THE FIRST PUBLIC DEBATE ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY IN ENGLAND
Letters and Editorials in the
London Evening Post concerning the Case of Captain Jones, 1772
NOTE: The following letters and editorials from the London Evening Post relate to the conviction and subsequent pardon of Captain Robert Jones for sodomy. For an introduction and overview of the affair, see The First Public Debate about Homosexuality in England.
1-4 August 1772
This day, about two o’clock, a respite of seven days came to Newgate for Capt. Jones, clearly convicted of that most detestable, beyond every other the most abominable crime that the depravity of the human heart could ever entertain an idea of perpetrating SODOMY! O religious Prince! O pious George![It is interesting that the above editorial encompasses both reactionary and progressive views simultaneously.]
It is expected that all serious people will set apart a day of fasting and humiliation, to deprecate the vengeance of the Almighty, which this nation may reasonably and hourly expect.
The citizens of London may well tremble for fear, lest divine vengeance should make this city like Sodom and Gomorrah. This nation had less to dread from Heaven if a thousand men, undiscovered, had been guilty of daily perpetrating this shameful crime, than for one man clearly and fully convicted, and solemnly condemned by the laws of this nation, to be pardoned.
The Lord Mayor, who wishes to be thought a religious man, has now an excellent opportunity of convincing his fellow-citizens that it is not merely profession. Let him comply with the desires of the city, in granting either a Court of Common Council, or a Common Hall, (one of which will be requested) to petition his Majesty that the law, respecting the above criminal, may take its free course.
It hath been long justly observed, that the penal laws of this nation are very inadequate to the crimes they are framed to punish; and there are not, in any country of the world, so many persons hanged as in England. All human laws should, as far as possible, agree with the divine; nor should the law of man punish any crimes with death, for which the law of God hath ordered a less degree of punishment. But in this kingdom, the criminal who hath robbed a person of a shilling, suffers the same punishment as the murderer. This seems unequal justice. Last session of Parliament, a revival of the laws, relative to capital offences, was under consideration; but either for want of time, or some other reason, nothing was done therein. But it is to be hoped they will, at their next sitting, take this matter more early into their care, and consider of such alterations in the laws, as may render them more adequate to the crimes committed; for the punishing so many unequal offences indiscriminately with death, is so far from having the effect desired, of deterring others from committing the same crimes, that we find such criminals multiply every month upon the hands of justice. The reason of this seems to be, that such offenders, from bad education and wicked habits, have little or no notion of a future state; and are apt to think, that hanging is an easy death, and puts an end to all their troubles. It is therefore well worthy of the care of Parliament to consider, wither the inflicting a less, but more lasting punishment, for various offences, not punished with death, would not strike such offenders with greater dread, and deter others much more from following their example, and committing the same crimes, than the present practice of hanging such numbers every six weeks at Tyburn. For such frequent executions, attended with so little awefulness and solemnity, and so much noise and confusion, rather tend to harden, than deter others from being guilty of the same offences, and coming to the same fate. (London Evening Post)
4-6 August 1772To the PRINTER.
I FORESAW just what hath happened; that Captain Jones would be pardoned. In this pious reign to deserve punishment, is to be poor and friendless. If you have the most distant connexion with the Ministry; if you have hunted, danced, or played the fool with any great man’s mistress; if you have a knick-knack genius, it will so recommend you to ministerial favour, that there is not a single crime which can be named, but what you may commit, and yet escape the gallows. The licentiousness of the times call for an example; an Artillery Officer is arraigned, tried, and fairly convicted of Sodomy, not a thing can be urged in his defence; he is ordered for execution; and the day before respited; the Ministry intercede, and every quibble that can be thought of, every shameful species of prevarication is used to elude the Law, and save the Miscreant the disgrace of our species. Why all these efforts? Because he was a good mask [i.e. made a good show at fashionable masquerades], was known to every Demirep of quality [i.e. high-class courtesans], and ranked as a gentleman. Shameful prostitution of mercy! No wonder a detestable crime should be so frequently practiced. It is patronized by our great men, and the wretches who thus indulge themselves are encouraged to do it in the face of day, well knowing that our rules DARE not punish them. Go on, ye beastly crew, you are sure to be screened; we have a Ministry, whose abandoned conduct is notorious to all the world; under their auspices, what have we to fear? Nothing, if we are well connected; every thing if we are indigent. Go on, therefore, Ye Balfes, ye M’Quirks, ye Jones’s, and ye D[ry]b[u]tt[e]rs, sure to escape the halter if you commit only Murder or Sodomy; certain to be hung if ye steal a metal watch value fifteen shillings. I tell thee, thou pious, amiable, well-inclined Prince, thou art surrounded by a set of msicreants, who blast the fair hopes that were once entertained of thee, prostitute thy mercy, and make thee an abettor of crimes for which Heaven will one day severely visit this nation! Sodom, have patience, quickly shall we bear off the palm!
(London Evening Post)
[NOTE: At the Brentford Election on 8 December 1768, Sir William Beauchamp’s supporters Laurence Balfe and Edward MacQuirk provoked a riot during which George Clark was killed. Balfe and MacQuirk were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. However, they were granted a reprieve of seven days, during which time the wardens and examiners of the Surgeons Company reviewed the evidence of the surgeon who performed the autopsy on Clark, and they decided that he did not die of blows, wounds and bruises, as stated in the indictment. On 10 March 1769 Balfe and MacQuirk were pardoned by a royal warrant. See A Narrative of the Trial of Laurence Balfe, and Edward Mac Quirk, for aiding and abetting in the Murder of Mr. George Clark, at Brentford Election, December 8, 1768, reproduced in The Annals of Newgate; or, Malefactors Register (4 vols), London, 1776, vol. iv, pp. 233-8.]
6-8 August 1772TO THE KING.
... On the death of your much-lamented grandfather, you ascended the throne amidst the united acclamations of a grateful and loyal people, attached to you from principle. Their applause was unaffected; and surely, Sir, to have deserved it, was at once an laudable ambition, and the noblest testimony you could possibly give of a good heart.
It is the interest of a Prince to conciliate the affections of his subjects. It is one of those immutable obligations which accompany majesty; and the man who treats this essential duty with either negligence or contempt, wears his Crown at the mercy of the multitude. He has no other securitiy than force, and his claim to royalty is liable to be disputed by the first adventurer who is acquainted with his situation.
Your education, however, if we may judge by our practice, has taught you very different principles. It has been the source of all the confusions in which we have unhappily been involved for the last ten years; and those fatal errors may probably, in their consequences, extend much farther than the total destruction of your domestic felicity. The countenance which you have shewn to the most infamous characters in the kingdom, has very justly given offence to the whole nation. ...
... But of all the measures which have disgraced your reign, none of them equal the lenity shewn to a man legally convicted of Sodomy! A crime held in universal detestation; and all societies punish this unpardonable vice with death. It is your Majesty alone who undertakes to compassionate the Sodomite! In your creed it meets with indulgence, though heaven long since exerted its vengeance against it.
What motives could influence your Majesty in favour of this abandoned criminal, I know not; but I sincerely wish, that our ancestors at the Revolution had more fully considered the real interests of mankind, and had not invested the Crown with a share of prerogative, which WEAK or BAD men may extend to very dangerous lengths. This is not the first instance of your Majesty’s graciously condescending to supersede the verdict of a Jury, and render the criminal laws of the kingdom useless. You appear resolved to keep the people in a constant state of admiration; and every year furnishes us with occasion to lament the fatal moment which robbed us of your grandfather. The royal favour has been hitherto extended only to the worst of characters; and how far this system is consistent with your religious tenets, your chaplains are best able to inform us; - for my own part, I feel no ambition to imitate the piety of St. James’s, while a practice so oposite to moral honesty is encouraged and supported. It is asserted by the associates of Lieutenant Jones, that the boy’s evidence under 14 is not sufficient to convict him. I am no lawyer, but I affirm in direct contradiction, that the evidence was strictly legal; that it was clear; and unless the Jury had been guilty of perjury, I defy them to have acuqitted the prisoner. The trial, as it is printed, plainly proves to the satisfaction of every honest man the culprit’s guilt - and even your Majesty may receive the same conviction, if you are disposed to shew that respect which is undoubtedy due to the laws of your country. We are told that you repeatedly refused granting a pardon to Mr. Jones, and that the respite was obtained upon a positive assurance, that the innocence of the prisoner should be proved. This strange apology is made for the part your Majesty has taken in this black affair; and indeed it is with infinite concern, that I view a KING OF ENGLAND so miserable degraded, as to require excuses for his conduct, at once fallacious and contemptible.
The Brentford rioters escaped hanging, in consequence of the doubts which arose in the royal breast. The Kennedies were preserved on account of the chastity of their connections; but what could induce you to extend your compassion to this detestable wretch, is a mystery to all but the abandoned few who advised you to so disgraceful a measure. It is suspected that the prerogative of the Crown has been in this particular instance made a property of by your virtuous C-n.
I am persuaded there is no family in this kingdom so abandoned, as to interest themselves in the behalf of a convicted Sodomite. Even H. , of your Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, would blush to have his name mentioned upon the subject. But the Conways alone have arrived to that degree, which sets shame at defiance. Their characters cannot suffer; they have nothing to lose; they are at full liberty to act as they please; and they wish to make the character of your Majesty as contemptible as their own. However, you have not yet totally lost the affections of the people; and I think, after considering your PRESENT situation, the esteem of your subjects is worth preserving. Insult to injustice may prove dangerous; and the storm which destroys us, must irretrievably ruin you. Let this man suffer the sentence of the law; you have been already too prodigal in mercy; and if Lieutenant Jones should escape, the nation will have reason to address you in terms, which for your own peace of mind I sincerey wish you never to deserve. If Lord Suffolk performs his duty, this letter will reach your closet. It contains facts well authenticated; and I should hope that would be an inducement for your Majesty to read them. Yet, whatever may be their fate, I am satisfied with the part I have taken. They are the undisguised sentiments of an honest heart, and carry in the rectitude of their intention, a sufficient apology for their rudeness.
An ADMIRER of the FAIR SEX.
(London Evening Post)
8-11 August 1772To the Printer of the London Evening Post.
IN a letter addressed to general Conway on Saturday last, in your paper, it is asserted that a petition was signed by the officers of the royal regiment of Artillery in favour of Mr. Jones, and presented to his Majesty by the General, which the writer represents in a disgraceful light: It is not my intention to enquire into the justice or humanity of such a censure; let the character which that respectable corps have universally acquired speak for itself; but the fact being misrepresented, it is fit it should be laid before the public as it really passed.
The very short interval between the apprehension and trial of Mr. Jones, depriving him of the means of availing himself of the public good charcter he ever had borne in the regiment, and amongst a numerous acquaintance, till this unhappy period, he, immediately after his conviction, wrote to his Colonel Comandant (Ord) desiring that such officers as were acquinted with him would sign a certificate of his character, as an officer during the time they had known him: Truth, as well as humanity, required their compliance with such a request; and accordingly this certificate of his former behaviour (not Petition, for it contained none) was unanimously signed by all the officers present, this Colonel Commandant not excepted (though the contrary is affirmed) and afterwards it was (as I am informed) delivered to one of his Majesty’s Ministers.
This is the plain state of the transaction, in which neither the officers of the corps, or the General who delivered the certificate, appear to have gone one step beyond what common justice and humanity required.
(London Evening Post)
8-11 August 1772
Last night, about twelve, a further Respite (DURING HIS MAJESTY’s PLEASURE!) was sent to Newgate for Jones, convicted of a detestable crime.
We hear that the worthy Recorder, remarkable for his tenderness and humanity in his report of the convicts, said not one word in favour of Mr. Jones, being fully satisfied that he was legally and justly convicted, and of whose execution, it is said, he was so certain, that he would not for half a million of money, notwithstanding his intereset and friendships, be in his situation.
In reading the history of the Jews, contained in the Bible, the historian, after repeating a multitude of sins and offences against God and man, of which that people were guilty, he concludes as a proof that he had not aggravated their wickedness, in saying, That there were Sodomites in the land.
The concourse of people about Newgate this morning, in expectation of seeing Jones go to Tyburn, was amazing. There was a universal murmur, when it was learnt that a respite had been received. It was thought impossible; and the execrations of the populace were pretty liberally poured forth upon a certain Great Personage.
In the reign of George the Second three wretches, for a detesable crime, were executed together at Tyburn [i.e. Gabriel Lawrence, William Griffin and Thomas Wright who were hanged in May 1726]. In the present reign, the only two convicted of the same abominable crime have been pardoned. [See Note below.]
Lewis [i.e. Louis] the King of France having upon intreaty spared a man that deserved death, and not long after reading that text, Psal. cvi. 3 ’Blessed are they, that keep judgment, and he that doth righteousness at all times.’ This (doing righteousness at all times) so wrought upon him, that presently he reversed what he had granted; saying, ’He that hath power to punish sin, and doth it not, becometh a patron of it, and is as guilty before God, as if he himself had committed it.’ (London Evening Post)
[NOTE: In addition to Captain Jones, the other sodomite pardoned during King George III's reign was Thomas Andrews, keeper of the Fortune of War public house at Pye-Corner near Smithfield, who on 18 April 1761 offered to share his bed with John Finnimore. They supped, drank freely, and went to bed. `As soon as Finnimore was in bed he fell asleep, but about four o'clock he awaked, with a violent pain and agony, and found Andrews' yard in his body. . . . in getting away from him he felt something warm, but what it was, he could not say'. He got out of bed and sat on a chair, but after fifteen minutes was persuaded to return to bed, where, after ten minutes, the same thing occurred again, whereupon he got up and was let out of the house. Andrews denied the charge, and claimed it was an attempt at extortion. In May 1761 jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death, but the King gave him respite and afterwards a full pardon. A publisher of a collection of trials in 1779 personally knew two of the members of the jury that convicted Andrews, and was assured by them that there was no doubt whatsoever about his guilt. `What sort of interest it was that procured a pardon for this man, it may be improper, because it could hardly be decent, to say.']
11-13 August 1772
We have the pleasure to assure our readers, that the set of detestable villains who nightly infest the piazzas of the Royal Exchange, have removed westward, and are to be seen every evening in the avenues of a certain great man’s house, which they now look upon as a secure asylum from justice, and a safe place to act their diabolical practices.
A certain great man, from a late pardon, hath, it is said, lost the esteem and affection of every moral man and sincere Christian in the kingdom. (London Evening Post)
18-20 August 1772
Captain Jones in a few days will receive his Majesty’s pardon. He has promised to leave England and go to America, where his Majesty has given his Royal Word he shall have an appointment equal to what he had here. He is to leave Newgate in the night.
It is impossible to conceive the daring advantages that have been taken of the lenity shewn to the above criminal by the detestable wretches of his complexion. Impunity in such abominable practices is inferred from it; and they seem to be right in such conclusion. Men whose horror of the practice makes them tremble at the thought of its commission, are discouraged from apprehending the offenderes, from a just apprehension of their own characters, by such an act of justice, being for ever blasted. Among the many places of resort within the metropolis for these infernal wretches, that part of Sherborne-lane next Lombard-street, is not the least. Their amours are carried on in the open street; but to prevent any surprize, a watchman, or more, is placed at the avenues. And the advantages that arise to these guardians of the night, makes them not a little contentious who shall be placed upon that station. (London Evening Post)
19-22 September 1772To the Printer of the London Evening Post.
EVERY news-paper at present labours with the severest invectives against the perpetrators of an unnatural crime. The authors of them employ their eloquent pens to little purpose, and lightly graze the surface, while they leave the root untouched. In vain will they employ their pens, as long as the literary world, from every quarter, vomits out such numerous volumes of prophane writings, which are one essential cause of that extravagant dissipation, barefaced immodesty, and unrestrained licentiousness, the ruling taste of the present golden age. In vain will they employ their pens, whilst books are allowed publication, whose indecency, obscenity, and pollution, directly tend to the introduction of immorality.
Virtue is now-a-days despised, vice caressed, christianity contemned, deism countenanced; a masquerade or a Pantheon preferred notoriously to a religious meeting, or the temple of the true God; books of obscenity, to a high degree inflammatory, (and the more to be dreaded from their gilded poison) heartily embraced, while religion itself is reckoned ungrateful and noxious by persons of this stamp; prints and pictures bedaubed over in relievo, with beastliness and pollution, accurately and deeply eyed, while the dying posture of a crucified Saviour engraved, constantly passes the attention of the observer. On you in office, on you who are dignified with the honour of magistracy, who are made the guardians of a people’s liberty and virtue, the cries of thousands already ruined implore revenge. ...
(London Evening Post)
22-24 September 1772To the Printer of the London Evening Post.
OF all the many instances wherein the laws of this land have been trampled upon, and set aside by the pernicious advice of evil counsellors, no one is more egregiously erroneous and unjust, than the altering the legal sentence of death, passed upon Capt. Jones for the unnatural crime of Sodomy, and changing it for transportation; for if the Captain was guilty of that crime, he ought to have suffered death; but if he was innocent, he ought not to have suffered transportation. So that take this matter which way you will, his Majesty hath been grievously imposed upon, and ill-advised. It is very evident, that his Majesty hath followed the advice of such counsellors in this affair as are utterly careless about what light he appears in to his people; for by advising him to mitigate the sentence of death, and changing it for transportation, it seems very clear to the whole kingdom, that his Majesty believed the Captain was guilty of the crime, but thought that death was too great a punishment for it. In such a miserable light have these evil counsellors placed the best of Princes.
(London Evening Post)
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (ed.), "The First Public Debate about Homosexuality in England: Letters and Editorials in the London Evening Post concerning the Case of Captain Jones, 1772",
Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 19 December 2004
Return to The First Public Debate about Homosexuality in England,
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