1836: Reverend William Yate, Edwin Denison & Dick Deck

reverend yate st james'

Reverend William Yate arrived in Sydney in 1836 to take charge at St James’ Church, King Street. But he didn’t last long, heading back to England after scandalising Sydney with rumours of wild gay sex orgies.

Or — at the very least — tickling threesomes!

Reverend William Yate was previously a pioneering New Zealand missionary for the Church Mission Society.

In 1934, he left New Zealand without permission from his employer and returned to England to fetch his sister and recruit more missionaries.

In England, he published a best-selling history of the society’s work among the Maori. However, his fellow missionaries back in New Zealand thought he blew his own horn a little too loudly.

Nevertheless, his fame led to an audience with William IV. In 1936, the now-celebrated Reverend William Yate departed England aboard the Prince Regent bound for New Zealand.

However, when the ship stopped over in Sydney, he was appointed to take the place of the recently deceased Reverend Hill at St James’.

reverend William Yate dick dent

Ticklish Dick!

William immediately took lodgings in Park Street. Edwin Denison, third mate of the Prince Regent, joined him. According to rumour, the reverend spent much of his voyage from England in Edwin’s bunk.

Dick Deck, another seaman from the ship, then joined the pair at their Park Street lodgings. Scandalised neighbours voiced suspicions and soon the men’s sleeping arrangements were the talk of Sydney.

Samuel Marsden, Sydney’s Flogging Parson, and head of the Church Mission Society in Australia, confronted Reverend William Yate. William denied any impropriety but Marsden did not believe him.

“I had no doubt of his Guilt from the first moment I was informed of his Conduct.”

Witnesses gave evidence of Yate and Denison’s behaviour onboard the Prince Regent and in their Park Street lodging.

They allegedly held hands, giggled, indulged in unseemly tickling and slept together at night.

Dick Deck admitted that when he first moved in at Park Street, he joined the other pair in the bed. However, he soon moved to the sofa because there was too much tickling for his liking. Ticklish Dick.


Despite the evidence of tickling threesomes and other M2M sexual activity, the Crown Solicitor doubted the crime of sodomy could be proved against Yate.

The Buggery Act basically required that someone observe anal penetration and proof of ejaculation. Oral sex remained legal until the Labouchere Amendment of 1885. Despite plentiful evidence of same-sex intimacy, the authorities failed to find what they needed – corroboration of a nice simple fck!

So the inquiry into Reverend William Yate closed with no conviction but with the missionary disgraced and suspended from duty.

However, soon after, affidavits arrived from New Zealand containing fresh allegations.

The Church Mission Society missionaries left behind by Reverend William Yate questioned numerous young Maori men they suspected the missionary of intimacy with.

One described Yate choosing him from a lineup.

“Mr Yate told the men to stand before him, to unbutton their trousers that he might see their ___.

“He was very merry, and ordered me and said, ‘Let us two go to my room upstairs’.”

Upstairs, the pair indulged in mutual masturbation and the missionary gave his playmate a small gift.

Another young man said Yate told him all European men indulged in mutual masturbation before marriage. However, as a single man, the missionary’s hand was his wife.

Yet another young man admitted to giving the missionary a blowjob for a pound of tobacco.

All up, his fellow missionaries believed Reverend William Yate had sex with around 60 young men in return for payments of some kind.

But as Judith Binney states in Whatever Happened to Poor Mr Yate? An Exercise in Voyeurism, the Maori did not see anything terribly wrong with what occurred.

“Such acts were not unknown in Maori society; indeed the missionaries made such a song and dance about the issue that, as one Maori put it, they thought something much more terrible must be being alluded to.”

Anyway, the affidavits arrived too late for the Sydney inquiry and still offered no proof of anal sex.

Unconvicted, but disgraced, Yate departed Sydney for England in mid-December 1936 — with Edwin Denison.

Refused any appointments for over a decade, in 1848 he took over a Mission to Seamen at Dover.

More colonial Australian history:

Consensual buggery in colonial Australia.

Consensual Buggery in Colonial Australia

1848: Tassie’s Coal Mines, sinkholes of vice & infamy.

Australia’s earliest known gay love letter.


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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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