Catherine Hay Thomson: female vagabond or stunt reporter

Willa McDonald, Kerrie Davies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The history of Australian undercover journalism is largely told through the work of male journalists who wrote for the colonial newspapers. Yet, there was at least one Australian woman who practiced serious undercover investigative journalism for a mainstream newspaper in the nineteenth century, a time when journalism was mostly seen as a disreputable activity for women. Catherine Hay Thomson wrote a series of articles in 1886 for the Melbourne Argus on the conditions for women in the Melbourne Hospital and the asylums, most notably the Kew Lunatic Asylum. Hay Thomson immersed herself as an attendant at Kew to report anonymously on the world of its female patients a year before Elizabeth Cochrane famously feigned insanity to enter an asylum in New York under the pseudonym Nellie Bly. While Bly, and many of the immersive women journalists who came after her were disparaged as “stunt girls” and “sob sisters,” Hay Thomson mostly escaped such derision. Besides being an exemplary example of early Australian literary journalism, her work points the way to how such journalism by women across the globe can, and is, being reassessed as valuable contributions to the history of the field.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge companion to world literary journalism
EditorsJohn Bak, Bill Reynolds
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis Group
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Catherine Hay Thomson
  • colonial Australian journalism
  • literary journalism
  • Australian press history
  • women and journalism
  • undercover journalism
  • investigative journalism


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