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

The Chelsea Workhouse Scandal, 1890

Summary: The 35-year-old kitchen porter of the Chelsea Workhouse and his 16-year-old assistant were charged with "inciting each other to the commission of unnatural offences", and with similarly "assaulting" several other inmates of the Workhouse. The porter had been complained about over the past seven years. They were convicted only on the charge of their consenting relationship with one another. The porter was sent to prison for five years, but his partner was let off with a conditional discharge.

26 April 1890

At the Westmnster Police-court, yesterday, Joseph Bailey, 30, a kitchen porter, was charged on a warrant, which was obtained at the instance of the Chief Commissioner of Police, with having committed a series of offences in Chelsea Workhouse. – Mr. Bodkin watched the case on behalf of the Chelsea Board of Guardians, and Mr. St. John Wontner, by order of the Home Office, conducted the prosecution. – In opening the case Mr. Wontner said it was one of a most serious nature. It was an extraordinary thing, and one for which no explanation had been forthcoming, that the shocking offences charged continued so long as they had, the perpetrator of them – the prisoner in the dock – being, by some sort of influence or interest, allowed to remain an inmate of the workhouse. Undoubtedly complants were made from tme to time against him, but the authorities did nothing more than move him from one part of the house to another, and even when he left they allowed him to come back, and the very disgraceful conduct was continued. He (Mr. Wontner) felt that before the case was over some sort of explanation must be offered. The workhouse authorities were more immediately interesed than a public department like the Treasury, and it would have been thought that they would have taken the proper steps for the protection of the poor people in their charge, but though at first they seemed ready to do so, ultimately they declined to take any steps in the matter, and the Treasury solicitor, who would not poroperly have the conduct of this prosecution, and the police had to take up the case by direction of the Home Office. Mr. Wontner then proceeded to detail the charges, and said that the misdemeanours being properly tryable together could all be charged in one indictment against the prisoner, but when it came to the graver charges, which would be treated as felonies, each would form the subject of separate indictment as one could be decided at a time. – Witnesses were then called, the first being a boy named George Archer, who gave evidence as to what occurred against his will in December last, when he was an inmate of a ward of which the prisoner was in charge. A report was made to the labour master, who proceeded to the master’s office, and some days afterwards the boy said that he went before the Board. He left the workhouse and went to a Working Boys’ Home in Whitehead’s-grove, Chelsea. – Prisoner cross-examined the boy as to why he had not been prosecuted before, and said that he remained in the workhouse long after the alleged assaults, and that nothing was done. – Mr. D’Eyncourt said no doubt there had been some unaccountable delay, but that did not in the slightest degree affect the boy’s evidence. – The prisoner was remanded in custody. (Eastern Evening News)

28 April 1890

THE CHELSEA WORKHOUSE SCANDAL. – Just before the rising of the court, Hugh Johnson, a youth of 16, who was arrested on a warrant by Detective-inspector Dennie and Sergeant Nearn at the Boys’ Home, Southwark-street, was brought before Mr. D’Eyncourt for offences at Chelsea workhouse, in connection with which a man named Joseph Bailey has been remanded in custody. The Home Office have directed the prosecution, and the officers said the inquiry was yet incomplete. – Prisoner was remanded in custody. (Daily Telegraph & Courier)

18 May 1890

At the Westminster Police Court on Thursday, George Barnes, 44, a pauper inmate of Chelsea Workhouse, and one of the witnesses for the prosecution of Joseph Bailey, the late kitchen porter there, and a youth of 16, named Hugh Johnson, both charged, on remand, with felonious offences, were brought up, on the complaint of Alfred J. Dye, the gate porter, who alleged an assault by being struck in the face. Mr. St. John Wontner prosecuted Bailey and Johnson by direction of the Home Office, and stated on the last occasion that he had received instructions from the Treasury to defend the pauper Barnes, and to apply on his behalf for a summons against Dye, the gate porter. There was a great deal to be inquired into with reference to the treatment of witnesses for the prosecution, and he suggested that an effort was made, most improperly, to confine Barnes to the workhouse when it was well known that he was required at the Westminster Police Court to give evidence for the Crown. The magistrate granted a summons against Dye, who, on his original complaint, deposed that on the morning of Saturday, the 3rd inst., he was called to the master’s office to eject Barnes, who at once put himself in a fighting attitude and struck him a violent blow on the neck with his clenched fist. By directcion of the master the man was given into custody. – The witness admitted that Barnes had previously asked him to cause a letter to be delivered to an inspector at Scotland Yard. – Charles Woods, the labour master, who gave corroborative evidence as to the alleged assault on his brother officer, said that Barnes had a letter in his hand when he went to the master’s office to demand his discharge. Mr. Wright, the master, told Barnes that he would not let him go out with the letter. The pauper then desired that a constable might be fetched to take it, as it “was something special about the workhouse scandal.” Eventually witness was ordered by the master to put Barnes out of the office. It was then the man put himself in a fighting attitude and hit Dye. – Charles William Wright, the master of Chelsea Workhouse, deposed that it was reported to him that Barnes wanted to go out, and his instruction was that the man must go on with his work. Barnes subsequently came to the office, where there was a scuffle and assault. In answer to the magistrate, the witness claimed the right to detail Barnes as a man who had been in and out of the house more than once within a month. As he had, he must give forty-eight hours’ notice. – Mr. Wontner, having completed the evidence against Bailey and Johnson, said he thought perhaps it would be a better course for the court not to adjudicate at present on the complaint against Barnes and on his cross-summons. This matter might well stand over till the prisoners had been tried at the Central Criminal Court. – Mr. Rymer, solicitor, said that watching the proceedings as he did for the workhouse master, and appearing for Mr. Dye, he wished to state that they were fully prepared to go on. It was hardly fair to them to let a complaint be hanging indefinitely over their heads. – Mr Wontner said his only idea was not to prejudice or intefere with the trial of the prisoners by going into a collaterial issue. – Mr. Rymer mentioned that he had other witnesses against Barnes. – Mr. D’Eyncourt: You had better let it remain in abeyance, in the face of the more serious charge. The charge against Barnes will be adjourned sine die, his own recognisances being accepted, and the summons against the labour master is also adjouned. &1#50; The prisoners Bailey and Johnson were committed for trial, one charge against the former, as far back as Christmas, 1887, being abandoned, the primary witness, a pauper, 27 yars of age, decliing to give evidence on the ground that he would be incriminated. (The People)

25 May 1890

Yesterday, at the Central Criminal Court, before the Common Serjeant, Joseph Bailey, 35, porter, and Hugh Johnson, 16, were indicted for inciting each other to the commission of unnatural offences. Bailey was also indicted for indecently assaulting George Archer and Harry Coombs.
          Mr. Avory prosecuted; Mr. Wills defended Bailey; Mr. Geoghegan watched the case on behalf of the workhouse officials.
          The prisoner Bailey had been for some years employed as kitchen porter at the Chelsea Workhouse, and the younger prisoner was an inmate there. Some time in March of this year a man named Barnes, who was also an inmate of the workhouse, appears to have gone to Scotland-yard and there given certain information to the police authorities respecting certain offences alleged to have been committed in the workhouse. Inquiries were immediately made, with the result that the present proceedings were instituted against the man Bailey and the boy Johnson. The lad Coombs said he was sixteen years of age, and was at present an inmate of the Whitehead’s Home, Chelsea. He entered the Chelsea Workhouse, upon August 1 last year, and was received into a ward over which Bailey had charge. Witness detailed the prisoner Bailey’s conduct towards him upon the night of August 1 last, and said he made a complaint to an inmate named Harrington the next morning, but to none of the workhouse officials.
          The lad Archer gave similar evidence respecting Bailey’s conduct towards him in the month of December last year. He made a complaint to Mr. Woods, the labour master, directly afterwards, with the result that Bailey was removed from the receiving ward into another ward. Mr. Woods never took him before the master, and he gave no excuse for his crying, because he did not like the place.
          A number of witnesses were examined, inmates of the workhouse, and they confirmed, in many material particulars, the testimony of the complainants. One of them, an army pensioner, said upon one occasion he assaulted Bailey for his conduct, and was charged and sent to prison for that assault.
          Bailey was examined, and he gave a complete denial to the offences alleged against him.
          Mr. Edward Capps, one of the officials of the workhouse, was called, and he denied that any complaint had been made by the man Barnes with reference to the conduct of Bailey.
          Similar evidence was given by other officials, who stated they did not know the man Barnes had, as it was alleged, been forcibly detained in the workhouse by Bailey to prevent his giving information to the police and evidence before the Magistrate when the case was first heard.
          Mr. Wills was proceeding to address the jury, when the foreman interposed. He said the jury, after what they had heard, did not desire to hear counsel for the defence. The conduct of the workhouse officials had nothing to do with them.
          Mr. Wills said he would not wish to press himself upon the jury after that remark.
          The jury found the prisoners “Guilty.”
          It was stated Bailey had prviously been charged with similar offences at the same workhouse seven years ago.
          The Common Sergeant said it was a shocking thing to hear of a workhouse official being guilty of such offences. He sentenced prisoner to five years’ penal servitude. Sentence on Johnson was postponed. (Reynolds’s Newspaper)

According to the Prison Registers (MEPO6, pc. no. 6) Bailey was released from Portsmouth Prison on 19 February 1894, having served four years of his five-year sentence. He was described as being born in 1854 or 1855, being 5'6" tall, with brown hair and black eyes, with some descriptive marks: "Two moles left neck, one under right collar-bone, scar outside right, and inside left forearm, outside each thigh, knock-kneed and flat feet." His "Destination at discharge" was the Royal Society for the Assistance of Discharged Prisoners, London, which would have attempted to find him employment and shelter. The Trial Calendar (CRIM9, pc. no. 36) clarifies that Bailey had been charged with indecently assaulting George Archer and Harry Coombs, and attempting the crime of buggery with Hugh Johnson; he was found guilty of attempting buggery with Johnson and sentenced to five years’ penal servitude. Hugh Johnson was charged with indecently assaulting George Archer and Harry Coombs, and attempting buggery with Joseph Bailey; he was convicted of attempting buggery with Bailey, and judgment was respited. Bailey was additionally indicted with commtting buggery with Hugh Johnson and Thomas Baxter Walter, but he was not tried on these two indictments. Hugh Johnson appeared for sentencing on 23 June 1890, when he was released on his "Own Recognizances in £10 to appear and hear judgment when called on" (HO140, pc. 122; HO27, pc. 216). This was in effect a conditional discharge, and he suffered no further punishment. Incidentally, there are no records that Bailey had previously been convicted of anything. So the only conviction in 1890 was for the two men, Bailey and Johnson, consenting to have sex with one another.

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Chelsea Workhouse Scandal, 1890", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 25 August 2020 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1890chel.htm>.

Return to Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England