The Black Angels (1908- 1913)

The Black Angels were a gang of young women who were often accused and arrested in the period 1906-1913 - for prostitution in both Perth and at a house used for ‘immoral’ purposes, or brothel, at the corner of 38 Sewell and 78 George Street, East Fremantle, in 1912.

Possible members of the Black Angels:

  • Bertha Connor, pregnant in 1908

  • Myrtle Connor

  • May Perry

  • Mary Ahern, Aka May Ahearn

  • May Webb, aka Mabel and “Belle Moora”,  Maude, Dorothy and Millie Webb

  • Vera Matson, pregnant in 1908

  • Nita Russell

The Truth and The Mirror carried out a consistent campaign against the ‘Black Angels’. The Court Sessions provided ample opportunities for news reporters to focus on scandalous cases and the repeat appearances of individuals committing offences. They wrote a series of long and outraged articles describing the behaviour of the Black Angels, associated women and members of the Chinese community. See abridged articles below:

1908 " BLACK ANGELS." Street-strolling Strumpets Safely Stowed Away and Debarred From Further Disease Dissemination ... The police authorities were long ago cognisant of the concupiscent capers carried on by these shameless harridans; members of the force knew full well that these seeming innocent school girls were morally and physically corrupting the impressionable youths and men of maturer years with whom they came in contact … A further batch of four were presented at the City Court on Tuesday, charged with being idle and disorderly persons. Their names were Bertha Connor (20), Myrtle Connor (18), May Ahern (19) and Vera Matson (19); all were exceedingly well dressed and the eldest Connor was a remarkably fine-looking girl. Since their arrest they had been medically examined and the result evidenced a revolting condition of affairs. Bertha Connor and Vera Matson were pregnant and the other two girls diseased. The police evidence was that some time ago the Connor girls arrived from Fremantle and started a brothel in Roe-street, and the other two girls visited the place. In the day time it was visited by Chinese and Afghans, but the landlord, on finding what the girls were doing, turned them out. Then they took furnished rooms in various parts of the city. In the evening, well dressed, they would SAUNTER THROUGH THE STREETS and take men to the Esplanade, the Cathedral grounds or any other vacant block … Then Bailey went on, "I may tell your Worship that four years ago when I was stationed at Plympton I knew these girls well” ... Bertha Connor and Vera Matson, who said her father was a cook at East Fremantle, were sent to the Home of the Good Shepherd until their confinement is over. Mary Ahern said her parents were dead and Mr Roe, describing her as the worst of the lot, sent her to gaol for six months, and Myrtle Connor for three months; at which sentence May and Myrtle burst out crying. The police have to be warmly congratulated on their recent action. Eight well-dressed girls, the eldest 21, arrested for patrolling the streets, and six of them an a dreadful state of disease. Heaven alone knows how many of these "Black Angels" are still peregrinating the streets. (reference)

1908 A self proclaimed prostitute - Nita Russell - taking a pimp to court, (mentions Myrtle Connor and May Perry) (reference)

1910 A WELD CLUB WAITER. At the Perth Police Court last Saturday morning a chinaman named See Wee appeared to answer the charge- that he being the occupier of premises in Garland Terrace frequented by prostitutes, was an idle and disorderly person... Houston deposed that for the past three weeks See Wee was a tenant of portion of the notorious premises and Myrtle Connor lived there with him. Passing along James-street  he saw two-well-known prostitutes, May Webb and May Ahearn of the Black Angels push leaving the premises ... He warned See Wee that if he permitted prostitutes to visit the place he would be prosecuted. In consequence of a complaint received from one of the neighbors, the two officers visited the place on the 4th inst, at 11 o'clock at night. There they found the accused, two other Chinamen, Myrtle Connor, May Ahearn and Vera Matson, the latter being in bed with one of the Chows. There were beer, bottles some empty, and some half full, on the kitchen table. The next day he obtained a warrant for the arrest of the lot, and went there about noon. Vera Matson and Myrtle Connor were there with two Chinamen on his arrival. While the girls were getting dressed, Nita Russell came to the place with the Chinaman robber, Jimmy Broad, for whom there was a warrant out. All these persons were arrested. (reference)

1912 Jollifications or Orgies - May Ahern was, at the Fremantle Police Court the other day, charged with being an idle and disorderly person. Mr Dixon Hearder appeared for the accused, and pleaded not guilty. The court was practically crowded, and several women, friends of the accused, were present. May appeared to be a young woman of about 23, was nicely dressed, and with features a good deal above the average. In short, at 18, she must have looked decidedly attractive, and even now her appearance belies the evidence tendered against her and her gaol record.

Constable O'Shea, the East Fremantle sleuth, and terror of evil doers, opened the attack. He said he arrested the accused on Saturday (9th inst). She had been knocking around East Fremantle off and on since October 5, frequenting a house there at the corner of Sewell and George streets. During her visits there, THE PLACE WAS FREQUENTED BY OTHER IMMORAL WOMEN and undesirable characters, including half-drunken sailors from Fremantle.

In consequence of complaints which had been made to him by respectable people in the vicinity, he visited the house on October 29. Besides Ahern there were three, Daisy Stabler, Bella Moora, Annie Douglas and a women named Callaghan; all were of ill-fame. He warned them to leave the house or there would be trouble. Ahern then left, but returned on the 6th inst. On the night of the 7th a disturbance occurred, in which Ahern, Stabler, May Franklin, Moore, Douglas, Mary Delaney, and a number of half-drunken sailors were concerned ... Constable Richardson said he knew accused for the last three years. During the past three weeks he had seen her on the streets on several occasions. On one occasion he saw her at the Oceanic Hotel with, some drunken sailors. SHE WAS IN A DISREPUTABLE CONDITION, partly intoxicated, and with her hair hanging down her back. He had seen her in company with other low women late at night. At no time had she any fixed place of abode, and she did not do any legitimate work. She lived in immoral life ... In Perth she had been convicted for frequenting Chinese dens.

For the defence, May entered the witness box, kissed the court Bible, and said she lived in Perth with her married sister, who resided near the Bunbury Bridge. It was not true that she frequented the streets of Fremantle. A few days ago she came down to visit some of her friends in East Fremantle. SOMETIMES THEY HAD A JOLLIFICATION. It was not immoral at all. and she had not been prostituting herself ... Mr Hearder addressed the bench, and said that the police did not know where accused was and what she was doing for a living from October 29 to November 6. Furthermore, the evidence went to show that she had been living with her sister, a married woman, and at the time of her arrest she was staying with a friend, also a married woman. the bench, thereupon decided to dismiss the case. (reference)

(The lawyer Dixon Hearder was born in Wales in 1879. He completed his legal training in Western Australia and had been practicing as a barrister for 12 years when he enlisted in early 1915, part of the second reinforcements for the 11th Battalion AIF and was commissioned as an officer. He served at Gallipoli, and was evacuated in July 1915 (reference)

1913 Kalgoorlie - “Three Sisters charged. Bella (Mabel) Webb (22), Maud Webb (28), and Millie Webb (24), on the same charge, were stated by plainclothes Constable O'Donoghue to live on the proceeds of their immorality, and to conduct themselves in so disorderly a fashion in hotels in the city that the police had been forced to take action. Mr Hill, who appeared for Bella Webb, produced a man named Herbert Simon, who said that he had been keeping the accused for years.

“It wants some nerve to come forward and admit that one is keeping a woman of this class,” said Mr Roe to Simon. ''Not at all," rejoined Simon, "I have been keeping her straight." "It is not playing the game to carry on like this,” said Mr Roe, appealing to Bella Webb, when you have a chance of leading a comparatively respectable life. You are nine years older than you were twelve months ago. You are going fast to the dogs."

Plainclothes Constable Foley said that the women made hotels their rendezvous for vicious pastimes. He would describe all of them as highly dangerous. Simon, in the witness box, said that he was a scientific instrument maker, and earned from £3 15/ to £5 per week. 'Why don't you pick up a respectable girl, and get married?' asked Mr Roe. Simon said he had kept the girl straight, and did not see anything was to be gained by sending her to gaol. He would enter into a bond for her good behaviour in the future. Mr Roe said that he would give Bella Webb a chance, though he did not think she deserved it, and he was doing it for Simon much out of kindness. If she were found on the streets again she would be arrested and sent to gaol. The other accused would go to gaol for six weeks”. (reference)

The Webb Sisters:

The Webb Sisters came from Geraldton - their father was Thomas Webb, and mother was Mercy Masters: Siblings Herbert 1886, Madeline Grace 1889, Raymond 1891, Clarence (Greenough 1893), Maude Matilda Webb, b 1895 - died Northam 1935?, Millie? b 1896-97, Mabel ‘Bella’ Winifred Webb b 1898, William b 1899, Dorothy b 1904.

In 1870 The Webb family owned a valuable farm on the Mines Road, seven miles from the Geraldton Sea Jetty... (reference)

1900 Esperance: Desecration of the Cemetery. At the Police Court this morning, before the Hon J A Wright, RM, three little children named Bella Webb, May Webb, and Florrie Dick, were charged with doing damage to personal property at the cemetery. (reference)

1914 Wedding - On Wednesday afternoon, at three o'clock, Christ Church, Geraldton was the scene of a very pretty wedding, the contracting parties being Miss Maude Webb and Mr J Payne. The officiating clergyman was the Rev A Craven. The bride, who was charmingly dressed in a beautiful gown made in Melbourne - by the bride groom’s sister, and of the very newest material — a brocaded silk crepe-de -chine — entered the church on the arm of her brother, Mr T Webb, who gave her away and was attended by her two sisters, the Misses M and D Webb. (reference)

1921- Disorderly. Mary Hockley (36). Maud Webb (29), and Ellen Quinn (42). were charged with having caused a disturbance in William street, Perth. on Wednesday last. Webb was fined 40s. in default three days imprisonment, while Hockley and Quinn were sent to gaol for 14 days and one month Respectively. (reference)

The Connor Sisters:

1908 FREMANTLE POLICE COURT— ON THE ROAD TO RUIN. Bertha Connor and Myrtle Connor, aged 15 and 17 years respectively, were charged with having no visible means of support. PC Bailey stated that he had known both of the accused and their parents for the past five or six months ... For the past six weeks both accused had been about the streets, day and night, in company with two young men. The girls had called at the police station on several occasions, at one time at 1.30 in the morning, and asked the police to take them home, stating they were afraid to go home by themselves as they dreaded their father's displeasure ... About 3.30 in the morning of November 29 he found the two accused with two men in the scrub. They refused to go home. Sgt O'Halloran stated that as regarded the younger girl, he had been informed that she was under 16 years of age. He therefore asked leave to amend the charge as regarded her to one of being a neglected child. An officer of the Salvation Army expressed her willingness to take charge of the elder girl if the bench would permit her to do so. William Connor, the father of the girls, stated that the elder of the two, left home to go to a place about six weeks ago. Instead of doing so, however, she had 'knocked about' with a young man. On being told this by the police he got her another place, but she only stayed there a week, and then induced her sister to accompany her in her rambles. The girls were always well treated at home. The bench ordered the elder of the two, Bertha Connor, to be imprisoned for three months, but to be handed over to the Salvation Army if they would take her. Myrtle was ordered to the Industrial School until 16 years of age. On hearing the decision of the bench the two 'accused' sobbed bitterly.” (reference)

For a great article deconstructing the criminalisation of women such as these read:  Straw, Leigh 2017, 'Outcast women: offending the good order in Fremantle, 1900-1939, Fremantle Studies, 9: 88-106.