Nick Hordern


Shanghai Demimondaine

From sex worker to society matron. A publication from Earnshaw Books.

The extraordinary, hitherto unknown life of Australian woman Lorraine Murray (1910–2000), as revealed in extensive archival research, including through access to family papers and correspondence, and a close reading of the works of Emily Hahn.

Born illegitimate in Adelaide, Lorraine might have spent her whole life in Australia had she not as a teenager encountered the aristocratic Japanese diplomat and statesman Tokugawa Iemasa. Travelling abroad, she became his mistress and their relationship flourished until it was terminated by the Japanese authorities. Arriving in Shanghai in 1933, Lorraine found herself in the sex industry.

In 1936 Lorraine quit the brothel where she had been working, but though supported by businessman Edmund Toeg she struggled to find a new path, until the American journalist (‘China Coast correspondent’ for the New Yorker) and author Emily Hahn took her under her wing. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the two, during which Emily guided Lorraine away from a life of banality. As an eyewitness to the 1937 Battle of Shanghai, Lorraine’s horizons began to open out and a series of relationships with journalists – Italian, Japanese and above all with Emily – introduced her to a broader world. For her part, Lorraine provided Emily with raw material for her writing – in particular for her 1947 novel Miss Jill.

Lorraine spent WWII in Australia, including a stint as a counter-intelligence informant, during which she spied on the Communist journalist Rupert Lockwood – an episode which lead to her featuring in the proceedings of the Petrov Royal Commission.

In her twenties and thirties Lorraine was haunted by the fear of exclusion from society, and not just because she had been a sex worker. This crippling insecurity was hard-wired; its origins lay in her childhood when her mother, the mistress of a millionaire grazier, concocted a history to account for her brood of illegitimate children and obscure her unmarried status. From her mother Lorraine learnt to dread the judgement of ‘respectable’ society, and that to lie was her best defence against exposure. But by her mid-forties she succeeded in putting these fears behind her, and had built a new and rewarding life. 

After the war Lorraine joined Emily in England and reconnected with Edmund Toeg; the two married and settled in London, where she re-invented herself as a Knightsbridge society matron. Her ultimate acceptance by the wealthy Shanghailander elite of which Toeg was a member was for her a great personal vindication. She returned to Australia and died in a nursing home in 2000.

Advance praise for Shanghai Demimondaine

Unfolding like a detective story, Nick Hordern has tracked down the multiple lives of the unknown Lorraine Murray, who was born out of wedlock in morally censorious Australia. An exceptional beauty and unstable fabulist, she becomes the mistress of Prince Tokugawa, an elite prostitute in frenetic, war-torn 1930s Shanghai, the heroine of a novel by a New Yorker writer, then London society wife in a strange marriage. Extraordinary
Geoffrey Lehmann
winner of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Poetry and author of Leeward
Shanghai Demimondaine