History

A brief look at the case of Stella & Fanny


By @pridematters1 

In this series we look at various heroes and advocates of the LGBTQIA+ family.

In this article we focus on Transgender females in the 1870s

On 28 April 1870 Ernest Boulton (22), and Frederick Park (23) were at the Strand Theatre in London, in a private box they shared with three other men. Both Boulton and Park were dressed in full Victorian ladies attire. When dressed as ladies they would use the names Stella and Fanny. When leaving the theatre with Hugh Alexander Mundell they were arrested. Later being subjected to intense examination that proved only inclusive that neither men had committed buggery, regardless, the case went to trial. Even in the 19th century the conduct of the police was seen to be a breach of human rights in the eyes of the court, and eventually the trial would be in the favour of Boulton and Park. 
They kept a house off Regent Square in London but this wasn’t their registered address. Here they would stay with friends two or three days at a time and on these premises kept a fantastic amount of women’s clothes.

Boulton was extremely attractive and effeminate with an eccentric side of his theatrical personality, dressing up for the Cambridge boat race, flirting with ‘respectable’ men. Even dressed in male attire they would wink at the odd gentleman, wearing make up. It was this type of showmanship that got the police attention.

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The previous year Boulton had been living in Edinburgh for a brief time, and through a mutual acquaintance met John Safford Fiske. Fiske was an American living in Scotland for over two years. The police searched Fiske’s Edinburgh apartment to find hidden behind the fire grate some photos of Boulton in female attire. It was suggested that Fiske had time to burn Boulton’s letters that were thought to be of a romantic nature.

They spent the night in custody, appearing in front of the magistrate Fredrick Flowers at Bow Street Magistrates Court, standing in the dock in the attire they were arrested in. Fanny wore a wig and plaited chignon, a cherry-coloured silk evening dress, trimmed with white lace, and bracelets on her bare arms, while Stella with her flaxen hair in curls, wore a dark green satin dress, low-necked, trimmed with black lace, and a black lace shawl, and a pair of white kid gloves. One article noted that they both had a little stubble appearing from being held over night.

It is known out of spitefulness they were not allowed to change, many speculate that this was a move to try and sway public opinion. The newspaper reports described their clothes in full detail the following day, referring to them from this moment as ‘The He-She Boys’. At the very most ‘impersonating a woman’ in public was a misdemeanour, and would only warrant a fine. The only crime they could be charged with would be buggery and that was if it could be proven. Mundell claimed that he believed they were both women, although it was revealed that he had met both Boulton and Park on several occasions before dressed in gentlemen attire. He was granted bail.

Boulton and Park remanded in custody and they were led away to a police van outside the courthouse, where in the street crowds had gathered. This type of attention set the atmosphere for the rest of the case.

The indictment was against six men including Lord Arthur Clinton who is thought to have committed suicide a day after receiving the subpoena for the trial, on 18 June 1870. His death was said to be scarlet fever at the time. The others Louis Hurt, John Fiske, Martin Gumming, William Sommerville and C H Thompson are thought to have absconded before the trial.

On 9 May 1871 the trial began at the Court of Queen’s Bench. The judge was Sir Alexander Cockburn the Lord Chief Justice. Again public interest was extreme, especially when a trunkful of their dresses were brought into the court.

Cockburn was extremely critical of the police and their handling of the case. He also pointed out that there was nothing in English law preventing men wearing women’s dresses. Cockburn went on to scorn the police for the examination of the men without higher authority. The jury found them not guilty. The crowds in the courtroom cheered on hearing the verdict.

This case shows us many things about this period in time. It was only a few years before the infamous Laucounebe amendment of 1885 and even though buggery was a crime, and would lead to a lifetime imprisonment during this time, it also highlights the great mistreatment and attitude from the police. Further, the lack of understanding by the general public about gender and sexuality, something that many still don’t fully understand. Back then terminology such as “Transgender” did not exist, and following this part of history, many doctors would come along that confused the links between sexuality and gender before arriving at the point we are now. 

Personally for me it highlights that in the 19th century, the LGBTQIA+ family existed and lived life to the best of their abilities, regardless of the threats of prosecution.

Edited Tom Weise 27/6/17

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