1936: Sydney’s Biggest, Gayest Divorce


george bellingham roberts belle finlayson biggest gayest divorce

In July 1936, Sydney Truth promised readers that the November divorce of George Bellingham Roberts and Belle Finlayson would deliver unheard-of scandal. As promised, it was the biggest, gayest divorce Sydney ever saw.

Another snippet of queercentric news from Australian media history.

Truth noted that George would accuse Belle of adultery with Maurice Wallington, a previous boyfriend.

“The petition of George Bellingham Roberts, one-time secretary to the Earl of Beauchamp, against Isabella Marie Roberts [Belle Finlayson], with Maurice Wallington, named as co-respondent, promises to be the Divorce Court cause celebre of the year.

“The divorce promises to create as great a furore as did the wedding. Belle Finlayson was a leader among Sydney’s smart set. A fashionable dresser, she and Roberts, the young secretary of the Earl of Beauchamp made an attractive couple as they came down the aisle and stepped out into the street, the centre of attraction for admiring crowds.

“It was the wedding of the season. Young, handsome and debonair, Wallington is the proprietor of the hotel at Epping. Roberts is alleging that his wife committed adultery with Wallington. Mrs Roberts, who started proceedings, also makes serious allegations against her husband.”

Readers would need to wait until November to learn the details of Belle’s serious allegations.

Biggest Gayest Divorce

Don’t feel too bad for George or Belle. It’s pretty obvious neither married for love. George Bellingham Roberts — Gorgeous George to the papers — was gay and arrived in Australia as private secretary to the Earl of Beauchamp, then exiled from Britain in lieu of prosecution for gay sex. George wanted a beard — a wife to provide cover for his real sexuality. Beauchamp encouraged him to woo Belle.

Belle Finlayson was the 1936 equivalent of a Kardashian, always in the papers, relentlessly self-promoting. She wanted a husband who would help make headlines. Oscar Wilde wrote in An Ideal Husband, “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”

Belle got her headlines but a less-than-ideal husband.

belle finlayson george bellingham roberts biggest gayest divorce
Smith’s Weekly. September 23, 1933

All about gay sex

For the two years before her wedding, Belle skipped between Maurice Wallington and George Bellingham Roberts, keeping Sydney captivated with a never-ending romantic soap opera. Who needed television? Belle was a one-woman Summer Bay. Finally, she set a date and booked St Mary’s Basilica to marry Maurice. But the day before the wedding, she changed her mind. Not that she cancelled the wedding. It went ahead. But with a different groom.

However, after a single night of wedded bliss, George Bellingham Roberts deserted the marital bed to frolic with his male friends. When Belle complained, he told her to take a lover.

All would be revealed at the November court case when Sydney heard more about gay sex in one day than it had in the previous 148 years.

Belle got her divorce. George left Sydney soon afterwards to join Earl Beachamp at the ‘gay French Riviera’. Later, a generous bequest on the death of the earl allowed him to set himself up in business in England.

Belle retreated from the headlines, and in 1940, married Maurice in complete secrecy with not a single newspaper reporter or admiring crowd to be seen.

More 1930s Sydney:

Homosexualists take over the streets of Sydney.

Sydney’s Kamp Kult – depression era fabulousness.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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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