Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England, A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

Brother Augustine, 1869

In 1869 the young Prior of the Anglo-Catholic Order of the Holy Redeemer at All Saints' Priory in Newcastle, known as Brother Augustine, was accused of having sexual relations with two young noviciates, one of whom played the harmonium during the services. The two young men (plus a third, who failed to show up for the trial) had long had consenting relations with the Prior, and were reluctant to testify against him; one had to be arrested to make him appear, and a fourth friend, a hat manufacturer, was compelled to appear in court. The Magistrates' Court proceedings at the Newcastle Police Station attracted great attention. They concluded by passing the case for trial to the assizes. But the Grand Jury decided to ignore the bills of indictment (for sodomy and indecent assault), and Brother Augustine was discharged. He was advised to "hook it". He left the Priory, and went to the Isle of Man, now as a member of the Roman Catholic Church. In the following year he was involved in a libel case in which the Bishop of Sodor and Man defended himself against charges of improperly appointing curates from the Brotherhood of the Holy Redeemer.

Saturday, 25 December 1869

The Charge against Bro. Augustine.

In our last week's issue we gave a brief paragraph in reference to a charge which had been brought against a person named Wheatley, formerly a clerk in a Bank here [Newcastle]. We now give a fuller account, which we have extracted.

From the Daily Journal of Dec. 14.
          For some time past unpleasant rumours have been afloat respecting the behaviour of the uoung man Thomas Henry Wheatley, otherwise Friar Augustine, who some time past opened a religious establishment on the New Road, in the east end of this town, commonly known as "All Saints' Priory," where he has collected a brotherhood of so-called monks. Yesterday morning Friar Augustine was placed in the dock of the Newcastle Police-court, before the Mayor (James Morrison, Esq.) and Ald. Pollard, charged with attempting to commit an unnatural offence upon a young man named Morris Alfred Davis, one of the inmates of the house.
          Mr Thomas Forster appeared to prosecute, and Mr Joel was engaged for the defence.
          Mr Forster said he did not know whether he would be able that day to prove the serious offence against the prisoner, as he had only received his instructions that morning, but he had two witnesses against the prisoner who were rather reluctant to give evidence, and who refused to come without being summoned. He was instructed to ask for a remand by the prosecution in order that a summons might be taken out for the purpose of compelling a witness to attend to prove the charge. He was now aware of the defence which Mr Joel was going to set up, and possibly he was better instructed in the case. From the documents which Mr Joel held in his hand, it appeared that when the first charge was made against the prisoner, negotiations were entered into with a view of preventing the case coming before the public. He was not aware of any agreement being entered into by the parties with regard to keeping it from the public. He did not know the result of the evidence that was gone into before Mr J. J. Britton and Mr C. A. Adamson, solicitors – he did not know the award given by these gentlemen.
          Mr Joel said the award was given in favour of Friar Augustine. The matter was gone into on the 7th instant, before the two gentlemen above-mentioned.
          Mr Forster anticipated the production of this agreement in answer to the charge.
          The Major inquired the name of the person that charged the prisoner with the offence.
          Mr Joel said he was charged by a person named Michael Kennedy.
          Mr Forster said that was the absent witness.
          Morris Alfred Davis was called by Mr Forster to prove the charge. He said that he was a teacher by profession, and a member of the brotherhood of which the prisoner was the head. He came to Newcastle in October last on a visit to prisoner, but did not join the establishment. He resided in All Saints' Priory along with the prisoneer. Witness then gave evidence as to the alleged crime, the details of which are totally unfit for publication.
          Cross-examined by Mr Joel: The familiarities commenced the first day he arrived at the Priory. He went up stairs with him simply because he was asked by the prisoner, who was his superior. Afterwards they went down stairs, and the prisoner preached, and witness joined in prayer. – The Mayor: That is, you were present at the service? – Afterwards we smoked together. – Mr Joel: Did you not say in the letter that has been mentioned, that if he did not send you some money you would expose him? – Witness: It was expenses, it was not in the shape of a bribe. – Mr Joel: Did you not say in that letter that if you got money you would say nothing? – Witness: No, I did not. – Mr Joel: At any rate you did send a letter threatening to take proceedings if you did not get money? – Witness: Yes. – Mr Joel: Who got you to come here? – Witness: The parties concerned. – Mr Joel: Who are the parties? – Witness: Vincent, Burch, and others.
          Cross-examination continued: Witness did not live at the Priory. He had slept there since the assault was committed. He stayed there a fortnight after the Superior left.
          John Burch said he was an organist at All Saints' Priory. He had been there since the 23rd of June of the present year. On the 26th of July, the prisoner assaulted him. Witness had to pass through his bed-room to get to his own. He was likewise assaulted on the two following days – three days running; the assaults were committed at the same time each day, in his own room. He was a novice, and a novice in the Order of the Holy Redeemer took vows to see if he could keep them. He promised to keep all the rules of a noviciate in the Order of the Holy Redeemer. He was under a vow of obedience to the Holy Redeemer. The Superior told him that if the people on the New Road knew about it they would kill him.
          Cross-examined: He told the Superior on the 21st August that he must leave the Prior on account of what had happened, but he did not leave. He played the harmonium and the Superior preached. When they were locked out on Thursday, he did not want to take charge of the place himself. Witness did not apply for a warrant until after he was locked out. He would have applied before, but he knew his evidence would be unsupported.
          Mr Forster said that was as far as he could take the cae that day, and he asked for a remand.
          Mr Joel objected.
          The magistrates retired, and on their return the Mayor said they would grant the remand. The case was to a certain extent corroborated, and, therefore, they thought it would be only just to all parties that the remand should be granted.
          Mr Joel, as his client was in delicate health, asked the magistrates if they could take bail. Bail was granted in two sureties of £250 and £500 in prisoner's own recognizances.

(From the Daily Journal, Dec. 17.)
          Thomas Henry Wheatley, otherwise "Friar Augustine," was again brought up at the Newcastle Police Court yesterday, and charged before the Mayor (James Morrison, Esq.), Aldermen Dodds, Pollard, and Hedley, and Henry Milvain, Esq., with committing an unnatural offence. Long before the opening of the Court a large crowd had collected at the doors, and at eleven o'clock the accused was conducted from the gaol to the Manors Police-station, and his appearance attracted a great concourse of people. Mr Thomas Forster again conducted the case for the prosecution; and Mr Joel acted for the accused.
          Mr Forster in opening the case, said the magistrates who heard it on Monday would recollect that the prisoner was remanded for the purpose of enabling the prosecutor to produce a witness to prove what had been termed a most serious charge. He had accordingly caused a summons to be issued for the attendance of that witness, a person named Smith, who had been called there that day, but he had not seen or heard of him since Monday. The officer made an attempt to secure him personally, but could not do so; he left the summons at the witness's last place of abode in Northumberland-place; and the officer could certify that he slept there the night before the service of the summons. That was all the evidence he could produce at present. In regard to the witness Burch, he might be regarded as the prosecutor, and not the party mentioned on Monday. The three parties that had been named were not the prosecutors. He had just asked Burch whether he should ask for a warrant to bring forward the witness wanted, and the prosecutor instructed him to do so.
          Detective Robert Bell was called, and spoke to serving the summons.
          Mr Joel opposed the application for a remand. He had no doubt that Mr Forster exercised very proper precaution on Monday, in applying for a summons for the attendance of the witness; but, at the same time, the magistrates must remember this, that the persons who had instituted this prosecution knew well the nature of the charge preferred against the prisoner, and no doubt his friend (Mr Forster), since he had been instructed, informed the prosecutor of the evidence that would be required in order to substantiate the charge which had been made against his client. The prosecutor laid information of charges against his client of a gross and serious character, and then came there on Monday, not with evidence to support the charge on which the warrant was obtained, but with evidence to prove that an indecent assault had been attempted on a witness called. If prosecutor had done everything he could in the matter he might have instructed his friend to apply for a remand, but he did not such thing. He submitted that this was not a case in which the magistrates ought to grant a remand from time to time in order that the prosecution might bring their evidence before them. The prosecutor knew when he obtained a warrant that it was his duty to support the charge. His friend could only deal with the case as he found it, but taking into consideration the peculiar character of the evidence of the two young men who were there on Monday, he did not think the magistrates, in a case of this kind, ought to give facilities for getting Smith. It was clear that Smith did not want to expose himself as those two young men did on Monday. Perhaps, too, Mr Smith, having stirred up the filth, did not want to inhale the atmosphere he had created. It was a hard case upon his client, who had been confined since Friday on this serious charge; and it might or might not be a fact that this was a vile attempt on the part of those persons, for purposes of their own, to prefer a charge of this kind purely for revenge. There was not an independent witness called, and it seemed impossible for the prosecution to have an independent witness to support the charge.
          The magistrates then retired for private consultation, and on their return,
          The Mayor said that the magistrates had carefully considered the question; and they thought, looking at the gravity of the charge and all the circumstances of the case, that the witness who was not present should not set their authority at defiance; and because he had not attended, the Bench had decided that a warrant should be issued for his apprehension.
          Mr Joel required if their worships would take bail for the accused.
          The Mayor replied that they would take the same bail as before.
          Mr Forster asked for the magistrates' assistance to obtain some clothes which belonged to the witnesses out of All Saints' Priory.
          The Mayor remarked they would be given up.
          The case was then adjourned.

(From the Daily Journal) of Monday last.)
          Thomas H. Wheatley (25), better known as Bro. Augustine, superior of a supposed Protestant sect styling themselves the Order of the Holy Redeemer, was again placed in the dock at the Mayor's Police-court this morning, charged with having committed a loathsome and unnatural offence in All Saints' Priory, New-road, Newcastle. The magistrates on the Bench were the Mayor (Mr James Morrison), Aldermen Hunter, Blackwell, Pollard, and Dodds, and Messrs H. Milvian and C. F. Hamond. The prisoner seemed to treat the case with the coolest indifference during the whole of the proceedings, occasionaly [sic] smiling as the witnesses were giving their evidence.
          Mr Thomas Forster said he wished to recall the prosecutor, Thomas Burch, in order that he might state the reason why he had not taken proceedings sooner. With regard to the witness Smith, he did not know what evidence he would give, but if he gave such as he had been given to underestand he would, he thought the Bench would commit the prisoner for trial.
          Thomas Burch said the reason he had not brought the case against the prisoner sooner was that he would have been dismissed from the house, and he thought he would wait until some one else commenced proceedings. It was a horrible charge, and he thought if uncorroborated he would not be believed. Witness then gave further evidence as to his divulging the matter to Brother Vincent on the 16th October, and the subsequent proceedings. Prisoner asked a clergyman in the Priory, after he had been charged there with the offence, what he would advise him to do, and the clergyman said he would advise him as a friend to "hook it."
          Mr. Blackwell: Did he understand the meaning of the words "hook it?"
          Witness: I think he did, sir, for he did "hook" it.
          Mr Forster: He went within a quarter of an hour.
          Examination resumed: The clergyman advised him to leave the country. Prisoner said he had confessed these sins to a Church of England priest. Dr. Dykes, of Durham, came to the Priory to hear confessions about every three weeks. Prisoner said he would never come back to Newcastle again. The clergyman who advised him to "hook it" was the Rev. George Pickett, of Edinburgh. Prisoner came back a fortnight after; he was in the house about three or four minututes. The charge was not mentioned then.
          Cross-examined by Mr Joel: Dr. Dykes is a doctor of music, and vicar of a church in Durham. Had not himself confessed to Dr. Dykes, but had confessed to Church of England clergymen in London. The reason he had brought the case into that court was because prisoner wrote a letter to a Newcastle daily paper denying that the criminal charge had been proved at the arbitration.
          Witness, at the request of the Mayor, wrote down the names of the two clergymen to whom he had confessed. He declined to make them public.
          Mr Joel demanded that the names be made public.
          The Mayor said they would consider it.
          John Robert Smith, on being sworn, said he was a hat manufacturer. Was not a brother, but was often at the Priory, both when the services were going on and at other times, and he occasionally resided there for periods from a day to two months at a time. Remembered Sunday, the 4th or 5th of October, 1868. He had occasion on that day to go to prisoner's room to ask about the service. (Witness here described what he saw done between the prisoner and the lad named Kennedy, which is of a much more serious nature, legally, than the minor assaults spoken to by witnesses Burch and Davis, namely, the actual commission of the offence with which prisoner is charged.) Did not think they saw him (witness); he retired. On several occasions afterwards he saw them together in a nude condition. Did not say anything to them on any occasion.
          The Mayor: After witnessing these disgusting exhibitions did you continue to attend the religious services?
          Witness: Yes; but I did not think it was of such a serious nature.
          Cross-examined by Mr Joel: Did not discover that this was a very serious offence until March last, and he then consulted a work on theology by Finney
[Charles G. Finney was an American revivalist, famous for a book on Systematic Theology, in which he dealt with the issue of moral depravity.], who alludes to such an offence. Continued to go backwards and forwards to the Priory after he made the discovery. Had arranged to go to Brighton with prisoner in September, and Kennedy was to have gone also. Witness admitted having taken a cassock from the Priory. Prisoner had threatened to prosecute him; but sooner than have any dispute he paid him £3 for it. (Receipt produced.) The last time he saw anything improper was in the month of August last, when he saw Burch and the prisoner sitting in the window together.
          Michael Kennedy was called by Mr Joel and said the prisoner never took improper liberties with him. He had never hinted such a thing. Never saw anything improper between Burch and prisoner.
          Cross-examined by Mr Forster: Had slept with prisoner all the two years he had been at the Priory.
          Re-examined by Mr Joel: Always slept with the prisoner, except on one or two nights.
          Mr Joel addressed the Bench for the prisoner, and challenged the veracity of all the witnesses for the prosecution, and alluded particularly to the fact that the witness Smith had actually paid money to prisoner to avoid a prosecution for felony.
          The magistrates retired for a few mnutes, and on their return,
          The Mayor said the decision of the Bench was, under existing circumstances, that they could hardly allow the case to pass over, and they must send the prisoner for trial at the assizes. (Isle of Man Times)

The Calendar of Prisoners Tried at the Special Gaol Delivery for the Year 1869 (HO140, Piece No. 7) records that Thomas Henry Wheatley, Gentleman, age 25, went for trial at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne on 21 December 1869, on the charges of "Feloniously, wickedly, and against the order of nature, carnally knowing one Michael Kennedy, on the 4th of October, 1868. And, on the 21st August, 1869, indecently assaulting one John Birch", but that the "Bills of Indictment for sodomy and indecent assault, [were] ignored by the Grand Jury", and he was therefore discharged.
          Wheatley was later involved in a clerical libel case, of which the following gives a rather confusing summary:

23 February 1870

The Liverpool Mercury, of yesterday, contains the report of an action brought by Mr. A. N. Laughton, a member of the Manx bar, against the Bishop of Sodor and Man, for libel, which occupied the attention of the Common Law Court, Ramsey, during the greater part of last week. The damages are laid at £1,000. The case is being heard before his Honour Deemster Stephen, and a special jury. The alleged libel arose out of proceedings in the House of Keys (the Manx Parliament), relative to the Braddan Division Bill. This measure would have increased the bishop's patronage in the island, and as a strong feeling existed against it, a petition was presented to the House of Keys against the adoption of the bill. The plaintiff in the present action appeared in support of this petition, and told the House that it would increase evil, instead of doing good, by giving additional patronage to the bishop, in whom, he added, "the people from one end of the island to the other have no confidence." The bishop seems to have waxed wroth under these imputations, and in his next annual charge to the clergy in his diocese, the uttered (we now quote from the plaintiff's declaration) "a certain false, scandalous, malicious, and defamqtory libel of and concerning the plaintiff." The bishop had described Mr. Laughton's speech as "a gross personal attack," as containing "unproved charges," and as showing an "entire disregard of truth." Mr. Laughton, considerintg that his trade and reputation had been prejudiced by imputations that he had acted improperly, disgracefully, and unprofessionally, brouight the present action. . . . [During the course of the trial, one of the accusations was that the Bishop may have been improperly connected with the appointment of a curate from the Brotherhood of the Holy Redeemer"] . . . A flood of light was thrown upon the doctrinal tendencies of Mr. Donaldson and others by the evidence of Thomas Wheatley, who was formerly a member of the "Brotherhood of the Holy Redeemer," and who has lately joined the Church of Rome. This is the person who was recently accused at Newcastle-on-Tyne of abominable offences. He gave a minute account of the establishment at Torrington, of which Mr Mossman was the superior. – The Attorney-General objected to the admission of the evidence, asking what they had to do with the monastery at Torrington. – Mr. Adams said they could trace some of the persons confirmed to the very establishment referred to, and the question would then arise whether the bishop had exercised due care in ascertaining the character of persons introduced to the island, which was one of the allegations tonained in Mr. Laughton's speech. His object was to show that Donaldson and others were "Mossman's monks," and that they had been introduced into the island by the bishop. – Wheatley they gave evidence of having seen both Vesey and Donaldson at the monastery. Donaldson generally attended to the candles, and prepared them for the service. The rules of the establishment were adapted from the Franciscan order. Mr. Meeres, Mr. Donaldson, and Mr. Vesey were under the tuition of Mr. Mossman. No other bishop but Sodor and Man ordained any one from Mr. Mossman's establishment. Witness then detailed the various features of the order, stating that the brotherhood are now allowed to marry. – Mr. Adams: There was no convent attached to the monastery? (Laughter.) – Witness (smiling): No. He then proceeded to give a particular description of the daily and special services held by the "brotherhood," which were akin to those of the Roman Catholic Church. – This is the stage at which the case now stands, and the trial is to be resumed next Thursday. (Newcastle Daily Chronicle)

The libel case lasted twelve days, and the final verdict was not made until 15 March 1870, when the jury brought in a verdict of £400 damages against the Bishop. However, the Appellate Court later overturned the verdict, and ordered Laughton the pay all the costs of the proceedings. Laughton then laid his charges before the public in newspapers in December 1872. Wheatley's description of the order's activities was rehearsed. Wheatley died in Newcastle in 1922.

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Brother Augustine, 1869", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1869whea.htm>. 30 April 2020

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