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.
Margaret Clap (died c. 1726), better known as Mother Clap, ran a coffee house – situated in Field Lane, with an arch on one side, and the Bunch O’ Grapes tavern on the other – from 1724 to 1726 in Holborn, Middlesex, a short distance from the City of London. Notable for running a molly house, an inn or tavern primarily frequented by homosexual men, she was also heavily involved in the ensuing legal battles after her premises were raided and shut down. While not much is known about her life, she was an important part of the gay subculture of early 18th-century England. At the time sodomy in England was a crime under the Buggery Act 1533, punishable by a fine, imprisonment, time in the pillory, or the death penalty. Despite this, particularly in larger cities, private homosexual activity took place. To service these actions there existed locations where men from all classes could find partners or just socialize, called molly houses, “molly” being slang for a gay man at the time. One of the most famous of these was Clap’s molly house.
At the time of the raid on Mother Clap’s, there were a number of Molly house raids going on. Frequented by homosexual men, more commonly known as Mollies, or those “abominable sodomites” – often cited that way in newspaper reports of the day – very few were actually caught “in the act”, though some evidently had their pants unbuttoned, and were trundled off to Newgate prison, or put in the pillory.
Margaret Clap ran a coffee house that served as a molly house for the underground homosexual community. Her house was popular during the two years of its existence (1724–1726), being well known within the homosexual community. She cared for her customers, and catered especially to the homosexual men who frequented it. She was known to have provided “beds in every room of the house” and commonly had “thirty or forty of such Kind of Chaps every Night, but more especially on Sunday Nights.”  Clap was present during the vast majority of the molly house’s operational hours, apparently only leaving to run across the street to a local tavern, to buy drinks for her customers. Because Clap had to leave the premises to retrieve alcohol to serve to her customers, it is likely that the molly house was hosted in her own private residence. Unlike other molly houses, it was not a brothel. Clap’s intentions may have been based more upon pleasure than profit, judging by her goodwill towards her customers. For example, one man lodged at her house for two years and she later provided false testimony to get a man acquitted of sodomy charges. Her actions during the charges later laid against her and many of the homosexual community showed her loyalty to her customers.
In February 1726, Margaret Clap’s molly house was raided by the police; around 40 of its occupants were arrested. Primarily targeted by the Society for the Reformation of Manners, the house had been under surveillance for two years.[Note 1], in particular by a Constable Samuel Stevens, who onfiltrated the house under the guise of being the “husband” of an informer and insider within Mother Clap’s. In a report made by him after a visit on Sunday, 14th November 1725 he noted “I found between 40 and 50 Men making Love to one another, as they call’d it. Sometimes they would sit on one another’s Laps, kissing in a lewd Manner, and using their Hands indecently. Then they would get up, Dance and make Curtsies, and mimick the voices of Women. O, Fie, Sir! – Pray, Sir. – Dear Sir. Lord, how can you serve me so? – I swear I’ll cry out. – You’re a wicked Devil. – And you’re a bold Face. – Eh ye little dear Toad! Come, buss! – Then they’d hug, and play, and toy, and go out by Couples into another Room on the same Floor, to be marry’d, as they call’d it.” The surveillance seems to have been instigated by a collection of vengeful mollies-turned-informants. A man named Mark Patridge was outed by his lover and was then turned as an informant for the police. He led policemen into molly houses, introducing each of them as his “husband” so that they could investigate more thoroughly.[Note 2] Patridge was not tried in court for sodomy. Another notable informant was Thomas Newton, who frequently used entrapment to allow constables to arrest men in the act of instigating sodomy.. It was not just the molly houses that were targeted, but also public spaces such as Moorfield Park, referred to as “the Sodomite’s Walk”. Newton’s testimony regarding entrapment of a William Brown ‘I was no stranger to the Methods they used in picking one another up. So I takes a Turn that way, and leans over the Wall. In a little Time a Gentleman passes by, and looks hard at me, and at a small distance from me, stands up against the Wall, as if he was going to make Water. Then by Degrees he sidles nearer and nearer to where I stood, ’till at last he comes close to me. – ’Tis a very fine Night, says he. Aye, says I, and so it is. Then he takes me by the Hand, and after squeezing and playing with it a little (to which I showed no dislike), he conveys it to his Breeches, and puts [his penis] into it. I took fast hold, and call’d out to Willis and Stevenson, who coming up to my Assistance, we carried him to the Watch house.’
The whole raid, and all the curcumstances surrounding it reads more like something out of a modern gay enclave! That so many homosexuals frequented the molly houses, the goings-on within them, the gossip and innuendo, the pimps and prostitutes, and the undercover work by the local police is quite something that one would not have expected from life in the 18-century London. The main victims, other than Margaret Clap herself, who were arrested, charged and sentenced consist of William Brown – who went to trial after entrapment; William Griffin; George Kedger – who was accused of buggering Edward “Ned” Courtney in 1725; Gabriel Lawrence; Martin MacKintosh; George Whittle (Whitle); and Thomas Wright – who kept a molly house in Beech Lane, and has been covered in another Gay History article on my blog https://timalderman.com/?s=Thomas+wright. Other protagonists involved with charges or trial are Mark Partridge, the embittered homosexual informer, who quarreled with lover, Mr Harrington. “So by late 1725, Partrdige was leading various constables to all of the London molly houses that he knew of, and introducing one or the other of them as his ‘husband’ so they could be admitted as bona fide members of each group. On Wednesday, 17 November for example, Partridge took constables Joseph Sellers and William Davison to another molly house, one kept by Thomas Wright in Beech Lane, where there was a very big row because the others had heard that they had been informed upon. They called Partridge a ‘Treacherous, blowing-up, mollying-Bitch’, and threatened to kill anyone who would betray them. Partridge, however, was able to mollify them by arguing that it was Harrington who let out the secret in the first place. So they forgave him and kissed him – and kissed the constables too, little suspecting who they were, and little knowing how treacherous Partridge indeed was.”; Edward (Ned) Courtney – hustler & informer‘I was no stranger to the Methods they used in picking one another up. So I takes a Turn that way, and leans over the Wall. In a little Time a Gentleman passes by, and looks hard at me, and at a small distance from me, stands up against the Wall, as if he was going to make Water. Then by Degrees he sidles nearer and nearer to where I stood, ’till at last he comes close to me. – ’Tis a very fine Night, says he. Aye, says I, and so it is. Then he takes me by the Hand, and after squeezing and playing with it a little (to which I showed no dislike), he conveys it to his Breeches, and puts [his penis] into it. I took fast hold, and call’d out to Willis and Stevenson, who coming up to my Assistance, we carried him to the Watch house.’ Prostitute at Yorkshire Grey tavern in Bloomsbury Market. He lived with silk dyer Thomas Orme at Red Lion in Crown Court in Knave’s Acre. By the time of the raids he was a bondservant to George Whittle (or Whitle), who was charged with keeping a molly house at the Royal Oak alehouse at the corner of St James’s Square in Pall Mall. Ned was an habitual rabble-rouser. He had already been sent to Bridewell Prison on three occasions: once for drunkenly hitting an old woman when he was an alehouse boy at the Curdigan’s Head at Charing Cross (he was sacked, since the woman was the tavern-keeper’s mother); a second time for stealing goods from Whittle’s establishment; and a third time for disturbing the peace at an unnamed molly house in Covent Garden. Ned apparently turned informer as a means to spite Whittle, who had caused him to be arrested for theft. The jury’s realisation that this may have been the motive behind his testimony, eventually led to Whittle’s acquittal; and Thomas Newton – hustler & informer. 30yo & employed by Thomas Wright, first at his home in Christopher’s Alley in Moorfields, later at his own molly house in Beech Lane. (See Lawrence’s trial). So, one can see how they were all tied in. There were a number of the Constabulary involved in the raids and arrests, including the already mentioned Samuel Stevens, Joseph Sellers, William Davison, and Constables Willis & Williams.
Margaret Clap’s Old Bailey Trial
Margaret Clap was indicted for keeping a disorderly house in which she procured and encouraged persons to commit sodomy. Her house in the City of London had been under surveillance since 10 December 1725, and was raided in February 1726 (“1725” in the old-style calendar, in which the new year did not begin until March) — an incident which forms the central chapter of my book Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830. She can perhaps be characterized as the first “fag hag” to be documented in British history. She seems to have run her molly house more for pleasure than for profit. It was one of the most popular molly houses in London, and had existed at least since autumn 1724. In so far as Mother Clap went out to fetch liquor (probably from the Bunch o’Grapes next door), her house — which bore no specific name — was probably a private residence rather than a public inn or tavern. Hints that it may have been specifically organized as a house of prostitution are very slim, and it is likely that she provided for herself simply by letting out rooms, by taking a percentage on the spirits she procured, and perhaps by accepting the occasional gift from a grateful guest. One man, Thomas Phillips, had lived at her house for two years, and he disappeared after the raid. All in all, Margaret Clap seems to have enjoyed her clientele — who dubbed her “Mother Clap” — and to have taken an active interest in the gay subculture. She was found guilty as charged and was sentenced to stand in the pillory in Smithfield market, to pay a fine of 20 marks, and to two years’ imprisonment. During her punishment, she fell off the pillory once and fainted several times. It is not known what became of her, if indeed she survived prison.
SAMUEL STEVENS: On Sunday Night, the 14th of November last, I went to the Prisoner’s House in Field-lane in Holbourn [in the City of London], where I found between 40 and 50 Men making Love to one another, as they call’d it. Sometimes they would sit in one anothers Laps, kissing in a leud Manner, and using their Hand[s] indecently. Then they would get up, Dance and make Curtsies, and mimick the Voices of Women. O, Fire, Sir! — Pray Sir. — Dear Sir. — Lord, how can you serve me so? — I swear I’ll cry out. — Your’re a wicked Devil, — and you’re a bold Face. — Eh ye little dear Toad! Come, buss! — Then they’d hug, and play, and toy, and go out by Couples into another Room on the same Floor, to be marry’d, as they call’d it. The Door of that Room was kept by —— Eccleston, who used to stand pimp for ’em to prevent any Body from disturbing them in their Diversions. When they came out, they used to brag, in plain Terms, of what they had been doing. As for the Prisoner, she was present all the Time, except when she went out to fetch Liquors. There was among them Will Griffin, who has been since hang’d for Sodomy; and —— Derwin, who had been carried before Sir George Mertins* for Sodomitical Practices with a Link-Boy [boy who carries a torch before gentleman to light their way in the streets at night]. Derwin brag’d how he had baffled the Link-boy’s Evidence; and the Prisoner at the same Time boasted that what she had sworn before Sir George in Derwin’s Behalf, was a great Means of bringing him off [i.e. getting him acquitted]. I went to the same House on two or three Sunday Nights following, and found much the same Practices as before. The Company talk’d all manner of gross and vile Obscenity in the Prisoner’s hearing, and she appear’d to be wonderfully pleas’d with it.
[Constable JOSEPH SELLERS confirmed this testimony, and noted that 40 mollies were arrested and imprisoned following the raid on Mother Clap’s.]
MARGARET CLAP: As for Derwin’s being carried before Sir George Mertins,* it was only for a Quarrel. I hope it will be consider’d that I am a Woman, and therefore it cannot be thought that I would ever be concern’d in such Practices.
[ * Sir George Mertins was Lord Mayor in the previous year. On 23 October 1725 Mist’s Weekly Journal reported: “Yesterday the Common-Council voted Sir George Merttins [sic] the Thanks of that Court for his just Administration in the Office of Lord Mayor.” ]
Clap was found guilty as charged and was sentenced to stand in the pillory in Smithfield Market, to pay a fine of 20 marks, and to two years’ imprisonment. During her punishment, she fell off the pillory once and fainted several times. It is not known what became of her, if indeed she survived prison.
William Brown’s Old Bailey Trial – July 1726
THOMAS NEWTON: Willis and Stevenson the Constables, having a Warrant to apprehend Sodomites, I went with them to an alehouse in Moore-fields, where we agreed that I should go and pick one up, and that they should wait at a convenient Distance. There’s a walk in the Upper- Moorfields, by the side of the Wall that parts the Upper-field from the Middle-field. I knew that this Walk was frequented by sodomites, and was no stranger to the methods they used in picking one another up. So I takes a Turn that way, and leans over the Wall. In a little Time the Prisoner passes by; and looks hard at me, and at a small Distance from me, stands up against the Wall, as if he was going to make Water. Then by Degrees he sidles nearer and nearer to where I stood, ’till at last he comes close to me. — ‘Tis a very fine Night, says he. Aye, says I, and so it is. Then he takes me by the Hand, and after squeezing and playing with it a little (to which I showed no dislike) he conveys it to his Breeches, and puts —— into it. I took fast hold and call’d out to Willis and Stevenson, who coming up to my assistance, we carried him to the Watch house. I have seen him before at the house of Thomas Wright.
WILLIS: We asked the Prisoner why he took such indecent Liberties with Newton, and he was not ashamed to answer, I did it because I thought I knew him, and I think there is no Crime in making what use I please of my own Body.
William Brown was found guilty of the misdemeanour of an attempt to commit sodomy, and sentenced to stand in the pillory in Moorfields, London, to pay a fine of 10 marks, and to go to prison for two months
A satirical commentary and poem was sent to a newspaper shortly after Brown stood in the pillory:
The other Day passing by Moorfields whilst Brown, the Sodomite, stood in the Pillory, I could not help making some Reflections on the Shower of rotten Eggs, dead Cats and Turnip Tops that the Gentlemen of the Mob were pleas’d to compliment him with on that Occasion: This brought to my Mind Mr. Humphry Wagstaff’s lively Description of A City Shower; and imagining that if a Gentleman of his Genius, who could draw so beautiful an Entertainment from so mean a Subject had ever thought it worth his while to give us the Representation of a Shower at the Pillory, it might have been a Present no less agreeable to the Publick. But as we have not often the Advantage of such Hands to adorn our publick Papers, I hope this faint Resemblance will not be unacceptable from
When faithless Men perversely tempt the Gods,
To send a Pill’ry Shower, we see the Odds
Betwixt descending Rains, t’ increase the Seed,
And thundring Storms t’ avenge some filthy Deed.
The sentence pass’d, the Clouds begin to rise,
And threaten Tempests from the distant Skies.
Black Welkin’s Frown foretells the Storm must light
On perjur’d Villain, Baud, or Sodomite.
The Caitiff rais’d, the Shower comes tumbling down,
Compos’d of Exhalations from the Town.
Shrink in thy Head vile Wretch! hang down thy Chops,
It rains both addled Eggs, and Turnip Tops,
Young Puppies, Kittens, in the Dirt besmear’d,
Must be a Lather for thy wretched Beard.
For thy vile Sins, poor Spot, the Lap-dog, dies,
And Mrs. Evans’s made a Sacrifice.
The storm continues, and the zealous Croud
With their promiscuous Offerings swell the Cloud.
Dirt, Rags, and Stubble, Bunters sh[itte]n Clouts,
Pour on thy Head as fierce as lofty Spouts;
So fast the Tempest on the Wretch is hurl’d,
It apes the Deluge of the former World;
But not so clean nor long, for in an Hour,
As by Decree, the Ministers of Power
Disperse the Croud and dissipate the Shower.
William Griffin’s Old Bailey Trial
WILLIAM GRIFFIN, alias GRIFFITH, was indicted for committing Sodomy with Thomas Newton on May 20, 1725.
THOMAS NEWTON: The Prisoner and Thomas Phillips, who is since absconded, were both Lodgers, near two Years in Clap’s House. I went up Stairs while the Prisoner was a Bed, and there he ——.
SAM. STEVENS: On Sunday, the 14th of November,  I went to Clap’s House, and found about a Dozen Mollies there; but, before I came away, the Number encreased to near Forty. Several of them went out by Pairs into another Room, and, when they came back, they said they had been married together. I went again the next Sunday Night, and then, among others, I found the Prisoner there. He kiss’d all the Company round, and me among the rest. He threw his Arms about my Neck, and hugg’d and squeez’d me, and would have put his Hands into my Breeches. And, afterwards, he went out with one of the Company to be married. — Every Night, when I came from thence, I took Memorandums of what I had observed, that I might not be mistaken in the Dates.
PRISONER [i.e. GRIFFIN]: I lodg’d at Clap’s a Year and three Quarters, but I know nothing of what these Fellows have sworn against me. As for Newton, it’s well known he’s a Rogue, and a Tool to those Informers, Willis and Williams.
The Jury found the Prisoner guilty. Death. The Ordinary’s Account of William Griffin.
William Griffin, aged forty-three Years, an Upholsterer by Trade, in Southwark; had, as he said, been a Man of good Business, but, haveing squandered away, or lost his Money, was fallen into Poverty. He denied the Fact for which he died, calling Newton, the Evidence, perjured; and saying, that the abominable Sin was always the Aversion of his Soul; for he had lived many Years with a good virtuous Wife, who had several Children, two of which, a Boy and a Girl, are living; and, he said, both of them behave mighty well, and to the Satisfaction of all concerned with them: And he hop’d that the World would not be so unjust, as to upbraid his poor Children with his unfortunate Death.
At the Place of Execution, —— Griffin would not own the Commission of that detestable Sin.
He was hanged at Tyburn, on Monday, May 9, 1726.
George Kedger’s Old Bailey Trial
GEORGE KEDGER, alias Keger, was indicted for committing Sodomy with Edward Courtney, aged 18 Years, July 15 .
EDWARD COURTNEY. I have known the Prisoner about a Year. I first became acquainted with him when I lived a Servant at the Yorkshire-Grey in Bloomsbury-market. I went from thence to live at a Cook’s Shop in St. Martin’s-lane, and there the Prisoner follow’d me. One Day in July last, he came there to dine, and sat in a back Room in the Yard. When I went to fetch away the foul [i.e. dirty] Plates, he squeez’d my Hand, and kiss’d me, and took me in his Arms and asked me to let him ——, to which I consented, and he put —— and ——. [i.e. performed anal intercourse]
I went afterwards to live with Thomas Orme, a Silk-Dyer, at the Red-Lyon, in Crown-Court in Knaves-Acre. He kept a Molly-house and sold Drink in private back Rooms to such sort of Company; and there the Prisoner often came after me upon the same Account.
PRISONER [i.e. KEDGER]. Ned Courtney asked me to do it, when he liv’d at the Cooks, but I told him I would not. What, says he, am not I handsome enough for ye? That’s not the Case, says I, but I have got an Injury. That’s only a Pretence, says he, but, if you don’t like me, I have got a pretty younger Brother, and I’ll fetch him to oblige ye. — As for my going to Tom Orme’s, he was my School-fellow, and sold a Pot of good Drink; and there likewise Ned solicited me to do the Story, and would fain have had me to have gone into the Necessary-House [i.e. toilet] with him, for he said, he could not rest till he had enjoy’d me. And afterwards, when he was turn’d out of his Place, I met him by chance in a very poor and ragged Condition, and he told me, that he had nothing to subsist upon, but what he got by such Things. I advised him to leave off that wicked Course of Life; but he said, he wanted Money, and Money he would have, by hook or by crook; and, if I would not help him to some, he would swear my Life away.
FRANCES CROUCH. I always found the Prisoner to be a very civil Man, and I believe he loved a Girl too well to be concern’d in other Affairs.Another Woman deposed to the same Purpose.The Jury found him guilty, and he receiv’d Sentence of Death, but was afterwards reprieved.
Gabriel Lawrence’s Old Bailey Trial
GABRIEL LAWRENCE was indicted for committing, with Thomas Newton, aged thirty Years, the heinous and detestable Sin of Sodomy, not to be named among Christians, July 20, 1725.
THOMAS NEWTON: About the end of June, or the beginning of July, one Peter Bavidge, who is not yet taken [captured], and —— Eccleston, who died last Week in Newgate, carried me to the House of Margaret Clap, who is now in the Compter, and there I first became acquainted with the Prisoner. Mother Clap’s House bore the publick Character of a Place of Rendezvous for Sodomites. — For the more convenient Entertainment of her Customers she had provided Beds in every Room in the house. She had commonly thirty or forty of such Kind of Chaps every Night, but more especially on Sunday Nights. I was conducted to a Bed up one Pair of Stairs, where, by the Persuasion of Bavidge, who was present all the while, I suffered the Prisoner to ——. He, and one Daniel, have attempted the same since that Time, but I refus’d, though they buss’d [kissed] me, and stroked me over the Face, and said I was a very pretty Fellow. — When Mother Clap was taken up [arrested] in February last, I went to put in Bail for her; at which Time Mr. Williams and Mr. Willis [two Reforming Constables] told me they believed I could give Information; which I promised to do; but at the End of the same Month I was taken up myself.
—— WILLIS. In March, Newton was set at Liberty, but he came the next Day, and made a voluntary Information.
—— WILLIAMS. He [Newton] informed against several of the Sodomites at that Time, but did not discover [inform against] the Prisoner till the 2d of this Month, and then I took his Information at Sir John Fryer’s.
SAMUEL STEVENS. Mother Clap’s House was in Field-lane, in Holbourn. It was next to the Bunch of Grapes on one Side, and join’d to an Arch on the other Side. It was notorious for being a Molly-house. I have been there several Times, in order to detect those who frequented it: I have seen 20 or 30 of them together, kissing and hugging, and making Love (as they called it) in a very indecent Manner. Then they used to go out by Couples into another Room, and when they came back, they would tell what they had been doing, which, in their Dialect, they called Marrying.
JOSEPH SELLERS. I have been twice at that House, and seen the same Practices. The Prisoner’s Defence.
PRISONER [i.e. LAWRENCE]. I own I have been several Times at Mrs. Clap’s House to drink, as any other Person might do; but I never knew that it was a Resort for People that followed such Sort of Practices.
HENRY YOXAN. I am a Cow-keeper, and the Prisoner is a Milk-man. I have kept him Company, and served him with Milk these eighteen Years. I have been with him at the Oxfordshire-Feast, where we have both got drunk, and then come Home together in a Coach, and yet he never offered any such Indecencies to me.
SAMUEL PULLEN. I am a Cow-keeper too, and have served him with Milk these several Years, but never heard any such Thing of him before.
MARGARET CHAPMAN. I have known him seven Years. He has often been at my House, and, if I had suspected any such Stories of him, he should never have darkened my Doors, I’ll assure ye.
WILLIAM PRESTON. I know him to be a very sober Man, and have often been in his Company when he was drunk, but never found any ill by him.
THOMAS FULLER. Nor I neither. He married my Daughter eighteen Years ago: She has been dead seven Years. He had a Child by her, which is now living, and thirteen Years old.
CHARLES BELL. He marry’d my Wife’s Sister. I never heard the like before of the Prisoner; but, as for the Evidence, Newton, I know that he bears a vile Character.
The Jury found him guilty. Death.
He was a second Time indicted for committing Sodomy with P——, November 10. But, being convicted of the former, he was not tried for this. The Ordinary’s Account of Gabriel Lawrence.
Gabriel Lawrence, aged 43 Years, was a Papist, and did not make any particular Confessions to me. He kept the Chapel with the rest for the most part; was always very grave,, and made frequent Responces with the rest, and said the Lord’s Prayer and Creed after me. He owned himself of the Romish Communion; but said, that he had a great Liking to the Church of England, and could communicate with them; but this I would not allow, unless he renounced his Error. He said Newton had perjured himself, and that in all his Life he had never been guilty of that detestable Sin; but that he had liv’d many Years with a Wife who had born several Children, and kept a good sober House. ——
At the Place of Execution he said, that a certain Person had injured him when he took him before a Justice of the Peace, who committed him, in swearing or affirming, that fifteen Years ago he had been taken up for that unnatural Sin, and that it cost him Twenty Pounds, to get himself free, which, he said, was utterly false; for, ’till this Time, he was never suspected.He was hanged at Tyburn, on Monday, May 9, 1726.
Martin Mackintosh’s Old Baily Trial
Joseph Sellers: P—— carried me and others to several Sodomitical Houses, in order to detect some Persons who frequented them. Among the rest he carried us to the House of ——Jones, a Tallow-Chandler, at the Tobacco-Roll and Crown, or Three Tobacco-Rolls (I forget which) in Drury Lane. As soon as we came in, Gabriel Laurence, who has since been hang’d for Sodomy, began to scold at P——, calling him a vile Dog, a blowing-up Bitch, and other vile names, because P—— had blab’d out something about one Harrington’s being concern’d with him in Sodomitical Practices. P—— excus’d himself, by affirming that Harrington first discover’d the Secret, and that what he had said was only to be even with him. Hereupon P—— and Laurence appeared to be pretty well reconciled. It was agreed beforehand, betwixt P—— and I, that I should pass for his Husband, to prevent my being too far attack’d by any of the Company. The Prisoner sold Oranges, and for that Reason he went by the Maiden Name (as they call’d it) of Orange Deb. He and Laurence were mighty fond of one another; they hug’d and kiss’d one another, and employ’d their Hands in a very vile Manner. — After which the Prisoner came to me, thrust his Hand into my Breeches, and his Tongue into my Mouth, swore that he’d go forty Miles to enjoy me, and beg’d of me to go backwards and let him. — But I refusing he pull’d down his Breeches and offer’d to sit bare in my Lap, upon which P—— snatch’d a red hot Poker out of the Fire and threatened to run it into his Arse.
[Samuel Stevens, another undercover officer, repeated Sellers’ testimony. Mackintosh called three men who said they had slept with him and had no reason to suspect such things, and that he had a wife and child. Mackintosh was found guilty and sentenced to stand in the pillory near Bloomsbury Square, to pay a fine of 10 marks, and to suffer one year’s imprisonment.]
George Whittle’s (Whitle) Old Bailey Trial
GEORGE WHITLE, alias Whittle, was indicted for committing Sodomy with Edward Courtney, December 1, 1725.
EDWARD COURTNEY. The Prisoner kept an Alehouse, the Royal-Oak, at the Corner of St. James’s-Square, in Pall Mall. He had a back Room for the Mollies to drink in, and a private Room betwixt that and the Kitchen. There is a Bed in that middle Room, for the Use of the Company when they have a Mind to go there in Couples, and be married; and for that Reason they call that Room, The Chappel. He has help’d me to two or three Husbands there. One Time indeed, he put the Bite upon me; for, Ned, says he, there’s a Country Gentleman of my Acquaintance, just come to Town, and if you’ll give him a Wedding Night, he’ll pay you very handsomely. So I staid ’till Midnight, but no Gentleman came, and then it being too late for me to go Home, the Prisoner said I should lie with him, which I did. He put his Hand upon —— and promised me a great deal of Money, if I would let him —— which I agreed to, and he did. — But in the Morning he gave me no more than Six-pence.
Mr. RIGGS. For two or three Years past it was commonly reported, that the Prisoner kept a Molly-House, and therefore the Neighbours did not care to go and drink there.
DRAKE STONEMAN. I have known the Prisoner’s House for two or three Years. I have seen Men in his back Room behave themselves sodomitically, by exposing to each other’s Sight, what they ought to have conceal’d. I have heard some of them say, Mine is the best. Yours has been Battersea’d. — I don’t know what they meant by the Expression. — There is a little private Room between the back Room and the Kitchen, — they call lit the Chappel, to which they sometimes retired, but I can’t say for what Purpose. The Prisoner’s Defence.
PRISONER [i.e. WHITTLE]. This Ned Courtney is such a scandalous Fellow that he deserves no Credit. — He has been thrice in Bridewell.
COURTNEY. ‘Tis very true, I have been three Times in Bridewell, but it was for no Harm, as you shall hear. First, when I was a Servant at the Cardigan’s-Head at Charing-Cross, I went to see the Prisoner, and he made me drunk in his Chappel, and when I came Home, I abused my Master’s Mother, for which I was sent to Bridewell, and my Master would not take me in again. Then, Sir, I went to live at a Molly-House; but my Master breaking [breaking into houses], and I helping him to carry off his Goods by Night, a Constable stopt me, and I being saucy, and refusing to tell him where the rest of the Goods were, I was carried before a Justice, and sent to Bridewell a second Time. And the third Time was only for raising a Disturbance about a Mollying-Cull in Covent-Garden.
PRISONER. As to the Report of my being a Sodomite, it was rais’d out of Spight; for I unfortunately let a Barber’s Shop to one Johnson, whose Wife was a cursed Bitch, and had been in Newgate for Perjury. Johnson owed me half a Year’s Rent, and I arrested him, for which his Wife, whenever she got drunk, used to call me Sodomite Dog, and so the Scandal begun, and was spread among my Neighbours. — I had a Wife, but she has been dead these two Years. I had two Children by Her, one of them is dead likewise, but the other is here in the Court, a Girl of 13 Years old. — I was going to marry another Woman, a Widow, just before this Misfortune broke out. — As for what Drake Stoneman says about some Things that he has seen in my back Room, there is nothing in it but this: I was acquainted with several young Surgeons, who used to leave their Injections, and Syringes at my House, and to bring their Patients, who were clapp’d [had venereal disease], in order to examine their Distempers, and apply proper Remedies. I have had them there on that Account eight or ten Times a Week.
PETER GRENAWAY. Ned Courtney was bound to my Master. He told me a Quarter of a Year ago, that one Butler, a Chairman, was the first Man that he had had to do with: And, he has told me since, that the Occasion of his quarreling with the Prisoner was, because the Prisoner refused to let him have a Pint of Beer when it was late. — The Prisoner was a Peace-Maker, he kept a creditable House, and always advised his Customers to go Home betimes to their Wives.
WILL BAYLIS and NICHOLAS CROWARD deposed. That they had lain with the Prisoner several Times when his Wife was living, and had never found any Thing in his Behaviour that might give them the least Ground to suspect him inclinable to sodomitical Practices.
—— STEWARD and ELIZ. STEWARD deposed, That the first News they heard of such a Thing was from the Wife of Johnson, to whom the Prisoner had let a Shop.
ALEXANDER HUNTER and WILLIAM BROCKET deposed, That such a Report was indeed whispered in the Neighbourhood a little before the Prisoner was taken up, but they knew not what Foundation there was for it.
Others of the Prisoner’s Neighbours deposed, That they never heard any Thing like it.
ANN WHITE. I was the Prisoner’s Servant. I know of no Room that was call’d the Chappel. The middle Room, and back Room were publick for any Company, and there was neither Locks nor Bolts to the Doors.
ANN CADLE. I have been the Prisoner’s Servant ever since the 13th of October last. I lay in the House every Night. I don’t so much as know this Ned Courtney. I never saw him at our House: And I think I should have seen him if he had lain there all Night with my Master.
The Jury acquitted the Prisoner. Notes
Some sources say the house had only been surveilled for a year prior to the raid.
The idea of calling a molly’s lover their husband was based on the faux-marriages that took place at some molly houses, often with a man playing a priest, and others acting as bridesmaids.
Notes on William Brown – In 1726 William Brown was found guilty of the misdemeanour of an attempt to commit sodomy, and sentenced to stand in the pillory in Moorfields, London, to pay a fine of 10 marks, and to go to prison for two months. The case is interesting for revealing a man who, though perhaps not “gay and proud” in the modern sense, nevertheless declared to the authorities that he was not ashamed of his behaviour and that he felt that how he used his body was his own business — a strikingly modern conception. Moorfields was just north of London City Wall. 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”. The wall itself was torn down in 1752, but the path survives today as the south side of Finsbury Square. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, notorious as the author of Sodom, or The Quintessence of Debauchery (1684), was called “the Moor-Fields Author, fit for Bawds to quote”. Moorfields was identified as a molly Market (i.e. a gay cruising ground) in an editorial in the London Journal, and was obviously well known to all — Richard Rustead the extortioner was recognized by a serving boy in 1724 as a frequent user of “the Sodomites’ Walk in Moorfields”. On the east side of Moorfields, Thomas Wright kept a molly house at his home in Christopher Alley (now Christopher Street). Thomas Newton was a 30-year-old a hustler in the employment of Thomas Wright, first at his home in Christopher’s Alley in Moorfields, later at his own molly house in Beech Lane. According to Newton, Wright “has often fetch’d me to oblige Company in that way”. Newton had been arrested in 1725, but he agreed to act as an agent provocateur in order to escape prosecution.
Notes on William Griffin – This is one of the series of trials that took place in 1726 following the raid on Mother Clap’s molly house. Although Griffin denied the charges, the jury did not believe him. One would think that Griffin must have been a gay-identified man, since he actually lived at Mother Clap’s molly house for two years; but he had also been married and had two children. He was a 43yo furniture upholsterer.
Notes on George Whittle – This is one of the series of trials in 1726 that followed the raid on Mother Clap’s molly house. The young hustler Ned Courtney gave evidence in return for immunity from prosecution, as in other related trials. The jury evidently did not believe Courtney’s testimony that Whittle himself kept a molly house, and Whittle was acquitted. That verdict was just, because the evidence obviously was not strong enough to convict him of a capital felony. But nevertheless we can still wonder whether or not he was in fact a molly. It seems odd, for example, that no surgeons appeared to support his claim about their frequent use of his back room for merely medical pu
a b c d e Norton, Rictor (Feb 5, 2005). “The Raid on Mother Clap’s Molly House”. Archived from the original on 2010-11-06. Retrieved Feb 11, 2010.
^a b Bateman, Geoffrey (Aug 18, 2005). “Margaret Clap”. glbtq.com. Archived from the original on 2010-03-04. Retrieved Feb 11, 2010. a b Norton, Rictor (June 20, 2008). “The Trial of Margaret Clap”. Retrieved Feb 11, 2010.
^Norton, Rictor (June 20, 2008). “The Trial of Gabriel Lawrence”. Retrieved Feb 11, 2010.
^a b Norton, Rictor (June 20, 2008). “The Trial of Thomas Wright”. Retrieved Feb 11, 2010.
^a b c d e Aldrich, Robert; Wotherspoon, Garry (2001). Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II. Routledge. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-415-15982-1.
There appears to be nothing on the internet about the G.O.D Girlgang, not even within the profiles and written accounts of its founders. This makes this article about the gang, solely from my own archived resources, an essential inclusion into the gay history of Sydney. That any groups can come and go, and be undocumented in any way concerns me, as gangs such as G.O.D were integral in the relationships between gay men and lesbians in the late 1980s, early 1990s period, as well as highlighting a movement within the lesbian community, a move away from PC dogmatic women, to a more open, diverse and inclusionist community. Despite its brief existence, it was a watershed moment in mixed relations between the two distinct sectors of the community.
a group of people who associate together or act as an organized body, esp for criminal or illegal purposes”
“Girls of Disgrace, Girls of Dishonour, Girls of Desire; G.O.D. Is limited only to your steamy imagination.
G.O.D. is on a mission to spread the concept of Girlgangs, and its subsequent feelings of power through identification/unification. G.O.D. is not meant to be taken too seriously.
IN SEVEN DAYS following the creation of a name, a patch design is produced depicting a sword with a snake wound about its length. Living on the cutting edge? (Now, don’t take us too seriously).
A group of army green jackets adorned with a variety of badges, bolts, skins, and other sundry odds and ends.
G.O.D. patches grab each shoulder in splashes of red and grey. Underneath, the optional shirt harbours similar coloured emblems.
COMPRISES OF Desert Rangers, the Kiss and Make-up contingent, SM girlies, Vanilla Sluts, hard-core uniform-ists and lingerie fetishists. (But don’t take us too seriously).
ATTITUDE while in walk thirteen G.O.D. members. Watch the heads turn. Will we stop at the number fit for a witches coven?
G.O.D. is not separatist,. Guys of Disgrace have recently gained admittance complete with blue patches and leather.
AND FUN with future G.O.D. sex/bondsge/SM/porn/initiation/dance/parties a possibility? Why not!”
Such was the blurb from “Wicked Women” magazine for the first outing of G.O.D. in the media. Girls/Guys of Disgrace was founded by Francine (Jasper) Laybutt, Lisa Salmon & Jade Moon Kemeny around 1989/90. Francine was a radical lesbian in every sense of the word. She walked the outer limits of the lesbian world, promoting the more butch forms of sexuality, the darker world of BD/SM. She was the founder of “Wicked Women” magazine, and used it as a platform to promote her more radical attitudes to lesbiansm. Often shunned by her own community, and with her partner, Lisa Salmon, often derided and humiliated for holding beliefs and practises contrary to what was considered the norm in that world.
That she founded G.O.D should not be surprising in the face of her views on confrontation, public outrageousness, yet inclusiveness. She advocated non-penetrative sex with gay men (slanted more towards the gay leather, BD/SM community), and after her sex reassignment surgery and becoming Jasper Laybutt, she referred to herself not just as a female-to-male transgender, but as a male lesbian…language that would have sent most mainstream lesbians into a tail spin!
In William Calder’s book “Gay Print Media’s Golden Era: Australian Magazines and Newspapers 1970-2000” he notes:
“Inspired by the American lesbian sex fetish magazine On Our Backs – its title a deliberate riposte to the feminist magazine Off Our Backs – Francine Laybutt and Lisa Salmon published Wicked Women in Sydney at the start of 1988 to fill, as they put it, the “gaping hole” in women’s erotica, and promised “a forum for erotic ideas and … hot, one-handed reading”.(138) They aimed to bring into the open lesbian sexual practices such as sadomasochism for those who silently fantasised about such activities and let their readers see there were other similarly minded women they might meet. From the start, the magazine triggered debate within the lesbian community, and Laybutt says they were “surprised and unprepared for the degree of hostility” directed against them.(139) Sadomasochism, bondage, and even dildos were seen at the time “by the lesbian feminist paradigm … as violent patriarchal constructs”.(140) The pair would get thrown out of dyke clubs for wearing fetish gear and Salmon “who didn’t usually wear much at all would have drinks thrown on her … cigarettes surreptitiously put out on her [and] spat on sometimes”.(141)
Born at the start of the 1960s,(142) Laybutt grew up in the city of Newcastle and watched drag shows at the town’s one gay pub, but soon moved to Sydney where the gay scene was bigger.(143) She worked as an art teacher but “didn’t like teaching unruly teenagers”, and switched to computer design work with a North Shore communications company. Laybutt found her “true vocation” as Dominatrix Natasha in the sex industry,(144) and shared a flat with fellow former Catholic school girl Lisa Salmon,(145) who in her early 20s worked as a performance artist and stripper.(146) The pair started a relationship and decided it would be as a “fetish couple”.(147)
The first issue of Wicked Women was a 28 page A4 black and white with a pictorial cover selling for $4. It included poetry, personal classifieds and features exploring lesbian sexual fetish in an attempt to broaden individual lesbians’ definition of their lifestyle. To produce Wicked Women they bought an old electric typewriter that ironically would not print the letter ‘w’, so they “had to manually push the letter against the page” and the pair wrote most of the articles “under a variety of pseudonyms to make it appear as though they had lots of contributors”.(148) Laybutt’s “very open-minded” boss let them use the work photocopier on the weekend to print 90 copies of the first issue. Subsequent issues grew in size and cover price, peaking at 60 pages for $8, with up to 1000 copies printed.(149) The aim was six issues a year, though usually fewer were published. The magazine that Laybutt and Salmon created “reflected” the sadomasochistic sexual activity they were doing,(150) and they hoped it would let them meet other women “sharing the same experience”.(151) Salmon says “the seventies feminist thing just ended up being girls telling each other what to do. It became really dogmatic and it took the fun out of sexuality and being a dyke”.(152) Commentator Julie Catt says Wicked Women triggered a “lesbian sexual revolution”,(153) and others say it added “many new words to the lesbian sexual vocabulary – sadomasochism, fetishism, gender fuck – to name but a few”.(154) Wicked Women ran stories about a woman who was “horny for weeks, and masturbated ferociously”,(155) one from a woman who described how she was “blindfolded and placed in standing bondage [while f]ingers pinch my skin, pull at my hairs, slap my behind, teasing”,(156) and the dominatrix who wrote how her submissive “moaned, groaned, pleaded, yelled, screamed [and] begged me to stop but the juice was flowing freely down her inner thighs. Her cunt was writhing in frustration [wanting] me to fuck her to the point of exhaustion”.(157)
The first cover had the words: “Erotica Poetry Graphics SM Classifieds Decadence” above a graphic of a naked woman with a dog collar around her neck. Photographs of usually one or two women models soon replaced graphics on the cover. The magazine though was not simply pornography for lesbians. It explored sexual themes and often used playful images. There was a blurred photo of a naked cropped hair woman wearing a dog collar and seated cross-legged on bed,(158) a photo of a sultry woman in full leather jacket and cap looking piercingly into the camera,(159) and a party girl staring at the camera while pulling open her jacket to expose her breasts.(160) Inside were photo-spreads of women in leather or at sexual fetish events, and in one issue a photo-essay of open vaginas being fist-fucked.(161)
Quite apart from the publisher’s open promotion of sadomasochism there were a series of publishing events that triggered condemnation. In an early edition Linda Dement’s photograph of a woman holding a skinned rabbit against her vagina caused an uproar,(162) and the magazine was subsequently banned from at least one Melbourne feminist bookstore. Laybutt defends the photograph as “art … a strong image, but not an anti-woman one. It was widely misunderstood”.(163) A year later the inclusion of a gay male pedophile group press release,(164) led to “a ‘girlcott’ … sold very badly and lost some readership”,(165) followed the next issue when “all hell broke loose”,(166) after publishing an article written by a self-confessed “misogynist” gay leather man.(167) The final major controversy to confront the publishers of Wicked Women was Laybutt undergoing medical procedures to become a transman. “I was a tomboy” growing up, he says,(168) and in 1991 adopted the name Jasper, instead of Francine.(169)
Supporters of Wicked Women wrote letters to say “it’s wonderful to know there are other dykes out there into ‘unsound’ sex and games”.(170) Another said it was “important that women have a space where they can be upfront and honest about who they are and what they like”,(171) and one declared “I now, most times when going out to nightclubs and such, dress in leather”.(172) Some feminists engaged directly with the sexual desire implicit in Wicked Women’s content. One supported “expressions of lesbian sexuality which are exciting, dangerous and diverse” yet maintained the utopian goals of lesbian feminism “to rethink the relationship already in play between the phallus/cock/gun and power” concluding: “we wait with quivering clits for the day a woman submits her fiction in a non-male constructed language”.(173) With time this occurred as Laybutt and Salmon invited contributions from readers who submitted articles other than ones with sadomasochistic themes but “often vanilla or romantic sex flavoured and relatively sexually ‘safe’” articles.(174)
Less obvious than its challenge to existing ideas around lesbian sexual practices, was the role Wicked Women played in building lesbian community. Its classified personals included the expected: “23 Year Old into leather, looking for experienced S/M dyke to worship”,(175) but were also used by a range of lesbians to seek partners, such as “slim 22 yr old, strawberry blonde, desperately searching for my dark earth mother”. The magazine ran contact details for local lesbian social groups, and advertisements for Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Wicked Women organised what became a popular annual event, the Ms Wicked competition “in which lesbians stripped and performed sexual acts for enthusiastic all-female audiences”.(176) More than 500 attended a Melbourne heat in 1991.(177) Wicked Women organised a Mardi Gras dance party Be Wicked that was raided in the early hours by police with the patrons “herded out”,(178) and Girl Beat at the gay male sex-on-site venue The Den.(179)
The magazine’s editor from 1994, Kimberly O’Sullivan said the “events proved to be enormously popular and [mainstream lesbians] saw we had a role in the lesbian community. It demystified us for them”.(180) The activities of Wicked Women’s publishers also helped draw together the lesbian and gay male communities that in the 1980s lived largely separately from each other. Laybutt had always found the gay male scene “infinitely more interesting” to explore.(181) She was a member of two gay male motorcycle clubs, and even attended male only fetish events, passing as a young guy. Early support for the magazine came largely from the gay male community and the emergence of Wicked Women provided a vehicle to “bridge the gap” at least between the gay male and lesbian fetish communities.(182) In 1993 Wicked Women organised a Mr Wicked competition.
The controversial nature of Wicked Women attracted attention but its generally uncompromising stance on content alienated both potential buyers and advertisers and caused significant problems for the venture as a business. While the primary aim was to present sex radical ideas, the bills still needed to be paid and its 1993 editor, Kimberly O’Sullivan said they started “to think more seriously about the risks [of accepting] an article which will alienate half of your readership”.(183) There were difficulties from their first Catholic owned commercial printer who dumped them after they ran a photograph of a women stroking her vagina with a statue of the Virgin Mary.(184) Lesbian hotels initially refused to stock the magazine,(185) and the women’s bookshops that did stock it “kept the magazine hidden under Lesbian Network so no- one ever saw it”.(186) At first only gay male leather, and sex shops stocked Wicked Women and it was distributed by subscription to mainly Sydney women, though also to other areas around the country and overseas, and some men.(187) The only advertising support the magazine attracted initially was from leather fetish and sex product shops run by gay men as “lesbian businesses … would not touch them”.(188) Each ‘girlcott’ and refusal to display the magazine reduced sales and increased reliance on organising fund-raising events.(189)
Apart from publishing Wicked Women, Laybutt in 1990 was involved in editing the mixed gay and lesbian alternative journal of arts, culture and sexuality, Hell Bent, and in 1991 Pink Ink: An anthology of Australian lesbian and gay writers. By 1994, both Laybutt and Salmon had stepped back from the front line of editing, handing responsibility to O’Sullivan, who later described her job as “administrator, book- keeper, accountant, publicity officer, advertising manager and delivery driver – in short, doing every single thing on the magazine from beginning to end”. Two years later she resigned due to the work pressure that came on top of the need to work a second full-time paid job, bemoaning that she “had almost no social life (and felt) burnt out”.(190) When Salmon stopped organising fund-raising events the magazine became financially unsustainable. O’Sullivan was not replaced as editor with Laybutt declaring “I feel that having become a man, I’ve moved on to different things” and Wicked Women ceased publication in 1996 after 28 issues.(191) Laybutt returned to live in Newcastle and became involved in publishing New Age ideas.(192)
The publishers of Wicked Women successfully appealed to the sexually libertarian section of the lesbian community, and in doing so challenged established feminist attitudes towards sexuality. They found a market niche and expanded, creating new social infrastructure and profoundly changed broader lesbian community attitudes towards sexuality. Ultimately though the publishing venture failed to become financially self-sustaining and closed when individual publisher energies waned.”
It is against this background, and in the midst of, that the G.O.D Gang was formed. Amongst my recollections are attending a patty in the vicinity of Zetland, held in a warehouse, and consisting primaily of G.O.D & Dolphin Motor Club members. I was one of the DJ’s (who had to deal with a DJ rig suspended from the ceiling on chains, and would often swing out from the mezzanine area it was set up in – and you had to make sure you didn’t follow it). During one of my sets, I watched as Francine (she had not undergone sex reassignment surgery at this stage) opened a door in the floor of the warehouse that obviously led down to a basement area. She went down the stairs, and was followed by half-a-dozen of the male members. I have no accounts of what went on down there, but considering Francine’s stand on gender-fuck issues, and the liberality of many males in the leather scene, I dare say it would have been quite eye-ooening. In the above excerpt from the book, there is a nod to me as the manager of “Numvers” Bookstore, being one of the gay managers and businesses that advertised in, sold, and supported Wicked Women, and their events. This also indicates the divisions not just within the gay community at that time – the separist nature of gay men & lesbians, but also the divisions within the lesbian community, the strict dogmatic approach they had to women who marched “outside the square”. The same cliques existed within the gay male community – leathermen, bears, twinks, vanilla, BD/SM, clones etc – but this did not prevent guys crossing over into several cliques, and when required, they all socialised together. This possibly explains Francine’s attraction to the gay male community, along with the support it offered her, and her ventures. In many respects, G.O.D became a catalyst for a change in relationships between gay men & lesbians – well, at least those that wrre liberal minded, and not pushing agenda’s.
The two following accounts are important for several reasons – there is – sermingly – no information on the G.O.D Gang on the internet; the “So Help Me G.O.D” piece has a run-down of resolutions reached in the first group event, giving an indication of how and why the gang was created, its structure, purposes and intentions. It also shows how the gang started to get its name out there through its involvement in some of the more “out there” events that were happening, and through integration with groups like the Dolphin Motor Club, The Griffins Motorcyle Club, and Dykes On Bikes.
From the Dolphin Motor Clubs newsletter “Quid Nunc”, Volume 1, Issue IV. 1990. Both articles are from the same issue.
“So Help Me G.O.D.”
“In the beginning there were Three. And behold, the Three looked down on us and said ‘We need a Girlgang.’ And so it was done, and a Girlfang was formed. And GOD gave unto its members a symbol of their unity: a red patch, thereon emblazoned a serpent encircling a sword. Then GOD looked down on us once again, and said ‘There is disunity in our community,’ and they took a thread from the red patch, colour changed it, and came forth with a blue patch. Thus were guys brought into the unity of GOD. And the Three looked down, and said ‘This is good,’ and behold, it was very good.”
G.O.D. (Guys/Girls of Disgrace/Dishonour/Degradation/Discipline/Denigration…interpret it as you will) is a group of girls and guys who fall into the classification of a gang. Despite the connotation of the word ‘gang’ meaning a group of louts, storm-trooping all over town , fighting, maiming, and causing general discord, the word ‘gang’ actually refers to a group of people, loosely based with no constitution or club rules to bind them. There is no official hierarchy, and no regular meetings as such. Members basically have a common interest (most GOD members are into leather sex in all or sundry of its variations) and basically get together just for a good time. A meeting could be said to be happening when two or more get together for a drink and a chat.
The Dolphin’s three Special Members: Francine, Jade & Lisa, are not only GOD girls, but founders of the group. Paul Costello, Geoff Arnold, and Tim Alderman are also members of GOD, and Les Heathfield is an Honorary Member. GOD girls are all invited to Dolphin events, and in return all Dolphin members are invited to all GOD, and Wicked Women events, apart from those deemed girls only. It is hoped that in the future, GOD and the Dolphins can get together to hold functions, or jointly sponsor functions. Membership currently stands at 22 girls, and 8 guys. The patches are red for the girls, and blue for the guys, and feature a snake entwined on an upward pointing sword. Thus with the initials of our name, the symbolism can be interpreted any way you want.
The recently GOD sponsored event for the Ms Wicked Competition was a tremendous night, with Tim Alderman from DMC one of the 5 judges for the event. The more recent Slave/Master/Mistress celebrity auction (see write-up this issue) just goes to show what girls and guys working together can really do. Our first official gang meeting was held in our Clubroom in Ultimo on Wednesday 30th May. About 25 members were present, plus about 5 visitors, including 2 women connected to the Mardi Gras committee, and a number of resolutions were passed by gang members.
*We are now closing ranks. Whereas before this night it was possible to become a gang member by the purchase of patches, membership is now only possible by a written submission, the applicant then having to come before a panel of selectors to have their suitability as a gang member judged.
* The panel of selectors was set ip, consisting of two founding members (one founding member must always be on the panel), one male nember, and two other girl members. Membership of the panel will be rotated over a three-month period. As the guys membership increases, we will be granted a second position on the panel.
* We recognise that there would, in all probability, be two distinct sectors within the membership: a social sector of people who support the group and wear the regalia, but who for reasons of jobs, profile etc. would not in all probability be involved in any “disgraceful” activities: and a “hard-core” sector who would bege involved in street thestre, demonstrations, marches, and other disgraceful activities . Neither group would be condemned by other members of the gang because of their stand.
* We wish to involve ourselves in the activities of other groups, such as Act-Up, to help them achieve changes as well as having our own group identified. We would also be planning parties, competitions, auctions etc for members, friends, and the community in general.
* Any monies accrued would be used for the benefit of the group in arranging parties, promotions, events, and special meetings.
* We would maintain our loose knit structure with no formalised committee or such, to maintain our independence as a gang. However, the founding members would have the final say as regards all decisions in the gang. The panel of selectors would mert on a regular basis.
* We would, at all time, support community causes, especially in areas such as AIDS, and AIDS treatment.
* We must become noticeable, and identifiable , the patch must become identifiable as a symbol,of people who are involved at nany levels of communal help, as well as a certain degree of outrageousness.
We all left the meeting knowing something monumental was happening. Barriers between poofs and dykes were down, and together we were going to make an impact of positiveness in this city, and hopefully further afield.
G.O.D. for sale, The Midnight Shift, 9 September 1990, Papers of Fabian LoSchiavo, Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (ALGA)
Total darkness reigns. Through the darkness comes the opening spaceship sounds of Isao Tomita’s 2001 Theme: Thus Spake Zarathustra. The theme reaches a crashing crescendo, and fades with the same rumbling space ship sounds. Before the haunting opening bars of “Camina Burana” mixes into it, the sound of whips, much weeping, wailing and cries for mercy are heard approaching from out of the darkness. The Orff Chorus booms all around, and suddenly dazzling light fills the empty space, refracted through the incense smoke from an ancient thurible swung by a nun, as she attempts to placate and enlighten the chained throng of slaves that are being whipped into submission behind her. Struggles ensure, but the whip mistresses, Centurian guards, and the executioner keep everybody in line! Chains clank, cries get louder, and the incense smoke thickens as they encircle the herculean pillars, and the block from which they will shortly be despatched to heaven…or hell on earth. As the strains of “Carmina Burana” fade, the Centurians lead the slaves off the floor to the enmeshed holding pen. Their fatalistic cries die as the whip mistress finally subdues them into total submission.
No, not a scene from “Ben Hur” or “Quo Vardis”, but the entry procession for the G.O.D Slave/Master/Mistress Celebrity Auction, held at the Midnight Shift on Sunday 9th September (1990). We stated in the advertising that all manner of celebrities, and sleaze buckets, would be going under the hammer for charity…and we meant it!
Paul and Francine from G.O.D introduced the event, then handed the evening over to the very capable and outrageous whims of Monkey., from Tantrum Tits Lingerie, who was the evenings MC and auctioneer. Despite some early hassles with a faulty microphone, she handled the night as only Monkey can – totally over-the-top!
First to the block was Tim Vincent, Mr South Sydney Drummer who, despite a sign written on his back claiming “You can’t afford me” started the bidding off well and – sorty Tim…but someone could, and did, afford you: Matthew Cox, of the Dolphins, actually.
Monkey wasted no time in pushing the bids through, and that auctionees, and their potential owners were equally in agreement with the purchase. In rapid succession, Mr East Sydney Drummer, Bondage Boy, Toy Girl, and Slave Boy were put on the block…and dispensed with!
Many of those to be auctioned went to great lengths to add some theatre to the event, with costuming and dramatic performances. Toy Girl, and Cleopatra, were of special note, using dramatic music and great costumes. Cleopatra seduced the crowd beautifully, as only the Queen of the Nile could, though the gentleman who purchased her was quite obviously totally confused and befuddled by the whole event. The San Francisco motorcycle cop looked hot, and went for a good price. Bossy Boots was determined not to leave the block until she went for what she was worth. The two Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were given lessons in humility from the pathetically low bids they attracted. Reverend Mother Abyss is destined for a long stay in Purgatory for her little white lies – 19years old, and still a virgin! Mea Culpa, Reverend Mother!
Jade bought her cartoon Cowgirl character to life, and despite the lack of a horse still fetched a reasonable price. Footy Girl, and School Boy, both dressed for the part, came and went. The Safe Sex Sluts decided to go as a group lot, and despire much wig pulling and stiletto throwing were eventually dispensed of. The unlikely named Captain Falafel and his sidekick Kid Sprout, looking like two flared and flowered hippies still recovering from a Sixties bad acid trip, brought some hilarity to the night, and were last seen being bullied and raped (playfully) under the DJs box.
Ms Wicked was the final official entrant to the block, and with much teasing, taunting and sexual persuasion eventually went for $800,000 ($200 in real money) after a group of girls pooled their resources.
Monkey, unbeknown to her at the time, was then grabbed by the Centurians, and led to the block. Having insulted just about everyone in the surrounds on the floor by this stage, bidding was bound to be high, and she was going for actual cash! Monkey took it all with good grace, got into the mood of the bidding by hurling out a few more insults to remind people of how much she was actually disliked, declared that she was sick of girls, and wanted a guy for a change, and eventually went for $70.
This brought the evening to a close. As the 2001 Theme again faded away, the dual DJs Gemma & Tim got the crowd onto the dance floor, and held them there until the midnight closing.
$810 was raised for the Maitraya Day Centre, and Victoria’s “Lesbian News”. The entire night was an unprecedented success.
Queering the paper trail in the more hostile world before 1970 there were no Australian gay magazines. Thirty years later, almost half a million copies of them were churned out each month with revenues that exceeded eight million dollars a year.
Despite this spectacular growth of a new industry – which continued until print was eclipsed in recent times by the internet – few publishers started newspapers or magazines with the intent to make money, and even fewer actually made any. Publishers came from the community as activist leaders, commercial venue owners or social scene participants who wanted to change their world in some way, great or small.
Various publishers used magazines to talk about what it meant to be homosexual, to challenge the views of the outside world, and to encourage a sense of gay pride. Some pushed ideas that were controversial within the gay community, such as notions of assertive gay male masculinity or lesbian sexual fetish. Some also considered it a core role for their publications to promote and build the gay scene, and foster the identity of its individuals.
Before the internet, magazines and newspapers were the dominant voice shaping gay and lesbian life in Australia. Through their need to sell advertising, they also played a part in developing the idea of the affluent gay consumer.
Historian Graham Willett describes Australia in the 1950s as a time when homosexuals were persecuted. There was active discrimination of homosexuals by state institutions in terms of employment and other rights and an increase in psychotherapies and criminal convictions, accompanied by the isolating effect of either media silence or vilification. Books and publications with even hints of homosexuality were zealously banned under strict government censorship laws, both federal and state.
But the world was changing. During the 1960s a range of predominantly youth-driven movements appeared: anti-Vietnam, New Left revolutionary radicalism, environmental concerns, the ‘get high, get laid’ counter-culture and second wave feminism, each challenging the dominant values of western society. It was these growing liberal attitudes and the gradual reform of censorship laws that made gay publishing possible.
The first gay media in Australia was activist by nature. Camp Ink was published in 1970 by gay activists from the intellectual left, and 500 copies were printed to be “a voice to the outside world”, as its key instigator John Ware later said. He was a psychology student in Sydney at the time, who clashed with his lecturers over their teachings that homosexuality was deviant behaviour. The first Camp Ink cover image was a black and white illustration that implied aversion therapy was akin to sawing off a man’s penis. The magazine became the official journal for the activist group CAMP and offered a free flow of ideas presenting homosexuality in a positive light, with debates on topics such as promiscuity, male prostitution, religion transvestites, law reform and the role of beats.
Despite the persecution of homosexuals, a gay world did exist before 1970, hidden from the public eye through friendship networks, in public parks and discreet corners of restaurants, coffee shops and bars. Catering to this private social scene, 22-year-old John Baker and his lover William Easton started the magazine William & John in 1972. They originally planned to produce a cheap newsletter to amuse their gay party set friends, but instead teamed up with a publisher to produce a more professional publication that boldly showed male nudity. Baker was not part of the formal activist movement nor the fledgling gay venue scene, and his magazine reflected the sexual libertine values of the time. Despite selling 20,000 copies an issue, William & John struggled to survive due to lingering censorship battles and personal difficulties faced by the publishers. However, a new market had been discovered and other commercially-oriented publishers then moved in to provide titillating content for gay men.
Lesbians, out-numbered and out-shouted by gay men and seen by some in the women’s movement as tarnishing that movement’s reputation, started their own separate publications. Liz Ross was active in the women’s liberation movement but critical of its publications for not providing enough coverage of lesbian issues. She became a key member of a collective that in 1976 produced the first of an unbroken line of lesbian magazines in Melbourne – the baton passed from Lesbian News to Labrys to Lesbiana. Sydney soon followed with its own publications, including Lesbians On The Loose (LOTL), which is still being published today.
Towards the end of the 1970s the gay world changed. Fueled by the mass migration of predominantly gay men from rural, suburban and interstate areas to the relative safety of the inner-city rapidly expanded the commercial venue scene, particularly in Sydney where the thriving Oxford Street precinct developed. This was accompanied by the growth of gay sporting, social and community service groups. Building and servicing this community suited the needs of media – it presented a reason to push forward gay rights, and on a practical level provided editorial content, advertising revenue and distribution outlets for the magazines.
A flurry of new publications started up. In 1975, Sydney gay bar manager Rod Stringer met with Los Angeles Advocate staffers in the US and launched a similar magazine in Australia called Campaign. He avoided overt sexual imagery, wanting to produce a respectable publication focused on gay men’s entertainment and lifestyle.
Eight years later in Melbourne, OutRage magazine shed its activist beginnings as Gay Community News to embrace a new name and a glossy presentation of entertainment and lifestyle. Its key architect was Danny Vadasz, and this dramatic shift from gay liberationist politics to gay men’s lifestyle mag mirrored his changing perception of the role gay media should play. He now saw the fight for gay social reform as achievable, rather than trying to overcome the entire capitalist/patriarchal system. Despite its shift to the commercial, OutRage stayed true to its activist origins through crucial and sustained coverage of the AIDS epidemic during the mid-1980s
Other gay men’s lifestyle publishers wanted to shake up the fledgling gay community and reshape it. Michael Glynn started the free newspaper Sydney Star in 1979 to promote an assertive masculine style and featured leather-clad men with hairy chests and moustaches. He publicly urged gay men to abandon the “limp-wristed fairy image”.
The 1988 emergence of Wicked Women by Francine Laybutt and her girlfriend Lisa Salmon was a direct challenge to prevailing feminist views in Australia. As a couple, Laybutt and Salmon explored sexual fetish and sadomasochism and the magazine focused on hardcore S&M, triggering boycotts from sections of the lesbian community. Despite this backlash, the magazine ran until 1996.
In the 1990s another key shift occurred in gay publishing with the dramatic expansion of free newspapers. Their growth into the dominant media form was driven by the fact they were free and easily-accessible, and their quick turnaround provided up-to-date news, venue gig guides and personal dating classifieds. High readership numbers attracted advertisers, which inevitably drove the search for even more readers. This led to a broadening of content to appeal to more sections of the community. More news was included, along with lesbian content and coverage of community group activities. Most advertisers were local businesses which encouraged the development of local newspapers in each city, and the market grew in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to sustain competing newspapers.
This expansion was also fueled by the growth in advertising from mainstream businesses, which started to shed their fear of association with a vilified minority and instead saw potential gain from a dynamic niche group. Gay media’s constant appetite for advertising revenue beyond just local gay businesses saw it play a leading role in developing the idea of the affluent gay consumer. The massive expansion of free newspapers set the scene for an audacious takeover in 1999 when many publications were swallowed up by property development company The Satellite Group, which promised to deliver efficiency through its national scope, and to usher in the new age of the web. The venture failed due to poor management and massive debt in its property division, and the company was bankrupt 12 months later with all its publications shut down. The sector recovered, however, as ex-Satellite staffers launched Melbourne Community Voice in Melbourne and G in Sydney, soon replaced by SX. Previous publishers also launched Bnews in Melbourne, Qnews in Brisbane, QWest (later named Shout) in Perth, and Blaze in Adelaide.
All print media suffered following the rise of the internet though gay publishing was particularly affected. The internet allowed confidential explorations of sexuality, and online cruising saw a decline in venue patronage and a further decline in advertising and readership in the print market. Gay magazines continue to survive in all major cities, though most readers now access the online versions. Hard-copy print runs have been slashed by up to 80 percent.
The golden era for print may have passed but the reasons behind its emergence remain, as well as the crucial role it plays. Societal shifts toward the acceptance of marriage equality bring new debates about relationships and monogamy; as do other debates such as the increased censorship of under-age sexuality. However, individuals making their first tentative steps into exploring their sexuality still need help discovering their identity, companionship and sex. The question remains as to whether the internet is up to the task and until that is proven, a role still exists for diverse print media.
1983. Gay Politics: Sydney’s Mysterious (and Dangerous) ‘Gay Army’Posted on July 21, 2014 by Colin Clews
Anyone who was around in the early 80s will remember the media’s hysterical response to AIDS and the ease with which it attributed it to gay men. It wasn’t labelled ‘the gay plague’ or ‘gay bug’ out of sympathy for us.
So it was unsurprising that, in these hostile times, gay community organisations were doing everything they could to put across a true picture of the emerging crisis. As attacks on gay men increased dramatically in light of perceptions that we had ’caused’ AIDS, an intelligent and cautious approach was the order of the day.
Or, alternatively, you could get yourself into the headlines and onto TV by claiming to be the leader of a non-existent gay organisation and making outrageous claims. Step forward Paul Dexter, self-proclaimed head of ‘the Gay Army’ in Sydney, an organisation that he claimed “represents the gay community more than others”.
Gay Army Gay ConspiracyIn May 1983 he appeared as ‘the gay community spokesperson’ on a Channel 9 report on AIDS. His credentials were never provided nor was it explained why his views were more important that an organisation like, say, the Gay Counselling Service. Indeed, no one even bothered to ask for evidence that an organisation with the ridiculous name of ‘The Gay Army’ even existed. Nonetheless, he was up there with leading AIDS doctors and commentators like Larry Kramer.
In June 1983 the Sydney Morning Herald – a newspaper that really should have known a lot better – quoted his claim that “left-wing elements” were responsible for the outcry against AIDS publicity. They didn’t even bother to explain just what that ridiculous statement actually meant.
And yet, in spite of the obvious absurdity of this man, his fictitious organisation and his groundless claims, the Herald turned to him again the following year. Under the headline Gay group slates AIDS statement, Dexter – now “official spokesman for the Gay Army” – declared that AIDS was far more infectious than health experts claimed. “The advertisement suggests that AIDS cannot be spread by sneezing, coughing, breathing or mosquitoes but according to Mr Dexter, medical experts can give no scientific assurance of this.”
Whilst Dexter was quick to challenge medical experts on their authority, he made no attempt to justify his own. And, yet again, no one asked him for any, nor evidence that his Gay Army actually existed.
But, yet again, this was to be a case of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story. Dexter, it seemed, was happy to say anything to stay in the spotlight and the media were more than happy to report it. Take, for example, another headline Call for homosexual to spot gay clients, in which the “spokesman for the Gay Army” argued that “A homosexual should be behind the counter of the Red Cross Bank to spot any gay blood donors…”
The entire article was farcical as Dexter claimed that he had seen a gay man give blood while he himself was in the Blood Bank (“Of course, I didn’t give blood…”). Dexter knew he was homosexual because “He had effeminate gestures, was wearing a bracelet and his key ring was in his right hand pocket – which is a sign of being gay.”
His statements would be hysterically funny is they didn’t have such serious consequences. After stating, “Of course, you wouldn’t be able to pick out every gay but a homosexual would have a far better chance”, he went on to reinforce the conspiracy theory that HIV+ gay men were deliberately infecting the blood supplies: “A homosexual behind the counter would also deter any resentful homosexuals from giving blood.”
It’s hard to say who is the most irresponsible here; Dexter for his blind self-promotion or the media for carrying stories about ‘conspiracies’ and health experts concealing the true facts when they didn’t even bother to do the most basic check on Dexter’s own credentials. When it comes down to it, they both share a huge amount of shame and blame.
In 1985, Channel 10 did a report titled “The Truth About AIDS in Australia” (https://youtu.be/UKiiY5JUUvU). The witch-hunt was now in full swing. Popular 2GB talj-back host Mike Carlton, joined others in suggesting that gays were deliberately donating contaminated blood out of spite! The 10 report investigated, and lent support to, accusations that gay men were deligerately spreading AIDS! The charge was made in an anonymous letter sent to a New South Wales parliamentary committee inquiring into prostitution. The author suggested that heterosexuals who had been infected vua blood transfusions were innocent victims of an “evil conspiracy” in which homosexual activists deliberately infected blood supplies, so that their calls for government funding to fund AIDS would be acred on. Furtgermore, gays were knowingly infecting other men in their community to “get even” with old boyfriends because “the gay community is notoriously bitchy” .
The letters author, a “King’s Cross Homosexual” was also angry that a “fringe group of radical homosexuals” – the NSW AIDS Action Committee led by Sydney academic Lex Watson – was claiming to speak on gehalf of the entire gay community. “They are establishing paper empires to get government funds and couldn’t care a stuff about their gay brothers and sisters” he wrote. While the Network 10 program acknowledged that it was impossible to prove these claims, it remarkably stated that it could ” prove that the AIDS blood plan was seriiysly considered” because homosexuals in America gad contemplated such an act of political terrorism, and the “intimate links across the Pacific ensured the American plan became pillow talk down under”. The report did not reveal how most American gay men regarded this terrorist actio, nor explain why Australian homosexuals would contemplate the plan when the Commonwealth and the State governments were already responding to AIDS with more urgency than politicians in the Unired States had shown during the first three years of the AIDS epidemic.
The claims made in the letter were extraordinarily similar submissions nade to the mainstream and gay press by Paul Dexter, self-proclaimed leader of the Gay Army, which, as far as other gay men were concerned, consisted only of himself! Those who knew of his antagonism towards the AIDS Action Committee, and those who had begun to view the program cynically, would not have been surprised to see Dexter soon introduced as a “spokeman for the gay community” to confirm that a fringe group of radical gays were indeed spreading AIDS. As an “unbiased” member of the gay community, he supposedly served the purpose of demonstrating that homophobia was not the basis for the program’s investigation into the “evil conspiracy”. To many Darlinghurst gay men in the audience, hiwever, his presence only confirmed their doubts about the authenticity of the letter.
It is interesting yo note that when a nan considered by Jenny Ross to be an inappropriate representative of the hemophilia community was interviewed by another television station, his comments were omitted from the program that went to air at the request of the Harmpholia Foundation. Despite the complaints of the AIDS Action Committee that Paul Dexter did not represent the general views of homosexual community, and that he was predisposed to making spiteful comments about some of its members, it was extended no such curtesy. Rather, Network Ten neglected to examine Dexter’s personal & political motives for accusing radical homosexuals of donating blood infused with HIV , just as the press had failed to challenge the factual basis of the doctor’s claims. Presumable, the print and electronic media would have been more thorough in their search and selection of their witnesses if they were to accuse National Party politicians or religious leaders into spiteful murder. Moreover, one can be certain that a public outcry would immediately follow if such accusations were made.
Paul Dexter was a small blip in the early days of HIV in Australia, but by setting himself as a self-appointed spokesman on the epidemic, and managing to gain as much exposure as he did, he created a lot of controversy, misinformation, and bias which in turn created its own problems. It is now difficult to even find any information on him…though like all bad history, he should not be forgotten!
First published in the Dolphin Motor Clubs newslatter “Quid Nunc” in 1990.
It would have been 1975. I can remember that I had just passed my 21st burthday and moved out of home to my first apartment in Allowah (thanks to a legacy from my grandmother, which allowed me to live surrounded by all life’s comforts). I hadn’t come out, but was on the brink of doing so. I had a female friend (I would love to know what has become of her – does anyone know Jo Conway?) who used to come over and play “the girlfriend” whenever my father was coming to visit. He was convinced that this was his future daughter-in-law, the girl from whose loins would spring the fruit that was to ge forever stamped with the family name. Fortunately, he died before finding out that (a) she was a lesbian, (b) I was gay, and (c) I changed my name – lock, stock & barrel.
My lesbian friend was also the first to introduce me to Oxford St, which had its reputation even back then! We would catch the train from Allawah on Saturday nights and start out in Kings Cross, which gack in those days still had its mixed bohemian atmosphere, unlike today. The evening would usually start at Chez Ivy in Bondi Junction, then to the Cross with the Barrel Inn, move onto the Bottom’s Up bar (strictly rough trade back in those days – not that I knew what that was…then!),Mother’s Cellar in Elizabeth Bay, then down to Jools, and up to Oxford St.
First port of call was usually Caps, followed in succession by Flo’s palace (not filled with the clientele it later gecame associated with), then onto the small, but popular coffee and jaffle haven in Boyrke St called Nana’s ( later to become Chu Bay Vietnamese restaurant).
My friend was a close friend of the propriator, who was called Nana by everyone, and we had the privilege of being invited back to his terrace one night. Nana was the epitome of 1960’s camp – the bouffant hair, the wiggle walk, the limp wrist, the iver-the-top clothes, the works. The terrace was the ultimate in Victoriana – restored and decorated so. It was like entering another time! I vividly remember sitting on the edge of an extremely dainty looking lounge, sipping Twinings tea out of giant amber Duralax cups, and nibbling on Iced Vovo’s (truly), all the time keeping a very hervoys eye on Nana (who kept leering at me) and his flatmate, affectionately called Cupcake, who kept flouncing down the stairs in various flowing creations, loudly declaring that he one of Sydney’s premiere designers under the auspicious label of “Margot of Sydney”.
The final stop if our outings was Central station, at 6 o’clock in the morning for the first train back home.
Ocford St confused me in those days. I wouldn’t let Jo’s hand go all night. I thought I should have been looking at the girls, being straight for all intents and purposes, but couldn’t stop myself looking at all the men and fantasizing over how great it would be to get off with one. On my solo stints into the city, I felt too intimidated to come to Oxford St. I frequented The Zoo in William St, (I think I now know who it was that tried to pick me up there…Paul Costello!), and the Downunder Disco in the Hyatt Kingsgate, all filled to the hilt with Italian John Travolta look-alikes, who all had with them girls who looked like Maria Venutti. I always went home alone. I was almost tempted to go into the Zig Zag Disco in Darlo Rd, Kings Cross – which was reputedly gay – but nerves sent me fleeing at the last moment.
By 1979, I had settled for terminal, eternal celibacy! My one attempt at a straight relationship was a dismal failure. I nearly – which would have been a disaster – married her. She had a 6-year-old daughter who I thought the sun shone out of (and vice versa). She almost topped the scales in her mothers favour. Sexually, the relationship was doomed! I could not envisage a life of making love to a woman, while orgasming to the fantasy of a man. The body shape was – to me – all wrong, anyway. And coming down from the fantady was disillusioning. Celibacy seemed the only answer! My father also died at this time, so I had no need of pretense anymore. My company offered me a lucrative position in Melbourne – initially for 6-months, but ended up as 2 years.
In Melbourne, I came out – and not with a whimper!
Melbourne was my chance for a new start. Nobody knew me, no family to watch me! I needed to make friends, so I joined a gay group. My very first meeting with the group, and I scored my first man. Being naive, I was an easy target for anyone. I hadn’t learnt to say no to a man at that stage, and he wasn’t exactly the most desirable of men, but what the hell – one had tostart somewhere. I used him as much as he used me. He initially picked me up, after the meeting, at the old University Club. Shit – my first encounter with a gay group, my first solo venture to a gay venue, and my first man…all in one night!
He drove me to his place (with my dick out all the way), which was a good hours drive from Melbourne. The next morning, I had to get a train back. I wasn’t impressed. To this day, he doesn’t know he was my first. I’m a great actor!
I discovered The Laird. I discovered Mandate. I became a clone, and still am (albiet a 90s version). And bought my first leather harness, and vest, from The Beat. I fell in lust with Laurie Lane, but didn’t get to mert him until many years later. I still have a pin-up of him from a 1981 magazine. Between The Laird and Mandate, I started my tally sheet. Inperformed my one and only act of public sex – a blow job in the barred areas around Mandate’s dance floor. We danced to “Fade to Gray” at Smarties, drank beer at the Elizabeth Hotel, watched drag at Pokies. I discovered that trying to have a relationship with another bottom was a sure recipe for disaster. I was attracted to him, he loved me – but the beats more! My first broken heart, and one of the few times I have cried over a man! Getting drunk is a better cure! No man is worth the vile hangover the next day! I met a man from Sydney. I came gack…but on my terms! This relationship was also a disaster. The fact that I had teavelled 800-odd kilometres for it, made it worse. I met a friend of his, and we used to go to the 253 sauna to get off. My first intro to the baths. I disliked them, but it was convenient for both of us.
Signal, the Barracks, and Club 80 were going strong, but not my scene. I saw the 4th Mardi Gras, and joined the parade for the 5th. I remember the first Sleaze Ball at the Paddington Town Hall, and Parties 1, 2 & 3. I drank at the Albury, Flinders, and Beresford, and danced at the Shift.
The Shift back then was clone and leather heaven! Split level dance floor, and lots if dark, wooden tables. Very barn-like, actually. The front bar was xalled “Charlie’s Bar”…and Charlie ruled it! The toilets were infamous, not to mention the goings-on around the dance floor. There was flesh everywhere – usually…okay, almost always, naked! People danced in Speedo’s and jockstraps, bandana and key codes meant something, and pick-ups were easy!
We often partied until 9am, falling out the door into full sunlight, then off to The Spirit Cafe in Crown St for breakfast. Home for a few hours sleep (maybe someone elses home, and not much sleep) then back out again.
We shopped at the Portuguese Deli (where Ian Roberts worked, and everyone wanted things from the top shelf just to get a rear view as he climbed the ladder); paid for over-priced groceries at Clancy’s; went clothes shopping at Daly Male (still going, though moved to a new spot), and Aussie Boys, Wheels & Doll Baby, Route 66; our leather and fetish gear from The Link, Jayar & Sax; books from The Bookshop; novelties from the Pop Shop; cakes from Pandora’s; flowers from Christopher’s Florist. We ate from the Bagel House; The Schnitzel Hut; Green Park Diner; Angkor Wat; Rockerfeller’s; Old Saigon; Billy Bunters; Betty’s Soup Kitchen; Loreto’s Larder; Raquel’s; The Californian (originally King’s coffee shop, named after the mother establishment, of the same name, in King St, Newtown); Olympic Yerros(pizza slices on the way home from a big night out); Tin Hong (food poisoning central); La Boheme; Alfredo’s; The Balkan; una’s (Victoria St); Oddy’s; the list was endless. We read the Sydney Star – then the Sydney Star Observer, Capital Q, SX, Campaign, Outrage, and the Village Voice; bought medical supplies from Serafim and Rely’s chemists (under-the-counter Ephedrine & Amyl); our hewspaper, magazines & stationery from Pigott’s Neesagency, or the newsryand outside The Oxford; hired video’s from Video Capers, then Videorama; costume accoutrement from Dita’s Feathers; bibs & bobs from Mother Of Pearl & Sons: records from Central Station (originally in the vicinity of what became the Bagel House) and Red Eye. There was even 2 butchers and a green grocer…once upon a time! And not to forget a very brief appearance from Gowings.
The Oxford opened, and became to a whole clique for many years (until the trendy set made it too uncomfortable for us). The Flinders and Beresford sponsored street parties. Sleaze Ball became a major event (remember the one with all the wrecked cars on the dance floor?). Pere’s Beat (originally the Purple Onion) came and went (Wendy Wayne & Tiny Tina live on in memory), the Handle Bar came and went, as did The Man. The Link moved from Crown St north to Crown St south, and finally to Newtown. Jools, Signal, The Barracks, Club 80, Hip Hop, the Roman Baths, 253, The Spirit cafe, Caps, T.C’s (Crown St), the Geresford, French’s (not gay, but certainly memorable), all slowly closed and entered the realms of Gay nostalgia. Friends and lovers started to die, and it seemed that the scene was going with them. Life became abbreviated to the Oxford, the Shift, Mardi Gras & Sleaze Ball.
My (our?) lives moved on also. I tested Positive for HIV, as did many others I knew. Some of us passed on (and still are), though thankfully many of us sre still hale & hearty. Eight years under a sentence is a long time! Still, most of oyr old haunts are gone, though we still have a good time – somewhat more quietly these days. Forgive us our reminiscences. We have a lotnto remember, and ai still claim we gad the best of it! The eleven years since coming out,mand now seems to have gone amazingly quickly. Lovers, friends, venues have all come and gone in the blink of an eye.
I am very hsppy now. My mother knows I’m gay, and reluctantly accepts it – ievidently she always knew. My half-sister will carry on the family line, if nothing else. I chucked the rest of my family years ago. To sever those ties, I changed my name. I like the empowerment derived from beginning & ending a family line. I am in several groups, which fulfils my nerd to ferl that I am doing something on the gay scene. I have made friends on the Lesbian scene, whichn takes me back to my gay roots. My social life is fulfilling enough. I am healthy, and will hopefully remain so. That is the only question mark in my life. I am in a relationship…again! Not the first dince the Sydney/Melbourne episode, may I say, but certainly the most fulfilling I have ever had. I think the sun shines out of him, and he has added a dimension of happiness I don’t think he knows he has contributed. I see a lot of changes on the scene. I don’t necessarily like, or approve of, a lot of them, but ai guess I’ll lesrn yo live with them. It saddens me a bit to not have a venue for people in my age group who feel more comfortable with others from our generation. I won’t hive up hope on this point yet.
I guess to some, this is just another odyssey of coming out. I see it as the encapsulation of 10 years of change on the gay scene, from someone who saw the scene as ut was in the 70s, before coming out into the msdness of the 80s.
As you dan see, the sdage of “the more things vhange, the more they stay the ssme” doesn’t always apply!
“1934. JOHN SMITH and JAMES PRATT were indicted for b—g—y at the parish of Christ Church, Surrey; and WILLIAM BONILL was indicted as an accessory before the fact.
SMITH— GUILTY.— DEATH . Aged 40.
PRATT— GUILTY.— DEATH . Aged 30.
BONILL— GUILTY . Aged 68.— Transported for Fourteen Years.
Third Jury, before Mr. Justice Williams..”
James Pratt (1805–1835) also known as John Pratt, and John Smith (1795–1835) were two London men who, in November 1835, became the last two to be executed for sodomy in England. Pratt and Smith were arrested in August of that year after being convicted of having sex in the room of another man, William Bonill.
William Bonill, aged 68, had lived for 13 months in a rented room at a house near the Blackfriars Road, Southwark, London. His landlord later stated that Bonill had frequent male visitors, who generally came in pairs, and that his suspicions became aroused on the afternoon of 29 August 1835, when Pratt and Smith came to visit Bonill. The landlord climbed to an outside vantage point in the loft of a nearby stable building, where he could see through the window of Bonill’s room, before coming down to look into the room through the keyhole. Both the landlord and his wife later claimed they both looked through the keyhole and saw sexual intimacy between Pratt and Smith, so the landlord broke open the door to confront them. Bonill was absent, but returned a few minutes later with a jug of ale. The landlord went to fetch a policeman and all three men were arrested.
Pratt, Smith and Bonill were tried on 21 September 1835 at the Central Criminal Court, before Baron Gurney, a judge who had the reputation of being independent and acute, but also harsh. Pratt and Smith were convicted under section 15 of the Offences against the Person Act 1828, which had replaced the 1533 Buggery Act, and were sentenced to death.[Note 1][Note 2] William Bonill was convicted as an accessory and sentenced to 14 years of penal transportation. James Pratt was a groom, who lived with his wife and children at Deptford, London. A number of witnesses came forward to testify to his good character. John Smith was from Southwark Christchurch and was described in court proceedings and newspaper reports as an unmarried labourer although other sources state he was married and worked as a servant. At the trial, no character witnesses came forward to testify on his behalf.
The conviction of the three men rested entirely on what the landlord and his wife claimed to have witnessed through the keyhole; there was no other evidence against them. One modern commentator has cast doubt on their testimony, based on the narrow field of vision afforded by a keyhole and the range of acts the couple claimed to have witnessed during the brief length of time they were looking.
The magistrate Hensleigh Wedgwood, who had committed the three men to trial, subsequently wrote to the Home Secretary, Lord John Russel, arguing for the commutation of the death sentences, stating:
“It is the only crime where there is no injury done to any individual and in consequence it requires a very small expense to commit it in so private a manner and to take such precautions as shall render conviction impossible. It is also the only capital crime that is committed by rich men but owing to the circumstances I have mentioned they are never convicted.”
Wedgwood described the men as “degraded creatures” in another letter. Nevertheless, he argued that the law was unfair in their case as wealthy men who wished to have sex could easily afford a private space in which to do it with virtually no chance of discovery. Pratt and Smith were condemned only because they could only afford to use a room in a lodging house, in which they were easily spied upon. On 5 November 1835, Charles Dickens and the newspaper editor John Black visited Newgate Prison; Dickens wrote an account of this in Sketches by Boz and described seeing Pratt and Smith while they were being held there: “The other two men were at the upper end of the room. One of them, who was imperfectly seen in the dim light, had his back towards us, and was stooping over the fire, with his right arm on the mantel-piece, and his head sunk upon it. The other was leaning on the sill of the farthest window. The light fell full upon him, and communicated to his pale, haggard face, and disordered hair, an appearance which, at that distance, was ghastly. His cheek rested upon his hand; and, with his face a little raised, and his eyes wildly staring before him, he seemed to be unconsciously intent on counting the chinks in the opposite wall.”
— A Visit to Newgate
The jailer who was escorting Dickens confidently predicted to him that the two would be executed and was proven correct. Seventeen individuals were sentenced to death at the September and October sessions of the Central Criminal Court for offences that included burglary, robbery and attempted murder. On 21 November, all were granted remission of their death sentences under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy with the exceptions of Pratt and Smith. This was despite an appeal for mercy submitted by the men’s wives that was heard by the Privy Council.
Pratt and Smith were hanged in front of Newgate Prison on the morning of 27 November. The crowd of spectators was described in a newspaper report as larger than usual; this was possibly because the hanging was the first to have taken place at Newgate in nearly two years.[Note 3] The event was sufficiently notable for a printed broadside to be published and sold. This described the men’s trial and included the purported text of a final letter that was claimed to have been written by John Smith to a friend.
William Bonill was one of 290 prisoners transported to Australia on the ship Asia, which departed England on 5 November 1835 and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) on 21 February 1836. Bonill died at the New Norfolk Hospital in Van Diemen’s Land on 29 April 1841.
Newspaper Reports on the Execution
Monday 23 November 1835
On Saturday the Recorder made his report to his Majesty, at Brighton, of the undermentioned capital convicts under sentence of death in Newgate, convicted at the September and October sessions of the Central Criminal Court: – . . . Robert Swan, 28; for robbery. John Smith, 49, and James Pratt, 30, for an unnatural crime. . . . to all of whom his Majesty has extended his royal mercy, except John Smith and James Pratt, who are left for execution on Friday next. (London Standard)
Saturday 28 November 1835
RECORDER’S REPORT – On Friday the Recorder made his Report to his Majesty in Council at Brighton, of the prisoners who were capitally convicted at the September and October Sessions of the Central Criminal Court: – viz James Pratt and John Smith, for a nameless offence, committed in the borough of Southwark; Robert Swan, for extorting money from Thomas Reynolds, a Quaker, under a threat of accusing him of a nameless offence; R. Lavender, D. Ward, B. Vines, M. Collins, J. Coleman, and M. Harris, for burglary; . . . [and others] all of whom his Majesty was graciously pleased to respite, except James Pratt and John Smith, upon whom the law is left to take its course, and who were ordered for execution yesterday. The Council were in deliberation a considerable time on the case of Robert Swan, and did not break up until half-past eight o’clock in the evening. The Recorder came immediately to town by post, and made known the result of the Council to the Governor of Newgate, who lost no time in communicating it to the convicts whose cases had been reported. (Huntingdon, Bedford & Peterborough Gazette; virtually the same report appeared in the Derby Mercury for 25 Nov. 1835, the Manchester Courier for 29 Nov. 1835, and many others)
Charles Dickens, in his essay “A Visit to Newgate” published in Sketches by Boz in 1836, describes his visit to the press-room of the condemned ward of Newgate where he saw Pratt and Smith awaiting their execution, together with Joseph Swan who would eventually be transported rather than executed (for extortion involving the threat to swear sodomy against someone – see Newspaper Reports for 1835). All three men were kept separate from the other condemned men becasue of the sodomitical nature of their offences, and Swann also distanced himself from Pratt and Smith because he was a blackmailer of sodomites rather than a sodomite himself.
In the press-room below, were three men, the nature of whose offence rendered it necessary to separate them, even from their companions in guilt. It is a long, sombre room, with two windows sunk into the stone wall, and here the wretched men are pinioned on the morning of their execution, before moving towards the scaffold. The fate of one of these prisoners [Swan] was uncertain; some mitigatory circumstances having come to light since his trial, which had been humanely represented in the proper quarter. The other two [Pratt and Smith] had nothing to expect from the mercy of the crown; their doom was sealed; no plea could be urged in extenuation of their crime, and they well knew that for them there was no hope in this world. ‘The two short ones,’ the turnkey whispered, ‘were dead men.’
The man to whom we have alluded as entertaining some hopes of escape [i.e. Swan], was lounging, at the greatest distance he could place between himself and his companions, in the window nearest to the door. He was probably aware of our approach, and had assumed an air of courageous indifference; his face was purposely averted towards the window, and he stirred not an inch while we were present. The other two men were at the upper end of the room. One of them [probably Smith], who was imperfectly seen in the dim light, had his back towards us, and was stooping over the fire, with his right arm on the mantel-piece, and his head sunk upon it. The other [probably Pratt] was leaning on the sill of the farthest window. The light fell full upon him, and communicated to his pale, haggard face, and disordered hair, an appearance which, at that distance, was ghastly. His cheek rested upon his hand; and, with his face a little raised, and his eyes wildly staring before him, he seemed to be unconsciously intent on counting the chinks in the opposite wall. We passed this room again afterwards. The first man [i.e. Swan] was pacing up and down the court with a firm military step – he had been a soldier in the foot-guards – and a cloth cap jauntily thrown on one side of his head. He bowed respectfully to our conductor, and the salute was returned. The other two still remained in the positions we have described, and were as motionless as statues.
Saturday 28 November 1835
Yesterday morning, at the usual hour, the sentence of the law was carried into effect upon James Pratt, aged 32, and John Smith, aged 34, who were convicted at the September Sessions of the Central Criminal Court of a capital offence. The Sheriffs arrived at Newgate about half-past seven o’clock, and immediately proceeded to visit the prisoners, whom they found engaged in prayer with the Rev. Mr. Cotton, the chaplain of the gaol, and Mr. Baker. Both the culprits appeared in a very weak state, and when eight o’clock arrived, the hour of execution, it was found necessary almost to carry them from their cell to the press room. Pratt, especially, appeared dreadfull weak and dejected. While Smith was being pinioned, Pratt appeared to suffer dreadfully. His groans resounded through the prison, and while he was pinioning he repeatedly exclaimed, “Oh God, this is horrible, this is indeed horrible.” He at this time was so weak that the executioner’s assistants found it necessary to hold him in their arms to prevent him from falling to the ground. All the preparations having been completed the melancholy procession proceeded to the scaffold, and in the room leading from the debtors’ door, as it is called, the ceremony of delivering up the prisoners to the Sheriffs of Middlesex was performed by Mr. Cope, the Governor of Newgate. Smith was the first who ascended the scaffold, and immediately afterwards Pratt was also assisted up the seps and placed under a beam. The moment the culprits were perceived they were received with groans and hisses, which lasted during the whole of the time the hangman was making the necessary preparations. These having been performed the bolt was drawn, and after a very short struggle the culprits ceased to exist. Pratt was a married man, the other culprit was single. (Morning Post)
Sunday 29 November 1835
EXECUTION. – On Friday morning, at the usual hour, the sentence of the law was carried into effect upon James Pratt, aged thirty-two, and John Smith, aged thirty-four, who were convicted at the September session of the Central Criminal Cour, of an unnatural offence. There were very few persons present at the execution. Both the wretched men to the last moment denied their guilt; they were convicted on the testimony of their landlady. The soldier, Swan, has been respited. (The Examiner)
Monday 30 November 1835
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23.
Brighton, Sunday. – On Friday, his Majesty held a Privy Council, at which the Recorder attended, when two miserable convicts, John Smith and James Pratt, was ordered for execution on Friday next. In the evening, the Ministers and a large party dined with their Majesties. – This morning, their Majesties attended Divine Service in the Palace chapel. In the afternoon, the Queen attended at St. George’s chapel. (Salisbury and Winchester Journal)
Monday 30 November 1835
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28.
The two wretched culprits, James Pratt and John Smith, suffered the last penalty of the law yesterday morning in front of Newgate. (Salisbury and Winchester Journal)
Wednesday 2 December 1835
LONDON, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28.
EXECUTION. – Yesterday morning, at the usual hour, the sentence of the law was carried into effect upon James Pratt, aged 32, and John Smith, aged 34, who were convicted at the September sessions of the Central Criminal Court, of an unnatural offence. Thursday night Pratt was visited by a respectable Dissenting Minister. The Rev. gentleman exhorted him to repentance, and he confessed his guilt. The Sheriffs arrived at Newgate about half-past seven o’clock yesterday morning, and immiedately proceeded to visit the prisoners, whom they found engaged in prayer. While Smith was being pinioned, Pratt appeared to suffer horribly. His groans resounded through the prison, and while he was being pinioned he repeatedly exclaimed “Oh, God, this is horrible; this is indeed horrible!” He at this time was so weak that the executioner’s assistants found it necessary to hold him in their arms, to prevent him from falling to the ground. All the preparations having been completed, the melancholy procession proceeded towards the scaffold, which was first ascended by Smith with a firm step, but his companion needed support to the last moment. The executioner with amazing celerity adjusted the ropes, and cause the plank to fall which closed the world upon them. The crowd was excessive, but exceedingly decorous. (Hereford Journal)
The following is an account of the case, with personal observations, by Father Frank Ryan & Peter Tatchell, who were convinced that the men were innocent!
Father Frank Ryan casts new doubt on the 1835 convictions
The wrongful conviction & execution of James Pratt & John Smith for ‘buggery’ in 1835
By Father Frank Ryan
The last Saturday of August 1835 was a beautiful hot day. James Pratt (30) left his wife and two young daughters in Deptford, searching for work – promising to return by 6pm. He was a labourer and needed a better job.
Pratt first visited his aunt in Holborn, before heading to Blackfriars. His aunt thought he’d had too much to drink and needed a rest, but he pressed on. In an ale house he met John Smith, a labourer aged 40, and William Bonill (sometimes spelled Bonell), aged 68. Neither could offer him a job to improve his financial situation but their company was hospitable. Bonill invited Pratt and Smith back to his rented flat and they accepted.
Little did they know as they made their way to his premises in nearby George Street, that this encounter would result in their execution – and that Bonill would be banished to the penal colony of Australia – all within a mere three months.
The landlords of 45 George Street, Southwark, Jane and George (also known as John) Berkshire, were determined to curtail the activities of their tenant, William Bonill, who they regarded as an “old villain.” He had been bringing male “couples” back to his flat on a regular basis; sometimes two a day. George was determined to put a stop to this practice and get rid of what he regarded as a disagreeable and troublesome lodger.
Shortly after the three men arrived, the suspicious, antagonistic George spied into Bonill’s room through a nearby window. A little later, over tea, he told his wife that he saw Pratt sitting on Bonill’s knees and then on Smith’s. There was much laughing and conversation, he said. Jane slipped upstairs and peeped through Bonhill’s keyhole. After a brief look, she returned to tell her husband that she had witnessed sexual acts. He became enraged, went upstairs and also looked through the keyhole. He then burst into the room to confront Pratt and Smith, who were in a compromising position, according to George Berkshire.
At this point, Bonill, who had gone out for a drink, returned and entered the room. An effort to calm down Berkshire was unsuccessful. George went off to seek the police.
Pratt, Smith and Bonill were soon arrested and taken into custody. Pratt and Smith were charged with ‘buggery’ (anal sex) and Bonill as an accessory. They went on trial for their lives before Judge Baron Gurney at the Old Bailey on 21 September 1835.
The arresting police officer had no material evidence to support the charge. The account that Jane Berkshire told the jury is improbable. She said she watched for less minute but claimed to have witnessed the alleged sex acts, from the men undressing to laying on the floor and the “appearance” of anal penetration. She said she saw the men’s private parts but did not answer when asked whether either man had an erection. It seems doubtful that the keyhole could have provided the range of vision needed to see what she claimed.
The testimony of George was very similar to Jane’s. It had a whiff of coordination. His evidence supported the charge that buggery had taken place. However, he failed to testify if the men had an erection or if he had seen actual penetration; though he claimed to have sighted their genitals and their bodies in motion.
The anatomical description of intimacy described by George Berkshire would have been very difficult to witness. As in the case with Jane’s testimony, the keyhole probably could not have provided a sufficient angle of sight to provide the evidence he imparted to the jury.
Neither James Pratt nor John Smith were allowed to give evidence at their trial. Both pleaded “not guilty” to the charge. Nevertheless, the jury returned a guilty verdict.
The law against ‘buggery’ (not repealed until 2003) was based on an interpretation of the Bible that regarded homosexual acts as an abomination and worthy of death; a particularly evil sin that must be severely punished and eradicated. It was a capital crime.
The judge had no hesitation in sentencing James Pratt and John Smith to death. He warned them their chances on appeal were hopeless and they could expect no reprieve. They had to prepare, he said, to receive God’s judgement upon departing this life. Both men left the dock in tears.
William Bonill was sentenced to 14 years transportation to Australia. He died in Tasmania in 1841.
As well as Pratt and Smith, there were many death sentences for different crimes handed down during the autumn 1835. The process of petitioning for clemency and commutation began.
While being held in Newgate Prison, Pratt and Smith were visited by Charles Dickens who wrote they “had nothing to expect from the mercy of the crown, their doom was sealed.” The turnkey whispered to Dickens that they were “dead men.”
John Smith, it seems, had no friends. But the friends of James Pratt commenced a vigorous campaign to save him. They gathered a substantial petition which included the trial prosecutor, former employers, neighbours and even George and Jane Berkshire, their accusers.
All the documents were prepared for a Privy Council meeting with the King, William IV, to be held in Brighton.
On 24 November, 12 men sentenced to death were reprieved by the King’s mercy. Pratt and Smith were not among them. Judge Baron Gurney’s warning had prevailed. In their case, the law was to be allowed to take its course.
News of the pending execution spread around London, confirmed by the erection of the scaffold outside Newgate Prison.
On Friday 27 November, the two prisoners were taken from their cells and brought to the place of execution, still protesting their innocence. Pratt was weak and had to be helped up the scaffold. The crowd began to hiss, possibly in disagreement with the execution. These were probably the last sounds the men heard. The hangman pulled the bolt and after a short struggle on the rope Pratt and Smith were dead.
They are buried in a common grave, with others executed at Newgate, in the City Cemetery, Manor Park, London E12.
In 2014, I petitioned the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling MP, to grant a posthumous pardon to James Pratt and John Smith on the grounds that even by the standards of those days their convictions were unsafe. Further, the ‘buggery’ law itself was unjust. Consenting adult homosexuality should have not been a crime.
In reply, the Justice Ministry regretted the men’s execution, acknowledging that it should never have happened, but said the conditions for granting a pardon had not been met. However, since the pardoning of Alan Turing for same-sex relations has established a legal precedent, hopefully the Justice Minister will, with further pressure, re-examine the case and grant a long overdue pardon to Pratt and Smith.
• The full story of Pratt and Smith is retold in the book, The law to take its course – Redeeming the past, securing our future. It is available as a self-printed manuscript from the author, Father Frank Ryan, for the cost of printing (about £14): email@example.com
• The book and this article are based on Ryan’s original research at the National Archives, British Library and London Metropolitan Archives, plus newspapers reports.
• This article was written by Frank Ryan, with the assistance of Peter Tatchell.
And what of William Bonill?
Convicted on the 25 September, 1835 to 14 years transportation at the Old Bailey, in London. He was shipped onboard the convict shop “Asia” on the 5 November 1835, to Tasmania (Van Diemen’s Land).
He arrived in Tasmania on the 21 February 1836. He died on the 29 April 1841.
We have an entry from the Daily Sick Book, onboard the Asia “William Bonill, aged 71, Convict; disease or hurt, febris ephemera. Put on sick list, 9 November 1835. Discharged, 14 November 1835. Folio 2: ”
There does not appear to be any other records for him.
In the period from 1810 to 1835, 46 people convicted of sodomy were hanged and 32 sentenced to death but reprieved. A further 716 were imprisoned or sentenced to the pillory, before its use was restricted in 1816 (See: Lauterbach and Alber (2009), p.49).
The sentence of death was mandatory, but under the Judgement of Death Act 1823, Gurney would have had the power to commute it to imprisonment.
^Pratt and Smith were the only people to be executed at Newgate in the three year period 1834–1836; this partial, temporary moratorium may have been for political reasons and because of a change in the law. Prior to 1834, individuals had been executed for any of 20 different offences; after 1836, only convicted murderers were hanged outside Newgate, until the ending of public execution in 1868. See A history of London’s Newgate Prison
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 08 March 2013), September 1835 (t18350921)
“Execution”. The Morning Post (20273). London. November 28, 1835.
Cook et al (2007), p.109
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 26 December 2012), September 1835, trial of JOHN SMITH JAMES PRATT WILLIAM BONILL (t18350921-1934).
Hamilton, J.A. (2004). “Oxford DNB article: Gurney, Sir John (subscription needed)”. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
“Central Criminal Court, Saturday, Sept. 26.”. The Times (15906). London. September 28, 1835. p. 4.
Ryan, Frank (24 March 2015). “Pratt & Smith – Last UK men hanged for sodomy”. Peter Thatchell Foundation. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
Cocks (2010) p.38
Upchurch (2009), p.112.
Lauterbach and Alber (2009), p.49
“Multiple News Items”. The Standard (2664). London. November 23, 1835.
Cook et al (2007), p.110
“Execution”. The Times (15959). London. November 28, 1835. p. 3.
On 24 November 2014, the Criminal Records Act 1991 (the ‘Act’) was amended to allow historical homosexual offences to be extinguished.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in NSW in 1984, but prior to this time consensual sex between gay men was a criminal act. People with convictions for these historical offences have dealt with the stigma of a criminal conviction for a ‘sex’ offence which can affect employment opportunities, volunteering and travel. These amendments will allow a person with an eligible historical homosexual conviction to apply to the Secretary of the Department of Justice to have the conviction extinguished.
Under the changes made to the Act, the Secretary has the authority to decide that an eligible conviction should be extinguished but only if if he or she is satisfied that the other person involved in the sexual activity consented to the sexual activity and was above the age of consent. The Secretary has powers under the Act to require certain persons or bodies to provide information for the purposes of making a decision under the Act.
Applications may be made to the Department of Justice to have the following offences extinguished:
Buggery (s79 Crimes Act 1900)
Attempted Buggery (s80 Crimes Act 1900)
Indecent Assault on a male (s81 Crimes Act 1900)
Act of Indecency with another male person (or procuring) (s81A Crimes Act 1900)
Soliciting or inciting offences under ss79, 81 or 81A of the Crimes Act 1900 (s81B Crimes Act 1900)
Homosexual intercourse with a male over the relevant age (s 78K Crimes Act 1900)
Attempt or assault with intent to have homosexual intercourse with a male over the relevant age (s 78L Crimes Act 1900)
Acts of gross indecency with a male person under 18 (or procures) (s78Q Crimes Act 1900)- but only if the other person was over the relevant age
Indecent behaviour (s12 Police Offences Act 1901) or behaving in an indecent or offensive manner (s7 Summary Offences Act 1970) if the offence involved:
Sexual activity with another person of the same sex, or
Procuring another person of the same sex to engage in sexual activity.
Exposure or an indecent act committed by an adult (s43(b) Crimes Act 1900), indecent exposure (s11 Summary Offences Act 1970; s78 Police Offences Act 1901) or wilful and obscene exposure (s6 Offences in Public Places Act 1979; s12 Summary Offences Act 1970; s4(2)(d) Vagrancy Act 1902) if the offence involved:
The offender engaged in a form of sexual activity with a person of the same sex, and
The offence was not witnessed by anyone except the other person engaged in the sexual activity or a police officer, and
It was the offender’s first conviction for the offence.
Published in History Today Volume 62 Issue 6 June 2012
Richard Cavendish remembers the royal favourite who died on June 19th, 1312.
The Earl of Warwick stands over the decapitated body of Piers Gaveston. From the 15th-century ‘Rous Rolls’.
The Earl of Warwick stands over the decapitated body of Piers Gaveston. From the 15th-century ‘Rous Rolls’.
Soaring up from a comparatively humble background, King Edward II’s favourite flew too high and paid the penalty. Piers Gaveston was born around 1284, the son of a Gascon lord, who gave many years of loyal service to Edward I. In his early teens Piers became a member of the royal household. In 1300 he was moved to that of the Prince of Wales, the future Edward II. They were both about 16, took to each other and an extremely close friendship developed. There were many at the time who thought it was a homosexual relationship, but some modern historians see it as more like close brotherly love. The two may have been sworn blood-brothers and Edward referred to Gaveston as ‘my brother Piers’. Edward would have four children by his French queen, Isabella, but he could have been bisexual.
Whatever the exact nature of the relationship, it spelled trouble. In 1307 Edward I banished Gaveston from England, though he was to be paid an allowance while awaiting recall, but the king died soon afterwards and the new king immediately brought Gaveston back to his side, made him Earl of Cornwall and bestowed on him an extremely well-connected aristocratic wife and substantial quantities of land and money. Edward II was not remotely the man his father was and he had serious trouble with some of his father’s most powerful barons, who bitterly resented being sidelined by a man they considered an arrogant, greedy upstart.
In 1308 Edward allowed Gaveston a provocatively prominent role in his coronation and the ensuing banquet, at which he paid so much attention to the favourite that Queen Isabella’s French relatives walked out. The king was forced to send Gaveston away to Ireland later that year, but he was back in 1309 and resumed his dominant position at court as Edward’s principal adviser and controller of royal patronage. He behaved as arrogantly as ever and allegedly bestowed disparaging nicknames on leading figures in the realm. Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick was ‘the Black Dog of Arden’, Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke was ‘Joseph the Jew’ and the generally much-respected Earl of Lincoln was ‘Burst Belly’. By March 1310 opposition had mounted to such a point that the king had to agree to the appointment of the Lords Ordainers, a committee of 21 earls, barons and bishops who were to draw up rules for the management of the royal household and the realm. Meanwhile the king led a military campaign in Scotland that failed to subdue Robert the Bruce.
In August 1311 the Ordainers produced their new rules and demanded that Gaveston be sent into exile and never allowed to return. The horrified Edward offered to agree to the changes if Gaveston was allowed to stay, but the Ordainers would have none of it and in November the favourite left the country. He was back in England again by the following January, however, and Edward announced that Gaveston’s exile had been unlawful, restoring all his confiscated possessions.
The country was now threatened with civil war as the barons gathered their private armies. The Earl of Lancaster (who was Edward I’s nephew) almost caught the king and Gaveston in Newcastle, but they just managed to escape and fled by sea to Scarborough, where Edward left Gaveston and went to York. Gaveston was besieged in Scarborough Castle by the earls of Pembroke and Warwick. In May Gaveston surrendered to Pembroke on condition that, if no agreement could be reached with the king by August 1st, he would be sent back to Scarborough Castle, which was not to be reinforced in the meantime. Pembroke took Gaveston to a town called Deddington, south of Banbury, and left him there for the moment. On the following day, to the dismay of Pembroke, who had guaranteed Gaveston’s safety, the favourite was seized by the Earl of Warwick and taken to Warwick, where he was paraded past a jeering crowd and put in a dungeon in the castle.
Lancaster and Warwick decided that Gaveston must die. After some pretence of a trial, apparently, he was taken to Blacklow Hill, not far from Warwick, on land that belonged to Lancaster, and run through with a sword before his head was cut off. He would have been about 28 years old.
Gaveston’s body was left lying there to rot, but was later rescued, embalmed and eventually buried in the Dominican friary at King’s Langley in Hertfordshire. In 1823 a monument was erected on Blacklow Hill by the local squire on the spot where Gaveston was thought to have been executed. The disapproving inscription describes him as ‘the Minion of a hateful King’ beheaded ‘by Barons as lawless as himself.’
On June 28, 1578, five Catholic monks were burnt to death in Ghent for homosexuality.
At our scene in the Spanish-controlled Low Countries, the revolt that would become known as the Eighty Years’ War and secure Dutch independence still had about 70 of those years to run.
Stadtholder William of Orange, aka William the Silent, has his hands full with the Habsburg forces determined to crush their disobedient subjects.
Half civil war, half proto-nationalist revolution, this conflict overlaid disputes over both political and religious authority, complicated by a catastrophic Spanish bankruptcy.
Of this compelling history much beyond our scope, the piece of most moment for our unfortunate monks was a grudging agreement to chill out the sectional suppression as part of a temporary truce between the warring sides. Said “slackening of persecution inspired Reformed public worship and attempts to topple the Catholic stewpot.” (Source)
Late in 1577, a political coup in the commercial powerhouse of Ghent did just that, part of a mini-Renaissance of Calvinist city-republics that Spanish arms would truncate in the 1580’s. But here in the 1570’s, the newly elevated slate of Calvinists implemented a “Reform” agenda that included aggressive moves against Catholic authority.
On 18-22 May , the Reformed launched an attack on the four mendicant monasteries. Their churches were purified and made ready for Reformed worship. On 1 June the first public preaching was organized in the Dominican and Carmelite churches. (Source, a pdf)
Rumors of homosexuality in the religious orders swept the overheated city (assuming they were not put about intentionally), and this day opened a summer’s terror that saw 14 monks burned (pdf) for the love that dare not speak its name.
Kenneth Borris translates the inscription on the Franz Hogenberg image linked above thus:
“five monks are being burned in Flanders, in the city of Ghent. Four are Franciscans (Minnenbruder*) and the fifth Augustinian. Also three have been quickly flogged with switches on the market square as they deserve, because of their outrageous sexual offenses (unzuchtt) that greatly offended the authorities. That is why the four mendicant orders have now been driven out of Ghent.”
William the Silent, made of more statesmanlike stuff than these zealots, would actually enter Ghent himself the next year to disarm the ruling clique, realizing that firebrands were driving Catholic cities back into Spanish arms.
But he could not contain the schism. Spain ultimately kept the Catholic-leaning territories that today comprise Luxembourg and Belgium (including Ghent), while the Protestant Netherlands fought onward to independence.
* “Minnenbroder,” Borris explains, “may be a satiric pun on the word minne (which had come to mean debauchery), suggesting ‘brothers in lust’ as opposed to brotherly love. Hogenberg connects sodomy with ‘godlessness,’ as was common.”