Madame Brussels was born Caroline Baum in Potsdam, Germany in 1851 and was ‘a sweetheart of the Duke of Edinburgh in Melbourne in 1867’ (Meudell, G. The Pleasant Career of a Spendthrift. London, 1920s). Her first husband was an English remittance man called Hodgson, who was said to have had aristocratic connections and to be descended from the famous leader of the ‘Hodgson Horse’ unit, active during the Indian Mutiny. After Hodgson died Madame Brussels inserted In Memoriam notices in daily newspapers for some years, which included her former husband’s pedigree – perhaps she was hoping to achieve some reflected respectability in this way. Madame Brussels was always well dressed, drove in a smart carriage, and educated her daughter at a respectable private school while they resided at 39 Beaconsfield Parade, St. Kilda. (See Truth, 8 December 1906, p.5, for personal details about Madame Brussels.)
Then known as Mrs Hodgson, in 1879 Madame Brussels opened her first brothel in the study area by leasing 8 Lonsdale Street. She was 28 years old. Business must have been good, as in the following year she was in a position to purchase 32 Lonsdale Street, a brick house having seven rooms. She bought the adjoining six-room house at No 34 in 1889 from Samuel Nathan, having been his tenant for some years. She connected the houses and retained ownership of both until her death in July 1908.
Apart from Mother Fraser, who entertained the Duke of Edinburgh in her luxurious residence in Stephen Street (‘round the corner from Lonsdale’), the best known of the madams was Madame Brussels, who even listed her main establishment at 32 and 34 Lonsdale Street as a brothel in the directory. No less than eight of the brothels in the area were controlled by her at some stage. Most were high class, but others like the one at 4 Casselden Place were of a lower status. Sergeant Dalton of the Police said she has two splendid houses in [Lonsdale] Street that cost her 1,300 pounds and those two houses are her own property’, plus two cottages and another nearby house let out for prostitution. She received from them weekly ‘something enormous: 3 or 4 pounds’. He also said that no other brothels were as extensive as Madame Brussels’. (Report on the Bill for the Prevention of Contagious Diseases, 16 October 1878, Q.461)