Before Oscar Wilde

When I was researching Oscar’s Ghost, I read an article in a literary journal (forgive me for not looking it up right now) that made the persuasive case that Oscar Wilde’s trial was an aberration. What was unique about it, the author said, was that previous to the Wilde trial,  prosecutions of this class of crimes operated on the assumption that the gentleman was the victim of the blackmailers and prostitutes. In the Wilde case suddenly Wilde was presented as corrupting the young men in spite of their sometimes questionable backgrounds.

Shortly after Oscar Wilde went to prison, a young man from Newcastle named James H. Wilson came to visit Lord Alfred Douglas in exile in France. They commiserated with one another about the injustice of it all, and Wilson, with a fresh ear-full of Douglas’s complaints, went home to write a pamphlet that came to be called Some Gentle Criticisms of English Justice under the pseudonym I. Playfair.

It mostly focused on Oscar Wilde’s trials and Douglas’s theory that a political conspiracy, and a desire to protect certain prominent people, was behind the prosecution. It does, however, mention another case in passing, an 1893 case in which Wilson alleges that young men were not only let off scot-free, they were actually encouraged to solicit men in order to bring about their prosecution. He identified the prosecutor in the case as Mr. Waddy, Q.C.

After a bit of searching in the newspaper archives, I uncovered the case that had so outraged Wilson. While it is little remembered today, it caused a minor sensation in 1893.

That year Mr. Waddy had been in ill health and therefore had not been busy in the Royal Courts in London, but he had an important circuit practice. I turned up a shocking number of cases that he prosecuted in the assize courts of assaults against women, a libel action for a bad theatrical review, a fraud on a farmer, a number of libels involving businesses ranging from a coal company to an inn, a few divorce cases, a breach of promise case, a couple of slander cases, one murder case, a dispute over cattle, two injury cases–one involving a builder and one a steam ship, a betting conspiracy, a shipyard  dispute, theft of furniture and a case called “The case of the Gipsy Queen and Organ Grinder.” His most time consuming case in 1893 was an insurance fraud case. The only other case involving homosexuality and Waddy was of a man who felt up a boy on a train.
And then there was the case that the press dubbed “The Newcastle Scandal.”
The case is interesting for its parallels to the Wilde case and perhaps gives a sense of what things might have been like if Lord Alfred Douglas had been tried along side Wilde.

Lionel Hans Hamilton, 44, like Oscar Wilde, was born in Ireland. It is not clear why the court was determined to make an example of him, but it is clear that it was.  Hamilton was a factory inspector, a highly prominent position but also one that presumably made him enemies. His status was such that after his arrest the Queen saw fit to post a notice disassociating her government from him.

Hamilton had been having a sexual relationship with a clerk named Henry Dady, 22, for two to three years.

A number of letters “of a very indecent nature” were cited as evidence. In magistrates court, the prosecutor, Mr. J.E. Joel argued that Dady had acted as a procurer for Hamilton.  “The evidence was of a revolting nature and seemed to indicate the existence of a horrible club.”

The two men plead guilty to misdemeanor, but the judge set this aside as he felt the plea was not sufficient. On advice of counsel, Hamilton pled guilty and admitted that he and Dady “feloniously, wickedly and against the order of nature, did carnally know each other and commit the abominable crime of buggery.” In addition, he plead guilty to gross indecency with three other young men.

Dady was also advised to plead guilty, but he refused. On the date of his trial, he seemed confident, and waved to friends in the gallery.

Mr. Waddy, opening the case for the prosecution, said that he did not intend to wallow in the filth of a crime “not to be named among Christians” any more than necessary and if the charges were proved it would be the duty of the court to give the strongest sentence as this was “the worst crime known to all humanity.”

A series of witnesses described engaging in acts that the papers were coy about, and admitted to accepting money for it, but they were not charged themselves and were described as victims.

The jury took little time to find Dady guilty, and counsels for both men made pleas to the judge for leniency. The judge was having none of it. It was a most egregious case, he felt, because Hamilton had encouraged boys to follow these abominable and filthy practices. Hamilton was the head, he said, of “an extensive system for the corruption of youth.” The only redeeming thing he found in Hamilton was that he had plead guilty and spared the court having to hear the details of his debauchery.

“It is necessary to make an example of men of education and position who so lower themselves to commit these most abominable crimes,” said Lord Chief Justice Coleridge.

To Dady he said, “you are younger, and although you are 22 years of age, I am satisfied that you have been following these practices for a considerable time. You acted as a decoy to other boys, and you acted as a procurer of other boys, and you corrupted other boys and led them into the commission of these terrible offences.” The judge was especially annoyed that Dady had compelled the court to listen to the horrible details instead of pleading guilty. “But although your crime is great, yet I will take into consideration your age, I will take into consideration the fact that no doubt you were somewhat influenced by a man who was older than yourself, probably better educated than yourself, and who may have had influence over you.”

The older man was sentenced to 10 years penal servitude, the younger man to 5. Dady burst into tears as he was led away.

Dady served four years of his five year sentence. Prison records at the time of his release describe his distinguishing characteristics as including scars on his eye and finger and pockmarks on the buttocks. In 1907 he was arrested again for false pretenses and served a 6 month sentence. Ten years later he had changed his name to Henry Dudley and was working as a waiter.  He was arrested for committing an act of gross indecency with a boy in a theater, but was found not guilty. After that, his trail goes cold.

Hamilton served 8 years of his 10 year sentence, and went blind in prison. Upon his release, he went to live with a nephew. He died in 1931.

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