• Born 1806 Kildross, County tyrone, Ireland

Catherine Fox (aka ‘Mother Fox’) a well known prostitute and brothel owner, engaged in sex work,  and acquired properties ‘on the back’ of the discovery of gold. Catherine was born in Kildross, County Tyrone, Ireland in 1806 to Edward and Margaret Cunningham. She married convict John Fox at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Hobart on 24 October 1827, and throughout various vicissitudes bore him five children, John, James, Mary Ann, Rosie and Henry. 

Her husband, John Fox, was an Irish convict who was born around 1789 at Kildross, Tyrone, so that Catherine and he may have known each other before his transportation. A labourer, he was convicted of burglary, tried in 1817 aged 29 years and transported for life on the Minerva after his death sentence was commuted. Fox was 5 feet 6 and a half inches tall, dark pale complexion, black hair and blue eyes.  He arrived in Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land) in 1818 and two years later acquired his Ticket of Leave. Misdemeanours followed: on 15 July 1820 he was absent from the Sunday muster and reported; in 1827 he was fined ten shillings for riding his cart without a driver; on 11 September 1828 he stole eleven cabbages and a number of cabbage plants from the government farm at New Town. After this robbery he was again a prisoner and 1828 saw him intoxicated in the barracks, keeping an unlicenced dog in 1832, drunk again in 1836, and neglecting to attend the muster and church on 9 July 1836. He obtained a Conditional Pardon on 16 November 1836 and died 9 February 1859 in Hobart, Tasmania.

John Fox (and presumably his wife Catherine), occupied a farm at Glenorchy, Tasmania (north of Hobart) since 1844, renting it for ten pounds per annum. According to a news report of 1850, ‘Fox has been absent for the last 18 months. He disappeared very mysteriously all of a sudden. His wife and family remained on the premises.’ He had apparently gone to Port Phillip. The report continues commenting that John Fox was in possession of the farm as his own property about 27 years ago (as this report is written on 13 June 1850 that would mean that Fox owned the property in 1823). In 1825 Fox conveyed the ownership of the farm to his wife Catherine ‘whom he afterwards married’ so therefore the property belonged to trustees in trust for his wife and her heirs and assigns forever. There were witnesses to this effect, but it appears that Catherine lost this case in the Supreme Court. In January 1854 Catherine was again ‘A licenced vitualler’ and ‘in trouble’. This article in the Hobarton Guardian showed her empathy and character. As the licencee of the Canterbury Hotel in Elizabeth Street, Hobart, she was charged with sheltering Susan Ryan, ‘an absconding offender’. The bench ‘imposed the full penalty of two pounds ‘a most severe censure upon the conduct of Mrs Fox’. The land issue and such treatment of convicts may have been the catalyst of Catherine moving to the goldfields and her subsequent attitudes within court actions and land holdings in Ballarat, Victoria.

Catherine Fox, well known for allowing prostitutes on her premises and selling illicit liquor. She owned four properties in Esmond Street (1859) and two hotels, the St Nicholas in Main Road (1865-66) and the Greyhound in Main Road (1873) previously owned by her son in 1872.

Police Sergeant Larner reported in December 1872 that the ‘house was frequented by low characters. On the premises there was a house occupied by thieves, prostitutes, and vagabonds, and from it there was a passage to the hotel, and there were three or four brothels at the rear of the hotel. Constable O’Shannassy said the house was frequented by a drunken lot of larrikins’ and he had ‘seen prostitutes in the hotel. There was a fence between the house and the brothel at the rear, but the gate was always open.’ Fox’s application for a licence was refused. In the same hearings before the Licensing Bench, before Mr Gaunt, Police Magistrate and Messers Eastwood and Dyte who were Justices of the Peace, Catherine Fox applied for a licence for the Red Lion hotel. Larner said ‘it was not altogether so badly conducted as the Half-Moon hotel, the licence for which had been granted’. He noted that ‘thieves and prostitutes went in through the house for immoral purposes’. Larner had called at the Half-Moon hotel run by Edward Bastin, and ‘found two men drunk and swearing, and a prostitute there’. He had often seen ‘half drunken fellows in the place and had seen prostitutes there’. Constable O’Shannassy described the house as ‘a dirty place, and as the only house in that part of the Main road that was frequented by prostitutes’. He had seen them in all parts of the house. Constable Costello had ‘seen prostitutes there at all times’. 


Caroline Ann Fox, mother and witness at inquest.

VPRS 24/P0

Unit 38


Mary Harriet Fox

28 July 1856

Inquest held at Ballarat on the body of Mary Harriet Fox

Before George Clendinning Coroner


George Humphrey

Edward Madigan

John Meldrum??

William Rudolph

Thomas Stemper

Augustus Frederick Matow??

Joseph Huddart

Isaac Abrahams

George Blackburn

Francis Brophy

George William Darling

Graham Carrick

Natural causes – death from seizure from convulsions contingent on debility from birth


Deposition of Witness

Caroline Ann Fox

28 July Ballarat 1856

I am the mother of the deceased who was aged about three weeks. The deceased has been since her birth a weakly child and subject to slight convulsive attacks. I was sitting up all last night with the child in my arms and about five o clock am I felt the deceased lying heavier on my arm than usual as I thought. When I struck a light and examined the child I thought it was dead and called up the servant and made ready a warm bath in which the deceased was put but it did have any effect in reviving the child. I have had three other children who all died from convulsions.

Caroline Ann Fox

Deposition of Witness 

Elizabeth Markill

Maybe Maskale??

I attended upon Mrs Fox at her confinement about three weeks ago when the deceased was born, who was a weakly child not having the cry or noise of a healthy child. I attended upon the deceased for a full fortnight after its birth. I dressed and undressed the child and duly?? And always at those times the deceased was attached with a slightly convulsive fit which would last some time or three minutes. I cannot say if the deceased had more attacks ?? as she was generally living with her mother and I ceased my attendance on the deceased last Tuesday night and I saw her last Saturday again outside not ?? any difference in the deceased. I did remark that the deceased did not such as much or as strength as she should have done. I was always of the opinion since the birth of the deceased that she would not live lone

Elizabeth McKell or McKall or McBall