Fanny and Stella

Fanny and Stella

Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton
Law student, bank clerk, theatrical performers
1871
Criminal prosecution

 

Fanny (Fredrick Park) and Stella (Ernest Boulton) were arrested on 28th April 1870 at the Strand theatre and taken to Bow Street police station, London. Stella wore a red silk evening dress. Fanny wore a dark green satin dress with black lace. Respectable women did not wear clothes like these. Fanny was 24 years old and Stella 23.

Fanny and Stella grew up in middle class families in London. Fanny’s father was a judge. Stella had been fined before for dressing as a woman. The courts usually charged offenders with a breach of the Queen’s peace and charged a small fine.

At the police station Fanny and Stella had to take off their clothes. They were watched by a group of policemen. It was the first of many public humiliations. The next day they went to Bow Street Magistrates Court. They wore the dresses from the night before. The police did not allow them to change their clothes.

A crowd watches Boulton and Park leave Bow Street Magistrates’ Court on the morning after their arrest. 
Artist’s illustration published in The Illustrated Police News

Fanny and Stella were charged with the criminal offence of buggery. They were also charged with conspiracy to persuade others to commit buggery. These were both serious crimes. Buggery had a death sentence just nine years before. A life sentence was still possible. They were also charged with a minor crime. The court said men dressing as women outraged public decency and corrupted public morals.

Later, a police doctor examined them to identify their sex. Without authority he looked for signs of sodomy. Another examination happened at Newgate Prison. The sodomy charges were dropped and Fanny and Stella were quietly released on bail.

Eight men were accused. Four faced trial for conspiracy – Fanny, Stella, Louis Hurt, Stella’s first love, and John Safford Fiske, who sent love letters to Stella. Fanny and Stella were also tried for dressing as women. Four men did not attend. Lord Arthur Pelham-Clinton had lived with Stella for the two years as ‘man and wife’. He died shortly after the order for his arrest. He probably killed himself. Three friends ran away.

A photograph of Lord Arthur Pelham Clinton with Fanny standing and Stella in front
Frederick Spalding Essex Record Office

The trial began on 9 May 1871 in Westminster Hall. The Home Secretary asked the Attorney General to prosecute the men. This was very unusual, and the Attorney General did not want to do it.

The defence asked why the police watched Fanny and Stella night and day for over a year. This was expensive and normally used only for dangerous criminals. They also asked why the treasury had paid police officers. The defence star witness was Stella’s mother. She was loving and believable. She was involved in everything. She helped with dresses, welcomed friends and admired photographs.

The judge criticised the prosecution and the police. The four were acquitted on all charges. There were loud cheers and cries of Bravo! from the court.

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