Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Today In 1871, Trial Begins of Victorian Cross-Dressers

Fredrick Park (left) and Earnest Boulton (Fanny and Stella), 1869.
(Glass plate photograph held by Essex Record Office)

Thomas Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park were two Victorian cross-dressers and suspected homosexuals who appeared as defendants in a celebrated trial in London, which began today, May 9, in 1871. They were charged "with conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence."

Boulton was born in Tottenham, Middlesex, England, the son of stockbroker. From childhood the young Boulton liked wearing female clothing, and was encouraged in his impersonations of maids and other women by his mother; he used the nickname "Stella." Boulton started work as a clerk at his uncle's stockbroking firm and then briefly at a bank, before leaving in 1866 or 1867. Park was initially a law student with a London solicitor. He was born in Wimbledon, Surrey, the son of a barrister, Master of the Court of Common Pleas.

As they became friends, Boulton and Park formed a theatrical double act, touring as Stella Clinton (or Mrs Graham) and Fanny Winifred Park, and receiving favourable press reviews for their performances. For around 2 years they also frequented the West End of London in both women's and men's dress, attending theatres and social events. They were ejected from both the Alhambra Theatre and the Burlington Arcade on several occasions. On one occasion they were bound over to keep the peace after being mistaken for women dressed as men.

A third person involved in the affair was Lord Arthur Clinton, who had lived with "Stella" as husband and had exchanged love letters with Boulton as Stella.

On the evening of April 28, 1870, Boulton, Park and another man were seen leaving a house in Wakefield Street, near Regent Square, by a police detective, who followed them as they took a cab to the Strand Theatre. There the detective saw them meet two others, described as "gentlemen," before the party entered a private box inside the theatre. A police superintendent and a police sergeant joined the detective during the performance, and Boulton, Park and one of the others, Hugh Alexander Mundell, were arrested as they attempted to leave the theatre. The others escaped. The three arrested men were subjected to intimate examination by a police doctor in order to establish whether they had had anal sex.

When brought before the magistrate the next day, Boulton and Park were still wearing women's clothing, which was described in some detail in newspaper reports. Mundell claimed that he had believed that Boulton and Park were women, even though he had previously met them while they were dressed in men's clothes. He was given bail, but Boulton and Park were not. The case attracted considerable attention and a large crowd had collected in Bow Street to see the two leave in a police van. Subsequent magistrates' court hearings also attracted unusually large numbers of spectators to witness the proceedings.

A crowd watches Boulton and Park leave Bow Street Magistrates' Court on the morning after their arrest.
(Artist's illustration published in The Illustrated Police News)
The indictment was against Lord Arthur Clinton, Boulton, Park, Louis Hurt, John Fiske, Martin Cumming, William Sommerville and C. H. Thompson. The last three absconded before the trial. John Fiske was an American citizen and the United States consul at Leith, Edinburgh. Lord Arthur died the day after receiving his subpoena for the trial, ostensibly of scarlet fever but more probably a suicide. However, there was speculation at the time that, helped by powerful friends, he faked his death and fled abroad, to lived on in exile. The author Neil McKenna cites circumstantial evidence that supports this theory.

The trial began on May 9, 1871, at the Court of Queen's Bench, before a special jury.  At the hearing Boulton and Park's lifestyle attracted great public interest, especially when a trunkful of their dresses was brought in as evidence. However, the unreliability of the witnesses and their physical examination by the police without higher authority swayed opinion in their favour. The prosecution was unable to prove either that they had committed any homosexual offence or that the wearing of women's clothing by men was an offence in English law. Cockburn's summing up was critical of the prosecution's case and the behaviour of the police. After deliberating for 53 minutes the jury found them not guilty.

Boulton and Park appear as characters in The Sins of the Cities of the Plain (1881), a pioneering work of gay pornographic literature. In this story the cross-dressing narrator recounts how he meets Boulton and Park dressed up as women at Haxell's Hotel in the Strand, with Lord Arthur trailing along behind. Later on, the narrator spends the night at Boulton and Park's rooms in Eaton Square, and the next day has breakfast with them "all dressed as ladies."

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