Newspaper Reports, 1825

Most of the following newspaper reports concern the very interesting case of John Grossett Muirhead of St George's, Hanover Square. In 1825 Muirhead met an apprentice outside a print shop in Sackville Street, off Piccadilly, where he showed him some indecent prints and books, and two "skins" (i.e. condoms) which he bet he could not fit into. One of these condoms was later produced in evidence in court, and its use had to be explained. He took the young man to a coffee house for a pint of cider and biscuits, where he showed him some more dirty pictures, held his hand and fondled him, gave him a crown, and arranged for another meeting to have sex. The lad thought Muirhead was "a good-natured old gentleman" and was not averse to his attentions, but two other boys to whom he told this story said he had to be careful. The following Sunday Muirhead took all three boys, one aged 14 and one aged 21, to an oyster shop, where he showed them more pornography and fondled them and gave them a crown apiece. Before he could proceed any further, two officers, by previous arrangement, burst in and arrested him. Muirhead did not deny the events, but he argued that there were no legal grounds for a prosecution: "first, that it was not an assault, because the prisoner had the consent of the party; and secondly, it was not an offence indictable in the present shape, because it was committed in private". But the judge replied that "In crimes of this atrocious description, consent or non-consent did not alter the offence, and it was an offence against public morals, not only because it was committed in a public coffee-room, but because it was an attempt to destroy the morals of youthful members of society". His crime was exacerbated by the fact that he was a member of the Society for the Suppression of Vice and a Director of the Auxiliary Bible Society of St George's in the Fields! He was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment for the first offence and six months for the second. He pleaded for clemency on the grounds that he was 72 years old and infirm, and not likely to survive prison. The judge said he would be treated humanely. He certainly did survive prison, for three years and nine months later he was arrested in Dover for a similar offence, and fled to the continent.

Wednesday 24 August 1825

Letter to the Editor. – London, Monday Evening, half-past Seven.
It is impossible to describe the sensation which has been produced by the apprehension of a gang of wretches charged with a nameless offence, at the Barley Mow public house in the Strand. Up to the present hour there is an immense crowd in front of the house, and the execrations of the women are loud and violent. It is a singular and horrible fact that similar charges have been brought to-day at Hatton Garden and Marlborough-street offices. One man was committed from Hatton Garden to Newgate this afternoon. (Hereford Journal)

Saturday 27 August 1825

The London papers of Tuesday contain the details of a most atrocious case. The offender is no less a personage than John Grosset Muirhead, Esq. brother-in-law to the Duke of Athol, seventy-two years of age, who has been held to bail in 1,000. to appear at the sessions to answer the charges brought against him. It is a great oversight in the law as at present constituted, that a poor man who steals a loaf for the support of his starving family will not be admitted to put in bail, whilst the indulgence may be granted to so loathsome a miscreant as the individual in question. – There is another account in the same papers of the capture and examination of a club of twenty-five beastly wretches for similar practices. (Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser)

Saturday, 27 August 1825

The manner in which the examination in the case of Mr. MUIRHEAD was conducted at Marlborough-street Office on Thursday,a nd it is by no means a solitary instance, is not calculated to give a very high idea of our knowledge of the limites between one stage of criminal procedure and another. On various occasions in the course of the examination, Mr. HARMER interposed objections to the reception of hearsay evidence, contending that legal evidence only should be admitted. These objections seem to us to be founded on a complete misconception of the end and object of examinations previous to commitment or dismissal of a charge. "I content, on the part of the accused," said Mr. HARMER, on one occasion, "that the idle and filthy conversation which passed between the prisoner and the witness is not evidence, unless it is intended to follow it up by some substantive charge, to which this conversation leads." In preliminary investigations, the Magistrate is not bound by the rules which must be observed at a trial. He is here acting in the two-fold character of Public Prosecutor and Judge, adn he examines persons, not merely with a view to ascertain what they themselves know, but to discover in what quarters he may look for further information. If hearsay evidence were to be rejected in this preliminary stage, it would often be impossible to procure any evidence whatever. What is wished for is evidence, and every circumstance which affords a clue to the discovery of it, ought to be carefully taken advantage of. When all due pains have been taken to obtain evidence, the Magistrate is enabled to say whether the proceedings ought to be followed up by some substantive charge, but not before.
          It strikes us that in the whole business of tracing the evidence in support of a charge, there is no room for the interference of the Counsel or Attorney of a Prisoner. Their agency ought to be confined to the watching the evidence obtained, with a view to aid the prisoner in bringing forward such evidence in contradiction as may be necessary, under the circumstances of the case, in order to save him, if possible, from commitment. – The Magistrate, in our opinion, ought not to suffer a word toescape the lips of a Counsel during the critical period of his pursuing the track of crime. An interlocutory remark may shut the mouth of a witness able to afford material aid to the Magistrate in the investigation. The Counsel's business is to guide and direct the prisoner, to acquaint him with the import of the evidence against him, and to ascertain from him how far he can destroy the accusation, and here his agency ought to stop. When the whole of the evidence has been obtained, it may be necessary for him to endeavour to enlighten the Magistrate as to the import of it, to prevent his client from suffering from ignorance or erroneous views.
          Great vagueness of conception seems to prevail among our Magistrates in all that relates to matters of this kind. The consequence is, that they are frequently browbeat & confused by Attorneys, who know their own business better than the Magistrates know theirs. Mr. PEEL would do a material service both to the "great unpaid" and the Police Magistrates, were he to employ some skillful lawyers to draw up a complete system of criminal procedure, by which they might be guided in its different stages. At present the greatest helplessness is frequently manifested. The Judges on the Circuits are perpetually complaining of blunders; Mr. Justice BAYLEY stated the other day that it would be necessary for him to make representations to Mr. PEEL on account of the perverse adherence of the Manchester Magistrates, year after year, to the most objectionable mode of taking depositions. (Morning Chronicle)

Wednesday 31 August 1825

About a month ago, information was given to Sir R. Birnie, by some respectable persons living in the Strand, that there were strong reasons to believe that a gang of fellows were in the habit of meeting at the Barley Mow public-house, in the Strand, for purposes too infamous to be mentioned. Sir R. B. in consequence, ordered two of the officers (Thisselton and Deane) to go and attend at the house, from time to time, to obtain information; this they did, and became eye-witnesses to scenes which are indescribable; in consequence, a strong party of the patrol went to the house on Sunday night, and took 25 persons into custody; of these 7 only where brought up to Bow-street the next morning. These were all that the patrol were enabled to identify as being participators in the crimes charged to have been committed. The names of these were John Grange (the landlord,) John Lewis, Alexander Gurtz, John Braby, William Macdonald, William Powell, and Robert Watson Armstrong. The prisoners protested their innocence, but Sir R. Birnie said he should send them to trial. The charge was not supported by the evidence of police officers alone, or, in the minds of some prejudiced persons, it might be disbelieved. The information came first from respectable quarters. The prisoners were then ordered to be locked up, and to give notice of bail. Two coaches were called, and the prisoners were brought out handcuffed. At this moment the hootings were really terrific. A great number of persons followed the coaches, and pelted the inmates with whatever missiles they could find. – To these horrible details we lament to add that J. G. Muirhead, Esq. most respectably connected, has been committed for trial, on a charge of having made an indecent assault upon two youths. He was told that he must produce bail, two responsible sureties in 1000l. each, and himself in 2000l. He strongly denied the charges against him, but a person who had been his steward stated that he left his service 40 years ago, having then observed certain dreadful propensities, which induced him to leave Mr. M. The prisoner is closely allied to a noble family, who must deeply feel the degrading situation in which he is placed. It is to be regretted occurrences of the above description are detailed with the disgusting minuteness with which several papers give them. (Hereford Journal)

Wednesday 31 August 1825

A correspondent informs us that "John Grossett Muirhead, Esq. of Bradiesholm, county of Lanark, brother-in-law to the Duke of Athol, is a member of the Society for the Suppression of Vice and Immorality, and Vice-President of the Auxiliary Bible Society of St. George's parish." Our correspondent makes some pertinent remarks on the chief subject of his communication, but it is one which we would rather not enter upon. – Examiner. (Hereford Journal)

Saturday 10 September 1825


One of the witnesses bound over to appear against the Duke of Athol's brother-in-law, Mr. G. Muirhead, has been taken out of the way. It is to be hoped that this disgusting wretch will not escape with impunity. (Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser)

Wednesday 26 October 1825

At Westminster sessions yesterday J. G. Muirhead, was found guilty of having indecently exposed his person to C. P. Lane, on the 15th last August, and of assaulting for an improper purpose T. Hodson, an apprentice to a surgeon. For the 1st offence he was sentenced to 9 month's imprisonment and to pay a fine of 500l. to the King, and for the second offence to six months' imprisonment in addition to the fine. (Hereford Journal)

Friday 28 October 1825

At Westminster sessions, on Friday, John Grosset Muirhead, 72 years of age, was convicted on the clearest evidence, of a crime which has lately disgraced our police annals. There were two indictments, and he was found guilty on both. The chairman, in pronouncing judgment upon the defendant, dwelt upon the enormity of his guilt, in seeking out and corrupting the minds of innocent boys. The situation of the defendant rendered his offence more aggravated, because he filled a rank in society to which the public looked up for example, and therefore it called for a heavier punishment at the hands of the Court. Under all the Circumstances, the sentence of the Court was, that for the first offence he be imprisoned for a period of nine months, and pay a fine of 500l. to the King; and for the second offence, that he be imprisoned for an additional period of six months, and that he continue in prison until the above fine be paid.

Saturday 29 October 1825

At the Westminster Sessions, on Oct. 21st inst. John Grosset Muirhead, Esq. was convicted of an indecent misdemeanour. He was tried on a second indictment, and found guilty. – The sentence of the court was, that for the first offence, he be confined nine months; and for the second six months, to be computed from the expiration of the first sentence; and to pay a fine of 500. to the king. (Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser)

Friday 4 November 1825

J. Grosset Muirhead, Esq. who married a sister of the Duke of Athol, to be imprisoned 15 months, and pay a fine of 50; his offence we need not name: he is 76 years old! (Chester Chronicle)

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Newspaper Reports, 1825", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 17 Januarty 2012; updated 17 April 2012 <>.

Return to Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England