Thomas Ernest Boulton and Frederick William Park were two Victorian cross-dressers and suspected homosexuals who appeared as defendants in a celebrated trial in London in 1871, charged “with conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence”. After the prosecution failed to establish that they had had anal sex, which was then a crime, or that wearing women’s clothing was in any sense a crime, both men were acquitted.
Ernest Boulton (1848–1904) was the son of a stockbroker. From childhood he liked wearing female clothing, and was encouraged in his impersonations of maids and other women by his mother; he used the nickname “Stella”. As a young man he met Frederick William Park and the two became friends. Park, who was of similar age, was an Articled clerk (law student) at a solicitor in London and his father was Master of a superior court. Boulton worked as a clerk at his uncle’s stockbroking firm and subsequently at a bank, before leaving in 1866 or 1867.
The two men then formed a theatrical double act, touring as Stella Clinton (or Mrs Graham) and Fanny Winifred Park, and receiving favourable press reviews for their performances. For around two years they also frequented the West End of London in both women’s and men’s dress, attending theatres and social events. They were ejected from both the Alhambra Theatre and the Burlington Arcade on several occasions. On one occasion they were bound over to keep the peace after being mistaken for women dressed as men.
A third person involved in the affair was Lord Arthur Clinton, who had lived with “Stella” as his/her “husband” and had exchanged love letters with him.
On the evening of 28 April 1870 Boulton, Park and another man were seen leaving a house in Wakefield Street, near Regent Square, by a police detective, who followed them as they took a cab to the Strand Theatre. There the detective saw them meet two others, described as “gentlemen”, before the party entered a private box inside the theatre. A police superintendent and a police sergeant joined the detective during the performance, and Boulton, Park and one of the others, Hugh Alexander Mundell, were arrested as they attempted to leave the theatre. The others escaped. The three arrested men were subjected to intimate examination by a police doctor in order to establish whether they had had anal sex.
When brought before the magistrate, Frederick Flowers, at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court the next day, Boulton and Park were still wearing women’s clothing, which was described in some detail in newspaper reports. Mundell claimed that he had believed the Boulton and Park were women, even though he had previously met them while they were dressed in men’s clothes. He was given bail, but Boulton and Park were not. The case attracted considerable attention and a large crowd had collected in Bow Street to see the two leave in a police van. Subsequent magistrates’ court hearings also attracted unusually large numbers of spectators to witness the proceedings.
The indictment was against Lord Arthur Clinton, Ernest Boulton, Frederic Park, Louis Hurt, John Fiske, Martin Gumming, William Sommerville and C.H. Thompson. The last three absconded before the trial. John Fiske was an American citizen and the United States consul at Leith, Edinburgh. Lord Arthur died on 18 June, the day after receiving his subpoena for the trial, ostensibly of scarlet fever but more probably a suicide.
The trial began on 9 May 1871 at the Court of Queen’s Bench, before a special jury. It was presided over by Sir Alexander Cockburn, the Lord Chief Justice. At the hearing Boulton and Park’s lifestyle attracted great public interest, especially when a trunkful of their dresses was brought in as evidence. However, the unreliability of the witnesses and their physical examination by the police without higher authority swayed opinion in their favour. The prosecution was unable to prove either that they had committed any homosexual offence or that the wearing of women’s clothing by men was an offence in English law. Cockburn’s summing up was critical of the prosecution’s case and the behaviour of the police . After deliberating for fifty three minutes the jury found them not guilty.
Boulton and Park appear as characters in The Sins of the Cities of the Plain (1881) a pioneering work of homosexual pornographic literature. In this story the cross-dressing narrator recounts how he meets Boulton and Park dressed up as women at Haxell’s Hotel in the Strand, with Lord Arthur trailing along behind. Later on the narrator spends the night at Boulton and Park’s rooms in Eaton Square, and the next day has breakfast with them “all dressed as ladies”.
Boulton and Park appear in the play Lord Arthur’s Bed (2008) by the English playwright Martin Lewton. The play was premièred at the Brighton Festival on 14 May 2008. It subsequently toured nationally in 2008, and was transferred to Dublin in 2009.