Victorian London - Women - Cross-dressing  

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.

Went out to the Westminster Police Court, to the examination of Mary Newell, the maid of all work who robbed her master last week, went off in man’s clothes, travelled down to Yarmouth, took lodgings there, smoked cigars, & made love to her landlady. Assuming that she had as I was told done it only for a lark, I admired her pluck skill and humour, and wished to observe her person & character. But the inspector who helped to catch her showed me that she was probably a practised thief and a dissolute girl ... At noon the court opened, with a great rush of people to see the prisoner. As a barrister, I had a reserved seat in front of her. She was led in and placed on high in the dock: a sullen but fairly good looking girt, of moderate height, and not unfeminine. Drest in shabby finery: her hair, which she had cut short, hanging over her forehead. Her hat, coat, trousers, and the rest of her male clothing were exhibited on a table . . . After she had been committed for trial at the Sessions, I walked away with her master—a surveyor—and his pupil, the young man whose name & garments she assumed. She was a dirty and untidy servant, they said; was in the habit (they now found) of stealing out to low theatres alone, hiring cabs to go in and smoking cigars with the cabmen...

Arthur Munby, Diary, 19 November 1861

About noon today I went to the Southwark Police Court, to hear the case of one Thomas Walker, barman at a publichouse in the London Road, who the other day turned out unexpectedly to be a young woman. The Court was densely crowded outside & in, with roughs, male & female: but I had a place near the magistrate & not far from the prisoner, & saw & heard with ease. It did not appear who or what Thomas Walker really is; but there she stood, alone in the dock, conspicuous and central: and to the outward eye she looked a bluff and brawny young man, of four or five & twenty. A broad bronzed face, fullcheeked & highboned; well cut straight nose, sharp eyes, determined mouth, rough dark hair, short as a man's, and evidently worn in man's fashion for a long time past. Her head was bare, and so was her strong bull neck: about the waist, she wore nothing but a blue sailor's shirt, with the sleeves partly rolled up. Standing there, with broad shoulders squared and stout arms folded on the dock rail, she seemed just such a fellow as one may see drawing beer at an alehouse, or lounging about a seaport town; and it was almost impossible to believe that she was not a man. No one suspected her, indeed; she confessed her sex to avoid the prison bath. She was a ship's steward two years, before she was a barman: and before that again, she was errand boy, & afterwards light porter, at a cheesemonger's in the New Road. When I arrived, the cheesemonger was charging her with not repaying him some of her receipts as his porter . . . And thus poor Thomas, who only said 'Nothing Sir' in a low tone when asked if she had ought to say, was committed for trial; and the ruthless Peeler hauled her down through the crowd; whereby one saw that she was of average woman's height & no more. The magistrate was pompous and petulant and grandiose, as one might expect....

Arthur Munby, Diary, 20 February 1867

A WOMAN FOR SIX YEARS IN MAN'S CLOTHES. The other day a woman dressed as a man was charged before the Manchester city magistrates with annoying the landlady of a lodging-house in that city by creating a disturbance and threatening to beat another woman named Sarah Jones, with whom the prisoner had been living as husband. The prisoner's name is Ann McGaul, alias Ann Hughes, alias John Jones. It appeared that she dressed as a man and passed as one for the last six years, in order to earn 2s. 6d. a day at man's work instead of 1s. a day at woman's. On one occasion the prisoner had slept four nights with a lodging-house keeper's son, owing to the shortness of room in the "establishment," without her sex being discovered. For a time also she had worked as banksman in a colliery. She was discharged on promising not to repeat the annoyance to the landlady, but had to be kept in the dock awhile to protect her from being mobbed outside the court.

from The Penny Illustrated Paper, April 5, 1862

At Liverpool a woman who has for nine years disguised her sex, dressing in male attire, and earning a living as a cabdriver, is now in custody for having stolen some butcher's meat.

from The Graphic, February 1875