid jail (and, perhaps, attain a modicum of respectability) some women organised for clients to claim them as housekeepers. Grimshaw and Fahey’s research supports the thesis that men outnumbering women in gold rush areas contributed to a rise in prostitution. They note that later in the century, when there were fewer single men in the area, prostitution declined.

Caitlin Mahar

Grimshaw, Patricia and Charles Fahey, 'Family and Community in Castlemaine', in Patricia Grimshaw, Chris McConville and Ellen McEwen (eds), Families in colonial Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1985. Details
Serle, Geoffrey, The golden age: a history of the colony of Victoria, 1851-1861, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1963. Details