Also known as Hugh John Alan McKail, Alan M’Kail, Allan McKail
Designer (Textile Artist / Fashion Designer), Designer (Theatre / Film Designer)
A Melburnian auctioneer, fashion and theatre designer known for his costumes at Melbourne’s Artists’ Balls. Contemporary police and media reactions to his more flamboyant costumes give an insight into attitudes towards gay male and transgender identity in early twentieth century Melbourne.
AS EARLY AS 1868, the Block on Collins Street’s north side, stretching from Elizabeth to Swanston Street, was fashionable: ‘ablaze with its crowds of colonial fashionables and celebrities . . . passing the hour in an easy, careless, lounging, gossipy manner’. Whilst ‘doing the block’ on Saturday mornings, middle-class Melbourne showed that it was the best dressed in Australia. So popular indeed, that soon this celebrated stretch was sold, demolished and replaced, as it has been twice since.
Back then, the most desirable place to be seen in Melbourne was Café Gunsler on the Block, later known as the Vienna Café. In 1916 it was remodelled as the splendid, spacious Café Australia, and in 1927 became the Australia Hotel. In 1939 this was demolished and replaced by the larger, glamorous Hotel Australia, some of whose bars immediately became the most popular meeting place in Melbourne for homosexual (‘camp’) men, particularly the Collins Street first floor cocktail bar and the basement public bar, which from 1970-80 became the Woolshed. In 1992 the Hotel Australia and an adjoining hotel were demolished and replaced by Australia on Collins. This site has a significant architectural history in which creative women played a strong role, but after briefly tracing its development, I want to explore the much less known experiences and memories of its gay clientele, mainly from 1930-1992, as far as evidence allows.
Most of the rich experiences of gay men recounted in this article were concealed from the community and straight historians at least until the 1970s, and even today. Most of the gay men whose stories are quoted here seem to have led happy lives and did not feel oppressed, but they knew the limit of their behaviour, without exposing themselves and their friends to risk. So describing their lives openly for the public record was risky. Aberrant lives are known from court records, but until ALGA oral history interviews, the social experience of ordinary lesbians and gay men in Melbourne before about 1980 remained systematically unexplored. For instance, although it describes other underworlds and minority behaviour, Andrew Brown-May’s Melbourne Street Life, published in 1988, only once mentions homosexuality, and that as a nuisance in public urinals.
There is only the slightest evidence of whether the Café Australia, or the pre-war Prince of Wales supported a gay culture, or even that one existed in private. Other than the legal records and Truth’s prurient histrionics, the earliest evidence of generalised gay social life is from c.1930, from the gays born during the Great War who lived long enough and were courageous enough to record their memories on tape.
The eminent architect Lloyd Tayler designed Harrington’s Buildings (1879-1939) for the new owner and in 1891 the first building of the ambitious Block Arcade was completed. Soon after, Café Gunsler’s (to its left) was bought by Austrians who renamed it the Vienna Café (1890-1915). It remained fashionable and popular: theatre celebrities and famous men gathered there and its Melbourne Cup festivities were the highlight of the year, when Collins Street was thick with hansom cabs and often the vice-regal party attended. Oral history interviews can take us back as far as living memory allows (to about 1930). Before that often the only information about unconventional behaviour we have comes from court records. On 22 September 1908, Alan McKail (aged 20), Douglas Ogilvie (22) and Tom Page (25) were three young men-about-town who decided to dress as fashionable ladies, and have a champagne supper at the Vienna Cafe on the fashionable “Block” of Collins Street. The three were observed “going the pace” at the Vienna Cafe on the evening of 22 September, 1908. According to their statements, the three had come into the city that Saturday night in disguise to attempt to gain entry to the Scandinavian Ball. When refused entry to that function, they went to the theatre and decided to finish off their evening with supper at the most fashionable restaurant in Melbourne. Apparently, while there, “their behaviour was such to attract attention.” As they left the restaurant, a hostile crowd gathered in the street and the three were roughly handled by some of the toughs in the crowd. The police were called and the three found themselves in the City Court. They were charged with behaving indecently in a public place, Collins Street.
The presiding magistrate was unsure as to whether the defendants were “sexual perverts or brainless young idiots who needed to be brought up with a round turn.” He was of the firm opinion that “such conduct as theirs was a menace to every respectable woman, and not only a riot, but even murder, might take place if young men were permitted to carry on in that manner in a public cafe” and stated that the difference between male and female apparel was one of the “cornerstones of civilisation and no-one could be allowed to flaunt that convention.” Page and Ogilvie worked for the Melbourne Steamship Company, whilst McKail was ‘well connected’, had £500 a year and trained as a fashion designer in Paris.
Mr. Fogarty, for defendants, without calling any evidence in defence contended that not the slightest testimony had been given that defendants had behaved in an improper or an indecent manner. Their disguise was obvious. If they could not go to a fancy dress ball in female costume the’ University students’ precession and characters in this Eight-hours demonstration,were also illegal.
Mr. Dwyer, P.M., said the suggestions made against the defendants in the case had not been justified by the evidence. They had not conducted themselves improperly, nor taken other undue advantages of tho costumes they were wearing. Unless there was a law which forbade man to assume the garb of woman, or vice versa, there seemed to be nothing against defendants. Still, they wore silly young donkeys, and he (Mr. Dwyer) did not for a: moment regard their action as a proper proceeding, which only tended to raise scandal and injure their reputations; They were treading on thin ice, and might get themselves into trouble without the intervention of the law if they were not more careful.
‘Defendants were discharged.
In late 1915, the significant Chicago architect of Canberra, Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937) and his wife Marion Mahony (1871-1961) redesigned and rebuilt the interiors as ‘the most beautiful café in Australia’, and our earliest architectural modernism. When it opened in November 1916 Australia was at war with the Austro-Hungarian Empire whose capital was Vienna, so the name was sensibly switched to Café Australia. Six o’clock closing had been imposed that October, substantially reducing its opening hours. At least one patron remembered the Café Australia as being ‘slightly gay’ in the 1930s.
In 1927 it was renamed the Australia Hotel and by 1932, sold to hotelier Norman Carlyon’s company, The Australia Hotel Pty Ltd.10 Later, Carlyon owned the freehold with Frederick Matear (1888-1968). The State Library of Victoria holds an evocative mid-1930s street photograph looking east, depicting the Block Arcade, the Australia, the Tatler Bar and their neighbours.
The twenties: the decline and fall of our hero Alan McKail.
After getting so much unwanted attention parading around Melbourne’s ‘Block’ dragged-up as a Gibson Girl in the Edwardian years, then charming the social pages as a cubist Pierrot during the Indian Summer of the pre-war era, one would have imagined the Roaring Twenties would have been Alan McKail’s crowning glory. But, although our Alan could obviously still turn heads in the Jazz Age, noted among the well-dressed patrons of the Moonee Valley racecourse in ‘Table Talk’ in January 1925, he seems to have been falling out of the social spotlight.
The twenties began with McKail in a sound enough position to help out friends in need, purchasing ‘The Robins’, artist Penleigh Boyd’s Warrandyte retreat, after Boyd’s tragic death in a car accident in 1923 had left his family in financial limbo. McKail’s company, Decoration Co., who had worked with Penleigh Boyd on the sale of his studio contents only a few month earlier, handled the sale of Boyd’s estate. As Steve Duke pointed out, the security afforded by McKail’s purchase and the estate sale ensured that Boyd’s youngest son Robin would go on to write ‘The Australian Ugliness’, his influential book about poor aesthetic standards in local architecture and design, among many other career highlights.In February 1926 the Decoration Co. auction business, whose shareholders included Alan McKail, his former life partner Cyril John McClelland and his aunt Effie Eliza Ball, was valued by Melbourne ‘Herald’ at £20,000 (about A$1,500,000 in today’s money). Later that year ‘The Herald’ reported that McKail was about to head off to Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), for a holiday.
But things weren’t all going well in The Robins. Steve Duke often speculated that Alan McKail’s poverty-stricken death from tuberculosis in 1931 may have been caused by the renowned excesses of the age. Evidence has recently emerged from Victoria’s health records which, sadly, confirms Steve’s theory.
In November 1925 Alan McKail checked into the Pleasant View licensed house in his childhood home suburb of Preston, staying there for a week. The idyllic name of the house, which looked across the Lower Yarra Valley towards the Dandenongs, disguised its purpose; it was a clinic for recovering alcoholics. Nineteen months later, and not too long after his return from Colombo, McKail voluntarily checked into the less euphemistically-titled Lara Inebriates Retreat, north of Geelong, for another week’s drying out.
On the 2nd July 1927, Alan McKail checked out of the Lara Inebriates Retreat. At the time of writing, there are no further known references to him in the Melbourne press until his death notices appeared in November 1931. 
There is an Alan McKail Day cemetery walk at Box Hill cemetery in January (see link in References) which visits LGBT graves in the cemetery and plants rainbow flags on them.
Let’s get one thing sorted right from the start – that is not Ross’s real name! His actual name is Parrish Charles. Why the change? Who knows!
The Ross – he’ll always be Ross to me – I’m about to write about here is not the Ross I knew in Darlinghurst in the 80s and 90s. That Ross was a handsome, funny, sometimes insecure man, with dark hair, and big, dark eyes. That Ross was generous, giving, fun-loving, even after he moved to Melbourne. If you visited there, his home was always open to you, and he looked after you. That Ross I wanted to have wild sex with, yet never did. He had a brief relationship with an ex of mine – who shall remain nameless, and will never forgive Ross for what he did! His anger and disappointment is implacable!
I am not so unforgiving. Even though this Ross is one I did not know – and probably wouldn’t have liked – I know that somewhere inside this lost soul is the Ross I used to know. I guess I sound like I’m making excuses for him, though it is probably more that I want to know that outside this, he is not lost.
I had my own battles in the 90s with ill-health, so lost contact with many. I got such a shock when I found out about the following incident.
So, to April 29, 2008…
The police issued the following Media Release on the morning of the attack:
“Man Arrested After Clifton Hill Stabbing Attack
Release date: Tue 29 April 2008
Last updated: Wed 30 April 2008
A 45-year-old man from Alphington has been arrested and remanded after a stabbing attack in Clifton Hill earlier this morning.
Parish Charles of Bennett Street, Alphington was arrested at his home at 7.30pm and has been charged with attempted murder by Yarra CIU detectives.
Detectives believe the attack on a 23-year-old Indian student, working as a cab driver, occurred sometime around 3.00am, possibly in Hodgkinson Street near Wellington Street.
The taxi driver was located lying on the footpath by two men who were walking along Hodgkinson Street about 5.30am.
He was treated by paramedic’s members at the scene before being conveyed to the Royal Melbourne Hospital where he remains in a critical condition.
Mr Charles has appeared before an out of session’s court hearing and has been remanded to appear at Melbourne Magistrates Court on Wednesday 30 April.
Senior Constable Leigh Wadeson
No one seems able to pinpoint the reason that saw him drive to the Alfred Hospital about 1.40am on April 29 that year (2008) and walk towards the emergency department without going in.
Charles hailed a taxi an hour later and asked the driver, Jalvinder Singh, to take him to a former address in Clifton Hill. When Jalvinder Singh pulled over at the address, Charles produced a hunting knife from his pants and stabbed him five times in the stomach and chest before driving off in the taxi, which he crashed nearby. “While he was stabbing me he was holding me from behind around the neck. I was in shock. I felt like I was fighting for my life,” Mr Singh said later in a statement.
Mr Singh lay bleeding in the gutter for three hours before a passing truck driver discovered him and called for help. A surgeon later described Mr Singh’s survival as miraculous.
Police later arrested Charles at his home at Alphington, where he was getting ready to go to the Alfred for some tests. Considering the sheer savagery of the attack – described as “random, unprovoked and frenzied” by Justice Curtain at the 2009 trial – it is a pure anomaly that not only does Charles not remember the attack, but cannot even come up with a reason for it! Stranger still are the possible reasons – all health related – that are given as possible causes for the attack.
At his Supreme Court trial in 2009, Justice Curtain said Charles had been diagnosed as HIV positive in 1986 and at the time of the attack he was depressed and unhappy about his treatment at the Alfred Hospital.
He claimed to be suffering from blackouts and said he could remember little of the incident.
But in a series of reports from psychiatrists and psychologists to the Supreme Court there was no evidence Charles was psychotic or suffering from a mental illness that would explain his behaviour.
At the time of his appearance in the Magistrate’s Court, just after his arrest in 2008 “Charles’ lawyer, Rob Melasecca, told the court his client had contracted HIV 20 years ago and had recently begun taking new medication.
Mr Melasecca said Charles had no memory of yesterday morning’s events.
His client had no criminal history and was horrified about what had occurred.
“He’s very much someone who is out of his comfort zone … does not know where he is, does not know why he’s (here).”
Mr Melasecca said Charles had been planning to attend The Alfred hospital for treatment when he was arrested.
He said his client needed help otherwise there would be “two victims”.
“His mental health is a very big question mark,” Mr Melasecca said.
The cab driver injured in the attack was in an induced coma, he said.
“The difficulty is the victim in this matter is in an induced coma, so he’s not able to tell us what happened,” Mr Melasecca told the court.
Charles, who was sitting side on, facing the public gallery, as he sat in the dock, was wearing blue rubber gloves, as was the security guard who sat next to him.
He had a shaved head, a goatee-style beard and appeared hunched over during the hearing.
Charles said he had been suffering severe head pain, which he compared with an “electric shock”.
Mr Melasecca asked that Charles receive blood tests while in custody, as he was due to attend an appointment at The Alfred today to be tested for meningitis.
Mr Martin ordered that Charles be remanded at Melbourne Assessment Prison, where he would be assessed to see whether he should be transferred to St Vincent’s for more intensive treatment.
Police would allege that Charles attacked the taxi driver while they were travelling in the vicinity of Wellington Street, Clifton Hill.
He then dumped Mr Singh in the street and took control of the car before crashing it into a power pole, police would allege.
Mr Melasecca said his client did not dispute the police version of events, but said his client’s state of mind would be key to the case.
“He’s in a terrible condition,” he said. “This is not going to be a case about anything other than about his intent and his state of mind.”Outside court, Mr Melasecca said police would allege that Charles caught a cab outside The Alfred hospital after driving there – but not entering the hospital – in his partner’s car.”
In a victim impact statement, Mr Singh, 24, said he tried to return to taxi driving in a bid to overcome his fears following the attack, but found he was too anxious to continue. He said he had trouble with memory and concentration, and was considering dropping out of his hospitality course as a result. Mr Singh also said he stopped playing cricket because he had trouble breathing.
Prosecutor Susan Borg said the defence had not established any direct link between Charles’ depression and the stabbing.
Justice Elizabeth Curtain extended Charles’ bail but warned she was likely to jail him at a sentencing hearing on September 30.
Throughout all this, never has the obvious question been asked – or answered – in any of the reports on this case – why did Charles leave home with a hunting knife secreted in his trousers! Doesn’t that sort of imply intent?
At his Supreme Court trial, Charles pleaded guilty to intentionally causing serious injury and theft. He was sentenced to nine-and-a-half-years jail, and will be eligible for parole in six-and-a-half-years.
The attack on Jalvinder Singh in April2008 prompted a mass blockade of city streets by taxi drivers and led the State Government to introduce better safety measures.
And, of course, one cannot ignore the terrible implications of all this on 23-year-old student, Jalvinder Singh, who was driving the cab as a way to earn money, and was an unfortunate innocent victim to this very savage attack. A fortnight ago he made what his doctor describes as a “miraculous” recovery after his heart stopped on the operating table for more than 10 minutes.
Royal Melbourne Hospital cardiothoracic surgeon, Alistair Royse, said he was amazed Mr Singh survived the attack, in which he received four major stab wounds to the chest.
“A knife wound to the front of the chest went through his breast bone and luckily missed his heart by a centimetre,” Mr Royse said. “Another went through his rib – his lung was penetrated causing five litres of blood to bleed into his chest but also an inability to breathe causing a loss of consciousness.”
When doctors opened up Mr Singh’s chest to assess his injuries, his heart stopped, forcing them to perform open heart massage for about 15 minutes. He required 25 units of blood and the medical team treating him debated whether to continue trying to save him, fearing he had been left unconscious for several hours so his brain injuries would be too severe.
He was kept in an induced coma for nearly a week.
“On Sunday we reversed the sedation and he woke up normal. It’s remarkable, so therein, I think, lies the miracle of what’s happened,” Mr Royse said.
“On paper he had no prospects of survival but not only has he survived, I believe he will make a full and complete recovery once his wounds have healed, and (he will) have a normal life expectancy.”
Mr Royse said Mr Singh’s youth, fitness and resilience helped save him.
The part-time taxi driver and hospitality student yesterday thanked the medical team who treated him before he was discharged from hospital.
“I am very glad I was treated here by the doctors and staff who have given me a new life,” he said.
He said he was looking forward to resuming his studies and had not ruled out driving taxis again. Mr Singh said he had spoken to his mother in India only once since the attack but told her he was fine.
“She doesn’t know the reality, she only knows a little bit about the injuries,” he said, adding he had no plans to tell her.
“She’ll be worried and I do not want to make her worry.”
Mr Singh said he was happy new taxi safety measures would be introduced.
But he admitted not knowing that Public Transport Minister Lynne Kosky was introducing safety screens for drivers, pre-paid night-time fares and other measures.
“The leaders know what should be done, but after this and all kinds of accidents I think improvements should be done,” he told reporters today.
“I am very glad I was treated here by the doctors and staff who have given me a new life.
“Most Australians are very good and have sent me cards. Staff from Carrick (the Melbourne institute where Mr Singh studies hospitality) have visited me daily.”
Mr Singh remembers being stabbed and collapsing but little else.
He said he would stay in Australia and continue his studies but was undecided about resuming work as a taxi driver.
So what of Ross/Parrish? If he served his time, and received parole, he would have been discharged from jail sometime in 2015. I wonder if his partner stayed the course, or was so horrified by the events that he went his own way! I have no idea where he is, no any means to contact him. I do want him to know that despite the horrifying details surrounding this event, and by no means condoning it, that as an old friend, I have not deserted him. He has admitted to the crime, has done his time, and I hope that in some way he has managed to resume his life. If we are all condemned for our past actions, then there is little hope for any of us! Be kind to yourself, my friend, and take care!
The names Wendy & Wayne, and gender terms him and her are all used in this article. The newspapers used the male terminologies, though only ever knowing Wayne as Wendy I felt more comfortable using the female terminologies. Where people have been quoted, the terminologies they used are included.
On the evening of April 30, 1985, well known and popular gay drag entertainer, Wendy Wayne (Wayne Kerry Brennan), 35, was murdered in his small Darlinghurst Road, King’s Cross, bedsitter. He had been knocked unconsciius by a blow to the head, then shot twice in the back. It was thought by police that the killer may have been a client.
I did not personally know Wendy, though had seen her perform at Pete’s Beat in Oxford Street, and had actually met her on 25 February that year, when she attended a party at a friends flat (Barry Costello) on the corner of Oxford & Crown streets in Darlinghurst, then joined us on the awning outside the flat to watch the Mardi Gras parade. She attended the party with Tiny Tina – another performer at Petr’s Beat. Little did we know at that time, that 8 weeks later she would be dead.
Friend’s were distraught and puzzled. Wayne had geen well loved, and was known to many people, both straight and gay. To everyones knowledge, he had no enemies. He was a popular performer at Pete’s Beat, and also at Les Girls, where he put in occasional guest appearances.
An autopsy indicated that the murder was quite brutal, with him being knocked unconscious by a hard blow to the back of his head. The murderer had then shot him with what appeared to be a .45 ecalibre gun with two shots at close rang in his back. One shot had been placed between the shoulder blades, and exited through the neck. He was shot a second time through the base of the skull, with the bullet exiting through the chin. He was then covered within a leopard skin. He was discovered by a friend, Kenneth Beckham, the next morning. The door to the bedsit was open’ and the television & heater were both on. Police were unable to find the killer, the gun, or bullets involved in the murder.
Accoding to Kenneth “Wendy was the nicest person you could ever meet”. “She was loved by her workmates, and all her friends”. “No one knew of any ill-feeling between her, or anyone else. She was just too kind”. Kenneth also informed police that Wayne had grown up in Newcastle, and had geen a performer for some years. He stated that there had been no arguments, either professionally, or romantically. He was well known by many in pubs in Darlinghurst, Moore Park, and Surry Hills.
There were fears among both gays and other transvestites that a sex killer could be on the loose. Police claimed that Wayne was kniwn to other King’s Cross prostitutes, and personalities. Kenneth stated ” I just hope police find this killer, in case he strikes again!”.
Gloria Murphy, friend and colleague of Wayne’s, said “I’d love to lay my hands on the bastard who did it. I’m not scared, just angry and daddened by the whole business!”. Gloria had known Wayne for 20 years, and they both performed together in the Hallelujah Hollywood show at Pete’s Beat. “I knew Wendy when she was just a 16-year-old kid who ran away from home” she said. “She performed around all the old traps such as the Pink Pussycat, and the Pink Panther”.
Wendy’s friends cimed that she had only recently become a prostitute, and may have attracted a “bad” client. Talent co-ordinator of Pete’s Beat, Tina, also appeared in the stage show with Wendy and saud “I’m sure it was no one known to our social circle, we’re a pretty tight knit group and don’t associate with weirdo’s”. Graham King, stage manager of Pes Beat, sobbed as he said “As soon as Wendy stepped on stage it was magic. It will never be the same again”. “Wendy was a real performer who joked, sang, danced, and really drew a crowd. She made over 400 costumes for her acts over the last three years”.
Terry Grimley, lighting technician of Pete’s Beat, agreed. “She was excellent. Really tops”. And as Gloria says “The show must go on!”.
A month after her murder, police still had no leads in finding her killer. On the 13 May, Detective Sgt Smith, of Darlinghurst police, appealed to anyone with information in connection to the murder to contact him.
On Sunday night, 12 May, Kandy Johnson & Simone Troy threw open the doors to the upstairs var and entertainment area in the Oaddington Green Hotel, for a genefit for Wendy. Trixie Lamont and Lirraine Campbell-Craig diverged from their usual Sunday night show to host an evening of fund-raising for Wendy’s family. Both of Wendy’s sisters were present, to receive a total of $2,500 donated by local gay businesses, and attendee’s at the event. The elite of Sydney’s drag community performed on the night, including Kandy, Trixie, Lorraine, the performers from the apet’s Beat show, Beau’s and Les Girls.
The murder of Wendy Wayne has never been solved. Whacky conspiracy theories that she was murdered by a detective, or that Sydney bar owner and personality Dawn O’Donnell was involved have not been taken seriously, and have never been investigated.
Tim Alderman (2017)
Drag queen’s death hunt Pt 1, Daily Mirror, Wednesday 1 May 1985
Drag queens death riddle Pt 2 of above, Daily Mirror, Wednesday 1 May 1985
Killer could strike again (Peter Holder, Steve Brian), The Sun, Wednesday 1 May 1985
Killer could strike again (Peter Holder), The Sun, Wednesday 1May 1985
Police hunt transvestite killer (Mark Forbes), Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 1 May 1985
“Sacrilege” may seem like a strange word to use in relationship to ones life. Its religious connotation is “the violation or profanation of anything sacred or held sacred” thus by a very loose expansion of the meaning – a human life, as it is, in many respects, regarded as sacred. Stretching definitions even further – and many would not be surprised that I don’t take it literally – infecting it with HIV could be considered a sacrilege, be it intentional or unintentional. The sacred has been violated! Also, as a HIV+ man, it is expected that I will follow a set of “rules” as dictated by various community groups, doctors and specialists! To totally ignore the expected, and go off down your own path would be considered by many to be sacrilege!
I can’t contemplate continuing to live with HIV without viewing it within the framework of my life! No war is without its battles, without its dark times, yet still seeing the light at the end of the tunnel! If I had to use a word to describe myself, belligerant comes straight to mind – but then I think to myself “That’s a bit harsh!”. Okay…cantankerous is one that has been used by those close to me, so that’s sort of acceptable, and it’s true! Curmudgeonly… a word I love, but I’m not really surly enough! So I’ll just stick with stubborn! I could claim that it’s a Capricornian trait, but it goes deeper than that.
At 12-years-of-age, my stubborn streak was already settling in. Though unrecognised by me at the time, it was a survival mechanism that was to serve me well for most of my life. It is only when I look back to 1965, that I realise what a testing ground it was: my mother left my father; a bitch of a housekeeper who was to forever change our family dynamics; and my father jumping over The Gap with Kevin, my brother – resulting in my brothers death – would have sent a less resilient person into dark depths that they may never have risen from! Considering the lack of psychological & emotional support available at that time, to have come out of that year relatively unscathed had to show a stoicism way beyond that normally expected from one so young. By digging my heels in, ignoring all the negativity around me, and just “getting on with it” – a philosophy I still embrace – I was to set in place a mental tenacity that was to impact my life for decades to come!
There was no love lost between my father & myself! Even prior to Kevin’s death, I had seen – and felt – a violent streak in his nature; almost a need to punish those who had a life contrary to his. He could be a right royal cunt! The only way I could establish my own independence – which had flowered rapidly after Kev’s death – was open defiance! He told me not to smoke…so I smoked; not to drink…so I drank; to get a trade…I went in every direction but; and to get my hair cut…I left it to grow – despite a threat, after an argument about it, to “knock my block off”! He even denied me a 21st birthday celebration, because he had been at war when his fell due…I organised it myself. My grandmother left me a small inheritance, and just after my 21st, I moved out of home, into my own apartment. After he remarried and moved to Vincentia (on the south coast of NSW), we had little contact. After his suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning in his car in 1978, I never cried a single tear – but just let out a massive sigh of relief! I was free! As the ultimate act of a true prick, he left me nothing in his will – it all went to my step-family! Just to show that they were all tarred with the same brush, directly after his death his sisters indulged themselves in a game of telephone harrassment against my step-mother. I was glad to walk away from them all!
As soon as the old man died, I came out! It is the one time my usual defiance was kept capped. I had seen what he wss capable of with my brother, and my survival instinct whispered to me to be quiet about this issue. Again, I had witnessed him & his mates yelling “poofter” out of the car window to some poor guy who did nothing more than wear a pink shirt! As I said – they were pricks! Stubbornness does not necessarily equal a death wish! Then, having stepped out of the closet, I megaphoned my life choice to all and sundry, including my employees. No one seemed particularly surprised! There were some in my workplace who were not impressed with my sexual preferences, and made no secret of it! My pure indifference to them was reward enough. My decision to desert the security of a regular job had nothing to do with my detractors…it was based purely on a desire to break free of a life I wanted to leave behind. But the curve balls were to keep coming, with no inkling at that time of the odd parallel path that both being gay, and being HIV+ were going to lead me down!
Even as I was coming out in Melbourne in 1980, snippets about a lethal cancer, that was killing gay men who frequented the saunas in the USA, were appearing in the local press here. I read them, and like many others, though not panicking, was left with a feeling of unease. That unease turned to immense consternation over the next couple of years, as the reports became more alarmist, and HIV crossed the ocean to our shores. By the time they developed a test in 1985, I for one was already stacking the odds – and not in my favour! In retrospect, this may have been a defence mechanism against coming up HIV+…that if I did, I was already prepared for it, and if I didn’t I could just breath a sigh of relief. The former proved to be true!
Back in the day, there was a severe lack of counselling, and given the sheer volume of testing results coming in at that time, was cursory at its best. When I went to get my result – and I don’t know why I made the presumption I did – the positive result was not a shock. These were strange (ethereal?) times, and for those of us admitting to our – then – death sentence, it was almost like belonging to a select club.
There was a two year window given at that time, between diagnosis and the advent of AIDS, leading, so they thought, to an inevitable death. Some didn’t make it to the window period, and my first friend, Andrew Todd, died at the end of 1986. I made it to the two year point…and was still very healthy. By then, the window for those diagnosed in 1985 had been expanded to five years, so the waiting game for many of us continued. Up to 1990 is a very convoluted journey, and I don’t want to rehash history that has already been covered in many writings, and is really outside the parameters of this article. I decided to make this a useful period, and did a number of trials. It was better than just sitting around and waiting. This was a time when I made my one bad decision regarding my healthcare – I allowed my doctor to – after a najor ethical battle with her – to put me onto AZT! There has been much written about AZT, and its history as a drug…which was not exclusively formulated for use with HIV. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but my thinking on HIV has always been a bit radical, and I, along with others, gravitate to the thinking that HIV and AIDS – despite our use of them as co-joined conditions – are separate illnesses, and HIV doesn’t necessarily lead to AIDS, but AIDS as an independent condition, brought about by the deterioration of the immune system.
So, I had a diagnosis of HIV, with no related conditions that would have rated a diagnosis of AIDS. Even with a CD4 count on the decline, I still had good health – which admittedly may have been a lot better if I wasn’t knocking myself around by chain-smoking, and chronic abuse of alcohol – until…I started AZT! Many of those still around from that time will acknowledge that the decline in their health status is directly parallel to starting AZT. It wasn’t nicknamed “human Rat-Sac”for nothing. It’s negative affects from then up until now are also well documented. Damaged nerves, liver & kidney problems, the leaching of calcium from bones, and other neurological problems can all be traced back to AZT usage. I wish I had stuck by my guns, and refused to use it! There is no evidence that it saved one single life. I wouldn’t have refused trestment with other drugs that came along shortly after – I didn’t have a suicide wish – but I have no doubt that if I had refused AZT, some ongoing problems I have now would not have happened. I have an undisguised hate of Big Pharma, and its tactics, and lack of ethics where it comes to flogging a drug, and how they went about flogging this incredibly toxic drug to a desperate and unsuspecting demographic is truly horrifying – more on this shortly.
So, dispite heavy smoking, alcohol abuse, long work hours, and a shit diet…I made it to 1990, and with my health still okay. I won’t say I was unscathed, as the relentless list of those who died over this time, with many more to come, was physically, mentally, and emotionally destructive. I am by nature – and experience – a stoic in the face of death. I accept the reality, and inevitability of it – but any sign of the existance of God in this obliteration was missing – no just, loving God would ever allow this! My conversion to Atheism was complete. However, the combination of all that was happening was starting to wear me down, and encountering on-the-job bullying by an Area Manager brought about my decision to leave the workforce in 1993, and go onto disability, and get a housing subsidy. It was a forgone conclusion back then that this was the road to take because – after all – none of us would survive for all that long. At this stage, under the most positive of thinking, I gave myself two more years.
I actually got to mid-1996 before it all started to come undone. I have written about the circumstances surrounding all the events that happened at this stage, so won’t repeat them here, but will give you an intimate insight into my thinking on my situation when I was finally admitted to Prince Henry Hospital in June, 1996. Given that I was already close to death when admitted, with a plethora of conditions that really should have killed me earlier, and that I really thought I would never leave there any other way than via a wooden box gives a good indication of how serious things were. It was in Mark’s Pavilion there that my stoicism, my acceptance of reality, possibly should have been tested, but instead gave me a calmness, an acceptance of my own potential death that I had pondered about prior to this. I was chronically ill, I was tired and in some respects, if other factors hadn’t intervened, death just seemed like such a pleasant, restful reality, leaving all that was happening behind, joining all those that I had loved and lost over the last 10 years. It was an acceptance of death that I wasn’t expecting to be quite so complete, so easy, so without fear.
But I picked my moment, didn’t I! Big changes were happening in the treatment of AIDS, and shortly after being admitted, not going down the road of death, that I expected to go down, I walked – well, taxied – out of Prince Henry. I exited that taxi into a world that was in no way prepared for the living dead of HIV. If I ever thought my battles were behind me, I could not have been more wrong. The next couple of years – a long period of recuperation – were intense. There was a seemingly neverending period of specialists, doctors, clinics, pharmacy, counselling, peer support groups, drug compliance groups, massive – and I mean massive – amounts of medication, side effects, dental work, anxiety and panic attacks, and drug trials. It was a time where one wanted to initiate great change in the direction of ones life – with no one there to assist. Change had to be fought for, had to be forced. All these community groups gathering money and prestige, sitting in meetings and forums, listening to the likes of me yelling about what we needed…and just turning deaf ears! It was a frusteating period where everything was years behind where it needed to be, and if you wanted to get on with your life without being trapped in the system, you had to do it under your own steam! So I did!
Some volunterr work, some work in the community sector, a flowering writing career that demanded and exposed…when I eas “allowed” as one didn’t question the system – led to a brief period of full-time work – that didn’t help my health at all – then onto university & TAFE to experience at last that which gad been denied me in my youth. This led to an interesting period of experiences, from spending 12 years talking about the HIV experience through the Posituve Speakers Bureau, to 15 years writing for “Taljabout” magazine and various other publications, starting several businesses – the most recent of which was destroyed by the GFC, to where I am now – happy, balanced, and reasonably fulfilled.
However, the last few years haven’t been without its challenges, and my mental tenacity, combined with a fairly laud-back approach to life, have seen me get through things without any apparent negativity. I do health care on my own terms these days, because if one just relies on mrdico’s, one would rattle like a pill bottle. I want less pills, not more! About 15 years ago, I halved my HIV medications. I have been waiting for some red-faced, fuming doctor to lecture me about it (has no one realised how rarely I get scripts?) but no one ever has. In the interim, my blood readings get better and better, with CD4s on the rise, and an ongoing undetectable viral load. Okay, I no longer smoke – gave that up in ‘96, drink bugger all, have turned vegetarian, and exercise daily, but nothing else. Big Pharma be fucked! Your drug resistance tests – a farce! You just don’t want people on old drugs! Over-prescribing? You bet you do…big time! I wouldn’t trust you as far as ai could kick you!
Have I mentioned my shit vision? Whoops…overlooked that. Blind in one eye thanks to CMV (also covered in articles on my blog), and almost blind in the other. The most major decision over the last couple of years? Having my blind eye removed voluntarily, and replaced with a prosthetic. Does it stop me getting around? Not fucking likely! I might be slow, but I get there! I have a white cane (laughingly called my whacking stick), but rarely use it. I walk the dogs, do the shopping, get to gym! It might be done with a slight feeling of nervousness, but it gets done.
I don’t hold any grudges. What has been, has been! In a way, I thank my father for the rough younger years. It gave me a set of survival tools that have served ne well – and still do – throughout my life. Maybe I was born in an auspicious astrological period, or maybe my natural survival instincts are genetic, endowing me with stoicism and mental tenacity! Whatever it is, it has seen me through nicely! Life is to be enjoyed, and despite the occasional downs, it should be lived to its fullest. Just step outside that square, and do it on your own terms!
The Wall is the most infamous gay pickup strip in Sydney. There are probably others – but this 100m of convinct built sandstone wall has a unique synergy. It runs along the eastern boundary of the old Darlinghurst Gaol commencing at the rear of the Supreme Court of NSW. Street prostitution is illegal in Sydney, whether it be same sex or mixed.
The wall (all four legs of it) was designed and constructed under the aegis of Francis Greenway from 1820 to 1822 but he, being a convict, was removed from the project, no matter his architectural gifts to the colony under Governor Macquarie. Convict markings can be seen in the sandstone blocks all along The Wall. They were used to ensure that each man did his fair share and did not slack off. Progress was painfully slow, however, in 1841, existing prisoners were marched from the original Sydney Gaol near the corner of George & Alfred Streets (the site of the current Four Seasons Hotel) to the partially erected Darlinghurst Gaol on a hill overlooking the colony from the SE.
So, what is the graffiti? It is not actually on The Wall but just around the corner in Burton Street. It is tempting to see it as man and boy – but that is my flight of fancy. And note that the graffiti is on concrete “implants”. Maybe the man with the spray can valued the sandstone more than the government who contracted out repairs to this historic structure.
A Sad Story From The Wall
“Chapter closes on the sad story of a missing teenage prostitute
By Les Kennedy, Chief Police Reporter
April 16 2002”
Arron James Light ran away from his inner Sydney home when he was barely 15.
To support himself on the streets and have what police described as a “fun time”, he became a teenage prostitute working the infamous Wall at Darlinghurst.
But in 1997, aged 17, he disappeared without trace after turning key witness to a special police task force investigating pedophile rings in Sydney. The task force also went on to hunt down and extradite infamous pederast Robert “Dolly” Dunn from South America for successful prosecution.
For seven years, Arron’s disappearance remained a mystery. Then, four weeks ago, workmen clearing a bush-covered vacant block at Sydenham for use as a park unearthed skeletal remains in a shallow grave bordering the Alexandria canal.
Arron had been stabbed at least six times in the chest. His killer wrapped his body in a tarpaulin before burying it. Police who viewed the scene believe his body would never have been found had it not been for the workmen.
DNA tests yesterday confirmed Arron’s identity to Newtown detectives, who informed his parents of their worst fears since they reported their son missing in December 1997.
Detectives have reopened old case files from the now defunct Task Force Shad, which between 1995 and 1997 charged and prosecuted 30 alleged pedophiles operating in several child porn and sex networks in Sydney.
Before its disbandment, the task force uncovered 140 juvenile victims and laid more than 300 charges.
Detective Inspector Ian Lynch said yesterday that Arron was crucial to a prosecution brief being prepared at the time against alleged members of one of the rings and was also an alleged victim of pederasts.
He said charges against four men were dropped as a consequence of his sudden disappearance.
It is understood that Arron’s allegations related to a pedophile ring dubbed “Circle of Friends”. The group is also known to operate in Britain, where juveniles preyed on have also been murdered. Detective Inspector Lynch said that, while police had evidence to suggest that Arron was involved in drugs and that it was possible his lifestyle could have contributed to his death, the firmest lead police still had was that he had turned key witness.
Detective Inspector Lynch said his new investigation, code-named Operation Valley View, had spoken to associates of Arron and former officers involved in Task Force Shad, who were convinced his disappearance related to their investigations.
“Arron was known to frequent the Wall area of Darlinghurst and Darlinghurst Road as well as Kings Cross, Botany, Rosebery and Bourke Street, Darlinghurst, where he shared a place with a group of other people,” Detective Inspector Lynch said.
“Inquiries have revealed that he was last seen alive in August 1997 before he was formally reported missing in December that year by his family, whom he kept in regular touch with despite his lifestyle.”
Detective Inspector Lynch said Arron’s bank account was last used to make a cash withdrawal from a Commonwealth Bank teller machine in Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, during business hours on Friday, September 12, 1997.
Green Park, in Darlinghurst Road, was named after Alderman James Green, who represented the district from 1869 to 1883, although it is often thought that the park was named after Alexander Green, one of Sydney’s most notorious hangmen, who lived in a whitewashed hut outside the eastern wall of nearby Darlinghurst Gaol, in what is now Green Park.
In the 1860s the site was set aside for ‘accommodation for aged and infirm females’ but when these plans fell through, the site was given to the City Council in 1875 for a ‘public recreation ground’. In the centre of the park is an ornate bandstand, erected in 1925 for concerts which were a common feature of the interwar years. A memorial to the surgeon Victor Chang, who performed Australia’s first heart transplant at nearby St Vincent’s Hospital in 1984, and died in a bungled extortion attempt in 1991, stood in the park for some years. It was later moved to the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute nearby.
The park has also had a long significance for Sydney’s gay community. The Gay and Lesbian Holocaust Memorial – a pink triangle with black poles – sits on the western side of the park, commemorating those lesbians and gay men who were killed by the Nazis during World War II. Gay Fair Days have been held there; the AIDS Memorial Candlelight Rally has started there; political demonstrations have been called there; public meetings have been held there to discuss issues of concern for the local gay community. One of Sydney’s best-remembered gay restaurants, on Oxford Street, called itself the Green Park Diner so that it would attract a gay clientele. And one of the most sacred possessions of the Sydney chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is part of the urinal of the toilet that was located on the beat there, in Darlinghurst Road . Even though the toilet was demolished – and the urinal spirited away in the dark of night – the beat, as they say, goes on.
Sexual adventures have always been part of Green Park and its history. Part of this unusual history has to do with Green Park’s unique location; part of it has more to do with the social history of gay men’s need in general to ‘subvert’ public space for their own purposes. This is true of where and how gay men could meet, particularly in the period before decriminalisation of homosexual acts in 1984. Denied the possibility of meeting other gay men openly at institutions commonly used by heterosexuals for such purposes – at work, at local churches or social clubs, at the P&C Association, at sporting or bridge clubs, for example – gay men found it necessary to use various public spaces to meet others. Thus parks, beaches, promenades, quiet bush walks, or open woodlands, known as beats in gay parlance, have all been used by gay men at some time or another as discreet places for meeting other gay men. Sexual access has often been an important purpose for such beats, but beats have always played an important role as mere meeting places for gay men, since legitimate commercial venues for meeting other gays have emerged only in the very recent past. And many such places were of dubious legality, and subject to police attention: we perhaps ought not enquire too closely about how they were able to continue to operate.
Thus, in Sydney, virtually any park (and in particular those in the inner-city area, where population densities are highest), has served, and in some cases, still does serve, as a beat. Green Park, and ‘The Wall’ – the stretch of Darlinghurst Road from Oxford Street to Burton Street – should be seen in this tradition. The location in Darlinghurst, between Kings Cross and Oxford Street, has meant that there have always been men walking back and forth between these two areas, both known for their nightlife. Indeed, it is this central location of the park, in a residential area with a high transient population, that has meant that Green Park has served as a focal point for men meeting men over much of the twentieth century.
The folliwing review appeared in “Lonely Planet”
Once the residence of Alexander Green, hangman of Darlinghurst Gaol, Green Park is a cheery space during the day, but as the many syringe-disposal bins attest, it’s best avoided nocturnally. At the top of the slope, the inverted pink triangular prism backed by black pillars is the Gay & Lesbian Holocaust Memorial.
The memorial was founded by the late Dr Kitty Fischer, who as a young Jewish girl in Auschwitz was kept alive by food smuggled to her by a gay inmate forced to wear the pink triangle. In a lower corner of the park is the Victor Chang Memorial – before he was murdered in 1991, he was a famed heart surgeon who worked at neighbouring St Vincent’s Hospital.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and “That!” Urinal
Addendum: There have been comments left with this article, regarding a beat in Boomerang Street, Woolloomooloo (near St Mary’s Cathedral) in the 1970s. It lost popularity due to bashings and robberies. Any stories or memories regarding this beat would be appreciated by the author.
In the vicinity of Margaret “Mother” Clapp’s molly house, not far from St Paul’s, part of Field Lane still exists as the southern end of Saffron Hill, and the smaller branch of Shoe Lane, parallel to Farringdon Road. Directly east was West Smithfield, which has a long history of notoriety. The actual site in West Smithfield where Mother Clap was pilloried was an ancient site of execution. From 1290 the “red light” area had spread from Cripplegate to West Smithfield, mainly Cook’s Lane, near Newgate. The “nightwalkers” were often imprisoned in The Tun in Cornhill, then whipped, then released through the city wall at New Gate, which gave its name to Newgate Prison when it was built nearby. In 1483 King Edward V’s ordinance “For to Eschewe the Stynkynge and Orrible Synne of Lechery” was specifically designed to clean up areas like Farringdon, Cripplegate, Holborn and Finsbury. Pimping became such a problem in the area that in 1622 King James irdained the “Touching on Disorderly Houses in Saffron Hille”, reputed to be overrun with immodest, lascivious, shameless women, generally repured to be common whores. Another ordinance in 1624 listed the areas raided as Cowcross, Cock’s Lane, Smithfield, St John Street Clerkenwell, Norton Folgate, Shoreditch, Wapping, Whitechapel, Petticoat Lane, Charterhouse, Bloomsbury and Ratcliffe. By 1680 the red light srea was moving towards King’s Ctoss, Holborn, and Lincoln’s Inn.
By the late 1800s, Field Lane, Chick Lane, Black Boy Alley, Turnmill Street, Cow Cross and other back alleys was collectively known as Jack Ketches Warren. “Jack Ketch”, named after a famous public hangman.
The area became known for its molly houses. During the Gordon Riots of 1780, and suffered severely from the fire which started in the houses in Fleet St, west of Farringdin Rd, and fed by burning spirits from Langdale’s Distillery. And raged by Holbirn Hill, its advance only checjed by the Fleet Ditch (River).
Two other molly districts existed in London, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Covent Garden to the west in Westminster, and St Paul’s and the Royal Exchange to the east in the City. The London molly houses would have provided one outlet for the homosexuals, and one could assume that a reasonable amount of discreet “cruising” probably went on in their environs. One could create an outline of the subversive underground by wandering the streets where the molly houses were established, from West Smithfield and then go south along Little Britain Street, we could turn left into Cox’s Court, and then right into a very small mews called Cross Key Court. then if we turn right and go down St Martin’s Le Grand we come to St Paul’s Cathedral, not listed as a Market in the London Journal editorial, but nevertheless attended by the mollies for more than religious purposes. In the curious lottery of 1699 which mentioned Captain Rigby’s fate, it was suggested that mollies picked up the handsome apprentices who frequented St Paul’s on Sunday afternoons. Just off Cheapside, to the north of St Paul’s Cathedral, is Gutter Lane. A bit further, again running off on the north, is Wood Street, and St Paul’s Churchyard. If we continue down Cheapside, and then down Poultry, we arrive at the Royal Exchange, identified as a molly Market in the London Journal, which had not much changed its character since the Swarthy Buggerantoes used to cruise it in 1700. Robert Whale and York Horner once stood in the pillory at the “Stocks Exchange” on 13 January 1727, after being convicted for keeping a molly house – presumably in this area. Then we come to Pope’s Head Alley.
If we continue our survey to the southeast we will arrive at Tower Hill, an area which also seemed popular with the mollies, particularly if we may draw inferences from the extortion attempts in this area by the likes of John Battle who was led to the Castle tavern in Mark Lane, where John Lewis and John Jones threatened to expose him as a sodomite in 1730. There was a noted molly house near Billingsgate (Market) just off Thames Street, midway between the Royal Exchange & East Smithfield, Tower Hill. to the east was Swedeland Court (now Swedenborg Gardens), to the north of the Tower,from the Minories to Aldgate where there was a meeting house in Old Gravel Lane used for pick-ups, and another southeast of The Tower at The Hermitage (now Hermitage Wall).
In the early eighteenth-century, in London, one area was so popular with the mollies that it became virtually synonymous with homosexuality: Moorfields.
Originally, this bog-like moor north of the London City Wall was created when the Roman City dammed up the Walbrook river, reducing it from a navigable river to a small stream. Eventually the water was drained and Bunhill Fields and Moorfields were developed; the latter was divided into Upper, Middle, and Lower Moorfields. By the late sixteenth century its character was already emerging, though the ground remained too spongy for extensive building; Moorfields also has the distinction of being the focus of the earliest extant map of London, Anthonis van den Wyngaerde’s copper engraving of 1558/9.
Nearby North Folgate was the home of gay dramatist Christopher Marlowe in 1589, and he fought a duel, by sword, in Hog Lane…now Worship Street, a few blocks north of Christopher Street, opposire Moorfields. This was to gecome a red light district of hovels, filthy cottages & laystalls. Pepys in his Diary for 24 March 1668, recorded a “Tumult near Moorfields, the “prentices pulling down the brothels . . . which is one of the great grievances of the nation”.
By the early eighteenth century, a path in the Upper-Moorfields, by the side of the Wall that separated the Upper-field from the Middle-field, acquired the name “The Sodomites’ Walk”. This path survives today as the south side of Finsbury Square, the square itself being the only open area left from the original fields, though underneath it is a car park. Moorfields was identified as a molly Market in the London Journal editorial, and was obviously well known to all. Richard Rustead the extortioner was recognised by a serving boy in 1724 as a frequent user of “the Sodomites’ Walk in Moorfields”, and he and his accomplice Goddard were captured by Constable Richard Bailey at the Farthing Pye-House near Moorfields. There were also molly houses on the left side of the field, and the area retained its homosexual and unsavoury reputation from the late seventeenth century right through the early nineteenth century.
To the southwest of Westminster, close to Holborn, is Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and Lincoln’s Inn, famous for its “bog-houses”, or public toilets, and referred to as the Markets in the London Journal editorial. The cistern for the bog-houses was built in 169, and the structures to the east of New Square, Lincoln’s Inn were completed in 1692, with the ooen kitchen gardens behind them becoming known as Bog House Court. The occupants of the surrounding law chambers had to pay £3 a year to clean them out. The area later gecame referred to just as The Bogs, and today it is still a garden. Streets and areas mentioned in legal precedents include Task Street, Gray’s Inn Lane, north of Lincoln’s Inn; Butcher’s Row, Temple Bar south of Lincoln’s Inn; the Golden Ball alehouse in Bond’s Stables running between Chancery & Fetter Lanes to the east of Lincoln’s Inn. Bloomsbury Market was to the northwest, with its Yorkshire Gray alehouse. Running from north to south, west of Lincoln’s Inn was Drury Lane. Though kniwn for its ladies, in 1720 a molly house was established there at Mr Jone’s tavern – the Three Tobacco Rolls.
We then have Covent Garden Markets and its Piazza’s, rampant with use by the mollies. The arcades would have provided useful cover for making assignations. The area running along the Strand, south of Covent Garden, past Temple Bar, and up Chancery Lane or Fetter Lane, east of Lincoln’s Inn, was probably a popular molly cruising ground. In some ways the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square is a lasting memorial of the molly subculture. Its foundation stone was laid in 1721, and it was fully completed in 1726, at the time of the hangings as the result of the raid upon Mother Clap’s in that year. Criminals hanged at Tyburn – for example, Jack Shepherd in 1724 – were sometimes buried in its churchyard and the vaults of its Crypt, so it may have been the resting place for the bones of those mollies whose bodies were not unfortunate enough to be taken to Surgeon’s Hall.
Where the alehouses were conducive tontheir molly clientele. The major criminal areas at that time – survivors of the old “Sanctuaries” of the medieval monasteries, even after their closure by Henry VIII – were The Mint, Southwark; Whitefriars; Shoe and Fetter Lanes; Holborn, especially Saffron Hill leading into Field Lane; Cripplegate; Smithfield; Whitechapel; Bankside; Thieving Lane around Westminster Abbey; The Savoy and Covent Garden up to St Giles in Westminster. These areas held a quarter of the entire population of London, and consisted mainly of paupers. The following businesses were thought to at least have some molly customers; Masey’s Coffee House, Old Change; Mear’s Coffee House, St Paul’s House Court; Hatton’s, Basinghall Street; Woolpack alehouse, Foster Lane; Cross Keys, Holborn; King’s Head, Ivy Lane; the Clerkenwell Workhouse; and the Three Tuns and the Black Horse, both in Moorfields.
Just west of Charing Cross we come to St James’s Square and Pall Mall, site of the Royal Oak molly house kept by George Whittle.(see Margaret Clap’s molly house). Keep walking and you get to the Mall and the Roan. Near Whitehall. If you go to the end of the Mall you’ll find Buckingham House. The south side if the parkmis cited as a molly Market in the London Journal, and several molly incudents are recorded as happening in St, james Park, frequented by obliging soldiers. An incudent is recorded involving a certain Arrowsmith accosted a sentinel and offered to give him “a Green Gown upon the Grass”, that is, to have sex with him, leaving grass stains upon his clothing., and Parliament St was still known as a cruising ground as late as the 19th century. There was a pillorynin New Palace Yard. The notoriety of the area, even much later, is well attested to by the chapter on “the unnaturalists” in The Fruit Shop, 1766, tellingly subtitled “A Companion to St. James’s Street”.
There were also reports of molly parties outside London, such as Bowling Green at Marylebone, to the northwest beyong Tyburn; the Borough (Southwark) to the south across the Thames; and The Mint in Southwar; Islington; Stepney Church Pirch p; Ratcliffe Gardens (which had a pillory).
By the early nineteenth century Moorfields seems no longer to have been a molly area, though many of the other districts remained unchanged. Holloway in the Phoenix of Sodom (1813) notes that “there are many [molly houses] about town”, specifically “one in the Strand”, one in Blackman Street in The Borough, one near the Obelisk, St George’s Fields, one in the neighbourhood of Bishopsgate Street, and of course the most infamous one, The Swan in Vere Street. He adds further that “breeches-clad bawds” are to be found strolling in the Inns of Court, “the Temple not excepted”. Holloway, a lawyer himself, was quite surprised, for the Temple was noted for heterosexual prostitution. Joke Number 153 in Joe Miller’s Jestbook (1739) makes this clear: “A gentleman said of a young wench, who constantly ply’d about the Temple, that if she had as much law in her head, as she had in her tail, she would be one of the ablest counsel in all England”.
Caught In A Bog-House, 1738
Trial of Samuel Taylor & John Berry
Samuel Taylor and John Berry were indicted; Taylor for assaulting John Berry, and committing with him the horrid and detestable Crime of Buggery. And Berry for wickedly consenting with Taylor the said unnatural Crime to commit and do, Jan. 31.
Mr. Windham: For the Conveniency of the People that live in Old Round-Court in the Strand, there is a common necessary House; which, tho’ most of the Neighbours have a Key to, yet is often left unlock’d. On the 31st of Jan. my Servant told me, about 7 o’Clock at Night when he was shutting up Shop, that 2 Fellows had been in the Vault about three quarters of an Hour. I thought they might be Thieves, so I took a Candle, and my Servant following me, I bolted (went hastily) into the Place, and found Taylor sitting, not upon the open Seat, but upon the close Part of it, and Berry sitting in his Lap; both their Breeches being down. I call’d them Names, and left them; but a Mob rose upon them, and would have knock’d them on the Head, had not a Constable in the Neighbourhood seiz’d them to carry them before a Magistrate. When they were carried away, some Gentlemen came to me, and told me, it would be a Shame such Rascals should escape, and perswaded me to go to the Justices. When I came there, (to Mr. Justice Hilder’s) the 2 Prisoners were each of them endeavouring to make a Confession before the other. Berry made his Confession first, and sign’d it; but Taylor confessed the whole Matter too.
Mr. Hilder prov’d Berry’s Confession.
The Information and Confession of John Berry of St. Olave’s-street, Southwark.
“Who saith, that Samuel Taylor asked him if he would go out with him? Upon which this Informant told him he would. That he went with him to Joy Bridge, but a Light coming, they went from thence to a necessary House in Round-Court, where Taylor asked him to let him lie with him, upon which they pulled down their Breeches, and Taylor committed the Act of Sodomy with him twice, and that Mr. Windham the 2d Time caught them in the Fact.”
Mr. Windham: Taylor confessed it full as plain, or plainer than Berry; he said (several Times) he was guilty of the same Crime with Berry, but would not allow that he had enticed him to it. He own’d he had lain with Berry twice, and made use of the Word Sodomy. After Berry had made his Confession, Taylor said he had acted Sodomy with him. Their Breeches were not put up when they were before the Justice.
Mr. John Fridenburgh confirm’d the former Evidence very exactly; and added, that as the two Prisoners were carrying to Goal, Berry own’d they had been from one part of the Town to another, to find a convenient Place, and at last they thought of the Place where they were taken.
The Prisoners in their Defence, pleaded their being in Liquor, but it appeared from the Witnesses that they were perfectly sober. Guilty, D E A T H.
25 February 1738
Yesterday 26 Prisoners were tried at the Old Baily, 3 whereof were capitally Convicted, viz. Nathaniel Hillyard, for the Murder of Robert Milligan, a Marshals Court Officer in St. James’s Haymarket, in May 1734; Samuel Taylor and John Berry, for Sodomy. William Clarke was tried for the Murder of Mary Humphreys, by driving a Cart over her, and found Guilty of Manslaughter. Nine were cast for Transportation, and 13 Acquitted. (Daily Gazetteer)
27 February 1738
On Saturday last the Sessions ended at the Old Baily, when three Persons were tried and Acquitted.
The 6 mentioned in our former to have been capitally convicted, received Sentence of Death. Two were burnt in the Hand, and 3 ordered to be Whipt. (Daily Gazetteer)
3 March 1738
Yesterday was held a General Council at St. James’s, when Mr. Serjeant Urling, Deputy Recorder of this City attended, and made his Report of the 16 Malefactors under Sentence of Death in Newgate, viz. …
Samuel Taylor and John Berry, for committing the detestable Sin of Sodomy. …
When his Majesty was most graciously pleased … to extend his most gracious Pardon to John Waterman, Nathaniel Hillyard, Samuel Taylor, and John Berry. (Daily Gazetteer)
Saturday 11 March 1738
On Thursday Mr. Serjeant Urling, Deputy-Recorder of this City, made his Report to his Majesty of the sixteen Malefactors now under Sentence of Death in Newgate, viz. . . . Samuel Tauylor and John Berry, for Sodomy; . . . When his Majesty was graciously pleased to grant his most gracious Pardon to John Waterman; and to order Nathaniel Hillyard, Thomas Jenkins, James Cope, Mary Cook, and the two Sodomites, to be transported for 14 Years . . . (Newcastle Courant)
Thursday 25 March 1738
On Monday last died, in Newgate, John Berry, one of the Persons who was capitally convicted for Sodomy last Sessions, but pardon’d. (Newcastle Courant)
Saturday 1 April 1738
Last Week Samuel Taylor, condemn’d (but since repriev’d) last Sessions for committing Sodomy with John Berry, died in Newgate; as did also his Accomplice on the 13th of this Month. – It is happy for the Nation that such Wretches are cut off. (Newcastle Courant)
A Cruising Alley, 1761
NOTE: The main interest of this trial is that it documents the existence of a gay cruising ground in London in 1761, in an alley near Leadenhall Market. A secondary interest is that it demonstrates that society had a clear perception that sodomites were exclusively homosexual – that is, the man defends himself against the charge of sodomy by claiming that he has a strong love for women. However, the jury did not quite believe him, and he was convicted despite many women testifying on his behalf.
William Bailey, was indicted, for that Robert Stimpson, not taken, unlawfully and wickedly did lay hands on the prisoner Bailey, in order to commit the detestable crime of sodomy; and that he, the said Bailey, was consenting and yielding to the said Stimpson, in order for him to commit the said detestable crime.
Giles Cooper. I keep a house in Ball alley, Lombard-street.
Q. What are you?
Cooper. I am a butcher, my shop is in Leadenhall-market: as I come home from Leadenhall-market, I come thro’ the Cross-keys inn, there is a very dark passage, I have frequently run against men there, and I never could tell the reason of it.
Q. How often have you run against men there?
Cooper. Twenty different times I am sure. On the 28th of July I ran against a couple of men there, which I thought stood still; I took hold of one of them by the neck, and drove him before me, till he went out into the alley, close to the fencing-school, where is a lamp over the door; he had a flapt hat on; there I stopt him; I looked under his hat, and said, What the Devil do you stand lurking about here for? They passed by me into the alley; I turned my head over my shoulder, and saw them stop at the passage, which is very narrow; then I went, and rang at my own door, and was there about a couple of minutes before I was let in; while I was standing at my own door, I thought I heard those two men in the passage again; I heard them whisper; I went into my house, and shut the door after me, but did not fasten it: my man was just going to bed; I said, Do not go to bed John, follow me down; I took the candle in my hand, and said to him, I believe there are a couple of very bad fellows in the alley. I hid the candle with my fingers, and jumped across the way into this dark passage, that goes into the Cross-keys-inn; there I saw two bad men, in a very indecent posture: my man followed me down close behind me.
Q. Who were the two men?
Cooper. They were the prisoner and a footman, named Stimpson, there is a yard-door opens in the passage; the prisoner leant down behind that door, his breeches were down, with his back towards the footman, and the footman’s breeches down, very near together; the footman had hold of him. I laid hold of the prisoner immediately, and my man the other. The footman said, I think, he lived at Mr. Page’s in Queen-street, I saw both their private parts: I said, John, hold him, while I well drub this; I never designed to do any otherwise, if my neighbours had not perswaded me to it: they made no resistance in the world, but begg’d and pray’d I would let them go, for it would be the ruin of them; they were both taken to the watch-house; the prisoner said he knew a gentleman in Grace-church-street, that would see him forth-coming the next day before my lord mayor: then the man in livery said, Why should you be so hard upon me, to confine me, and not him, who was more to blame than I was? The people perswaded me to have him committed: they were the next day brought to Guildhall, and examined before Sir Robert Ladbroke: they made no defence at all, no otherwise than this, which is a very trifling excuse; the man in livery seemed to give an account that he was going to the Post-office, and was going home, and obliged to go thro’ that passage, and he lived in Queen-street: the prisoner said he lived in Bishopsgate-street, and going thro’ the Cross-keys inn, he told the clock eleven; and while he was telling the clock, he saw me lay hold of the other young man, as he was making water; but that was not so, for I laid hold of him, and my man laid hold of the footman: the Post-office was shut up at that time.
Q. Is this passage a thorough-fare?
Cooper. It is, and very likely known to all here.
Q. How long have you lived in that place?
Cooper. I have lived there going on better than half a year.
Q. Where have you carried on business before?
Cooper. I lived in Leadenhall market, all my life time. I now live within 100 yards of the place where I served my time.
Q. Did you see them touch one another at all?
Cooper. I did, I saw them extreamly close together; and the footman’s hands were upon this man. I never shall vary from the truth, cross examine me a thousand times; I have no reward, but a great deal of trouble in bringing such villains as these to justice.
Q. Have you brought many such as these to justice?
Cooper. I never attempted to detect any man living before.
Q. Did you never ask the constable whether you could make this matter up with the prisoner?
Cooper. No. never in my life.
Q. Did you ever see the prisoner before?
Cooper. No, not to my knowledge; I saw the footman the week before, in a laced hat.
John Leek. I am servant to Mr. Cooper. On the 28th of July, about 11 at night, I had just eat my supper, and was going to bed. I heard a ringing at the door; who should come in, but my master. He staid a little while, and said, John, follow me; here is a couple of very bad fellows I believe, in the passage. He took a candle, and held it in one hand, with the other over it; he pushed into the passage, and I followed him immediately; he lifted his hand from the candle, there was the prisoner at the bar, with his yard drawn, and the other withdrawn a little, with his back against the wall, pulling up his breeches; I did not see the other’s yard, my master had got hold of him; the prisoner’s back was towards the other man, and my master was before me. I secured the other man with his breeches down, I let him put up his breeches; he said, For God’s sake, let me go young man, it will be the ruin of me.
Q. What said the prisoner?
Leek. I know not what he said, for my master had got him, and was going to lick him; but I said, I will not touch mine at all.
Q. Whose back was against the wall?
Leek. Stimson’s back was, he had withdrawn a little, and was putting up his breeches, both their breeches were down. At first coming to them, my master said, He was willing to let them go, if any-body would pass their word, they should be forth-coming, to go before the alderman to-morrow. The prisoner said, He had got a friend at Mr. Rigby’s Manchester-warehouse, which would see him forth-coming; his name I think was Clifton. I went for him, and he came; he said, The prisoner was no such person; then my master was advised to commit them. Then Stimpson said, Why will you be so hard upon me, to let him go, when he is more in fault than I be.
Q. At the time you and your master went out of the house, what posture was the prisoner in?
Leek. My master had got him by the collar.
Q. Where was Stimpson?
Leek. He was with-drawn, about as far as from here to the wall; (pointing to a place about four yards distance.)
Q. Will you say you saw the prisoner’s yard?
Leek. That I will take my sacrament of.
John Mansfield. I am a watchman, I saw the prisoner, and the other man, after they were brought in; Cooper said, he brought them there for sodomy, and that before their faces.
Q. What answers did they give to that?
Mansfield. They pretended they were not guilty; they said, They were not in the action.
Q. Which of them said so?
Mansfield. I do not know which of them it was.
Stephen Dreseal. I am a watchman; when they were brought into the watchhouse, one of them sent for a friend to talk in his behalf; the gentleman came and offered 10 guineas for his appearance the next morning.
Q. Which of them was that?
Dreseal. That was the man not in livery
David Wilson. I living at the corner of this yard, heard a noise; I ran to see what was the matter, I was told they had catched two men in the act of sodomy, or something of that kind. I said, I was very glad of it, for I had heard of people being catch’d in that alley before.
Q. What sort of a noise did you hear?
Wilson. It was a bustling, confused noise; I saw they had hold of the men, but I do not know that the prisoner was one of them; the men begg’d for God’s sake they would not take them away, for it would be the ruin of them.
Q. Which of them begg’d, as you have said?
Wilson. I do not know which of them; when they came to the watch-house, they made use of words to the same purport; I believe the prosecutor would have let them go, if it had not been for me; the prosecutor seemed to be in a great fluster, and was sadly affrighted, and said, It would bring him into trouble.
Q. Do you know any thing of the matter of fact, or posture they were in?
Wilson. No, – I do not.
The prisoner said nothing in his defence, but called the following witnesses.
William Pool. I have known Gyles Cooper 12 or 14 years ago, I am a porter, he always lived at Leadenhall-market. About a fortnight before he charg’d this man, as I attend the waggons that come out of the country, which do not come in till about 10 o’clock, a man said, Come, I will go with you, to help you pull out the packs; we went, my wife was along with us; I bid her go into the publick-house, and I went behind the pump, in Leadenhall-market, and Samuel Sweeper, the other man, sat upon some leather; I went to ease myself, and just as I was putting up my breeches, the prisoner came with a stinking leg of ham in his hand, he said, Halloo, halloo, halloo, he looked in my face, and said, I was informed there were two sodomites here? Said I, What do you mean by that, all the world that knows me, knows I love a woman too well, to be a sodomite; this was in the public leather-market, about 10 at night.
Court. And for that filthy behaviour of yours, in a public market-place in this city, you ought to be punished.
Samuel Sweeper. I went to help Mr. Pool unload a waggon, and after we had done, who should come up, but Gyles Cooper, out of the market, my master went to ease himself behind the pump. Mr. Pool said, What are there two sodomites here? When he saw it was Mr. Cooper, he said, I ask your pardon Mr. Cooper, and said, He was told there were such. Mr. Cooper asked him, who were his authors, he would not tell him. If he had not known Mr. Pool, doubtless he might have knocked us both on the head.
Q. When was this?
Sweeper. To the best of my remembrance, it was the 13th of July, at about 10 o’clock at night.
Jelse Lamb. I have known Gyles Cooper, about 12 years, or better; I was coming home one night from the other end of the town, I saw him stop a man and a woman, and detain them some time, and ask them where they were going; and said, What business have you here? I am constable of the night, and I will take you both to the Compter. I stood behind him some time, and heard him talk to them; he took the woman by the arm; I said, Who is that, Cooper? He turned round, and said, Yes. I said, What are you doing here? Only a bit of fun, said he.
Q. What is his character among people acquainted with him?
Lamb. It is but a very indifferent character.
Q. Where do you live?
Lamb. I keep a house in Leadenhall-market, I am a butcher, and Green-grocer.
Q. Have you or any of your friends had any quarrel with him?
Q. Has he such a character in the world, that you believe he would take a false oath?
Lamb. I know he will say, and do things that are not right; it is hard speaking against a man’s oath.
Q. Would you believe him upon his oath?
Lamb. No, I would not; and that from the badness of his character.
Q. Do you know his man?
Lamb. I know very little of him, I never had any conversation with him.
Q. Do you know any thing of these fellows, that make such dunghills in your market?
Lamb. No, I never take notice of them; I have a necessary very near me.
John Rigby. The prisoner was my servant till July last.
Q. Where do you live?
Rigby. I live in Grace-church-street, he has lived with me six years three quarters; during that time, I never discovered any unnatural inclinations in him; if I had, I should not have kept him in my house; he always behaved well, and is a very sober fellow. I discharged him on the 11th of July last, I do not know that he has been in any service since. I have no sort of suspicion, he was any ways addicted to this vice; all my servants that lived with him, are here to be examined on his behalf
Thomas Clifton. I am head warehouse-man to Mr. Rigby, I have known the prisoner ever since he lived at our house; during which time he behaved himself extremely well; I had no manner of suspicion of him of this kind, he was always amongst the women, when he had any time. I never saw any circumstances, that shewed him inclined to any unnatural vice; I was the person that offered 10 l. or 10 guineas, for his forth-coming, and was before the sitting alderman with him. I remember Mr. Cooper owned he had been in trouble, under misforfortunes; and said, He did not bear the best of characters. There was another person, that offered that sum first, and I afterwards, for his appearing the next morning.
Q. to Leek. Did you go for this evidence?
Leek. I did; my master said to him, Will you give your word for this man’s forth-coming tomorrow. Then he began to make some quibbles, and said, The man was not guilty of the fact. Then some people, that were in the watch-house, said, Mr. Cooper, charge him, and then you will be safe.
John Lewis. I have been in Mr. Rigby’s service, ever since the prisoner was there; during that time, he behaved as a man that loved women’s company. I never saw any thing like any unnatural inclination by him; he seemed to never be easy, but when he was in women’s company.
Samuel Bevar. I have known the prisoner four years, I never heard any thing, but what was very good of him; I never look’d upon him in any suspicious way, for having unnatural vices. I look upon him to have a natural passion for women, and none for his own sex. Mr. Cooper’s man came to me, about half an hour past 11 o’clock; the asked for Mr. Clifton, I told him he was gone home; I went with him, fearing he should not find out the bell, to call him down; this was on the 28th of July. I went with him to the watch house; in our way there, he told me they had detected one of Mr. Rigby’s men, in a very unseemly manner. When I came there, I saw the prisoner; Mr. Cooper very readily knew me; he asked me if I knew Mr. Clifton, I said, I did; upon that, he was for letting the prisoner go, upon his passing his word for his appearing before my lord-mayor, on the morrow; there was a thinish man came up to Mr. Cooper, and said, You will come to no harm by giving charge. I then offered 10 l. for his appearance on the morrow, before my lord-mayor; there was not a word said, but immediately they were hurried out of the watch-house, and away they went; for my part, I had no fear of his appearing.
John Lee. I have known him seven years, I have been in company with him often, I thought him a great admirer of women; I never apprehended him any way inclined to any filthy vice with his own sex. I never was so much surprized in all my life, as when I heard of this; I wished it was in my power to do him service, for I was sure he was innocent of it. I was before Sir Robert Landbroke, who asked Cooper several particular questions. Cooper said he did not chuse to say any more, because he would not have the man suffer upon his account; because the world had been very severe upon him, that he had been in trouble, and did not care to ingage in any more.
Rebecca Timmings. I have known the prisoner nine years, I lived in Mr. Rigby’s house all the time he did, he has an extraordinary character, he seemed to have the best regard for women that ever I saw; that decent behaviour to young women in the family, and others that he was acquainted with, I never saw he had any tendency towards his own sex; no, far from it.
Ann Redford. I have known the prisoner [more] than two years; during that time, he seemed to be a young man that had a great respect for young women, I never saw to the contrary; he never took any delight, but when with the women whenever he had any time, he never went out, but some of them went with him. I never can, or shall believe he is guilty of the crime laid to his charge; I lived fellow-servant with him in the house.
Martha Trimmings. I have known him between eight and nine years, he always seemed to be a person that had an affection for women, he never liked to spend an evening without women along with him. He never behaved with any effeminacy, that shewed him to have a liking to his own sex; I spent the evening with him, that very night, before he was accused with this.
Elizabeth Newman. I have known him nine years, I lived servant with him at Mr. Vandival’s at Greenwich, he bears an extream good character, in every action in life, his character will bear the strictest examination; he behaved always extreamly well, in regards to women; he would be the last person I should have thought guilty of what he is charged with.
Mr. Molbey. I have known the prisoner ever since he lived in my brother Rigbey’s service; I never heard but he bore a good character, I never observed any tendency in him to any unnatural vice.
Mary Jones. I have known him between 10 and 11 years, I never heard any ill of him; it is my opinion he loves the company of women a thousand times more than men. I never heard a mouth opened against him in my life.
John Dyer. I have known the prisoner four or five years, I never heard any thing of this kind in my life.
Edward Lee. I lived with Mr. Molbey, I have known the prisoner almost five years, he called upon me the 28th of July, and told me he had got a place, to live in Crutched Fryers, he came between eight and nine, and I parted with him a few minutes before 11, he lodg’d at Mr. Rigby’s, this was in his way home. I never observed, he had any inclination towards his own sex, I believe he has a regard for women. I have travelled with him, and laid with him, and never knew him guilty of an indecent action in my life; he always behaved as a man ought to do.
Elizabeth Lee. I am sister to a young woman that has been examined, I have known him about seven years, he lived with Mr. Molbey, he always behaved as one that had an affection to women, so far as I was able to judge.
John Pinkney. I have known him between six and seven years, he behaved as a man that had a regard for women, I always looked upon him as such. I have known him frequently in women’s company, when he might have been out of it; he has went a dancing with them, I never in the least suspected him guilty of any indecencies with his own sex.
Thomas Brown. I have known him about six years, I never saw, or knew any thing by him, tending to this kind he is now charged with; I have seen him with his fellow-servants, the woman; his general character was good, as far as ever I heard.
Elisha Ward. I know Gyles Cooper, he has a bad character, he used me ill.
Q. Would you believe him upon his oath?
Ward. Upon my oath I would not.
William Turton. I have not known the prisoner a great while, but I have laid with him; he never offered any indecency to me, nor do I think him capable of it. I have taken a great deal of pains to inquire into his character, it is a good one, and the prosecutor Cooper has a very bad one, I have reason to believe he would take a false oath, I really would not take his oath for a pin, on any account, in any thing he says.
Q. Where do you live?
Turton. I live almost by the Asylum.
Q. Did you ever hear he forswore himself?
John Shackle. I have kno wn the prisoner between six and seven years; during that time, his character has been very good, and upright. I never looked upon him, that he would be guilty of indecencies with his own sex, quite the reverse.
To Cooper’s Character.
Thomas Curtise. I am a barber and perriwig-maker, and live in Grocers-alley. I have known Cooper a great many years, the best part of 20. I never heard he had a bad character, or that he behaved amiss. I have laid out a great many pounds with him, he always behaved like a very honest worthy tradesman; to be sure he has had misfortunes in trade, I never heard he behaved amiss, he did know that I was in court.
William Hickling. I have known Cooper 10 years and longer, I have had dealings with him, and never found him any otherwise than just. He is reckoned an honest man, and I belive him to be a very honest man.
Q. Do you think he would forswear himself, in order to charge an innocent men?
Hickling. I do not think he would be guilty of such a thing.
Mr. Atkins. I have arrested Cooper, and taken his word afterwards, and he always took care to make an end of things; he has been at my house more than one, two, or three days, and I have had some worth about me, and I never missed any thing.
Q. Is it customary to take people’s words, after you have arrested them?
Atkins. It is, he never gave me no other security than his word; he has said, I will bring such a person, and we will come and make an end of it, and so he has. If I thought he was a bad man, I would not have taken his word.
Q. I suppose he was a man that could not leave his business.
Atkins. He might lock himself up, and fix me with the debt. I have this opinion of him, that was I to arrest him for five or 10 l. he would come and pay me.
Q. Do not you know he has been cleared by the Compulsive Clause? [That is, he had been discharged under the Insolvent Debtors Act, i.e. he was a bankrupt.]
Atkins. Yes, I do.
. . William Bailey, to stand on the pillory, and to be confined six months in Newgate, and pay a fine of 40 s.
Bailey stood on the pillory near the Cross-key-inn in Bishopsgate street, on Wednesday the 4th of November.
Suck Prick! February 1789
The Information of Matthew Laws of Maudlings Rents in the Parish of Saint Botolph Aldgate in the said County [Middlesex], Cordwainer, and Fredrick Alberman, No 22 Red Cross Street in the said Parish and County, Watchman. Taken on Oath this Seventh day of February 1789 Before me Robert Smith Esqr. one of his Majesty’s Justices of the peace in and for the said County.
Matthew Laws saith about half an hour past Eleven o’Clock on Tuesday night last he heard Mr Prowce’s Dog Bark; he opened his Door and went up to a Cart where he saw the Prisoner present (who says his Name is Alexander Leith) standing up against Mr. Prowce’s Window, that he heard him Speak to some person, that he went nearer to them and heard him say “Have you had Enough?” The other made some Answer but [he] does not know what, then Alexander Leith said “Shall I fuck you again?” This Deponent [i.e. Laws] called to the Watchman and desired him to look at them people. When the other prisoner (who says his Name is John Drew ) got [up] from off the Ground, took his basket under his Arm and was going away when this Deponent [i.. Laws] said to him “You old Raseal I know you, I will have you to Morrow”; says Alexander Leith ran away, that he and the Watchman pursued and heard him call out “Suck Prick”, that they Apprehended him near Saint Catherine’s Bridge which is distant from the place he first saw them in about 200 Yards, that he made Great resistance but they secured him and took him to the Watch house, says he is positive that the Prisoners are the Men he saw together against Mr. Prowce’s Window and that he Verily believes the said two Men had been Committing the crime of Sodomy.
And the said Fredrick Alberman says when the other deponent Matthew Laws Spoke to him he went up toward the Prisoners, when he saw Drew leaning forwards with his Breeches down and Leith Standing with his Belly against Drew’s fundament, that Leith’s Trowsers was down and this Deponent [i.e. Alberman] saw his private parts directed towards the fundament of Drew. He said “You Rascals, what are you doing here?”; that he parted them, when one of them went one way and the other the otherway, that they pursued Leith and took him into Custody. Drew was Apprehended about Eleven o’Clock on Wednesday Night. [Alberman] is positive that the prisoners present are the same Men he saw under Mr. Prowce’s Window in the Situation as above stated and verily believes they had been committing the crime of Sodomy.
Taken and Sworn the day
and Year first above Written
Robt. Smith NOTE Alexander Leith and John Drew were tried at the Old Bailey at the Sessions beginning on 25 February 1789, on the charge of committing sodomy with one another. The evidence given by the two witnesses (Laws and Alberman, as above) contradicted one another, and the two defendants were declared Not Guilty. The evidence itself was judged (by the publisher of the Proceedings) to be not fit for the public eye, and therefore was not published. Hence we don’t know anything about Leith or Drew, their ages or occupations etc. (Source: Online Proceedings of the Old Bailey, Reference Number: t17890225-40)
This is a fairly typical case of two men being overseen (rather than being entrapped) while enjoying sex in a public place at night. The most interesting feature is that one of the men, John Drew, seems to have been recognized as a regular sodomite, moreover one who specifically enjoyed being fucked. Drew also, by calling out “Suck prick!”, seems to have been conversant with the practice of oral intercourse – something which historians claim to have been rare until modern times. “Suck prick!” may actually be a noun, exactly equivalent to the modern abusive epithet “Cocksucker!” – in which case the epithet must have been widely enough known to be effective, which again suggests that oral intercourse wasn’t a great rarity.
Trial No. 318, The Proceedings on the King’s Commission of the Peace, Oyer and Terminer, and Gaol Delivery for the City of London; And also the Gaol Delivery for the County of Middlesex, Held at Justice-Hall in the Old-Bailey, On Wednesday the 21st, Thursday the 22d, Friday the 23d, Saturday the 24th, and Monday the 26th of October. In the first and second Years of His Majesty’s Reign. Being the Eighth Session in the Mayoralty of The Right Honble Sir Matthew Blakiston, Knt. Lord-Mayor of the City of London. Number VIII. Part II. for the Year 1761. London: Printed, and sold by J. Scott, at the Black-Swan, in Pater-noster Row, 1761.
SOURCE: The Proceedings at the Sessions of Peace … on Wednesday the 22d, Thursday the 23d, Friday the 24th, and Saturday the 25th of February, Number III, London: Printed for J. Roberts, at the Oxford-Arms in Warwick-Lane, M.DCC.XXXVII [1738 New Style], p. 46.
Below is the complete transcript of a trial in 1732 in which John Cooper (also known as Princess Seraphina) prosecuted Tom Gordon for stealing his clothes. (NB: Cooper/Seraphina was not the person on trial: he was the accuser.) The transcript is rather long — but every bit of the testimony is full of human interest. Princess Seraphina was a gentleman’s servant, and a kind of messenger for mollies (gay men), and a bit of a hustler. More to the point, she was the first recognizable drag queen in English history, that is…the first gay man for whom dragging it up was an integral part of his identity, and who was well known by all his neighbours as a drag queen or transvestite “princess”: everyone called him Princess Seraphina even when he was not wearing women’s clothes. And he does not seem to have had any enemies except for his cousin, a distiller who thought that his behaviour was scandalous.
Gordon (the alleged robber) was acquitted of the charge of robbing Seraphina. Seraphina herself was not on trial — nor was she ever brought to trial for anything afterwards as a result of losing her prosecution.
To set the context: Masquerades flourished in London from the 1720s onward, and took place in assembly rooms, theatres, brothels, public gardens, and molly houses. The commercial masquerades were quasi- carnivals first organized by the impresario John James Heidegger at the Haymarket Theatre from 1717 onwards. His “Midnight Masquerades” were tremendously successful, and drew 800 people a week. They provided many people with the opportunity to explore fetishism and transvestism. Men disguised themselves as witches, bawds, nursing maids and shepherdesses, while women dressed as hussars, sailors, cardinals and boys from Mozart’s operas. In the early days of the fashion, Richard Steele went to one where a parson called him a pretty fellow and tried to pick him up, and Horace Walpole passed for an old woman at a masquerade in 1742. The opportunities for illicit assignations provoked a host of anti-masquerade satires, and many tracts were mainly devoted to attacking the mollies who attended them, allegedly imitating infamous homosexual cross-dressers such as Sporus, Caligula, and Heliogabalus. Seraphina went to the very first Ridotto al Fresco held at Vauxhall Gardens, in June 1732, where he was not the only man disguised as a woman.
Molly houses — pubs and clubs where gay men met, especially on Sunday nights — were very popular in the 1720s in London. On special “Festival Nights” many of the men would wear drag, and sing and dance together, and engage in camp behaviour. For example, on 28 December 1725 a group of 25 men were apprehended in a molly house in Hart Street near Covent Garden and were arrested for dancing and misbehaving themselves, “and obstructing and opposing the Peace-Officers in the Execution of their Duty.” They were dressed in “Masquerade Habits” and were suspected of being sodomites because several of them had previously stood in the pillory on that account; but they were dressed in a range of costumes, not all of which were female, and the date suggests a special holiday event rather than a familiar practice. It is interesting to note that they did not submit sheepishly to their arrest, but put up a show of resistance. None were prosecuted.
For another example, at one molly house in the Mint (in the City of London), according to a contemporary witness: “The Stewards are Miss Fanny Knight, and Aunt England; and pretty Mrs. Anne Page officiates as Clark. One of the Beauties of this Place is Mrs. Girl of Redriff, and with her, (or rather him) dip Candle-Mary a Tallow Chandler in the Burrough, and Aunt May an Upholsterer in the same place, are deeply in Love: Nurse Mitchell is a Barber of this Society.” James Dalton the highwaymay was a witness to molly Festival Nights, which he described in his dying confession published just before he was hanged in 1728, and he briefly mentions John Cooper (Princess Seraphina), who at that time Dalton implied was a butcher. So Seraphina was “on the drag scene” for at least four years before the trial at which she comes dramatically to public notice.
Complete Trial Transcript
The Proceedings at the Sessions of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer, for the City of London, and County of Middlesex; on Wednesday the 5th, Thursday the 6th, Friday the 7th, and Saturday the 8th of July 1732, in the Sixth Year of His MAJESTY’s Reign. Being the Sixth Sessions in the Mayoralty of the Right Honourable Francis Child, Esq; Lord Mayor of the City of London, in the Year 1732.
Before the Right Honourable Francis Child, Esq; Lord Mayor of the City of London; the Right Honourable the Lord Chief Baron Reynolds; the Honourable Mr. Justice Probyn; the Honourable Mr. Justice Fortescue; Mr Serjeant Urlin, Deputy Recorder of the City of London; and others of His Majestys Justices of Oyer and Terminer for the City of London, and Justices of Gaol-Delivery of Newgate, holden for the said City and County of Middlesex.
Thomas Gordon was indicted for assaulting John Cooper in a Field in Chelsea Parish, putting him in fear, and taking from him a Coat, a Waistcoat, a pair of Breeches, a pair of Shoes, a pair of Silver Shoe-buckles, a Shirt, a Stock, a Silver Stock- buckle, and 4½d. in Money, May 30.
John Cooper. On Whit-Monday, May 29, I dress’d myself and went abroad, and returning between 1 and 2 next Morning to my Lodging at Numb. 11 in Eagle-Court, in the Strand, I knock’d once, but finding no Body answer’d, I went to a Night-Cellar hard by, I call’d for a Pint of Beer, and sitting down on a Bench, the Prisoner came and sat by me; he ask’d me if I did not know Mr. Price, and some other Persons, and so we fell into Discourse; we drank 3 hot Pints together, I paid the Reckoning 9½d. and went up; I was got about 15 or 20 Yards off when the Prisoner came up to me, said it was a fine Morning, and ask’d me to take a Walk; I agreed, and we went into Chelsea Fields, and turning up to a private Place among some Trees, he clap’d his left Hand to the right Side of my Coat, and trip’d up my Heels, and holding a Knife to me, “God damn ye,” says he, “if you offer to speak or stir I’ll kill ye; give me your Ring.” I gave it him, and he put it on his own Finger; then he made me pull off my Coat and Waitcoat, and Breeches; I begg’d that he would not kill me, nor leave me naked; “No,” says he, “I’ll only change wi’ye; come pull off your Shirt, and put on mine”; so he stript, and drest hiimself in my Cloaths, and I put on his; there was 4½d. in my Breeches, and I found 3 ha’pence in his. He ask’d me where I liv’d, and I told him. “I suppose,” says he, “you intend to charge me with a Robbery by and by, but if you do, I’ll swear you’re a Sodomite, and gave me the Cloaths to let you B[ugge]r me.”
While we were dressing, a Man pass’d by at a little Distance, if there had been 2 Men I should have ventur’d to have call’d to them for Help, but as there was but one I was afraid. Then the Prisoner bid me come along, and I follow’d him to Piccadilly, and so to Little Windmill- street, and there I call’d to 2 Men, who took him into an Alehouse; I told them he had robb’d me, and he said that I had given him the Cloaths to let me B[ugge]r him. The Men said they expected to be paid for their Day’s Work, if they lost their Time about my Business; I promis’d them they should be satisfied.
When we came to Justice Mercer’s, he was not up, so we went to the Coach and Horses by St. Giles’s Church, and waited an Hour and an half; while we were there the Prisoner wrote a Letter to his Mother (as he said) and directed it to Numb. 20. in Colston’s-Court in Drury-lane. I had charg’d a Constable with the Prisoner, I told him so; “Go and do it then,” says the Justice, “and swear to the Things, and I’ll commit him.” So we went toward Tyburn-Road, into Marybone- Fields, and there the Men let the Prisoner go; “What do ye do?” says I. “Why what would you have us do,” said they, “he charges you with Sodomy, and says you gave him the Cloaths on that Account.” Another Man coming by at the same time, I desir’d his Assistance; but they telling him that I was a Molly, he said I ought to be hang’d, and he’d have nothing to do with me; then the Prisoner began to run, and I after him; but one of the two Men, who expected to be paid for their Day’s Work, kick’d up my Heels, and as I was rising, he struck me down again; I was very much hurt, and spit Blood, so that I could not follow them, and so they all got over a Ditch and escaped; I went to my Lodgings in Eagle-Court.
They were surprised to see me come home in such a shabby Dress; I told ’em what had happen’d, and describ’d the Man, and said that he sent a Letter to his Mother in Colston’s Court; “O,” says one, “I know him, his Name is Tom. Gordon, and his Mother’s Name is Abbot.” So I got Justice Giffard’s Warrant the same Day, and finding the Prisoner at a Brandy shop Door in Drury-Lane, we seized him, and carried him to Brogdon Poplet’s [a public house], and I set for Mr. Levit, and Mr. Sydney, who lodg’d in the same House as I lodg’d in; so the Prisoner was sent to the Round-house, and carry’d before the Justice next Day. He told the Justice that I put my Yard into his Hand twice; and says the Justice, “You had a long Knife, it seems, why did you not cut it off? I would have done so.” The Prisoner said that he was not willing to expose me so much. He are certain Ladies that belong to Brogdon Poplet, who, I suppose, have abundance to say for the Prisoner.
Court. What Business do you follow?
Cooper. I am a Gentleman’s Servant, but am out of Place at present; the last Place I liv’d in was Capt. Brebolt’s at Greenwich.
Prisoner [i.e. Gordon]. Did we go out of the Night Cellar together?
Cooper. No, you follow’d me.
Christopher Sandford, Taylor [tailor]. On the 29th of May, in the Evening, I was drinking with Mr. Mead at the King’s-Arms by Leicester-Fields when the Prosecutor came in, dress’d in a black Coat, a white Waistcoat, and black Breeches; he sat down and drank, and then paid his Reckoning, and went away. Next Morning I saw Mr. Mead again, he said he had met the Prosecutor in a dirty ragged Suit of Cloaths, and a speckled Shirt, and never set his Eyes on a Man so metamorphos’d. “But how came he in that Condition?” says I, “Why it seems he has been robb’d this Morning,” says he, “by one Gordon, a Leather-breeches Maker.”
I passed with Mr. Mead as I was going by Turnstile in Holbourn, the Prisoner pull’d me by the Coat, and said, “How d’ye do? what don’t ye know me?” and indeed I hardly did know him in that Dress. “What is it to you, Mr. Gordon?” says I, “why I heard you was dead.” “Dead!” says he, “who told you so?” “Why Cooper,” says I, “he drank with me last Night.” “Cooper is a great Rogue,” says he; “What has he done?” says I; “He gave me these Cloaths this Morning,” says he; “And is he a Rogue for that?” says I; “No,” says he, “but he pretends to get ’em again by Force.” “Hark ye, Tom,” says I, “as you have a Soul to be sav’d, I fancy you’ll come to be hang’d; for he has sworn a Robbery against you.” “Has he really done it?” says he; “for God’s Sake help me to make it up, I’ll go and get 3 Guineas of my Uncle in the Temple, and meet you at the Bell and Horse-shoe in Holborn.” I told the Prosecutor [i.e. Cooper] of this, and he went with me, but we could find no such Sign as the Bell and Horse-shoe.
John Sanders. Between 9 and 10 on Tuesday Night I was sent for to the Two Suger-Loaves in Drury-Lane; the Prosecutor gave me a Warrant against the Prisoner; we went before Justice Newton; the Justice having heard the Prosecutor’s Charge, ask’d the Prisoner what he had to say for himself? “Why,” says the Prisoner, “he laid his privy Parts in my Hand, and offer’d to B[ugger] me.” Then says Mr. Newton, “You had better take him before Justice Giffard to-Morrow, he knows more of the Matter, for I see it is his Warrant.” So the Prisoner was sent to the Round- house [a prison in St Giles].
The Prisoner’s Defence.
Thomas Gordon: I was lock’d out, and went to Mrs. Holder’s Night-Cellar; the Prosecutor came and sat by me, and ask’d me to drink, I thought I had seen him before; we fell into Discourse, and had 3 hot Pints of Gin and Ale between us; about 4 in the Morning he ask’d me to take a Walk; we went into Chelsea Fields, and coming among some Trees and Hedges, he kiss’d me, and put his privy Parts into my Hand; I ask’d him what he meant by that, and told him I would expose him; he begg’d me not to do it, and said he would make me amends. I ask’d him what amends? He said he would give me all his Cloaths, if I would accept of them, and so we agreed, and chang’d Cloaths.
After this, I ask’d him to go into the White Horse by Hyde-Park, but he said he would not, for he had Relations there, and did not care to expose himself in that Dress. We went farther, and I would have gone into another House, but he made the same Excuse: then we came to Little Windmill-street, where we found a Man knocking at an Alehouse Door; we thought to have gone in there, but it being early the People would not get up, and so we went to the White-Hart in Knaves-Acre; there he charg’d me with a Robbery, and I charg’d him with a Attempt to commit Sodomy. We went before Justice Mercer, who order’d us to get a Constable, and in going along, the Prosecutor raised a Mob, and squall’d as I had been murdering him, so that I was glad to get away. He afterwards met me again as I was talking with my Master in Drury- Lane, and carry’d me to Mr. Poplet’s.
Margaret Holder. I keep the Night- Cellar, the Prisoner came in about 10 at Night, and staid till 2 in the morning, and then the Prosecutor came in, and sat down by him, and said, “Your Servant, Sir; have you any Company belonging to you, for I don’t love much Company?” Then they had 3 Pints of Huckle and Buff, as we call it, that’s Gin and Ale made hot; and so about 4 o’Clock the Prisoner said he would go home, for his Mother would be up, and he might get in without his Father’s Knowledge; and the Prosecutor said, “If you go, I’ll go too”; so the Prisoner went up first, and the Prosecutor staid to change a Shilling, and went out after him. I believe the Prisoner is an honest Man; but the Prosecutor and Kitt Sandford too, use to come to my Cellar with such sort of People.
Court. What sort of People?
Holder. Why, to tell you the Truth, he’s one of the Runners that carries Messages between Gentlemen in that way.
Court. In what way?
Holder. Why he’s one of them as you call Molly Culls, he gets his Bread that way; to my certain Knowledge he has got many a Crown under some Gentlemen, for going of sodomiting Errands.
Robert Shaw. The Prisoner and Prosecutor, and four more came to my House, the White-Hart in Knaves- Acre, about 6 o-Clock on Tuesday Morning; says the Prisoner, “this Fellow charges me with a Robbery.” “How so?” says I; “Why,” says he, “we have been in Chelsea Fields, and he gave me his Cloaths to let him commit Sodomy with me, and now he wants them again.” After the second Pot, they disputed who should pay; says the Prosecutor, “You know I have but 3 ha’pence, for when I gave you my Breeches there was 4½d. in ’em, and when I took yours, I found but 3 ha’pence in the Pocket.” Then the Prosecutor desir’d to go to his Cousin Smith, a Distiller hard by, to borrow a Shilling; a Man went with him, he brought back a Shilling, and paid his Reckoning.
Court. Did the Prosecutor contradict what the Prisoner said about changing Cloaths?
Shaw. No, not in my hearing.
Edward Pocock. About 5 o’Clock o’ Tuesday Morning, as I was coming along Chelsea-Fields, I saw 2 Men a stripping among some Trees; I thought they were going to fight, but I soon found there was no Quarrel; for when they had put their Cloaths on, they went away lovingly, and the Prisoner smil’d; they look’d as if they had not been a-bed all Night, no more than I had; for you must know, being Holiday time, I got drunk, and fell asleep with my Cloaths on.
Court. How far off was you when you saw them?
Pocock. Within 20 or 30 Yards.
Court. How came the Prisoner to find you out?
Pocock. I happen’d to go to Holder’s Cellar, and there I heard talk of this Robbery; and says I, “I’ll be hang’d if these were not the 2 Men that I thought were going to fight”; so I went to Newgate to see the Prisoner, and knew him to be one of ’em; and he afterwards sent me a Subpoena.
John Thorp. It being Holiday time, I and another Stocking-maker, and 2 Shoe-makers, had been out a merry making, and in the Morning we can to the Two Brewers in Little Windmill-street; the People were not up, and while I stood knocking at the Door, the Prisoner and the Prosecutor came along close together; says the Prosecutor, “this Man has got my Cloaths on his Back”; and says the Prisoner, “He gave them me to commit Sodomy.” We told them it was a scandalous business, and advised them to make it up between themselves, and change Cloaths again. The Prosecutor said he desir’d nothing more than to have his Cloaths again; but the Prisoner would not consent, “For nothing is freer than Gift”, says he, “and I’ll see you out.”
We could not get in at the Two Brewers, and so went to Mr. Shaw’s in Knaves-Acre, and not agreeing there, we went to the Coach and Horses by St Giles’s Church; and there the Prisoner wrote a Letter to his Mother, it was directed to his Father, a Taylor, at Numb 4. in Colston’s-Court, I found the House according to the Direction, and deliver’d the Letter, but his Father was not up, and when I return’d to the Coach and Horses they were all gone.
Prisoner. Did not you go to the Prosecutor’s Cousin, the Distiller, in Warder-street?
Thorp. Yes; he told his Cousin he was pawn’d for a Shilling; says his Cousin, “As you are in the Neighbourhood, I don’t care to be scandaliz’d by you, there’s a Shilling, but go about your Business, and let me hear no more of you, for you are a vile Fellow, and I’m afraid you’ll come to an ill end.”
The Character of the Princess Seraphina.
Jane Jones. I am a Washer-woman in Drury-Lane, I went into Mr Poplet’s, my next Door Neighbour, for a Pint of Beer, and said “There’s the Princess Seraphina!” So I look’d at her, and the Prisoner was in the same Box; and says he to the Princess, “What a vile Villain was you to ——”
Court. What Princess?
Jones. The Prosecutor; he goes by that Name. “What a Villain was you,” says the Prisoner, “to offer so vile a thing? Did not you do so and so?”
Court. So and so; explain yourself.
Jones. Why in the way of Sodomity, whatever that is; so says the Princess, “If you don’t give me my Cloaths again, I’ll swear a Robbery against you; but if you’ll let me have them, I’ll be easy.” “No, you Villain, you shant,” says the Prisoner. Next Day I went to Mr. Stringer the Pawn-broker’s, facing Vinegar-yard in Drury-Lane; I wash for him, and there I saw the Princess a pawning her Shirt; “O Princess!” says I, “are you there? They will be very fine by and by; you will have no Occasion to pawn your Linen, when you get the Reward for hanging Tom Gordon. But how can you be so cruel to swear his Life away, when you have own’d that you chang’d with him?” What if I did,” says he, “I don’t value that, I shall do nothing but what I have been advised to.”
Mary Poplet. I keep the Two Sugar- Loaves in Drury-Lane, the Prisoner and the Princess came into my House, and the Princess charg’d the Prisoner with taking her Cloaths, and the Prisoner call’d her a Villain, and said she gave ’em to him. I have known her Highness a pretty while, she us’d to come to my House from Mr. Tull, to enquire after some Gentlemen of no very good Character; I have seen her several times in Women’s Cloaths, she commonly us’d to wear a white Gown, and a scarlet Cloak, with her Hair frizzled and curl’d all round her Forehead; and then she would so flutter her Fan, and make such fine Curt’sies, that you would not have known her from a Woman: She takes great Delight in Balls and Masquerades, and always chuses to appear at them in a Female Dress, that she may have the Satisfation of dancing with fine Gentlemen. Her Highness lives with Mr. Tull in Eagle-Court in the Strand, and calls him her Master, because she was Nurse to him and his Wife when they were both in a Salivation; but the Princess is rather Mr. Tull’s Friend, than his domestick Servant. I never heard that she had any other Name than the Princess Seraphina.
Mary Ryler. I was standing at the End of our Court in Drury-Lane, and seeing the Prisoner coming along with a Crowd. “Tom!” says I, “what’s the Matter?” “Why,” says he, pointing to the Princess, “this Man gave me his Cloaths to let him B[ugge]r me, and now he charges me with a Robbery.” I know the Princess very well, she goes a Nursing sometimes: She nurs’d his Master Tull and his Wife in their Salivation, and several others; and I was told that he was dress’d in Woman’s Cloaths at the last Masquerade (Ridotto al Fresco at Vauxhall.) Sometimes we call her Princess, and sometimes Miss.
Mary Robinson. I was trying on a Suit of Red Damask at my Mantua-maker’s in the Strand, when the Princess Seraphina came up, and told me the Suit look’d mighty pretty. “I wish,” says he, “you would len ’em me for a Night, to go to Mrs. Green’s in Nottingham-Court, by the Seven Dials, for I am to meet some fine Gentlemen there.” “Why,” says I, “can’t Mrs. Green furnish you?” “Yes” says he, “she lends me a Velvet Scarf and a Gold Watch sometimes.” He used to be but meanly dress’d, as to Men’s Cloaths, but he came lately to my Mantua- maker’s, in a handsome Black Suit, to invite a Gentlewoman to drink Tea with Mrs. Tull. I ask’d him how he came to be so well Rigg’d? And he told me his Mother had lately sold the Reversion of a House; “And now,” says he, “I’ll go and take a Walk in the Park, and shew my self.” Soon after this, my Maid told me that her Highness was robb’d by a Man in a Sailor’s Habit, who had changed Cloaths with him. And so next Morning I sent for him. “Lord, Princess!” says I “you are vastly alter’d.” “Ay, Madam,” says he, “I have been robb’d, but I shall get the Reward for hanging the Rogue.”
Another Time, he comes to me, and says, “Lord, Madam, I must ask your Pardon, I was at your Mantua-maker’s Yesterday, and dress’d my Head in your Lac’d Pinners, and I would fain have borrow’d them to have gone to the Ridotto at Vauxhall last Night, but I cou’d not persuade her to lend ’em me; but however she lent me your Callimanco Gown and Madam Nuttal’s Mob [cap], and one of her Smocks, and so I went thither to pick up some Gentlemen to Dance.” “And did you make a good Hand of it, Princess?” says I. “No, Madam,” says he, “I pick’d up two Men, who had no Money, but however they proved to be my old Acquaintance, and very good Gentlewomen they were. One of them has been transported for counterfeiting Masquerade Tickets; and t’other went to the Masquerade in a Velvet Domine, and pick’d up an old Gentleman, and went to Bed with him, but as soon as the old Fellow found that he had got a Man by his Side, he cry’d out, `Murder’.”
Eliz. Jones. I saw the Princess Seraphina standing at Mr. Poplet’s Door. “What, have you been robb’d, Princess?” says I, “Has Tom Gordon stripp’d your Highness stark naked? An impudent Rogue! And yet, Ma’m, I think, your Highness had better make it up with him, than expose yourself, for some say it was only an Exchange.” “Why,” says he, “at first I would have made it up, and taken my Cloaths again, but now it’s too late, and I must prosecute, for those that were concerned in taking him up, expect their Share in the Reward, and won’t let me drop the Prosecution.”
Andrew Monford. I heard the Prosecutor say to the Prisoner (at Mr. Poplet’s) “Tom! give me my Cloaths.” And the other answer’d, “No, you Rogue, I won’t: Did you not put your Hand in my Breeches, to pull out what I had?”
Several of the Inhabitants of Drury-Lane gave the Prisoner the Character of an honest working Man, and the Jury acquitted him.
Ned Ward was an investigative journalist, who no doubt embellished his facts to make them more sensational than they already were. But he did not wholly invent his material. The most striking part of his description of the molly houses — the mock lying-in ceremony during which a man pretended to be a woman giving birth to a baby — is confirmed by other sources including testimony given at trials, and in fact this gay folk ritual is sporadically described throughout the century. In the 1810s several men were arrested in the act of performing this mock-birth. We should be careful not to conclude that the mollies were habitual transvestites. The cross-dressing and lying-in rituals that Ward describes took place at specific times called “Festival Nights”, which other sources indicate took place towards the end of December. They were virtually always associated with masquerade festivals, and quite possibly represent some kind of survival of folk rituals that still take place today during Mardi Gras carnivals. The Festival Nights in other words were a kind of masquerade ball, with gay trimmings. The camp mimicking of women, however, was a regular feature of molly house gatherings.
Ward’s description of the molly houses was first published in 1709, though no copy of that edition survives. He refers to the trial of 1709 at which nine gay men were arrested at a brandy shop (owned by a gay man) where they met regularly.
THE MOLLIES’ CLUB.
THERE are a particular Gang of Wretches in
Town, who call themselves Mollies, & are so
far degenerated from all Masculine Deportment or
Manly exercises that they rather fancy themselves
Women, imitating all the little Vanities that Custom
has reconcil’d to the Female sex, affecting to speak,
walk, tattle, curtsy, cry, scold, & mimick all manner
of Effeminacy. At a certain Tavern in the City,
whose sign I shall not mention, because I am unwilling
to fix an Odium on the House, they have a settled &
constant Meeting. When they are met, together, their
usual Practice is to mimick a female Gossiping &
fall into all the impertinent Tittle Tattle that a merry
Society of good Wives can be subject to. Not long
since they had cushioned up one of their Brethren, or
rather Sisters, according to Female Dialect, disguising
him in a Woman’s Night-Gown, Sarsanet Hood, &
Night-rail who when the Company were men, was to
mimick a woman, produce a jointed Baby they had
provided, which wooden Offspring was to be after-
wards Christened, whilst one in a High Crown’d Hat,
I am old Beldam’s Pinner, representing[ed] a Country
Midwife, & another dizen’d up in a Huswife’s Coif for
a Nurse & all the rest of an impertinent Decorum of a
And for the further promotion of their unbecoming
mirth, every one was to talk of their Husbands &
Children, one estolling the Virtues of her Husband,
another the genius & wit of their Children ; whilst a
Third would express himself sorrowfully under the
character of a Widow.
Thus every one in his turn makes scoff of the little
Effeminacy & Weaknesses, which Women are subject
to, when gossiping o’er their cups on purpose to extin-
guish that Natural Affection which is due to the Fair
Sex & to turn their Juvenile desires towards preter-
natural polotions. They continued their practices till
they were happily routed by the conduct of some of
the under Agents to the Reforming Society, so that
several of them were brought to open Punishment,
which happily put a Period to their Scandalous Revels,
‘Tis strange that in a Country where
Our Ladies are so Kind and Fair,
So Gay, and Lovely, to the Sight,
So full of Beauty and Delight;
That Men should on each other doat,
And quit the charming Petticoat.
Sure the curs’d Father of this Race,
That does both Sexes thus disgrace,
Must be a Monster, Mad, or Drunk,
Who, bedding some prepostrous Punk,
Mistook the downy Seat of Love,
And got them in the Sink above;
So that, at first, a T[oa]d and They
Were born the very self same Way, [i.e. from the anus according to folklore]
The following Proposal is sent to be inserted in this Paper, as an Expedient humbly propos’d to the Legislature, for suppressing a Crime which is the most shocking Debasement of Human Nature.
“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.”
In 1728 Black Lion Yard was the site of the house of one Jonathan Muff, which he ran as a Molly house, a resort for gay men and transvestites (a molly being a term for a gay man). It was raided in that year and some of the clientele charged, as sex between men was then a capital offence.1 Some sources give the current Black Lion House at 45 Whitechapel Road as the site of Black Lion Yard but it was further east, running from Whitechapel Road, at a point under the site of the Whitechapel Technology Centre, through the site of Magenta House to a point on Old Montague Street at the east end of Hopetown, the Salvation Army hostel.
20 NOVEMBER 2016 BY SARAH JACKSON
One of the challenges of uncovering transgender histories is that even where we find stories which hint at trans identities, we can’t go back and ask the individuals in question how they would describe themselves.
Even if we could, concepts of gender identity constantly shift and change throughout history, and the question would probably make very little sense to someone who lived centuries before us.
However, the hints we find show us that in the past, just like today, gender was not a simple binary.
In 18th century London a ‘molly house‘ was a coffeehouse, inn, or tavern at which men could meet in secret to socialise and have sex. ‘Molly’ or ‘moll’ was a slang term for a gay man, and for a lower class woman, or a woman selling sex.
Although at this time in England sex between men was punishable by death, molly houses were part of a thriving gay subculture:
The legal records document investigations into about 30 molly houses during the course of the century. Considering that the population of London was only about 600,000 in the 1720s, having even just a dozen molly houses at that time is a bit like having 200 gay clubs in the 1970s. In some respects, the eighteenth-century molly subculture was as extensive as any modern gay subculture.
One of the main molly districts was on the east of the City, around Moorfields in Shoreditch. What is now the south side of Finsbury Square was a cruising area known as ‘Sodomites’ Walk’.
Molly houses are a site where gay histories and trans histories intermingle. It was common for men at the molly house to wear women’s clothes and to speak and act in typically ‘feminine’ ways. Most had alternative names such as Plump Nelly, Primrose Mary, Aunt May, Susan Guzzle, Aunt England, and the Duchess of Camomile.
One very famous molly called Princess Seraphina wore her feminine identity beyond these secret meeting places and into her public life. In 1732 she brought a case against a man for stealing her clothes. Her neighbour Mary Poplet described her in her testimony:
“I have known her Highness a pretty while… I have seen her several times in Women’s Cloaths, she commonly us’d to wear a white Gown, and a scarlet Cloak, with her Hair frizzled and curl’d all round her Forehead; and then she would so flutter her Fan, and make such fine Curt’sies, that you would not have known her from a Woman: She takes great Delight in Balls and Masquerades, and always chuses to appear at them in a Female Dress, that she may have the Satisfation of dancing with fine Gentlemen. Her Highness lives with Mr. Tull in Eagle-Court in the Strand, and calls him her Master, because she was Nurse to him and his Wife when they were both in a Salivation (salivation was a mercurial cure for syphilis); but the Princess is rather Mr. Tull’s Friend, than his domestick Servant. I never heard that she had any other Name than the Princess Seraphina.”.
Raids on molly houses
Much of what we know about mollies comes from court proceedings following raids on molly houses, the most well known of which was the raid on Mother Clap’s molly house in 1726, in Holborn. (Incidentally, Mother Clap was a real woman called Margaret Clap.) After the raid several people were tried and three men were hanged at Tyburn for the crime of ‘sodomy’.
One of the best documented examples from east London is a raid on a molly house in Whitechapel.
“Nine male ladies” arrested
The molly house was owned by Miss Muff – also known as Jonathan Muff – and it stood in Black Lion Yard. The yard no longer exists, but Black Lion House now stands on the site at 45 Whitechapel Road.
On 5 October 1728 The Weekly Journal; or, British Gazetteer includes a news item about the raid:
“On Sunday Night last a Constable with proper Assistants, searched the House of Jonathan Muff, alias Miss Muff, in Black-Lyon Yard, near Whitechapel Church, where they apprehended nine male Ladies, including the Man of the House. They were secured that Night in New Prison, and Monday Morning they were examined before Justice Jackson, in Ayliff-streeet; John Bleak Cawlend was committed to Newgate, he being charged on Oath with committing the detestable Sin of Sodomy.”
Of the nine arrested we know that two were whipped, one was fined, two were acquitted, and one – whose name was given as Thomas Mitchell – attempted to end his life in prison:
he attempted, and had near accomplish’d, destroying himself, in cutting the great Artery of his Left Arm almost asunder; but by the immediate Help of some eminent Surgeons he was preserv’d, tho’ at the Point of Death thro’ the great Effusion of Blood.
Trial of John Bleak Cowland
John Bleak Cowland, was indicted for that destableSin of Sodomy, and the Break of the Statute against the said Sin made and provided.
Jonathan Parrey depos’d, That in February last, he first came acquainted with the Prisoner at one Muff’s, in Black-Lion-Yard, White-Chappel. That in May last, the Prisoner went Home with him to his Lodgings, and when they were in Bed, he perswaded him to commit the Sin of Sodomy with him, to which he consented, and that they did then, and there, actually commit the Sin of Sodomy, &c. and afterwards in June last, he did actually commit the said Sin of Sodomy twice more with the Prisoner in the Bar.
This Deponent farther said, That he being weary of this wicked and detestable Practice, took a Resolution to betray the Company which met together, to commit such filthy Actions, and accordingly he gave Information against them, and contrived to be in the Room when the Prisoner and others were apprehended, at the aforesaid Muff’s House, in Black-Lion-Yard, White-Chappel.
The Prisoner said in his Defence, That he only went to Muff’s House, to learn to play on the Violin, and that it was all false which Parrey had swore against him.
The Prisoner’s Brother depos’d, That he knew Parrey to be an idle vagabond Fellow, that would swear a Cow is Horse, and his Oath was therefore not to be taken, but the Jury believing the contrary, found him Guilty. DEATH.
Trial of Richard Challenor
Richard Challenor of St. Mary’s White-Chappel, was indicted for assaulting John Branch Harris, with an Intent to commit that wicked and destestable Sin of Sodomy, with the said John Granch Harris.
He was a second Time indicted for assaulting Jonathan Parrey, with an Intent to commit the said Sin of Sodomy, with him the said Jonathan Parrey.
Jonathan Parrey depos’d, That in February last he first came acquainted with the Prisoner, that they about that Time lay together and equally committed filthy undecent and effeminate Actions; that they likewise did the same at Muff’s Hosue in Black-Lion-Yard White-Chappel, and that the Lodging in an alley near White-Chappel Church, in July last, Richard Challoner and John Branch Harris came to see him, and put their Hands into each other’s Breeches, after which they went out of the House into an Arbour in the Garden, but what they did there he could not tell.
The Jury acquitted him of both Indictments.
Trial of Isaac Milton
Isaac Milton of St. Mary’s White-Chappel, was indicted for assaulting Jonathan Parrey, with an Intent to commit that destable Sin of Sodomy, with the said Jonathan Parrey.
Jonathan Parren depos’d, That in June last, he first became acquainted with the Prisoner, at Muff’s House in White-Chappel. That at the Three-Nuns in White-Chappel, they lay together, when the Prisoner would have had him committed Sodomy with him, but he refused it; that then the Prisoner ofered to act the same Crime of Sodomy with him, but he would not suffer him.
What strengthen’d this Evidence, was the Oath of Mr. Willis, who depos’d, That when Parrey gave Information agianst Muff’s House, he mentioned the Prisoner, as one of the filthy Wretches who resorted there, to committ sodomitical Practices, and accordingly, when they went to search the House, they found the Prisoner amongst the ludicrous Company.
The Jury found him Guilty of the Assault and Misdemeanor.
Newspaper Reports 1728
5 October 1728
On Sunday Night last a Constable with proper Assistants, searched the House of Jonathan Muff, alias Miss Muff, in Black-Lyon Yard, near Whitechapel Church, where they apprehended nine male Ladies, including the Man of the House. They were secured that Night in New Prison, and Monday Morning they were examined before Justice Jackson, in Ayliff-streeet; John Bleak Cawlend was committed to Newgate, he being charged on Oath with committing the detestable Sin of Sodomy. One of them was committed to Bridewell, and Miss Muff, with the other Six were committed to New Prison for Misdemeanors. (The Weekly Journal; or, British Gazetteer)
5 October 1728
Jonathan alias Miss Muff, and nine Male Ladies were all apprehended last Sunday Night at his House in Black Lyon Yard near White Chapel Church, carried to New Prison, and examin’d next Day before a Magistrate, when J. Bleak Cawland charged on Oath with committing the detestable Sin of Sodomy, was committed to Newgate, another to Bridewell, and Miss Muff with the other six to Newgate: Two Persons were also catch’d in that horrid Act last Week at Redding [i.e. Reading, Berkshire]; one of whom was immediately pump’d, thrown into a Bog-House, and then rinsed in stinking Ditches; what will come of the other Beast is not said. (The Flying-Post: or, The Weekly Medley)
19 October 1728
On Thursday … a Bill of Indictment was found at the Old Baily, against one Cowland, for Sodomy.
The same Morning, two Persons were taken in the Act of Sodomy, in the little Cloisters at Westminster-Abbey, and committed to Prison.
And other Bills are found at Hick’s Hall, against divers other Persons, for Sodomitical Practices. (The Weekly Journal; or, British Gazetteer)
26 October 1728
Monday the Sessions ended at the Old Baily, when, with what received Sentence of Death last Saturday, there are 16 Capitally convicted, viz. … John Bleak Cowland for Sodomy …
John Burgess, for Sodomitical Practices, was fin’d five Marks, and order’d to find Sureties for his Good Behaviour for six Months.
Two others indicted for Sodomitical Practices were acquitted. (The Weekly Journal; or, British Gazetteer)
9 November 1728
Saturday last … one John Mitchel stood in the Pillory in Little Britain, pursuant to his Sentence at Guild-Hall, for threatning to swear Sodomy against a Person, in order to extort Money from him; he is also to suffer three Months Imprisonment. (Weekly Journal, or the British Gazetteer) [This was also reported in The Flying-Post: or, The Weekly Medley.]
9 November 1728
Last Wednesday Night the dead Warrant came to Newgate for the Execution of thirteen Malefactors condemned last Sessions at the Old-Bailey, on Monday next at Tyburn, …
But John Bleake Cowland, Samuel Lewis, and John Taylor, are respited ’till his Majesty’s Pleasure, touching them, be further known. (The Weekly Journal; or, British Gazetteer) [The Flying-Post on this day also reported that although John Bleak Cowland was condemned for sodomy, he was reprieved and not executed.]
: At the end of the Sessions of 16 October 1728, John Bleak Cowland was sentenced to Death. However, he was later reprieved and transported. See News Reports for 1728, 5 October, 19 October, 26 October, 9 November.]
The Proceedings at the Sessions of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer for the City of London, and County of Middlesex. On Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Monday, being the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 21st, of October, 1728, in the Second Year of His Majesty’s Reign. 1728.