Was Mary Griffin running a whorehouse in the middle of wartime Wellington or was she just a modern social woman?
The trial that came to be called the Kelburn raid was a sensation, dragging in wartime regulations, women’s rights and societal shift, all centred around one woman.
On April 27, 1918, police stormed 48 Upland Road in Kelburn. Inside were seven women and ten men, most of them military officers.
Five of the women, including Mary “Molly” Griffin, were charged under Additional War Regulations of 1916 with keeping a house of ill repute.
The women - far from being ‘loose women’ - were considered respectable. But they were also divorced or unmarried, and in a scared society changing too quickly for some, they were also feared, partly for their independence.
They were Molly Adelia Griffin (nee McCarthy), Winifred Olsen, 19-year-old Marion Elliott, and her sister Alma and Eileen Pringle, a teacher at Brooklyn School
The men on the premises were not charged, a fact that led to a lot of comment.
The court was crowded, mainly with women, representing the society for the protection of women and children.
Police had been watching the house, which Molly rented. She lived there after divorcing her cheating husband (Robert) along with her two children and Winifred.
Neighbours had complained about the activities of the house and two constables began to watch the house at night. Complaints were about the loud noises and supposed drinking.
Molly was aware the house was being watched. She had spotted one of the constables earlier that month.
Nothing changed and on the evening of the raid, the women said they were having a musical evening.
At the trial, evidence of sex taking place was based on the observations of the constables, who had seen three people, including Molly, in one bed - called acts of immorality in court.
To combat that, Marion consented to be examined by doctors and declared to be in a “state of virginity.”
But the police evidence was tainted by several things, including the dark nights, how much could actually be seen and in particular - whether any money had changed hands.
Molly and Winifred were found guilty while the lack of evidence against Marion, Alma and Eileen saw the charges dismissed.
Molly and Winifred were sentenced to 12 months' reformative treatment.
For a month Molly and Winifred were jailed until their appeal was upheld in the Supreme Court by Justice John Henry Hosking who concluded there needed to be evidence of sex for hire for any convictions.
The women then went their separate ways. Alma and Marian went on to marry, Eileen left New Zealand as did Winnie who married in Sydney.
Mary stayed in New Zealand, not coming to anyone’s attention again before she died on January 8, 1949. She is buried in Karori Cemetery with her daughter Mary Gertrude, although her name is spelled Griffen.
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