Boulton & Park: 1871 drag trial reverberated around world

boulton park fanny stella

The Boulton and Park trial titillated and scandalised 1870s England. Were Fanny and Stella entertainers or perverts — and if perverts — had they broken any law?

Even in far-off Queensland, the scandal of the Men in Petticoats reverberated.

“DRAG,” the Queensland Times tagged an 1870 article.

“For a whole month, the public curiosity has been fed, though probably not satiated, by the details of the most extraordinary case we can remember to have occurred in our time.”

fanny stella boulton park
Queensland Times. August 25, 1870

How dare you!

On April 28, 1870, many of the audience at London’s Strand Theatre found two flirtatious young society dames in a private box more entertaining than the advertised entertainment. Fanny and Stella lapped up the attention. But a waiting bobby put an end to the fun as they left the theatre.

“I’m a police officer and I have every reason to believe that you are men in female attire.”

“How dare you address a lady in that manner, Sir,” replied Fanny indignantly.

At the station, the cop demanded Fanny and Stella strip naked. A crowd of perving policemen gathered to watch, jeering and whistling as the petticoats came off.

The next morning, the cops searched the lodgings where Fanny and Stella kept their drag. Alerted to events, fellow crossdresser Carlotta Giddings broke into their room after the police left and removed incriminating evidence. She also took men’s clothing to Bow Street for her friends to wear in court. Determined to create a spectacle, the cops turned her away.

Fanny and Stella then ran another gauntlet of jeers and whistles crossing the street to the courthouse, their make-up a little worse for wear following a sleepless night in the cells. But they also heard familiar voices. Carlotta had rounded up friends for a show of support.

fanny stella boulton park
Fanny and Stella arrested – Illustrated Police News

The insertion of foreign bodies numerous times

In court, the cops revealed they had been following Fanny and Stella, aka Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, for a year. Amongst the evidence, testimony about their association with notorious male sex workers, photographs and intimate letters. The magistrate remanded the pair and the cops whisked them off to a side room for a medical examination.

The police doctor later testified that Fanny and Stella possessed very dilated anuses, caused by ‘the insertion of foreign bodies numerous times’. And they were both extraordinarily well-hung, something that resulted, according to Dr Paul, from lots of active anal sex!

Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park remained in the cells for months, dragged into court whenever the police discovered new evidence.

Eventually, the police charged Boulton and Park with ‘conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence’. But the cops had no actual evidence of unnatural offences, only of cross-dressing and letters written in endearing terms. Fanny lived for a while with aristocrat and MP Lord Arthur Clinton as man and wife. His lordship also performed male roles in private theatrical entertainments given by Fanny and Stella across Britain. The cops charged Lord Clinton and five other men with offences based solely on their association with Fanny and Stella.

fanny stella boulton park
Left to right: Lord Arthur Clinton, Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton

The trial of Boulton and Park

Boulton and Park were released from gaol ahead of their trial. Meanwhile, three of their co-accused absconded and Lord Clinton died. His family attributed the death to scarlet fever, but rumour had it he committed suicide while later evidence indicated he faked his death and fled overseas.

Meanwhile, an anonymous donor put £5000 towards the defence. That afforded the services of Sir George Lewis, a Jewish lawyer famous for his hatred of injustice.

Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park showed up for court in male clothing and whiskers.

The police possessed no physical evidence of anal sex. Even worse for the prosecution, Sir George Lewis had five of England’s most eminent physicians examine Ernest and Frederick. Those doctors reported they found no indications of anal sex on the bodies of Boulton and Park. Furthermore, neither of the young crossers was unusually well-hung. So much for the police doctor’s testimony!

Sir George tore apart another police witness. Former policeman George Smith, the beadle (security guard) of Burlington Arcade, testified to constantly ejecting Fanny, Stella and their fellow ‘Mary-Anns’  from the shopping centre for flirting with men.

But Smith turned up in court pissed. He also admitted to Sir George he’d been fired as beadle for taking bribes from female sex workers to allow them to play their trade in the arcade. Worse, he let slip that since four days before the arrest of Boulton and Park at the Strand Theatre, he’d been “getting up evidence for the police in this little affair.”

‘Getting up evidence’ was slang at the time for fabricating evidence. George Lewis also extracted an admission that Smith expected payment from the police for his participation in the trial.

Conjecture and gossip

Much of the prosecution’s testimony was little more than gossip and conjecture. That was often sufficient to convict accused persons at the time. But Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park benefitted from an expensive and extremely effective defence.

The jury deliberated for 53 minutes before declaring the men not guilty. Stella fainted amidst applause, cheers and cries of “Bravo!” from the public gallery.

Also: On trial for wearing women’s clothing in 1915 Adelaide: Lindsay Kemble, drag queen war hero.

1890s Boston drag performer: Dr Albert W Noll — The Fairy, the Fire Fiend and the Fiddle.

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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

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