Described as so handsome he verged on beautiful, George Bellingham Roberts featured in one of Sydney’s greatest society scandals. The divorce trial of the secretary to a former NSW Governor heard ‘grave and unpleasant evidence of unnatural behaviour’. Gorgeous George apparently fraternised with men who scorned the company of women while communicating in their own ‘queer jargon’.
George Bellingham Roberts arrived in Sydney in the early 1930s as secretary to an immensely wealthy former governor, Earl Beauchamp. He began a romance with a popular society girl with the Earl’s approval and encouragement. But Belle Finlayson was already spoken for.
“She was keeping company with another young man, also handsome and well-to-do. But she fell in love. Little did she know then of the life she would face. A life that, had she known it, would have made her shudder.”
Beauchamp was a frequent visitor to Sydney.
Back in 1898, Queen Victoria appointed him Governor of NSW. Sydney society remembered his splendid parties and patronage of the arts. Newspapers also referred to the Earl deserving great credit for his taste in rosy-cheeked young footmen. Returning to England in 1900, he married and entered politics.
However, in 1931, Beauchamp’s world crashed down. His brother-in-law hated him. Not unusual. The Duke of Westminster never liked anyone much. But he was one of the world’s wealthiest men. Westminster hired private detectives to root out evidence of Beauchamp’s homosexuality. Not a terribly difficult job. His Lordship enjoyed sex — and lots of it. He also had wildly democratic sexual tastes. He bonked everyone from the stable hand to the Lord of the Manor: male sex workers, distinguished actors, rough trade, fishermen, servants…
With proof of buggery in hand, the Duke bullied his sister into leaving her previously happy marriage. Lady Beauchamp perhaps never quite understood the truth. Disclosing the terrible secret behind her impending divorce, her Ladyship confided to a friend that her husband was a bugler! Well, he did blow a lot of horns. Westminster made no so much mistake, addressing the Earl in a letter as ‘Dear Bugger-in-law’.
The Duke also confronted George V with the dirt on Beauchamp, causing the king to utter the immortal words, “I thought men like that shot themselves.”
George sent emissaries to the Earl, demanding he scarper to avoid scandal. Beauchamp quit Mother England within hours. His subsequent arrival in Sydney led to feverish speculation.
“What brings Earl Beauchamp to Sydney? Peculiar Mystery. London clubs are buzzing with the latest society sensation — a sudden exit from England.”
George Bellingham Roberts initially worked as Beauchamp’s valet before promotion to the post of confidential private secretary. He lived with His Lordship in Australia at ‘Carthona’, a grand gothic mansion at Darling Point.
Sydney women, the newspapers, and as later revealed in the divorce court, numerous men swooned at the sight of Gorgeous George.
“Mr Roberts is 24, well-built and extremely handsome. His bronzed features are perfectly moulded. His eyes are brown, his hair is dark and wavy, and he boasts two even rows of flashing white teeth. A man of whom any girl might be proud.”
George’s wedding to Belle Finlayson was a media spectacle, at least partly because of a long-running soap opera engineered by the blushing bride. For almost two years, she flitted back and forth between George and her former fiance, engaged to first one and then the other. In fact, she originally planned a wedding with the other suitor just two weeks before her eventual marriage to George.
“For many months past, Miss Finlayson and her heart adventures have provided a tasty morsel for Sydney’s social gossips, but none was quite prepared for this, her
last minute and dramatic decision.
“Two or three weeks ago, through the Press, and over the wireless on Sunday night last, her engagement and forthcoming marriage had been announced to another
gentleman. A wedding ring had been bought, bridesmaids chosen, wedding invitations issued. Even two steamer tickets for the honeymoon had been booked. Moreover, the intended bride had already been the recipient of many valuable wedding gifts.”
But if the courting of Miss Finlayson gave gossips something to chew on, the subsequent divorce delivered a feast.
“The sartorially resplendent man-about-town was the object of serious and revolting allegations. The former Belle Finlayson invoked ground seldom if ever, used by a wife against a husband. A rare charge dealing with acts of an abominable nature. Shocking allegations concerning men who live in a strange world, scorning the society of women.”
Belle engaged prominent Sydney barrister John Wentworth Shand.
“This man, handsome in face and figure, turned out to be what is known in medical terms as a homo-sexual.
“He was a man to whom the decent and natural conduct of married life meant less than nothing. A man steeped in every type of abnormal conduct.
“Mrs Roberts was introduced into a strange world. Not the healthy world as we know it. But one composed of this man and friends of the most appalling indecencies and somewhat feminine traits.”
“They even spoke a language that was foreign to her, a queer jargon that the ordinary man does not hear of.”
Gay Englishmen communicated among themselves privately in a coded slang called Polari. It comprised a mix of Mediterranean Lingua Franca, Gypsy words, backslang, rhyming slang, sailor lingo, and criminal jargon. Belle could not understand a word of it. Gorgeous George and his friends chatted away in their queer jargon, leaving Mrs Roberts ignorant of the subject of their conversation.
Mr Shand showed the court a photo of the couple.
“It would be hard to find a more handsome couple! The husband is so handsome that his looks verge on the beautiful.
“The young couple went to live at the beautiful home of Lord Beauchamp. And there were to happen incidents to which Mrs Roberts then failed to attach true significance.”
The honeymoon ended rather quickly. George moved into a separate bedroom on the second night of their married life. Even when he returned to the marital bed, ‘he did not come back as her husband’. In other words, no sex.
Certain men friends
“And then, he began to invite certain men friends of his.”
Belle disapproved of George’s friends. They talked dirty and seemed to like her husband just a little too much. One day, her husband disappeared during a visit from one of his mates before reappearing totally starkers. His horrified wife pleaded with him to put some clothes on. But she received no support from the mate. He instead gushed over Gorgeous George’s naked body. It was magnificent, he told her. Belle ought to be proud to have such a man as a husband.
But Belle’s husband then placed ‘indecent’ photos of two males on her dressing table. She tore them up. He replaced them.
Finally, she had enough. Disgusted by the tone of a conversation, Belle stormed out one night and went to stay with her mother. She returned the following day to find George sitting up in bed with a shawl around his shoulders. Another man was serving her husband breakfast in bed.
Even worse: “He was wearing one of my dainty aprons.”
Not just an apron. A dainty apron! Bastard!
Belle afterwards confided in her husband that she felt unloved.
“Take a lover,” he said, “Life will be very dull unless you find a lover.”
But Belle had morals.
“I was not going to cheapen myself like that!
“He told me the female of the species was an abomination; they were like the domestic cow and should be kept in their place.”
George Bellingham Roberts never showed up for his trial. Belle got her divorce, and Gorgeous George departed Sydney early in 1937.
“He told friends that he would meet Earl Beauchamp — to whom he was at one time private and confidential secretary — at one of the gay southern French Riviera towns.”
In 1937, Belle took out a writ in the Supreme Court seeking £25,000 in damages from the Earl. She did not at the time disclose the nature of her allegations against Beauchamp. His death the following year saw the action discontinued.
Beauchamp, always generous, left his former secretary enough money to set himself up for life. Gorgeous George died in 1970.
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