Understanding the effects of The Offences against the Person Act 1861

I have often spoke of the 1885 act that effected gay and bisexual men but before this act another law came into place that even though it was not progression in many ways it certainly had some affect on gay life between 1861 and 1885.

The act was The Offences against the Person Act 1861. It was brought about to consolidate several laws into one single act and simplifying the law.

The act still exists today and short of murder is used for prosecuting against personal injury.

It was also adopted by many British Empire states. In the British isles the sexual offences part has been completely repealed over time, but this is not the case in many Commonwealth countries. Here, in the UK this part of the act was repealed completely, with the Sexual Offences Act 2003 taking its place.

You must understand that this law isn’t just about sexual offenses, but at the time covered offenses such as murder, bodily harm and an interesting section that covered ‘drivers of carriage’s injuring persons by furious driving’

Under ‘Unnatural Offences’ was Section 61; Buggery. The death sentence was replaced by life or any term not less than ten years in ‘penal servitude’. Remembering too that an Act of Parliament on the 30 June, 1837 the use of the pillory was abolished.

It is thought that this act led to a short period of time were gay and bisexual men became more open about their sexuality. It wasn’t uncommon for cases such as with Park and Boulton to come into the public eye.

Boulton dressed in ladies attire

Boulton was extremely attractive and effeminate with a eccentric side of his theatrical personality dressing up for the Cambridge boat race, flirting with ‘respectable’ men. Even dressed in male attire they would wink at the odd gentleman, wearing make up. It was this type of showmanship that got the police attention.

(please see https://pridematters.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/a-brief-look-at-the-case-of-stella-fanny/ )

Sir Howard Vincent

Sir Howard Vincent, 1878-1884’s Director of Criminal Investigations at Scotland Yard, showed his ‘concern’ in The Yokel’s Preceptor, a contemporary magazine, said this:

The increase of these monsters in the shape of men, commonly designated margeries, *poofs etc., of late years, in the great Metropolis, renders it necessary for the safety of the public that they should be made known…Will the reader credit it, but such is nevertheless the fact, that these monsters actually walk the street the same as the whores, looking out for a chance? Yes, the Quadrant, Fleet Street, Holborn, the Strand etc., are actually thronged with them! Nay, it is not long since, in the neighbourhood of Charing Cross, they posted bills in the windows of several public houses, cautioning the public to “Beware of Sods!”

*poofs or puffs is a British derogative term not dissimilar to the use of ‘fags’

Incidences such as this led to making the laws tighter. At this point in history it had to be proven that the offence of buggery had taken place or attempted buggery. Owing to this and the death sentence was no longer you can understand the short lived freedom these men would have felt.

However by 1885 that was about to change with the Labouchere Amendment, when you could be prosecuted for any act that was deemed as ‘gross indecent’. There is most probably a few things that influenced Henry Labouchere to put forward Section 11, by todays standard he would have been seen as homophobic. However we need to look at it through the eyes of a Victorian too. He had showed distaste to Oscar Wilde already, even though Wilde was actually a big fan. The reasoning behind the Criminal Amendment Act 1885 in the first place was because of public outrage over child prostitution. Ironically the man who had brought this to the publics attention would bring the issue of homosexuality to the eyes of Henry Labouchere,

Labouchere would have been fully aware of the visibility of homosexuals between the law changing in 1861 and the present time, 1885.and this very visibility would have been a influence too.

The editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, W.T .Stead published a series of articles called The Maiden Babylon. He under covered facts about prostitution that shocked a nation and caused moral outraged. London had Europe’s worst problem for prostitution. One in five women worked in the city in vice throughout this time period.

Back then the age of consent was 13 and there were calls for this to be raised to 16 protecting young girls from much older men.

Lord Salisbury’s government introduced the criminal law Amendment Act in order to address this issue. At this point no reason to add the infamous Section 11, making any homosexual act illegal.

Stead and several of his accomplices (including Bramwell Booth of the Salvation Army) abducted a child in order to prove the point. They were arrested for the abduction and after a lengthy trail was convicted. Although what Stead had done was illegal and wrong it did however bring awareness in order to change the law to protect young girls against prostitution.

Stead himself received three months in prison.

So what has this got to do with homosexuality and the laws?


Whilst in prison he noted the amount of male prostitutes in which he wrote to Labouchere, about that led to Labouchere’s argument about adding tighter laws towards homosexual acts, even though this wasn’t truly about homosexuality section 11 was the cause of over 59,000 convictions over the next 82 years, including Oscar Wilde and Peter Wildeblood, not forgetting the many men who fought in the two world wars who fell foul to this law.

On a side note: Stead lost his life in the maiden journey of the Titanic

More on Henry Labouchere: https://pridematters.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/who-was-henry-labouhere/

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