169 : A Black Gay Hustler, London 1838

Stephen Bourne sent me <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1838bkac.htm&gt; which is to be cited as Rictor Norton (ed.), ‘A Black Hustler, 1838’, Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 28 March 2016. I have looked at the Old Bailey trial report of 17 December 1838, ref t18381217-348, at some of the records of convict transport ships to Australia in 1839, and The Times.


Henry Johnson (‘a man of colour’) was a London thief – at his London trial in December 1838 a pawnbroker stated he had bought items from Johnson for over eighteen months. Johnson was also a male prostitute. He and John Aylett, a butler to Thomas Holland of Cornwall Terrace, Regent’s Park, were charged with stealing two silver candlesticks, a silver tureen, and silver-mounted cutlery and other items worth £20. They were pawned, and the money given to Johnson who, having shared Aylett’s bed (‘guilty of unnatural practices’) had charged him £5 and threatened to reveal the matter. Johnson told a police officer that ‘for some time past [he had] been in the habit of walking along Regent-street, where he was almost certain of being noticed, and picked up by gentlemen, by whom he was liberally paid for according to their wishes’ (Dublin Monitor, 15 December 1838).

The trial at the Old Bailey was brief – the charge was theft and the homosexual activities were not detailed. The Times of 21 December 1838 noted Johnson was ‘a man of colour’ as did the Morning Post of that date. They were sentenced to be transported for ten years and locked up in Newgate prison before, at the beginning of January 1839, being moved to a hulk moored near Woolwich. That both men received the same sentence is odd, in that Aylett was a butler and thus in a position of trust which he had abused. However, the official files note he was aged 24, and Johnson was 22.

Almost one thousand convicts named Henry Johnson are listed in the files of Australia, but Aylett is a rarer name and we can see that he was shipped with 335 others (but not Johnson: unless he had an alias) on the Barossa from Sheerness to Sydney on 31 July 1839. The ship arrived on 8 December 1839. Aylett seems to have died near Sydney in early 1840.

Johnson remains untraced. He may have died during the months waiting for the transport ship – hulks were full of diseases, and ill-treatment was common.

Sodomy was a capital offence in England until 1861. The last man hanged for this was in London in 1835.


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