Image of two men kissingEssays on Gay History and Literature by Rictor Norton

Fanny and Stella

The Love Letters of Ernest Boulton, Frederick Park, Louis Hurt, John Fiske and Lord Arthur Pelham Clinton, 1868—1870

Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (1998), Edited by Rictor Norton

Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.

On April 28, 1870 Lady Stella Clinton and Miss Fanny Winifred Park — otherwise known as Ernest Boulton, age twenty-two, and Frederick William Park, a twenty-three-year-old law student — attended a performance at the Strand Theatre, London, in full evening frocks. The police had been keeping an eye on this pair since 1869, and they were arrested, together with another man, while two more of their associates escaped. All of the men lived at separate addresses, but they kept a house on Wakefield Street, off Regent Square, where they would dress up before going out of an evening, and where they stayed with friends for a day or two at a time. The police made an inventory: sixteen dresses in satin or silk with suitable lace trimmings, a dozen petticoats, ten cloaks and jackets, half a dozen bodices, several bonnets and hats, twenty chignons, and a variety of stays, drawers, stockings, boots, curling-irons, gloves, boxes of violet powder and bloom of roses. Their landlady described their dresses as "very extreme."

Lord Arthur Somerset (seated), Frederick William Park, and Ernest BoultonBoulton was very good looking, effeminate, and musical, with a wonderful soprano voice, and he and Park played female parts in amateur theatricals in legit theatres, country houses and elsewhere. Earlier that month Fanny and Stella, as "sisters," attended the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, dressed as women. They also frequented the theatres and Burlington Arcade dressed as men, but wearing make-up, winking at respectable gentleman, which initially attracted the attention of the police.

Their apartments were searched, and letters from John Safford Fiske were found. Fiske's apartment in Edinburgh was searched, and behind the fire grate in his bedroom police found an album of photographs of Boulton in female attire. Fiske had received enough advance warning to destroy Boulton's letters. Fiske was an American citizen who had lived in Edinburgh for two and a half years. He was a friend of Louis Charles Hurt, a young Post Office surveyor, a boyhood friend of Boulton. From October 1868 through April 1869 Boulton lived with Hurt in Edinburgh, and this is how Fiske met and fell in love with Boulton, to whom he wrote romantic letters after Boulton returned to London.

Boulton and Park were initially arrested for appearing in public in women's clothes, a misdemeanour, but after a police surgeon examined them they were charged with conspiracy to commit a felony (i.e. sodomy). Their initial appearance in the dock was startling; Boulton, with wig and plaited chignon, wore a cherry- coloured silk evening dress, trimmed with white lace, and bracelets on his bare arms, while Park, his flaxen hair in curls, wore a dark green satin dress, low necked, trimmed with black lace, and a black lace shawl, and a pair of white kid gloves. The court was besieged by an enormous crowd through the committal proceedings, and the trial — appropriately called The Queen v. Boulton and Others (Boulton, Park, Fiske, Hurt, and two others in absentia) — continued throughout most of May the following year.

One person connected with the case was Lord Arthur Pelham Clinton, MP, third son of the Duke of Newcastle. Boulton told others "I am Lady Clinton, Lord Arthur's wife," and showed the wedding ring on his finger. Lord Arthur lodged near him, paid for Stella's hairdresser who came every morning, and had ordered from the stationers a seal engraved "Stella" and even visiting cards printed "Lady Arthur Clinton." There are theatre posters of Lord Arthur and Boulton performing together in the play A Morning Call in which Lord Arthur played Sir Edward Arnold and Boulton played Mrs Chillington, and in Love and Rain, in which Lord Arthur played Captain Charles Lumley and Boulton played Lady Jane Desmond, a Young Widow.

Lord Arthur's name was on the original indictment, but he died on June 18, 1870, age thirty, before the case came to court, reportedly from scarlet fever exacerbated by anxiety (but in fact suicide). One full day during the trial was spent reading out more than a thousand letters by the defendants, most of which still exist in the Public Record Office, Hurt to Boulton, Hurt to Fiske, Hurt to Lord Arthur, Fiske to Boulton, Willie Somerville (a City clerk, who had absconded) to Boulton, Park to Lord Arthur. But conviction of conspiracy to commit a felony could not be sustained without proof of the actual commission of the felony; even the prosecution came to feel that all the evidence merely pointed to disgraceful behaviour. It has been argued that the jury either did not comprehend the existence of the gay subculture (they certainly missed the meaning of the gay slang in the letters), or that they wilfully blinded themselves to the subversive facts of life. All the defendants were acquitted, to loud cheers and cries of Bravo! from the gallery.

Ernest Boulton to Lord Arthur Pelham Clinton

4th December 1868

My dear Arthur, —
I am just off to Chelmsford with Fanny [Park]. We stay until Monday. Not sent me any money, wretch!

— Stella Clinton

[Several days later]

I shall be unable to come down on the 18th. Write at once; and if you have any coin, I could do with a little.

[Several days later]

My dear Arthur, —
We were very drunk last night, and consequently I forgot to write. . . . And now, dear, I must shut up, and remain affectionately yours,

— Stella

[Several days later]

My dear Arthur, —
I have waited for two hours for you, and do not like to be treated with such rudeness . . . . I shall not return to-night — not at all, if I am to be treated with such rudeness. . . . I am consoling myself in your absence by getting screwed. . . . Mamma sends her kind regards, and will be glad to see you on Sunday.

Frederick William Park to Lord Arthur Clinton

Duke Street
Nov. 21 [1869?]

My dearest Arthur, —
How very kind of you to think of me on my birthday! I had no idea that you would do so. It was very good of you to write, and I am really very grateful for it. I require no remembrances of my sister's husband, as the many kindnesses he has bestowed upon me will make me remember him for many a year, and the birthday present he is so kind as to promise me will only be one addition to the heap of little favours I already treasure up. So many thanks for it, dear old man. I cannot echo your wish that I should live to be a hundred, though I should like to live to a green old age. Green, did I say?? Oh, ciel! the amount of paint that will be required to hide the very unbecoming tint. My "campish undertakings" are not at present meeting with the success which they deserve. Whatever I do seems to get me into hot water somewhere. But, n'importe. What's the odds as long as you're happy?

Believe me, your affectionate sister-in-law,
Fanny Winifred Park

[No date]

My dearest Arthur, —
You really must excuse me from interfering in matrimonial squabbles (for I am sure the present is no more than that); and though I am as you say Stella's confidante in most things, that which you wish to know she keeps locked up in her own breast. My own opinion on the subject varies fifty times a day when I see you together. She may sometimes treat you brusquely; but on the other hand see how she stands up for your dignity of position (in the matter of Ellis's parts, for instance), so that I really cannot form an opinion on the subject. As to all the things she said to you the other night, she may have been tight and did not know all she was saying; so that by the time you get my answer you will both be laughing over the whole affair, as Stella and I did when we quarrelled and fought down here - don't you remember, when I slapped her face? My address is the same, as I do not move out of this street. I have enclosed a note to you in the one I wrote Stella last night. Good-bye, dear.

— Ever yours,

Duke Street,

My dearest Arthur, —
I think I would rather you came in the middle of the week, as I fancy I am engaged on the Saturday (15th) in London, though I am not certain yet. If you came on Wednesday and stayed until Saturday morning (if you could endure me so long), we could all go up together - that is if I go. But please yourselves. I am always at home and a fixture. I shall be glad to see you both at any time. Is the handle of my umbrella mended yet? If so, I wish you would kindly send it me, as the weather has turned so showery that I can't go out without a dread of my back hair coming out of curl. Let me hear from you at any time; I am always glad to do so.

Ever your affectionate,

Louis Charles Hurt to Ernest Boulton

Lochalsh, Inverness, and Wick
April 1870

I have told my mother that you are coming, but have not yet had time to receive her answer. I thought it well to tell her that you were very effeminate, but I hope you will do your best to appear as manly as you can — at any rate in the face. I therefore beg of you to let your moustache grow at once. . . . even if in town, I would not go to [the Derby] with you in drag. . . . I am sorry to hear of your going about in drag so much. I know the moustache has no chance while this sort of thing goes on. You have now less than a month to grow . . . Of course I won't pay any drag bills, except the one in Edinburgh. I should like you to have a little more principle than I fear you have as to paying debts.

John Safford Fiske to Ernest Boulton

Edinburgh, 136 George Street
18th April 1870

My darling Ernie, —
I am looking for Louis [Hurt] tonight, and wishing as I do a hundred times each day that you were to be here. I have eleven photographs of you (and expecting more tomorrow) which I look at over and over again. I have four little notes which I have sealed up in a packet. I have a heart full of love and longing; and my photographs, my four little notes, and my memory are all that I have of you. When are you going to give me more? When are you going to write a dozen lines of four words each to say that all the world is over head and ears in love with you, and that you are so tired of adoration and compliments that you turn to your humdrum friend as a relief? Will it be tomorrow or will it be next week? Believe me, darling, a word of remembrance from you can never come amiss, only the sooner it comes the better. "Hope deferred" — you know the saying. Adventures do turn up, even in Edinburgh. Perhaps you would envy me for five whole minutes if I were to tell you of one that I've had since you left; but I will keep it for your own ear when very likely you try after the same happiness. I shall not write you a long note, darling, at least not tonight, perhaps never again, if you don't write to say that I may. I hear Robbie Sinclair [a clerk in the Edinburgh Register Office] is coming here; his smiling face with the clear grey eyes and vivid roses. I wonder if Louis will like him. I hope not — at least not too much. I am getting very fond of Louis, and as I am fond of Robbie too, I don't want them to take too violently to each other. But what are these fancies and likings to the devotion with which I am yours always, jusqu' à la mort,

John S. Fiske
À un ange qu'on nommé Ernie Boulton, Londres.

Office, Edinburgh
April 20 1870

My darling Ernie, —
I had a letter last night from Louis which was charming in every respect except the information it bore that he is to be kept a week or so longer in the North. He tells me you are living in drag. What a wonderful child it is! I have three minds to come to London and see your magnificence with my own eyes. Would you welcome me? Probably it is better I should stay at home and dream of you. But the thought of you — Lais and Antinous in one — is ravishing. Let me ask your advice. A young lady, whose family are friends of mine, is coming here. She is a charmingly- dressed beautiful fool with £30,000 a year. I have reason to believe that if I go in for her I can marry her. You know I never should care for her; but is the bait tempting enough for me to make this further sacrifice to respectability? Of course, after we were married I could do pretty much as I pleased. People don't mind what one does on £30,000 a year, and the lady wouldn't much mind, as she hasn't brains enough to trouble herself about much beyond her dresses, her carriage, etc. What shall I do? You see I keep on writing to you, and expect some day an answer to some of my letters. In any case, with all the love in my heart, I am yours,

John S. Fiske

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