The Trial of Boulton and Park
The Men in Women's Clothes
Ernest Boulton and William Park were middle-class males who enjoyed strolling
among London prostitutes while dressed as women. They had "theatrical" natures.
They attended music hall performances
dressed as women and called themselves "Stella" and "Fanny," respectively.
They flirted outrageously with men in the audience:
No little excitement was caused in the Strand Theatre by the entrance of two very handsome women,
accompanied by a young gentleman, into one of the private boxes, in fact,
the personal charms of these ladies were so great that they attracted general attention,
and we have on good authority that more than one bet of no inconsiderable amount was staked
between some of the regular habitués of this place of amusement, with the object of deciding to what nation they
belonged...These and other numberless conjectures received their foundation from the nonchalant
manner in which these ladies leaned over their box, twirled their handkerchiefs,
and lasciviously ogled the male occupants of the stalls.
After attending this performance at the Strand Theatre on Thursday, April 28, 1870, the two were arrested.
The Funny He-She Ladies
Early reports about Boulton and Park accentuated the scandal of Park violating the
sanctity of the ladies room at the Strand. He actually asked a female attendant to help him pin together a
tear in his clothing.
Again from The Life and Examination of Boulton and Park. The Men in Women's Clothes:
Among the many extraordinary cases which are from time to time brought before the public,
none have created more sensation, or a greater degree of dismay in the respectable portion of
the community, than the astounding, and we fear, too-well founded charge against Boulton and Park,
and the outrages of which they have been guilty; the social crime, for so it is, which they have
openly perpetrated, cannot be too strongly condemned...There is one peculiar trait in the evidence
which stands out in bold and audacious relief, and too plainly shows the base and prurient natures
which these misguided youths (for they are but little more) must posses. We refer to the entrance of
Park into the retiring room, which is set apart for ladies at the Strand Theatre, who had the unblushing
impudence to apply to the female attendant to fasten up the gathers of his skirt, which he alleged had come unfastened.
Their escort for the night, Mr. Hugo Mundell, was also arrested. Although he admitted that he had seen both of them in men's
clothing, he vowed he thought they were women. When "Fanny" and "Stella" told him they were men, Mundell said he refused to believe them. His testimony
solicited good-natured laughter in the court audience, who seemed, in the reportage, to either share Mundell's confusion or revel it in.
As the penny press noted:
...These young men appear to be very unfortunate, for whenever they dressed in men’s
clothes they were always taken for women, and when they attired in the dress of the fair sex,
they were always taken for men, under such peculiar circumstances what were they to do?
Such open-hearted concern was often a feature of penny magazines when the topic was more salacious than most.
This stance served to protect them against charges of indecency themselves.
Boulton and Park were taken to the police station and made to disrobe. They were examined without consent by a Charing Cross surgeon
as though they were female prostitutes subjected to the Contagious Diseases Acts.
The two were then "transformed" into males by the removal of their clothing.
However, in their initial hearing they were again attired as females. Their appearance attracted a huge
crowd to the courtroom to view the "he-she ladies." When they
subsquently appeared in men's clothing, the crowd was disappointed by the quashing of their entertainment.
Boulton and Park were subject to nearly a month of such court appearances
to determine if they should be charged with a crime. Initially the charge was thought to be the misdemeanour of
dressing in women's clothes.
However, Park's Strand transgression quickly gave way to reports that the police had been following them for a year.
In that time, the two had dressed in men's clothing and worn make up and had flirted with men on the boulevards.
The Unnatural History and Petticoat Mystery
At their fifteenth hearing they were charged with conspiracy
to commit a felony. That felony was sodomy.
Their court appearance occurred one year later. At both the hearings and the trial, Boulton and Park were
represented by top lawayers. Park was a law student himself. In their defense, they claimed they were performers. Their
excursion was a bit of childish fun. Their lawyer called it "a frolic."
They were upper middle-class and they had
aristocratic friends who were also interested in acting.
Boulton's mother noted his frequent
participation in theatrical performances in country homes amongst their friends. He was often cast in the lead female role.
Historically males did play female roles before women were allowed to appear on stage.
However, after their intial arrest, police had found a cache of
letters in which Boulton, as Stella, presented himself as the wife of Lord Arthur Clinton. Nevertheless,
the police were not sure if the letters might be from a female hand. Lord Arthur had committed
suicide before the trial began and could not testify.
At this time sodomy as a legal charge had to do with an action and was not associated with a "type" of person designated a homosexual.
Sodomy as a form of sexual activity in heterosexual relations was considered unnatural as well as illegal and was also punishable by law.
Until 1861, the sentence for the crime of sodomy was death. However, evidence of such an act required a witness. Rather than sodomy, the charge was
instead "intent to commit sodomy." This charge could result in imprisonment.
A jury heard the trial and within an hour of deliberations declared Boulton and Park innocent of any crime.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, as the Victorian era was giving way to the Edwardian,
Oscar Wilde was found guilty of gross indecency. However, this indecency was not due to a relationship
with Lord Alfred whose father, the Marquess of
Queensberry, had set Wilde's destruction in motion.
Wilde's conviction came about as the
result of testimony from two young male prostitutes concerning his actions with them.
His aristocratic companion(s) were legally untouched. W.T. Stead, who had worked with Josephine Butler to uncover child prostitution
and slavery and who represented the "puritan" wing of the Liberal Party noted:
If Oscar Wilde instead of indulging in dirty tricks of indecent familiarity with boys and men, had
ruined the lives of half-a-dozen innocent simpletons of girls, or had broken up the homes of his friends by
corrupting the friend's wife, no one would have laid a finger on him. The male is sacrosanct; the female is fair game.