Until the 1990s, men risked prosecution, imprisonment, torture and even death for consenting adult male sex. Whether in private or secluded places, proof of ‘unnatural offences or sodomy could result in harsh jail sentences or execution.
The first prosecution and execution took place even before the British claimed the Great Southern Land and transported convicts here.
The Zeewijk, a Dutch East India Company ship, came to grief on the reefs of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands off Western Australia in 1927. During the shipwrecked sailor’s sojourn on the near barren islands, shipmates observed two teenage crew members engaged in the ‘gruesome sin of Sodomy’.
The captain and officers first tortured Adriaen Spoor and Pieter Engels in an attempt to force a confession. The boys refused to admit any sex took place but were found guilty regardless. They were marooned on individual desert islands and left to die from exposure.
Alexander Brown faced trial in Sydney for sex acts committed on a whaling ship while at sea. Although charged with sex with a number of junior sailors he was only convicted of sex with one.
Chief Justice Francis Forbes sentenced both Brown and his co-accused to death.
“You have been severally convicted of an unnatural crime, called sodomy, a crime which our laws hold in particular abhorrence…
“The law has made your offence capital. It is one at which nature shudders, and it therefore only remains for me to pass upon you that sentence which is affixed to the crime of which you were convicted.”
However, the Governor later commuted the sentence of the other party due to his youth and a suspicion Brown instigated the activity.
Alexander Brown died on the gallows just before 10 am on December 22, 1828.
Townsville’s Detective Dyer watched Jack Boyd for weeks in the hope of catching him having gay sex. Finally, at half past one on the morning of November 6, 1870, the suspicious detective followed Jack and a young bullocky called William Reily along the beach. When the two men disappeared among some rocks, Dyer snuck up in the dark.
“Immediately on approaching the rocks, I saw Boyd. He was on top of Reily. Reily was lying on his belly on the ground. I could hear Reily grunting and moaning.
“He had his trousers down and his fundament (arse) was exposed. Boyd was moving, raising his fundament up and down on Reily.
“When I got close, I caught Boyd by the back of the neck with my left hand. With my right hand, I shoved down between the privates of Boyd and the fundament of Reily. I then found Boyd’s penis which was quite rigid and inserted into Reily’s fundament. Boyd’s penis was quite greasy and wet.”
A constable spied 19-year-old Martin Freeney lying on top of 31-year-old Thomas Tweedie behind some bushes in the Domain in 1878. Tweedie had his pants down and his arse exposed. When the constable called out, Freeney rolled off the older man and the constable glimpsed the lad’s hard cock.
“I could see Freeney’s person (cock) was very hard.”
Just to be sure, the constable grabbed it.
The two men later faced court for a consenting adult male sex act. Perhaps not entirely private but it was nighttime and they did hide in the bushes.
A drunken and disreputable boarding-house keeper snuck into a room of his Penrith bouse in 1882 with a lamp. He went for the police after seeing Bartholomew Gough wanking off over Thomas Wright’s arse. A medical examination later revealed that Gough previously buggered Wright. The doctor’s testimony also indicated Wright enjoyed the experience sufficiently that he came during it.
The case seemed open and shut until the lawyer representing the defendants began to question the character of the chief witness, the boarding-house keeper.
Constables caught George Williams and Archibald Allen ‘attempting an unnatural offence’ in a Melbourne lane in the first days of 1884.
Despite their youth, both aged 16 at the time of the offence, the boys faced trial in the Supreme Court. Justice Holroyd sentenced the lads to 3 months in prison and ‘two whippings of 15 lashes each with a cat-of-nine-tails’.
The pair received their first taste of the lash on February 28, and the second two months later.
Railway workers from a nearby camp watched John Bonfield bugger John Ogden under a gum tree in the main street of Barcaldine in 1921. The witnesses swore the moon gave them a clear view of the sex act from a distance of 95 yards.
Police relied on testimony from a young and inexperienced country doctor. However, the doctor was a popular local sportsman and a friend to many of the jury.
In 1933, popular Ferntree Gully resident George Lovell faced court for consenting adult male sex acts. 65-year-old George committed the offences with a 29-year-old married man and was dobbed in by his neighbours.
Following his 6-month prison sentence, George returned to Ferntree Gully. Despite not resuming his previously high-profile community work, he remained a cherished local resident. In 1953, the local RSL made him only its second-ever life member. His funeral the following year attracted a large turnout and the paper printed a glowing obituary.
In 1977, Victorian police coerced confessions from men they initially arrested for ‘loitering for homosexual purposes’.
The police faced subsequent criticism for entrapping the men using undercover officers. A senior office admitted the police sent young good-looking officers onto the beach in swimwear after first training them how to ‘imitate homosexual mannerisms’.
The heavy-handed police action contributed to growing momentum for decriminalisation in the state.