From Twickenham to Turkey

Eighteenth-Century Gay Subcultures in Europe, America and Australia

Copyright © Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. This essay may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the author.

(1) The Old World

The molly houses of London were as nothing compared to their counterparts in less intolerant parts of the world. But it is difficult to document the existence of male prostitution or a gay subculture as such in more than a few of the most exotic countries. William Lithgow in The Totall Discourse, Of the Rare Adventures, and painefull Peregrinations (1632) reported that during his visit to Malta in 1616 he “saw a Spanish soldier and a Maltese boy burnt in ashes, for the public profession of sodomy; and long or night there were above a hundred bardassoes – whorish boys – that fled away to Sicily in a galleot for fear of fire, but never one bugeron stirred, being few or none there free of it". Of Morocco, which was regarded as the modern gay paradise in the later twentieth century, Lithgow also has a few words: "There are some twelve thousand allowed brothel-houses in this town [Fez], the courtesans being neatly kept and weekly well looked to by physicians. But worst of all, in the summer time they openly licentiate three thousand common stews of sodomitical boys. Nay, I have seen at midday, in the very market places, the Moors buggaring these filthy carrions, and without shame or punishment go freely away". Turkey was regarded as the sink of lascivious luxury, and the Turks were said to be particularly addicted to sodomy, "which they account as a dainty to digest all other libidinous pleasures". As late as 1822 the author of a pamphlet could advise the scandalously absconded Bishop of Clogher to "take a trip to Turkey, where he can worship his god without the fear of being branded or hanged" (The Bishop!! Particulars of the Charge against the Hon. Percy Jocelyn, Bishop of Clogher (London, [1822]), p. 9). The xenophobia of the typical Englishman goes a long way to explain the belief that homosexuality was prevalent abroad, be it in the exotic east or closer to home, particularly in papist Italy. Lithgow saw it celebrated throughout Italy, not only in the great cities, but even in "the smallest village of Italy. A monstrous filthiness, and yet to them a pleasant pastime, making songs and singing sonnets of the beauty and pleasure of their bardassi, or buggared boys". A character in Robert Greene's A Quip for an Upstart Courtier (1592) has this to say to another: "And whereas thou saiest thou wert borne in Italy, & caled hether by our courtiers, him may wee curse that brought thee first into Englande: for thou camest not alone, but accompanied with multitude of abhominable vices, hanging on thy bumbast nothing but infectious abuses, and vaine glory, selfe love, sodomie and strange poisonings, wherewith thou hast infected this glorious Iland".

Homosexuality is as indigenous to England as to most other countries, but if it is possible for the social structures of homosexuality, i.e. the gay subculture, to have been imported into England, then it was probably brought over from the rather more prosaic territory of the Netherlands by William III and his court. The gay subculture certainly flourished concurrently in both countries, and the major anti-gay purges of the eighteenth century occurred in Holland at the same time as the lesser purges in England. The astonishing purges of 1730–31 probably sent men running for cover even in England, where it was publicised, and remarked upon in Lord Hervey's circle. In April 1730 some men were arrested in Utrecht; they incriminated others, and on 21 July the States of Holland issued a Placat, posted in every town, that set off wide-scale persecution. Sodomy was to be punished by death, and those who offered their homes for its commission were also to die, and their corpses to be burned to ashes and thrown into the sea "or exposed as unworthy of burial", that the names of the convicted – including the fugitives – would be publicly posted.

It seems as though most of the men were in fact "guilty" of being homosexual, that is, this was neither a political reign of terror, nor a hysterical witch-hunt which rounded up "innocent" people. Not enough research into the actual trial records has yet been done, and we cannot be certain how well the gay subculture was developed, or how Dutch immigrants such as Peter Vivian the peruke maker may have contributed to the formation of the English subculture. But we are certain that the subculture existed, and the Dutch evidence is surprisingly similar to the English evidence. The first traces of a subculture come with the discovery of a gang of blackmailers in Amsterdam in 1689. Men made contact with each other by the use of certain signs: in The Hague in 1702, the court learned that men would raise a white handkerchief to signal their leanings to one another. The Town Hall was used as a centre for homosexual cruising, and shady lanes near the city forest served as meeting places for male prostitutes, who sometimes dressed in women’s clothes. As early as 1703 there were specific cruising grounds in The Hague where homosexuals recognised each other by special signs. In the 1730s, in the provinces of Frisia and Groningen, homosexual men gave each other female names. By the 1720s, extensive networks of sodomites were also to be found in Rotterdam, Haarlem and Utrecht; some men had long-term relationships and addressed one another as "nicht", meaning "female cousin". Transvestism was not usual among Dutch homosexuals, though they commonly addressed one another with female nicknames. By the middle of the eighteenth century, in Amsterdam, gay men met not only in public toilets and under the arcades of the town hall, but in molly houses or taverns called lolhuysen. They developed a sense of gay identity supported by the use of special mimicry, love names, and a network of friends and contacts, and some men even sealed marriage contracts with blood. From 1600 to 1690, about a dozen women who dressed as men and were "married" to other women were punished by banishment. Prosecutions for lesbianism or "tribadism" were very rare: three women in Leiden in the seventeenth century, and thirteen women in Amsterdam during 1792–98.

Research has been unable to reveal much evidence of gay subcultures in other countries during this period. Perhaps in response to the Dutch "Placat", the Swedish penal code of 1734 required that convicted sodomites be beheaded, but there is no evidence of a Swedish gay subculture (although there were certain gay notables such as King Gustavus III). Similarly in Prussia we find gay members of the nobility such as Prince Henry, but little evidence of an organised gay subculture outside the court, at least not until the late 1800s. During the wars of independence at that time, a Free Mason Lodge in Berlin was accused of being a club for pederasts. The entrance to this club was at the rear of the building, and over the door was the inscription "Wise men shall find the entrance" – supposed to be an allusion to the superiority of anal intercourse. German homosexuals at that time were called "warm brothers", a phrase still in use much later. In Hamburg in 1790, two dozen sodomites were arrested in a tavern, suggesting some social organization between men sharing the same taste. The homosexual subculture of Berlin was first exposed in an account published in 1782, describing how “warm brothers” gathered in Knabentabagie, or boy bordellos. (Schwül, meaning "hot, humid", dating from 1648, is still the main slang term for German gay men.)

There were of course some very famous homosexuals in Germany in the eighteenth century other than those in the Court, most notably Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), inspirer of the new Hellenism, murdered in Trieste by Francesco Arcangeli, an ex-convict and cafe waiter whom he had taken to his hotel room. We must also mention the possibility that goethe was gay (or more strictly bisexual). By his own admission: "I liked boys a lot, but girls are even nicer. / If I tire of her as a girl, she'll play the boy for me as well." ["Knaben liebt' ich wohl auch, doch lieber sind mir die Mädchen: / Hab' ich als Mädchen sie satt, dient sie als Knabe mir@, Notizbuch von der schlesischen Reise in Jahre 1790, ed. Friedrich Zaruke, in Goethes Werke, Leipzig, 1884, III, i, 255.] And in one of his conversations with Chancellor Friedrich von Müller, Goethe "explained how Greek boy-love actually happened to come about; that from a purely aesthetic standard, the male is, other things being equal, always far handsomer, more excellent, more perfectly proportioned than the female. . . . Boy-love is as old as mankind, and one can say of it that it is natural even though it is 'against' nature." [Conversation No. 265, Wednesday, 7 April 1830.] Goethe occasionally described the archetypal Beautiful Boy set-piece both in poetry and in reality, as in one of his Letters from Switzerland: "I got Ferdinand to bathe in the sea. How magnificently shaped is my young friend! What symmetry of every part! What a fulfillment of form, what splendour of youth, . . ." Goethe's West-Östlicher Diwan, inspired by a German translation of Hafiz, is quite Ganymedic in content, the cup-bearer apparently modelled upon the son of Professor Paulus of Heidelberg. [According to J. Z. Eglinton, Greek Love, London, 1971, p. 351.] Some of Goethe's elegies are reputed to have been frankly paedophilic, and Marc André Raffalovich claimed to have seen them in manuscript: "It is known that Goethe, in Rome, wrote poems to a young boy whom he is said to have loved. These two Roman elegies will never be published, not even in the fine new edition of his works in 120 large volumes, – but Goethe in Italy is one of the most interesting moments in the history of genius." [Raffalovich, Uranisme et unisexualite, 1896, p. 310.]

In Geneva, there were frequent prosecutions for sodomy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, apparently occurring in five-year cycles from 1560 to 1610. Where there is so much smoke, one would assume there is also some fire, but these prosecutions were linked to peaks of religious revival, and the commonplace combination of charges of sodomy with charges of sorcery and heresy renders the former as dubious as the latter. To take but one not untypical case, in 1610 Pierre Canal was tortured for high treason and murder, and gefore this inquisition was finished he had accused some twenty men of sodomy. This unusually large number may reflect the existence of a gay subculture or network – or it may not. Such accusations are always helpful to the authorities when they wish to oppress a political or heretical group by an exemplary trial. Most of the sodomy charges throughout this period of Genevan history were levelled against adolescents and visiting Italians, a few Turks, and numerous French religious refugees.

In France, the gay subculture flourished primarily in the court. In particular, there was bemused criticism of "Monsieur", Philippe I d'Orleans, only brother of Louis XIV. He was married to "Madame" Liselotte, Elisabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate, Duchess of Orleans, but he was notorious for the public manner in which he displayed his love for his boyfriends, who included Chevalier de Lorraine and Marquis d'Effiat. On August 26, 1689, Liselotte wrote to her aunt Sophie: "You know that my enemies have put it into Monsieur's head to make his first equerry, d'Effiat, my son's governor. Since all France knows as well as I do that this man is the most immoral and depraved fellow in the world, I have asked Monsieur to select someone else. My reason is that it doesn't seem compatible with my son's honour to be regarded as d'Effiat's mistress, for there is no greater sodomite in the whole of France. It's a poor debut for a young prince to start off in life with the greatest debauchee in the world. Monsieur admitted that d'Effiat had been depraved and fond of boys, but said he had cured himself of his vices long since. I said that only a few years ago a good-looking German who was staying here had excused himself from coming to see me as often as he would have liked because d'Effiat pestered hm whenever he set foot in the Palais-Royal. So he can't have changed as long ago as his friends claim. And even supposing that he hadn't practised his vices for a few years, I don't consider it is necessary to use one's only son to test whether or not the Herr equerry has renounced boys."

Liselott'e dislike of d'Effiat is an exception to her more usual liberal and worldly-wise attitude, as in her letter of 3 December 1705 to Ameliese: "Where can you and Luise have been hiding, to know so little of the ways of the world? I should have thought it was quite impossible to spend any time at all at any Court without getting a good idea of it. If one were to detest every man who is fond of young fellows, it would be impossible to find even six people to like, or at least not to dislike. They come in every sort of variation. Some of them hate women and only love men, others like both men and women, some only children of ten or eleven, others young men between seventeen and twenty-five. Most are in this category. Other debauchees, who love neither men nor women, amuse themselves all alone, but there are only a few of those." Once her son, intending to quote the German proverb Art lässt nicht von Art – "Like is drawn to like" – mistakenly said Arsch lässt nich von Arsch – "Arse is drawn to arse". Liselotte, thinking he had noticed something "which wouldn't have been at all uncommon here", rebuked him, then explained the difference between Art and Arsch; her son gave up trying to learn German.

The picture that Liselotte paints suggests that there was really no need for a gay subculture in France, for homosexuals were everywhere and had not yet been forced underground. For the nobility, private life was relatively unhampered by petty moral conventions. In the closing years of the seventeenth century, for example, a homosexual club had been founded by the Duc de Grammont, the Maltese Knight de Fillodet, Manicamp and the Marquis de Bizan. All of the members submitted to the "rigueurs de Noviciat, qui durerait jusqu'a ce que la barbe fut venue au mention". But shortly after its founding, a royal prince joined it and the king, on discovering this, ordered its dissolution; the prince was punished on the part of his body by which he had offended. Our source for his anecdote is a chapter in La France galante (1695) which is significantly titled "La France devenue Italienne" – "France, turned Italian".

As early as 1702 an organised system of male homosexual prostitution was discovered in Paris; several prominent men were burned, while others cut their own throats to escape public punishment and avoid disgrace. As late as 1750, two pederasts were burned alive in Paris. By the middle of the eighteenth century France could boast of some thriving lesbian clubs and pederastic circles such as the Guebres and the Arracheurs de palissardes. In Charles Gervais de Latouche's anti-clerical Histoire de Dom Bougre (c. 1745) – which was widely read, and treasured by the Marquise de Pompadour – there are miscellaneous criticisms of ecclesiastical buggery and tribadism; in a typical scene, while Susannah sleeps at the cloister Sister Monika slips into her bed and initiates her into lesbian pleasures, and continues to do so, interrupted by heterosexual bouts. In L'Autrichiene en goguette, attributed to Mayeur de Saint-Paul, there is a very amusing description of a lesbian encounter between Marie Antoinette and the Duchess of Polignan (involving also the Count d'Artois), which allegedly took place behind the back of the sleeping king.

In early eighteenth-century Paris, homosexuals looked for pick-ups on the Pont-Neuf and then would go to a tavern where they hired a private room. Groups of fifteen to thirty homosexual men would meet in a tavern with shutters closed, where they ate, danced, sang, performed sexual initiation rituals, micked women and used female nicknames and rituals (eight such taverns in 1748 have been recorded ). As early as 1706, sodomites met at certain taverns in the St Antoine district, in groups having a ‘Grand Master’ and a ‘Mother in charge of novices’. Cruising grounds that were popular in the 1710s when they were first discovered by police agents were still popular in the 1780s. Police records reveal men who had long-term homosexual relationships and who recognized in themselves a lifelong inclination that made them different from most men.

Numerous sodomites were arrested in Paris, especially during the period 1723 to 1747, by police entrappers called mouches, and later by "pederasty patrols". Men cruised the quays, especially on Sundays, and young male prostitutes regularly blackmailed their older partners. In a few notorious cases sodomites were burned at the stake, but there were few capital convictions, and sodomy came to be regarded as a secular vice rather than a religious sin. From 1738, the term "sodomite" was replaced in the police records by the non-religious term "pederast" or "pede" – a term, incidentally, not linked to a specific act. The Parisian homosexual subculture was closely tied to male prostitution from an earlier period than that of London. A French gay subculture became clearly recognizable from the 1780s. Restif de la Bretonne – who saw everything on the underside of Paris life – came across homosexual men primarily at the masked balls during Carnival time, which he describes in Les nuits de Paris: "Since coming to Paris I had heard talk of effeminates, but apparently these creatures either never went out, like queen bees, or else disguised themselves, for it was not until this dance that I first saw them in their full horror. Five or six gorgeous creatures appeared at Coulon"s, ten times more womanish than women, and were instantly surrounded. They were absolutely determined to show themselves off, and a swarm of bold coquettes soon sought them out and began to make provocative remarks, even to pay court to them. The fops withdrew, not in a timid way, but with a kind of insolence that was more striking than if they had retaliated". Bretonne, though himself a foot and shoe fetishist, puritanically scorned fashionable sodomites, and was scandalised by their preference for men over women on the grounds of the gay proverb "You don't serve leg of lamb without the bone". He could not accept mere pleasure as a motive: "in this class must be included schoolboys who do it for mischief, soldiers for lack of money, and monks of necessity. As for mignons, it is certain that they do so only from avarice for they derive no pleasure from it whatever, and they expose themselves to much more contempt and sarcasm than do buggerers."

Voltaire had a much more liberal attitude toward what he unfortunately termed the "Maladie Socratique" (a term bearing the first suggestion that homosexuality was a disease), but more happily termed the peche philosophique ("philosophical sin"). While at the court of Frederick the Great, Voltaire slept with an English gentleman as a "scientific experiment"; he found it not to his taste. A few days later the Englishman informed him that he had repeated the experiment with another. Voltaire replied: "Once, a philosopher; twice, a sodomite!" Montesquieu in The Spirit of Laws (1748), Book 12, Section 6, "The Crime Against Nature", denounces homosexual behaviour as "infamous" and meriting "public horror", but he goes on to point out that only two other crimes under the French laws were also punishable by burning at the stake: witchcraft and heresy – thereby drawing attention to the ecclesiastical origin of such "crimes" and implying a more sceptical view for an enlightened society. Rousseau in his Confessions (published after his death in 1778) alleges that while he was considering conversion to Catholicism, a man as the hospice where he was receiving instruction violently tried to seduce him. rousseau spoke of ths incident to others; the next dayi "one of the principals came very eary and read me a sharp lecture, accusing me of impugning the honor of a scared establishment and making a lot of fuss about nothing. . . . He told me gravely that it was a forbidden and immoral act like fornication, but the desire for it was not an affront to the person who was its object. There was nothing to get so annoyed about in having been found attractive. He told me quite openly that in his youth he had been similarly honored and, having been surprised in a situation where he could put up no resistance, he had found nothing so brutal about it all. He carried his effrontery so far as to employ frank terminology and, imagining that the reason for my refusal had been fear of pain, assured me that my apprehensions were groundless."

There is also evidence of a homosexual subculture in Lisbon and elsewhere in Portugal in the mid-seventeenth century. Effeminate homosexuals (fanchons) met together in rooming houses, danced together wearing female clothes in the streets, and used female nicknames or men’s names modified by feminine diminutives. Love letters between the sacristan of the cathedral of Silves and a guitarist nicknamed "Francisquinha" in 1664 tell a vivid story of love and desire, incidentally revealing that coitus between the thighs was practised specifically to avoid the sin of sodomy. In the more organized subculture of Lisbon, sodomites patronized certain inns and met one another in private homes, as well as used a widespread street culture of male prostitution. Detailed cases from the records of the Portuguese Inquisition suggest that most sexual relations between males followed the adult–adolescent pattern, not only in brief client–hustler encounters, but in long-term relationships perceived as being similar to men cohabiting with a concubine. Many of the sodomites were married, but nevertheless recognized themselves as part of a group who shared homosexual tastes. Many were also exclusively male-oriented. The Portuguese Inquisition burned about 35 sodomites during 1660–1700, and whipped, imprisoned and exiled many more. In one interesting case, Father Machado, who was tried in 1698, had thirteen teenage partners over a period of nearly nine years, including a tailor, soldiers, students, a surgeon, a silversmith and a bookshop employee.

(2) The New World

Such a laissez-faire philosophy did not prevail in the New World. The Colony of Massachusetts Bay in its Body of Liberties (1641) welcomed refugees trying to escape "the Tiranny or oppression of their persecutors", but it did not extend a similarly warm greeting to its homosexual immigrants. For example on 23 June 1629, aboard the ship Talbot sailing for the New World: "This day we examined 5 beastly Sodomiticall boyes, which confessed their wickedness not to be named. The fact was so fowl we reserved them to be punished by the governor when we came to new England, who afterward sent them backe to the company to bee punished in ould England, as the crime deserved" (Francis Higgeson’s Journal). It was not long, however, before the colonies could mete out their own punishments, and as late as 1776 male homosexuals were universally subject to the death penalty in the original thirteen colonies.

Laws are notorious for being created in a vacuum of intellectual abstractions, but William Bradford in his History of Plymouth Plantation reported that in 1642 wickedness was "much witnesed against, and . . . narrowly looked into, and severely punished when it was knowne. . . . Even sodomie and bugerie, (things fearful to name,) have broak forth in this land, oftener than once". In some states such as Maryland and Virginia where no specific law applied, trials and at least one execution were carried out under the English statutes presumed to be in force. One of the tragedies of the New World was that it did not sufficiently question the validity of the laws of the Old World. After the Revolution, Pennsylvania was the first to reform its laws in a less sanguinary direction. In 1786 sodomy was punished by death no longer, but by forfeiture of all lands and goods, and servitude for a term not exceeding ten years. Reforms elsewhere took place slowly and in a bizarre fashion. Thomas Jefferson proposed that sodomites be castrated and that lesbians be punished "by cutting thro' the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch diameter at the least". His measures were not adopted, but in 1792 Virginia made sodomy a capital offence with a mandatory death sentence. Gradually the penalty was reduced to fines, whipping, and imprisonment (often for life), though death was still the penalty in North Carolina until 1869, and in South Carolina until 1873 – under the Buggery Act of Henry VIII.

These harsh laws would have supported a reign of terror in the colonies, but in fact few prosecutions have come to light. In 1624 Richard William Cornish, Master of the ship Ambrose, anchored in the James River, Virginia, was hanged for committing sodomy with the 29 year old cabin boy William Couse. In 1646, in Massachusetts Bay Colony, William Plaine was executed for having committed sodomy with two persons in England, and because "he had corrupted a great part of the youth of Guilford by masturbations, which he had committed, and provoked others to the like above a hundred times" (John Winthrop, History of New England from 1630 to 1649). Also in 1646, in Manhattan, New Netherland Colony, Jan Creoli, a negro, was sentenced to be choked to death and burned to ashes for a second offence of sodomy; his partner, ten year old Manuel Congo, was then carried to the place of Creoli's execution, tied to a stake, with faggots symbolically piled around him, and flogged. In New Netherlands Colony there is a reference to attempted sodomy by N. G. Hillebrant or Hillebtantsen in 1658; and to alleged homosexual rape by J. Q. van der Linde (or Linden) in 1660 – he was tied in a sack and drowned in a river, while his victim was whipped and "sent to some other place". In 1674, in Massachusetts, a young man named Benjamin Goad was castrated for a crime which seems to have involved masturbating himself in front of, or with, other boys (Samuel Danforth, The Cry of Sodom Enquired into, Upon the Arraignment and Condemnation of Benjamin Goad (Cambridge, Mass., 1674)).

There are virtually no references to homosexuality in the United States for the next one hundred years, an inexplicable gap which may be due to insufficient research. In 1775 the British Colonial Secretary Lord George Germain, previously mentioned under his earlier title Lord George Sackville, is said to have desired a relationship with the American Benjamin Thompson. In 1778 one of George Washington's soldiers, Lieutenant Frederick Gotthold Enslin, was court-martialled for attempted sodomy with another soldier. In that same year, Governor Zespedes investigated the rising incidence of homosexuality among the Spanish army in Florida, some involving boys of English parents, and had the offenders arrested and sent to Havana for punishment. The French lawyer Moreau de St Méry reported that many young women in Philadelphia in 1793–98 were lesbians. In 1810 a man named Davis was indicted in Maryland for having sodomised a 19-year-old man, and sentenced to stand once in the pillory for fifteen minutes and to pay a fine of $500.

The lack of evidence seems to suggest that there was no gay subculture in America until well into the nineteenth century. The first glimpse we have into a possible American gay subculture is found in a broadside dated 25 April 1826. It was written by Louis Dwight, who stated that he had examined numerous prisons since 1824, between Massachusetts and Georgia, especially in New England and New York, where he found enough "testimony to establish one general fact, viz. That boys are prostituted to the lust of old convicts" and that "the Sin of Sodom is the vice of prisoners, and boys are the favorite prostitutes". He asked several convicts if they ever knew of boys who retained their integrity in a Penitentiary, and was told "Never". The boys – called Kinshon – frequently boasted of their behaviour, and received adequate rewards for being kept. The older convicts vied with one another to secure the favours of the fair ones, giving them presents, and eventually contriving to get them to occupy the same room. Then a strong attachment followed, in which they shared meals and presents, and the older ones took the blame and punishment in place of their mates.

Homosexual activities and identities in the European colonies are more difficult to uncover. In Colonial America, although there may have been some homosexual networks in Philadelphia, the evidence for overt homosexuality throughout the country is fewer than half a dozen legal cases. Most Early American homosexual history consists of speculation about situational homosexuality that might have arisen, for example, in frontier societies where men formed intense romantic friendships in the absence of women.

Although Brazil and other South American countries had a long indigenous tradition of gender-variant men, classed as berdache by the early European explorers, there may have been a homosexual subculture in the Portuguese bases of Bahia and Rio de Janeiro. In 1686, a widowed grocer picked up a sixteen-year-old boy playing the part of a woman at the theatre, and they lived together as husband and wife for two-and-a-half years, until the Inquisition responded to the public scandal and brought them to trial. Both men were exiled, but the grocer formed more homosexual liaisons later in life. Similar long-term domestic relationships were regularly documented, some of them being inter-racial. In Rio certain shopkeepers permitted sodomites to use their premises as meeting places. Part of the Passeio Público which was laid out in the late eighteenth century was used for homosexual cruising, and the track left by the demolition of an old aqueduct became a path where male prostitutes wearing female clothing solicited.

(3) Australia

The prison environment of course produces a highly circumscribed and specialised sort of gay subculture, one which was known (though not admitted) by prison superintendents since time immemorial, and it was this sort of milieu which produced the gay subculture of England's other great colony. Australia is unique in gay history for having had founded upon its shores an artificially created gay subculture, a subculture so visible and widespread that New South Wales was openly referred to in the newspapers as Sodom. ( The following survey is based upon Martin Smith, "Our Australian Gay Heritage", Campaign, No. 19 (April 1977), pp. 13–15, 42, 46.)

England's colonisation of Australia began on 26 January 1788, with the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. He had been appointed Governor-elect of New South Wales on 25 October 1786, and in a memo written shortly afterwards he advised the Minister that it would be impossible to keep apart the men and women prisoners on the transportation ship; indeed, "I don't know but it is best if the abandoned [of the women] are permitted to receive the visits of the convicts [male] in the limits allotted to them at certain times, and under certain restrictions". The reason for this unconventional suggestion is made clear in the next paragraph: "The death penalty should be limited to two offences – those of murder and sodomy. But I doubt whether the fear of death ever prevented a man of no principle from committing a bad action. I would deliver a murderer or sodomist as a prisoner to the natives of New Zealand and let them eat him, for, the dread of this will operate much stronger than the fear of death".

Captain Arthur Phillip (1738–1814), Australia's Founding Father, despite his public statement against homosexuals, and despite his two (childless) marriages, may have been homosexual himself. At any rate it is certain that he had a strong interest in young men, such as was thirteen-year-old William Neate Chapman, whom Phillip wished to take with him on that first voyage to Botany Bay, but whose parents refused; and a certain Landmann, a young man who had been a midshipman "without any duties" on Phillip's ship, and who recalled him in 1796 as "my oldest and most intimate friend"; and young Henry Waterhouse, a midshipman aboard the Sirius, whom Daniel Southwell the Mate described as "his minion, his young lieutenant, his favorite, his darling, at least six or seven years younger and three quarters here in camp at his full range!" When Waterhouse visited Phillip in retirement in Bath in 1806, Fanny Chapman commented in her diary: "Their friendship is deep and the Admiral is always speaking of this young man in tones of warmth and endearment. The Captain is more than a son to the Admiral".

Although the laws of Britain now governed the Australian colonies, there is no record of any sodomite being hanged (or sent to the cannibals) during Phillip's term as governor, nor is there any indication that men convicted of sodomy or attempted sodomy were transported to the colonies. But there can be no doubt that homosexuality would have been rife by the time the prisoners arrived at the colonies. On the First Fleet, aboard the Sirius, were 568 men and 191 women convicts; between 1787 and 1800, 5,595 men and only 1,440 women arrived at New South Wales. This disparate proportion of men and women did not vary much over the years: by 1844 the population of Sydney consisted of 87,000 men and 43,000 women; in 1821 there were seven men for every woman in New South Wales. At the same time the marriage rate steadily decreased, from 181 in 1809, to 52 in 1813, to 47 in 1817. The results of close confinement on the ships and in the penal institutions and the imbalance of the sexes can be imagined. One person wrote of convict life: "But though a man might be a light-weight criminal when convicted . . . a few depraved, defiant men could soon corrupt and harden the milder sort, and every vice from profanity and bullying to sodomy could be learned in such schools, along with the niceties of pocket-picking and burglary".

In 1822 one James Hall reported that the Colonial Secretary, Gouldbourn, wished to reduce the amount of sodomy on the government farms by sending women convicts to the Emu Plains establishment; there was a public outcry. The Quaker missionaries James Blakhouse and George Washington Walker often wrote about sodomy among the convicts in Sydney and Van Dieman's Land during their visits of 1832–1838. In 1837 there were rumours in Sydney that Rev Mr Yates was having relations with the Maori boys at Waimate, a mission station near the Bay of Islands, New Zealand; Rev Samuel Marsden, senior chaplain in Australia, investigated the matter, with the result that Rev Yates was sent back to England. In 1852 Henry Hallyer, architect and surveyor for the Van Dieman's Land Company, killed himself upon hearing the rumour that he was "a dirty sodomite".

In 1837–38 the Select Committee on Transportation sat to gather evidence on the problems of transporting criminals, and spent much of its time discussing sodomy. Sir Francis Forbes, one-time Chief Justice of New South Wales, claimed to know nothing personally of such goings-on in his colony, though he admitted this was the common supposition. Major James Mudie testified that the convict boys of New South Wales called each other "Nancy" and "Kitty", and that the "sods" were not even ashamed of their behaviour. Lieutenant-Colonel George Arthur, one-time Governor of Van Dieman's Land, claimed there were few "unnatural crimes" among the settlers. But Catholic Archbishop William Bernard Ullathorne claimed that there was so much iniquity and moral pollution among the boys in the barracks that he would willingly give his life to remove the evil of "unnatural crime" amongst them. In the late 1840s, Bishop Wiltson, Catholic Bishop of Van Dieman's Land, complained that "men convicts actually boasted of being married to each other".

Homosexuality was so widespread, and so openly and unabashedly enjoyed, in the early history of the Australian colonies, that it is not really accurate to refer to the gay subculture: it was heterosexual behaviour that was the subculture! This seems to be born out by the steady decline in marriages even as the population grew. Even within the first few years after the arrival of the First Fleet, there was a gay "ghetto" in old Sydney Town, with drag shows, gay bars and hotels, a high concentration of gay activities in Rowe Street and the Rocks, and the first two gay cruising grounds, known as Mrs Macquaries' Chair and the Domain. And the entire city of Moreton Bay (later named Brisbane) was established in 1822 specifically as the place to which were sent those "who practised the sins of the Cities of the Plain".

It only remains to be added that Captain Arthur Phillip (1738–1814), Australia's Founding Father – despite his public statement against homosexuals, and despite his two (childless) marriages – may have been homosexual himself. At any rate it is certain that he had a strong interest in young men. The first was thirteen-year-old William Neate Chapman, whom Phillip wished to take witih him on that first voyabge to Botany Bay, but whose parents refused. The second was a certain Landmann, a young man who had been a midshipman "without any duties" on Phillip's ship, and who recalled him in 1796 as "my oldest and most intimate friend". The third was young Henry Waterhouse, a midshipman aboard the Sirius, about whom Daniel Southwell the Mate, on being rebuked by Phillip, wrote: "He [Phillip] had no better resource than the sly pretence of fearing my being in camp might be prejudicial to my morals. What do I want with whores and rogues? My answer was, warmly, being nettled, Nothing! and that I was certain he cou'd have nothing of that kind to bring against my conduct. To this he cou'd say nothing, tho' I might, with reason, have asked, Why so afraid of my conduct? which I knew no one cou'd impeach (and I 24–25 years old!) and yet not feel anxious thought about this minion, his young lieutenant, his favorite, his darling, at least six or sefen years younger and three quarters here in campt aat his faull range!" When Waterhouse visited Phillip in retirement in Bath in 1806, one Fanny Chapman commented in her diary: "Their friendship is deep and the Admiral is always speaking of this young man in tones of warmth and endearment. The Captain is more than a son to the Admiral." [Martin Smith, "Our Australian Gay Heritage", Campaign No. 19 (April 1977), pp. 13–15, 42, 46.]

Onward to Modern Times

The type of gay subculture described in the preceding sections is not documented in America until the 1890s, by which time, however, it was so well organized, at least in the larger urban centers, that it must already have been in existence for at least several decades, particularly in the form of adolescent prostitution and drag balls. In his book The Doctor and the Deviul, or the Midnight Adventures of Dr Park-Hurst (1894), Detective Gardener reports on a visit in 1892 to the "Golden Rule Pleasure Club", a gay dive in the basement of a four-storey brick house on West Third Street, New York, entered by pressing a buzzer or alarm, where he was met at the door by the proprietess, a pretty black-haired woman known as "Scotch Ann". The basement was partitioned into little rooms, each containing a table, chairs, and a painted youth who spoke in a high falsetto voice and called his comrades by women's names. These boys were of course prostitutes. Also in 1892, Dr Irving C. Rosse claimed there was a high incidence of oral venereal disease amongst soldiers, widespread male prostitution in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC – the majority of the youths being negroes – and some cases of female prostitutes who specialized in sapphism. This prompted another medical papere in 1893, by Charles H. Hughes, which described an organization of "colored erotopaths" in Washington, DC, which consisted of an annual convocation of negro men at "the drag dance" ("I am likewise informed that a similar organization was lately suppressed by the police of New York city"). At this event, the men are dressed in ballroom gowns, and deport themselves around "the naked queen", a man standing or seated on a pedestal with his penis decorated with a ribbon, which they alrernately gazed upon and kissed. The members included cooks, barbers, waiters, and others employed by Washington families or as subordinates inthe Government departments. Stephen Crane in 1894 met a painted boy in New York city, questioned him in his hotel room, and began writing a novel about male prostitution; the manuscript – Flowers of Asphalt – was suppressed on the advice of friends, and has never been traced. In yet another "medical paper", in 1896, Colin A. Scott refers to "The Fairies" of New York, who have secret societies similar to those in Europe, "coffee-clatches, where the members dress themselves with aprons, etc., and knit, gossip and crochet; balls, where men adopt the ladies' evening dress."

The full extent of the New York gay subculture was revealed by an official investigation in 1899–1900 into the departments of Tammany Hall. Mayor Robert A. Van Wych testified before the state committee that he knew nothing at all about the "male harlots" thronging the streets of his city, but Police Captain James K. Price was more helpful. He testified that he had closed at least thirty disorderly houses catering for the "Nancys and fairies", including the "Artistic Club" at 56 West Thirtieth Street, which his forces raided three times, and managed to get several convictions. Various witnesses revealed 5the existence of numerous clubs where "fancy gentlemen" mingled with male prostitutes on what were called "souvenir nights" – analogous to the eighteenth-century mollies' "festival nights". The most notorious establishment of this sort was Paresis Hall, No. 392 Bowery, frequented largely by effeminate men "called Princess this and Lady So and So and the Duchess of Marlboro" who sang and danced and solicited for immooral purposes. The investigation was aided by the City Vigilance League – England at this time was also bedevilled by social purity campaigns – and it was argued that the only way to close down these clubs was to refuse to renew their liquor licences. Paresis Hall had connections in high places and did not close, though it henceforth banned entrance to men in feminine garb. We are fortunate in having the articulate evidence of a habitué of Paresis Hall, in the books Autobiography of an Androgyne (1918) and The Female Impersonators (1922) by Earl Lind, a feminine-identified homosexual born in 1874. Originally the Hall, consisting of a modest barroom, a small beer-garden and two floors of rooms for rent, catered for transvestites and effeminate men:

But there existed little justification for the police's 'jumping on' the 'Hall' as a sop to puritan sentiment. Culturally and ethically, its distinctive clientele ranked him. Their only offence . . . was . . . female-impersonation during their evenings at the resot. . . . ethically the ';hall's' distinctive clientele were congenital goody-goodies. . . . Why deprive cultured androgynes of their solitary rendezvous int he New York metropolitan district and give carte blanche to thousands of similar heterosexual resorts? Paresis Hall was as innocuous as any sex resort. Its existence really brought not the leat detriment to any one or to the social body as a whole. More than that: It was a necessary safety-valve to the social body.

One night in the Hall, Lind was approached by three men calling themselves Roland Reeves, Manon Lescaut and Prince Pansy (Lind himself was called Jennie June), and together they formed America's first homosexual emancipation organization, the Cercle Hermaphroditos, to fight the irrational horror of the public. A room in the upper floor was permanently rented to this society, where they met to discuss their opporession and to make plans to overcome. it. But from Lind's account they seem to have been preoccupied with confessional gossip, and no practical actions emerged. Lind's two books are nevertheless invaluable documents for understanding the oppression faced by homosexuals – ranging from employment insecurity and the necessity of keeping oneself in the closet, to the murder of women by husbands who discovered their wives were lesbian – and how they dealt with it, primarily self-justifiation by placing themselves in the category of the great queens of history (Socrates, Michelangelo, et al.) and gy castigating one's enemies as "hare-brained prudes".

The gay subculture was no limied to "the homosexual markets" of New York and Washington, DC, but was increasingly documented in other cities up to the First World War. In 1907 a group of male negro transfestites and their white "masters" were arrested in St. louis, Missouri, and the police acknowledtged that the levees were a rendezvous for scores of butlers, cooks and chauffeurs. A Chicago vice committee referred to homosexuality in 1911. Dr Magnus Hirschfeld's Homosexuality in Men and Women (1914) describes homosexual circles in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver and New York, particularly in Turkish baths, YMCAs and universities. And Havelock Ellis in Sexual Inversion (1915 edition) cites a well-informed correspondent: "The world of sexual inverts is, indeed, a large one in any American city, and it is a community distinctly organized – words, customs, traditions of its own; and every city has its numerous meeting-places: certain churches where inverts congregate; certain cafes well known for the inverted nature of their patrons; certain streets where, at night, every fifth man is an invert. The inverts have their own 'clubs', with nightly meetings. These 'clubs' are, really, dance halls, attached to saloons, and presided over by the proprietor of the saloon, himself almost invariably an invert, as are all the waiters and musicians." He addsthe intriguing note that their tribal badge of recognition was a red necktie, used particularly by fellators or "fairies" and by prostitutes. The one thing that had changed since the 1890s was a marked decrease in effeminate mannerisms; indeed this continued to decline to the point that the American gay subculture of the 1970s was dominated by "leather bars" and macho lifestyles (or at least standards of dress).

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton, "From Twickenham to Turkey: Eighteenth-Century Gay Subcultures in Europe, America and Australia", 19 August 2012, enlarged 11 November 2013 <>.

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