Extraordinary Investigation: Or, The Female Husband (London, UK, The Observer, 18 January 1829)

The Observer, 18 January 1829 (London, Greater London, England)


On Wednesday evening an inquiry of a singular and mysterious nature took place, at St. Thomas's Hospital, before Thomes Shelton, Esq., Coroner, relating to the death of an individual known by the name of James Allen, aged about 42. The unfortunate deceased, who had long assumed the dress of, and passed for a man, was killed, under circumstances which will be stated, and being carried to the hospital, an examination of the body took place, when, to the astonishment of all present, it was discovered that the deceased was of the female sex. Mary Allen, who had been married to the deceased for 21 years, on hearing of the accident, flew to the hospital, and was present when the sex of the deceased was discovered, and was evidently not less astonished than any of the others, positively declaring, that she bad never before known that her husband was a woman.

At the Inquest John Shrieve deposed, that he was a sawyer in the employment of Mr. Crisp, shipwright, of Dockhead ; the deceased, whom he had known for the last three years, was in the same service. On Monday afternoon they were at work in a saw-pit, when a large piece of timber fell on the head of the deceased, who was at the bottom of the pit, and she fell sense­less, bleeding from the nose, mouth, and ears; she was placed on a shutter, and taken to the hospital. The deceased had a very weakly voice, and no beard or whiskers ; she represented herself as having been a married man for upwards of 21 years, and his wife is now living, an industrious honest woman.

Mary Daly deposed that she had known the deceased and the female who passed as his wife far a number of years ; the deceased had left his wife several times on account of jealousy; she had often advised Mrs. Allen to leave her husband, but she always said she had not the heart to do it. She was confident Mrs. Allen was a perfectly innocent woman.

A Surgeon from the hospital stated that the deceased, who was attired in male apparel, was dead when brought to the hospital. The bones of the head were fractured in several places. On examination, witness discovered the deceased to be a female.

Both the Coroner and Jury expressed their astonishment at so extraordinary a circumstance as two females living together as man and wife for a period of 21 years: it certainly was both unprecedented and mysterious. The Jury expressed a wish to examine the female who had lived with the deceased; but the Coroner objected, saying, they had only to inquire how the deceased came by her death. A verdict of "Accidental Death" was then returned.

The following particulars have since been collected relative to this extraordinary female. The woman who had been married to the deceased has produced the certificate, by which it appeared that it was solemnized at Camberwell Church, on the 13th day of December, 1808. Previous to its having taken place, the deceased lived as groom in the service of a Mr. Wood, No. 6, Camberwell-terrace. Our informant, Mary Allen, was also housemaid in the same gentleman's family, and it was while living there she first became acquainted with the deceased, who was at that time considered a smart and handsome young man, and an excellent groom, doing all the work belonging to the situation quite to the satisfaction of the gentleman with whom she acted in that capacity.

Mary Allen remained as housemaid with Mr. Wood for three years, and it was at the latter part of this period the deceased began to be extremely attentive to her, and was viewed in the light of lover by Mary, who at length consented, at the earnest entreaties  of the deceased, to be married. The matrimonial alliance took place between the parties at the time above specified, and from the church they retired together to a house called the Bull, in Gray's Inn-lane, where they resided together for some time. Previous to the marriage the deceased had lived in the service of Alderman Atkins, as groom, and with other gentlemen in the same capacity.

Subsequently to the marriage Mary Allen went, back to service, and the deceased was hired into the service of Mr. Lensdale, of Maze-hill, Blackheath, and staid there some time, during which period the new married couple seldom saw each other, but carried on an epistolary correspondence, in which the deceased always wrote most affectionately to the bride, addressing her in the most endearing terms, and concluding his letters by subscribing himself the bride's "most loving and affectionate husband until death." They were absent from each other eight months;  &, at the expiration of that period, the deceased prevailed on the bride, Mary Allen, to throw up her situation, & both live together as man & wife. Mary consented; & at this period the deceased, having accumulated some money, became landlord of a public-house called the Sun, at Baldock, in Hertfordshire, and was getting on most prosperously in business until their house was broken into one night and robbed all the money they had saved.

After this misfortune, it appears the deceased gave up the business and came to London with his wife, and took lodgings in the neighbourhood of Dockbrau. Here the deceased determined on working as a labourer, and obtained employment in a shipwight's yard, as a pitch boiler. During the time the deceased was in this situation her sex was never discovered by any of the men with whom she laboured, and with whom she was in the constant habit of associating. When she left the above situation she got employment to the yards of other shipwrights, and was always considered a sober, steady, strong, and active man ; there was rather a peculiarity in the tone of her voice, which subjected the deceased to raillery amongst the men with whom she worked, but they never for a moment suspected her of belonging to the other sex.

The deceased also worked in a vitriol manufactory, previous to her having entered the service of Mr. Crisp, at Dockhead, in whose employ she had worked for a considerable time preceding the accident which deprived her of life. The woman to whom the deceased was married, on being questioned as to whether she knew her sex, declared most positively that she never did. The deceased was described, as of rather an ill temper, and expressed strong resentment against the poor woman to whom she was married, whenever the latter noticed a man particularly. Upon those occasions the deceased never failed to act the part of the jealous husband, and has often inflicted corporeal chastisement on the wife; but her behaviour was in general kind and affectionate, and she worked early and late for their subsistence; the labour she was employed at could not have been performed, except by a person of uncommon strength of body, which the deceased possessed to an extraordinary degree for one of her sex.

In her lifetime the deceased generally dressed in sailor's clothes, like shipwrights. & always wore thick flannel waistcoats, which extended from the neck down to the hips; and to this circumstance Mary Allen attributes her never having bad an opportunity of observing the breasts of the deceased, which were found to be like those of other women. In order the more effectually to conceal them, she also wrapped a bandage of linen over her chest, for the sham purpose of protecting her lungs from cold, as she was in the habit of being much exposed to cold and wet, often working over her knees in water, when engaged in clearing out the ways—that is, clearing a part of a shipwright's yard of, the mud collected on the receding of the tide. The deceased was of a most ingenious turn, and was a very, expert carpenter, in addition to her other qualifications; in fact, as Mary Allen describes, she could turn her hand to any thing.

During the whole period they lived together, Mary Allen never heard of any relatives belonging to the deceased, who at one time stated that she was born at Yar­mouth; but as to whether this was true or not there was no evidence, no person coming forward who knew the deceased previous to the time she adopted the garb of a man, and laboured in that character. The deceased did not appear to have indulged in the "feelings" of her sex. Subsequently to the examination, the body of the deceased was placed in a coffin, and conveyed to the lodging of Mary Allen, who appeared greatly, affected at the death of her "lord." The former seems to be in very indigent circumstances, and can scarcely scrape up money enough to pay the undertaker for the expences of internment. It appears that the deceased was a member of a benefit club for many years, and regularly paid up her arrears to the society. Since her decease, however, some demur has been made to the benefits arising from the society, on the ground that the deceased had been all along imposing on it, by representing herself as a man, and always appearing in the character of one when she attended their meetings.

Since the publication of the Inquest no person has come forward who knew her previously to her having adopted the garb of a man, and the circumstances which caused her to endeavour to conceal her sex will probably never be discovered.

The deceased was of good figure, extremely well proportioned, and had a highly interesting countenance.