The Final Two Executions For Sodomy In Britain – 1835. James Pratt & John Smith – A Travesty Of Justice!

Old Bailey judgements in this case:

“1934. JOHN SMITH and JAMES PRATT were indicted for b—g—y at the parish of Christ Church, Surrey; and WILLIAM BONILL was indicted as an accessory before the fact.

SMITH— GUILTY.— DEATH . Aged 40.

PRATT— GUILTY.— DEATH . Aged 30.

BONILL— GUILTY . Aged 68.— Transported for Fourteen Years.

Third Jury, before Mr. Justice Williams..”

James Pratt (1805–1835)[1][2] also known as John Pratt, and John Smith (1795–1835)[1][2] were two London men who, in November 1835, became the last two to be executed for sodomy in England.[3] Pratt and Smith were arrested in August of that year after being convicted of having sex in the room of another man, William Bonill.

William Bonill, aged 68, had lived for 13 months in a rented room at a house near the Blackfriars Road, Southwark, London. His landlord later stated that Bonill had frequent male visitors, who generally came in pairs, and that his suspicions became aroused on the afternoon of 29 August 1835, when Pratt and Smith came to visit Bonill. The landlord climbed to an outside vantage point in the loft of a nearby stable building, where he could see through the window of Bonill’s room, before coming down to look into the room through the keyhole. Both the landlord and his wife later claimed they both looked through the keyhole and saw sexual intimacy between Pratt and Smith, so the landlord broke open the door to confront them. Bonill was absent, but returned a few minutes later with a jug of ale. The landlord went to fetch a policeman and all three men were arrested.[1]

Pratt, Smith and Bonill were tried on 21 September 1835 at the Central Criminal Court, before Baron Gurney,[4] a judge who had the reputation of being independent and acute, but also harsh.[5] Pratt and Smith were convicted under section 15 of the Offences against the Person Act 1828, which had replaced the 1533 Buggery Act, and were sentenced to death.[Note 1][Note 2] William Bonill was convicted as an accessory[6] and sentenced to 14 years of penal transportation.[4] James Pratt was a groom,[3] who lived with his wife and children at Deptford, London. A number of witnesses came forward to testify to his good character.[1] John Smith was from Southwark Christchurch[1] and was described in court proceedings[4] and newspaper reports as an unmarried labourer[2] although other sources state he was married and worked as a servant.[3] At the trial, no character witnesses came forward to testify on his behalf.[4]

The conviction of the three men rested entirely on what the landlord and his wife claimed to have witnessed through the keyhole; there was no other evidence against them. One modern commentator has cast doubt on their testimony, based on the narrow field of vision afforded by a keyhole and the range of acts the couple claimed to have witnessed during the brief length of time they were looking.[7]
The magistrate Hensleigh Wedgwood, who had committed the three men to trial,[8] subsequently wrote to the Home Secretary, Lord John Russel, arguing for the commutation of the death sentences, stating:
“It is the only crime where there is no injury done to any individual and in consequence it requires a very small expense to commit it in so private a manner and to take such precautions as shall render conviction impossible. It is also the only capital crime that is committed by rich men but owing to the circumstances I have mentioned they are never convicted.”
Wedgwood described the men as “degraded creatures” in another letter. Nevertheless, he argued that the law was unfair in their case as wealthy men who wished to have sex could easily afford a private space in which to do it with virtually no chance of discovery. Pratt and Smith were condemned only because they could only afford to use a room in a lodging house, in which they were easily spied upon.[9]
On 5 November 1835, Charles Dickens and the newspaper editor John Black visited Newgate Prison; Dickens wrote an account of this in Sketches by Boz and described seeing Pratt and Smith while they were being held there:[10]
“The other two men were at the upper end of the room. One of them, who was imperfectly seen in the dim light, had his back towards us, and was stooping over the fire, with his right arm on the mantel-piece, and his head sunk upon it. The other was leaning on the sill of the farthest window. The light fell full upon him, and communicated to his pale, haggard face, and disordered hair, an appearance which, at that distance, was ghastly. His cheek rested upon his hand; and, with his face a little raised, and his eyes wildly staring before him, he seemed to be unconsciously intent on counting the chinks in the opposite wall.”

— A Visit to Newgate
The jailer who was escorting Dickens confidently predicted to him that the two would be executed and was proven correct. Seventeen individuals were sentenced to death at the September and October sessions of the Central Criminal Court for offences that included burglary, robbery and attempted murder. On 21 November, all were granted remission of their death sentences under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy with the exceptions of Pratt and Smith.[11] This was despite an appeal for mercy submitted by the men’s wives that was heard by the Privy Council.[12]

Pratt and Smith were hanged in front of Newgate Prison on the morning of 27 November. The crowd of spectators was described in a newspaper report as larger than usual;[13] this was possibly because the hanging was the first to have taken place at Newgate in nearly two years.[14][Note 3] The event was sufficiently notable for a printed broadside to be published and sold. This described the men’s trial and included the purported text of a final letter that was claimed to have been written by John Smith to a friend.[15]
William Bonill was one of 290 prisoners transported to Australia on the ship Asia, which departed England on 5 November 1835 and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) on 21 February 1836.[16] Bonill died at the New Norfolk Hospital in Van Diemen’s Land on 29 April 1841.[17]

Newspaper Reports on the Execution

Monday 23 November 1835

On Saturday the Recorder made his report to his Majesty, at Brighton, of the undermentioned capital convicts under sentence of death in Newgate, convicted at the September and October sessions of the Central Criminal Court: – . . . Robert Swan, 28; for robbery. John Smith, 49, and James Pratt, 30, for an unnatural crime. . . . to all of whom his Majesty has extended his royal mercy, except John Smith and James Pratt, who are left for execution on Friday next. (London Standard)

Saturday 28 November 1835

 RECORDER’S REPORT – On Friday the Recorder made his Report to his Majesty in Council at Brighton, of the prisoners who were capitally convicted at the September and October Sessions of the Central Criminal Court: – viz James Pratt and John Smith, for a nameless offence, committed in the borough of Southwark; Robert Swan, for extorting money from Thomas Reynolds, a Quaker, under a threat of accusing him of a nameless offence; R. Lavender, D. Ward, B. Vines, M. Collins, J. Coleman, and M. Harris, for burglary; . . . [and others] all of whom his Majesty was graciously pleased to respite, except James Pratt and John Smith, upon whom the law is left to take its course, and who were ordered for execution yesterday. The Council were in deliberation a considerable time on the case of Robert Swan, and did not break up until half-past eight o’clock in the evening. The Recorder came immediately to town by post, and made known the result of the Council to the Governor of Newgate, who lost no time in communicating it to the convicts whose cases had been reported. (Huntingdon, Bedford & Peterborough Gazette; virtually the same report appeared in the Derby Mercury for 25 Nov. 1835, the Manchester Courier for 29 Nov. 1835, and many others)
Charles Dickens, in his essay “A Visit to Newgate” published in Sketches by Boz in 1836, describes his visit to the press-room of the condemned ward of Newgate where he saw Pratt and Smith awaiting their execution, together with Joseph Swan who would eventually be transported rather than executed (for extortion involving the threat to swear sodomy against someone – see Newspaper Reports for 1835). All three men were kept separate from the other condemned men becasue of the sodomitical nature of their offences, and Swann also distanced himself from Pratt and Smith because he was a blackmailer of sodomites rather than a sodomite himself.
In the press-room below, were three men, the nature of whose offence rendered it necessary to separate them, even from their companions in guilt. It is a long, sombre room, with two windows sunk into the stone wall, and here the wretched men are pinioned on the morning of their execution, before moving towards the scaffold. The fate of one of these prisoners [Swan] was uncertain; some mitigatory circumstances having come to light since his trial, which had been humanely represented in the proper quarter. The other two [Pratt and Smith] had nothing to expect from the mercy of the crown; their doom was sealed; no plea could be urged in extenuation of their crime, and they well knew that for them there was no hope in this world. ‘The two short ones,’ the turnkey whispered, ‘were dead men.’ 
          The man to whom we have alluded as entertaining some hopes of escape [i.e. Swan], was lounging, at the greatest distance he could place between himself and his companions, in the window nearest to the door. He was probably aware of our approach, and had assumed an air of courageous indifference; his face was purposely averted towards the window, and he stirred not an inch while we were present. The other two men were at the upper end of the room. One of them [probably Smith], who was imperfectly seen in the dim light, had his back towards us, and was stooping over the fire, with his right arm on the mantel-piece, and his head sunk upon it. The other [probably Pratt] was leaning on the sill of the farthest window. The light fell full upon him, and communicated to his pale, haggard face, and disordered hair, an appearance which, at that distance, was ghastly. His cheek rested upon his hand; and, with his face a little raised, and his eyes wildly staring before him, he seemed to be unconsciously intent on counting the chinks in the opposite wall. We passed this room again afterwards. The first man [i.e. Swan] was pacing up and down the court with a firm military step – he had been a soldier in the foot-guards – and a cloth cap jauntily thrown on one side of his head. He bowed respectfully to our conductor, and the salute was returned. The other two still remained in the positions we have described, and were as motionless as statues.

Saturday 28 November 1835

EXECUTION.
Yesterday morning, at the usual hour, the sentence of the law was carried into effect upon James Pratt, aged 32, and John Smith, aged 34, who were convicted at the September Sessions of the Central Criminal Court of a capital offence. The Sheriffs arrived at Newgate about half-past seven o’clock, and immediately proceeded to visit the prisoners, whom they found engaged in prayer with the Rev. Mr. Cotton, the chaplain of the gaol, and Mr. Baker. Both the culprits appeared in a very weak state, and when eight o’clock arrived, the hour of execution, it was found necessary almost to carry them from their cell to the press room. Pratt, especially, appeared dreadfull weak and dejected. While Smith was being pinioned, Pratt appeared to suffer dreadfully. His groans resounded through the prison, and while he was pinioning he repeatedly exclaimed, “Oh God, this is horrible, this is indeed horrible.” He at this time was so weak that the executioner’s assistants found it necessary to hold him in their arms to prevent him from falling to the ground. All the preparations having been completed the melancholy procession proceeded to the scaffold, and in the room leading from the debtors’ door, as it is called, the ceremony of delivering up the prisoners to the Sheriffs of Middlesex was performed by Mr. Cope, the Governor of Newgate. Smith was the first who ascended the scaffold, and immediately afterwards Pratt was also assisted up the seps and placed under a beam. The moment the culprits were perceived they were received with groans and hisses, which lasted during the whole of the time the hangman was making the necessary preparations. These having been performed the bolt was drawn, and after a very short struggle the culprits ceased to exist. Pratt was a married man, the other culprit was single. (Morning Post)

Sunday 29 November 1835

EXECUTION. – On Friday morning, at the usual hour, the sentence of the law was carried into effect upon James Pratt, aged thirty-two, and John Smith, aged thirty-four, who were convicted at the September session of the Central Criminal Cour, of an unnatural offence. There were very few persons present at the execution. Both the wretched men to the last moment denied their guilt; they were convicted on the testimony of their landlady. The soldier, Swan, has been respited. (The Examiner)

Monday 30 November 1835

LONDON,
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23.

Brighton, Sunday. – On Friday, his Majesty held a Privy Council, at which the Recorder attended, when two miserable convicts, John Smith and James Pratt, was ordered for execution on Friday next. In the evening, the Ministers and a large party dined with their Majesties. – This morning, their Majesties attended Divine Service in the Palace chapel. In the afternoon, the Queen attended at St. George’s chapel. (Salisbury and Winchester Journal)

Monday 30 November 1835

LONDON,
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28.

The two wretched culprits, James Pratt and John Smith, suffered the last penalty of the law yesterday morning in front of Newgate. (Salisbury and Winchester Journal)

Wednesday 2 December 1835

LONDON, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28.
EXECUTION. – Yesterday morning, at the usual hour, the sentence of the law was carried into effect upon James Pratt, aged 32, and John Smith, aged 34, who were convicted at the September sessions of the Central Criminal Court, of an unnatural offence. Thursday night Pratt was visited by a respectable Dissenting Minister. The Rev. gentleman exhorted him to repentance, and he confessed his guilt. The Sheriffs arrived at Newgate about half-past seven o’clock yesterday morning, and immiedately proceeded to visit the prisoners, whom they found engaged in prayer. While Smith was being pinioned, Pratt appeared to suffer horribly. His groans resounded through the prison, and while he was being pinioned he repeatedly exclaimed “Oh, God, this is horrible; this is indeed horrible!” He at this time was so weak that the executioner’s assistants found it necessary to hold him in their arms, to prevent him from falling to the ground. All the preparations having been completed, the melancholy procession proceeded towards the scaffold, which was first ascended by Smith with a firm step, but his companion needed support to the last moment. The executioner with amazing celerity adjusted the ropes, and cause the plank to fall which closed the world upon them. The crowd was excessive, but exceedingly decorous. (Hereford Journal)

The following is an account of the case, with personal observations, by Father Frank Ryan & Peter Tatchell, who were convinced that the men were innocent!

Father Frank Ryan casts new doubt on the 1835 convictions
The wrongful conviction & execution of James Pratt & John Smith for ‘buggery’ in 1835
By Father Frank Ryan
The last Saturday of August 1835 was a beautiful hot day. James Pratt (30) left his wife and two young daughters in Deptford, searching for work – promising to return by 6pm. He was a labourer and needed a better job.
Pratt first visited his aunt in Holborn, before heading to Blackfriars. His aunt thought he’d had too much to drink and needed a rest, but he pressed on. In an ale house he met John Smith, a labourer aged 40, and William Bonill (sometimes spelled Bonell), aged 68. Neither could offer him a job to improve his financial situation but their company was hospitable. Bonill invited Pratt and Smith back to his rented flat and they accepted.
Little did they know as they made their way to his premises in nearby George Street, that this encounter would result in their execution – and that Bonill would be banished to the penal colony of Australia – all within a mere three months.
The landlords of 45 George Street, Southwark, Jane and George (also known as John) Berkshire, were determined to curtail the activities of their tenant, William Bonill, who they regarded as an “old villain.” He had been bringing male “couples” back to his flat on a regular basis; sometimes two a day. George was determined to put a stop to this practice and get rid of what he regarded as a disagreeable and troublesome lodger.
Shortly after the three men arrived, the suspicious, antagonistic George spied into Bonill’s room through a nearby window. A little later, over tea, he told his wife that he saw Pratt sitting on Bonill’s knees and then on Smith’s. There was much laughing and conversation, he said. Jane slipped upstairs and peeped through Bonhill’s keyhole. After a brief look, she returned to tell her husband that she had witnessed sexual acts. He became enraged, went upstairs and also looked through the keyhole. He then burst into the room to confront Pratt and Smith, who were in a compromising position, according to George Berkshire.
At this point, Bonill, who had gone out for a drink, returned and entered the room. An effort to calm down Berkshire was unsuccessful. George went off to seek the police.
Pratt, Smith and Bonill were soon arrested and taken into custody. Pratt and Smith were charged with ‘buggery’ (anal sex) and Bonill as an accessory. They went on trial for their lives before Judge Baron Gurney at the Old Bailey on 21 September 1835.
The arresting police officer had no material evidence to support the charge. The account that Jane Berkshire told the jury is improbable. She said she watched for less minute but claimed to have witnessed the alleged sex acts, from the men undressing to laying on the floor and the “appearance” of anal penetration. She said she saw the men’s private parts but did not answer when asked whether either man had an erection. It seems doubtful that the keyhole could have provided the range of vision needed to see what she claimed.
The testimony of George was very similar to Jane’s. It had a whiff of coordination. His evidence supported the charge that buggery had taken place. However, he failed to testify if the men had an erection or if he had seen actual penetration; though he claimed to have sighted their genitals and their bodies in motion.
The anatomical description of intimacy described by George Berkshire would have been very difficult to witness. As in the case with Jane’s testimony, the keyhole probably could not have provided a sufficient angle of sight to provide the evidence he imparted to the jury.
Neither James Pratt nor John Smith were allowed to give evidence at their trial. Both pleaded “not guilty” to the charge. Nevertheless, the jury returned a guilty verdict.
The law against ‘buggery’ (not repealed until 2003) was based on an interpretation of the Bible that regarded homosexual acts as an abomination and worthy of death; a particularly evil sin that must be severely punished and eradicated. It was a capital crime.
The judge had no hesitation in sentencing James Pratt and John Smith to death. He warned them their chances on appeal were hopeless and they could expect no reprieve. They had to prepare, he said, to receive God’s judgement upon departing this life. Both men left the dock in tears.
William Bonill was sentenced to 14 years transportation to Australia. He died in Tasmania in 1841.
As well as Pratt and Smith, there were many death sentences for different crimes handed down during the autumn 1835. The process of petitioning for clemency and commutation began.
While being held in Newgate Prison, Pratt and Smith were visited by Charles Dickens who wrote they “had nothing to expect from the mercy of the crown, their doom was sealed.” The turnkey whispered to Dickens that they were “dead men.”
John Smith, it seems, had no friends. But the friends of James Pratt commenced a vigorous campaign to save him. They gathered a substantial petition which included the trial prosecutor, former employers, neighbours and even George and Jane Berkshire, their accusers.
All the documents were prepared for a Privy Council meeting with the King, William IV, to be held in Brighton.
On 24 November, 12 men sentenced to death were reprieved by the King’s mercy. Pratt and Smith were not among them. Judge Baron Gurney’s warning had prevailed. In their case, the law was to be allowed to take its course.
News of the pending execution spread around London, confirmed by the erection of the scaffold outside Newgate Prison.
On Friday 27 November, the two prisoners were taken from their cells and brought to the place of execution, still protesting their innocence. Pratt was weak and had to be helped up the scaffold. The crowd began to hiss, possibly in disagreement with the execution. These were probably the last sounds the men heard. The hangman pulled the bolt and after a short struggle on the rope Pratt and Smith were dead.
They are buried in a common grave, with others executed at Newgate, in the City Cemetery, Manor Park, London E12.
In 2014, I petitioned the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling MP, to grant a posthumous pardon to James Pratt and John Smith on the grounds that even by the standards of those days their convictions were unsafe. Further, the ‘buggery’ law itself was unjust. Consenting adult homosexuality should have not been a crime.
In reply, the Justice Ministry regretted the men’s execution, acknowledging that it should never have happened, but said the conditions for granting a pardon had not been met. However, since the pardoning of Alan Turing for same-sex relations has established a legal precedent, hopefully the Justice Minister will, with further pressure, re-examine the case and grant a long overdue pardon to Pratt and Smith.
• The full story of Pratt and Smith is retold in the book, The law to take its course – Redeeming the past, securing our future. It is available as a self-printed manuscript from the author, Father Frank Ryan, for the cost of printing (about £14): fmryan33@hotmail.com 
• The book and this article are based on Ryan’s original research at the National Archives, British Library and London Metropolitan Archives, plus newspapers reports. 

• This article was written by Frank Ryan, with the assistance of Peter Tatchell.



And what of William Bonill?

Convicted on the 25 September, 1835 to 14 years transportation at the Old Bailey, in London. He was shipped onboard the convict shop “Asia” on the 5 November 1835, to Tasmania (Van Diemen’s Land).

He arrived in Tasmania on the 21 February 1836. He died on the 29 April 1841. 

We have an entry from the Daily Sick Book, onboard the Asia “William Bonill, aged 71, Convict; disease or hurt, febris ephemera. Put on sick list, 9 November 1835. Discharged, 14 November 1835. Folio 2: ”

There does not appear to be any other records for him.

Notes

  1.  In the period from 1810 to 1835, 46 people convicted of sodomy were hanged and 32 sentenced to death but reprieved. A further 716 were imprisoned or sentenced to the pillory, before its use was restricted in 1816 (See: Lauterbach and Alber (2009), p.49).
  2. The sentence of death was mandatory, but under the Judgement of Death Act 1823, Gurney would have had the power to commute it to imprisonment.
  3. ^Pratt and Smith were the only people to be executed at Newgate in the three year period 1834–1836; this partial, temporary moratorium may have been for political reasons and because of a change in the law. Prior to 1834, individuals had been executed for any of 20 different offences; after 1836, only convicted murderers were hanged outside Newgate, until the ending of public execution in 1868. See A history of London’s Newgate Prison

References 1

  •  Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 08 March 2013), September 1835 (t18350921)
  • “Execution”. The Morning Post (20273). London. November 28, 1835.
  • Cook et al (2007), p.109
  • Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 26 December 2012), September 1835, trial of JOHN SMITH JAMES PRATT WILLIAM BONILL (t18350921-1934).
  • Hamilton, J.A. (2004). “Oxford DNB article: Gurney, Sir John (subscription needed)”. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  • “Central Criminal Court, Saturday, Sept. 26.”. The Times (15906). London. September 28, 1835. p. 4.
  • Ryan, Frank (24 March 2015). “Pratt & Smith – Last UK men hanged for sodomy”. Peter Thatchell Foundation. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  • Cocks (2010) p.38
  •  Upchurch (2009), p.112.
  •  Lauterbach and Alber (2009), p.49
  • “Multiple News Items”. The Standard (2664). London. November 23, 1835.
  • Cook et al (2007), p.110
  •  “Execution”. The Times (15959). London. November 28, 1835. p. 3.
  • “A history of London’s Newgate prison.”. http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org. Retrieved March 24, 2013.
  • Anonymous, “The Particulars of the Execution of James Pratt & John Smith” (1835), London printed by T. Birt. OCLC 83814830, Harvard Law School Library, Historical and Special Collection
  • “Asia voyage to Van Diemen’s Land, Australia in 1835 with 290 passengers”. Convict Records of Australia. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
  • William Bonill”. Convict Records of Australia. Retrieved 14 October 2013.

Bibliography

  1. Cocks, Dr Harry (2010). Nameless Offences, Homosexual Desire in the 19th Century. I.B.Taurus & Co. ISBN 9781848850903.
  2. Cook, Matt; Mills, Robert; Trumback, Randolph; Cocks, Harry (2007). A Gay History of Britain: Love and Sex Between Men Since the Middle Ages. Greenwood World Publishing. ISBN 1846450020.
  3. Lauterbach, Frank; Alber, Jan (2009). Stones of Law, Bricks of Shame: Narrating Imprisonment in the Victorian Age. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802098975.
  4. Upchurch, Charles (2009). Before Wilde: Sex between Men in Britain’s Age of Reform. University of California Press. ISBN 0520258533.

References 2

Extinguishment of Historical Homosexual Convictions in NSW

On 24 November 2014, the Criminal Records Act 1991 (the ‘Act’) was amended to allow historical homosexual offences to be extinguished.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in NSW in 1984, but prior to this time consensual sex between gay men was a criminal act. People with convictions for these historical offences have dealt with the stigma of a criminal conviction for a ‘sex’ offence which can affect employment opportunities, volunteering and travel. These amendments will allow a person with an eligible historical homosexual conviction to apply to the Secretary of the Department of Justice to have the conviction extinguished.
Under the changes made to the Act, the Secretary has the authority to decide that an eligible conviction should be extinguished but only if if he or she is satisfied that the other person involved in the sexual activity consented to the sexual activity and was above the age of consent. The Secretary has powers under the Act to require certain persons or bodies to provide information for the purposes of making a decision under the Act.
Applications may be made to the Department of Justice to have the following offences extinguished:

  • Buggery (s79 Crimes Act 1900)
  • Attempted Buggery (s80 Crimes Act 1900)
  • Indecent Assault on a male (s81 Crimes Act 1900)
  • Act of Indecency with another male person (or procuring) (s81A Crimes Act 1900)
  • Soliciting or inciting offences under ss79, 81 or 81A of the Crimes Act 1900 (s81B Crimes Act 1900)
  • Homosexual intercourse with a male over the relevant age (s 78K Crimes Act 1900)
  • Attempt or assault with intent to have homosexual intercourse with a male over the relevant age (s 78L Crimes Act 1900)
  • Acts of gross indecency with a male person under 18 (or procures) (s78Q Crimes Act 1900)- but only if the other person was over the relevant age
  • Indecent behaviour (s12 Police Offences Act 1901) or behaving in an indecent or offensive manner (s7 Summary Offences Act 1970) if the offence involved:
  • Sexual activity with another person of the same sex, or
  • Procuring another person of the same sex to engage in sexual activity.
  • ​​Exposure or an indecent act committed by an adult (s43(b) Crimes Act 1900), indecent exposure (s11 Summary Offences Act 1970; s78 Police Offences Act 1901) or wilful and obscene exposure (s6 Offences in Public Places Act 1979; s12 Summary Offences Act 1970; s4(2)(d) Vagrancy Act 1902) if the offence involved:
  • ​​The offender engaged in a form of sexual activity with a person of the same sex, and
  • ​​The offenc​e was not witnessed by​ anyone except the other person engaged in the sexual activity or a police officer, and
  • It was the offender’s first conviction for the offence.

Reference

Gay History: Piers Gaveston & Edward II

The Earl of Warwick stands over the decapitated body of Piers Gaveston. From the 15th-century ‘Rous Rolls’.

Piers Gaveston Executed
By Richard Cavendish

Published in History Today Volume 62 Issue 6 June 2012

Richard Cavendish remembers the royal favourite who died on June 19th, 1312.

The Earl of Warwick stands over the decapitated body of Piers Gaveston. From the 15th-century ‘Rous Rolls’.

The Earl of Warwick stands over the decapitated body of Piers Gaveston. From the 15th-century ‘Rous Rolls’.

Soaring up from a comparatively humble background, King Edward II’s favourite flew too high and paid the penalty. Piers Gaveston was born around 1284, the son of a Gascon lord, who gave many years of loyal service to Edward I. In his early teens Piers became a member of the royal household. In 1300 he was moved to that of the Prince of Wales, the future Edward II. They were both about 16, took to each other and an extremely close friendship developed. There were many at the time who thought it was a homosexual relationship, but some modern historians see it as more like close brotherly love. The two may have been sworn blood-brothers and Edward referred to Gaveston as ‘my brother Piers’. Edward would have four children by his French queen, Isabella, but he could have been bisexual.

Whatever the exact nature of the relationship, it spelled trouble. In 1307 Edward I banished Gaveston from England, though he was to be paid an allowance while awaiting recall, but the king died soon afterwards and the new king immediately brought Gaveston back to his side, made him Earl of Cornwall and bestowed on him an extremely well-connected aristocratic wife and substantial quantities of land and money. Edward II was not remotely the man his father was and he had serious trouble with some of his father’s most powerful barons, who bitterly resented being sidelined by a man they considered an arrogant, greedy upstart.

In 1308 Edward allowed Gaveston a provocatively prominent role in his coronation and the ensuing banquet, at which he paid so much attention to the favourite that Queen Isabella’s French relatives walked out. The king was forced to send Gaveston away to Ireland later that year, but he was back in 1309 and resumed his dominant position at court as Edward’s principal adviser and controller of royal patronage. He behaved as arrogantly as ever and allegedly bestowed disparaging nicknames on leading figures in the realm. Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick was ‘the Black Dog of Arden’, Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke was ‘Joseph the Jew’ and the generally much-respected Earl of Lincoln was ‘Burst Belly’. By March 1310 opposition had mounted to such a point that the king had to agree to the appointment of the Lords Ordainers, a committee of 21 earls, barons and bishops who were to draw up rules for the management of the royal household and the realm. Meanwhile the king led a military campaign in Scotland that failed to subdue Robert the Bruce.

In August 1311 the Ordainers produced their new rules and demanded that Gaveston be sent into exile and never allowed to return. The horrified Edward offered to agree to the changes if Gaveston was allowed to stay, but the Ordainers would have none of it and in November the favourite left the country. He was back in England again by the following January, however, and Edward announced that Gaveston’s exile had been unlawful, restoring all his confiscated possessions.

The country was now threatened with civil war as the barons gathered their private armies. The Earl of Lancaster (who was Edward I’s nephew) almost caught the king and Gaveston in Newcastle, but they just managed to escape and fled by sea to Scarborough, where Edward left Gaveston and went to York. Gaveston was besieged in Scarborough Castle by the earls of Pembroke and Warwick. In May Gaveston surrendered to Pembroke on condition that, if no agreement could be reached with the king by August 1st, he would be sent back to Scarborough Castle, which was not to be reinforced in the meantime. Pembroke took Gaveston to a town called Deddington, south of Banbury, and left him there for the moment. On the following day, to the dismay of Pembroke, who had guaranteed Gaveston’s safety, the favourite was seized by the Earl of Warwick and taken to Warwick, where he was paraded past a jeering crowd and put in a dungeon in the castle.

Lancaster and Warwick decided that Gaveston must die. After some pretence of a trial, apparently, he was taken to Blacklow Hill, not far from Warwick, on land that belonged to Lancaster, and run through with a sword before his head was cut off. He would have been about 28 years old.

Gaveston’s body was left lying there to rot, but was later rescued, embalmed and eventually buried in the Dominican friary at King’s Langley in Hertfordshire. In 1823 a monument was erected on Blacklow Hill by the local squire on the spot where Gaveston was thought to have been executed. The disapproving inscription describes him as ‘the Minion of a hateful King’ beheaded ‘by Barons as lawless as himself.’



Reference

History Today http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/piers-gaveston-executed

“Edward II and Piers Gaveston” – detail of an engraving from a painting by Marcus Stone (1840-1921). Edward and Piers are on the left, Queen Isabella and the disapproving courtiers watch on.

    Further Reading

    1. http://queerstoryfiles.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/fate-that-waited-7-centuries.html
    2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piers_Gaveston,_1st_Earl_of_Cornwall
    3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piers_Gaveston_Society
    4. https://thefreelancehistorywriter.com/2015/08/29/scandalanddownfallofpiersgaveston/
    5. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/9264564/Piers-Gaveston-bending-the-monarchs-ear-and-will.html

    Tim Alderman (2017)

    Gay History: 1833 – Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, Sodomy Trial

    Sodomy — “buggery,” in the more evocative British phrase, often bowdlerized in court records as b-gg–y or the like — was a capital offense in England until 1861, when the penalty was reduced to “merely” life imprisonment.

    The London Courier reported the event:

    Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, who was one of the unnatural gang to which the late Captain Beauclerk belonged, (and which latter gentleman put an end to his existence), was convicted on the clearest evidence at Croydon, on Saturday last, of the capital offence of Sodomy; the prisoner was perfectly calm and unmoved throughout the trial, and even when sentence of death was passed upon him. In performing the duty of passing sentence of death upon the prisoner, Mr. Justice Park told him that it would be inconsistent with that duty if he held out the slightest hope that the law would not be allowed to take its severest course. At 9 o’clock in the morning the sentence was carried into effect. The culprit, who was fifty years of age, was a fine looking man, and had served in the Peninsular war. He was connected with a highly respectable family; but, since his apprehension not a single member of it visited him.

    The popular broadside on the case was scarcely more sympathetic. [Here’s another version of the gallow lit]

    Even though once or twice a year someone would hang for it and the scandal would send family fleeing his name, Old Blighty still had a vigorous underground gay scene in the 19th century. While Lord Byron was enjoying the easier same-sex access of the Ottoman lands, a friend wrote to him, “that what you get for £5 we must risque our necks for; and are content to risque them.” (Cited here)

    Quite accidentally, the senseless destruction this day of a respectable veteran helped set the put-upon gay underground upon its long march towards mainstream acceptance.

    A first-person narrative written* in 1833 under the name of Lord Byron (who was in fact nine years dead, but whose queer identity clearly informs the work), Don Leon was a signal piece of literature: the first overt literary defense of homosexuality in English.**

    It opens with a scene said to be inspired by Captain Nicholls:

    Thou ermined judge, pull off that sable cap!

    What! Cans’t thou lie, and take thy morning nap?

    Peep thro’ the casement; see the gallows there:

    Thy work hangs on it; could not mercy spare?

    What had he done? Ask crippled Talleyrand,

    Ask Beckford, Courtenay, all the motley band

    Of priest and laymen, who have shared his guilt

    (If guilt it be) then slumber if thou wilt;

    What bonds had he of social safety broke?

    Found’st thou the dagger hid beneath his cloak?

    He stopped no lonely traveller on the road;

    He burst no lock, he plundered no abode;

    He never wrong’d the orphan of his own;

    He stifled not the ravish’d maiden’s groan.

    His secret haunts were hid from every soul,

    Till thou did’st send thy myrmidons to prowl,

    And watch the prickings of his morbid lust,

    To wring his neck and call thy doings just.

    The author — whose identity is still debated† — continues writing more or less autobiographically of Byron’s life, and using his illicit desires and lifestyle (with digressions into historical precedent) to defend homosexuality as ultimately natural and harmless.

    The tree we plant will, when its boughs are grown,

    Produce no other blossoms than its own;

    And thus in man some inborn passions reign

    Which, spite of careful pruning, sprout again.

    Then, say, was I or nature in the wrong,

    If, yet a boy, one inclination, strong

    In wayward fancies, domineered my soul,

    And bade complete defiance to control?

    Though law cries “hold!” yet passion onward draws;

    But nature gave us passions, man gave laws,

    Whence spring these inclinations, rank and strong?

    And harming no one, wherefore call them wrong?

    What’s virtue’s touchstone? Unto others do,

    As you would wish that others did to you.

    Then tell me not of sex, if to one key

    The chords, when struck, vibrate in harmony.

    No virgin I deflower, nor, lurking, creep,

    With steps adult’rous, on a husband’s sleep.

    I plough no field in other men’s domain;

    And where I delve no seed shall spring again.

    Look, how infected with rank disease

    Were those, who held St. Peter’s holy keys,

    And pious men to whom the people bowed,

    And kings, who churches to the saints endowed;

    All these were Christians of the highest stamp-

    How many scholars, wasting over their lamp,

    How many jurists, versed in legal rules,

    How many poets, honoured in the schools,

    How many captains, famed for deeds of arms,

    Have found their solace in a minion’s arms!

    Nay, e’en our bard, Dame Nature’s darling child,

    Felt the strange impulse, and his hours beguiled

    In penning sonnets to a stripling’s praise,

    Such as would damn a poet now-a-days.

    To this conclusion we must come at last:

    Wise men have lived in generations past,

    Whose deeds and sayings history records,

    To whom the palm of virtue she awards,

    Who, tempted, ate of that forbidden tree,

    Which prejudice denies to you and me.

    Then be consistent; and, at once confess,

    If man’s pursuit through life is happiness,

    The great, the wise, the pious, and the good,

    Have what they sought not rightly understood;

    Or deem not else that aberration crime,

    Which reigns in every caste and every clime.

    To this conclusion we must come at last:

    Wise men have lived in generations past,

    Whose deeds and sayings history records,

    To whom the palm of virtue she awards,

    Who, tempted, ate of that forbidden tree,

    Which prejudice denies to you and me.

    Then be consistent, and, at once confess;

    If man’s pursuit through life is happiness,

    The great, the wise, the pious, and the good,

    Have what they sought not rightly understood;

    Or deem not else that aberration crime,

    Which reigns in every caste and every clime.

    Statesmen, in your exalted station know

    Sins of omission for commission go;

    Since ships as often founder on the main

    From leaks unstopped as from the hurricane.

    Shore up your house; it totters to the base;

    A mouldering rot corrodes it; and the trace

    Of every crime you punish I descry:

    The least of all perhaps is sodomy.

    I stand a monument, whereby to learn

    That reason’s light can never strongly burn

    Where blear-eyed prejudice erects her throne,

    And has no scale for virtue but her own.

    * Don Leon circulated initially in manuscript form, and was not published in England until years later — a known printing in 1866, and possibly another lost edition from before 1853.

    ** Here lagging well behind France, which had burned only a bare handful of homosexuals under monarchist anti-sodomy laws in the 18th century, and decriminalized homosexuality full stop in 1791. In Philosophy in the Boudoir the Marquis de Sade preened casually triumphant over the bad old days while Lord Byron was still a boy.

    We wonder that savagery could ever reach the point where you condemn to death an unhappy person all of whose crime amounts to not sharing your tastes … Nature, who places such slight importance upon the essence that flows in our loins, can scarcely be vexed by our choice when we are pleased to vent it into this or that avenue.

    † Candidates include parliamentarian William Bankes, who was arrested for sodomy in 1833 but acquitted later in the year; fellow MP John Cam Hobhouse; and playwright and Byron-idolizer George Coleman.

    References

    Executed Today http://www.executedtoday.com/2008/08/12/1833-captain-henry-nicholas-nicholls-sodomite/

    Gay History: 1578 – Five Sodomite Monks Executed in (Calvinist) Ghent

    DescriptionExecution of Monks in Ghent because of Sodomy, 28 June 1578; Five monks accused of sodomy about to be burnt at the stake, left, and three others flogged, background centre, in Ghent town square. 1578 Etching
    On June 28, 1578, five Catholic monks were burnt to death in Ghent for homosexuality.

    At our scene in the Spanish-controlled Low Countries, the revolt that would become known as the Eighty Years’ War and secure Dutch independence still had about 70 of those years to run.
    Stadtholder William of Orange, aka William the Silent, has his hands full with the Habsburg forces determined to crush their disobedient subjects.

    Half civil war, half proto-nationalist revolution, this conflict overlaid disputes over both political and religious authority, complicated by a catastrophic Spanish bankruptcy.

    Of this compelling history much beyond our scope, the piece of most moment for our unfortunate monks was a grudging agreement to chill out the sectional suppression as part of a temporary truce between the warring sides. Said “slackening of persecution inspired Reformed public worship and attempts to topple the Catholic stewpot.” (Source)

    Late in 1577, a political coup in the commercial powerhouse of Ghent did just that, part of a mini-Renaissance of Calvinist city-republics that Spanish arms would truncate in the 1580’s. But here in the 1570’s, the newly elevated slate of Calvinists implemented a “Reform” agenda that included aggressive moves against Catholic authority.

    On 18-22 May [1578], the Reformed launched an attack on the four mendicant monasteries. Their churches were purified and made ready for Reformed worship. On 1 June the first public preaching was organized in the Dominican and Carmelite churches. (Source, a pdf)

    Rumors of homosexuality in the religious orders swept the overheated city (assuming they were not put about intentionally), and this day opened a summer’s terror that saw 14 monks burned (pdf) for the love that dare not speak its name.

    Kenneth Borris translates the inscription on the Franz Hogenberg image linked above thus:

    “five monks are being burned in Flanders, in the city of Ghent. Four are Franciscans (Minnenbruder*) and the fifth Augustinian. Also three have been quickly flogged with switches on the market square as they deserve, because of their outrageous sexual offenses (unzuchtt) that greatly offended the authorities. That is why the four mendicant orders have now been driven out of Ghent.”

    William the Silent, made of more statesmanlike stuff than these zealots, would actually enter Ghent himself the next year to disarm the ruling clique, realizing that firebrands were driving Catholic cities back into Spanish arms.

    But he could not contain the schism. Spain ultimately kept the Catholic-leaning territories that today comprise Luxembourg and Belgium (including Ghent), while the Protestant Netherlands fought onward to independence.

    * “Minnenbroder,” Borris explains, “may be a satiric pun on the word minne (which had come to mean debauchery), suggesting ‘brothers in lust’ as opposed to brotherly love. Hogenberg connects sodomy with ‘godlessness,’ as was common.”

    References

    Tim Alderman (2017)

    Gay History: Ali bin Hittan bin Said, Muhammad bin Suleyman bin Muhammad, and Muhammad bin Khalil bin Abdullah – 2002

    The three men – ‘Ali bin Hittan bin Sa’id, Muhammad bin Suleyman bin Muhammad and Muhammad bin Khalil bin ‘Abdullah, all Saudi Arabian nationals, were publicly beheaded in Abha, Asir province, on 1 January 2002.

    The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior issued a statement announcing that the three were convicted of homosexual acts, adding vaguely-worded charges of ‘luring Children’s rights and harming others’ without providing any further details. The trial proceedings – like most in Saudi Arabia – remain shrouded in secrecy.
    Director of Amnesty International UK Kate Allen said:
    ‘The execution of these three men is yet another gesture of defiance of international standards by the Saudi Arabian government.
    Widespread revulsion at these killings has led Amnesty International members to urgently contact the Saudi authorities expressing concern that these men may have been executed primarily because of their sexual orientation and seeking clarification of the exact charges and evidence brought against them.’
    No detailed information regarding the trial proceedings for these individuals is yet known. Amnesty International is now also seeking urgent clarification of the names of any further prisoners under sentence of death due to their sexual orientation and calling for the commutation of their sentences.
    This case is not an isolated case of people in Saudi Arabia being punished for alleged same-sex sexual relations. In April 2000 it was reported that a Saudi court had sentenced nine young men to prison sentences and up to 2,600 lashes each for ‘deviant sexual behaviour’. Six men were executed in July 2000 on charges partly relating to their sexual orientation and Amnesty International feared that these six may in fact have been among the nine men sentenced to the flogging and prison sentences. Like the recent executions, these six death penalties were carried out in Abha, Asir province.
    This latest action by Amnesty International follows the publication last year of a report – Crimes of hate, conspiracy of silence – revealing that over 70 countries continue to criminalise same-sex relations, with some such ‘offences’ incurring the death penalty.
    “Saudi Shame

    Maryam Namazie

    Published in Gay Times

    June 2005

    Gay people are routinely facing harassment, arrest, torture, flogging and execution in Saudi Arabia. It’s no wonder the gay rights group OutRage! has labelled Saudi Arabia one of the most homophobic countries in the world.

    In May alone, as many as 92 men were arrested as ‘deviants’. On March 10, over 100 men were arrested after a raid for attending a gay wedding and found to be dancing and ‘behaving like women’. According to Amnesty International, 31 of the men were sentenced to imprisonment for 6 months to a year and up to 200 lashes each; four namely two Saudi Arabians, a Jordanian and a Yemeni were given two years’ imprisonment and 2,000 lashes. As is usual in Saudi Arabia, the sentences were passed in a closed session in which defence lawyers were barred. According to Human Rights Watch, the more than 70 men who had initially been released were subsequently summoned back and informed they had also been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment each.
    These arrests closely follow the public beheading of Ahmed al-Enezi and Shahir al-Roubli, two gay lovers in Arar, in the north, for allegedly murdering a man who had found out about their relationship and was threatening to out them. The Saudi Interior Ministry’s statement announcing the execution said the two were found in a ‘shameful situation’, a term which is regularly used by the authorities to refer to homosexuality.
    Whilst the reports are alarming, and seem to be escalating, one can be certain that these are only the tip of the iceberg. Most cases of persecution go unreported for the mere reason that the government is a dictatorship with strict censorship rules. For every report that reaches the international media and organisations, there are thousands of nameless, faceless individuals whose fate goes unreported. Under such circumstances, it is exceedingly difficult to collect facts and highlight the persecution gay people face. In the case of those arrested at the party for example, it was someone close to a defendant who alerted international organisations of the arrests and not official reports. The Saudi authorities seldom release information about arrests until after a trial and it is impossible to independently verify reports. All Saudi executions are also not systematically reported; officials continue to deny that the death penalty is applied for homosexuality ‘alone’. Of course there is evidence otherwise. On 1 January 2002, for example, Ali bin Hittan bin Sa’id, Muhammad bin Suleyman bin Muhammad and Muhammad bin Khalil bin ‘Abdullah were executed in Abha, Asir province, solely for their sexual orientation. And this is not a problem faced by gays in Saudi Arabia alone. In Iran, for example, on March 15, a government affiliated newspaper, Etemad, reported on the execution sentence of two men for homosexuality. No further reports have been received and their fate is unknown.
    The abysmal situation of gay people in Saudi Arabia has to be looked at within the context of serious rights violations across the board. The beheadings of the two gay lovers in Arar brought the numbers beheaded for a variety of reasons this year alone to 24. People living in Saudi Arabia don’t have basic rights and freedoms and human rights violations are truly pervasive. Like all countries under Islamic rule, though, sexual ‘crimes’ are dealt with most severely because of their ‘shamefulness’ and ‘perversity’, especially since an Islamic state is usually most preoccupied with the control of sexuality and sex in order to assert its own ‘divine’ and ‘moral’ legitimacy.
    Certainly, Islam is not unlike other religions when it comes to sex and sexuality. It is just as inherently homophobic and misogynist as other religions but there is one important fundamental difference and that is that it is a religion in power or vying for power in many countries in the 21st century. Homosexuality is condemned as ‘indecency’, ‘lewdness’, ‘degenerate’, ‘transgressing beyond bounds’ and in need of ‘punishment’ in the Koran. In the Hadith, which are the sayings of the prophet Mohammad and part of Sharia or Islamic laws, it clearly states: ‘Kill the one who sodomises and the one who lets it be done to him.’ Under Islamic Hudud laws, ‘illicit’ gay or straight sex are considered offences for which the punishment is mandatory and corporal in nature – including flogging, execution and stoning to death. These ancient religious texts become all the more relevant because they are translated into the laws of countries like Saudi Arabia and effect real live human beings. Whilst according to Amnesty International, more than 80 countries around the world criminalise same sex relations, eight punish it by death (Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria – in states practising Sharia law, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, and Yemen) – all of which one might add are countries or parts of countries under Islamic law.
    This doesn’t mean that there isn’t an active gay community in Saudi Arabia, Iran or elsewhere or that gay tourists will be beheaded upon entry. Despite serious repercussions, people continue to live their lives, have sex and express their sexuality. Most Saudi cities have underground gay networks, which organise private parties. Some visitors find this pleasantly surprising and therefore mistakenly conclude that restrictions and repercussions are exaggerated. They are not. Or they often consider the legal restrictions and impositions as part of the ‘people’s culture and religion’ rather than that of the ruling class’. These visitors fail to make a distinction between the regime imposing these inhuman and medieval laws and the people forced to live under them.
    Of course homophobia exists everywhere including in countries that do not impose Islamic law. But Islam in power or political Islam has raised homophobia to another dimension. Those of us who have fled political Islam know full well the levels of threats and intimidation those with ‘unchaste’ and ‘perverse’ lifestyles have faced and continue to face. The political Islam behind the arrests, floggings, and beheadings in Saudi Arabia is part of the same right wing reactionary movement, which hung sweet 16 year old Atefeh Rajabi from a city square in Iran for ‘acts incompatible with chastity’, beheaded prostitutes in Iraq and recently stoned to death a 29 year old woman, Amina, accused by her husband of adultery, in Afghanistan. [As I mentioned, in many cases, we are left with only a first name or no name at all.]
    This movement is also permeating into life in Britain and the west as well. Demands for child veiling, Islamic schools and a Sharia court in Britain for Muslims as well as Ken Livingstone’s love affair with al-Qaradawi are all evidence of this fact. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, political Islam kills, maims and brutalises, but here the ‘moderate Islamic scholar’ Qaradawi’s support for women’s ‘modesty’ and his condemnation of sexual acts as ‘perversions’ are deemed mere abstract questions of freedom of speech or academic/theological debates. Don’t be fooled. They are all part and parcel of the same movement and implement Islamic rules as soon as they have any power. [By the way, it was also an ‘Islamic scholar’ who issued the sentence for Amina’s stoning to death in Afghanistan.]
    The rise of political Islam here in Britain is affecting countless women, gays, and others who have sought refuge and safety in Britain from it. Moreover, whilst the UK government has close relations with countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, it continues to refuse and deport its victims. Just last year, Hussein Nasseri, 26, a gay man who feared he would be executed if he were deported to Iran killed himself after the Home Office turned down his second appeal for asylum.
    To make matters worse, any attempt to criticise Islamic laws and states are now being deemed racist and Islamophobic. Even the Saudi government itself has labelled criticism of its policies and practices as such. Clearly though, the targets of racism and discrimination are human beings not beliefs or ideas belonging to or attributed to them nor social or political movements associated with belief systems. Such labels are often used by Islamic states and their apologists in the west to silence any criticism and opposition.
    Nonetheless, the Saudi government and its likes need to know that the world is watching them when they abuse rights with such impunity. They cannot be allowed to torture, imprison and behead gay people and others under cover of secrecy and carry on with business as usual with western governments such as the UK government, which has military links with the kingdom. Most importantly, though, those being abused and violated need to know they are not alone. That they are not just nameless, faceless individuals languishing in prison or facing torture and execution. They need to know that there are other people all over the world who will not stand by and remain silent.”
    References

    Tim Alderman (2017)

    Gay History: Three Molly-House Sodomites – 1726

    May 9th, 1726.

    Nine men and one notorious women died at Tyburn on this date in 1726 at a more than usually raucous execution-day.“At the Place of Execution, Map got himself loose, threw himself out of the Halter, and jump’d 3 or 4 Yards from the Cart, upon the Heads of the numerous Crowd of People, but the Officers following after him, wounded him with their Pikes, and the Executioner and some others soon brought him back again,” the Ordinary’s account remarked. “Vigous got himself free of the Halter also, which was immediately observ’d: Gillingham was the more desirous of Prayers, having the Night before taken Poyson, and conscious of his Guilt.”

    And that’s just what was happening under the nooses.

    Out in the audience,

    Just before the Execution, a Scaffold that had been built near Tyburn, and had about 150 People upon it, fell down. A Snuff Box Maker in Castle-Street, and a Gentleman then not known, were, as ’tis believed, mortally Wounded; and about 12 other Men and Women, Maimed and Wounded in a most cruel Manner: Some having their Legs, others their Arms, &c. broke.

    Some part of the Scaffold being left standing, the Mob gathered upon it again in Numbers; and in about Half an Hour more, that also fell down, and several were hurt. Soon after another Scaffold broke down, with about 100 Persons upon it; but the People that were damaged by it, being immediately carried off on Mens Backs, and in Coaches, we must defer the Particulars of that Mischief … (Daily Journal, May 10, 1726)

    We will leave for a future May 9th the notorious fate of the woman, Catherine Hayes, and focus for this post on the fate of the notorious men: sodomites Gabriel Lawrence, William Griffin, and Thomas Wright.

    A mere three months before, this trio had been among dozens of men rounded up in a raid on London’s thriving “molly house”.

    These establishments catered to what we might anachronistically call the gay scene of Georgian London — or the molly scene, if you like, from the slang term for effeminate, cross-dressing, or homosexual men encompassing a panoply of alternate sexual identities and preferences. What these behaviors “among Christians not to be named” had in common, of course, was the opprobrium of the surrounding world.

    Rictor Norton, who keeps the voluminous Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century Enland site and wrote a book about Mother Clap’s Molly House, records a 1726 letter to the editor demanding an exemplary punishment to check the misuse of genitalia.

    It being too notorious, that there are vile Clubs of Miscreants in and about this City, who meet to Practise and Propagate the detestable Sin of Sodomy, a Crime which drew down the flaming Vengeance of God upon the City of Sodom, in a Day when they had not that Light which we are bless’d with now, ’tis humbly propos’d that the following Method may not only destroy the Practice, but blot out the Names of the monstrous Wretches from under Heaven, viz. when any are Detected, Prosecuted and Convicted, that after Sentence Pronounc’d, the Common Hangman tie him Hand and Foot before the Judge’s Face in open Court, that a Skilful Surgeon be provided immediately to take out his Testicles, and that then the Hangman sear up his Scrotum with an hot Iron, as in Cases of burning in the Hand.

    Old Blighty was never favored with courtroom scrotum-searings, but connoisseurs of same-sex love “must risque our necks for” it well into the next century.

    But what pleasures welcomed the man who was ready to wager his life! An informant reported from that same Mother Clap’s that he

    found between 40 and 50 Men making Love to one another, as they call’d it. Sometimes they would sit on one another’s Laps, kissing in a lewd Manner, and using their Hands indecently. Then they would get up, Dance and make Curtsies, and mimick the voices of Women. O, Fie, Sir! – Pray, Sir. – Dear Sir. Lord, how can you serve me so? – I swear I’ll cry out. – You’re a wicked Devil. – And you’re a bold Face. – Eh ye little dear Toad! Come, buss! – Then they’d hug, and play, and toy, and go out by Couples into another Room on the same Floor, to be marry’d, as they call’d it.

    Several such informers were stalking the city’s molly-houses in the 1720s, goaded (or forced) by both police and private bluenoses. One of the resulting court records notes that “[t]he discovering of the Molly Houses, was chiefly owing to a Quarrel betwixt Mark Partridge and – Harrington: For upon this Quarrel Partridge to be revenged on Harrington, had blab’d something of the Secret, and afterwards gave a large Information of a great many others.”
    Many lives hung on this lover’s spat. Mother Clap’s was raided in February 1726, but it was just the most famous of a whole series that forced into public awareness “a new, distinct molly ‘sodomite’ identity.”

    The saving grace for the twoscore arrestees at Mother Clap’s was that even in Bloody Code England, a fairly high bar was required to execute for same-sex sodomy: “penetratio, that is res in re“ (“thing in thing”)* — often quite difficult to prove.** As nobody had actually been caught in flagrante delicto, most of those initially arrested were simply released un-charged.

    But the informants raise their scaly heads once more here: as they were themselves habitues of the molly circuit, they could provide firsthand eyewitness testimony about the acts of buggery several men had committed with them.

    Five men were put on trial for their lives in April on the strength of accusations made by informants Mark Partridge, Thomas Newton, and Edward Courtney. The cases are described in some detail at Norton’s site: Gabriel Lawrence and William Griffin, both 43-year-old married men, were Mother Clap regulars who implausibly claimed to have no idea it was a molly house. (The place was a coffee shop/tavern.) Griffin actually lived there. Both these men were easily condemned but refused to the end to admit their proclivities to the Newgate Ordinary, and insisted that they had been framed.

    Thomas Wright, seller of ale, had gone so far to set up his own molly house where he both slept with Newton, and procured Newton for his other customers. Wright, who “inclin’d to the Anabaptist-Way,” also said that Newton had perjured himself; nevertheless, he “could not deny his following this abominable Courses, only he refus’d to make particular Confessions.”

    A third informant keyed two additional capital trials that didn’t end at Tyburn. George Kedger (Keger) and George Whittle (Whytle) both mounted much stronger defenses casting much greater doubt on the circumstances of their entrapment.

    Charged with taking Courtney into his bed, Kedger contended that he had in fact resisted Courtney’s advances until the latter threatened to “swear my Life away”. Kedger was condemned, but pardoned. Whittle did still better by forcing his accuser to admit that he was a convict three times over and insinuating that rumors about his buggery were started by a disgruntled lodger. With a parade of character witnesses at his back, Whittle was acquitted outright.

    * This was also the standard for same-sex rape; we’ve seen in these pages a man’s life hang on a question of just the tip.

    ** Attempted buggery — a charge which could result from making a sexual advance on another man that he rejected, or as a judicial punt when same-sex activity was afoot but no penetration could be proven — might land one a fine and a trip to the pillory. This was no mean sentence; the pillory could be quite a dangerous (sometimes lethal) ordeal for homosexuals or for anyone else.

    Mother Clap herself, whose molly house we have referred to throughout this post, was also pilloried, not executed. Her eventual fate is not known; a marker in Holborn notes the former site of her famous establishment.

    Gabriel Lawrence’s Old Bailey Sodomy Trial 20th April 1726

    Gabriel Lawrence , was indicted for feloniously committing with Thomas Newton , aged 30 Years, the heinous and detestable Sin of Sodomy . Thomas Newton thus depos’d. At the End of last June, one Peter Bavidge (who is not yet taken) and – Eccleston (who dy’d last Week in Newgate) carry’d me to the House of Margaret Clap (who is now in the Compter) and there I first became acquainted with the Prisoner. Mrs. Clap’s House was next to the Bunch of Grapes in Field-lane, Holbourn . It bore the publick Character of a Place of Entertainment for Sodomites, and for the better Conveniency of her Customers, she had provided Beds in every Room in her House. She usually had 30 or 40 of such Persons there every Night, but more especially on a Sunday. I was conducted up one pair of Stairs, and by the Perswasions of Bavidge (who was present all the Time) I suffer’d the Prisoner to commit the said Crime. He has attempted the same since that Time, but I never would permit him any more. When Mrs. Clap was taken up, in February last, I went to put in Bail for her; at which Time, Mr. Williams, and Mr. Willis told me, they believ’d I could give Information, which I promis’d to do, and I went next Day, and gave Information accordingly. – Samuel Stephens thus depos’d. Mrs. Clap’s House was notorious for being a Molly-House. – In order to detect some that frequented it, I have been there several Times, and seen 20 or 30 of ’em together, making Love, as they call’d it, in a very indecent Manner. Then they used to go out by Pairs, into another Room, and at their return, they would tell what they had been doing together, which they call’d marrying. The Prisoner acknowledg’d, that he had been several Times at Clap’s House, but never knew that it was a Rendesvouz for such Persons. – He call’d several to his Character. Henry Hoxan thus depos’d. I have kept the Prisoner Company, and served him with Milk these 18 Years, for he is a Milk Man , and I am a Cow-Keeper, I have been with him at the Oxfordshire Feast, and there we have both got drink, and come Home together in a Coach, and yet he never offer’d any such thing to me. Thomas Fuller thus depos’d. The Prisoner married my Daughter, 18 Years ago; She has been dead these 7 Years, and he has a Girl by her, that is 13 Years old. – Several others deposd, that he was a very sober Man, and that they had often been in his Company when he was drunk; but never found him inclinable to such Practices. Guilty . Death . He was a 2d. Time indicted, for committing Sodomy with Mark Partridge , Nov. 10 . But being Convicted of the Former, he was not Try’d for this.

    “The Ordinary’s Account of Gabriel Lawrence.

    Gabriel Lawrence, aged 43 Years, was a Papist, and did not make any particular Confessions to me. He kept the Chapel with the rest for the most part; was always very grave,, and made frequent Responces with the rest, and said the Lord’s Prayer and Creed after me. He owned himself of the Romish Communion; but said, that he had a great Liking to the Church of England, and could communicate with them; but this I would not allow, unless he renounced his Error. He said Newton had perjured himself, and that in all his Life he had never been guilty of that detestable Sin; but that he had liv’d many Years with a Wife who had born several Children, and kept a good sober House. ——
    At the Place of Execution he said, that a certain Person had injured him when he took him before a Justice of the Peace, who committed him, in swearing or affirming, that fifteen Years ago he had been taken up for that unnatural Sin, and that it cost him Twenty Pounds, to get himself free, which, he said, was utterly false; for, ’till this Time, he was never suspected.

    He was hanged at Tyburn, on Monday, May 9, 1726.”

    William Griffin’s Old Bailey Sodomy Trial 20th April 1726

    William Griffin , was indicted for Committing Sodomy with Thomas Newton , May 10 . Thomas Newton thus depos’d. The Prisoner and Thomas Phillips , (who is since absconded,) were Lodgers for near 2 Years at Clap’s House. I went up stairs, while the Prisoner was a Bed, and there he committed the Act with me. Samuel Stevens depos’d, That he had seen the Prisoner, and his Gang at Clap’s House. Guilty . Death .

    “The Ordinary’s Account of William Griffin.

    William Griffin, aged forty-three Years, an Upholsterer by Trade, in Southwark; had, as he said, been a Man of good Business, but, haveing squandered away, or lost his Money, was fallen into Poverty. He denied the Fact for which he died, calling Newton, the Evidence, perjured; and saying, that the abominable Sin was always the Aversion of his Soul; for he had lived many Years with a good virtuous Wife, who had several Children, two of which, a Boy and a Girl, are living; and, he said, both of them behave mighty well, and to the Satisfaction of all concerned with them: And he hop’d that the World would not be so unjust, as to upbraid his poor Children with his unfortunate Death.
    At the Place of Execution, —— Griffin would not own the Commission of that detestable Sin.

    He was hanged at Tyburn, on Monday, May 9, 1726.”

    Thomas Wright’s Old Bailey Sodomite Trial 20th April 1726

    Thomas Wright , was indicted for committing Buggery with Thomas Newton . Jan 10 1724- 5. Thomas Newton thus depos’d. Last January 12 Month, the Prisoner had the Carnal Use of my Body at his own House, in Christophers Alley in Moor-fields : He was a Wooll-Comber by Trade, but he sold a Dram among such Company as came to his House. – He afterwards remov’d to Beech Lane, and there kept Rooms for the entertainment of Sodomites. He sold Ale, but he had it from other Ale-houses: He has often fetch’d me to oblige Company in that way, and especially to one Gregory Turner . William Davison and – Sellars thus depos’d. The discovering of the Molly Houses, was chiefly owing to a Quarrel betwixt Mark Partridge and – Harrington: For upon this Quarrel Partridge to be revenged on Herrington, had blab’d something of the Secret, and afterwards gave a large Information of a great many others. The Mollies had heard something of the first Discovery, but did not imagine how far he had proceeded, and what further Designs he had upon them. – By his means we were introduced to the Company, at the Prisoners Lodging’s. There were 8 or 9 of them in a large Room, one was playing upon a Fiddle, and others were one while dancing in obscene Postures, and other while Singing baudy Songs, and talking leudly, and Acting a great many Indecencies. – But they look’d a skew upon Mark Partridge , and call’d him a treacherous, blowing-up Mollying Bitch, and threatned that they’d Massacre any body that betray’d them . The Prisoner was very fond of us, and kist us all at parting in a most indecent manner, Edward Sanders in behalf of the Prisoner depos’d, That he never heard any such report of the Prisoner before; That he was born and bred at Newbury, and was esteem’d an honest Man, The Jury found him Guilty . Death .

    May 9 – 1726 – Three Men are Publicly Hanged for Sodomy at Tyburn

    The Productive Leisure Network
     Gabriel Lawrence, William Griffin, and Thomas Wright were initially arrested after a raid by authorities at a “molly house” owned by a Margaret Clap. Molly houses were gathering places for homosexual men in eighteenth century England. Since the reign of Henry VIII, homosexual sex between men, better known as “buggery” or “sodomy,” was illegal. On the other hand, its prosecution was varied, and in the early eighteenth century, after the Glorious Revolution and the Hanoverian Succession, the desire to prosecute men on sodomy charges was increased through the Society for the Reformation of Manners. The problem was the actual way to prosecute sodomy, which led to a reliance on informants, who were usually hustlers and male prostitutes who were arrested on other charges. That is how Margaret Clap’s establishment was raided and how evidence was brought against Lawrence, Griffin, and Wright. All three men tried to present some evidence that they had no idea that Clap’s house was a molly house, but the juries didn’t buy it. Thus, they were publicly hanged at Tyburn for the crime of sodomy, a public spectacle which was relatively rare in the history of Britain.

    References

    Gay History: Jan Quisthout van der Linde, Condemned to Drown in New Amsterdam – 1660.

    On June 17th in 1660, in the Netherlands’ little settlement on the tip of Manhattan Island, New Amsterdam, Jan Quisthout van der Linde was sentenced “to be taken to the place of execution and there stripped of his arms, his sword to be broken at his feet, and he to be then tied in a sack and cast into the river and drowned until dead.”We do not have an indication of the date this sentence was carried out, if it were not immediate.

    It was an unusual execution for an unnatural crime: Quisthout had been found guilty of sodomizing his servant.

    New Amsterdam is here just four years away from its seizure by the English, who rechristened it New York;* dour, peg-legged Calvinist Peter Stuyvesant had been hustling for 13 years to put the tenuous little settlement on some sort of sustainable, defensible footing even as its neighbor English colonies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island grew to dwarf little Manhattan.

    Stuyvesant was a crusty boss.** He’d been crestfallen on arrival to his new assignment to find New Amsterdam a rough-edged melting pot city with livestock roaming the streets, a slurry of languages (and religions), and dockside brawls spilling out of seedy taverns.†

    The “Castello Plan” map from 1660 shows the germ of Manhattan’s present-day layout. The defensive wall spanning the island on the right gives us Wall Street.

    His horror was practical as well as moral: the little colony, a few hundred souls when he took over and perhaps 1,500 when the English finally deposed him, was in danger on all sides and the cash-strapped West India Company was both slow and miserly in response to Stuyvesant’s desperate pleas for men and material. But the horror was also moral. Stuyvesant enforced a whole slew of unpopular injunctions against drunkenness, fisticuffs, and fouling public streets with refuse, and actually had to be reined in by the West India Company board when he got so overbearing as to try shouldering out Jews and prying into the devotional habits of suspected Quakers.

    A paragon of rectitude like Stuyvesant was in no way about to turn a blind eye to casual Atlantic-world buggery.

    Even his lax predecessor had come down hard on a previous sodomy case, viewing that sin as an existential threat to their depraved port: “such a man is not worthy to associate with mankind and the crime on account of its heinousness may not be tolerated or suffered, in order that the wrath of God may not descend upon us as it did upon Sodom.”

    The crime that we might see here with modern eyes, rape, was in no way foremost to Stuyvesant et al. The boy, an Amsterdam orphan named Hendrick Harmensen, stayed out of the drowning-sack — but he was whipped for same-sex contact and ordered “sent to some other place by the first opportunity” even though that very sentence acknowledged that it was Quisthout who had “committed by force the above crime” on the lad.

    View of Dutch Manhattan … and its gallows.

    References

    Executed Today http://www.executedtoday.com/tag/sodomy/

    Tim Alderman (2017)

    Gay History: John Markham – Abominable Offense 1819 

    The Morning Post of December 30, 1819

    The diary (pdf) of a man imprisoned at Newgate recorded for this date in 1819 that

    A man was hanged this morning for an unnatural crime. Had my windows fastened up but could not sleep. They began putting up the scaffold at 4 o’clock. The tolling of the bell at 8 was frightful. I heard the crash of the drop falling and a woman screech violently at the same moment. Instantly afterwards, the sound of the pye man crying, “all hot, all hot.” ‘Tis dreadful hanging a man for this practice.* There are two, a man and boy now in jail, who were caught in flagrante delictu — and yet only sentenced to two years imprisonment. The poor wretch was half dead, so they told me, before he was hanged.

    Of this poor soul fallen away into the indifferent cries of the pye-man we have this from The Morning Post of December 30, 1819.

    John Markham was obscure, no doubt; his condemnation literally was for unspeakable acts, since it barely rates a line at all in the Old Bailey’s archives.

    But the aural observer of his death was not obscure at all.

    John Hobhouse, though he would eventually become the first Baron Broughton, was a buddy of the queer-friendly Lord Byron (the fourth canto of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is dedicated to Hobhouse). Hobhouse was also a prominent radical rabble-rouser, which is precisely why he was in Newgate on the day of Markham’s hanging.

    All of this occurred in the tense wake of the Peterloo Massacre, which saw British cavalry ride down their countrymen in Manchester for assembling to demand the reform of a parliament long grown egregiously unrepresentative. (Manchester was a case in point: it had no M.P. at all based on a centuries-old allocation of boroughs even though it had now boomed into one of the realm’s leading centers of industry.**)

    Following the Peterloo outrage, our correspondent Mr. Hobhouse had suggested in one of his many combative pamphlets that absent such brutal exertions the members of Parliament “would be pulled out by their ears” at the hands of an aggrieved populace. Given the all-too-recent aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars — and their antecedent, the French Revolution — the potential threat in these words seemed to the powers that be a step beyond mere colorful rhetoric.


    Accordingly, the House of Commons judged Hobhouse guilty of a breach of privilege and had him arrested earlier that same December. His cause more advanced by the martyrdom than inconvenienced by a gentleman’s loose detention — Hobhouse’s at-liberty associates not only held political meetings in his ample prison apartments but planned and advertised them in advance — the man won election to that selfsame House of Commons from Westminster the following March.

    * A few days later, Hobhouse will record in his diary that he has been told that Markham “had committed his crime with a pauper in a workhouse on a coffin.”

    ** The U.K. finally enacted parliamentary reform in 1832. A few years after that, it even stopped hanging people for sodomy.

    Reference

    Gay History: William North – Prostrated Homosexual, 1823

    From the Morning Chronicle of Feb. 25, 1823, 

    EXECUTION. — Yesterday morning, at an early hour, considerable numbers of spectators assembled before the Debtors’ door at Newgate, to witness the execution of William North, convicted in september Sessions of an unnatural crime.

    The wretched culprit was 54 years of age, and had a wife living.

    On his trial, he appeared a fine, stout, robust man, and strongly denied his guilt. On his being brought before the Sheriffs yesterday morning, he appeared to have grown at least ten years older, during the five months he has been in a condemned cell, with the horrid prospect before him of dying a violent death. His body had wasted to the mere anatomy of a man, his cheeks had sunk, his eyes had become hollow, and such was his weakness, that he could scarcely stand without support.

    Though the consolations of religion were frequently offered to him, yet he could not sufficiently calm his mind to listen, or participate in them, even to the moment of his death. Sunday night he could not sleep, his mouth was parched with a burning fever; he occasionaqlly ejaculated “Oh God!” and “I’m lost;” and at other times he appeared quite childish; his imbecility of mind seemed to correspond with the weakness of his body. He exclaimed on one occasion “I have suffered sufficient punishment in this prison to atone for the crimes I have committed;” and when the Rev. Dr. Cotton and Mr. Baker, who attended him, asked him if he believed in Christ, and felt that he was a sinner? He replied “I pray, but cannot feel.”

    The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not administered to him, probably on account of his occasional delirium, and the generally disordered state of his mental faculties.

    At five minutes before eight yesterday morning he was pinioned by the executioner in the press room, in the presence of the sheriffs and officers of the goal. As St. Sepulchre’s church clock struck eight, the culprit, carrying the rope, attended by the executioner, and clergyman, moved in procession with the sheriffs, &c. on to the scaffold.

    On arriving at the third station, the prison bell tolled, and Dr. Cotton commenced at the same moment reading the funeral service “I am the resurrection and the life,” &c. of which the wretched man seemed to be totally regardless. On his being assisted up the steps of the scaffold, reason returned; he became aware of the dreadful death to which he was about to be consigned; his looks of terror were frightful; his expression of horror, when the rope was being placed round his neck, made every spectator shudder.

    It was one of the most trying scenes to the clergymen they ever witnessed — never appeared a man so unprepared, so unresigned to his fate. — The signal being given the drop fell, and the criminal expired in less than a minute. He never struggled after he fell.

    The body hung an hour, and was then cut down for interment. — The six unhappy men who are doomed to suffer on to-morrow morning, appear to be perfectly resigned to their fate.

    News Paper Reports

    Saturday 22 February 1823

    His Majesty was pleased to order the following for execution: . . . Wm. North, convicted last September Sessions of an unnatural crime, on Monday morning next. (Morning Chronicle)

    Tuesday, 25 February 1823

    EXECUTION. – Yesterday morning, at an early hour, considerable numbers of spectators assembled before the Debtors’ door at Newgate, to witness the execution of William North, convicted in September Sessions of an unnatural crime. The wretched culprit was 54 years of age, and had a wife living. On his trial, he appeared a fine, stout, robust man, and strongly denied his guilt. On his being brought before the Sheriffs yesterday morning, he appeared to have grown at least ten years older, during the five months he has been in a condemned cell, with the horrid prospect before him of dying a violent death. His body had wasted to the mere anatomy of a man, his cheeks had sunk, his eyes had become hollow, and such was his weakness, that he could scarcely stand without support. Though the consolations of religion were frequently offered to him, yet he could not sufficiently calm his mind to listen, or participate in them, even to the moment of his death. Sunday night he could not sleep, his mouth was parched with a burning fever; he occasionaqlly ejaculated “Oh God!” and “I’m lost;” and at other times he appeared quite childish; his imbecility of mind seemed to correspond with the weakness of his body. He exclaimed on one occasion “I have suffered sufficient punishment in this prison to atone for the crimes I have committed;” and when the Rev. Dr. Cotton and Mr. Baker, who attended him, asked him if he believed in Christ, and felt that he was a sinner? He replied “I pray, but cannot feel.” The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not administered to him, probably on account of his occasional delirium, and the generally disordered state of his mental faculties. At five minutes before eight yesterday morning he was pinioned by the executioner in the press room, in the presence of the sheriffs and officers of the goal. As St. Sepulchre’s church clock struck eight, the culprit, carrying the rope, attended by the executioner, and clergyman, moved in procession with the sheriffs, &c. on to the scaffold. On arriving at the third station, the prison bell tolled, and Dr. Cotton commenced at the same moment reading the funeral service “I am the resurrection and the life,” &c. of which the wretched man seemed to be totally regardless. On his being assisted up the steps of the scaffold, reason returned; he became aware of the dreadful death to which he was about to be consigned; his looks of terror were frightful; his expression of horror, when the rope was being placed round his neck, made every spectator shudder. It was one of the most trying scenes to the clergymen they ever witnessed – never appeared a man so unprepared, so unresigned to his fate. – The signal being given the drop fell, and the criminal expired in less than a minute. He never struggled after he fell. The body hung an hour, and was then cut down for interment. – The six unhappy men who are doomed to suffer on to-morrow morning, appear to be perfectly resigned to their fate. (Morning Chronicle)

    References

    Tim Alderman (2017)