Mary Hamilton (1721 – ? )

Mary Hamilton was born on the Isle of Man and around the age of 14 was seduced into a lesbian relationship by a neighbour, Anne Johnson. Johnson declared that she had learned her lesbianism “at Bristol with her Methodistical sisters”. Hamilton and Johnson moved to Bristol together, but here Anne fell in love with and married a Mr Rogers.

Mary, now aged about 18, embarked on travels to Dublin, then on to Dartmouth and Totnes in Devon. She dressed as a man and met, charmed and married several women in turn, each one apparently unaware as to her real gender. Discovery of her deception forced her to move again to Wells in Somerset where, as Charles Hamilton, she married a young girl. However she was recognised by an acquaintance from Totnes who alerted the mother of her new bride. The justices were called and Mary was arrested. As reported in the Bath Journal:

“There are great numbers of people flock to see her in Bridewell, to whom she sells a great deal of her quackery; and appears very bold and impudent. She seems very gay, with Periwig, Ruffles and Breeches; and it is publicly talked that she has deceived several of the fair sex by marrying them”.

At her trial in Taunton it was claimed she had married fourteen women. She was convicted of fraud in 1746 and received the brutal punishment of being stripped to the waist and whipped in the market towns of Taunton, Glastonbury, Wells and Shepton Mallet, and imprisoned for six months.

There is clearly a core of truth in this story, however some details may be embroidered as they come from the novelist Henry Fielding’s account published as The Female Husband: or, The Surprising History of Mrs Mary, alias Mr George Hamilton (London, 1746).

Coloured cartoon depicting Mary Hamilton, stripped to the waist, being lashed in front of a baying crowd.

From “The Female Husband” by Henry Fielding (1813 edition). Thanks to Bristol Library.

Illustration is from a copy of the pamphlet “The Female Husband” (1813 edition) by Henry Fielding in Bristol Library. Cartoon is attributed to George Cruikshank.

Text: “The Prisoner being convicted of this base and scandalous crime was sentenced to be publically and severely whipped four several times in 4 Market Towns, and to be imprisoned for 6 Months.”

Source: Rictor Norton; Lesbian Marriages in 18th century England

Andrew Foyle
Published 1/11/2011
Illustration added 3/9/2021

Click here for a longer article on Mary Hamilton by Jonathan Rowe.

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