Long-term prostitution is a “career choice” usually based on financial desperation and want of an economically viable alternative. Historically, Hong Kong’s Western prostitutes often started out – according to their own legends – as competition dancers, musicians or theatrical performers who became stranded here on their way to somewhere else. Finding the freewheeling colony to their taste, and with nowhere else to go, they stayed and made a good living out of what had presumably been a pleasurable pastime. For some, entrance into the managerial ranks of “the world’s oldest profession” followed. From the mid-19th century, the registered proprietors of all Hong Kong’s licensed brothels were women – brothel madams. This curious fact provides a glimpse of female entrepreneurship and, perhaps, empowerment. Urban mythology inevitably envelops those on society’s margins, such as sex workers. Over time, memories fade and tales become embroidered. Some Hong Kong madams entered reliably recorded local history (as distinct from urban myth) as a result of a documented brush with the law. Prosecution for some minor legal infraction resulted in both a court record and some mention in the local newspapers; a contested will, property- or inheritance-related issues also made the papers. In Hong Kong’s early years, local journals were “newspapers of record”, and provide generally reliable, rich source materials for modern historians. From these records, more detailed reconstructions of individual lives and destinies can be attempted, until solid evidence peters out into partially remembered hearsay, semi-informed speculation and imaginative reconstruction. One pre-war brothel madam was Ethel Morrison. According to British author Austin Coates, who had the account as oral history via an undisclosed source from an earlier generation, she took her surname from a former English boyfriend. Another source plausibly suggests her “stage name” came from Morrison Hill in Wan Chai; her long-demolished establishment was located just across the road, on the current site of the Xinhua News Agency. An urban myth has Morrison visiting her lawyer’s office, sometime around 1925, to complain about unpaid bills. In those years, sexual services, like everything from bar bills to tailor shop accounts, were handled using a chit system. He wryly suggested she put the bundle of unpaid – yet signed and identifiable – chits in the poor box at the Anglican Cathedral. Apparently she stormed off in a huff and did just that: legend has it the bills were settled before nightfall. American madam Rosalie Lewis was another local brothel-keeping legend, part of the exchange of Americans from Stanley internment in July 1942. Sewn into her clothing on airmail paper was a list of names, addresses and brief messages from fellow internees, which she undertook to pass on after her safe arrival elsewhere. Good to her word, she wrote to all of them; her friendly reassuring letters provided sometimes the first definite information anxious relatives had received about the internees. Reunited after the war, many recalled gratefully the brief correspondence with “that nice lady who so kindly wrote to us”, and they were astonished to learn their informant was one of Hong Kong’s best-known Western brothel madams.