Tag Archives: sodomy

Gay History: The ‘Macaroni’ Scandal of 1772: ‘Gay’ Trial A Century Before Oscar Wilde

Much derision was directed toward aesthetes in the late 19th century, who, led by Oscar Wilde, declared their devotion to beauty in all its forms. That moment in the history of men and their fashions is remembered today because of the fate of Wilde, imprisoned for what was then the crime of “gross indecency”. But this was not the first sensational trial of a high-profile homosexual. That had happened long before, such as in the notorious “macaroni” case of 1772.

Over the centuries, all manner of dandies have attempted to make their place in society. Wilde’s predecessor, George Bryan “Beau” Brummell became an arbiter of men’s fashion in Regency England despite his obscure social origins and lack of interest in women. Part of the secret of his success was his cultivation of a refined but understated style that avoided the kind of flashiness that could get a man condemned for “effeminate” flamboyance.

In the 1760s and 1770s, there was an explosion of public interest in the “macaronis”, fashionable society gents who were given that name because, in the eyes of the penny press of the day, they committed such cardinal sins as rejecting good old English roast beef for dainty foods from continental Europe – such as pasta. Those finicky eaters, who also sported excessive French fashions in clothing, were in some ways the predecessors of Wildean aesthetes, but they have largely been forgotten today.

Wilde, by contrast, is remembered because of his talent and for the way he was treated by the British legal system. In the 1980s and 1990s, he became a kind of “gay icon” with a new relevance to a generation struggling with the horrors of the AIDS epidemic. His disgrace at the end of the 19th century was reinterpreted as a kind of queer martyrdom that presaged later struggles for lesbian and gay liberation.

Queer theory

Enthusiasm for Wilde on the part of lesbian and gay activists in the late 20th century was connected to the rise of a new form of cultural and literary analysis known as “queer theory”. This development was heavily influenced by the work of the French philosopher Michel Foucault on the ways in which textual discourse operates. The focus was no longer on identifying gay men or lesbians in past centuries but on identifying when and why those terms were used.

It was this thinking that led the prominent scholar of Alan Sinfield, a leading British queer theorist, to identity the Wilde trials of 1895 as a “queer moment” when dandyism became linked with same sex desire.

Print: ‘How d’ye like me’, Carington Bowles, London, 1772.

The stereotypical proto-homosexual man emerged as a being that was attracted to younger men, who was theatrical rather than understated, effeminate rather than manly, and artistic rather than sporting. But it was not true that Wilde became obvious as a homosexual during the course of his trial – for the simple reason that the term “homosexual” was not reported in the British media until the time of another scandal, that surrounding the Prussian Prince of Eulenburg, that unfolded between 1906 and 1909.

And the fact is that Wilde was far from the first allegedly effeminate “sodomite” or “bugger” – and here I use terms that were widely employed at the time – to be disgraced in court.

The scandal of Captain Jones

Hester Thrale (1741 – 1821) was a member of the literary circle surrounding the famous encyclopediast Dr Samuel Johnson. She kept a fascinating diary in which she noted a wide variety of sexual foibles and eccentricities in the society circles of her time. She had a striking ability to recognise homosexuals (both male and female). Thus, in the entry for March 29, 1794 she discussed “finger-twirlers” as being a “decent word for sodomite”. In one passage, recorded in late March or early April 1778, she recalled the time six years earlier when a certain Captain Jones had been convicted of crimes against nature, and sentenced to die:

He was a Gentleman famous for his Invention in the Art of making Fireworks, and adapting Subjects fit to be represented in that Genre; & had already entertained the Town with two particular Devices which were exhibited at Marylebone Gardens & greatly admired: viz: the Forge of Vulcan in the Cave of Mount Etna, & the calling of Eurydice out of Hell – If he is pardoned says Stevens, He may shew off the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; it will have an admirable Effect.

Jones was a man of fashion in society who had been convicted at the Old Bailey for sodomising a 13-year-old boy. The link that Thrale made between camp dandyism and same sex scandal was rife in the papers of the time. As one correspondent put it in a letter to the Public Ledger on August 5, 1772, Captain Jones was “too much engaged in every scene of idle Dissipation and wanton Extravagance”. He was referred to as this “MILITARY MACCARONI [original emphasis]”. And, the writer concluded, “therefore, ye Beaux, ye sweet-scented, simpering He-She things, deign to learn wisdom from the death of a Brother”.

Arguments were brought forward that the boy’s testimony was unreliable and Jones was granted a royal pardon on the condition that he left the country. Members of the public seethed with indignation at the thought of an establishment cover-up and a variety of men fled to the Continent.

The macaronis have, however, been remembered for their style rather than for imputed sexual notoriety. We remember the uncouth revolutionary soldier who was originally mocked by the British as a “Yankee Doodle” for having “Stuck a feather in his cap / And called it macaroni”. But we’ve forgotten how queerly peculiar such an act may have seemed in the wake of a trial that bears comparison with those endured by Wilde a century later. That Americans could appropriate the song as a patriotic air implies a degree of innocence or, perhaps, of convenient forgetting.


Gay History: The (Sodomy) Law in England, 1290-1885

There was no royal or parliamentary law against homosexual activity in England until 1533, but a number of medieval legal sources do discuss “sodomy:.

Fleta, xxxviii.3: Those who have dealings with Jews or Jewesses, those who commit bestiality, and sodomists, are to be buried alive after legal proof that they were atken in the act, and public conviction” 

[Fleta, seu Commentarius Juris Anglicani, (London: 1735), as trans in Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, (London: Longmans, Green, 1955), 145] 

Bailey notes that it is improbable that the penalty or burial alive was ever inflicted in medieval times [although Tacitus refers to it among ancient Germans in Germania 12].

Britton, i.10: “Let enquiry also be made of those who feloniously in time of peace have burnt other’s corn or houses, and those who are attainted thereof shall be burnt, so that they might be punished in like manner as they have offended. The same sentence shall be passed upon sorcerers, sorceresses, renegades, sodomists, and heretics publicly convicted” 

[Britton, ed. F.M. Nichols, (Oxford: 1865), Vol 1:41-42 and Bailey, 146]

Bailey notes that this implies a process in which ecclesiastical courts made the charges and convictions and the state put them into effect. There do not seem, however, to have been serious efforts made to put theory into practice. The preamble to the 1533 Law seems to make this clear.

25 Henry VIII. C6

Le Roy le veult
“Forasmuch as there is not yet sufficient and condign punishment appointed and limited by the due course of the Laws of this Realm for the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind of beast: It may therefore please the King’s Highness with the assent of the Lords Spiritual and the Commons of this present parliament assembled, that it may be enacted by the authority of the same, that the same offence be from henceforth ajudged Felony and that such an order and form of process therein to be used against the offenders as in cases of felony at the Common law. And that the offenders being herof convict by verdict confession or outlawry shall suffer such pains of death and losses and penalties of their good chattels debts lands tenements and hereditaments as felons do according to the Common Laws of this Realme. And that no person offending in any such offence shall be admitted to his Clergy, And that Justices of the Peace shall have power and authority within the limits of their commissions and Jurisdictions to hear and determine the said offence, as they do in the cases of other felonies. This Act to endure till the last day. of the next Parliament” 

[Bailey, 147-148, and H. Montgomery Hyde, The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name: A Candid History of Homosexuality in Britain, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970) [British title: The Other Love] 

Note that the law only ran until the end of the next Parliament. The law was reenacted three times, and then in 1541 it was enacted to continue in force for ever. In 1547, Edward VI’s first Parliament repealed all felonies created in the last reign [I Edw. VI. C.12]. In 1548 the provisions of the 1533 Act were given new force, with minor amendments – the penalty remained death, but goods and lands were not forfeit, and the rights of wives and heirs were safeguarded. Mary’s accession brought about the repeal of all Edward’s acts in 1548 [1 Mar c.1]. It was not until 1563, that Elizabeth I’s second Parliament reenacted the law [5 Eliz I. C.17] and the law of 1533 (not 1548) were given permanent force. 

In 1828, the statute of 1563 was revoked by a consolidating act, but the death penalty was retained. In 1861 life imprisonment, or a jail time of at least ten years, was substituted for the death penalty. All these laws were against buggery, and indeed the law of 1828 had discussed matters of proof in terms of penetration. Note that other sexual activities were not specifically criminalised.

In 1885 Mr. Labouchere introduced an amendment to the Criminal Amendment Act of 1885. It read:-

48&49 Vict. c.69, 11: “Any male person who, in public or private, commits or is party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour” 

So for the first time private acts were brought under the scope of the law, as were acts other than anal penetration. This became the famous blackmailer’s charter, and was the law used to convict Oscar Wilde.

[for all the above see Bailey 145-152]

It was the Act of 1533, then, which first made buggery an offense under English criminal law. This law survived in various forms England until 1967, although it was amended in 1861 to substitute life imprisonment for the penalties of death and forfeiture of property. 

But the direct effects of this law were not restricted to England. Because of England’s success as a colonial power, and its tendency to impose its entire legal structure on the ruled areas, legal prohibitions against homosexual activity derived from this law extended well outside England. In Scotland, for instance, (which has a separate legal system) the law was not changed until 1979. In many American states “sodomy” laws are still on the books, as also in former British colonies in the Caribbean.

.[ref. H. Montgomery Hyde, The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name: A Candid History of Homosexuality in Britain, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970)]


Gay History: Letter to the Editor of The Weekly Journal: or, The British Gazetteer, 14 May 1726. A Modest Proposal.

The following Proposal is sent to be inserted in this Paper, as an Expedient humbly propos’d to the Legislature, for suppressing a Crime which is the most shocking Debasement of Human Nature.

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

Gay History: British Newspaper Reports 1800-1803

Just to show that there is nothing new under the sun, these newspaper reports of the Detestable Sin of Sodomy in the early 19th century show that you can’t kerp a good (gay) man down, despite the illegality of homosexual acts. Highlights are: A man apologises for libelling a servant (Aug. 1800); several cases of blackmail; conviction of a one-armed homosexual seller of obscene literature (Oct. 1802); a drunken servant molests his master (Jan.–Mar. 1803).

Saturday 16 August 1800

WHEREAS I John Mallett, of Bromeswell, labourer, have very grossly and falsely propagated and raised scandalous reports, to the great injury of the character of Francis Scarff, servant to John Vancouver, of Sutton, Esq. particularly in reporting him guity of that detestable Crime of Sodomy, and for which he has very justly commenced a prosecution against me, but the said Francis Scarff has promised not to proceed any further therein, upon my promising not to do the like again, paying the expences already incurred, the expences of this advertisement, and thus publicly acknowledging my fault. I hereby declare, That I raised the said report without any foundation, and I do return the said Francis Scarff many thanks for the lenity he has shewn, by ceasing all further proceedings against me, and I do promise never to be guilty of the like again. As witness my hand this 14th day of August 1800. 

          The Mark X of JOHN MALLET

Witnessed In Court, Richard W., Oldham. 

                          (Ipswich Journal) Weekly Gazette)

Monday 22 December 1800


Last week a court martial was held on board his Majesty’s ship Gladiator, in this harbour, for the trial of John Hubbard and Geo. Hynes, two seamen belonging to the St. George, for an unnatural crime. The charges being fully proved against the prisoners, they were sentenced to be hanged on board such ship or ships, and at such times, as the Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty should direct. (Hampshire Chronicle)

Monday 29 December 1800

PORTSMOUTH, December 26.
Monday morning John Hubbard and George Hynes, two seamen belonging to the St. George, were executed on board that ship, pursuant to their sentence, for an unnatural crime. (Sherborne Mercury)

Monday 19 January 1801

[From a review of the travels of C. F. Damberger in 1781] From the country of the Caffrees [in the Cape] he turned westward, and continued his journey in a north-west direction, till he arrived in the kingdom of Angola. Among the Muhotians, a race not more savage, but more egregiously vicious than any horde he had before visited, he discovered the bodies of five Europeans, who appeared to have been cruely massacred; and was himself exposed to danger, from the unnatural lust of some wretches of that community. He, however, escaped from their brutality, and after long wanderings, came to Malemba, a walled town on the river Congo. (Hampshire Chronicle)

Saturday 28 February 1801

OXFORD February 28 This day Mr. Justice Rooke and Mr. Justice Lawrence will open their commission at Reading, for holding the Assize and General Gaol Delivery for the county of Berks. – And on Tuesday next their Lordships will open their commission for Oxfordshire, at the Town Hall, in this City, when the following prisoners are to take their trials, viz. [among others] John Bennwell, for an assault, with intent to commit an unnatural crime, at Newington; . . . (Jackson’s Oxford Journal, issue 2496)

Saturday 28 March 1801

Prisoners in Ipswich County Gaol.
. . . Wm. Chapman and Joseph Parker, charged with sodomy, and Robt. Norman, for theft, no prosecution. . . . (Ipswich Journal)

22 September 1801

Yesterday a person, calling himself John Sulman, was examined before A. Graham and William Kinnaird, Esqrs. on a charge of extorting 34l. 3s. from Mr. S. a publican in the neighbourhood of Hatton Garden, under a threat of charging him with an unnatural crime. Mr. S. stated that in the month of November last, as he was stopping under a gateway in Oxford-street the prisoner at the bar came up to him, seized him by the collar, charged him with an unnatural crime, and swore he would persevere in so doing, unless he would give him 20 guineas; that being extremely alarmed he consented to do it, and the prisoner followed him home, and waited in the street while he went and feched the twenty guineas, which he delivered to the prisoner, who went away. That in about three weeks afterwards, the prosecutor having been out of town in the interim, the prisoner called at his house, demanded some more money, making use of the same threats, and adding that he would write to his wife on the subject, unles he, the prosecutor, would make up the sum 40l.; that being under the same impression of fear as to his character, he gave the prisoner a ten-pound note, and they then went together to Fleet-street, where Prosecutor borrowed three guineas of an acquaintance, which he also gave to the Prisoner; and they again parted. That on Friday night last, between 10 and 11, he saw the Prisoner and another man in Oxford-street, when they followed him, and the Prisoner coming up to him, said, he would be damned if he would not have a gallon of brandy and a gallon of rum, which he ordered to be brought to him byi the Prosecutor yesterday morning, in Lincoln’s-inn-fields, saying, he would pay for the bottles but not the liquor. The Prosecutor then acquainting some friends of the transaction, they went at the appointed time yesterday morning to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where they secured the prisoner, who had always represented himself to prosecutor as an officer of this Office (Bow-street), and had repeatedly threatened to take him to custody.

The prisoner, on being called on for his defence, denied the charge in toto. He was committed for further examination to-morrow, as there is reason to believe he has been guilty of other offences of a like nature, and which, in this case, amounts to a complete highway robbery. (Morning Chronicle)

Thursday 24 September 1801

Yesterday John Solman, in custody for extorting money from the publican, under a threat of charging him with an unnatural crime, was re-examined before Aaron Graham, Esq. and fully committed to take his trial for a highway robbery, in stopping and taking the money from the prosecutor in the street. (Morning Chronicle)

Wednesday 11 November 1801

On Thursday the Sessions closed at the Old Bailey, when the following capital convicts received sentence of death:– William Keepe, only fourteen years of age, for taking a banknote out of a letter; Thomas Gout, and John Salmon [i.e. Solman], for robberies, by extorting money under pretence of accusing persons of an unnatural crime; . . . The convicts seemed to have very little sense of the awful situation they were in. (Hereford Journal)

Thursday 12 November 1801

The trials at the Old Bailey concluded on Thursday, when sentence of death was passed on . . . Thos. Gout and John Solman, for highway-robberies; . . . (Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette)

1 April 1802

EXETER, Wednesday, March 31 The Assizes for the County of Devon, held at the Castle of this city, before Sir Simon Le Blanc and Sir Soulden Lawrence, did not finish until Saturday last. – The following Prisoners were tried and convicted, viz.
          [among others] Robert Harris for charging Sir Francis B. Y. Buller, bart. with an attempt to commit an unnatural crime, and for endeavering [sic] to extort from him 500l. by such threat, to be transported for 7 years. (Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, issue 2006)

8 May 1802

Monday, at the city sessions, Bath, Joseph Tucker, convicted of an attempt to commit an unnatural crime, was fined 3s. sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment, the three last in a solitary cell; and to be bound, himself in 100l. and two sureties in 50l. each, for his future good behaviour. (Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Issue 2558)

Friday 17 September 1802

WHEREAS an action was brought in His Majesty’s Court of Great Sessions for the county of Flint, by Nathaniel Griffith, of Holywell, in the said county, Flax-Dresser, against Evan Evans, of the same place, Cutler, for having charged the said Nathaniel Griffith of being guilty of an unnatural crime; and in order to stop all farther proceedings in the said action, the said Evan Evans hath paid all costs incurred in the said action, which the said Nathaniel Griffith hath consented and agreed to discontinue all proceedings, upon having the whole costs paid, and the undermentioned Declaration, signed by the said Evan Evans, and be made public, that he is innocent from the crime laid to his charge, of which the following is a copy:– 
“I Evan Evans, do hereby declare, that Nathaniel Griffith is innocent from the crime of Sodomy, for ought I know to the contrary. As witness my hand this 4th day of September, 1802.”
          The mark (X) of the said EVAN EVANS. Witness, G. WILLIAMS.

                    Holywell, 15th Sept. 1802.

                                        (Chester Chronicle)

13 October 1802

GUILDHALL, TUESDAY. George Flamsted and his son Richard were fully committed for trial by the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House, charged, on the oaths of Abigail Seewright, John Watts, William Robinson, John Barnfield, and William Seewright, on suspicion of an attempt to commit an unnatural crime. His Lordship told the prisoners, that since had been Chief Magistrate he had not met with an investigation which had given him more heartfelt pain than the present; but as he could not find any thing against the characters of the witnesses, he found it his duty to commit them for trial, and let the Jury judge of the evidence. He ordered that, T. Sapwell, the constable, should be the prosecutor, at the expense of the parish. (Morning Chronicle, Issue 10421)

23 October 1802


Yesterday John Harris was indicted for distributing and selling prints of an obscene and immoral tendency. The nature of his case will be best understood by giving an outline of the pernicious consequences which the prosecution was intended to counteract.

          The Defendant, sensible no doubt of the enormity of his crime, and convinced that any defence would but add to the criminality of his conduct, very wisely judged it expedient to plead Guilty. It was of course [thereby] rendered unnecessary to go into all the details of the case, which otherwise might have been indispensible.

          Mr. KNAPP opened the case for the prosecution, and stated that he appeared as the representative of a very respectable society, the object of whose institution was the promotion of morality, and the suppression of that corruption which at present formed so general a subject of almost universal regret. It was of course an indispensible part of their duty to watch over every thing which might have the least tendency to debauch the morals or to impair the decency of any class of society. The object which the society had in view was general reformation; but they properly wished to guard in the most particular manner against the attacks of those profligate individuals, who by the most insidious means were desirous of destroying all that is most amiable in private life. In the exercise of their duty they had found it necessary to direct their attention to a class of men, whose great business it was to distribute prints of the most obscene and disgusting description. It was not the class of reflecting and industrious individuals which they thought proper to address, but it was against the less protected and more innocent branches of the community that their attacks were directed. It was among women and children that these pernicious individuals chose to sow the seeds of their destruction. It was among these that vice had received the greatest encouragement; it was therefore among these that the efforts of the society were most particularly demanded. On these principles the Society had acted, and it was on these grounds that the present prosecution had been instituted. The prisoner was one of the most dangerous and criminal menbers which could exist in any civilized society. He had employed himself in circulating prints, the only tendency of which was to destroy whatever is most respectable or most amiable in the community of mankind. They were beyond description infamous and abominable. They would be produced to the Court, and the criminality of the Defendant in their circulation would require no effort to increase the enormity of his offence. Having stated these particulars, the learned Counsel adverted to the circumstance of the information, which was to be derived from the evidence of an agent whom the Society had appointed to search into the mystery of this most infamous and disgraceful business. This agent had on one occasion purchased six of these obscene pictures, and at that time the Defendant had forty more in his possession. He met the Defendant a second time, left a deposit for another purchase, and on the same occasion had a person in readiness to take him into custody. At the time of the prisoner’s apprehension he was possessed of a number of prints, but he pretended that they were for the use of his friends. Other particulars were added in evidence, which, from motives of delicacy, we are obliged to suppress.

          The Prisoner, in his defence, said that it was needless for one in his situation to advance any thing in his defence. He threw himself on the mercy of the Court, and had only to plead that distress had driven him to the present criminal conduct.

          Mr. MAINWARING, after a very appropriate and impressive address, pronounced the sentence of the Court, which was, that the culprit should be confined for two years in the House of Correction, and within one month be placed in the pillory at Charing Cross during the space of one hour.

          This monster (for a milder epithet would want expression) has already stood twice in the pillory. On one of these occasions he suffered punishment for an attempt to commit an unnatural crime, and on the other he was convicted of the same offence for which he is again destined to suffer. (Morning Chronicle) (For the earlier offence, see News Reports for January 1798.)

28 October 1802

John Harris, sentenced at the late Westminster Sessions to two years’ imprisonment, and to stand once in the pillory for selling obscene books and prints. – The avowed professions of this man was that of a vender of ballads, which he daily exposed to sale on Privy Gardens Wall, nearly opposite the Treasury. Whenever boys or girls stopped to read his songs he took the opportunity of intimating to them in a sly, and sometimes facetious manner, that he had funny prints about his person, and of alluring them by various persuasive ats, to particular private places near at hand, where he produced and sold his indecent articles of trade. The places to which he generally resorted with his young customers were the back of the wall where he exhibited his ballads, behind the Banquetting House, and somewhere near Cannon’s-row; but his infamous dealings were not confined to these retired haunts: he frequently took young men and women home to his lodgings in St. Martin’s-lane, where he had a room into which he shewed his visitors, hung round with scandalous pictures. Here he had an assortment of prints and books, all of them indecent, and many of them of an obscenity so disgusting, unnatural and monstrous as to forbid the bare mention of their nature. This latter description of prints and books were known among those who purchased them, by the name of Novelties. Those who had transactions with Harris of the above nature were in general genteel youths, apprentice boys out on errands, and female servants, many of whom were nursery maids carrying children in their arms, and living in the neighbourhood of Westminster. We are also credibly informed that Harris confessed to one of the agents of the Society at whose instance the prosecution against him was instituted, that during a former imprisonment he had made a clear profit by the sale of one description of his infamous goods only, of 2l. 10s. per week. This disgraceful wretch has but one arm, is in advanced years, and of a very remarkable appearance. (Morning Chronicle)

15 January 1803

CHELMSFORD, Jan. 14. Yesterday Samuel Smith, one of the domestic servants of C. C. Western, Esq. Member for Maldon, was committed to our goal [sic], charged upon the oath of his master, with an assault upon him on the night of the 11th instant, and also with intent to commit an unnatural crime. (Ipswich Journal, Issue 3647)

Saturday 22 January 1803

Thursday, Samuel Smith, one of the domestic servants of Charles C. Western, Esq. M. P. was committed to Chelmsford Gaol, upon the oath of his master, with an assault upon him on the night of the 14th instant, with an intent to commit an unnatural crime. (Norfolk Chronicle)

Wednesday 26 January 1803

At the adjourned sessions for this county, holden at Lynn, January 18, . . . James Murden, being convicted of an assault, with an attempt to commit an unnatural crime, was ordered to pay a fine of 40s. and to be imprisoned in the said Bridewell for 12 months. Murden had officiated as a Methodist Preacher in a licensed house in Swaffham. (Bury and Norwich Post)

Monday 14 March 1803


Before Mr. BARON HOTHAM, Saturday, March 12.

          Samuel Smith, valet to CALLIS WESTERN, Esq. Member for Malden, was indicted for an assault upon his master, with intent to commit an unnatural offence. The circumstances of this case were very unusual, and, as related by Mr. WESTERN, as follow: he said, that he was at Chelmsford at the last Quarter Sessions, held on the 11th of October: the prisoner, his servant, accompanied him. On the evening of that day he supped with his brother Magistrates at the Saracen’s Head in the town, and about twelve retired to his lodgings; he felt himself very sick, and was apprehensive he should vomit. He ordered the prisoner to get him some warm water. The prisoner said, “Sir, let me rub the pit of your stomach, it will be of service to you.” He replied, “No, no, get me some warm water; I will get into bed, and perhaps I may fall asleep.” The sickenss he complained of, was not altogether the effect of excess, but was an habitual complaint, which was always relieved by the use of warm water. The prisoner left the room, and the witness went to bed and fell asleep. He could not have slept long, when he was awakened by something rubbing his stomach. At first, half awake, he could not tell what it was, but being roused, he felt the prisoner’s hand pressing indecently against him; he ordered him immediately to leave the room, which he did, saying something about doing him good. The next morning he felt himself very unhappy, and did not know what to do; at last he mentioned it to Mr. MONTAGU BURGOYNE, and Mr. BATE DUDLEY; they sent for the prisoner, and in their presence he told him that his conduct had been such, that he should dismiss him his service immediately. The prisoner said, he was so drunk the night before, he had no trace of recollection as to what passed, and begged his master to keep it a secret. This, Mr. W. said, he refused to do, but told him to go home, get his things away, and return to Chelmsford the next day. The prisoner did so, and was, on his return, committed to prison. On cross-examination, Mr. WESTERN said, he had hired the prisoner in May last, and had a fair character with him. He had behaved very well during all the time he had continued in his service, and had attended him in a severe illness, during which he sat up with him every alternate night, and had in all things, until this affair, conducted himself as well as a servant could do. He saw he was a little drunk when he came to wait upon him, but he thought he was sufficiently sober to attend him at his retiring to bed.

          Mr. BATE DUDLEY corroborated the testimony of Mr. WESTERN, as to the examination of the prisoner before them, when he pleaded his being drunk, and said he knew not what had passed; the only recollection he had was, that he was roused as he was kneeling by his master’s bed-side. To disprove this assertion of the prisoner, the servant of the house where Mr. WESTERN lodged was called: she stated, that the prisoner came down for the tea kettle of boiling water, which he carrie dup stairs with apparent steadiness. The boy of the inn, with whom the prisoner slept, was also called, who said, that the prisoner came home, went up the ladder leading to the bed-room, undressed himself, put out the candle, and came to bed to him, observing, that it was a very cold night. 

          Mr. GURNEY, for the prisoner, rested his defence on the ground of intoxication, and called four witnesses, who swore that the prisoner had dined at the inn with three or four servants more; that they drank five bottles of wine, and four pots of beer, for dinner; that the prisoner afterwards drank brandy and water until near twelve, and, when he went to his master, was so drunk he could hardly stand. 

          Mr. GARROW, on replying to this evidence, commented with great indignation, and proper severity, on the profligacy of servants, who pampered their appetities until they were inflamed to the committing of most brutal crimes. 

          The Jury deliberated for about a quarter of an hour, and then returned a verdict of – Not Guilty. (Morning Post)

Monday 4 April 1803

At Taunton Assizes, Absolom, Hant., . . . Mr. Thomas Sampson, clothier, of Freshford, was tried on two charges of an unnatural tendency. Mr. Gibbs addressed the Jury in behalf of the accused, in a most earnest and eloquent manner, and pointed out the infamy of the prosecutions; and said that it was not enough for his client to have a verdict f acquittal from the hand of the Jury, but the world must be convinced that he had not a stain left upon his character. He strongly reprobated the conduct of the two prosecutors, Hart and Broad. Of both charges Mr. Sampson was acquitted. 
          At the Nisi Prius bar, there was an action of defamation, brought by the said Mr. Sampson, against one Startup, a taylor, of Freshford; wherein he obtained 50l. damages. (Gloucester Journal)

Wednesday 13 April 1803

At the Somerset Assizes, the Rev. G. Donisthorpe was found guilty of an assault, with an attempt to commit an unnatural offence: he is to receive judgment in the Court of King’s Bench. (Bury and Norwich Post)

Thursday 14 April 1803

At BRISTOL [assizes], Thos. Rowland, for an unnatural crime, to be confined in a solitary cell twelve momths, and to stand once in the pillory. (Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette)

Saturday 21 May 1803

A clergyman named Denisthorpe, for an attempt to commit an unnatural crime, was ordered to be imprisoned in the county gaol of Somerset for two years. (Newcastle Courant)

Saturday 18 June 1803

WHEREAS it has been falsely reported, that I had some time since accused Samuel Crosby of Tunstall in the county of Suffolk, wheelwright, of attempting to commit an unnatural crime upon me; Now I do hereby certify and declare, that the said Samuel Crosby never did attempt to commit the same, and that I never asserted any such thing. As witness my hand. 
          X The mark of ROBERT WALKER. 

          Signed in the presence of Samuel Crosby the 12th day of June 1803.

                              (Ipswich Journal)

Saturday 20 August 1803

ASSIZES. – At Warwick, last week, the following eight prisoner were capitally convicted and received sentence of death, viz. . . . Thomas Pitt, for a rape; . . . Joseph Bird, for an unnatural crime; . . . Pitt and Bird are left for execution, and the others reprived. (Oxford Journal)

Thursday 1 September 1803

Friday Joseph Bird was executed at Warwick, for an unnatural crime. (Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette)

Wednesday 30 November 1803

Friday the Rev. John Greaves received judgment, being convicted of an assault with an intent to commit an unnatural crime, when he was ordered to be imprisoned in Newgate for the term of two years; and find security for hs good behaviour for seven years, himself in 500l. and two sureties in 250l. each, and that he continue in confinement until the security be given. (Bury and Norwich Post)

Monday 12 December 1803

At the Old Bailey on Saturday . . . The Recorder then passed sentence upon the prisoners tried this sessions. Several were ordered to be transported, or to suffer similar punishments, and sentence of death was passed upon the following malefactors:– Daniel Fitzmorris and Michael Brown, for returning from transportation; Methuselah Spalding, for an unnatural crime; John Green, and John Pownsforth, for highway robbery. (Hampshire Chronicle)


Rictor Norton (Ed.), Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Updated 2 June 2017 http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/nineteen.htm

Tim Alderman (2017)

Gay History: Henry VIII’s Buggery Act of 1533

Buggery Act 1533

Actual text:

Forasmuch as there is not yet sufficient and condign punishment appointed and limited by the due course of the Laws of this Realm for the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind of beast: It may therefore please the King’s Highness with the assent of the Lords Spiritual and the Commons of this present parliament assembled, that it may be enacted by the authority of the same, that the same offence be from henceforth ajudged Felony and that such an order and form of process therein to be used against the offenders as in cases of felony at the Common law. And that the offenders being herof convict by verdict confession or outlawry shall suffer such pains of death and losses and penalties of their good chattels debts lands tenements and hereditaments as felons do according to the Common Laws of this Realme. And that no person offending in any such offence shall be admitted to his Clergy, And that Justices of the Peace shall have power and authority within the limits of their commissions and Jurisdictions to hear and determine the said offence, as they do in the cases of other felonies. This Act to endure till the last day. of the next Parliament.”
Thomas Cromwell, House of Commons

Note: This act was extended through Parliament three additional times. Notable convictions under the act included: Walter Hungerford, 1st Baron Hungerford or Heytesbury in 1540; Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven in 1631; John Atherton, Bishop of Waterford in 1640; Vere Street Coterie in 1810; and Percy Jocelyn, Bishop of Clogher in 1822.

Thomas Cromwell - God's executioner
Thomas Cromwell – God’s executioner