Today is Mexico’s Independence Day! After a war that lasted over 11 years, Mexico achieved independence from Spanish rule and would begin a path toward self-determination. On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest, launched the Mexican War of Independence. Yes, decolonize!
While some believe it was Ávila’s wealthy family that allowed him to live life as his truest self, it certainly may have helped, but his courage in battle and in life must be honored and celebrated. Ávila’s identity was not always met with kindness, but the soldier was well-equipped to deal with challenges to his gender. The pistol-whipping colonel was a ladies man, skilled marksmen, and hero. This is the story of Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila.
Amelio Robles Ávila
Amelio Robles Ávila was born to a wealthy family on November 3, 1889, in Xochipala, Guerrero. In his youth, Ávila attended a Catholic school for little girls where he was taught to cook, clean, and sew. However, at a young age, he began to express his gender identity. He showed an aptitude for things that were, at the time perceived to be, masculine like handling weapons, taming horses, and marksmanship.
Perhaps, it was a natural response, if not the only response, to being pressured to conform to a gender identity that isn’t yours — Ávila was perceived as stubborn, rebellious, and too much to handle for the school nuns. But it would be his tenacity and obstinance that served him in the long run.
In 1911, when Amelio robles was arranged to be married to a man, he enlisted as a revolutionary instead.
Not a woman dressed as a man, just a man.
To force the resignation of President Porfirio Dîaz and later, to ensure a social justice-centered government, Mexico needed to engage much of its population in warfare. This meant that eventually women were welcomed with many limitations. Soldaderas were able to tend to wounded soldiers or provide food for the militia but were prohibited from combat and could not have official titles.
Amelio Robles legally changed his first name from Amelia to Amelio, cut his hair, and became one of Mexico’s most valuable and regarded revolutionaries.
“To appear physically male, Robles Ávila deliberately chose shirts with large chest pockets, common in rural areas, and assumed the mannerisms common among men at the time,” according to History.com.
While he was not the only person assigned female to adopt a male persona to join the war, unlike many others Ávila kept his name and lived as a man until the day he died.
“After the war was over, their part in it was dissolved along with whatever rank they held during the fight, and they were expected to return to subservient roles. Some did,” writes Alex Velasquez of Into. “Others, like Amelio Robles Ávila, lived the rest of their lives under the male identities they had adopted during the war.”
You come at the king, you best not miss.
Ávila fought courageously in the war until its end. Becoming a Colonel with his own command, he was decorated with three stars by revolutionary general Emiliano Zapata. He led and won multiple pivotal battles where his identity and contributions were respected.
However, that respect was sometimes earned through empathy other times through the whip of his pistol. Ávila was a man and anyone who chose to ignore this fact would be taught by force. On one occasion, when a group of men tried to “expose” him by tearing off his clothes, Ávila shot and killed two of the men in self-defense.
Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila
Unsurprisingly, Amelio Robles was a bit of a ladies man, though he finally settled down with Angela Torres and together they adopted their daughter Regula Robles Torres. In 1970, he was recognized by the Mexican Secretary of National Defense as a veterano as opposed to a veterana of the Mexican Revolution, thus Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is considered the first trans soldier documented in Mexican military history. The swag is infinite!
After the war, Ávila was able to live comfortably as a man where he devoted his life to agriculture. He lived a life, that still for so many trans people around the world seems unfathomable. Colonel Ávila lived to be 95 years old and the rest — no all of it — is history.
I’m an unlikely sailor of tall ships. Too clumsy, too prone to motion sickness, too white and nervous about symbols of colonisation. Nevertheless, in 2013 I found myself up the mast in the middle of the Tasman sea, surrounded by nothing but open ocean.
I was researching a novel about Eugenia Falleni, an Italian-born-woman-turned-Sydney-dwelling-man who was tried for the murder of his wife in 1920. As the commonly told version of the story would have it, Falleni “disguised herself” as a cabin boy and sailed from Wellington to Sydney on a Norwegian barque in the last years of the 19th century. According to some enthusiastic (but factually dubious) accounts, Falleni “roistered” around the Pacific, calling in at Honolulu, Papeetee, and Suva, drank with men, and passed as a man, but arrived in Sydney pregnant.
This “Norwegian barque” was a Schrodinger’s box, and Falleni was the cat. Falleni was man and woman in the same instant, and only tunnelling back through time, lifting a hatch on the deckhouse roof and peering in would decide the moment when Falleni, in the eyes of those watching at least, switched from one gender to the other. Many of Falleni’s biographers have tried to imagine the moment of the onlookers’ “discovery”. As a would-be novelist, I had to as well.
But where to start? Too under-confident in my concept to approach anyone from the transgender community, I started with the ship. If I could get the realist details of the external world right, I told myself, perhaps the interior, psychological uncertainties would resolve themselves in the process. Procrastination disguised as research, perhaps, but I did not know that then.
A Google image search of barques revealed that one was – bizarrely for the 21st century – sailing from Sydney to Auckland, almost exactly the reverse passage Falleni would have made in 1897. I lost a few hours clicking through links that led to sites, which led to my booking a berth as voyage crew on the STS Lord Nelson, set to leave Darling Harbour for Auckland on October 10 2013.
The Lord Nelson is not Norwegian, but wannabe time travellers can’t be too fussy. “Nellie”, as she’s affectionately known by those who sail her, is owned and worked by the South Hampton-based Jubilee Sailing Trust, an organisation established in the late 1970s to make off-shore sailing a possibility for those with special needs.
Despite Nellie’s mod-cons, my first night beyond the heads was a waking nightmare. The voyage crew slept below decks towards the bow of the ship in an area called the fo’c’sle. The fo’c’sle is far from the stabilising main mast, moves the most, and is the worst place to be if you are feeling queasy. It thrashed up and down, side to side, while we tried to sleep on shelves masquerading as bunks, our green faces nudging and retreating from the lee cloths that kept us in our beds.
We could hear the slurp and spray of the Tasman as it slammed against the porthole windows. Something aggressive barged at the hull repeatedly, and the aftershocks made the ship quiver like a dog in a thunderstorm. In my sleepless paranoid state I was convinced hammerhead sharks were head-butting the keel, trying to get at the tender voyage crew inside. (Later I would learn that the noise was made by the anchor rolling around in the anchor locker.)
Over the following nights, most of us gingerly made our way from our bunks to the stairs in the lower mess, then waited for the ship’s roll to help our weakened legs climb the stairs onto the deck. Once on deck we had to clip onto the safety wire that ran around the deckhouse and vomit into paper bags before flinging them into waves, which loomed five metres above us on the windward side of the ship, or dropped, suddenly, from beneath.
The ship would nuzzle into these waves, before rising on their peaks, tilting, then sliding down into a temporary gully. Why did I think this state of interminable queasiness would help me with a novel? I was literally, and figuratively, at sea.
All at sea
It was a feeling of motion-sickness that originally inspired me to write about Eugenia Falleni. In 2005, Sydney’sJustice and Police museum hosted City of Shadows, an exhibition of long-forgotten police photographs recovered from a flooded warehouse. I left the exhibition with the accompanying book, and later pored over the photographs for traces of the suburbs I thought I knew. One picture in particular captured my attention: a mugshot of a man in a cheap suit and tie, his short hair combed into a sideways part.
What struck me most was the melancholy in the subject’s eye; how brow-beaten he looked. To me, he seemed composed, but so close to the verge of a nervous breakdown that I was physically jolted out of being a passive viewer. I flipped to the back of the book to read a brief footnote:
Eugenie Falleni [sic], 1920, Central cells. When hotel cleaner “Harry Leon Crawford” was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife three years earlier, he was revealed to be in fact Eugenie Falleni – a woman and mother who had been passing as a male since 1899…
Turning back to the portrait of the sad man, his face — or my perception of his face — morphed into that of a woman’s. But in the moment that he, the sad man, morphed into she, the “cross-dressing murderer”, I have to admit that the thrill I felt was associated with my own jolt in perception; like the moment Escher’s black birds turn into white birds flying in the opposite direction. What would it be like to live your life oscillating between what others expected to see?
I had, up until this voyage at sea, written hundreds of thousands of words that did not ring true. Possibly this bad writing was due to a nervousness that what I was attempting was culturally insensitive. I am not transgender, I am not working class, I am not, and have never been, Italian. Should I even be attempting to write Falleni’s story? In the interests of forging the most respectful way forward (and appeasing my guilt), I did eventually meet with a trans man my supervisor knew. I was anxious going into the meeting, because I wasn’t entirely sure what I was asking from him. Did I want his permission? And if he gave it, what then?
My fears, it turned out, were founded. While he generously gave me his morning, he seemed a little frustrated by the need to have to explain that his experience as a trans man was going to be very different to another trans experience, especially one lived a hundred years ago. I flushed with embarrassment. Of course I didn’t want him to suddenly be the spokesman of the entire trans community, no, not at all.
Sitting across the table from him, my cold coffee growing skin as I babbled, I realised how condescending the categories of identity politics can be. While they are vital in giving the disenfranchised a collective voice, identity politics can also flatten the myriad possible expressions of how people might live between genders into one “type” — where one person’s experience can stand in for another’s.
Deviants to dysmorphia
Falleni told detectives that they dressed as a man for the economic opportunities. According to the local Sydney tabloid press, Truth, Falleni told detectives they “thought it better to give up life as a woman, because they worked for long hours for a small wage”. But Falleni also married two women and owned a dildo (also held in the Justice and Police Museum’s collection) — and presumably engaged in sexual relationships with women. Living at a time that did not have a language for what would now be considered transgender experience, it’s not surprising Falleni avoided citing sexual or instinctual reasons for passing as a man.
At thetime of Falleni’s trial, the term used to describe anyone not living a hetero-normative existence was a “sexual invert”, a pathological condition of deviancy. Falleni’s barrister, Archibald McDonnell, vaguely suggested that Falleni was such an “invert” by arguing that Falleni had “the masculine angle of the arms”. The judge interrupted McDonell’s cross-examination of the government medical officer to ask if he was making an insanity plea, proving that, at the time, there was confusion about whether “sexual inversion” was a sexualityBut as historianRuth Ford argues, it was not in the interest of the Crown to classify Falleni as an invert, because it would have “detracted from their case, which emphasised Falleni’s deceptive nature — her fraud and lies”.
Since Falleni’s arrest, various attempts have been made to categorise Falleni’s gender-crossing. In 1939,Dr Herbert M. Moran wrotethat Falleni was a “homosexualist” and suggested their “disorder” was congenital. He wrote:
She was condemned even from her birth and her abnormality derived from the very nature of her being. The temperamental outbursts, the vulgar debauches, the filthy speech, were but minor manifestations of her interior disorder.
her female bodily attributes were like having an unwanted, additional limb attached to her body that she overwhelmingly felt did not belong to her.
Others have resisted classifying Falleni’s gender and sexuality. Alyson Campbell, director of Lachlan Philpott’s 2012 play about Falleni,The Trouble with Harry, admits to having initially wished to impose a lesbian subjectivity on Falleni’s story. However she conceded that neither lesbian or trans identities were “available to a person such as Falleni, navigating a way through the undocumented, secret world of being a female husband.”
I did not want to invade Falleni’s very private existential conundrum and claim their identities for my empire (read: my cv), and yet I couldn’t shake the story off.
What kept drawing me back was not an urge to answer the questions of who Falleni was (which are not my questions to answer), but rather an urge to come to terms with how Sydney dealt with the uncertainties that Falleni’s various identities posed. The shock remains fresh: Falleni’s trial occurred almost 100 years ago, and although the terminology we use to discuss cases like this has changed, the tendency to categorise and scrutinise “abnormal” behaviour hasn’t.
This was also a story about patriarchy, how its control is insidious and polices everyone — men and women and those who are neither or both — at every level of bureaucracy. Though my experience is by no means comparable to Falleni’s, this is something I have experienced first-hand.
A stranger amongst men
When the seas died down around Nellie, we were well clear of land. Surrounded by nothing but open ocean, my life now depended on something as small as a house, as buoyant as a bath toy, something only as strong as its shipwrights knew how to make it.
Sexual innuendo was social currency on the ship, and your first voyage was a test, to see if you could take it. It was fun, at first, to be around authority figures who couldn’t give a shit about “minding their manners” and affecting professional decorum. It helped that the first mate Leslie — a woman — had stripes, and was just as crass as the men.
I ended up staying on from Auckland to Wellington, this time as a trainee bosun’s mate, the volunteer crew responsible for maintaining the ship’s equipment. On this leg a watch leader presented me with a lock that had fallen off the ladies’ toilet door in the fo’c’sle, along with four very short screws. I found Leslie and the Captain in the chart room and asked Leslie what she thought I should do with it.
She looked at me incredulously. “Fix it.”
“Right,” I said, “but where are the screws?”
“You’ll have to get them from Mr Chips,” she said.
“Ah, but Pip,” the Captain said, “I’d be careful how you ask Chips for a screw.”
I found the second engineer, Mr Chips, on the stern platform with the first engineer, Marco, sitting in a coil of rope and sipping his third cup of tea for the day.
“Chips,” — I was already on the defensive — “I know how this is going to go, but I need four long screws.”
Chips said nothing for a while.
“Right,” he eventually said, “well you’ll find them in the container in the middle of the workshop.”
Marco groaned at the wasted opportunity.
Negotiating sexual innuendo with the cook was more precarious. When a handful of us were asked to scour the hot galley, I volunteered to scour the lard that had accumulated under and behind the ovens. At one point I had my torso wedged under the ovens, and my arse had nowhere else to be but high in the air. Derek the cook stood behind, supervising. The next day he sat beside me while I was sitting on the deck.
“I think you visited me last night in my dreams,” he said softly. “But you weren’t wearing French knickers when you cleaned the ovens, were you?” The comment was meant to be funny, but it made me weary. Really? I thought. Is this how it’s going to be? The game was: they prodded, and you deflected. It was both exhausting and boring.
Later, in the bar, I told Derek he was a sleaze. I said it publicly, and jovially, knowing “preciousness” would not be tolerated. Mr Chips inhaled sharply and Derek’s face fell. An unspoken rule of the ship became clear to me: women should take a joke, but an accusation of sexual impropriety — even if made in good humour — would not be tolerated.
Derek’s revenge came at dinner. My meal was loaded with so much chilli powder, I could barely swallow it. He didn’t talk to me for three days, but by the time we reached Napier he was cracking jokes about my “free passage” with a playful elbow in the ribs. I laughed along, to show him I could take it.
After we’d tied up in Wellington, Marco and I were taking a moment to recover from the wind over a cup of tea in the upper mess.
“So, what are you writing about?” he asked.
I told him the spiel. By then, I’d learned it by rote.
“Falleni…” Marco said, trying out the name, “so she was Italian? Of course she was. I bet she was hairy, too,” he chuckled, and shot a knowing look at Mr Chips.
As he did, I thought I saw a horse passing by on the dock outside. I did a double take. Yes, there was a horse out on the dock, being led by a woman in a shabby suit and bowler hat. She turned to look at the ship, and I saw her moustache, the whiskers growing out of her cheeks.
“Oh my God,” I said, and pointed out the window behind his back. He turned to look, and there were more women now, all in shabby suits and moustaches.
Marco turned back, unfazed. “So the wife, she had to know.”
“Well, apparently not,” I said, on automatic pilot, transfixed by the scene out the window.
“But how did they fuck?”
“With a dildo,” I said. “It’s on exhibit at…”
The women began to chant. They were on strike. They were re-creating the Great Strike of 1913 for the museum over the road, but it was the world of my novel and it was real and it was right outside the window.
During the month I spent in Wellington, I wrote the first part ofmy novelthat stuck. It had nothing to do with sailing ships, nothing to do with being a spokesperson for a transgender experience that was not mine to share, and everything to do with being a fish out of water: a stranger amongst men.
Eugenia Falleni was sentenced to death forthe murder of Annie Birketton October 6 1920, but shortly afterwards this sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Falleni was released from Long Bay Penitentiary in February 1931, after which they lived as Jean Ford, and built a successful business as a manager of “residentials”.
On June 9, 1938, Jean Ford sold her Glenmore Road “residential” business for £105, and on the same day was hit by a car on Oxford St. Ford was taken to Sydney Hospital, but died on June 10, aged 63. Throughout their lives, Falleni maintained their innocence.
A year after my voyage on Nellie, Suzanne Falkinerre-released her 1988 biographyof Falleni with revisions and new information. There were details that hadn’t jumped out at me before. The main one suddenly rendering redundant months and thousands of dollars worth of research: Falleni probably didn’t travel to Sydney by a “Norwegian barque” at all. The son of one of Falleni’s New Zealand friends recalled that
the last time [Falleni] met my mother, [Falleni] told her that she was going to work her way as a stoker [someone who stoked a fire for a ship’s engine] on a ship to Australia, which she did. After she arrived in Australia, she [or someone who wrote for her] wrote to my mother saying she had arrived safe and that she hardly slept at all on board ship and kept an iron bar under her pillow for protection.
A stoker? On board a barque? Not likely. In becoming obsessed with the mysteries of Falleni’s identity, I had ignored details that were not convenient to my own myths. Or perhaps I wanted to go to sea, be at sea, a little while longer.
NB: in this article, I have chosen to refer to Falleni according to their surname, for its gender-neutrality, and have used the pronoun “they” when referring to Falleni’s collective self, and “he” or “she” for Falleni’s particular identities that presented as decidedly male or female.
Pip Smith’s novel,Half Wild, has just been published.
Eugenia Falleni lived for decades as Harry Crawford until arrested for murder
Caitlyn Jenner and now the Oscar-nominated film The Danish Girl have shone the light on the difficulties faced by transgender people as never before. Jenner’s transition and Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Lili Elbe (formerly Einar Wegener) is bringing understanding and acceptance that others could never have dreamed of.
Take the tragic story of Sydney’s Eugenia Falleni, born about 1875, who lived most of her life as Harry Crawford. From an early age Falleni felt more comfortable as a male. For many years she lived secretly as a man in Sydney, but in the 1920s her story was made public under the most tragic and humiliating circumstances.
Eugenia is believed to have been born in Italy, the eldest of 22 children. The family migrated to New Zealand in 1877 but Eugenia was punished for dressing in boys clothes and being a tomboy.
As a teenager she ran away from home several times. At 19 her father forced her into a marriage with an Italian man named Braseli. When it turned out that Braseli was already married, Eugenia ran away for good.
Signing on as a ship’s cabin boy under the name Eugene Falleni she lived as a man aboard ships for several years until a captain discovered her secret and subjected her to continued rapes. She was forced ashore in Newcastle in 1898 and made her way to Sydney where she gave birth to a daughter she named Josephine.
She left her baby in the care of an Italian woman in Double Bay and took on the identity of Harry Leo Crawford, dressing as a man and working as a manual labourer.
Although some thought him strange and somewhat reserved, none of Crawford’s co-workers suspected his secret. They knew him to be a good worker who, despite his small frame, was not afraid of hard work.
Crawford always spurned the interest of young ladies until in 1912, when he was working as a general hand and cart driver at a company in Wahroonga, he fell for his boss’s housekeeper Annie Birkett, a widowed mother of a teenager son.
Crawford finally allowed himself to get close to a woman, even devising a method of making love that would convince her he was a man. They were married in 1913 and set up a sweets shop in Balmain together.
Crawford maintained the deception until 1917 when Annie discovered his secret from a neighbour. Determined to save the marriage Harry took Annie on a picnic on the banks of the Lane Cove River to convince her to stay
Something terrible happened on that picnic. According to later statements by Crawford Annie slipped and fell, fatally hitting her head on a rock. In a panic he tried to burn her body and obliterate the evidence. Her body was discovered but it would be years before the police were able to identify her remains.
Telling Annie’s son, Harry Birkett, that she had run off with another man Crawford moved house and in 1919 married Elizabeth Allison.
In 1920 the police finally identified Annie’s body with the help of Harry Birkett who recognised her jewellery and Crawford was later arrested.
The first mugshots were taken of Crawford in men’s clothes before he was forced to change into women’s clothes for more humiliating photographs.
There was more humiliation in store. Newspapers reported the Falleni case as the “man-woman” and there was intense interest from a less than understanding public.
Society was outraged by this woman “masquerading as a man” and supposedly defrauding innocent women into marriage.
At the trial Falleni’s defence centred on challenging the identification of the body as that of Annie, but the jury was not convinced. Falleni was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
Execution may have been a kinder sentence, because of the agony of being forced to live as a woman in prison. Falleni was released from Long Bay in 1931 because of her failing health, but was dogged by her tragic past.
She died in 1938 from injuries sustained after being hit by a car on Oxford St near her home at Paddington.
Was ‘transgender warrior’ a victim of an Australian miscarriage of justice?
Mark Tedeschi QC’s biography of Eugenia Falleni exposes a potential unjust murder conviction from 1920
f you go into the lord chief justice’s court at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, you may notice a pair of rather shabby red velvet curtains, to the left and right of the presiding judge’s chair. Each curtain is suspended from a horizontal brass rod, which is hinged so that it can sit flat against the panelled wall when not required.
Although court 4 is regularly used for ceremonial occasions, such as the swearing-in of senior legal figures and the extraordinary 800-year-old quit rents ceremony, I have never seen the curtains swung out for use. I had always assumed they were Victorian draught excluders, made redundant by improvements to the central heating system since the courts were opened in 1882.
That was until this week, when I read a chilling account of a woman being sentenced to death. This was not an Indonesian court sentencing someone for drug trafficking but an Australian court sentencing a defendant for murder.
The year was 1920. After hearing the jury’s verdict and inviting the defendant to address the court, the chief justice of New South Wales “gave an almost imperceptible nod to the sheriff’s officer who was waiting in the body of the court”. The official knew exactly what the gesture meant.
He walked to the front of the court, mounted the stairs to the bench, walked around the back of the judge to the two, large, hinged curtain rods that were normally flush on the wall behind the bench, each rod carrying a black velvet curtain, and swung them forward to a position on either side of the judge. By ancient tradition, this signalled that a death sentence was about to be handed down. This quaint practice symbolically isolated the judge from all side distractions and influences and focussed his attention on the prisoner directly in front of him, so as to assist him in discharging the distasteful task at hand.
Before I explain the remarkable background to this case, I should say that — as far as I know — nobody has ever been sentenced to death in court 4 of the Royal Courts of Justice, although the court of criminal appeal certainly used to hear appeals in capital cases there. Perhaps there is a legal historian who can tell me whether the courtroom curtains in London were ever deployed in the way they were in Sydney.
The woman sentenced to death in New South Wales had been convicted of murdering Annie Birkett, a woman who had believed she was the defendant’s wife. Eugenia Falleni had lived as a man for 22 years and, during that time, had taken part in two ceremonies of marriage with women who each believed that they were marrying a man. The second woman even persuaded herself she had become pregnant by Falleni.
Eugenia, the new biography of Falleni from which I have taken the passage above is, written by Mark Tedeschi QC, senior crown prosecutor for New South Wales. He believes that Falleni was wrongly convicted on the basis of “fallacious scientific evidence, unreliable sighting witnesses, dubious police practice and an avalanche of prejudicial publicity”.
Tedeschi demonstrates all too clearly how a more experienced defence counsel could have secured an acquittal or, at worst, a manslaughter verdict. It is a message that the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, should take to heart. And the authorities in Indonesia might care to note that, as long ago as 1920, Australian politicians were not prepared to see someone they regarded as a woman going to the gallows. No women had been executed in New South Wales for more than 30 years. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and Falleni was released on licence in 1931, only to die in a road accident in 1938.
Born in Italy in 1875 and brought up in New Zealand, Falleni went to sea at the age of 21. The following year, Falleni was raped by a sea captain who discovered that he and his crew had been deceived by the young sailor. Falleni became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, who went on to have a family of her own.
It was in 1913 that Falleni, then known as Harry Crawford, went through a ceremony of marriage with Birkett. What strikes the modern reader as extraordinary was that Birkett, who had been widowed some seven years earlier and left with a young son, took more than four years to realise how she was being deceived by Falleni, despite several tell-tale signs.
Tedeschi explains how Falleni used a dildo and always wore a loose-fitting undershirt during lovemaking. Eventually, Birkett confronted Falleni, but Tedeschi’s account of their falling out makes it clear that Birkett’s death could have been an accident.
In his highly readable biography, Tedeschi concludes that Falleni was a “transgender warrior at a time when there was no understanding of her condition and no support for her cause”. He says “the most acceptable term today for Eugenia Falleni’s condition is ‘gender identity disorder’, which is synonymous with transsexualism”.
But Tedeschi writes as a lawyer, not as a psychologist. His main concern is to expose a miscarriage of justice for which one of his predecessors was largely responsible. An honest prosecutor never regards an unjust conviction as a successful outcome.
Edward De Lacy Evans (born Ellen Tremayne or Tremaye, 1830? – 25 August 1901) was a servant, blacksmith and gold miner, who immigrated from Ireland to Australia in 1856, and made international news in 1879 when it was revealed he was a woman.
Early life and name
Mystery surrounds Evans’ early life and his choice of name. He told miners he worked with in Australia that he was born in France, had stolen £500 as a boy and fled to Waterford, where he acquired his Irish accent. A woman living near Corop, who claimed to be a former Kilkenny neighbour, said he was the well-born ‘Ellen Lacy’ who had an illegitimate child, fled to America, but returned in the early 1850s as ‘Mrs De Lacy Evans’ to ride her horse through a gathering called by John Ponsonby, 5th Earl of Bessborough before being ‘dragged off her pony’ and forced to ‘clear out’. Evans’ third wife, Julia Marquand, said the name was a family one and his uncle was the well known British General George de Lacy Evans.
After his hospitalisation, Evans said little about his past, and was described as ‘not disposed to be communicative' and someone who ‘observes unusual taciturnity.’. Asked why he had ‘impersonated a man’, he replied ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter, and the sooner they put me out of the way and get done with me the better.'
Immigration to Victoria
In 1856, Evans arrived in Victoria, Australia, then in a goldrush ‘boom’ period, aboard the Ocean Monarch as part of the ‘assisted immigration scheme’ which aimed to provide the workers and residents needed in the growing colony. Evans traveled under the name Ellen Tremayne and, in the information he provided, stated that he was aged 26, born in Kilkenny, was a Roman Catholic, a housemaid and could read and write.
For most of the voyage to Australia, Evans wore the same outfit of ‘a green merino dress and sealskin coat reaching almost to her ankles’ with men’s shirt and trousers, and was said to have a traveling trunk full of male attire, stamped with the name ‘Edward De Lacy Evans’. This, and the fact he appeared to have ‘formed sexual attachments’ with some of the women he shared a cabin with, led to on-board speculation he was a man impersonating a woman. One of these women was later identified as Rose Kelly who was said to have been taken ill and, as a result, departed at Rio de Janeiro en route, while another was said to have been a Mary Montague. Further speculation, from among his fellow passengers, was that the ‘real’ Edward De Lacy Evans had enticed ‘Ellen Tremayne’ to take passage with him on the ship by sending his trunk ahead but he then abandoned ‘her’. A later theory, not publicly mentioned during the voyage or late 19th century newspaper reports, was that the clothes belonged to Evans, and he had been wearing them prior to his immigration, but decided to make the long sea voyage – either through fear of disclosure among men, or preferring the company of women – in a female guise.
As a condition of his assisted passage Evans, under the name Ellen Tremayne, had been indentured as a maidservant to McKeddie, a Melton hotelkeeper, at a wage of 25 shillings per week, but he soon left the position and found one of his fellow passengers from the Ocean Monarch, Mary Delahunty. Delahunty was a 34-year-old governess from Harristown, Waterford, in a similar area of Ireland to Evans, and another of the ‘close attachments’ he had made on the voyage. Mrs. Thompson, a passenger on the Ocean Monarch, later said that Evans and Delahunty were from the same village in Kilkenny and that Delahunty was in possession of £900. She also recalled Evans saying he would marry Delahunty ‘as soon as the ship reached Melbourne' and, with Evans wearing male clothes, and calling himself ‘Edmund De Lacy’, the Roman Catholic ceremony took place at St Francis’ Church.
Little is known of Evans and Delahunty’s married life over the next few years but there were reports that they ‘did not live comfortably together’. Evans moved to work as a miner at Blackwood, in the state’s north-west, not far from Melton where he’d been employed as ‘Ellen Tremayne’, and Delahunty followed him in 1858. Delahunty established a school in Blackwood but in 1862 left to marry Lyman Oatman Hart, an American mining surveyor. Delahunty told ‘all who objected to this blatant act of bigamy’ that her first marriage was not legal as Evans was a woman. Delahunty and Hart moved to Daylesford where they lived through the 1860s and 1870s.
Evans also left Blackwood in 1862, moving to the central Victorian city of ‘Sandhurst’ (now known as Bendigo), and, describing himself as a widower, he married a 23-year-old Irishwoman, Sarah Moore. Over the next five years he held various occupations including carter, miner, blacksmith and ploughman and lived with Moore in several nearby towns. He also owned shares in a number of gold mines and paid property rates in Sandhurst and the adjoining district of Eaglehawk. When he was found in a servant’s bedroom at a local hotel he was jailed for trespass for seven days.
In 1867, Moore died of pulmonary tuberculosis and the following year Evans met, and married, a friend of his former wife’s sister, 25-year-old Julia Marquand. Marquand was a French dressmaker’s assistant who lived with her sister and brother-in-law, the prominent Sandhurst businessman, and owner of the ‘City Family Hotel’, Jean Baptiste Loridan.
In the early years of their marriage Evans and Marquand often lived apart but the couple reconciled by 1872. Evans progressed in his mining profession and their Sandhurst home was a cottage that he had built. A formal studio portrait taken at this time may be significant in its representation of how they saw themselves and their ‘establishment of a stable and traditional family unit’.
In 1877, Marquand gave birth to a daughter the couple called ‘Julia Mary’. Evans later supported Marquand when she brought a child maintenance suit against her brother-in-law Jean Baptiste Loridan for the child but he gave his name as father on the birth certificate. Around this period Evans’ was injured at work and, while he ‘welcomed the child as his own’ he was also ‘deeply disturbed by the circumstances in which his wife became pregnant’.
On 21 July 1879, Loridan took him to the Bendigo Hospital as he was ‘dangerous to others’, but, when told to take a bath, he refused and escaped. The following day he was arrested at home and brought to the Police Court where the magistrates agreed with the medical assessment that Evans was suffering from ‘softening of the brain’ and ordered him to be involuntarily committed to ‘the lunatic wards’ of the Bendigo hospital.
‘A curious incident has occurred’ Edit
For six weeks at the Bendigo Hospital Evans refused to take a bath. He shared a room with a warder called Gundry to whom he said that ‘his parents were Irish, but that he had come from France when about seven or eight years of age’. However, when Gundry used some French phrases, Evans claimed that he’d ‘forgotten the language’. While there he had regular visits from his wife and daughter, as well as other relatives, one of whom called Evans ‘Uncle’, while Julia Mary called him ‘Dadds’.
On 30 August 1879, the hospital decided to send Evans and another patient to the Kew Asylum near Melbourne, accompanied by a police constable. Marquand was at the station and Evans told her to care of Julia Mary and ‘both he and his wife were weeping’ by the time they left.
The events at the Kew Asylum were described in The Argus on 3 September 1879:
“A curious incident has occurred at Kew Lunatic Asylum. A lunatic was brought from Sandhurst by the police, and was admitted into one of the male wards. The patient was tolerably quiet until preparations were made for giving ‘him’ the usual bath. On the attendants attempting to carry out the programme, violent resistance was made, the reason for which proved to be that the supposed man was in reality a woman. The most singular part of the affair is that the woman had been received into Sandhurst Hospital as a male patient and sent thence to the asylum under the name of Evans. She states that she has lived at Sandhurst for many years dressed in male attire. Her age is about 35.”
On 4 September 1879, the Bendigo Advertiser ran with the headline ‘Extraordinary Case Of Concealment Of Sex’ and wrote:
“One of the most unparalleled impostures has been brought to light during the past few days, which it has ever been the province of the press of these colonies to chronicle, and we might even add is unprecedented in the annals of the whole world. A woman, under the name of Edward De Lacy Evans, has for 20 years passed for a man in various parts of the colony of Victoria… As it is almost impossible to give an account of the case without making use of the masculine pronoun when referring to Evans, we propose to use that appellation… “
It was soon reported by local newspapers, and then the ‘colonial and international press’, that Evans had been determined by the Kew Asylum to be a woman, and ‘promptly handed over to female nurses’ and sent back in Bendigo. Evans later recalled:
“The fellers there took hold o’ me to give me a bath, an’ they stripped me to put me in the water, an’ then they saw the mistake. One feller ran off as if he was frightened; the others looked thunderstruck an’ couldn’t speak. I was handed over to the women, and they dressed me up in frocks and petticoats.”
While still a patient at Bendigo, Evans said he knew who the father of his child was, made a reference to his wife not being ‘true’, and mentioned concerns about financial difficulties and possibly losing the house he had built, before adding, ‘Everything coming together was enough to drive a man mad.' Marquand also spoke to the press and insisted she had never known Evans was not a man.
It wasn’t only the newspapers that covered the ‘curious incident’; Stawell photographer Aaron Flegeltaub began selling copies of the formal portrait Marquand and Evans had taken in the early 1870s, while Sandhurst photographer N. White managed to gain access to the Bendigo Hospital and took a number of head-shots of Evans wearing a ‘white hospital nightshirt (or straight-jacket)’ and looking ‘wild eyed and probably affronted by the intrusion’ which were used to create an image he also sold. The hospital refused requests from ‘entrepreneurs’ for Evans be ‘publicly exhibited’.
‘Another intrusion’ was a gynaecological examination conducted by a Dr Penfold, which caused Evans to ‘cry and scream’ when the speculum was used, and resulted in a finding that he was ‘physiologically female’ and ‘had carried and borne a child’. Evans later said the ‘examination had injured’ him.
On 10 October 1879, the Bendigo Hospital declined a request by the Kew Asylum to return Evans as he ‘was improving daily, and will soon be in a fit state to be discharged’. By December, Evans was declared ‘cured’ and released, but, a few days later, dressed in female clothes, he was ‘still mentally distressed’ when he gave evidence in support of Marquand’s unsuccessful suit against Loridan.
Later life and legacy
In late December 1879, Evans was part of events by ‘panorama showmen’ Augustus Baker Pierce and William Bignell in Geelong and Stawell and newspapers noted that ‘neither mind nor body possesses the vigour once so noticeable’. This was followed, in 1880, by appearances in Melbourne billed as ‘The Wonderful Male Impersonator’ as part of the ‘living wonders’ at the Waxworks, while Sydney shows were accompanied by pamphlets about ‘The Man-Woman Mystery’.
By February 1881, Evans had applied for admittance to a Benevolent Asylum and he was sent to the Melbourne Immigrants’ Home in St Kilda Road. He remained there until his death, twenty years later, on 25 August 1901.
In 1897, Joseph Furphy, who, from the late 1860s, lived near Bendigo, published his first novel Such Is Life and included the comparison to Evans with the mention; ‘one of those De Lacy Evanses we often read of in novels’.
In 2006, sites associated with Evans were included in the history walk presented as part of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival.
Colligan, Mimi (Autumn 2002). “The Mysterious Edward/Ellen De Lacy Evans: The Picaresque in Real Life”. The La Trobe Journal (69). Retrieved 2013-10-03.
Lucy Sarah Chesser (2008). Parting with My Sex: Cross-dressing, Inversion and Sexuality in Australian Cultural Life. Sydney University Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-920898-31-1.
Unknown (1880). The History and confession of Ellen Tremaye, alias, De Lacy Evans, the man-woman. Melbourne: Wm. Marshall. p. 27. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
“INTERVIEW WITH MRS. EVANS.”. Bendigo Advertiser (Vic.: National Library of Australia). 4 September 1879. p. 2. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
“THE SANDHURST IMPERSONATOR— EDWARD DE LACY EVANS.”. Illustrated Australian News (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 1 October 1879. p. 155. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
“EXTRAORDINARY CASE OF CONCEALMENT OF SEX.”. Bendigo Advertiser (Vic.: National Library of Australia). 4 September 1879. p. 2. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
“FURTHER PARTICULARS.”. Bendigo Advertiser (Vic.: National Library of Australia). 5 September 1879. p. 1 Supplement: Supplement to The Bendigo Advertiser. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
“Ellen Tremaye, alias Edward De Lacy Evans, the Female Impersonator.”. Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW: National Library of Australia). 11 October 1879. p. 32. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
“Ellen Tremaye, alias Edward De Lacy Evans, the Female Impersonator.”. Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW: National Library of Australia). 11 October 1879. p. 32. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
Lucy Sarah Chesser (2008). Parting with My Sex: Cross-dressing, Inversion and Sexuality in Australian Cultural Life. Sydney University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-920898-31-1.
Lucy Sarah Chesser (2008). Parting with My Sex: Cross-dressing, Inversion and Sexuality in Australian Cultural Life. Sydney University Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-920898-31-1.
Lucy Sarah Chesser (2008). Parting with My Sex: Cross-dressing, Inversion and Sexuality in Australian Cultural Life. Sydney University Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-920898-31-1.
“The Female Impersonator.”. The Northern Territory Times and Gazette (National Library of Australia). 15 November 1879. p. 2. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
“CROSS PURPOSES.”. Bendigo Advertiser (Vic.: National Library of Australia). 23 July 1879. p. 2. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
“Victoria.”. The Evening News (Sydney: National Library of Australia). 3 September 1879. p. 2. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
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“SANDHURST.”. The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 10 October 1879. p. 3. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
“Victoria.”. The Evening News (Sydney: National Library of Australia). 6 December 1879. p. 5. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
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“MAN IMPERSONATORS.”. Queanbeyan Age (Queanbeyan, NSW: National Library of Australia). 23 November 1906. p. 4. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
Hunter, Tim (2006-01-26). “The queer streets of Bearbrass”. The Age. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
Pamphlet sold at Sydney ‘shows’: The History and confession of Ellen Tremaye, alias, De Lacy Evans, the man-woman (1880)
Daily Mail Australia – 14 August 2014
By Louise Cheer for Daily Mail Australia
Was this Irish maid Australia’s first transgender person? Ellen Tremayne was leading a double life as Edward De Lacy Evans in 19th century Victoria
For about 20 years of his life, Edward De Lacy Evans lived as a man
He was born in Ireland as Ellen Tremayne and died in 1901 in Melbourne
Mr De Lacy Evans was married three times and was ‘father’ to one daughter
He worked as a carter, miner, blacksmith and ploughman across Victoria
The story of Edward De Lacy Evans read like every other man’s in the 19th century – he was a labourer, husband and father.
But underneath the suit and tie was a body of a woman named Ellen Tremayne – also known as Ellen Tremaye – who could have been Australia’s first transgender person.
Mr De Lacy Evans arrived on Australian shores from Ireland in June 1856 as an assisted immigrant on-board the Ocean Monarch.
It is speculated he was born between 1829 to 1841 due to a discrepancy in shipping lists, and birth, marriage and death certificates.
According to ship records, he was a 26-year-old Roman Catholic from Kilkenny who could read and write, and was listed as a housemaid.
When she arrived in Victoria, Mr De Lacy Evans was still known as Ellen Tremayne and caused quite a stir on the trip over.
According to the State Library of Victoria’s The La Trobe Journal, he wore a man’s shirt and trousers underneath his dress and had formed sexual attachments to some of the other female passengers on the Ocean Monarch, including his soon-to-be first wife, Mary Delahunty – a 34-year-old governess who was also from Ireland.
He travelled with a trunk labelled with the name ‘Edward De Lacy Evans’ on it who, according to De Lacy Evans’ third wife, was his uncle.
There was also speculation her husband or lover was named ‘Edward De Lacy Evans’ and he had somehow tricked the transsexual by placing his trunk on the Ocean Monarch and deserted the 26-year-old.
Mr De Lacy Evans’, who was still identified as a woman, first job in Australia was as a maidservant at a Melton public house but some time after he left his position and started dressing like a man, and ditched the name of Ellen Tremayne.
Now as Edmund De Lacy, he went and sought out Ms Delahunty, marrying her at St Francis’ Roman Catholic Church in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne.
But their marriage was not a happy one, with evidence suggesting they ‘did not live comfortably together’.
After Ms Delahunty opened a school in Blackwood, she left Mr De Lacy Evans and married an American mining surveyor Lyman Oatman Hart who lived in Daylesford – north-west of Melbourne.
In the next 20 years, Mr De Lacy Evans married twice – his second wife was Sarah Moore who died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1867 and a Julia Marquand of Bendigo – north of Melbourne.
Mr De Lacy Evans worked as a carter, miner, blacksmith and ploughman in the areas of Blackwood, Bendigo and Stawell.
The breakdown of his third marriage came after March 1878 when Ms Marquand gave birth to a child fathered by her brother-in-law, Jean Baptiste Loridan.
Despite Mr De Lacy Evans knowing it was not his child, he registered himself as the child’s father but his resentment over the pregnancy started taking its toll on the marriage.
In July 1879, he started violently acting out against Ms Marquand and his 15-month-old daughter, fell into a deep depression and then was admitted to Bendigo Hospital’s lunacy ward for amentia – a mental disability.
For the first six weeks of his stint in the hospital, Mr De Lacy Evans refused to bathe until he was transferred to the Kew Asylum and forcibly stripped that his secret was discovered.
He was handed over to female nurses and forced to dress as a woman
In an interview, Mr De Lacy Evans’ recalled the moment he was outed as a female at Kew Asylum.
‘I was sittin’ the carriage at the railway station, an’ the wife was cryin’ and the kid was squealin’, an’ I was laughin’ at ‘em,’ he said during an interview.
‘Well, when we got to Kew, the fellers there took hold o’ me to give me a bath, an’ they stripped me to put me in the water, an’ then they saw the mistake.
‘One feller ran off as if he was frightened; the others looked thunderstruck an’ couldn’t speak.
‘I was handed over to the women, and they dressed me up in frocks and petticoats.’
Mr De Lacy Evans’ outing as a female caused a worldwide stir, with one photographer named Nicholas White sneaking into the hospital and taking photos of the transsexual dressed as a man and a woman as well as possibly a straitjacket.
As a transgender person, Mr De Lacy Evans’ faced brutal treatment inside the asylum including a report done up by The Australian Medical Journal that said he cried and screamed as he was probed during a gynaecological examination – which verified he was a physiologically a woman.
With the news in circulation, Mr De Lacy Evans received offers to be ‘publicly exhibited’ and after his release from Kew Asylum he took up the opportunities. He was once offered three to five pounds per week for a tour.
He appeared as ‘The Wonderful Male Impersonator’ at St Georges Hall on Bourke Street in Melbourne in January 1880 and another time alongside a trapeze artist and ‘The Electric Boy’ at Sydney’s Egyptian Hall on George Street in September 1880.
When the truth came out his wife, Ms Marquand denied knowing her husband was in fact a woman and accounted for her daughter’s existence by telling reporters: ‘Some strange man entered the house one night about the time her husband should have returned home’.
Ms Marquand also stated her husband would never let her see him stripped or washing himself.
Additionally, Mr De Lacy Evans could have fooled his wife into thinking he was a man by fashioning a homemade strap-on dildo.
There was also evidence Mr De Lacy Evans’ second wife, Sarah Moore, found out about her husband’s cross-dressing about a year into their marriage
A witness reported seeing Ms Moore punching Mr De Lacy Evans in the breast – her ‘weak place’.
Mr De Lacy Evans lived as a man for another 25 years and found no success in show business.
In February 1881, he was applying for relief at the Melbourne Police Court and wanted to be admission to the Benevolent Asylum.
Mr De Lacy Evans died in August 1901 in the Melbourne Immigrants’ Home at St Kilda Road, where he had been since February 1881.
The Mysterious Edward/Ellen De Lacy Evans: The Picaresque in Real Life – No 69 Autumn 2002 – La Trobe Journal