The Forty Elephants – the All Girl Gang of Victorian-era England: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

The topic of this article was inspired by the episode ‘Toronto’s Girl Problem’ of Murdoch Mysteries (Season Eight)

The Forty Elephants was a 19th-century all-female gang who specialized in shoplifting. Their centre of operations was the Elephant and Castle district, but they were known to range further in the hunt for worthwhile targets. One of their favourite strategies: the whole gang would descend on a large store and ransack it, entering through numerous entrances to confuse staff and then fleeing the scene just minutes later, while the staff were still confused as to what was happening. The gang members wore special clothing with extra pockets to conceal the stolen items. Like any other gang, the members of the Forty Elephants often resorted to brutal beatings for exacting revenge on enemies, using knives and metal bars.The gang was still in operation in the first half of the Twentieth century.

Gang members were  chosen for having attributes of either stylish beauty or exceptional brawn. The stylish women often attended parties in the homes of the wealthy, to get a good idea of the floor plan for burglaries, or to steal items of value from their hosts. Sometimes they took work as maids with the same intention, burglary and theft. Individual gang members lived the life of Riley, with plenty of cash for luxuries. When gang members were arrested, the Forty Elephants could always afford the money to bail them out.

Alice Diamond

The television show Murdoch Mysteries recently had an episode that was obviously inspired by the Forty Elephants’ gang – ‘Toronto’s Girl Problem’. It even included a fact about how diamond rings could be used to good effect as knuckle dusters – the signature move of Alice Diamond, who was also known as Diamond Annie or Queen Alice because of her fistful of vicious rings. She was the head of the gang at one point, a tall woman with the will and the physical strength that was greater than most men.

And now I have been inspired in turn. I am adding a female character to my villains. I am adding a powerful mother to the father & son duo of antagonists. No longer will this woman die in childbirth. Instead, she is going to complete a ‘power of three’ setup. She will be a mathematical genius … and a fanatic about eugenics. After all, why should the boys get all the fun?

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7 Comments

Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, History, Steampunk Feminist

7 responses to “The Forty Elephants – the All Girl Gang of Victorian-era England: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

  1. karen j carlisle

    Reblogged this on Karen J Carlisle.

  2. Well I never! Surely not?! women would never do such a thing.

    (Actually, I was genuinely astonished to read the section ‘brutal beatings/exacting revenge/knives and steel bars’ etc. I think my cultural conditioning – that ladies are not violent/would not stoop to such levels – jumped out waving a flag like the fellow in front of the first automobiles. Must take my cultural conditioning in for servicing, or download the update, or something.)

    So this is a bare snippet. Now I’m twitching to learn more about these brazen hussies (consciously selected derogatory labels). Do you have a link? Cite? Source? Cheers – Fuzzface McGeddoch

  3. Greetings from Nellie Sheridan, another woman ahead of her time!

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