Sandra McKinnon is one of the least-remembered of all the the great names in Melbourne history, but that’s probably how she would have wanted it. She would probably find the fact that a suburb was named after her – depending on which of her personae she was speaking in – either somewhat crass and unneccessary, or dangerously attention-drawing. Of course, given that the suburb wasn’t named until her death, her opinions on the subject will never be known for sure.
Sandra McKinnon was born into a wealthy family, proud Scots who had moved to Australia intending to create the first ever Scotch Whiskey distillery on the continent. But when Sandra was about 17, her father feuded with his brother – who had decided that Victoria was unsuitable for his purposes, but that Tasmania would do just fine – and wound up getting cut out of the family fortune. He drank himself to death within six months, and his wife died of grief less than a year after that. Sandra was left alone in the world, newly come to adulthood and appalled to discover the true state of her parent’s finances, now her own problem to solve.
Sandra was at her wit’s end when she received an invitation to a social event, and reasoning that it might well be her last, she decided to attend. Fate took a hand at this point. A.J. Raffles chanced to be at the event as well, and upon learning of his true (and thoroughly larcenous) intentions there, McKinnon blackmailed him into teaching her his skills. Lacking a better choice, Raffles agreed, and she returned to England with him, selling off the family mansion to settle the outstanding debts.
Three years later, she returned to Melbourne, and cut a swathe through its young men. While she was careful never to draw scandal upon herself, she was bright, vivacious, and probably smarter than most of the young drones she consorted with. But like Raffles before her, she had another plan in mind, and her return to Melbourne coincided with a series of daring thefts – although unlike her mentor, McKinnon was smart enough to invest and save the proceeds of her robberies. The apex of her career, although not learned about until many years after her death, was her attempt to free Ned Kelly from the Melbourne Gaol in November 1880 – an attempt that failed only becauase Kelly refused to come with her.
McKinnon retired from cat burglary (which is, after all, a young woman’s game) after her thirty-seventh birthday, and settled down to a life of public charity, founding an orphanage for young girls in the area that now bears her name, in which she taught a respectable and practical curriculum – and private caper planning, where she would conduct reconnaisance and plan robberies which those of her students who had undertaken her equally practical but much less respectable second curriculum would then carry out. The orphanage also proved to be an excellent means of laundering funds, as any sudden influx of cash could be attributed to an anonymous donation. By the time of her death, in 1903, Sandra McKinnon was ten times as wealthy as her father had ever been.
Suburbs near McKinnon: