Consensual buggery in colonial Australia

Consensual Buggery in Colonial Australia

On August 31, 1842, William Williams and Solomon John slipped away from a Sydney bar to a nearby paddock for a spot of consensual buggery. They risked the death sentence if caught. Yet, court records indicate they and numerous other colonial Australian men took an astonishingly carefree attitude to criminal man-on-man action.

All images: NSW State Archives & Records.

Buggery had a very elastic definition under Australian colonial law. It could mean anal sex with a man or woman, child rape and also bestiality. The incidence of bestiality comes as something of a shock when perusing the records. Indeed, more men faced trial for sex with horses, goats, pigs and even ducks than with other men.

Relatively few were convicted of anal sex with other men. Even before Australian colonies stopped killing people for male-on-male anal sex, usually only crimes involving violence or coercion resulted in an execution.

Court records indicate that men apprehended over consensual male sex acts took a remarkably carefree attitude to something that could see them hanged. Normally, you’d expect someone committing a capital crime to go to extreme lengths to avoid detection. But not these blokes. They got to it in open paddocks, back passages, public gardens and brightly-lit hotel rooms with unlocked doors and uncurtained windows.

William Williams and Solomon John

On August 31, 1842, William Willams met Indian immigrant Solomon John in a pub on George Street, Sydney. After some discussion, they retired to a paddock down the road. William dropped trou and bent over and Solomon began to bugger him.

But they were watched.

Assistant Chief Constable John Price had known William Williams for 15 years and claimed his sexual hijinks with other men were the talk of the town. Police had caught the ‘incorrigible’ William having sex with other men three times before and he’d previously done jail time for it.

Price and a police inspector observed William and Solomon in the pub and followed them to the paddock. The cops then dropped to their bellies and crawled unobserved to within 5 yards of the copulating couple. Once they saw Solomon penetrate William, the cops leapt into action.

“We pounced on them. I pulled the coloured man asunder from Williams and took the coloured man’s privates from the prisoner’s fundament (arse). I am quite sure – I swear I took his privates from the prisoner. His penis was then erected. I swear from the state of his private parts that he had penetrated his fundament.”

Price knew that to prove buggery he needed evidence of penetration. He repeated his proof.

“I put my hand down & took the black man’s penis out of Williams.”

To ensure the inspector could corroborate his evidence, Price invited him to take a feel also.

It was quite stiff

“Price called my attention to the coloured man’s penis – I caught hold of him. It was quite stiff at the time.”

Sentenced to death, the Executive Council later spared the two men. Though it’s questionable whether transportation for life to the penal hellhole of Port Arthur should be described as ‘spared’.

Following men suspected of homosexual behaviour often paid dividends for the cops. In Townsville in 1870, a plainclothes cop followed Jack Boyd and William Reily along the beach in the middle of the night. Like Price, when the Queensland cop caught Jack topping the younger man, he reached between them and grabbed hold of Jack’s stiff dick so he had evidence of sodomy. (Will that stand up in court?)

But in 1899, it was a man rowing by who caught 19-year-old Mauritian sailor George Anselme on top of 21-year-old George Cook on a Sydney beach. They each served 18 months with hard labour.

buggery colonial australians
George Anselme and George Cook

Another judge handed 18-year-old James Teece and 30-year-old Louis Calouze death sentences after a cop found Louis screwing James in Hyde Park in 1882. However, both sentences were later commuted. Louis served eight years with hard labour and James three on account of his youth.

James Teece and Louis Calouze

Nine years later, 23-year-old black American sailor Joseph Middleton and 33-year-old miner George Adams, also caught in Hyde Park, received much lighter sentences. Joseph Middleton served just twelve months while George Adams copped five years because of his lengthy criminal record.

buggery colonial australians
Joseph Middleton and George Adams

But some intending buggers took such ridiculous chances they were bound to be caught. In 1900, a cop in Lambeth stopped to listen when he heard swearing coming from a grassy bank beside a street.

Spit on the end of it

“But by Jesus Christ, you can’t get it in. Spit on the end of it and it will slip in easily, come on I have got my pants down.”

Closer inspection revealed 18-year-old John David Evans with his pants down trying to entice 17-year-old Noah Davis to top him.

Noah denied doing anything.

“He asked me to put my prick into his behind. He lay down on his belly on the grass and asked me. I said ‘No’, and started to move away and he caught me by the leg and stopped me… He said, ‘I know you like a bit of boy’.”

John copped six months with hard labour for “Soliciting with a view to incite a male person to commit buggery.”

John David Evans

A different 22-year-old William Williams and 21-year-old William Smith forwent the great outdoors in 1880. They took the old advice to ‘get a room’. Well, not quite. They only paid for two of the five beds in a room in a Sussex Street, Sydney boarding house.

On May 14, 1880, three other paying customers occupied the other beds. After the owner’s wife heard noise coming from the room, he went upstairs to check. The other three men were sound asleep but Williams and Smith were in the same bed and “moving as if they were having connections with each other.”

The boardinghouse keeper told William Williams to go back to his own bed and stop what he was doing or he’d call the police.

Most people would sheepishly obey. After all, the two Williams were committing a crime. But William Williams was a cocky lad in more ways than one.

“F_ck off, you old bugger,” he told the owner.

He did f_ck off — straight to the police.

A compliant doctor later testified that his examinations revealed a certain looseness in the ani of both men, indicating anal sex. Twelve months each in the slammer.

It’s quite remarkable just how many men caught in the act of buggery by someone other than the cops simply told the people who found them to bugger off. Between that and the cavalier attitude that seemed to generally attend the committal of a serious crime makes one wonder just how commonplace male-on-male sex was in colonial Australia.

Perhaps the great southern land was, as an English inquiry once heard, the Sodom of the South Pacific.

colonial australians
William Williams

More Australian prosecutions for consenting adult male sex.

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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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