Eliza/Elijah Scott, the Black Man Woman, 1850

The story of Elijah Scott, 20-year-old runaway black slave from America who for six months in 1850 assumed the name and dress of "Eliza" and walked the streets of London's East End, picking up sailors and gentlemen. His chat-up line was "Are you good-natured?" With effeminate voice, he tells the Court his interesting life-story.

23 September 1850

A man of colour, dressed in female attire, who gave the name of Eliza Scott, and who, not only in dress, but in appearance, manner, and voice, strongly resembled a woman, was placed before Mr. Alderman Gibbs, charged with an indecent assault on a gentleman.
          City Police constable No. 52, said, in consequence of information which he received from a gentleman that a man in woman's clothes had conducted himself in an improper manner in the Minories on Friday morning, he apprehended the prisoner, who was dressed as he then appeared. He denied positively that he was a man, but on being examined at the police-station by a surgeon his sex was placed beyond doubt. The prisoner had been in the habit of frequenting the neighbourhood for five or six months, always in the dress of a female.
          The prosecutor described the nature of the assault.
          The prisoner wore a veil, and his whole appearance was that of one of the softer sex.
          After the usual caution, the prisoner said, all he had to state in reply to the charge was, that he was a runaway slave, a native of America, and had escaped on board a vessel bound to England.
          He was then committed to Newgate. (The Sun, London)

24 September 1850

An immeense crowd of persons assembled to-day opposite the door at which prisoners charged with offences usually enter for examination in the justice-room, in consequence of the report that an American slave, in woman's apparel, was to be brought before Alderman Gibbs. Before eleven o'clock a cab stopped at the door, and out walked a person in female attire, accompanied by a policeman. The presumed woman was dressed in a light cotton gown, with stripes, and a straw bonnet, and certainly had a most feminine appearance.
          Alderman Gibbs (to prisoner). – What is your name?
          The prisoner. – Eliza Scott.
          J. W. Tanner (52). – In consequence of information which I received from a gentleman on Friday morning, at half-past three o'clock, in the Minories, I apprehended the prisoner on Saturday evening, at a quarter to twelve o'clock, in Fenchurch-street, dressed in woman's clothes, and as I was taking him to the station-house he resisted in a most violent manner, and attempted to escape. I charged him at the station with having annoyed gentlemen in Fenchurch-street, having seen him frequently following and addressing respectable persons in that locality. I made a distinct charge of the kind against him. I then asked him whether he was not a man. He denied most positively that he was a man, and positively called God to witness that he was telling the truth in denying the imputation.I then handed him over to the searcher, who intimated the fact of his sex. During the last week I have seen him from about nine in the evening till about one or two in the morning, walking Fenchurch-street and the Minories, in the same dress, and I always considered that he was a woman, and that he belonged to the wretched class who live by prostitution.
          W. C. Potter (K 212, metropolitan force) I have known the prisoner as living at No. 5, Angel-gardens, for nearly six months, always dressed like a woman. Within the last fortnight I have seen a man in his company. The prisoner walks the neighbourhood of the Thames Tunnel and Ratcliff-highway, and I have frequenty seen him with sailors, and always considered him to be a woman.
          S. J. Martin [other newspapers give the name as Bennet J. Martin], a merchant's clerk, said on Friday morning last, at about three o'clock, as I was returning from a party towards my home in the Minories, the prisoner came up in his present dress of a female, and asked me if I was good natured. I of course thought he was a woman, and we walked together. As we went into a more retired place, the prisoner lifted a veil which was fastened to the bonnet, and then I for the first time observed that the face was that of a person of colour. I soon suspected from the growth of the beard that I was speaking to a man, and as soon as I saw a metropolitan policeman I gave him in charge, but the constable refused to take the charge, and the person then began to load me with abuse, and to declare loudly that he was a woman, and would prove that fact on the spot. When the metropolitan policeman refused to take the charge, the prisoner walked down the Minories, and I told a sergeant of the City police, but the prisoner had disppeared. While he was abusing me the prisoner said he was a married woman and had two children.
          Alderman Gibbs. – Prisoner, do you wish to say anything in answer to this very serious accusation?
          The prisoner, whose voice is effeminate, said I am almost a stranger in London, and have been here only about six months, and I brought a letter here (the Mansion-house) to see if I could get back to America. The captain who brought me over was to have seen me back again, but he has gone away without me, and I never could get any place. He promised positively to take me back to America, but he never did so. I was a slave in America, and ran away to the West Indies. The captain was sick on the passage to England, and I used to attend upon him. He did not perform his promise, and I have nothing more to say.
          Alderman Gibbs said it was quite palpable that the prisoner had walked about in the disgraceful disguise for the worst purposes, and committed him to Newgate for trial.
          Scott, the Mansion-house officer, said he recollected that the prisoner had called at the Mansion-house upon the subject of procuring a return to America, and that he had been directed to the proper quarter for the consideration of such matters.
          It is believed that not one of the women of colour who infest the streets in the neighbourhood of Ratcliff-highway as street-walkers, and with whom the prisoner has frequently associated as one of their sex, was aware of the fact that he was a man.
          The crowd outside waited for a great length of time for the gratification of their curiosity, and for the purpose of giving the black man a "reception," but the policeman who had apprehended him conveyed him to a cab by a door at the other side of the house. (Morning Advertiser)

25 October 1850

THE MAN WOMAN. – A black man, who was indicted under the name of Eliza Scott, was placed at the bar charged with unlawfully assaulting Bennett James Marton, with intent to induce him to commit an unnatural offence. The facts are unfit for publication.
          The prisoner made a rambling defence, in which he dexterously avoided stating why he was dressed as a woman.
          The jury found the prisoner Guilty of a common assault.
          The RECORDER postponed passing sentence till he had consulted with the judges. (The Sun)

25 October 1850

A RARE CASE. – A man of colour, calling himself Eliza Scott, was indicted for unlawfully assaulting Bennet James Martin, with intent, &c. The evidence of the prosecutor is unfit for publication. He proved that at three o'clock one morning he met the prisoner, having all the appearance of a female. She accosted him, but he soon found out his mistake, and gave him in charge to a policeman.
          The prisoner did not deny the offence, but made a long rambling statement of his being an American slave, and other circumstances unconnected with the charge.
          The serious part of the offence was not proved, and he was found Guilty of a common assault.
          The JUDGE said he would take time to consider what was best to be done with him. (The Globe, London)

26 October 1850

A person of colour, attired in the prison dress, and described in the calendar as a man, called Eliza Scott, 30, servant, was indicted for assaulting Bennet James Martin, with intent, &c.
          The prisoner's features are of a somewhat repulsive but feminine cast, and the effect is heightened by the hair, which is very woolly, being parted down the centre.
          Upon being called upon to plead, the prisoner, in an effeminate tone of voice, said he was a stranger, and did not understand.
          The Recorder directed that a plea of not guilty should be taken.
          The facts of the case, which are unfit for detail, were then gone into, and proved the following charge against the prisoner. The prosecutor, who is a clerk to some glass works in the City, was, at a late hour, coming home, when the prisoner, attired like a woman, with a veil down, accosted him, and he went up a court, where, to his utter astonishment, he found that the prisoner was a black man. He instantly left him, and told a policeman of the matter, and the result was, that the police went up and taxed the prisoner with his misconduct, which he denied, and said he was the mother of two children. The police, however, insisting upon his going to the station, he resisted and struck at the police, and was eventually got to the station, where the truth of the prosecutor's assertion was ascertained.
          The prisoner, when called upon for his defence, made a long rambling statement, denying that he had laid hands upon the prosecutor, but artfully avoiding any allusion to his having worn female apparel. He said he was the child of white parents, and that he had been, when young, sold by his aunt for a slave, from which condition he had escaped, and had since got his living by washing, ironing, cleaning, and attending people who were ill, more particularly those afflicted with rheumatism, whom he had the skill of curing, by friction and by application of Indian herbs. He had been brought to this country from New York, by the captain of a vessel, to attend him in his illness.
          The jury found him guilty of the common assault.
          The Recorder said he should consult with the Judges before passing sentence. (Morning Advertiser)

26 October 1850

A person of colour, attired in the prison dress, and described in the calendar as a man called Eliza Scott, 20 [sic], servant, was indicted for assaulting Bennet James Martin with intent, &c.
          Mr. Ryland and Mr. Locke appeared to prosecute, and Mr Brierly was requested by the court to watch the evidence on the part of the prisoner.
          The prisoner's features are of a somewhat feminine cast, and that impression was heightened by the manner in which his hair, which is very woolly, was arranged, being parted down the centre.
          Upon being called upon to plead, the prisoner, in an effeminate mincing low tone of voice, said that he was a stranger, and did not understand. . . . (Morning Chronicle)

3 November 1850

JUDGMENT RESPITED. – A man called Eliza Scott, Thomas Alexander Cyril, David John Walker, Richard Strait, Hannah Carter. (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper)

22 December 1850

THE BLACK MAN WOMAN. – Elijah, otherwise Eliza Scott, the man of colour, who was convicted at the October sittings of this court, was brought up for sentence. – It will be recollected that the prisoner had been in the habit of walking the streets at night attired like a woman, for the basest of purposes. – The court sentenced him to twelve months' imprisonment. (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper)

NOTE: According to the Newgate Prison Calendar (Prison Registers, HO77, pc. 57, folio 7), "A man, called Eliza Scott", age 20, 5'7", Servant, was charged with "Unlawfully assaulting Bennett James Martin, with intent to induce him to commit buggery", on 25 October 1850, found guilty, sentence respited. On 16 December, as "Elijah alias Eliza Scott", he was sentenced to 1 year's imprisonment in the House of Correction from commencement of the case (HO27, pc. 93; HO77, pc. 57, fol. 37). All the legal records agree that he was 20 years of age. I have been unable to trace his actions after he served his sentence.

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given, plus archive records.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT: I am grateful to the military historian John D. Ellis for alerting me to the legal records of this case.
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Eliza/Elijah Scott, the Black Man Woman, 1850", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 15 July 2020 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1850scot.htm>.

Return to Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England