Tag Archives: history of sexuality

In-laws and Out-laws

It’s probably not at the forefront of people’s minds, when the issue of legalizing same sex marriage comes up, but when it happens (and I assume that in Australia, sooner or later it will), we are going to have to do something about genealogical software packages.

There has been a great deal of research into same sex relationships during the last 50 years. I wrote recently about one such study, Yorick Smaal’s study of homosexuality amongst Australian and American soldiers in the Pacific during World War I. But the problem with researching the history of sexuality – particularly, but not only homosexuality – is the dearth of sources. Sexual activity most often enters the historic record when it comes under scrutiny from bureaucratic structures like the military or the courts.

But what about people, men or women, who entered into discreet, long term, loving relationships that never encountered legal impediments? Most people don’t leave a documentary record of their sexual activities, so we rely on speculation – except in the case of fertile heterosexual couples whose children provide the most basic evidence that they were sexually active. Otherwise it’s often guesswork.

I’m currently dealing with such a case while finishing the last chapters of my book on Walter Davidson and the Macarthur family. Davidson’s extended family had close ties with John Macarthur and his family over a period of more than 60 years. Several of WSD’s nephews married into the Macarthur family, and John Macarthur’s son James married a woman whose family was friendly with WSD.

And then there’s John’s eldest son Edward. I am fairly certain that Edward Macarthur was in a discreet, long term, loving relationship with another man for more than 20 years – but it’s all speculation.

Edward’s partner – or so I think – was an aristocrat called George Horatio Cholmondesley. George’s father was George James Cholmondesley, from an old, aristocratic and very wealthy Cheshire family. The father doesn’t rate a mention on his own behalf in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, but when I search on the word ‘Cholmondeley’, he pops up all over the place, as a co-lover with the Prince of Wales of various Regency courtesans. A number of their offspring were brought up in the Cholmondeley household.*

George James’s eldest son didn’t fit this mold. According to the diarist Joseph Faringdon, George Horatio was ‘a young man of effeminate manners, not promising much manliness of character’, and his libidinous father much preferred his younger son Henry.

Edward and George Cholmondesley met in 1812 in Sicily. Edward was a professional soldier, and his regiment was based in Malta. George Cholmondeley visited Sicily as part of the modified southern Grand Tour that was all that was available to young gentlemen during the Napoleonic War. Edward was 23, George 20.

George seems to have been going through a crisis at this time. Perhaps influenced by the Catholic lands he was visiting, he briefly converted to Catholicism, before swinging in the opposite direction towards Methodism. And his friendship with Edward perhaps provoked a sexual crisis as well, because in October 1812, on his way home to England, he married Caroline Campbell, the daughter of the Lieutenant Governor of Gibraltar. Caroline died 3 years later, and there were no children.

Edward and George went their separate ways for some years. George followed the path laid out for him by his status as the eldest son. In 1817 he was elected MP for Castle Rising, a rotten borough in his father’s gift, and in 1821 he moved to the House of Lords. He was one of the 8 sons of peers chosen to carry George IV’s cloak at the Coronation, and his portrait shows a youth with delicate, pretty features – although we can’t draw any conclusions from the pink robe, which is the uniform of the Order of the Bath.

George Cholmondeley From Nayler’s History of the Coronation 1821

One of the problems, for 21st century republican historians like me, is sorting out George Horatio’s various titles at different stages of his life. In 1812 he was Lord Malpas, while his father, George James, was the 4th Earl of Cholmondeley. In 1815, his father was promoted to become the 1st Marquess of Cholmondeley. When George Horatio replaced his father in the House of Lords, he did so under the Marquess’s junior title of Baron Newburgh. He was normally known as Lord Rocksavage (another junior title) until his father’s death in 1827, when he became the 2nd Marquess of Cholmondeley. Hanging in there?

Meanwhile Edward served with the Army of Occupation in France, then went with his regiment to Ireland, before visiting his family in New South Wales in 1824, but he went back to England the following year. His father John offered him an annual income of £500 if he married, and in her will, his mother Elizabeth left him furnishings on condition that he came out to Australia – but he resisted these blandishments. His heart was in England.

The Cholmondeleys were equally concerned. According to the diarist Mrs Arbuthnot, the Cholmondeley family ‘despair of … Rocksavage’s ever marrying and are most anxious for an heir’. Harriet Arbuthnot’s stepdaughter married Henry Cholmondeley, George’s younger brother, so she knew all the gossip surrounding George.

On his father’s death, George inherited the title, Cholmondeley Castle, and 33,000 acres of land in Cheshire and Norfolk, but everything not covered by entail went to his younger brother Henry, his father’s favourite son. George also acquired the hereditary position of Lord Great Chamberlain of England, an arcane position associated with the Court, handling ceremonies such as the Coronation of the new king in 1830. George appointed Edward secretary in the Lord Great Chamberlain’s office, a position that came with a grace-and-favour apartment in the House of Lords.

Edward must have told his mother about his appointment, for Elizabeth wrote from New South Wales:

We congratulate you on your appointment. Your friend the Marquis certainly has shown you very marked attention. I should think him a kind and good man. In my early days, I have heard the beauty of his mother celebrated – if she was, as I believe – Lady Charlotte Bertie.’

Trust Elizabeth to remember the celebrities of her youth – though if she was suspicious of Cholmondeley’s ‘marked attention’ to her son, she said nothing.

George married again in 1830. According to gossipy Harriet Arbuthnot, Lady Susan Somerset was ‘arrogant’ and ‘very methodistical’, but ‘I don’t think he could do better, and as it is a very well behaved, good family, if he is as poor Ld. Choly. used to say, one has a good chance that a wife of that sort won’t introduce any left-handed child.’

Poor Lady Susan. There were no children, left-handed or otherwise. Instead, Edward continued to visit Cholmondeley Castle regularly. ‘Edward went out of Town on the last day of the old year [1830],’ his brother John reported, ‘to usher in the new year at Lord Cholmondeley’s in Cheshire,’ just one of many family letters that refer, quite casually, to Edward’s visits into Cheshire.

I have found almost no correspondence between Edward and George, but there is a brief undated note from George, inviting Edward to join him for a ride to Roehampton, now a suburb on the western edge of London. The note is entirely innocent, which may be why it survives. By then George and Edward had been together, off and on, for over 20 years.

The Mitchell catalogue entry for this note says ‘Rochampton’, and gives the date as ‘1835?’ Both are almost certainly wrong – and the reason behind my frustration with available genealogical software.

I’m writing about Walter Davidson and his cousins, and their ties to the Macarthur family. One of WSD’s cousins, Sir Walter Rockliffe Farquhar, owned Roehampton House, and in 1838 he married Lady Mary Somerset, Lady Susan’s younger sister. The Macarthurs and the Farquhars were already good friends, so this note from George to Edward was an invitation to join him for a sociable ride out to visit his sister-in-law and her husband.

Everyone knew their relationship, and it was all understood within the family. But how the hell do I put this mingling of in-laws and out-laws into a family tree?

Edward also eventually married in 1862, at the age of 73. There were no children.

References:
The quotes from Faringdon and Arbuthnot come from the biographical entries on George Horatio Cholmondeley in History of Parliament Online http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org
Hazel King covers the initial meeting with Lord Malpas in Sicily, and Edward’s appointment as Secretary in the Lord Great Chamberlain’s office, in Colonial Expatriates: Edward and John Macarthur Junior (1989)
Other quotes come from the Macarthur Papers in the Mitchell Library

Trivial fact: According to his Wikipedia entry, George’s father, George James Cholmondeley, may be the first member of the Mile High Club:

‘According to the betting book for Brooks, a London gentlemen’s club, Cholmondeley once wagered two guineas to Ld. Derby, to receive 500 guineas upon having made love to a woman “in a balloon one thousand yards from the Earth.” It is unknown whether the bet was ever finalized.’

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Sausages at the Shrine of Remembrance

Last week I went to the book launch of Yorick Smaal, Sex, Soldiers and the South Pacific, 1939-45, a fascinating study of same sex relations between men during the Second World War, in Australia and the Pacific.

Much of the book is based in Brisbane, which for a brief time between 1942 and 1945, played a central role in the Pacific war effort. A million American servicemen passed through my hometown during these years. They were, according to the catchphrase, ‘Over paid, oversexed, and over here’ – and for some of them, as well as for the Australian servicemen and civilians they met, the turbulence of war brought with it new opportunities for sexual expression – and opportunities for new forms of sexual expression.

cover of Yorick Small Sex, Soldiers and the South Pacific

Some of the people Smaal writes about were openly homosexual – or as open as it was possible to be at a time when such activity was illegal. Others were experimenting surreptitiously with homosex (Smaal’s preferred term) as a passing phase that they barely acknowledged to themselves.

Smaal is particularly interested in the geography of sexual encounters, so I found it fascinating to see my city laid out in a new way. My first memories of Brisbane date from the 1950s but my family’s stories go back to wartime experiences. My father used to tell the tale of seeing a man cooking sausages over the Flame in the Shrine of Remembrance in Anzac Square. When Dad questioned him, the man said he was an ex-serviceman, which seemed to be an adequate justification for his transgression. I wonder, though, if Dad realized at the time that this place was a gay beat?

At school, we were told not to wait for buses in the city at the covered bus stop in William St – another pick up point. And my mother’s dark but obscure references to the Pink Elephant Café make more sense now – the proprietor of the café was Frank Mitchell, a close associate of the artist Donald Friend, whose painting of naked men showering is on the cover of Smaal’s book. Mum visited the café as a teenager, all the same, though whether she met ‘Lana Turner’, ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ and the other cross-dressing waiters, she has never divulged.

By the standards of the day, I think my family was pretty relaxed about same sex relationships. My grandparents had a self-contained flat attached to their old Queenslander, which they rented out to a series of ‘confirmed bachelors’. One of them was the distinguished poet Val Vallis. My grandmother got on famously with them, and many of them came to her funeral.

Smaal’s research for this book is remarkable. Sodomy was illegal, so there are numerous court and police records – both civilian and military, Australian and American – and he has made good use of these. Many consensual encounters never reached the courts, though, especially if the participants were discreet and could conduct their encounters in privacy, though this was not always easy in a military setting. Smaal has interviewed a few remaining survivors of this era, and has used earlier interviews from the 1980s onwards. There are also memoirs and diaries. Faces are pixellated and pseudonyms are used where an unexpected revelation could cause someone embarrassment.

Sources on sex are always hard to come by, and so are sources on illegal activities, so Smaal is working under a double disadvantage, but one of the characteristics of military organizations is that they are vast bureaucratic regimes with a capacity for generating endless paperwork – the raw material of historians.

Both the Australian and the American armies worried about homosexuality within their ranks, and its implications for the civilian community. These concerns were less moralistic than practical: as with women in the army today, the top brass worried that consensual same sex relationships might change the group dynamics of the fighting unit. They worried about non-consensual sex, or sex with young boys (though since all homosex was illegal, no legal age of consent existed). They worried about venereal disease.

Smaal looks beyond Brisbane to other places across the South Pacific where soldiers met and mingled – and encountered other races and cultures, with different attitudes towards homosexual relations, looking particularly at the experiences of the Australians in New Guinea and the Americans in New Caledonia.

Studies of same sex relations can often be a rather cheerless read, partly because medical and criminal records invariably form an important part of the research on which they are based. What I like particularly about Smaal’s book is that his subjects are not constantly viewed in the dock, or under the microscope, but were frequently joyful participants of the world they inhabited, ‘a very social world. Australian girls and US belles made their own fun. Friends and lovers organized regular get-togethers and sing songs.’ [83] It sounds like the obverse of the nurses and marines in South Pacific, and no doubt it was fun – though the slightly hysterical fun that young men on a battlefront engage in, constantly aware of their own mortality in a war zone.

It was a world that operated below the radar. Though many of the men Smaal describes were good soldiers and brave men, they inhabited a world that was out of kilter with the dominant narrative of manly fighting men and the Anzac spirit. As Robert Aldrich said, when he launched the book last Thursday, the word ‘Anzac’ is even missing from the index – and how good is that.

Alan Mathieson Turing: where does the Mathieson come from?

2012 has been announced as the Alan Turing Year.  Next Saturday, 23 June, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Mathieson Turing.  There have already been various events to mark the anniversary – on radio and television, and there will be a conference on Turing in Manchester this weekend. Turing was a mathematician, a very good one, possibly a genius – but nevertheless, most mathematicians don’t get this kind of celebrity treatment.

Turing’s fame depends on 2 periods of his life:

Firstly, during World War II, he led the team of cryptographers at Bletchley Park who cracked the German Enigma Code, thereby (according to Winston Churchill) shortening the war by 2 years.

Secondly, in 1952, the Manchester police charged him with ‘gross indecency’ for a consensual homosexual act.  He was given the choice of imprisonment, or a series of compulsory injections of oestrogen to cause ‘chemical castration’.  He chose the latter, but he was found dead 2 years later, having apparently eaten cyanide smeared on an apple.  There was no suicide note, and his mother never accepted it, but the general consensus is that he killed himself.

So there you have it.  Two evocative stories of triumph and tragedy, and Turing, a shy and awkward nerd who stuttered and chewed his fingernails, emerges as a hero and a reluctant gay icon.

Alan Turing don't ask don't tell

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