One Man, In His Time, Plays Many Parts

The 1800s have often been described as the Long 19th Century, because it feels like it lasted more than 100 years. In term of homosexual rights, that’s certainly true. The 19th century began with more persecutions, and ended with Oscar Wilde. The 19th century also saw, in some parts of Europe, blossoms of hope for homosexual rights.

The early part of the 19th century saw increasingly large, and harsh, prosecutions against homosexual men. As the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution swept through London, so did a crackdown on “gross immorality.” Between 1800 and  1836, there were 15 men hanged for sodomy at Newgate prison alone (see list below).

On 8 July 1810, the Bow Street Runners raided the White Swan pub, a molly house, on Vere Street in London. The raid was one of the largest in British history: 27 men were arrested on charges of sodomy and attempted sodomy. The White Swan was owned by two men, who saw a business opportunity and opened the White Swan in early 1810, ignoring the crackdown on homosexuality. Of the 27 men who were arrested, only 8 were tried and convicted (the other 19 were, most likely, released upon being able to afford the bribe). Of those 8, 6 were convicted of attempted sodomy: William Amos, James Cook (one of the owners and landlord), Philip Kett, William Thomson, Richard Francis, James Done and Robert Aspinal…they were all, except Amos and Aspinal, sentenced to two years imprisonment and pillory. Amos had a previous conviction for attempted sodomy, and was sentenced to three years imprisonment and pillory, and Aspinal was found to have been ‘less active,’ and only sentenced to one year imprisonment and pillory. Two of the 8 men were found guilty of sodomy and hanged: Thomas White, who was 16, and John Hepburn, although neither were present at the White Swan the night of the raid.

By 1811, King George III had been declared insane and his son, the Prince of Wales, ruled as Prince Regent. The purging of “immorality” continued through the Regency period. Although the Regency is often lauded as a time of social change, it was also a time of massive social stratification and implementation of morality. It was very easy for a person to ruin their social reputation by saying the wrong word, or dancing the wrong way at the wrong time. Social laws in Regency England were known by all. reputation was everything, and reputation was based on morality. Persecution of any ‘gross indecency’ only increased during the Regency and Victorian eras. In 1823, the Buggery Act of 1533 was repealed and replaced with the Offences Against The Person Act, although sodomy still carried the death penalty.

Part X: Victorian England and 19th Century Europe


[History Note:  There are historians who consider the 19th century as running from the mid-1700s to 1914. I do not. Also, for the purpose of this blog series, I’ve attempted to keep the time periods inside strict parameters of actual time, rather than historical time. Having said that, however, The 20th century, for various reasons, mostly political, does arguably start in the 1890s. I’ve ended the 19th century in the 1890s, so there will be slight overlap with early-20th century post. ALSO: the term ‘homosexual’ can now be actually used…well after 1896. A pamphlet written by Karl-Maria Kerbeny (which was published anonymously at the time) argued against a Prussian anti-sodomy law. ALSO: I have no idea what a ‘venereal affair’ is, albeit I could probably guess. It shows up several times in The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer, Vol 4 under the section on Buggery and in Reports of Decisions in Criminal Cases Made at Terms and Chambers under Lamberton v. The People. There’s also a Treatise on the Use of Flogging In Venereal Affairs published in 1639 (because, apparently, flogging would cure you whatever a venereal affair was)… so apparently it meant something in the 19th century that doesn’t translate to 21st century language.]

[Executions for buggery:  In February 1804, Mathusala Spaulding was convicted of having a venereal affair, and hanged for sodomy. In August 1806, David Robertson. In October 1808, Richard Neighbour. In November 1809, Richard Oakden. In 1809, Edward Wood and Richard Thomas Dudman were convicted of conspiracy to commit buggery, and sentenced to two years in prison and an hour in the pillory.In December 1814, Munco (only name); in July 1815, Abraham Adam; in September 1816, John Eglerton; in December 1816, Robert Yandell, in December 1819, John Markham; in November 1822, John Holland and William King; in in February 1823, William North; in November 1835, John Smith and John Pratt. (who had been observed through a window having sex, and were arrested afterward). Smith and Pratt were the last two men executed for buggery.  ALSO: the above list of executions is for Newgate Prison ONLY]

[Sources: Again I state that if you want my list of sources, just ask! Some of what I write is what we refer to as ‘common knowledge’ in the academic world… but there is research involved. Having said that, however, this site is cool (in the history dork sense): ]

[Images of Pilloring of 6 men from White Swan]:

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