Caught having sex in Melbourne’s Carlton Gardens in July 1873, Williams Reynolds and Daniel McDonald, both 16, faced a charge of sodomy at a time when the penalty for anal sex remained death.
William Reynolds was no stranger to the courts of law. At 13, police charged him with stealing a turnip. He remained in the lock-up for 5 days while the cops looked for a parent to attend court with him. His mother finally showed up, swore he was really a very good boy, and promised to take better care of him in future.
But he was back the following year, charged with arson. William and four young mates had been lighting fires in public places. They escaped with a caution. In June 1873, a magistrate fined William 5-shillings for trying to carjack horsedrawn drays and threatening their owners. The fact the kid was drunk probably spared him a prison sentence. But it seems the cops started keeping an eye on him.
William was drunk again the night the cops caught him and Daniel McDonald in Carlton Gardens. So was Daniel. But it seems Daniel’s parents could afford a decent lawyer. Mr Fisher convinced the jury Daniel was so drunk he had no idea what he was doing. The jury voted to acquit Daniel and to convict William of attempted sodomy only — an important distinction — attempted sodomy did not attract the death penalty.
Justice Fellows sentenced William Reynolds to three months solitary confinement and 24 lashes. Fellows apparently thought little of recent newspaper articles describing solitary confinement as an ‘instrument of torture’. But following the trial, someone pointed out that the law only allowed judges to sentence prisoners to a single month of solitude. William Reynolds was returned to the courtroom and his sentence reduced accordingly.
William would not have made friends during that first month at Melbourne Gaol. Prisoners sentenced to solitary only left their cells for an hour a day for exercise. They wore a ‘silence mask’ during that hour — a calico hood with two holes to see through.
However, plenty of future opportunities to make friends. William would return to Melbourne Gaol. He’d spend most of the next two decades there. But first, he received his first instalment of 12 lashes on the evening of July 21, 1873.
Police rearrested William the moment he left jail. They claimed that he robbed a 17-year-old lad named Berry during the previous year’s Melbourne Cup. With young Mr Berry sat upon his knee, William allegedly “mistook Berry’s trousers pockets for those afforded for his own accommodation and placed his hands in them. He was rejoiced to find some money there, which he promptly removed.”
All a bit strange. It seems Berry did not object to the hands in his trouser pockets until he lost the money contained therein. But back to Melbourne Gaol for William Reynolds.
No doubt William was becoming accustomed to the strangeness of life. For sex with another man in the Carlton Gardens, officialdom punished him with confinement in a place where men frequently had sex with each other.
George de Thouars entered Pentridge as a 22-year-old less than a decade later in 1880. He wrote that despite attempts at segregation, older inmates inevitably gained access to juveniles and ‘corrupted’ them.
Another prisoner writing about his time in Pentridge, commented on the irony of sending men to prison for an act that was commonplace there.
“For committing an unnatural offence a judge would sentence a man to three to ten years. Yet the same offence is committed every day in Pentridge.”
Indeed, a few days after William Reynolds received his 12 lashes, Thomas Slater and Reuben Regent received 20 each in Melbourne Gaol for consensual anal sex at Pentridge.
Melbourne Gaol prisoner records indicate the inner city prison was no different.
Prisoners suffered punishments for “improperly altering trousers” and being “improperly in another prisoner’s cell.” Room for ambiguity there but what about “improperly in a [water] closet with another prisoner.” No ambiguity there.
Rogues and vagabonds
William didn’t stay out of jail long. Police charged him and George Kirkland with “being rogues and vagabonds, and also with being in a public place with intent to commit a felony” in April 1874. So, back to Melbourne Gaol for a year because police thought he might possibly commit a crime.
A year later, following his release, William returned to the gaol and threw a package containing tea and matches over the wall to a friend who remained incarcerated. Another three months!
William almost always committed his crimes in company with other young men. His last recorded sentence is in 1880 when he, William Watkins and Thomas Fagan robbed a labourer.
According to the papers, Patrick Cunningham came into town from Moorabbin “for a spree, picked up with the first young men he met, and shouted for them, and got under the influence of drink and lost his purse, containing 17 shillings.”
William returned to prison for another five years and disappeared from the record thereafter.
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