Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Sinks of London Laid Open, [-pub. J. Duncombe-], 1848 [-footnote - 'A Man-Woman'-]

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[-68-] ** This portrait, with the whole of the work was written, and given to the publisher of one of the first magazines of the day, in November 1834, and the following report appeared in the papers in February 1835, and which, we think, authenticates pretty clearly the correctness of our statement. The reader will perceive a likeness.


A creature in the garb of a man, who at the station-house had given the name of Bill Chapman, was placed at the bar with one Isabella [-69-] Watson, and complained of for being a common cheat and impostor, and creating a disturbance.
    Oakley, inspector of the E division, stated that although the thing before them, that called itself Bill Chapman, was attired in man's apparel, he had ascertained that it was a woman.
    Mr. Bennett, who was very much surprised, looked steadfastly at the prisoner and asked her name.
    Prisoner (speaking in a rough manner.) "It is Mary Chapman."
    Mr. Bennett. "I never saw a figure more like a man, and the voice is manly."
    Oakley. "I have known her at least ten years, and she always appeared in a dress similar to the one she now wears, namely, a hat, smock-frock, trousers, or knee-breeches, and until last night I always supposed her to be a man. She is known all over England as a ballad singer and a crier of ' The last dying speeches,' &c"
    Mr. Bennett. "She may be a disorderly and disreputable character, which, in fact, her dressing as a man clearly shows, but I know of no law to punish her for wearing male attire."
    Oakley. "She travels the country with a woman named Isabella Watson, and they are both known at every race-course and fair as ballad-singers, and considered to be man and wife."
    Mr. Bennett. "She may have more than one reason for dressing in that manner, and passing as the husband of the woman Watson, and I wish it was in my power to imprison her." 
    Oakley. "For upwards of seven years she has occasionally lodged with Watson, at Mr.   in   street, St. Giles's, and they always passed as man and wife; and, moreover, Chapman smokes; [-70-] and whenever Watson gives her any offence, she beats her and blackens her eyes, though Watson is so much taller and apparently stronger.
    Mr. Bennett. "It is a very extraordinary case. What have you to say, prisoner?"
    Prisoner. "Isabella has lived wish me as my companion for many years."
    Mr .Bennett. "Why do you dress as a man?"
    Prisoner. "I own I am disguised, and it was owing to the cruelty of a father-in-law that I first dressed in this manner. I never did harm to any person. I have been all over the kingdom, and never was in prison in my life before."
    Mr. Bennett. "Well I should advise you to be careful: if I could punish you, I would."
    Isabella Watson. "The poor fellow has been with me hundreds of miles as my companion, and he never got into a scrape before."
    Mr. Bennett. "It is a case that puzzcls me, but I must discharge the prisoner."
    The prisoner, who was chewing tobacco, then bowed his head, and walked out of the office with Isabella, who exclaimed, "Never mind, my lad, if we live a hundred years it will be in this manner."
    Watson is about five feet seven inches in height, with rather an intelligent countenance; and Chapman is not more than five feet high. Her hair is light brown, and cut short, the same as a man's; and she has the gait of a man, and looks like a costermonger.
    We agree with this account in every thing except the height of the individuals. The reporter, we think, is a little man, who always sees inches through a magnifier. The man-woman is the height we have [-71-] stated, or rather less, and his wife is five feet two inches, instead of five feet seven. It is curious but nevertheless a fact, that, although this strange being had lodged for a number of years at the house alluded to, it was never known it was a woman, though at the same time it was never supposed that the creature was a man.