Before 1837 – Dying for love : pleasures, perils and punishments


Some national/international events are included for context.

Many eighteenth-century cases were researched and recorded by Rictor Norton who kindly allowed their use here. Rictor Norton: Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England

1533  Buggery Act comes into force under Henry VIII. The penalty was hanging. The Act was repealed in 1553 but re-enacted in 1560. It remained in force until 1861.

1640  John Atherton, born near Bridgwater, Somerset in 1598, and who became Anglican Bishop of Waterford and Lismore in Ireland, was in 1640 convicted of sodomy and executed by hanging at Dublin. It is likely that he would have visited Bristol, the major West coast port for Irish shipping.

1732-38  Six Bristol convictions for offences involving sodomy or attempted sodomy. Four acquittals. The usual punishment is the pillory and sometimes imprisonment for 6 months or more. In September 1732, Read’s Weekly Journal reported that one Combs was sentenced to death, implying that his crime was homosexual.

1737 February–March: Two London ‘mollies’ rob a Bristol doctor and then attempt to blackmail a churchwarden, Thomas Edwards, after meeting him for sex. Both are imprisoned for assault on the doctor, though seemingly not for any alleged homosexual acts. One of five Bristol cases involving homosexual activity during the Spring of 1737.

1746 Bristol was scandalised by the case of Mary Hamilton, the Female Husband, who was convicted of fraud at Taunton for posing as a man and marrying several women, including one in Bristol.

1752 August 29: Richard Arnold, a former pub landlord aged about 60, was caught having sex with William Critchett, a footman aged about 20, in a back room at the Swan alehouse in Broad Street. Both were convicted of felony and buggery in August 1753 and were hanged. Full story here.

1758 Michael Davell was convicted of assault with intent to commit buggery on John Bryant. Sentenced to one hour in the pillory, four months in Newgate prison, and a further year under sureties of £80.

1761 May: William Dillon Sheppard was convicted of buggery and sentenced to be hanged. He was hanged at St Michael’s Hill gallows (near the site of the present Cotham Parish Church) on June 1, 1761.

1781 September: John Burke and Benjamin Loveday convicted of felony and buggery and sentenced to hang. This seems to be the last known death sentence for a homosexual offence in Bristol.

1808-17  Several unsuccessful prosecutions (for an ‘unnatural attempt’ or ‘attempted sodomy’): Stephen Hodge (1808), Thomas Carter, John Willington (both 1810) James Jones (1817).

1820 October: Edward Leborn, 18, sentenced to 1 year for sodomy (or bestiality?) and whipped.

1825 April: Joseph Bennett (aged about 30) and George Maggs (aged 22, of Radstock) were hanged at Ilchester Gaol, Somerset having been convicted of sodomy. Both protested their innocence to the last.

1836 Last hanging in Great Britain for buggery.

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